I did get to see the cultural show after all - quite entertaining with young women whose improbably double-jointed hands flitted around their flowered headpieces like exotic insects, and bow-stanced young men jerking around like marionettes to the drums, then flying into acrobatic twirling that would shame a dervish.  Besides humor and grace, the show also had suspense, as the young men jumped around with elaborate demon masks on, flinging their copious tangles of wooly hair within centimeters of their flailing torches.  I expected the whole costume to erupt in flames any minute!

Bricks, ShuttersToday I visited a spice garden near the hotel, associating spices to the plants that provide them.  Who knew pepper was a creeper instead of a tree?  And that cardamom blooms from the bottom of the plant?  The Sri Lankans have an extensive herbal medicine practice, which makes me wonder whether the recipe (prescription?) of spices found in a good curry is intended to have similar curative properties. I picked up a few overpriced items in gratitude for an interesting tour.

PrivacyNext I headed down to the old Dutch fort at Galle, supposedly a charming old town but in fact I found it a bit ramshackle and ordinary compared to the charming specimens littering Europe.  I suppose part of the appeal is it’s air of being forgotten by the stream of history.  My romantic visions of old colonial splendor shrank as my sense grew of the desparate attempts to simulate something familiar in an impossibly remote and "primitive" place.

I again struggled to make some decent photos, with minimal success, mostly in close-ups, but did enjoy circumnavigating the ramparts.  Each nook was filled with shy, straight-laced looking young Indian (Sri Lankan?) couples surruptitiously necking under the privacy of a colorful umbrella.  The machinery of war turned to the purpose of love…

CIMG8208When sweat began to flow, I stopped by the venerable New Oriental Hotel for a lime and soda (the traditional drink of gastronomically-wary visitors here - the lime is fresh squeezed and refreshing, the fizzy soda is guaranteed to come from a bottle, and the sugar syrup on the side requires boiling to make.)

A few hours was sufficient to circumnavigate the whole promontory, and a bit outside it, and to investigate a few high-class shops tucked in among the dilapadated colonials.  Wanting to ensure my arrival back in Colombo before dark cut the afternoon a bit short - and the drive back was as exciting few hours as usual - passing three fairly dramatic accident scenes en route.

Colorful boatsBits of destruction from the Tsunami are evident along parts of the coast here, but the main infrastructure is back in place (all new bridges and a widened, smoothly paved road.)  Surprisingly, to my eye it is often difficult to tell a building partially destroyed by the wave from the ones that are simply dilapidated.  And as usual, nature seems to protect her own - the palms lining the beaches don’t seem to have taken much of a beating, and every scar has healed over in tropical green.

Expanded photoset here.

Here in this Place

SunsetThe sun is deepening into an orange ball, dim enough to briefly eyeball directly, and dropping more quickly than I ever recall seeing before towards the Indian Ocean.  Paradoxically, as the light dims and the air becomes heavily incensed with a burn-pile of palm leaves somewhere, my mind is clearing and brightening a bit, pulling out of the warm floating semi-coma it’s been in all day, allowing me to think through some of the events and insights of the week.

Those events and insights are both personal and professional, a fortuitous combination that too-rarely accompanies a business trip.  I’ve been in Sri Lanka for five days now, arriving after a 48 hour (minus the time change) trip from Sacramento to Los Angeles to Taipei to Kuala Lumpur, backtracking briefly eastward to Singapore, and finally Colombo.  All that air conditioning left my sinuses a bit clogged and it took a few days for that to clear out too, but by yesterday I was feeling fully time-shifted and physically fit, yet mentally reeling from the firehose of information that accompanies my first trip to the home office as an employee.

Colonial charmI lodged initially at the Havelock Place Bungalow, a small (6-room?) inn mixing old-colonial charm (four-poster beds with mosquito nets) with contemporary styling (the office is approached by a bridge over the swimming pool), and avoids thoroughly the feeling of being the millionth customer in a multinational hotel chain clone.  Co-founder Paul Fremantle had arrived earlier in the day from the UK, and he, Sanjiva, and Asankha, one of the local project leads, joined me at the hotel for a quiet meal.

