Monthly Archives: October 2011

Technology

Useful Links: October 2011

A list of items I’ve come across recently that I found potentially useful, interesting, or just plain funny:

Waffle and randomness

Why should the UK move to GMT+1? And do we really need “daylight saving time”?

As I wondered around the house this morning resetting a plethora of clocks (two ovens, four heating themostats, two wall clocks in the childrens’ bedrooms, fixed-line phone, two mobile phones, two cars – thankfully the computers, PVR, radio, some of the mobile phones and many other devices change themselves), I did have to wonder “what is the point?”. Maybe it’s because my son woke me at 5.30 (because his body clock has not suddenly changed overnight) and consequentially I’m grumpy…

At this time of year, the media churns out the same old stories (it must be great for editors – rehash the article from 6 months ago and put it out again) and the gist is always that someone wants to change the time zone that the UK operates on, the Scots don’t want to (because being 500 miles north does make quite a difference), meanwhile someone else thinks it would be good to be on the same time zone as the rest of Western Europe (except Ireland).

But this is England. The Greenwich Meridian runs through London. Universal time is based around Greenwich Mean Time. Why should we suddenly end up on GMT+1 in the winter and GMT+2 in the summer? Why do the clocks need to change at all?

Some will argue road safely concerns in the winter – but we either have to travel to work/school in the dark or travel home in the dark so that doesn’t make much sense to me. I believe that the original intention with daylight saving time was to increase the available hours for farming – except that farmers work all hours, and it doesn’t actually increase the number of hours in the day when we have daylight or darkness! With modern machinery the farmers where I live work through the night at harvest-time, so I don’t really see that being an issue.

Advocates of a switch in time zone are suggesting harmonisation for businesses in the UK and continental Europe to work the same hours. But how many businesses really work from 9-5? There are still local customs that lead to long lunches and late evenings in some parts of Europe; I certainly don’t get to go home because the clock has hit a certain time; and, anyway, business is global these days – we’re all well used to working across timezones.

If we do have to mess with the timezones, why would it even have to apply in Scotland (who are vehemently against any further variation in “daylight saving time”)? Unlike England, Wales and Northern Ireland, Scotland has it’s own parliament and can elect to do whatever it likes (the Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies have some powers too). Australia and the United States work across multiple timezones (I’m sure some other countries do too) – so could the UK, if that’s what it takes (although we are tiny in comparison)! I don’t know too much about the US (except that East cost is 5 hours behind us and the west coat is 8; and that their clocks change at a different time of year so I always miss at least one conference call!) but some Australian states don’t even observe DST. So why not abolish DST in Engalnd and Wales, and let Scotland decide what it wants to do? Northern Ireland could probably abolish DST too, but I can see why they would want to follow Éire’s lead.

It seems to me that daylight saving is an outdated concept, that (in England at least) causes disruption twice a year for no real advantage. So, instead of moving forward yet another hour, I propose we stay on GMT indefinitely!

See also:

A brief history of timezones

Technology

Virtual Worlds (@stroker at #DigitalSurrey)

Last night saw another Digital Surrey event which, I’ve come to find, means another great speaker on a topic of interest to the digerati in and around Farnham/Guildford (although I also noticed that I’m not the only “foreigner” at Digital Surrey with two of the attendees travelling from Brighton and Cirencester).

This time the speaker was Lewis Richards, Technical Portfolio Director in the Office of Innovation at CSC, and the venue was CSC’s European Innovation Centre.  Lewis spoke with passion and humour about the development of virtual worlds, from as far back as the 18th century. As a non-gamer (I do have an Xbox, but I’m not heavily into games), I have to admit quite a lot of it was all new to me, but fascinating nevertheless, and I’ve drawn out some of the key points in this post (my edits in []) – or you can navigate the Prezi yourself – which Lewis has very kindly made public!

