Wide Awake Developers

Webber and Fowler on SOA Man-Boobs

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InfoQ posted a video of Jim Webber and Martin Fowler doing a keynote speech at QCon London this Spring. It’s a brilliant deconstruction of the concept of the Enterprise Service Bus. I can attest that they’re both funny and articulate (whether on the stage or off.)

Along the way, they talk about building services incrementally, delivering value at every step along the way. They advocate decentralized control and direct alignment between services and the business units that own them. 

I agree with every word, though I’m vaguely uncomfortable with how often they say "enterprise man boobs".

Coincidence or Back-end Problem?

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An odd thing happened to me today. Actually, an odd thing happened yesterday, but it’s having the same odd thing happen today that really makes it odd. With me so far?

Yesterday, while I was shopping at Amazon, Amazon told me that my American Express card had expired. While it is set for a May expiration, it’s several years in the future. I didn’t think too much of it, because when I re-entered the same information, Amazon accepted it.

Today, I got the same thing with the same card on iTunes!

Online stores don’t do a whole lot with your credit cards. For the most part, they just make a call out to a credit card processor. Small stores have to go through a second-tier CCVS system that charges a few pennies per transaction. Large ones—and do they get larger than Amazon?—generally connect directly to a payment processor. The payment processor may charge a fraction of a cent per transaction, but they definitely make it up in volume.

(There are other business factors, too, like the committed transaction volume, response time SLAs, and the like.)

Asynchronously, the payment processor collects from the issuing bank. It’s the issuing bank that actually bills you, and sets your interest rate and payment terms.

Whereas VISA and MasterCard work with thousands of issuers, American Express doesn’t. When you get an AmEx card, they are the issuing bank as well as the payment processor.

Which makes it highly suspect that the same card gave me the same error through two different sites. It makes me think that American Express has introduced a bug in their validation system, causing spurious declines for expiration. 

Social Factors

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I mentioned Tom DeMarco just a couple of days ago. I’m re-reading his great book, Why Does Software Cost So Much? for the first time in about ten years.

Personally, I credit Tom as one of the unsung progenitors of the agile movement. Long before we had "Agile" or even "lightweight methods", Tom was talking about the psycho-social nature of software development. 

For instance, here’s an excerpt from essay 8, "Nontechnological Issues in Software Engineering":

Imagine your boss just plunked a specification on your desk and asked, "How long will it take you and one other person to get this job done?" What’s the first question out of your mouth?

Would you ask, "Can we use object-oriented methods?" or "What CASE system can we buy?" or "Is it okay to use rapid prototyping?" Of course not. Your first question is,

Who is the other person?

Absolutely. Right on, Tom. 


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A friend invited me to Plurk. So far, I’ve resisted Twitter for no good reason (other than a vague sense of social insecurity.) I figure I’ll dip my toe into Plurk, though.

This link is an open invite to Plurk. It’ll let anyone join. Fair warning, it’s also a "friend" link. 

Six Word Methods

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In his great collection of essays Why Does Software Cost So Much?, Tom DeMarco makes the interesting point that the software industry had grown from zero to $300 billion dollars (in 1993). This indicates that the market had at least $300B worth of demand for software, even while complaining continuously about the cost and quality of the very same software. It seems to me that the demand for software production, together with the time and cost pressures, has only increased dramatically since then.

(DeMarco enlightens us that the perennial question, “Why does software cost so much?” is not really a question at all, but rather a goad or a negotiation. Also very true.)

Fundamentally, the demand for software production far outstrips our industry’s ability to supply it. In fact, I believe that we can classify most software methods and techniques by their relation and response to the problem of surplus demand. Some try to optimize for least-cost production, others for highest quality, still others for shortest cycle time.

In the spirit of six-word memoirs, here are the sometimes dubious responses that various technology and development methods’ offer to the overwhelming demand for software production. 

Waterfall: Nevermind backlog, requirements were signed off.

RAD: Build prototypes faster than discarding them.

Offshore outsourcing: Army of cheap developers producing junk.

Onshore outsourcing: Same junk, but with expensive developers.

Agile: Avoid featuritis; outrun pesky business users.

Domain-specific languages: Compress every problem into one-liners.

CMMi: Enough Process means nothing’s ever wasted.

Relational Databases: Code? Who cares? Data lives forever.

Model-driven architecture: Jackson Pollack’s models into inscrutable code.

Web Services: Terrorize XML until maximum reuse achieved.

FORTH: backward writing IF punctuation time SAVE.

SOA: Iron-fisted governance ensures total calcification.

Intentional programming: Parallelize programming… make programmers of everyone.

Google as IDE: It’s been done, probably in Befunge.

Open-source: Bury the world in abandoned code.

Mashups: Parasitize others’ apps, then APIs change.

LISP: With enough macros, one uberprogrammer sufficies.

perl: Too busy coding to maintain anyway.

