Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Cringely Speaks

IBM Eye links to an interesting article by Robert X. Cringely (looks like Coté has seen it too. Oh... and Vinnie. And Dennis... And... oh you get the picture....)

If what he writes is true (we're in "malaise"; the company is "going nowhere") then we should all be very worried. The problem is that what he writes is not dis-similar to the general negativity on the BCS (now GBS) discussion board at The Vault. In both cases, there's a mismatch between what I read and what I experience. (I mean... if I took everything I read on the vault at face value, I'd have sunk into a deep depression a long time ago)

I thought for a while that perhaps Software Group (where I work) and Global Business Services (formerly BCS - the target of much of the negativity) were completely different and the supposed malaise was unique to GBS. However, I'm working with a lot of my GBS colleagues on my current project and I've been dazzled by their professionalism, hard work, passion and skills. Something doesn't add up...

However, given that he's written what he has, what is the best way a rational observer could make use of the observations? Well, if he's right, I should run for the hills! (Or start making more of a difference...). If he's wrong, however, then there is probably an opportunity lurking somewhere.

I'm reminded of my experience buying William Morrison stock last year. I had already decided to invest some money in a UK retailer (retail being the only business I can claim to understand apart from IT - and I already have too much human capital tied up in IT for it to be wise to invest any more real capital). I figured that the crescendo of bad news surrounding Morrison's meant that all the downside was priced into the stock and so it would be a good time to buy. So it proved. I'm now comfortably ahead (even after the recent falls on the FTSE). I'm not sure that there's a lesson for IT stock pickers (and if there is, I'm certainly not qualified or authorised to advise) but the more general lesson it taught me was: take advice, listen to experts but always trust your own judgment.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Shooting for the stars

EclectEcon points to Austan Goolsbee's piece on how one's first salary has a big role to play in predicting lifetime earnings.

Eek! My first salary wasn't terrible but is was far from great.....

This paragraph is scary:

"The Stanford class of 1988, for example, entered the job market just after the market crash of 1987. Banks were not hiring, and so average wages for that class were lower than for the class of 1987 or for later classes that came out after the market recovered. Even a decade or more later, the class of 1988 was still earning significantly less. They missed the plum jobs right out of the gate and never recovered."

Can you hear it?

Tyler Cowen links to this fantastic exploitation of the ability of young people to hear a wider range of frequencies than adults.

I'm failing to live up to Oracle's expectations for me

According to Oracle, it appears that, at a Brit, I should be "technically skilled, slightly disrespectful of authority, and [show] just a touch of criminal behaviour". It seems I need to make more of an effort on the whole "breaking and entering" side of things.... can't let my compatriots down.

Oracle's CSO Mary Ann Davidson does make some good points: there's too much patching going on in the IT industry. I'll resist the easy temptation of pointing to Oracle's record on fixing security problems...... it wouldn't be sporting (another British trait...)

However, what are we to do? Regulation of the IT industry would be the best recipe known to man for plunging the world into a death spiral of low innovation, low productivity, low growth, high poverty, high misery (and that's just Oracle Apps customers.... ho ho ho).

Eric Sink wrote an article about buggy code in the Guardian recently.

He takes the view that all vendors knowingly ship code with defects... but what separates the good vendors from the bad vendors is that they have tested extensively and they know what the quality of their code is. That is: you can ship code with no known defects by simply not testing it. His view is that it is far better to understand the overall quality and then make a reasoned judgement. (I count Oracle amongst the "good vendors" by the way...)

What makes security problems so difficult is that they are not at all amenable to the severity/frequency/cost/risk methodology...... it's finding them in the first place that is so treacherously difficult.

So, I think there's definitely a case for vendors getting far, far better at designing for security, coding for security and testing for security..... Microsoft have actually done a lot to educate the wider community on how to do this (credit where it's due...). However, I don't see how we can get away from the recurrence of "emergency patches". By their nature, they're patches that have been released to correct a problem that was not previously known about (or which was incorrectly assumed to have a lower risk).

SOA Reference Model

I was following James' links to the general outrage over the ludicrous coining of the term "SOA 2.0" (I mean.... honestly!) and found this linked from Technoracle.

It appears that the OASIS folks have built a reference model to explain, in architectural terms, what SOA means.


