Wednesday, June 29, 2005

When perception bears no relation to reality

Since moving to a new flat recently, my nearest Supermarket is no longer the wonderful (but extortionately expensive) Waitrose and is now a Tesco Metro.

Tesco have an almost mythical reputation in the UK. Press reports gush over how they take 1 in every 8 pounds spent in UK shops, how they're a phenomenally good retailer, how they're light years ahead of everyone else, etc, etc.

Yet... this bears no relation to the reality that I experience. Now - perhaps Waitrose means my expectations have been unfairly raised but, anecdotally, it's not confined to the Canary Wharf branch.

Things I - or friends - have noticed include:

* Long queues
* Empty shelves
* Prices that are not as low as you would expect from their reputation (apparently the contrast between the brand new Asda store on Old Kent Road and the ageing Tesco across the road is stark)

Perhaps I've just been unlucky.

If I owned their stock, however, I'd be considering what to do with it. When what you see and what you hear don't coincide, I get worried.

All it takes is one bad quarter and things can look very, very different....

Fashionable concepts

I find it most enjoyable when the media pick up on a concept and run with it for all it's worth but act as if they've always known about it and always used it in their arguments.

The current craze seems to be the concept of "Capture"

I first came across this in the Economist a few weeks ago. In that context, they were talking about "Regulatory Capture" (I think it was a piece suggesting that the UK's Financial Services Agency was too close to some of the financial firms it exists to regulate).

I thought it was a neat way of characterising certain pathological behaviours one often sees.

Then, this morning I was reading last week's economist and - lo and behold! - I see capture again. We were more ambitious this time..... the article was about "State Capture". The journalist was using it as one way of explaining why democracy and economic growth are often correlated. (In undemocratic countries, the claim is that it is easier for special interests to capture the state and mould it to further their own aims... which are often not compatible with the success of the country as a whole).

The concepts are useful and a nice way of expressing a common phenomenon.

I just thought it was amusing that it was a concept that I'd never seen in the mainstream press before and now it's mentioned twice in a month.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

SunBeyond

Well... well... well!

Maybe EAI is about to get exciting again! I do hope so. Consolidation in the integration space has been long overdue.

A market that was once the preserve of niche players (and IBM, of course) now has heavyweights such as Microsoft and SAP playing... it was only a matter of time before the shakeout began in earnest.

The question now is: will they disappear without a trace (whatever happened to New Era of Networks?) or will something truly interesting emerge?

Bring it on!

The end of the quarter...

Although my official office is near picturesque Winchester near the south coast of the UK, I usually go to our office on the South Bank of the River Thames in London if I just need an office. I reserve my trips to Hursley for special occasions :-)



South Bank has a large contingent of sales people working in it and the atmosphere is totally different to Hursley.

Things are even more feverish than normal today.... there are three days until the end of the quarter. I am working in our "Touch Down" area (hot desking area) and all around me are sales people on calls to customers, business partners and suppliers - as well as on calls to their managers and executives. One can't help but hear some of the conversations and it's really interesting to see the later stages of the sales process in action. I'm familiar with earlier stages of the sales process (having worked in a worldwide technical sales team before taking on my current consultancy role) but I never had exposure to the final steps.

Interestingly, despite the frenetic activity, the touch down area is emptier than normal... lots of business still gets done face-to-face, after all :-)

Monday, June 27, 2005

Puzzle

I sent this puzzle out to the team last week and had some great responses.

Thanks to my friend Mark for posing the puzzle to me in the first place.

You have 100 discs on a tray. The discs are white on one side and black on the other. That is: you can flip a disc in order to switch its colour. At the start of the task, 90 of the discs are black and 10 are white. You are now blindfolded.

Your task is to separate the discs into two piles such that each pile has the same number of white discs in it.

My brain hurts

So.... I performed the "Resource Deployment Manager" role at work last week.

It meant I had to travel down to Hursley every day from where I live in East London. 2 hours door-to-door in each direction is a long time to spend travelling :-( It did give me a lot of time to read the paper, think, do some work, sleep...

I am used to consulting with customers in a fairly linear manner - I can work on one thing at a time and concentrate solely on that. The RDM role, by contrast, relies on being able to juggle twenty things at once.

Typical example: regional teams are escalating requests to me. I need extra information and, in parallel, I investigate who may be able to help. We may also need funding - so I need to get those wheels in motion. In parallel, a tentative engagement from last week comes back and gets firmed up. Damn... that means the consultant I wanted to assign to the new opportunity is no longer available. I then get a phone call asking for an urgent answer to a request that I haven't even seen yet. I call a few consultants who are at client sites but who are scheduled to complete in the next few days. Understandably, they're reluctant to talk for long and, in any case, they don't have an exact skills match. So I check with our sister team in Germany, put out a feeler to a deeply technical tech-sales team who sometimes can help and give a heads-up to the team in the US to whom we sometimes escalate. And this is in the first 10 minutes of getting into the office.

