Sunday, August 21, 2011

Congratulations Dr. Chathura Herath!

It gives me great pleasure to congratulations Chathura Herath on completing his Ph.D. in Computer Science from Indiana University on the topic Programming Abstraction for Resource Aware Stream Processing in Scientific Workflows. Chathura is a student of Prof. Beth Plale.

Chathura was also one of the original members of the Apache Axis2 crew and is now the 4th of the original group of 6 to finish their Ph.D. degrees. He joins Srinath (in WSO2), Jaliya (in Microsoft Research), Eran (heading to Wall Street) to finish off leaving just Ajith (in Wright State) and Deepal (in Georgia Tech) in the pipeline. Chathura is heading towards an academic career. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Are you attending WSO2Con 2011?

WSO2Con 2011 is happening in Sri Lanka at the awesome Waters Edge Conference Center (just outside the capital Colombo) from Monday, September 12th to Friday, September 16th. Have you signed up yet? If not here are a bunch of reasons to do it NOW!

The Program

The overal agenda is a combination of superb keynotes, talks by users about various solutions / case studies, talks by WSO2 folks about various new and up and coming cool things, couple of superb panels and of course some pre- and post-conference tutorials to help get an overview first and then an indepth understanding of various topics. Here's a circular view of the week:



This year we ran an open call for papers and selected nearly 20 external speakers to present their stories from amongst a large number of submissions. The speakers are coming from more than 10 countries (14 if I remember right) from North America, South America, Europe, Asia (including Sri Lanka, of course) and Australia/NZ. With attendees coming from various other countries too this is a truly global event with one hell of a program.



I would be doing a great dis-service if I didn't highlight our keynote speakers. We have 4 outside keynotes from IBM, eBay, Google and Cognizant. Paul and I are doing keynotes too. These folks who are coming in to give the keynotes are highly accomplished individuals who will undoubtedly have superb stuff to say .. listening to them itself will justify the trip!

The Place



Sri Lanka is one of the hottest tourist destinations in the world today. In one small accessible package, Sri Lanka offers everything from awesome beaches to great surf to archeology to history to mountains to hang gliding to hot air ballooning to just plain going native. After having ended a 30-year horrendous war more than 2 years ago, we're now one of the safest places in the world! Interestingly, while most places in the world are increasing their security levels Sri Lanka is massively opening up.

We still of course have ways to go to build up many key infrastructure aspects in the country. In a way the whole country is under construction right now .. but not in the way that you wouldn't have the best time of your life here! Coming now will save you a lot of bucks too .. tourism in Sri Lanka WILL get much more expensive in the next 5 years!

Certainly don't just take my word for it. Instead, how about:
Who am I to argue with places like New York Times and National Geographic telling you to come to Sri Lanka!

The conference hotel we've chosen is Cinnamon Lakeside in Colombo. This is one of the best (5-star, of course) hotels in Colombo and sits next to the Beira Lake in Colombo. In addition to being a great hotel smack in the middle of Colombo, it also houses several superb restaurants. Do not miss Royal Thai.

The conference itself is being held at the very very cool Waters Edge Conference Center, about 10km (6 miles) out of Colombo. Its a very large facility and is in fact part of a golf course and is home to all the high-end events in Colombo. We will have buses organized to shuttle you to/from the hotel to the conference location.

The People

One of the best things about going to a conference is of course the opportunity to hang out with like minded people .. some of who will end up becoming your buddies for the rest of your life. At WSO2Con 2011 you will have the opportunity to interact with people from 20 countries, people who are total geeks, people who are world famous and of course the people from WSO2 who create and develop the products you love.

In order to make sure you get maximum time to interact and engage with each other we are also organizing several evening events. Don't plan to leave as the sessions finish!

The Deal

We want you to come from wherever you are in the world. At the same time, we realize its not easy to get travel approval these days with an unknown budget to travel to an exotic destination ("you want to go to a conference where?").

