Joho the BlogJune 2013 - Page 3 of 3 - Joho the Blog

June 19, 2013

[lodlam] Convert to RDF with KARMA

KARMA from University of Southern California takes tools for a wide variety of sources and maps it to your ontologies and generates linked data. It is open source and free. [I have not even re-read this post. Running to the next session.]

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

They are demo-ing using a folder full of OWL ontology files. [OWL files contain the rules that define ontologies. KARMA runs in your browser. The mapping format is R2RML, which is designed for relational databases, but they’ve extended it to handle more types of databases. You can import from a database, files, or a service. For the demo, they’re using CSV files from a Smithsonian database that consists of display names, IDs represented unique people, and a variant or married name. They want to map it to the Europeana ontology. KARMA shows the imported CSV and lets you (for example) create a URI for every person’s name in the table. You can use Python to transform the variant names into a standard name ontology, e.g. transforming “married name” into aac-ont:married (American Art Consortium), You can model the data and it learns it. E.g., it asks if you want to map the original’s ConstituentID to saam-ont:constituentID or saam-ont:objectId. (It recognizes that the ID is all numerals.) There’s an advanced option that lets you mp it to, for example, a URI for aac-ont:Person1.

He clicks on the “display name” and KARMA suggests that it’s a SKOS altLabel, or a FOAF name, etc. If there are no useful suggestions, you can pick one that’s close and then edit it. You can browse the ontologies in the folders you’ve configured it to load. You can have synonyms (“a FOAF person can be a SKOS person.”) [There’s yet more functionality, but this where I topped out.]

You can save this as a process that can be run in batch mode.

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[lodlam] Topics

I’m at LODLAM (linked open data for libraries, archives, and museums) in Montreal. It’s an unconference with 100 people from 16 countries. Here are the topics being suggested at the opening session. (There will be more added to the agenda board.)

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

(Because this is an unconference, I probably will not be doing much more liveblogging.)

  • Taxonomy alignment

  • How to build a case for LOD

  • How to build a pattern library (a clear articulation for a problem, the context where the problem appears, and a pattern for its solution) for cultural linked open data

  • How to take PDF to the next level, integrating triples to make it open data? How to make it into a “portable data format”

  • How can we efficiently convert our data to LOD? USC has Karma and would like to convene a workshop about tools.

  • How to convert simple data to LOD? How to engage users in making that data better?

  • A cultural heritage standard.

  • User interfaces. What do we do after we create all of this data? [applause]

  • Progress since the prior LODLAM (in San Francisco)? BIBFRAME?

  • Preserving linked data

  • The NSA has built the ultimate linked data tool chain. What can we learn?

  • Internal use cases for linked data.

  • How to make use of dirty metadata

  • A draft ontology for MODS metadata (MODSRDF)

  • Collaborating on a harvesting/enrichment tool

  • Getty Vocabulary is being released as LOD [applause], but they need help building a community making sure they have the right ontologies, early adopters, etc.

  • The data exhaust from dSPACE and linking it to world problems — find the disconnects between the people who have problems and people with info helpful for those problems

  • Identities and authorities — linked data as an app-independent way of doing identity control and management

  • RDF cataloging interface

  • Curation and social relationships

  • Linked Open Data echo systems

  • A new understanding of search — ways LODers search isn’t familiar to most people


  • Open Annotation tools enabling end users to enrich the graph

  • Our collections are different for a reason. That manifests itself in the data structure. We should talk about this.

  • In the business writ large, maybe we need the confidence to be invisible. What does that mean?

  • Feedback loops once data has been exposed

  • Wikidata — the database that supports Wikipedia

  • Forming an international group to discuss archival data, particularly in LOD

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June 17, 2013

My new Pebble e-watch reviewed

My Pebble watch arrived a week ago. It’s a programmable wristwatch that talks to your Android phone or iPhone. When it arrived, I was a little disappointed. I’m happier with it now.

I didn’t make it into the Kickstarter in time, but I was in the first wave of buyers after that. Pebble has done an outstanding job of blogging about the process by which it has gone from concept to shipping product, and I’ve generally liked the choices they’ve made. Ever since my Casio AE-20, I’ve wanted a digital representation of analog hands. Plus I very much like the idea of being able to download watch faces that are open source and designed by, well, anyone. Plus, there can be and will be apps.

But I was disappointed because it’s ugly. It’s too big on my wrist. Not exactly sleek. Plus, I hate the band it ships with: resin (or some other type of plastic), plain, and irritating to my skin. (Of course this is a personal reaction. It’s a blog, people!) But I replaced the band with a blue leather band — I got the black version of the watch — and I think it looks much better, In fact, now I like the way it looks.

Also, I began by downloading a set of fake analog faces, and I like them ok, but I’ve started using a default face that spells out the time in words. It’s a little harder to parse than a set of hands, and it doesn’t have the date on it, but if Project Runway has taught me anything, it is that one must make sacrifices for fashion. (PLus now I found a variant with the date on it.)

There are not a lot of apps yet, an I haven’t even found a stopwatch/countdown timer that I like. But I will. Also, I was surprised that after I’d downloaded about six watch faces, it told me that it was out of memory. (To delete a face, you use the Pebble app on your smart phone.)

So, I haven’t gotten to the basics yet. It’s got a readable display that’s more like e-paper than the usual LCD; it’s fine in bright light and the night light works well. A charged battery is supposed to last a week, and mine has so far. You need a special cable to charge it; it plugs into any normal USB charger on the wall side, but the watch side holds itself to the watch via the magic of magnetism. I know Pebble considered using a normal USB socket, but then it wouldn’t be waterproof, so it seems like a reasonable trade-off, although I’m pretty sure I’ve already lost the cable. I hope they sell them by the dozen.

The watch sync’ed incredibly easily via Bluetooth with my Android phone. By default it sends the text of emails and SMS texts to your watch. Since it buzzes every time, and since I get maybe 150 emails a day, I turned off the email syncing. But since I get very few texts, and they’re almost always from my family, I’ve left that notification on. It buzzes your wrist, and you can use the watch buttons to scroll through the message. You can’t compose text on your watch.

It also comes ready to pause or skip forward or backward your phone’s music. I’ve found this useful while listening to podcasts; a click of a watch button and I can hear the bus driver telling me us to duck. (The ol’ 66 is a pretty tough bus route.)

This is definitely a 1.0 release. It’s fully functional, and with a new band it looks pretty snappy. If I were you, I’d wait for the next release, by which time it may have some strong competition. It’s also a little expensive at $150. Still, I like the watch, I like the integration with Android, and I like the company’s transparency. It’s bringing me pleasure.


June 15, 2013

[2b2k][eim] My Stuttgart syllabus

I’ve just finished leading two days of workshops at University of Stuttgart as part of my fellowship at the Internazionales Zentrum für Kultur- und Technikforschung. (No, I taught in English.) This was for me a wonderful experience. First of all, the students were engaged, smart, talked from diverse standpoints, and fun. Second, it reminded me how to teach. I had so much trouble trying to structure sessions, feeling totally unsure how one does so. But the eight 1.5 hour sessions reminded me why I loved teaching.

For my own memory, here are the sessions (and if any of you were there and took notes, I’d love to see them):


#1 Cyberutopianism, technodeterminism, and Internet exceptionalism defined, with JP Barlow’s Declaration of the Independent of Cyberspace as an example. Class introductions.

#2 Information Age to Age of Connected. Why Ted Nelson’s Xanadu did not succeed the way the Web did. Rough technical architecture of the Net and (perhaps) its embedded political values. Hyperlinks.

#3 Digital order. Everything is miscellaneous? From information Retrieval to search engines. Schema-based databases to tagging.

#4 Networked knowledge. What knowledge looks like once it’s been freed of paper. Four challenges to networked knowledge (with many more added by the students.)

On Saturday we talked about topics that the students decided were interesting:

#1 Mobile net. Is Facebook making us more or less social? Why do we fill up every interstice by using Facebook on mobiles? What does this say about us and the notion of the self?

#2 Downloading. Do you download music illegally? What is your justification? How might artists respond? Why is the term “intellectual property” so loaded?

#3 Education. What makes a great in-person course? What makes for a miserable one? Oddly, many of the characteristics of miserable classes are also characteristics of MOOCs. What might we do about that? How much of this is caused by the fact that MOOCs are construed as courses in the traditional sense?

#4 Internet culture. Is there such a thing? If there are many, is any particular one to be privileged? How does the Net look to a culture that is dedicated to warding off what it says as corrupting influences? End with LolCatBible and the astounding TheJohnnyCashProject

Thank you, students. This experience meant a great deal to me.


