Riding the Fifth Wave

We have all been feeling it, a change in the landscape. The term web 2.0 has been used a lot, but the most appropriate one that sums it up for me if the “fifth wave”.

We have had mainframes, minicomputers, pcs, and client-server/Internet. Nominally these could be called waves 1 to 4. The fifth wave is all the enabling technologies that have become pervasive. Broadband, always on connectivity, open standards, easy to use tools, scripting, J2EE etc. When all these tools are put in the hands of of people with ideas and allows them to implement those ideas we have the fifth wave.

Fair enough not everyone can feel the wave yet. It may be more of a settling of the levels. However, it is clear that there are platforms and avenues for the new ideas. People remember the dot.com era, so we have the balance of ‘yes thats very good but will it work’. The important thing is that there are enough of us around who understand what the wave is and can help generate those innovative solutions to problems. I think its fair to say there are here in Hursley.

Ian Hughes – ( Consulting IT Specialist Emerging Technology Services, IBM Hursley)

So you dont know the way to France either

As part of my day job I work in a team looking at Business Innovation and Optimization. The short version of this is that if you use Websphere Modeller to create your business processes, Websphere Monitor to put instrumentation into those processes and then deploy it all on Websphere Process Server, you get in the position where you can use business dashboards to see what is going on in the business. IT and Business management become holistic and role based views of the active system let people have the control they need. Once you have all this instrumentation, you can then analyze what is happening, and fix it. We have the concept of On Demand, and this really is.

As part of this work I was looking at how to make better use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and how to place business data and information onto those in real time. One of the leaders in GIS is esri.com. They have recently created a set of public web services to allow access to some fo the power of GIS. I have spent a few days putting thigs together, JSPs, WSDL generation to code in order to prove that we can hook the results of Websphere Monitor up with GIS.

The initial examples I looked at were just around getting existing maps, quakes, satellite images etc. However I soon came across the getThematicMapImage. This allows me to make a request of a web service having provided some data to associate with each geographic unit. ESRI then generate, on the fly, a colour coded map. It worked really well, and proved that my code was able to be in control of the numeric data whilst the web service was in control of the complicated geogrphic information. In the example I used US States as that was handy and easy, the rest of my team are over in the US as well.

arcwebonline has some live running samples and the sort of thing that can be done with the web service.

There are lots of other suppliers and it just so happens I went down this route as one avenue to investigate. Web services, whilst a little tricky with versions of generators, certainly helped me prove what I needed to do.

Ian Hughes (Consulting IT Specialist Emerging Technologies, IBM Hursley)

IBM Blog Social Network Visualisation

Over the past few years I’ve done a lot of work on social networks, in particular in their visualisation. Some of it has been on customer projects, but a lot has been on the side, during lunch breaks and weekends – I just thought it was kind of cool. The sort of thing I’ve done is look at email and IM traffic (with a user’s consent) and generate networks from there, showing who has strong connections with each other. There isn’t anything especially new here, but the diagrams do look neat and it’s generated a lot of interest within IBM.

The problem that always comes up is privacy. It isn’t actually the technology that’s difficult, it’s how you can do some of these things and maintain people’s privacy. People are, understandably, not always too happy about participating in this sort of thing if their email/IM traffic gets analysed. So, instead I looked at IBM’s internal blogs (which are much more public to begin with) and drew the same networks from there, based on who is commenting or referencing each other. I managed to produce the visualisations using a mixture of IBM products (DB2, Intelligent Miner Modelling and Intelligent Miner Visualization) and some custom hacked code… by me!

ibm social network

I’m not sure what the future for social network technology is. I’m currently trying to come up with a better way of rendering this information. These big network diagrams aren’t always that useful for the average user.

– Darren Shaw (Emerging Technology Services, IBM Hursley)

Advertising, does it work

The Million Dollar Homepage marked a return to quirky dot.com style ideas. However, this one has struck most of us as a ‘why did I not think of that’ type of idea. The guy running it is selling nothing more than pixels on his homepage. He has 1 million, and they are a dollar each. Well, we could not resist it and you will find raising the eight bar and this logo eightbarmillion (not pretty but we only had 10×10) on the million dollar homepage. Look down from the first i in million on the logo at the top, about 6 rows down, and there we are. Does this page work? Well I could not resist clicking on the “Even monkeys fall from trees” link and I made a purchase, but maybe it shows I am gullable. A pre-req for being an early adopter?

Ian Hughes (Consulting IT Specialist Emerging Technologies, IBM Hursley)

Hursley Pubs

The Hursley site tends to have a few oddities, which differentiate it from other IBM locations. One of them is that we have a pub on the site (IBM sites are generally alcohol free). The Hursley Clubhouse also acts as the focal point for all the clubs and societies running in Hursley. It’s kind of like the corporate equivalent of a Student’s Union. They run a whole set of activities: football, sailing, flying, gaming, as well as some more esoteric ones, such as the model railway club. Visitors to the Clubhouse are often surprised to see a full model railway in operation. A lot of people, like me, use the Clubhouse more for its food and drink service. You’ll often see a few Hursley big wigs supping a pint on a late Summer Friday afternoon.

