Tag Archives: architecture

What I found interesting in tech, July 2021

Here’s 59 links (!) of things I have found interesting in tech in the last while.

It ‘s heavily skewed towards Kubernetes because that’s mostly what I have been involved with. Some stuff on Helm, since I was working on a tricky situation with Helm charts. There’s some docker and Open Shift of course, since it’s related. There’s a few general pieces on cloud. And finally at the end there’s links to a bunch of worthwhile repos.

Almost all of these links are self explanatory. The ones that aren’t…well…few if anyone but me reads these posts anyway. 🙂 Just treat it like a collection of potentially good resources.

Raspberry Pi / Pico: I have been interested in doing work with the Raspberry Pi Pico, so here are some links I liked:
Raspberry Pi Pico: Programming with the Affordable Microcontroller and Getting started with Raspberry Pi Pico – Control LED brightness with PWM | Raspberry Pi Projects and How to Use an OLED Display With Raspberry Pi Pico | Tom’s Hardware.

I am interested in getting bluetooth working with my Raspberry Pi Pico, so I am reading things like Bluetooth serial communication with Mac, JY-MCU Bluetooth and Arduino | Cy-View and How to: Setup a bluetooth connection between Arduino and a PC/Mac | ./notes and Cheap BlueTooth Buttons and Linux – Terence Eden’s Blog

Not a Pico, but I am also interested in doing work with the ATTTiny 85 chip, so I saved this: How to Program an ATtiny 85 Digispark : 8 Steps – Instructables

Here’s two projects I am interested in. Using a Pico to press a key on the Mac using bluetooth: How to run an AppleScript with a keyboard shortcut on macOS while here is a fun project – Making an Email-Powered E-Paper Picture Frame

Here’s some cool MIDI projects with a Pico: this one, NEW GUIDE: Modal MIDI Keyboard @adafruit @johnedgarpark #adafruit #midi « Adafruit Industries – Makers, hackers, artists, designers and engineers, this Code the Modal MIDI Controller | Modal MIDI Keyboard | Adafruit Learning System, and this Build smart, custom mechanical keyboards for MIDI – or really tiny Ableton Live control – CDM Create Digital Music

Kubernetes/OpenShift / Containers: I’ve been doing more and more work on K8S and OpenShift and found these useful…

Cloud: some advanced cloud knowledge here:

Software Development: here’s some random dev links:

 

 

General: finally here are some interesting links on IT in general:

(Image: via NYT piece on mesh)

Why it takes longer than four hours to build a system for a large organization like a bank or a government

A lot of people have very strong opinions about the IT that has been rolled out for Ontario’s vaccine distribution system. I understand that: it has been very challenging for people to get a vaccine here in this province. People look at other provinces like Nova Scotia with their centralized system and ask why didn’t the province do that. They look at this site some very smart guys hacked together in four hours that allows you to text it and get back nearby vaccination sites and they say the government should be more like that. They attribute the government with being cheap, racist and other things, and say they didn’t build a good IT system because of that.

I have strong opinions about the vaccine IT that has been built out for the province too.  The difference is that my opinions are based on working on several large scale projects with the province. It’s also based on working on emerging IT for several decades. I’d like to share it in the hope it helps people gain some perspective as to what is involved.

Building IT systems for a large organization, private or public, is difficult. There are many stakeholders involved and many users involved and often many existing IT systems involved. You have to meet the needs of all of them, and you often have to go through many reviews with internal reviewers to demonstrate your new IT system meets their standards before you can start to build anything. Even then, with all of that, the IT system you are about to build could still fail. Big organizations are very sensitive to this and work diligently to prevent it. You can’t just hack together a proof of concept one day and then the next day have it go live on some banking or government site. Not in my experience.

Failure is a big concern. Another big concern is the needs of the stakeholders. For government systems there are many of them. There were over 50 other organizations that I had to work with external to the government on the projects I was leading. Each had their own IT systems and their own way of doing things. We could not just come in and say throw out your existing IT and use this new thing. There was a whole onboarding process that had to be developed to bring them into the new way of doing things. And that didn’t include all the people in the province or the country who will use the IT system and are therefore are also big stakeholders: they were taken into account and consulted separately.