The next two days were productively spent at the office. Dims arrived from Boston late Monday and James from Bangkok on Tuesday night, uniting the company in one place for the first time since I joined.  On Tuesday after a tasty Sri Lankan buffet lunch we came back to the office and it seemed eerily quiet – only a couple of people working in the normally crowded and bustling office.  And the stragglers were acting quite surreptitious.  Sanjiva came back from a short errand and somebody asked him to look something over in the secondary office down the hall where half the employees work.  He did and was shown into a streamered conference room with cake and 40 candles for his birthday!  Since the average employee age is well under 30, many joked about the number of candles (which, as I’ve got a couple of years on him made me feel my age in a new and uncomfortable way), sang a rousing but poly-chromatic Happy Birthday, and called for a speech to which Sanjiva smilingly threatened “what goes around comes around!” and directly cut the first slice of cake.  The affection and respect that he’s given by all as a CEO, a mentor, a role model, and friend is palpable. The community he’s created is one of the most valuable assets of the company, as well as simply being quite moving on a personal level.

On Wednesday afternoon about 15 of us piled onto a tour bus, which seems drastically outscale on the Sri Lankan roads, and drove south for a couple of hours to the Bentota Taj Exotica hotel and resort, sprawling terraces of rooms built above and around a rocky outcrop on a wide miles-long honey-colored beach lined with coconut palms and pandamas.

Taj Exotica

Between Wednesday night and Friday afternoon we planned out the 2007 product and release lineup and estimated resource constraints, with breaks to nibble on a constant oversupply of tasty snacks and meals, served al fresco poolside, in lounges with panoramic views and live entertainment, on torchlit patios with a surf-crashing soundtrack.  An arranged local cultural dance performance fell square on the WSDL conference calls and as we’re rushing to end that prolonged madness I felt, not compelled, but not eager either, to heed the Outlook calendar-chimes of duty.

Wicker shadowsLate Friday afternoon the bus returned and all but I piled on for the return trip to Colombo, and for Dims, Paul, and James, far beyond Colombo.  I stayed on for the weekend to relax and explore more of the southern coast of this island gem.  After a swim in the palm-shaded pool and a bit of time with a book, I returned to my room and essentially crashed - sleeping deeply for an hour and waking up dazed and empty.  A couple of trips through the buffet (hate to see how much I’ll gain on this trip) was insufficient to overcome my stupor, and I realized I’ve been processing far too much information about the world and my place in it physically, mentally, culturally, artistically, temporally over the last week to quickly snap out of.

Part of this overload is a deeper level of culture shock than I’ve ever expected, driven by a new-found awareness of the depths of my Western (partially in the European sense, but dominantly in the American sense) roots, the possibly irreconcilable difference between pioneer self-reliance and the colonially service-oriented culture here - where there are servants (hate the word even) to free one from the simplest of tasks.  For instance, why would one walk a few blocks when a 50 cent tuk tuk ride is at hand? Why would one drive on these crazy roads when one gets a driver along with the car for not dramatically more than a rental car elsewhere?  Paradoxically, I’m aware of how much I rely on Deanna to pull me out of solitary-reliance mode.

The difference in space itself here is also palpable to me.  I feel increasingly that I’m shuffling or more accurately being shuffled from luxurious cocoon to luxurious cocoon, transiting safely and again luxuriously through a crowded, ungroomed, lively, jumbled, confusing corridor.  Contrast that to the Western spaciousness where much of the wilderness beauty lies between the so-called civilized parts.  Just as with Stegner, landscape is ingrained in my soul.  I even realized recently that artistic endeavors lie in my future, they are undoubtedly landscapes in the broadest sense.  Here, I don’t feel the landscape yet and am wondering if I ever really can - is there really a landscape in the sense I’m accustomed to?  I’ve been unable to even make photographs other than a desultory snapshot or two.  The difference in the feeling of "rightness" between being in the High Sierra wilderness surrounded by not a single creature comforts, and being in this place, surrounded by them, shocks me.

