Sunday, 29 November 2015

Narrative transformation: stories and propaganda

In last week's blog – about the boundedness of books, the satisfaction of finishing them, and whether the satisfaction of completion may correlate with the number of possible endings – I started contemplating how I want HayleyWorld's audience to feel when they finish (or finish with) the app.

Overall, I decided, I'm aiming for engaged, amused and informed.

Then marketing specialist and data modeller Dr Stephan Ludwig suggested that what I'm really going for is narrative transportation, and suggested I read The Extended Transportation-Imagery Model: A Meta-Analysis of the Antecedents and Consequences of Consumers' Narrative Transportation*.

Marketing and literary theory

Narrative transportation is a concept adopted from literary theory by academics exploring marketing techniques and developing theories and frameworks to underpin business practice. It describes what happens to readers  – or "consumers", who interpret stories, where interpretation "constitutes an act of consumption through which a story is converted into a narrative." (p799). In other words, the story is what the author creates, the narrative is what the consumer/reader interprets the story into.

For the marketers, it's about how you use story to induce changes in consumers' feelings, thoughts and beliefs so they buy your product. As the authors of the above essay write: "Given the implications of stories for the narrative persuasion of consumers, nothing is less innocent than a story." (p798). In fact it's surprising that the word "propaganda" fails to appear anywhere in their paper…



That's a digression that I may follow at a later date (in the meantime, Eliane Glaser's Guardian article "The west's hidden propaganda machine" is worth a read). For, now, I want to concentrate on the aspects of Stephan's analysis and the paper that helped me think about how I can make HayleyWorld good enough to enable readers to achieve narrative transportation.

Encourage/manipulate readers to suspend disbelief

 Hayley's story (/stories) needs to be structured, written, edited and delivered in ways that are seamless and persuasive enough influence my readers' feelings, thoughts and beliefs. And to make them want to be influenced. For that to happen, I need to create, edit and deliver the content in ways that spark both their empathy and their imaginations (p799).

In Winning Minds: secrets from the language of leadership, speechwriter Simon Lancaster lays bare the techniques that people devising and delivering persuasive communications use to help/manipulate their audiences to achieve this. The word "minds" in the title doesn't refer only to the plurality of audiences. It also relates to what he defines as our "instinctive", "emotional" and "logical" minds. At each level, we respond better to particular approaches than to others: some metaphors, for instance – those invoking nature, family and journeys – tend to resonate more positively than others invoking, say, war, cars or computers. Repetition helps, rhythm and rhyme impact, as do flattery, humour and alliteration.

Walking the walk

Now it's time for me to put all this into practice. Which means it's likely my next few blog posts will focus on what I'm writing about, rather than about how I'm doing it…


* In the Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 40, No. 5 (February 2014), pp. 797-817, published by the University of Chicago Press

Sunday, 22 November 2015

How will it end? Boundedness, the satisfaction of completion, and never finishing the internet

After a short hiatus (I won't bore you with why*) I've had a chance to catch up with Michael Kowalski and review progress on the HayleyWorld zoeography app.

He's (hopefully) about to finish both implementing the algorithm and optimising the way the app works. And I'm going to continue writing commentaries, adding other content and thinking through the big question he asked me: How does it end?
 

When is a book a book?

Back in 2011 I interviewed Theodore Gray, author and co-founder of Touchpress, Wolfram Research and Wolfram Alpha for a feature in the Independent on Sunday about digital literature. Theo listed three characteristics that mark a book out as a book. If
"it’s bounded and user-paced and it’s narratively directed, then you can call it a book. Otherwise, it might be an encyclopaedia or it might be a website."
Theo Gray talking about books and apps back in 2011

By user-paced, he meant that it's not like a linear video,"that you are forced to watch at a certain rate. It’s a piece of text that you choose to read at whatever speed you want to read it at." He also states that the choice of navigation through the material should be entirely at the reader's discretion, while an author "takes you by the hand and shows you the things that [s/he thinks] you should read in a reasonable length of time, to get a good introduction, or a good overview, or a good in-depth analysis or whatever of this topic."

The boundedness of books is key to what I'm pondering in this post – and to how this digital biography of William Hayley will finish. Books, says Gray, "have a beginning and an ending and a discoverable way of knowing that you’ve read the whole thing. By which I mean that you can start, you can consume and finish it and say I’ve read this book.
This is typically not the case with websites. It’s an important and valuable and good thing about websites that they’re open-ended and they keep going. You don’t finish a website. You don’t finish the internet. That’s a wonderful thing. But it’s not a good thing in the case of a book. Because the valuable sense of accomplishment that you can have that I’ve read this book. And you can tell your friends. Part of it is the sense of satisfaction of completion."

Reading vs not reading endings

Tim Parks wrote a fab essay in The New York Review of Books on whether it's important for readers to read to the end of (good) books. One conclusion he reaches is
"even in these novels where plot is the central pleasure on offer, the end rarely gratifies, and if we like the book and recommend it to others, it is rarely for the end."
 And,
"it’s worth noting that stories were not always obliged to have an end, or to keep the same ending … It was only when myth became history, as it were, that we began to feel there should be just one “proper” version, and set about forgetting the alternatives."

A paradox?

Perhaps offering readers the opportunity to feel that "sense of satisfaction of completion" involves communicating the range of possible endings which would

a) explain my invarible dissatisfaction with forking path narrative
and
b) much more significantly, signal a paradox: to experience that a feeling of completeness, the work needs to we need a sense of incompleteness. Of potentials untapped, perspectives beyond the protagonists' storyworld…

 Tim Parks again:
"With novels, the endings I’m least disappointed with are those that encourage the reader to believe that the story might very easily have taken a completely different turn."
The conclusions Tim Parks draws concerning the relationships between reader, writer and text link neatly with a realisation Michael Kowalski's question provoked. The way we bound and/or end HayleyWorld needs to take into account not only how biographies finish, but also how, in general, relationships finish and, in particular, how William Hayley's key relationships finished.

How relationships end

While both his marriages ended badly, and his first love dumped him, most of Hayley's friendships either ended with the death of one party (his university friends), or with an illness that disabled communication – George Romney and William Cowper. A few others petered out over time. Only one or two – that with George Steevens, for example – terminated in high dudgeon. His professional relationships tended to follow similar patterns. Even though William Blake's three-year stay in Felpham ended in a colossal row, later communciations between the two men, if not overly intimate are courteous and amicable.

This also raises the question of how I want HayleyWorld's audience to feel when they finish – or finish with – the app. Overall, I'm aiming for engaged, amused and informed. But do I want them to feel about William Hayley and other key players in his story as I feel about them? Or do I want them to make up their own minds? What do I feel about William Hayley and co?

