2005-10-17

Giving Thanks

The weekend before last was Thanksgiving in Canada. I had a good weekend, but not as good as this last weekend. On Saturday afternoon there was a rain shower, and then the sky mostly cleared. I decided to go for a walk as the trees are at showing their peak Fall colours. Fortunately I remembered to take my camera with me.





It was one of those magical times: the low angle of the sun, raindrops sparkling, the Fall colours… I found myself almost ravenously running from one spot to the next to get as many pictures as I could before the light failed. Short of taking a picture of my foot, it was almost impossible not to get a good shot.





When the light and my camera battery finally failed, I came home exhilarated and truly thankful.









- Happy Thanksgivings to you all, whenever you actually celebrate!!

2005-09-14

DIY satellites reinvent the space race

I love the idea of enabling something then seeing what people make of it. The following quotation says it best:

"I kind of look at this as the Apple II. The ordinary person can get something into space," said Bob Twiggs, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford

But, whereas the quotation references hobbyist computer hardware, the article is about miniature satellites!!

I love it.

2005-08-24

NPS Pharmaceuticals: Medical Journal Reports Teduglutide Improves Intestinal Function in Patients With Short Bowel Syndrome

In a much earlier posting in April 2004 I wrote about my work years ago with Dr. Dan Drucker to develop a derivative of the human hormone GLP-2 to treat short bowel syndrome. NPS Pharmaceuticals, the acquirer of Allelix, my employer at the time, just released this news release about the positive results of a Phase 2 study and that they have now initiated a Phase 3 study. Yeah!!

2005-07-29

///Martin\\\

Here's my favorite search engine: ///Martin\\\ Actually it is most people's favorite search engine, but thanks to the good folks at Google, Logogle lets one dream!

Crabby Lady

Customer help with a wrinkle, and a wink? That's 'The Crabby Office Lady' from Microsoft. Here's a sample:

'Let's get right to it: To clear up any preconceived notions you may have about the author of the Crabby Office Lady columns:
� I am not a man (at least last time I checked).
� I am not a group of writers.
� I don't believe that the character of Crabby is offensive to women, to persons of a certain age, or to crabs.
There, I've said it. And frankly, that's a load off my chest. Because, you see, I've received more than a few e-mails and pieces of feedback insisting that I personify one or more of the above, and it's about time to set the record straight. So, who am I? Why a 'crabby' office lady? What do our customers think? And finally, why would the world's leading software company with a reputation to uphold (you can stop your snickering now) let a fictionalized character (of all things) talk to its customers in a way, well, in a way that I sometimes do?'


I like the part about not snickering about upholding the reputation of the world's leading software company!

Crabby is a MS columnist (actually Annik Stahl) who writes about and answers questions on MS Office topics. She has written around 100 columns, and recorded 10 videos. Take a peak at the video on 'The Out of Office Assistant' for a good sample.

It a fun way to connect with users that seems to have developed a following. And yes, even Crabby allows RSS notification of her new postings!"

2005-07-25

Web Fads!

I remember the Hampsterdance (unfortunately), All your Base are Belong, Dancing Baby and (that poor) Star Wars Kid as fads. Friendster and Blogger, and to some extent Jibjab, are commercial sites - some people made money off these ones. Mahir, Ellen Feiss and Hot or Not seem to have passed me by.

What am I talking about? The list of 'Top 10 Web Fads' on C-Net. Good for a few minutes distraction on a Monday morning before you put your head down.

2005-06-21

The Worst Thing About Best Practices

The Worst Thing About Best Practices

I’ve been reviewing how we currently do some things and how we can improve. People ask, “Have you reviewed best practices?” which I have been doing. So I had to chuckle when I saw a marketing article called, “The Worst Thing About Best Practices”.
The author makes these points:
1. They rarely work
2. It's a follower's strategy
3. Change comes from within
4. They don't come with a manual

2005-05-16

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Standard

Another bylined article I've submitted, which talks about how adoption of a global standard in an industry sector disrupts the market for supporting software:

Sometimes the consequences of a course of action lead to unexpected events, especially when different, apparently independent market forces and trends converge. Take the new regulatory submission standards for example. There has been a fascinating interplay of business and process requirements, human factors, new technologies and software market forces, which unfortunately, has made the implementation of submission management systems a considerable challenge.

Traditionally every regulator has had their own unique requirements for submission content and format, and often these regional requirements differed significantly according to product type (drug, device, diagnostics, etc.) and stage of development. The efforts of the International Conference on Harmonization (ICH) to develop a common submission structure applicable to applications at different stages have therefore been welcome. While there are still regional differences in organizational detail and required content, the resulting ICH Common Technical Document (CTD) format is a great advance that enables extensive document reuse and global process coordination in companies.

So what else happened? Why can’t companies immediately benefit from the ICH’s efforts? The development of the CTD came at a time when there was also considerable pressure to move from paper to electronic formats. Sponsors sought the efficiency benefits of internal electronic processes in submission assembly, review and approval, and regulators concluded that the continuing growth in the size of submission would ultimately render paper submissions impractical. In the case of the FDA this has become especially critical as the reviewers are moving to new facilities with a smaller not larger, paper document room!

As the CTD was developed, another ICH group followed immediately with specifications for the electronic form – the eCTD. While the CTD is relatively specific, the electronic form is more specific in its requirements. Basically submission managers have more discretionary choices in assembling a CTD that they do with an eCTD. The greater specificity of the eCTD is a consequence of both design and technology choice.

The eCTD working group chose an emerging technology, XML, to describe how eCTD submissions should be formatted. XML is a relatively new and powerful tool that is being widely deployed in many industries as a way to describe information and transfer it between systems. XML is extremely flexible, but can also be used to create hierarchical formats with strict controls. The eCTD’s Document Type Definition (DTD) essentially requires that electronic submissions follow a specific format based on the CTD, but with strict requirements at each level, i.e. only certain documents with specific names can go in certain folders. Software can be developed that automatically follows the DTD specifications, making sure that users can only add the right documents in the right places, and also to automatically validating assembled, electronic submissions.

The key point about a standard like the eCTD is that it does not matter what software product is used to assemble a submission, the resulting electronic submission is exactly the same, since it must comply with the standard. Open standards are disruptive to software markets. In the case of the eCTD, it is enabling separation of the submission management process into discrete steps.

A submission might be prepared with one tool but could be viewed with another. As a result, a number of vendors provide free eCTD viewers. Here we see that one aspect of the overall submission process, namely viewing, has become a commodity. Vendors can no longer include viewing as part of the value proposition of their product. But this commoditization of submission management is occurring at more than the viewing step.

The eCTD is designed as a standard submission format to ensure that the submission sent by a sponsor is exactly recreated at the regulator. But submission transfer is not restricted to a completed submission. Parts of draft submissions can be prepared in different locations within a company, or even by partners and service organizations, and then sent electronically to another system for final assembly. Again, each of these submission sections could be prepared and then assembled using different software products from different vendors, since what is being transferred must conform to the same standard (i.e. the eCTD). An open standard levels the playing field in a way that provides flexibility to end users, but it also presents big challenges to commercial software vendors.

