The Knowledge Engine

Here are some interesting examples of how the Internet is like a big, useful, knowledge engine. Insert query in one end. Let simmer. Extract knowledge.

  • For the past two years I’ve made a hobby of finding retired China Marines for my friend Steve in Thailand. He sends me a name and some sketchy details like “the last time I saw him was in Memphis in 1948” and I spend a couple of weeks hunting around the shockingly voluminous sources of public information about people on the Internet and, with luck, make contact. There are few greater feelings in the world than hunting for a 77 year old Marine, last seen in 1948, and finding him hunkered down in North Carolina (or the woods of Minnesota, or…), giving him a call and telling him that one of his long lost buddies wants to chat. Wow
  • Yesterday I sent two friends, Buzz Bruggeman and Oliver Baker a wacky idea for making WiFi waves visible. I thought it might make a neat event for Pop!Tech. I received back carefully considered thoughts from Oliver on how this might or might not be possible. Buzz posted a note on his weblog (which, in turn, Doc Searls pointed to. I’ve already gotten one interesting response back from Buzz’ network of smart people.
  • In response to my note about airline timetables XML, someone I’ve never met, a guy named Lars Marius Garshol from Oslo, wrote me asking for more data, and offered me help on improving the format of the XML file. I took his advice, sent him an updated file back, and now he’s building some neat thing around it.
  • I ran into Matt Rainnie and his burgeoning family yesterday at the coffee shop; he mentioned that he was going to see Insomina. Inspired by this mention, I decided to go and see it myself. I reported this on my website. Matt read this, and wrote me back offering to lend me a DVD of the Norwegian version of the film.
  • Having something of an obsession with the film Heaven Can Wait, I found that the papers of Harry Segall, who wrote the play the film is based on, are in the collection of the University of Texas at Austin. I sent an email off to a librarian there, and received a very helpful response inviting me down to Austin to examine the papers.

I don’t really think the Internet is anything new in this regard: it’s simply a “performance enhancing drug” for knowledge adventures, making things that would have been so inconvient or unlikely as to be impossible in the pre-Internet world suddenly quite easy, and compressing space and time in the process.


The Top Seven Things I Wonder about Empire Theatres

If you want to go to a mainstream first run movie in Charlottetown, and you don’t want to go to the drive-in, you’ve got to go to Empire Theatres.

I saw Insomnia there tonight; it was a good movie that I wouldn’t have gone to see if I knew anything about it, so I won’t say anything about it so as to not jeopardize gentle readers’ possibility of going to see it.

But the experience did leave me with the following questions about Empire Theatres:

  1. There are now 4 or 5 electronic ticket machines available at the entrance. You can’t miss them. It takes about as long to buy your ticket from a machine as it does from a person, yet even when there are 30 or 40 people in line, the ticket machines remain largely unused. Why? (Companion question: similar situation exists at Terminal 2, Pearson Airport in Toronto: you can check in with a terminal in about 15 seconds or wait in line for 1/2 an hour to check in with a real person; the terminals are seldom used).

  2. There is a new ritual of having an usher enter the theatre just before the show and say (and I’m paraphrasing from memory here): “Hello my name is Fabian and I’m an usher here at Empire Theatres. I’m just here to let you guys know about our Stash the Trash Program…” Fabian (or whoever) then goes on to tell us that we can “really help them out” by using garbage pails, and mentions at the tail end that if we have any temperature or volume problems we can come and talk to him. I’m wondering (a) why they put shy adolescents through such public speaking hell, especially when many in the audience are no doubt their classmates, (b) whether this scheme actually convinces people to stash their trash or not, and how much money they save from some number of the audience members doing so and (c) whether other audience members find this annoying rather than helpful. I always thought the opportunity to callously throw litter on the floor was part of going to the movies.

  3. The ushers and their overlords are all wearing headset walkie talkies. What are they talking about? “We’ve got a callous trash non-stasher in aisle 3; all agents respond.”

  4. The ushers that take tickets now refer to the theatres as “stadiums,” or rather “Stadiums” as in “Insomnia… that’s in Stadium 6, second door on your left.” Does this really impress anyone?

  5. Has anyone else noticed that the toy plastic “stadium style seating” they apparently bought from Wal-mart is rather flimsy and has the annoying property of echoing every tick, kick and jossle of anyone in the row behind you directly into your spinal column?

  6. Said Wal-mart style seating also incorporates cup holders, which while they make soda storage much easier, also render useless the arm resting feature of the arm rests. Did the designers not think of this?

  7. Why do you young teens think it’s okay to talk at the movies? I never talked at the movies as a young teen. Talking at the movies is wrong. Such people should not be allowed to attend movies. I consider them one step below the “hey, let’s roll some M&M’s down the aisle for kicks” people.
I would appreciate answers to any of the above from those more knowledgeable than I. And do go and see Insomnia.

More Airline Timetable Fun

Lars Marius Garshol from Oslo asked if I could add actual flight information to the XML airline timetable files I’d created.

So I did.

This file is an zipped version of an XML rendering of the latest Star Alliance timetable. You may wish to consult the original PDF file the information was scraped from for information about what the various bits of a flight’s information actually mean.

Ob Google: search for Star Alliance Timetable on Google; this site is the first search result. I’m not sure what this says about Google and/or Star Alliance.

Please note: the airline schedule information was scraped from the official original Star Alliance Timetable PDF and you should consult that document for “official” information. The XML rendering of the information may be incomplete or inaccurate; don’t show up at the airport expecting to fly based on the XML only. You have been warned.

Airline Timetable Fun

While I’ve made great use of the Air Canada website in recent years, it does suffer from one thing common to most airline sites: it’s great if you know where you want to fly and when, but not very useful if you just want to explore the possibilites of flying, well, wherever.

To this end, I present these XML files for Air Canada and Star Alliance, which I derived from their latest timetables. They contain information about all of the cities that Air Canada and Star Alliance fly between, along with the distance between the cities.

I’d welcome the inventive and talented among the readership to take this file and make something fun, artistic, creative and/or useful from it.

These little applications, for Air Canada and Star Alliance are my contribution. Let the games begin.