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iX2007 Singapore - day 1 deep thoughts

iX2007 started today here in Singapore. The first conference that really caught my eye for quite some time. Today was keynote day.

iN2015 Update - Optimism in the air?
Interesting to see Mr Chan Yeng Kit (iDA) presenting his update on Singapore's iN2015. When you look at the progress being made in key areas like digital infrastructure upgrade and undergraduate admissions in ICT programmes, I think it reflects accurately the "mood" in the industry, which I'd summarise as "optimistic, with increasing confidence". SARS, dot.bomb and the Asian financial crisis are still recent memories but slowly receeding into history ...
Business Forum - a Truely Interactive Panel Discussion!
The Business Forum ran as a panel discussion involving Pek Chew Yai (SiTF), Lim Chin Hu (Frontline), Craig Gledhill (Cisco) and Phey Teck Moh (Pacific Internet). Robert Chew (Accenture) did a great job as moderator by feeding the discussion with comments coming from the chatroom. I've got to say that this resulted in the most interactive and interesting panel discussion I've ever experienced in this part of the world. Amazing to see the realtime flow from keyboard to chatroom then having a direct impact on the discussion. I think The Digital Movement cashed in on a really good bet by setting up the chat (running 37 Signals Campfire) and providing SMS and free wireless access. We may be too paisei here to step up to a microphone, but in the chatroom the speech runs free and wild!

Great to see the conference assuming a web persona; Jeremiah Owyang has already blogged on his Day 1 thoughts.
Singapore - Producers or Consumers?
All this enthusiasm to use the technologies at hand to enhance the conference experience really underscored for me one of the topics that got a bit of an airing during the panel: are we clear on our aspirations as both consumers and producers? I think so much of the focus in iN2015 is geared towards the consumption ... improving our already-great infrastructure, ensuring we have an ICT-savy workforce. I think we are still struggling with the production aspect, the irony being that there appears to be a huge amount of energy and creativity pent up in Singapore just waiting to be unleashed on the production side. How many of the grads from SMU, NUS, NTU and the like are destined to face the choice of (a) stay in Singapore but end up in a less exciting role than they had hoped for, or (b) head overseas to pursue their dreams? I guess they can take comfort that going overseas is at least a realistic option once again!

Meaning no disrespect to any of the pioneers doing amazing work in Singapore, ICT and Digital Media production is still niche here. And I don't see too many signs this is changing. There seems to be a defacto assumption that its good enough to be a "hub". After all, that is what has made Singapore so successful in logistics, corporate and financial services. But I wonder if that necessarily has to be the case for ICT? Its almost like we are afraid to dream the big dream.

I'll throw a hypothetical out there:
  • Singapore has a skilled workforce, an attractive base for foreign workers, great infrastructure, stable and transparent government (in most things;), cultural ties to India, China and the West, high proficiency in English in addition to many other languages, and lower salary costs than most western countries.
  • So why don't we see, for example, large software companies basing development centres here?
  • Sure, the prevailing view is that if its not in China or India, you must be crazy. But what would be so crazy, for example, of a US company maintaining corporate HQ in the US, development centres in China or India, but running R&D, product management and lead development out of Singapore?
  • Personally I think the net result would be a huge benefit for the company concerned. I think you would also find managing offshore development in India and China from Singapore surprisingly effective.
  • And as a result, all these creative, innovative technopreneurs being groomed in Singapore would find much more opportunity to do big things in their own backyard.

Solutions? Well of course, in true Singaporean style, we could say the gahmen needs to do more to set a bold vision, attract and support ventures of this nature. That means EDB, SiTF and iDA. But I think the real change needs to come from within the ICT community in Singapore (inlcuding those working in the multinationals). Be big, be bold, be best. Believe.
Anyway, looking forward to the track sessions tomorrow. My only problem is that I want to be in 3-4 places at the one time. Hard to decide between the 6 tracks: digital media, eGovernment, security, SOA, wireless and eLearning. I think I want to participate in them all ... now is there a technology solution for that?

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Diving for SOAP Perls

Antony Reynolds' recent Diving for Perls with WSIF post gave a great example of how you can use HTTP bindings to call perl CGI scripts from Oracle BPEL Process Manager.

If your perl code is not already available to be called in this way, then what to do? Certainly the "ideal" would be make it available as a native Web Service and do away with any special binding. Thanks to the SOAP::Lite module, this is actually quite easy to do.

