"'A good choice'? Son, it's the only choice. The Mobile Infantry is the Army. All the others are either button pushers or professors, along merely to hand us the saw; we do the work." (Starship Troopers, by Robert A. Heinlein.)
And so it is with web development. Knowledgable and skilled with our weapon of choice. Enough with your designs, your mockups, your market research, your copy. Make the decisions and give the saw to technical. This I enjoy.
August 2009: How Google beat Amazon and Ebay to the Semantic Web, fiction, and fun and readable. (What's more, a much better what it's all about for RDF and the Semantic Web than anything I've linked to in the past few weeks. This is the Summer of Edutainment.)
Me and Miss Mandible, by Donald Barthelme [thanks Es].
There's another line on the London underground called the Masochuticon. It's on the maps, inked in bright radio; the frequency of its colour is to the colour-range we see as visible light is to the slow rumbles whales bellow across the ocean. Its stops are at anyone who has ever thought of it, and it leads where any of those people go.
Overmorgen writeup of WorldView 2002, notes from the World Future Society Annual Conference.
This augmented reality demo (thanks Dorian) is astounding. What looks like a window is actually a live video feed of what would be seen through it, augmented with 3d shapes drawn on with a stylus. Imagine this with eye-glasses.
(And talking of glasses and augmented reality: How about if scattered around were the equivalent of blue-screens, except they were filled with Java code, and your glasses had a JVM built in which would run the code with the output pasted over the real-life code? A newspaper article could end with a code snippet that would make a network connection to fetch live replies to a conversation thread; another piece of code could draw a keyboard and interpret the movement of your fingers and send the message back to the server. Why wait for mass-production of intelligent paper when a single instance per person of smart-client eye-glasses with OCR would do?)
There's a quite splendid new Upsideclown today: "If one were to look for a single convincing piece of evidence that things were not all they could be, perhaps the fact would stand out that, with her boyfriend's penis in her mouth and new pants bought only yesterday cinching her waist, her uppermost concern is the inevitable stippling of her knees as a result of the coarse fibres of the living room carpet. She tries to move herself gently toward the comparative safety of the fake sheepskin rug, but nothing doing".
Dan sucks, in Fellatious.
The Semantic Web In Breadth. A far better introduction to RDF than I did yesterday, and to the various technologies (including Ontologies) that'll lead to the Semantic Web, than I've seen anywhere else.
Many game design theory links. Looks to be some good digging there.
Have a quick look at Dirk. It's the opposite extreme from the www in a way. On the web, there are pages and pages are linked together by unidirectional embedded hyperlinks of a single flavour (that is, there's only one type of link: you click on it, it takes you to another page). Dirk is based around the idea of ultra-simple objects which are connection in both directions by nonembedded links that have information (that is, if you follow a link you can follow it back, and the link has a piece of text starting "because..." attached to it). Two extremes of hypertext. What they share is the concept of connections. Nodes and arcs. To-object, from-object and connection.
This is where RDF comes in, as a way of explaining this kind of information. The (very good) RDF Primer explains these three portions like this: "the part that identifies the thing the statement is about is called the subject. The part that identifies the property or characteristic of the subject that the statement specifies is called the predicate, and the part that identifies the value of that property is called the object" (I've edited that down slightly). It's good terminology.
Now RDF has a number of advantages. First, it can be written down in XML (it doesn't need to be) so there are already standard tools to query it and make it. Secondly, it's machine readable. Thirdly, it represents structures we're familiar with (the web, databases, metadata) and consistent ways. Fourthly (and here's the good bit), all of the subject, object and predicate can be URIs. That is, they can reference another location on the www.
More about that last property. Imagine you want to say that the property "written-by" of this webpage is "Matt Webb". Instead of just using the text "written-by" as the predicate, you can pull in Dublin Core into RDF (Dublin Core is a metadata standard, and by "pull in" we're taking advantage of XML namespaces meaning your document can inherit standards other people have written) and reference the standard Dublin Core [or DC] "creator" predicate instead. And instead of just saying "Matt Webb" you could use the URI "mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" which uniquely identifies me online. Why is this good? It's good because machines can then identify the sameness of the DC "creator" attribute, and the sameness of me as the creator. Semantic Web, here we come.
