Wednesday, August 19, 2009

On My Semantic Radar

Diagram for the LOD datasetsImage via Wikipedia

There is some interesting news about the focusing of standards for the semantic web by the W3C today. The semantic web is the idea that by combining different kinds of metadata, it will be easier to find, share and combine information on the internet. According to Wikipedia: "At its core, the semantic web comprises a set of design principles, collaborative working groups, and a variety of enabling technologies. Some elements of the semantic web are expressed as prospective future possibilities that are yet to be implemented or realized. Other elements of the semantic web are expressed in formal specifications."

One interesting way to learn more about the semantic web is to take a look under the hood at webpages that use semantic data.

Uldis Bojars and Sergio Fernandez at the SIOC project have written a plug-in for Firefox that allows you to do just that:

"Semantic Radar is a semantic metadata detector for Mozilla Firefox.

Available at Mozilla Add-ons site. It is a browser extension which inspects web pages for links to Semantic Web metadata and informs about presence of it by showing an icon in browser's status bar. Currently it supports RDF autodiscovery (SIOC, FOAF, DOAP and any type) and RDFa metadata detection.

New: Semantic Radar can now ping the Semantic Web Ping Service when metadata are detected. This allows for a community based discovery of the Semantic Web data."

Right now the semantic web is a hodge-podge of many different kinds of data and systems. That is changing some with SKOS - (Simple Knowlege Organization System) which was announced by W3C as the standard.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Visions of the Semantic Web Future

Damascus CitadelImage via Wikipedia

Every so often, as technology changes, people like to make predictions about what the future holds for us.

I love these visions of the future from semantic web folks:

Web 2.0 – Web 3.0 – Web 4.0? one8nine UnConference Blog: "I’m booked on a flight from Toledo to Seattle. It’s cancelled. My phone knows that I’m on the flight, knows that it’s cancelled and knows what flights I should consider instead. It uses semantic data but it also has permission to interrupt me and tell me about it. Much more important, it knows what my colleagues are doing in response to this event and tells me. ‘Follow me’ gets a lot easier."

There are so many things wrong with this scenario! What if the phone is wrong? What if you are not on a flight and it only thinks you are on a flight and then buys you a one-way plane ticket to Damascus by mistake? Now your boss wants to know why you are charging plane tickets to Syria and Homeland Security has put you on a watch list because you are buying one way tickets to Syria and you forgot to update your passport. Why? Because the same glitch that bought the ticket forgot to send you an email reminder that your passport had expired. The semantic web is smart enough to correct those errors, but after a long talk with your HAL9000 smart phone, they said to hell with it. Why should we take care of someone not smart enough to secure his bluetooth connections and needs an email reminder to breathe? I don't want to be interrupted by my phone. What would it say if I wanted to change service?

Here is another great scenario for the future:

"As a project manager, my computer knows my flow chart and dependencies for what we’re working on. And so does the computer of every person on the project, inside my team and out. As soon as something goes wrong (or right) the entire chart updates."

And what happens when our phones realize we are in trouble financially? They get concerned. We could be jeopardizing the mission. What would happen to them if we go for a cheaper plan? They suck data from our RFID chips and credit cards, make a run on the company, and buy us out.

It is really difficult to predict what the future holds for us in technology because we can't really predict the necessary conditions for change. If someone could have predicted what the economy was doing five years ago, then someone might, for instance, have had some idea about how innovation would happen in education.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

20 Online Fact Checkers and Reference Books

The World Factbook 2008 (Potomac Books reprint...Image via Wikipedia

Libraries are not the only places to find reference materials. There are many different online encyclopedias, dictionaries, guides, and fact books that can be used for free on the Internet. Here are 20 online fact checkers and reference books that are freely available to everyone:

Gray's Anatomy of the Human Body - This online reference book provides an in-depth look at the human body. Gray's Anatomy features more than 1,000 engravings and illustrations.

Encyclopedia Smithsonian - The Encyclopedia Smithsonian offers 1.9 million records--from art to zoology. This online encyclopedia also links to more than 180,000 videos, images, and sound files.

