Looking Back a bit; Semtech2009

So I missed ISWC because I was just too busy to spend a week drinking beer and talking my mind off.
But there is this mind trick to avoid feeling left out: look back and say. "Nah, nevermind. There is no way this conference matches the last one I went to".

Now, unfortunately, this is usually NOT true in the tech world because things move so fast that in six months time you see a lot of advances and there's always something new. So every conference is effectively better than the last one in at least one level. And that makes every conference worth attending.
And that's why working in technology makes you feel younger each day. It never ceases to impress you ;)

However, in this case, I DO look back and say: "There is no way this conference matches the last one I went to". And I feel great.

Why? because the last one was Semtech2009 at San Jose and it was loaded with surprises. Not tech surprises, but something much deeper.
The biggest surprise to me was this: No longer was I on the lunatics side talking about a "possibility". But I was on the doers side and all my baggage instantly turned into experience. There was a new sense of mission, no longer fed by informed anticipation but by real facts.

Although it was no surprise, because I have a pretty clear idea of where this is going. But god I was glad it finally arrived.

Where are we going? Well, we're going to a very wild place where a lot of rules will change. Well, not too many of them, in fact just one of them. But it will have a huge impact. A HTTP URI can be a simple thing, but when used right, it can very literally changed the whole world.

I don't like to take pics but this one is special:
Semtech2009 after a super luxury mexican burrito dinner and quite a debate on the whys behind the what by some of the whos behind the what. ...What?

  • Aldo Bucchi
  • Peter Mika ( Yahoo! Research )
  • Sean Golliher ( Semj, SEO Guru )
  • Kingsley Idehen ( P/CEO OpenLink Software )
  • Mark Birbeck ( RDFa Guru )
  • Juan Sequeda ( PhD UT Austin )
  • Ben Godbout ( VP/CTO Copernic )

Coding Linked Data; Some quick thoughts from a hacker POV

So this doesn't fit in a Tweet, I'll just dump my mind here.
I have been working on tweaking Scala and Python to play along nicely with SPARQL. In particular, with SPASQL which is a blend of SPARQL and SQL. It can be mixed and matched with a PL-style language and together they comprise the main programming paradigm for OpenLink Virtuoso.

SPASQL is really productive when dealing with Linked Data middleware deployments, but it lacks the conciseness of modern languages, so coding large systems can become a bit annoying. Both the code itself and the codebase organization in general. Even so, the language is so powerful that it trumps the best contender in a second so I have walked the extra mile trying to find how to mix the best of both worlds.

How good is SPASQL? Well,  I have reduced Java codebases by a factor of 3 when moving to Scala, and then again by a factor of two when moving to SPASQL. Yeah, that sounds crazy, and it is. The first reduction is mostly syntactic. Scala lets you get away with less accessory code such as redundant typing and then there is also some more expressiveness to be found in functional programing, etc. The second reduction, when moving to SPASQL, is deeper as it is about moving away from control structures in the code and into complex SPARQL expressions against a graph based datamodel. Basically, most of your loops, filtering and conditionals can be gone and replaced by smart query composition. Then, if you wish so, you can also toss away most of your indirection model.
No more Business Classes and modeling at the scripting/code/controller level. RDF is already object oriented (or even better), so you should not be scared to just totally forget about Classes and encapsulation most of the time.
(There are also other tools that will help tackle the common cases behind encapsulation and getter/setter kind of patterns, such as bult-in inference).
In the end, using SPASQL, inference and other stuff becomes a much more "declarative" way of stating what you need. Don't code your way in, just ask for it in an elegant manner.

Anyway, back to scripting. I don't intend to explain the nuances and little details behind the execution ( be it interpreted or generating code ) or the possible solutions for remoting ( for example, hacking the continuations plugin in Scala ), nor the problems when trying to match the grammars and coming up with escape sequences for all the possible productions, etc.
I won't because frankly, I don't think I made a very good job. I only skimmed through the possibilities and ended up using a cheap (from an investment POV) code generator. I also know MANY C.S. students are going to realize this is the next frontier rather soon. All I want to say here is a simple trick I discovered and I hope it helps someone avoid hell.

Here it is:

Most modern languages, including Javascript, are really scared of URIs and that is your biggest problem when trying to make them play along. You will have a really hard time trying to fit them in as identifiers. Not because you can't model them in their value space ( they can be objects/entities, etc ) but because the lexer will go crazy on you when it runs into all the "?#&:/" stuff.

alert( ); 

Is not really a valid Javascript statement, so you can kiss any OOTB JS parser goodbye. Same thing applies for most modern languages you can find out there. URIs are not valid identifiers.
So you will most probably have to create an API atop the language and end up with something like:

alert( store.getResource("")
  .getProperty("foaf","name" ) 

But that isn't really integrating, it's just an API and forces you to operate on a layer of indirection with an immense overhead. Then, some languages might allow you to create DSLs ( such as Ruby and Scala ), but you will still have a very hard time just trying to make a URI behave like a native citizen. And that sucks. Because URIs are all there is. That's the crux of the matter really.

