Smoke gets in your eyes...

You know, it's really strange: it has only been a little over 6 years since we relocated from Europe to the US, and yet certain customs over here are by now totally alien to me. For example, take smoking: I cannot remember the last time that I was bothered by smoking in the US (not even in Las Vegas last week). Today I met with Alexander Schaelss, an old friend of mine, at a Kaffeehaus (i.e. cafe) and we later went to have dinner at a Beisl (i.e. local restaurant) in the first district. The amazing thing was that both in the cafe and at the restaurant people at the next table were smoking numerous cigarettes and it was totally acceptable to everybody. Never mind that I found it offensive and it impacted my enjoyment of the Einspaenner (i.e. a strong black coffee with whipped cream on top) or the Schweinsbraten (i.e. pork roast)...
I hear that in Italy that have already passed a law (similar to the US) banning smoking in public places, offices, and restaurants. I can't wait for that to happen in Austria, too!

Update: it appears that our discussion yesterday has inspired my dear friend - Alexander Schaelss is now on Twitter, too.

IBM Information-On-Demand XML Highlights

I am writing this quick report from the airport lounge in San Francisco, as I am waiting for my flight to Frankfurt and onward to Vienna for a week of meetings at Altova GmbH's headquarters in Austria. You just have to love Wi-Fi access - how did we ever get anything done before the Internet, laptops, Wi-Fi networks, and blogs?

With a week of conference sessions and trade show work in Las Vegas behind me, here is a quick summary of what I perceived to be some of the highlights of IBM's Information-On-Demand show from an XML Aficionado's perspective:

IBM announced DB2 version 9.5 (scheduled to ship October 31st), which contains several feature enhancements to the pureXML functionality, including inlining of XML, compression, several performance improvements for transactional XML, and the first implementation of XQuery Update in a major database. The last bit is probably the most interesting, because of the lack of updating capabilities in the original XQuery specs, which was exclusively focused on queries (analog to the SELECT statement in SQL). XQuery Update provides the ability to insert, delete, or update any node, i.e. potentially just one single element or attribute in the database, which should provide a huge difference to current implementation, where the entire XML document typically needs to be written back to a column in the database.

Altova's Nick Nagel, spoke on XML-Driven Data Management in a Developer Den session on Wednesday, which was well-attended. Nick's presentation addressed a "top-down" approach to data modeling using XSD (XML Schema Definition language) as a data modeling language with implications for data storage and retrieval as pureXML in DB2. Nick spoke on how XSD in turn can drive process implementation serving as formal design document, and how XML facilitates process development by enabling automated data binding, data mapping, as well as storage and retrieval with XPath 2.0 and XQuery. He also showed several screenshots on how Altova's tools can make working with XML in DB2 easier for developers.

IBM's Berni Schiefer conducted a Birds of a Feather session on Performance Tips, Conundrums and Experiences with DB2, where he answered customer questions and spoke in-depth about performance tuning of DB2, including tuning for pureXML. He also gave a few other interesting talks, but I did unfortunately not have time to attend those.

There were also plenty of interesting customer talks about how they are using XML, as well as more in-depth sessions on various aspects of pureXML in DB2, but my flight is boarding in a few minutes, so I don't have enough time to report on those anymore.

Restaurant Review: Shibuya at the MGM Grand

I had the pleasure of having dinner at Shibuya twice this week: on Tuesday I invited our trade show booth team to celebrate a successful presence at the IBM Information-On-Demand conference and trade show in Las Vegas, and on Thursday I ate a quick bite at the Sushi bar before seeing KA by Cirque du Soleil.

Sushi Bar @ ShibuyaShibuya is located in the MGM Grand casino in Las Vegas and features regular restaurant tables, teppan-yaki style tables, where the chef grills at the table, and a fantastic Sushi bar right below a gigantic virtual aquarium.

For our trade show team dinner we set at a regular table and were served by a very competent, friendly, and knowledgeable waiter.

To start the evening off we had cocktails, and I can only highly recommend the Shibuya Cocktail: it is a delightful Vodka- and Sake-based drink with crushed sake-flavored ice, that give it a unique texture and taste. Not too sweet, but also not too dry. If you like Cosmopolitans, you will definitely enjoy the Shibuya Cocktail, although it is not nearly as sour as a Cosmo.

