Mark Watson's Blog
I am the author of 13 published computer books and a consultant specializing in Java, C++, and Smalltalk development. Please check out my two Free Web Books at my main site



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  Friday, October 3, 2003

The link is the URL for my new blog.

Radio UserLand has lots of nice features, but I am finding the simplicity of using the iBlog program on the Mac with simple hosting the blog on my main web site works well for me.
10:20:27 AM    

  Monday, September 29, 2003

I am thinking of switching from using RadioUserland to .Mac for hosting my Blog.

I think that I will use both for a week - then decide.
12:12:43 PM    

  Friday, September 26, 2003

The linked InfoWorld article is a fairly good representation of both sides of the outsourcing U.S. IT jobs to other countries.

I also have mixed feelings about large scale IT outsourcing - besides the obvious downward pressure on my own consulting rates, I worry that the U.S. will give up its competitive advantage in developing new technologies once competing countries develp a critical mass of technology.

On the other hand, I do believe in globalization - doing work and manufacturing were it can be done least expensively - if third world country workers are not exploited and environmental concerns are addressed fairly.

Like most issues, there are two reasonable sides to this argument.
8:18:13 AM    

I just ran across a month old blog by Chris Double on using continuations for implementing web services.

Good stuff! (For Smalltalk, Lisp, Scheme programmers mostly).
8:08:46 AM    

In the last several years, I have have watched the growth of two technologies: web services and the semantic web. At least web services are taking off....

The linked article is a light weight media promotion by IBM and Microsoft - still, both companies get credit for supported standards like SOAP, UDDI, WSDL, etc.

For Java programmers, Sun's Web Services Toolkit offers a complete software stack - one problem though is if you read the license agreement you will quickly notice that Sun does not give you the right to use their web services kit in commercial applications (you need to but their Sun ONE stuff).

Again for Java programmers, the free version of GLUE from and Apache Jakarta Tomcat with Axis provide kits that can be used commercially.
8:03:28 AM    

  Thursday, September 25, 2003

Lack of computer security: virus and worms effect on productivity

Businesses and individuals take a hit on productivity because of security holes in Microsoft and other vendors software.

Obviously, no "outward facing" software (HTTP, SMTP, POP, SSH, etc. services) should be written in programming languages that do not effectively trap runtime errors (like buffer overflows).

The trouble is "fixing" existing systems. There is no shortage of viable programming languages with proper runtime error handling support: Java, C#, Python, Smalltalk, Lisp, Scheme, etc.

What would be the performance hit of running network services written in Python or C#? Considering the hit on lost human productivity due to insecure sfotware, who cares?

This is more of a concern for me than the average computer user: I get about 500 web sites linking to my site every month and about 3000 human visitors to my site a month.

I get about 100 emails a month from people I did not know before - I always answer every email that I get (non-SPAM that is), so I would imagine that I am in more than a few people's email address books. That is the problem! I have been trapping about 400 incoming virus containing emails a day for the last several days.

Still, the benefits of communication with people from all over the world far out weighs the 10 minutes a day that I have to spend on dealing with SPAM and viruses.
10:04:26 AM    

  Wednesday, September 24, 2003

These 27 pilots have my respect - they are putting themselves at risk for what they believe in.

It amazes me that so many people in the U.S. think that they are helping the Israeli people by supporting the right wingers in Israel.

The U.S. foregn aid to Israel since 1948 is approximately $275 billion (in todays currency - adjusted for inflation). We should be supporting the Peace Now movement, not the right wingers.

Please do a web search using the keywords Israel Peace Now - you will find a lot of interesting information!
2:24:35 PM    

  Saturday, September 20, 2003

I figured out why Linux is such a more productive environment for me

OK, people who know me know that I have been totally enjoying Mac OS X for the last year and a half. Beautiful user interface, real Unix style development environment.

That said, I will still sometimes work for a few days on my Linux workstation (and even occasionally under Windows 2000).

Why am I more productive under Linux?

I believe that it is because my Linux installations are always no-frills - I install just what I need to get my jobs done. This is usually: OpenOffice for writing, Java JDK, Java IntelliJ IDE, ant, apache, etc.

So, apparently it is more difficult to waste time under Linux when toys and goodies are not installed.

