Monthly Archives: March 2012

Technology

Useful Links: March 2012

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

Technology

Short takes: from the consumerisation of IT to open data

This week has been a crazy one – and things don’t look like getting much easier over the next few weeks as we enter a new financial year and my job shifts its focus to be less externally-focused and more about technical strategy and governance. This blog has always been my personal blog – rather than something for my work – but the number of posts is inversely proportional to the amount of time I have on my hands which, right now, is not very much at all.

So I’m taking a new tack… each time I attend an event, instead of trying to write up all the key points, I’ll blog about the highlights and then (hopefully) come back with some details later… well, that’s the plan at least…

This week (on top of all the corporate stuff that I can’t really write about here), I attended two really worthwhile events that were very different but equally worthy of note – for very different reasons.

IDC Consumerisation of IT 2012 briefing

Analyst briefings are normally pretty dry: pick a hotel somewhere; sit on uncomfortable chairs in a large meeting room; and listen to analysts talk about their latest findings, accompanied with some PowerPoint (which you might, or might not have access to later…). This one was much better – and kudos is due to the IDC team that arranged it.

Not only was London’s Charlotte Street Hotel a much better venue (it may have had a tiny circulation area for pre/post event networking but it has a fantastic, cinema-style screening room) but there was a good mix of content as analysts covered a variety of consumerisation-based topics from an overview (risk management or business transformation) through sessions on how mobile devices are shaping the enterprise and on the state of the PC market, on to consumerisation and the cloud before finally looking at the impact of consumerisation on the IT services market.

I did cause some controversy though: tweeting a throwaway comment from an analyst about the organisation’s continued use of Windows XP attracted attention from one of the journalists who follows me in the US (IDC suggested that I took the comment out of context – which I would dispute – although, to be fair, much of the industry suffers from “Cobblers Shoes”); and I was not at all convinced by IDC’s positioning of VDI as an appropach to consumerisation (it’s a tactical solution at best – strategically we should be thinking past the concept of a “desktop” and focusing on secure access to apps and data, not on devices and operating systems) – prompting a follow-up email from the analyst concerned.

It used to be vendors (mostly Microsoft) that I argued with – now it seems I need to work on my analyst relations!

Ordnance Survey Open Data Master Class

I recently wrote a white paper looking at the potential to use linked data to connect and exploit big data and I have to admit that I find “big” data a bit dull really (Dan Young’s tweet made me laugh).

So #bigdata is any data set that exceeds your experience in managing it (@). After you've kicked its ass, it's just boring data again?
@dan0young
Dan Young

What I find truly exciting though is the concept of a web of (linked) open data. It’s all very well writing white papers about the concepts but I wanted to roll my sleeves up and have a go for myself so, when I saw that Ordnance Survey were running a series of “master classes”, I booked myself onto a session and headed down to the OS headquarters in Southampton. That was interesting in itself as I worked on a project at Ordnance Survey to move the organisation from Microsoft Mail to Exchange Server in the late 1990s but that was at the old premises – they’ve recently moved to a brand new building (purely office space – printing is outsourced these days) and it was interesting to see how things have moved on.

After an introduction to open data, Ordnance Survey’s Ian Holt (the GeoDoctor) took us through some of the OS open data sets that are available before Chris Parker spoke about Geovation and some of the challenges they are running (working with 100%Open, who also collaborate with some of my colleagues on Fujitsu’s Open Innovation Service). We then moved on to some practical sessions that have been created by Samuel Leung at the University of Southampton, using nothing more than some open source GIS software (Quantum GIS) and Microsoft Excel (although anything that can edit .CSV files would do really) – the materials are available for anyone to download if they want to have a go.

Even though the exercises were purely desktop-based (I would have liked to mash up some open data on the web) it was a great introduction to working with open data (from finding and accessing it, through to carying out some meaningful analysis) and I learned that open data is not just for developers!

[Update 2 April 2012: I won’t be writing another post about the IDC consumerisation of IT event as they have emailed all delegates to say that it was a private session and they don’t want people to publish notes/pictures]

Technology

Virtual worlds in 2022 (Dr Richard Bartle at #digitalsurrey)

It’s been a few months since I’ve been along to a Digital Surrey event but last night I went to see Dr Richard Bartle (the massively multiplayer online gaming pioneer whose work on personality types was mentioned last year in the first Digital Surrey event I attended, Michael Wu’s talk on the science of gamification) speak about the future of virtual worlds.

