2009 an update …

During a conversation with a certain cat loving friend of mine earlier on in the week it was suggested to me that its been a while since I’ve blogged anything other than short pieces highlighting bits of news or content out there on the web. She’s absolutely right. So here’s an update on 2009 so far, and what the next few months hold …

The last three or four months have been particularly busy for me. I took a long holiday before Christmas in order to give myself time to reflect on everything that happened in 2008. As far as year’s go it pretty much sucked! I had a lot of personal stuff to deal with most of it around coping, or failing to cope, with the deaths of a number of people who were close to me – including my father. I’m pretty good at burying myself in work as a way of not having to deal with other things unfortunately that only works for so long, in fact I’m surprised I actually got to the end of the year before finally accepting that things were broken inside. I’m lucky though, I have a lot people around me who keep an eye on me, and care enough to give me a kick when I need it – and they did. I was convinced to switch off from work and everything related to work and focus on dealing with the things that I knew I needed to.My hiatus over christmas was spent with my family trying to understand everything that had happened last year which inevitably meant finally accepting that I needed to grieve.

I sometimes hold it half a sin
To put in words the grief I feel;
For words, like Nature, half reveal
And half conceal the Soul within.

     from In Memorium, Alfred Lord Tennyson

So I wanted to firmly place the events of 2008 in the past and move forwards again. 2008 was painful and difficult yet I also enjoyed a number of personal and professional successes. In 2009 I want build on those successes, and leave the past firmly where it is.

In terms of my personal life there are already some big changes I’m in making but I’ll leave discussing that for another day, suffice to say that I think I’m happier now than I have been in years :).

Professionally I was appointed Head of Development for our Xiphos Division at Talis. I’m still trying to settle into the role which brings its own challenges 🙂 . However leading up to christmas our division had successfully entered into piloting a new product called Aspire at Plymouth University and since then it’s also been deployed as part of a wider pilot at Sussex University. Functionally Aspire is a resource lists product that helps lecturers and students make best use of the educational material for their courses. Technically Aspire is a Linked Data application built directly on top of our Talis Platform, a platform that provides the infrastructure for building Semantic Web applications. I’m loving the work, its technically very challenging there’s so many different things that need to be considered. Lots of people and organisations are talking about the semantic web but there’s only a relatively small number of organisations that are actually building real world products and solutions using these technologies – products and solutions that are actually targeted at end users – for me this is primarily why the work is both exciting and hugely rewarding.

Building Aspire is forcing us to innovate and explore ideas and possibilities that we might not have otherwise considered. A case in point is the way in which we have embedded RDFa into the our list page and our editing tool manipulates this model directly within the HTML DOM simplifying the process. This is discussed in a W3C Case Study, and was commented upon by Ivan Hermann last month. Much of the work we are doing at the moment is around adding more features to Aspire during our beta phase. Whilst part of this will be around specific features aimed at users, we are also looking at linking to other data sets and exploring what we else can do within this ecosystem of rich semantic data.

Finally, I mentioned on several occasions last year about work I was doing in my own time around building a tool that aided in visualising and exploring the socio-semantic web. That work got shelved towards the end of 2008 largely because I couldn’t focus on it with everything else that was going on. However a new year, a new beginning means that project now has a new lease of life … and it finally has a name: Omnius. It’s named after a thinking machine from the Legends of Dune series which I was re-reading around the time I was thinking about a name for this project. I had actually wanted to call it Erasmus but that name had already been taken on google code ( and erasmus_browser sounded sucky! ). I’ve created home for this project on google code, I’ll be adding more information very soon. However please remember I am only working on this during my spare time, for me its both a hobby and an interesting technical (and UX) diversion … it hasn’t yet turned into an obsession so the rate at which I’ll be adding to it is limited in terms of the time I’m able to devote to it 🙂

… so watch this space.