Solicited opinions

The Triumph of International Socialism

It’ll have its day again, I hope. We’ve not really seen true international socialism thus far, admittedly. Some of the aspirations of the UN come close, but it has been hampered by a lack of control over economic policy and the need to kowtow to certain national interests in order to get them playing at all, and programmes like the WFP have more to do with the effects of protectionism and subsidy and paternalistic charity than they do with redistribution per se. For socialism to be viable, it must be supported by the populace, which requires a degree of informed altruism that we’ve not seen in some time. Certainly in the UK, the main political parties regard the debate on redistribution-as-societal-good as a debate which we cannot have; the deplorable lack of interest or understanding in socialist ideals cannot be entirely be blamed on Thatcherite self-interest.

As I’ve said, I hope that International Socialism will rise again. If it does, I suspect that it won’t come out of Europe, but out of the heavily populated countries in the developing world from grass-roots organisations such as the Grameen Bank.

The semantic web

This is a good one. The Semantic Web is a bit of an odd beast, both maligned and celebrated, sometimes by the same people. The first question you have to ask is which Semantic Web you’re talking about. On the one hand, you have all of the refugees from the Good Old-Fashioned Artificial Intelligence community, with their theorum provers and expert systems. Mostly, these folk take a very top-down view (an ontology designed artifact that embodies an explicit agreement on common vocabulary made within a community) and are most interested in being sound (not making any incorrect inferences), complete (finding out all the correct inferences) and tractable (getting an answer before the end of the universe), not necessarily in that order. They’re dominated by the theorists and the logicians.

On the other hand, you have the Semantic Web hackers. These people take a bottom-up view, in which ontologies arise organically from the actions of communities, there are no restrictions on which vocabularies you can use together, and you’re not too concerned about consistency. These range from the Friend-of-a-Friend (FOAF) people (who use RDF and OWL, but aren’t really bothered about completeness at all and only care marginally more about soundness) to the lower-case-s semantic web people, like the folksonomists and the microformats people. This latter group are quite vocal in their opposition to the Semantic Web because they don’t see the need for the added complexity of RDF or the benefits that having a common data model with clear semantics brings you, but they’re still concerned about making information on the Web machine-understandable, even if only in an ad-hoc fashion.

In short, this is a rerun of the “neat vs scruffy” argument that the AI community had in the 1970s and 1980s; it’s no coincidence that some of the same people have cropped up in the SW crowd.

Which group is right? Well, they both are, and they both aren’t. It’s my feeling that the Semantic Web, when it becomes widely adopted (and I believe it will), will be a fairly messy affair with areas of local agreement. We’re not going to see a seamless info-future of the type that Tim, Jim and Ora predicted in their article in Scientific American (which as far as I’m concerned made the mistake of selling some of the same snake oil that the agent community has off-loaded over the years), but a SW that consists of regions of agreement that support certain communities in certain tasks and have the properties of soundness, completeness and consistency, and some chaotic interzones between them where the main rule is caveat lector.

Dark chocolate or Milk?

Dark, obviously. I’ve grown to like the standard Green&Black’s 70% (their 72% is a bit too bitter for me, as is the Lindt dark) and was disappointed when they changed their Maya Gold to have only 55% cocoa solids. I’ve a soft spot for the dark chocolate that Bendick’s use on their bittermints, and have a small bar of Michel Cluizet Noir Infini 99% cocoa solids that I’ve been working on for years (you just can’t eat more than a tiny amount at once).

If I have to eat milk chocolate, I’ll go for a dark milk like G&B’s milk. White chocolate isn’t chocolate at all, but a smooth mixture of fat and sugar.

The best way to holiday in Reykyavik

Icelandair fly from Heathrow, which is a good start. Probably a good idea to buy alcohol in duty-free on the way out, unless you fancy horribly inflated local prices. If you travel outside Reykyavik, remember that the locals are fiercely protective of their moss, so woebetide you should you damage it.

The British university system

Exhausting. Chronically under-funded. Frequently meddled with for political reasons. Still seems to keep working, mostly.

We’re going to see some interesting changes (in the Chinese sense) over the next few years. Tuition fees will dramatically change the relationship between students and universities, probably for the worse. On the other hand, changes in the funding model (the advent of full economic costing on research grants from UK research councils) will downplay the importance of HEFCE grant funding, and so also the hated Research Assessment Exercise. Combined with recent movements in academic publishing (self-archiving, and the requirement by UK research councils that research outputs paid for with public monies are freely available to the public), the research environment may become slightly less “publish or perish”, but winning grants from pots of money that are allocated on a competitive basis (a beauty contest if ever there was one) will probably become the measure of academic success instead.

I’ll give it a few years before I decide whether it is an environment in which I wish to continue working.


A good chocolate cake is very hard to beat, particularly when served with mascarpone, but I really like the damp lemon and almond cake in Nigella, or a sticky ginger cake with lemon icing.

Carrot cake has always left me a bit cold, I’m afraid.

, any idea what sort of cake you’d like for your birthday?

Roger Zelazny

To my eternal shame, I hadn’t read any Zelazny before I attended Lunicon back in 1993, something which I’ve since rectified. Amber never really did it for me, I’m afraid, but I think that The Doors of His Face… is one of the finest short story collections I’ve read, and I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for the Sandow books.

What is the mysterious connection between all the answers to this poll?

There is no connection. Move along. <fnord&gt

The importance of good underwear for the modern woman

To paraphrase William Morris, “have nothing on your person that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”. A well-designed corset in an attractive fabric can be both. A thong visible above the waistline of your builder’s-cleavage-displaying hipster jeans is neither.


A truly remarkable organisation. That they manage to get consensus between such a disparate group of interests is little short of miraculous, and the W3C staffers are as dedicated a group of people as I’ve yet to meet.

Looking back over the thirteen years that I’ve been using the Web, it’s clear that there’s room for improvement and places where the Web can be made a richer place, but the progress that has been made so far is very impressive.

Goodman’s grue-bleen paradox

I remember this vaguely from undergraduate AI courses, and really ought to make sure this gets into the courses here as an example of why you won’t find a common ontology that suits everyone, and how the static nature of terms really depends on who is doing the looking.

Fairground rides

A good rollercoaster is hard to beat, but I’ve got some extremely fond memories of the rides at Peter Pan’s Playground in Southend c. 1985, particularly the Whiplash and the Wendy Glide (probably the world’s most rubbish rollercoaster). For rides in temporary fairgrounds, I’d have to pick Hearts and Diamonds (or whatever you call the big spinning drum) or any big wheel in which the capsules can be inverted.


Whatever floats your boat, mostly, but I’d add that men are generally hard done by when it comes to fashion, and that if wearing frocks is the only way that men can get more flamboyant clothes then so be it.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *