NetKernel News Volume 2 Issue 23

April 8th 2011

What's new this week?

Catch up on last week's news here

Repository Updates

The following updates are available in the NKEE and NKSE repositories...

  • apache-ant 1.3.1
  • database-relational 1.10.1
  • demo1 1.2.1
  • http-client 2.5.1
  • http-server 2.4.1
  • image-util 1.2.1
  • lang-dpml 1.12.1
  • lang-freemarker 1.5.1
  • lang-groovy 1.7.1
  • lang-javascript 1.4.1
  • lang-python 1.3.1
  • lang-xrl 1.9.1
  • layer0 1.59.1
  • layer1 1.25.1
  • module-standard 1.40.1
  • nkse-control-panel 1.18.1
  • nkse-doc-content 1.27.1
  • nkse-docs 1.14.1
  • nkse-search 1.12.1
  • nkse-visualizer 1.10.1
  • nkse-visualizer-tools 1.1.1
  • rdf-jena 1.7.1
  • rdf-rdfa 1.2.1
  • soap-ws 1.6.1
  • ssh-client 1.2.1
  • system-core 0.22.1
  • wiki-core 1.8.1
  • wink 1.16.1
  • xml-core 1.12.1
  • xml-jing 1.3.1
  • xml-saxon 1.7.1
    • Updated by Chris Cormack (the library maintainer) to export additional Saxon classpath.

The following updates were also published to the NKEE repository...

  • nkee-http-server 2.3.1
  • nkp 1.8.1

Update Status

There are a lot of updates this week. Almost exclusively these provide the ground-work of metadata hooks ready for next-week's release of nCoDE. I stress that these are metadata changes, and there are no fundamental changes to the first order library functionality or interfaces - your existing applications will not notice any difference.

You'll want to know that all of these changes are now live on our production NKEE servers (including this wiki server).

We recommend you accept the updates as a whole set - then you'll have a clean baseline to try out the good stuff next week.

In the Beginning

Do you remember the smell of unpacking your first computer? That heady scent of moulded plastic, freshly soldered circuit board and polystyrene...

Its a wonderful thing that even though our machines today are almost incomparable in performance, they still smell the same when they're brand new.

I was reminded by this recent article on the BBC celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Sinclair ZX81...

I was one of these kids it talks about. I saved up all my birthday and christmas money, and with a substantial additional "voluntary" contribution from my parents I got a ZX81 in 1981. I was eleven (as, coincidentally, was Unix).

I couldn't afford the massive 16K RAM pack (pictured left) so I just had the basic 1K machine. I didn't even have a cassette player suitable for loading programmes - so I was immediately confronted with an acute awareness of stateless architecture, from my very first tiny steps out onto the information savana.

But what power. What awesome power.

Not the machine - even we kids with our first computer knew that it was not powerful even by the standards of the day.

No, this was the power of the possible. The power of the future. The power that lay over the infinite horizon.

All that potential, and we had all the time in the world to explore.*

The Fall of Man

Of course with great power one is constantly faced with the temptation to abuse it. And I succumbed.

It was the matter of moments to realise the potential of...

10 PRINT "Peter Rodgers"
20 GOTO 10

Even better when you realised that a semi-colon would prevent the new-line and with an additional whitespace character you got a screen wrap effect which resulted in a cool diagonal scrolling display (the machines were so slow that this updated in a fast enough, but still readable way)...

10 PRINT "Peter Rodgers ";
20 GOTO 10

But better yet; these first machines were just starting to appear in special display stands at the department stores down town.

Who, aged eleven, could resist a Saturday morning bus excursion into town, to set up every one of the department store's demonstration systems to scroll digital graffiti?

But even better than that, no-one knew how to stop it - it would be there all day until the shops closed! We were the masters of the information universe - it said so on the screens.

The Ascent of Hacker

At the same time, in another grim northern town, a certain Tony Butterfield was also the proud owner of a ZX81. Being made of nobler stuff than me, he knuckled down and was soon hacking Z80 assembler. He quickly graduated, and by the age of thirteen had his own software publishing house and had written several commercial game titles for the amazing, but expensive, Memotech MTX. With 512KB!!! (For sure this proves that Tony quickly embraced the life of a rich technology play-boy).

His all-time-classic was "Pothole Pete", grab yourself an emulator and download a copy here (careful you might need to clear some disk space, its 21.5KB). Be warned though, Tony was old school and didn't believe in game saves or bonus lives; I believe there are full grown "forty-somethings" out there still trying to complete it (so here's the top secret level-diagrams - ssssh, keep it secret).

I, like all first-generation computer-kids, also graduated to assembler around the same time. We had nowhere else to go, these machines didn't have operating systems remember, just a crappy ROM BASIC. In computer evolutionary terms, we were one-day after the punched card. To get your machine to do cool things you got out the assembler and wrote to the metal.

Unlike my entrepreneurial colleague, I could only stretch to the Dragon 32 as my dream machine. (Colour! I had a colour display!!). Motorola 6800 and 32KB ram! I even had a disassembler on a plug-in cartridge, and could do some serious reverse engineering - you had to, there was no published information and no other way to find out (oh to have had the internet...).

Life Long Influence

As the BBC article explains, these basic and formative constraints provided a life long perspective. Its not for nothing that Tony is obsessed about efficiency and memory footprint. The NetKernel kernel, embodying the entire ROC abstraction, is still a 182KB jar (I know what you're thinking: "8x Pothole Pete, he's getting lazy!").

All this nostalgia is not just narcisistic introspection. It turns out we've got a pretty nifty little demo to show at the conference next week. But I'm not telling. You'll have to come along to see it...

*I've always believed that the trick to growing older is to never lose the ability to put yourself back into the mind of your eleven-year-old self. Tony would say I am almost permanently in this state.

Going Going...

Well we're about ready. The conference is next week: NKWest2011, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA, 12th-14th April.

The schedule has been published, the speakers are lined up, the demos ready and the new technologies are in the can.

Even now, you're not too late. You've got until midnight tonight to register...

Now, I'm off to the airport... See you in Fort Collins.

Have a great weekend,


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