Monday, December 28, 2009

A great story about how social software enables innovation

When I reflect on what I did during 2009, one of the things that gives me most satisfaction is my involvement with the Status Updater project (also known as MicroBlogCentral). This is a really cool piece of software that I think will prove to be very popular. However, the story of how the software came about is even more interesting because it illustrates how social software can help unlock innovation and so I decided to write about it here.

My involvement in the project started when I was trying to come up with a project idea for Hackday 6.5 which was held in IBM Ireland back in June. At the time, I was just becoming familiar with the idea of micro-blogging and was feeling overwhelmed with all of the different places that were expecting me to regularly post an up to date "status message". It occurred to me that it would be very handy if I had a tool which would automatically post my status updates to all of the sites that were asking me "what are you doing now?".

I thought that it would be a cool Hackday project to implement a Notes/Sametime plugin to do this. At the same time I realized that it might be challenging to implement such a tool in a single day and so I posted the idea to the TeamBuilder page in the wiki to see if anyone would like to join my team. Someone saw my project proposal and told me about an existing tool called MicroBlogCentral (MBC for short) which did much of what I was proposing. It allowed users to update their status in Lotus Connections Profiles, Twitter and Sametime in a single simple UI. The tool also gave users a panel which summarizes recent activity in their Lotus Connections network. This had been developed as a hobby project by Jessica Wu Ramirez, so I contacted Jessica and she happily agreed to allow me use her tool as a starting base for my project.

Luckily the MBC code had been very well designed with extensibility in mind. Jessica had defined an eclipse extension point for the status updater interface - to add support for more services, I simply had to develop additional plugins that implemented this interface. During Hackday 6.5 I implemented instances of this service for a number of services that are used within IBM:
  • BlueTwit which is a service similar to Twitter which was developed by Ben Hardill in the IBM Hursley lab in England.
  • Fringe (also known as BluePages+1) which is a prototype of an enhanced corporate directory developed by the Almaden research lab in California. One of the enhancements in this service is the ability for employees to post a status message.
  • BeeHive (later renamed to SocialBlue) which is a social networking service limited to IBM employees which was developed by the Cambridge, Mass. research lab.
  • I also started work on a service to interface with Ping.FM so that we would have support for several external services in one plugin. However, I never got this plugin working properly.
I am not sure if I would have been able to complete anything if I was starting from scratch and I am fairly certain that if I was designing the UI it would have been much worse than the beautiful one that Jessica created. As I was doing this work, I restructured the build process such that the core feature only supported Lotus Connections and Sametime - support for all other services including Twitter is  now an optional install so that people who don't use these services won't have them cluttering up the UI. As a payback to Jessica for allowing me use her code, I added extensive comments to the code as I figured out how it worked (we felt that these comments would be useful if the code was ever published).

The updated MicroBlogCentral tool was well received within IBM. Since the people using it were by definition active users of social networking services, word about the tool spread rapidly. I personally was quite happy to use the tool because I felt it allowed me to avoid having to choose between being active in the BlueTwit communty or be active in the Lotus Connections service hosted on TAP. It also allowed me to begin using Twitter for the first time.

After a while, I began to notice that by helping me post status updates everywhere,  MBC wasn't really helping me engage in meaningful conversations. People were replying to my Tweets on Twitter and BlueTwit, but I wasn't seeing the replies because MBC only writes my updates to these platforms and doesn't read updates from other people. I discussed with Jessica the possibility of updating MBC to implement a two way interface to the additional services. Jessica was keen on the idea, but she cautioned that it would be a substantial piece of work.

We decided to post this as a potential project for Hackday 7 in October to see if anyone else was interested in helping out. At this stage MBC had become quite well known and so we were pleasantly surprised to get lots of volunteers offering to help out:
  • Emil Varga from Dublin, Ireland
  • Varun Sattigrahalli and Vinay Roy Thykkuttathil of India
  • Erika Flint from California
Myself and Jessica met with the new volunteers and agreed a project plan for Hackday 7. It is difficult to co-ordinate the work of several people on a project which needs to be completed in a single day, especially when with the exception of myself and Emil none of the people ever met each other.

Unfortunately, I was not able to help out on Hackday 7 itself because I was at the UKLUG conference in Edinburgh (ironically giving a talk about how the Hackday events encourage innovation). The team got on fine without me and completed all of their goals apart from the Facebook interface (maybe they got on better because I was not there to get in the way).

While I was at the UKLUG conference I naturally attended the Ketnote talk by Bob Picciano the General Manager of the Lotus Division. This talk covered all the useful features in the latest products from the Lotus brand. Bob was trying to explain how useful the Notes side-shelf plugins can be. What he said was: "For example, the first thing I do every morning is open the MicroBlogCentral plugin and check out the latest updates in my network. This really helps me get quickly up to date on what is happening". I was naturally delighted to hear such a high profile endorsement of the the MBC plugin. However, when we were reviewing afterwards how the talk had gone, Mary Beth Raven said that he should not have chosen an example plugin which was not available outside of IBM. Bob's response was "we should make this plugin available to our customers as soon as possible". I took this as a call to action.

When I got back home, I was delighted to find that the team had done a great job on the enhanced version of MBC (internally code named the Hackday 7 version) and the Hackday judging panel awarded the team the prize for "The Best Social Computing Application".

The team discussed a few possible mechanisms for making the plugin available outside of IBM before finally deciding to publish it via the OpenNTF organization. Publishing, via OpenNTF meant that we had to OpenSource the code under the Apache license. It was my first time to be so closely involved with releasing  a project Open Source license and I was a little surprised by how much work was involved (e.g. we had to replace all of the icons in the product and we had to rename it from trademarkable  MicroBlogCentral to the more descriptive Status Updater). Luckily Niklas Heidloff provided us with assitance to rapidly handle all of the steps and on 15th of December it was released by Niklas with a blog entry titled "OpenNTF Christmas Gift". Niklas' post has probably the best description of how to use the plugin (Hackers are not big on documentation).

This plugin has already started to attract many compliments. I am confident that the Lotus community will embrace this tool and it won't be long before we see people outside of IBM contributing extensions for their own favourite services which should make the tool more useful for everyone. Early in the new year we plan to publish and article on Developerworks which gives detailed instructions on how to do this (it is not hard - you could probably figure it out yourself by looking at the Twitter plugin we posted to OpenNTF).

I encourage you to download the code and try it out (IBM internal people install the plugins for the IBM internal services from the Hackday 7 update site). Even better, you could get involved in helping to improve it. In years to come you could be proudly telling your grandchildren that your were one of the first people to get involved in this famous project.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The real spirit of Christmas

Happy Christmas to all who read my blog. I think this slightly unusual rendition of the 12 days of Christmas from Frank Kelly is a great way to capture the real spirit of Christmas

Monday, December 21, 2009

Mixed feelings about Google Chrome Extensions

I am a big fan of the Firefox browser, mainly because of the wonderful extensions which are available. In particular the extension is so valuable I am  not sure how I ever managed to survive without it. However, I am also aware of the potential performance impact of having too many extensions installed.