A third example of the mixing-and-matching of submission products is the use of a submission assembler from one vendor and a validator from another. Yet another example relates to printing. While the eCTD is an electronic format, since it is based on the CTD, paper submissions can be printed from electronic submissions. Since regulatory authorities in Europe currently require that paper copies be submitted with each eCTD, this is an important requirement. Some software vendors now provide standalone eCTD printing products – again these products can print any valid eCTD prepared by software from other vendors, not just submissions prepared in a specific system.

When submissions were only paper, the available software products were monolithic, end-to-end systems that were required to do everything. Their proprietary nature made it very difficult for users to use other software tools during submission assembly and publishing. Now as we have seen, users can mix-and-match different tools to suite their needs.

Clearly the transition to electronic submissions in an eCTD format has created a technological discontinuity in the software marketplace. Not only can aspects of the process be performed by standalone tools, the traditional, established submission publishing products are not suitable – the new requirements need a new approach. Just a few years ago, before the eCTD was completed, there were two primary vendors in a mature, stable marketplace. At the Drug Information Association’s (DIA) North American December 2004 eCTD/CTD meeting six vendors presented their eCTD solutions, and at the February 2005 document management meeting 10 vendors presented eCTD tools in a submission workshop. The DIA organized these events to help life sciences companies that are facing difficult decisions.

While the growing number of vendors and products suggests users have a wider choice, the increased market competition has resulted in tremendous price erosion. The long-term viability of these specialty vendors is now in question since the number of customer companies has not dramatically increased to compensate for the lower product prices, i.e. the customer base remains the same and while the market size measure by total revenue is decreasing. In addition, this market is being divided between many more vendors, each selling products for far less. The current situation is reminiscent of the dot com era, but on a much smaller scale – small, venture-backed, startup companies are desperately competing to buy market share in a market that cannot sustain them.

Another technological trend is also emerging to disrupt the submission publishing business – the continuing development of powerful document management systems. Traditional paper submissions in life sciences had very specialized requirements for managing large document collections beyond the capabilities of early document management systems. In essence, the submission market developed because the available document management systems were inadequate. In the same manner, paper submission production required unique features to manage large print jobs on production printers, and both paper and early electronic submission formats before the eCTD required complex PDF manipulation at a time when PDF technology was relatively new.

The standard, corporate submission management system configuration is usually a hybrid. A document management system is used to manage the lifecycle of all components, electronic documents, and these are then ‘sent’ to a submission publishing system for assembly, manipulation and printing. These two systems have traditionally been sourced from different vendors, so synchronization between the two has typically been a problem for users, especially as document management systems were often highly and uniquely customized in each company.

Nowadays document management systems are far more sophisticated – indeed they are merging into a new category called enterprise content management (ECM). Modern ECM systems have many tools to support large collections of documents, as well as a range of collaborative process-support, tracking and reporting tools, and given the simplified, XML-based requirements of the eCTD, do not require much extension to manage the entire submission process, packaging and exporting the electronic documents that they already hold. There is significant benefit in using one, primary software product for the entire process.

There are clearly conflicting market forces in play. On the one hand we see ECM systems being capable of handling more of the submission process, and on the hand other specific steps of the submission process can be handled by purpose-build tools from several vendors. It may be that ECM systems will come to manage the overall process and be supplemented by specialty eCTD tools for specific steps in the process, e.g. validation and printing.

In summary, the development of a relatively standard, open format for electronic submissions in all regions, which should have made submission management a much easier process for life sciences companies, has created new challenges by disrupting the market for the necessary software support tools. Users are faced with a dilemma of choosing between a wide range of new and often incompletely developed tools from many different vendors, and are concerned both about the features they require and the long-term support for those tools (i.e. vendor viability). In some cases companies have simply resorted to building their own submission management software, at least in the interim. As history has shown however, pharmaceutical companies often build software for their own immediate needs, but ultimately they have to transition to commercially available products.

As with all markets, after this current period of uncertainty created by significant change, there will be maturation and stabilization. Already the ICH eCTD and the regional standards have stabilized after a period of rapid evolution, and the FDA for example, has committed not to make further major changes without two years notice. This provides a firm base for the impending market shakeout. The resulting balance between ECM/document management systems, submission management solutions and specialty software tools for specific submission tasks is as yet unknown.

2005-05-12

A new corporate blog type: Stolen A3

Stolen A3

Here's a new one for me. Audi are introducing their new A3 car. But to develop interest, they have an ongoing story about how a specific car was stolen from them. To quote from the site, it is “a fun, interactive, fictional story sponsored by Audi. This campaign is similar to what's known as "Alternate Reality Gaming," in which a community of users become a part of the story, interact with its characters, and help each other unravel its mysteries along the way. If you'd like to immerse yourself in this entertaining, challenging experience, you can check out the "In A Nutshell" links on the right for a summary of the story so far...then be sure to visit the discussion forum and join in the fun!”

The story is presented in the form of a blog, with some movies, a discussion forum, RSS feed, links, etc. -- cool!

2005-05-10

Works for Me: A blog by any name - CNET reviews

Works for Me: A blog by any name - CNET reviews
Rafe Needleman of CNET posted a review of blogs today. It’s interesting how many times the same thinks come up – I guess most of us don’t do much original research. He starts with an intro based on the recent BusinessWeek article on blogs, which has recognized blogging as a trend that will "change your business. He then moves into a listing of his blog taxonomy. I’ve quoted liberally below.

With my involvement in the forthcoming ECM (Enterprise Content Management Blog) sponsored by Open Text, I’ve been looking into blogs, as noted in earlier posts. Needleman’s taxonomy would accommodate what we are doing is a blend of a traditional ‘diary’ blog, with elements of a group-grope blog. As a vendor of ECM software, we already sell a number of project and collaboration support tools. Needleman’s describes wikis as, “extremely powerful new tools for business collaboration.” We don’t yet include wikis in our collaboration suite, but we do have blogs in our Community of Practice software. Needleman mentions Socailtext as a vendor of commercial wiki. We do have a function tha is awfully close – a web based text file editor (also does Word formats) that allows people to edit and post new versions (provided they have permissions ot do so).

The diary blog
“This is the original blog type, in which one or a very small number of authors frequently post comments or thoughts on a site, with the newest posts at the top of the page and the older ones getting pushed down.” The usual mention is Robert Scoble, who writes the Scobleizer. Needleman mention the “…recruiting bloggers to pitch your product, which Microsoft is also doing, undermines the positive power of blogging” and the “…character blog, sometimes called the fake blog. These are attributed to fictional people. For example, see the the Lincoln Fry blog that was part of McDonalds Super Bowl ad program, and the Captain Morgan Spiced Rum blog, by the captain himself. Think of these as commercials in blog form.”

The project blog
“Many small software companies are starting blogs based on their products. If you're running a growing business, a project blog is a great way to keep your most loyal customers up to speed with your progress. For examples, see Intuit's blog and FeedBurner's blog.”

The grok blog
“This is a blog that points to, and comments on, media stories. I call it a grok because this was the format of Media Grok, the ongoing critique of the media launched by the Industry Standard in the Internet bubble.” He mentions “…popular gadget blogs Engadget and Gizmodo, for example. Both were built on the grok model, although they are doing more original reporting as they mature.”

