Wednesday, March 29, 2006


I'm on a fascinating project in Eastern Anglia at the moment with some very clever guys from BCS. One of the technologies we're using is SIP. I know it's not fashionable to be excited by geeky things but.... I can't help getting excited seeing someone pick up a phone, dial a number and then immediately see loads of trace fly across a monitor and then hearing another phone ring. So cool!


In his trailer for my economics postings, Andy Piper points me at this post on "widgets".

I believe it is a thinly-veiled attack on the concept of voluntary exchange, demonstrates a lack of understanding of the principle of comparative advantage and contains a bizarre implication that economics is a zero sum game.

However, it is my responsibility to prove those accusations. It would be deeply dishonourable of me to attack somebody I don't know and give no reason.

Sadly, I am not yet as eloquent as I would like to be on matters economic. I intend to correct that deficiency over the coming months by posting on simpler matters. If I can work up to delivering a devastating critiqe of the widget posting within three months, I'll consider this experiment to have been a success...


Andy Piper correctly points out that I'm toying with the idea of starting a blog on economics. It will be called, originally enough, "Gendalnomics". The more eagle-eyed readers out there will notice that gendalnomics.blogspot has been created and is just sitting there, yearning for content.

I'm currently in two minds whether to run it as a separate blog or to fold the content into here. I think I'll stick to this blog for now, only making use of the dedicated one if people fail to grasp that this is not an official blog or one that claims to represent my employer's opinions in any way. Let's see how things go.

Interesting stuff...

Diamond Geezer teaches us how to play "Deal or no deal"....

Don Dodge says you'd better hope you're a painkiller and not a vitamin..... Not totally sure I like his analogy.... I'd settle for a reliable revenue stream over transactional revenue any day of the week :-p

Bill Higgins has a fantastic piece dissecting Microsoft's Rich Turner's attack on IBM the other week. I commented on Rich's posting some time back but Bill has done a much better job.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Can I afford to move to WordPress?

IBM's enterprising broker-brainiac has moved from Blogger to WordPress.

I looked into this last weekend - and have even gone as far as opening an account. However, I haven't had time to perform the migration.... Andy makes it sounds relatively straightforward.

However, his "pros and cons" scorecard suggests that I can't add Google AdSense to the blog. My earnings from AdSense are currently somewhat low (zero cents, to be precise) but I harbour the hope that, one day, an exponential (indeed, infinite) increase in my AdSense-related earnings will materialise. It looks like I'm going to have to make a difficult trade-off.

"Mark all read"

Stephen O'Grady says he clicked "mark all read" and felt good. I know how he feels. I would, however, like the chance to say "undo". Read/unread marks have to be one of the most fragile way of keeping track of one's to-do list but I use them and I use them extensively. Do any RSS readers have a CTRL-Z?

Google Finance

I'm getting sick of this now. I didn't buy Google stock and I wish they would quit reminding me of my mistake. Yahoo! What has happened to you? You used to be an irrelevant website with reasonable finance coverage. Now you're an irrelevant website with second rate finance coverage. Shoddy.

Looks like we've taken our eye off the ball...

BEA in "better than IBM" shocker.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Bobby Woolf is on a roll...

Loads of interesting articles have popped up over at Bobby Woolf's blog of late. Particularly like his coverage of various messaging patterns.

I haven't had a chance to read his comments yet so don't know if this has come up but, just in case, this is a good time to remind everyone that a messaging system doesn't always guarantee to deliver messages in order. If your application makes the assumption that the messages will be delivered in order, it is probably broken.


Last week's Economist had a fascinating piece about "Graphene".

I thought it was a fairly run-of-the-mill article until it mentioned that the material allows both quantum and relativistic effects to be demonstrated. All on a desktop....

Friday, March 17, 2006

I happen to like elephants

Well, I like baby elephants. I think they're sweet. See:

Anyway, Phil Gilbert (discovered via Tom Baeyens at JBoss) makes a ferocious attack on BPEL. It's a well-written article that makes some good points.

His argument is clever so it's easy to miss the gaping hole in the floor (perhaps the elephant crashed through the floorboards under the weight of its own metaphor). However, there is a hole in his argument and it's important to discuss it.

Firstly, few could argue that he is making some good points: the "version 1" versus "version n" problem is a real one, for example. I also like his implied analogy between Java bytecode for a JVM and BPEL for a BPM-execution-engine.

However, "Business Process Management" does not equal "Modeling for Execution" and it is very important to separate these two concepts.

When you develop UML diagrams in the fashion Phil describes, you are explicitly modeling a future computer program. By contrast, the outcome of a business process modeling exercise does not have to be a running, automated, version of the process. A good Business Process Modeling tool provides value independently of other components in your stack. A classic example is the kind of project that models an existing process, performs analyses and simulations, recommends improvements to the process, analyses the proposals and which leads to a successful change in the way the organisation operates. There is no need for a runtime to be involved at all. There is no parallel I can think of between this kind of BPM project and a project in the application development space that UML dominates so successfully.

Of course, at the other end of the spectrum, a BPM solution could be implemented entirely inside a single runtime environment (an example would perhaps be a bank loan application process). In such a case, a 1-1 correspondence between the model and the runtime is, of course, highly desirable. Indeed, there is a case to be made that a suitably augmented BPEL development tool would be the right place to perform the work.

In the middle lies the most common case: a "to-be" model includes portions that will live inside a BPM execution engine, parts that are purely manual, parts that are performed by third-parties and parts that are implemented in other systems.

It goes without saying that this case is the hard one. Some parts of the model need to be made executable. Some parts need to be turned into staff manuals. Some parts need to be used as input to an application development exercise. And the whole thing needs to stay in sync. Nobody said this would be easy.

Given this bigger picture, I think he may be clouding the landscape somewhat by focussing his fire on BPEL.

Where are our elder statesmen?

I ventured to the Institute of Economic Affairs yesterday evening to attend a panel discussion titled "Were 364 Economists All Wrong?". I must confess that the level of the debate was far deeper than I anticipated and I found it hard to follow one or two of the arguments. However, the topic itself was easy enough: the British government, in 1981, implemented a number of economic policies that a large number of academic economists strongly disagreed with. They wrote a letter to The Times saying as much and predicted disaster.

Implicit to the title of the discussion was the claim that disaster did not occur - and the question was: does this mean those economists were wrong?

There was a lot of talk of monetarism, measures of money supply, the technical definition of a depression and more. All good stuff. The reasoned, polite debate was enjoyable and it was refreshing, as it always is, to hear those at the top of their profession confess to doubts in their understanding of their specialism. Honesty is good.

One aspect of the debate stood out, however. Here, in one room, were more old men than I had seen since High Table at college. These were people who had been (or were) senior economic advisers to the treasury, the heads of various banks. Several of them were easily in their eighties. They had vast experience and accumulated knowledge and they were treated as experts to be listened to and to learn from.

As I looked around, I tried to imagine what the equivalent would be in the IT industry. We have a most unpleasant habit of regarding anybody over the age of 35 as past it. If you're still working on new technology (rather than supporting the old stuff) at the age of fifty then you must be doing something pretty remarkable.

Perhaps my sample was biased by the large number of academics present (there certainly seems to be a free flow between academia and policymaking/advising) but I'm not so sure it was significant.

I think there really is a difference in the demographics of the two professions. The question is: how much of this is due to the much younger age of our industry and how much is intrinsic to our work? If the latter dominates then I'd better have a plan for my middle-age if I don't want to starve when I'm 60.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

ESB: The Oracle has spoken

Thanks to Andy for pointing me at this article on ESB topologies by Chris Nott and Marcia Stockton.

I first worked with Chris a few years ago on a Proof of Concept for a healthcare provider in the South of England and knew immediately that we'd be hearing a lot from him in the future. I am privileged to count him as one of my mentors and I never cease to be impressed by the depth of his thinking. If that wasn't reason enough to read this article, the fact that it namechecks Marc-Thomas Schmidt, Paul Verschueren and Rick Robinson - some of our top architects in this space - should be all the convincing you need.

I give in. Andy: teach me about tagging

I just about get the concept of tagging content on sites such as Flickr. It amazes me that the system doesn't get abused in the same way that website meta tags did in the dark days before Google made our lives worth living. However, it does seem to work so I'm prepared to agree there is value. I guess the incentive structure may be different (i.e. there's no value in driving inappropriate traffic to your images whereas there is a lot of value in driving traffic to an otherwise worthless website that is full of ads, etc).

Taking this a step further, I can see some merit in adding tags to a blog post to let search engines know what it's about. I suppose the likes of may go further in helping *other people* add tags to my content. Fine. Seems like a reasonable idea (although I still don't see how it's protected from abuse).

So the question is: how do I tag my content? Can I tag links that I put into my blog? Or do I need to use some other tool?

