Tuesday, December 27, 2005

At home in Liverpool

I spent Christmas at my parents' home in Liverpool. It was good to see my parents, sister, brother and cousin again and I had a pleasant and relaxing time.

My cousin is visiting Europe and working in Ireland before returning to Australia sometime next year. He works in the mining sector and it was fascinating to hear about the effect that high commodity prices are having on areas such as Western Australia - abandoned mines that I visited when I was there ten years ago are now economic again.

I am always amazed at how much Liverpool changes from one visit to the next. Antony Gormley's "Another Place" sculptures litter the beachfront by my parents' house (indeed, you can see a few from their bedroom window) and the effect of 100 identical life-size statues strewn across a large beach is very impressive.

The centre of Liverpool is also in full-scale redevelopment mode... the tell-tale outline of cranes was visible in the drive from John Lennon Airport to home. I discovered by accident that VLM have an offer on at present: my ticket will allow me to use the airport's lounge free of charge on my return trip - I'm not expecting anything like Virgin's Heathrow Clubhouse but it will make a nice change from the litter-strewn departure area that I encoutered last time I used LPL.

I met up with an old school friend and his girlfriend last night. They are working abroad at present and both trying to find roles in London so they can move back to the UK. I asked what it would take to persuade them to move back to Liverpool and work here instead. We concluded that we couldn't think of any scenarios where we would do that.

This isn't the fault of Liverpool - or any other city in the country (indeed, both he and I have spent time living and working on the South Coast). Rather, it's a realisation that the sheer size of London's economy means that it would be madness to live or work anywhere else. There is more competition for skilled labour there, the salaries are higher and there is more to do.

Those who know me may find it strange, therefore, that I still work for the company I worked for when I lived in Southampton. That's not really contradictory - the mere fact that I live in London is enough to keep my options open. And, contrary to what I may sometimes suggest, I actually quite like my work.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

We don't all work for Global Services

Microsoft's Rich Turner is being playful again...

He is responding to an email from James Governor about one of his previous articles.

It's a long article and he makes some bold assertions.... I'll deal with a few of the more extravagant claims :-) (from my own perspective, as always.... none of this is an official response, etc, etc)

Firstly, he believes that the forthcoming WebSphere Enterprise Service Bus is essentially a triumph of marketing over technical innovation. I agree with him that our marketing team have done a stellar job of late. For what seems like the first time in a long time, we have managed to consistently describe our offerings, relate them to each other and to wider industry themes - and do it in a way that addresses our clients' real issues. However, it's a little unfair to imply that Kareem's team are also developing the product in their spare time. They're good... but they're not that good!

Rather, there is a lot of real innovation in there that will make this a compelling proposition to a large number of clients. Take one example: this will be the first ESB product in the market to deliver Service Component Architecture (SCA) functionality. *

Secondly, we haven't renamed Message Broker to "Advanced ESB". Of course, we did tinker with the product's name (it's now called "WebSphere Message Broker"). That seems to be something of an annual ritual for this product... I think it's had five different names in the five years I've been at IBM. However, we did do something important in this area in relation to the concept of an ESB. What Rich has noticed is that we now explicitly talk about broker in terms of ESB. To my mind, this is just pragmatic. Like it or not (and I happen to like it), the concept of an ESB is very important right now and we would be doing a dis-service to our existing customers if we didn't make it clear that they're on the right track (for they are) and we would confuse potential customers if we didn't explain to them that they can build an ESB on this technology. In other words, if everybody has settled on a name for a concept, it would be somewhat obstinate of me if I refused to explain how my stuff related. So the bottom line here is that message broker's name hasn't changed in any material sense but we do now make a point of emphasizing how well it allows an advanced enterprise service bus to be constructed.

Finally, Rich makes the mistake of assuming every consultant in IBM works for Global Services. IBM Global Services is a fine organisation but it isn't the case that we all work for them. I, for example, work for our Software Group - in IBM Software Services for WebSphere. I am measured on client success.... successful projects.... "enablement" (a fancy word for how well I help clients become self-sufficient), etc, etc. A very similar measurement model to MCS by the sounds of it. Indeed, if I spend more than a few weeks at a single client, it would be unusual. We, like Microsoft, simply want our clients to be successful with our products. Of course we partner with Global Services where appropriate - that's good for us and good for our clients. But to claim that the world's second biggest software company (which is what we are) exists solely to cross-sell services hours is absurd.

* It's not the first product in any class - our WebSphere Process Server wins that prize

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Emotion and politics

Love the final line in Ed's piece here....

Monday, December 12, 2005

IBM Systems Journal on SOA

A colleague (thanks Isabelle!) sent me a link to the current issue of the IBM Systems Journal. This issue is completely dedicated to SOA. I haven't read any of the articles yet but some of the author names suggest it should be a very interesting read and provide useful pointers on where we're going. Peter Niblett, Beth Hutchison, Peter Lambros, Rob Phippen are just some of the senior technical leaders at Hursley who have contributed.

[EDIT: minor typo]

One down, more to go....

No.... it's not another "Heathrow should be demolished" diatribe. Rather, it's a celebration and time to rejoice.

IBM UK's very own Andy Piper is joining the conversation and you can read his musings here. Andy is particularly well connected within IBM's global community of internal bloggers and I'm sure his positive style and inclusive attitude will encourage many more of them to join this side too (it's not an either/or, after all)

A deep WebSphere Message Broker expert (among other things), he has been one of our key thinkers in the ESB space and I look forward to his contributions in this area. He has also promised to treat us to selected highlights of his past output. And if that wasn't enough to get you over to his blog (----->http://thelostoutpost.blogspot.com/<-----), he also links to some other IBMers who I was previously unaware of. So, what are you waiting for?!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Famous people in our midst

It has been a source of disappointment to me that, in almost two years of London living, I have encountered almost no famous people at all. Indeed, with the exception of Jeffrey Archer, I have encountered none.

That changed this evening. A few friends took me along to "Rebel Rebel" - where I encountered not only T4's Simon Amstell but also Neil Tennant and Kele from Bloc Party (well.... "encounter" is a strong word. "Observed from a distance" would probably be more accurate). I should go to alternative college Indie nights more often, it would seem.

Of course, going out on an inadvertent celebrity hunt meant that I didn't go to Scoble's Geek Dinner..... a shame since there were several people on the sign-up list that I would have liked to meet. There's always next time I guess....

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Celebrity Columnists

I'm not sure if Tim Harford counts as a celebrity columnist or not.... but the sudden recollection that his two excellent columns would be in the FT magazine was sufficient for me to put down my copy of the Guardian and pick up the Financial Times in Tesco just now.

Sorry Alan.... I hope I didn't miss anything interesting in today's issue...

Of course, I was probably being completely irrational since most of Tim's content is online anyway but, still.... I've never experienced this before. It's rare that I'll buy a different newspaper because of the promise of one column.

Incidentally, my friend Polly is also a fan. This gives me confidence that my decision was correct as her taste is far superior to mine.

[Update 101205 1529] D'oh! Looks like I was right.... one of his two pieces is online.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Right. This time I mean it.

Andy, Aidy, Brian, Darren and the rest of you Hursley BlogCentral lot..... get your asses outside the firewall!

Brian: Don't you just itch to counter Jonathan Schwarz?

Andy and Aidy: Are you going to take this lying down?! We can't leave Governor to stand up for us.... he's an analyst. They're fickle :-p I've written something here.... but I've read your internal post, Andy, and it blows mine out of the water...

[EDIT: oops... forgot about eightbar.... sorry Darren!]

It's not just an abstraction layer!

James Governor writes about the Service Component Architecture here. He also linked to Neil Ward-Dutton's take.

He is, of course, right to be sceptical... a major announcement like this should be critically assessed and the the technology evaluated on how well it solves real problems... It's our job to both argue for its merits and, more importantly, demonstrate that our clients are achieving real value from using it. As an IBM Software Services consultant, my job falls primarily into the second bucket. I wish I could blog about some of the exciting projects I'm seeing right now.

From reading the press coverage, however, I see two misconceptions appear again and again.

Misconception 1) "It's just a spec". Not quite... WebSphere Process Server is built on SCA and is shipping today.

Misconception 2) "It's a new abstraction layer". Not quite... it is more than that. I tried to articulate what I mean here but I'm not convinced I've done a good job. This point is very important so I'll try again soon.

Up in the air

I see that my esteemed colleague Ed Brill discovered the joy of Canary Wharf yesterday. Sadly, the description of his cabbie's behaviour is not as unusual as it should be :-(

However, London City Airport - and VLM airlines - are indeed two of the pleasures of living in London's Docklands. Being able to check in 20 minutes before takeoff - and never having to wait for any checked luggage make it my favourite place to fly to and from. The extension of the DLR to LCY is the icing on the cake.