  • The concept of immersion (in a virtual world) has existed for more than 200 years:
  • In 1909, E.M Forster wrote The Machine Stops, a short story in which everybody is connected, with a universal book for reference purposes, and communications concepts not unlike today’s video conferencing – this was over a hundred years ago!
  • In [1957], Morton Heilig invented the Sensorama machine which allowed viewers to enter a world of virtual reality with a combination of film and mechanics for a 3D, stereo experience with seat vibration, wind in the hair and smell to complete the illusion.
  • The first heads up displays and virtual reality headsets were patented in the 1960s (and are not really much more usable today).
  • In 1969, ARPANET was created – the foundation of today’s Internet and the world wide web [in 1990].
  • In [1974], the roleplay game Dungeons and Dragons was created (in book form), teaching people to empathise with virtual characters (roleplay is central to the concept of virtual worlds); the holodeck (Rec Room) was first referenced in a Star Trek cartoon in 1974; and, back in 1973, Myron Krueger had coined the term artificial reality [Krueger created a number of virtual worlds in his work (glowflow, metaplay, physic space, videoplace)].
  • Lewis also showed a video of a “B-Spline Control” which is not unlike the multitouch [and Kinect tracking] functionality we take for granted today – indeed, pretty much all of the developments from the last 40-50 years have been iterative improvements – we’ve seen no real paradigm shifts.
  • 1980s developments included:
    • William Gibson coined the term cyberspace in his short stories (featured in Omni magazine).
    • Disney’s Tron; a film which still presents a level of immersion to which we aspire today.
    • The Quantum Link network  service, featuring the first multiplayer network game (i.e. not just one player against a computer).
  • In the 1990s, we saw:
    • Sir Tim Berners-Lee‘s World Wide Web [possibly the biggest step forward in online information sharing, bringing to life E.M. Forster's universal book].
    • The first use of the term avatar for a digital manifestation of oneself (in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash).
    • Virtual reality suits
    • Sandboxed virtual worlds (AlphaWorld)
    • Strange Days, with the SQUID (Super-conducting Quantum Interference Device) receptor – still looking for immersion – getting inside the device – and The Matrix was still about “jacking in” to the network.
    • Virtual cocoons (miniaturised, electronic, versions of the Sensorama – but still too intrusive for mass market adoption)
  • The new millennium brought Second Life (where, for a while, almost every large corporation had an island) and World of Warcraft (WoW) – a behemoth in terms of revenue generation – but virtual worlds have not really moved forward. Social networking blinded us and took the mass market along a different path for collaboration; meanwhile kids do still play games and virtual reality is occuring – it’s just not in the mainstream.
  • Lewis highlighted how CSC uses virtual worlds for collaboration; how they can also be used as training aids; and how WoW encouraged team working and leadership, and how content may be created inside virtual worlds with physical value (leading to virtual crime).
  • Whilst virtual reality is not really any closer as a consumer concept than in 1956 there are some real-world uses (such as virtual reality immersion being used to take away feelings of pain whilst burns victims receive treatment).
  • Arguably, virtual reality has become, just, “reality” – everywhere we go we can communicate and have access to our “stuff” – we don’t have to go to a virtual world but Lewise asks if we will ever give up the dream of immersion – of “jacking in” [to the matrix].
  • What is happening is augmented reality – using our phone/tablets, etc. to interact between physical and virtual worlds. Lewis also showed some amazing concepts from Microsoft Research, like OmniTouch, using a short-range depth camera and a pico projector to turn everyday objects into a surface to interact with; and Holodesk for direct 3D interactions.
  • Lewis explained that virtual worlds are really a tool – the innovation is in the technology and the practical uses are around virtual prototyping, remote collaboration, etc. [like all innovations, it's up to us to find a problem, to which we can apply a solution and derive value - perhaps virtual worlds have tended to be a technology looking for a problem?]
  • Lewis showed us CSC’s Teleplace, a virtual world where colleagues can collaborate (e.g. for virtual bid rooms and presentations), saving a small fortune in travel and conference call costs but, just to finish up with a powerful demo, he asked one of the audience for a postcode, took the Google Streetview URL and pasted it into a tool called Blue Mars Lite – at which point his avatar could be seen running around inside Streetview. Wow indeed! That’s one virtual world in which I have to play!
Technology

