Friday Aug 28, 2009
Sunday Aug 09, 2009
By stern on Aug 09, 2009
Years ago, it felt like there were strong forces for convergence around languages, tools, and repositories. Sun was a vibrant participant in those discussions, with "Java" often the answer preceding the question. Sometime around 2001, that attempt at compression reached the Chandrasekhar limit, at least in terms of things like WS-\* (thanks, Tim). The only things that result from such strong nuclear forces are supernovae and black holes.
Computer scientists have always invented new languages, grammars, and tools as the state of the art has evolved; new languages that fit the way data and applications will be deployed to clouds, or deployed with greater agility, are just natural evolution. NetBeans has evolved as well, no longer a "Java tool" and much more reflective of the richer state of the state, whether it's clouds, collaborative development sites, languages, or build tools.
Thursday Jul 23, 2009
By stern on Jul 23, 2009
Today I noticed that the "Cayman Islands" were the top country for interaction with my page. I have no friends (that I know of) who call the Cayman Islands home, so I poked around and found the page comment that generated the trend. Sure enough, it's a US-based friend vacationing in the Caymans (his public content conveys the same information). So commenting on a Facebook page creates an indirect trail to whatever IP address is reported at the time.
IP addresses are a terrible mechanism for assuring location (due to proxies, carriers, firewalls and other aggregation/translation points) but in this case, they are a fair proxy for "not at home." You could argue that if I'm using Facebook on vacation (or while traveling) I'm disclosing a signficant amount of personal information anyway, but there are many Facebook users who hide their home geographic information and by extension, might want to hide their mobile geographic information as well. The fact that source IP address trumps "home" for determining interaction sources means that Facebook is at least ignoring the intent of, if not the exact letter of, these user preferences when it comes to clouding geography.
Sunday Jun 28, 2009
By stern on Jun 28, 2009
Carl Trieloff from Red Hat started literally down in the wires talking about the AMQP and how this might change the way we think about state persistence. Rather than worrying about the end points for state management, Trieloff argued that we should think about the messaging vehicles themselves as methods for ensuring that we don't create interoperability and persistence problems. I was reminded of Reuven Cohen's blog proclaiming XMPP as the new glue of the internet, supplanting HTTP, citing the use of XMPP in Google's Wave protocol as evidence. While I never believe a protocol spec serves as physical proof of a phase change in the matter of any system (SOAP based web services, anyone? Buehler?), it is one more indicator that we way in which systems carry their state is becoming as critical as where the state is preserved, particularly if the state is short-lived (whether edits to a Google document or stock exchange order book information).
Stanley Young, CIO of NYSE Euronext, discussed the exchange's core messaging platform, built on the Wombat engine, since acquired by the NYSE. It's another example of messaging trumping structured data management, and it served as a foundation for Young's discussion of how future exchanges - emphasis on plural - will be built. He declared that the "data center is the new trading floor" and that nearly 80% of the NYSE Euronext future data center will be available for co-location and what is effectively a private hosted data center. He closed by stating that the NYSE's goal is to be able to spin up a new market in 24 hours: the listed instruments, settlement functions, and order management defined, deployed and connected to a critical mass of players that truly defines "capitalism". If you can't value it, trade it, and make it fungible, it's not capital. The NYSE has its eyes set on expanding, rather than contracting, the capital exchanges. It's an equally strong statement about the growing importance of application agility.
I got to speak after them but before the coffee break, which is a slightly better slot than the "after lunch nap hour". While going through an update on cloud computing use cases for test and development and space/time adjunct scaling, as well as thoughts on building private clouds, I emphasized how cloud computing is making us rethink reliability. You can't build a cluster out of what you can't physically configure - unless you do it in software.
