From the ashes came the re-born, born dying

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I have to return to Baldur’s posting, Death of the Blogger, and his discussions about the dangers of memes, those Thought-viruses, which have undermined the craft of academia (referencing, research, analysis and debate) and doomed most of academic practice into irrelevance. The same memes that Baldur sees threatening weblogging:


The meme-plague is the only thing which can destroy the weblogging revolution, murder it in its tracks.


However, it’s difficult to figure out how to proceed, because even a rejection of memes becomes a meme itself over time.

Last year we waged a battle to pull weblogging out from under the link-and-comment crowd, and breath fresh life into it by opening the doors to communication. I pushed comments and trackback as deligently as any dealer on the corner selling crack. I was joined by others just as interested in establishing a community online, and we have succeeded. Sticky Strands are here to stay.

I write, and Scott comments, and then Dan comments, and possibly MarkKarl writes in response, and Liz, and Phil reply and various folks chime it, and it’s all Good. The community that grows up around the conversation isn’t exclusive, as anyone can trackback to the posts, anyone can comment. We are self-forming.

Power to the People. If we didn’t topple the empire built on the Link-and-Comment, we at least irritated it enough to be noticed. “Hiya! Just passing through. Don’t mind us. Continue doing whatever, hmm, it is, ah, that you’re doing. I’m sure it’s all very interesting…to someone.”

We dripped scorn as we enabled the technology to build the neighborhoods. We raised our lips everytime someone introduced a quiz. We lapped up the media spotlight. We googled and daypopped. We brought up ‘cat’ as our secret insider joke, and it was funny.

It’s still funny. Cat. Cat. Cat.

Cracks me up.

We asked each other questions and we debated on topics small and large, and with the same level of ernestness regardless of whether the topic was the new Movable Type release, Creative Commons licenses, sexism, Postmodernism, the beauty of ugliness, or the War in Iraq. And we are eloquent, and learned, and profound, and well written of that I have no doubt. I am surrounded by people who are, in a benevolent sense, scary-smart.

Still, too much of anything is not a good thing and it seems lately, as if we’re all stuck in the strands, caught in the web of our weaving. I look back on my recent posts and find that lately all I talk about is weblogging, and all I’ve done is link and comment.

See! I’m doing it again!

Perhaps we laughed at the old school too soon. Perhaps the Original Meme of Weblogging, like the Original Sin of Man, still exists, but has gone underground.

Lately, when I stumble across a weblog posting that writes in-depth on something of personal interest to the author but completely unrelated to whatever is the ‘hot topics’ of the day, I just sit and savor it as an unexpected treat. Treat? It’s as if the more we communicate, the less original writing there is. We’ve become those people at parties, you know the type; the ones who in the interests of making sure someone isn’t left out, holler out to the person standing in the corner, “Hey, get your butt over here. Join the conversation!”

But what if the person in the corner prefers to be in the corner? What if they don’t want to join the conversation. What if I don’t want to respond in comments? What if you don’t want to join the cross-weblog conversation? Whatever happened to the tales of Korea, and the story of World War II? Whatever happened to the simple discussions about personal belief, and the stories from our youth? What if today, I want to write about a river flowing past a field and under a bridge in the dead of winter?

When did communication go from being something shared and warm and glorious to something dutiful and required, like sex between a couple after the love is gone?

But, but, there’s always the but…

It is the communication between us that makes the writing that much more special. I can read absolutely beautiful things from someone I don’t know, and be moved by them. But when people I’ve come to know write beautiful things, it becomes that much more personal and special.

I was never one for poetry because poems seemed so intellectual and my roots as a high school drop out are never very far. Yet through Loren’s gentle introduction to the poets he loves, I have found not only a new appreciation for poetry, but an actual liking for it; not one based on trying to impress anyone, but based on sheer joy in the music and artistry of the words. Without meaning to put Loren to the blush (but then, embarrassing people has never stopped me in the past), I can’t speak for his previous students, but he made an impact on a 40-ish unemployed computer consultant who writes technical books and hikes a bit.

No matter the skill and the introduction, I never would have looked at Loren’s writing and the poetry if I hadn’t ‘met’ Loren through comments and cross-blog discussions. I would have seen the poetry and tuned out, instantly. The same can be said on so many topics I’ve been exposed to, from movies, to books, to marketing, to religion, and yes, even postmodernism.

