Resource List Ontology

Working on our current project, Nad and I have been modelling resource lists – think course reading lists, but containing more than just reading material. A list is simply a collection of resources grouped into sections and annotated by the academic to give students guidance when using the list.

A resource list can take much more than just books. We’re using Bibliontology to model the resources, so more or less anything can be accurately described. We’ve requested a couple of additions and are still debating those.

The structure of the list is described using a new ontology which we’ve published on, but with a base URI. The ontology lives here:

It also works just fine with the AIISO ontology we published a few days ago – so you can say which parts of your institution are using which lists.

Emotional Intelligence in Signage

Using the 20:20 format (also known as pecha-kucha) Daniel Pink, a staff editor at Wired talks about improving signage through the use of empathy. He has two tenets:

Demonstrate Empathy

Encourage Empathy

With 20 slides at 20 seconds each he explains the concept clearly.

It strikes me that we could use these techniques when writing the messages that come out of our apps, making them more friendly. Isn’t that what Flickr do with the kitten pictures they show during outages?

http://1984, de-referencing George Orwell


Winston sat at his usual table in the Chestnut Tree Cafe, it was unusually busy on this hot, sunny day. The waiter passed his table then returned with the gin bottle; filling his glass with the gin infused with cloves that the cafe was famous for.

The telescreen announced its imminent news of victory with a trumpet fare. It talked about further arrests of disidents, those who had commited crimes against Big Brother. Winston glanced across the room to Big Brother’s kindly smiling face looking down at him from the wall, a poster from floor to ceiling filling the cafe with his benevolent presence.

A commotion outside caused Winston to look out. The Thought Police marching past. They weren’t coming into the cafe today, nobody here of interest he guessed. They marched on.

The Brotherhood he now knew was real, but how could he really know how many others like him there were. O’Brien had told him he would only ever meet one or two others. He would do exactly as he was told. Follow orders. Was there really any hope of overthrowing The Party? He couldn’t see how, but that didn’t matter. Any act of rebellion however small felt great.

Maps of the war were now scrolling across the telescreen, they showed Oceania’s progress against Eurasia. Oceania was at war with Eurasia. Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia.

Winston suddenly became aware of another person beside him. Had his face showed sign of what he was thinking? Julia sat down to join him. A swift gesture across the face of the telescreen made it go blank, the narrative in his earpiece stopped. "You’re playing that game again, love?" asked Julia. "Yes, you know how good it is" he replied. Julia looked unimpressed. "It sends me to sleep, stops my brain working." she responded dismissively. "But it’s so clever" Winston defended. "it’s a view of what this world could have become!" His eyes gleaming, Winston pulled a small book out of his bag. The inscription on the title-page ran:


by Emmanuel Goldstein

Winston began reading:

Chapter I

Ignorance is Strength

Throughout recorded time, and probably since the end of the Neolithic Age, there have been three kinds of people in the world, the High, the Middle, and the Low. They have been subdivided in many ways, they have borne countless different names, and their relative numbers, as well as their attitude towards one another, have varied from age to age: but the essential structure of society has never altered. Even after enormous upheavals and seemingly irrevocable changes, the same pattern has always reasserted itself, just as a gyroscope will always return to equilibrium, however far it is pushed one way or the other.

The aims of these groups are entirely irreconcilable…

Julia’s eyes had glazed over, they always did when he talked to her about the tenets behind Big Brother, the massively multi-player game sweeping the world. He stopped reading but it was several seconds before Julia noticed he had stopped. "It just doesn’t grab me, sorry" she apologised.

The waiter arrived, smiled and exchanged pleasantaries. "Sloe today Julia?" he asked. "Yes, please" she replied. The cafe was famous for its clove gin, but the sloe gin was also excellent. In total they had more than 70 flavoured gins and many other drinks besides. When not drinking the gin Winston would often try one of the ever-changing supply of world beers that flowed through the cafe, carefully savouring each one and keeping notes in his online review diary.

"Oh, but look at this", Julia’s face lit up as she remembered why she had come to find him. It was a heavy lump of glass, curved on one side, flat on the other, making almost a hemisphere. There was a peculiar softness, as of rainwater, in both the colour and the texture of the glass. At the heart of it, magnified by the curved surface, there was a strange, pink, convoluted object that recalled a rose or a sea anemone. "It’s from Mr Charrington’s," Julia went on, "he said I could bring it round to show you. I want to find out all about it."

