Friday, December 29, 2006

Tri and run

Well I've finally done it, entered a Triathlon. It is not the first time I've done this but hopefully this will be the first time I actually make it to the start line. I've entered the Blenheim Triathlon and the organisers have, much to my great relief added something called a "Super Sprint Triathlon" and we have to do a very reasonable 400m swim, 10k Bike ride and a 3k run. This doesn't really sound too demanding does it? Its not exactly the Iron Man and having spent a day last summer walking the grounds of the palace it surely must be the most green & pleasant environment in the UK in which to pretend to be an athlete.

The reason for mentioning this at this stage is that I've started my training in the gym and as MediBlog will be aimed at healthy fit people as well as people with some medical issue to monitor I'm calling it research (shame there's no budget to use for it...) . The very first thing to hit me at the gym was units of measurement. They are running "This months competition" which is a 1000m rowing event - well its not exactly an event as anyone who turns up can row the 1000m and put their time down. As an aside, one guy who claims to be 61 claims to have done it in 2:59 and there is lots of adjacent graffiti such as "no way" and "prove it" and so on because that is apparently a world record for that age. The issue of units of measurement arose because there are weight categories for the rowing which are in Kg, but the scales measure only in Stones/Pounds so there is a table of values to look up the conversion. In MediBlog I'll have to decide on a basic set of units to hold data and find some way of allowing users to enter them in any format they like - which throws up issues of where to store preferences so that the system will know whether, and how, the data should be updated or presented to reflect those preferences.

On a seperate matter but again curiously related to rowing, the issue of forward planning has come up. I've just read The Crossing by Ben Fogle and James Cracknell; one of (super-competitive, twice Olympic gold medallist) James's little schemes to motivate Ben ("made a career out of taking part") to row harder was to manually create a spreadsheet illustrating different scenarios for the time it would take them to row the remaining 1000 miles (or whatever). By setting out the difference even a slight increase in effort would make to the number of remaining days at sea Ben understood and did indeed become more motivated to go faster. You only have to look at the photos of the two of them at the end to see who was the most energetic though (warning: beware of James's ass! - eeeouwwww).

MediBlog was essentially conceived as a reporting system but maybe it should also be a planning/forecasting system so that the "fitness" users can set goals, plan and do "what-if" scenarios. The same concept would apply to people in physiotherapy or who want to change certain regimes of treatment or diet based on goals.

Oh yeah, my time for the 1000 metres was 4:13 and after consulting the conversion chart the wide variety of Christmas turkey dinners, Mince pies, etc has take my weight to just over 177 Lb (~80Kg , apparently) so I can't even claim to be in the <=72.5kg lightweight category either. Its harder than it looks! I don't think I'd have made it 3,000 miles across the Atlantic somehow...

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Point of Inflexion?

Whilst still "off" for the Christmas break I still have something of my day job to attend to, which involves some commentary on SAP's capability with regard to Service Oriented Architecture (Enterprise Services Oriented Architecture if you want to speak SAP...). I thought I'd write up some of that whilst I'm in the mood (forgive the style, I'm a compulsive enthusiast.)

If you are an "Enterprise" and you want to bet the farm on SOA then SAP pretty much have the whole thing sewn up for you. Firstly they offer you all the Business Suite stuff (ERP, CRM, SRM, APO...) in loads of industry solutions on any (big) platform you like, which gives you an API (BAPI) and a "webflow" engine for almost any business process you can think of then you get to consume any & all the services anyhow you like. Well thats the vision of it all but I reckon they are getting really close to the reality now - the problem I suppose is that they charge you loads of money for it all and you have to implement & support it all on up to 43+ "servers" in the three-tier multi-client architecture and there are only two guys who really know how all the new stuff works - and they can only be placed on the map by using a cruel and unusual algorithm based on the Heisenburg Uncertainty Principle. Even with the significant costs and the investments in training courses SAP experience is ideal preparation for survival in the open source world.

There is a real crunch on new skills at the moment as all of us are having to figure out teh implications of 64-bit, Java, Unicode conversions and all that as well as the fantastic array of tools for integrating the services (Visual Composer, NetWeaver Developer Studio, /nSE80, /nSE37.. and the latest ideas on virtualisation. And of course we have trusty old OO ABAP to think about which is great - like Java that works! And they've invented "Web Dynpro" for Java AND ABAP! the latter of which is in my opinion the "Killer App" for SOA /MVC developers everywhere. If that isn't enough we now have to contend with MUSE and DUET, both of which are typically dependent on user profiles constructed in the Portal, and the Adobe Forms which are now built in the application servers.

To quote Sir John Harvey-Jones a "Point of inflexion" is happening, 4 years ago he was talking about hardware and, finally, its capability to deliver more benefit than cost (an old cynic we might say!). I think this point of inflexion is much more subtle and profound, SAP (to take just one example perhaps), having "Cracked" the technology strategy, are now seeking to flesh out "The processes" that will fuel the SOA evolution/revolution. The inflexion is all about bringing down the process complexity for organisations whilst dealing with the the complexity of the architecture as it becomes oriented to Services. Can you think of a business process? Tell SAP so they can point you to an Application or Composite Application welding together all the useful bits and presenting it to you in seamless application.

Enterprises are implementing the architecture now, often cost-justified on the basis of a particular "point" solution whilst realising what can be achieved "next month" or "next quarter" on the same set of kit, one project may need to integrate purchasing and finance systems whilst the next may need to integrate the Asset Maintenance system with the GIS. Just find or create your services, hop onto the Process Integration system and away you go. Sounds simple, eh?

