Monday, December 31, 2007

Predictions 2008

Here are a few random predictions for 2008, most of which seem obvious. I won't be offended if you tell me I'm crazy.

1) Amazon music downloads will explode, causing Apple to re-evaluate both DRM and pricing on iTunes.

2) E-books will not take off this year.

3) Social networking spam will become unbearable, as tons of venture backed sites and technologies appear. Most will fail by the end of 2009.

4) The Wall Street Journal will becoming increasingly and inexplicably biased toward China and against Russia.

5) SOA hype will die down and real case studies dealing with large scale, enterprise deployments will show how this is an evolutionary technology that has passed the hype curve and is seeing real (and early) adoption.

6) There will be no widespread use of extended transaction models in large scale systems. (That one is for Mark!).

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Transaction Models, Again

Unfortunately, blogs can sometimes lose the nice nested associations of discussions that characterized Usenet, but they remain an interesting and more accessible way to debate ideas. Mark replied back with a reply to my previous comment on transaction futures with a clarification. What I meant to say was that I more or less explicitly disagree with the position as he's clarified it: after looking at attempts to reconcile multi-party choreographies and efforts around BTP, I have come to believe that large scale systems that require a global coordinator are destined to fail. The future belongs to a different paradigm, where bilateral negotiation and local enforcement of "system" invariants are likely to be building blocks for successful applications. I am confident that infrastructure and frameworks will play an in important role, but in this case, I am inclined to paraphrase Nietzsche: "The Coordinator is dead!"

New York state of mind

New York has always been one of my favorite states: between the upstate wilderness and open space and New York City, it's difficult to find anywhere else in the US that has so much to offer in such close proximity. I had the chance after Christmas to spend a few days in New York, which reinforces my opinion that it remains one of the greatest cities in the world.

Regardless of your religious affiliation, Christmas in New York is something to experience. Here's the lit tree at Rockefeller Center:



And a tree entirely decorated with origami in the American Museum of Natural History:



And here's Radio City Music Hall celebrating its 75th anniversary:



It's hard to spend time there and not get swept away by the energy, commerce and diversity in Manhattan. I'd move there, but it strikes me as too expensive for the average person.

I wanted to recommend two things to fill a day if you are visiting Manhattan anytime soon. The first is a place to spend the day and the second, a place to have dinner. Plan at least one full day, preferably two, to spend in the American Museum of Natural History on West Central Park. I have never been to a better science museum, period. The exhibits are large enough to require a good deal of time to explore. The layouts are fantastic and the explanatory notes in each exhibit are accessible, yet not dumbed down. They do an excellent job of showing the interrelationships between animal taxonomies.

We spent most of the day and were only able to explore parts of two floors (of four) and never got to see any of the planetarium. Incidentally, they are running an Imax film called Dinosaurs Alive, narrated by Michael Douglas, that is worth seeing, especially with kids.

Here's a fossilized mammoth skeleton from the exhibit featuring mammalian fossils:



And here is a (crowded) photo of Lucy, the famous example of our ancestor australopithecus:



Here's a quick photo of a cast of archaeopteryx that I took (I've always been fascinated by this early link that shows the origin of bird species from their dinosaur ancestors):



All the other photos are by my wife. The guy with the good looking head that reappears in a couple of the pictures is me.

Lastly, I wanted to recommend the restaurant Russian Samovar in midtown, which was recommended to me by a friend that moved to New York from Russia. Most of the customers were Russian and we were greeted with the assumption we were as well (my wife is not). We enjoyed a great meal: the food is not extraordinarily fancy, just authentic.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for the Coming Year

Belatedly, I wanted to wish all my friends a happy holiday season. I hope you find peace and prosperity in the year ahead.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Alternate transaction models

My friend and sometimes co-author/editor Mark Little has a new post talking about recent work in extended transactions, by which he means transactions that relax the strict ACID requirements of traditional transaction management (of course, these are never really ACID to begin with, but it's a useful fiction that we can live with). In fact, our transaction book reviews different transaction models that helped inform the work on more general frameworks including the work in the OMG Activity Service and WS-CAF, as Mark notes.

For a long time, I thought that extended transactions would be very important. Actually, I thought they would be in wide use by now. In 2001, I was very interested to see what would become of BTP; the answer, at this point, is some very interesting additions to the literature and a few failed attempts at commercialization. The devil was in the details: with BTP, the application may subsume the role of the coordinator at which point it becomes less and less clear why the protocol is needed at all above and beyond the business logic itself. This led us to focus more on choreographies, with the notion of defining the business protocols through some formal structure that may or may not be automated by "transactional" infrastructure. The experience in recent years has led me to believe that transactions may be the wrong paradigm altogether for broadly distributed systems. The trouble is, we don't know what the right paradigm is yet.

Mark notes a recent paper by Pat Helland as an important read. I agree, but my conclusion is also increasingly heterodox with respect to the transactions community: that is, Pat's paper should be taken at face value to be about writing application logic. There are patterns here that need to be understood by application developers. Perhaps supported by frameworks. But it may simply be that transaction management won't play a broad role in that context.

iTunes as Content Repository

iTunes is one of these e-commerce systems, that, rather like Amazon.com, stands to become something more than an online retailer. A first glance suggests an aging and less-than-graceful application. The iTunes Store pop music motif looks like a kind of marketing-driven testament to bad taste. But under the covers, there is something else happening that suggests a permanent future for the service and its likelihood of growing importance. A few things to note:

1) The music library is growing extremely broad to include a full range of music that is hard if not impossible to find on CD. These include important Jazz musicians, especially classic works from the 20s, 30s and 40s, a very broad range of classical compositions, and international music that has a lower appeal in the US. I was surprised to find several versions of Charles Mingus's Tijuana Moods, including a recent re-release. If only the application got more attention in design to better automatically customize to a users profile and some help on navigation....

2) iTunes user comments continue to grow: it looks like Amazon may lose out in importance for album reviews. This is important, as it means that iTunes may be the first stop to find out about newer music.

3) The free content is growing, with podcasts available from many sources on almost any subject under the sun. This could be a daily draw for users from all over the world if the content was more openly accessible.