As for that photo.... I think there's only one place it could have been taken from - but I guess it depends on your Point of View... :-p

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Rich Turner takes a pop at WebSphere Message Broker here.

I think he's being a little playful in his implication that you can't build an ESB with broker because of its support for WebSphere MQ - but he does cover some important points.

Firstly, of course he's right that an ESB has to support open standards - how else are any new open-standards-based applications expected to take advantage of the services on offer via the bus? And in many cases, focussing primarily on open standards, web services, etc., is just what you want when implementing your ESB. Our forthcoming WebSphere ESB product provides just this functionality.

However, there are also large numbers of cases where you need support that goes beyond this. We offer WebSphere Message Broker as our recommended tool for delivering an ESB that integrates both standards and non-standards based applications. We can argue about where MQ sits in the standards spectrum but broker's deep support for MQ is obviously a huge plus.

As for whether adding SOAP support was a "stretch" for Broker's Hursley developers... I'm sure they'll take the suggestion good-naturedly as testament to their technical prowess and of the superior architecture of the product :-p

Incidentally, my first job in IBM was testing Message Broker (before it was called that...). I'm still officially based in Hursley but now live in London. I wonder if that means I count as a Hursley Blogger. James?

[EDIT 071205 1502 to fix link]


I first discovered Microsoft's Rich Turner when I listened to a PodCast about an Indigo roadshow he was running. I'd like to say he stuck out because of his clear articulation of the technology or his clear passion for his work (although both were the case) but he first dragged me out of my early-morning-commute-stupor because of his familiar-sounding British accent. At least I *think* it was him.... if it wasn't, I have no idea at all how I came to find his blog. Anyhow....

I subscribed to his blog shortly after hearing the podcast and have given it passing attention since. Of late, however, he has been catching my attention increasingly often.

Take this. I suspect he and I may disagree over quite how far web services should be deployed and over how suitable they are for various applications but his core argument is spot on: if performance is the only thing holding you back from using a SOAP/HTTP web service (meaning that you're satisfied with the qualities of service offered and all other aspects of the decision) then do some tests - realistic ones. You may be surprised to find your assumptions challenged.

Monday, December 05, 2005

IBM Software Group Analyst Conference

The news articles are beginning to trickle out about IBM's annual analyst conference. Here's Bloor's Phil Howard's initial take.

The annual analyst event is not the kind of event to which mere mortals like me are invited. So, I relive it vicariously through the writeups...

From what I've read so far, it's heartening that there's nothing surprising here.... everything I'm reading (e.g. in Phil's initial writeup) is consistent both with the message I hear internally - and with what I am telling my clients. Phew!

One thing did surprise me slightly, however: Phil thought that our lack of discussion of web services in the context of SOA was noteworthy. He is correct, of course, to justify this in the way he did - SOA and Web Services are not synonymous and you can have one without the other - but it suggests he believes his target audience need to be told this.

Incidentally, Joe McKendrick linked to a good stab at defining SOA last week. I need to check how close it is to our definition but it looks promising to me. And, of course, it doesn't mention web services.

Loosely Coupled has an interesting story today about a meeting organised by J.P. Rangaswami, the CIO of Dresdner Kleinwork Wasserstein, in London last week.

Rangaswami's over-riding theme is the need to settle on a vendor-neutral, generic architecture for their companies and their applications.... I couldn't agree more.... I'm looking forward to hearing more about this event. We vendors can make a lot of noise in the market place - an initiative such as this... where the consumers of our technologies unite into one voice... is a rare and valuable thing.

Business State Machines

One of the new features in WebSphere Process Server is support for the concept of a "Business State Machine". The concept of a state machine is hardly new but this is the first time I've seen an engine implement them in the context of a business process.

The idea is that many business processes are inherently event-driven and are not linear. For example, the processing of a mortgage application follows a pretty rigid set of steps. If you want to model your process with a view to automating it, it makes sense to draw it as a logical sequence of steps.

However, some business processes are not like this at all. I saw a colleague use the great example of a DVD-rental store today. If we treat the lifecycle of a DVD rental as a process, then we quickly see that the process is entirely driven by events - the hiring of a DVD, the return of a DVD, the expiry of a rental period, the making of a reservation, etc, etc.

Until now, modelling such a process with standard business modeling tools was difficult.

WebSphere Process Server allows you, instead, to model the process in a far more natural manner and the tooling and runtime work together to take care of the execution for you.

It's an area I'm still investigating but I can think of several client engagements from the past that would have been a lot easier with this technology.

Friday, December 02, 2005

It is not enough for information to be available...

... it's only valuable to you if you consume it.

When I started thinking about making equity investments a few months ago, I struggled with the asymmetry I faced in terms of information. Professional investors had access to all the information I did (i.e. the internet) plus their proprietary information feeds plus the informal information they could pick up due to their position.

I therefore reasoned that I stood the best chance of doing well in areas where I could discover useful information (legally) for myself.

So, I chose to concentrate a large portion of my pot in retail. Why retail? Well, I am already heavily exposed to IT (all my human capital is invested there for a start...) so that wasn't an option if I wanted some diversification. I chose retail as the second best as it's the industry I probably have most exposure to.... I visit shops every day... I have friends who have worked for retailers at various levels and it's a simple business to understand. I figured that my own experience as a shopper would give me a good handle on which retailers were doing well and which were on the slide long before their profit figures showed a problem.

However, my best investment turns out to have been one of my smaller ones. It was a bet I placed on a Japanese Market index. Why did that perform so well? A lot of it was, of course, luck.

But I have belatedly realised that there is a second reason. My initial theory... that I would do best when I had access to information that others don't have... wasn't the whole story. It wasn't that I needed proprietary information... it was that I just needed it before most other people.

It's obvious in hindsight but I had been assuming that information travels - and is consumed - instantaneously. This is, of course, not the case.

My Japanese investment is an example of this: The Economist reported the opportunities in Japan several weeks before the mainstream newspapers started telling their readers to invest there. Those few weeks were when I made a lot of my gains.

Now... this case was good luck. But it hits on an important point. I am a very quick reader and can extract the key points from a mass of text with a skim read. This allows me to invest a small amount of time each day skimming internal IBM blogs, newsgroups and intranet sites to gain a disproportionately large amount of information to help me with my job.

Looking externally, the same is true... the economics, business, technical and news sites I read consume less of my time than one would think. My question is: does this give me an advantage that I can exploit - either for my investments or for my career?

When we are asked to think about our strengths, "reading comprehension" isn't usually at the top of anybody's list but perhaps it really can be used as a strength. I think it certainly gives me an information advantage in multiple situations... presumably this is true for lots of other people... I wonder if there are techniques one can use (or career paths to follow) to get the maximum benefit from this ability?

Why Gendal World?

I don't think I ever explained why this blog is called "Gendal World".

No... it's not some horrific (and misspelled) "Lord of the Rings" reference. It's actually very simple. Gendal, for reasons that my parents have never satisfactorily explained, is my middle name.

As a child, I was told that Gendal was the name of a Welsh great uncle. When several Welsh people told me they had never heard the word before, my parents said that perhaps it is Cornish.

Who knows.....

It has several advantages..... for one, I can almost always get the user id I want on any given system (except for DNS... I used to own www.gendal.com but let it lapse...)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Deployment Descriptor on Steroids...

Well.... the thing that I had been hoping to see for some time now happened yesterday... Oracle, IBM, Sybase, Siebel, BEA, SAP and IONA announced support for the Service Component Architecture (SCA). SCA is at the heart of WebSphere Process Server and so I've been exposed to this technology for some time now.

Why do we need SCA? What problem does it solve? What's wrong with WS-*? JAX-RPC? J2EE? etc, etc, etc.

The links above are worth looking at for the "official answer" - and the reasons are good. However, the motivation for SCA that I give is usually as follows. I'm not claiming this is the real reason it was invented or that this is necessarily the most important aspect but I've found it useful for my own internal thinking.

So here goes....

Let's imagine we're starting a new development project. We've heard all about SOA... perhaps there is even an existing SOA initiative in our organisation. Perhaps several key services have already been exposed (and advertised) as reusable services. Perhaps there is even some governance in place around them. Excellent.

We start to design our system and we realise we can use these services in our application. That is: we will be building a composite application that contains both new code and invocations of existing code... we will orchestrate the execution of services hosted elsewhere if you like.

Two immediate technical questions arise. 1) How do we invoke these services? 2) How do we build our own application such that it isn't monolithic but can, in turn, provide services to other users in the enterprise?

