08.06.11

London Calling

Posted in Travel at 8:14 pm by Administrator

Hello again,

In the pouring English rain we tramped to the British Museum.  I had a mental image of myself quietly posing before The Rosetta Stone as my lovely wife took a snap.  The reality was closer to being stomped to death in a mosh pit during a Sex Pistols concert.  My arms were pinned harshly at my side by pushy tourists bellowing in rapid-fire dialects from all over “The Continent”. Collectively they all seem to exude a sweaty beery sort of garlic miasma, and each one comes equiped with a sniveling toddler and a sullen teenager. Finally I caught a brief glimpse of the fabled rock before being ejected from the scrum like a seed out of a stomped grape.

Pushing through the throng, I was squirted out into the magnificent presence of the famed Elgin Marbles, pried off the Parthenon by the eponymos Sir Elgin in the early 1800s.  Carefully, I framed a camera shot of an exquisite horse carved into the sugar-like marble. In the brief moment I let my attention focus on the camera, I was swept up into a rushing torrent of stampeding Asian tourists charging after a guide with a flag. Ten meters downstream my finger was shoved against the button providing me with an excellent image of the floor.  On my next attempt a sturdy woman wearing a festive Mumu stepped into my carefully composed shot, her back to the Elgin Marbles, staring off into space with bovine stupidity.

There was nothing to do but muscle our way out of the museum – our targeted destination being Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub -recently rebuilt in 1667 after a spot of bother when London burned to the ground. There I enjoyed a pint of bitter ale (or two) in the same spot frequented by Samuel Johnson, Boswell, Dickens, and lots of other dead guys. In fact it looks like they just left, as the furniture and such haven’t been upgraded in several hundred years.

London is full of Europeans off on holiday.  I mean really full, swinging from the chandeliers full!  And when it rains apparently all of them go to The British Museum.  As one woman succiently put it when asked where all the museum visitors came from, “It was the rain what done it”.

Cheers,

Fred

08.01.11

Steaming over The Titanic

Posted in Travel at 10:50 am by Administrator

  Hello,

There something sobering about looking over the railing of one of the world’s largest ships (The Queen Mary 2) as “The Commodore” announces that we are 500 miles from the nearest land and The Titanic lies moldering roughly 3 miles below us. We are 4 days into a 7-day crossing of “The Pond”. What was once an endless expanse of stolid steel vessel has contracted in our minds into a flimsy cork bobbing on an endless expanse of pitiless heaving main.

Fortunately, there is much to keep our minds off the emptiness of the Atlantic; a 10,000 volume library, movies, those execrable pseudo-Broadway musicals cobbled together by the off-duty crew members, a gym, shops crammed with over-priced shiney baubles, and even a production of Hamlet!  But most unbelievably, along with the shuffleboard, the pools and the bars, this ship has a planetarium! Yes, a planetarium. And there is, of course, the food. Lots of food. Acres of food!

Despite the fact I am required to cut off my air supply with a necktie at the formal Britannica Dining Room, our fellow passengers at the table provide us with ample diversion, such as the lady who offered to “slap” Ada when the latter had the temerity to disagree with her.  One senses immediately how amusing the evening can be. There is of course dancing and drinking and gaiety (in both the classical as well as the contemporary sense of the word) late into the evening.

There is in fact Internet service aboard, and after signing away exclusive rights to my right arm and my first born son (should I ever produce one) – they allowed me a few precious moments to shoot off this epistle. Soon we shall arrive at Southhampton and proceed into the wilds of Great Britannia and The Continent from whence we expect great edification and adventure. So stay tuned . . .

Cheers,

Fred

New Yawk Fugittaboutit!

Posted in Travel, Uncategorized at 10:46 am by Administrator

So we get to New York, see. I always want a “New York” moment, you know when someone yells something like: “Yo, Vinee, dis mook wants a cawfee ovah heah.” or the like. We didn’t have long to wait! 

Picture this: Penn Station, first we help a fellow passenger who fell backwards on the escalator and was being dragged feet-first upwards. We emerge into the sticky hot night. It’s brutally hot, I feel like I’m being grilled alive. In fact it’s a new record. 