It was quite enjoyable really - but I'd need to develop more robust time management skills and a thicker skin. The only way to really be successful in that kind of role is to find some way of taking a strategic view and doing some longer-term planning. The guy who does it - and the rest of the management team - are very good at this, but it is something I would have to learn

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Weekend

I decided the best way to fight the jetlag from my business trip to Vegas was not to fight it. By that, I mean that I decided to persist with my body's fanciful notion that 4am was actually 8pm and go out clubbing on Friday night.

It was a good experience. I discovered that a bar in King's Cross that I've been to plenty of times before has a roof terrace (cool!) I also discovered that clubs without aircon get very, very warm on hot days. It seemed to work quite well.

I had planned to meet up with some old college friends on Saturday and we couldn't have chosen a better day for it. My original plan was a "London Park Crawl". The idea was that we'd meet at Cutty Sark DLR station, have a few drinks in Greenwich Park, take the river taxi to Westminster, spend some time in St. James's Park, go over to Green Park (no link because it sucks and I hate it), cross Hyde Park Corner to Hyde Park and then finish in Kensington Gardens before finding a restaurant in Kensington.

Of course, we didn't leave Greenwich Park. But the plan was a good one, I think.

I also had to leave earlyish as a friend was having his birthday party in Camden. I went there for a few drinks and then when they were leaving to go into the West End, my tiredness caught up with me so I took the opportunity to go home and get a good night's sleep.

Sunday was more relaxing.... lunch in Canada Water and lounging in Southwark Park with a very good friend and a quiet night in.

The Isle of Dogs (including the Canary Wharf Estate) from Surrey Quays:

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Manning the "Task Id"

For the next week, I get to see how a fast-paced, responsive IT services team works, from the inside.

The team I work for provides WebSphere consultants throughout Europe for various purposes. The two main ones are when a local team doesn't have the necessary skills available in the required timeframe or when the technology is so new (or even still emerging) that local teams have not yet skilled up.

In addition to the managers in our department (who are "real" IBM managers - with HR responsibilities, etc., etc., as well as business responsibility), there is a "Resource Deployment Manager" (RDM). His job (for it is a he) is to respond to incoming requests, determine if we are able to help, identify appropriate resource, help to scope the engagement and sort out the financials. There is also a strategic component to the role but I have less visibility of that at present.

My task for next week is to stand in for the RDM while he is on vacation. I should get to learn a lot about the business, the pressures and opportunities - and also get far more contact with my peers and managers. My team is based near Winchester but I live in London. So this is a rare opportunity to meet face to face with many of my colleagues.

It should be an interesting, if stressful and pressured, week.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Gatwick Airport :-(

I've never liked Gatwick airport. Today's trip reminded me why. I waited for almost an hour for my bag (I should have used my colleague's trick and left a premium tag on it from the journey out... his arrived much quicker) and the road to London was gridlocked all the way.

To be fair to BAA (one of the greatest examples the UK has of why monopolies are bad things), most of the traffic problems were caused by people who fail to maintain their cars and then act surprised when the engine overheats the first time they go for a long drive in the summer.

But, BAA can't blame others for the lack of air conditioning in the passport and baggage-reclaim halls and the lack of staff to check passports.

However, the queues and waits (a 747 carries a lot of bags...) made me realise that Boeing are probably correct in their assessment that people dislike hubs and mega-planes (here and here) and would much prefer to use smaller regional airports and smaller jets

For example: London City Airport is a joy: you can check-in less than 30 minutes before your flight and your bags are waiting for you before you reach the carousel. The problem is: it doesn't fly to many places. If planes like the 787 can fix that, then it will be a success.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Final Vegas Post. I promise...

I thought I'd seen it all until we walked back from Denny's. Caesars Palace has circular escalators...

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Now... if they could only tighten the turning circle, all of London Underground's nasty grotty lift-served stations could be fixed

And remember, tourists... there is never any excuse for getting off at Covent Garden Tube. You'll regret it if you do. What's wrong with Leicester Square? Or Charing Cross?

p.s. Las Vegas McCarran International has free Wireless. Hurrah!

Customer feedback to WebSphere Integration Technical Forum

I was not looking forward to this week's conference. I don't really like Las Vegas and I don't like flying for 10 hours in coach class. However, the event was made worthwhile once I got the opportunity to speak to the great collection of customers that had travelled from around the world to attend the conference.

