20p books and the Decorated World

Anmesty bookshopThe Bristol Amnesty International Group has a bookshop on Gloucester Road. I walk past it and can’t help but beachcomb through the 20p shelf they have in the street, despite the dangerous state of my overloaded bookshelves.

From yesterday’s semi-random purchase, Ernest Bevin – Unskilled Labourer and World Statesman, by Mark Stephens:

There were a number of Socialists who hoped that any serious threat of war would inspire an international general strike. At least they had high hopes that the working people of Britain and Germany would join hands in fraternal unity and refuse to take up arms.

Amongst those who thought this way was Ernest Bevin. Over the weekend while the London Socialists were holding a massive anti-war rally in Trafalgar Square, Bevin was on a soapbox on the Bristol Downs roundly condemning militarism and urging all working people to refuse to do their government’s bidding in the event of war.

[Chapter 3 - First World War]

I didn’t know that. If I hadn’t randomly picked up this book, put 20p through the shop’s letterbox, and idly flipped to page 28, I still wouldn’t know it. We can do better than that.

bristol downs I’ve been to the Bristol Downs hundreds, maybe thousands of times since I moved to Bristol in 1991. There are Web pages about Bevin (Wikipedia), and about the Downs. There are computer markup languages for geography (GML), for data syndication (RSS/Atom), and experiments in combining those two worlds via the Semantic Web. The (very nice) Mobile Bristol Riot! “voice play” shows something of what can be achieved with geo-tagged multimedia content. The big challenge is to combine such approaches, so this world-decorating content can be made by the masses, for the masses, accessible through open standards and protocols. Once that’s done, then we’ll have the problem of figuring out whose decorations to believe. And that’s a healthy kind of a problem to have.

I’ve said before that we need technology to engineer more coincidences in the world:

FOAF was designed as technology to encourage coincidence. You’re walking past a pub… you go to a conference… you’re standing at the barracades… or sitting in an interview… and the last thing you’d expect… a friend of a friend. Everything’s connected. Who’d have thought it?

The idea that it might be within our power to make this world a more co-incidental place… sounds at first, like magic. But really it isn’t. It’s just engineering. In the world of everyday information, people and places are the hubs around which everything else spins. When we can describe locations and people to our poor, simpleminded computers, and tell them about the things people have made and done, then those same machines are surely capable of reminding us when the moment’s right.

Another great example of local data for local people, of the kind of data that we ought to be able to “put on the map” with just a little bit more markup technology, is the Relay project, an audio walking tour of Stokes Croft here in Bristol. I took the liberty of making a version of their page that uses a clientside HTML imagemap to associate their soundclips with areas on the map they provide. How many more tags would we need to add to go from that to geo-tagging the media files themselves? HTML imagemap technology is showing it’s age, but W3C’s more recent work on vector graphics for the Web, SVG has been designed with such issues in mind.

Here’s a concrete goal. Imagine you’re writing a page in Wikipedia in a few year’s time. You’re adding an entry describing Nye Bevin’s soapbox speech on the Bristol Downs prior to the first World War. Imagine you want your description to be accessible to mapping-based sites, digital city sites, location-based mobile phone services, and local historians. What should Wikipedia offer to make your life easier? Presumably some kind of scrolly-clicky map thingumie. And how should it share that data with other sites around the Web, so that the annotation can show up in a thousand relevant Web sites, 3D globe viewers, mobile phones and local guides… rather than be buried inside a 20p book at a charity store? That last little bit is the problem I’m obsessessing on lately. How hard can it be?

SPARQLing Protégé-OWL Jena integration

The Jena ARQ SPARQL engine has been very rapidly integrated into Protégé. Nice work from Holger Knublauch, and from Andy Seaborne who explained how Protégé’s native RDF Java structures could manifest themselves via Jena interfaces so that the ARP query engine could work against Protégé data. He also gave a handy overview of the ARP architecture, describing where it has dependencies on Jena, and how it could be attached to other RDF Java libraries instead.