A disorderly mob of sweaty pissed off people is milling around the cab queue. Apparently the uniformed cab director quits at 9:00 PM and some *ahem* freelance gentlemen are offering an opportunity to jump the line for a modest fee. We are offered this arrangement and decline – somehow this is interpreted as being “disrespectful” – never one to pass up an opportunity to put my diplomatic skills to use, I offer the gentleman in question a one time opportunity to “kiss my ass”. After a few choice epithets and my yelling for a cop, a cab pulls up. A large angry cabbie barges out, mad as a bull! He starts shouting at the freelance guys who pocketed his previous fare by convincing a passenger that (s)he could pre-pay the fare with them. We pile in, the driver speeds into traffic in a rage. In his haste we sideswipe a car, which results in a colorful interchange with the civilian driver who takes the cab number inferring darkly that dire consequences await.

I turn to Ada and say, “Welcome to New York”! 

Then it got weird.

More later,

Fred & Ada
 

07.17.11

From Miami to Savannah 3rd World Style

Posted in Travel at 8:38 pm by Administrator

We grabbed a cab – at the crack of the Miami dawn – driven by a Russian guy who had thick Mr. Magoo glasses that magnified his eyes to the size of saucers.  I was flailing my arms wildly in the back seat holding up the iPhone map and shouting “You’re going the wrong way!”. He craned his neck and mumbled “Nyet, nyet, is okay” as the vehicle took a sickening swerve toward the guard rail. The meter was up over $40 and we were stopped at the end of a dead-end street facing a gator-infested canal before the driver conceeded we might be lost. With firm but kind instructions I insisted on directing us and we arrived at the Miami Amtrak Station with enough time to complete some complex bi-lingual re-negotiations of the bloated fare.

In China there is a new high-speed train between Shanghai and Beijing that can go as fast as 200mph!  In The Good Old USA, Amtrak loaded us into railroad carriages that appear to have been purchaced from Pancho Villa’s troop train after the Mexican Revolution, and haven’t been cleaned since.  However the air conditioning worked . . . with a vengence! We huddled in our parkas for the 12 hour ride to Savannah, GA. Arriving two hours late because the train has to “go slower in the rain”! For all that, it was cheaper, faster and more comfortable than flying, and there are no TSA agents to grope you before you board.

Now, in Savannah, a beautiful city we have visited before, we expect to dine like Pashas and wallow in the Cee-ment pond to beat the heat.

Remain calm, more information to follow.

07.11.11

Miami Beach Jurassic reptiles

Posted in Travel at 1:30 am by Administrator

Hello,

I know by now that you are frantic, searching the intertubes for word of our status. Rest easy ’cause here is a SitRep:

After being stripped down by the TSA then unceremoniously stuffed into a titanium cylinder and propelled at un-natural speeds through the clouds, we arrived in Miami. We are now comfortably installed in Al & Bryon’s dee-lux condo in Miami Beach where we can see the Miami downtown skyline from the balcony.

The fourth of July celebration was vaguely reminiscent of “Shock and Awe” over Baghdad!  Uneasy at this display of jingoistic abulia we felt we had no choice but to flee North to The Everglades where we boarded an airboat and tried to blend in with atavistic Jurassic-era carnivors. However, the way these beasts started eye-balling us did nothing good for my jet-lagged neural tissue. Nothing to do but to race back to Miami and start packing away the Cuban chow. Plantains, black beans, rice, grilled fish with an iced cold beer is tough to beat!

In a hyperactive Cuban cafecito fueled buzzing daze we have been flailing about in the swimming pool. My sunburn is coming along nicely. Down on Ocean Ave. We sat outdoors under the awning in the tropical rain watching slack-jawed at the Black Film Festival beautiful people crowd as they were furiously cutting deals while wearing stiletto high heels and bikinis.

Naturally, I had to drain a margharita the size of a buick to regain my wits, but I’m happy to report we’ve reached a sort of chemical compromise between the jet-lag, alcohol, and Caffeine.

Stay tuned – film at 11.

