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<title>The BabelFish Blog</title>
A blog to help elucidate the link between these various interest of mine:
computing, philosophy and the web.
<q>On the web nobody knows you are a fish</q>
<link rel="alternate" type="text/xhtml" href="index.html"/>
<link rel="self" type="application/atom+xml" href="http://bblfish.net/blog/blog.atom"/>
<generator uri="https://bloged.dev.java.net" version="00.8">BlogEd 008</generator>
<title>From Digital Sovereignty to the Web of Nations</title>
<summary type="html"><i>This blog posts follows up on
<a target="_blank" href="2018/04/21/">Epistemology in the Cloud - on Fake News and Digital Sovereignty</a> presented at The Web Conf 2018 in Lyon. Here we explore the top layer of the co-operating systems stack: the institutional web and above - institutions of institutions, many of which are nations, and institutions of those such as the European Union or the United Nations. Institutions at that level are usually quite remote to most of us, so I will start by describing their political reality and impact by starting with the French amendment to the Digital Republic bill and the relevance of this to Britain's Brexit, an event that nobody can have ignored. We will then show how we can bring Nations into the web by linking them together to form a society of nations visible to Navigators in Cyberspace. This will allow cybernauts to see the legal space in which the owners of websites have tied themselves, thus anchoring trust in legal institutions, and so grow commerce as well as increase security by reducing the spread of fake news.</i>
<title>The Linked Research Workshop - A subjective write-up</title>
This is a summary of the Workshop on Linked Research at the Web Conf 2018 that started with Tim Berners-Lee
the SoLiD architecture using hyper-apps written at MIT. It followed with my presentation of the
of that platform by considering the problem of epistemology from the point of view of fake news. With
illustrative tweets from
illustrious people such as Dame Wendy Hall.
<content src="http://bblfish.net/blog/2018/04/21/workshop.html" type="text/html"/>
<title>Epistemology in the Cloud - on Fake News and Digital Sovereignty</title>
This paper was written up for the Research Centric Scholarly Workshop at the Web Conf
2018 in Lyon.
In order to address the problem of fake news one needs to first consider
what knowledge is, a field known in philosophy as epistemology. This paper starts with
an intuitive description of the modal logic that appeared in the 1970ies under the name
"Counterfactual" logic, which was then used very influentially to provide a definition
Using examples from science fiction we then show how these bear on the question of
the architecture of the web, and provide a socio/technical answer to the problem of
<content src="http://bblfish.net/blog/2018/04/21/index.html" type="text/html"/>
<title>WebID and eCommerce</title>
TLS currently helps one know that when opens a connection to a service (domain:port pair)
one is actually connected to the machine that officially owns that domain. It does not
give one the big picture of what kind of entity one is actually connected to:
ie. it does not answer the following questions:
- is this a legal entity?
- which country is it based in (or which legal framework is it responsible to)
- who are the owners
- what kind of organisation is it? (individual, bank, commerce, school, university, charity...)
In a recent talk I gave at the European Identity conference in Biel, Switzerland, I looked
at how this extra information could be made available by using WebID and Linked Data, published
by official entities in ways that gave those documents legal weight. This would not be technically
very difficult to do, but would provide huge benefits to the web. It could increase trust
in the way people use the web, and it could enable commerce in a much broader way that hitherto
found on the web.
The talks also shows how this can be then used to create a framework for flexible user identities
to enable e-commerce.
The talk is made available here as a slidcast with audio, and as pdfs with the text.
<content src="http://bblfish.net/blog/2012/04/30/" type="text/html"/>
<title>LifeShare: Refactoring a Web2.0 Social Network for the Social Web</title>
LifeShare is an Open Source Social Network Server written by students at the University of Saint Etienne in
France, that has all the cool must have Social Network functionalities - such as walls, circles, etc.. - but
as shown in the screencast is missing the ability to be part of a larger global network, as most Web 2.0
apps in existence. In this screen cast we show the first stage in refactoring it so that it can work in the
growing ecology of Linked Data based Social Web application, and so that it itself can be distributed across
any number of servers. Ie: we show how to start refactoring a Web 2.0 application into a Web 3.0
<content src="http://bblfish.net/blog/2011/11/11/" type="text/html"/>
<title>W3C Identity in the Browser Workshop</title>
Presentation of WebID in the Browswer with video at the Identity in the Browser Workshop
that took place in Menlo Park California.
<content src="http://bblfish.net/blog/2011/05/25/" type="text/html"/>
<title>CableGate, Release Acts and the Pharmakon</title>
<summary type="text">Wikileaks could be thought of as the 2010 Conceptual / Performance Art masterpiece: It
reveals and mediates contradictions and tensions from nearly every angle one looks at it. And not just any
contradictions, but the key ones for this unfolding century. Let us look at some of these issues in detail.
<content src="http://bblfish.net/blog/2010/12/10/" type="text/html"/>
<p>As you may have noticed, I have not been keeping this blog up to date for
a while. I am now blogging on <a href="http://blogs.sun.com/bblfish/" shape="rect">
blogs.sun.com/bblfish</a>. You will find
my latest thoughts there.
<p>I have not been working much on <a href="https://bloged.dev.java.net/" shape="rect">BlogEd</a> for
the last few years either,
as I have had to concentrate my energies on what I think is the most likely to be of bigest impact.
There are a lot of blog editors out there, so
making a big impact there is very difficult. Instead I have been focusing on the
<a href="https://sommer.dev.java.net/AddressBook.html" shape="rect">Semantic Address Book</a>
as a demonstration of the linked data can solve some core problems in the social networking space.
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Gage" shape="rect">John Gage</a>
finished this years' Java One conference by pointing everyone
to <a href="http://gapminder.org" shape="rect">Gapminder.org</a>, a site
put together by a Swedish professor to illustrate clearly some important
worlds poverty trends. This will be of interest to absolutely everyone.<br clear="none"/>The
information presented in a series of <b>very</b> clearly designed flash
animations, that teaches one more than years of looking at CNN ever
<title>Google Video: Invading North Korea</title>
<a href="http://video.google.com/" shape="rect">Google Video</a>
looks like a really
useful service. You can learn for example how to <a
North Korea</a>, represented on the picture with little "2" flag.
Wikipedia seems to call <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australia" shape="rect">North
</a> by a different name, but what the heck :-)
Hey, I think I am going to try uploading some videos too.
<title>Newsnight: The Cartoon Row</title>
The United Kingdom is blessed with some excellent news programs. One of
these is <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/default.stm" shape="rect">
a show that airs late in the evening and lasts over three quarters of an hour. It usually picks 3
topics, covering each subject
with a very well researched film presenting the background of the problem, and
usually follows this with a well organised
debate in which the best speakers for each side of the argument get a good
chance at defending their point of view in a civilised way.
The <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4670370.stm" shape="rect">Cartoon
</a> which has been making the headlines recently in Europe and
around large parts of the muslim world is an excellent example of the
show at work. Newsnight does not archive all their shows sadly, but it
has kept this one around for a while on their <a
page</a>. I am not sure how much longer it will be available <a
 On this topic the debate is very much worth looking at, as it gives an intelligent female voice
to the under represented muslim/arab liberal position, which we very much need to hear
more from, and which the extreemes are doing their best to drown out in their strident appeals to
In a globalised world of information, censorship is impossible . It is clear that in a lawful
society every group needs to be treated equally.
Since requiring respect of every group's prejudices and taboos cannot be done, especially since some
of these are antithetical,
where there is inequality in treatment, we clearly will need to relax censorship in favor of more
openess and freedom of expression. I myself prefer
a society with a lively debate and laughter than one silenced by censorship and respect codified by
 They seem to have problems with their video streams recently. If you
just get a short clip with no sound, then retry later.<br clear="none"/>
Well, its not going to stop people trying. China is devoting massive
resources to censorship, building a <a
</a> to 'protect' its population from unwanted information. So I
suppose one has to ask, what is the cost of censorship? Remember that
the more one tries to suppress something the more this tends to increase
its value. US newspapers may be refusing to publish any of the Danish
cartoons, but this has not stopped a huge number of new ones being drawn
and published on the internet, witness <a href="http://cagle.com/news/Muhammad/main.asp"
<title>Good Night, and Good Luck.</title>
Yesterday I saw <a href="http://imdb.com/title/tt0433383/" shape="rect">Good
Night, and Good Luck.
