Just Shelley

Crescent Move

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

AKMA’s a host at one of the BloggerCon dinners, which means that he leads a table of people in a discussion on a subject that I guess he sets. It sounds a bizarre custom and confining, but if I were going to BloggerCon, I’d sign up to have dinner with AKMA. Even if Mexican food isn’t necessarily on my agenda at the moment.

The discussion about BloggerCon and Weblogs and Politics and Weblogs and Journalism is becoming equivalent to fingernails on chalkboard for me lately, though I like many of the players involved. It seems the more we seek to justify weblogging, the less fresh and exciting it becomes.

But I have to be brutally self-honest: perhaps the real reason for my irritation with all this fooflah lately is that I need another hiatus from weblogging. A long one this time, not my usual one or two weeks.

When JonathonAllan, and Chris returned from their long breaks, all three seemed to return with renewed interest and enthusiasm in their writing, though I see in them, now, a stronger balance between their weblogs and their offline lives. Healthy. I think the days when weblogging was synonymous with daily quick postings is over. Weblogging is just is…whatever it needs to be for the person. And sometimes, not weblogging is what a person needs.

I talked with the doctor today and got the good news/not so bad news story. The good news is the cyst on my lung discovered last week was not cancerous – it’s a benign growth, a result of a malformation that occured when my lungs were developing before my birth. I gather that we humans are full of little imperfections – like bubbles in old glass, adding a unique characteristic to what is otherwise, plain old dull glass.

I’m glad to get this news, it was a bit of a worry. Makes you think, you know?

However, they also found stones in my gall bladder, and this combined with some symptoms I’ve had over time means that I will be having my gall bladder removed*, probably in the next few weeks. This makes as good a reason to take a break as anything, though having one’s gall bladder removed is no big thing.

I’ve been trying to get caught up on promised stories and essays before I break, but the rest will have to wait for when I get back.

*update Gall bladder removed at my young age. I guess I need to take some of my down time and get my butt in better shape, hadn’t I?



Pushing buttons and pulling out

Originally I wasn’t going to give the name of the person I would vote for in the Democratic Primary. To be honest, I didn’t care that much as long as they were a candidate that could beat Bush. Still, with Clark entering the race I decided that I do have strong opinions about who I want to be the Democratic candidate…and Clark isn’t it. I’m putting my support behind Howard Dean.

Why Dean? Why not Clark? For starters, I’ve read Clark’s previously written essays and articles and I’ve formed the picture of a man who is extremely intelligent, savvy, and a brilliant strategist. However, I’ve also seen the picture of a man who is arrogant and indifferent to the concerns of this country but just itching to go in and solve the crises abroad. His economic plan is vague and caters to the noisy Democratic party members because it seems like the thing to do, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. His protests against Bush’s handling of Iraq seems contrary to previously written viewpoints, and leaves one confused about where he really stands in regards to the so-called ‘War on Terror’. Most importantly, what this country does not need right now, is another man in office who believes he’s right no matter what. Give me a president who’s willing to admit a mistake if it will help find a solution. We don’t need no more ego in the White House.

I still have some concerns about Howard Dean, foremost among them is his inability to handle criticism well. Every time his buttons get pushed by the other candidates during a debate, he comes off as “Did not! Did not!” What he needs to do is spin the negative attacks into positive statements.

Dean is for rolling back all the tax cuts, including those for the middle income families. This isn’t a negative; this is a man acknowledging that our country is in serious financial trouble, and that the few hundred dollars the middle class will get in their refunds won’t matter a bit to the economy – but added up could make a major dent in that atrocious deficit.

Dean made a statement years ago that Medicare is badly administered. Well, this is true – it is badly administered. It needs to be overhauled, as there is too many abuses of the system and not enough people getting the treatment they need. And who else is better able to deal with the growing health crises in this country than a man who is a physician, and who has seen the problems with the system up front, close, and personal?

However, I’ve noticed that Dean is getting better about using humor in his campaign. I liked the following quote in, regarding the Balanced Budget Amendment:

Acknowledging his have-it-both-ways approach with a smile, Dean said: “So you can put me down as waffling on the balanced budget amendment.