01.16.11

About Wikileaks

Posted in Political Opinion at 7:16 pm by Administrator

by Frederick Gault
© 2011

There are three issues:
1.The memos being removed from US Govt. Custody.
2.The publishing of memos US Govt. people expected to be confidential
3.The criminal complaint against the director of Wikileaks

I’ll take these issues one at a time:

The US Government’s loss of information

The US Government had laughable security in allowing an individual to walk off with a thumb drive full of information that has been characterized as “putting lives in danger”. In this case, it is incumbent upon the government to adequately safeguard such information.

A friend of mine in the military, a man I know and trust, wrote to me to say that the soldier who provided the material to Wikileaks violated orders, and his oath. This is a grey area. Orders are to be followed in the military and it is a crime to disobey an order, EXCEPT, if the order is unlawful. It would be, for example, illegal to follow a direct order to murder a non-combatant. It is equivocal that a legal order was disobeyed. However, this is an old debate, not unique to Wikileaks. One need only to look at The Pentagon Papers to see similarities. I believe that the soldier in question should be tried according the code of military conduct. It seems pointlessly vindictive that he has been held in solitary confinement.

In fact, much of the information in question is declassified, simply confidential and of the items that are marked Secret, many of them seem hardly worth the classification. However, even if one Secret memo was released that resulted in the death of an individual this would be enough to support the position that a crime was committed.

The reality is that much of this information was simply marked Confidential without much thought and some of the information is embarrassing to America, or it allies.

The Publishing of Memos US government people expected to be Secret or Confidential

Again, this is an area with precedent. The Pentagon Papers, once released, were published by The New York Times. In other words, the process of Journalism is divorced from the “theft” of the information. Once it was clear that the information was valid, newsworthy and not a threat to the United States of America or any of its actors, then it was fair game for being published.

In fact, Wikileaks has released the memos slowly so that news sources have a chance to redact (i.e. remove) anything that may prove a threat to national security or human life. There have been some redactions in the material Wikileaks released.

In addition, Wikileaks should be held to exactly the same standards as The New York Times or any other publication that publishes any of these memos. If Wikileaks is guilty of treason, then so is every other publication who mentions anything from the memos! In other words, what would have happened to the New York Times had it been presented with the memos – instead of Wikileaks – and published them?

The criminal complaint against Julian Assange

Last we must address the fact that the director of Wikileaks is accused of a crime unrelated to the leaked memos. This is a separate matter that needs to be handled exactly as it would be if any other individual was accused of this crime. I have no personal information that Julian Assange is being framed of a crime because of the release of the memos. However, it seems unusual that an individual accused of “sex by surprise” in Sweden would be placed in solitary confinement in the UK while awaiting judgement on an extradition request. I have my suspicions that the crime accusation is being used as a tool to try and harass or even gain custody of Julian Assange to punish him.

In any event, the alleged crime has nothing to do with the publishing of leaked information. Julian Assange should have his day in court, face his accusers, mount a defense and do what any of us is allowed to do when accused.

What we can learn

When anyone in the US Government professes that there should be openness, we should be suspicious. As soon as Wikileaks began to publish information that provided just such openness (much of it tedious, mundane or of doubtful interest) it resulted in cries of treason. In addition there were calls for the director of Wikileaks to be executed in an extra-judicial action! Despite the fact that the information is reviewed and redacted to prevent threats to National Security or human life – as journalists have done throughout the history of the United States of America – there are still unsubstantiated accounts that lives are in danger and that diplomacy itself is emperiled.

We also learn that much of what the US Government thinks is Confidential and Secret are in fact not always worthy of the label. Embarrassing maybe, Secret, not necessarily. We see the US Government using the old saw of “National Security” to simply hide blunders and misdeeds from view.

We learn also that openness is good for Democracy! The recent uprising in Tunisia was in part fueled by the Wikileaks publication that showed that even the US Government, despite being an ally, thought the leader of their nation was corrupt and tyrannical.

Summary

Who do we want in charge of information we consume? The government or the press?

