Yaron is Writing
Thoughts, links, thoughts about those linksThu, 30 Sep 2010 19:09:07 +0000http://wordpress.org/?v=2.0.4enYaron’s European Vacation
http://yaronkoren.com/blog/?p=179#commentsThu, 30 Sep 2010 18:02:56 +0000YaronSemantic MediaWikihttp://yaronkoren.com/blog/?p=179My wife and I got back a little over a week ago from a nearly three-week vacation through Europe, covering both the South and the North. We took a lot of photos, but sadly I don’t have any of them online, and I wanted to get this post out relatively quickly, so you’ll have to paint pictures in your head using my words (or, you know, do a Google Images search).
The first part of the trip was a week-long yacht trip in Italy, starting in Rome, that’s not quite as luxurious as the word “yacht” might imply but was still pretty cool. It was all pre-arranged, with five passengers on board (the two of us, and friends of ours), two crew and one captain; though some passengers got involved in manning the boat by the end (not me; I was mostly content with sleeping on the deck, punctuated by watching the waves). We ate well on that trip - a lot of really good pasta, and all manner of cheese, and some nice pizza. Being a vegetarian, I missed out on all the interesting meats, like sopressata and wild boar, but you can’t really get enough fresh pasta, I say.
Our boat stopped a few times for swimming breaks in the Mediterranean Sea, which was great for me because I never quite got my “sea legs”, so being out in the actual water was a bit of a relief every time. Our ship had a tendency to attract swarms of jellyfish, or maybe they’re just everywhere in the ocean. I got stung by one, which didn’t hurt any worse than, say, a mosquito bite, but then somehow after that I got a reputation among the people on the boat for being fearless about swimming near them. What can I say; I didn’t see them as a threat - like me, they were in Italy in search of a good meal.
The Italy trip started and ended in Rome, and we got to see a lot of small towns and islands around there that I otherwise probably never would have seen. Mostly we were in places around Tuscany: Siena, Isola del Giglio, Massa Marittima, and some other even smaller towns whose names I can’t remember. We also saw the island of Elba, which I assumed would be desolate because that’s where Napoleon was banished to (for just a year, it turns out), but evidently there’s been some progress in the last 200 years, because it’s now a very touristy resort town, looking like Cannes or Acapulco or some such. I don’t know what it takes to get banished to Elba these days, but it’s worth looking into.
Then it was on to a few days in Madrid, where we stayed at the Room Mate Mario hotel, probably the “chillest” hotel I’ve ever stayed at: bossa nova soundtrack in the lobby, bright plastic decorations in the rooms. I’d stay there again any time.
We saw a flamenco show at the Cardamomo, which I guess has become popular among Americans since getting written about last year in the New York Times. As the NYT noted, it’s “unadorned flamenco” - no ruffles, no hats, just good music and tortured expressions. I thought it was great. We also drove around the city via the Go Cars, which are basically a motorized scooter that shouts out descriptions of the places you’re passing by, and directions to the next stop (it uses GPS to know where you are). Pretty neat, although it took a little while to get used to being pointed at by the locals. And Spanish food, even for a vegetarian, is great - it’s a country with a deep respect for the fried potato and the olive, two foods I really like.
The Netherlands capped off the trip. It may be just me, but two weeks of traveling as a tourist is about the maximum for me before I start to feel a little restless, after having moved along from place to place in search of food and entertainment. But the Netherlands provided a clean break from that, since there was some actual work to be done. First there were three days in the charming college town of Wageningen (the Dutch ‘g’ is pronounced like a guttural ‘ch’, as I found out), where I helped out some people at KeyGene with their Semantic MediaWiki installation. I had known for a while that Semantic MediaWiki has found a nice niche for itself in the biological sciences, which experience a relentless flow of new data, new terminology, new interconnections, all of which semantic wikis are well-suited for; but it was great to finally see, in detail, how that was applied to a very specific usage: in this case, genomics research on different plants. It was really eye-opening and felt great to see; like visiting the British Royal Astronomical Society in the 1700s while they were discovering various stars and planets.
Then it was on to Amsterdam, where we stayed with an old friend of mine from New York who had helpfully moved to Amsterdam about four years ago. There I attended the Semantic MediaWiki Conference (SMWCon), which I plan to write a separate post about, on the WikiWorks blog. We also sampled some of the Amsterdam local culture, both with my friend and with some of the Semantic MediaWiki people, which was great - Amsterdam’s just a cool place to hang out in, undeniably.
