Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Watching US Network TV in England in my web browser

Courtesy of a friend who has daisy chained cable boxes, a cluster of 3 capture machines and Flash Media Server I am able to watch the US TV network election coverage live from the comfort of my laptop.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Semantic Web Panel Discussion at LinkedData Conference 2008

I recently attended a really fascinating panel discussion about the Semantic Web which was part of the LinkedData Planet 2008 conference.

Panel Organizers:

Marco Neumann, New York Semantic Web Meetup


* Hank Williams, Founder and CEO, Kloudshare
* Eric Hoffer, Second Integral


* Sir Tim Berners-Lee, W3C, MIT, inventor of the world wide web.
* Sergey Chernyshev, CTO, Semantic Communities LLC
* Dan Connolly, Research Scientist, W3C (tentative)
* Christine Connors, Global Director, Semantic Technology Solutions, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
* Taylor Cowan, Emerging Solutions Principal, Sabre Holdings, Travelocity
* Richard Cyganiak, Reseacher, DERI and Project Leader D2RQ http://www.d2rq.org…
* Nic Fulton PhD, Chief Scientist, Reuters Media
* Marc Hadfield, President and CTO, Alitora
* Savas Parastastidis PhD, Architect, Technical Computing, Microsoft Research

Topics covered during the panel included:

How can we monetize the semantic web?
Is the semantic web relevant and ready for what we’re doing today?
The importance of interoperability and standards.
Barriers to adoption of semantic technologies and how can we encourage adoption of it
Practical insights into the semantic web.
What technologies and products are available today?

(Disclaimer: My notes are not comprehensive and I apologize in advance for any inaccuracies – they are meant more to spark thoughts and ideas than a complete record of the panel discussion. I tried to capture everything being said but in some cases I may have misheard or substituted some words for my own.)

The answers to the questions below are the combined set of panel responses, except were I called out TBL.) The first question went to Tim Berners-Lee. (who’s brilliance increasingly shone through as the panel progressed, and being from England myself, I was pleasantly surprised that he had an English accent, for some reason I thought he was American or Swiss, although judging from his suntan I would guess that he probably spent most of his time away from England!).

Q. What's next with WC3 initiatives? Should we encourage people to write more code and add more standards?

A’s: TBL - We need to have all these things coming together - open data, consuming data, playing with ideas. It would be a mistake to focus on one thing. Consumption of linked data, people pushing for mash ups sites. One thing is certain is that there needs to be more things out there consuming and using this stuff.

Q: Best reasons for people to adopt these technologies? Can we prove the value? Has anyone seen examples of this being done?

A’s: One of the best reasons is because they solve a problem or business need. We need to help them (companies, enterprise) understand the value of a semantic solution. How can we prove the values of semantic technology?

Within the life science community we seek to answer questions that are unanswerable.

It has been shown that companies can cut 6-8 months of development of a drug if they have access to this sort of information and data integration.

In the financial sector, hedge funds find that linking data sets help customers to make money, the same goes for legal and financial databases. In business people want all the information they can have as soon as possible.

At the moment there are massive amounts of data and airline companies don't want people to have that data.

With regards to semantic technologies….In reference to data feeds, SKOS is easier for people to understand and migrate to than OWL and RDF. For people that have been building taxonomies, it lets people identity discrete sets of data. If we can send people feedback - 'this string is.. earnings per share'.. it can have billions of dollars affects on the markets.

It is more elegant for consumers to tell companies - this is where I want to go and how long I’m going to be there. Then travel bidders can scrape the web and people/companies can find people who want these offers and 'spam' them. This is a perfect case for the semantic web and for creating the semantic data. The content is just available, they don't have to tell us and this means less work for the consumer.

Q: How can we facilitate communication about the semantic web?

A’s: There needs to be a community of discussion around describing data on the web where
people can share ideas about how to talk about data, a semantic web SIG (TBL's suggestion)

SWIRC channel, ES (?) wiki. The current tool sets are still not simple enough for the average user and until we make the tools simple won't get adoption we are talking about.

A wiki type communication environment where people can post and comment on and things can become standardized.

Q: How do we convert this tool one microformat into another one and support transitioning between microformats?

By the creation of ontologies for life sciences communities, triple stores. Pharmaceutical companies are doing this but it's hard to query data at the moment because it is inefficient.