07.26.10

Thoughts on Information Legacy vs. Political Security

Posted in About Technology at 8:16 pm by Administrator

Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary that he attended Catholic Masses in Restoration England during the 1660s. He might have had an inkling that this information held some personal danger for him, after all he used a type of shorthand not only to increase the density of the data in his Journals but perhaps as a method to dissuade the casual reader of finding out damning facts. In fact, more than a decade later such a fact might well have resulted in his imprisonment, or worse, had it been made public.

This illustrates a classical problem with keeping a diary; what if something personal is revealed to an individual you would rather not know it? This problem is not constrained to diaries. The invention of encryption probably dates to a few moments after the invention of writing.

There is a temporal aspect to this problem. Just as Pepys couldn’t predict that political landscape in Restoration England a decade into the future, we cannot predict what particular datum may become embarrassing in the future. Orthogonal to this are the various bodies of individuals who may come into possession of private information. One must be aware of problems private information might cause in the workplace, the home and with governing powers.

Here are some examples; Imagine confessing in a private Journal that you stole funds from your employer. Or imagine putting in writing that you briefly considered throwing a Molotov Cocktail onto the steps of City Hall because you were angry about a new governmental policy decision. Lastly, imagine writing down that you considered cheating on your spouse. All of these private thoughts might cause immediate difficulty if revealed. Now imagine you innocently wrote that you considered a particular politician deserving a good beating – and then 20 years in the future that politician becomes President of the United States. Further consider what would happen if this future government in its zeal to combat terrorism has come into possession of your old Journal entry and considered you a threat!

Thankfully there is no machine [yet] that can inform the “Thought Police” of our private inner conversations. But once you commit a thought to the page, the possibility of discovery by these “Thought Police” either in the present or in the future, becomes real.

In the event that your want your Journals to be your legacy, say like Leonardo Da Vinci’s, then it is important to safe guard them so that future events will not destroy them. (For an excellent discussion of long term thinking the reader is referred to The Long Now Foundation: www.longnow.org). One might make copies of Journals to safe guard them, and in the digital age this is easier than ever. However, the more copies you make, the more likely someone will encounter them. In fact privacy and legacy are in opposition. The more available you make something to secure your legacy, the more people have access to your private thoughts. Politicians and other public figures have dealt with this problem by mandating a period of time before the works are made public. For example, Anais Nin’s very graphic Journals had details edited out until people who might be hurt by the information in them had died (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anias_Nin#Journals).

More worrisome than private thoughts is genetic information. At this writing, you can have your DNA sequenced for less than $1,000. I have done this. (for example: www.decodeme.com). Why would you want to do this? In my case, it is interesting to know what diseases I might be susceptible to. Perhaps I can prevent them. Also I learned about my genetic ancestory. Last, it might be of interest to someone after I die, to know if my genetic makeup and death had any relationship. But having this information opens the Pandora’s Box of possible discrimination. If I am genetically likely to contract a particularly expensive form of cancer, then an insurance company would certainly be inclined to consider that fact when I knock on the door for a policy. What if I’m a young man who meets the woman of his dreams? When she discovers that she won’t have blue-eyed babies, she might dump me for a more suitable genetic partner! More chillingly, some government in the future may decide that I am not allowed to have children because they are genetically undesirable for some reason (such as diseases, possible criminal disposition or the like). So, once again the opposition of legacy verses privacy is evident.

04.30.09

Proposal for a Universal Database

Posted in About Technology at 1:37 am by Administrator

A Proposal for a Universal Database

© 2007 Frederick P. Gault, Jr.

Science Fiction?

We’ve all seen a Science Fiction Movie where the protagonist queries a computer system in natural language, and receives exactly the information he needs. With the improvements in digital technology such a database of all human knowledge can be created. But, the creation of this knowledge base is not a function of equipment; rather it is a grand exercise in library science. The challenge is not to create a database with all human knowledge in it, but to create an organized system of information that can be queried to provide the desired result.