Big things are happening

I saw a great video from Cisco this morning. The fact it’s from Cisco isn’t really relevant (indeed, if I showed it without the last few seconds you woudn’t know) but it’s a great example of how IT is shaping the world that we live in (or, maybe, how the world we live in is driving technology):

In case you can’t see the video above, here are some of the key statistics it contains:

  • Humans created more data in 2009 alone than in all previous years combined.
  • Over the last 15 years, network speeds have increased 18 million times.
  • Information is moving to the cloud; 8/10 IT Managers plan to use cloud computing within the next 3 years.
  • By 2015, tools and automation will eliminate 25% of IT labour hours.
  • We’re using multiple devices: by 2015 there will be nearly one mobile-connected device for every person on earth.
  • 2/3 of employees believe they should be able to access information using company-issued devices at any time, at any location.
  • 60% believe they don’t need to be in an office to be productive.
  • This is creating entirely new forms of collaboration.
  • “The real impact of the information revolution isn’t about information management but on relationships; the ability to allow not dozens, or hundreds, but thousands of people to meaningfully interact” [Dr Michael Schrage, MIT].
  • By 2015 companies will generate 50% of web sales via their social presence and mobile applications.
  • Social business software will become a $5bn business by 2013.
  • Who sits at the centre of all this? Who is managing these exponential shifts? The CIO.

Of course, we might expect to see many of these figures cited by a company selling social collaboration software and networking equipment but they are a good indication of the way things are heading.  I would place more emphasis on empowered employees and customers redefining IT provisioning (BYO, for example); on everything as a service (XaaS) changing the IT delivery model, on the need for a new architecture to manage the “app Internet”; and on big data – which will be a key theme for the next few years.

Whatever the technologies underpinning the solution – the overall direction is for IT to provide business services that add value and enhance business agility rather than simply being part of “the cost of doing business” – maybe we need more videos like this to help us think about the possibilities?

Technology

Is technology at the heart of business, or is it simply an enabler?

I saw a video from Cisco this morning, and found it quite inspirational. The fact it’s from Cisco isn’t really relevant (indeed, if I showed it without the last few seconds you woudn’t know) but it’s a great example of how IT is shaping the world that we live in – or, more precisely, how the world is shaping the direction that IT is taking:

In case you can’t see the video above, here are some of the key statistics it contains:

  • Humans created more data in 2009 alone than in all previous years combined.
  • Over the last 15 years, network speeds have increased 18 million times.
  • Information is moving to the cloud; 8/10 IT Managers plan to use cloud computing within the next 3 years.
  • By 2015, tools and automation will eliminate 25% of IT labour hours.
  • We’re using multiple devices: by 2015 there will be nearly one mobile-connected device for every person on earth;
  • 2/3 of employees believe they should be able to access information using company-issued devices at any time, at any location;
  • 60% believe they don’t need to be in an office to be productive;
  • This is creating entirely new forms of collaboration.
  • “The real impact of the information revolution isn’t about information management but on relationships; the ability to allow not dozens, or hundreds, but thousands of people to meaningfully interact” [Dr Michael Schrage, MIT].
  • By 2015 companies will generate 50% of web sales via their social presence and mobile applications.
  • Social business software will become a $5bn business by 2013.
  • Who sits at the centre of all this? Who is managing these exponential shifts? The CIO.

Some impressive numbers here – and we might expect to see many of these figures cited by a company selling social collaboration software and networking equipment but they are a good indication of the way things are heading.  I would place more emphasis on empowered employees and customers redefining IT provisioning (BYO, for example); on everything as a service (XaaS) changing the IT delivery model; on the need for a new architecture to manage the “app Internet”; and on big data – which will be a key theme for the next few years.