The most amazing thing was how fast it all happened. As a protege-owl lurker, I had been following some discussions on RDF “named graphs”, and jumped in to suggest they take a look at SPARQL’s ability to query against such things.

From my original post

I’d also encourage you to take a look at the SPARQL work on RDF querying, if you haven’t already.

…to Holger’s “This is working indeed!” in less than a day. Holger summarises:

We now have an implementation that wraps a live Protege OWL triple store as a Jena Graph (and Model). This means that arbitrary Jena query services can be executed within Protege.

The relevant call is

OWLModel owlModel = ...; // Protege model
Model model = JenaModelFactory.createModel(owlModel); // Jena model

I also added a quick-and-dirty SPARQL query tab to Protege (see screenshot). This is extremely primitive yet, but hopefully useful on the long run. All this is on CVS and part of the next beta.

Here’s a thumbnail of the screenshot, linking to the full image:
Protégé screenshot showing a SPARQL query and a tabular resultset

I don’t see Andy’s explanation in the list archives, but it is quoted in full in Holger’s post, and is worth reading for those with an interest in Jena and ARQ.

There’s now a Jena Integration of Protege-OWL page explaining the details, and providing a diagram illustrating the integration architecture.

Jena protege integration architecture

The key to this integration is the fact that both systems operate on a low-level “triple” representation of the model. Protege has its native frame store mechanism, which has been wrapped in Protege-OWL with the TripleStore classes. In the Jena world, the corresponding interfaces are called Graph and Model. The Protege TripleStore has been wrapped into a Jena Graph, so that any read access from the Jena API in fact operates on the Protege triples. In order to modify these triples, the conventional Protege-OWL API must be used. However, this mechanisms allows to use Jena methods for querying while the ontology is edited inside Protege.

The details can be explored in CVS, for example see the new SPARQLQueryResults class.

A special day for technologists

As Mrs. Nakamura stood watching her neighbour, everything flashed whiter than any white she had ever seen. She did not notice what happened to the man next door; the reflex of a mother set her in motion toward her children. She had taken a single step (the house was 1,350 yards, or three quarters of a mile, from the centre of the explosion) when something picked her up and she seemed to fly into the next room over the raised sleeping platform, pursued by parts of her house.

Timbers fell around her as she landed, and a shower of tiles pommelled her; everything became dark, for she was buried. The debris did not cover her deeply. She rose up and freed herself. She heard a child cry, “Mother, help me!” and saw her youngest – Myeko, the five-year-old – buried up to her breast and unable to move. As Mrs. Nakamura started frantically to claw her way towards the baby, she could see or hear nothing of her other children.

John Hersey, Hiroshima (Part 1, A Noiseless Flash), first published in the New Yorker, August 1946.

This August 6, the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombing, is a moment of shared lamentation in which more than 300 thousand souls of A-bomb victims and those who remain behind transcend the boundary between life and death to remember that day. It is also a time of inheritance, of awakening, and of commitment, in which we inherit the commitment of the hibakusha to the abolition of nuclear weapons and realization of genuine world peace, awaken to our individual responsibilities, and recommit ourselves to take action. This new commitment, building on the desires of all war victims and the millions around the world who are sharing this moment, is creating a harmony that is enveloping our planet.

The keynote of this harmony is the hibakusha warning, “No one else should ever suffer as we did,” along with the cornerstone of all religions and bodies of law, “Thou shalt not kill.” [...]

On this, the sixtieth anniversary of the atomic bombing, we seek to comfort the souls of all its victims by declaring that we humbly reaffirm our responsibility never to “repeat the evil.” “Please rest peacefully; for we will not repeat the evil.”

Peace Declaration, Tadatoshi Akiba, Mayor, The City of Hiroshima, 6 August 2005.

Return to LambdaMOO

                          *  Welcome to LambdaMOO!  *
LambdaMOO is a new kind of society, where thousands of people 
voluntarily come together from all over the world.  What these 
people say or do may not always be to your liking; as when visiting
any international city, it is wise to be careful who you associate 
with and what you say. 

