René Pickhardt on August 27th, 2014

Disclaimer the following is a stub article since I hit the wrong button (publish instead of save in the wodpress backend)

This is my personal list of people that I admire. In a sense I would say if you want to know what I stand for you can just have a brief look at this list and at the values, norms and ideas the people of the list stand for. I have been heavily criticized that this list contains too many white men and not people from other cultures and sex. I think the main reason is that I am a western person and even though I lived in China I can just see to the horizon of my culture and of course I am being influenced by my culture. This is also where my values come from. So if you know people with a similar set of ideas and beliefs from other cultures feel free to contact me or leave a comment and point them out to me. I am very excited to “meet” more exciting people especially outside of my current horizon.

Also the following list has a randomized order.

Tank man


A man who stood in front of a column of tanks on June 5, 1989, the morning after the Chinese military had suppressed the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 by force, became known as the Tank Man or Unknown Protester. The tanks manoeuvred to pass by the man, and he moved to continue to obstruct them, in something like a dance. The incident was filmed and seen worldwide.

further info:

own reason:
This is an unbelievable example of civil courage. Obviously his actions did not really change how things have been going on around tiananmen but I think this is truly heroic and brave.
I wish I will always have a similar courage when it comes to the point of fighting for a good thing or idea.

Aaron Swartz


Aaron Hillel Swartz (November 8, 1986 – January 11, 2013) was an American computer programmer, writer, political organizer and Internet Hacktivist.
Swartz was involved in the development of the web feed format RSS, the organization Creative Commons, the website framework and the social news site, Reddit, in which he became a partner after its merger with his company, Infogami.
Swartz’s work also focused on sociology, civic awareness and activism. He helped launch the Progressive Change Campaign Committee in 2009 to learn more about effective online activism. In 2010 he became a research fellow at Harvard University’s Safra Research Lab on Institutional Corruption, directed by Lawrence Lessig. He founded the online group Demand Progress, known for its campaign against the Stop Online Piracy Act.
On January 6, 2011, Swartz was arrested by MIT police on state breaking-and-entering charges, after systematically downloading academic journal articles from JSTOR. Federal prosecutors later charged him with two counts of wire fraud and 11 violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, carrying a cumulative maximum penalty of $1 million in fines, 35 years in prison, asset forfeiture, restitution and supervised release.
Swartz declined a plea bargain under which he would serve six months in federal prison. Two days after the prosecution rejected a counter-offer by Swartz, he was found dead in his Brooklyn, New York apartment, where he had hanged himself.
In June 2013, Swartz was posthumously inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame.

further info:

own reason:

Just read the guerilla open access manifesto. Writing something like this and understanding the impact of open access is terrific. But living it through the PACER project and also through the JSTOR case at MIT is a complete different story.
I strongly believe that unjust laws exist but we have to understand that law is a relative thing. It is us in our society who make the laws. So it is also us to change them. I think norms and values of a society should stand above a particular law. So what Aaron did is following a very strong set of norms and values and fighting for a better law. One might doubt if his actions have been to radical and not in the way how we as a society decided to live our democratic processes but I am sure Aaron was driven by the deep wish to make the world a more place with more justice.

Lawrence Lessig


Lawrence “Larry” Lessig (born June 3, 1961) is an American academic and political activist. He is a proponent of reduced legal restrictions on copyright, trademark, and radio frequency spectrum, particularly in technology applications, and he has called for state-based activism to promote substantive reform of government with a Second Constitutional Convention. In May 2014, he launched a crowd-funded political action committee which he termed May Day PAC with the purpose of electing candidates to Congress who would pass campaign finance reform.
Lessig is director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University and a Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. Previously, he was a professor of law at Stanford Law School and founder of the Center for Internet and Society. Lessig is a founding board member of Creative Commons and the founder of Rootstrikers, and is on the board of MapLight. He is on the advisory boards of the Democracy Café, Sunlight Foundation and Americans Elect. He is a former board member of the Free Software Foundation, Software Freedom Law Center and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

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own reason:
I have to admit that I did not come around to read his book code2.0 which is said to be excellent. But from his talks and actions I love how Lessig points out problems within society and how he is trying to educate people about it. He seems to have a very similar set of norms and values as Aaron did (and I do) but he is following “the protocol” of our society to fight for them. Especially he seems to be a true intellectual and not just a person who made a career in academia.

Geschwister Scholl


Hans and Sophie Scholl, often referred to in German as die Geschwister Scholl (literally: the Scholl siblings), were a brother and sister who were members of the White Rose, a student group in Munich that was active in the non-violent resistance movement in Nazi Germany, especially in distributing flyers against the war and the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler. In post-war Germany, Hans and Sophie Scholl are recognized as symbols of the humanist German resistance movement against the totalitarian Nazi regime.

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own reason:
It always is hard to pick a single person or in this case siblings when it comes to role models in opposing a regime that is harmful for the people of a society. Of course the Geschwister Scholl have not been the only people in the resistence movement of Nazi Germany and there have been other regimes in other places that also had resitence movements. Still I believe their actions are very remarkable. I think it is the role of students to point out problems in our society. Nowadays many students seem to just accept everything that is happening. Distributing the fliers with the “truth” about Nazi Germany was not only brave but also at the university attracting many people that could multiply the message

I think it is similar to Aaron Swartz. Students and young people are in the role of more radically pointing out problems within society and the Geschwister Scholl most certainly fulfilled this role.

