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On entrepreneurship …..

December 6th, 2014

A few days ago, a delegation from Spain visited UC Berkeley in a meeting organized by the Spain-USA Chamber of Commerce with the participation of the Universities of Valencia, Sevilla y Malaga and representatives of the public administrations of the Spanish central government and regional governments of Andalucía y Valencia and six Spanish Start-ups.

The two most interesting parts of the meeting were a presentation by J. Miguel Villas-Boas  Professor of Marketing Strategies at UC Berkeley Haas School of Business  and a panel with the six Start-ups chaired by Ken Singer  from the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Technology ( who has been himself a serial entrepreneur.

Prof. Vilas-Boas spoke about “Branding and Pricing Strategies in the Digital Economy” .

He set the scene by speaking about consumer behaviour on the web when searching for products to purchase.

It was expected that the digital world would lead to “low prices and lesser role for brands” … in reality there is a lot of variability in prices and still very powerful brands…. and not to be forgotten “search is costly for customers in terms of mental effort”!!!. Therefore, vendors, like customers, have to strike the balance between the information to gain with search and the search effort; research has found that ” the optimal purchase threshold increases with informativeness of search and decreases with search costs”.

If that is the case, how much information to provide? Too little …..customers do not have enough information to buy and may go somewhere else… too much (information overload) impacts the cost of search about the product… What about “on purpose Product Obfuscation”, so that it is more difficult to compare prices?. It looks that structuring the product information in order to easier consumer search while avoiding information overload is the best approach.

On pricing, the question is how to price given consumer search effort and behavior…. low price means low margins but consumer do not have to search much to buy… higher prices means higher profits but consumer will likely search more for better deals.. how to strike the balance?

Another interesting part was about “personalization”;  the central question is: how to learn about customers so that price differently, do product personalization and target the message?. There are strategies to attract new customers , for instance offer discounts, and to price strategically at the beginning of campaigns to separate high valuation customers… the problem is that consumers may understand that this may be happening and refrain from buying to get discounts later….

For known customers, product targeting based on their previous preferences is a good strategy but it is important to strike the right balance : look for the better fit between advertising and customers preferences, avoiding getting them annoyed with too much advertising…..

Another part of the presentation was about “Brands in the Digital World”. Based on market research he gave information about “the most valuable global brands in 2013”.. Apple, Google, Coca-Cola, IBM and Microsoft leading the pack. However, looking at social media mentions, the top brands for 2012 were Coke, Gatorade, Apple, Google and Starbucks…while if one looks at fan pages, Facebook, You Tube, Coca-Cola, Disney and MTV lead the pack.

The final part was about co-creation. He spoke about how Mountain Dew, who sells soda drinks and Starbuck , who as you know sells coffee and food, engage with customers to create new flavors (Drewmocracy they called the campaign!!!) or looking for new ideas for products. According to market research, internet users, at least in the United States, like brands to listen to them; the proportion is higher in ages 25-34 and 35-44 and the main reasons are : support for the brand they like, to receive regular updates about the products or to get coupons.

I have recently had the opportunity to have a coffee with Professor Villas-Boas and we spoke about data privacy issues when identifying the customer (see my previous posts on this matter) and co-creation.

I wanted to see how to apply the approach and techniques mentioned above to the public sector or what the public sector should do to engage better with citizens and the civil society using the internet. He has introduced me to a Hungarian researcher, Zsolt Katona, who also works on the subject of co-creation in the Hass School of Business and I will meet him soon. I am sure the collaboration will be very useful for my research project.

The second interesting item of the conference was the panel with the Spanish entrepreneurs chaired in a very professional manner by Ken Singer. Participated the CEOs of Brave Zebra (game outsourcing company), Closca (manufactures foldable bike helmets), Imegen (DNA sequencing) , GPTech (technologies for removable energies) and Melomics Media (Applies Artificial Intelligence to music composition). They were asked about their personal history as entrepreneurs and the reasons to start it, the challenges they found, the relationships with the academic world if any and what they would ask the government to do to facilitate their life.

I think these guys are real heroes (particularly in Spain…and have sacrificed many hours of their life to make their ideasbecome  a reality….. and all of them said that money was not the first reason for them to start a company…. !!!

Stay tuned.. more to follow this week !!



On Computer Aided Education (CAE) …….

November 29th, 2014

A few weeks ago, I participated in a very interesting Programming Language Seminar at the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science School about Computer Aided Education and I wanted to report about it.

As you probably know, I was a Secondary School Teacher and a Lecturer at the University and my wife is a Secondary School Teacher as well. We both have always been interested in how to improve the education process and that is why I wanted to attend the Seminar.

The seminar was about how logical reasoning and search techniques (inspired from the programming languages community) can be used to automate two key tasks in Education, namely problem generation and feedback generation. The speaker illustrated the approach using recent research results that have been applied to various STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subject domains including mathematics, programming, logic, and automata theory. The results make advance the state-of-the-art in intelligent tutoring, and can play a significant role in enabling personalized and interactive education in both standard classrooms and MOOCs.

