# Friday, July 30, 2004
Eric Gunnerson points to a post by Jeremy Rule about how he flash-cooked a hamburger using a giant Fresnel lens.  Pretty groovy stuff, although Jeremy says the burger wasn't very tasty.  It got me thinking, though, that a really fun project would be to take one of those giant Fresnel lenses and see if one could build a miniature solar-thermal generator, like these.  A nice big cast-iron pot with a lid, a few holes drilled, very small steam turbine...  See where this is going?  Unfortunately I'm way to lazy to actually try it myself.  I haven't even gotten around to trying out the DIY solar pizza oven.  :-(
Friday, July 30, 2004 2:26:39 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [1]  | 

After an inspirational post by Loren Halvorson, we decided to emulate his team's use of an Ambient Orb to track the status of our continuous integration builds. 

After being backordered for a couple of months, it finally show up yesterday.  It's happily glowing green on my desk as I write this.  Unfortunately, what we didn't know is that in order to bend the orb to our will and get it to show our build status, we have to shell out $20 a quarter for their "premium" service.  Humph.  Plus, I've been having some "issues" with it.  It's supposed to reflect the current status of the DJIA, which is down right now, but the orb is green, which is supposed to indicate that the Dow is up.  I can't seem to make it be anything but green.  I know it's not a problem with the lights, because when it was "synchronizing" it strobed through just about every color there is.  After it's done though, I only get green. 

Anyway, all that together has prompted us to order their serial interface kit, so we can control the thing directly without depending on their wireless network.  Maybe not as elegant, but it should be deterministic, which it more important in this case.  Seems like a lot of work for what was supposed to be a funny toy.  :-)

Friday, July 30, 2004 11:36:02 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [1]  | 
# Friday, July 23, 2004

Back in the day I went to High School in what passes for "inner city" in Seattle (Garfield HS: Go Bulldogs!) and was therefore exposed to a pretty fascinating cultural milieu. :-)  Anyway, out of pure nostalgia for days bygone, I couldn't resist picking up copies of Breakin' (1 and 2) on DVD.  While not great pieces of cinematic history, they sure are fun to watch.  My 9 year old son is totally into them.  He says #1 is better.

I wonder what every happened to the lovely Lucinda Dickey?  Her career just wan't the same after Ninja III: The Domination.

Now I just need a copy of Krush Groove:-D

Friday, July 23, 2004 2:53:36 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [1]  | 

This should be totally obvious to those with XML experience, but to those who don't fall into that category, keep in mind that it's of utmost importance to not mix data and meta-data when designing your XML.  For example, when creating an XML document for a purchase order, I've often seen stuff like

    <name>widget x</name>
    <name>widget z</name>

This is what i mean by mixing data and meta-data.  By naming elements "item1" and "item2" you've mixed data (ordinal values "1" and "2") with meta-data (the description "item").  Now when you go to write a schema to match this document, what do you do?  Explicitly name elements item1 and item2?  What happens when you get a PO with 3 items.  You're screwed. 

Again, to those who are used to working with XML, this is readily apparent, but I found out from the class I taught this summer that it isn't obvious to everyone.  A much better solution would be something like

  <item number="1">
    <name>widget x</name>
  <item number="2">  <!--[Update:] fixed.  Thanks Haacked-->
    <name>widget z</name>

In that case the meta-date is property separated.  In this particular case, you don't actually have to specify the number at all, since the elements are inherently ordered, but you get the idea. 

Remember, friends don't let friends write bad XML.

Friday, July 23, 2004 1:10:29 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [3]  | 

Our continuous integration efforts came crashing down around our ears yesterday.  Our build started failing on Wednesday evening, after someone checked in a ton of changes all at once (not very continuous, I know).  That turned into a snowball of issues that took Scott and I all day yesterday to unravel.  Even after we'd fixed all the consequences of such large code changes (that was done maybe by noon) things continued not to work.  To make matters more dicey, at some point during the day our CVS server went TU, and had to be rebooted.  Builds continued to fail, mostly with weird timeout problems.  We were also seeing lots of locks being held open which was slowing down the build, contributing to the timeouts, etc. 

We ended up building manually just to get a build out, which was suboptimal but necessary. 

Thankfully, Scott was able to track down the problem last night.  Turns out that when the CVS box went down, our build server was in the middle of a CVS "tag" operation, a.k.a. labeling.  That left a bunch of crud on the CVS box that meant that subsequent tagging operations failed miserably, thus causing the timeouts, etc.  A few well placed file deletions on the CVS server cleaned things up, and we're (relatively) back to normal now. 

While I think that continuous integration is a fabulous idea, it's times like these that bring home just how many things have to go right at the same time for it to work.  What a tangled web we weave. :-)

Friday, July 23, 2004 10:54:00 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Monday, July 19, 2004

Just in case I wasn't a big enough geek before, I'm now officially KE7BJG.  That's right.  A licensed amateur radio operator (Technician class). 

I got interested in the idea of amateur radio through the emergency responder training I had last year.  I'd previously had no idea, but it turns out that in times of disaster/emergency, hams are instrumental in providing emergency communications through programs such as ARES and RACES.  That's a pretty important service, and I decided I'd like to be able to help out. 

In the process of studying for the licensing exam, I found out that the whole art and science of radio wave propagation is pretty darned fascinating. 

Ah well, it's not like anyone didn't know I was a nerd before :-).  My wife just shakes her head and sighs.  She says if I ever put up a tower in the backyard for antennas it's all over between us. 

