Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Navigating the new N3/M50 junction

The new M3/M50 junction is a truly impressive feat of engineering. However, it is very complicated to navigate through it. As you approach heading towards town along the N3 there are pretty clear signs showing you how to navigate straight on into town or to take the M50 North or South. Unfortunately the signs are not as clear for local traffic which wants to get off the Motorways and into either Castleknock or Blanchardstown Village. The traffic can be quite heavy so if you are not in the correct lane you might not be able to change. Therefore I thought it might be useful to write up instructions for both of these options.

None of the major commercial on-line maps have yet been updated to reflect the new junction layout, so Open Street Map is the only one with accurate information. You can see the picture of the junction below (click here to see a live zoomable version)

If you want to get to Blanchardstown Village you need to follow these steps:
  1. Stay in the leftmost lane as you approach the junction (it will be marked for Blanchardstown Village and some of the signs also have Blanchardsown Hospital poorly crossed out).
  2. As you enter the ramp left you will see traffic lights and a left turn for Blanchardstown Hospital, but you keep going straight. At the time of writing the traffic lights are not in operation and the road to the Hospital is blocked off, but the road looks nearly ready to open so when you go there it may well be in use.
  3. The Ramp road will swing right and bring you across the main line of traffic. Immediately after you pass Total Fitness on your left you will come to a T-junction with traffic lights.
  4. Turn right at the lights and about 50 meters later you will come to another set of traffic lights where you need to turn left.
  5. After this turn you just keep going straight and you will come to Blanchardstown Village.
If you want to get to Castleknock village you will need to follow even more complex instructions although you initially start out the same:
  1. Stay in the leftmost lane as you approach the junction (it will be marked for Blanchardstown Village and some of the signs also have Blanchardsown Hospital poorly crossed out).
  2. As you enter the ramp left you will see traffic lights and a left turn for Blanchardstown Hospital, but you keep going straight. At the time of writing the traffic lights are not in operation and the road to the Hospital is blocked off, but the road looks nearly ready to open so when you go there it may well be in use.
  3. The Ramp road will swing right and bring you across the main line of traffic. Immediately after you pass Total Fitness on your left you will come to a T-junction with traffic lights.
  4. Turn left at the lights and about 50 meters later you will come onto the remains of the old roundabout. 
  5. You don't get off at the first exit, but instead you get off at the second exit (which has traffic lights).
  6. Immediately after you exit the roundabout the road divides and you will need to keep to the left fork (it is signed for Castleknock Village, but not very prominently)
  7. This road will bring you under three roads and then will end at a T-Junction with traffic lights
  8. At the junction turn right onto the Dunsink Road.
  9. After about 20 meters you will come to a major traffic light controlled junction with the N3.
  10. You go straight through this junction and you will be on Auburn Avenue which will bring you into Castleknock Village (you may decide to stop off in Myo's pub for a drink to steady your nerves at this stage).
This picture illustrates the journey from step 3 onwards.

Although the junction is now much more tricky I am not really complaining. It was straight forward to navigate either of these options before the upgrade - in both cases you simply took the third exit of the clearly marked roundabout. However, during peak rush hour you would need to queue for anywhere from 20 minutes to 1.5 hours to get through, so the complexity of the new junction is well worth it in terms of saved time.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Open Source Software (OSS) Barcamp coming this weekend

The Open Source Software (OSS) Barcamps are "un-conference" type events that are held every 6 months or so to promote all things relating to open source software. I have attended a few of these and always found them to be very interesting. IBM hosted the last event in April of this year, but I was not able to attend due to injury. The next event is scheduled to take place in University College Dublin this coming weekend.

Here is a copy of the presentation I intend to deliver:

It is not just me that will be speaking. In fact, there is such an interesting set of speakers wanting to speak that they extended the schedule to two parallel tracks over 2 days (click here for details). I strongly encourage anyone based in Ireland with an interest in open source software to attend - you will hear many interesting talks and you will also meet many like minded enthusiasts. Registration is is free, but you must apply for a ticket in advance (last time they sold out but I believe there are still some tickets available this time due to a larger venue).

I will be involved in providing AV support for the event. We hope to record some of the talks and post them on-line afterwards for people who cannot make it in person. We may even stream some video live on a newly created OSSBarCamp channel on Ustream. However, I am just learning how to use this platform so I am not making any promises.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What will be the most important mobile platform

One of the most interesting talks at Blogtalk 2010 conference a few weeks ago was the presentation "Apps are bad" by Ronan Skehill. The basic point that the speaker was making was that the best choice of target platform for the developers of mobile applications was the web rather than developing a "native application" for any particular mobile device platform. His reasons for saying this were the fact that there are too many different mobile platforms to keep up with andf in any case it is now possible to develop very high quality web apps that give just as good a user experience as any native application.