The group-grope blog
“All industries are small. In any industry, there is a cadre of thought leaders who are inquisitive and outspoken and who become smarter the more they interact with others. Blogs that multiple people post can serve as an ongoing trade conference. One example is AlwaysOn...”

The wiki
“A wiki is collaborative Web site. It is not, strictly speaking, a blog at all, but wikis have bloglike elements: they are easy to update, and most are written in an informal style. Wikis are also extremely powerful new tools for business collaboration. You can get a bunch of people up and running on wiki in a fraction of the time it would take to set up almost any other groupware application, and wiki users can organize their online work spaces in the ways that make sense to them--not to some harried IT staff.

Wikis can tend to become rather disorganized after a while, but for keeping teams up-to-date on active projects, they really can't be beat. (I'm using one my own editorial and product management team, and I think it's great so far.)

The most famous wiki is the collaborative encyclopedia, the Wikipedia. For collaborative work spaces, there are several companies you can turn to, including the pioneer Socialte

2005-05-05

The Evolution of Electronic and Digital Signatures in the Pharmaceutical Industry

I get asked about electronic and digital signatures and the difference between them a lot. In the pharmaceutical industry there is a defined difference based on the US Food and Drug Administrations's (FDA) regulations.

The FDA distinguishes between ‘closed’ and ‘open’ systems. A ‘closed’ system is one where a given company has tight control over system access and always ‘knows’ who is accessing the system – this is typical of important, internal, corporate systems to manage records. In contrast, an ‘open’ system is one where outside users, who may not be known or at least not controlled, may access the system (e.g. staff from a collaborating company). Closed systems depend on system integrity to manage record integrity, whereas in the case of open systems there needs to be more control at the individual record level.

We can see how this works by the type of signatures that are acceptable in the case of closed or open systems. The FDA distinguishes between electronic signatures vs. digital signatures in their 21 CFR Part 11 regulations that cover the management of electronic records and the signatures that may be applied to them.

Electronic signatures, as defined by the FDA, in essence are a record of a users signing action in the audit trail of the system. A user took an action that they know would result in a signing action (e.g. pushing a ‘Sign’ button) and then reconfirmed their identity by responding to a username/password challenge. In order that someone else knows that the document has been signed, there is also a requirement that the same metadata be embedded in the document in a form that is human readable and cannot be separated from the document – typically this requires systems to produce a secure PDF version of the document with the signature ‘manifestation’ added in a defined area or on an extra page. So, the signature is verifiable in the audit trail of a closed system which is controlled by the company. The company can continue to manage this information as records are moved from active use to archives. Open Text’s eSign product provides for electronic signatures to electronic records in Livelink systems.

Digital signatures, as defined by the FDA, usually use PKI technology. Typically the signature is contained within the signed document, rather than simply being a manifestation of system records. The advantage of this approach is that in theory a record can be sent to people outside the originating system but still be verifiable. However, such verification depends on access to certificate information. If certificate management is only within a given company then users outside cannot verify signatures. In addition, there are many proprietary permutations of PKI technology, so two companies may not have compatible systems that support mutual verification. This has significantly impaired the implementation of digital signatures in the pharmaceutical industry; in essence the question is, “What is the point of incurring the extra expense of implementing digital signatures if they can only be used internally, when electronic signatures are sufficient according to the regulations?”

To address these concerns a number of leading pharma and life sciences companies have formed a consortium to develop an industry-wide open standard for the secure, trusted exchange of signed documents. You can read more about it here: http://www.opentext.com/pharmaceutical/safe.html (see especially the link to the News Release and the SAFE website at the bottom of the page). Open Text Livelink was used as the technology demonstration platform and Open Text now sells a SAFE-complaint PKI solution. SAFE depends on established certificate management networks – in the first instance on the Identrus network already widely used and supported in the financial services and banking industries. The long term integrity and availability of these networks is required for archiving.

2005-04-26

The Growing Scope of Records Management in the Pharmaceutical Industry

Here's an bylined article I worte that was submitted last week:

Records management is hardly new to the pharmaceutical industry. But what is new is the breadth of records that must now be kept, the increasing proportion of electronic records (especially e-mail), and the impact of additional, new regulations from beyond the life sciences sphere (e.g. Sarbanes-Oxley). These changes have in turn created awareness of records management in a larger audience within companies, but a number of recent survey have found considerable confusion and uncertainty about the subject. An overview of the subject may be of use at this time.

What is a record? Very simply, a record is the final output of a business, managerial or administrative transaction. It is important to emphasize the word ‘final’ as it places records management in the context of information lifecycle. Take for example a standard operating procedure (SOP); we understand that in creation a SOP would have gone through a typical lifecycle from initial authoring, review and amendment, approval and then release. The released SOP, which is the form that is actually used in the business to guide actions, is the final form and therefore the record. Earlier draft versions are not records, and indeed in many companies procedures are established to ensure that drafts are destroyed, along with any supporting information such a comments made during review.

In the case of electronic documents, the initial lifecycle would likely have been managed by an electronic document management system that tracked different versions, the status of those versions, managed a defined workflow and controlled user access at each stage. Typically though, most document management systems were initially designed to address the needs of document creation through to approval, release and distribution, but they do not provide tools to further manage final documents as records.

So what is records management and what tools do we need to support a good records management program? Records management is a process for the systematic management of all records and the information or data that they contain. A records management program provides for the regular review and controlled retention or destruction of records, and aims to ensure that records are kept as long as necessary and then destroyed as required or allowed by regulations and statutes. In the SOP example, if it is a manufacturing record under FDA oversight then it will need to be retained in accordance with 21 CFR Part 210-211, and if it is an electronic record it must also be managed according to 21 CFR Part 11.

When records management software programs were first created, they were typically electronic tracking systems that helped to manage paper records. They enabled managers to track where a record was – typically in a specific file, in a given box, on a shelf, in a specific storage facility. They also provided disposition management, notifying a manager when it was time review a given record for possible destruction.

As electronic records grew in prominence, records management software was extended to manage both physical as well as electronic records. However, it is not always easy to determine if a given record is electronic or paper. Since typewriters are now almost extinct, practically every paper document is created using a word processor and so exist in electronic form first, before being printed. If the document requires signing before it is in final form (and therefore a record) and if the signature is applied in ink form to paper, then it is a paper record. Very often though, a paper record with ink signature is scanned into an electronic system for long term maintenance, becoming purely electronic again. It is necessary with such ‘hybrid’ systems to clearly define which form is the ‘official’ record and to confirm that its retention management meets all regulatory requirements.

Hybrid paper/electronic system are always problematic, and indeed in the history of the FDA’s 21 CFR Part 11 regulations, there were a series of guidance documents intended to bring clarity to the issue of what constitutes an electronic record – but these were subsequently withdrawn as they were seen as too onerous.

