Surrender to November

My website has a Seattle section; why doesn’t it have a Boston section? I’ll pull one together pretty soon, but the plain truth is that Boston isn’t so new to me the way Seattle was.

Still, every now and then I find things that make me think about the city. Every morning on my way to school I walk through the plaza at Government Center. It’s a big brick and concrete bowl that has an amphitheatre area, a stage, an assembly plaza, and a bunch of other stuff in it. The plaza drops something like two stories from Congress Street down to Faneuil Hall. It’s surrounded by large civic and commercial buildings–City Hall in particular, winning my award for ugliest concrete monstrosity this side of the FBI Building. From the base near City Hall it can look a little like the amphtitheatre at Siena through which the palio runs, but without the cafes, shops, and good architecture that distinguish that space. Most days it’s just a place to rush through, though sometimes during the summer you see people eating lunch there.

The irony is that until the 1960s the place was pretty happening, though in an unsavory kind of way. Scollay Square (warning: cheesy music at that link) was notorious for being an area of ill repute–prostitution and other kinds of crime were apparently pretty common, as well as less illegal but still fairly disreputable entertainment like the tassel twirling Sally Keith…

But there’s still some life in the place. You just have to know where to look for it. In the days after the crash, people gathered for vigils and prayer services. Every third day or so the news trucks roll to the back of the plaza to support the crews who cover City Hall. There are always vendors hawking papers right outside the doors of the T station, sometimes in song as the Boston Globe guy was this morning.

The thing that struck me most this morning, though, was the trees. At this point in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, most of the trees are either in the last spasms of their fall colors or have lost their leaves entirely. This morning, though, I looked up into a crown of green around the rim of the bowl of the former Scollay Square. It seemed to be saying to me, Don’t rush. Enjoy the end of the green while it lasts.

Today’s music: “See Jane” by Shannon Worrell, a Charlottesville musician who I first saw play in the Corner Grill in 1993 and who I always thought had the potential to go the distance. (Unfortunately her deal with the record label The Enclave folded when EMI was in its mid-90s throes and she fell off the map.)

Trees half turning
One branch in summer, another one burning
Can’t decide to stay
Can’t decide to stay
Or surrender to November

Good reading: The Fear of the Radical Alien: Boston Italians Between the World Wars. A really fascinating study of the culture of the North End that ties in Sacco and Vanzetti as well as the impact of multiple waves of immigration.

Boomerang Year

I started writing this weblog this summer while I was in Seattle for an internship between my years at MIT Sloan. At the time, I thought the stay in Seattle would be just a summer, and I didn’t know when I’d return.

Now I know. Yesterday I signed an offer from the company I worked for this summer. I’ll be returning to the Seattle area after graduation.

It’s good, but strange, to have a semester and a half left of school and not have to worry about recruiting. Many of my friends have been in full blown panic job search mode since mid summer, when they found out from their investment banking or consulting firms that they wouldn’t receive offers after their internships ended. And our career development office calls us “unmotivated.” What gall. Would you line up to interview with a banking firm knowing it had turned down ten of your very gifted friends after a summer internship, just so that they could boast that they turned away one hundred applicants for each of the two vacancies they did have?

The CEO of DoubleClick spoke to one of my classes yesterday via videoconference. He stated he thought that there wouldn’t be a recovery until third or fourth quarter next year. “This is the worst year to have graduated with an MBA in the US, ever,” according to Chuck Lucier, the “chief growth officer” of Booz, Allen & Hamilton (as quoted in the Financial Times). And I’ll be moving to the other coast with a job. Mixed emotions abound.

Today’s music? In Metal, by Low:

Partly hate to see you grow
And just like your baby shoes
Wish I could keep your little body
In metal

Man of Visions, Job of Nightmares

A very nice weekend. We were here in cold New England watching leaves change and drinking bad microbrew. It went from the low seventies to the mid forties over a two-day period. Lots of fun for the sinuses.

I was really sad to hear that “Man of Visions” Rev. Howard Finster, folk artist and (improbably) rock album cover artist, had passed away. The coverage of this event on SonicNet was one of the sadder pieces of journalism I’ve seen, though. No definition of why he was important: just “known to rock audiences for paintings that appear on the covers of …” Surely he deserved more respect. Any man capable of producing images like the cover of Little Creatures (below) was clearly more than just a “cover artist.”

The cover of the Talking Heads <i>Little Creatures</i> album, by the Rev. Howard Finster (1916-2001).

