Monthly Archives: August 2005

Steel Wagons

Last week I drove my son back to James Madison University, which is about 10 hours from where we live just outside of Boston, Massachusetts.
In a couple of days my wife will drive my daughter back to McGill University, which is about a 6 hour drive.
And after the kids are both gone, we will be heading north to Acadia National Park, which is also about a 6 hour drive, for a week of hiking etc. We just hope that the rain from Katrina is gone by the time we get there.
We both drive good ol’ wagons of steel. These fine modern mechanized marvels replace the old Prairie Schooners as the way to get you and your stuff from one end of the country to the other.
Here’s the “Silver Hair” – my good ‘ol 2000 SAAB 95 Wagon
Is there room enough for two teenagers? With all their stuff? No, but there was room enough for one, and I made it down and back just fine. There is certainly enough room for two adults and all the stuff we need for a week.
Back when my brother was living on Vashon, near Seattle, Wagons of Steel was pretty much just a magazine and some T-Shirts. Now much of the site is dedicated to the racing adventures of the Wagons of Steel namesake, a tuned up 1964 Plymouth Savoy Station Wagon.
I have some sympathy for these Mopar nuts becuase my first car was a red ’64 Dart four-door with the classic slant 6 and push button transmission.
You could not kill the slant 6, although I certainly tried. I replaced the head gasket on it once and I made the mistake of scraping out all the accumulated carbon in the cylinder heads, changing the engine wear characteristics. Not long after that I stomped the gas to downshift and the rings blew. But I drove all the way back from Antioch College with it that way, anyway, leaving a thick column of smoke all the way back to my home in Connecticut, a 12 hour drive.
Now I am also the proud owner of a ’65 Barracuda, well protected in the basement of my mother’s barn, as you can see in the photo below.
The 65 Barracuda is in a safe place
Now all I need is the IONA stock to go up to, say $100, and we can get this beast back out on the road!

Synapse Open Source Project

I’m very pleased that IONA is participating in the Apache Software Foundation incubator project called Synapse.
This is a significant step forward for Web services, SOA, and the Celtix project.
Synapse promises a great forum in which to extend and enhance Apache Axis toward the next generation of Web services specifications, including SOAP 1.2, WSDL 2.0 and many of the WS-* specifications. The advanced specifications have critical roles to play in SOA infrastructure.
The IONA committers on the Synapse project are also Celtix committers, establishing a connection point between ObjectWeb and Apache. Collaboration is one of the best things about open source projects, and we are glad to help promote synergy and reuse between Synapse and Celtix. It seems very likely that Synapse will use bits of Celtix and vice versa.
The important thing in all this, however, is the ability of business and government to obtain and use a fully-functional, vendor neutral SOA infrastructure. The first question about SOA is not, as some would suggest, choosing your vendor. The first question has to be: “can I move my XML to another execution environment?” It should be as easy as moving your HTML from one Web server to another.
Today, the most critical requirement for IT, a truly open SOA infrastructure, seems likely to come at least in part, if not led, from open source. Please help and help.

Robert Wyatt gets MOJO

Thanks to my friend Brett I heard that Robert Wyatt won this year’s MOJO Lifetime Achievement Award. (It’s about halfway down the page.) That is just great.
I started poking around on the Web after that and discovered that the BBC did a two-part feature on Robert recently, and that he had a new album out, Cuckooland. This is actually nearly two years old, and I can’t believe I hadn’t noticed it before.
One time when I got a royalty check from the first Web services book a couple of years ago I went to and bought pretty much everything with Robert’s name on it that I didn’t have. Of course once I discovered the existence of the new album I had to do it again ;-).
But as it turns out, if you go beyond Robert’s own albums and the Soft Machine albums (can you believe both Robert and the Softs have Wikipedia entries?!?), it is just amazing the number of other albums he appears on. Among the many Web sites dedicated to Robert, this one appears to be the most comprehensive. If anyone is looking for a good CD/LP collecting challenge, it looks like I’m on safe ground recommending this one.
In my travels through I was interested to read some of the’ reviews of The Soft Machine Volumes 1 and 2 (which by the way I recommend if you don’t have it already).
James T. Jacobs account of seeing them live as the opening act for Jimi Hendrix is something I might have written, except that I thought Hendrix was ultimately better. But my mouth was certainly hanging wide open when Soft Machine finished, and me and my friends all ran right out and bought their album. And the next, and the next. We made it through the Fourth in fact before we lost interest in the Fifth, which (no coincidence here I think) is when Wyatt left the band. This also was my first rock concert, and I can assure you I was hooked on them after that. Unfortunately my parents did not let me go to Woodstock though ;-(
But I would caution you not to infer as Ira Moon did (review on the same page) that Soft Machine is anything like Jimi Hendrix. I do note however that Ira called out the drumming as the best part – again Robert, who somehow always made the drums seem essential to the musical idea. And now of course his it’s his voice and lyrics and melodies that are getting accolades as well.
Following Robert led me to Eno, since the two played together on June 1, 1974. And of course Eno led to Roxy Music, Devo, Talking Heads, U2…
And it turns out Eno has a new album, out too! Another Day on Earth, which is actually new (well since June anyway), and his first vocal album in 15 years. And yes, it is in the order….

