DC - Pittsburgh Bike Trip: Distance and Elevation Chart

Compiled from a few reliable sources, here's a table of distances (in miles) and elevation (in feet above Mean Sea Level) riding from Washington, DC to Cumberland, MD via the C&O Canal, then continuing from Cumberland MD to Pittsburgh, PA via the Great Allegheny Passage.

   Miles  elev 'MSL
Georgetown  0  72
Great Falls  14  140
White's Ferry  35  213
Point of Rocks  48  233
Brunswick  55  246
Harper's Ferry  59  299
Shepherdstown  73  322
Wiliamsport  99  380
Hancock  124  446
Little Orleans  141  502
PawPaw  151  492
OldTown  161  568
Cumberland  184  610
Frostburg  200  1801
Meyersdale  216  2416
Garrett  221  1916
Rockwood  228  1801
Confluence  246  1340
Ohiopyle  258  1230
Connellsville  272  856
Perryopolis  287  797
Smithton  292  771
West Newton  298  761
Buena Vista  305  787
Boston  312  745
McKeesport  316  750
Point State Park 334  720

Which produces an elevation profile that looks something like this:

The elevation profile isn't perfectly accurate (it relies on a approximation of an altimeter) but it serves to give an idea of the relative slope, eastbound versus westbound, at the Eastern Continental Divide.

This is a chart that can easily mislead; the horizontal scale is 350 miles, while the vertical scale is 1/2 of a mile.

I blogged earlier about the subtle difference between federation and point-to-point connectivity, but didn't spell out how systems suffering from point-to-point connectivity ("the Dark Ages") could be effectively federated to bring them into the Modern Age without having to interpose a broker between them ("the Middle Ages").

Here's the problem - a point-to-point connection between two systems.
Here's the obvious solution - a broker that mediates all communication between the two systems. This is the ESB model, of course.
Is there another decoupling model for a federated system that can (by definition) have no centralised broker?

Consider an application that has the following hyperlink:

Now look at this one:


If we assume that both links are in fact referring to the same page, what's the difference between them? Yes, we know that in the second case, a DNS lookup is required to resolve the domain name to an IP address before the page can be accessed, but the actual HTTP call to GET the page is exactly the same (it uses the IP address) and the end result of the call is also the same. The HTTP GET seems to be point-to-point in both cases with no intermediaries.

So what's the real difference?

The first is truly an example of a point-to-point link. How do we know? Test it to see how brittle it is. If the intranet is now hosted on a different server with IP address, the link breaks immediately.

However, in the second example, if we change the server hosting the intranet but also update the relevant DNS entry so that "intranet.mycompany.com" points to "" instead of "", then the link continues to work and the application that embeds it is none the wiser. This is no longer a tight, point-to-point connection. It has been effectively intermediated by the introduction of a DNS lookup before the actual call is made.

This is what lookup-mediation looks like.
As we can see, we don't need to physically interpose a component between two systems to break the point-to-point link between them. We can use a lookup mechanism to achieve the same result.

Incidentally, web-style interaction with domain names in URIs instead of IP addresses is inherently loosely-coupled and therefore the REST style of integration that follows this approach is not an example of point-to-point connectivity. Any node can make HTTP calls to any other, yet nodes are not tightly coupled to each other. This is a practical example of federation.

I have waited to see a backlash against BP for ruining the Gulf Of Mexico, and I expected that by now we'd be seeing a quixotic consumer boycott. I'm surprised to find BP gas stations filled with happy eager customers over the long weekend.

Maybe they haven't made the connection between BP oil platforms and the green-and-flowery BP gas pumps. Maybe that's one of our problems.


There seemed to be a similar cognitive dissonance about supply and demand, lifestyle and disaster when 29 coal miners were recently killed at the Upper Big Branch Mine. We don't seem to make the connection.

For the record, I'd like to clarify that IANAD (I am not a Democrat) NTTAWWT (not that there's anything wrong with that). But if I were a Democrat, it would be because of Democrats like Harry Truman, Daniel Moynihan, and Robert Reich.

In his blog today, Robert Reich provides five cogent reasons for President Obama putting BP under temporary federal receivership.
1. We are not getting the truth from BP. Government must be clearly in charge of getting all the facts, not waiting for what BP decides to disclose and when.

2. We have no way to be sure BP is devoting enough resources to stopping the gusher. BP is now saying it has no immediate way to stop up the well until August. August? If government were in direct control of BP’s North American assets, it would be able to devote whatever of those assets are necessary to stopping up the well right away.

3. BP’s new strategy for stopping the gusher is highly risky. Scientists say that could result in 20 percent more oil gushing from the well. At least under government receivership, objective officials would be directly accountable for weighing the advantages and disadvantages of such a strategy.

4. Right now, the U.S. government has no authority to force BP to adopt a different strategy or over the disaster scene. Carol Browner said, “We told (BP) of our very, very grave concerns” about risks. Expressing grave concerns is not enough. The President needs legal authority to order BP to protect the United States.

5. The President is not legally in charge. As long as BP is not under the direct control of the government he has no direct line of authority, and responsibility is totally confused. There is no good reason why “they” are in charge of an operation of which “we” are hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.
If we can take over AIG and General Motors because of the risk that current management and their actions have posed to the national economy, can't the Federal Government take over BP for ruining the Gulf of Mexico, thwarting development of domestic oilfields, and causing actual damage to the economy?

Reich concludes by saying, "No president would allow a nuclear reactor owned by a private for-profit company to melt down in the United States while remaining under the direct control of that company. The meltdown in the Gulf is the environmental equivalent."

Robert Reich rocks.

One of the interesting topics in the "to ESB or not to ESB" discussion is the value of avoiding point-to-point interactions between systems. Somewhere along the way, I suspect that mainstream IT has been indoctrinated with the message that point-to-point connections between systems are bad, and in "four legs good, two legs bad" fashion, has begun to parrot the phrase dumbly without understanding what it means.

I realise that most of the goodwill towards centralised brokers comes from that mindless Orwellian mantra. If someone (like me) argues for a federated ecosystem that does not require a component "in the middle" and where any node can talk to any other, the common assumption is that I'm advocating bad old point-to-point connectivity. A lot of the arguments against point-to-point connectivity then get trotted out.

