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?

In a world of mediocrity...

... tiny things like this wonderful video shine like a beacon.

It's not often that I see something and realise there was no way on earth I could ever have created it. Law, medicine, construction, newsreading... if I'd chosen to pursue most careers, I'm sure I'd have made a success of it. This little animation, however, reminded me that there are some things I'd never have been able to do. Excellent! The world isn't a bore, after all.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Sometimes it's more comforting to be misled

I have just returned from a business trip to Milan. Like every other Italian Hotel I have ever stayed in, there were no ironing facilities in the room. I learned long ago not to bother requesting them; I've yet to find an Italian Hotel that will send an Iron to my room. I don't know if this is a clever scam, an extraordinarily excessive (and wide-spread) intolerance of risk or because I've managed to offend the concierge in some way or another.

Consequently, I had to pay the hotel to press my shirts for me. I can't help thinking my company's shareholders would have preferred to keep that money for themselves, all things being equal. According to Yahoo, there are about 1.6 billion outstanding IBM shares. Which means I own approximately 0.00000625% of the company. I'm outraged! Under any theory of stock valuation, my net worth should have dropped by 0.000003125p. I'll never stay in that hotel again!

I digress. The purpose of this posting was actually to comment on the interesting taxi ordering system in use in Milan. It is very, very difficult to pre-book the city's cabs. Instead, one calls a taxi firm shortly before you need the cab and are given an estimated time of arrival and badge-number. That is: you'll be able to tell which cab is yours from a number on the door.

I was in Milan for a sales engagement. Normally in these situations, I get my hotel to book the cab the night before so I am sure to have one and can be sure of getting to my client's office in good time. The Milanese approach adds to my stress: I don't know how long I will have to wait for a cab when I book it so I either have to take a risk (based on previous observations of the time taken to arrive) or book absurdly early and risk losing some sleep. A dilemma indeed.

However, as inconvenient as this approach is, it does have some merits. In London, for example, it is possible to pre-book a black cab. This gives the comforting feeling of knowing you won't have to hail one the next morning. Unfortunately, it is a charade. From bitter experience, I have reached the conclusion that booking a black-cab gives only the sense of security. It seems that the request is only broadcast by the control room shortly before the cab is needed. So, in the event of bad traffic or unexpectedly high demand for cabs, there is a good chance your request will not be honoured.... so no different to the Milanese system except that it encourages you to relax rather than plan for the worst case.

The wisdom of crowds

There is an interesting piece on the Google Blog right now. They describe how the aggregated bets of hundreds of employees on future events turn out to be remarkably accurate.

The phenonemon they utilise is the one that means "Ask The Audience" inevitably gives a more accurate answer than the other "Millionaire" lifelines.

The Wisdom of Crowds is different to Herd Behaviour. My success of my nascent investment strategy is predicated on pretty much everybody else in the world being wrong so this is fortunate.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Meet the family

Part 2 in an occasional series. Today's colleague of distinction is Mr. Jon Mc Namara.

Jon - one of the top WebSphere MQ Workflow and Business Process Management consultants in Europe - moonlights as a top-flight comedian. His next gig is currently advertised outside Waitrose in Canary Wharf. Get your tickets for his Cabot Hall show early... it's sure to sell out.

Jon Mc Namara

Friday, September 16, 2005

Sun. Why?

I tend to take a dim view of Sun Microsystems. I just don't understand what they're for. Would the world be a worse place if they just shut up shop and went away? It's not clear to me that it would.

However, I do find Jonathan Schwartz's weblog entertaining and his enthusiasm goes a long way towards making them interesting. His recent broadside against Dell was most enjoyable.

Every so often, however, he goes one step further. Today's posting - a plea to his employees to quit leaking information to the press - was very brave. I don't think we'd have ever done that. Jonathan: I still don't understand what Sun is for but I take my hat off to you nevertheless.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Which would you choose?

I just came across a cool little thought experiment courtesy of this article outlining the Fed's current dilemma in setting interest rates.

The experiment referred to is Newcomb's Problem - it's been around for years, it would seem, but it's new to me. I think the author above does a good job of explaining it but here's a Wikipedia link to it too.

I think I'd probably take both boxes.

WebSphere Process Server is born!

I no longer have to disguise what all my trips to California have been about... WebSphere Process Server has been announced.

We actually announced a lot more than that today (see our press release for the full excitement).

Wolfgang does a good job of describing Process Server on developerWorks.

I'm one of the core software services team who have been working with this product prior to its release and am now good to go.... I'll be visiting lots of clients over the coming weeks and months... if you see me, say hello! And... if you can tell me what this was, I'll buy you a drink.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Oracle buys Siebel

Oracle buys Siebel

This is hardly a surprise but it's useful as evidence that the Applications business is clearly going through a massive consolidation. Peoplesoft, JD Edwards and Siebel are no longer independent entities, Microsoft is beginning to realise that their multiple overlapping offerings need to be rationalised and SAP are circling and surveying the spoils.

