WWW2008 Photos

This week’s gone so fast, a totally awesome conference, loads of really great people. Papers and papers to go back and read to really get into the meat of what was presented.

There’s loads more to say, as it starts to unpack in my head, but for now you’ll have to make do with a selection of photos from various sessions, meals, drinks and ceremonies. More photos to come as Nad, Chris, Paul, Tom, Liv and I go out to explore a Beijing a little more before heading home.

The photos are on flickr, click to jump over, if you’re logged in you can comment and/or tag them – feel free name anyone you know in the tags.



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LDOW2008

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Linked Data on the Web 2008, a workshop attached to WWW2008, was today’s main attraction for about 100 of us here in Beijing.

Sir Tim opened the workshop again this year and was popping in at regular intervals throughout the day. His opening included the great soundbyte: "Linked Data is the Semantic Web done right, and the Web done right".

What he means by that is that the linked open data project is the closest we have to his original vision of a web of knowledge.

A number of new RDF browsers were on show this year with Sir Tim showing off version 2 of The Tabulator which provides read/write functionality via HTTP POST or WebDAV. Visual browsers, including relation browser, popped up a few times, including a great session from Uldis Bojars on Browsing Linked Data with Fenfire (standing in for Tuuka Hastrup) which looks like a great tool for playing with small amounts of semweb data. Like The Tabulator v2 Fenfire allows editing of the data – must take a look at that.

The Linked Data map continues to grow, but there were no new announcements today, although I know a few people have stuff lined up but just aren’t ready to ‘go big’ with it just yet. This map featured in every set of slides during the day by my reckoning. In ten years time people will be showing that on slides just after the photo of Sir Tim’s first server at CERN!

Kingsley Idehen kept the session real by keeping up the "give us a demo" riff throughout the day – a constant reminder that most of this stuff is practical, real stuff now. Although, being a fairly academic crowd there was plenty of discussion of theory too.

The key theme that I took away from the day was that disambiguation is (one of) the next big problem(s) the Semantic Web has to tackle. Without this having been discussed ahead of time, several people presented discussions or solutions on the problem. I presented on the use of natural keys in URIs as one aspect (a paper written by myself, Nadeem Shabir and Danny Ayers); Humboldt was suggested as a possible candidate by Kingsley Idehen and others and Afraz Jaffri spoke explicitly about URI disambiguation in the Context of Linked Data. Other aspects of disambguation were presented by Alexandre Passant in Meaning Of A Tag: A collaborative approach to bridge the gap between tagging and Linked Data.

Another great sign of this all getting real was the warm reception that Paul’s talk on Open Data Licensing got. In the same way that the open-source community matured and embraced licensing and the was that the blogosphere, photo and video sharing sites matured and embraced Creative Commons, we need the Linked Data community to mature and one aspect of that is to embrace licensing – clear statements of the terms under which all of this data is published.

The day’s sessions ended on a great discussion of the issues of distributed conversation, statements spread across the web, when we have combined the URI as identifier and the URI as locator of the content. That is, how do you ask http://example.com what it knows about http://foo.com. Or, more importantly, how do you know that you should ask http://example.com in the first place. Given that we want to be able to let anyone say anything about anything else, and that we want to be able to find everything that has been said about something, this is also going to be a key focus.

The need for disambiguation and the need for discovery of statements overlap in what Paolo Bouquet presented – An Entity Name System for Linking Semantic Web Data. Paolo presents an attempt to model a (philosophically) DNS like system, ENS, to address these problems. Controversially he suggests everyone use identifiers within their own internet domains to make statements, then use ENS based identifiers as the single unique reference off which everyone’s URIs then hang. Now that got the debate going!

More of my photos are tagged LDOW2008 on Flickr.

Late Night arrival in Beijing

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I landed in Beijing at 23:00 last night with Chris, Tom, Nad and Paul. We’re here for WWW2008 – yep, work sent five of us to Beijing. How cool is that.

