Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Thoughts on home working

I'm responding to a LinkedIn question concerning remote working - I wanted to collect up some thoughts on the subject (mostly previously published in a slightly different form on the IT Sanctuary).

I was contractually 'home based' when working for Logicalis; this experience has undoubtedly made setting up my own business very much easier.

You have to accept that not all home environments are conducive to home working - you have to be able to separate yourself from the rest of the household during working hours; I have personally always found this difficult.

The effectiveness of business systems, when used from home, varies widely. I can remember an application which took 15 minutes to load over a dial-up line. It's an obvious point that morale and productivity are totally dependent on both the business process and its supporting application systems being designed or tweaked to cope with distributed working and broadband connections.

We found we could support all our home working, including IP telephony and videoconferencing in usable if not brilliant quality, over ordinary broadband connections.

Do not underestimate the amount of specialised 'phone support home users will require with their distributed setup.

While I am 100% convinced of the benefits of unified communications technologies to business, and not just for home workers, I feel that these technologies need to be integrated, automated and simplified, and people's concerns about the security of their personal information allayed, if take-up is not to remain limited to the young and the technologically savvy. Even in Logicalis, a sizeable minority communicates only via email and mobile 'phone. Both of these technologies provide ease of use, and these individuals simply don't see any benefit in presence and instant messaging. When we first implemented Sametime, many years ago, its use spread like wildfire - but only to a certain point (probably about 30% of the workforce). Some people don't like the visibility; some people just don't see the point; some people can't cope with the technology; some people see it as allowing others to chat in work time; and some people (and this should not be discounted, I have heard it several times) are really bad at typing quickly and understandably don't want others to be aware of it.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Thoughts on open source

I was thinking of re-visiting some thoughts on this subject that I collected a couple of months ago (intended for a published article that never appeared). Now a LinkedIn question on this subject has encouraged me to get it done.

(With many thanks to my ex-colleagues Brett Delle Grazie and Darren Smith for their input.)

Low or zero cost;
Typically open standards based, so interoperable;
Typically works on a wide range of hardware and chip architectures.

The standard open source support model is community-based, although more formal support can frequently be purchased. Because of its different mindset, the open source community can never provide a single 'butt to kick' - as Darren would say, 'communities are ethereal, companies are real'.

Some other things to consider:

This depends entirely on the open source product under consideration. For example, I was told several years ago that the Apache HTTP server was used by 65% of all public websites. Skills are widely available for the entire LAMP software stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP).

To quote Brett: 'Open source software, with its source being available and scrutinised by many, is quite often held in the highest regard. At the recent DEFCON hacking conference, obviously one of the world's more hostile networking environments, the Internet connection router and firewall systems were running the open source operating system OpenBSD.'

Customer attitude example:
Open source software typically supports multiple chip architectures, and we're beginning to see organisations taking real advantage of this. Oracle customers have historically run it on Windows or, more frequently, on a proprietary UNIX, but more and more of them are looking to Linux for the flexibility they need to optimise their Oracle availability, performance, and licensing. As an example, moving Oracle onto System z Linux can involve very considerable cost reduction.

Vendor attitudes:
It's noticeable and interesting how big software vendors now happily include Linux components in their enterprise offerings - that shows a real mind shift in my view.
Another angle, however, based on my personal experience on the Power platform, is that smaller vendors can be unable or unwilling to support their code running on non-Intel Linux.

Open source and open standards:
Tomcat is the reference implementation for the J2EE standard, but it may or may not be a good place to actually run your J2EE code; the needs of a business ('build, run, manage') don't necessarily map onto the thought processes either of a standards body or of an open source development community.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Progress on the commercial front

I now have a business bank account. This puts me in a position (along with the public liability insurance I already had) to get listed on my customers' vendor databases, to receive purchase orders, to invoice my customers, and, eventually, to get paid ... I finally feel that iPerimeter is a real business.

Sorting the wheat from the chaff: using ILM to increase Data Centre performance and make your data work for you

Because I can't find it on the web in its original form, here is the ILM article as I pulled it together in September 2007 (with much input from, in particular, Jan Zelezinski).


With growing pressures on the Data Centre to support organisations as they fight to remain competitive, and to deliver on an ever-growing list of security, compliance and environmental requirements, information lifecycle management (ILM) has never been more important.

At Logicalis, we think of ILM as ‘the right information to the right users at the right time and at the right cost’, which implies a comprehensive approach to managing an organisation's data throughout its useful life, from creation to deletion.

There's certainly plenty to discuss about the fact that, in reality, so little data ever actually gets deleted, but nonetheless ILM represents a fundamental approach to optimising performance in the Data Centre. However, it needs to be managed carefully to ensure that the benefit is clearly delivered to the Data Centre and organisation, not just in efficiency savings, but in appropriate application performance.

A piece of information being old doesn't mean that it is not vital for business planning, or required as evidence of compliance. An ILM approach involves a series of policies, procedures, practices and tools which align the business value of information with the most appropriate and cost effective infrastructure. This makes ILM a strategy for getting the best out of both the Data Centre and the applications it supports – not just a collection of technologies.

Unlike traditional hierarchical storage management (HSM), ILM looks at data from the business’ perspective – in other words, it’s interested in information rather than in data. It allows for more complex criteria for storage management than size, age, and frequency of access. But, once the organisation’s data is properly understood and classified, like traditional HSM an ILM approach will organise data into separate tiers according to specified policies, and provide for automated data migration from one tier to another. Typical storage tiers would range from fast, expensive and more energy consuming disk-based media such as fibre channel disk systems, through cheaper, but slower serial technology architecture (SATA) disks and tape-based devices, to offline tape in a secure offsite facility. The efficient selection of devices that results from such an approach can also make a virtualisation strategy more effective.

But there’s no magic wand - before any of this can happen, the organisation has to understand how its stored data translates to business value.

Delivering value from data

Stored data gives value in three ways: it provides the organisation with the operational information it needs to drive the current business process and to maintain productivity; it allows legal obligations to be satisfied; and the ‘knowledge assets’ held within it support decision making and innovation.

So the importance of any data does not rest solely on its age, or how often it's accessed. This is particularly true of compliance where the issue may be how quickly any one piece of information can be located at any one time. It's also true that faced with corporate governance regulations, it is becoming increasingly important to protect even seemingly worthless data from accidental destruction or loss. ILM users must specify different policies for data that declines in value at different rates. The structure, content and value of an organisation’s data will alter over time as business, compliance, application and technology needs change, so ILM policies must be adaptable if they are to remain valid.

Some of an organisation’s information is tidily structured in relational databases. However the majority of it will be in semi-structured, unstructured or non-electronic form, in content repositories, file systems, mailboxes, filing cabinets, and people’s heads. Information is useless if it can’t be retrieved; it is almost useless if it can only be retrieved by one person. The keys to the retrievability of semi-structured and unstructured information are the quality of indexing (metadata), the effective use of metadata by applications, and appropriate delivery of the information once identified. A traditional HSM strategy can help with the last of these, but it can’t do anything about the first two. ILM is a holistic approach to the needs of the business for information and knowledge, taking into account applications as well as storage technologies.

Getting ILM right from the beginning

Logicalis’ ILM roadmap assumes, first, the involvement of representatives of both the business and IT in the creation of an inventory of the organisation’s data (data types, metadata, content). What can be covered in a sentence as an idea can in reality be a huge project - the analysis and classification of large amounts of unstructured data can be daunting, if worthwhile.

We can then define tiered storage policies, and begin to implement them, using techniques such as storage path management to maintain appropriate information retrievability and application performance.

Once the organisation really understands its data and has begun to see the benefit of ILM in terms of Data Centre performance, we can start to grow the data’s business value and further tune storage performance with such mechanisms as enterprise search, data hubs, single instance storage, email archiving, and the introduction of selective archiving to ERP and other line of business applications.

