Thursday, June 28, 2007

Relational Messaging

The SDForum Business Intelligence SIG was honored to have a new company launch at the meeting last week. Julian Hyde, well known for leading Mondrian, the Open Source OLAP project, gave a talk titled "A new solution to an old problem: How Relational Messaging solves Data and Application Integration". He told us that he had been working with a small group for the last 3 years to develop their streaming database product in a new company called SQLstream (no web site yet).

Streaming databases are nothing new to the Business Intelligence SIG. In 2004 we hosted Celequest, which was recently bought by Cognos. In 2005 we hosted iSpheres, which has subsequently disbanded. In January 2007 we hosted Coral8. The difference between SQLstream and these other companies is less one of technology and more one of vision.

Although there was interesting technology buried inside, Celequest presented their system as a way of creating real time dashboards. Unlike Celequest, iSpheres was concerned with performance, although they were weighed down by a propriety language. Coral8 is concerned with handling complexity and being able to scale when handling real time events that happen in the millisecond to second range.

SQLstream, on the other hand sees their streaming database as a system that can do be used to do any and all Enterprise data and application integration functions. The bulk of the presentation was about how SQLstream could supplant ETL, EAI, EII, SOA and some uses of database systems amongst others. Anyone who has any experience in this area will know that this is a huge claim. I am not going to say whether they are right or wrong, only time will tell us that, however I am going to admire the vision.

There is one other admirable thing in SQLstream and that is a commitment to the SQL standard. Streaming databases requires some some extensions to SQL. SQLstream has some extensions to the SQL standard however they are few and necessary. Apart from these extensions their language is pure SQL.

(The presentation is currently available as a file on our Yahoo web site.)

UPDATE: 12/11/07 SQLStream now have their web site up.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Virtual Goods

I did not have the time to attend the recent conference on Virtual Goods at Stanford, however the write ups did pique my interest and raise a couple of questions.

Firstly, where do Virtual Goods end? For example, is a downloaded music file a virtual good? I can see that there is a distinction between an MP3 file I have downloaded to my home system and a virtual good that only exists on a server for a virtual world, for example land in Second Life or gold in World of Warcraft. However, there are DRM schemes for music where I cannot use a music file that I have downloaded unless my system is in contact or has recently contacted the server through the internet.

It is fine to define virtual goods as digital goods that are under the control of some other entity, but we need a definition. (I put in the word digital because there are slightly more tangible goods that I own but that are kept under the control of others. A good example is in the stock market, where when I buy shares in a company, the share certificate is held by my broker.)

Secondly, how should we value Virtual Goods? As Susan Wu says in her introduction to the conference, in general we can value virtual goods like any other goods based on their utility. However there are some special considerations. A base value for any goods is its marginal cost of production. The marginal cost of producing virtual goods is zero, so virtual goods can become worthless. For example, if I spent dollars buying gold in the World of Warcraft and Blizzard Entertainment ceases business, my gold has zero value.

Now I do not expect Blizzard to go out of business any time soon. Anyway, if I did buy gold, I would not spend more that I would on a meal in an expensive restaurant. Also, I would immediately spend the gold on something useful like a Vorpal Sword of Bunny-Smashing and go out and kill some bunnies or Orcs or whatever to get value from the money I had spent.

A much more interesting case is presented by Second Life. The company is a private startup without the transparency of Blizzard Entertainment and the controversial business model is less proven. The things that you buy are virtual land and virtual adornments, things that you might expect to keep and cherish in the real world, yet which have a more fleeting existence in the virtual world. While one person has made a huge business success out of Second Life, others have tested it and found it wanting.

We will just have to wait and see what happens to Second Life. In the mean time, I put virtual goods in the same category as fancy food, flowers and 'gifts'. That is something to consume and savor as they are being consumed.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Programming Language Wars

I have been doing a lot of programming recently, using a wide variety of programming languages. In the last year I have written programs or modules in the following programming languages: C, C++, Java, Perl, PHP, Python, Shell and various dialects of SQL. Tiobe Software maintains an interesting Community Index that tracks programming language popularity. From their data I calculate that I am using 65% of current programming languages (by volume).

For anyone new to the game, Programming Language Wars have a long and storied history. As soon as the first programming was implemented, there were wars about whether to use it or assembler. Shortly thereafter there were two programming languages and the battle commenced with earnest. For example, this article remembers some of the more ridiculous wars from the 70's and 80's. Newbies, get over it, we are at least on the 423 "Great Programming Language War".

I am going to write a series of posts on programming languages that I hope will provide a more balanced view that the usual blast.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Video 2.0

The best way to find out about something new is to try and do it. Robert X. Cringely illustrated this in an unusual post this week. The post is unusual because he normally comments in his acerbic way on what others in the tech industry are doing. This post is on his own technology adventure.

Cringely has put together a series of video tech interviews and he wanted to provide a way for video feedback. I have done some video, but until I read read the post, I had never considered the possibility of video as a response. Cringely provides an example in the comments of a You Tube video that absolutely demands video feedback and gets it. (That Pachelbel sure knew how to write a bass line, even in the 17th century.)

In other video sightings from around the web, the normally staid TechCrunch blog has a wonderful video mashup on the Jesus phone.