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Boundaries

Posted by daniel on August 20, 2003 at 7:57 AM PDT

Whether it be offshore development, power grids, or cattle, what types of fences should we build?

Philip Brittan's blog entry Blackout comments on the fact that "21 major power plants spread out over 9,000 square miles all shut down within 3 minutes of each other, as a defensive response to some type of surge in the grid, leaving roughly 50 million people without power." In many areas that avoided the blackout, some person or system noticed the surge and separated from the grid in order to continue to deliver power to their local customers. Philip raises the distinction of fencing out to protect distributed systems as opposed to fencing in.

In my home state of Montana, the law of the land is "fence out". That means that it is incumbent upon any ranch to keep his neighbors’ livestock out of his fields – he is not responsible for keeping his own livestock in. This mechanism dates from the time when most of Montana was open range land, and the occasional farms were responsible for keeping that free-range livestock out of their fields. He writes:

Brittan ties this discussion back to software engineering and concludes that fencing in requires the strategy of "each constituent pursuing their own self-interest and cooperating to pursue the interest of the group."

This last point is echoed in Sue Spielman's blog entry Outsourcing in my company? I do not think so. Judging by the comments, Sue's argument has rubbed people the wrong way because, despite her assertions to the contrary, people see her point of view as bigoted and xenophobic. Let's consider a less controversial setting.

My neighborhood no longer has a bookstore, an independent coffee shop, or a health food store. Not too long ago these locally owned small businesses were thriving along with a great music store that had knowledgeable employees and an incredible collection. Then the classical radio station started promoting a national chain instead. People would come in and mine the store for information and ask the owners about the best recording and then buy it online for a dollar or two less. Outsourcing. Enough people did this that the store could no longer survive.

Then the owners of the shopping area decided they could make more money if they pushed the local stores out and anchor their mini-mall with a national bookstore and a national health food store. Outsourcing. Not much later these national chains have moved on. They weren't making the money they needed to stay open. The owners of the shopping area have an increasingly empty mall - but they own lots of malls so they can concentrate on their more lucrative holdings. Meanwhile my neighborhood has lost much of what made it a neighborhood.

Chains and big stores aren't necessarily bad. I think Sue Spielman makes the same point that she is not opposed to foreign workers. I just would rather support a local baker than a chain. I would like to help neighbors who own businesses in addition to the neighbors who work in others'. She would rather help her community first. Is she fencing out? Perhaps. Would you be happier if she fenced in or would you rather there were no fences at all?

In the Also Today section, we link to a discussion in the java.net JavaDesktop community on OpenGL for 2D rendering. The reported increases in performance are impressive. Also we link to Brett McLaughlin's third installment in his developerWorks series on JSP best practices. In this article he encourages you to handle errors when you write custom tags.

From the Java Today News Page, news editor Steve Mallett, has gathered the following News Headlines .

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