Sunday Dec 17, 2006

ZFS on OSX leopard

According to this World of Apple report our ZFS file system is going to make it on to OSX leopard. After three hard drive failures in the last year I can only applaud that move. ZFS would probably have been able to give early warning of hard disk problems and saved me a lot of trouble.

Thursday Dec 14, 2006

IBM Semantic Layered Research Platform

IBM has been doing a lot of work in the Semantic Web area. Lately they have open sourced the Java based Boca, the RDF repository component of their Semantic Web Stack. Here are some of its features:

  • Named Graphs: Partitioning of data into sets of statements that can be named with a URI and later be accessed using that named graph’s URI
  • Replication: RDF from the server may be selectively cached on client machines and data can be persisted for off line access and performance enhancement
  • Security: Named graphs are secured using a role based access control system
  • Revision history: All changes to named graphs are tracked and are available via API calls
  • Notification: The client receives updates through a JMS Notification subsystem about changes to relevant triples and named graphs

At the center of a Boca system is a server capable of storing millions of RDF triples in a DB2 database.

This is just the first part of a much larger stack that IBM has been working on, being planned for open sourcing. Here is my summary of Lee Feigenbaum list in his Open Sourcing the Semantic Layer blog:

  • Boca: [the rdf store component mentioned above].
  • DDR. The Distributed Data Repository (DDR) is the binary counterpart to Boca.
  • Queso. Queso is a semantic web-application framework.
  • ODO. ODO is a family of Perl 5 libraries for parsing, manipulating, persisting, and serializing RDF data.
  • Telar. Telar is a family of Java libraries that provide services for creating applications driven by RDF. Some Telar libraries focus on the user interface, supplying bindings between RDF data and SWT widgets...
  • Salsa. Salsa is a Boca application that brings together semantic technologies and spreadsheets.
  • Taco. Taco is a framework for measuring performance of RDF stores.

This is all coming from a Merry Band of Internetters at IBM who blog enthusiastically about their work.

Thursday Nov 23, 2006

spectacular KDE video

Reading an interesting article describing various speculations for a Google OS I came across this video of the latest KDE desktop environment for Linux/Unix. All I can say is wow! I can see myself trying it out on my (soon to arrive) Apple laptop.

I wonder if they have gone as far as Apple in making the whole User Interface vector graphics enabled. The next version of OSX will be resolution independent...

Update: this is indeed probably using compiz or Beryl.

Friday Nov 17, 2006

IETF humming

I just found out yesterday that the IETF have a practice of reaching a decision by humming. Sometimes when IETF working groups meet, the members decide on an issue by humming for or against a proposal. The proposal with the clear hum advantage wins. Apparently this is a very helpful way of fostering consensus and reaching decisions relatively quickly.

And I can see why. Person to person contact already helps dispel misunderstandings. The volume of the humming helps remove the personal aspect of voting for or against an issue, and keeps a certain amount of anonymity. It sounds fun too :-)

Having worked remotely from Europe with the Atom working group, I never went to any of these meetings, so I never hummed a Pace...

Tuesday Nov 14, 2006

The Revolution will not be Televised

Don't watch channel Zero.
The Revolution will not be televised.
It will be Stumbled Upon.

Tuesday Oct 31, 2006

A Hitchhiker’s Guide to cyberspace

The late Douglas Adams, of Doctor Who and A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fame, produced an absolutely fascinating, prescient and entertaining TV program 16 years ago for BBC2 presaging the Internet. Called Hyperland (see also the IMDB write up), this self-labelled ‘fantasy documentary’ 50-min video from 1990 can now be seen in its entirety from Google video. Mind you, this was well in advance of the World Wide Web (remember the source for ‘www’?) and the browser, though both that name and hypertext are liberally sprinkled throughout the show.
Following Mike Bergman's advice I just watched this great video that starts with Douglas Adams dreaming he threw his TV away discovers he has entered some unspecified future time (2000 probably), where he is able to explore the history what we now call the web starting with Vanevar Bush, moving on the leading research in 1990 and ending with something very close to what we have have now and some of what we are still dreaming of. The read/write web, intelligent agents, cyberspace, hypertext, linking, the non linear research this permits, all these themes are explored in this short film.