The Meme bring. The Meme taketh away.

Jeremy Zawodny recently wrote a posting called The 10 Habits of Highly Annoying Bloggers, which, as you can imagine quickly went from “posting” to “meme” status. As would be expected with this type of posting, much of the humor attached to it appears in the comments, which is as it should be. Other than wondering what a ‘FontBitch’ was, and deciding to use this as my ‘about me’ link, it was the survey that Eric’s Weblog posted about the 10 habits that truly fascinated me. This survey allows people to ‘vote’ on which of the habits is most significant to them.

According to this survey, people were vastly more annoyed by the mechancs of weblogging, such as comments, RSS, font size, and the about page, then they were about the person providing original content. Original writing lost out to FontBitch and comments, RSS and “about me”

I have seen the Meme, and it is us.

Which leads me back to Baldur’s posting and the discussion of memes and original writing. I wrote a great deal in this posting, much more than the …short volleys of 80 word meme brain-boils where the thought-virus biomass simmers under the thin skin of comments and trackbacks. However, I’ve only referenced Baldur’s writing at the very beginning and the very end. And this was supposed to be about Baldur’s posting. And it is.


photo of river in winter




Can’t sleep might as well write

I gave up trying to sleep and since I was in a writing mood I thought I would put my sleeplessness to good effect. Besides, I forgot to mention that I was interviewed by Newsweek yesterday for a story on weblogging.

(Of course the interview was for a story on weblogging. Did you think that Newsweek would be interviewing me for my views on the President? The Iraqi war? The current domestic situation in the country?)

The reporter was writing a story for an international edition of Newsweek, European I believe, about weblogging and how to start a weblog. He found me through the Essential Blogging book and when he asked about ‘blogging etiquette’ I knew I wasn’t the only weblogger interviewed. The term ‘etiquette’ was a dead giveaway.

I laughed when he asked that question, which probably lessened my chances of appearing in the interview. (I’ve been interviewed for major publications before, and have had my sound bites left lying on the cutting room floor.) Still, etiquette.

I told him that the reason we’re weblogging is because we want to be able to publish online without having to follow any rules. To be independent. Free thinkers and writers — as long as we write in reverse chronological order, provide perma-links, link to interesting stories or other weblogs, comment on same, attribute other sources, never delete postings, maintain archives, write only the truth, have a blogroll, and never write about cats or what we had for lunch, we can weblog anyway we want.


Sometimes you feel like RDF, sometimes you don’t

Semaview came out with this illustrated RDF vs XML graphic showing the ‘differences’ between RDF and XML. At least one assumes this is the purpose of a graph so titled. This might be confusing for some people that assume RDF is XML, which isn’t entirely true: RDF is a model, RDF/XML is one serialization of that model.

(Still, when you have XML on one side and RDF/XML on the other, one does wonder where the concept of ‘versus’ enters the picture.)

Based on this illustration, Leigh Dobbs asked the question:

I’m working with RDF tools now, but thats because FOAF is an RDF vocabulary. I’m just using the right tools for the job. If I was given a task to design a new system I don’t have any feel for why I might choose RDF over XML. I haven’t had that “aha” moment yet.

Personally, I doubt there will ever be an ‘aha’ moment associated with any W3C specification, but that’s beside the point.

In response to Leigh’s question, I wrote the following in his comments:

Pat Hayes actually grabbed a quote from the book and posted at the RDF WG core mail list about RDF’s usefulness:

“RDF is a technique to record statements about resources so that machines can easily pick up the statements. Not only that, but RDF is based on a domain-neutral model that allows one set of statements to be merged with another set of statements, even though the information contained in each set of statements may differ dramatically.”

XML gives us the format to record domain-neutral data, but RDF gives us the methodology to record complete domain-neutral statements — data in action as it were.

Ontologies are then domain-specific views built on top of the domain-neutral model that is RDF.

It’s all layers. Taking a cross-section:

Knowledge can be split into domain-specific views (ontology) based on complete statements (RDF) consisting of separate pieces of syntactically valid data (XML).

Since the first moment that XML appeared a few years back, the first thing I, as a data, not a markup person, looked for was a data model making use of XML. To me, XML would never be anything more than interesting data formatted in an interesting manner; without rules to help that data form some cohesive pattern outside of the rules defined for each implementation of an XML vocabulary I doubted its usefulness. Still, the bugger caught on and achieved wide-spread use.

Such waste — all that machine accessible data and absolutely no way of merging it into one data store in any meaningful way. Worse, having to create algorithms to manage each specific XML vocabulary rather than having one set for all vocabularies.

To me, all these XML vocabularies are equivalent to throwing out our relational databases and going back to proprietary data structures in each of our applications. Change jobs, learn an all-new structure. Buy a new application, and face a huge learning curve just understanding the underlying data and how it’s interrelated.

I knew when RDF came out it was the missing link between XML as bits and pieces of data, and XML as information; this though RDF wasn’t necessarily created specifically to be used as a model for XML.

(Some would say that the marriage between RDF and XML was a shotgun wedding at best. I don’t care. The cake was good and the band played on; I had a good time.)

In an effort to answer Leigh, Dorothea Salo wrote:

First. If you must end up with something XML-valid, don�t bother with RDF. Just don�t. Yes, you can restrict the RDF/XML you produce to a specific syntax form; you just can�t expect anything you receive to be similarly restricted, because RDF/XML-generating tools can�t be made to give a damn about which form they output of the many possible syntax forms of a given set of RDF/XML statements.

What Dorothea is referencing specifically is that there are different forms of XML that can be used for a specific type of RDF construct, which means that the same RDF model can be serialized in four different forms, and each would be an accurate and valid rendition of that model. True, but that doesn’t preclude that all of the XML is valid and that all of it can be restricted through DTD’s and XML Schemas, and still be valid RDF/XML.

However, Dorothea is right in that RDF is not magic pixie dust. RDF is nothing more than a way of recording domain-neutral statements in such a way that they are merged with other domain-neutral statements, each statement adding to the others in a mounting knowledge base.

When she says:

Computers only know what you tell �em. They don�t automagically know foo from bar any more than humans do. Inference only gets you so far. Sure, it might be further than we�ve been yet; I�m inclined to think so, myself. At some point, though, somebody�s got to know what the bits of the vocabularies mean, and all the inferential power in the world won�t get that across.

XML gives us the ability to record bits and pieces of data in a valid manner. RDF then builds on the data, piecing the bits and pieces together into complete statements. Ontologies then take these statements and build machine-understandable inferential rules based around them. The result of all this working together is the wine scenario:

Information from a vineyard is recorded as XML, and the names of wine are recorded as XML Schema datatype strings. The XML ensures that the names are valid, and the data is accessible with any XML compliant parser. Another format could be used, but then if someone else wanted to access the data, they’d have to build parsers that can understand the proprietary format.

The RDF model then provides the means to incorporate those names into facts, such as “Chianti is a red wine”, using a serialization technique molded on to XML:

<rdf:Description rdf:ID=”chianti”>
<wine:category rdf:datatype=

We could build the model on which the facts are based directly into the XML vocabulary. But then, we’d have to make sure the model and the facts were consistent regardless of use. And since it was proprietary, other tools would also have to build in the ability to produce or consume facts based on this proprietary model.

Finally, the ontology, such as DAML+OIL and the W3C’s OWL, pieces together the separate statements and facts into domain-specific knowledge, by applying rules that allow machines to make inferences on the data, such as the fact that a cheese and nut dessert course is a part of a formal meal and is an alternative to a sweet dessert, and wines served during this course should be red:

<daml:intersectionOf rdf:parseType=”daml:collection”>
<daml:onProperty rdf:resource=”#FOOD”/>
<daml:hasClass rdf:resource=”#CHEESE-NUTS-DESSERT”/>
<rdfs:Class rdf:about=”#MEAL-COURSE”/>
<rdfs:subClassOf rdf:resource=”#DRINK-HAS-RED-COLOR-RESTRICTION”/>
<rdfs:Class rdf:ID=”CHEESE-NUTS-DESSERT”>
<rdfs:subClassOf rdf:resource=”#DESSERT”/>
<daml:disjointWith rdf:resource=”#SWEET-DESSERT”/>

This type of information can never be recorded in ‘straight’ RDF/XML because you’d have to have the ability to record the inferential rules, and RDF focuses on recording statements. Additionally, the information could never be discovered in straight XML because you have to have the ability to record not only the rules but the statements, too. You would literally have to build a model and then find a way to serialize that model in XML. Just like RDF. If you used XML, you’d have to define the ability to record facts, and then on top of that, the ability to record the necessary information to perform inferential queries — something more esoteric than “what is a white wine”.

