SMWCon Spring 2015 in Review

In early May I helped to organize the Spring Semantic MediaWiki Conference or SMWCon. We had 25 people from around the world come together for three days to learn and share about Semantic MediaWiki and it’s use in various industries. It was an honor to host such an event here in my hometown of St. Louis. I wanted to take a few minutes to share my experiences as an amateur event organizer and reflect on one of my personal accomplishments for 2015.

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When planning an event my mind always goes to the worst possible scenarios. What if people don’t come? What if they can’t find the event location? What if the food is terrible? What if the presentations are off-target?

For the most part, if you worry about these things and do something to address them, you’ll be fine. Don’t be overly anxious. Writing things down and keeping “To-Do” lists really helped keep things organized. Remembering to follow-up with people (venue folks, caterers, etc.) will prevent miscommunication and last-minute dashes to fix things.

Another tip? Make sure you have coffee and snacks around. Nothing fancy is needed. We made a trip to Costco the day before the event and grabbed some mixed nuts, granola bars, chips and soda.

I’m glad to say that everyone appeared to have a good time and everything 1 generally went off without a hitch.

I was an attendee at the last Spring SMWCon. Since that was also my only SMWCon experience, I based a lot of my work off of the great organizers that hosted us in Montreal. One thing I didn’t go a good enough job on was encouraging diversity in the audience and in speakers. What we had wasn’t bad, but man I would have like to have more unique voices present.

That said, we did have one of the most diverse group of industries represented. eSport statisticians, geneticists, geophysicists, independent developers, Tibetan Buddhist philosophers, MITRE, NASA, NATO, SNPedia, and more represented the diverse use of Semantic MediaWiki. We actually remarked during one of our sessions that this SMWCon had a much more ‘enterprise’ vibe than past conferences. It’s remarkable how many wikis exist behind firewalls that the public never know about and what amazing things people are doing with the software.

This lead into an interesting discussion around future of SMW and SMWCons. The discussion is ongoing, but the consensus is that there should be more events around enterprise 2 MediaWiki usage.
All of the presentations were interesting and chatting with some of the attendees opened my eyes to new uses and interests I never knew existed.

Some of my favorite sessions are listed below. We recorded the presentations and they should be up online soon.

smartMediaWiki

Wolfgang Fahl presented on an idea he has called smartMediaWiki. His tutorial was in-depth and allowed for all attendees to participate. While some of his concepts are beyond my meager understanding, the amount of effort he put into his presentation is commendable upon itself.

 

Cargo and the future of SMW

Yaron talked about his new extension, Cargo. It’s an alternative to SMW, which is interesting as it’s a much smaller code base, but nearly just as powerful. His approach to semantic data is different (standard database schema instead of triples) and the history of his involvement with SMW made for an interesting talk. Where Cargo (and SMW) go in the future is still very much unknown, but Yaron brings forth the idea that both can live in harmony.

 

The Why and How of Wiki Farms

Cindy’s presentation on the interworking of MITRE’s Gestalt framework was eye-opening. I manage two independent wikis and have never though much about the complexities of running dozens – or hundreds – of wikis. Her talk covered how one might manage multiple wikis without going insane – and still leaving plenty of room for customization and uniqueness.

 

SMW Grammars & Variables

John McClure is not a man to shy away from big challenges. His presentation tackled the promise of a semantic web – multiple independent sites interconnected among one another with a common ontology. His passion was present and his goals noble. The conundrum is who is willing to do the work? So many wiki folk – yes even those within the Wikimedia movement – are rather ‘heads down’ on what they’re working on. John’s vision is of a standard grammar we can all leverage to systematically interconnect the various repositories of information we all maintain.

 

Quantifying Accountability

James and Daren gave a great ad-lib presentation 3 on how they use MediaWiki to help document information around the training of astronauts for their EVAs. Their presentation was a great example (among many) of folks who are not ‘wiki people’ leveraging the software as part of their jobs. Both are engineers and training astronauts is their primary career. Even with that full-time gig they find time to develop their own extensions and adapt the SMW platform to fit their needs – all while releasing their code to the public.

 

How to get your bug fixed in MediaWiki

Mark gave a great overview on how to take a PITA bug and get it fixed. His introduction to the MediaWiki bug ecosystem was really helpful. I now feel more confident in submitting bug reports and improving the software.

 

We had a panel on the third day around the topic of “The Future of the Semantic Web, SMW and MediaWiki”. The three panel members 4 did a great job discussing the changes yet to come that will impact us all.

