Friday, July 29, 2011

Gone fishing!

I'm on holiday in Canada, visiting my in-laws. Usually it takes me a few days to wind down from work, but it happens and I relax for the rest of the holiday. (Well, until a few days before I cone back, when I start to think about work again!) Access to email is limited usually, as I'd need to borrow time on my father-in-laws machine. That extra effort is usually enough for me to only check email every few days.

Unfortunately this time I brought my iPad and iPhone, both of which I connected to the wifi. Checking email was too easy and as a result I was working every day! Fortunately it only took me about 4 days to realise this (with some not-so-subtle hints from family) and I disabled wifi. This means I can now get on with the holiday. Since we are out in the middle of nowhere this means sitting by the pool reading a book on my (wifi disabled) iPad, or fishing!

Facebook as Web 3.0?

I'm not on Facebook and think social networking sites are inherently anti-social (you can't beat a good pub!) However, I know many people who are into them and I've even decided to check out Google+. So they probably have a place in the web firmament.

But recently I've started to see more and more adverts substituting the good old vendor URL for a Facebook version, e.g., moving from to Now at first this might seem fairly innocuous, but when you dig deeper it's anything but! As I think Tim Berners-Lee has stated elsewhere, and I'm sure Google has too, the data that Facebook is maintaining isn't open for a start, making it harder to search outside of their sub-web. And of course this is like a data cloud in some ways: you're offshoring bits of your data to someone else, so you'd better trust them!

I don't want to pick on any single vendor, so let's stop naming at this point. Even if you can look beyond the lack of openness and the fact that you're basically putting a single vendor in charge of this intra-web, what about all of the nice things that we take for granted from http and REST? Things such as cacheing, intelligent redirects and HATEOAS. Can we be sure that these are implemented and managed correctly on behalf of everyone?

And what's to say that at some point this vendor may decide that Internet protocols are just not good enough or that browsers aren't the right view on to the data? Before you know it we would have a multiverse of Webs, each with their own protocols and UIs. Interactions between them would be difficult if not impossible.

Now of course this is a worst case scenario and I have no idea if any vendors today have plans like this. I'd be surprised if they hadn't been discussed though! So what does this mean for this apparent new attitude to hosting "off the web" and on the "social web"? Well for a start I think that people need to remember that despite how big any one social network may be, there are orders of magnitude more people being "anti-social" and running on the web.

I'm sure that each company that makes the move into social does so on the back of sound marketing research. Unfortunately the people making these decisions aren't necessarily the ones who understand what makes the web work, yet they are precisely the people who need it to work! I really hope that this isn't a slippery slope towards that scenario I outlined. Everyone on the web, both social and anti-social, would lose out in the end! Someone once said that "just because you can do something doesn't mean you should do something."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The end of a space era

It's sad to see the end of the space shuttle era. I remember being excited to watch the very first launch whilst at school. I remember exactly where I was when Challenger was destroyed: at university stood in a dinner queue. I remember watching when they deployed (and then later fixed) Hubble. Again, I can remember where I was when Columbia was destroyed: at home watching! I've even been to see a launch and heard it come back a week or so later.

So it's fair to say that I grew up with the shuttle over these past 30 years and it's going to be strange not having it around any more. Despite the fact that it may never have been the perfect launch vehicle (I still recall early discussions around HOTOL, for instance), I think it did it's job well. I know I'll miss it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Santosh's retirement

I think I've spoken a number of times about how important Professor Shrivastava has been in my academic and professional career over the past 25 years (ouch!) Well he's retiring soon and the University will never quite be the same, at least as far as I'm concerned. But at least I get a chance to speak at his retirement event. Congratulations Santosh and many thanks!

Monday, July 18, 2011

InfoQ and unREST

I wrote this article for InfoQ because I thought what JJ had said was interesting enough that a wider audience should consider it. I'm still not sure if I'm pleased, surprised or disappointed with the level of comments and discussion that it received. Something for me to contemplate when I'm on vacation I suppose.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

When email and vacation don't mix

I'm off on vacation soon for a couple of weeks. Going to Canada to visit my wife's parents. They live in the back-of-beyond, which is great for getting away from it all. As usual I've promised my wife I won't be taking my work laptop with me, which means that I won't have access to our VPN and hence no access to work email. In the past this used to bother me, because I always want to know what's going on in case there are problems at work. But it's obviously not conducive to a relaxing time.

Now I know some people who go on vacation and can read work email do read work email just to keep the amount of catch up they have to do when they return to a minimum. I expect that after a couple of weeks vacation I'll have several thousand emails to go through, so I can understand what they're doing. However, it won't work for me: I tried it a few times and I just can't help responding to emails if I see them! So what started as a 60 minute attempt during a vacation to cut down on the junk in my inbox ended up several hours later with me only about 10% of the way through. So I don't do that any more and I just take the hit when I get back.

However, I did figure out a compromise (pretty obvious really): I have a backup email address that is accessible off our VPN and which only certain people know about. They know they can get me on this at pretty much any time of the day or night. So if something comes up while I'm away this year, I can find out about it. Of course this has a slight downside in that I know immediately that any emails on that address are probably emergencies! Well, you can't win them all I suppose!