Now, what about this?

alert( $$Hfoo$Ccom$Saldo.$$foaf_name ); 

Looks horrible, I know. And I just made it up. But the point is that there are many ways in which you can create a bijective transformation between URIs and the identifier system of the language you choose to extend. Hopefully you can take the time to make it easy to remember and nice to read.

Anyway, just keep this in mind. URIs will make you bleed. And if you want to see why you want to go down this road for you EII projects, just take a Virtuoso SPASQL for a ride and feel the power of Linked Data.

LOL, it sounds like a pitch. But I'm serious. You will end up doing this anyway sometime soon because SPARQL will eventually knock on your door. In the end, if you do it now you are just... way cooler ;)


Web3 and Enterprise Linked Data. The Middleware Revolution

Linked Data is finally picking up serious speed. The stepping stone into a World Wide Database. As you can see on most articles out there, there is strong emphasis on the "open" aspect of this technology. You can constantly hear TimBL talking about "Open Linked Data" as the next big thing, just like he once empasized the "open" aspect of the Linked Documents.

From a macro/social perspective the "Open" aspect of the web is in fact very relevant. We now know that the words "open" and "link" have ultimately brought something huge upon us. Just by putting our documents out one by one magical, valuable and unpredictable things continue to happen. A revolution that has touched the very essence of our life. Such is the power of the Open Web in general.

However, this "Open" aspect is only one part of the story ( and the one that will take over the buzz in the short term for sure ). There is also a more serious and practical side to Linked Data that you should start paying attention to: the corporate story, where this new technology is now being used as the latest contendor in the pursuit of enterprise agility.

This is in fact quite predictable. We already saw a similar story with the emergence of "portal" and intranet solutions right under the growing buzz of the Web of Linked Documents ( WWW ) over 10 years ago. The Open scenario is more visible, while the other, behind closed doors, is silent but massive in terms of the ongoing investments it drives. Both happen together and both feed on each other.
However, despite the similarity with the "portals" phenomenon, please don't assume the "corporate" branch of Linked Data will be as big as "portals". That would be a terrible mistake. This will be a THOUSAND times bigger. Yes. I am making that number up, but I believe I might even be running short.
The reason for this huge difference simple: For every document there is roughly a thousand times more structured data. If you don't like mine, just go ahead and make up your own numbers...
You see, structured data is at the core of our lives, feeding and being produced by all operational applications and systems ( including your phone right there, the systems that run your bank account and the subway and that old LDAP server in your company ). Structured Data is a growing treasure we have accumulated over time. It is everywhere, and it is the life blood of organizations. The lifeblood of our semi-automated semi-online society in fact.
We care about Data and we cherish it.  Most of the times we are unaware of its omni-presence, but when it goes wrong. We feel it.

Data is like Air.

From a corporate perspective, we already knew that our Data ( in general ) was important when we first launched our intranets years ago.
But why have we still failed to achieve success? Why is this data still sitting there, rusting, and costing us millions to move around just to answer simple questions?
Clearly we haven't built a suitable answer yet. You see, the Document Web has been a terrible underachiever in the enterprise. This has accounted for a lot of frustration and thus you might be thinking: There is no silver bullet solution to this problem..
After all, when we first opened our doors to "Internet technologies", we thought we were getting an information super highway, but it turned out to be a piddly trail to a land of excessive costs, vendor lock-ins and little results.

But please don't loose faith. The reason behind this massive "perceived" failure is that we picked the wrong solution to the answer and everything else has been a consequence of that mistake. We have been trying to fit a square into a circle for 10 years

What did we get wrong?

Simple: ultimately, what we need most is to virtualize Concepts, not Documents. We need to integrate the rows inside our Databases and Spreadsheets, and the web is, at its core, an address space for Documents. Yeah, there is no space for those columns, so we have to create all sorts of contrived APIs and exchange formats. This fundamental mismatch in the addressing space granularity has become our worst enemy, and quite a headache to say the least.
And this is also why most organizations today, after a thousand different APIs, millions and millions spent in one middleware generation after another, are still surrounded by replicated and fragmented systems.

And we know it, and it hurts. Yet we have even embraced the constant struggle this brings to our lives as a necessary ( and massive! ) activity in the IT realm. And we have coined a word for it: "Integration".

