Thursday, May 28, 2009

Google Wave

Upon the day mankind's children ask
Who it was made their world intelligible,
Those who set about the grand task
of creating the Wave will be eligible.

For never will they have occasion to think
how to create discourse, share knowledge,
Wonder about the universe and link
Without the this wonderful prodigy.

Like hieroglyphs in the tombs of Kings,
eee-may-uhls voy-s'-may-uhls eye-ems and tweets
will serious study to the curious bring,
to be shared in Waves while ancestors sleep.

How is it the first step of a journey
Can put the past so far behind thee?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Connascence: The Underlying Principle of OO Design?

This is a great talk at a Ruby conference by Jim Weirich about his attempt to frame all object-oriented design (OOD) principles as special cases of an underlying principle called “connascence”.  Connascence is a term co-opted by Meilir Page-Jones in the ‘90s for use in OOD; below is the definition from his book with Larry Constantine entitled, “Fundamentals of Object-Oriented Design in UML” (page 214):

Connascence between two software elements A and B means either

  1. that you can postulate some change to A that would require B to be changed (or at least carefully checked) in order to perserve overall correctness, or
  2. that you can postulate some change that would require both A and B to be changed together in order to preserve overall correctness.

UPDATE: Jim Weirich's talk can be found here.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

WolframAlpha: A New Kind of Site

TechCrunch called Google Squared the imminent Cain to WolframAlpha’s Abel. Dare Obsanajo warns Wikipedia to beware the ides of March, casting WolframAlpha as Brutus.  But, I would cast WolframAlpha in quite a different role: Hamlet.

If you’ve not used WolframAlpha, head over there come back once you’ve exhausted its novelty.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.

So, now you know why they call it a “computational knowledge engine” whose mission it is to “make the world’s knowledge computable”.  Ignoring, for the present, the interesting epistemological discussion viz. the validity of that mission, let’s instead talk about why you might use it.

If you are looking for something, go to Google.  This is not a search engine.

If you are looking to mine the web for hard data, be patient, Google Squared will be your guide (when it is baked).

If you would like to learn about a particular topic, Wikipedia stands ready to help you begin.

If you want to apply your existing domain knowledge to posing interesting questions about a wide variety of topics, if you can phrase such questions as nominal computations, then go to WolframAlpha, though your attempts might be frustrated, e.g. it fails to compute the following “annual energy consumption of the average American * projected worldwide population in 2020.”

In other words for 98% of the world, WolframAlpha is simply a curiosity. For the other 2%, it’s only useful as a way to experiment with such questions, since the rigor required of formal academia is not satisfied by simply saying, “WolframAlpha said so.”

To understand WolframAlpha’s raison d'ĂȘtre, you have to understand NKS: Stephen Wolfram’s “New Kind of Science”.  To understand NKS you can either go read the book or trust what I’m about to say.  At its core, the claim it makes to novelty is based on the notion that all phenomena can be viewed as computations, and thus real science can be done by exploring the “universe” of possible computations.  Of course the only apparatus sufficient for doing this “new” science is Wolfram’s own Mathematica program, a program originally created by Dr. Wolfram in a single summer.  Twenty or so years later after leaving academia to build the company that develops and sells Mathematica, Wolfram brought forth the the 1,200+ page tome that is NKS.


Wolfram is no lightweight; we’re talking about one of those few people in the world with the intellectual capacity and training to do modern quantum mechanics at age 17—when it comes to mathematics he is the real McCoy.  But, very few seriously look at NKS as being fundamentally new, and no few academics treat Wolfram with vitriol and ire due to his claim of novelty.  We all—it is universally agreed—stand upon the shoulders of giants.  Further, many argue that NKS contributes nothing new to the existing corpus of mathematics or science.  Here are some notes for the dramaturg:

  • The NKS book was self-published by Wolfram-Media
  • Wolfram opens the book with a statement of his childhood dream to “know everything”
  • NKS is the culmination of twenty years of work outside of academia
  • The precipitating event that put him on that path was his not being able to understand the pattern generated by a cellular automata (simple computer program) he’d written

My personal belief is that the cognitive dissonance created by having not contributed to science in any recognized, significant way over twenty years, in the face of soaring hubris born out of his prodigious intellect and early summiting of some of the highest peaks of academia, forces Dr. Wolfram to eschew—even denigrate—the trappings of mainstream academia and embrace his self-created role of the father of a new kind of science.  But, hey, I don’t know the guy; and it goes without saying that I’m criticizing Michael Jordan’s cross-over.  Maybe it will take twenty years for everyone else to get it; if it is new, it's nascent, and you have to walk before you can crawl.