That's not what I'm advocating, and it's very difficult to get people to understand the subtle but important difference between point-to-point connectivity and a federated system. A system that relies on point-to-point connectivity is in the Dark Ages. A system that uses a centralised broker to break those point-to-point connections has progressed to the Middle Ages. But to evolve to the Modern Age, we need to get rid of the centralised broker and move to a federated model, and this does NOT mean a backward step to the point-to-point model, even though communication once again occurs directly between endpoints! How is that possible?

The answer lies in a standardised smartening of the endpoints.

Perhaps an analogy would help.

I'm at work, and I find I need to talk to another person in my organisation to understand some specialised information about Application X. I've never met this person before. What do I do?

I'm not totally lost. There is a common protocol governing what I need to do. I look up the (rough) spelling of this person's name on the company intranet. I see a few names there, and I select the one that I think I need. A page comes up, listing the person's name, job title, department, email address and phone number.

Next I need to decide if the information I need requires an email exchange or a simple phone call. Note that phone and email have given me two communication options - one synchronous and one asynchronous. Even the synchronous option has an asynchronous fallback called voicemail.

Lo and behold! I already have a phone and a laptop on my desk. I look around and see that every employee does. Every employee has the basic capability to make phone calls and send emails to every other employee.

Let's say I decide to pick up the phone and call the person. I know the mechanics of the protocol. I pick up the handset and punch in numbers corresponding to what I see on the person's intranet page. When the person picks it up, I know the etiquette I'm expected to follow.

"Hi, I'm so-and-so. Is this a good time to talk? Thank you. I work in such-and-such an area and I'm currently looking at such-and-such an issue. I find I need to understand a bit about how Application X works, and I'm told you're the best person to talk to."

If it's a simple question, I may just ask it then and there. If the issue is going to require some discussion, I may request a meeting and then send a meeting invite through email after checking the person's calendar to see when they're likely to be free.

If no one picks up the phone, I leave a voicemail with roughly the same information, but also my contact details so the person can get back to me.

What a lot of smarts that took! Yet it's something we take for granted. We call it "business training". We don't expect that a primary school student placed in our position would be able to do all that, yet all of us do it unconsciously. There's a lot of smarts at the endpoints in this model, and no one argues for doing away with it.

Oh, and all communication is in English, of course (I'm in Australia :-). No matter what language I speak at home, I'm expected to speak English when I talk to someone at work. And so are they. It's not considered an unacceptable condition.

Now consider a very different situation. There's no corporate intranet. I have no means of looking up a person. Not everyone has phone and email. Some only have a phone number. Some only have email. Others have neither and I will need to walk across to their desks to talk to them face to face. And I have no way of knowing this up front. If someone isn't available when I try to talk to them, I have no means of leaving a message for them. I have a phone, but I have no idea if they will be able to call me. Oh, and I don't speak English, and neither do they. We speak completely different languages. And no one taught either of us how to use a phone or email or the etiquette of a business conversation! And if by chance I manage to surmount these challenges and discover a way to talk to a certain person, I need to carry that information around with me all the time. I need to do this for the dozen or so people I talk to regularly. Everyone has to do this for all their contacts, - carry individualised communication information around with them. If one of my contacts has their phone number changed, there's no standard way for them to let me know. I simply can't talk to them anymore until I discover their new phone number. This is the work environment from hell (even if the people are the nicest). This is a point-to-point world.

Let's call this the Dark Ages. How could we solve these seemingly intractable communication problems?

Here's the solution! Appoint a liaison officer. If I need to talk to anyone in the organisation, rather than keep in my head the idiosyncrasies of the mode of communication I need to employ with that person, I simply approach the liaison officer with my request, spoken or written out in my own mothertongue. I'm guaranteed a response in two business days. The liaison officer takes care of talking to the other person in the mode of communication best suited to them, with suitable translation to their language. All my communication goes through the liaison officer, and I don't have to know anything about the person I'm dealing with at the other end, - where they're located, whether they use a phone, email or carrier pigeon, what language they speak, - nothing at all! Isn't this progress? Of course it is. We've progressed from the Dark Ages to the Middle Ages. This is a brokered world.

We know this is not the Modern Age because we know what the Modern Age looks like. We live in it - the world of the Standard Operating Environment (SOE) with phones and laptops on every desk, the corporate intranet, the English-only work environment, assumed business training on the part of everyone in the game, etc., etc. In this world, anyone can call anyone at will and do business instantaneously, in an almost effortless manner, with no liaison officers required to mediate our conversations. This is a federated world.

However, here's a crucial issue. If we look back at the work environment that we have called the Middle Ages, and ask ourselves how things could be made better, we're unlikely to get an answer that remotely resembles the Modern Age. We can't get here from there. We're much more likely to be told of problems that still exist in the Middle Ages and of incremental patches required to make them work better.

For example, the liaison officer falls ill once in a while and can't come to work. On those days, work comes to a standstill because people can't communicate anymore. It's an Availability issue.

Some days, there are twenty people huddled around the poor harried liaison officer, all talking at the same time and insisting that their work is very urgent. Everyone is delayed and everyone is unhappy. That's a Scalability problem.

The Middle Ages solution is simple and obvious, of course. Instead of a single liaison officer, institute a Liaison Office staffed with more than one officer. This will provide both redundancy for greater availability as well as scalability. Of course, there will be problems with this model as well. We never seem to have sufficient budget to hire as many officers as we need, so some problems of Availability and Scalability will always remain. Also, if the particular liaison officer I spoke to yesterday is on leave, I need to explain the context of my requirement to another officer in painstaking detail all over again. The Liaison Office really needs to be made more "stateful". So we need to have elaborate procedures for officers to document their interactions with people and do proper handovers before going on leave. The Liaison Office becomes more and more complex and acquires a bureaucracy of its own. But nothing can be done about it because this is "best practice", isn't it?

This is indeed where we are today in the SOA world. Smack in the Middle Ages with a great big honking ESB in the middle that we need to beef up with High Availability at great cost. But to many SOA practitioners (and indeed, to the mass of regular IT folk out there), this is Best Practice. This is the only way.

It seems too hard to imbue all endpoints with the smarts to function in a federated fashion. At the very least, we need to equip every node with a metaphorical phone and email to make it physically possible for any node to call another. Well, the model of endpoint-based SOAP messaging is meant to do just that, with WS-* headers used to provide end-to-end Qualities of Service and with absolutely no need for any intermediary. But that's still just the plumbing. How do we provide business training and teach common business etiquette? In other words, how do we standardise the "application protocol"? Well, that's been done as well, using a model entirely independent of SOAP. It's called REST. REST is simultaneously low in technological sophistication (all we need is a web server and a database) and high in conceptual sophistication (we need to learn to think in a certain way). We have to understand these federated models if we're going to have any hope of progressing from the Middle Ages to the Modern Age.

And that's where we are today. I know that "inherent interoperability" is possible and far superior to having explicit "integration" projects, yet in my day-to-day discussions with colleagues on the way forward, I find that any suggestion that we do away with the ESB in favour of smart endpoints is often greeted with dismay, because many people don't really understand the word "federated". Oh no, we don't want to go back to the Dark Ages and their point-to-point connections!

I hope the 'point' is made.

Last time I made the point that you don’t need the biggest newest fangled DSLR to take great bloody shots, but there are some basic things you do need. 

That’s what we’ll discuss now.

The Canon IXUS 80 IS camera I use is a budget priced camera.  You must keep this in mind because it does have its drawbacks; and it misses out on some features that you may want in a camera.  

I just think that this is a great camera for the price – there are many better Canon cameras out there, as well as other brands - Nikon, Panasonic, Pantex, Sony........ that have the same features.

Cheapest price $179... check it out here  

Its strengths are: Small size; face recognition; image stabiliser and fast focus - it takes great bloody pictures even in poor light.

Face recognition
Press the shutter half way and the camera uses face recognition to set the focus and exposure; then just snap away. 

This is great at parties where you have a group shot - the camera will adjust accordingly - you get perfect flash pictures like this....

But the flash has its limitations....

Image stabiliser
This reduces camera shake, resulting in sharper images.  It also will enable you to take great bloody pictures in low light without a tripod, just like this...

The ambient light in this club lounge gives a warm and inviting feel to this shot.  
As you can see, the flash was not powerful enough to light up the whole carriage.  In such a situation,  turn off the flash, and let the image stabiliser do its job. 
This was a hand held shot at 1/8th of a second. You need to hold the camera as steady as you can.  Employing the principles of marksman shooting also helps. 

So there you have it – get a camera with some good basic features which can do a bloody great job without spending a king’s ransom.

More to follow....

Click for larger pics 

As a Matter of Fact: 2014 New Jersey Superbowl

This was the cover of the NY Post during the week:

As a matter of fact, I'd like to point out that the 2014 Superbowl will be played in New Jersey, at a venue called the New Jersey Meadowlands.

Also, just for the record, the Statue of Liberty, glommed as a symbol of Gotham, is placed in New Jersey. It is owned by New York City, but it is situated in New Jersey. You'll notice then when you buy a ticket into EWR, you're flying into the Newark-Liberty airport.

I'm just saying. Facts are stubborn things.
If you've been lucky enough to follow our journey to WA and back, I hope that as well as the hilarious jokes, you also enjoyed my pictures.  It's easy taking pictures, just point and shoot.  What's so hard about that?

I have two cameras, they are both Canon, I've never owned another brand.  

My main camera is a Canon EOS40D with a wide angle zoom lens 17-40mm.   I also have a Canon 70-300mm IS ultrasonic lens for bringing those far away things up close, just like this....

My other camera in a Canon IXUS 80 IS.  A simple point and shoot camera that you keep in your pocket for those opportunity shots.

Most of the pictures I took on our holiday were from the point and shoot camera!  Can you believe that?  It is totally auto.  I have it set so that each pictures uses about 680KB to save memory, yet still enough for those enlargements you may want.  The great thing about this camera is the SD memory card.  Just take it out and load it into the front of the laptop to transfer pictures! No cables, no modems, no nuthin'; and it takes great pictures like this....

OK, more tomorrow......

Double click for larger pics.

This morning's walk

Buster and I regularly walk to the pier on the lake.  On second thoughts, better make that irregular.

Because the little camera I took away with us took such great shots, I decided to take it along with me.

This is this morning's story.....

See that tag on Buster's collar?  It repels fleas for four months - and it works! 

Buster has a flea allergy and we live in a very active flea area.  I've had him to a couple of vets who give him a needle, some green tablets and along with Frontline and Advantage, only managed to delay the inevitable.  The fleas would bite him and then die, but it was the bite that was causing him the problems.  Most of his fur was rubbed off as he used to scratch his back on the concrete.  So I gave the tag a burl and I am happy with the results. He still scratches occasionally.
Check out the tag thingo   here

The WDUQ News Blog, which is increasingly my mainstay source for local news, carries this: PA Bicycle Deaths Double from '08 to '09.

16 bicyclists were killed in Pennsylvania last year, doubling the 2008 death count, says the state Department of Transportation. “While that number may seem low to many people, that’s still 16 people that had their lives cut short,” says PennDOT spokeswoman Alison Wenger.

Unfortunately, there is no context, and I'm not sure how you'd quantify it. Did fatalities double because riding doubled? (okay news) Did fatalities double while riding tripled? (good news) Did fatalities double while riding stayed flat? (bad news)

In Thursday's Post-Gazette we see this unattributed story: Bicyclist killed in Indiana Township accident, and I'd like to repeat it here:

A Hampton man died this morning after his bicycle was struck from behind by a pickup truck on a steep grade in Indiana Township.

Dxxxx Pxxxxx, 52, of Clearfield Road, died at UPMC Presbyterian following the accident, which occurred at 7:11 a.m. on Harts Run Road near Dorseyville Road.

Indiana Township police said Mr. Pxxxxx was pedaling east, or uphill, on Harts Run Road when his bike was struck by a pickup truck that had been behind him.

Indiana Township police said Mr. Pxxxxx's bicycle was in the travel lane, not on the berm, when the accident occurred. They said no charges had been filed against the driver, whose name was not released.

I'm loathe to write about a specific death or accident, because it's a tragedy for all involved. I've removed the name to avoid the family finding this via Google. It's curious and illuminating that the police are protecting the driver's name, and not the victim's name.

