My apologies for the radio silence, but I was out on vacation (again), and this time I (mostly) stayed away from the ThinkPad. And I must say, I came back feeling a heck of a lot more refreshed and re-energized than those times when I've kept an electronic leash back to the office while out on vacation. Let that be a lesson: Whenever possible, actually allow your vacation to be one. The folks back at the office will live without you for a week or two, and you'll feel overly valued when you get back home as you try and answer those thousands of emails and voicemails. Oh, and make sure you accidentally leave your Blackberry sitting in a drawer somewhere.
Of course, no sooner had I arrived back here in Austin at the end of holiday than I got a phone call Sunday night from a colleague about some of our Web servers in Toronto being down for maintenance. I found myself needing to call another colleague in Sydney, Australia, to inform her of the situation, but didn't want to make a long distance call on my home phone, so I elected to make the call via Skype. My colleague wasn't at her desk, but I left her a voicemail approximately 100 seconds long. I later checked the Skype web site and discovered the call cost me the princely sum of $.03 Euros (almost 4 U.S. cents). I imagine that same call could have easily cost me a couple of bucks using a traditional carrier.
I would have used my Vonage line, but free calls are limited to the U.S. and Canada under my current plan. If you haven't checked VOIP out yet, it's probably a good time to take it out for a test drive. Because I have increasingly worked out of my home office -- something that more and more IBMers are doing -- switching to VOIP made a lot of sense for me. However, I'll be the first to admit I was hesitant due to the quality issues. I need my phone to work all the time, and with consistently good quality of service.
A month in, I can say I have had very few quality problems -- some line noises once in a while -- but the bonus features that come along with the computer-integrated telephony that VOIP enables make it more than worth the switch (and also, I can always use my cell phone as a backup!). For example, whenever I receive calls at my home office number, I have the option of having that same call ringing concurrently on my cell phone so that I know someone called. I can also now have all voicemails sent to my personal email address, something particularly useful when travelling. I just click on the email and a .WAV file pops open the Windows Media Player to play the voicemail. If I wish, I can save and store the voicemails, or if appropriate, forward them on to colleagues. Vonage also comes with many of the standard features you would get with a standard Baby Bell phone subscription such as calling forwarding, three-way calling, etc.
My hunch is that it will be this kind of computer and telephony integration that is going to push VOIP past the tipping point. Our software business has made some interesting announcements with Avaya on this topic recently. To sum it up, our partnership with Avaya will enable "click-to-call" and integrated audio capabilities with Lotus Sametime (later this year) and Lotus Notes (early next year). Essentially, this means that using our Sametime technology, users will be able to select multiple user names and "click-to-conference", making on-the-fly workgroup calls much easier to facilitate. We'll also be integrating audio conferencing provided by the Avaya Meeting Exchange tool with our Web conferencing capability, providing Web conference participants a visual indication of who is speaking, the ability to dial out to new participants, mute lines, etc.
In short, we're trying to make it a LOT easier to do these pedestrian but very necessary chores that make distributed workgroups work. That way, your people (and us IBMers!) spend less time trying to do the mundane tasks of synching up for virtual meetings, and more time focusing on the value they're trying to bring to your core business.[Read More]
Todd "Turbo" Watson -- IBM Corporation
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A good friend within IBM recently sent this along, and I just had to share. Who said IBMers don't have a sense of humor? : )
Apparently, a researcher has discovered a new element in the periodic table:
"A major research institution has recently announced the discovery of the heaviest chemical element yet known to science. The new element has been tentatively named 'Ibmentium.' Ibmentium has 1 neutron, 12 assistant neutrons, 75 deputy neutrons, and 11 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312. These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons. Since Ibmentium has no electrons, it is inert. However, it can be detected as it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A minute amount of Ibmentium causes one reaction to take over 4 days to complete when it would normally take less than a second."
Actually, I would have to correct the chemistry researcher and point out that for every deputy neutron at IBM there are actually 1,000 peons...but who's splitting atoms...er, hairs.
As for being inert, whoever wrote this clearly hasn't studied the elements at IBM anytime recently![Read More]
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When the Code Red II virus struck in August 2001, the estimated impact worldwide was $807M, infecting some 385,000 computers and requiring an estimated $527M alone to diagnose, patch, and clean infected systems and return them to normal service. What a waste, both in terms of productivity, misguided energy, and capital.
