Future Topics For the Serial Podcast

Now that Serial, Season 1, is over, I’ve been thinking about some stories that would be better told in the Serial format, slowly examining one angle at a time, with the soul of the story building over time.

If you’re unfamiliar with the This American Life spinoff podcast series called Serial, which is produced and narrated by Sarah Koenig, you’re technically in the minority. Somehow, it went from nothing to being the most successful podcast in history, and has roughly 5 million active subscribers and counting.

The first season was a who-dunnit murder mystery about an actual murder in the Baltimore area in the late 1990s involving a teenage female victim, and her ex-boyfriend who pleads innocence and ignorance, a drug dealer who claimed to have helped the ex-boyfriend commit the murder, a random guy who claims he merely discovered the body when he pulled off the side of the road and walked very deep into the forest to go pee, girls who claimed to have gotten calls from the two boys at different times in places that may not even exist, a prosecution team who secretly helped the drug dealer secure a good lawyer in order to further their own offered plea deal for him that would set him free and put the ex-boyfriend in prison, a prosecution who opted to not test any of the DNA evidence taken from the crime scene, a jury who openly had issues with the ex-boyfriend being middle-eastern, and other classmates of the victim who actually saw the ex-boyfriend at school, but were never called on in the trial, because the trial lawyer was maybe throwing the case so she could earn extra money in the appeals process to pay for her secret but serious health condition she was suffering from.

The entire story is a mess, and practically nothing anyone says feels or sounds true, but that is exactly why this iterative series of evidence scrutiny is the perfect format for this type of complex story, because to the ex-boyfriend, this story is that complex, and he’s been sitting in jail for 16 years now, even with the very real possibility that he didn’t do it, and almost no physical evidence supporting the verdict.

The thing is, though, despite the truth of everything, one doesn’t truly understand the nature of the case until they go through everything, and that takes time and attention. So, while listening to that podcast series, it made me think, “wow, there are a lot of stories that would be better told in this format”.

Here are some stories that would make epic Series seasons:

The killing of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson
This is a really complex story. Was the officer really in danger? Does this police department really have a history of racism and police brutality? Was the teenager really a criminal? Were the key witnesses for the officer telling the truth? Were the key witnesses for the teenager telling the truth? Seriously, so many gray areas in this story.

The famous Pacquaio-Bradley boxing match upset
Boxing match fixing has been one of those things that has been talked about for a really long time, and while everyone says its obviously possible that match fixing really happens, is it so clear? Who would have to be paid by whom in order to fix a match? Who would benefit from a Pacquaio loss? How is it possible that Pacquaio could have a technically provable score almost double that of Bradley? Why is the  scoring process so secretive for the Nevada State Boxing Commission?

The possible voter fraud surrounding the 2000 presidential election recounts
When it comes to money and influence, having your guy in office is about as valuable asset as you could ask for. So, the question is, did Bush really win that election that resulted in the Florida recounts? Who were the interested lobbyists and political interests that stood to benefit from the election? What money went where at that time? Who was in charge of these counts?

Edward Snowden and the Prism program data leaks
Oh man. This is a juicy one. What did Snowden have to gain and lose by doing this? What did the government stand to gain or lose by running the Prism program? Why is social network data so valuable to the Government? Come on, you could think of a hundred interesting questions about this one.

My point is, there is definitely a class of issue or topic that falls into the category of “needs iterative expository” and the above topics definitely would work well in those formats. I’m excited to see what Sarah Koenig decides to run with.

My Journey to Breaking 80 in Golf, and What I Learned Along the Way

I work very close to a golf course, and so when weather permits, I get out there to practice on the range during the occasional lunch break. Its been about 1 year since I played my very first round of golf, and last week, I broke 80. Since the beginning, I’ve gotten my share of punishment and reward from the game, and now that I’m a decent enough golfer that its possible to play at that level, I’ll tell you what I’ve discovered about my own game, and perhaps anyone’s game at that level.

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The Time I Met Joan Rivers

I occasionally get invited to attend performances at a Resort / Casino in the Palm Springs area by a family member who has hookups there. Usually what happens is we’ll get seats to a performance, and often before the show, my wife and I will get the opportunity to meet and greet with the performer. Usually, the performer is kinda in a trance, stuck in their own thoughts, presumably preparing mentally for their performance, and the meet and greet is more like a quiet handshake and a picture, and that’s that. But one time, Joan Rivers did a show there, and in the meet and greet, she was clearly a much different kind of person than many of the other performers that we’d been able to meet, and I also got some interesting insight into what kind of business woman she is. It was illuminating.

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What is DBPedia and How Do I Use It?

DBPedia, in general, is a linked-data data extraction of Wikipedia. If you’ve been living under a rock and don’t know what Wikipedia is, its a crowd sourced encyclopedia hosted on the internet. In terms of data structure, Wikipedia reports on its own wiki page that it is powered by clusters of Linux servers and MySQL databases, and uses Squid caching servers in order to handle the 25,000 to 60,000 page requests per second that it gets on average. In terms of the product, it is very culturally significant in that it is one of the most referenced sources of general information on earth, if not the outright leader. Again, DBPedia, for all intents and purposes, is a linked-data version of that dataset.

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When to Use a Triplestore in Your Application

So, you’ve heard of a triplestore, that’s an important first step. Now, you’re wondering why you’d  need one? That is a good question. I believe that the best way to answer the question is to talk a little bit about we know about triples as a data model, what SPARQL is good for, and where the industry has gone in the last few years that has caused us to need triples and SPARQL in the first place. Let’s get started.

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Answer Synthesis is the Future, Let me Tell You What It Is

The act of computationally creating an answer via cognitive computing or conceptual reasoning rather than searching for it with text curiously gets described in so many ways, but nobody ever seems to talk about it directly, its always a talked about in terms of how it is done. I propose we call it “answer synthesis”. Let’s dig deeper.

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What Type of Problem is Ubiquitous Computing, Really?

Ubiquitous Computing, as a term, has been around for quite some time now. It refers to a state of computing in which there is a presence of data, interfaces, computing, etc, that is essentially omnipresent and is available for interaction in a wide variety of forms for a wide array of purposes. In essence, when people talk about the Internet of Things, they usually are describing what others refer to as ubiquitous computing. One of the aspects of this paradigm that makes it ubiquitous is a somehow-universal interoperability between all things connected.

Also, separate from that, there should be a sense of ambient intelligence that persists around all of these interacting agents. Obviously, interoperability, intelligence, high-availability, access, security, communication, data interoperability, data analysis, prediction, etc, are all under the umbrella of the term. However, is all of this really needing to be solved in order to have the user experience of having interoperability and ambient intelligence? I think not. Either way, there are lots of things to think about when it comes to putting your finger on what the real problems are that are left to solve in this space.

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Is Semantic Web Dead or Alive?

Semantic web is alive, and I will tell you why. But first, let me tell you how I arrived at this conclusion.

When I first came to my current job, I was tasked with writing an automated implementation of Schema.org as a service, which could be implemented by multi-site owners as a way to shortcut the tagging and structuring of their site data for the sake of acquiring rich snippets, and ultimately to get better search engine performance.

During that time, I learned a lot about schema.org, semantic web technologies, linked data, and Google. So, with that said, if you’re here wanting to know if you should care about the semantic web, let me drop some knowledge.

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My Dog Recently Became a Thing in the Internet of Things

There are a lot of people out there talking about the Internet of Things. A lot of them are really enamored with the idea that it is going to be a gazillion dollar industry, but I think that there are other things about it that are more fun to think about, namely how my dog is technically a thing in the Internet of Things. Before I get to that, let me explain what the IoT is and isn’t.

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Place Your Bets on the HTTP PATCH Method

Partial updates are somewhat problematic in the world of RESTful applications. Currently, we use POST and PUT to write data or update it, but on sub-properties of data updates, it actually can get somewhat hard to code for when you get into the more subtle application logic and error management, let alone on datasets that are very large or have very deeply nested data structures in a single JSON object, for example.

But, regardless, PUT and POST have done a satisfactory job up until now, and nobody really needs to use PATCH in a relational context. But therein lies an interesting point: data is getting bigger, and naturally, semantic data is starting to become much more prevalent, and its URI-based. It logically follows that if data continues to become more semantic, and you’re dealing more often in deeply nested structures, you’ll need a URI-based updating method that can be more flexible than PUT and POST.  But you don’t have to take my word for it, lets ask an expert.

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