So, can a database be created that provides all human knowledge in an organized fashion? The short answer must be ‘No’, given that the human sphere of perception is in constant flux creating new information at a rate that makes a strictly up-to-date knowledge base impossible. But what of a database that is as up-to-date as a modern well maintained library? As we know, a modern library suffers from the severe limitation of the lack of linkage between similar kinds of information. In short, a paper library doesn’t have digital hyperlinks. To be sure, a modern library is well organized, and there are manual mechanisms to assist the user in finding related material. But our science fiction movie protagonist can’t simply ask the library a question. Even asking the human librarian a question isn’t close to our goal of a complete, relevant, topical, quick, correct, concise and organized response to a query.

Knowing the User

William James once wrote: “[knowledge] supposes two elements, mind knowing and thing known”. What we should like to have is a human librarian who knows everything, and more importantly knows us, and can put us together with the information we crave instantaneously. This is the crucial part of any Universal Database. Just as there must be data, and meta-data, there must also be a relationship between the knower and the known.

The Internet?

In some respects the Internet is a sort of incomplete repository of global knowledge. And Search-Engine Technology is one attempt to bring order to the chaos of this modern information miracle. But as a Dewey Decimal System, Google is inadequate, and perhaps always will be, unless there is a concerted effort to digitize and, more importantly, organize human information.

The Internet is an organic public body of knowledge without any universally agreed upon Meta data standards. There are, of course, industry consortiums that have established XML Schema for specific needs. These Schemas are a feeble collection of subsets of what is required for a Universal Knowledge Base.

For example, many texts are not digitized. And even if they were, is that digital text really optimally accessible information? In order for digital information to be truly useful it needs a staggering amount of editorial work.

Benefits: Is it Worth It?

What are the benefits of such a knowledge system? Current efforts to organize and present data, such as can be found in the Wikipedia, are extremely beneficial. However, they fail in one critical area; that of the presentation of information. The user can easily extract raw information from Wikipedia. But this ignores the way humans typically use knowledge. Here is an example:

Current database technology is very good at answering a query such as this:

[Who was Samuel Pepys]?

But it is not so good at answering a query such as this:

[What did Samuel Pepys think of King Charles II of England]?

The latter query requires a synthesis of factual information into a “fuzzier” answer. Now consider this permutation of the latter query:

[What did Samuel Pepys think of King Charles II of England in 1662]?

This query requires a synthesis of factual information along a time axis. In other words Pepy’s opinion of King Charles II may have changed over time.

And consider another factor, the age and knowledge of the person requesting this information:

[Who was Samuel Pepys? I am 11 years old.]

Vs.

[Who was Samuel Pepys? I am writing a Ph.D. Thesis on Restoration England.]

These two queries should provide very different results, for obvious reasons.

I submit that there is knowledge available to us now that wants only for someone to stumble across related bits of information. What would it be? Perhaps research that shows that a certain drug will cure a disease, or something as startling as that there is intelligent life in the cosmos and we just hadn’t put the data together in the right way to realize it.

Organization of Human Knowledge with Meta Data

In order for any Universal Data Source to be accessible in a meaningful fashion, all information that enters the Database must be edited by humans according to generally accepted standards. This “Meta Data” will serve to organize, categorize and relate disparate facts.

Wikipedia is a mechanism which brilliantly addresses the challenge of editing vast amounts of information and presenting a correct result. Wiki is essentially a public collaboration that is designed to assemble large quantities of information while assuring that it is correct. See (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiki).

A current manifestation of wiki is the Wikipedia, (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page) which is a web encyclopedia. Wikipedia, shows the practical power of wiki public collaboration. But one can see that Wikipedia is struggling with the broader issues of information technology. For example, Wikipedia has a listing of some 20 languages (as of this writing), which is a subset of the languages spoken on the planet.

There are also challenges associated with individuals who maliciously provide false or highly opinionated information as fact. The general community can move to ban these individuals and correct the information, but with an all volunteer community, it is clear that not all information can be validated.

Factually correct.

This troubling issue is perhaps the most difficult. What does it mean to be “correct” or “factual”? I can offer one possible guide, that being the scientific method. However, even that reflects the prejudice of my world view. Certainly a “Born Again Christian” would not accept this mechanism. Contrast the opinion of an Islamic Scholar with that of a Buddhist Nun and one can see that “truth” is deeply complex concept.