Like I said, a skills crunch. And SAP even have a solution for that: with over half a million SAP "Uber-geeks" helping each other out. Its kind of like open-source on steroids but someone has to pay SAP for something somewhere along the line. The beauty from SAP's point of view is that their services can now be consumed by systems that don't speak RFC.

As SAP already "have" all the big companies and are increasingly "having" public sector and utilities most aspects of our lives will probably, sometime soon, end up in an SAP database, neatly integrated to all the other aspects of our lives using SAP's Master Data Management systems.

I don't believe it...

I got the usual Google Friends email/newletter which had an interesting new service there called Google Apps This is quite a nice service for anyone setting up a community service, its essentially like Yahoo Groups or similar services but you can set it all up at your own domain. This isn't anything as easy as you'd hope from Google but short of laying on loads of free consultants I can't see how they'd make it any easier. Basically it offers services that the average registrar offers: site space, hosting, email all wrapped up with the google email, chat, etc stuff and, no doubt, the google docs service but I haven't tried that yet. The catch is that you have to point your CNAME / DNS to Google and reset your email settings...

Anyway, I've tried it out with MediBlog.Com, mainly because it allows me to use the GoogleMail interface for sending & receiving email there and it has some useful options for the holding site. Sadly, again I'm cursed with annoying bugs. The bluehost service I'm now using whilst allowing me to change the email settings successfully generated an "unknown server error" when I tried to change the settings on my parked domain. Apparently this is because I don't have the permissions to change CNAME settings on my own domain - I really can't think why the darned service doesn't say that instead of inviting the frustrated user to review the log files for errors. Yet again, correspondence with the Support people - this time BlueHost and - they've promised to change it for me except that before doing so they've changed the way the support service works (don't respond to emails) and I have to figure out how to communicate with them again.

I'm beginning to feel like Victor Meldew, Basil Fawlty or more realistically, Father Jack...

Wiki Portlet

Just a note on the Liferay Wiki Portlet: this is something I finally started to understand after finding the comments in the Liferay Wiki itself (which interestingly is built on the wikimedia technology). Its actually very easy to create a new page there if you know how (you have to use CamelCase and save...) , and I think its the kind of thing that would outfox most of the corporate IntraNet users I've seen. Techies and committed eBay user-types wouldn't have a problem though..

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Liferay Demo Site

I logged in and checked out a working version of Liferay 4.2 (see adn register yourself at and was, again, very excited at the thought of having most, if not all, the key portlets available to the Histiocytosis community. Its not particularly flashy - just clean and simple functionality and everything you want seems to available when you want it. I especially like the new widget-like thing at the top to help the user navigate and configure the space.

One thing I thought was particularly useful in the Document Library (nice to see one that works!) is that when you search documents it also seems to search the content! I've only actually loaded in a couple of PDFs but even so its already an exciting prospect to have that capability on the site (...I really don't get out much!).

Thinking about Jon...

With all the busy-ness of Christmas, the GOS roadshow, the website - not to mention my hectic day job (SAP projects, java, Delivery Management, bids, upgrades, blah, blah..) and all that I've not had a great deal of time to reflect but having seen Jon's smiling face on the early "News" stories on our new website its reminded me that he is off-the-scene for a while with some significant health concerns of his own. Both The HRTrust and the web-based "rare disease community" telemedicine idea (now harnessed as a "MediBlog") were his, as was the Nikolas Symposium and no doubt hundreds of the other innovative and compassionate ideas in the research and treatment of cancer in children spanning his career in the UK, USA and elsewhere. I hope that some kind of miracle may happen soon and we get him back on the team...

Liferay people...

I've now received correspondence from several people at Liferay, including some senior individuals who were keen to help out, as well as the Liferay employee who offered, in a comment on this site, to facilitate some fixes . I also had a fix for the Document Library error via my post on the support site (LEP-1814 for those who are interested) which I've now applied and this worked - NB I stopped Liferay; applied fix, started Liferay using the Webmin console on our VPS at Rimu.

I have now spoken directly to the folks at Liferay and we have discussed the idea that the Trust will invest a very small amount in consultancy to be sure that the we have a solid installation, if there is any spare time we might get some nice-too-haves too! Watch this space! Liferay is a business not a charity so I think its good of them to consider small "projects" like this one; having worked in IT projects & support for so long I can appreciate the management overhead just for setting up a new customer...

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Liferay Document Libray (NOT!)

Well since I first created a loca Liferay instance and then paid for Rimu hosting we've gone from v4.1.2 to 4.1.3 and finally to 4.2 Sadly none of these versions has a document library that works which is disappointing for a standard install of standard portlets using the hosting service advertised on the Liferay site. In their defence, it works fine on my local instance although that was a slightly earlier version of the ENTERPRISE version (can't remember which) and it was using the Hypersonic Db that came with the Tomcat/JBoss install file (as used in the Lifecast I think).

There are some relevent issues logged on the Liferay forum with some rather cryptic fixes, apparently the issue is a deprecated method in Lucene (apache) that is called by Jackrabbit (apache). In any case, the fix seems to be incomplete (or I'm being thick (likely)) and it was not fixed in two upgrades.

The folks at Rimu are very helpful but understandably don't seem keen to be debugging/fixing the java issues - it seems that the relationship between the two organisations is not as close as I would have hoped. Perhaps a lot to expect, Liferay is quite a sophisticated beast and getting into the detail would require quite a big investment in time, as I'm discovering.

I've now mailed the Liferay Sales team requesting assistance twice and an awaiting a reply.