Near Futurism

Blessed with the gift-curse of seeing ~24h into the future, I spend it on bad TV.

Westworld_ver2

Westworld!

Monday Nov 17th 2014 (IRC):

  • 10:06 danbri: I’ve figured out what the world needs – a new modern WestWorld sequel.
  • 10:06 libby: why does the world need that?
  • 10:06 danbri: just that it was a great film and it has robots and cowboys and snakes and fembots and a guy who can take his face off and who is a robot and a cowboy. it double ticks all the boxes.

Tuesday Nov 18th 2014 (BBC):

JJ Abrams to remake sci-fi western Westworld into TV series

JJ Abrams’ sci fi drama Westworld has been officially commissioned for a whole series by HBO. The Star Wars director is executive producer whilst Interstellar co-writer Jonathan Nolan will pen the scripts Sir Anthony Hopkins, Thandie Newton, Evan Rachel Wood, Ed Harris and James Marsden will all star. The show is a remake of a 1973 sci-fi western about a futuristic themed amusement park that has a robot malfunction.

The studio is calling the series, which will debut in 2015, “a dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the future of sin”

OpenStreetMap for disaster response – raw notes from Harry Wood talk

Very raw, sometimes verbatim but doubtless flawed notes from Harry Wood‘s excellent talk at Open Data Institute in London. #odifridays

Many thanks to Harry for a great talk and to ODI for putting together these lunchtime lectures. The ODI have also published slides and audio from the talk.

“An introduction to OpenStreetMap, the UK born project to map the world as open data, and a look at how volunteer mappers helped with disaster response in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan, with Harry Wood . Harry is a developer at transportAPI.com, and is on the board of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team.”

Note: this is un-checked, very raw notes that I typed while listening. There will be mistakes and confusions; my fault not Harry’s!

Typhoons …phillipines area hammered during typhoon season. The typhoons often meander off, don’t hit coast. But this one hit, and fast, … so a big storm surge. Fastest wind speeds on record ‘biggest storm ever’.

[shows video clip]

More than 6000 died. Role of mapping in disaster responses: food shelter etc; can donate money directly for giving food.  Info / logistics challenge re delivering aid. Lots of ‘where?’ questions. Where are people suffering most;? Where to deliver aid to? team locations etc. Huge value of maps for disaster response.

Q: who has edited OSM? A: lots of hands raised.

Maps … GIS / vector data will always be a bit complex, but we try to dumb it down. The data model is also v stripped down, just tagged nodes and ways. e.g. a pub is a node with amenity=pub. It’s also renderable map -> viewed as a map on openstreetmap.org, … but we play down that aspect a bit, since there are other map providers around e.g. Google.

But the maps are a important aspect of disaster response.

OSM editing -> appear on map can take ~ 10 mins.

This is quite a technical hit. There’s a rendering server here in London; aspect of providing a feedback loop (editing -> new map).  A shared commons for geo data. AID orgs get excited … coming together sharing same platform. OSM is very much about raw data too, not just the maps. So this is different to pure map providers, … entirely open access to the raw data.

In terms of the humanitarian response, … agencies can take the data unencumbered, use it offline. It is open data. there is an exciting open data story for OSM.

As humanitarian work, it can be a problem that we allow commercial re-use – [not all orgs welcome that]

Community + Raw vector data + simple editing + Updated map — these 4 elements make it very attractive to humanitarian work.

Haiti in 2010, collab came together very quickly, for the two worst-hit cities (port au Prince and …). This speed was v useful for aid orgs; those orgs were printing it out, in tents, response centres. People used it on the web too, Ushahidi too, ie they’re a bit more accurate due to these improvements.

“my favourite use: ” … a Garmin handheld GPS unit, … loaded with data from open ecosystem, used offline  quintessential use case of raw data from OSM but also life-saving. Since haiti, there have been other disasters. Not all of these so suited to OSM helping out – e.g. massive pakistan floods, … harder to map such a larger area. Couldn’t get imagery for that entire area.

To some extent there are pakistan maps already; less so for Haiti. Similarly re Japan, already were maps.

re Sendai tsunami, .. yes there were free maps; yes there were high quality official maps, … but could you get hold of recently updated freely avail high quality maps? so still some role there.

Since then, organizing more: Tasking Manager, tasks.hotosm.org

A common Q: ‘where to start mapping?’

Way of coordinating for a large area. Drop a grid, get people to acquire a square, … load into editor, ‘done’ when done. This workflow came into its own during Philippines. Sometimes in resp to an aid agency request, … or as we have imagery, … Visualizing changesets, .. bounding boxes slide, Philippines editing traffic [slide] brand new, made last night,  … got up to almost 300 users involved on 1 day. No of changes (philippines) ~ 40,000 edits.