Up-to-date.

Keeping information up to date is another towering labor-intensive task. This process alone would require an army of individuals to review, enter, and provide meta-data editing.

Time based

The individual requesting information will need to know when humanity became aware of some particular information, and when humanity may have updated that knowledge.
When Meta data is provided for information, the editor(s) will need to mark some information as “unknown”, “incorrect” or “widely believed at the time” over a spectrum of dates in the past, up to the present.

Let me provide an example. Archeologists discovered clay tablets on the Island of Crete written in a script which has come to be known as “Linear B”. As scholars attempted to understand and decode this language time passed. Finally it was determined that Linear B was in fact a type of Greek, and it became possible to read the tablets.

So, let’s image scholars looking at information about Linear B. As of 500 BCE, this script was not known as Linear B, it had an indigenous name, and was well understood on the Island of Crete, which wasn’t called Crete at the time. However, around 1000 AD, no one alive knew of Linear B, what it said or where it was. In the 20th century there were periods where Linear B was known but not decoded, then known and readable.

A scholar then might ask the question, “Who could read Linear B in the year 1000 AD?” and the correct answer would be “Nobody”. But the question “Who could read Linear B in the year 500 BCE?”, would also be “Nobody” because there was no such thing as “Linear B” which is a 20th Century name. However, what the scholar really wants to know is that “The Inhabitants of the Island now known as Crete spoke and read what we now call Linear B but was known to speakers a Greek, in 500 BCE”.

The point is that knowledge evolves over time, and it must have meta-data associated with it that will allow each query to specify a particular point in history.

Social constraints:

1.Some cultures may disagree on what is “true”
2.Some information is of such value that the individual asking for it must pay for it.
3.Some information is secret and available only to authorized people
4.Some information may be censored (leaving the moral implication aside for now).

Facts, Opinion and Entertainment.

Meta data must cover the various strata of information. Some knowledge will be considered facts (according to the limits of how we define “facts” discussed above), some information is simply “Entertainment”. For example, Shakespeare’s Hamlet is not a “fact” it is a play, a work of fiction. In addition there are several different versions of the play that survive. However, there are a variety of “facts” associated with Hamlet, such as when it was written, where and when it was performed, and so on.

Synopsis

“Nodes” of information will require a terse “abstract”. By this I mean that a query will often return oceans of information, and may not be relevant to the user’s search. So, it will be prudent to provide a summary of the information available for presentation, so the user may decline the larger body of data (s)he doesn’t want.

Anyone who has used an online search engine knows of the hopelessness of having hundreds of thousands of responses to a search. Through a concerted effort of editors working to build relevant Meta data, and indeed requests for corrections from users, these summaries can provide a more relevant query mechanism.

Recently a colleague used the Wikipedia to look up what “Bayesian” meant. She had seen the word in conjunction with Spam Filtering. Unfortunately she first spelled it Beysian, which resulted in a “No page with that title exists”. After several tries she got the spelling correct and read a lengthy detailed entry finding the reference to spam filtering near the center of the entry. What she had really wanted to know was a discussion relative to her knowledge level about how Bayesian probability could be used in spam filtering. She didn’t want to know HOW to write a Bayesian Spam Filter, what she wanted to know was, WHAT IS a Bayesian Spam Filter.

My colleague was ultimately able to traverse the database and come up with the information she needed. But we can do so much better.
Edited for “depth”

The “synopsis” of information Nodes is the lowest level of “depth” that should be applied to information. A query maybe made for only an overview of a topic.

Let us take another example: Abraham Lincoln. At one depth the user will be presented with a short paragraph and a photo, giving date of birth, the fact that he was President of the United States, that the US Civil War was conducted during his administration and that he was assassinated. At a deeper depth the user would be given details of his marriage, children, who assassinated him and so forth. At yet a deeper depth, a discussion of his administration, his handling of the Civil War, the emancipation proclamation would be included.

These levels of completeness would increase until each scrap of information related to anyone ever named Abraham Lincoln would be available.
Edited for relationship to other information

Today we are used to information “hyperlinks”. But as the Xanadu project has shown this is a unidirectional single linkage, and not adequate for complex relationships found in the real world.