Application reliability has historically been about recovering state after a failure. With a virtualization layer intermediating the application and underlying hardware, tried and true clustering methods no longer make sense. Rather than keeping in-memory state we should be encapsulating it (hence the emphasis on REST); similarly we should be putting applications in more explicit control of their replication of data and memory instances. This doesn't mean that persisted state goes away -- databases, table oriented stores (BigTable, SimpleDB), and replicated file object systems (Mogile, HDFS) are going to increase in use, not decrease. But each of those components has explicit control of replication and failure recovery, rather than relying on clustering at the hardware level to do it implicitly.
Friday Jun 19, 2009
By stern on Jun 19, 2009
And here I thought I was the only one who made Erdos number jokes. Unfortunately, Erdos number theorists would dispute validity of newly acquired Erdos deuces (my newly minted term, flame my way) using Hank Aaron as a counter-example of how not to hit a theoretical home run through signature power alone.
In case my nerdiness was in doubt, net summary of first hour of consciousness on this Friday: Saw a Facebook status update via Twitter that referenced an online comic that made a math joke about Erdos number 2 and made me think of Hank Aaron.
So I blogged about it. That's where my kids say "Dad, you're a nerd". That's a geek round-tripper.
Saturday Jun 06, 2009
By stern on Jun 06, 2009
It's a love story set with mild sci-fi context, as opposed to a sci-fi story with romantic themes embedded. However, "love" isn't just about interpersonal relationships; Makers is about people who thrive on labors of love - literally thrive, in a post-collapse economy. What's frightening is that Cory wrote the book as the global economy was unwinding at the end of 2008's North American summer season; by the time I got the book in March we were mumbling about new depressions of all kinds. As I read it, I was repeatedly reminded of Shoshanna Zuboff's theme in her book In The Age Of The Smart Machine (now 20 years in print), as she relayed it to Sun's systems engineers in 1995: When we think about a divison of labor in a corporation, we're also creating a division of love, because we should love what we do on a daily basis. Zuboff challenged us to think about individual empowerment, and what it means to really build things rather than create information In intervening two decades between Smart Machine and Makers, a number of business leaders have cried that business schools teach graduates how to make synthetic things - derivative securities, economic models, hedging strategies - but not tangible, real-world goods. If anyone doubts the verity of those long-standing concerns, please visit Detroit for the basis of a case study.
What if we really enter an age of massive free agency, of corporations orbited by tinkerers, coders, freelancers, constructors, and destructors? This idea has been sitting in a pile of (electronic) notes for three months, and only gestated into a blog when James Gosling took the stage at JavaOne wearing a T-shirt promoting the Java Store as a way to create value from labors of love. Makers on a fine grain scale.
So what's the book about? It's about love. It's about how (and why) others love us, or don't. It's about economics and corporations, and at the same time economics and corporations don't behave the way you'd expect at all times. It's about rights - not just copyrights and rights to use, but rights of expression and relation as well. Every time you think the book is taking a financial detour, it snaps you back to a personal future that is (in William Gibson's words) just not evenly distributed.
The only bad part: You can't buy the book until November (but you can pre-order it now, hint hint). Guess what everyone I know is getting for the holidays.
Thursday May 28, 2009
By stern on May 28, 2009
What are the top developer problems we haven't run into yet? I gave an answer in three parts.
1. Unstructured data management and non-POSIX semantics. Increasingly, data reliability is taking
the shape of replication handled by a data management layer, using RESTful syntax to store, update,
and delete items with explicit redundancy control. If you're thinking of moving an application
into a storage cloud, you're going to run into this. Applications thriving on
syntax are wonderful when you have a highly reliable POSIX environment against which to run them.
And no, don't quote me as saying POSIX filesystem clusters are dead - the
Sun Storage 7310C is an existence proof to the contrary. Filesystems we loved
as kids are going to be
around as adults, and probably with the longevity of
the mainframe and COBOL: they'll either engineer or survive the heat death
of the universe. There is an increasing trend, however, toward WebDAV, Mogile, SimpleDB, HDFS and other
data management systems that intermediate the block level from the application. New platforms,
not at the expense of old ones.
