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, 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, 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!