Randy Pausch


Randolph Frederick “Randy” Pausch (October 23, 1960 – July 25, 2008) was an American professor of computer science, human-computer interaction, and design at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Pausch learned that he had pancreatic cancer in September 2006, and in August 2007 he was given a terminal diagnosis: “3 to 6 months of good health left”. He gave an upbeat lecture titled “The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” on September 18, 2007, at Carnegie Mellon, which became a popular YouTube video and led to other media appearances. He then co-authored a book called The Last Lecture on the same theme, which became a New York Times best-seller. Pausch died of complications from pancreatic cancer on July 25, 2008.

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own reason:
It might be the American optimism that is behind Randy Pausch’s lecture and talk but I actually do not admire him for giving an inspiring lecture even though he was dying. I admire him much more for the fact that he seemd to have lived his life in a very positive way. His goal of enabling the dreams of others sounds very honest to me. I also like the statements that he made about “If you life your life in the right way, the dreams come to you”. I think Randy is a very good example to show that no matter what fate did with a person it is the person’s responsibility to answer to this. When people cry out they might receive pitty but probably not really improve their situation. I guess one can summerize Randy with his quote:

We cannot change the cards we are dealt with only the way we play them.

By the way I especially like the idea that he gave this talk for his kids to teach them a lesson at a time when they are grown up and he would not be around anymore.

Tim Berners-Lee<


Sir Timothy John “Tim” Berners-Lee, OM, KBE, FRS, FREng, FRSA, DFBCS (born 8 June 1955), also known as “TimBL”, is an English computer scientist, best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web. He made a proposal for an information management system in March 1989, and he implemented the first successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) client and server via the Internet sometime around mid November of that same year.
Berners-Lee is the director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which oversees the Web’s continued development. He is also the founder of the World Wide Web Foundation, and is a senior researcher and holder of the Founders Chair at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). He is a director of the Web Science Research Initiative (WSRI), and a member of the advisory board of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence.
In 2004, Berners-Lee was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his pioneering work. In April 2009, he was elected a foreign associate of the United States National Academy of Sciences. He was honoured as the “Inventor of the World Wide Web” during the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony, in which he appeared in person, working with a vintage NeXT Computer at the London Olympic Stadium. He tweeted “This is for everyone”, which instantly was spelled out in LCD lights attached to the chairs of the 80,000 people in the audience.

further info:
Even though he is a bad talker and reading his book (weaving the web) will help much more I link a video here:

own reason:
In my Oppinion there are many reasons to admire Tim Berners Lee. Of course he is famouse for inventing the world wide web. But I think the time was due for this invention. Internet itself was not very useful. The ideas of hypertext where around and similar systems existed. As always on the internet we have a strong the winner takes it all phenomenon. So bringing us the world wide web is certainly something Tim should get credit for but it is not the main reason why I admire him.
What is really cool about Tim Berners Lee is that he seems to have a very clear sense and abstraction of technical things and especially about their impact. Maybe it is easy to develop this sense after creating a technology that literally everyone on the Internet is using but still I like his activism for openess, ineroperability, net neutrality and freedom in general but freedom of speech in particular. Also he addressed me directly after asking a question in a Q&A session at a conference. His attitude of saying if you want to change the world you have the tools don’t talk just go geek and do it will certainly stick to me for the rest of my life.

Other than that I like that he does not fear to make a political statement about the problems with the web and where it should go and that he seems to have no interest whatsoever in becoming a multi billionear which he could have easily achieved after sitting on the invention of the world wide web and being so central in its development.

Albert Einstein


Albert Einstein (/ˈælbərt ˈaɪnstaɪn/; German: [ˈalbɐt ˈaɪnʃtaɪn] ( listen); 14 March 1879 – 18 April 1955) was a German-born theoretical physicist and philosopher of science. He developed the general theory of relativity, one of the two pillars of modern physics (alongside quantum mechanics). He is best known in popular culture for his mass–energy equivalence formula E = mc2 (which has been dubbed “the world’s most famous equation”). He received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics “for his services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect”. The latter was pivotal in establishing quantum theory.
Near the beginning of his career, Einstein thought that Newtonian mechanics was no longer enough to reconcile the laws of classical mechanics with the laws of the electromagnetic field. This led to the development of his special theory of relativity. He realized, however, that the principle of relativity could also be extended to gravitational fields, and with his subsequent theory of gravitation in 1916, he published a paper on the general theory of relativity. He continued to deal with problems of statistical mechanics and quantum theory, which led to his explanations of particle theory and the motion of molecules. He also investigated the thermal properties of light which laid the foundation of the photon theory of light. In 1917, Einstein applied the general theory of relativity to model the large-scale structure of the universe.
He was visiting the United States when Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933 and, being Jewish, did not go back to Germany, where he had been a professor at the Berlin Academy of Sciences. He settled in the U.S., becoming an American citizen in 1940. On the eve of World War II, he endorsed a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt alerting him to the potential development of “extremely powerful bombs of a new type” and recommending that the U.S. begin similar research. This eventually led to what would become the Manhattan Project. Einstein supported defending the Allied forces, but largely denounced the idea of using the newly discovered nuclear fission as a weapon. Later, with the British philosopher Bertrand Russell, Einstein signed the Russell–Einstein Manifesto, which highlighted the danger of nuclear weapons. Einstein was affiliated with the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, until his death in 1955.
Einstein published more than 300 scientific papers along with over 150 non-scientific works. His great intellectual achievements and originality have made the word “Einstein” synonymous with genius.

