Sunday, November 25, 2007

Open Source Reporting and BI for MediBlog

I've been concerned for some time about how to present reports to the users and now Liferay has announced a partnership (or something) with a group called Pentaho. This seems to be the answer to all the reporting issues and interestingly they have settled on the same sort of approach as SAP: publish reports in the Portal! So it must be a promising partnership. Probably.

Still plodding on...

Well, not much to report lately. We've been busy with day jobs, sailing training, etc. and the incentive has dimmed a little following the Google revelation. We decided during a recent meeting that we would go ahead. We have only a few dozen days of Steve's time before he's off around the world in a boat so will be concentrating on getting some basics done.

Meanwhile, my customer has agreed to donate some hardware (a couple of old Sun servers) so we have an opportunity there, also, the EU have agreed to fund the Histio Net project but with far less cash then we asked for and far less than we need. Given the Google scare and the general lack of time we're not going to pitch Medys/MediBlog for the work - too risky!

There have been a few "full & frank exchanges of view" about how to divide the new reduced budget amongst the clinicians' institutions and across the Work Packages. One of the original team has already pulled out and it's make-or-break time this week to agree the new budget or lose everything. If things are salvaged I will be travelling to Vienna, Austria this week to discuss this and also to review the offerings from the potential IT providers. It will be interesting to see what sort of quotes provided as I can't see how any normal IT company could deliver the services to the meagre budget that is now available.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Oh no - G+ogle!

It emerges that Google have been working on an application like MediBlog for a year or so and for some strange reason they've given the project the name "Weaver". This discovery has made us stop to think about whether we really want to persue the MediBlog project with a team of three enthusiasts: why bother if Google can throw 15 sqillion dollars and half of California's Uber-geeks at it? There are a few things we'll probably be doing differently and its possible that these innovations may never even get out of the Visio/Word stage - just because we've found out that Google are working in the same area.
Anyway, there are a few screenshots of the Google service around on the net, its interesting to see how Google have approached the problem and also the ensuing blog comments have highlighted a number of other existing services e.g. and which are in various stages on completion.
A few themes have emerged in the blogosphere:
1. "Don't trust 'em: Google are mad, bad and dangerous to know"

This was nicely countered by one comment that maybe the people who think this should use Weaver to look up what can be done to help them with "Feelings of paranoia" or Alzheimer's Disease. The current issue of The Economist dedicated a front page to just this question, neatly concluding that "As things stand today, Google has little to worry about. Most users continue to google with carefree abandon" with the caveats that:
"The test comes when the good times end. At that point shareholders will demand trade-offs in their favour".
"Besides the slow risk of calcification that comes with growth, there is also the risk that Nooglers (new Google staff) will dilute Google's un-evil values". They cited the example of Nick Leeson, the misguided criminal who gambled away Barings bank.
I suppose that we won't know what Google might do if the good times end, but Google's value also depends a lot on goodwill - if they get caught doing something really,really bad (e.g. somehow compromising private health records) then we could all decide to stop using them and the value of the company will reduce quite rapidly - shareholders will probably understand that and for that reason I doubt there will ever be much pressure for them to "turn evil". The Nick Leeson analogy is more realistic - a small bunch of criminals or fools could do something to release private information but that risk lies with every large (or small!) company.
2. Done right, this could be something really important and worthwhile (*)
This line of thinking suggests that Google is really a force for good and are the only ones who can really sort out this problem.
3. still doesn't work :-/ it redirects to an "https" page with servicename = weaver
Someone found a link to it..
My current line of thinking is that there's always room for more than one player in any market so we should still continue to see if our ideas fly - at least until we have to dedicate serious money or time to it when the risks of "competing" head-on with Google will be more understood. In any case, Google haven't finished it yet - it won't be ready to help with the HistioNet project and in my opinion it will never be an appopriate tool for narrowly defined bepoke projects like that.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


..not sure if I mentioned it earlier but just in case: after some debate, googling and consultation we decided that Hibernate is the best way of integrating data into our web application, so we've canned the idea of using Stored Procedures in favour of Java classes. Steve now has the database and has made some progress populating the JSFs with MySQL data via Hibernate.

