Category Archives: Books and publications

On the occasion of Wm S. B’s 100th birthday

Below is the brief interview with William S. Burroughs I published in the May-June 1981 issue of Newcomers magazine.

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I got him to agree to do it by giving him a photocopy of an Orgone Energy Bulletin (published by William Reich, whose work I discovered reading The Job: Interviews with William S. Burroughs).

The issue I gave him had an article about the Orgone Motor, which sounded a lot like a radiometer since it supposedly worked off of free atmospheric energy (“orgone” energy, or biological energy – the centerpiece of Reich’s later work).

The Orgone Energy Bulletin was a hard thing to get in those days, although now of course it’s all online.

I had obtained my photocopies through interlibrary loan from the Library of Congress by requesting them from the Antioch College Library (where I went to college and organized an independent study on Reich).

Anyway, I went up to Burroughs after his reading (he was in Chicago promoting “Cities of the Red Night“) and knowing of his interest in Orgone energy gave him one of the photocopies in return for a promise to respond to a brief set of interview questions for my magazine.

Unfortunately, the Orgone Energy Bulletin did not disclose the critical “factor Y” that made the Orgone motor actually work (and give free energy to the world). We were supposed to find out when Reich’s lab at Orono Maine was unsealed in 2007, 50 years after his death. But I don’t think we did.

I sent the questions off and the answers arrived a few days later, all typed on a single sheet of paper. Burroughs was living in Kansas City at the time. In the magazine I also reported on his book signing appearance at Barbara’s and his reading at Tuts, and reviewed Cities of the Red Night. I will post those articles another time.

The Interview

So here, in honor of William S. Burroughs’s 100th birthday, is the brief interview:

1. What do you say when someone asks you, “What is Cities of the Red Night about”?

It’s about a remake of history and a second chance. Sooner or later for every species time runs out. Mutate or die. This is not a religious or moral but a biologic imperative. The human species is not designed to remain in its present state any more than a tadpole is designed to remain a tadpole.

2. What did you think about coming to Chicago on a publicity tour like a normal author?

I felt normal. All my reading tours have been publicity tours and I have given more than a hundred readings in the past six years. One thing authors have in common: they are in the business of writing and selling books.

3. What has been the reaction so far to Cities of the Red Night?

Critical reaction has been mixed, two good reviews to one bad. Word of mouth has been unanimously enthusiastic and positive.

4. Why is there no mention of the word love in Cities of the Red Night, though there is ample opportunity for it?

The word love has been so vulgarized and loaded with sentimental connotations that I prefer not to use it. In this book the characters are working for a common end which they take for granted. Many of them experience the mixture of liking and sexual attraction that is as close as I can come to a definition of love. It is not necessary to state the obvious.

Second Edition of TP Book out Today

It’s hard to believe, but the second edition of Principles of Transaction Processing is finally available. The simple table of contents is here, and the entire front section, including the dedication, contents, introduction and details of what’s changed, is here. The first chapter is available here as a free sample.

Photo of an early press run copy

Photo of an early press run copy

It definitely turned out to be a lot more work than we expected when we created the proposal for the second edition almost four years ago.  And of course we originally expected to finish the project much sooner, about two years sooner.

But the benefit of the delay is that we were able to include more new products and technologies, such as EJB3, JPA, Spring,  the .NET Framework’s WCF and system.transactions API, Spring, SOA, AJAX, REST/HTTP, and ADO.NET even though it meant a lot more writing and rewriting.

The first edition was basically organized around the three-tier TP application architecture widely adopted at the time, using TP monitor products for examples of the implementations of the principles and concepts covered in the book. Then as now, we make sure what we describe is based on practical, real-world techniques, although we do mention a few topics more of academic interest.

The value of this book is that it explains how the world’s largest TP applications work – how they use techniques such as caching, remote communications (synchronous as well as asynchronous), replication, partitioning, persistence, queuing, database recovery, ACID transactions, long running transactions, performance and scalability techniques, locking, threading, queuing, business process management, and state management to process up to tens of thousands of transactions per second with high levels of reliability and availability. We explain the techniques in detail and show how they are programmed.