</a> a film in a documentary mode covering the
McCarthy witch hunt era in the united states. It is shot in black and
white, with beautiful jazz music, and is very factual. No romance. No
The film brings us back to a black and white world where the news
presenter would elegantly hold up a cigarette on prime time television,
and the news be followed by tobacco advertising. Putting sponsorships at
risks was a major constraint on the freedom of speech. It takes us back to
a period where being suspected of having something to do with communism
was enough to be condemned. Insinuations backed up by state secret
documents no one could see, were enough to ruin someone's career.
Luckily there is now a huge diversity of channels people can access
their news through. But one should never let one's guard down. Paranoia
and secrecy, is what those that rule such a world live off. Openess and
transparency is the best defense.
<title>Lord of War</title>
Last week I saw <a href="http://imdb.com/title/tt0399295/" shape="rect">Lord
</a> in Paris. This is another amazing film that has come out
recently. By describing the life of underground arms dealer Yuri (played
by Nicholas Cage) it gives a whole geopolitical analysis of the world from
the 1980ies to the present. But this is not a tedious school lesson; it
will keep you riveted to your seat.
Just like <a href="http://bblfish.net/blog/page10.html#t2006_01_01.15_07_28_516" shape="rect">The
</a> this film explors in depth the most important issues
of our time, <a href="http://bblfish.net/blog/page3.html#28" shape="rect">Africa</a>.
It is eye opening. Not to want to know, to want to look at the world
through rose colored spectacles, is a road that in the end is not that
different from the road taken by Yuri's drug addicted brother. Drugs are
emotional halucinogenics for a society that does not want to see what is
occuring around it. This film will certainly help open our eyes. It does
not offer any solution, let alone simple ones: but perhaps just by making
us aware of the world we live in, it has contributed more than anything
<title>The Constant Gardener</title>
<a href="http://imdb.com/title/tt0387131/" shape="rect">The Constant Gardner</a>
in Paris a couple of days ago, and was very impressed. The poster would
not usually attract my attention, as it seems to emphasize the romance and
action movie part of the film above all else, but one should not be
mislead by that. The film is based on a recent novel by <a href="http://imdb.com/name/nm0494170/"
</a> who is widely known for his complex cold war spy novels,
and in our family for having tought my father french in school a long time
ago. In this novel/film John le Carré opens up our eyes to the devastating
situation in Africa, through a complex industrial, political espionage
story. The political vacuum in most of Africa that still persiststs and
may have worsened over the last century, has always led pirates and men of
no scruple to abuse the situation. This film describes a modern day
variant of the interests that move these men.
To get another glimpse of the scale of the problem in Africa, I
Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families:
Stories from Rwanda</a>, a book I read 7 years ago, and that shows very
clearly how this problem is probably not one that can be solved by non
military means alone - way over a half million lives in this case.
Another way to look at the situation is to understand that an American
or European cow gets more subsidies that an average african earns in a
year (if I remember correctly an article from courrier International: <a
moins bien loti qu'une vache européenne</a>. (When are newspapers
going to allow micropayment access to their site!?)).
It is really nice to see a film that tackles the real and perhaps
greatest problem in the world today in a subtle and engaging way.
<title>Emotions and Values</title>
Over the last five years I have been reading a lot - on and off - about
psychology from Existentialist to Jungian to cognitive psychologoy all the
way to the philosophy of emotions.
