I've been making steady progress on getting BottomFeeder to use WithStyle. It was kind of odd to be working on this at Camp Smalltalk today; the rest of the people in the room were pairing directly - I was getting pointers in the IRC channel from Michael. It wasn't pairing, exactly - but it got me over a few humps. I've made some more progress during my train trip - I had to leave early, as I'm flying out of Frankfurt tomorrow just before noon. It's a 4 hour train trip from Koethen to Frankfurt - so I've had plenty of time. It's been a good trip, but I'll be glad to get home again.
Jeremy Allaire asks an interesting question - when will Microsoft get commoditized?
I've been spending considerable time looking at the economics of software manufacturing and distribution in the face of open source and offshore software development, and it strikes me that in the near future Microsoft will clearly face an erosion of their core software margin business as a result of the commoditizing economics of clone software manufactured in China at 1/100th (or less) the cost of manufacturing the software in Redmond.
Well, there are some differences between hardware and software. With hardware, anyone can clone once the specs are available. Software just isn't like that. For one thing, "the specs" are usually very loose (say I want to clone Word. Where are the specs?). Look at ongoing efforts like OpenOffice, for instance - it sucks, and in most of the same ways that Word sucks. Network effects play a role here as well - for shops that have built a lot of behavior on top of Word, Excel, Outlook (etc) - "close" just doesn't cut it.
So yeah, the Chinese (or Indian, or whatever) developers are loads cheaper than the old hands up in Redmond - but they can't easily replace something like the Office Suite. There's another problem as well. At present, the overseas shops don't seem to be doing anything that would make them more productive - which is how Japanese and German manufacturers made hay back in the 60s and 70s. Sure, someone will bring up CMM at this point.... and I'm sorry, but a shop that makes a fetish out of huge stacks of mandatory metrics in endless reporting streams may be a lot of things, but more productive isn't one of them.
Now, maybe if some of these enterprising overseas shops took note of dynamic languages and XP, they might get a critical leg up on the local guys. But no, so far it's the same exact curly brace languages and the massive overhead of CMM. Until that changes, I don't think MS has a whole heck of lot to worry about from that direction.
ESUG was a good experience - like a small scale version of Smalltalk Solutions. There weren't that many people from the US or Canada - Smalltalk Solutions usually has more people from Europe attending. It's also a smaller, more intimate show - for most of the conference, there was only one track - which meant that I never had to try and figure out which of 2 (or 3) interesting talks to attend.
Probably the only bad thing was the lack of air conditioning in the main conference room. We had to close the Windows during talks in order to banish street noise - and with 100+ people all packed in the room, it got warm fast. Beyond that, it was quite nice - kudos to Stephanne Ducasse and the rest of the ESUG organizers for doing all the hard work necessary in order to bring this off.
Now the irony part - the conference was in Koethen, which is in the eastern portion of Germany (what used to be the GDR). You can still see signs of that era - lots of rundown/abandoned buildings, and a general feeling that "everyone" has up and left. The hotel was small, but pleasant - and I was able (after some experimentation) to get dialup internet access. We had good WiFi at the conference facilities, so it all worked out pretty well. Then I traveled back to Frankfurt (Main) for my flight home. I had a hotel in the city, which was nice enough - and as expensive for one night as the one in Koethen had been for three. No internet access. They claimed to have DSL, which didn't work. They also had WiFi, but no one I spoke to had any idea what a WEP key was. Dialup didn't work, since the phone system was digital. Heck, to make a call home I had to wait on hold for the MCI operator to pick up, since the phone wasn't processing any keypad input. So much for modernity - I had an easier time of it in Koethen.
That aside, it was a good trip. I would have liked staying for another day of Camp Smalltalk, but I didn't want to be away from home that long. I'll be back in Frankfurt in December, for a Cincom Smalltalk customer meeting - we are putting on a 2 1/2 day conference for people using the product. We are charging for the show - I'll have more information on that as it becomes available.
It's a long flight from Frankfurt to Pittsburgh - I wasn't really up for a non-stop BottomFeeder hacking session. I bought the USAirways headphones for this trip, and it was actually worth it. After a few hours of hacking Twoflower out and WithStyle in, I was ready for a break. I paged through the list of movies - I had already seen "Shrek 2". Sure, it was good, but worth a second viewing? Not really. Then I noticed "Miracle" - the story of the 1980 US Olympic Hockey team
Now, I've seen this movie before - my wife bought it for me last year. It was a tremendous film the first time through, so I decided to watch it again. It was every bit as fabulous the second time through. I remember those Olympics - it was my senior year of high school. I don't know if I watched the first few games - I've never really been a big hockey fan. I do remember that I started paying attention once they beat the Czech team, and watched the rest of the way through.