4) As a channel for Audible.com, it is now the premiere source of what spoken-word digital books.

5) Lastly, I highly recommend checking out iTunes U. There are a (still small) number of lectures from top tier universities, including UC Berkeley, University of Pennsylvania, and others. Seriously, there is not anywhere else I can find that offers relatively in depth lectures on topics from Heidegger's Being and Time to Greek classical literature.

Let's see where things wind up in the next three years. Seems that iTunes may be stumbling into a transition from the trivial to the important.

Some uncertainty resolved

I've been following event in two areas with interest: the credit melt-down in the financial services space and the uncertainty around Putin's succession plans in Russia. Looks like the latter is resolved with the selection of Dmitri Medvedev, a respected figure in Russia to be sure. Now let's see if the credit market mess will get some resolution soon!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Social Networking Data

I've been looking at the various social networking technologies, and I've been intrigued by the degree to which they focus on sharing information that seems like there is no conceivable reason to share. Example: I'm listening to "X" or I just bought "Y". In other cases, I can see real privacy concerns being an issue. Then I realized how much of this stuff I was actually making notes about and even googled around a bit for information on music artists that I hadn't heard of.

I've been listening to music most of the work day in the background and fortunately the iPod is able to tell me exactly what I've been listening to. In the spirit of the times, I'll share. So the three most listened to albums are:

1) Anna Netrebko's Russian Album.

Netrebko's voice has been described as dark, but it seems perfect to me in this album. I also have her doing Aria's from La Traviata with Rolando Villazon, but I much prefer this album, in general and day to day.

2) Wynton Marsalis's Black Codes (From Underground)

Marsalis remains one of my favorite musicians and an indispensable part of my daily life, despite my overall lack of enthusiasm for the latest and somewhat dreary From the Plantation to the Penitentiary album. Black Codes is a classic from an amazing and creative talent.

3) Helene Grimaud's Beethoven: Piano Concertos

Stunning. This album will take you to another place.

Not sure what is to be done with this information, but it's a minor contribution to the personalization of the web.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Good Reads

A few books I've snuck in over the last month, all of which I'd recommend:

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee: there is a reason that Coetzee received the Nobel Prize in literature, epitomized by this book, which is both extraordinarily difficult to read and almost impossible to put down. The book deals with complicated topics in such sparse text, that it seems like the literary equivalent of a spring trap: an ugly thing designed as a masterful piece of craftsmanship that traps the reader in a painful grasp. Far and away the best book I've read this year.

The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins: ever since the Selfish Gene, a really great book, Dawkins has been an indispensable popularizer of evolutionary theory. The Blind Watchmaker is quite good, piggybacking off the deist conception of life as the bi-product of a designer (where have we heard this recently?), to illustrate how evolutionary processes actually work. The most striking point by reference to the popular imagination is this: there is no point, or more properly, no fixed design. Infinitely better than the cringe-worthy God Delusion, this is a book that really ought to be required reading for high school students taking biology courses.

Corporate Finance: A Valuation Approach by Simon Benninga and Oded Sarig: ok, I confess, I had to read this book for a class, and the class was given by the authors. I probably would not have read this otherwise. (An interesting aside: both professors commute from Israel to Philadelphia to teach. I thought I had a bad commute!) However, I have done a series of courses on corporate finance touching on the topic of valuation and have read several books on valuation. This book continually gave me new insights into how to approach valuation problems, which, as I've noted, are a persistent challenge for entrepreneurs and software startups. The book is worth reading on its own, or at least worth knowing someone who has read it.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Moorestown Running Company

In the software business many people know Bob Bickel, who helped build up Bluestone Software through an IPO and sale to HP. After that, he ran HP's middleware business and then went on to build out JBoss (the company), which he in turn helped sell off to Red Hat. Pretty amazing guy.

I've had several people ask what Bob's up to these days. I had a chance to stop by his latest venture, the Moorestown Running Company. The store specializes in running gear and does a full fitting program to get runners paired up with the right shoes. Turns out that I am suffering from some moderate to serious pronation, and the folks at MRC were able to get me fitted with shoes with extra support. They feel great and I feel like I've lost another excuse not to exercise.

Moorestown is the tech center of the east coast (we like to think so anyway), stop by for a pair of sneakers on your next visit to the area.

Selling your IT Business

Like many people in software, I have cycled between large, established companies and startup opportunities. In recent years, I've focused more on large scale projects in bigger companies, but I've always tried to stay in tune with what's happening in the startup world. My interest in managing young software businesses was sharpened when I co-founded a company, which as ultimately unsuccessful, at the bottom of the dot.com crash. The thing I realized then was that I really did not understand much about valuations and financial measures. Over time, I've found that many other entrepreneurs struggle with these issues, so my first piece of advice to early stage companies that are looking to sell or raise capital is always: make sure you get a good finance person to help you. It can be hard to get a CFO involved at a very early stage, so this may have to be a board member with some knowledge of finance. Any capital of quality will have a huge advantage over the entrepreneur in this area, so this is one of the most important areas to manage, since it impacts the value entrepreneurs will realize from their venture. (Ironically, finance has changed for me from something of a weakness to an area in which I am much more comfortable, but this took a lot of time and pain.)

Anyway, there's a book I want to recommend for entrepreneurs that I just finished reading: Bob Chalfin's Selling Your IT Business. This is a very readable, easy to understand guide to the many of the legal issues involved with doing a business, including valuations. I don't think it can be a replacement for assistance, but it's a great overview for anyone thinking about selling a smaller business and wants to understand many of the core issues involved in the process. I know Bob from an investment project I've been involved with, so I can also say that he lives this stuff.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Master and Margarita

As many of my friends know, I am a huge fan of Russian literature. Though I do not speak Russian (aside from a few holiday greetings I picked up as a kid), there's something intangible about Russian novels that I cannot find in any other national literary tradition that persists through translation. Perhaps it is the modernity of Russia's literary golden age or perhaps it is purely a personal bias brought on by my youthful recollections of exported Russian culture. Whatever the case, I still respond strongly to the works of Gogol and Dostoevsky, even on multiple readings.

