Wednesday Jun 18, 2008

Blue Rays

Sixteen years ago, as I was studying philosophy in London on an empty budget, very close to living on the streets - off Kings Road, it is true, as I had decided that if I had to live in extreme poverty I would do so with style - I had one of these weird conversations around a fire with an Irish unemployed actor, and a number of other fellow travelers of fate. Reminded of the great Edinborough theater festival I decided on the spot I was going to go there. For some reason the actor I was talking to decided that I was not going to go. This surprised me somewhat. So I restated my desire to go. He doubted the seriousness of it again. How could he tell me what I was going to do, I blurted out. I had decided to go, so I would. I might have no money to go there, but I had no money to be here, so what was the difference? I had no serious appointments here, so what would stop me? "You just won't", he stubbornly affirmed. Angered by sheer nerve of his remark, but keeping my cool, I decided to come to a compromise with him. I would go but would fail twice to get there, I affirmed. The third attempt would be successful. The compromise was strange enough, that everyone around the fire nodded, and he had to accept.

Months passed and towards end of July 1992 I was reminded of the start of the festival. This was lucky as at the time I did not have any seriously way of taking notes or reminding myself of a date. Pieces of paper could all too easily get lost. And I did not have enough appointments to justify having an agenda, and if I did I could easily have missed looking at it. This was before the World Wide Web. Before internet cafes. Before widely available email. Before I even could afford a computer. All we had were libraries at the time and newspapers for sources of information. TVs also existed of course, but you had to know when to look, which was a whole skill in itself. And of course the type of TV we had access to was probably a black and white 13 inch set with poor reception. As far as books were concerned, I was reading Gareth Evans' The Varieties of Reference, and it was not there that I was going to find purely accidental information I needed.
So reminded of the start of the theater season, I decided to immediately get on my way. Early next morning, I walked to the train station bought myself a ticket with the little money I had, stepped on the train and was on my way. 45 minutes later I discovered that this was not the train to Edinburgh I was on, but some other one. So I got off in a rush and took the next train back to London. This time I made absolutely sure I was on the right train. I asked a number of people, sat down, and prepared to enjoy the journey. The train started and ran for a while. I was on my way! Then the train stopped, and turned back. Some engineering problem it seems. We had to take another train. Life is weird like that.

So as I stepped onto the third train I was reminded of my compromise many months before. I knew in my heart then that I was going to get there now. And off the train went. I had a mini magnetic go set, and taught a girl this oldest of all games along the way.
Of course arriving in Edinburgh I had absolutely no place to stay. Organizing a trip with the minimal budget I had would have been impossible at the time, and I certainly could not have afforded to rent anything there. Prices during the theater season were sky high. Many locals rent out their flats for the season, and use it to finance their holidays in warmer climates. I can't remember at what time I arrived, and how I would have slept the first night there. Perhaps on a bench somewhere, as usual...

The next morning I walked passed the film festival section. I entered and watched a couple of very nice young creators shorts. There was a session on a new digital projection technique called High Definition, which I attended. The quality of the image we were told was equivalent to that of film, after a film had been projected a few times. New film might be better, but it soon accumulates scratches, which digital film does not. And indeed if the speaker had not told me that the film we had just seen had been projected digitally I would not have known better. Pointing to the huge projector in the room he then explained in more detail what technology it required in layman's terms. I had no money. But I was sold. My first TV would be High Definition or nothing. As an undergraduate I had agreed with my conversation buddy Mark Pitt, that watching films at anything less than the quality they were designed for was sacrilege. Films shown on TV clearly were just shadows of their real self.

So to finish the Edinburgh story, that afternoon I got to speak to an attendee of the festival. Having told him that I just arrived from London, and questioning him about the difficulty of finding lodgings - I had seen some flats where thirty or so people were staying together, reeking of the sweet smell of decomposing garbage and unwashed socks - he agreed with me. His wife had not at all liked the apartment they had found initially he told me, so they had moved to another one. And now they did not know what to do with the original one, which they could not give back. I suggested I could look after it for them. He accepted, gave me the keys, and that is how I spent a whole festival season in a clean apartment, with a nice view all to myself.