The movie captures so many things correctly It starts with a bunch of news clips (very short - just a few seconds of each) from the 70's - the fall of Saigon, Watergate, Carter's election, gas lines, the hostage crisis, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. It had been a decade of doubt for Americans, and the start of the movie really captured that - and it set up the hockey team as what they became by the time of the game against the Soviets - a single point of unity for the country. Ironically, that game was not the gold medal game - that was against the Finns afterwards. Things are different now - there's the internet, hundreds of cable tv channels, and the Soviets are long gone - but at the time, it really felt like the whole country came together to watch those guys play - and win - against the Soviets.
There are so many places in the movie that just make you live through that team's preparation and win. I can't recall another movie that captures the time and the time's essence so well in the context of its subject. I'm sure that I'll end up watching it many, many more times. If you don't have the movie - run out now and get it. You'll be glad you did.
Ryan Lowe asks why syndication formats like RSS and Atom don't support feed deltas by default. This is all in reference to the MSDN master feed cluster you know what. I've thought about this some since the last time I posted on it; I've come to a simple conclusion:
A master feed covering 1300 blogs is a truly stupid idea
It's too big, tries to cover too much... etc. This isn't a technical problem - it's a marketing problem. In other words, it's exactly the sort of problem that Scoble should already know how to solve - if there are feeds which are logically related, then there's value in clustering them. Otherwise, there's not. This is a sorting out issue; someone at MSDN needs to build smaller buckets...
Yes, within a paragraph Jonathan Schwartz again shows that he has no business managing mice, much less humans:
I'm watching with amusement as IBM prepares to stub its toe with their new, curiously named "OpenPower" low-end boxes.
Now, I will freely admit I am entirely confused by what they're doing. Why on earth would you ship a proprietary computer that doesn't run your own operating system (AIX)? If I were trying to freak out my installed base, that's exactly what I'd do.
Hmmm - possibly because they recognize something Schwartz never will - the smell of money. He's confused on something very simple - IBM is happy to make money on hardware they can mark up while keeping the overall costs low by using an OS they don't have to maintain themselves. Sun has yet to figure this out; they still think that people might care about Solaris on intel. Yeah, all the people who care live over here
As to the rest of his article singing the praises of the massively parallel Sparc - sure, it's a cool piece of technology. I'd say he ought to look at the size of the market for those kinds of systems - for every one prospect who both needs (and can afford) such a system, there are scads more who will just buy commodity intel boxes and slap them in racks. Heck, he could ask the Cray guys...
On the very day that I reacquired silver preferred status on USAirways, they file for bankruptcy again. I sure hope my pile of miles end up somewhere useful....
ESUG has released their 2004 CD:
ESUG Smalltalk CD Release September 2004
ESUG has assembled a CD-ROM with smalltalk systems, books and tutorials.
The CD-ROM contains the following Smalltalk Systems as Test/Full/Non Commercial Version:
- VisualWorks 7.2.1 NC
- IBM VisualAge Smalltalk
- GnuSmalltalk 2.1.8
- Squeak 3.6
- Ambrai Smalltalk Beta
Also included: free out of print books, tutorials, lectures, columns, articles about smalltalk ST-ANSI Standard and more
The CD is available as a free download (.iso image) and for $9.95 as a CD-R with worldwide shipping included.
For more information, see http://www.squeak-ev.de/EsugcD.html
Chris Petrilli explains how Smalltalk enables productivity so much better than the alternatives:
On a side note, I'm still having to reprogram myself to really work optimally in Smalltalk. I still have a lot of staticness in my mind, where I sweat the API a lot up front, because in most systems, once you put the APIdown, it's hell to change. Now, it's trivial, a few seconds of rewriting, so I can just get it running, and tweak the API in real-world use, instead of mental fantasy ideas.
The real-world is always more accurate than use cases.
Followup comments lump Smalltalk, Scheme and Lisp together and bash them all. Choice quote: "One can read Learning Perl and have a basic grasp on the language in a very short period of time. I don't think the same can be said of Smalltalk or Scheme, at least not for your average hacker."
Ok... now, go look at the periodic table of perl operators. Then, recall that Smalltalk has 5 reserved words (true, false, super, self, nil) and 2 operators (return and assignment). The syntax of Smalltalk fits on a 3x5 card - and that's too complex for the average programmer to pick up quickly, while Perl - with its mass of complexity - can be? I'm not knocking Perl here - a lot of people make great use of it. What I am knocking is the notion that it's somehow simpler than Smalltalk. That's just silly.
The next release of Cincom Smalltalk is scheduled for November - users of VisualWorks and Store are going to see a few changes that require changes to the database schema. What does that mean? Well, it depends on what version of VisualWorks you use. If you start with the upcoming 7.3 release, there will be code in the system that will prompt you to run the update - after which VW 7.3 will communicate with the repository just fine. What about older versions of VisualWorks? if you do upgrade the repository, previous releases will not (initially) be able to connect to it. We will be providing some patches (in the form of file-ins) which will allow older versions of VW with Store to connect and work with the repository. What are these changes about?
- Support for external files. This release of Store will allow you to push files directly into the repository with your code. This will be useful for making sure that files dependent on a specific version of your code (images, ssp files, etc) will be managed with your code
- Support for searching package properties.
- We are working on a project we call SmalltalkDoc, which will make it easier to produce documentation directly from Smalltalk code. A few changes were required in order to fully support this.
All of this information will be available in the release notes when we ship the product - feel free to contact me with questions in the meantime.
Peter Lount addresses the complexity/consistency divide between languages like Smalltalk and (in this case) Perl. Here's a good quote:
Many language designers place too much complexity into their language syntax. Language syntaxes are most often expressed using a version of Backus-Naur Form (BNF). (I heard that PERL's grammar is so complex that it can't be expressed in a BNF or extended BNF (EBNF) and that one of the goals for PERL6 is to simplify so that it can be. Is this true? Please let me know. Thanks.)
Meanwhile, the Java folks continue to drive on the wrong side of the road, asking What features should be added to the Java language. That's it - throw in a few more reserved words to sort it all out...
Via Blaine I found another Smalltalk vs. Java comparison. I posted a link to Chris Petrilli's comments yesterday - it turns out that you can start up a Cincom Smalltalk image multiple times during the interval that is required to start up Eclipse once. Now Blaine points to this Seaside vs. Java Weblog code comparison:
Java Struts Version 239,330 B Seaside version 26,759 B
Most of the Java struct version files contain a copyright notice. When I remove the copyright we get that the Java struts version is 5.9 times larger.
Now look at that through a productivity filter - a weblog is a fairly simple beast (I should know; I've implemented one). Using a Java web framework (one of the more popular ones at that), you end up writing nearly 6x the code that you do using one of the Smalltalk frameworks. Writing that much extra code is going to eat into some of your time... time you might otherwise be using to do testing or adding features.
Derek writes about some budget cutbacks in the California schools, and casts a dim eye over the whole thing:
California used to have a tax-credit for teachers who paid for school supplies and such which the district could not or would not provide for them. It appears now that they've discontinued that tax-credit.
This quote from the article summed it up completely:
"What are we going to do, tell the kids, `Sorry, there's no paper today,' or tell them they can't print because there's no ink?" Seelig asked. "I know I couldn't do it."
Yes, Ms. Seelig, that's exactly what you need to do. As long as there are teachers like you -- who will happily foot the bill for the entire class instead of letting the taxpayers shoulder the burden like they're supposed to -- the school will continue to take advantage of you.
Derek says this as well:
When little Johnny goes home and says "I need paper, pens, crayons, a copy of this textbook, etc., etc., etc." and rattles off a long list of stuff, many of which should be provided by the school, that's when his parents will get involved, and that's what you want, because unlike little Johnny, they vote (or at least are capable of voting).
The reason I'm skeptical is because of the way they run things where I live - Howard County, Maryland. Every year we get a list of things that we are supposed to buy for our kids as they go to school. I don't begrudge them things like notebooks, pens, etc - I expect to buy that stuff. But tissue boxes and paper towels? They expect each parent to send in a bunch of those. I ponder my property tax bill at times like that, and consider whether it's cheaper for each parent to buy three boxes of tissues, or for the school to execute a bulk order. Sure, there's an issue with storage space in there - then again, the county has more than one obsolete school on its rolls.
I understand that teachers end up buying a lot of supplies out of their own pockets - I used to be a teacher 20 years ago. I've started to have my doubts as to why that is. It looks more and more like the result of an utterly indifferent bureaucracy - from the local school on up to the state level - and less and less like a raw lack of funds. They slough the extra purchases off onto parents here, and all that happens is light grousing.
Dave Winer thinks that publishers have a problem with old/stale feeds - how to do a server based opt out:
A perennial problem with RSS is how does the publisher force an unsubscribe? Shouldn't the publisher have the right to opt-out? Right now there is no mechanism that's broadly supported by aggregators.
There's a simple way to deal with that, covered in the http specs - return a 410 (Gone). BottomFeeder will mark a feed as inactive (i.e., stop checking it), and warn the user that it's been marked Gone by the server if they try to re-activate it. This is not a hard thing...
