July 12, 2005

Competition == Inovation?

It's certainly the economics of a free market that I was taught.

My title is a bit of a misnomer, as I intend to write about the massive selection/competition in the area of J2EE frameworks. I've been doing a bit of research in anticipation of my job and the selection of frameworks for building serverside java application is huge. The selection of application servers is also huge; a lot of big names seem to have their own proprietary, as well as Tomcat and JBoss being the open source offerings. I may just settle for plain JSP and Servlets, but Java Server Faces looks pretty interesting and a new approach to something like Struts. There is also Velocity, Tapestry, Cocoon, Spring, Hibernate, JDO… those are the ones i can name off the top of my head, and apparently there are currently about 35 different frameworks.

On the other hand the .Net platform has just the Microsoft offering, as far as i know, please correct me if that is not the case. Python has quite a healthy selection, but not of the scale of Java. Ruby has just Rails, and php and perl are themselves.

So all this competition for J2EE applications. I hope despite the daunting look to the uninitiated, it promotes innovation. I think the apache projects in this area are an immediate testament to this, so very interesting ideas going on there.

To carry on with the theme of innovation, there was an interview with Steve Ballmer which was posted on Slashdot a few days ago. The interview covered a number of topics, all good marketing stuff from the crazy man himself, but the point of interest to the Slashdot discussion was Ballmers comments about who was innovating in the IT industry.

He cited Microsofts work on interactive TV, the tablet platform, Office, Live Communicator, Visual studio, Msn Messenger, Longhorn and the Xbox 360… as all being 'super innovative stuff'. I could grant him the tablet platform… but Messenger? And Longhorn for that matter, there seems to have been plenty of press releases over the past few months about all the features that are being left out or being back ported to XP!

He goes on to deny the innovation of other companies.

I look out at the world and I say ‘who is doing the innovative stuff over the last few years?’ Did IBM out innovate us? I don’t think so. I don’t think they’ve done much interesting at all. What about Oracle? I don’t think they’ve done much innovative at all. What about the open source guys? Ah, the business model is interesting but we haven’t seen much in the way of technical innovation. People cite Google. Google has done some interesting stuff.

Least they actually accept that Google is rocking their world. IBM… not doing interesting stuff… did the Cell processor pass Ballmer by? IBM also has plenty of stuff going on underneath the surface and their history of innovation is rock solid. "The open source guys"... no technical innovation? Granted there are plenty of Yet Another * applications, but there are plenty of very cool systems. Bit-torrent is one that comes to mind… even Microsoft secretly recognises that one, they are doing their 'embrace and extend', and making their own version of Bit-torrent. If we are calling MSN super innovative, then lets puts some perspective on things, and think about Ruby on Rails. A still un-matured web-programming framework, but has received plenty of attention for its extremely rapid development abilities, very cool features and thorough use of things like AJAX.

The transcript
and The video

And of course any reference to Steve Ballmer should always reference this

Oh dear me.

In general Ballmer's words are getting at something. There may not be any 'real' innovation, what ever that is, and that definitely includes Microsoft. I think it is an important thing to encourage the IT world, to be driving to innovate, as that is a key ingredient. I personally think there is plenty of innovation going on, limited amounts of major innovation, but we should always been searching for more.

Now how is that for meandering.

Quantum Romance?

The content for this blog post actually arose out of a conversation with a friend, about their current fancy, but first some background.

Schrödinger's cat, is an illustration thought up by Erwin Schrödinger (founder of wave mechanics) in 1935. It aim is to get at the apparent discrepancy between what quantum theory says about matter and the behaviour that we as humans observe. Essentially, matter behaviour at microscopic and macroscopic levels.

My formal physics education stopped after A2 Level, so I shall try my best to be accurate yet accessible.

Schrödinger's cat experiment went as such. There is a box in which both a cat and a device is place. The device is constructed of a radioactive source and a detector which linked to a hammer and a vial of poison. The radioactive source has a half life, such that on average an atom decays once every hour. The detector, hammer and vial are set up such that any decay particle is guaranteed to be detected, and the detector triggers a relay which drives the hammer to break the vial and consequently killing the cat (sorry to any cat sensitive readers).