16 years later, after the explosion of the internet onto the global scene, after DVDs came and never really quite worked, after the world wide web frenzy, and the dot com bust, after web2, after a High definition formats war, finally High Definition Television and their television sets have come to be affordable and worth investing it - another proof that innovation happens slowly. So for father's day my parents bought a High definition 40 inch flat panel screen, and I convinced them to replace the broken DVD drive with a new Blu-ray reader. We brought it back home, installed it, and watched Planet Earth ("Un Jour sur terre" in French) an extraordinary documentary about life on earth, with gorgeous scenes such as that of the Polar Bear, which starts with a close up of him walking on ice, the camera zooming back slowly, revealing the beauty of all the shades of polar snow, revealing the blue water through the cracking sheets of ice, revealing the many sheets of cracked ice separating slowly, the polar bear now just a spot on one of them, in one stunning image of the melting polar cap under the blue rays of the fading summer sun.

Saturday May 17, 2008

3 weeks of conferences and workshops in the Bay Area

I am in the Bay Area about to start my third week of conference/workshops with the combined themes of Java, identity, semantic web, and data portability.

The first week at JavaOne went very well. The Semantic Web Panel attracted way over 500 people by my guesstimate (no official figure yet), and Dean Allemang's talk "Semantic Web for the working Ontologist", that took place on the last day attracted well over three hundred attendees. My BOF, happened late at night at the same time as a big party, and only attracted 30 or so attendees. But on the whole JavaOne proved a great success.

Speaking to members of the liberty group at Sun, I discovered the existence of the Internet Identity Workshop in Mountain View, and decided this would be a good opportunity to learn more about this space. This was a very good use of my time, as it helped me get more familiar with many of the problems and technologies in this space. I put forward some of the ideas I had been discussing here relating the semantic web and distributed web of trust ideas using OpenId and foaf+ssl, which seemed to hold up quite well under the close scrutiny of the community. A few fun conversations with Eve Maler (aka xmlgrrl) on the relations between the semantic web and XML nicely spiced up the evenings :-)

That workshop was closely followed by a one day Data Sharing Summit, addressing issues raised by the Data Portability group, which I have been following relatively closely. This one day session was very helpful for my understanding of the types of problems that need solving. An ontology for what can be done with information in a foaf file would indeed be very helpful. This would have to allow one to specify in simple terms what relations could be republished or which ones should not be.

So next on the list is the Semantic Technology Conference in San Jose, which will bring all these threads together. For more on that see see my post on the Semantic Tech highlights.


The presentation I was giving is now available online with audio as Building Secure, Open and Distributed Social Network Applications

Sunday Nov 18, 2007

A Very Brazillian Wedding

The smell of hapiness WARNING view from 10th floor

Brazil is a paradisaical country but you need to watch where you walk. It says so on the elevators: "Before stepping into the elevator make sure that it is stopped at this floor". In Sao Paulo, where most buildings are over 20 storeys high the quick way down is very likely going to be fatal.

My brother Nick met the beautiful Isabel on the Isla Bella outside of Sao Paulo over 2 years ago. I am told it is a magnificent island. And I can see why the combination of an extremely intelligent woman on a beautiful tropical Island would break any man's heart, and especially my brother's who has a particular weakness for the pleasant things in life. I put that down to his having been born in France.

So some 6 months or so ago, on the 1st of May, we all received an email from Nick that he was going to marry Isabel in Sao Paulo, 3 time zones and 12 hours flight away from France. As I was in San Francisco at the time I thought I could perhaps do a quick hop over to congratulate him, only to discover on Google Earth that the physical distance from SF to Sao Paulo (10400km) is longer than the distance from London to Sao Paulo (9400km). Yes. So instead I came to Sao Paulo a few weeks earlier to see what had turned his heart.

Teresa and me on Brazilian Telly SaoPaulo Heavy Rain in Sao Paulo Heavy Rain in Sao Paulo

As I arrived Isabel was juggling two complex jobs: organising the wedding and working hard as Corporate Council for Cisco on a very serious and complex case. Isabel was always charming and friendly, and I hardly noticed any stress, as she had to help the legal department and the British cisco internal investigative team do their jobs, whilst dealing with all the messed up contracts resulting from the equipment seized by the police.

The first thing I was told to do was to buy some shorts and sandals to deal with the heat here, as there had been three weeks of non stop sun shine, and it was hot and very damp. Right after I bought my sandals it started raining lightly and sparsely then with very heavy showers that flooded the streets. When it was not raining it was usually overcast and often cold.

disagreement getting tired readymade toilet readymade in action watch out for the cat family walk falling asleep two trees sunset

The weekend before the wedding people started arriving from Europe. My sister, her husband and the little Louis and a few of my brother's University buddies arrived. That day we were lucky enough to be able to go for a nice walk in the area surrounding the parents country house. And so we got the closest glimpse of what a weekend on Isla Bella might have been like as we watched a magnificent sunset drop over the now luscious vegetation.