For the vast majority of workers, a little disconnected time 14really disconnected 14could do them and their co-workers a world of good. The trust shown in them would allow underlings to experience a little more responsibility than they're used to getting and perhaps open up new opportunities for productivity and growth for everyone on the team.
Anyway, I made a conscious effort to leave my laptop and PDA behind on my vacation. I have brought them along in the past, rationalizing that I could at least keep my mailbox clear of spam. But there would be no phone line in the cabin we rented, and the nearest Starbucks was more than 60 miles away in Green Bay. I did take my cell phone but quickly found out it was useless anyway (thank you, T-Mobile). The closest I got to the Internet was the horrible screech of a 56K-bps modem from a computer in a nearby lodge. I thought, briefly, about checking my mail but fought off the urge. By the end of the week, I felt I had experienced a real vacation, rather than just time away from the office.
I haven't been truly disconnected - on vacation or otherwise - in quite awhile. The problem is explained nicely by Ted Leung:
So, you can disconnect. But when you get home, you'll have over 1000 mail messages and an even larger number of RSS items to slog through
That's why I grab email and do some filtering while I'm on vacation - the pile of stuff to be sorted on my return would just be too big otherwise. I pay a lot less attention while I'm off; I tend to sort the things that will end up needing attention and ignoring everything else - but that's easier to do on the daily load of mail than it would be after a week. I'm just not mentally prepared for the blizzard that would confront me if I left email unattended for a week or two.
Cincom is sponsoring a user conference for Smalltalk in December of this year. We will host 2 1/2 days of talks in Frankfurt, Germany - December 7, 8, and 9. I'll have further details on the hotel, registration details, and the schedule soon - mark your calendars!
Well, we now know one of the things MS got from last spring's Sun bailout - Sun sold out OpenOffice:
The 10K filing, submitted as the result of a landmark, $1.6 billion agreement last April Fool's Day between the two companies, lists three exhibits that deal specifically with the highly publicized Microsoft settlement agreement. The meat of the document states that Microsoft reserves the right to pursue patent infringement claims against OpenOffice.org, but allows for indemnification against such claims against StarOffice. StarOffice is a commercial office suite sold by Sun that is based on the free OpenOffice.org project.
Meanwhile, Sun sounds an awful lot like Dan Rather:
"Sun is strongly committed to OpenOffice.org," May Petry, a Sun Microsystems spokesperson, told NewsForge today. "The patent protection indemnification is a common, standard practice among software corporations," she added.
This is one of the reasons that MS keeps winning these sorts of fights - for all their flaws in writing software, they understand marketing and poker very, very well. Have a look at this, for instance:
For its part, Sun has agreed to license the Windows desktop system communication protocols -- which is interesting in light of all the time and money Sun has invested in the Java Desktop System -- and said it will work closely with Microsoft to improve the interoperability of the Java and .NET platforms. Cross-licensing agreements will be involved, and a Windows certification for Sun's new Xeon-based servers was also announced.
Sun went into these negotiations with a very weak hand, and MS knew it - and took great advantage of it.
Jon's Radio has a link to an interesting sound bite from Ray Ozzie on office productivity in the face of IT lockdowns. It's not a simple thing - IT wants to keep the entire organization safe from the various threats (worms, trojans, etc) in the wild - the workers need to get their jobs done. In too many places, these functions are coming into direct conflict. Maybe if MS hadn't done such a half a**** job of security in SP2, we'd be making progress here.
Jonathan Schwartz says that he's "focused like a laser" on Wall Street customers:
As you may know, I and my team have been focused on reengaging customers on Wall Street. Why? Because they're demanding customers running demanding businesses, and they've got the money, and moreover the motivation, to redefine the computing industry every few years. Few other customers have that kind of technical or financial throw weight.
If you've ever seen my travel schedule, you'd see I spend a ton of time in NYC, talking to the folks we think are changing the industry. Moreover, I've got someone on my direct staff whose sole job is connecting our R&D and business teams to the top financial institutions. I get near daily (more like nightly) updates. Believe me, we're focused like you've never seen. Like one of those little red dots.
Here's a tip - talk to JP Morgan, and figure out how it is that they manage to support new financial instruments days (sometimes weeks) before other financial firms do. Hint - it's not Sun hardware (they are moving to Linux), and it's not Java...
Peter William Lount has a nice post up on the topic of programming languages and complexity. Have a look.
The Ottawa Carleton Smalltalk Users Group is kicking off the 2004/2005 year with a presentation by a local startup company developing an application in VisualWorks Smalltalk
Sept 29, 2004
The Atlantis Project is a VisualWorks Smalltalk project that helps businesses model their processes using Finite State Machines.