Peak in interest corresponds in interest, corresponds to general interest [shows google trends], though shows a slightly longer attention span. Want the spike further over to the left,… the sooner the better, e.g. as aid agencies may be taking a snapshot of our data, …

Graph showing new users … ppl who appear to have registered during the time of the disaster response,  shows also ‘old timers’ getting engaged earlier, few days lag for the newer users.

We have a humanitarian mapping style, … not the default OSM view  we tweaked it slightly – e.g. to show a red outline around buildings appear to be damaged. Getting mappers to look at post-disaster imagery, e.g. buildings that have been swept away with water. More examples of data getting used: map posters popular with aid agencies; they fly out now with a cardboard roll full of osm posters. In particular red cross heavily involved.

In UK office down in Moorgate, used tasking manager there, contributing to OSM to improve the printouts they were getting. Ways to help: hot.openstreetmap.org/donate; comms, blogging, coordination, wiki, promo videos and tutorials, imagery warping / tiling / hosting;

software dev’t, use the open data; build tools to work with it, …

Gateway skill: learn to map!

[end]

A Quick demo.

  • Shows tasking manager UI from tasks.hotosm.org

  • colour coded squares either mapped, or mapped and validated by a 2nd reviewer

  • click to acquire a square, then to invoke OSM editor of choice e.g. JOSM

  • alternative – edit directly in website via js-based UI

  • we tend to teach new users the JOSM GUI

  • shows workflow of marking a road (nodes/ways) picking up from work in ‘someone else’s square’

Comment from a Nigel of mapaction http://www.mapaction.org/ v supportive, ‘used it all the time’. ‘last few emergencies, … this stuff is pervasive, if it wasn’t there we’d be really struggling’.

Comment from Andrew B… (british red cross) the volunteer aspect as well, … between us and mapaction, it’s the volunteers that make it happen, …

Q to audience, for Haiyan, lessons?

Andew points to row of British red cross mapping volunteers – ‘we’re coordinating w/ US red cross, federation, …  they’re dealing with those in the area; whereas Nigel is using it on the ground in this area that’s going out tomorrow. We were doing situational reports, who-what-where-when eg risk vs need vs capabilities, … understanding that kind of stuff. This gives us underlying map, to support all this.

Q re coordination. Nigel of mapaction “Maps are coordination glue”; Harry  “everything has a location aspect.”

Ed Parsons Q: “v interested  in task manager element … if you had the info before, that’s hugely valuable how successful ? how do you motivate ppl to map an area they’ve not thought about?

Harry: many people motivated by seeing it on the news, …in  a way a shame as better if happens ahead of time, … work on that under disaster risk reduction. e.g. in Indonesia we have extensive mapping work, as it lies on a fault line, risk assessment, … trying to get a map of every building, get people to draw around buildings . But there’s less enthusiasm for these things before they’re needed.

Harry: gratifying that tasking manager is software we’ve dev’t reasonably, that HOT as an org has matured as a community, we have etiquette ar ound using the tasking manager, fell into place naturally.

Ivan (doctors without borders): 2nds Nigel’s point  re lifesaving we have years, decades of health data. People telling us where ppl are from … To understand epidemic patterns … in haiti we couldn’t find src of the outbreaks (despite Snow/cholera analogy) … because we can’t get raw usable data that correlates to what people report as their place of origin and where they got sick. Wokring w/ OSM. Some success in Phillipines, … more challenge in Congo & other area. Aim to be able to correlate places reported from walk-in patients to a real world place, and get into forecasting and preventative medicine. Struggling to achieve in these situations what europe had 150 years ago.


Harry: importance of geocoding from names

Ivan: every person in the world has some description for where they live If it’s a streetname/number that’s easy; if its’ directions from a b-b tree that’s harder. But can make a start, ideally 1-200M, but kilometers better than nothing. We sit on piles of data that we can’t correlate to anything so far.

Biggest single impediment is access to imagery? get other providers to do as BIng…

Harry: the challenge for imagery providers is that it is worth money, which is why they put satellites or fly the planes, so can’t eat away at that too much. OFten you’ll see data made availaable temporarily after emergency . For example re Pakistan, downgraded/fuzzy quality data was shared. There are some agreements in place, … us govt put in place frameworks to source data. For example that the imagery can only be used in an OSM editor. But need to be able to derrive vector data from it (hence there are issues with using Google imagery in this way).

Luke Cayley(sp?): https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-international-development (missed). concur w/ Nigel, Ivan. Q re imagery: have you tried to get it from European disaster mechanism, Copernicus, which has some provisions for disaster readyness prep.

Harry: will follow up on this.

Luke Q: how aid agencies use the raw data in the field to collect data? eg. MSF, … What’s your feeling for the barriers to making this a well recognised procedure, using OSM as one of the tools to make that happen?

