30 November 2008

Monteverdi and me and tonight

I am in total awe, almost to the point of being at a loss for words. Although, as most of you know I'm never really at a loss for words, so indeed there is something I need to say.

I love Monteverdi. But of course, you knew that, no surprises there. But I was surprised a few weeks back while reading the newspaper; Terje Kvam and the Oslo Domkor (choir of Oslo main cathedral) was going to perform Monteverdi's Marian Vespers (of 1610 fame) tonight! And of course I went; I've been waiting for this moment my whole adult life, for something as momentous as this happening up here in the cold north.

First, let me explain just how crazy this is. The Vespers is a collection of music which is regarded some of the most challenging and beautiful music, for many the defining piece of work to separate mouse from men. It's an amazing piece, it's rather out of the common practice of its time, revolution and tradition all mixed up in a magnificent duality of old and new. Monteverdi who was just starting out in writing opera (and being damn successful at it with one of the first operas "L'Arianna" he wrote for the Gonzagas and performed in 1607), but he wasn't happy with his current boss. He probably thought that writing a piece of music that shakes some booty could be a good way to attract different employer (and he even dedicated it to the pope, probably kissing some Roman butt), and so he did. In 1610 it was published, and the world became richer.

So, anyway, here Terje Kvam decides to tackle this amazing work. You would think this could go so-so, but if you read between the lines you see names such as Rolf Lislevand (superstar lutenist of Jordi Savall coop fame), impressive tenors Joshua Ellicott and Johan Linderoth (these guys *got* Monteverdi, and more or less made this concert what it was), Njål Sparbo (always lovely to hear his bass) and assorted people from Norsk Barokkorkester and of course the Oslo Domkor itself which always has one of the nicest tones around. (My best friend Magnus' mum sings in the choir, and this night was her last concert with them after 18 years in it)

Here's my poor-quality camera-phone shot of the intro ;

This was an amazing concert, on a high international level. I've heard the vespers more than any other piece of work, I've got all available recordings of it (including a few that should have been burned and forgotten ever happened!), I know the music and lyrics off by heart ... and this concert blew me away! I was sitting there crying it was so good! The tone of this choir is amazing, and the soloists were fantastic, every single one of them (and especially the tenors; amazingly good!) , the band in fantastic form with the amazing Rolf Lislevand upfront.

Now, it's not too late to see this for yourself. Tomorrow (sunday, 30th of November, 2008 at the Trefoldighetskirken next to Deichman main library down town) they're doing it again. I know Magnus is going to be there, and if I get tickets (and permission from my wallet) I'll be there again. It's the one concert I would never want to end. If you're in Oslo, like this kind of music and want a kick-ass version of a piece of music that was written to kick-ass, you know what to do. I dare you!

Labels: baroque music, monteverdi, music, oslo domkor, terje kvam

10 November 2008

Bad start of the week, thanks to Steven Spielberg and George Lucas

I woke up I a crappy mood this morning. Sure, it was pouring outside, and the family is under a coughing/drooling/snot/sleepless spell these days, but the main reason I feel like this is because last night me and the wife watched "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." Spoilers galore warning.

What dreck! I've been thinking about it since last night, and this is just not only a bad Indiana Jones movie, but a bad movie, period! Here you've got a kick-ass cast, killer director and otherwise good filmmakers, and somehow they end up raping the good name of Indiana Jones, piss in the well of good films, break rules of good taste, and generally make me lose respect for people I normally love.

Let's start at the beginning, before the movie was even made. They announced it as "back to basics" and "that good ol' Indy feeling", pulled in a stellar cast including my all-time male favorite British actor John Hurt, and all-time female favorite actress Karen Allen (since Starman, co-starring with my all-time favorite male American actor Jeff Bridges), Aussie vixen and all-round amazing seductress Cate Blanchett, Steven Spielberg to direct, Lucas to produce. This just couldn't fail, I thought.

Ok, so "that good ol' Indy feeling" has a few guidelines;
  • Introductory segment before film proper
  • Slightly exadurated fight scenes
  • Good dialog
  • Not stupid
  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Adventure for a cause, not for magic
  • On the edge believable story-line based on real myths
The introduction here is gone, and we leap straight the film, and it follows that story throughout the whole movie. Where's our gentle, humourus and interesting entree?

Then we get lots of fight and chase scenes that are just plain dumb, that adds nothing to the story and could well have been left on the cutting room floor. The fighting itself is mostly of the comic kind, like fighting with swords with your legs split between two cars driving and having bushes and vegetaion slap your jewels at high speed. Yeah, that kind. And then there's the guy who gets eaten alive my big ants and dragged down their lair, which looks cool but is so far fetched from reality it looks stupid in an Indy movie. Yeah, that kind.

The dialog is haphazard, almost as if the actors haven't seen eachother for 20 years and are trying to find out how to communicate again. It's as if the script thought that talking and interaction was boring, and can we get to the cool CGI effects and chase scenes, eh? And some of those interactions are just plain unbelievable, such as when Indy sees Marion again for the first time in many, many years. Even the lead up to that moment was stupid (Shia LeBeuf saying his mums name is Marion didn't ring any bells? How many women in your life is called Marion? Pathetic), and you're also telling me that two people who love eachother, even with a rocky past, don't at least stay in contact? And especially she who knows her son is Indy's son? Give me a friggin' break. And what about Shia's introduction? He just walzes in, talks about some old former friend, and basically sets up the whole adventure which Indy swallows without a thought, and Voila! they're on a plane to Peru in search of ... uh, whatever. Where's character development, or, you know, characters that at least have some base in reality? Not here.

Next up; the movie shouldn't be stupid. But it does get stupid. No, not your average "balancing on the suspension of disbelief" cliff, but jumping right off it with a clowns nose and big shoes on playing the trumpet while plummeting. So, what's so stupid? Well, aliens, to begin with. And the Ox being posessed by an alien being from having looked at a crystal skull for too long. Or Indy being half-possesed by being forced to look at said skull. Or the main baddy having some mind-reading skills. or the main baddy having a rapier fetish she brings with her in a suit-case on crazy adventures and missions. Or Indy's frind Mac who betrays them, what, three or four times? I lost count, but how stupid can you be after the first betrayel? Indy movies have as little magic in the as possible, while this one pours it on and makes it the driving force of the movie. Unbelievable.

In one scene Indy proclaims that only he should return the skull, going into a cave, not because of some greater good but because the skull told him to. And yet they all go in. And Indy doesn't belive in magic, only causes. And yet they go in. For what reason? To return something, when Indy clearly wants these things in museums and collections for study purposes? Brrr.

The story is just plain bad! I saw the "making of" on the DVD where Spielberg talked a bit about how Lucas tried to put aliens in there, going back and forth. Spielberg rightly said it was a bad idea, but Lucas was persistent and they ended up with "transdimensional beings" ... *rolling eyes* For fraggs sake, how stupid can you get? I can only assume that Lucas has been listening too much to lunatic vonDänicken and thought it clever to put the crystal skulls and the Mayan / Incas / Indian myths together in a hotch-potch story, but trust me, Lucas should not go anywhere near aliens ever again. Not only that, but the alien looks just like the ones from Close Encounter of the Third Kind? And the story is resolved by the alien(s) leaving in their flying saucer, removing all evidence, as opposed to the site being covered by agents, or some government conspiracy, or whatever? A self-ersolving theme? What the heck is going on here?

There were so many details that irritated me throughout this flick I don't even know where to start. Using a snake to pull Indy out of a sinkhole? Marion saying "trust me" instead of Indy? The alien(s) is evil? And archeologist? The skulls are magnetic, yet made of crystal? LeBeuf put his shiny motorcycle in an unprotected marketplace, and it's still there when he gets back? There's ninja-like Indians at the cemetary? Who don't follow them into the crypt because Indy's got a gun? A russian female commander / scientist / phsycic with a rapier fetish? They made Cate Blanchett look ugly?!?! Indy gets fired because FBI raided his office? (One would think that would be a common practice around Indy by now) He once was involved in an alien rescue mission without knowing they were aliens? He survives a nuclear blast from hiding in a fridge, which gets slung far, far away with great force, and he exits alive? Shia can do the Tarzan trick, jumping from liane to liane faster than two military cars? And those two cars racing along a shere cliff? (I sometimes have to remind myself that these cars actually have breaks ...) And on and on, lots of stupid little things.

I didn't have too big expectations for this flick, but one would think that people of this caliber could pull it off reasonably well. The IMDB ratings give it (right now) 7 out of 10. I will never trust the IMDB ratings again. I give it 3 out of 10. So, what's the 3 for?

Good effects (which is ironic, given the promise before filming that CGI was to be minimal if any, and ended up as 30% of the movie!), beautiful scenery and great cinematography. It looks really good. But Indy is more than that, and I was very disapointed.

Good to get that out of my system. Now back to work.

Labels: indiana jones, lucas, movies, spielberg

31 October 2008

An amazing and beautiful digi-analog kick-ass clock

I stumbled upon this $1.8 million mechanical clock featuring a massive time-eating grasshopper made its debut at the University of Cambridge Friday, and famed cosmologist Stephen Hawking was on site to introduce the strange and provocative timepiece. I can't even remember what I was searching for, but it's one of those great moments of flying half-blind through the intertubes.Oh, and this is my first Digg post as well. I mean to blog a lot more stuff I find interesting, but never take the hassle to log into Blogger. This will make it easier, so ... uh, I'll see you again soon then?

read more | digg story

20 October 2008

I went to TMRA 2008, and all I got was the best days of my life ...

Update: I've added an embedded version of the slides at the bottom of the post; my cool animations and lots of fonts are wrong, but hey, you can read it at least. :)

Not to put too much sugar in your otherwise fine brew of tea, but being at TMRA 2008 this year was one of the most fantastic experiences I've had so far. Not only did I catch up with some old friends, I met some new ones I know I'll stay in touch with. So much smart and easy-going folks gathered in one place ... I'm surprised it didn't disintegrate in a puff of logic as that there really must be some cosmic law against it. Although, I see the TED conferences still churning out good stuff, so it must be allowed. And yes, I do equate TMRA with TED; it was that great.

This year I was invited to hold the opening keynote speach, which I called "You're all crazy - subjectivelly speaking", a romp on the Topic Maps community, a plea to remember epistemology in all things data modeling, and the message that being "subject-centric" is not a technical feat; it's about social processes and agreement (or, at least, rough understanding of eachother).

I used a few cheap interactive ploys to hold the audiences attention, with making them audibly disagree or agree with certain assertions I made up on the screen. It was very effectice as raising the collective awareness to the issues I was trying to point out, and especially helpful when I needed to point out that there are some things we all disagree with. And not only that, but things we should disagree with.I think people in general thought it was a good speach, and the feedback was great, so thanks to all for that.

I'd like to thank Lars Marius Garshol and Lutz Maicher for inviting and encouraging me, Patrick Durusau, Jack Park (you need a website or blog, mate!) and Robert Barta for just being who you are, and every one else for making me once again believe so strongly that the Topic Maps community is the best thing since recursive properties and frames theory!

I'm sure I'll write more on what went down at TMRA 2008, but right now I need to make porridge for my kids. Later.

Labels: , tmra 2008,

10 October 2008

Keynote speaking at TMRA 2008

Oops, I totally forgot to mention to the world that I'm the intro keynote speaker at the TMRA 2008 conference (one of two yearly Topic Maps conferences each year) in Leipzig next week (15-17 October). My talk is titled "We're all crazy - subjectively speaking" and will contain at least one bad joke, two pretty good ones, some philosophical ranting and hopefully lots of community building. I really, really hope to see you there; find me, say hello, let's have tea and discuss whether my two jokes really were good or not.

The big question is, how did I forget to tell you about this? I'll let you know that in a few days time or so.

Labels: , , , , ,

25 September 2008

MARCXML : Beast of burden

Lately I've been talking with librarians again. I left their den about 8 months ago and went a bit cool after that, needing some fresh air and to distance myself a bit from everything in that world. But, as I said, I've been lured back again by my own stupid notion to save humanity from itself through the channels the library world offers.

As much as I'm a fanboy of the library world, I'm also quite critical to library world thinking, the collective direction its heading and the way they del with probably their biggest challenge ever; their own survival when the book turns digital.

