Burnout at the Not-OK Corral

I've just read an intriguing article about burnout among web designers by Scott Boms, in the most excellent web 'zine A List Apart.

From Scott Boms' article:
Phases of burnout are:
  • A compulsion to prove oneself
  • Working harder
  • Neglecting one’s own needs
  • Displacement of conflict away from true cause of distress
  • Revision of values (dismissing friends, family, hobbies)
  • Denial of emerging cynicism, aggression, frustration
  • Withdrawal from social contexts, alcohol or drug abuse
  • Behavioral changes become obvious to others
  • Inner emptiness
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts, mental / physical collapse
 Causes of burnout:
  • Every day is a bad day
  • You're not emotionally invested in your job
  • You feel unappreciated
  • You feel like you’re not making a difference
  • Clear disconnect between your personal values and what is expected of you
  • Unrealistic or unreasonable goals are imposed on you
  • A significant amount of your day is focused on unfulfilling tasks

Burnout results from a lack of balance. Something's wrong, you don't or can't deal with it directly, you start with work-arounds, and you end up off balance. I was kind of amused recently to see somebody with a box of Balance bars. I didn't know they sold balance in boxes. I need a few boxes of that, and also a few boxes of Judgement if they sell that, too.

One thing that I've learned in the last ten years is that although we all tend to think our industry/ specialty/ niche is unique, there's really very few unique fields, and the human condition is universal. What Boms says about web designers applies to doctors, rocket scientists, and even Azimuth Technologies Corp.

Azimuth Technologies Corporation

Azimuth Technologies' employees are bright creative people, artists in a unforgiving industry, technowizards. They do things that other people can't, return outcomes that others can describe but not deliver, and their errors are judged by lesser creatures.

The Great Change

Three years ago, headquarters at Azimuth Technologies Corporation radically changed the way they treated employees. They wanted to break the employee-driven culture. Azimuth Technologies wanted a clear change of the status quo, a reversal of the previous decade, and a redefinition of the world of work.

On the Interface

I knew a group of ten team leads (supervisors) at Azimuth's local shop at the time of the Great Change.
  • 4 of them retired to get away from it
  • 4 of them took promotions away from the front lines
  • 1 transferred to another location
  • only 1 is still working as a team lead
  • 2 of these 10 have had major nervous breakdowns.

Under New Ownership

The Great Change has had its way for three long years. Recently, Ownership changed hands. The new Owner has called for a return to the way things were, they've insisted on a revision to the rewrite, and there's a chance that Great Wrongs will be set right. Paychecks will be corrected, procedures and processes will be restored, efforts will be made. Thank God for the new owners.

Even St. Jane can't restore trust. You can't restore the destroyed assumption that Azimuth will support their people, which is a key requirement for front line troops. The people have learned that a change in Ownership can throw all their assumptions and agreements out the window. They also know that this new Ownership, admirable as their position is, will someday be a former Owner, too.

The Pendulum Swings

Among the Quislings who championed the change, this swing of the pendulum toward equilibrium will be deeply resisted. They will throw their sabots in the machinery, they will attempt to bog it down, there will be pockets of recidivism, but they cannot change the pendulum's swing any more than the managers who opposed the change three years ago could stop it in their time.

The Damage

The ones who suffered the most are the employees - their families were hurt, they were treated with contempt, and they were subjected to capricious change just to show that they weren't in charge. They'll never trust Azimuth Technologies Corp. or the managers again. They shouldn't.

Strategic Damage

The strategic damage is the destruction of trust and the loss of relationship. At one time, Azimuth employees knew that if they were trying to do the right thing, Azimuth Technologies would support them. That assumption is long gone. What's the ROI on a culture of distrust?
All the King's horses,
all the King's men,
couldn't put Azimuth together again.

Downstream Impact

Demographically, Azimuth Technologies Corp. is going to churn 75% of their people in the next five years. Let's call the 25% that remain the bridge cohort. They'll be the legitimately bitter veterans who'll convey the story and the distrust to the new 75%, Azimuth's "Generation Next". A lot of the Gen-Next's won't listen, or will forget. I hope enough will remember: "The struggle of men against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting".

The upcoming correction will have winners and losers, just like any change. Winners will be the employees, Justice, and Right (vs Wrong). The Losers will be the people who embraced and championed the Great Change. Other Losers will be the people who stepped in to fill Team Lead vacancies, and whose only experience has been during the Great Change.

The Wreckage

The working people bear the impact, the cost , and the stress of the change. I think the supervisors, with one foot on each side of the labor/management divide, bear both damage and responsibility.

Let me be clear that the greatest injury, the most egregious wrong, has been done to the employees and their families. But I also count among the wreckage the two team leads (out of ten) who had nervous breakdowns. Surely this is the manifestation of Azimuth's implementing a morally wrong policy. Another writer describes the ATC experience as a real-world Milgram Experiment, and it's a legitimate point; most of the Nazis were "just following orders", too. (edited for clarity)

Nature of the Beast or Job Related Injury?

Europeans view burnout as a job-related injury. The way we Yanks continue to view burnout as an individual problem and an individual inadequacy, rather than an occupational issue caused by factors beyond the individual's control, is a barrier to dealing with the organization issues.

Christina Maslach, author of the benchmark Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), has always contended that burnout says more about the employer than it does about the employee. “Imagine investigating the personality of cucumbers to discover why they had turned into sour pickles,she famously wrote in 1982, “without analyzing the vinegar barrels in which they’d been submerged!

