30 March 2010

What to write about next?

Life is terribly busy, and there's simply too many things to write and ponder about. Since my time is limited, I need to spend my lunch hours and some after time on it, and hence I'd like it this time to be about something you'd like to hear about. So, naturally, the best thing to do is to make a poll ;

Let me know what you think, and if your blog post isn't on this (admittedly quickly put together) list, pop in a comment and let me know. Let's give it until ... um, Wednesday or so.

25 March 2010

Bibs and bobs : Extended edition

Hoo boy, just when you thought your tabs were cleared, you discover that yeah, sure, the tabs in your main browser window is gone, but you forgot about a) 4 other windows full of tabs themselves, and b) circumstances of the time bringing a flurry of interesting stuff you should put out there. So, I'm here to put out some more. I'll try to classify them as I go along ;


A faster and more compact Set : For Java geeks and Topic Mappers alike, but mostly for those with both fetishes. And older post I stumbled upon once again and was meaning to look into. One day. Really soon now. Ish.

New Horizons : I'm a bit of an astronomy nerd, so what's better than the combination of rockets, science and star trekking with the fastest ever made human object!

Open Mind Common Sense : A delightfully fuzzy Semantic Web project that Danny Ayers pointed me to. It's ontologies with Social engineering. Great stuff!

Pegatron Tegra : Sexy little computer to chuck in the corner to do your digital bidding. Pure lust!

Climate change and politics

Think tanks, oil money and black ops : Where do all the climate change skeptics come from? You'd be surprised. Or not.

The Guardian responds : The English newspaper The Guardian had a series of investigational reports over the alleged scandal of the leaked email of the University of East Anglia, a series of reports they have been severely criticized for by the people involved, ranging from poor reporting to outright lying, pretty serious business for an otherwise respected and large newspaper. The Guardian has posted a reply (at the critics blog, no less). Do read the comments, though, as they are perhaps more important and interesting.

LeakGate : Scientists fight back : Tim Lambert, Aussie vegemite and all-round good-guy, follows up on the many distortions made by journalist Jonathan Leake of the Sunday Times over time, and he points us to this exclusive 31-page complaints letter by climate researcher Simon Lewis. Heady stuff! Will the Sunday Times respond in the same manner or at all as the Guardian above?

Health and fraud

Quack Miranda Warning : If you read this quite common warning on your medication or supplements, beware. And, a good introduction (reading the comments) on where this expression comes from.

Snake Oil : A beautiful infographic from Information is Beautiful, showing a vertical bubble-chart of peer-reviewed double-blind tests on various compounds and organics that you mostly find in supplements; what is proven to show any workings, and what is, essentially, snake oil. I love this one!

Religion and philosophy

Does God have a future? : You know, I'm really starting a man-crush on Sam Harris after this; what style and impeccable delivery, not to mention that he actually understand both the science and the philosophical implications of both. But Deepak Chopra? The opposite; he's the biggest woo-meister of them all, arrogant and testy, wielding the power of fluffy words and interruption of others. People respect that? I'm shocked.

The God of the old testament : A rather famous quote (and a video of him reading it) by Richard Dawkins, here put in context of biblical quotes to underline what is being said.

Indian skeptic challenges guru to kill him on live TV : Well, kill him with Tantric Magic, as it were. A delightful trip down the staircase of the insanity of what humans think they can do and the brave (in this case Samal Edamaruku, the president of the Indian Rationalists Association)  that stays still and proves them terribly, humorously wrong. I giggled through most of this. There's even a second part over here where the Tantric is doing the whole "terrible ritual under a full moon with a scepter with feathers and fearsome chanting, and you know, you should be really, really scared, why aren't you dead already!? Just die, will you! Bugger."

Supersessionism : Word of the day : "Supersessionism and replacement theology or fulfillment theology are Christian interpretations of New Testament claims"

Off kilter

Kirsten Flagstad : Arguably one of the absolute best opera singers there ever was. And, she was Norwegian. Did I mention I'm an opera-buff?