further info:

own reason:
He was probably one of my first role models. I admire him for two reasons.
The first – which I nowadays actually find a stupid reason to admire someone – is just his pure intellect. Creating relativity theory was an amazing achievement of ignoring what we seem to know and just following the facts (as all good mathematicians and computer scientists should do all the time) But the list of his physical achiements does not stop at relativity theory (actually David Hilbert brought us general relativity much quicker and before Einstein (after he had talked to him on a conference) DOUBLE CHECK FACT) Further than that the list of various independent fields that he was working on in physics is just increadibly long.
The second reason is the way Einstein behaved about the development of the nuclear bomb. He first pointed out – by signing a letter to the American president of that time Roosevelt – that there is the danger that Nazi Germany might create a nuclear weapon. This led to the Manhatten project. The interesting part comes at the moment where Einstein regrets signing the letter. He said that if had known that this weapon would have been used against civil people and that Nazi Germany would not be successfull in developing such a bomb he would have done nothing.
Many scientists have a great responsability. Knowledge can quickly become very dangerous or can be missused for a strategic adventage in harmful actions. Unfortunately I have the feeling that many scientists do not have the time or courage to think about ethics and the real impact of their reasearch (I mean the impact that is not measured by citations and impact factors…). Even Einstein seemd not to be aware of his impact by writing this letter that led to the Manhatten project. Still he took responsibility after the Bombs had been used in Japan. I think many people in Einsteins position would have found a way of justifying how the americans had used the bomb against Japan. He did not. He publicly regreted what he did and had started. Finally he was a key player and intellectual of this open letter which pledges to the governments of this world to resolve conflicts in a peaceful way

Chelsea Manning


Chelsea Elizabeth Manning (born Bradley Edward Manning, December 17, 1987) is a United States Army soldier who was convicted in July 2013 of violations of the Espionage Act and other offenses, after releasing the largest set of classified documents ever leaked to the public. Manning was sentenced in August 2013 to 35 years confinement with the possibility of parole in eight years, and to be dishonorably discharged from the Army. Manning is a trans woman who, in a statement the day after sentencing, said she had felt female since childhood, wanted to be known as Chelsea, and desired to begin hormone replacement therapy. From early life and through much of her Army life, Manning was known as Bradley; she was diagnosed with gender identity disorder while in the Army.
Assigned in 2009 to an Army unit in Iraq as an intelligence analyst, Manning had access to classified databases. In early 2010, she leaked classified information to WikiLeaks and confided this to Adrian Lamo, an online acquaintance. Lamo informed Army Counterintelligence, and Manning was arrested in May that same year. The material included videos of the July 12, 2007 Baghdad airstrike, and the 2009 Granai airstrike in Afghanistan; 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables; and 500,000 Army reports that came to be known as the Iraq War logs and Afghan War logs. Much of the material was published by WikiLeaks or its media partners between April and November 2010.
Manning was ultimately charged with 22 offenses, including aiding the enemy, which was the most serious charge and could have resulted in a death sentence. She was held at the Marine Corps Brig, Quantico in Virginia, from July 2010 to April 2011 under Prevention of Injury status—which entailed de facto solitary confinement and other restrictions that caused domestic and international concern—before being transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where she could interact with other detainees. She pleaded guilty in February 2013 to 10 of the charges. The trial on the remaining charges began on June 3, 2013, and on July 30 she was convicted of 17 of the original charges and amended versions of four others, but was acquitted of aiding the enemy. She is serving her sentence at the maximum-security U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth.
Reaction to Manning’s disclosures, arrest, and sentence was mixed. Denver Nicks, one of her biographers, writes that the leaked material, particularly the diplomatic cables, was widely seen as a catalyst for the Arab Spring that began in December 2010, and that Manning was viewed as both a 21st-century Tiananmen Square Tank Man and an embittered traitor. Reporters Without Borders condemned the length of the sentence, saying that it demonstrated how vulnerable whistleblowers are.

further info:

own reason:
Obviously I did not have the time to read everything that Manning has made public so I might be blinded by media coverage of his case. From what I know I can say that many others on the list Manning was bound to her moral and not to what she was allowed to do or not. I think she was truly trying to point out unjust things and I think especially the way she did it was actually pretty smart. I guess there is a lot of structural violence in politics and military. Pointing out problems in the “correct way” seems to not really change something. Therefor she just had to release the video of american soldiers randomly shooting civilians. Did she have to make public everything else? Who knows. Actually who cares? Making this video itself public is heroic and should have a much bigger impact than it did.
Going to jail for 35 years and having the society accepting this makes me just said. I really wonder what has to happen for people to make a revolution. Not that I believe in such a drastic action but having Manning in prison for 35 years is f*** up. I strongly hope that one day Chelsea Manning will receive the peace nobel price at some time.

