The price of owning a Maserati (and the pleasure it brings)

According to Top Gear a car owner can only really be called a Petrolhead if they have owned an Alfa Romeo. Well I have never owned an Alfa, but I do have a Maserati and Maserati is (after their Ferrari ownership years) once again owned by FIAT. And Alfa is part of FIAT so surely, owning a Maserati is like owning an Alfa, only more so. So I figure that owning a Maserati should qualify me as a Petrolhead.

Which is kind of ironic because I have never been a speed demon and never really interested in cars: A car needs to get me from A to B. Anything more is a bonus. Of course, with a Maserati the bonus is getting from A to B really fast. The downside to owning a Maserati is that the reputation of italian engineering appears to be well founded; in the last 6 weeks my car has spent 5 weeks in various mechanical departments, electrical workshops and on the back of trucks from recovery services.

Needless to say I was not overly happy with owning a Maserati and was tending towards just selling the car, cutting my losses and running from a bad deal…. And then my car was delivered back to me today. And I took it for a test drive.

After about 5 minutes I started to realise that there is something special about driving a high performance car. After another 5 minutes I was actually smiling as I turned it into sweeping corners. And 10 minutes after that I had completely forgotten just how much I had spent getting it fixed.

I have never owned a car that makes you smile when you drive it (mind you I have never owned a car that prompts people to stop me in car parks and ask “Is that really a Maserati?”). I like my car: Yes it is ridiculously over powered, yes it drinks fuel like there is no tomorrow (filling it up cost me £89 today and it will take me ~350 miles) and yes it will probably break down again soon. But until it does… I am going to enjoy driving my car. And my kids are going to enjoy it too.

And I don’t know how to put a price on bringing pleasure to your children.

Organising e-mail using an Ontology

Like most people I receive e-mail. Like some people I like to save that e-mail for future reference. Like virtually no-one I want to have a unique, somewhat formal way of storing that e-mail so that I can find it again later. The traditional approach to this has been to use folders: Many people store e-mail by the sender’s name, some by when the message was sent. The downsides to this approach include the fact that in order to find the message again you must know the single item of information used to file the e-mail, if a message was sent to many people you may have to store multiple copies of the message etc etc

Enter tags: Tags should allow you to add extra information to your filing system: Now you can record the fact that this e-mail from Clive was about the “Winter Weekend”, that one was also from Clive but it was about “sport” and there is a group of your friends called the sports club who regularly conduct e-mail discussions. The problems with this approach include that without a controlled vocabulary the number of tags can become too numerous to manage, how do you know whether to classify something as “film”, “cinema” or “movie” (or even “movies”) and even knowing what this message is actually about.

Fortunately, there are some readily available resources: to determine whether to use film, movie or cinema use WordNet (BTW the answer is “movie”. And “cinema” is a different thing (the building that shows the movie) so don’t use them interchangeably) and to know where to classify the message use SUMO: So the WinterWeekend is a Meeting, possibly a SocialParty but not a FormalMeeting. And just to complete the hierarchy- a Meeting is a SocialInteraction, which is an IntentionalProcess, which is a Process, which is Physical, which is an Entity. Phew! (And I am stopping putting in the hyperlinks now- go look them up yourself)

Which all sounds fantastic. And it is, but I want more: The WinterWeekend was for a SocialGroup (called the Strollers, which is a GroupofPeople, which is a Group, which is a Collection, which is also Physical and still an Entity.

So what I need is the ability to classify my Tag WinterWeekend in mulitple locations in the SUMO hierarchy (or taxonomy to give its proper title). And I am fairly sure no e-mail system allows me to do that (on account of the fact that none of the tools I use even have the SUMO concepts built into them). And yet there is more: the O in SUMO stands for Ontology. And I want an ontology to be “a taxonomy with attributes“. So the WinterWeekend is a SocialParty which means that it has a date, a location etc. And the WinterWeekend involves a group so it has members and those members who showed up (attendees) etc.

