Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Old wisdom never dies ...

See the amazing part of an amazing 2007 article: "Who is afraid of the GGG?" (here)

"making a landline phone call will now be ‘unSkyping’,
Post-It notes will henceforth be called ‘retro-Twitters’,
going outside will now be ‘outdoorsing’,
a paperback book will be known as a ‘Kindle Alpha
and ....
Wednesdays will be Day 3.0. "

isn't it lovely and ... full of truth about our hubris to invent new pseudo-real-concepts ???


Saturday, June 27, 2009

35 thousands years of music

Music accompanies our life since its beginnings. This truth is well known. Yet, when a new discovery in the history of civilization relates to music, I'm always shocked, moved and bewildered - to say the least. It happened again with the discovery of almost 35 thousands years old instrument:

What is more, there was a possibility for scientists to play the music using it.
You may listen to it here:

The discovery, made in famous Hohle Fels cave in Germany. In the same cave, a year ago, the famous Venus of Hohle Fels was found.
The flute was found, among others, by Nicholas J. Conard of the University of Tübingen.
The original Nature article can not be read if you are not registered, so you may
read the following New York Times article or Flute section of prehistoric music article.

What all that means? For me, it is one more proof that the role of music transcends the role we used to assign to it. Many of us treat is as entertainment, leisure time activity. However, the recent discoveries, coming from neuroscience and here - from archeology - prove the opposite - it has fundamental role in our human existence. Role, that, I think is still not completely recognized and understood....

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Soloist - A true story of the true power of music

Nathaniel Ayers was at the footsteps of his potential great musical carrier, when, while at Juilliard School of music he was struck by the sudden outburst of schizophrenia. Then for thirty years he was leaving on Los Angeles streets as a homeless bum, playing for money on his violin with two strings broken....

He was discovered by journalist and columnist, Steve Lopez, and they both went through the painful process of getting Ayers out of the darkness of his illness. Though never totally recovered, Ayers, with the help of selfless attitude of Lopez finally found his home, his studio and started to live more or less normal life.

The book "The Soloist" is very well written, fascinating account on these events. It is captivating, once started it is quite hard to stop reading it - what I witnessed, reading it all over my trip to Paris, in metro, on the plane - just everywhere....

"'Do you know what Sibelius is saying here?' Mr. Ayers asks. 'He's saying. I love this music' Do you hear it? 'I love this music. I love this music'"

You can watch the real Lopez and real Ayers here:

Nathaniel Anthony Ayers Foundation is here: http://www.naayers.org/

And the movie website is here: http://www.soloistmovie.com/

Last but not least - there is no better real life illustration of the ideas of Musicophilipa than in "The Soloist". Both books gave me incredible experience during this visit to Paris, one was read in paper, the other listened to in audio...

Paris, St. Placide, June, 25, 4 AM.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Musicophilia - a tractate on musical brain

Olivier Sacks, professor of neurology and psychiatry, the author of famous book "The Man who mistook His Wife for a Hat" wrote another incredible tractate. Musicophilia is the book that should shake our views about musical perception and the role of music for the understanding of human mind.

The book is written in the form of reports and accounts and conclusions about cases of severe mental illnesses and their relation to music or musical perception.

He analyses many forms of strange mental behaviour, from certain types of seizures that can be called "musical seizures", musical hallucinations through haunting musical "brainworms" to deep analysis of relation between music and blindness, musical savantisms or Williams syndrome.

Olivier Sacks does not attempt to paint the big picture of relation between music and brain. He is modest and shows a lot of moderation and scientific discipline when it comes to interpretation of these facts. However, we, his readers could indulge in comments, conclusions and judgments. One conclusions is almost certain - the musicality - the perception of music can not be reduced to the quality of hearing or simple audition. There are indirect proofs that music is much more deeply rooted in our brains - in the biological and physical foundations of our minds. As he writes: "There are undoubtedly particular areas of the cortex subserving musical intelligence and sensibility (...) The emotional response to the music it would seem is widespread and probably not only cortical but subcortical..."

After reading this book there is no doubt the music is much more important and more fundamental to our life than we ever expected.

Some of us had already knew that, other had some vague gut feeling of this truth - but Sacks shows how deeply true are all these hunches...

This review has been written in Paris. I finished listening to the book in this city full of music at 6 AM in the morning of sleepless night. It is incredible, how listening to this book interwoven for me with reading of "The Soloist". Both say the same, but from different perspective...