Douglas Adams truly was a visionary. Things did not unfold quite the way he presents them, but that could be because on TV, a web page does not look quite as interesting as 3D space. When used, simple html web pages were found to be fascinating. And of course, had he predicted wikipedia, nobody would have believed him. :-) A real humanoid looking agent that can read your thoughts works so much better...


is the name of a great talk show presented by Greg Papadopolous on a quasi monthly basis inside Sun, where he invites various people on the forefront of technology and interviews them on their research, allowing us employees to get an idea of what cool things are going on. Well, Hal Stern my ex boss, who has turned into a real talk radio host, has put together a Innovating@Sun video on UTube entitled Why Operating Systems Matter, featuring Jonathan Schwartz, Greg Papadopolous and Hal.

Given that a growing number of our contributors are going to be people outside of Sun, people working on open source projects, this seems exactly the right thing to do. After all, you can never do things half secretly. It has to be completely secret or not at all. For example with Project Blackbox (listen to Hal's first podcast), a lot of us Sun insiders did not get any news of it at all (this reminds me that someone recently told me a secret, but I just can't remember what it was...).

Sometimes I get the feeling that Sun is turning into a high quality television station. Are we competing with Arté? :-)

Sunday Oct 29, 2006

standardising tagsoup

In his latest blog post, Reinventing HTML Tim Berners Lee announces the creation of a new html working group to work closer together with the people using html. It seems a little weird to create a new working group to help standardize current html practices. How long would it take for browser vendors to implement such a thing? There has to be more lurking behind this...

A new TAG thread called TagSoupIntegration-54 may provide an interesting clue as to what is happening behind the scenes. By standardizing tagsoup, the most widely deployed format on the web, all browsers could agree on how to translate tag soup into a correct xhtml DOM tree. By looking at how browsers actually interpret tag soup one can find out what the points of commonality are between browsers and work from there towards a standard. This would

  • vastly increase the amount of W3C compliant documents on the web
  • work with the intuition of actual developers - those in particular that find xml too difficult
  • create an easy transition from those practices to more standardized ones
Well formed xhtml would have the following advantages then:
  • It would be easier to read correctly
  • It would require less parsing to process, and so be faster to load
  • It would work better with other xml technologies, such as SVG, Xlinks, etc...

Well that's a thought that occurred to me. I am not so au fait with W3C politics, so I don't really know in what way the XHTML working groups have had trouble convincing the browser vendors to apply their standards. Is Firefox 2 or IE 7 not standards compliant? I need to check this out.

Tuesday Oct 24, 2006

On language Fanaticism

So Tim Bray used the word F... word, and everyone is up in arms. Sigh! If ever using the F word to say that project blackbox is fucking cool, then this was the time to say it.

Fanaticism is all about not wanting to see things in their context, to take a rule without ever taking circumstances into account. Fanatics get upset when the Pope suggests that religion should be rational, because he quotes someone making a remark one thousand years ago about violence and religion. The fantatic does not want to see the difference between 'Hitler said "XYZ"' and saying XYZ . The fanatic wants to work mechanically, applying regexps instead of sense and humanity to judge other people. Of course doing so, is so much easier, and the answers seem so much more clear cut! The fantic does not want to deal with people. He wants everyone to be the same. No color, no difference, everyone mouthing the same sentences, worked out by marketing droids, to say nothing and offend no one, where every smile is a fake smile, and so no smile at all. If you can't be depressed, you can't be happy either; if you can't be angry, you can't love either; if you can't be excited, you can't be calm.

So here is a little poem that was pointed out to me (taken from here), that clearly illustrates the danger of orwellian new talk:
In the beginning was the Plan and then came the Assumption.

And the Assumptions were without form, and the Plan was completely without substance, and darkness was upon the faces of the workers.