I have recently started also using the Google Chromium browser and have been very impressed with its overall speed and quality. While I missed my Firefox extensions, I do realise that extensions and speed tend to be mutually exclusive. Therefore I had mixed feelings that I heard the news that Chromim now supports browser extensions.

I browsed through the list of extensions available and  was pleasantly suprised to see that there are already almost 1000 extensions available. There are two extensions to choose from, but neither are anywhere nearly as good as the Firefox equivalent.

On the plus side, it is possible to install or uninstall chromium extensions without restarting the browser so it is really easy to try out extensions and then turn them off if you change your mind. I now am using 5 extensions and I will try to keep the list of extensions small so I don't get bloated.

One extension which sounded interesting was the "YouTube HTML5-ifier" extension. However, it did not work properly. It got rid of the flash from YouTube, but the replacement player did not work for me.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Will we have a white Christmas in Ireland?

It is looking increasingly likely that we will have a white Christmas in Ireland this year. This picture shows the snow on my car, however I must admit that the snow is not really that severe because  I deliberately chose a shot to make the snow look dramatic. In most cases the snow is melting when it hits the ground.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Delighted that Sametime 8.5 has finally shipped

Almost all of my focus at work for the last few months has been on the Sametime 8.5 project. This is a major upgrade to the IBM/Lotus Sametime product and I am delighted to say that the product has finally shipped. The official announcement says that is will ship on 22nd of December, but the development team have completed all of their work at this stage and the gold master has been passed to the release lab. There was major pressure to have the produce ship before the end of the year, so you can see that we just made it by the skin of our teeth.

Sametime 8.5 includes updates to several parts of the product. Many customers will be excited about the new meeting room client which provides maximum functionality and is ideal for the frequent user of Sametime. However, I suspect that the feature most customers will get excited about is the new Java free web client. Obviously the server is mainly coded in Java, but there is no Java code downloaded onto the browser. We are using the Dojo Toolkit and the latest AJAX techniques which means that the code executed in the browser is all JavaScript. As well as ensuring we are fully buzzword compliant, this means that user can join meetings mush faster because there is no Java Applet to download. It also means that we can now support virtually any browser. Our officially supported browsers are Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari which should cover a large percentage of users. For other browsers (e.g. Google Chrome) we don't guarantee them, but if you try them you will probably be pleasantly suprised to find they work.

If you want to try it out for free you can visit Lotus Greenhouse. Currently a Beta version is installed on Greenhouse, but I am sure it will be upgraded to the gold coe very soon.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

#shotofjaq is destined to become to most popular open source podcast

Jono Bacon is fairly well known in the Open Source community as the Ubuntu community manager, co-presenter of FLOSS Weekly and most recently author of the Art of Community book. So when he teamed up with one of his UK friends Stuart Langridge to create a new podcast called ShotOfJAQ, I decided it was worth checking it out despite the weird off-putting name.

It seems that Jono is following his own advice and is building a really vibrant community around the podcast. They publish a 10 minute episode twice a week about "the goings on in the Open Source, Free Culture and technology world". Each episode is about a single topic which is currently generating a lot of interest in the community. Due to the short length of each episode, they effectively just introduce the topic and wait for their listening community to start discussing the topic by leaving comments on their web site.

So far they are keeping to their twice weekly schedule and each episode so far has generated over 30 listener comments which is pretty amazing for a new podcast. Of course it is to early to be certain if it will be a success (it has only been just over 2 weeks since they launched), but my my prediction is that this podcast will grow a lively fun community of listeners (just like Ubuntu has a lively fun community of users). I recommend you check it out for yourself - it will only take 10 minutes to hear an episode.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

SmartPower as applied to the lights in the Phoenix Park

As I needed to travel into the City Center this morning I was pleased to see that the roadworks in the Phoenix Park have been completed and the road is now open. It is always a pleasure to travel through the park. As well as being the fastest and shortest route from Castleknock to the city center, it is always nice to pass through an environment (rural, relaxed and old fashioned) which is in stark contrast from the surrounding city (urban, busy and modern).

I was surprised to see that the old fashioned gas lights have been supplemented with some very modern looking lights. At first I was disappointed with the fact that they were not in keeping with the general ambiance of the park. However, when I reflected some more I realized that they are an excellent example of Smart Power in action.

The new lights apparently generate power for themselves from a combination of wind and solar sources. Anyone who knows Irish weather will realize that we tend to get wind and solar energy at different times of the year - unfortunately we tend to get more wind than sunshine, but there is not much that can be done about that :-(

Wednesday, December 2, 2009 provides a silver lining to recent clouds

Some people have been critical of the response of official government agencies to the recent flooding, but there has been almost unanimous acclaim for the response from their local community. A number of people have remarked that neighbours whom they had barely spoken to before had spent many hour voluntarily working to help people deal with the consequences of the recent floods. Maybe the growth in community spirit will be the "silver lining" to our recent clouds.

I was just listening to Morning Ireland and I heard an interview with the creator of - this is a site where people who have skills and/or specialist equipment can register their willingness to help flood victims. The creator of the site was telling the interviewer that people naturally can see when their neighbours need help, but people who don't live in the flood affected areas are also interested to help.

This sounds like a great idea.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Getting sport into perspective

I remember sniggering at the ridiculous reaction of English people to Diego Maradona's hand of God incident in their match against Argentina in 1986. I worry that Irish people are in danger of behaving equally foolishly by over-reacting to the hand of Henry incident, but when I saw this song on YouTube my faith in the Irish sense of humor was restored.

For the record, I agree that the French goal should have been disallowed. I also agree that it would be a good idea for the soccer authorities to implement a procedure for referees to check video evidence similar to what is done in many other sports. However, the fact is that referees are human and frequently make several mistakes in each game (some minor some major). The current procedure in soccer is that the referee's decision is final and there is no way to get it overturned later. So we need to just get on with our lives and accept that we won't be at the world cup finals in South Africa next year.

Just in case you are not already familiar with the Corrigan Brothers, they are best known for their song "There is no one as Irish as Barack O'Bama"

Saturday, November 28, 2009

I will be helping run the IBM stand at the young scientist exhibition #ibm4btyse

I am excited about the fact that IBM is planning to run a stand at the BT Young Scientists exhibition this January. This is a first for IBM (although the competition has been running successfully for many years).

I have volunteered to help run the stand. The details have not been worked out yet, but if you want to learn more about what is going on you can subscribe to the newly established blog site, follow us on Twitter, or become a fan on Facebook.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Teens prefer Facebook to Twitter because they want to waste time

Facebook (and social networking in general), was initially popular with teenagers before it gradually spread to an older audience. Even now the average teenager uses much more time on Facebook and similar sites than their parents.Twitter has initially become popular with an older age group and has not (yet) become equally popular with teenagers. For example, this survey reports that although 98% of 18-24 year olds use social networking sites, only 22% use Twitter. It is not immediately obvious why that should be so.