And how do I ensure that these questions – and all the others that pop up when I'm thinking about relationships between protagonists, narrative journeys and the user experience – inform both content and technical development rather than simply running along on a parallel track…


* oh, all right: work, ill teenager, divorce and building work demanding the Movement of Many Things. All on-going (although most of the Things have now been Appropriately Moved)…

Monday, 9 November 2015

Happy 270th birthday, William Hayley

As it's Hayley's 270th birthday today, I thought I'd write a quick celebratory post on why – despite his relative obscurity– he's both worth writing about, and an appropriate subject for the new approach to biography I'm attempting

Hayley…
  • was the first person to publish any of Dante's work in English translation
  • wrote one of the late eighteenth century’s bestselling self-help books: The Triumphs of Temper, advising young women on how to attract and keep a husband. Composed in rhyming couplets, it was modelled on Pope’s The Rape of the Lock
  • supported and championed writing by women, reputedly praising Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and negotiating book deals for Charlotte Smith
  • persuaded William Blake to leave London for Sussex, and probably saved his life by providing both financial and personal support before and during his trial for sedition – a capital offence. He also provided inspiration (but not in the way he hoped) for Blake's prophetic poetry
  • turned down William Pitt's offer of the poet laureateship in 1790 because of "the absurd duties annex’d to the office" and "the very shattered state of my own Health & Faculties"
  • was an amateur doctor with an active and practical interest in the relationship between creativity and mental illness, who provided medical assistance to the villagers around his home in Eartham and both supported and attempted to cure William Cowper, George Romney and Joseph Wright of Derby of their mental health problems. He had much less success with his wife Eliza's "marvellous mental infelicities".
  • was an early adopter of medical technologies: particularly the "electrical machine" and the cold shower bath
  • had an interesting personal life: whilst supportive of women professionally, his behaviour in his most intimate relationships with his wives Eliza and Mary (Wellford) and the mother of his child (Mary Cockerell) wasn't as blameless as his Memoirs show he'd like us to believe
  • was a consumate networker who understood that by assisting and advancing the careers of his friends, he would also do no harm to his own
  • was realistic about the extent and limitations of his own talents
  • was probably instrumental in saving the manuscript of Christoper Smart's Jubilate Agno
    It was this last  point that first sparked my interest in William Hayley: according to the first editor of Smart's poem – William Force Stead – Hayley and Thomas Carwardine, both friends of Cowper
    "regarded this manuscript by the demented Smart as a fair specimen of the nature of poetic insanity, and therefore of some value when they were dealing with Cowper, who had been attacked by the same disease."
    Some twenty years on, I'm still fascinated by him, his relationships and the way he worked.

    Happy 270th birthday, William Hayley.

    Friday, 6 November 2015

    Papers, Please: gaming, story and motivation

    Naomi Alderman – who knows what she's on about – wrote a recent column in the Guardian on the lack of understanding and appreciation "arts and literary types" – specifically those of us with an interest in the use of digital media for storytelling – tend to have for video games. There are, she said, games that experiment "with more interesting storytelling than any 'digital literature' project" she's seen, and "if you want to think of yourself as well read, or well cultured, you need to engage with them."

    She has a point. So I thought I'd try working my way through the 10 games she mentions. First up was Portal. Released in 1986, it's only now accessible through an emulator, and no amount of pressing left and right arrows or the space bar could get me past the first stage of the game. I have no idea whether this is because I am doing something wrong – pressing things in the wrong order, perhaps? – or because the emulator isn't functioning. In those far-off future days of which I dream, the ones where I have the time to either contact the person who runs the site or explore more permutations and combinations, I'll have another go.

    Papers, Please

    After that first failure, I bought and downloaded Papers, Please, a recent game that's accrued a long list of awards and commendations. And I started to play. It is, as Naomi wrote "sombre and engrossing". You – the player – employed as a border guard at a newly opened checkpoint, during an uneasy peace. It's November 1982, and relations between your country, Arstotzka, and neighbouring states are difficult. The introductory music is suggestive of a Fascist or Stalinist regime: the fact that the job comes with cheap, low-grade accommodation for you and your extended family points to the latter.

    The game basically comes down to who you let into Arstotzka and who you keep out, how you do that, how much money you manage to earn in the process, and how you spend that.



    I played twice: each game took about an hour (because I wasn't very good at it). On my first go, I lasted six Arstotzka work days, all my family died and I was sacked. On my second, I lasted seven days, kept my family alive and was sent to prison for getting into debt. These were (respectively) endings two and one of around 20. The game can last 31 Artotzka work days, and the tasks the player needs to complete to assess whether someone should be admitted or not (or arrested, if you get a lot further than I did) become more numerous and complicated over time. From the start, you need to sustain your focus and pay close attention to detail.


    Playing and thinking

    Repeatedly distracted by work, personal life and the nice man fixing the roof, I couldn't concentrate properly on playing. Add into that mix my poor hand-eye co-ordination and a general lack of interest in games per se, I soon found myself lacking the motivation to try again.

    And that set me thinking about Naomi's article. About why, despite my engaged involvement in using digital media for telling stories in different ways, games don't appeal to me. It's not because I think they are a lesser art form. It's more that I can't find my way in. At least, I can't find a way in that satisfies me in the ways really good writing, film, theatre, music and audio do. Even with something as compelling as Papers, Please, I don't care enough about the story being told to solve the puzzles I need to solve in order to properly experience it.

    This isn't, in any way, a criticism of the form. I would never claim that because I'm unmoved by video games they are a lower form of culture. On the contrary: I am awed and fascinated by the complexity of thought, design and technical processes required to create them. In fact, I could – and can – easily maintain focus and attention through an exploration of the mechanics and processes behind the games. That excites and entertains me. Playing doesn't. That's not limited to video games. I have a similar reaction to board (with the possible exceptions of Pictionary and Apples to Apples) and team games. So, in what way should I engage with the form? Is it a failure of literacy, or simply a preference? If I devoted more time and energy to the medium, would it start feeling more accessible and ?

    Immersion and omniscience

    Reflecting on my experience with Papers, Please, I wondered if this is partly about a desire to avoid immersion. To be able to keep an overall perspective, to figure the story out, think about connections, ramifications and consequences from an uninvolved POV. In other words, with the stuff I do for fun, I want to leave my mind more freedom than playing video games allows it. Taking this further, it's a plea for a particular kind of liberty: one that a disadvantaged border guard, working for almost nothing for a state that has control over his family's life and death can't possibly experience.


    Hmm…

    Thursday, 29 October 2015

    Transitions, story, emotion

    At my last PhD supervision, a question asked by my director of studies, Ian Gadd, set me thinking. How, he wanted to know, was I going to manage the tonal transitions in William Hayley's story?

    The forms Hayley "asks" readers to complete are playful – or, to use Hayley's term, "sportive". They work well with lighter content, but what about when things turn dark? How will a playful mechanism work in the face of the long, agonising decline and death of Thomas Alphonso, Hayley's only son? Or the emotional torments suffered by Hayley's adored friend, William Cowper, whose final poem, "The Castaway", compares his lot to a shipwrecked sailor, and concludes
    No voice divine the storm allay'd,
             No light propitious shone;
    When, snatch'd from all effectual aid,
             We perish'd, each alone:
    But I beneath a rougher sea,
    And whelm'd in deeper gulfs than he.
    One friend of Hayley's by another: William Cowper by George Romney (NPG 1423)
     Hayley wasn't especially adept at managing the emotional transitions in his Memoirs – edited extracts of which form the backbone of my zoeography – or in the Memoirs of Thomas Alphonso Hayley, published in tandem with his own. His failure to match tone to content led his biographer Morchard Bishop (a pseudonym for the critic and novelist Oliver Stonor, originally named Frederick Field Stoner) to contend that 
    "Hayley was a man much too facile in expression to feel very deeply, but he was capable, if the phrase may be pardoned, of feeling extensively…"
    Blake’s Hayley: the life, works & friendships of William Hayley
    , London, Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1951, p250)
    I'm  inclined to pardon neither the phrase, nor the judgement. It's nauseatingly condescending and, frankly, spurious. Taken to its logical conclusion, it suggests that only people with a command of particular modes and manners of expression are capable of profound emotion: a statement that's both utterly of Bishop/Stonor/Stoner's time and class – and also clearly untrue.