I have not had a lot of time to read books for pleasure recently, but I did have a chance to revisit Bulgakov. The Burgin/O'Connor translation of The Master and Margarita is entrancing. Within the first few chapters, I found myself unable to put the book down: the first description of Pilate's trial of Yeshua is irresistible. I read one complaint on-line on the translation, but it reads wonderfully and is supposed to be quite true to the original. Definitely recommended.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Check out new links

I've started to add some more links of interest: specifically, to friends who have been doing innovative things in the field of applied distributed computing or internet services. This is not meant to be exhaustive nor to point out all the blogs I look at: you should use feeddo to keep up on that kind of thing (if you aren't using feeddo, you really should be). I've added Cameron, Hal, Rod, Mark and Edwin K. recently. If you don't recognize the first names, they are all worth getting to know.

New England Fall


Cameron got it (almost) 100% right: New England in the fall is for a time the most glorious place on the planet. What he missed: the great traditions of chasing pa'tridge and timberdoodle starting in October, which are the only appropriate source of loud noise generation I can think of for this time and place...

Some of my happiest memories are of hidden coverts surrounded by stone walls near abandoned homesteads and the crisp fall air in the northeast. It just doesn't get any better than that.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Personal Inspirations

If you haven't already seen it, take a few minutes to look at Carnegie Mellon computer science professor's now famous "last lecture." Here's a man that is leaving life with elegance, courage and a sense of purpose. It's in the lives of "ordinary", extraordinary people that I'm finding the biggest sources of inspiration these days.

Another example: a friend of mine left a Wall Street position for military service after 9/11 because he thought it was the right thing to do. He completed his service and at the same time set up a charity called "Give to the World", which uses US troops to get basic supplies in to war torn areas where humanitarian organizations are unable to reach. This is worth checking out as well. My favorite quote from one of the founders is this: "Someone once said to me, 'you can’t save the world.' Hopefully one day, no one will ever believe a word of it."

Monday, September 24, 2007

Hong Kong

A semi-sovereign state now administered by the Chinese government, Hong Kong gives the appearance of an entirely different country from China itself: Chinese by ethnicity and culture, to be sure, but very different from the mainland. The city will be more familiar to westerners, though I would not describe it as western per se. This is a truely international city. While I was there, I saw plenty of British, Japanese, some Americans, French, Indians, and of course the majority Chinese population. The city is lit by neon and dominated by tall buildings, both offices and apartments with awesome views.





This is a mature economy. Sometimes Hong Kong is more reminiscent of parts of Tokyo, than Shanghai. Hong Kong continues to seek immigrants "of quality", which I take to mean professionals. The residents are clearly wealthy by world standards or in fact by American or European standards. The main economic driver is in finance, though retail and shipping are visible as well. A night time cab ride wound up behind two different Ferraris in 20 minutes. Hong Kong is certainly suggestive of the level of economic development that major Chinese cities will reach in time.

Hong Kong, of course, maintains it's own financial system (though currency is issued by private banks: my Hong Kong dollars were issued by HSBC). The Hong Kong stock market is highly successful. In fact, Hong Kong seems to be almost a pure capitalist system. Like the Chinese cities I visited, Hong Kong felt utterly safe. It also seems like a very attractive place to live and work. I can't think of a better location for sampling authentic foods from around the world, night after night.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Beijing

A note from the seat of the central government. Beijing is more interesting from a tourist perspective than Shanghai, though I have only been able to see things from a taxi en route to meetings. The buildings in Beijing are different: the layout is typically large and low, with buildings occupying a whole city block. The city has a feel of strong growth as well, but more planned and orderly. The feeling is less international and more distinctly Chinese. The air in Beijing was decidedly cleaner than Shanghai.

Private business is everywhere, but so are government offices. The government employees I met were extraordinarily smart, serious, but also very friendly. I saw little difference in form or function from what you might expect in the US. The more I travel, the more I learn that despite our differences, people everywhere are people: same basic concerns, same basic desires, not always the same perspectives on everything.

The food in China is amazing. Two evenings ago, I had traditional peking duck from a hickory wood fired oven. Most of the food I've had has been delicious, but the duck was just awesome.

As you drive by Tiananmen Square, you can see the new opera house, which is set to open shortly. Opposite the square is the smiling portrait of a benevolent looking Chairman Mao. The city is also a city of contrasts: as you drive past Mao, you also drive past a mini-Rodeo drive, replete with shops for Swiss watch brands that routinely sell for over 20,000 USD. Another striking statement on how much things have changed here.

The red government buildings are another study in how things have changed: does the red represent communism or prosperity and good fortune? Both or neither?

I write from Hong Kong, now administered by the Chinese government, yet under a completely different system. I have talked with Hong Kong natives who describe the arrangement as a family reunion, where earlier concerns have largely been put to rest. Again, not what I might have expected as an outsider and the different systems are another interesting contrast in China.

The excitement over the olympics is infectious. I picked up some souvenirs for the 2008 games at the airport. I have never traveled to the olympics before, but being in Beijing during the games may be worth the effort.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Shanghai

I just wrapped up a week long business tour in Shanghai, where I had the opportunity to meet with executives at MNCs doing business in China. Fantastic experience and I'll try to share some thoughts on this in a follow-up note. Just a few quick observations now.

It's difficult to describe the explosive growth and the level of investment that is happening here: I have not personally experienced anything comparable.

I did not know what to expect when I came here and my number one takeaway from the trip is this: you have to come to China to begin to understand what it is like here and to have any clue about what is happening here. I can say frankly that reading the western press does not prepare you for the experience at all.

The Chinese people are open and frank, as are westerners living here. The presence of European shops and the ubiquity of American and European brands was surprising. Retail business is huge here, and families appear to be always out and always shopping. Prices vary dramatically, depending on where you shop. A full dinner (and a couple of beers) at a popular Shanghainese restaurant topped out at 6 USD. On the other hand, a tall cup of Starbucks coffee was nearly 4 USD! There is clearly wealth asymmetry. Workers live in small and old apartments. On the other hand, nice Western style apartments appear to cost on par with Manhattan.

When you talk to the Chinese about how the country is governed, they talk about understanding the Chinese government in terms of Confucius, not communism. The people are fiercely proud of the success here and the middle class and business class seems very supportive of the government. I got no sense that this was anything but honest: in fact, Chinese were also quite willing to make critical comments on specific issues and openly acknowledge problems they face.

