Monday, June 18, 2007


My nine-year-old son came home today from a summer day camp to inform me that the longest word in the English language is ultramicroscopicvolcanicsiliconiosis. Is that so? It is not in my dictionaries and a Google search returns zilch. Does anyone know for sure? Can you quote an authoritative source? I would accept the Oxford Unabridged, but don't have a copy at home.

The word apparently refers to a lung disease caused by the inhalation of fine volcanic ash.

APC 1500 Back-UPS

I installed an APC 1500 Back-UPS uninterruptable power supply on my desktop computer yesterday. We get not-infrequent brown-outs and even the occasional power outage in F'burg.

Setup was a breeze. The only trick was needing to connect the battery, which came pre-charged (thereby causing a discharge arc when connecting - I was not warned in the manual and it took me by surprise). The included PowerChute Personal Edition software installed easily on my PowerMac Quad G5. I was pleased to see that I now have a battery icon in my Finder bar and it works to indicate the status of the battery.

The G5, a 23 inch screen and a 17 inch screen, my laptop power supply, Klipsch speakers, a USB hub and an external hard drive add up to about 300 W, giving about 15 minutes of power from the battery. When the machine is sleeping and the monitors are off, the power usage drops way down.

I tried the obvious test by unplugging the power cord. The UPS functioned as expected. The alarm (4 beeps per minute) sounded and the machinery stayed up. Oddly, I did get a dialog box warning me that a USB device was removed and not properly dismounted first. I think that came from the USB monitoring cable on the UPS, but am not certain.

The only (very minor) complaint is a faint smell of ozone. I think I would rather get used to the ozone than risk losing a HDD, so I'm happy.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Mikayla's Yellow Belt

Congratulations to my daughter Mikayla for her advancement to Yellow Belt (8th Gup) in Tae Kwon Do. Here she is with Master Mark Grenier, dad and brother Aidan.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


GetHuman is a very, very cool site to collect and disseminate paths around semi-automated corporate call centers. The way one gets an actual human being on the phone is documented for hundreds of big corporations.

GetHuman was founded by blogger Paul English (see the blog that started it all). He started the site "out of his own frustration in trying to obtain excellent customer service." Since then he has built a small but productive team to actually take on the corporations' poor customer service policies.

GetHuman had the beautiful audacity to create a "standard" to which they would like companies to comply. The site grades companies on their compliance with that standard. I can only hope that this idea gets enough legs under it to make a brand.

I see GetHuman as a community workaround to a systemic failure; Corporations set up mostly-automated call centers that saved their time, not their customers' time. Perhaps a Semantic Web solution could be developed to facilitate mostly-automated call centers that serve both interests. In the meantime, the GetHuman standard is a nice way to encourage the eight hundred pound gorillas in our midst to act responsibly with our time.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Lots of Zepheira Press

Zepheira has been getting a lot of press recently. The Zepheira news page certainly has links to more podcasts and respectible publications than any other company I have have the privilege to be part of.

Investors Business Daily came out today with an interview of several key SemWeb leaders, including Eric Miller. The article itself expires after today (!) so I have created a PURL for it so we can eventually move the redirection when IBD pulls their head out.

The article was typical journalistic fare, attempting to be "balanced" in the same way that Fox News is. That is done by showing both sides of a story - even when there are not, in fact, two sides. We see this sort of nonsense with science reporting when reporters go increasingly out of their way to find a few scientists willing to publicly doubt the phenomenon of climate change or willing to say that nuclear fusion will happen commercially within the decade. In the case of the Semantic Web, the same old doubters of 1999 come out to play and get quoted every time, ignoring the clear commercial successes of the last few years.

It is interesting to see Tim O'Reilly routinely quoted in the press now putting the SemWeb in a more positive light than last year: "The Semantic Web is the idea of marking up computer information in such a way that computers can infer meaning from it."

The journalist managed to get basic facts wrong, too, as when he says, "Internet protocols make it hard to search for many basic items on a Web site, such as a simple address or phone number." or "A resource description framework (RDF) and Web ontology language (OWL) are new technologies that can solve that problem. They serve as a kind of wrapper or tag to describe the data inside." RDF and OWL are hardly new (both were standardized in 2004 and pretty stable years before) and of course the Internet protocols have nothing to do with linguistic searching.

He also gets some things right: "This new vocabulary lets computers find and access data on their own. The goal is letting the machines perform rote tasks to gather information and merge the results.", and he mentions products from Oracle and Adobe.

Eric is quoted reasonably. That is a relief. "These Web standards should help companies spot new relationships among huge sets of data and use the findings for better conclusions about their business, says Eric Miller, president of Web startup Zepheira."

I rather liked the MySpace example and wonder if it came from Eric:

For instance, MySpace might let personal pages share information with the pages of relevant friends or colleagues in the social network.

Take someone whose MySpace page describes a fondness for vintage jazz. By entering that information once, that person could automatically be linked to others who share the same interest.

Furthermore, that information could be applied to future Web searches for new music releases. In effect, using metadata could become a way to make MySpace "truly mine," said Miller.

"This means there is a much more flexible, personalized integration point to really connect people," he said. "The notion here is to enter data just once, but to use it often."