Web Services standardisation (or trying to pass a herd of overkeen elephants through the eye of a needle)

In a previous life as a research manager in an Irish research group called TSSG I wrote a piece about semantic web for a technology column in a local paper. It’s the usual non-critical high-level look at a technology but the excitement at the promise of semantic web is very real.

However I’m less than convinced about the current web services standardisation effort. In comments to another blog I was scathingly critical of the original WS technology (SOAP & XML-RPC) and the malaise of WS standards and specs. I’ve also been keenly following the wise words of Steve Vinoski, Chief Engineer of IONA technologies, another company I used to work for. Before I digress onto another topic entirely I’m going to reiterate some of my original comments about WS standardisation, mirroring steve’s feelings about the lessons that can be learned from CORBA regarding tool & vendor support. So without wanting to offend too many of the great people involved in the process, here are my considered thoughts:

  • “Web Services” is a brand name for a range of disparate and relatively unfocused technologies.
  • The technology was hugely overhyped without accepted standards to back it up
  • XML messages were touted as human-readable. If you know that many humans who read large XML schemas in their spare time you need to get yourself and your friends “to a nunnery”. OK, maybe not but you get the point 😉
  • It often seems that around 20 years of distributed systems thinking was ignored in their creation. Hence SOAP was misnamed “Simple”. “Incomplete” would have been more appropriate.
  • With usefulness comes complexity. With complexity comes unwieldiness and with unwieldiness comes confusion. The secret is normally appropriate abstraction but it’s early days yet
  • The standardisation effort is frustrating and feels uncoordinated. All too often standards are hurriedly created to plug holes in other standards. Often if feels like the wheel is being reinvented, as if nobody in the effort knows that RPC has been done before. I hear Vinoski’s cries for an overarching Architecture spec so have both a map and a flashlight
  • Almost none of this matters as the major industry players are now behind it in a bid to recapture the goldrush of the late 90s with a ‘must-have’technology. For this reasons alone the tool support will hide much of the complexity and encourage utilisation. This is already happening. Thank you Microsoft, IBM, HP, BEA, IONA, SUN etc.
  • The most loosely coupled thing about WS/SOA is often the standardisation process. There could be trouble ahead

However there’s hope for us all in the form of REST. It may correct several issues with webservices (including the loengthy standardisation process). WS piping is so incredibly powerful that it can’t be overlooked. Also, REST provides some neat answers to security issues, automation, semantic web & may just bring about world peace given an appropriate level of vendor support

Arguably the URI is the reason the web took off in the 1st place. There were better transport and application layer protocols, more elegant markup grammars but the idea of the URI is compelling. Arguably with REST, semantic web & canonical URI’s we may just be getting somewhere. I believe that these technologies will determine the success or failure of the web service initiative and everything else is pretty much window dressing.

The art of the mix-tape

It’s good to broaden your musical tastes and one great way to do it is to get others to suggest the songs that have soundtracked their lives. Kinda like making a mix tape for your friends.. We’re in high fidelity terrority here!

Rob: “The making of a great compilation tape like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick it off with a killer to grab attention. Then you gotta take it up a notch but you don’t want to blow your wad. So then you gotta cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules. Anyway…I’ve started to make a tape. In my head, for Laura. Full of stuff she’d like. Full of stuff that’d make her happy. For the first time, I can see how that’s done.”
(from the movie High Fidelity staring John Cusack)

Recently I was forced to come up with a list of songs to be distributed to friends and colleagues over the next few weeks. Here’s what I picked. Not going to comment on them, it’s just like a musical snapshot of my life at the moment and whatever truths are here lie in the ear of the interpreter.

  • Are You Going With Me – Pat Metheny Group
  • Pink Moon – Nick Drake
  • Free Falling – Tom Petty
  • Samba Pa Ti – Santana
  • Belfast (Original Version) – Orbital
  • Into The Mystic – Van Morrison
  • Natural Beauty – Neil Young
  • She Is So Beautiful – The Waterboys
  • Wild Flowers – Ryan Adams
  • Get Down Make Love – Nine Inch Nails
  • Step Outside in The Morning Light – David Kitt
  • Lay It All On Me – The Black Crowes
  • Electrolite – REM
  • Zero – Smashing Pumpkins
  • Gorecki – Lamb
  • Whipping Boy – We don’t need nobody else
  • One/Take 5 – Rodrigo Y Gabriela
  • Pyramid Song – Radiohead
  • Nobody’s Fault But My Own – Beck
  • Go Down Easy – John Martyn
  • The Man in the Station – John Martyn
  • When the Stars Go Blue – Ryan Adams
  • No More Tears – Ozzy & Zakk Wylde
  • Redemption Song – Bob Marley

Pretty eclectic mix there but with some real gems aswell. I think that’s one of the unacknowledged benefits of the current wave of file-sharing apps. Broadening the musical palettes of a generation. To quote Rob again
“What are you guys doing? Stealing for other people?”

Why the US should adopt Approval Voting

Excellent article from kuro5h1n here. This illustrates the fundamental flaws in the US electoral system i.e. essentially forcing the voter to choose between 2 deliberately polarised viewpoints (democrat or republican) when they may share neither. Approval voting is different in that it allows the electorate to vote for all the candidates or choices that they endorse. Indeed, this electoral system is favoured by the United Nations. The article is well worth reading, pointing out that the US electorate doesn’t necessarily imply its citizens as their right to vote isn’t protected by the constition. Yes that wasn’t a misprint! Americans have a constitutional right to bear arms (a right that many of them exercise to the hilt of their fully automatic assault rifles) but not to vote. This right is reserved for the members of the electoral college system who, theoretically at least, may arbitrarily distribute the votes as they see fit. And even if you do vote, the chances of it being accurately counted are much lower than could reasonably be expected. The US has a long tradition of voting fraud, even in Florida!

Shane Dempsey muses on Life and Technology

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