Chairperson of the Ebono Institute, Geoff Ebbs is author of the best-selling Australian Internet Book, past editor of PC Week and PC User and producer of the Big Byte, the Generator and the Cage. Currently at Griffith University, lecturing Design students in Business in Marketing, Geoff recently completed an intense Robotics course at Riga Technical University. He is currently working on Visual Interfaces for Representing Complex Data as his contribution to the W3C Semantic Web project. This builds on his work in the 1990s on Metadex as a forerunner to compressed multi-dimensional sparse matrix inverted indexing and Proton, the forerunner to Mambo, hence Joomla.
The Cage ran at middays on Monday on 4ZZZ for a year. It’s premise was that we lock you in until you answer the question. Every interview began with the statement ‘The Crimes Act of Queensland 1908 dictates that we cannot lock you in for more than eight hours and only four of those hours may be spent under interrogation. Do you understand?” We also randomly fired three questions from our library of placement questions which placed the interview subject in the moral landscape for the listener.
The questions were things like, Do you think abortion should be legalised, do you think climate chaos is caused by human burning of fossil fuels … . The show had an active website, facebook page and twitter feed. The show incorporated the Generator news at the top of the hour, and regular segments from The Cross.
Storylines is a subdomain of the Ebono Institute website that provides an alternative way of seeing the projects undertaken by the Institute. http://storylines.ebono.com.au
Select a project from the left hand menu to see its relationship with other projects in the database.
The projects with the deepest relationship are displayed around it, with the most significant project being at the lower right and then moving anti-clockwise around it.
The colour coding is explained in the key at the top right hand of the middle panel. At the moment the only active colour coding is the selected creative. Geoff is purple, Al Gore, Ted Nace and Christopher Alexander and their works are coloured red, leaf and light green respectively.
At the moment all relationships are considered together. The interface is designed so that you can filter the projects under consideration and the relationships that should be used to select other, relevant projects. That aspect of the interface has not yet been implemented.
Hovering over each project highlights the summary in the right hand panel.
The summaries are linked through to the article on the Ebono Institute website.
First published in March 1995, The Australian Internet Book introduced over 250,000 Australians to the Internet. The book sold 65,000 copies across four editions making it the best selling technical book ever published in Australia and was packaged with modems and Internet accounts while people learned how to take advantage of this brilliant new tool.
The book introduced an original pedagogy that used one double page spread per idea, with two images, the starting point and the end point and adopted the emerging format of all technical books: a series of regular graphical and textual formatting devices to assist the reader in navigating through the complex text an separate technical information from explanatory information.
The directory published in the first edition included all 66 websites available in Australia and had become an online tool by the second edition, one of the four most popular websites in Australia at the end of 1995. At the time Microsoft did not believe the Internet would interrupt its plans for the MSN and offered the author an attractive contract to write the Australian MSN book. It was declined. Other publishers wanting to dominate the market offered the author attractive contracts to work on their books instead. The Australian version of many early editions of Internet books were co-authored by Geoff Ebbs, or co-author Maryanne Philips. This game culminated with Living on the Web for Dummies at which point I briefly became publisher of IDG Books Australia until it was purchased globally by J Wiley and Sons.
Almost everyone in business has heard of the sales pipeline and there are quite sophisticated tools for managing and reporting from a sales pipeline to create business forecasts. The Ebono Institute has a suite of these tools available in different forms. Most businesses find our spreadsheet based system quite useful.
The Theory of Constraints work of Dr Goldratt, however, puts the pipeline in quite a different context. Based on the principles of chemical engineering, Dr Goldratt’s theory of constraints identifies the bottleneck, constraint, in any business process as the key component of the business that must be kept running at 100 per cent capacity. In most businesses it is the most expensive component, the number of aeroplane or theatre seats .. the capacity of the most expensive item of plant.
By combining the simple analytical tools of the sales pipeline reporting systems with the elegance of Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints, the Ebono Institute has created a powerful analysis and reporting tool that can be expanded and added to as a business owner requires.
The most recent work in this area is the straightforward and simple introduction prepared for Design students at Griffith University. Business students will gain little from the detail of this lecture, but will quickly grasp the overall concept and the ease with which it can be extended.
