Wednesday, July 29, 2009

"Certain thoughts are better left unthunk"

This quote comes from Woody Allen's comedy Mighty Aphrodite.

And this is the shortest post I've ever made. I'm on vacation.




See you later :-)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Amazon sends apology

Jeff Bezos, Amazon's CEO wrote:

This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. Our "solution" to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we've received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.

With deep apology to our customers,
Jeff Bezos
Founder & CEO Amazon.com



While it is good to see an apology from Jeff, it is certainly not enough for me to stop thinking about Amazon's policies to be Big Brother of some part of eBook market.

Only when they cede the technical ability to do so, or change their DRM philosophy, I could regain trust in them...

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Amazon fatal step - "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it'

What Amazon did is a real sign of time. They remotely deleted two books from all Kindles that bought them. And the irony is, they did it to George Orwell's books - the authors who "nomen omen" predicted what could happen when the power is connected to means of overwhelming communication.

I guess we still do not take the lessons of the past seriously.

"Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it"

Orwell observed carefully what was happening in parts of the world with highly centralized powerful organizations and their fruits (nazizm, stalinism, communism) and wrote these very books as the warning.

I think we should seriously take this event - and the irony behind it.

The digital world may not go for DRMs as it is practiced today. We saw the first, still quite innocent as for its scale, incident. But it shows us what really could happen...

Once again:

"Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it" (George Santayana)

Having in mind that history does not repeat exactly, lets look, with eyes on XX century and its "-nisms" at Google, Amazon, eBay and other giants that can truly control us ...

I think we still do not take seriously the power of the new digital world, and the threats it carries. But - this is the world, our world - and we should take the past experiences seriously...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Geraldine Brooks memoir

Geraldine Brooks is an Australian born writer and journalist. I know her writership from the "People of the Book", that I reviewed a couple of months ago.

"Foreign correspondence" is Geraldine's memoir built around the traditional letters she exchanged with her pen-pals in sixties and seventies. In the later part of her life, when she starts her journalist job and travels all over the world - she is able to visit and meet her "pals".

The book was, regret to say so, quite boring until some later chapters.

However, when she starts to describe her real life experience in Israel, the book starts to get some colour and vigor. She describes her conversion to Judaism - this part of the book is very good - just because of the deep frankness and sincerity that we can feel - no hype or false piety.

There is fantastic and objective account on Israel, based on her experince with both Jews and Arabs.

So, I must say, the second part of the book was just great and it makes the entire book worth reading !

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Ray Kurzweil interview

I had occasion to listen to an interview/conversation with Ray Kurzweil that was recorder about 3 years ago by C-Span. I was inspired by reference to Ray in Cory's Doctorow book "Content".

First and foremost I'm not in favor of such deep and far reaching futurism as he expresses. I always have in mind impressions we have when we read about some futurist of the past. Take authors like Julius Verne. When it comes to story telling - he was just great, but when it comes to his direct predictions about technology - we just smile. We smile, because Verne was such a fine man, but we do laugh at some other futuristic predictions of the past.

So I have mixed feeling about some of Ray's messages. About his idea of spiritual machines and his pseudo-religious views. I think he even shows some selective ignorance when it comes to some issue of technology and intelligence. He cites famous Turning test that is a test of potential machine intelligence, but falls short to mention Church-Turing thesis - that for me is still a prove for impossibility of true artificial intelligence in a strong sense of the word (i.e. human intelligence connected necessarily to concept of mind and conscience). He mentiones Penrose, but does not notice his key arguments against strong AI. He seems to be ignorant of Gödel and Tarski discoveries and their consequences for AI and machine reasoning...

Well, I do not want to go too far. He is fine man. His achievements for blind people, his work on speach recognition and education and last but not least - his famous musical synthesizers, and his company - are just great things - and I like and admire him for all these achievements. No wonder he was awarded of 16 honorary doctorates !

It was my first longer encounter to his thoughts. I will certainly read some of his book soon.
Recommended, despite of what I have said above ...

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Content - the nature of thought on the web

Cory Doctorow is a blogger, activist, journalist, sci-fi writer and a father of a daughter.


His book "Content" is a selection of several articles and talks Cory wrote or delivered over last couple of years. It is hard to tell, what is this book about, because it is about everything important for us - nerds of Internet, citizens of cyberspace!

Subtitle: "Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright and the Future of the Future" needs some explanation when it comes to "The Future of the Future". The part of Cory's book that is about Future of the Future, explores some Sci-Fi born ideas. Particularly, he explores the idea of singularity - the idea quite important from philosophical point of view - even though it has an aura of total fantasy today...

In other parts it is about the very concept of information, intellectual ownership and copyright in digital era. It contains my favorite text Cory ever wrote "Metacrap: Putting the Torch to Seven Straw-Men of the Meta-Utopia" (the original is here). The text is short but profound. By debunking the metadata hype (in essence - "explicit" metadata), he almost obliges all proponents of Semantic Web to rethink of thier basic tenants....

But it also covers the issues of eBooks and social platforms (with very profound critics of Facebook). He is also very critical of DRM, and his reasoning on this topic is just great and brave.
See for example what he dared to say to Microsoft guys....

There is also a citation of famous "A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace" the seminal text by John Perry Barlow, one of creators of Electronic Frontier Foundation.

All in All - the book is a must for all of us who care about what web means to us....

Needless to say, the book is free to download and free to listen to. Enjoy !

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Can we apply Kuhn's ideas to the WEB ???

I just finished reading Thomas Kuhn's famous "Structure of Scientific Revolutions". This book, today taken as classical text about the history of Science, is of amazing importance to understanding of the evolution of science.

Kuhn was the first who elucidated the concept of PARADIGM in a relation to science. Paradigm, which we should understand as a pattern of thought - rather than a theory or model, is the pervasive component of almost any human intellectual activity.

Kuhn proves that the evolution in science goes in a revolutionary way, by a process called "paradigm shift" which is usually abrupt and fast. One of the symptoms of the paradigm shift is the process of textbook rewriting - when the change appears to be unavoidable and untenable to the previous paradigm. Kuhn describes Copernican revolution, progress in chemistry, Newtonian physics, quantum mechanics and Einstein's theory or relativity as the key examples illustrating his concept.

Very good book - should not be too difficult to read even to those who did not practice science (as I did in old good days with theoretical chemistry ...).

I think, there is also another reason to read it. When reading it I could not avoid thinking about the another field of activity where we witness revolutions and paradigm shifts. See - the history of Web - the web grown to today's size, mostly between 1995 to 2000 - in just 6 years it has changed so much - media, knowledge ...

And, when we recall that the HTML was created in 1980, and HTTP in 1989 - we see that initially the old paradigm of communication was still prevailing. Until Netscape came with its killing application - the browser - and made the shift.

And I'm almost sure we are at the footsteps of another paradigm shift - that between today's web of documents and tomorrow's web of data (aka Semantic Web). Kuhn's book teaches us that it is not very easy to predict when will it happen, and that we probably will witness some dramatic changes. It also explains the latency with SW adoption. The technology is here for years, yet ... Paradigm has not yet shifted !!!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Google's step into Semantic Web - genuine move or a dodge to avoid criticism?

About two months ago Google started to promote two Semantic Web techniques, RDFa and Microformats. We were delighted - finally, with Google doing so, we saw the efforts of all previous trailblazers coming to the fruition. We believed that the first, indeed small step Google did, would be a real leap into the direction of Web 3.0 or, as I used to call it, "Web full of Meaning". Maybe it is still to soon to see the fruits, but we should already see some buds. We don't.

After some reflection and a scrutiny applied to Google's "Rich Snippets" page, or "Structured Data Page" where they announced the support, one can really be disappointed. The simple, I would say - primitive ontology they used (their own data-vocabulary.org) is very strange for its mean scope of concepts. The decision to allow first only for semantic descriptions of reviews is strange and forces us to ask the question: What the heck they are doing?

It seems they did not notice the role of such respected yet also simple, ontologies like Dublin Core Metadata, or when it comes to people - Foaf....

Ian Davis in his post, calls it straight: Google’s RDFa a Damp Squib :-)
I support Ian fully. I try to be far from conspiracy theories, but the way Google steeped into the arena of SW, seems to be more to postpone its advance, than to promote it....

So disappointing ...