Archive for May, 2011

Embracing twitter

Friday, May 20th, 2011

Finally, I saw the light: I’ll start twitting – so follow me here.

Let’s see how this works out.

Programming languages and the Christian faith

Friday, May 20th, 2011

Yesterday I had the honor to chair the panel at the Finnish Multi-core Day, with distinguished panelists form world leading companies (Intel, ARM, Nokia) as well as Swedish and Finnish universities. At some point someone raised the issue of programming languages and whether we will ever see convergence – at which point I had a revelation 😉 . Isn’t this really the same thing as with the Christian faith?!

In the good old days, there was only one religion (language): the Catholic one (Fortran), with just a few heretics (Lisp) on the side. Then, reformation came, sparked by Luther (the C language) and Pandora’s box was thrown wide open: Calvinists, Unitarians, Presbyterians, Baptists etc (C++, Java, Erlang, Scala, Prolog etc) all emerged and claimed to be the ‘real’ one, only to capture just a minority of believers (programmers). Is there a way to unify everything back? Not in religion, I believe, and not in programming languages. Does it matter? Not really, I feel that if need comes, I can pray (program) in any church (using any language’s infrastructure). In fact, James Reinders‘ (Intel) answer to the question was: learn as many languages as you can – certainly a wise advise, applicable outside programming as well.

Another nugget of deep wisdom came later on during the day, when Erik Hagersten used a nice metaphor in his talk: those who create a new language are like those who pee in their pants; they think it’s hot, but no one else can feel it ;-). Was he inspired by Anssi Vanjoki’s opinion about those going the Android way? I don’t know, but it is certainly worth pausing and thinking about how we want to develop new languages, be those domain specific languages or general purpose ones – I still believe there’s value in there, but we must keep the ecosystem in mind, always.

Why Microsoft will not buy Nokia

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

There’s been some buzz lately around an alleged take-over by Microsoft of Nokia’s smartphone business (launched by a well known Nokia whistle blower blogger and spread by all major technology news sites). Well, I don’t think this will happen any time soon, for quite a number of reasons.

First, Microsoft has all it needs from Nokia: the largest smartphone manufacturer will use Windows Phone which will give a strong position for the Redmond based company. Spending more money (a lot of money – at least 40 BUSD) would be really hard to justify, as it would take a long time and would involve huge risks until it would pay off.

Second, Microsoft never went into building laptops itself and for good reason: by doing so, they risked alienating other HW companies licensing the Windows operating system, despite the dominant market position. For Windows Phone, a small player in a big market, buying Nokia and turning Microsoft into a phone manufacturer would almost certainly mean that no other phone company – the likes of Samsung, HTC, LG and others – would license it anymore. Why risk this market, when you can eat your cake (partner with Nokia) and keep it too (keep existing relationships intact).

Third, Google’s experiences with the Nexus phone – or even the accelerated decline of Symbian once Nokia took it over – are warning signs for anyone planning to be a phone platform provider at the same time as it sells products based on that platform. This argument is essentially based on the same underlying gentlemen’s rule as the second argument: you can’t be a partner while competing in the exactly same domain.

Of course, by taking a huge gamble, Microsoft may still go down this path – but becoming a new, bloated Apple at the cost of several tens of billions of dollars just seems too big a risk to take, even for Steve Ballmer.The stakes are just not worth it.

Whitepaper on Telecom Cloud Computing

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

Scope Alliance (the alliance of network equipment providers committed to providing standardized base platforms) has just released their whitepaper on telecom cloud computing. I had the honor to be the editor of the document, produced jointly by Ericsson and several of our competitors. Next week the coming out party for the paper will be held at the OpenSAF conference where I will have a talk focusing on its content (see the agenda).

Chromebook, anyone?

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

So, Google would obviously not agree with the conclusions of my post a couple of days back – they’ve just launched yesterday their ChromeOS and a couple of laptops in co-operation with others to run it on. “Nothing but the Web” – said one of their slogans during the Google I/O event.

Once again – is this the future?