With regards to data storage, we might want to adopt service model (like google) for storing and processing information and have vendors to do this. As service providers make it an easier sell than enterprise sell, there will be a trend in life sciences to outsource services.

We need a repository for communication where it is easy for developers to build solutions and create a graph so we can do interesting things such as queries. Microsoft is building RDF and OWL export feature into their products to enable object reuse..

Q: How do we process it and make it more efficient?

A’s: Triple stores not doing that well. If we can map data into a relational schema and still export RDF then we have the best of both worlds, triple stores flexible, relational stores efficient.

Q: Should people be rushing to implement RDF and SPARQL and to achieve the standards based interoperability as with SQL? What kind of queries can you express?

A’s: RDF and SPARQL integration to combine XML with relational data. We need to standardize these extensions and have a larger set as well as include mathematical and aggregate functions in SPARQL, like SQL currently does.

Q: Why should web app. Developers and IT departments care?

A’s: Semantic web technologies do not currently provide that level of control. A SPARQL query can kill servers… project for adding meta data… effort to talk to semantic web in REST

There are currently not enough applications to consume semantic data for web app developers to put efforts into developing it. It's a chicken and egg situation.

We need more standard data models.. yelp .. standard web ontologies, reuse of components,
web services where we can grab components and a high level of use between service that creates it...

There is a lot of hype around semantic web. It’s really all about structured data..

Could FB release data as RDF triples?? When information around data becomes a commodity people will talk about structuring data more. The question is how much data and how much to share?

Why not give it away in a standards way? When of interest to others...structure is there...

For N-way mash ups of content (coming from multiple sources) value is not currently there.
It is currently easier for developers not to bother at the moment.

Q: Barriers to adoption:

A’s: The data parsing process is currently too long to process. It is currently easier to just give name/value pairs...

Google has a huge global graph, taken a copy of it and created structure for others to discover,
converted it into structured info and adds value on top of it.

Q: What are some of the myths about the SW?

It won't happen until we have AI to convert unstructured data into structured data.

People won't have time to mock up their html pages with RDF data.

Once we start to correlate data there will be incentives to release it. There
are no services to consume it right now and add value to them. There is no monetization value.

(Start ups are already doing it.. the only question is formats...).

Q: What ways can people get from the universe they are at to another place?
What would you advise people to do?

FB and social networking sites, car companies, flights.. could add the menu for example

Audience participation

Discussion about mashups and the semantic web:

If all data is labelled correctly then all mashups are just a question of people asking for what they want.

Gave example of Seat Guru http://www.seatguru.com/ - airline ticket site.. all mashups will eventually become services, people will mashup the mashups... ideas, knowledge, discovery.

WSDL and REST incorporate ways to label APIs with semantic concepts, roll them up into auto discovery of API calls for looking up flight numbers which will be labelled with semantics....

A semantic mashup provider doesn't have to do it themselves, the annotation of mashups exists in a cloud.. what are mashups out there labelled with a particular concept.. Someone creates it, someone labels it and someone else consumes it.

Mashups are no more complicated than spreadsheet.

Q: What needs to be done to encourage adoption?

According to TBL: "RDF specs need trimming" , things need to be thrown out otherwise it
makes it difficult to read. RDF can't express all things.... it's ready but could use a bit of a clean up.

TBL: Express a literal as a subject.. to be able to say 3 is negation of -3.

RDF is ready when it is built into a programming language so we don't have to look for toolkits. I want a programming language where it incorporates RDF intrinsically and expands to full SPARKL query.

A few people have tried to use RDF and hack python underneath.

We need a killer app.. written on top of the graph… and have the data available in RDF.

Q: How do we link up the data with descriptions?

We need tools to create this easily. How do we get data linked with meaningful labels?
For data to be labelled with URIs we need an extra URI space which is community driven
and we need a wiki for ontologies and concepts...

We need trusted 3rd party and global community to define this..

TBL added that WC3 was founded for this.

One of the problems is to agree on and define ontologies, the most important thing to worry about is getting the data and what ontology can we use to map the data?

Database schemas..we can find all over the place.

RQ: What vocabulary, what schema?? How do we express the most important concepts?

A’s: People, location, sub class is city.. regarding ontologies - do we create new or reuse one?

The most important process is getting people to agree on it. Getting agreement on vocabulary is hard work.. have to engage stakeholders...

