Jill Bolte Taylor's My stroke of insight

Jill Bolte Taylor's My stroke of insight is a remarkable talk about her experience of a stroke. Since my mother's stroke, I have read a number of accounts of stroke experiences and other helpful guides. None of these, however, compares to Taylor's rich and emotive retelling of her stroke. It brings me closer to a knowledge of my mother now. Well worth twenty minutes of your time: have a hankie ready.

What is a pseudo-systems guy to do?

I was in the early stages of writing a JavaScript layer on top of Servlets, JMS, and Derby running under Glassfish. The whole point of this effort was to give me a rapid development environment. I need this environment for two reasons -- and so do you if you are a developer. I need a platform on which to quickly try ideas. I need a platform on which I can deploy production quality implementations. If these are one and the same platform then I have less cognitive dissonance between play and purpose. It is also a fun activity. (Yes, I am a card carrying geek.)

But what is a pseudo-systems guy to do when Amazon has its developer tools (S3, SQS, EC2, etc) and now Google has App Engine? Why would anyone build an application on local infrastructure when these global infrastructure are so powerful and readily usable. I guess, I need to re-focus on the application that I wanted the infrastructure for in the first place. This is a good thing but the parting does bring sorrow.

Web applications and desktop integration

Much of my tool set is now housed inside the browser. The tools are web applications. My email is there. My calendar is there. My collaboration is there. My industry awareness is there. Etc. This web application suite is not uncommon. The trouble is that neither the Microsoft Windows desktop nor FireFox work together to provide me with a common application management experience. For example,

• The Windows "task bar" shows one task button labeled "5 Fire.." rather than one task button for "Email & Calendar", another for "Bloglines", etc.

• I can place URL shortcuts into the Windows "Start" menu which helps with organizing these tools. FireFox even suggests that I can drag-n-drop the URL from the browser's address bar into the start ment, but it fails to drop and so I must manually add the short cut.

• When I use the Email shortcut, for example, FireFox opens another browser tab to the URL even if already have the URL open on another tab. What I want is Email brought to the front just like an ordinary desktop application.

• FireFox does nothing to help me NOT replace my email tab or calendar tab with other transient content. When I am using the "Email & Calendar" browser I want all non-email and calendar content to be opened another browser window.

I want a browser with great desktop integration. There are some great FireFox extensions that make manipulating tabs easy but doing this is manual. They also only make FireFox better. The Windows desktop needs a new set of rules for integrating web applications. Mozilla's Prism might help. I suppose I could code something up with Greasemonkey but I really don't have the time and what time I do have I have other more interesting uses for.

How do you manage the web application and desktop integration?

Making visible intellectual work

I love how David Macaulay in this 2002 TED talk reconstructs how he worked out his book Rome Antics. I wish more people did this: So much of our work -- intellectual work -- with its seemingly random explorations, horrible missteps, beautiful tangents, self doubts and sublime flow is invisible and when it is visible the sights are no more than shadows. No wonder my kids would rather be dirt bike racers and spys. (Then again, sometimes, so would I.) So, watch David Macaulay's talk with your kids.

Technologies, talent, experience and, soon, data

More data usually beats better algorithms is an interesting post about more sources of data used together with simple algorithms do a better job then complex algorithms. Where this is interesting to me and my customers is that we need to find or develop data sets that better support the customer's users more successfully using the customer's site.

Most high-end web development shops are not yet at the point where their technologies, talent, and experience alone are not enough to turn a lead into a customer. However, we should be thinking about adding data to this mix now.