It is inevitable that eventually purely electronic systems, with no paper intermediate or final forms, will come to dominate. For this to be achieved though, there must be no business processes that require a paper form of a record, which is more difficult than it might at first seem. For example, under 21 CFR Part 11, an electronic signature applied to a document in a closed system is basically a metadata record in the system’s audit trail of a signing event. However, if it is necessary to exchange a document with another company or regulator that cannot access the system where the signature information is kept, then the electronic signature cannot be confidently validated. This fact has contributed to a delay in wide adoption of electronic signatures. Advances in joint industry-regulator efforts to develop standards for digital signatures, such as SAFE, are enabling purely electronic records to be exchanged and validated beyond a given company’s system. The important distinction is that signature information is contained within the digitally-signed document and remains with it, rather than in the system that contained in when it was signed. However, even digital signatures depend on external systems for validation, which can create problems in maintaining the verifiability of signatures in records that must be maintained for decades.

On the technology side, we have also seen a convergence of document management and records management software – most records management vendors have been acquired by document management vendors and their products integrated into software platforms that are now more often described as enterprise content management systems (ECM). ECM systems are also incorporating archiving technologies such as computer output to laser disc (COLD) or microfiche (COM), document imaging and digital asset management (DAM) for complex images and videos. This means that the full lifecycle of electronic documents, other electronic files and resulting records can now be managed in one system, which can also manage legacy paper records.

Another benefit of emerging ECM systems is e-mail archiving. In the past e-mail was seldom considered to contain important corporate records, but this has changed significantly, both because of broadened regulatory controls as well as the changing ways in which e-mail systems are employed by company staff.

In its early days e-mail was a simple communication medium with limited text. Then it became possible to attach documents to e-mails, but usually this was just a way to exchange copies of official records. Now however, e-mail applications like Microsoft Outlook are tightly integrated with word-processing applications. As e-mail increasingly supports more phases of document lifecycle, it is quite possible that a an e-mail may contain an official record. For example, a fully reviewed document may be e-mailed to a manager for signing – the first instance of the signed document may then be in a return e-mail. Another example of an official record in e-mail form is a simple text e-mail, with no document attachment, from a manager or executive which is an authorization for a business action.

At the moment in most companies, document management and e-mail systems are only weakly coupled, so it is hard to find where an official record is. Staff often assume that a given record is in a document management system, but that is not always the case, or it may not be the official record, as we have seen. Strictly controlled procedures are generally used to address this issue, but technological approaches to identify identical documents in different repositories (e.g. document management and e-mail systems) are beginning to be deployed, and importantly, the capture of content from across different systems into a single archive, where records management can be applied, is now emerging in integrated ECM systems.

In records management systems records follow a simple lifecycle path. Records are identified as to type and state. When first tracked records are usually in a ‘current’ state – that is they are the latest, effective version of a record. At some point however, a review process will identify that a record should move to a non-current state, for example if a more recent version is created. Subsequently a second review will determine if a record is to be archived or destroyed. The review process is greatly simplified if criteria can be applied to identify the type of record, and if there are standard retention periods pre-assigned to each record type. Developing a list of all record types and the policies associated with them can be a daunting task.

Record retention periods can vary from a few months, to years or even decades, and the period is often defined by legislation or regulations. Financial records are typically required to be maintained for seven years, whereas pharmaceutical product records may have to be maintained for a period of years after the final sale of a drug which may be expected to be in the market for many decades. Since records may be required to be provided in support of activities such as legal proceedings, regulatory review or defense of intellectual property, records management systems allow ‘holds’ to be applied to records to override the normal advance of a record according to predefined lifecycle rules. Only when all holds have been removed can a record resume its normal lifecycle.

The breadth of reasons why records must be managed has increased dramatically. These include regulatory requirements for pharmaceutical products, patient privacy, health and safety, environmental protection, contractual regulations, corporate governance, data protection, defense of inventorship, patents, copyright, trademarks, etc. The range of file types that are considered records has also dramatically increased, but without doubt, the largest category is e-mail.

Pharmaceutical companies are finding they must apply a records management strategy to all of their e-mails. Traditionally companies had general policies whereby all e-mails were disposed of after a period such as 90 days, unless a staff member made a deliberate disposition decision. However, given the distribution list of many e-mails, in practice a significant portion e-mails were saved by at least one employee, often by copying them to their local computer, making a CD, floppy disk or USB stick copy, or even printing them out. Once opposing counsels in legal proceedings determined that there was a good chance that a copy of an e-mail still existed somewhere in a company, even after the defined destruction periods, they started to demand detailed searches, which of course are extremely expensive. Recently I was told by and IT staffer at a major pharmaceutical company that his company spent $10 million searching for and retrieving such e-mails in one case alone!

A few years ago companies were only concerned with backing up e-mails for disaster recovery. Then in a number of highly publicized cases it was discovered that backup tapes containing e-mails had been kept after the designated destruction period. Companies implemented procedures to destroy backup tapes, but now they are being required to recognize that a certain portion of e-mails are in fact corporate records that must be retained for defined, and often long, periods of time. Given the huge volume of e-mails, it is technically impractical to keep all e-mails. Therefore systems are being established which classify e-mails and automatically apply retention policies based on the record type. In other words records management is being applied to e-mail.

In summary, whereas records management was once a back office activity of limited visibility, it has moved up significantly on corporate agendas as companies struggle to comply with a broad range of regulatory, legislative and other requirements. Supporting technologies for records management and archiving are now integrated in an emerging class of enterprise content management applications in a manner that promises to enable the management of records in any format, wherever they are, and by whatever method they were exchanged. However, the shear volume of records, especially coming from e-mail exchange, promises to make comprehensive records management programs extremely challenging, and necessitate the application of risk-benefit analysis to optimize program efficiencies.

2005-04-15

A blog like application: phpMyFAQ - open source FAQ system

A colleague recommended Dropload as an internet tool to exchange large files. When I clicked on the FAQ for the Dropload site a new window opened up which looked very much like a blog, with a reverse ordered, dated listing, as well as listings of the most recent 5 questions and the 10 most popular. At first I thought it was an innovative use of Blogging software until I noticed that it was powered by phpMyFAQ – which turns out to be an open source FAQ system related to php. Interesting.

phpMyFAQ - open source FAQ system for PHP and MySQL | welcome

2005-04-14

Blog censorship survey - What it says about blog 'penetration'

CNET News had this interesting item today about a survey by web hosting company Hostaway. What I found most interesting was the information about blogs; namely these excerpts:

"However, more than one-third of respondents had never heard of blogs before participating in the survey, and only around 30 percent of participants had actually visited a blog themselves"

And this from people who are presumably somewhat web-savy. It is clearly 'early days' for blogs, and expectations as to their benefits in terms of corporate blogs must be tempered. Of course it also makes you wonder what the situation will look like one and five years from now.

Blog censorship gains support | CNET News.com

2005-04-06

To Blog Corporately Or Not??

(Warning: This posting has lots of visible hyperlinks - I did that on purpose since syntax is important to this disucssion).

I’ve been looking a corporate blogs because my employer, Open Text, is considering sponsoring a blogging activity. What I’ve found is that there is quite bit written about corporate or business blogs, but in fact there are not as many corporate blogs as you might expect (using Google as the arbiter for that determination with “corporate blogs” and “business blogs” as search terms).

