August 2012 Archives

Northern Ireland's secret IT bubble

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Could Northern Ireland be the next technology bubble about to rise upward and command global attention creating jobs and innovation?

Forget Silicon Glen (Glenrothes, Scotland etc), Silicon Fen (Cambridge, England) and even Silicon Valley or Roundabout -- the UK's smallest province could soon be known as Silicon Belfast (OK, it's not very catchy) or Béal Feirste to use the Irish.

Economic newswires suggest that the Northern Ireland economy has benefited from major investment by many large multi-national corporations into high tech industry over the last few years.

Companies are attracted by government subsidies, a skilled workforce and (presumably) the promise of an occasional 'Ulster Fry' breakfast.

In fact, Queen's University Belfast is widely famed as the home of the Northern Ireland Technology Centre (NITC) and forms one of the primary links between academic research and industry.

But in terms of tech companies actually operating in the country today, there are many to choose from.

Northern Irish Tech Selection Pack

In MOBILE: Jampot's AppBuilder product promises to allow any user to create a mobile application in minutes. With the recent release of its Android update, users of TheAppBuilder can now build a cross-platform native app for iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows Phone, as well as a HTML5 version for use on all HTML5 compatible devices.

In BUSINESS PRODUCTIVITY: SophiaSearch is a new player in the "contextually aware" enterprise search solutions market.

In SOCIAL MEDIA: RepKnight has developed a product geared around on sentiment analysis and social media analytics.

In NETWORKS: Aepona is among the best-known local companies currently developing software products including NaaS / APIs for mobile etc.

In EDUCATION: Learning Pool is NI's fastest tech growing company according to Deloitte.

In BUSINESS SERVICES: MailDistiller are based in the Science Park. Their email platform is all based around original software.

... and the list doesn't stop there.

This note is merely meant to whet your appetite and show you that Northern Ireland may soon be famous for new inventions and innovations in the tech sector.

So the most famous Northern Irish invention to date then?

In 1887 John Boyd Dunlop developed the first practical pneumatic or inflatable tyre for his son's tricycle and tested it in Cherryvale sports ground, South Belfast and patented it on 7 December 1888.

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Disease control via virtual cloud vaccinations

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Researchers at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta Georgia have been using virtual software lab technologies to analyse, test and refine new applications before taking them into live production environments.

Using a portion of private cloud capacity belonging to the Informatics Research and Development Activity (IRDA), researchers are now using virtualisation technology that lets them experiment with software and web development services in new ways.

This experimentation is hoped to extend to new methods of disease control as the scientists gain more freedom over the technology underpinning their research.

From Georgia to Alaska

The IRDA is now said to be working on as many as 100 software development projects extending from Georgia in America's deep south to the northern wilderness of Alaska.

US website Government Computer News reports on an occurrence where scientists working to support a chronic kidney disease programme used this 'R&D cloud' to get user feedback on the development of a web front end for a knowledge portal.

The web forum (doctor) will see you now

This type of web forum appears to now be more favourable to older more traditional methods such as setting up focus groups.

"A few years ago we did not exist," said Tom Savel, director of IRDA. "I think there was recognition in the agency that there needed to be a dedicated team of people that were focusing on cutting-edge technology and trying to help push the envelope for public health."

A new breeding ground

With government IT currently thundering towards the cloud on both sides of the Atlantic and further afield, healthcare and medicine comes to the fore as a vibrant new breeding ground (excuse the expression) for cloud technologies.

Here in the UK, InferMed Limited has developed a cloud-based technology hosted by Rackspace Hosting to support the 'Digital First' strategy introduced by NHS Direct where people are now accessing NHS Direct's services online than via the telephone.

The platform allows the delivery of online assessments and is said to provide greater choice for the patients that make 780,000 visits per month to access the NHS Direct health and symptom checkers online.

Digital (cloud) remote care

Duane Lawrence, CEO of InferMed Limited said, "NHS Direct made an historically important decision to lead the way in the adoption of advanced online services to provide an exciting new platform for the delivery of digital remote care. These new clinical self-assessment tools are a forerunner of the way in which people will interact with the NHS in the future. The new services were initially available via the web and have since transitioned to wider channels."

Since the launch of this service, Rackspace has reportedly responded with adjustments to the hosting infrastructure (due to its popularity) including additional load balancers and increased the system memory.

Wir sind nicht in Berlin, Adobe's 'Create the Web' London

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It's an inconvenient truth, if you run a web search for "creative capital of Europe?" most of the results are going to tell you that Berlin holds the crown for ingenuity, inspiration and innovation.