2. Software reliability trumps hardware replacement. An application analog to the first point. Historically, we've used high availability clusters, RAID disk configurations and redundant networks to remove single points of failure, and relied on an active/active or active/passive application cluster to fail users from one node over to a better, more healthy one. But what if the applications are highly distributed, recognize failure, and simply restart a task or request as needed, routing around failure? IP networks work (quite well) in that sense. It requires writing applications that package up their state, so that the recovery phase doesn't involve recreating, copying or otherwise precipitating state information on the new application target system. There's a reason REST is popular - the ST stands for "state transfer". And yes, this worked really well for NFS for a long time. Can I get an "idempotent" from the crowd?
3. Parallelism. If not bound by single thread, what would you waste, pre-compute, or do in parallel? This isn't about parallelizing loops or using multi-threaded libraries; it's about analyzing large-scale compute tasks to determine what tasks could be partitioned and done in parallel. I call this "lemma computing" -- in more pure mathematics, a lemma is a partial result that you assume true; someone spent a lot of time figuring out the lemma so that you can leverage the intermediate proof point. When you have a surfeit of threads in a single processor, you need to consider what sidebar computation can be done with those threads that will speed up the eventual result bound by single-thread performance. This isn't the way we "think" computer science; we either think single threaded or multiple copies of the same single thread.
Thursday May 07, 2009
By stern on May 07, 2009
Tuesday May 05, 2009
By stern on May 05, 2009
Why would this work for technology companies and not sports franchises? Quite simply, the acquisition of a free agent is unlikely to change the basic strategy of a team or the rules of a game. Strategic changes in a game almost always result from a lack of talent, not the sudden availability of creative people.
Int this current NHL season, the NJ Devils changed from a defensive-minded style to a goal-scoring, offensive strategy when goaltender Martin Brodeur suffered an injury requiring four months of recovery. Late San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh perfected the West Coast Offense (read Michael Lewis' The Blind Side for a compelling story wrapped in a West Coast Offense) and forced strategic defensive changes in the game. And the grandfather of several current NBA offensive schemes is Pete Carrill's Princeton Offense. What do all three have in common? They were designed to deal with a deficit of talent or skill: goaltending and first-rate defense (Devils), rushing (West Coast Offense), and height (Princeton Offense).
The barriers to entry for new ideas have never been lower: you can develop your idea using a wealth of open source software, deploy it to test in a cloud infrastructure and leverage social networking mechanisms to spread awareness. It's a ripe environment for engineers to give us something (locally) to celebrate.
Monday Apr 27, 2009
By stern on Apr 27, 2009
A few weeks ago I vowed to spend at least a little time each day helping people I know who have been affected by the current economy find new job opportunities. The local economy is nasty; I realized that half (literally) of my close friends are technically unemployed. Through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and email, I've been trying to connect people, and along the way I discovered Dave and Deb Levy's blog about married life under the pressures of job friction. I have known Dave for a while (he's a fellow Devils fan and hockey head); his admonition not to treat your friends who are between jobs as if they have the plague is sage advice.
And now for a travelogue in the middle of an emerging trend: I adore Kevin Carroll. I heard him speak five years ago at an NHL event, and was hooked. His point, then as now, is that we excel at play -- and we should treat work as something that we love, something that motivates us to play with others, something that gives us joy in the smallest facets. If you can't "play" at work, then you're in the wrong job, or positioning yourself the wrong way. Today's job market is an opportunity to re-think work, and the pleasure we get from our jobs. I'm reminded of a talk by Shoshana Zuboff, in which she said "It's not about division of labor, it's about division of love, if you are separated from the things you love to do." She was referring to management as a disintermediating function (this was pre-Internet boom, circa 1995), but the theme is organization chart invariant.
So onto a trend in middle of a travel-blog: Dave's wife Deb quotes a friend of hers describing the chaotic interplay of adult life themes - job, health, home, family. We juggle them all, and they are all glass balls, not to be dropped or mishandled. Except for work - a job is a rubber ball. Drop it, bat it, or have it swatted away, and it bounces in a new direction.
