It appears that blogging is good for my mental health. Of course, if you know me at all, you know I need all the help I can get.
According to a report on C|NET today, in a study conducted by Digital Marketing Services nearly half of all 600 bloggers surveyed indicated that blogging is a form of therapy for them.
Who Needs Freud?
In the survey, about a third of respondents said they write frequently about subjects such as self-esteem and self-help, while around 16 percent said they blog because of an interest in journalism. Another 12 percent said they do it to remain on top of news and gossip (I clearly fall into this last category).
Most surprising to me was the following: About 31 percent of bloggers said that in times of high anxiety, instead of seeking professional help, they instead write in their blogs or read blogs of others facing similar issues.
So, I want you to know...and I really mean this...the next time your servers are running over capacity or your whole IT infrastructure gets nailed by the latest Internet worm...well, just know that Dr. Watson is going to be here for you. Really. I am. I'm even going to post a box of virtual Kleenex here on the site, just for you. Just be careful not to...well, just be careful with your screen, that's all.
Meanwhile, all therapy aside, keep an eye out for a coming post on how IBM is working to make information technology a key means by which we can innovate and drive substantial cost out of healthcare.
Doctor's orders.[Read More]
Todd "Turbo" Watson -- IBM Corporation
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A few weeks ago I mentioned it would be a good idea in our increasingly Friedman-flattened earth to learn and live the acronym "BRIC" -- well, students, please put away your laptops, it's time for a pop quiz. Anybody remember what it stands for?...No?
Brazil. Russia. India. China.
Better luck next time.
Today, we expanded our support for Linux-based solutions in the BRIC markets through the addition of 29 new skill-building tutorials to our developerWorks Web site. We also expanded our partnership with enterprise open source provider Red Hat, enabling developers with technical resources and implementation services to help them port new applications on IBM software and hardware and Red Hat Enterprise Linux.
IBM and Red Hat will also now provide developers with technical resources and development support in fifteen locations around the globe, including BRIC cities that include Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Bangalore, and Moscow. You can learn more about the IBM Innovation Centers here.
Big Blue Back to School
On a completely related note, IBM announced a "Transition to Teaching" initiative today to help transform IBMers into U.S. schoolteachers in an effort to stave off teacher attrition and boost interest and aptitude in math and science among American students.
The Cliff Notes version: IBMers would be given financial assistance in the form of tuition reimbursement and stipends while they take a leave of absence from the company to seek teaching credentials and begin student-teaching, before ultimately becoming full-time teachers and leaving IBM's employ. Datamation blogs it here and hints we could quickly be moving to the top of our class.[Read More]
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Another slow news day...Rumors bubbled up in the NY Post that Microsoft could be taking a stake in AOL which, according to the report, would "unite two of America's corporate giants as partners in the Internet business." This as AOL recently revamped its aol.com portal to try and stay relevant and counteract its significant dial-up attrition. AOL management will be glad to know my mom happily continues to be a faithful AOL broadband subscriber...Meanwhile, the big news in the blogosphere the past 24 hours has been Google's entry into blog search. I'll spare you all the existential turmoil and angst around this news: Google's now doing blog search, enough said. Be sure and bookmark the URL -- google.com/blogsearch -- or else you could find yourself soon wandering aimlessly through the blogosphere, as it's NOT linked from their home page...at least, not yet.
Meanwhile, if you don't have enough to do at work and want to monitor technology tidings in the blogosphere -- by the nanosecond -- I recommend tech.memeorandum. It's positioning itself as "page A1" for tech discussions, is auto-updated every 5 minutes, and asserts that it "uncovers the most relevant items from thousands of news sites and weblogs." For policy wonks, there's a political edition as well.
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I'm certain it was a complete coincidence that the power went off in Los Angeles yesterday, where Microsoft was discussing its Web Services play at its Professional Developers Conference. If you happen to be a Microsoft customer, I want to assure you that I can entirely account for my whereabouts, and was nowhere near the state of California (or any of its power sub-stations) -- although it's a fine state and I have many good friends there.
There was something harmonically convergent about some of the issues being discussed, however, particularly in light of several new products IBM announced today regarding our service-oriented architecture strategy (better known in industry parlance as "SOA"). For those of you less familiar with the SOA concept, or what it represents, let me briefly characterize it, then promptly pass you along to some key IBM resources related to our announcement where you can get more familiarized with the concept and IBM's SOA roadmap.
