Thursday, 24 December 2009

What did I learn in 2009?

As another year draws to an end, I thought I would pass on some of the lessons I've learned or had reinforced to me this year. Naturally, there's not room to go into every one of them (I've probably forgotten some of them anyway), so I'll list the important ones.

These are listed in no particular order.

  • The importance of your family and friends - While I have always valued the importance of my family and friends, it is still worth making special mention of them here. As with everyone, I have experienced my fair share of low points this year, and it has been thanks to my circle of family and friends who have helped me to get through these. I have been given non judgemental, non partisan advice, a listening ear, or a shoulder to cry on. I would not wish to embarrass them by mentioning their names in this post, but you know who you all are!
  • You cannot please everyone all of the time - In today's busy world with its many demands on my time and energy, I have learned to become more philosophical about how I use that time and energy. I would much rather focus what limited resources I have to doing something that will actually achieve something. That might be something for myself, or something that I want to do for someone else. I would much rather spend my time working on those things in my life that will be appreciated by others, than those that will simply go unnoticed and / or not be appreciated.
  • I can't do any more than to give something my best shot - Sometimes, you will not always achieve what you have set out to achieve. I do not see that necessarily as a failure. However far you may have got, you will have achieved something, and hopefully learned something along the way. Failure is when you do not meet your objectives, and learn nothing from the experience! Give everything your best shot, but don't beat yourself up if you don't meet your objectives.
  • Stay positive - Easier said than done I admit, but staying positive really is important. Something positive can be found from practically every experience. Even from a negative experience can come a valuable lesson. I try to remain positive in everything I do, and to be a positive influence to those around me. Having a positive attitude to life affects everything I do. Do I want to bring happiness to a room when I enter it, or when I leave it?
This will be my last post of 2009. I hope you have all enjoyed reading my posts, and will continue to read them in 2010.

A big thank you to you all!

Friday, 18 December 2009

Merry Christmas everyone!

As we head towards Christmas and New Year, I would like to take the opportunity to say a heartfelt Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!

I would like to thank all those people who follow my blog, read its content, commented on posts, or been the inspiration for some of the posts!

To all of you, have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

City Bankers angry at tax on their bonuses

Alistair Darling has announced in his pre-budget report that City bankers are to face a one off tax on their bonuses. As we have all come to expect from this shameless bunch of spivs, they are all up in arms and threatening to leave the country.

Not satisfied with causing global meltdown due to their unrestrained greed, their sense of entitlement now dictates that they should still receive obscene bonuses. While ordinary people are facing job losses, losing their homes and money worries, bankers are more worried about losing out on their bonuses.

I have no doubt that bankers perform a valuable service to this country, and that they generate a lot of business and commerce through their activities. However, that does not grant them immunity from their responsibility for rectifying the mess they have collectively caused.

To threaten to leave the country, and take their services elsewhere is tantamount to blackmail. When you have done something wrong, most people with any sense of integrity and decency try to correct it. Most people would not demand to be paid vast sums of money for making a gargantuan mistake, and then threaten to emigrate when those vast sums are not forthcoming.

As someone who works in local government, I have seen first hand how the recession has affected the delivery of services to local communities. Every single local government has had to face up to the financial crisis, and plan how they aim to keep delivering the same level of services with less money.

But despite the pain and suffering that they have inflicted on the rest of us, they still seem to think they are entitled to their obscene bonuses.

To those that wish to leave the country, please hurry up and go. If you lack the integrity, decency and responsibility to clear up the mess you have made with your unrestrained greed, then quite frankly, the country is far better of without you!

Monday, 7 December 2009

What use is a general purpose manager?

A while ago, I wrote an article about what makes a good manager. One of the assets that I thought a good manager should possess is domain knowledge. They should understand (even if only in broad terms) what the team does. A full understanding and appreciation of what your team does is important.

I would therefore fully expect a Finance manager to have a good understanding of finances, a Human Resources manager to have a good understanding of Human Resources and so on. It seems pretty obvious, but there seem to be managers who do not possess this domain knowledge.
Being able to monitor your team's finances, manage their appraisals and other such managerial duties is the bare minimum I would expect from my manager. All managers should possess these skills. Above and beyond having these basic managerial skills though, I would expect them to have a sound and broad knowledge of their particular domain.