June 13, 2013

[eim][misc] Tagging rises

Both Facebook and Apple have announced the use of tags. Yay!

Tags have continued to percolate through the ecosystem after their most auspicious introduction in (Note the phrase “most auspicious”; tags have always been with us.) It’s great to see them increase both because they are a great way to get use out of the craziness while preserving it in its original form for others, and because there is great value in scaling tags, as Flickr has shown.

So, yay for tags. And yay for the crazy.

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June 10, 2013

Heidegger on technology, and technodeterminism

I’m leaving tomorrow night for a few days in Germany as a fellow at the University of Stuttgart’s International Center for Research on Culture and Technology. I’ll be giving a two-day workshop with about 35 students, which I am both very excited about and totally at sea about. Except for teaching a course with John Palfrey, who is an awesomely awesome teacher, I haven’t taught since 1986. I was good at the time, but I forget the basics about structuring sessions.

Anyway, enough of that particular anxiety. I’m also giving a public lecture on Thursday at the city library (Stadtbibliothek am Mailänder Platz). It’ll be in English, thank Gott! My topic is “What the Web Uncovers,” which is a purposeful Heidegger reference. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to write this, and finally on Sunday completed a draft. It undoubtedly will change significantly, but here’s what I plan on saying at the beginning:

In 1954, Heidegger published “The Question about Technology” (Die Frage nach der Technik). I re-read it recently, and discovered why people hold Heidegger’s writing in such disdain (aside from the Nazi thing, of course). Wow! But there are some ideas in it that I think are really helpful.

Heidegger says that technology reveals the world to us in particular ways. For example, a dam across a river, which is one of his central examples, reveals the natural world as Bestand, which gets translated into English as “standing reserve” or “resource”: power waiting to be harnessed by humans. His point I think is profound: Technology should be understood not only in terms of what it does, but in terms of what it reveals about the world and what the world means to us. That is in fact the question I want to ask: What does the world that the Web uncovers look like? What does the Web reveal?

This approach holds the promise of letting us talk about technology from beyond the merely technical position. But it also happens to throw itself into an old controversy that has recently re-arisen. It sounds as if Heidegger is presenting a form of technodeterminism — the belief that technology determines our reaction to it, that technology shapes us. Against technodeterminism it is argued quite sensibly that a tool is not even a tool until humans come along and decide to use it for something. So, a screwdriver can be used to drive screws, but it could also be used to bang on a drum or to open and stir a can of paint. So, how could a screw driver have an effect on us, much less shape us, if we’re the ones who are shaping it?

Heidegger doesn’t fall prey to technodeterminism because one of his bedrock ideas is that things don’t have meaning outside of the full context of relationships that constitute the entire world — a world into which we are thrown. So, technology doesn’t determine us, since it takes an entire world to determine technology, us, and everything else. Further, in “Die Frage nach der Technik,” he explains the various historical ways technology has affected us by referring to a mysterious history of Being that gives us that historical context. But I don’t want to talk about that, mainly because insofar as I understand it, I find it deeply flawed. Even so I think we want to be able to talk about the effect of technology, granting that it’s not technology itself taken in isolation, but rather the fact that we do indeed come to technology out of a situation that is historical, cultural, social, and even individual.

So, how does the Web reveal the world? What does the world look like in the Age of the Web? (And that means: what does it look like to us educated Westerners with sufficient leisure time to consider such things, etc.) Here are the subject headings of the talk until I rewrite it as I inevitably do: chaotic, unmasterable, messy, interest-based, unsettling, and turning us to a shared world about which we disagree. This is very unlike the way the world looks in the prior age of technology, the age about which Heidegger was writing. Yet, I find at the heart of the Web-revealed world the stubborn fact that the world is revealed through human care: we are creatures that care about our existence, about others, and about our world. Care (Sorge) is at the heart of early Heidegger’s analysis.


June 7, 2013

Game of Thrones, Mad Men, and the 1960s

[SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen the Red Wedding episode of Games of Thrones (season 3, episode 9, “The Rains of Castamere”), don’t read this. There is also a very broad thematic spoiler “spoiler” about Mad Men.]

Yeah, quite an episode.