    However, the lack of emotional dynamics in the Memoirs presents me with an extra challenge in my attempt to engage readers with, and involve them in Hayley's story. So, I'll try two things as I go through each extract (at the moment, there are 447 of them) editing metadata and text, adding images and commentary.

    Firstly, I'll see if slight textual tweaks act to increase emotional impact.

    And secondly, I'll explore the possibility of rating each extract on three emotional scales (this will mean new metadata fields). At the moment I'm considering
    1. happy <––> sad
    2. calm <––> agitated
    3. a scale of intensity*. 
    But, once the extracts are rated, then what? How could this information be used to improve the reader journey/experience? By varying the order in which story extracts are delivered? If so, how? And if not, what would be the point?

    At present, we're working on the basis that the prototype will deliver extracts on the basis of

    1. reader choice (pick three topics of conversation)
    2. randomness (the software picks one of the three topics randomly)
    3. order in which text appeared in Hayley's Memoirs (sorted by volume, then page number: this is essentially chronological)

    with additional material inserted at predetermined points on the basis of other information Hayley "asks" the readers to provide.

    But could it be more effective if stories with high emotional content were delivered via a different mechanism? Should, for instance, news of some of the many deaths – Hayley's Memoirs have a high body count – interrupt the flow of his story? If so, how could that be implemented without throwing everything else out of kilter?

    In other words, it's not merely emotional transitions I need to work on here. It's how emotional transitions intersect with narrative transitions that's the real issue. Sometimes the change of emotion and narrative focus will need to be abrupt and shocking, the way it can be IRL. Other times will require transitions that are gentler, more subtle. 

    Time, I think, for a conversation with the developers about the desirable and the possible…

    For next week I'm going to explore and write about one of the 10 games Naomi Alderman picked as essential for any of us interested in "the future of literature" in her recent article on narrative innovation and gaming to explore and write about.


    * which brings to mind Don Paterson's chilling poem The Scale of Intensity

    Friday, 16 October 2015

    Relationship mapping, power and influence

    I've finally got round to starting to map William Hayley's relationships. I realised fairly quickly that I'd drive myself nuts if I tried to do them all at the same time, so I've gone for three categories: family, friendships and work. So far I've had a bash at family and friendships

    Naturally the different types of relationship overlap, so some people – including Hayley's first wife Eliza, his son Thomas Alphonso, and Tom's mother, Mary Cockerell appear in both.

    Two issues troubled me during the mapping process: time and power/influence.

     Time, power and influence

    The only nod I've made to the former is by putting the descriptors of relationships with William Hayley's father and brother – both of whom died while he was very young – in the past tense and in pink. More on time in a bit…
    I've signalled the different degrees of power and/or influence in the relationships by using
    • bi-directional straight arrows and reddish-brown text for relationships which seem/feel equal 
    • uni-directional straight arrows coming from the individual with greater power/influence in the relationship plus blue text
    • uni-directional curved arrows coming from the individual with lesser power/influence in the relationship, plus blue text.
    I've only deviated from this is in the (family) relationship between Eliza Hayley and Mary Cockerell. Although Mary was Eliza's servant, it was William Hayley who, ultimately, had control over both women: control he exerted on at least one occasion, post-separation, when Eliza challenged his authority. There were also times when Eliza depended on Mary for care and companionship and, even – in once instance (also after the couple had separated) when both women were lodging together in Derby – for sourcing food.

    The only other fact I want to highlight at this stage, is that there are, unsurprisingly, more asymmetric power/influence relationships amongs family than there are amongst friends, and that the distribution is – even less surprisingly – gendered.

    But, as I've already indicated, the two masses of text and squiggles below don't show how relationships evolve, wax and wane over time.

    A "Dislikes" arrow?

    I need to do something more sophisticated and (almost certainly) animated to evoke these changes, to demonstrate the way marriages, deaths and fallings-out impact on friendships and family relationships: to highlight emnity as well as amity. I'm thinking here not only of William Blake's initial attraction to, and sympathy for Hayley crystallising into fury and frustration at the latter's attempts to direct his work, then, ultimately relaxing into gratitude at Hayley's successful efforts to ensure he was acquitted at his trial for sedition. I'm also wondering how to represent, say, the poet Anna Seward's disapproval and violent criticism of poet and novelist Charlotte Smith's work. Both women were close to Hayley at one time or another, with Hayley even negotiating on Smith's behalf with her publisher. Seward eventually, angered Hayley, by writing about Eliza in a way Hayley considered both unkind and – given her privileged knowledge of Eliza's mental health issues – a betrayal.

    And I'm also thinking about how to represent the relationship between Hayley and Reverend John Johnson: Cowper's relation and carer. Although Hayley would have considered Johnson a "confidential" friend, a couple of comments in Johnson's letters to others, along with a few of his editorial markings on the manuscript

    Finally, before I finish I'd like to critique the terms I've used to define the relationships. They are all possessive: hasWife; hasFriend; hasEmployer. I should have used isHusbandOf; isFriendOf; isEmployeeOf. But they are also too static for my liking. The next thing I need to understand is how to model flow.

    Narrative flow, relationship flux and nuclear reactors

    Think I need to ask my friend who used to design software for nuclear reactors… Meanwhile, here's where I've got to so far…


























    Friday, 9 October 2015

    Interactive biography: players, actors, protagonists

    A Fortunate Man?

    Towards the end of John Berger and Jean Mohr's photo-essay A Fortunate Man: The Story of a Country Doctor, are a few paragraphs musing on the difficulties of writing biography – particularly of living subjects – compared with fiction or autobiography.

    "In a certain sense", Berger writes, addressing what he feels to be the impossibility of concluding this essay, "fiction seems strangely simple now. In fiction one has only got to decide that a character is, on balance, admirable. Of course there remains the problem of making him so … But still –outcomes can be decided. Whereas now I can decide nothing."

    Autobiographers, he reckons, have it even easier – or are, at least, "freer" – than novelists. The autobiographer
    "is his own subject and his own chronicler. Nothing, nobody, not even a created character can reproach him. What he omits, what he distorts, what he invents – everything, at least by the logic of the genre, is legitimate." (p159)
    (As an aside, Berger's text is, throughout, as sexist in a thoroughly-of-its-moment (1967) way as the above quotes suggest. Jean Mohr's accompanying portraits exhibit a much better gender balance.)

    Berger makes one comment on biography that clarified what I'm trying to achieve with this project He's explaining the difference between writing a biography of a living, and a dead artist.


    When work is no longer in progress

    "The painting you saw last week when you assume the painter was alive is not the same painting (although it is the same canvas) you see this week when you know that he is dead." While an artist lives, every work is
    "part of an unfinished process. … When the artist is dead, the painting becomes part of a definitive body of work. What we can think or say about it changes. It can no longer be addressed to the artist … we can now only think and speak for ourselves. Because he is dead, we become the protagonists." (p160-161, my italics)
    There's a lot written about the relationship between the roles of author and "audience" in interactive narrative, much of centred around the relinquishing of authorial control and the correlative increase in audience agency. In "Player Agency in Interactive Narrative: Audience, Actor & Author", for instance, Sean Hammond, Helen Pain and Tim J Smith write
    "A player in an interactive narrative can be a spectator in the sense that she is a witness to the dramatic spectacle. She can be an actor in the sense that she plays the role of one of the characters in the narrative. And she can be an author in the sense that she collaborates with the system (and perhaps with other players) to produce the resulting narrative experience. The player is not exclusively a spectator, nor an actor, nor an author, but in any given example of interactive narrative the role of player combines these three traditional roles to different degrees"
    Emily Short in a 2011 blog post on An Alternative Taxonomy for Interactive Stories explores the different ways in which, and extents to which the "player" can become actor, character, protagonist and/or author, and offers useful examples of/links to games and fictions for each mode.

    The framing of the audience (or reader) as player is, of course, a trope drawn – along with many of the techniques and technologies of interactive narrative – from gaming. But I don't think it's apposite for a zoeography, where, although the interactive element is playful (or "sportive", to employ the term Hayley would have used). I'm still not sure what the right word is, and may need to coin another neologism.

    A protagonist in someone else's life story

    In attempting to create the simulacrum of a relationship between the audience/reader and the biographical subject, while, at the same time, positioning my commentary on his life as marginalia, I don't feel I'm ceding any of my authorial control to the audience/reader. What I'm aiming to do is expand their role as protagonist, if not in Hayley's story, at least in the telling of it, while diminishing the role of the biographer-as-protagonist and/or narrator, and morphing it into something else. Commentator, perhaps?

    What's different here from the other player-as-protagonist examples that Emily Short provides, is that it's the audience/readers' selves – or how they choose to identify/describe themselves and their circumstances: the app and I will have no knowledge of whether they're answering Hayley's questions honestly or not – that will influence the course of the narrative.

    Thursday, 17 September 2015

    Modelling William Hayley's relationships

    First baby steps

    Inspired – and emboldened – by having battled my way through Semantic Web for the Working Ontologist, I decided to try applying what I've learned from the book to modelling William Hayley's relationships.

    I started with a blank A3 page and my trusty Muji mechanical pencil, and got as far as this –

    First attempt at modelling Hayley's relationships. HasMaster and hasMistress will be replaced by hasEmployer. And hasInBed (well, it was a first attempt) will be replaced by hasMistress.

    – before realising
    1. I needed a different term for "mistress". HasMistress could be used to describe both William Hayley's relationship with Mary Cockerell, the mother of his child, but also the relationship Mary Cockerell had with Eliza, Hayley's wife: Mary was, for some of the time, Eliza's maid. (I'll now be using hasEmployer for the servant->master/mistress relationship, and hasMistress for sexual relationships. Not yet sure what I'll call the inverse relathionship, though, but would welcome suggestions in the comments or via Twitter).
    2. before starting this process, I needed to list all the people Hayley had relationships with, and then select those who were most significant.

    Urk. Is this really a good use of my time?

    So, worrying that this might all be a colossal waste of time, I trawled through the 1,858 relevant records in my database, identifying 375 individuals with whom Hayley mentioned contact, along with a number whose work or reputations influence his work or behaviour. Then I picked 87 out of the 375 whose relationship with him felt significant enough to model.

    There's a second page, too…
    The highlights mark friend and/or family relationships, the ticks signify predominantly work relationships, although some of these are debatable. For instance, I've ticked Dr Nathaniel Cotton but although he and Hayley didn't have a lot contact over time, their interests and relationships had several significan overlaps.

    My next step will be to take that list of 87 people, and further explore the nature of their relationships with William Hayley and each other. This will involve thinking about what makes a relationship significant – endurance, impact,  and how I signal the different kinds of significant relationships. Please send large sheets of paper, coloured pens and caffeine.

    Impact on the narrative journey

    Even this first, hesitant, part of the process has prompted me to think in more depth about the overall reader journey:
    • How many of Hayley's friends, relatives and other contacts do readers need to know about?
    • How much do they need to know about them?
    • How – and when – will they find out about them?
    • How and where do readers fit into Hayley's network?
    This sparked another, related, question about communicating content. What do I do about those topics Hayley wouldn't want to raise? Or, at least, that he wouldn't want to raise with just anybody?

    For instance, from the sheer number of mentions money gets throughout his memoirs and letters, managing his finances, limiting expenditure, and bringing in enough to support his household, were clearly major preoccupations, and cast light on what life would have been like for him and his dependents. But he's unlikely to raise the subject of his own volition.

    So how do I build that into the narrative?

    Two ways spring to mind
    • cover financial matters in my commentary
    • have Hayley write personalised accounts to certain readers - which will require a form asking people about their work/status
    I'll explore both options. But probably not for a couple of weeks as next week I'll be bodyboarding in the south of France. There will, undoubtedly, be embarrassing photos…

    Incidentally, another good thing that's happened as a result of embarking on this, has been contact, through Twitter, with artist China Blue, who's been working on social "connectome" paintings highlighting "the odd and interesting connections that we do and don't know about peoples lives", focusing on artists and artistic genres.

    Yep. An excellent use of my time.

    Thursday, 10 September 2015

    Blast Theory's Karen

    The life coach from hell (or Brighton)

    There are two types of life coach. Those that have led full and/or successful lives, overcome adversity and amassed a bunch of wisdom that they transmit, gently, to their clients, and the others. Karen, played to terrific effect by Claire Cage in Blast Theory's app, is one of the latter.

    Designed to demonstrate how much information about ourselves we reveal to commercial interests and others who collect and use our data, Karen is, um, a blast.

    During each episode – these are made available once or twice a day over ten days – she asks us questions, most of which are derived from psychological assessment tools. These 'coaching sessions, are interwoven with a story – a forking path narrative – the course of which is, I think, influenced by our answers. Not sure about that: will need to have another play and answer differently to be sure. The events may be the same, the difference may be the part we play in them.

    Our answers do, however, contribute directly to the psychological profile/assessment that's available to buy for £2.99 once the app/story has run its course. More on this later.

    Within a day or two (the events unfold over 10 days in realtime) Karen abandons her initially professional demeanour, as seen in this introductory video…



    … and descend into oversharing and neediness. Increasingly, she implicates us in the messiness of her life and her complex relationship with a man called Dave (played by Chris Jared), who turns out to be more than her flatmate.

    Compelling mini-soap

    Karen makes for a very successful mini-soap. It's compelling and the excellent scripting, performances, filmed-on-a-smartphone feel, choice of locations and set design render it genuinely immersive and compelling. By day nine, Karen had invaded my dream life, and not in a good way.

    The story trajectory feels natural and I felt drawn into some form of 'relationship' with the character: although the suspension of disbelief was enjoyably partial, meaning that I didn't feel I needed to be kind to Karen – or feel guilty when I wasn't. And - given that over half of the people who, to date, have "been measured on this scale" (I'm quoting from my data report) disrespected Karen's privacy – I don't think I'm alone in responding like that. The other possible conclusion is that the majority of us are potential secret police informants. As an article in Der Speigl suggests that about 18% of the population of Rostock occasionally acted as informants to the Stasi, it looks like my initial hypothesis might be closer to the truth (phew).

    Controlling behaviour

    The questions Karen (and occasionally Dave) ask feel relevant and, often, appropriately inappropriate. Only one tripped me up. I was asked to move a slider on a scale to indicate how far my "significant other" was "in control" or "cared for". I misunderstood. Assuming that "in control" meant in control of their own life, I moved the slider to that end of the scale. Karen's response, made it clear that the question was, in fact, exploring where the power lay within the relationship. Not sure what that misconception says about me and the data report didn't tell me.