Registration and Log in.

Well we've actually started work on the system. The first, prerequisite, application is "Registration and Log In". This actually proved to be more complicated than one might expect at first but is actually quite logical in hindsight.

Users need to register before they can log in, and when they've registered they need to maintain their details. Then they need to log out and then log in again... etc. This required some thought and a bit of time joining eBay again to see how they do it (thanks eBay). I created a "spec" in Visio, Mike has produced the data model in the MySQL database and we discussed & refined it with help from the nice Entity Relationship diagram that was produced from the MyEclipseIDE database tools, which reverse-engineered the database. So we now have the first part of the database designed and ready to go. Mike produced a script to build the database and populate the various drop-down fields then emailed it to me & Steve so we could reproduce it locally simply by running the script in either the MySQL Query Browser or the MyEclipseIDE SQL tool.

This first version now includes the rather irritating but essential capability of supporting different languages. This makes it quite tedious for some jobs because some Lookup tables need an entry for every language we want to support - and of course we need to be careful about using Unicode. Initially we will be concentrating on English and French.

While we're on the subject of languages, Steve has found the best way to handle multiple languages with JSFs - all you need is a bundle for each language and away you go. You still need to maintain them though!

Saturday, June 30, 2007


Well, this Blog must be storming ahead in the channel charts - I've now earned US$2.56 from Google Ads. Crikey!

Can't have too many TLAs & FLAs

For the more recent incarnation of the Medys concept I've always had the vision of collaboration rather than world domination, hence the plan is to build the application and serve up the functionality as SOAP web services to anyone what wants to use them. To make life even easier we'll produce some WSRPs, despite the fact that these are apparently controversial I think its the easiest way to get our services out there. We'll showcase the Medys engine in our own site called MediBlog where we can also consume services from other organisations without confusing the brand. FYI architecture options on the current menu are Linux, MySQL, Stored Procedures, Glassfish, EJBs, JSF, WSRP and Liferay Portal.

While I'm here, I got an invitation to the Liferay/Alfresco conference ( which unfortunately is in LA - a nice opportunity to go there but can't really justify the time or money yet :(

New Team Member

I recently caught up with an old colleague who volunteered to help with some groundwork on the Java development. We called a meeting over lunch at a local restaurant and set out some objectives for the next couple of months so we now have some momentum for the first time: I'll resort to specifying what the application will do, MIKE will be the Db designer and STEVE will do all the hard work with Java. When we can say "hello" to the world we'll share up the work a bit more evenly. All looks very promising for the first time in ages.

Histio Net Update

The Histio Net application is in with the EU/DG Sanco people now and we have to wait until Sept for the next update. I'm still waiting on feedback about the Solaris servers - the upgrade is more or less on schedule and the best I can hope for there is to get something (or not) by October/November 2007. Whether they are likely to be useful or not, who knows?! We may be able to use them for the CORINTH (COnsortium Researching INto The Histiocytoses) which is a synergistic DNA study to be sponsored by the HRTrust too. As it happened, no one was too interested in trying out the different language communities I set up on the HRTrust.Org site.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Sun Solaris

We're currently upgrading one of our customers from SAP 4.6c to ECC6. This will require a complete set of new hardware and so, apparently, the old ones are redundant. Clearly, 4 year old servers are no good for NetWeaver but anything that currently supports hundreds of users on SAP R/3 should be Ok for a few dozen Liferay users. The kit runs Sun Solaris - i'm going to put in a request for the boxes and we'll see if there's any chance of getting some free hosting too. Unlikely but if you don't ask, you don't get, eh?

Histio Net

Things are getting more interesting with the Histio Net project: I now have some volunteers to help with the translation of stuff and consequently the portal now has a number of communities including parent/patient communities for English, French, Italian and Spanish languages. Once you get the basic idea of how Liferay handles communities it's quite simple although trying to keep things consistent in multiple languages whilst setting them up is a bit like 3d chess. All the parent/patient communities are "Open" i.e. anyone who's a member can join them to see document libraries, message boards, Wikis and directories associated with each community. My next trick is to create another community for the DG Sanco team that I control to keep some things out of the public domain.

I did find one interesting new thing about the Message boards, you can subscribe to them and receive email updates when a new item is added - the emails are sent from Joe Bloggs though, so I now have find out how to change that...

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Well, I finally got around to putting something reasonably useful on my lovely domain, When I say useful, I mean its better than the Italian stuff that came as default with the new registrar and that it has some AdSense (NB I've now earned over $2.47 from this Blogger site even though I've done nothing for a couple of months) and more interestingly perhaps, Google Analytics. I'm very interested to know who hits the site - and where they all come from...

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Liferay Email Portlet

It was a long shot and it didn't quite work.

I should know better but I was sort of hoping that getting the email hosting on the VPS to work would miraculously make the email portlet work too. It didn't. Having read some stuff on how to do it:

a) I can see why Liferay didn't have time in the day they spent installing 4.2
b) I can see that I'm not yet the kind of person I want trying to make it work

...because we need the portal user base to syncronise with the email user base which appears to require integration at the database level, etc. etc. etc. and getting a novice like me to do it is likely to prove dangerous and expensive.

Oh well. Must check the budget...

The EU and the DG SANCO

Well I now have the honour of being the parent/patient co-ordinator for a proposal to win new money for "Histio Net" from the EU for rare disease projects under the DG SANCO initiative. This is being lead by some cancer specialists in France who are looking to create a portal to facilitate international collaboration amongst Doctors, scientists and patient/parents and have asked me to help with the conceptualisation of the project. This is quite encouraging because, co-incidentally, "Mediblog" would deliver almost everything they want (such a shame it doesn't exist yet.)

I have only been asked to help with just the patient/parent aspects of the portal and I think the the existing hrtrust site will already do most of it. I'm not sure if all the languages are supported though - which might make it tricky. The HRTrust site will certainly be Ok for a pilot study though.

If you (are sad enough to) read the stuff on the DG SANCO site you will see that the potential market for Liferay (and any other portals of course) in this area could be very large. I did look into the idea of using the SAP Portal (which I know much more about) but the cost would be prohibitive and the benefits of the SAP Portal are only really realised when you use it to integrate with the other SAP applications. Pity, I really like the NetWeaver technology...

I now have loads of crap from the EU to read through, as if I didn't have enough to do.

DNS changes at last

I finally got around to switching the DNS servers for with my registrar last night. Hurrah!

This was a pain because I forgot that I needed the site to open up at the Liferay portal (D'oh!) and also didn't appreciate that the mail (MX) settings would switch too. Hence I surprised myself three times:

1. It all worked, almost instantly, as proved by
2. ..but it directed to the Apache standard pages
3. ..and all my email accounts stopped working

So, as is my usual practice now, I read as much as I could find in the "How-to s" on the Rimu site, tried a couple of things then logged a support ticket with them and waiting for them to fix it. As usual, I get a response very quickly, the work had been done (some minor config as described at and now resolves to the portal without the ports appearing in the URL.

With the emails, I managed to fix that myself by re-re-re-reading stuff about Postfix and Dovecot on the Rimu site. I had in fact set everything up correctly the first time but missed one essential re-start command and caused myself an hour or two's heartache. Anyway, the portal and the pop email works fine now although the mail client packages (Outlook/Express/Thunderbird) all needed some minor adjustments to cope with the new host.

I'm sure I will have missed something else but we'll see what happens over the next few days.

Back to Life(ray) - 01

I really can't believe its been so long since I put something here!!! Anyway the charity is still getting over the loss of Jon Pritchard, we are still getting over the loss of our cats, and I am still puzzling about how & when to bring MediBlog to life. And I got loads more management responsibilities at work; all of which makes it tough to get the time & motivation to do anything.

