Friday, June 03, 2005

PITTs: Naming An Aesthetic

I'm back from an eventful weekend escapade in London which will be duly blogged. After taking 11 rolls of film (I'm still an analog child in a digital world), I would hope there are some stories to tell.

In the interim I give you a tongue-twisting tale of linguistic gymnastics...

Click Here to Begin |The Plain Old Distributed Computing Aesthetic | PITTs | Good Enoughers, View Sourcerers and TBDs | The Dark Matter of Technology | Polos | A Lotus Diversion | SODs, SDO and Layer Strippers | Radical Simplifiers and Anti-Monopulaters | TATs and Serendipity Manufacturers | KISS and Sexy MFs | Counting Votes | A Naming Playlist

Click Here to Begin


The technology world can seem overwhelming at the best of times even to those in the trenches who deal daily with it. In the hype of the dot com boom, where real money suddenly was showered on the sector, technology became prematurely chic. In these times of retrenchment, those who market technology services have fallen back on the hard sell to recapture those glory days. Thus the buzzword proliferation that we see today. As ever, everyone has a framework and black box panacea to sell.

In many ways, the web has opened up grand vistas of opportunity and every thinking business will take note when grandmas start showing up wanting to buy some white box cube or other to start sending emails, exchanging photos of grandchildren or to rekindle old flames from secondary school days. The almost democratic mass-participation, and consequent mass-amateurization of things, has caused much serendipity and innovation. Not everyone has signed on to the web's recasting of life lived with a low-brow, and irreverent work ethic, and many still have lemons to sell. Still there is a need to demystify it all because there are a lot of mixed metaphors in this world. Many have remarked that it is little confusing to "Click on the Start Button to Shutdown the computer" and that is merely a small landmark of the psyche of the still nascent software profession. We are still in the early stages of our industrial revolution. Consider this following whimsical linguistic exploration as a contribution to the historiography of the terrain.

The Plain Old Distributed Computing Aesthetic


JP Morgenthal wrote a short but important piece about PODC = Plain Old Distributed Computing that should be pondered by everyone
Why SOA now? Good marketing. The technologists finally found a way to explain to the business how what they do can be made to be scalable and usable by the rest of the organization. Great concept, but a crock of s**t, if you ask me; at least now.

I think it would be awesome of a business analyst in a risk department could express a model in Excel, press a button and have that model exposed as a service that can be used to provide risk assessment for hundreds of others in the company. Believe it or not, this is not all that diificult to do now, but it still requires some techie tweaking to make work. [read Glue Layer wrenches]

The key difference, if anything between PODC and SOA is that it's an infrastructure that the business can use resulting in a lesser reliance on IT to get their jobs done. 'Cause let's face it, IT shops do more to decrease worker productivity then enhance it.
Jumping in, I noted:
I think you've expressed in just a paragraph what in my long-winded way has been troubling me about this hype.

I suppose my Get on the Bus piece could have been addressed to you.
Folksonomic and linguistic anthropologist that JP is, he followed up:
With regard to your comment below, I wasn’t sure what category you’d put me in.

Thus the raison-d'être of this note...

So here's the thing JP, reading closely, I believe you're not quite a Glue Layer Person. I've been reading you for a while and have been sensing an affinity. Hence I should correct my previous statement, which properly wasn't addressing you but was rather a head nod of approval in your direction. I think this is part of what has been echoed in my subsequent set of bedtime stories, The Unloved HTML Button and Other Folktales, and the B-movie that is Deadwood and the Web Application Leap.

It's hard to describe oneself accurately without falling into some sort of navel-gazing pond reflection. Typically one needs the perspective of a third party, but since you asked, let me have a pass at naming this aesthetic or rather this outlook we share in the way we mediate the technology world...

PITTs


I suspect that rather, like me, you're one of those
Pragmatic Inside-out Technology Types (PITTs).

We see the value of glue and want to enable those essential Liquid Prellers to do their jobs. Like glue layer people, we are also skeptical about buzzterms. The difference is that our perspective as application designers is inside-out; we're close to the metal and mud floors of the technology trenches, seeking our way out in Paths of Glory. The Glue Layer is all about composition and, as the current buzzwords go, remixing, monkeys and grease. We PITTs, on the other hand, are the ones who work on the first few versions of a product until it becomes glue-worthy, at which point we're typically rewarded by being shunted off to something less attractive. Sometimes if we make the right decisions, we're lucky enough to have magic and lightning in the 1.0 release and enjoy the ride for a while. More often though, like almost everyone and those folks in Redmond, we only reach the Holy Land in version 3.0.