Harry: did start to discuss re Phillipines, … about data into OSM from on the ground teams. With Haiti streetnames you don’t get them from the raw imagery so needs on-the-ground gathering. The process for on the ground gathering is pretty mature around OSM, tools, mobile apps etc. But a case of getting ppl interested in doing that. In diaster response situatoin, it is hard to tell peopel they ought to be writing down names of streets.

Q: for DFID Luke, … a number of funds are available. Because OSM is a global public good, it is the kind of thing DFID would tend to be supportive of in funding proposals (but can’t promise).

Harry: re diaster situation, often it won’t be a priority during the diaster to collect street names. All it takes is geo-located photos, a snap of a street sign.

Q from someone called Chris … you spoke of satellite imagery as source for mapping. Are you exploring use of pro-sumer vs aerial imagery?

Harry: Satellite imagery is now approaching aerial photography quality, but remains expensive due to operational cost. Another cost is the vast amount of disk space, bandwidth, hosting costs. These problems are not insurmountable. OSM and HOT have some resources to help here – ‘talk to us’.  Aerial imagery historically has been better. If you look at Bing or Google ‘satellite’ images they’re often from planes, so yes, that can help. Also new area of drones over small (but maybe important) areas.

XMPP untethered – serverless messaging in the core?

In the XMPP session at last february’s FOSDEM I gave a brief demo of some NoTube work on how TV-style remote controls might look with XMPP providing their communication link. For the TV part, I showed Boxee, with a tiny Python script exposing some of its localhost HTTP API to the wider network via XMPP. For the client, I have a ‘my first iphone app‘ approximation of a remote control that speaks a vapourware XMPP remote control protocol, “Buttons”.

The point of all this is about breaking open the Web-TV environment, so that different people and groups get to innovate without having to be colleagues or close-nit business partners. Control your Apple TV with your Google Android phone; or your Google TV with your Apple iPad, or your Boxee box with either. Write smart linking and bookmarking and annotation apps that improve TV for all viewers, rather than only those who’ve bought from the same company as you. I guess I managed to communicate something of this because people clapped generously when my iphone app managed to pause Boxee. This post is about how we might get from evocative but toy demos to a useful and usable protocol, and about one of our largest obstacles: XMPP’s focus on server-mediated communications.

So what happened when I hit the ‘pause’ button on the iphone remote app? Well, the app was already connected to the XMPP network, e.g. signed in as bob.notube@gmail.com via Google Talk’s servers. And so an XMPP stanza flowed out from the room we were in, across to Google somewhere, and then via XMPP server-to-server protocol over to my self-run XMPP server (an ejabberd hosted on Amazon EC2’s east USA zone somewhere). And from there, the message returned finally to Brussels, flowing through whichever Python library I was using to Boxee (signed in as buttons@foaf.tv), causing the video to pause. This happened quite quickly, and generally very quickly; but sometimes it can take more than a second. This can be very frustrating, and while there are workaround (keep-alive messages, smart code that ignores sequences of buffered ‘Pause!’ messages, apps that download metadata and bring more UI to the second screen, …), the problem has a simple cause: it just doesn’t make sense for a ‘pause’ message to cross the atlantic twice, and pass through two XMPP servers, on its the way across the living room from remote control to TV.

But first – why are we even using XMPP at all, rather than say HTTP? Partly because XMPP lets us easily address devices on home networks, that aren’t publically exposed as running a Web server. Partly for the symmetry of the protocol, since ipads, touch tables, smart phones, TVs and media centres all can host and play media items on their own displays, and we may have several such devices in a home setting that need to be in touch with one another. There’s also a certain lazyness; XMPP already defines lots of useful pieces, like buddylist rosters, pubsub notifications, group chats; it has an active and friendly community, and it comes with a healthy collection of tools and libraries. My own interests are around exploring and collectively annotating the huge archives of content that are slowly coming online, and an expectation that this could be a more shared experience, so I’m following an intuition that XMPP provides more useful ‘raw materials’ for social content exploration than raw HTTP. That said, many elements of remote control can be defined and implemented in either environment. But for today, I’m concentrating on the XMPP side.

So back at FOSDEM I raised a couple of concerns, as a long-term XMPP well-wisher but non-insider.

The first was that the technology presents itself as a daunting collection of extensions, each of which might or might not be supported in some toolkit. To this someone (likely Dave Cridland) responded with the reassuring observation that most of these could be implemented by 3rd party app developer simply reading/writing XMPP stanzas. And that in fact pretty much the only ‘core’ piece of XMPP that wasn’t treated as core in most toolkits was the serverless, point-to-point XEP-0174 ‘serverless messaging‘ mode. Everything else, the rest of us mortals could hack in application code. For serverless messaging we are left waiting and hoping for the toolkit maintainers to wire things in, as it generally requires fairly intimate knowledge of the relevant XMPP library.

My second point was in fact related: that if XMPP tools offered better support for serverless operation, then it would open up lots of interesting application options. That we certainly need it for the TV remotes use case to be a credible use of XMPP. Beyond TV remotes, there are obvious applications in the area of open, decentralised social networking. The recent buzz around things like StatusNet, GNU Social, Diaspora*, WebID, OneSocialWeb, alongside the old stuff like FOAF, shows serious interest in letting users take more decentralised control of their online social behaviour. Whether the two parties are in the same room on the same LAN, or halfway around the world from each other, XMPP and its huge collection of field-tested, code-supported extensions is relevant, even when those parties prefer to communicate directly rather than via servers.

With XMPP, app party developers have a well-defined framework into which they can drop ad-hoc stanzas of information; whether it’s a vCard or details of recently played music. This seems too useful a system to reserve solely for communications that are mediated by a server. And indeed, XMPP in theory is not tied to servers; the XEP-0174 spec tells us both how to do local-network bonjour-style discovery, and how to layer XMPP on top of any communication channel that allows XML stanzas to flow back and forth.

From the abstract,

This specification defines how to communicate over local or wide-area networks using the principles of zero-configuration networking for endpoint discovery and the syntax of XML streams and XMPP messaging for real-time communication. This method uses DNS-based Service Discovery and Multicast DNS to discover entities that support the protocol, including their IP addresses and preferred ports. Any two entities can then negotiate a serverless connection using XML streams in order to exchange XMPP message and IQ stanzas.

But somehow this remains a niche use of XMPP. Many of the toolkits have some support for it, perhaps as work-in-progress or a patch, but it remains somewhat ‘out there’ rather than core to the XMPP approach. I’d love to see this change in 2011. The 0174 spec combines a few themes; it talks a lot about discovery, motivated in part by trade-fair and conference type scenarios. When your Apple laptop finds people locally on some network to chat with by “Bonjour”, it’s doing more or less XEP-0174. For the TV remote scenario, I’m interested in having nodes from a normal XMPP network drop down and “re-discover” themselves in a hopefully-lower-latency point to point mode (within some LAN or across the Internet, or between NAT-protected home LANs). There are lots of scenarios when having a server in the loop isn’t needed, or adds cost and risk (latency, single point of failure, privacy concerns).

XEP-0174 continues,

6. Initiating an XML Stream
In order to exchange serverless messages, the initiator and
recipient MUST first establish XML streams between themselves,
as is familiar from RFC 3920.
First, the initiator opens a TCP connection at the IP address
and port discovered via the DNS lookup for an entity and opens
an XML stream to the recipient, which SHOULD include 'to' and
'from' address. [...]

This sounds pretty precise; point-to-point communication is over TCP.  The Security Considerations section discussed some of the different constraints for XMPP in serverless mode, and states that …

To secure communications between serverless entities, it is RECOMMENDED to negotiate the use of TLS and SASL for the XML stream as described in RFC 3920

Having stumbled across Datagram TLS (wikipedia, design writeup), I wonder whether that might also be an option for the layer providing the XML stream between entities.  For example, the chownat tool shows a UDP-based trick for establishing bidirectional communication between entities, even when they’re both behind NAT. I can’t help but wonder whether XMPP could be layered somehow on top of that (OpenSSL libraries have Datagram TLS support already, apparently). There are also other mechanisms I’ve been discussing with Mo McRoberts and Libby Miller lately, e.g. Mo’s dynamic dns / pubkeys idea, or his trick of running an XMPP server in the home, and opening it up via UPnP. But that’s for another time.

So back on my main theme: XMPP is holding itself back by always emphasising the server-mediated role. XEP-0174 has the feel of an afterthought rather than a core part of what the XMPP community offers to the wider technology scene, and the support for it in toolkits lags similarly. I’d love to hear from ‘live and breath XMPP’ folk what exactly they think is needed before it can become a more central part of the XMPP world.

From the TV remotes use case we have a few constraints, such as the need to associate identities established in different environments (eg. via public key). If xmpp:danbri-ipad@danbri.org is already on the server-based XMPP roster of xmpp:nevali-tv@nevali.net, can pubkey info in their XMPP vCards be used to help re-establish trusted communications when the devices find themselves connected in the same LAN? It seems just plain nuts to have a remote control communicate with another box in the same room via transatlantic links through Google Talk and Amazon EC2, and yet that’s the general pattern of normal XMPP communications. What would it take to have more out-of-the-box support for XEP-0174 from the XMPP toolkits? Some combination of beer, money, or a shared sense that this is worth doing and that XMPP has huge potential beyond the server-based communications model it grew from?

‘Republic of Letters’ in R / Custom Widgets for Second Screen TV navigation trails

As ever, I write one post that perhaps should’ve been two. This is about the use and linking of datasets that aid ‘second screen’ (smartphone, tablet) TV remotes, and it takes as a quick example a navigation widget and underlying dataset that show us how we might expect to navigate TV archives, in some future age when TV lives more fully in the World Wide Web. I argue that access to the ‘raw data‘ and frameworks for embedding visualisation apps are of equal importance when thinking about innovative ways of exploring the ever-growing archives. All of this comes from many discussions with my NoTube colleagues and other collaborators; rambling scribblyness is all my own.

