my recent reads..

Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters; From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima
Power Sources and Supplies: World Class Designs
Red Storm Rising
Locked On
Analog Circuits Cookbook
The Teeth Of The Tiger
Sharpe's Gold
Without Remorse
Practical Oscillator Handbook
Red Rabbit

Monday, October 29, 2007

Blogging as RWT (Remedial Writing Therapy)

A collegue of mine said I must have a case of blog-addiction since I'm maintaining two personal blogs - tardate and pratalife - as well as a group internal blog. So of course, how could I respond other than by blogging about it? ;-)

For me, the motivation to blog actually stems from a recognition that after 20 years of a technical consulting career I find myself with a kind of literary disability! I've been trained too well to think and write like this:

  • Background

    • Early years: enjoyed art. English teacher voted me "most likely to write a novel"

    • Shift to science/math high school major

    • 4 years of engineering/computing degree

    • 20 years in IT - development/project management/consulting

  • Understanding of the problem

    • Think in bullet points

    • Focus on logical presentation of argument/point-of-view

    • Descriptive and narrative writing not needed

      • (may be spoken)

      • drop adjectives - except for sales-related like "best practice", "open standards-based", "agile"

  • Solution

    • Start a blog

    • Start writing full sentences again

    • Focus on story-line, experiment with techniques for getting a message across

    • Cover wider range of topics and subject matter

    • Form of Remedial Writing Therapy (RWT)

  • Benefits

    • Rediscover vocabulary

    • Build story-telling skills

    • Rekindle interest in broader range of intellectual pursuits

    • Even with a small audience, some chance of feedback

  • Not in scope

    • Won't help learning how to use a real pen again!

So is it working? I think so. The first effect I noticed is an almost immediate improvement in my ability to sit down with a topic, get into a flow and quickly produce a finished piece. Remember essay writing at school? Yes, like that.

I will leave you to be the judge of whether what I have to say makes any sense or is of any interest!

NB: Yes, you may have noticed my homage to Aaron Swartz' Powerpoint Remix, which is included in Joel Spolsky's excellent anthology The Best Software Writing I

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Registering namespaces with SOAP::Lite

About time to post about something ... too many OpEd pieces of late!

An interesting question came up on the soaplite mailing list concerning how to modify the namespaces registered in the SOAP envelope. Documentation is not especially clear on this point.

Of course, a quick hack is to attach a full namespace to an element directly, as in:
SOAP::Data->name('itemName')->attr({'xmlns:mns' => 'http://my.namespace'})

With version SOAP::Lite 0.65 and above, the register_ns serializer method helps to correctly construct the envelope, as shown in the following example:
#!/usr/bin/perl -w
# $Id$

use strict;

#SOAP::serializer->register_ns requires 0.65
use SOAP::Lite 0.65 +trace => 'debug';

my $soap = SOAP::Lite
->proxy( 'http://localhost/blah/DummyService' );

my $serializer = $soap->serializer();
$serializer->register_ns( 'http://my.namespace', 'mns' );

my $som = $soap->call(
=> SOAP::Data->name('mns:description' => 'an item in my namespace')->type('mns:mytype')

This generates the following SOAP request:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<mns:description xsi:type="mns:mytype">an item in my namespace</mns:description>

A blog about nothing (was: a can of worms)

Jake is right .. this is getting a little too much like Seinfeld.

So many posts about bloggers at OpenWorld.

Seems to me a storm in a teacup (admittedly, roughly the same size as a can of worms, but probably shouldn't be confused - print picture on right for easy reference). Most of it driven by a comparison to what "other" companies do.

As an avid blog reader, I'm actually more interested in an intelligent post from someone who has taken some time to reflect and write about their usage of the software (be it from a project, production or just playing with an OTN download).

Don't get me wrong, I definitely see value in blogging from OpenWorld - as much for the community buzz as discussion of the latest and greatest OpenWorld news. But to put too much emphasis on this I think actually plays into the hands of the supposed PR and Marketing heavies (everything focused around a single, well orchestrated event).

Since I also represent a "global audience" (living in Singapore), there's also the geographic factor. Notwithstanding whether travel costs are reimbursed, I never expect an event centred around a single location in the US to fully represent the diversity of the blogging community I'm so comfortable with.

