Big wind does what big wind wants

My heart goes out to the people in Florida and the Carolinas, who have been hit time and again with hurricanes this season. It also goes out to the people of Haiti, who seem like they get the short end of the stick on a regular basis.

I was reading the weblogs this morning of folks who I know live in Florida, to get a better idea of what was happening. Tom Matrullo seems to have been missed this time, luckily, and posted some pics on his flickr account (flickr is the newest social software du jour), Dave Rogers also looks to have been missed, but made a very pertinent point about the property damage caused by these hurricanes:

This hurricane season will probably cost something greater than $20B in property damage. Loss of life will be disproportionately smaller, thankfully. Yet the property losses due to acts of nature in six weeks will likely be greater than all the property losses to Americans as a result of acts of terror in the last 60 years combined. Yet there will be no knee-jerk expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars in response on the part of the federal government.

If anything the Federal response to these events probably has been adversely impacted by all the fooflah in response the terrorism terror. Ever since I read about agricultural inspections from overseas degrading since the unit was placed under Homeland Security, I’ve had my doubts about the creation of such an overall powerful organization with an obsessive agenda greatly dependent on a continued atmosphere of paranoia. And when the FBI was assigned to the Hot Air Balloon Race, I knew that we had lost much of our sense of perspective.

(What did they think was going to happen? That a mad Islamic terrorist would hijack a hot air balloon and attack the Energizer Bunny?)

Still, seriousness of the storms aside, Dave wrote something else that absolutely cracked me up, though I don’t know if this was his intent, and I hope he’s not offended that I laughed:

By Saturday morning, it was pretty clear there would be no call for a general evacuation of the beaches communities. But it still looked as though we were looking forward to sustained winds greater than 60 kts, and that would mean widespread power outages of greater duration than we experienced for Frances. I have no canned food on hand in my apartment, and no way to heat food either. So I went up to CompUSA to look at the new iMac.

There’s more, but when I read that last sentence, I lost it completely.


Bad girls must pay

I tried to watch the movie, “The Magdalene Sisters” but had to stop, not because the movie was bad but because the movie made me so angry. If you’re unfamiliar with these spots from hell, they were convents run by the Catholic Church in several countries, and devoted to the ‘penance’ of wayward women. In them, women would toil over laundry 6 days a week, usually from 5 in the morning until they went to bed at 7 at night. If this sounds like something that must have happened a hundred years or so ago, think again: the last laundry closed its doors in 1996.

The worst of these were in Ireland, but there were Magdalene convents in Australia, North America, Scotland, and England. Women were put in these, many times without their consent, because they had a baby out of wedlock, or their families felt that the girls had ’sinned’ by having sex (or they thought the girls had sex). In some cases, the were intered if the girls were Catholic orphans and the Sisters thought them too pretty and therefore wanted to save them from themselves.

At the Laundries, they were forced to strip naked once a week as the Sisters taunted their bodies: that they were fat or their breasts too big–humiliating the girls. There hair was kept short and they were dressed in coarse shapeless dresses, their breasts bound tightly so that they seem flat chested. Some were sexually abused, both by Sisters and by the Priests. Many were beaten or otherwise tortured, and in Ireland, not allowed to leave on their own, even when they reached adult age.

It wasn’t until one of the Laundries was sold in the 1990’s and 133 bodies of women were found in unmarked graves that the story of the horror of these Convents started to be told.

A few years back I read about one woman put into the Convent for wayward behavior in the late 1960’s, and was stunned to realize that was only a few years earlier than my own ‘wayward’ behavior here in the States. I would say, “Thank God, I wasn’t born in Ireland”, except as one of the former inmates said, what kind of God exists that would allow such cruelty to innocent young girls?

The history of the Magdalenes started getting international attention when a reporter with the RTE (Irish Television), Mary Raftery, did a story on the institutions. In this country, we learned about it when 60 Minutes ran a story on it the same year. Yeah, the same ‘bad boy’ 60 Minutes of the infamous CBS documents. I guess it takes one set of ‘bad’ people to expose the truth about another set of ‘bad’ people.

The Catholic Church, of course, denounced the work as lies and fabrications, a stance it would hold through subsequent documentaries and movie release.


Life at all costs

I accompanied my father to the surgeon’s office yesterday for his first post-operative checkup. This is easier said than done because my Dad’s in a wheelchair now, and necessitated the use of the nursing home’s transport van.

I got there with a few minutes to spare and the nurse said he was in physical therapy. The van driver was there and walked with me to the room.

Dad’s physical therapist is a guy in his 30’s I would say, short but looked quite strong. There were about half a dozen other older people in the room, and they all looked at me – a blank look I’m beginning to associate with the place. The Therapist’s face was the blankest.

I said hello to Dad and he said “Hi Dear” back, and seemed almost as if he wanted to stand up to greet me, but couldn’t. The Driver looked at Dad’s large wheelchair and mentioned to the Therapist that he was worried it wouldn’t fit into the van. The Therapist replied that of course it was, this was America. America is full of big people, with big wheelchairs and the van creators know this.