As part of the discussion thast followed the presentation some people raised the fact that you would categorise platforms differently depending upon whether you are a developer or a user.

From the developers point of view of developers they might categorise platforms based upon one of these:
  • Operating system: Windows, Linux, Mac OS ..
  • Browser: IE, Firefox, Safari, Opera ....
  • Device Form Factor: Desktop, Laptop, netbook, tablet, smartphone ....
However, comsumers might be more likely to categorise using one of these critereon:
  • Price
  • Size/Weight
  • Colour
  • Brand

People used to speak of Linux as a potential target platform, but this is not really a single operating system. For example, if you read the list of Linux distributions on wikipedia it is several pages long. To make thinks even more complex, there is a complex set of ways to view the dependencies between these distributions as you can see from the page which compares the various Linux distributions which typically gets several edits per day.

Ronan's advice is to develop as much as possible of your application using web programming methods and only use native interfaces when absolutely necessary. There exist a number of application development environments such as Appcelerator Titanium which allow developers to develop applications for mobile platforms that combine the portability and ease of development of web applications with the power of a native application.
By co-incidence I also heard a talk recently from the Velocity conference (via IT conversations) which was talking about the MITE platform which seems like a very impressive system that allows people to monitor how the performance of their mobile applications are performing as seen by a number of different device types on a number of networks. I have not personally used this tool, but I have experienced applications which theoretically work on a particular device but in practice they don't actually work for users on 3G networks because the network is so slow that the application keeps timing out.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

What am I doing for Software Freedom Day?

Today is Software Freedom day 2010. Although I am doing nothing to promote free software today, I have a reasonably good excuse that I am saving my energy for next weekend when I will be spending pretty much all weekend working on OSS Barcamp.

I am scheduled to deliver a presentation on Sunday Afternoon about "The growing usage of Open Source desktop client SW in IBM" and  for most of the weekend I will be working with a team to record videos of the sessions with the idea of having them all posted on-line for all of the people who can't make it to the event.

Giving presentations is something I have experience of so I am not too worried about that, but I have no background at all in video recording, editing or posting on-line. It will be a big learning curve for me, but this is why I volunteered. I have a secret dream that I have potential as a movie producer/director. When I make my Oscar acceptance speech, I will be sure to thank OSSBarcamp for giving my first break :-)

The event venue is limited to 140 places and there are a few free tickets left (but last time it sold out so don't delay registering if you want to attend). There are even two free speaker spaces if you have anything interesting to present about.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Photos from the recent Extreme Blue Expo

As I already mentioned, this years Extreme Blue Expo was held in Dublin this week. As expected this was a very exciting event with much of the excitement captured in a twitter feed #ebe2010. You can also some of the pictures from the event posted to the dedicated facebook page.

Many of the talks were also captured on video. The video clips are in the process of being prepared for upload. I will let you know where to find them as soon as they are available.

Some of the presentations have been made available via a special collection page on Lotus Files. I believe the rest will be published there shortly.

Many of the sessions were captured on video. The videos are not yet online because the a substantial amount of post editing is needed. I will share a links as soon as it is available.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Software Freedom day

The Software Freedom Day for 2010 is being celebrated next Saturday (18th of September). This is a wonderful event which aims to publicise and promote the use of free software. There are many different events being organised all over the world on this day. The nearest to me would be the event organised by the Irish Linux Users Group, but  there are so many different local teams getting involved that wherever in the world you are based you will probably find something happening near you.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Is Ubuntu turning Ugly

I do not consider myself much of an expert on colour schemes, but in my opinion the recent versions of Ubuntu Linux are definitely getting more ugly. I know that many style conscious people used to criticise the Ubuntu default scheme saying - brown is boring, but I thought it was calm and reassuring.

In recent releases Ubuntu has been striving for a more lively and with-it theme and so the primary colour is switching from brown to purple. However, to my untrained eye it is definitely getting more ugly. In fact when I first saw the default theme in Maverick I thought my monitor was broken and displaying the colours all wrong.

I know it is not a bug deal because people can and do change their colour scheme, but first impressions make a difference. I wonder if I am alone or if others think the same?

If you wan to judge for yourself. Here is the default desktop background in Karmic (Ubuntu 9.10 which was released in October 2009)

This is a screenshot of the default background in the Beta versions of Maverick (which will be released on 10th of October next or 10/10/10)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Extreme Blue Expo Next Week

The Extreme Blue program is one of the coolest things that IBM does. Every summer we bring together teams composed of some of the brightest students and put them to work on really innovative projects. To foster an element of competition we bring all of the students from our various labs in Europe to a single Expo event to show off their work. To make the event even more interesting we also invite high profile speakers to join the students.

