Symantec Web

This was mentioned on Slashdot, but it’s worth a read anyway; Clay Shirky on the Semantic Web.

I’ve always been suspicious of the usefulness of Prolog (I’ve seen it used once in my career, as a disassembler-parser generator. Then again, Prolog isn’t used that much in systems programming, so don’t listen to me). Shirky has a very good point; you simply (A) can’t believe the information on the web is complete, or validly-stated, and (B) there is significant hand-waving going on at the wrong levels about making semantics work.

Personally, I think it will always be a “net of a million lies” [Vinge]. Any semantic mechanism is going to have to deal with bad data and outright attacks (a-la search-engine ranking hacks).

Lion in wait

I walked into our office here at home to get a screwdriver or something for one of the many little tasks I’ve been doing lately, and as I was passing the door a mountain lion growled in my right ear.

Yes, your hair really does stand on end. Something primitive and scared took over and I literally jumped. Into the air. The lion growled again; a full-throated, rumbling roar from somewhere behind the door, and the ancient thing that now controlled my limbs caused me to (A) search for the safest route out — no way out, the office is at the end of the hallway in our ranch-style house — then (B) duck into the bathroom and search carefully for the source of the growl. It growled again, but fainter. There was a small thud. Wha?

That part of the house has fairly light hollow-core doors. Yesterday I moved some video cables around near the doorway, and one of them had been leaning up against the door. When I entered, it fell, scraping against the door and using the door as a sounding board that amplified the scraping into that really effective and realistic growl.

But it’s amazing what the hind-brain will make you believe. Predators inside the house? Almost plausible, once you get a little adrenaline into your system. Basic reflexes override reason. Add a lot of fatigue and anything is possible.

I should somehow tie this into election year politics but frankly I’m too tired to give the subject any deep thought beyond “small actions [political dirt] against an efficient sounding board [teevee media] combined with fatigue [boredom and ennui] can result in panic reactions and poor decisions.” Well, and that I’m sure if our current candidates were eaten by real mountain lions, few of us would shed any tears.


(Get in bed, start to surf / write)

(Cat sits on chest. “Meow?” Translation: Why are you paying attention to that thing when you can be scratching my ears?)

What the world needs is a transparent cat…

[Typed with great difficulty.]

Melinda Varians’ web site

Melinda Varian has a very interesting site, including stuff about IBM’s VM systems, including the Personal/370. Also, some travel. 🙂

It’s interesting to study these systems, because of how lean and mean they are. Screwed up by modern architecture measures, and often written in assembly language, they still contain interesting ideas. (I still enjoy reading about VAX/VMS process and memory management internals, and “strange” systems like the Transputer. It’s a breath of fresh air from the ambient Unix / Windows / Intel stuff).

Inexpert Advice

Some observations, after being a parent for nearly a week. A lot of these are readily applicable to other aspects of life than being a parent (well, using the sleep option at work is probably bad…).

1) Finish small tasks immediately. If you’ve got a task in front of you that you can complete in five minutes, finish it now unless there is an emergency.

1.1) If you have more than one task to do in the same general location, yes, you can multitask, but make sure you finish them all. Done means done; you haven’t finished making that sandwich until all the condiments are put away and the dishes have been loaded into the dishwasher (then you’re completely done, not on the hook for that task any more, and can move on to the next thing with a clear conscience).

2) Being peed on isn’t that bad. Just make sure that you have backups of everything else that gets peed on, too (e.g., spare shirts, blankets), which means doing a lot of laundry.

3) Small loads of laundry are somehow easier to deal with than big loads (maybe I just hate the sorting).

4) My current definition of Being Tired: Opening the microwave at 9am and finding the coffee that you warmed there yesterday afternoon, from the thermal carafe that you made two days ago. Basically, you don’t need it.

5) Write everything down. You will forget it otherwise.

6) Sleep is always an option.

7) Have a system of organization. A changing station should have everything arrayed and at hand, ditto feeding stuff, ditto cleaning stuff. Chaos (things stacked on other things, things not readily available, running out of supplies) will breed frustration and a bad temper.

8) A two minute wait for hot water at our kitchen sink has me seriously considering installing a second water heater.

9) Whatever’s going on right now may seem bad now, but it won’t in five or six hours. My theory: This is some hard-wiring in the brain ensuring that things like sleep loss, irritability, being peed on, and worse, do not affect the long-term survival of the species.

10) Sleep!

Good Asimov issue

The November issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine is a double issue with at least three of my favorite authors (Kage Baker with another Company short story, Charles Stross with another piece of Accelerando, and Michael Swanick with a really good short story set in the same world as The Iron Dragon’s Daughter). The December issue is also supposed to be a double issue. I’m quite impressed with the stories.

I’m nearly done with Minister Faust’s Coyote Kings, etc. and all I can say is, definitely read this book. There are some frustrating chapters where the author uses syllablism to get his characters’ voices across (speaking like “Ahm tahkin’ wit a drawl, si?”), but nothing as bad or as long as what’s in Ian Banks’ Feersum Endjinn). It’s alternately scary, funny and thought-provoking, and I highly recommend it.

[I’ve had a couple folks wonder how many books I read at once; the answer is that I don’t really know. Dozens, probably. It’s easy for something like Stephenson’s latest doorstop to get preempted by more interesting books for a year or so, whereupon I’ll pick it up and finish it. Very soon, probably next Tuesday, I’ll be two books behind in that series, which sucks.]

Other than that, I’ve been alternately running around doing errands, filling in “baby stuff,” doing cleaning and housework, and trying to sleep. I know there are single parents out there who have done this — this is not easy even with two parents, a set of grandparents and a cooperative cat (“Mreoww?” means “Scratch my ears, hear me purr, and you’ll feel better.”)

Hugs and purrs get you through this. And every day is different. Neato.

Schrodinger’s Zzzzz’s

The Quantum Sleeper is a “bed safe” — a gizmo that folds up into a safe room whilst you do the sleep-of-the-just thing.

I suppose that you anchor the thing down really well (or your would-be foiled kidnappers could just demount it and stick it in the back of their truck). Beasts in nature have developed many strategies for dealing with turtles…

Anticipated new books

Decent SF books in the near future –

November 2004: Gene Wolfe, The Wizard; Stephen Gould, Reflex; Charles Stross, The Family Trade

December 2004: Kage Baker, The Life of the World to Come

May 2005: Robert Charles Wilson, Spin

June 2005: John Varley, Mammoth; Charles Stross, The Hidden Family