Saturday, April 23, 2005

Lawrence of Electricity

My universal (universally bad) power adaptor didn't work on a recent trip to Dublin.

I spent 4 days begging colleagues for the use of their adaptors such that I could sufficiently charge my laptop to get to me to the next begging event. Maintaining the charge ruled my life, it was more important than actually doing any work on the thing.

I felt like some desert Bedouin hopping from one "power oasis" to another, thoughts of water taking precedence over all others. No better feeling than getting home and simply plugging straight into the wall and drinking in that sweet sweet current.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Ads Infinitum

Dublin boy Jonathan Swift wrote the following little ditty:

"So, the naturalists observe, the flea,
Hath smaller fleas that on him prey;
And these have smaller still to bite 'em;
And so proceed, ad infinitum"

Sounds like e-commerce proxy chaining to me

"So, an IDP issues assertions in XML,
On which an SP might choose to sell;
And these have other SPs willing to trust 'em;
And so proceed, ads infinitum"

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Broken Symmetry & SAML 2

If a system has symmetry, it means that something stays the same under a well-defined set of changes. Many constructs in nature are the result of such symmetry being broken.

Imagine a ball sitting balanced at the very peak of a hill. The system is symmetrical because if the hill were rotated about the axis running down through its top (or if an observer changed their viewing angle) it would still appear the same. It has rotational invariance or symmetry. Such a configuration is not stable, ultimately the ball will roll down from the top of the hill.

When the ball does roll down, the rotational symmetry is broken. The ball is no longer pierced by the axis of rotation and so the system looks different if rotated. As no outside force explicitly destroyed the symmetry, this is sometimes described as spontaneous symmetry breaking.

The actual direction the ball rolled off in is (if the hill is perfectly smooth and even) arbitrary, one direction would be as good as another. But, once a particular direction is chosen, we are stuck with it. Other possible directions, even if comparable to that in which the ball actually rolled, become nothing but "the road not taken".

Well, for federated identity standards, the ball has rolled down the hill and the direction it went is SAML 2. What might have previously been argued as a symmetrical state of affairs between SAML and other proposals (in terms of functionality, market uptake etc) is incontrovertibly broken (the symmetry not the standard) now. Perhaps not spontaneous, but broken all the same.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Creation myths

Stephen Jay Gould used the story of baseball's supposed invention to identify a common trend in society - namely a preference for creation myths over evolutionary change.

The Cooperstown-enshrined myth of Abner Doubleday inventing baseball has endured - facts notwithstanding. Not particularly surprising, other creation myths have persisted against even greater challenges from reality.

Maybe a comparable myth will spring up around this blog at some point in the future? Seems that springing into existence in one fell swoop is preferable to the slow (dare I say evolutionary) buildup of disconnected thoughts that it will inevitably turn out to be.