Hmm.... word is not right. It should be called "Moving data around in buckets". We owe the misconceptio to the marketing tricks of big IT companies. Of course they come up with prettier buckets each year to keep your boss happy.

I will soon tell you how to jump on board of the revolution. It's just around the corner.

But, for the curious:

The Web now accepts rows and columns in its core infrastructure ( URI x URI = Cell ) so you can directly publish your structured data sources down to the cell level, and start kissing your prehistoric "buckets" middleware good bye ;)

A row is a row is a row...

URI all right with that? Google?

On the Web, Corruption and The Attribution Economy

Things are not what they seem. It is simple economics.

  • The cost of lying is higher to those that abide to their values
  • Hiding the truth through fragmentation ( and other political "arts" ) is easy, as long as the information flow is controllable
Therefore, given enough time, the shit goes up. Time to bring it down. The Web is a weapon.
The Web is making the information flow less and less controllable. We have already seen a huge impact ( the fact that you are flooded by news about human rights violations, dictatorships, etc. means that information is leaking ).
Linked Data is going to take this a step further. We can expect as a result of this process that we will quickly move towards full accountability. This is beautiful. You are what you do, and you get what you deserve.
Of course, this is a fluctuating process and there will be bumps ( privacy comes to mind ). But, speaking for the generality of the world ( which is not sitting on a leather couch drinking a beer ), the bumps are a joke compared to the benefits it will provide.

I know this might seem like something distant for many ( specially if you ARE sitting on a leather couch drinking a beer, like me ).  It might all sound logical but... what does this have to do with my life?
That's a valid question. And this is the point where its up to you to come up with an answer. You need to decide whether you really want to try and understand the meaning of what you're doing. The formula is simple: the more info you gather on the depth of the problems our unfortunate brothers are having, the more sensible you'll become.

If that sounds too vague ( it is a vague advice ), then there is also another way to work this out. Bring the issue to your living room. ( because you are being fooled by someone at some level ). Here's a trick that has worked wonderfully for me:

First, find a stereotype and learn about it. How would ultimate corruption look like?
This is a subtle process but you can expect to
  • See just how real corruption is and how twisted we can become
  • Learn the subtleties of the system
I have to thank mr Mugabe for providing the perfect example.
Take your time and read about Mugabe's regime. How he got there, his lavish lifestyle, how he's destroyed the country and everything in between. Notice how information is starting to hurt him through exposure ( too little, to late, but it's a start ).

In particular, take a close look at his staff. See how they operate. See how they lie and literally laugh about it ( and they keep doing it. It's like they enjoy some sort of magical impunity ). Their conduct is so grossly twisted that it may even seem funny for us. But there you have it: a stereotype.

Of course we all see thru this charade and find it bordering impossibility. How can they pull this off? And yet, they do it. And millions suffer.
Now what makes you think this is just their problem?
Is there a chance you might be experiencing something similar from a conceptual standpoint?

Second step is to try and take the stereotype to your reality. Unsurprisingly, this is also quite easy now thanks to the Web. Just surf through the videos from the trials of the latest financial crisis to anything related to the Fed and in particular the bailout. Do this and see if you recognize any patterns. Just follow your gut feeling.
I won't point you in any particular direction here, because you'll think I'm cherry picking particular videos and/or you might have your own political POV. But here's one tip: it's not about who's right, it's the whole game that's really rotten. When watching a trial, focus on the "whole thing". The guy sitting on the strand is just playing his part.

Once you train the feeling, the evidence around you will be overwhelming. A little too much at times.
It's the egg or the chicken problem. You don't value evidence if you don't know what you're looking for. So, you need to take the first step.

I am happy to work on an area related to the web, even if my contribution is small. The more I understand, the more gratifying my work becomes. This is going to be a great year for all of us ;)
Full attribution is the ultimate utopia, and it will happen in our lifetime!
For the first time, being a good person will also be a
convenient thing to do ;)

Oracle, please keep the Sun brand alive

OK I have said this before, but I need to say it again before they get eaten by Ellison.

I really really really love the Sun mark. But just that, those three letters: S.U.N. Not their logo and much less their image. I think their marketing dpt missed the chance to build the greatest brand in history.
It's amazing how much raw potential those three letters had.

The competitive angle
"Sunday. Not even Google owns a day of the Week."

The reliability angle
"Robust. Reliable. Predictable... see you tomorrow."

The lazy angle
"We run your business so you can grab some."