You can categorize corporate blogs in different ways. For example, is the corporate blog a showcase for senior management, or even just the CEO? A good example would be the GM blog, which highlights mostly Bob Lutz, Vice-Chairman and styling guru. Posts occur every few days and they generate a couple of dozen comments (or more) and a few trackbacks – not bad, but not as much as you might expect for the world’s largest (for the moment at least) automobile maker. Interestingly the site has a “GM Blogs” icon on the right, but I couldn’t see any pointer to them from Fastlane. Noticing that the URL was http://fastlane.gmblogs.com, I tried http://www.fastlane.com and sure enough got a complete listing of the two GM blogs (i.e. there was one other on small block V8s)…
GM: http://fastlane.gmblogs.com/

A far worse example in the same sector is Ford website; they used to be number two so they tried harder, now they’ve slipped so I guess they don’t try as hard… The site name would appear to suggest that this is a Ford blog, but when you go there, its just a blog for the Mustang, and guess what (?), it hasn’t been updated since August last year (!) – they should be embarrassed..
Ford: http://blog.ford.com/

The other kind of blogs are employee-managed blogs; Sun is a really good example (http://blog.sun.com/roller/main.do).

I found these further sub-categorized in a blog posting (http://www.cmomagazine.com/read/030105/blog_future.html):

1. One group of these blogs is tied directly to existing Sun products
2. A second category of employee blogging is not about current products but, among other things, the R&D paths under way at Sun
3. Many of the rest of the employee blogs are on subjects of general interest—albeit to a technical audience

When you got there the site aggregates all of the recent postings, and a blogroll lists them individually. I like it. Posting is restricted to current employees of Sun, but of course it is publicly viewable. There is a ‘Terms of Use’ policy displayed on the site: http://www.sun.com/share/text/termsofuse.html

Much has been written about how employee corporate blogs put a human face on an organization. I particularly liked the comment by Ruud here: http://www.cre8asiteforums.com/viewtopic.php?t=22556; namely:

“The project blogs of MS make pretty good reading. You get to know MS from a different side - although you also have to realize they don't represent company policy.

With company blogs I'm not really interested in dialogue. I want an inside view. A human view. A non-marketing blog. Feedback and conversations about the company's products belong in a forum: much better suited for that purpose than the comment section of a blog.

As for tone... Microsoft is starting to get it. Yahoo isn't doing bad. Google is painfully awful. The best one however has to be Ask's Ask Jeeves Blog. Their latest entry is titled "Confessions of a Backyard Orchardist", written by one of their web developers. And when is the last time you heard a senior VP talk in this voice?!”


This conforms with some of my other investigations of example technology Corporate Blogs:
Google: http://www.google.com/googleblog/
Ask Jeeves: http://blog.ask.com/
Microsoft: http://blogs.msdn.com/

Interestingly, Webmail.us: http://www.webmail.us/company-blogs has both kinds of blogs, one for their CEO and a collection from the team (i.e. employee blogs).

Monster is another company with corporate blogs, but they also host a discussion on their website about their blogs.
Blog: http://monster.typepad.com/
Discussion about their Blog: http://discussion.monster.com/articles/aboutblog/

“Integrated richness”, I’m inclined to call it, and definitely the future in my mind. Too often blogs hang out of context of other web content and strategies.

You might think that each of these technology companies would write their own software, or at least host the site themselves using commercially licensed or open source software; but this is not always the case. Note how the Monster site is hosted by TypePad. Another example is eBay (now there’s a company that could host if they wanted to!).
eBay: http://ebaydeveloper.typepad.com/

In a similar vein, consider that when Microsoft decided to support corporate blogs, long after employees started their own blogs on other sites, they decided to host it on MSDN – the Microsoft Development Network. Are blogs really only for geeks? Does MS get it yet?

In looking what else was hosted by Type Pad I founds the CEO Bloggers’ Club: http://prplanet.typepad.com/ceobloggers/. Several dozen CEOs who blog regularly.

Similarly, there is a listing of European Corporate Blogs at another site:
http://www.corporateblogging.info/europe/.

So to review, there are senior management blogs and there are employee blogs; some companies host their own and some use dedicated blog provider sites. Integration with other web content is just beginning, but should grow, and in my opinion will be very beneficial to companies at least. In other posts I’ve also noted that all of the standard rules about getting your website noticed and elevated in rankings apply to weblogs as well. At this point hardly anyone reads my blog here, but I don’t care because I’m using it as a notepad/commentary for myself. But you’d better believe that if Open Text sponsors one or more blog activities it will expect a return on investment (ROI).

So do corporate blogs provide benefit? I found an interesting set of quotations on metrics on the Big Blog Company site in an article by Jackie Danicki here: http://bigblogcompany.net/archives/000469.html. This comment towards the end of the post is particularly telling:

“Not every company needs a blog, but every company needs the support of a network. Some companies make the mistake of thinking that their node is strong enough to circumvent or even topple the network - just think back to AOL's 'walled garden' delusions only a few years ago. They thought that their content could supplant or compete with the entire internet.”

I think there is a spectrum. A classic corporate website is a marketing tool – everything is about the company and its products in the most favorable light. A corporate weblog attached to that is in the form of blogs.mycompany.com or www.mycompany.com/blogs, or if an outside company hosts something like mycompany.typepad.com. The site puts a human face on the corporation, especially if the blogs are by staff. This encourages user participation, but certainly doesn’t ensure it.

It is also a competitive intelligence challenge – I think that deserves a whole other posting as another topic.

At the other end of the spectrum would be personal blogs that have no agenda other than that set by the posters.

There is a middle ground though; here’s an example: Open Text sells software that falls into the category of Enterprise Content Management (ECM). This is an emerging category that is in turn maturing – there is considerable vendor consolidation underway. A new market category needs explaining. Accordingly, our CEO wrote first one, but soon to be three, books on the topic (http://www.opentext.com/corporate/ecm-book.html?ref=othome).

It/they have been very successful. Now the other large, specialty vendors in this space all have ‘ECM’ explained on their sites:

Open Text:
• From a link saying “The market leader in providing Enterprise Content Management (ECM) solutions. Find out more.>”
http://www.opentext.com/products/enterprise-content-management/index.html

Documentum:
• From a button saying “What is Enterprise Content Management (ECM)?”
http://www.documentum.com/solutions/ecm/ecm.htm

FileNET:
• From a “Defining ECM” link: http://www.filenet.com/English/Defining_ECM/index.asp

Hummingbird:
• From a “Enterprise Content Management Solutions” link:
http://www.hummingbird.com/products/enterprise/index.html

We might host a blog on ECM. We could do this on our website, or we could broaden the conversation on a dedicated site open to more than just our employees. And that is an important point: the classic corporate blogs are for staff only (e.g. see Sun’s policy as noted above).

If we’d like to invite others a dedicated ECM site that supports blogs makes more sense. Will others participate? Maybe, if we make the site open and clearly describe that policy of openness, and of course stick to it. Would we accept a blog from an Documentum employee – we’d better or the site looses its validity. Would a Documentum employee want to post (?); well that remains to be seen…

Perhaps, first we could expect others interested in ECM to participate, whether by posting or just monitoring. This might include users of other ECM products as they exchange best practices around ECM in general. It might also include consultants and industry analysts. We’ll see… Is there a need to describe ECM in other forums than corporate web sites (ours or our competitors) – I think so.

