Semantic MediaWiki Implementation

I was interested to learn that enhancements to Wiki are being formulated to allow for the inclusion of semantic annotation of articles.

Wiki has proven itself to be an effective means of collecting information (look no further than the wikipedia). Coupling something like wikipedia with a means of being able to make machine readable sense of the collected knowledge is a pretty potent combination.

Massachusetts Open Document Format

Not surprisingly, Massachusetts has long-standing concerns over Microsoft’s XML schema based document formats and is seeking an open format to preserve current and future documents from patent and other encumbrances by Microsoft. This is actually part of a larger effort to minimize the states dependence on proprietary technologies.

Perhaps one of the most ridiculous parts of this situation is Microsoft’s refusal to support the Open Document format. They already have over twenty different import and export filters in Word. The OD format is similar enough to their not-quite-XML format for it not to be a huge effort for them to create a filter to support OD.

It is pretty easy to see that MS is trying to use it’s market dominance to encumber others intellectual property via their closed, proprietary (and not terribly efficient) document formats.

More Katrina (Less Angry)

This article which appeared in National Geographic in October of 2004 raises some interesting questions for the ‘we couldn’t have known this was going to happen’ apologists that I pointed out in a previous posting. This quote from the article was particularly striking:

“The Federal Emergency Management Agency lists a hurricane strike on New Orleans as one of the most dire threats to the nation, up there with a large earthquake in California or a terrorist attack on New York City.”

I am glad that Colin Powell is out of office and can speak his mind about Katrina and it’s aftermath as well.

This is a pretty amazing slide show of the before, during and after of a photographer who was in New Orleans the entire time of the storm.

Katrina Aftermath Anger

After a week of listening to the coverage of Katrina (and the aftermath) there are some things that I just need to get off my chest:

As bad as it is, stop calling it ‘our tsunami’. There is a big difference between something that happen with little or no warning and something that happened with several days warning that some people either didn’t react to or couldn’t react to. Why does there have to be competition over whose natural disaster was worse? They are all horrible and provide an opportunity to see the best (and worst) in people.

In New Orleans, the situation rapidly turned into a Y2K-esque worst case scenario: no power, no water, no communications, armed mobs looting and pillaging with the government unable to respond. Except in this real life scenario, this was not the result of some errant computer software. This was a fatal combination of natural disaster and the worst side of humankind.

Before Katrina hit, it seems that there were those who couldn’t move because they didn’t have cars or some other means of getting around or out of the city because they are poor. This might have something to do with the fact that the poverty rate in the US has grown to 12.5% under the current administration. Apparently the poor are good enough to fight wars, but not worth rescuing or looking out for properly — sickening.

Another point that I am struggling with regarding the slow federal response is ‘because it is a very complicated situation that no one could have foreseen’. Then how do we account for the Hurricane Pam simulations that showed almost exactly what was going to happen? You might ask yourself how can the international press get camera crews, helicopters, ground transport, etc to freely go in to areas to broadcast (some might say, exploit) those impacted by this disaster, but the government doesn’t seem to be as resourceful. Nor does it seem that the press has enough integrity to try to bring in whatever aid they can while covering the events.

The National Guard, who typically play a crucial role in providing swift and effective assistance during natural disasters are hobbled by the fact that 40% of Mississippi’s and 35% of Louisiana’s National Guard are in Iraq.

This event seems to me to be an example of the current administrations domestic policy writ large: if you have money, you’re ok, you can evacuate (you can basically do whatever you want); if you don’t, then they really don’t give a damn about what happens to you. So you have a situation were the administration cut funding for levee enhancements/maintenance because of ‘the war’, but then turned around and provided a 31 billion USD handout to oil companies that are already making multi-billion dollar profits quarterly. Then you have gun toating idiots wrecking havoc, because we need more guns in this country, right NRA? I can already hear their twisted response, ‘well, if everyone had a gun, they could defend themselves against the bandits’ Right, we all know that the solution to cleaning up an oil slick is to pour more oil on it…

Thankfully, the situation seems to be improving. I just hope that this country learns a lesson from this disaster and is able to grow in a more positive direction.

One final note: it seems ironic to me that the Administration has been on TV and radio telling those who have Labor Day plans (which in the US is ‘a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.’) to stay home, and not have any inessential travel.

The Price of Petrol

Isn’t it so amazing that three weeks ago, AAA predicted that gas would be over three dollars a gallon by the end of the month. And, surprise! on August 31st my local is selling gas for $3.09 a gallon.

Oh, joy.

Mac: MenuMeters

In my estimation, MenuMeters has got to be one of the sweetest utilities for keeping track of what is going on on your Mac (running OS X).

The app doesn’t take up a huge amount of space in the menubar, but gives a load of information. It also cleverly links in to some of the Apple apps for more information. For example, if you click on the CPU display, you have the option of running Activity Monitor or Console.

Smells Like Dot-Bomb Pixie Dust

I sure hope that this new service works better than their bloated, pointless flash interface. The fact that they are using flash makes one question just how tuned in they really are.

Even the Wired write up on the company reminds me of what would get VC cash in the 90s: “we’re going to make this awesome product that does, er, something, um, everything and people are going to love it…”

I am curious to see what actually materializes “in the fall”.

Subway Maps on iPod

Now this is totally cool — subway maps on your iPod (and free, ta boot). Requires what used to be called the iPod Photo, now just called the iPod (alas, not free).

I was looking for something like this when I was in London on business a few weeks ago and had to settle for a scrollable tube map that ran on my Nokia 6620 phone.

Book: A Short History of Nearly Everything

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

This book was a suggested read by the ‘book club’ at work. Frankly, I don’t get what was supposed to be so great about this book (or maybe I do). First off, I found the writing style chatty and sophomoric (and in some cases annoyingly so). The way that much of the material is dealt with many times focuses more on the controversy around a given topic or some gee-whiz statistics than on actual substance and understanding.

While I was tempted to give up on the book about 100 pages into, I told my wife that I was going to force myself to finish it, in an ultimately vain effort to find out why it was so highly recommended. The only conclusion that I could come to is that the readers were really only interested in the sound-byte qualities of the book — something that they could chirp in on during a lunch conversation or over drinks.

In comparison, I found any number of books by Simon Winchester, such as Krakatoa, The Map That Changed the World, and The Professor and the Madman to be much more compelling and ultimately satisfying.

Name Popularity

I thought that this was a brilliant little java applet that allows you to examine the popularity of names over time. Not surprisingly, many of the biblical based names remain at a somewhat steady stream of popularity and that some names tend to come and go based upon television or movie characters having those names.

My name appears to have been most popular in the 30s and 40s and has been in decline since. Suits me.

It also demonstrates a frightening trend of late to have children named after product brands.

Electronic Enhancements

I predict that this sort of thing (Wired: Hearing Aids for the unimpaired) will get increasingly popular as people run out of cosmetic surgery options in their quest to be (at least superficially) ‘different’ from others (which paradoxically tends to make them gravitate toward some homogeneous ideal).

Perhaps wearable mods are a step along the path to what William Gibson described in Burning Chrome where electronic mods to the human body become commonplace.

Create Fire from Water

Not sure how efficient this is as it requires 220 volts to operate (manufacturer lists the output at 31,000 BTU). The brilliant part is that 100% of the heat goes into the room that it is in and it produces water vapor as a side effect so it humidifies the room as well.

Book: The Tipping Point

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Ok, everybody has already heard of/read this book (what can I say, Im slow and don’t have many opportunities to read). I thought that there were a great many interesting ideas about how things become adopted/popular. I particularly enjoyed the writing style which I found to be engaging without being chatty.

I also enjoyed the book because it is the sort of thing that helps me in my job, which is largely about trying to make complex things understandable and influencing people to take action on them based on the benefits.

Elevator ‘Hacking’

This little tidbit seems to be making the rounds on the net:

The designers of some elevators include a hidden feature that is very handy if you’re in a hurry or it’s a busy time in the building (like check-out time in a hotel). While some elevators require a key, others can be put into “Express” mode by pressing the “Door Close” and “Floor” buttons at the same time. This sweeps the car to the floor of your choice and avoids stops at any other floor.

Elevators that have been tested and worked on:
Otis Elevators (All But The Ones Made In 1992),
Dover (Model Numbers: EL546 And ELOD862),
And Most Desert Elevators(All, But Model Numbers ELD5433 And ELF3655)

I might try this out the next time I am in a high rise building (which isn’t too often these days).


Where in the World?

Came across this nifty site at that lets you generate a map of the places that you have been (which appear in red on the map) and even the ones that you would like to visit. Mine looks something like this:

It appears that the idea of the site is to allow travelers to add their own commentary and advise on places that they have visited or lived. It will be interesting to see how this evolves.