But using XML as a data format, and using RDF as a statement/model methodology and using OWL to record the domain-specific rules, you can go to the application such as the Wine Agent, ask for recommendations for a cheese desert wine within a certain region and get the following answer:

“Pairs well with sweet red varieties. Full-bodied wines featuring strong flavors match especially well.”

The local knowledge base particularly recommends the following:


The recommended wines can be found below, along with some comparable selections: (with link to selection)

The frosting on this particular layer cake is that anyone associated in some way with the wine industry — producing or consuming — could use the wine ontology, based on RDF, persisted in XML for their own applications and functionality. Better yet, another industry, let’s say the chocolate industry, can use the same XML/RDF/ontology combination, and the same tools that work with each, as a way of recording their domain-specific data.

And you’ll be able to know exactly which champagne to buy to go with that dark bitter-sweet chocolate covered orange peel you bought for that special someone.

Copyright RDF Writing

Checking in

Thanks for well wishing. The suggestion of tea was a good one, but unfortunately I can’t drink any acidic juice such as OJ, as it hurts my throat more than a little.

Doing a bit of catch up. There were a couple of items of RDF I had to respond to over at Practical RDF, both of them related to postings from editors on the book. My only comment in addition to my two postings is this: I have a great deal of respect for the RDF Working Group. They worked, hard, to reach Last Call status on the newest RDF specification documents. All that’s left is a few odds and ends, and they can call their job done. It would be a real shame if the group took all that hard work and drop kicked it off a cliff in a burst of tired arrogance at the end of the day.

Liz joined the fun on Creative Commons with a challenge to Jonathon and myself to provide reasons for why not to use the licenses:


How ‘bout a “non-shithouse” version of why people might choose not to use the license, that can live side-by-side with the CC discussion of why they should?

Well, you only have to search on “creative commons” among my archives to see my comments, though I’m not sure about their ‘shithouse’ status. I look to Jonathon to provide a better answer to Liz, if he wishes, as the RDF posts took my time tonight, and I’m to bed. However, it seems to me that if Creative Commons is to be effective, it’s up the members of the CC to detail the problems associated with the CC licenses as well as the advantages. I’ve pointed out to a couple of members the writing that Tim Hadley has done; hopefully they’ll consider writing a post or two on these issues to go with all the postings about this artist or that blogger that has attached a CC license to their work.

I was more interested in responding to the discussion Liz and Dorothea are having about about academia. Specifically, I wanted to pursue the thread off this conversation that Baldur started:


Everybody speaks the same, in the same way, about the same thing, with little to no variation. We could easily turn into the lightspeed version of the same unsubstantiated bullshit of postmodern academia, shedding even the pretense of giving ideas space and scope for discussion.

What killed the author and poisoned academia is trying to return through the violated corpses of a horde of ’blogger-zombies spouting inane commentary on the links of the day.

But as the popularity of weblogging increases, the number of meme-victims will rise and the blogdex top fifty will not only describe the fifty most popular subjects amongst webloggers…

It will describe the only subjects.

What I’ve tried to say in a thousand words, Baldur said in a few. I wanted to write in response, but lacked the energy to respond well. I couldn’t do justice to Baldur’s words.

But when I’m well, and have the energy to respond, to do Baldur’s writing true justice, should I?

Just Shelley

Down for the count

I thought I was lucky, getting only a mild case of flu and missing out on the misery Steve and AKMA and Halley and Loren and others have endured. I found out this morning that what I had this weekend was nothing more than a precursor for the real thing.

I’ve spent the day alternating between sleep and some over-due reading, too much of the former, not enough of the latter. I’d like to catch up on the reading (“Burning the Days”, “Happinesstm“, and “Austerlitz”), but I’d rather not be sick.