As such, I'd be even more impressed if we saw OTN podcasts evolve into a more interactive channel (e.g. using talkshoe a la net@nite) to give true, open access for the community to key execs (and then blog about it).

Then there is the question of disclosure. Mary Ann Davidson just posted a poignant discussion of disclosure. Although arrowed at a security audience, the timing is perfect for the opening of Jake's can of worms;-)

I just can't seem to get myself worked up over this either. Perhaps something I drank last night? Or perhaps I've just got a bit more faith in the sophistication of the audience that is now growing up with blogging et al. Two factors: influence (declared or not) stands out like a sore thumb (or else why is it so easy to recognise the executive blogs that are straight out of the marketing playbook). Second, thanks to the magic of RSS I'm not just listening to one person's voice.

So all in all, I reckon getting free registration is a pretty good first step (despite the fact that other companies may do more for you). It's not like the information won't be available for all to see and share after the show, so if you want the prestige of having the first blog post up on a particular subject maybe paying some of your own way ain't such a bad deal.

I would make one concession however: I do think it would be in Oracle and the community's best interest for Oracle to have some flexibility when it comes to the (very) few bloggers who have truely crossed the line and are in fact analyst/press and should thus be treated as such.

So much for my post about nothing;-)

Disclosure: since I work at Oracle, I never expected a blogger invite (and I wasn't able to wangle an employee seat), so perhaps that explains my disinterest in getting all het up about the issue!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day: Enterprise 3.0 - the only one that really matters

Today is Blog Action Day - a day for bloggers around the world to put the environment on the agenda. Look out for tens of thousands of posts on tree planting, cycling to work and sorting your rubbish. And probably some lively coverage of climate change. My little blog here is (supposedly) technical, so I'd better keep my comments on the environment in context.

Prevailing wisdom

I guess it is the prevailing wisdom that IT hasn't got a lot to do with the environment, short of cutting down on office lighting, dealing with toxic waste, and of course any personal contribution IT workers make as everyday citizens of the world.

But things are changing. I've noticed greening of the data center becoming much more prominent in the IT press of late - for example, a recent c|net news article on Squeezing green from the data center. Tackling the data center is probably the most obvious initiative because it is where there is a concentration of power usage (and wastage). Getting green can easily show quick bottom-line benefits.

Greening Enterprise Applications

However, I think there is perhaps a far more significant consideration for IT .. the role Enterprise application vendors should have in providing software that helps companies around the world manage their operations, not only to maximise profitability, but meet their environmental obligations (and hopefully show a bottom-line benefit as a result).

I posted on this topic the other week (Why SOX Won't Keep Your Feet Dry), so I won't rehash all the arguments here.

The bottom line is that I believe over the next few years, we'll find businesses looking to their Enterprise Application vendors to provide the leadership, best practices and solutions to help them manage profitable, green operations. Vendors that can deliver will win, those that can't will get side-lined.

Ironically, it's countries like China, which don't have the best environmental track record, that also have the most to gain, and given their projected growth rates are likely to be at the forefront of this trend. And a good thing that will be too!
NB: I'm at a workshop with a very large company in China this week, so I may have a chance the test this theory with their leaders. Maybe I'll get to post some reinforcement of this view ... or maybe a retraction and a rethink;-)

Rethinking Enterprise 3.0

Justin Kestelyn posted a good wrap of the Web/Enterprise-2.0 dust-up that's been feeding some good discussion in the Oracle blogs of late. But it's easy to lose the historical perspective. When all is said and done, is *2.0 such a big deal?

  • Technically - web apps caught up with what client apps could do a decade earlier. Finally!

  • Socially - the people seized the power of the new technology and began to drive their own agenda. Just as they always do. Remember the 18th century pamphleteers - the bloggers of their day?

I'm going to cast a different point of view here: the *2.0 debate will historically prove to be pretty irrelevant.

What really does matter however is Enterprise 3 - as in, the next stage of IT evolution that recognises software as a vital part of civilization's cability to address the environmental challenges of the 3rd millenia. For the sake of the planet and human society.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Oracle/SAP Battlelines for the Future Enterprise - take #2

OK, I jumped the gun by about 12 hours when I posted my little pitch on why the battle for enterprise developer mindshare will prove more significant than the recent focus on BI acquisitions by Oracle and SAP.