Note: I'm not authorised to speak for IBM and I don't pretend to. This is, after all, my personal blog. And speaking as such, this deal is pretty exciting for me. I work in Application Integration... I build Enterprise Service Buses and deploy Service Oriented Architectures for a living. The solutions I build and the products I work with are purpose-built to protect clients in these sorts of situations. "Your strategic CRM/ERP/xxx platform may have developed an unexpected inflection in its roadmap? No worries! We can deal with this without impacting any of your other systems."

Interestingly and concurrently, eBay bought Skype today for what Scoble thinks might be around $4bn. That's a decent proportion of the $5.85bn that Oracle paid for Siebel. I wonder who got more for their money? $4bn seems like a lot of money for an internet phone company... even one as hyped as Skype.

For those IBMers who read his blog, here's what I wrote on my internal-only site: click here

What on earth was that?

This is quite possibly the largest caterpillar I have ever seen in my life. It was so large I thought it was a fat slug

At least I *think* it was a caterpillar.

From the number of squirrels, foxes and weird freakish insects like this that I see, I'm convinced there's more wildlife in East London than the "countryside".

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Sausages and doughnuts

The Guardian relaunch in a midsize "Berliner" format tomorrow. I still remember when they launched their last version in the eighties. I liked the last page of Saturday's edition.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Apple AirTunes


I'm probably very late to this party but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy it as much as everybody else.

Having ripped all my CDs and put the originals into storage (well, the loft), it means I need only my amplifier and iPod base station to access my entire music library in the living room. Wouldn't it be good, I thought, if I could choose tracks on iTunes on my laptop and get the sound to come out of the stereo. It would be so much easier than having to get out of my seat every time I wanted to change playlist. My mind leapt to thoughts of trailing wires, laptops that were suddenly somewhat less mobile and several broken ankles.

Mercifully, Apple have a solution: AirPort Express (and Extreme if you have more money than sense). It does lots of other cool stuff but the main thing one would buy it for is its iTunes integration. Put simply, you plug it in, install the software on your computer and five minutes later you can wirelessly beam music from your computer to your stereo. How cool is that?!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Would Inspector Sands please come to the operations room

Some excitement on my journey into work this morning. The Waterloo & City line train I was taking arrived at Waterloo and we spilled onto the platform and I headed for the exit.

I always try to position myself so I exit the train as close as possible to the platform exit I want. This meant I was one of the first people to bound up the steps to the main concourse..... except the gate at the top was shut.

So I turned round and tried to follow the rest of the crowd who had also seen this and were heading towards the other exit. Foiled! I hate being at the back of lines.

And then, in the distance, I could see half of the passengers turn around and start walking towards us - the other exit was presumably also closed. Excellent! They weren't going to get out before me after all!

I thought I'd better listen to the incessant passenger announcement in the station which was increasingly intruding into my enjoyment of the music on my iPod. There was some sort of emergency evacuation underway it seemed. Inspector Sands seemed to play a big role in all of this.... that means fire if I'm not mistaken. So locking us on the platform was probably a thoroughly sensible thing to do.In some alternate reality.

I followed a passenger back up the original staircase and saw that the gate wasn't locked. He opened it and we left through that exit.

I have no idea what the real issue was but I'm glad I travel the "wrong" way on the Waterloo & City for my commute and so have to share the train with very few people. If London Underground had decided to trap the W&C passengers at Waterloo during the afternoon rush hour there would have been mayhem.

In other exciting Underground-related news, they now have online "ETA Boards" for some of the lines. Hurrah!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Advanced Enterprise Service Bus

Hurrah! V6 of WebSphere Message Broker was announced today.

This version represents a major step forward in our message brokering technologies. The title of the article is significant: Broker v6 is all about building advanced ESBs.

I do wish we'd include some screenshots in our announcement literature though.

Beware experts!

Apparently three-quarters of Economists don't understand the concept of "Opportunity Cost". They only think they do.

This is scary, if not entirely unexpected.

It would be interesting to perform a similar experiment on IT professionals. Take the enterprise space. There are some key concepts you have to understand in this arena if you are to avoid being dangerous.

These are concepts that transcend fads or products. They include a fundamental understanding of transactions, two-phase commit, messaging, object-oriented programming, security, project-management principles and business context (and more).

There are moves afoot to improve the professionalism of the IT trade. They are, at present, experience based. Perhaps there should be some testing of core knowledge too.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Go, Steve!

I've long said that Microsoft is probably the only software vendor I would consider working for if I didn't work for IBM. Little anecdotes like this remind me why. I'm just glad I wasn't sitting near that desk.

The Michael Larsen Incident

Bruce Schneier's excellent blog pointed at this somewhat more frivolous than usual link today. I loved the description of Mr. Larsen's realisation that he had no exit strategy.

Bruce Schneier's blog is absolutely fascinating and should be considered a must-read for anybody working in IT on real projects. Indeed, given that he describes the importance (and difficulty) of computer security so clearly, he should be on every computer science course's reading list; failing to heed his advice should be a sackable offence.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Don't believe the majority; they're usually wrong

This link contains the "Zurich Axioms", a set of simple rules devised by a set of Swiss investors.

I particularly like 10: "ON CONSENSUS: Disregard the majority opinion. It is probably wrong."

That's not an investment-specific thought.... it should probably be pinned above every IT consultant's desk too.