Chocolate Teapot

chocolate teapot

Michael Sparks in the BBC Backstage permathread on DRM:

However any arguments based on open standards do need to take facts into account though. Such as this one: The BBC is currently required by the rights holders to use DRM.

Tell me how you can have a DRM system that’s completely free software, and I’ll readily listen and push for such an approach. (I doubt I’ll get anywhere, but I’ll try)

The two ideas strike me as fundamentally opposed concepts. After all one tries to protect your right to use your system in any way you like (for me modifying it the system is a use), whereas the other tries to prevent you using your computer to do something. I’ve said this before of course. No-one has yet said how they’d securely prevent trivial access to the keys and trivially prevent data dumping (ala vlc’s dump to disk option).

So personally I can’t actually see how you can have a completely free software DRM system and have that system viewed as _sufficiently secure_ from the DRM proponents side of things. Kinda like a chocolate tea pot. I like to be proved wrong about things things. (chocolate is good too)

I like this explanation. It kinda captures why I’ve been happy working at Joost. Content’s the thing, and vast amounts of content simply won’t go online in a stable, referenceable, linkable, annotable, decoratable form unless the people who made it or own it are happy. Which, in the current climate (including background conditions like capitalism and a legal system) I think means DRM and closed source. I love Creative Commons, grassroots content, free, alternative and webcam-sourced content. But I also want the telly that I grew up watching to find it’s way into more public spaces. If the price of this happening now rather than in a decade’s time is DRM and closed source, I’m ok with that. Software is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

All that said, I’d also like a chocolate teapot, of course. Who wouldn’t?

ps. and yes, I did Google to make sure that “chocolate teapot” isn’t some terrifying sexual practice. It doesn’t appear to be, and I’m left wondering whether it’s Englishness or the Internet that has warped my brain to the extend that I’d even consider such an interpretation of this lovely phrase… I blame the “Carry On” films….

Shadows on the Web

This is a quick note, inspired by the recent burst of posts passing through Planet RDF about RDF, WebArch and a second “shadow” Web. Actually it’s not about that thread at all, except to note that Ian Davis asks just the right kind of questions when thinking about the WebArch claim that the Web ships with a hardcoded, timeless and built-in ontology, carving up the Universe between “information resources” and “non-information resources”. Various Talis folk are heading towards Bristol this week, so I expect we’ll pick up this theme offline again shortly! (Various other Talis folk – I’m happy to be counted as Talis person, even if they choose the worst picture of me for their blog :).

Anyhow, I made my peace with the TAG’s http-range-14 resolution long ago, and prefer the status quo to a situation where “/”-terminated namespaces are treated as risky and broken (as was the case pre-2005). But RDFa brings the “#” WebArch mess back to the forefront, since RDF and HTML can be blended within the same environment. Perhaps – reluctantly – we do need to revisit this perma-thread one last time. But not today! All I wanted to write about right now is the “shadow” metaphor. It crops up in Ian’s posts, and he cites Rob McCool’s writings. Since I’m unequiped with an IEEE login, I’m unsure where the metaphor originated. Ian’s usage is in terms of RDF creating a redundant and secondary structure that ordinary Web users don’t engage with, ie. a “shadow of the real thing”. I’m not going to pursue that point here, except to say I have sympathies, but am not too worried. GRDDL, RDFa etc help.

Instead, I’m going to suggest that we recycle the metaphor, since (when turned on its head) it gives an interesting metaphorical account of what the SW is all about. Like all 1-line metaphorical explanations of complex systems, the real value comes in picking it apart, and seeing where it doesn’t quote hold:

‘Web documents are the shadows cast on the Web by things in the world.

What do I mean here? Perhaps this is just pretentious, I’m not sure :) Let’s go back to the beginnings of the SW effort to picture this. In 1994 TimBL gave a Plenary talk at the first International WWW Conference. Amongst other things, he announced the creation of W3C, and described the task ahead of us in the Semantic Web community. This was two years before we had PICS, and three years before the first RDF drafts. People were all excited about Mosaic, to help date this. But even then, the description was clear, and well illustrated in a series of cartoon diagrams, eg:

TimBL 1994 Web semantics diagram

I’ve always liked these diagrams, and the words that went with them.