I need to find some time to read through this and see how it corrsponds to what IBM says it means..... I'm rather hoping we're all saying a similar kind of thing :-)

Fancy writing about IBM?

The ever-interesting IBM eye is looking for a writer....

Friday, May 26, 2006


I went ten-pin bowling with the rest of my team and the client's team on Wednesday. I hurt today.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Is IT a non-growth industry?


I love the idea of "IT spend items with the most empty calories".

Totally agree about the horrors of shelfware. I have to confess to being rather confused as to why it seems to be such a prevalent occurrence in the wider industry. One would think that incentives should be aligned: purchasers of software presumably have a reason for buying it and sellers have an incentive to get it deployed as customers aren't going to come back for more (licenses, CPUs, etc) if they haven't used the stuff they already have.

For example, my job exists - in part - to ensure WebSphere customers successfully deploy our software. We want our customers to deploy this stuff and get value from it and to come back for more after they've seen for themselves what it can do for them. Perhaps the problem is that when a market is growing very fast, it's easier to sell to new customers than worry about ensuring you'll be able to sell to the last lot again any time soon. If so, and if IT really is a non-growth industry, I expect to see other vendors paying closer attention to this area in the future.

Not so sure I agree with his swipe at "Telecom fringe services" though. I couldn't do my job anywhere nearly as effectively without international mobile and Wi-Fi hot spots. So this raises an interesting question: the price of such services is clearly massively above the cost but, even at the price they charge, they still provide value. So everyone wins, right? Well... I'd get even more value from these services if they cost less :-) Competition is usually the way to squeeze prices nearer to marginal cost but I guess there's no harm in indignant purchasers hammering away at their vendors in the meantime...

Liverpool Street Station

When are they going to fix their ticket machines?

I'm commuting to Ipswich most weeks at the moment and have the privilege of travelling through Liverpool Street. I quite like the station. It's bright, airy and more relaxed than Waterloo.

I also like travelling on one railway. They're (usually) reliable, the staff are friendly and their timetable matches my schedule.

But... how long is it going to take them to fix their ticket machines? I've tried every card in my wallet and have encountered more error messages than I ever thought possible. It means I have to get up ten minutes earlier to wait in a queue to buy my ticket at the counter and I don't like it.

Web 3.0? Not me... I'm waiting for Web 3.11 for Workgroups...

Joe... you have it all wrong!

Well, I mean... you're right to be cynical about Web 3.0.... surely 3.1 is when multimedia will be supported as part of the infrastructure?

But, if we're serious about collaboration, social networking and all the rest, my money's on Web 3.11 for Workgroups.

You know it makes sense.


RedMonk's O'Grady doesn't hold back with his opinions of 1and1.

The lesson I've learned time and again is that, even when my anger with a vendor is at its peak... when I say I'm never going to use them again, a well-timed explanatory and realistic phone call can soften my mind. I don't doubt Stephen's resolve to quit 1and1 but, assuming there actually is anybody at 1and1 who cares about his custom, I'd still be tempted to make a go of restoring his opinion of me.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Am I missing something?

I've just seen an advert for "Digital UK" on ITV2.

Digital UK is the organisation tasked with encouraging TV owners in the UK to invest in a model capable of receiving digital broadcasts.

ITV2 is only available in multi-channel homes.

Am I missing something?

The worst thing is that I have a horrible feeling that I'm paying for this organisation in some indirect way.


Darren describes some of the other stuff going on in Hursley today.

Sadly, I only had time to attend my own session. If I'd known Darren and Roo had found a way to play with Lego on work time or that Simon Singh was there, I would have tried to clear more time in my schedule.

Vodafone's 3G coverage sucks

I was very excited when I received my Vodafone Mobile Connect Card last year. I'd finally be able to get more work done on the train and I'd be able to stay in touch with work when working at remote locations.

Sadly, the reality has been somewhat less successful. 3G coverage at my current client location is almost non existent and I can't even get GPRS at the hotel.

As for when I commute between London and Winchester (to get to Hursley), forget it. I'm lucky if my card can maintain a connection for more than a few seconds.

At least losing a connection doesn't cause my machine to blue-screen (like the GPRS card did) but it's still unacceptable. Come on Vodafone... sort it out!

Does anybody know if any of the other providers are any better?

[Posted from a South West Train somewhere near Clapham Junction.... hopefully]

Blog Post Length

Bill Higgins asks what the optimal length of blog posting is. His question was prompted by Irving W-B's Reflections on his year of blogging.