Fishing Boats

Saturday thus turned from a planned day of exploration to a day of recuperation.  A long stint by and in the pool after breakfast, followed by a long walk to the farthest end of the beach, the remaining bulk of a Wallace Stegner essay collection, the development of an uneven yet luxurious sunburn and stinging foot-soles from the sandy hike and broiling rocks around the beach-end tidepools, practicing occasional but varied styles of hawker defense, the lazy contemplation of middle-aged potato-shaped cellulite-bulging Russians with horrifyingly scanty swimming attire, and thankfully of a few nubile ones that can actually pull it off, and another dip in the pool restored me to my rightful mind and put me in the mood to write/think and prepare for more active pursuit tomorrow.  I’ve arranged for (with the intermediary assistance of the concierge of course) a car and driver for the day and plan to visit Galle, probably the Brief Gardens, and anywhere else the winds of interest take me before returning to the Havelock Bungalow for another work-focused week.

Clearly this is turning into an unforgettable trip.  I’d apologize for the long post but most of you will certainly have abandoned the narrative already and thus miss the apology ;-).

By now the orange sun is long replaced by a thin crescent of moon in deep black, fading and darkening again as the heavy tropical atmosphere thickens imperceptibly into full cloud cover.  I’ve relocated from my nook overlooking the beach to a poolside lounger, from which I can smell the tandoori charcoal and the imminent buffet in the warm air.  Soon it’s pull will be irresistible.

The Value of Interop Events

The WSDL WG continues to struggle to get it’s Candidate Recommendation issue list down to zero - something we’ve been close to for a long time (and even acheived momentarily a few times) but never quite able to make stick.

Rolling up the graph of our issues, it’s pretty clear what the culprit is - there have been two major spikes in the number of issues - one last June, and another last November.  Not terribly surprisingly, these spikes coincide fairly directly with the two interop events we’ve held (July 5-7, Nov 14-18).  Clearly dedicated interop events do result in closer examination and improvements to a spec!

So, is the solution to speedy specs simply not holding interop events?  Instead, I’d propose a new model - instead of specially arranging interop events as necessary, plan from the beginning to hold a recurring series of interop events, every two to three months, stopping only when the spec is complete.  Which I think means we’re due for another one…

WS-MTOM Policy

At long last, the tiny but valuable WS-MTOM Policy assertion spec has been acknowledged as a W3C Submission.  90% of the spec is boilerplate, so rather than wade through that, here’s a summary:

The spec defines the following element as a WS-Policy assertion:

<OptimizedMimeSerialization xmlns=""/>

When this policy assertion is used, all messages to and from a Web Service MUST be MTOM encoded; thus they will all have the application/xop+xml mime type.  The assertion can be used on, and thus applies uniformly to, a wsdl:binding or wsdl:port.  Although the spec doesn’t mention WSDL 2.0, there is an obvious implication that it will work just fine on a wsdl2:binding, or a wsdl2:endpoint.  That’s the spec in a nutshell.

This spec is bare-bones and thus avoids a number of nasty issues.  A few things the spec doesn’t define:

  • It does not constrain which parts of a message, if any, should or must be optimized.  Most messages sent and received from an endpoint will have the application/xop+xml mime type even though they only have a single message part (and thus no optimization).
  • It does not provide for operation-level granularity of describing MTOM encoding.  That is, all operations in the interface have to be optimized, or not.
  • It does not provide for message-level granularity of describing MTOM encoding.  That is, you should not expect to be able to send XOP and get back plain old SOAP, or vice versa.
  • wsp:Optional="true" is allowed on the assertion, so that you can still interoperate with the service without MTOM engaged.  However, this doesn’t mean you can mix and match MTOM and plain old SOAP at will.  Specifically, if you send a regular SOAP message to such an endpoint, it can infer that you have chosen the policy alternative that doesn’t include MTOM engagement, and so you won’t get an optimized message in response.  I have a feeling wsp:Optional will be an interop problem in practice, and don’t expect Microsoft to be emitting it in their WSDLs.

P.S. you might chuckle to note me as the editor - 3 months after leaving Microsoft.  And it was on my project list for, maybe, a year?  So you can see I wasn’t the only bottleneck ;-).

2006 Travel Review

My 2006 travel exceeded the prior year by quite a bit, logging over 70,000 air miles (not even counting indirect flights.)  I’m not sure whether 2007 will be better or worse - replacing lots of little trips to Seattle with a few long ones to Sri Lanka