Now we have the news that Oracle is offering to buy BEA Systems. Long a favourite speculation, its amazing to see it really happen. If this goes through it will basically make IBM and Oracle the two leading Enterprise Java Platform providers.

Certainly Oracle couldn't risk BEA ending up in SAP's hands, and Oracle has long been strategically committed to Java. But holding such a strong hand could be a problem if it leads to a kind of Java-only tunnel vision.

Oracle/SAP Battlelines for the Future Enterprise

The big news in the enterprise over the past week has of course been SAP's aquisition of Business Objects. While this definitely marks another major milestone in the consolidation of the BI industry, there's some questioning on just how important this will prove to be in the long term.

My personal feeling is that in a few years we may look back and realise that all the BI news obscured the real story of the day ... James Governor's post on Mashing up SAP may appear to be an innocent conference write-up, but could be seen as one of the early shots fired in the ultimate battle between SAP and Oracle for the enterprise developer (dressed up as "Enterprise Mashups" or "Enterprise 2.0" if you wish).

I'm expecting this to be a key battleground over the next couple of years. By 2009, we'll begin to see full convergence of the *2.0/RIA trend along with the componentisation/service-enablement of the ERP suites (call it SOA or SCA). This will herald a new era of enterprise development, where customers will expect to buy and configure standard software components from Oracle/SAP, but then deploy for use within highly tailored and personalised "user-interaction environments" (web pages or portals in today's terminology, but on steroids).

If this is the future, then the application back-end risks commoditisation and the vendor that owns the hearts and minds of the enterprise development community will take the crown. And SIs who make their bacon implementing enterprise applications have had their warning: one day soon you will wake up and the world will have changed. Not ready? Sorry, you're out of business.

In this context, Web 2.0 has just been a warm-up lap for taking on the enterprise.

We can see the battle lines being drawn. I think the Adobe-SAP partnership, which has been getting a lot of positive press of late, may go down in history as way more significant than BO. Events like RedMonk's enterprise mashup track at the upcoming SAP TechEd in Munich continue to highlight their embrace of the rich internet application development community.

I like their theme ... "driving accidental awesomeness" ... the future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed (William Gibson).

Of course, Oracle has not been silent. One could even argue that just like the Hyperion acquisition prompted SAP to move on BO, it was Oracle's vision for Fusion Applications got the ball rolling in the first place. As I've blogged before though, Oracle appears to be a little slow to embrace the implications for enterprise developers ... that is, until Oracle AppsLab hit the scene.

Oracle has done a great deal to attract diverse developer audiences (from PHP to .NET to an interesting category of "non-PHP scripting languages"), but this is generally not applications-related. Of course it's own application development strategy currently remains firmly committed to Java and ADF in particular. What will be most interesting is how we see Oracle incorporate the needs of (non-ADF) "mashup" developers as Fusion Applications become concrete.

So in one sense it appears Oracle and SAP are pursuing diametrically opposed strategies - SAP hunting for communities to "adopt" and build (like Adobe), whereas the Oracle approach is perhaps a bit more like "build it well, and they will come". It will be interesting to watch this one play out ...

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Some good books and sounds...

Turns out I'm mainly using my PrataLife blog for music and book reviews. Thought I'd post a summary here of what I've been through over the past few months..

First, fiction:
If there's one single recommendation I'd make, it would be to check out Terry Fallis' The Best Laid Plans. It's a delight - as a (free) podcast novel, and soon I will hopefully have the real, physical book in my hands...

Along the way I've snuck in a few music faves such as Gwen Stefani's The Sweet Escape (also with a mention of Japan's incredible Uplift Spice) and Rush's Exit.. Stage Left.


I first heard about BillMonk on the Ruby on Rails podcast. It's a really neat concept, helping you to track and share bills and things you might lend. The podcast is very interesting because it of course covers the rails aspects as well as the story behind the site itself.

You can use the site stand-alone, but it also has good integration with facebook - which is what I've been testing with some of my friends.

