Tuesday, December 28, 2010

How cold was it over the Christmas period?

In Ireland the weather is always one of the most common topics of conversation. However, this Christmas period people were spending even more time than normal speaking about the weather because of the fact that we had a white Christmas which is quite unusual for us. The weather in Ireland is very localized so people are constantly asking each other "what is the weather like where you live" because the weather can be very different just a few miles away.

By lucky co-incidence Santa brought be a weather monitoring station (I must have been very good this year). I only assembled it around mid-day on Christmas and today I tried uploading some of the data from it. As you can see from this chart the temperature was slightly below zero when I installed int and dropped sharply as night fell, but then the thaw started.

Temperature Plot


A quick search of the internet revealed several interesting sites such as this one which have links to lots of useful software which can be used for manipulating and presenting data collected from weather stations such as mine. I suspect this present will provide me with many hours of very enjoyable fun. I am glad that I provided Santa with a very clear hint about what I wanted :-)

Friday, December 24, 2010

What would the nativity story looked like if they had the internet back then

Christmas is a time for traditions so it is fun to consider how the nativity story could have been different if they had the Internet back then. This video does that.

I hope you enjoy it. Not surprisingly I found this video when a friend shared it on Facebook.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Why can't Dublin Bikes facilitate casual use by tourists?

As many of you know I am a keen cyclist. Because, I have my own bike. I don't have a lot of cause to use the Dublin Bikes rental scheme, but I have been very impressed with the scheme whenever I do have a cause to use it. The only gripe I have about the system is that it is cumbersome to sign up and it typically takes several days to get a membership card. Unfortunately this means that the scheme can't be used by tourists visiting Dublin.

There is a similar scheme in many other cities. I see that the London cycle system recently added a facility for casual users to rent a bike without having to have an annual subscription. I wonder why Dublin bikes don't introduce a similar facility? I am sure tourists would love to use it to cycle around the city centre.

Friday, December 3, 2010

If you are too lazy to unsubscribe from an email list - let unsubscribe.com do it for you

If you are like me you have probably carelessly subscribed to several mailing lists and you find the regular emails from these merchants to be vaguely annoying. Most of these maliing lists would probably remove you from their mailing list if you took the trouble to follow their process for unsubscribing. However, this can be a lot of trouble and there is always the risk that the senders are unethical hackers and will treat your click on their unsubscribe link as encouragement to send you more annoying emails.

Luckily there is a service called unsubscribe.com which will look after the unsubscription for you. After you register, you can either use their unsubscribe buttons (they have buttons for all of the major public email providers) or else you can simply forward any emails from the mailing list to mail@unsubscribe.com - they have software which can recognize which email list has sent the promotional email to you and they will initiate a removal request on your behalf.

They have a free account which will unregister you from a maximum of 5 lists per week. If you want more you can purchase a paid subscription, but I generally find that 5 per week is enough for me.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Still waiting for global warming to show up in Ireland

I must admit to being somewhat skeptical of the scientists who continue to warn us that the global climate is definitely warming up rapidly due to the effects of human activity. While I do accept that human activity may be having an effect upon climate, it is hard to believe the confident predictions for what the weather will be like in 20-50 years from a profession that routinely fails to accurately predict what the weather will be like tomorrow.

Of course my skepticism may be influenced by the fact that I live in a country where the weather is notoriously unpredictable. This probably also explains why weather is a constant topic of conversation in Ireland. A colleague from Egypt once told me that Egyptians rarely speak about the weather, because for them it is a boring subject for conversation (pretty much every day is hot and dry).

The last week or so has seen the temperatures in Ireland reach a record low for the month of November. As you can see from this picture taken out my back garden, we also got quite a significant covering of snow. While this naturally caused some disruption, I am glad to report that life and business has not come to a complete halt. The children of course are delighted with this rare chance to build snowmen and play snowballs.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A simple way to be reminded of things you need to do

Nudgemail LogoSome people are very effective at using a methodology like GTD to track what are the most important things to do each day. However, the rest of us tend to simply focus our attention on the most recently arrived emails in our inbox. Luckily there is a really useful service called NudgeMail that I recently discovered which will send you email reminders on a scheduled date.

This free service is amazingly easy to use. For example if you wanted to be reminded that you should return your library books next Saturday you simply send an email with the subject "Return library books" to "Saturday@nudgemail.com" and next Saturday you will receive a copy of your email sent back to you. You don't even need to sign up because the one piece of personal information they need is your email address and this can be retrieved from your first email. They accept a wide variety of formats to specify the reminder date and time - they will send you a full list of acceptable formats in response to your first email.

I have no association with the people behind the service, but if you try the service I know you will find it useful. Maybe your first email can be emailing "tomorrow@nudgemail.com" with a subject line of "leave a commend on Brian's blog thanking him for recommending Nudgemail to me" :-)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

What operating system do people use to read this blog

Google Analytics is a wonderful tool for collecting statistics about the users of your web sites. I blogged before about how the readers of this blog are much more likely to use Firefox than the readers of another blog I maintain with news about a local soccer team. This time I decided to look at the operating system used by the visitors to the two sites.