I may be repeating myself here but just in case I haven't already mentioned it: getting the installation/upgrade of liferay 4.2 was painful. In the end I had to admit defeat and get the experts in and paid Liferay for one day's consultancy to install it. There is an important lesson here for anyone who just wants a portal but doesn't know how to do it! Essentially, the excellent people at Rimu Hosting do offer a great Liferay hosting service (no really, its great) but they are not Liferay consultants. Hence when the basic installation doesn't work you really can't expect them to fix everything so:

Open Source Portals:

1. If you want the best open source portal, choose Liferay
2. ...but its Java so its not easy or cheap to host it (compared to PHP platforms)
3. If you can't host it yourself use Rimuhosting, as advertised on the Liferay site
4. Buy as much resource as you can afford on the Rimu VPS
5. If you're not a java/opensource guru, forget trying to install it yourself; expect to pay a Liferay consultant at least ONE DAY to do it for you

Then you will have the basic installation of Liferay and have established some kind of relationship with the nice people who work there.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Light relief

Well I discovered something positive today: I produced a CD (Owl & Pussy Cat...) to raise money for the charity and last year I put some of out on a Podcast on iTunes. Unexpectedly I discovered today that its the UK's 9th most popular podcast in the "Kids & Family" category! Fame at last..?

Saturday, January 27, 2007

..more bad news

Jon Pritchard died last week after a long illness. Although we had feared this news for while its still sad and unsettling to hear it, he will be impossible to replace in many ways, not least as the most skilled and experienced clinician we knew and also the most enthusiastic supporter of the HRTrust.

On top of that we have received more stories from parents who have lost children to Histiocytosis of one sort or another including Daniel Connacher and Andrew Jones. It is ironic that now we have our new site (built on Liferay) up and running at a redirected and yet the first new stories have been tragedies of one sort or another.

On the positive side, Jon's legacy is alive and well with meetings planned in UK and of course the website is finally live (more postings later about that). Things, as they say, can only get better...

Friday, January 19, 2007

What's it all about then, eh?

Sad news: Biggles died yesterday. He was in one of the best animal hospitals in the world but had a cardiac arrest whilst coming round from a general anaesthetic that was required to take biopsy material from the mass in his chest. Apparently 99.99% of animals that undergo the procedure survive it - I guess Biggles finally ran out of lives...

Strangely, we still don't know what the problem was, although some earlier blood tests had been "suggestive" of FIP again. The Vet school are going to do a Post Mortem to see if they can find out more about it - clearly they are interested to know what effect the Interferon had on him, and how it influenced the course of the disease.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Image problems

I think what many users would like to see on a MediBlog is some detail of someone else who had the same problems and what happened to them. This would have to be voluntary of course but I think, especially in rare/cronic diseases or animal health, people are generally quite open about some experiences.

To illustrate the point I, unfortunately, have the cases of FIP in our cats which to share with the Net. Over there--> is a picture of Basil who was the first to be diagnosed with it. He is not a fat cat here, his insides have been surrounded by fluid, caused by a destructive reaction to a virus.
This is an x-ray of him. All the white haze is basically "fluid" surrounding his organs. His symptoms were basically just lethargy and loss of appetite before he started to swell up. The vet attempted to treat him with a new regime of Interferon + steroids. Unfortunately this had no effect on him and he was euthenased (put to sleep) shortly afterwards, following a series of fits.

This in an x-ray of Biggles, his half-brother taken about a week after Basil died:Here the dark area in his chest is the air in his lungs - a closer look shows some more white haze around them, this is fluid caused by FIP. Interestingly, Biggles' reaction to the virus was in his chest area - limiting his ability to breathe hence he did not swell up in the same way but was likely to die sooner.

He too was given the steroid and interferon treatment and he responded, within a couple of weeks the picture was different:

Biggles survived all through the summer on regular but reducing doses of treatment until he was off all treatment.

He then got ill again with weight loss and loss of appetite in Dec -Jan-2007. This time his latest symptoms were not quite as one would expected for a cat with FIP so an x-ray was to examine other possibilities: here the stuff at the bottom is his collar (complete with bells and magnet catflap key).
And this is where the limitations of clinical images on the internet can be seen - or rather not seen as there is, apparently, a mass in there somewhere near his heart. I'm not a vet so I wouldn't know an unusual mass if it jumped out and bit me but one would expect that to "see" a mass that the image would have to be better than you see here!