Monday, June 22, 2009

Nigel Kennedy plays in Manufaktura

The unquestionable genius of violin, Nigel Kennedy gave an outstanding concert on the marketplace of trade center Manufaktura in Lodz. He was accompanied by the band "Kroke" and they played mostly Klezmer music, with many tours of classical, jazz and even rock music.
The music was absolutely thrilling and we just could not stand still - dancing was unavoidable !!!
Here is one piece, but the quality is very low:

I will bring here some pictures soon made by my daughter.
Kennedy's performance was one of the events of the Festival Of Jewish Culture on Lodz.

I'm proud to be a lecturer on the other day of this festival. My lecture: "Four Holy Cities of Judaism and Talmudic Sages" gathered more than 50 people in another concert/theater hall in Lodz. I did not expect to be so famous :-)

Written in Paris ....

Monday, June 15, 2009

A harbinger of two reviews of two great books

Both books are about music. Both are non-fiction stories. Both are great. To such extent that I decided to write this short note just to anticipate the reviews, I will write in due course.

The first is "The Soloist" is the true story of Nathaniel Ayers, American musician who developed a mental illness while he was a promising student of famous Juilliard School of Music. The story is written by Steve Lopez, a journalist and columnist for Los Angeles Times.

The book tells the story of how powerful is music and how it can heal. See more here soon.

The second is completely different - yet there is some mysterious link to "The Soloist". It is "Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain" by Olivier Sacks. It's almost a scientific treatise on the link between what we know about musical perception and neuroscience. I'm still in the beginning of it, but it shows that musical perception is a unique phenomenon, different from just perception of sounds. Seems like there is really sixth sense - and it is that of pure music !!!

Both reviews will appear here shortly. The first book is read, the second listened to :-)


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Blindness ... A paragon of bad story

After 13 hours of listening to Jose Saramago's "Blindness" I came to the following conclusion: How fortunate was I, that for so many years I have been reading and listening to mostly good books with largely prevailingly stories...

Unfortunately, Blindness is not a good story. And I'm sure of my firm opinion. It's totally fictional novel about an epidemic that causes total blindness of the population of some unnamed country.

Well, as for the initial setting it was quite interesting - it could be a ground for serious deliberations on human nature - particularly under severe conditions. At some moments, I had the feeling that Jose Saramago was close to great prose and deep analysis of what can happen to man under ill fortune and severe calamities. Some remote recollections of stories from death camps resonated in parts of the book ...

However, everything there was too far from the really deep thoughts and considerations, to deserve appraisal. The moral notion of so many scenes is unconvincing. The considerations of some sexually oriented behaviour of blind people - quite offensive, to say the least.
The book ends with totally naive sudden recovery of all people from the blindness - almost like a happy end, with merely a shadow of unknown fate of one of the main characters.

Unfortunately, I also found a lot of tedious and flat passages - was this the result of poor translation? That I do not know. Maybe, in its original language, the book written, despite everything, by a Nobel price laureate, could defend its merits... Maybe....

I regret to write such review, but - I had no choice - this what my heart dictates...

Friday, June 12, 2009

The inspiration - 10 years of ClueTrain Manifesto

When I first read this book (in fact listened to) it was like a bolt out the blue. It was like revelation of truths that we felt in our veins and bones. It was like all my history of business in the new, communism-free Poland, like our "we web it for you" slogan - suddenly gained justification and explanation.

End of business as usual. People of earth - this is our earth. When we converse, dialog, talk, quarrel, without barriers - we create something.

"Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy" became the motto of my managment style for so many years.

And even the "Demonic Paradox" that has been haunting us for so many years in this part of Europe:

"Although a system may cease to exist in the legal sense or as a structure of power, its values (or anti-values), its philosophy, its teachings remain in us. They rule our thinking, our conduct, our attitude to others. The situation is a demonic paradox: we have toppled the system but we still carry its genes. "

was the part of the message of the book.

Today (via David Weinberger - the co-author of ClueTrain) we welcome the 10-th anniversary edition. There is an event at Berkman Center. While we still must wait till we can buy it at Amazon, there is an interesting discussion going there: what is the difference? How we see ClueTrain after this 10 years....

I will come back to it as soon as I get the "10 anniversary edition" with new chapters and new reflections...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Why the new title for my blog?