I'm going to walk through an example of how to take some aribitrary perl code, wrap it as a Web Service, and then call it from a BPEL process. See the diagram:

The Perl Code

In this example, there's really only one bit of code that "matters" ... a helloWorld function. I'm going to start with this wrapped in a perl class module called As you'll see shortly, wrapping the business functionality in a class is a good idea because it allows automatic dispatching from the Web Services interface.

$ cat
#!/usr/bin/perl -w
use strict;
package HelloWorld;
use Exporter;
$VERSION = 1.00;
@ISA = qw(Exporter);
@EXPORT = qw( helloWorld );

sub helloWorld {
my ($self,$foo) = @_;
return 'Hello ' . $foo;

Important to note that while the code here contains some of the module niceties, it doesn't make any reference to SOAP, CGI or BPEL. It's plain perl. We can prove that with a little perl test program:

$ cat
#!/usr/bin/perl -w
use strict;
use HelloWorld;
print HelloWorld->helloWorld( 'Sunshine' );

$ perl
Hello Sunshine

The SOAP Interface

The dynamic typing of perl and flexibility of the SOAP::Lite module really live up to the make simple things easy motto. In three lines of code we have a SOAP CGI server for our HelloWorld class (that's why I made it a class;)

$ cat HelloWorld.cgi
#!/usr/bin/perl -w
use HelloWorld;
use SOAP::Transport::HTTP;

That was so easy, there must be a catch right? Well yes, one comes to mind: the reply message elements will necessarily have some generated names (like "s-gensym3") since there is nothing in our code to provide any guidance for things like the "name" of function return value elements.

Testing SOAP Client-Server

After dropping HelloWorld.cgi and into my apache cgi-bin, I'm ready to test the SOAP service over HTTP. We can whip up a client in no time:

$ cat
#!/usr/bin/perl –w
use SOAP::Lite;

my $soap = SOAP::Lite

my $som = $soap->helloWorld(
SOAP::Data->name('name' => 'Sunshine')
print "The response from the server was:\n".$som->result."\n";

$ perl
The response from the server was:
Hello Sunshine

If we sniff the network or route this request via a tool like org.apache.axis.utils.tcpmon, we can see the outbound request and incoming reply:

Creating a WSDL file

Alas, perl's flexibility means that automatically generating a WSDL for our SOAP service is easier said than done. Unlike in strongly-typed languages, perl methods can take an arbitrary number of parameters of arbitrary type ... whereas of course a Web Service should have a very clearly defined interface.

I think one of the best approaches at present for generating WSDL in perl is the Pod::WSDL module. I'll perhaps leave that for another blog entry. For now lets just assume we'll manually create a WSDL for our service:

$ cat HelloWorld.wsdl
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<wsdl:definitions targetNamespace="http://localhost:8000/HelloWorld" xmlns:impl="http://localhost:8000/HelloWorld" xmlns:wsdlsoap="" xmlns:wsdl="" xmlns:soapenc="" xmlns:xsd="" xmlns:tns1="http://localhost:8000/HelloWorld">

<wsdl:message name="helloWorldRequest">
<wsdl:part name="name" type="xsd:string" />

<wsdl:message name="helloWorldResponse">
<wsdl:part name="s-gensym3" type="xsd:string" />

<wsdl:portType name="HelloWorldHandler">
<wsdl:operation name="helloWorld" parameterOrder="name">
<wsdl:input message="impl:helloWorldRequest" name="helloWorldRequest" />
<wsdl:output message="impl:helloWorldResponse" name="helloWorldResponse" />


<wsdl:binding name="HelloWorldSoapBinding" type="impl:HelloWorldHandler">
<wsdlsoap:binding style="rpc" transport="" />

<wsdl:operation name="helloWorld">
<wsdlsoap:operation soapAction="" />
<wsdl:input name="helloWorldRequest">
<wsdlsoap:body encodingStyle="" namespace="http://localhost:8000/HelloWorld" use="encoded" />
<wsdl:output name="helloWorldResponse">
<wsdlsoap:body encodingStyle="" namespace="http://localhost:8000/HelloWorld" use="encoded" />


<wsdl:service name="HelloWorldHandlerService">
<wsdl:port binding="impl:HelloWorldSoapBinding" name="HelloWorld">
<wsdlsoap:address location="http://localhost:8000/cgi-bin/HelloWorld.cgi" />


Invocation from a BPEL Process

Now you have all the bits in place to invoke your Perl code as a fully-fledged Web Service from within BPEL. I won't go into this in detail here because it is the standard Web Service invocation process. Just add an "invoke" activity in your process and point it to a partner link defined based on the WSDL generated above.