It wasn’t great to find we had no rooms when we arrived at the hotel – we finally got there at 02:00 this morning – it took us 3 hours taxiing around the airport, through immigration, picking up bags and getting a taxi to the hotel. Having no rooms wasn’t fun, but watching how each of us chose to handle ourselves was really fun. 2am problems after 36 hours traveling apparently doesn’t bring out the best in everyone! 😉 Nobody lost their rag – which was cool.

The hotel did the honorable thing and quickly got us into another hotel, paid for the cabs, accompanied us there and paid the bill, which was much more than they had to do. They then came over this morning and picked us up to move us into our nice, fresh rooms in the right hotel. Bad mistake, good recovery. The view of the Olympic stadium above was taken from my temporary room.

The next problem then, is how to get to see Planet of the Ood (this week’s episode of Doctor Who, the link will expire sometime soon) which was on while I was sat at BHX waiting to board. Problems… I’m in China (known for restrictive networks)… BBC iPlayer doesn’t like people outside the UK… BBC iPlayer doesn’t allow downloads for OS X users…

So, the solution…

Grab a script that pretends to be an iPhone (iplayer-dl by Paul Battley), thus getting access to the non-DRM MP4 stream. VPN back to the UK, so on a UK network. Find that only specific traffic goes over VPN. Use VPN to SCP iplayer-dl script to a server in the UK. Download Planet of the Ood MP4 to UK Server. Use VPN to SCP Planet of the Ood back to laptop in China.

Getting to talk about Planet of the Ood with my 7 year old, from Beijing? Priceless.

Copyright and the not-yet-written

Various news sites are reporting on an interesting Copyright claim going through the New York courts right now. The BBC Says:

Author JK Rowling is to testify in a New York court this week over plans to publish an unofficial Harry Potter encyclopaedia.

The case centers on the suggestion that the encyclopaedia, composed from material on fan-site The Harry Potter Lexicon and original work by the author, Steve Vander Ark.

The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog has a very fair-use centric piece written by Dan Slater, while others pit their language as "JK Rowling in bid to defend Copyright". And this distinction is at the heart of the matter. To what extent does JK own the notion of Harry Potter and everything in the world she created and to what extent does she only own the books themselves.

The case will be bringing up some interesting arguments about just what Copyright protects.

Yamaha TENORI-ON

I love specialized controllers, providing an interaction metaphor that works with a keyboard and mouse is always sub-optimal as they are general input tools – that’s one of the things that’s so awesome about the iPhone, it allows the application to define a much more specialized interaction – look at the way different apps use the multi-touch. That’s just the start, too. The iPhone has limited gestures and is 2D, I expect much more to happen with it as interaction designers get to grips with the underlying change in capability that multi-touch provides.

I wrote last year about a whole host of multi-touch devices that show off the cream of what’s currently possible. One of the stand-outs for me was the JazzMutant Lemur, shown here as a music sequencer.

I’ve been keeping half-an-eye on music companies to see what comes out as keyboards, sequencers and digital DJing gear are all natural applications of specialized interfaces. A few days ago I spotted the Yamaha TENORI-ON. An LED based sequencing interface.

Here it is, in a short product demo

And here it is being shown off by it’s creator Toshio Iwai.

I knew, when I saw it, that I’d seen the idea before. The concept is the same as the Monome devices sold in kit form:

Asshole.

No, not you. At least I hope not.

Like Robert Sutton, I am a self-confessed asshole. That is, from time to time, I have the potential to act like an asshole to the people around me.

Also like Robert Sutton I neither want to be considered an asshole nor do I want to work with people I consider to be assholes. So when I read (some time ago) that Bob Sutton had walked away from a publishing deal with Harvard Business School Press because they wouldn’t let him use the word ‘asshole’ in his title I thought "assholes".

It’s taken the best part of eighteen months for The No Asshole Rule to filter to the top of the pile of books next to my bed, so last week I finally read it. I should have read it eighteen months ago, when I found it 🙁

The book covers a great amount of research into asshole statistics as well as anecdotal stories of assholedom. Sutton gives simple, highly loaded, tests to self-assess your own asshole score (I scored only moderately) and describes techniques to help you survive asshole encounters. The thrust throughout all the chapters of the book, though, is that nobody should have to put up with assholes, not at home, not at work, not anywhere. And I agree.