And they spoke amongst themselves saying, “It is a crock of shit, and it stinketh.”

And the workers went unto their supervisors and sayeth, “It is a pail of dung and none may abide the odor thereof.”

And the supervisors went unto their managers and sayeth unto them, “It is a container of excrement and it is very strong, such that none may abide by it.”

And the managers went unto their directors and sayeth, “It is a vessel of fertilizer, and none may abide its strength.”

And the directors spoke among themselves saying to one another, “It contains that which aids plant growth, and it is very strong.”

And the directors went unto their vice presidents to sayeth unto them, “It promotes growth and is very powerful.”

And the vice presidents went unto the president and sayeth unto him, “This new plan will actively promote the growth and efficiency of this company, and these areas in particular.” And the president looked upon the Plan, and saw that it was good.

And the Plan became Policy

And this is how Shit Happens.

And having said all that, and to end with a good positive statement, I'd like to chime in with Tim and say that the project blackbox, really is pretty damn awsome.

Tuesday Oct 17, 2006

Television viewing correlated with Autism

A Cornell University study just published revelas a correlation between TV and autism.

Today, Cornell University researchers are reporting what appears to be a statistically significant relationship between autism rates and television watching by children under the age of 3. The researchers studied autism incidence in California, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington state. They found that as cable television became common in California and Pennsylvania beginning around 1980, childhood autism rose more in the counties that had cable than in the counties that did not. They further found that in all the Western states, the more time toddlers spent in front of the television, the more likely they were to exhibit symptoms of autism disorders.

Quote from Slate via Minding the Planet.

This may seem weird but should not be so surprising. Autism is

classified as a neurodevelopmental disorder that manifests itself in markedly abnormal social interaction, communication ability, patterns of interests, and patterns of behavior...
...autism manifests itself in delays in "social interaction, language as used in social communication, or symbolic or imaginative play".
Since autism is clearly related to language learning, we studied it in Philosophy, when I was at Birckbeck College. Children that are autistic have difficulty comprehending that others can see the world differently from the way they do. They will not understand for example that if a character in a muppet show hides something, the other characters in the show won't know that it is hidden.

I have just been reading Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations where through a series of questions he gets to the complexity of language learning, how much of a social process it is, how much it involves games - should in fact be seen as a set of overlapping games. When playing with a human being, there is always immediate feedback between a child and the people and objects around it, which involves smiles, cuddles and frowns, movements, hopping up and down, hiding, etc. The people on kids programs try the best to do that, but they can never directly respond to the child's immediate emotions, and they are in the end only ever a two dimensional picture on a box. So that the objects they move don't have a physical presence for the child. If those objects fall they can't hurt the child, if the people speak about an object, the child can't participate, if the person lies the child can't be deceived.

Children placed all day in front of a TV may not cry, but there is something fundamental that they will be missing.

For more information on this, countervailing views etc. see the lenghty Slashdot discussion on this study.

Tuesday Sep 19, 2006

Wizards of OS4 Videos

The Wizards of Open Source conference in Berlin is now available in ogg and mp4 formats. All talks and questions were in English. If you were not lucky enough to be in Berlin, you can follow these at your leasure from around the world.

Here is a summary of some of the talks I attended:

  • Netlabels: Niche, Long Tail, Blueprint?: some very interesting talks on Netlabels, with a lot of good pointers.
  • Art and Copyright: with an excellent number of talks on Appropriation Art, both from classical musicians, and the fast growing Canadian movement of the same name.
  • Information Freedom Rules: Thursday's Keynote, with three very good talks on the business principles behind Open Source.
  • Open Source Biotechnology: How does open source apply to biotechnology? Clearly this area is a lot more complicated, given the ethical and political issues involved. Some very good suggestions were made on how we should restructure medical research to allign the incentives to help the poorest countries in the world. Those countries have no money, so current medical research's purely profit oriented goals only produces medicine to help the healthiest people in the world solve their relatively minor problems.
  • Quality Management in Free Content: Where the wikipedia fork was first announced. A good discussion ensued between Larry Sanger and Martin Haase.
  • Business and the Commons: some excellent descriptions of how music sharing is creating culture in developing nations. Whereas Sony only published 15 albums from Brazil, Pop stars that fly around in Jets, bypass the oligopolistic media companies by letting their music be shared freely, produced tens of thousands of records. Two more european ideas on how to make money with free music, and what the new role of intermediaries is turning into: helping us filter the huge pool of available content.
  • The Read-Write society: Lawrence Lessig's Keynote. Need I say more?
  • Paris Accords: Composers, Performers and the Public: Where Peter Jenner makes his prediction that the music industry is dead if it does not make a fundamental switch and embrace the Peer to Peer way of the internet. The French intervention was too strongly republican/revolutionary and not very clear, but otherwise the talks are all very insightful.
  • The EU copyright Directive, Review and implementation: is a must see for Europeans who want to get an idea of the slowness of the European process, how it tends to achieve the opposite of what is desired, and its undemocratic impact on nations that wish to join.

Friday Sep 15, 2006

Citizendium: a fork of wikipedia

Larry Sanger, one of the early wikipedians, today announced here in Berlin a fork of Wikipedia, to be called Citizendium.

This was part of a very interesting talk on Quality Management in Free Content, where Ulrich Pösch, described how by introducing more openess into the peer review process of the Atmospheric Chemistry and Pysics (ACP) journal, they were able to get a 25 fold increase in the number of comments compared to other journals, and moved to number 1 most quoted articles in their area in the space of 4 years.

Martin Haase covered the different tools wikipedia is putting into place to combat vandalism, increase the stability and quotability of wikipedia, how they are now publishing books from the peer reviewed content of wikipedia. No doubt Wikipedia has been a tremendous success. It is leading to a huge number of research papers, with some very interesting results (wikipedians are in fact very well educated on the whole) and is probably the most researched encycopedia ever.

It seems that the free wheeling and anonymous movement of wikipedia does get to be very offputting for a lot of more research oriented people, specialists, who may have some very high standards of knowldege. This is what is leading Larry Sanger to create a somewhat more hierarchical wikipedia fork where anonymity will not be allowed, and with a notion of an editor, with somewhat more responsibility over the content of the articles.

Clearly we are seeing a slow merging of the cathedral and the bazaar models, each side extending and adapting the ideas from the other, which is completely in the spirit of open source and dialog.

Friday Sep 01, 2006

Nova Spivack's Semantic Web Startup

Nova Spivack who co-founded Earth Web, is now working on a well funded Semantic Web startup, and has been joined by some big names from Sun in the last week. Recently he has started opening up a little on his blog about what they are doing:

Another cool thing today was a presentation by Peter Royal, about the work he and Bob McWhirter have done architecting our distributed grid. For those of you who don't know, part of our system is a homegrown distributed grid server architecture for massive-scale semantic search. It's not the end-product, but it's something we need for our product. It's kind of our equivalent of Google's backend -- only semantically aware. Like Google, our distributed server architecture is designed to scale efficiently to large numbers of nodes and huge query loads. What's hard, and what's new about what we have done, is that we've accomplished this for much more complex data than the simple flat files that Google indexes. In a way you could say that what this enables is the database equivalent of what Google has done for files. All of us in the presentation were struck by how elegantly designed the architecture is.

Well. That just seems damn cool.

Tuesday Aug 08, 2006

Archimedes Palimsest

An amazing story that starts with one of the greatest thinkers of humanity, Archimedes, born in 287 BC, a document of his that travelled through a thousand years of empire building and destruction, monks copying this document around the year 1000 in Constantinople onto a papyrus, then later overwriting it with a hymns to God, praying to it for another 800 years, until it was released to the library of Alexandria last century, someone painted a fake old painting onto it to increase its supposed worth, until finally it was recovered into the hands of a group of scientists who are now using the most advanced imaging tools at our disposal to recover the traces of the lost writing. This is not a crazy novel. This is reality. And you can see it unfold before your eyes on the San Francisco archimedes webcast, and read more about it on the Archimedes Palimsest page.

