Category Archives: Open Source

Quick Tangent: Dumb Bots

So, there’s been so much talk about AI lately, and in particular, there’s a great deal of interest in bots. No, not the Mirai kind (which hopefully isn’t plentiful in the future, despite its Japanese translation). No, I’m talking about the friendly, enterprise kind. You know, the chatbots on Facebook that are supposed to be helpful snippets of AI, capable of booking hotel rooms for you. Of course, I don’t really understand the usefulness of these bots, since there’s no way that a bot could help me find the ideal room faster than my own investigation. In fact, they seem kinda…well…dumb. But these bots are probably not aimed at a self-appointed pariah of social media like myself. Instead, it’s probably meant for those people who are younger (i.e., millenials) and who are more predictable (troves of available marketing data via Facebook, less variety of purchases, etc.). In that case, I suppose that it’s useful for some but not for myself…or is it?

Similar to my reaction to chatbots, I never quite understood the newfound love for Slack. It’s a messenger app…so what? However, as I started to delve more into it, I started to understand its appeal through its extensible functionality, especially to developers. I can create a simple bot (or a basic web service) on my public-facing servers, so I can use Slack to talk with it on my phone and get the status of machines and processes? Okay…that’s kinda cool. (Assuming that your company and networking department embraces the idea of allocating machines just for this purpose. Trust me, I know…that can be a hard sell.) So, maybe, must maybe, I could be down with these chatbots. That way I could use Slack (or Skype) and be hip like the cool kids!

Hmmm…so how I could I actually pitch this one to the brass? Curious, I looked to see if there was already an enterprise version of such a solution, and though I did find one or two, they seemed to be costly and less flexible than desired. So why not just build one cheaply on my own? Since I recently read something about Microsoft’s nascent bot framework and its integration with Skype, I figured that I could start there as a quick way to prototype. After proceeding through a few quick tutorials, it became obvious that a chatbot is nothing more than a tailored RESTful web service, and with that realization, I quickly assembled and got working the prototype that I had in mind.

However, over the next few weeks, I started to realize that it wasn’t viable. One, since this framework is too young to even stand on its own wobbly legs, Microsoft keeps updating the framework and breaking my stable prototypes. As with previous experiences when dealing with a Microsoft gestation, I wondered again if Redmond’s new projects (along with their frenetic and seemingly bipolar updates) are victims of Conway’s Law…Two, I read about how Skype does not and will not support third-party bots that are not publicly registered in their Bot Directory. I’m fairly sure nearly all of the company brass would have a problem with a publicly available chatbot that tells the status of our internal servers. Just a hunch.

After taking a quick look at other platforms, I came away with similar impressions. In the end, I’d say that chatbots are like a lot of new tech these days: lots of potential but some distance away from ultimately being practical.

Quick Tangent : XML Schema Evolution

So, after my last post, I got curious: is there any software out there that performs XML schema evolution, even if it’s proprietary? Oddly, after searching for a few minutes, the answer “no” seemed to be coming back from the web. Now, Oracle and IBM do offer a service to update your current XML documents according to a new schema…but only if it doesn’t invalidate the old schema. Basically, their “evolution” functionality allows you to further refine your schema’s rules, like changing the maximum/minimum of a tag’s occurrence or adding a new required tag. That’s hardly any sort of evolution; it doesn’t even provide the ability to automatically rename tags/properties like Avro! So, the claims of Oracle and IBM might be more marketing than engineering.

But I guess that marketing and buzzwords are all too normal in software…After all, whoever coined the term string interpolation definitely took some severe liberties, since it’s sure a long way off from real interpolation. In any case, there seems to be an opening for a niche market here, one which could be somewhat lucrative. However, these days, all the big bets of towering chips are on the table of machine learning, big data, and AI. In the eyes of the major league, anything that deals with XML (i.e., old-school data processing) should go play the slot machines.

Good for me…I don’t mind being stuck alone in a dark corner! Reminds me of playing Street Fighter 2 by myself in the back of a pizza parlor and having a blast…In any case, I was looking for tools that could help build an engine for XML schema evolution. Interestingly, I found an open source project by Dmitry Pekar that can convert both ways between XML and Avro. That could help by extending the functionality already in Avro…but besides the simple renaming of tags/properties, it doesn’t satisfy my proposed requirements. (Plus, your distributed architecture would have to ultimately use Avro, which would be a refactoring headache in some instances.) I haven’t found anything else yet, which makes me suspect that my handcrafted MDD approach might be the only viable option.