Noam Chomsky


Avram Noam Chomsky (/ˈnoʊm ˈtʃɒmski/; born December 7, 1928) is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, logician, political commentator and activist. Sometimes described as the “father of modern linguistics”, Chomsky is also a major figure in analytic philosophy. He has spent most of his career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he is currently Professor Emeritus, and has authored over 100 books. He has been described as a prominent cultural figure, and was voted the “world’s top public intellectual” in a 2005 poll.
Born to a middle-class Ashkenazi Jewish family in Philadelphia, Chomsky developed an early interest in anarchism from relatives in New York City. He later undertook studies in linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, where he obtained his BA, MA, and PhD, while from 1951 to 1955 he was appointed to Harvard University’s Society of Fellows. In 1955 he began work at MIT, soon becoming a significant figure in the field of linguistics for his publications and lectures on the subject. He is credited as the creator or co-creator of the Chomsky hierarchy, the universal grammar theory, and the Chomsky–Schützenberger theorem. Chomsky also played a major role in the decline of behaviorism, and was especially critical of the work of B.F. Skinner. In 1967 he gained public attention for his vocal opposition to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, in part through his essay The Responsibility of Intellectuals, and came to be associated with the New Left while being arrested on multiple occasions for his anti-war activism. While expanding his work in linguistics over subsequent decades, he also developed the propaganda model of media criticism with Edward S. Herman. Following his retirement from active teaching, he has continued his vocal public activism, praising the Occupy movement for example.
Chomsky has been a highly influential academic figure throughout his career, and was cited within the field of Arts and Humanities more often than any other living scholar between 1980 and 1992. He was also the eighth most cited scholar overall within the Arts and Humanities Citation Index during the same period. His work has influenced fields such as artificial intelligence, cognitive science, computer science, logic, mathematics, music theory and analysis, political science, programming language theory and psychology. Chomsky continues to be well known as a political activist, and a leading critic of U.S. foreign policy, state capitalism, and the mainstream news media. Ideologically, he aligns himself with anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism.

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own reason:
Chomsky is very new on the list so I cannot say very much about him. I have watched several interviews and talk by him and I just find it amazing how he turned completely towards ethics and political activism and is highly educated, rational and fact driven (he seems always to just have the better argument). In particular I like his point of view on power systems (As far as I understand him he is not blaming single people for injustice but he is seeing the problem of structural violence). I also like his critical view on mass media therefor I am eager to read his book: manufacturing consent
I particular like his very clear view on fundamental issues and how certain policies inevitably lead to certain abuse.

Melinda Gates (also Bill Gates)


Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF or the Gates Foundation) is one of the largest private foundations in the world, founded by Bill and Melinda Gates. It was launched in 2000 and is said to be the largest transparently operated private foundation in the world. It is “driven by the interests and passions of the Gates family”. The primary aims of the foundation are, globally, to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty, and in America, to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology. The foundation, based in Seattle, Washington, is controlled by its three trustees: Bill Gates, Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett. Other principal officers include Co-Chair William H. Gates, Sr. and Chief Executive Officer Susan Desmond-Hellmann.
It had an endowment of US$38.3 billion as of 30 June 2013. The scale of the foundation and the way it seeks to apply business techniques to giving makes it one of the leaders in the philanthrocapitalism revolution in global philanthropy, though the foundation itself notes that the philanthropic role has limitations. In 2007, its founders were ranked as the second most generous philanthropists in America, and Warren Buffett the first. As of May 16, 2013, Bill Gates had donated US$28 billion to the foundation.

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own reason:
Ok I admit it is not fair to just name her. I mean it is still the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. But from my perception it is Melinda who was the driving force and the eyeopener for Bill Gates. I always realized Bill Gates as one of the coldest and disgusting business man out there (On the same list as Steve Jobs and Marc Zuckerberg). Using Patents and Licence agreements and closed systems just for the purpose of becoming increadibly rich. Like other computer scientists he already had a deep impact on people and bringing us the operating systems and office suite was probably not that bad after all. I mean they were still useful tools for most people. Still he could have choosen a more ethical business model. Well how should he have seen these things when he was young. I guess he was even bound to investors and to what they wanted.
I guess with the help of Melinda he also realized that it would be to late to make drastic changes to Microsoft so he changed the focus in his life to create something new. Something that is much more sustainable and that feels very good.
Now using their wealth Bill and Melinde Gates start to tackle really important issues that we as humans can all tackle but which seem economically unimportant to tackle. This feels a little bit like a modern version of Robin Hood. Microsoft is pulling money out of the rich part of the world with nowadays ok software at high cost and vendor lockin but Bill and Melinda are distributing this money e.g. to fight diseases in areas of the world where the western world simply doesn’t care to fight these diseases. Also they act as multiplicators to convince other rich people to do similar. I think this contributes a lot to more justice and progress.