The operators of LambdaMOO have provided the materials for 
the buildings of this community, but are not responsible for 
what is said or done in them. 

It’s a long time since I went back to LambdaMOO. Experimenting with the visually lush Google Earth application this week reminded me of nothing more than my first explorations of LambdaMOO. Despite the visual differences and the passing years, both applications offer a virtual globe that can be collaboratively annotated and extended by users, both are a taste of things to come, and both leave a lot unsaid on the topic of Bristol. When Google engineers ponder where to go with KML (mappings to GML, inclusion of style and UI-related markup, etc), I’m sure they’ll be giving some thought to non-graphical interfaces to such data. LambdaMOO, to me, suggests that non-visual (including voice) interfaces could be every bit as compelling as a 3D flyover.

*** Connected ***

The Coat Closet
The closet is a dark, cramped space.  It appears  to be very crowded in here;
 you keep bumping into what feels like coats,  boots, and other people
 (apparently sleeping).  One useful thing that you've  discovered in your
 bumbling about is a metal doorknob set at waist level into  what might be a
 door.  Next to it is a spring lever labeled 'QUIET!'.
There is new news.  Type `news' to read all news or `news new' to read just
 new news.
Type `@tutorial' for an introduction to basic MOOing.  If you have not already
 done so, please type `help manners' and read the text carefully.  It outlines
 the community standard of conduct, which each player is expected to follow
 while in LambdaMOO.

open door

You open the closet door and leave the darkness for the living room, closing
 the door behind you so as not to wake the sleeping people inside.
The Living Room
It is very bright, open, and airy here, with large plate-glass windows looking
 southward over the pool to the gardens beyond.  On the north wall, there is a
 rough stonework fireplace.  The east and west walls are almost completely
 covered with large, well-stocked bookcases.  An exit in the northwest corner
 leads to the kitchen and, in a more northerly direction, to the entrance
 hall.  The door into the coat closet is at the north end of the east wall,
 and at the south end is a sliding glass door leading out onto a wooden deck.
 There are two sets of couches, one clustered around the fireplace and one
 with a view out the windows.
You see Welcome Poster, a fireplace, the living room couch, Helpful Person
 Finder, Cockatoo, The Birthday Machine, and lag meter here.
neural (dozing), lilakay (dozing), Evil (out on his feet), Fred_Smythe
 (dozing), and Ultraviolet_Guest are here.


The Entrance Hall
This small foyer is the hub of the currently-occupied portion of the house.
 To the north are the double doors forming the main entrance to the house.
 There is a mirror at about head height on the east wall, just to the right of
 a corridor leading off into the bedroom area.  The south wall is all rough
 stonework, the back of the living room fireplace; at the west end of the wall
 is the opening leading south into the living room and southwest into the
 kitchen.  Finally, to the west is an open archway leading into the dining
You see mirror at about head height, MOO population meter, Edgar the Footman,
 an antique suit of armour, and a globe here.

enter globe

You step into the globe...
A big blue-green planet.
This is Mapgrrl, Sparklebunny, Audrey, Boreal, Alista, tiny_ant, Zeddie,
 Pandemonium, mscope, Pasha, and entropygatherer's hometown.
Within Earth you see: Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, South
 America, and Antarctica.

enter europe

Europe, Earth
Small continent, many countries.
Within Europe you see: England, Italy, Scotland, France, Germany, Russia,
 belgium, Netherlands, Ireland, Norway, wales , Gibraltar, Sweden, Austria,
 Spain, Bulgaria, and Praha.

enter england

England, Europe
Heritage UK plc--purveyors of fine shortbread and Princess Di Memorial Plates
 to the rest of the Globe.
Within England you see: London, Kingston, Rainhill, bradford, Winchester,
 Derby, Knebworth, Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford, Hereford, Newcastle,
 Southampton, Birmingham, Southend-on-Sea, Reading, Devon, Bristol, Watford,
 Rickmansworth, Croxley, and Warwickshire.

enter bristol

Bristol, England
This place isn't very interesting. Perhaps you should describe it, or go
 someplace more interesting.