A final point. Would having two sites be twice as much work? Not necessarily. First, we have to remember that it is easy to cross-post to more than one weblog at once. One wouldn’t always do this, but quite often one might. Also, two sites can have different but complementary objectives, working synergistically.

Making IT (Information Technology) Work

Here's an article I recently wrote on strategies for successful implementation of software in the pharmaceutical industry that will be published in a print magazine soon; meanwhile here it is:-

If a system does not benefit you and your colleagues, it will fail

Here’s a typical scenario. A software vendor is coming in to demonstrate its particular product. Staff members either volunteer or are ‘volunteered’ to come and hear the pitch, but they could probably write the script for the first 10 minutes themselves. An earnest sale representative starts to introduce his/her company: “We are the leading vendor of software that will make you more efficient, will save you money, get you to market faster and make sure you comply to the FDA’s regulations.” The audience smiles with fixed smiles and pretend to pay attention – they’ve heard it all before.

After a while, the presentation moves to the demonstration phase, probably given by a sales engineer who really knows the product. At that point the audience divides between those who try to follow along and those who have more information than they want.

In the end, pharmaceutical companies will buy some of the software that they see. Attempts will be made to use most of what they buy, but not all systems will ever be rolled out, and many of those systems that are will meet considerable user resistance, leading to deployment failure.

You could almost say that software and information technology are over-hyped and doomed to fail, but in fact, the right systems for the right purposes can be indispensable. I used a word processor to author this article and I’ll use e-mail to submit it; but I’m old enough to remember the time before such things existed. Things we really use become ‘part of the furniture.’

Just like drugs, most software candidates will fail, but the few successful, ‘blockbuster deployments’ will support everything else. So the problem is very similar: can we predict the blockbuster IT implementations, or at least make better decisions earlier to optimize our chances of success? Yes. In fact, IT project managers have developed some standard approaches to improving the chances of deployment success. Looking at such approaches as a potential end user on the business side, what contributions are going to be asked of you, and more importantly, can you have a role influencing future success while minimizing unproductive use of your time?

Success Criteria
We need to distinguish between software for single individuals working largely alone, departmental software for groups of people and enterprise software that is intended for most or all of an organization. If you are the end user of a single-user system, you are best able to determine if it is going to benefit you. But group software assessment is much harder – approximately in proportion to the number and types of users.

As I’ve described, software vendors usually talk about operational efficiency benefits, which is a message that appeals to management. In fact, experience has shown that end users of group systems are far more concerned about whether a given piece of software makes their job easier, than the overall benefits to their company. If it doesn’t make their jobs easier, they will usually resist efforts to implement it, which means that neither management nor staff will achieve the purported benefits. The more different users from different departments there are, the greater the challenge to successful deployment.

IT project managers are told to make sure that a proposed product will meet the needs of business users – that it will solve a critical business problem – that’s why software vendors now describe their products as solutions to problems rather than extolling the technology.

Validation Pains
Software used in the pharmaceutical industry must be validated if it is applied in critical applications that might put patient health or business continuity at risk. Readers may well be familiar with this approach either as quality managers or as they have seen it is used for control systems, but now it is applied more broadly to include most critical business software. The aim of validation is to ensure that the software and associated systems perform as required and that risks are identified and mitigated.

A first step in validation is to collect and document user requirements to produce a user requirement specification (URS). IT project managers will solicit your input. This information is incredibly important and is used as a basis to select software vendors and products in the early stages and ultimately to test the performance of the implemented system (performance qualification; PQ).

URS documents can vary widely in quality. Sometimes they are clearly the result of asking very different groups for their input and then making a master list with little integration. In worst-case situations, some individual requirements may be contradictory or even mutually exclusive! Thought should be given to better processes that might be enabled or optimal system design as URS documents are reviewed and finalized.

Often users give their input based on past experience and assumptions and do not know of alternatives. If you can, take the time to educate yourself about alternative technologies and other options, most importantly, consider whether a proposed software system will provide incremental benefit to a current process, or possibly a different and better process. Will the design of a proposed system force you to do things differently and if so will that be an improvement? Ideally an organization will recognize the importance of bringing all participating users up-to-speed before embarking on developing a URS.

There’s one warning: Often I see companies using validation expense and complexity as an excuse to maintain the status quo or justify slow roll-outs. User enthusiasm and support rapidly wane. Ultimately an inflexible or infrequently updated but validated system may become invalid as it fails to address evolving business and regulatory requirements. A validated, but unused, system may even encourage non-compliant user behaviors.

Successful Deployment
If you are asked about a new software system, make sure you give it proper consideration early on – if a given product is not going to unambiguously help you and your colleagues, say so. Later on, you’ll likely be asked to participate in a pilot implementation project. If you never really believed in the product then it will be a waste of your time to be trained and participate in the pilot only to report that the product was of no benefit when you suspected that all along.

If a pilot software project goes well, then IT managers will look for ‘power’ or ‘angel’ users to help roll it out to their colleagues. This is a proven approach to optimize user adoption: I am far more likely to listen to a colleague who has found genuine benefit in a product than to an IT manager.

On the other hand, if a given product makes your job easier and your efforts more productive, do you really want to spend a lot of time promoting it to your colleagues? Fortunately, for software deployment, many users enjoy the challenges and different experiences that promoting a new system can give – make sure you’re likely to be one of them before you get heavily into a new software project. Effective IT project managers are trying to address end user resistance and reduce the fear of failure, while looking for visionaries who can see the long-term benefits while accepting the near-term workload.

Executive sponsorship is essential. Nowadays IT project managers will look to get a senior business executive as a sponsor who can help overcome internal hurdles and encourage adoption. Also a steering or oversight committee will be formed and meet on a regular, but not necessarily, frequent basis.

Without such sponsorship, ultimate project success is much less likely, no matter how much enthusiasm there is among potential business end users. Before volunteering valuable time with a proposed software project, make sure the internal assessment and implementation efforts are well run.

Software Configuration and Customization
While sometimes a software product, touted as a “complete solution,” can do everything required to meet your needs, often it cannot. Simple configuration or customization may be required or software products may need to be acquired and integrated to achieve the required functionalities – so called “best-of-breed” systems. There are many options and forces at play.

In mature software sectors, an out-of-the-box product may fit your needs perfectly. Often some simple configuration options serve to optimize the software. But in less mature sectors, and in specialty applications, further customization may be required.

Here we have to strike a balance. Too often, one or more constituencies demand changes in a proposed software product, but will the proposed changes really produce a business benefit? The downside of any software customization is that it costs more money upfront, and continues to cost more money downstream, while making maintenance updates harder or often impossible. People realize this based on past failed projects or because the burden of validating systems increases dramatically with customization. Nowadays astute IT project managers choose to minimize customization to key features that are going to increase user acceptance and business benefit in a very tangible and measurable way.

As a business end user, you are the most important player in software assessment and deployment because in the end, if a system does not benefit you and your colleagues it will fail. You should lever that position to maximize the most effective use of your time while supporting efforts that will bring real benefits to your company.

Ten Ideas for Corporate RSS Feeds - Blogging Planet ENG

While researching corporate and company blogs I ran across a site for CEO Bloggers, which in turn lead me to an article on using RSS feeds, which was cross-posted at Blogging Planet.

