sic transit axis mundi

The winter solstice, or Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, usually offers small opportunities for contemplation. Or maybe it’s just the gradual fallout of colleagues whose good intentions got frozen in time for whatever reason... In that sense, working in IT is both a blessing and a curse. No other profession requires such level of continuous learning and the joy of working with smart people. Yet no other profession seems to be so overwhelmingly overhyped with new technologies, methodologies, paradigms shifts and whatever else. And like no other profession i’m seeing people’s smarts being used against them, by others or by themselves, and that seems mainly to do with a strange want that people are fundamentally rational.
After several years in the spotlight of our attention, SOA seems on it’s way out, at least on the popularity rankings. Feels a little like studying at university, that at the moment the whole landscape made sense and offered an abundance to make the right decisions, game over. Although considering tools like OpenESB the SOA approach is becoming undetectable mainstream and exceedingly powerful. Not that i’m going to miss the SOA pooha clutter, but it’s kind of typical for the state IT is in considering the addictive urge for things new.
Now, OpenESB touches on something. Having worked with it’s commercial predecessors for some 8 years i have always been a bit suspiscious about the promise of Open Source. As ‘The Cathedral and the Bazaar’ points out eloquently factors like instant ego gratification play an important role in Open Source communities, which is also it’s limitation. Now that might be old fashioned Open Source, but what i’m seeing with OpenESB is a rapidly accelerated iterative development process where openness allows for instant feedback, clarification and improvement. An assembly line modeled by M.C. Esher.. If this openness is a sign of the future, then i’m all for it. This is ‘free as in freedom’, http://www.faifzilla.org/ch00.html, in a new business model, a SOA organisation as Anne Thomas Manes so clearly foresees. It reminds me of what Taiichi Ohno meant for Toyota, which involved reverting back of the production process to it’s human measure. Simply put, if leaders merely "implement techniques" without fully developing people, their system has no heart. Having heart is rather important in Japan.. Heart is spirit and having that indicates a ‘system’ is viable.
Maybe this is what books such as Peopleware aim at, but i just haven’t had enough time to look into that one.. In recent years innovation has become a popular subject for study, and what is rather amazing is that there is a strong tendency away from the human factor to stress the ideas of collective intelligence. Of course the legend of the lone genius, flashes of insight and such are rather exaggerated, but might it just be there’s a mix between the context and the persons involved ? Maybe some people are more susceptible for contextual feedback and rise above the lowest common denominator to do grand things during the right circumstances. What proof is there collective intelligence will rise above the mean ? Amazon’s book suggestions surely don’t indicate such. Maybe some ants within the entire ant colony are called Einstein.. Just expecting the system to self-organize is as unrealistic as expecting the European Union would result in lower prices while willfully ignoring economical models such as ‘increasing returns’. But maybe it’s just the friction between control and trust that many businesses prefer to hear about abstract methodologies harvesting human potential which can rule out any dependency on key figures.
Anyways, back to OpenESB and Sun, if Sun manages to keep the current momentum in the software area while making a suitable transition away from hardware, maybe very soon we can speak about the very first real SOA company, a company that lives and organizes the same way as what the Java Enterprise System is foreseen to enable. Not just composite applications, mock-ups, facades, but federated dynamic assembly of semantic applications. Workflow-as-a-Service, on steroids. Let’s give it a go.
Even more so, let’s give it a go, so eventually i can work out some a-life ideas with the current illustrious codename of ‘cotropous gauge maze’, freely based on Hamilton’s quaternions... And on that note a couple of quotes for the new year from EWD who, knowingly or not, has worked on that wonderful area where mathematics and physics so deeply coincide and intertwine, IT. Bugger it if he and Godel had gotten together and formulated something Wolfram is point to..

John von Neumann draws attention to what seemed to him a contrast. He remarked that for simple mechanisms, it is often easier to describe how they work than what they do, while for more complicated mechanisms, it is usually the other way around.
Edsger Dijkstra, Trip Reports, 213
...Simplifications have had a much greater long-range scientific impact than individual feats of ingenuity. The opportunity for simplification is very encouraging, because in all examples that come to mind the simple and elegant systems tend to be easier and faster to design and get right, more efficient in execution, and much more reliable than the more contrived contraptions that have to be debugged into some degree of acceptability.... Simplicity and elegance are unpopular because they require hard work and discipline to achieve and education to be appreciated. Edsger Dijkstra, The Tide, not the waves; in Denning/Metcalfe: Beyond Calculation, Springer-Verlag 1997
... while we all know that unmastered complexity is at the root of the misery, we do not know what degree of simplicity can be obtained, nor to what extent the intrinsic complexity of the whole design has to show up in the interfaces.
We simply do not know yet the limits of disentanglement. We do not know yet whether intrinsic intricacy can be distinguished from accidental intricacy.
Edsger Dijkstra, Communications of the ACM, Mar 2001, Vol. 44, No. 3

Il ritorno di Don Camillo

Italy is as close to heaven as it gets. For living that is.. not for work..
Since the “mani puliti” action in the early 90’s the Italian economy has been declining. Government spending, incomprehensible inefficient business laws, a suffocating tax system and a banking climate from the Middle-Ages don’t seem to make Italy rise on the global competitiveness indices.. In fact in these areas Italy performs worse than, say, Guatemala.