England, Europe
Heritage UK plc--purveyors of fine shortbread and Princess Di Memorial Plates
 to the rest of the Globe.
Within England you see: London, Kingston, Rainhill, bradford, Winchester,
 Derby, Knebworth, Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford, Hereford, Newcastle,
 Southampton, Birmingham, Southend-on-Sea, Reading, Devon, Bristol, Watford,
 Rickmansworth, Croxley, and Warwickshire.

enter london

London, England
Earth has not anything to show more fair: dull would he be of soul who could
 pass by a sight so touching in its majesty...
Within London you see: Soho, Westminster Bridge, Camden, West Kensington,
 somerset house, Leytonstone, and Brixton.

enter Brixton

Brixton, London
Whatever you want, you find it here, mate...

GIS and Spatial Extensions with MySQL

GIS and Spatial Extensions with MySQL.

MySQL 4.1 introduces spatial functionality in MySQL. This article describes some of the uses of spatial extensions in a relational database, how it can be implemented in a relational database, what features are present in MySQL and some simple examples.

I’m hoping to understand the commonalities between this and PostGIS. PostGIS follows the OpenGIS “Simple Features Specification for SQL“. As do the MySQL extensions, apparently. The MySQL pages summarise the extensions as follows:

Data types. There needs to be data types to store the GIS information. This is best illustrated with an example, a POINT in a 2-dimensional system.

Operations. There must be additional operators to support the management of multi-dimensional objects, again, this is best illustrated with an example, a function that computes the AREA of a polygon of any shape.

The ability to input and output GIS data. To make systems interoperable, OGC has specified how contents of GIS objects are represented in binary and text format.

Indexing of spatial data. To use the different operators, some means of indexing of GIS data is needed, or in technical terms, spatial indexing.

I’m currently working on some ideas to prototype a new project (to fill the gap that the completion of SWAD-Europe leaves in my schedule). I’ll be revisiting my Gargonza plan to add a basic SemWeb RDF crawler to personal weblog installations, initially prototyping with Redland addons to WordPress. Ultimately, pure PHP would be better, unless Redland finds its way into the default PHP installation. Since WordPress requires MySQL anyway, it seems worth taking a look at these geo-related extensions. A more thorough investigation would take a look at reflecting GIS SQL concepts into RDF, perhaps exposing them in a SPARQL query environment. But that’s a bit ambitious for now.

What I hope to do for starters is use a blog as a personal SW crawler, scooping up RSS, FOAF, calendar, and photo descriptions from nearby Web sites. It isn’t clear yet exactly how photo metadata should most usefully be structured, but it is clear that we’ll find a way to harvest it into an RDF store. And if that metadata has mappable content, whether basic lat/long tags, richer GML, or something in between, we’ll harvest that too. My working hypothesis is that we’ll need something like MySQL spatial extensions or PostGIS to really make the most of that data, for eg. to expose location-specific, app-centric RSS, KML, etc. feeds such as those available from the flickr-derrived geobloggers.com and brainoff flickr.proxy sites. See mapufacture.com for one possible client app; Google Earth as KML browser is another.

That’s the plan anyway. So the reading list grows. Fortunately, OGC’s GIS SQL spec at least has some nice diagrams…

GIS datatype hierarchy

Punched up colour

An old debate – how much is it acceptable to “tweak” an image’s colour – resurfaced on BAGnewsNotes. The article drew attention (amongst other things) to the colouring of an image from Iraq:

When I mention this following point, some people take me to task for calling out a standard — if fairly recent — convention used frequently by the NYT. If you’ll notice, this image is super color-saturated. (Just look at how punched up the orange is, or the baby’s clothes.) The effect is to make the image more lush and visually seductive. The net effect is a troubling contradiction between the content and its sensory impact.