Friday, January 12, 2007


I think it was Oscar Wilde who said that to lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness. On a somewhat less traumatic (but nevertheless painful), theme I've been wondering about our unfortunate little cat, Biggles and whether or not there's something we could have done differently. He is one of only around a dozen cats in the world to have survived "Feline Infectious Peritonitis" thanks to the innovative use of a drug called Interferon. After causing much interest and becoming a minor celebrity at our local Vet hospital last year he settled down to normal cat-type life of wondering around the house & garden, catching insects, eating, sleeping, eating, sleeping, eating, sleeping, staring out of the window, eating, sleeping.... Then a few weeks ago his routine seem to focus more on just the sleeping until he began to lose weight and we took him off to the vet last week fearing that the dreaded "FIP" was back. Well, it was good new/bad news: FIP has still gone but he's got cancer!

As he is still cared for under Sainsbury's Pet Insurance we have some options for him which seem rather exotic and expensive: believe it or not, he has to go to Cambridge University Vetinary Hospital for a biopsy, surgery and possibly chemotherapy. This is on top of his earlier bad luck - when he was born his mother died and all his siblings along with her, before he was born his father died too. He was rushed to a foster mother at 2am where he survived for a week before being swapped to another mother and then started, at last, to thrive. Then he & his adopted brother Basil both got FIP, Basil died and Biggles (as above) managed to survive again.

Well if cats have nine lives, maybe he has one or two left..? Watch this space...

Monday, January 08, 2007

Small world, getting smaller - and bigger

I just received the 2007 update from Ndiyo - a fascinating organisation creating hardware solutions for poor communities in developing countries to allow them access to the internet. This vision is aligned with open source software, microfinance and even "green" initiatives. The idea is to offer a network platform to internet cafes, schools & small businesses anywhere with a phone network, they can set up 10 or more terminals to each low-spec "server" running Ubunto Linux and connect all of them to the internet via a single mobile phone whilst consuming only 5% of the power of a similar PC based LAN. Initiatives like that could increase the web community massively. Ndiyo are looking for commercial revenue streams, maybe they should be thinking about a web community of their own as they can probably capture the homepages of all their users with some kind of iconoclastic domain name like or something... I'd suggest it to them but they've probably already thought of it, and I should probably just shut up and stop having "bright" ideas.

(..and that reminds me of something I read about the Capricorn Africa Society, started by the same guy who invented the SAS during WWII...)

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Back to Life (ray)

I've just spent a few days wrestling with some other SAP technology, namely the SAP eCommerce WebShop which (just to confound the innocent SAP technical consultants out there) is based on Java/JSP & Struts technologies with JCo (SAP Java Connector) links to the ABAP based CRM backend services for master data, catalogs/pricing, etc. One might be forgiven for thinking that BSPs would have been a more SAP-oriented choice but standard web tools allow customers to use standard web programming skills and designs to present their commercial (B2C & B2B) faces to the outside world. Maybe, but we still have to use the NWDS and the NetWeaver Development Infrastructure to migrate changes so its not quite as simple as all that... ah well,

Arrived home to hear that the guys at Liferay have now re-installed the HRTrust portal for me and it all seems to work Ok. So as if 18 hour days on SAP webshops aren't enough I'll be spending some time at the weekend on my Liferay content ... ah well,

Monday, January 01, 2007


I just remembered that I've added the google AdSense here. Lo & behold Google are going to pay me US$1.47 because a couple of visitors must have clicked a couple of adverts. Blimey.

O'Reilly Book

...just in case anyone wants to learn about SAP's SOA capability from some real experts I can advise a look at Enterprise SOA by Dan Woods and Thomas Mattern which is the one SAP were giving away free at TechEd, Amsterdam last year. We got to meet the authors to get our copies signed. NB its SOA in the context of SAP products and strategies but it should be relevant to geeks everywhere.