    Information & privacy

    "Rest assured," says the intro to the data report
    "others are using your data with greater sophistication and colder intent. Hopefully Karen highlights some of the queasy feelings that highly personalised and mildly intrusive data collection can trigger."
    It didn't have that effect on me, because – contrary to my report which claimed I have "an external locus of control"  – I felt in control of my answers to Karen's questions. And, to be honest, I feel sufficiently in control of how much I reveal about myself and my life online in general. This is partly, because, however flawed it is, however much I dislike the current government, I live in a liberal democracy, where the worst that's likely to happen to me is that a) I embarrass myself and b) someone tries to sell me something that I don't want (happens all the time) or c) that I've just bought (also happens all the time).

    Also – and, according to my data report, like the majority of those who've used/played with the app – I am an open person. I don't believe that someone who knows about me knows, or has power over, me. My story is the lizard tail I leave behind.


    Matt Adams from Blast Theory talks to Tech Times about Karen



    There's also a fascinating video on Blast Theory's website where Matt Adams explains how Karen uses interactivity.

    Karen is made by Blast Theory in collaboration with National Theatre Wales, Dr Kelly Page and the Mixed Reality Lab at the University of Nottingham. It was co-commissioned by The Space.

    Thursday, 3 September 2015

    Semantic Web for the Working Ontologist: Chapter 16

    In this, the last chapter of Semantic Web for the Working Ontologist, the authors riff briefly on the history and context of data modeling for the web: how the processes and practices build on the "heritage of of knowledge modeling languages", but do so in an environment that "is so revolutionary that it is often compared in cultural significance to the invention of the printing press".
    "The Semantic Web is the application of advanced technologies that have been used in the context of artificial intelligence, expert systems and business rules execution in the context of a World Wide Web of information. The Semantic Web… isn't on the web; it is the Web"
    Where it's different from anything that precedes it is the way it brings "information from many sources … to one's fingertips". But then a library does that. Or, arguably, an encyclopaedia. What really differentiates the Web is that it brings the information a) sorted and b) on demand.

    The reason that OWL seems – and is – pretty "primitive" compared "to the knowledge representation systems that were developed in the context of expert systems" is not entirely because it's at a much earlier stage of development, but because of what people want from the web: "typically people don't want machines to behave like experts, they want to have access to information so they can exhibit expert performance at just the right time." Hmmm… True for search engines: don't know about you, but I definitely want a satnav, for instance, to behave like an expert…

    Where the Semantic Web goes "one step further" than the Web, is that while the "Web is effective at bringing any single resource" to our attention, "if the information the user needs is not represented in a single place, the job of integration rests with the user." However, the Semantic Web "uses expert system technology to gather information so an individual can have integrated access to the web of information." The Semantic Web, in other words, makes the connections for the user. Unlike a satnav app, it doesn't tell the user what to do with them.

    So, the fact that OWL is comparatively primitive "is appropriate for a Web language", because "a primitive knowledge modeling language can yield impressive results when it uses information sources from around the world." Its power is in how it accesses and assimilates the huge amounts of content available across the web – and in how it enables newly available content to be added to the mix as and when it's added to the Web. Data models "on the Semantic Web play the role of the intermediaries that describe the relationships among information from various sources". And the web ontology language tools covered in this book "provide the framework for the pieces an engineer can use to build a model with dynamic behaviour … and … provide mechanisms for specifying how information flows through the model" and how different bits of information relate to each other.

    Or as one, much more technically adept friend put it: it's conceptually difficult because you're modeling information about information. And that, in itself, is tough to get your head round.

    So what have I learned from this book?

    It's difficult to say at this stage, because, aside from using it for the design of my new MOO Cards

    This makes more sense when you know the job title on the reverse is "Person"
     … I've yet to put anything I've read into practice.

    However:
    1. over the next few weeks, I'm going to try and model the relationships between as many as possible of the people who appear in the zoeography
    2. there's a helpful "Frequently asked questions" section at the end of the book that directs readers to specific pages with instructions on specific issues
    I'll report back later. Not sure exactly when: next week I'm planning to write about Blast Theory's Karen. And after that, I'm hoping to have more progress to report on the technical and design development of the zoeography.

    In the meantime, if you've been reading this – thank you very much for doing so.
    If this is your first visit, my journey through Semantic Web for the Working Ontologist started here.

    Thursday, 27 August 2015

    HayleyWorld: brief musings on content and design

    If you're new to this blog, and aren't familiar with my zoeography project, you may want to read one or more of my introductory posts for context before getting stuck in here.

    So, what's new about it? – what I'm trying to do
    A "zoeography"? – why I've invented a new term for this form
    Introducing William Hayley er, introduces my subject, William Hayley.

    I've written three posts about thinking through the reader journey (one, two, three), and in this post I want to think through a couple of other elements of the project:

    Firstly, content.

    I've sorted and edited into the first person all the nuggets of text from Hayley's Memoirs that will form the backbone of the narrative. I've also keyworded and tagged them with their original Memoir volume and page numbers, dates, places and the people they refer to. Most of them will fit into the main HayleyWorld keyword topics, which, at the moment are scheduled to be (in alphabetical order)
    • children
    • death
    • education
    • friendship
    • love
    • madness
    • marriage
    • medicine
    • poetry 
    • politics
    • theatre
    These may change: it's possible that some subjects might have insufficient content, while others may need to be broken down into sub-topics. Some might overlap to such an extent that, having gone through one, a reader might be left with nothing substantial when they get to the other. This may turn out to be the case with, say love and marriage and/or children and education. There's also a possibility that madness may turn out to be a subset of medicine. This probably wouldn't be a problem for anyone reading madness before medicine, but would be if the order's reversed.

    There will also be some extracts that fall outside the main topics. Given that the reader journey is partly driven by choices of these topics, how can I ensure these don't get lost? Do I need to ensure they don't get lost: if they don't fit in, are they superfluous? How will I know?

    At the moment, I'm wondering about giving at least some of these another keyword – asides – and maybe treating them as comments and anecdotes for William Hayley to drop into the conversation, not quite randomly

    I'm also thinking about the look of the app. Hayley's words, thoughts and feelings will take centre page: mine, and others' – with the exception of his first wife Eliza's – will, I hope, appear as marginalia. In addition, I'm planning pop-up content, which will include Hayley's poems, extracts of unpublished correspondence and the lik. Most, but not all, of this will be reader-controlled. 

    A while back, one of Contentment's designers mocked up a few ideas. I particularly like this one, which allows for up to two voices (or subjects) in the margin.






    It's challenging to adapt something like that for mobile, while keeping the 18th century feel. I'm wondering if exploring the art of the 18th century portrait miniature (or even the transient late eighteenth/early nineteenth century fashion for eye miniatures) might yield some ideas. But the main issue is how we can make the thing feel comfortable and enjoyable to read, whilst also keeping a sense of Hayley's time and place…

    Will hopefully have more to report in a couple of weeks.

    Next week: the final chapter of Semantic Web for the Working Ontologist.

    Thursday, 20 August 2015

    Semantic Web for the Working Ontologist: Chapter 15

    This week: "Expert modeling in OWL". In this – the penultimate chapter – Allemang and Hendler give provide a brief outline of four subsets of OWL 2, each of which is tailored to particular modeling requirements. They also describe, tantalisingly, how the OWL 2 standard "is rich in modeling constructs that go beyond the scope of this book".

