Welcome to Sufficiently-Advanced Technology!

An old-school blog where I write with uneven frequency on whatever seems interesting or important to me at any given time. Typically these subjects tend to center around:

But anything is really fair game here. If you wish to subscribe to updates, I publish an atom feed for use in your favourite reader app or you can follow me on mastodon. I speak at a number of conferences, my speaking schedule is maintained over here. I also host live Software Architecture Workshops and do occassional private training, speaking, and consulting gigs.

Thanks for stopping by my little corner of the web.

Recent Posts

Content Negotiation - A REST Superpower

Screenshot of an API testing tool that focuses on the 'Accept' header in the request, with a value of 'application/json'

REST is the architecture of the web and the web has seen unprecedented growth and evolution since its inception over 30 years ago. A web of static documents gave rise to the read/write web–the so-called web 2.0. New media types and formats have evolved, protocols have become more powerful and more secure. In short, the web has only grown bigger in scale, more powerful in terms of capabilities, and continues to evolve. The human web is a marvel of software engineering and its longevity is a testament to the vision its founders and architects. Unlike much of the software I use today, I have never opened a web browser to a message that the back-end of the web has undergone a breaking change and I would need to download new software before continuing.

At some point in the first decade of the 21st century the web crossed an inflection point; machine-to-machine API calls eclipsed human traffic on the web. Many of these APIs have been labeled REST APIs despite many–perhaps even most–of these APIs fail to exhibit the qualities elicited by truly following the REST architectural style. Consequently, the machine web consists of a lot of brittle integrations that require countless person-hours to craft and maintain. To be clear, I’m not here to get on my soapbox about how all these sinners are “doing REST wrong”; I really don’t care. Not every API needs to–or should–be a REST API. The REST architectural style is a very specific tool to solve specific problems.

“Some architectural styles are often portrayed as “silver bullet” solutions for all forms of software. However, a good designer should select a style that matches the needs of a particular problem being solved.” -Dr Roy Fielding Architectural Styles and the Design of Network Based Architectures

Fundamentally I want to talk about some of the overlooked aspects of this architectural style and how they can be implemented to eliminate problems with versioning, evolution, and flexibility. Today we’re focusing on content negotiation.

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The Future is Here (it's Just not Evenly Distributed)

A screenshot of a jupyter notebook demonstrating connecting GPT to a knowledge graph.

A few weeks ago I wrote an article on how investing in structured, semantic data can help move tools like ChatGPT from the “Trough of disillusionment” to the “plateau of productivity” and create intelligent agents that are actually intelligent. The core was that standardizing on REST Level 1 (or better) and beginning to layer in JSON-LD could provide a more meaningful and factual foundation for generative AI like GPT3 to deliver revolutionary value to organizations.

Less that three weeks later, Tony Seale, a Knowledge graph engineer, posted a brief demo video of these ideas in action.

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Personal Knowledge Management for Developers and Architects

stylized silhouette of a head showing a brain connected to a larger graph network of knowledge.

I spend a lot of time these days thinking about how to turn data into information, and information into knowledge. I work as an independent consultant and help my clients with knowledge management and the architecture and implementation of knowledge systems. I do a lot of R&D in the knowledge graph space and I’ve long dreamt of applying these ideas at personal scale to manage my own knowledge portfolio that allows me to not only capture what I learn, but find it again when I need it.

It turns out, the idea isn’t exactly new, and available technology today makes the dreams of the visionaries who first imagined what technology could do for human cognition are now ready for us to adopt. Applying these to my life and workflow has been transformational! Let me share the tools and techniques I’m currently using.

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The Future Beyond 'Spicy Autocomplete'

Michael Gartenberg

The stages of playing with GPT-3:

- OMG this can do anything
- There goes my job
- I should start a business around this
- Some of the responses aren’t too good
- Actually, some of these responses are just awful
- This isn’t really intelligence
- This is just spicy autocomplete

Since ChatGPT became publicly available last November there has been an explosion of interest, articles, blogs, videos, arguments for-and-against; it can be difficult to separate out the hype from the reality. If you haven’t yet played with the public beta, it’s worth taking a look; first impressions are often downright startling.

