Book Reviews: Coming Soon!

Packt Publishing has kindly sent me the following books to review:

Please stay tuned as I expect to share my feedback here on my blog over the next few weeks …

Cyberinfrastructure: Worth the Slog?

If what I’ve been reading over the past few days has any validity to it at all, there will continue to be increasing interest in cyberinfrastructure (CI). Moreover, this interest will come from an increasingly broader demographic.

At this point, you might be asking yourself what, exactly, is cyberinfrastructure. The Atkins Report defines CI this way:

The term infrastructure has been used since the 1920s to refer collectively to the roads, power grids, telephone systems, bridges, rail lines, and similar public works that are required for an industrial economy to function. … The newer term cyberinfrastructure refers to infrastructure based upon distributed computer, information, and communication technology. If infrastructure is required for an industrial economy, then we could say that cyberinfrastructure is required for a knowledge economy. [p. 5]

[Cyberinfrastructure] can serve individuals, teams and organizations in ways that revolutionize what they can do, how they do it, and who participates. [p. 17]

If this definition leaves you wanting, don’t feel too bad, as anyone whom I’ve ever spoken to on the topic feels the same way. What doesn’t help is that the Atkins Report, and others I’ve referred to below, also bandy about terms like e-Science, Grid Computing, Service Oriented Architectures (SOAs), etc. Add to these newer terms such as Cooperative Computing, Network-Enabled Platforms plus Cell Computing and it’s clear that the opportunity for obfuscation is about all that’s being guaranteed.

Consensus on the inadequacy of the terminology aside, there is also consensus that this is a very exciting time with very interesting possibilities.

So where, pragmatically, does this leave us?

Until we collectively sort out the terminology, my suggestion is that the time is ripe for immediate immersion in what cyberinfrastructure and the like might feel like or are. In other words, I highly recommend reviewing the sources cited below in order:

  1. The Wikipedia entry for cyberinfrastructure – A great starting point with a number of references that is, of course, constantly updated.
  2. The Atkins Report – The NSF’s original CI document.
  3. Cyberinfrastructure Vision for 21st Century Discovery – A slightly more concrete update from the NSF as of March 2007.
  4. Community-specific content – There is content emerging on the intersection between CI and specific communities, disciplines, etc. These frontiers are helping to better define the transformative aspects and possibilities for CI in a much-more concrete way.

Frankly, it’s a bit of a slog to wade through all of this content for a variety of reasons …

Ultimately, however, I believe it’s worth the undertaking at the present time as the possibilities are very exciting.

Earth and Space Science Informatics at the 2007 Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union

In a previous post, I referred to Earth Science Informatics as a discipline-in-the-making.

To support this claim, I cited a number of data points. And of these data points, the 2006 Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) stands out as a key enabler.

With 22 sessions posted, the 2007 Fall Meeting of the AGU is well primed to further enable the development of this discipline.

Because I’m a passionate advocate of this intersection between the Earth Sciences and Informatics, I’m involved in convening three of the 22 Earth and Space Science Informatics sessions:

I encourage you to take a moment to review the calls for participation for these three, as well as the other 19, sessions in Earth and Space Science Informatics at the 2007 Fall Meeting of the AGU.

CANARIE’s Network-Enabled Platforms Workshop: Follow Up

I spent a few days in Ottawa last week participating in CANARIE’s Network-Enabled Platforms Workshop.

As the pre-workshop agenda indicated, there’s a fair amount of activity in this area already, and much of it originates from within Canada.

Now that the workshop is over, most of the presentations are available online.

In my case, I’ve made available a discussion document entitled “Evolving Semantic Frameworks into Network-Enabled Semantic Platforms”. This document is very much a work in progress and feedback is welcome here (as comments to this blog post), to me personally (via email to ian AT yorku DOT ca), or via CANARIE’s wiki.

Although a draft of the CANARIE RFP funding opportunity was provided in hard-copy format, there was no soft-copy version made available. If this is of interest, I’d suggest you keep checking the CANARIE site.

Finally, a few shots I took of Ottawa are available online

CANARIE’s Network-Enabled Platforms Workshop

Next week, I’ll be attending CANARIE’s Network-Enabled Platforms Workshop: Convergence of Cyber-Infrastructure and the Next-Generation Internet in Ottawa. Although the workshop is described elsewhere, to provide a little context consider that:

The purpose of CANARIE’s Network-Enabled Platforms Workshop is to explore the development of and participation in network-enabled platforms by Canadian researchers and other interested parties. The workshop will be an important step towards the launch of a CANARIE funding program in this area.

Based on the agenda, I expect this will be a highly worthwhile event, and I am looking forward to it.

