April 24th, 2005


Ask Me Anything -- Semantic Web

rho -- Do you actually believe the hype about the semantic web or do you accept that it will likely never progress beyond being a damp squib, but try to support it in the hope of something more than that?

The current hype about the Semantic Web is crap. The idea of knowledge theory and all that crap is great, but I think that it's major overkill that you can't bootstrap against. I think that as a result, a huge huge number of the examples and so on out there are really crap.

However, I think that the technology is good. I think the underlying idea is good. And I think that once you get a significant chunk of the data out there into RDF, it's a hell of a lot easier to deal with and repurpose than other things. I can run queries against it. I can do all kinds of funky things against it. The world is my database.

Some people will say that looking at the semantic web this way is a bad way: you're avoiding the whole "machine readable and understandable" step that is considered a major part of the tools. You're ignoring the fact that this is designed for robots to read and understand and make deductions from, and all those fun and wonderful things. But to be honest, I've never seen those fun and wonderful things work well. What I have seen work well is RDF as a data interchange format. In the same way that RSS works relatively well at describing site content, RDF can work well at describing almost any content with relatively small amounts of work.

I've seen nifty tools be built out of the semantic web. The ability to see pictures of people who are in an IRC channel isn't much, but to be able to click through and see the other information is cooler. To use the FOAF explorer to click through and see things these people may have worked on is cool. To describe who I've met, and run a path from me to someone else using only a specific set of relationships is cool. Yes, they're geeky-cool, but to me, geeky-cool is all that matters.

There's also the fact that RDF and similar technologies can do things with the data that you wouldn't be able to do otherwise. Display a picture alongside a name of a developer for a project described in DOAP via their FOAF file. Show content from their homepage, described in RSS. Show a bunch of different otherwise disparate chunks of information together, in a way that they are more useful.

That's what I think RDF and the Semantic Web are good for, at the moment. Eventually it may be something more impressive, but I don't care about that. I'm a hacker, I care about the now, and the now is nifty data integration. I believe that's a use of the semweb that can't be denied, and I think it's pretty nifty, if not absolutely neccesary.

Ask Me Anything -- more answers

Aaron asks, "How old were you when you first became seriously interested in computers?"

The Christmas of 1994, my father had each of us in the family receive parts for the computer as gifts. He then put it together, and for the first month, it sat on our dining room table until we got a desk together.

I remember being 10, and having that computer, and just being amazed. I'd seen computers at school before, but they were all Apple IIs and so on - this was a 486sx33, brand new machine with Windows 3.1 on it. I had no idea something could be so pretty.

I remember the day we got it, someone showed me how to exist windows, and type "wolf3d" to run Wolfenstein. (My mother made my dad uninstall it after that: she felt it was too violent.) I was so proud of myself, just because I knew how to exit Windows to get to the command line. I think that single act has been the primary motivating factor in my work since then. I remember when it was set up, I would open file manager, and just open every directory, every file, to see what was there. I remember one time double clicking on a self extracting application - Lotus 1-2-3 - which expanded leaving only 74kb left on the hard drive. I had no idea how to undo it, so I immediately turned off the computer, called my father, and let him know what I had done. He came home and let me know that so long as Windows was still running, I hadn't done anything too bad. :)

I remember playing with sound recorder, getting sounds together that played on startup. There was a "kirkhere.wav" : a sound file which was the sound of a Star Trek communicator, and Kirk saying "Kirk Here", after which I recorded "You are now in Windows 3.1" (and of course, added echo.) It was so cool.

I remember our first internet access account, back when there were no local dialup numbers. We connected via something called Global Network Something-or-other. (GNN.)

I also remember things from far before we had a computer, like my dad finding a tip on the "internet" on how to get lots and lives on Mario Brothers, and eventually beating it: he apparently got "triangle" lives, according to my mother. I remember the printout, which was like something straight out of Nintendo Power (although in black and white). It was so weird that you could just find things like that.

I remember in 1998, helping my dad build the new computer. It was a Windows 98 machine - a 350mhz AMD processor. (K6-2.) I remember when he had to take back the video card he had because the video card and mother board simply didn't work together, something that he and I both read about in newsgroups.