Why do I suddenly mention all of this? It's because I see:
...and if the creators of these tools had easy access to simple RDF tools, we could be boosting up the lower-common denominator of weblogs to a point where they comprise a lush substrate on which to build fascinating and useful tools to explore and filter the www. And this is in exactly the same way that the architecture of the www with URIs in the first place even allowed things like hyperlinks, and weblogs, to occur.
The best start I've seen is Movable Type's TrackBack which embeds RDF on the page to start linking weblog posts together. But it's still only a start. I'd like to see a grand conversation between the authors of publishing tools pinning down the properties weblogs need to fulfil their potential, and then building these in invisibly for the user. Because weblogs have yet to expand as much as they will, and when they do their course will be hard to change. The future has to be built now, in this microcosm, in this monobloc.
NetNewsWire Lite: Free Mac OS X native RSS desktop aggregator and reader. Fast, clean, good UI. Recommended.
Stewart hypothesises the isomorphism of all games: "Use this system as an intermediary for allowing two people to play two different games against one another (i.e., Warcraft v Roller Coaster Tycoon or Civilization v Quake), while expressing the strategy of their play in one space into an entirely different system/structure". (All of which reminds me of the Glass Bead Game for some reason.)
Recommended by reader Ole Andersen (thanks!), the Catholic Encylopedia's large article on The Reformation should flesh out my understanding of the political situation surrounding Luther's 95 Theses: "[The Reformation is] the usual term for the religious movement which made its appearance in Western Europe in the sixteenth century, and which, while ostensibly aiming at an internal renewal of the Church, really led to a great revolt against it".
Martin Luther's 95 Theses, against the Church, hammered to the door of a church. Courageous. But: A less broad attack than I assumed they were. And I wonder what the environment in which these were written was like? Were there others, less articulate, with less of a sense for the dramatic saying the same thing?
This animated image of the Moon gives a great sense of its size [thanks Mike C].
XSH, An XML Editing Shell. Browse and edit XML documents as if they were directory structures. Cute. And yes, intriguing.
New Upsideclown today: "It used to be we didn't talk, I mean, it used to be that when we talked (which we did, all the time) I didn't notice the words and the sounds and the interpretation. We used to be two sides of the same brain, both of us both sides of the brain even!, a constant flux of thought and opinion, and the air between us glowed with body language, facial tics, murmurings, gestures, a brightness of constant information enveloping us both; both of us caught up in a rhythm, in the same dance, a polka of thought."
One of mine. Eleven Graceland endings. That's one ending for each track on the album, and thank you Paul Simon.
(Plug. Whelk: The best of Upsideclown is On Sale Now.)
I believe in the coherence of coherences. Or, to put it another way, in the interconnectedness of all things.
The Dasher Project, a zooming text input interface.
I've seen Zoomable User Interfaces for filesystems and ZUIs for collaborative working; I'm not convinced. They're just novel interfaces to problems that could be solved in other ways. That's not to say ZUIs don't have a place, but we should look at what problem they're actually trying to solve. That is, adding a dimension of detail to otherwise flat data. And that's got to start much lower down than a groupware system, at the level of text documents. Our computer metaphors are based around single strings of texts structured by the newline and EOF [end of file] special characters. And because of this: We have discrete documents; Datatypes in programming languages are limited by this same metaphor, our datastructures are still pretty unstructured; everything is strings, strings, strings.
The alternative, and why ZUI researchers are looking too high: start by structuring the plain text document. Rebuild the last 50 years of computer history. Let us have trees, graphs and tables as fundamental datatypes to accompany the list and associative array. Constructs that break free of the text line. Only then work on replacing the spreadsheet, the www browser, the filesystem.