The last few days I have been reading <a
</a> by Christine Tappolet, Professor of Philosophy at the
University of Montréal. This is a very carefully argued book that covers
a lot of the work on the philosophy of emotions that has come out in the
last 30 years (I know because I recognised many of the references) and
beyond, covering in detail the work of the analytical tradition of
philosophy and inspiring itself from work (I don't know much of) by
Meinong and Husserl. The book is very much in the tradition of formal
analytic tradition, with a lot of careful logical analysis, and so is
not something that I can recommend to the casual reader. The main thesis
is that our knowledge of values is dependent on our emotions, emotions
being <i>perceptions</i> of values.
It is very difficult to correctly summarise the work. I'll try here.
Christine Tappolet wants to lay the groundwork for an objective
understanding of values by following the intiution behind the
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Tarski" shape="rect">Tarskian</a>
definition of Truth: "P" is True if and only if P. The correctness
condition of factual statements is given by the facts one may say,
whereas the correctness conditions of value judgements is given
justified or correct emotional appraisal of a situation. So as it is
right to believe that "the car is in the garage" if it really is in the
garage, so it is correct to be afraid of what is dangerous, or to like
what is good. But whereas it is usually quite easy for an empiricist to
understand how we come to verify statements of facts (by using our five
senses) it is a lot less clear how we can come to verify statements
about value. Christine T. looks at arguments for coherentist analyses of
values and finds them wanting for lack of an ability to ground the chain
of justification in something final, or for turning values into
something too subjective. Foundationalist theories of values fail either
because the choice of foundations seem to be arbitrary, or because they
have to invent out of nothing a new faculty, unknown to science, for
perceiving values. But the foundationalist theories may not have been
completely wrong argues Christine. Just as sight gives us direct and
justified access to the color of objects, so emotions give us a direct
grip on values. This is not to say that they are fail safe. Just as we
can make mistaken color judgements so we can have incorrect emotional
reactions to some things. But the point is rather that emotions is what
brings us in contact with the world of values in the way sight brings us
in contact with the world of shapes and colors.
From reading Christine it is quite clear that it is now well established
in analytical philosophy that there is a very close relation between
emotions and values (Aristotle would have agreed). Her originality lies
in fleshing out a perceptual theory of emotions. Of course such a
theory, just like the Tarskian theory can seem a little light, but if it
captures the concept correctly then that can be a good thing.
To flesh things out a little, and in order to help me test my agreement
with her, I would like to describe a thought that occurred to me when
reading a quote from Montaigne that she uses:
Qu'on loge un philosophe dans une cage de menus filets de fer clersemez,
qui soit suspendue en haut des tours de nostre Dame de Paris, il verra
par raison evidente qu'il est impossible qu'il en tombe, et si, ne se
sçauroit garder (s'il n'a accoustumé le mestrier de recouvreurs) que la
veuë de cette hauteur extreme ne l'espouvante et ne le transisse.
My english translation would go something like
Place a philosopher on a light metallic cage suspended at the top of
Notre Dame in Paris. He will know that there is no possibility that he
can fall, and yet would (unless he also be a roof layer) on the sight of
such a height, not fail to be horrified and struken with fear.
The point of this quote is of course to show that emotions have a certain
independence of the rational side of man, and so can hardly be reduced
down to belief desire psychology. (Though that people can find it
difficult to change their beliefs in face of evidence should indicate that
perhaps the rational side of man is not quite as flexible as one may have
supposed.) So the emotion of fear according to Christine is the perception
of the dangerous. But the dangerous is not a value. It is the thing the
dangerous threatens that should be of value and why the dangerous is
frightening. So in the case of the philosopher sitting on the wire grid in
the example above, or for people who may have visited the Museum of Modern
Art in San Francisco and wondered on the top passerel made of thin
metallic grid of a bridge and through which one can see all the way below,
what is frightnening is the closely perceived possibility of falling, and
what is of value in this case, is one's life or at least one's well being.
I think therefore that at the very least it would be fruitful to analyse
carefully what precisely the relation is between emotions and the values
they reveal, beyond the simple case of being amused by the funny.
