Thursday, April 17, 2008

Which GPS..

There was a question on Engadget about which is the best EU and US GPS device, I commented, but it was as long as a post. So here it is...

In our work we travel a bunch and have even done a trans-continental USA trip (don't mention the rental that got wrecked in Montana when it hit a bear) and have driven most of Europe. You need a good GPS. It is never easy to find one. Firstly it is down to the maps - better maps, better experience. Second, when you get "lost" you need it to help, not give you dumb directions. A lot of the routing is just dumb. We also want good POI support - need to find lunch!

We have a Tom Tom which works excellent in Europe, not so great in the US. That is down to map quality. Also have a Magellan, it sucks, it couldn't find itself let alone a destination, I need to dump it. We have a Garmin handheld and a Nokia N810 with GPS, they are OK - I used the N810 to get around a freeway shutdown today. It is an occasional tool, but satellite acquisition is slooooww.

But when you are doing 100 MPH down the Autobahn. I want that TomTom with me. It is so natural to understand, clear UI, good maps (in Europe) and good routing.

But what do we know. We didn't even get a picture of the bear.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Introduction to Semantic Technology

Ten years ago I had a belief that a meta-data approach to managing enterprise information was a valid way to go. The various structures, relationships and complexities of IT systems led to disjointed information. By relating the information elements to each other, rather than synchronizing the information together, we _might_ stand a chance.

At the same time a new set of standards was emerging, standards to describe, relate and query a new information model, based on meta-data, these became know as the Semantic Web, outlined in a Scientific American article ( ) in 2001.

Fast forward to 2008 - where are we with this vision. Some part of me is thrilled, another part disappointed. We have adoption of these standards and this approach at use in everyday information management situations. Major software companies and startup's alike are implementing Semantic Technology in their offerings and products. However, I am disappointed that we still find it hard to communicate what this semantic technology means and how valuable it is. Most technologists I meet glaze over at the mention of the Semantic Web or any of it's standards, yet when asked if they think RSS is significant, praise it's contributions.

Over a series of posts to this blog, I would like to try and explain, share and show some of the value of Semantic Technology and why one should be looking at it.

Let's start with what is Semantic Technology and what are the standards that define it's openness.

Semantic Technology

To quote Wikipedia "In software, semantic technology encodes meanings separately from data and content files, and separately from application code." This abstraction is a core tenant and value provided by a Semantic approach to information management. The idea that our database or programming patterns do no restrict the form or boundaries of our information is a large shift from traditional IT solutions. The idea that our business logic should not be tied to the code that implements it, nor the information that it operates on is all provided through this semantic representation. So firstly ABSTRACTION is a key definition.

The benefit of this is that systems, machines, solutions, whatever term you wish to use can interact with each other - share, understand and reason, without having been explicitly programmed to understand each other.

With this you get to better manage CHANGE. Your content and systems can evole or change with the changes managed through the Semantic Technology layer.

So what makes up Semantic Technology, one sees the word in a number of soltuions or technologies, are they all created equal.

In my view, Semantic Technology can only truly claim to be so, if it is based on and implements the standards laid out through the (W3C) World Wide Web Consortium standards process.

The vision of the Semantic Web and the standards required to support it continue to expand, but the anchor standards have been laid out for a while.

RDF - The model and syntax for describing information. It is important to understand that with the RDF standards there are multiple things defined to create this standard - the model (or data model) , the syntax (how it is written/serialized) and the formal semantics (or logic described by the use of rdf). In 2004, the original RDF specification was revised and published as 6 separate documents, each covering an important area of the standard.

RDF-S - Provides a typing system for RDF and the basic constructs for expressing Ontologies and relationships within the meta data structure.

OWL - To quote the W3C paper, this facilitates greater machine interpretability of Web content than that supported by XML, RDF, and RDF-S by providing additional vocabulary along with a formal semantics.

SPARQL - While anyone with a Semantic Technology solution invented there own query language (why was this never there one in the first place!), SPARQL, pronounced "sparkle" is the w3c standardization of one. It is HUGE for Semantic Technology and makes all the effort with the other three standards worthwhile.

These standards are quite a pile to sift through, understanding the capabilities embodied in them takes significant effort, but it is the role of technologists in this arena to remove that need for you to understand them. It is our job to provide tools, solutions and capabilities that leverage the these standards bringing semantic technology to life and deliver the power defined within them.

But that is the subject of another post. So what does this all mean in real life? In my next post I will layout a concrete example using product information as an example.

Back in Beige

The Macintosh Classic, Apple's early 1990s budget model.Image from WikipediaI have just returned to using an Apple as my primary machine. It is good to be home :) Most of the last 13 years has been Windows based work for me. I spent the late 80's and early 90's in the UK music and publishing scene, during the growth of desktop publishing and the transformation of the design/print professions to the Mac.

My wife Rachel, has remained loyal. This year she will of been a mac user for 22 years. WOW, thats a long time - longer than most marriages. In many ways that first experience of the Mac back in'86 changed our lives. She got into the primitive tools, shifted careers into design and found herself on Fleet St during those transformational years. Newspapers, magazine groups, the transformations swept through an industry and we went along for the ride.

By 1990, I had moved from hardware to software and by 1995 we had moved to the States. All driven by beige computing. Sitting here pondering it. How did that 128k machine, with the continual swapping of floppy drives come to have such an influence. To give credit, there were some other innovations along the way that had a hand. The LaserWriter - powered by PostScript (thank you John and Chuck), QuarkXpress, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Acrobat, the list goes on.

My daughter (13) has a Mac - actually two (one at home in her room - an old iMac G3) and a school provided iBook. She is a convert. Her homework is more often a PowerPoint than a written essay. How is that shaping her future?

So, thank you, I am back in beige (with a titanium hue). Enough nostalgia. I better get back to that piece I was meant to be writing on more modern things. Semantic technology and web 3.x .

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Watch this space. Zemanta is cool.

The generic globe logo used when Firefox is compiled without the official brandingImage from WikipediaCaught this post on the Amazon Web Services blog.

Zemanta has a really cool Firefox plugin which finds "free" content related to your blog posts. This is something that finds very interesting.

Check it out.

Free, but slow...

Being in the FREE business ( ) I found the Chris Anderson "Free!" article on Wired online interesting. Alongside the article they were offering the "dead tree" version of Wired, at no charge - well in exchange for personal details including mailing address. So I signed up. Here we are in April and that "free" March edition of the paper Wired magazine has now landed in the mailbox. What was the point in "Free" when it now reads like history.

The traditional media process - in which I formally spent many years, dates very fast, and getting faster all the time. Now I am used to "instant/micro-journalism" with Twitter, and long-form publishing being blogs.

I believe in "Free" as the new business, but there's no point in "Free" if it is too late.