Showing posts with label web. Show all posts
Showing posts with label web. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2012 Year in Review - Blog Roundup

A look back at 2012 from a software technology perspective by some of my favourite blogs:
  • Inspired By Actual Events - a wide-reaching roundup. I found the Java and friends links especially interesting, since the Java/JVM world is so big now it's hard to keep up with and distill the really significant events.
  • Interoperability Happens (Ted Nedward) - As usual, opinionated and insightful commentary on enterprise software technology from a hard-core developer perspective.
  • Tim Anderson - A strong focus on Microsoft, but also fairly even-handed assessment of the rest of the "A"-team (Apple, Android/Google, and Amazon).  (And a not-very-optimistic mention of the "B" team - BB/RIM). I always appreciate Tim Anderson's reading of the internal and external tea-leaves of MS technology.  It's always fascinating to see the elephant trying to jump, in a schadenfreudal sort of way.
  • Tim Bray - Not really a roundup, and not all that tech-focussed, but always a good read.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Apple walls getting higher

ZDNet has an interesting long view on the Apple iCloud announcement. Money quote:
The mobile world is moving away from the chock-full-o’-content web and increasingly becoming a world of closed pipes of content, with Apple, Google, HP and Microsoft regulating the flow. Tech fiefdoms scattered across a vast open land have expanded into warring nation-states with adjacent borders. The Mac vs. PC vs. Linux argument from the early days of consumer computing has lost a great deal of its luster in recent years with the development of cloud computing on the open web, but the concept of platform wars is quickly making up for lost ground with the development of cloud computing in the closed mobile space.
I've always found the Apple walled garden a bit scary in its restrictions. Now the walls are getting higher and thicker - and other vendors will be following suit as fast as they dare.

I don't find Google's garden as threatening, for some reason. Perhaps because they have a different business model, based on page views rather than selling devices or software. For now that encourages them to not put any limits on where and how you access their services. But will that change if the Chromebook takes off? Is the fact that Honeycomb is not open source a tiny black cloud on the horizon?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

JTS arrives in JavaScript

As I predicted back in 2008, JTS has now colonized the JavaScript ecosystem, thanks to the work of Bjorn Hartell on JSTS. At least, the project has been launched - it's a bit unclear as to how much functionality is actually there.

I hope to see some slick browser-based UI clients pop up, using Canvas or perhaps SVG?

The language scorecard for JTS now looks like:

[Update: Jan 31 2013] - Added R to the list

Friday, April 8, 2011

Dynamic Views in Google Blogs

Check out the cool new Dynamic Views feature for Google Blogs. I'm not sure how useful this is actually going to be for readers (especially since you have to do URL editing to invoke them - WTB!? (Where's The Button 8^)

But they sure look purty. Here's a shot of the Flipcard view:

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Goodbye LAMP, hello SMAQ

A great article on the emerging SMAQ stack for big data.

I wonder if PIG does spatial?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Is JSON the CSV of the 21st Century?

It strikes me that JSON might be the CSV of the 21st century. Consider these similarities:
  • They both use POT (plain old text) as their encoding
  • The basic datatypes are strings and numbers. JSON adds booleans and nulls - Yay for progress!
  • The only schema metadata supported is field names
JSON has the major advance of supporting hierarchical and array structures. Of course, this makes it correspondingly more difficult to parse.

CSV has stood the test of time extraordinarily well. According to good 'ol Wikipedia it's been around since at least 1967 - that's over 40 years!

And CSV is still well supported whereever tabular data is used. Let's see if JSON is still around in 2035... I suspect not, because the half-life of technologies is a lot shorter these days. (Maybe CSV is the stromatolite of file formats!)

It would be nice if JSON had a standard schema notation. (There is JSON-Schema. It copies the XML Schema idea of encoding the schema in JSON. It remains to be seen whether this makes it as easy to use and popular as XML Schema has been. 8^)

And why, o why, do field names have to be in quotes? Ok, I know why technically - they're just strings, and JSON strings need to be in quotes, because they need to be embeddable in JavaScript code. But this is a classic case of a vestigial artifact which has a detrimental effect in a new environment. Nobody should be evaling JSON as just another chunk of Javascript anyway, for obvious security reasons. And in the wider world of JSON use cases following Javascript synax is completely irrelevant.