Burnout as the New Norm

When I consider the new team leaders who have replaced the ten I knew, and I look at the 25% "bridge cohort" that will convey today's culture to the Gen-Next's, I think they're all dead set on the burnout track that Boms described in his article.

The long-term cultural implications of a demanding technocreative organization, with team leads and a cadre of experienced employees that personify the burnout profile, will provide a very challenging environment and a very interesting study.

2009 Stanley Cup Penguins

For related posts, also see : Stanley Cup Game Seven, and Good News, Jobs Well Done

The following image is presented as a public service. I'll explain later.

Yinz Love Sports References, N'At

Here's what's important: Friday morning, I go see a doctor, a specialist, an experienced and eloquent gentlemen. There's a reason I'm going to see him -- it's important, but not melodramatic. There 3.2 gazillion people that are worse off than I am. The good Doctor (and he's a very nice man, a very smart person, and I'm truly lucky to have him on my side) looks at my charts, makes a few notes, and says to me: "It's just like Crosby says, you know..."

Who the hell is Crosby? Bing Crosby? I look at this good and learned physician, I think about his age and my age, and I think he must have said Cosby, Bill Cosby, and I start trying to figure it out. What does Cosby say? Education is important? Pudding is good? I'm replaying Cosby records in my mind, Fat Albert, little children saying "I don't know", and it's going no where for me. I just don't get it. His message did not get to me, I can't decode it, which concerns me because I need to understand what this man is telling me.

"Cosby?", I ask. "Bill Cosby?"

"No. Not Cosby, Crosby. Sidney Crosby. You know what he says." (I can't bring myself to capitalize the H in He.)

"I'm sorry", I say. "Help me out on this, Doc. What does Crosby say?"

"Play like it's the third period." The doctor gives me a knowing grin. I realize this isn't going to get any better. I grin foolishly and move on. I ask a lot of questions, he gives me answers and explanations, and I come away confident I've understood the essence of it.

Desperately Seeking Translation

I have a colleague named Jen who's a hockey fan, and I believe that Crosby is a hockey player. I say to her, Crosby is a hockey player, right? She gives me a look somewhat akin to, Is the Pope Catholic? "World's best hockey player, except for Youghaghenny Malkin", she tells me. I really dislike having to do this. I ask, How many periods in a hockey game? "Three periods", she tells me. I realize this is bad news. I thought there were four periods in a hockey game.

If there were four periods in a hockey game, then the Doctor's anecdote means: it's time to pay attention to this. Nothing extraordinary, respond in moderation, no big thing. But if there's only three periods in a hockey game, then the Doctor's anecdote means: "This is the time. Win it or lose it. Don't leave anything on the ice. You should be hearing footsteps. Buzzer's coming.". I hate that hockey only has three periods.

I am somewhat dismayed that we can't communicate in Pittsburgh without sports metaphors. You have to know what the announcer's routine punchlines are — and here's the thing, in most cities, punchlines aren't routine - that's why they're punchlines. Only in Pittsburgh do people get paid to repeat once-popular phrases. The cultural embrace of sports metaphors is, I know, an unfortunate fact of life in the Burgh. And when in Rome, do as the Yinzers do.

I don't think this happens in other places. For instance, if you see a Doctor in Charlotte, NC, I don't think he's going to say: "Take two pills every Jeff Gordon; if you're not feeling better in a Jimmy Johnson, call the office. (Translation: two pills every 24 hours; if you're not better in 48 hours, call the office). I'm also sure the Doctor doesn't break bad news by saying, "Son, they're waving the surface flag at you. Jethro you ain't gonna last no longer than a Hardee's ham-n-egg biscuit on two-for-one Tuesday.

Obscure Pittsburgh-Charlotte Joke: When USAir, PSA, and Piedmont were merging, the flight simulator staff used to say, How can you tell what airline the last simulator pilot was from?
  • USAir pilot: styrofoam coffee cups everywhere
  • PSA Surfer-Dude: sand on the floor from his chart bag
  • Piedmont pilot: boogers on the IDENT button
(IMO: Piedmont was a great airline, and I'm sorry that USAir's cool northern efficiency happened to the airline that Tom Davis built.)

Hockey's Attraction

2009 Stanley Cup In Context

I don't go out with my wife often enough. Last Saturday I got to take her out for dinner. We went to a great Mexican restaurant in Leetsdale. The whole place is captivated by the hockey game. I have food but no utensils; everybody's paying attention to the game. I can't hear our conversation. But it's no slam on the restaurant (which is a great place) -- it's what everybody here does. Generally, I go to restaurants to eat, and this usually doesn't involve the whole place watching television and cheering. I don't get that people cheer for the replays; there's no extra points for the replays. I guess the Penguins won.

This last Tuesday I was very pleased to go to an Honors Ceremony at my son's high school. They present awards and medals to students from the various classes. It amazed me how many people didn't come - there were open seats, and there's never open seats at this event. The teachers were making jokes about being brief so they could get home for the end of the hockey game. Parents were sitting there wearing earbuds, with headset wires sneaking into their jacket pockets so they could listen to the Penguins on the radio. This amazes me. More than one parent said, Shame this happened on a hockey night. O, the tragedy: Brittney won the physics medal, but we had to go get the damned thing on a hockey night! It's more torturous than Schrodinger's cat. The Penguins won that night, too.

Non-Inclusive Exclusive Communication

When I first moved here and recognized the local pattern of sports metaphors, I thought: hey, maybe now I can understand how poor business communication often excludes people. There's a meeting with four men and a woman, one of the guys drops a football metaphor - "time to punt" - the guys all get it, the woman doesn't, she's marginalized and excluded from the conversation. I thought, hey maybe this will help me to avoid communicating with inappropriate metaphors.

In Pittsburgh even the women use sports references. I was in a meeting and we were talking about who would handle a particular project. A professional woman said, "I'm all over that like Polamalu. I'm left thinking, when did we get a new Italian guy?

2009 Stanley Cup Planning Schedule

At the beginning of this post, I presented the 2009 Stanley Cup schedule as a public service, and I repeat it below for the same reason - so you can plan your dinner dates. If you're taking a date out for dinner on any of these nights, you may have to recalibrate your expectations for a quiet romantic dinner. It's not going to happen.
Get in the fast lane Grandma, the bingo game's ready to roll!

G-20 and the Pittsburgh Airplane Geek

So: The G-20 are meeting in Pittsburgh in September. (BBC, Xinhua).
People see the world through their own interests. If you stop at a gas station for directions, they'll tell you to go straight ahead, turn left at the Exxon, turn right at the BP, and you're there. Stop at a ginmill for directions, they'll tell you to bear right at the DewDropInn, hang a left at Stan's Jungle Lounge, and you're there.

Hello, my name is Vannevar. I'm an airplane geek. For instance, this is a picture of a B707, B717, B727, B737, B747, B757, B767, and a B777 all lined up at Boeing Field in Seattle. It's a plane geek's fantasy.

Here's a G-20-something story that happened 26 years ago, back when it was only the G-7. (Today is the anniversary of this story.)

On May 29, 1983, President Reagan hosted the G-7 meeting in Williamsburgh, Virginia. All the VIP aircraft were parked at nearby Langley Air Force Base. I lived just outside of Langley's west gate. On the ramp at Langley, there was the US Air Force One, Margaret Thatcher's Vickers VC10, and Francois Mitterand's Concorde. As an airplane geek it was an irresistable opportunity to go see these aircraft lined up.

Along with a few friends, we drove onto the Base (my car had vehicle tags because I was a Navy reservist at the time). We went to the Tower, gave them doughnuts and asked if we could come upstairs; they said "sure" and buzzed us in. We walked up and up, around and around the staircase, and arrived in the control tower to a tremendous view of a lineup of Presidential aircraft. Air Force Security was everywhere.

We had a nice tour of the tower and then took our leave. As we worked our way down the stairs, round and round, we took the wrong doorway at the bottom of the stairs, and we stepped out directly onto the tarmacadam. At that very moment, there was a changing of the security watch at Thatcher's VC10. And what's cool is, at the moment the oncoming watch presents itself, they all simultaneously slide the ammo clips into their M16s. So we tumble out on the ramp where we're not supposed to be, lots of people look up and realize that we've just penetrated their secure area, and then we hear the squad's M16s all go "click" in unison with that very distinctive sound. It was kind of a focused moment.

We all froze, security questioned us, and all of a sudden the fact that we brought doughnuts (Krispy Kremes, even) wasn't as significant as it might once have been. They confirmed our story - a couple of tower visitors that took the wrong turn - and escorted us off the base. But it was a great chance to see those planes. I think I still have a picture of the planes.

When I think about the G20 in Pittsburgh, my mind races to: Think of the airplanes that will be here!

This link provides the following list of aircraft types that recently flew into London for the March 2009 G20 summit. (thanks Nino)
Argentina - Aerolineas Argentinas Airbus
Australia - B737-BBJ
Brazil - A319CJ & a B732 (I expect they'd bring an Embraer)
Canada - CC-150 (Airbus 313)
China - Air China B744 (the C919 won't be ready)
Czech Republic - Airbus 319CJ
Egypt - Airbus 342
France - Airbus 319CJ
Germany - GAF Airbus 313
India - Air India B744
Indonesia - Airbus 333
Italy - Airbus 319CJ
Japan - JASDF B744s
Mexico - B752
Netherlands - Fokker 70 (that's a medium-sized Fokker)
Russia - Il-76, Il-62s, Il-96s & three Tu-154s
South Africa - B737BBJ ZS-RSA to LGW
South Korea - Asiana B744
Spain - Airbus 310
Thailand - B734
Turkey - Airbus 319CJ

If that's any indication, there's going to be some awesome airplane spotting opportunities in Pittsburgh in September. If your camera looks anything like the photo at the right, please stay home.

It would be extremely cool to see the Airbus A380. It would be a chance for the Euro-partners to highlight their flagship, but I'm not sure that's a priority and I don't imagine that Emirates is lending them out.

Netroots Nation 2009 (NN09, for the cognoscenti) will be meeting here in Pittsburgh, August 13-16, 2009, as mentioned in this press release.

(Politics is not my beat, but this is Pittsburgh1 Geek2 & Web3 politics, so...)

This is the fourth annual edition of this event, originally called the YearlyKos Convention, and rebranded as Netroots Nation in 2007.
Netroots Nation 2009 will include panels led by national and international experts; identity, issue and regional caucuses; prominent political, issue and policy-oriented speakers; a progressive film screening series; and the most concentrated gathering of progressive bloggers to date.

Netroots Nation is committed to fostering a legacy of environmental stewardship. We believe we have a responsibility to not only green our event, but to use our gathering to educate others about sustainability issues. Netroots Nation 2009 will be held at the first and largest certified “green” convention center in the world (Gold LEED certified) and will incorporate green practices such as minimizing waste and donating leftover food to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible.