The best and brightest are said to go into government here. One executive compared the party education as on par with top MBA programs worldwide and emphasized that the leaders are thoroughly schooled in liberal economics.

There is a very strong entrepreneurial spirit here. I have talked with small business owners as well, some of whom fled China, then Hong Kong, only to return to live in Shanghai.

An amazing place. And I think it's fair to say that this is only the start of China's resurgence.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Marketing for Dummies

Having a platform for multiple consumer products is a marketers dream, especially if it can give effective differentiation with economies of scale in production. The danger of course is that the differentiation is not strong enough to prevent the lower margin product lines from cannibalizing higher margin products. Of course, the challenge is to make sure that all products are attractive to at least some segment of buyers. Wharton runs all MBA students through a great multi-period market simulation that really drives this home.

The ability to exploit a platform is why the iPod Touch was inevitable. On its face, it looks like one of the best moves Apple has ever made. But when you look at what they didn't include, the picture changes: no email client, no microphone, no bluetooth. Think about that for a moment: an Internet device without email. Wow. I'd say that it's not really an Internet device after all, just an incremental feature on the iPod.

Folks, people buy the iPhone because it is a phone. People won't buy this in lieu of a phone. People will buy the iPod Touch because it looks like the Internet device it isn't and because the last generation of iPods break too easily. Hopefully, the next iteration will get it right, because I know a lot of people that want the device that they are marketing but not selling, myself included.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Eternal Life

I was saddened to see the news that Luciano Pavarotti passed. There is nothing like the human voice as a musical instrument, though only a handful of singers have the capability of moving a crowd to tears by virtue of their natural gifts.

I have little hope for a life after death. But some people will live forever, or at least as long as civilization lasts. Pavarotti is one of them.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Becoming human

BecomingHuman.org is a web-based presentation on paleoanthropology. It is a great example of how interactive multimedia can be a much better learning tool than television. Of course, this also requires active engagement on the part of the user, which makes the target audience necessarily smaller. If every university department produced one introductory resource like this, the world would be a much richer place.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Edwin Khodabakchian's new blog

I wanted to point people to Edwin Khodabakchian's new blog. Edwin was the CEO of Collaxa when it was sold to Oracle back a few years: he and his team built out the first commercial BPEL implementation, which is widely recognized as being the best of breed product for service orchestration and process management. He's up to some cool, new stuff (more on that soon): this will be one of the "must subscribe" feeds in the tech field. Edwin has a unique way of looking at product development: he's one of the few people that are able to consistently blend simplicity and beauty in a software product.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Service Platforms and SOA Enablement

Demed L'Her and I wrote an article for SOA World that discusses how service platforms are emerging as key enablers for SOA. This is one of the more important trends in application integration. Demed is a Product Manager at Oracle responsible for a range of integration technologies; he's been doing a ton of work in Oracle Fusion Middleware. He's also a nice guy.

Monday, August 20, 2007

William Vambenepe joins Oracle

I'm pleased to report (or rather point to a reportrx) that William Vambenepe has joined Oracle to work in the enterprise management and SOA spaces. I worked with William a bit back at HP middleware and followed his work in the management standards space for some time; I think everyone that's worked with him is impressed by both his professionalism and smarts. It's great to see the talent inflow at Oracle continues.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Money for Nothing and Checks for Free

If you want to understand a bit more about what is happening in the markets, I highly recommend the IMF working paper "Money for Nothing and Checks for Free". If you are pressed for time, take a look at the graphic summaries throughout the paper.

Two things strike me in all of this:

1) The leveraged positions on some of these investments (in particular in hedge funds) on securities is almost an inversion of the historical norm of banks with required asset reserves for loans. The fact that these securities were not only over-valued but in some cases are unable to be valued is alarming

2) The subprime loan segment just blossomed a few years back as the economy was coming out of a recession via a major injection of money for the central bank (of course depressing interest rates); after today's rate cut, it's unclear that what Fed policy is going to look like. Could this mean things are really that bad? Obviously the equity markets didn't think so.

PS: Mauro Guillen of the Wharton School pointed me to this paper.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Oracle Coherence 3.3 released

In short order, the Oracle folks in Boston have gotten a new release of Coherence data grid software out the door. I expect that we'll see a very broad footprint for the Coherence software, both in Oracle software and with customer deployments across industries. There's a good computerworld article that discusses this in more depth.

Monday, August 13, 2007

What's the deal with Hedge Funds?

I got some recent questions from friends on how hedge funds work. There is no real answer to this question, so I thought I'd take a stab at explaining why that is. Over the weekend, I was looking around for good articles on hedge funds: somewhat to my surprise, I found that the finance information on wikipedia is not bad (to the extent it is up to date). The article on hedge funds is here.

Many people are surprised to find that many hedge funds don't actually hedge at all. Hedging is a strategy used to buffer against losses; in some sense, a diversified portfolio "hedges" against risk that can be diversified. Hedge funds often do something a bit different: they are looking to hedge against broad market risk, particularly in equity positions. But this too is somewhat misleading: some hedge funds take no equity positions at all. What really characterizes a hedge fund is that the fund is structured to avoid regulation, not its investment strategy.

Typically (as in the referenced article) you'll see that funds are targeted toward accredited investors. This is an allusion to securities regulations. Terms like "seasoned" and "accredited" basically signal that the investor has either savvy or money or both. Securities regulations allow private funds to escape many of the regulatory requirements by selling securities to accredited investors. These investors use their own judgment to determine if the risk in the fund is acceptable. Of course, they expect high returns and are willing to pay out high management fees for those returns. How the fund invests is specific to the fund and fund managers, not to "hedge funds" as a category. Hedge funds are never exempt from anti-fraud provisions of security regulations.

As you might imagine, this has all the hot button issues for controversy: "unregulated", "rich investors", "rich management", "opaque strategies". Hedge funds have been around for a long time. But let's be honest. These funds are putting a lot of pressure for efficiencies on a large scale and that has both good and bad results. As a category, it makes little sense to me to insist on special regulations or caps on management fees. Personally, I wouldn't lose sleep over hedge funds: they aren't new and they aren't sinister. Mostly they are risky bets that have the potential for big payoffs. In some cases, there are really well run funds that deserve a lot of credit. In other cases, they are disasters waiting to happen.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Bernanke versus Cramer

BusinessWeek has a good overview on how Bernanke is managing the money supply: tightening (but not tight) monetary policy to carefully control inflation. The recent OMC injection looks set to maintain existing target rates, which is a lot different than what folks caught in bad investment strategies, esp. around fixed income or housing, may want to see. This is in many ways contrary to what has been the dominant fed policy, esp. through the Greenspan years. Is this the right policy now? Well, we'll know soon enough. One of the key problems with managing the money supply to actively manage business cycles is this: different industries experience different conditions; a one size policy only makes sense under relatively uniform conditions. Mortgages and housing are awful right now, but the fallout hasn't generalized in a way one might have expected. It seems to me that the fed is being prudent at the moment. In fact, cutting rates could up long term inflation, which would drive housing problems into a worsening state.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Capital market credit crunch

I've had a bunch of friends asking me about what is going on in the capital markets over the last few days. If you have a wsj.com subscription or can get access to one, there was a very good article on how we got into the current credit market mess. Definitely worth a read.

As usual, there isn't only one element that bears the blame: much of this is a fall out of fed actions dating back to Greenspan's easy money policies after 2001; part of it is desperation for higher yields through fancy and often opaque securities that few purchasers really understand; part is the fact that hedge funds are able to avoid many securities regulations; and part is of course just short-sightedness. It is very hard to say what the ripple effects will be: my own take is that it would be very prudent to make sure you're not carrying variable rate debt and consider using a no-risk interest bearing vehicle for a chunk of liquid capital (the latter is what the CAPM would suggest anyway).

There also seems to be a lot of interest in hedge funds. I'll follow-up this weekend with a brief explanation of US securities laws and how a hedge fund avoids a lot of regulation.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Doing good, again

A friend of mine founded an innovative non-profit, which helps to supply essential supplies to areas that are currently torn by war. It's called Give to the World, and worth checking out.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Doing good

DonorsChoose.org is an innovative program where teachers in underfunded schools can get support for educational projects. This is something that can really help kids in need in the US. Check out the site and if you are an Amex card holder, consider voting for them in the American Express Members Project final round: it only takes a couple of minutes and they stand to win $5 million to help out school kids.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Favorite "Blog"

Time is our most scarce resource. Due to this fact, I have a hit or miss record with keeping up with blogs. One of my favorite "blogs" that I try not to miss is the Expat Life journal kept by Alan Paul, an American expat in China. I am not sure if you require a subscription to read this or not, but I'm linking to the latest discussion of his Chinese language instructor's decision to become a Buddhist monk. It's worth reading (if you can) as a matter of pure interest: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB118483378755971491.html?mod=hps_us_inside_today

I will try to follow up with some thoughts on Buddhism, ethics and theism when I have some more time. I recently finished reading two books by the Dalai Lama (which obviously reflect the Tibetan take on Buddhism) so this topic has been on my mind a lot recently, but have been thinking more broadly about Buddhist teachings for several years. I do not consider myself a Buddhist, but I do think this is an important "religion" to understand and I'll try to explain some of the implications that may be of interest to Western readers. I put religion in quotes as most Western religions are theistic: I consider Buddhism a very interesting and important school of philosophy and ethics, from which there is a much to learn.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Of interest to engineers

The subject of responsibility and professional ethics is a hot topic in business. It is also a key and sometimes under-appreciated aspect of engineering. A great case study in engineering ethics can be found in Joe Morgenstern's 1995 New Yorker article "The Fifty-Nine Story Crisis." Yes, engineers have responsibilities to make things right.

On the topic of engineering, I am continually impressed with the engineering ingenuity involved with mechanical watches. I wish every software developer thought like a watch designer: efficiency, size, and reliability are permanent constraints on feature development. For some wonderful examples of modern engineering, see two (commercial) overviews of recent work done by Jaeger LeCoultre: the ingenious gyrotourbillon and the revolutionary master compressor LAB.

Mathematics for the Non-Mathematician

Just a brief recommendation. I had an opportunity over the weekend to re-read parts of the extraordinary book Mathematics for the Non-Mathematician. The history of science gets quite a bit of coverage, less so the history of mathematics as an independent subject. This book simultaneously makes a strong case for an interest in mathematics as a subject, its inter-relationship with civilization and is just damned interesting to read. This is actually in my top-twenty recommended books for everyone.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

SOA platforms

Post updated with correct URL! A high level "white paper" on technology trending toward SOA platforms I wrote a while back, published on oracle.com.

Ibrahim Ferrer

Great review on NPR of Ibrahim Ferrer's posthumous album Mi SueƱo. Though there is some background on Ferrer in Wikipedia, it's quite weak. I recommend just buying this album and his work more generally: both are available on iTunes.

One iTunes nitpick: what is the deal with categorizing this music as "tropical"? This is some of the most seductive balladry available, combining elements of afro-caribbean, jazz, cuban, and just sweet melodies. I can't think of a better or more classy backdrop to a evening out -- or at home.

JEE done right?

Sun has been trying to figure out what to do keep pace with innovation in the Java space and especially in JEE. The current proposal adds profiles, which I generally like, since it moves JEE forward in one respect: JEE services a la carte and lighter weight application server technologies. My friend Rod Johnson thinks this is a really great thing and I expect to see Spring take full advantage of this trend.

On other fronts, Peter Kriens asks why Sun isn't leveraging OSGI to its full potential. Well, depends what you really mean there: most of his examples are for app server internals, which can use OSGI regardless of how oblivious the JEE specs are to OSGI standards. But still, with the Java module system being proposed, it does look like we may be in for a dose of infrastructure bifurcation. At a minimum, I'd like to see a coherent and comprehensible strategy in this area for Java.

And I am concerned that there is not a coherent plan for SCA integration into J2EE. In fact, I think the statement on using SCA in JEE is a travesty. What does the current proposal for JEE really mean? How will JEE application expose their interrelationships with other services? And will JEE applications be able to bundle SOA components like BPEL processes used for embedded workflows?

