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Foaf Galway
Foaf Galway Foaf Galway September 6, 2004 7:57 PM
Monday 30th August, I decided at the last minute to go to the Foaf Galway workshop. I checked on the #foaf irc channel if there was enough space for me, and was very thankful for Cloud's (John Breslin's) very detailed help. Seeing that this was not going to be too expensive, I set out to get the money together, buy the plane tickets and book the hostel.

The next day I left Fontainebleau around 8am and arrived at the Sleepzone Tourist hostel around 6:30pm Irish time. I need to stop right there and say just how great this hostel was! For €20 euro a night (high season price), I got a clean room to share (4 bunk beds) and a bathroom, but best of all: wireless network. It cannot be emphasized how helpful this is when traveling, especially during a conference. Other expensive hotels in Galway (and elsewhere) either do not have internet access at all, or charge over €20 a day for it. And yet it is so cheap to install, so cheap to run, and so incredibly helpful. Not only did Sleepzone have wireless internet access for those with laptops, but they had a computer room running Linux. Many FOAFers moved over to Sleepzone as soon as they could. The hostel was full. I wish them the best.

The conference itself was great. I had spent so much time learning about RDF and FOAF by myself that it was a great breath of fresh air to meet so many enthusiasts together. As the numerous photos here attached reveal there was a lot of listening to papers, a lot of guiness drinking and a lot of feasting. A Friend of a friend conference: there could be nothing better. And as should be at a FOAF conference, I met Adam Souzis, a friend of David Freeman, my flatmate from San Francisco.

A list of of photos has been collected as del.icio.uk bookmarks.

The people in Ireland were fun. As I arrived in Shannon airport, I made my way to the first available coffee shop. I asked a security guard if he had the time. He answered "yes". Some time elapsed. He smiled at me. I smiled at him, wondering a little if he was going to make me ask him precisely. Some more time elapsed. He told me the time.

Semantic web: a note on the history of technology adoption
Semantic web: a note on the history of technology adoption Semantic web: a note on the history of technology adoption August 23, 2004 3:28 PM
I recently came across the folowing meme, aimed at showing that the Semantic web was doomed because it had not yet succeeded.

In my experience, IT technologies that are successful are successful quickly; PCs, Java, email, the Web, XML.

Here is how I think this thought needs to be tackled. Let us take each technology one by one:

-Personal Computers:
  • Jan 1971 Intel releases the 4004 microprocessor.
  • 1972 Paul Allen and Bill Gates buy the first 8008 microprocessor
  • Jan 1975 the Altair 8800 comes out
  • 1976 Steve Wozniak designs the Apple I
  • 1977 Apple II comes out
    -> 6 years to a non hobbyist tool
  • 1981 IBM release the IBM PC.
    -> 10 years for the mass market to be get into gear. And the early PC was certainly nothing to crow about, when compared to the other machines around at the time, such as VAXes, lisp machines, etc... We are not even going back to all the research that led to the 4004 being invented.
  • Jan 1991 Java Project is started secretly
  • May 1995 Sun announces Java, Netscape that it will license it
    -> four years of secret work (w3c does everything in the open)
  • Dec 1995 Microsoft licenses Java
    ->Total 5 years, from complete start to beginning of mass adoption. And I remember the number of skeptics in 1995!
  • Mid 2000 that Java was really strong enough in industrial terms for a company like AltaVista to be able to rewrite all of its front-ends in Java, after I had demonstrated the babelfish running on a Java App server and taking the load.
    -> Total 10 years to industrial deployment. But were we to take the time from Smalltalk and Eiffel to the industrial production era, we would be in the 30 years time frame.
-the web:
  • 1980: while consulting for CERN Tim Berners writes a notebook program "Enquire-Within-Upon-Everything"
  • March 1989: Information management a proposal
  • 1994: Marc Andreesen forms Netscape
  • June 1995: 1500 servers
    -> 6 years if you want to be conservative from first proposal, to beginning of mass adoption. 15 years from first conception to beginning of mass adoption.
You can see XML as just a simple abstraction from html, then the story above would be the one to look at. Or you could look at it in the history of SGML.
  • 1969 Charles Goldfarb invents GML
  • 1980 first working draft of SGML standard is published
  • 13 Dec 1997 SAX parser development process started
  • Feb 1998: W3C recommendation XML 1.0
    -> 30 years? 18 years? less? how long did it take for xml to develop?