NN09Here's a NY Times article about NN08 and the struggle for the soul of the Democratic Party between the DLC and the Netroots. Heady stuff. (Also: a list of Wordpress blogs about Netroots Nation 2008.)

Accept for discussion, if you will, the notion that the introduction of a large mass of activist web-grokking Progressives (Progressives 2.0 ?) from beyond the 30-mile circle is likely to produce some impact on the local political scene. For instance, this article talks about the remarkable fundraising impact of out-of-town Netroots conventioneers affecting a Congressional election.

Questions include:
  • Netroots Nation is a direct challenge to the hegemony of legacy political machines. What's the impact of celebrating Netroots Nation and disintermediation in the middle of a 1950's machine city?
  • Who are the Pittsburgh Netroots?
  • What is the impact of NN09-Pittsburgh on Arlen Specter's future?
  • What's the impact of NN09-Pittsburgh on Dok Harris's Indy run for Mayor? On Kevin Acklin's Indy run for Mayor? (kudos!)
  • Is Braddocc (sic) Mayor John Fetterman the local politico who charms them and leaps to a higher stage? (Colbert, Carbon Caps, etc)
  • Where do we expect to see protests and vigils during their visit?
    • If Pittsburgh is Eds and Meds, where is the focus likely to go?
    • UPMC, the non-profit that makes million$?
    • Software Engineering Institute?
    • CMU's National Robotics Engineering Center?
    • hybrid Labor/Eco-Brownfield event at the Homestead Strike site?
    • where else?
    • Does a web-based movement even do physical demonstrations?
  • Is the Convention Center and the downtown WiFi capable of supporting 2000 bloggers?
  • Was it the solar water heater at the fire station that cinched the deal?

Finished Reading: The Logic of Failure, by Dietrich Dorner

I work on a lot of projects. Projects are different from ongoing work processes because projects have a beginning, an end, and usually a specific observable goal; they have a schedule, a budget, and a set of specifications. Projects can (and often do) go awry. Increasingly, I'm not surprised at the projects that go wrong or hit snags; I'm surprised at the projects that don't go wrong.

A lot of current literature focuses on studying success as a path to improvement. Studying success is like studying how you got to work today to improve your driving record — you can't learn much about the non-specific events that didn't happen. Maybe your success was just a fluke. Maybe it has nothing to do with the reasons that you attribute to it. Maybe the success was in spite of the you, not because of the you. Maybe it wasn't your day to die.

The subtitle is: "Recognizing And Avoiding Error In Complex Situations". That's something I can use help with.

The notion of this book (which I really enjoyed) is that too many people study success, when the real opportunity for learning comes from studying failure. Dietrich Dorner suggests that by studying failure, by spotting patterns of failure, we might be able to restrain ourselves in similar situations.

This was a good read and I recommend it. It took me a while to read because there's a lot of food for thought in there.

He opens by talking about not defining goals, not defining success, and not making explicit priorities as factors in failures. He shifts from theory into praxis by presenting results from simulations in which people fail to handle complex, multivariable, time-lagged situations.

Dorner talks about the behaviors people present (choose?) when faced with situations. He identifies several coping mechanisms which are indications of future failure, and suggests that the choice of response is a choice of coping mechanism, which in term is a choice of self-protective behavior.

The book explains how the native human ability to deal with time-dependent systems is minimal, how we tend to see individual events rather than ongoing process and patterns, and how we are prone to identifying single causes in multivariable situations.

This might have gotten pretty dry pretty fast, but it didn't. The examples provided are interesting, and his writing style is enjoyable and witty.

There were a few points which were thought-provoking for me. Dorner talks about
  • falling into a "repair service mentality" where we respond to immediate events without considering the underlying cause.
  • maximizing "diversity efficiency", by which he means preparing for multiple opportunities to respond.
  • reverse planning in an interesting way
  • the context-sensitivity of planning, and quoted Clausewitz as defining strategy as "planning in context"
  • "methodism" — the use of a previously accepted method without consideration of contemporary context. He sees it as a flawed response.

He recommends:
  • seeing events as the results of a time-delayed process rather than unique incidents
  • observing and studying before acting
  • anticipating the time latency of actions taken.
  • learning to think in terms of temporal configurations.

In a way, the proscriptive concept of this book - studying failure to learn what to avoid is more productive than studying success - is consistent with another book I've recently read, What Got You Here, Won't Get You There. The specific notion of W-G-Y-H-W-G-Y-T is that instead of learning new behaviors, it may be more productive to unlearn bad or inneffective behaviors, or the DDT's (Don't Do Thats).

A Cool Tool (kwout)


There's a new tool called "kwout" that makes it extremely easy to cut out parts of web pages as images and use them to "quote" the sites. Installing it on Firefox is as easy as dragging a hyperlink to the toolbar. I used Kwout to cut its own logo out of its web page (above). Pasting it into Blogger took only seconds.

Check it out.
A corporation is a legal entity separate from the persons that form it. Similarly, a city is a legal entity with power, rights, obligations, personality, and quirks.

The good folks at Pittsblog 2.0 have a great post about Pittsburgh blowing things up and suggesting that if Pittsburgh were anthropomorphized, it would be an stereotypical young boy, fascinated by loud noises, trucks, things crashing into each other, and himself. (I couldn't say it any better). The boy's hairstyle is uncertain, but we know his uncle wears a mullet.

