Archive for March, 2011

IT News and Views – the Friday Collection

RSA issues security tips to SecureID customers after data breach
This is an article that is about RSA’s SecureID but the lessons apply beyond that. It boils down to three main things: education; monitoring; enforcement. Read about the specifics.

When are you planning the move to the cloud?
This Microsoft-sponsored poll currently shows more than half the surveyed are not planning to migrate to the cloud. The actual percentage has been hovering around the 70% mark. Look at the current scores on the doors.

Ex-Sun man hails Java renaissance under Ellison
Java’s roadmap has become clearer with Oracle and IBM collaboration. Java SE 7 is due to be finished by this July, with Java SE 8 following on sometime in late 2012. Read about it.

CIOs must cash in on supplier innovation
Businesses can benefit from the innovation of their suppliers. Survey finds that this is neither exploited nor measured. Read the results.

    And finally

DWP ditches Fujitsu and reappoints HP
It’s really simple at the Department for Work and Pensions. DWP appoints HP. DWP ditches HP. DWP appoints Fujitsu. DWP ditches Fujitsu. DWP reappoints HP. Read about supplier musical chairs.

Categories: News, News digest

IT News and Views – the Friday Collection

Experimenting on Themselves: How IBM fosters internal experiments with social software.
IBM have been at the forefront of using cutting edge technology as part of your day job. This article discusses the use of social software for both proper work such as sending attachment as well as the softer side, like encouraging cohesion in teams that are geographically separated. Go to story.

Business loses money through complex IT systems
IT Departments may be overcomplicating things and causing unnecessary expense to the business. This article focuses upon the challenges present when installing a new IT system and when incorporating systems when enterprises merge or are acquired. Go to story.

IE9 will have low take-up in enterprises, says Ovum analyst
Despite loud blasts on celebratory trumpets on its release, it appears that Microsoft’s IE9 will not be extensively adopted by enterprises according to a report by an analyst. Find out why.

Japanese Earthquake – How to Give Without Being Taken
For every disaster, there are an industrious band of scammers eager to relieve donors of their hard-earned. Not content with this, other friends of humanity want to trick you into downloading some nasties onto you computer. Be warned, here

    And finally

Hacker Movie: Zombies Ahead
Hackers in the US make some fairly substantial changes to electronic roadsigns. This is a modern twist to the Orson Welles hoax in the 1930s. Read about the un-undead.

Categories: News, News digest

Please don’t give generously to the spammers and scammers

In an insightful article in Messaging News, Japanese Earthquake – How to Give Without Being Taken, Melisa LaBancz-Bleasdale argues that the catastrophe currently unfolding in Japan is just the sort of event to make the eyes light up of anyone who uses the Web for less than wholesome purposes.

Technology has moved on since the tsunami in Aceh in 2005, so our malicious friends have moved on. There are two main ways that these people cause aggravation, although the mechanism that these messages are delivered to the (potential) victim have evolved. Social media means an explosion in the ways that you can fall victim to these people, although good old email scams are still common.

The first is soliciting donations to a hastily set up fund, where those affected by the disaster will not see a penny of the cash. This is not a new phenomenon but, in the old days, you would have to search out the collecting tin. These days it’s so quick and simple to donate, and the scammers fully appreciate this.

The other thing to be aware of is using email attachments and web pages to spread an array of nasties. They could be hiding malware, viruses, bots; the consequence of harbouring one of these things varies but it is fair to point out that they are not there for your benefit.

Common sense should mean that you shouldn’t fall victim to most of these threats but the author offers 2 pieces of sage advice:

…donating only to established organizations that exist regardless of the circumstance instead of those that pop up around a specific situation.

Viewing footage from local news stations, national news sites and reputable sources helps to greatly minimize your risk.

Combine these with not opening attachments unless you are sure they are kosher, and you’ll be fine.

I do not miss the irony that I am warning about dodgy weblinks to donate to and now I am providing a link to a (genuine) charity. You can make a donation to the British Red Cross, or preferably don’t take my word for it and Google it.

