Posted:November 2, 2009

Structured Dynamics LLC

A New Slide Show Consolidates, Explains Recent Developments

Much has been happening on the Structured Dynamics front of late. Besides welcoming Steve Ardire as a senior advisor to the company, we also have been issuing a steady stream of new products from our semantic Web pipeline.

This new slide show attempts to capture these products and relate them to the various layers in Structured Dynamics’ enterprise product stack:

The show indicates the role of scones, irON, structWSF, UMBEL, conStruct and others and how they leverage existing information assets to enable the semantic enterprise. And, oh, by the way, all of this is done via Web-accessible linked data and our practical technologies.

Enjoy!

Posted:August 23, 2009

Snake Shedding

In the Future, All of us May be SysAdmins

OK, well, I just finished moving and upgrading some dozen Web sites and wikis, including this one — my main blog — over the weekend, from fixed stuff to the “clouds“. Believe you me, there were some pretty massive changes required.

For someone like me who is relatively clueless about such things, the process has been interesting (to say the least).

It seems like our modern era either involves moving digital things or converting digital things. As for moving, we all experience that laptop or hard drive dying, and then the move. (The Death of a Laptop actually happened to my wife this past week.) But it also is changing providers and venues — what caused me to move all of these Web sites.

Shedding the Snake Skin

So, the mainstream digital age has existed for what, now, some 40 years? How many data formats have we transitioned (ASCII, EBCDIC, UTF-8, an immense number)? And, how many systems and environments have we transitioned?

At the risk of dating myself, when I was in college we still used slide rules; truly the end of an era. Just a year or two later everyone transitioned to having TI or HP calculators, some they wore on their hips like some PDAs and cell phones today.

I won’t bore everyone with my own transition from my first computer (an HP 9100 with 4K RAM and program listings on cash register tapes) through many others including a DEC Rainbow PC with CP/M (a beauty!). For many years, as we moved into the PC era and IBM legitimized the shift, every computer I bought seemed to cost about $3000. Each one was more capable, etc., but they all cost the same.

And, then, about the late 1990s, that changed. In fact, my last capable desktop machine cost way south of $1000.

But, I digress.

What has been the real constant across these decades has been system and data migration. Granted, many of the docs and many of the systems in my own experience from 30 yrs ago have no relevance today (god, do I miss WordPerfect with its embedded, editable codes!), but actually an important minor portion do.

For these, I need to move both apps and data (with readable formats) for each generational transition.

I know that organizations, like the Library of Congress in its NDIIPP program, need to worry about digital preservation, potentially for millenia. These are worthwhile concerns.

But, from my own more prosaic standpoint, I see this issue with my own lens and own bas relief. I am constantly moving apps and data, each transition much like a snake shedding its skin.

It makes one wonder about the effort and process by which the entire meaningful cultural history of our species continues to adapt and transition forward.

Getting Back to Real

Hmmm. All of us have seen these transitions and the loss of productivity they bring in that shift. (Some might argue that the lack of productivity gains from computers until this decade was due to such transitions, which at least now with the Web we see a more common migration framework.)

I think we have no choice but to transition to the next latest and greatest as it emerges. Automated means at acceptable cost for doing such transitions will also be attractive.

But the real point, I think, is that such transitions are inevitable. Faster apps: Check! Better apps: Check! Easier data exchange: Check!!

Living with transition thus becomes a clear constant for all us as we move forward. And, part of that is accepting downtime to screw around moving the keepable old to the potentially useful new.

After this weekend, I’m now ready for a couple of days off before the real work week begins (yeah, right, keep dreaming).

Posted:October 28, 2008

It's UMBELievable!

UMBEL’s New Web Services Embrace a Full Web-Oriented Architecture

I recently wrote about WOA (Web-oriented architecture), a term coined by Nick Gall, and how it represented a natural marriage between RESTful Web services and RESTful linked data. There was, of course, a method behind that posting to foreshadow some pending announcements from UMBEL and Zitgist.