YAML seems to have a lot advantages over JSON as a rich textual format. For instance, it has minimal use of quotes, and a richer, extensible set of datatypes including timestamps and binary (WKB, anyone?). But it's going to be pretty hard to dislodge JSON, which is solidly entrenched for all the wrong reasons.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Late night link roundup

Here's a few interesting links that occupied my late-night browsing...

Facebook's Graph API: The Future Of Semantic Web?

This is interesting for two reasons. One is that this is a hardball play by Facebook to subvert many other sites whose business model is linking social networking to categories of cultural artifacts. The other is the implications for the Semantic Web. I'm not so sure that the latter is quite so easily accomplished, but perhaps the 80-20 rule will truly turn out to be key here.

Mahout 0.3: Open Source Machine Learning

Neat stuff. Pulls together some fascinating technologies like Hadoop and clustering techniques. Perhaps the best thing about this is the chance to learn more about how this stuff actually works in practice. It would be great if there's a spatial component to this.

Colt - a set of Open Source Libraries for High Performance Scientific and Technical Computing in Java. One more nail in the old "Java is too slow" canard.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Why you should not sit on Wolfram Alpha

Unqualified Reservations has a great post dissecting the Wolfram Alpha hubristic User Interface.

Warning: this guy seems to be able to write faster than most people can read. Browse his blog at your peril!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Super Zoom Control is really super!

The web mapping site has a very nice map zoom control which dynamically displays a representative image of the map at the prospective zoom level.

This nicely addresses a problem which has occurred in a few applications I've been involved with recently - how to communicate to the user what a given zoom level actually looks like.

At first I thought the control might be truly dynamic - i.e. pulling a live tile from the centre point of the current map view. But it's actually just a set of tile snippets at a fixed point. Still, it provides a very nice effect. (The dynamic version would be simple to implement, but perhaps would be too slow in actual use, with unpredicatable latency).

Are you listening, OpenLayers?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Visualizations of Sorting Algorithms in your browser

Here's a nifty web page which shows a way of visualizing the operation of various common sorting algorithms.

Sample output for Heapsort:

The coolest thing about this of course is the ability to dynamically generate rich graphics in the browser. All hail the HTML5 <canvas> element!

Friday, May 15, 2009

UML Sequence Diagrams on the Web

I find the sequence diagram to be one of the most useful UML diagrams - but it's also one of the most fiddly & annoying to generate in a diagramming tool. There's a few reasons for that:
  • there's a large amount of implicit structure which is tedious to maintain
  • sequence diagrams quickly get complex for processes with lots of actors and/or actions
  • I can never remember all the conventions for representing concepts like alternation, loops and nesting
Luckily, the web to the rescue! The websequencediagrams website has a on-line diagram generator which uses a simple language to describe the diagram. This works well precisely because of the structure in sequence diagrams. Because they are inherently linear in structure, they are more constrained than other UML diagrams.

The language supports just about everything you might want - signal types, groups, nesting, notes, lifelines, etc. It outputs in images or as PDF - and it even has cool styles! Here's the idea:
loop 1000 times
Me->Visio: draw sequence diagram
Visio->Me: frustration
Me->Google: search for better way
Google->Me: find websequencediagram tool
Me->WebSequenceDiagram: draw sequence diagram
WebSequenceDiagram->Me: happiness!


I've blogged about the appeal of specifying UML diagrams using code before. I'm not sure how much traction TextUML is getting - but it's hard to resist the appeal of a web interface, a simple language, and sexy ouput.

Now, if only someone would develop a force-directed web-based state diagram engine...

Note: there's some other alternatives to the websequencediagram tool - the author blogs about them here. The most interesting from my point of view is sdedit, which is open-source and Java-based. It's more powerful, but the language looks a mite complex. (Too bad there's no standard language for describing UML - maybe the Three Amigos should skip a siesta and whip one up.)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


After seeing this post on Wordle, I had to try it....

and there's no stopping at just one...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Untangling REST

Thanks to Sean I just learned about Roy Fielding's blog.

I don't know why it never occurred to me that Roy Fielding would have a blog, and it would likely to be a good source of commentary on the evolving philosophy of the Web, but it didn't. He does, and sure enough it's chock full o' goodness.