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martha_Nussbaum" shape="rect">Martha
Nussbaum</a>, who has written extensively on emotions ("Emotions as
Judgements of Value", 1994) puts forward a good psychological
explanation that gives a central position for our role as agents and
actors in the theory.<br clear="none"/>This is how I summarise Martha
Nussbaum's psychological insight, from what I can remember from having
read her a few years ago. Things that have emotions are things that act
in the world. Things that need to protect themselves and their identity
against the agressions of the external world, things that need to change
the world in order to live in it. Things that behave in this way will
have to value some things above others. Themselves first and foremost,
if they are to be able to survive at all. These things have capacities
to change the world. They can influence its present and so change its
future. They have self determined modal properties, also known as
abilities. At every moment in time they will need to act. And this will
require choosing among different paths open to them, choose which of the
things around them is the most valuable, which path will help bring them
closer to what they value. The things the agent values are in some sense
therefore part of the sphere of being of the agent that values them.
Their state will define its actions. A mother's love of her child is a
value that determines her relation to her child, her environment and her
life. If the child is in danger, the mother will feel fear, or rather
fear for her child. Fear being a very specific state of alertness. One
where all attention is directed towards the danger to the thing valued,
where one's abilities to come to the help of the valued thing seem
somewhat inadequate or stretched. In any case the mother will do her
best to be alert to a way help the child she fears for. Since the danger
the valued thing is in, is very much dependent on the abilities of the
agent, the abilities of the agent will of course affect the strength of
the fear. If the philosopher knew how to fly, then we would find a lot
more philosophers sitting on the roof of Notre Dame. Of course it is
also the emotion of fear that reveals to us that our philosopher is not
a perfect <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nihilism" shape="rect">nihilist</a>;
he still values his life. And so emotions do reveal value. Emotions,
Value, Abilities and Action are all closely linked.
The philosopher in his cage feels fear. But notice that Montaigne makes
sure to exclude that he be a roof coverer, who presumably would be used
to heights. What is the difference between those two men? My guess is
that it is in part a question of trust. The roof coverer has learnt to
trust the ropes that hold him, his skills, and the people he works for.
The philosopher may on the other hand be quite rightfully a little
anxious about his colleagues. Does he really trust them to correctly tie
the knot and to have bought the right thickness of rope? Does he trust
himself to have thought of all the things that should be tested for
before entering the cage? Does he trust the theories of Newton enough in
real life? Any little doubt on the answer to those questions will change
the beautiful birds eye view he sees from his cage into the close
possibility of a horrible fall, and the inevitably very strong desire to
get onto solid, trusted land. If we add to this the thought that the
creak just heard may for the philosopher just be the first sign of
weakness of a worn rope possibly about to break if any movement is made,
then the philosopher may well end up petrified: all concentrated on the
slightest little noise, each noise increasing the danger and making the
decision of moving all the more difficult. For a man with good
experience of alpinism the same sound may just be the heart warming
vibrations of good quality material.
The relation between oneself and what is valued - the concentration
required, the readiness to act or not that the situation call for -
which consitutes the emotion, all of this should also explain why it
feels a certain way to be in that state. In a dangerous situation the
heart beats faster in order to prepare for action. In a non threatening
situation the agent can relax, rest and contemplate more distant goods.
So how is it with other emotions: Anger, disdain, joy, sadness, love, ...?
Perhaps I'll get the time to write my thoughts down on those in future
<a href="http://www.erudit.org/revue/philoso/2002/v29/n2/006261ar.html" shape="rect">A
critique by Paul Dumouchel
of the book in Philosophiques.
<a href="http://www.erudit.org/revue/philoso/2002/v29/n2/006273ar.html#no1" shape="rect">A
response by Christine Tappolet
of the above critique.
An Entry in the stanford encyclopedia of philosophy
<a href="http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/emotion/" shape="rect">on
<li>A very good <a href="http://www.philosophyofmind.net/" shape="rect">collection of links on
</a> maintained by Michael Speer.
