ORION/CANARIE National Summit

Just in case you haven’t heard:

… join us for an exciting national summit on innovation and technology, hosted by ORION and CANARIE, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Nov. 3 and 4, 2008.

“Powering Innovation – a National Summit” brings over 55 keynotes, speakers and panelist from across Canada and the US, including best-selling author of Innovation Nation, Dr. John Kao; President/CEO of Intenet2 Dr. Doug Van Houweling; chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley Dr. Robert J. Birgeneau; advanced visualization guru Dr. Chaomei Chen of Philadelphia’s Drexel University; and many more. The President of the Ontario College of Art & Design’s Sara Diamond chairs “A Boom with View”, a session on visualization technologies. Dr. Gail Anderson presents on forensic science research. Other speakers include the host of CBC Radio’s Spark Nora Young; Delvinia Interactive’s Adam Froman and the President and CEO of Zerofootprint, Ron Dembo.

This is an excellent opportunity to meet and network with up to 250 researchers, scientists, educators, and technologists from across Ontario and Canada and the international community. Attend sessions on the very latest on e-science; network-enabled platforms, cloud computing, the greening of IT; applications in the “cloud”; innovative visualization technologies; teaching and learning in a web 2.0 universe and more. Don’t miss exhibitors and showcases from holographic 3D imaging, to IP-based television platforms, to advanced networking.

For more information, visit http://www.orioncanariesummit.ca.

Evolving Semantic Frameworks into Platforms: Unpublished ms.

I learned yesterday that the manuscript I submitted to HPCS 2008 was not accepted 😦
It may take my co-authors and I some time before this manuscript is revised and re-submitted.
This anticipated re-submission latency, along with the fact that we believe the content needs to be shared in a timely fashion, provides the motivation for sharing the manuscript online.
To whet your appetite, the abstract is as follows:

Evolving a Semantic Framework into a Network-Enabled Semantic Platform
A data-oriented semantic framework has been developed previously 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 as an informal ontology in 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 semantic platform that identifies the enabling semantic components and interfaces that already exist, as well as the key gaps that need to be addressed to completely implement the platform. After briefly reviewing the semantic framework, a J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) based implementation for a network-enabled semantic platform is provided. And although the platform is in principle usable, ongoing adoption suggests that strategies aimed at processing XML via parallel I/O techniques are likely an increasingly pressing requirement.

Book Review: Google Web Toolkit

Automagically convert Java to JavaScript. 

Thus begins the seemingly curious proposition of the Google Web Toolkit (GWT). 
Of course, it’s about a lot more than that. 
For one thing, GWT addresses a key gap in the rapid delivery of the Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX) based applications that are driving eyeballs and mindshare to Google’s Web site.
By the time you’ve read Prabhakar Chaganti’s book on the GWT, you’ll be significantly wiser on at least two fronts. You’ll know that:
  1. There’s a broad-and-deep software engineering ecosystem around the GWT that is fueling progress and delivering highly significant results. 
  2. Chaganti is an excellent guide with the ability to negotiate this ecosystem and drive you towards tangible outcomes.

Using a task-oriented approach, the book proceeds as follows:

  • Chapter 1 rapidly places the GWT in context, and gets you started by downloading, installing and working with the samples provided. Available for Apple Mac OS X, Linux and Microsoft Windows, the GWT only requires the Java SDK as an installation prerequisite. The GWT is made available via the Apache Open Source license; this allows for the development of commercial and Open Source applications. 
  • With the Java SDK, the GWT and the Eclipse IDE, the developer has a well-integrated and powerful platform on which to develop applications. After illustrating the development of the obligatory “Hello World!” application at the outset of Chapter 2, attention shifts rapidly to use of Eclipse. Google’s Web-wired DNA is evident in everything they do, and the GWT is no exception. The GWT leverages the Java SDK and Eclipse to the fullest, while closing the gaps in developing AJAX-based applications in a very organized way. By the end of this Chapter, the reader knows how to develop a simple application with both client and server-side components and execute the same in both hosted (i.e., non-deployed) and Web hosted (i.e., executing within a Web-hosted Tomcat servlet container). Made explicit in this latter deployment is GWT’s ability to support a variety of Web browsers – i.e., Apple Safari, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Opera.
  • The creation of services is the focus of Chapter 3. To quote from this Chapter, and in the GWT context, service “… refers to the code that the client invokes on the server side in order to access the functionality provided by the server.” The author is quick to point out that this is a separate and distinct notion from that used in the context of Web services. True to its billing, this Chapter works the reader through the creation of a service definition interface (a client/server contract that defines the service’s functionality and establishes rules of usage) and service implementation. Particularly important in this Chapter is the creation of an asynchronous service definition interface, as this facilitates remote calls in the background to the server, and capitalizes on the AJAX support in the GWT. With definition and implementation taken care of, the remainder of the chapter focuses on use (i.e., consumption of the service by a client). Conceptual illustrations compliment screenshots to effectively convey this content. 
  • Whereas the previous chapter delivered a prime number service, Chapter 4 introduces no less than six services that really showcase the capabilities of this application paradigm. With ample explanation and illustration live searches, password strength checks, auto form fills, sorting tables, dynamically generated lists and Flickr-style editable labels are each considered. Not only does one recognize these as design patterns that are already in everyday use (e.g., Flickr, Google Docs, Maps and Search, etc.), one also realizes their potential for re-use in one’s own projects. 
  • Chapter 5 introduces five interfaces that are more complex than those presented in the previous chapter. These interfaces are pageable tables, editable tree nodes, log spy (the GWT spin on the UNIX tail utility), sticky notes and jigsaw puzzle. To reiterate, one recognizes these as design patterns already in everyday use, and the potential for re-usability.
  • Browser effects are the subject of Chapter 6. Here the author introduces the JavaScript Native Interface (JSNI) as a vehicle that allows JavaScript libraries (e.g., Moo.Fx and Rico) to be accessed directly from Java classes. A wrapper-based approach, independent of JSNI, is also introduced to leverage the Script.aculo.us effects. Although compelling effects can be achieved, cautionary words are included in this Chapter, as the impact may be diminished by browser-level incompatibilities.
  • By the end of Chapter 7, impressive calendar and weather widgets have been created, and readied for re-use. 
  • In Chapter 8, JUnit is introduced in the context of unit testing. Standalone tests plus test suites are given consideration; this includes tests involving asynchronous services.  
  • Although this is only the second book I’ve ever seen from Packt Publishing (the first I’ve reviewed elsewhere), I’ve become accustomed to expecting bonus content towards the end of the book. Chapter 9, which addresses internationalization and XML support, falls into this bonus category. Of course, it’s no surprise that Google expertise on internationalizations ranks high, and this is evident in GWT support for the same. The author provides an hors d’oeuvre of the possibilities. XML support is of particular personal interest, so I was delighted by the degree of support for creating and parsing XML documents. I share the author’s sentiments with respect to XML support wholeheartedly: I too hope that future releases of the GWT will provide broader and deeper support for XML.  
  • In the final chapter (Chapter 10), attention is given to increasingly automated methods for deploying GWT-based applications. Starting with a manual deployment in Tomcat, then an automated deployment with Ant, and finally an Ant-based deployment from within Eclipse. 
  • A single appendix details how to access and execute the examples provided throughout the book.
With the possible exception of a concluding chapter, page, paragraph or even sentence(!), to provide some sense of closure to the book, I am at a loss to report any omissions, oversights or errors of any consequence. And although it will have to wait for a follow-on contribution of some kind, additional discussion might be given to topics such as Google Gears or even Google Android.
Even though the book I reviewed was a complimentary copy provided by the publisher, I would happily pay for my own copy, and heartily recommend this book to others having interests in the GWT. 
By the way, Packt has an articulated scheme when it comes to Open Source projects:

Packt Open Source Project Royalty Scheme Packt believes in Open Source. When we sell a book written on an Open Source project, we pay a royalty directly to that project. As a result of purchasing one of our Open Source books, Packt will have given some of the money received to the Open Source project.In the long term, we see ourselves and yourselves, as customers and readers of our books, as part of the Open Source ecosystem, providing sustainable revenue for the projects we publish on. Our aim at Packt is to establish publishing royalties as an essential part of the service and support business model that sustains Open Source. 

I cannot suggest that Packt is unique in this approach. Regardless, their approach is certainly welcome.

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 …

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.

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.


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.