Contents of this blog and thoughts on Twitter

It seems to me that there are two distinct use cases of a blog:

  • As an on-line diary
  • As a space to post thoughts, ideas, comments and editorials

Given the date stamp nature of the entry system, it would seem that the on-line diary would be the most common usage. But browsing around the blogosphere seems to refute this claim. I guess that there is an arrogance issue (who cares what you did yesterday?) but probably more importantly a privacy issue. After all, serious money can be made by publishing your memoirs and why would we bother to read them if all the relevant details have already been published on your blog. I guess that the final reason might simply be that people are not actually that interesting and a diary approach gets pretty boring pretty quickly. So the only real usage of a blog for a diary is in the ‘professional’ world where there may be interest in the progress of a project or what someone has been doing recently.

So, the most common usage is for thoughts, ideas, experimental stories and random musings on the world. Well that is what I use mine for anywyay. Which got me to thinking a bit more about Twitter: Maybe my knocking of Twitter was misplaced- maybe Twitter is better as an on-line diary. After all, you can limit who can see your entries to just those people who you approve and the micro-entry format suits itself much more to capturing the brief entries that you might make as you go about your day.

I have another use case for Twitter though: One that I am currently trying out, though I am not sure of the value of using an on-line service (I think that paper and a pen may be a better bet, or at least just using the PIM functionality in your phone): I am throwing up the snippets of ideas for articles onto Twitter. So, today I found myself wondering

  • Whether Twitter will make an on-line diary (kind of self referential that one!)
  • How routine it has become for me to drive, fly and sit on a train to get to work each week. Travelling across a sea to another country just to go to work should be mind blowing, but it is just another week, just another load of frequent flyer points
  • At last the ‘Check Engine’ light has gone off on my car. I think that I over filled it with oil and so I have been waiting (and hoping) that by driving a lot and burning off the oil the light would go out. I guess I get to find out on Thursday when I drive home- we’ll see.
  • As I sat in a room of engineering types I couldn’t believe that the basic processes for managing a large scale constuction project were so poorly defined. At first I thought that this must be specific to the oil business (us being a bunch of cowboys and all that) but then things like the cost over-runs at Wembley Stadium have nothing to do with oil and they were at least as bad as anything that I have heard of
  • How old do I look? And how old do you see yourself as? Internally I still see myself in my early to mid-30’s. OK, life changed a lot then (kids, jobs, moving countries etc) but I don’t feel as though I have aged since then. All except my knees- they definitely feel as though they have aged. I just wonder what the rest of the world sees. Answers on a postcard please….

I threw most of those points up onto Twitter, so that they would act as a spur to me to write them up. But my problem is frequently not the ideas, it is finding time to turn those ideas into sensible prose. And yes the quality of this post does entirely prove my point.

Splitting the contents of this blog

I have two presences in the world: a personal one and a professional one. I like to think that the two are separate, but the truth is that they are probably not. However, the contents of this blog often clearly fit into one or other, but probably not both. I am thinking here of a lot of the technical, geeky stuff- which is professional (you don’t think I do that in my private life do you?) as opposed to the photos of my family.

So, I have created two new Categories and am using them to split the entries into two feeds:

And each of the feeds is now sent directly to the relevant home page. Of course, if you come directly here, you can see all the entries in all their glory.

Archimate: A language for Architects

A large part of the role of a Solution Architect is to communicate the sometimes abstract ideas in a computer system to business users, technical experts and often times just to yourself. I am a visual guy; I like pictures. There are many, many languages and diagram formats that can be used for different levels of detail in an IT system: ER diagrams for the data part, UML class diagrams for the class model, use cases, component model, node model, deployment diagram etc.

Except that often as a Solution Architect I do not work at this level of detail: I am trying to extract what business information a user needs, where reports are generated and what processes access the various pieces of information. ER diagrams don’t really work, UML class diagrams aren’t what I need either. I kind of need an extension of UML and hard as looked I couldn’t find anything…..

Until I started working in the Netherlands (damned clever, these cloggies) and came across Archimate. I am using it on a number of projects to create solution and domain (small scale enterprise) architectures. And so far it seems to be a damned good idea. I have heard rumours and rumblings that it will soon be adopted by the Open Group so that it will be a language extension to UML- we’ll just have to wait and see on that front.

The only downside is that so far I can only use Archimate in Visio, so I am doing ‘Architecture by diagram’ rather than ‘Architecture by model’. In the not too distant future I hope to start using System Architect to do the architecture work- and SA is probably the best tool out there for this kind of work, does have a true model behind it (thus allowing true validation of what you construct) and it should be possible to set it up to use Archimate as the language.

This may make my life harder in the short term as I learn a new language, get re-aquainted with a tool and fight to meet deadlines; but in the long run this is a good thing. Storing a true model is far, far better than any set of diagrams.

A downbeat ending to a film

I am Legend is not a happy film. OK, the vampire/ zombie/ end-of-the-world apocalypse genre is kind of hard to make amusing, but I left the cinema with an empty feeling in my stomach (and it had nothing to do with the burger and fries that I ate before I saw the film). The final scene showed a possible happy future, but with the gloom in the preceding scenes it felt like the artificial scene at the end of the original version of Blade Runner.

A film with a similarly downbeat ending is Man on Fire. Maybe because the hero in Man on Fire is only trying to save 1 small girl, whilst the hero in I am Legend is trying to save the entire human race, our emotions react differently. Denzel Washington is extremely violent in his quest to save the girl whilst Will Smith is more measured as he tries to survive long enough to save humanity. Surely if humanity is saved we will leave the theatre happy and entertained? So why do I prefer the ultra violence and ruthlessness in the quest to save 1 girl?

I have a theory, but I don’t know if it holds up: The style of Man on Fire is vastly different from I am Legend: where I am Legend uses natural light to empahsise the isolation in New York, Man on Fire uses strange colours, fast edits and a pumping sound track. Tony Scott, the director of Man on Fire, uses similar techniques in Domino to pretty good effect. But you have to want to take a post-rock’n’roll trip to enjoy the film. If you can keep up, it is fantastic; though watching the film at a theatre may be overpowering, seeing it on your own big screen TV is mind blowing. This seems to be reflected in the ratings for these films on Rotten Tomatoes but as I saw both Man on Fire and Domino on DVD maybe I got a better experience.

Which brings me to my final downbeat ending to a film: Sin City. If you thought that Man on Fire was violent, boy you ain’t seen nothing yet. I saw the trailer for Sin City and knew that I had to see the film. I knew nothing of the story or the comic books by Frank Miller that it was based on, but watching the film at a theatre was a truly incredible experience. However, and this is a big however, as I came out of the cinema I honestly don’t know if I enjoyed it. The film was amazing, the style, the acting and the way the stories interwove was a feat to behold. But enjoy it? I don’t know- and I wasn’t the only one. I overheard 2 women talking about the film as we left the theatre: “Did you enjoy it?” “I don’t know. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but I am not sure if I enjoyed it”

All three films (I am Legend, Man on Fire and Sin City) had downbeat endings. For me, the experience I had watching the films was vastly improved by the style of the film: Sin City and Man on Fire had something that took you out of the story and into the director’s vision of what he was trying to say. I am Legend just left me as flat and bored as the empty streets of New York in the film.

Golden Age of Music

Partly inspired by the recent show Pop on Trial and more directly by buying a pile of CD’s (yes they do exist, in a real bricks and mortar shop too!) I wonder what we will make of the current crop of music. Personally, I think that after a few really low years in the early 2000’s (think overload of Pop Idol/ last hurrah of the manufactured boy band) pop has, as it has done so many times before, reinvented itself and saved itself from disappearing into its own insipidness.

In 2005 I had almost given up trying to find anything that really inspired me but as I wandered through Heathrow before flying across the pond, I came across a series of compilations that reinvigorated me completely: ‘The Bands 05 ‘& ‘The Album 05’ threw a plethora of bands into my consciousness: Athlete, Feeder, Doves, Stereophonics (OK, I knew them), The Killers (them too), The Libertines, Bloc Party, Embrace, The Thrills and more, many more. The music was raw; generally two guitars, 1 bass, 1 drum kit and vocals. The band’s names were 1 word or contained ‘The’ (which as ‘the Commitments’ says is always a good sign). The music was just fantastic- and it still is. The Bands and The Album series dropped off a bit in 06 and 07, but in came The Anthems. There are new names (Amy MacDonald, The Fratellis etc) and some names have survived (Kaiser Chiefs, Keane) and even a few dinosaurs (Fatboy Slim, Stone Roses and Paul Weller) make it onto the track listing. But by God they sound good.

All of which made me wonder what the woman at the checkout made of my selection of CD’s: 2 current compilations (with Razorlight, Amy Winehouse and Maroon 5 etc) , the singles collection from Suede, the remastered ‘Joshua Tree’ (because some albums are just so good it is worth having them on multiple formats) and the best of UB40 (memories of childhood).

I want to make a comment about Suede: The last time there was a similar defining moment in music (for me, anyway) the driving force was Suede. OK, Oasis, Blur, Pulp et al all came along and cashed in far much more, but without Suede performing Animal Nitrate at the Brits and blowing the audience out of their seats, it is debatable whether there would have been such a vibrant Brit Pop scene. My far more personal epiphany moment occurred in the Mean Fiddler- the song was the same, the audience erupted and the night goes down in memory as one of those perfect, unplanned moments.

Of course, when Brit Pop imploded we finished up with Pop Idol, but that is just the cycle that these things go through. Without Pop Idol ‘The Libertines’ wouldn’t have come along, The Killers wouldn’t have created a song/ video combination (‘Mr Brightside’) that was so good it made me late for work as I had to see the end of it and we wouldn’t be here now.

And now is a good place to be. So we shouldn’t complain too much. And I have got lots of music to go and listen to… Happy times.

Quality TV – where are you?