Besides my love for technological topics the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is besides the Wikimedia Foundation probably the only interesting NGO I am aware of and that I would be willing to work for and sacrifice my tech career. But I guess this could still even be done after a successfull tech career (:

By the way funfact: The rich get richer principle holds so increadibly in the case of bill and melinda gates. Warren Buffet the “opponent” to Gates of being the wealthiest person in the world donated almost all his money to the Bill and Melinde Gates foundation which I think is an incredible trust provider to what Bill and Melinda are doing.

Uncertain candidates – since its had to say

There are some borderline candidates which I am still not sure about.

Julian Assange

I do not even know how to make up my mind. On the one hand Julian Assange seems to be an increadible important person and really doing a lot of good. On the other hand he seems very self centered and sometimes not authentic. I understand that he of has course operational costs and no fixed income. Still I am not sure how much is real

RAF – resp. Ulrike Meinhof:

I guess in Germany it is almost as impossible to say that one sympasizes with the RAF as it would be to state that one sympasizes with the NSDAP. Yet I liked the fundamental problems the RAF addressed. Their methods where stupid and I guess there where a lot of “dead fish” swimming with the RAF and pursuing all the terror the RAF did but from their core beliefs and problems with the German society they seemed to have some really valid points.

Richard Stallman

Inventing the GPL was an an increadible smart move. I am not sure if this was the first copyleft licence and if stallman really came up himself with the idea. Still he probably could and would have if he didn’t.
Stallman is often perceived to be too radical and not able to make a compromise. From what I understand (and within this article I believe that this is the topic with my biggest expertise) this is just the only way. Ther cannot be such a thing as “half free software” you are free or you are not free. The impact of being free is so incredibly big that I think it is indeed one of the view points in life where people really should not make a compromize. So I think that what Stallman is frequently being critisized for is actually one of his strongest points.

Linus Torvalds

I am not sure if he is just a winner takes it all guy or if there is more to him. Besides linux bringing git to the hacker community is the second and maybe on the long term even more impactful innovation by linus torvalds. Also the processes how he seems to work how he seems to understand the dynamics and social processes of the open source community is crazy.

Larry Page

People might ask: “Rene why is Steve jobs and zuckerberg on your bad list and Larry page not? Where did he donate his money do and did he do all the philantropic work like bill gates?” My only response is: Yes that is a problem and that is part of the reason why I am still undecided about Page. What speaks for page is his creativity combined with his strong will to use technology, and financial power to change the world and make it more automized and efficient. By pursuing this goal he seems to ignore economical principles. Google has released a bunch of products that are hard to monetarize (even indirectly) or really “moonshot” projects. I have the feeling that page cannot donate money or give up power within google unless he has brought the amount of innovation to the world that he wanted.
* Self driving cars (probably as shared economy with taxi, logistics, online shoping and not for sale)
* a better “semantic” search (in combination with android and more knowledge of user context)
Even though not everything is perfect google does it is stil increadibly that a company with so many employees is still able to manage such a great company culture. At least Google is a company that started with a clear mission statement (“to make the worlds knowledge universally accessable for everyone everywhere”) and as said probably page cannot rest and focus on other things unlesss he has fullfilled his nobal goal.

René Pickhardt on July 23rd, 2014

Long time I have been trying to educate people about social networks and marketing within social networking services. I thought I would not create an article about the topic in my blog again, but I just stumbled upon a really nice video summarizing a lot of my concerns from a different angle.

So here you can see how much click fraud exists with likes on Facebook. Why you should not buy any likes and in general about the problems with Facebook’s news stream.

I am really wondering at what point in time the industries will realize that Facebook is not a vivid ecosystem and this thing will break down. I have been predicting the Downfall of Facebook quite often and it did not happen so far. I am still expecting it to happen and I guess we all have to wait just a little bit longer.


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René Pickhardt on May 29th, 2014

This is a copy of an answer I left on Larry Page’s Google Plus profile after another announcement about the progress of the self driving car:

How come you have a patent for the self driving taxi company in the USA? I always thought of you as a creative role model who wanted to change the world towards a better place.

Why not leaving the competition open? I really loved Jonathan Rosenberg’s blog entry in which you ask for openness. This inspired me in my PhD program a lot to make everything open.

I was so keen when you announced the self driving car as it was my childhood dream to have self driving cars in the world. (Visiting the United states in 2001 I learnt programming in high school and in my book I drafted my own first class Schema for a self driving car.)

After you announced the self driving car I was keen to build up the taxi company. Contributing to the progress in transportation and logistics and helping the process of automation.

There is much criticism against Google but after your recent TED talk I thought “Larry is really the guy who doesn’t care for money but wants to make progress to the world!” Before I often wondered why you didn’t take part in Bill Gates giving pledge. But I realized that you needed your capital for building stuff like the car or glasses. I thought that this is also an amazing way to change the world towards a better place.

In the talk you mentioned shared economy and too many cars in LA. I thought “Great, this is exactly where the Taxi company comes in.” and I was happy to realize that you already seem to have the same ideas. I even expected Google to create a taxi company.

Anyway please give the self driving car to the world and don’t own all the applications of it. Please build open systems and give people the chance to contribute to the ecosystem around the self driving car.
Closed systems will slow down the progress as you say yourself in the above mentioned blog article.