Ancient Literature : A long list of reasonably known ancient literature. Brilliant if you're bored.

Circumference of the Earth and the Holocene geographical epoch : A link to the Wolfram-Alpha answer to the circumference of the Earth, and to a WikiPedia article on the Holocene. I'll tell you all about why I'm reading up on this in another post in the future, but a hint is that you might see me doing some local embarrassing sciency stuff soon. I can't wait.

Pruzy's Pot : Uh, a somewhat gross unexplainable short-story of sorts. You just have to hear it, I guess. I will have nothing more to do with it.

23 March 2010

Tidbits, miscellaneous and bits and bobs

Ok, let's clear out the tabs on my browser ;

A host of mummies, a forest of secrets : "In the middle of a terrifying desert north of Tibet, Chinese archaeologists have excavated an extraordinary cemetery. Its inhabitants died almost 4,000 years ago, yet their bodies have been well preserved by the dry air."

The trouble with trusting complex science : Another round of of talking about trusting science, specifically this time about climate change. I'm quite baffled that anyone can read the article and then at the bottom shout about conspiracies, it's all bogus and lies. There's only one side of this silly debate that's got any evidence to back up their claim. Can you guess which one?

Morality, with limits : "The question: What can Darwin teach us about morality?" A heck of a lot, but not Darwin himself but more to the point the 250 years of science that has progressed since. Speaking of misrepresenting Darwin, how about the worst science journalism of the year? Personally I think it's funny the media and the general population has such a crazy-bad knowledge of what Darwin actually wrote. Maybe they should read the darn thing before venture into hyperbole? 

Sam Harris at TED : Science can answer moral questions : As a follow-up to the previous link I had to post this talk by Sam Harris that should be considered very, very seriously. Religion does not have monopoly over the notion of moral behavior, and often, you can say it's the opposite (referring, for example, to the current disgusting scandal within the Catholic Church, the worst crimes, the most abhorring behavior done by self-proclaimed holy people, and then the systematic cover-up of the same. Shocking stuff!)

Spin classification : Unless you're a physicist geek, this is both over your head, and terribly boring. You have been warned.

Distributed Publications : Finally, a more techie geeky look at distributed publications, using RDF / triplets (or any graph-ish model). Jeni always talks about great stuff.

19 March 2010

Newbie tips for Topic Maps bliss

Well, hi there, pilgrim! So, you've noticed this fandangled thing called "Topic Maps", and you heard it was an interesting, smart or new way of solving hard problems of some sort? Well, you've come to the right place. Let me, as an elder of the movement, give you a few hints and tips of how to go about this complex notion ;

1. Don't do it

Yeah, I won't lie to you; unless you know more than a smidgen about information science and / or knowledge management, and especially unless you know quite a bit about data models and how to interact with them in complex computer systems, I'd urge you to stay right clear of it. Topic Maps is full of complex models, silly jargon, weird people and technical API's. Nothing in the normal world is easy, and the Topic Maps world only makes it harder. Topic Maps won't solve your problem, unless you already know how to solve it, at which point find some other technology that people actually know, ok? What's the point of building the best system out there with amazing technology that no one knows how to use, extend, appreciate or even keep a straight face while talking about it.

Also, at what technical level do you think you need it? If the answer is, not very technical at all, why care about the underlying technology? An Excel spreadsheet might fix your problem much better. Use that. Unless you know that multi-dimensional graph-based technology will save you, look another way. If you don't know this stuff it will lure you in with magical wistful promises of a better tomorrow that will never see the time of day.

2. Make someone else do it if you must

Ok, so this one isn't all that different from the first tip, but since Topic Maps indeed can solve hard problems in brilliant ways, there are people out there who could use it and help you solve them. The truth is that people who are steeped in this stuff, who knows it inside out, indeed can solve pretty much any complex issue you might have with it, and even help you become smarter in doing it, even teach you how it all works. And there's other benefits to letting them do it for you; you don't have to become one of them in the process.