    OWL 2 is backward compatible with 1, which means that all the modeling techniques taught in this book remain valid, and that the additional constructs are additions to/refinements of, rather than replacements for OWL 1 constructs and practices.

    Each of the four OWL 2 subsets uses the "same set of modeling constructs": ie: the same properties and classes, the same syntax. They differ in that each is tailored to serve a different purpose

    OWL 2DL – D is for decidability
    For projects where decidability is key. A system "is decidable if there exists an effective method such that for every formula in the system the method is capable of deciding whether the formula is valid (is a theorem) in the system or not." In other words, it's designed for applications where precise and discrete definitions of things/entities are crucial.

    OWL DL is designed to enable modelers to create algorithms that can "determine which classes [in a given model] are equivalent to other classes, which classes are subclasses of other classes, and which individuals of are members of which classes."
    OWL 2 EL – E is for executable
    For projects that are mostly about federating data from a variety of sources in order to provide an "integrated picture of some sort of domain". In this type of modeling – used, for instance, by search engines that need to provide good rather than perfect answers (partly because they need to take into account the fact that humans ask good rather than perfect questions) – "the model describes how information can be transformed into a uniform structure".

    So OWL 2 EL is designed to "improve computational complexity".

    OWL 2 QL – Q is for Query
    This subset of OWL 2 is designed for working with/leveraging relational databases, that require "fast responses to queries" applied to huge, specified data sets.

    "Queries against an OWL 2 QL ontology and corresponding data can be rewritten faithfully into SQL".

    OWL 2 RL – R is for Rules
    This subset of OWL 2 is restricted to enable compatibility with rules-based processing. This is particularly useful for multipart  properties – where properties relate to each other in ways other than the hierarchichal. For instance, the concept of "aunt". I can only be an aunt if I am the sister of someone who is a parent. "Aunt" is thus a multipart property because it is made up of more than one property: parent and sister in that – diasy-chained – order.


    Interestingly, multipart predicates were left out of OWL 1 "because they were thought to cause undecidability". But more recent work has demonstrated that "under certain conditions" this need not be the case.

    From multipart predicates (which the authors illustrate with an example model of "'A child should have the same species as its parent"')
    ":Elsie :hasParent :Lulu
    :Lulu :hasSpecies :Cow"
    So "we can infer that
     :Elsie :hasSpecies :Cow"
    Elsie and Lulu. Or two other cows.
     Incidentally, the authors also briefly discuss metamodeling ("using a model to describe another model), recommending the use of the Class-Individual Mirror pattern for this.

    Next week - um, not sure yet. Might write about anxiety, connectedness and correspondence. Or something else. May be suffering from undecidability…

    Thursday, 6 August 2015

    Semantic Web for the Working Ontologist: Chapter 14

    In this week's chapter, Dean Allemang and Jim Hendler cover "Good and bad modeling practices". To be clear, some of the "bad" modeling practices they include, are bad only in the context of the semantic web: they are standard in object systems and only become problematic when ported into an open environment where Anyone can say Anything about Anything, as opposed to a closed data system.

    The chapter opens by outlining three ways to start model-building
    1. "find models on the Web that suit your needs" - that way you don't end up wasting time and other resources redoing work that somebody's already been done
    2. "leverage information assets that already have value for your organization": the information you're working with is likely to already be "vetted"
    3. start from scratch, using "standard engineering practices … including the development of requirements definitions and test cases.
    Whichever route you choose, there are questions that must be answered: is this model useful? What do we need this model to do? "This poses two issues for the modeler: How do I express my intended purpose for a model? How do I determine whether a model satisfies some purpose?' One way to do this is to frame "competency questions" – ie, questions the model will need to answer – before developing it.


    The AAA assumption adds a massive element of complexity to the entire process, because
    "On the Semantic Web, it is expected that a model will be merged with other information, often from unanticipated sources. This means that the design on a semantic model must not only respond to known requirements … but also express a range of variation that anticipates to some extent the organization of the information with which it might be merged."
    All a bit mind-boggling, really.

    The advice the authors give for dealing with this involves quoting the March Hare from Alice in Wonderland "say what you mean and mean what you say"

    "Say what you mean and mean what you say"

    Which translates into ensuring that
    • the names you use for entities are meaningful
    • you follow simple conventions (such as starting class and individual names with uppercase letters, property names with lowercase letters and naming classes with singular, rather than plural, nouns)
    • you plan carefully in order to distinguish classes from individuals (this can be tricky)
     Once assembled, your shiny new model can be tested by by ensuring it answers the competency questions framed beforehand. Analysing "the inferences that the model entails" can determine "whether it maintains consistent answers to possible competency questions from multiple sources.




    The remainder of the chapter is taken up with analysis of four common modeling errors:
    1. Rampant classism -– where everything is defined as a class, even if it should be an individual
    2. Exclusivity – the flawed assumption that "the only candidates for membership in a subclass are those things that are already known to be members of a superclass".
    3. Objectification – where a system is built for the web that "has the same meaning and behaviour as an object system", which doesn't take into account "AAA, Open World and Nonunique Naming"
    4. Creeping conceptualization – when good modelers go bad (oh, ok, just get carried away) and "the idea of 'design for reuse' gets confused with 'say everything you can'" as modelers try to anticipate every conceivable use for their model and model all conceivable uses.
    Ultimately, the authors say the way of telling if you've built a model that is useful and conforms to the assumptions inherent in the Semantic Web is "by making sure that the inferences it supports are useful and meaningful". Which seems slightly tautological, but hey, what do I know?



    Next week I'm on holiday, and, in a shock break with tradition, am staying somewhere with no wifi. So I won't be blogging. Or – probably – coping with the lack of connectivity. Back in a fortnight…

    Thursday, 30 July 2015

    Move along now: the reader journey gains momentum


    If you've stumbled onto this blog about my digital biography/"zoeography" of William Hayley for the first time, you may want to read my initial post about the project – as well as the two I've linked to above – before going any further with this one, so it makes sense.


    A few weeks since my last post on the HayleyWorld reader journey, and some of the questions I posed have been quietly answering themselves while I've been getting on a) with writing and b) other stuff. Lots of other stuff.


    So, here's the latest version…

    1. Reader journey design: phase 3

    As you can see from comparing phase 3 (above) to phase 2 (below)
    Reader journey design: phase 2
    … I've moved on both conceptually and creatively, and also started using Omnigraffle - which is much more suitable (and fun) than Word for this sort of thing.

    What's also interesting is the way a slight delay in technical implementation (down to my brilliant development partner Contentment's commercial commitments) has facilitated this surge forwards. Had we been further forward with the technical and visual development of the HayleyWorld app, I would have written more commentary on the edited extracts from Hayley's Memoirs that sit at the centre of the zoeography. But my thinking about how it all fits together, and the different ways in which the app will be personalised and function create the illusion of a relationship between Hayley and his readers wouldn't be anywhere near as advanced.

    Next week - Semantic Web for the Working Ontologist: chapter 14 (you can read my take on chapter 13 here).

    In the meantime, hurrah for obstacles.

    Thursday, 23 July 2015

    Semantic Web for the Working Ontologist: Chapter 13



    After all last week's, er, 'excitement', it's back to my attempt to grasp the theory of data modelling, RDF and its various iterations, OWL and associated concepts.