This report makes a convincing case that it is due to teenagers inherent narcissism, but I think that the explanation could be much simpler. Many of my contemporaries who have become fans of Twitter tell me that the big advantage of the site is that it takes them much less time to check out what its happening on Twitter. Older people have very busy lives, they would like to check out what is happening in their social circle - but they don't want to waste too much time on it. Twitter's simple interface ensures that it doesn't take too long to check it out.

I think that many teenagers are not overly busy and have lots of time to waste. I was looking at this interesting session from the O'Reilly 2.0 conference where they bring in a random selection of teenagers and interview them about their web usage. None of the teenagers use Twitter regularly. When they discuss why they don't use Twitter they seem to say that when they checked it out they could not see what the big deal was. Later in the interview they discuss why they like Facebook, one of the teenagers says that she loves the Facebook quizes because "they are a great way to pass tie when you are bored and have nothing else to do". I think this single sentence summaries the different attitudes.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Recent heavy rain in Ireland

Ireland's famous "40 Shades of Green" is only achieved with lots of regular rainfall so we are well used to dealing with rain. However, in the last week or so the rain has been much heavier than normal.

In Dublin we escaped the worst of the deluge - the only impact upon me was that I had to cycle to work by the regular roads rather than taking my preferred scenic route through the park (the path trough the park was partly under water).

As you can see in these pictures, other parts of Ireland had much worse flooding.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Is Britain controlled by a powerful clique?

I have often heard it alleged that Britain is controlled by a clique of powerful people who are tied together by family relationships attended the same schools and are members of the same clubs. It is often hard to know if this is factually correct or not.

Channel 4 has recently launched a web site who knows who, which attempts to document the facts. The site grew out of research done for a program "When Boris met Dave" which examines the many links between Boris Johnson the mayor of London and David Cameron the leader of the conservative party. At first glance it is a very interesting site, but the interface is not very good. The maps do not seem to be visible at all in Firefox and even in Chrome the maps appear more flashy than actually useful. For example you can only browse from a single person, school or club and then navigating through their connections, but I would really like to be able to put in two names and have the system find the connections that exist between them (if any).

The data is far from complete. For example, if you relied on the information from the site you would think that only 8 people ever attended Eton College. However, Channel 4 are hoping that viewers will extend the data and have even suggested that they will Open Source the code behind the site in the future. I will be watching carefully to see how this evolves.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Beware of XML PrettyPrinting Service

The XML file format has become very popular recently. One of the features that makes it popular is the fact that since .xml files contain plain text, they can be read by anyone using a simple text editor. This is very useful when you are trying to debug a complex system.

Unfortunately, many large XML files are not really readable because the files are too complex to be easily understood. This problem is made worse by the fact that many machine generated XML files try to save space by writing the XML as a single line without any spacing or other nice layout.

Recently I was trying to understand a large complex XML file and was a little frustrated that it was hard to see how the elements had been nested because no indentation had been used to help poor humans like me (software programs are generally unaffected by aesthetic concerns like this). I found this free on-line service for pretyprinting XML. At first glance it seemed to do what I wanted becuase it produced a nicely formatted XML file and displayed it to me in multiple colours.

Unfortunately when I copied the text back into my development environment, I discovered that the nicely formatted XML did not actually match the original and my program started to report XML parsing errors. There were two errors that I saw:
  1. The first error (which was easy to fix) was the fact that the XML file was tagged as using the utf-16 encoding while I was using utf-8 in my editor (probably they were using utf-16 on their web site so this was technically correct)
  2. The second error (which was tricker to fix) was when I had XML tags which were both a begin and end tag (for example using the syntax ) the pretty printer converted these into end tags (e.g. for my example they used which has a very different meaning and caused the XML parsing errors).

So be warned, prettier does not always mean better!!!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

How rapidly is Dublin Changing

People often remark how quickly Dublin is changing. A common complaint is that if you come back to Dublin after a gap of only 5-10 years you no longer know your way around due the number of new roads which have been built in the meantime.

South County Dublin County Council put together this interesting site to help people get a quick visual view of how the area has changed over the years. Users can start with a current map and zoom/pan to the area that interests them. With a single click of the mouse they can then switch to see one of many maps of the area produced since 1760.

As I clicked on various parts of the area and I was struck by the huge change in the map between the current day and the most recent historical map in 1942. For example Tallaght which now features a large built up urban area was only a small rural village surrounded by farms in 1942. It would be really interesting to see the changes in increments of every 5 years so that the detailed timeline of this change could be seen.

I was also struck by how little the map changed between 1760 and 1942. You can see that the style of map changed over the centuries as the practice of map making evolved, but the features on the ground seemed to change very little.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Does Ireland need more engineers?

Many commentators have stated that we need to increase the number of young people in Ireland choosing to pursue careers involving science and technology, but I don't think it makes sense to force youngsters into a career they don't find interesting.

It is true that many young people choose not to continue studying science at 3rd level because the subject has not been very well taught to them at 2nd level (where they tend to study it whether they want to or not). Many schools are forced to hire science teachers whose primary degree was not in science because the science graduates tend to follow more rewarding careers elsewhere. Also a lack of resources forces many schools to teach the subject from books instead of allowing student to learn by doing enjoyable hands-on experiments. This is something which needs to change.

Most science experiments involve building gadgets which is something most youngsters enjoy. It is also possible to design safe experiments which involve considerable amounts of explosions and objects crashing into each other. These are further aspects which most young people tend to consider an increase in the fun factor. It seems obvious to me that anyone who experiences a good science education will obviously choose to follow a scientific career if possible.

However, I have recently come to a shocking conclusion - not all people poeple are like me!!! To my surprise some young people find accountancy, law and similar subjects to be more interesting than science!!!

When I initially realised this I was disappointed. However, on mature reflection I realise that it is good news that there are youngsters who have this attitude. It is inevitable that we will need some people to count the money and tell us if we need to tighten our belts or not. There will also be times when we need people to sort out our legal affairs. Is it not better to have these jobs done by people who genuinely enjoy what they are doing rather than by someone who is secretly pining for a more interesting job that involves science and technology.

People won't do a good job if they don't love what they do. I know that if the only career options available to me were in accountancy or law, I would probably manage to become competent enough in one of these disciplines to make a living. However, I would certainly not be as enthused by either of these areas of work as I am by my current career and I think this would be reflected in the quality of my work.

It is true that the invention of the internet and the radical advances in ICT technology over the last half century have really transformed the world. Because of these changes, everyone now needs to be familiar with the internet and how to use information technology if they are to realise their true potential. But this does not mean that everyone needs to work in the ICT sector.

This is analagous to what happened in the early part of the 20th century when the invention of the car transformed society in many wealthy countries. Almost everyone in these countries had to learn how to drive if they wanted to be successful, but not everyone was working in the automotive industry. Initially cars were very unreliable and so motorists were well advised to have a knowledge of how to do roadside repairs, but now cars have become so reliable that there is very little need of such expertise any more.

I think that computers have now advanced to the stage that there is no need for specialist knowledge of their inner workings in order to use them successfully.

A few years ago the poor state of camera technology and the multitude of complex incompatible standards meant that engineering students with a good understanding of the technology had an advantage over their colleagues in the humanities faculties with regard to posting videos to the internet. However, the landscape has now changed quite dramatically with the advent of cheap video recording equipment and sites like YouTube taking all of the complexity out of the process. Today the engineering students might be more familiar with the leading edge codecs, but videos attracting most attention on the internet are more likely to have been produced by humanities majors whose knowledge of video technology does not extend much beyond being able to correctly identify the record button on their camera.

I think that we do not need to force people into careers in the science and technology sector if this is not what they want. However, it is important that we should ensure that all students are familiar with how to leverage information technology for their field of work. For example, students of literature will inevitably need to use the internet to build an audience their work and it is important that they should understand how to do this. The publishing market is undergoing a a major transformation right now, so any good creative writing course should include topics such as "building on-line communities" and "understanding creative commons licensing"

Technology education also needs to be moved to an earlier point in the education cycle to reflect the fact that children are using the internet at a younger age than before. For example, most youngsters will be active on social networks before they leave primary education. For this reason most enlightened programs in Relationships and Sexuality should include a module on cyber-bullying.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Your Twitter followers are not your friends

There has been a lot of excitement recently about the fact that Twitter have introduced a lists feature At first glance it seems similar to the Facebook feature where you can make lists of your friends. However, the comparison is not totally valid because Twitter uses the concept of a "follower" which is not the same as the Facebook of "friend". If you make the mistake of confusing your followers for friends, you will be making a big mistake.

Facebook was initially aimed at young people. The conventional wisdom is that it is dangerous for young people to speak with strangers, so the default setting in Facebook is that your updates can only be seen by people that are formally recorded as your "friend". Friendship is a two-way relationship, so in order to record a friendship link both users have to confirm that the friendship exists.

As everyone knows the term "friend" covers a wide variety of relationships. Robert Dunbar famously proposed that people can maintain a maximum number of about 150 real friends. However, a friend on Facebook just means "people whom I don't mind if they read my status updates". This is a very loose definition of friendship and many people who are very open can have hundreds and even thousands of friends on Facebook.

To help people who have large lists of firends, Facebook has a feature called lists. This is a way of recognizing the fact that not all friendship links are the same. For example, I might divide my friends into three lists named "family", "work-colleagues" and "drinking-buddies". This allows me to project a different image to each of the types of "friend". With careful use of the Facebook security features, I can ensure that members of my family will only see updates containing cute pictures of my children, my drinking buddies will see details of my wild revelries and my work colleagues only see updates which contain thoughtful insights in relation to our business. Of course the lists can overlap so that my brother who works for the same company and also joins my in my wild social life will see a complete picture of my activities.

Twitter does not formally record friendship in any way. By default all twitter updates are public and can be seen by anyone. It is possible to place access control on your twitter updates, but hardly anyone does that. Twitter has a concept of "followers". If you record the fact that you follow someone, this simply means that you want updates from that user to appear on the default page shown to you when you log into Twitter.

If any of my friends are on Twitter I normally add them to the list of people I follow - I am sure many of them also follow me. Most people follow this principle so there is a tendency for the "followers" network on Twitter to resemble the "friends" network on Facebook. However, a very significant difference is that while the "follows" relationship can be bi-directional it does not have to be.

Most people follow a similar number of people as who follow them and there is a large overlap between each group, but there are a few notable exceptions to this rule and these exceptions make a big difference to the overall structure of the network. For example, I follow the Irish Times feed to get notified of news stories, but the Irish Times does not follow me (the feed is probably produced by a software program rather than a real person anyway). Many influential Tweeters significantly change the flow of information through the Twitter network. For example, the software pioneer Mitch Kapor has 14,037 followers but is only following 322 people. Similarly the publisher Tim O'Reilly is only following 583 people but has 1,243,295 followers. It seems that there is probably a limit to how many people you can follow (the actual number depends on how much time you spend on Twitter), but there is no limit on the number of people who can follow you.

I created the following lists which grouped the people that I follow by the reason why I follow them. Obviously the lists are not mutually exclusive (e.g. I put any Irish journalist on both the journalists list and the paddies list):
  • Journalists - this list contains professional journalists and official newspaper feeds (actually I originally mis-spelt this as "Jornalists" but I fixed it for fear of getting a reaction like Gordon Brown). I doubt very much if any of these people follow me back.
  • Paddies - people who have some association with Ireland. Some (but not all) of these are friends of mine and might follow me back
  • Gadgets - people who tweet about cool gadgets (mainly a subset of journalists)
  • Linux - people who tweet about Linux and open source software
  • Thinkers - people who write thoughtful articles. I know this is a list I might get some stick about, it could also be called a list of people whose opinion I value.
  • IBMers - people who work for IBM
  • Lotus Related - people who tweet about Lotus products and/or social software in general
As I was playing with the lists interface I realized that you could put people on lists that you are not following. I leveraged this fact to unfollow some of the official IBM feeds (since they are still in my ibmers feed I can easily check them out whenever I want and I don't need to clutter up my home page with too many boring work related Tweets). It is also possible to follow a complete list in one step. I used this to follow Robert Scoble's list of the most influential in technology. This allows me to effectively delegate to Scoble the job of finding influential people writing about technology.

When I initially joined Twitter I was anxious to build up a network and clicked the "follow" button quite liberally. As a result there were a few people on my follow list that I didn't really know who they were and hence I could not decide which list they should be on. I decided that it was probably best to unfollow these people. After this exercise, I see that of the people 157 who follow me, I follow 100 of them back. I think that this probably a good ratio, because it is not good to be in a clique where all of my friends are also friends of each other and we only talk to each other.

In general the lists feature makes Twitter more useful, but most importantly the exercise reminded me on the key difference between friends and followers.

Update: I just found this useful article which gives advice on how you can use Twitter Lists.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Are Powerpoint slides an essential part of every presentation?

There has been a lot of hype recently about the fact that PowerPoint celebrates its 25th birthday this year. The popularity of Microsoft's PowerPoint program has led many people to believe that it is not possible to give a presentation without having a slide show be presented on a screen behind the speaker. Strangely PowerPoint continues to be a big source of income for Microsoft, despite the fact that there are now many alternatives to PowerPoint available which are just as good and many are substantially cheaper (e.g. Symphony and OpenOffice are free).

Although most people use slides for their presentations, I notice that the best and most engaging speakers often don't use any.
  • I recently give a presentation to the UK Lotus User Group without the benefit of any slides. Although I would not claim it was a brilliant presentation, it certainly was a much more interactive session than if I had been presenting a pre-prepared deck of slides.
  • At a recent diversity conference within IBM, I noticed that the majority of the speakers simply used a single slide with their name and affiliation. Since the speakers were mainly speaking about their own personal life story and how they had managed to overcome discrimination it is not surprising that they could speak passionately about the subject without having to rely on reading out slides.

Thinking about this, I came up with the following observations about when sideshows are both good and bad.

  • The slides can serve a useful reminder to the speaker about what they intended to say and/or they can serve a useful reminder to your audience of what you said if your circulate a copy to your audience.

    • People often forget that it is possible to put something different on the screen from what is in the notes shown to the presenter. I strongly suggest that speakers should remember this because otherwise the audience will simply read your slides (quicker than you can speak) and tune out from listening to you.
    • Many academics report that students read the slides in advance to decide whether or not it is worth their while to attend the lecture. For this reason some lecturers often deliberately leave out key facts from their notes in order to encourage attendance

    • If you need to see the slides to remind you what you intended to say, it is a sure sign that you did not do enough preparation.

  • The slides can discourage questions because they give the impression that the speaker has a tightly prepared script and does not welcome any interruptions. If you are presenting to a very large audience this might be good, but in most situations it would be better to encourage the audience to enter into a dialog about the topic.

  • The slides help remind you whether you are going too fast or slow. Some people aim to spend 3 minutes talking about each slide. While it is bad to be so rigid in your timing, it is perhaps good to have some indication about whether or not you need to speed up or can afford to slow down (keeping in mind the points above that there should only be a loose relationship between what is on your slides and what you say).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Reunion a great sucess

The Loyola team was thrown into chaos before the start of the soccer match due to the fact that Eamon Maloney decided to follow Roy Keane's example and defected from the team because he felt he should have been captain. However, Paul Prendergast was only too happy to defect to the opposition and so we were able to start the match with seven players on each team.

When the match got under way it was Xavier's turn to panic. It soon became obvious that some of the Loyola team had diverted from the spirit of the competition by having kept their soccer skills honed over the last 30 year. Loyola built up a 3 goal lead. Luckily Xavier had the cunning to match the Loyola soccer skills and as soon as Cor MacDonagh made a few minor adjustment to the goals the match became much more level.

The match continued for longer than planned, because everyone was mentally thinking they were back in school and they were waiting for the bell to ring to indicate that it was time to go back to class. At the end nobody was sure exactly what the score was, but everyone agreed that they were thirsty and as soon as people had a quick shower we adjourned to Wards Hotel.

Several non-athletes joined us in the Hotel to make up a very respectable turn out. As the beer flowed, memories of our school days cane flowing back. Soon everyone was mentally back in their teenage years and it ws as if we were back in the Cellar bar 30 years earlier celebrating the night of the leaving cert results.

Here are some pictures that were taken by myself and WIllie Ruane (click on the pictures to be taken to more).

I was surprised that some people had not heard Willie's specially composed song for the reunion. Goto if you want to hear it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Is Google Wave the next big thing?

There seems to be a lot of excitement at the moment about the release of Google Wave. Unfortunately I did not get an invite so I didn't try it out myself. I read an excellent review on Lifehacker. So I have a good idea of how it works (although it is complex). I think that there are several great ideas implemented in the Google Wave product. However, the major issue that will stop its adoption is the fact that everyone involved in the wave must be using Wave.

I know you might think that this is an obvious restriction, but that need not be the case. Gmail was a radical overhaul of the mail interface. Although I am a big fan, I would never have switched over if I could only send and receive email to people also using Gmail.

I think Google needs to give some consideration to a mechanism to allow non-Wave users to participate in a Wave (e.g. by receiving email summaries and being able to contribute by sending email to a special address to update the wave.).

Monday, October 12, 2009

Dogeared Steel waill be playing at the Jes Reunion on Saturday

Dogeared Steel
Originally uploaded by Brian O'Donovan
The clock is now ticking with only 5 days left until the Jes Reunion on Saturday the 17th of October.

We are happy to say that the agenda has expanded. The festivities will kick-off with a 5-a-side soccer match between Xavier and Loyola being held in the school at 5pm. If you are interested in playing, please get in touch with the captain for your class (Xavier=Cor McDonnagh and Loyola=Pa Lowry).

Anyone who is still walking after the soccer match can make their way to Wards Hotel where we plan to meet up from 8:30pm until late. I am delighted to announce that we have lined up Dogeared Steel to provide musical accompaniment for the night. They will be playing their new smash hit The Jes on Sea Road.

I hope to see you all there and hope we are able to recognise each other.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Hackday presentation at UKLUG

This morning I hosted a session at the UK Lotus User Group (UKLUG) in Edinburgh about encouraging innovation through Hackdays. Instead of using a traditional slideshow I based my presentation upon the contents of the blog post I wrote earlier.

The attendance was smalller than I hoped, partly because many people had stayed late at the ceilidh the night before. However, I think that I got their interest by playing music and lively videos.

At the end of the session we had an interesting discussion about how the people attending could apply this idea in their own organisation. Most felt that they would need to customise the idea to make alloweances for the skills (or lack of skills) of their user populationm, but there was a cocensus that end user satisfaction with their IT applications would be greatly improved if people we shown how to hack around and customise the tools to match their working style.

I am really sad to have missed the fun of Hackday 007 back at work. I am looking forward to seeing the results next week.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Report on day one of UKLUG 2009 conference In Edinburgh

The opening general session was given by Bob Picciano who gave a good overview of the Lotus strategy. A good soundbite from his talk was "clouds without structure are just fog".

Bob's speech was followed by an excellent demo of Notes 8.5.1 by Ron Sebastian and I saw a feature that I never knew before - it is possible to drag an email from your inbox onto your calendar and it automatically converts the email into a meeting record. i know that there already is a tool to do this in the menu, but I think drag and drop is much more user friendly.

The sponsor showcase was good and I met lots of old friends.

The most interesting session in the afternoon was "XPages 101" by Tim Clark. He gave an introduction to XPages by developing a real application live on stage. the session was packed out with lots of people standing in the aisles. I guess everyone has heard the hype and wanted to see what the fuss was about. I think they were generally very impressed.

The next session on the agenda is an open bar sponsored by BE systems. I can't go too crazy because I will be presenting tomorrow morning, but I think it would be safer to post my report now instead of waiting until later :-)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Hackday talk for UK Lotus User Group

The Hackday concept is all about being innovative and different and so I thought I should not use anything as boring as a slide based presentation for my talk at the UK Lotus Users Group in Edinburgh. Of course the other advantage is that anyone not at the event gets to see what I covered.

  1. I intend to start by playing some of the video hackumentary from Yahoo to acknowledge the Yahoo events ad the inspiration for the IBM Hackdays (but I will mention that Yahoo were not the first - just the best publicised).

    Open Hack Day 2008 - a hackumentary | Part 1 from ricky montalvo on Vimeo.