Andy... help!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The risks of medical testing

I was listening to The Today Programme this morning (I know... it's a bad habit I need to get out of... how can I claim to be economically literate and still listen to that drivel?) and heard a story about some patients who had suffered a nasty reaction to a first stage drug trial. It seems they're more seriously ill than I first realised.

Of course, the whole purpose of these early trials is to screen for serious side effects before rolling out tests to more people but I suspect even the chemists were taken aback by this reaction.

The terrible situation happens just as a movement known as "Pro-Test" is gaining traction. I have been following their progress with interest (having always been too cowardly to confront the activists on Oxford Street myself).

From my perspective, today's event shows just how important animal testing is (think of all the drugs that are rejected before the human stage) but it does also show that the debate is not as clear-cut as those of us who favour science would like to admit: just as adverse animal reactions can lead to promising human drugs being derailed, promising animal results can lead to tragic results when tested on humans.

I wish the patients a full and speedy recovery.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Alphablox... wow!

I've been learning about Alphablox today.

It has been a fascinating day on two counts.

Firstly, it's been my first chance in ages to study some database concepts. The whole world of OLAP was a mystery to me until today... star schema, cubes, snowflakes.... it all sounded very pretty in a geometric sort of way but I had no real understanding of what it was all about until now. In preparing this posting, I found this discussion (courtesy of Wikipedia); wish I'd read it this morning :-)

Secondly, I had no idea we had bought such a cool product. I (and the rest of the room) sat in open-jawed amazement as one of the instructors took some relational data and created - in less than a minute - a web application that graphically sliced, diced, aggregated and analysed the data in real time

IBM makes a lot of acquisitions. Sometimes it's not immediately obvious to me why we've done it. Alphablox is not one of those cases.

Even better, it is a core part of WebSphere Business Monitor. A part, I'm sorry to say, I had previously tried to hide from. No longer; I can see why they put it in and now know what questions I need to ask to make it useful.

If you know what's good for yourself, don't get ill

I knew things were bad in the NHS right now (for my non-British readers, the NHS is the publicly funded and publicly provided health care system we have in the UK). However, I didn't realise we were treating our old people quite this badly :-(

[UPDATE: 20060314] I should have added a warning: I suggest you read the full article when you're not eating.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Be afraid

It's bad enough that they bred. Now they're trying to evolve. Before even my song and podcast collection is dry on my replacement iPod, they release THIS. I'm happy with them breeding and a bit of evolution is OK. But let's hope this is the end of it. Opposable thumbs really would be too much.

Now, the problem is this: I'm in Hursley tomorrow (to learn all about AlphaBlox) so I'll be commuting for almost four hours, there and back. Unfortunately, I haven't even started this week's Economist, I have a pile of email to reply to, more unread RSS items than I care to admit to and I'm only halfway through this strangely fascinating PodCast about the Economics of Virtual Worlds. I say "strangely" because I have zero interest in gaming.

I thought I had this "information backlog" problem solved earlier today when I tried reading last week's Economist obituary and listening to the "virtual worlds" PodCast at the same time. Sadly, I failed after a minute or two. Intriguingly, I was managing quite well until then but then the difficulty of concentrating on two verbal stimulants at once proved too much. Shame.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Design Patterns for Modern Life

For reasons that are not totally clear to me, my postings on the optimal way to walk around corners and where to stand to board a train for quick disembarkation have attracted more interest than my musings on Service Oriented Architectures. It's most perplexing. Nevertheless, there's clearly a market for it. So (with a hat tip to Lee for the name), I present: Design Patterns for Modern Life!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Blodget is dangerously compelling

I wish I had even 10% of Henry Blodget's talent. He's been posting about Google repeatedly of late and every single post he makes is a lesson in financial writing. He has a style that not only makes you believe you understand everything he's talking about but makes you believe that any other interpretation must obviously be wrong.

An extraordinarily talented gentleman.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Sound Advice

Bill Higgins offers some good career advice.

I particularly like his "work with smart people" rule. It's sometimes difficult to follow that mantra in my role as I work on a lot of different projects over a year and rarely get time to spend a lot of quality time with the people I'd like to. However, Scoble offers a neat workaround in this post: reading smart people's blogs makes you smarter :-)

Oh. So *that's* what it's all about!

I was recently involved in a somewhat lengthy discussion in the comments of my colleague Bobby Woolf's blog. I was trying to understand the ideas behind "REST". I'm not sure why I didn't just turn to wikipedia. Anyhow, their definition is actually quite good. I think I understand this a bit better now.