Today, the answer to the first question will vary based on who you speak to. But the answer usually comes down to some API (JAX-RPC? JMS? EJB calls? whatever...) and some meta-language for describing the service (WSDL?). This is just fine... as long as you're happy to treat these services as end-points.

But what happens when we look at our own piece of development work? It is likely that we will be trying to build a modular solution which consists of various "chunks" of functionality and we may even wish to regard these pieces of functionality as services in themselves. That is: we will use this new functionality but it's sufficiently coarse-grained to make parts of it suitable for exposing to other users in time.

The big problem, however, is that these components are not just end-points.... they are components that provide both a service and which have dependencies. This is a problem since we're writing this application! It's up to us to satisfy these dependencies.

What SCA does is allow us to write our applications as we always have done if we choose (Session Beans, chunks of java, whatever makes sense for each component) and attach a descriptor to each component in the application which contains several pieces of information: the interface provided by this component and the interfaces it needs to call in order to perform its work. This descriptor contains other information but these two aspects (the interfaces and references) are the key.

They are key because it means we now have a consistent way to build and package components that provide and consume services. Even better, since we now have a useful descriptor for each component, we can create tooling to facilitate the building of such applications - the descriptor (the ".component file") tells the tooling all it needs to know to allow users to "wire" components together.

Now, a secondary benefit of this is that we now have a unified API for invoking services (a component merely says to the runtime "give me the service which implements this interface that I am dependent on - and wired to" and the runtime is responsible for taking care of the invocation, regardless of the actual technology in use). However, this benefit really is secondary.

So, to my mind, the big step forward with SCA is not the "extra layer" or the "unified API". Rather, it's the fact that we now have way of describing components and for wiring them together to build composite applications that is consistent whether we're programming "in the large" or "in the small" - and which extends service-orientation from the end-points into the heart of an application in a unified manner.

Of course, not everybody seems to think this is a good idea :-)

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Siemens Success!

My colleague, Andy Piper, hinted in the comments to a previous post that merely getting my contacts file to display in an emulated Siemens SX1 was unimpressive and that a real techie would have written some code to transfer them from the emulator to my new phone.

It was a ridiculous challenge - automating a task you will perform once is madness - but any suggestion that my consulting and travel has dumbed down my technical abilities must be countered. And countered AT ONCE!

Accordingly, I wasted invested my evening yesterday in solving this problem. You could argue that there are better ways to spend a Tuesday evening. And I would agree with you. However, the time is gone forever so let's press on....

The lazy reader can quit reading here if they like: the bottom line is that I have managed to take my unreadable contacts.cdb file and import it into my new Nokia 6021 without having to do any manual retyping of contact information. Hurrah! Yay for me. &c.

For the more inquiring reader, here is how I did it.

Firstly, I would like to pretend that I analysed the problem, planned an approach, sized the work involved and methodically reached a successful conclusion. However, that would be a lie. Rather, I made egregious use of google, grep, sample code, hacking, guesswork and luck. Nevertheless, the problem can be broken down into several areas:

1) Writing a program to run on the phone emulator to interrogate the contacts database programmatically

2) Using the program from step 1) to write the data into a form that could be extracted from the emulator

3) Some technique to take the output of step 2 and turn it into something that the Nokia sync software understood (e.g. a Windows Adress Book file)

4) Sync of the data onto my phone.

These problems each presented their own challenges. I don't pretend to be proud of the solution I came up with. But it worked. Which is important. Of course, if I'd done this for a client, I should have been sacked.

So, firstly, how did I interrogate the contacts database? My language of choice (Java) was quickly ruled out as I couldn't get any of the sample java applications to run on the emulator - I simply couldn't get them to install :-( The SX1 emulator seemed incapable of loading .jar or .jad files. When I was seriously considering hosting them on a web server and configuring the emulated phone to download them over a simulated WAP connection I knew I should change approach.

So, instead, I dusted off my trusty copy of Microsoft Visual Studio 6.0 and followed the instructions in the Symbian 6.1 SDK on how to get the "HelloWorldPlus" application to run inside Visual Studio. Very neat - and it actually worked!

I now had a sample C++ Symbian Application that I could modify.

I found another PDF (shipped with the SDK - or perhaps the SMTK) that gave some sample snippets on how to drive the CContactsDatabase. Apart from one mis-step (you have to regenerate the Visual Studio workspace if you add any dependencies on other libraries to the .mmp file), I quite quickly had an app that would iterate over my contacts and display them in a pop up window on the device. Excellent!

Not so fast..... this was, it turned out, the easy part. The hardest part was that I couldn't find any nice way at all to write to a file in any useful way. Conversions between 8-bit and 16-bit string representations, my lack of knowledge of the Symbian primitives and more meant that I got bogged down here. (Not having written any C++ for five years also didn't help).

Eventually, I discovered how to create a useful character array on the heap and, after more digging, how to copy individual strings into it. I used this knowledge to write my contacts into a contiguous chunk of memory (with various tags and delimiters to separate contacts, field names and values)

Hurrah! You see: I am a hacker at heart so once I had everything in a contiguous chunk of memory I was done. I simply placed a breakpoint at the end of my program, checked where my buffer was located on the heap, viewed that piece of memory and used copy/paste to get the data into Notepad. (Yes: it's horrible... but it worked....).

So now my problem was one of search/replace and some nifty perl to generate a useful CSV file.

A bit of tweaking in Excel and I had a CSV. I used Outlook express to turn it into a .wab file. I could then sync it to the phone.


The question, of course, is: why did this need to be so difficult? I return to my original statement on this whole saga: open standards are a beautiful thing. Siemens/Nokia/Symbian should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Why can I only think of business ideas in the FMCG space?

I was reading last week (may have been on New Scientist - I don't recall) that a new theory for the high incidence of MRSA in British hospitals is excessive hygiene - rather than poor hygiene.

The suggestion was that doctors shouldn't use alcohol gels before visiting patients. Rather, they should immerse their hands in live yoghurt. This would have the effect of coating their hands with lots of "good" bacteria and so provide far less opportunity for other opportunistic bacteria to take hold... they would have to compete with the existing ones for resource, space, etc.

My idea is that there probably exists an opportunity for somebody to start selling "pro-biotic" handwashes and kitchen cleaners for households.

Remember, folks, you saw it here first...

How to learn things without really trying

Regular readers of my blog may be familiar with the Siemens SX1 phone I so ill-advisedly bought some time ago. It finally died last week and I thought I had been very clever in backing up my contacts database just in time. For readers familiar with Symbian/Siemens/Nokia Series 60 phones, contacts appear to be stored in a proprietary format as a "contacts.cdb" file.

I never could have imagined quite how difficult it would have been to gain access to the contents without a running phone. Here are just some of the things I tried:

I first tried to find any software (free or otherwise) that could read the file format on Windows - and got nowhere (there were lots of code samples for Symbian but that didn't really help given that my phone was dead....). There is a business opportunity here.

I then started looking at the Siemens (now Ben-Q) website for more details and spotted that you can download phone emulators.... A HA! I thought..... I can get a Siemens phone running in emulation, find where it stores its contacts file, replace it with my backed up one and then view all my contacts on the emulator!

Sadly, if things were that simple, I wouldn't have still been working on this at midnight last night.

The problem is that different Siemens phones store their contacts in different formats and - worse - the emulator for the SL65 and CX70 emulates everything except the file systems --- which is "different" between real and emulated phones, apparently. (The reason I was using SL65 and CX70 emulators was because the site I found didn't offer an SX1 emulator.)

Undaunted, I had another brainwave..... I realised that I could use the Siemens phone manager software to "back up" the SL65. I would then have a back-up representation of the phone..... and that was precisely the format my rescued contacts file was in (since I had obtained it by backing up my SX1). I could swap the file on the backup and then sync back to the phone.

So all I had to do was install the Siemens Mobile Phone Manager software. Except... the backup format for the SL65 turned out to be different to the SX1. Arghhhh.

I was ready to give up..... unless..... perhaps...... maybe there really was an SX1 emulator. For reasons that are still not clear to me, I hadn't explicitly searched google for one of these until now. As soon as I did it, one popped up. It wasn't as full-featured as the SL65 emulator (it couldn't sync to the siemens data suite) but it DID run and it DOES use the contacts.cdb format.

So, at midnight last night, I booted an emulated Siemens SX1 with my backed-up contacts database running. HURRAH!!!

I will now have to copy the entries one-by-one by hand onto my new phone but at least I have them.... which is more than I had this time yesterday.

The lesson here, of course, is that it's insufficient to perform backups: one must also test them.