One of the most impressive capabilities might be ChatGPT’s ability to seemingly answer questions asked in a casual, conversational manner and many hailed this as “the future of search” with Microsoft and Google both scrambling to integrate these capabilities into their search engines. A mind-bogglingly complex language model trained on a web-sized corpus of text boasts stunning capabilities although it doesn’t take long to discover that beneath ChatGPT’s impressive grasp of language there is a serious lack of knowledge. Google’s parent company, Alphabet, recently lost 8% of its market cap–roughly $100b USD–after their live-stream conference demonstrated Bard, their language model, returning incorrect answers.

The Mastodon post above summarizes my–and so many other’s–experience. Never in my 20+ years in the industry have I seen a technology move from the “Peak of Inflated Expectations” to the “Trough of Disillusionment” so quickly (see Gartner Hype Cycle). There is something powerful here, especially if it can be integrated with actual knowledge. Forward-thinking organizations are adopting the existing standards and architecture that just might be the key to unlocking the dream that GPT-hype represents. The first step may be as simple as evolving your API strategy.

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The Left Wing and the Right Wing

What if I told you the left wing and the right wing belong to the same bird

The 2022 mid-term election was less than a week ago, the dust is still settling and which party controls the chambers of congress remains uncertain. Beyond doing the requisite research necessary to fully complete and submit my ballot, I’ve tried not to follow the day-to-day drama too closely. It’s just not worth my mental health and well-being.

Regardless of the outcome, I’m grateful that election day is now in our societal rear-view-mirror (Except you, Georgia… sorry). The onslaught of political ads has slowed to a trickle as have the heated arguments, the fundraising emails, and the apathetic broadcasting their indifference in quips and memes. I’ve started to reflect on these memes and I am beginning to believe they communicate a deeper truth, and it’s probably not what the poster was intending…

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Building a Modular Monolith Part I

a big ball of mud

Ask most developers these days “Which is better: Monolith or Microservices?” you will likely receive a prompt and definitive “Microservices. Hands down.” The term monolith has become a pejorative; a four-letter word in software architecture circles. The folk-wisdom criticisms are not entirely undeserved, after all there are a lot of bad monoliths out there; unmaintainable, untestable, brittle to the point of personifying a Jenga tower of code. Many (perhaps most) non-trivial monoliths in the wild today could be classified as a Big Ball of Mud. I submit that most criticisms of monolithic software architecture would be more accurately targeted at Ball of Mud architectures. A monolithic deployment granularity doesn’t necessarily presage a Ball of Mud and furthermore, adopting a distributed architecture (such as microservices) does not automatically inoculate a system against evolving into a Ball of Mud.

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Re-Decentralizing the Web and Recapturing our Data

Nimisha Asthagiri and Scott Davis on stage, speaking at xconf

This is a talk that I have been privileged to see some early drafts of its development. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the finished product. Nimisha Asthagiri joins Scott Davis to lay out the vision of Solid and Pods. It is a delightfully protopian vision, and one that is eminently in reach.

In this talk, Nimisha and Scott explore Tim Berners-Lee’s new vision for the Web – Solid and Pods – where user data is “at the beck and call of the users themselves… a future in which [web] programs work for you”. This is an alternative path where privacy and resiliency are at the heart of our system architectures. A path where the web’s pendulum swings back to decentralization. A path that leads to a fundamentally user-centric tech ecosystem.

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What is Rest

Dewey spider-web in grass

This question, it would seem, has been answered countless times on countless blogs, articles, conference talks, papers, etc. yet here I am, joining the throng to tilt at this windmill.

My understanding of REST has been evolving continuously over the past 15+ years. I continue to find new nuances, new applications, new patterns, and rediscover concepts that I once completely misunderstood. I have brilliant friends and mentors, but I’m an autodidact at heart and more often than not, they merely illuminate the path. As I’ve sought to navigate this life and the information space we call the web, I have learned being self-taught is fraught with peril.

The web is full of contradictions.

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