As a journalist, I had always avoided carrying the membership card of any political party, or other lobby group on the basis of maintaining objectivity. While editing energy Daily in 2003, I realised that individual journalists can only gain influence as far as media proprietors let them and that independence might protect your job inside the media, but it will not protect the truth. That apparent anomaly occurs because the principle is not practiced by those with power.
I moved to the northern rivers region of NSW because it has a strong Greens vote (then 10%), high rainfall and rich volcanic soil. It is one of the few places in Australia likely to get wetter under climate change. I ran for federal parliament in 2007, raising the vote by 7 percent and mounting a largely grass roots, social media campaign.
I served on various committees at a state level and became deeply embroiled in the Green politics which has recently (2017) raised its ugly head again. I ran for federal election four times, once against Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2013. I maintained active involvement in The Greens until 2016, resigning as convenor of the Qld Campaign Committee, and South Brisbane Greens, member of the management committee and the State Delegate Council.
The basis on which I joined the Greens was to “shine my light where it was darkest”. Fourteen years later, I have recognised that while that principle has some virtue, it is also important to allow your best light to shine. I have returned to coding, and to Griffith University to rediscover those throughlines that resonate most for me personally and where I can have the greatest impact.
An ecommerce venture, designed to provide a retail platform for the many cottage industries, inventors and entrepreneurs on the northern NSW Coast who had little business and ecommerce experience and limited access to markets in the city.
It suffered from being a second (or sixth) string project when my focus was on radio, politics and comedy but battled on to become the Byron Green Building Centre of which I still own five percent.
In terms of technology and ecommerce, it did not do anything particularly innovative, though we did find a work around to some problems with sharing of postage and delivery information.
It did, however, reinforce my determination to build systems that aggregate and share content across disparate platforms and provide a commerce framework that allows networks of collaboration instead of the hub and spoke affiliate model created by the likes of Amazon, freelancer.com, ebay, et al.
A system for indexing metadata, Metadex was designed to provide contextual support for text searching and allow the content management systems then under development to share information effectively.
A US patent was applied before but the dot com crash took the company down before the patent was defended. Advances in text searching, artificial intelligence and XML protocols have rendered redundant the urgency for the system, however indexing metadata is still useful and the attribution of meaning using a dense and well indexed system has powerful applications.
Certainly there is more need than ever to effetively be able to share aggregate and organise content.
The Content Management systems built to realise Metadex, UConstruct and Proton morphed into Open Source projects: Proton lives on today as Joomla, though the metadex was removed under Mambo, and the content sharing hooks were removed in Joomla 1.1.
The Storylines interface is an exploration as well as a presentation tool. It was developed to reveal and discover throughlines as much as to present them. The reason for this is that I had never sat down and made a list of my projects, let alone examined them for throughlines or thought about identifying established creative that may have explored those same throughlines.
To this end, I started by recording the media, the topics and various other metadata about the projects I have created during my highly varied career, in an attempt to determine a pattern and any meaningful throughlines that might emerge.
As I did this a number of throughlines did emerge, I have done a lot of advocacy in environmental politics, in print, on radio and through the political party The Greens. A large number of established creatives have similar foci, I have selected Ted Nace and Al Gore as they are remarkable for their transition from writing about technology to climate activism in Ted Nace case, and from politics to activism in Al Gore’s case. On reflection, I should have also considered broadcaster and writer Philip Adams who I admired as a teenager, interviewed as a luddite for PC Week and have maintained correspondence with over the intervening decades. His friend Barry Jones, was president of the ALP for many years, Australia’s first Minister for Science and author of many books on the importance of science in politics.
While I may have reached this conclusion using tools other than the still fledgling Storylines interface, it was building and testing this tool that revealed the links to those influences on my work.
I have also spent a good deal of my life coding systems designed to categorise data using n-dimensional cubes and metadata tagging. This started with my first coding projects, designing a program to generate crossword puzzles, or jigsaw puzzles with more than one solution. This focus sharpened through the development of my software tools to extract census data (which is stored in an n-dimensional cube with each census question as an independent dimension) as three or four dimensional data sets for analysis by statisticians at the Institute of Multicultural Affairs. I then explored metadata tagging as an alternative to database retrieval, inspired by the Australian data management system called The Corporate Retriever. The outcome of that work was a decision by Sean Howard to invest in the then emerging technology of text searching and the launch of the software package ISYS. All that work culminated in the development of the Metadex, a system for indexing metadata, designed to complement the early web search engines and create a distributed framework for sharing metadata and discovering meaning on the web in a more contextual manner than text searching allows.
