Octopodial Chrome

Stuff that Made Sense at the Time

The Personal Weblog of Bob Uhl

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Best Obituary Ever

Jim Adams, RIP.

Ancient Yeast Reborn in Beer

Up to 45 million years ago, a Lebanese weevil was trapped in amber in what is now Burma; inside its body it harboured a colony of bacteria and yeast which was extracted a decade ago and is now used to brew beer. Prehistoric yeast: how cool is that?

Don't Trust Pyrex

It turns out that since Corning sold the rights to use the Pyrex name, Pyrex dishes have been exploding left and right, maiming people and generally being untrustworthy.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

As Corporations Get Larger, They Get Less Efficient

I just found a great article on how large corporations become functionally indistinguishable from the State: the full impact of economic decisions is not understandable and hence poor decisions are made. An example in the article is Home Depot centralising all purchasing from fifty states to Atlanta, Georgia and then exporting it to India. On paper it looks like a great idea: lower purchasing costs. But the actual impact is a multitude of problems as the India purchasing agents don’t understand the lingo of American purchasing. The decision has costs that were not apparent.

This isn’t really surprising when one thinks about it. The State is just another large corporation (albeit one with a monopoly on force). It’s perfectly natural that if the State cannot make wise economic decisions then neither can other large corporations.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Where's the Semantic Web?

A few days ago I was driving along when a great song from my college years came on the radio (One Headlight by the Wallflowers). It occurred to me that it’d be really great to know the next time they’re in town. But then I realised that there’s no way for me to be alerted of the fact.

Sure, I could sign up for their mailing list. But then I’d get announcements of records, of shows in other cities and states, perhaps the lead singer’s thoughts on politics or art or some other subject. I don’t want to know every update about the band: I just want to know when they’re playing within eight leagues of my home.

I could manually go to every concert venue in town and sign up for their mailing lists. But they may not have them at all! If they do have them, then they will send me emails about the latest death metal acts to play on their stages. I don’t want to know every band to play at the Bluebird; I just want to know the next time the Wallflowers play.

All the information about where the Wallflowers are playing is already online, in the form of concert listings at venues and postings on their website and advertisements and concert highlights in newspapers. But there’s no way to get at that data and be alerted when something interesting happens.

The Semantic Web was supposed to save me all this trouble. The semantics of data were to have been encoded with the data itself: venues would all use a common standard to indicate their listings and bands would all use a common standard to indicate their shows. Fans would then have been able to create agents which would alert them with news they would find interesting (e.g. the Wallflowers are playing at the Gothic Monday). This clearly is in everyone’s benefit: the fans get to see more shows; the artists get larger audiences; the venues sell more tickets. It’s win-win-win. But it hasn’t happened.

I think the problem is that everyone is short-sighted. They all want to run their own little walled gardens of mailing lists and web sites, afraid that if they make it easier for fans to find shows then they might find them at other venues or listen to other artists. The sad thing is, they’re almost certainly wrong: if they opened things up, the fans would see more shows and listen to more artists. I know I would.

Thursday, 04 September 2008

Stephen Fry on the GNU Project

Stephen Fry—whom some of my readers may remember for his role as the gentleman’s gentleman Jeeves—has recorded a video congratulating the GNU Project on turning 25.

Wednesday, 03 September 2008

Television under the Swastika

I happened upon Television under the Swastika, a documentary concerning Nazi television. It’s pretty interesting stuff: cabaret acts, political interviews, cooking shows—all designed to show the greatness of the Party and its benevolent Leader.

Watching stuff like that always gets me wondering about that lost world. It’s not a sense of nostalgia, of course—the Nazis were one of the great evils of the 20th century—but one does wonder what it was actually like to live in that world.

It’s also strange to see actual pictures of the era, as opposed to movie interpretations. In the movies, everyone is a blond-haired, clean-shaven Aryan stereotype, but in the films one sees a lot of old-fashioned Imperial Germans with their forked beards and dark hair.

I also wonder about what was going on underneath the surface. The barbers being retrained as hairdressers, for example: did they ask for the retraining, or did the party simply tell some quota of barbers that they had to submit for retraining? What dark secrets lay behind the sunny scenes?

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