Ironically, I was discussing this with a colleague last week where I gravely nodded when he told me tales of those who had forgotten this advice. The shame.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Investment Update

It's time for an update of how my foray into equities investing has been going.

The news is currently quite good.

Morrisons (MRW.L) are still trading below the price I paid. Which is, of course, inconvenient.

However, my FTSE 100 tracker is slightly up and my Japan MSCI tracker is up a stonking 14.5% since I bought it a few months ago.

So, it's about three months since I started moving cash into equities and I am currently sitting on a modest 2.9% gain. I think this is pretty good for three months. News stories of four-year highs (such as we have had recently with the FTSE) worry me - in retrospect those kinds of stories are always the ones that mean you should have sold by now... but in the absence of anywhere better to put the cash, I'm going to leave it exactly where it is but keep an eye open...

Hear me speak!

I found Irving Wladawsky-Berger's recent post very interesting. He talks about (and links to discussions of) various schools of thought around the value of process in business.

It was interesting on several levels. Firstly, this is the area in which I work (I spend a lot of time consulting on how to effectively model and automate business processes with software) - and I regularly worry about how to best advise my clients on getting the right balance between automating / optimising their current processes and ensuring they build in enough flexibilty to innovate (or simply to react to the innovations of others).

I think the key point - that we can all agree on - is that it would be madness to automate the execution of a business process in a manner that inhibited future changes. One of the very promises of the technology would have been cruelly broken.

Coincidentally, I specialise in worrying about this problem of "dynamicity" on projects that use WebSphere Process Server. If we're going to deploy a solution that helps us manage a business process (e.g. a mortgage application process), how do we make sure it can be changed easily if regulation changes? What if a competitor changes the game and we need to respond? What if we change our offering? What if a third-party we depend on (credit scoring?) goes out of business?

These problems and more are ones a business should be considering anyway - but it gets pressing if you start to formally document - and enforce - the process.

I recorded a brief PodCast about this last month and it is now on IBM developerWorks. This was my first PodCast and I've learned a few lessons from it (namely, say less, say it more slowly and don't jump around!). However, I think it gives a good overview of some of the problems we need to think about when working on these sorts of business process management projects.

The download page is here: http://www-128.ibm.com/developerworks/podcast/websphere/ws-soa5progmod.html
The MP3 is here: ftp://www6.software.ibm.com/software/developer/podcast/websphere/ws-soa5progmod.mp3

Friday, November 25, 2005

Heathrow Twilight Zone

I arrived back at Heathrow today from Madrid on Iberia. The plane was scheduled to land at terminal 2 and the little yellow number at the gate did, indeed, start with 2.

However, we seemed to be in a bizarre Monument/Bank terminal-duality situation. As soon as I left the plane, there were loads of signs saying terminal one. I followed the most obvious route and ended up at a sign telling me to turn left for Terminal 2 passport control and right for terminal 1. Weird! I never knew there was a secret little passage between them.

I took a gamble and stuck with T2. It paid off as there were no queues at passport control. However, now that I know that you can move between T2 and T1 on arrival I'll have to devise some new "getting from the aircraft to the Heathrow Express in minimal time" strategies.... after all, T1 is closer to the heathrow express than T2. And every second counts :-p

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Time flies...

During a break this week I wrote the following line on the whiteboard and invited the audience members to interpret it in such a way that it is both correct English and is not nonsensical.

"Time flies. I can't. They move too fast."

I first discovered this line when I was about 10 in a puzzle book and thought it was fantastic. It is great to see people's reactions (including native English speakers) as they try to devise an interpretation that makes sense.

Oh... and before I forget... to my IBM readers: I had the privilege of sharing several dinners and breakfasts with Richard Whyte on this trip. He is an utter genius..... his enthusiasm, knowledge and experience makes him an astonishing asset for the company. He's one of the few people I've met recently who is both technically brilliant and proud of it. More of this please!

Reflections on teaching in Madrid

Tomorrow is the last day of my two one-week trips to Spain. I've been teaching a class of colleagues about WebSphere Process Server version 6.0.

I have a tendency to talk very fast so it is always a challenge for me (and my audience!) when I present to non-English speakers. I do my best to slow down, enunciate clearly and use simple language but I still find myself speeding up if I get to a particularly interesting section or deviate from the slides to make an alternative argument for a particular decision or claim.

The audience were excellent - highly skilled, alert and keen to participate. I'm slightly concerned that they seemed more interested in learning all the English wods I used that they hadn't previously heard ("Peculiarity" was a favourite) but I'll let it pass...

It has been a valuable fortnight - but I can't wait to get home.

Nokia Shortage

I ordered a new phone on Monday (to replace my broken Siemens SX1) and rang to check on the status today. According to the person I spoke to at BT Mobile, there is a national shortage - across all networks - of Nokia handsets at present in the UK. She may have meant just my model but she certainly gave the impression of the problem being more widespread.

I don't have any inside knowledge of course so I really wish I had the ability to make use of little tidbits like this. If I could verify it - and assuming it wasn't widely known - I could presumably use it to my advantage if I thought it would affect their next quarterly results.

Sadly, I have no such ability. It'd be nice though...

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Open standards are a beautiful thing

We preach open standards so loudly and so often in the IT industry that it's arresting when your life is impacted by the failure of a vendor to join the party.

I am very suspicious of premature standardisation - it is in nobody's interest to agree a dangerous or broken standard (imagine if we'd standardised home power outlets at 20V or something...). However, open standards do perform the enormously valuable role of limiting opportunities for vendor lock-in and maximising opportunities for users to be free to choose implementations.

I made the mistake of purchasing a phone from Siemens a year or so ago. They have subsequently admitted (by selling the business) that they were not very good at this enterprise and the SX1 I so naively purchased was a perfect demonstration of this.

The phone began spontaneously rebooting even more frequently than normal yesterday morning so I figured I had better back it up. The only data I was desperate to save was my contact database. I managed to rescue this before the phone completely expired.

So far, so bad..... I am now in Madrid without a cellphone. Not the end of the world but it feels like I have lost a limb.

However, this is where things become unpleasant. The Siemens "Data Suite" can only synchronise with Microsoft Outlook. I work for IBM. We don't have very many Outlook licenses deployed here, you may not be surprised to learn.

So.... how do I get hold of my contacts? Well.... surely the file format is documented? Sadly, it genuinely does appear to be the case that the Siemens/Nokia/Symbian "cdb" file format is not officially documented. Worse, try as I might, I cannot find anybody on the internet who writes or sells PC software to parse these files and turn them into something useful (e.g. csv).

The closest I have managed to get so far is somebody explaining how to get a Symbian development environment running on my laptop. Wow.... That is one option I suppose.

So, with my optimistic hat on, I am happy that I have a backup of my contacts database. But I can't help being slightly perturbed that I can't read it :-(

I will investigate a little more when I get home at the weekend. Hopefully by then, my new phone will have arrived.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Tres Cantos

I am in Spain this week teaching a group of IBMers and Business Partners from the south west of Europe about WebSphere Process Server. The course has a lot of content so we have to go at a quick pace but people are keeping up - which is good.

I flew out from Gatwick North Terminal. It was a surprisingly pleasant place. It turns out that I've never flown from there before. Whenever I've used Gatwick in the past, I've flown from the horrific south terminal. If I'd seen the north terminal earlier I may have been far less scathing of the airport than I've been in the past.

I'm staying in the Foxa Tres Cantos. It's a pretty nice hotel.... very, very new and has free wireless and high-speed ethernet in every room, large rooms, stunning bathroom and more. The room rate was, however, very low. My colleague Richard Whyte observed that rooms have a red light illuminated outside when the occupant is inside. Judging by the small number of lights on my corridor, I think it is safe to assume they currently have a very low occupancy rate - hence the price. (Of course, the illuminations are useful for staff and fire safety but provide a useful piece of information for burglars)

Friday, November 11, 2005


I was surprised to read this article by Steve Hoffman, linked to by Joe McKendrick.

He seems to be conflating the problems solved by service orientation with the problems solved by constructs such as ESBs.

He is correct to imply that you cannot easily consume services if they're all exposed using different protocols and transports. However, that doesn't mean having multiple invocation technologies in an enterprise is a bad thing. Sometimes you have no choice but to let pragmatism trump purity. Rather, it's an argument for a separation between the logical description of the services offered and the physical details of how to invoke them. The enterprise service bus is the construct to which you delegate the problem of doing the switching.

Go West

Joe McKendrick has picked up on James Governor's musings on our San Francisco project.

