Archive for May, 2005

Das Keyboard

May 31, 2005


Yes! Just ordered my Das Keyboard… will report on how it works out in practice.

Even better than its keys with no labels is the following:

Individually Weighted Keyswitches

Most keyboards use a standard 55 grams of force required to register every key, Das Keyboard has 5 different levels of force. The keys are divided into groups and their feedback springs are weighted differently; from 35 grams to 80 grams, which correspond to the strength of the finger that touches the keys. The result is more comfort for your hands.

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Lisp still rules

May 24, 2005

Udell writes, in praise of dynamic languages and language-writing-languages:

The notion of custom-built “little languages” goes all the way back to Lisp and Smalltalk, as ultimately everything related to dynamic languages does. It’s one of those deeply elegant principles that can take decades to unfold.

When I met with Jim Hugunin recently, he told me that when he shows IronPython to folks inside Microsoft, they’re most impressed by his ability to wield .NET libraries in an exploratory way from the command line. Who would have thought that the read-eval-print loop would seem like breakthrough technology in 2005?

Lisp is still a core technology in KMi’s Semantic Web work, so it’s nice to see others appreciating it.

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Iterator batch-box

May 20, 2005

KMi’s Mark Gaved and Tom Heath have been experimenting with a little sideline task involving automatic batch processing of data items (such as ISBN book numbers input via a bar code reader) that are handled by external web services that do the necessary conversions. The web services themeselves are typically designed for one-at-a-time enquiries, so Tom wrote a little ‘iterator’ black box that allows the user to input a list of items, and then the black box invokes the external web service repeatedly. The guys were speculating about generalizations of this and wrote:

If there are any other data types that could be usefully batched processed from one string then let me know and I’ll look into hacking the script to handle that too 🙂

So I emailed back the following thoughts, which I thought I’d share:

Neat! Top-of-the-head examples of other things that are designed as ‘one-off’ black boxes, but for which an ‘iterator’ batch-box would help *SOMEONE* who needs to do ‘a lot’ of em:

1. soundex converter (great for genealogists)… the only way to discover that
Eisenstadt
Aizenshtat
Izenstat
etc. resolve to the same phonetic name. eg http://resources.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/soundexconverter

2. ‘in-air’ flight arrival times [type in one flight, it tells you ‘on time’ info – maybe nice to have more]

3. http://www.wordreference.com does wicked stuff, but only a word at a time… maybe someone wants to do a lotta words (but from a list of single words, not full text)

4. http://www.xe.com/ucc/ universal currency converter… as above… maybe someone wants to do a lotta conversions (frankly, easier to get the rate and do them oneself in a spreadsheet… but that’s not the point)

5. http://www.digitaldutch.com/unitconverter/ arbirtrary converter (newtons to tonnes, whatever)… hmm… as above…

6. email address -> sha1sum [for FOAF hackers]

7. reverse phone book e.g. http://reversedirectory.langenberg.com/ Google probably better… see next

8. Anything Google tricks can find e.g. http://www.google.com/help/features.html#wp
SO HERE ARE A FEW MORE CATEGORIES:

Parcel tracking IDs, patents and other specialized numbers can be entered into Google’s search box for quick access to information about them. For example, typing a FedEx tracking number will return the latest information on your package. Other special search by number types include :

• UPS tracking numbers example search: “1Z9999W99999999999”
• FedEx tracking numbers example search: “999999999999”

• USPS tracking numbers example search: “9999 9999 9999 9999 9999 99”
• Vehicle ID (VIN) numbers example search: “AAAAA999A9AA99999”
• UPC codes example search: “073333531084”
• Telephone area codes example search: “650”
• Patent numbers example search: “patent 5123123”
Remember to put the word “patent” before your patent number.
• FAA airplane registration numbers example search: “n199ua”
An airplane’s FAA registration number is typically printed on its tail.
• FCC equipment IDs example search: “fcc B4Z-34009-PIR”
Remember to put the word “fcc” before the equipment ID.

And of course there must be zillions more examples. Is this something (an iterator service) that has already been solved?

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15 uses of RSS, and more…

May 14, 2005

Actually many more, from Tim Yang and numerous commenters:

Basically, you can perform any task with RSS that requires search or information retrieval from a server. Automatically and repeatedly. Here are my favourites …

1. Get the news as it happens from multiple news sources

2. Collect your email from all your email accounts in your RSS reader

3. Track Fedex packages

4. Get notified of bargains at Ebay

etc etc

OU Degree Ceremony and Award for Judith Greene

May 10, 2005


On Saturday I attended one of the many wonderful Open University degree ceremonies that take place throughout the UK and continental Europe. The large number of ceremonies is of course needed to handle the large number of graduates, and it is really a sight to behold. A very moving event all in all, particularly given the phenomenal achievements of the hundreds of extremely-hard-working adult learners that make up the graduating groups. I was proud to be the person to deliver the eulogy introducing recently-retired Psychology Professor Judith Greene for the award of Emeritus Professor of The University.

Judy appointed me to my first real academic job here at the Open University almost 30 years ago, so it was quite an occasion. She brought me a special present on the day: the original artwork for Fido The Dog, the ‘semantic network’ dog from the Fido–isa–>dog & Fido–likes–>beer representation I inherited from Don Norman’s Explorations In Cognition group in the mid-70’s, and for which I had an OU artist by the name of Ray Webb draw a sequence of beer-drinking dog episodes in order to lighten up the OU teaching material that I was then preparing [one of eight images is shown to the left]. I also got to wear (for the first time!) the formal academic robe from the last place I attended as a graduate student: the University of California at San Diego. I was already out of the country by the time of my original graduation, so never managed to attend. And it seems my one-year visit to the UK kind of ran on and on….

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Semantic photo gallery browsing?

May 9, 2005

Tom Heath has tipped me off to

a really nice example from Libby Miller of convergence of semantic web ideas with firefox extensions to create a kinda browser for discovering and viewing photo galleries marked up in FOAF

It’s called Pigsty, and here’s what Libby says about it:

Pigsty – a Firefox extension for displaying and image galleries linked from FOAF files

[…download link and instructions included…]

First open up the extension by clicking on tools/pigsty. Clicking on one of the preloaded links in the top half of the pigsty sidebar will load the images described in that file and descriptions of them. You can then filter by person, place, date or tag, using the button on the top right of the panel with the arrows. This loads all the people (dates, place or tags) in the pictures you’ve downloaded and puts them lower in the sidebar. You can then click on these to see all the associated photos (effectively “all pictures of Dan Brickley” or “everything tagged ‘tuscany'” etc).

The extension automatically adds galleries it finds in foaf files to the sidebar and to a bookmarks folder ‘pigsty feeds’

Gave it a brief test run, and it seems to work OK; will try to enrich my codepiction photos with the necessary gallery annotations. I’ve blogged before about my love/hate relationship with FOAF, including the codepiction stuff and how you can leapfrog from me to Frank Sinatra using a photographic ‘chain of evidence’. My grumbles in that earlier blog entry included such comments as

The FOAF files of people whom I know to be staunch FOAF evangelists are woefully inaccurate and out of date. Most are ‘trial runs’. My FOAF file lingers there, kind of like my old and no-longer-used Orkut subscription.

And I also commented about the pros and cons of non-semantic descriptions created by swarm intelligence (e.g. in Wikipedia). My grumbles still hold, but I’ll withold further judgement on Pigsty and related projects until I’ve had a chance to give it a fair trial. Anything that simplifies tasks like this for the end user is definitely welcome!

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Skype ate my computer…

May 1, 2005

…and other alarming ‘resource hog’ tales on my Get Real posting about ‘Skype: be afraid’. This is serious, folks: “think of your machine as a key hub for the world’s voice traffic and you’ll see what I’m talking about”… the article includes links to the technical analysis of how Skype really works.

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