Monday, June 29, 2009

NOW Magazine Wins Award

Nice to see this recognition for a great collaborative effort among many of us at TIBCO.

As Editor-in-Chief of the magazine, I have appreciated the support and guidance of Ram Menon over the past few years, though, as we've produced the mag in several languages with several breakthrough articles and interviews.

And a quick tip of the hat to Scott Fingerhut, who adamantly resisted my efforts to name the magazine "Predictive Business," insisting on the much simpler, yet far more powerful, NOW.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Music and SOA: Theory and Practice

A good writer can make any subject tolerable, even interesting. I hope to write well enough here to make the subject of this post as interesting as possible.

It's often remarked that music and mathematics seem to fit well in certain people's brains. The great Doug Hofstatdler's Goedel, Escher, and Bach took this and related insights to a sublime height.

As a music and math person, I've never seen or felt the connection. Yes, both use abstract, universal symbols. Both require superific concentration. Both are easy to appreciate and impossible to master.

Yet I think the music-math brain is a statistical coincidence. I've known a lot of great pianists who can barely add and a few mathletes who couldn't carry a tune with a forklift.

I do, however, see an important intellectual connection between a certain type of music and a certain type of enterprise IT. The music is that of Anton Webern, an early 20th century composer. The enterprise IT construct is today's SOA.

My friends and I were invariably able to clear the dorm room in college when we put on the Mahler around midnight. Most people just couldn't hang, had no willingness to watch us music geeks revel in the subtleties and bombast of the magnificent Gustav. So I know I better keep things moving here as I approach the even more difficult Anton Webern.

So let's leap forward first to the SOA part of the discussion. The keys to building a SOA, as we know, are identifying and liberating/decoupling services from within applications, loosely coupling (and later, perhaps composing) them into desired functionality, orchestrating them, then governing them so they do what you want them to do.

This approach is remarkably similar to the one Webern took with his compositions around 100 years ago.

The early 20th century was a revolutionary time in the worlds of art, music, and literature. The 19th century's beautiful scenes of people and places became abstract representations of inner psyche. The weighty lyricism of Yeats turned into the despairing way the world will end with TS Eliot.

And in music, a centuries-long melodic tradition turned into the deconstructed, compressed forms of what were known as the Second Viennese School composers.

If you don't know Webern, just go to wikipedia, you'll find a few seconds of sound there. If you want more, fear not, his typical pieces run six to nine minutes, a fraction of Mahler's 90-minute Mahler symphonies or Wagner's hours-long operas.

Yet Webern compressed a world--and worldview--of music into those precious few minutes. The music has its own spare beauty, to be sure, but is not something that anyone could bear on a large scale. It is, to think in modern business terms, efficient.

The theory behind Webern's music is fascinating to those who like this sort of thing, but the theory is useless if the guy couldn't write good music. Webern could.

The key thing to remember is that Webern took traditional elements--melody, harmony, meter, and texture--tore them apart (liberated/decoupled them), then put them back together in a spare format that appears almost random (or maybe loosely coupled) on paper but is actually composed with great structural unity and flow.

The governance in this case, is of course, the conductor, without whom the piece would quickly dissolve into a fibrillating heap when performed.

The end result is music that still sounds "weird" to most ears even today, yet grows on one more and more. Yet I annoint Anton Webern the intellectual Father of SOA. His principles are being practiced, knowingly or not, by SOA practitioners worldwide today.

As with Webern, the SOA gang's work can be difficult to explain in theory and effectiveness, difficult to master, and represents an enormous threat to the old ways of seeing and doing things.

I'll stop the analysis right there. The slippery slope of comparing Webern with music created 50 years on either side of him looms before me, as does the chasm of convincing anyone but the earliest adapters that I'm making sense here.

The analogy cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon my blogpost.

Monday, June 15, 2009

My Heart's Not Into SOA Marketing

I've been debating this post with myself for a long time. All the voices in my head have contributed to the dialog. It has to do with my health, with my future, and with my relevance.

I'm not famous enough, even to my friends, to think I'm making a public statement here. But I plow on with it.

I wrote the headline for this post with google in mind. Gotta get "SOA" in there for it to be picked up. The head is also a pun, as it relates to my health, which is the real topic of this post.

I've been fighting with this asinine coronary artery disease, or CAD, for about 15 years now. The semi-crippling chest pains first hit when I was mowing the lawn during the years we spent in Wisconsin, when I 38 years old.

For some reason, the disease was never diagnosed there, in the buckle of the Heart Bypass Belt of this country. But upon my return to Silicon Valley in the late 90s, the pains grew increasingly worse and frequent, and in 2000 I had a complex triple bypass that revealed what was termed "severe" and "extensive" disease.

Two more relatively minor angioplasty procedures and several scares later, I have a 1-in-3 chance of making it another nine years; after that, the prognosis gets grim.

This is not exactly the sort of bad news about, say, newly diagnosed cancer that a few thousand people in the US get every day, let alone the tragic news that comes to too many about dread disease or accidents taking another life before its time.

But it has focused my mind wonderfully, in the words of the good Dr. Johnson.

As we say, we can get hit by a bus at any time, an expression that resonates profoundly if you spend any time in San Francisco and its infamous Muni buses.

So living life to its fullest, seizing the day, addressing challenges head-on every day, and all that should already be part of living one's life the right way. Doesn't always happen.

I've spent so many years covering the wondrous machines (and software) that are almost routinely cranked out of Silicon Valley and from like-minded people throughout the world.

We in Northern California like to think we live in the world's most splendiforous region with the most innovative technological culture by far.

This may be true, because all great technology companies did and do come from here--with the minor exceptions of IBM, Microsoft, Novell, DEC, Compaq, Dell, Motorola, Nokia, Sony, and Nintendo. Oh, and the creators of most programming and scripting languages, Linux, the Internet, the World Wide Web, the browser, and the Blackberry.

The weather is great here, though. There have been a few breakthroughs and insanely great companies here as well. So I've enjoyed my time, writing, editing, launching magazines and events, meeting many great and eccentric people, and feeling lucky on a daily basis that a failed piano player and erstwhile sportswriter could hack out a living in this hypercompetitive industry.

But now it is time to get serious.

So many of the 10 million or so words I've written over the decades have been workmanlike, as just another writer/editor guy bangs out another feature on local-area networking or asynchronous data flows, or touches up a press release about the next great thing, or asks another executive not to bullshit too much when he or she is telling me how excited he or she is about his or her job and his or her company's new strategy.

I was amused from the time of my first writing job out of college how so many writers wanted to be the next Hemingway and just hated the idea of "selling out" by making money for craftwork, whether journalistic, propagandistic, or somewhere in between. Maybe because my limitations were so apparent to me, I never felt this urge to write The Great American Novel or any anger because I couldn't.

Besides, the short forms served me better. Less work, you know. The onset of Twitter is a godsend to me.

Back to the thought of getting serious, maybe there is some sort of great writing inside of me, waiting patiently all these years to get out, corrupt people's minds, and bring down society in general and Western Civilization in particular as we know it.

So that's what I'll pursue. Oh, but first, I have unfinished business with SOA marketing. What first lured me to this industry and has kept me here unapologetically all these years is the notion that information technology is the most important business in the world, that it will continue to bring enormous change to the world, lift people out of starvation, remove the scales from their eyes, and lead to a better world. I really believe this.

So before I finish that novel, I'm going to refocus on SOA, which I believe to be the profound computing breakthrough of my lifetime. I love this business. I love almost all of the people I've met in it. And I love the precious time I have left to write about it, live in it, and enjoy it.

Thanks for reading.