The question fascinates me. Who would Pittsburgh be, if Pittsburgh were one person? I think we need to be more rigorous. First, let's define Pittsburgh. For our purposes Pittsburgh is both the City Of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, removing for this discussion an ambiguity which should also be dealt with in the real world. (pace illyrias)

What are the attributes that this Pittsburgh Person would demonstrate?

  • Very Good with technology
  • Very Good with medicine
  • Parochial perspective
  • Mediocre in elementary schools, excellent in college
  • Budget problems temporarily solved with one-off workarounds, not filling the 401K
  • Cognitive Dissonance
  • Lots of competing voices in their head
  • Simultaneously a Used-to-Be and a Wannabee with an inferiority complex
  • Widely dispersed network (the diaspora)
  • Family oriented
  • Has supported non-profits to the point of regretting it
  • Loves and supports sports teams. Confuses self-identity with team marketing.
  • Tied into old relationships and neighbors that may hamper personal growth
  • Handles loss and adversity well
  • Believes they are quite distinct from indistinguishable peers (Cleveland, Buffalo, etc)
  • has a great model airport, but no planes

Who is the Pittsburgh Person? A few real people come to mind. Tom Murphy, Jane Pitt, Franco Harris, Sophie Masloff, Myron Cope - they all convey a large portion of the Pittsburgh zeitgeist, the Burgh spirit in our times.

I'm not sure who the person is that meets this profile, but I'm going to work on it. It's not Yarone Zober, Dennis the Menace, or Angelina Jolie. In fact, I'm not sure that any real person would fit the profile.

I thought about Gulliver, the giant who's potential is hamstrung by too many tiny factors, but there wasn't enough there to support his candidacy.

Our Pittsburgh Person is a bit of a schizophrenic, possibly a high-functioning schizophrenic.

It strikes me that Edward Norton's unnamed character in the movie Fight Club might be our Pittsburgh Person. He struggles. He fights. He has internal conflicts he's barely aware of. He's got to kill off Tyler Durden before he can get himself on track.

Looks like Pittsburgh to me.

Advice to Sun from Michelangelo

Sun is a great company with some great software, yet something holds it back from achieving its true potential. What is it that's missing? I've been thinking about this ever since I got back from Sun Developer Day earlier this week.

And then I got it. Nothing's missing. On the contrary, there's too much.

Michelangelo defined sculpture as the art of "taking away", not "adding on". The sculpture already exists inside the block of marble. The sculptor only has to take away the excess to reveal the work of art within.

Sun has a full line-up of extremely useful products. But there's some superfluous marble covering the work of art within. That's what prevents us from seeing the masterpiece. It's an unfinished work, and the sculptor's unwarranted sentimentality towards superfluous marble is what prevents him from completing the statue.

The biggest piece that Sun needs to sculpt away is OpenSolaris. No, really, the world doesn't need another Open Source Unix. Now that we have Linux, that's more than enough. Let's not get into bureaucratic arguments over which is the more senior Unix. Put bluntly, OpenSolaris is a dog-in-the-manger that just muddies the waters. It will limp along, delaying Linux's inevitable triumph, yet never quite succeeding, and in the process, never letting Sun achieve greatness. To quote from one of Sun's own marketing campaigns, they need to put "all the wood behind one arrowhead." An arrowhead called Linux. Sun should help port ZFS and DTrace to Linux, and quietly bury OpenSolaris.

But OpenSolaris isn't the only offending piece. There's the GlassFish app server. Mind you, there's a lot that's cool in GlassFish, such as Jersey (for REST services) and Metro (for .NET-compatible SOAP/WS-* Web Services). But these are components that should simply be contributed to Tomcat as libraries. We don't need an app server when we have Spring and Tomcat. By clinging to a heavyweight EJB container, Sun is refusing to chip away at one of the ugliest pieces of marble obscuring Enterprise Java. (There's no such thing as a lightweight EJB container, by the way. The EJB spec is heavyweight, even with the figleaf of annotations.)

The last bit is NetBeans. NetBeans is all right by itself as an IDE, but the world already has one - Eclipse. Why doesn't Sun throw in the towel already? If they have something to contribute in IDE land, let it be in the form of Eclipse plugins! That's what the rest of the world does.

There's altogether too much "invented here" sentiment that prevents Sun from ruthlessly pruning its inventory and letting elegance shine.

So much for taking away. Moving on from sculpture to painting, which is all about "adding on", there's some stuff Sun is neglecting, too.

I think they're wasting time with MySQL when they should just leave it alone. MySQL is doing just fine by itself. It's an OK database for a lot of people, but Sun's energies are better spent improving another one. Let me beat the drum once more for my favourite Open Source database, which seems to me to be the world's best-kept secret - Ingres.

Sun should contribute to Ingres. I believe Ingres is near-perfect, with just one fatal flaw. It requires the installer to understand sophisticated database concepts before even installing it. If you don't understand why the database snapshot and journal files should be on a separate disk from the database itself, then you've missed the whole point about database recoverability and also messed up your install. Sun should contribute to the usability of Ingres, just as they poured millions of dollars into Star Division GmbH's software to make it a friendly office suite known as OpenOffice 3. My mouth waters at the thought of a rejuvenated Ingres, more beginner-friendly and riding as a package on board the best distribution channel in the world - a Linux installation CD.

But fat chance of that happening now that Oracle has its hooks into Sun :-(.

On second thoughts, forget painting. If Sun can just be a good sculptor and chip away at extra marble, they can still contribute to that masterpiece - a lean and clean Enterprise Java ecosystem that is also Open Source.