Listening to them describe their businesses and the problems they were solving with our software was inspiring. Too often, I only get pulled into projects that are going wrong. Hearing real life examples of projects that were successful was a good feeling.

Interestingly, many of the customers I spoke to had implemented the solutions themselves, with no outside help. Many of them thought they had low skills and some even seemed to completely doubt their abilities. Once I probed them on what they had build - and the success they had had - it was easy to see the pool of talent that our clients have assembled. I learned things about our products that I didn't know myself.... yet they didn't think they were experts. Perhaps they need to feel more of a community?

A great community site for WebSphere MQ-related products is mqseries.net. There are some deep experts on there. At present, it doesn't cover the WebSphere Interchange Server. I bet if a community site like mqseries.net started looking at ICS, the number of people believing themselves to be the experts they really are would rocket.... sometimes it takes recognition from your peers to realise how valuable you are.

US Restrooms vs UK bathrooms

I'm probably odd for noticing this but I find the difference between US and UK bathrooms interesting. In Caesars Palace, for example (the lack of an apostrophe is *still* bugging me.... perhaps it does imply more meaning that I'd previously suspected. Anyhow... back to my earth-shattering discovery), the urinals have "modesty protectors" between them. In the UK, this is rare (apart from at Wetherspoons pubs for some reason). But... US toilet "cubicles" have considerably less privacy than UK ones. In the UK, it is not unusual to get something like a private room. In the US, by contrast, the toilet doors have gaps around the edge, are so short you can look over them when you stand up and they are sometimes even louvred.

I'm ont sure what this says about the psychology of our two countries and I'm not sure which I prefer. One things for certain: the restrooms in Vegas are certainly plush.

Bellagio Fountains

After the final reception last night, we wandered down the strip to the Bellagio. I'd seen the fountains before but had never really paid attention. They're very impressive. They almost make Vegas bearable.



We had cocktails in the Bellagio bar and spent an enjoyable hour or so before I wandered back to get some sleep.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Last night in Vegas

Tonight will be the last night in Vegas - 10 hours in Economy to look forward to tomorrow. The solution, then, is clear: go out this evening and "tire" myself out.

Before then, I finally get to present. My slot is this afternoon. I'm presenting on the various integration runtimes that IBM has and how they relate to each other... when should you use one rather than the other?

I get conflicted when preparing presentations. Parading through 60 slides in an hour can be heavy going and some humour and "inside knowledge" can keep an audience interested. I've been told, however, that my humour is "very black". I'm not sure if that is good or not.

In any case, somebody considerably more successful than me told me: "If you're not being escalated more than twice a year, you're not pushing the boundaries far enough". Having never been escalated, I think that means I'm not trying anywhere near hard enough. So, the "black" humour stays. For now...

Monday, June 13, 2005

Rising Star

Before retiring to my hotel room to finalise my WITF presentation this afternoon, I sat through Tom Inman's keynote and Kareem Yusuf's pitch on the evolution of WebSphere.

Kareem's presentation, in particular, was excellent. He outlined the history of WebSphere from its earliest beginnings to its current position as IBM's middleware brand - i.e. it is an entire software platform and not an App Server any longer. He used this to explain clearly to the audience where we are going and where we are focussing our efforts (short answer: consumability, open standards, etc, etc)

I was taken by his frankness in describing the internal IBM thinking in this space and how he carefully set the scene for future evolution of the platform without descending into the usual nuanced tip-toeing that we so often see presenters getting themselves into. It was easy to see why his scaling of the IBM ladder has been so swift :-)

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Vegas

I've just arrived in Las Vegas for the IBM WebSphere Integration Technical Forum. I will be presenting on Wednesday. The topic of my talk is: "WebSphere Business Integration Server - Compare and Contrast the Runtime Stack, Lecture - Intermediate". Snappy, eh?

I originally wanted to call it something more frivolous but lost courage at the last second. Shame, really... I might blog sometime on the email blizzard I triggered when some executives saw my original title :-)

The idea of the conference is to get customers of IBM who use WebSphere Integration Software together for an in-depth technical conference (there should be little marketing stuff here this week). That means Caesar's Palace is going to be riddled with people talking about WebSphere MQ, Interchange Server, Workflow and more. I extend my apologies in advance to people who might be in Vegas to *escape* from work!

I came over with Virgin. They do a direct flight from London (Gatwick, sadly - but you can't have everything). A direct flight is SO good.... I've been out here twice before for conferences and had to change - horrible, horrible, horrible!