My preference is for short, snappy posts and for them to be made regularly. Perhaps it means I'm still tied to the world of appointment media but I particularly like Raymond Chen's technique of delivering a short-ish post every day at the same time.

He's not the only one to do this (Tim Worstall is a British political blogger who can be relied on to produce a stream of snappy insights at roughly the same time every day but I promised I'd keep politics off this blog so I'll say no more :-) )

Does this mean I don't read blogs with long postings? No... it just means I tend to put them to one side when I'm doing one of my regular "speed reads" through my reader. The danger is that they'll expire from my viewer before I get to them but I guess that would be my loss.

I'm in Hursley today

.... presenting on WebSphere Process Server.... just what on earth is it?!

Come and say hello.

I've marked the presentation confidential primarily because that means more people will come if they think they'e going to hear something secret...

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Feeling Gloomy

No. Not me. I feel rather good.

I'm talking about the fab club I went to last night.

Who'd have thought being miserable could be so much fun?

Friday, May 19, 2006

Mini-housing surge slowing?

I was called by two estate agents today asking if I was still looking for a flat. For most of this year, agents have wasted no time reminding me that buyers were ten-a-penny and it was vendors they were desperate for. One anecdote does not make a trend but I thought it noteworthy, nevertheless.

Making it tangible

Yesterday was one of those days that reminded me quite how intangible the stuff I do really is.

I'm currently working full time on a project for a communications company which involves lots of interesting SOA, Process Choreography, Business Process Modeling and integration issues. I'm leading the SOA assembly team.... we're the ones wiring everything together, so to speak.

In a different team is one of my colleagues: he is the voice guy.... and yesterday made me realise he had by far the cooler job. His day seemed to consist of dialing numbers on cell-phones, desk phones and soft-phones and watching various other phones ring. What made it fun to watch was that everything was being routed through a piece of software that had trace turned on.

Watching the trace whizz across the screen whenever he pressed "green" or "red" or picked up a handset was very fun.

So, whilst the stuff my team is doing to integrate all the voice stuff with some interesting back-end technologies will make for a very useful solution, there's no escaping the fact that making real, physical devices beep and ring and flash makes for a far more tangible work experience than musing over flavours of doc/lit wrapped web services.

It's not just about the towels!

Mini-Microsoft catalyses big changes

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


I don't have much to say about this recent IBM acquisition except that the excitement in my colleagues is palpable.

It's not just because the acquisition was in "our area" (it could just as easily have gone "NIH")... everyone who sees it explained can't help but be excited by the possibilities.


Bobby points to a claim that employers are paying a premium for WebSphere skills (amongst others).

I was hoping to use Google Trends as a lazy way to demonstrate graphically why this is but the results for WebSphere are inconclusive.

SOA, however, is quite remarkable. [I'm assuming I can discount the non-IT-specific Dutch contribution to that chart by assuming it was constant across the period in question]

In situations of this sort, it is customary to joke about asking for a pay rise. I know I should resist.


I don't learn new words anywhere nearly as often as I should.

It's especially pleasing that, when I do spot a new word, it sounds so delightfully vulgar.


On blogging...

John McCain nails it.

Sunday, May 14, 2006


I don't tend to blog about databases but this preview of the new release of DB2 is pretty positive.... I need to do some research into what impact the XML support will have in the areas I work and what opportunities it presents.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

What if inflation really were higher than stated?

I blogged some time back that my personal experience of inflation is somewhat more extreme than the benign official figures would predict.

It seems that the Euro allows Spanish property investers to make some free money since the Euro-area interest rate is lower than the Spanish rate of inflation. (in short: mortgages are the easiest way for regular people to borrow large sums of money and, at present, this money is better than free... party while you can!).

Now, let's assume my personal experience of inflation is correct and that I really do experience inflation at a higher rate than the the interest rates currently on offer to me. Is there any financial device that would allow me to profit from this?

Google Trends

How "Gendal" is not in their database, I'll never know. Grrrr.

If you were ever in any doubt about the amazing power of globalisation, look no further than the "city rankings" for each of these searches...

Service Oriented Architecture
Web 2.0
Enterprise Architecture

I know my limitations and I understand comparative advantage. Those graphs tell me all I need to know on where to focus my ongoing education if I still want to have a job in five years.