Whatever the technologies underpinning the solution – the overall direction is for IT to provide business services that add value and enhance business agility rather than simply being part of “the cost of doing business”.

I think Cisco’s video does a rather good job of illustrating the change that is occurring but the real benefits come when we are able to use technology as an enabler for business services that create new opportunities, rather than responding to existing pressures.

I’d love to hear what our customers, partners and competitors think – is technology at the heart of the digital revolution, or is it simply an enabler for new business services?

[This post originally appeared on the Fujitsu UK and Ireland CTO Blog and was written with assistance from Ian Mitchell.]

Technology

Cloudwashing

Cloud this, cloud that: frankly I’m tired of hearing about “the cloud” and, judging from the debate I’ve had on Twitter this afternoon, I’m not alone.

The trouble is that the term “cloud” has been abused and has become a buzzword (gamification is another – big data could be next…).

I don’t doubt the advantages of cloud computing – far from it – it’s a fantastically powerful business model and it’s incredibly disruptive in our industry. And, like so many disruptive innovations, organisations are faced with a choice – to adopt the disruptive technology or to try and move up the value chain. (Although, in this case, why not both? Adopt the disruptive tech and move up the value chain?)

My problem with cloud marketing is not so much about over-use of the term, it’s about the mis-use of it. And that’s confused the marketplace. There is a pretty good definition of cloud from the American National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) but it’s missing some key service models (data as a service, business process as a service) so vendors feel the need to define their own “extensions”.

My point is that cloud is about the business model, about how the service is provided, about some of the essential characteristics that provide flexibility in IT operation. That flexibility allows the business to become more responsive to change and, in turn, the CIO may more quickly deliver the services that the CEO asks of them.

It’s natural that business to business (B2B) service providers include cloud as a major theme in their marketing (indeed, in their continued existence as a business).  That’s because delivery of business services and the mechanisms used to ensure that the service is responsive to business needs (on demand self-service, broad network access, resource pooling, rapid elasticity, and measured service) are crucial. Unfortunately, “the cloud” has now crossed the divide into the business to consumer (B2C) space and that’s where it all starts to turn bad.

At the point where “the cloud” is marketed to consumers it is watered down to be meaningless (ignoring the fact that “the cloud” is actually many “clouds”, from multiple providers). So often “the cloud” is really just a service offered via the Internet. Consumers don’t care about “the cloud” – they just want their stuff, when they want it, where they want it, for as little financial outlay as possible. To use an analogy from Joe Baguley, Chief Cloud Technologist, EMEA at VMware – “you don’t market the electricity grid, you market the electricity and the service, not the infra[structure]“.

I’d like to suggest that marketing cloud to consumers is pointless and, ultimately, it’s diluting the real message: that cloud is a way of doing business, not about a particular technology. What do you think?

Site notices Technology

Rebuilding my site: please excuse the appearance

Regular readers may have noticed that this site is looking a little… different… right now.

Unfortunately, my hosting provider told me last night that they had a disk failure on the server. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem (that’s why servers have redundant components right? Like RAID on the disks?) but it seems this “server” is just a big PC. I can’t get too mad though… the MySQL database backup scripts have been failing for a month and it was my sloppyness that didn’t chase that up, and it was me who hadn’t made sure I had a recent copy of the file system…

So, as things stand:

  • I think I have restored all posts from 2004 until almost the end of August 2011;
  • I need to restore the later posts and comments (using copies from FeedBlitz, Google Reader, etc.);
  • There are no plugins (so things look odd); Some of the plugins have been reinstalled (but things may still look odd);
  • There are no graphics (they were hosted outside WordPress) I’ve restored all most of the graphics and other external media but there are still some I need to track down;
  • I have not restored the theme (so I’m using the WordPress defaults and there is no mobile theme);
  • The theme I’m using does not specify UTF-8 encoding so lots of  characters; Still some spurious characters appearing on some pages…
  • There are no fewer ads (which you might be happy about, but I do still need to pay the bills).