A third big concern is systems integration. Not only do you need to work with the external IT systems of the stakeholders mentioned above, you have to work with internal IT systems to get data or send them data. In all cases that means not only do you need to understand what the government needs the new IT  system to do, but it means you have to have some understanding of how all these other systems work. Your new IT system can not be effective if you don’t know how to work with the existing systems. It’s a lot harder than scraping existing web sites and calling it done.

It is one thing to develop an IT system to provide new functionality; you also have to make sure it satisfies a number of non-functional requirements (NFRs). Reliability, performance, security, maintainability, data integrity, accuracy are just some of the NFRs that must be determined and met. Even cost and speed to market (i.e., the time it takes to develop a working system) are important requirements. Then there are regulatory requirements you need to meet, from SOC 2 to HIPAA, depending on the type of system you are building.

In addition to all that, there may be technical or design constraints that you must meet. The organization you are working with may require that you use certain suppliers or certain technology for anything you build. You may want to use Mongo and Node in a GCP region in the US for your IT system, but your client might say it has to run on Azure in Canada using Java/Springboot and Postgres, so your new IT system will have to accommodate that.

Once you have taken all that into account, the organization may have some other requirements, including dates, that must be met. In the case of systems like the vaccine IT, that date is “yesterday”. That will force some decisions on how you build your system.

All that said, my educated guess – and it is a guess, because it is based on my experience and not inside knowledge on how the system was built – was that Ontario decided the quickest way to roll out the vaccine IT was to build on the basis of what already exists. For example, many of the individual pharmacies in Ontario have their own systems for working with their patients. And several hospitals I checked use other software like Verto to manage their patients. The integration of all those systems is on “the glass”. By that I mean you can go to the government web site (“the glass”) and then you are redirected to other systems (e.g. a Verto system for a hospital) to book an appointment.

There are benefits to going with this approach versus building a new centralized IT system. It’s cheaper, for one. But it’s also faster to rollout than a new system. It’s less prone to failure than a new system. If you assume people are going to sign up for COVID vaccines like they do flu vaccines, then you know this approach will work, and reliability is a key NFR. If you are designing IT systems, you have to make assumptions to proceed, and that one is based on things you know, which is usually good.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be a bad assumption. Unlike the flu, where uptake is around 30% and spread out, people are scrambling to get the COVID vaccine. This has led to the downfall of the current approach in Ontario as people try all sorts of ways to get a shot asap.

You might say: well that was a dumb assumption, why would anyone make it? In my experience, with new IT systems, it is hard to predict how people will behave. My colleagues once built a system for a government agency that allowed people to weekly update their status on their workplace. The system was available 24/7, but they had to put in their information by Sunday night, 23:59. All week no one would use the system, and then at 11 pm on Sunday it would get hammered with users trying to send in their information. We did not predict that. We assumed there would be peak usage then, but almost all the traffic was at that point.

To mitigate the risk of bad assumptions, IT projects will often do a gradual rollout. However that was never going to be an option here: people wanted the vaccine IT system “yesterday”.

Nova Scotia chose to develop a centralized system and people are saying Ontario should have done that. Possibly. It’s also possible that conditions in Ontario could have resulted in delays in rolling out a centralized system. Or the system could have been on time but failed often. Many IT systems and programs (e.g. Obamacare) have this result. Or some of the big hospitals and independent small pharmacies could have opted out. Then people would have been complaining about not being able to get a vaccine at all and that would have been much worse.

I am happy for Nova Scotia that theirs works well (although people are bypassing it and just showing up in Nova Scotia, so it’s not all roses there either). It’s fair to compare Ontario to them to some degree. And when all this is over, there should be an audit done by objective third parties to see what worked and what didn’t and what Ontario should do next.

I hope after reading this you have a better understanding of what goes into building IT systems for large organizations. I wish they could be built in a day or a week or a two week sprint even. I do know that large organizations are becoming more nimble and are working to getting out IT capability to their clients and citizens faster than ever before. But as you see, there are many things to take into account, and even with many people working on a new IT system, it does take time. Time measured in weeks and months and even years, not hours.

So the next time you hear someone say “they had all this time to figure this out”, take this into account. And thank you for reading this. I hope it helps.

Finally, these thoughts expressed here are mine and not those of my employer.

(Image is a link to the wikipedia page on system context diagrams, a diagram often used to determine how a new IT system fits in with existing IT systems).

What I find interesting in tech, April 2021. Now with Quantum Computing inside!

Here’s 9000 links* on things I have found interesting in tech in the last while. There’s stuff on IT Architecture, cloud, storage, AIX/Unix, Open Shift, Pico, code, nocode, lowcode, glitch. Also fun stuff, contrarian stuff, nostalgic stuff. So much stuff. Good stuff! Stuff I have been saving away here and there.

On IT Architecture: I love a good reference architecture. Here’s one from an IBM colleague. If you need some cloud adoption patterns when doing IT architecture, read this. Here’s a tool to help architects design IBM Cloud architectures. Like it. Here’s some more tools to do IBM Cloud Architecture. Architectural Decision documentation is a key to being a good IT architect. Here’s some guidance on how to capture ADs. This is also good on
ADs I liked this:some good thoughts on software architecture.

Here’s some thoughts from a leading IT architect in IBM, Shahir Daya. He has a number of good published pieces including this and this.

One of my favorite artifacts as an architect is a good system context diagram. Read about it here. Finally, here’s a piece on UML that I liked.

Cloud: If you want to get started in cloud, read this on starting small. If you are worried about how much cloud can cost, then this is good. Here’s how to connect you site to others using VPN (good for GCP and AWS). A great piece on how the BBC has gone all in on serverless.. For fans of blue green deployments, read this. A good primer on liveness and readiness probes. Want to build you own serverless site? Go here

Storage: I’ve had to do some work recently regarding cloud storage. Here’s a
good tool to help you with storage pricing (for all cloud platforms). Here’s a link to help you with what IBM Cloud storage will cost. If you want to learn more about IBM Object storage go there. If you want to learn about the different type of storage, click here and here.

AIX/Unix: Not for everyone, but here is a good Linux command handbook. And here is a guide to move an AIX LPAR from one server to another. I recommend everyone who use any form of Unix, including MacOS, read
this. That’s a good guide to awk, sed and jq.

Open Shift:  If you want to learn more about Open Shift, this is a good intro. This is a good tutorial on deploying a simple app to Open Shift. If you want to try Open Shift, go here.

Raspberry Pi Pico:  If you have the new Pico, you can learn to set it up here.
Here’s some more intros to it. Also here. Good stuff. Also good is this if you want to add ethernet to a Raspberry Pi pico.

On Networking: If you want to know more about networking you want to read this, this and this. Also this. Trust me.

Code: Some good coding articles. How to process RSS using python. How to be a more efficient python programmer. Or why you should use LISP. To do NLP with Prolog the way IBM Watson did, check this out. If you want to make a web app using python and Flask, go here. If you need some python code to walk through all files within the folder and subfolders and get list of all files that are duplicates then you want this. Here’s how to set up your new MacBook for coding. Here’s a good piece on when SQL Isn’t the Right Answer

Glitch: I know people who are big fans of Glitch.com. If you want to see it’s coolness in action, check. out this and this

No Code Low Code: If you want to read some good no-code/low-code stuff to talk to other APIs, then check out this, this, and this.

Bookmarking tool: If you want to make your own bookmarking tool, read
this, this and this. I got into this because despite my best efforts to use the API of Pocket, I couldn’t get it to work. Read this and see if you get further.

Other things to learn: If you want to learn some C, check out this. AI? Read this Open Shift? Scan this. What about JQuery? Read this or that Bootstrap. this or this piece. Serverless? this looks fun. PouchDB? this and this. Express for Node? this. To use ansible to set up WordPress on Lamp with Ubuntu, go over this. To mount an NFTS mount on a Mac, see this. Here’s how to do a Headless Raspberry Pi Setup with Raspbian Stretch

Also Fun: a Dog API. Yep. Here is CSS to make your website look like Windows 98. A very cool RegEx Cheatsheet mug.. And sure, you can run your VMs in Minecraft if you go and read this. If you want to read something funny about the types of people on an IT project, you definitely want this.

