Ivan’s private site

January 4, 2014

Data vs. Publishing: my change of responsibilities…

Fairly Lake Botanical Garden, Shenzhen, China

There was an official announcement, as well as some references, on the fact that the structure of data related work has changed at W3C. A new activity has been created called “Data Activity”, that subsumes what used to be called the Semantic Web Activity. “Subsumes is an important term here: W3C does not abandon the Semantic Web work (I emphasize that because I did get such reactions); instead, the existing and possible future work is simply continuing within a new structure. The renaming is simply a sign that W3C has also to pay attention to the fact that there are many different data formats used on the Web, not all of them follow the principles and technologies of the Semantic Web, and those other formats and approaches also have technological and standardization needs that W3C might be in position to help with. It is not the purpose of this blog, however, to look at the details; the interested reader may consult the official announcements (or consider Tim Finin’s formula: Data Activity  ⊃ Semantic Web  ∪  eGovernment :-)

There is a much less important but more personal aspect of the change, though: I will not be the leader of this new Data Activity (my colleague and friend, Phil Archer, will do that). Before anybody tries to find some complicated explanation (e.g., that I was fired): the reason is much more simple. About a year ago I got interested by a fairly different area, namely Digital Publishing. What used to be, back then, a so-called “headlight” project at W3C, i.e., an exploration into a new area, turned into an Activity on its own, with me as the lead, last summer. There is a good reason for that: after all, digital publishing (e.g., e-books) may represent one of the largest usage areas of the core W3C technologies (i.e., HTML5, CSS, or SVG) right after browsers; indeed, for those of you who do not realize that (I did not know that just a year and a half ago either…) an e-book is “just” a frozen and packaged Web site, using many of the technologies defined by W3C. A major user area, thus, but whose requirements may be special and not yet properly represented at W3C. Hence the new Activity.

However, this development at W3C had its price for me: I had to choose. Heading both the Digital Publishing and the Data Activities was not an option. I have lead W3C’s Semantic Web Activity for cca. 7 years; 7 years that were rich in events and results (the forward march of Linked Open Data, a much more general presence and acceptation of the technology, specifications like OWL 2, RDFa, RDB2RDF, PROV, SKOS, SPARQL 1.1, with RDF 1.1 just around the corner now…). I had my role in many of these, although I was merely a coordinator for the work done by other amazing individuals. But, I had to choose, and I decided to go towards new horizons (in view of my age, probably for the last time in my professional life); hence my choice for Digital Publishing. As simple as that…

But this does not mean I am completely “out”. First of all, I will still actively participate in some of the data activity groups (e.g., in the “CSV on the Web WG”), and have a continuing interest in many of the issues there. But, maybe more importantly, there are some major overlapping areas between Digital Publishing and Data on the Web. For example, publishing also means scientific, scholarly publishing, and this particular area is increasingly aware of the fact that publishing data, as part of reporting of a particular scientific endeavor, becomes as important as publishing a traditional paper. And this raises tons of issues on data formats, linked data, metadata, access, provenance, etc. Another example: the traditional publishing industry makes an increasingly heavy usage of metadata. There is a recognition among publishers that a well chosen and well curated defined metadata for books is a major business asset that may make a publication win or loose. There are many (overlapping…) vocabularies and relationships to libraries, archival facilities, etc., come to the fore. Via this metadata the world of publishing may become a major player of the Linked Data cloud. A final example may be annotation: while many aspects of the annotation work is inherently bound to Semantic Web (see, e.g., the work W3C Community Group on Annotation), it is also considered to be one of the most important areas for future development in, say, the educational publishing area.

I can, hopefully, contribute to these overlapping areas with my experience from the Semantic Web. So no, I am not entirely gone, just changed hats! Or, as on the picture, acting (also) as a bridge…

August 15, 2013

Public Access—oh Irony!

Filed under: General,Private,Uncategorized — Ivan Herman @ 11:37

I found a Force11 reference on Google+ to a NYT article. The article is entitled “How to Share Scientific Data”, which is a topic I am interested in both privately and also professionally as part of my W3C work (publishing scientific data on the Web is coming to the fore as a major area of Data on the Web). The NYT article is, actually, “just” a short overview of a more detailed paper, written by F. Berman and V. Cerf, on ”Who Will Pay for Public Access of Research Data”, and published in Science. Because the NYT has duly  put a reference, I followed it. That is only a reference with the abstract; there is a separate link to the full text. But then… I am asked to subscribe to Science to access the paper which is is about 100$ for an annual subscription! In effect: one would have to pay 100$ to access a paper (o.k., possibly others, but that is the one I am interested in right now!) that looks at public access of data: isn’t this ironic? Sigh…

August 11, 2013

The value of community driven content (OSM vs. Google Map)

Filed under: Private,Social aspects,Work Related — Ivan Herman @ 12:51
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Notre dame de la gardeThis is just a nice little example which might be worth noting for those who do not know Open Street Map (I am also a relatively new user of it).