I love the SMW and larger MediaWiki community. There are a lot of good people involved. Each working hard in their respective industries trying to not only accomplish the work before them, but giving back to the community as well. If you have an inkling of interest in attending (or organizing!) a SMWCon I can’t recommend it highly enough.


  1. Except for A/V hiccups. Like their printer brethren, A/V equipment conspires against humanity.

  2. Not necessarily inside corporations, but non-profits, community groups, research groups, etc.

  3. Their original slide deck was not approved in time by NASA

  4. Cindy CicaleseYaron Koren, and Mark Hershberger

The Martian

At the urging of my dad I recently read Andy Weir’s The Martian. His recommendation was well deserved. It is a great book – not a great ‘sci-fi’ book, but a great book period. It’s a little geeky and a whole lot of human.

Lost on Mars, astronaut Mark Watney struggles for survival with limited resources and unlimited imagination. The character is sharp, funny, and witty. The book has an interesting narrative as most of the action is from report logs Watney is leaving after doing something. Watney tells you his plan and then in the next section tells you what happened. With every turn you’re left asking “Will he make it?” It’s a cliché description, but apt in this case – a total page turner.

Ridley Scott is making a film starring pretty much everyone in Hollywood. It looks great and, like the book, the technology is near-future and very believable. I can’t wait to see this one in theaters.

A Device For the Capital

Mostly, I’m having a difficult time seeing how the watch today lives up to the ideal of a  bicycle for the mind. It seems mostly to want to take on the parts of my mobile devices that I consciously turn off.

I’m with Jim Ray. The Apple watch is neat from a ‘look what we can do with technology’ point-of-view, but I sure as heck don’t understand how it came from the same company that proudly provides educational initiatives and sponsors programs about diversity.

Pretty much every other Apple product has a good, better, best segmentation that actually speaks to the capabilities of the device. If you don’t have a lot of dosh to spend, you can get a Mac Mini, or even an older iPhone.  You can still use these tools to make great things and stay connected. Maybe as not as fast as say someone with a maxed-out Mac Pro, but you aren’t left behind.  The Apple Watch is solely for the affluent with no alternative for those with lesser means. An incredibly superfluous device.

As an unaffiliated addendum, Neven Mrgan shared this tweet:

The future has arrived.

Recent Video Games I’ve Enjoyed

Here’s a short list of the games I’m currently playing or have played recently. These are all recommended if you’re looking for something new to enjoy.

Fantasy Life (3DS)

I’ve played far too many RPGs to count, and Fantasy Life is one of those rare games that gets everything right. The dialog is humorous, the experience ramp is well-balanced, and the sense of exploration is great. I’ve been playing this alongside my daughter Kari, and it’s a perfect introduction into he standard RPG structure. Go on quests, level up, learn skills, buy equipment, rinse/repeat. You can drop in and out of co-operative multiplayer with ease and all experience and items are shared with your single-player adventures. The visuals are cute and cohesive. Nothing looks out-of-place and there’s no signs of shortcuts being taken. The game has a great pedigree with Brownie Brown and Level-5 lending their skills to create a delightful classic RPG.

Pokemon Omega Ruby (3DS)

This is a remake of the classic Pokemon Ruby updated to include the most recent roster of pocket monsters, 3D visuals 1, and online multiplayer/trade features.

I usually consume a Pokemon game within days of its release, but for some reason I have yet to progress very far with Omega. I’m close to getting my 5th badge, but haven’t really felt the urge to pick this one up. It’s a solid Pokemon title and I will eventually beat it, but I lack the desire to ‘catch them all’.

Tactics Ogre (PSP, PS Vita)

Originally a Super Famicom (SNES in North America) release in Japan only this game has seen multiple versions with the most recent being for the Playstation Portable in 2011. 2

It is a classic turned-based tactical RPG and can be considered the grandfather of the Final Fantasy Tactics series of games. Interestingly enough, Yasumi Matsuno directed both series.

I played a fan translated version of the original SNES release years ago and remember it being quite challenging. This incarnation allows you to rewind your decisions while in battle, making your poor choices not as permanent. That may seem to make the game far to easy, but for me it makes it more enjoyable. I’m playing this on a portable device with only a few minutes of time to play. Not having to restart a 30 minute battle halfway in is a godsend.

