Photos on the cloud, and your metadata

Every now and then I cast an eye about to see the state of the art on photo storage, sharing and backup.  Like most of us I have far more digital photos than I know what to do with.  For the most part we manage the lot on iPhoto on my wife's iMac.  It's getting to the point where iPhoto is struggling to keep up and I've pondered LightRoom, but it's still a tad bit of overkill, I think.  For now we just using the various tricks of the trade to boost performance.  I think the next step will be to move the iPhoto library to an SSD drive.  Time to start saving up!

Given my technical background, one of the biggest things I look for in photo management of all sorts is preservation of metadata.  If you are not familiar with photo metadata, you should really acquaint yourself.  It's also worth acquainting yourself as to why it's important to separate photo sharing from storage.  Whether it's the EXIF data recorded by the camera itself, or supplementary metadata added, sometimes out of band, by management apps (e.g. face matches, titles & descriptions you add yourself in iPhoto or other tools), it's really important that software respect what's there as much as possible, adding layers of metadata non-destructively.

Alas this is one area where cloud photo services fail miserably.  I think the most pernicious case of this is Dropbox, which is such a handy service for the most part, but I think is nothing short of evil with regard to photos.  First of all it is loud and persistent in pestering you to switch to its photo import and storage module every time you connect a memory card or such to your computer (I understand: they want to nudge people in a direction that leads to paying more for storage.)  The problem is that if you make the mistake of succumbing to their come-ons, you'll find that they happily mangle and destroy any photo metadata that precedes them.  The comments on their blog entries about the photo features are full of customers complaining about this abuse, but they don't seem to be listening.  They are not alone.  Google Picassa also mangles metadata.  Facebook surprises me by actually trying to do the right thing, and getting a bit tied up in knots as a result.

For now I'm sticking with iPhoto, and I'll copy photos from there to Dropbox, Facebook, etc. as needed for sharing.  I'm also trying out AeroFS, and hoping for good things from them, from the general perspective of meddling-free file distribution and sharing.  I hope more people get familiar with the issues here (there are real consequences to having your photo metadata mangled), and that it adds up to a voice in the marketplace for better solutions, including on the cloud.

“I really know how it feels to be/Stressed out/Stressed out”

Faith Evans with A Tribe Called Quest on the title lyric, but it was Kristen Harris, my manager at Sun, who forwarded me "Top 5 myths about workplace stress". It's a nice piece. It has a few flake-off bits, but it certainly does identify unfortunate attitudes towards workplace stress I've seen. One bit I decided I need to pay special attention to is:

So the solution to stress is not to work harder to catch up because in most workplaces this is impossible. The solution is to feel good about the work you finish and not to get stressed about the work you don’t finish. It’s not that you should stop caring, it’s just that you should remember that being stressed makes you less productive, which means you get less work done and become more stressed. That’s a vicious circle right there and we need to break it.

Seems obvious in print, but I do so often get caught up in my mountains of unfinished work, and sometimes it weighs on me so heavily that it slows everything down. I think I'll try to keep a scratch list of accomplishments, however minor, for each day, and try starting each day reviewing the list from the previous day. Perhaps this might put me at risk of further malaise if, for example, I fall behind on keeping my accomplishments scratch list, or if I start each day nit-picking my previous day's work. But it's worth a try.

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From Fourthought to Kadomo

I founded Fourthought in June, 1998 with three other friends from college. Eight and a half years doesn't sound that long when I say it, but the near-decade fills my rear view mirror so completely that I can scarcely remember having done anything before it. That's probably a good thing as it means I don't much remember the years of perfunctory consulting at places such as IBM Global Services and Sabre Decision Technologies prior to making the leap to relative independence. It was in part the typical entrepreneurial yen of the immigrant and in part the urge to chart my own high-tech career course that drove me to take the risk and endure the ups and downs of running a consultancy.

And I did say Fourthought is in the rear-view mirror. Last week I accepted a position at The Kadomo Group, a very young solutions company focused in the semantic Web space. Kadomo was founded by Eric miller, former Semantic Web Activity Lead at the W3C. Eric and I have always looked for ways we could work together considering our shared interest in how strategic elements of the semantic Web vision can be brought to bear in practice. He and the other bright and energetic folks coming together under the Kadomo banner were a major part of my decision to join. It was also made clear to me that I would have a sizeable role in shaping all aspects of the company. I would be able, and in fact encouraged to continue my leadership in open source projects and community specification development. Last but not least the culture of the company is set up to suit my lifestyle very well, which was always one tremendous benefit of Fourthought.

--> Without a doubt we have the seeds at Kadomo to grow something much greater than Fourthought was ever likely to be. The company has not neglected resources for high-caliber business development, operations nor marketing. Committing to these resources was something we always had a hard time doing at Fourthought, and this meant that even though we had brilliant personnel, strong client references and a market profile disproportionate to the resources we devoted to marketing, we were never able to grow at a fraction of our potential. I've learned many of these lessons the hard way, and it seems clearly to me that Kadomo is born to greater ambition. One good sign is that I'll just be Chief Technical architect, allowed to focus primarily on the company's technology strategy. I will not be stranded juggling primary sales, operations as well as lead consultant responsibilities. Another good sign is that product development is woven into the company's foundation, so I can look forward to greater leverage of small-company resources.

Considering my primary responsibility for technology strategy it may seem strange to some that I'd join a semantic Web company, knowing
that I have expressed such skepticism of the direction core semantic Web technology has taken lately. I soured on the heaping helping of gobbledygook that was laden on RDF in the post-2000 round of specs, I soured on SPARQL as a query language when it became clear that it was to be as ugly and inelegant as XQuery. There have been some bright spots of lightweight goodness such as GRDDL and SKOS but overall, I've found myself more and more focused on XML schema and transform technology. My departure point for the past few years has been that a well-annotated syntactic Web can meet all the goals I personally have for the semantic Web. I've always been pretty modest in what I want from semantics on the Web. To put it bluntly what interests me most is reducing the cost of screen-scraping. Of course, as I prove every day in my day job, even such an unfashionable goal leads to the sorts of valuable techniques that people prefer to buzz about using terms such as "enterprise mashups". Not that I begrudge folks their buzzwords, mind you.

I still think some simplified version or profile of RDF can be very useful, and I'll be doing what I can to promote a pragmatic approach to semantic Web at Kadomo, building on the mountains of XML that vendors have winked and nodded into IT and the Web, much of it a hopeless congeries. There is a ton of problem in this space, and I believe, accordingly, a ton of opportunity. I think mixing in my somewhat diffractive view of semantic Web will make for interesting discussion at Kadomo, and a lot of that will be reflected here on Copia, which, after all, I share with Chimezie, one of the most accomplished users of semantic Web technology to solve real-world problems.

One ongoing opportunity I don't plan to leave behind is my strong working relationship with the Web Platform Engineering group at Sun. With recent, hard-earned success in hand, and much yet to accomplish, we're navigating the paper trail to allow for a smooth transition from my services as a Fourthought representative to those as a Kadomo representative.

I hope some of you will consider contacting Kadomo to learn more about our services and solutions. We're just getting off the ground but we have a surprising amount of structure in place for bringing focus to our service offerings, and we have some exciting products in development of which you'll soon be hearing more. If you've found my writings useful or examples of my work agreeable, do keep me in mind as I plough into my new role.keep in touch-->.

