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 These days, I mostly post my tech musings on Linkedin.  https://www.linkedin.com/in/seanmcgrath/

Friday, December 13, 2013

Friday, November 01, 2013

IT sure is weird: Part 1

In 1987 the XWindows consortium was formed at MIT (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X_Window_System). X Windows was this weird, powerful thing that allowed an application and its UI to be split across a network. It was very prominent in the GUI wars back in the days when "Workstations" where from companies like Apollo and Sun.

In 1994, W3C consortium was formed at MIT. Web browsers begin to take over the client side of the planet. Meanwhile, Linux - with the X Windows System built into it - is steadily taking over the server side of the planet. In 2013, HTML5 is central to a new era of Web - namely dynamic assembly of "pages" with lots of Javascript being executed client side under the control of the server which is sending over the instructions. The Javascript has access to a canvas element and can basically scribble on the screen pixel-by-pixel. A new era in rich-web-apps is possible.

Sit at, say, an Ubuntu laptop. You are most likely running an X Windows based GUI. It is perfectly capable of doing client/server apps where the server side controls what appears on the screen, down to the pixel level, using the X network protocol. You are almost certainly not doing that however. You are most likely running a browser on top of X. It is most likely using HTML5 to do what the X system could do itself, namely, remote screen control from the server side.

So server generated HTML contains Javascript which ultimately makes X calls, rather than the server side directly doing the X calls. Pretty weird. There appears to be umpteen unnecessary layers involved in all this to me. Part of me thinks that there is an alternative universe where we are all using what where confusing known as "X Servers" on our desktop machines, rather than browsers.

IT sure is weird.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Google Site verification...what a pain

Amazingly bad experience over the last couple of days trying to get a domain name mapped to a little website on sites.google.com.

Google's instructions and help on doing it are not what they need to be. I've tried all verification methods and I have lost count of the number of bizarre and misleading and contradictory error messages and instructions.

My favorite....one page that says "you are already a verified user of X", and then another page that says "You are not the verified user of X please follow the instructions at Y". I then follow the instructions at Y and end up in the same boat over and over again.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

From Big Data to Long Data

Stephen Few on Big Data is worth a read. Remember the SOA years? Service Oriented Architecture? My biggest problem with SOA was - and is - that there is no sane, concise, consensus on what an SOA is. No yardstick that could be used to determine whether or not something claiming to be an SOA really had some agreed-upon set of attributes.

Now whatever else you might think of "structured programming" or "object oriented design" or "flow based programming", at least they have identifiable technical characteristics that are generally agreed upon. I have seen all of the following claimed as "SOA"s : Relational Databases, J2EE, SOAP/WSDL, synchronous and asynchronous method invocations, CORBA, DCOM, MQSeries....

I tried - and failed - back in the day, to promote the idea that asynchronous structured message passing is the key defining characteristic of an SOA. (I believe that synchronous invocation of functions/methods/services is the root of all evil at Internet scale, but that is another story for another day.)

Today, there is a real risk that Big Data will be as content-free as SOA turned out to be. That would be a shame. At the risk of repeating my SOA mistake by putting forth what I believe to be the defining characteristic of big data, I hereby asset that IMO, the modelling of *time* is what makes Big Data different from other data.

Gone are the days of "the backup". Gone are the days of Relational Models that just record "now". We can and should move to a model of computing in which history (last second, last hour, last year...) is a first class member of our models so that we can query and mine it for insights.

Samuel Arbesmen is on to something. Read this, then go read his book The Half-life of Facts.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Memory lane...

Weird experience in some ways, walking around the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley.

Provokes an interesting feeling that there isn't a word for in English. Maybe Ithkuil has a word for it...."The feeling you get looking at items in museum cases that you consider to have been current very recently. Too recently to be in a museum and the concomitant feeling that maybe you too, should be in the case staring out, rather than staring in."...Or something like that.

Here is the ZX80 they have on display....
That is where it all started for me. The start of a hopeless addiction you could say. An all consuming passion. Yes, both of those but also, all things considered....amazing, incredible fun. What a journey to have lived through and participated in. And its all changed so fast that there are already museums for this stuff....

Monday, February 25, 2013

ReInvent Law SiliconValley 2013

This should be fun. My talk will be about the information architecture needed for 21st century legal corpora. This article is a good starting point: