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Fighting Failure

All indications say that the fall colors this year will be muted compared to last year. I can see this already when I go out for a walk — too many leaves just dying without that final burst of color, falling to the ground as damp, dark shapeless lumps. But it’s still a bit early in the season for Missouri, so I have hopes.

I thought the monarch butterflies might be out and visited Shaw today to get butterfly pictures, but most of the flowers had already started to fade and the butterflies mostly gone. However, I was exceptionally lucky to have spotted some of the brilliantly colored prairie gentian. Or at least, I think it’s the prairie gentian. Whatever it is, it’s a lovely, delicate, beautifully colored flower–a rara avis in the plant world.

Though I could find no butterflies, there were caterpillars out and about, and I had to keep a sharp eye out when driving to not run over any. When I was walking around the lake, I saw one fine, fat fellow walking down the exact center of the road — not from side to side, like others I’d seen; right down the middle, as if he hadn’t a care in the world.

He was crawling fast, too, and I had a hard time getting his photo without too much motion blur in the background. But then, motion blur with a caterpillar works, don’t you think? Like a cosmic giggle.

I left my fair butterfly-to-be and tried the prairie near the visitor center in hopes of spotting one monarch, but the most I saw were bees, more bees, and some other odds and ends of flowers on their last legs. I was extremely pleased to see that I’ve lost most of my phobia of bees and can now walk among them without fear; a few years back, I’d have run screaming from the area. But I’ve been bitten by so many things this year, a bee sting would have all the familiarity of an old friend who says painful things for your own good.

(For instance, this last week I received two identical bites, one on my upper back, right in the middle; the other under my bra on my right side. Not ticks, because the little bite marks are too big. Who knows what got me this time, it’s becoming a running joke in my home, “Eh, I’m off to feed the critters, again.” My roommate estimates that I’ve become an important part of the Missouri ecosystem. It’s reassuring to know that, no matter what else, one is always good enough for the bugs.)

When faced with the nothingness of the butterfly garden filled with bees, I was reminded of my enthusiasm with existentialism lately and my wonderful new discovery that Jean-Paul Sartre wanted to write a cookbook. Yes, indeed, he was the ultimate foodie, I kid you not. Following is an entry in his diary, which provides a recipe for tuna casserole ala void:

October 10

I find myself trying ever more radical interpretations of traditional dishes, in an effort to somehow express the void I feel so acutely. Today I tried this recipe:

Tuna Casserole

Ingredients: 1 large casserole dish

Place the casserole dish in a cold oven. Place a chair facing the oven and sit in it forever. Think about how hungry you are. When night falls, do not turn on the light.

While a void is expressed in this recipe, I am struck by its inapplicability to the bourgeois lifestyle. How can the eater recognize that the food denied him is a tuna casserole and not some other dish? I am becoming more and more frustrated.

When you are an artist, how frustrating, indeed, to deal with those who lack the discernment to see that the emptiness that surrounds them is a tuna casserole; they persist in smelling goulash.

Back from the bees to the road again and my friend, the caterpillar, and it’s onward march down the exact center of the road. Moved by what, I don’t know–probably visions of tuna casserole–I put my foot in front the caterpillar, curious as to what it would do when faced with an obstacle.

It stopped dead and touched my shoe carefully, as if trying to figure out what it was. It started to crawl to the right, stopped, then crawled a little to the left. Finally, it climbed onto my shoe.

It climbed a little way forward and encountered the ridge where my sole meets the upper, and stopped again. Eventually, it followed the ridge around the shoe to the other side, but rather than get off, it just kept following the ridge, round and round my shoe. If I had not grown tired and sad for the little bug, it would probably still be circling my shoe now, on my foot under the table as I type these words.

Instead, I walked to the side of the road and among the the tall grasses, stamped on the ground with my shoe, gently, until the caterpillar fell off into the plants. It happily went on its way, I imagine to find the prairie gentian to eat.

One final entry from the Sartre cookbook:

October 25

I have been forced to abandon the project of producing an entire cookbook. Rather, I now seek a single recipe which will, by itself, embody the plight of man in a world ruled by an unfeeling God, as well as providing the eater with at least one ingredient from each of the four basic food groups. To this end, I purchased six hundred pounds of foodstuffs from the corner grocery and locked myself in the kitchen, refusing to admit anyone. After several weeks of work, I produced a recipe calling for two eggs, half a cup of flour, four tons of beef, and a leek. While this is a start, I am afraid I still have much work ahead.

Connecting Diversity Political

An actual conversation

Recovered from the Wayback Machine

from today, played back from memory

“So, who are you voting for? Kerry or Bush?”

“I’m going to write in McCain.”

“Why? That’s throwing your vote away.”

“I don’t really care for either Bush or Kerry.”

“But McCain’s not running, that will throw your vote away.”

“I like McCain. I don’t like Kerry or Bush.”

“What don’t you like?”

“Normally I vote Republican. But this war in Iraq, I don’t like this war in Iraq. We don’t belong there. It’s costing us money and we’re not helping the people. I think we were lied to.”

“Is that the only thing you don’t like about Bush?”

“He seems like all he cares about is his corporate friends. He’s not for us, he’s for his friends.”

“How about the environment.”

“Oh God, he’s awful there.”

“Then why don’t you vote for Kerry?”

“I thought about it. Especially when those people said all those nasty things about him just because he went to Vietnam and then came back and told everyone what it was like. I really wanted to vote for him then.”

“Then why don’t you?”

“I’m concerned about his morality.”

“What morality. What’s wrong with Kerry’s morality?”

“He supports gay marriage.”

“That’s it? You don’t want to vote for Kerry because you think he supports gay marriage?”

“Yes. I don’t agree with that.”

“Well, first of all, he doesn’t support gay marriage. He believes that the issue is best left up to the state, or to the Supreme Court. But regardless, what’s wrong with gay marriage?”

“Gays are an abomination according to the Bible.”

“They’re a what?!

“They’re an abomination. In the New Testament, gays are considered an abomination.”

“Where in the New Testament.”

“I don’t know where, but I know it’s there.”

“Where, I really want to know where in the New Testament it says gays are an abomination. “

“Well, I’ll look it up, and let you know.”

“Fine. But even if there were passages like you say in the Bible, isn’t this country founded on freedom of religion, and that it has no place in government? Don’t gays have full rights in this country, regardless of what some church people say? Don’t you believe in freedom of religion?”

“Yes I do, very much. I firmly believe that every person here has a right to worship God in whatever form they prefer.”

“But you’re basing this on your belief in a single God. What about religions that don’t believe in the Christian God? What about those who believe in a different God, or no God at all.”

“There is a God, and there is only one God, and he rules over all of us.”

“But what about the Jewish people, they don’t believe in Christ as the son of God. Atheists don’t believe in any God, and then there are Shinto and Buddhists, and dozens of other faiths that don’t believe in the Christian God. Don’t they have a right to freedom of religion?”


“Do you believe in freedom of religion?”

“I believe in God.”

“Do you believe in freedom of religion?”

“I don’t know.”


And why would you want to?

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Danny Ayers points to Leo who says that A generic RDF browser is not possible. He further clarifies his statement that you would need a stylesheet to render the data correctly. And this means you would, according to him, need a separate stylesheet for every schema.

Danny disagrees partially, saying:

From a random snippet of RDF/XML you can still infer quite a few things – what are properties, what are classes. Barest minimum is that you know something is to be treated as a resource or as a literal. That’s infinitely more that you get with arbitrary XML alone (you may know the datatype of something thanks to a schema, but even then you won’t know what the something represents).

If you have the RDF Schema/OWL ontology for the term then you should be well away.

So why not have visual components that reflect the RDF class system

I would assume that both gentlemen are discounting BrownSauce because, technically, it shows information about objects but doesn’t necessarily render the objects visually based on some criteria or constraint.

However, it does provide a human interpretable view of the data contained in the RDF files, based on specific rules and criteria defines as part of the data model associated with RDF. But it doesn’t render anything.

Stylesheets aside, one has to ask, why would one want this in the first place? We can’t render the data in a relational database without a program providing an interface and being knowledgeable about the business model constraining the data. Yet relational data has proven itself to have a use. Or two.

Why would we want to have an RDF browser?

Leo provides a nice example of what he means by rendered RDF data, with the FOAFNaut, an online utility that allows one to query a database of FOAF data, and then depict relationships discovered in a visual manner.

Keen. Now, why would we want to have an RDF browser?

Seriously, there is nothing unique or special to RDF than there is to any other data model that has been defined in the past; whether a data is visually rendered is dependent on the data, not the general model used to define the data. Geographical data in a relational database can, and does get used for visual models; FOAF data transformed from RDF to relational could be just as compellingly displayed.

BrownSauce gives us a way to read RDF without having to understand RDF and that, to me is sufficient. Add in a little visual sugar, with bubbles and all, and that would be nice, though not essential.

But what RDF provides that a relational model does not is a way of interrelating bits of data from one model with bits of data in another model and have it make sense without having to break either model. Not just store the data together – have it work together. And does so incredibly easily by publishing simple little text files that even the most moronic bot could consume if slightly trained.

So I create my poetry schema/vocabulary and encourage people to use it to annotate their online publications that contain poems. Someone else defines a schema/vocabulary for weblog posts, capturing information such as author and CC license and category and so on, and encourages people to use it to annotate their posts. A third person comes along and defines a schema/vocabulary for web objects that captures information such as whether the object has been moved, where to, is it obsolete, or other specific types of information going way beyond HTTP status codes. This person, again, gets people to use these vocabulary.

One file is now described by three separate schemas and a bot comes along and swoops it all up and is able to combine it because of one important factor: they all identify a specific resource with a given URI.

I then come along and ask for a poem that uses a bird as metaphor for freedom and my collected data then returns a selection of posts that reference a poem, giving the name of author of the post as well as other information, such as the name of the poem and its author, the fact that the post has now been moved to that location, and there’s a photograph associated with the post.

Sigh. The beauty of it brings a tear to my eye.

But I digress, badly, from the initial conversation point: why would we want a generic RDF browser. Beats heck out of me. I’m still trying to figure out how one achieves critical mass for these three vocabularies, much less how to render them.