  2. Next I will hare a Google map that shows the spread of the Hackday meme.

    View Hackday in a larger map

    Then I will show where the Hackday 007 local events are happening

    View Hackday7 Local Events in a larger map

  3. Next I will tell them about out local Hackdays by showing them the map of Hackday pictures on Flickr

  4. I will share some statistics of the growth of Hackday from HD1 through HD6

    Hackday Date Projects Participants

  5. I will speak about the concept of "winning" Hackday. Mostly the prize is the recognition of your peers. Occasionally we run special contest in conjunction with Hackday. There will be special conditions/criterion associate with the competitions (e.g. the best example of using a particular tool/technology). The competition winners can win a substantial prize e.g. US$1,500 or a trip to Lotusphere.

  6. Finally I will how a few example hacks such as

    1. IBM Travel Maps - a cool map/mash-up which allows IBMers to see IBM offices, IBM Approved Hotels, Airport etc. for a city that they plan to visit.

    2. Google Gadgets in Notes - this was an early version of a feature which subsequently became Notes Widgets. At the time we had a composite application programming model, but no components were available to be assembled into composite applications.

    3. Sametime command line - a simple command line interface to Sametime. Typical use case is a build script which sends a Sametime IM message to members of the development team when the the build is complete.

    4. MicroBlogCentral a notes side shelf plugin which sends updates to the Lotus Connections Porfiles site - and also sends to Twitter, BlueTwit, BeeHive and several other services.

  7. Finally I hope there can be some open discussion about whether or not it would be feasible to run Hackdays in other large companies and/or in conjunction with Lotus User Group events.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Does your employer own the rights to your reputation?

During a recent IBM Academy of Technology conference a speaker gave a presentation about how IBM could/should make sure that it effectively harnessed the good reputations of its many employees who have built up good reputations on the internet. During the discussion that followed one employee brought up the question of whether or not IBM was entitled to profit from its employees' reputations.

IBM employees (in line with industry practice)sign an employment contract which clearly gives the company the rights to own the copyright and/or patent rights to everything we create while employed by IBM. The contract does not explicitly cover the topic of whether or not the company owns the rights to our reputations. However, despite the lack of a formal contract it is inevitable that you employer will effectively benefit from any positive reputation you build up as well as be harmed by the negative reputation that you might gain from doing something stupid.

In the software industry we do not normally distinguish between the ownership of the intellectual property rights to exploit a creative work and the ownership rights of the reputation which comes from being involved with its production. The copyright statement with a piece of software will normally state which company owns the copyright, but will make no mention of the individual employees who worked on the product. This is in sharp contrast with the music and film world who normally give careful attention to recording and publishing a list of everyone who is involved in each piece of work. The credits at the end of a movie will normally list everyone who was involved in creating it - not just people with major roles such as the actors, director etc., but also people with more minor roles such as looking as looking after the catering arrangements for the people working on the set.

The reason for this practice is because the people involved are constantly moving from job to job and as result they need a way to provide proof of their portfolio of work. For example if I applied for a job doing the make-up on a new movie and claimed credit for working on the Harry Potter movie, the prospective employer would probably check the credits at the end of the movie and if my name was not mentioned assume that I was telling lies.

Perhaps the software industry should follow their example and find a way to give credit to all of the people involved in creating products. There used to be a tradition of inserting a hidden easter egg into software products to allow the people involved in creating it have the thrill of seeing their names visible in the product. However, this practice was never formally endorsed by the companies funding the product and it seems to becoming much less common recently. However the practice of having a job for life is no longer common and software engineers would benefit from having a way to prove their portfolio of work.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A proposal for how to help transfer of Irish University R&D into local industry

The Irish government has generally been praised for its increased investment in R&D in recent years, most notably since the foundation of Science Foundation Ireland. However, a number of commentators have criticised the fact that relatively little of the technology developed by this research is now being used by Irish industry.

In general the researchers have explained the lack of commercial spin-offs by the long time that it takes for research to advance to a stage where a company can actually build a business based upon the newly developed technology. While I do accept this explanation I am still worried that there is no special incentive to encourage adoption of Irish University research by Irish companies.

In addition there may be unrealistic expectations from some universities about how much license revenue can be gained from licensing the patents that they get from their research projects. In the pharmaceutical business some people and organisations have made large fortunes from licensing patents to blockbuster drugs, but in the ICT sector it is more normal to make money from your intellectual property by partnering with the company exploiting it rather than by selling a license.

Since the research in Irish Universities is mainly funded by the Irish government with the aim of encouraging the health of the local high tech industry, why don't we consider offering a royalty free license to any technology developed by a government funded project to any company who intends to establish or grow a business in Ireland based upon using the technology. This would have the effect of helping businesses already established in Ireland as well as helping attract new multi-national companies to establish an Irish base.

While this might mean that the universities need to forego a potential revenue scheme, I don't think that the loss in revenue will substantially effect their budgets. In addition we could have some scheme whereby someone like the IDA could certify how many jobs had been created by means of these royalty free licenses and this could be used as one of the metrics used to justify the funding awarded to the university(ies) in question.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Are network neutrality laws a good idea?

I used to be a big supporter of network neutrality legislation. However, after reading an interesting paper by Tim Lee of the Cato institute I a have changed my mind.

Tim's main point is that what supporters of network neutrality really want is what he calls the "end to end principle" i.e. that the network operator should not concern themselves with the content of traffic over their network and that they should leave such concerns to the users at either end of the network link (typically the service provider and the consumer). He argues that network operators who operate such an open content-neutral service have a natural economic and technical advantage which ensures that they will dominate even without government regulations backing them up. He further argues that whenever governments get involved in regulating rapidly changing markets like ISPs they are almost certain to make a mess of this. He gives several historical examples of where government regulation which was intended to support consumers ended up protecting poverful vested interests instead.

I am now veering towards the view that market forces can be an effective way to disuade misguided network providers from unfairly restricting the use fo their network. However, I still have two significant caveats:

  1. Competitive forces only work where there is real competition going on. In many parts of the world consumers have no choice of broadband provider. In fact there are many examples where a telecom incumbent has an exclusive license to provide services but they don't cover their area fully. These companies then use their license to stop other companies from offering alternatives to the unlucky consumers who are left off-line.

    I think governments should aim to ensure that all citizens have at least three broadband providers to choose from. The recent growth of a number of innovative wireless broadband technologies should make this feasible even in rural areas.

  2. The competitive forces argument also falls down when the discriminatory network routing is being done in response to government regulation since that regulation will apply equally to everyone in the market. I am specifically thinking about "The Great Firewall of China", but the recent court cases trying to force ISPs to block traffic to the Pirate Bay web site gives an indication that if we are not vigilant this kind of network censorship could become much more prevalent.

    In Tim's paper he mentions that there is a general consensus that blocking virus attacks is a generally accepted legitimate deviation from pure network neutrality principles. However, blocking copyright abuses is an area where there is much less consensus.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Jes reunion on 17th of October 2009

Jes Class Photo
Originally uploaded by Brian O'Donovan
I was surprised to realise that 30 years have passed since I left school. This class photo reminded me of how long ago that seems. I know that I have changed quite a bit over the years and I would love to meet up with my former classmates to see how much they have changed (if I even still recognise them).