She handed the glass to Winston who waved it across the small camera on the telescreen in front of him. The screen lit up as it took the code from the bottom of the glass and matched it with several photos of the object and a description. It was a paperweight, manufactured in Italy sometime in the early 1930s. The strange pink shape was Coral, not rare, but beautiful none the less.

The telescreen was changing, new pictures were arriving and more information appearing alongside the initial description as Goldstein (Winston had named his search agent after one of the Game’s main characters) trawled the semweb for more references. Within minutes he had a near complete history of the paperweight’s manufacture, who had owned it over the years and how it related to other more or less rare collections. It wasn’t really worth anything, semi-antiques like these were plentiful and Mr Charrington had a shop full of them, but it was just the kind of pretty thing that Julia loved to decorate their studio with. Winston smiled at her. "I love you. Go and buy it." he said.

As Julia left the cafe Winston heard the usual weekend commotion of the Thought Police returning. They were out-of-step now, not marching and there was a great deal of whooping and laughter. He sat back, glass in hand, to hear what had happened. In this mood they were bound to invade the cafe. He was right, around a dozen of them bounced up to the bar. Not one of them could have been more than 25 he thought to himself. Winston vaguely remembered a time in his childhood when people weren’t that interested in politics, but not now. Groups of Thought Police, young activists holding politicians and large corporations to account were a common sight. The group laughed and joked, congratulating each other on the day’s work.

Winston pieced together the lively fragments of chatter to conclude they had managed to secure yet another resignation of a corrupt politician. He didn’t catch the name or which of the many parties the poor chap had been part of. What he couldn’t understand was how any politician thought they could do anything but serve their constituents when the Thought Police, like everyone else, could query every vote, business partnership, gift and expense claim.

A broad smile broke across his face – maybe they thought it was all just a game.

Beijing Sight-Seeing


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Busy. Colourful. Bright. Neon. Starbucks. KFC. McDonalds.

This wasn’t what I expected of the vast sprawling city of Beijing. I don’t know what I did expect. The grey stone and imposing buildings of Tiananmen Square, Mao’s Tomb and the Great Hall of the People perhaps. Or maybe the flocks of bicycles. A view built mostly on UK coverage of the Tiananmen Square uprising of nearly twenty years ago.

We see these short tableaux of places in times of crisis and they sit, static, in our minds while the place itself moves. Always having been so much more than what we saw anyway. The Beijing we met was busy all the time, streets full of people into the early hours. Not revelers and police, though there is some of that, but lots of men and women just going about their business.

Driving in Beijing appears to be a more or less constant game of lane-change chicken. Everything is done in close proximity, with cars maneuvering on the three-lane ring roads (of which there are seven or eight) within inches of each other. Horns beep constantly, but not in the aggressive way they are used in the UK, but as a constant "I’m here", "That’s my space" kind of way that no-one seems to take offence to.

The city is, of course, rushing headlong towards the August deadline of the 2008 Summer Olympics. We saw nowhere that wasn’t undergoing some work. New paving here, a new road there, replacing the tiles on hotel frontages. There was also much more substantial construction work happening with new tower block going up in many places around the center. The center, that’s an interesting aside – Beijing doesn’t really seem to have a center. Sure there are ring roads that go around an area, but the city is so large, so spread out that it really has no distinct point – apart from Tiananmen Square, of course.

Tiananmen forms a nice point from which to discuss the some of tourist sights, with the Forbidden City adjoining it to the North (?) and the Temple of Heaven just a short taxi ride (costs about 180RMB) to the south. We were also driven out to the Great Wall at Badaling by a friend of a friend and spent a couple of hours walking a short section there, Badaling is about an hour’s drive from Beijing in a car (or two on a tour bus). And of course, also a little way out of the city is the Summer Palace.

Our time in Beijing was short, seven days in Beijing, five days were taken up with the WWW2008 conference (and a bit of hotel shuffling). A further day on each end of the trip to travel. So with restaurants to try every evening and just two days to see things we had to make our time count.

Food was important, with a fantastic Chinese community here in Birmingham providing amazing food it seemed like a good idea to try equivalents in Beijing as well as looking for things we can’t get at home. Something we had not seen at home is the Hot pot, or Chinese Fondue, which involves a central pot with stock or oil, heated from below, in which you cook your own meat, fish and veggies. Really great food.