Guess what, it's August. Yesterday, the Zotob worm wiggled its way into computers at CNN, ABC, The New York Times, and an estimated 123 other companies, primarily infecting computers running the Microsoft Windows 2000 operating system and bringing many of those businesses to a screeching halt. If your Windows 2000 machine has started to shut down and boot up like it had a mind of its own, chances are you won the Zotob lottery. Check here for Symantec's security response.
What can you do? First and foremost, if your machine has a personal firewall, by all means make sure it's turned on. If you're connected to the Internet these days without one, you clearly like living on the edge. Also, run your anti-virus updates and do a quick scan. Finally, grab the patch from Microsoft for the plug-and-play vulnerability which paved the way for the remote code execution that allows Zotob to function.
Although Symantec's ThreatCon rating for Zotob is a two (with five being the highest), collective vigilance and prevention can minimize any further impact of this digital pestilence.[Read More]
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One of the major issues we constantly struggle with in managing our Web at IBM has to do with "what we call stuff" and "how we help you find the stuff you're looking for" on our Web site. The fancy name for this discipline is "information architecture." What it really means is this: Are we putting ourselves in your shoes as we think about how we go about building and optimizing our Web site? The honest answer is, we most always try, but don't necessarily always succeed. Quite frankly, it's a complex and complicated task, and to a large extent, an ever-moving target, because the IT market is constantly evolving.
However, that doesn't stop us from continuing to try. In fact, we spend an enormous amount of time and energy in this area, one we constantly monitor through customer satisfaction studies. Why spend so much energy on it? Simply put, if we're not doing everything we can to help you find what you're looking for, we're wasting your valuable time and we are missing out on potential sales opportunities. In the 10+ years I have worked on the Web, I would submit to you it is one of the most critical areas to your on demand business efforts, and yet it's a vastly underappreciated (and hence, often under-resourced) science.
Let me put it into a real-life scenario that I often use with my colleagues. Let's suppose one day you walk into your local grocery store. At the end of the aisle, you look up at the signs that are supposed to help direct you to the areas of the store you need to shop in. But instead of "Fruits and Vegetables" or "Produce" you see a sign that says "Canned Peaches" and "Raw Coconuts." Nothing else. There's no mention of tomatoes, lettuce, or other fresh fruits and vegetables. Is this aisle where you get your iceberg, or is this just the canned vegetable aisle? Sure, you can walk the whole store, but if you had just one item in mind, that's a waste of your time.
Extrapolate that scenario to a big-ticket, multi-million dollar item -- a mainframe (which we sell), some huge piece of manufacturing equipment (which our customers sell), an automobile (which eBay and many automobile manufacturers sell) -- and you could have a real problem on your hands. And many companies do.
Most attempt to solve this problem through a balance between good navigation and information architecture (the two of which are closely related), and good search optimization. Some users are more inclined to use navigation (what is often referred to as the "site hierarchy") to find what they're looking for, and others the search engine. Small improvements in both can lead to a significant bounce in your bottom line results, for both on- and offline purchases.
If you're interested in learning more about this topic, check out Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morvilles' Information Architecture for the World Wide Web: Designing Large-Scale Web Sites (the concepts are just as useful for small-scale websites!). You'll know you've found the right book if there's a polar bar on the cover.
For search optimization, IBM's very own Bill Hunt and Mike Moran just published an extremely insightful book entitled Search Engine Marketing, Inc.: Driving Search Traffic to Your Company's Web Site. It takes you step-by-step through setting up and managing a search marketing program, and covers everything from keyword targeting to site indexing.
The moral of this story is this: Help your customers find what they're looking for on your Web site, or they'll help themselves to finding another company that will.
Your competition is only a click away.[Read More]
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When it comes to technology, I like to live dangerously (meaning I like to download new tools and such and later spend a week trying to reconfigure my ThinkPad unloading and fixing whatever the download screwed up).
Google today released a new version of its desktop search engine, Google Desktop 2 today, so I figured why not? I had already found the Google desktop search engine to be extremely useful for finding presentations, documents, and the like that I knew to be on my hard drive, but could never find just plopping through folders on my desktop. So, I downloaded the new Google Desktop beta to give it a test drive.