Regardless of the Berlin-Brandenburg region's no doubt prolific artistic prowess, Abobe is hosting an event for web developers and designers to cover the use of HTML5, CSS3, motion graphics 'and more' (as they say).

Create the Web London is free and will be held on 2nd October this year in London's West End.

The event is billed as an opportunity to learn about the latest tools and techniques for creating content for the modern web. Adobe says it will (as always) offer a "sneak peak" at new tools, technologies and services.

Sessions of particular interest to the Computer Weekly Developer Network blog include:

Move the Web: Introduction to Motion Graphics on the Web
Mike Chambers (director of developer advocacy) discusses how to make use of CSS3 transitions and animation, JavaScript libraries that can help with animation and suggestions for best practices around creating animations with web technologies.

Adobe Edge Animate: Creating the interactive web
Lee Brimelow (developer evangelist) will explain the Adobe Edge Animate tool for creating web animations with HTML, JavaScript and CSS. This session will clarify how Edge Animate can be used to create animations that run on browsers and mobile devices.

Createtheweb2-1024x214.png

Brackets: Code the Web
Adam Lehman (sr. product manager, interactive development) will showcase Brackets, an open source code editor with inline Quick Editing and live browser connectivity built with HTML, JavaScript and CSS.

PhoneGap & Shadow: Building & Testing Mobile Apps with Web Standards
"Every web developer needs to think about a mobile strategy when it comes to deploying content. This session will take a look at new APIs in HTML5 that make the most of mobile device features, how to test and debug content with tools like Adobe 'Shadow' and workflows for creating mobile applications from web technologies with PhoneGap and PhoneGap Build."

No we're not in Berlin, but London has plenty to challenge the rest of the continent's creative dexterity surely?


Abandon online shopping cart? - call cloud customer service

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London Mayor Boris Johnson may have lost a few fans over the years by backing George Bush and saying that he was actively "inculcating" his children in the benefits of a Tory government, but the London 2012 Olympics has probably absolved him of any public castigation for some months to come.

Perfect timing then for silver-haired superintendent to get back to what he loves doing most in the months ahead i.e. extolling the virtues of British business and small business entrepreneurship.

London TechCity start-up cloud.IQ is aiming to resonate with this tune by proving cloud-based multi-channel marketing apps to smaller mid-market firms who have as yet failed to harness commercial web application usage to its full potential.

In terms of services, cloud.IQ offers a smart 0800 number option for managing and routing calls, a 'cart recovery' function which claims to be able to "recover one in five abandoned shopping carts and increase sales" and a QR code tool to generate and manage QR codes to drive traffic to mobile sites.

But is this just a set of online promotional tools with a 'small business' and 'cloud' label tagged on for the sake of marketing spin?

The firm says that it is aiming to do for the world of multi-channel marketing what salesforce.com did to CRM: make it simple for any business to get hold of apps to improve their "customer conversion" factor.

Using these tools, firms will be able (it is claimed) to track the 75% of website shopping baskets that get abandoned (according to Forrester Research) before they are completed and deploy remarketing campaigns to recover the opportunity before they go somewhere else.

cloud IQ.png

According to a company press statement, "Functionally, cloud.IQ has developed market leading technology which allows organisations to manage their marketing communications simultaneously across multiple channels including text, phone, email, web, mobile web and social media all via a single interface."

It's true, Reuters reported the below comments in June of this year.

"I've noticed recently that more stores have begun emailing me about an abandoned' shopping cart, although usually to just ask if I had "trouble checking out," says dealnews features director Lindsay Sakraida. "The more clever retailers will offer enticement in their email, to make you reconsider the purchase."

Good news for businesses then, possibly slightly annoying for some consumers or indeed perhaps not... possibly useful for consumers who genuinely do abandon carts out of frustration with website operations.

After all, how many times have you walked away from your shopping in the supermarket?

Roughly never, right?

Japanese kanban board improves Microsoft developer workflow

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Microsoft has extended its Team Foundation Server (TFS) product this week with a new kanban board designed to improve developer workflow especially for teams using Agile and Scrum development methods.

Visual Studio Team Foundation Server 2012 (to give it its full name) is a collaboration platform for software application development teams that want to enclose their efforts within an application lifecycle management solution.

Functions include options such as source code control, data collection, automated reporting and project tracking.

The product now incorporates an improved kanban board, a work management strategy tool designed to break down a problem and then visually transition that work through a series of states.