Preparing for a Night Out Starting on a night out in Sao Paulo
Band at Grazie Dio Band at Grazie Dio
my brother and his future mother in law
evening pizza evening heidi talk and film last minute business Marc and Teresa wedding photos warm up teresa and adrian Teresa and Andrian leaving

The next 4 days followed a series of parties as close friends and families got to know each other. Some too heavy drinking was part and parcel of this bonding. But it turned out perfectly.

flowers and lion flowers flowers the audience to the right the audience on the left p'tit louis and father p'tit Louis and father the bride approaches with her father handing over getting serious the sermon yes, forever recorded approaching the exit exiting the church

The wedding itself went like a charm, and under the scrutiny of 5 photographers 1 camera man, and 1 camera woman, the couple said "yes" into a microphone. Recorded forever.

in the car off we go the smell of hapiness isabelle emerging Isabel the couple arriving at the club Felipe Aukai Felipe Aukai couple Mermaid Smoking Mermaid couple cheers best man needle thin Lucia Albegiani talking with professor Henry Il Profesore singing "Elijah is witness to my lord" couple

The couple hopped into the car and we drove to a local club, where a lot of food, wine and many friendly people and attractive mermaids, good singing and much dancing brought the larger group of family and friends much closer together.

dishes food for thought dream

On Friday I had to stay over to send in my JavaOne presentations, and in the evening Adrian invited me to an excellent restaurant named AK Delikatessen, that belonged to his friends wife. The food send fireworks sparking through my brain. We ended up with a nice conversation with a friend of theirs who has been a psychotherapist for over 30 years. Now that's the way to go: get a therapist and a cook together and send you straight to heaven. (I'll add the precise location here when I find it)

driving around the swimming pool driving around the swimming pool around the swimming pool More Caipirinhas Tini waving goodbye arrived at airport off to catch the plane

The rest of the weekend was for most just lazy sitting in the Sun, ending with a final trip to the airport. I pretended the caipirinha were Lemsip medication, hoping they would help me get over my light flue.

Sao Paulo at night driving back to SaoPaulo street at night dinner

But I will be here a few more weeks...

Formal Wedding 1 Formal Wedding 2 Formal Wedding 3 Formal Wedding 4 Formal Wedding 5 Formal Wedding 6 Formal Wedding 7 Formal Wedding 8 Formal Wedding 9 formalWedding 10 formal wedding 11 formal wedding 12 Formal Wedding 13 Formal Wedding 14 Formal Wedding 15 Formal Wedding 16 after formal wedding - cheap cake After wedding - life

On Monday I was a witness to the formal wedding, more functional, but with it's own realistic everyday concrete charm.

crossing with Isabel to Ilha Bella morning reading before breakfast flower No-wind surf evening out late night applying mosquito bite balm view of Ilha Bella from a hill large cockroach

Having spoken this much about Ilha Bella, we did get a chance to go there finally. The ferry crossing at night set the tone. The next day after a delicious breakfast we swam in the warm sea, which somehow managed to kill off the cold I had been carrying around for over a week. We found a spot that rented surfing equipment, and with no wind at all some found it a great time to learn the basics. The next day there was a lot more wind, and I recovered some of my lost wind surfing skills.
No place is perfect. Ilha Bella has some very hungry mosquito like creatures, named borrachudo, that don't like to fly very high and love the taste of warm feet. The bite is not felt immediately but it gets to be more and more itchy with time. Only soothing balm can help curve the need to scratch one's skin away.


You can click on all the above photos to get the larger versions or view them all together in a medium format or even view them with flickr's slide show view.

Technical Note

If you upload photos to flickr or any other photo publication mechanism make sure to export your photos in sRGB color space. Other color spaces will probably look great on Apple's Safari, but not the way you want it on Firefox or other other browsers. I had to republish most of the photos above as it made everyone look like they had a serious flue for three weeks, giving all skin a sickly greenish hue. Phew! That was a huge waste of time, made even more difficult by the lack of a good "replace" tool for flickr, and further complicated by the fact that replacing a photo does not keep the same permalink for the little icons that I used above. You'd think flickr would be able to warn people of the color space problem, or do the right transformation... I did not make the change for all photos, so those that look less lively are the ones still in ProPhoto RGB.