In a limited first look, the new Google tool appears to be a sort of convenient embedded toolbar that provides a quick way to get access to key information: email (both Gmail and Outlook), news, weather, stocks, etc. It also enables easy access to RSS and Atom feeds, which have heretofore been relegated to being unearthed via separate RSS readers and, to Yahoo's credit, via MyYahoo (more on RSS in a future post).
So far, the best component I've found in the new Desktop beta is the "Quick Find" tool, which helps you launch applications and find information much faster than I've ever been able to with traditional Windows navigational tools. For fun, there's also a Photo Slideshow tool that finds photos on your hard drive and produces them in a constant slideshow shown via a small window embedded in the desktop tool.
To really get the most out the search capability, spend a few minutes reading through the "Advanced Google Desktop Search Operators." Even though you may not be a geek, you'll get a great sense of personal geeky satisfaction in your newfound command of Boolean logic and obscure search commands, and have something to talk about to your colleagues at the water cooler aside from who won last week's "American Idol." And, of course, it might actually help you find something faster.
Anything I can find to help me become more personally productive and organized these days is all good. Like so many of you, there's not nearly enough time in my day as it is, and the last thing I want to do is spend a lot of time looking for stuff. The Google Desktop 2 beta makes doing just that fun and faster -- a winning combination.
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We love acronyms at IBM ("I've Been Moved," "It's Better Manually," "I Blame Microsoft," "I Buy Mainframes," etc etc etc ad nauseum ad infinitum).
Here's a new one for you: BRIC.
Know what it means? If not, here's a hint: Think flat earth, three billion new capitalists, etc
Brazil. Russia. India. China.
Although the hyperbole about the emerging opportunities in the BRIC countries may be sometimes overblown, you also know you probably can't afford to ignore them, considering what's at stake.
Our Developer Relations team just announced they are doing their part as IBM works to expand the developer ecosystem in several emerging economies. We'll be doing everything from rolling out workshops to helping developers learn about open standards technology to help them build and deploy open standards applications more quickly, to providing access to IBM hardware and software.
Learn more from the Red Herring's coverage.
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My first interactive experience occurred when I was approximately 6 or 7 years old. It involved a black and white television set and an Atari game console called "Pong." I'm sure many of you may remember it (If not, here's a link to a Web site that provides a great history of Pong.) My eyes mist up when I even think about those first interactive experiences. They're kind of like my first bicycle ride, except they're not really real.
I graduated from Pong to playing my parents' good friends' Atari 2600...I never owned my own 2600 console, but I was a full-on video game junkie when I went over to their house. From there, it was on to Colecovision, where I experienced the grandeur of such games as "Downhill Racer" and "Pitfall." Later, I would warm up to such classic standup machines as "Space Invaders," "Asteroids," "Defender", and, in high school, "Donkey Kong." If only I had a nickel for every quarter I dropped into all those machines.
I was destined to end up in the world of interactive. I twitch, therefore I am.
We've come a long way from the Pong of yesteryore. I just bought my first game console in several years. Despite trying to stay on the bleeding edge of information technology, I purposely stay one generation behind on gaming consoles. My rationale: I can get a good deal on used games via E-Bay or my local second-hand gaming resellers, and more importantly, there are plenty of tips-and-tricks to help me navigate the suckers. So, when I heard the X-Box 360 was coming out this Christmas, I decided it was time to buy the first gen X-Box (IBM will be supplying PowerPC chips for the next gen coming out later this year)
First off, let me just say this: These are not your father's...err, brother's...video games. I started off slow...well, kind of...purchasing a driving game. That was pretty cool, but I got bored with it pretty quickly. Then, I bought a copy of Halo 2, wondering what all the fuss had been about.
Well, here it is: I haven't eaten or slept in four days. When I do sleep, there are big animated monsters called "Brutes" and "Prophets" and "Jackals" chasing me through this slick 3-D universe! I see space battles and and laser beams and don't know where fantasy ends and reality begins! I'm thinking I may have to check myself into the Betty Ford clinic for addicted gamers...
Okay, it's not quite that bad. But my hats off to the Halo 2 development team...it may be old news for a lot of 14 year-olds, but I'm still on the first flush and all I can think to myself is, Man, why didn't they have this game around when I was 10!