A few other interesting tidbits... IT Governance - ever wonder why you'd never heard of this before 2004, here's your answer....

And finally... talk about monomania! SAP...

[EDIT 2006-05-13] Hmmm... seems the trends happen pretty quickly... the graphs have changed! Summary: SAPers spend a lot of time in Walldorf searching on themselves, Enterprise Architecture will continue to exist, all the other technologies are being aggressively learned worldwide and in a lot of lower-cost economies in particular]

Friday, May 12, 2006

More than you ever wanted to know about SAP

Philip Hartman has some fascinating posts about SAP from a non-SAP specialist's perspective. Well worth a read.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

BA Security

Bruce Schneier talks about some strange security practices at British Airways. When I've booked personal travel with them to the US in the past, they've always sent me an email with a link in it. Clicking on that link would allow me to update various aspects of my booking without further authentication. I'd always been concerned by this but the sheer convenience of it always won me over. That, in a nutshell, is the problem with security... users prefer the short-term gains to be had by removing it.

As Microsoft are discovering with their current Vista betas, optimising both for security and ease-of-use is HARD.

Versioning and Dynamicity (again)

I'm presenting to an internal audience of Process Server experts today via teleconference on my pet subject of versioning and "dynamicity" (a made-up word, if ever there was one). This is a very switched-on and knowledgeable crowd so I'm sure I'll get some excellent questions.

This is a re-run of a presentation I gave at WSTC last week but it will be good to get the information out to a wider audience. If you're not an IBMer, don't fret! The same basic information is given in my developerWorks article and PodCast.

The Sultan's Elephant

I had the fortune to stumble across "The Sultan's Elephant" this weekend. Arriving back from Vegas bleary-eyed and jet-lagged, I was browsing through the paper and saw an article about it. I headed to St. James's Park on Sunday afternoon and there was the little girl.

Hurrying towards Regent Street to meet some friends for a coffee, I was stopped in my tracks by a massive crowd. Turning around, I realised the problem... a 42 tonne elephant was walking towards us.

An utterly bizarre and fantastic piece of street art.

Naquada has a nice writeup

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

WSTC Wrapup

I was going to post about my trip to Vegas but Andy's pretty much written the definitive summary.

All I can add is:

  • I want a table made out of the same stuff as the bar in i-Bar. Imagine a table made out of millions of Cadbury Mini-Eggs all stuck together in some sort of transparent resin. Fantastic stuff.

  • The Rio was nicely compact (compared to the MGM at least).

  • There is something fundamentally wrong about being in Vegas in May at midday and shivering. The aircon was *far* too cold.

  • Spoke to loads of colleagues I hadn't seen for ages.... which was very useful

  • Found out lots of things about our products, strategies and direction that you just can't get from conference calls

  • I didn't go to a single DataPower session, which makes me unique and probably somewhat shortsighted if the buzz around that product is anything to go by

I took yesterday and today off... and am back at my client in Ipswich tomorrow. Joy!


Just found this excellent article by Phil Gilbert.

Key insight: "BPEL is orthogonal to the problem-space of managing business processes, and of becoming more process-centric as a business."

Can't argue with that.

I think the IBM toolset fits quite nicely into the world Phil describes. I'm often asked why we have a tool called WebSphere Business Modeler, which can generate BPEL and a separate tool called WebSphere Integration Developer, which can also generate BPEL.

Phil's article is probably the best explanation I've seen to date: BPM is not the same as BPEL. You can do a business process modeling exercise or implement a business process management project (or programme) without touching a single piece of runtime software. A tool (such as WebSphere Business Modeler) provides huge value in such situations (simple modeling environment, simulations, reports, team support, etc, etc).

But... if your analysis determines that some sort of automation is required then we do have a piece of runtime software for process automation (WebSphere Process Server) and yes... it executes BPEL. The tooling for this middleware is WebSphere Integration Developer.

Rather nicely, in Modeler you can identify the portions of a process that needs to be automated and push that down into Integration Developer, where the techies can wire it into the fabric of your enterprise. But, as Phil ably points out, BPM is far bigger than BPEL.


I have been freed from the tyranny of the Today programme

Thanks to Griffin's marvellous iTrip, I can listen to my iPod in the bathroom and can escape the awful John Humphrys. Hurrah!