Metaweb startup that exports data into graph model and builds apis.. Build a semantic layer onto of RDBMS then we can ask questions on top of that. Each dB could have it's own semantic ontology around it and ask questions of all 500 dBs not just one...

The power of the predicate - we can create a controlled value of predicates..

Ontologies will become a commodity and we will have average level (publically accessible) ontologies and then the behind firewall stuff.

Outputting data is separate from attaching it to other's... inferencing engines... part of a bigger conversation.. How do we annotate other people's ontologies? We cannot plan this for all cases... create one based on current RDBMS.

Q: The tools are still not simple enough for the average user and until we make the tools simple we won't get adoption we are talking about. How large content organizations engage restricted on how mature the tools are?

Tools such as ClearForest exist to parse data into semantic relationships. Artificial Intelligence and natural language processing is the answer but we are not there yet.

(Audience Applause)

Some Afterthoughts: Exciting things to come with increasingly open data initiatives combined with semantic labeling, increased user adoption, opportunities for monetization and a technological infrastructure to create, maintain and parse semantic content. I came away from the panel feeling that we are on the verge of being ‘there’ although as with a lot of technologies it will take awhile to get all the kinks ironed out and for widespread adoption to take place. Although the web has come along way from the early ‘90’s there is still so much more still to come and it left me thinking why the semantic web didn’t evolve sooner, given the usefulness and power of it. Ideas, thoughts anyone??

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Is my Maxtor 3200 a brick?

I uninstalled and reinstalled my USB controllers as pchell.com recommended but to no avail...
will try plugging it into another computer as suggested but I am thinking that it might need some sort of data recovery intervention.

Installation of a Passport Studio Western Digital External Storage Device

First off, it is definitely not plug and play and it might be
Mac-ready but it's definitely not PC-ready ;-)

So first of all it comes with no instructions whatsoever, the only hint it gives you is a link to support.wdc.com -> knowledge base ID# 1550, clicking here lets you download the drivers, formatting utility (which i discovered was useless), and backup software.

The driver installed without a problem, the formatting utility did not which might be because i am out of disk space on my primary drive. Clicking on the knowledge base for clues let me to "a consult the quick start guide" which came with the disk. The only quick start that came with it was the link to tell me to go to support.wdc.com.

The FAQs knowledge base was really poorly structured and the answers contained hyperlinks to other answers which contained further links.

Clicking around I eventually found this which tells me to go to use the Windows Disk Management Utility.

So here are the instructions for this:

(in the screenshot it is already assigned to a volume but when I first started this was blank).

Right click on My computer, Click on Manage, then Click on Disk Management. In the top frame you will see an unlabelled disk which is the your new WD hard drive. Right click this and select format, assign it a volume (letter) and then wait for a minute whilst Windows formats your drive. Formatting takes quite awhile for a 350GB drive especially on my crappy dell. Once formatting is complete the drive will be assigned an online status of healthy and you can click on My Computer and you can now see and use your external hard drive!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Tesla Coils responding to musical input

2 tesla coils playing music, originally uploaded by dawachan1.

They were quite beautiful and were synched with a completely automated drum kit with mechanical beaters

Man with the moog

man with the moog, originally uploaded by dawachan1.

moog synth performance at tonights dorkbot in austin texas, sounded like a pipe organ from a doctor who episode

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

SxSW Keynote: Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook Founder and CEO

Mark Zuckerberg and Sarah Lacey Interview
Photo Source: Wired Blog

Referred to by some industry analysts as a train wreck interview, there is no shortage of opinions debating the merits of Sarah Lacey's keynote interview with Mark Zuckerberg, Founder and CEO of Facebook. I will leave it up to the blogosphere, twitter, Cnet and Wired to explain what happened and instead focus on some of the high points. During the interview, Zuckerberg gave several concrete examples about how Facebook was being utilized to bring about positive social change. On numerous occasions he spoke about their goals, concepts and mission and it became clear to me that one of the main reasons for their phenomenal success was the fact that they have tapped into fundamental human needs and have built tools around them. Facebook's core goals of facilitating communication, generating empathy and fostering connections between people is inline with behaviors people are already engaged in.

The new trends arising in the digital market place such as social shopping (where an individual's purchasing decisions are influenced by their social network) is something Facebook pre-empted with their Beacon initiative. A new form of advertising and marketing is entering the arena and is being ushered in through the social networking medium. If we look at human behavior, the concept of social shopping makes a lot of sense. In the real world we are heavily influenced by what our friends and peers say before making a purchase. Shiv Singh in his "Going Social Now" panel spoke about how the real-world experience of buying a couch is a very social one which very few online retailers are currently tapping into this. Having friends, social networks and other people endorse products and offer opinions is probably one of the most powerful marketing tool and is something that social networks such as Facebook are pioneering.