Today I'll rant a bit about a piece of technology that often is hailed as being the library worlds ticket into the modern techie world, a piece of the future solution, albeit with a few minor worts that could be sorted out. I don't agree; I think MARCXML is the plague, and I'm here to tell you why. First, here's how Library of Congress describes it;
framework for working with MARC data in a XML environment
First of all; framework? Framework suggests something more than a mere format, and yes, there's an XSLT sheet or two there that could convert MARCXML to HTML or somesuch. That's not a framework, that's a format with a few conversion scripts. Framework suggests tools I can use to get some juice, which is nowhere in sight.

Anyway, let's move on to the 8 main design goals or considerations, with my comments;

1. Simple and Flexible MARC XML Schema

The core of the MARC XML framework is a simple XML schema which contains MARC data. This base schema output can be used where full MARC records are needed or act as a "bus" to enable MARC data records to go through further transformations such as toDublin Core and/or processes such as validation. The MARC XML schema will not need to be edited to reflect minor changes to MARC21. The schema retains the semantics of MARC.

All control fields, including the leader are treated as a data string. Fields are treated as elements with the tag as an attribute and indicators treated as attributes. Subfields are treated as subelements with the subfield code as an attribute.
Oh, it's simple alright, in the same sense that a frog that sits in a pot of cold water that's slowly getting hotter to the boiling-point won't hop out to save himself, attributed to very simple neuron- and nerve-control over time (meaning, they're great at short-time tasks, but sucks if the time stretches out a bit). We're talking about mechanisms that are so simple you wonder how they didn't get outed in the evolution of things.

Let's start with "All control fields, including the leader are treated as a data string." Here's a quick example;
01142cam  2200301 a 4500
920219s1993 caua j 000 0 eng
Not sure you can see it straight away, but they've here got reliance on whitespace being preserved in a format that had as a goal to get rid of reliance on whitespace. How's that for a good start? I'm not sure how many times this has bit me, as pretty much any and all XML tools out there will be whitespace-agnostic by default (meaning, they'll often reduce it). In order to use MARCXML properly you have to change the whitespace options in pretty much all your tools, if they allow you to.

Next up, if you go to lengths to create an XML schema you should already be aware that semantic meta data becomes part of your names and fields (and I'll get back to this point a lot, really). Sure it's a quick and dirty way to get your XML chops started, but is it wise to do this?

Arithmetic /

I'll translate what this does for you;
The MARC tag 245 means "title statement", and the code "a" means, uh, title. This perticular madness comes from the culture of MARC itself which I'll rant about some other time (and have in the past), so I'll try to stick to the pure XML part of it ;

What were you thinking? That 245 is easier to remember than "title"? Hardly. Perhaps the international side is more convincing, that 245 is easier to remember for those who wants a title in Norwegian ("tittel")? I seriously can't think of any other format that does it this way, and it doesn't seem to have stopped the success of other formats in the world. No, this particular thing has all to do with the fact that MARCXML isn't as much XML as it is MARC; it's really MARC with a bad hairdo, showing a thinking that as long as we can just claim it has some affiliation with XML then we're hip and cool and we're drinking the new techie XML kool-aid.

And this is the by far biggest problem with MARCXML; it thinks it is XML, but it really isn't, which leads to all sorts of unfortunate situations, like ;
  • Librarians are fooled into thinking their meta data is ready for an increasingly XMLish world
  • Librarians think they can throw XML tools and programmers at it with ease
  • Librarians think they get all the XML goodies and benefits
Let's run through these;

Librarians are fooled into thinking their meta data is ready for an increasingly XMLish world

There's not much these days that hasn't got some anchoring in XML technology. I don't need to go into details to all the XML technology used to even write and publish this little blog post. But when your MARCXML isn't real XML, all the XML technology in the world is rendered useless for you.

Let me try to clarify this as simply as I can, through the use of XPath (an XML query language used pretty much anywhere there is XML technology). Here's what I would write if the XML is real;
And here is what I have to do with MARCXML;
It really isn't optimized for computerized fetching or indexing, and what's more important is this; Notice the tree-structure of the former example, and the lack of obvious structure in the latter. Let's talk about structure, because, frankly, if you aren't then you shouldn't use XML.

