ActiveGrid

Looks like ActiveGrid finally unveiled itself.  One sentence description of ActiveGrid is: open source development tools and application server for grid + LAMP.

There is an arguably patentable technology underneath it all though.  If you were at NetDynamics while I was there, you might remember the cascading network of holes and plugs idea I mentioned in a few occasions.  This is exactly that.

River of Time

I often feel as if I am living in a river of time.  When I was young, I didn't really care what might be downstream.  As I got older and experienced many harrowing turns of the river, I found myself looking farther and farther ahead.

What I just realized was that my sense of now changed over the years to include the future, near and far.  An event that will happen feels almost as real to me as an event happening now, just as the shape of the river downstream affects the flow of the river upstream.

Skyping Again

FYI, I can now receive Skype calls.  If you are a skyper as well, you should update Skype.  Old versions of Skype had an buffer overflow vulnerability in the 'callto' URI handler.  The trouble starts as easy as clicking on a 'callto' URL longer than 4K.  Ouch.

Some software recommendations while I am here:

  • Sam Spade is great Windows app for digging information on IP, DNS, etc.
  • Fujaba creates UML diagrams from Java source.  It has an awkward UI and not much layout smart, but it's useful for figuring out what is going on in typically class-happy Java code.  ArgoUML is a better UML tool overall, but Fujaba is handy for this task.

Scram!

NASA's unmanned jet X43A, powered by an experimental scramjet engine, flew under its own power for 10 seconds off California coast and reached close to mach 10.  Awesome!

X43A is the small (12 feet long) black thingy
at the tip of the white booster rocket
hanging under the B-52.

X43A accelerating to scramjet speed

I couldn't find any image or video of X43A flying under scramjet power.  Maybe they are classified.

BTW, NASA's scramjet project is being phased out, thanks to Bush's Vision for Space Exploration initiative which aims to send humans to Mars.  *eyeroll*  Damn it.  I wish we had more say in where my tax money goes.

Right Role for a Standards Body

Responding to my post Is Atom Ready for Prime Time?, Tim Bray wrote:

The right role for a standards body is to wait till the implementors have deployed things and worked out the hard bits, then write down the consensus on what works and what doesn’t.

I'll agree to the following version of the statement:

The right role for a standards body is to wait till the implementors have deployed things and worked out the hard bits, then write down the consensus on what works and what doesn’t without unnecessarily breaking or competing with what already works.

Atom feed format as it stands now creates too much distruption for too little gain.

Tim, do consider what works and what doesn't work in RSS 2.0 and fix it by adding to it or tightening loose parts of it instead of attempting to replace it entirely.  Then you can declare victory and everyone, even this grouchy donkey, will wholeheartedly join the victory parade.

Search: Great Walls and Silk-roads

As competition in the search space continue to heat up, I think the space is about to enter a critical phase in its evolution in which walls and roads will be built around and into popular or valuable areas of the search space.

The idea is not to restrict access but to restrict discovery or limit quality of search results, meaning that, while anyone can read those pages, they will have to use a specific search engine to find those pages or to get quality search results.

Walls will be erected around popular areas of the Web so that those areas can be searched only through a particular search service.  Major areas will be bought, shared, or locked in via some affiliate restrictions.

MSDN could be searchable only using MSN Search.  Likewise, Blogger.com blogs could be searched only through Google.  Amazon website could be made searchable only through A9.  Throw in alliances, affiliates (Amazon), and service dependency (AdSense) and time into the picture and the result is a the segregated Web.

How this phase unfolds doesn't have to be as ugly as I described above.  More palatable scenario is to open up previously unsearchable areas of the Web and make it available only through a particular search engine.  Another approach is to enrich search result using metadata not available to crawlers.

Update:

I am neither worried nor find the notion of walls in search space chilling as John Battelle wrote in reference to this post.  All businesses are, in essence, selling access to goods and services.  For goods that cost little or nothing to reproduce, selling access or quality of access is a legitimite business model.

Today's search engine results only show what they can scrape from the surface of the Web.  In order for them to provide higher quality search results, they have to dig deeper, into areas not directly accessible from the Web.  Whether or not to sell/leverage access to those areas is a business decision, not a moral one, unless there are privacy or ownership issues involved.

NetDynamics Day

I went to visit Doron Sherman's new startup, uAppoint, today.  I first met Doron at NetDynamics, a company he co-founded many years ago and sold to Sun.  Doron's last startup, Collaxa, was bought by Oracle back in June and here he was doing another startup instead of kicking back for a while in France or something.