My view is that there are still some very fundamental things to be worked out. We can -- in fact we must -- do better.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

iPhone reaction

I've had the chance to play with the iPhone off and on for the last few days. Some quick thoughts:

First of all, I wildly underestimated the iPhone. It is unique and nothing else comes close. The ease of use and elegance is difficult to overstate.

Second, I am hoping that all iPods adopt this style: embedded macosx, wifi support and the large screen should be standard features. And thank the powers that be for flash memory: my iPod video hard drive lasted just long enough to go out of warranty.

Third, the Internet integration is just brilliant. I read the Wall Street Journal quite a bit on my Treo while traveling, and the experience on the iPhone is actually better than it is on my laptop computer. I feel like I'm reading the paper when I rotate the iPhone sideways and use the mobile content feed.

Fourth, the adaptive keyboard is also brilliant. It is not, however, a replacement for a real keyboard and from my limited experience, works better with the finger tips than the thumbs.

Fifth, the YouTube integration is horrible. Search is awful. At least let users comment back on videos. Not a big disappointment, but surprising.

Lastly, there is a lot missing. Top two items on my list: as far as I can tell, you can't do a bluetooth synch with a Mac laptop; no GPS. Means there will be plenty of room to grow features (and maintain margins) over the next year.

Slightly imperfect, this device puts the market to shame. I am disgusted every time I turn on my Treo now.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Greetings from Prague

I am typing from the Czech Republic, where I just attended the SOA workshop preceding the Systems Integration 2007 conference. I'm told this is the largest conference of its sort in the region. I presented at the workshop (slides to be posted by the conference) on the technology trends that are driving SOA as a viable application/integration strategy. I also sat on a panel with folks from HP (formerly Systinet), Progress, Sun, and the University of Technology, Sydney. Hot topics: SCA and governance. Expect to hear a lot more in these areas over the next year.

The interesting takeaway for me was the similarity of the views of the presenters and panelists. I believe this reflects a common experience with customer requirements. This is a particularly good thing, since it means that the SOA hype phase may be over, and now we're getting down to the real value proposition: easier, cheaper application integration, flexible business processes, and better alignment with business objectives.

Tomorrow I have a chance to keynote the main conference. I am planning to dwell on these three topics. In addition, Jon Maron and I are doing a three hour presentation for the Oracle field and customers on the next iteration of the SOA platform. Should be a fun, but very long day!

Addendum (a few notes on Prague): beautiful city with architecture going back to the middle ages. Mostly I have been in hotels or meetings, but the city is extremely pleasing to the eyes and a pleasure to walk around. We managed to do just that a bit and see the prague castle, the old town's powder gate tower and the famous astronomical clock. Ironically, the czechs are renowned for the high percentage of atheist citizens: the houses of worship are really amazing. This morning, we had a chance to explore the Jewish quarter, also fascinating (the Spanish synagogue is not to be missed). St. Vitus's Cathedral rivals Notre Dame as a massive, buttressed church: it also houses the tomb of "Good King Wenceslas".

Monday, May 21, 2007

JBI 2.0, does anyone agree?

JBI has always interested me for two reasons: 1) I was surprised to see a model pushed for describing how application servers should be built, rather than used. This was tried with JSR 111 and it failed pretty spectacularly: and this was after J2EE was already defined and agreed on as the standard model for integration servers. 2) It was originally proposed as some of the oddest combinations of technologies: WSDL 2.0 and very old school approach to solving the same problem solved by every dependency injection framework.

OK, now some years have passed: JBI hasn't taken off and now a few vendors are back at the table trying to decide what to do next. Since it's unclear what direction folks will try to take this, I thought I'd poney up a few suggestions on what could make the spec relevant and useful. Basically, get rid of a lot of cruft.

First thing to tackle: the "J2EE for integration servers" looks like it will clearly be SCA. So check SCA support as the standard model for service development. (This seems to be in line with where things are going, or so I thought: Out of the blue, my old friend Mark Little suggests that maybe they will support JBI without SCA. What? Invent a closed, Java specific model for composite services? Enter the matrix indeed!)

Once you build one of these things, it's pretty clear that most of JBI 1.0 can go away. Using SCA and OSGI, you really don't need to do much other than have an interface that passes normalized messages to service engines or binding components. In fact, OSGI provides most of the packaging and injection heavy lifting for building plugins to an SCA/JBI runtime model.

Once you boil down to a few interfaces, then the group could focus on simplifying those interfaces further. Add some management hooks and this is something that could really take off. I suspect this is really what the folks in the Eclipse SRP are really after. All of this suggests that the group could do something genuinely useful: explicitly focusing the JSR as the OSGI based plugin model for Java-SCA platforms.

In sum, narrow the scope, align with industry direction and build some real value additions.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Other Dave on SCA

The other Dave Chappell is suggesting that the Java community is fracturing on whether Java is a useful programming model for SCA. Let me give my perspective on this, since I've commented on this extensively in the SCA working group and in other forums.

There is no doubt that adding support for imperative programming models is important for SOA composites. This is where the Java/SCA model makes sense.

But does it matter? My argument all along has been that we should not teach a new model around Java. Everyone is already converging on a common model: the whole Java world is moving toward pojo programming stripped free of the framework cruft. In the first SCA f2f I sat with Rod Johnson and watched him implement some of the annotations in the original SCA JCI spec in a few minutes. SCA frameworks will bootstrap Java code. Write it for Spring and it will be useable in SCA. Or vice versa.

Put it another way: we can bootstrap basic BPEL processes into an SCA environment without changing the BPEL definition because you just use the language. We expect to see the same thing for Java platforms moving forward. If anything, this is the ultimate form of industry convergence.

Dave Chappell joins Oracle SOA team

Great news: Dave Chappell (ex-Sonic) has signed on with Oracle's integration and SOA team. He was already out speaking on our SOA strategy at JavaOne last week on the main SCA panel.