First, a quick look at the key on demand business drivers. Many organizations today, by force of an insanely competitive business environment and the need to maximize the return of every dollar invested, need to increase their business flexibility so that they can grow or contract their business based on customer demand. They also need better and more timely (read: integrated) access to information, so that they can both respond to external threats and take advantage of emerging market opportunities. IBM's Business Consulting Services team discovered in a recent survey that 90% of CEOs expect to make a transformation to provide such capabilities within the next 5 years.
Unfortunately, many existing IT systems were not architected with such flexibility in mind. They were vertical building blocks (infrastructures, applications, etc.) that often sprouted up in isolation of one another, serving a very specific purpose at a very specific point in time. Nothing wrong with them -- they just evolved under very different business conditions and externalities than the more discordant environment that many organizations face today.
SOA is about reorganizing information resources to be independent, reusable services -- ones built in an inherently adaptable environment and architected with open, standard protocols that allow them to be used independently of their underlying platforms. In other words, built using standards that allow interoperability and the ability to be more easily evolved and reused, and most importantly, created in the context of specific business processes. That way, like IT LEGOs, they can be mixed and matched to more readily address specific business problems or conditions that can emerge suddenly, and often with no significant warning. Think new market entrant, the influx of a major and demanding customer, or yes, even a hurricane. You are only as flexible as your IT infrastructure is adaptable.
For an SOA wide shot, visit our IBM Service-Oriented Architecture page, which includes links to a number of useful SOA resources. Also, note that WebSphere general manager Robert LeBlanc will host an informative September 20th Webcast to provide a more detailed view into IBM's SOA strategy.
And if you can't wait that long to get started, click over to our SOA Self-Assessment to discern your current state of SOA adoption and obtain a set of targeted recommendations as to how you can achieve great business flexibility through SOA.[Read More]
Somebody needs to start an e-marketplace for rumors (if there already is one, please send the URL my way). I'd been hearing lots of chatter that Oracle would buy Siebel, and just last week there was plenty o' buzz about eBay purchasing Skype. I check MyYahoo this morning and the headlines are filled with the confirmation of both deals. Talk about a Monday morning double whammy.
I've been a big fan of Skype since its infancy, and have enjoyed watching the product evolve and improve as Skype added some really useful enhancements, in particular the SkypeOut feature that allows me to call those with landline or mobile phones for a few cents per minute (in most countries). With just a little imagination, one can start to connect the dots from eBay to PayPal to Skype and envision a whole host of innovations in the eBay universe -- connecting buyers/sellers via VOIP, enabling PayPal payments for Skype services, facilitating a voice-based CRM experience for eBay users...the possibilities are many and diverse, and eBay's customers will be the ultimate beneficiaries.
The blogosphere is already burning up debating the pros and cons of the deal, but with Skype's install base of 54 million members in 225 countries, and the insanely geometric addition of 150,000 new users a day, to my mind it stands as the consummate vindication of peer-to-peer technology, a bumpy ride that began with Napster and others, took a detour to the U.S. Supreme Court, and landed on eBay's front doorstep.[Read More]
The day after Hurricane Katrina hit, I put my money where my mouth (keyboard?) was by submitting a contribution directly to the American Red Cross via their Web site. Of course, I only assumed my contribution was being made to the Red Cross. I typed www.redcross.org directly into my browser window, and the site certainly appeared to be the site for the Red Cross.
Thus far, I have no information to the contrary. But after hearing about all the Katrina-related donation fraud -- phishing scams, virus attacks, bogus emails, etc. -- I paid a visit to my credit card site and logged in to make sure that the money I paid did, in fact, go to the Red Cross. The entry on my credit card indicated the following:
AM RED CROSS*DONATION 800-797-8022 DC
Call me paranoid, but to be absolutely certain, I called the 800 number and encountered a voice-response unit for the American Red Cross. At least, I believe it was a VRU for the American Red Cross. It sure sounded like them.
The point being, how do you know for certain that you're contributing to the actual concern? I can't tell you how you can know for sure, but I can suggest some ways you can avoid contributing to the lowly bottom feeders.
