Usability - Productivity - Business - The web - Singapore & Twins

By Date: August 2007

Social Software in Action - Singapore edition

On the 15th August 2007 there was a panel discussion @ the Grand Hyatt in Singapore: "Define the Future of Business Collaboration in Singapore". General public social software sites are all the rage: Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, Twitter, Xing and whatever might be out there. Still businesses are confused or cautious what all the shiny new tools will do for them. To make the panel information available to a wider audience and to test how business minded Social Software would work IBM Singapore and SPH teamed up and launched Blog4Biz. It features 3 blogs "General Discussion", "Intra Organization Ideas" and "Inter Organization Ideas" as well as a WIKI. The wiki is read only for normal users, while everybody can contribute an entry in the "blog".
Being a Singapore website you can win prices for contributing a blog entry. I think it is a good example how you can get started in exploring social software. Go have a look.

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Posted by on 27 August 2007 | Comments (0) | categories: IBM - Lotus

Surfing in Singapore

We switched to a SingTel MIO plan recently. It did shave of quite some $$ from the phone bill due to its tripple play (land line, mobile, internet) However quality of service is patchy. The plan came with a 2Wire ADSL modem and a theoretical access speed of 10 Mbit/sec. (I was toying with buying the 25Mbit Option, but it doesn't seem like a real deal). She-who-must-be-obeyed complained about a drop in phone voice quality which is bad since her mother speaks very softly and she is almost the only person calling the land line.
Connection speed to the internet has great variance. On a good day in the early morning I can get around 200 KB/s-300KB/s. Yesterday I tried to book movie tickets from ANY of our local sites ( Golden Village, Cathay and Eng Wah. ) and it took more than 3 minutes for each site to respond (today it was 16 sec/ 1.2sec/ 11.5 sec measured with this little gem.). Looking for more data I found a test that allows to measure local and remote data with not really surprising result:
Singapore SurfSpeed 26Aug2007
The latency seems particularly pathetic and about 12% of the potential speed inside SG is rather disappointing. Of course this is totally unscientific. However Other sites showed results in the same range:

Speed Test Results

What irks me is two fold: first that massive mis-match between real performance and advertisement and the patchy reliability. More than once a day the router drops off the internet and takes a few seconds to reconnect. Anything going on then is dropped (and if your 2GB file transfer --- that holiday video the aunties back in Germany wanted to see --- is 98%, too bad) and you have to restart.
Sigh -- consumer market and quality of service.

Posted by on 26 August 2007 | Comments (1) | categories: Buying Broadband


One of my favorite business authors are Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I Sutton. They teach at Stanford and Harvard and create woderfull business books. Sutton even overstepped Harvard's fine taste and created a book titled " The No Asshole Rule" (Highly recommended read).
In their book " Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense" Pfeffer and Sutton advocate evidence-based management. This deeply resonated with me, probably because my childhood playground was a law firm and evidence daily business there.
In a nutshell: solid evidence should replace "conventional wisdom", "usual practices", "management hypes" and other nonsense. They suggest four easy sounding questions to be asked before implementing a business idea or practice (on page 22):
  1. What assumptions does the idea or practice make about people and organizations? What would have to be true about people and organizations for the idea or practice to be effective?
  2. Which of these assumptions seem reasonable and correct to you and your colleagues? Which seem wrong or suspect?
  3. Could this idea or practice still succeed if the assumptions turned out to be wrong?
  4. How might you and your colleagues quickly and inexpensively gather some data to test the reasonableness of the underlying assumptions?
  5. What other ideas or management practices can you think of that would address the same problem or issue and be more consisten with what you believe to be true about people and organizations?

The questions should be answered using solid facts, clear evidence. This made me think about evidence and what I know about it. There are several levels of evidence which I will shed a light on. I won't talk about witnesses, because they give evidence but they are not evidence per se:

Anecdotical  evidence
How to get a conversation going? Tell a story. We all love a good story, be it love, drama or horror. Stories are easy to obtain and are an excellent means to bring a point across. Well told they can change the perception of a topic. However anecdotes have a dark cousin, the " Urban myth". We hear horror stories every day "Using xyz will lead to abc, so better...." and eventually we even tell them. The biggest issue with anecdotical evidence: it is not repeatable. What worked for the fish sellers in San Francisco might not work in your environment. To no surprise anecdotical evidence is not  court admissible.

