As snow through which the foot breaks


köniuači
Originally uploaded by danbri.

In our daily lives we all respond urgently to dangers that are much less likely than climate change to affect the future of our children. … Feb. 2 will be remembered as the date when uncertainty was removed as to whether humans had anything to do with climate change on this planet. (Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program via New York Times)

I learned a new word last month. Köniuači – from the Yamama word meaning:

Not reaching unto, or fairly unto as a rail a little too short, the end of which cannot be secured to the post in consequence. Unsupported, unsecure, not fastened securely, treacherous, incapable of supporting, as snow through which the foot breaks, or as the crust over mud. Not firm or solid, but suddenly giving way where one expected otherwise, fallacious, deceptive, ajar, loosened, incapable of being secured as the end of a rail to a post which is either too short or shattered to receive and hold a nail.

Good to have a word for that familiar concept. Does having a word for it make it easier to bear the idea in mind? Regardless, it is awful to be losing the language it came from, both culturally and academically. The above definition from Thomas Bridges’s Yamana-English Dictionary.

There’s only one native speaker left now. There were recently two – but they weren’t on speaking terms. Sometimes you just have to laugh. Thin ice…

When I wasn’t taking photos of melting glaciers, I spent a lot of my recent time in Patagonia reading this dictionary and other history of the area, and remembering the Workshop on Endangered Languages I helped organize in 1995 in Bristol. When you walk into an all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant reading a dictionary, the staff are prone to glance nervously at each other. But I didn’t pace myself well, and their business model survived. Unlike my plans for selling homeopathically-dilute genuine preserved Glacier water to the ecologically minded, with the story that they’d hold it “in trust” in their fridges until the gaiasphere were healed and it was safe to release it back into the wild. Sadly I hit my baggage allowance, so the precious fluid stayed in Buenos Aires.

Anyway, the photo was from the Martial Glacier, Ushuaia, Argentina last month. Don’t ask me how much carbon dioxide went into the atmosphere to get me there and back again. This year I’m going to start taking my carbon footprint more seriously…

If you’ve not seen An Inconvenient Truth, I do recommend taking the time to watch it.

The Website opens with a quote that jumps out at me, since I write this from Leiden, Netherlands visiting the Joost offices, following a trip to Berlin, and preceding another to Rome:

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.

Instead of flying, should I be taking the train? Or a boat? Or getting better at remote meetings? Send money to plant-a-tree projects to clean my conscience? After a year and a half of working from the road or from home, it is great to actually be meeting up with people again, that much is clear. As I write, I wonder if there’s a “slow travel” movement akin to the “slow food” scene. I find a website of that name, though seems as-yet unconnected with issues of eco-disaster. Longer trips, perhaps by train, might make some sense. And more pleasant than stockpiling for the end-times.

Who, what, where, when?

A “Who? what? where? when?” of the Semantic Web is taking shape nicely.

Danny Ayers shows some work with FOAF and the hCard microformat, picking up a theme first explored by Dan Connolly back in 2000: inter-conversion between RDF and HTML person descriptions. Danny generates hCards from SPARQL queries of FOAF, an approach which would pair nicely with GRDDL for going in the other direction.

Meanwhile at W3C, the closing days of the SW Best Practices Group have recently produced a draft of an RDF/OWL Representation of Wordnet. Wordnet is a fantastic resource, containing descriptions of pretty much every word in the English language. Anyone who has spent time in committees, deciding which terms to include in some schema/vocabulary, must surely feel the appeal of a schema which simply contains all possible words. There are essentially two approaches to putting Wordnet into the Semantic Web. A lexically-oriented approach, such as the one published at W3C for Wordnet 2.0, presents a description of words. It mirrors the structure of wordnet itself (verbs, nouns, synsets etc.). Consequently it can be a complete and unjudgemental reflection into RDF of all the work done by the Wordnet team.

The alternate, and complementary, approach is to explore ways of projecting the contents of Wordnet into an ontology, so that category terms (from the noun hierarchy) in Wordnet become classes in RDF. I made a simplistic approach at this some time back (see overview). It has appeal (alonside the linguistic version) because it allows RDF to be used to describe instances of classes for each concept in wordnet, with other properties of those instances. See WhyWordnetIsCool in the FOAF wiki for an example of Wordnet’s coverage of everyday objects.

So, getting Wordnet moving into the SW is great step. It gives us URIs to identify a huge number of everyday concepts. It’s coverage isn’t complete, and it’s ontology is kinda quirky. Aldo Gangemi and others have worked on tidying up the hierarchy; I believe only for version 1.6 of Wordnet so far. I hope that work will eventually get published at W3C or elsewhere as stable URIs we can all use.

In addition to Wordnet there are various other efforts that give types that can be used for the “what” of “who/what/where/when”. I’ve been talking with Rob McCool about re-publishing a version of the old TAP knowledge base. The TAP project is now closed, with Rob working for Yahoo and Guha at Google. Stanford maintain the site but aren’t working on it. So I’ve been working on a quick cleanup (wellformed RDF/XML etc.) of TAP that could get it into more mainstream use. TAP, unlike Wordnet, has more modern everyday commercial concepts (have a look), as well as a lot of specific named instances of these classes.