    First off, I need to say there's something in chapter 13 – title: Ontologies on the Web—putting it all together – that I really don't get, and that's the use, in the section on Dimension checking in QUDT (the acronym for a specific ontology: Quantities, Units, Dimensions, Types) of vectors as a way of representing signatures for compound quantities.

    When I say I don't get it – I understand the principle, that "QUDT defines eight basic quantities", including "length, time and mass", and that the process of dimensional analysis requires that units used to measure compound quantities require a signature showing how the … Oh…

    Hang on … what I was going to say here was that I didn't understand how the vectors providing the signature for how these compound quantities are comprised from the eight basic quantities/units are calculated. Why, say, if "we write our vectors in the order [length, mass, time] then the vector for velocity is [1, 0, -1]", even though the authors explain how "the magnitude of the vector in that component begin the exponent of the the base quantity in the formula for the compound quantity".

    I'd read that page at least four times before giving up. But it's just this second clicked. The vector for velocity is [1, 0, -1] because velocity = length/time. The zero's there because mass isn't a factor. Duh. Remarkably, I did pass maths A level. But only just, and with a lot of tutoring. And it was a loooooong time ago now…

    Chapter 13 introduces and outlines the uses of three online ontologies: QUDT, Good Relations and ChEBI – Chemical Entities of Biological Use – which "is published as part of the Open Biological and Biomedical Ontologies Foundry (OBO)".

    Developed by NASA, "the goals of QUDT are to provide
    1. A standardized consistent vocabulary, focused on terminology used in science and engineering.
    2. A set of consistent coded identifiers, for human and machine use.
      1. nd machines, avoiding problems with uncertainty and misinterpretation.
    3. A collection of foundational vocabularies that can serve a variety of applications.
    4. A framework designed for extensibility and evolution, but model-based (instead of just a typical dictionary) and governed."
    Outside of engineering, it's widely used for online currency conversion.

    The Good Relations ontology is used for commerce. It provides search engines with rich information about products and services, enabling them to assess the relevance of the the product or service to the "location, time, identity, profile, and preferences of the person behind the query" (from GoodRelations).The authors provide an example of how it can be used by a nail bar that also offers massages, both to publicise its services and to enable browsers to work out which service, provided by comparable beauty salons, offers the best value massage per minute.

    And CheBI is
    "a freely available dictionary of molecular entities focused on ‘small’ chemical compounds. The term ‘molecular entity’ refers to any constitutionally or isotopically distinct atom, molecule, ion, ion pair, radical, radical ion, complex, conformer, etc., identifiable as a separately distinguishable entity. The molecular entities in question are either products of nature or synthetic products used to intervene in the processes of living organisms." (from the ChEBI website)

    Incidentally the ChEBI website features an "Entity of the Month". At the time of writing it's butyl anthranilate, a naturally occurring substance that scientists are currently testing as a safe insect repellent to protect fruit – and, potentially, people – from being eaten/bitten by flying insects…

    ChEBI's Entity of the Month for July 2015. And some blueberries.
    The authors also introduce the term owl:imports which allows one ontology to refer explicitly to another, and enables inferences to be drawn from the imported ontology within the ontology into which it has been imported.

    That's it for this week. And, just so you know, there are three, short chapters to go…

    Saturday, 18 July 2015

    Don't have a heart attack in Westfield

    "I will call an ambulance on my mobile.… [pause]. It isn't going through. You try too"

     We – me, my 15 year old daughter and a Westfield security guard who claims to be a first aider, are outside some toilets in the shopping centre after my daughter has collapsed, dizzy, nauseous and with pains in her head, neck, arms and legs.

    There is no signal on the mobile phone, and, for several minutes the guard keeps pressing redial while refusing to ask someone to call an ambulance on a landline, because…er, I'm not entirely sure why, but it's something to do with the fact that she's still breathing and just about conscious. He's suggesting we catch a taxi to the Hammersmith Hospital, fails to do anything about my request for a wheelchair, but responds to my agitation by suggesting that if I want to complain about him, I should go to the concierge and do so.

    If you're tempted to shop 'til you drop, don't.

    For some strange reason – oh yes, I'm sitting with a sick, scared and distressed teenage girl collapsed across my lap – I choose not to do that, but instead shout at him until he calls his manager. Eventually he does, and Nubia, who arrives shortly afterwards, is calm, decisive and effective. A wheelchair is brought, and we race my semi-conscious child to the taxi-rank, where a taxi driver takes us, reluctantly – "you should have called an ambulance" – "YES I KNOW THAT" – to the Hammersmith Hospital a few minutes away.

    The Hammersmith. Highly recommend the Urgent Care Centre there

    Staff at the hospital, especially the lovely and on-the-ball healthcare assistant Ifrah  – and at St Mary's where they have to send us later because she's under 16 – are wonderful. As are Jonathan, who helps us at Westfield and leaves his mobile number so I can let him know that my daughter's ok, the mixed-race boy who dashes into the hospital to bring us a wheelchair and the young Muslim woman and her two older male companions who are walking past the Hammersmith, and help us into the hospital, providing encouragment as well as physical support, after the taxi driver drops us across the street and my daughter falls on the pavement and can't get up.



    I didn't get their names, but am hugely grateful. This kindness of strangers was deeply touching.

    ***

    Luckily, there was nothing seriously wrong: my daughter had had a bad reaction to the beta blockers a specialist had prescribed a couple of days previously as migraine prophylaxis (a standard approach).

    In this instance, Westfield's poor emergency response caused no long term harm. But – now my daughter has recovered, and I've caught up with everything I need to do (okay, apart from the housework) – I will complain.

    Because if I don't, one day someone might have a stroke or a cardiac arrest in the centre, And the outcome is unlikely to be so happy.

    Next week I'll be back with chapter 13 of Semantic Web for the Working Ontologist.

    Thursday, 9 July 2015

    Semantic Web for the Working Ontologist: Chapter 12

    Data modeling gets intricate

    This week, it's "Counting and sets in OWL". Intricate stuff for a newbie data modeler, and takes me back to A level maths (I scraped a pass. With tutoring).

    As the title suggests there's a lot of set theory here. The chapter kicks off with a reminder about restrictions and how they can be used
    • "to define notions like Vegetarian"
    • "to sift information from a table"
    and
    • "to manage groups of people"

    Intersections, unions and other class relationships 

    The rest of the chapter then covers how combining restrictions with the set theory language provided in OWL enables complex and precise relationships and identities to be defined. OWL set theory language includes
    • intersections: an intersection of two or more classes = a new class owl:intersectionOf
    • unions: all the members of all the classes combined owl:unionOf
    • complements: " the complement of a set is the set of all things not in that set". owl:complementOf. This needs to be used with care as say, the complement of the set of, say, everyone in the Iranian women's football squad includes not only everyone in Iran who isn't in the national football squad, but everything else in the known (and unknown) universe: animate, inanimate and other*.
    • disjoints - two sets with no members in common. eg: ":Meat owl:disjointWith :Fruit"
    and is complemented (but not in the set theory sense) by OWL's use of cardinalities: these refer to "the number of distinct values for a particular property some individual has".

    Anyone can (still) Say Anything about Any topic 

    Given the Open World Assumption – Anyone can say Anything about Any topic – this can be a tricky value to establish in many instances. However, there are some numeric values that do stay stable for long enough for, at least, upper and lower limits to be articulated. For example, the number of people on each team at the start of a league football match will be n=11 (owl:cardinality 11). The number of people in the squad from which the team is picked will be >11 (owl:minCardinality 12).

