Now blogging at diego's weblog. See you over there!

clevercactus: so long, and thanks for all the fish!

Today we removed most of our stuff from the clevercactus office, in preparation for a full shutdown early next week. I've already switched over the server to a placeholder page. Email will still work, at least for a while, and we'll do our best to ease the transition for our current users. We apologize to them in particular, but there was no way to keep the service running without significant investment in time and money, and we just couldn't handle it. That's how things go sometimes.

The last two and a half years have been an incredible experience, and I'm thankful for everything. To my business partner, Paul, and to everyone that was with us along the way, our families, friends, the design team at huskit, and of course the users: thanks. Really.

And now on to the next big thing...

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on January 21, 2005 at 9:08 PM

web technologies: a first step towards biomimetism?

Reading Jon Udell's comments on his recent conversation with Adam Bosworth (and Jon's own musings on Alchemy and related ideas: a next-gen client that would include an XML store and the means to manipulate it) I suddenly remembered a conversation I had with Russ last weekend about the usage of tags: Flickr's, Technorati's, Del.icio.us', everyone's. And I started to think about how all of this stuff is emerging at about the same time, and not by coincidence. This is all related.

It seems that I'm pulling the connection out of thin air, but not really. Consider the infrastructure on which the most innovative apps are currently being built.

What I'm thinking is that, through web technologies (by which I mean DHTML, Javascript, scripting, XML, REST, etc), we've spent the last few years walking back from decades of "hardening" of runtime environments and development tools, and consequently of applications.

By "hardening" I mean static checking (of which Java is a good example), fairly strict runtime checking, strict parameter and I/O checking, etc. The cost of which is, of course, the need for a fairly complex environment in which to run those applications. Complex, and delicate, in a sense. Easy to "break".

Many people have been talking for a while about the need for software to become more biomimetic, at least in the sense that systems in biology appear to deal fairly well with unpredictability, failure, and interaction without strong interdependencies.

Consider: to run certain apps (say, Windows, or Java) you need certain versions of DLLs, OSes, etc. Without those, the app doesn't run at all. Java bytecode is way more portable (and portable into future platforms) than, say, an i386-optimized EXE, but it's still tied to platform and libraries. This is the equivalent of an organism dependent on a certain type of plant to survive: remove the plant and the organism dies (i.e., the app doesn't run).

But (before you call the analogy police!) look at DHTML, XML, and web technologies in general: from the start, they can run in vastly different environments. If we look again at the app as depending on and adding to the ecology of its runtime environment (instead of viewing it as a static element that just sits on it), web technologies are fairly flexible creatures: they can survive on many types of environments, both server and client. Sure, they break easily, but they can be fixed almost as easily, and, more importantly, they evolve quickly, mutating, sometimes unnoticed (Google doesn't have versions, that doesn't mean that it hasn't evolved).

So a lot of web tech is so "flimsy" (at least when looking at it through the lens of static/strict checking). But I think that's it precisely why it works. And why, where things like applets (and, yes, ActiveX controls) failed, DHTML, JavaScript, XML, and simple REST interfaces are succeeding in creating a rich ecosystem of apps that build on each other.

PS: I have to think about this a bit more, certainly to come up with a better explanation. Hopefully it makes some sense though. But is this one of those great/crazy 3 am thoughts or what? :)

Categories: soft.dev
Posted by diego on January 21, 2005 at 2:50 AM

...but a new research center opens: CTVR

This is something I forgot to mention recently, which is as good an antidote as any to the news regarding MLE: on the upside for Ireland (and Europe), there's the Centre for Telecommunications Value-Chain-Driven Research (CTVR) which started operating recently, run as a partnership between various Irish institutions, including TCD, and Bell Labs, and directed by Prof. Donal O'Mahony (my thesis supervisor at Trinity).

Don't let the Centre's unwieldy name fool you, they're going to be working on some pretty cool stuff, including cutting-edge optical networking, ad hoc networks, and more. Plus, they're looking for people.

Categories: science
Posted by diego on January 21, 2005 at 2:25 AM

media lab europe closes...

Failing to summon sleep, I started catching up with news/blogs in the last few days (travel affects reading as well as writing, I've found). And eventually I found this news item of the "WHAT?!?" type: Media Lab Europe is shutting down. That's really too bad. Here's some comments on the closing from David Reitter, who worked there until recently.

Categories: science
Posted by diego on January 21, 2005 at 2:12 AM

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