NOTE: kanban boards have evolved out of Japanese kanban cards (first used to explain the relationship between manufacturing and distribution) to now symbolise the passage of workflow items as they progress from "to do" or "awaiting", through to "work in progress" and onward to "done" or "completed".

The MSDN's technical fellow for Team Foundation Server Brian Harry says that his group has been watching the growing interest in kanban closely despite the remaining popularity of Scrum.

kanban 2.jpeg

Simple example of a kanban board.

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Microsoft Team Foundation Server 2012 kanban board.


Just Do(wnload) It! David Lloyd Leisure's free mobile gym app

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With Britain's post-Olympic 'feel good must get down the gym' factor at its peak just now, this is clearly the right week out of 52 to launch a new mobile health and fitness "app" to the market.

David Lloyd Leisure's free UK mobile app includes a club finder, options to view photo galleries of club facilities, introductory video guides, downloadable timetables for courses and classes and searchable profiles of personal trainers and tennis coaches (among other features below).

• App-dashboard - customised dashboard enabling users to view the information that matters to them
• Club 'check-in'- allowing members to record their club visits
• Notifications -up-to-date information on events, new product launches and offers

NOTE: Compatibility extends to iPhone, iPod and iPad's running iOS 4.2 and above -- an Android version is also due for release soon.

"Many of our members lead very busy lives, but want to keep healthy and fit, which is why we try our utmost to help them slot sport and exercise regularly into their daily routines. This app will make our programmes and expertise more readily accessible at all times," said David Lloyd Leisure's head of digital marketing strategy David Brosse.

"The app is the initial building block for the provision of many new and exciting services we will be delivering over the coming months and years. New features for our app could include mobile bookings, music services, mobile payments, and the provision of engaging and educational videos; all of which will be a must for all health and fitness enthusiasts," added Brosse.

Given the current ubiquity of mobile device penetration today, can we now question where David Lloyd Leisure's app fits into the new mobile application development spectrum?

The three tiers of mobile app development

1. PRODUCTIVITY APPS -- Email clients, big brand name social media (Twitter, Facebook etc.), TV players, maps, utilities (calculators, clocks etc), cloud storage (Skydrive, iCloud, Ubuntu One etc.) and perhaps Skype. Productivity apps are apps that a user centralises their device operation around and will ALWAYS be installed.

2. LIFESTYLE & PERSONAL APPS -- Magazines & newspapers, health and fitness apps, games, travel booking clients, weather apps and perhaps podcasts. Like concrete apps these apps reside permanently on a user's device, but they say more about the person and the type of user that they are.

3. DISPOSABLE APPS -- An increasingly popular transitory app that a user downloads for a week or perhaps even a couple of days while at an event or show of some kind -- or possibly to join in with a special television broadcast.

DL Mobile App Phones.jpg

So with David Lloyd Leisure clearly falling into category #2, do we see a more district development pattern for programmers to be able to identify and target for their own innovations?

This suggestion may be stretching it I suppose, but as even casual users now appear to group their mobile apps by type, by favourite and by most used we may be able to define some new trends.

The app itself has been developed by Bristol-based specialist mobile agency AlwaysOnMessage and is available for free on the App Store.

How "healthy" are your mobile application downloads?

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The developer's godparent: application resource controls are on the rise

Are mobile developers going to have to become more aware of the system resources their applications consume... and therefore feel compelled to program more efficiently?

This is the question that arises in light of the increasing number of "system monitoring" tools being offered (generally free of charge) from App Stores such as BlackBerry App World, Google Play and the Apple App Store

Resource hungry appetites

Available now is the Application Resource Monitor for BlackBerry 7.1 tool. This free download has been produced in order to help maximise battery life and alert users as to the most "resource hungry" apps on their device.

Research in Motion says that Application Resource Monitor (or ARM for short) will only trigger an alert for apps that are running but not in use, or are running while the device has been idle.

Users may also choose to turn off the feature, ignore the alert, or add an app to a white list, which will cause the ARM to ignore it moving forward.

The BlackBerry help blog suggests that this tool will most useful to users who often leave an app running with the full intention of coming back to it, but get distracted so that it is left forgotten.

BlackBerry APP.png


The ARM app is part of a family of apps that includes Battery Saving Mode and Application Manager, which help users to optimise battery and memory usage.

So returning to our question...

  1. Are we about to witness some rise if developer efficiency initiatives if more users are more aware of what any installed app loads onto their device?
  2. Will resource inefficient apps start to feel the impact of natural selection and become less popular as a result?
  3. Will "program optimisation" techniques now come to the fore?
  4. Will POaaS "Program Optimisation-as-a-Service" techniques in virtualised cloud environments now come to the fore?
  5. Or will we just stay the same?