I remember a million and one steps getting me to where I am today. But I started my obsession that first day, when I was 10 years old, and learned how to quit Win 3.1 and start wolf3d.

Someone asks, if you were a narcoleptic argentinean, where would your pet penguin be from?

Chile, of course. That's the only place in the world where I would want my pet penguin to be from.

Nyxie asks, "What single experience over the past few years has done the most to 'develop' you as an adult?"

Moving to the East Coast. Throughout my time here, I've gone through so many experiences that I wouldn't have otherwise, and really couldn't have when I was attending school and still, basically, under my parents thumb. I think that it is the single most important step I made towards growing up, although I'm not sure if I realized it at the time.

I feel like an adult here, which is something I never truly felt at University, nor at home. My parents think I'm still 12, and they're trying to enforce that belief that they are the people who should be making my decisions. Out here, I feel really free of that: It's my life, my money, my friends... I'm being who I want to be, rather than who they want me to be. So, I think that moving to the east coast and taking up the job I do here full time is the biggest thing i did towards becoming an adult.

Someone asks, "Do you realize that you are one of the first geek boys in history to have a harem?"

Perhaps so. However, this isn't a new thing: I've had one for years. When I was a Senior in high school, I was in a club called Future Problem Solvers. This is basically a critical thinking group: Here's a future scenario. Come up with problems and solutions related to it. In this group, I was grouped with four other females: one of whom most of you know, my ex-girlfriend, and the others who most of you wouldn't. However, as we worked as a team, we did more and more stuff together: I would give them all rides home (they were all freshmen at the time), we went out to see movies together, we all came to one of the others birthday parties... lots of things like that. On most Friday afternoons, at 3:15 pm, we could be seen traipsing through the halls of the High School to get to my Cadillac in the parking lot, so I could take them all home.

So, even if I am the first with a harem, I've had one for a long time. I'm starting to grow used to it, I think.

(Since this is getting long, I'll post this, and work on some more answers in a bit.)

More answers...

This is probably my last post on the topic for tonight, cause I'm getting sleepy and my answers are getting shorter.

Jessica says, "I know you weren't a fan of college, but back when you were 17, about to graduate HS . . . did you worry that you were going to the wrong college? I am as I didn't apply to another school that I really wanted as I thought I didn't stand a chance =\"

There are a number of schools I wish I had applied to, but I felt that where I was was going to be the best I could get. There's also the lack of financial aid available due to incomes and so on, so I couldn't really afford to go where I really would have wanted to (if I could have even gotten in, which was unlikely).

Keep in mind, when I started college, I was convinced it was going to be the best thing in the world for me. I was excited, and I was practically jumping up and down. Being there got me down a bit over time, but even now there are aspects of it I miss. College was never a bad experience for me, and I think it did wonderful things for me.

I wished that I could have gone elsewhere, but there's always a "grass is greener" look to life. Really, if it turns out the school you go to doesn't work out, you can change. It's not always easy, but it's possible to transfer, and it's possible to even come in as a new student after having only done a little bit of school.

At this point, I'd say that you should just stick to what you've got. Give it at least a semester - but don't give it much more than that. If you're not happy, get out. Go somewhere else, take a semester off and work, whatever. Because there's a million places out there, and even if you're limited by a lot of factors, there's still enough around that you can probably find somewhere that you like.

Nikkiana asks, "Where should I get a job?"

I think you should really just try something strange for the summer. Not retail, but something out of your typical league. Bartending. Event Management. Sales. Something that you wouldn't normally do, just to get out there. I know that I never really knew what I wanted to do, and I wish I had taken a summer and just done something completely off the wall like that.

shahrizai asked, "Did you feel awkward going from just a student to suddenly a father/father figure?"

For a bit, yes, but most of it went away by the time that I actually moved out there. I had spent a fair amount of time out here, and I became acclimated to the "Chris, can you read me a bedtime story?" stuff pretty early on. There are still times when I'm wondering what I'm doing out there - when julie throws up in the middle of the night and I have to clean it up, for example, I wonder how this became my job, but I expect that all parents wonder that.

All in all, I've felt very fatherly towards these kids for a long time, and it wasn't really a quick jump in. I took it in slowly, over a year while still at school, and by the time I came out to live here, I was just kind of used to it.

And I'll say that it's pretty damn cool.