Well, those announcements are now at hand, and it is time to disclose some of the method behind our madness.

As Fred Giasson notes in his announcement posting, UMBEL has just released some new Web services with fully RESTful endpoints. We have been working on the design and architecture behind this for some time and, all I can say is, it’s UMBELievable!

As Fred notes, there is further background information on the UMBEL project — which is a lightweight reference structure based on about 20,000 subject concepts and their relationships for placing Web content and data in context with other data — and the API philosophy underlying these new Web services. For that background, please check out those references; that is not my main point here.

A RESTful Marriage

We discussed much in coming up with the new design for these UMBEL Web services. Most prominent was taking seriously a RESTful design and grounding all of our decisions in the HTTP 1.1 protocol. Given the shared approaches between RESTful services and linked data, this correspondence felt natural.

What was perhaps most surprising, though, was how complete and well suited HTTP was as a design and architectural basis for these services. Sure, we understood the distinctions of GET and POST and persistent URIs and the need to maintain stateless sessions with idempotent design, but what we did not fully appreciate was how content and serialization negotiation and error and status messages also were natural results of paying close attention to HTTP. For example, here is what the UMBEL Web services design now embraces:

  • An idempotent design that maintains state and independence of operation
  • Language, character set, encoding, serialization and mime type enforced by header information and conformant with content negotiation
  • Error messages and status codes inherited from HTTP
  • Common and consistent terminology to aid understanding of the universal interface
  • A resulting componentization and design philosophy that is inherently scalable and interoperable
  • A seamless consistency between data and services.

There are likely other services out there that embrace this full extent of RESTful design (though we are not aware of them). What we are finding most exciting, though, is the ease with which we can extend our design into new services and to mesh up data with other existing ones. This idea of scalability and distributed interoperability is truly, truly powerful.

It is almost like, sure, we knew the words and the principles behind REST and a Web-oriented architecture, but had really not fully taken them to heart. As our mindset now embraces these ideas, we feel like we have now looked clearly into the crystal ball of data and applications. We very much like what we see. WOA is most cool.

First Layer to the Zitgist ‘Grand Vision’

For lack of a better phrase, Zitgist has a component internal plan that it calls its ‘Grand Vision’ for moving forward. Though something of a living document, this reference describes how Zitgist is going about its business and development. It does not describe our markets or products (of course, other internal documents do that), but our internal development approaches and architectural principles.

Just as we have seen a natural marriage between RESTful Web services and RESTful linked data, there are other natural fits and synergies. Some involve component design and architecting for pipeline models. Some involve the natural fit of domain-specific languages (DSLs) to common terminology and design, too. Still others involve use of such constructs in both GUIs and command-line interfaces (CLIs), again all built from common language and terminology that non-programmers and subject matter experts alike can readily embrace. Finally, some is a preference for Python to wrap legacy apps and to provide a productive scripting environment for DSLs.

If one can step back a bit and realize there are some common threads to the principles behind RESTful Web services and linked data, that very same mindset can be applied to many other architectural and design issues. For us, at Zitgist, these realizations have been like turning on a very bright light. We can see clearly now, and it is pretty UMBELievable. These are indeed exciting times.

BTW, I would like to thank Eric Hoffer for the very clever play on words with the UMBELievable tag line. Thanks, Eric, you rock!

Posted:September 27, 2008

Zotero Bibliographic Plug-in

Infringement of EndNote Formats Claimed

Zotero has long been one of my favorite Firefox plug-ins, being a productive and trusted sidekick for collecting and reporting my voluminous citation and bibliographic data. I think perhaps my review of Zotero from January 2007 was one of my most glowing write-ups.

If you go to the Zotero home page, you will see at the lower left the steady increase of functionality that has come out in this free and open source tool. For example, Zotero now supports more than 1100 bibliographic sources, can capture Web pages and many standard Web sources, and has MS Office and WordPress support. Zotero has been developed and is distributed by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.

Thomson Reuters Sues George Mason University, Virginia

According to the Courthouse News Service with a copy of this complaint filed September 5, Thomson Reuters is suing George Mason University and, as a state institution, the Commonwealth of Virginia, for $10 million in damages and an injunction on further distribution of a beta version of Zotero. Thomson is seeking a jury trial.

Thomson claims that a July 8 beta release of Zotero (version 1.5) included a new feature to read and convert Thomson’s 3,500 plus proprietary .ens style files within the EndNote software into free, open source Zotero .csl files. Thomson claims this is in direct violation with GMU’s current license for EndNote. The Zotero beta release introduces a server-side synchronization function; the standard Zotero release without this feature and the EndNote support is version 1.07.

EndNote is a proprietary and popular citation software used by many academics and researchers. EndNote has very similar functionality to Zotero. It allows users to search online bibliographic databases, organize them, and store and re-format citations in various publication styles. Single user licenses are $250 with volume and academic discounts available. Thomson claims “millions” of ultimate users.

Thomson Reuters is also the firm behind the Open Calais named entity extraction service noted much in the semantic Web community (and which this week announced a commercial version).

File format ingest and conversions have long been a mainstay of interoperable software systems. This lawsuit will bear close monitoring.

Hat tip to Rafael Sidi for this link.

Posted:July 6, 2008

Breakthroughs in the Basis, Nature and Organization of Information Across Human History

I’m pleased to present a timeline of 100 or so of the most significant events and developments in the innovation and management of information and documents from cave paintings ( ca 30,000 BC) to the present. Click on the link to the left or on the screen capture below to go to the actual interactive timeline.

This timeline has fast and slow scroll bands — including bubble popups with more information and pictures for each of the entries offered. (See the bottom of this posting for other usage tips.)

Note the timeline only presents non-electronic innovations and developments from alphabets to writing to printing and information organization and conventions. Because there are so many innovations and they are concentrated in the last 100 years or fewer, digital and electronic communications are somewhat arbitrarily excluded from the listing.

I present below some brief comments on why I created this timeline, some caveats about its contents, and some basic use tips. I conclude with thanks to the kind contributors.

Why This Timeline?

Readers of this AI3 blog or my detailed bio know that information — biological embodied in genes, or cultural embodied in human artefacts — has been my lifelong passion. I enjoy making connections between the biological and cultural with respect to human adaptivity and future prospects and I like to dabble on occasion as an amateur economic or information science historian. SIMILE Timeline

About 18 months ago I came across David Huynh‘s nifty Exhibit lightweight data display widget, gave it a glowing review, and then proceeded to convert my growing Sweet Tools listing of semantic Web and related tools to that format. Exhibit still powers the listing (which I just updated yesterday for the twelfth time or so).

At the time of first rolling out Exhibit I also noted that David had earlier created another lightweight timeline display widget that looked similarly cool (and which was also the first API for rendering interactive timelines in Web pages). (In fact, Exhibit and Timeline are but two of the growing roster of excellent lightweight tools from David.) Once I completed adopting Exhibit, I decided to find an appropriate set of chronological or time-series data to play next with Timeline.

I had earlier been ruminating on one of the great intellectual mysteries of human development: Why, roughly beginning in 1820 to 1850 or so, did the historical economic growth patterns of all prior history suddenly take off? I first wrote on this about two years ago in The Biggest Disruption in History: Massively Accelerated Growth Since the Industrial Revolution, with a couple of follow-ups and expansions since then.

I realized that in developing my thesis that wood pulp paper and mechanized printing were the key drivers for this major inflection change in growth (as they effected literacy and the broadscale access to written information) I already had the beginnings of a listing of various information innovations throughout history. So, a bit more than a year ago, I began adding to that list in terms of how humans learned to write, print, share, organize, collate, reproduce and distribute information and when those innovations occurred.