Dr Richard Bartle talks at Digital SurreyIn contrast to Lewis Richards’ Virtual Worlds talk at CSC last year, Richard Bartle’s talk was focused on three possible courses of development for the massively multiplayer online gaming (MMO) industry (slides are available).  He started out by commenting that, had he been asked the same question in 1992, he’d think we would be further ahead than we are by now…

Three views of the future

In the first view of virtual worlds in 2022, Richard looked at the legal issues that threaten online gaming, including:

  • Applying reasonable laws wrongly – for example a well-meaning judge applying the same rules in World of Warcraft to Second Life and “its just a game” is no longer a way in which to avoid the real world.
  • Unfair contracts – with End User Licensing Agreements (EULAs) found to be unfair and ownership over virtual goods bringing property laws into play (Linden Labs, 2007).
  • Intellectual property laws – ownership prevents the destruction or alteration of virtual property; it’s impossible to stop people from selling “stuff” (even if it ruins the game); an inability to deny access by banning things that have unintended consequences (leaving gaming open to compensation claims); and implications of publishing works of art (licensing, records of origin, etc.) – what happens if the rights to an object upon which others are built is suddenly removed?
  • Gaming laws – even free to play games have value in their objects (as proven in Dutch law in 2012) and, if everything has a value, gaming is essentially about chance and cash rewards – i.e. gambling! Some parts of the world (e.g. the USA) have fierce laws on gambling…
  • Money laundering – with a scenario something like: 1) Steal real-world money; 2) hand money to a front; 3) front buys virtual currency; 4) pass virtual currency to game characters; 5) sell virtual goods (legitimately); 6) clean money!
  • Taxation laws – if virtual money has real world value, then it becomes taxable (both income and sales).
  • Patents – it’s possible to patent obvious “inventions” for very little outlay but it costs a lot to get a patent revoked – this stifles innovation.

For these reasons, Richard Bartle says he sees a bleak future when he goes to legal or policy conferences – just a programmers see bugs in code, lawyers see bugs in laws – and accountants see bugs everywhere (it’s their job to highlight problems).

In the second view, the repeated incursions of reality into virtual worlds gradually break down the distinction between real and virtual – and virtual worlds are no longer imaginary places of freedom and adjuncts to reality.  New MMOs open up and recruit players from existing MMOs – but these are the disloyal players – or they get MMO “newbies”. With too much reality, MMOs become unsustainable as fantasy and existing players’ expectations are lowered whilst new players didn’t have high expectations to start with… Meanwhile there’s the question of monetisation – with 95% of casual gamers being funded by the 5% who pay – those who pay have the ability to do so (i.e. are richer in real life) and their ability to become more successful in the game removes any sense of fair play – is it still a game if one can buy success? Reaching out to children becomes attractive – both as a source of new gamers and also because micropayments make it easier to take money from children as the credits are paid for by the parents. And, as non-gamers use “gamification” in marketing and “edutainment” as a teaching aid, the attempts to combine the fun games and “un-fun” education lead to nothing more than un-fun games. In effect the sanctity of game spaces as retreats from reality disappears…

In Richard Bartle’s third view of the future, MMO designers found themselves able to influence politics. In 2010, the median age of the UK population was 40 (41 for women, 38 for men) so half the population were born in 1970 or later and grew up with access to computers. These people play games, don’t feel addicted to them and resent politicians imply gamers are psychopaths. Consequently politicians representing games as anti-social find themselves unpopular. Gaming flowers with new casual games, new players, and simplified creation of virtual worlds.

When Richard speaks to designers and developers he sees passion, imagination, and freedom of spirit because MMOs give something that your can’t get elsewhere – the ability to be yourself. If that goes away, they simply create new virtual worlds.

What is most likely?

As for which future view is most likely, Richard’s whole presentation was linked through three films (High Noon, The Misfits, and Dirty Harry) – all of which featured actors who were also in The Good the Bad and the Ugly. So he summed up the likely courses using that film:

  • The Good: virtual worlds provide a place for humans to be humans.
  • The Bad: virtual worlds are stifled with real-world laws and policy.
  • The Ugly: virtual worlds become mundane.