The experiment is illustrating the quantum law of superposition. During our test period we cannot know wether an atom has decays setting of a chain of events which kill the cat. Nuclear decay is completely random and can only be averaged over time. Therefore the observer cannot know when an atom has or is going to decay. Because of this condition, according the quantum law of superposition the cat is both alive and dead. It is only when we open the box and observe the actual state of the cat, that we lose the superposition, eg it becomes dead or alive.

This is known as the observer's paradox:

the observation or measurement itself affects an outcome, so that it can never be known what the outcome would have been if it were not observed.

So this is where I will leave the physics to return later, and now I will continue with the initial disscussion. My friend says they honestly have no idea of how their object of desire feels about them. The feelings are currently unobservable, which according to my tenuous quantum romance theory means that the potential for a relationship is both alive and dead.
That much is easy enough to agree. Where it gets more interesting, is likening the observer's paradox.

The act of 'observing' in this case is, expressing one's feelings and/or asking the person out on a date, or something to that effect.
It seems fair enough to argue that the act of observation or measurement will affect the outcome in the case of romance.

You ask and they might not have fully developed their feelings for you. You could even extending that time line to the case that they might not feel about you in that way now, but in the future they will. But you've asked, so there is no way you'll ever know what it could have been at a later time. This could be described as 'asking too soon'.

It could also be the case that they like you now but you do not for a period of time, and they move on and forget about you or even pursue someone else. They assume that as you have made no attempt to develop the relationship, that you are not interested in that. This could be described as 'asking too late'. You ask too late and you will never know what could have been, had you 'observed' earlier.

A stunning likeness to Schrödinger's experiment in my opinion. It of course offers no council to those of you are currently love stricken. In fact it probably worsens your dilemma of how and when to act.

I guess you can rest in the hope that my extrapolation of quantum theory is flawed. (I think it's rather good myself ;) ). I'm single, I'm sure that brings a few laughs. I'm enjoying my humorous view of relationships from a distance while it lasts. There is of course something to say for a bit of a intuition and failing that, risk. My friend has remained nameless, but upon reflection maybe a bit of 3rd party 'observation/measurement' might get it kick-started… Warwick Blogs, what a way to get that out in the open, heh I'm so cruel.

To conclude I'll go back to the physics.

To quote one of the the articles that I used in research for this article.

We know that superposition actually occurs at the subatomic level, because there are observable effects of interference, in which a single particle is demonstrated to be in multiple locations simultaneously. What that fact implies about the nature of reality on the observable level (cats, for example, as opposed to electrons) is one of the stickiest areas of quantum physics. Schrödinger himself is rumoured to have said, later in life, that he wished he had never met that cat.

July 10, 2005

War of the Worlds Review

Writing about web page http://imdb.com/title/tt0407304/

We I'll say it's a review but it my writing skills might not warrant that title.

I saw this film with my brother, his friend and his friend's dad. The dad kindly took us out to the local multiplex cinema. This is relatively rural America and there are still 3 multiplex cinemas within 10 miles.

First off, I really did enjoy this movie, I thought it was a good story (I have yet to read the original story by H.G. Wells, but after this, it's worth a look), and it was a fresh look at the apocalyptic genre.

There certainly was plenty of drama leading up to this movie. Tom cruise seems a run away hype and headline machine. This whole 'thing' with Katie Holmes, and various 'less than PC' comments made to the media.

But onto the film itself. Above I did like the fresh style of this movie. The world is under attack and is being systematically wipe out, but our story is not being told from the point of some military command of the US, or NASA, or involving any big heros… in fact it's about an average guy who is a bit of a jerk, and him running for his life with his two kids, trying to stay one step ahead of extermination. This gives a story which is possibly to relate to in a more real way.

I also liked the alien machines. They were a modern twist on a retro style. War of the Worlds has been made into a film before, back in 1953. Maybe some of the visual ideas in this came from that. The tripod alien machines seemed like they could have done.

Speilberg was masterful with the constant and unrelenting stream of action. The aliens themselves had little air time in the film at all, bringing viewers to fear what they had not yet seen. It was certainly an interesting mix of intense drama, action and horror.

Upon reflection, the instillation of family values was quite apparent in the film, with Ray, Tom Cruise's character, regularly shielding his daughter Rachel from the horrors happening all around them. A provoking talking point, that one.

For those who have not seen the film, I hope I have been as vague as possible with the content of the movie here… but for those people who have seen this excellent film, I particularly liked the link from the end to the beginning, and also… any opinions on those red/blood roots?