<title>NerdTV: Dave Winer</title>
Still suffering from jet lag from my trip to california, my sleeping
patterns are a little screwed up. So I got up early today, but feeling
very tired, I realised that I would not be too productive so I listened
to <a href="http://www.pbs.org/cringely/nerdtv/shows/" shape="rect">interview
</a> of Dave Winer on Nerd TV. This is the first time I hear Dave
speak for himself, even though I have been working in his shadow it
seems for such a long time. He is a lot more of a "mensch" as he says,
than I would have guessed from the reactions people have to him on the
net. And he has a few very interesting things to say.
Dave Winer is of course most famous recently for his work on
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RSS_%28file_format%29" shape="rect">RSS</a>
which is what is behind the whole blogging explosion of the last few
years. He clearly has his finger on the pulse of things changing on the
web. He seems to have a knack for looking in the right direction but
missing something important at the same time.<br clear="none"/>RSS had a
tortuous history partly it seems because of him. When
<a href="http://web.resource.org/rss/1.0/" shape="rect">RSS1.0</a>
came out, a pretty good compromise betweed RDFers and RSS he went off to
create <a href="http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/tech/rss" shape="rect">RSS2.0</a>,
which has to be a step back. At the same time this finally led to
<a href="http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc4287" shape="rect">Atom</a>
which is a big step forward in clarity and design, being crafted to work
with the basic web architecture framework as laid out by Roy Fielding in
his thesis on <a href="http://bblfish.net/blog/page1.html#10" shape="rect">REST</a>.
This may yet lead to something really big, if the
<a href="http://blogs.sun.com/roller/page/bblfish?entry=atom_owl_in_tuscany" shape="rect">Atom-OWL
project comes to fruition.<br clear="none"/>He was also behind
<a href="http://www.xmlrpc.com/" shape="rect">XML-RPC</a>
which is a very simple way to do remote method invocation over HTTP,
whilst at the same time being <a href="http://bblfish.net/blog/page7.html#2005/06/20/22-28-18-208"
flawed</a>. The fact that it led to
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SOAP" shape="rect">SOAP</a>
is one of the things that puts a big question mark in my mind on that
enterprise, backed as it is by Microsoft and IBM. Way too complicated is
what many people are saying about it. And I think Dave Winer points to
the problem when he mentions the state of the software industry in the
And, at the same time, the software industry, the Microsofts and the
Borlands and Apples and IBMs and, you know, the open doc consortium was
kind of like the epitome of - that was that generation running out of
gas, basically. They were building specs that filled bookshelves worth
of - they explained to me that open doc was basically what they did was
every company had a bookshelf worth of documentation for their formats
A few years later, after the web explosion, he remembers telling Adam
Bosworth from Microsoft, who was asking him to do some work on xml
And I said, "Well, you know, this is gar- I'm not gonna do this." I told
him it's like this is the province of big companies, and you guys are
gonna screw it up, and I told him all the stories I told you about
bookshelf-size specs, and how that you guys are just gonna completely
mess this thing up.
Sounds very much like this is what Microsoft did with the web services
On the topic of the future, towards the end of the interview he says:
That's our challenge. Can we get it so that the - our information
resources can answer all reasonable questions? We're nowhere near that.
I mean get - take - let's say you were driving to Los Angeles tomorrow,
and you wanted to know which route has the most Starbucks on it. A
perfectly practical question, because you wanna get on the Internet as
many places as you want. You might wanna pick up a cup of coffee along
the way. There's no way to ask that question. But yet you know that
there will be a way to ask that question.
And Dave Winder is right. We know that this is the future. But clearly
this is not going to solved by OPML, which is what he has been working on
for the last five years. No it is allready here, and it is called
<a href="http://blogs.sun.com/roller/page/bblfish?entry=a_sparql_to_warm_tim" shape="rect">SPARQL</a>
and the future web is the Semantic Web.
Dave Winer has a knack of seeing the general direction things are going
in. But I would trust <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Berners_Lee" shape="rect">Tim
</a> a lot more for getting us there with a beautiful,
workeable, scaleable and simple solution. Come to think about it: in his
whole conversation Dave Winer mentions Microsoft and Bill Gates a lot,
but not once the founder of the web itself.