First, if you wish to make a contribution to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, go directly to the Web site of the charity you wish to contribute to. Do NOT respond to an email from the charity . The American Red Cross and other prominent charities are not soliciting contributions via email, and responding to such solicitations is a good way of sending your contribution precisely to a place where you have no desire for it to go.
Second, if you want to have even more confidence your contribution is reaching its intended destination, ask for the charity's nonprofit tax ID before making a donation, and check it against the IRS charities database.
Third, be wary of any site that has the name "Katrina" in the domain name. Many fraudsters were already registering Katrina-related domains before the storm even hit, with the express intention of preying on the generosity of charitable contributors.
Instead, check the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance Web site to get a list of charities providing relief assistance for victims of Hurricane Katrina. The site provides overviews of each charity's "stated purpose" and programs, and provides the correct URL for each.
Meanwhile, do your part to take a big bite out of Internet crime and put the bottom feeders where they belong. If you know of or suspect Katrina-related fraud online, report your complaint to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center. You can also report fraudulent activity here in the U.S. to the Federal Trade Commission.
A little bit of vigilance when making your contribution to Katrina disaster assistance can go a long way -- in terms of both giving you peace of mind and ensuring your money goes towards helping those whom you intended it to.[Read More]
"Champions keep playing until they get it right." So said female tennis great Billie Jean King, and more appropriate words could not have been spoken about last night's US Open match between Andre Agassi v. James Blake in the mens' quarter finals.
If you didn't see it, you probably feel a lot more rested today than do I, but you also missed one of those classic, nail-biting, under-the-lights US Open tennis matches. The final score was 3-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (6) in favor of Agassi, who is playing in his 20th straight US Open, and who just absolutely refused to quit -- even after losing the first two sets to 25 year-old James Blake, whose speed-of-light serves were like a single yellow snowflake creating its own singular blizzard, and who seemed to have all the momentum when the match first started.
Keeping track of all those insanely speedy rallies, point-by-point, was the IBM scoring system. During a recent visit with my 100+ IBM colleagues who work underneath and in the vicinity of Arthur Ashe stadium, it dawned on me that the IBM scoring system serves as a sort of information nervous system for the tournament, helping every constituent -- the players, the officials, the media, and most importantly, the fans -- keep track of what's going on at the US Open: Who played who. Who beat who. Who lost to whom and by how much. Etc.
So, logically, significant resources are dedicated to ensuring the timely and accurate delivery of match scores -- in real-time -- to a whole set of endpoints: to broadcasters, both domestic and international; to the on site scoring displays for the players, officials, and fans to keep track of what's going on on the ground; and for the millions of fans following the action online, via the Web site.
From the Baseline to Your PC Screen
To try and bring this closer to courtside, follow the bouncing tennis ball to get an idea of how each point ends up on your TV or computer screen:
When Agassi or Blake scores a point, the chair umpire scrawls the score on a Palm m500, which is connected via wi-fi to the IBM scoring system hub. This immediately feeds the official score into the scoring system hub, which, in turn, is sent along to multiple constituencies in real-time, including broadcast TV, the external US Open Web site, the US Open intranet (for players, tournament officials, statisticians, etc.), closed circuit TV, the on site electronic displays, and to automated voice applications (for players and other officials who are want to check in on tournament proceedings using a voice-response unit).
All of this is facilitated by IBM Software's WebSphere Business Integration Event Broker, which uses message brokering to publish real-time scores to HTML pages without the need to refresh the whole page. This speeds up the site response time for page downloads, while at the same time lowering demands on bandwidth (and ultimately lowering the site infrastructure costs).
But if the scores themselves are the cake, it's the added features which are the icing. Via the Match Information Displays on site (and on the Web site), fans can get access to schedule information, information on the match in progress, and result information for every match by court. They can also get player bios, match stats, competitive data, and even custom messages.
Of course, it is the dynamicism of the information that brings true on demand value to the US Open tournament experience. As an example, because much of the data resides in a DB2 Express database, broadcast producers can make instantaneous queries such as "What percentage of the time does Agassi serve in what portion of the receiving court?" The query produces the results in a nifty graphic templates, which is then automagically populated with the information and displayed on your TV screen. Set point.
Point Tracker: Animating the Play
This year, a new addition was made to the Web site which brings you about as close to the action on the court as you can get without actually being there, the "PointTracker." Using a Flash-based animation tool, after each point a fan on the Web site can now watch a replay of the trajectory of the ball throughout a rally.