We humans have a good sense of structure. Our brains are great at categorization, we do it all the time, break things into category prototypes and derivatives to gather some kind of meaning. A tree-structure is the closest and easiest structure that binds humans and computers together, in the sense that trees are easy for a computer to work with, and easy for a human to understand. (We humans have a natural knack for prototypes and graphs [not the presentation slide kind] that I've talked about earlier, which we shouldn't misinterpret here)

With these faux but useful tree-structures comes mediation between man and computer, a way to advance us further. Take note, because this is an understated and overlooked benefit of XML over any binary (or XML wannabe) format out there. And none of these benefits can you find in MARCXML because there's only two levels involved; field and sub-field. it's, in fact, rather flat and with non-semantic names. Can you get any further from the reasons XML was created?

Librarians think they can throw XML tools and programmers at it with ease

No you can't. Your XML is bad, and XML tools and programmers are going to struggle with your XML. They'll waste most of their time trying to figure out why the hell someone came up with this evil way of making your brain melt. Well, obviously, if your brain melts, it's evil, but there is something so anti-XML about the way MARCXML was designed I'm starting to wonder.

There's probably a ton of tools out there that deals great with XML, but not a single tool (at least in the mainstream) that has ever heard of MARCXML, and even when you throw the MARCXML Schema at them it does them little to no good. You still need domain experts to do anything with it, you still need special knowledge to move around it, and you get absolutely nothing for free in the lack of typed data and semantically rich markup.

Librarians think they get all the XML goodies and benefits

XML comes with a host of good stuff, like xml:id and xml:idrefs attributes that lots of tools understand (including XSLT), in-build language support, extensibility through namespaces, mixed content models, character encoding rules and guarantees, Unicode (for the most part), and when you think of all the XML technologies out there who already adhere and use these benefits to create a complete development universe, who's missing out on all of this?

2. Lossless Conversion of MARC to XML

3. Roundtripability from XML back to MARC

Both of these are the same; we're not using any of the goodness of XML, we're pretty much MARC in a small XML wrapper, so we can easily convert back and forth from MARC and MARCXML. But conversions between XML schemas isn't in scope, so as long as you're working in your own little non-shared universe you're good to go, but life sucks if you dare step out of it.

4. Data Presentation

Once MARC data has been converted to XML, data presentation is possible by writing a XML stylesheet to select the MARC elements to be displayed and to apply the appropriate markup.

This must be part of that "framework" they're talking about but, um, you can present MARC elements and records with or without XML, and converting it into something else in the first place denotes that you can do "stuff" with it. This point is mere fluff.

5. MARC Editing

Some single or batch updates such as adding, updating, or deleting a field to a MARC record can be accomplished with simple XML transformations
Ugh, more fluff. This is basically saying "you can do stuff with it. Do it yourself."

6. Data Conversion

Most data conversions can be written as XML transformations. For more complex transformations of the data, software tools which read MARC XML can be written.
And yet more fluff, saying the same "you can do stuff with it. Do it yourself."

7. Validation of MARC data

Validation with this schema is accomplished via a software tool. This software, external to the schema, will provide three possible levels of validation:
* Basic XML validation according to the MARC XML Schema
* Validation of MARC21 tagging (field and subfield)
* Validation of MARC record content, e.g., coded values, dates, and times.
Now it's getting crazy. First, "basic validation according to MARC XML Schema" means you can make sure that the XML document hasn't got more than 5 elements, the right set of very few attributes, and that's it. Basically, the advantage you get here is to make sure that the crappy structure of MARCXML is preserved and valid. Goody.

Secondly, validation of tagging doesn't exists! What they really mean is that the formatting in the tagging attributes are according to certain character-based rules, that the type (which is extremely loose) is correct. Tagging, you may ask. No, not tagging (which would be useful), but the MARC tags which comes in the absolute number of 999 and are, of course, all numbers. And the validation doesn't even adhere to the type-based system the tags themselves denote. Incredible, ain't it?

Third, the bragging of "Validation of MARC record content" is pure nonsense and doesn't exists unless, you guessed it, made it yourself or found someone else's code. Good luck with all that.