What I found interesting was that the original photojournalist Alan Chin showed up in the blog comments, and provided his perspective, as well as a copy of his original photograph and the version that he submitted to the NYTimes (details). The resulting interactions were intelligent and largely non-adversarial, despite the different views of the various posters. Not something you see everyday in such discussions…

An entirely non-photorealistic derrivative of the original image (which I'll take down if asked...

“Do you know what these pages are?”

Anyways, so I went to the internet café and did my regular tour: raed in the middle, riverbend, etc etc..and then I was bored again. I left the internet café heading towards the financial department again. [...]

“come with us, we have some questions please” they said, and I went with them, searching for answers inside my head…

They searched me very carefully; they took my shoes off and searched them, and even took my watch. They read every paper I had in my pockets, and asked me questions about my origin, nationality, and many other questions. Then they asked me to unlock my mobile phone so that they can check it out. [...]

I was afraid to be taken to the torture rooms directly; I was praying to find someone to talk to, to explain to him that this all is nothing but a little silly mistake!

For the next few hours, they asked me questions like “who are the other members of our terrorist cell, where does your fund come from? What operations did you have?” [...]

Then finally I understood why I was there, after few hours. Security guards at the university had printed out all the websites I was reading while I was online there. They were accusing me of “reading terrorism sites” and “having communications with foreign terrorists”. “Do you know what these pages are?” I looked at them and figured out they were the comment section of Raed in the Middle!!

Excerpted from Khalid Jarrar’s lengthy account of his extended visit to the Iraqi mokhabarat’s jail. See also Rael in the Middle‘s earlier (ie. pre-release) “Fortunately, it’s a nice governmental gang!:

The feelings of joyfulness in our family now would give anyone the impression that my brother has won the lottery! My mom spent the morning planning my brother’s future, including the arrangements of his wedding party!

If your child or sibling vanishes for two days then calls from the secret service jail in any other place on earth, that would be considered a disaster and a violation of human rights…

In Iraq, however, it’s Happy News.

Because the other options include: To be tortured, executed, and thrown in garbage by SCIRI and their Badr brigades. To be held by the Iraqi police and left to choke to death in one of their cars. To be held by the US troops then disappear and be mistreated for months in one of their many prisons. To be kidnapped by one of the countless criminal gangs and cost your family some tens of millions of Iraqi Dinars and/or your life.

From Faiza,

Well, when i came back from America before one month, my plans to the future was like that i should go back to Iraq to participate the political operation and try to make change to the better..to stop the violence, the corruption, the evil works controling the daily life. But after the ordeal of my son, i can see Iraq from new eyes, its not the one i want to live in or work with, its now filled with people in power working under the banner : ‘its our turn to revenge and nobody can stop us !’

So, they are controling the streets, the media, the decisions, the social and political activities.. And the moderate groups are helpless, there is no chance to them now, nobody listen to their voice, the violence and hatred are talking now loudly in Iraq , some groups from inside and outside of Iraq, want this to be, to accomplish their agenda… and the victims are iraqis, all iraqis, the rich and the poor, the old and the young, the men and women and children, the sunni and shi`ee, and iraqis and noniraqis ….all have been targeted in this mess. I have met different kinds of iraqi people, working with government as moderate, trying to make change, but i saw how depressed they are, and trying to protect their families to get them out of iraq, this is their priority now, and i saw them as powerless, they cant help any iraqi in jail or bad condition, they have nothing to do..

See Khalid’s post for stories of the other prisoners, more on the interogation and court process…

My family played an important role to help me get out of the Mukhabarat’s jail faster than other people. Like any other corrupt system, you can get a better treatment by knowing the right people and giving the right “gifts”. My family didn’t pay anything to the judge because they believed I was innocent, they tried their best to get me a lawyer, but they couldn’t. I was freed because I was innocent, and I have the capabilities to defend myself in front of a judge.

The question is: what about the rest of Iraqis? The ones who don’t have the money or the power to leave places like that? The innocent people who were taken away from their families and loved ones and accused of false crimes? What happens to them? Who will stand for them? What about human rights? What about civil rights? What about humanity?

Meanwhile, in London