Let’s take a look at what ChromeOS really is. It’s a slim operating system featuring a local file system, with an integrated high-end, feature rich browser (remember Microsoft’s troubles with integrating Internet Explorer with Windows? – no one seems to notice the similar pattern here 😉 ). When working on-line, it will be little more than a fast browser; the interesting thing will happen when work is to be done offline: in order to allow users to continue working, it has to provide a mechanism for caching applications and files locally. What will this mean? Well, apps (in form of HTML5 web pages) will have to be downloaded (something HTML5 supports); files (text, spreadsheets, presentations, videos etc) will have to be downloaded; so, at the end, you will have an OS that supports one single native code application (the browser), several applications that have to be written in a managed set of languages (HTML5 + JavaScript + Flash + your favorite web scripting language here – with source code easily available for anyone to steal) and a file system that is a dumb guys copy of Dropbox or Box.net. Putting it all together, you get something that resembles a Java Virtual Machine (the browser) and a simple file sharing mechanism (the local file system that gets synched with the web whenever online).

Well, I don’t believe that’s worth it. The biggest issue will be – in my opinion – that people WILL forget to cache critical files locally when they are offline, leading to a frustrating experience (imagine booting up your machine on a plane within 8 seconds just to realize you forgot to cache that all important document you’ve been working on for hours). I’m a big fan of Dropbox and it works because it has the reverse logic to ChromeOS: it stores my files locally first, which are then made available on-line as well. In ChromeOS, you have your files stored remotely – and may be cached locally. Besides generating more traffic, this is the Achilles heel of making things work flawlessly.

Then, performance. I’m a programmer – there’s no way Google will convince me that an HTML5 app will be as fast as native code – that is, at the end, simply against the laws of physics (more instructions of the same type take longer to execute). Sure, things can be fast enough, but, according to some reports from the Chrome OS launch event Angry Birds were not as fast as they are on an iPhone. So, what’s the point?

Is then ChromeOS a dead thing from the start?

Time will tell. But I simply can’t believe that any responsible enterprise or private person will have a ChromeOS laptop as the only device, the same way as the iPad failed to knock out the laptop/netbook and become the only device a person needs. Some might find a ChromeOS powered laptop a good solution to do a few things fast (web browsing, answering some emails, quickly checking out some documents) but it will be the same category as the iPad – a second device, nevertheless with the wrong form factor (no ChromeOS tablet is planned). Where I think Google should put their efforts is the Chrome browser for Mac/Windows and ultimately iOS, Android and WinPhone: give people the freedom to use web apps in a fast, self-upgrading environment, while keeping the possibility of storing their stuff locally, have it synchronized over the internet, but keeping the personal device as the primary tool to do work or have fun. Network coverage has still a long way to go to reach universal coverage with decent data access everywhere – and until that dream materializes, personal devices, with their ever increasing capabilities will rule.

P.S.: I’ve just recalled I had a post on ChromeOS about two years ago. The core of that I still find relevant today, but I was amused to see how some other predictions proved wrong (quote: “Apple still has a long way to go until it can really take on Microsoft or Nokia for that matter”). It’s indeed difficult to make predictions about the future 😉

Playing the history detective, part III: the big picture

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

So I managed to trace my family back to Tordátfalva, apparently. There’s no surviving church record from the 17th century in Tordátfalva, but nevertheless the link to Tordátfalva was real enough. Combing through the “lustrák” once again, there they were: Vajda János in 1602, 1604; Vajda Péter in 1627, 1635, 1648, 1655; Vajda Mihály, Péter’s young son, in 1635. All of them were regular Székelys, not nobles and there was another twist: for long periods of times they disappear, only to show up again; there’s no Vajda mentioned in 1614, nor after 1655, such as 1674 or 1679 (still, they move to Bölön from Tordátfalva in early 1680s). I have only one possible solution for this: they were likely regular court soldiers at the princes’ court with long absences – including families – from home. Quite possibly this service led to the acquisition of the noble title sometimes between 1655 and 1683 (and may, just may, be at the origin of the name Vajda: the official title of the governor of Transylvania under the Hungarian kingdom was ‘vajda’ and people serving them often inherited the title as their family name). So, I have my work carved out to figure out when and how that – the acquisition of the name and noble title – really happened 😉 . Going further back in time is quite unlikely, given the location of the original home base of the family and the noble status acquired quite late in the process – but I will certainly keep trying; you never know which royal or princely decree might mention them in one context or the other.