If I then say PITTs is the Appellation Contrôlé of this aesthetic, I worry about being a referee called The Pitts by John McEnroe in a Wimbledon tantrum episode. Johnny Mac after all, was fighting The Borg of unexciting sameness throughout his career. It was seeing McEnroe play at Wimbledon in 1982 at start of my exile from Ghana that got me into my favourite sport - well perhaps tennis is about equal with football or you might say soccer in a fit of Yankeehood (forgive me if you consider Reston, Virginia the South - to the rest of the world you're all Yanks). As far as these things go, I want to be on McEnroe's side. McEnroe by the way lost in the 1982 Wimbledon final but to a good guy, the lefty curmudgeon Jimmy Connors. He beat Bjorn Borg in 1980 and then won in virtuosic performances in 1983 and 1984.

Also in British history, Pitts, that is William Pitt The Elder, and obviously William Pitt The Younger, are about the best that that proud, and peculiar, political system has produced over the centuries. The Pitts don't get as much love as say Churchill, but who could match Blood, Sweat and Tears and pulling down Iron Curtains in that last bloodthirsty century. The importance of the Pitts for the survival of the British Empire and more importantly its social polity should not be understated.

Pitt The Elder's eloquence and perception meant that he could not be ignored throughout his career even though many would have wished him to disappear. His ingenuity in The Seven Year War "destroyed the military prestige which repeated experience has shown to be in France as in no other country the very life of monarchy, and thus was not the least considerable of the many influences that slowly brought about the French Revolution."

Pitt the Younger, in turn, was the one of the longest-serving Prime Ministers, one who dealt with the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. It should come as no surprise that Horatio Nelson won the Battle of Traffalgar under Pitt's watch. And we have many a Napoleonic complex in our field, wouldn't you say? Undoubtedly we all walk down the same corridors as a few Napoleons. Of course there was the subsequent setback at the Battle of Austerlitz that probably left Pitt heart-broken and brought on his death, but let's ignore that for the sake of argument. More cruical however is the following:
One of Pitt's most important accomplishments was a rehabilitation of the nation's finances after the American War of Independence. Pitt helped the Government manage the mounting national debt, and made changes to the tax system in order to improve its efficiency.

After drunken spending bubble binges and the consequent deficits, we need some Pitts in the system to restore the frayed social and economic compact.

Good Enoughers, View Sourcerers and TBDs


If Pitt isn't quite obvious enough for you, I guess I can still struggle to find a nice coinage that, like Glue Layer People, can adequately describe this outlook and attitude towards technology systems and their effects.

I don't quite think that you're a RESTafarian because that style is only a rather successful recasting of things have gone under such names as Good Design ™, object-oriented programming, loose coupling and, like you say, Plain Old Distributed Computing. And by the way JP, tying PODC to the rampant white budded iPods is very canny on your part.

Good Enoughers doesn't quite cut it don't you think? Recognizing the Good Enough Factor might be our forté but with the GE initials we may be accused of being Jack Welches operating Lavish Looteries.

Cut the Crappers is a little too pointed and this is a family joint.

View Sourcerers is only part of the equation and the allusion to Merlin might leave one open to Holy Grail characterizations.

SHow ME the Coders (SHMEC) is too needy. We may well ask that question daily as bad ideas are launched our way but we also bring code, design and considered architecture to the table. With a little dyslexic transposition we might get smacked down.

Technology Buzzword Demystifyers (TBDs) has a hint of indecision about it and again doesn't convey the very real work and products and services that we develop. Also mystery fast becomes mist and then we'll all need humidifiers and fog lamps.