I know that people get killed in traffic accidents, in cars and bikes and just walking, and nobody means for it to happen - that's why they're called accidents. What irks me is the uninformed bias in the report, which subsequently misinforms and maladjusts the public's awareness.

Generally media reports blame the rider. Sometimes they blame the rider for not wearing a helmet, or not having lights and riding in the dark - that's a report that indicates some understanding.

Thursday's story presents: He was riding in the lane, not the berm. Of course, Nobody was charged. No news here, move along.

He is allowed to ride in the lane. He doesn't have to ride on the berm. Daylight, no rain, a motorist runs over and kills a bicyclist who was legally on the road. No charges filed.

I'm sure the motorist in this case feels terrible. S/he certainly didn't mean for it to happen. That's not my point. My point is that until newspapers start reporting these deaths without bias, there won't be any improvement in public awareness.

Under the international Vienna Convention on Road Traffic (1968), a bicycle is defined to be a vehicle and a cyclist is considered to be a driver. In a minority of jurisdictions (the states of Arizona, California, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, New York, and Texas in the United States) a bicycle is legally defined as a "device" rather than as a vehicle, but in all cases operators of bicycles share a basic set of rights and responsibilities with operators of motor vehicles.

In Pennsylvania, bicycles are vehicles.
They belong in the street.
Share the road.

Moral Authority and the Ravenstahl Family Sewer Authority

In the always-excellent 2 Political Junkies we see a letter from Pittsburgh City Councilor Bill Peduto to the chair of Pittsburgh's Ethics Hearing Board, Sister Patrice Hughes. (also here).

Councilman Peduto objects to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl (30 years old) appointing his little brother (Adam Ravenstahl, 25 years old) to the Board of the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (Alcosan), and Peduto asks Sister Hughes to conduct an investigation. Excerpts from Peduto's letter:
Dear Sister Hughes:

I am requesting that the Ethics Hearing Board rule on the decision of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl to nominate his brother State Representative-elect Adam Ravenstahl to the Board of the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority. The City Code has rules for appointing, hiring and promoting direct family members of elected officials and employees. As the code states, the only time a direct family member can be appointed is through a waiver from the Ethics Hearing Board.


I am formally requesting that the Ethics Hearing Board investigate this nomination to determine the legitimacy of any elected City official appointing, hiring, advancing or advocating the appointing, hiring or advancing of direct family members.

The city's Ethics Hearing Board consists of five members — two appointed by the mayor and three appointed by the mayor from a list of nominees submitted by City Council. Sister Patrice Hughes (photo, right) was appointed by Mayor Bob O'Connor.

To me, this is a serendipitous reminder of the moral authority of nuns, and perhaps also of the arrested development of Pittsburgh politics - Luke gives Adam something he's not supposed to, and so Bill tells Sister. Only in Pittsburgh (OIP™).

I know I shouldn't, but I can't resist.
Perhaps it says something about my own arrested development.

(Source: Pittsburgh Pist-Gazette)
I read somewhere that cats let you look after them.  

I guess that's pretty true.  I had a Siamese cat and eventually I had her put down when she was about 22 years of age.  Each night when I'd go to bed she would jump up on the bed and curl up into my armpit.  After I was asleep she would go off somewhere else.

Since then we've had a few cats, the latest is Travis. He's Carlie's cat but she's left home now, so Travis, or the  Bloody Cat as I refer to him, just sits around all day and eats and sleeps, er... just like I do.  We've had him for over six years.  We got him from the pound.  He is the quietest cat you've ever heard - I can't hear him meow.

He knows where the food is.  When you open the fridge, Bloody Cat is front and centre peering into the fridge.  For 6 years I have tried to jam his head in the door and for 6 years he is too quick for me.  Still, there's always tomorrow.

Carlie says she may come and get him.  And wouldn't you know it, he disappeared.  We live on a busy street, he is scared of the traffic so he doesn't venture away from our house.  One time he was over the back fence.  It is too high for him to jump, so we dunno how he got there.  I went looking there again after he was missing for two days but I couldn't see him.  I think it was nearly a week later when Paula said she could hear the cat.  I went and checked, and sure enough there he was - he was a lot thinner I can tell you.

He was going crook too.

His favourite trick is to walk in the wet grass, cross the gravel, then jump onto my ute, thereby putting copious quantities of dirt on my car.  He also delights in sliding on the windscreen, smearing his four dirty feet everywhere.

The Bloody Cat.... 

Leapin' Lizards

I dunno, were these guys wrestling, fighting or doin' it!

Excellent story in today's Post Gazette by Eleanor Chute about Sister Lynn Rettinger, the 5-foot-3 principal of Shadyside's Sacred Heart Elementary School who challenged a thief that had taken a wallet out of a parked car.

The perpetrator, who recognized moral authority and was smart enough to not mess with Sister Lynn, handed the goods over, said he was sorry, and walked away.

From the Post Gazette:
I said to him, 'You need to give me what you have.' That's what I say to children if I know they have something they shouldn't. I say, 'You need to give me what's in your pocket.'

What's the key to delivering the line so it gets results? First of all, Sister Lynn does her homework. She knows she has good reason to suspect there is something. "You want to be pretty darn sure he has it. You don't want to make a fool of yourself," she said.

Sister Lynn doesn't ask whether students have something. "That forces them into a lie. ... I don't want to do that."

With the statement, she said, "If you say it firmly enough, they think, 'She really does know what I have.' " She added, "Nine out of 10 times, it works."

I think there's a tremendous wisdom in her comment that I've highlighted in yellow. What a tremendous presence and moral authority she must have.

Which brings me to today's story in the NY Times (which you'll probably see in the Saturday Post-Gazette.) about Sister Margaret McBride, a senior administrator of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix who has recently been excommunicated by her bishop.
A 27-year-old mother of four arrived at the hospital in her third month of pregnancy. According to local news reports and accounts from the hospital and some of its staff members, the mother suffered from a serious complication called pulmonary hypertension which created a high probability that the strain of continuing pregnancy would kill her.

"In this tragic case, the treatment necessary to save the mother’s life required the termination of an 11-week pregnancy,” the hospital said in a statement. “This decision was made after consultation with the patient, her family, her physicians, and in consultation with the Ethics Committee.” Sister McBride is on that committee.
Apparently the Bishop interviewed Sister McBride, she explained the situation and the decision, and the bishop informed her of her new status.