Sake Business Cards The Sake menu at Shibuya is simply impressive. They boast the largest selection of Sakes in the country, and while I cannot verify that claim, it certainly sounds plausible, given that their menu is practically a book. The sakes are nicely organized in separate groups between the honjōzō-shu, ginjō-shu, and daiginjō-shu. When you order a bottle, the waiter brings a little "business card" for each guest that describes the Sake that is being served. We had two junmai-daiginjōs and they were equally exquisite. My favorite was the Wataribune from Ibaraki Prefecture: light and pure, with subtle hints of pineapple and peaches.

The appetizers are inspired and range from Kobe-Beef-Tataki to Toro-Tartar. They are all wonderfully presented and simply delicious. Make sure to order some Edamame and a seaweed salad to share for the table, and don't skip the Miso soup. It is also a good idea to order a few appetizers and share with friends to take in all the different tastes.

Yellow Tail Jalapeño + Toro Scallion (Negi Toro) While the menu certainly has a wonderful variety of warm dishes that are probably excellent, we didn't try any of them. I simply cannot help it: when I'm faced with a spectacular Sushi bar, that's what I'll have. The Sushi menu has a broad selection of Nigiri, Nori-maki, and Temaki, and all the fish is freshly flown into Las Vegas for them. The O-Toro that I had melted like butter and was just wonderful. There is a Spider-Roll (soft-shell crab) on the speciality side that is to die for. And I can also highly recommend the Negi-Toro (or Toro Scallion) maki. An inspired combination is the Yellow Tail and Jalapeño maki - the spiciness of the Jalapeño very nicely compliments the Yellow Tail and is slightly subdued by the Sushi rice, so as to not be totally "in your face".

Sushi chefs at work The only thing on the menu that I disagree with, is the Hinomaru roll - Buffalo Mozzarella and basil in a Sushi Roll? Who's ever heard of that combination? However, John Judy actually tried the dish and insisted that it was not only delicious, but also argued that it is permissible to try such new cuisine cross-over variations. I don't know about that - when it comes to Sushi I'm a bit of a traditionalist....

But during my second visit I saw many other people order the dish, so I guess it must be pretty good - maybe I'll try it some day, during a future visit to Las Vegas.

Master Sushi Chef Yoshinori Nakazawa On my second visit I also had the honor of sitting right at the Sushi bar in front of Master Sushi Chef Yoshinori Nakazawa, who directs a team of 5 sushi chefs and they are truly experts at the art of creating Sushi.

Watching Nakazawa-san work his magic up-close was inspiring and made the visit to Shibuya a mesmerizing experience. And the Sushi tastes even better when you sit right at the bar and it appears in front of you the very second that the chef has finished his creation - and a true creation it is, with all the detail that goes into making each piece.

If you are brave enough to leave some room for dessert, you will be aptly rewarded. My favorite is definitely the Mochi ice-cream, which comes in 3 flavors and is just spectacular. A thin layer of Mochi wrapped around fruit and green-tea flavored ice - heavenly!

To end the evening, I recommend a cup of hot Genmaicha to round things off.

In my opinion, the Sushi at Shibuya is at the pinnacle of Sushi restaurants in America, and puts Shibuya on par - if not even above - my favorite Sushi places in San Francisco. More on those in a future review here on the XML Aficionado blog.

My rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ (5 out of a possible 5 diamonds).

iPhone SDK - Apple (finally!) listening to user demands for 3rd party apps

Apple Computer's Steve Jobs just announced that Apple would (finally!) provide an iPhone SDK to 3rd party developers in order to enable them to create native applications for the iPhone (and, incidentally, also for the iPod touch). While the actual SDK won't ship until February 2008, this announcement is a monumetal shift in strategy for Apple, who has thus far tried to control the applications available for the iPhone and limit 3rd party developers to Web 2.0 apps running in the Safari browser.

The story leading to this announcement is also a great example of how public opinion of a product can quickly swing the opposite way, when a company attempts to not only create a closed system, but then also tries to punish customers, who used 3rd party applications, by turning their expensive phones into "bricks" (which is what happened during the recent 1.1.1 software update).

Pressure on Apple from customers and bloggers alike very quickly led to this turn-around in strategy - and this can only be a good thing or both Apple and its iPhone customers. Having the iPhone be a true mobile platform - similar to Palm, Nokia, and Windows Smartphones - is key to any long-term success of the iPhone product line.

While I haven't personally installed any 3rd party apps on my own iPhone in the past, there are certainly several that I am missing since I switched from a Windows Smartphone to the iPhone this summer - and I am looking forward to the ability to get this extra functionality back next spring!

XMLSpy awarded Certificate of Excellence for IBM CTO Innovation award

XMLSpy 2008 was selected today as one of only three finalists for the IBM Information-On-Demand CTO Innovation award.