My contribution to the workshop will be a short presentation described by the following abstract:

Evolving Semantic Frameworks into Network-Enabled Semantic Platforms

Ian Lumb
Manager Network Operations
Computing and Network Services
York University

A semantic framework has been successfuly developed for a project involving a network of globally distributed scientific instruments. Through the use of this framework, the semantic expressivity and richness of the project’s ASCII data is systematically enhanced as it is successively represented in XML (eXtensible Markup Language), RDF (Resource Description Formal) and finally OWL (Web Ontology Language). In addition to this representational transformation, there is a corresponding transformation from data into information into knowledge. Because this framework is broadly applicable to ASCII and binary data of any origin, it is appropriate to develop a network-enabled sematic platform that (i) facilitates integration of the enabling languages, tools and utilities that already exist, and (ii) identifies the key gaps that need to be addressed to completely implement the platform. After briefly reviewing the semantic framework in a generic way, a J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) based, work-in-progress proposal for a network-enabled semantic platform is forwarded.

I expect to be sharing more on this thread as it develops …

Google Office for the iPhone: No Problem

In January of this year, I blogged that:

… it may be some time before Google Docs & Spreadsheets makes it to the Blackberry.             

In striking contrast, this is highly unlikely to be the case on June 29, 2007, when the Apple iPhone is released. 

Why?

  • Google Docs & Spreadsheets is built on AJAX
  • AJAX-enabled Safari will be available on the iPhone
  • Ergo, Google Docs & Spreadsheets will be available for the iPhone

No problem!

Data Points on Tim Bray’s Keynote at CANHEIT 2007

As advertized, Tim Bray gave a keynote presentation at CANHEIT 2007 earlier today (May 29, 2007). And even though I would not describe Bray as an overly dynamic speaker, he certainly did suceed in being entertaining, educating, engaging and thought provoking.

Hopefully, Bray’s presentation will be made available online.

Until it is, you may find the following data points of interest:

  • Bray spoke very highly of RAILS – RAILS in general, and Ruby on RAILS in particular. As a better way of doing things, he suggested that RAILS might even change the way you think about programming. To whet everyone’s appetite, Bray itemized two of RAILS’ principles:
    • Don’t repeat yourself
    • Emphasize convention over configuration

To substantiate his zeal for RAILS, he shared an example of a project that took four months to develop in J2EE; the same project was developed in five days with RAILS! The momentum behind RAILS is also quantified by book sales and attendance levels (in excess of 1,000) at a recent event.

  • Bray also spoke very highly of REST – Even as a Sun employee, Bray was compelled to state that REST may eclipse Java/J2EE in the not-too-distant future. Of course, like many, he suggested that the RESTful approach has already eclipsed Web services. He even shared an image of the WS-DeathStar (Source: Unknown).

  • Bray is contributing to the Atom Project – “Atom is a simple way to read and write information on the web, allowing you to easily keep track of more sites in less time, and to seamlessly share your words and ideas by publishing to the web.” Looks interesting!
  • Bray made use of Apple’s Keynote presentation software – After seeing how Bray and Al Gore made use of Keynote, I broker down and licensed a copy of the software. In both cases, I was struck by the elegant simplicity of their presentations. After all, the purpose of presentations is to communicate. More on Keynote some other time I expect …
  • Bray blogs at http://www.tbray.org/ongoing – Worth reading!

Leveraging Your SOAP Toolkit via the Eclipse Web Tools Platform

Just over three months ago, I wrote:

Because so much value is being driven through SOAP, you must choose your SOAP toolkit wisely. More specifically, toolkit choice will determine, for example, which [Second Generation Web Services] specifications are supported via implementations.

Ultimately, this lead me to suggest that:

Your choice of SOAP toolkit may be the most important decision you make in implementing a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) based on Web Services.

I still subscribe to this perspective.

Because it’s increasingly unlikely that developers will author SOAP and WSDL documents directly, however, your choice of Integrated Development Environment (IDE) is also increasingly important.

I’m coming to appreciate the value of a solid IDE as I dig into Web services more and more. Of late, I’ve been particularly impressed with the Eclipse Web Tool Platform (WTP).

Stay tuned.

2007 Semantic Technology Conference

This is an event I wish I’d had on my radar … alas, May is already rife with conferences!

Some data (not information!) points:

  • The tutorials/presentations content looks quite good
    • I even recognize or know some of the presenters 🙂
    • The content is bleeding-edge to current to mainstream
    • Much of the content is published
  • Judging by the demographics, e.g., there are a number of vendors involved, the Semantic Web continues to get real – and some of the vendors have cool names (see the sponsors page for more 😉
  • A primer is available for those who are new to the subject
  • San Jose will be a nice place to be in May – it’s close to San Francisco … still one of my favorite places to go!