He considers that MMOs provide too much that people want in order not to be successful and that, if legislated away to obscurity, that would only be a temporary state and they would return. I guess we’ll see when we look back from 2022…

My view

As a non-gamer (perhaps more accurately a casual gamer – I play the odd game on a tablet or a smartphone, and I do have an Xbox 360 – upon which my sons and I play Lego Pirates of the Caribbean and Kinect Sports, so I guess they are virtual worlds?), I found a lot of Richard’s views on “reality” rather difficult to grasp – and I got the impression that I wasn’t alone. Even so, the vision of the real world tainting the virtual world was fascinating – and perhaps, I fear, a little too real (it’s not just online gaming that is impacted by well-meaning but ultimately flawed real world decisions).

Speaking with one of the other attendees at the event, who mentioned someone had been questioning the link between the Internet and the real world, I guess my inability to understand the mindset of a MMO gamer is not so far removed from those who can’t see why I would want to live my life on social media…

Credits

Thanks again to the Digital Surrey team for staging another worthwhile event, sponsored by Martin Stillman from the Venture Strategy Partnership and hosted by Cameron Wilson from Surrey Enterprise.

[Update 27 March 2012: added link to Richard’s blog post and presentation materials]

Exercise

Fit at 40: Achievement unlocked

I’ve written previously on this blog about my Fit at 40 challenge and, for those who haven’t already seen my excited tweet from earlier today, I weighed in and found that I have hit my “realistic yet challenging” goal of getting to 14 and a half stone (92kg) by my 40th birthday (I’d already completed the three races at 10K distance or above which was the other part of the challenge).

#Fitat40: Achievement unlocked. 92kg (Just under 14st 7lb); 2 weeks to go http://t.co/mQGE4DP6 http://t.co/LMvbfQl3 #stoked
@markwilsonit
Mark Wilson

I have to say that I’m totally stoked. Whilst some people might say something like “yeah, whatever, so you lost some weight, it’s just willpower isn’t it?”, I can tell you there’s a lot more to it than that – it’s taken a year (so far) or hard work and dedication, together with the occasional bought of self-degradation after falling off the wagon. This wasn’t a diet, it was a change in lifestyle; reprogramming my brain if you like (and this week’s BBC Horizon documentary which examined how two hormones impact our appetite and “fullness” was very interesting).

JustGiving - Sponsor me please!I’ve still got 2 weeks to go until my 40th, so there’s room for a stretch target yet (actually, I’ve set myself a goal of losing another 13kg before my 41st birthday – to bring my BMI into the “healthy” range – how achievable that is I don’t know as that’s going back to around my teenage weight but it’s worth a try). Most importantly though, I’ve achieved what I set out to do by my 40th (a fitter, happier, healthier me) and raised a chunk of money for The Prostate Cancer Charity in the process. If you’d like to donate to The Prostate Cancer Charity, my JustGiving page is still up and running!

So, here are the stats:

Start (Fat) Today (Fit) Difference
Weight 113kg 92kg 21kg
Chest 120.5cm 112cm 8.5cm
Waist 122cm 107cm 15cm
Upper Arm Not recorded 33cm Not recorded
Thigh Not recorded 60cm Not recorded
Hip 109cm 100cm 9cm
Body Fat 28.5% 22.5% 6.5%
BMI 35.7 (Obese) 29.0 (Overweight) 6.7

Incidentally, on a recent overseas trip, I noticed that our (heavy) suitcase weighed 21kg. That’s how much less weight my body is carrying around. Scary really.

Technology

Getting started with Arduino

Arduino UnoA couple of days ago, my new Arduino board arrived and, last night, I finally got around to having a play.

For those who don’t know what an Arduino is:

“Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. It’s intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments.”

[Arduino website]

The first thing I noticed was how small the board is (smaller than a credit card) and how large the USB connector makes it… but, when I was working out what I needed to buy (I’ve always been interested in electronics, but never really got into it), I learned a few things about Arduino that might be useful to other newbies:

  • You can buy various Arduino boards, with a variety of processors. I picked up an Arduino Uno, which seems to be a good starting point. My Uno shipped with a USB cable that can also provide power (i.e. powering from a battery or other DC source is optional, as Dave Jacoby and Gareth Halfacree confirmed for me on Twitter – thanks guys). Note that some Uno boards have surface-mounted (SMB) chips – you might prefer to go for a DIP version instead (as I did) as this can be swapped out if necessary.
  • Shields are boards that sit on top of the Arduino and add additional functionality.
  • Whilst my Arduino has an LED on the board that I can interact with to get my head around the concept, you’ll need some more bits and bobs to do anything more complex. There are various starter kits on the interwebs (many or which include the board and a USB cable). I’ve just ordered an ARDX kit from .: oomlout :. (as recommended by Gareth) but one of the reasons for going for this one is that it’s also available without the board if you already have one…  when it arrives, I’ll have a breadboard, and a whole bunch of components to try out different ideas and get my head around controlling electronics programatically.
  • I bought my board from Amazon (RS Components’ shipping charges were too high and Maplin’s stock levels are apalling) but, I’ve since been recommended a number of suppliers including the aforementioned .: oomlout :., Cool Components and SK Pang (thanks to Andy Piper).

The intention is that I’ll use one or more of these devices to control a model railway (yes, it’s geeky, but it could be a fun project) but, for now, I’ll start off by getting to grips with turning on lights and other similarly simple tasks, and I’ll probably try and get my sons interested too (they’ve already asked what it is… and seen some videos of other people’s projects).

The Arduino integrated developer environment (IDE) runs on Windows, OS X or Linux but, as this is a geek project and my netbook is basically redundant (and very portable), I decided to use that and install it on Ubuntu (11.10). Installation was very simple (I just followed the instructions on the Arduino Playground – a wiki for the Arduino community – and found v22 of the Arduino IDE in the Ubuntu software centre).

With the IDE installed, I set about writing code. Or, perhaps more accurately, I set about modifying other people’s code. There are a load of examples on the Arduino playground and a good getting started guide for Arduino at Bit-Tech but I found the Arduino Tutorials at Lady Ada really accessible for a newbie like me. Pretty soon I used lesson 1 and lesson 2 to change the 1 second blinking LED on my board to a variety of settings, and finally to just off (ready for when I have a go at this with my son).  Once my starter kit arrives with a bunch more components, I’ll try a do something a little more complicated! Maybe one day I’ll even get past the IDE and onto some real C programming (it’s been a while since I wrote any code, let alone in C).

Right… now it’s time to go off and find some cool projects for my new toy…

Image credit: Arduino Uno by Snootlab, on Flickr, used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence.

 

Technology

Installing iLife applications from a Mac OS X restore DVD

Last night’s blog post should have had a video with it, except I didn’t get it ready in time… so it doesn’t (yet).  I want to cut together a few scenes and iMovie will probably do the job for me without too much codec hassle but when I last rebuilt my MacBook I didn’t bother with any of the iLife apps (except iPhoto – and I only use that for photo books/calendars).

As it turns out it’s easy enough to install iLife apps without resorting to a complete restore – Apple Support Article HT2604 has the details and, after grovelling around in the loft for a few minutes, I found the OS X install discs that came with my MacBook, inserted disc 1, double-clicked the Install Bundled Software icon and, one customised installation later, iMovie is ready for me to use…

Technology Waffle and randomness

The future of personal transportation?

I’ve just got back from a long weekend in Barcelona and have to admit that one of the highlights (apart from sunshine, tapas and stunning Gaudi architecture) was riding the Heathrow Pod.

Really, I hear you say? You flew half way across Europe and the best part was the vehicle that took you to the airport terminal? Well yes, sort of. Even non-geek Mrs W. was impressed as we sped from business parking towards Terminal 5 in our own personal vehicle, with almost no waiting time but still in complete privacy (like a car, not like a bus or a train). Meanwhile I was acting pretty much as one of my young sons would be when faced with a new and exciting means of transport (I may be 40 in a couple of weeks’ time, but there’s still a part of me that’s more like a 7 year-old boy…).