In summary, it was a fascinating journey. I have now 15 generations of Vajda documented, spanning the whole history of the independent Transylvanian state, the Austrian-Hungarian empire as well as that of the Unitarian faith: Vajda János, mentioned in 1602 as a grown up soldier, is likely the first who was baptized in the Unitarian faith, only formed during the 1570s – and at the base of the first ever declaration of religious freedom in the world. My forefathers served as soldiers under all the great princes of Transylvania – the Báthory rulers (who, when Báthory István was elected Polish king, ruled from Tartu, Estonia till Transylvania), Rákóczi princes and, of course, were there in the 30 years war during Transylvania’s golden age under Bethlen Gábor.

I don’t care much about titles or similar things. However, it feels good to dig out the context in which my forefathers were part of something I’m truly proud of – Transylvania and what it contributed to the world: the first declaration of religious freedom ever and the Unitarian faith, maintained throughout 15 generations.

P.S.: If I’m not mistaken, this is my first post about family in English. There’s a start for everything, apparently.

Playing the history detective, part II: historic forensics

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

Many of the ‘lustrák’ were published in a series of books titled ‘Székely historical documents’. Several of these are available digitally so I went one digging through these – with little success. I figured out that there was no Vajda in Bölön before 1650, so they likely moved there between 1650 and 1712. Checking the Vajda and Vayda families in other places, there were quite a few of them scattered around several villages with no obvious connections. The most promising path was the Vayda family in Közép-Ajta, very close to Bölön. Were they my forefathers? Can I link them to my known and confirmed forefathers?

I couldn’t. I was speculating.

The project was stuck for a while until I managed to get hold of the last two books in the aforementioned series: I had to order these as physical copies, as no digitized copy was available. After a few weeks of eagerly waiting for the delivery, the books finally arrived – with “lustra” from 1683 and some previously unavailable years.

And the missing link was there, right in the front of my eyes. It’s one of those rare Heureka! moments when something previously intractable suddenly becomes obvious: in a lucky coincidence, in the lustra from 1683, at the Bölön list, there were not only two relevant names listed under the ‘lófö’ (small nobility) section, but there was unexpected extra information:

“Vajda János, Udvarhelyszékröl, Tordátfalváról költözött ide”

(Vajda János, moved here from Tordátfalva, Udvarhelyszék”)

“Vajda István, Udvarhelyszékröl, Tordátfalváról költözött ide”

(Vajda István, moved here from Tordátfalva, Udvarhelyszék”)

Even more interestingly, István was inserted later into the hand-written list, as if he would have shown up exactly during the process of writing down the conscripts.

I was stunned. It was even more significant as the “lustra” of 1680 had still no Vajda in Bölön – so there it was: my family moved to Bölön, sometimes between 1680-1683 (likely the later, judging from István’s status), from Tordátfalva, which, then as now, is just a small Unitarian village tuck away in a valley (it had 21 houses in the 17th century and has about 100 inhabitants today, more details about the village in Hungarian can be found here).

But, is there any trace of Vajda in Tordátfalva? That was the next step in the forensic work.

Playing the history detective, part I: how one thing leads to the next

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

It is just funny how one thing sometimes leads to another, seemingly unrelated thing. About two months ago there was a burglary at our house in Transylvania; nothing valuable was stolen (at least not from us, our tenant was less lucky), but the perpetrators (caught in the meantime) left such a mess, that I had to go home to fix things.

And here all began.

In the process of sorting through papers that I never knew existed, I found the birth certificates of the grandparents of my grandparents, going back all the way to the first part of the 19th century. It was a tipping point: suddenly, I felt an urge to find out more about my family’s history, especially about the paternal line. For sure, I had some info available: I knew they hailed from Bölön, once the largest settlement in Szeklerland; I also knew they acquired a noble title at some point; and now I had the lineage going back six generations. But that was about it – the rest was a big unknown.