It was a very diverse list of nominations for the CTO Innovation award and a very competitive judging process - with Altova being the only company in the XML and developer tools space among the semi-finalists and finalists.

At the award breakfast today the actual "winner" didn't even show up, but we received the above Certificate of Excellence. The judging was done by a panel of CTOs, experts, and IBM executives, and they were positively impressed by the new DB2-specific functionality of our XML editor.

XML Aficionado in the News

Two articles hit the news today that are based in part on interviews with the XML Aficionado:

The former is a detailed analysis of the OOXML vs. ODF controversy from a developer's perspective, including interviews with Burton Group analyst Peter O'Kelly, Microsoft's Brian Jones, and me.

The latter is a review of the new Altov XMLSpy 2008 release (in German).

What are you doing with XML?

We are exhibiting at the IBM Information-On-Demand conference and trade show in Las Vegas this week, where we are demoing Altova’s deep integration with IBM DB2 pureXML, and I just noticed a profound change in the answers I get to my standard question that I’ve asked every booth visitor for the last 6-7 years.


For the past several years, when I ask my standard “So, what are you doing with XML?” question, I’ve always received very diverse answers ranging from the “Oh, I’m just getting started” to the more elaborate descriptions of what key-role XML plays as a part of an entire information management infrastructure. And – depending on how general the show audience is (i.e. if this is a pure XML-specific event or rather a more general developer conference or industry event) – there was always a fair share of “XML? What is that?” responses.

What struck me only today – at the end of the second day of this show – is that I haven’t gotten a single “What is XML?” answer. Every single person I’ve talked with is using XML for something! And this is not an XML-specific event, but rather a very broad audience that goes way beyond just developers. I think that is a significant change – and a very positive one.

So let me use this observation as grounds to proclaim what I’ve predicted all along: XML is now ubiquitous. It is all-pervasive, all-encompassing. It is the lingua franca of how systems talk to one another, how data is transported, how content is stored, reused, and manipulated. And it only took a little over 8 years for XML to conquer the world.

Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III

The Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II has been my favorite camera for the past 2 years. Several of my best digital photos were taken with that camera, and I really love the versatility of the EOS series and all the lenses I can use with that body.
I was, therefore, very delighted when Canon recently announced the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III successor model that will ship in November this year:


The technical features are just amazing: a 21.1 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor, dual Digic III image processors, 3.0 inch LCD monitor with live-view, 45-point AF, SDHC support, and tons more.

And the sample photos in this gallery are equally impressive (even though only four have been posted so far).

For more details see the whitepaper (PDF).

Sure, it's not a Hasselblad, but then I'm not really a good enough photographer to warrant that either.

So this Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III gets a clear Thumbs Up from me and is hereby officially added to my Christmas wish list....

Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo - interesting synchronicity

I could not help, but notice an interesting synchronicity between the various announcements and news clips about these three firms in the last 2-3 weeks or so:


Sep 9, 2007Microsoft fails to win ISO approval for OOXML. A review of detailed country comments does, however, show that they are likely going to succeed in the next round in March 2008.
Sep 16, 2007Yahoo launches Mash - a new social networking site designed to compete with Facebook.
Sep 17, 2007Google adds slide-show/presentation application to Google Documents in an effort to increase competition with Microsoft Office.
Sep 24, 2007The The Wall Street Journal reported that Microsoft is in talks with Facebook to acquire a 5% stake in the social networking site.
Sep 27, 2007Microsoft announced an updated Search capability in the Live Search engine. Incidentally it is also Google's 9th birthday.
Sep 30, 2007Microsoft unveils its answer to Google Docs called Office Live Workspaces.
Oct 1, 2007Yahoo announced a new Search Assist function to improve Yahoo Search.
Oct 2, 2007Steve Ballmer speaks in Europe and says that the craze for individual social networks such as Facebook risks being exposed as a "fad". UPDATE: Robert Scoble responds that Steve Ballmer doesn't "get" social networking.

Office, Social Networking, Search, Office, Social Networking, Search, ... — is it just me, or is there some kind of pattern here?

And it all seems to revolve around online advertising platforms. Hmmmm.

Microsoft releases updated Live Search

Microsoft has announced today that the updated Live Search engine includes a 4 x increase in index size, significant enhancements in the core algorithms, increased focus on query refinement, and a new web data extraction model.

More details about these technical improvements are promised to appear in the LiveSearch Blog over the next couple of days.