The speaker was Sumit Gulwani, who obtained his PhD in Computer Science from UC-Berkeley in 2005 , for which he was awarded the ACM SIGPLAN Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research, and an adjunct faculty in the Computer Science Department at IIT Kanpur. He has expertise in formal methods and automated program analysis and synthesis techniques. As part of his vision to empower masses, he has recently focused on cross-disciplinary areas of automating end-user programming (for systems like spreadsheets, smartphones, and robots), and building intelligent tutoring systems (for various subject domains including programming, math, logic, and automata). Sumit’s programming-by-example work led to the famous Flash Fill feature of Microsoft Excel 2013 that is used by hundreds of millions of people around the world.

In his presentation , “Example-based Learning in Computer Aided Education”, Sumit explained that human learning and communication is often structured around examples, possibly a student trying to understand or master a certain concept through examples or a teacher trying to understand a student’s misconceptions or provide feedback through example behaviours. Example-Based Reasoning is also used in Computer-Aided Programming (CAP) to analyze programs, including to find bugs through test-input-generation techniques and prove correctness through inductive reasoning or random examples and synthesize programs through input/output examples or demonstrations such example-based reasoning techniques developed in the programming languages community can also help automate certain repetitive and structured tasks in education, including problem generation, solution generation, and feedback generation.

The approach is very promising; Example-Based Reasoning Techniques developed in the area of CAP community can help automate several tasks in Education and therefore CAP research can fuel research in Computer-Aided Education (CAE) and vice versa.

In Computer Aided Education (CAE) a number of importnt tasks can be carried out: Problem Generation, Solution Generation and Feedback Generation and they can be applied to Procedural Content (Mathematical or Algorithmic Procedures) or Conceptual Content (Proofs or Constructions).

The motivations for Problem Generation is clear: on one side the need to generate problems “similar to other problems” (while avoiding copyright issues and avoid cheating in “unsynchronized instructions” (ex. MOOCs) and on the other the generation of problems of a “specific difficulty level or usage” (allowing progression and personalized learning paths).

This facilitate the life of teachers; in fact sometimes the generation of a variant of a test with the above mentioned constrains may take as much as the generation of a new one !!!.

He explained the techniques using examples to make students learn arithmetic procedures of increasing degree of difficulty ,using “Traces”, a set of building blocks for procedural learning created by examining the specific set of decisions that the learner needs to make when solving a practice problem with a target procedure.

In this way the representation of the problem and progress is formalized and templates with placeholders are used for the generation.

The above mentioned techniques can also be applied to non-mathematical problems such as “sentence completion with multiple choice answers” ( like the ones that are used in the SAT exam in the States) or natural deduction problems.

Solution Generation is also very important; it is interesting to generate sample solutions to new problems, to generate customized solutions or complete unfinished ones or inform solution characteristics during problem generation. The application to conceptual content in the area of geometric problems using ruler and compass was particularly interesting.

Finally he spoke about feedback generation. Motivation is clear; on one side, it makes teachers more effective since it saves time and provides immediate insight on where the students are struggling; on the other side it can enable a rich interactive experience for students since it allows the generation of hints or may point to simpler problems depending on the kind of mistake to allow them to gain better understanding and facilitate progress and self-confidence.

For procedural content, he explained the use of Programming By Example (PBE) techniques to learn about “buggy procedures in the student mind” and in conceptual content using “inputs for which the solution is not correct” to show the effects.

Very interesting seminar on a very interesting subject indeed !!!

More to follow soon…

I start having some very interesting contacts with whom exchange information and experiences!!

Stay tuned …..




November 15th, 2014

I was invited to deliver a speech at the 48th ICA-IT conference that took place in Ottawa from October 28th to October 30th. My speech, whose title was “Towards a New Generation of Digital Public Services” was about my research project at UC Berkeley.

The EC was some years ago member of the ICA organization ( We sent every year a Head of Unit to the meeting but I do not remember what happened to stop the membership.

As stated in their web site

“The International Council for Information Technology in Government Administration (ICA) is a non-profit organisation established to promote the information exchange of knowledge, ideas and experiences between Central Government IT Authorities on all aspects of the initiation, development and implementation of computer-based systems in and by Government.”

The theme of this year conference was Smart Investments for Future Digital Government .

Due to the crisis and the pressure on public finances, governments are facing a very real challenge – how to maintain and improve standards for their citizens and businesses. In the conference, the participants discussed how governments around the world are approaching investments in digital media and technology in the smartest possible way in order to transform the way they deliver services, gain efficiencies, empower citizens and boost economic growth, poised to become successful future digital governments.

The theme above isvery much in line with my research project; that is why I was asked to participate…. and the organization was happy to see the European Commission back to the Conference !!!

The conference was organized in tracks with presentations and discussions, breakout sessions and speeches by guest speakers.

There were around 48 participants with a good representation from Canada (the organizer country) , Israel, Japan, Singapore, Nederland, Estonia, Taiwan, etc.

I participated in panel 2: Future of e-Citizen Services & Engagement together with Juhani Korhonen, (Ministerial Adviser, Public Sector ICT Department, Ministry of Finance, Finland) who presented “Public e-services in Finland” and Yair Schindel (CEO, Digital Israel, Prime Minister’s Office, Israel) who presented “Digital Israel”. My presentation is here ( Ottawa )

I also participated in the breakout session on IT Portfolio Management (ITPM) together with representatives of Canada, Israel, Singapore and Japan. Progress in this area is slow. The silo oriented organization of governments does not make easy the management of the global portfolio and the number of projects is so big that trying to manage the full set becomes easily out of control. The discussions tend to drift towards project management or project inventory in the framework of the budgetary discussions. It looks that Singapore, Japan and Canada have made progress in the area and have managed to involve the senior management in the subject. For me the key success factors for a good portfolio management are: Transparency, Governance and Cost/Benefit. I have said this in the past and I think the discussions have confirmed my view. For those interested in how Japan is managing their portfolio investment they have the IT Dashboard information on the following link . I think is impressive.

