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Incorporate the Cloud into Existing IT Infrastructure => Progress ( Life Sciences )

I still have lots to share after recently attending Bio-IT World in  Boston … The latest comes as a Bright Computing contributed article to the April 2013 issue of the IEEE Life Sciences Newsletter.

The upshot of this article is:

Progress in the Life Sciences demands extension of IT infrastructure from the ground into the cloud.

Feel free to respond here with your comments.

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Confronting the Fear of Public Speaking via Virtual Environments

Confession: In the past, I’ve been extremely quick to dismiss the value of Second Life in the context of teaching and learning.

Even worse, my dismissal was not fact-based … and, if truth be told, I’ve gone out of my way to avoid opportunities to ‘gather the facts’ by attending presentations at conferences, conducting my own research online, speaking with my colleagues, etc.

So I, dear reader, am as surprised as any of you to have had an egg-on-my-face epiphany this morning …

Please allow me to elaborate:

It was at some point during this morning’s brainstorming session that the egg hit me squarely in the face:

Why not use Nortel web.alive to prepare graduate students for presenting their research?

Often feared more than death and taxes, public speaking is an essential aspect of academic research – regardless of the discipline.

image004Enter Nortel web.alive with its virtual environment of a large lecture hall – complete with a podium, projection screen for sharing slides, and most importantly an audience!

As a former graduate student, I could easily ‘see’ myself in this environment with increasingly realistic audiences comprised of friends, family and/or pets, fellow graduate students, my research supervisor, my supervisory committee, etc. Because Nortel web.alive only requires a Web browser, my audience isn’t geographically constrained. This geographical freedom is important as it allows for participation – e.g., between graduate students at York in Toronto and their supervisor who just happens to be on sabbatical in the UK. (Trust me, this happens!)

As the manager of Network Operations at York, I’m always keen to encourage novel use of our campus network. The public-speaking use case I’ve described here has the potential to make innovative use of our campus network, regional network (GTAnet), provincial network (ORION), and even national network (CANARIE) that would ultimately allow for global connectivity.

While I busy myself scraping the egg off my face, please chime in with your feedback. Does this sound useful? Are you aware of other efforts to use virtual environments to confront the fear of public speaking? Are there related applications that come to mind for you? (As someone who’s taught classes of about 300 students in large lecture halls, a little bit of a priori experimentation in a virtual environment would’ve been greatly appreciated!)

Update (November 13, 2009): I just Google’d the title of this article and came up with a few, relevant hits; further research is required.

On Knowledge-Based Representations for Actionable Data …

I bumped into a professional acquaintance last week. After describing briefly a presentation I was about to give, he offered to broker introductions to others who might have an interest in the work I’ve been doing. To initiate the introductions, I crafted a brief description of what I’ve been up to for the past 5 years in this area. I’ve also decided to share it here as follows: 

As always, [name deleted], I enjoyed our conversation at the recent AGU meeting in Toronto. Below, I’ve tried to provide some context for the work I’ve been doing in the area of knowledge representations over the past few years. I’m deeply interested in any introductions you might be able to broker with others at York who might have an interest in applications of the same.

Since 2004, I’ve been interested in expressive representations of data. My investigations started with a representation of geophysical data in the eXtensible Markup Language (XML). Although this was successful, use of the approach underlined the importance of metadata (data about data) as an oversight. To address this oversight, a subsequent effort introduced a relationship-centric representation via the Resource Description Format (RDF). RDF, by the way, forms the underpinnings of the next-generation Web – variously known as the Semantic Web, Web 3.0, etc. In addition to taking care of issues around metadata, use of RDF paved the way for increasingly expressive representations of the same geophysical data. For example, to represent features in and of the geophysical data, an RDF-based scheme for annotation was introduced using XML Pointer Language (XPointer). Somewhere around this point in my research, I placed all of this into a framework.

A data-centric framework for knowledge representation.

A data-centric framework for knowledge representation.

 In addition to applying my Semantic Framework to use cases in Internet Protocol (IP) networking, I’ve continued to tease out increasingly expressive representations of data. Most recently, these representations have been articulated in RDFS – i.e., RDF Schema. And although I have not reached the final objective of an ontological representation in the Web Ontology Language (OWL), I am indeed progressing in this direction. (Whereas schemas capture the vocabulary of an application domain in geophysics or IT, for example, ontologies allow for knowledge-centric conceptualizations of the same.)  