And now for something … horrible

I refuse to say anything about this link, except that it puts the struggles for jobs that my classmates and I are experiencing into stunning perspective:

“Is that…?” we asked gingerly.
“It’s not soya bean,” replied Mr. Binatang grimly.
“Isn’t it dangerous?” we asked. Mr. Binatang was silent for a
“They know I’m not there as an enemy,” he finally said…

Recurring Revenue

Today is going to be a good day. To quote whoever that guy was in Beck’s “Loser”: “I’m a driver, I’m a winner. Things are gonna change, I can feel it.” Thanks for the kind thoughts about the midterm yesterday. I think it went pretty well.

Today is a day for me to catch up. I have a ton of stuff to write for a project I’m doing on web services. It’s a pretty good team of folks: two technical Sloanies (including myself) and two MIT undergrads. One guy interned at Lotus; I was at another big software company this summer. Our mission: Where are the money making opportunities around web services? And are any of them sustainable as business models?

Originally I thought we were going to have some challenges in quantifying some of the more novel parts of the value chain. Then I saw this article about Microsoft’s rates for programmers to incorporate Hailstorm (also known as .NET My Services). What I find interesting is that these rates are much higher than the previous cost of entry for writing for Microsoft’s platforms, which was the license fee for a copy of Visual Basic. Apparently software as a service means billing the developers annually, not just the users.

I think this may fragment the development community. There are a lot of small developers who do this stuff for love, not money, who won’t be able to pay $1000 a year to include the My Services functionality. There are probably a lot of large developers who are prepared to ante up, but it’s not just large developers who make a platform. Where would the Windows platform be without WinZip or WinAmp or any of a dozen other indispensible software products?

Except. .NET is a software web services platform. And maybe the assumption is that providing a billable service requires a certain size of developer — and that the small developers won’t need to play on the platform. Somehow I don’t think that’s right.


“What!” you cry. “No words about the Windows XP launch?”

Well, I have a midterm exam today, so in lieu of a real update I present this short note courtesy of the Electronic Text Center at the University of Virginia. I’m not just a user; I’m also an alum.

From Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle:

He was working in the steaming pit of hell; day after day, week after week — until now, there was not an organ of his body that did its work without pain, until the sound of ocean breakers echoed in his head day and night, and the buildings swayed and danced before him as he went down the street.

And here I’m complaining about a finance midterm.

A Prolusion on PDA Proliferation

Cell phones: Finally giving up on my old Motorola StarTac. It did well for me for a few years, but a year in MIT Sloan of running out of battery before 6 pm every day (even with frequent recharging) and of having no signal all the time made me decide there’s got to be a better way.

The Nokia 3360 it is, then. It comes with what should be an obvious feature to everyone–infrared and the capability to send and receive name and phone number information from my Palm. Does it have WAP? No, but I’ve not yet seen a convincing demonstration of why I would need to access the Internet from my cell phone (although my page does support WAP access).

Device proliferation. All these devices coming out–like the iPod. Single purpose devices can be pretty cool if done well. What constitutes “done well” for me? Well, not duplicating functionality with another device I have is a start. Playing nicely with my other equipment, sharing information…

About the title: browsing the OED today (sorry, subscription required), I came across prolusion: “A literary production intended as a preliminary dissertation on a subject which the author intends to treat more fully; a preliminary essay or article; a slight literary production.” As for the first definition, that describes a lot of my writing about technology, especially web services. As for the last definition: boy, that’s this weblog all over.

A note about this page for people who browse normally I write the story offline then publish it (using my Applescript tool) to the weblog, then if it looks good I promote it to the home page. Apparently that isn’t enough to register that the front page of my web log has changed on Time to talk to Dave…

Dumber Than a Box of Hammers?

UPDATE 1:45 PM EDT: A few links are surfacing that are pretty authentic about Apple’s new digital device, the iPod: a Firewire capable, ultraslim, hard disk based digital music player. Plus version 2 of my favorite Mac application, iTunes… Here’s the MacCentral coverage. Finally Apple’s page on the device is up. And you can get it at the Apple store.

First things first: a prayer request for an old family friend, Berkeley Brandt, who (as reported by Esta) suffered a stroke over the weekend–he’s 30 with a wife and two children.

In less sad news, as pointed out by my fellow Virginia alum Tim Fox, there are still drunken confrontations aplenty in Charlottesville. Of particular note:

According to police, as the students rounded the apartment building, they heard the sound of a weapon being racked. At this time they saw Dixon who pointed a long gun at them and said, “Boy where you going? I’ll f—ing shoot you.”