Presentation of Information to Humans

For even the most well organized database, the user is an integral part of the system. A Universal Database interface should be able to learn about each individual using it. In fact, those individual preferences should be considered part of the knowledge base.

Since I assume that knowledge is defined as the RELATIONSHIP between facts and the individual who consumes those facts, the value of A Universal Database is directly proportional to the ability of the User Interface to “understand” the user.

Of necessity we must extract a subset of parameters based on human behavior to use as a guide to the user’s personality:

Language

Once information is retrieved it must be presented in a language of the user’s choice.

Depth

The user will specify at which depth they wish to have their query answered.

Culture

This is a tricky question that collides with the definition of “truthfulness”. Individuals of different cultures will certainly have different requirements for presentation.

Age

A child of 5 years old should have their query answered in a more basic way with assumptions about the limits of the child’s understanding. The same query will be answered more completely for a child of 10.

Intelligence

An individual with an IQ of 75 will need a different presentation than a person with an IQ of 100, as will someone with an IQ of 120. This presentation will need to be adjustable in a sensitive way.

Education and Experience

Even an extremely intelligent person may need a “dumbed down” presentation if the topic is one they are unfamiliar with. An individual’s personal experience and education will set levels of presentation.

Expert Systems & Training

A query may not ever be forthcoming. Indeed an individual may want to interact with the Data Source as a learning experience, as if in a classroom. I would expect that institutions of learning will develop curricula that will lead the student through the knowledge, whilst insuring that information is truthful and up to date.

Commercial Advertising

As an aid to product evaluation, humans will want advertising in the body of knowledge in the database.

Challenges

There are significant barriers to such a Universal Database being created. The most evident problems are standards and editorial effort. First and foremost there should be a global agreement upon the data schema, after which a massive and never-ending editorial effort will commence.

Standards

Obviously a world body will be needed to define the schema necessary to support the different data and their associated meta-data. This committee will concern itself only with the mechanics that will allow for “cultural sensitivity” and “truthfulness” without attempting to define them. This body will build a sort of constitution of the government of the Data Source and Query Mechanics.

Attempts have been made to do exactly this, most notably the Xanadu Project (ref).

Management

This committee might be structured in a fashion similar to the way the “Immortal 40” in France. They will safeguard the integrity of the Data Source. Their job will be primarily that of management of the Judiciary, the hierarchy of Node specific committees and general guidance. To this end individuals of stature and integrity will be best.

Due to vast infrastructure and workforce required the management committee will be also be the financial managers of a large corporate enterprise.

Corrections

A Judiciary should be established to resolve the inevitable conflicts in the interpretation of information. Various levels should be provided that will be topic specific, with access to panels of experts in the field. This “court system” will concern itself strictly with meta-data issues, allowing the global and civilian court systems to deal with issues of ownership.

Digital Rights Management

Ownership issues will, of course, need to be addressed. In short, a “pay as you go” or “micro pay” system seems best. It should be left to the standards committee to decide how payment should work. However, it is safe to say that money will need to be collected for use, not only to compensate content owners, but to provide a “tax” to support the Data Source infrastructure.

That is not to say that parts of the Data Source will not be free. I would expect that large portions will be free, and that mostly entertainment properties will be pay as you go.

Legal Implications

A legal infrastructure will need to be developed to interact with the internal and external court systems. The Data Source will need to have limited liability from the possible misuse of knowledge.
Volume of Information

A robust infrastructure needs to financed and maintained. Even assuming the Internet as hosting the User Interface, the Universal Database will require its own servers, back up, media distribution mechanisms and so on. The volume of information will be so vast and grow so quickly that continual effort will be required to test and improve dedicated facilities.

Editorial Agreement

The Meta-data editorial effort will require a continual collaboration with experts in the relevant fields to a given piece of data. The judicial mechanism should be reserved for only the most intractable problems. It should be understood that A Universal Knowledge Database should accommodate the differing opinions commonly found in various professional disciplines. This does not mean however that differing opinions should have the same weight. For example the theory of evolution is generally accepted despite the fact that some humans accept theological myths as factual descriptions of the explanation for the development of genetic phenotypes.