I had a nice walk in Marseille yesterday, which included going down from the big cathedral on the top of the hill (“Notre Dame de La Garde“) to the seaside. There is a not-very-well-known path behind the church that one can take which is, for my taste anyway, a gorgeous way of doing it.

The path of course appears on Google’s Map: look at the small path going from the church to the “Rue du Bois Sacré”. However: look at the same area using Open Street Map: not only is the path there, but it gives a bunch of details. Indeed, it is not really a simple path: it is a long series of steps, i.e., do not try to drive even a bike there:-( And because it is a hot city, it is also good to know that there is small public fountain along the path (and, indeed, it is there and it works!)…

It is not really Google’s fault. They probably got the material from some sort of an official mapping system (they could not get their camera cars or bikes up there…) and there is no way a company, even as huge as Google, can cover such details. But a community-driven site can: people can add such details easily. (Actually, there was part of the path that was missing, and I will add it soon using my GPS readings.) Therein lies the power:-)

December 24, 2012

Mountain Lion Installation woes…

Filed under: Mac,Private,Work Related — Ivan Herman @ 15:38
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Cougar / Puma / Mountain Lion / Panther (Puma ...

Mountain Lion. Philadelphia Zoo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is December and, just as last year, it is the time for an upgrade of OS X. Last year it was Lion (and I did write down my experiences back then); this time it is Mountain Lion. I decided to make a short note of my experiences because, maybe, by sharing those I will save some time and energy to somebody else. In general, I have not hit any major issues, I must say, just nuisances, but it did take me some time to get around those…

1. The installation process itself was fairly straightforward except that… it was nerve wrecking some times. While installing, the screen duly had a progress bar with a text underneath, saying something like “the remaining time is 25 minutes”, “the remaining time is 5 minutes”, “the remaining time is less than a minute”, then… it stuck. Stuck for a long time. Nothing moved, the progress bar was full. And then an even stranger thing happened: it said something like “the remaining time is -20 minutes”. WTF? Because I have experienced quite some crashes in the 30 years that I am in this business, of course I got nervous. Should I reboot? What will happen then? Is my disk fully destroyed now?

Luckily, I had the instinct not to do anything but take my iPad and look up the Web. And sure thing: there are reports elsewhere saying that the progress bar implementation of the installer, including the time estimate, is buggy, and that I should just wait and things would turn out to be all right. And they did indeed, after around 30 extra minutes. Phew!

2. Everything installed, get to login… and it seems that there is still some installation and/or file adaptation to do at that time, because it took about 4-5 minutes after having typed in my password before any of my windows showed up. Again, WTF? I became wiser, and just waited, and things got back to normal. Note that, since then, everything is fine when I wake up the machine, although I have not rebooted it yet to see if a login would again lead to such a delay.

3. I knew that, in Mountain Lion, Apple decided to remove the simple system preference flag to start up a local apache automatically (having the local apache running is essential for me: I have a partial copy of a Web site on my machine to test pages before they go public). Although I never understood why this decision had been taken, I was prepared; there are a number of sites giving advice on what to do (e.g., the one I looked at), as well as an extra small preference that one can install.

What I did not count on is that that the installation would wipe out the old apache configuration file (i.e. /etc/apache2/httpd.conf). (I do not think the Lion installation did that, at least I do not remember.) To make things even more difficult, that director is not accessible through the time machine (why?) so I had to reproduce my changes. It took me a certain time because I adapted that file for my needs three years ago and I forgot all about it, of course. Advise: make a copy of that file before upgrading!

4. I need some command line tools like gcc or cvs. That means I had to install a new version of Xcode; I counted on that. However… cvs was still not there after installation. Sigh… did they remove cvs as an obsolete tool? But no, gcc was not available either.

As usual, the Web and Google are your friends; I found a note with an explanation. It turns out that Apple no longer installs the “developer” command line tools by default. That includes compilers, make, cvs, and the like. You have to install them explicitly: start up Xcode, and then look for Xcode→Preferences→Downloads→Components and click on the install button next to the command line tools. (Again the same question: why this arbitrary decision?)

