Monday May 12, 2008

May your golf shoes collect no dust

Yesterday, I walked past my golf shoes, and noticed they really look as though they're collecting a fair amount of dust. In Colorado, many golf courses remain open year round, so I can't blame the winter into spring weather. I can only blame the slight layer of grey sediments on a lack of choice. I admit, my choices are governed by my family, career, and a strong sense of not wanting to let anyone down. For example, a few weeks back, I was describing my morning activities to one of my direct reports, and it was very clear how carefully I'd scheduled each minute, with literally no time to spare. Stress abounds in the case someone should forget their homework, or if the dog should decide to bring back up that small sock she shouldn't have eaten the night before, right in the middle of the carpet.

The sand trap

Like many, I'm living the super-scheduled life. Activities, urgencies and obligations which all seem immutable or undeniably necessary tend to consume many of us. We find ourselves running from one obligation to the next. Even worse, super-schedulers oftentimes prepare for one activity while still finishing up another.

Do you find yourself:

  • making obligations to others while sparing no time to do something for yourself?
  • using the bonus of any bit of "extra" time for fixating on distractions that you perceive as the cause of stress (kid care arrangements, those piles of laundry, all the email sitting in your inbox?)
  • and simply put, do you fail to make a priority of stopping to take time away from it all?

Dancing on the green

Its time to evaluate what isn't working and decide what you'd really like to have time for but you just don't. And after that evaluation comes the hard part: actually deciding to make a change to the old habits that keep you from making the most of the time you have and implementing change. Of course, implementing a change to your behavior can't just be something you do on the weekend, when you perceive you actually have some spare time, it needs to be every day.

Decide to make the time to take the time. Schedule it, write it down, and then stick to it. For example, golf, while on the one hand challenging and sometimes frustrating (if you golf like I do), can provide a host of benefits. For those of us who tend to be super-schedulers of our time, its important to Evaluate, See the Benefits, and then Act on Making the Choice to take the time to play a round. It might help you think straighter about that pending proposal. Or perhaps it could grant you the patience required to help one of your kids with their homework later in the evening. And maybe it would just give you something to talk about with your friends or spouse that has nothing to do with work or stress or high risk decision making.

So, next time you're encouraged, asked, or required to bind your time to that which seems altogether undeniably necessary, yet seemingly without inherent value, you might just want to step back and take a Mulligan.

Tuesday May 06, 2008

Operation SwoRDFish: The Business End

You’ve probably heard from some that structured metadata is what the Web really needs to evolve to the next level. “It’s all about the Semantic Web”. You’ve probably heard from others that structured metadata on the Web will never work because we’re all too lazy, too bad at spelling and too heavily infiltrated by crooks and spies. “It’s all about metacrap”. Who knows how that movie will end, but what I know is that we’ve quietly been putting structured metadata to work on our own little corner of the Web for years. Well, not always so quietly-- you might have heard of Sun’s SwoRDFish project. It’s a pioneering effort to use Web-friendly metadata, and specifically RDF to identify and describe Sun products across systems and departments. I found myself right at the center of things back when the project really gained legs back in 2003 or so, driving the effort to develop a shared taxonomy of products on the SwoRDFish system. That was about the time I became involved in CME and the maturing of Starlight, the main CMS for global Web sites.

Starlight needed a consistent way to tag pages related to products for a variety of reasons. A customer who follows a link to a Sun success story might learn that the Sun Fire X2200 M2 Server is an effective hardware platform for high-scale Web application architectures, and we want to make sure that they can find on that page well-updated information on that product. On the other hand, if a customer comes straight to a product feature page we want to make sure we make available just the tags for other standard pages associated with that product. We don’t want to have a downloads tab for a hardware product, so we’re concerned about identity and also general categorization of the product. Sun’s product Web pages use SwoRDFish identifiers and taxonomy to solve many such problems, and it’s become a crucial part of our machinery for dynamic page rendering.

For a quick look at the first example in pictures, the following is from our Customer Success Stories landing page:

The “By Product” tab uses selection by SwoRDFish IDs. If you hover your mouse over “Coolthreads” you’ll find the link is something like . Yes, urn:uuid:8871f410-44cb-11da-ac39-080020a9ed93 is the SwoRDFish URI for the Coolthreads server product category. Clicking on it produces the generated landing page for all customer success stories that touch on that product category.

There is also useful separation of responsibility here. The product metadata and taxonomy is now maintained by experts on the SwoRDFish team, taking their input from product managers. This is general institutional knowledge that is used across Sun, and not just on the product marketing Web pages. Starlight queries SwoRDFish for the metadata, and makes this available for publishers to add capabilities such as “success story by product”. We have built some cool internal tools for content authors to navigate the SwoRDFish ontology to make tagging and publishing quick and simple.

SwoRDFish was definitely on the bleeding edge of things. We learned lots of lessons, and we’d all do things a bit differently if we were starting out now. For one thing, rather than using UUIDs URIs we’d use good old “http://”. We’re actually working on some things in that direction that I hope to be able to talk about more, soon. Perhaps we'll even get to the point of opening up the richness of our data and metadata to publishers, partners, and others outside Sun as well as inside. In this age we realize that our community is our most effective marketing arm. It’s certainly getting easier to carry the small-S semantic web message inside and outside Sun. Now that people see mashups everywhere they understand the importance of connecting the data behind Web sites, as well as linking pages. I definitely see a bright future for the marriage of sound document design and rich metadata design that’s fueled the success of Starlight to date. Sometimes the bleeding edge may cut you, but when it does take root, and proves its value so thoroughly, the satisfaction more than makes up for the scars.


Passionate about data engineering strategy and solutions for Sun’s external web sites. Happiest when building taxonomies, data models, and high performing teams.

Kristen Harris
Web Data Engineering


« May 2008