He quotes a good few people, Lars Dalgaard CEO of SuccessFactors amongst them:

respect for the individual, no assholes – it’s okay to have one, just don’t be one … because … assholes stifle performance

Sutton even includes a chapter on the virtues of being an asshole, albeit with a significant bias as he shows that the virtues are perceived rather than actual. He wraps that chapter up with:

[life is] too short and too precious to spend our days surrounded by jerks. And despite my failures in this regard, I feel obligated to avoid inflicting my inner jerk on others. I wonder why so many assholes completely miss the fact that all we have on this earth are the days of our lives … We all die in the end, and despite whatever ‘rational’ virtues assholes may enjoy, I prefer to avoid spending my days working with mean-spirited jerks and will continue to question why so many of us tolerate, justify, and glorify so much demeaning behaviour from so many people.

Now that’s a sentiment I can get behind.

Fortunately, working at Talis, we have a very good culture overall. People are supportive of each other and enjoy sharing knowledge, learning and getting better at what we do, together. In particular we have people in leadership positions who are (almost) never jerks let alone assholes. And that’s a great example to set.

So, to all those who have tolerated me when I have not kept my inner-jerk under control, thank you.

Small, New Earphones

In contrast to a post I wrote a while ago on Big Retro Headphones

I recently bought a pair of Shure SE210 earphones. I’ve known about Shure for years – in the 90s I had a pair of Shure personal monitors loaned to me for an evening and they just sound amazing. I’d given up all hope of ever owning a pair of anything like that due to to the cost.

The SE210s, though, come in at a (comparatively) reasonable £65 online (or a hundred quid if you go to the Apple store!).

To say I’m impressed with them would be an understatement. As they’re noise isolating, they seal into your ear canal. At first that is pretty weird and it took me a few wearings to settle on the rubber tips I currently have fitted. Now I find I can pop them in easily and they’re comfortable for a few hours at a time.

The sound, though, is why you’d spend more than a tenner on a pair of earphones – if you aren’t interested in the sound then stick with whatever came with your iPod!

Listening to Girl I’m Gonna Miss You, Milli Vanilli, the detailed bass line that is such a major part of the overall sound, the SE210s manage to render the bass line clearly and keep it completely separate from the drum below it. Very nice.

Bass again listening to Ready Or Not by The Course, a dance track based on samples from The Fugees track of the same name. Clear vocals, dynamic synth and deep, rich, clear bass give this track new life after listening to the muddy noise it makes on cheap earphones.

Switching to Classical, a recording of the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana performed by the Orchestre de Paris sounds wonderful with the violins rising and falling as they play out the emotion. This is one of the aspects in which the noise isolation really excels – the removal of the background noise of the office allows the earphones to convey a greater range of volumes without the quiet portions becoming washed out. For amazing piano, try these with the 2nd Movement of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.1 in E Minor.

Putting all that bullshit about dynamics aside, what these headphones mean is a rediscovery of music in my collection that was just unlistenable in the office, train or plane using cheap earphones. That’s worth the money.

US Copyright Made Simple

The ALA are selling a lovely little Copyright slider to simplify deciding if a work is in the public domain or not – I haven’t held one, so can’t comment on build quality, ease-of-use or even the usefulness of the device, but it seems like a great idea.

My first thought on seeing it was that it would be great for them to make this available as a PDF for people to download and make their own – after all the ALA is all about making sure everyone has work to do 😉

The content is licensed under a CC license, but I can’t see from the photos which one – does anyone know?

My second thought after finding the instant gratification of a download was not a option was that maybe the format was a little stuffy – I’d much prefer to see an element of fun in the decision  making process. Maybe this form factor would be better:

 

The Cootie Catcher by glueslabs, on Flickr
The Cootie Catcher by glueslabs, on Flickr. Licensed under CC-BY-NC