Monday, October 27, 2008

Perspective on the financial crisis

So, there's at least one person out there who seems to share my opinion on the nature of the financial crisis... This was in Business Week. I hope the link lasts, I didn't see any indication that it would expire but the URL itself doesn't give me confidence.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Photographing birds

Last weekend I went out to photograph birds. It was a field trip organized through the class I'm taking. For the trip I rented myself a 300mm f4 and a 1.4 extender.

First the sites. We visited two spots: the Mountain View shoreline, and Moss Landing. We got to the Mountain View shoreline about 8am. I was there over two hours. The morning was very foggy, but windless. Not the worst conditions, but certainly not the best. I couldn't crank up the shutter speed without compromising on the ISO, and was shooting at f4 most of the time. There were an immense number of birds at this site. Really fantastic. Shorebirds, water fowl, sparrows... Even spotted a pheasant.

Moss Landing was a bit of a mess. It isn't the most pleasant site, and the person that had arranged the location wasn't able to make it there himself. There were lots of sea lions and a few otters. Lots of birds, slightly different from the ones at Mountain View. I was trying to photograph cormorants flying just above the water. These are hard birds to track! Though I think I got a few reasonable shots. Once again, light was a problem. Very foggy. But there was a little break on the horizon that let through a nice sunset.

I'm still working through the photos. I had several hundred by the end of the day. Working with a 300mm lens was immensely challenging. It's a wonderful piece of equipment. I'm leaning towards skipping the 70-200mm and moving straight up to the 300mm. If I need reach, I should get a lens with some real reach. At least that's my reasoning.

On the other hand, the 70-200mm will give me a good focal length for doing portraits. And is likely much more portable. The 300mm f4 is a heavy beast.

I don't think I'll be making a decision this year though. Budget constraints and all that.
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Friday, October 10, 2008

OWL in Lisp!!

I got a lead yesterday on some OWL parsing and generation tools implemented in Lisp. Apparently in the process of being open sourced. The back-end store on their project is Sesame. I don't know if they will be releasing their triple store bridge along with the rest of the tools.

Needless to say, this is seriously exciting to me! I will switch from working on my triple store API to CL-Wiki for now. I need to write up a design document as a first step.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Wilbur-rdf is not usable

I've just spent a bunch of time on wilbur-rdf that I could have used for doing something more useful, and have nothing to show for it.

The key problem is NOKOS, or the Nokia Open Source License. This license is based on the Mozilla 1.1 license. A full reading of the license shows that if the software is covered by a patent, and the software is modified, then the patent must be re-licensed. (See here for the discussion on Debian Legal mailing list.) Unfortunately there is a patent covering wilbur-rdf. So this software is unusable in the manner I was hoping: componentize it, and apply it towards building a semantic wiki.

I'll have to start over from scratch: put together a triple store API, then build a triple store capable of dealing with OWL. Parsing OWL, RDF etc. will have to take a back seat for now.

Hacking Wilbur

I've now got wibur in my svn repository, and have been fixing it. Currently the software isn't functional.

The tendency to not reuse is evident in force in wilbur. It has its own XML parser and HTTP client. Granted, these didn't exist as components in the lisp world when the project started, but that's hardly the case now.

My first task is still to pull out a triple store and the triple store API from wilbur. I really need to have them be independent components before I can turn cl-wiki into a semantic wiki. I'll get to the rdf parser in time, when it comes to importing ontologies into the semantic wiki.

(Or should importing existing ontologies be the first step? Hmmm....)

Monday, October 6, 2008

cl-wiki, wilbur now in my svn repository

I have been reorganizing my svn repository. All the public projects have been moved to http://svn.sfmishras.com/public/. This includes cl-wiki and wilbur. I'm forking cl-wiki, as the current maintainer isn't interested in further developing the project. And wilbur as it exists on sourceforge is dead. In emails exchanged with Ora Lassila, I found out they are putting out a successor project named piglet based on Python and C++. I'm not likely to be interested in that.

The key reason behind these steps is that I wish to develop a semantic wiki in Common Lisp. There are many pieces I see in this effort. The following are just the starting point:
  • A wiki. Therefore cl-wiki.
  • The ability to import and export OWL. Therefore wilbur.
  • A triple store API. To be factored out of wilbur.
  • A triple store. Again, to be factored out of wilbur.
I don't know how to put together a triple store, or how to organize the triple store persistence. So this is going to be quite a learning experience. The reason for refactoring wilbur is twofold:
  • Multiple software components will access the triple store. Just in the list above we have two: the import/export component and the wiki.
  • Having a standard triple store API will help interoperability as new CL components are (might be? could be? am I just dreaming?) developed.
Given the key role of the triple store API, refactoring wilbur will be the next step.

The Financial Crisis Isn't Going Away

I'm obviously no expert in finance. I'm just an observer. But I strongly believe that being on the outside is necessary to spot when things are going wrong. Those on the inside get a view of the situation with too many details and possibilities, enough so that they aren't able to see the forest for the trees. This I think is what happened during the tech bubble. And I see it happening again.

I believe this financial crisis is multiple decades in the making, and will take a decade to sort itself out. I don't see anyone talking about what I believe is the key problem in the system: the wage stagnation of the vast majority of Americans. There's been quite a bit made of the growing income gap between the top 1% of Americans, and the remaining 99%, over the previous decade. This is, I believe, extremely unhealthy. I don't know what the situation was before then. My bet would be that the years preceding the actual increase of the income gap would have gone into prep work. In other words, the groundwork for the acceleratng income gap would have been laid down. The problem has in other words been created by both Democrats and Republicans.

Would the consumer be at fault? I think the consumer acted as would be sensible given the circumstances. Cost reduction and easy credit had made up for the loss of income for the vast majority of Americans. Moving jobs and factories overseas made it easier to keep a healthy supply of cheap goods coming in. So it was possible to squeeze through on falling wages. At the same time in the name of making housing more accessible to home buyers, easy financing was created. After all, in the absence of growing wages, it would be impossible for businesses to make money off consumers. I believe this would have been especially true of the mortgage industry. Easy credit was an incentive to make bad investment decisions, which everyone did. These investments led to asset inflation. Which led to further credit. And at some point the cycle had to break.

So, what's in store for us? Nothing good, I fear. Basically, housing costs have far outstripped income for many. The only real fix for this problem is to bring housing costs back in line with income. There are two ways this could happen, and both are going to be incredibly painful. You can either let house values drop. Or you can let incomes catch up. The result of dropping housing prices is already evident. And this doesn't seem to be working at all. Bringing up consumer incomes is also a long term solution. What, after all, are you going to do to bring up their income? Increasing income in this manner is going to lead to increasing inflation. So, everything will become more expensive to match the prices of homes. Not a pretty scenario.

What of the bailout plan that's been proposed? Say the government buys $700 billion of bad debt. What we're doing basically is setting up an entity to absorb losses in the housing market, an entity for which taxpayers are taking responsibility. So we're insuring ourselves. But how is that debt going to be repaid? Consumers don't have the income to support the houses they're in. There's nothing here that tells me how we're going to fix the housing situation. Say a house forecloses. We take a loss on the $700B. That foreclosure affects the values of other surrounding houses. And we have affected debt that formerly wasn't bad, debt that's presumably still in the hands of financial companies. Have we solved anything if this scenario, which I think is quite likely, comes to pass?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Updating my web site

Modest improvements to my web site at http://www.sfmishras.com/. Most importantly, I have killed the silly animated front page and put in a link to some real content. Not that the content is currently all that interesting...

My next step is to update my svn repository with various projects that I'm planning on hacking. Starting with wilbur-rdf.

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