The better we understand our data and metadata and the ways in which applications and users access them, the more added value we can gain, whether it be through improved data quality strategies or through newly discovered knowledge assets.

Undoubtedly, in a Data Centre where terabytes of data have to be backed up each day, where thousands of often concurrent users have to be supported, and where vital compliance information has to be identified and retrieved at the drop of a hat, implementing an ILM strategy can deliver a huge saving in hardware and maintenance costs - not to mention in power consumption. An ILM approach can put paid to the instinctive desire to store all application data on the same high-end disk arrays, and instead spread the appropriate data on to more cost-effective second, third and fourth tier devices. It will inform your strategy across the whole of the enterprise, and allow you to resist the temptation of purchasing the latest bit of kit that ‘would do the job’. The thinking horse should come before the technology cart.

This is a very worthwhile journey to take as part of creating a leading-edge Data Centre, with more and more UK businesses starting to embrace an ILM approach. The Information and Lifecycle Management Survey 2006, conducted by market analyst group Quocirca, found that, in the last twelve months, UK businesses have moved from the planning and implementation stages to fully incorporating ILM strategies as a core part of their infrastructure, with positive effects on the businesses they serve.

Articles to which I've contributed

I wanted to collect up links to some published articles I've contributed to. Here's what I have found so far.

EI Magazine
Form and function
December 2006

Sorting the wheat from the chaff: using ILM to increase Data Centre performance
September 2007

System i Network
Cross-platform players are happy but warn of channel shake-up
May 1st, 2008

System i Network
The consolidation game

System i Network
iSeries Certifications: How Important are They?
June 1st, 2003

and finally (although you can no longer see the pictures - probably not a bad thing)
iSeries News UK
ODBC in an AS/400 client/server environment
August 1996

Thursday, 22 January 2009

New release of the iPerimeter website

It doen't look much different, but I've
  • verified it for Google Webmaster Tools
  • built and submitted a Google sitemap
  • added a little bit of metadata as an initial search engine optimisation experiment
  • given it a free tracker via http://www.extremetracking.com/ (see globe symbol at bottom left hand corner of each page)
  • added the Company Registration Number, a copyright statement, and a 'last updated' date

In the process I have allowed myself to admit that I do miss one feature of WebSphere Development Studio Client - you could click in the right place on the WYSIWYG page designer and the HTML source editor's cursor was automatically positioned appropriately - Nvu doesn't do this. I must admit also that I am missing having a Notes client on my PC.

I am definitely benefiting from the website and from the fact that Google is now indexing the unusual name 'iPerimeter' - people I have reconnected with via LinkedIn keep saying they can't find my contact information except via Google. You are not supposed to post your contact information in the text on your LinkedIn profile, but I think I shall do so anyway.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Setting up a new small business in a hurry

I thought it might be interesting if this blog included periodic updates about iPerimeter as a business, from various different angles:
  • Marketing, contacts, etc.
  • Premises
  • Technology
  • Corporate/legal/commercial
  • Chargeable activity
  • Skills building

Progress so far in some of these areas:

Marketing, contacts, etc. - I've already posted about my website. I've also spent a lot of time building my LinkedIn profile (http://www.linkedin.com/in/mandyshaw) and LinkedIn network (currently 187 connections), and I've also been answering questions on LinkedIn, hopefully to get my name into the public eye. I intend to sign up as the basic level of IBM Business Partner (waiting on my VAT registration coming through), and am already discussing a couple of other vendor relationships.

Premises - Still working on this one.

Technology - I've talked about some of this. Here's a summary.

