Tuesday, June 28, 2005

And the world turns on...

The eagle eyed of you will have noticed that the little JavaBlogs logo that used to be just to the left of this post has gone. My blog is no longer aggregated on that site. I am going to miss having JavaBlogs as an alternative home because I really like what they do there, I like the whole idea of communities of blogs coming together and this is one of the best examples. But they have rules, sensible rules which they are fairly flexible about. One of the most important, and probably obvious, of these is that you should mostly talk about Java. You can, and people do, deviate from this theme quite a bit, but really your main theme should still be Java.

Even the less eagle eyed of you will have noticed that Java and general programming have been a major theme of this blog since it started, however this has to change. I enjoy writing this blog a lot, I enjoy pouring my stupid thoughts into it, but this has always been a little stunted by the thought that I should not be straying too far from the Java theme. Often I have come home and just wanted to rant or share some random things that are nothing at all to do with Java. This has been happening more and more recently so it is time for a change.

Of course I could have moved to another blogging system which would give me categorised posts, one of which could have been Java. But I like being on blogger, my friends are on blogger so here I stay. Maybe we will get categories one day, but I don't really mind.

When I started this blog I thought it was going to be all about getting my name "out there" into the Java community, well I was wrong or at least I wasn't thinking hard enough about why I wanted to do this. Really I just wanted to say stuff. Now I can truly say anything I want to...

...it could be anything...

...wait for it...

...it's going to be good...

... ... ...

Friday, June 24, 2005

Weather terrible, glad I am here...

Occasionally I am reminded about my place in the world, and why I choose to occupy it. I am sitting here watching The Zutons playing at Glastonbury on BBC 3, and I know that much as I love them I would not like to be there. I am definitely not a festival person. Last year my friends and I gave up on a camping trip to Wales after two nights of storms. I would never have been able to take the weather this morning at Glastonbury. But I am happy to enjoy it through the mediums of television, radio and the Internet.

Luckily I have had the perfect opportunity to do just that as I had to work from home today. The underground stopped dead this morning, well at least the line that I should have been using did. Of course I am most glad that I was not one of the unlucky people stuck in a tunnel in soaring temperatures. So back to the flat I came, fired up the laptop and here I've been for most of the day. I ventured out briefly to the local pub for lunch, first time in three years that I have done that. It was full of old men, who ignored each other until they left. At which point the goodbyes were so involved and heartfelt you would think that they had been debating life, the universe and everything for the last hour instead of sitting in silence reading papers and eating soggy ham sandwiches.

This has been a glimpse into the world of people who work from home, and it scares me. For so long I have really wanted to be in a position to do this some day, but now I realise that you need to gear up to it. You need your lifelines, so that you don't go a little nuts. Today my lifeline was MSN Messenger to people in the office, most of whom had not even noticed I wasn't there. You also need to structure your day and ensure that you leave the flat at some point. I didn't have any problem knuckling down and doing the work, it was making myself take breaks that was the problem. In the office I can go to the kitchen to get a coffee, and that can turn into a 15 minute break, what with putting a new pot on and talking to a colleague who is also waiting for something to boil, steam or ping. Lunch today was about 30 minutes, because I went out, ate and came back. Heading out with the team from the office is rarely less than a full hour.

I don't know many people who work from home, but I think I am going to seek them out and find out the true secrets. I still like the idea, but it's 6:30pm and I need to get out for bit because those pesky walls are sneaking in on me again...

Monday, June 20, 2005

Money is there to be spent, right?...

So I went and did it again, I blew a load of money on a new toy. I spent most of last week fighting a battle of wills with the Apple store on Regent Street, here in sunny (for a change) London. It kept on calling to me from clear across the city, and the things in there were all so pretty. When I did cave, I would like to point out, it was limited to a minimum specification iBook.

To be honest with you I had decided that I was going to make the move to Apple, with my next computer, some time ago. I haven't mentioned it till now, partly because I really wasn't planning on getting one so soon. However I also wanted to get that last article out of the way before you all found out that I have switched camps again.

Before I am flamed by Linux advocates everywhere, please understand that I am not turning my back on Linux at all, my other machines will still continue to run Suse. The reason that I moved to Apple is simple, and it is simplicity.