“I’m already down as waffling on that one. I’ve waffled before. I’ll waffle again,” he joked.

I lived in Vermont while Dean was governor there. Vermont is the most individualistic, stubborn state in the union. It’s one of the few states that is just as likely to vote an independent into office as a Democrat or Republican. Vermonters are a people who make do with little, take care of their own, and have little use for Big Government; a state full of what could be seen as Libertarians, but they think Libertarians are full of shit for the most part. I loved Vermont for its independence, but I also disliked it for being one of the most unfriendly states I’ve ever lived in. All in all – not an easy state of which to be governor.

What Dean brings from his tenure in Vermont is a no nonsense approach to government, and a frugal attitude about spending. That’s going to help. What he also brings is a strong bias against American Corporations and their public image of rah rah Americanism – including an absolutely unbelievable red, white, and blue cereal – while behind closed doors and in the murkiness of Republican tolerance, they ship jobs to sweatshops in other countries. Dean is not a man who is going to be blackmailed by these same Corporations threatening that they’ll move their operations overseas if the government doesn’t take care of them – because he knows they’ll do it anyway.

The biggest challenge to Dean is reflected in this quote from a Democrat, covered in this the Washington Post article:

“I think Clark can win,” Taylor said. “I don’t think Dean can win. I think Dean’s going to be pegged as too liberal. He doesn’t have the kind of military background and some of the strength that Clark seems to have.”

A poll in CNN today shows that Bush would still win over any of the Democratic candidates. In spite of the worst deficit in history, an appalling and unworkable economic plan, the worst job losses since the depression, damaging the foundations of freedom on which this country is based, and pulling us into a unilateral invasion of Iraq – he would still win over Dean, Clark, Kerry, and all the other candidates.

Fear. This is all because of fear. We are slowly killing this country from within if we don’t get over our fear. Because of it, we allowed our President and his paranoid cabinet to invade Iraq without UN support, and look at the results. Please don’t quote me polls about how the Baghdad residents are so happy we’ve come in, and how things are really so much more positive over in that country. All I see in Iraq is the potential for failure, regardless of the sudden surge of those waving flags of joy joy news. (“No, it’s really great in Iraq. No problems. Everyone’s happy. Only a few trouble spots. No seriously. It’s all the media’s fault.”)

There’s another reason why I like Dean, and it’s that he knows we can’t just pull out of Iraq, though I know this is going to be horribly unpopular with the liberals. There was a demonstration yesterday throughout the world – US get out of Iraq now. Now, exactly what do you all think will happen if we were to suddenly pull out? Aside from bloody civil war, possible invasion from Turkey in the North and Iran from the East, and eventually the formation of another religously oppressive country?

Sorry, but my sympathies are with the women in Iraq. I think about them being forced back into their head gear, and no longer being able to hold the same jobs as men, or get the same education, or able to even walk the streets without being accompanied by male members of their family. What the hell do you think will happen to these women if we ‘just pull out now”?

Do we need to be reminded of Amina Lawa about now?

I did not want us to enter Iraq. I wrote a long time ago and more than once that if we were going to invade Iraq to ‘help the people’, then we couldn’t keep bringing up terrorism and WMD. The two types of war are different. I also wrote that if we were going to end oppression then we, as a world, need to commit to this across all countries. Even my own. But the act’s been done. We’re there. We can’t just pull out.

I think I’m just as tired of the liberal element in this country as I am the conservative one. So much bombast and rhetoric and banner waving and mouthed words about ‘freedom’, but how does the song go? “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

Yeah, tell that to Lawa.

I read over at Norm Jenson’s (make sure to read the comments) about a weblogger whose brother reacted to a neighbor’s display of American and Christian flags by printing out an article and banner about religous freedom and attached them to the neighor’s door. The weblogger was aghast when they came home and found the whole family out putting little flags all over the yard. “This man needs psychiatric help”, the weblogger cries out.