Update: bookmark Dave's blog here: http://blogs.oracle.com/davidchappell

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Systems Integration 2007 (Prague, Czech Republic)

I will be delivering two keynote talks this year at the Systems Integration conference in Prague. This is a big event for central Europe and I'm excited to get a chance to talk with lots of people that are implementing SOA solutions. I'm also pretty excited about seeing Prague, if only between meetings.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Jim Gray Tribute Redirect

Some thoughts on Jim Gray. It's fair to say there's little I've done in the last ten years that wasn't laid out by Jim Gray.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

ICSOC 2007 Call for Papers

I am on the Program Committee for ICSOC 2007 (in Vienna this year), if you're doing interesting work in the area of Web services, SOA or integration, please consider submitting a paper. Details below....

CALL FOR PAPERS


ICSOC 2007 seeks original papers in the field of service oriented computing, from theoretical and foundational results to empirical evaluations as well as practical and industrial experiences, with the emphasis on results that contribute to solve the many still open research problems that are of significant impact to the field of service oriented applications. Topics include but are not limited to the following:

  • Business Service Modeling: Methods and tools for capturing business goals and requirements, decomposition into business services, business processes, business policies, modeling, analysis, and simulation, specification of functional and non-functional quality requirements

  • Service Assembly: Development and discovery, model-driven development, service composition architectures, service registries, service discovery mechanisms, semantic matching, methods and tools for service development, governance, verification and validation, deployment strategies

  • Service Management: Instrumentation and service-related data aggregation, end-to-end measurement, analysis, modeling and capacity planning, definition of deployment topology, infrastructure configuration, problem determination for SOAs, ITIL processes, change management in live systems

  • SOA Runtime: Service bus for mediation, transformation and routing, runtime development and service registries, integration of legacy applications, information services for data access and data integration, scalability, topology and optimization, service-oriented middleware, policy based configuration & workload management

  • Quality of Service: Reliable service-oriented computing, security and privacy in service-oriented computing, SLA and policy specification, QoS negotiation, autonomic management of service levels, empirical studies and benchmarking of QoS, performance and dependability prediction in SOA

  • Grid Services: Services and architecture for management of infrastructural resources, data and compute intensive applications, execution and resource allocation services for job scheduling, protocols for coordination across multiple resource managers, business-value based allocation, innovative strategies for creation and management of virtual enterprises and organizations, prototype systems and toolkits

RESEARCH AND INDUSTRIAL TRACKS

There are two independent tracks for research and industrial papers, each managed by a different program committee and with a different set of evaluation criteria. Authors must clearly indicate the track to which their paper is being submitted.

  • Research Track: ICSOC 2007 solicits original research papers, which should contain results that advance the state of the art in service-oriented computing, either through theoretical or experimental analysis. The paper should clearly articulate the research contribution and innovations, the relevance to service-oriented computing and the relation to prior research. Submitted papers will be judged according to their scientific merits and evaluated on significance, originality, technical quality, and exposition.

  • Industrial Track: ICSOC 2007 solicits submissions covering the state of practice and real-world experience in service-oriented computing, including papers that describe innovative service-based implementations, novel applications of service-oriented technology, and insights and improvements to the state-of-practice. Case studies from practitioners emphasizing applications, service technology, system deployment, organizational ramifications, or business impact are especially welcome. Papers should provide sufficient details on the application domain, and the service-oriented techniques used, the issues surrounding actual implementations and applications, and the lessons learned in the field.

FORMATTING GUIDELINES

All papers should be submitted electronically (in PDF) and prepared in accordance with the Springer/LNCS camera-ready format. Both research and industrial-track papers are not to exceed 12 pages, including references. All submissions should include title, authors, and full contact information.

Submissions should indicate at least two main topics and the scientific area (or areas) that best fit the content of the paper. All accepted papers will appear in the ICSOC 2007 proceedings, published by Springer Verlag as a part of its Lecture Notes in Computer Science series, and must be formally presented at the conference.

SUBMISSIONS

Submissions must be made electronically through the ICSOC 2007 Online Submissions Site.
Guidelines for authors on using and navigating the submissions site are also provided.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

So It Goes

Slaughterhouse-Five was the first Vonnegut book I read. I still remember being strangely indifferent. I never warmed up to Vonnegut completely as a novelist, but I did as an essayist. More importantly, I came to respect Vonnegut as a human being: humorous and humanist, but unwilling to be hopeful without warrant. Vonnegut's alien-outsiders were spectators on a humanity that should but won't do better. Most importantly, Vonnegut wanted people to think for themselves, a hard and sometimes rare thing. The world is a little less rich today.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Rich Friedman blog found

The funny thing about blogs is that you just kind of discover them by accident. Suddenly, you find your friends are out there publishing away and you have to catch up on everything. I am the worst when it comes to keeping up relationships in real life, so there's a bittersweet element of that discovery to me. I should be finding out about what people are up to by conversation, but these days work gets the best of me. Anyway, I just found out that Rich Friedman is blogging. Rich was a middleware programmer for Bluestone, then technical lead for our acquisition strategy at Bluestone, then chief technologist at HP middleware, making sure that partners and customers understood what we were doing over there. Now he's responsible for middleware systems management at Red Hat.

At some point, we need to organize a feed of ex-Bluestone bloggers....

Monday, April 02, 2007

Bob Bickel blog found

Bob Bickel is one of the nicest persons I know. He's also quietly had a huge impact on the software industry, first pioneering the web application server market and later turning the JBoss project into a successful business (and flipped to Red Hat), pioneering the current trend in "professional open source." I thoroughly enjoyed working for him back at Bluestone and HP. Despite a mild demeanor, he drove his team extremely aggressively. I'm not sure I showed proper respect for what I learned from him at the time, but it shaped who I am today.


Cool to find he has a new blog. Looking forward to reading it on a regular basis.

Tuscany Multiplies

Appears that the open source SCA implementations are subdividing.
In many cases, the value of these projects are in the experiments and learning experiences that fall out of the development effort. I'm looking forward to seeing where the different teams take the various branches.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Philly JUG SCA Presentation

First of all, thanks to Dave Fecak and the Philly JUG for having me over. It was great to meet everyone and we had some really good follow-up discussions. I'm definitely planning to make it over for some future meetings: next one features Cameron Purdy from Tangosol (soon Oracle!).