Have you ever watched peoples' heads bob back and forth when they're watching a tennis match, particularly when they're sitting in center court? The Point Tracker experience is similar, except it provides a view from multiple angles (including overhead). The USTA also feeds out information about how a player won the point, giving fans more information about how the match is being played. While this is its primary purpose, there's also significant potential to use this information as a coaching tool.
While it may seem like magic, particularly when you first see it in action, know that it's all being driven by technology. A third-party outfit's cameras convey the player and ball position information to the IBM scoring system, which is then integrated with the scoring data using the DB2 Linux database on an IBM i5 server. That information is then pushed up to the Web site for visitors to see graphics on the virtual scoreboard, showing the arc and path of each point as the ball flies through a rally.
But don't take my word for it. See the "Point Tracker" in action in today's quarterfinals match between Lleyton Hewitt and Jarkko Nieminen to get your own taste of how IBM database technology can bring real-time information to life right before your eyes.
Just be careful not to blink -- you might miss something.[Read More]
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2005 marks the 125th year of the US Open tournament (learn more about its history here.) The immediacy, scale, and short window during which the tournament occurs help it serve as a grand slam illustration of what IBM has come to term "on demand" computing.
Every year for the past 14 years, IBM has delivered an information technology (IT) solution that allows the USTA to concentrate on its core mission of promoting tennis in the US and building the US Open brand around the world. The end-to-end IBM solution includes equipment, services, and expertise that provide an integrated scoring system for match results and statistics collection which feed real-time results to TV broadcasters around the globe and via the Internet, as well as on site at the physical location of the US Open in Flushing Meadows, New York.
The stakes are high, as a few key stats from last year's event suggest:
In short, much of the world is keeping their eyes on the US Open.
In the remainder of this post, we'll take a quick stadium view of the machines behind the matches which optimize the USTA IT solution's performance, both on and off the court.
Break Point: The Servers
The IT infrastructure for the tournament is needed primarily for the peak demand that occurs during two weeks out of 52. In fact, it would be downright inefficient for the USTA to maintain such a massive, dedicated infrastructure exclusively to the US Open for the rest of the year, as they don't need the excess capacity outside the tournament window.
The engine of many IT infrastructures these days is based around Web servers, and the US Open is no exception. But think of the IBM server infrastructure that powers the US Open as "the mother of all Web servers." It consists of multiple, geographically dispersed server farms which are "virtualized" as one, and then used to handle the ever-fluctuating traffic demands that occur during the tournament.
The infrastructure has to be able to scale to the peak demand (think Andre Agassi meeting Pete Sampras in a semi-finals match), just as Amazon.Com has to be prepared for the post-Thanksgiving online shopping rush or CNN.com prepared for a major breaking news story. If it doesn't, no match scores go out, resulting in lots of unhappy broadcasters and tennis aficionados around the globe.
The following components make up the core of the US Open server solution. They provide the backbone for simultaneous delivery of live scores and management of the global server complex, the development and publishing of content on the US Open Web site, and the recording of interviews with players and coaches:
At the core of the technology used to bring fans the 2005 US Open Web site is an IBM eServer 520 system running Linux on POWER and i5/OS, which consolidates multiple servers and integrates applications. The POWER5 processor and IBM virtualization engine increase the performance of the US Open infrastructure while reducing its overall costs.
The IBM eServer xSeries running Linux supports the HTTP Web serving and WebSphere Event Broker (the product that facilitates the timely distribution of scores).
The IBM eServer pSeries 615 running AIX supports the critical infrastructure monitoring functions, while the pSeries p5-550 and p5-570 with Linux LPARs support HTTP Web serving and AIX LPARs key WebSphere-based Applications (including the NetPoll, Player Search, and Feedback mechanism) at one of three hosting locations.
The Virtual Web Service
The real power behind the 5 POWER5-based servers is the "virtualization engine," which allow IBM and the USTA to do more computing with less resources. Think of virtualized servers as seasonal employees who work full time. Instead of having them sit around between peaks in demand, you "pool" them together and maximize the utilization of their labor all the time.