Please bear with me whilst I get things back… it may take some time as it needs to fit in between other activities but it might also be a good thing (new theme has been long overdue and I might even get smarter about my backups…).

And, if you spot another problem, please let me know.

[Updated at various points as the site has been restored]

Photography

A day out with Canon at London Fashion Week (#LFW)

London Fashion Week“Would you like bubbles in that?”. Quite possibly the best way I could ever have been asked if I would like my orange juice transformed to a Bucks Fizz!

That was two weeks ago as I was enjoying a day at London Fashion Week, as a guest of Canon UK and Ireland. Even as a long-time Nikon shooter, I was fascinated to see how Canon supports professional photographers at events like this. Indeed, whilst I get the feeling that photographers generally favour one over the other for a given genre of photography (nature, landscape, fashion, portraiture, etc.), Nikon were conspicuous by their absence.

Whilst what I know about fashion is almost infinitesimally small, I was amazed by some of what I saw in my day at Somerset House. Fashion Stylist (and Canon’s VIP Hostess) Amanda King expertly guided us through a succession of showrooms including displays from up-and-coming designers like Palmer//Harding andChristopher Raeburn with his fascinating creations of re-manufactured clothing. I also saw catwalk displays fromOsman and Amanda Wakeley – and was surprised to note that the costumes were not wacky and unpractical, as I had expected, but actually something I could expect to see in a boutique.

Marking out your place...Caution: photographers at workI have to confess though that the real fascination for me was the environment in which the photographers work. From the tiny spaces where each ‘tog marks out their place to the dedicated facilities for photo editing and uploading images, it was an amazing insight into the work of a fashion photographer. IMG_5770(Edit)Canon Professional Services (CPS) were on hand to loan equipment, carry out minor repairs and generally support the photographers who, in turn, remain loyal to Canon for their equipment purchases. What I wasn’t expecting was the noise that the bank of cameras made during the catwalk shows. Not the classic noise of motordrives (not these days anyway) but an erie click, click, click which one spectator commented sounded more like insects chirping. Aside from the soundtrack to the show and the applause at the end, it was the only sound to be heard, that and the instructions barked at the models who stray away from the catwalk lights!

IMG_5700(Edit)

I had an amazing day, for which I’d like to thank Canon for their fantastic hospitality. This is Canon’s twelfth season as principal sponsor of the event, organised by the British Fashion Council to promote British designers in a global market. If you don’t think that means much – consider that the UK fashion industry supports around 1.3m jobs with a direct value to the economy of £21bn. Surprised? Yep, so was I! My pictures don’t really do the event justice but they were at least shot on a Canon camera (I reclaimed my Ixus 70 from my son, who has recently adopted it as his own). Maybe one day I’ll return with my DSLR? I can dream…

More pictures from my day at London Fashion Week (including some that are actually fashion-related!) are available on Flickr.

(The images in this post are © 2011 Mark Wilson, all rights reserved and are therefore excluded from the Creative Commons license used for the rest of this site.)

Technology

As Amazon fuels the fire, where are the networks to deliver our content?

Last week saw Amazon’s announcement of the Kindle Fire – a new tablet computer which marks the bookstore-turned-online-warehouse-turned-cloud-infrastructure-provider‘s latest skirmish into the world of content provision and consumption. It’s not going to be available in the UK and Ireland for a while (some of the supporting services don’t yet exist here) but many technology commentators have drawn comparisons with the Apple iPad – the current tablet market leader (by a country mile). And, whilst there are comparisons (both are tablets, both rely on content) – they really do compete in different sectors.

Even as an iPad user, I can see the attractiveness of the Kindle Fire: If Amazon is able to execute its strategy (and all signs suggest they are), then they can segment the tablet market leaving Apple at the premium end and shifting huge volumes of low price devices to non-geeks. Note how Amazon has maintained a range of lower-price eInk devices too? That’s all about preserving and growing the existing user base – people who like reading, like the convenience of eBooks but who are not driven by technology.