There are few reasons for going from "Reading Books" to "purl.org/net/sopek":

1) The blog is no longer only about books. There are a lot of of posts on various themes
2) I want to promote my global unique identifier "purl.org/net/sopek"
3) I want to promote the idea of global, persistent identifiers

What is this PURL than ?

It is an acronym for Persistent URL. PURL is a service, run by Online Computer Library Center, a non-profit international organization, committed to preserve created PURLs indefinitely and at no cost. There are about 800 thousands PURLs created so far. PURL never change. Once created they will exist as long as Internet will be up and running. On the technical side PURL is a resolution server. It means, that it can point to some real resource (For example purl.org/net/sopek points to this blog). Because of this nature PURLs are ideal as parts of URI for any semantic web need.

And last - but not least - I may decide to move to another blog platform. This means I may loose my sopekmir.blogspot.com address - but I will never loose purl.org/net/sopek !!!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Two applications of Wikipedia - one of Meaning, second of Printing

Wikipedia has two fantastic offspring ideas.

In the first we can see what size it would have if printed on paper. See http://www.rob-matthews.com/index.php?/project/wikipedia/ (via David Weinberger). Have fun :-)

In the second, which I get into closer at last ESWC conference, called dbPedia, we have huge extraction of structured data or, structured data. I specifically like the term "Meaning Minining" coined by David Weinberger. Sings in my ears nigh to my "Web full of Meaning" as I call Semantic Web...

Sunday, June 07, 2009

XX years of freedom on this land

Yes - I was strong opponent of communist rule.

I took part in student strikes of 1980s, I was distributing political, anticommunism pamphlet during Marshal Law of 1981. Never went into political activity, though. Open science and free enterprise was were I imagined my role.

So, when 1989 June came - I decided to do with the freedom something long lasting. Almost exactly around June 4th and first free elections, I went to then “West” Berlin, bought my first PC and that was the start of my business. I was 30 at that time.

Poland started the Domino effect of the fall of communism - Walesa in Gdansk 2009

Finally, after 40 years we could not only tamper with unwilling authorities - we could really start doing normal, honest, open business.

I started in my kitchen and the first activity was to use DTP tools (I was also proud to have the first legal Ventura Publisher software in the town :-)) to typeset newspapers and books that started to mushroom after the elections.

Then years of hard work came, we embraced Internet, we were one of first small ISP in the city of Lodz, started to build first websites. Then I came to Canada and later to States to work and to learn about the real business... Started to understand the fundamental role of the Web, started to create real business applications - all via web oriented methods.

Today my company has 80 people, we went public 1,5 years ago, and we are working also on international scale, we are growing in an organic way ... We will also celebrate our XX years this year. We will have the formal celebrations in September at Arthur Rubinstein Philharmonic Hall in Lodz - feel invited :-) I will announce the exact day soon.

There is also a shadow part of the story. It is about how slow the path to freedom goes through the minds of people. During these XX years the most important problem we faced can be described by this very sentence: "We toppled the system but we still carry its genes" (Kapuscinski)

So, as we celebrate the freedom and better Poland, we still, from time to time feel this shadow, this "sediment" that still resides in minds of so many people. There is still a long path ahead of us...

We are still not fully the “society of citizens”. The demons of the past are still haunting many. Poland still did not came back to the ideas of multicultural, multiethnic society it was before II WW and for hundreds of years before.

I just have my 50 birthday – it is June 7th. I guess all these days I will have time to ponder on the history we witness, both private and public. And I will continue to dream about Poland of our forefathers, when so many different people, of different faith and ethnicity lived in peace and with open minds....

Ubik - the classic of philosophical sci-fi

Were it not for a recommendation from my son, I probably wouldn't have discovered Philip Dick’s novels and his most famous one - Ubik.

Popular ranking puts Ubik and most of his other books into the “Science-Fiction” category. On the surface it is true – the book describes events in then-future (was written in 1969) i.e. in 1992. The main plot revolves around a strange company (Runciters Inc.) whose principal business is to protect its clients from unwanted interference from some telepathic “criminals”, who by use of psychic field, may interfere with humans brains (There was no Internet then, but Dick’s imagination was like a prediction of spam. BTW - Dick, in some sense, predicted the web – as a customized source of information via a "pape machine").

Another pillar of the novel’s plot is the “half-life” – the state into which a person could go after death of her/his physical body. The idea of possible contact of real people and people physically dead, done via interception of residual brain activity – plays an important role.