These techniques are used in airline reservation systems, stock trading systems, large Web sites, and in operational computing supporting virtually every sector of the economy. We primarily use Java EE-compliant application servers and Microsoft’s .NET Framework for product and code examples, but we also cover popular persistence abstraction mechanisms, Web services and REST/HTTP based SOA, Spring,  integration with legacy TP monitors (the ones still in use), and popular TP standards.

We also took the opportunity to look forward and include a few words about the potential impact on TP applications of current trends toward cloud computing, solid state memory, streams and event processing, and the changing design assumptions in the software systems used to power large Web sites.

Personally this has been a great project to work on, despite its challenges, complexities, and pressures. It could not have been done without the really exceptional assistance from 35 reviewers who so generously contributed their expertise on a wide variety of topics. And it has been really great to work with Phil again.

Finally, the book is dedicated to Jim Gray, who was so helpful to us in the first edition, reviewed the second edition proposal, and still generally serves as an inspiration to all of us who work in the field of transaction processing.

What we Learned Writing the Second Edition of the TP Book

After proofing the index last week, Phil and I are finally done with the second edition of the TP book!

A lot has changed since the first edition came out in 1997.

For one thing, the TP monitor is no longer the main product type used to construct TP  applications. Many components formerly only found within TP monitors — such as forms systems for GUIs, databases, system administration tools, and communication protocols — have evoloved to become independent products.

And although we can reasonably claim that the .NET Framework and Java EE compliant application servers are the preeminent development and production environments for TP applications, it seems as if the three-tier application architecture around which we were able to structure the first edition has evolved into a multitier architecture.

Another big change is represtented by the emergence of “scale out” designs that are replacing “scale up” designs for large Web sites. The scale out designs tend to rely on different mechanisms than the scale up designs for implementing transaction processing features and functions – the scale out designs tend to rely much more on stateless and asynchronous communications protocols, for example.

By mid-2007 I had started to think it would be interesting to center the second edition around these new scale out architectures, like those implemented by large scale Web sites such as Amazon.com, eBay, PayPal, SalesForce, BetFair, etc. Phil and I had a great opportunity to learn about what these companies were doing at HTPS in October of ’07 . Unfortunately, it was impossible to identify sufficiently common patterns to do so, since each of the large Web sites has created a different way to implement a “scale out” architecture.

(BTW this was a fascinating conference, since the room was full of people who basically created the application servers, TP monitors, and relational databases successfully used in most “scale up” style TP applications. But they had to sit there and hear, over and over again, that these products just didn’t meet the requirements of large Web sites.)

Nonetheless we managed to fit everything in the book – how caching is done, replication, how replicas synchronize, descriptions of compensating and nested transactions, locking, two-phase commit, synchronous and asynchronous communications, RESTful transactions, and so on.

As in the first edition we have kept the focus on what’s  really being used in production environments (with the help of our many generous reviewers). We completely rewrote the product information to focus on current Java and .NET products and TP standards.

And finally, we idenfity the future trends toward commodity data centers, cloud computing, solid state disk, and multi-core processors, among others, which are going to significantly impact and influence the industry during the next decade or so.

One of the most interesting things I learned about in doing the book was how to design a transaction as a RESTful resource (see RESTful Web Services for more details). But once again, many of the familiar principles and concepts still apply – such as “pseudo-conversations” that have been used in TP applications for a long time to avoid holding locks during interactions with users.

Fascinating to me are the different assumptions people make in the different worlds between the REST/HTTP “scale out” designs and the mainframe-derived “scale up” designs. This is likely to remain an area of continual evolution.