Tuesday Jun 26, 2007


Roy Fielding gave his very well attended keynote presentation today (Tuesday 26) at Jazoon, the new Java developers conference taking place for the first time in Zurich this week. Coming here just to hear Roy talk was worth the whole trip in itself.

This is the first year of Jazoon, and yet the venue was able to attract over 800 developers (I am not sure of the exact number), which bodes well for its future. So to have close to 10% of the attendees (photo) come to Dean Allemang's talk "Semantic Mashups using RDF, RSS and microformats" was a very good surprise. Dean, who is working for TopQuadrant producers of the Eclipse based TopBraid Composer, is not just a very good presenter, but also a very knowledgeable Semantic Web evangelist. He gave Harold Carr (blog) and others a demo (photo) of TopQuadrant, that started up outside the conference room, moved down into the bar at the entrance (photo), and as it kept being interrupted by great side tracks into Philosophy, Jungian psychology (Jung of course worked in Zurich), Semantic Web company adoption, Literature, Mathematics, Religion, sexual politics, and so much more, that the demo only came to a tentative conclusion around 1am in a bar in the center of Zurich discussing the relations between REST and RDF and how this differed from SOAP. (For Dean's impressions of Jazoon, see his "Swiss Java" blog post.)

My talk, "Web 3.0: This is the Semantic Web" will be taking place on Thursday at 11am. I will be going into more technical details, looking at the foundations of the Semantic Web step by step. As a surprise I may even be able to get a slot for Dean to present his TopBraid composer, which is not just a Ontology editor, but also a complete mashup environment.

Time for me to go to sleep!

Saturday Jun 16, 2007

Howto sleep in Boston for under $50

Boston is an expensive town to stay in I discovered. The first night I arrived here I got a room at one of the IA Hostels for $40 + tax + whatever. Did I say room? I mean a bed in a six person room, with shared toilet, dingy sticky carpeting, moldy walls, and a smell of times past. I also had to pay a taxi $15 to get there as I arrived late and was carrying a big box containing a robot. Like Dolphins that sleep with half their brain, in order to stop from sinking, as I recently discovered on NPR radio, humans have difficulty sleeping first nights in rooms, especially of course in shared rooms, and even more so when they carry a lot of valuable equipment around with them. Snoring room mates does not help, though I was lucky this time.

The next day I found out the cheapest hotel in the whole area are at $100 a night. If you sleep 8 hours, then that comes to $12 an hour, which seems a bit much to me for doing nothing. Most hotels are more expensive. In San Francisco, I could stay for $60 at the Elements Hotel in a spacious room with private bathroom, and for a little more stay at centrally located The Mosser Hotel in a very clean if small room with shared bathroom. So I was not expecting the Boston prices.

Given that I needed to drive to Sun offices in Burlington, which would require either paying a lot for a taxi and getting lost on public transport, I rented a car for $40 (including insurance and everything). As it happened I got quite a nice comfortable car, with reclining seats, so it occurred to me that here I had a good private bed, with shower in the Sun campus to go with it. So I slept overnight in the car.

The Sun campus has some very nice large rooms with comfy sofas that at night are completely deserted. These sofas also make for good beds. And the wireless connection is really excellent! Now you have to be a Sun employee to use those, so I can't recommend this for every Boston traveller. It's a pity to spend so much on property that goes unused at night, so I did my little thing there to help Sun make the best of its investments.

Yesterday, Friday, I stumbled upon "the plough and stars" in Cambridge just as a band of BlueGrass musicians were setting up (photo). The music was great. I could enjoy the band, drink some beers, and without fear go to my carhtel parked down the road. I was woken by some police early in the morning though, after pub closing hours, who were concerned that I was about to drive somewhere. I just explained to them that I was from Europe and that hotels were a little expensive in the area so that I had decided to sleep in the car. They confirmed that this was legal, and walked on.

Monday Jun 11, 2007

Revolution Cafe

I stumbled upon the Revolution by accident, looking for a parking space. It was Friday evening. The music started playing, and never seemed to stop.

I am still there.