So, in order to make that process easier we're offering a complete, soup-to-nuts package that covers everything:
  • round-trip (economy class) airfare
  • up to 6 nites hotel accommodation at the conference hotel
  • all ground transportation in Sri Lanka
  • all meals within those 6 nights
  • (oh yeah) a full conference pass including both tutorial days
How much? They are priced based on where you're coming from:
  • Anywhere from South Asia: $1,900
  • Anywhere from Europe, Australia or New Zealand: $2,400
  • Anywhere else in the world (America, Africa, rest of Asia, Arctic region, Antarctica etc.): $2,900
If you've ever paid and attended a 5-day event anywhere in the US you know that you easily spend more than $2,900 for that week all told. This is an incredible value .. even your manager will grok it :). AND you get to spend a week in Sri Lanka as a bonus!

We OF COURSE are hoping lots and lots of folks from Sri Lanka will attend! We don't have airfare included rates for that :) .. you just have to register at the regular rates (and we give a special discount to most LK organizations - government, SLASSCOM members, AMCHAM members, IESL members, etc. etc.).

What are you waiting for? REGISTER NOW and reserve your spot :-).

Saturday, August 6, 2011

10 years since returning to Sri Lanka

Today marks the 10 year anniversary of our returning home to Sri Lanka.

I went to the US in 1985 where I lived for a total of nearly 16 years .. first arriving on August 18, 1985 to go to Kent State University for undergraduate studies. I lived in Kent, Ohio for 4 years, finishing both a BS and an MS, and then moved to West Lafayette, Indiana for 8 years where I was a PhD student at Purdue for 5 years and then visiting faculty for 3 more. Then I joined IBM Research in August 1997 (starting August 4th) and moved to Yorktown Heights, New York and finally left the US on August 4th 2001 and arrived back home on August 6th, 2001. That's 10 years ago today :-).

Wow, 10 years .. time flies when you are having fun!

I remember that there were pieces of airplanes on the ground at the Colombo Airport when we landed - the dreaded LTTE had brazenly attacked the airport just 10 days before that destroying 3 Sri Lankan Airlines planes and damaging 3 more as well as damaging or destroying 26 Airforce aircraft and killing a bunch of people.

What a difference 10 years makes; guns have been silent and peace reigns loudly in Sri Lanka for more than 2 years now. Whether you like the current leadership team in the country or not, we all owe them an incredible debt of gratitude for putting everything aside and destroying the LTTE menace and creating a stable nation so we have (another) chance at becoming what Sri Lanka is capable of becoming.

I was of course still working for IBM Research when I came back .. working remotely from Sri Lanka. I finally quit on April 15, 2005 and started WSO2 a few months later. I started encouraging Sri Lankan developers to contribute to open source projects in fall 2002 and ended up starting the Lanka Software Foundation in early 2003 (along with friend, colleague and mentor Jivaka Weeratunge). LSF was of course instrumental in many projects that ended up in Apache and for Sahana, the tsunami-inspired disaster management system we created. (BTW IBM recently highlighted Sahana in their 100 year celebrations .. very cool!) I also started teaching as a volunteer visiting lecturer at the Computer Science and Engineering Department of the University of Moratuwa from around 2002, where many of the brilliant brains that contributed to LSF's projects, and later WSO2, came from. (We of course get brilliant people from many sources now .. but MRT still dominates!)

One of the things I'm really proud of is that so many people have benefitted from the work done in LSF to help get them into grad school for further studies. Counting WSO2 too, there are now more than 25 people in various places doing PhD's in Computer Science. Three have finished so far.

--

Many people have asked me at various times: "Have you ever regretted coming back home?". I can honestly say: NOT EVEN ONCE!

Don't get me wrong- the US was a great country to live in and I will never forget the superb education nor the wonderful experiences and friends I made in my 16 years there. However, this is home and there's nothing like home (for me). I love the fact that I can have some small impact on young people who can help Sri Lanka get ahead in its journey. I love the fact that I am not second class in any way in my home country. I love the fact that my kids are growing up here with roots in their home country - where they end up as adults is their decision, not mine. But at least they have a firm footing here as their home.

Moving back to Sri Lanka is not without its challenges. Many things that are easy in the US are not so easy here. At the same time, many things that are hard in the US are quite easy here. So its always a mixed bag .. what matters is your mindset about the journey: if you are committed to moving back then you can come back. If you are half-hearted and look for problems instead of challenges then you will run back to wherever you attempted to move back from.

I am writing this because I am very very keen to attract Sri Lankans living in other countries to come back home. We need our educated, experienced, connected, knowledgable Lankans to come back home and help us rebuild after the 30 year nightmare that ended 2 years ago. The opportunities here are absolutely amazing and this is the start of a boom period .. now is as good as ever to come back home.

OF COURSE Sri Lanka is not a perfect place. Neither is the US (can you say "debt ceiling"?) nor any other place. The advantage Sri Lanka offers to Sri Lankans is that this is our home. Whatever hard work you do will have tremendous impact. Sri Lanka is a small country .. that means the impact of your work is much more direct and immediate too. Every problem is an opportunity if you take up the challenge!

I, along with Dulith Herath, Founder and CEO of Kapruka.com, along with SL2College (another non-profit project I'm involved in - founded by Nayana Samaranayake) are launching a "come back to Sri Lanka" effort soon. The idea is to help dispel many myths (that traffic is a nighmare, that everything is corrupt, that nothing is easy etc. etc.), get info about jobs and other opportunities, provide accurate and direct information and eventually help people who want to come back make the move and settle down (including things like kids school etc.).

BTW if you're a hardcore passionate techie wanting to come back then I know at least one great place to work ;-).

The last 10 years have been amazingly fantastic for me. The last 6 years have been most special because I have helped create a company that now employees more than 125 people here (and soon more here as well as in the US, UK and some in Europe). Thank you Paul for much of that!

The move was made easier by many many people who helped get settled in, helped get connected to various places and helped in various other ways. You are too numerous to list (and I know I will screw up by missing some key people) but please know that I know you played a crucial role in how well the last 10 years have gone. From the bottom of my heart: THANK YOU.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Congratulations Dr. Eran Chintaka!

It gives me great pleasure to congratulate Eran Chinthaka on his completing his Ph.D. in Computer Science from Indiana University on the topic User Inspired Management of Scientific Jobs in Grids and Clouds. His advisor was Prof. Beth Plale.

Eran is of course one of the founding team members of Apache Axis2 in the Lanka Software Foundation. Of the original 6 person core team who created Axis2, he's the 3rd to finish his Ph.D. (joining Srinath (back in WSO2) and Jaliya (in Microsoft Research)) and the other three are getting close to finishing up their PhDs too. Eran worked in WSO2 for a couple of years before leaving for his Ph.D. and I hope that when he finishes his Wall Street stint he'll come back home and join us again :-).

Congratulations Dr. Chinthaka!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Cloud players and open source collaboration

In today's keynote at OSBC RedHat's CEO Jim Whitehurst claimed that even companies like Google, Amazon and other cloud players are always collaborating .. not directly but in the form of collaboration via the various open source projects they build their offerings on.

While that's true to some extent, the reality IMO is that many of these companies end up with forks of key projects such as MySQL or Xen or use extension points to write their own core bits that are not open source and never will be. If you talk to ex-MySQL people they will tell you that while there was a lot of testing and other "low end" contributions by the community, almost no major contributions for MySQL came from random outside users. That is the general sentiment I've heard from most open source organizations, communities and projects and certainly our experience in WSO2 as well. Even in Apache, its usually people who are fairly committed to the project (either by employment, which is most common, or by personal interest/choice) who contribute meaningfully; its very rarely that you get a sizable contribution from an outsider.