I'm still trying to find out more about the project - it was before my time (and its own, it would seem) but it's not hard to see why it attracted interest.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Newspaper circulation figures

People were handing out "copies" of the Telegraph at Waterloo station this evening.

Interestingly, the "newspaper" consisted of just the sport and business sections - no main section.

Now, I imagine their stated argument for this is that they want to show non-readers what their new sport and business sections look like.

However, I can't help thinking that someone in Telegraph-land has discovered a loophole in the rules surrounding circulation figures.

One down, one to go

Hurrah! BAA want to demolish Heathrow Terminal Two. Good riddance to it I say. It's a horrible, tiny, smelly nasty place. Now if they could just get rid of terminal 4 as well, it would make my decade.

Can any of my readers confirm that terminal 4 wasn't originally designed as a passenger terminal? It would explain a lot of things but I don't know if it's just an urban myth.

Time to value with SOA projects

IBM's Kareem Yusuf linked to an interesting document on his blog today.

He was commenting on a question he was asked by a customer in Europe earlier this week - how do I get started?!

This ties in with what I was saying earlier this week about quick wins. I was arguing that building an SOA for SOA's sake was unlikely to meet with success: you have to be solving real business problems.

Kareem's link is a great example of this in reality: five IBM customers who found that a service-oriented approach to solving a real business problem delivered value - and quickly.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Richard Turner at Microsoft caught my eye yesterday. He had spotted a post from July by Martin Fowler on SOA. Martin's title (Service Oriented Ambiguity) probably tells you all you need to know about his opinions in this area :-)

It is also worth reading David Ing's response - some excellent points are being made.

David is certainly correct that there is too much "cleverness" flying around. I take the view that, as an intelligent, educated person that I should be able to understand any entry-level or intermediate-level presentation in this space. If I can't, then it's the material that's at fault, not me. The interesting thing about this is that a couple of years ago I started seeing SOA pitches and they were completely incomprehensible. However, the ones I'm seeing now are far, far better. This is good.

David also totally nailed (to steal his phrase) the component- and integration- approaches to talking about SOA. Are we selling a component container or are we helping to add integration points to existing (and new applications)?

I think the reason why previous attempts to explain SOA (and even implement them) have been less than successful is for precisely the reason that these two approaches aren't different, they're complementary.

Yes: you need to be able to integrate with existing systems (and any new ones you build) if you're bought into the idea of composing new applications from existing services so building what he calls "integration gateways" into systems is essential. But - and this is the key point - you need somewhere to build your new applications that provides appropriate qualities of service and which can abstract away all the hard work of having to worry about the fact that these services live somewhere else. In short, advocating the use of a container that understands composition of components to build solutions and which can seamlessly invoke services exposed elsewhere - and expose services to others is not a bad thing.

However, Martin's original point stands - the industry needs to get far sharper over our terminology and our definitions.

23% inflation...

I'm working from home today both because I get more done here and because all my suits were being dry cleaned (that's planning for you...).

I've just picked them up from the local dry cleaner and was amazed to discover that their prices have increased by 23%.

I guess dry cleaning services are fairly dependent on oil (both for the cleaning chemicals and for the delivery vans - my local provider doesn't do the cleaning in-house) but 23% does seem excessive.

This is probably an isolated incident but I'll certainly be keeping my eyes open from now on.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Perception and Reality

Henry Blodget is back. His blog has some fascinating content. I can see why people listened to him in the bubble: I have no idea if he is correct but he writes with confidence and clarity. Perception is, as always, reality.

Monday, November 07, 2005

James Governor has more insight than is sporting.

The ever-fascinating James Governor of RedMonk suggests today that IBM revive the San Francisco Project.

He sees it as a way to reduce what he perceives as our exposure in the business applications space in the face of increasing consolidation. Consolidation in the business applications space certainly makes my job in enterprise middleware interesting. I use the word "interesting" deliberately... competing and cooperating with the same people is good for the intellect :-) In my practice, however, whether an application vendor is independent or owned by Oracle doesn't really matter. The value I deliver comes from providing an integration layer independent of any one application. Customers don't like lock-in.

Nevertheless, I do know a couple of people who used to work on "San Francisco"; I'll have to ask them to tell me all about it and what happened to it.

Independently of this, of course, the concept of business applications is evolving. Markets such as Customer Data Integration and Product Information Management are changing the game; meeting our new colleagues from DWL last week was an invigorating experience.

In praise of quick wins

Ronan Bradley of Polar Lake makes a good point: Why should customers experience pain today on the promise of an easier life tomorrow?

I should admit that I have some sympathy with the knee-jerk "no-pain, no-gain" expectation that many proponents of SOA often set - it's certainly true that it's always easier to solve a point problem with a point solution. But this has always been true.

Let's consider why organisations are looking at SOA.

On the one hand, the IT department is being relentlessly pressured to deliver value to the business. The business is feeling constant pain because of IT inadequacies: they want to see all details of a customer on one screen, they want address changes to flow across systems without rekeying, they want to introduce new products in a month rather than a year, they want to know where the mortgage application is, they want to bill for broadband access and phone calls on the same piece of paper... and the "useless" IT systems won't let them do it!

On the other hand, the organisation's IT landscape is a mess. A big, unholy, horrid mess. Systems have been implemented over the years on different platforms, different architectures, to serve different (usually overlapping) areas of the business and all have differing qualities of service and individual peculiarities.

Solving a problem for the business isn't difficult: it's almost impossible.

Now, unless you are incredibly fortunate, you simply don't get the chance to start again. But, as Ronan hints, you don't even get the chance to take a hit and put an SOA in place. Yes... you know it will have untold benefits in the future (and it will). Just imagine having all the key services in your IT landscape available as reusable well-defined components. Bliss!

But... in the meantime, all that the business will see is a massive IT project that has no visible external results. The call centre staff still have to rekey data and customers still complain when their accounts are updated incorrectly. Not many of my clients will get the chance to build this vision in one go.

So what's the answer?

The answer is to remember where we're trying to get to (This guy describes it well). The point is: it is acceptable to build out your SOA as you go.

If you choose to follow this approach, the problem now becomes one of selecting a tool that allows you to expose your applications' services to the enterprise as a side-effect of the main development process. That is: tools that let you - in one step - build your new solution and expose relevant services at the same time. Conflating the two steps has the valuable property that there is nothing to cut out of the project plan when the pressure mounts: the creation of services is core to the current development project. The long-term interests of the IT department and the sponsoring business are now aligned.

I don't want to turn this into a product plug but it would be a dereliction of duty if I were to fail to mention WebSphere Process Server. It is designed from the ground up to be our SOA development platform and supports precisely the vision I have outlined above.

Usual disclaimers apply: this is my personal opinion, these are not necessarily IBM's views, etc, etc

Your business model is being eviscerated.... So what do you do?

If you're Sony, the answer seems to be to "kill" your paying customers' computers. Nice move, guys.

This can go one of two ways. Sony haven't handled the situation particularly well yet but they still have a chance to recover and turn the situation to their advantage. This will be an MBA case study in a few years.

This started me thinking. Schools of all sort like to trumpet their alumni. I'd love to see somebody compile an "anti-alumni" list. We could assign ratings to various infamous personalities (crooks, liars, cheats, incompetents,... could all be assigned an arbitrary value) and we could then rank schools based on how bad their alumni are. We could then avoid schools that produce executives who think crippling their customers' computers is a good idea.

I wish I was this articulate

I think it would be hard to write a more concise, yet readable argument against those who would punish "price gougers".

Friday, November 04, 2005

I'm going to be on iTunes!

One of my areas of expertise is versioning and dynamicity. These terms are often abused and overloaded but I use them to refer to the general problems around managing change, protecting yourself against changes you don't control and being able to dynamically change the behaviour of a solution without having to rewrite or redploy it.

These issues have always been around but they're particularly important in business process management solutions (where individual business processes can run for a long time) and in the service-oriented world (where you are, by design, very dependent on services provided by others).

I was interviewed about this last night for an IBM developerWorks podcast. It should come out in a couple of weeks. The really neat thing is that our podcasts are available on the iTunes Music Store (search the podcasts section for IBM).

So.... I now have a blog worth many millions (it's just a matter of time...) and will soon begin my lucrative recording career. Who says IT is dull :-p

I'd better not retire just yet

My hyperactive colleague Andy Piper showed me how to value my blog today. The value is more than $2 per page impression ever served. Whilst manifestly absurd, it'll be fun to check back there every so often.

Monday, October 31, 2005

It's not just about the technology

As a consultant (and one-time technical sales person) at IBM, it was drilled into me from an early age that businesses don't buy cool.