There were 10 reasons listed for implementing RSS feeds (I’ve reproduced the bullet point titles below). It is already clear that my company, Open Text, should at least implement an RSS feed on our news page and homepages to start.

1) Email is an increasingly problematic communications tool due to the growth of spam and the overwhelming amount of email most businesspeople receive.
2) RSS is perfect for the online press room. Some companies using feeds successfully for their newsrooms include:
Cape Clear Software
IBM
Intel
USA Cycling
US Dept. of State
3) Keep your partners informed.
4) Keep your customers informed.
5) Provide specific informational categories so people can just receive what they are most interested in.
6) Make your resource centers/online libraries dynamic!
7) Put your events to work for you online.
8) Capture and publish the buzz.
9) Set up a feed for special promotions.
10) You can just as easily create private (password-protected) RSS feeds as public ones.

Ten Ideas for Corporate RSS Feeds - Blogging Planet ENG

2005-04-04

The 2005 Business Blogging Awards � Winners of the Business Blogging Awards

So here's a site that has an award for the best business blogs.

The 2005 Business Blogging Awards � Winners of the Business Blogging Awards

Corporate Blogs: Land of Opportunity - Arkansas small business blog - Marketing a Business Blog - Part 1

I liked this article (the first of two) which lists five ‘Strategies’ for a business blog.
1. Content, Content, Content
2. Search engine optimization
3. Blog registration
4. Traffic generators
5. Blog awards

Land of Opportunity - Arkansas small business blog - Marketing a Business Blog - Part 1

Corporate Blogs -- Business Blogs - Beyond the Hype

An article oriented to a realistic appraisal of corporate blogs. Some useful sections:

“…blogs are not an effective direct marketing tool”
“Are bloggers, and especially blog consultants, over-hyping blogs? Absolutely.
The first group is merely excited about technology. The second benefits from getting businesspeople to turn off their logic and open their pocket books. The unfortunate backlash -- wholesale discrediting of blogs by critics who have either never used them effectively or never used them altogether.”


business blogs -- beyond the hype

Corproate Blogs: Editorial - CMO Magazine

Open Text (my employer) is considering mounting a corporate blog - entirely appropriate for a company that has sold collaborative software applications for many years. I'm somewhat involved in this initiative, so I've been doing a bit of research. This article from CMO Magazine is one of the better and more recent ones:

Blog to the Future - Editorial - CMO Magazine

I particluarly liked the overview of the types of employee run blogs at Sun. There are three types described:

1. One group of these blogs is tied directly to existing Sun products
2. A second category of employee blogging is not about current products but, among other things, the R&D paths under way at Sun
3. Many of the rest of the employee blogs are on subjects of general interest—albeit to a technical audience


And the paragraph on how a collaborative software vendor used blogs:

Near-Time Flow, a collaboration software maker, used blogs to identify opinion leaders in knowledge management, distributed advance copies of a new product to those leaders and was able to use the comments that appeared in their blogs in its marketing campaigns. Prominent blogs are also a candidate for advertising buys (as in Andrew Sullivan's blog).

2005-03-15

Courtyard Updates

A key feature of our new house is a large central courtyard (posted earlier). It gives us an outdoors, tropical feel even in the middle of a very cold Canadian winter. We have now started to decorate the courtyard.

When Lindy and I were first married we had a large wall hanging made from a Marimekko printed fabric from Finland – at the time, the 1970’s, it was in fashionable colours of brown and gold. We hung it on our walls as we moved several times, and then it graduated to be cushion covers before ultimately being discarded. When it came time to decorate the new courtyard Lindy suggested Marimekko again. Courtesy of Google, we found a nearby supplier in Toronto: Finnish Place. Ten days ago we visited the store and found a couple of really good matches of colour and theme. After mounting on stretchers, here are the results:


Courtyard Hangings - Marimekko... Posted by Hello

Courtyard Hangings - Marimekko Posted by Hello

Second Oatcake Experiment

In my quest for the Lancashire oatcakes of my childhood, next I tested my theory that maybe they were based on fried porridge. So:
· 2 ¼ cup milled ‘quick’ oats
· 1 cup cold water
· A pinch of salt
· Brought to a boil, stirred until porridge-like consistency was reached and allowed to cool somewhat
· 1 tsp baking powder added and mixed in
· Cooked with a little oil in a non-stick frying pan

The result with the first one was certainly more to the grey side, but had trouble sticking together - presumably the released gluten from wheat flour really helps to hold pancakes together, which is why oatmeal pancake recipes always seem to have at least 1/3rd flour to oatmeal. Eggs can also help, so I mixed in an egg to the remaining batter, and cooked another. The result was a little more cohesive but noticeably more yellow. For the third I watered down the batter to make it run more. Here are the results:





The largest at the bottom is the first, the one on the left the second and the third on the right. As for taste, well... not bad but not worth repeating.

 Posted by Hello

2005-03-13

First Oatcake Experiment

I decided it was time to start experimenting how to make oatcakes according to the Lancashire style that I remember from my childhood.

Lindy (my wife) had a great and obvious idea: she suggested that I look in ‘The Joy of Cooking’ which has been our primary cooking resource book for the last 30 years. There is no listing for Lancashire Oatcakes, but there was a listing for Oatmeal Griddle Cakes. More importantly, this recipe was in a whole section on ‘Griddle Cakes and Fritter Variations’. Under this category there are pancakes, crêpes, waffles, flapjacks, etc. The basic recipe is for a batter made of flour and a liquid (water, milk, eggs), possibly with salt, sugar, baking powder, yeast, etc. cooked in a hot pan or even a hot rock in just a few minutes; this approach to cooking the batter contrasts to the family of boiled-batter foods like noodles and baked-batter like bread and cakes.

Once I made that obvious connection it was time to start experimenting. I’ve made crepe-style pancakes for many years using wheat flour, eggs and milk in a hot non-stick pan with minimal grease. The two recipes I’d found before (the BBC Staffordshire and the Staffordshire recipes) were clearly variants on the standard European flat crêpe style pancake, where oats are used in place a portion of the wheat flour.

Reading about oatcakes it was clear that they were food for the working man in industrial Lancashire. Oats grow locally because of their resistance to the prevailing cold and winds of the area. My guess is that wheat flour would be more expensive, so perhaps the cheapest form would have been oats (flakes or milled flour) and water cooked on a griddle, maybe sweetened with sugar or molasses and with yeast to make them rise (but only a little). There is also the possibility that the flakes may have been boiled first in water to break then down, essentially making porridge; in that case oatcakes could simply have been fried porridge. That sounds horrible! But, it would certainly explain the grey colour I remember…
However, to start, I decided to try a simple crêpe variation as follows:

• ¾ cup wheat flour
• 1 ¼ cup minute oats (partly milled)
• 1 tsp. brown sugar
• 1 tsp. baking powder
• Milk mixed in to give a typical crêpe runny consistency
• Let sit 1 hour covered at room temperature
• At this point I had to add more water as the oats had hydrated and the mix was too thick
• Fried in a hot pan non-stick pan for a few minutes on each side

Here’s the result:


First Oatcake Experiment Posted by Hello

My family said they were quite good with jam or syrup; I agreed. But, they were much close to ‘normal’ crepes than oatcakes, so I need to try a simpler, ‘oatier’ mix next time.