The Dark Matter of Technology


Tessa, in explaining her decision to blog internally at IBM's Blogcentral rather than face the unwashed masses and Wild West of the Wider Web World, wrote about being Dark Matter. It was something like She wrote: "You can only infer my presence by the way I warp other things around me". (Reminder to self: start archiving your chats). Thus perhaps we are the
Dark Matter of Technology (DMT)
The clan of people that prefers the local or Fung Wah bus aesthetic. The Dark Matter formulation unfortunately might get us into matters of race. I don't mind myself since my native skintone is dark and I don't bleach. But then that great Poet of American Letters (PAL) called Grand Puba expounded thusly in Proper Education about the self esteem of Dark Matterers
Why Does The Black Licorice Taste The Worst?
Why Does The Black Jellybean Taste The Worst?
Why Do The Bad Guys Always Wear Black?
Why's It Bad Luck When You See A Black Cat?
Cause They're Working Subconsciously
(Subconsciously)

catford black beauty


If we go with the religious motifs of Elijah and Jeremiah, might we be in the land of Prophets and Wildernesses (PAWs)? Or is that being too presumptions and, if so, will we end up poor or keep getting paused on our Tivos?

Or like Kingsley Idehen, are we sadly seeking Samson and Delilah Standards (SADS)?

Polos


Godfather Bray's Loyal Oppositionist schtick sounds very parliamentary for my Brit-colonized tastes (he must live in Canada or something) but it wouldn't fly in the US where the concept of loyal dissent, despite lip service to Freedom of Expression and the august First Amendment, is often prey to the depredations of McCarthyist demagoguery and/or a supine, flag-waving media. In any case, as recent history, and the success of the Cheney, Rusmfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, Bolton, Cambone, Generals Miller (Gitmo-lite) and Sanchez Axis of Righteous Neocon NefarIousnEss (ARNNIE) has shown, being loyal oppositionists accounts for squat in these states. We might get tortured in Guantanamo, Bagram and Abu-Ghraib or get a little Extraodinary Rendition to Uzbekistan or Syria (ERUStication?) if we aren't careful. On Uzbekistan, it appears that, per the State Department, that brazen murderer Karimov "is our sonofobitch" so we need to be "understanding about the difficult situation". My family's history has put me on the losing side of political history over the past century so I worry about our chances against Strange Bedfellows like say SCO and Microsoft - SCOM ;-)?

But in the spaghetti western town of Deadwood, we're all just Criminals and Thugs (Cats) like the Broadway show goes - which I must see at some point.

But since The Guvnor seems to likes the Loyal Oppositionist formulation, and being a Red Monk, we should listen to him. Lets add your allusion to the Plain Oldness of things and formulate our stance as follows
Plain Old Loyal Oppositionists (POLOs).

The only problem with being Polos is that we might get wooly Prince Charles types talking to us about Crusty Old Architectures (pronounced SOA and rendered sometimes with a silent P in certain locations) and Camilla. We would rather be NBA basketball stars or Puerto-Rican People and Process Inclined (PAPIs) minding our fine J-Lo baby mothers - and there's that question of child support...

A Lotus Diversion


The first 2 versions of Lotus Workplace went overboard with their usage of EJBs so that at startup something like a good 150 EJBs had to get loaded up. At runtime, well that was an exercise left to the reader. Now this may account for what seemed like the eternity it took to restart a server did the E stand for Eternity or Enterprise? (time that allowed me to scribble toli fragments that I can share a year later - I guess there was an upside to things). Like people new to J2EE, almost all the architects jumped on buses of the Arthur Anderson variety and didn't scrutinize the buzzwords critically. (Incidentally Arthur Anderson did get off in recent days, hmmm). Those of us who had been quietly building web and J2EE apps for years could have told them to be a little more judicious in what they chose, but we weren't consulted and, in any case, when we, without prompting, pointed out the pitfalls of the initial technical approach, we were roundly ignored.

Lotus's tagline used to be Working Together. Now that's a tall order to live up to.
Collaboration is a difficult thing. It's about glue, attention to detail, patiently husbanding the commons, promoting immediacy and removing barriers to let people get on with things. The social software that operates in this sphere is difficult to get right and needs to be mindful of all of those foregoing things. We need not just engineers, but also a confection of historians, sociologists, linguists and plain artists to guide the community software we produce. Certainly having computer scientists willing to work past midnight and every weekend of the year is a good thing to have in your camp. But I'd hazard that a little balance is needed.

Around 5 years ago, the Working Together and Have Fun injunctions in the Lotus Operating Principles (I think I still have that poster somewhere) were jettisoned for some non-descript corporate I've Been Moved, Software-Is-a-Fungible-Thing and is DEVeloped In Labs philosophy. Back when I was in secondary school, the British aptitude tests pegged me as a lowly lab technician type which was news to me and to the aspirations of my parents. That's the realm of low expectations I suppose. But I guess as a corporation that deals with the Mr Biggs of this world, one needs a certain amount of blue-suited uniformity. In contrast to this lab coat, Just-A-Paycheck bland aesthetic, there is an art and craft to building passionate software that users return to willingly time and again. These days, our marketing folks are canny enough to understand that the software that Lotus has built is useful beyond simple email and actually enables reasonable collaboration even if it could stand to be improved by more fully embracing the web. And the same goes for the entire Lotus brand... Still I'd actually like the Working Together and Have Fun planks to come back, but maybe that is spilt, or is it spoilt, milk.

Obviously the force of gravity and the evident performance imperatives played a role in restoring sanity to the Lotus IBM Workplace architecture in the past 18 months and now there is judicious use of POJOs (Plain Old Java Objects) instead of the pervasive EJBs in the latest version. Also EJBs have local interfaces that can be used and that technology is now better understood. Ultimately the platform became that much better, scalable and performant once it got rid of leaky abstractions. In any case, the second rewrite is here and I've spent many a midnight hour toiling on my little sliver of that large pie so I hope people will evaluate the Workplace platform knowing that a critical eye has been taken to it to deal with some of its growing pains.

SODs, SDO and Layer Strippers


The greatest systems we have in technology (the Internet, the Web, the Linux ecosystem and perhaps you have your own favourites) almost universally had inspired decisions early on in their histories. The first releases were close to being Good Enough ™, certainly one could build useful things to bootstrap the system and evolve it in place. The Good Enough © or Simplest Thing That Could Possibly Work aesthetic is all about leverage and reducing the impedance to adoption.

If we were network types, we'd probably call ourselves End-to-Enders or Stupid Networkers but the remit of the software world is larger than the network world.

Thus Layer Strippers is one of my current favourite terms, and although we started off wearing burkas, there's a hint of flesh as we wiggle our hips and washboard Janet Jackson bellies. Again since this is a family blog, I won't elaborate that mixed metaphor further at the risk of being fined for wardrobe malfunctions.

And proposing Skeptical Original Debunkers (SODs) would have us being branded as Originalist Antonin Scalia types which would be a pity. Though we have a claim to pragmatic originality, the SOD formulation leaves us open to being told to Sod Off as those South London dodgy bricklayer types were about to say to me over the weekend.

Catford dodgy bricklayers


Not to be dogmatic but the end-to-end argument of layer stripping has very wide applicability. A rule of thumb of 4 or so layers seems to be the thing in technology systems - that definitely makes for more memorable acronyms. Certainly the CRUD-like scheme of things (Create, Retrieve, Update, and Delete) works fine in the database world. In the networking world, the TCP/IP/Datalink/Physical layerered approach of the Internet architecture (with Ethernet and now WiFi at the physical layer) seem to be Good Enough ® and beat out those Bellhead 7 layer OSI over-architected types. LAMP also seems to work for a pragmatic cohort. Bill de Hóra has written of late about making good technology choices and this is the right area to focus on, he's an aggressive Layer Stripper who deserves all the dollar bills he gets.

Grandpa Berners-Lee and Matchmaker Fielding made sure to strip layers in this great web architecture that we should daily celebrate. For HTTP, the preferred embodiment of the REST aesthetic, the 4 verbs are GET/POST/PUT/DELETE. Web Dav hasn't seen great adoption and this might be due to the new verbs it introduced to the HTTP ecosystem...

For the web at large, it's the Four Horses of the Apocalypse called HTTP/URI/HTML/XML (HUHX like Dr Huxtable) that I suggest will win out over WS-* overkill and with nicer sweaters to boot.

But Layer Stripping Sods embody a wider principle at work. There was a recent discussion on TheServerSide about What's happened to Service Data Objects? which is anagramatically in sod territory.
Service Data Objects (SDO) was proposed and accepted as a JSR in December 2003. However, almost eighteen months later, there's not even an expert community outside of IBM and BEA, no draft of the spec is available. What's happened to the SDO spec?