Monday, July 19, 2004 11:33:16 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [1]  | 
# Thursday, July 15, 2004

I finished up my Web Services Theory class at OIT last night.  Just the final to go on Monday (mwah ha ha).

We ended with some stuff on WS-* and all the various specs.  I tried to spend minimal time on the actual syntax of WS-*, since some of them are pretty hairy, and spent more time on the business cases for WS-*.  That seemed to go over pretty well.  I think it's easier to understand the business case for why we need WS-Security than it is to understand the spec itself.  Unfortunately, on of the underlying assumptions about all the GXA/WS-* specs is that eventually they will just fade into the background, and you'll never see the actual XML, since some framework piece (like WSE 2.0) will just "take care of it" for you.  What that means is that the actual XML can be pretty complex.  The unfortunate part is that we don't have all those framework bits yet, so we have to deal with all the complexity ourselves.  Thankfully more tools like WSE 2 are available to hide some of that from the average developer.  On the other hand, I'm a great believer in taking the red pill and understanding what really goes on underneath our framework implemenations. 

Thursday, July 15, 2004 4:40:53 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Wednesday, July 14, 2004

James Avery points out a site about "Metric Time", which describes (in great detail) a way of defining a rational, base 10 time system.  What a great idea!  As I've watched my son (who just turned 9) learning math, I can see how confusing it is that all our math is done in base 10 units, with the exception of time keeping, in which we still rely on Babylonian base 60 math.  It's a hard system to keep in your head if you are used to decimal math.  Of course, it would be nice if we backwards Americans just got over the fact that we need to manufacture incompatible car parts and adopt the metric system for everything else.  It's such a strange way we deal with the metric system here.  I grew up knowing about the metric system, understanding how to convert standard to metric, etc.  And yet I don't have that intuitive "gut" feeling about the metric system.  It's like a second language.  I know there are 1.6 kilometers in a mile, but I don't have that intuitive sense of how far a kilometer is in space.  I can conceptualize how far a mile is, or how much something weighs in pounds, and understand rationally how to convert to metric, but I didn't learn it early enough or it's not common enough for it to be intuitive. 

Which is too bad, since as everyone agrees the metric system makes way more sense. 

Unfortunately, I think most people would suffer the same problem with switching to metric time.  People have an intuitive sense of how long an hour is, but it would take some time to get an intuitive feeling for the deciday.  I'm surprised that with all the other geek watches there are out there that none of them tell metric time.  Maybe it's a product opportunity waiting to happen.  I'd buy one.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004 9:40:26 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Monday, July 12, 2004

[Update]:  Turns out that this problem was caused by one and only one COM class, that happens to be a COM singleton, meaning that no matter how many times you call CoCreateInstance, you always get back the same instance.  It gets wrapped by the first interop assembly that gets loaded (which makes sense) and when another bit of code asks for a reference it gets the same wrapper back.  Which also makes sense.  You can't have two wrapper objects pointing to the same COM instance, or chaos whould insue.  So, the problem is not that you can't load two interop assemblies with different versions, it's that you can't wrap the same instance twice with two differently-versioned wrapper classes. 

We ran afoul of an interesting problem at work today, which upon reflection (no pun intended) makes sense, but I'd never thought about before. 

Due to an historical accident, we've got an application that's using our libraries, and also some primary interop assemblies to our core product.  Unfortunately, they aren't the same version of the primary interop assemblies that we're using for our libraries.  So primary is kind of fuzzy in this case.  The problem is that only one of them ever gets loaded.  They don't work in standard .NET side-by-side fashion.  The have different version numbers, etc. so it should.  However, when we started thinking about it, there can really only be one LoadLib and CoCreateInsance happening deep in the bowels some where, so having two primary interop assemblies pointing to the same COM objects doesn't really make any sense.  Dang.  Anyway, once they don't both get loaded, we get a nasty invalid cast exception where there shouldn't be one if we were dealing with properly side-by-sideable .NET assemblies.

If it's not one thing it's another.


Monday, July 12, 2004 6:07:38 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Friday, July 09, 2004

Dare Obasanjo posits that the usefulness of the W3C might be at an end, and I couldn't agree more.  Yes, the W3C was largely behind the standards that "made" the Web, but they've become so bloated and slow that they can't get anything done.

There's no reason why XQuery, XInclude, and any number of other standards that people could be using today aren't finished other than the fact that all the bureaucrats on the committee all want their pet feature in the spec, and the W3C process is all about consensus.  What that ends up meaning is that no one is willing to implement any of these specs seriously until they are full recommendations.  6 years now, and still no XQuery.  It's sufficiently complex that nobody is going to try to implement anything other than toy/test implementations until the spec is a full recommendation.

By contrast, the formally GXA now WS-* specs have been coming along very quickly, and we're seeing real implementation because of it.  The best thing that ever happened to Web Services was the day that IBM and Microsoft agreed to "agree on standards, compete on implementations".  That's all it took.  As soon as you get not one but two 800 lb. gorillas writing specs together, the reality is that the industry will fall behind them.  As a result, we have real implementations of WS-Security, WS-Addressing, etc.  When we in the business world are still working on "Internet time", we can't wait around 6-7 years for a real spec just so every academic in the world gets his favorite thing in the spec.  That's how you get XML Schema, and all the irrelevant junk that's in that spec. 

The specs that have really taken off and gotten wide acceptance have largely been defacto, non-W3C blessed specs, like SAX, RSS, SOAP, etc.  It's time for us to move on and start getting more work done with real standards based on the real world.

SOAP | Web Services | Work | XML
Friday, July 09, 2004 10:35:44 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  |