I've tested the new Live Search today, and it indeed produces more accurate results than Google: e.g. searching for the term "XML Editor" on Google produces a whole bunch of irrelevant web pages and entries on the first page of the search results - including websites like Peter's XML Editor that aren't even supported/maintained anymore. Ironically, the #1 best-selling XML Editor and de-facto industry standard tool - Altova XMLSpy - is not even listed on that first page of results.

In contrast, the same search for the term "XML Editor" on Live Search will produce only highly relevant entries, including Altova XMLSpy as well as some competitors that are indeed maintaining their software and keeping it current.

It may have taken Microsoft a while to get Live Search right, but that's simply how they work:
  • The first version of Internet Explorer wasn't the killer, but subsequent versions kicked Netscape's butt.

  • The first version of Visual Studio wasn't damaging the Borland developer tools, but future releases forced them out of the market.

  • The first XBox wasn't hurting the PS2, but the XBox 360 is showing Sony who's boss, or rather who's Master Chief.

Extrapolate from those examples to the field of search, and I'd say now is a good time for Google to start to fear Microsoft...

XMLSpy Tip: Using the XPath analyzer to quickly find information in files

One of my favorite features in the Altova XMLSpy XML Editor continues to be the XPath analyzer, which lets you quickly locate information in any XML file by typing an XPath 1.0 or 2.0 expression. Introduced first by Altova in 2001, the XPath analyzer gained XPath 2.0 awareness in version 2004 and was turned into a new dynamic window with multiple output tabs in version 2007.

The XPath analyzer is really convenient and easy to use. Located within the bottom information/output window, the XPath analyzer is found in a separate tab, right next to the Validaton results and the Find in Files function. You can configure it for XPath 1.0 or 2.0 with the click of a button, and can immediately see the result of any XPath expression, by typing it into the text input line - the XPath expression is evaluated immediately and the resulting nodeset is displayed in the output window:


In this example I have used the XPath expression //expense-item[@type="Lodging"] to locate all <expense-item> elements that have a type attribute with the value of "Lodging".

The resulting nodeset is evaluated dynamically as you type, so you can always see whether or not you have entered a correct XPath expression (in addition, the text entered turns red, if there is any error in the expression). You can quickly navigate to any of the found nodes by clicking on them, and the corresponding node in the document will be highlighted in the main editing window (irrespective of which view you are using).

One of the cool new features that was just added in the new XMLSpy 2008 version this month is the ability to also evaluate XPath expressions across multiple files. This is great if you are working on a larger project and need to quickly see where certain information is located. Sure, there is always Find in Files, which has powerful Regular Expressions, but a true XML Aficionado always prefers to use XPath :)


In this screenshot I was searching for all elements in any of my project files that have an xml:lang attribute - this can be expressed in XPath as //element()[@xml:lang] - and the resulting nodeset shows nodes found in several different files in my project. I can, of course, open any of these files and immediately view the found nodes just by clicking on them.

Here is another nifty trick: if you often work with larger files and want to persistently bookmark certain positions in those files, you can also use the XPath analyzer to quickly navigate to those locations. All you need to do is add comments to the XML file to mark those locations, e.g. <-- Bookmark #1 --> and then you can use the XPath expression //comment() to show all comment nodes in your file. Now you can click on each one and you will see them displayed in the editing view. You can even quickly reestablish bookmarks by clicking on each one and hitting Ctrl-F2 to set a new bookmark:


To see more useful information about the XPath analyzer, watch this cool flash video or read the XPath Evaluation chapter in the online manual.

Microsoft in talks to buy a stake in Facebook

The Wall Street Journal reported just now that Microsoft is in talks with Facebook to acquire a 5% stake in the company. The deal is said to result in a valuation for Facebook of $10 billion.

Both Google and Microsoft are said to have been in negotiations with Facebook at one time or the other, but Microsoft has an advantage at the moment, due to an exclusive agreement with Facebook to deliver ads to Facebook users that was signed last year and runs until 2011.

Question: why wouldn't either Google or Microsoft want to buy all of Facebook instead of just a 5% stake?

Answer (according to the Wall Street Journal):

"Microsoft has considered trying to buy the company outright, but people familiar with the matter said it's unlikely at this time. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has steadfastly kept his company independent with the goal of eventually taking the company public. In a round of negotiations last year, Mr. Zuckerberg rebuffed acquisition approaches from Microsoft, Yahoo and others."

See also my previous article "Facebook: it's not just for kids anymore..." on my XML Aficionado blog.

Also seen in Valleywag and TechCrunch today.