Ruby: Meta-programming: same problems, mysterious solutions.

Ocaml: No, try meta-meta-meta-programming.

Groovy: Faster Java coding, runs like C-64.

Software-as-a-Service: Don’t write your own, rent ours.

Cloud Computing: Programmers would go faster without administrators.

New Article: S2AP + Eclipse + Maven Walkthrough

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See Getting Started With SpringSource Application Platform, Eclipse, and Maven.

Most of the information out there about programming in S2AP is in blogs or references to really old OSGi tutorials. It took me long enough to configure some basic Eclipse project support that I figured it was worth writing down. All of the frameworks and tool sets are very flexible, which means you have more choices to deal with when setting up a project. Sometimes, being concrete helps… there may be a lot of options, but when it’s time to do a project, you only care about one set of choices for those options. This guide is completely specific to using Eclipse to write bundle projects for SpringSource Application Platform.

If that’s your specific set of needs, great! If not, that’s OK too, because the beauty of the Web is that somebody else will have a tutorial on your exact combination, too. 

Canadian Privacy Commissioner Highlights Cloud Privacy Concerns

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A little while ago, I wrote a piece about the conflict between "clouds" and the hard boundaries of the political sphere. There’s no physical place called "cyberspace", and any cloud computing infrastructure has to actually exist somewhere.

Like many U.S. citizens, I really hate the idea that facts about me become somebody else’s copyrighted property just because they get stored in a database. Canada has a justifiably good reputation for protecting its citizens’ privacy. Their legal framework takes the refreshing position of protecting individuals rather than protecting the ability of non-corporeal entities (a.k.a. "incorporated persons", a.k.a. "corporations") to collect any and all information.

I hadn’t realized that there were such offices as the "Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario", however.

Better still, Ontario’s IPC Commissioner, Dr. Ann Cavoukian, is very current. She’s just released a white paper on the privacy implications of cloud computing. She’s calling for open standards around digital identity management, and outlines some technological building blocks needed for controllable trust and identity verification.

Unlike the U.S. approach to identity verification, Dr. Cavoukian’s approach has nothing to do with catching illegal aliens, welfare frauds, or terrorists. Instead, it’s about creating open, trustworthy ways for humans to interact in all their various modalities from commerce, to entertainment, and even to romance. 

Quickie: GAE Is GA

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According to eWeek, Google will make GAE open to public use on May 28th.  Which would be today.

The original GAE site isn’t updated at this point, but you can get started anyway.  I just set up my account and registered an app. (I predict tens of thousands of empty apps. Long-tail distribution here, just like SourceForge: an overwhelming majority of empty projects, with a vanishingly tiny minority that have 99% of the traffic.)

Now I just need to find time to learn Python and write something cool. 

Wii Wescue

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So, I got a Wii for Father’s Day last year. It’s been a lot of fun to play together with my kids, my wife, and even my parents and in-laws. It’s fantastic to have a game system that we can all play together and be reasonably competitive.  My six-year old can hold her own in Wii bowling, but she cries a lot when we play Halo. (I’m just kidding…)

Unfortunately, my three-year old put a shiny disc of her own into it: a plastic toy coin. Well, it does say "Play Money" right on the front. Right in the drive slot. I figured my Wii was a goner for sure.

"Play Money" 

I set about opening the thing up to remove the coin, but got stumped by these custom screws, kind of like a Philips head, but with three prongs. Turns out these are called "Triwing" screws and they’re specifically designed to keep end users out of the machine, on the theory that these are not widely used screws, so most people won’t have the means to unscrew them. True, it slowed me down a bit. I had to order a kit from Thinkgeek that has driver bits for every console on the market.

Opened it up, got the coin out, and the Wii still works!

But, surely these belong somewhere, don’t they?


Opening Up SpringSource AP

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Just now getting my hands on the SpringSource Application Platform. It’s deceptive, because there’s very little functionality exposed when you run it. It starts up with less ceremony than Apache or Tomcat. (Which is kind of funny, when you consider that it includes Tomcat.)

When you look at the bundle repository, though, it’s clear that a lot of stuff is packaged in here. In a way, that’s like the Spring framework itself. On the surface, it looks like just a bean configurator. All the really powerful stuff is in the libraries built out of that small core.

Here’s a quick listing of the bundles in version 1.0.0.beta: 


There’s clearly a lot of functionality built in, but how do you get at it? The SAP, erm, SpringSource AP documentation screams for improvement. Maybe they think that, because all the parts are documented elsewhere, there’s no need for any integrated docset. If so, they would be wrong. Despite that, I’m interested enough to keep poking away at it.

Oh, and one other thing: the default administrator account is admin/springsource. (It’s actually defined in servlet/conf/tomcat-users.xml.) For some reason, that’s buried in chapter 5 of the user guide. It would be handy to make that more prominent.