The results are summariesd in the table below:
PlatformMy BlogSoccer BlogDifference

The facts that jump out at me from these statistics are:
  • While Windows is clearly the most popular operating system, its level of dominance is nowhere near as hight as I would have thought.
  • The second most popular platform for readers of this blog is Linux (probably because I occasionally write about Linux related topics), but the second most popular platform for readers of the soccer blog is Macintosh (almost one in five readers use this platform).
  • Most of the "other" category is accounted for by various mobile platforms. They account for relatively few readers of either blog. I think that although many people have SmartPhone devices, they don't often use them for browsing the web of reading blogs.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Finding your way around Dublin using public transport

Recommended public transport route from IBM Mulhuddart to BrayI just discovered a brilliant site Hit the Road which allows you to find your way around Dublin by using a combination of different modes of public transport.

One of the things that makes getting around Dublin by public transport difficult is the fact that there are three totally independent public transport systems, Dublin Bus, Irish Rail and Luas each with their own web site which contains routes and schedules. However, if you use the Hit the Road web site, you can  simply enter where you want to go to and where you are starting from and it will automatically find the best combination of services to use. It will even give you an estimate of your overall travelling time including walking to and from the bus/train stops. If there are a few alternatives which are close to being optimal it will show each of them so that you can manually choose and it will include a helpful link to the schedule for each of the services it is recommending.

It is great to see private innovation helping solve real problems for the citizens of Dublin while we are still waiting many years for the long promised integrated ticketing system between the various services.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Upgrading my HTC Hero to Android 2.2

The mobile phone I use is a HTC Hero, which I bought with a Meteor contract. In general I am very happy with both the phone itself * and the phone service which I get from Meteor which is quite reasonably priced. The one main complaint I have is that Meteor are very slow to roll out system updates. When Android 2.1 was released it was almost a year later before Meteor made the update available to their customers.

Image of the FroydVillain default home screen
The 2.2 release of Android has been available for some time now and most commentators speak very highly of the release. Until a few weeks ago I was patiently waiting for Meteor to roll out the update to its users. However, when I got a chance to take part in the Beta program for the Lotus Traveler product and found I needed to update to Android 2.2 to take part in the Beta, my patience finally wore out and I decided that I needed to do  a manual update.

The instructions I followed were documented here and here. I was quite nervous about this update because it is theoretically possible to render your phone useless if this process is not done properly. Although I did not have any such serious problems I did have a few issues while doing the update. I will list here the various steps I carried out and how each one went.

  1. The first step in the instructions is to back up all of your personal data. Although I did this to be safe, it was not really necessary since I store all of my contact information etc. in the cloud.
  2. The next step was to root my phone and install the new recovery image. The rooting of the phone went very smoothly using an application named "Universal Androot". Initially I had terrible trouble installing the recovery image and I nearly gave up on the whole processes, until I discovered that the problem was caused by the fact that I had downloaded a corrupted copy of the recovery image. I needed to download a fresh copy of the recovery image from here and then it worked smoothly.
  3. The next step was to boot into recovery mode, wipe all of my personal data and install the new boot image. Although, there were many dire warnings that this was the most dangerous step, I found that it went very smoothly for me. However, I discovered that the link I used to download the new image no longer works, so I shared a copy on my Dropbox account here in case anyone wants to follow in my footsteps.

The moment of truth came when I turned on my phone for the first time with the new updated software. I must admit that the new UI is definitely much slicker and pleasant to use. A few of the UI elements have moved around, but it did not take me long to learn how to use the new menu structure.

The only serious issue I had was in trying to connect my phone to the company WiFi. My first attempts didn't work and I ended up with the WiFi completely broken on the phone. However, since I hadn't done much customization to the phone yet, I reset the phone and went back to the start of phone setup again and the next time the WiFi worked properly and I had no problems connecting to the company network.

Another thing that frustrated me slightly was that I was initially unable to install Lotus Traveler on my phone. When I went to the download link, entered my username/password and clicked OK I got the very helpful error message "-1". Luckily my colleague Fred Ragilaut was able to tell me that the problem was that the screen lock password was not complex enough to meet the IBM security standards. I suppose it is reasonable to impose such restrictions, but it would have been nice if the error message gave me some clue why it was refusing to install. Once installed the Lotus Traveler is a joy to use, but I will write another blog post about that later.

* The HTC Hero was the best phone available at the time I bought it, but there are much better phones available now.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Experiences as a mentor for the IBM SmartCamp world finals (cross-post)

This is a cross-post of something I posted on the IBM SmartCamp blog.

I was honored to be invited to act as a mentor at the IBM SmartCamp world finals which are being held in Dublin this week. In preparation I had a look at the videos from the finalists and it was clear that they were all very deserving finalists. I also was somewhat overawed to see the very impressive list of mentors that had been assembled. After a few introductory speeches, each of the companies then gave a six minute pitch about their company. We then broke up into a series of small mentoring teams and we met with each of the companies in turn to discuss their strategy.