A few of us got together and have arranged an informal reunion event. If you were at school in the Jes at the same time as the guys in this photograph, here are the details for your diary.

Location: Wards Hotel, Lower Salthill
Date: Saturday, 17th of October
Time: 8:30pm -late

We will be meeting up for drinks and finger food. There is no need for tickets and all are welcome. Even if you were not in the class you can come along if you want to meet any of the guys in the picture.

If you are not able to come in person, maybe you might like to leave a comment here and we will circulate your comment at the event.

You can click here to see a few more photos of our school days. Cameraphones had not been invented 30 years ago so we don't have as many pictures as we would like. If you have any photos or memorabilia it would be great if you could bring them along.

Friday, September 11, 2009

How will we know if we are making prgress towards building a Smart Economy

Everyone seems to be in agreement that we need to transition towards a Smart Economy in Ireland. Although there is some vagueness about what is meant by a Smart Economy , there does seem to be a consensus that when we achieve a Smart Economy we will observe the following facts:
  1. Our economy will be vibrant (i.e. strong GDP growth and low unemployment).
  2. Most of our workforce will be working in Jobs which require high skills and involve a high level of innovation.
  3. Business leaders in other parts of the world will look to Ireland for new ideas and innovation.
Once we have these success factors agreed, the government should try to measure the impact of every initiative/investment taken to see if it helps us make progress towards achieving them.

The trouble with these success factors is that it difficult enough to measure the overall achievement and virtually impossible to judge the impact of any individual initiative. However, we should not allow the difficulty of accurate measurement to be used as an excuse to abandon all metrics.

What I would propose is that every investment proposal (e.g. to fund a new research group) should include a section where the proposers of the investment would include:
  1. Their estimate for the economic impact of making this investment. I know this will be open to some interpretation, but perhaps the forthcoming economic forum in Farmleigh will give us ideas of a standardised way to do this estimation.
  2. Some concrete metrics (e.g. Patents filed, scientific papers published, newly established companies etc.) that will give us an early indication that the hoped for economic impact is being eachieved.
It would be in the best interested of the people proposing a new investment to put in a realistic estimate for the economic impact achievable. If they underestimate the impact their proposal will not be likely to get funding, but if they overestimate the impact they risk making it very likely that their project will be cut off after the first review because they won't be able to meet the unrealistc targets they set for themselves.

The other advantage of this approach is that it emphasises the fact that the metrics are not an goal in themselves, but merely an indirect way of estimating whether or not the economic goals are being achieved. If you pick a single metric (e.g. number of patents filed) you will get people focussing on quantity over quality - this is one of the reasons why IBM felt the need to lanuch the Patent Value Initative.

Note: Is shoudl disclose that I work for IBM. While I am proud of the fact that my employer is the organisation has field the biggest number of patents per year for the last number of years, I must admit that I can't say I am proud of the quality and validity of all of the patents filed.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Is a Cruise an ideal hoilday?

I was luck enough to go on two cruise holidays this summer. They were both very enjoyable, although they were very different types of cruise.

At the start of august I hired a cruiser from Emerald Star lines in Carrick-on-Shannon. I was worried how this trip would go because I was not very confident in my ability to successfully navigate around the complex Shannon waterway (an my crew mates were even less experienced) and the weather forecast was for a typical wet Irish Summer.

Luckily we had no major safety incidents and the weather was quite OK once you dressed suitably. We got a lovely view of the Irish countryside from a different angle than I am used to. The kids even went swimming a few times - but the risk of hypothermia limited the amount of time they spent in the water.

At the end of August I went on a Thompson's Cruise around the Aegean. This was a completely different experience. The weather was hot and sunny all the time. The accommodation was luxurious in the extreme and the staff did a great job of keeping us entertained. We had an "all you can eat" option and it would have been possible to spend the entire time eating and drinking on board the ship and never left the ship (thankfully I resisted this temptation - otherwise I would have been barely able to waddle off the ship)

I took more pictures of the Greek cruise than I took of the Shannon cruise partly because I found the scenery more worth photographing when I was further from home but also because my navigational responsibilities for the Shannon cruise meant I could not feel free to snap away with the camera.

Click on the links above to see my photos. However, my other half insists that I set privacy restrictions on any photograph that features any family member. Since most of my pictures feature one of the family this means you won't be able to see many of the pictures unless you are signed in to Flickr and listed as a friend of mine.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A brilliant business idea

There has been a lot of excitement recently in the Irish media concerning the fact that IKEA are opening their first store in the republic of Ireland today. To be honest I am not sure what all the fuss is about, but maybe I am just sceptical because I have never been to an ILEA store and my first visit might turn me into a convert.

However, IKEA is not the only furniture store to have embraced the idea of getting the consumer to assemble the product themselves. Since I am often the person assigned to do the assembly work I can confirm that the assembley is often far from simple. Some bright sparks (I have no association with them) have set up a business where they will deliver and.or assemble IKEA furniture for people who don't fancy spending half a day building their own furniture. This sounds like a great idea and I can see the idea really taking off.

The video below gives you a rough idea how "simple" a job it is to assemble IKEA furniture.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Even Microsoft realises that Open Source sometimes makes business sense

When the Open Source movement started in the 1980s, most of the people involved were mostly concerned with utopian ideals about what was morally right and wrong. Many of the developers of open source software worked in publicly funded institutions and had no interest in making any money out of their work. At this time open source an commercial software were seen as opposites and nobody believed that it was possible to make money from working with open source software.

However, in the 1990s and early 2000s it became clear that it was indeed possible to build a business that was based upon open source software. A number of different models became popular:

  1. Many web companies (e.g. Google) made huge profits by using open source software to deliver services.
  2. Some companies (e.g. RedHat) made money by providing support for open source software
  3. Other companies (e.g. IBM and Sun) used a mixed model whereby some software was made available for free under an open source license (e.g. eclipse and Java), but other software was sold under a traditional license

Almost all software companies seemed to come to the conclusion that open source played some significant part in their business model. The one exception to this rule was Microsoft, with both Bill Gate and Steve Balmers frequently lecturing on the fact that they saw the open source model as being either unrealistic or even evil and bad for business.

I was very surprised to read an announcement from Microsoft yesterday that they are releasing 20,000 lines of code to the Linux community under a GPL license. It now seems that all major software companies are in agreement that open source sometimes makes sense.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Are people willing to allow strangers share their internet connection through WiFi

A few years ago I signed up for the FON service whereby in return for allowing free access to my internet connection to any FONeros who happen to be in my neighbourhood, I get access to a range of internet connections that have been shared out by other FONeros throughout the world.

I thought (and still do think) that this was a great idea. However, as far as I can tell my access point has only once been used by a visiting FONero (probably because I live in a quiet suburban area rather than a busy city centre location that would get a lot of traffic. In additoon I never actually used anyone else's internet connection when travelling. A few times I looked up FON access points in an area that I planned to visit, but in all cases I found it hard to find the FON access point that was indicated on the map and surprisingly enough I always found that there was somebody not associated with the FON service who was already sharing an open wifi signal.