Will Windows Become a Drain on Microsoft?

A friend just pointed me to the latest blog posting of Sun's CEO Jonathan Schwartz. Titled "Will the Java Platform Create the World's Largest App Store?", the post reveals a side of the Java platform I hadn't much thought about. I suspect not many people are aware of the revenue model that the Java runtime has created for Sun. Google and Yahoo! (I reckon they're the companies Schwartz refers to) obviously find it worthwhile to pay Sun for the opportunity to reach out to the billion users of the Java runtime.

Three observations I can make immediately:

1. Microsoft ironically did Sun a favour by trying to corrupt Java in the mid-nineties. This caused Sun to bypass Microsoft and go direct to the user's computer. That's what has now resulted in the happy situation of Sun being able to negotiate effectively with the search giants without having to cut Microsoft in on the deal.

2. Oracle probably has a financial reason to buy Sun after all :-).

3. I can now understand another motivation for Google to innovate Android. With Android, Google can be in the position that Sun now occupies as gatekeeper to a billion users' eyeballs. Like Sun cut Microsoft out of the negotiation, Google can cut Sun out with a simpler licensing deal (for the Java VM) and lock onto a growing revenue stream instead. But they may have to share their profits with the owners of the hardware platform.

This line of thinking leads me to a conclusion that is very bad news for Microsoft. If I was an executive at Nokia, I would be talking to Google about getting a share of the ad revenues that Google will surely get through widespread penetration of Android. Armed with a likely deal of that nature, I would then approach Microsoft to work out something similar. Microsoft will probably be in for a shock. Rather than be able to charge hardware vendors for the privilege of licensing Windows, they would be asked to pay rents to those vendors (and their telco partners) for the privilege of reaching millions of customer eyeballs. If Microsoft doesn't play ball, the phone vendors can simply switch to Android. It's not like the PC platform where users have been dog-trained to demand Windows. Even a zero-licence fee Windows won't be good enough in the mobile device market.

I read an article recently that speculated Microsoft was cutting Windows licence fees to the bone to make it viable on Netbooks, and the article then went on to say it was no wonder Microsoft was shedding staff. Now, if OEMs start expecting Microsoft to pay for them to use Windows, the job losses at Redmond will only mount.

All because of a little operating system called Linux, and an open platform called Java (that together go to make up the base platform for Android).

It's wonderful what a bit of competition will do.

I attended Sun Developer Day in Sydney today. Compared to the three-day extravaganza of last year, this was a much simpler affair, with just eight short sessions over a single day.

The sessions were as follows:

1. Keynote (Reginald Hutcherson)
2. JavaFX (Angela Caicedo)
3. Java, Dynamic Languages and Domain-Specific Languages (Lee Chuk Munn)
4. MySQL (Peter Karlsson)
5. OpenESB (Lee Chuk Munn)
6. Virtualization (Peter Karlsson)
7. Developing and Deploying apps with Java SE 6 Update 10 (Angela Caicedo)
8. DTrace (Peter Karlsson)

I'll organise my feedback grouping the topics by speaker, since they specialise in related fields.

Reginald Hutcherson is "Director, Technology Outreach" at Sun and seems to have been with the company forever. I remember hearing him speak at a Sun event more than 10 years ago. He provided an overview of the topics that would be covered over the rest of the day. The key takeaway from his speech was the central role of the Java Virtual Machine. On one side, there are multiple languages (including the increasingly popular scripting languages) that are capable of running on the JVM. On the other side, the JVM has been ported to "all the screens of our life" - computers, TVs, mobile phones, GPS devices, etc. Java the platform, as has always been emphasised by Sun, is more important than Java the language.

Angela Caicedo spoke about JavaFX and later about new options to develop and deploy applications after the innovations in Java 6 update 10. I didn't get the impression that anything very major had occurred in the JavaFX world since last year. My reaction to all these RIA tools (Flash/Flex, Silverlight and JavaFX) is, why bother? JavaScript-based tools are becoming so much more powerful these days that we can build astoundingly rich applications using nothing more heavyweight than JavaScript and HTML. So I don't know where JavaFX will go. I commented last year after Jim Weaver's demo that the declarative JavaFX code quickly ends up looking like the dog's breakfast. I haven't seen anything this year to change my opinion of JavaFX.

[Out of curiosity, I tried downloading NetBeans 6.5 later in the evening and was more than a little disappointed to see that it had no JavaFX support on Linux, only on Windows. Why not? As an Ubuntu user, I'm offended that this excellent platform isn't deemed a first-class development environment.]

Angela's second talk (on the latest options for developing and deploying applications since Java 6 update 10) was, in my opinion, the best session of the day.

Minor revisions (called updates) don't break APIs, but update 10 is still quite revolutionary.

Where do I begin? First, my personal background - unlike most Java developers in the industry today (who build web applications), I have actually built Swing, Applet and Java WebStart-based applications for a number of organisations. And I've been personally disappointed in the fact that these technologies did not become more popular.

With Java 6u10, perhaps some of the reasons for their relative unpopularity have gone away (but it may be too late to get the developers back).

In a nutshell, Sun has now unified the development and deployment of applets and Java WebStart applications, cleaned up the browser-JVM architecture and improved the bidirectional interoperability between Java and JavaScript. I can only ask Sun, where have you been these ten long years?