Ben Hammersley points us at a lovely Flash visualization http://www.stanford.edu/group/toolingup/rplviz/”>Mapping the Republic of Letters”.

From the YouTube overview, “Researchers map thousands of letters exchanged in the 18th century’s “Republic of Letters” and learn at a glance what it once took a lifetime of study to comprehend.”


Mapping the Republic of Letters has at its center a multidimensional data set which spans 300 years and nearly 100,000 letters. We use computing tools that help us to measure and analyze data quantitatively, though that will not take us to our goal. While we use software and computing techniques that were designed for scientific and statistical methods, we are seeking to develop computing tools to enhance humanistic methods, to help us to explore qualitative aspects of the Republic of Letters. The subject of our study and the nature of the material require it. The collections of correspondence and records of travel from this period are incomplete. Of that incomplete material only a fraction has been digitized and is available to us. Making connections and resolving ambiguities in the data is something that can only be done with the help of computing, but cannot be done by computing alone. (from ‘methods and philosophy‘)


screenshot of Republic of Letters app, showing social network links superimposed on map of historical western Europe


See their detailed writeup for more on this fascinating and quite beautiful work. As I’m working lately on linking TV content more deeply into the Web, and on ‘second screen’ navigation, this struck me as just the kind of interface which it ought to be possible to re-use on a tablet PC to explore TV archives. Forgetting for the moment difficulties with Flash on iPads and so on, the idea roughly is that it would be great to embed such a visualization within a TV watching environment, such that when the ‘republic of letters’ widget is focussed on some person, place, or topic, we should have the opportunity to scan the available TV archives for related materials to show.

So a glance at Chrome’s ‘developer tools’ panel gave me a link to the underlying data used by the visualisation. I don’t know exactly whose it is, nor how they want it used, so please treat it with respect. Still, there it is, sat in the Web, in tab-separated format, begging to be used. There’s a lot you can do with the Flash application that I’ve barely touched, but I’m intrigued by the underlying dataset. In particular, where they have the string “Tonson, Jacob”, the data linker in me wants to see a Wikipedia or DBpedia link, since they provide explanation, context, related people, places and themes; all precious assets when trying to scrape together related TV materials to inform, educate or entertain someone with. From a few test searches, it turns out that (many? most?) the correspondents are quite easily matched to Wikipedia: William Congreve, Montagu, 1st earl of Halifax, CharlesHough, bishop of Worcester, John; Stanyan, Abraham;  … Voltaire and others. But what about the data?

Lately I’ve been learning just a little about R, a language used mainly for statistics and related analysis. Here’s what it’ll do ‘out of the box’, in untrained hands:

letters<-read.csv('data.txt',sep='\t', header=TRUE)
v_author = letters$Author=="Voltaire"
v_letters = letters[v_author, ]
Where were Voltaire’s letters sent?
> cbind(summary(v_letters$dest_country))
[,1]
Austria            2
Belgium            6
Canada             0
Denmark            0
England           26
France          1312
Germany           97
India              0
Ireland            0
Italy             68
Netherlands       22
Portugal           0
Russia             5
Scotland           0
Spain              1
Sweden             0
Switzerland      342
The Netherlands    1
Turkey             0
United States      0
Wales              0
As the overview and video in the ‘Republic of Letters‘ site points out (“Tracking 18th-century “social network” through letters”), the patterns of correspondence eg. between Voltaire and e.g. England, Scotland and Ireland jumps out of the data (and more so its visualisation). There are countless ways this information could be explored, presented, sliced-and-diced. Only a custom app can really make the most of it, and the Republic of Letters work goes a long way in that direction. They also note that
The requirements of our project are very much in sync with current work being done in the linked-data/ semantic web community and in the data visualization community, which is why collaboration with computer science has been critical to our project from the start.
So the raw data in the Web here is a simple table; while we could spend time arguing about whether it would better be expressed in JSON, XML or an RDF notation, I’d rather see some discussion around what we can do with this information. In particular, I’m intrigued by the possibilities of R alongside the data-linking habits that come with RDF. If anyone manages to tease anything interesting from this dataset, perhaps mixed in with DBpedia, do post your results.
And of course there are always other datasets to examine; for example see the Darwin correspondence archives, or the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Open Correspondence project which has a Dickens-based pilot. While it is wonderful having UI that is tuned to the particulars of some dataset, it is also great when we can re-use UI code to explore similarly structured data from elsewhere. On both the data side and the UI side, this is expensive, tough work to do well. My current concern is to maximise re-use of both UI and data for the particular circumstances of second-screen TV navigation, a scenario rarely a first priority for anyone!
My hope is that custom navigation widgets for this sort of data will be natural components of next-generation TV remote controls, and that TV archives (and other collections) will open up enough of their metadata to draw in (possibly paying) viewers. To achieve this, we need the raw data on both sides to be as connectable as possible, so that application authors can spend their time thinking about what their users really need and can use, rather than on whether they’ve got the ‘right’ Henry Newton.
If we get it right, there’s a central role for librarianship and archivists in curating the public, linked datasets that tell us about the people, places and topics that will allow us to make new navigation trails through Web-connected television, literature and encyclopedia content. And we’ll also see new roles for custom visualizations, once we figure out an embedding framework for TV widgets that lets them communicate with a display system, with other users in the same room or community, and that is designed for cross-referencing datasets that talk about the same entities, topics, places etc.
As I mentioned regarding Lonclass and UDC, collaboration around open shared data often takes place in a furtive atmosphere of guilt and uncertainty. Is it OK to point to the underlying data behind a fantastic visualisation? How can we make sure the hard work that goes into that data curation is acknowledged and rewarded, even while its results flow more freely around the Web, and end up in places (your TV remote!) that may never have been anticipated?