I also participated in the breakout session on Cybersecurity together with representatives of Canada, Singapore and Mexico. I presented the EU Cybersecurity Strategy which was very much appreciated. Singapore referred to a defacement of the website of the president at the end of 2013. Since then, they have been strengthening their security posture and creating awareness among both the managers and the officials. There are regular cybersecurity exercises (including penetration testing for government sites) and awareness campaigns. For instance, all officials in government have to participate in compulsory cybersecurity training for end users and pass a test !!!.

There was a Technology Vignettes session, where Estonia, Japan and Israel presented their projects. Particularly impressive were the demos from Estonia focusing on “learning how to write code” for school kids and Israel who presented “Iron Dome, the missile shield”.

For those who remember the “Galaxy War” of President Ronal Reagan and the famous “interception missiles” (called Patriots), the system is alike but fully designed and developed in Israel. The system a use high volume market technology for the IT part and is several orders of magnitude cheaper that the Patriots while being as effective. The most surprising thing for me was that all the software was developed using MS .Net technologies ….. !

We had three guest speakers. The first one was Shantanu Narayen, President and Chief Executive Officer, Adobe Systems Incorporated, who spoke about the company transformation process in Adobe and the “reconversion to the Cloud”. One interesting question from the audience was about Adobe, the Cloud and the NSA…. he referred to his General Counsellor “for the details”… if you see what I mean .. 😉

The other two guest speakers were Grant Westcott, Chief Operating Officer of Shared Services Canada and Eugene Roman, Senior Vice-President for Information Technology and Chief Technology Officer, Canadian Tire Corporation Limited in Canada. In addition to their official titles they are running a small family business for wine production.

They spoke about Lessons from Retail, Banking, Small Business and Telecom for the Future of Government IT

Grant spoke about his experience going to a private bank from public administration and coming back to public administration again as head of Shared Services in the Federal Government of Canada and his IT approach for his private business. He said that “he will never put his financial system in the cloud” but he is using cloud services for the website and office automation.

Eugene , who has a very technical profile, was very proud of his title of “CTO” , there is no “CIO” in his company. He said that he and his team (with “plenty of geeks” who are real genius, in his own words) are transforming the company, concentrating on good IT Architecture and on supporting the front end of business , getting rid of silos, killing legacy systems at fast pace (he said that the week end before they “killed 60 legacy applications” and replaced them with a single one which integrated all the data). His budget has increased steadily over the last years because the Board has seen the results. He was very assertive and said “you cannot manage what you do not know” in reply to a question concerning whether IT would be better managed by “not IT” managers… no comments ;-).

I very much enjoyed the conference and I will recommend that the Commission joins ICA again or ,at least , participates in the 49th conference in Stockholm.

I will speak about the meeting with Intel in another post.

Stay tuned !!!



AirBnB or how the Bay Area companies hire in campus…

November 2nd, 2014

I few days ago I participated in a meeting sponsored by UC Berkeley’s EECS (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) School for the company AirBnB whose title was “AirBnB Info Session”. I wanted to know why a company of this type was organizing a meeting at the University.

For those who do not know the company , Airbnb is a website for people to rent out lodging. It has over 800,000 listings in 34,000 cities and 192 countries with more than 20 million guests registered. Founded in August 2008 and headquartered in San Francisco, California, the company is privately owned and operated by Airbnb, Inc. According to some sources, the current valuation of the company is over 12 B$. AirBnB stands for “Air Bed & Breakfast”.

Users of the site must register and create a personal online profile before using the site. Every property is associated with a host whose profile includes recommendations by other users, reviews by previous guests, as well as a response rating and private messaging system.

Hotels in all countries have complained to public administrations about the way the company operates. This has led to issuing regulations limiting the number of days private owners can rent their houses without registering as a company and asking AirBnB to collect taxes on customer payments.

The presentation was driven by the communication team of the company, called “Team X”. It took place late afternoon after the normal classroom time table and the great majority of participants were undergrad or grad students. The Wozniak meeting room at the Soda Hall was full.

The purpose of the meeting was to present the company, its work environment and its technology platform to the students and collect applications for traineeships and/or employment.

I discovered that Oracle and Pixar were organizing the same kind of meetings in the following days. I understood that there will be a number of undergrads and grads who will receive their diploma in December and now is good time for companies to come and hunt brilliant brains. Computer Science students at Berkeley had a very good reputation and the Silicon Valley is in need of good professionals. The fact of the matter is that most students get a job before the finish their studies or shortly after.

I was particularly interested in the part of the presentation concerning the IT infrastructure and working methods. The presentation was delivered by Lu Cheng, who graduated from UC Berkeley in December 2013 and was a former trainee at the company.

The company is structured in the following teams: Growth, Search, Discovery, Trust & Safety ,Production & Infrastructure, Data Infrastructure, Security, Mobile and Payments.

AirBnB’s IT infrastructure is hosted in the Amazon Web Services Cloud. The company makes extensive use of Open Source Software such as Ruby on Rail, Java, MySQL, Lucene , etc and to my surprise also uses Hadoop, Apache’s Mesos (with Chronos, a replacement for Cron open sourced by AirBnB) and Apache Spark (for high speed cluster computing) . A very good description of the use of Open Source at AirBnB can be found at For technical teams, I recommend the reading of some of the “conversations” in the Tech Talk tab. I think we have a lot to learn from these start-ups !!!.

For the future, the company wants to go from the “Where you want to go” to 3where we suggest you to go” by exploiting all the information they have in their databases.

They also want to exploit the information in reviews and queries by better understanding the text. They are creating a series of attributes using TF-IDF algorithms.

TF–IDF ( which stands for term frequency–inverse document frequency), is a numerical statistic that is intended to reflect how important a word is to a document in a collection or corpus. It is often used as a weighting factor in information retrieval and text mining. The TF–IDF value increases proportionally to the number of times a word appears in the document, but is offset by the frequency of the word in the corpus, which helps to control for the fact that some words are generally more common than others.

Variations of the TF–IDF weighting scheme are often used by search engines as a central tool in scoring and ranking a document’s relevance given a user query. TF–IDF can be successfully used for stop-words filtering in various subject fields including text summarization and classification. One of the simplest ranking functions is computed by summing the TF-IDF for each query term; many more sophisticated ranking functions are variants of this simple model.

They tailor the algorithms to search for locations, user experiences, etc.

At the end of the presentation Lu Cheng made a few interesting comments based on his experience as a new employee of the company: Come and work with us, we guarantee lack of bureaucracy, no or very little 24/7 fire fighting , interesting IT challenges, fun and fast deployment of new versions !!!.

At the end of the session students were queuing to hand their CV to the team or get a token to go on-line and register.

I will post soon on other events I attended in the past days and on my very interesting experience at the 48th ICA-IT conference that took place in Ottawa this week.

Stay tuned !!!


Terms and Conditions May Apply…….

October 26th, 2014

As I said in one of my first posts, “Bike Stealing” is the “number one sport (I mean “crime” …)” in Berkeley and particularly in the campus.

Just a few days after my arrival I got my bike seat stolen…. this time was the whole bike….  It happened a few days ago, on Friday evening, while I was at the fitness premises between 20:00 and 21:00 in a well-lighted place close to the entrance of the Recreation Center.  Nearly every day I see U locks broken, thick cables cut, front wheels attached to the poles…without the frame  … etc. I am now part of the “statistics”. Lessons learnt.. I bought a second hand one on and spend 100 $ in locks and cables…. :-((

UC Berkeley has its own police for the campus and an officer was at the Recreation Center to take note of my declaration. Since I had registered my bike with the police (they put labels on the framework and  gave me a paper record of the registration), I told it to the officer and he said that it was good but……. “do you have the paper record at hand”? I said yes and he asked me to scan it and send it by mail because otherwise he would have to ” look into a pile of papers”….

This made me think about my research project which deals with “co-production of digital public services” ….. Why? Because all the bikers could contribute to the co-delivery of the “research service” …. In fact, at the moment of the registration the police,  identified me with my CalID card….. they could have given me a sort of personal one-time token valid for a couple of days, I could have completed the full registration of the bike and if they did it with all the bikers, they would have had the whole bike database “co-built” (i.e. co-produced)  with them !!!!

But this is not the main topic of my post for this week….

It is well know that USA TV channels either focus mostly on local news or they are subsidized by the most varied types of organizations. The very little time I was in front of the TV the programmes were for me very boring.

Having bought an Apple TV device to connect my devices to the Smart TV , I also had access to a number of paying services and it gave me the possibility to test Netflix , one of the biggest Internet Service Providers for movies and documentaries, for one month.

I started to watch documentaries and very soon I came across one whose title matches the title of this post: “Terms and Conditions May Apply” . This is a documentary produced and directed by Cullen Hoback and released in 2013. It presents and analyses in a clear way how corporations and the government utilize the information provided by users when agreeing to browse a website, install an application or purchase goods online.

I was attracted by this documentary because here at UC Berkeley some people have asked about the future “Data Protection Regulation” and they have the impression that the “right to be forgotten” is going to have an impact on the usage of the Internet.

I have watched three times the documentary and the truth is that one has the impression that “privacy is dead”.

In his declaration in front of one of the USA Congress Committes,  one officer from one of the investigation and secret services in the USA Government told that “the arrival of the social networks and the possibility to access the information provided by the users and collected and managed by the major internet services providers and telecommunication companies has provided us with a wealth of data that we could have had never dreamt about”….. !!!

According to the documentary, if users had to read every Terms and Conditions of the sites they access, they would spend a full month per year of their time. Furthermore, the Wall Street Journal estimated that “consumers lose over 250 M$ per year due to what is hidden in the agreements …”. Internet services are , sometimes,  presented as free but after knowing the data above….. this proves that “there is no such thing as a free lunch”….. !!!!

Very few people read the full text of Terms and Conditions and Privacy Statement; they use legal, non transparent language for the normal user, the text is writtn with font types and that discourage the reading. The Terms and Conditions are changed  frequently and it is very difficult, if not impossible, to know what has really changed and the impact on users and consumers. One gaming site modified the Terms and Conditions to include a clause “giving to the company the exclusive and permanent right to own the user’s soul” and maintained it for more than a week… nobody realized it and users continued clicking on ” I Agree”.

In the documentary, the CEO of a well-known social network explained that they have changed their terms and conditions to go from kind of “opt-in” approach to de facto kind of “opt-out” and when asked about it he replied that “we decided that from that moment on this would be the NEW NORMAL” . Take it or leave it ….. !!!!!

One Austrian user of that same “well-known social network” asked the company, based on the current European and national legislation on data protection, to provide him with a copy of all the information stored in their servers about him. It took a long time for him to get (part) of the information he requested and , despite the fact that he had been using the social network for less than 18 months and not being very active, the printed copy of the information was of some 2000 pages, was 35cm thick and weighted 4 kg……

I strongly recommend all the readers to watch the documentary because is very revealing of the reality of privacy on the internet today.

At the same time, I think that this situation represents a golden opportunity for Europe. Data Protection and Privacy are fundamental rights in Europe and the legislation protects both European and non-European citizens. If our ICT industry is able to provide services (telecommunication, cloud, etc) with a guarantee of respecting the privacy laws and directives, I am convinced that many customers around the world would come to Europe.

More interesting things to come !!!



On Participatory Budgeting (PB) ….

October 12th, 2014

A couple of weeks ago when speaking to James Holston ( , the co-director of the Application Social Lab @ CITRIS, about my research project on Co-production of Digital Public Services, he strongly recommended me to attend a conference in campus on Participatory Budgeting by a Professor of University of Coimbra called Giovanni Allegretti ( whose title was “25 Years of Participatory Budgeting: Analysing the Resilience of a Traveling Innovation” .

This would be my first contact with the subject and I was curious to see how a citizen participatory movement worked on the ground.

As stated in their web site ( , Participatory Budgeting (PB) is a different way to manage public money, and to engage people in government. It is a democratic process in which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. It enables taxpayers to work with government to make the budget decisions that affect their lives. As stated by the organizers of the movement

“PB gives ordinary people real power over real money.”

This process, conceived as a “ideoscape” (i.e., a model that travels around the world and becomes real only through local experiments) continuously changes as it is implemented locally. Despite these variations and the different meanings ascribed to it in different continents and cities, PB continues to be recognizable among other participatory innovations that dialogue with it.

The conference was based on the findings of the recently published “World Report on Participatory Budgeting” (2013), and the talk tried to understand the principles that guarantee the resilience, the sustainability, and the “scaling up” of this governance innovation in different corners of the planet, 25 years after the first experiments in Latin America, concretely in Brazil.

Big cities like Paris and New York have recently joined the movement. The budget that is submitted to consultation normally falls into the chapter of “Capital Investments” because in on this chapter where the cities have some flexibility on the investments with special focus on infrastructure or social projects.

After attending the conference, Jorge, one of my colleagues at the cubical at CITRIS, told me that he had been helping Tanja Aitamurto (   (who is Ph.D. and Deputy Director, Brown Fellow, postdoctoral at The Brown Institute for Media Innovation, Stanford Engineering, University of Stanford) to implement electronic voting for the Participatory Budgeting (PB) process for 2014 that was taking place at that moment at Vallejo.

Vallejo is a city with aprox. 100000 inhabitants, which is located 25 miles away from Berkeley. Tanja put me in touch with the Vallejo PB team and encouraged me to go and see the process in real.

I drove to Vallejo and this was a golden opportunity to allow me to follow live and get familiar with the selected projects for voting, meet the panel managing the voting process and speak to some of the voters.

But overall, the most interesting thing part was to have a long coffee with Alea Gage, a member of the team in charge of the Participatory Budgeting process at Vallejo. She told me about the origins of the project (2014 is the second year in a row the process takes place) the difficulties they have found and the lessons drawn from the 2013 process, the position on the subject of the members of the city council and the whole 10 month long process until the actual voting by the citizens. After the long process, 25 projects were selected for voting and every citizen could vote for a maximum of 5 projects.

Some 3000 citizens voted… it looks very few people to be representative…… but one should keep in mind that only 7%  of the Vallejo’s population participated in the election of the Major !!!

The IT environment setup for the on-premises, non-compulsory electronic voting (which included a non-compulsory fill-in of a survey) , was based on Chrome PCs (nice coloured ASUS ones whose shape looks like the Mac Book Air !!!) and the application was simple enough to proceed to voting smoothly.

I have just received the results and they are very , very interesting ….. !!!

I am trying to organize a Skype meeting with Prof. Allegretti for an exchange of views and possible collaboration on my research project and I have agreed to meet Tanja and her team at the University of Stanford beginning of November.

I am also reading some additional papers about Participatory Budgeting. I am particularly interested in the paper written by Eleonora S. M. Cunha, Giovanni Allegretti and Marisa Matias whose title is “Participatory Budgeting and the Use of Information and Communication Technologies: A Virtuous Cycle?”.

In this paper the authors discuss whether the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in the Participatory Budgeting processes can promote more engaged forms of citizenship and democracy. The discussion is based on the analysis of a few examples from different countries, which show how the use of ICTs is framed by institutions. The inclusion of ICT in participation and decision-making processes can assume very different shapes. In some cases, they can be used within well-defined limits, as information tools or for monitoring the PB during the debate and the implementation phase; in other cases, a more advanced use of ICT potentialities can serve as support to political decision-making processes.

