Saturday, June 24, 2006

Wikis and Social Ontology

I started participating in Wikipedia -- I added a few tidbits to the image registration article. The wiki phenomenon is pretty cool; I think its pretty philosophically consistent with the distributed collaboration concept that underlies theWheel. theWheel needs to be web-enabled allowing multiple people to add nodes / adjust weights / etc. Then one of the main problems of Wikipedia, that there needs to be agreement on content and order, is no longer strictly necessary, because it is possible to interpolate different link weights from a number of different sources.

I think the perfect application of wiki-like collaboration would be in the generation of ontologies for the Semantic Web. The quality of an ontology seems to be related to how well it represents the consensus mental model for the group of people who will be using it to structure their collective knowledge. So it seems only natural to use a collaborative tool like a Wiki to evolve an ontology.

Of course, there are technical issues to be addressed. For instance, certain logical consistencies need to be maintained. But, using description-logic based approaches like OWL, consistency checks are relatively straight-forward. And its not like Wikipedia is absolutely consistent anyway -- at this point, inconsistencies among knowledge within Wikipedia's articles have to be vetted slowely by humans.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Germany and Free Markets

I think Germany has long had a bit of a problem with free markets, mostly because they seem to have a deep-seated cultural problem with uncertainty.  I think it goes all the way back to the Protestant Work Ethic, which seemed to require that there be an objective measure of the value produced by an individual.  When you introduce innovation in to the equation, then the problem is that assigning value to any given measure of work becomes a probabilistic endeavour (which means anything I invent today may end up having little tangible value, if for instance someone were to come up with a better solution).

So Germany's post-war success seemed to require a central planning authority (in their case, the German banking system) to ensure that the value produced had very little chance of being lost due to real competition.  And it seems to work for them, though I would call it a somewhat hesistant free-market mechanism.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Joy of Bookmarking

I have recently discovered the joy of social bookmarking -- check out my tags at

I think the non-heirarchical organization enabled by tagging is very liberating from my previous, hierarchical bookmark scheme (which was based on Mozilla Favorites organizer).

I'm also intrigued by the consensus use of tags, in the absence of any specific priming as to what they "should" mean. Of course some tags clearly have multiple senses, but its interesting that a lot of different people would converge on associations for particular tags. I guess that's analogous to how language may have evolved.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Ragtime Music and "Crowdsourcing"

I have been searching on Ragtime music, and found this great web page with MIDI files for some of the big ragtime pieces from the turn of the century.

Ragtime is unique because it was first original contribution from American culture to the world of music, and in many ways represented the beginning of consumer pop culture. The advent of inexpensive parlor pianos at the turn of the century created a market for sheet music, and somewhat later the player piano created a market for piano rolls.

Ragtime served the needs of both markets well -- by incorporating rapidly shifting chromatic accompaniments, the need for a perfectly tuned piano was lessened (one of the big problems with the less-expensive mass-produced pianos of the day). At the same time, a musical genre whose primary complexity was in voicing, chord sequences, and interacting melodies (as opposed to the obligatory performance nuances of classical piano pieces) made a perfect candidate for encoding on the "digital" player piano roll.

Furthermore, ragtime as a fusion of classical European melodic invention with the heavy backbeat of African rhythm was the first real representation of black culture in the parlors of white America (and white Europe for that matter), paving the way for the advent of Jazz as the definitive original American musical genre.

The availability of free MIDI files of ragtime classics, with MIDI being the modern technology equivalent of player piano rolls, brings ragtime full-circle -- an inexpensive, populist form of entertainment.

The final link will be the advent of a ragtime generator -- a piece of software that, given a starting motif or chord sequence, can generate a full ragtime piece. The ragtime generator could also start with a piece and then modify it in particular ways. Then the social phenomenon of ragtime "trees" can really take hold -- I generate a piece that I e-mail to you, then you use your generator to modify the piece and forward it on to another in the musicological equivalent of a game of operator.