Contrarian stuff: Here are some contrarian tech essays I wanted to argue against, but life is too short. Code is law. Nope. Tech debt doesn’t exist.Bzzzt. Wrong. Don’t teach your kids to code. Whatever dude. Use ML to turn 5K into 200K. Ok. Sure.

Meanwhile: Back to earth, if you want to use bluetooth tech with your IOT projects, check out this, this, this, and this. If you have an old Intel on a stick computer and want to upgrade it (I do), you want this. If you want to run a start up script on a raspberry pi using crontab, read this If you want to use Google Gauge Charts on your web site, then read this and this.

Nostalgia: OS/2 Warp back in the 90s was cool. Read all about it
here.Think ML is new? Read about Machine Learning in 1951
here. This is a good piece on Xerox Parc. Here is some weird history on FAT32. And wow, here is the source code for CP/67/CMS. And I enjoyed this on Margaret Hamilton.

Finally: Here are IBM’s design principles to combat domestic abuse. Here is how and why to start building useful real world-software with no experience. Lastly, the interesting history of the wrt54g router

(* Sorry there was less than 9000 links. Also no quantum computing inside this time. Soon!)

On Bernie Michalik’s Rule of Performance Testing

Two things. First my rule of performance testing is that you cannot avoid performance testing: you either do it with test data and test users in a test environment or you do it with live data with real users in a production environment.

So often I see clients try to slim down or avoid performance testing. I came up with my rule to show them that it is impossible. Now sometimes you can get away with it but it’s risky. I never advise it. You can always do some form of performance testing before you go live. Always. Still some try not to.

Second, above is an example of a site that clearly was performance tested. Even better, it is designed to respond to peak loads. Impressive.

On the wonderful colourful world of old churches

old church

This is a good piece on how, actually, Medieval Cathedrals Used to Be Full of Brilliant Colors. If you imagine them to be dark and dreary and colourless, read the piece. They were likely nothing like that, based on some good detective work by restoration specialists.

 

The problems with supertall towers

I am not a fan of supertall towers. They are bland looking, and they add little to a skyline. Therefore I was glad to see this week that they are being exposed for being problematic. First up was this piece in the New York Times on how one of them has been having lots of problems:  The Downside to Life in a Supertall Tower: Leaks, Creaks, Breaks.  Then there was a more general critique of them here:  Why Pencil Towers are Problematic.

It seems to me that there are some problems with the buildings that not even super-engineering can fix. Perhaps this means that this is the beginning of the end of supertall buildings. I can hope.

(Image link to NYtimes.com)

On Frank Gehry’s latest proposed building for Toronto

Starchitect Frank Gehry is proposing a new set of towers for Toronto, and BlogTo has the latest on it here: Frank Gehry towers in Toronto updated again and people say they look like cheese graters.

I like it. I like the lack of smoothness to it, a quality so many basic buildings have in the downtown core (though there are many good ones, too).  I like how it looks like towers of blocks slightly askew. I also like it has many units: we need more places for people to live in Toronto.

I do wonder, though, if the final version will look anything like that. Or even if it gets built at all. I vaguely recall that Gehry’s designs for his version of the AGO were scaled back due to lack of money. And the ROM designs of another starchitect, Daniel Libeskind, went through transformations as well, though I believe for different reasons It would be good to have more Gehry in Toronto. If we get it and what it will finally look like remains to be seen. It may not looks like a cheese grater at all by the time it appears on King Street.

Toronto’s Annex grows up

The Annex in Toronto is growing up, literally. First there are the new condos going in on the corner of Bloor and Bathurst. Now the other end of it, at Spadina and Bloor, is getting the same treatment.

A mid-September application submitted to the City of Toronto seeks Zoning By-law Amendments to permit a 35-storey mixed-use condominium tower at 334 Bloor Street West, above Spadina subway station in The Annex.

For more on this, see:

35-Storey Condo Tower Proposed at Bloor and Spadina’s Northwest Corner | UrbanToronto

I think these are good developments. The character of the area remains, but more people can live there and enjoy it. Perhaps some day I will get to as well.