    "Cardinality refers to the number of distinct values a property has".

    n=11
    There is also, naturally, owl:maxCardinaity

    Using owl:oneOf closes a set, but, given the Open World assumption, it should only be applied judiciously, "in situations in which the definition of a class is not likely to change – or at least not change very often".

    For an example the authors take us back to the planets in the solar system:

    ss:SolarPlant ref:type owl:Class
     owl:oneOf (ss:Mercury ss:Venus ss: Earth ss:Mars
                         ss:Jupiter ss:Saturn ss:Uranus ss:Neptune) .

    "When combined with owl:someValuesFrom… [this] … provides a generalization of owl:hasValue. Whereas owl:hasValue specifies a single value that a property can take, owl:someValuesFrom combined with owl:oneOf specifies a distinct set of values that a property can take."
    This enables an inference to be drawn that tells us that "some  triple from a small set holds, but we don't know which one". Owl:oneOf, is also commonly used with owl:AllDifferent to specify that the members of a set are, as one might expect, all different from each other. This is essential, because we can't assume that things in the same set aren't called by different names.

    Can't get no satisfaction

    The remainder of the chapter (Yep. It was another long one this week.) is devoted to contradictions, unsatisfiable classes, inferring class relationships and reasoning with individuals and with classes.

    • Contradictions exist when data modeling produces results that are "logically inconsistent": when a model reflects something impossible in the real world. Because "a model is a description of the world" it "can be mistaken". 
    • An unsatisfiable class is one with no members.
    • Inferring class relationships involves the application of OWL's set language and other restrictions to make inferences about classes.
    • Reasoning with individuals and classes. Where reasoning with individuals "draws specific conclusions about individuals in a data stream", class reasoning "determines how data are related in general". The combination of the two, in the authors' words means "we have a powerful system that smoothly integrates general reasoning with specific data transformations".
    Next time "Ontologies on the Web–putting it all together". That'll be in a fortnight. Not sure, as yet, what's coming next week…

    *In other words, ex:AnimateThings may not be owl:complementOf  ex:InanimateThings. There might be a third class, say, ex:SchrodingersThings…

    Thursday, 2 July 2015

    Next steps on the reader journey

    When I last blogged about working out how readers will journey through my HayleyWorld zoeography, I was pondering how to:
    • personalise a reader's journey while still retaining an element of authorial control
    • make sure that readers can take different paths through the narrative and still read/experience something that feels like a coherent story
    • enable readers to feel like they're getting to know William Hayley in a way that mimics encountering him in real life.
    A few months on, I'm still thinking about those issues – and suspect I'll continue to do so until the work's complete, I've post-mortemed myself almost to death over it*, and am on to the next big project†.

    I'm also thinking about my methodology of designing the reader journey in a step-by-step linear way.
    Given that I'm trying to make the reading experience feel less linear, is designing it in a linear manner, well, wrong? One aspect that concerns me is that it increases the likelihood that  I'll end up losing something – a key aspect of William Hayley's story – en route. Or that I'll miss a vital left turn, one that would allow me and the reader to explore aspects of the tale that my let's-start-at-the-very-beginning approach obscures.

    This is where I'm at:

    Will need to do page set up: A3 if I want to travel any further…


    As for content - I'm halfway through editing/writing the personalised letters Hayley will send to his readers, and am thinking through what and how he'll "ask" readers to provide the information required for Form 2: as I write I'm wondering if this might also be a good point to ask readers for their email address…

    My suspicion is that, for now, step-by-step is the most practical way to proceed. It won't be for much longer, though. My guess is that when I'm one or two stages further into the journey, and these stages have been successfully (I hope) implanted into the next iteration of the HayleyWorld app, I'll need to sit down with several huge pieces of paper and map out the various relationships between the people, places, themes and chronologies of the story, and interrelate these to each other. Which will probably make my head pop open like this, but will also make me feel considerably less smiley…


    And which is where everything I'm learning by blogging my way through Semantic Web for the Working Ontologist is likely to come in handy…


    Very interested to hear others' thoughts on reader journey design…



    * Yeah, I know. Am invoking the paradox defence.
    † on the backburner are
    • an anarchist musical
    • a radio drama 
    • a crowd-sourced online project exploring the limits of kindness.

    Thursday, 25 June 2015

    Semantic Web for the Working Ontologist: chapter 11

    Because I've enjoyed leaving everyone on tenterhooks after the cliffhanger at the end of chapter 10, and to prolong the joy, from now on, I'm going to alternate blogging a chapter of this book every fortnight, with musing on other subjects*

    Anyway, this week's chapter covers basic OWL, and focuses on the use of owl:Restriction, which the authors tell us – almost breathless with excitement – "opens up whole new vistas in modeling capabilities".

    In OWL, a Restriction is a special type of class: one that's defined "by describing the individuals it contains… in terms of existing properties and classes".

    The chapter focuses on three kinds of restrictions:
    owl:allValuesFrom – all values from a set of properties must apply
    owl:someValuesFrom – one or more values from a set of properties apply
    owl:hasValue – refers to a particular value for a property.

    There's a difference between the first two of these which is subtle and not immediately obvious. someValuesFrom "is defined as a restriction class such that there is at least one member of a class with a particular property". That means that "there must be such a member". allValuesFrom, however, "means 'if there are any members, then they all must have this property", which doesn't "imply that there are any members". This will, apparently, be important later in the book (there are, gentle reader, still 5 chapters to go). Oh, and these three restrictions are often shortened to the keywords all, some, and value, using the Manchester Syntax (developed at the University of Manchester).

    Because it's so useful and frequently-used, owl:hasValue – the type of restriction that "effectively turns specific instance descriptions into class descriptions"  – is "identified in the OWL standard in its own right". It is viewed "as a design pattern" and given a name: the Class-Individual Mirror pattern. It is used to describe "the relationship of an individual to a set—this is the set of all things that relate to this individual in a certain way."

    Having demonstrated the application of restrictions in the design of a questionnaire, the authors go on to explore ways of ensuring steak isn't classified as a vegetarian food, and preventing a steak-eater from being described as a vegetarian, and, then, to explore 'relationship transfer'. Relationship transfer happens when "Everything related to A by property p should also be related to B but by property q".

    not suitable for vegetarians
    So, for instance, everyone who has bought an NUS Extra Card† will also be a student affiliated to an educational institution (or a work-based apprentice - but let's not split hairs here). Or, as in the authors' examples "'Everyone who plays for the All Star team is governed by the league's contract' and "Every work in the Collected Works of Shakespeare was written by Shakespeare'".

    Finally, they describe the difference between rdfs:subClassOf and owl:equivalentClass. The former is "a simple IF/THEN relation", the latter "an IF and only IF relation". In other words, it is two IF/THEN relations: "one going each way".

    And, in their summary, Dean Allemang and Jim Hendler explain the importance of restrictions. Essentially, "they can be used to model complex relationships between properties, classes, and individuals". This means that "interactions of multiple specifications can be understood and even processed automatically." And, while our brains are busy working out the possibilities that opens up, I'll finish by saying that next week I'll be blogging/thinking more about reader journeys.

    I also won't make the mistake I made this week of blogging on 2 computers and accidentally overwriting the finished version by saving an earlier draft and having to rewrite. Grrrrr.

    * oh, all right, it's mostly because I'm very busy at the moment, and this allows me to blog about some of the stuff I'm doing

    † and if you're eligible and haven't, it's well worth it