New age content production

Ok, so the title is not to make it sound like a oft repeated, boring phrase about the Internet era. Rather, it is an indication of the (rather quiet) change in the way content production, validation and consumption has been changing in the last 5 years. And given that that is not a very long period (I can say that I am part of those times !). Ok, so what am I talking about. I am trying to summarize the views of Yochai Benkler on Open Source Economics. Before you start contorting images of nerdy software developers writing code after they come back from work (generally due to lack of much social interaction), and un-social beings with long beards trying to fight monopolistic software companies, go check out the talk (and yes, part of your imagination might be (unfortunately )true).

Mr. Benkler tries to summarize (very concisely), the power of the open source community. And this open source community is everyone who has an Internet connection and is willing to do something that interests them. As he says in the talk, money is not always the motivation. Yes, indeed. Even though money is good to have, it is not always the only motivation. Case in point being, wikpedia – and that is what he talks about. To be able to harness the power of humans as social beings is a powerful concept which has started to grow in the last decade. Like he says in the video, we have always tried to help each other out, but now the reach of this has grown from merely a cup of sugar / achar / curd, but stuff that can make a difference in our lives. Self-censuring as manifested in wikipedia or collaboration as in CPU power for SETI@home is not a fad, but is something that will get even more prolific in the near future.

The summary of the talk, is what I thought the best part of it. Social production will continue for long, but, it is threatened by the incumbent industrial systems. An intellectual property decision / telecom decision is not a technical decision, but a decision that will effect the future of our being as social beings and the way information, knowledge and culture will be produced. It is about how the industrial way of content production competes with the new age content production.

Steve Vinoski’s interview (about CORBA among other things !)

Steve Vinoski’s interview at InfoQ has some interesting thoughts about CORBA and its future. Even if you don’t use CORBA it is still worth watching the interview to understand what are the possibile ways one can try to design a distributed enterprise class application.

Here is a list of interesting points that Steve makes in his interview:

  1. If you are building a large enterprise scale distributed system, he says he’d prefer using REST over CORBA
  2. Suggests looking Erlang for concurrency and middleware applications (I’ve read a lot about how well Erlang scales when compared to most of the other dynamic languages). Python’s threads are not really that scalable given the GIL, don’t know anything about Ruby.
  3. From his interview, he seems to suggest that CORBA is now relegated to integrate with older systems which have been built using CORBA – which is probably true as I don’t see much being published / talked about CORBA in the developer community. It might be a fad, and the true designers who have seen it all might still prefer CORBA. If you are one of those, I’d be interested in knowing your thoughts when trying to design a maintainable, distributed application.
  4. He says that the idea of the IDL as an interface is not really true. And that, the REST verbs can pretty much replace what the IDL’s verbs (functions are). This I think is possibly an oversimplification of the IDL. However much fanciful REST verbs might look, they might not provide the richness of functions in a IDL (of course, IDLs have their own drawbacks). I think that equating them to REST verbs might be a stretch.

The usual language of choice question does bring an interesting point. Most of the application developers try to fit the language to the problem, rather than using the language that best suits for the problem. In such a case doing cross-language integration is not a simple task. If I were to write a MQ in Erlang with all the goodness the language provides, integrating it with a Java application (which seems to have become the language of choice for pretty much all the applications – from banking systems to rovers on Mars !) is not easy.

In such a case, are architects and developers left to fit the language to the problem ? Will attempting a cross-language middleware create another architecture like CORBA ? And the bigger problem is a cultural one. If the product I am building uses Java as the primary language, then how do I convince architects / developers that there are certain parts of this application which are best written in (say) Haskell / Erlang / Lua (or any other language) ? Does the question of consistency and purity of design come in the way of choosing the right tool for the job ?

Fooled by randomness – may be even the book was bought that way !

Fooled by randomness, book review – can be skipped !

I bought this book, after reading great reviews about The Black Swan. I didn’t want to miss on an author’s first book before another rave reviewed book. I must say, I wasn’t very much impressed with the book. My mood vacillated from being moderately interested to outright bored as I was finishing the book. I am not sure how good The Black Swan is, but I think this book can be skipped. If I were to rate this book – a 4 out of 10.

So, how can such a smart man’s book be so bad ? For one, this book has a feel that the man has something to gripe about. He seems to have an answer for pretty much everything happening in the financial scene or the relationship of mathematics / probability with the financial scene. As a learned man, who is a professor and who was on the ground, I think he might have developed a good eye for detail, but denigrating every other (or atleast coming across as one) author / professional working in the financial scene felt a little too far fetched. There are sections in the book wherein I could not make any sense of the flow of thoughts. People might be modest when they write that they don’t have a central idea in a book, but in this book, one can’t find a central idea. It feels that the author derives a great narcissist pleasure to harp on the same idea over and over, till the extent that the reader is painfully made aware of the lack of any other refreshing idea in the book – that people in general are bad at probability, and that they really can’t read much from the happenings of the stock market.

There are parts in the book, where I felt if the author’s braggadocio in relating ancient Greek / western mythology with the happenings was irritating; because one could have skipped those parts without loss of either meaning / conext. Another sore point is the lack of continuity between one chapter to the next. It could have been me, but by the time I finished the book, I didn’t know what the previous chapters were about !

So, what are the nice parts of the book ? Some of the examples he talks about are refreshing. The comparisons between the brokers’ lives do reveal certain parts that people generally overlook. His explanation of the calculation of odds is simple and can make a layman understand. But the only thing that is required is patience to find the signal amongst noise ! Based on this book, will I go and buy The Black Swan ? Hmm..may be not. I might rent it from a library than buying it.

A community watch for secure sites

Perspectives, a communal effort for validating secure, banking sites

Man in the middle attacks are not new in network computing. People have upped the ante with these attacks trying to pollute DNS entries and route users to malicious sites. This is specifically true for e-commerce and banking sites (I myself once got a mail for a Bank of India login. The phishing site was very similar in look and feel to the actual site). For most users like me trying to fish a phishing mail is not very difficult. But for novice users, and those who are still trying to understand how to do online transactions, these kind of mails are very dangerous.

One way to avoid users from logging in into these sites is to prevent a non-recognized https certificate site from not opening in the browser (IE7 and 8 do this). This is in my opinion not a bad option at all. Even though this is a nuisance for most part for the end user, it will ensure that the webmasters keep their certificates upto date and valid. Another way is to ensure that you are not the only one staring at the sun (sorry U2) i.e. you are not the only one being routed to a malicious site.

As described in this DDJ article, the Perspectives extension to Firefox 3 seems to do this. The extension will check with other notaries and find out if they also have faced this problem of an invalid certificate. There is a lesser probability that a hacker could have polluted the DNS entries of multiple ISPs. In such a case, any user will be notified of the the site being visited as an invalid one. This is sort of the community watch of the various secure sites, and can provide a easy to use way for users to ensure that the sites they are visiting are indeed valid ones. I wonder if these notaries will have entries for the banking sites in India. For once mob intelligence can be useful 😉