# Tuesday, September 14, 2004
I've got six three, if anyone wants one.
Tuesday, September 14, 2004 11:52:53 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [1]  | 
# Tuesday, September 07, 2004

By now everyone has heard that WinFS (the new SQL-based, meta-data driven file system) won't be shipping with Longhorn.  It's not really surprising.  Not only is it a fairly challenging technology, but the surrounding behavioral issues are, IMHO, an even bigger deal, and will take a good long while to resolve. 

The reason meta-data based solutions haven't dominated the world have nothing to do with technology.  RDF works just fine.  So do XSD and Web Services.  So does SQL server, so I'm convinced that the technical hurdles to achieving WinFS are solvable.  The trouble is getting people to use it.  People just don't get it.  Nobody uses RDF, in part because it's way to complicated, but also because most people just don't get meta-data.  It's hard enough to get people to use proper keywords on their HTML pages. 

Similarly, the reason that Web Services have yet to revolutionize the world of B2B eCommerce have nothing to do with technology.  The parts of the technical picture that aren't solved by SOAP/WSDL are quickly being addressed by WS-*.  The real issue is schemas.  The barrier to real B2B isn't security, or trust, or routing/addressing, or federation even.  It's the fact that no two companies in the entire world can agree on what a PO looks like.  The barriers are institutional, not technical.

The same thing applies to WinFS.  Even if the technical side can be made to work reliably (of which I have no doubt given enough time), it's the institutional issues that are hard.  What do you call the tags that get applied to your file system?  If any applications are going to take real advantage of them, they have to be agreed upon in common.  Anyone remember BizTalk.org?  It's not easy to reach consensus on what seems like a simple problem.  What do you call the meta-tags that are applied to your data?  It's great that you can arbitrarily add new tags through the explorer, but if no application besides explorer supports them, is it anything more than a great new way to do sorts? 

I think in the long run it's that problem that has delayed the release of WinFS.  There has to be a plan in place for handling the institutional issues in place first, or MS will end up with another great piece of technology that no one knows what to do with.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004 12:55:56 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 

Many who know me know that I'm a long-time member of the SCA.  For the rest of you, it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, 'cause I'm just that big a dork.  Anyway, we just found out this weekend that my wife Vikki (or Svava as she's known in SCA circles) will be getting her Laurel in January (assuming she doesn't blow it between now and then :-) ).  For you non-SCA types, that's equivalent to Knighthood, only for Arts & Sciences.  In other words, a big deal.  She pretty much rocks.  Actually, she totally rocks.  You go honey!

I realize 99% of you reading this probably neither know nor care what I'm talking about, but I couldn't resist the opportunity for the shout-out.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004 12:43:34 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 

Despite the lack of technical content here lately, I do actually still work for a living.  I've been working on some implementation stuff lately, and have been struck by something that I've known for a while, but always comes home in a big way when I have to use someone else's UI.  There's no substitute for use cases!  I'm working with an API right now that was obviously designed by someone who thought it seemed like a good idea at the time, but didn't spend any time thinking about how this API was actually going to be used in the real world.  The end result is that to actually use it, you have to go through way to many steps, each of which takes a different set of parameters that you may or may no already have.  It's very frustrating. 

I'm working with Scott on most of it, and from the very beginning of our involvement he predicted that we'd end up spending 6 hours a day reading docs and 2 hours coding to achieve the desired end result.  It's actually been more like 7/1.  I spend all day reading docs and trying to figure out how the API is supposed to work, then write 20 lines of code to solve the problem. 