As you can see, it can just as well be argued that none of these technologies developed any quicker than any of the others. What really seems to determine the timing of a technology's explosion on the public scene is the wide enough spread of foundational technologies on which the successful one can grow:

  • The microprocessor has to be available cheaply for the PC to be deployed.
  • The internet cannot find mass adoption before the PC is widely deployed.
  • XML does not find a willing audience of engineers before enough of these have digested and understood the goodness of html.
  • And so I suggest RDF requires that people mess around enough with XML before they start realizing that without a common semantics they are all working on isolated islands. It also requires large enough libraries like Dublin core and FOAF to be available. And it requires tools such as Protege or Jena to allow happy fiddling by unemployed engineers. Heck! the OWL spec was only just finalized at the beginning of this year!
When I looked at RDF a long time ago, there were no inference engines available to play with it, no libraries such as Dublin Core, to look to to understand what the intended usage was, no agreed upon layer such as OWL to allow an OO programmer to feel comfortable with the concepts developed. RDF just seemed too simple at the time for me to grasp how this could be useful. And in any case there was enough to do learning XML and all the tools that came with it. So I decided at the time that I would much prefer to learn other things and wait for the dust to settle in the RDF arena, and I spent a lot of time reading about the history of psychology from Aristotle to the latest books on the philosophy of emotions. (There are other things than computing in this world)

note: logo stolen from Mindswap

Atom, OWL, FOAF Atom, OWL, FOAF August 16, 2004 7:52 PM
It has been at least since the end of June that I have been wanting to do this, but with cycling down France, my sister's wedding and all the exercise I have been doing lately it ended up being seriously delayed.

Anyway I have worked quite hard this last week getting this clearly illustrated proof of concept of how to merge Atom and FOAF, which is really a condensation of all I have learned in the last few months on the topics of the semantic web and blogging.
I hope it prooves useful.

My sister's wedding
My sister's wedding My sister's wedding August 4, 2004 12:15 AM
My sister Christina (Tini) and her fiancé Marcel were married on the 10 July 2004 in Fontaineblau, in what turned to be a beautiful wedding in the a small church in the next door village of Avon.

Everything had led me to be fearful of the outcome of the event. As I came back from my cycle trip from France the weather forcast had predicted 5 days of non-stop rain. The organisation of the wedding, like most large projects I imagine, had led to a lot of heat being dissipated, and one inevitably only sees and hears that, rarely the successes that lead to the goal.

In the end everything turned out better than perfectly. The sun shone all day. The food was excellent. The musicians, all performed perfectly. My sister's Opera singing colleagues, sang beautiful classical pieces in the church. My father sang a bass piece. Laurent, a good friend of my sister's played beautifully the classical guitar during the reception after the mass. And best of all his friends played folkloric french music that felt like it had sprung fresh out of the middle ages all the way from the church, through the park, through town and into the late night where we all learned the traditional village dances and had great fun.

