Ontology Links

I recently had to make a presentation at work on ontologies–the basics, really, of what they are, how they’re used, and what the heck is OWL? I found the following links and sites helpful in creating my presentation, and thought I’d share them here.

The Basics

Advanced Material




OWL, Protege

Mental Accounting for Dummies

The Bank of America’s Keep the Change program freaks me out.   Every time you make a charge with your B of A debit card it rounds the figure up to the nearest whole amount and transfers the change to your checking account.  Commercials for this service are all over the television and radio - tagline: “you don’t even have to think about saving” - and every time I see one I feel the gulf between me and the rest of humanity widening (MR readers excepted of course).

Look, I can understand Ulysses tying himself to the mast, I can understand locking the refrigerator and I can understand Christmas accounts but I will never understand how anyone can increase their savings by taking money from one account and putting it into another.  I think I will write a book, I will call it Mental Accounting for Dummies:

The secret to saving more money is simple.  In your right hand is money for spending.  In your left hand is money for savings.  Now take some money from your right hand and put it into your left hand.  Tada!  Wasn’t that easy?

Millions have signed up for Keep the Change and the program has been written up by Business Week as “a radically different product that broke the paradigm."  Sigh.

n.b. It is true that B of A tops up the amount transferred but this part of the program, the only part that makes any sense, is hardly advertised at all.

Mental Accounting for Dummies

The economics of cats

Many people have been clamoring for this topic over at the secret blog.

My views are simple: we have too few cats in the world, relative to dogs.  Dogs, for reasons of temperament, can in essence precommit to being our slaves.  (As long as they are not Irish Setters.)  That makes us more willing to create or support an additional dog.  The quantity of dogs is nearly Pareto optimal, although their emotional slavery to us raises ethical questions about the distribution of power in the relationship.

A cat cannot “promise,” genetically or otherwise, that her kittens will become your slaves, if only you don’t neuter her.  The kittens never come about, or they meet a cruel fate rather quickly.

If you must support the life of either a cat or a dog, choose the undervalued cat.  This argument requires only that the cat gets some value out of being alive, and that value should carry some weight in our all-things-considered moral calculations.

More generally, you should go around helping the (undervalued) people who insult you, or the people who otherwise signal their independence from you.  The craven are already being helped quite a bit.

The economics of cats

Featured Windows Download: Add tabs to any program with WinTabber

WinTabber.pngWindows only: Freeware app WinTabber can add tabs to any program for easy grouping. Not only can WinTabber group multiple instances of the same program into tabs, but it can also group different programs together into tabs (as shown in the screenshot). Its possible uses abound, but grouping your applications based on purpose is one idea with a lot of potential. For example, you could create two groups of tabs: one group for work-related applications and one group of tabs for your non-work-related apps. WinTabber is a free download for Windows only.
WinTabber [via One Tip A Day]

Featured Windows Download: Add tabs to any program with WinTabber

Excessive Ovation Syndrome

There’s a malady sweeping the nation that’s highly contagious to concertgoers.  It doesn’t have a name yet, so let’s call it Excessive Ovation Syndrome (EOS for short).  Those suffering from it stand and applaud at performances that aren’t good enough to deserve such enthusiasm. In extreme cases, they shout “Bravo!” during events that are best forgotten.

The more people pay for tickets, the more susceptible they are to EOS, because ovations confirm that their money was well spent.  Even those in bargain seats can easily catch it from their neighbors.  The urge to stand and cheer may be irresistible if everyone around you is doing it.

Here is more.  Is the fear that too much costly clapping goes on?  I believe most of these people enjoy the pretentious show of approval.  A more plausible worry is that audiences, if they approve all performances, can no longer signal quality to performers.  Given that other and arguably more accurate signals remain in place (critics, bloggers, the conductor, etc.), I am not sure we should be concerned by greater noise in the audience signal.  After all, the very complaint suggests that the audience cannot be trusted to judge quality, so why not neutralize them?

And if the excess clapping gives the less musically sophisticated attendees a better memory of the show, that is arguably a benefit.  Are we not, after all, committed egalitarians?

Against my better aesthetic judgment, I am on the verge of endorsing Excessive Ovation Syndrome.

Excessive Ovation Syndrome

The Last Novel

Designer name to come

Today’s question: how would you design a jacket for a novel that desperately, aggressively, willfully tries not to be a novel – a book that “does away with most narrative conventions – plot, colorful characters, dramatic conflict,” using instead “a collage of very short anecdotes, apocryphal legends, aphorisms, (and) lurid gossip…run(ning) through (a) fragmented consciousness?” And one that begs comparison to Joyce, Beckett, Burroughs, Ginsberg and Shakespearean sonnets, just to name a few? (Read the wonderful NY Times review, from which the above quotes are taken.)

Here’s the answer:

The debate begins…now.
The Last Novel

Book of the week: Hollywood screenwriter trilogy

In a previous post, I mentioned how I like to read about and study Hollywood because it makes my own industry look sane and rational. The people who create and run television shows and films cope with a level of chaos and randomness that would cause most high-tech entrepreneurs I know, myself included, to switch careers faster than you can say “the deal fell through”.