My own solution to this problem when I've been on the API writing side has been TDD.  If I can write a test case, it at least forces me to think about how the API will be used enough to avoid some of the major pitfalls.  On a larger scale project, the only solution is full-blown use case analysis.  Write the use cases first, then figure out what the API should look like.  Too often a hard-core technologist designs the API in the way he feels best exemplifies the underlying data structures.  The problem is that the users almost never care about the nature of the underlying data structures.  They need high level methods that answer questions, not CRUD based data exposition.  At the very least, TDD forces us to think through what some of those questions might be.  It's easy to miss some, however, so you really need to do use cases to find out what all the questions are before you write the API.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004 10:34:26 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Thursday, September 02, 2004

My wife and I snuck away from the children last night long enough to see Hero, the new Jet Li martial arts film directed by Zhang Yimou (of Raise the Red Lantern, Red Sorghum, Ju Dou fame).  It was fantastic.  Easily on par with Crouching Tiger... but with a much different pacing.  The martial arts were fabulous, and very well filmed.  And Mandarin is a beautiful language to listen to, so I'm very glad they didn't dub it. 

The costumes were very well done, and correct for the period, at least on par with those in The Emperor and the AssassinMy favorite part was that much of the film consists of the same events being recounted with different emphasis, and each of the retellings features a different color scheme.  There are blue, yellow, red, green and white scenes, and the cinematography was captivating. 

Well worth seeing in the theater, since the colors and overall cinematic grandeur play a key role.

Thursday, September 02, 2004 10:07:45 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Wednesday, September 01, 2004

It's been quiet here on the old blog lately.  Partly because I've been pretty busy, and partly because I spent 10 days on vacation in SoCal.  I've got to say it pretty much rocked. 

I hadn't been to Disneyland since I was in high school, and this time I got to take my kids (who are 6 and 9).  It was fabulous.  There are a bunch of new rides, and many of the old rides from when we were kids are gone to make room for them, but all the new ones were pretty great.  Splash Mountain, Indiana Jones, etc were very cool.  My kids had a great time, and it's a lot of fun to see that kind of thing through them.  We spent three solid days at Disney (2 at Disneyland and 1 at California Adventure) and that was just about the right amount of time.  One of the new crazes that's sprung up since I was a kid is getting the characters to sign autographs.  Both my kids had a good time hounding people in big fuzzy suits to sign their books.  It gave them a goal that kept them focused on moving around even when they were tired.  If you're kids are into autograph hunting, it's worth checking out some of the "character meal" opportunities.  There are several restaurants around the parks and hotels where the characters hang out, and will come by your table and chat (in pantomime) with the kids, etc.  We went to "Goofy's Kitchen" at the Disneyland Hotel (where we staid) and "Ariel's Grotto" at California Adventure and both had pretty good food and lots to entertain the kids, although be prepared for some sticker shock, they aren't cheap.  Some pretty groovy, although less kid-friendly dining was to be had at the "Blue Bayou" which is actually inside Pirates of the Caribbean.

This was the first time I'd been to California Adventure, and I was really impressed.  I had heard that it was more adult-focused than Disneyland, but I didn't find that to be the case.  Both my kids loved "Soaring over California" and there was lots of kid related activity in the Bug's Life area.  The rides were pretty cool.  My son drug me on California Screaming twice (the big roller coaster) and I coaxed him into going on the "Tower of Terror" with me, which was pretty dang fun.  My daughter really like the Redwood Creak Challenge Trail, which is basically a big forest-ranger-themed play structure. 

After our three grueling sun-up to well-past-sundown days at Disney we hit Legoland, the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld, and last but not least my son's big requested attraction, the La Brea tar pits in LA.  And somehow we still managed to get in most of a day at the beach in San Juan Capistrano. 

All that's behind me know and it's back to work.  Not only is there plenty of work at work, but I've got a new Web Services class coming up, and then SellsCon in October. 

Home | Work
Wednesday, September 01, 2004 9:53:43 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Monday, August 16, 2004

I got my first real chance to use my new radio this weekend (a Yaesu VX-7R(b)) at the Oregon Airshow.  I was volunteering, along with lots of other fine folks, not only as an amateur radio operator but as a CERT volunteer just in case anything untoward should happen. 