Well worth checking out if you share a house or often end up splitting meal or vacation bills with friends - or even just to keep track of movies or books you may lend out.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Ballmer Peak and the Programmers' Paradox

xkcd wrote up the Ballmer Peak recently. got me thinking about what I call the Programmer's Paradox, which is the lag in creativity behind skill on the inebriation scale. This has been shown to explain why you are more likely to wake up with pizza on your face than a finished program after that "flash of inspiration" last night. Here's my graphic...

original post from pratalife..

Why SOX won't keep your feet dry

I had the privilege of listening to Kevin Walsh's "30/30" presentation last week. Kevin is Oracle's CTO for Asia Pacific and has a long and illustrious career which makes him uniquely qualified to deliver this talk - the theme of which is to look 30 years back in IT history to get a perspective on how far we have come, and then attempt to look 30 years into the future (with all due disclaimers). Take a 30 year view, and things get distinctly freaky - nanotech, quantum computing and so on.

It's actually the second time I've heard the presentation, but this time I happened to have just finished Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers (my review is here).

Now, Kevin's theme was technology so I can't fault his focus, but I got to thinking that within the 30-year timeframe one of the biggest challenges facing the world is climate change, and this must surely have an impact on what we know today as "business software".

Now, before you say "pish!" and dismiss this as an eco-nut rant, consider three facts of importance:

  1. that climate change is upon us - we have reached the tipping point [by 2005 we had refereed proof of global warming]

  2. that the change is for the worse - the only disagreement being about the specific effects our planet will need to endure

  3. that while human activity is not the only contributor, we know that it is a factor, and more importantly we know ways in which our impact can be lessened (Bex Huff just had a great post about the greenest cars; you may be surprised)

So the question is really no longer should we act but will we?

Green-thinking Enterprise Software

Of course in 2007, the prevailing mentality is that enterprise software hasn't got alot to do with the environment. It's the power companies, OPEC and so on that matter, right? Take a look at the OpenWorld session agenda, and it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the environment is ... well, off the agenda. On the Oracle corporate website you will find an environmental statement much along the lines of any "non-energy related" company. We turn our lights off at night etc etc.

I couldn't find an environmental statement on the SAP site, which is strange since I thought the Europeans were renowned for their green intelligence. SAP Environmental Compliance is covered under GRC, but looking further at the SAP Mining or Oil&Gas industry marketing sites and the promise is simply to help you lower costs, increase profitability, and improve competitiveness.

I reckon this is something that needs to change.

Fundamental to the health of the planet (and future of the human race) is the efficiency and carbon load firstly of the power grid, and secondly transportation. While governments and consumers have a significant role, on the whole it is business that is either the direct power user, or are the mediator of our demand. And what do businesses around the world rely on to operate efficiently and profitably? Why, that wonderful class of enterprisey software of course - which for the majority of companies means SAP or Oracle, the behemoths of the industry.

Enterprise software has three extremely important potentials when it comes to the envirnmental agenda:

  • It provides unprecendented access to manage and report on end-to-end operations - supply chain, manaufacturing, distribution, retail and so on

  • It facilitates the reduction of data to financal metrics

  • Good enterprise software done well has the ability to promulgate best practice across industry and across the globe.

In other words, why shouldn't the CEO's dashboard be displaying the company's envirnomental performance alongside traditional measures, and most importantly (if you want to see behavioural changes), show the cost impact to the company as a result? Completed your energy audit and started to implement recommendations? Great - just watch the benefits start flowing to the bottom line.

Or to put it another way - enterprise software has a critical role to play in ensuring that our ability to execute on the environmental agenda can keep up with our save-the-planet rhetoric.

The Tao of SOX and what it has to do with the Environment

Unfortunately SOX won't keep your feet dry as water levels rise, nor may you need them to keep warm.

But it is instructive how SOX has swept the world of enterprise software, and arguably stems from just a couple of cases of massive corporate fraud in the US and one in Europe. Within a few years, the legislative impact has spread around the globe, and all enterprise software companies worth their salt have a SOX or Basell II position.

It has spawned a new "industry" called Governance, Risk and Compliance (or variations thereof). While this can and does incorporate safety, health and environmental aspects of corporate governance, the SOX pendulum is still swinging and the focus remains squarely fixed on financial aspects only. Checkout the Oracle GRC materials and you'll find (with some effort) a scant 1 or 2 indefinite references to the environment. SAP's Environmental Compliance material does seem to read better. RedMonk's James Governor has been giving some good coverage of GRC offerings, including the environmental aspect.