Thinking about Jim Gray (again)

Yesterday I wrote “Thinking about Jim Gray” because I had been thinking about him on and off for most of the week. It looked like the search was over, and I wanted to say something.
Today I find myself unable to stop thinking about him. It’s partly because I’ve been working on updating the TP book, and that keeps him in my thoughts because of his relationship to the book, but it’s also because updating the book involves a lot of tedious work, and my mind tends to wander off.
So much is out there about him. I take breaks from the manuscript and search the news and the blogs. It’s unbelievable. Now the search is continuing through private efforts and searching photos on the Web.
I did go to the Amazon site, and I went through some of the photos. It seemed like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack, but I guess you never know what might help. Can you imagine if one of us finds him that way? It is already becoming a phenomenon.
A good place to find out what’s going on is the Tenacious search blog. It summarizes what everyone is doing — computer analysis, postering, analyzing cell phone records, shipping records, Web cams, reports from the family, etc.
You can also see some of the photos here in a different format from how they’re presented on Amazon.
Some folks suggest Jim might just have kept on sailing to Mexico or somewhere else across the Pacific…
If we knew what happened to him, that would be one thing. For example, I do not want to write in the past tense, not yet. Although the news isn’t good, there is still hope.
I guess what mainly strikes me is the huge amount of interest. Everyone who works with him says what a great guy he is, and it’s amazing how much he’s contributed to computer science. Everyone seems to feel about him the way I do — as a friend, but more — someone to really look up to.
As I work on the book I find myself thinking about him and the example he set.
Wherever you are, Jim, I hope you can sense some of what’s going on – and see how you have truly touched so many lives. So many of us thinking about you, and still hoping you are well.

Book Signing in Beijing

By sheer chance my visit to China last week coincided with the release of Chinese edition of our SOA book.
The publisher was kind enough to invite me to a book signing ceremony, which involved a 30-minute lecture, an hour or so interview, and a Q&A session with the audience before any actual signing occurred.
I also had a chance to meet the translator, Colin Hsu, with whom I’d exchanged more than 100 emails (he kept track). Colin gave me a Beijing Olympics baseball hat and T-shirt, so I decided to wear the hat throughout the ceremony.
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Me and Colin after the signing
It is an honor that ours is the first SOA book to be translated into Chinese, and it was amazing to see so many people at the signing. They asked a lot of good questions, too, which shows that SOA seems to be starting to take off in China. Should be very interesting to see what happens…

New Book Review

Gunnar Peterson posted a review of the SOA book I wrote with Greg Lomow, and also put it on the book’s Amazon page. Thanks, Gunnar!
I hear from many people privately about the book, and that’s always great, of course, but I really appreciate it when someone takes the trouble to post a public comment or review.
I’ve started posting some entries on my Amazon blog. These entries allow for comments, as does this blog – so feel free to jump in!
Gunnar is correct in pointing out that while Greg and I identified gaps in most Web services technologies in relationship to overal SOA infrastructure requirements, we did not really manage to get that far with the security specs. The chapter on security specifications was definitely one of the hardest ones to write, and I think we just kind of ran out of time on the gap analysis part.
Information about the gaps in the security specs would be a great comment to post, or a link to another page that contains this information – maybe Gunnar will post something about this in the future…
ps the Chinese language version of our book is coming out at the end of this month, and I will be in Beijing next Sunday for a book signing at the Beijing Zhongguancun book Plaza from 3-5 pm July 23. Please stop by if you are around – i will also be doing a presentation on SOA and hosting a Q&A before the signing.

More SYS-CON TV

I was in Seattle last week and didn’t get much time to update the blog. Otherwise I would have posted this sooner.
The other two SYS-CON TV recordings are out:

It’s also great to see the SOA Power panel still on the most popular list. I thought that was the better of the two panels, a more lively discussion around the table, with everyone contributing and complementing what the other said.
As I mentioned, these were all done in an afternoon at the Reuters Studio overlooking Times Square.
I came from San Francisco on the redeye, walked for an hour to get some exercise and buy some dark socks (for some reason I hadn’t packed enough dark socks), slept for a couple of hours, got some lunch, and headed to the studio.
Then it was basically one panel after the other, directly followed by the one-on-one. Jeremy let me go first so I could catch my plane, but that meant I went right from the open source panel to the one-on-one. It seemed to be over before it got started. I left thinking it hadn’t gone very well – in fact wondering whether they would even post it.
I was just too tired. I didn’t manage to say everything I wanted to say. I can really see it, but I’m not sure it is so obvious to anyone who didn’t know how I was feeling. Everyone who’s seen it tells me it came out fine. So I guess you never know.