Some students fled at the sight of the weapon. Others, thinking Dixon only held an air gun, stood their ground, some pulling shirts over their faces for protection, and told him to go ahead and fire, police said.

A few of us were discussing this on an email list. I put forward the question, “were the fraternity kids in question [Douglas] Adams fans or just dumber than a box of hammers??” Fortunately for all of us Erik Simpson knew the answer to that:

First, the lads were not Douglas Adams fans. They could not answer even the most basic questions about Mr. Adams or his work. That part was easy.

Ha-HA! you say. They are therefore dumber than a box of hammers!

That, it turns out, is only partially true. We know, aswim as we are in the most enlightened notions of our day, that we cannot rank the intelligence of people (or groups of fraternal Wahoos or boxes of hammers) on a simple linear scale. We must instead evaluate multiple, independent kinds of intelligence.

First, you should know that Mr. Jarrett’s box of hammers, which I found in the back closet of his trendy Cambridge pad, is a rough-hewn pine box, about 18 inches by 12 by 8, and it contiains five hammers ranging from a tiny plastic toy hammer to a large Craftsman (TM) carpenter’s claw-headed job. The others are a ball-peen hammer, an artist’s mallet, and a small jeweler’s hammer. The specific identities of the fraternal Wahoos are much less important, of course, because they’re all pretty much the same. Statistically speaking.

Given the story about the gun and the T-shirts, you would probably guess that the hammers outstrip the Wahoos in spatial/mechanical intelligence. Boy, do they. In that area, even the tiny plastic toy hammer proved vastly more intelligent than all of the Wahoos. The only category the hammers dominated more convincingly was that of emotional intelligence.

The Wahoos, however, proved marginally more adept than their inanimate counterparts at answering basic math problems. They also demonstrated significantly larger vocabularies (when asked the right sort of questions, at any rate), and they generally carried the day in visual memory and musical aptitude as well. A prominent exception: none of the Wahoos could carry a tune like the ball-peen hammer.

I could go on, but you get the picture: in the specific kind of intelligence at work in the story, yes, the students involved were clearly dumber than Mr. Timothy O. Jarrett’s box of hammers, and the difference meets all standards of statistical significance. Overall, however, we can only say that the hammers and the Wahoos have different strengths and weaknesse. If anything, the students are on the whole roughly *as dumb* as the box of hammers but not demonstrably dumber. And we should point out that–as we would all expect–Mr. Timothy O. Jarrett’s box of hammers is remarkably bright as boxes of hammers go.

Rock Solid OS, Jell-O Economy

Glenn Fleischman wrote this review of Mac OS X 10.1.

I’ve already posted my thoughts about the upgrade, but it’s worth repeating. Mac OS X 10.1 is my everyday operating system. At any given time I’m running half a dozen apps — Mozilla, TextEdit, iTunes, Word Test Drive, GraphicConverter, Palm Desktop, Excel, OmniOutliner, Mail and/or Eudora — and it’s been smooth. That’ s not taking account of the ssh server, Postgres SQL server, and streaming audio server that are running (generally unused) in the background. Last night I watched “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” in a window while I did some email and web surfing — the other activities were a little slower but the DVD didn’t drop any frames. Very cool.

Life Without Wheels

We’re going to try living without a car for a while starting in December. It’s not like it’s a totally new concept for us, since we have mostly been walking or using public transportation since we got here. But now we won’t have a safety net.

I’ve been thinking about trying Zipcar. We did a project on them for my marketing class, but if anyone out there has experience with them, I’d appreciate hearing it.

Dot-Com Love in the Time of Cholera

It’s an interesting time to be involved in entrepreneurial classes and organizations (like e-MIT). There’s a huge article in the New York Times this morning about the withering away of venture capital. It echoes things I’ve heard before. We had a senior executive from Softbank visit last spring. He had interesting things to say about his job, like coming home and having to tell his kids that they pulled the plug on Like I said last week–lots of heartbreak all around.

A little too late to make the early edition–this brilliant article at Textism going a lot farther than I did about some of the insanity of the last three years. “You, sir, are irrelevant, irrelevant, irrelevant.”

Speaking in Tongues and other stuff

Update 12:15 PM: I’m a little behind in pointing to this, but I was ahead in saying it was a bad idea. When I visited Intel in January 2001, a few of us asked why Intel was in the business of making consumer MP3 players. The answer we got? “Well, we’re a really large supplier of memory chips, and this is a critical application for them.” Unsurprisingly, Intel has now announced it would phase out this product line. No “I told you so’s” from me. 🙂

Trying to be productive this morning. It’s hard. I picked up the Episode 1 DVD last night and I want nothing more than to go home and fall asleep watching it.