Do developers need to program for WiFi or 3G?

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Connectivity is everywhere today. From coffee shops to London tube stations and pubs, it's not hard to get close to some free WiFi if you really try hard.

I was on holiday in Sardinia last month and even little old Alghero airport had WiFi pumping out.

So my question is this... do developers need to program for WiFi or 3G?

Allow me to explain my dilemma.

I was at a technical conference back in early 2000-and-something listening to an evangelist talk about how we need to program for robust remote synchronisation to corporate databases. You know the kind of thing; a system engineer needs to connect to the home hub while on client site and exchange data, securely.

"Ah, but we should always program like there is no juice in the (Internet) pipe," said the evangelist. We'll call him Monsieur Déconnecté.

This guy had a point. We have needed to develop programs that can work remotely with no connectivity up until a point. What if for example an engineer needs to work in a concrete basement where there is no external connectivity? -- and of course there are many other examples of when we have to be offline.

But this was a decade ago.

Both WiFi and 3G have moved on massively, so perhaps now we need to question whether software application developers should think of mobile users as being "more connected" today than ever before.

I was very happy with my WiFi iPad version 1 to be honest. But then that was until I started using a Vodafone 3G iPad 3 (sorry, "new" iPad). Now then, I have 1 Gig broadband at home (OK so I don't quite get the full amount) and I haven't connected the new iPad to the home WiFi.

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The Vodafone micro-SIM card has been reported to get as little as just 0.64Mbps, but my speeds have been faster than that overall and I am going to start traveling with the unit to see how well it holds up.

Is it more expensive to operate the 3G way? Well yes of course Vodafone and/or any of the other providers will charge you the kinds of costs I have found here as a normal.

The question is, is it worth it?

I have been toying with the idea of extreme remote working, possibly even trying to write content to a CMS from a tablet device while on the run (on a train for example) away from WiFi connections. People don't really do this yet. People don't have Skype video conversations while walking down the street with their 3G iPad yet either.

With the unit I have now, I "could" do these things, so would I up my productivity enough to warrant the cost?

If I can truly embrace REAL REMOTE working then maybe software developers will also reflect the ultra-connectivity I am experiencing.

apple icloud.png

Apple's iCloud service (which I am enjoying immensely) allows me to write to documents on the run while I am offline and then sync up with them when I get back to connectivity land; but what if I really was ALWAYS connected.

Whether Monsieur Déconnecté ever truly becomes Monsieur Connecté or not, we're moving to a time when we will never need to be knowingly offline and this has to impact the way software applications are being developed.

I'm just sayin' - that's all ☺

Information isn't power, data flexibility is power

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Information is power, we already know this -- knowledge is power as well, we already know this too. But we must now realise, information is data... and data flexibility is the only way to ensure we retain this power we so desire.

So then, data flexibility is power.

There, we said it, I feel better - don't you?

But how can we prove this assertion? Pearson PLC is the self-proclaimed "world's leading learning company" no less. OK it does own the Financial Times Group and Penguin Books. The firm launched its Plug & Play API platform last year with the intention of making its content available for third party developer innovation.

The project set about releasing some Pearson content as APIs so internal and external developers could play with it, mashing Pearson data with other APIs to create new learning products.

Pearson PLC head of technologies Diana Stepner says that one of the consistent themes that her department heard from developers is that they need flexibility to access the data.

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"Developers don't care what database houses the data - they want to be able to easily explore and mould the data into their desired end product," said Stepner.

She describes it as the difference between swimming in a lane of an indoor pool versus being able to dive into an open ocean.

"The worst thing for a developer's creativity is limitations on the original data. Taking this feedback on board we've recently explored and implemented an alternative to our original relational, Postgres database," she added.

After weighing up various options, Pearson settled on a MongoDB solution as the team found open source "very appealing" with more opportunity to evolve and make changes. The schema-less nature of MongoDB gave Pearson the ability to evolve the data structures with more ease than using a relational database.

NOTE: MongoDB (from "humongous") is a scalable, high-performance, open source NoSQL database written in C++ that stores structured data as JSON-like documents with dynamic schemas. JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) is a text-based, human-readable data interchange format used for representing simple data structures and objects in web browser-based code.

