Wikimania

The three days of Wikimania are now done. I attended quite a few of the sessions and it was an eye-opener for me. There’s an awful lot more to Wikipedia and family than a bunch of web pages. A lot of interesting people are doing a lot of fascinating things to organize data.

The WiktionaryZ project and the Wikidata technology underneath it, for instance. The idea of a dictionary itself is impressive, but what they are trying to do is a combined reference for all languages, linked together by meaning and defining every word in every language in that language and in every other language. Even attempting to do this is impressive.

I was not surprised to be impressed by the work of Martin Wattenberg whom I once had the pleasure to work with briefly on an art project (he took a barely useable Java applet I wrote and turned it into a marvel of user interface. But the presentation he gave with two other top researchers in visualization was stunning. Seeing words pictured in this way was unbelievable. Unfortunately some of what was shown is apparently not even captured anywhere on the web now, so I can’t link to it.

A lot more could be written about but frankly I’m too tired to do it right now.

But I’ll say that the intro to the closing talk by David Weinberger was, if you saw the excellent talk by Lawrence Lessig (video) on Friday, one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. I can’t explain it; maybe when the videos are both there you can see for yourself.

MacBook in the shop

OK, I still like my new Mac but it finally had to go in for repair. It basically refused to run on battery, shutting down without warning after less than 5 minutes unplugged. From what I had read, I assumed this must be a bad battery (supposedly Apple has been issuing a “silent recall” of early MacBook Pro batteries). But the guy at the Genius Bar (man, I hate that name!) at the Apple Store said the battery looked OK, so it must be a bad logic board.
So the laptop (oops, sorry, Apple doesn’t like that word, something about heat …) went away to wherever MacBooks go to heal.
I’m curious to see if it runs cooler after it comes back. I didn’t bring up the heat issue at the store, because it seemed hard to prove it was really a problem (it isn’t really that much worse than the PowerBook it replaced).
I really miss this machine — nothing else I have is near as nice to use.
But note to self in future — don’t buy any early production Mac laptops. There always seems to be something … with the PowerBook it was the screen with odd white patterns. Unfortunately I had dropped it so they said they would not fix the screen under warranty.
I can’t complain too badly since these are really nice computers, when they work right.

Lots of New Jerseys

A couple weeks ago we were visiting some friends in New Jersey and stayed at the Hilton at Metropark, which is a business office development with a bunch of fairly tall office towers (it’s a business hotel, so has really cheap rates for weekend stays, and it also happens to be where we got married). When we left the hotel he would ask “Are we going back to New Jersey?”
We told him that everythiing around was New Jersey, but I don’t think he quite got it.
The other day we were driving around suburban Boston and went past some Route 128 office buildings, and he said “Look, I can see two New Jerseys!”.

Mac happiness

I’ve had my MacBookPro for about a month now, and I must say it is probably the best computer I’ve ever had. Besides being nice and fast, I am impressed with the quality of it especially since it’s one of Apple’s first Intel machines. My previous PowerBook G4 (the aluminum model) suffered from a bad screen that I unfortunately didn’t get fixed under warranty, and an annoying power connector that eventually failed under stress (I am fairly rough on laptops).

I’m frankly surprised at the stability of the OS on Intel. Only once that I recall did it really crash (an odd problem where the mouse pointer got stuck on one side of the screen). I wonder how long Apple was working on this before they announced the switch?

Granted, this is an expensive machine, but you get a lot of quality here along with the Mac glamour factor.

A littler change

One thing not commented on in the latest Apple announcements of the video iPod (not that thrilling to me) and a new iMac G5: This iMac is, I think, the first one without a built-in modem. (You can get an external USB one from Apple).

I find this interesting because, even though broadband Internet is clearly taking over, a lot of people in this country still can’t get it, at any price. (Well, OK, you can always get a T1 run to your house if you pay enough money, but …).

A lot of high-tech people like to live way out in the country, but they find themselves in dialup country.

In case you haven’t notice the U.S. isn’t exactly a technical leader anymore.

BTW I do want one of those iMacs, of course.

On home

It always seems so trite to say we should always be grateful for what we have, but today I have to thank God for home and family and life.

When there are thousands dead from an earthquake in Pakistan, hundreds dead from mudslides in Guatemala (this hits hard because our son is from that country), and so many of the survivors from New Orleans are so far from finding a real home, you have to think about things like this.

After everyone opened their wallets for Katrina I wonder where the money will be for the victims of these new disasters.

Being alive and home and warm and safe feels very good to me today.