A habit of giving

As AKMA reminds us, new disasters have happened recently–Hurricane Stan and the earthquake in Pakistan–that seem to have fallen below the blogging radar. This is in addition to the longstanding disasters such as the continued mass starvation in Africa.

With environmental impacts due to global warming, and an increased population that is both more widely distributed and more dense, the events of this year are more likely to become the norm rather than the exception. We have seen thousands killed from earthquakes, flood, mudslides, and storms; these join those who die more slowly, less dramatically, from continuous warfare and starvation. Next year will, most likely, follow the patterns set this year and so on as a population grown too large for the world moves into areas vulnerable to natural events–not to mention unable to support the numbers.

No one is to ‘blame’ for being in the way of catastrophe, and as we know, any one of us could be the next victim. There are no safe spots where nothing is likely to happen; no places of invulnerability. To help others is to help ourselves; the days of geographical isolation are at an end and we have a responsibility to each other regardless of country, race, or religion.

But if we react to each event in a frenzy, soon we’ll burn out and truly catastrophic events will go by with barely a blink. We’re seeing this with Pakistan: it’s not that people aren’t caring; it’s that we’ve just been through one cycle of frantic giving following another a short 8 months ago. It may get to a point where a country would gain help for having an ‘early’ disaster, as compared to a country having a disaster later in the year. Perhaps these countries could stage their catastrophes close to Christmas.

Rather than react impulsively (and stop reacting just as impulsively), we need to establish a habit of giving that will hopefully provide enough support for organizations that meet the needs of people in stricken communities. We should budget in a monthly donation, even if it’s only a few dollars, and contribute consistently: both to international relief organizations and those that are domestic. We should also look at organizations that help in the long-term: with education, family planning, support of basic human rights, and other means to improve overall quality of life.

We should also learn to apply filters when listening to much of the news. Stories from New Orleans match stories from Pakistan where the number of dead leaps by tens of thousands by the minute, and people searching for food in stores become tales of rampant crime and looting. The news emphasizes the worst in all matters, and it’s easy to either develop a sense of despair or disappointment. What’s important is getting help to people, and providing what support we can–facts will fall out later.

After careful consideration, these are the organizations I’ve decided to support: international and national, immediate need and long-term. I am in the process of putting together sidebar images to link to the donation page for each:


The International Red Cross: This organization helps supplement local Red Cross chapters in case these are overwhelmed. I see the Red Cross as an ‘immediate need’ organization.

Oxfam: Oxfam helps not only in the immediate need, but also long-term.

Doctors without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)): Whether the problem is natural or political, this organization has never held back from helping regardless of risk to themselves.

World Wildlife Foundation and Rainforest Consevation, sometimes Green Peace: ecological


The National Red Cross: As per above

Habitat for Humanity: I think this organization’s program to provide decent housing for those who may not be able to afford to buy a house is one of the most efficient and best run; as long as religious beliefs are not a part of the decision process about who gets a home, that is.

United Way and Planned Parenthood: Long-term efforts primarily. The United Way supports neighborhood efforts, including programs for kids and the arts. The Planned Parenthood is an organization too long under attack considering what it provides: pre-natal care, examinations for female-related cancers, counseling, and safe birth control. Abortion is only a small, albeit essential, part of what it provides; yet it is consistently penalized because of its unwillingness to give up serving all of a community’s needs. Considering that overpopulation is the number one disease in the world, I consider Planned Parenthood’s efforts to be essential.

The Sierra Club and the HSUS: Care for the environment and critters.

Amnesty International: I consider this local, because when human rights are at stake, we’re all close neighbors.

I also give individually to local organizations with memberships, such as the Botanical Gardens.

Again, I’m making what I call a ‘giving ribbon bar’ to put into my sidebar for permanent display. I suggest you do the same, as well as establish your own policy of giving.


Hello and Goodbye from Vince

If you blinked you missed Hurricane Vince–a storm that formed in cool water, from a small beginning, exploding into a hurricane almost immediately, and then hit Spain: a country never before hit by cyclonic activity.

We may actually make it through the alphabet this hurricane season. And if patterns continue, next year could be worse.

No, no: there’s no such thing as global warming.

Connecting RDF Technology

Portable data

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

In addition to being on a panel at SxSW next year, I’m also giving a full day tutorial on RDF at XML 2005 on November 18th. Which also happens to be my birthday.

This is not going to be a passive exercise. I won’t be putting up slide after Powerpoint slide. There will be no hand waving and promises of Big Things to come. We’ll hit the ground running at the start of the session with a scenario that takes us from understanding the basic structures of the model (demonstrated via modeling tools); to using various tools to build an underlying data structure and application to meet specific needs; to consuming, querying, and re-using the data in various applications.

Those attending will have no time to read or respond to their weblog entries; no time to start a backchannel, because I have every intention of keeping attendees too busy and hopefully interested to be distracted. I’m assuming that the only reason why a person would stay the extra day after the conference is because they’re truly interested. Well, I aim to misbehave.

Oh, wait–wrong event. I am to provide.

The session is going to focus on incorporating RDF into our everyday activities, as I am heavily incorporating RDF into my weblog use. We’ll be exploring how one doesn’t have to use every last aspect of RDF in order to gain advantage from its use. In particular, I plan on exploring the use of RDF as an almost ideal portable data structure that doesn’t require a more formal database in order to operate (though we’ll look at how the two can coincide).

In the last several months, I’ve been experimenting with RDF stored in MySQL, as compared to RDF stored in files. When one considers that all applications eventually hit the file system, including databases, there is something to be said for using direct file-based storage for small, discrete models that may or may not be cached in memory for quick access. About the only time I really need the power of a centralized data store with RDF is querying across models–and heck, I have Piggy-bank on my Windows machine for that. More, I can easily and relatively quickly load all my little individual data stores into the database if I so decide.

This is the true power of RDF over relational: relational doesn’t work well with isolated, discrete objects, while RDF does. It is a truly portable database. Anyone can drop the data in at their sites without worry about having to create a database, or manage it. As for portability: how easy can you copy files?

Of course, since the data stored in RDF is meant to be exposed, then anyone can come along and grab the data and store it, using Piggy-Bank or other means. Combine it with their data, query the hell out of it, and use it as they will. As I can do the same with their RDF-based data.

But to return to the requisite hand waving and star-eyed pronouncements: my use of RDF isn’t Web 1.0 or Web 2.0; Semantic Web or semantic web. This is just the Web, stu…stupendous persons who are reading this.

Now, someone give me a million dollars so I can continue creating small stuff, usefully joined.