JVMs no longer have to share process space with the browser, and different applets can run in different JVMs if required. This reduces the impact of an applet crash on other applets and on the browser. Note this: the crash of an applet no longer results in the browser crashing, but more importantly, one can close the browser and have an applet continue to run. This is big stuff. When one then tries to close the applet, one is prompted with the choice to save the applet as a desktop icon. In other words, it's no different from Java WebStart. This is really powerful and cool.

There are a number of other improvements and optimisations. The JRE is now broken into a number of smaller components, and a more lazy download strategy is employed under the covers to reduce the startup time of applications. There is a more modern look and feel to replace the dated Metal appearance. Components are now rendered using scalable vector graphics rather than bitmaps.

I'm most excited about the three major improvements I listed earlier. I can see a very elegant way to implement SOFEA using these innovations. The MVC controller on the client should be an applet, running in a persistent JVM outside the browser process. The Application Download will start the applet and configure it with the wiring logic for the application's Presentation Flow. The controller will handle not only Presentation Flow but also Data Interchange with services hosted by remote servers. Perhaps a variant of Spring Web Flow suitably modified for the client side will be a good model for Presentation Flow. Server-side UI resources in the form of Freemarker or other templates could be pulled by the controller and populated using appropriate models. With the seamless interaction between Java and JavaScript, many things are now possible.

Lee Chuk Munn spoke about Java, Dynamic Languages and Domain-Specific Languages and in a later session, about OpenESB.

There wasn't anything very new in the session on scripting languages, but it may be worth repeating the benefits of scripting.

Scripting helps build an ecosystem for an application. Applications become platforms. Witness plugins for Firefox. Firefox is no longer just an application. It is a platform by itself, because of the JavaScript-based plugins that it supports. Scripting also enables domain-specific applications, such as Mathematica.

[I hadn't heard of Lua before. This is a scripting language for gaming.]

In his second session, Lee worked through an example to demonstrate the features of OpenESB. I must confess I'm a bit of an ESB skeptic. To be fair, the ESB feature that was demonstrated was plain BPEL functionality, so it wasn't so much an ESB as a BPEL engine. I have no objections to BPEL engines as long as they don't pretend to be "SOA fabric in a box", which is my grouse against ESB products.

The main feature of OpenESB as a BPEL engine seems to be its support for JBI (Java Business Integration). Put bluntly, JBI seems to mean a WSDL-defined interface on both the service consumption side and the service provision side. Lee demonstrated how a process could be graphically mapped using NetBeans. The WSDL on the service provision side made the entire process look like a standard SOAP service. On the other side, the actual implementation of business logic was encapsulated in a Stateless Session EJB (ugh!) The interface to the EJB was once again a WSDL. The demo worked quite well, showing not only how logic could be placed in components but also in the process definition itself. However, I fear that powerful tools that simplify service and process development, when placed in the hands of developers without a sufficiently "SOAphisticated" understanding of concepts, will lead to horribly designed applications. (And why are we still wasting our time with EJBs?)

Peter Karlsson gave three talks, one on MySQL, one on virtualisation and one on DTrace. Unfortunately, his areas of specialisation (other than databases) are not of great interest to me personally, so I'll just give a brief run-down of what he covered.

My biggest takeaway from the MySQL talk was that MySQL supports multiple "storage engines", each optimised for a different task. In the same database, one can allocate different storage engines to different tables depending on usage. Examples:

MyISAM is useful for tables that don't require transactional integrity. This is the default, and is most useful for web and data warehouse applications.
InnoDB should be used for tables that do require transactional integrity, but because of the extra performance overhead, should not be used for other tables. Slashdot, Google, Yahoo! and Facebook are InnoDB users.
Archive should be used for log and audit trail type tables, because of its native compression and high insert performance.
In-memory should be used for scratch tables (working storage).

I was a bit confused during the virtualisation talk because there were some generic virtualisation techniques being described, but also some Sun products, and I wasn't always able to tell them apart.

There are four broad categories of virtualisation:
1. Hard partitions (e.g., Dynamic System Domains).
2. Virtual Machines (e.g., Logical Domains, Solaris xVM x86 hypervisors, VirtualBox).
3. OS Virtualisation (Solaris Containers, Solaris Trusted Extensions, Brand Z Solaris Containers, Trusted VirtualBox).
4. Resource Management (Solaris Resource Manager).

My takeaway from this was that VirtualBox was something worth looking into as a developer. This is a Sun product that is Open Source.

Peter Karlsson's last talk was on DTrace, in which I have not the slightest interest. This is a Solaris-based system tool, I understand, and provides relatively low-overhead diagnostic capability. It is reportedly safe for use in production environments because it is supposedly zero-overhead (though Peter did warn about some specific settings that had high performance impact), because it cannot change data, because it cannot cause crashes and because it eliminates the need for post-processing of data.

There are Probes and Providers and a scripting language called D. Traces can be set on activities using a predicate-based expression language. The approach reminded me of AOP (Aspect-Oriented Programming).

Overall, I was satisfied with the coverage of the day's topics, but I have a lingering feeling that the action in the Java world has moved away from Sun.

NetBeans => Eclipse
GlassFish => Tomcat
EJB => Spring POJOs
JavaFX => JavaScript/Ajax libraries (AJAX is now so common it's now spelt Ajax)

It'd be good if Sun could drag itself closer to where the action is, instead of seeming to play in its own little sandpit.

I'll be at JavaOne in two weeks, and I'll report on my impressions there.

Experience and Karl Popper's Three Worlds

Sir Karl Popper is a philosopher of science and a student of the scientific process. He describes science through an ontology of three worlds, as shown below. World-One is the physical realm, World Two is the realm of subjective reality, and World Three is the realm of objective knowledge.

The worlds are positioned so that only the first two and the last two can interact; World One and World Three cannot interface except through the intermediation of World Two.

World Three contains our accumulated scientific knowledge, which is enshrined in (but does not consist of) the devices that store it.

Popper maintained that the activity of understanding consists of operating with World Three objects, and described World Three as an arena where linguistically formatted theories can be critically discussed.

World One : The Physical World

Let's say that there's a balloon in your house. You, the balloon, and the house are in World One, the physical world. You observe the balloon through the morning and afternoon. As the day continues, the balloon gets bigger and bigger. You measure the balloon and keep track of the results. This data, these measurements without interpretation, are in World One.

TimeBalloon Size
08:00 AM12 inches
09:30 AM12.5 inches
11:00 AM13 inches
1:30 PM14.5 inches

World Two : Subjective Reality

You wonder about this. What's going on? Your thinking takes place in World Two, the world of subjective reality. Opinions, assumptions, and perceptions abound. As you think, you decide to analyze the measurements:
TimeBalloon SizeElapsed TimeChange in Size
08:00 AM12 inches00
09:30 AM12.5 inches1.5 hours.5 inch
11:00 AM13 inches3 hours1 inch
1:30 PM14.5 inches4.5 hours1.5 inches

And you develop a graph of the data:

You develop a theory: the size of the balloon increases with time. This is not a bad theory; it explains the observed phenomena. You develop a formula to explain the relationship: Growth(inches)= Time(hours) / 3. You're still working in World Two. You feel very good about this.

World Three : Objective Knowledge

You decide to involve others in your thoughts; you'd like to have your findings recognized and accepted. You branch out from World Two (subjective reality) and tentatively step into World Three (objective knowledge). You contact several friends, explain your data and your theory. You introduce your theory to World Three.

Your buddy Ralph, ever the naysayer, says "I can't disagree with your findings. The value of a good theory is its usefulness to predict. Tell me: what size will the balloon be at 3:00 pm? You look at your chart and your formula, and say quite confidently, "At 3:00 pm, the balloon will have grown another half-inch, for a total growth of 2.0 inches, and a total size of 14 inches."

At 3:00 pm, you measure the balloon and your prediction was right on. You nailed it. You notify your associates, and they congratulate you on your new Law of Science. You publish your results and the New Law of Science for the world to use and benefit from. You've increased our knowledge of the universe. MaryLou, however, remains a skeptic. "I don't think you're right, but I can't prove you're wrong."

You decide to offer MaryLou some food for thought. You say, "Listen-- At 4:30 pm the balloon will be 14.5 inches inches, and at 6:00 pm the balloon will be 15 inches. You'll see."

Past Behavior is no Guarantee of Future Performance

At 4:30 pm, you measure the balloon, expecting it to be 14.5 inches, and find that the size has decreased to 13.5 inches. At 6:00 pm you measure again, hoping that the balloon is back on track, and you see that the size has decreased to 13 inches.

You notify your friends, share the numbers, and tell them that your new Law of Science has been disproved (falsified). Mary Lou consoles you, "It was a good theory; it explained the known phenomena. Something else must be going on. We'll figure it out". Your proposed theory is banished from World Three.

The next day Barry calls the group with a new theory. He's working in World Two. He suggests that it wasn't the passage of time, but instead it was sunlight that made the balloon grow. (It got real cloudy after 3:00 pm.) He builds on the previous process, develops a new theory, and it passes his initial test.

He sends it into World Three by publishing his data and theory. Others run the experiment at their house, and they're able to duplicate his results. Nobody is able to disprove it. Barry's Law is accepted into World Three, at least until such time as somebody can disprove it.

Karl Popper's Philosophy of Science

Karl Popper said this process of Falsification within Three Worlds is the essence of science. World One presents events and phenomena. World Two develops personal concepts. World Three rejects falsified concepts and accepts other concepts until such time as they are falsified. Science includes the test tubes and experiments, but it's fundamentally about publication, review, acceptance, and falsification.

Popper described science as an evolutionary process in World 3, in which scientists offered bold conjectures to explain phenomena and the community refuted or accepted them. He describes knowledge through the interrogatives:
"In seeking pure knowledge our aim is, quite simply, to understand, to answer how-questions and why-questions. These are questions which are answered by giving an explanation. Thus all problems of pure knowledge are problems of explanation."

Experience and Popper's Three Worlds

We thank the Dear Reader who is still with us. What does Experience have to do with Popper's Three Worlds? Let's go back to the Venn diagrams and remember the constraint: World One and World Three cannot touch; they must be integrated through World Two. What would the Venn diagrams look like for the various combinations of Experience and Knowledge?

No Experience, No Knowledge

What would the chart look like for a person with very practical experience, and very little contact with the body of objective knowledge? The thing that jumps out of this chart to me is that there's he's got a lot of himself, and not much else.

Good Experience, No Knowledge

This is a person who knows the physical world, but isn't going to benefit from any of the common body of objective knowledge.

No Experience, Good Knowledge

This is a person who understands objective knowledge, but has no experience in the physical (real) world; academics and theorists come to mind.

Good Experience, Good Knowledge

This is a person who knows the world and knows the body of objective knowledge. The thing that jumps out of this diagram for me is that the person doesn't get in his own way. This seems a valid representation of most competent people I know.

My take-away is: Experience Matters.

click here for a Karl Popper cartoon.