More to come on the subject, stay tuned … !!!



Week number … 5 @ Berkeley… !!!!

September 30th, 2014

The week started with a meeting with Jeroen Dewulf ( , the brand new Director of the Institute of European Studies ( Jeroen is from Ostende (Belgium) , he did Germanic Philosophy and Portuguese in Ghent ,worked in Portugal for several years , did his PhD in German Literature in Bern (Switzerland) and joined UC Berkeley in 2005. Jeroen is very enthusiastic with very good ideas about the future of the Institute. We have agreed that I will deliver for his students and researchers a presentation on “Multilingualism in the EU Institutions” in late January or early February…. I will need help from my friends in DGT, DIGIT and other DGs dealing with this matter at the EC to prepare it !!

By the way , Jeroen and I, had coffee at the famous Free Speech Movement (FSM) Café, centrally located at the entrance to Moffitt Library at UC Berkeley, a casual place to gather, study, or take a break with friends and colleagues. It is also a venue for periodic FSM Café educational events. The Café honours Mario Savio, who played a key role in the struggle for free speech at UC, and commemorates the events of the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley at UC Berkeley during the Fall 1964 semester which was the first of the 1960s campus student movements to make headlines all over the world.

Lasting a little over two months, it ended with the arrest of 773 persons for occupying the administration building, the removal of the campus administration, and a vast enlargement of student rights to use the University campus for political activity and debate.

This year the University celebrates the 50th anniversary of the start of the movement and I think that people here are actually very proud of the movement and its consequences for freedom of expression.

Close to my cubical at CITRIS works Jorge, a PhD student from Paraguay, but coming from the University of Trento in Italy. He is Visiting PhD student at UC Berkeley for five months and he is preparing his PhD project in relation with the use of on an  IT platforms and social networks for citizen participation in Paraguay. While here, he has been working with the California Report Card (CRC, see my previous post) development team to release version 2.0 particularly on the Spanish version, what is very interesting given the amount of Spanish speaking population in California. He has also developped the interface of CRC with social networks like Twitter. Al the post to the hashtag of the CRC are automatically tranferred to the CRC platform. Version 2.0 went into production last week.

Last week, I also visited Facebook. A friend of mine is working there as head of the investigation team and I wanted him to tell me about the security challenges as they preceive them from the Facebook global network and what they do about it. I also wanted to tell him about my work and my research at UC Berkeley so that he help me to find contacts to discuss the topics of my research  in FacebooK.

They are now located in Menlo Park since the company bought the former campus of Sun Microsystems.On Fridays, they allow employees to bring friends and families for lunchand visit of the premises and I had the opportunity to go around with him and have lunch in one of the many restaurants around. Food is for free in most of them and the court was full of youngsters (the current average age in Facebook is well below 30… with many Asians and Indians , like everywhere around here !!!!).

My friend told me about the last security threatwhich are very dangerous. The so called Shellshock vulnerability affects the Bash command shell and is able to take remote control of the system by executing specific scripts. The targetted Operating Systems (OS) are exclusively Linux and, what is worst here in the Valley, OS/X the Operating System of Macs….. (compared with other places there is a tradition in the Valley to use more Macs that PCs, I would say it represent about 70% of the laptops I see every day). The vulnerability also affect mobile devices whose OS Unix based and represents a threat for the future Internet of Things (IoT) .. the specialized press say…. well it looks that not only Microsoft has security problems.. as competitors claim ;-)). I said long time ago that was only matter of time….

It looks that Facebook develops its own versions of every Open Source product they use and therefore they include a lot of customization and security and performance monitoring layers. This protects them better from attacks. My friend said to me that there were already hackers trying to exploit the above mentioned vulnerability on their infrastructure…

I also saw Marc Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, in his office. The office is on one side of the Restaurant’s Court and has transparent glass, what allows to see him from outside; it looks that it is like that to send the message of “openness” in the company. He was there with his usual grey T-shirt, jeans and sport shoes. My friend said to me that he shake hands a couple of times and he is kind but shy.

I have sent him a presentation on the EU Cybersecurity Strategy since he would like that I come and explain this internally in Facebook. To be followed…..

I continue with my readings and discussing with my contacts on my research project; soon and I will have the scope clear and will start the field work accordingly.

More to come… stay tuned !!!














Already one month @ Berkeley… !!!!

September 23rd, 2014

Time has flown again…. Last week was a very interesting one with some important activities.

First of all, on Wednesday 17/9 , I delivered a speech about the European Digital Agenda (EDA) that I could prepare thanks to the help of our colleagues from DIGIT and DG CNECT. It was in the framework of the lunch time conferences that CITRIS organizes weekly and is broadcasted to all the CITRIS campuses of UC Californian via Videoconference.

It was quite successful, some 95 people (students, scholars, researchers, etc) registered and the organizers had to overflow part of the people to the room next since the main room on was fully booked.

Obviously is very difficult to describe, with some level of detail, the EDA in 40 minutes; therefore I agreement with the organizers (Thanks Yvette for your help!!) I focused on four topics: Interoperability and Standards, eGovernment, Trust and Security and Open Data.