From niche areas of geophysics to IP networking, the Semantic Framework is broadly applicable. As a workflow for systematically enhancing the expressivity of data, the Framework is based on open standards emerging largely from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Because there is significant interest in this next-generation Web from numerous parties and angles, implementation platforms allow for increasingly expressive representations of data today. In making data actionable, the ultimate value of the Semantic Framework is in providing a means for integrating data from seemingly incongruous disciplines. For example, such representations are actually responsible for providing new results – derived by querying the representation through a ‘semantified’ version of the Structured Query Language (SQL) known as SPARQL. 

I’ve spoken formally and informally about this research to audiences in the sciences, IT, and elsewhere. With York co-authors spanning academic and non-academic staff, I’ve also published four refereed journal papers on aspects of the Framework, and have an invited book chapter currently under review – interestingly, this chapter has been contributed to a book focusing on data management in the Semantic Web. Of course, I’d be pleased to share any of my publications and discuss aspects of this work with those finding it of interest.

With thanks in advance for any connections you’re able to facilitate, Ian. 

If anything comes of this, I’m sure I’ll write about it here – eventually!

In the meantime, feedback is welcome.

Introducing Jott for BlackBerry

I just learned about Jott for BlackBerry:

We have a lot of happy Blackberry customers at Jott, and Jott for BlackBerry is the ultimate BlackBerry download. It is a simple, but very powerful tool that will let you reply to emails on your BlackBerry just using your voice – either speaking directly into your BlackBerry, or while wearing a Bluetooth headset. It is seamlessly integrated into the email application you already use, and is a huge leap forward for BlackBerry lovers in three ways: first, it is 3-5 times faster than ‘thumbing’ text; two, you won’t be known for sending just terse replies because you don’t want to thumb type out a normal email message; and three, you will be safer because you won’t have to take your eyes off the road.*
(*Jott does NOT encourage messaging while driving).

Jott for Blackberry makes an already awesome device even better.

The following is the body of a reply I just created:

Thanks for sharing this interesting service with me. It's definitely something that I'm interested in investigating and it's my intention to follow up very very soon. Thanks very much. Bye for now.

Sent with my voice via Jott for Blackberry ~ http://jott.com/bb

To listen: http://www.jott.com/show.aspx?id=e4eb3151-9007-448c-bd73-7de70ecc4766

In this example, the transcription quality was excellent. Note that the recipient is advised that the response was Jott’ed, and has the option of listening to the original audio recording. Nice!

Although I’m only at the testing stage, I expect to make extensive use of Jott for BlackBerry!

Note to Jott and Google: Please enable Jott for BlackBerry in the GMail for BlackBerry application.

sync blackberry contacts with gmail: Problem Solved!

Update (February 10, 2009): See Sync Google Calendar and Gmail Contacts with Your BlackBerry for a recent How To guide to the Google Sync for the BlackBerry solution.

In just over fourteen months, one of my posts has received almost 19% of the views for my entire blog.

There is no other post that even comes close.
And to make matters more interesting, the post was written in response to my blog’s search stats. People consistently entered strings along the lines “sync blackberry contacts with gmail” and arrived here.
Frankly, all of this attention made me uneasy.
Why?
Because I really didn’t have much to offer on the topic.
But please don’t think that I didn’t give this information (not data!) some thought.
Honestly, dear reader, I confess I even pondered how I might arrive at a solution that might monetize this 19% for personal gain. Let’s face it, 19% of more than 60K hits translates potentially to more than 11K customers. Ka-ching! I am in disgrace.
Luckily I didn’t waste my time.
Waste, you gasp. Yes, waste.
You see, the fine folks at Google have delivered a solution.
It’s all in the GMail contact manager. This new addition to the GMail client for the BlackBerry solves the problem.
How?
If you have a contact for which you’ve entered phone numbers, these numbers appear when you click on the contact name to view their details. But that’s just the beginning. The phone numbers appear as clickable links. When you click on one of them, you automagically invoke the BlackBerry’s phone capability. (You may have forgotten that your BlackBerry actually allows you to call people as well.) Note that the first time you do this, you’ll need to approve some new settings.
Of course, you can email contacts as well.
Problem solved.
Please read my other posts!
If truth be told, this should be regarded as a great beginning.
Here’s why:
  • Read-only access – You can’t enter contact information from the GMail client on the BlackBerry. In time, we’ll want this. Like tomorrow!
  • Online-access only – You need your contacts when you’re off line? Like when you’re on an airplane? Until this client includes Google Gears functionality or equivalent, you’re out of luck here. I think I can live with that. For now. Because ultimately I would appreciate the ability to compose email when I’m off line. I do that frequently with the BlackBerry’s built-in mail client.
  • Contacts in too many places – Fragmenting contacts between your Google ‘verse and enterprise messaging platform (e.g., Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus Notes, etc.) has some disadvantages. However, as I’ve learned directly on the heels of personal experience, there are times when it’s wise to have some separation between our personal and corporate selves …

This gives me a lot of what I was looking for.