Before I got interested in such things, I had no idea that at most big public events like parades, marathons, bike races and airshows, there are fleets of hams providing communications.  The reason for it is that in most places, police, fire and other official agencies use radios that don't inter-operate.  It seems silly, I know, but it's true.  So hams show up for these events (since all our radios are compatible) and relay traffic between people without radios and people with radios who can't talk to each other.  Luckily all the traffic yesterday was pretty mundane, and we didn't have much in the way of emergencies.  A few heat exhaustion victims, but otherwise pretty quite.  Quiet in the sense of no emergencies.  The Airshow itself was far from quiet.  You find out pretty rapidly that headset or no headset, when the Blue Angels fly right over your head, you're not going to hear the radio. 

CERT | Radio
Monday, August 16, 2004 9:12:10 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Friday, August 13, 2004

Looks like Scott and I will be speaking at Chris Sells' XML DevCon this year.  Last year I spoke on XML on transformer monitors.  This year Scott and I will be talking about the work we've been doing with online banking and XML Schema. 

If it's anything like last year's, the conference should be pretty amazing.  The speakers list includes some pretty serious luminaries.  In fact, it's pretty much a bunch of famous guys... and me.  :-)

Sign up now!

Friday, August 13, 2004 4:50:12 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Monday, August 09, 2004

We had my son's 9th birthday party this weekend, and decided to try something different, so we had it at a local climbing gym in Beaverton.  It was awesome!  The guys at Stoneworks were great, and fabulous at working with kids.  For a very reasonable price we got private use of the gym before it opened to the public, shoe and harness rentals for everyone, and two expert belayers to make sure we didn't kill ourselves. :-)

The guys were very encouraging with the kids, and I think they all had a great time.  We didn't get quite as many kids as we'd planned for, so 4-5 of us adults got into the act too, which was a blast.  I haven't been climbing since I was probably 8-9, and had a great time.  I made it up to the top of the high wall, which was a good way up there.  The gym itself was amazing, with probably a good dozen different faces, plus a little cave for bouldering practice, etc.  The faces themselves were really cool, with all kinds of handholds, shaped both like actual rocks and like just about anything else you can imagine.  I saw several skulls, a fish, turkey, owl, and a couple little grinning homunculi.  Ivan had a great time, and his little sister Gwyn climbs like a little monkey girl.  She just turned 6 yesterday, and I think she was up and down the wall more than anyone else.  I shot a bunch of video, which I may get around to editing into something interesting one of these days. 

Monday, August 09, 2004 10:35:18 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [1]  | 
# Wednesday, August 04, 2004

I realize this is a rant, and not strictly technical, but here's one soapbox (among many) I'm willing to step up to. 

For ~95% of business software, the actual code needed to implement them ends up being, if not trivial, then at least not technically challenging.  Business software projects go over budget/schedule etc. because the business rules aren't known (to anyone) or because no one in the organization really knows what they want.  As a further complication, people who are tightly focused on a particular domain tend to make things sound way more complicated than they turn out to be because they aren't building their models at the right level. 

When it actually comes down to writing the code to implement the loosely defined business system, it's almost always "just code".  Not challenging to write, often tedious and time consuming, but not in any way difficult from a CS standpoint. 

So, the challenge when writing such software is in cutting though all the BS to get at which little bits of "just code" you have to write.  Once you get that part out of the way, the actual coding bit is easy.  So when people complain that projects are going way over budget/schedule/what have you, it's almost always (in my experience) due to the fact that engineers spend 6 hours a day poring over vague and conflicting sets of documents, and 2 hours writing code. 

Along the same lines, anyone who's looked seriously into enterprise level web services understands that the barriers to real business to business communications aren't technical barriers.  They are organizational.  If only two or more businesses could agree on what the schema for a purchase order should look like, we'd see a real renaissance in B2B computing.  The technologies are all there, the hard part is getting the organizations to work together.  That's the problem to solve. 

 

Wednesday, August 04, 2004 11:42:05 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [2]  |