He may be an egoist, but he has excellent taste.  I think he’d make Edward Tufte proud.

What WolframAlpha owes its life to is the attempt to make NKS immediately relevant in a roundabout way.  Remember, everything—everything—is simply a computation.  Another concept that is critical to understanding WolframAlpha from NKS is “computational equivalence”; essentially this is the reason why NKS doesn’t permit predicting the future: to do that you would need a computer the equivalent of our universe.  Reality, you see, is simply the current result of the continuous computation being performed by the fabric of our universe.  (As strange as that may sound, it is not dissimilar from the beliefs of proponents of the much vaunted string theories of the universe.)

Since we don’t have a computer the size of the world, we can’t calculate everything in reality.  What we can do, though, is examine the current results of the computation, in the form of data that can be collected and mined and extruded by domain experts into an symbolic ontology that is computable by Mathematica.  We can then run computations with these synthetic ontologies, because they can be related via formal ontology of units we have created throughout human history.  To what end?  Well, I suppose that depends on the answers you get.

I hope by now you understand why it is called WolframAlpha.  And, for those lovers of the theater who haven’t yet guessed, here is the cast of characters.

Google Squared

I think it is obvious who plays the role of the murdered king. Ok, I've surely stretched the metaphor a bit too thin, but I really like the notion that these kinds of current events are manifestations of the same archetypes described in our great literature. I think Wolfram would like it too, but I have no doubt his protagonist wouldn't be from one of Shakespeare's tragedies.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Microsoft TechEd: Day 0

It’s the evening before the official start of the Microsoft’s annual IT conference, TechEd.  In 2009 we find ourselves in sunny, yet cool, Los Angeles.  I couldn’t be happier with the weather and the hotel, but so far the conference sucks.

Why—or, more appropriately, how can I say it sucks when the conference hasn’t begun?  Easy, go to and attempt to build a schedule.  Well, you have to be signed in with Windows Live and a registered attendee I believe, but if you could and did you would quickly discover a rather pathetic fail on the part of the conference planners.  The session builder is garbage.  You’ll spend the majority time watching this animation, since they’ve not seemed to master the partial page update without updating the entire 670K+ page weight.  Seriously, I’d rather look at the source and see and XML Data Island than wait for the entire page to reload every time I updated my schedule.


Aesthetically, it isn’t bad, the site I mean, but the session builder is garbage.  The session builder for Web 2.0 Expo at least displayed all the tracks and timeslots in a calendar-like fashion, so you could make your decision by sight and rather quickly.


But, you know, if the content is there, if the sessions are just awesome, who cares about some clunky, hacked-together conference website?  Don’t judge a book by its cover, right?  So, what are my options for tomorrow’s 11am timeslot?  Well, the first keynote is this one.

KEY01 Moving Forward Together: The Potential of IT Innovation
Presenter: Bill Veghte
Mon 5/11 | 10:00 AM-11:30 AM | West Hall A

In today's economic environment, your company is faced with unprecedented pressures to reduce costs and drive operating efficiencies. At the same time, the demands on IT to deliver more connected services and greater flexibility continue to grow. With the upcoming release of Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, and Exchange "14," Microsoft helps IT organizations better meet these competing demands. Join Bill Veghte, Senior Vice President of Windows Business, as we explore how these technologies combine to give you the tools and resources to better manage your infrastructure--from back-end services through client-side experiences, and the network in between.
Doesn’t exactly inspire.  But, never fear, there is an alternative!
PAN59 Agile: A Process or an Excuse?
Presenters: Richard Campbell, Stephen Forte, Chris Menegay, Joel Semeniuk
Mon 5/11 | 11:00 AM-12:00 PM | 501C

Over the last few years, the community at large has created a number of agile development styles; Scrum, XP, and more are there for you and your team to choose. However, is agile really a process? On the other hand, is it an excuse to avoid accountability and proper development techniques? Come to this interactive session to see what Chris, Steve, and Joel have to say, and, if you are up for it, share your opinion.

Seriously, I’m not making this up.  I came to Los Angeles for this?