This year the event is being hosted in the Dublin lab (where I work) on the 14th and 15th of September. The event on 14th is invitation only, but registration for 15th is open to the public via our web site. I strongly encourage people who are based nearby to come and visit. If you want to see the full agenda you can read it here, but you can better feel for the event by watching this video.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

How to improve the CAO points system

This this the time of year when the Central Applications Office (CAO) announces who has been allocated places in the various courses run in the Irish Universities. It is common to read articles written around this time criticizing  the points system, but many of them don't offer any concrete advice for how a better replacement could be put in place. Therefore I thought I would stick my neck out and a practical suggestions for how to easily improve the system.

There seems to be consensus that there are three different problems with the existing points system:
  1. Many excellent students who want to study at 3rd level can't because there are not enough places available
  2. The selection system does not select the students who are best suited for the course.
  3. Students are encouraged to choose the course with the highest points score for which they can qualify rather than selecting the course that really suits them.
I don't intend trying to solve the first problem because I think that it can't be solved without either dramatically increasing the number of places available (which is not economically feasible at the moment). However, the two other problems could easily be solved by making a minor tweak to the current system whereby applicants for all courses are given bonus points for having studied relevant subjects in second level. Students who have studied relevant subjects at secondary school are naturally more likely to succeed at 3rd level because of this head start and in addition their choice of subject in secondary school probably shows a genuine interest in the field.

In the past many courses gave bonus points to students who studied higher level maths and/or scientific subjects. This practice was abandoned because it was felt to be unfair to students from schools where science subjects were not offered (surely there can't be many of these left) and because it was felt important to standardize the points system across all colleges. However, I don't think it is necessary for all colleges to standardize their points selection system. In fact if one college was brave college was willing to go it alone with such a modified point system they would have a competitive advantage (e.g. their business courses would be mainly filled with students who had studied business at second level) and other colleges would be likely to follow whichever college took this brave lead.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The video recording of our talk at the Blogtalk conference is now available on line

I am delighted to see that the video for our talk at the Blogtalk 2010 conference is now available online. The recording is quite good quality although I must admit I hate hearing my own voice. We must have run over the time limit because some of the Q&A portion is not included in the recording.

Of course it is not just our talk that was posted. All of the other speakers were also recorded and most can be found here, but some are not yet online because it is taking some time to upload them (by the time you read this I am sure they will all be up)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

How much notice should service providers give their customers when the terms of service change?

One of the cool things about the Twitter service is the fact that they don't send many emails to their subscribers to let them know how wonderful their service is. They have a very unusual attitude in that they expect that the usefulness of their service should be able to speak for itself. Therefore when they sent me an email today entitled "Update: Twitter Apps and you" I decided to actually read the email.

It started out quite well:
Over the coming weeks, we will be making two important updates that will impact how you interact with Twitter applications. We are sending this notice to all Twitter users to make sure you are aware of these changes.
Then I read the next paragraph:
Starting August 31, all applications will be required to use OAuth to access your Twitter account.
At first it sounded reasonable, but then I realised that this email was being sent on 2nd of September!!! I know internet time is different from normal time, but how can they use the phrase "in the coming weeks" to refer to 2 days ago!!

Suddenly the penny dropped and I realised why BlueTwitSidebar stopped working with Twitter yesterday. I pinged the developer of this tool to let him know of the issue, but it turned out that he already knew about it becuase everyone was screaming at him.

Surely this is a very unfair way to treat users by telling them of a significant change in authentication policy after it has already been implemented :-(

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Report on Blogtalk 2010 conference last week

A number of people asked me to write up a report on the Blogtalk 2010 conference that I attended last week. This was a really interesting conference with lots of interesting topics being discussed, but since most of the people there were really great at using social media tools and they were all posting commentary all the time I don't think I can do really much better than to point you at the very active Twitter feed for the conference using the hashtag #blogtalk2010 or Emer Lawn's excellent summaries of day 1 and day 2.

I will write up a few blog posts later on specific topics that came up during the conference, but my general impression was to be amazed at the amount of buzz and excitement which can be generated when a bunch of like minded geeks get together. I was also delighted to see that my Alma Mater NUI Galway is looking both completely new and modern, while at the same time being reassuringly familiar from 30 years ago (when we used to call it UCG).

You can see the slides for my own talk with Gabriela Avram below. It went down pretty well despite being in a bad slot as the second last presentation of the conference when everyone was tired (including the presenters). A number of the other presentations are also available on SlideShare, but there is no unified feed for them available (yet). I believe that the conference site will be updated shortly with links to all of the presentation and video's of the various presentations (every move was captured on camera).