PC - Thinkpad T43 running:

  • XP SP3
  • MS Office 2003 Standard Edition
  • ActiveSync and SOTI PCPro (for smartphone integration)
  • Pidgin (for instant messaging)
  • AVG 8.0 Internet Security
  • SharpReader, Windows Media Player and Audacity (for podcasts and music)
  • Sente SenLab02 (for label printing)
  • PrimoPDF and SVGMaker (for output manipulation)
  • Microsoft Photo Editor (for image manipulation)
  • Apache Tomcat, Nvu, MySQL, Sun JDK 6, GnuWin32 SED, Ant, CoreFTP, ActivePerl and AWStats (all for website processing)
  • Google Desktop

Smartphone - Samsung Omnia (T-Mobile, with unlimited internet connectivity)

ADSL - Zen (I have been a customer since 2002)

Domain iperimeter.co.uk with hosted web space and email - Zen

Instant messaging and social networks - MSN Messenger, AOL AIM, IBM external Sametime, LinkedIn, Facebook, Plaxo, Blogger

Wikis - PBwiki

Website design done by me. Website content entered via Nvu and Excel. Website generated using Tomcat, MySQL, Ant and assorted scripting techniques, and uploaded using CoreFTP

Corporate/legal/commercial - I have had to do the following so far: register iPerimeter Ltd as a limited company (I used companiesmadesimple.com); set up business bank account; obtain public liability insurance; register for corporation tax and VAT (I have signed up with a local accountant).

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Open standards ... a cautionary tale

Added by Mandy Shaw, about 1 year ago.

Time for another rant ...

I spend a fair amount of my spare time acting as webmaster for my husband's website, which sells downloadable sheet music. Yesterday we came up with yet another cunning marketing plan, involving distributing an electronic score packaged with associated 'help' information, for offline use. I volunteered to work on the technicalities of this, hence the following cautionary tale.

I won't bore you with the details, nor would they be relevant, but each electronic score is a separate file. Challenge number one is making it readily viewable and associating it with text and images while still allowing playback and printing of the score. The standard method is to invoke score view/playback/print from an ordinary web page (HTML file), which means embedding a reference to the score within the HTML. So we have two files (score and HTML) which have to go hand in hand. You can't just email the two files to someone as attachments and expect the setup to work when the recipient clicks on one of the attachments - it won't - he/she would need to save both attachments to the same folder and then launch the HTML file. Let's be realistic, I wouldn't go through that rigmarole if it were me.

So, challenge number two is to encapsulate the stuff in one file, somehow, so it can be launched straight from an email.

Enter open standards ... I know I am naive, but my immediate thought was to go to www.w3.org and find out what clever stuff I could do within the HTML open standard to solve the problem.

I found a thing called a 'data URI' which would allow me to insert an encoded version of the score straight into the HTML - no second file to ship, so problem solved. Hurrah.

Except .. I then tried it out, and whatever data URI I tried, it wouldn't work at all for me. Enter Google. It transpires that (wait for it) the current HTML open standard is supported by nearly all up-to-date browsers ... but Microsoft do not support data URIs in either IE6 or IE7, and I can't find any reference to any plan to support them in the future, either. Microsoft favours another standard (MHTML) for this sort of encapsulation, but that is not agreed as an open standard and doesn't look like being so at any point soon.

So challenge number three will be to bite the bullet and write HTML that uses MHTML for Microsoft browsers and data URIs for the rest. That's life I suppose.

That's the cautionary tale, here (resisting the temptation to comment on Microsoft's attitude to open standards) is one general point which I thought interesting. When I Googled for help, I found three different types of content: a) people saying 'why would you want to do that anyway?' or 'data URIs are useless' and providing no useful input; b) people saying 'get your users to install Firefox' and providing no useful input; c) people with the same problem as me, none of whom had received any useful responses. I found all this rather depressing, since it gives me the impression that the world is full of developers with no ability either to think laterally or to see anything from the viewpoint of an ordinary user with no particular interest in IT. (Maybe the other ones are too busy having a life to respond to forum postings?)

Rant over for now ... I'd be interested in other people's real life experiences with the meaningfulness or otherwise of open standards.

Mandy Shaw, about 1 year ago
It's a question of perception. No-one expects Word to be an open standard - it's a de facto standard simply because of its near universal take-up, but it's 100% proprietary. HTML has an agreed open standard, and it seems reasonable to expect that Web browsers will follow this open standard. On this point, at least, the most popular browser clearly diverges from the open standard and, on the current evidence, intends to continue to do so. But I don't know why I expected otherwise, really.