I promised I'd post the presentation slides here. Turns out Blogger only allows image uploads. The good news: Dave is loading the ppt on the JUG site. As soon as that is up, I'll post a link back to it from here as well.

In the meantime, feel free to post follow up questions as comments here or send me an email at greg.pavlik@oracle.com. I'm on the west coast now, so bear with me if you don't hear from me right away.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

SCA goes to OASIS

Big news, the OSOA alliance has contributed the SCA and SDO specifications to OASIS. Dana Gardner has an interesting take on this: it will do for SOA what J2EE did for application servers. I'll be talking about SCA on the east coast next Tuesday at the Philly JUG and in more depth in Europe at the Systems Integration Conference.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Oracle Transaction Manager integration with Spring

Many moons ago (2004, which now seems like forever), I was somewhat circumspect about the transaction APIs in Spring. Not so much that I thought the model was bad: it seemed like a nice improvement over EJB. But my concern was that since JTA was usually hidden in the bowels of application servers, there may be equally hidden assumptions that the "container" logic needed to be aware of, especially for managing errors.

Whether I was right or wrong (at the time Juergen, I think, disagreed sharply), the fact is that the major application server vendors have made sure this use case works as coded. In fact, Oracle has also provided an adaptive layer to make working with transactions in Spring even more straightforward for OC4J users. This support will be packaged in the Spring core, I'm glad to say.

We're thinking of doing an update to Java Transaction Processing: not only do I want to add a correction on this topic, I very much want to do a chapter on the Spring framework as an alternative to EJB and to provide thorough coverage of the additional transaction control semantics that Spring introduces.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Rome

The only television program I watch is HBO's Rome. It is far from perfect (and has some gross inaccuracies): the worst aspect is HBO's insistence on proving how far they can push the limits of taste. Having said that, it is immensely enjoyable. Set in pre-Christian Rome, the series starts with the rise of Gaius Julias Ceasar and is currently looking at the early career of
Gaius Octavius (Octavian or Ceasar Augustus, as you like). The first season performance of Ciaran Hinds was absolutely masterful. I have seen Hinds mostly recently as an assassin in Munich, but I believe he took his craft to a new level in Rome. In fact many of the actors in the first season cast, including Tobias Menzies, James Purefoy, Kevin McKidd, Lindsay Duncan, and Max Pirkis, provide standout performances.

The series also deals with religion as a facet of culture. It is at first shocking then sobering to see the sincerity the Romans paid to the religions that we now call myths. After watching a recent episode which features the rise of (I believe) a Zealot group, I wound up revisiting Norman Cohn's fascinating book on ancient religions. If the series prompts people to actually study the ancient world in a thoughtful way, its overt shortcomings certainly deserve to be overlooked.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Food blog

I guess my biggest weakness in life is food. I put together a blog to track restaurant and dining experiences as a reference for myself and for others in the area where I live. It's a bit rudimentary at the moment, but once I'm done with school, I hope to develop it into something a bit more. If you are visiting the Philadelphia area, you may find it to be a useful reference, at least over time.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Written Languages

You may find the site omniglot interesting, as it has an overview of many written languages. My wife is part Cherokee, but I did not know there was a syllabary for the language.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Jean Ichbiah passes

The creator of Ada passed recently. I never met Jean but I did program in Ada 83 for a while, back when I worked on spacecraft simulation environments. I always thought Ada was clever and useful. I assume it failed due to poor compilers and paid the price for being a higher level than C when hardware was (by comparison to today) slow.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Oracle SOA Suite Reviewed

Infoworld reviews the Oracle SOA suite. This product just keeps getting better and better....

Agile Atheism Redirect

An interesting perspective on the Agile programming community from my old colleague Jim Webber. I spent several years experimenting with agile techniques (some details captured here) ultimately coming to somewhat aligned conclusions. I have the outline of a post on this same topic together, just need to find some time to actually write it up...

Japanese Melodies

I am not an expert on traditional Japanese music, so I have no authority to critique Yo Yo Ma's rendition on the album Japanese Melodies. I can say, however, that this is a beautiful, simple and sometimes quite sad recording. I find Japanese music often makes me think of it as a re-interpretation of the beauty found in nature, while I think of western classical music as having more of a man-made splendor. This album is not really a merger of the two; it strikes me as being more squarely Japanese. However you classify it, Japanese Melodies is worth adding to a music collection.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Web Services Policy

This paper was written to capture ongoing discussions about how to put structure around ws-policy and make it more generally useable. It was delivered at ICSOC2006, but I forgot to post a link back in December. Feel free to email me thoughts.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Oracle SOA Platform and Amazon EC2

An interesting article on pairing EC2 and Oracle's SOA Suite. I thought this was pretty cool. After plowing through a year's worth of program committee reviews for various Web services and SOA conference tracks, I've come to realize that Oracle's SOA platform really is the industry standard for service orchestration.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

iPhone

I held off on picking up a new phone to see what Apple would announce. Indeed a slick product. The suggestion that Apple is all about style over substance is wrong: the key to the success of the product line is useability. The Apple line is just better to use, almost to a product, than competitors. True to form, prices will be very high and its not clear that the useability features in the iPhone are sufficient to differentiate it from other cheaper products in a crowded market -- though it may be premature to call it an "iFlop" as some have suggested. In the short run, I'm picking up a Blackjack from Cingular: this will likely lock me out of an upgrade to the iPhone at a reasonable cost, another factor Apple will need to contend with.

The interesting question is whether this signals the end of the iPod-as-standalone music-player as a viable product. Only time will tell. From a consumer perspective, this should put a good deal of pressure on other device manufacturers to work on useability issues, which will be a welcome change.

Swiss Time

I just got back from a holiday in Switzerland. We spent 3 days in Geneva, a city that is nothing if not Calvinist. The old town is lovely and our time there was thoroughly pleasant. Geneva has rapidly moved toward the top of my "favorite cities of the world" list, doing battle with Stockholm, Sweden and Portland, Oregon. We spent 5 days in the alpine town of Saas-Fee at a family owned chalet, where we we received exceptional treatment. The ski conditions were a bit icy, but we were fortunate in that Saas-Fee was one of the few ski areas that actually had snow. Saas-Fee is charming and very much oriented toward families.