Writers in Hollywood are a particularly interesting species, in that they combine a primary creative role with practically no control over the finished product.

Three great books on the television and film business as seen through the eyes of writers are:

  • Adventures in the Screen Trade by the great William Goldman who wrote such classic films as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Princess Bride. I think it’s the best book ever written about screenwriting. Probably the most memorable part is Goldman’s assertion that “nobody knows anything” – Goldman argues quite thoroughly that Hollywood, after 80 years of institutional experience creating movies and television shows,is still completely unable to predict which projects will succeed and which will fail.
  • Billion-Dollar Kiss by Jeffrey Stepakoff, a professional television writer who worked extensively on Dawson’s Creek. This is probably the best book on the current state of the television industry – which has changed radically in the last several years, due in large part to the rise of reality programming – from the perspective of someone who writes for television for a living.
  • Conversations with My Agent by Rob Long is one of the funniest books I have ever read. Long was a young writer on the hit series Cheers and on top of the world, until Ted Danson punched the eject button and the show shut down. He then embarked on the entrepreneurial adventure of creating his own television show from scratch. The straightforward narrative of life in the TV trenches in the 1990’s is interspersed with marvelous screenplay-like interchanges between Long, his agent, and various other Hollywood denizens.

Book of the week: Hollywood screenwriter trilogy

Worse than Viruses

Public computer surfaces are reservoirs for methicillin-resistant staphylococci.

The role of computer keyboards used by students of a metropolitan university as reservoirs of antibiotic-resistant staphylococci was determined. Putative methicillin (oxacillin)-resistant staphylococci isolates were identified from keyboard swabs following a combination of biochemical and genetic analyses. Of 24 keyboards surveyed, 17 were contaminated with staphylococci that grew in the presence of oxacillin (2 mg l-1). Methicillin (oxacillin)-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), -S. epidermidis (MRSE) and -S. hominis (MRSH) were present on two, five and two keyboards, respectively, while all three staphylococci co-contaminated one keyboard. Furthermore, these were found to be part of a greater community of oxacillin-resistant bacteria. Combined with the broad user base common to public computers, the presence of antibiotic-resistant staphylococci on keyboard surfaces might impact the transmission and prevalence of pathogens throughout the community.

Thanks to Monique van Hoek for the pointer.

Worse than Viruses

Incidentally, it’s always seemed a bit curious to me that given what the Americans say they owe to the Separatists and the Pilgrim Fathers, and indeed it could be proved that they owe a great deal, the English are so often the villains and while we have people in America happy to be Afro-Americans and Irish Americans and Hispanic Americans, I have yet to meet anyone in the United States who has told me that he was an Anglo-American.
From Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time newsletter

Google File Search

Web pages are useful, but if you’ve ever wanted to find a specific file on the web, you noticed it’s not very easy. Fortunately, search engines like Google could be used for this tricky task.

Sometimes people create a web site, put some files in a directory, but forget to add an index file. So they end up with an unprotected directory that lists all of its files and subdirectories, when directly accessed from a browser. If someone links to the directory or submits it to Google, it becomes available to anyone who performs a search.

Because these directory listings are built using similar templates (depending on the web server), you can add to your query the most distinctive traits:

* The title starts with “index of” -> add to the Google query: intitle:“index of”

* They typically contain these words: “parent directory”, name, “last modified”, size, description -> you can add to your query “parent directory”, for example

* Since most sites use Apache servers, you could also add Apache, that appears in the footer of a listing for Apache web servers

To find the page from the screenshot, you could use a query like:
intitle:“index of” firefox 2.0 rc1 source

Of course, you could use this idea to find any kind of file from a PDF e-book to an MP3 podcast or song. Some of the files are shared by breaking a copyright law, so you must you use your judgment before downloading them.

But finding files using this technique is too complicated, you’ll say. First you have to enter a very complicated query, then visit all these strange-looking web pages and perform a new search in the current page to actually find the file. Then there are so many dead links and disingenuous webmasters that try to trick you with fake pages.

Some people with too much time on their hands built web apps that make it easy to search for files using Google. Briefli builds the query internally, loads the first results from Google and displays the links to the files on the same page. Moreover, the files that actually match your query are highlighted. To play the MP3s inline, you could add the del.icio.us bookmarklet to your browser and for Office files and PDFs, use Docufarm.

A site optimized for finding and playing MP3 files is mp3Salad. It lets you play all the MP3 files from a directory using a simple Flash player and even export the entire listing as a playlist.

The avalanche of file hosting sites brought a new to search for files: restrict the search results to one or more of these sites. Some examples of popular file hosting sites: esnips.com or megaupload.com. This custom search engine lets you restrict the search to 127 file hosting sites.

And then there are BitTorrent sites. Because they’re so many, this custom search engine is useful to search across the most popular ones.