Updated to reflect the final settling into Zepheira.  Most other bits are still relevant

[Uche Ogbuji]

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New shopping cart features for

Weblogging has been pretty thin for me lately, as has everything else. for the past few months now I've been working on a large XML-driven integration project at Sun Microsystems. I consult as a data architect to the group that drives the main Web site, as well as product marketing pages and other data-driven venues. That's been a large part of my day job for the last four years, and in the most recent project Sun is working in a versatile new e-commerce engine. They put a lot of care into analysis for integrating this into existing product pages, so I found myself waist deep in XML pipeline architecture and data flows from numerous source systems (some XML, some ERP, some CMS and every other TLA you can fathom). The XML pipeline aggregates the sources according to a formal data model, the result of which feeds normalized XML data into the commerce back end. A veritable enterprise mash-up. It's been a lot of work, leavened by collaboration with a top-notch team, and with the launch last week of the new system I've found palpable reward.

Web Usability guru Martin Hardee, whose team put together the stringent design parameters for the project, mentioned the new feature this week.

We're already off building on this success, and it's more enterprise-grade (yeah, buzzword, sue me) XML modeling and pipeline-driven architecture with a global flavor for a good while to come, I expect. And probably not all that much time for Weblogging.

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Want a Slave Trade tour? Don't miss Arochukwu.

Excuse me, please, but I need a moment of pidgin.

Na wah oh! E be like say ndi-Arochukwu don vex well well. Them say "all the Akata dey go Ghana, dey take their dollar go Ghana, say na slavery history tour". We, nko? We no get slavery? We get am plenty. I beg bring your dollar come make slavery tour". Ah beg. Dis one don pass man.

I read it in Naija Blog:

The Nigerian Tourist Development Commission's website has a page on an hypothetical slave tour for Nigeria. They write that "Arochukwu has a distinguished reputation as a source for the supply of slaves." I wonder if the good people of this town would like to be considered in this way. I'm not sure its quite something to be that proud of.

OK, to be sure we don't treat the history of the slave trade as gingerly in Nigeria as we do in the U.S. An old girlfriend of mine was from Arochukwu, and when I wanted to tease her (which was often) I called her "slave trader". She'd call me "bushman" It's all good. Of course I didn't dwell on the fact that my Mom is from near Calabar, where the Aros would typically sell all the slaves they'd captured in their raids on the Igbo interior (where my Dad is from).

But even for those of us who can be that relaxed about it all (easy enough when your forbear was not the one shuffled off in a coffle to Calabar for a ghastly journey and a ghastlier existence abroad) the idea of building a tourism industry around all that sounds potty. Then again, I remember once traveling to New Orleans with a bunch of my Norwegian friends. They were dead set on going to see a plantation museum (I rememeber the flyer laid it on thick about "witnessing the slave's experience"). I recoiled from the idea and excused myself from the expedition, preferring to sleep in the car, but they came back all a-twitter. I guess there might be some logic to the whole thing. The same logic that keeps Mme Tussaud's Chamber of Horrors and the Torture Museum in Amsterdam going. I also hear that many Black Americans visit Goree in Senegal and Ghana's coastal slaving fortresses, and that such tourism is supposedly Ghana's largest source of hard currency.

It's all about the Benjamins. Especially when Benjamin used to be named "Baneji".

And oh by the way... Whoever designed that Nigerian Tourism site? And whoever paid for it? I got something fo' dat ass. I don't remember the last time I saw anything that garish on the Web. It needs to be in a bad design competition.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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GoDaddy reconsidered

Last week I told a story of how GoDaddy's customer service told me I'd forfeited a certificate I'd purchased when I didn't use it in 60 days. On Friday I got a voice mail from someone in "the office of the president of". She told me they had restored the certificate to my account. Surely enough, the credit is there.

Things that make you go "hmmmmm". I'm not sure I like the possibility that I get by Weblogging a complaint what I could not get by making the same complaint to customer service. Of course, that's just one possibility. As I hinted in my earlier entry, even at the time of the annoying incident I suspected I was dealing more with a clueless customer service rep (as well as his clueless supervisor) than a true corporate policy of seizing my certificate. I might have called the number right back and reached a rep who sorted out the problem right away. Or perhaps if I'd sent my complaint to the company, rather than posting it, they'd have been as attentive. This sort of thing happens all the time.

