Semasiology Change - the Word 'Expert'

(Using big words gives me a cheap thrill).

Has anyone else noticed that the word ‘expert’ is changing its meaning, becoming more generous? It seems like the bar for becoming an ‘expert’ is lower than it once was (good examples can be found on the 6 o’clock news). Of course it’s hard to measure this other than empirically, but it’s fun to play the mental exercise - are you an expert in anything? I’m going to assert arbitrarily that unless you know more about a subject than 95% of the people who are in some way experienced in the field in question (by the most narrow definition feasible), then you’re not an expert. I think this approximates to the definition of ‘expert’ most people used to have, but not any more (I’d postulate the figure is now drifting in the 60% region). My strict definition of ‘expert’ means I’m not one in economics, film, libertarianism, SOA, or a variety of other fields I’m interested in. I don’t find this depressing, though - I think it just makes the word more useful. A vague definition is the enemy of precise language (something Strunk and White advocated). Unfortunately, most dictionaries are vague on expert, only hinting towards a ‘high degree of skill’. This is why I felt it might be better to put numbers on it (even if the domain can still be vague).

I’d be interested to hear your empirical observations.

Perl Getting the Job Done

Sometimes I think we in the IT industry forget that the point of computing is to make the lives of human beings easier; to do things for us and automate our work; not to introduce extra tasks (this premise is the thrust of IBM’s Autonomic campaign). I was reminded of this the other day when I was writing a set of Perl scripts to download podcasts for me by tidying up the output of goldenpod. I wrote these in Perl because, despite its arcane syntax, it is fabulous for the kind of ‘glue’ job I was doing: taking the output of another program, modifying it, doing some tidy-up on my filesystem, etc. This is primarily because of the rich set of modules available, which in my experience dwarfs any other language. It took an hour or two to write, but now that I’m done, it’s rock-solid stable and does its work silently without my intervention, saving me time in the long run.

Most people, of course, wouldn’t write their own podcast-downloading script in Perl (or know how). But because a lot of software I use is out-of-the-box, the fact that I can program my computer to do jobs for me, the way I want things, is something that I think about rarely, even as a professional software engineer.

WebSphere ESB Fixpack 3 Released

If you’re using WebSphere ESB, Fixpack 3 for version 6.0.1 has just been released, which fixes a variety of problems. You can find out more here.

Let's be Generous to SOA

One of the troubles of working in the IT industry is that no-one ever agrees on what the next big thing means. This is partly because software terms tend to run out from between your fingers when you try to grab them, just like soft putty - want to try defining ‘blogging’? One example I’m thinking about a lot at the moment is SOA (Service-oriented architecture). The problem isn’t just that people don’t know what SOA means, but that there isn’t a single definition - every software vendor has a subtly different message.

ZDNet Asia recently discussed SOA. I noticed that they mentioned that SOA was built on Web Services. This is often true, but the IBM product I work on, WebSphere ESB, allows one to build an SOA entirely without Web Services if desired - for example, you could use it to build one based on JMS messaging. A wide and generous definition of SOA is probably the only one that makes any sense. Some of IBM’s recent SOA products are built on SCA, which allows for a clearly-defined component model for SOA, but this doesn’t have to be used either: you could build an SOA with Visual Basic, a printer, and a minimum-wage employee to enter data, although your response time might suffer somewhat. The only requirement is that the architecture has to be oriented around services (hence the name).

Some might argue that this model is so simple as to be useless, and that might be true if organisations stuck to the widest definition, but if you’re able to adopt a particular type of technology (for example, going the WebSphere/SCA route), there is the possibility to begin to reap the benefits of reuse, adaptability, etc.

So be generous with the definition, but specific in the implementation.


Ray is a biopic-by-the-numbers. Depicting the life of Ray Charles, Jamie Foxx does a competent job of portraying someone blind (it’s of course hard to tell how close he is to Charles). The film lurches from one scene to the next, and portrays Charles as a fun-loving but flawed man (cynics might point out that this is what most biographical films of entertainers do). There’s nothing that particularly stands out, but no part of the film that’s truly awful either. Worth watching if you’re interested in Ray Charles’s life, but otherwise nothing special.

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