The purpose of these sessions was to give them advice about how they can improve their chances of success. In initially I was doubtful that I would be able to give much useful advice since I have no personal experience of working in a small start-up. However, after listening to the discussion I found that I was able to offer some real advice which the participants seemed to value. I must stress that the advice was only very minor tweaks to their strategy since all of the companies seemed to have well thought out strategies. Nevertheless the companies seemed to really appreciate the advice they got and I can see how they really gained from their involvement in the event. There was only one company where we advised them to radically alter their strategy (I won't embarrass them by identifying them).

The day's activities were wrapped up with a masterclass by Chris Horn about building a successful company. Chris spoke about the lessons he learned during his time as a CEO of Iona which was probably the most successful software company ever to originate in Ireland. Chris' advice was very relevant and I could see that many of the company founders in the room were taking notes. The important points were:

  • The main issue facing all startups is that they need to simultaneously lower the cost of adoption for their potential customers while at the same time ensuring that there is a high cost for any potential competitors to replicate your product ans service. For Iona he described how they were building upon a public standard, but at the same time managed to keep ahead of their competitors. He also described how the focussed on making it really easy for customers to adopt their technology by making their entry package very cheap and easy to install.
  • Another factor he spoke about was the fact that potential customers were nervous in buying from a small company. He felt that the fact that Sun Microsystems became one of their shareholders helped build their credibility.
  • The world is not entirely flat and it matters where your company is based. In hind sight he feels that he would have been more successful if he had relocated to the USA when the company went public. He feels that the way forward for Irish companies could be to have their R&D headquarters in Ireland, but their business functions headquartered in USA.
  • He felt that he was too quick to promote internal people who had been with the company from the start, while the company could have been better served by getting in people with more experience. 
  • Chris feels that the number of talented entrepreneurs in Ireland has really increased in recent years, bu Ireland is still very short of experienced chief financial officers who know how to raise capital and grow a company.

At the end of the day, we had to submit marks for how we rated each of the finalists. This was very hard they were all very good. I can't reveal any voting yet, because the winner will be announced tomorrow morning at an event in the new convention center. I am sure that whichever company is chosen as a winner, all of the finalists can look forward to a bright future.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

IBM SmartCamp world finals being held in Dublin next week

IBM SmartCamp events are an exciting series of events which aim to find some of the most innovative start-up businesses that are helping build a Smarter Planet  and connect them with the resources that they need to be successful. The winners of the various competitions held in different cities around the world are coming to Dublin this week to compete for the title of "IBM Global Entrepreneur of the Year."

I am honoured to have been invited to be one of the mentors for this event. As part of my preparation I had a look at the short videos which all of the finalists have posted on line. It is clear that it will be hard to pick a single winner among such a brilliant bunch of entrepreneurs.

If you want to track what is happening you can follow the Twitter stream, read the event blog or even watch the live video stream.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Irish Lotus Users Group (ILUG) 2010 conference starts tomorrow in Belfast

The Irish Lotus User Group is one of the most active Lotus users groups anywhere in the world. In recent years their annual conference has become very popular and it attracts attendees and speakers from all over the world. Last year no conference was held because the organizers wanted to devote their energy towards launching the UK Lotus user group conference. This year they have decided to hold the conference in Belfast rather than Dublin to give the non-Irish visitors a chance to see a different part of the island (technically this makes it both in Ireland and in the UK).

This years event features 3 days crammed full of interesting talks (often 3 different streams at the same time). Most of the big names in the Lotus world are speaking so it is a great chance to catch up with the latest news on what  is happening with Lotus products. You can check out the full schedule of talks at the conference web site. You must register if you plan to attend, but registration is free. If you can't attend in person, you can normally find out a lot about what is going on my following the twitter hashtag ILUG.

Much of the development team for Lotus products is located in Ireland. This year we will be arranging a meet the developers stand in the exhibition hall. We have arranged a rota of staff to attend so that there will be representatives of all of the major development teams on the stand at all times. This means that if you wish to ask a question about any of the Lotus products you can come and ask one of the development team directly. This is called getting your information straight from the horses mouth!!!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The annual Innovation Festival in Dublin starts next week

Innovation Dublin is an annual festival held in Dublin to promote science and innovation The 2010 festival will run from 10th to 21st of November and a huge number of events are being held in various venues around Dublin. From IBM's point of view the highlight of the event will be the worldwide finals of the SmartCamp event which is being held in Dublin. However, there are many events to suit all age groups and is if you check out their web site I am sure you will find something of interest to you. You can also follow news about the event on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or YouTube.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

How can I trick Google into accepting my money?

