Mac troubleshooting tip: unplug dead monitors

For the benefit of the Googlesphere, although probably of limited interest to anybody who reads this blog on purpose:

If your PowerBook boots with bizarro display preferences and won’t let you correct them, make sure you disconnect any dead external monitors, not just the live ones.

This came up when my 17″ external monitor went on the blink. I turned it off and rebooted only to find my PowerBook’s built-in display in the wrong configuration. I futzed around with it for quite a while before I thought to pull out the video cable for the powered-off monitor. Another reboot and the PowerBook was happy again.

Now thanks to a trip to Discount Electronics and $69 I’ve got a serviceable 19″ monitor in place of the dead one — not a bad outcome.

The Semantic Web and the I Love You problem

Since I started out with a nod to Ben Hammersley, I’ll risk biting the hand that inspires me by taking issue with something he just posted to his blog.

It’s a long-lost (and nicely produced) video of an interesting and accessible talk he gave in summer 2003 entitled A Sporting Gentleman’s Guide to the Semantic Web. It seems like a useful intro for someone like me who knows very little about the subject.

However, despite a promise not to oversell the Semantic Web, Hammersley may be doing just that. He claims that it solves what he calls the “I Love You” problem, that the same words can mean different things when said by different people in different contexts. The Semantic Web aims to address this in two ways: (1) by using unique identifiers, or URIs, for each of the terms in a statement; and (2) by defining its verbs via an explicit reference to a standard.

So far so good, but the example he uses to illustrate his point is one that sets off alarms for me, the Dublin Core element dc:creator. It would be hard to name a thornier category of metadata. Any cataloger will tell you that there are a thousand kinds of authorship. The Dublin Core definition he refers to in his talk does not make the concept unambiguous, but rather explicitly ambiguous:

Creator: An entity primarily responsible for making the content of the resource. Examples of a Creator include a person, an organisation,or a service. Typically, the name of a Creator should be used to indicate the entity.

So neither the Semantic Web nor the Dublin Core will tell you whether the dc:creator of the object conceived it, wrote it, directed it, produced it, acted the lead, played trombone in the pit, or did the catering. They say even less about what rights or responsibilities accrue to said creator. Those questions remain as messy with the Semantic Web (at least the Dublin Core-based version) as without it.

Probably I’m overreacting and the problem isn’t with the Semantic Web but with his example. More widespread machine-parseable use of a simple metadata standard like Dublin Core could come in handy despite its limitations, and if I understood it correctly the Semantic Web is extensible to any metadata standard, including much more precise ones. But a claim that the Semantic Web eliminates issues of ambiguity is an overstatement as far-fetched as the claims of magic and mind reading his talk is intended to debunk.

Hello, world, my old friend

Why another blog? When I’ve already got Aprendiz de todo?

Well, I’m now in a transition, career-wise, education-wise, knowledge-wise. And I’m drawn to the model (which I associate with Ben Hammersley‘s blog while his RSS book was in development, although I’m sure he wasn’t the first) of learning in public. The idea that showing one’s ignorance, as long as it’s accompanied by curiosity and a willingness to learn, is more rewarding than keeping one’s cards close to the vest. Releasing oneself in beta, as it were.

So I’m going to try it in a blog. I’ll be showing my ignorance about IA, IR, KM, UE, UI, and GIS, among many other two- and three-letter acronyms. I’ll let my geek flag fly a little more than in my other blog.

My biggest worry is that I’ll set up two categories — fun stuff for that blog, boring serious stuff for this one. If that happens, or if the idea of learning in public becomes too embarrassing, don’t be surprised if this one disappears — and its Internet Archive mirror, too.