[The Metaphorical Web] Delays and Diversions
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Metaphorical Web #15
***** Delays and Diversions *****
My youngest daughter is three years old. Jennie is like most three year-olds, in that she is now (more or less) coordinated enough to jump from things: from beds, from couches, from chairs ... from my desktop computer. For every action there is a reaction, and in the case of my computer, the reaction of her pushing of the computer was that the computer of course fell in the OTHER direction, slamming onto the floor and making pathetic wheezing sounds. Of course it did not in fact start up thereafter. I went in and tried to reseat everything, but it didn't make much difference, so fearing the worse, I took the computer into CompUSA.
This was, in retrospect, not the brightest thing I could have done. Their repair department are staffed by kids that were in diapers about the time that I was selling computers myself (in my long and sordid past), and after rendering me the verdict that they wouldn't be able to get to it for another three days, they took my credit card and added another $100 to a balance that's beginning to approach the Federal deficit. An interesting scam here they have learned that they can charge another $30 to look at your computer right then, push you ahead of all the others in the queue. Given that they managed to fit my computer into their "busy" schedule about two hours after I dropped it off, I would be dubious of such a service.
The next day I got the call the machine was all right, they'd reseated the cards in different slots and cleaned some of the dust out, and it booted right up into Windows without a hitch. This was actually a pretty good trick, as I run Linux on that particular system, but I let that little goof go as it was probable that the person calling wasn't the person that had looked at the system.
Once home, I hooked everything up, turned on the power .... and the machine did exactly what it was doing before, which is to say, a whole heck of a lot of nothing. Off came the panel, and yes, they had rearranged the cards (wiping out most of my driver settings in the process, no doubt) and from the layer of dust still present looks like they had managed to do such a task without even brushing against the side, let alone giving the machine even a cursory cleaning. After a couple of hours of cursing while laying on the floor, screwdriver in hand, my errant three year old periodically trying to climb OVER me to find out what it was that daddy found so fascinating, I finally did manage to get the system to boot properly, though in the process of course had really, really screwed with the interrupts.
I got everything but the sound to work, but nothing I did made it give even a squawk. I even went to the level of attempting to run the Mandrake upgrade, since that usually also reset the requisite drivers, and my computer stalled in the middle, essentially messing seriously enough with the kernel as to necessitate reinstalling the system. While I was down yet again on the floor I noticed that the power strip which connected to the speaker was turned off (probably by my three year old as she climbed over me). In other words I was now completely reinstalling my system for no compelling reason whatsoever.
Children are not supposed to hear their parents swearing. It leads to bad habits. Jennie is now probably scarred for life.
After several false starts (with the Linux distro stalling about 75% of the way through an hour long installation) I realized that the out tray of my printer held several more pages of paper than when I started. As the printer is connected to the computer, I suddenly gleaned something that has mystified me when previous CD installs failed. The printer, an HP, apparently gets lonely when its connected to the computer but is not getting its periodic reassurances, and sends out a frantic cry back to the computer asking what's wrong. During the installation process, the OS is very fragile, a thin shell loaded in by the CD itself, and it gets this cry an doesn't know how to handle it, so freezes. The freeze, in turn, apparently sends back a dying gasp to the printer with a message saying "I'm melting! I'm melting!' which the printer interprets as "Oh boy, oh boy!! I can spit out a piece of paper and be happy again!"
Artificial intelligence is highly overrated.
The blog (http://www.metaphoricalweb.com) is now back up and running, and this issue will be joining it soon enough. I'm still trying to find the best way to blog, and will likely very shortly be writing my own using XSLT2 just to get a better handle on all of the pieces.
******Impressions of XML Web Services Edge, Boston 2003******
A few fleeting thoughts. First beware local phone service at hotels. It switches to long distance after an hour, an expensive goof when you're surfing the web. Second, a grateful nod to Sams Publishing and Todd Green, who put me up in the Sheraton the second night there, time I duly used to edit and add to the Sams XQuery Kick-start book, due out later this year, and who feted several of us authors at a wonderful Italian restaurant in downtown Boston. The food was delicious, the companions and conversation more so.
The XML conference had the singular misfortune of being the same week that resident Bush chose to gear up the war machine. After two days of this, an unknown number of Iraqis have been killed by falling warheads, and at least twelve British and four American soldiers will be going home in body bags, dying in a helicopter crash in Kuwait. My brother works on helicopters for the Army, and has, on more than one occasion, flown as part of the flight crew in these same helicopters; he's just been called up.
There are <i>just</i> wars. This isn't one of them. This war is an imperialist grab and a diversion from the fact that the economy is now beginning down the second downward slip of the economic roller coaster, and folks, it's going to be a long, long way down. Okay, I will not editorialize, and I hope I'm wrong, but I see nothing good coming from this.
Back to the conference. The number of people there as attendees probably were outnumbered by the number of vendors and speakers. It was held in the Hind Convention Center in downtown Boston, just opposite the Prudential Building. It was also a little comical; the web connections were down much of the day, which meant good business for the Internet kiosk vendor just outside the center itself; it made me realize that in going from a lot of small ISPs to a few large ISPs, we have rendered ourselves much more vulnerable to disruption. It also effectively brought down a significant portion of the show, which has highlighted another vulnerability web services are only effective so long as someone doesn't accidentally drill into buried wire with routers. At one point, both Sprint and AT&T Wireless services were down, for no apparent reason; thus lesson three, do not assume that simply because there are no wires on your end that there aren't ways of cutting off the flow from the other side.
