Stories by Jon Udell
There's a reason why software developers live at the leading edges of an unevenly distributed future: Their work products have always been digital artifacts, and since the dawn of networks, their work processes have been connected.
I'm a huge fan of the CAPStat (formerly DCStat) program, but despite my cheerleading, the hoped-for citizen-led mashups haven't yet materialized in a big way.
Like many of you, probably, I tire-kicked Google Spreadsheets when it first arrived on the scene, then forgot all about it. A nice bit of AJAX hackery, I thought, but no serious competition for Excel. I was wrong, though, and here's an anecdote that explains why.
At the Emerging Technologies Conference at MIT in September, Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos gave a keynote talk on the slew of new and innovative Web services his company has recently launched. His discussion of MTurk, S3, and EC2 held no surprises for me, or for readers of this column and of my blog. But one of the questions posed by an attendee, in the Q&A period following Bezos' talk, was a stunner.
If you set out to explore XQuery, the XML query language, you'll soon encounter a collection of examples, or use-cases, that show how XQuery can query and transform XML data. These scenarios are elaborated in a W3C document that presents a sample data set -- about books, authors, prices, and reviews -- and enumerates a set of queries against that data. For each query, there's a description ("List names of users who have placed multiple bids of at least $100 each"), a solution written in XQuery code, and an expected XML output.
Two weeks ago I wrote about an invitation to join Sun's Oct. 10 debut in Second Life. On the same day, coincidentally or not, IBM invited me to its alumni virtual block party on the 12th. I'd been itching to try my hand at virtual cinematography, so I donned my avatar, went to the party, and used the in-world movie camera to document the event.
A dozen years ago, I wrote a Byte cover story on the subject of computer-telephony integration. CTI was "right around the corner" back then. Every time I revisit the subject I conclude that, regrettably, it still is.
A well-known company issues a press release inviting reporters to witness its online debut. The year? Not 1994, but 2006. The company? Sun Microsystems. I had to pinch myself when I read the announcement: "Please join John Gage for a special event in Second Life." It's been a while since I got one of those.
The announcements from Amazon Web Services just keep on coming. The latest news flash is FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon), which will make Amazon's warehouse, its customer service, and its pick, pack, and ship machinery available to sellers.
At the 2004 Open Source Convention (OSCON), Jim Hugunin, the creator of Jython, made the dramatic announcement that he would be joining Microsoft to pursue his latest project, IronPython, a Python implementation for the .Net CLR (Common Language Runtime). The timing was awkward for OSCON -- nothing chills the room like news that an open source hero is emigrating to Redmond -- but it was opportune for me. I had just written the keynote talk that I would deliver a few days later, at the Vancouver Python Conference; it ended with a plea to consummate the marriage between popular dynamic languages, such as Python and Ruby, and the dominant managed runtimes, namely the JVM (Java Virtual Machine) and the CLR.
While I was reading Ellen Ullman's novel The Bug last month, life imitated art. The protagonist in that story is a programmer who grapples with a fiendish bug. It strikes intermittently and, to add insult to injury, the testers can never manage to capture the core dump that might yield the clue as to why.
Two years ago I wrote an unflattering report on XBRL (eXtensible Business Reporting Language), an emerging standard that aims to improve the speed, accuracy, and transparency of business and financial reporting. I applauded its goals, as we all should in the wake of Enron and other scandals, but worried about the complexity of the 151-page XBRL specification, its aggressive use of esoteric features of XML, and its reliance on accounting "taxonomies" defined by committees.
Our marketing-driven and future-oriented IT industry doesn't like to remember its own history. It's surprisingly hard to recover the historical context of current events. Happily, though, there's one developer-oriented Microsoft online property with a memory. Channel 9, the video/podcast/screencast guerilla arm of the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN), has been active since March 2004, and so far, what's posted to Channel 9 stays on Channel 9. That's how I found this wonderful juxtaposition: