Wednesday 30 January 2008

The End of an Architectural Era?

Stonebraker et al have an interesting paper pointing out the antiquity and consequent limitations of the classic relational database architecture in today's world of massive disk/cycles/core.

If they are correct (and in spite of the recent MapReduce blunder Stonebraker has made a lot of great calls in the DB world), the world of data management is going to get awfully interesting in the coming years. The DBA's & DA's of this world have been living a relatively comfortable existence compared to those who are wandering across the stormy badlands of the middle tier. But Stonebraker postulates at least 5 radically variant database architectures to address specific use cases of data management. This would seem to lead to a much more complex world for data architects. But maybe a windfall for the consultants who find their niche?

Sunday 20 January 2008

Quote of the Day

Java - learn once, write anywhere

"From my personal experience, that is quite true. I started programming in Java in 1997, and since then I have built web applications, database applications, mobile applications for Palm and Pocket PC, an application server for CTI applications, CORBA-based distributed applications, network management applications, server-side business components for application servers, fat-client business applications, an IDE, a Rich Client Platform, a modeling tool among other kinds of software. All that across different operating systems and using similar products by different vendors.

Of course I had to learn something new for each kind of "application style", but the programming language and core class library were always there for me. That is a huge thing. Before Java, it was really hard to move from one domain to another, or even move from vendor to vendor. Sun has my eternal gratitude for bringing some sanity to the software development industry."

- Rafael Chavez

The Paradoxically Poor Power of Visual Programming

I've just been reading about TextUML, which is a language and IDE for textually defining UML diagrams by a start-up company called abstratttechnologies.

This seems like both a stroke of brilliance and painfully obvious. It makes me wonder why UML isn't already defined in terms of a serializable language. The big advantage of this I think would be the ability to have a clearly defined semantics. In the past when reading about UML I've been quite frustrated by an apparent lack of rigour in the definition of the various UML concepts and diagrams. It's always seemed to me that a metalanguage like UML is more in need of fully-defined semantics than application languages. Most (all?) application languages after all are executable, which gives provides a final authority for the meaning of a program written in them - run it and see what happens. AFAIK UML isn't really (or not conveniently) executable in the same way.

Which brings me to the paradox promised in the title of this post. One of the claims for TextUML is that it is easier to write and express complex models in than a purely diagram-based UML tool. I can easily believe this - developing a complex model by diagrams seems cumbersome and limited compared to writing a textual description. And I think this generalizes to the concept of visual programming in general. We've had easy access to powerful graphics capabilities for over 20 years now, culminating in today's basically unlimited in graphical capabilities. In spite of this, text-base programming still rules the roost when it comes to expressiveness, flexibility and speed.

So the paradox is: why is a 1-dimensional representation more powerful than a 2-dimensional representation? To put this another way, why does a 1D representation seem less "flat" than a 2D representation?

For further study: would the same apply to a 3D representation? Or would a move to 3D jump out of some sort of planar well, and end up being more expressive than 1D?

By the way, abstratt is right here in l'il ol' Victoria, and the lead designer (and CEO) Rafael Chavez is giving a talk at VicJUG in March. I'm definitely going to attend - I suspect he may have an interesting take on this issue.