... another comment ...

Controlling our use of printers

Added by Mandy Shaw, about 1 year ago.

Today I want to talk about something we all do regularly, at work and at home. We don't necessarily think about it much, but it is quite possibly costing us unnecessary money, wasting time and using unnecessary environmental resources.

For anyone kind enough to be reading this, here are some questions (you may have answers to them all already, in which case please do ignore me and/or add a comment with your views and experiences).

What do you print?

You've probably got three main types of printing going on in your organisation: printing that is essential to the business process (labels, invoices, formal letters, warehouse pick lists), ad-hoc printing of Word documents etc., and report printing.

Do you need to print all that stuff?

Who looks at the reports? Do they need all the pages? Could your applications generate reports more intelligently? Could you split up your spooled reports before they are printed?

People frequently print documents for distribution because they don't want the recipient to be able to edit them, and/or because they want to be sure what the document is going to look like when it reaches its destination. Do you give people the ability to print to a PDF file instead of a printer? (We use PrimoPDF - see http://www.primopdf.com/.)

How and where do you print it?

Do you know how many printers you have and what they're costing you? Do people use expensive colour printers when they don't need to? Do they insist on personal printers for privacy reasons? Do people print double-sided whenever they can?

Do you use pre-printed forms? If so, what happens to your stock when a change is required?

What happens when there's a problem with the printer?

Does your printing subsystem tell you when there's been a problem? Can you reprint a job starting at a particular page? Can the absence, or duplication, of printed output cause problems in the business process?

How do you file your output?

Do you file paper copies, or archive softcopy? Why do you do this? How long does it take you to retrieve a copy on request? Is this an acceptable amount of time? Is this matter covered in your business continuity strategy?

Over the years we have been asked for solutions in all these areas, but, frankly, not very often. I honestly don't know whether this is a topic of general concern or not - I would be grateful for your comments.

This article on 'IT Going Green' is well worth reading, incidentally: http://tinyurl.com/26v948.

A deceptively simple idea

Added by Mandy Shaw, 6 months ago.

I'd like to encourage you to visit a website I have just discovered: http://wordle.net/ - deceptively simple, imaginative, and creative.

System i - Releasing the Power to Innovate

[originally posted elsewhere, June 2008]

Some thoughts on what the recent Power Systems announcements mean to Logicalis and its System i customers
IBM's recent Power Systems announcement does two things. It completes the convergence of the System p (AIX) and System i (AS/400, iSeries) platforms. But, more interestingly, it may allow the System i's core operating system to free itself from the shackles of history and perception.

Until these announcements, IBM's Power based hardware platform came in two flavours: a System p, which ran AIX and/or Linux, and a System i, which ran any combination of i5/OS, AIX, Linux and Windows. You'd think this was a no-brainer from a virtualisation perspective ... but it wasn't, because, like for like, the hardware cost more on the System i platform. Also, vendors weren't comfortable with their AIX-based products running on the System i hardware platform - even though AIX was installed, configured, and managed exactly as on System p.

The defining characteristic of a System i was always the i5/OS operating system (or OS/400 - now renamed just ‘i'). The value i5/OS gives to a business is in its provision of a complete, upwards compatible, hardware independent, scalable environment in which practically any business application can be accommodated with very low TCO. The value is not in the hardware.

The System i architecture was far ahead of its time when it emerged in the 1970s. Single level storage, subsystems, and the hierarchy of microprocessors (to name just a few) were new ideas. The ‘iSeries Nation', as it was later christened, cottoned on very quickly and watched, amused and/or bemused, as the rest of the world caught up. But there's a lot of other stuff in the average IT estate. This other stuff works best with external storage. It runs on a blade. The System i didn't even go in a rack for many years. It's not perceived as easy to deploy in a data centre. Its hardware just doesn't inhabit the mainstream.