Alternative materials for buildings homes (concrete) and furniture (drywall)

I thought both of these pieces were interesting. First this one, on the home of artist Sue Webster (shown below)

and then this piece on drywall furniture: Drywall? Dry Furniture Takes On the Issue of Affordable Furniture (shown below)

Not sure I’ll ever warm up to furniture made of drywall or homes with that much concrete, but it’s worthwhile considering them and what it would be like.

Some of it reminds me of the houses and furniture that Frank Gehry used to build.  Perhaps we will all live in such houses in the future.

 

What is Shibam Hadramawt?

I came across this place the other day and thought it was fantastic. According to Wikipedia:

Shibam Haḍramawt (Arabic: شِـبَـام حَـضْـرَمَـوْت‎)[2][3] is a town in Yemen. With about 7,000 inhabitants, it is the seat of the District of Shibam[1] in the Governorate of Hadhramaut. Known for its mudbrick-made high-rise buildings, it is referred to as the “Chicago of the Desert” (Arabic: شِـيـكَاغـو ٱلـصَّـحْـرَاء‎),[2] or “Manhattan of the Desert” (Arabic: مَـانْـهَـاتَـن ٱلـصَّـحْـرَاء‎).[4]

Shibam Hadramawt – Wikipedia

Here is just one great shot of it. It’s fascinating:

Check out the Wikipedia page for more information and better sized images of this place.

(Embedded image taken by Jialiang Gao http://www.peace-on-earth.org – Original Photograph, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1450126)

 

What are the ugliest buildings in Toronto?

BlogTo has a list of 10 of them, here, and I have to say, they did a good job. I am in full accord with Shawn Micallef on the need to blow away all the building on the North East corner of Yonge and Bloor. No one would shed a tear for replacing them. As for me, the ugliest building — and it was close — is the Bloor Dundas Square (shown above). That monstrosity has been around forever. Pretty much anything would be an improvement on what is there now.

Toronto has many great buildings. These are none of them. 🙂

 

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Skinny skyscrapers are coming to Toronto


There are a fair number of these in Manhattan, but if this is correct, it looks like one is coming to downtown Toronto, at Bay and Bloor: Herzog & de Meuron designs Canada’s tallest skyscraper.

I predict over the next 20-30 years we may have lots of these bean poles in many cities. Including Toronto.

Click on the link for more details.

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Something beautiful to look at: Copenhagen’s Grundtvig’s Church

You can see many more pictures of it here, at Colossal.

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What are Spite Houses?


I love this piece on a rather odd thing: The Spite House, an Architectural Phenomenon Built on Rage and Revenge.

Spite houses can be houses or buildings or any structure built not so much to be lived it as they are the express a very negative emotion. Once you know about them, you will be surprised you know more of them than you thought.

I don’t think I’ve ever been that spiteful that I would go through the trouble of spending all the time and money to get back at someone. But that’s not true of everyone, if you read that article.

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On the super tall and skinny buildings popping up all over New York City

New York City has had skyscrapers for a long time. A new twist on the skyscraper is the super skinny ones popping up all over Manhattan. There’s plenty of reasons for that, and the Guardian well documents that, here: Super-tall, super-skinny, super-expensive: the ‘pencil towers’ of New York’s super-rich | Cities | The Guardian.

I don’t particularly like them, but like all buildings, I am sure they will grow on me over time. They seem too featureless. Their main feature seems to be the thinness. That hardly puts them in the same class as the Chrysler Building or the Empire State Building.

Regardless of your thoughts on them, the article in the Guardian is good.

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What is hostile architecture?

You can find a description of hostile architecture here, but the best way to describe it is to show it, as Vice does here: Photos of the Most Egregious ‘Anti-Homeless’ Architecture – VICE. Once you see these photos, you will find you see examples of it everywhere in the places you frequent.

Most hostile architecture is aimed at homeless people. Sometimes it is obvious, like spikes installed on flat surfaces. Other times, it’s more subtle, like arm rests in the middle of benches. (Prevents homeless people from lying down on them.)

One of the problems with hostile architecture is that it allows us to pretend homeless doesn’t exist. If we don’t see homeless people, it’s easier to image they aren’t there. A lesser problem is that cities become more unliveable for all, because hostile architecture for anyone is hostile architecture for everyone.

We need more livable cities. And we need more support for homeless people. Hostile architecture is not the solution.