Categories: News

IT News and Views – the Friday Collection

New net rules set to make cookies crumble
From May, websites must get permission to gather information about surfers’ behaviour. We will all need to be careful with our cookies. Read the story.

Average cost of data security breach hits $7.2 million
Data security leaks are now costing an arm and a leg and guess what? There is a 72% chance that the cause is a negligent employee or motivated by malice or criminality. Read this heartwarming story

Boris Johnson launches iPhone app to clean up London
London Mayor has unveiled an app to allow the public to report vandalism and litter. It appears that curtain-twitching has evolved into the 21st century. Read the story.

Mark Bennett: Lotus Notes – The Double Edged Sword
This is a blog detailing the rapid development of an application to help after the Christchurch earthquake, but apparently the other edge to the sword is that it doesn’t look good. Try to work out what the problem is, here.

And finally:
17,000 USB sticks sent to UK dry-cleaners in 2010
Blog article on the other side of data cleansing. Read this slightly worrying story here

Categories: News, News digest

Is it time to welcome our computer overlords…?

It has been interesting to watch the array of opinions and commentary related to IBM’s recent successes pitch machine against man (again!), in Watson’s Jeopardy challenge.

Reading about Watson, led me to IBM’s Research website where you can see the dizzying array of research projects that IBM participates in, with a worldwide staff of 3,000. With diverse fields of study from the more obvious Computer Science & Engineering, Mathematics and Physics through to Chemistry and Material Science, it is a reminder of how incredibly diverse IBM’s business interests are.

This may seem to adopt a Dirk Gently perspective to research (to the unitiated, Gently was a Douglas Adams-created detective who believed in the interconnectedness of everything and, therefore, would go to the other side of the world to solve a whole crime). What struck me was how this relatively unknown activity by IBM really sets them apart from other vendors who tend to be much more specifically product led in their research efforts. It was quite surprising to learn the extent to which IBM’s research has the potential to produce results that can change all our lives in the future. Which brings us to Watson, the Jeopardy-playing computer.

IBM’s Watson was up against 2 champions of the gameshow Jeopardy. The BBC article covering this story, IBM’s Watson supercomputer crowned Jeopardy king, points out that the challenge isn’t simply knowing the answer as the show has:

rapid fire format and clues that rely on subtle meanings, puns, and riddles; something humans excel at and computers do not.

Watson is reliant on some of the most sophisticated natural language artificial intelligence ever developed. This means that Watson has the capability to take data sources written in natural language and ‘normalise’ and analyse the contents in such a way that it can present precise answers to questions and also provide the evidence of how it arrived at this answer. It is not just advanced search but is the next generation of data analytics.

Some of the commentary has been quite cynical and some suggested that to use this cutting edge technology to win a gameshow is rather wasteful, but that misses the point.
FT columnist, Christopher Caldwell, notes the potential future applications for Watson’s progeny. In a rather ascerbic piece, Jeopardy is just the start for Watson, he notes that both the medical and legal professions could benefit from efficiency savings from Watson Jr. They could act as triage nurses, assessing the respective severity of patients’ conditions and prioritise the workload of the real doctors. He is at pains to point out that this sort of technology will not replace the judgment of a physician or, indeed, a lawyer.

In an interesting webcast looking at how Watson’s achievements might filter down into the real world, there are examples of Watson-type technology being used to perform evidence based decision making by understanding data and context and searching for patterns and associations that turn raw data into knowledge.

He does note a side effect that often accompanies new technology:

In most tasks, computers don’t ever fully step on to man’s turf. They don’t mimic man and outperform him. They perform a similar task quickly enough and cheaply enough to make the old, “human” ways of doing things seem unreasonable.

And it is worth remembering, Watson doesn’t ‘think’ – ‘he’ is just a machine that can process vast quantities of data more quickly than a human. But don’t be mistaken, we do need Watson – we live in a world of data overload, so technology has to evolve to help us filter and make sense of this information, faster than we can on our own.