I am a geek and a nerd, everyone who has every met me will testify to that, including my family and my extremely understanding girlfriend. It would be easy to assume that I would be happy to monkey around with Linux, especially being a developer and one who spends most of his time working on an open source project. It is true, but not all the time. There are other things that I want to do. For those things, Linux on the desktop is not quite there. It is there for most standard desktop tasks, it is there for the general office tasks (except Project Management where integration with MS Project really is a must have). But it is not there for video editing or some of the other associated and slightly more esoteric tasks.

By moving to Apple some people will see that as me making a statement of some kind, and I suppose it may well be whether I want it to or not. But really it was all about the right tools for the job, and that job is not what I thought it was going to be when I went down the Linux root. Again I tell you that I am not turning my back on Linux, far from it, nor on open source. One think I am definitely not doing is turning back to Microsoft, they have lost me for a good long while, if not for ever, and for those that know me well, that is a big thing...

Friday, June 17, 2005

Wintel, Lintel now Mactel(?) ... are we in the Post OS era?...

Strangely I haven't yet heard anyone put forward an offering for this, I think Mactel sounds better than Apptel personally. Although we could go a bit all out for something different and use Intac...Perhaps not. Of course I am referring to the worst kept secret in the IT world, which Steve Jobs finally let out of the bag at the Apple Developers conference the other week, that from June 2007 every single computer sold by Apple would be built around Intel chips.

This is truly big news, for many people. Best of all it was delivered in Jobs' perfected nudge, nudge, wink, wink style of delivery. I cannot recommend enough that you watch the whole thing (in QuickTime of course) here. It is a masterpiece of unveiling, starting with the typical catch up on how well Apple has been doing over the last year, then moving into the wonderfulness of Mac OS X 10.4. Jobs focuses a lot on the new Dashboard features, not missing an opportunity to have a dig at Microsoft along the way by showing off the count down calendar, entering 2009 and labeling it Longhorn.

After about half of the presentation he moves to the big build up, talking about the major changes in Apple's history, moving from the 68000 to the PowerPC and then Os9 to OSX and then he simply puts up a slide saying "It's true", the dropped 'e' matching perfectly to the Intel logo. The master stroke though is proving the doubters wrong about how good Mac OS X will be on Intel by revealing that the machine he had been demoing on for the last 40 minutes was in fact an Intel machine...he shoots, he scores and the crowd go wild...

So we come into the new world with three different *tel platforms, what does this mean? Well for a start it will, as many are saying, hurt Apple sales in the short term. This is the reason that they waited and presented a complete and finished solution to the world, and most importantly the developers. So much emphasis was place on the idea of the "Universal Binary" that Jobs was all but screaming "please keep buying the PowerPC machines!!!". The first machines will be on sale by June 2006 and the whole line (by which I presume he means XServe, Mini and laptop machines) will be Intel by June 2007. After that Apple will be in a great position. Not only will they benefit from the greater range of chips that Intel can give them, therefore more powerful laptops which are what people have been crying out for from Apple, but also, and perhaps more importantly, they are no longer tied into a single vendor.

A few people have commented that it is strange that Apple would go for a link up with Intel when many see AMD as having much more momentum. They trumped Intel to the 64bit revolution (Apple and PowerPCs of course having trumped them both), and AMD are seen as being more innovative. Intel must be extremely happy, although perhaps not so much when they are being forced, as part of the launch of this new venture, to describe Apple as the best PC manufacturer and potentially pissing off their many other clients. Anyway, I am digressing from my point, which is that while they have linked up with Intel for the launch there will be nothing stopping Apple from moving away to the AMD camp in the future, or even running multiple lines with different chips.

I find the situation we will be in extremely strange. After all this time and development we are now in a world where there is one single unified consumer computer architecture, and it is the one that we started out on so many years ago. The humble x86 architecture is still in their somewhere and now it will be powering Mac OS X as well as Windows and Linux and Unix. Apple have clearly stated that they will lock OS X so that it will only run on their machines, and not other Intel based machines (presumably using the Trusted Computing Platform architecture). I wonder if that will last. Less than a week after the announcement there was an Intel version of OS X floating around on the net. Sometime soon are we going to be in the position where it really doesn't matter which OS we use, it will become irrelevant. Your choice of OS will simply be personal choice, probably more of a fashion statement (Apple must like the idea of that right now) and incur no technical or functional penalty.

We have been heading this way for years now in the development world. As a Java developer I almost never have to think about the platform(s) that the software will be deployed onto. Now with Mono even Microsoft's own runtime is available on all platforms. Looking at the server market, one which Apple has been storming over the last couple of years with XServe, OS X Server and XSAN. All of the *tel operating systems can claim to be in the running for super computer status, this is in fact the one area where Microsoft is behind. The recent push towards Service Oriented Architectures sitting on top of Web Services and the XML revolution moves us further away from OS lock in. Strangely Microsoft is moving XML Web Services down into the core of Windows with the Indigo project.

Development and the server markets always lead from the front but the consumer market is becoming less and less OS dependent. Microsoft shocked the world when they announced that their holiest of holys, Office, would move towards standards based document formats. We are only a short time away from 100% interoperability between Office and other suites such as OpenOffice. Look also at the resurgence of Web based applications as promoted through Google's efforts with GMail and Google Maps, even more importantly look at the world of blogs which we inhabit, there are people whose whole careers are now dependent on their blog software which they can access from any OS anywhere in the world anytime.

I now have Windows, Linux and Mac based systems at home and it really doesn't bother me which I use for most of the work that I want to do, this is surely a sign of things to come, and I haven't even begun to talk about the impact of portable devices....we truly are approaching Post OS era...long may it reign.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

It's been a 5 year stretch so far...

This week I am celebrating(?) five years with Simulacra, and it is causing some serious strolling down memory lane. I joined the company fresh out of university, so fresh that I still had to find out my results and had to specifically request time off during my three month probation to attend graduation.

Five years is a long time to be with your first company, especially in this industry. I remember my father being concerned about my choice of such a traditionally nomadic profession, understandable from his vocational teaching perspective. Yet here I am, wondering if five years really is a long time.

It is not like I've been doing the same job here all that time. I've progressed from being the new coffee boy to heading an amazing team of developers. I have had the chance to work and learn from some really talented people (special mention here for Mark and Mike, you know who you are). The projects, both internal and external have continuously been interesting and challenging. Those five years have flown by, yet I think I am quite a different person to the one who started here.

As part of my nostalgia I have been looking back over old documents from my final year of university. From the comedy acknowledgements of my final year project;

"I would like to thank the following:

Rob Kinmond and Euan Wilson, for putting the fear of God into me once a week, and because they said I'd fail if I didn't thank them.

Katherine Hall and John Large, for their hard work proof reading and the subtle way they asked whether English was, in fact, my first language.

Andrew Hodgetts, for being a shining example of how not to manage a final year project.

My family, for not worrying about me when I was screaming at a monitor at four o'clock in the morning.

The owners and staff of The Star Inn, Copmere, for turning a blind eye to my turning up for shifts on only two hours sleep.

This project was powered by junk food and a vast and regular intake of caffeine."

to my cringe worthy CV;

"I am a problem-solver with the flexibility and awareness to see inter-connections and routes to solutions."

That's going to haunt me for a while.

So with five years down I look to the future, I wonder where I might be five years from now. I am fast approaching 30, which is something scary when you see it written down like that. For some people it carries with it thoughts of pensions and houses, and I won't deny that I have had such thoughts. However foremost in my mind for some time now has been the concept of "career".

It is easy when asked about your career to simply state your job, but is that the truth of the matter. Some people I know who work full time do not consider that they have careers or that the career they foresee for themselves is nothing to do with their current occupation, both valid choices. Five years ago I was almost certain I was about to embark on a career in network administration, yet I dodged that bullet and became a devoted coder. Over those five years I have slowly, and consciously, moved into a more managerial role to where I am today. I have no problem with all the form filling and meetings if they are leading the company to better things. It is fantastic that I have the opportunity to talk to clients so much. One of the major benefits of being in a small company is the number of different hats you can wear should you want to. But as we established earlier, your job isn't really your career.

So we come to the crux of my current preoccupation, what really is my career and how should I be going about it? I don't have the answer, hell I don't really have all the questions yet, but with two years to 30 I guess I had better start working it all out. I'll let you know...

p.s. She-ra, that was one for you :)