UPDATE: New posting in the WSJ Deal Blog has an interview with Bo Peabody, the 36-year-old founder of Tripod Inc. - one of the first social networks, all the way back in 1992.

Red Sox clinch post-season ticket

Last night the Red Sox became the first team in the MLB to clinch a playoff spot in 2007 thanks to a three-run ninth-inning rally: Jason Varitek tied things up with a solo homer, and then Julio Lugo launched a two-run tater to cap the comeback.

The game didn't go too well for the Sox earlier, but the 9th inning turned it into a 8-6 victory over the Rays.

This makes Terry Francona the first manager in Red Sox history to reach the postseason on three different occasions...

More info on redsox.com...

Restaurant Review: Atomic Cafe

What a great last day of summer in New England. Fall starts tomorrow, but today's temperatures are in the high 70s and it's just beautiful out there.

Talking of which, I just got home from lunch at the Atomic Cafe, and liked it so much that I thought I'd share a few thoughts and some photos (nothing high-res, just a few snapshots taken with my iPhone during lunch today).

Over the past few months Atomic Cafe has become a new staple in Marblehead due to it's central location, great food, and excellent coffee selection.

Located on School Street - right next to the Marblehead Little Theatre's newly renovated Firehouse - the Atomic Cafe sports 4-5 booths for seating 4, 3 tables for seating 2, a small bar overlooking school street, and a few comfy chairs. Their official address is 14 School Street, Marblehead, MA 01945.

In the summer you can also take your drink outside to the two benches in front of the cafe, or enjoy your beverages in the sun.

The Atomic Cafe offers WiFi interet access to patrons for free, and you can easily connect with your laptop (or iPhone) and utilize fast connectivity while enjoying your Frozen Cappuccino or other fine beverages.

Talking of coffees - I can't even begin to describe how good they are, as I wouldn't be doing them justice. Luckily, there is already another great blog post on barismo that goes into great detail about he espresso shots and doubles, so you should read that. Another great blog reaction is on (a)musings.

In addition to the usual selection of sandwiches, wraps, and panninis, the Atomic Cafe offers a few signature dishes that are both inspired and delicious.

This Grilled Pesto and Goat Cheese sandwich on the left is what I had for lunch today, and it is simply "to die for". As such it has quickly become one of my favoites. Equally impressive is the Caprese Twist or the Swanky Chicken. The selection of cakes and other sweet treasures easily out-performs Starbucks and their coffees creations, inspired teas, and smoothies are spectacular.

There is also a second sister location of the Atomic Cafe in Beverly, but I haven't tried that one yet. I will plan to do that in the upcoming weeks for some work lunch, since my office happen to be in Beverly, too. It will be interesting to see how the two locations compare, especially since the one in Beverly was already established in 1996, whereas the Marblehead location is fairly new.

My rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ◊ (4 out of a possible 5 diamonds).

Mint promises to save me $35,977

I have previously written about the scalability issues that have crippled Mint since the public launch a few days ago - and those issues prevented me from adding even a single account.

Today I was finally able to take one giant leap and get one step further in the process of testing this site to see if there was anything to the hype. After numerous attempts over the past few days, Mint was able to connect to one credit card company today in the late evening (out of the four banks that I tried to add):


I was, of course, delighted beyond belief, when Mint promptly informed me that it did not only just load 50 days of transaction history (about 210 transations), but it immediately found some great savings for me to realize:


So let me see if I got the math straight here...

I currently use an American Express credit card which has a 0.00% interest rate and I pay my full balance every single month. By switching from 0% interest on American Express to 13.89% on CapitalOne, my interest rate just went up by a factor of, say, approximately ∞. But despite this monumental increase in my interest rate, Mint actually promises me that I will be able to save $35,977. I have no idea what mathematical theory would support that calculation (or what planet the math genius is from, who came up with this theory), but I am intrigued by the promise to "GET DETAILS AND COMPARE", so I click on the link and get this:


Turns out I can not only save $35,977 - I can actually do it in just 10 minutes....

Here is some free advice for the creators of Mint: if you are offering a financial software, you better get your math straightened out pretty damn fast...

Never mind that most blog comments in the last couple of days talk about people's anxiety to entrust your software with the login info to access all their bank accounts - if they can't trust you to do the math right, then why should they use your software at all!

Unless, of course, you don't have any mathematician on staff and this entire thing is nothing but a big advertising machine trying to lure unsuspecting customers with false promises...

The only hypothetical question remaining is: if I did indeed sign up with CapitalOne and then was not able to see $36k in savings, who would I have to sue for false advertising? Mint or CapitalOne?