The new announcements recognise all this by dividing a common hardware platform (Power Systems) with common management software (PowerVM for virtualisation, PowerHA for clustering) from the operating systems (‘i', AIX, Linux) that run natively on it. IBM has further satisfied the need to move into the mainstream through major investment in external SAN connectivity for i5/OS and, most tellingly of all, by delivering a range of Power Systems blades that are capable of running i5/OS.

So that's the hardware dealt with ... what about that complete, upwards compatible, hardware independent, scalable environment for business applications?

Logicalis has been working with IBM midrange business systems since 1985. Then, we had a proprietary, integrated, resilient, secure and easily managed operating system running green screen applications. i5/OS in 2008 is an open, integrated, resilient, secure and easily managed operating system that can and does run any combination of workloads - from portal and Web 2.0 solutions through enterprise content management and data warehousing to complex ERP environments, large scale SOA deployments and high performance, high volume, high security financial systems.

That's the reality.

The perception is that i5/OS is an expensive, proprietary, dying platform of interest only to its diehard fans.

In general, people buy an application, then buy a platform for it. In the 1980s and 1990s, many vendors wrote applications for System/38 and AS/400 as the platform of choice. The crumbling of i5/OS' strong position with ISVs can be blamed on many things: the ridiculously well-kept secret that is the built-in i5/OS database; Oracle's and Microsoft's stronger, and much better marketed, messages; the cost of the hardware; the growing assumption that the platform was proprietary and dying.

The built-in DB2 on i5/OS provides comparable function to DB2 on other platforms and to Oracle. i5/OS' built-in security can provide an exclusionary access model, suitable to today's compliance climate. i5/OS' built-in work management can handle whatever mixture of workloads you throw at it, all within one logical partition. If ISVs could be encouraged to see the Power Systems hardware platform (rather than an AIX software platform) as their target, maybe some of them might look at i5/OS with new eyes and understand the range of functionality that is available out of the box. They might twig, for example, that an ‘i' partition, with its highly functional built-in database requiring minimal DBA support, might just be easier to implement, cheaper to run, and more easily maintainable than an AIX partition running Oracle.

If the newly rebranded ‘i' operating system is to be recognised for what it can achieve, we have to get the message out to ISVs that, however innovative their business application, i5/OS is potentially appropriate, cost-effective, and most importantly here to stay. IBM's very clear continuing willingness to invest massively in i5/OS and its hardware provides a strong message to ISVs and to potential new i5/OS customers. Let's just hope they listen!

Mandy Shaw, 7 months ago
It's a long story. Technology problems in the early 1990s forced many client/server application developers (including ourselves) away from the platform, in many cases never to return. To be precise, the problem was the lack of an effective ODBC driver - it's still depressing to contemplate how easily this could have been got right... Then Microsoft began its march to world domination. A key moment was J D Edwards, having been loyal to the AS/400 platform for many years, choosing Windows as the main platform when they re-architected their ERP system. The System i went from strength to strength technically. Every line of operating system code and microcode was rewritten for RISC, an enormous development project that was delivered on time, to budget, and with absolutely minimal impact on customers and full upwards compatibility. The layered architecture and the hierarchy of microprocessors were leveraged to support dynamic logical partitioning, Capacity Upgrade on Demand, Windows, AIX, Linux, and Java (my usual line is 'designed in the 1970s to support web applications in 2008'). The database became more and more industrial strength (while the average System i shop used less and less of its functionality). But it was too late. It has obviously not helped that the System i platform has been the consistent loser in internal IBM competition and politicking between the server platforms. But I do think the opportunity is genuinely different and stronger following the Power Systems announcements. I await developments.

... another comment ...

Who really owns a community website?

Added by Mandy Shaw, about 1 year ago.

Today, I'd be interested in people's opinions on an awkward question about the culture of the Web. One or two details have been suppressed to protect the innocent.

For several years I have been an occasional user of a well-respected website with an active and public-spirited community of contributors who publish public domain material onto it for free download. More recently I have published some content on it myself and have begun to be involved in the community.