We’re also lucky that Hursley village, which is only a five minute walk from the IBM site, has two pubs of it’s own. The Kings Head and the one which I tend to go to more often, The Dolphin. The Dolphin is a very traditional, old English pub. It was built around 1540, reportedly from the remains of HMS Dolphin. We tend to go there when there’s a birthday, people join or leave and for any other special events. It’s nice to be able to walk there from our office and it tends to be packed with IBMers most lunch times. It is quite odd going somewhere that has been around for over 450 years when we spend all day working on stuff that hasn’t been released yet and probably only has a life expectancy of 5-10 years. It’d be interesting to know if any code we write today has a chance of still being run in 2460. Somehow, I doubt it.

Ian at The Dolphin

Here’s Ian celebrating a birthday in The Dolphin this week.

– Darren Shaw (Emerging Technology Services, IBM Hursley)

Proving Technology

Working in Hursley’s Emerging Technology Services (ETS) group means I get involved in all kinds of different projects. Some last a couple of days, some can last years. One of the most common things I have to do is build proof of concept systems (POCs). This is where we go to a customer with a live demo to prove that some technology can be used in the way we’ve said it can. It depends on what we’re showing, but the POCs my team work on typically take about a week to develop. They can be quite pressurised to work on as you’re always up against it with the time frame and you’re pretty much always working with new or early versions of software.

One thing that makes this different from work that other groups do is that you often have to take on lots of different tasks, for which specialists would be used for a full project. When you’re working on a demo you’re often the project manager, the architect, the developer, the tester, the graphic designer and the presenter, all rolled in to one. The people here in ETS tend to be very good generalists because of this. It’s a different way of working as you always have to pick up completely new things very quickly and then once you figure something out move on to the next thing. It doesn’t suit everyone, but I do enjoy working that way.

– Darren Shaw (Emerging Technology Services, IBM Hursley)

Laszlo King of rich client technology?

Rich Client is a term thats been hanging around for a while now, it describes a group of applications that provide more client end functionality than traditional websites would.

Encompassed in this group are technologies and methodologies such as Flash, AJAX, XUL and XForms. It’s all about giving users more interactivity and providing an experience that would normally be associated with desktop client software.

A new contender has recently grabbed my attention, OpenLaszlo is well placed to come in and steal the limelight from some of the other rich client solutions I’ve mentioned. Laszlo applications are written in XML and JavaScript and compile into Flash to run in the browser, this essentially means that we can write Flash applications in the same way we would with DHTML. Laszlo has a Server side component in the form of a J2EE web application that will run on Tomcat, WebSphere etc. It’s also open source and there are no restrictions on selling the applications you create with it.

Recently our Department was approached by a customer to produce a prototype vehicle dashboard for an offroad vehicle, it would be a browser based app which would take vehicle stats and display them for engineers to examine. Aha I thought, the perfect opportunity to try out Laszlo. I had a very short timescale (as we usually do with these prototype projects, in this case 10 days) in which to get a fully functioning system that would take raw data straight from a vehicle and present it in a graphical manner.

Choosing Laszlo was a bit of a risk, my experience with it was limited to what I had read on the OpenLaszlo website but it was open source so I figured if I hit any sticking points I could probably just patch the Laszlo source. Thankfully I didn’t have to do this, I found the XML markup Laszlo used to have an intuitive set of tags and attributes very reminiscent of DHTML and the scripting language stuck rigidly to that of JavaScript syntax. As a result my development work got off to a quick start.

As I continued I kept discovering little niceties of Laszlo. For one it’s extremely simple to work with XML, binding UI elements to data just involves setting an xpath on the UI element. There are also plenty of server communication options including standard HTTP connections, RPC, and WebServices setting it up nicely for an SOA implementation. There is also a nifty persistent connection interface which allows you to push data down to the client from the server, perfect for pubsub or Instant Messaging applications.

At the end of the day, I’ve come out with a very pleasant impression of Laszlo. I managed to produce an XML data driven graphical UI application in less than 10 days that most importantly worked and that our customer was happy with.

– Rob Smart (Emerging Technology Services, IBM Hursley)

Let’s go karting

Go-KartingDarren has already posted this week on how he and his department spent an afternoon launching rockets together.

Today, my team and I enjoyed similar team-building fun by going go-karting. I’m slightly bruised this evening (no accidents, but some of those corners were sharp), and we all had a lot of fun.

– Roo Reynolds (Pervasive Messaging Technologies, IBM Hursley)