So I set out to find out more.

As context, it’s useful to spend a few words on Szeklers (or Székelys, in Hungarian). This particular group of Hungarians living in the mountainous region of southeast Transylvania – some claim that they were actually descendants of Attila’s Huns – played a very specific role in the history of Hungary and later Transylvania. They were always organized based on egalitarian principles, unlike the rest of the country; they kept their personal liberty and were exempt from paying tax – in return for serving as soldiers whenever required. This way, the kings of Hungary and later the princes of Transylvania had at their disposal a regular army that was well trained and easy to mobilize on short notice.

Due to this specific setup, the kings and princes made sure that the male population was regularly counted and listed by name in a so-called “lustra” (conscript list) that contained valuable information on the population of each village and is a great source for genealogical research. Church accounts of births, marriages and burials are of course more detailed, but unfortunately only stretch back till the early 18th century.

Googling around quickly revealed that there was a noble Vajda family in Bölön in 1712, but not yet in 1614. I also came across the Transylvanian Genealogical Society; its president János Kocs provided valuable insights based on the Unitarian Church records in Bölön and eventually provided me with the complete record – in digital form – stretching back to 1735. There it was – my father lineage clearly traceable all the way back to one of the three possible fore-fathers whose deaths are recorded after 1739.

In addition, the church records also made clear that in the early part of the 18th century there were very few Vajdas in Bölön, which made it likely that they moved there only shortly before – but where from and when? And, so to speak, ‘was there life before Bölön’?

Is the future BrowserOS?

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

It’s been a while since my last post – it has been an exciting period both at work and for my PhD (more on that later) with some really cutting edge stuff I had the chance to work with or learn about. But now I’m back :-), not because work got more boring, but rather because I started to really miss blogging.

What triggered this post is an over-the-dinner debate I had with some colleagues the other day in Silicon Valley. One of the theories floated was the in a few years all we will need is a computer with a browser that supports HTML5; everything else will live in the cloud, occasionally cached locally for those – rare – moments when connectivity is unavailable.

Is this our future? Is the future called BrowserOS?

Surely, cloud computing and personal smart devices are all the rage right now. I strongly believe that on enterprise and business side, cloud computing will play a pivotal role, as soon as current concerns – network performance, security and availability – are reliably addressed. The benefits of cloud computing are well known and those are indeed real ones, primarily in terms of cost control and cost reduction.

On the individual side the picture is less clear. Online collaboration and storage tools – such as Google Apps, Dropbox and similar – have a clear use case and are handy in many cases. However, there’s another powerful trend that is likely to counterbalance this shift towards clouds for individual usage: personal devices (formally called phones) are becoming so powerful and will have so much storage, that essentially all a person needs can be handily stored on a phone or tablet. Couple this with emerging solutions that allow anyone to setup a low cost personal  private cloud accessible anywhere and you have a solution that limits dramatically the appeal of general providers of data storage and replication – simply because people still want control over their data and storing it on a device they always have with them, along with a personal solution to share it with others.

What about services and applications? The picture is again foggy; as Apple’s model has shown, locally installed apps have proved hugely popular. On the other side, Google apps and on-line games are widely used by many and are often used as main examples of browser based software service delivery. Where will we end up? Will apps survive or will we  be happy users of software as a service?

I think there are two factors that will influence the outcome: first, processors will be so powerful and connectivity (still) so costly and slow, that keeping applications local will be more productive for many applications. Second, intellectual property protection concerns will limit the usage of open HTML and favor the usage of compiled or encrypted software solutions.

Thus complete shift to BrowserOS looks improbable – whenever good connectivity is available, browser based solution will be used, but, for a long time, people will be reluctant to rely on browser based solutions alone and providers will be reluctant to make all their code available offline without proper protection. We’ll see a mixture of the two approaches with one or the other emphasized based on personal preferences or usage context, all relying on ever-more powerful personal devices.