Pearson's Stepner writes as follows:

"With MongoDB, one of the basic benefits to us was that the data is stored in a binary form of JSON. Previously data was stored in XML, so transformations were required before they could be served to web developers who tend to prefer JSON. These transformations led to more complex JSON structures than were strictly necessary. Restructuring our database for MongoDB and adopting a JSON first approach has been a valuable alteration that has greatly improved the developer experience."

"Our MongoDB migration has been very positive. That's not to suggest that NoSQL databases will be the future for everyone - many traditional or regulated systems, such as those found in banking and finance require the referential integrity built into relational databases. But for businesses that sit on a wealth of unstructured data, NoSQL databases can provide a fascinating alternative capable of stimulating innovation and new uses for data - expanding the imagination and future business potential."

Windows 8 programmers now 'poised to program'

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Microsoft has confirmed that the development and testing phase is over, Windows 8 is ready.

We can now enter a period known as "hand off to hardware" as we approach the more formal RTM (release to manufacturing).

The company appears to have kept pretty tight reigns on Windows 8 application development to start with, the first apps (free during the operating system's preview phase) appeared on the Windows Store on an "invitation only" basis.

Programmers will soon be able to start charging and the app market will open up in general.

When Windows 8 is generally available (on October 26) users in will be able to shop for apps in more than 100 languages.

Developer dashboard decoded

Microsoft says it is "expanding the Windows Store to new markets" as it adds supplementary language support for developers.

The company confirms that it has added 24 new app certification languages (bringing the total to 38 app submission languages) -- it and has also localised the "developer dashboard" into an additional 11 languages.

Developers who have a MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) or TechNet subscription will be able to download the Windows 8 RTM code on August 15 next week.

"Back when we first demonstrated Windows 8 in May 2011, we described it as **reimagining Windows, from the chipset to the experience** and that is what Windows 8 (and Windows RT) represents for both Microsoft and partners," blogged Microsoft's Windows's chief Steven Sinofsky.

"Today, the [App] Store is open for business and we'll rapidly expand to over 200 markets around the world. The opportunity for developers around the world to deliver innovative (and profitable) apps is unique with Windows 8. We're excited to see the work developers will be bringing to Windows 8."

Windows 8 developer.png

Killer app factors: speech, touch & mobile

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It's less than a decade ago that I wrote a piece for a software application developer title urging all programmers to believe in the "always develop with mobile in mind" mantra - actually it was in 2004.

Not ten years on then... and what seemed like a potential overstatement at the time now appears to be nothing less than stock standard common sense.

If we have to make the same kind of proclamations now in 2012, surely our "enabling technologies" of focus should be speech and touch. It's less of a shockwave now to say this kind of thing, but maybe that's because the scope of our comprehension for the pace of technology innovation has changed too.

Touch is of course driving the as yet still skeptically received Windows 8 operating system and we are all increasingly used to this method of user input due to our widespread love and affection for tablet PCs in their various forms.

Apple's Mountain Lion release officially reached us last week and there is a reasonable speech function.

TEST: "This sentence is written with mountain lion speech recognition to show clarity and accuracy." OK so that appears to work pretty well.

So what's coming next?

After our Nuance pushes speech recognition towards full "Star Trek"-ness piece earlier this year, this week we see the company release version 12 of Dragon NaturallySpeaking with what are claimed to be more than 100 new features and enhancements.

But what does that mean?

This technology is engineered to be able to adapt to:

• a person's preferred style of writing
• the audio characteristics of their voice
• pitch, speaking style, accents
• ...and even speech impediments.

"Dragon 12 brings in Smart Format Rules, a new technology that adapts to the way the user prefers to format their words. The software detects word, phrase and format corrections, including abbreviations and numbers, so dictated letters, emails and documents reflect a person's own writing style," said the company, in a press statement.

The software reminds users to adapt their profile's vocabulary based on any documents or emails of their choosing - so the words and phrases each person uses the most are recognised.

Dragon 12 features support for the Dragon Remote Mic App for iOS and now for Android devices. Users can turn their mobile phone into a microphone for use over a WiFi network using the free Dragon Remote Mic app.

Nunace CTO Vlad Sejnoha explains that what his company has done with this software is work to take advantage of multi-core processors and look for ways to exploit the opportunities for programming with concurrency and parallel programming in mind.

So OK, I can't suggest that mobile is important for programmers any more - that would just be silly.

Can I suggest instead that programmers need to consider parallel programming on multi-core processors aligned to take advantages of speech, touch & mobile as fundamental architectural concerns for every application they produce?

Or would that sound out of place too at this stage?

dragon man.png

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This page is an archive of entries from August 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

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