Lonclass and RDF

Lonclass is one of the BBC’s in-house classification systems – the “London classification”. I’ve had the privilege of investigating lonclass within the NoTube project. It’s not currently public, but much of what I say here is also applicable to the Universal Decimal Classification (UDC) system upon which it was based. UDC is also not fully public yet; I’ve made a case elsewhere that it should be, and I hope we’ll see that within my lifetime. UDC and Lonclass have a fascinating history and are rich cultural heritage artifacts in their own right, but I’m concerned here only with their role as the keys to many of our digital and real-world archives.

Why would we want to map Lonclass or UDC subject classification codes into RDF?

Lonclass codes can be thought of as compact but potentially complex sentences, built from the thousands of base ‘words’ in the Lonclass dictionary. By mapping the basic pieces, the words, to other data sources, we also enrich the compound sentences. We can’t map all of the sentences as there can be infinitely many of them – it would be an expensive and never-ending task.

For example, we might have a lonclass code for “Report on the environmental impact of the decline of tin mining in Sweden in the 20th century“. This would be an jumble of numbers and punctuation which I won’t trouble you with here. But if we parsed out that structure we can see the complex code as built from primitives such as ‘tin mining’ (itself e.g. ‘Tin’ and ‘Mining’), ‘Sweden’, etc. By linking those identifiable parts to shared Web data, we also learn more about the complex composite codes that use them. Wikipedia’s Sweden entry tells us in English, “Sweden has land borders with Norway to the west and Finland to the northeast, and water borders with Denmark, Germany, and Poland to the south, and Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Russia to the east.”. Increasingly this additional information is available in machine-friendly form. Although right now we can’t learn about Sweden’s borders from the bits of Wikipedia reflected into DBpedia’s Sweden entry, but UN FAO’s geopolitical ontology does have this information and more in RDF form.

There is more, much more, to know about Sweden than can possibly be represented directly within Lonclass or UDC. Yet those facts may also be very useful for the retrieval of information tagged with Sweden-related Lonclass codes. If we map the Lonclass notion of ‘Sweden’ to identified concepts described elsewhere, then whenever we learn more about the latter, we also learn more about the former, and indirectly, about anything tagged with complex lonclass codes using that concept. Suddenly an archived TV documentary tagged as covering a ‘report on the environmental impact of the decline of tin mining in Sweden’ is accessible also to people or machines looking under Scandinavia + metal mining. Environmental matters, after all, often don’t respect geo-political borders; someone searching for coverage of environmental trends in a neighbouring country might well be happy to find this documentary. But should Lonclass or UDC maintain an index of which countries border which others? Surely not!

Lonclass and UDC codes have a rich hidden structure that is rarely exploited with modern tools. Lonclass by virtue of its UDC heritage, does a lot of work itself towards representing complex conceptual inter-relationships. It embodies a conceptual map of our world, with mysterious codes (well known in the library world) for topics such as ‘622 – mining’, but also specifics e.g. ‘622.3 Mining of specific minerals, ores, rocks’, and combinations (‘622.3:553.9 Extraction of carbonaceous minerals, hydrocarbons’). By joining a code for ‘mining a specific mineral…’ to a code for ‘553.9 Deposits of carbonaceous rocks. Hydrocarbon deposits’ we get a compound term. So Lonclass/UDC “knows” about the relationship between “Tin Mining” and “Mining”, “metals” etc., and quite likely between “Sweden” and “Scandinavia”. But it can’t know everything! Sooner or later, we have to say, “Sorry, it’s not reasonable to expect the classification system to model the entire world; that’s a bigger problem”.