In fact, the (ab)use of open source by online services companies like Google etc. is exactly why the AGPL license was created. For the uninitiated, AGPL is a viral license like GPL except that even online hosting is considered "distribution", thereby forcing service providers to ship the source code for any modifications they've done. Personally I'm not a fan of such aggressive tactics to get people to contribute (that's why ALL WSO2 software is Apache licensed) but there are many people who come from the free software mindset, in comparison to the open source mindset, of the FOSS community who are not happy with the Googles of the world not having to share any code at all even though they get a lot out of FOSS.

So IMO Jim's wrong on this- Google and Amazon and other major closed cloud platform players will NOT share anything they absolutely don't have to. As a side-effect, they will not touch any AGPL code because it will force them to be a commodity and that results in loss of key competitive advantages for them.

The FOSS movement is about giving power to the people. Cloud is a major risk for that as the cloud vendors are incentivized NOT to have a common denominator. That's why there's no freedom in the cloud without using a truly open source PaaS and building your own thing on top of it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Cricket World Cup - kudos to Sri Lanka Cricket

I had the fortune of landing a ticket for Saturday's quarter final match between Sri Lanka and England. Someone who had 2 grandstand tickets got sick and I was lucky to be asked whether I want it at list price :). At Rs. 4000 each I felt they were pricey but then at the event I met a friend who had paid double that for his ticket! I will comment on the ticket selling process later.

First of all, the stadium atmosphere was just incredibly amazingly fantastically electric and rocking. Being there is nothing like watching at home .. despite being able to see the match poorly, the environment is of course unbeatable. The fact that Sri Lanka gave England a total drubbing was awesome, even though as a result the game became quite non-competitive .. but I'll settle for non-competitive games up to the final and thrilling victory in the final (vs. to have it stolen like the last time).

This post is not about the quarter final match - its about Sri Lanka Cricket, the embattled organization which runs the sport in Sri Lanka.

As most people in Sri Lanka know, the organizers were hammered very very hard in the press before the World Cup started about their preparations, about how the stadiums were completed last minute and about every aspect of team selection to overall management. I'm not an expert on cricket- so I have no useful views on the cricketing aspects and will leave them alone. However, I do want to comment on the overall organization of the event.

I have made it to 3 matches in Colombo - the first was the loss to Pakistan, the second the rained out draw with Australia and the third of course the drubbing of England.

All these were held at the newly refurbished Kettarama Stadium of course- an absolutely AWESOME stadium now! I have been there a few months ago and it was a nightmare to get in and out. Now its a breeze and reminds me of the convenience of getting in and out of Purdue's Mackey Arena (for basketball). Once you are inside, the view is breathtaking. The atmosphere is amazingly electric. Every match was sold out (of course) to a capacity crowd of 35,000+.

I didn't make it to Hambantota for the first match but the news from there was that the brand new stadium there was absolutely amazing as well. The words from a friend (usually a skeptic) was "money well spent".

Same has to be said for Pallekalle in Kandy. That's again a new stadium (or a refurb'ed old ground; not sure) and while its not as built up as Hambantota or Colombo the location is just amazing and all the reports are that the place was fantastic.

There was not a single time in all the matches in Sri Lanka where something went wrong with the logistics. All the comentators have been giving kudos about the venues and the amazing environments offered by them.

I too was caught up in the press vendetta against Suraj Dandeniya (the head of the World Cup organizing team in SLC). While the work was indeed completed last minute it is time to give this gentleman a tip of the hat and acknowledge the amazing work they have done to deliver perfectly for Sri Lanka. Press  stories have a way of finding individuals guilty without judge or jury and this vendetta was played out by most of the newspapers in a merciless manner. Maybe Suraj has refused some passes for the press and their buddies? Who knows.

Yes yes I know there's one more match to be played in Sri Lanka. That's the one where Sri Lanka will whack the New Zealanders home :-). I am confident that too will go off without a hitch! At one level "may the best team win" may apply but, honestly, to hell with that .. Sri Lanka has to win to set up an amazing final in India against (most probably) India. Nothing like that victory!