As the manager of a Development Team, I have a broad and deep understanding of technology. I work hard to keep myself abreast of new and emerging technologies. I fully understand what my team does, what we are delivering, how it can be delivered and what is possible.

More importantly, I am capable of making decisions. This is one of the vital duties of a manager. By fully understanding what my team does, and taking an active part in the day-to-day work of my team, gives me a deep understanding of what we do, which allows me to make decisions on behalf of my team.

I am very much a hands-on manager, and get involved in much of the day-to-day work, because this is the work that I enjoy the most. As a manager, I also have to undertake all the other managerial duties as well though.

I genuinely fail to see how you can make decisions without understanding what your team does. I could of course ask the team, and I would expect any manager to do this anyway. However, the final decision would need to be made by the manager, as this is ultimately their responsibility, and is what they are being paid for.

If they can't make those decisions, then why are they in charge?

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

How Linked Data can improve web search

What is Linked Data?
  • Whilst at the recent Jadu Experience Day, the keynote speech included an emphasis on the concept of what is known as Linked Data. This is a method of making data visible, allowing it to be shared, and connecting to it using the web.

    The idea of Linked Data was first described by Sir Tim Berners Lee in his description of the Semantic Web. There are four key principles which need to be met for Linked Data to happen:

  • Assign all resources on the web with a unique identifier (called a URI – Unique Resource Identifier) to identify the resource
  • Use web based (HTTP - Hyper Text Transport Protocol) URIs so that these resources can be referred to and looked up on the Internet
  • Provide useful information (a structured description or metadata) about the resource so that people finding the resource know what it is
  • Include links to other, related URIs to improve discovery of other related information on the Web

So in essence, all resources on the web should be uniquely identified (via a URI) using the web as the protocol for looking them up (HTTP). The resources should contain descriptive information about themselves so that people can tell what the resource is, and what it can be used for (metadata). Finally, it should contain links to other related resources that may also be of use. So all resources can help you find links to further, related resources. This is similar to the ‘Related Information’ or ‘See Also’ links that you frequently find in web pages.

Extracted from Linked Data
“Linked Data is about using the Web to connect related data that wasn’t previously linked, or using the Web to lower the barriers to linking data using other methods. More specifically, Wikipedia defined Linked Data as a term used to describe a recommended practice for exposing, sharing and connecting pieces of data, information, knowledge on the Semantic Web using URIs and RDF (Resource Description Framework).”

For any of this to work, the web needs to have as much data exposed to it as possible. Every single organisation, business, research laboratory, government, school, hospital, university and so on has data. With the exception of personal data, all data should be available to the web. Once it is on the web, then it can become Linked Data.

To repeat the mantra first uttered by Sir Tim Berners Lee – we want raw data now!

As a scientist working on a cure for cancer, the more data you have at your disposal is important. You can cross check results from other studies, and link the data together to form a more complete picture. As each resource provides links to other related resources, then all manner of discoveries are possible, including those which were not originally thought of.

Intelligent searching
It is not difficult to see how Linked Data is critical to search discovery, and will allow search engines to become much more intelligent. If all data is available and exposed on the web, if all resources are identified and described, and if all resources provide links to other, related resources, then suddenly your search engine becomes much more powerful.

Some types of question are just not possible with current search engines. Where the question is simple and easily framed, then current search engines can return relevant results. But where the question is more complex, or not so easy to frame, then current search engines may return irrelevant results.

Search engines use complex algorithms to return results, but one key mechanism they all use is trying to match the specified search terms to the content (which will also include metadata). Where the combination of search terms has yielded a significant result, then a match is returned. This is simple word matching. I am sure we have all tried in vain to find an answer to a question that was very difficult to find a useful result for.

For example, trying to find meaningful results to the question "what were the crime rate fluctuations in the UK between 2000 to present", and current search engines would struggle to return anything useful, as the question, while easily stated in English, is not easily framed for a search engine to work with.

If government data on crime rates are available to the search engine, and this data is linked to other related data, such as crime patterns and statistics, as well as the raw data itself, then the question becomes more easily answered, and search engines more able to return meaningful results.

All kinds of questions become possible to answer with Linked Data. It empowers people. Search engines become much more intelligent, and capable of answering even the most complex of questions.

We want raw data now!