(Of course, it won't happen like this. We need to work in the meantime. Until then, it'll happen gradually because the requirement's there. Text is being structured by XML. Slowly standards and standard tools will emerge. Then application history will be infected from the present, Excel rewritten as ZigZag, and the rest. And the rest.)
How to write a Functional Spec, a Tutorial.
The W3C's Web Ontology Language is one to keep an eye on, a language to express classifications to enable the Semantic Web. Two problems I can see. Firstly, the maximum map size issue -- there's a sweet spot in terms of the maintainability, depth and breadth of classification systems, and I don't believe it scales to the dimensions of the www. Secondly, we've been wrestling with the ontology problem for thousands of years, since Aristotle, so I'd be inclined to label it as a Hard Problem. Or in other words, one that is unlikely to be solved by the W3C using XML (although I'd like to be proved wrong). An article that draws these strands together: From Aristotle to the 'semantic web'.
ActiveBuddy, the guys behind SmarterChild and others, have just released the BuddyScript SDK. It's a simple way of scripting responses to word patterns the user enters to make chat bots on the ActiveBuddy framework, including ways of hooking into datasources. Not immediately useful for independent developers, but have a look at the Guide in the BuddyScript documentation -- it's interesting to see a way of solving the Conversation User Interface definition and state control problem (even though it isn't necessarily the one I'd use).
The name of the book, Whelk, came to George in a dream back in March 2001. And frankly there's not much you can do to compete with that so "Whelk" it had to be. But we didn't get going on the book until, oh, March or April this year, ready for the two year anniversary of Upsideclown.
You wouldn't believe how many typos there are in web articles. There's something about the medium that renders them invisible on the screen, but when you've got 300 pages in Quark in front of you they manifest as an ocean of mistakes. Es fixed those. And typeset. And proofed. And proofed again, and again. She did a lot. That lasted for around two months. Arranging the articles into a well-rounded whole was like doing a jigsaw where all the pieces are square and the same colour, but it worked in the end. Flows nicely actually. Dory took the cover photo.
The most impressive thing: that's it's possible to get cheap printing-on-demand for such low runs. Instant Publisher [recommended by RavenBlack] install a special printer driver on your (Windows-only) machine that intercepts the print stream and sends it up to their server. It's simple point, click and pay to order any number of books. They're very good. (But tell them exactly what you want. As with any printer, there are a lot of variables you'll need to control.)
So we started almost four months ago, and now I have the final product in my hand. Print is fresh air after so long on the internet. Satisfyingly heavy, small enough to be clutchable on the underground, set in a bookish, resonant font (Sabon was used by Penguin in the 1960s -- it's that kind of deadly-serious space opera sci-fi feel I was after), and full of articles that suddenly work in a very different way on paper than they ever have on the www or in email. Whelk is On Sale Now. (And we're having a party too, if you'd like to come.)
Announcing: Whelk. The best of Upsideclown.
Being: A book to celebrate 2 years and 200 articles. Or, to be specific: A 7" x 4 1/4" paperback, with gorgeous colour cover. Over 300 limited-edition pages of 84 of our best Upsideclowns, quality printed on genuine dead tree. Alternatively: Recycled content in a form you can leave in your bathroom. But actually, it's more exciting than that. A book! It's a real life old skool book! A paperback! Man, it's like the web never even existed! Don't you feel all tingly? Subversive? Dirty?
Oh, and. Whelk is On Sale Now.
The sameness of topic maps and search engines | Have a skim of The TAO of Topic Maps [via haddock]. It's good. Topic maps are a formalisation of sitemaps, but abstracted from the site. They're a standards-compliant way of mapping a domain of knowledge. Handy. Very specific. When there are lots, even better. But better than a search engine, say Google? Don't think so. Each has its place. Calling the search engine big and the topic map small is wrong, I think, even though that's what I'm very close to doing. So: a few gut feelings:
Based on this, we need a new definition of size. The www feels fractal, but not in a containing kind of way. Each distance is equivalent. Domains don't contain pages. Information isn't contained in a single paragraph. References. Interlinks.