The meeting will be held in Room 5115, Herzberg Laboratories (building 13 on the map http://www.carleton.ca/cu/campus/map.htm ). Pay-parking is available in Lot 1, 2, and parking meters can be found along University Drive. Free parking is available across Bronson Avenue opposite Lot 5.
Please RSVP to email@example.com if you plan to attend. For more details, please visit the web site at http://smalltalk.ottawa.on.ca.
I went to see Cellular yesterday afternoon - it was better than I expected. It was fast paced, and had internally believable rationales for just about everything - and it was relentlessly paced. In that respect, it remonded me of the first time I saw Terminator - the movie just kept rolling forward, with no chance to stop and catch your breath. It was well worth seeing, IMHO.
Speaking of movies, we also saw Lost Skeleton of Cadavera last night at a friend's house - and it was a riot. If you've ever been to MGM Studios in DisneyWorld, and eaten at the Sci Fi Dine in Theatre, then you should grab this flick - because it's a send up of every trailer they show there. It was shot in black and white to make it look like one of those flicks. The best part? Trying to figure out how the actors managed to keep straight faces during the dialog. Highly recommended.
In the broadcast television business, the ground just shifted. Take a look at this NT Times article (registration required):
For the first time, a season is beginning with cable controlling a larger share of viewers than the networks, and doubts are deepening about how many viewers will retain their network habits.
Cable channels are almost certain to grab the spotlight at the Emmy Awards tonight, mainly because one cable channel, HBO, dwarfs the broadcast networks in nominations (124), having earned more than ABC, CBS and Fox combined. Some advertisers, meanwhile, are questioning the value of buying commercials on networks that lose more viewers every year.
Last week, the Mitsubishi Motor Company pulled every penny of its advertising from prime-time network shows, $120 million worth, because, as Ian Beavis, its senior vice president for marketing, put it, "There's nothing compelling in the new network programming."
That sound you're hearing is - to quote Dogbert - the sound of a paradigm shifting without a clutch. Think about the fights over TiVo and ReplayTV, for instance - a large part of the issue has been the ability to skip commercials. The cable channels like HBO don't care about that - they collect subscription money, and don't show ads (other than for their own shows). If other companies start following Mitsubishi's lead, then it's going to be huge.
I caught this picture while I was driving back home from the mall - there's some blur, due to the fact that I was doing 60 at the time. It's a fairly nice sunset pic, I thought, taken with my picture phone. Seems to capture "end of the day" quite nicely.
I've got stable builds of BottomFeeder now, but there's one small problem - image display. At the moment, there's some kind of interfacing problem between NetResources (the code that handles http access) and WithStyle (the XML/HTML display component). It looks like a protocol issue - inspecting the results of a query gives me images - they just aren't being properly displayed. This should be fixed soon - I have email out to Michael already. Stay tuned...
Update: The download is available - check my suggestions here
I had high hopes for the new show Medical Investigations on NBC - but then I sat down and watched a pair of episodes with my wife. She was ranting at the TV the way I normally do when we are watching political pundits. Here's the problem - we've watched Discovery Health's Diagnosis: Unknown series.
What's the problem? Well, take the episode we just watched. The setup is a that a bunch of soldiers are sick - first theory, some kind of chemical/bio agent. Then they reveal that a bunch of nursing home patients are also sick, so scratch theory one. Then, it turns out that all of the victims are Catholic, and attend the same church. This is where things got silly. The lead investigator goes to the church, looking for connections between the victims. At this point, he suspects something in or around the church - so of course, he dips his hands in the holy water on his way in. It only got dumber from there
They track things down to a lay person, and go to his house. He's dead, in the basement. Is anyone wearing gloves or masks? No, it's only after they start poking around, finding rodent feces that they decide to do that (this generated a pause on the ReplayTV and a fair bit of ranting - not to mention the removal of the show from guaranteed status to optional status).
Did the producers even consider getting an expert adviser? There's also the fact that they just had to have that most annoying of devices, the irritating and irrelevant secondary plot line. Here's a tip for the writers - if the primary plot line is so bad that we need a secondary one to keep us watching - you have a problem. Sheesh.
I'm in the process of uploading a dev build of BottomFeeder with With Style as the browser component. It's ready to use, so long as you accept a few caveats - this is an early build. It works, but likely needs more testing. The first start will be slower, as all the cached http information needs to be converted (part of this changeover involved moving to a newer HTTP layer). After that, startup will be normal, and the cache will be more browser like (images, etc are saved there). Also - Asian character sets are displaying properly now. I'll update this post when the build is up.