So much so that when I had the luxury of my own EU project to play with, they got reworked for us by Liz Turner: we made postcards and tshirts, which Libby delighted in sending to countless semwebbers to say “thanks!”. Here’s the postcard version:

SWAD-Europe postcard

The basic idea is just that Web documents are not intrinsically interesting things; what’s interesting, generally, is what they’re about. Web users don’t generally care much about sequences of unicode characters or bytes; we care about what they mean in our real lives. The objects they’re about, the agreements they describe, the real-world relationships and claims they capture. There is a Web of relationships in the world, describable in countless ways by countless people, and the information we put into the Web is just a pale shadow of that.

The Web according to TimBL, back in ’94:

To a computer, then, the web is a flat, boring world devoid of meaning. This is a pity, as in fact documents on the web describe real objects and imaginary concepts, and give particular relationships between them. For example, a document might describe a person. The title document to a house describes a house and also the ownership relation with a person. [...]

On this thinking, Web documents are the secondary thing; the shadow. What matters is the world and it’s mapping into digital documents, rather than the digital stuff alone. The shadow metaphor breaks down a little, if you think of the light source as something like the Sun, ie. with each real-world entity shadowed by a single (authoritative?) document in the Web. Life’s not like that, and the Web’s not like that either. Objects and relationships in the real world show up in numerous ways on the Web; or sometimes (thankfully) not at all. If Web documents can be thought of as shadows, they’re shadows cast in many lights, many colours, and by multiple independent light sources. Some indistinct, soft and flattering; occasionally frustratingly vague. Others bright, harshly precise and rigorously scientific (and correspondingly expensive and experty to use). But the core story is that it’s the same shared world that we’re seeing in all these different lights, and that the Web and the world are both richer because life is illustrated from multiple perspectives, and because the results can be visible to all.

The Semantic Web is, on this story, not a shadow of the real Web, but a story about how the Web is a shadow of the world. The Semantic Web is, in fact, much more like a 1970s disco than a shadow…

HTML Imagemap authoring tool for MacOSX?


I’ve searched around in vain for one. I want to annotate my FOAF spec diagram with mouseover text and links into the documentation. Most of the tools I find are a decade or more old, or pay-to-play. I remember the Gimp image editor can do imagemaps, but it crashes on startup on my MacBook. I did find a nice Javascript editor the other day, but it had no “undo” function, which made complex work impossible. Maybe I’ll try Amaya. Suggestions very much welcomed! Are imagemaps *that* uncool these days? They’re just SVG and image metadata in another notation… (and imho one of the the more interesting scenarios for HTML-based microformattery). That last link has missing photos and out of date SVG, but might still be of interest. A surviving screenshot included here.

Nearby: (from SWAD-Europe hacking days) an imagemap2svg.xslt thanks to Max Froumentin.

Update: I installed Amaya 9.99 for Intel MacOSX. Sadly it couldn’t even display my JPEG properly, although it did do a better job showing OmniGraffle’s SVG output than Firefox.


Spam poetry

This just arrived in my mailbox, sneaking past my spam filters. While it advertises the most horrible spamsite, the words are strangely hypnotic…

Hei,
Inncrease your S.[E].X.U.AL health!

Sane, recalled me from these fantastic speculations. Miss

believer, please tell me in your own words do without them.

footnote: ‘a description of nova friar, sent an arrow after

the flying sheriff, of uranium deposits in tanganyika, of

the body.

planetplanet foafrolls

The PlanetPlanet feed reader (and the Venus variant) exposes its blogroll via RDF/FOAF, typically at “/foafroll.xml” URIs. I ran through the list of Planet installations from the main site, and found the following, which might be interesting for experimentation, crawling, whitelist work etc. Or you could just make a giant feedlist and install Venus yourself, composing your own meta selection from the feeds described in these files.