I hope other people enjoyed the film too, and I do encourage other people to check it out

Note taking in the digital world

My note taking in lectures last year was pretty much non-existent. I don't know how I got away with that. I guess I thought that as we had good notes provided there was no need to do anything other than to listen carefully. Of course with hindsight, I now know this to be very naive.

This year will be different. I have already formed a small study group with friends to collaborate on note taking and forming resources ready for when revision rolls round again. I plan to take good notes in lectures and seminars, and more than that my plan is to do this digitally, right from the start.

From reading and research that should have been done along time ago I have found a lot of self-evident facts about note taking.

  • Keeps you engaged and interested in the lecture. Asking and answering questions is another good way to do this, but not often possible in the context of a lecture. I found last year I would zone out very quickly in lectures if I was uninterested in the topic, or if I knew some/all of the material already, or due to lack of sleep / sleepy after lunch.

  • Writing things in your own words will give better understanding at the time, and make more sense later.

  • Distilling the content as you write, will make your revision more efficient later. Having to wade through more comprehensive notes was another attribute of my revision last year. You can skip or be brief on things you already know, so as to not waste time, and outlining, mind mapping or any other structuring of the content will assist in your ability to find what you are looking for quicker.

Note taking methods from California Polytechnic State University
and from Dartmouth College

So far this all applies to methodology as opposed to the tools which you use to accomplish the note taking.

So here's why I think doing it digitally is the way to go, preferably completely digitally, but if that is not possible the latter stages after capture still have advantages.

The are a number of different digital inputs you could use as opposed to pen and paper. Using a tablet pc to write in digital ink, using a keyboard on laptop (or tablet if it has one), using a graphics tablet for pen input into a laptop, or any appropriate combination of those.
Using a keyboard and graphics tablet is my current plan. Being able to type in quickly the wordy parts and then use the pen to draw in diagrams, graphs, sketches, highlightings… seems to me to be the best. Of course if you capture your notes digitally then you have no need the duplicate work of digitizing paper notes later.

Digital notating allows you to…

  • Produce rich, colourful notes. You can accomplish colour with your paper notebook, but not without carrying around a selection of coloured pens, and wasting time switching between the. Doing it digitally… tap the colour you want, and away you go. Beyond this digital notes allow you to do things which aren't easy or even possible. Paste in graphics from external sources be that images, diagrams, graphs etc., Hyperlink to other documents, add audio and/or video to your notes!

  • Annotate. Following on from the previous point. Pasting in images etc., is great; even better is importing in documents and annotating them. Notes in pdf?... rather than print them out and draw on them, import them into your note taking system and annotate them like that. You can in fact extend that to any sort of document (typically using a virtual printer). No need to worry about marking, library or your own books. Use Google Print to get relevant pages from books, or scan them in… even using a digital camera works great.

  • Other miscellaneous features. No need to carry around a binder, pads of paper and a variety of pens, do it all with a small portable machine, and never have to worry about paper or pens running out. Granted, battery life is also finite, but put on the charger ever night, a modern mobile processor will last you through all the lectures in your day. Digital input also gives you freedom in the form of your notes, if A4 is dull, why not an infinitely sized canvas which expands when you need it to. Some note taking systems allow you to use different paper styles/types and have templates for your digital paper.

Once you have captured your notes the following points become important

  • Storage. If you did your notes on paper, how are you going to effectively store that huge stack of papers. This is where the digital route really starts to excel. Organising your files is easy on computer and no physical storage space other than the computer itself is required. Now you can take everything, everywhere, and work on anything at any time, when before you could only fit a few subjects in your bag. Labelling files is simple on computer, stored into a self explanatory hierarchy of directories, automatically timestamped files, try doing that with ring binders.

  • Search. You have you mountain of material intelligently organised, and tucked away on your hard drive… now imagine if you could search it all. Googling your revision notes? Note taking systems include this ability, or you could do it with desktop search software from vendors like Google, so you really could Google your notes.

  • Management. Management encapsulated the previous two points, there are other management areas which the digital can help. Your note taking spills over into revision and coursework, and it all needs to be time managed. Again there is plenty of good software to schedule your time for lectures, seminars, revision… for tracking the progress of tasks and their approaching deadlines.