Who exactly needs help? The person who plastered red, white, and blue all over his yard? Or the person who couldn’t stand seeing someone else not share their own appalled sense of what’s happening, to the point of going on to the neighbor’s property and posting material on their door?

I wouldn’t agree with that neighbor, but if I believe in freedom, I have to support his flying American and Christian flags and wrapping yellow ribbons about his property, or everything we say about freedom is a joke, and a mockery.

If I were to stand in front of both houses and be asked who I’d want as neighbor, I think I’d take the folks in Iraq.

I believe in ‘freedom’, too, but I also believe in taking responsibility for our mistakes, and we made a big ass one in Iraq. We are there, a fact I bitterly regret but at least accept as fact. We can’t just pull out because it’s expedient, or costs too much, or is costing American soldier’s lives. But we need to get help from the world, from the UN, from the Iraqi people, and their neighbors and if we have to ask for it hat in hand, then let’s ask – not let the Toy Airman in the White House pugnaciously tell the world, “We don’t need your stinking help.”

Dean. This was about Dean, wasn’t it? And that’s why I support Dean – seems to me he put both his toys and his ego away years ago. I have a feeling he won’t be hesitant to tell the world, “We screwed up. Can you help us?”

PS As for Dean’s use of the Internet and weblogging – the day I vote for a President just because he’s a ‘blogger’, is the day I check myself into the nearest home for the mentally incompetent.


These shoes are walking

I completed another item from my overdue To Do list, Walking in Simon’s Shoes, this one in the Practical RDF weblog. If I keep this up, I’ll be caught up on promised items by week end and will have nothing left to write.

If you read today’s earlier essay, The Ten Basic Commands of Unix, note that I made some edits for readability earlier this afternoon. I think it’s a bit crisper now, though I may tweak it a bit tomorrow.

(Now, what did I just write about tweaking?)

Today, I also played around with the Genuine Fractal Photoshop plug-in and I’m quite impressed from the examples I’ve printed out. Quite. I’ve received a suggestion of another plug-in that’s said to be as good but is quite a bit cheaper than Genuine, though it doesn’t have a demo copy and I’m holding on downloading it for a bit. When I do, I’ll post a review of both.

Thanks to the two friends for the suggestions of the plug-ins. Both are steely eyed missile men.

You might have noticed different behavior in the coded portions of the weblogs recently. I’ve changed the code for my comments/trackback list to only list trackbacks and comments on items published in the last 30 days. I’m doing this as a way of cutting back the spam items that appear in the list, most of which tend to appear on older items. This cuts out a few viable entries, but I still receive these in email, and they still appear on the posted item. This approach has kept the recent list, well, more recent. It’s also eliminated most of the spam and the hit and run google hits from the list, leaving me to delete the items at a leisurely pace at a later time. It’s not a perfect solution, but at least it’s something.

I’ve also added code to reflect the date and time when a weblog was updated, with the most recently updated weblogs at the top of the Burningbird Network list. This, I hope, let’s people know that I’m writing elsewhere when I’m quiet here. I’ll still probably write a hint here, too.

That’s enough for the night. Tomorrow, more items from the Overdue To Do list.


Walking in Simon’s Shoes

The editor for my book, Practical RDF, was Simon St. Laurent, well known and respected in XML circles. Some might think it strange that a person who isn’t necessarily fond of RDF and especially RDF/XML, edit a book devoted to both, but this is the way of the book publishing world.

Simon was the best person I’ve worked with on a book, and I’ve worked with some good people. More importantly, though, is that Simon wasn’t an RDF fanatic, pushing me into making less of the challenges associated with RDF, or more of its strengths. Neither of us wanted a rah-rah book, and Practical RDF is anything but.

I’ve thought back on many of the discussions about RDF/XML that happened here and there this last year. Simon’s usually been on the side less than enthusiastic towards RDF/XML, along with a few other people who I respect, and a few who I don’t. Mine and others’ blanket response has usually been in the nature of, “RDF/XML is generated and consumed by automated processes and therefore people don’t have to look at the Big Ugly”. This is usually accompanied by a great deal of frustration on our part because if people would just move beyond the ‘ugliness’ of RDF/XML, we could move on to creating good stuff.

(I say ‘good stuff’ rather than Semantic Web because the reactions to this term are best addressed elsewhere.)

However, the situation isn’t really that simple, or that easily dismissed, If pro-RDF and RDF/XML folks like myself are ever going to see this specification gain some traction, we need to walk a mile in the opponent’s shoes and acknowledge and address their concerns specifically. Since I know Simon the best, I’ve borrowed his shoes to take a closer look at RDF/XML from his perspective.

Simon has, as far as I know, three areas of pushback against RDF: he doesn’t care for the current namespace implementation; he’s not overly fond of the confusion about URI’s; and he doesn’t like the syntax for RDF/XML, and believes other approaches, such as N3, are more appropriate. I’ll leave URIs for another essay I’m working on, and leave namespaces for other people to defend. I wanted to focus on concerns associated directly with RDF/XML, at least from what I think is Simon’s perspective (because, after all, I’m only borrowing his shoes, not his mind).

The biggest concern I see with RDF/XML from an XML perspective is its flexibility. One can use two different XML syntaxes and still arrive at the same RDF model, and this must just play havoc with the souls of XML folks.

As an example of this flexibilty, most implementations of RDF/XML today are based on RSS 1.0, the RDF/XML version of the popular syndication format. You can see an example of this with the RSS 1.0 file for this weblog.

Now, the XML for RSS 1.0 isn’t all that different from the XML for that other popular RSS format, RSS 2.0 from Userland — seen here. Both are valid XML, both have elements called channel and item, and title, and description and so on, and both assume there is one channel, but many items contained in that channel. From an RSS perspective, it’s hard to see why any one would have so much disagreement with using RDF/XML because it really doesn’t add much to the overhead for the syndication feed. In fact, I wrote in the past about using the same XML processing for RSS 1.0, as you would for RSS 2.0.

However, compatibility between the RDF/XML and XML versions of RSS is much thinner than my previous essay might lead one to believe. In fact, looking at RSS as a demonstration of the “XMLness” of RDF/XML causes you to miss the bigger picture, which is that RSS is basically a very simple, hierarchical syndication format that’s quite natural for XML; its very nature tends to drive out the inherent XML behavior within RDF/XML, creating a great deal of compability between the two formats. Compatibility that can be busted in a blink of an eye.

To demonstrate, I’ve simplified the index.rdf file down to one element, and defined an explicit namespace qualifier for the RSS items rather than use the default namespace. Doing this, the XML for item would look as follows:

<rss:item rdf:about=””>
<rss:link> <dc:subject>From the Book</dc:subject>

Though annotating all of the elements with the rss namespace qualier does add to the challenge of RSS parsers that use simple pattern matching, because ‘title’ must now be accessed as ‘rss:title’, but the change still validates as valid RSS using the popular RSS Validator, as you can see with an example.

Next, we’re going to simplify the RDF/XML for the item element by using a valid RDF/XML shortcut technique that allows us to collapse simple, non-repeating predicate elements, such as title and link, into attributes of the resource they’re describing. This change is reflected in the following excerpt:

<rss:item rdf:about=””
dc:subject=”From the Book”
dc:date=”2003-09-25T16:28:55-05:00″ />

Regardless of the format used, the longer more widely used approach now and the shortcut, the resulting N-Triples generated are the same, and so is the RDF model. However, from an XML perspective, we’re looking at a major disconnect between the two versions of the syntax. In fact, if I were to modify my index.rdf feed to use the more abbreviated format, it wouldn’t validate with the same RSS Validator I used earlier. It would validate as proper RSS 1.0, and proper RDF/XML, and valid XML — but it sings a discordant note with existing understanding of RSS, RSS 1.0 or RSS 2.0.

More complex RDF/XML vocabularies that are less hierarchical in nature stray further and further away from more ‘traditional’ XML even though technically, they’re all valid XML. In addition, since there are variations of shortcuts that are proper RDF/XML syntax, one can’t even depend on the same XML syntax being used to generate the same set of triples from RDF/XML document to RDF/XML document. And this ‘flexibility’ must burn, veritably burn, within the stomach of XML adherents, conjuring up memories of the same looseness of syntax that existed with HTML, leading to XML in the first place.

It is primarily this that leads many RDF proponents as well as RDF/XML opponents into preferring N3 notation. There is one and only one set of N3 triples for a specific model, and one, and only one RDF model generating the same set of N3 triples.

Aye, I’ve walked a mile in Simon’s shoes and I’ve found that they’ve pinched, sadly pinched indeed. However, I’ve also gained a much better understanding of why the earnest and blithe referral to automated generation and consumption of RDF/XML, when faced with criticism of the syntax, isn’t necessarily going to appease XML developers, now or in the future. The very flexibility of the syntax must be anathema to XML purists.

Of course, there are arguments in favor of RDF/XML that arise from the very nature of the flexibility of the syntax. As Edd Dumbill wrote relatively recently, RDF is failure friendly, in addition to being extremely easy to extend with its built-in understanding of namespace interoperability. And, as a data, not a syntax person, I also find the constructs of RDF/XML to be far more elegant and modular, more cleanly differentiated, than the ‘forever and a limb” tree structure of XML.

But I’m not doing the cause of RDF and RDF/XML any good by not acknowledging how easy is it to manipulate the XML in an RDF/XML document, legitimately, and leave it virtually incompatible with XML processes working with the same data.

I still prefer RDF/XML over N3, and will still use it for all my application, but it’s time for different arguments in this particular debate, methinks.


Image of a different kind

Lovely storm rolling through – more like ones we get in the Spring than the Fall.

In addition to the very welcome encouragement in the comments to my previous posting, I’m also getting some good discussion about photos and resolution necessary for publication. Among them, a suggestion for a PhotoShop plug-in that might help me salvage some of my existing photos for publication. It would be nice to do so, because there are some that I really like and are going to difficult to recreate with my film camera. Any and all suggestions, extremely welcome.

I spent the morning with a different type of photography – I had my MRI today rather than last Monday. The session was postponed from the earlier time because of a mixup in the sedatives, i.e. I didn’t get a chance to get the prescription for Valium filled from the doctor. Since the MRI is a closed one, I was strongly urged to get the sedatives if I have even the slightest tendency to claustrophobia.

Today, after taking two Valium, I felt I was ready to face the Machine.

I just know there are people reading this who have had MRIs and probably had no problems and slept through the thing. I wish I could say that you would have been proud of me, and that I was a brave little soldier, but I have to admit that Stavros is not the only Wonder Chicken around. I was okay until I was pushed into that long, dark, tiny tube and sedatives or not, I yelled, “Take me out! Take me out!”

The technician was wonderful, talked with me about what to expect, gave me a panic button and turned the lights in the tube on high. I laid back down and closed my eyes tight and this time I was able to stay in the tube.

An MRI isn’t a quick snapshot like an X-Ray – mine took 45 minutes, and several images were captured based on different magnetic frequencies. With each, the machine would measure my respiratory rate and then match it. As I breathed in, it would stop; when I breathed out, it would make The Noise.

And what noise – even with headphones playing my favorite radio station, the sound shakes your bones and you find yourself clenching your teeth, hands, and various other body parts. I now know why the doctor told me not to drink much before going in.

I was okay until the second to the last image. There was a longish time between pictures, and the silence was actually worse then the vibration. I hollered out, “Are we done?”

No answer.

“Are we through?”

No answer.


No such luck, two more to go. I breathed faster, thinking to hurry it along. Instead of:

****in**** beeeeeep ****in**** beeeeeep ****in**** beeeeeep

The pattern became:


I got a chance to see the last set of images before I left. Question: are we the shape we are because this is the optimum package to hold all those odd organs? Or are the organs odd because of our shape? Regardless, it’s rather interesting to see what you look like from the inside out.

As for the test, no worries. Routine stuff, now out of the way and I can focus on photography that’s much more interesting – taking photos of my world, from the inside out. However, I’m in a writing mood, a major writing mood, so be ready for words coming your way.