Woe betide you if you don't know your audience. You don't pitch ethereal business value to a geek and you don't EVER pitch "neat" technology to a line of business executive. Know your audience. This becomes second nature after a while.... you always check with the local team who the intended audience is and you make sure your presentation or workshop or round table is designed for them. If they're paying for your time, give them value for money. If you're trying to sell them something, don't insult them or waste their time talking about things they don't care about.

This is just one aspect of knowing your market. Never make the mistake of pitching the list of features and functions. Who cares? Tell me how it helps me solve my problems.

With this in mind, I found Don Doge's latest post on being an entrepreneur in the tech space eye opening. What he says is spot on... this guy obviously gets it. But the posting heartened me on another level.... if he needs to tell people this stuff, perhaps there's a chance for me after all :-)

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Everything I thought I knew turned out to be wrong

I've considered myself to be fairly "centrist" or "centre-left" in my political views for most of my life. I remember heated arguments with friends at Cambridge where I would routinely find myself to be in a minority of one.

However, I have just finished reading a book that has turned many of my preconceptions completely upside down.

James Bartholomew's "The Welfare State We're In" is absolutely fascinating. And utterly depressing.

Written by a less careful (and caring) writer, this book could easly have been dismissed as a right-wing diatribe and ignored.. Instead, Bartholomew enumerates all the things that were intended to be improved by such things as the NHS and State Pensions and shows how, perversely and counter-intuitively, they have been made worse. By the end of the book, his claim that Britain (and all Britons) would have been better served if the modern welfare state had never been created is credible and almost inescapable.

I'd love to read a critique or rebuttal of this book.... perhaps I've just been too trusting of the figures and excellent writing but the worrying thing is that I really don't think I have... the very people intended to be helped by the massive increase in state intervention in the last 60 years really do appear to have been those most harmed by it.

It has given me far more to think about than any book I've read for a long time.

I would encourage any reader - of any political outlook - to read this book. It is truly eye-opening.

Saturday, October 29, 2005


I've been somewhat sceptical of those promoting the current fad of "PodCasting".

However, I've recently discovered Radio Economics. As the name may suggest, this is a PodCasting site with an emphasis on discussions of economics. The format varies but typically consists of a discussion between a couple of renowned economists or an interview of one.

I've listened to one on the relationship of Biology to Economics which was illuminating but I was particularly excited by the analysis of WalMart.

The trick - which it took me a while to master - is to realise that these are not intended to be professional radio broadcasts. People talk over each other.... interviewers sometimes forget they're supposed to be interviewing and start debating.... some of them are very stilted. But when you set your expectations correctly, it's a fantastic medium.

My main problem is that I'm falling behind with my reading of The Economist now. I read this when travelling (usually to the office or to a customer or airport). However, now I'm listening to PodCasts... and these take far more concentration than just putting music on. I guess we need to add some extra hours to the day.

Interestingly, IBM are at the forefront of the PodCast wave. To my shame, I have yet to listen to any of our official Investor Relations productions but they're in the queue and I'll get there eventually...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Customer Data Integration

I tend to describe the work I do variously as Enterprise Application Integration, Business Process Management or Business Integration.

I will shortly be getting involved in a project where the concept of Customer Data Integration will be highly relevant.

As with all things in the IT industry, this appears at first to be a new name for an old concept - in this case, the construction of a single view of a customer. However, Gartner regard it as a distinct segment and I can see why.

The core sales pitch seems to go something like this: "You have multiple systems containing information about your customers and they aren't integrated. Your customers get justifiably enraged when they phone up and this means you can't answer their question or solve their problem. Wouldn't it be great if you could link all your customer data so a change in one system is synchronised to all the others and the problem of managing customer information just goes away?" How could you say no to that?!

Now the interesting thing is that this is a problem that some EAI products also do particularly well (witness the "CustomerSync" pattern in WebSphere Interchange Server).

So what's the difference?

I did some reading on DWL's website and listened to an interview with a Gartner analyst.

The answer seems to be that whilst it's possible to "roll your own" on top of a pure EAI product, there are lots of subtleties and extra opportunities to add value that are most usefully provided by the vendor. Examples would be inferencing techniques to make an educated guess if two customers in a system are the same, pre-packaged content (industry focussed where appropriate) and common services that make sense only if the data being synchronised is customer data.

Interestingly, IBM has recently acquired DWL (hence my choice of them for my link above) so it's obviously something that we also see as a promising market.

I see this as yet another example of vendors taking generic integration technology (in this case a J2EE runtime - the WebSphere Application Server) and adding value by making it specific to a particular problem. The challenge for me as a consultant is knowing when it's best to recommend the use of a generic solution ("build") or the use of a targetted solution ("buy"). My forthcoming project should give me lots of opportunities to experience both first hand and begin to form some opinions.

One other tidbit that caught my eye on the DWL website was their reference to themselves as "DWL, an IBM company". I am, of course, privy to no internal information on why this may be the case. Perhaps it's there for legal reasons to suggest the acquisition isn't complete yet (not sure if that's the case). Or perhaps it means that DWL has become a wholly-owned subsidiary, rather than having been subsumed into our Software Group. Tiny things like that always intrigue me.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Oh dear...

I've been watching the Refco saga with some interest but this piece of news (via Assymetrical Information) would be amusing if it wasn't so ridiculous.

(Edited to remove second paragraph which, upon reflection, was more cynical than I intended :-) )

Monday, October 24, 2005

Investment Update

I was reminded today that I haven't updated this blog with how my investments are doing.

I'm about 4.2% down in aggregate. This is due mainly to the performance of William Morrison since I invested. The intention was always to hold them for a while - the idea being that I'd gain when they finally started to turn around. However, I continue to be surprised by quite how little good news is coming from them of late.

Japan is still a ray of light - albeit a dim one (+1.3%).

The FTSE is going nowhere good (-3.5%).

I'm relatively inconcerned by the FTSE (and my exposure is small in relative terms in any case). However, Morrisons do cause me concern. I have a mental stop-loss on this investment but I'm hoping I won't have to use it.

Thursday, October 20, 2005


I'm in Düsseldorf today to present at the IBM European WebSphere Technical Conference on "Applying Business Integration Patterns on WebSphere Process Server".

I'm not quite sure what to expect from the audience as this is an advanced topic and they will only have had a few presentations on the product prior to my speaking. I'll be working on the assumption that the audience is intelligent, interested but lacking knowledge.

Note to travellers: the Scandic Essen hotel, while pleasant enough, has neither wireless nor wired high-speed network access. It was a miracle I had brought my modem cable. It's a long time since I've needed it. Scandic.... get your act together!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Fascinating article on why countries in turmoil routinely appear to make bad choices

Contrary to what you might expect, it is common to observe situations where a bad idea has failed.... and the response of the affected parties (e.g. the voters in a country) is to vote for more of the same... only more so.

This article discusses it and describes why it may happen.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Is anecdotal evidence the best kind?

... probably not. But it can be instructive.

I've had a sense that the UK's economy is in worse state than the press and the headline figures would suggest for some time now and an exchange with an old school friend this afternoon provided extra weight to this. He describes how the market in the North West of England for his particular IT skills is utterly appalling right now... and is noticeably worse than six months ago.

I'm going to wait for Morrison's interim results on Thursday (I hold lots of their shares) before deciding what to do but I'm beginning to think having a 66% exposue to the UK equities market and 33% to Japan was the wrong way round.

Chance encounter suggests Wikipedia malaise is widespread

I went for a walk along the Thames during lunchtime today. On my way back to the office, I passed in front of the National Theatre. I spotted Lord (Jeffrey) Archer walking the other way. Despite having lived in London for almost two years now, I don't spot many "celebrities". So that livened up my day somewhat.

Given the current furore over the questionable quality of many Wikipedia entries, I thought I'd read his Wikipedia biography. Wow. They weren't kidding! Regardless of one's opinion of Lord Archer (and I would hardly describe myself as his biggest fan), I don't think anybody could describe that article as balanced or fair.

Two sample lines from the biography:

"It was during this period that he met his wife, Mary, a brilliant student who is believed by many to have had a hand in his most successful novels" (no references to back this up.... regardless of its truth, who are "the many"?)

"Archer never earned a university degree from the University of Oxford. He was there more for the fun that the studies." (really? What does that second sentence achieve? What's the basis? Also, notice the typo)

I've been pretty indiscriminate in my use of Wikipedia until now..... I wonder if the articles I've used for research purposes so far have been better written or whether my judgement has been more questionable than I originally thought...

How did we do? The Answer

I was wondering on Sunday what our third quarter results would look like. Here's the answer.

As someone who toils in the WebSphere business, it was nice to see our name in lights: we increased revenues by 14 percent compared with the same quarter last year.

The Wikipedia Backlash

I've been guilty of making excessive usage of Wikipedia in my postings. It seems that some have been less uncritical than me. (Look at "The Cult of the Amateur" section).

Andrew Orlowski has now waded in. His credibility has suffered of late in some quarters (eg here) but today's article is interesting nevertheless.

I find Wikipedia to be useful for the kinds of things I search on. However, I've never attempted to edit any pages on it. Perhaps I should try for myself and find out what the culture is really like.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

How did we do?

It's that time of the quarter again.... we announce our 3Q results tomorrow.

All Kneel!

My all-time favourite movie super-villain is running for president!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Lottery Syndicates

My ever-observant colleague, Lee Hollingdale, pointed out - quite fairly - that my claimed disdain for the National Lottery is inconsistent with my membership of a syndicate.

My grasp of economics (or maybe psychology) is insufficient to clearly explain what's going on here but I'll do my best.... I participate in the team syndicate because I'd hate it if I left and they won. So I guess the potential cost I perceive of missing out on a big win when others I know have not is greater than the money it costs me to participate. I'm not sure how rational that is but Lee... I'm going to continue playing!


I've been on vacation in New York for the last week and am now back in the UK.

The weather (torrential rain, mostly) was somewhat disappointing but had an excellent time regardless.

I may even post some photos when the jet lag wears off.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


I just checked the website of National Savings and it turns out I won £50 in the October draw. I only invested in Premium Bonds five weeks ago so this represents an annualised return of 5.11% (or thereabouts). (Actually, that probably allows the astute reader to figure out how much I invested which violates one of my self-imposed rules for this blog but I'll let it pass.)

I'm a little upset that I allowed myself to ignore this intriguing financial vehicle for so long. The effective interest rate isn't hugely competitive but the combination of the reasonable expectation of an "OK" return with the potential of winning £1m is really quite sweet.

I always had a deep suspicion of those who played the National Lottery and my belated discovery of the merits of Premium Bonds has reinforced this.

I have pitched the benefits of premium bonds to two lottery-playing acquaintances thus: "If you spend a pound on the lottery, you may make a large return, but your stake is lost if you don't. The expected return if you play for the long term is £0.50 per £1 invested, or so. If you invest in premium bonds, you could win a million pounds each month or some other sum. And even if you don't, your stake stays in the game. Your expected return is greater than the original stake! (we ignore inflation in such arguments, of course :-) ). My argument may be slightly inaccurate but it has worked... they will both soon be "ex-customers" of the "tax on the stupid" (Deliberately ambiguous link chosen). Hurrah for Macmillan! (I never thought I'd ever say that)

Of course, the odds of winning a prize (any prize) are somewhat greater with the lottery but that doesn't bother me. I am now officially in love with premium bonds.

London Science Museum

I've been meaning to go to the Science Museum for some time so popped down this morning.

I had been attracted by an exhibit on how we are constructing ever more amibitious buildings. As it turned out, I didn't find it - but there was plenty of other interesting stuff.

Two particular things that caught my eye were the Mechanical Engineering pieces and one particular exhibit in the Wellcome Wing.

The Mechanical Engineering area was fascinating. Having just started reading "The Wealth of Nations" (it's heavy going... I've managed the first two chapters so far), the pieces provided a stark demonstration of division of labour in action.

The exhibit in the Wellcome Wing that interested me was one I have blogged about in the past but forgotten about until now: the WebSphere MQ stand. It was quite arresting to see colleagues (and my fourth line manager) immortalised in a museum!

What is it I do? (part 2)

In a posting yesterday, I started to explain what it is that I do.

I explained that my role is to help IBM WebSphere customers be successful and gave an example of a customer relationship management problem in the auto industry.

I hopefully gave a reasonable overview of the problem to be solved. What I didn't do, however, was tie that back to my core mission: making WebSphere customers successful.

To do that, we need to think about the problem in a little more depth. I used hand-waving phrases such as "good customers", "inviting them to evening drinks", "bought lots of optional extras".

These phrases turn out to be key.

Who are the good customers? How do we contact them? Which extras did they buy?

If all this information was in one nice big database, life would be easy.

The problem is that most companies don't work like that. They have a collection of computer systems, of various ages, littering their IT landscape. Consolidating their entire business onto one system simply isn't feasible. There may be one system that tracks payments made by customers on their purchasing plans. Another one will list the exact order that a customer made. There may be a relationship with a business partner to handle the face-to-face "wine and dine" sessions.

Successfully integrating these systems is difficult. Moreover, integrating them in a coherent, scalable and forward-looking manner (so we don't have to repeat the exercise on the next project) requires even more skill.

When I talk about integration, this is what I am talking about.

At a technical level, we have to worry about message formats, adapters, you name it. At an architectural level, Service Orientation really is key.

Now, there are several other strands (human interaction, business-level monitoring, business-level modelling, and more). However, I hope this has helped begin to give an insight into the kinds of issues we help customers deal with.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Google AdWords fun, plus a partial answer to a question

When I started this blog, I registered for Google AdWords. I wasn't expecting to make any money out of it but figured it would do no harm. That is, I felt comfortable allowing Google advertisements since I understood they would be targetted to match the content of my blog.

And so, to date, it has proved.

When I post about my investment antics or muse on economics, then adverts for stock brokers appear. When I comment on WebSphere then adverts for WebSphere training appear. It's really quite uncanny.

A particular advert caught my attention today: it mentioned Siebel. It took me a while to remember that I had commented briefly on Oracle's acquisition. As I say, it's most impressive. However, the act of thinking about Siebel (and my inability to figure out how Google seemingly knew so much about one of my recent engagements!) reminded me that I never answered the question of "what is it that I actually do?"

My job title is Senior IT Specialist. However, that simply means that I have reached a particular level in the IBM IT Specialist Profession (and have gained the right to become a chartered member of the British Computer Society and a Member of the Institute of Electrical Engineers). It does not, you will note, explain what I do.

To explain that, we need to dig a little deeper.

I work for an organisation known as IBM Software Services for WebSphere.

It is our job to help WebSphere customers be successful. Now that could mean a lot of things - and it does.

Within this broad remit, I work in the Process Integration space. That means I worry about how to help customers model their business processes, how to monitor them and how to optimise them. That is: a typical engagement may involve sitting down with somebody in a client's line of business (i.e. not necessarily in the IT department) and figure out what, exactly, it is that they do. The idea is to understand how an organisation performs a particular behaviour. Once we have done this, we can model it, automate it where it makes sense and then seek to optimise it.

What would an example of this be?

I recently did some work for an auto manufacturer who, like most, builds long-term relationships with customers through finance deals. A customer will perhaps pay a deposit, a regular monthly payment and then perhaps a sum to own the car (or simply hand it back). A tricky question for auto companies is that some of these customers will turn out to be fantastic (they pay on time, in full, bought lots of optional extras) and some of them will be terrible (missed payments, abandoned vehicles, ...) and there will be some in the middle.

How do we encourage the good customers to stay loyal (e.g. by inviting them to evening drinks and other special events as their renewal date approaches) whilst avoiding continuing a relationship with the degenerates? Furthermore, how can we automate this and how do we deal with the "middling" customers who may have a special case. The solution lies in a mixture of business and technical considerations.

My role is to walk clients through the business questions right down into the deep technical implementation details. These details can include installing our software, architecting solutions, developing solutions and debugging them (my background is mathematics, computer science and I started my career in the IBM Hursley Lab so the deep techy is always trying to jump out of its box ;-) )

It is in this intersection of business savvy and technological expertise that I am able to add value and it makes for some fascinating engagements.

The New York Times agree with me (sort of)

I mused recently that if you can't explain something clearly, you probably don't really understand it. I was referring to the problem of describing features in a software product but it applies more widely.

The New York Times has an interesting article on the use of this principle to teach Economics.

(Article discovered via Marginal Revolution)

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Holiday Reading

I had an extraordinarily busy day yesterday. It was my last day at work before going on vacation for two weeks and I needed to tie up lots of loose ends. I finished the day with no emails requiring action in my inbox... quite a result.

WebSphere Process Server is hot right now.... I'll be sorry to be away from the action. Customers really get it. Process Server is designed from the ground-up to support writing composite applications - making SOA a reality. The core concepts of the Service Component Architecture and the fact that it is built on top of a J2EE application server (WebSphere Application Server) mean that some classes of previously difficult problems become almost trivial and it's exciting to be able to show people how their problems can be solved elegantly and coherently.