SUMO doesn’t define the attributes for each item, so I have to make them up. OK, I am a data modeller by profession so I can make a good stab at the attributes, but it shouldn’t be up to me. But if I do define the attributes then I can use my e-mail to answer the query: Find me all the messages from November 2007 that refer to Lisa. And it should find Clive’s message about the WinterWeekend because Lisa is a member of the Strollers and the WinterWeekend took place in November.

Now maybe I am the only anally rententive person in the world who would try to file e-mail this way, but the point is; if I set up the tag WinterWeekend in the taxonomy, it will prompt me for the metadata (or even extract it from my Calendar) and from then on all I need to do is apply the tag and all the attached information is immediately available. To quote Mary Chapin Carpenter: “Is it too much to ask?”

The Quality of Self Publishing and Californication on TV

Not that many people have noticed, but I haven’t had time to post anything in a while. A number of influences have resulted in me thinking about the quality of my (and others) posting in the blogosphere. And this may be a dangerous comment, given that most people reading this firmly inhabit the same world, but I think I should say it.

I have written this several times before- the difference between most, if not all, blogs and traditional media is the concept of an editorial process. In my “real” job I wouldn’t ever publish a technical document without it being peer reviewed, critiqued and going through several editing cycles. And yet, on my blog (here) I can publish all and any thoughts without any checks.

In some situations this is a good thing- the very act of spontaneously writing can be good. In many situations it is not.

Furthermore, I am in no way a professional writer. I have friends who are journalists and authors and I can recognise the additional quality, care and craft in the words that they use.

Finally, I was watching a TV show, Californication, that is somewhat about a professional writer who is “reduced” to writing a blog. At the end of many episodes he voices his latest blog posting. The following is a transcript of his supposed latest posting. I am not proposing that it is great literature- even I can see the derivative of Dickens in the third sentence- but as I sat and listened to it I realised that is was better than anything I have ever posted

Will this stop me from posting? No. Will it make me take a little more time and care over the words I write? I hope so. Unfortunately, the upshot of this is that the postings may be less frequent.

Good Morning LA. In the land of the lotus eaters time plays tricks on you. One day you are deaming, the next your dream has become your reality. It was the best of times, if only someone had told me. Mistakes were made, hearts were broken, harsh lessons learned.

My family goes on without me while I drown in a see of pointless pussy. I don’t know how I got here, but here I am; rotting away in the California sun. There are things I need to figure out- for her sake at least. The clock is ticking, the gap is widening. She won’t always love me, not matter what

I have had to create my own punctuation and I am not sure if the grammatical mistake (while/ whilst) is my mis-hearing, an intentional mistake on the part of the writer to convey a the nature of writing the blog or genuinely a mistake. But that notwithstanding, and overlooking one glaring omission, the passage of time, the changing dynamic of family and the discordance in our personal life all rang true. Or maybe I am reading too much into it, and as women frequently tell me “Get over it”. If only I knew what it was.

Microblog sites and the Creation of a new Community

I spent a short time recently getting Twitter (a ‘micro blogging’ site) to talk to Facebook. Obviously the desire to spend time integrating two Web 2.0 applications places me firmly in the category of ‘geek’, but let’s ignore that for now. What I began to think about is:

Who cares?

I mean, really, who cares what I am doing?

15 years ago I worked in remote parts of the world: The only contact we had was via the BBC World Service or Voice Of America (both on Short Wave radio) or if there was a real emergency via Single Side Band Radio to the country office. I was out of touch with the world for 2 months at a time.

And the world seemed to keep turning.

Now, we are being encouraged to post to the world in every minute detail. I just wonder what it is that gives us the arrogance to think that anyone else is remotely interested in what we are doing right now Or maybe I am just officially a Grumpy Old Man

I can understand the concept of creating a new online community of your friends, knowing what each of us is doing all the time. Maybe that is what neighbourhood communities were like 40, 50 or more years ago. Or maybe my vision of the world has so changed as a result of working away for long periods of time that I can’t actually work out how much “normal” people know about each other every day.