For those who haven’t seen the pod (officially known as ULTra), it’s basically a personal transportation system, running on a dedicated “road” system where computer-controlled vehicles run on one of a number of pre-set routes.  I saw something similar last year on a Channel 4 programme called Brave New World, looking at a sub-surface system in Abu Dhabi’s smart city, Masdar and I think systems like this have a lot of potential.

Our roads are clogged with cars – and yet we still like to use them because they are convenient; they take us from where we like, to where we like, when we like (i.e.not on a schedule). That’s not the whole picture though: some of us like to express individuality through our choice of cars; some of us just like driving; and sometimes there really is no alternative (if I want to get from home, to the station and into London before 9am, there is no public transport option – and I’m only about 60 miles from London – imagine what it’s like for people in really rural areas). But why couldn’t personal transportation devices on special lanes replace buses, taxis, and private cars in metropolitan areas?

Yesterday’s news is all about how private companies will be allowed to build new road infrastructure in the UK (nothing new – we’ve had the M6 Toll for years now) but how about if a company were to invest in a system that would remove  cars and buses from the road within a metropolitan area – a pod-style system on a town-level, for example?  It can’t scale outside urban areas, but we already have decent motorways (or we would have if more long-distance freight went by rail) and a personal rapid transit system could be used from certain transport hubs (integrating with major transport routes, regional and long distance coach and rail travel) to take us the “last mile” (or 3 or 4). That way we don’t have to give up our flexibility, people can still choose to drive for longer distances (or when they are outside major urban conurbations) but we can do something about our congested city centre streets…

…or maybe it’s the Gaudi influence and I’m just thinking a little too far outside the box?

[Updated 21 March 2012: Added video]

Technology

Some useful stuff to install on a Linux machine

Last year, I decided to take my netbook out of hibernation and install Ubuntu Linux (11.04) on it. It still doesn’t get used much (the iPad is just so much easier than a netbook – except perhaps for typing) but before I blow it away and install something else… like Windows 8, or Android perhaps… I wanted to capture a few notes from the bits and pieces I installed.

Apologies if these notes are not much use to anyone else but, then again, they might be handy for someone…

Command Line Twitter client (Twidge)

I’ve previously highlighted the existence of Twidge and it’s a useful tool to install on a Linux box. Ubuntu Manual has outlined the steps for installing Twidge on Linux (specifically Ubuntu) but the basic steps are:

Update the sources list:

sudo gedit /etc/apt/sources.list

and add the following lines:

deb http://ftp.de.debian.org/debian squeeze main
deb-src http://ftp.de.debian.org/debian squeeze main

then install the package:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install twidge

From this point on, twidge --help and twidge lscommands should tell you all you need to know.

Password manager (LastPass)

LastPass works with a variety of Linux browsers so just head on over to the download page and follow the instructions.

File sync (Dropbox)

Dropbox has Linux packages for a variety of Linux distros (download and then double-click on the installer) and of course there’s the option to compile from source too.  The download page also includes command line instructions and a script for controlling Dropbox from the command line but I haven’t tried that yet…

Music (Spotify)

There isn’t a fully-supported Spotify client for Linux but, because so many of their devs use it, there is a “preview version” available. More details are available on Spotify’s previews page but the basic steps are:

Update the sources list:

sudo gedit /etc/apt/sources.list

and add the following lines:

deb http://repository.spotify.com stable non-free
deb-src http://repository.spotify.com stable non-free

Optionally, verify the package with

sudo apt-key adv --keyserver keyserver.ubuntu.com --recv-keys 4E9CFF4E

Either way, install the package with:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install spotify-client-qt

I’ve not had any problems, but I did spot Ross Warren’s post about Spotify on Linux crashing at startup.  If this happens, then you might need to clear the cache:

rm -r ~/.cache/spotify

Mobile communications

The last items is probably not that useful to other people but I managed to get an O2 3G dongle working (Sierra Wireless Compass 889). Unfortunately, Sierra Wireless have updated their website and the Linux support has gone AWOL… but I found some information on a third party website suggesting that Sierra Wireless submits driver updates and patches to the public Linux distribution found at www.kernel.org. Using Network Connections, I was able to create a mobile broadband connection with the following settings:

  • Number: *99#
  • Username: o2web
  • Password: password
  • APN: mobile.o2.co.uk

Obviously, these settings will vary according to the carrier but many providers are included in the New Mobile Broadband Connection “wizard” (is it called a wizard on Linux?), so it may just be a case of picking the appropriate carrier, billing plan and APN.

