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All posts for the month September, 2009

Meta was the word. Ontologies are the current buzzword. The word we need is metontology – meta-ontology – an ontology of ontologies – a collection of ontological statements (that need not actually be organized ontologically itself).

There are countless projects to standardize ontologies for given domains. It used to be ten-a-penny [MyDomain]ML’s – XML Schemas with defined tags, and the W3C / SemanticWeb movement is driving that to ontologies defined in RDF/OWL, again with standardized sets of tags referencable as ubiquitous URI’s.

An ontology need no longer exist as a complete thing for one domain / business / application area – which is just as well, since no such usage domain has clear boundaries with other business domains. This has been recognized before in trying to standardize “Standard Upper Ontology” hierarchically above any number of collections of URIdentifiable reference data. Your ontology is just the collection you happen to use. Treating SUO as hierarchical, above all others, simply creates a competition for the higher ground.

In fact that upper ontology does not itself need to be hierarchical. It is just another collection of reference data – a collection of ways to say ontological things. Of course, that flat, bag of things can be applied to itself to create a hierarchical or heterarchical network (ontology) of itself. Remember OWL is a language, and languages include words that describe words, grammar and other parts of that language.

The natural recursion might scare the odd programmer – but only one who wants to somehow program that upper ontology. Get over it. The collection of ontological statements can be used to describe any other ontology – whether your dominant or preferred view is physical, spatial, temporal, material, process, functional, people, mental, conceptual or whatever. The collection – the URIdentified, referencable superset – is all that is needed.

The ontologies are a red-herring. Come on OWL, how hard can it be ?

Spooooky – 4 hours after writing this I receive Laurie Taylor’s “Thinking Allowed” newsletter “What are you talking about ?” And, it’s about using ontological (& epistemological) & meta as weapons to confuse an argument ;-)

Post Note – and less that two weeks later, a Thinking Allowed edition on “Classification” with Anthiony Graying. How the interesting aspect of classification are the things (the Platypi) that don’t fit  standard schemes and the need to re-invent idiosyncratic classifications for personal uses and purposes in order to derive any new meaning and value.

Having my mind brought back to the mid-70′s by the previous post, I noticed I had the lyrics to Roy Harper’s “Me and My Woman” sitting in a draft post from a couple of weeks ago, just before the vacation. I think Sam’s post to name your favourite U2 tracks, led me into a “soundtrack of our lives” mood … and I regressed to around 1972 … and then realized it had been done before. Desert Island Discs it’s called. Anyway, not to waste the man’s words …

Me and My Woman – Roy Harper

I never know what kind of day it’s been,
on my battlefield of ideals.
But the way she touches and the way it feels,
must be just how it heals
And it’s got a little better
since I let her sundance.

I never know what time of year it is,
living on top of the fire.
But the robin outside has to hunt and hide,
in the cold and frosty shire.

Ah but he knows just what goes
in between his cold toes and his warm ears
And he’s got no disguise in his eyes
for his love as she nears

He spreads her a shelter
She takes the tall skies
As they helter skelter
Along the same sighs

She wakes my days with a glad face
She fakes and says I’m a hard case
She makes and plays like a bad ace
Carrying my days into scarred space

And she knows me well, ah but what the hell
Only time can tell, where we’re going to
Me and my woman

And the Lord speaks out
and the pigpens fawn
The sword slides out
and the nations mourn
The hoard strides out
and the chosen spawn
The devil rides out
and the heavens yawn

And he knows us well, ah but what the hell,
Only time can tell, where we’re going to.
Me and my woman

What a lovely day,
what a day to play at living
What a mess we make,
what a trust we break not giving
Our wings to our children
O how we fail them
O how we nail them

Sunset my colour,
and king is my name
Darkness my lover,
and we live in shame
Too far away
from the light of the day
And so near, and so here

Can’t break through the silence
that has taken my place
On the plains of the morning
that I just could not face

Asking you these questions,
telling you these lies
Enveloping directions,
developing disguise
Open to suggestions,
but closed to all my eyes

Dead on arrival, right where I stand

Space is just an ashtray,
flesh is my best wheel
The atmosphere’s my highway,
and the landscape’s my next meal
I need my own Good Friday,
and I’m trying to fix the deal

Dead on arrival, right where I stand

I am the new crowned landlord
of all beneath my star
Queueing up for doomsday
in my homesick motor car
Born before my mother,
died before my pa.