Some random links: Dave is the recipient of the top Wired Rave Award, the Tech Renegade Award, for his work on SOAP. I won’t argue–in terms of my blog’s hit count alone, Dave’s certainly been the most influential person around. Plus I’m working on a major project with MIT Sloan‘s Center for E-Business around the industry in web services that SOAP helped to start.

The white powder that was found in an envelope by an MIT lecturer in Foreign Languages and Literature tested negative for anthrax.

If language is a virus, is it contagious?

The Tin Man has a good comments string running from Wednesday’s post about journalism. Most of them are about his use of the word “y’all.”

Aside: I’ve been gathering unusual words and expressions from the North Carolina side of my family. I never thought much about the colorful language that they used until my undergrad years. Then I read in the excellent liner notes to the Robert Johnson boxed set that Johnson’s term friend-boy in “Cross Road Blues” was a typical Mississippi Delta expression meaning simply friend. “Gee, I thought, “my uncle says that all the time.” I came to realize that my family’s language placed them solidly in the unique linguistic history of the South.

Some other words and phrases:

(pron. “peert”) for “pretty”
It was so good, my tongue like to beat my brains out.
(said about food)
He’s a good businessman. If you shake hands with him, you better
  • count your fingers.
  • Put your money in your mouth and sew your tongue up tight.
[v. intransitive] – to do nothing constructive. Generally used as “to pottymule around.” See also “blogging.”

Nostalgia in Tweed

Today was the first day I broke out my tweed jacket. Jim’s ex-girlfriend used to say that she knew when fall arrived, because I would be wearing my tweed. It’ll only be in the fifties today, so I suppose this counts as fall.

The tweed was a souvenir from our trip to Ireland a few years ago. We bought it in a small shop down the road from the town of Ardara. [Heh: I said “small shop,” but they have a web page. Then again, so do I]. The fall there was much more dramatic even than New England, as I think this illustrates:

As always, fall brings with it insanely busy times. This has been one of them. The week is almost done, thank goodness.

Enough. Working now.

Busy busy day

Busy day today. Waiting for phone calls, working on an end of the semester project and a major assignment, and trying to get other things done as well.

Anthrax scare at MIT yesterday. Still trying to find out whether it’s for real. For the record, this is at the other end of the campus from where I work.

Working on the E-52s–hard to get anything done there, but at least we have a target repertoire list.

It’s too beautiful a day for it to be crunch time. I can’t even get away to have lunch with Lisa.

Guess I better stop blogging and get to it…

Our House

Apologies to anyone who saw the mess that was my homepage this morning. I updated the template yesterday to include Blogrolling links in the left hand nav, and found this morning that the page didn’t appear–except for the print friendly links. I looked at it and saw that my HTML syntax for the comments I had put into the template to make it more readable was wrong–as a result, all the page was commented out.

I realized that I’ve written more about my everyday life in Seattle than my everyday life in Boston. As you may have guessed from the copious risotto references, we live in Boston’s traditional Italian neighborhood, the North End. This is our second apartment in the greater Boston area since moving here for MIT Sloan a little over a year ago.

The first apartment we were in was almost palatial–huge two bedroom place with 13-foot ceilings, exposed (painted) brick, full time night watchman, incredible service. But we realized we were paying about $2 a square foot for living in the middle of a construction zone. Fully loaded semi trucks rattled by our bedroom window in the middle of the night. Construction dust sifted through the framing of the modern windows to encrust the sills. And (the capper) there were no decent places to eat within walking distance. “Our house in the middle of our street”, indeed–some nights it felt like our bed was in the middle of the street.

We moved to this place about five months ago. The North End is a cool little neighborhood. Formerly an island and home to such Boston luminaries as Paul Revere, the neighborhood was connected to the main part of the city by landfill and subequently became home to waves of immigration. Today the neighborhood is separated from the rest of the city by the I-93 bridge–a fact which has probably done a lot to preserve the pedestrian friendly streets and “Itanglish” of the inhabitants. You can smell the cooking from early in the morning to late at night. You can walk a route that takes you past three traditional butchers, four bakeries, two pasticcherias, a ravioli maker, three delis, at least four greengrocers, three wine stores, and about a million cafés, trattorias, and restaurants, plus Paul Revere’s house and Old North Church, in about ten minutes.