Technology

Greyed out button for adding bookmarks in Microsoft Word

This week, I finally put the finishing touches on a white paper I’ve been writing for my employer (once it’s published, I’m sure I’ll be linking to it). Usually, the stuff I write is fairly straightforward – nothing more complex than a Word document with associated styles, a table of contents, the odd field here and there, a few cross references. This time though, I found myself using some functionality that I’ve not used previously – like the citation/biblography functionality and also some bookmarks (to refer to sections of the document that weren’t labelled as headings or captions).

I couldn’t work out why adding bookmarks was not available (the Add button was greyed out) but the trick is to ensure that the bookmark name has no punctuation in it (except an underscore).

Technology

Personal cloud: call it what you want, ignore it at your peril!

For about 18 months, one of the items on my “to do” list has been to write a paper about something called the “personal cloud”. It’s been slipping due to a number of other priorities but now, partly due to corporate marketing departments abusing the term to make it mean something entirely different, I’ve started to witness some revolt against what some see as yet another attempt at cloudwashing.

On the face of it, critics may have a point – after all, isn’t this just another example of someone making something up and making sure the name includes “cloud”? Well, when you look at what some vendors are doing, dressing up remote access solutions and adding a “cloud” moniker, then yes, personal cloud is nonsensical – but the whole point about a personal cloud is that it is not a one vendor solution – indeed a personal cloud is not even something that you can go out and buy.

I was chatting about this with a colleague, David Gentle (@davegentle), earlier and I think he explains the personal cloud concept really simply. Fundamentally, there are two principles:

  1. The personal cloud is the equivalent of what we might once have called personal productivity – the consumption of office applications, file storage and collaboration tools in a cloud-like manner. It’s more of a B2C concept than B2B but it is, perhaps, the B2C equivalent of an organisation consuming SaaS or IaaS services.
  2. Personal clouds become really important when you work with multiple devices. We’re all fine when we work on one device (e.g. a corporate laptop) but, once we add a smartphone, a tablet, etc. the experience of interacting and sharing between devices has real value. To give an example, Dropbox is a good method for sharing large files but it has a lot more value once it is used across several devices and the value is the user experience, rather than any one device-specific solution.

Personal cloudI expect to see personal cloud rising above the (BYO) mobile device story as a major element of IT consumerisation (see my post from this time last year, based on Joe Baguley’s talk about the consumerisation of IT being nothing to do with iPads) because point solutions (like Dropbox, Microsoft OneNote and SkyDrive, Apple iCloud) are just the tip of the iceberg – the personal cloud has huge implications for IT service delivery. At some point, we will ask why do we need some of the enterprise IT services – what do they actually do for us that a personal cloud providing access to all of our data and services doesn’t? (I seem to recall Joe exclaiming something similar to that corporate IT provides systems for timesheeting, expenses and free printing in the office!)

As for the “personal cloud” name – another colleague, Vin Hughes, did some research for the first reference to the term and he found something remarkable similar (although not called the personal cloud) dating back to 1945 – Vannevar Bush’s “Memex”. If that’s stretching the point a little, how about when the BBC reported in 2002 on Microsoft’s plans for a personal online life archive? So, when was the “personal cloud” term coined? It would seem to be around 2008 – an MIT Technology Review post from December 2007 talks about  how cloud computing services have the potential to alter the digital world (in a consumer context) but it doesn’t use the personal cloud term. One month later, however, a comment on a blog post about SaaS refers to “personal cloud computing”, albeit talking about provisioning personal servers, rather than consuming application and platform services as we do today (all that this represents is a move up the cloud stack as we think less about hardware and operating systems and more about accessing data).  So it seems that the “personal cloud” is not something that was dreamed up particularly recently…

So, why haven’t IT vendors been talking about this? Well, could it be that this is potentially a massive threat (maybe the largest) to many IT vendors’ businesses – the personal cloud is a very big disruptive trend in the enterprise space and, as Dave put it:

@ Personal Cloud. Call it what you want, ignore it at your peril!
@davegentle
davegentle

 

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