Dead on arrival, right where I stand

And the cuckoo she moves
through the dawn fanfare
The dew leaves the rooves
in the magic air
I feel a finger running through
my nightmare’s lair
I feel most together
with my nowhere stare

And you know me well, ah but what the hell
Only time can tell where we’re going to.
Me and my woman

Those Sounds of the 70′s Peel sessions … Twelve Hours of Sunset, Highway Blues … back to the future.

(Pity. One flaw, I can just hear my woman saying – Horses have hooves, houses have roofs.)

I was reading Graham Parker’s reminiscences of 1975 London pub-rock, around the recording of “Live at Newlands Tavern” – boy that took me back – but no I wasn’t actually at either of those Peckham or High Wycombe gigs, nor even that Dr Feelgood gig in Guildford with GP or Paul Weller. Must buy a copy. Another time, another place – there or thereabouts in spirit.

Anyway, I read on to the previous post (from the time of Obama’s election) – a rant against conservative republicanism, and was taken by this turn of phrase for failed rationality …

Conservative thinking is over. Its crushing, one-small-portion-of-the-left-hemisphere-of-my-brain-is-all-I’m-using approach to the complexities of this period in history are now too flat-footed to be entertained by anyone who is using a modicum of the other cranial areas. It might have been useful once, but it’s not anymore. – Graham Parker.

Apolitically, atemporally - conservative as in traditional received wisdom – of our time at any time – my point precisely. 10/10 useless – might have been useful once.

Best Definition of KM Ever according to David Gurteen in his latest newsletter, quoting Dave Snowden and his commentary quoting The Cluetrain Manifesto.

The purpose of knowledge management is to provide support for improved decision making and innovation throughout the organization. This is achieved through the effective management of human intuition and experience augmented by the provision of information, processes and technology together with training and mentoring programmes.
Dave Snowden – Cognitive Edge

I agree with David (G)’s analysis:- the decision-support purpose upfront and the focus on understanding through dialogue. Myself, I find it especially telling that human intuition and experience come next and that information, processes, technology, training, etc are all merely augmentation.

Spot on.

I’ve been living with this nagging issue for a few years now. After a long period of many intercontinental business trips and working assigments as well as foreign vacation travel from a UK home, I’ve had a self-inflicted period of choosing to live and work abroad in Australia, USA & Norway. I have thereby been travelling by air more often (and paradoxically with ever cheaper airlines) for domestic or vacation reasons, and family members as well as myself.

I still firmly believe that everyone who wants to hold an international opinion, needs to get out more and see the world – I’ve been very “lucky” in that respect.

But of course the carbon-footprint and oil-dependency of air-travel is inescapable in both global-warming and energy sustainability terms. (Funny just typing that I can just see my Dad saying, some oooh 35/40 years ago, whilst looking up a high-altitude vapour trails criss-crossing the skies , that the scale of aircraft environmental damage was obvious.)

I also firmly believe that even with increasingly sophisticated remote-team-working possibilities, that if international working is part of our economy, then there is still a need for person-to-person working in the flesh to achieve shared understanding and concensus in decision-making. But that brings economic globalization itself into the sustainability equation too.

Anyway, the relative significance of air-travel to other carbon-footprint contributions is plain to see. It was Sue Blackmore that I first saw pledge to give-up air travel – I wonder how close to completely giving-up she actually achieved.

So as well as pledging not to contribute further to the primary problem of global population ;-) I intend that my next move, will be “home” and to a working pattern that can be conducted satisfactorily close to home with less remote team-working needed within one year. Minimal if not zero air-travel. (And I’ll consider voting for anyone that pledges to tax air travel generally – and penalize the cheap carriers disproportionately - and specifically subsidize educational exchange travel with 20% of the take.)