Something to meditate on at length.

Thursday Jul 20, 2006

Apple overtakes DELL in market capitalization

In 1997 Dell said of Apple "I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders". Now Apple has a bigger market cap than DELL. Shows how dramatically things can change.
Open sourcing their OS clearly did not harm them.

story via: MacDailyNews.


Oops. This is old news: jan 2006.

I suppose I should write a blog about the time it takes for information to trickle down. One just cannot be on the leading edge of many things. What is news for a stock trader now may be news for me 6 months later. What is news for me on the Semantic Web, may be news for the stock trader in a few years time :-)

Wednesday Jul 19, 2006

Thumper Video

My brother Nick recently went to Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan, the area that has seen the most heavy atomic bombing on earth ever. Stalin needed the bomb. So he tried it out on his own comrades. (See article in The Telegraph)

What was my brother doing there? Making a quick film on the subject for his small video outfit StoryProductions. A Sony Z1 in one hand and a good Geiger counter in the other was all the equipment he needed for his story. Back home of course Nick is completely decked out with Apple gear. A dual PowerPC tower, all the software he could buy, and RAID storage. It does not come cheap. But it is a lot cheaper than it used to be. And it certainly sounds like a lot of fun if hard work, with random possibilities of mutation.

Working with HD video uses up a lot of space. An hour of DV-50 is approximately 22 GB. So Sun's recently released Thumper, the new data server shipping with from 12 to 24 Terra Bytes of storage, sounded like it may be very useful for an outfit such as his. Clearly this is serious machinery, and at the price one had better not be letting it grow old unused. But given its I/O capacity of over 1 GigaByte per second, and given that the fastest ethernet on most machines is GigaBit ethernet (8 times slower) one of these should be enough for eight people working together simultaneously. It looks like this could be the right machine for video editing shops.

So I did a quick price comparison with Apple's XServ Raid storage. The Thumper comes with 2 powerful (2.6GHz) Dual Core 64bit Opteron CPUs and lots of RAM for caching in addition to the storage. We therefore need to compare Thumper to an XServ RAID + Xserve G5 with 16GB of RAM. The 7TB XServ Raid + XServ G5 with 16BG of RAM + Fibre PCI-X card + OSX + Apple Care Part + Apple Care comes to $31,746 according to Apple Store, or just $1200 short of the low end Thumper which comes with an additional 5TB of storage all packaged in a very solid looking box. That's an extra 227 hours of HD video storage, that can also be used to help backup the data if needed over the powerful ZFS file system.

Now I do not myself have the luxury to play with such big machines. But I would love to hear from anyone who may like to share experiences of using the x4500 for video production, so that I can advise my brothers. Both are thinking of growing this into an online TV video company. Web 2.0 or what?
What would you suggest? Does this type of machine make some things possible that would otherwise be a lot more difficult for the scenario I am considering? I imagine that coming from Sun the Networking layer and the OS must be rock solid, since we are in the area of heavy metal (literally: Thumper weighs 77kg max), which Sun excells at.

Tuesday Jul 11, 2006

This blog now has an Atom feed

Just drag the page to your favorite news aggreagator. Mine currently is BlogBridge.

The old RSS feed still works and is available here.

Tuesday Jul 04, 2006

thought of the day

In the war between capitalism and communism, decentralised sharing won.

1995: My first post on Linux

It's nice to see that Google Groups has preserved my first thought on the topic of linux, which I published in 1995. What is even more comforting is to see that it was not badly argued at all, and still holds up well. Here it is:

I have read many reasons for and against Linux and Unix but I have not 
yet seen the following argument. 
The main problem, still, everybody knows, with Unix is that, unless 
well set up (and even then) it requires time to learn, requiring always, 
at some stage or another, technical advice, and quite possibly a lot 
of that. But why is this a problem? 