P.S. Not all hostile architecture is aimed at people. Some of it, like spikes on top of outdoor ledges, is aimed at pigeons. I’ll leave that for another post.

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The diversity of I.M. Pei, shown in six buildings

Like many, I am well aware of Pei’s work at the Louvre. I was not aware he designed the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. I liked this piece,  Six of I.M. Pei’s Most Important Buildings – The New York Times, because it showed the diversity of Pei’s work and touched a little on how he approached new projects.

A good way to remember a great architect.

What Happens to Churches in the 21st Century?

Quite a few things, according to this: www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/11/what-should-america-do-its-empty-church-buildings/576592/

if you have a church in your neighbourhood, there is a good chance one of the things mentioned in the article will happen in the next 10 years.

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The greatness of what College Park in Toronto could have been

Sigh.

I love College Park in Toronto. I wish it were more of a destination spot for visitors. Perhaps if it had been built out like this photo, it would have. Instead, it was built out to the area outlined in white.  Still a lovely building, but it could have been a phenomenon.

What could have been.

Via The half-built relics of nixed Toronto skyscrapers – Spacing Toronto

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The crumbling and outright destruction of “brutalist treasures”

If you are a fan of Brutalism, you will want to visit this: Attack the blocks: brutalist treasures under threat – in pictures | Cities | The Guardian

You might want to even visit them, because for some of them, their days are numbered.

I imagine that in the next 50 years, the number of Brutalist buildings currently existing will be significantly reduced. That would be a shame. Brutalism gets knocked hard, and I can see why. But worse than Brutalist building are boring buildings from all different architectural styles. I’d like to see those go first. The world could use good Brutalism in their cities. Here’s hoping it doesn’t undergo severe decline.

Tiny homes you can build

If you want to build a tiny home, Dwell has a nice list of resources for you here. I particularly like the one above. There is a wide range though, and if you are considering building such a home, see Dwell.

More on tiny homes


Two more tiny home stories. First up, Muji also has a tiny prefab home and you can see more pictures (like the one above) here: Muji Hut Launches With 3 New Tiny Prefab Homes Collection of 9 Photos by Aileen Kwun – Dwell.

Second, here is an odd but topical story for a tiny home heated by Bitcoin mining technology! 

 

A tiny home that seems livable


Many tiny homes look nice to visit but the thought of living in something so small seems impossible. An exception to those homes are these MADi houses, featured here: MADi Flat Pack Tiny House – Fast Set Up Eco Friendly | Apartment Therapy. 

They seem spacious, thanks to the A frame and all the windows. Better still, they seem very affordable.  Tiny home fans (or skeptics), take note.

You can find more about them here.

A peek inside the sublime new NYC residence designed by the great Zaha Hadid

Fortunate souls walking along New York’s High Line can catch a glimpse of the magnificent building pictured above. Now, thanks to Design Milk, you can get to see what it looks like inside by going here: 520 West 28th Condominium Residence by Zaha Hadid – Design Milk. 

Not surprisingly, it is as gorgeous on the inside as it is on the outside. I would love to live there. Take a peek inside and you’ll see why.

What do you get when you mix architects and cats?


Some pretty wild cat homes, as you can see here: Inspired Outdoor Cat Shelters by Architects for Animals – Design Milk.

It’s worth checking out the article: some of the things architects build for their cats is really incredible. (Also there is a good chance the cat will just ignore it and go and squeeze into a nearby box).

What makes McMansions bad? The opposite of what makes other houses appealing

This piece, Worst of McMansions — McMansions 101: What Makes a McMansion Bad…, not only clearly explains why McMansions are so ugly, but it shows why other houses are appealing. A good primer for anyone interested in buildings and architecture, especially for someone looking to build a new home. I

Is facadism/urban taxidermy bad?

In this piece, Are we killing Yonge Street? from NOW Toronto Magazine, there is a good discussion on what is happening to development on Yonge Street in Toronto. NOW reports that for a lot of development happening on Yonge Street, the facades of the existing building are kept and much of the development is happening behind it. The article argues that this is a bad thing, and they raise some good points.