Unbelievable. The Catholic hospital and the ethics committee needed to make a judgement call in a terribly complex situation. They made a judgement based on expert medical advice - saving the mother's life required the abortion.

So the question I'm left wondering is, how come a Pittsburgh thief does a better job of recognizing moral authority than a Phoenix bishop?

Heavyweight Services Have Let IT Practitioners Down

Call it coincidence, but I had two meetings in the same day when different IT folk complained that a services approach was too cumbersome for them and argued for their applications to be able to connect directly to the databases of other applications to perform queries, joins, etc.

My involuntary shudder at this suggestion betrayed my SOA leanings, of course. I don't think these people realised how much future pain they would expose the organisation to by building implicit dependencies ("tight coupling") between their independent applications. But I could also empathise with their frustration.

The first generation of services in organisations has been well-meaning in intent, but expensive in practical terms. People ranted to me about the sheer effort overheads involved in trying to access data from elsewhere - setting up queues and queue clients, formalising XML messages to drop onto queues and pick from queues, parsing and generating XML, etc., etc., - all to do something that was essentially a SQL select or a join across two tables (theirs and another app's). I also heard a fair bit about the performance overheads of calling services to do simple things - operations that take seconds to do because they involve 2 or more separate service calls. "Decoupling at what cost?" was the refrain.

I'm forced to the realisation that our collective enthusiasm for SOA, while entirely correct and justified, has not provided a uniformly satisfactory solution to everyday IT practitioners. Bluntly put, we've let down the average developer by making their job unnecessarily harder, to the extent that even experienced designers who know the benefits of loose coupling are beginning to argue for a return to the Bad Old Ways.

A reader's comment on my previous post has made me think that "Data Services", especially of the RESTian CRUD variety, could be the answer. We still have a service interface that decouples applications from each other and their gory data structures and implementation details, but now we can set them up with minimal effort and call them with minimal overhead. Data Services could be the SOA SQL (That's a pretty apt pun, actually, if you pronounce SQL as "sequel").

More and more, I'm leaning to the view that most technical problems within an enterprise can be solved with "a web server, a database and some brains". This is a rich topic for a future post or even a whitepaper, but the unsurprising insight is that the third ingredient is probably the one in short supply at most IT shops ;-). (No insult intended, just that designers and architects tend not to step back and look for solutions from first principles, but rely on precedent and product-based approaches.)

Pittsburgh Urban Bike Trails

This afternoon I took what's becoming my favorite Pittsburgh urban bike ride - I started at the SouthSide Works, crossed the Hot Metal Bridge, and rode north on the Jail Trail.

As I approached Golden Triangle Bike Rentals, I slowed because they're usually closed when I ride by and I wanted to stop inside and look around, and they had the most remarkable thing: an overhead water mist station that was cooling off the cement plaza. It felt several degrees cooler along the twenty-foot long array of fine mist-makers (misters?)

In the picture below, the mist-making machine is the wavy structure along the bottom of the image:

This is an incredible idea for a place trying to encourage bicyclists to stop for a moment. It's eco-green. It's comforting. It makes you want to tarry for a moment. Truly awesome. My compliments to whomever had the idea. It's a brilliant thought for a trailside bike shop. I wish I'd taken a better picture of it.

I remember in summertime in Brooklyn, people who lived above storefronts would open hoses, water down the cement sidewalks, and sit in folding chairs set out on the cement because the evaporation would provide a break from the heat of the day. It was the poor man's air conditioning, my father told me.

I rode north across the Ft. Duquesne bridge, then east along the north shore of the Allegheny River out to Washington's Landing. I reversed and made my favorite downtown bicycle transition: I rode from the North Shore Stadium, across the Ft. Duquesne bridge, dipped down into Point State Park, climbed up the Fort Pitt Bridge, and crossed the Ohio River to Station Square.

The short bike ride from the Stadiums to the Point to Station Square is (in my experience) unequalled in American urban cycling. It's like riding from Manhattan into Brooklyn and then into Queens in ten minutes. It doubled my satisfaction that the cars were in rush hour slow-motion while I rode unhampered along the same bridges.

After Station Square I rode south along the trail back to Southside Works. There were a lot of people out and a surprising number of recumbents.

We're really very fortunate to have such a well-developed network of trails. When the final connections - the Sandcastle gap, and the Smithfield Street / Mon Wharf / Point State Park transition - are made, I think it'll be better than DC or Portland Oregon. It'll be the best urban bike trail network in America.

Tom Murphy's bike trails are really coming into their own.

To the lady I spoke to today who said she missed a daily dose of Post Card from Australia now that I wuz home, here's what I bin doin'.......

I washed Buster the Wonder dog.

He hates it!

I use a round wheelbarrow thingo and I carry buckets of warm water out to it in preparation of washing him on the front lawn.  Buster was as usual on a deck chair on the front landing where he can check out his domain.

I use a sick sounding laugh each time I walk past him with a bucket of warm water to fill the barrow thingo.  Buster hides his head further into the chair, hoping I suppose that I won't see him!
What a wuss!

He just grins and bears it now, after all I am much bigger than he is.

Afterwards I let him use his new bed!

I'm not being facetious. I'm sometimes subjected to entirely earnest arguments about how services must be implemented within an ESB (Enterprise Service Bus) and not at various endpoints, - in the interests of reusability! Apparently it's OK to host non-reusable services at arbitrary endpoints, but reusable ones need to be wrapped up in centralised wrapping paper and hosted on the magic box in the middle.

The words hogwash, baloney and fiddlesticks come to mind.

I've always been a fan of scalable, federated "endpointware", because I believe that services naturally form a "flat" address namespace that enables them to be hosted in a location-transparent manner, so centralising them within a physical component achieves nothing more than provide the organisation with a nice little performance bottleneck and a single point of failure. Oh, and a fat revenue stream for the vendor who can then address those limitations with an expensive HA (High-Availability) option. When was the last time the Internet was down for maintenance while someone upgraded the central server?

I'm not entirely joking when I suggest that organisations can achieve service reusability more effectively by selling their ESB (to a more gullible one) and using the money to hire a good data architect. After all, IT budgets are always tight and there are usually headcount restrictions, so some sort of swap seems the most feasible way to acquire these skills :-).

I believe most organisations have very poor data modelling skills in XML. Most organisations probably have data modellers who are skilled in relational database technology and can draw a mean ERD (Entity-Relationship Diagram). But I haven't seen too much evidence that any thought is given to XML Schemas as enterprise-reusable resources.

Banking experts! In what way is a savings account similar to a loan account? In what way is it different?

Insurance gurus! In what way is a workers compensation claim similar to a home & contents claim? In what way is it different?

A good data architect should be able to state these similarities and differences - in terms of an XML schema!

A good data architect would be able to define base types for common, abstract concepts and derived subtypes for each specialised variant. This would automatically guide the design of the service interface by constraining the elements and even the structure of message documents. Then regardless of whether the services are hosted on a single node or distributed across multiple disparate nodes and implementation technologies, the organisation will achieve service reuse. Over time, fewer versions of services will need to be maintained (another common bane), because variants have been catered for through insightful data modelling.

I'm not sure this point is appreciated enough. IT professionals are human beings, after all, and tend to understand tangible products better than abstract concepts. That's why most of them believe in magic product-based solutions rather than intellectual and conceptual disciplines. But the architects within IT must rise higher, and make their voices heard.

The alternative is a bunch of non-reusable, non-scalable non-services.

She Rides

I got a call from Fred at Melbourne HQ.

They want to have a look at the car.

It is nearly due for its 30,000km service and when I book it in they will get the District Service Manager to have a look at it.

According to Fred, when the dealer organised the fitment of  the gas they should have fitted heavier springs and did a calibration thingo regarding fuel.

I must say that I have not directly approached Holden about this car as I was intending to follow the problems up at the upcoming service with my local dealer who is quite good; that's why I have bought two cars from them.

So I'll keep you posted, but the response from Holden is encouraging.

Deepwater Horizon Starring Kevin Costner

I have some beliefs that I have become attached to, and when you allow yourself to develop an attachment it can become part of your identity (so you need to be careful about it). People don't like to change their attachments.

Ever since I watched the 1990 film Dances With Wolves I have avoided Kevin Costner's work, because he directed (IMO) a revisionist and manipulative piece of propaganda, in the same manner as Oliver Stone's 1991 JFK, (starring Costner). Rhetorically, Dancing With Wolves was technically impressive, but I disagree with his purpose. Ever since, there are three little words that will prevent me from watching a movie: "Starring Kevin Costner".

I read an article in the Wednesday NY Times about Costner's investment in and championing of a technology that separates oil and water. And so, inevitably, I read the same news in the Saturday Post-Gazette.

(Critics of old media claim that newspaper stories have a volatile shelf life and are worthless the day after they're printed. The Post Gazette routinely prints national stories several days after they appear in the NY Times. Maybe they get a break on days-old news.)

I'm going to have to reconsider my position if Mr. Costner ends up resolving BP's Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, and I'm getting to an age where reconsidering is painful.

This was taken by a humble Canon IXUS 80 IS Camera, a point and shoot camera worth about $200. This is an amazing little camera. The pictures it took were so good that I left my main camera in the car most of the time.

This was taken by my Canon DSLR EOS 40D. I have a rather expensive non DSLR lens that was used on a film camera, a Canon EOS 3 .  It is a wide angle zoom lens, great for taking in those massive scenes.   Because of the differences in the focal length of film and digital cameras, the lens doesn't quite get the same wide angle as on the EOS 3, but it is still a bloody good lens - particularly for night time exposure which I hope to get back into again one day.  It is my pride and joy.

Take another look at this picture which incidentally is the Great Australian Bight at sunrise. Can you see Paula in the shot? Her being there (she wouldn't get any closer to the edge) puts a perspective into this shot as to the sheer size of the cliffs. If only you could hear the pounding of the ocean and the buffeting of the wind, all the way from Antarctica!

I'll repeat - that little pocket Canon Camera is AMAZING!

Click for bigger pics 

URL Hacks, Political Hacks, & Nebbyquette

When new devices come out you can tell who the early adopters are; they're the folks flaunting their Palm Pilot oops cellphones oops smartphones oops iPads in the coffee shops and geek hotspots.

You can tell that a new gadget has gone mainstream when corporations and school districts buy them and they become something that employees have to use rather than get to use.

But how do you know when a technology or utility has gone beyond mainstream? How do you know when it's beyond the tipping point and reaching not the early adopters, but the final adopters, the reluctant outliers?

Answer: the final adopters are Yinzers. When stories about (allegedly) nebby Pittsburgh plumbers who are URL-squatting make it to the front page of the PostGazette, and the stories aren't about the technology -- they're more of the traditional who-screwed-who narrative -- then the final adopters are onboard. "Hey, yinz are typosquatting my URL n'at."

Finally, Netiquette (the do's and don'ts of the web) is extending to the Yinzers and evolving into Nebbyquette.

Another story showing how well our Yinzer final adopters are moving into the world of 2.0 is the PostGazette's story about Attorney-General (and Republican candidate for governor) Tom Corbett seeking the identities of anonymous bloggers and Twitter-ers who have said mean things about him.

This story, out on the street just two days after Corbett became the remaining barrier to Governor Dan Onorato's ascending to Gov. Rendell's office, positions Corbett as an enemy of free speech, political criticism, blogs, and twitter-ers. Why, he's just un-American; suppose Publius the Pamphleteer had been outed in his day?

If you accept the article's description of Corbett as valid, he has unwittingly unleashed the full force of the Streisand Effect against himself, which in the Web 2.0 world ensures that any attempt to constrain knowledge will paradoxically result in it's widespread circulation.

The Streisand Effect found it's label when Ms. Streisand sued to keep a picture of her house off the internet; perversely, her actions prompted the legion of webbisches to distribute the photo much more widely than it ever would have been if she'd just left it alone.

Similarly, Mr. Corbett's reported actions have unleashed a bit of a torrent in the blogosphere and the twitterverse. His eventual reversal of the subpoena request once the suspect was sentenced suggests that he was witch-hunting.

The real hacking here, though, comes in the first few lines of Paula Reed Ward's article in the Post-Gazette:
The Pennsylvania attorney general issued a subpoena to Twitter
earlier this month
seeking the identities of two account holders who have repeatedly posted negative comments about Tom Corbett and his Bonusgate investigation.
The P-G had this story for three weeks, and sat on it until after Corbett won the primary.

URL hacks by Pittsburgh plumbers? New.
Political hacks in Pittsburgh newspapers? Old school.
Using legacy media to unleash the Streisand effect on your opponent? Priceless.

Boston - McKeesport - Duquesne PA Bike Trail

I had the opportunity today to ride from West Newton, PA to Duquesne PA round trip along the Great Allegheny Passage. It was really a nice day, there were a lot of people on the trail.

The last few times I rode this, I departed the Great Allegheny Passage at the Versailles bridge, and took a kludge of backstreets, alleys, and a paved trail winding through an industrial park to get to McKees Marina. This time I stayed on the GAP at Elizabeth Township, road through Boston, climbed the hill at the Durabond Bypass, and then entered McKeesport at midtown. This was a much better transition through the area and up to McKees Marina.

The real treat was that I got to ride the new sections of trail in McKeesport and Duquesne. Starting at the trailhead at McKees Marina, I took Fifth and Locust streets to the new trail. The new trail is paved and fenced, and leads to an awesome refurbished trail bridge across the river. On the other side, the trail is paved and ends at Grant Street in Duquesne, where you can pick up Route 837 for the road ride to SouthSide Works.

The new trail segments and the bridge are excellent, and if the quality of these new sections is repeated as the Duquesne-SandCastle gap is closed it'll be a remarkable accomplishment.

Holden Commodore – A Great Australian Car?

Holden Commodore – A Great Australian Car?

First I must admit that I am a Ford guy.  I’ve owned a lot of Fords – my wife keeps a list.  At the moment I have a 2002 AUIII XR8 ute and a 1981 TF Cortina 3.3 manual.

I’ve also owned a couple of Holdens – a VL Belina and a VUSSII Ute.

In September last year I purchased a VE Commodore International.  This was my first brand spanking new car in a long, long time.  The reason I wanted a new car is that we intended to travel and I wanted something that would reliably cover long distances in comfort.

So why not a Falcon I hear you ask?  Easy.  I hired a Falcon last year when we were in Brisbane.  I found that because of the osteoarthrosis in my left knee, a couple of hours in the Falcon had me in pain and limping badly when I got out of the car.  A shame really, but at 60 years of age it is a fact of life that your body is in payback mode for all the things you did to it that you shouldn’t have.  It will happen to you too.

The International was a good buy.  It was a special, built on the Omega.  The extras were : leather seats; leather steering wheel; 6 stack CD; rear parking sensors; fog lights and 18” alloys.  I wanted LPG, but only a limited number were made and none were left.  The dealer offered to install gas for me which I accepted.  There was a government rebate of $2000 if the gas was installed prior to purchase.

The car was standard except for the gas of course, but I also had an amp and woofer type speakers installed in the rear parcel shelf.  The amp was integrated into the Holden sound system and boosted all speakers.  This gave a nice full sound without going over the top.  This meant that I could listen to Barry Manilow’s music the way it should be played for those long journeys we were planning.

I also upgraded the lights.  I was going to fit driving lights on a bar similar to what the Police use on their cars, but the guy would not guarantee that the lights wouldn’t vibrate; and there is nothing worse than driving lights throwing a dancing beam in front of you on a dark night.  So I fitted HSV lights which have a projector low beam.  These were upgraded with 4300k bulbs.  I retained the H9 bulbs as these were OK on high beam.  The results were very good.  I particularly liked the wide spread on low beam to both sides of the road.  We were ready to roll.

So all up, the car cost me $40,000 to get it to what I believe was a very capable long distance economical touring machine.

I wanted a few kilometres on the car to iron out any bugs that may arise.  I’m a realist and I understand that things happen.  The only problem we encountered was the air conditioner not working efficiently and the condenser was replaced.  We were running the car on gas all the time and at the 15,000 service we did not log any warranty problems.  Things were looking good.  I had definitely made the right choice.

Or so it seemed......

We planned the big trip:
Home to Adelaide via Mildura
Put the car on the Indian Pacific from Adelaide to Perth.
Tour South West WA
Drive home.

The car was ready.  Two adults, luggage; and some bedding in case we needed it.  I fitted a homemade bug screen to protect the radiator because I knew there were locusts in western NSW.

My wife, Paula, and the Commodore, ready for our trip of a lifetime.  I’d done my homework.  We were well prepared.

With both tanks full we headed south.  A couple of hours into the trip we struck problems.

A ‘contact dealer’ message came up and at the same time the petrol fuel gauge, which was full as we were running on gas, showed empty.  Other than that, the car was running fine.  The nearest Holden dealer was at Wagga Wagga.  I rang and explained our problem and that we were heading to Perth, and asked if he could take a look at it.  He said he couldn’t fit us in until the follow week!  He suggested we monitor our kilometres so we didn’t run out of fuel.  Gee, thanks mate.

We pushed through to Balranald, still running on gas OK.

  Locusts that didn’t survive the Hay plain

We drove to Lake Mungo before planning to head to Mildura that night.

That’s when it happened. 

The car was completely dead.  No lights, no warning lights on the dash, nothing.  I recalled earlier in the day that the parking lights were on.  I thought that was strange, as the car has an auto lights off feature.  So maybe the battery was flat.  It was 2pm and we were 100 kilometres from Mildura at Lake Mungo with no mobile phone reception.

I asked one of the workman out there if he had a set a of jumper leads.  It turns out he did.  Now I know with modern cars you have to be very careful when using jumper leads, apparently the electronics can fry if used incorrectly.  That didn’t worry me because if it happened to our Commodore I’d simply set it alight then and there!

I hooked up the leads and the car started easily.  Phew! My wife said don’t turn it off and let’s head to Mildura!  Then another thought occurred to me.  We had travelled about 150 kilometres on dirt roads from Balranald, some of it corrugated.  Maybe a battery lead shook loose.  The battery is located in the boot and sure enough the negative lead was loose, so I tightened it up and continued on our way to Mildura.  It was then I noticed that the two error messages had disappeared from the dash.

The next day we did a bit of sightseeing, and as we were returning to Mildura the ‘contact dealer’ message came up again; and the petrol fuel gauge was not working.  I didn’t ring the Holden dealer this time, I just drove straight in to the Holden dealer at Mildura.  A very helpful service guy hooked up a thingamajig under the dash and did some diagnostic testing.  He declared that there was an intermittent fault in the upper fuel sender, or something like that.  He reset the error message and we were now confident that it was a faulty sender unit and we could drive around the problem, as they say in racing circles.

On our way to Adelaide the error message came up again, later the second error message of ‘check engine’ came up as well.  Now I’m smart enough to know that the car is running fine and the problem seems to be with the computer.  It brought back memories of the film, 2001 A Space Odyssey, where the computer was programmed to ensure that the mission succeeded, even, as it turned out in the film, if that meant killing all humans on board.  That computer was called HAL, a spoof on IBM  by having one letter near each.  Anyway, I was not confident that our HAL would let us get across the Nullarbor without shutting us down.  Clearly, as it was Saturday and no chance of getting to a Holden dealer, we were in trouble.

On Sunday, we loaded the car onto the Indian Pacific and headed to Perth.  The train journey was marvellous, but hanging over our heads was the fact that we had to drive back across the Nullarbor, in an unreliable car, in a couple of weeks time.

On Tuesday we hit Perth and I rang Perth City Holden and told them our problem.  Mel was great on the phone and soon we were at the service department waiting for someone to have a look at our car.

The Workshop Manager, Dave Appleby, was fantastic.  He knew what the problem was – it was the aftermarket gas system fitted to the Commodore.  There was nothing wrong with the system that cost me $4,500.  It was a software change that Holden apply to their gas vehicles, but had not been applied to mine.

Bewdy, easily fixed I thought.  Well, not quite.

You see, Holden will not release the codes, not even to their own dealers.  Now the following is what I believe to be the problem area, based on my understanding of the issue, so I may stand corrected on some of the finer detail.

Conditions for Setting the DTC
The ECM does not detect a change in fuel level in the secondary fuel tank of at least 45 percent over a distance of 120 km (75 miles).
           The above condition is present for 30 seconds.

This fault never occurred until we set out on our long journey because we usually only had about ¼ tank of petrol; whereas for our big journey we had both petrol and gas tanks full, but we were only running on gas.  Hence the conditions for the coding were met, and the fuel gauge was shut down.  This is turn led to the error messages even though everything was working OK.

It seems odd that Holden will not release a fix to the dealers.

Still, as I said before, we will drive around the problem.  We decided to run only on petrol so that HAL wouldn’t suspect any shenanigans going on and shut us down.

The car performed well as we toured South West WA; and then we crossed the Nullarbor and headed for home.  It was at a stop at Ouyen, in Victoria, about 1500kms from home, that we discovered another problem.

The motel guy was a car guy.  He noticed that the rear tyres on the Commodore we worn out.  Impossible I thought.  They were OK before we left home and the car has only done 25,000 kms.  I checked them out.  Sure enough, the rear tyres were stuffed.  We had crossed the Nullarbor on wet roads with bald tyres, we were lucky that we didn’t have an incident. 

The tyres were so bad they would not get us home.

Picture taken 200kms east of Norseman, plenty of tread on those rear tyres to cross the Nullarbor, yet they will be bald when we get to Ouyen, 2,000kms later.

We diverted to Swan Hill, about 140kms away.  Even though it was out of the way, I figured that we would get the right tyres for the car at a large regional centre.  It took three tyre dealers though.  The guy at Goodyear Swan Hill was fantastic.  He said he was not surprised that the rear tyres were worn out, indeed he was surprised that we had got the distance we had out of them.  He mentioned a local guy who only covered 7,000kms before his rear tyres wore out.  Apparently it is to do with the design of the rear suspension.  I couldn’t believe it!  We are not revheads, so I expected at least 40,000kms as I’ve easily got that distance on other cars I’ve owned.  I did a lot of research before buying the Commodore and I can’t believe I missed the problem with gas; and now extreme wear on tyres!

The tyre guy asked me what sort of tyres I wanted.  I told him the same as what’s on the car.  He said they are $538.... each.

So we had cheaper tyres fitted and continued on our journey home.

A big Australian car designed in Australia by Australians for Australians.  Just the ticket for touring this wide brown land. Really? 

I thoroughly researched a suitable vehicle for us to do some long distance touring, comfortably and efficiently.

Falcon seats aggravated a knee condition of mine, so I excluded the Falcon.

I didn’t want a 4WD.

The Holden Commodore International, on gas with upgraded lighting and stereo, seemed a wise decision.

The car let us down, it didn’t ruin the holiday we had planned for so long, but it did cause us some angst.

Holden will not release the codes, even to their own dealers, to fix a fuel related bug on cars fitted with aftermarket LPG.  This is turn leads to error messages from the car’s computer and completely shattered our confidence in the car which I nicknamed HAL.

A poorly designed rear suspension that can result in extreme tyre wear under certain conditions.  I found out later it occurs when heavily laden and driven on undulating roads – gee just like we encountered on our trip of a lifetime across Australia.

I have two faults in my car that are not uncommon and are known to Holden.  I’ll approach the dealer I bought the car from 9 months ago and see if I can get any satisfaction.  There is a castor kit available for the rear suspension, and we’ll see if I can get those codes to keep HAL silent.

Maybe I should look at replacing the Commodore.  I wonder if Holden will put the V6 into the Cruze?

Holden Commodore - The Great Australian Car - if you don't carry stuff on long trips you'll be OK.  

Is this how car design has progressed in this day and age?

It would appear so.

Click for larger pics


I sold the car when it was 10 months old with 35,000 kms on it.  

A guy form Gosford was interested in buying the car.  I told him about the problems we had with it and I sold it to him for $25,000.

With the money I bought a caravan.

I don't think I will be buying a new car ever again. 


Both Paula and I drive Fords that are 10 years old.  

Mine is the blue ute - a 5.0 litre Ford Falcon AUIII XR8  on sequential gas with NO BLOODY PROBLEMS!

Paula's car is a Ford FalconXR6 VCT with leather, premium sound and sunroof.

We are very happy with our bloody old Fords.