My friend David Courtney who related the following story:

I read about your GoDaddy experience. I have to say, I'm rather surprised you were treated this way. I shall have to re-evaluate my opinion of GoDaddy. I registered the domain with them last year and bought a Turbo SSL certificate. Once my data center issued myCertificate Signing Request, I went to the GoDaddy website to get the SSL certificate. I took that SSL certificate back to my data center only to find out they had used an invalid method of generating the original CSR. They gave me a new CSR. I went back to GoDaddy only to find out that once the key was issued, you couldn't get a new key. I was extremely aggravated at my data center for messing up the process. But in this case, the GoDaddy person I communicated with via [username omitted] was extremely helpful. He immediately issued me a credit for my certificate so I was able to generate a new certificate from the new CSR.

I had another somewhat similar problem this year. I was sick of dealing with my data center's total disregard for security. (i.e. no ssh access to my domain. I had to use plain text FTP to get anything done.) So I moved to a new data center. Well, because I moved my domain to a new location, I had to generate my certificate all over again. When I went to my account at, I again ran into the problem of "The key has been issued, you can't re-key it." But I again e-mailed [username omitted] and the problem was resolved very quickly. He credited me a certificate for both my domains, no questions asked.

This is in line with everything I'd heard about the company before last week, so I'll assume I just caught a it of bad luck in the customer service lottery and accept their olive branch in good grace, putting last week's incident aside for now.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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Is USPTO abandoning XML in its electronic filing system?

I wrote an article a while back, "Thinking XML: Patent filings meet XML" in which I covered, among other things, the various patent agancies' efforts to support electronic filing. Many of these efforts are XML-based. Except now perhaps the USPTO's (EFS-Web) isn't. There were a lot of gnarly aspects of the EFS-Web process, and I had heard from some users who ended up abandoning the system. It looks as if the USPTO is trying to address these problems by chucking the whole approach and just having people upload PDFs (via Daily Newslink--yeah. I'm way behind). I wonder whether they also considered supporting ODF, at least as an alternative to PDF. It seems to me that what they needed was broader, not narrower format and tool support.

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The GoDaddy certificate rip-off

In March we purchased a package from GoDaddy. The purchase package looked in part like the following:

QTY ITEM                                            PRICE
1   .COM Domain Name Transfer - 1 Year              $2.24
24  Premium Hosting w/ PHP / PERL- v2               $287.04
1   Turbo SSL (2 Years)                             $0.00

Getting the included certificate was a large part of the incentive for choosing this package and vendor (GoDaddy), but we didn't get around to using it right away. Today, after a bunch of much-needed server maintenance we were ready to set up and use the cert. I went to our account info to find that GoDaddy claimed we had no credit for an SSL certificate. Figuring it was a simple error I cheerfully called customer support.

I was surprised to be told me that since we had not used the certificate for 60 days, we could not have it. I asked why and thee gentleman on the phone went on about how we didn't pay for the certificate, anyway. I scoured our purchase receipt and did a few likely text searches on the huge GoDaddy customer agreements and I found no notification of the 60 day forfeiture. I pointed this out to him at which point he became defensive, saying it had to be in the documentation somewhere and at any rate there was nothing he could do to help me. He kept telling me that we had not paid for the certificate anyway. I told him that even though the invoice shows a $0 line-item for it, it was part of a package deal, and so in paying for the whole package we had paid for the certificate. He kept repeating, as if a mantra to make me go away, that we hadn't paid for the certificate. I explained that I could understand if we were now given a certificate that expired March 2008, and thus forfeited the unused portion of the two-year duration, but he insisted there was nothing that could be done. I asked to speak to someone who might be a bit better authorized to deal with the situation, and he was very reluctant until he finally passed me to his "floor supervisor".