I have been the proud owner of an Android phone for the last year or so. I have installed and used many free applications and because of the large range of excellent free applications I never felt the need to purchase any paid applications. However, when I saw that Bike Doctor application got a very good review on the London Cyclist blog I decided it was time to open my wallet and purchase this application (after all the price of £2.99 could be considered good value if it eliminated  a single trip to the bike repair shop)

According to this announcement it should be possible to purchase Android applications in Ireland since the start of October and indeed I was able to see it in my Android Market, but when I went to pay for it Google refused to accept my credit card. A colleague told me that this is because Google Checkout refuses to accept credit cards that are registered to Irish addresses Does anyone know if there is any way to trick Google into accepting my money?

Is there anyone out there who can explain why it might make sense for Google to refuse to accept money from a significant market where it has several thousand employees and which is home to its European headquarters?

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Social Network Movie

 Earlier this week, I wen to see The Social Network movie. This is a movie I had really being looking forward to, but I must admit that I was disappointed by what I saw.
At one level it was interesting to learn the story behind the birth of such an influential web site as Facebook. Facebook has become such an important cultural phenomenon that it is amazing to reflect upon the fact that it was created very recently by a group of very young people who had very little prior experience of establishing a busines (or experience of life in general).
I assume that the fundamental facts behind the movie are accurate because none of the individuals portrayed would hesitate to sue the creators of the movie if they felt that the facts were incorrect. However, the medium allows quite a bit of latitude for how the facts can be portrayed. The movie was particularly hash in the way that Mark Zuckerberg was portrayed. I don't know Mark personally and so I can't say for certain that this was an unfair portrayal, but at the same time I find it hard to believe that a site could be as successful as Facebook it was managed by a person so lacking in social skills as Mark was portrayed in the movie.
I also think that the movie perpetuated a number of unhelpful stereotypes:
  • According to the movie Harvard students are obsessed with sex, drunk most of the time and spend very little time studying. I know students do like to party a lot, but it is also true that you don't get into and remain in a college like Harvard without having more than a passing interest in the subject you enrolled to study.
  • According to the movie, women have no interest in technology.  I never saw a female character writing code at any stage and it would seem from the movie that the only female employees in Facebook are receptionists. The only role women seemed to play in the story was as girlfriends to the main characters.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Talbot Hotel relocates from Wexford to Leitrim

I am a big fan of Google maps and normally it is fairly accurate, but when it gets things wrong it can sometimes be wrong in spectacular ways. For example, I was recently browsing the Google Maps and looking at Carrick-on-Shannon in Leitrim. I was surpised to see the Talbot Hotel marked in beside the Quay because this is a well known Hotel in Wexcford over 280 km away. I am not sure who created the listing page, but it is quite detailed with lots of pictures and even almost hunded reviews. I feel sorry for the poor tourists who book into the Hotel based upon the good reviews and then find themselves over 3 hours driving away from the Hotel's real location when they come to check in.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Antennas Application for Android Phones

One of my favorite applications is the Antennas application, which is a simple but ingenious application that shows you the location of the mobile phone masts nearest you. It knows your location from the GPS sensor in your phone and it also has access to a database of where mobile phone masts are located.

Sample Screen from the Antennas Application
Despite the growth of mobile phone networks, I am sure that you often encounter the situations where you have poor signal. When this happens you know that you probably need to move to get a clearer signal. The trouble is that often you have no idea what direction you should move in order to improve reception. The antennas application can solve that problem by showing you a simple Google map showing your location and where there are mobile phone base stations near you. It also accesses information from your phone about which particular base station you are connected to at the moment (which might not necessarily be the one closest to you).

I find this application very useful. It has helped me get to know all of the mobile phone towers near my home and work. They are easy to spot when you know they are there, but the phone companies often try to hide or disguise them because many people object to unsightly masts.  My favorite type of phone mast is disguised as a tree.

Monday, October 25, 2010

My First Patent gets issued

I just learned that my first ever patent was issued. The title of the patent is "METHOD AND SYSTEM FOR LANGUAGE IDENTIFICATION" and the full text can be download here. It is amazing how long it takes for a patent to be issued. The idea was developed back in 2003 when I was working with the Languageware team and the patent is registered in the name of several of the Languageware team members. I have filed a few more patents in the years since, but none have yet been issued.

I must admit that I have mixed opinions about Patents. At one level I am very proud to have a patent issued in my name and having patents is considered very helpful in advancing your career inside IBM. However, I am also very aware and sympathetic to the arguments of people who argue that the current system of granting software patents is fundamentally flawed. I would consider that this particular patent has valid inventiveness and it does seem to still have value 7 years later, but I know that many patents have been registered for ideas of very little merit.

IBM has a similar mixed attitude to patents. At one level IBM are very proud of our record of being the company to whom most patents were granted for over 15 years in a row, but on the other hand IBM are also promoting an initiative to improve the quality standard for patents.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Arduino Hack

Adruino Hack
Originally uploaded by Brian O'Donovan
Today I put the finishing touches to my Hackday 8 project. I didn't get it finished on Friday, because progress was blocked by a bug in the Mosquitto MQTT broker which stopped it communicating with the Arduino. Since these technologies are new to me I assumed I was doing something wrong. However, Andy Stanford-Clark helped me figure out that if I switched to using the Really Small Message Broker (RSMB) I could get it working.

All that is left for me to do now is to make a little movie of my project demonstration. I intend using Kino for this. It is unlikely to be an Oscar contender, but it will also be the first time I used Kino for anything more than chopping up videos into pieces and/or converting between video formats.

I will also submit a bug report to Mosquitto so that it can be fixed.

I can't really blog about the project in detail outside of IBM. It is not a very complex project, but I am proud of it because it is my first real Arduino project and also the first time I used MQTT.

Friday, October 22, 2010

My Sametime Plugin Portifolio

Hackday 8 is being held today. It is very common for people to write Sametime plugins as their Hackday project and a  number of people have asked me for ideas for what would be a typical Sametime plugin that could be developed for Hackday. The best advice I can give is to provide them the list of the plugin projects that I have been involved in. Most of these plugins were developed before I became a member of the Sametime development team - some of these are all my own work, but others are joint projects with other people. Many (but not all) of these were Hackday projects and perhaps they will inspire ideas for other people.
  • Smasher - This plugin was developed as a simple tool to authenticate with the boundary firewalls used on the IBM network. It was my first ever Sametime plugin, in fact it was originally developed before the Sametime client adopted a plugin architecture. The smasher development is fully described in an earlier blog posting.
  • Auto-Hello -  Many people choose to start Sametime chats by sending a simple message Hi or Hello. to which I must reply Hello before the conversation really starts. I developed the Auto-Hello plugin to automate this process. After I released the first version, I learned that Sebastian Thomischke had already developed a similar plug-in so I collaborated with him on this plugin. This plugin never have many active users and when Sebastian left IBM the source code was lost.
  • Proxy Buddies - When the person you want to chat with is not on-line, you must find someone else to chat with. For Hackday 4, I worked with Mark Wallace to develop the proxy buddies plugin which was an automated utility to select someone else to chat with. It was implemented in a modular way where separate plugins could provide different mechanisms for finding alternative buddies to chat with. We developed plugins which would provide lists based upon:
    • Looking for on-line people within the target person's management chain
    • Looking for people in the same department as the target person
    • Searching for people within the target's person's social network by using the SONAR API
  • Message Attendant - some instant messaging systems (but not Sametime) provide a capability of sending instant messages to people who are not currently on-line. I was thinking about ways to achieve the same functionality in Sametime and I came up with a secure mechanism whereby a Sametime user could provide limited delegated authority to a bot program to take messages on their behalf when they are not online. This mechanism was subsequently the subject of a patent application, so I can't describe too much detail here.
  • IMQ (or Instant Message Queue) - was another attempt to tackle the issue of sending messages to people who are not on-line. It works by allowing people to queue up messages so that they will be automatically delivered when the person was next on-line. This plugin received a mixed reaction. Some people thought it was very useful function, but others thought that it was a potential source of SPIM. After hearing the concerns, I added features to stop the inappropriate use of the plugin. However, the feature was never adopted into the core product because of the mixed reactions.
  • MicroBlogCentral/Status Updater - My idea for a Hackday 6.5 project was to  develop a Sametime plugin which would be able to post to several micro-blog sites at once. When I did investigation, I found out that Jessica Ramirez had already developed such a plugin, so instead I decided to team up with her to extend her plugin. A few other people joined in with us and the resultant project is described in detail by me in an earlier blog post. A version of the plugin with slightly reduced  functionality was subsequently released under an open source license through OpenNTF.
  • Persistent Note store - A customer was developing a Sametime extension with the Sametime Connect Toolkit, but they ran into problems when they cound that they needed to use functions which are only available from the Sametime Java Toolkit. They contacted me through their support representative to ask if it was possible to mix the two toolkits in a single extension. I advised them that such mixing was possible and in order to illustrate the method, I sent them code that extended the BuddyNote sample that ships  with the Sametime Connect Toolkit to store the notes on the Sametime server instead of the local file system (this was only possible by using the APIs provided in the Sametime Java Toolkit). This was subsequently published in an article on the DeveloperWorks site.
I hope this list provides Hackers with the capabilities of the Sametime platform and inspiration for their own Hacks.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Very impressed with new M4 Service station near Enfield

Yesterday evening I stopped for the first time in the newly opened motorway service station along the M4 motorway near Enfield in county Meath. I was very impressed with the facilities with a number of different food outlets available including, Costa Coffee for the adults, Burger Kids for the youngsters. There was even a play centre for the kids to run off some energy and a number of showers which could be used to freshen up after a long journey. I must say I was very impressed, the facilities were clean (of course a cynic would point out that there was hardly any time for them to get dirty yet).