While the site has a few administrators, there are many tasks that can only be undertaken by the originator of the site, who is solely responsible for infrastructure and hosting and who spends a lot of money annually to keep the site going. He does ask for donations but these do not cover his costs. He has many other calls on his time. It is clear that the administrators have the skills, and the understanding of the culture of the site, to take a far greater part than they do. I also suspect that the site could be hosted both more effectively and more cheaply elsewhere, although the site has masses of useful content so traffic is high.

About a month ago, the site went down (major hard disk crash). It remained down for three weeks. We then discovered that the last backup had been taken in March 2007. While the originator thinks he will be able to retrieve some or all of the missing data, we have no timescale for this. We have been advised not to re-add the missing content ourselves.

The community's expressed view on all this seems to be gratitude to the originator for getting the site back up at all. My personal opinion is that the lack of regular backups is one example of a major difference in approach between the originator, who clearly sees it as entirely his site, and the community and administrators, who have invested a lot of effort in providing and policing content but who have no real control over the site.

So, who really owns a community website?

I'd be really interested in any comments on this matter.

Mandy Shaw, about 1 year ago
Just thought I ought to mention that things have improved markedly at the website originally under discussion - following gentle (but insistent and growing) pressure from the community, as of the last couple of weeks we now have weekly backups, and we're even about to have a mirror site. What will be more interesting to watch is whether any control gets delegated. Various community members have been volunteering to help with the IT side, but so far there has been no response.

Mandy Shaw, about 1 year ago
In a different (IT related) community with which I have been involved, I have seen members use the forum inappropriately (to articulate political views). In such situations tough leadership, with the ability to say "this is my forum and I won't accept this stuff on it", is mandated. But ... even a community that works well makes massive assumptions about the motives and preconceptions of its members. So, what does it do when something or someone appears to question this unwritten constitution? Defensiveness is a standard reaction, in my experience. Because Web communities typically only communicate using the written word, misunderstandings are frequent, and once people have walked off in a huff, there's usually no channel for apology. I think what's unusual about the community I referred to in my original blog entry is the fact that members have invested extensive time and effort in preparing and publishing large amounts of the content whose availability free of charge is the sole purpose of the community website. So there's masses of 'give' and actually not a vast amount of 'take'. I do accept that no-one should be expected to deliver a perfectly hosted website in their spare time and for nothing. But I'm really just interested in understanding the dynamics of such a community and the effects on its growth and effectiveness of enforced (and probably unnecessary) dependence on one individual.

... another comment ...

Mandy Shaw, about 1 year ago
Amazon are being really slow in delivering 'Wikinomics' to me - can't wait. I'm very interested in the Flickr example - that's a bit less awkward, since we are talking about a commercial organisation that people feel able to attack, but it still requires the community to, in your excellent word, mobilise - that's the hard bit, the vast majority of community members have very low expectations.

... another comment ... (I guess I should not copy other people's comments)

Software that only just works

Added by Mandy Shaw, 8 months ago.

To put it bluntly, this blog entry is all about software that doesn't work properly.

Here are a few examples ...

1. As mentioned in a comment elsewhere in this site, my last but one mobile 'phone/push email device had a lovely habit. I would sit in the train typing an email, we'd travel out of a built-up area, and the signal would drop. The 'phone would then sit there saying 'Connecting' until it was switched off and on again - the return of the signal made no difference. Completely repeatable problem. So, let's get this right, this is a mobile device being asked to do a core thing in a normal situation, and it doesn't work. Did anyone, er, test what would happen in this situation?

2. A while ago I had big problems with spyware on our home PC. This is now a thing of the past (thanks to AVG Anti-Spyware, which is much recommended) but the PC was left in a strange state where anything with a name ending in com.dll did not work properly. I spent hours and hours googling, asking questions on forums, etc. (and even contacted Microsoft Support) - no-one (however loaded with posh Microsoft certifications) was able to tell me what was going on - all they said was 're-install the operating system'. Other people had posted the same question - no-one had had any joy. Am I the only person who thinks 're-install the OS' a pretty feeble answer?