There are now about 100 items in this listing (I’m still looking for and researching others; please send suggestions at any time. ;) ). Here are some of the current items in chronological order from upper left to lower right:

cave paintings codex footnotes microforms
ideographs woodblock printing copyrights thesaurus
calendars tree diagram encyclopedia pencil (mass produced)
cuneiform quill pen capitalization rotary perfection press
papyrus (paper) library catalog magazines catalogues
hieroglyphs movable type taxonomy (binomial classification) typewriter
ink almanacs statistics periodic table
alphabet paper (rag) timeline chemical pulp (sulfite)
Phaistos Disc word spaces data graphs classification (Dewey)
logographs registers card catalogs linotype
maps intaglio lithography mimeograph machine
scrolls printing press punch cards kraft process (pulp)
manuscripts advertising (poster) steam-powered (mechanized) papermaking flexography
glossaries bookbinding book (machine-paper) classification (LoC)
dictionaries pagination chemcial symbols classification (UDC)
parchment (paper) punctuation mechanical pencil offset press
bibliographies library catalog (printed) chromolithography screenprinting
concept of categories public lending library paper (wood pulp) ballpoint pen
library dictionaries (alphabetic) rotary press xerographic copier
classification system (library) newspapers mail-order catalog hyperlink
zero Information graphics fountain pen metadata (MARC)
paper scientific journal

So, off and on, I have been working with and updating the data and display of this timeline in draft. (I may someday also post my notes about how to effectively work with the Timeline widget.)

With the listing above, completion was sufficient to finally post this version. One of the neat things with Timeline is the ability to drive the display from a simple XML listing. I will update the timeline when I next have an opportunity to fill in some of the missing items still remaining on my innovations list such as alphabeticization, citations, and table of contents, among many others.

Some Interpretation Caveats

Of course, rarely can an innovation be traced to a single individual or a single moment in time. Historians are increasingly documenting the cultural milieu and multiple individuals that affect innovation.

In these regards, then, a timeline such as this one is simplistic and prone to much error and uncertainty. We have no real knowledge, for examples, for the precise time certain historical innovations occurred, and others (the ballpoint pen being one case in point) are a matter of interpretation as to what and when constituted the first expression. For instances where the record indicated multiple dates, I chose to use the date when released to the publlic.

Nonetheless, given the time scales here of more than 30,000 years, I do think broad trends and rough time frames can be discerned. As long as one interprets this timeline as indicative and not meant as definitive in any scholary sense, I believe this timeline can inform and provide some insight and guidance for how information has evolved over human history.

Some Use Tips

The operation of Timeline is pretty straightforward and intuitive. Here are a couple of tips to get a bit more out of playing with it:

  • The timeline has two scrolling panels, fast and slow. For rapid scolling, use mouse down and left or right movement on the lower panel
  • The lower panel also shows small ticks for each innovation in the upper panel
  • Clicking any icon or label in the upper panel will cause a bubble popup to appear with a bit more detail and a picture for the item; click the ‘X’ to close the bubble
  • Each entry is placed in one or more categories keyed by icon. You may “filter” results by using keywords such as: alphabets, book, calendars, libraries, maps, mechanization, paper, papermaking, printing, organizing, scripts, standardization, statistics, timelines, or typography. Partial strings also match
  • Similarly, you may enter one of those same terms into one of the four color highlight boxes. Partial strings also match.

Sources, Contributions and Thanks

For the sake of consistency, nearly all entries and pictures on the timeline are drawn from the respective entries within Wikipedia. Subsequent updates may add to this listing by reference to original sources, at which time all sources will be documented.

The timeline icons are from David Vignoni’s Nuvola set, available under the LGPL license. Thanks David!

The fantastic Timeline was developed by David Huynh while he was a graduate student at MIT. Timeline and its sibling widgets were developed under funding from MIT’s Simile program. Thanks to all in the program and best wishes for continued funding and innovation.

Finally, my sincere thanks go to Professor Michael Buckland of the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, for his kind suggestions, input and provision of additonal references and sources. Of course, any errors or omissions are mine alone. I also thank Professor Buckland for his admonitions about use and interpretation of the timeline dates.