Once you have deployed your process, you can test it from the BPEL Console. Here's an example of the invoke activity in one of my tests:


Hopefully I've shown that exposing perl code as a Web Service is actually pretty simple. Once done, the code is then available for use by standards-based tools like Oracle BPEL Process Manager.

There are a couple of consideration to bear in mind though:
  1. SOAP::Lite provides some great hooks for automatically generating a SOAP interface, however these come with the caveat that reply message elements will necessarily have some "generated" names
  2. Automatic WSDL generation is confounded by perl's dynamic typing. Modules like Pod::WSDL provide some good solutions though.

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An MQ and OCCI Demo

A little while ago I got to dust off my C++ skills for a project that was to use Oracle Database (via OCCI) and also Websphere MQ. Oracle and IBM already make a range of demos available, but they are mostly all very closely scoped on one feature only. Since I didn't find anything that included all they key concepts in a full working demo, I put together a combined OCCI/MQ demo to do the job (available for download as a tar/gzip file here: occidemo.tgz, see the readme.txt for details).

A couple of key things demonstrated:

  1. C++ (OCCI) Oracle database access
  2. Transparent Application Failover (TAF) notifications in C++ (OCCI)
  3. Building a C++ application with MQ and OCCI support
  4. Using makefile flags to build either with full or a "stub" database library class
The demo is written for Linux (32 or 64 bit) and has been tested with Oracle Database 10g Server, Oracle 10g Instant Client, and IBM WebSphere MQ 6.0.

The diagrams below give a simple exposition of how the demo is structured. The executables "mqproducer" and "mqconsumer" are MQ clients shuttle messages back-and-forth via queues. For each message sent by "mqproducer", a reply is expected from "mqconsumer". The readme.txt in the archive contains fairly detailed coverage of how to run the demo.

If the sample is built with full database support, then a "dblibrary" is linked in that will persist each message to database (and the dblibrary_test program can be use to test the operation).
If the sample is built with a database "stub", then a dummy database library is substitued, and the programs a built without any Oracle Database support linked in at all. This can be useful when just wanting to focus on the MQ aspects in isolation.

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The top 10 dead (or dying) computer skills

I try to avoid postings that just refer you to other blogs or articles, but I've succumbed. ComputerWorld's The top 10 dead (or dying) computer skills prompted a bit of nostalgia. I scored 91% [giving myself 1% for the time I bought a book on COBOL while at uni ... and had the good sense to take it no further than that!!].

OS/2 brings back memories, of which I was also reminded when I first checked out Google's code search and found some of my 1995 OS/2 code lying around! [NB: these days, I look at this code and shudder "Eek!... buffer overflow vulnerability!!" ... security just wasn't front of mind back then! ]. But it also reminds me of how much thought I put into the decision to adopt C++ on OS/2. It very much felt like "this is a decision that I'll live with for years". But 12 years later, in 2007, that decision-making process seems so naive and foreign. Now it is routine to dabble in a couple of scripting languages, some Java, even some C++. The right (or most fun) tool for the job, right?

If I could say "Programming Language Bigotry" is a skill (some people certainly practiced and honed it like it was), then boy am I glad it seems to be a thing of the past and perhaps it deserves to be #1 in this list!

After a brief post-dot-boom hiatus, the drammatic rate of evolution is certainly back, spurred on by Web 2.0 hype. The rate of technological change has indeed become so "normal" that a top 10 list hardly scratches the surface. Personally I would have voted for int 21h. I'm sure generations to come will have absolutely no idea what that means, but for me and presumably many others, I can sum up a year of computer science with that very phrase.

For many (myself included), To Be Alive is To Be Learning and vice versa. The new religion if you will. "Lifelong learning" or "learning for life" are too trite and miss the essential truth.

Other may say that to be continuously learning is to be in a perpetual state of childhood. Look at some of the toys we are learning about and maybe they have a point!

Postscript: I just re-listened to a WebDevRadio Episode 18 which reminded me that Coldfusion is not dead!! At least according to the guys at Mach ii..
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