Which brings me to (Semantic) Wikipedia; another approach to identifying things and their types on the Semantic Web. A while back we added isPrimaryTopicOf to FOAF, to make it easier to piggyback on Wikipedia for RDF-identifying things that have Wiki (and other) pages about them. The Semantic Mediawiki project goes much much further in this direction, providing a rich mapping (classes etc.) into RDF for much of Wikipedia’s more data-oriented content. Very exciting, especially if it gets into the main codebase.

So I think the combination of things like Wordnet, TAP, Wikipedia, and instance-identifying strategies such as “isPrimaryTopicOf”, will give us a solid base for identifying what the things are that we’re describing in the Semantic Web.

And regarding. “Where?” and “when?” … on the UI front, we saw a couple of announcements recently: OpenLayers v1.0, which provides Google-maps-like UI functionality, but opensource and standards friendly. And for ‘when’, a similar offering: the timeline widget. This should allow for fancy UIs to be wired in with RDF calendar or RDF-geo tagged data.

Talking of which… good news of the week: W3C has just announced a Geo incubator group (see detailed charter), whose mission includes updates for the basic Geo (ie. lat/long etc) vocabulary we created in the SW Interest Group.

Ok, I’ve gone on at enough length already, so I’ll talk about SKOS another time. In brief – it fits in here in a few places. When extended with more lexical stuff (for describing terms, eg. multi-lingual thesauri) it could be used as a base for representing the lexically-oriented version of Wordnet. And it also fits in nicely with Wikipedia, I believe.

Last thing, don’t get me wrong — I’m not claiming these vocabs and datasets and bits of UI are “the” way to do ‘who/what/where/when’ on the Semantic Web. They’re each one of several options. But it is great to have a whole pile of viable options at last :)

Open Source Flash Development and WorldKit

Handy article, “Towards Open Source Flash Development” by Carlos Rovira.

Background to looking at this is some great news: Mikel Maron is open-sourcing the WorldKit system, a lightweight Flash/SWF-based Web mapping application. So I’m interested to find some open source tools that would allow me to rebuild it from source.

I also wonder whether SVG hackers might be interested to port some of it to SVG/Javascript. WorldKit supports geo/rss location tagging, so I’m also curious about what it’d take to get full RDF support in there. Has anybody made an RDF parser for SWF/Flash yet?

SVG-based MozMapEditor

MozMapEditor screenshots look very promising. Layered map overlays, with polygon/polyline/point authoring, all built with XUL and SVG in Mozilla. I hope the overlays can be disentangled from the SVG and reused in GML, KML etc. There’s a mozdev site on the way…

Leaflet map

The task of putting some of this information on the map is rather daunting, once you actually start wading through a pile of leaflets looking for locations, places, times, contacts details, Web addresses. But I think it can be decentralised, and the folk who make the leaflets, maps and guides for a city have a lot to gain from making their content more machine-accessible and freely share-able. Well, most of them do.





PortCities Bristol Watershed Cinema CITIZINE Colston Hall Decode Bristol International Twinnings Association Bristol Evening Post Venue Days Out Guide 2005 Southbank-Bristol Arts Trail Clifton Suspension Bridge - Free Guided Tours ARAG newsletter - news from the Somali community activePosters - "Connecting pringed matter to a world of on-line content" Depict! "Can you do it in 90 seconds?" Guided Walks of Bristol The Cube Microplex Creative Bristol St Werburghs Community Centre The Bristol China Partnership Relay audio toor "Your gude to council services and city news... and your summer fun events calendar" Ian McNabb plays the Prom, Sat 10th Sept 2005 Southbank Bristol Walkshops - walking workshops with your digital camera At-Bristol Crossing Continents - Stories of migration and the search for a better life (exhibition at the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum) Empire and us, at the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum Fresh Five - Young People's Film Festival, at the Watershed Bristol Visitor - "The Bristol Tour with live guides and headphones" The Prom (Nov 2004 listings) Bluescreen - open film screenings, at the Cube Microplex Bristol Fairtrade Directory A stroll in the Park - Celebrating 25 years of extraordinary street theatre, Bristol‑based Desperate Men invite you to accompany them on a free promenade and voyage of discovery. Venue Magazine Part-time and Short Courses - Lifelong Learning for the General Public Wessex Trains' pocket guide, available from Uni Bristol for students Bristol University International Affairs Society see Indymedia - 'In light of recent events at the Easton Community Centre we, some of the former staff at the Centre, feel it is important to express our incredible sadness and anger regarding the decision to close the Centre without any community-wide consultation.' Haunted and Hidden Bristol Walking Tour 20p books and the Decorated World Streetmap.co.uk Ordnance Survey - Britain's national mapping agency Bristol c/o Google Maps

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?

Return to LambdaMOO

                          ***************************
                          *  Welcome to LambdaMOO!  *
                          ***************************
PLEASE NOTE:
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.

north

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
 room.
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...
Earth
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.

leave

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