Monday Apr 20, 2009
By stern on Apr 20, 2009
There is a movement under way to officially change the designation of the city from Bangalore to Bengaluru, recognizing and celebrating its correct local pronunciation rather than a Westernization simplification. Of course, I was tempted to try to align the Western "Bengal" prefix into some root of Bengaluru, but I've been corrected that the two words have no common etymology. It didn't stop me from thinking "Bengal tiger" however, and noticing the airport posters promoting conversation and protection of the black and orange cats.
Part three in a continuing series of random thoughts about technology and local issues: a great story about using telemetry to track tigers and therefore improve the efficacy of tiger conversation efforts. Taking digital pictures of tigers as they cross fixed points is as strong as single-factor identification (unless there are tigers prowling with pirated stripes). Easier than collaring, less intrusive than tracking, and another example of using technology in support of future-looking, local culture.
By stern on Apr 20, 2009
I wasn't mentally prepared for my trip to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg; it's a moving and intense experience that could have easily taken four hours to absorb fully. I was drained after two hours, and I described the intensity of the exhibits and story-telling as similar what I felt in Yad VaShem, the Jerusalem museum and memorial to the Holocaust.
I had a two-part reaction to the timeliness of the museum -- first, it's remarkable that a museum has been developed and gained popularity in less than a full generation since the deconstruction of apartheid, and yet the museum chronicles the roots of issues going back two or more centuries. Second, some of the intensity derives from many of the events chronicled occurring in my adult life; from mid-1980s on-campus protests for universities to divest of holdings in South Africa to the freedom of Nelson Mandela and the victory of his African National Congress. Others, like the death of Stephen Bantu Biko, I had heard about in song (Peter Gabriel's "Biko" was ringing in my ears) but for them I had little context until I walked through the story personally. It was at that moment that I drew the parallel to the Yad VaShem memorial, which exhorts us to continue to "bear witness" so that we develop a collective history and resistance to broad-scale human rights and dignity issues. Those of us who witnessed the joy of Mandela's release from prison have a responsibility to re-tell the context of the basic human rights issues that made it the literal turning point in a museum gallery. The Stephen Biko Foundation puts a simpler point on it: "a foundation of ideas; a memory bank for the nation." Discussion and respect.
However, my first hint that I was in over my jet-lagged head came when I bought my ticket and was handed a card that said "Whites" on it. Approaching the entrance to the museum, guests are separated into two turnstiles clearly labeled "Whites" and "Non-Whites". The first exhibit as you proceed through the turnstile explains the racial classification system that was the basis for enforcing apartheid.
Classification is something we take for granted in the social networking space; we use hash tags on Twitter and Technorati tags to better provide context for our content. Just as my encounter with the Mozambique hawker made me think of technical opportunity in a positive way, seeing the effort put into classification of people for the purpose of deciding their rights made me shudder. Not to dismiss Richard Stallman, it's not just about software being free; it's about software enabling freedom.
By stern on Apr 20, 2009
Friday morning was spent with customers, Friday afternoon with Sun employees in a Town Hall format. It was another great set of discussions with employees about team work and customer focus. While it's impossible to understand the culture, politics, and people of any country in just a few days, I left with a few strong impressions.
Johannesburg has no natural barriers. Many cities are built nestled against a mountain range, on the banks of a river, or around a natural ocean harbor, springing up with defense or low-cost transportation in mind. Johannesburg arose up on top of the gold mines, and driving around the city you'll see small mountains of mine excavations and the constructs of mine heads.
Sports are an international language; rivalry is an international boundary-drawing technique. Cricket, rugby, field hockey, and soccer are a big deal. Hotel staff wore jerseys from their favorite soccer teams on Friday, extending the notion of what constitutes a "uniform" and providing grounds for a lot of discussion and good-natured kidding. Preparations for the 2010 FIFA World Cup are well underway (that's the pixelated style stadium under construction), and the road construction has a pronounced impact on weekday traffic in and around the "business area" of Johannesburg. The Indian Premier Cricket League began play on Saturday in Johannesburg, mixing a bit of American-style cheerleading and in-stadium "production" (read: theme music) with international cricket. Saw a field hockey team in the airport and felt a bit sheepish wearing an ice hockey t-shirt. In the airport, I picked up a VodaCom Cheetahs rugby hat, and was asked "Do you support them?" I only answered that I liked the hat, out of concern for stepping into the local equivalent of Red Sox-Yankees politics.
With the national election coming up next week, political posters abound in a truly multi-party system. It was equally interesting (to me) to see the surfeit of attention given to Barack Obama, from Shep Fairey-style portraits of ANC candidates mimicking the "Hope" poster to t-shirts of Obama for sale in a local mall. In the airport, Obama's books line the top shelf of the news stand side by side with those of South African writers and political figures.
Saturday afternoon had me in an open-air market, haggling over the price of a beaded zebra figure. The "hawker" showed me his "cash register" - a combination of his Mozambique passport, his South African visa and neatly folded bills. He brings his handcrafts over the border at regular intervals, sleeping in or near the market for weeks at a time, repeating the process in a commute that includes an international boundary described in at least half a dozen languages. I was immediately reminded of Kiva, the micro loan, crowd-sourced company that helps micro-scale businesses grow by infusing them with capital in reasonable sizes and terms. When the zebra joins the menagerie of other figures I've purchased on various long-haul trips, it will remind me of boundaries, and how we have a technology opportunity (and imperative) to help cross them.
Friday Apr 17, 2009
By stern on Apr 17, 2009
Hockey was not discussed.
Transcripts and pointer to the audio are on the
Innovating@Sun blog or click to play away below:
Thursday Apr 16, 2009
By stern on Apr 16, 2009
I had a great time meeting the sales team in Mexico City. We had close to 200 people at our town hall, and I was struck by the pre-meeting activity. Nearly everyone was congregated in the back of the room, talking to each other, rather than filling seats or checking email and messages. Despite traffic that added nearly an hour to some quasi-local travel, everyone was more interested in real-world social networking, the kind that requires coffee and breakfast sandwiches.
My peer Denis Heraud, Senior Vice President of Sun's Emerging Markets Region, made a fabulous point during the question and answer session: someone had asked about compensation for complex deals, and Denis pointed out that everybody - commissioned sales people and engineers, those on bonus plans, even engineers - derives the majority of their pay as salary. Salary is not deal specific. It's a function of teamwork and execution. As the company gets smaller, flatter and leaner, our ability to use teamwork -- internally and externally with our partner community -- is going to make our combined output greater than the sum of individual efforts.
I saw the seedlings of that kind of teamwork in the back of the room, persisting after the huevos ran out, and it came through in meetings with our systems engineers.
Logistics for the 2nd leg of this trip required that I leave Mexico City about half a day after arriving, although that was enough time for me to exhaust my (primarily food oriented) Spanish vocabulary. I believe I ordered fish tacos and hot peppers for lunch; sadly I can't phrase the gradations of caliente or picante that properly represent what my mouth felt like for the next half an hour.
Next stop: Johannesburg for a similar set of meetings. Long non-stop flights are an opportunity to completely disconnect from the non-stop stream of email, phone calls and sports score updates. It was nice to get a flurry of text messages with Devils score updates from their first-round NHL playoff game when I changed planes in Paris, but at 2:00 AM New Jersey time I had no chance to connect with my family or friends to celebrate their victory in a more personal way.