Matthew Weiner has said that this season of Mad Men reflects just how awful the end of the 1960s were. It’s set in the year that he considers to be one of the very worst in American history: riots, assassinations, a pointless, grinding war, even some worrisome parallels with the Sharon Tate murder by the Charles Manson Family. It’s not the usual Summer of Love picture of the 1960s, but I was there and I can tell you that it was a bimodally euphoric and terrifying time.

George R.R. Martin, the author of Game of Thrones, is two years older than I am, and thus was 15 when JFK was killed, and was 20 when Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were shot. He was a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War (as was I, by the way) and has linked his novels to that war’s brutality.

There was a lesson that it was hard not to draw from the relentlessness of the draft and from the political assassinations that punctuated our equilibrium: There is no certainty that stories will be completed the way we imagined they would be, and the way our moral sense told us they must be. Eighteen year olds will go away and will not come back. Hope will be silenced in mid-sentence. This lesson has been the bedrock fact for most of the world throughout most of history, but it came home to American middle class boys and girls with a shock during that decade.

So, when George Martin rubs our noses in the fact that his stories are realistic, I think, yup, 1960s.

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June 2, 2013

[2b2k] Knowledge in its natural state

I gave a 20 minute talk at the Wired Next Fest in Milan on June 1, 2013. Because I needed to keep the talk to its allotted time and because it was being simultaneously translated into Italian, I wrote it out and gave a copy to the translators. Inevitably, I veered from the script a bit, but not all that much. What follows is the script with the veerings that I can remember. The paragraph breaks track to the slide changes

(I began by thanking the festival, and my progressive Italian publisher, Codice Edizioni Codice are pragmatic idealists and have been fantastic to work with.)

Knowledge seems to fit so perfectly into books. But to marvel at how well Knowledge fits into books…

… is to marvel at how well each rock fits into its hole in the ground. Knowledge fits books because we’ve shaped knowledge around books and paper.

And knowledge has taken on the properties of books and paper. Like books, knowledge is ordered and orderly. It is bounded, just as books stretch from cover to cover. It is the product of an individual mind that then is filtered. It is kept private and we’re not responsible for it until it’s published. Once published, it cannot be undone. It creates a privileged class of experts, like the privileged books that are chosen to be published and then chosen to be in a library

Released from the bounds of paper, knowledge takes on the shape of its new medium, the Internet. It takes on the properties of its new medium just it had taken on the properties of its old paper medium. It’s my argument today that networked knowledge assumes a more natural shape. Here are some of the properties of new, networked knowledge

1. First, because it’s a network, it’s linked.

2. These links have no natural stopping point for your travels. If anything, the network gives you temptations to continue, not stopping points.

3. And, like the Net, it’s too big for any one head, Michael Nielsen, the author of Reinventing Discovery, uses the discovery of the Higgs Boson as an example. That discovery required gigantic networks of equipment and vast networks of people. There is no one person who understands everything about the system that proved that that particle exists. That knowledge lives in the system, in the network.

4. Like the net, networked knowledge is in perpetual disagreement. There is nothing about which everyone agrees. We like to believe this is a temporary state, but after thousands of years of recorded history, we can now see for sure that we are never going to agree about anything. The hope for networked knoweldge is that we’re learning to disagree more fruitfully, in a linked environment

5. And, as the Internet makes very clear, we are fallible creatures. We get everything wrong. So, networked knowledge becomes more credible when it acknowledges fallibility. This is very different from the old paper based authorities who saw fallibility as a challenge to their authority.

6. Finally, knowledge is taking on the humor of the Internet. We’re on the Internet voluntarily and freed of the constrictions of paper, it turns out that we like being with one another. Even when the topic is serious like this topic at Reddit [a discussion of a physics headline], within a few comments, we’re making jokes. And then going back to the serious topic. Paper squeezed the humor out of knowledge. But that’s unnatural.

These properties of networked knowledge are also properties of the Network. But they’re also properties that are more human and more natural than the properties of traditional knowledge.

But there’s one problem:

There is no such thing as natural knowledge. Knowledge is a construct. Our medium may have changed, but we haven’t, at least so it seems. And so we’re not free to reinvent knowledge any way we’d like. Significant problems based on human tendencies are emerging. I’ll point to four quick problem areas.