This gentleman told me that since I had not used it for 60 days, the certificate counted as an "unused product". He said that he couldn't restore it to our account because it was "free" and so there was no money to refund and re-purchase. I asked him whether he was willing to restore the cert form a customer service point of view, but he was facing a system limitation because of the $0 line-item. In short I was kinda giving him a way out. I would have been at least a little mollified if they were technically hamstrung rather than obstinate about playing "GOTCHA! 60-day forfeiture", along the lines of a particularly rough game of Calvinball. Strangely he refused to really admit it as such. He kept insisting that the problem was that we had "never paid for a certificate". I imagine they're trained to never admit any sort of fault. I only have so much time in the day so I left off the matter at that point.

I guess my main point is to be careful when dealing with about undisclosed limitations on their offerings. I think the 60 day "unused product" limitation is a poor policy in the first place, but I'd understand better if it had at least been disclosed. As far as I can tell, it had not been.

I'll go ahead and purchase a certificate form another vendor. I shall not do any business in future with I'm sure other vendors will be more costly, but honestly, a few extra bucks per domain-year is well worth the principle.

I hope this note saves anyone else such a surprise.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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No one ever got fired for...

In my previous entry about enterprise architecture and complexity I forgot to touch on one thread that occurred to me.

My recent experiences, and Dare's quote, bring me to mind of the old adage: "No one ever got fired for buying IBM". Why is there no sign of a corresponding "No one ever got fired for designing like Google"? To be sure, IBM was on top a lot longer than Google before it became subject of the proverb, but hey, the Web age is a faster age, right? Where's my accelerated fulfilment when it comes to enterprise applications architecture?

I get the impression that instead, among the C-level cloisters of many run-of-the-mill companies, the reality is more "no one ever got fired for ordering a titanic Oracle or ERP license and thereupon building an unmaintainable application superstructure". It seems a lot harder to explain to the board that you are introducing revolutionary efficiency in your organization's information systems by learning the lessons of the Web (the most successful distributed information system ever). That sounds dangerously generic to the eyes of analysts trained to receive all truths from Chicago-cluster consultants. It does not sound like a roll-up of synergies to cross the chasm and monetize emergence of elastic markets. Paying the toffs gigabucks and then bending over for the inevitable business process re-engineering is just how it's done, lads.

So no one gets fired for Google-like systems architecture. No. Outside the crescendoing Web 2.0 bubble, no one gets hired in the first place if there's the slightest sniff they'd contemplate such a thing. Shame. Web 2.0 is not a bubble (square-one-dot-com) because it's based on near-trivial technology. It's a bubble because there are very few opportunities for arbitrage in a marketplace whose point is to provide customers unprecedented transparency and choice. The very place where such an approach can more consistently provide value is within the enterprise whose information systems have so long been bantustans of baroque and isolated systems. The enterprise is where there is a real chance of information systems revolution from Google-like technology. And it's the one place where no one is looking to build and deploy technology the way Google does.

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Today's wot he said

Dare Obasanjo, earlier this week:

The funny thing about a lot of the people who claim to be 'Enterprise Architects' is that I've come to realize that they tend to seek complex solutions to relatively simple problems. How else do you explain the fact that web sites that serve millions of people a day and do billions of dollars in business a year like Amazon and Yahoo are using scripting languages like PHP and approaches based on REST to solve the problem of building distributed applications while you see these 'enterprise architect' telling us that you need complex WS-* technologies and expensive toolkits to build distributed applications for your business which has less issues to deal with than the Amazons and Yahoos of this world?

Gbooyakasha! I've recently had occasion to discuss my "enterprise" credentials with some mainstream-y CIO/CTO types. It always amazes me how many of that number gaze vacantly at simple architectural ideas, and find true comfort in endless, overlapping boxes with data arrows flying in all dizzying directions, so long as those boxes are labeled "Oracle", "SAP" and such. I certainly understand it's easy to confuse simple with simplistic, but unnecessarily complicated should not be so hard to spot, and it's all over the place in your friendly neighborhood enterprise.

I've considered myself an enterprise architect because I've worked in the architecture of solutions that require workflow across departments within medium-sized organizations. Lately, however, I've come to wonder whether unfortunate practice has tainted the title.

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