The irony is that, if the Big Dig ever gets done. the walls of isolation that have protected the neighborhood will come down. Sure, there will probably be green space where the big green overpass sits now, but it’ll be a lot easier to get a car into the neighborhood. Something will change irrevocably. Maybe that’s why the neighborhood fought so vigorously against the Dig (that and the noise of construction that never ceases). The North End has been an island again for many years; for a second time, it’s going to be connected to the mainland. Something will change; we just don’t know what.

Recurring themes

It was a nice weekend. I’m in danger of getting into a risotto rut: I made a kind of unusual one this weekend. Instead of using onion in the base, this one used pancetta, garlic, sage, rosemary, and beef shoulder cut into 1/2 inch dice, with a reduction of Spanna (a Nebbiolo based wine, distantly related to Barolo). It was savory and very very good.

Thank goodness I don’t have food allergies. Somehow after the last fifteen years of being on antihistamines, a lot of my allergies went away, and all I have to worry about is dust. “Esta” wrote one of her funniest pieces last week on the family’s allergy issue.

I really think pieces like that are one of the things that keep the blog community going. When you’re too tired to write something funny, you can just point to a piece like that one. It’s like being part of a perpetual writing workshop where all the participants make all their work available all the time.

Which reminds me: I’m proud to link to a good friend of mine from “Virginia” who maintains the Tin Man blog. I don’t have the obligatory list of fellow bloggers in my page navigation yet, but this guy will be one of the first I include. He writes intelligently, honestly, and personally about things that are going on in his life, and his write-up of events over the past few months has been deeply affecting.

Music for today: “The One Thing,” INXS. Before Michael Hutchence got lobotomized, as Greg used to say (long before MH’s untimely death):

You know your voice is a love song
It’s a catcall from the past
There’s no ice in your lover’s walk
You don’t look twice ’cause you move so fast

I’m thinking about old songs because I’m working on selecting another song to arrange for the “E-52s”. I don’t think Start the Commotion would work too well as a cappella, more’s the pity. “Light it up, baby!”

The dot-com that broke my heart

After all the things I’ve written about using wireless access in public places, I was really sad to see that Mobilestar is in danger of closing.

I was talking this morning to some classmates, working on a project that was trying to identify customers’ perceptions of Zipcar. One of the perceptions was essentially “It sounds like a great service, but I’m skeptical.” In trying to articulate what was behind this perception, I said, “The customer doesn’t want his heart broken by another dot-com.” I hadn’t thought of it this way before, but that’s a lot of what I’m seeing in business school now. Lots of cynicism, lots of verbal defensiveness. Wall Street is the same way–there’s no rational reason that Akamai, a great company with a great business plan and great prospects, is trading at $4.26 a share. We loved dot-coms and now so many of them are gone. It’s like a grieving process.

More thoughts shortly on the history of web services. I just need to find a better place to write.

History of Web Services, Part II

This is part two of my informal, inaccurate History of Web Services; part one was posted on Wednesday.

CORBA was probably the first credible enterprise scale mechanism to allow processes (applications) on different computers to talk to each other. Why hasn’t it taken over the world?

Characteristics of CORBA

CORBA, according to its caretakers the Object Management Group, was designed to provide “interoperability between applications on different machines in heterogeneous distributed environments and seamlessly [interconnect] multiple object systems.” The calling system did not have to be aware of the hosted service’s location, operating system, programming language, or anything else about the service except for the interface (in the sense of an API–the defined way to talk to the service).

Sounds great in theory. You could theoretically make just about anything a CORBA-compliant object–legacy databases, Perl scripts, Microsoft Visual Basic applications–and have it all work together.

So what’s wrong in practice? The CORBA spec requires an Object Request Broker (the ORB in CORBA) to reside at a known location that keeps track of where all the services are. And that’s potentially a huge performance bottleneck. CORBA isn’t dead yet, but if you were to write its eulogy performance would be the cause of death.

Microsoft’s first answer: DCOM

Microsoft in the mid-nineties announced that it had a better answer to the distributed computing problem than CORBA. It was based on its existing Component Object Model (COM) that allowed interapplication communication inside a Windows machine, but it now had features in the plumbing to allow COM calls to work across a network. DCOM (Distributed COM) was supposed to make calling remote application services as easy as making OLE calls in Windows.

No, seriously, that’s what they said. The sad reality, at least from the point of view of thisex-Windows programmer of enterprise applications, was that making OLE calls in Windows was never particularly easy–or reliable. Different computers might, or might not, have functional OLE subsystems. The application being called might respond so slowly that the call would time out–even if both were on the same machine. You can only imagine how well distributing that same architecture worked.

