Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Contributing to my Mo

My mo-running partners
As I mentioned earlier, I am participating in the Movember fundraising initiative. My moustache is progressing reasonably well, although the moustache is slightly hard to see it since it is grey in colour as compared to the hair on my head which is light brown (and getting lighter as I age). This week people are saying to me "are you growing a moustache?", while last week they were saying "you missed a bit while shaving".

Unfortunately the fund raising is not going quite as well. Mainly this is to to my own reluctance to come straight out and ask for donations. To help get around this fact I am going to put a sign up on my desk at work with a donation envelope directly below it. For those of you who want to donate on-line, there are full instructions available from the  Movember website.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Is it a good idea to write about your work on your personal blog?

Recently I attended a presentation by Marie Wallace telling people how to "tackle" social media. She made the point that it is important to have a clear idea for what your goal is for using social media or else you won't achieve it. During the subsequent discussion it became clear that most of the people attending the talk were planning to write primarily about the things that they are working on and associated social networking and blogging primarily with  advancing their career. In addition they didn't really enjoy using sites like Facebook and preferred to only use sites like LinkedIn with a more business orientation.

I enjoy engaging on social networking sites and my motivation is more personal that career oriented, but the discussion caused me reflect to  upon my motivation is and what I blog about. As I looked through my old posts I noticed a post which I wrote about a year ago analysing my motivation and this is generally still accurate a year later. However, I was surprised how few of my blog posts mentioned IBM or the work I do for them.

At a rough count, my blog post fall into 3 categories:

  1. Roughly 20% have something to do with IBM or the projects I work on. I included anything vaguely work related in this category e.g. I wrote several posts about the Young Scientist Competition which are not really related to my work, but I counted them because I got involved through IBM's sponsorship of  the event. 
  2. About 50% were technology related posts that had nothing to do with my work (e.g. reviews of mobile phone  applications) .
  3. The remaining 30% non-technology related (e.g. expressing opinions about politics or sport)

Since I spend well more than 20% of my time thinking about my work I would have predicted  that (due to simple statistics) a higher percentage of my output would be work related.

I make no secret about what I work on, but my reasons for not writing about work relate to two main reasons:

  • If I write about IBM or an IBM product I find it rad to get the right balance. If I a praise the company too highly it sounds contrived, but if I am too critical of an IBM product/policy it might have negative consequences too.
  • It takes me longer to write about a work related product because I feel that people will expect me to be accurate and check all of my facts. For example if I was to write a technical article for DeveloperWorks about a product I was working on, I would typically expect to spend several weeks getting it exactly right. In contrast I can write a comparison between RunKeeper and MyTracks in a much shorter time and I don't feel obligated to double check any of my statement since I don't claim to be an expert.

After reflecting upon this a little, I decided to keep with my current balance of allowing personal posts to predominate on this blog. After all I have plenty of other forums in which to write about my work. If articles are published elsewhere about stuff that I am working on, I often promote them to friends and colleagues by sharing on Facebook and/or Twitter. Perhaps I in the future I will try remember to also cross post to LinkedIn, since this seems to be more popular with my generation.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A late starter for Movember

Last year many of my colleagues at work took part in Movember and so I resolved that in 2012 I would join them. However, 1st of November came and went without anyone reminding me of my resolution (perhaps many are taking part, but their facial hair is not yet obvious).

This Friday, my daughter told me that she signed up for the Mo-Running event in the Phoenix park next weekend with a friend of hers and she persuaded me to join them. I think that the girls intend getting a moustache from a costume shop, but I though that I ought to take part fully.

While shaving yesterday, I left my top lip untouched. I don't think I will have much of a moustache by the race day next weekend, but I will continue growing until 8th of December to make up for the late start.