And after almost three weeks, we ended up back in New York, tired yet refreshed, and me with about 80 items on my to-do list. Well, now I can check off one more.
http://yaronkoren.com/blog/?feed=rss2&p=179News from the exciting world of SMW
http://yaronkoren.com/blog/?p=178#commentsFri, 12 Feb 2010 21:01:11 +0000YaronUncategorizedhttp://yaronkoren.com/blog/?p=178Some random Semantic MediaWiki-based news, that I haven’t gotten to because I’ve been away from my blog… future updates like this will probably show up on the WikiWorks blog instead. So what does that leave for this blog? Who knows.
http://yaronkoren.com/blog/?p=177#commentsFri, 12 Feb 2010 02:28:18 +0000YaronUncategorizedhttp://yaronkoren.com/blog/?p=177Somehow I’ve left this blog languish for over two months, which is much longer than I meant to. Somehow other things kept taking priority…
What have I been up to since my last post? A bunch of random stuff: I flew to Shanghai and San Francisco, and my wife and I went to Vancouver, and upstate New York (we also had our honeymoon before my previous post, which I meant to write about but then never did - it was great. We also have lots of photos… argh.) We celebrated the new decade with drinks and Beatles Rock Band. I released new versions of most of my MediaWiki extensions, plus Semantic Bundle.
We had a meeting of our New York MediaWiki users meetup. I created the Referata FAQ and Semantic MediaWiki FAQ. I answered lots and lots of questions about Referata, Semantic MediaWiki, and my other software (sadly, not everything was covered in the FAQs). And, maybe most importantly, WikiWorks has started taking off - we’re already working on our first projects, we have more that are still under discussion, and we have a service agreement contract, just like a real company would… also, as of a few days ago we have a blog and a Twitter account. Please follow, or comment, or whatever it is the kids are doing these days.
]]>http://yaronkoren.com/blog/?feed=rss2&p=177SMW Camp thoughts
http://yaronkoren.com/blog/?p=176#commentsWed, 02 Dec 2009 16:24:14 +0000YaronSemantic MediaWikihttp://yaronkoren.com/blog/?p=176It’s been a hectic last month; we got back from our honeymoon last week, and I’m about to go travelling again, and I don’t know when or if I’ll have time to talk about all of it (I definitely hope to); but I did want to write about the amazing weekend we had of the SMW Camp we had in Karlsruhe, Germany. The conference was sponsored by Ontoprise, and took place in and around the Ontoprise office; mostly in a beautiful, loft-like glass-walled meeting room (here’s a representative photo, and here’s one of me talking). In the introduction, Daniel Hansch from Ontoprise, who served as the main host of the event, described Karlsruhe as “the capital of the Semantic Web”, which is only somewhat of an exaggeration.
About 40 people (that’s my guess) showed up, mostly from Germany but also from the Netherlands, Belgium and the U.S. The attendees came from what I consider the four branches of the Semantic MediaWiki world: academics, business people, hackers, and the smallest branch, government people (represented here by someone from the German Air Force). And the talks represented an equally broad spectrum, covering subjects from software tutorials to use cases of SMW to business methodologies to marketing. It felt like a real conference, with two solid days of talks and in-depth discussions.
Some lessons I think could be learned from the whole thing:
There’s not much need for the really introductory stuff. We thought that a lot of the crowd might be newcomers to the SMW “community”, and a lot of them were, but almost everyone knew about and had used SMW to some extent. In the future, it might make sense to cut out the introductory tutorials altogether.
On that note - there’s no shortage of things to discuss. We had two full days of talks, from 10 AM to 6 PM (actually 7 PM on Sunday), and even then some talks were rushed; and there was still subject matter we wanted to get to but couldn’t, like discussions about interface. Two full days is easily achievable.
Semantic MediaWiki isn’t ready for a true “unconference” yet. The name “SMW Camp” was chosen in part because it was supposed to reflect an “unconference” type of event organization: discussion topics decided at the event itself, with multiple tracks so that people can stick to the topics they’re interested in. But it turns out that, in the Semantic MediaWiki world everyone’s pretty much interested in everything: people want to hear about academic research, ongoing development, performance issues, and corporate usage. We did have parallel tracks for one session, and even that led to some complaints from attendees that they couldn’t hear about topics that they were interested in. So it looks like for the foreseeable future we’ll stick with one track. There’s also the issue of a pre-defined schedule versus an open one decided on the same day. What seems to work for SMW is having participants put down the names of presentations they’d like to give, on the meeting’s wiki page, in the weeks beforehand; organizers can then construct a schedule from that just a day or two beforehand. It’s a semi-structured approach that somehow seems appropriate for an event that relates to semantic wikis.I still like the name “SMW Camp” for the meetings, by the way, because it seems more descriptive than any of the alternatives; and because it’s distinctive enough that it’s easy to tell which events are official components of the series, unlike with, say, the name “SMW Meeting”.