Other notable points were the fact that Facebook is engineering a highly responsive and adaptable ecosystem which operates on the basic premise that people are fundamentally good, but if individual users or applications become "too spammy" (as Zuckerberg puts it) their voices will be dumbed down and not allowed as many opportunities to reach their fellow social networkers. It's an interesting deterrent for reducing bad social networking behaviors.

Zuckerberg went on to openly admit that Facebook made mistakes with the Beacon initiative and demonstrated how they are working hard to address privacy concerns by affording users with increasingly granular permissions and levels of control over who they share what sorts of data with. Adopting such an approach is going to be key for all social networking sites and keepers/sharers of data moving forward and again is an example of how the digital world is a mirror of the real world in that we choose carefully who we share information with. People will be willing to share information more freely on the web if they can control who they share it with.

Below are my abridged Q&A notes from the interview (heckles deleted).

Z: Facebook's mission is to help people connect and communicate more effectively. Facebook recently lauched in Spanish and
it became very popular in Columbia where the first thing people started doing with Facebook was to organize, communicate and revolt against guerilla armies.

L: Did you ever think this would happen?

Z: Well. No. It's very hard to predict these things. It helps on a microlevel for people to communicate with people around them and generate empathy. When you add up all these connections something quite profound happens.

L: Why do we need Facebook to do this?

Z: A lot of people are doing this but people need other tools to communicate efficiently with people around them. There are different ways people can do this. FB helps people communicate with people the way they would already do but more effectively.

L: The other day you spoke about Facebook and terrorism.
Z: FB has a large user population in Lebanon.Young people growing up are trying to figure out what they are going to be when they grow up . Am I going to be a terrorist or do other things? With no other options it's easy to drift into religous extremism. Facebook had a positive impact in such societies amongst young people who were able to broaden their horizons and outlook connecting with others from different backgrounds and generate more empathy between them. In turn this makes them less likely to become religious extremists. We're not the only ones doing this. it's very profound if you can enable these sorts of connections.

L: Are these things you're doing proactively?

Z: We're helping people communicate more efficiently and make connections. We're trying to build an infrastructure on which to build these things. We were involved with the 'One' Foundation who want to build an organization to have enough political clout to change things.. their goal was to build an organization that powerful that sought to end poverty. Why does there need to be a big organization to channel these voices? The internet is big enough that these voices can be heard and big enough without having a huge organisation with millions of dollars to fight these causes. For things like this to work.. there needs to be a solid base not build top down but bottom up. This is an important trend in the world.. We're building an infrastructure where people can communicate on these things

L:I hear you guys are launching France tonight

Z: Yes, we're launching in French....

L: A lot of web companies have hard time scaling internationally - what's the secret to this?

Z: I think the need we are tapping into is a fundamental need. A lot of people thought it was just a college thing but by helping people communicate effectively we are tapping into a fundamental human need.

L: Let's talk about ad stuff. Google and Microsoft buying up stuff. Sites like Facebook and Digg are not really monetizable - are MS getting their money's worth?

Z: A lot of people have focussed on valuation. At Facebook we are building a product which helps people communicate and connect. Everything we do is through this framework. In terms of Microsoft relationship.. the way we think about serving our users and the way we want way we make money is in line with the way people share information, people share movies, things they're into.. people expressing their identities.. monetization is in line with what people are already doing.

If we give users enough opportunities for control...... (heckle)

L: Yes you have this immediate revenue from Microsoft but will there be pressure to crack this before money run outs?

Z: I'm pretty sure they're happy with that. I can tell you it's going really well for both of us.

L: The world of advertising is changing.

Z: There are new trends with people basically endorsing things. People endorse things the way they would do things naturally and normally. We want to help people share information.

L: Do you see this as a decade project.. building out the social graph?

Z: Interesting to watch this unfold

L: Let's talk about beacon and what your vision was.

Z: Beacon is a part of the platform team not the ad team.. we think there is a trend from these companies going towards a collection of social services ... profiles inbox, feeds.. We've tried to build a platform to enable people to build their own services and having access to other people's information as they want to share and push information back to their friends. With beacon we were trying to develop this system. It also ties into our ad system.. they can be used as endorsements ... people are coming to the site to learn about what their friends are doing.

