Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Greed and vision

I was listening to NPR this morning to a fascinating analysis by someone who has talked to everyone from homeowners to lenders to Wall Street about the home loan fiasco. He said everybody up and down the chain was taking unreasonable risks, and everyone was making tons of money off of it.

Then he quoted a financial expert, I wish I could remember who, who said
It's amazing how hard it is for someone to see something when they are being paid a small fortune not to see it.
I just had to laugh, that really sums it up.

Monday, May 12, 2008

It isn't because you're dirty, it isn't because you're clean

My daughter is currently on antibiotics, and she's staying home from school because she has a sniffle.

Why is such an innocent sniffle the cause for keeping her at home, and why is she on antibiotics? Pertussis, or whooping cough.

My daughter goes to a private school, so vaccinations are optional. Many chose not to vaccinate for pertussis (this is actually one we did), and these are the consequences. The Department of Health for the county closed the school for the day on Friday, and is requiring that everyone, regardless of whether they've been vaccinated or not, either take a 5-day protocol of antibiotics or stay home for 21 days. They also have implemented a no-symptoms policy, so anybody with any symptoms, including a sniffle, has to stay home. Sorry, Ariel.

So, swirling around this is the whole debate of vaccinations. As a father, I was stunned at the number and frequency of vaccinations we are supposed to give our children, and which you are required to have before you can enter public schools. I understand, this is all in the name of public health, but as a parent you have to use your intuition a lot, and this just intuitively feels like overkill, literally. It reminds me of the latest discoveries I read about in Science News where there are bacteria in dirt that, when inhaled, create a very strong immunity. Children who are kept away from dirt and kept super-clean are more prone to disease.

I understand vaccinating against horrific and fatal diseases. But many of these vaccinations are for diseases that many of us older folks had as a child: chicken pox, measles, mumps. It was just part of growing up. And there are some real issues here. I am no doctor, but as I understand it, if you are vaccinated against chicken pox and never get it as a kid, then you have a chance of getting it as a teenager, and then it can be *really* bad, whereas if you get it as a kid, then you get a much stronger immunity and generally don't get it when you're older.

I understand then challenge of maintaining public health over trying to protect your child from an army of doctors with needles. I mean, I would be horrified if my child or someone else's child died because of my unwillingness to vaccinate. But at the same time, I wonder what is truly the right thing to do here. We are often so focused on eliminating all and any suffering from this world that we fail to see the ultimate consequences. As an example, part of the reason the plague pounced upon Europe so badly in the middle ages is because humans had been so successful at eradicating the wolf, which, you guessed it, was the primary predator for rats.

I couldn't tell you what the unexpected consequences may be for so much vaccination, but I can tell you that it feels like overkill, and I personally recommend that as a parent you do your research and try to make informed choices about which vaccinations you give your kids, rather than blindly doing none or blindly following the protocol laid out by the powers that be.

Friday, May 09, 2008

MySpace to share data

This just in:
MySpace is going to allow users to share information from their site.

This is definitely a step in the right direction, but notice that sharing is done either by copying/synching, or through their specific APIs. It doesn't fully extract the content into a separate layer with application-provider-agnostic service APIs.

One can imagine an OpenSocial API on top of a social network data service that is used by numerous providers but owned by none.

Giant Food & Biotech Corporations Make Billions in Profit from Growing Global Food Crisis

Big Food is serious big business, and thus is inherently evil (profits over social needs, always - the corporate credo).


Thursday, May 08, 2008

Internet content by reference, not by value

You may have noticed that I am very interested in how data is managed on the Internet as a platform, at a web scale. In that light, I have been having some very illuminating and interesting conversations with an old friend and colleague, Nitin Borwankar. His thoughts on data property rights and DRY data are concepts that if implemented could result in a major shift in how we manage data on the web.

Data property rights is about laying out a "bill of rights" for data that goes far beyond "the right to move". It also includes the right to access, modify, remove and own your data. So often it happens that once you upload your content to a site, you no longer have full rights to that content, as if somehow in the act of uploading it it is no longer yours. It's like living in a serfdom where you do all the work to plow, seed, tend and harvest the land, but the fruit of your labor is not yours, just because you are using the land that someone else owns.