I wrote most of this from 39,000 feet, literally passing Kilamanjaro on the way, while also finishing the first book in Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle and knocking off a backlog of ESPN Magazine issues whose predictions and commentary seem dated only a month after being printed. There's a stark contrast between the two that goes far beyond heft and format. Stephenson uses four centuries of historical context and deep creativity to create a tale that spans 900 pages (per book); with less than 10% of the page count and perhaps 5% of the content volume, one of my favorite sports publications had trouble holding my interest given that real-time updates (scores, standings, and public fan outcry) reduced its time value rapidly.
Sidebar and specific data point: ESPN, The Hockey News and the last issue of Beckett's Hockey Card Guide, all plane reading material, all mentioned the NJ Devils' Travis Zajac as a player to watch during the NHL playoffs. Interesting in that all three keyed on the same fact at roughly the same time; less interesting in that those of us who follow the team with a mascot that looks like the cross-breeding of Steven Van Zandt and Hellboy were aware of Zajac's prowess before "bailout" became a breakfast word.
What's the point? What's the aggregation and mash-up of the time value of data, journalism, interpretation and face to face meetings? Simple: In every employee meeting I've had in the past few weeks, from one-to-ones to one-to-Mexico City, people have asked about press headlines involving Sun. I don't have comments on the headlines, but I do find myself commenting on the press:
Copy & Paste isn't journalism. Look carefully at the "hundreds" of stories on any topic, and you'll find that most of them are syndicated stories from AP, Reuters, Bloomberg, or other news sources with varied headlines. A hundred local writers banging out headlines isn't news; it's redistribution. I don't have details but I'm betting that the number of hockey writers learning to spell "Zajac" started with either of the Devils' beat writers - Rich Chere or Tom Gulitti.
The internet isn't killing newspapers, newspapers are killing newspapers. The internet has dramatically changed the time value of news, especially for real-time data (financial, sports, weather). On the other hand, the internet doesn't create commentary, insight, and interpretation (flame wars in comment threads not included); that's why we have reports and news organizations. I still get ESPN Magazine and the Hockey News because I like their commentary and analysis; neither of them publish standings or statistics unless it's in support of a critical analysis. I subscribe to my weekly town newspaper; but I don't read the Newark Star Ledger or Bergen Record - I get better Devils coverage out of Devils blogs where physical constraints of column inches and financial burdens of ad support don't limit the content.
I'd prefer we write our own headlines. One of my favorite youth hockey coaches (known affectionately as a Real Screamer) used to tell his players never to read their own headlines. He wouldn't let me, as manager, keep statistics, he refused to see milestones such as qualifying for the state playoffs as meaningful because he believed that they caused players to look at the headline, and not the whole story that needed to be developed. Focus, teamwork and execution write the headlines.
Without putting on the rusty propeller hat, I can clearly recall the trade press writing about Apple in 1995. If you believed those headlines, put your iPods and iPhones down. Apple figured out what it was (consumer products company), how to get there (leadership and cost), and did so. The spectacular output of my trip through multiple hemispheres is seeing first-hand how Sun has the people, product and energy to write its own headlines.
Hal Stern's thoughts on software, services, cloud computing, security, privacy, and data management
- Blog is Moving.....
- There Is No Second
- Student Intersection
- Thoughts On Transitions
- Non-Work Blog Content Is Moving
- Channeling Relief to Haiti
- Flash Forward and Flash Back: New Innovating@Sun Podcast
- The 2009 List
- A Holiday Thought On Social Networks, Science, Faith and A Young Man
- Avatar: Putting the Rich In Rich Presentation
- Peter Reiser
- Jonathan Schwartz
- Dave Douglas
- Dave Levy
- Sechang Oh
- Simon Phipps
- Tim Bray
- Bob Sokol
- Claire's Alternate Version of Reality
- Innovating@Sun Podcast
- Jim Mauro, Exit 10
- Justin Shaffer
- Leon Koll
- Tim Marsland
- James Governer
- Marc Donner's Sci-Fi Ramblings
- Systems Engineering Divas
- Paul Rogers
- Stern's Hockey & Life Blog
- Tom Chatt's Upword