Wednesday May 30, 2007

Some pictures from the Bay Area

Last week I rented a car to go to the Semantic Technology conference in San Jose. I had hoped it would work out as a means to my getting a cheaper hotel, but there were just too many interesting conversation every evening that went on late into the night (3 am in one case) that using a car was not advisable. So in the end this was a completely useless expense: $40/day for the car + $26/day for the parking + the expensive hotel! Next time I'll rent a bicycle. Or at least give the car right back (I did not know that one can return corporate rented cars quite easily).

In the end I kept the car for Sunday and drove around some part of the Bay Area that would have been more difficult to access by foot.

Here are some pictures:

There are a lot of cyclists around the bay. That made me feel really guilty of having a ton of metal just to move my ass around.

Closer to the ocean the weather is a little more overcast

I went a couple of days without a car again. Then today I got one, thinking I may have to go to the Santa Clara campus, which is a little complicated to get to using public transport (at least when one does not know the timetables well). I keep thinking that a cycle and the train combination should get one most places.

Sunday May 13, 2007

Barbara McQueen's opening in SF

Last Saturday I was walking up Sutter street in San Francisco in search of a restaurant, having just checked in to my hotel. A lady approached me and remarked on my little badge with an RDF Icon pinned to my grey pullover, wondering what it was about. She herself had two large badges, one of which read "Borat for President!", under the smiling picture of the comedian. She then went on to invite me to an exhibition opening down the road. I followed a little bemused, and ended up indeed in the opening of Barbara McQueens exhibit of photos, many very nice ones of the late Steve McQueen. There were a few drinks and nice finger food so I stayed around to hear her speak, and ended up meeting Barabara Traub (photo of her) who has just recently published a new Book Desert to Dream: A Decade of Burning Man Photography, a collection of stunning pictures of the crazy desert festival.

So in one go I linked up the Semantic Web, Steve McQueen, Burning Man and Borat.

Monday Feb 26, 2007

High Tech Vienna

Museum of Modern Art, Vienna

Last week I traveled to Vienna for a few days meeting with Andreas Blumauer, Alois Reitbauer, and Max Wegmüller (Sun) to work on Semantic Web/tagging related ideas. These were a few very intense days and evenings with discussions going late into the night at the Heurigen.

We looked at Semantic Wikis - especially the java based ikewiki and the famous mediawiki (see comparison) for ideas on how one could link search, tagging and wikis. Ikewiki has some very nice features, including relation completion which is somewhat akin to method completion in modern java IDEs. If Ikewiki knows the type of the resource it is on, it will be able to use ajax calls to list a number of possible relations. Ikewiki is probably not stable enough for immediate deployment though as we had trouble after Andreas entered a contradictory statement into it [1]. I will have to play with this more to get a better understanding of where things are going in this area. Please send me any suggestions of other cool semantic wikis I should look at.

Another thing I am going to have to look into more detail now is the question of scalability of Semantic Web tools and the size of applications that have been deployed. People don't yet have a good feeling as to the size of projects being developed currently, and it worries them. There are large databases out there now that can do billions of triples such as Allegrograph, BigOWLIM, or Oracle's 10g database... Projects such as neuroweb as described by "Semantic Web Meets e-Neuroscience: An RDF Use Case" are using the Semantic Web in big ways. I don't like to talk about things I don't know about, so I should probably find the biggest projects, interview some of the people there and blog about it.

After three days of hard work I had a short visit around Vienna. The picture I had of Vienna was one of an old town full of beautiful old monuments, and so I was nicely surprised to find something completely different. On Friday evening I walked into a Cafe near the Semantic Web School, on Lerchenfelder Gürtel, and found an excellent funk band called Groove Coalition playing (pix of bar, pic of band). The next day I walked around Vienna and ended up in the museum district, where I visited the museum of modern art (pictured above). As I had to be at the airport at 5am I decided to stay overnight in the Cafe Leopold which stayed open until 4am.

On the whole it was a very enjoyable stay, and I wish I could have stayed longer. A full set of pictures is available on my flickr account under the tag vienna.

[1] Andreas made a page be both a foaf:Document and a foaf:Person which are defined as disjoint sets: foaf:Person owl:disjointWith foaf:Document. In fact this must be a little tricky thing to do correctly in a semantic wiki, as the URL for the page has to be a Document and not the thing one wishes to describe. To do this right each page should therefore have a #about anchor which would be the thing the page is about, such as Java or the Black Box. If a page needs an anchor, it may as well have a number of them too, so that one could describe a number of concepts on the same page, which may well sometimes be handy...

