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]
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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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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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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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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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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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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 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]
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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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]
I was both shocked and saddened to hear the news of Peter Jennings' passing earlier today. Having grown up watching all the evening news broadcasts, I often found myself switching the channel to ABC News, primarily because of Peter Jennings. His intelligence, seriousness, compassion and exhaustive dedication to finding the story -- wherever in the world it might be -- were surpassed only by his ability to communicate the story to the rest of us in a way that we could not only understand, but also by often putting it into a perspective that helped us better understand our world.
In 2001, I had an opportunity to meet and talk with Mr. Jennings at a business luncheon in New York City. He was as gracious and affable in person as he appeared on the television set, and he invited me to watch the World News Tonight broadcast live from the ABC News Studios, an offer I took him up on just before I left New York. Sitting in the control room where all the producers were putting the broadcast together was about the most nerve-wracking thing I had ever seen, but looking down over the studio where Peter Jennings's desk was, I couldn't help but notice how extremely calm, cool, and collected he was as he scribbled edits on the teleprompter sheet or answered emails from viewers before his next segment.
Four months later, it was that very same calm demeanor that helped myself and viewers around the globe as they wrestled with comprehending the day that was 9/11. Although I was some 1,500 miles away from NY, with Peter Jennings reporting, he was able to make that horrible day just a little bit better.
He will surely be missed, and for those of us who were his regular viewers, he already was.[Read More]