(The NZ team has done amazingly well to get to the semi-finals and they've always stepped up big at the big occasions. Their country also suffered a massive earthquake recently .. only to be overshadowed by an even bigger one. If they go on to winning the tournament they'll again get some all-important PR for the recovery efforts there. To that extent I want NZ to win. Yeah, treacherous.)

Now about those ticket sales.

Fundamentally, this is a no-win situation for the organizers. 35,000 tickets for the match where 500,000 at least would love to watch in person. So no matter what approach is taken, there will be 465,000+ who will be crying foul!

There have been stories about how people stood in line, bought the ticket and turned around and sold it to someone else. I see no way to stop that - and keeping the ticket price low (lowest was Rs. 50 for group stage matches in Colombo) meant that anyone could buy them without any problem - a good thing in general.

Personally I have no issue with blackmarket sales (and I don't understand why they are banned) - the only problem it highlights is that the original ticket was sold too low! Why doesn't Sri Lanka Cricket sell the ticket for Rs. 10,000 if it can get away with it and make more money? Maybe they should've also set up an auction at EBay or something where people can bid and buy tickets at whatever price above the minimum price. No I'm not suggesting doing that for all tickets but rather for a percentage- you give some on a pure lottery, some for those who stand in line .. and the rest to the best price via auction with batches sold daily. I don't understand why they created a secondary market in the first place when they themselves could've run both the primary and secondary markets. Obviously I don't know enough about market economics.

The real problem is that many tickets seem to have been sold only to "known parties". The Colombo powers-that-be who want to watch the matches shouldn't have been able to buy through back channels. If they don't want to stand in line they can certainly afford to buy the tickets on the blackmarket if they want and let some poor guy make some money. Why should these fat cats be able to buy tickets at list?!

When you are at the match (and I went to A lower the first time (Rs. 250), to C upper the second time (Rs. 100) and to the grand stand for the quarter final (Rs. 4000) its clear that most in attendance were way above average in economic terms. In practical terms, that suggests that a lot of blackmarket sales were happening. If someone's a true fan, there's no amount of money that would make them sell the ticket - so the people who sold the tickets were not real fans. Or they were true fans who felt the money was more economically valuable for them than the experience (maybe they had a sick child or needed some home repairs or whatever ..). Or they were savvy businessmen who stood in line and sold the ticket for a profit. The bottom line is that there's no way to prevent normal capitalism from taking place and the value balance ending up wherever it ends up.

So while I too am frustrated I can't get a ticket for the semi-finals, I am only upset about connected people getting tickets at list price through backchannel means. The rest of the system I have no concerns with - and next time (20-20 World Cup next year) I hope Sri Lanka Cricket does a combination of lines, lotteries and auctions to sell the tickets.

Talking about tickets .. anyone have a spare grandstand ticket for the semi final they want to sell me at list price? :-)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Congratulations Dr. Jaliya Ekanayake!

It gives me great personal pleasure to congratulate Jaliya on completing his Ph.D.in Computer Science from Indiana University in late December. His PhD work was on extending the applicability of Map Reduce to a larger class of problems. The software he developed as part of his work is available at http://iterativemapreduce.org/. Jaliya was a student of Prof. Geoffrey Fox.

Jaliya has already started work at Microsoft Research and works on applying map-reduce and other approaches to solve large scale systems problems.

Jaliya is the second person from the original Apache Axis2 team to complete his Ph.D. after Srinath. Jaliya is the original father of Apache Sandesha, the WS-Reliable Messaging implementation for Apache Axis. He, along with the rest of the original Axis2 crew, laid the foundation for a lot of the technology that WSO2 is built on. The remaining original Axis2 team members (and about 20+ others who have been at WSO2 at one point) are now in the pipeline to complete their Ph.D.'s over the next few years!

Congratulations and best wishes Jaliya for a bright future!