I don't know the logistics of how to donate money yet, but I created a profile on the Movember web site and once I find out the details I will share them via this blog. In addition I just turned on Google Ads on this web site and I will donate any money earned to the charity. I don't  want to violate the Google Ads guidelines, but if you want to donate a few cents to the charity the easiest way might be to click on one of the advertisements.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Should Irish people get involved in the US presidential election

In theory Irish people should not care who is president of the United States of America. However, in reality the recent election was the single biggest topic of conversation in Ireland for the last few weeks. This is partly because USA is such a dominant world power, but also because for historical reasons most Irish people have many close relatives living in the USA. In fact many Irish people (including me) have a right to a postal vote as a result of holding American citizenship. So there are active groups campaigning in Ireland for such votes.

Half-Page Ad in Irish Times
publicizing the Paddy Power
early pay-out offer
In the lead up to election day, most professional opinion polls were predicting that the election was too tight to make a definitive prediction. However, on the day before polling, Irish based bookmaker Paddy Power announced that they were so confident that Obama was going to win that they were going to pay out immediately to anyone who had bet on him. This was effectively a very cheap publicity stunt becuase although they claimed it cost them over half a million euro, it ended up costing them nothing because Obama won and the would have had to pay out on all these bets anyway.

I know that the advertisement for this offer which featured the tag line "Sorry Romney - you're not black or cool" was intended to be very much tongue in cheek, but I must say that I found it quite offensive. It was intended to poke fun at Mitt Romney who is not very popular among the Irish public so maybe they felt safe, but the attached picture of president Obama is not very flattering so I suspect that they alienated many of his fans also.

There has been some debate in Irish newspapers recently about whether Ireland should offer some form of voting rights to the Irish Diaspora. This could be quite significant since there are many more Irish citizens (or at least people entitled to Irish citizenship) resident in United States than are resident on the island of Ireland. I wonder how Irish people would feel if a similar advertisement poking fun at Irish politicians was running in American newspapers.

[xpost] Who needs to be involved in running a successful "Show and Tell" event for a Hackday

[This article was originally posted to the IBM internal hackday blog, but it is not really IBM specific]

I find that one of the most enjoyable parts of any Hackday is the Show and Tell event  when the hackers get to quickly present a summary of their project. Typically these events involve about 20-30 projects being presented and since it is unreasonable to expect the audience to sit through more than 1-1.5 hours of talks it is necessary to impose a strict time limit on each presentation (typically 2-3 minutes each). When most people first hear about this event format they predict that this will become a chaotic mess. This is a real danger so it is important that the event is very tightly controlled and well planned.

We are currently planning the show and tell event for the Ireland Lab in conjunction with the recent Hackday X. The main organiser was asking how many volunteers he needed to recruit and so I thought it might be worthwhile to list the various roles which are needed to help run a sucessful show and tell event. Don't be scared by the length of the list, it is of course possible for one person to fulfil more than one role during the event, but it is good to clarify exactly what you are asking each person to do and if you are lucky enough to have enough volunteer helpers it is nice to have a job for everyone so that they feel useful.
  • Time Keeper: because of the tight schedule this is probably the most important role. We normally use a highly visible clock that can be seen by both the audience and the speaker so that there is no surprise when the time runs out. It is essential that no leeway is allowed because distilling a presentation down to 3 minutes is hard and if any speaker is allowed to over run the allocated time it is unfair to the other speakers whose speaking time will have to be cut even shorter (alternatively all of the speakers will assume that if the prevoous speaker was allowed to run over by a minute it is OK for them and the entire schedule goes out the window). We find that a referee's whistle or some form of a loud gong is a good way to remind speakers that their time has expired.
  • Master of Ceremonies: It is important to have someone speak at the start to tell the audience (and speakers) what to expect and they should also speak briefly at the end to tell people about the judging process (see below). The MC can also help the time keeper by subtly stepping forward as each three minute time slot expires to say "thank you x for your presentation and up next we have y" - it is a very brave speaker who will continue speaking over the MC.
  • Speakers: Naturally you can't have a good event without speakers, but it is important to check that you know exactly who is going to present (typically people might not want to present their project if they feel they didn't achieve anything to boast about) and in what order. Someone (either the MC or someone else) should make sure that they seek out the next speaker while the current presentation is bing given and get them to stand next to the podium. Since the allocated time is very short, a significant proportion of it can be wasted waiting for the speaker to walk from the back of the room.
  • Judge(s): Normally we give out some local prizes (even if these have only a token value e.g. a certificate). This means that you need at least one judge who is taking notes and scoring the presentations. If you have a judging panel of several judges, you need to clarify how they are going to interact. Typically it is a good idea to ensure that the judges turn up anout 15-20 minutes before the show and tell itself starts so that they can discuss judging logistics among themselves.
The above roles are needed for a single site show and tell. However, in the Ireland lab we have a number of different physical locations and so we like to hold a virtual show and tell so that we can have both presenters and audience taking part from wherever they are based. This is a good idea, but it does add some additional logicistcal challenges and so you need some more roles to be filled:
  • eMeeting Moderator: someone needs to run the eMeeting. In IBM we typically have a choice of eMeeting servers to use each with their strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes we choose to use an experimental version of the eMeeting service (this is Hackday after all), but if there is any doubt that the service will be working during the show and tell it is a good idea to have a backup plan in place just in case the primaty server is acting up.
  • eMeeting Observer: as I mentioned it is possible that the emeeting service will either fail completely or else be working sub-optimally (e.g. noticable delays in updating the screen in the eMeeting). Therefore it is a good idea to assign someone who is physically in the same location as the speakers to also join the eMeeting as a participant so that they can alert the speaker and/or the eMeeting moderator if there is any problem with the emeeting.
  • Recorder (optional): It is not ncessary to record the show and tell, but when you have gone to the effort of arranging the event it is a shame to lose it. Most eMeeting tools and/or teleconference services offer a recording service. The recording might need some post-processing, but you can often find that some of the hackers have a dream to get involved in the movie business and would love the chance to practice their skills