As it happens, I had an Open wifi access point in my home even before I joined FON because I am not really concerned about the fact that any visitor might want to share my internet connection. I wondered how many other people share a similar attitude to me. To find out, I installed the Barbelo application on my mobile phone and ran a scan while I was walking the dog though the neighbourhood where I live.

What I found was that about 7% of wifi signals are not encrypted. Because I live in an area with a lot of houses, there were plenty of open wifi points available (as summarised on the following map).

View Open Wifi Points in a larger map

I am sure that some of these people left their wifi signal open by accident and did not intent to share access to their internet, but I am sure that several others are deliberately leaving their wifi signal unencrypted as a courtesy to strangers who might be in urgent need of access to the internet.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

John Treacy's finest moment

John Treacy may have won a silver medal in the Los Anngeles Olympics, bit the finest moment of his career was when he went on a training run in Porterstown Park with Brian O'Donovan.

View My Run with John Treacy in a larger map

Unfortunately the picture did not come out clearly because the sun was shining through the window directly behind us. :-(

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Do we need imigration controls?

Society is increasingly interested in treating everyone fairly. As our sense of fairness has evolved, we have had campaigns against racism, sexism, agism etc. However, most countries operate an immigration policy which is highly unfair without any public outcry.

All countries have some form of rules about who is allowed to live in the country. Occasionally the rules will include some criterion which might be considered fair e.g. your criminal record, your professional qualifications , etc. - but the most important factor in most countries decision is the totally arbitrary fact of where you and/or your parents were born. Surely the location of where you were born has very little bearing on whether or not you will be an valued member of society.

I appreciate that there are circumstances where the number of people wanting to live in a certain area is above what can be catered for. For example, in Ireland there was until recently a problem where too many people wanted to live in the greater Dublin area and this put strain on the infrastructure. However, when the migration is happening within the country the proposed government response is normally a positive one (e.g. improving job prospects in the relatively under populated west) - imagine the outcry which would result if the government proposed that only people born in Dublin could live in Dublin and put immigration controls on the main roads leading to Dublin.

When too many people from Eastern Europe are migrating to the more developed countries in the West, why does everyone assume that the solution is to put unfair restrictions in place on immigration. Why not instead focus on making living and working conditions more attractive in Eastern Europe? I do realise that there are concerns about the potential for people to abuse social welfare systems, but we could put reasonable restrictions on who is allowed to qualify for social welfare payments without the need to maintain complex immigration controls.

If we abolished immigration controls, the only real losers are the people who have the boring job of checking passports in our airports. If too many job seekers came to Ireland looking for work, they would soon realise that they were in an overcrowded job market and naturally choose of their own accord to move somewhere where they had better employment prospects.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Galway is lovely in the sunshine

I know the weather is terrible in Ireland and even worse in the west of Ireland. However, when the sun does occasionally come out it is the best place in the world.

This morning I woke up to bright sunshine and went for a run along the sea shore in Galway. I saw these swans in the Claddagh waiting for a few tourists to turn up and feed them.

View Galway Run in a larger map

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Pirate party gains support in Sweden

I was pleased to read here that the pirate party has gained a seat in the European parliament. They gained 7.1% of the vote and are now the third largest party in Sweden. According to press reports the party wants to reduce government surveillance, deregulate copyright and abolish the patent system. Support for the party grew recently after the prosecution of the people involved in running the popular PirateBay web site.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Galway Bay is a Smart Bay

I am just back from spending a very enjoyable weekend in Galway enjoying the rare sunny weather and the festivities associated with the Volvo Ocean Race stop-over in Galway.

Therefore I was especially interested to read that IBM has teamed up with the Marine Institute to turn Galway Bay into a Smart Bay with several monitoring stations connected to an interesting series of web portals.

It is great to see technology being used to help the environment rather than harm it. In addition the fact that the view from one of the live webcams seems to be partly obscured by a flag placed in front of the camera proves how real life can interfere with even the most elegant technology :-).

Monday, May 25, 2009

I don't want to have to update my status several times

I have accounts on several different social networking sites (mainly just to try them out). As a result it is a major pain for me to keep an up to date status message on each of them. What I would really like is to be able to update my status on one site and have that updated status automatically propagate to all of the various sites which provide a status tracking service.

I haven't (yet) found an ideal solution, but I have at least found two different ways to update my Facebook status without ever having to directly launch Facebook.
  1. I installed the Twitter application on Facebook, by following these instructions. Now each time I update my twitter status I can have the status update automatically propogate to Facebook by simply appending #fc at the end of the status message
  2. I linked my Plaxo account to my Facebook account by logging into Plaxo and clicking on "edit my profile", selecting "websites" tab and then clicking on the Facebook icon and entering my credentials. Now any time I update my Plaxo status it automatically generates a Facebook status update with the same text and visa-versa.
Am I the only person who thinks it is a major pain to keep updating my status on all these sites? Does anyone know of a cool solution that they can point me to?

[Update 26/May] - It turns out that the Plaxo/Facebook connection is bi-directional and not one way as I originally stated (the Facebook to Plaxo update just happened very slowly so I thought it wasn't working)

[Update 4.June] - Robi Brummer pointed me to which is a great site for updating several sites at once. The list of services that work with is truly amazingLink

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Another epic voyage for Dixie Chick

Now that I am fairly comfortable with the trip from Shannon Harbour to Banagher and back again, I decided to try a slightly more adventurous trip to Shannon Bridge last weekend. The trip up was pretty smooth although it took me slightly longer than anticipated (1 hour and 33 minutes).

My SatNav said that we averages 7.1 km per hour which is probably fairly accurate (although it aslo said that my max speed was 22 km/hour which is probably a measurement glitch).

View Trip from Shannon Harbour to Shannon Bridge in a larger map

After stopping to refuel the crew, we decided to head back again at about 6pm. I was slightly worried that we might be leaving it a little late and the rain was coming down quite seriously. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that we made better time on the return journey (56 minutes) mainly due to going with the flow of the river - although also partly helped by the fact that we decided to leave her outside the lock gate and so saved the time that would have been required to traverse the lock.

My average speed on the return leg was 11.4 km/hour which is an impressive speed for a boat like Dixie Chick.

View Return journey from Shannon Bridge to Shannon Harbour in a larger map

I don't think that St Brendan the navigator would be impressed by my boating skills, but I am quite proud of my progress so far and gradually gaining in confidence.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Nature within the City Limits

I sometimes cycle along the tow path of the Royal Canal on my way into town. It does not qualify as a short cut into town because it is a slightly longer journey, but it certainly is a much more pleasant environment to cycle through. It is amazing how rural and full of nature this environment is considering that it is only a few metres away from busy roads chocked with traffic.

Today as I was cycling along, I came across this pair of swans protecting their signets. They did not mind me getting close enough to take this picture because they were much more worried about a heron that was circling around.

I don't think they were concerned about the tailback of traffic on the N3.!!