Quick Tangent: An Open Standard for Indoor Navigation

“Since when did this blog become solely about indoor navigation? I thought that this thing was supposed to be about metadata?” Well…I can’t argue with you. I need to get back into that at some point.

In any case, after sampling different platforms for indoor navigation, I’ve come to notice something: there is no open source standard for indoor navigation yet. Of course, there is much discussion about indoor navigation within the gaming industry, especially within the community for Google’s Project Tango…but there isn’t as much talk when it comes to API standards. Considering that open source standards seem to be falling from the sky in the last few years (for cloud computing, for automobiles, etc.), it seems fitting that one of the bigger players (like Indoor Atlas or Estimote) should take this opportunity to lead the way with an open standard. As IoT invades our lives, indoor navigation will probably become more prevalent, and more development standards would be beneficial to the industry. (Of course, these Northern Europeans are probably too busy slugging it out, since that’s part of the travails of being a startup company.) I suppose another unmentioned company could also take this lead, but I’ve found that many are not as developer-friendly as Indoor Atlas and Estimote; most require any interested parties to fill out an application before even allowing access to their documentation.

Now, it wouldn’t have to be an all-encompassing standard, but it should probably take into account each of the strengths in the current set of available platforms. In addition to the practice of emulating Apple’s Location Manager (which they all seem to do in their iOS SDKs), an open standard could include interface methods for functionality like:

  • The ability to overlay the indoor navigation map over an actual world map (which is offered by Indoor Atlas).
  • The ability to generate a map of the indoor space dynamically (which is offered by Estimote).
  • The ability to raise a signal (email, text, etc.) when someone enters the navigable area (which is offered by both Indoor Atlas and Estimote).
  • The ability to generate an account with the vendor’s services programmatically (which I could see as being helpful to developers who want to incorporate these services into their own products).

Maybe I’ll create a sample and upload it to Github in the near future, as a more verbose example.

On a side note to this new standard, we can leave out some of those confusing and misspelled messages that are generated by Apple’s Location Manager. Who comes up with these things?

ONIX Data Library : Now Available on iOS

Well…I might be a little “tricksy” in that announcement, since it might not be exactly what you think. No, I haven’t yet ported the solution to Swift. (After playing with a few projects pulled from Github, I noticed how different Objective-C and Swift are from the state of iOS development 5 years ago. Seems like there might be a little bit of a learning curve there.)

However, the good news from Microsoft with .NET Core keeps coming. So, on top of delivering the port to Linux, they released the preview of Visual Studio for Mac only a few weeks ago. And the reaction seems to be generally positive! Now, all Mac-centric companies that deal with book data can make use of my ONIX Data Library. We just welcomed another 7 people to the fold!

Given to Open Source: ONIX Data Library

The ONIX standard…huh? Am I right? What…you’ve never heard of it?!?

Yeah, well…I guess that makes sense. However, if you’ve worked on any project regarding the publishing industry, then there’s a good chance that you have heard of it. Basically, it’s the international standard for representing electronic data regarding books (along with other select media formats). Titles, prices, commentaries…most of that data is passed between companies in the ONIX format. It can be frustrating to work with at times…but work with it you must.

Strangely, though, there aren’t many tools or libraries out there which focus on it. Now, you might be saying, “Of course there are no libraries or tools out there…there are more people that you use Sanskrit than use this standard.” Well…that might be true; I’m not sure. However, there are enough people out there (including developers) who work with it; there should be something out there to help us brave few. And when I found nearly nothing for the .NET platform, I decided to make one of my own.

It was a little awkward at first during development, since I found a few platform issues regarding XML in my adventures. However, after a few weeks of work, I finally had something substantial. So, I am proud to introduce the world’s first open-source serialization/parser library for ONIX in C#, complete with a few pretty ribbons attached! It’s bound to be of some use to somebody…all 5 people who happen to use both ONIX and the .NET platform. Everyone else may say “blah”, but those scant few are going to be ecstatic. We’re going to throw a pizza party just for us, and everybody else is going to be soooo jealous.