3. Just one example of the thing I hate the most - software that doesn't do what it is supposed to (acceptable, if there's a good reason for it), while not giving you any clue as to why (completely unacceptable). I have a little box which allows the inhabitants of my house to share a USB hard disk and a printer without having to waste space, power, and dusting opportunities on a server. The box works beautifully most of the time, but its control software, loaded on my PC, has an occasional and unpredictable habit of suddenly refusing to talk to the unit. No diagnostic messages or logging are available, and I have had no reply to my request for support.

I'm not the only one, either - while I was typing this, my RSS reader flagged up http://www.dadams.co.uk/2008/03/29/apple-please-take-note/, complete with rant about the usability of the iPod touch. (Darren's blog is much recommended, and not just because he once mentioned that excellent long lost sitcom 'Chelmsford 123'.)

I do know packaged software development is extraordinarily difficult, and that there's always another combination of circumstances you haven't tested - I have been involved in this sort of thing myself.

But the common factor in all of these situations is a lot of time being wasted. By me.

So, am I expecting too much? Or is there a culture of general acceptance of software that only just works? Perhaps we just aren't prepared to pay what software would cost if it were written properly.

Anyway I'd be really interested in other people's comments on this matter.

Mandy Shaw, 7 months ago
http://tinyurl.com/4ep5ae ... Says it all, really.

Mandy Shaw, 8 months ago
Update - the print server box is finally working, at least for the time being, though the suppliers provided no help at all - I think my various vpn clients were getting in the way. But if they had spent 1 minute just explaining to me how the box worked/what it wanted to see in practice, I could have saved 2 days' worth of effort. However, all the above now pales into insignificance - suffice it to say that ActiveSync over Bluetooth is a bigger can of worms ... after about 3 days' worth of effort, off and on, it's working /some/ of the time now. The PC client doesn't give you a clue what it wants or what it's doing, and the smartphone's idea of diagnostics is to tell you that the PC has suddenly and mysteriously stopped supporting ActiveSync 4.5. There's clearly some sort of conflict going on somewhere, but do you get even the smallest amount of help in diagnosing it? Of course not.

Old blog entries resurrected ...

My old blog no longer seems to be accessible, so I have retrieved various items from the Google cache & will now post them (plus various follow-up comments) here - I don't expect anyone except me is interested, but I don't want to lose them for good.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Thursday, 1 January 2009

PC-Pro screen dump

As referred to in previous post (it's a lot clearer in practice - Blogspot has reduced the size of the image a bit messily).

Two excellent pieces of software

After some very negative remarks on this blog in the past concerning the quality of assorted software products (http://www.theitsanctuary.com/blogs/213-mandy-shaw-logicalis), it's only fair to compliment two products I have just started to use:
  • Nvu (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nvu) - an excellent HTML editor (easy switch between WYSIWYG, source edit and preview modes) with a tiny footprint and instantaneous launch time, and a similar enough interface to the various Rational/WebSphere IDEs I have used to allow almost immediate productivity. This one is freeware. My only complaint is that it tends to assume it knows better than me (frequently rightly) and to correct my HTML without asking.
  • Pocket Controller-Pro (see http://www.soti.net/default.asp?Cmd=Products&SubCmd=PCPro). This allows you to show your Windows Mobile smartphone display on your PC, real time, and to drive the smartphone from your PC mouse and keyboard. It uses ActiveSync as the transport, so works over Bluetooth. I find it an essential time saver to be able to type text messages on my PC keyboard (this also helps present a professional image). In the past I have used Vodafone's Text Centre (Outlook plugin) and Nokia PC Suite for this, but I really think PC-Pro is the best. It does cost £25ish though. (The Microsoft-provided ActiveSync Remote Display, which does the same thing, doesn't support my Samsung Omnia smartphone.)

I thought I would have problems in these two areas now that I am deprived of Logicalis-provided software, but absolutely not.