8. Extensiblity

By using XML as the structure for MARC records, users of the MARC in the XML framework can more easily write their own tools to consume, manipulate, and convert MARC data.
Finally, the biggest bullshit statement of all, the one that basically says "now it's in XML; everything will be easy from here on in."

This last section gets its own headline;

What really happens

Seriously, have the people involved in MARCXML any expertise in XML? I know this is a bold and somewhat insulting statement. I can understand why MARCXML became what it is, because it's the first and simplest step one can take in getting anything into XML. The claims made about it, though, does not hold up to scrutiny, and in fact is outright bullshitting you into thinking MARCXML should even be considered to be a part of your development tool-chest. It should not.

The whole idea of XML is to have your meta data be the markup, and the data be, uh, data. When we have complex titles, here's what it should look like;
Arithmetic <responsibility>Carl Sandburg ; illustrated as an anamorphic adventure by Ted Rand.</responsibility>

But even this isn't good enough; we need typed data values, so that we can verify that what we put in can be used for something we know about, and this is glaringly absent from MARCXML. They probably thought that the problem was too hard, we'll deal with it later, but we are much later now, and nothing has changed. It's luring poor innocent librarians into thinking they're XML savvy, having catalogers think it solves some kind of meta data exchange problem with non-librarians, and making library techies embarrassed to ask XML questions in the fora of the world.

Take a look at this insane example they provide on their website. If you're a MARC junkie you might make something out of it, but if you are anyone else you'll balk at the complexities thrown at you. And the really bad part is that this stuff ain't complex, it only looks that way through crap XML. Here, being in XML is working against you. So, don't show this to your parents.

Finally, forget that MARCXML ever came to be, and look to MADS and MODS instead. Anything but MARCXML. I beg you.

Labels: , , ,

24 September 2008

The Library World and their lack of opinions

There's a mystical place out there, a place drenched in magic, adventure and fantastic experiences, where your soul and senses meets the challenge of the human spirit. No, not the church nor the congressional house, but the library.

I love this place. I love this culture. But it needs your help, because it is dying. There's many reasons for why this is so, but in my mind the two main reasons are that a) the book as a medium ain't good enough as the world hits a certain complexity, and b) librarians still think that the library is mostly a place to find books on shelves.

As much as I could go on at length on both these things - and I probably will in the near future - right now I'd like to tell you a secret. It's not a big thing and I might be wrong, but I've observed this little professional quirk the librarians embrace quite vigorously;

Librarians have no opinions.

Well, obviously not true as many of them have lots and great opinions which they've shared with me on a number of occasions. But when you ask them for information they will not tell you what book on the subject is the best, because, you know, we're human, you have to find out that piece of opinion for yourself. Librarians are not supposed to say things like "you'd enjoy that book", only (if they're big risk-takers and on the edge of library society) "I enjoyed this book," a doctrine that has a long and proud history in the library world. I know this is very academic and proper, but nowhere have I seen it so strong as in the library world.

I'm an avid library user. I've always loved libraries, and especially when I'm looking for some specific piece of information it's the number one place to go. And as such heavy librarian use I've become pretty good at telling good from bad. Let's define good as "getting you what you wanted or something even better" and bad as "getting something in the ballpark of what you wanted, with a feeling that there surely must be more?" These definitions work just as well with literature as with history and with science or any other reason you go to the library.

I think you can guess by now what I'm getting at; the good library experience comes through librarians who dare to challenge the stronghold of "no opinion." When the librarian daringly points out that I might enjoy this book by some other author that what I was looking at, that's when the magic happens! Serendipity!

Good librarians know to break this "no opinion" guideline. Good librarians know how to create magic and adventure. And I think good librarians know that this is their biggest and most wonderful weapon in the battle for the library of the future.

My good friend (who I miss dearly) Bobby "Slobo" Graham from the National Library of Australia kept telling me of a saying of sorts that I can't recall the origins of;

"Serendipity is when you go to the library to take out a book, and end up taking out the librarian."

At the library I've smiled, I've cried, I've danced, struggled, had love, made philosophy, drank the kool-aid and smelt victory. You should also. And tell those risque librarians that you love them. I know I do.

19 September 2008

Why I trust Google

Low blog season for meg as life swooshes by and I'm preparing for the time that has already gone. But I do trust Google, and here's why.