Even within the closed, self-supporting universe of UDC/Lonclass, this compositional semantics system is a very powerful tool for describing obscure topics in terms  of well known simpler concepts. But it’s too much for any single organisation (whether the BBC, the UDC Consortium, or anyone) to maintain and extend such a system to cover all of modern life; from social, legal and business developments to new scientific innovations. The work needs to be shared, and RDF is currently our best bet on how to create such work sharing, meaning sharing, information-linking systems in the Web. The hierarchies in UDC and Lonclass don’t attempt to represent all of objective reality; they instead show paths through information.

If the metaphor of a ‘conceptual map’ holds up, then it’s clear that at some point it’s useful to have our maps made by different parties, with different specialised knowledge. The Web now contains a smaller but growing Web of machine readable descriptions. Over at MusicBrainz is a community who take care of describing the entities and relationships that cover much of music, or at least popular music. Others describe countries, species, genetics, languages, historical events, economics, and countless other topics. The data is sometimes messy or an imperfect fit for some task-in-hand, but it is actively growing, curated and connected.

I’m not arguing that Lonclass or UDC should be thrown out and replaced by some vague ‘linked cloud’. Rather, that there are some simple steps that can be taken towards making sure each of these linked datasets contribute to modernising our paths into the archives. We need to document and share opensource tools for an agreed data model for the arcane numeric codes of UDC and Lonclass. We need at least the raw pieces, the simplest codes, to be described for humans and machines in public, stable Web pages, and for their re-use, mapping, data mining and re-combination to be actively encouraged and celebrated. Currently, it is possible to get your hands on this data if you work with the BBC (Lonclass), pay license fees (UDC) or exchange USB sticks with the right party in some shady backstreet. Whether the metaphor of choice is ‘key to the archives’ or ‘conceptual map of…’, this is a deeply unfortunate situation, both for the intrinsic public value of these datasets, but also for the collections they index. There’s a wealth of meaning hidden inside Lonclass and UDC and the collections they index, a lot that can be added by linking it to other RDF datasets, but more importantly there are huge communities out there who’ll do much of the work when the data is finally opened up…

I wrote too much. What I meant to say is simple. Classification systems with compositional semantics can be enriched when we map their basic terms using identifiers from other shared data sets. And those in the UDC/Lonclass tradition, while in some ways they’re showing their age (weird numeric codes, huge monolithic, hard-to-maintain databases), … are also amongst the most interesting systems we have today for navigating information, especially when combined with Linked Data techniques and companion datasets.

Sagan on libraries

“Books permit us to voyage through time, to tap the wisdom of our ancestors. The library connects us with the insights and knowledge, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, with the best teachers, drawn from the entire planet and from all of our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contribution to the collective knowledge of the human species. Public libraries depend on voluntary contributions. I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries.” –Carl Sagan, http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Carl_Sagan

Archive.org TV metadata howto

The  following is composed from answers kindly supplied by Hank Bromley, Karen Coyle, George Oates, and Alexis Rossi from the archive.org team. I have mixed together various helpful replies and retro-fitted them to a howto/faq style summary.

I asked about APIs and data access for descriptions of the many and varied videos in Archive.org. This guide should help you get started with building things that use archive.org videos. Since the content up there is pretty much unencumbered, it is perfect for researchers looking for content to use in demos. Or something to watch in the evening.

To paraphrase their answer, it was roughly along these  lines:

  • you can do automated lookups of the search engine using a simple HTTP/JSON API
  • downloading a lot or everything is ok if you need or prefer to work locally, but please write careful scripts
  • hopefully the search interface is useful and can avoid you needing to do this

Short API overview: each archive entry that is a movie, video or tv file should have a type ‘movie’. Everything in the archive has a short textual ID, and an XML description at a predictable URL. You can find those by using the JSON flavour of the archive’s search engine, then download the XML (and content itself) at your leisure. Please cache where possible!

I was also pointed to http://deweymusic.org/ which is an example of a site that provides a new front-end for archive.org audio content – their live music collection. My hope in posting these notes here is to help people working on new interfaces to Web-connected TV explore archive.org materials in their work.

JSON API to archive.org services

See online documentation for JSON interface; if you’re happy working with the remote search engine and are building a Javascript-based app, this is perfect.

We have been moving the majority of our services from formats like XML, OAI and other to the more modern JSON format and method of client/server interaction.

How to … play well with others

As we do not have unlimited resources behind our services, we request that users try to cache results where they can for the more high traffic and popular installations/uses. 8-)

TV content in the archive

The archive contains a lot of video files; old movies, educational clips, all sorts of fun stuff. There is also some work on reflecting broadcast TV into the system:

First off, we do have some television content available on the site right now:
http://www.archive.org/details/tvarchive – It’s just a couple of SF gov channels, so the content itself is not terribly exciting.  But what IS cool is that this being recorded directly off air and then thrown into publicly available items on archive.org automatically.  We’re recording other channels as well, but we currently aren’t sure what we can make public and how.