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René Pickhardt on April 24th, 2014

I was just reading through the recent notes of Heinrich which I can recommend to read as well as his old notes. When I stumbled upon the note called Monitor /etc/ using git I was confused. Why would one do this?

So I talked to Heinrich and he said:

“Well you want to monitor changes of your system config. You want to be able to revert them and you don’t want to care about this when you do something.”

I really liked this and thinks its so useful and a smart idea that I wanted to share it with you. Just keep in mind that you don’t push the git repository to some public space since the config files might include a lot of passwords. Also look out for his .gitignore in his case the printer does a lot of automatic changes and is thus ignored. You might have similar settings for your configs.

I hope sharing this was useful for you!


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After 2 years of hard work I can finally proudly present the core of my PhD thesis. Starting from Till Speicher and Paul Georg Wagner implementing one of my ideas for next work prediction as an award winning project for the Young Scientists competition and several iterations over this idea which resulted in gaining a deeper understanding of what I am actually doing, I have developed the theory of Generalized Language Models and evaluated its strength together with Martin Körner over the last years.

As I will present in this blog article and as you can read in my publication (ACL 2014) it seems like Generalized Language Models outperform Modified Kneser Ney Smoothing which was accepted as the defacto state-of-the-art method for the last 15 years.

So what is the Idea of Generalized Language Models in non scientific slang?

When you want to assign a probability to a sequence of words you will run into the Problem that longer sequences are very rare. People fight this problem by using smoothing techniques and interpolating longer order models (models with longer word sequences) with lower order language models. While this idea is strong and helpful it is usually applied in the same way. In order to use a shorter model the first word of the sequence is omitted. This will be iterated. The Problem occurs if one of the last words of the sequence is the really rare word. In this way omiting words in the front will not help.

So the simple trick of Generalized Language models is to smooth a sequence of n words with n-1 shorter models which skip a word at position 1 to n-1 respectively.

Then we combine everything with Modified Kneser Ney Smoothing just like it was done with the previous smoothing methods.

Why would you do all this stuff?

Language Models have a huge variety of applications like: Spellchecking, Speech recognition, next word prediction (Autocompletion), machine Translation, Question Answering,…
Most of these Problems make use a language model at some place. Creating Language Models with lower perplexity let us hope to increase the performance of the above mentioned applications.

Evaluation Setup, methodology, download of data sets and source code

The data sets come in the form of structured text corpora which we cleaned from markup and tokenized to generate word sequences.
We filtered the word tokens by removing all character sequences which did not contain any letter, digit or common punctuation marks.
Eventually, the word token sequences were split into word sequences of length n which provided the basis for the training and test sets for all algorithms.
Note that we did not perform case-folding nor did we apply stemming algorithms to normalize the word forms.
Also, we did our evaluation using case sensitive training and test data.
Additionally, we kept all tokens for named entities such as names of persons or places.

All data sets have been randomly split into a training and a test set on a sentence level.
The training sets consist of 80% of the sentences, which have been used to derive n-grams, skip n-grams and corresponding continuation counts for values of n between 1 and 5.
Note that we have trained a prediction model for each data set individually.
From the remaining 20% of the sequences we have randomly sampled a separate set of 100,000 sequences of 5 words each.
These test sequences have also been shortened to sequences of length 3, and 4 and provide a basis to conduct our final experiments to evaluate the performance of the different algorithms.

We learnt the generalized language models on the same split of the training corpus as the standard language model using modified Kneser-Ney smoothing and we also used the same set of test sequences for a direct comparison.
To ensure rigour and openness of research you can download the data set for training as well as the test sequences and you can download the entire source code.
We compared the probabilities of our language model implementation (which is a subset of the generalized language model) using KN as well as MKN smoothing with the Kyoto Language Model Toolkit. Since we got the same results for small n and small data sets we believe that our implementation is correct.

In a second experiment we have investigated the impact of the size of the training data set.
The wikipedia corpus consists of 1.7 bn. words.
Thus, the 80% split for training consists of 1.3 bn. words.
We have iteratively created smaller training sets by decreasing the split factor by an order of magnitude.
So we created 8% / 92% and 0.8% / 99.2% split, and so on.
We have stopped at the 0.008% / 99.992% split as the training data set in this case consisted of less words than our 100k test sequences which we still randomly sampled from the test data of each split.
Then we trained a generalized language model as well as a standard language model with modified Kneser-Ney smoothing on each of these samples of the training data.
Again we have evaluated these language models on the same random sample of 100,000 sequences as mentioned above.

We have used Perplexity as a standard metric to evaluate our Language Model.


As a baseline for our generalized language model (GLM) we have trained standard language models using modified Kneser-Ney Smoothing (MKN).
These models have been trained for model lengths 3 to 5.
For unigram and bigram models MKN and GLM are identical.

The perplexity values for all data sets and various model orders can be seen in the next table.
In this table we also present the relative reduction of perplexity in comparison to the baseline.