This post almost seems like a sales pitch and now it really will do…

So what are these note taking systems. Two ones which seem good are,

OneNote, from Microsoft

Microsoft Journal for the tablet PC is another candidate and there are some other systems available as well, some more specific in use than others.

This summer I've been developing my own digital note capturing software, building on a base on pre-existing code. I will blog more about this later as this post is already huge.

I think this wraps it all up pretty well, maybe this summer you'll think about your strategy for study next year.

July 08, 2005

Response to the recent London transport bombings

First i'd like to add to the large echo of respect to affected families, which is around the Internet at the moment.

Due to the time zones i woke up to this news after it had all occurred and initial reports had come out. It was certainly very shocking news to wake up to.

People have individual ways of dealing with extreme situations, particularly ones involving grief. Some people people are very passive in their response, others very active. Some people make jokes to lighten what is otherwise despressing, others are sullen and serious.

Not that I intentionally want to trample on a certain styles of reponse, but there are a few that I found hard to agree with.

The most simple case of this being people who respond with in a blatently insensitive or immature manner. Enough said on that.

Ones that are more difficult to classify are ones like this… (sorry forgot the link so no direct quote)

Condolences… respect… . You have had your 9/11 and for that I am truely sorry … etc

This air of self pity is, in my opinion a bad thing.

  1. This was not a 9/11, from a statistics perspective, one was several thousand people dying, the other was around 50. Human life is certainly not a numbers game I hasten to add, but the descrepancy is undeniable.

  2. Having a 9/11 is not a club, and if there every was a club for victims of terrorism, 9/11 was not the founding member.

Fortunately the current resolve of public statements in the UK has the right focus. This is no more than a blip on the radar, we will grieve for those who have been lost, but it will not change us. This act of terrorism should not be allowed to succeed by manipulating the 'British way of life' or anyone's way of life for that matter.

Terrorism is the use of extreme violence to generate fear. The act itself is only the 'seed', as such, and the details of it are almost irrelevant.

The act of crashing planes into buildings back in 2001 killed alot of people and then developed very successfully in inciting a culture of fear. The U.S. government even picked up the reins and continues to perpetuate it.

By being phased you are instantly giving victory to the terrorists. Active defense of your way of life can be a neccesary response at times, but the key is to 'attack' back by being unchanged, by carrying on.

Of course there is a fine line between doing this in ignorance and doing it in thoughtfulness… but making a diversion out of fear is to lose your battle.

We should not be making war on terrorism as that is a misguided approach, and the words don't even make any sense. We should be resisting and absorbing terrorism. We should be re-evaluating our effect on other people in our world to make sure that we are right before we start blaming other people of being wrong.

Above all else though, we should not be letting this sway our focus and perspective from much more important issues which are being discussed in the G8. Making poverty history and protecting our environment.
Death and suffering by terrorism is a drop in the ocean compared to death and suffering caused by poverty, and further more environmental issues will impact everyone.

State of the Union address

the subtle reference in the title will make more sense with some context of my State.

It's still near the begining of the holiday, and all in good in my slovenly world.

  1. First year is done, and with a 1st. 82% overall which I was rather pleased about. The highlights being Functional Programming at 96% and Maths at 94%. The latter being a pleasant surprise. I just won't mention the Discrete Maths II.

  2. I am currently in America and have been since the 20th of June, and will be untill the 12th of September…. so that's pretty much by summer here. Just two weeks back in the UK before term starts.

  3. My time has so far been spent enjoying mainly great weather in a house on a waterfront, swimming in the pool, kayaking, even a bit of fishing but mainly soaking up the WiFi with my laptop on a couch. Nice huh?

But alas even though good things come to those wait, not all good things last, and so my slovenly days are number, as I am off to work. Work at Pfizer (New London) in fact. Just waiting on my social security number and then I'm all set. All is not lost though, as I shall be doing some software development, among other things, working on some database related software.

It was coming sooner or later

but it took a year to get there.
This blog that is. Although in browsing through warwick blogs, I am finding phrases which incorporate the word blog increasingly irritating.
Blog this, blog that, her blog, his blog, or just Blog It! ... maybe it's just an aversion to 'buzz'

Anyway, as it's taken so long to develop the inertia for this, a fair bit of draft content has built up along the way, so expect frequent posting and hopefuly it will stay that way.

The mission statement? I think it is something along the lines of being a frictionless outlet for daily thoughts and state.

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