The lesson is clear for companies and other organizations who pay people to work with computers:

Intall Linux on people's desk tops with just the tools they need to get their jobs done. No minesweeper game!
3:06:33 PM    

  Friday, September 19, 2003

This project is new - you have to pull the code from CVS (but binaary and source drops should be available soon).

I have recently used JAXB (both the Enhydra Zeus project and Sun's reference JAXB implementation) for a consulting job and in the XML chapter of my upcoming (almost done!) Java 10 Minute Solutions book. JAXB is cool stuff, and I will enjoy looking at this project that was donated by the BEA Corporation.
1:10:54 PM    

Everyone in the U.S. who reads the news at all understands that the Bush administration contains a rather large percentage of Neoconservatives.

However, most people don't really understand the Neoconservatives. This linked article is great overview and is very educational - a must read.

One disturbing (to me) aspect of the Neoconservatives is their promotion of highly disruptive activities of the Middle East. I believe that their agenda is a real threat to all of our security - scary stuff!

As an American, I have to reluctantly support the rights of fringe groups to express themselves and to use our wonderful free political process - thus I have to support the right of the Neoconservatives to push their weird and in my opinion world-threatening agenda.

However, those of us who live in democracies have an important responsibility. This responsibility is to keep ourselves informed and to vote carefully. Please read the short linked article - then when someone mentions the term "Neoconservative" you will understand the goals of this group.
12:12:12 PM    

  Wednesday, September 17, 2003

The linked page is on Chuck Murko's web site.

Good stuff!
5:28:43 PM    

  Tuesday, September 16, 2003

I would not care so much, but two of my ex-SAIC bosses Gene Ray and Jack McDougle (both very good guys) helped found Titan. Way to go!
1:15:11 PM    

More thoughts on using multiple programming languages

I have had the opportunity to use a few technologies for mixing and matching programs written in different programming languages in the last month: CORBA, SOAP, and the simple XML over HTTP (i.e., REST like RPC).

Sure, it is a hassle using RPC compared to building large monolithic applications, but I find that not only are different programming languages best for some tasks, but often key utility libraries are available only for some languages.

While I really like CORBA, and I have CORBA support in Java and Smalltalk, other languages which I find useful like Common LISP and Prolog either don't have CORBA support, or it is expensive.

Although not a perfect solution, I keep coming back to writing HTTP servers that use URL encoding to specify a "function name" and arguments - usually returning an XML payload makes sense.

In principle, SOAP is a better way to go, but XML over HTTP is much easier to implement.
1:03:38 PM    

The linked article seems well balanced and makes a lot of sense to me.

I think that Haaretz is one of the better sourrces of news in Israel - and this article reinforces that opinion.

There is a large minority of Israelis who strongly disagree with the actions of the right wing government - this article reflects this rational opinion.

12:43:04 PM    

The link is to HP's web site for their free semantic web tools.

Check out Jena.
9:25:10 AM    

MSNBC has a fascinating interactive history of the Israeli settlements.

I thought that the settlements were few and far between - I was wrong about that.

The West Bank is covered with Israeli settlements (which, by the way, I think are illegal under international law).

Anyway, check out the linked MSNBC site and watch the display while choosing: 1914 -> 1948 -> 1977 -> Present time.
7:19:21 AM    

  Monday, September 15, 2003

If you are interested in the Semantic Web, check out the linked site.

Very cool RDF authoring tool!

It may be wishful thinking on my part, but I think that support for the Semantic Web is going to finaally take off in the not so distant future.

I suspect that RDF markup, etc. will first be widely used on Corporate private LANs as the means for finding information - then people might be motivated to take the effort to mark up publicly available information.
5:17:32 PM    

We in the U.S. are Israel's only allies on planet earth. We give about 70% of all of our foreign aid to Israel, much in military support.

As a U.S. citizen, I worry about our responsibility for Israel's actions.

Israel, having the U.S. as an ally, has always refused to take part in any international non-proliferation treaties. They do not have to: the U.S. has vetoed approximately 32 otherwise unanimous UN security council resolutions that called Israel to task for their actions.

While I absolutely condemn the actions of militant Palestinian bombers and their leaders, they are not the responsibility of the U.S. - we do not fund them.

I noticed on the news that presidential candidate Dean expressed some reasonable observations about Israel - then Liberman pounced all over him.

I would like to see real dialog in our country over our unconditional support for Israel without the pro-Israeli lobby slinging "anti-semitic mud" at people. It should be OK to calmly and rationally discuss issues that are of vital interest to our country. It should be OK to criticize the government of Israel wihtout suffering through political hysteria and emotional outbursts.

If you are a U.S. citizen, please take the time to think this issue through and be sure to contact your elected representatives and let them know how you feel. We live in a democracy - take advantage and express your views (whether you agree with me or not).

As I have said before: as a religious person, my hopes and prayers are with both the Israelis and the Palestinians. But, on an intellectual level (calmly looking at the facts of the Midlle East situation), I have nothing but criticism for the leadership on both sides of this conflict.
5:06:45 PM    

  Sunday, September 14, 2003

New York Times writer Thomas Friedman frequently travels to the middle east and talks with people on all sides of the conflict there.

I think that Friedman writes with real compassion for all the people in the middle east. By the way: Friedman's ideas are very similar to a friend of mine who is an Israeli citizen.

Friedman tells it like it is: "Qalqilya is surrounded by fences on three sides - to shut it off not only from Israel proper to the west, but also from West Bank Jewish settlements to the north and south. You can get out of Qalqilya only by going through a single Israeli checkpoint, where Palestinians often wait in line for hours."
4:48:38 PM    

The linked article is being discussed on Slashdot. The Economist article accurately discusses the danger of Open Source to Microsoft's business and mentions the dangers of proprietary document formats (this is also being actively discussed on Slashdot).
9:46:15 AM    

  Thursday, September 11, 2003

A personal note on the death of Edward Teller

The physicist Edward Teller died a few days ago.

He was partially responsible for hiring my Dad in the physics department at UC Berkeley when I was a little kid, and I remember him (a little) as being charming and a nice guy.
3:26:33 PM    

James likes to bash the use of Java (see his linked web blog article).

Funny because his favorite language Smalltalk has so much going for it - no need to bash other languages, just pump up the advantages of Smalltalk.

Anyway, just a suggestion :-)
3:22:25 PM    

  Saturday, September 6, 2003

The danger and costs of proprietary file formats

Time passes.

Historically, it has always been a hassle and expensive to maintain access to old legacy data. Sure, there are problems with media: nine track tapes go bad, the organic die in CDRs fades causing errors, etc.

The problem is so much worse now because people unthinkingly (did I just make up a new word :-) store vital corporate data in proprietary file formats. A good example (but there are many) is the frequenty changing Microsoft Word file formats. As a Microsoft stock holder far be it for me to unfairly criticize Microsoft for changing file formats to force people to upgrade to new versions of products that they do not need to do their work (but as a stock holder, I would like to tell them to stop it.)

It does not take much imagination to picture scenarios where organizations no longer have the required software to read proprietary file formats - producing diasterous results.

Like most people, I am very concerned with government spending: I would like to see our government be as efficient as possible. I would like to see legislation passed in the U.S. that would prohibit the government from using any business related software that did not support an export to archive XML option. I would like to see mandated practices in government to call for saving to this easily readable format.

As per a recent web blog, the implementation of a real Semantic Web would both standardize information technology document formats (various XML applications) and penalize companies who don't play fair and refuse to use standards in document storage.
7:53:49 AM    

  Friday, September 5, 2003

Apple does it right: video editing

I finally bought a digital video camera a few weeks ago before leaving on our vacation (a Canon ZR-50 - for $380 from, a good deal - it supports manual exposure and focusing, which I like).

I have two cheap Macs: an iBook and an old 450 Mhz G4 tower that my Dad gave me last year when he upgraded. Both run the most excellent iMovie video editing application. My wife and I were both pleased at how simple it is to edit video using iMovie - Apple really did it right with free video editing support for Mac OS X. My Dad does high end video editing and animation and has all of the professional software packages, but for now (and the forseeable future) I think that the free iMovie will work for us.

Now all we need to do is to start using the tripod when we take video :-)

BTW, while I am heaping praise on Apple: even though I keep Windows 2000 and Linux servers around for various work tasks, I do almost all of my Java, Common LISP, Python, Prolog, Smalltalk, etc. programming under OS X - really a great platform for developers (even on the two relatively slow Macs that I own).
9:54:24 AM    

  Wednesday, September 3, 2003

I am back from vacation

My wife Carol and I are back home after a great vacation.

We started and ended our trip in San Diego, visiting family and helping my Mom get through her second knee replacement surgery. (She is doing fine.)

We left on a one week road trip from San Diego wih our friends Tom and Cheryl. We visited Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, and a small vinyard owned by Tom's brother. All around, a great trip!

It is good to be home in Sedona, but now I need to get to work on my latest Java book and re-synch with consulting work.
8:16:41 AM    

  Thursday, August 21, 2003

I am a big fan of "using the right tool for the right job".

Although I usually use Java (for mostly server side development), I use both Common Lisp and Smalltalk for experimenting with new AI NLP algorithms, etc. - these langauges and programming environments just let me get a lot of work done quickly.

The ultimate high programmer productivity programming language (for some programming tasks) is Prolog. The link for this article is for a very high quality, free, LGPL licensed Prolog system that works well embedded in C/C++ applications, interactive experimentation, or turnkey pure-Prolog applications: Swi-Prolog.

I started thinking more about Prolog yesterday when I posted to Slashdot (on Japan's new multi-year build a super smart robot project). Japan's 5th generation project was based on Prolog-like languages.

Getting back to Swi-Prolog: there are many included packages for both client and server web based applications, etc. My current favorite package is a library to manage RDF - stuff for the Semantic Web.
11:32:37 AM    

  Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Today, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) issued Web Ontology Language (OWL) as a W3C Candidate Recommendation.

This is a good step forward to implementing a useful Semantic Web.
7:56:44 AM    

  Saturday, August 16, 2003

Perhaps why Microsoft is against the Semantic Web

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to talk at length with Microsoft's .Net manager Robert Wahbe - fascinating, to be sure.

One thing that surprised me was his dislike for the Semantic Web initiatives and specifically the world-wide-web consortium's use of resources to promote Semantic Web technologies.

I think that I understand a little better now why the Semantic Web might not be in Microsoft's best business interests. I am reading "The Semantic Web" by Daconta, Obrst, and Smith - that put this idea in my head:

The Semantic Web is all about using standards for data formats and meta data that allows software to find information, perform logical operations to make decisions based on information, etc. One of the illustrations in this book is of OpenOffice which uses legible XML for document storage - if the Semantic Web does catch on, there will be tremendous pressure from consumers and businesses for open document standards. It seems like proprietary (and changing!) document formats are part of the Microsoft Office long range business plan.

Anyway, I am not dis'ing Microsoft here: there are a company trying to maintain profitability - it is just that the wide scale adoption of Semantic Web principles would not be good for Microsoft's profitability (this is just my opinion).
10:20:57 AM    

  Monday, August 11, 2003

James Robertson has a blog entry today (see link) discussing the problem of time zone differences when outsourcing an entire team to India.

That makes some sense to me. It seems like a combination of U.S. and Indian workers solves the time zone problem and also allows round-the-clock development.

Still, cost savings for using teams in India, Eastern Europe, etc. can be substantial. I think that it all comes down to minimizing the total cost of software (obviously including maintenance and feature enhancements).
9:28:35 AM    

  Friday, August 8, 2003

The linked article is a large collection of user responses to two previous MS-NBC articles on outsourcing.

The first half are complaints about outsourcing and the second half are "let's roll up our sleeves and get globally competitive" style comments.

As I blogged before: this is really a tough issue. We really do have to do everything that we can (e.g., constant re-education, willingness to work at more globally competitive pay rates, etc.) to be globally competitive. On the other hand, we can't ignore the pain caused by globalization.

I expect a future where governments become less important and international (or non-national) corporations have the real power. As workers, we will have to compete for the attention of large companies. In the U.S., this fits in well with the republican agenda to enhance the power of corporations by making people feel less secure, more willing to work for less money and fewer benefits, etc. I don't particularly like this trend, but it might be necessary for global competitiveness, and more importantly, if this is the future trend, we all better start adapting right now.

On a more positive note: I think that the real key is to follow the advice of Joseph Campbell to follow your bliss. That is, find types of work that you really love to do, and then do it. I recommend watching "The Power of Myth" on PBS or borrowing the video tapes from your local public library.
7:36:44 AM    

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