The truth is that Topic Maps really is cool and brilliant and all that, but it is ridiculously hard to grasp and even harder to master, and it will change you into a weirdo in the process. Have you really got the time,  resources and personality traits it takes to get into this stuff? Really?

3. Topic Maps people are few and rare, and, uh, strange

I kid you not; these guys are not your average cup of tea, so tread gently, and expect to be surprised in some way or another. Expect them to say things that makes no sense whatsoever, they have their own language littered with technical jargon even technologists wouldn't understand. I don't think they get out much, at least not outside their own field, so you need to replace your own terminology for theirs if they are to made sense of, as they themselves rarely compromise and adapt to how the rest of the world see things.

Also, expect some slight geeky behavior like mistaking things like pages, tags, websites, business objectives, servers, networks, computers and pasta for topics, topics, topics, topics, topics, topics and topics, in that order. It's quite similar to that of Asberger's syndrome, but if you know how, you can use it to your advantage, but caution and patience must be urged, and just like with the real thing unfortunately there is no cure, only workarounds.

4. Patience is not a virtue, but stubbornness might be

Look, the mystical world of Topic Maps is full of concepts you never dreamed existed, things that makes you ask fundamental questions about identity philosophy, what is knowledge, and paradigms of models and technological culture. Patience is not enough to grasp this stuff, you need sheer stubbornness and bloodymindedness to get anywhere, and - dare I say it? - perhaps some weird personally trait. Maybe a limp or a monocle. Not only do you have to understand the technicality of the stuff, but also the weirdness of the culture itself and - perhaps even more important - the personal implications this knowledge might have upon your own thought processes. You may end up getting a cape.

Once you tread down the path of Topic Maps and actually get anywhere (and that in itself is a hallmark of your stubbornness), your brain will change, you will see things differently. I'm not going to say that that is a good thing, but it can be, especially if you like uprooting your preconceived notions and planting new ones. The world is built on foundations which are far removed from the Topic Maps world, but once you grasp this other world it is hard not to see your old world in a new light, and this can be challenging. You might even start to sound like one of these blubbering idiots yourself, saying topics, topics, topics, topics, topics when you used to speak a coherent language people around you actually understood. There's great danger in getting an epiphany or two.

5. If you like your job, stay clear

Hmm, I see a pattern in my tips, but the thing is that once you have converted your old job might look boring and infantile by comparison. You might get (morally repulsive) urges to work on Topic Maps, but your organisation probably won't understand what the hell you're on about (remember, the whole painful stubborn process you went through has to happen to each and every person in your whole organisation!), and you might be looking around for another job where the Topic Maps goodness is practiced. Don't be fooled!

These jobs don't really exist. No one thinks Topic Maps on your CV is a good thing, because they, too, haven't done that stupid painful stubborn path to enlightenment either, and you'll come across as a bit of a show-off with nothing to show for it. (The exception to this tip is if you live in Norway. If you want to know why, the answer is that, again, the Topic Maps culture is repellingly weird) No one who does real business gives a rats ass about Topic Maps, and no one who does real business in the future will either. Even people who does weird but similar things who also have modest success (like people doing Semantic Web / RDF work) shun Topic Mappers. For your own job security, stay clear.

6. However ...

However, if you are weird, not scared by overly complex or outlandish technologies, if you think that strange new cultures only makes you stronger (and you've got a strong immune system to boot), if you think job security is only the stuff of boring people, and, indeed, if you have a monocle, cape and a glass eye, perhaps this might be the place for you after all.

And if so, contact me; I get off on this stuff. Otherwise, you have been warned.

17 March 2010

And another one

Here follows another tidbit collection as life and things have heated up and is stealing my time. First a couple of techies, then a few sciency ones, and lastly politicals ;

Hanvon multitouch tablet : Pure, unrefined lust!

Introduction to neural nets : Back in the early 90's I was doing neural nets, cumulative histographical analysis and other hard-core funky techniques working on real-time video motion detection for high-security systems. Good old days.