What I think they don’t touch on are some of the alternatives. Toronto is fortunate in that there is development ongoing. For poor cities, the alternative is boarded up or demolished buildings and vacant neighborhoods.  Instead, we have neighborhoods and buildings being improved. That’s good.

Another alternative is the old buildings being torn down and replaced with new storefronts and new buidlings. I think some of that is good, but I also think preservation of old buildings is also good.

When it comes to preservation and improvements of old buildings, I also think that some of them should be preserved outright. However, Toronto is a growing city, and in some cases, we need larger buildings. In that case, facadism is a good compromise.

Now whether or not facadism is effective or not depends on at least two things. The first is how well the new architecture uses the existing architecture. Done well, the marriage of the old and new building results in something that enhances the area and preserves the city while allowing it to grow.  The second thing that determines if facadism is effective is how the new building affects the neighborhood. Here, I think, is the root of the problem. It’s not so much facadism as it is gentrification. Old buildings get preserved, but old stores do not. New developments can cause rents to rise, driving out the stores and organizations that made the neighborhood great. You get bank branches and big chain stores replacing old bookshops and cafes.

I hope the next phase of development tries to understand how to preserve not just the existing architecture, but the neighborhood as well. I realize that is a difficult task, but it is one worth trying to accomplish.

Library porn: Prague’s Klementinum library

My Modern Met has some fantastic images of the Klementinum library for anyone (like myself) that gets excited about such things. Here’s a sample:

If you haven’t heard of it, here’s what that site has to say about this fantastic place:

Prague’s Klementinum library was opened in 1722 and has easily become one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. Aside from housing over 20,000 novels for your reading pleasure, this location showcases absolutely stunning Baroque architecture. As you’re perusing various timeworn bookshelves, you can take a moment to look up and see Jan Hiebl’s heavenly, Renaissance-style ceiling paintings. Amongst his work, there are symbolic designs that represent the importance of education, along with fantastic portraits of Jesuit saints. Hiebl’s paintings actually pay homage to the fact that the library was originally a Jesuit university. Many of the school’s rare, 17th-century books are still amongst its collection today. That would explain why Emperor Joseph II’s portrait is displayed at the head of the hall, since he was the one who arranged for abolished monastic libraries to send their books to Klementinum.

Something beautiful: an Infinite Bridge in Denmark

This is a really beautiful bridge. It is relaxing to look at…it’s likely more so to walk upon.

For more images of it, see Infinite Bridge in Denmark – Fubiz Media

On the unnecessary preciousness of architecture

From this, New TD Centre signage reflects a time when brands trump architectural vision – The Globe and Mail, comes this:

Up against that, TD Centre still retains the purity of a temple. And you don’t put billboards on a temple, unless you want to anger the gods.

It’s worth reading that article to get a viewpoint of someone who thinks of architecture as something pure and museum-like.

To me, the owners of the TD buildings are doing reasonable things with a building that functions as a work environment. You can make the argument that the building should never vary from the original intent of the architect. You can also make a good if not better counter argument that the building should be able to adapt to changes over time, and that the building should allow for the people in it to make adaptions to suit them.

The author seems to be arguing that building should remain fixed and never change, never learn. If that seems like an odd idea — that building should learn — I recommend this book: How Buildings Learn, by Stewart Brand. You can get it here. Also, if you search for it on Google, you will see alot of material derived from it.

 

My assessment of the assessments of Healthcare.gov

From Paul Krugman (Obamacare Success – NYTimes.com) to Ezra Klein (Ezra Klein: Thus Far, Obamacare a ‘Big Failure’ | National Review Online) to the NYtimes (From the Start, Signs of Trouble at Health Portal – NYTimes.com) to Alex Howard at BuzzFeed (How The First Internet President Produced The Government’s Biggest, Highest-Stakes Internet Failure) there has been more and more assessments coming in for healthcare.gov, and most of them have been negative. How good are these assessments?

I would argue that at this point, the assessments of healthcare.gov are of limited value. For example, the NYTimes.com article has a good run down on the background of the project and the politics involved, but the analysis of the system is mostly based on insider and second hand information. The Buzzfeed article has a great analysis of the challenges of IT procurement in the U.S. government, but again, it doesn’t deal directly with the system itself in question. That doesn’t mean those stories are bad, for there is alot of interesting background information in them. But it doesn’t tell you much about the actual system that makes up healthcare.gov.