How about you?

IBM Lotus Notes 8.5 Beta for Mac OS X: Same Look, Better Feel

After a few minutes, with the 192 MB DMG file downloaded (available online after registration), I ran the installer for Notes 8.5 beta for Mac OS X.
Installation proceeded impressively fast, with the installed client weighing in at just under 80 MB. This hefty client is the first one I’ve used that’s apparently based on the Eclipse Rich Client Platform (E-RCP). 

Aside 

This was not my first exposure to the impressive E-RCP. While I was working for Scali, a major release of Scali Manage made use of the E-RCP. (Scali Manage was subsequently acquired by Platform Computing – another former employer of mine. Small world!) 

On launching the 8.5 client for the first time my configuration specifics were rapidly acquired, and I was using the client in short order. Nice.
FTR, my previous experience with Notes clients has been with versions 6.5 through 7.3. I’ve used the Notes client on both Mac and Windows platforms.
The Notes 8.5 beta looks like the previous versions I’ve become accustomed to. 
However, it feels different. 
There are subtle differences whose overall impact are very welcome. For example:
  • Responsiveness – I find the 8.5 beta much more responsive than previous Notes clients I’ve worked with. And since my interaction over the past 48 hours has been via wireless laptop to my broadband connection at home, I’m expecting even better results when I am hard-wired to the University’s network from my office. This is a huge win that I’m very pleased with. This comment applies to all interactions – from message composition to searches to address completion.
  • Interactive spell-check – As you type, misspellings are underlined with a wavy red line. You don’t need to instantiate the spell checker separately. I expect this improvement rides completely on the heels of the E-RCP. I expect there are additional features/functionalities of this sort that I’ll discover over time. 
  • Look – Other than updated icons, the interface looks the same. Although there’s value in preserving the legacy experience from a look perspective, I wouldn’t have been disappointed by the UI receiving a major facelift. And all of this leads me to conclude that this is primarily a feature/functionality-neutral port of the Notes client to the E-RCP. In other words, there are minimal feature/functionality improvements – except those I’ve already identified above. While that’s OK for now, it won’t satisfy me moving forward. Presumably, however, that’s one of the reasons IBM adopted E-RCP, as it frees them from their legacy implementation, and provides a much broader/deeper and modern spectrum of possibilities moving forward. 
The upshot? The Notes 8.5 beta for Mac OS X looks the same but feels better. And that’s worth blogging about! 

QoS On My Mind …

QoS has been on my mind lately.
Why?
I suppose there are a number of reasons.
We’re in the process of re-architecting our data network at York. We’re starting off by adding redundancy in various ways, and anticipate the need to address QoS in preparing for our future deployment of a VoIP service.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t already have VoIP or VoIP-like protocols already present on our existing undifferentiated network. In addition to Skype, there are groups that have already embraced videoconferencing solutions that make use of protocols like RTP. And given that there’s already a Top 50 list of Open Source VoIP applications to choose from, I’m sure these aren’t the only examples of VoIP-like applications on our network. 
At the moment, I have more questions about QoS than answers. 
For example:
  • If we introduce protocol-based QoS, won’t this provide any application using the protocol access to a differentiated QoS? I sense that QoS can be applied in a very granular fashion, but do I really want to turn my entire team of network specialists into QoS specialists? (From an operational perspective, I know I can’t afford to!)
  • When is the right time to introduce QoS? Users are clamoring for QoS ASAP, as it’s often perceived as a panacea – a panacea that often masks the root cause of what really ails them … From a routing and switching perspective, do we wait for tangible signs of congestion, before implementing QoS? I certainly have the impression that others managing Campus as well as regional networks plan to do this. 
  • And what about standards? QoS isn’t baked into IPv4, but there are some implementations that promote interoperability between vendors. Should MPLS, used frequently in service providers’ networks, be employed as a vehicle for QoS in the Campus network context? 
  • QoS presupposes that use is to be made of an existing network. Completely segmenting networks, i.e., dedicating a network to a VoIP deployment, is also an option. An option that has the potential to bypass the need for QoS. 
I know that as I dig deeper into the collective brain trust answers, and more questions, will emerge. 
And even though there are a number of successful deployments of VoIP that can be pointed to, there still seems to be a need to have a deeper discussion on QoS – starting from a strategic level. 
As I reflect more and more on QoS I’m thinking that a suitably targeted BoF, at CANHEIT 2008 for example, might provide a fertile setting for an honest discussion.