This reply in particular seemed to have been written by some SOD or other
The Spec Has Been Renamed

Rumor: The actual progress of this JSR has been appropriately renamed to "Stale Data Object".

I just wonder how do I transfer my "business tier" objects/meta-objects to this SDO and then from SDO to my presentation objects? Maybe it is time to create another JSR named "Duplicating Data Object (DDO) specification" So you can transfer from EJB->DDO->SDO->DDO->POJO->JSF->HTML. How can we do EJB->DDO? You guess! ;-)

Regarding SDO which is being used widely in my company, it seems to be fine for what it does and when used in moderation. Some actually prefer SDO to Hibernate or other frameworks all of whom are fine so long as system designers realize their leaky potential. In my own experience in XForms land, SDO has been an additional layer of often unreadable, and hence buggy, code that I want to strip in my haste to deal with simple hyperlinking primitives. But I have colleagues working on fixing things in that framework so perhaps I shouldn't rain on that parade (or maybe my comments will spur them to hurry up to plug the leaks). In any case as with everything in technology, your mileage may vary...

Radical Simplifiers and Anti-Monopulaters


Radical Simplifiers might leave one open to charges of being Simpletons not to mention that the word Radical bespeaks Revolution of which there is far too much especially in the way the marketers of our products tend to oversell things.

We can dispense with REST Interventioners since that will get us arrested as Inquisionists.

The Fiancée when she was still The Girlfiend last year coined Monopulate, arguing ineffectively at the time I might add, that she wasn't trying to Monopolize or Manipulate me. Ultimately I think that Monopulation is what we are fighting against down in the technology trenches so what about Anti-Monopulaters? It has a nice ring to it I think.

Agreeing with Monsieur Feinberg in a typically typographically-challenged instant messaging conversation last week, I coined Yesp (Yes + Yep) which sounded like a Lisp predicate to his sharp ears. The French over the weekend said non; The Dutch just yesterday said Nee, Neen and Niet (the only 3 words I know from my 3 weeks in Holland). At the risk of being post-modern, and realizing that I'm reaching here, I think we need to say lots of Nos to the buzzwords, additional layers and plain Architectures of Control that are being thrown at us and only the occasional Yesp, so how about NoNeeNietYespNon-ers? Actually let's scratch that, it will never catch on and we'll get branded as nonentities.

TATs and Serendipity Manufacturers


Lastly, I suppose I can harken to my rhetorical hyperbole from 3 months ago:
The signal challenge of this technological age is the response that system designers choose in response to Technical Arteriosclerosis.

So how about this one: Technical Arteriosclerosis Terminators (TATs). If we zag to their zig, maybe we are Tats to their... well you know where that goes. And while discussing Tats, the grasping, and groping, Arnold is now a Governor in California so that should pass muster with The Guvnor, although these days he's having difficulties with his great presidential project. I imagine this Austrian deconstruction of the American Dream asking
"But vy do teachers, nurzes and firemen need penzions or Zozial Zeecurity? Theze people are always azking for handoutz and health zcares."
What about good old-fashioned bodily self-reinvention or reimagining and reframing ala George Foreman Grill to point out another exponent of the great American Hustler Activist (AHA) ethic? To think that more people know George Foreman through his Forced Faked Infomercial Smile Template ® (FIST) rather than his great fistic endeavours is quite a turn of events but then we all have bills to pay and if all your sons are called George, you certainly loom larger than life. The one fear I have is that the temptation will be too great to render Tats as tattoos which don't have cultural significance in my part of the world. We'd have to be LInguistic VIgilante Defenders (LIVID) in order to prevent Tats being verbally elongated into snappy tattoos that can't be removed without expensive laser surgery.

So then what we have is an open question, a Lazy Web request if you will:
What's a good name for this orientation to the technology world? How does one name this ground-level aesthetic?

Comments are open so feel free to send your suggestions. I'm sorry I haven't installed Haloscan so that you can trackback, but as you know Tom Coates thinks that Trackback is Dead (I disagree by the way). In any case, Google's dillydallying with Blogger has enabled a whole host of glue layer intermediaries like Haloscan, Technorati, Blogdigger, Furl and the like to step into the Blogtrolling void (great neologism Justin, by the way, Lotus has always thrived on linguistic fortitude if not the occasional Good Enough if unpretty code) to bring about managed serendipity heaven.