There have been some good attempts at an assessment from an IT perspective from the CTO of Huffington Post (Why The Experts Are Probably Wrong About The Healthcare.gov Crack-Up | John Pavley), Paul Smith over at TPM (A Programmer’s Perspective On Healthcare.gov And ACA Marketplaces), as well as from individual bloggers with IT knowledge (e.g., Too Big To Succeed and Is There A Problem Here?). Someone wanting a better idea of the technology and the design of the system would be better off reading those.

In all cases, the individuals doing these assessments have very little to work with. A proper assessment of an IT system can take a team weeks if not months with full access to the system and all the artifacts and deliverables that went into making the system. Most of the assessments I have read so far have been based on having little if any data and few if any artifacts. This isn’t a criticism of the assessors: it’s all they have to work with. (The only fault I see is with some assessors displaying slight arrogance in thinking they have nailed it in their assessment as to what is wrong with the system.)

Given the little to go with, the people who are assessing the system a success or a failure are basing it on a number of assumptions that they have which may or may not be true. I don’t see much value in those assumptions. For example, most of the assessments I have read so far seem to assume the system should be up and running with few problems, given the importance of this site and the money invested in it. (Klein in particular seems to be certain of how an IT project should go, which I find remarkable in someone with an non-IT background like his.) There is nothing wrong with that assumption, but that’s all it is. You may think it is a valid assumption, but that is besides the point.

At this point in time, the only ones that can assess if the project is a success or a failure are the key stakeholders for the project. If you are someone who could never get healthcare because of preexisting conditions and now, even with difficulty, you are able register for a get healthcare, you likely consider the site a success. Conversely, if you are an insurer who expected to get alot of applicants from the site and are getting none, you may consider the site a failure. Right now it is too early to weigh any of that: it will take time and further analysis.

The government seems to have a longer term view of the site than most of the analysts that I have seen so far.  As the NYTimes.com story says, “Administration officials have said there is plenty of time to resolve the problems before the mid-December deadline to sign up for coverage that begins Jan. 1 and the March 31 deadline for coverage that starts later”. There is actually some benefit in launching the site now, well in advance of the December deadline. Sites with deadlines often experience the most traffic around the time of the deadline, and I expect healthcare.gov will be no exception. They have two months to resolve performance issues, better model usage patterns, fix critical bugs in the software, enhance the infrastructure, and improve the integration with other systems. Two months is a short timeframe, but it is feasible that they can resolve many of the obvious problems that the site is suffering now. As well, the proponents of the site should have enough data and analysis of the data to argue the success of the site.

Regardless of how the site is perceived then, anyone doing these assessments should have alot more to work with. In the future, if you are reading future assessments of the sites, things to consider are:

  • how much information about the site is the writer using in the assessment? More is better. Skip the ones based solely on anecdotes, or that ignores key stakeholders.
  • what is the criteria the writer is using for determine whether or not the site is successful? Is that criteria a valid one? Comparing it to other government or large scale commercial IT project is a good criteria. Comparing it to the roll-out of the latest iPhone is a poor one.
  • is the writer assessing the IT aspects of the site? How much IT experience does the writer have? You don’t have to be an IT expert to write about IT, but if you are talking about IT, you should have a basis for why your analysis is valid. If you are saying the architecture is faulty, you should be able to represent the architecture diagrammatically and say the architecture is faulty at points A, B, and C and here are the reasons why.

I am excited to see people discussing IT architecture with general audiences. I have been building and assessing IT architectures for decades, and it is a topic dear to me. I also know it is hard to assess the validity of what people are saying about it. That’s why I decided to write this. I appreciate any constructive feedback, and I will try and answer any that I receive.

(The above Flow Chart: How Health Insurance Exchanges Work is a representation of a health insurance exchange. I’ve included it to represent the complexity of any IT system that has to provide this type of capability.)

The beauty of the (new) solar energy

When I think of solar energy, I don’t think of beauty. But seeing these  Solé Power Tiles, I am having second thoughts:

The blue tile makes me think of places like Santorini in Greece. A great improvement on the older black solar panels.

(Found via Inhabitat.)