Beijing, formerly known as Peking, is famous for its Duck restaurants, so no trip would be complete without a visit. The duck was great, about a dozen of devoured wood-burning oven-roast ducks with pancakes, hoisin sauce and shredded spring onions and cucumber. What impressed me was not so much the quality of the duck here in Beijing, but bizarrely the quality of the duck we get back here in the UK which comes very close to what we we were served. The most notable difference is that here in the UK I’ve never seen the head served with the rest of the meat.

Saturday morning we got up early and hit the subway to make our way to Beijing Zoo, we already had the trip to Badaling lined up for the afternoon, so needed something easy to do in the time and we all decided we wanted to see pandas. We got to see the pandas, sleeping in the heat, trying to ignore the crowds with cameras. Beijing zoo’s enclosures look small, they’re definitely zoo and not safari park. We rushed round a few of the main large animal enclosures and headed back to the hotel.

We weren’t at the hotel for long when our host for the weekend, a friend of a friend, arrived to pick us up. He’d very kindly agreed to show us around and our first target was the Great Wall.

Pictures of the wall give you a pretty good idea of the size of it, the wall alone is intimidating. What you don’t get a sense of is the geography in which it’s built. The wall rides the tops of steep sided ridges, sharp edges with steep slopes either side, a formidable obstacle in their own right.

The most disappointing aspect of the wall was the number of little stalls and wall-walkers attempting to sell you utter tat.

After a couple of hours walking on the wall (following a busy week conferencing as well) we were all more than ready for food. Our kind host had spent a few years here in Birmingham, so was well aware of how good the Chinese food available here is. With this knowledge he wanted to ensure we got food in Beijing that we can’t get in Birmingham. We’d already had hot pot and none of us really fancied the frogs on offer so we ended up in a restaurant famous for its crab.

The crabs arrived raw, so we could decide how many we wanted between us, then came back around ten minutes later, cooked and cracked in a spicy paste. Chris and I are not great fans of crab here in the UK, they seem to taste like seaweed to me, but these are fresh water crabs and they taste completely different. The crabs were meaty and very tasty indeed.

Next day we managed to get up early, check out and dump our bags with the concierge ahead of a day exploring then the flight home. We got ourselves over to the Temple of Heaven first. Set in beautiful grounds, surrounded by lawns and paths shaded by cherry blossom trees the temple is visible from some distance. Beautifully tranquil, despite the number of people. The temple is very well maintained, a little too well maintained in some respects, you could almost believe it was new.

From there we cut across through Tiananmen Square passed Mao’s Mausoleum and into the park around the forbidden city. It was getting hot by now, the sun very bright, so the shade of the woods was very welcome. The sun, and the impending need for some lunch, made u decide not to spend the apparent two hours queuing to get into the Forbidden City. Instead we met up again with our kind host and he took us to a great barbeque place where we had lamb, beef, big green chilies, chicken wings and squid. All served on kebab sticks. Very spicy, very good.

From there we wanted somewhere to unwind a bit, so a trip to the lake at the Summer Palace was perfect. We wandered around for a while (trying to find a loo and cussing the unhelpful signs) and then hired a boat for a trip out on the lake.

Being out on the water was cool and relaxing, Chris’ advanced driving skills came in handy controlling the high-powered vessel we had, blasting across the water at just under strolling speed.

The lake (Kunming Lake) is huge and beautiful, so huge that you would never guess that it was man-made. The Emperor had it dug out, combining two previous ponds, to make the current lake.

A short shopping trip later and we were back at the hotel to pick up our bags and off to the airport.

One of the great things about working for Talis is that we take conferences seriously. Having sent five of us half-way around the globe staying an extra couple of days, eating well and being expected by those back at the office to make the most of it is part of having a great work/life balance.

I don’t know how many other companies have quite such an enlightened outlook – I guess it’s because we’re employee owned, so Talis is us.

ldow2008 Open Data Commons

Another paper from LDOW2008 that I worked on with Tom Heath and Paul Miller. The Open Data Commons licensing is about providing clear licensing for data shared on the web. It’s not like Creative Commons because it is for data that doesn’t qualify for Copyright protection, whereas Creative Commons relies on an underlying Copyright ownership.

Open Data Commons, A License for Open Data is predominantly a position paper explaining what’s been happening with Open Data Commons and its predecessor the Talis Community License.