First, We see the old patterns of concentration of power reemerge on the Net. Some sites have an enormous number of viewers, but the vast majority of sites have very few. [Slide shows Clay Shirky’s Power Law distribution chart, and a photo of Clay]

Albert-László Barabási has shown that this type of clustering is typical of networks even in nature, and it is certainly true of the Internet

Second, on the Internet, without paper to anchor it, knowledge often loses its context. A tweet…

Slips free into the wild…

It gets retweeted and perhaps loses its author

And then gets retweeted and lose its meaning. And now it circulates as fact. [My example was a tweet about the government not allowing us to sell body parts morphing into a tweet about the government selling body parts. I made it up.]

Third, the Internet provides an incentive to overstate.

Fourth, even though the Net contains lots of different sorts of people and ideas and thus should be making us more open in our beliefs…

… we tend to hang out with people who are like us. It’s a natural human thing to prefer people “like us,” or “people we’re comfortable with.” And this leads to confirmation bias — our existing beliefs get reinforced — and possibly to polarization, in which our beliefs become more extreme.

This is known as the echo chamber problem, and it’s a real problem. I personally think it’s been overstated, but it is definitely there.

So there are four problems with networked knowledge. Not one of them is new. Each has a analog from before the Net.

  1. The loss of context has always been with us. Most of what we believe we believe because we believe it, not because of evidence. At its best we call it, in English, common sense. But history has shown us that common sense can include absurdities and lead to great injustices.

  2. Yes, the Net is not a flat, totally equal place. But it is far less centralized than the old media were, where only a handful of people were allowed to broadcast their ideas and to choose which ideas were broadcast.

  3. Certainly the Internet tends towards overstatement. But we have had mass media that have been built on running over-stated headlines. This newspaper [Weekly World News] is a humor paper, but it’s hard to distinguish from serious broadcast news.

  4. And speaking of Fox, yes, on the Internet we can simply stick with ideas that we already agree with, and get more confirmed in our beliefs. But that too is nothing new. The old media actually were able to put us into even more tightly controlled echo chambers. We are more likely to run into opposing ideas — and even just to recognize that there are opposing ideas — on the Net than in a rightwing or leftwing newspaper.

It’s not simply that all the old problems with knowledge have reemerged. Rather, they’ve re-emerged in an environment that offers new and sometimes quite substantial ways around them.

  1. For example, if something loses its context, we can search for that context. And links often add context.

  2. And, yes, the Net forms hubs, but as Clay Shirky and Chris Anderson have pointed out, the Net also lets a long tail form, so that voices that in the past simply could not have been heard, now can be. And the activity in that long tail surpasses the attention paid to the head of the tail.

  3. Yes, we often tend to overstate things on the Net, but we also have a set of quite powerful tools for pushing back. We review our reviews. We have sites like the well-regarded American site,, that will tell you if some Internet rumor is true. Snopes is highly reliable. Then we have all of the ways we talk with one another on the Net, evaluating the truth of what we’ve read there.

  4. And, the echo chamber is a real danger, but we also have on the Net the occasional fulfillment of our old ideal of being able to have honest, respectful conversations with people with whom we fundamentally disagree. These examples are from Reddit, but there are others.

So, yes, there are problems of knowledge that persist even when our technology of knowledge changes. That’s because these are not technical problems so much as human problems…

…and thus require human solutions. And the fundamental solution is that we need to become more self-aware about knowledge.

Our old technology — paper — gave us an idea of knowledge that said that knowledge comes from experts who are filtered, printed, and then it’s settled, because that’s how books work. Our new technology shows us we are complicit in knowing. In order to let knowledge get as big as our new medium allows, we have to recognize that knowledge comes from all of us (including experts), it is to be linked, shared, discussed, argued about, made fun of, and is never finished and done. It is thoroughly ours – something we build together, not a product manufactured by unknown experts and delivered to us as if it were more than merely human.

The required human solution therefore is to accept our human responsibility for knowledge, to embrace and improve the technology that gives knowledge to us –- for example, by embracing Open Access and the culture of linking and of the Net, and to be explicit about these values.

Becoming explicit is vital because our old medium of knowledge did its best to hide the human qualities of knowledge. Our new medium makes that responsibility inescapable. With the crumbling of the paper authorities, it bcomes more urgent than ever that we assume personal and social responsibility for what we know.

Knowing is an unnatural act. If we can remember that –- remember the human role in knowing — we now have the tools and connections that will enable even everyday knowledge to scale to a dimension envisioned in the past only by the mad and the God-inspired.

Thank you.


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