At this point you’re probably starting to wonder why I’m writing this on a blog from a provider of enterprise IT systems and services. How is this really relevant to the enterprise? Actually, I think it is really relevant. I’ve written about the consumerisation of enterprise IT over and over (on this blog and elsewhere) but, all of a sudden, we’re not talking about a £650 iPad purchase (a major commitment for most people) but a sub-£200 tablet (assuming the Fire makes it to the UK). And that could well mark a tipping point where Android, previously largely confined to smartphones, is used to access other enterprise services.

I can think of at least one former CIO for whom that is a concern: the variety of Android platforms and the potential for malware is a significant security risk. But we can’t stick our heads in the sand, or ban Android devices – we need to find a way forward that is truly device and operating system agnostic (and I think that’s best saved as a topic for another blog post).

What the Apple iPad, Amazon Kindle Fire, and plethora of Google Android-powered devices have in common is their reliance on content. Apple and Amazon both have a content-driven strategy (Google is working on one) but how does that content reach us? Over the Internet.

And there stands a problem… outside major cities, broadband provision is still best described as patchy. There are efforts to improve this (including, but not exclusively, those which Fujitsu is taking part in) but 3G and  4G mobile networks are a part of the picture.

UK businesses and consumers won’t be able to fully benefit from new cloud-based tools until the UK has a nationwide reliable high speed mobile data network and a new paper, published today by the Open Digital Policy Organisation suggests that the UK is at least 2 years behind major countries in its 4G rollout plans. Aside from the potential cost to businesses of £732m a year,  we’re all consumers, downloading content to our Kindles, iPads, watching TV catch-up services like BBC iPlayer and 4oD, as well as video content from YouTube, Vimeo, etc. Add to that the networks of sensors that will drive the future Internet – and then consider that many businesses are starting to question the need for expensive wide area network connections when inexpensive public options are available… I think you get my point…

We live in a content-driven society – more and more so by the day… sadly it seems that the “information superhighway” is suffering from congestion and that may well stifle our progress.

[This post originally appeared on the Fujitsu UK and Ireland CTO Blog.]

Waffle and randomness

No longer one of Microsoft’s Most Valued

Three years ago, I was very excited to announce that Microsoft had given me a Most Valuable Professional (MVP) award, recognising some of the work I had been doing at that time around virtual machine technology (specifically Hyper-V). I’ve been re-awarded twice since then but 1 October has passed once more and, for the 2011/12 season, there is no award for me.

To be honest, that’s not a surprise and all good things must come to an end. MVP awards are for people doing great work in the community to evangelise Microsoft products* and I just don’t do much of that any more.  I also don’t have the same relationship with Microsoft’s evangelists that I enjoyed a few years back, and the PR people stopped feeding me information (so I guess my influence must have been on the wane). Ultimately, my career has moved in a different direction and I honestly believe that to keep me “on the team” would devalue the programme and what it stands for. (Kind of like the MCSE did when the exams got too easy…)

As I’m writing this, it seems like a good time to mention the Windows Server User Group too. I spoke to Mark Parris a few weeks ago, and we agreed that I would step down from any activities there (the user group still exists, under Mark’s leadership). Realising that this might look like bitterness on my part, I want to be clear that it’s unrelated to any decision about my MVP status – I just chose to announce it at the same time because it comes down to the same issues of time/priorities/career focus.

Thanks to all of the people both inside and outside Microsoft, who have supported me over the years, read this blog, retweeted my comments on Twitter, etc. I hope you’ll continue to do so, now I no longer have the badge. And good luck to all of the MVPs I’ve met over the years, either online or in person – as I joked with Aidan Finn a couple of weeks ago, if Microsoft ever launches a “Most Valuable Strategist” programme, I’ll be right in there!

*I appreciate that this may be a slightly contentious comment. Many MVPs offer objective and impartial advice too!

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