Tuesday Sep 12, 2006

Lawrence Lessig is in Berlin

Lawrence Lessig will be speaking at Wizards of Open Source 4 "Information Freedom Rules" conference taking place here in Berlin from Wednesday on. Very much worth going to. This is the key element of Web 2.0.

One should go further, and say that Open Source is the cornerstone of philosophy from it's early beginnings with the Socratic dialogs up to the present world wide distributed university networks which it lead to. Sharing ideas openly - be it in the form of code, wikipedia articles, artistic creations, or just conversations in a bar - is the best way to test their strenght and viability, to improove them, to reject some and to add others. The collective work of thousands of eyes learning, questioning, criticising and helping together in an open society is the method to get to a more objective, transparent understanding of things, of people and of oneself.

Lessig will then remain here incognito, for a whole year after that!

For those who don't know - are there still such people? - Lawrence Lessig has written some very important books on Law and the Internet, and is behind the Creative Commons movement. (see this excellent Introductory Video, that explains what the CC stands for.)

Friday Aug 18, 2006

PowerBook hard drive fails again

What is it with hard drives nowadays? They don't seem to be able to last even one year. Last October my hard drive broke down, and now I am having a very similar experience. The OS slowed down dramatically yesterday evening. I shut it down. This morning the mouse did not work. So I rebooted holding the apple-S key which led me into single user mode where I ran the following:

localhost:/ root# fsck -f
\*\* /dev/rdisk0s3
\*\* Root file system
\*\* Checking HFS Plus volume.
\*\* Checking Extents Overflow file.
\*\* Checking Catalog file.
disk0s3: I/O error.
     Invalid node structure
(4, 43043)
\*\* Volume check failed

Well, I'd better get a new Hard Drive I suppose. With a bit of luck I will be able to copy all my data over to the new drive and not have to fly back to France to get my (a little stale) backup.


As I could not wait 10 days for the Apple Store here to replace my internal hard drive, I bought an external 80GB firewire Drive, installed OSX on it, and copied as much of the important information as was possible over. A lot of files are innaccessible, but I managed to get most of what I needed. When I get back home the backup should do the rest. In the meantime I have not lost that much as all of my code is on external version control servers anyway, and for my mail I use an ldap server which keeps a copy of my mail. I'll probably keep this external drive until I get a new laptop, which I am hopting to do soon, perhaps as soon as apple comes out with something using the 64bit intel chips that are to come out at the end of this month.

Some points to take away from this:

  • Apple: make it easier for users to replace their own hard drives, so that your overworked service centers can get things done more quickly.
  • Portable external hard drives are probably a good idea anyway. It makes it easier to do backups more often.
  • Do backups often. I am really looking forward to the next release of OSX with its inbuilt history mechanism.

Friday Jul 07, 2006

dancing in Fontainebleau at night

Here is a film of people dancing in Fontainebleau, taken without flash with my Fuji FinePix F30:

The short video is 42MB large on my drive. Google Video clearly has compressed that into some flash format, but I can't tell by how much. Downloading the file in the embed tag that brings up the above player by running curl -o dancing.flash, I get a 76k file which can't be the video, as that would be an unbelieveable factor of 500 compression from the original avi!

I tried using the resulting output file to see if I could run the video locally, but without success. So there is probably something else to it. My guess is that the 74k file is just there to lay out the screen, and that withing it are links to the video files on the remote host.

Anyway the original video is a lot sharper.

Friday Jun 30, 2006

James Gosling at Java Days in Paris

James Gosling came over to Java Days in the beautiful town of Versailles, just outside Paris. He gave his presentation on the state of Java, and of course answered the numerous questions from the panel and from the audience.

It is always nice to see James Gosling speak. He manages to answer some of the most difficult questions thrown at him. Of course someone always wants to know what is next for Java, and James's implacable reply is: "that's up to you, the community. Join the JCP." When he speaks one is reminded at just how far Java has come: It is used in billions of devices, is faster than C, and close to fortran, is used for business processes as well as for AI development, ... what a success!

James took the RER (the fast underground) back to his hotel in central Paris, and so I had time to chat with him about work in the Semantic Web. The really refreshing thing about James is his positive attitude combined with the breadth of his knowledge. For example he has no trouble mentioning the word AI (I believe I even heard him mention that word three times at the Java One keynote this year) . It's refreshing. Especially as he is able to bring some very interesting historical insights to the discussion. We talked for example about triple databases and quads (N3 graphs), and he pointed out how statements about statements were very useful in sensor devices, such as japanese rice cookers, that need to keep track of the measurements made by a number of sensors each of which with only a partial view of the world, and how fuzzy logic is used to help merge these different points of view to help make the perfect rice dish.

Java Days in Paris: Open Source on the front stage

Open Source Software (OSS) took the front stage at Java Day in Paris, yesterday. Five active Open Sourcereres answered questions as to

  • what their involvement with OSS was ?
  • why they had embarked on OSS projects ?
  • how it had helped them ?
  • what the business rationale for going Open Source were?

This was followed by questions from the room. Now the five panelists, all members of the Paris based OSSgtP group, were not just minor contributors. We had

  • Marc-Antoine Guarrigue: works on Jcaptcha a library to help tell humans and computers apart, which if very useful for online service.
  • Ludovic Dubost: creator of XWiki, a powerful wiki server that uses Groovy as a scripting language.
  • Guillaume Laforge: the lead on the powerfully Groovy scripting language
  • Vincent Massol: author of books on junit and maven and contributor to maven, cactus and cargo projects
  • Emmanuel Bernard Contributor to the Hibernate Project (and helping me out with so(m)mer).

The idea here was not to come up with a general theory such as the excellent article by Simon Phipps on freedom to leave but rather to ask some practical questions to some people in the field, to help others feel more comfortable about the OSS notion, by having real people do the talking.

So to take Ludovic Dubost for example, creator of Xwiki. Ludo pointed out that there was no way he could have built Xwiki without the OSS movement. There just would not have been enough tools around, and if there had been they would have cost too much money for a product such as Wiki to find funding for. What banker would have put money on a wiki tool? Just imagine trying to explain to them what wikis are for: "Dear Banker, we want to write software so people can openly and freely share information"... Xwiki uses every other technology of the panelists: It uses Jcaptcha to test for robots, Groovy for the scripting language , Hibernate for database access, and of course everyone uses unit tests, and build tools such as Maven or cargo. Ludovic also started his own company to provide wiki hosting and gets paid for support and guarantees, as pretty much everyone on the panel. But one can find one's interests in OSS in much simpler ways. Just participating is good. It helps meet other people, is an excellent way to get exposure to good ideas and good people, and often helps find a job. Well that's how I ended up working at Sun :-) And coincidentally also how Bill Joy got his job.

Saturday Jun 24, 2006

The Philosophy of Telemark Skiing

This winter I spent a lot of time at the Sun offices in Grenoble, and of course I took the opportunity as often as I could to practice my favorite sport: telemark skiing. Sadly I did not have a camera at the time so I don't have any pictures of the mountains around there.

To understand telemark, one of the most difficult forms of skiing, one has to understand its philosophy, and to understand that one has to also understand what its technical advantages are, and to understand that one has to understand its history. Telemark is the original form of skiing. It came to life in a world without groomed pistes or mechanical ski lifts and is therefore designed to make it easy to walk and climb hills as well as go downhill. Telemark bindings have no fixed attachment to tie the heel to the ski, which is what makes it easy to walk. Initially telemark boots were just specially designed leather boots, and so it would have been quite easy to walk in them, even on solid ground. Modern plastic boots preserve this flexibilty. The core value of telemark skiing is that one should therefore be able to use them for off piste skiing as well as on piste skiing. Telemark skiing is the ultimate skiing: by not tying the heel to the ski, it liberates its practitioner from dependance on the industrial skiing complex. This is not to say that I did not enjoy skiing on nicely groomed slopes in France. Indeed this is what I did most of the time. But the skill I am learning there will be just as useful to me outside of that context.

I bought my evolution skiis in California 8 years or so ago. They are very flexible, long and very light, probably less than half the weight of modern alpine skiis. The binding is dead simple, easy to understand and easy to fix. Recently people have started using normal heavy and shorter alpine skis for telemarking. I tried these on my last skiing day, and was impressed: they do indeed make telemark skiing a lot easier, and are probably a very good way to get learn the skills. It is much easier to turn with them in powder snow. But they have two serious drawbacks. Clearly the weight is a show stopper for longer trekking expeditions. But less obviously I think their shorter length may be dangerous. In fact I may nearly have lost an eye because of this.

