Saturday, February 21, 2009

MAMP? WT...F is this again?

A few weeks ago I 'discovered' What's that, you may wonder. Well, not surprisingly, this is a commercial site with above 30 thousand online tutorials for hundreds of courses on all sorts of subjects. I had heard of them before, and vaguely knew their cute logo, a caricature of Lynda Weinman, the founder, herself with teacher's glasses and all, reminiscent of a thirties look (previous century). I never tried their materials though. I thought they'd be similar to O'Reilly Media. Anyways, this time I needed an express course on some of the Internet latest buzz on a few subjects, to prepare a course for my class. Knowing that average college students (definitely mine are) are sort of not too 'efficient' in their time spending and searching obscure subjects would be the last thing on their mind, I (the teach) decided to do that in their place. 25 bucks a month for accessing a library of 30000+ online tutorials and manage some real quick learning ain't that bad at all. Innit?

Actually the subject I was interested in is pretty old, but so am I... meaning, it's been a long time since I put my fingers in the mud of the latest and brightest techie intricacies (at least since late last century), and you know, these things change pretty quick. And they even age and get replaced by new ones while life goes by. When's the time that we all thought Java would be the next big thing? When everyone believed this was just software for kids? Lemme tell you then. It's the big thing now, feels like it's been like this for ever... omnipresent... so old that risks to get bypassed by a bunch of the next big ones! C'est la vie, folks... Especially in ICT, things change for the sake of change, and for a few more (million) bucks techie suppliers will charge you as an 'add-on'. Why not?

In a nutshell, here's what I been studying lately... (for the last couple of weeks). And did that like I'd die tomorrow and lose the chance to learn it. Almost 10 hrs a day, especially on weekends. Drives my bride nuts! And the kids have fun... dad's back to school! Oh, sh..oot!

Does WAMP, and MAMP, Javascript, AJAX, EJBs, .NET, Flex, XML action script, Coldfusion, XHTML, Javascript, Weblogic, TomCat, Jboss, Apache, XML, XLST, CSS, MySQL, PHP, ClassicASP, YUI, Flash, Dreamweaver, Objective C, Websphere, RSS, and so on... rings a bell? Most of you have heard all these terms, seen them in action, and probably have to work with them each day of your wonderful life,... but how many of you can tell a good story about what they really mean? Eh? And how they actually work? How 'bout that, then? And most important, why? And even more important, where are they different from each other! See what I mean? When I started with computers in early 1970ies we only had punch cards, and Fortran 2 (yep, long before Fortran 4 that was). I was proud in full mid seventies to go spend my pathetically scarce savings and buy McCracken's Fortran IV guide, I remember. So, for an old rat like me, you can imagine the frustration to have to deal with such concepts in my old days... Why do that then? Simple answer... just being curious. Curiosity killed the cat, you may say. Well, no worries... been there, done that. As colon cancer survivor (so far) I shouldn't worry too much that heavy studying of impossible Internet concepts is ever gonna kill me.

So, lemme share with you, geeks, what I learned from this experience...

A. First of all, and not being such a novelty as an idea, Internet apps are at the same time easy and hard to do. As ever been. Programming didn't change much from the times I was learning it. Similar syntax, formalisms, constructs, conventions, standards, mindbreakers, smart and boring. The fundamentals are still the same!

B. It proves far simpler to create normal transactional apps over the web than most people would dare think (at least me). It's been much more often than I dare admit, until Lynda came by, that I simply couldn't get it how all these buggers, web servers, app servers, database servers, client computing, and server side middleware all came together. Lemme tell you now, then. It's so bloody simple! In less than two weeks, starting from scratch by learning the basic 1989 Tim Berners Lee HTML up to today's 'sophisticated' javascript and AJAX XML asynchronous server calls, I managed to put together a simple transactional app on my MAMP! WTF is this, you may ask... no worries, it stands for Macintosh Apache MySQL PHP, an Open Source software stack (all you need to care about this is that it's free and downloadable and piece of... tiramisu to get up and running). It's an environment within which one can create conventional DB apps but running in a sort of cloud computing client-server configuration. Over the net and via good ol' browsers.

Lemme give you an example...Suppose you are an IT consulting business and want your per diem billable staff to spend 24 hrs a day at the client offices charging them 100 dollars an hour 'for each and every' one of these 24 hrs. You don't want them to come back to the 'office' in order to 'allegedly' prepare 'time reports' and actually relax, chatting with the dumb blonds (admin assistants they're callin' them nowadays, we used to call 'em secys) and having a good time, while you, the boss, are sweating 'kareklopòdara' (Greek term meaning 'rugged stool legs'... if you know what I mean) to recover cash from your aging AR to pay your VAT and the dudes' social security tax, right? Got it?

If you belong to this class of unfortunate C-level officers, like one I used to be, then an app like I described above, a cloud run transactional app, is all the panacea you need. No excuses to come to the office dammit! Hook on the net during your lunch break, dude, and report your time back home over the client's Internet connection, right? With a browser time reporting app like this I'm talkin' about, right?

You may think I am nuts (and you're probably right) but I set out to make a small prototype of an app like this on this semester's class on B2B technologies in the University of Antwerp... Will my students bear that for 13 weeks? Who knows. Judging from the first two sessions attendance, I doubt it. It's not a mandatory course you see. Who cares... knowing me, they lose...

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