Interesting new WordPress RSS Cloud capability and plug-in by Joseph Scott. Allows RSS subscription for a feed cloud – supposed to reduce feed spam. Don’t fully understand yet, but I do know I have stopped most of my subscriptions through FeedReader & FeedBurner because of the notification overload.

Having (mostly) read Diamond’s Collapse recently, and noticing the various G8 stories (Japan today, China, India, etc ongoing as well as US, Russia and the rest of us in the same boat) about climate change controls, carbon emissions targets, agreements, and the like, I can’t help feeling the No.1 global sustainability issue is population – pure and simple. (But, see the comment about simplicity in the previous post).

Every other effect is multiplied by this number – population times consumption times every other effective governance, efficiency and diversity issue. And where are the margins for error, the plan B’s, the escape routes, the insurance policies, those rainy day resources ? It’s warm and cuddly to talk about each doing our bit for global warming, for the environment, peak-oil, etc – and important to do it for real of course. However, it seems it’s very non-PC to suggest (human) population control is the real issue – now there is a political minefield.

Or are world leaders banking on widespread war, famine and pestilence to sort that one out for us ? Not on their watch, of course. Predictably, hypocrisy rather than evil will be our downfall.

Few of us would defend Hitler as virtuous, in fact few would see him as anything other than “evil”.

Adolf Hitler loved dogs and brushed his teeth, but that doesn’t mean we should hate dogs and stop brushing our teeth.

Says Jared Diamond quoting a friend in “Collapse – How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive” [my emphasis]. The quote follows two long sections on pretty evil events of recent history. Rwandan and Burundian genocides, and the colonialism, slavery and evil dictatorships of Dominica (Trujillo et al) and Haiti (Papa Doc Duvalier et al).

Despite obvious evils, – in the former case, the Malthusian food vs population imbalance rather than the Tutsi vs Hutu ethnic differences, in the latter, the contrast between climate and productive areas vs “enlightened” environmental management at the two sides of the same island, Hispaniola – the full scope of both bottom-up and top-down mismanagements includes pretty much all complex inter-related aspects of social-environmental balance and sustainability.

Fascinating case-studies, and Diamond concludes:

Part of our problem in understanding [Balaguer, a paradoxical Dominican leader] may be our own unrealistc expectations. We may subconsciously expect people to be homogeneously “good” or “bad”, as if there were a single quality of virtue that should shine through every aspect of their behavior. If we find people virtuous or admirable in one respect, it troubles us to find them not so in another. It is difficult for us to acknowledge that people are not consistent, but are instead mosaics of traits formed by diffrent sets of experiences that often do not correlate with each other.

[...] The struggle to understand [him] reminds me that history, as well as life itself, is complicated; neither life nor history is an enterprise for those who seek simplicity and consistency. [my emphasis]

Too true. Life is (just) complicated enough, I often say. In fact I take a slighly different view on the consistency angle.  My take [my emphasis] is that consistency and coherence are in the complexity spread across multiple levels physio-bio-socio-cultural-intellectual processes. It’s the simplicity and consistency in simplicity that is the fools errand.

[Refer back also to MacIntyre on the story beyond virtue after multiple virtues.]

A variation on an old adage ”Writing is easy, but editing is harder.” (It will take me half an hour to prepare a one hour presentation, but a couple of days to prepare a 15 minute talk, etc … ).

A condescending thought maybe (relevant to wisdom), but it is interesting in the blogosphere, particular development blogs, for the (relatively) young and inexperienced, learning their own lessons. Nothing new under the sun, but learning beats teaching nevertheless.

As a lay person trying to get to grips with any meaningful sense in the world of quantum physics, specifically because of its apparent relevance to cosmic creation and the development of the “life, the universe and everything” – I took a recommendation from Marsha (over on MoQ-Discuss) for David Lindley’s “Uncertainty – Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr and the Struggle for the Soul of Science”. Glad I did.

A lot has been written about “Copenhagen” one way or another, so there are few new “facts” in a book like this, and it is therefore particularly satisfying to find it written simply, wittily and with just sufficient scepticism for the expressed thoughts and motives of the main players. (As well as Einstein, Heisenberg and Bohr, those players inlcuded Copernicus, Gallileo, Newton, Kepler, Maxwell, the Curies, Becquerel, Bolzmann, Eddington, Brown, Darwin, Gouy, Laplace, Clausius, Poincare, Rutherford, JJ Thomson, Sommerfeld, Millikan, Planck, Pauli, Born, DeBroglie, Schroedinger and Dirac, to name a few, without even naming the philosophers and writers involved.)

In fact the only hint of being unsatisfactory is in the real-life plot itself. Of all the players, Heisenberg – and the armies of quantum mechanics that followed him – seem to be the only ones not to care about the philosophical and metaphysical implications of “uncertainty” – for want of any better label. Bohr and Einstein clearly both cared deeply, even if they could not agree on a satisfactory interpretation.

I say “for want of a better label” because Bohr himself is at least partly responsible for raising public consciousness of the underlying issues in their metaphorical relevance to so many other areas of science and rational studies in this post-modern era. In becoming cemented in wider consciousness, any hope of delineating between Correspondence, Complementarity and Uncertainty is probably lost, as is any distinction between the metaphorical application and any real physical sense of these terms. Thought experiments – of the kind Einstein favoured – clearly helped thinking and argument, but leave stubborn memes in the public mind; “Schroedinger’s Cat” (formerly “Einstein’s Bomb”) being simply the most infamous.

“Bohr was willing to write and speak about the larger meaning of probability and uncertainty, and to speculate on how these might come to influence other sciences. (When Einstein wrote and spoke on these broad topics, it was of course with the hope of reigning in their pernicious influence, not enlarging it.)”

Other writings come close to satisfying lay accounts of these issues – favourites of mine are (one third of) David Deutsch’s “Fabric of Reality”, Shimon Malin’s “Nature Loves to Hide” and John Gribbin’s “Schroedinger’s Kittens and the Search for Reality” and “The Cartoon History of Time”- the latter, illustrated by Kate Charlesworth, being my all time favourite. David Lindley however, by laying out the narrative drama, leaves us with that real sense that we are in a stalemate, a limbo, since the failure to achieve any real agreement.

“Between determinism and spontaneity.”

“A no-man’s-land between logic and physics.”

Must look out for other writing by Lindley.

After finishing and blogging posts about Hilary Lawson’s “Closure” and Jared Diamond’s “Collapse”, I realized I’d read a few other books recently that I hadn’t mentioned yet.

After reading and enjoying the Booker-of-Bookers, Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children” a few years ago, I also tried but struggled with his “Haroun and the Sea of Stories”.  Recently I read “The Enchantress of Florence” and “The Satanic Verses”, both excellent, literally fabulous – the times blurb on the latter says it.

“A novel of metamorphosis, hauntings, memories, hallucinations, revelations, advertising jingles and jokes. Rushdie has the power of description, and we succumb.”

Well I did, and it sure is no accident that it is “blasphemous” when it comes to the revealed word of God. I have a hard-back of Rushdies’s “The Ground Beneath Her Feet” lined-up for holiday reading starting in a week’s time. Can’t wait – one of my earliest blog posts was a quote from that – and I can’t recall why, something to do with being “in the frame” – a la Pirsig ? [Back in 2003]

Also recently read William James “Essays in Radical Empiricism” – very dry, and important parts of which I have read in other collections already, but essential to the subject.

And also just finished the wonderful David Lindley “Uncertainty – Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr and the Struggle for the Soul of Science” – I’ll blog more on this soon.

And finally, as well as Rushdie I have two Terry Eagleton hard-back’s also awaiting holiday reading; “The Meaning of Life” (2007) and “Reason, Faith and Revolution – Reflections of the God Debate” (2009).

I’ve been evaluating the various social network media recently – to see where they can add “purposeful” value to the blogging & feed paradigm.

Ning is my current favourite – This kinda summarizes my view of the popular flavours. (via Kevin Kelly). Instant / immediate is good, but it isn’t the whole deal. BTW I like KK’s multi-blog and a single consolidated stream. I’m contemplating a categorized / filtered single blog (multi-category) feed into my “LinkedIn” page, whatever I decide to do with Ning.