Absolute perplexity values and relative reduction of perplexity from MKN to GLM on all data sets for models of order 3 to 5

Absolute perplexity values and relative reduction of perplexity from MKN to GLM on all data sets for models of order 3 to 5

As we can see, the GLM clearly outperforms the baseline for all model lengths and data sets.
In general we see a larger improvement in performance for models of higher orders (n=5).
The gain for 3-gram models, instead, is negligible.
For German texts the increase in performance is the highest (12.7%) for a model of order 5.
We also note that GLMs seem to work better on broad domain text rather than special purpose text as the reduction on the wiki corpora is constantly higher than the reduction of perplexity on the JRC corpora.

We made consistent observations in our second experiment where we iteratively shrank the size of the training data set.
We calculated the relative reduction in perplexity from MKN to GLM for various model lengths and the different sizes of the training data.
The results for the English Wikipedia data set are illustrated in the next figure:

Variation of the size of the training data on 100k test sequences on the English Wikipedia data set with different model lengths for GLM.

Variation of the size of the training data on 100k test sequences on the English Wikipedia data set with different model lengths for GLM.

We see that the GLM performs particularly well on small training data.
As the size of the training data set becomes smaller (even smaller than the evaluation data), the GLM achieves a reduction of perplexity of up to 25.7% compared to language models with modified Kneser-Ney smoothing on the same data set.
The absolute perplexity values for this experiment are presented in the next table

Our theory as well as the results so far suggest that the GLM performs particularly well on sparse training data.
This conjecture has been investigated in a last experiment.
For each model length we have split the test data of the largest English Wikipedia corpus into two disjoint evaluation data sets.
The data set unseen consists of all test sequences which have never been observed in the training data.
The set observed consists only of test sequences which have been observed at least once in the training data.
Again we have calculated the perplexity of each set.
For reference, also the values of the complete test data set are shown in the following Table.

Absolute perplexity values and relative reduction of perplexity from MKN to GLM for the complete and split test file into observed and unseen sequences for models of order 3 to 5. The data set is the largest English Wikipedia corpus.

Absolute perplexity values and relative reduction of perplexity from MKN to GLM for the complete and split test file into observed and unseen sequences for models of order 3 to 5. The data set is the largest English Wikipedia corpus.

As expected we see the overall perplexity values rise for the unseen test case and decline for the observed test case.
More interestingly we see that the relative reduction of perplexity of the GLM over MKN increases from 10.5% to 15.6% on the unseen test case.
This indicates that the superior performance of the GLM on small training corpora and for higher order models indeed comes from its good performance properties with regard to sparse training data.
It also confirms that our motivation to produce lower order n-grams by omitting not only the first word of the local context but systematically all words has been fruitful.
However, we also see that for the observed sequences the GLM performs slightly worse than MKN.
For the observed cases we find the relative change to be negligible.

Conclustion and links

With these improvements we will continue to to evaluate for other methods of generalization and also try to see if the novel methodology works well with the applications of Language Models. You can find more resources at the following links:

If you have questions, research ideas or want to collaborate on one of my ideas feel free to contact me.


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There is a trend on the web that artists, start ups (and other people) try to do some crowd founding. I really like the concept. Ask your true supporters, fans, customers to realize the next big project which they will like. But sometimes I have the feeling that especially in music crowd founding might not go as good as possible or to say it simple: People unfortunately have just the attitude expect to get music for free. I am not saying that everyone is participating in peer to peer platforms and doing copyright violations but music as a good is nowadays just available in a way as it was never before and most people seem to forget the intrinsic value of music. After I helped to build up the band in Legend and have some experience about music and the cost of creating music I want to share another story that brings me to my sad conclusion:

There is this German Band called Mock Unit. In 2009 they released their first video ready to mock which was followed by is doch kärb (2010) and seid ihr dabei?! (2011). Until now these videos have generated almost half a millions views on youtube. You think that is nothing in comparison to psy’s gangnam style. But consider that the band has a very unique style:

  • Their lyrics consist almost exclusively of swearwords, there is a lot of sexism in the text and they seem to make a lot of fun of a certain part of our society. Until now I hope that this is satire and a way of expressing disappointment about the existence of problems like sexism in our socity. (Otherwise I would reconsider my positive feelings towards the band)
  • They sing in a very local dialect which only few Germans would understand right away (I would guess about 1-2 Mio.)
  • The musical style itself is also not something for everybody and rather speaking to young people.

Yet The band has quite some success in this very small target group.

  • Their Facebook profile has about 5k fans (I assume most of them living closer than 50 km around Mainz)
  • Fans start to take own videos in the same style but with other songs
  • Concerts are sold old. 4 month ago they had a concert in red cat and had to send home people because the venue was completely sold out. 
  • Fans are dressing up in the same “trashy” style and when I did the same and walked through Mainz people on the street would associate me with this band. 

All this together I conclude that this band (which obviously is not casted by some label) has a strong fan base in a very small region and also has not really a commercial interest but just wants to continue to create music for their fans. Now the mock unit wants to create a second record and decided to go for a crowd founding campaign on startnext (basically the german kickstarter). They provided a good nice advertising video in their style and also the rewards are fitting the style. Everything is really authentic.

Also the Mock Unit only asks for 6000 Euro. Which according to the number of Facebook fans is an average of only 1.2 Euro per fan. Apparently this seems impossible to achieve. Currently the band has not even collected 2k euro which I really do not understand. I don’t ask you to support this band or become a fan of. I just think it is incredible that a band that has delivered music and videos, that  has a solid fan base, that is able to sell out venues is not able to collect 1.2 Euro per Facebookfan for the sake of creating a new record and video.