IBM policy is to fly us economy - with exceptions for business class in certain circumstances, at one's manager's discretion. Attending a customer conference doesn't seem to merit an exception unfortunately so I was expecting the hell of a 10 hour flight in Economy. Luckily, there were no flights with space on Economy so I flew upstairs on VS043 in Premium Economy.... not quite Upper Class but still pretty nice. It will be regular eceonomy on the way back though :-(

I've stayed in the MGM and Bally's but this is my first time at Caesar's Palace. Overall, the room is merely OK (phone is temperamental, no wireless and they hid the ethernet cable behind the TV) but the bathroom is a sight to behold:

Double sink:



Jacuzzi - with a semi-obscured window overlooking the room



My photos don't really do it justice but I've seen a lot of hotels over the last few years and I'll remember this bathroom for some time

Saturday, June 11, 2005

This doesn't look good...

I just looked out of my bedroom window while on hold trying to cancel my MBNA credit card and saw a vague smokiness coming from a tower block in the distance.

Upon closer inspection, I realised the top floor was on fire. The sound of sirens and helicopters I can now hear suggest that the authorities know about it but I hope there's nobody up there.

Edit (11/06/05 18:30): Poor quality photos from my phone:


Wednesday, June 08, 2005

iTunes Music Store.... Grrrr!!!!

I love my iPod deeply. I also love the iTunes Music Store. I do feel squeamish every time I buy something from the store because I know the DRM will probably bite me in the future.

But... when I'm out of the country (which is often), there's no easy way to buy an album when it's just been released.

Case in point: I want to buy "Here Come the Tears" by The Tears. It was released on Monday. I was actually in the UK on Monday morning but the Virgin store in Heathrow Terminal 2 Airside didn't have it. Grrrr.

So, I checked on iTunes and they didn't have it either. "I know, I'll wait until Tuesday - that's when they load the new stuff", I thought. Wrong! Indeed, it's still not there.

So, thought I... I'll ask Apple to add it. And this is where I'm completely stumped. I can't figure out how to request that they add a title to their list. Unless I'm completely blind, it doesn't seem to be possible. Is this really the case?

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Welcome to the real world

Looks like Sun's lawyers have caught up with Jonathan. Scroll down to the end of this.

I guess it's just further evidence that blogs are no longer a plaything and are becoming an ever more mainstream way of communicating and discussing.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Who'd have thought it... I learned something new today

I'm in Germany at an internal education session at our Boeblingen laboratory.

More and more of our products are adding support for "CEI". I've been hearing a lot recently about IBM's CEI. This is not the same as Wikipedia's CEI, I should add. It is the Common Event Infrastructure. It embodies all kinds of cool things but one of the most immediately exciting is the idea of correlating events and errors from multiple products.

Example: your integration engine just failed to synchronise a new user from a CRM system into Billing. It throws an error to the customer who is connected via a portal. The App Server has an error in its log, the integration engine has another one. Perhaps the billing system has one. That was caused by a database rollback. But it turns out that was caused by a network problem preventing access to the SAN.

Previously, debugging this kind of thing could be a nightmare (even with a really well implemented solution).

CEI is one of the foundation technologies for turning these problems into something solvable.

Weekend

One would think that I'd make the most of my time in the UK since I have so little of it at present. Instead, I spent most of Saturday afternoon cleaning my old flat. I've just moved out of New Providence Wharf and I needed to help with my share of the cleaning. We were the first tenants and I was a little concerned that the Limescale on my shower window would be a pain to get off. But no! It was an opportunity to spend my hard-earned salary on dubious household-cleaning chemicals. Amazingly, Cillit Bang actually did work.

I really should move to West London

Well.... another Monday morning with a 4am alarm call....

Stuttgart this week for some education. It should be less stressful than some of my recent customer engagements, which is a plus.

I listened to my first ever Podcast this morning (If you're an IBMer, search the intranet for Matt Perrins' podcast on WebSphere XD and Eclipse Rich Client Platform... fascinating. It's on the internal Warwick services site).

I was initially sceptical of the Podcast phenomenon.... I thought it was going to be like a low-rent Wayne's World. I was pleasantly surprised by Matt's offering :-)

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

I wonder if this will be ready for my trip to Vegas....

This is so cool.... a way to see an image from the perspective of the light... rather than the camera.... great for cheating at "guess the card" tricks. The movie that explains it is good.

Consulting in Sweden

I'm in Sweden this week helping another IBMer learn about WebSphere Business Integration Adapters (specifically, how to write a custom one).

The IBM office is in an old Saab factory overlooking the Turning Torso. What a fantastic looking building!

It reminded me of just how many great looking buildings I've had the privilege to see recently... and how I've just missed out on going inside on every occasion!

The "Gherkin"... London's annual open day was too full by the time I got there
The Kingdom Tower in Riyadh... my security "advisers" made it clear that going out in busy public places was a big no-no when I was in Saudi Arabia.