The Storylines interface itself has a deep relationship to that work, being primarily driven by the categorisation system of WordPress. I see the Storylines interface as being an alternative way to retrieve data from the billions of WordPress websites around the world. This is part of a long term project. I developed a content management system (CMS) known as Proton in the mid nineties to demonstrate Metadex, because there were no CMS available at the time. My first attempt, UConstruct, was built before Microsoft had a database to web scripting language and was written to my specs, by a friend in C++. I built Proton from the ground up in Cold Fusion, and then ported it to Microsoft ASP. I saw Metadex as providing a FAT table for the internet and forming the basis on which a series of net based apps could be built. The developer of Cold Fusion, Jeremy Allaire visited us in Ultimo and took some of those ideas to Adobe as the basis of the CS framework for connecting Adobe applications across the cloud. Adobe purchased Allaire shortly afterwards.
I am still searching for other technologists and computer scientists who have worked in that space, though, in hindsight, if I had done that research twenty years ago the trajectory of my career may have been remarkably different.
I have been introduced to the work of Christopher Alexander by David Harris, Creative Media Theories, Griffith University, which I have found totally inspirational and suspect may provide an overarching framework to give a meaningful and moral anchor to this work. That ties together two philosophical frameworks I have been pondering over the last three decades.
The first is that the network we are building is an organism in which humans are simply nodes. In the same way that our biochemistry is rich with the historical components of other lifeforms including colonies of organisms that have become organs in our body, so will the systems that we build now become components of a larger organism. To me it seems foolish to argue about whether automated supermarket checkouts threaten human job security when the system is not being built to serve the interests of individual humans. The systems of the spy agencies that monitor our phone calls and text messages, and the big data centres that monitor every purchase and trip we make are simply the beginnings of the nervous system of that larger entity. What exercises my mind about this fact is that we approach the singularity with almost no thought about the role of ethics and morality in its development. In determining where to study my masters I wrote to QUT requesting the facility to study that topic specifically as a PhD subject. On hearing Alexander’s 2009 address to computer scientists I wept with joy that there are other people considering these same topics.
The second is that I long ago tired of the simplistic arguments of the antitheists that religion is illogical and unscientific and therefor the enemy of rational debate. While I fully acknowledge that religion has evolved from a search for meaning into a tool of the state that is more effective at managing populations than oppression by brute force, that does not diminish its role as a rich and dense storehouse of cultural meaning and a reference point for morality. My project The Cross was commenced in 2015 to deal specifically with this topic, though it has languished for want of attention due to a lack of time. I hope that Christopher Alexander’s 2016 work, Making the Garden, explores similar themes and will offer me a way into dealing with this topic more richly and powerfully than I have been able to so far.
Finally, I would like to comment on my most recent work, CHIME, which is currently a sound piece, manifesto and short mime performance on the theme Text is dead, long live Chime. This has grown out of a study of the IBM Selectric typewriter and will lead to more experimental work using bells as a media for social interaction and play. The theoretical underpinning of this work is the thought experiment, what if we took away Text as the universal interface between computer applications and started somewhere else. At the moment it is simply a fanciful idea to spawn further work and thinking and has proved remarkably fruitful. I do not have any polemical issue with text as the basis of computer interfaces but as will all assumptions I think it worth challenging and examining. As well as exploring the creative performance possibilities this approach offers I would like to examine the role of text in the light of Christopher Alexander’s challenge for computer scientists to think through the morals and meaning of the code we build.
In the interim, I will continue to build on the Storylines interface as presented here, as a means of finding connections and meaning in my projects as well as content generally.
The Cross is a project, centred on social media, that attempts to put religion in context. On one hand it has evolved from our relationship with nature and the search for meaning that developed from a thoughtful examination of that relationship. On the other, it is a tool of power used by the state to manage the populace more effectively than through the force of arms. Religious and military authority have jostled for position at the head of society for time immemorial, across cultures. The Cross is a project that accepts this fundamental reality and discussed contemporary issues around religion in that context.
It was specifically created to isolate the anti-theists and distinguish its arguments from their simplistic stance. Their position can be characterised as “religion is foolish because it is illogical” or “religion is bad because it is hypocritical”. The Cross assumes that both of these statements are self-evident and significant but have no bearing on the relevance or role of religion in society.