The Irish Motorway network is only fairly recently built. Initially the National Roads Authority were reluctant to build any service stations. The motorway network started off as a few a few isolated stretches of motorway quality road so this was not a big problem. However, when the network was completed there was public outcry because now people were faced with long journeys with no obvious places to take a break. The National Roads Authority finally relented and agreed to build some service stations. I am glad to see that when they finally built the service stations they did so in some style.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Is it possible to call the Google Street View cameras back to take a nicer picture?

There was much excitement recently about the fact that Google Street View finally released their photos for Ireland. It was a few years since the photographs were taken and the delays were explained by the fact that there were concerns expressed by the privacy implications of people's pictures appearing and they needed to semi-automatically blur any faces accidentally captured.

Naturally I decided to have a look and see how my own house looks on Street View and although I don't think it looks too bad, I was a little disappointed to see that the hedge in the front garden was clearly overgrown. As a matter of fact the hedge in question has since been removed and I wondered if there were any way to possibly call back the Google Street View cars to take a new picture of my now tidier front garden?

For me it is not a big deal how my house looks to casual browsers, but I can imagine if a business premises had spent quite a considerable amount of money to renovate their premises they would not be  happy if people using Google Street View were still seeing the older un-renovated view. Perhaps there might even be a business opportunity for someone to go around taking professional photographs showing off a business premises at its best!

Friday, October 15, 2010

My first Hardware hack - a stand for an iPOD touch

Stand for ipod touch
Originally uploaded by Brian O'Donovan
One of the problems with my daughter's new iPOD touch is that when she places it flat on the table, she is unable to easily view it while lying in bed. This was causing her to have to hold the device in her hands which was not ideal.

I tried several physical and on-line stores to see if I could buy a stand for holding it propped up. Unfortunately I had no luck so I was forced to build my own from a wire clothes hangar. It might not be as elegant as Steve Jobs would design, but it works and hence I am happy with my handiwork.

Why are there Google advertisements appearing on this site?

Personally I am not a big fan of blog sites that are filled with annoying advertisements. Therefore you might be surprised to notice that I have just enabled Google AdSense advertisements on this blog.
Don't worry I don't intend to turn this blog into a money making scheme. The reason why I have decided to enable Google AdSense for their site is because I am helping a local soccer club Castleknock Celtic revamp their web presence. They want to enable Google AdSence advertisements on their site and I just wanted to do a quick trial to ensure I understand how the whole process works.
If you visit their current web site you will see that the revamp is well overdue. In the meantime any revenue I generate from people clicking on the advertisements showing on my site will be donated to Castleknock Celtic so you will be reassured that it will be going to a good cause. I will let yoiu know once the new site is ready to go live.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Why aren't Irish people interested in the Facebook Movie

There is quite a bit of fuss in the USA recently about the release of the Social Newtwork movie which is loosely based upon the real story behind the establishment of the Facebook site. I don't know how close it is to the real truth, but allegedly the plot is based upon depositions given in preparation for a legal case between Mark Zuckerberg and some of his former classmates in Harvard disputing the ownership of the ideas behind the site.

I checked out what times it was showing in my local UCI cinema and was disappointed to see that it is only shown twice a week once on Sunday and once on Wednesday. Clearly it must not be attracting much audience because the popular movies are typically shown 5-10 times a day. This surprised me because Irish young people seem to be obsessed by Facebook since they defected en-masse from Bebo a few years ago.

Maybe they are all just watching streamed versions of the movie at home!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Does Nelson Mandela support Ubuntu Linux?

I am a great admirer of Nelson Mandela and also fan of the Ubuntu Linux distribution. Therefore I was initially very impressed when I saw the following video which seems to show Nelson Mandela endorsing Ubuntu Linux. However, when you listen closer you realize that he never actually mentions the word Linux.  The video shows what seems to be excepts clipped from a longer interview and it has the logo of the Ubuntu Linux community overlaid on some screens to imply that his words are intended as support for the Ubuntu Linux project.

The African word Ubuntu does not have a direct translation in English, but roughly translates as helping other people in your community. As I understand, it may be close to the Irish word meitheal. I can see why Nelson Mandela might want to support the philosophy of Ubuntu but at the same time avoid explicitly endorsing the Ubuntu variant of Linux (it is quite possible that he never even heard of the Linux variant).

I am confused about how to react to this video, because it must represent one of two very different situations:
  • If Nelson Mandela knows of and supports the Ubuntu Linux community, then someone should clearly document this support.
  • If Nelson Mandela does not wish to publicly support the Ubuntu Linux community then I think this video represents an underhand way of trying to mislead people into thinking that he is a public supporter. In this case the Ubuntu community should publicly disassociate themselves from such trickery.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Is Microsoft interested in promoting Open Source Software?

Many people were surprised to ses Microsoft named as one of the sponsors of the recent Open Source Software BarCamp in UCD. Some people reacted negatively saying things like "how can Microsoft pretend to be a friend of open source software?", but I was personally very pleased to find Microsoft finally getting behind a movement whose time has come.