OlliOlli 2 (PS Vita)

OlliOlli is a 2D side-scrolling skateboarding game. You input specific combinations of directional inputs and button presses to pull off combos. The bigger or longer the combo, the larger the points. It’s a fast-paced game and in some of the later levels near pixel-perfect controls are needed to pass a level. The location are varied and over the top incarnations of traditional Hollywood themes (Wild West, Aztec Ruins, Futuristic City, etc.).

I enjoyed the first game, but disliked that I couldn’t sustain a combo for the entire level. You could only keep a combo going between rails and jumps. One of the major improvements in OlliOlli 2 is the inclusion of manuals – where you perform tricks on flat ground instead of on rails or in the air. This allows you to chain together extremely long (the entire level if you’re really good) combinations for insanely high scores. The arcade nature and the use of a single button to restart a level at any point make this a great pick up and play game for when you only have a few minutes. An online leaderboard and daily challenges keep you coming back.

Homeworld Remastered (PC)

I am a huge Homeworld fan. I played the original for countless hours and then did the same for the wonderful Homeworld Cataclysm semi-sequel. 3 Homeworld Remastered is an updated take on both Homeworld and it’s sequel Homeworld 2. Graphics, audio, UI – pretty much everything has been touched to bring it into modern times.

The game is a 3D real-time strategy game set in space.  you command fleets of ships – from the tiny corvette class all the way to the large destroyer class – into battle. Like other games in the genre you have to forage for resources and research new technologies to overcome your opponents.

The story is beautiful and tragic. You play as a race of people who discover technology on the planet they inhabit that leads them to risk everything to travel the cosmos to find their original home. Along the way they discover the truth to their origins and fight foes who will do everything to stop them from returning.

Gearbox, the developers behind Borderlands, has spent a ton of time trying to make this play like the originals and is continuing to support and improve gameplay. There’s a few things that didn’t quite translate over and if that bothers you the original un-remastered versions of both games are included.

HellDivers (PS Vita)

Friendly fire takes on a whole new meaning in Helldivers. You play as a paramilitary trooper engaged in an intergalactic war between three hostile enemies. The bugs, cyborgs, and Illuminate (robots). Each have their own unique strategies and units and all are out to get you. It’s a top-down dual-stick shooter with strong emphasis on co-operative multiplayer. Everyone is vulnerable as friendly fire is on at all times. Even calling in reinforcements or equipment drops can kill a teammate.

It’s really easy to drop into a game. There’s various levels of difficulty and you can customize your payload before you deploy. When you find other player and can work as effective team you really feel like you’re overcoming gigantic challenges. Then you accidentally blow up half the team and it gets even better.

Shadowrun: Dragonfall (iOS)

I was aware of the Shadowrun series of table-top role-playing games, but never really got absorbed into the universe it has built. However, I’m a sucker for turn-based isometric strategy games and when this recently went on sale for the iPad I jumped on it.

I could not have been more surprised at how well polished this game is. It’s a great story in a cyberpunk future incarnation of Berlin. The visuals are solid and you can almost feel the grime and smog in the air. The game is challenging, but not unfair. I’m about 10 hours in and am looking at another 12 or so until completion. What’s interesting is that it started life as an add-on to the existing Shadowrun Returns, but packs enough to stand alone. (Pro tip: Pick up Shadowrun Returns if you like Dragonfall. Dragonfall is a little more refined as it was developed later, but both are made by the same folks with the same attention to detail.)

These are just the games I’ve actually spent a substantial amount of time in. I also want to finish Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon (3DS). I’m on the last level – so close!

I just started Freedom Wars (PS Vita) as I picked it up for cheap and the premise sounded interesting. I also want to spend some time with The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (3DS) and am looking forward to the extended releases of Wasteland 2 and Divinity: Original Sin. Both are turn-based strategy RPGs that I’ve played a little, but haven’t really dug too deep into.

If you’ve played anything of interest recently, let me know in the comments.


  1. The polygon kind, not the stereoscopic kind. In fact, the two most recent Pokemon games are a bit of a let down on the 3D effect front. Most of the game is not in 3D stereoscopy and where it is available (within individual battles) it suffers from a noticeably lower frame rate

  2. It has recently been released as port of the Super Famicon version for the Wii and Wii U

  3. Cataclysm isn’t a direct sequel. Homeworld 2 is. Cataclysm takes place between both games, but in a different corner of the universe. In my humble opinion Cataclysm is better than Homeworld 2. It has more interesting ship design and story.