New WS Transactions Specs

Today Arjuna, BEA, Hitachi, IBM, IONA, and Microsoft published updates to the WS-AT, WS-BA, and WS-Coordination specifications.
Our press release can be found here.
The specs can be found in the Artix devcenter, and on the Arjuna, Hitachi, IBM, and Microsoft sites.
I am happy about this since I’ve been working in transaction processing for a while (not to mention blogging about it), and in Web services for a bit more than five years. I wrote a lengthy post about this last December that includes some pointers to other sources of information and kind of summarizes the situation.
Basically, transaction processing remains a somewhat unresolved area of Web services standardization. The updated WS-Transactions specifications, after going through the feedback and interop workshops represent a significant step forward. But it isn’t yet the end of the story.
As those of you who have been following this space know, I also contribute to the WS-CAF set of specifications.
Among my goals since I started on this is better alignment between WS-CAF and WS-Transactions, and I’m pretty sure everyone involved in both efforts has heard about this from me by now ;-). I think parts of WS-CAF fit very nicely with WS-Transactions.

Simpler is not always better

It doesn’t appear to be one of Murphy’s Laws, but it should be:

  • If a technology can be abused, it will

This of course applies to Web services as much as anything else. And perhaps more so, since they are relatively new, and you could say the industry is really still in a kind of “trial and error” period with them.
The biggest abuse of Web services tends to derive from “simply” enabling existing objects and programs. Most Web service toolkits allow you to quickly and easily generate a WSDL representation of an object or a program, but of course the tools cannot tell you whether or not that’s the right thing to do.
While I was in London the week before last I visited a former colleage, now working for an online gambling company. He was telling me about the problems they had in maintaining their Web services, since they had automatically generated them from Java beans. Although it was much simpler initially, it turned out to be more difficult in the long run since each time a change was required to a Java bean, it necessitated a regeneration of the Web service interface, typically introducing incompatibilities to the service requester.
Many articles and blogs have been written on this topic, including some great entries (and links) from Steve Vinoski here and here.
Web services are not the same as Java or CORBA or VB. They are interfacing technologies and are not executable. The debate seems to center on whether it’s better to design the object first or the interface. In reality this has to be an iterative process, but one of the most important aspects of Web services is that they are independent of execution envioronment, which gives more weight to the interface, or contract first approach.
In addition, when considering the use of an SOA, it’s of critical importance to design the services and their accompanying architecture independently of technology. The services must first of all meet the needs of the business, and second of all are the technical considerations of implementation.
If you base the design of the any language-neutral interface on a specific technology you risk losing the main benefits of interfacing them. What may be simpler for the developer is not necessarily simpler for the consumer.

Back from vacation

My son and I survived London just fine, although people were definitely a bit nervous, especially on the Underground. But it was good – we had a great time.
One highlight was the Jack the Ripper London Walk. Interest in this 19th century crime remains high, especially due to the recent From Hell movie (referred to in the tour as the “Johnny Depp movie”). Three or four tours are offered, and even on the London Walk tour we were divided into two groups.
We were fortunate enough to have Donald Rumbelow as our guide. And he had with him copies of the brand new edition of his famous book, updated in 2004. At the end of the tour I was definitely impressed enough to give up my 10 pounds (which given the current exchange rate is nearly $20) to get one (which he kindly autographed), and I highly recommend it and the tour.
Donald completely shattered my conception of the case by saying that Alan Moore’s comic book on the subject is 90% fiction.
I had come at Jack the Ripper through the comic book (which is extraordinarily detailed, with footnotes and everything) because I am a huge fan of Alan Moore’s, ever since I read my first Watchmen comic in 1986 or 1987. (Apparently this will be the next Alan Moore title to become a movie, after League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.)
Donald was very gracious about this, however, and acknowledged that the comic book was very good, especially in its graphical depictions of 19th century London. This all came up because of the inevitable question about the historical accuracy of “From Hell,” which was based on the comic book.
Before making the movie, Johnny Depp had spent a couple of hours on a personal tour with Donald, who told us that Johnny had wanted to play his character more straight up (i.e. historically accurate), without the opium etc. but the studio wouldn’t let him.
And as our cabbie said the next night, as my son and I were chatting with him about what we’d done in London, it could just as well be Gull or the royal family (as proposed in the comic and the movie) since no one still knows for certain who it was. We had tried to tell him about Donald’s reaction to those questions. But I guess people just like to believe what they want to believe.