While I'm embarrassed to admit this publicly, I had to buy a guide book to learn my way around (and break through the second level). You should know that it's okay if you need to buy a book: These games were not invented for people who started off their gaming careers playing the original Atari Pong, where your primary mission was to follow a white dot around a black universe. No, this is more along the lines of operating a flight simulator for an F-16. Guide books good...tumbling around getting shot by the mean, animated monsters who haunt your dreams very bad.
Back at the IBM ranch, you should know that we're exploring ways to take some of the key fundamentals of these new and innovative gaming technologies and platforms, and find ways that we can use them to help our customers and how business is conducted. It's not a long leap from the text-based instant messaging we use today to virtual co-location, where we can meet and interact with our colleagues and continue eliminating time and distance while enhancing our ability to meet and collaborate with one another. Check out the IBM gaming blog to tune into some fascinating discussions among my colleagues about where gaming could be taking us.
Meanwhile, if you don't see me blogging for a few days, it's okay: I'm just taking out a few monsters.[Read More]
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If you've ever had that experience where you spent all night or all weekend working on a presentation, only to find out on Monday it disappeared into a Great Black Hole never to be heard from again, you'll be glad to hear about one of our newest products.
I've been in this position a few times in the past, and the feeling you get in the pit of your stomach is kind of similar to that feeling when you lose a big bet at the horse race or in Las Vegas (or so I've been told). If you've experienced it yourself, you know it's a very hollow and empty feeling, like "I can't believe I just spent a whole weekend doing that ace presentation and now the only place it can be found is in the Great Black Hole. I think I'll now go throw myself over a cliff."
Putting the sinking feeling aside for a moment, know that lost data can also cost you a bundle. A 2003 study at Pepperdine University estimated that the total U.S. cost alone was $18.2 billion. And most of that cost came in the value of the lost data, NOT in the lost productivity. Tell that to your boss, right?
Help is on its way. Announced earlier today -- and this is a mouthful, so bear with me -- the IBM Tivoli Continuous Data Protection for Files product is here to try to assist you in avoiding such situations, particularly if you're an individual or smaller business that may not have yet invested in data backup or protection.
Here's what it does: As you enter or change data on your computer, this new software automatically copies the data and sends it via IP to a central, secure remote location (a server, if you will) -- within seconds of its being stored -- allowing you to retrieve it in case of a freeze, crash, or other Great Black Hole experience.
This technology sprouted from a product hatched in our bleeding-edge alphaWorks Lab and was originally called "VitalFile for Real-Time Workstation Protection," and runs on the Windows, Mac OS-X and Linux platforms.
Learn more about this software works and how to steer clear of the Great Black Hole here.[Read More]
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Late last week, IDC released its UNIX server revenue numbers for the second quarter of the year, and there was a much welcomed change in the numbers, one that would suggest something interesting is afoot.
You see, IBM has led in the overall server market for several years running (i.e., in mainframes, Intel, UNIX, etc.), but when calling out UNIX separately, IBM typically trailed key competitors out West. Why the leapfrog now?
Well, aside from a lot of blood, sweat, and tears from our Systems and Technology team, we would submit to you that IBM's long-awaited ascension to the top of the server heap has been fueled significantly by our investment in the "Power" microprocessor architecture. The Power "cell" architecture is the very same technology that will be powering the next generation of gaming consoles (the Xbox 360, the Sony PS-3, etc.), and is expected to provide developers a stable and accessible platform for developing next generation gaming titles. But this isn't all about fun and games.
The Cell architecture also will be used extensively in business and government as we work to help companies build on demand business applications in supercomputing applications, 3D modeling, streaming media optimization, and similar applications -- which require significant processing and throughput.
Our pSeries servers in particular can also help "power" those environments which demand 24x7 availability, and can accommodate fluctuating demand where there are often high-volume peaks. Think Amazon.Com the day after Thanksgiving when everybody decides to go shopping online at once, or the U.S. Open Web site during an Andre Agassi finals match (we'll be talking at more length about the role that IBM technology plays in supporting the U.S. Open as the tournament kicks off this week in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.).
Most importantly, this architecture and these UNIX servers help support our customers who need to have maximum utilization and cannot afford to have key systems down for any extended period of time (i.e., they're banking their businesses on them).
Check out some of our pSeries case studies to read some real world examples of the power behind Power.
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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]