This is the only rich country i know where it costs a hell of a lot of money in notary costs to go bankrupt.. but this is also the only rich country i know where effectively going bankrupt that doesn’t seem to matter. Time is something measured in eras here.. as if it is of vital importance for a country to have the legal documents of company formation and dissolvement stored in a huge safe inside one of the Alps.
Italians will say Italy is a special case.. that is so but it is just extremely protective of maintaining the status quo. And while doing so the administrators of the Imperium Romanum smother every innovation which is where the real power of Italy lies.
Whereas Italy is known for it’s corruption my experience does not correspond with that, on the contrary actually.. but maybe Italy still needs to learn the Northern-European practise of “if you can’t beat it, legalize it”. Maybe learn from Holland with it’s separate business and criminal law systems, where drugsdealers pay tax and bribes are tax deductable, and it isn’t even ‘corrupt’..
So, why the moderate rant.. i mean, Beppe Grillo does a much better job at ranting, and still it’s a pretty useless act without much action..
Well, after 4 years of trying to expand an international business based in Italy i have had more than enough. So i am moving my business to Switzerland to enjoy a business climate based on common sense, and taxation is about 1/3rd of Italy. The best of two worlds.. live in Italy, work from Switzerland. Then, maybe i can enjoy laughing about the joke of Italian politics, with currently the 62nd government since the World War II, just like all those tax evading Italians who are responsible for storing an estimated 65-70% of the nation’s capital in Switzerland.. which by many means should make Italy one of the richest countries in the world, no ?

As Dutch writer Gerard Reve once said concerning his view on politics; “It is better to have a government of thieves than a government of killers”. The following is taken from Catch 22, Joseph Heller:

"America," he said, "will lose the war. And Italy will win it"
"America is the strongest and most prosperous nation on earth," Nately informed him with lofty fervor and dignity. "And the American fighting man is second to none."
"Exactly," agreed the old man pleasantly, with a hint of taunting amusement. "Italy, on the other hand, is one of the least prosperous nations on earth. And the Italian fighting man is probably second to all. And that's exactly why my country is doing so well in this war while your country is doing so poorly."
Nately guffawed with surprise, then blushed apologetically for his impoliteness. "I'm sorry I laughed at you," he said sincerely, and he continued in a tone of respectful condescension. "But Italy was occupied by the Germans and is now being occupied by us. You don't call that doing very well, do you?"
"But of course I do," exclaimed the old man cheerfully. "The Germans are being driven out, and we are still here. In a few years you will be gone, too, and we will still be here. You see, Italy is really a very poor and weak country, and that's what makes us so strong. Italian soldiers are not dying any more. But American and German soldiers are. I call that doing extremely well. Yes, I am quite certain that Italy will survive this war and still be in existence long after your own country has been destroyed."
Nately could scarcely believe his ears. He had never heard such shocking blasphemies before, and he wondered with instinctive logic why G-men did not appear to lock the traitorous old man up. "America is not going to be destroyed " he shouted passionately.
"Never?" prodded the old man softly.
"Well..." Nately faltered.
The old man laughed indulgently, holding in check a deeper, more explosive delight. His goading remained gentle. "Rome was destroyed, Greece was destroyed, Persia was destroyed, Spain was destroyed. All great countries are destroyed. Why not yours? How much longer do you really think your own country will last? Forever? Keep in mind that the earth itself is destined to be destroyed by the sun in twenty-five million years or so."
Nately squirmed uncomfortably. "Well, forever is a long time, I guess."
"A million years?" persisted the jeering old man with keen, sadistic zest. "A half million? The frog is almost five hundred million years old. Could you really say with much certainty that America, with all its strength and prosperity, with its fighting man that is second to none, and with its standard of living that is the highest in the world, will last as long as... the frog?"
"Well, frankly, I don't know how long America is going to last," he proceeded dauntlessly. "I suppose we can't last forever if the world itself is going to be destroyed some day. But I do know that we're going to survive and triumph for a long, long time."
"For how long?" mocked the profane old man with a gleam of malicious elation. "Not even as long as the frog ?"
"Much longer than you or me," Nately blurted out lamely.
"Oh, is that all? That won't be very much longer then, considering that you're so gullible and brave and that I am already such an old, old man."
"How old are you ?" Nately asked, growing intrigued and charmed with the old man in spite of himself.
"A hundred and seven." The old man chuckled heartily at Nately's look of chagrin. "I see you don't believe that either."
"I don't believe anything you tell me," Nately replied, with a bashful mitigating smile. "The only thing I do believe is that America is going to win the war."
"You put so much stock in winning wars," the grubby iniquitous old man scoffed. "The real trick lies in losing wars, in knowing which wars can be lost, Italy has been losing wars for centuries, and just see how splendidly we've done nonetheless. France wins wars and is in a continual state of crisis. Germany loses and prospers. Look at our own recent history. Italy won a war in Ethiopia and promptly stumbled into serious trouble. Victory gave us such insane delusions of grandeur that we helped start a world war we hadn't a chance of winning. But now that we are losing again, everything has taken a turn for the better, and we will certainly come out on top again if we succeed in being defeated."
Nately gaped at him in undisguised befuddlement. "Now I really don't understand what you're saying. You talk like a madman."
"But I live like a sane one. I was a fascist when Mussolini was on top, and I am an antifascist now that he has been deposed. I was fanatically pro-German when the Germans were here to protect us against the Americans, and now that the Americans are here to protect us against the Germans I am fanatically pro-American. I can assure you, my outraged young friend"- the old man's knowing, disdainful eyes shone even more effervescently as Nately's stuttering dismay increased-"that you and your country will have a no more loyal partisan in Italy than me-but only as long as you remain in Italy. "
"But," lately cried out in disbelief, "you're a turncoat! A time-server! A shameful, unscrupulous opportunist!"
"I am a hundred and seven years old," the old man reminded him suavely.
"Don't you have any principles?"
"Of course not."
"No morality?"
"Oh, I am a very moral man," the villainous old man assured him with satiric seriousness, stroking the bare hip of a buxom black-haired girl with pretty dimples who had stretched herself out seductively on the other arm of his chair. He grinned at Nately sarcastically as he sat between both naked girls in smug and threadbare splendor, with a sovereign hand on each.
"I can't believe it," Nately remarked grudgingly, trying stubbornly not to watch him in relationship to the girls. "I simply can't believe it."
"But it's all perfectly true. When the Germans marched into the city, I danced in the streets like a youthful ballerina and shouted, 'Heil Hitler!' until my lungs were hoarse. I even waved a small Nazi flag that I had snatched away from a beautiful little girl while her mother was looking the other way. When the Germans left the city, I rushed out to welcome the Americans with a bottle of excellent brandy and a basket of flowers. The brandy was for myself, of course, and the flowers were to sprinkle upon our liberators. There was a very stiff and stuffy old major riding in the first car, and I bit him squarely in the eye with a red rose. A marvelous shot! You should have seen him wince."
Nately gasped and was on his feet with amazement, the blood draining from his cheeks. "Major - de Coverley!" he cried.
"Do you know him?" inquired the old man with delight. "What a charming coincidence !"
Nately was too astounded even to hear him. "So you' re the one who wounded Major - de Coverley!" he exclaimed in horrified indignation. "How could you do such a thing?"
The fiendish old man was unperturbed. "How could I resist, yon mean. You should have seen the arrogant old bore, sitting there so sternly in that car like the Almighty Himself, with his big, rigid head and his foolish, solemn face. What a tempting target he made! I got him in the eye with an American Beauty rose. I thought that was most appropriate. Don't you?"
"That was a terrible thing to do!" Nately shouted at him reproachfully. "A vicious and criminal thing! Major - de Coverley is our squadron executive officer!"
"Is he?" teased the unregenerate old man, pinching his pointy jaw gravely in a parody of repentance. "In that case, you must give me credit for being impartial. When the Germans rode in, I almost stabbed a robust young Oberleutnant to death with a sprig of edelweiss."
Nately was appalled and bewildered by the abominable old man's inability to perceive the enormity of his offense. "Don't you realize what you've done?" he scolded vehemently. "Major - de Coverley is a noble and wonderful person, and everyone admires him. "
"He's a silly old fool who really has no right acting like a silly young fool. Where is he today? Dead?"
Nately answered softly with somber awe. "Nobody knows. He seems to have disappeared."
"You see? Imagine a man his age risking what little life he has left for something so absurd as a country."
Nately was instantly up in arms again. "There is nothing so absurd about risking your life for your country!" he declared.
"Isn't there?" asked the old man. "What is a country? A country is a piece of land surrounded on all sides by boundaries, usually unnatural. Englishmen are dying for England, Americans are dying for America, Germans are dying for Germany, Russians are dying for Russia. There are now fifty or sixty countries fighting in this war. Surely so many countries can't all be worth dying for."
"Anything worth living for," said Nately, "is worth dying for."
"And anything worth dying for," answered the sacrilegious old man, "is certainly worth living for. You know, you're such a pure and naive young man that I almost feel sorry for you. How old are you? Twenty-five? Twenty-six?"
"Nineteen," said Nately. "I'll be twenty in January."
"If you live." The old man shook his head, wearing, for a moment, the same touchy, meditating frown of the fretful and disapproving old woman. "They are going to kill you if you don't watch out, and I can see now that you are not going to watch out. Why don't you use some sense and try to be more like me? You might live to be a hundred and seven, too."
"Because it's better to die on one's feet than live on one's knees,"
Nately retorted with triumphant and lofty conviction. "I guess you've heard that saying before."
"Yes, I certainly have," mused the treacherous old man, smiling again. "But I'm afraid you have it backward. It is better to live on one's feet than die on one's knees. That is the way the saying goes."
"Are you sure?" Nately asked with sober confusion. "It seems to make more sense my way."
"No, it makes more sense my way. Ask your friends."