On the Use of Informal Ontologies in the Delivery of Service Oriented Architectures (SOAs)

In Service-Oriented Architecture: Concepts, Technology and Design, author Thomas Erl frames ontologies (section 10.2) in a top-down strategy for the delivery of a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) .

As the first step, in a multistep process, what starts with ontologies ultimately results in a Contemporary SOA (Erl, section 3.2.20):

Contemporary SOA represents an open, extensible, federated, composable architecture that promotes service-orientation and is comprised of autonomous, QoS-capable, vendor diverse, interoperable, discoverable, and potentially reuable services, implemented as Web services.

SOA can establish an abstraction of business logic and technology, resulting in a loose coupling between these domains.

SOA is an evolution of past platforms, preserving successful characteristics of traditional architectures, and bringing with it distinct principles that foster service-orientation in support of a service-oriented enterprise.

SOA is ideally standardized throughout an enterprise, but achieving this state requires a planned transition and the support of a still evolving technology set.

In the same chapter, Erl also provides an abridged Contemporary SOA definition:

SOA is a form of technology architecture that adheres to the principles of service-orientation. When realized through the Web services technology platform, SOA establishes the potential to support and promote these principles throughout the business process and automation domains of an enterprise.

In other words, buying into the top-down strategy can ultimately result in a Contemporary SOA and this is a big deal.

Erl also discusses the bottom-up strategy for delivering a SOA (section 10.2).

In striking contrast to the top-down strategy, and as Erl describes it, the bottom-up strategy does not incorporate ontologies. Despite the fact that “… the majority of organizations that are currently building Web services apply the bottom-up approach …” (Erl, pg. 368):

The bottom-up strategy is really not a strategy at all. Nor is it a valid approach to achieving a contemporary SOA. This is a realization that will hit many organizations as they begin to take service-orientation, as an architectural model, more seriously. Although the bottom-up design allows for the creation of Web services as required by applications, implementing an SOA at a later point can result in a great deal of retro-fitting and even the introduction of new standardized service layers positioned over the top of the non-standardized services produced by this approach.

After reading this chapter, one is left with the impression that Erl favors the agile strategy (Erl, section 10.4) as it attempts “… to find an acceptable balance between incorporating service-oriented design principles into business analysis environments without having to wait before introducing Web services technologies into technical environments.”

I would be willing to accept all of this on spec if it weren’t for the fact that it’s possible to create informal ontologies, in non-SOA contexts, during bottom-up processes.

And if this is possible in non-SOA contexts, then it’s reasonable that informal ontologies could be incorporated into the bottom-up strategy for SOA delivery.

I believe this is worth exploring because use of informal ontologies in a bottom-up strategy for SOA delivery may improve the potential for ultimately achieving a Contemporary SOA. (An outcome, you’ll recall from above, Erl stated wasn’t otherwise acheiveable.)

I also believe this is worth exploring as, as Erl states, most organizations are attempting to gravitate towards SOAs from the bottom up.

Because the agile strategy (ideally) combines the best of both the top-down and bottom-up approaches, I also believe it’s worth exploring the potential for informal ontologies in this case as well.

Although further research is required, the figure below extends Erl’s Figure 10.3 (pg. 367) with a first-blush suggestion of how informal ontologies might be incorporated into the bottom-up strategy for SOA delivery.

informal_ontology_soa_delivery

It’s important to note that Erl’s original figure illustrates a five-step process that culminates with “Deploy services”.

Based on work I’ve done elsewhere, in this first-blush depiction, I believe the steps required to make use of informal ontologies would need to include:

  • “Extract service relationships” – In the work I’ve done elsewhere, this extraction has been achieved by Gleaning Resource Descriptions from Dialects of Languages (GRDDL). GRDDL extracts relationships and represents them in RDF from XML via XSLT.
  • “Generate informal ontology” – These days, ontologies are often expressed in the Web Ontology Language (OWL). OWL is a semantically richer and more-expressive variation of XML than is XML. Much like the previous step, the generated informal ontology is expressed in OWL via processing that would likely make use of XSLT. This step might also involve the need to incorporate annotations.
  • “Integrate informal ontologies” – Because each act of modeling through deploying application services will result in an informal ontology, there will eventually be a pressing need a integrate these informal ontologies. This ontology integration, which may also involve top-down or formal ontologies, will provide the best possibilities for ultimately realizing a Contemporary SOA.

Even at this early stage, the use of informal ontologies in the delivery of a SOA appears promising and worth investigating.