I asked Yvette whether the audience had any knowledge about the EU and she suggested that I included two or three slides about it,  what I did …. Still describing what the EU is in three slides is even more difficult than describing the EDA in the 50 slides I managed to display and speak about in  42 minutes… quite a miracle but went well !!! 😉

I combined interoperability with the principles of the directive on standardization in quite smooth manner and I think, because of the questions I received at the end , that I successfully passed the message. I also spoke about semantic interoperability and gave some examples and also CAMSS as a mean to assess standards pointing the audience to the JoinUp platform.

On eGovernment, I focused on the action plan and presented some figures coming from the last Benchmarking of EDA and I also spoke about the future of Digital Public Services based on the Open Government paradigm , which is related to my research project here.

On Open Data, I presented the PSI Directive of 2013 and the way the EC looks at Open Data internally, pointing the audience to and the pilot of pan-european portal.

In trust and security I focused on the EU Cybersecurity Strategy and of course questions about privacy came up……. to be expected !!!!

At the end of the meeting a young postgrad came to see me telling that he very much liked my presentation and whether it would be possible to meet to speak about my input for his PhD subject that he was about to define.

His name is Aditya he comes from India and his background is mechanical engineering but he is very interested in digital policies applied to his country. He also did a postgrad in Switzerland and visited Spain…. Of course he went to see a soccer game of Real Madrid and Barcelona !!!.

We met for coffee and had a one hour discussion about possible collaboration and I am now sending him some background information so that he can prepare one page whit his ideas about his future PhD work as a basis for our discussion. Nice and clever guy !!!

I had a meeting at CITRIS with Brandie Nonnecke and Sanjay Krishnan of CITRIS who are working on the California Report Card (CRC) ( to have a presentation of the system and discuss about its background, usage and sponsoring.

The CRC is an online platform developed by the CITRIS Data and Democracy Initiative at UC Berkeley and Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom that explores how smartphones and networks can enhance communication between the public and government leaders. The CRC allows visitors to grade issues facing California and to suggest issues for future report cards. The project aims to increase public engagement and to help leaders at all levels stay informed about the changing opinions and priorities of their constituents. Anyone can participate by taking a few minutes to assign grades to the State of California on issues such as: Healthcare, Education, Marriage Equality, Immigrant Rights, and Marijuana Decriminalization.

By the way, Gavin Newson is the former mayor of San Francisco and has written a book I am reading now called “Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government”. I very much recommend those interested in public services to read it. I like it very much even though it focuses very much on the USA case.

I will tell more about the CRC once I know it in depth.

On the leisure side, we did the traditional Saturday shopping visit to the Tokyo Fish Market to buy fish for the week and to the Monterrey Fruit and Vegetables market for the “vitamins part of the diet” ;-).

Sunday we went (and we are already 6 in the gang !!) to Point Bonita and Point Reyes and ,despite the cloudy day, the views were great ….. and we had a lot of fun together.

More to come this week…Stay tuned !!!



The post of week 3 @ Berkeley…..

September 12th, 2014

Last weekend was for shopping and sightseeing.

On Sunday I went with three other Spanish Visiting Scholar to visit Muir Woods one of the big parks around the bay. Muir Woods is full of big, very high and very old Redwoods. Redwoods are from the same families as the Sequoias but they are a (little bit) thinner and taller.

It was beautiful nature and one of the voluntaries that collaborates with the park and takes groups of visitors around, explained the vegetation, the origin of the park and its evolution and a little bit of the history of California linked to it… very interesting.

Then we went for lunch to Tiburon, one of the “chic” places in the Bay… very nice … and very expensive, there are wonderful houses on the waterfront and a lot of nature as well. With a very sunny and warm day, having lunch with bay view and the landscape of San Francisco in front of us was delicious; to complete the day barbecue at home and a lot of fun with the Spaniards !!!

This week, my “networking work” has started. I had a meeting with Heddy Riss, Programme Director at the Institute of International Studies ( ). She is the person in charge of the EU Fellows arriving at UC Berkeley. She knows the University very well and is helping me to identify contacts in the University who could be useful for my research.

She gave me a few hints on how to restructure the presentation of my research project according to the “Berkeley standards”. It was useful since my paper was, I think, a little bit “Commission oriented”. I have already a few mail addresses for contacts and I am setting up meetings.

As you see from the website, Heddy is Belgium and her husband, Belgium as well , is Professor at the Faculty of Economy. They came 10 years ago and found the place excellent for work and life and decided to stay here.

During the VSPA (   general meeting, we were asked to introduce ourselves to our neighbour. I met then John Ihm, a Visiting Scholar from South Korea and we agreed to go for a cup of coffee. John is at the Law School and comes from Chicago where he is doing a PhD in law. John’s father is a Physics professor and came to Berkeley from Korea long time ago on a sabbatical. At that time, John was at secondary school and the family spent a year in Berkeley and enjoyed it very much. John told me that it is one of the reasons why he came back to Berkeley again. John asked me to tell him about my work, the EU and IT; I gave him an overview of the subjects and promised him that I will explain more when we meet for coffee again since I had to rush for a conference.

Here in Berkeley the daily event agenda is very rich, with plenty of interesting activities during the day. I selected two conferences for this week.

The first one was “Using Computer Science to Help Save Lives”. The speaker was Professor D. Patterson ( He is on sabbatical for the time being but comes to the campus from time to time and his conference was very interesting.