The first iteration of Beacon was trying to get at this. We made some mistakes .. some interface things.. not doing things... we're learning as we go along.

L: Contrast with what happened with news feed and concerns people about privacy..

Z: We need to give people complete control over who they share information with.. 20% of people are now sharing their phone no. on Facebook. By giving users granular control over who they share information with the more they are willing to share and the more we will be able to give controls.

L: The thing that changed Facbook was when you opened up the platform. What tweaks are you making?

Z: Big changes are under away. At FB we believe people are fundamentally good. We allow users to do everything up to a point. If you're too spammy you get censored. We allow people to do this without going over the line.. What we are moving towards is to make it so that if you send requests to people.. the more people accept requests, the more people click on your feeds, the more things you can publish.. The applications that can publish the most things will be trust based, reacting to what users want....

L: Is FB setting more rules

Z: We're letting FB users decide .. more laissez faire... FB setting less rules now..

L: Itunes killer? Becoming a music mogul?

Z: As soon as we opened up platform, other developers filled this void with applications like iLike.. who knows how we will work together in the future....

L:Is this something that appeals to you?

Z:We are just trying to build this base, a developer platform that allows people to build on top of it.

L: According to Forbes ..you're the youngest billionaire on the list

Z: Not focussed on that..

L: Do you think the company is worth $15 billion

Z: Not focussed on this... way to be effective is to build a business/ecosystem..

L: Is having a valuation like that a negative? By having to live up to such a high mark?

Z: We're helping people map out who their friends are, communicate a story.. Having such a focus on money and business can self select for people who care too much about that. We are not planning on going public any time soon. Revenue and value for company is a trailing indicator of value we're building..

L: Is there an imminent Facebook IPO?

Z: We're not making decisions based on that.. For an IPO it's not we don't want to do it. we're just not focussed on it. It's not what we're trying to go for.. We had a similar thing when Yahoo was trying to buy the company for a billion dollars. The primary analysis was.. is this the correct ROI thing to do..

We have a chance here to build a platform that fundamentally changes the way people relate..so we decided to go for this.

L: Some people think you're a "know-it-all" kid.. if you don't like the way they do things they don't tend to stick around

Z: A lot of it is about expectations and what people are trying to get out it. If people joined...(missed this) For people focussed on building this platform.. the amount of change we have isn't that extreme.

L: I think it's good you fire people when they don't match.. I think it's a strength.

Z: Ok.

L: Let's talk about Cheryl..How will Cheryl cope in a male dominated world
Z: She has a great track record.. I don't think it will be an issue.

We're building a product management organization now. We just need to build out different teams now. We're trying to scale the company in an effective way. We have over 200,000 developers .. we are trying to bring a big platform to faciliate scaling..

L: So many people hate the job of CEO from a technical background. DO you do it because you want control
Z: I think what a CEO does is set the tone of the organization.. being in this role it helps us stay focus on that.. how we evolve privacy policy, advertiser systems, scale operations.. as the orgainzation grows.. I help people keep eye on that goal.. as CEO this is what people are doing.

L: Everyone wants to write about web 2.0 and use Facebook as their model.. you consdier yourelf a tech. company not a media company.

Z: Technology is important for company.. having a technical backgrounds allows us to have empathy for developers.... for us to help other people build companies being technical is a very fundamental part of our company.

L: One thing a lot of people don't talk about are the bound books you produce showing your.. ideas and the evolution of ideas..

Z: Yeah sure.

L: That wasn't a strong response.

Z: You have to ask questions.. (audience laughs and claps)

People chalk things up to original idea.. but most of work done by people, engineers.. working on it for months.. I wouldn't want to down play fact that other people are doing and building.

Audience questions..

There is no real way of holding on to information.. I can't search for messages.. hold onto content..

Z: We don't have a lot of this stuff yet.. giving people default settings and control... If we don't succeed at this privacy and trust key pillars which enables people to succeed.

We're working on it....

When asked about privacy:

The ideal format is that users only use apps. they want to and not be bugged by others. We want to remove friction in platform.. if you click on something.. that takes you to install page.. we don't think this is a great experience.

Q: What's the single biggest obstacle FB faces in the future?

Z: A lot of it is around giving people control of information in the future...