The reason is simple economics. To buy Unix you not only need to buy 
the system (which in the case of Linux is free) but also, and 
especially, the expertise to run it. On big systems, with many users, 
the economics of scale prevail, and Unix has its place. On small systems, 
on the other hand - ie. your small buisness - the same economics have 
favoured Mac Os and Windows (or Windoze). And will continue to favour 
them in many areas, and for a long time: Bill Gates and the like act 
as your world wide Computer Support Staff, in effect. The lack of 
flexibility of these systems is compensated for by their size. The lack 
of flexibility at the lower level is compensated for by the increased 
flexibility billions of dollars provide. 

What Linux brings to this equation is not as obvious therefore as some 
may think. The two types of systems cannot be compared for flexibility 
in the same way. The cheapness of Linux ( = 0$ to buy) has to be 
compared with the time it takes to learn to use it properly and the 
cost of the teaching involved (certainly compared with Mac OS) which 
in the Technologically Developped World does not come cheap. But 
here comes my point... 

In many regions of the third World labour is cheap and money is scarce. 
I heared that 75 people could be employed in Malaysia for every person 
employed in Japan (at least). These same countries often are very short 
of money - if they are not massively in debt. For these countries then 
labour cost is not a problem but hardware and software costs are. For 
these countries the competitive advantage of Windoze and System 7 is 
near nil. The competitive advantage of LINUX is overwhelming. 
        -1- it costs nothing 
        -2- it runs on cheap hardware (hardware that will be soon 
                thrown out of windows in Economically plentifull 
Just think: do programmers in the 3rd world really X? How many VT220's 
        could be hooked up to one 386? 486? Pentium? for data entry 
        purposes? (Please could someone answer this question) 

Next fact: Where are most of the programmers in the future going to 
        come from? Fot a start: Where do most people in the World live? 
        First World or 'Third World'? 

What will these programmers do? -Program. 
What will millions of more programmers do? -Write  1000000 of progs. 

Which operating system will be the best serviced, then? 

This seems to be on overwhelming argument to get the big Unix vendors 
to promote Linux in the Third World countries. They can't afford 
a sun Station now... but wait and see how they grow. 

So, what is being done at present to get Linux know in those countries? 

I had in fact heard of the Open Source movement perhaps a long time before that in the early 1980s when the Centre Mondial de l'informatique, created by Jean-Jacques Servan Schreiber and located in Paris was still open. There were lisp machines, VAXes and other computers there that everyone could just come in and use. The center was too expensive to run, and so died out in the end. In any case at the time it was very difficult to explain even to oneself what Open Source was about as the world was in the final stages of the cold war battle, and any such discourse of free got clobbered by the overarching East versus West meme. The communist versus capitalis debate died, but the open source meme remains, is strong and vigorous.

A lot has changed since I wrote that article.
The ease of use problem is clearly no longer the problem it was. Apple after the take over by NeXT Step, has brought all the ease of use features to their version of Unix, and Linux has improoved in that area dramatically too. Apple still remains the winner on ease of use, but more fully Open Source OSes on flexibility.
Every major Linux distributor has since taken on the role of a friendly Sys admin, so that package installation is no longer the problem it was at the time. Though Red Hat did a good job at the time too, as I, novice that I was, installed it on my fathers 40Mhz DX2 a few months later.
So the main argument that remains is perhaps the one that always caried open source along is that it is the guarantor of freedom. Open APIs, Open specs, Open interfaces and Open Source all are ways to guarantee that we don't become slave to a vendor. The only acceptable constraint is freedom.

Friday Jun 23, 2006

ascii-wm: Watch the World Cup in Ascii

It's as simple as:

telnet 2006

Well it does work. You probably need to have the radio running while looking at it because it is difficult otherwise to work out what is happening. With time you can distinguish quite a lot of action. I am sure it would be a lot better if one could get higher resolution. At present it only runs in standard vt220 mode which is 80columns by 24 lines. 132lines with 48 columns would be a lot better I am sure :-)




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