It was about applying good Software Engineering technics to identify diseases like Encephalitis or some types of cancer through the DNA. A multidisciplinary team and doctor and computer scientists he is leading, has developed a series of “pattern matching software” for genomic data that help the doctors to identify the possible origin of the disease so that the appropriate treatment can be applied and the disease cured .

He maintains that the pharmaceutical industry sell medicines to maintain the sick people alive but not to cure them. If only , with good Software Engineering technics one could save 100 lives all the efforts would be worthwhile !!!!. He also spoke about the difference of publishing in Computer Science and Medicine or Biology and the risk of just concentrating on publishing and not on curing people !!.

The speaker for the second conference was Güneç Acar, a PhD student from COSIC- Leuven University in Belgium and Visiting Scholar for two months at UC Berkeley. His conference was about IT Trust and Security and the title was ” The Web Never Forgets: Persistent Tracking Mechanisms in the Wild”. His talk covered a study, that will be soon published in the ACM, of three advanced web tracking mechanisms: canvas fingerprinting, evercookies and cookie syncing.

Canvas fingerprinting, a recently developed form of browser fingerprinting, exploits the differences in image rendering by browsers to obtain a unique tracking identifier. The study found that over 5% of the top 100,000 websites, ranging from to popular adult sites, included scripts that utilize canvas fingerprinting, along with other known forms of browser fingerprinting as demonstrated by EFF’s Panopticlick Project.

It is absolutely frightening how through “permanent or spawned cookies” and sometimes with very simple heuristic algorithms based on a few features of the browser like the fonts , the Flash version, etc , web sites are able to identify the users…. With the help of specialized service providers !!!

There are already companies , such as Bluecava ( ) specialized in fingerprinting. There have already been court cases in the USA on this subject.

I will point to the presentation as soon as they upload it.

Stay tuned… more to follow !!!!


Hi everybody….. again ;-) !

September 5th, 2014

Today in the morning, we, the Visiting Scholars, Post-doc’s and Visiting Students Researchers, had a presentation by VSPA.

They presented the UC Berkeley (aka Cal) to us and gave us a few interesting figures about the University. According to the information received UC Berkeley is THE NUMBER ONE University in the USA (and this despite the claim of Stanford… they say !!). The ranking seems to be an official one and “the competition” is run every year…. they have been number one for the last 14 years !!!.

It is a huge University with some 36000 students, 25000 undergrads and 10000 grads; faculty staff more than 2000… there are 1600 Post-doc’s , 1400 Visiting  Scholars and 500 Students Researchers every year. The research budget is 714 M$ per year and the “productivity” is impressive: 7000 Bachelors, 2480 Masters, 905 PhDs…… 2200 inventions, 569 USA patents and 465 foreign patents….  PER YEAR, …what to say ……  :-0000 ! And it is the University with highest number of Nobel laureates ,  certainly in the States…. but perhaps also in the world. To illustrate the importance there are parking places close to my office that are “Reserved for Nobel laureates” !!!! And a parking place at the University is a sign of status. Normal, not reserved parking places in the few parking garages in the campus (no way to find a free place after 9 in the morning… sounds familiar, dear Drosbach friends , doesn’t it..:-(() , cost 150$ per month !!! I am very happy that I chose a house close to the University and I can bike or walk !!!!

It is part of the whole University of California, that has many sites scattered around the State, like: Davis, San Francisco (Innovation Hub) ,Santa Cruz, Merced (which specializes in Artificial intelligence and interdisciplinary groups) Santa Barbara (biomedicals and nanotechnologies) , Los Angeles (the famous UCLA , the biggest university and most applied university in USA…  Will it be because of Hollywood? the beaches? the weather?…Uhmmmm, ;-)) , Riverside, Irvine (which offers a degree in Computer Games Science (yes SCIENCE !!!) and Virtual Environments !!!) and San Diego (has the only Earthquake Simulation Labs in the States, with probes on directly on the geological fault… “très à la mode” after the earthquake we had here a few days ago… by the way the scientists were on the news telling that hey need 10 M$ to complete the project for surveillance and early warning and they do not have them for the time being… perhaps now the wind will change … ;-).

In my previous post , I spoke about bikes theft…. well…. they are only number two in the ranking ….; the winners are …  LAPTOPS … … BEAR (Bear is the logo of UC Berkeley) TIP number one: NEVER LEAVE YOUR LAPTOP UNATTENDED !!!!. In fact ,Harry Kreiner , my neighbor in the office , who has retired now and was the former Executive Director of the Institute of International Studies where I currently have my desk, told me  a couple of days ago: “Even if you go to the bathroom ..lock your door, laptops “fly” here… and they do not have wings ” ;-). Now I understand better what he meant…..

That’s is is it as far as the University is concerned for today…

On my research work, my reading subjects for today are: “Social media in Government: Its impact on policies and in achieving Public Goals ” and “Risk Analysis to overcome barriers to Open Data”  (the latter will be an input for the preparation of my presentation to all CITRIS departments at the University of California via VC , on the Digital Agenda for Europa that will take place on September 17th). I will post the presentation after the meeting.

Still work in the office for one hour and half and then back home to dress for the spinning class at the Recreation Facilities.

To be continued…

Stay tuned !!!!