As well as providing financial support, Microsoft also sent over Garrett Serack who flew all the way from Redmond to Dublin for the event which was the furthest anyone traveled. He spoke about the Common Opensource Application Publishing Platform (CoApp) which is a project to build a package management system for Windows which would provide many of the benefits that we would associate with for example the Synaptic Package manager on Ubuntu.

His presentation style was really interesting - instead of using a traditional set of slides it seems like he wrote on a whiteboard and then took pictures. I was also impressed with the way he was so open about the limitations of Windows as a platform on which to host open source applications. Unfortunately, we ran into slight technical problems when we recorded Garratt's presentation and so we are missing the end part. This means that we only have recorded the part where he admits the flaws, but are missing the part where he explains how they plan to fix it (this was not deliberate I promise). You can see the partial recording from the OSSBARCAMP channel on Vimeo below.

Bringing Real Package Management to Windows with the CoApp Project, by Garrett Serack of Microsoft from Brian O'Donovan on Vimeo.

To be fair to Microsoft, I will point you to another presentation from Garrett about CoApp where he gets to complete the pitch. It certainly seems like an ambitious project. They will consider they have success when they get the PHP and Apache web server packages available through the system. This is more challenging than it sounds because both of these projects require a large number of dependencies. I am not certain when they expect to reach this milestone,but I hope it won't be too far into the future.

CoApp Presentation from Garrett Serack on Vimeo.

Garrett's presence at the conference prompted an article in the Irish Times which shows that Microsoft getting involved in open source projects serves as a validation for many people that open source has finally entered mainstream business. I wish Microsoft every success with this project. If it succeeds it will help spread the adoption of open source software even further.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Reading books on my phone

Amazon Kindle Device I used to think that Kindle was just an expensive device for reading e-Books, but then a colleague told me about the Kindle Application for the Android platform so I decided to try it out. I did not want to waste money on something I would not like so I first tried it out with a few classic books which are out of copyright.

I was pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable I found the  experience of reading on my phone. The small screen was not really an issue, since I only needed to see the part of the page that I was reading at the time. Unlike the real Kindle device, the Kindle reader on the phone actually lights up the screen which means that books can be read in pretty much any light.  By default the book is rendered as black text on a white background, but I found that this caused the battery on my phone. However, when I switched my preference to white text on a black background I found that the books were just as readable and it had a dramatic effect upon the battery life.

After reading a few literary classics, I decided to try out the experience of  purchasing a book through the associated store. I decided that "30 Arduino Projects for the Evil Genius" would be an appropriate first purchase. The buying experience was very smooth and within a few seconds I had the new book on my device with no shipping charge added to the bill. However, I don't think it was a good choice of book to read on my phone because unlike the literary classics I would like to be able to view both the text of the book and the wiring diagrams at the same time. Nevertheless I think that the next time I go on holidays I will be stocking up my phone with reading material and saving myself on some luggage charges for a suitcase full of heavy books.

Here are my most recent acquisitions on Amazon:

Friday, October 8, 2010

Hackday is coming

As I explained in a previous blog post, one of the best things about working in IBM is the regular Hackday events where employees are encouraged to spend a day hacking at a project of their choice. After the day there is a judging process to decide who are the champion hackers - as well as improving morale and climate within the company many brilliant ideas for major IBM projects started life as a Hackday project.

The next Hackday is scheduled for Friday 22nd of October and since this is number 8  in the series we are using the tag line "1 event, 100s of ideas, ∞ possibilities".

The excitement is already starting to build and people are already beginning to form teams and register their projects. I am a great believer in leading by example, so as well as helping run the event I also make a habit of entering a project each time (I  even won a few prizes over the years). Today I finally settled on a project which will involve bridging MQTT event messages with the world of instant messaging. Hopefully this project will allow me to enter this brave new world of Smarter Planet Technologies.

Traditionally the Dublin site has been one of the most active sites in the Hackday events, however our southern neighbors in Cork are doing great work in generating interest so I am afraid we might be passed out this time.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Recording events for posting on-line

I recently volunteered to help organize recording some of the sessions from the Open Source Software (OSS) Barcamp event in UCD. I am not very experienced in this type of thing so I thought I would document my experiences for the benefit of anyone else who would like to do something similar.

The first thing I tried was USTREAM. This was really simple to use, within 2 minutes I had created a free account and created a channel for OSSBarCamp. In addition I found that there are  Ustream Viewer and a Ustream Broadcast applications available for my Android phone. I tried out the viewer by watching the Linux Outlaws live stream and the quality was almost better than when I watch it on my PC. I also tried out the Broadcast application and found it alarmingly easy to upload videos - within minutes I had a few videos uploaded of the cables behind my PC (I still haven't figured out how to delete them - if anyone knows how to do this I would love to know).

A colleague also recommended the QIK application for my phone. However, this required more memory than I had free space on my phone so I wasn't able to evaluate it.

Luckily I received an offer of help from some colleagues in DERI in Galway who had professional video recording equipment. Pierre Ludwick and Laura Dragan even volunteered to bring the equipment up from Galway and operate it.

I am always nervous that something would go wrong, so even though Pierre was recording the initial keynote talk by Stefano Zacchiroli, I also recorded it on my phone using the Ustream Broadcast application. I think you will agree that the results shown below are reasonably good. Most of the problems with the video were due to the fact that my hand was getting tired from constantly holding the phone up so if I had a tripod rigged up it would have been even better. (sorry about the advertisements - I would have to upgrade to a professional account to get rid of those).

My hand was sore from holding my mobile phone aloft so I decided to relax and trust the professionals for the rest of the sessions. They did a great job and at the end of the BarCamp they transferred all of the files onto my laptop. Each recorded session was contained in a .mts file which was about 1.5 to 2BGytes. These files are clearly too big to be uploaded to a video sharing site so I had to convert them to some more efficient storage format before I uploaded them.

I played around with the various tools that come with Ubuntu before deciding that Kino was the tool that I should be using. The first step was to import the files into Kino which creates a .dv file which was ironically bigger than the original - typically about 8-9 GBytes per 40 minute talk. The import process could take the best part of an hour. My first few attempts at importing files failed becuase I was using an external drive for storage which had been formated with the FAT file system (the FAT file system has a limit of 4 GBytes as the maximum size of a single file). After importing the file, then I had to export it to .mpeg format. By taking all of the defaults I ended up with a file of about 300-400 MBytes  per session, I could have tweaked the parameters to get a smaller file size, but I didn't feel confident in adjusting to many parameters since I didn't know what parameters would affect video quality in a noticeable way. The export process could take about 2-3 hours on my poor old home PC which meant the overall process was quite time consuming.

I looked at the various video sharing sites and quickly settled on Vimeo as the best for my needs. They offer a free account which has a limit of 500 MBytes uploaded per week. I could have used this and uploaded the materials gradually, but I was keen to get the job done quickly and so I paid out for a professional account which also eliminated advertisements from my videos and gave a few more benefits. You can view all of the recorded videos on a special channel I created http://vimeo.com/channels/ossbarcamp.

Here you can see the same Keynote presentation that I recorded with my phone. Although the quality is better, I am not sure the difference affects the usability.

Overall I am happy I volunteered. It was a great learning experience for me and now there is a permanent record of the event available for anyone who wants to see it. I can see from the Vimeo statistics that some of the more popular session have already been viewed by more people online than attended the BarCamp in person.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Domain Renewal Group Scam

This morning I got a letter from the Domain Renewal Group about the renewal of one of the domains I own. I was a little bit surprised to receive the letter, because I though that the domain was not due for renewal for several months and in addition the renewal charge of $28 per year seemed a little above the going rate. I was not particularly bothered by the fact that I never heard of such a company because companies are constantly changing their names and often use different names on physical letters from the name on their web site.

To be on the safe side, I decided to do a little bit of research into the company before I reached for my credit card. It is just as well that I did, because I found several articles complaining about the company (click here for an example). The letter is posted in New York, but they want me to send money to an address in London. I would be surprised if the authorities in these jurisdictions are not already hot on the tails of these guys if the reports on the web are true. In the meantime, be warned!!!

Monday, October 4, 2010

My OSS BarCamp presentation on "The growing usage of Open Source desktop client SW in IBM"

At the recent Open Source Software (OSS) BarCamp in University College Dublin. I delivered a talk entitled "The growing usage of Open Source desktop client SW in IBM". The talk was recorded on video, so if anyone wants to see the session you can view it here.

Brian O'Donovan - The growing usage of Open Source desktop client SW in IBM from Brian O'Donovan on Vimeo.

Here are the slides to go with the talk:

I think it is a great idea to have talks recorded, because people who cannot come to the physical event can benefit from the information being shared. It is not too bad seeing myself on video, but hearing my own voice sounds very weird. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the talk. There were quite a few questions asked on the day, but if you have any more questions feel free to leave a comment below and I will be happy to answer.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Is Linux an operating system for computer savvy geeks?

Many people assume that Linux is an operating system which is only really used by computer savvy geeks. However, this reputation is no longer really justified - especially since Ubuntu have started living up to their slogan of "Linux for human beings".

The most interesting talk at last weekend's OSS Bar Camp event in UCD was a talk entitled Mumbuntu where Alan Pope (a.ka. Popey) describes his experiences in teaching his elderly mother to use an Ubuntu based machine. His siblings told her she was crazy to follow Alan's advice since they thought that it would be difficult for someone who has no prior computing experience to learn how to use Linux. But Popey was happy to report that his brother admitted they were wrong and overall her experiences were very happy.

Here is a video recording of Alan's very entertaining talk in which he honestly describes all of the issues he encountered and how he overcame them (mostly they were unrelated to the operating system):

Mumbuntu from Brian O'Donovan on Vimeo.

We have video recordings of quite a few of the OSS Bar Camp sessions and I will be posting them on line gradually over the next few weeks as I get around to doing the various processing steps required.

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 :-(