We’re considering moving to WordPress, so I’ve been collecting links:

I really need to get a version control system installed as my project is about to get to the writing code stage and it all gets terribly messy after that, as we all know. So I think I’m going to go with Subversion, but opinions & recommendations are welcome. In the meantime, some links about Subversion I need to follow up later:

If anyone has other suggestions for useful links, please leave a comment and I’ll update into the main entry periodically

I don’t claim to know anything about the new search war, whether IE will have integrated search, or even why I’m nowhere near the top result for Meri anymore (although this might hold some hints). I do, however, know what’s going on in my site stats. And this is what I see:

Server stats showing that MSNSearchbot is polling site twice as much as Google

The fact that the MSNSearch bots are polling twice as often as Google says something. Not sure whether it’s meaningful yet though.

I’ve just noticed that the frontpage entries are almost gone, because I had a massive gap of more than 2 weeks at the beginning of December. This was because of AgentOrange. AgentOrange was my team’s submission to a local Trading Agent Competition run by my department as part of the coursework (PDF) for the E-Commerce and Agents unit I’m taking this semester.

The competition itself is really quite interesting. Eight autonomous agents compete against each other to put travel packages together for 8 clients each. Each client has a preference for when they would like to fly in and out, an amount extra they’d be willing to pay to stay in a nicer hotel and various amounts extra they’d be willing to pay to attend events.

The world in which the game operates is very simple — all holidays will occur within a space of 5 days, there is only one destination and only two hotels (one good, one bad) and three types of events. An agent scores / makes profit based on the package they put together for the client and how close to their preferred package it is — for instance, there are penalties for deviating from their flight preferences and bonuses for getting them tickets to events. Despite the apparent simplicity, it is actually quite hard to model what will happen, since the other agents you are competing with might act very differently from your expectations — or when they go wrong, they might really screw you up.

The complexity also lies in the mechanics of the game — the auctions operate differently based on what category of goods they are for. Flight prices are set randomly, but are likely to rise towards the end of the game, yet there are essentially an unlimited number of seats. Hotels are auctioned off and the eventual price paid is the 16th highest price (as there are 16 rooms available per room per night). Events are sold between agents in a continuous double auction format.

All in all it was a nice challenging piece of work — with a nice competitive incentive at the end: 30% of the final mark depended on your agent’s average score over 100 games, with full marks for anything over 3000, decreasing roughly linearly. We were quite successful, as you can see here (there’s also a graph here that shows that although we weren’t massively consistent, we did score big sometimes).

Our key strategy was just to take advantage of the game itself wherever possible — we shortened people’s stays when it wasn’t worth keeping them in town (a max stay of 4 days is possible, but you can only get event bonuses on three days), worked out the most we could afford for hotel rooms and bid that from the outset (to avoid bidding wars), waited for cheap flights and then bought when the price suited us (the flight prices fluctuate fairly randomly and aren’t influenced by competition) and bid for just about everything in a client-specific manner (the most we could afford for each client and still make money), which often brought us out on top for at least some auctions.

The most interesting thing about this was how enthused everyone was — the element of competition had everyone trying quite hard and really getting into the development process. Definitely one of our best courseworks ever and a good lesson to anyone trying to get students/developers/whoever to really go at something — if it’s possible to have a competitive environment, it may well boost the involvement levels!

At first, Google was just a search engine. Well, not “just” — it was a bloody fantastic search engine. Then it was a household name, then a verb. A repository, full of snapshots of what we do and say. An oracle, a wise old man — after all, Google sees all. Everyone in my department relies on it rather heavily and they’re rather bearded-wise-old-oracle themselves 😉

In fact, at the beginning of term, we had a lecture about “how to use the library“. We were shown various online search tools such as the Web of Science and ACM Portal. There was a bit of a demo of one of these and although some of the ideas behind the searches (saving them, combining them, cross-referencing them etc) were quite good, the interface was fairly horrendous.

At the end of the lecture, Simon and I got talking about how Google should get into this sort of academic space, since searching for the articles you need in the depths of obscure and often very narrowly focused articles is quite a chore. Bam! Few weeks later Google Scholar arrives on the scene. (Incidentally, it is great and wonderful and I love the people at Google for saving my dissertation). Later Elly and I were discussing how it was a pain when you were trying to remember a quote or a bit of poetry, that you couldn’t really just search for it. Today, I read that Google is scanning the contents of various famous libraries.

My question is, how long will it be before Google holds not only just about all of our news, opinions and gossip, but also all our history, our great works of literature and our science? Once all this is contained in one massive farm of barebone computers, will Google be the personification of our ancestral and current memory? Better yet, once all the information is on hand, how much rationality is needed before sentience is achieved? How much of human sentience is what we know vs what we can do with it?

Things have been busy — post Mumps I’ve mainly been focused on catching up on work, uni and coursework. But more on that later. For now have some blogmarks