The vendors ... hmm, what to say about the vendors. XML text editing has become pretty sophisticated; I suspect there may be too many players in that space and the market's due for a shake-out. I won't guess on who's left standing. This seems to be the case in other areas as well, unfortunately. Five different vendors for monitoring SOAP packets, some with text field metrics, some with pretty GUIs. They recognized the immediate need (SOAP web services get complex quickly, so some way of monitoring bottlenecks becomes imperative), but not the long term problem (SOAP networks have a tendency to become too interdependent, which means that bottlenecks occur with alarming frequency).
We are now entering true system level programming, in which enterprise level web services networks begin to act increasingly like miles-long electrical circuits or traffic patterns I wonder when we'll see Sim SOAP, with happy (or not-so-happy) little bars of ivory soap making their way through a fictional SimCity like network? How closely can information flow in an abstract web-services architecture be modeled by traditional systems tool? Don't know; it would make for an interesting doctoral thesis, however.
None of the big players were there with booths, though all of them were keynoted. Microsoft did their .Net song and dance, Oracle announced yet another web services initiative tied around (I believe WS-I Security) and Sun introduced yet another new API for handling complex web services integration. Java is now beginning to face a watershed moment; it is reaching a point where, in the attempt to be all things to all programmers, it is extending its mandate into creating classes for increasingly obscure things. This seems to be the fate of most languages someone somewhere (usually with a need to capture market share from a competitor) says "Our competitor's language is too complex, and requires too much expertise to run. We'll develop a "simpler" programming language, and eliminate those problem with all of the poorly designed cruft these other poor programmers wronte into competitor X's programming language.
One fundamental problem with this, however, is that all programming is inherently complex. Not necessarily hard, mind you; there are any number of easy programs out there, comparatively speaking. Programming is complex in the same way that turbulence is complex, programming languages create requirements which in turn necessitate the building of new classes to handle the problems arising from new concepts created by the existing classes. In Java's case it is perhaps more obvious because of the fanfare of each newly created set of classes, in which case "marketing" has obviously overtaken a programmer's joy in simplicity. C# is not immune to the effect, of course; it's just newer, and has consequently had less chance to build up cruft, but it will happen ... the same marketing impulses that apply to Sun have been given full rein at Microsoft.
All in all, it was a little depressing. No gee-whiz technology, no must-see booths. Too many of the booths were filled with older marketing men and women, a little battle-scarred and apologetic, as if wondering where they went wrong. I was paid the unexpected compliment, after mentioning that I'd been doing programming for twenty years, that I must have started when I was just ten years old. Sadly, I was closer to twenty, with my formative days spent from 7 AM to midnight in the computer labs, trying to figure out how those Apple IIe's and Tandy machines worked, what Z80 or 6502 code bytes I would need to get graphics to appear on the screen. Still, I'd rather be confused for being too young in this industry than too old, even if I am wearing bifocals now.
The take on web services in general? Even taking into account the effect of war in the background, the conference did not inspire me with confidence. Web Services as a field is largely a non-starter. It is a technology that aims to chase the diminishing monies of Ford or General Electric or Boeing rather than customers much farther down the food chain, and the big companies aren't exactly burning a path to their doors. It's "cool" technology, and therein lies its biggest flaw: it solves nothing that other, older technologies do not already solve, and it is all too easy to roll out these services without multi-million dollar investments in proprietary solutions. Consequently, the tools fall into the "might make an administrator's life a little less hectic" category; the convenience to the administrator is probably not worth rewiring a company's existing infrastructure.
So where's the action? In the XML space, most of the action is occurring either extremely upstream at the standards level or is going on in the Open Source community, well outside the paying crowd. When people (and companies) are broke, they don't buy Porsches or Ferraris ... they buy bicycles. The attendance for the XSLT2/XPath2 talk I gave was surprisingly heavy given the convention size, and while it's flattering to think that it may have been me as the draw I'm much more inclined to believe that people are genuinely interested in what's happening in those two specs. The WS-I initiatives between IBM and Sun and Microsoft have a few vendors happy, but for the average IT shop, they are getting into arcane and cryptic technologies that have no real bearing to the way they do business. My opinion of WS-I hasn't changed ... it's vendors hoping to set alternative RAND models to the existing Royalty Free ones, and they just do not understand why it is that most people are greeting these developments with disinterested yawns. Next year, all of the fancy monitoring tools will be sporting WS-I Inside logos, and there will be just as few people wandering the aisles.
I did get a chance to see an odd like academic offshoot to the web service track; another conference, the Attribute Oriented Software Development (AOSD) Symposium, was going on at the same time; the $150 price tag for XML attendees was a little too stiff for my blood, so I only talked with the show gophers at the AOSD table that Sys-con had graciously let be set up in their space. The premise behind AOSD is interesting however; in essence, it is reassessing state-based programming models, and exploring ways to view applications and networks in a style that seems reminiscent of Petri-nets than it does Java. The dominant design pattern emerging throughout all this is the classic Smalltalk Model/View/Controller (MVC) architecture, which is rapidly becoming THE way that most software is being written these days. More on AOSD as I get a chance to research it, but it feels like one of those academic computing areas that may be heralding a major shift in the paradigm.
The Metaphorical Web is copyright 2003 Metaphorical Web Publishing and is produced by Kurt Cagle. Join the metaphorical web at http://www.metaphoricalweb.com.