5. I was pleased to see that the Note application is now available, and is supposed to synchronise with the note application on my iPhone and iPad. I knew that, and I was looking forward to that. On Lion, the notes were bound to the email accounts and appeared in the Mail application; I always found that setup odd.

But… things are not that simple because Apple again made some unexplainable decision. On Lion, I could assign notes to the various email accounts I had, I could do the same on, say, my iPhone, and things worked properly. Not so in Mountain Lion; indeed (as I understood after some google-ing…) Apple has discontinued this synchronisation except for iCloud. Ie, you have to regroup all your notes under the iCloud account (if you have one, that is) to achieve a smooth synchronisation with your mobile devices. It is not that bad at the end, because you can define folders for notes that you can use those for your own categorisation; but, until I realised all that and got everything running, I again lost quite some time, had some dead ends, etc. Sigh…

6. I also had some small woes with the latest Safari. For reasons that again I do not understand, there is no more preference setup in Safari to set the right font size. The only way is to do that is through a CSS style sheet (see also a relevant note I found). Although my personal problem was that the default character size was way too big for my taste, as the author of the note rightfully said, not having the possibility to adapt the size easily can be a major accessibility issue for some.

Frankly… I love my Mac, and I still find it vastly superior in usability than other machines. It is, nevertheless, disappointing to see Apple making such arbitrary decisions and making the transition to a new system unnecessarily tedious. This should not happen.

(By the way, this just reinforced me in my selfish decision not to upgrade to a new system right away. Having waited half a year meant that all my issues were solved relatively easily by looking at notes published by others…)

October 12, 2012

Nobel Peace Price for the EU

Filed under: General,Private — Ivan Herman @ 15:37
Tags: , , ,

First World War, somewhere in France or Germany, two brothers are on the front line. The unusual fact is, though, that they are facing one another: one is enrolled in the French army, the other in the German one. Luckily, they both survive the War and do not have to kill one another.

About 25 years later, one of the brothers is enrolled, again, into the German army to defend the Reich on the Rhine; his son joins the French resistance movement. Father and son are many miles apart, luckily, but in opposing armies nevertheless.

Jump ahead again about 35 years. The former French partisan lives in France, works for the local subsidiary of a German company, travels back and forth between the two countries; he believes (and says) that a new war between France and Germany is now unthinkable.

Unrealistic story? Far from it. The two brothers had a third brother, who happened to be my grandfather. They lived in small villages in the North-East of France in a region called Lorraine; part of this region (together with another one called Alsace) have changed hands between France and Germany four times in a century. The tragedy was that the two brothers happened to live on different sides of the artificial border, hence were enrolled in opposing armies.

This was Europe for a long time. It was also a Europe with borders, with an iron curtain (which also played a significant role in my life), with latent and dangerous tensions that could have led to new conflicts. But all this is history. Our children, in many ways, do not even understand this past; stories like the one above seem unbelievable and unrealistic to them. And this is the main achievement of the EU. It is not perfect (far from it), it currently has economic problems and tensions to solve; but every time I pass a border without even noticing it on my way from Amsterdam to Budapest or Paris I should (and I often do) remember the ordeals my own grandfather’s generation went through. It is therefore more than fitting that the EU, as an organization, has just received the Nobel Price for peace. A war-torn, suffering continent closed a terrible period by creating it; as one of my colleagues, Phil Archer, said on twitter: we can be proud of being European.

May 28, 2012

Ups and downs of voting in France via the Web…

Filed under: General,Private — Ivan Herman @ 12:42
Tags: ,

First round of parliamentary elections in France. Starting this year, as a French expat, I can also vote via the Web. This is really great. So I did it today. However…

  • I start up the relevant Web page on my machine (Mac Lion, Safari; I am fairly meticulous to run the latest system updates). It turns out that the system uses Java; the first program the voting page runs in the browser (using, I think, JavaScript) is to check the system configuration. And this check (which lasts 2-3 minutes!) fails. I run Java version 1.6.0 on my machine, it looks like (although I am not sure) that it asks for 1.6.2. Does such a minor version make such a difference? I have difficulties to believe. But there is more: first of all, my system update does not report any new release; but the voting program also says something like “if you have updated to 1.7, which is the latest release, then this would not work”. The advise they give to users: (re)install manually 1.6.2 from Oracle’s site. (Remember: Java updates are also handled by Lion’s own update service, one never goes directly to Oracle…)
  • Give up on Mac, go to my wife’s machine (Windows 7, also kept up-to-date). Start up Firefox, it makes all the checks but… fails. It turns out that the Java plugin for Firefox was disabled: indeed, Firefox, at some of the previous updates, disabled it, because it had a security issue. Go to preferences, enable the plugin (to be disabled later). Hurray, it works, I could cast my vote!
  • My wife also wants to vote, of course. So…  restart the voting page on Firefox. Surprise: it replies that we do not have the right privileges to start up the page any more. FTH? Classical windows reaction: quit Firefox, and then restart it again. And it works… she could also vote.