I suggest there are three dimensions to maps of the www: Addressing accuracy (to the site, or to the page); Semantic detail (meaning, or words); Wideness (how much of the territory is covered).
Search engines cover vast amounts of the territory (very wide), but don't address it very accurately (only to the page level) and don't have much semantic detail. Topic maps are accurate, detailed, but not very wide. The two are of the same size.
Running with these instincts, maybe there's a limit on the size of maps: Too much detail and the map stops being useful. Ditto wideness. And accuracy isn't helpful if you don't know much about what your looking for. And so maybe the www does work along these dimensions, maybe if each point was locally euclidean in these directions it'd be easier to find things. Maybe we should be thinking of the www not as a territory, but as a vast number of maps, all interlinked, because the distance on maps is more representative of the actual distance we have to travel moving about it.
Update | It occurs to me that there's probably some standard method in network theory for calculating the size of a map/network. Would it be possible to recast semantic specificness somehow so this could be done?
News for a Synergic Earth [via Tom, in conversation], a weblog tracking and cataloguing information about the future of planet plus ecology plus humanity. Sounds like the noösphere to me [humanity as force on geological scale; the merging of it with environment]. And another loopback to current preoccupations: they call themselves time binders. Very General Semantics, an understanding of the unique position humans hold as being able to understand reality within the context of time.
SynEarth also archive a lot of literature including a pointer to the book Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth by R Buckminster Fuller which I'll already been meaning to read (the Buckminster Fuller Institute archives yet more information), and many more which look equally interesting.
Kevan's doing some fascinating stuff with hive minds. Following the example of a theatre of 5,000 people creating symbols in the presence of a simple feedback loop, he's created The Smaller Picture. Go take part, and add your distinctiveness to its own.
An analysis of menu structures and their usefulness in Cellular Handset Interfaces (pdf) [via nooface]. Suggests ways of improving the interface for novice and expert users, from three angles: the user has to be aware of their position on the interface map and how they move in it (more options visible; animation feedback); options have to be categorised correctly (a ringtones menu, or a settings menu?); novice users have to feel comfortable exploring the map without fear of accidental changes. Also, is this the correct form of UI? How about using WML (the markup language behind WAP) to allow editable, non-hierarchic interfaces? This is where I feel the paper falls down -- it's the query vs hierarchy (or association vs location) problem. Just because hierarchy doesn't work brilliantly doesn't mean it should be thrown away completely. The problem with building association into the phone is that it replaces a human process (the brain is good at association) with an automatic one, which is bound to fail. But I'm getting off the point: A couple of days ago I saw a phone with the colour screen. And a swimming fish screensaver. O! The onward march of progress!
English words are connected by three degrees of separation, following links in a thesaurus [via pop-up toaster]. The original paper has more to say: "We study this issue quantitatively, by mapping out the conceptual network of the English language, with the connections being defined by the entries in a Thesaurus dictionary" (Topology of the conceptual network of language). It's a small world!
God damn Riothero is being updated again. This man is funny. Read about the Canada geese, about half way down.
"Still, if life gives you 48DD melons, make 48DD melonade". Dan's latest Upsideclown is bloody brilliant. Read Skin Mag.
Shazam is mighty impressive. I've been playing with it recently, and it's true: in a louded, crowded pub I can hold my phone on my hand for twenty seconds and I'm sms'd with the name and artist of the music, and the album it's from. What's more, it's consistently fast enough to be a part of a conversation, not just a thing on it's own. And for only 50p. So. I'm impressed with the audio-processing technology. But this is only the start, right?
And an always-on phone could operate as a permanent lie detector, giving a discrete buzz when the conversation dropped below a certain truth threshold. Now that would change the world. Especially if it was accompanied by a little Jimmy Nail avatar saying "she's lyin'" every time.