What has happened? It seems that only a few short months ago I was luxuriating in TV shows that were defining a new style of television:

  • Life on Mars was the most inventive cop drama seen in years
  • Dirt may have left a bad taste in the mouth, but it was compelling
  • Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was more of the same from Aaron Sorkin; but when the same is that good, why not have more?
  • Weeds was devilishly wicked; ripping the veneer of suburban America to expose a disenfranchised (and largely high) society
  • Californication was able to show that even someone who we should consider as unredeemable has a decent side
  • Heroes was a cool 21st Century take on superheroes and comic books
  • Even ‘What About Brian‘ was a nice little guilty trip (and ‘October Road‘ continued the same theme) both of which were probably made more interesting (for me at least) by the presence of some extremely easy-on-the-eye actresses (Sarah Lancaster, Tiffani Thiessen and a grown up Laura Prepon)

Each week I would get home from working away and was faced with a dilemma: Which of the quality TV shows on my PVR would I watch first?

And now…. I tried to get into the recent BBC period dramas (‘Lark Rise to Candleford’ and ‘Sense and Sensibility’) and they didn’t take. I am probably the wrong demographic for either of them, but you can’t blame the source material- after all I love the BBC version of ‘Pride and Prejudice’.

I am trying to stick with Damages (that one might last, but I am not convinced yet), Mistresses (which is IMHO a bit of a chick flick on TV- maybe I am trying to get in touch with my feminine side… Yeah right) but only Torchwood (think ‘Doctor Who’ for grown ups) is getting anywhere near the peaks of last year. And part of the appeal of Torchwood is the impending arrival of Martha Jones (played by the wonderful Freema Agyeman– is there a theme working its way through my viewing habits?)

At least I will soon be moving into my apartment in the Netherlands where there will be no TV signal; just a TV, a DVD player and a pile of DVD’s that I haven’t got around to watching- and the DVD’s are often of TV shows- just the good ones 🙂 .

I can’t wait.

New Photos of Ben and Jake

Now that I have a half way decent digital camera you can expect more photos to be uploaded.

This one is starting to teach me about flash and indoor portraits (like make sure there is a reflector to prevent the shadow behind Ben’s head) but that requires extra kit and more importantly, kids who will sit still for long enough for me to faff around.

The latest upload also includes photos of Jake. Click on the image to open the photo stream.

Continuing saga of e-mail organisation

I have been eating my own dog food as it were and using the filing approach for organising my e-mail. However, I ran into another problem: I have a main desktop computer at my home office and an ultraportable laptop. Unfortunately, the ultraportable is running Vista whilst the desktop is on XP and synchronisation between the two has proven to be tricky (if I received 1 new e-mail from someone, I was having to copy 20 or 30MB of data because of the way the folders were organised). So I needed a better solution to managing my e-mail between computers, rather than within the mail system.

Fortunately there is such a protocol: IMAP. Unfortunately, neither or my e-mail providers support it (Damn you, Yahoo!) so I needed something else. Enter Google: gmail (or googlemail in the UK) has changed the way people deal with e-mail: There are no folders, just Labels and you can store massive amounts of e-mail on-line. Well, as far as I can make out, Labels are exactly the same as Tags, so that is no big deal and the storage of e-mail on-line seems to solve many of the problems of accessing my mail from multiple computers.

Except that quite a lot of the time I need to use mail in locations where I can’t get on-line (e.g. planes) so I still need an off-line set up. And I need to access all my existing mail accounts, and I don’t really want to have to tell anyone about a new e-mail address.

And wouldn’t you just know it, Google mail does all of this: So now my desktop/ laptop e-mail clients have an IMAP connection to Google mail. My Google account is set up to download all the mail from all my existing providers, I have even set up an existing account as my default (so no-one needs to know where my mail has really come from). Each label in Google is automagically converted into a folder in my mail client and I set up all my folders to be available offline.

All I need to do is make sure that I download all mail to the local PC and then at various periods (about 5GB periods in fact, as that is my mail storage limit) archive my mail to local files and then copy those local files to both my computers.

So far it seems to work. I hope it continues.

A personal impression of Dubai

This year (or rather, last year) my every other year Christmas trip took me to Dubai. Rather than clog this site up with a very long post, I have posted my impressions of Dubai on my personal web site.

I liked Dubai, though not as much as my previous trip to Singapore. And I think that there is a very particular type of travel (and traveller) that will like Dubai. I am just not sure if I am that type of traveller.

Data Portability

… coming to a Web 2.0 near you.

I haven’t had time to dig into the details behind the announcement, but it looks like some of the big players in web 2.0 (Facebook, Google and Plaxo) have joined the data portability workgroup.

The initial aim is simply to allow users to export contacts from one social network to another, but this is hopefully the first step on the path web 2.0 conforming to sound data architecture principles. I have no idea if this was all part of the plan, but I can’t help but think that comments about how OpenSocial missed the point by ignoring the data from people like Tim O’Reilly and echoed by myself may have spurred on the process.

Whatever, congratulations to them for joining up and let’s hope that they are able to commit resources to Data Portability to improve the resources available