more photos

cycling 750km in under a week
cycling 750km in under a week cycling 750km in under a week July 16, 2004 5:43 PM
Right after watching the Java One and Apple Keynotes, I set out for a small crossing of France in the hope of getting fit and loosing some weight in anticipation of my sister's wedding. Not having done a lot of exercise this year I found it hard to get going. The trip took 6 full days.
  1. Wednesday 30th June: After quickly packing all I thought I might need into an old backpack, getting my bike parts together, and filling up at the cash point I finally left around 3pm. I did not feel like leaving at the time, but knew that it would be better to get going as I would probably feel the same way any other day.
    I travelled some 80km from Fontainebleau to a small village close to St-Fargau. I took the first "maison d'hôtes" (hostel) I found, for €25 a night + €5 breakfast + €15 dinner = €45, which is the average price I paid in every place I came across. People go to bed very early in the French countryside: the owners closed the doors at 11pm. This place, like most places I stayed at during the trip, did not have a telephone in the rooms, and using the owners telephone was very much up to his discretion. The consistent explanation I heard was that most people now had mobile phones - an explanation that did not take into account that one might not get very good reception in the hotel room itself.
  2. Thursday 1 July: After getting up a little late I travelled 105km to St-Benin-d'Azy a small village near Nevers, avoiding a couple of small rain spells by hiding for 5 minutes under a tree.
    At midday I had stopped at a small village in search of food and entered a local charcuterie, a small french speciality shop that sells an assortment of meats and other meat based products. The man in the shop kindly enough prepared a nice sandwich for me, had his wife (an obese woman as so many small shop owners in the French coutryside seem to be, whome I just glimpsed in behind the door that led from the shop into their living quarters) warm up a pastry and gave me a container of taboulé. That would have been great had I not noticed that his hand was covered with very visible warts. I imagine those were not transmissible as he probably would not have been allowed to keep his shop otherwise. I did have difficuly not thinking about those warts while eating the sandwich, which somehow made eating the sandwich a lot more arduous a task than it should have been. It made me think that a lot of people in France seem to end up with jobs that are not appropriate for them.
    That evening in St-Benin-d'Azy I found another hostel. Tired I only started looking for dinner at 8:30pm but everything was closed. A local was kind enough to bring me to another hostel that was still serving tourist food. Not good, but I forgot the warts.
  3. Friday 2 July: 105 km to Jaligny-sur-Besbre. I could have gone a little further but I found that my back tire that had probably seen over 2000 kms, was close to the end of its life: a section of it had started undulating left to right near a patch that had thined down to the point that it was not far from showing the inner tube. Nowhere I went could I find a good bicycle shop. France may be famous for its "tour de France", but there are very few cycle shops around. There are nearly no bicycle paths either. It would be much more useful if instead of spending all the EU's money to produce surplus milk and agricultural products nobody needs, they would spend the money on enhancing/creating a nice bicycle infrastructure across the country. I stayed the night at a hotel accorded a "hôtel de France" logo. The quality of the food there was excellent. I even got real cofee for breakfast. Did I mention that the two previous places had served me Nescafé? I thought that that only used to happen in England. But in France!?
  4. Saturday 3 July: that morning I cycled 30kms with my deteriorating tire, till I reached the close surroundings of Vichy. Worried that the state of my tire might affect my wheel I turned to hitch hiking and was lucky after 15minutes to have a cycle fan stop, give me directions to the closest race-cycle shop. As I was cycling there he came back, picked me up and drove me there. We arrived a few minutes before midday, just before they closed. I got my back tire fixed, and stocked up on food and drinks and other cycle utilities.
    After a midday meal put together from provisions gathered at a local supermarket, I started off. Seeing a man in full cycling gear in front of me I raced up to him and asked him for directions. As it turned out he and some friends were going on a little cycle tour that afternoon that was consistent with my journey. I was invited along. They were three older men between 55 and 65 of age. They were very fit and I had quite some trouble keeping up with them as we climbed up and down the hills of the Massif Central, the mountainous region in the center of France. I would have lost them had they not kindly waited for me and adjusted their pace to mine. To my defense it should be said that I had over five kilos in my backpack, a two kilo chain around my waste, and am 10kg over weight, and as I said ealier am not very fit (though the last is should probably not count as an excuse). We travelled together over 60kms through some very beautiful hilly landscape at a very good pace. They left me at a little village and I conitnued another 20 kms. The village I reached had two hotels one of which the 'hotel de londres' was closed for the weekend. The other was packed full for a weekend. Another 20kms further I found a cheap hotel. So all in all I must have done 110 kms that day.
  5. Sunday 4 July: I cycled in a growing and torrid heat uphill till I reached around 1:30 pm nearly dehydrated a small village called St Jean Soleymieux, and rushed into a bar/restaurant where they served me a great meal, and I drank myself a liter of the delicious local Perrot spring water. As I sat there regaining consciousness I was able to focus more on the local farmer lads who were also sheltering from the heat, and had grown quite happy drinking not water but wine and rosé. They questioned me, and somehow I mentioned the local village name. This got them all singing the village song. Their conversation revolved quite a lot around sex, which did not bother the one girl that was sitting with them.
    Around 3pm I thought the heat had subsided enough to allow me to continue my journey. So I travelled another 20kms uphill reaching St Bonnet le Chateau, the world capital of Petanque, the french equivalent of darts. Another 10 kms uphill and I had the greatest and wildest descent down a very narrow little road flanked with steep clifs on either side. Sadly I had to use my brakes quite a lot (a sin to be avoided at all costs). Downhill cycling is quite a lot more tiring than one might imagine, especially on the forearms. I reached a village at the bottom called "Bas en Basset" where I stopped at a bar, and had a Pastis to relax. I left forgetting to pay, as I was soon reminded when the owner caught up with me to my embarassment in his truck. The local village did not have a nice hotel and there was still time in the day, so I decided to continue on uphill again to Ste Sigolène. As I reached it I drove over a badly designed manhole and burst my back wheels inner tube. The hotel had closed down for some time now, and so I would have to continue to the next town Montfaucon en Velay, which I did after ordering a pizza and fixing my back weel. Exhausted after another arduous trip mostly up hill I reached the comfortable Hotel de la gare. This is how I ended up doing 120km that day.
  6. Monday 5 July: after another night unable to sleep I decided that the cause of my trouble had to be the large quantitiess of iced tea I kept drinking. Tired I continue uphill through St Bonnet le Froid to the beautiful 1100m of la Louvesc. I did not stay long but noticed a beautiful stone church in the center of the village. A place to go back to another day. From there I enjoyed the close to 30km downhill to Tournon sur Rhone. There I had a huge plate of spaghetti. At the tourist agency I found a cycling map covering the whole length of the Rhone river, that would help me find the roads to Avignon. That afternoon I put another 100 kms behind me till I reached the village called Chateauneuf du Rhone. My lack of sleep prevented me going any further. 150km in a day was good enough I decided.
    The hostel owner did not have a phone in the rooms and was not initially a very gregarious personality, but I broke through when I noticed that he was a great Harley-Davidson fan, and had spent a lot of time in California.
  7. Tuesday 6 July I arrived in Avignon by 2pm, where I met Régis, a martial arts fanatic colleague from AltaVista, who after going on to Japan and Thailand had found his way back to his home town.
The 7th of July is the beginning of a huge theater festival in Avignon, with over 400 plays showing during a 4 week period. The festival is both composed of the official festival with many plays in German with French subtitels this year, and the off festival. Anyway if every day of the week you went to see 6 plays a day you would not be able to see more than one third of all the plays showing there.
Avignon is a beautiful medieval town with narrow roads that used at one time to be the city where the Pope lived.
I could not stay long as my sister's wedding started that Friday. So I stayed for a couple of days with Regis and his grandmother, who prepared some very nice food. I succeeded in getting Regis to come and see a couple of plays from the festival. This was the first time he had gone to see the plays showing at the festival. We also went to see a blues concert - though the group we heard seemed to be playing rock and roll rather than blues.
On Friday morning I packed my bicycle into a large cardboard box and took the TGV back to Paris.
REST: Representational State Transfer
REST: Representational State Transfer REST: Representational State Transfer June 17, 2004 11:27 PM
It is amazing how much there is to learn! After over 8 years of working on the net, I still discover important things I did not know about. This week I read a very important PhD thesis by Roy Thomas Fielding, who cointed the term REST: Representational State Transfer. For those who want to understand the architecture behind the web this is a must read. It will reveal what you probably allready knew. But having it spelled out clearly is very empowering.
Atom Semantics
Atom Semantics Atom Semantics June 11, 2004 6:02 PM
I have recently been able to use my work on BlogEd to start making a contribution on the atom-syntax list. Here is a short history:
  1. Earlier this week I posted this initial e-mail describing two possible semantics for the Atom syntax.
  2. It took a little while before I got a very helpful response by Bob Wyman.
  3. To which I responded at length.
  4. Today I started a new thread focusing in on a part of the model, namely the semantics of entry. I just noticed that the later ascii diagrams got mangled a little in the web version of the feed. I hope that did not happen also in list subscribers e-mail clients.
  5. This time I received nearly immediately a very positive answer, by Karl Dubost to which I have just replied.
  6. It took me forever to find out why the post never made it to the list. It turns out that my attachments were too big. I was not going to redo all the work, so I worked my way around the limitation by sending it in three parts.
Copernicus and ontologies
Copernicus and ontologies Copernicus and ontologies June 9, 2004 4:53 PM
Today I came across a paper in the overly deferent first bulletin of The Special Interest Group on Semantic Web and Information Systems" An article there by Kim H. Veltman, where he emphasizes the cross cultural paradigm shifts and the effects on semantics. Not surprisingly he lives in Holland. :-)

The point is that in order to understand the past we need to understand the ontology they were working with. The pre-copernican ontology of stars had them revolving on a sphere, the post copernican ontology has the stars as real physical objects in space, a long way away from us. To allow us to transform the knowledge of one system into the other we need to be able to map one ontology to the other.

Well this does not seem to be such a difficult task. It is a problem if we think that both of them while using the natural language word "star" were speaking about the same thing. But the Semantic web make it easy to distinguish them. We could easily create one ontology called tag:biblical.times/astronomy/stars where there is a flat surface called earth and a semisphere above it. This semisphere has holes in it at night that lets light through. Copernicus on the other hand created an ontology of tag:copernicus.immortal/astronomy/stars where we are all located in a large 3 dimensional space with the sun at its center and the earth revolving around it. Stars were perceived to be similar bodies and their perceived rotation is due to the movement and rotation of the earth.

Put this way the two groups of thinkers were simply speaking of different things. One was speaking of the movement of light specs in the sky, the other was speaking of the movement of planets and stars in the universe. It turned out that it was easier to predict the movement of light specs in the sky using the later ontology. But when we look at the sky we can still look at it both ways. At some point in a modern planetarium the older ontology is certainly still being used.