And perhaps that's another candidate: Serendipity Manufacturers who are my kind of people even if sometimes they may be called full of it.

Kiss and Sexy MFs


[Update] I obviously had a temporary blind spot about the Adam Bosworth Axis of Empathy and so we now have 2 more nominations which I discuss at greater length seperately: On Bleach, Entertainments, Forms, Atom, Kiss and Sexy MFs).
The soundtrack is by Prince of course.

Counting Votes


Over the weekend, I watched American Idol for the first time (in London) which reminded me of watching Dallas and Dynasty in the early 1980s in France - I never liked the English voices of JR and Bobby that I heard later, also watching Rambo/First Blood with Sylvester Stallone was more satisfying in French as were the good old Starsky et Hutch whose theme song I can still sing when alcohol has loosened the bonds of inhibition; there were also those Good Old Boys called the Dukes of Hazard who were great with provencal accents but that is stepping into the realm of political incorrectness). I also watched an episode of the latest run of Big Brother - gripping in the way of a train wreck. It would seem that talentless shows and Reality TV are the order of the day in this silly season of our Technology Buzzterm Discontent (another TBD). In any case, here then are the nominees for the Best Linguistic Technology (BLT) Toli Formulation (TF). Which apprentice do we fire or who do we vote off the island?
  1. Pragmatic Inside-out Technology Types (PITTs)
  2. Plain Old Loyal Oppositionists (Polos)
  3. Layer Strippers
  4. Technology Buzzword Demystifyers (TBDs)
  5. Good Enoughers
  6. View Sourcerers
  7. Anti-monopulaters
  8. People and Process Inclinations (PAPIs)
  9. Dark Matter of Technology (DMT)
  10. Skeptical Original Debunkers (SODs)
  11. Radical Simplifiers
  12. Serendipity Manufaturers


[Update] The first feedback and a corrected quote comes from Tessa, who in a relativist mode doesn't quite like name calling but being a good sport, who I hope doesn't mind me quoting her for this should be shared, in "struggling to put a name to this emergent philosophy of technology" adds
I suppose I'd call myself a Pragmatist.

I do whatever works. I strive to fail faster. It's the results that matter, and simplicity (stripping layers) is celebrated because time is precious. We don't have time to waste on complexity and buzzwords; we're already behind on inventing the future.
A great pithy manifesto for this inclination. Thanks for sharing.

Also as you probably suspected, the lowly technician jibe was not pejorative. In the British system where one is forced to specialize far too early, the early technician branding (in my case at age 13) is often a codeword for a diversion to the polytechnic pipeline rather than the wide waters of Oxbridge (or say the Ivy pathways in the US) but more on that later (and on the analogous Women in Technology shrinking pipeline affair).

Also I had written about having both William Pitts as our mascots but it was pointed out that having Brad Pitt would be a better bet plus in keeping with the KISS or Sexy MF factor, he wears a mean skirt.

A Naming Playlist


And for the musically inclined, how about a song for each nomination?
  1. Massive Attack - Name Taken - There you have it
  2. Charles Mingus - Bird Calls - Uh Hum
  3. Prince - Call My Name - late at night
  4. Leon Ware - What's Your Name? Pray tell?
  5. Al Green - Call Me - Fodder for a Blanket of Soul
  6. Alyson Williams - Just Call My Name - the perfect ballad
  7. Dexter Gordon - Dexter Calling - The entire album is essential
  8. Paul Simon - You Can Call Me Al - well why not?
  9. Eminem - My Name Is - a concession to blue-eyed pop from Detroit's Elvis
  10. Dianne Reeves - A Chamada (The Calling Celebrating Sarah Vaughn) I celebrate Sassy daily
  11. Sean Paul - My Name - Rugged ragga
  12. The O'Jays - Don't Call Me Brother - 'Nuff said

Dexter Gordon - Dexter Calling

I'll add a lucky 13th, 14th and 15th track for the sad paw shmec also-rans from His Royal Badness who in his sex symbol glyph days worried about family names:

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