Statistical evidence
Running the numbers provides you with evidence that is rock solid and the undisputable bedrock of your management practice? Well some beg to differ. While numbers don't lie you might be seduced to look at the wrong number pairs or jump to wrong conclusions. E.g. (this is an anecdotical evidence bringing my point across): it is 45% more likely that a woman who uses red color for her fingernails is committing murder of her husband. So banning red nail polish will lower the crime rate?  Typical "sins" in statistic:
  • Using (only) analysis that supports a point that had been determined beforehand.
  • Overlooking the effect of time: Marketing money spend today will yield revenue only month down the road.
  • Seeing connections where there isn't: The number of storks and birth in northern Germany is pretty constant.. so who is bringing the babies?
  • Overlooking other factors: market saturation, competition, change in preferences (fashion anyone)
  • Linear extrapolation: I start my business with 2 people, after 4 month I hire two more, then 8 month later another 4. So I look at the numbers and say: oh my staff growth is 500% per year. So in less than 7 years I will be bigger than Microsoft and a few years later bigger than IBM. The 10% annual growth projection is not as drastic, but the numbers add up quickly too. You need some lessons in the law of diminishing returns to avoid that.
Since economics has so many factors to consider statistical evidence is a crude but readily available instrument to measure an idea or your results. The only thing to be careful about: You will get what you measure!

Forensic evidence
The favorite for all CSI and crime story fans. Using high tech equipment and the latest science you find out who's fiber that was and where and when the bullet was fired. Forensic evidence is typically directed backwards, explaining "what did happen" rather then "what will happen if...". In business this is useful as raw material for new theories or to nail down the bad guys ( Enron anyone).

Scientific evidence
The cousin of forensic evidence. They share a lot of the methodology but are quite different. At the core of scientific evidence lies a thesis or model with an important property: it needs to be able to be falsified. Science is always on the outlook to prove their own models wrong. If the models stand these tests, then they become accepted knowledge. Of course only until the model is superseded by a better one. Einstein's relativity theory superseded Newton's view of the world without the need to call Newton names or un-scientific. The hallmark of scientific evidence is the statement "to our best knowledge". This is also a clear differentiator to believe: if you believe that the world is 5000 years old, be my guest. Such a believe is 100% unscientific, since it lacks the readiness to let go once better insights are available. Or on other words: if it can't be falsified it is not scientific (and doesn't belong in science classes).
Other than forensic evidence scientific evidence can look forward: "If you mix Oxygen and Hydrogen in any combination between 5% and 95% it is highly explosive and will show an rapid exothermic reaction (a.k.a. explosion) that will create water". In business scientific evidence is expensive to obtain since it is nearly impossible to recreate the same laboratory experience. So most scientific methods in business take quite a dose of statistics.

Spiritual evidence
Looking around one might get the impression, that Spiritual evidence and Scientific evidence are each others nemesis. However Einstein is attributed with the quote: " Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." and I think he is right. (Very dangerous territory I'm walking in...). Spiritual evidence is the result of a personal mystic experience that lends one an insight into your own and the world being. While it is commonly related to religion and religious groups I firmly believe such evidence is deeply personal and non-transferable. Your spiritual group or your teacher can facilitate an experience or help one to cope with it, but it is your very own personal evidence. Spiritual evidence can be you guide to keep your business on track in its moral and ethic dimensions (if you trust that evidence).

Posted by on 25 August 2007 | Comments (1) | categories: After hours

Lotus Notes and Domino --- first impressions

I can't give any first impression at this time any more having worked with R8 for almost a year from early internal builds until the final release last Friday. So let us have a look what others have to say:

Tim Tripcony: " The server installation took 4 minutes . This includes stopping the Domino service, launching the installer, navigating the installation wizard, restarting the service, and selecting "Yes" when asked if I'd like to upgrade the design of my databases."

Bruce & Julian: The taking  Notes podcast with Mary, Ed, Alan and Rob talks about Notes 8.

Vowe isn't happy about the default install, but is happy, that the old R5 desktop has been retained.

Ron Sebastian is demonstrating the new R8 features on youTube.

Nick Boldt: " Notes 8 is an absolute delight to install as an upgrade to Notes 7"

The first R8 conference is coming soon.

