February 23, 2014

Confusion about metadata

A couple of points that arise frequently in conversation, but that I don’t seem to have made clearly online.

“Metadata” is generally defined as “data about data”. That’s basically correct, but it’s easy to forget how many different kinds of metadata there are. My list of metadata kinds starts with:

What’s worse, the past year’s most famous example of “metadata”, telephone call metadata, is misnamed. This so-called metadata, much loved by the NSA (National Security Agency), is just data, e.g. in the format of a CDR (Call Detail Record). Calling it metadata implies that it describes other data — the actual contents of the phone calls — that the NSA strenuously asserts don’t actually exist.

And finally, the first bullet point above has a counter-intuitive consequence — all common terminology notwithstanding, relational data is less structured than document data. Reasons include:

Related links

February 10, 2014

MemSQL 3.0

Memory-centric data management is confusing. And so I’m going to clarify a couple of things about MemSQL 3.0 even though I don’t yet have a lot of details.* They are:

*MemSQL’s first columnar offering sounds pretty basic; for example, there’s no columnar compression yet. (Edit: Oops, that’s not accurate. See comment below.) But at least they actually have one, which puts them ahead of many other row-based RDBMS vendors that come to mind.

And to hammer home the contrast:

February 9, 2014

Distinctions in SQL/Hadoop integration

Ever more products try to integrate SQL with Hadoop, and discussions of them seem confused, in line with Monash’s First Law of Commercial Semantics. So let’s draw some distinctions, starting with (and these overlap):

In particular:

Let’s go to some examples. Read more

February 2, 2014

Some stuff I’m thinking about (early 2014)

From time to time I like to do “what I’m working on” posts. From my recent blogging, you probably already know that includes:

Other stuff on my mind includes but is not limited to:

1. Certain categories of buying organizations are inherently leading-edge.

Fine. But what really intrigues me is when more ordinary enterprises also put leading-edge technologies into production. I pester everybody for examples of that.

Read more

February 2, 2014

Spark and Databricks

I’ve heard a lot of buzz recently around Spark. So I caught up with Ion Stoica and Mike Franklin for a call. Let me start by acknowledging some sources of confusion.

The “What is Spark?” question may soon be just as difficult as the ever-popular “What is Hadoop?” That said — and referring back to my original technical post about Spark and also to a discussion of prominent Spark user ClearStory — my try at “What is Spark?” goes something like this:

Read more

February 1, 2014

More on public policy

Occasionally I take my public policy experience out for some exercise. Last week I wrote about privacy and network neutrality. In this post I’ll survey a few more subjects.

1. Censorship worries me, a lot. A classic example is Vietnam, which basically has outlawed online political discussion.

And such laws can have teeth. It’s hard to conceal your internet usage from an inquisitive government.

2. Software and software related patents are back in the news. Google, which said it was paying $5.5 billion or so for a bunch of Motorola patents, turns out to really have paid $7 billion or more. Twitter and IBM did a patent deal as well. Big numbers, and good for certain shareholders. But this all benefits the wider world — how?

As I wrote 3 1/2 years ago:

The purpose of legal intellectual property protections, simply put, is to help make it a good decision to create something.

Why does “securing … exclusive Right[s]” to the creators of things that are patented, copyrighted, or trademarked help make it a good decision for them to create stuff? Because it averts competition from copiers, thus making the creator a monopolist in what s/he has created, allowing her to at least somewhat value-price her creation.

I.e., the core point of intellectual property rights is to prevent copying-based competition. By way of contrast, any other kind of intellectual property “right” should be viewed with great suspicion.

That Constitutionally-based principle makes as much sense to me now as it did then. By way of contrast, “Let’s give more intellectual property rights to big corporations to protect middle-managers’ jobs” is — well, it’s an argument I view with great suspicion.

But I find it extremely hard to think of a technology industry example in which development was stimulated by the possibility of patent protection. Yes, the situation may be different in pharmaceuticals, or for gadgeteering home inventors, but I can think of no case in which technology has been better, or faster to come to market, because of the possibility of a patent-law monopoly. So if software and business-method patents were abolished entirely – even the ones that I think could be realistically adjudicatedI’d be pleased.

3. In November, 2008 I offered IT policy suggestions for the incoming Obama Administration, especially:  Read more

January 27, 2014

The report of Obama’s Snowden-response commission

In response to the uproar created by the Edward Snowden revelations, the White House commissioned five dignitaries to produce a 300-page report, released last December 12. (Official name: Report and Recommendations of The President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies.) I read or skimmed a large minority of it, and I found enough substance to be worthy of a blog post.

Many of the report’s details fall in the buckets of bureaucratic administrivia,* internal information security, or general pabulum. But the commission started with four general principles that I think have great merit. Read more

January 27, 2014

Net neutrality and sponsored data — a middle course

Thanks to a court decision that overturned some existing regulations, network neutrality is back in the news. Most people think the key issue is whether

But I think some forms of charging can be OK — albeit not the ones currently being discussed — and so the question should instead be how the charges are designed.

When I wrote about network neutrality in 2006-7, the issue was mainly whether broadband providers would be allowed to ship different kinds of data at different speeds or reliability. Now the big controversy is whether mobile data providers should be allowed to accept “sponsorship” so as to have certain kinds of data not count against mobile data plan volume caps. Either way:

I think the anti-discrimination argument for network neutrality has much merit. But I also think there are some kinds of payment structure that could leave the playing field fairly level. Imagine, if you will, that: Read more

January 9, 2014

The games of Watson

IBM excels at game technology, most famously in Deep Blue (chess) and Watson (Jeopardy!). But except at the chip level — PowerPC — IBM hasn’t accomplished much at game/real world crossover. And so I suspect the Watson hype is far overblown.

I believe that for two main reasons. First, whenever IBM talks about big initiatives like Watson, it winds up bundling a bunch of dissimilar things together and claiming they’re a seamless whole. Second, some core Watson claims are eerily similar to artificial intelligence (AI) over-hype three or more decades past. For example, the leukemia treatment advisor that is being hopefully built in Watson now sounds a lot like MYCIN from the early 1970s, and the idea of collecting a lot of tidbits of information sounds a lot like the Cyc project. And by the way:

Read more

January 3, 2014

Notes on memory-centric data management

I first wrote about in-memory data management a decade ago. But I long declined to use that term — because there’s almost always a persistence story outside of RAM — and coined “memory-centric” as an alternative. Then I relented 1 1/2 years ago, and defined in-memory DBMS as

DBMS designed under the assumption that substantially all database operations will be performed in RAM (Random Access Memory)

By way of contrast:

Hybrid memory-centric DBMS is our term for a DBMS that has two modes:

  • In-memory.
  • Querying and updating (or loading into) persistent storage.

These definitions, while a bit rough, seem to fit most cases. One awkward exception is Aerospike, which assumes semiconductor memory, but is happy to persist onto flash (just not spinning disk). Another is Kognitio, which is definitely lying when it claims its product was in-memory all along, but may or may not have redesigned its technology over the decades to have become more purely in-memory. (But if they have, what happened to all the previous disk-based users??)

Two other sources of confusion are:

With all that said, here’s a little update on in-memory data management and related subjects.

And finally,

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