Kilroy was here : Patrick Durusau is showing no end to his delightful writing, and I'm loving it. This post here is about how librarians have been there, done that. I feel I need to follow this one up properly in a couple of days, though, as I don't feel that that is the whole picture. Sure they've done some of it, but the people whodunnit are a few good eggs in a large, large basket of indifferent eggs; the library sectors' general cowardice / conservative notions coupled with a wide-spread lack of technology knowledge means "done it" truly means "haven't done it, only sniffed it."

ZTM Topic Maps : This project has been shrouded in mystery and undocumented hysteria for many, many years. I first heard about it back in my early days of Topic Maps, and I'm happy to see it turning into a real project. Looks good, too.

Memory and the Hippocampus : How are we doing picking our brains? What is neuroscience up to these days, especially with memory and, yes, the hippocampus, my favorite body part.

Global climate change, and flogging : A brilliant short video. "The anti-science crowd isn’t satisfied with merely spreading disinformation about climate scientists."

A bat is not a bug : Tim Lambert expose "The Australian" newspaper for the anti-science pile of rubbish it is.

You can't handle the truth : A more scientific look at the dangers and impact of drugs.

Science vs. religion : A hilarious cartoon poke!

Scientology insider's nightmare childhood : "A former Scientologist who says she was a 'child slave' and alleges she saw a six-year-old boy chained up in a ship's hold is disappointed the Senate has blocked a full inquiry into the religious organisation." What's up with this country? I thought I had arrived at a good place? (But then, I've written about Australian politics before, the ultimate oxymoron)

'We are adding balance' : The sad state of education and science creeping into the corners of the USA.

10 March 2010


My blog entries tries to be slightly more than just links and boring commentary to the stuff linked to, but I also realize I have a life and a job which demands a lot of my time. But every day there's always one other thing I wish to talk about, yet another tab open in my browser as I stumble around the net like a blind mole looking for a grapevine in a volcano, but most of the time those things are perhaps not extensively mind blowing enough to trigger my bloggoreah to go into a full post.

So, I'm starting a new thing. As my tabs fill up and my browsers slugs down, at some point I'll just decide to post the tabs with a slight commentary, dumping them all ontp the blog, and I'm starting as of ... now ;

How to Write Great Copy for the Web : My good friend Donna Spencer (nee Maurer), the Godess of UX, just released her second book about writing for the Inter-tubes (ie. the Internet, the web), which I hear is super-good. And when it's Donna, it's always good. Can't wait to get my dirty hands on it!

Schlepping From One Data Silo to Another : I'm delighted to see Patrick Durusau (one of the smartest people I know, with a beard to match it) finally start a blog. I've been whinging at him for a long time to do so, and this blog post is the reason why; he's preaching the gospel. Just like words are nothing or very little without a context (those things we usually call 'sentences'), data silos are nothing but bunkers until they are opened up, and become fountains.

The communities manifesto : Good stuff, although shouldn't this one have been made, like, years ago?

Minards' Napoleon : This amazing demonstration of the powerful ProtoVis JavaScript visualisation toolkit, is an adaption of another famous visualisation of Napoleon's catastrophic descent on Moskow.

The New Ten Commandments : A decalogue for the modern world : An updated take on what is purported to be the best thing since sliced bread (well, given sliced bread was invented early last century, that's an expression from the oxymoronic bin), the "backbone" of what many thinks have laid the foundations of the modern world (which isn't true, but that's a blog post in its own right for later) Also in this vein, Christopher Hitchens has a funny but good piece of late on the Ten Commandments as well.

Dear James Randi : As a skeptic myself, this is hilarious! Beware of language not fit for people who's got a problem with anatomy and calling things for what they are, like, uh, vagina's. And do check out other writings on the McSweeney website; really good stuff all around, another hidden treasure.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast : Sometimes we need to take a step back and think about the words and contexts we are using. Do you know what 'culture' means when people say it?