Monday, November 5, 2012

The new format for the Irish Times

The new and old format Irish Times
When I read about the proposed new format for the Irish Times I was worried that they mean that they were switching to become a tabloid.  However, the change in page size is so small that I wonder why they even bothered. The page is exactly the same height as before and less than an inch narrowed (the picture on the right shows today's Irish Times pictured in front of an edition from last week for comparison).

On the other hand, the changes they made to the way the articles are laid out on the page are quite substantial and look great so I must say I am reassured that my beloved newspaper has not been ruined.

The easy way to configure VNC service on your Linux server

While looking at the access statistics of this blog I noticed that one of the most popular posts is an article I wrote a while ago about how to configure the VNC service on your Linux server. While these instructions continue to work, both RedHat and SUSE have released updates in the meantime which make these instructions partly obsolete.

In REHEL6+ and SLES12+ the configuration screens that come with the operating system include an option to configure what they call remote desktop access. The way the VNC service is configured is slightly different on each Linux variant, but since the  configuration screens allow you to configure the VNC service with a simple point and click UI, you probably don't need to worry about the detail of what happens under the covers.

Of course the instructions I wrote still work so if you followed them and your server is working as desired, there is no need to change. However, it is probably easier and better to use the configuration screens built into the operating system if you have not yet started to configure it. Likewise, if are using an older version of RedHat/SUSE or are using a Linux variant which has not yet integrated VNC configuration into its utilities then feel free to continue using my script.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Have social networking services become one of the vital services which need to be maintained through natural disasters

Luckily I was nowhere near the path of the destructive storm Sandy. However, I have many relatives and work collagues who were in the danger zone so I was anxiously looking at various news sources to find out what was happening. One factor I noticed was that people seemed to update their social network straight away even when they didn't have many essential services such as elctric power, and heating.

I suppose that this is not surprising since social networks are a very efficient way of getting out the message to as many concerned relatives and friends. It is also a testament to the resilience of some of the infrastructure. Since the people involved didn't have electric power they typically sent the update via their smartphone - the cell phone network is inherently quite resilient since if individual cell towers are out of action your cell phone will automatically connect to any other available cell tower that is still working. In addition the social networking sites typically use a range of servers around the world with automatic fail-over when any individual data centre is off line. This meant that the service could be resilient even when an entire region is knocked off the network.

I think that authorities will have to consider social networks as a key part of their disaster recovery plans.