Saturday, 20 September 2008

Seaside History

There are a lot of questions around the origins and evolution of Seaside, particularly after Avi and I gave up our old domain and the old Seaside and Seaside 2 websites with it.

A couple of months ago, I began (but never finished) a history page for the Seaside website to provide some background information for those who are interested. I had to dust off some of those notes to prepare my ESUG presentation on the past and future evolution of the framework and figured I might as well dust off the history page as well. So here's the story as best as I can recall it (and by "recall", I mean "find in Google" because Google seems to hold the majority of my memories these days).

[Update: now posted at]


Seaside made its public debut (version 0.9) in an announcement to the squeak-dev list on February 21, 2002. Avi Bryant and I developed Seaside to support our web application development consulting, specifically the development of a web-based theatre boxoffice sales system.

Seaside took heavy inspiration from Avi's Iowa framework (now here), which was written in Ruby and was itself inspired by NeXT's (and then Apple's) WebObjects. This first release of Seaside provided action callbacks for links and forms, session state management with support for call/return and the back button, and a component system with templates.


Almost immediately after the release of 0.9, we began work on Seaside 2.x (codenamed Borges, a reference to Jorge Luis Borges' short story The Garden of Forking Paths and an allusion to Seaside's support for forking session states). Seaside 2.0 was essentially a complete rewrite with a layered architecture: a Kernel layer providing a continuation-based HTTP request/response response loop and state (back-)tracking; a Views layer providing action callbacks and a rendering API for generating HTML; and a Component layer providing call/return semantics, embedding, and development tools.

Seaside 2.0 was released in October, 2003 with the templating system conspicuously absent. This was an experiment to see whether the development of the HTML rendering API and the wider acceptance of CSS had reduced or eliminated the need for templates. The new layered architecture made it easy for others to experiment with developing their own template engines. Seaside was also ported by Eric Hodel to Ruby, where it kept the name Borges.

Several versions followed in quick succession with major refactorings to the session state tracking and backtracking mechanisms. Seaside 2.3 (mid-2003) also introduced an even more layered architecture that tried to make some of the internals clearer and more accessibly to the project's growing number of users and contributors. It also confirmed that Seaside would not have built-in templates in the near future. Seaside became increasingly well-known around this time with a presentation at ESUG 2002 by Lukas Renggli and Adrian Lienhard and a hands-on development workshop at Smalltalk Solutions in 2003 by myself and Avi.


Seaside 2.4 and 2.5 addressed some growing pains in some of the core parts of the system: the Renderer API, collapsing under the weight of combinatorial explosion, was replaced by the now-familiar Canvas API; and some of the internal workings of the Session object were reified to make its application main-loop metaphor more obvious. Version 2.5 also saw the introduction of Component Decorations, Halos, and response streaming.

As first I and then Avi began to work full time developing applications using Seaside, the community began to carry more of the development load, with the release of Seaside 2.7 being  entirely (and very successfully) managed by the community, with Lukas, Philippe Marschall, and Michel Bany leading the effort. This release focused heavily on cleaning up the code base by fixing, deprecating, refactoring, and removing code.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Teaching a nation how to wave (part 2)

Ok, so it's been rather a long time since I ended Teaching a nation how to wave (part 1) with a "to be continued..." China already feels so far away that I barely remember where I wanted to go with that series but here we go anyway...

The Beijing Olympic Games were not the party I was hoping for. This is not to say it wasn't interesting (it was), nor that it was the fault of the security measures (it wasn't) or the Chinese organizers (not sure). For all I know, the Olympics are never as much of a party as you would expect. When Vancouverites put down our own Olympic bid as a waste of money, though, I countered that it was like throwing a house party: of course you'd rather go to somebody else's house party and avoid the costs and cleanup but eventually it comes your turn to step up and host one of your own.

And yet, while there were more people on the subways, more accreditation-pass-sporting foreigners on the bar streets, and Olympic sponsor booths scattered here and there, on the whole, life outside the sports venues seemed to be largely business as usual. The athletes (and those who could afford to drop $400 on a one-night admission) could seek out one of the many national houses or embassy-sponsored functions. But the rest of us were left to the usual collection of bars and restaurants, now lined with flat-screen televisions and sporting 15% surcharges to cover "the increased costs of food and labour" during the Olympics. I can't help thinking that if each country opened their national houses and threw a big party (much as the Dutch Heineken house did nightly) even just once during the event the atmosphere might have been a lot more festive.

That said, the atmosphere at the sporting venues was often electric. Because of the large number of individual competitions combined into a single ticketed session, many people either arrive late or leave early rather than sitting on hard bleachers for 6 or even 8 hours (way, way, way too much tennis for one go). But when the Chinese athletes were competing you could count on a pretty full house. I imagine that for many of the spectators, attending a major sporting event would have been a novel experience and the Beijing Organizing Committee had been circulating instructions on how to perform various "suggested" cheers. There were also cheering squads with bright yellow shirts scattered throughout the stadiums to provide guidance. The main cheer, quickly adopted (and adapted) by foreigners from all countries was a rhythmical four-beat chanting of zhongguo jiayou!, which means, basically, "Go China!".

At one particular basketball session, the stadium quite full of Chinese fans awaiting an upcoming game, a rowdy group of Russians behind us was trying to initiate a Mexican Wave (first time I've heard it called that) in support of their team. A few tentative participants at first. Then a few more. Maybe a section now. A few sections. Finally, after 8 or 9 attempts, the first wave trickles around the stadium, picks up a few more people, builds a little momentum and completes several more rotations before petering out. The slightly surprised but enthusiastic looks on the faces of people around me are contagious...

Several more attempts were made with limited success. These attempts are (and I have never seen anything quite like it) best described as "square waves". Each section seemed to stand up en masse, cheer, and sit down. Only then would next section do the same. The result is a sort of pulsing roar that is really quite off-putting. By the end of the Olympics, however, the stadiums full of fans were waving, clapping, and stomping their feet to "We Will Rock You" like they had been attending NHL hockey games since before they could walk. And when the Wave got started, not only could you see and hear it, but you could feel its energy passing over you: the roar would come barreling towards you and almost literally pick you up out of your seat. Teaching a nation of 1.3 billion people how to wave? I'd call that mission accomplished for the Olympics.