Posted by on 20 August 2007 | Comments (1) | categories: IBM Notes Lotus Notes

Stress-Testing Lotus Domino applications with JMeter

There is a current discussion going on if and how to use webQueryOpen Agents. Jake has some excellent examples what you can achieve, while Michel didn't find performance differences between an embedded view and a WQO agent. I was actually not surprised, since a single user would show any difference. My suspicion is that the results will change once you put a server under load. So I was looking around for a tool that anybody could use to run a little test (so Rational Performance Tester was out of the picture).
The search was short. Apache offers a tool called JMeter. I don't know how it stacks up against other frameworks and/or tools, but it does everything we need for the little test. What is also quite nice about JMeter: there is a Wiki and plenty of online information how to use it. Once you download the binaries and expand them into a directory, you are good to go.
JMeter is started as Java application using the jmeter.bat file. You also have the option to run a command-line or even start remote instances. To work with JMeter successfully you need to understand a few concepts. JMeter is hierarchically organized. JMeter executes TestPlans, TestPlans contain ThreadGroups and ThreadGroups contain Tests. A Test consists as a minimum of one or more sampler. You also want to add a listener to show your result graphically or as table. You have a lot of options to configure and script, so it will take quite a while until you can take advantage of all the functionality. However the good news: it takes only a few minutes to configure a simple load test like "Hammer this URL with 1000 users".

These are the steps:
  1. Start JMeter
  2. Right click on Test Plan: add Thread Group. Specify the number of users (a.k.a threads) and the ramp-up time. This is the time how long JMeter will take to open all the treads. Also you can specify the number of loops to run.
  3. Right Click on the Tread Group and add a "HTTP Request HTTP Client" Sampler. Define the web server, port and relative URL (typically "/myNSF.nsf?OpenForm, ...?OpenDocument or ...?EditDocument").
  4. Right Click on Test Plan and add some listeners like the "Summary Result" or "Graph Result"
  5. Save the file (Ctrl+S)
  6. Run the plan (Ctrl+R)

That is all. You can look at the results in a tabular or graphic form, depending on the listeners you defined. Next step: run it against your favorite WQO.

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Posted by on 17 August 2007 | Comments (7) | categories: Show-N-Tell Thursday

But I want to play Linux, Daddy!

One thing, besides the action and tranquility of the Loola Resort I specifically like is their inclusion of their social environment. While the resort initially was incepted by an European, it is run and progressed by local people. Furthermore the resort serves as an anchor point for charitable work. They take in computers and refurbish and distribute them to local schools to improve computer literacy. Since we have the Mac mini and the ThinkPad I decided to donate the two Ubuntu boxes. I moved all the data to our NAS and off the boxes went. (Of course the harddisks had a little treatment before installing the latest and greatest.
Today Ernest realized that the desktops were gone. I explained what happened, which seemed to please him. However he then stated: "But I want to play Linux Daddy, you better put Linux on the Mac!". Parallels anyone?

Posted by on 16 August 2007 | Comments (1) | categories: Twins

How should organizations implement virus protection?

Virus protection is a discipline of risk management. A 100% protection is neither technological nor economical feasible. When implementing virus defenses, an enterprise needs to determine its risk level and take action according to their perceived need for security. This need will not only be determined by internal factors, but also by governing laws and principles. To get started enterprises can turn to established guidelines like the ISO 27001. ISO 27001 certification can be used as a driver to implement a sound security policy.
Comprehensive virus protection for any organization needs to be implemented in layers and must be part of a more complete security and risk managing initiative. You can borrow the principles from the blueprints of the great cities of the middle ages: not a single but multiple walls, a ditch, guards at the gates, signal towers, nearby allies and citizens vigilance constitute their defense system. The number of layers to be implemented depends on the risk level determined beforehand.
To guard the "gates" a twofold approach must be taken: disallow known trouble makers to reach you and inspect arrivals carefully. The first task can be achieved using spam filtering techniques like black listing or content recognition, the second by using virus scanning and content blocking. Important aspect here: You should reject a message as early as possible. There is no point scanning a message content if it could have been rejected for trying to deliver to an unknown user in your domain or being send from an origination that is known to a blacklisting service.
Having a current virus scanner signature might give enterprises a false sense of protection, therefore it must be complemented by digital fingerprint based file blocking and quarantine to catch unknown harm. This way any executable content can be blocked and unknown maleware escaping the scanning patterns will be captured and blocked swiftly.
All "gates" need to be protected equally: email, instant messaging and individual PCs where removable or portable media could pose an attack vector. The signaling towers would be the notification system, that alerts all gatekeepers if one of the gates encounters an attack to improve the networks resilience. This notification feature must include the network protection layer (a.k.a Firewall), so an attacked or infected segment can be isolated automatically.
Citizen's vigilance can be achieved with meaningful training and regular updates on the security front. If every employee is able to identity a suspicious entry (mostly via email), the risk of an infection is lowered substantially. Finally, virus protection is no one time effort: scanning patterns need to be auto-updated, new thread sources blacklisted and employees updated on the latest developments in network attack and protection.

