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.

Leadership for the Future - Bill Clinton

Last Tuesday, I attended Bill Clinton’s ‘Leadership for the Future’ seminar at the Royal Albert Hall. Although I don’t necessarily agree with his politics (he obviously sits somewhere around the centre-left and I’m some undecided variety of libertarian), I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see a former world leader speaking. The tickets (£60 - £300) weren’t cheap for the hour and a half’s presentation, and the occupancy of the hall seemed to suffer accordingly, but it was worth it. The Royal Albert Hall, which glittered more than I remembered it from my graduation, was a suitably impressive but slightly gaudy venue.

A large majority of the presentation was dedicated to a speech by Clinton, with the remainder being pre-vetted questions. My heart sank when I saw what appeared to be some Powerpoint slides ready and waiting as I entered the hall, but fortunately he didn’t use the projector. He appeared to being using some notes, which was a surprise, but they didn’t intrude too much into the presentation. He was a clear orator, and delivered plenty of soundbite-worthy phrases - his eloquence and fluency wasn’t quite up to the standard of a legend, however.

His speech focused around four main questions:

  1. What is the fundamental nature of the 21st century?

  2. How would you like to change the 21st century?

  3. What steps are necessary to move from (1) to (2)?

  4. Who’s supposed to do it?

Each of these questions had detailed answers, and it was here that I began to deviate from the president’s view. His basic premise was sound - the world is increasingly interdependent, and this has both good and bad effects. He focused a lot on security, however, and appears to believe in the current worldview of terrorism (large, complex networks with vast power), whereas I am doubtful (and of course am in the minority). As some compensation, though, it’s good to see him recommending the use of intelligence agencies as the primary weapon against this problem, as Bruce Schneier has recommended many times in the past. Clinton is obviously in favour of income redistribution, and made it sound impressively appealing to me, despite my moral objection. He’s obviously also a competent businessman - his discussion of the return on investment of war, and his wry observation about a country’s budget being controlled by what it spent last year (as is the case in most organisations) betrays his business knowledge. He spoke with admiration about a recent initiative to teach entrepreneurship in Scottish schools - I also believe this should be encouraged.

Clinton’s answer to the fourth question, ‘Who’s supposed to do it?’, was where we deviated most. It’s clear he thinks everyone has a duty to act through democracies, NGOs, and so on, to make the changes they believe are necessary for the world. Irrespective of whether you believe this is an effective method (I think its success is less than overwhelming), this has shades of Kennedy’s famous quote: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country’, but with the USA replaced with the world. As Milton Friedman explains in his introduction to Capitalism and Freedom, this is hardly the rallying cry of someone pro-freedom. Although I don’t think it’s fair to accuse Clinton of being illberal, I drew the conclusion from this and other comments that he cares more about equality than freedom.

It was quite obvious that Clinton now feels that he is able to speak his mind, having left his presidency. He was asked at one point which world leaders he had met whom he admired, and his passion about three of them (Nelson Mandela, Yitzhak Rabin, and King Hussein) was plain to see. He does seem to be as honest a man as one could reasonably expect in such a position, and I admire him, even if I don’t agree with him.

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