Linguistics is a whole lot broader than I realised. In the Conventionalist view of knowledge, there's a gulf between the objective universe (a deep structure we can never know) and subjective truth. This pulls together science, the nature of reality and how we know things. And given this has to live in Popper's World Three, cultural knowledge, this construct needs to be communicated: linguistics. Our reality and how we talk about it are actually closer than our reality and objective reality. It all seems so now, so absolute fucking whitecap of the now-wave. It's important! This is how I consider the universe! This is how I've grown up! It's poetry, that this all touches me so deeply.
And so maybe as well as a metaphor coherence within language, maybe there's a kind of meta-coherence between knowledge, reality, linguistics. All these parallels: maps and territories [thanks jo], words and the is-ness, Worlds One and Three. So, once upon a time, when the prevailing theory of knowledge was Justificationist and our experiences were one-and-the-same-as objective truth, this would have ramifications across reality itself. No wonder they all believed in god so completely. A mental experience is the same as truth.
There's more! Maybe before people only did experience a small part of reality. We were powerless against nature. But how our experiences do indeed feed back on reality. It's obvious our conceptions aren't the same as truth, or as each other's. We overlap, we interfere more. We live epic, massive lives. Telluric forces. Our interaction with Earth is of relativistic proportions where we can no longer be Newtonian Justificationists, our contribution to reality is such that by observing we change. The noösphere is thickening.
Beautiful solar flare [BBC News] yesterday. The SOHO Project (that's the NASA 'site), as well as having a realtime measure of the solar wind on their front page (8.05 p/cm^3 at 395 km/s right now), have an impressive gallery of sun images. The current pick of the week is the same sun image as shown on the BBC article, with a high-resolution version also available (I'm guessing the page might be archive here, eventually).
Gorgeous Holborn escalator photo.
E-Prime excites Jamie Maltby a little too much [in email]: "and so close to the transformers links on your site. imagine optimus e-prime, a transforming truck who never used the verb 'to be'". Well, quite.
(A little more on a theory of knowledge.) Some basic ideas of General Semantics are the map not being the territory, words being abstractions, and a dynamism when regarding truths (something called time-binding that humans are able to do, understand that we fit into a progression, "We can see our own organizations, our society as a whole, as in a stage of development"). Some more definitions of General Semantics reveals it to be a neo logical positivism -- and in terms of the theory of knowledge, it fits well with Popper.
As if to close more loops the Non-allness property of words in this theory means my comments about E-Prime driving closer to the is-ness seem pretty spot on. And Clay Shirky's pointer towards the world being divided between dynamists and statists is deeper than I first though: dynamists accept our ability to time-bind and, delving into Popper again, live with a time-evolving cultural knowledge. Statists don't. Fascinating.
Now I know (is that knowledge in World Two? Or Three?) that if you read my posts at the end of today, Monday, it'll look like I've been exploring just the one topic. But actually E-Prime and Popper, oh and the Long Now, all started independently, to be brought together just now. Synchronicitously.
"What if the word 'is' didn't exist?" Try E-Prime: English without the verb "to be". See also Working with E-Prime, including Why. Interesting. A way of forcing you away from words that already describe what you're talking about and towards a suite of words that describe aspects, a net of pointers, each one cutting to the heart of the haecceity [thanks Jo Walsh, tangentially].
Karl Popper's Approach to Knowledge places Popper in the field of beliefs (a Revolutionary Conventionalist, apparently) and outlines his classification of knowledge into three worlds: One is of objective truth; Two is of subjective understanding; World Three emerges out of the two before and is the cultural truth, accepted knowledge, myth I guess. Okay, so I'd like to explore World Three a little more. Any resources, thoughts, let me know.
More on that taxonomy of metatheories of knowledge (that's a better link): It looks like Conventionalists don't believe that observations are necessarily equivalent to objective truth. The Revolutionary Conventionalists put a feedback loop in here -- our basic assumptions affect our experiences; it's our experiences that we use to build our assumptions (I think I've got this right, and: I can go with that).
Merge this with cultural truths and World Three and I guess you have a time-evolving reality. At which point I have to collapse back, having over-reached, and say: what kind of truth/reality do we mean here? Does my cultural knowledge really affect the existence of stars in the night sky? How much?