2005-03-12

Feeding Turkeys Too!

In an earlier post I talked about our Rabbit feeder cum Goshawk feeder, but it's also a Turkey feeder. Our good friend Rolf has threatened to make it a Turkey feeder cum Human feeder - apparently he likes the taste of wild turkey.


Turkeys... Posted by Hello

2005-03-06

Another Oatcake Recipe

Recipes

On the Hunt for Lancashire Oatcakes

When I was young and living in Bristol (SW England) my Grandmother used to bring Lancashire Oatcakes when she came to visit from Wigan, Lancashire. I fondly remember the oatcakes as a special breakfast treat. She bought them in the local market, wrapped them in a damp tea cloth to keep them moist and we ate them the next day after she arrived. They are best described as soft oval pancakes – but bubbly and grey. I’ve decided to find out more about them, and hopefully to be able to make them. Here’s the best page I’ve found so far (where they describe oatcakes as looking like a wet flannel), although they talk about Staffordshire Oatcakes – other websites point out that oatcakes vary considerably by region and are largely unknown in many parts of England. I also get the sense they are dying out. I’d love to get a recipe, but I expect I’ll have to experiment a bit to create one that matches my memories. We’ll see…

BBC - Stoke & Staffordshire - The Staffordshire Oatcake

2005-03-03

Technology Enabled Clothing!

I take lots of business trips and I take lots of gadgets on those trips - I think my electronics probably make up at least 50% of my luggage by weight. I've seen laptop bags that have pockets for 'everything' as well as ways to inteconnect the gadgets within the bag. But it's a first for me to see technology-enabled clothing. I guess I haven't been reading the right geeky 'zines.


Welcome To Technology Enabled Clothing

2005-02-26


I built a rabbit feeder in our backyard for the many wild rabbits we get there - it seems that I also created a hawk feeder... Posted by Hello

2005-02-24

Spam filters may lead scientists to AIDS vaccine

After my posting about whether computer viruses make our computer systems more robust to attack by aliens (tongue in cheek...), Karina pointed me to this interesting article about using anti-spam computational methods to identify common elements in retroviruses like HIV:

Spam filters may lead scientists to AIDS vaccine

2005-02-19

Do Viruses Make Us Stronger?

I've been reading and watching more science fiction recently than I've done in a while. In a number of plots humans fight aliens by infecting their computers with computer viruses. It seems pretty far fetched since viruses typically exploit loopholes in the programming of operating systems and applications – if you never seen a computer system before, what are the chances you’ll be able to effectively disrupt it with some additional operative code that you ‘whip up’? Not good I’d say. On the other hand, humans are hard at work trying to develop viruses all the time and counter-measures to them.

I was stuck by a report that a cell phone virus has been spotted in the US for the first time: Cabir mobile virus found in U.S. CNET News.com. If aliens came to Earth, they might be hard pressed to find a virus exploit that hasn’t already been thought of, even assuming they first learned the applicable computer language(s). When my wife made the comment: “Why do people spend their time trying to break critical systems that everyone uses like cell phones?” I got to thinking that at least it makes our systems more resistant to alien attack… On the other hand, maybe alien systems are wide open because the morality of those aliens could not conceive of deliberate disruption of critical systems for fun.

2005-02-02

A Fake VW Commercial

A fake VW ad creates a lot of controversy: On the Bore Me site. It is definitely in very bad taste, but it’s probably a milestone in the evolution of the web. A professional looking ad (proving technology is making it easier to appear professional), a commentary on the frequency of suicide bombing, a stereotype of the suicide bomber, insensitivity to the many people who have suffered as a result of suicide bombings, a commentary on what is considered funny, spoofing a large corporation – this one has it all and it bothers me, but I still feel the need to point it out...

2005-01-27

My old blog

My old blog - soon to go...

I recently change from editing HTML to using Blogger to author my weblog. At first I still had the site hosted by my ISP – Rogers Canada – that also provides our house cable service, including digital movies, as well as service for our four cell phones. I’ve had no end of problems with Rogers over the years, and they provide some of the worst service I have ever experienced from a company.

From a dispassionate marketing professional’s (something I am nowadays) view I can see a lot that they do wrong. While primarily an infrastructure provider, they originally teamed up with @Home to provide value-added services. When @Home flopped, they decided to offer comparable services – they promised a lot but delivered a much less and that at a much slower pace that they said. Obviously it was harder and more expensive than they thought. Now they have teamed with Yahoo in Canada, and are switching their users over to Yahoo for services. But again they promise things that they are not delivering and now are moving to shut off the remaining services they offered – like web hosting. I blew my top a few days ago and transferred this site to hosting by Blogger as well.

Meanwhile I’m investigating what options I have to get out from this ill-deserving, virtual monopoly.

2005-01-23

I've got Fungus Gnats

…or more accurately, our jade plant does. I’m familiar with most typical house plant pests, but I hadn’t heard of fungus gnats until I did a little research. We’ve had some tiny flies living largely on the soil of a large jade plant, probably for the last two years. The plant hasn’t been bothered as far as I could see, so I haven’t done anything about it until now. They are tiny flies (as the name gnat suggests) and they live primarily on the fungus and organic material in soil. We’ve probably got them in all of out plants, but the jade just seems to be the most affected. Mind you, I had to wear my bifocals to get a good look at them…
You can get a good overview here: http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/insect/05595.html
Lindy (my wife) suggested that may account for why our cats occasionally seem to jump at no apparent object – maybe they don’t need bifocals to see flying gnats!

2005-01-22


The winter wonderland that is our back garden Posted by Hello

A tropical indoors in the middle of winter - actually it is the inside courtyard of our new house Posted by Hello

Reclaiming Software Jobs?

I work in the software industry, and while the company that I work for has not moved much of its programming offshore to India or other ‘third-world’ countries, many have. A programmer in Bangalore is a lot cheaper than a programmer in North America.

I was watching a TV show this morning about a new concept city in Arizona – with a very small footprint on the environment (they claimed use of only 2% of the space to house the same number of people as would be the case in urban sprawl). The residents grow their own food, have small dwellings, live very close to their neighbours, and most significantly, there is no provision for cars. Many of the residents work at crafts: carpentry, pottery, metal working, etc. It would be interesting to know how their products compare to similar products coming from the third world. My point here is whether the alternate, low consumption lifestyle workers in North America have a similar cost base to people working in a third-world country providing similar products. Or is it still more expensive so that the crafts have to command a premium price?

What’s this got to do with programmers? Well, why is that most alternate lifestyle communities in North America have crafts as their major occupation. As long as there is electricity and a connection to the Internet it is perfectly possible to pursue a range of occupations from any location – which is exactly why outsourcing of services like programming from third-world countries is now practical.

So what does this mean? Well, perhaps if you are a programmer in North America, the best way to defend your job would be to move to an alternate lifestyle community.

But this is not just true of programming. Recently I heard that reading x-rays is increasingly being outsourced to qualified radiologists in India… Soon we may all have to change our lifestyle and job location in response to the emergence of third world countries.