SMW Camp could probably become a bigger production. The “users meeting” we had in Boston last year was free; and I lobbied hard to make this one free as well - we compromised on 15 euros. Then I found out that many of the attendees were surprised that the price was so low, when conferences that they considered to be of comparable quality routinely cost anywhere from $100 to thousands of dollars (that’s the general rate; speakers sometimes attend for free, and students usually get a deep discount). It’s clear that many of the attendees, at least the non-student ones, would be willing to pay a higher amount. That by itself isn’t reason enough to raise the rate, fo course, but extra money could help in a few ways: catering of events (though going out to restaurants was nice); free swag, like stickers, t-shrits and pens, that some people talked about having; and maybe even some extra money for the hosts, the organizers, people travelling from long distances, SMW developers… there’s no shortage of people one could give extra money to if one had it. :)Tied in with that is the idea of getting corporate or university sponsorship of the event, which, now that we have a proven track record, might be easier to do.
One interesting related thought is that I was trying right after the event to recall how this whole idea of SMW users meetings came to be, when I realized that the person indirectly responsible for them is Sergey Chernyshev; which is ironic because he has yet to attend one. But during the winter of 2008, he kept pestering me to start a New York MediaWiki meetup (he finally started one himself, a few months ago, which we now co-run, in theory). I kept demurring, saying I was only interested in something directly related to SMW, so he said to try organizing something like that instead. With that encouragement, in October 2008 I sent out an email asking if anyone would be interested in a New York users meeting; to my surprise, the interested responses all came from Boston, Seattle and Germany; some of them had previously talked about having an international meeting, but it hadn’t yet coalesced. The Boston meeting, which was hosted by eMonitor (now LeveragePoint) and which we jointly put together, happened quite quickly; literally a month later. So you can thank Sergey for helping to bring about a meeting he’s never attended, with people he doesn’t know. :)
http://yaronkoren.com/blog/?p=175#commentsThu, 05 Nov 2009 06:15:54 +0000YaronUncategorizedhttp://yaronkoren.com/blog/?p=175I’m thrilled to announce WikiWorks - a MediaWiki-focused consulting company that I just launched. This is my first serious business venture, unless you count Referata. But it doesn’t feel like a huge leap into the unknown, because consulting is already what I do - I’ve done at least some paid MediaWiki work for dozens of sites and companies over the last few years. The difference now is the additional people - WikiWorks is a samll team of programmers around the world, all with significant experience setting up (and, in some cases, developing) MediaWiki; the goal is to make myself expendable, as it were, so projects can run smoothly even if I, or any other one person, can’t work on them at the time. We’re automating the process. Most of us also have other jobs at the moment, but these kinds of projects can almost always be done on a part-time basis, during off-hours; and in-depth projects involving full-time work, should they come, will be handleable in one way or another. The focus is on Semantic MediaWiki-based solutions, though we’re also equipped to take on regular, non-semantic projects.
So - if you’re from a company that would like to set up a wiki the right way, send us an email. If your company has a need for an easily-configured but powerful data integration system, and you would prefer software that’s free to something that costs a million dollars, send us an email. If you have too many Excel spreadsheets flying around the office, send us an email. If you already run a MediaWiki-based wiki, but want to make it nicer-looking, more user-friendly, and more like a true database application, send us an email. We’re looking forward to making some wikis.
]]>http://yaronkoren.com/blog/?feed=rss2&p=175Software, West Coast-style
http://yaronkoren.com/blog/?p=174#commentsTue, 03 Nov 2009 05:46:52 +0000YaronUncategorizedhttp://yaronkoren.com/blog/?p=174I had an action-packed trip to California about a week ago. First was the 2009 Google Summer of Code Mentor Summit, which turned out to essentially be an open-source development conference, sponsored in an extremely generous way by Google. It took place at the Google campus, AKA the “Googleplex”, which I saw a long time ago back when it was the SGI campus, but now looks rather different. What can I say - for all the talk of cutbacks, it looks like Googlers still have it pretty good. The cafeteria food was so good, it made me just want to stay in the cafeteria all day.