Essentially, virtualization provides ways to "abstract" physical resources, which allows the servers to be accessed as a grouping of logical resources. This enables improved IT utilization, information and people assets by treating resources as a single pool and more efficiently accessing and managing those resources across an organization by effect and need, rather than their physical location.
By eliminating the need to dedicate an entire infrastructure to one particular function, IBM and the USTA create an enormous amount of flexibility as to which IT resources they use for what, ultimately helping to make the entire environment easier to manage and optimize, and resulting in lower overall costs.
Next post, we'll take a look at how IBM technology helps the USTA keep score during the tournament.[Read More]
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I was a very green 18 years old the first time I went to the U.S. Open tennis tournament in Flushing Meadows, NY. The year was 1984 (I'll let you do the math). Until that summer, I had never even been to New York City, much less gone to a major tennis tournament.
That year, John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova were the mens' and womens' champions, respectively. That first day I ever went out to the United States Tennis Association (U.S.T.A.) Tennis Center, I remember seeing Chris Evert play, along with some other players whose names I've long since forgotten. Subsequently, on the small TV set in my basement apartment in Woodside, Queens (just down the road from where the tournament was held), I watched a dramatic finals match between McEnroe and Ivan Lendl. We're talking edge-of-your seat nail-biting tennis (if you remember that match, McEnroe won).
I will never forget that initial thrill of watching these and others of the world's best tennis players -- 128 men and 128 women -- come together in this uniquely American tournament to determine the best of the best. Until you've experienced it firsthand -- especially if you have ever played tennis -- it's hard to describe the athleticism, power, finesse, and precision with which these pros play, and the immediacy and accessibility that fans have to that experience at the Open.
If you've ever been to the tournament yourself, you know that you are right there. On some of the smaller courts, you can almost feel the yellow ball whizzing by your face in a lightning blur. Even the sounds are dramatic...especially when there are none. One second you can hear the pounding of the ball against the racket and the grunting of a player, and the next you can't even hear a pin drop as fans wait for the next service...near complete quiet, in New York City! A rarity, indeed.
Of course, the world has changed a bit since 1984. Instead of writing on an IBM Selectric typewriter or IBM PC, Jr., I use a ThinkPad T40. Instead of a Motorola phone the size of a house brick, I have one that slips inside a pocket inside my pocket. Instead of sending a letter via an envelope that takes three days to get there, I send an email that flashes around the world at the speed of light. In short, everything happens just a little bit faster and with a little bit more immediacy.
Which brings us to the U.S Open, circa 2005. While many other things may have changed in the world, the experience of watching the best of the best in tennis has not. These professionals still play with great athleticism, great power, great precision, great finesse...and they continue to be great personalities as well. Agassi. Roddick. The Williams sisters, Venus and Serena. Nadal. Sharapova. Davenport. The list of great players goes on.
IBM has worked in partnership with the U.S.T.A. for nearly 15 years to try and help bring a better and always-improving experience to its fans, to help ensure that the always-critical match scores are distributed to broadcasters and the media quickly and accurately, and to helping the U.S.T.A. run the smoothest and most enjoyable tournament possible. I visited with the IBM and U.S.T.A. teams earlier this week to learn more about our partnership and IBM's role as the official information technology provider of this flagship event. Over the next 10 days, I'll provide a behind-the-scenes look at how IBM technology and expertise help create "the power behind the points."
In the meantime, visit the U.S. Open Website. There are a number of new features, including USOpen.org TV, a Web-based video recap of the day's big news, and the "Point Tracker," which lets you watch the replay of an already played point in near real-time, to get a sense of how IBM tries to bring the uniqueness of the U.S. Open tennis experience to fans around the globe.
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I've been watching the coverage of Hurricane Katrina over the past 24 hours. Words describing this storm don't do it justice, and the television images are overwhelming.
As more news and data emerges from the region, it's quite evident that the people of the Gulf Coast will need the world's collective prayers, support, and most importantly, the necessary resources that will help them through the challenging times that last long after the storm has passed.
If you've never visited New Orleans or the Gulf Coast region of the United States, you should. It's an area steeped in European and American cultural heritage and diversity -- great food, great music, history, architecture...the list goes on.
But most of all, it has wonderful people filled with joie de vivre and great soul. Those of us at IBM will be thinking of -- and helping them -- in their time of need.
If you would like to help, please make a contribution to the American Red Cross.[Read More]