Just like SOX has had a major impact on our economic environment in such a short time, I think we need a similar revolution concerning our actual environment.

I hate to say it, but in the US it may just be a matter of a few more years of class 4-5 hurricanes to trigger a change. A government facing continued multi-billion relief budgets and a population clamouring for "something to be done", is a government ready to act.

So we're not just talking about a salve for the conscience. The insurance industry will be heard also, and I'm sure that carries quite a bit of weight on Capitol Hill. From the Wall Street journal 7 May 2003:
With all the talk of potential shareholder lawsuits against industrial emitters of greenhouse gases, the second largest re-insurance firm, Swiss Re, has announced that it is considering denying coverage, starting with directors' and officers' liability policies, to companies it decides aren't doing enough to reduce their output of greenhouse gases.

Why China could be the turning point

Across the globe, there is nothing conceptual about the environmental challenges facing China, and so much stems from the thirst for power to drive its growth.

As usual, any stats about China are boggling: 120-odd new coal-fired power stations in the current decade, and more to come each year (despite the fact that they also project to commission 2 nuclear power stations a year for the next few decades).

With typical PRC pragmatism, there are signs that China knows it needs to act and has already adopted the goals of reducing its national energy intensity by 4 percent each year and obtaining 15 percent of the country's energy from renewable sources by 2020. Expect ever-tougher environmental laws being executed in China.

So while the China market for Enterprise Software booms, I think it is also fair to expect that within a few years software that just offers to implement efficient and profitable business processes will not cut it. The products that sell will be those that also help companies to meet their environmental obligations.

This trend could produce some interesting outcomes. The expectation will of course be that the western products (notably Oracle and SAP) must surely incorporate all the environmental best practice. If this is found not to be the case (hmmm?), it would open an opportunity for one of the Chinese ERP vendors to develop and sell a product properly configured for the local market. After which, we find the vendor turn around and sell their environmentally-best-practice enterprise software back into the US and European markets, a la Lenovo?

Why the Enterprise Software vendors need to wake up

Well, to stay in business and make alot of money seems a pretty good reason.

We could be talking as little as 5 years for the worm to turn - a few more hurricanes hitting the US, and China rapidly awakening to the fact that it's ecomonic success is so heavily dependent upon the environment.

At that point, you will not be the most important enterprise software company if you do not have adequate environmental, health and safety capabilities baked into your offering. You will not be welcome, useful or relevant.

So where is the Oracle/SAP Environmental Management System, Carbon Ledger or the Energy Audit and Reporting System? The problem is that most of the enterprise software has not been designed with an environmental agenda in mind.

So what's an enterprisey company to do?

  • Launch your environmental mission statement at your OpenWorld/Sapphire/etc. The mission? To be the most important enterprise software partner helping business meet their environmental commitments across the globe.

  • Short-term, beef up the environmental focus of your Governance, Risk & Compliance-type offering. It should be the easiest quick-fix.

  • Commit say 20% of R&D to baking environmental capabilities into core business services (application components)

Bonus marks may be awarded if you want to point out that for all it's good work, the Gates Foundation will be pretty irrelevant should humanity face the worst outcomes predicted by those modelling climate change. So Larry could help fix the planet, give Bill a bloody nose ... and make money doing it;-) Perfect!

Through the looking glass

If my rant hasn't been kookie enough already, I'll go out on a limb and humbly make some 30-year predictions ....

  • The world survived to 2037. So far. But the jury is still out as to whether we have acted just-in-time or just-too-late.

  • By 2037, value investors on the stock markets pay as much note of CPS (carbon-per-share) as EPS (earnings-per-share).

  • Some years earlier, Oracle donated an installation of Database 20q (quantum edition) to globally consolidate carbon emission, energy distribution and planetary metrics, and drive the climate change models used for the daily briefings to the leaders of all UN member states.

  • Oracle released Fusion Applications 20e (environmental edition), which as the marketing material states is "used by 9 out of 10 Global Fortune 1000 companies to meet or exceed the environment-neutral operating standards as required by law while maximising benefits for their shareholders, employees and community".