Of course, I'm not saying I do use my iTrip to escape the awful John Humphrys. It's not obvious that the law would permit me to do so...

[Update 2006-05-09 10:42... I've just emailed the Today programme about a news story I think they should pick up. Lest I be accused of hypocrisy, I thought I'd better mention it here just in case their producer happens to peruse my blog...]

Friday, May 05, 2006

Is Bruce Schneier the brains behind Holy Moly?

When Bruce Schneier anticipates a Holy Moly article, you know something weird is going on...

Exhibit 1: Bruce's article about using a laptop to hack into a car's security system to steal it

Exhibit 2: Today's "Holy Moly" mailout (signup required, rarely safe for work... don't say you weren't warned) describes a famous celebrity's problem of hackers stealing her car.

The only explanation is that Bruce's sleuthing skills, and knowledge of how to circumvent strict security, both make him perfectly placed to be Mr. Holy Moly. Who'd have thought it?

WebSphere Services Technical Conference

I've been at an internal IBM conference this week - 1500 WebSphere consultants in one hotel in Vegas. Truly a scary place to be.

It's been remarkably useful: it's not often that we get to meet our colleagues from around the world face to face.

I ran two sessions - a technical presentation on how to build dynamic solutions with WebSphere Process Server and a non-technical roundtable on how to prevent projects becoming troubled. They both went pretty well.

All I have to do now is survive a 10 hour flight home...

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Anonymous Lawyer...

... I can normally tell when something is a spoof or not but I just can't tell with this blog. His essay on the sheer terror of having nothing to do, however, is spot on regardless of whether he is for real.

Mindless Process

Coté kindly links to me in this article that pulls together various strands from discussions that have happened in the last few weeks.

Although not quite the same thing, I was thinking about process when he remarked in PodCast 8 that filling out his expense claims was the worst thing about working for RedMonk. It made me wonder whether they had an expense policy and a travel policy and a travel booking process and a travel approval process...

Large companies such as IBM, as you might imagine, do have these sorts of things. A travel policy outlines what kinds of expenses will be reimbursed, what kinds of flights you can take, exceptions, approval processes, ... you get the drift. The problem with these sorts of policies, when drafted sloppily or applied mindlessly, is that they can drive perverse behaviour. Whether a country is "per diem" or "actuals" will determine what kinds of meals you eat and whether you choose to book into a hotel that includes breakfast in the room rate. Bad travel policies will incentivise consultants to "game" the system.... e.g. deliberately choosing perverse routings to trigger a business class flight, etc.

These unintended consequences of overly rigid travel policies are one of the main reasons that large companies have found it useful to explicitly include statements that allow managerial discretion. They are experienced people, whose incentives are correctly aligned to balance the needs of the business with the needs of the consultants.

Exactly the same thing is required for software development: if you mandate a rigid process that applies in all cases and at all times, you remove the need for professional judgment. Adhering to the process will be elevated above the true objectives of the project and you'll descend into process hell. So, like enlightened travel policies, the key to a good development process is ensuring the guiding principles are understood and you allow those with maturity and experience to do what they're paid to do: use their judgment.

Back in Las Vegas.

Like Andy, and pretty much all my IBM Software Services for WebSphere colleagues, I'm in Las Vegas this week for a technical conference.

I've just arrived on Virgin's direct VS43 flight from Gatwick. Eleven hours in economy was just as painful as you would imagine it would be but it will hopefully be worth it in order to spend a lot of time face-to-face with my extended team. The trip was made more enjoyable by the very friendly couple who were sitting next to me. They were celebrating their fortieth wedding anniversary. Wow. As a rule, I don't approve of strangers talking to me on aeroplanes but I'm glad I relaxed my "do not even think of speaking to me; can you not see I am reading?" exterior for this trip. I hope they have a great time this week... they're on the same flight as me on the way back so I'll be sure to look out for them.

I'm staying at the Rio, which is the first time I've stayed off the strip in Vegas. I've been here several times before and never made enough of an effort to get "into it". Once the first session I'm leading is over (tomorrow afternoon), I'll be able to relax and have a proper look around.

Until then, I'll be making sure the intro presentation to my round table on "When Projects Attack" lays out the terms of debate sufficiently clearly. Trying to control a roomful of consultants for 75 minutes will be impossible if I don't.