I think it is really a shame in our society that culture became apparently so worthless. By the way I would have much more faith in a musicians crowdfounding campaign if he would promise to release the record under creative commons share alike by licence. In this way I would know that in return of my support I would not only be able to expect some entertainment but I would also obtain the legal right to use the material which I directly founded.

For those who know the band and like the band I created a video using their style in order to animate other fans to think about if they really do not want to support the band:


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René Pickhardt on January 18th, 2014

Hey everyone I wonder if you could help me out. I am currently at my parents home and there are some old pcs from the time when I was young (even my first very on pc is among them). They might have been bought between 1997 and 2002 and have single core processors starting from 333 Mhz going up to 1800 Mhz. Memory is also varying between 64 MB to 1 GB as is the hard disk. Those computers need way to much energy, the fan is really loud and so on…

In general the electronic parts of these computers are still in a good shape and they have served a good purpose for a long time. I can imagine many use cases yet looking at ebay you would only be able to sell these computers for 1 euro each.

I kind of refuse to give them away for free or even worse trow them away. But apparently these computers are worth nothing. Which sorry to say this again I refuse to accept. Computing power is an amazing thing.

Does anyone have a cool idea what one could do with them? Maybe install some lite weight Linux and use them to control some hardware or investigate some networking projects. I even considered using them as a file / backup server but this also seems not to be a good idea since the energy consumption as mentioned above is too high and network storage devices which you can buy nowadays seem to fulfill the service much better.

I tried to google for the problem but I only find boring articles without any good ideas. So if anyone of you had some idea this would be highly appreciated.


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2 months ago I started to create the Web Science MOOC and now you can join our MOOC as a student. We will start online streamed  flipped classroom lessons on October 29th. Our MOOC is truely open meaning that all the teaching material will be provided as open educational resources with a creative commons 3.0 attribution share alike licence. 

 In the first month we will learn about the following topics

  • Ethernet
  • Internet Protocol
  • Transfer Controll Protocol
  • Domain Name System
  • URIs
  • HTTP
  • HTML
  • RDF
  • Javascript / CSS

The Ethernet lessons can be found at:


The Internet protocol lessons can be found at:


Since wikiversity in comparison to other MOOC platforms is truely open you might also want to watch some of my introductory videos. They are in particular helpful to show how to make the best use of wikiversity as MOOC platform and how one can really engage into the discussion.  You can find the videos at:


but maybe your are already interested in watching some of the content right here right away: 



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René Pickhardt on September 14th, 2013

I would like to have an discussion with people that have experience or are interested in MOOCs and Wikiversity. The goal is to checkout the possibilities for creating (otherwise over commercialized) MOOCs in an OER environment (especially wikiversity).


According to my former blog post there are  3 ways for creating a MOOC that is truely OER:

Out of these I would love to discuss what possibilities exist in the context of Wikiversity and how such a MOOC could benefit from the ecosystem of other Wikimedia projects (e.g. books, commons, wikipedia and of course wikiversity itself)

I would also love to create a list of requirements for wikiversity software with functionalities needed (e.g. access to multiple choice results of students) to create an OER MOOC. This list could be present to the wikimedia foundation in order to extend the wikiversity software.

My experiences:





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René Pickhardt on September 5th, 2013

Even though the reading club on distributed graph data bases stopped I never really lost interest in management of big data and graph data. Due to the development of research grants and some new workers in our group I decided to create a new reading club. (The next and first meeting will be Thursday September 12th 15:30 central European time.) The reading club won’t be on a weekly basis but rather something like once a month. Tell me if you want to join via hangout or something similar! But I would like to be clear: If you didn’t carefully prepare the reading assignments by bringing questions and points for discussion to the meeting then don’t join the meeting. I don’t consider skimming a paper as a careful preparation.

The road map for the reading club on big data is quite clear: We will read again some papers that we read before but we will also look deeper and check out some existing technologies. So the reading will not only consist of scientific work (though this will build up the basis) but it will also consist of hand on and practical sessions which we obtain from reading blogs, tutorials, documentation and hand books.

Here will be the preliminary structure and road map for the reading club on big data which of course could easily vary over time!

Along these lines we want to understand

  • Why do these technologies scale? 
  • How do they handle concurrent traffic (especially write requests)?
  • How performance can be increased if there is another way of building up such highly scalable systems?
  • What kind of applications (like titan or mahout) are build on top of these systems?
At some point I would also love to do some side reading on distributed algorithms and distributed and parallel algorithm and data structure design. 

As stated above the reading club will be much more hand on in future than before I expect us to also deliver tutorials like that one on getting Nutch running on top of HBase and Solr

Even though we want to get hands on in current technologies the goal is rather to understand the principles behind them and find ways of improving them instead of just applying them to various problems.

I am considering to start a wikipage on wikiversity to create something like a course on big data management but I would only do this if I find a couple of people who would actively help to contribute to such a course. So please contact me if you are interested!

So to sum up the reading assignment for the first meeting are the Google file system and the map reduce paper.


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