One of the defeated contestants paraphrased the spirit of Kent Brockman, the newsreader in The Simpsons:

I for one welcome our new computer overlords

So, it appears he wasn’t too disappointed by his defeat.

The achievement of the team behind Watson is impressive and shows a real commitment on the part of IBM to innovate. The technology that drives Watson will be put to use in many ways, including in the field of enterprise content management (ECM), which is an area that we are working in.
I will be blogging about ECM soon, but until then I shall leave you with the hope that I never encounter Watson in a pub quiz.

Categories: IBM, News

IT News and Views – the Friday Collection

Here is this week’s selection from around the web.

Government in the market for more open source software
The government have signalled a desire to use more open source software. Critics point out that in the past governments have done little to champion open source and tended to favour contracts with large proprietary software vendors. Go to story.

IBM and London South Bank University use BI to track performance
South Bank University is using IBM’s business intelligence system to understand how students use its services and to refine how it delivers its learning facilities. It will also monitor attendance in the virtual classroom and also in-the-flesh-attendance to identify students who may be struggling and falling behind. Go to story.

Lufthansa and Deutsche Telecom offer in-flight broadband
Lufthansa are the first airline to offer onboard broadband. This leads to a difficult question: will it mean that irritating fellow passengers will become more annoying or will it shut them up? Go to story

ISPs must advertise average broadband speeds, not ‘up to’ speeds, says Ofcom
Ofcom have found that ISPs being a tad economic with the truth regarding speeds. That will, I suspect, come as a great shock to anyone who has ever compared the claims of ISPs to the waiting time for pages to be served up.
Go to story.

And finally:
Dumb and dumber
Proof (were it ever needed) that there is no correlation between technological development and basic common sense. Depress yourself here

Categories: News, News digest

Has Agile made software development better?

In February 2001, a group of programmers met and agreed the framework for a different way of working. This was called the Agile Manifesto. Ten years on from this, Techworld ask: Has iterative, collaborative development made things better?

The key principles within the manifesto can be condensed into the following:

– Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
– Working software over comprehensive documentation
– Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
– Responding to change over following a plan

…..all with the goal of delivering usable software to the business faster, with a closer level of fit to the business needs, first time, more of the time.

There seems to be a (almost) consensus regarding the Agile methodology. Representative of these views are Ward Cunningham, a signatory to the Manifesto:

I’d say we transformed the industry

and Scott Ambler, from IBM Rational:

It’s had a pretty significant effect on the industry

Criticism of Agile essentially takes 2 forms. The first is the rather obvious that it has to be applied properly. Ian McLeod of SmartBear Software points out:

You still have to do it well… You can do agile poorly

The second critique is not dissimilar, except that it claims Agile is structurally predestined to fail. Bill Miller argues that Agile is undisciplined; worse still: it promotes this ill discipline as a virtue. This is illustrated throughout the development of software; from a lack of documentation to the dramatic shift of requirements – Miller believes that if requirements need to revised significantly this shows poor leadership.

In the software development world, it does seem that Agile can be a bit like Marmite – you either love it or hate it – and practitioners tend to staunchly sit on only one side of the debate. But as if often the case, the real benefit probably lies somewhere in the middle – drawing on the best practices from traditional and alternative methods to suit the size and complexity of project & most importantly the expectations & involvement of the end user.

There is a general agreement that it is a method that is quite difficult to comprehend at the beginning and it certainly presents organisations with significant challenges to reap the full benefit. Agile delivers usable software to the business much quicker than previously and offers the opportunity to get software that more closely fits the business need. This may be achieved only if, as noted by Ian McLeod, it is done properly.

The answer to the above question, has Agile made software development better?, is ‘yes’, but it is not a ‘magic pill’. Agile methods do rely on having the right skills in the development team for delivering a more collaborative style of delivery and of course, the business users being able to commit to a higher level of engagement which in today’s difficult business environment can be a challenge.

Categories: Software development
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