I spent a lot of yesterday walking a colleague through some of the presentations we give on the internal advanced education class for consultants as he will be helping deliver it next week in the UK in my absence. It made me realise that some of our materials over-complicate things. There was one deck, in particular, that was over 40 pages long but only contained three real concepts. It is easy to take a simple concept and make it difficult.... I need to watch out for this when I return and fight it whenever I see it happening. This product does make a lot of problems simpler and our materials shouldn't hide this fact

So, with that behind me for two weeks, I can think about my vacation.

New York beckons on Thursday for a week. Thanks to my inability to collect points on a single programme, the reward flights consist of BA outbound and Virgin back. I had enough points for Virgin Premium Economy on the way back and, after a few recent trips, now have enough points to hop up another class to Upper Class on the way back. Slight problem: they haven't released any more seats yet. I'll be phoning every day next week until they do. It will give us something to look forward to at the end of the holiday.

I've been meaning to finally understand how Economics works for ages. This will be the vacation when it happens. I have just bought a copy of The Wealth Of Nations by Adam Smith. I am determined to complete it before I return to work. Let's see if I do....

It's only 79p!

I was called yesterday evening by somebody claiming to work for Barclaycard.

I am a not a great customer for credit card companies. I don't carry a balance from month to month and I don't spend very much on them anyway so they don't make much on the merchant fee.

The salesperson tried to interest me in payment protection. Apparently they have been having lots of success selling it recently. Perhaps it's because it's so cheap, he mused, in the carefully scripted manner of somebody reading from a carefully prepared script.

"How much does it cost?" I asked.

"Only 79p for every £100 on your balance".

"Is that per month or per year?"

"Per month."

Right..... so, for the privilege of having a small sum paid off in the event of my becoming unemployed, I will be charged the equivalent of an annual interest rate of 10% on every transaction I ever make on my credit card.

I don't know how many people they persuaded to buy this but that is a fantastic business to be in.

He sounded genuinely surprised and disappointed when I declined his generous offer.

Perhaps religious groups work to a different financial calendar?

Today is the first day of our fourth quarter. Our third quarter results will be out in a few weeks and I'm sure our sales teams will have been putting in some long hours during the last few weeks.

So, with today being the first day of the final quarter of the year, one would expect any organisation that reports in such a fashion to be quieter than normal.

My experiences today would suggest that some religious groupings don't follow such an approach.

I was summoned from the shower this morning by the loud buzz of my apartment's intercom. The caller was not a delivery driver but somebody trying to interest me in some religious literature ("It's a companion to the Bible but also has advice on day-to-day living.") I'm sure it was good stuff but I politely passed on the opportunity.

Returning from a trip into Central London, I exited Tower Hill tube station for the short walk to Tower Gateway DLR station. I passed a table which had lots of people sitting around it. There were some strange-looking machines (not dissimilar to old-style supermarkets' scales). A large sign advertised "Free Stress Tests". Hmmmm...... I was intrigued by the claim that they could objectively measure "stress" but the books littering the table with an author's name of "L. Ron Hubbard" was all I needed to see and I scuttled past.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Munich Airport

I have been in Munich this week teaching a class on WebSphere Process Server. I arrived at the airport today to fly home. I am travelling on a codeshare Lufthansa/Cirrus airlines flight to London City Airport and am carrying a paper ticket. Worse, I had a bag to check in (the plane is very, very small). I didn't have high hopes. I was resigned to having to queue with the rest of the econo-scum to check in. True to form, I arrived at the airport to find the economy line threading its way around the airport :-(

I was about to join it when I thought I'd better check I was in the right line. I'm glad I did. The assistant pointed out that I could use the machines to check in. Even though I had a paper ticket. And even though I had a bag to check in. Wow!

The machine read my ticket and even printed a baggage tag. There was a video demonstration of how to attach it to my bag. I was then told to put the bag on a conveyer and it was whisked into the bowels of the airport. That is so cool! Why can't they do this at Heathrow? (Or LCY for that matter)?

Monday, September 26, 2005

Trading update

It's time to report on the success (or otherwise) of my investments.

It is probably unwise to declare (or admit...) how much I've blown invested in my stock market experimentation. However, I can talk in percentages and proportions of the total amount staked without scaring anybody who knows me.

The figures below take into stamp duty, commission and other dealing costs but do not include any fixed annual fees

InvestmentDateInitial Price (pence)Current PriceReturn
FTSE 100 Tracker12 August 2005540.9545.25+0.8%
FTSE 100 Tracker22 August 2005540.12545.25+0.95%
MSCI Japan Fund24 August 2005613.5667.50+8.8%
Morrison (Wm)16 September 2005183.97177.25-3.7%
MSCI Japan Fund19 September 2005640.00667.50+4.3%

As we can see, most of my bets have paid off so far. However, I did not spread the risk evenly. To a first approximation, my exposure is in the proportion 1/9 FTSE, 3/9 Japan, 5/9 Morrison.

The net is that my position (before annual charges) is a +£0.02 profit. After charges, I am currently running at a -£24.98 loss.

However, my Morrison investment is a long-term bet. I already have too much exposure to the hi-tech industry (my job depends on it and I own stock in my employer). The only other business I begin to understand is retail. I believe that both Wal*Mart and Tesco are saddled with too much expectation: there is too much risk that they will provide a nasty surprise - good news is expected.

Amongst the other major retailers active in the UK, I had to decide between Sainsbury and Morrison. I gambled, perhaps unwisely, that there could not possibly be any more bad news coming from Morrison whereas signs of recovery at Sainsbury had already started to show and were probably already priced in. This belief in the intelligence of the City may prove to be unfounded (and there certainly was more Morrison news to break as my loss will testify) but time will tell if it was a good long-term punt.

The remarkable Japanese investment was prompted by observations in the Economist that businesses were reporting strong profits and that, even though the government at the time was having difficulty passing its reform package, both parties supported the concept of economic reform in principle. I gambled (successfully so far) that even if the government lost their postal privatisation bid, things would still turn out OK. The result of the recent election has shown this to be the case so far. When considering Japan as a non-UK target for diversification, I also considered Germany. I am currently very glad I steered clear of Frankfurt!

It's a good job I don't get travel sick

London City Airport has its merits but the tiny little runway isn't one of them. It means that only tiny little aeroplanes operate from it.

The plane to Munich this morning was one of those tiny ones with three seats across (i.e. in a seat-aisle-seat-seat configuration) and about ten rows from front to back. It was small enough for one air hostess to run the whole show. It was most amusing to watch her stop every so often as she was giving the German safety presentation so she could put down the microphone and pick up her prop (life jacket, oxygen mask, etc, etc).

However, the best part of the journey was just how easily these little planes can be thrown about by turbulence. For most of the journey the plane was shaking up, down, left right, sometimes all at once. It made for an entertaining trip but spoiled my attempts to read the paper.

Anyhow, I'm now in Munich and helping deliver education on WebSphere Process Server to a group of skilled IBM Software Consultants.

My pitch today was on our support for JMS. I think I did a reasonable job of getting the concepts across but it reminded me again how important it is to be able to tell a story with a presentation. The core of the deck was an advanced topic on solving a particular problem that is created when you try to interface a legacy messaging system with a web-services oriented environment. The solution is very easy with WebSphere Process Server. The difficulty is showing that there really is a problem to be solved. So - I had to spend a lot of the presentation making the case for why there was indeed a problem to be solved and - once the existence of the problem was accepted - why it wasn't something that could be done "out of the box". I think I may have overdone the set-up but hopefully the attendees will be able to explain why this is a genuine problem that any integration product must solve and, more importantly, be able to see through the complexity of the problem and articulate the simplicity with which which this new solution allows us to solve it.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

You only have to be one page ahead of everyone else

It's an often-repeated joke in technical education that the instructor is usually only one page ahead of the audience. I've rarely found that to be the case when on internal education but I've often felt it was the case when I've been teaching. Perhaps it's the consultant's normal fear that everybody else knows just as much as you do.

I fly to Munich tomorrow morning to teach an advanced class on the new WebSphere Process Server product. I'm looking forward to this. There is a lot of great stuff in the product that will really help our clients. This is a chance for me to spread the word.

I'll be flying from London City Airport. This is my favourite of all London's airports. I must admit the main reason is because it's only a ten minute journey from my flat. However, it always has the shortest queues and is the least stressful to fly from. I just wish it would fly to more destinations. All they have to do is fill in the Royal Victoria Dock to make space for a second runway (preferably one that can take Jumbos). Map. Is that too much to ask? Is blighting the lives of hundreds of thousands of residents with pollution and unbearable noise 24/7 really too high a price to save me the pain of travelling to Heathrow?