Spam is a very popular attack vector, so head over to Chris and learn about Domino SPAM fighting

Posted by on 14 August 2007 | Comments (1) | categories: Software

Nathan nails it.

Nathan is right: " I've said many times that I think the great bane of Notes is that it has a history of making it TOO EASY for people to build bad applications.  Real solutions to business problems at a departmental level don't often scale well without refactoring, and I could count on one hand the number of times I've seen an organization refactor a Notes app in Notes, rather than on another platform."

Posted by on 08 August 2007 | Comments (2) | categories: IBM Notes Lotus Notes

Domino Application - ZEN style - Part 2

Continued from Part1.
Our application should start with a screen showing me only my documents and the option to switch to documents where I'm the approver. To do that I create a view based on the ($All) view and Just drag the Requestor column to the front. I also sort the view descending by date, so at some time older entries will disappear
Create a new view based on an existing one
The first column is categorized. A simple click will do. The column shows the content of the field requestor:

Categorized by requestor
We have the formula @Name([Abbreviate];Requestor) in the column. We could replace that with Requestor or leave it. It doesn't really matter. What matters is to use the same style later in the page when we embed the view. We will come back to the view in an instant to refine it. Now it is time to insert it into the page. I copy the content from the $$ViewTemplate for ($All) into a new page MyRequests. Doing that you will realize, that the field $$Viewbody doesn't get copied. A page can't hold fields.
To insert the view I select Create - Embedded Element - View:
Inserting a view

The Properties need adjustment. So I select to use HTML and allow for 50 entries and page width (on the second tab).
Selecting Embedded View Properties

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Posted by on 06 August 2007 | Comments (2) | categories: Show-N-Tell Thursday

Flying towards a Typhoon

I'm off to Manila to deliver the R8 pre-launch technical enablement. When we taxied away the pilot announced flight path and weather forecast. He casually mentioned, that it might become a bumpy ride since north of Manila a Typhoon is whirling along. While I have confidence in the craft of Boeing and the skills of the Singapore Airlines pilots, that announcement made my heart beat slightly faster. Hhm. Better distract myself with part 2 of an unfinished story.

Update: The Typhoon decided to go elsewhere and the story is finished (for now)

Posted by on 06 August 2007 | Comments (0) | categories: Travel

SSL in Domino agents

This is a follow-up post to an older thread on Notes.net. Configuring SSL and reading from remote locations can be a headache... unless you stand on shoulders of giants. Here are the steps that worked for me. While they are designed for R7 upwards with a JVM 1.4++ they also will work in R6 with the optional SUN SSL packages (just read the older post for configuration).

Update: The class didn't process HTTPPost correctly, so I updated the code, changes in bold.

What do you need:
1) Apache Commons HTTP Client
2) Apache Logging library (and codecs)
3) EasySSL Classes ( EasySSL, EasyTrustManager)

Update (Thx John): Above links don't work anymore. EasyTrustManager can be found here and here. EasySLL here and here.
Traversing the broken URL above leads to the "readme pointing" to the new home called earth . A wildcard redirect would have been nice.

Once you have that a few simple lines of code will do. Note: you don't even need to configure SSL (but you SHOULD understand the security implications of NOT configuring it).
This post is also available on Notes.net. (or whatever it is called now).

Here is the class ...

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Posted by on 04 August 2007 | Comments (1) | categories: Show-N-Tell Thursday

DB/2 as MySQL storage engine

IBM's System I will deliver an integration of DB/2 into mySQL, that allows to use DB/2 (or DB/400 as it was called on the iSeries) as native storage engine for mySQL. While that move is primarily aimed at iSeries users to expand the number of applications they can run on the iSeries platform, I don't see why this integration should be confined to the iSeries.
Once the puzzle pieces come together you would be able to use mySQL applications to read/write Lotus Notes data. How kewl is that. Of course to make that happen, IBM needs an incentive (IBM isn't a charity). Time will tell.

Posted by on 01 August 2007 | Comments (1) | categories: IBM - Lotus