The conference itself was quite interesting. I especially liked the talks about the non-development aspects of open source software, like the discussions on marketing and inter-project communication (I wrote the notes for both of those sessions, which I don’t think is a coincidence because I was interested in those topics to begin with). It was eye-opening to see that every open-source project, even the established ones with foundations and business models and lots of users (all categories that potentially describe both Wikimedia and MediaWiki) struggle with the same issues of gaining “buzz” and coordinating decisions that regular software companies, for better or worse, have professionals handling.
I also got to spend with my brother and his wonderful family. And yes, I did go to this party, which was awesome (it was essentially a party full of people at various software startups, which you would never, ever see in New York); and, separately, I went to this great vegetarian restaurant as well.
After the weekend, it was time to head to the new MediaWiki office in San Francisco, where I met for two days with the members of the Wikipedia Usability Initiative. We had some very interesting and fruitful discussions, all on the subject of the template forms project, which is what I’m involved with. Lots of discussions about naming, which is always trickier than it seems!
In what really is a coincidence, earlier today I released the TemplateInfo extension, which is the first draft of my section of the work for the template-forms project. Hopefully it’ll end up on a gigantic website before too long.
]]>http://yaronkoren.com/blog/?feed=rss2&p=174Gone till December
http://yaronkoren.com/blog/?p=171#commentsFri, 23 Oct 2009 06:17:09 +0000YaronUncategorizedhttp://yaronkoren.com/blog/?p=171Things have been busy lately, of course, and it looks they’ll stay busy for the next month and a half… in the interests of keeping people informed, and in lieu of continuous Twitter feeds, I figured I’d share my upcoming plans:
I’m looking forward to the honeymoon, but otherwise I don’t know how well this new role of international jet-setter fits me… hopefully 2010 will be calmer all around.
http://yaronkoren.com/blog/?p=170#commentsWed, 21 Oct 2009 01:27:15 +0000YaronNYChttp://yaronkoren.com/blog/?p=170Once again, I’m extremely delinquent with my posting… I should have written something right away after the wedding, but somehow I’ve let over two weeks pass. Anyway, yes, I’m a married man now! So that’s Mr. Yaron Koren to you. People say you don’t feel much different after you get married, but that hasn’t been quite true for me: I feel a big sense of relief now, and I guess a sort of inner calm. I’ve had a tendency over the last few years, after having started working for myself, to put everything into to-do lists, as a way of trying to manage all the chaos; and this was one big item on life’s to-do list, with recently many sub-items as the wedding got closer, and now it’s checked off. The wedding went great; everyone seemed to have a really good time. Unfortunately, there’s no central place for photos yet; there are some scattered among different Facebook galleries, only some of which I remember how to access; plus some in various emails. Anyway, here are some somewhat-grainy highlights, before the photos from the professional photographer show up:
http://yaronkoren.com/blog/?feed=rss2&p=170Going to the (reception hall) of love
http://yaronkoren.com/blog/?p=169#commentsFri, 02 Oct 2009 22:16:39 +0000YaronUncategorizedhttp://yaronkoren.com/blog/?p=169I had delayed writing about this for a fairly long time, partly because I decided a while ago that this blog was going to be strictly about technical and semi-technical issues, and I stopped writing about personal stuff, pop culture things, etc. After a while I started feeling guilty that I hadn’t written about it yet, which just made it hard to write something about it, thinking about how I’d have to explain my delay in writing about it, which just made the situation worse, etc. etc.
Anyway… I’m extremely pleased to say that I’m getting married in two days. (!!) My lovely bride, who for now prefers to remain anonymous on the internet, is named Lee (that’s actually her nickname, but it’s what everyone calls her), and I’ve known her for four years, and she’s the light of my life.
For an only-adequate, somewhat-too-Photoshopped photo of the two of us, but the only reasonable one I could find on this short notice, see here.
]]>http://yaronkoren.com/blog/?feed=rss2&p=169Forms coming to Wikipedia?
http://yaronkoren.com/blog/?p=168#commentsFri, 25 Sep 2009 03:03:57 +0000YaronUncategorizedhttp://yaronkoren.com/blog/?p=168I’m doing some part-time work for the Wikimedia Foundation now, on the usability project; you can see the first fruits of my labor here - a proposal for template-based forms on Wikipedia (this, I should note carefully, would not be using Semantic Forms). And you can see the spirited, if mostly tangential, discussion about it on the Wikipedia developers mailing list here.