Good blogging platforms

I have no reasons to complain about Blogger. I'm, mercifully, free of comment spam and I have no complaints about their reliability, etc.

However, they get a lot of bad press. I'm assuming this means that those who have tried other platforms have found them superior.

I am about to start up a couple of other blogs - one to capture my deep insights into efficient commuting and one to allow me to speak more freely about politics - and so this is a good time to consider my choice of platform.


Friday, March 03, 2006

The Impatient Commuter's Guide to Tube Optimisation (part two of an occasional series)

There are so many great opimisation techniques if your journey begins or ends at Tottenham Court Road tube station that it's hard to know where to begin.

For the sake of brevity, I will restrict myself to techniques that work on the Central Line and will offer only two techniques.

Technique One

Observe that the best platform exit when alighting from westbound trains is at the very end of the station - near the back of the train. Accordingly, one should travel in the last carriage.

Technique Two

When beginning a Central Line journey at Tottenham Court Road, regular passengers will have noticed the excessive distance one must walk. Moreover, you must sidestep a busker at the end of a particularly long corridor. There is a better way, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Specifically, when on the last long walk to the Central Line platforms, observe that your journey takes you through a circular chamber. Upon leaving this chamber, the path ahead is split into two: you will be encouraged to walk on the left, to leave space for those leaving a train to walk on the right.

Don't be fooled!

Observe the diagram below: if you follow the signs you will be forced to walk along a long corridor before passing the busker, and finally getting onto the platform halfway along.

You should, instead, ignore the signs, and follow the rightmost path. Provided you choose your timing correctly (fighting against the disembarking passengers would not be an enjoyable experience), you can get onto the platform at least twenty seconds quicker than everyone else. You win again!

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Other blogs I read (part 1 of many)

My RSS reader is broken down into various categories ("friends", "enemiescompetitors", "economics and politics", "IT industry", "London" and so on).

Here are some of my favourite "London" feeds....

Going Underground's Blog. This, and the somewhat more hyperactive Londonist blog are just full of interesting news articles, rumours and ideas for things to do about town. If you were wondering why all the chocolate machines on the tube were out of order or why there's an erratic red line of paint running from the river to near Euston, these are the places to find out.

The SE1 blog does what it says on the tin. My London office is in SE1 and it's an area I pass through regularly.

The Criminal Solicitor, Policeman, Magistrate, Tube station manager and Paramedic are well known but still worth reading.... it's great to get an insight into other people's lives.

However, I do have some sympathy with Stephen O'Grady's plea here. So, in the spirit of posting links to good content and not just entire blogs, I offer this solitary link. It answers the question of why the choccy machines are turned off. Who'd have thought it?

What other blogs do I read?

I received an email from Fabrice Yans earlier this week asking about an article I had written on IBM developerWorks. He has an interesting blog that covers SCA and WebSphere Process Server.

I don't maintain a table of links on my blog (I never look at anybody else's blogrolls so just assumed nobody would look at mine). However, as I spot interesting new blogs I guess I really should be letting all my other wonderful readers (all seven of them....) know about them. Watch this space.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Welcome to 1999

I am taking a break from client engagements this week and investing in some education: I am learning about IBM's WebSphere Business Modeler (sic) product.

I must admit to having been somewhat cynical at the start of the week. I approached this class from the perspective of a middleware consultant rather than as a business analyst and that was my mistake. This was a course that showed how we could use the tool to help clients understand the problems in their business and understand how to solve them. The simulation and analytic capabilities in Modeler are astonishing.

However, that is not the purpose of this post. Rather, the purpose of this post was to point out that I have been staying in the "Holiday Inn Eastleigh" for a couple of days - since commuting to and from IBM Hursley from London every day for a week was too much. The hotel is nice - indeed, I've just had a most agreeable meal with two good friends - but... wait for it..... there is no wireless or broadband internet access anywhere in the hotel.

No. That was not a typing mistake; I'll repeat it in case you missed it. In 2006, the owners of Holiday Inn somehow believe it is acceptable to sell hotel rooms where the only access to the internet is via an analogue telephone (at 28 kbps!!!).

I will, of course, never stay here again until they get their act together but it did teach me a valuable lesson: one should not assume that such facilities will be available when booking a hotel.

Investment Update

I've been somewhat erratic in my investment updates of late.

In brief, Premium Bonds have been disappointing: my return after six months is 1%.

However, my investments in equities have been somewhat more successful: I am about 18% up on August 2005. Hurrah!