DRY data is about following the principle of Don't Repeat Yourself for web content. Web applications need to start applying this principle, so that rather than you having to load copies of your content across multiple sites (and losing ownership of it in the process), you place it in one location (your "home" on the Web, as it were), and then you refer application providers to that one place. They can focus on providing added value (for instance, referring it to your friends, enabling collaboration, or helping you organize it or present it in useful ways) rather than on the overhead of building and deploying a scalable storage architecture.

Nitin calls this architecture YINAS (YINAS Is Not A Silo).

The value of DRY for the user is obvious - I only have to put my stuff in one place, and I get to really own my stuff, rather than the vendor owning it. DRY is also very valuable for the vendor, as they can save overhead and complexity by delegating the work of scalable storage and indexing to a "data service provider" rather than having to do it themselves. It's even good for the environment, because you need fewer disk farms sucking up power and space. I guess the only folks who would lose out are the storage and power vendors :)

It's funny, it makes so much sense, but nobody is really doing this.

I pulled Tim Bray aside at Java One to talk to him about these ideas after reading his blog about changing his address, and he suggested that concepts are good, but a simple proof of concept is better. Hm... let me think about that ... :)

Monday, May 05, 2008

Meeting Good Friends at CommunityOne

Lots going on these days, hard to keep up. I have been particularly busy, and that's why I've been quiet. I suspect you probably don't mind too much, dear reader, because if you're like me, you probably experience information overload on a regular basis.

I was at CommunityOne today, and, as seems to be happening these days, I spent most of my time saying Hi to old and new friends catching up and sharing our thoughts and feelings about what is going on in the industry.

I ran into Ted Leung and he shared some of the work he's doing to try and get some of the powerful OpenSolaris features like DTrace working in the various dynamic language environments.

Simon Phipps was hanging out (literally, his feet dangling from the RedMonk UnConference stage during a break) and we ruminated on the fact that Sun seems to be held to a higher standard than many companies in the industry - people see us as a Good Company and so they get very upset when it looks like we're being Corporate and Just Like Everyone Else. There is a sense of betrayal and lost hope. So in a way, it's a positive reflection on Sun - we in general have been good to the community, and on the up and up, so any indication that we're Falling to the Dark Side creates a passionate response.

I bumped into Joe Keller, who was one of my first VPs at Sun when the little company I was at was acquired by Sun. Now he's working for Kapow! (now there's a name), and it's fascinating what they do. He described it, and here's how I interpret it: they're doing data integration at Web Scale. Their customers define a master database schema, look at the web pages that they're interested in (say governmental pages for each state in the USA), and define a mapping between the HTML elements on these pages and the elements in their schema. Then the Kapow! software does its magic, scraping these screens at various semantic levels (screen, HTML, through APIs, etc.), and slurping this data into their database schema. Customers then use their data warehousing solution to analyze the resulting data. As an example, one customer of Kapow! is the company Sun hires to do background checks on potential employees. Yipes!

I saw my old boss Dan Leighton, now an independent consultant, but who was instrumental in setting up the database group and defining our database strategy, working for Rich Green, which ultimately led to our involvement in Java DB, PostgreSQL, and, of course MySQL. So he was happily surprised to hear of Sun's acquisition of MySQL.

I bumped into Rob Stephens, someone else who came from the Clustra acquisition and is now in the Solaris org. He told me I should check out the new release of VirtualBox, the open source virtualization solution whose parent company, which was recently acquird by Sun. Rob's got a very strong sysadmin background, so when he says it's good, I trust him. I had tried out VirtualBox about a year ago, and he says it's really improved. Downloaded, installed, and now pulling down the first GA release of OpenSolaris and will put it in its virtual box and put it through its paces.

I ran into Francois Orsini, who is demonstrating some very interesting stuff with Java DB and Grizzly. I ran into a Sun colleague working on a big Rails project, and we talked about web platforms (Rails vs. PHP vs. Java), scalability, and the place of the relational database in a platform that needs web scale. All very interesting stuff. We'll see how the day goes tomorrow!

OpenSolaris on Amazon EC2

Wow, great news. OpenSolaris has some very powerful technology, particularly DTrace and ZFS. Having this available as an Amazon Machine Instance (AMI) on EC2 is sweet!