I looked down at him from eighteen feet above, and gave him the most neutral, polite, and toothy smile I could summon. I hope it gives him nightmares the rest of his life.

Dad’s chair did fit and we ended up at the Doctor’s office. The waiting room was full of people, and the Driver placed Dad next to a couple of empty chairs and I sat next to him. A woman who was sitting in the chair next to mine, got up and moved three seats away.

I have ambiguous feelings about Bloomington, Indiana. I’ve met some very friendly people, but I’ve also experienced some very unfriendly people, too. It is typical midwestern community, while St. Louis has much of the deep south about it. I find that I prefer St. Louis, especially after waiting in that Doctor’s office, with a room full of people who wouldn’t look at Dad. At the ceiling, at the floor, at the door, at the wall, at the magazines, anywhere but look at my Dad. Of course, Dad does look old now. Not well aged. Not gracefully old. It’s like he’s been beaten, daily, by life. I suppose if I were 10 or 20 years older, I wouldn’t want to look at Dad, either.

The doctor’s visit didn’t go too badly. The nurse took out the surgical staples, with me helping to move my father around. He said I’d make a good nurse, which I took to be a high compliment.

The X-Ray technician was a drop of sunshine, she was that sweet. She knew we’d need help, so she put out a call. Next thing we knew, about six other nurses and other office people were there to help. There’s that good part of Bloomington in action.

The surgeon –yes, that surgeon, the one who didn’t leave Dad with pain medicine – left a very negative first impression, but a mixed impression after the second visit, when he checked the X-Rays. The first visit was fast and when I tried to identify myself, he just looked through me. The second time, though, he was slower, and more friendly, and even patted Dad on the shoulder. The X-Rays show that the bone is healing nicely (we Powers always heal fast – good thing because we’re all clumsy as hell), and maybe that’s the key–the surgeon’s work won’t be wasted after all.

(I asked someone recently why the doctors work so hard to keep us alive if they’re only going to get resentful when they succeed and we get old?)

Anyway, we survived the trip, staples out, bone healing, and Dad had a nice trip in van. He kept calling me Dear all throughtout the trip, which was endearing at first but towards the end of the visit, I realized he’d been doing so because he had forgotten my name. That’s okay. I like being called, Dear.


Browser Dux or Deus or Duck?

In comments Dylan writes about having a visual RDF browser, …it would seem that a RDF Browser would be useful in traversing different distributed data as you follow connections and learn new information.. Danny Ayers also responded with:

If I have your Poet Vocabulary plugin for my browser, whenever I encounter material containing appropriate terms from that vocab those parts of the screen will go sepia-tinted and slightly out of focus.

I rather like that myself. Except not out of focus, let’s have the words pulse, as if they’re the beat of a heart of a new born bird. Or some such thing.

Sigh. How semantical.

They both do have a good point if you consider the visual tools that have been available for relational data models for years. I can’t remember the first tool I used, but the modeling technique was known as IDEF0, following an Air Force requirement.

In this technique, independent data objects were square cornered, but dependent objects were curved. Arrows were drawn to represent the relationships between the objects, and the key columns were highlighted above a solid line within the boxes. Categories had a circle above a couple of bars.

Models allowed us to look at the data and its relationships with each other, and helped us identify dependencies, as well as missing data. Typically, we would define the model to a particular normalized form, and then denormalize it for performance. In both cases, we’d create data models so that we could show a mapping for this conversion.

A key difference, though, between RDF and relational data, is that the meta-data to drive a data model is included with the data itself, so a model could actually be automatically generated from the same database that contained the data. RDF, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily provide the meta information included within the same source as the data. The RDF namespace should have a defined schema, and this schema should provide this meta information – but there’s no guarantee this is accessible.

Still, as BrownSauce demonstrates, much about the model can be defined from what can be found, and if there’s enough to display nicely as HTML, there’s no reason that we can’t draw a bubble. Or a box, if we’re so inclined. But then that gets us back to my original question: would we want to?

One of the keys to understanding the RDF data is to have good text definitions to go with the objects so that we know what the data is all about. Unlike with our IDEF0 efforts, when we had a fairly good idea of the business context, an RDF/XML file (or other format if you’re a picky purist) is out there on the web, just hanging around and if you don’t know the context (i.e. “This is my FOAF file”), you need good definitions associated with the objects. A visual model won’t help with this, thought BrownSauce, with its text extrapolation is very helpful.

But there are those times when we start looking at merging data from the same or even dissimilar schemas, where a visualization could be a handy bugger. But it’s also much tricker than IDEF0. You see, a IDEF0 model has a basic functionality and purpose and the relationships between objects are very well known. The same can’t be said about any relationships between data discovered out on the web.

It’s not that the visualization can’t be done, but when it is done, it may not add value or useful information. Somewhat like a FOAF file for a person who claims five hundred people as close, personal friends – visualizing this, even to one or two levels will be impossible, and meaningless.

Probably about as meaningless as a friendship with someone who can claim 500 friends…and counting.

However, it could be a fun project, with interesting results. I’m always up for new toys. So who’s going to do it?