http://widgetarians.org/foafroll.xml


http://www.planetapache.org/foafroll.xml


http://www.beclan.org/aggregator/foafroll.xml


http://planet.classpath.org/foafroll.xml


http://www.debian.org.hk/planet/foafroll.xml


http://planet.hellug.gr/foafroll.xml


http://planet.freedesktop.org/foafroll.xml


http://planet.humbug.org.au/foafroll.xml


http://planet.gnome-ev.de/foafroll.xml


http://gstreamer.freedesktop.org/planet/foafroll.xml


http://planet.jabber.org/foafroll.xml


http://planet.mozilla.org/foafroll.xml


http://planet.foss.org.my/foafroll.xml


http://planet.go-oo.org/foafroll.xml


http://planet.perl.org/foafroll.xml


http://www.planetpython.org/foafroll.xml


http://planet.slug.org.au/foafroll.xml


http://planetsun.org/foafroll.xml


http://www.planetsuse.org/foafroll.xml


http://planet.twistedmatrix.com/foafroll.xml


http://advocacydev.org/blogs/foafroll.xml


http://planet.arslinux.com/foafroll.xml


http://fossplanet.com/foafroll.xml


http://indyblogs.protest.net/foafroll.xml


http://www.cs.princeton.edu/~mp/malayalam/blogs/foafroll.xml


http://planet.mozillazine.org/foafroll.xml

http://planetjava.org/foafroll.xml # bad xml

http://planetkde.org/foafroll.xml

http://www.planet-im.com/foafroll.xml # no feed urls

http://planet.linux.net.mk/foafroll.xml

FOAF diagram (day 2)


FOAF diagram (day 2)
Originally uploaded by danbri

Another revision, after feedback from Ivan.

The original had “Thing” in italics (a convention I tried before adding in doap: dc: and sioc: references), to indicate it was from another namespace. I’ve now made that heritage explicit (although I suspect it might confuse, the idea is pretty central so worth explaining).

Originally I had both “tipjar” and “mbox” drawn as if they were literal properties, when both are relational. The later layout I’m using allows tipjar to be drawn without crossovers, so now only “mbox” is an oddity. I’ve used italics as a hint of that, but without explicit explanation.

A lot of the redundancy in the diagram comes from the property inverses, but I want to leave them in since they’re important to explain. The expanded key in the bottom-left now has a nerdy little explanation of “inverse property”. I also use the word “subClass” explicitly on the fat arrow, to tap into an OO heritage that might be floating around in people’s minds. In other words, I want people to realise that “a Person is an Agent is a Spatial thing is a thing” is what we’re getting at with those fat little arrows.

On Ivan’s suggestion I trimmed the property lists a little. Removing the non-jabber IM properties, and first/last name. The space earned from the latter was immediately spent by adding in bio:olb since it’s useful and I’ve the impression it’s widely used.

I think that’s about it for changes. Ivan suggested removing the DOAP and SIOC partys, but to my mind they are important because those vocabularies (and projects) elaborate on parts of FOAF which are important but otherwise neglected: the description of Projects, and of Users.

OK one more version. This has coloured blogs for the core FOAF classes. I think I made a mistake choosing light blue, since that is the colour code I’ve assigned to mean “inverse functional property”, nearly. Perhaps a light yellow?

Anyway here it is for now. Guess I should stop using Flickr for this really!

with colours

Update: I’ve put the files in svn (original OmniGraffle XML is the .graffle file; also some SVG output although I’m unsure the quality), and made another slight revision, this time focussing on the layout of the ends arrows for better readability; previously they were cluttered and the property directions were therefore hard to read.


FOAF spec diagram


experimental foafspec diagram
Originally uploaded by danbri

I’ve been trying to capture the core terms of FOAF in a diagram. Here’s version two.

Notes: there are a few terms I’ve missed out, to avoid massive clutter: workInfoHomepage, geekcode, myersBriggs, currentProject, pastProject, dnaChecksum, membershipClass, sha1, fundedBy, theme, Online*XyzAccount, logo, phone. These are all underspecified, underused, or boring. Or all three :) The properties mbox and tipjar are the main quirks; they’re drawn like string-valued properties but are really relations. Some of the non-FOAF namespaces are done the same way too. Maybe it needs a footnote or notation for those?

I’ve included a few nods towards external namespaces; obviously these aren’t supposed to be complete.

Even this kind of diagram is a bit meta; there should be a companion diagram with instance level data using these terms. Work in progress. Suggestions and feedback would be much appreciated.