When I got there, a building next to Palo Alto Airport where SEF (Software Entrepreneur's Forum) used to meet, I ran into Nanda Kishore who used to be VP of Engineering at NetDynamics.  I found out that he founded IM2 and his office was in the same building.

When I finally got to uAppoint's office, Doron told me that Ofer Ben-Shachar, another co-founder of NetDynamics, has an office for his latest startup (Topixis?) right next door.  I haven't seen Ofer in a long time but he was in Israel.  Too bad.  The joyful sound of heated arguments Ofer and I had while at NetDynamics still rings my ears.  Ears for Years, I guess.

So today turned out to be a NetDynamics reunion day of sort.  It seems that ex-NetDynamics guys are breeding like jack rabbits in the Silicon Valley.  Aside from Doron and Ofer, Zack Rinat is busy at Model N with Steve Zocci and Peter Yared started ActiveGrid with funding from Jean-Louis Gassée and Hummer Winblad.

I stopped by at my client's office on the way back and mentioned to a collegue about my NetDynamics Day to a collegue who mentioned that he knew Ofer in response.  Silicon Valley is a really really small world.

Stick-Shifting UI

Looks like San Jose policemen are having problem with the UI of their new in-vehicle Windows-based computer.  Although I haven't looked at the details of their trouble, I think most of the UI problems they listed can be solved by adding a stick-shift input device for selecting common tasks so that they won't have to push too many buttons or the touchscreen.

Beside being effective, the sound and the feel of the stick-shift is a pleasure to use as every sports car and truck drivers know.  Screaming clutch sound effect should be optional of course.

Steering Trains

While herding dogs may steer herds, the reality of herd behavior in human society is that it's near impossible to steer a herd of people.  While people can be individually smart, once a group of them start moving in a direction, it turns into a train.  Leaders of a group in motion can change only the speed of which the group moves.  Even worse, they will find it difficult to even get off the train.

Dorothy can't just stop in the middle of the yellow brick road and say 'Let's go back.'  You have to be either insanely courageous or stupid to be able to do that.  It's only after the trainwreck that one gets a chance to regret or wish otherwise.  It's kind of sad, but true.

In this sense, I am being unrealistic too when I say it's not too late to turn it back.  While we are all engineers, we are also human with emotions that binds us.  But then I believe that wastes, mistakes, and inefficiencies are part of what makes the world go around.  Otherwise, there wouldn't be any problems for our solutions.

Is Atom Ready For Prime Time?

Recently, Tim Bray suggested to Atom syntax mailing list that perhaps a 'victory' should be declared for Atom feed format:

The world can use Atom, sooner rather than later. The return-on-investment of further WG time invested in polishing something that's already pretty good is starting to be very unattractive. Particularly when the Protocol draft seriously needs work and progress.

Tim also asked Atom protocol mailing list whether dicussions were converging and ready to seek consensus.  So it looks like Atom WG is attempting to start the end game phase.

As I expected, the Atom feed format as it stands now is arguably not very different from RSS 2.0.  Dare Obasanjo wrote in response to Tim's victory suggestion:

So far Atom is a less featureful version of RSS 2.0.

…my internal data models in RSS Bandit haven't changed one whit because of Atom, just the parsing code.

In response, Tim enumerated the list of advantages current Atom feed format has over RSS 2.0:

  1. There's zero ambiguity about single and double escaping, you can use whichever suits your publication process better and not worry about silent data loss.
     
  2. You can include binary chunks right there in-feed, base64 encoded.
     
  3. You get help for aggregate feeds using atom:origin.
     
  4. You have a date, atom:updated, with cleanly-specified semantics ("publisher says something changed") that's *guaranteed to be there* per-entry.
     
  5. It's in an XML namespace.
     
  6. It's got a good accessibility story: you have to have an atom:summary if there's no src= or it's binary.
     
  7. You have clean semantics for linking to the entry this describes or the entry it's talking about.

Well, I wasn't exactly impressed with the list and neither was Dare.  Are you?

So it doesn't look like Atom is ready for Prime Time any time soon.  Even if victory is declared now for the Atom feed format, it will just start a Brand War since feature differences are minor, leaving only the brand as the primary differentiator.

As I pointed out seemingly ages ago, the area Atom could have made the biggest impact is in the protocol/API.  But as you can see by the level of activities in the Atom protocol mailing list, work on the protocol haven't gained much ground, let alone converge.

I don't think it's too late to use RSS 2.0 as the starting point and build on it without breaking backward compatibility.  Most of the items in Tim's list of advantages can be added to RSS 2.0 as extensions, either individually or as a set called Atom.  This will allow the Atom WG to focus on the protocol instead of getting angry.