Saturday, June 16, 2007


After a recent spate of LinkedIn requests I decided to try expanding my own network. Apparently having a large number of connections is a good thing for one's long term career (or so a few pundits in IT have proclaimed), and it never hurts to look after that.

There's a note asking that you "Only invite people you know well and who know you", and until now I've stuck with that maxim. However, most of the invitations I've received in the past were from people I only knew through brief meetings or correspondence, stretching this guideline a little. Also, when requesting a link to a person, the LinkedIn site provides an option of "I don't know this person". So it seems that the requirement is observed more in the breaking than the observance.

I'm still trying to limit my list to people I've actually met, though there are one or two instances where I've simply conversed online (yes, I know you're reading this!). On the other hand, it could well be argued that I know some of those I've corresponded with better than those I've met in person. The end result is that within a week I went from about 5 connections to 30. This in turn made me realize that my profile was shockingly unrepresentative. After all, I filled it out in about 2 minutes when I was first invited to join. I'm still unhappy with it, but it's now a little more serviceable than it was.

I also invited Anne to join. Coming from industrial design and landscape architecture, she hasn't had as much luck finding people she knows, but she's still looking around. I can't imagine that it's penetrated her professional sphere yet, but once it does (if it does) then her connections should expand accordingly.


Danny Ayers was the first to make me think about using Twitter, as he left a note implying that he is now posting tweets. This makes me imagine my mother asking, if Danny jumped off a cliff then would I jump too? Well, if it were Danny then I suppose I would. :-)

Twitter and micro-blogging have also been getting a lot of airplay recently by people referring to Web 2.0, not to mention a few of the Talking with Talis interviews, so I thought I'd check out what the fuss is about.

I tried browsing what strangers are doing at the moment, but I didn't find it particularly interesting. However, there was one post from someone at the Moscone Center that caught my attention, given that Apple's WWDC was on at the time (I'd love to go to this, but could never afford it). Guessing this guy must be involved in IT in some way, I added him to my list to see what he'd do. It didn't tell me much, but following the progress of an individual does have its charm. He was also kind enough to post a link to his blog, giving my some background on what he was doing, and why.

The real test of Twitter for me was whether I'd actually use it after signing up. I thought I'd try for a day or two and reassess at that point. The interface only allows for 140 characters, encouraging me to be brief, hence it didn't take much of my time. At the end of the first day I looked back at my log and realized that it was providing a reasonable breakdown of what I was doing during the day. Consequently, it appears useful for seeing how much time I devoted to certain activities, along with a reminder of just what I was doing and accomplished. My timesheet requirements at fourthcodex only involve a broad description for large blocks of time (as I'm doing internal development, and not customer billable work), but it looks quite useful for my own planning purposes, based on my path to a point, and how effective I was getting there.

I've been keeping at it, and even updated it with my phone a couple of times ("Going home"). Using the IM interface might be nice, but that service has been down since I first logged in. Twitter's technical support say they're working hard on getting that feature back up.

This may turn out like my blog: I started it for my own benefit, and thought that only my colleagues might read it. The idea was so they'd know what part of the code I was modifying, why I was modifying it, and the issues I had in the process. (I was inspired in this by John Carmack's .plan file, but I moved to a blog within a week or so). Since then, my blog has taken me to the other side of the world, and established some extraordinary contacts that I never expected.

This microblog seems to have a use for me as well. Perhaps if I keep it up, it too will evolve into something unexpected. If not, then at least it will help me fill in my timesheets.

Like LinkedIn, I pointed Anne at Twitter, and she now has an account as well. However, I suspect that she only uses it to see what time I'll be home from work. :-)

Linking Data

My LinkedIn flurry took me to a few blogs I hadn't followed before, including Dave Beckett (who is a rather infrequent poster). It's a few months old now, but I really liked his post on Webby Data.

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I think that too few people use RDF to link data together. Here Dave is pointing out that this is all the semantic web really is.

I initially came into this arena as an engineer trying to implement an efficient system for RDF, but not knowing much about the higher layers (RDFS/OWL, etc.). So for me, beyond describing structures, RDF was always about linking resources. Only later, when learning about OWL, and description logics in general, did I understand a lot of the underlying principles behind RDF, leading me to an understanding of what this concept of "semantics" was about.

But while all the academics are off working out how to best describe the world (and I wonder if I could be counted in that number) the real world has data everywhere that describes many of the same things, and yet that data is disconnected. This needs to be linked together in a web of information so that we all benefit, and it doesn't need fancy ontologies to do it. RDF provides a tool to do just this, and yet the central practitioners are all off working on another problem.

I'm not saying the domain of ontologies isn't valuable - I think that ultimately it's the way forward. But I also think it needs to be built on the web of information that we have the standards for, and yet have only just started to implement. This web is the Semantic Web (the semantics are few - but emergent), and "semantic technology" (like OWL) is the next stage that will take it forward. The former we can do today, while the latter is still being worked on (with some very useful results so far). I've noticed that many people lump the two together, and accord the deficiencies of the one still in development to both.

This is another case where I've recently discovered something that interests me, but only after it has been sitting on the web for months. I should be glad I'm catching up now, but it bugs me that it took so long to do it.

Description Logic Handbook

After relying on the PDFs of this book for years, I finally decided to bite the bullet and actually buy a copy. After all, I have to start my thesis soon, and PDFs are hard to read, while laser-printouts are awkward to sort through. So I went to Amazon to get one (along with some other things), only to be told that the book hasn't been published yet. This was confusing, until I realized that the second edition comes out next month.

I'm obviously not paying attention!

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