Security

Parts of the database must be sealed off from general usage. For example: the knowledge necessary for the construction of dangerous weapons may need to be restricted or monitored for global security. Digital rights management is contingent upon convincing the content owners that their property is secure and will be paid for as required. In addition users must have confidence that their costs will be clearly outlined and correct.

Maintenance

Maintenance will perform several roles:
1. Performance – i.e.: response time
2. Correctness
3. Adherence to Database policy as set forth by the committee
4. Completeness
5. Corrections from the user community
6. Improvements to the meta-data
7. Finance, cost adjustment
8. Compliance with content rights

A Proposal

The Committee

A standards committee should be set up to accept global input on a generalized knowledge schema. Specially, the meta-data required should be delineated. The ability for the integration of existing industry schema should be of particular interest. Rules of default automation of existing public domain information should be established. For example: information currently available on web sites should be simply hyperlinked as the default until such time as editors can integrate that information into the Universal database with appropriate Meta-data.

The Staffing

Once the standards committee has determined the schema, it should be tested on a subset of information for evaluation and improvement. This phase of the life of the database will help establish the editorial effort required.

Software tools should be built to integrate existing forms of well-organized information into the database.

Payment System

Funds will be needed to maintain the database and continue to add information and editorial improvement. Several mechanisms should be considered.
1. Participation by government entities, educational institutions and corporate entities that will reap benefit from the product.
2. A pay as you go system for some access quanta as yet to be determined.
3. A tax or subscription service for advanced levels of usage
4. Charges for access to industry-specific domains of information.

International Standards

Query Language

A standardized query API should be established by the committee. This output can then be operated upon by the weeding and training modules. This is analogous to the way SQL is used to query a relational database.
Weeding Module

Software that takes a user’s profile and tailors the query output to his or her level.

Inference Module

Raw factual data must be integrated based on the query presented to the database and the personality profile of the requestor.

Training Module

Software that presents courses derived from the database. Allows teachers to use some sort of scripting to build didactic templates.

Time Relational Data Model

Each bit of data in the database will have the following time-relational Meta data:
1.When the information entered the database
2.When the information was known (a date before entry)
3.When the information was updated
4.When the information update was known
5.When the information was invalidated
6.When the information was accessed
7.When the information security denied access
8.When the information was flagged for possible correction
9.When the information was corrected

In this way it will be possible to “roll-back” the state of the data based on time, updates, corrections and so forth. It will also be possible for researchers to know when particular knowledge was known.

02.22.09

Skiing in Utah

Posted in Travel at 2:01 am by Administrator

Yesterday Steve Jim and I hit the slopes at Solitude, today Saturday, we joined the crowds at Snowbird. I must say, this is a beautiful mountain, large with all types of terrain and excellent snow quality. We skied until we were too tired to continue. We managed to get a 3 day pass for a variety of local mountains which cut the days lift ticket to $53!

Snowbird

Snowbird


Jim and Steve

Jim and Steve

02.20.09

Driving through Nevada

Posted in Travel at 3:08 am by Administrator

I’ve just finished the first leg of a trip to Utah to ski (the second leg is to go back). The drive was relaxing. I love the empty spaces of Nevada.

It was 741.2 miles from San Francisco to Salt Lake City, I took two days staying over in Winnemucca, which is booming these days since it is a gold mining town. The 4 Runner gets a dismal 15 miles per gallon slightly offset by the fact that gas gets cheaper the further inland I go ($1.64 a gallon in SLC) compared with a high of $2.59 in Eastern Nevada. The speed limit has been 75 but I go a more sedate 70 since I’m not in a hurry.

The ass end of nowhere

Tomorrow I pick up Steve Hadley at the airport and we go directly to the slopes to ski until we drop. The weather is good, they had snow over the previous few days, so it should be good. One benefit of the Bush Depression is that prices are lower. Lots of deals on hotels and lift tickets.

More news as things develop.

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