The tech angle
"Our last cold boot was 4.57 billion years ago"
The sexy angle
"Total Customer Satisfaction. Robust Servers. Open Platforms. Amazing Tans. "
The scandal angle
"Oops. Sorry for global warming"

LOL ;)

Web Stories, Part 1: Be careful what you wish for

When I was a kid, I used to be obsessed with "big" stuff. Like the Dinosaurs or the pyramids. Or epic stories about lost worlds, impossible odysseys and Space. The day to day world seemed so dull in contrast to these stories, that the decision to escape to my imagination was quite easy. Oh crap, why did I have the bad luck to be born in this era? Why do I have to go to school and listen to fantastic stories about "history"?
I want to be part of it!

This kept going for a while, the feeling that this era was so... unromantic. Nothing big or magical was going on. No new worlds left for me to discover, no magical gifts left under this tree. All I could do is hold a globe and spin it until I got dizzy, while coming to the sad realization that every bit of land is accounted for.
Then, some 20 years ago, I had a rather obvious epiphany: if you went back to, say, the European discovery of America, things weren't romantic or magical at all. People were just living their lives, probably wondering about the same stuff I was. However, big things were still going on. I now know that from this side of history.
Why didn't they see them?

Well, because they just couldn't. They were IN the story. Even Shi Huangdi , one of the most impressive and powerful obsessive compulsive men to live on earth was probably more focused on his food being too cold than reading about "his legacy". Duh!
Oh crap! So there is no solution to this!... Nothing left other than accepting the fact that I am but a tiny dot in history, and big things happen over time. After all, it's a fact of life that things can only move so fast.
And so I obviously accepted this, just like every child does ( either rationally or not ). And I learned to enjoy the small things in life and fight for the "moderate" dose of adventure I am entitled to (As a tiny dot in history you are still entitled to a tiny dose of personal adventure, mind you).
I guess we're all on the same page here, right? We all realized or somehow incorporated, at some point in our early lives, the idea that it would take a miracle that changed the basic laws of time and distance to speed up this thing and bring the Dinosaurs and the epic stories back, and so we lowered our expectations. Our mind is the ultimate adaptation machine after all, so we have all implicitly assumed that it would be impossible to change the basic fabric of our reality: time, distance, and other fundamental aspects that limit what can happen and what cannot during our lifetime.

This dormant mechanism what Hollywood has learned to exploit oh so well.
Now, the truth is that there IS something big going on today. The Pyramids and all of the Chinese empire's constructions are rather small when compared to what we're building today. Seriously, we even have machines floating out in space that are part of this system. Out in SPACE. And cables under the ocean. And dictatorships are falling. And a new culture is arising. And the geopolitical balance is being re... ok. You get the point, right?
If this had happened ages ago, would you be reading about it? Oh yes! This ranks a bit higher than people with megalomaniac mental disorders building "empires" and, well, people with other mental disorders painting pictures ;).
But... yeah, we're suffering from the same problem our ancestors have suffered: we don't see what's going on because we're in the story. So. In a sense we're still screwed, aren't we?
Well, there are some tricks to getting over this limitation, but they require you to take a voluntary step and gain some perspective ( = read all your life until you see the plot ). The more info you gather, the most impressive this whole story becomes.
But here's the twist: The construction we're building now is also changing the rules of time and space.

And this is why you are so damn lucky and why you have nothing to envy from Napoleon. In fact, you're about to experience a lot more change than anyone ever has in their lifetime. And this won't happen across the street. It's coming at you like a storm.
So, please drop those stupid assumptions about time and space and become a believer again. The dinosaurs are coming to life and we are connecting our minds across the distance (please say the last part out loud and see how crazy it sounds).
If this still doesn't tickle you, please note that we're about to pass the knee of the curve and the acceleration will be such that you will be simply blown away, like it or not. Being a dot in time won't be a problem anymore.
On the next article to this "series" I will tell you one of the reasons about why this thing is going to speed up: The Web is going to get an upgrade for the first time in over 10 years.
Not just any upgrade, but one that will turn the web as a whole into a much more powerful tool in our evolution.

Be careful what you wish for... you might just get it ;)

Good bye old Blog. Welcome new Blog

I stopped blogging because I can share my thoughts on Twitter as they come, in no particular order, and I get immediate reward. Blogging seems unnecessarily hard... unless. Unless I let go the structure.

So, from now on I'm going to officially use this as an extended Twitter.
Starting... Now

Don't blame me, I'm just a sheep ;)

Hello Linked World ( it only took a decade... )

Last time I say TimBL in person he looked a bit tired. Well, he has the right to be. The man has been fighting relentlessly for over two decades.
That was sometime in October last year, before Linked Data hit the knee of the curve.

It sure is exciting to watch his upbeat talk at Ted about Linked Data. The man knows the ship has already sailed, he projects the message. It might have to leave the bay yet, but things are auspicious and this is going to be a terrific journey.

You pulled it off once again.

Transparency, here we go ;)