Google actually indexes some of these files, mostly Office documents, PDF files, text files. You can restrict a Google search to a file type by using the filetype: operator in your query (examples: bash linux filetype:pdf restrict the search for [bash linux] to PDF files). This way you can search inside these files and not only in a listing of filenames.

For files residing on your hard disk, a desktop search engine like Google Desktop (Windows/Mac/Linux), Windows Vista’s search, Mac’s Spotlight are great and should be used before searching on the web.

Maybe one day Google will come up with a nice file search engine that indexes unprotected directories, FTP servers, file hosting sites, torrent sites. But probably the legal challenges outweigh the advantages of a such a search engine (Yahoo has a music search engine, but only for China).
Google File Search

What's actually annoying about bad customer service?

Jane Galt posts her thoughts on Sony Vaio customer service. I bought a Sony Vaio a few months ago, at the recommendation of a friend. Fortunately [it now seems] it arrived at the Best Buy with a broken drive and I never had the chance to lay my hands on it. It was only last week that they gave me my money back. Best Buy wouldn’t give me the computer, and Sony wouldn’t accept the damage claim from Best Buy rather than from the customer.

I see two especially frustrating elements in bad customer service. First, the reward/pleasure centers of the brain are already turned on, anticipating that a longstanding problem – lack of a computer – was going to be solved. The resulting disappointment is especially acute, much worse than before you try to fix the problem.

Second, we don’t like the tension of not knowing when the problem will be solved, or when being put on hold will end. Going to the dentist with certainty stresses me less than some chance I might have to go.

I try to manage the former problem by not getting excited until the product has been working for at least a day. That means I remain a bit emotionally flat in some spheres of commercial life and I don’t go out shopping enough or with enough gusto. I try to manage the second problem by mentally capitalizing the worst case customer service outcome I can imagine. That means when something goes wrong I toss in the towel too quickly. Sometimes I just buy a new item rather than solving the problem with the old one, or working to get a refund.

On this matter, Natasha believes I am crazy, yet I persist in my ways.

What’s actually annoying about bad customer service?

Excel Tip: Copy Subtotal (Aggregate) Data Only

Have you ever used Excel’s subtotal functionality?  It’s great for counting things.  For instance, I’m running some tests right now, where the output is a sequence.  If I run the test 10,000 times, then I have 10,000 sequences.  I want to know how many times each sequence happens. 

I copy the output into Excel, then sort the column containing the sequence into alphabetic order, thereby sticking like sequences with like.  Then, I use the subtotal feature to count how many times each sequence occurs.

It’s great - it does exactly what I want.  See the snapshot below.

The only problem I have is that sometimes I want to manipulate the aggregate information, say, calculate percentages, or compare it to some hand-created date from somewhere else.  So, what I really want to work on is the aggregate data, not the underlying information.

As you can see in the diagram, there are actually over 10,000 rows of information in the sheet, even though I can hide all but 20-some.  But, when I want to do a calculation on the data, I end up also doing the calculation on the underlying data as well.  I can’t even just copy the subtotal information to somewhere else, because all of the underlying data comes too!

There has got to be a way around it.  After some searching, and some bad suggestions (i.e., didn’t work for me), I discovered help in the form of Joseph Rubin’s ExcelTip.com.  You can follow his instructions.  It’s really easy.  Basically, all you do is:

  1. In the view I have above, I just click on some cell in the data range, e.g., A260.
  2. Press Ctrl+A to select all of the subtotal data (would also include the underlying data).
  3. Magic Step: Press Alt+; (This selects only the visible cells.  Magic!)
  4. Copy and paste as desired.

Wow, that little Alt+; step is pure magic.  You can also get there by using the F5 key (which brings you up the Go To Dialog), selecting Special… and then selecting Visible cells only.  Why you can select visible cells only by going through the “Go To” menu is completely beyond me.

As you can see in the screenshots below, selecting visible cells makes them look slightly different.  The shot on the left (first) is the Ctrl+A selection (all data, including underlying, hidden, data).  Notice the dark border.  The shot on the right (second) is Alt+; selection (visible cells only).  notice that the border is gone.  A good visual way to make sure you’ve selected exactly what you want.


An interesting sidebar: I’ve just gone through the Help for Excel 2007.  I originally went there, but had no joy when looking for information about copying and subtotals.  But, if you search for “visible data”, you can get to a set of instructions that will let you copy just the subtotals.  Funnily enough, there are no shortcut keys provided, just how to do the task with the ribbon.  And, there’s not even a listing discussing what the Alt+; keyboard combination is good for!  Shocking.  It really is magic :)


Excel Tip: Copy Subtotal (Aggregate) Data Only

My review

Things I Can’t Do: Use gmail properly, insert a non-distorted TextBox diagram into a Word document, drive a stick shift, attach a zip drive, explain the distribution of prime numbers, set up a directory in a Verizon cell phone.

Things I Can Do: Blog, order books on Amazon.com, drive and parallel park on the left side of the road, set up, use, and type on an iPhone.

Enough said.

My review