Archive for the 'everythingismiscellaneous' Category

Monday, November 26th, 2007

Milk Dung Spot Light Robot Sphere Snail Bathtub

That was the subject of an email I got this morning. After I headed in to work, I listed to Science Friday, which included the Ig Nobel Prize festivites. One of the winners?

CHEMISTRY: Mayu Yamamoto of the International Medical Center of Japan, for developing a way to extract vanillin — vanilla fragrance and flavoring — from cow dung.

Ice cream samples were offered to the Laureates present.

Coincidence? Or something greater? -m

Monday, November 19th, 2007

Kindle my disappointment

Where’s Project Gutenberg? One difficulty in launching an ebook platform is the lack of available titles. I keep hearing about 80,000+ titles, but expressed as a percentage of Amazon’s book catalog, it’s minuscule. There should be all kind of public domain titles ready to go on day one. And where’s the Creative Commons books?
There’s some public domain books to be found, but none are free. Take, for example, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, a book (in paper form) sitting just out of arm’s reach as I write this, waiting to be read. If I had it on a device, particularly one with a good screen, I’d be more inclined to keep it, and dozens others, on hand in my backback and be ready to read at a moment’s notice. But no.

The problem is the the “we take care of the wireless delivery” part, called Whispernet(tm). It’s not really free, nor bundled in the service price. It’s bundled in to the cost of every media access. Is it fair to pay $9.99 for a New York Times bestseller? Sure. But it sucks to pay $1 for an A-list blog that’s free everywhere else, or to get literally nickeled and dimed for the privelege of “converting” and delivering your own content to your own device.

By the way, who gets the money paid for accessing, say, a CreativeCommons non-commercial licensed blog via the Kindle? Somebody should look into that.

I applaud Amazon for pushing to innovate in a space that badly needs it, but the financial model behind the wireless access encourages the wrong kind of things. Exceptions, like unlimited Wikipedia access (be still my heart!) still need to be hand approved by the gatekeeper. Information wants to be free, it doesn’t want to be a service, though that’s hard to see when the dollar signs get in your eyes.

Many folks are comparing this to the original iPod launch–remember, the huge klunky one with a tiny capacity, black and white screen, and a mechanical click-wheel? There’s some strong points of similarity, but stronger differences. For one, anyone with an iPod can easily rip their existing CDs, not to mention obtain MP3s from other methods (so I hear). There’s nothing like that yet for books.
Where’s the documentation for the new, proprietary ebook format? I don’t care about the DRM crap. I care about being able to create new content, or repackage existing content for which I have the rights, and for that, I’m having trouble coming up with a rationale for an entire new format. I would love to do some cool things with this platform. Perhaps I will some day, though my enthusiasm is somewhat lessened by the difficulties I would face getting anything cool onto the devices. -m

Sunday, November 18th, 2007

Gettysburg Address PowerPoint

As one who, in the all-too-near future, will be hammering out the visuals to go with my talk at XML 2007, this made my day. (be sure to check out the deeper pages too) -m

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

Representing structured data on a web page

OK, let me take a step back from specific technologies like RDFa, let’s go through a really simple example.

On a certain web page, I refer to a book. That book has a price of 21.86 US dollars. The page is intended as primarily human-readable, but I want to include machine-readable data too, for a global audience.
What would you do? What specific markup choices would you make? What specific markup would you use? -m

Saturday, November 10th, 2007

RDFa question

What is the difference between placing instanceof=”prefix:val” vs. rel=”prefix:val” on something? How do I decide between the two?

In the example of hEvent data, why is it better/more accurate to use instanceof=”cal:Vevent” instead of a blank node via rel=”cal:Vevent”?


Monday, October 29th, 2007

Five percent rules

Many things in life are simpler when you only need to be within 5%:

  • Pi is pretty much 3
  • Water weighs pretty much 8 pounds a gallon
  • A quart is pretty much a liter (and a gallon, 4 liters)
  • A year has pretty much 360 days, and pretty much 31 million seconds
  • The speed of light is pretty much 300,000 km/s, which is pretty much one foot/nanosecond

Of course, there’s even more things that get more convenient when you have 10% or 20% to work with… -m

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

Come to mead appreciation and brewing class

If you’re in the South Bay and like mead, you need to check this out. -m

Monday, October 15th, 2007

Stephen Colbert…

…should write more opinion columns. :-) -m

Thursday, October 11th, 2007

Hacking Facebook

I didn’t get to do much for Yahoo Hack Day, but I did get to help a coworker a teeny bit with an implementation of Y! Search for social web sites, including Facebook. There could be some interesting repercussions from that, so I won’t say more now. But what did surprise me is how many Yahoos are active on Facebook.