However, that’s enough about the plot in my review. I’m not going to spoil it for the future readers. The whole point in the reading of the book is about surprise, about incredible interleaving of time and space in such a way, that reader is often totally lost as to where the plot happens and in what time. There are amazing descriptions of time going backward into the past – and descriptions that do leave us with total uncertainty about the temporal and spatial frames of the plot.

The book is also deeply philosophical, and in this aspects, Dicks style reminds me of Lem’s writings. As with Lem, Dick transmits deep philosophical thoughts about time, space and human will. However, he does so in a very sincere way - free from any pathos or elation. There is nothing like bombastic moralization – and if you do not buy his philosophy – you can just ignore it. The reading is still a thrilling experience.

The last pages of the book, with an invocation of some ironically biblical tone, and the very last sentence of the book says something fundamental of humans condition – about freedom and almost Machiavellian will to exist, to survive, to prevail.

And last – but not least – the language of the novel. There are sentences and figures of speech of unprecedented beauty and wit. Read this:

“The chill debased the surfaces of objects; it warped, expanded, showed itself as bulblike swellings that sighed audibly and popped. Into the manifold open wounds the cold drifted, all the way down into the heart of things, the core which made them live. What he saw now seemed to be a desert of ice from which stark boulders jutted. A wind spewed across the plain which reality had become; the wind congealed into deeper ice, and the boulders disappeared for the most part. And darkness presented itself off at the edges of his vision; he caught only a meager glimpse of it.”

If you like good sci-fi – read it, if you do not like – read it anyway. Dick’s writership transcends any attempt to pigeonhole it.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Semantic Web on Greek Island. Conclusion

ESWC 2009 - European Semantic Web Conference.

It was great conference and amazing experience. Not only I could understand and grasp where the world is today when it comes to Semantic Web, but also we witnessed deep and hot discussion about its philosophical implications. After these 5 intensive days one can really feel the big change that will soon shake the web and the way we use it.

I think, instead of long review, I rather point readers to two web resources about the conference:

1) Its website: http://www.eswc2009.org/
2) The recordings of key lectures will be soon available on http://www.videolectures.net/

Finally, it was also right choice to organize it in such amazing nature...

See just two pictures:

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Today’s dummies – Tomorrow’s génies

„Making Everything Easier” is the well known motto of the „For Dummies” series of books. The series has a good track of bringing even the most difficult technologies and skills to the level of a layman. Looking into the past, we can track that in most cases soon after a book „X for Dummies” was published, X became really important.

So I was extremely happy to find “Semantic Web for Dummies” by Jeffrey T. Pollock (http://www.semanticwebfordummies.com/). First, Jeffrey T. Pollock is really a personage of the Semantic Web. Software industry veteran for many years, now with Oracle, where he is a true trailblazer for Semantic Web technologies at the most advanced database and business software vendor. Second - so far, Semantic Web was the domain of highly sophisticated academic discourses and abstract papers far from reality.

“Semantic Web for Dummies” breaks from this tradition and shows its very practical applications. For example in Chapters “The Semantic Web in Your Life” the author shows the importance of Semantic Web for social Web2.0 experience. As he goes through solutions like Twine, TripIt, ZoomInfo or Dapper – he demonstrates that, somehow unconsciously, we are already using it! Then he switches to business use cases and writes about semantic applications, databases, policies and shows how important it can be for data integration – the most critical of today’s business systems challanges.

The book has nice parts like “A Quick Semantic Web Primer” or “Using the Resource Description Framework” aimed at teaching RDF, and “Speaking the Web Ontology Language” – aimed at OWL. In “Exploring Semantic Web Enablers” Pollock goes through all important components of Semantic Web. I was, however, a bit disappointed that the sub-chapter about SPARQL – such important part of SW was only 1,5 page long – certainly too short !!!

The best parts of the book are part IV “Putting the Semantic Web to Work” and V “The Parts of Tens”. The former for its practical attitude and lots of existing examples (e.g. I was amazed by “Harpers Magazine” experience), the later is quite philosophical, nevertheless it defends SW using the same “Ten Myths” method – once used by emerging XML technology.
By rebuking these myths Pollock truly answers all important doubts and hesitations about Semantic Web technologies.

The book concludes by a series of very practical suggestions – “Ten Next Steps” – where the reader gets practical advises what to check, train or contact, if she/he wants to participate in the growing tide of Semantic Webs :-)

I strongly recommend the book – it is the best introduction into Semantic Web I found on the market, so far.

Post written on beautiful Crete: