Tech bits for the weekend of 12_28_08

Busy holiday and weekend, but there were still some techie stocking stuffers this week.

The first is an interesting blog post from Coding Horror: Hardware is Cheap, Programmers are Expensive. The article has some interesting data and graphs, and makes two loosely-related points

  1. The payback on great hardware for development teams is quicker than you might think
  2. “the fastest hardware in the world can’t save you from bad code”

Worth a read.

The second is a nice bit from TechCrunchIT on the increasing viability of agile development in a soft economy Will This Economy Finally Push the Toyota Way Into Software Development?

Rally Software gets a nice mention, and the old waterfall model has taken so many lumps it’s hard to believe that there is still debate about agile vs. waterfall.

The third bit is on web analytics, specifically a neat approach that ties Google Analytics to a Google docs spreadsheet as an approach to campaign tracking: No more shooting in the dark- track your marketing campaigns. I like this posting because it takes the wonderful (but kinda context-free) Google Analytics, and turns a cool tool into an interesting solution approach. You can find examples that take the idea further here: No Google Analytics API? No Problem! and here: Homebrew Google Analytics API.

Social Search Categories

This week’s final bit takes on Google, Facebook, and “social search” in The Future Of Social Search. Social (or any kind of search with context – social, geocoded, personal, etc.) search is an interesting idea — Google gives nice general search by comparing your search string with the whole web, but there are a lot of specific cases where it’s really true that less is more.

Coming next week: Predictions for 2009…


Open and Closed

I’ve been reading the book Planet Google by Randall Stoss

The book is a pretty standard business tome on an interesting technology company, but it has one part particularly worth recommending: Chapter 1: Open and Closed, which describes the “open” web world that Google endorses, and the threat that a company (in this case Facebook) with a large enough Walled Garden presents.

I wouldn’t necessarily have thought that Facebook was even in competition with Google (much less a real threat), but the chapter describes the growing competition give a framework for understanding Open Social.

I don’t know yet if the whole book is worth a read, but the first chapter sure is — if nothing else than as a means of describing some of the competition and tactics in the post “2.0” web.


Tech bits for the weekend

I track a lot of technology feeds and trends, and generally about weekly I try to go through and highlight new things of interest. I like to write up things that look like trends, and I'm pleased to put them out FYI if you're interested.

Two goodies struck me this weekend:

F# to ship as part of Visual Studio 2010.

I've always liked scripting languages, but in the distant past computer cycles were too scarce, and web-era languages like Perl are syntactically ugly enough that I consider them "write-only" languages. Python and Ruby strike me as the first of a new generation -- reasonably elegant, and reasonably fast. I like ScottGu's take on some of Microsoft's steps drawn from this area, and these articles have a bit more on what the fuss might be about: The Rise of the Functional Paradigm, 6 Scripting Languages Your Developers Wish You'd Let Them Use.

Khronos Releases OpenCL Spec.

This one's a bit obscure. I'm writing this note on a new MacBook Pro, which Apple (in Steve Jobs' wisdom) decided it needed not 1 but 2 GPUs (aside from the CPU, which can also be pressed to handle graphics tasks). Why would Apple waste about $50 in materials costs per-box on a component nobody but hardcore gamers really needs? Fast video decoding is one answer, OpenGL and OpenCL are the other. One of the GPUs in my MacBook has 16 cores, and OpenCL (coming with the next MacOSX - SnowLeopard) is supposed to provide a standard way to use general-purpose GPUs to accelerate "regular" processing.

The key here is not that this is “an interesting new Apple development” — GPU/multicore/acceleration is popping up everywhere.
What's exciting is the thought that processing and JavaScript accelerations in modern browsers may make use of video in web apps much more common, and possibly really close the look-and-feel gap between desktop apps and web apps.


Skunks and Unicorns

Pepe Le Pew

Out target customers in Insurance aren't generally early adopters of technology, and Insurance-industry buyers are wary of new technologies. A recent Celent study on Legacy and Mainframe Migration noted:

The early 1990s brought the promise of client-server, which was largely ignored by the industry. But the late 1990s brought huge and poorly run projects that were embarked upon using technologies that had not been readied for the insurance industry, such as customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) projects.

These disasters left a lasting mark on the industry, and trust of technology vendors dropped to a new low.

With this perspective, it's a short-step for Celent to admonish would-be Insurance industry sellers: "don't sell a unicorn", and to conclude that it's a mistake to push leading-edge technologies. All the same, a young tech company (read:Us) looking for explosive growth needs an edge, and the fast pace of technological change makes it imperative to keep an eye on early-adopter technologies, even if most lack immediate applicability for a late-adopter customer base.

To bridge this gap I've been pushing the idea of a "skunkworks" - a playground for us to play with some new ideas and techniques. This blog is a skunkworks effort - we'll see how we might use it, and if we get any benefits from it. Other skunky efforts include:

  • The Feature evaluation app, currently at
  • The Future Functionality review, containing a list of Bruce Silver-recommendations for future BPM functionality, at http://jrepko-mob:3003
  • The Feature evaluation app, running on JRuby 0.98 (Ruby language in a JVM) at http://jrepko-mob:3004
  • A product-proto workflow modeler written in Javascript, at http://jrepko-mob:3006.

I use the skunkworks for experimentation -- not with any expectation that these things will be in the product or our apps anytime soon, but because a number of the techniques used in these playthings (REST, BDD, OpenID, text markup, JRuby, etc. ) might find there way into products, and I don't think it's possible to make a good decision about new technologies without some hands-on time with them.

I have a forum application and an ADM-workflow modeler that should be coming to skunkworks in the near future. I'm open to playing with new ideas and technologies on the skunkworks, and this blog will offer up introductions to new things as we go.


Carnac the Magnificent

Johnny Carson as Carnac the Magnificent

I always enjoyed the "Gonzo Journalism" of the late Hunter S. Thompson, and I once tried explaining the gestalt-of-gonzo to a non-believer as "getting so close to what you're writing about that you become part of the story."

I like blogging (the concept) for the same reason -- you get to bundle opinion with facts in the the stories you write in a way that, at its best, tells a bigger story. The best blogs are a whole new writing form - open, epistolary nonfiction.

As so it was with great expectations that I first took a look at the Insurance Tech Guru blog. The promise is great -- much-needed context for the IT side of the Insurance industry.

If the Guru's early work is any indication, the truth is still "out there." In the first batch of postings we have:

It seems pretty clear that "guru" is new to both blogging and technology; maybe it's too soon to expect Carnac-like magnificence from his bloggy fingertips.

I think there's a real opportunity to put a better tech message out to the Insurance community -- I like "guru" but so far the bar hasn't been set very high.