Any distributed code you want, as long as it’s Java

The Java community made their own play at a distributed computing paradigm, called Enterprise Java Beans. At least one critic has called EJB the only “detailed, practical” specification of CORBA services. In addition to the core CORBA capabilities, EJB offers security, persistence, concurrency, load sharing, and other “value added” features.

From a programmer’s perspective, EJB sounds like (and is) a great technology. The issues with EJB are more subtle. First, you have to use Java to use EJB. This isn’t necessarily a problem, as Java is a pretty universally available programming language, but it places more constraints on your application than CORBA per se. Second, your application has to be pretty tightly coupled to the particular beans that provide its services. This makes operation in intermittently connected environments dicey at best.

Web Services

So what does the Web Service paradigm offer that CORBA, DCOM, and EJB couldn’t? That, it would appear, is the $64,000,000 question. The new wrinkles are XML, HTTP, and independence from language, platform, and broker.

No Broker: Web services can (and in most cases, do) run without a central broker. This eliminates one perk of CORBA, not having to know where the service is, but I’d argue that’s a questionable benefit compared to the performance hit imposed by going through a broker for all calls.

XML: Web services generally presuppose that the fundamental language of interchange for data is XML. This assumption doesn’t extend across any of the other approaches, where XML support, if it exists at all, exists as a bolt-on.

HTTP: Web services generally use HTTP as the transport protocol. This is important because it enables making web services calls through firewalls. However, as HTTP isn’t a robust transaction protocol, this may impose performance hits.

Platform and language independence: Unlike EJB, you don’t have to write Java to get in the game for web services (at least, most implementations). Unlike DCOM, there’s no platform requirements.

SOAP Family History

I was talking to some folks this weekend about my work experience, and mentioned that my programming experience had been in client server systems. “Client server!” they said–“boy, I haven’t heard that expression in a long time.” Feeling instantly old.

So what’s the connection between client-server and this XML-RPC/SOAP/scripting/web services thing I keep writing about? Kind of an indirect parentage, actually. It’s useful to go back a few generations to get the background on where web services came from, technologically speaking.

History Lesson

A long time ago, computer programs were monolithic, in the technical sense of that term. They were one big chunk of code that could be accessed only one way and only ran on one machine. This was because the machines were usually so big and expensive that there weren’t many machines around, and thus there was no value in networking them.

Somewhere along the way, things changed. Pretty soon, people were interested in getting systems to talk to each other. And software had started getting more structured in the meantime. On the one hand, you had application programming interfaces, or APIs: formally defined ways to access the functionality offered by a program, whether an application or an operating system. On the other hand, you had object orientation–the concept that a given chunk of software should protect the data that it accessed and offer well defined methods to read and change that data.

Why was this important? APIs gave software developers a clearly defined path to add functionality to applications or to write applications for platforms. (By the way, the Mac was the first mainstream personal OS with a documented, rich API for writing applications.) And object oriented meant that you didn’t have to worry about some other chunk of the application randomly changing your data, making it easier for large numbers of people to work together on a software project. But we’re still talking about monolithic applications running on only one machine. The network, if it’s there, is slow and unreliable for most users, or else only connects largely heterogenous systems inside your own company.

Add Network, Stir Vigorously

Shift gears for a second. It’s the eighties. You have a big transaction clearing system for a bank. You want to set up a network of machines to allow people to withdraw cash from their accounts, at places and times that are convenient for you. But you’ve got a problem. Even if you wire up ATMs in all the states where you have branches, you still haven’t covered the people who travel out of the area where your bank exists. How do you get an information system to allow people to get their money regardless of whose machine they’re using?

What if the software objects could talk to each other over the network? What would need to happen to make that possible? Well, one program would need to know how to talk to another and what to do with what the other said. (Sounds like an API.) And you’d want to make sure that only your bank’s systems actually made changes to the data–other banks could make requests, but not actually directly change the numbers in your customer’s accounts–so you could assure your customers’ security and privacy. (Sounds like object oriented code.)

Expose the API to get to a software object and make it accessible over a network. That’s the story behind CORBA (Common Object Request Broker Architecture). Behind DCOM (Distributed Component Object Model). And, to a very simplified degree, behind web services.

So if we had CORBA fifteen years ago, why web services now? That’s, as they say, a whole ‘nother story–one I’ll try to write about tomorrow.