I was enjoying some wonderful deep snow skiing in the Val d'Isere with these heavy but easy skis I had rented for that day. As I came to a ditch in form of a V in a hill I approached it as slowly as I thought was reasonable. But clearly not slowly enough and without putting enough weight backwards. As in telemark the heels are not attached to the ski, my skis went up back up the other side of the V and I was catapulted forward towards the top end of the skis. My whole body hit both the skis and the mountain like a sack of potatoes, and my right eye which was at the level of the leading pointed curve of the right ski, nearly got impaled on it. For a few seconds I though I may have lost an eye... Now I am not sure what the right length for telemark skis are, but one thing is certain: they should be designed in such a way as to make it physically impossible form them to ever reach an eye. So beware.

Telemark skiing is also excellent exercise. From time to time I would walk up the whole mountain, when the queues for the lift were too long. But even going down hill on my longer skis is very good for the legs and the heart as one is constantly walking with bent knees. Its not surprising that there are not more people doing it! It is hard. But I would rather exercise when I can than stand in line at the bottom of the slope.

Thursday Apr 27, 2006

Yahoo! BabelFish

Yahoo! is looking after the BabelFish! Looks like it feels much happier there.

The BabelFish was first described by Douglas Adams in the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy:

The Babel fish is small, yellow and leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy recieved not from its own carrier but from those around it, It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. the practical upshot of this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any language. Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind-bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God. The argument goes like this : "I refuse to prove that I exist", says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing." "But", says Man, "the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn't it? it could not have evolved by chance. it proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED." "Oh dear", says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic. "Oh that was easy" says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing. Meanwhile, the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.

It is also a project I worked on at AltaVista, from 1997 to 2000. It is there that I met the late Douglas Adams himself, who always had a huge number of great ideas, which he knew how to explain simply and with great humour. I'll always remember those days with fondness!

Saturday Dec 03, 2005

BlogEd O.8 preview

I have just released bloged 0.8 preview. But not in the usual place. Currently it is on my personal server.

To use this with this service here, you need to set the following in the properties tab, after setting the MetaWeblog API as the publication method:

Property Value
service url
blog id bblfish
user id bblfish (same as above)
password won't tell

This version of BlogEd now only works with Java 5. There are a lot of stability improovements. The GUI is better on the whole. And it has been tested for a long time. I have been using it to publish all my blogs for the last 6 months here.

Of course there are still a lot of things to improove. But this is should be good for very widespread release. I am hoping to build the next version on the Netbeans platform, and a lot more functionality there.

Friday Dec 02, 2005

Trip to Grenoble

On Monday 28 Nov I took the TGV to Grenoble in the center of France to visit the Sun research center there and help out on some project. (I have stopped cycling now, as it is really getting too cold.) It is a beautiful campus right bang in the middle of the mountains. I could not stay long as I had to return today (Friday) to Paris to pick up my passport from the British Consulate in Paris. But I have been invited back :-) This looks like a great location to work from in the winter, summer, and probably all year round come to think of it.

So I was meant to pick up my passport this afternoon. Of course things never quite work out the way they are meant to. To the left is a picture of my TGV train halted on the tracks. The people going for a walk on the side and enjoying their unexpected leasure time are its passengers. A maintanance train has apparently cought fire ahead of us. The electricity has been cut. We have been waiting for a couple of hourse to get more news...

The picture you see has been pasted together from 5 pictures I took with my waterproof camera using the free GPL HuginOSX panorama tools.

Tuesday Oct 25, 2005


A week ago I flew to Prague from Pisa, and was able to take some beautiful shots of Austria from the plane.

I spent the first few days sharing a room at the a&o youth hostel in Prague at €13 a night. The less you pay it seems the better time you have. And so after three days of too much fun meeting all kinds of interesting people, drinking a little too much, I opted to pay more and get myself my own room. I do need to get some work done after all!

Monday Oct 24, 2005

Optimus keyboard: what Sun Rays really need

All Sun Rays should come equipped with Optimus Keyboards. These keyboards contain little lcds (OLEDs) that make every character on every key programmable, so that in a fraction of a second a keyboard can switch from QUERTY to AZERTY.

With a Sun Ray you can have your whole work environment follow you wherever you go around the world. All you need is to insert your badge and there you go. This is perfect for organisation that want to make desk hot swapping or travel easy. But it is missing one key bit: the keyboards do not adapt to the end user, and working with a foreign keyboard when doable is a huge drag. This clearly would solve that problem.

This was discussed on Slashdot earlier this year, but travelling around Europe has made this deficiency very obvious to me.



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