See also televisionarchive.orghttp://www.archive.org/details/sept_11_tv_archive

How to… get all metadata

If you really would rather download all the metadata and put it in their own search engine or database, it’s simple to do:  get a list of the identifiers of all video items from the search engine (mediatype:movies), and for each one, fetch this file:

http://www.archive.org/download/{itemID}/{itemID}_meta.xml

So it’s a bit of work since you have to retrieve each metadata record separately, but perhaps it is easily programmable.

However, once you have the identifier for an item, you can automatically find the meta.xml for it (or the files.xml if that’s what you want).  So if the item is at:
http://www.archive.org/details/Sita_Sings_the_Blues
the meta.xml is at
http://www.archive.org/download/Sita_Sings_the_Blues/Sita_Sings_the_Blues_meta.xml
and the files.xml is at
http://www.archive.org/download/Sita_Sings_the_Blues/Sita_Sings_the_Blues_files.xml

This is true for every single item in the archive.

How to… get a list of all IDs

Use http://www.archive.org/advancedsearch.php

Basically, you put in a query, choose the metadata you want returned, then choose the format you’d like it delivered in (rss, csv, json, etc.).

Downsides to this method – you can only get about 10,000 items at once (you might be able to push it to 20,000) before it crashes on you, and you can only get the metadata fields listed.

How to… monitor updates with RSS?

Once you have a full dump, you can monitor incoming items via the RSS feed on this page:

http://www.archive.org/details/movies

Subtitles / closed captions

For the live TV collection, there should be extracted subtitles. Maybe I just found bad examples. (e.g

http://www.archive.org/details/SFGTV2_20100909_003000).

Todo: more info here!

What does the Archive search engine index?

In general *everything* in the meta.xml files is indexed in the IA search engine, and accessible for scripted queries at http://www.archive.org/advancedsearch.php.

But it may be that the search engine will support whatever queries you want to make, without your having to copy all the metadata to your own site.

How many “movies” are in the database?

Currently 314,624 “movies” items in the search engine. All tv and video items are supposed to be have “movies” for their mediatype, although there has been some leakage now and then.

Should I expect a valid XML file for each id?

eg.  “identifier”:”mosaic20031001″ seemed problematic.
There are definitely items on the archive that have extremely minimally filled outmeta.xml files.

Response from a trouble report:

“I looked at a couple of your examples, i.e. http://www.archive.org/details/HomeElec,  and they do have a meta.xml file in our system… but it ONLY contains a mediatype (movies) and identifier and nothing else.  That seems to be making our site freak out.  There are at least 800 items in movies that do not have a title.  There might be other minimal metadata that is required for us to think it’s a real item, but my guess is that if you did a search like this one you’d see fewer of those errors:
http://www.archive.org/search.php?query=mediatype%3Amovies%20AND%20title%3A[*%20TO%20*]

The other error you might see is “The item is not available due to issues with the item’s content.”  This is an item that has been taken down but for some reason it did not get taken out of the SE – it’s not super common, but it does happen.
I don’t think we’ve done anything with autocomplete on the Archive search engine, although one can use wildcards to find all possible completions by doing a query.  For example, the query:

http://www.archive.org/advancedsearch.php?q=mediatype%3Avideo+AND+title%3Aopen*&fl[]=identifier&fl[]=title&rows=10&page=1&output=json&save=yes

will match all items whose titles contain any words that start with “open” – that sample result of ten items shows titles containing “open,” “opening,” and “opener.”

How can I autocomplete against archive.org metadata?

Not at the moment.

“I believe autocomplete *has* been explored with the search engine on our “Open Library” sister site, openlibrary.org.”

How can I find interesting and well organized areas of the video archive?

I assume you’re looking for collections with pretty regular metadata to work on?  These collections tend to be fairly filled out:
http://www.archive.org/details/prelinger
http://www.archive.org/details/academic_films
http://www.archive.org/details/computerchronicles


Local Video for Local People

OK it’s all Google stuff, but still good to see. Go to Google Maps, My Maps, to find ‘Videos from YouTube’ listed. Here’s where I used to live (Bristol UK) and where I live now (Amsterdam, The Netherlands). Here’s a promo film of some nearby art installations from ArtZuid, who even have a page in English. I wouldn’t have found the video or the nearby links except through the map overlay. I don’t know exactly how they’re geotagging the videos, I can’t see an option under ‘my videos’ in YouTube, so perhaps it’s automatic or viewer annotations. In YouTube, you can add a map link under ‘My Videos’ / ‘Edit Video'; I didn’t see that initially. I made some investigations into similar issues (videos on maps) while at Joost; see brief mention in my Fundamentos Web slides from a couple of years ago.
Oh, nearly forgot to mention: zooming out to get a Europe or World-wide view is quite striking too.