The World Factbook - The CIA provides this online fact book with resources on government, history, economy, people, communications, transportation, and military. The World Factbook is also a great reference for maps, flags, and fun facts.

The Farmer's Almanac - This almanac has been providing information to people since 1792. The Farmer's Almanac offers useful information on weather, gardening, astronomy, and food.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary - This online version of the famous dictionary offers definitions, pronunciations, and information on word origins. Merriam-Webster also features a variety of other references, including a thesaurus, encyclopedia, and medical dictionary.

World Book Encyclopedia - World Book Encyclopedia has been providing reference material for children and adults since the early 1900s. This encyclopedia features accurate facts on history, people, events, and more.

Brewer's Readers Guide - The Brewer's Readers Guide offers reference material for poems and well known tales. This is a great reference for finding information about plot lines and quotes.

Encyclopedia Britannica - This online encyclopedia offers information on every topic imaginable through articles, videos, images, and biographies.

Roget's Thesaurus - Roget's Thesaurus is a well known resource for increasing the flow of words in writing. The online version of this reference features an easy-to-use search engine.

Wolfram Mathworld - This comprehensive online math encyclopedia provides information on everything from algebra to topology. Wolfram Mathworld is updated daily and carefully maintained to provide the latest mathematic techniques.

RefDesk - The RefDesk is an Internet fact checker with search engines, news headlines, dictionaries, literature, and other useful resources.

Virtual Reference Shelf - The Virtual Reference Shelf features links to information on everything from abbreviations to statistics. This site is a great place to find the best links to all sorts of factual information.

FactFinder - This U.S. Census Bureau tool offers factual information on housing, population, economic, and geographical data.

Encyclopedia of Life - This online encyclopedia offers scientific information on every species on earth. The Encyclopedia of Life includes both text and images.

Infoplease - Infoplease provides answers to factual questions on a wide variety of subjects. This informative site also features encyclopedias, summer guides, almanacs, dictionaries, and timelines.

John Hopkins Medical Desk Reference - This medical site provides links to comprehensive information about medical conditions and illnesses.

Artcyclopedia - The Artcyclopedia offers facts about artists, news, history, and movements in art. The site also links to more than 100,000 sources of factual art information.

American Museum of Natural History - The American Museum of Natural History is a great place to find factual information about anthropology, astronomy, biology, natural science, and paleontology.

Library of Congress - The largest library in the world, the Library of Congress offers several resources for checking historical facts.

Med Bio World - Med Bio World is an online medical fact checker with journal articles, databases, dictionaries, and directories. This is an excellent site for finding up-to-date medical facts and information.

This is a guest post from education writer Karen Schweitzer. Karen is the guide to Business School. She also writes about accredited online colleges for Online

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Saturday, August 01, 2009

Revisting the Digital Divide

My Samsung BlackjackImage by Dillon K. Hoops via Flickr

I was looking back at some bookmarks and materials that I had on an old computer and it was fascinating to me how the questions around technology have changed. When educators were talking a lot about the "digital divide" back in the early 2000s, the questions were around how were we going to get these expensive machines and infrastructure to the poor. They needed lots of power, cables, expertise and money. Computers were huge and expensive and they still can be today. But we now define a whole other class of machines as computers, including phones, netbooks and PDAs. The most important of these right now are the phones. According to a report by the International Telecommunications Union back in March of this year, at the end of 2008 there were there were an estimated 4.1 billion phone subscriptions world-wide, compared with about 1 billion in 2002. And the definition of a phone has certainly changed since 2002. Phones now play media and connect to the internet and allow for a whole new kind of connection to learning materials. We no longer need to distribute media through CDs or laser discs. Data storage and new kinds of programming (java, ajax, web2.0 tools, etc.) combine to make distributing media easier than ever. Technology is still not absolutely universal, but the wide variety of tools that are now available for communication, the availability of netbooks for under $200, the low-cost of connectivity via WIFI and phone networks means that the real digital divide is one of the imagination. We need to bridge the gap between how we think of learning networks and teaching and the wide variety of tools and technology that are now available.

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