Highlights include this post about how to efficiently build a RESTful Internet-scale event notification system for querying Flickr photo update events - using images as bitmap indexes of event timeslices! Or the post which Sean noted, along with this one - both cri-de-coeurs about the pain of seing the clean concept of REST muddied to the point of meaningless.

Anyone confused about REST would do well to avoid inhaling too much smoke and get a dose of fresh air from the source...

Friday, August 15, 2008

Be the most popular tile on your block

You might think that the image below is a map of North America population density. You'd be off by one level of indirection...

In fact it's a heat map of the access frequency for Virtual Earth map tiles.

So really it's not an image of where people are, but where they want to be...

The image comes from a paper out of Microsoft Research: How We Watch the City: Popularity and Online Maps, by Danyel Fisher.

Makes me wonder if there are tiles that have never been accessed. Like perhaps this one? (It took a looong time to render....)

And what is the most-accessed tile? This one, perhaps?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Database design tips for massively-scalable apps

Here's an interesting post on design practices for building massively-scalable apps on database infrastructure such as Google BigTable.

The takeaway: this ain't your granpappy's old relational database system, so throw out everything he taught you. Denormalize. Prefer big fluffy things to small granular things. Don't bother with DB constraints - enforce the model in the application. Prefer small frequent updates to large page updates.

The good news (or bad, depending on how fed up you are with your local DBA) - don't bother with all this unless you intend to scale to millions of users.

Monday, June 23, 2008

GeoSVG, anyone?

The GeoPDF format seems to be gaining traction these days. I have to admit, when I first heard of this technology I had the same reaction as James Fee - "What's it good for"? But I'm coming round... A live map with rich information content and a true geospatial coordinate system - what's not to like?

My excuse for such scepticism is my finely-honed technical bullsh*t reflex, which uses the logic of "If this is such a good, obvious, simple idea then why hasn't it been implemented ages ago?".

To be fair, there have been lots of SVG mapping demos, which fill the same use case and provide equivalent functionality. Sadly that concept hasn't really caught fire, though (perhaps due to the ongoing SVG "always a bridesmaid, never a bride" conundrum).

Of course, an idea this good is really too important to be bottled up in the murky world of proprietary technology. It seems like this area is ripe for an open standard. SVG is the obvious candidate for the spatial content (sorry, GeoJSON). What it needs is some standards around modelling geospatial coordinate systems and encoding layers of features. It seems like this should be quite doable. The goal would be to standardize the document format so that viewers could easily be developed (either stand-alone, as modules of existing viewers, or as browser-hosted apps). Also, the feature data should be easy to extract from the data file, for use in other applications.

Perhaps there's already an initiative like this out there - if so, I'd love to hear about it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Is that cloud on the horizon going to start raining applications?

Timothy O'Brien speculates that the transition to cloud-based computing is happening sooner than expected. He's talking about the new integration between (which is apparently the poster child for SaaS) and Google Apps (the poster child for desktop replacement by the Web). And he generalizes this to include EC2, SimpleDB, and the "twenty or thirty other companies that are going to join the industry".

He also warns here that this transition could transform the model for software development in ways uncomfortable for IT professionals.

He could be right. Cloud computing does seem to be poised to finally provide the right platform to suck the juice out of corporate data centres. The idea of virtual everything certainly has an appeal (especially to someone like me who is basically a software guy).

But questions occur... Salesforce and Google seem like a perfect match - but what about the other companies that want a piece of this action? Does it matter that you will have to commit everything to a given cloud platform? And what happens if that platform goes away? The more advantage you take of the cloud, the bigger the pain when it disappears. And what about apps which are a bit more specific than CRM (which in my naive view seems like just a fancy Contacts list - and hence an obvious and easy thing to integrate with an office suite).

Tim would probably call these kinds of questions "self-interested observations from one with the most to lose". He mentions a Salesforce meeting where business types applaud a sign showing "Software" with a big red slash through it... Well, maybe. Last I noticed no-one has quite managed to automate generating code from requirements documents (let alone automating the generation of implementable requirments documents out of people's heads 8^). So I would say it's more like "different software" than "no software".

One thing's for sure.. there's going to be some gigantic platform turf wars going on up there in the stratosphere.

(One big disappointment - it sounds like the Salesforce platform is based on their proprietary Apex language. Ugh. Just what the world needs - one more language to debate over. At least Google App Engine picked a real language for their launch!)