Myself–I’m still a Facebook curmudgeon. But mostly I simply haven’t had the time to check it out, or figure out the value proposition of accepting an invitation. -m

Saturday, September 29th, 2007

Unsubbed: Rocketboom

Speaking of podcasts, last week I unsubbed from Rocketboom, the show having officially become unbearably advertising-swamped. It feels good (but not as good as getting that hour-per-week of my life back from Diggnation).

Possibly coming soon: unsub from Security Now, instead of fast-forwarding through half of it at present. -m

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

Tab Sweep

EXSLT support coming to Firefox 3.0. Python Flyweights. Timeline of MSFT engagement on document standards. RDFa Primer. And not that this is a conspiracy blog or anything, but strange things are afoot at Minot AFB, hours from where I grew up. -m

Sunday, September 16th, 2007

Evaluating fiction vs. evaluating libation

My Copious Free Time(tm) has been filled lately by two different evaluation projects. One is the 2nd Annual Writing Show Best First Chapter of a Novel Contest, for which the first round of judging is just winding up. The main benefit for contest entrants is that every submission gets a professional critique of at least 750 words. But additionally, each submisison gets a score on a 50-point scale, based on:

  • 10 points for Story. Is it a compelling read with a great hook? Are we engaged?
  • 10 points for Style. Is the writing smooth and tight, without awkward constructions, extraneous verbiage, and redundancies?
  • 10 points for Dialog. Is the dialog natural and does it move the story along?
  • 10 points for Character. Are the characters interesting? Do we care about them?
  • 10 points for Mechanics. Are grammar, spelling, and punctuation correct?

I’m also attending some classes aiming toward becoming a Certified Beer Judge (details on Meadblog). This isn’t as fun as it sounds. (Well, OK, maybe it is…). The idea is to build up better sensory perception so that my personal brewing and cooking projects can benefit. But the upcoming test is 70% written essay questions like “Identify three distinctly different top-fermenting beer styles with a starting gravity of 1.070 or higher, and describe the similarities and differences between the styles”. 30% of the test is based on actual tasting and filling out a tasting sheet. Of interest, the scoring here is also based on a 50-point scale:

  • 12 points for Aroma.
  • 3 points for Appearance.
  • 20 points for Taste.
  • 5 points for Mouthfeel.
  • 10 points for Overall Impression.

The interesting part is that there’s similarities between the two tasks. For both, I need to work off of physical paper, not in my head on on a computer screen. For both, I first “skim”, building an overall impression, then dig down into individual categories to assign a score for each one. Then I step back and look at my numbers, and check whether everything makes sense and accurately records my impressions. When I’m satisfied, I add everything up and am done.

Most day-to-day problems aren’t so well structured or normalized, but nonetheless, I find myself tackling all kinds of problems with a similar approach. There you have it. Writing and drinking beer make you a better person. :) -m

Sunday, August 26th, 2007

The biggest gift

It’s too easy to get absorbed in all the terrible things happening on the news. But not everything is like that. Take 7 minutes and watch this. -m

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

What I’m reading

Yeah, they’re related. -m

Thursday, June 28th, 2007

What does ‘continuing education’ mean to you?

I just finished an online version of SICP, the famous computer science text Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs (link to full and official text online). What do I mean by “finished”? Well, there are online video lectures (link to iTunes-ready RSS video feed), expertly delivered by SICP authors Sussman and Abelson themselves in 1986. Beyond just watching the lectures, I took careful notes so I have something to refer back to later. I didn’t get the full intense college-class experience–no pop quizzes for instance–but it’s still helpful. Recent Python and XSLT I’ve written has been influenced for the better.

It’s interesting to peruse the reviews for this book on Amazon. They seem to mainly fall into gushing 5-star reviews, or else ‘yecccch, I’ll never use this stuff’. Both are correct. As Harold Abelson says to start of the first lecture, computer science is neither about computers nor science. The point of this endeavor isn’t about “programming”. You won’t find many Scheme jobs on LinkedIn, for instance. It’s all too easy to get pulled into the world of trench warfare programming, so it’s good to be able to step back and survey broader theoretical issues.

My views toward Lisp/Scheme have shifted as well. Before, and for about the first half of the lectures, I would have talked vaguely about how Lisp has an elegant purity but unusable syntax. Lots of Irritating Superfluous Parentheses, and so on. By the end, I have a lot more respect for the language. I admit I was rather floored by the metacircular evaluator lesson, where a suitably fezzed Gerald Sussman writes an entire Scheme interpreter–writes in Scheme–on a blackboard.
Prior to that, I went through an MIT course on differential equations by the engaging Arthur Mattuck, picking up where my electronics left off. Prior to that, a book called Problem Frames, about fully analyzing problems before diving into solution space.

So I’ve been keeping busy. It seems like these sorts of things run in cycles for me, with a full cycle taking around two years. So I’m really curious: how do others manage “continuing education”? What have you learned lately? How do you learn best? What should I look in to next? Comment below. -m

Sunday, June 24th, 2007

At that moment, I knew my business was Machine Ready

I fell asleep one night while reading Ray Kurzweil, and had this crazy dream where the internet called me up (over VOIP, naturally) to complain that none of my web pages made sense. Par for the course, I thought at first. But then I told the internet a few things, to let me worry about my own domain of concern; he/she/it grappled with a response when a loud noise awoke me–my chirping alarm clock. I reached over to pound the Snooze button, but I stopped when my eyes focused on the display, which read in segmented LED letters: I rtFm. -m

Sunday, June 3rd, 2007

Search On

The approximately seven readers of this blog have probably already heard this, but just in case: I have a new role at Yahoo!–working on next generation search.

Lots of details are still falling into place. For now I describe it: “Imagining, specifying, prototyping, developing, and evangelizing next-generation web search experiences leveraging the full and unique capabilities available within Yahoo!”

In many ways, this is a logical stepping stone after oneSearch, and I’ll be dealing with lowercase semantic web issues more now. Expect the focus of this blog to shift accordingly (though I’m still interested in mobile and will make note of important happenings.)

Search On! -m

Sunday, May 27th, 2007

Everything is Miscellaneous recap

Everyone gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense. –Gertrude Stein

…the solution to the overabundance of information is more information. –David Weinberger in Everything is Miscellaneous.

Weinberger’s book is a great read, taking you to lots of different places–from a prototype Staples store to the underground Bettmann Archive, and meeting a variety of different folks from Linnaeus to Dewey. It’s the kind of book that attaches itself to a particular idea and riffs on it at length, covering lots of details and implications that show great insight, but yet seem obvious after reading.

The book posits three “orders of order”. The first I’d call the problem of atoms. Arranging physical things, whether a library or your silverware drawer is primarily limited by the physical realm. If you have only one copy of a particular book, it has to go on a shelf somewhere. If you have two copies, you need to decide whether to keep them together or separately, possibly increasing the chances of losing track of one.

The second order I’d call solving the problem of atoms with more atoms, the prototypical example being a library card catalog. It’s still physically limited: a card can only hold so much metadata, but at least it’s easy to have multiple cards for a given book, making it easier to find something based on your choice of title, author, subject, or something else. Notably, many of the early online efforts have been straight translations of the second order into the digital realm.

But the third order is something else altogether, solving the problem of bits with more bits, as the leading quote indicates. I get the impression that some sites, like Amazon and, are getting closer to Weinberger’s third order, but none have fully achieved it yet. The third order fully blows the doors off of the constraints of atoms, which we’ve spent the last few thousand years developing and getting used to.

If you’re geeky enough to be reading this here, you’ll be familiar with many of the lines of thought found in this book: Wikipedia vs. Britannica; implied vs. concrete hierarchies or ontologies; centralized vs. decentralized control; Semantic Web vs. “smushiness”.

My complaint is that for a book that talks about the three orders of order, the text itself is firmly tied to first order atoms. Sure, there’s a ongoing blog with tagging, comments, etc. but to actually read the text, you need to find your way through a book store, card catalog, or online bookstore to get it. Sure, there’s no third order of economics (yet), but still I would have liked to see something more.

So, what does this all mean for a company like Yahoo!? That’s the question I’m working on now. Stay tuned. -m

Saturday, April 28th, 2007

Everything is Miscellaneous

Havi Hoffman at Yahoo! gave me an advance copy of David Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous. I’ve been a fan of Weinberger for years–I even quoted him in my book.

I’m just getting in to the reading. I’ll report back when I have more to say. -m