I have only one question: are computers illeterates also supposed to vote on line, too? Or is it reserved for experts?

March 31, 2012

Political decency (or the lack of it)

Filed under: Hungary,Private — Ivan Herman @ 12:05
Tags: , ,

Here is the story. A high profile politician in a democratic country has a PhD. This also means that he also proudly displays the “Dr” as part of his official name; indeed we are talking about a country where it is the tradition to use that title, and this usually highly respected by society at large.

However, a problem occurs. The rumor is that the PhD has been tainted by plagiarism, i.e., that a substantial part of the PhD thesis is not original work, but had been copied verbatim (though possibly translated if the original was in another language) from other scholarly works. In academic circles this is not considered acceptable; the high standards of academic publishing, let that be a thesis or an average publication, requires the published work to be original. To be blunt: the politician in question is accused of having cheated by transgressing those standards.

Because this is a high profile person, this issue is taken seriously, further investigation follows and it turns out that the rumors are indeed well funded. As a result, the University, that has originally issued the PhD, strips our politician from his title.

How does that affect our politician? Well, you think you have heard this story if you follow the news: indeed you may thing of the (former) defense minister of Germany, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, whose PhD title has been annulled by the University of Bayreuth. Mr. zu Guttenberg (and not Dr. zu Guttenberg any more) has done the only thing a politician of his stature should do: he resigned. A decent choice in a decent, democratic country.

However… not all politicians are equally decent. The very same story happened with the current president, no less, of Hungary, Mr. (and not Dr!) Pál Schmitt. Rumors on plagiarism, public inquiry… and the Semmelweis University of Budapest annulled his PhD because the rumors were indeed well funded.  Does he resign? No. He sees no reason to quit. Indecent choice in a, hopefully, still decent and democratic country, but with an increasingly indecent political leadership.

A shame.

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March 16, 2012

Old quote on the UN, also valid for the EU…

Filed under: Private — Ivan Herman @ 21:01
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I found a nice quote in book written by a Dutch writer called Geert Mak on the European Union (“De hond van Tišma”). The quote is attributed to Dag Hammarskjöld, the second secretary general of the UN. The quote is as follows:

“It was not created to bring us to heaven, but to save us from hell.”

This quote is highly relevant for the European Union, too. Unfortunately, it seems that many of the politicians all around Europe, from Hungary to France and from the Netherlands to Greece,  forget that, turning the EU into the scapegoat for all our problems. There are of course many issues with the EU that should be solved, but it would be wise to remember the reasons for its creation, and not to forget the history of the past 50 years and beyond…

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December 30, 2011

Mac OS Lion: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Filed under: Mac,Private — Ivan Herman @ 12:33
Tags: , , ,

The poster of the 'The Good the bad and the ugly' MovieI have made use of the winter recess to install Mac’s Lion on my powerbook. I must admit I hesitated for a while (I was not sure that it was worth the trouble) but then, partially driven by sheer  curiosity, I did it. And, as usual, there are pros and cons… Maybe others will find my experiences useful.

1. The Good

My tactic of waiting, i.e., not to install Lion when it was still a cub, paid off. I have seen many stories on the Web, mostly dated back in July, about installation difficulties (e.g., issues about the installation of Xcode). Well, none of these for me. It installed easily, relatively quickly (after download, the installation process was about an hour, with an additional round with the installation of Xcode). Most of the things worked without further ado, although I did have to update some programs (e.g., iTunes, Safari, mercurial, some additional tools for Mail like GPG or Mail Act-On). But these were to be expected and otherwise the system worked smoothly. For example, my local apache server started and worked as before, in contrast to the stories I saw on the Web. There were also some user interface adjustments I had to make (sorry Apple, I do not like the “natural” scrolling, and I also like to have the scrollbar always on), but the web is full of references to the necessary tricks to do these.

The system is faster. Not hugely, but faster in booting, in logging in, and also some applications, like Safari, got some speed improvements. That is always a welcome feature!

I quite like Mission Control. I used “Places” on Snow Leopard, but mission control is nicer, and works well with the full-screen feature. B.t.w., the full screen feature is also great.

I use Mail App as my primary mailer and there are (as far as I am concerned) two major improvements. On the one hand, it has a nice “conversation” feature; the particular aspect I like is that it manages conversations and “related” mails across mail folders (and I have loads of them) regardless of the fact that I use IMAP. This is great. The other nice feature is the improved search, both in speed and in the various options it gives you. Mail is my everyday workhorse, so such improvements made the upgrade to Lion already worthwhile.

I love the fact that, at last, I can resize my windows easily. I change screens often (I have an external screen at home, another one at my institute, and they are different in size…) and the fact that, on Snow Leopard, I had to grab the lower right hand corner of a window to resize it was really a drag.

At this moment I am not at my usual place, meaning I am without an external screen; I can just refer to what I read, namely that handling external screens became smoother in Lion, too. I hope that is true, the old way of closing, restarting, whatnot, was also a pain.

There are a number of additional small improvements (e.g., better spellcheck in Safari; really helpful as I write these lines:-). I am sure I will find out more as it goes.

2. The Bad

Of course, not everything is nice and rosy:-(

I miserably failed with iCloud. I tried to use it to synchronize my iPhone and iPad easily with my Mac. It simply did not work reliably as far as the calendar was concerned. I regularly ran into the problem of adding an event to my calendar on, say, my iPhone, and the result was not visible anywhere else (I tried explicit synchronization when it was clear how to do it, wait for half an hour, etc; no success). I tried it through the built-in calendar application on the iPhone (which I do not particularly like, b.t.w.) as well as some other calendar apps, to no avail. After a while I just gave up, and reversed back to my previous self, i.e., using iTunes’ synchronization. Taking into account that, with IOS 5, one can also sync from iTunes over the Wireless, it is so easy to synchronize that it does not really bother me. It is, nevertheless, surprising that Apple comes out with such a much heralded feature that simply does not work properly.

I did run into some awkwardness in the user interface of the Mail App, too. For example, one would think that this application is a prime candidate to be used full screen. However, beware: if you reply to a mail in full screen mode, you cannot switch windows (e.g., you cannot reply to two mails in parallel, stuff like that) which might make it awkward. In a sense it is understandable, but it was a surprise nevertheless. Another issue is with the conversation feature: I display my mails with increasing date order but, within a conversation, Mail keeps on using decreasing dates; I have not found a way to change that…

And then there is Launchpad. Having it is a great idea, in fact. If set up properly, it gives you an easy way to get to applications, it reduces the size of the Dock (which can be an issue on a small screen), etc. If set up properly, that is. But… I did run into several issues. Some examples:

  • At the start I saw loads of duplicate entries. This is because I organized my Application collection to my own taste before, with subdirectories, aliases, etc; I have too many applications to leave them as a flat list. This led to a bunch of duplicates. Which is understandable, but it is fairly difficult to remove application from Launchpad: although the “official” version is that one can do the same as on an iPhone (pressing an icon, and using a big X on it), but this method did not work for most of the applications. (No idea why.) Fortunately, I have found a program called Launchpad Control, which can do that for you (thank you, Andreas Ganske!)
  • There are missing entries. Hence the big question: how does one add an application to Launchpad? Answer: no idea. I have seen proposals on the Web (e.g., move the application’s icon on top of the Launchpad icon on the Dock or create alias and put it to ~/Applications): none worked for me (Maybe if I restart? I did logged out and in again, that did not change, and I did not want to restart the computer only for this.) For the time being, I gave up on that.
  • Launchpad is the typical case of an application that asks for a keyboard shortcut to start. I have found, after all, a way to do it; but does it have to be that complicated? (Actually, I saw some notes on the Web that the keyboard shortcut will disappear after reboot. I hope that will not be the case…)

Bottom-line: although I will use Launchpad, probably, it is not what it should be. Hopefully later releases will improve this.

3. The Ugly

No new item here, just a remark: it is really surprising to me that Apple would come out with such unfinished products like iCloud or Launchpad. It is perfectly o.k. to come out with Lion, add these programs in the state they are in, and make it clear to people that this is work in progress. Everybody would understand that. But doing it this way simply reduces the credibility of Apple… Pity.

December 20, 2011

“Hungary’s Constitutional Revolution”–a sad example

Filed under: Hungary,Private — Ivan Herman @ 12:32
Tags: ,

Kim Lane Scheppele published an analysis in the New York Times on “Hungary’s Constitutional Revolution”. A, in my view, very good, and fairly depressing analysis of the current situation in Hungary. How can a country possibly slide into some sort of authoritarianism dominated by one single ideological view, following a path that is perfectly “legal” (though morally objectionable) at every step of the way. A sad example:-(

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