Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Interop with Membership Provider

I have a situation where I have been using the Membership provider and wish to migrate to a custom format for the re-work i am doing on OpenID. There is no great reason for not using their structure other than it has a bunch of stuff I really don't need nor will be implementing.

My issue was that the user passwords are SHA-1 hashed and i wanted to simply migrate that data and provide the same implementation so that I don't have hassles checking password or creating new password.

The code below will do that (except for encrypted passwords).

using System;
using System.Text;
using System.Security.Cryptography;

public enum PasswordFormats

public static class MembershipManager
public static bool IsMatch(string pass, string salt, string encodedPassword)
string newencoded = EncodePassword(pass, salt);
return newencoded.Equals(encodedPassword);

public static string EncodePassword(string pass, string salt)
return EncodePassword(pass, PasswordFormats.Hashed ,salt);

public static string EncodePassword(string pass, PasswordFormats format, string salt)
if (format == PasswordFormats.Clear)
return pass;

byte[] bIn = Encoding.Unicode.GetBytes(pass);
byte[] bSalt = Convert.FromBase64String(salt);
byte[] bAll = new byte[bSalt.Length + bIn.Length];
byte[] bRet = null;

Buffer.BlockCopy(bSalt, 0, bAll, 0, bSalt.Length);
Buffer.BlockCopy(bIn, 0, bAll, bSalt.Length, bIn.Length);
HashAlgorithm s = HashAlgorithm.Create("SHA1");
bRet = s.ComputeHash(bAll);

return Convert.ToBase64String(bRet);

public static string GenerateSalt()
byte[] buf = new byte[16];
(new RNGCryptoServiceProvider()).GetBytes(buf);
return Convert.ToBase64String(buf);

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The dead web - Google +

I have put this into this new blog from my old one where i originally posted this (actually that was also a re-hash of the same idea i wrote back in 2002, so been on my mind for a while!) a while back due to Dave Winer's recent post. He is spot on!


This was something i posted on an old blog some years back, but recent discussions have made me re-post just in case there is some new opinion!

Over the last 2 months I have been conducting research almost exclusively on the web.
What has really became obvious to me is the amout of dead material out there.

From web pages, that contain out of date information, to whole sites that stopped running years ago with no indication, to projects that seem to have been in flux for years, businesses that stopped trading years back and left their site on and even stuff written by people whom i'm almost read to email, only to find the passed away a couple of years back.

So is a new web needed to get us out of this? Can we see Google work with and create a diary of the web? A time-aware searcheable web which allows some kind of time scale on the information out there, without requiring everyone to annotate their documents! Could i say "Only search content added/updated in the last year" ?

I hope so, because frankly it's getting ridiculous. 10 years ago i did some research on solitons for a Physics paper i wrote. Today some of that material returns seelingly as relevant as ever despite things continuing to evolve over the last decade. My File Exists article on 15 seconds at is now over 5 years old, but still comes 8th in Google when i type "FileExists".

I don't know how many replies i have had indicating some academic moved on 3 years ago, or some project research was finished, or even links to other sites that closed their doors, re-organized or just changed their content to make it completely useless.

Could a hyped up challenge something like Google? I think so. Could we "Diff The Web" to make the content more relevant - noting that getting dublin core on everything is highly unlikely.

Anyone got answers?

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Feelz - search with context

Today sees the launch of an experimental idea i've created called Feelz at

The idea is to allow you to label things on the web with emotions, audience, characteristics and so on - things that aren't easily understood by computers. It will be particularly useful for audio, video and products but through concepts such as "audience", can easily extend to the web in general.

I'm really interested in feedback about this and what direction you think it should or should not take.

You can find the blog at

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Monday, December 3, 2007

How far does collaboration stretch?

A few years back I worked at a large government enterprise that attempted to implement a knowledge system that expected users to enter titles, descriptions, hierarchical categories, privacy and so on ...

.. it didn't work very well. The argument i heard was that too much was expected of the users who had to enter all this data - they had too many other things to do.

And THEN (roughly speaking) we moved into tagging (delicious kicking this off) and so on - really the first phase of proper online collaboration. This became popular with Tag Clouds (all Scottish ones had rain as a background of course) and so on being implemented by every single web page on the planet.

Of course the last 2 years or so has seen a movement beyond this to real social collaboration - much of it to this point about ourselves (save specifics such as blogging and wikipedia which is a very small proportion of the online community). The interesting thing (and i have noticed this mainly through non-tech family and friends) is that everyone is using linked-in, geni, facebook and so on. And they all required a LOT of work.

Furthermore, sites such as Digg etc are very easy for users to make a statement - pretty much a click and Google seem to be looking at adding similar features.

Here is my question though. How far will this go? We see Mahalo looking at something akin to where Yahoo started out many years ago - human managed information... although now there was is a much longer tail in content and so you needed a LOT of editors - something that is definitely getting easier!

There is also Freebase and Google base to name but a few. These all expect a lot more from the users than anything before - well at least in 7 years.

Will this fail again or are we just at the right time for this kind of user involvement to work? Yes I know the stats about we only need X users out of everyone to contribute, but the more content that is added, the more the authors and those with a vested social interest have seemed to become involved.

There was ALWAYS the issues of creating structures to hold metadata (such as Dublin Core and RDF) but so long as this stuff is abstracted in a nice UI, do we think it can now work in a distributed social environment? In other words, people seem to now be working harder (i.e. actually adding this metadata which in the past was always empty... ask anyone who ever maintained a database of it!) - is this a long term thing or are we just in a social high?

Will this extend to micro-content and the enterprise?

I do have a vested interest as i'm working on an experimental idea i wish to release in the next few days, so please post comments as they will be very useful!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

OAuth for API Authentication

I've defined a number of API's in my time and always seem to resort to a different kind of authentication mechanism and my latest API was likely to be no different. I looked at Flickr, Google and Amazon API's and how they did authentication and they all uses customer MD5 and/or HMAC-SHA-1 hashing with a private key with different parts of the query being hashed.

I thought, there should be a standards around this ... i had looked at OAuth but from an API veiwpoint never really made the connection. Until today! I am looking at a C# implementation by Eran Hammer and i see there is some work on it, but I need to do some more research to find out what i need to provide on top of this to actually implement it (i.e. client and server requirements).

I hope to learn more about what i need to do to just use this in my API and in particular how i may integrate the authentication in an AJAX client application without redirecting to the site.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Scotland to raise your management profile

So it happened. I think when I first heard his "anything can happen" spiel I knew it was inevitable. The Scotland Manager (left) Alex McLeish has resigned.

He has moved to Real Madrid AC Milan Manchester United Birmingham!! Now I lived in Birmingham and feel the place gets a hard deal from people who haven't been there, but is McLeish for real?

Are we now at the point where someone who i would have regarded as a REAL Scottish manager - and I remember him from his playing days - is happy to dump the team after 10 months in charge??

Indeed Alex :"To be manager of your home nation is a very proud day indeed for Alex McLeish, my family and friends". *
[* footnote : Unless more money comes my way]

Walter Smith did something similar before, but although i don't think it was the right thing to do, moving to Rangers is probably the only thing that would have made his leave his post. But Alex McLeish - a Scotland "great" has left after 10 months.... and i know how short a time that is as my daugter is only 11 months old.

He has basically used the National team to springboard to a higher paid job. Don't tell me this isn't about money - i mean he must be really badly off after managing Rangers. Come on Alex - you could have been a huge figure in this country by guiding team to the next World Cup in South Africa... he even managed to screw us just a little bit more by even attending the DRAW in South Africa!

It pisses me of that these guys are always talking about player loyalty and yet this is the most obvious case of UNLOYALTY i have seen in years. 10 months. I could understand it if were were an awful team but we have progressed pretty well in recent years - which bring me to my next point....

If anything positive comes from this, it is that we will now see that we have a team pretty much independent of manager. Smith and McLeish did a good job obviously but (and I wish i had recorded this) I said a number of years back that we would have a decent team as you could see the young players coming through the ranks at club level. This was during the Berti era. It came as no shock to me that we started getting results. Vogts was a terrible man motivator which is what you got from the Scottish lads, but it's important to remember that it was under him that this young team came together.

My view is that we simply need someone passionate and let the team run itself. I have a 4 year old and once he realized he could read the alphabet he started making up all kinds of words - only every so often does he need to come to me for help.

And don't kid ourselves we run on passion - sure we have passion, but the second half against the Italians shows us we have no skill shortage either!

WhoIs On Seesmic

I was interested in finding out a bit more about who is on Seesmic - so i asked people to make short videos of who there are and where they are from ... we have three thus far - hopefully get more!

You can see who is on Seesmic by hitting the following :

If you wish it text format you can hit the following:

Hopefully a few more will join so we can follow who is on there! Just add "whois" to your Seesmic video subject line!

Gregg Brockway at Web 2.0

I just watched the presentation given by Gregg Brockway of at the Web 2.0 Conference last month on

There is a part where his phone went off and he said it was his wife. It was really well done (despite the audio folks needing a prod) and having been in similar situations I actually thought his wife was maybe having a baby! Of course it was him demonstrating how simply someone could be directed to use the service on a mobile via email.

It was quite an original way of presenting and demonstrating an idea. Worth taking note.

Embed Seesmic in your blogs and so on

So you use Seesmic and want to have the latest version of your videos, or other videos in your blog without having to copy, paste and edit each time. You can do it now.

There are some options. Whether you show the video preview or a text link is based on the querystring parameter "f" which takes the value "vid" or "txt".

So, say i want to just show a text list of the latest (20 by default) videos - i put this in my html page:

<script language="JavaScript" src=""></script>
Bon! But my dear Steven, i want to show only the last 5 posts - can you do THAT? Well, yes we can... as follows using the "c" querystring value:

<script language="JavaScript" src=""></script>Sacré bleu i hear you say. But you want more... you want to display only YOUR latest posts. So for myself who goes under the name "@weblivz" i would show the latest 5 posts as follows:

<script language="JavaScript" src=""></script>Ah, but video. Seesmic is about video, can i show my latest video?? Of Course - just change the "f" parameter to "vid" rather than "txt":

<script language="JavaScript" src=""></script>
Of course you can point at ANY username you wish by changing the "u" parameter. Additionally if you do NOT use the "u" parameter you can use the "t" parameter and add any text you wish to be matched as so:

<script language="JavaScript" src=""></script>
Mon Deu! Can it tell me what I should say in my next video to make sure people watch???

Unfortunately I had to pull that feature at the last minute, but as a work around I suggest clicking the "I'm feeling lucky" Google button and just talking about the first page you come to.

You can see all of this in action at Play away :)

Xavier wins Enjoy a Ball trophey

Xavier won the Enjoy-a-ball trophey this week for kids so he decided to show it off and by the way he is holding it i get the feeling it may not be the last!! Well done wee man!

Question to Tim Berners-Lee

I noticed Scoble Twittered that he is talking with none other than Tim Berners-Lee this evening!! Well, i have been reading his book Weaving the Web which he wrote a few years back and so even though i love all of Robert's shows, this one will be particularly interesting for me!

So he asked if anyone had a question for him, and although i have an infitinite owl:List of questions this is my first attempt (happens to be the similar to Sam's which was way freaky as it was also at the same time) .

On page 196 of "Weaving the Web" (which i am reading again just now) you voice your concerns specifically over the effect of patenting on reasoning engines for the Semantic Web and i guess the general effects of patenting on the fundamental Semantic Web technologies.

The Semantic Web is certainly progressing although perhaps not quite as fast as we may have expected (I was looking at RDF when writing my first book on Xml around 10 years ago now). In fact most of the good work I have used has come out of research labs in Universites in the US, UK and Germany.

Do you think the constant desire for patents around emerging Semantic Web concepts and the counter fact that a lot of the good work has actually come out of Universites and has been fairly open and flexible (and hence trickier - although not impossible - to build patents on top of), has slowed the rate of large scale commercial adotoption of Semantic Web technology development?

As a startup one of the first things i often hear is "What can you patent?".

Or perhaps more simply a large consumer facing Semantic application has just now taken hold yet? Rather it is dominated by mashups of existing standards - i.e. using the code to hack the meaning rather than the data containg it.

PS. When are you writing the follow up to Weaving the Web?

IF you have time for a follow up question Robert (and you read this!), I'd also like to know whether he can see the existing P3P standards emerging to fit into a Social Environment as privacy is perhaps the most fundamental issue of Social Networks that has not really been tackled yet (identity has been discussed much more than privacy) and a standard looks the best way to ensure this very important aspect is included!

Seesmic Feed

Thanks for all the positive feedback on the work I did. Actually the first thing i did this morning was this:


This returned no results, but i DID get some great feedback on the blogs and privately by email.

Anyway, glad to receive any feedback and hope it comes in useful. Back to my own plan to rule the world now ...

Monday, November 26, 2007

Playing with Seesmic feeds - 3 small features

One of my frustrations with Seesmic was simply knowing what was going on without hitting the site all the time and filtering posts. The provide a Twitter feed which is pretty good but it's getting busy and although they have an RSS feed on the top of the Twitter feed i never knew this til i looked at their JSON code....

... in any case there are a number of things i wanted to do and will likely want to do in the future to the JSON to XML stuff i did will likely come in useful again.

ANYWAY - what have I done??

Well ....

1. An RSS feed of Seesmic - updates around every 15 minutes and can be found here :

2. You can discover posts relevant to you using the "u" querystring value. So

... will return feeds created by me - or directed to me (if you really only want things created by you, then add "by " to the query, such as @weblivz).

3. You can filter based on content using the "t" querystring value. So you can find posts about Seesmic with the following query:

THIS means you can see if anyone has replied to you by just appending "Re: " to the first few characters of your original subject line. So looking at the site just now, i can find replies to "Reload Seesmic for new features !" with the following query .... Reload

It's a bit of a start - hope it is of some use. I already use it to quickly check the last N posts - i guess the fact i can now translate their JSON to RSS will be more useful when it comes to RSS on a person basic - rather than public (which may be quite soon as it's getting busy). In any case hope the filtering features are of some use.

Seesmic is a conversation

I watched a Seesmic video by Loic Le Meur of Seesmic trying to state the point that unlike YouTube, Seesmic is a conversation - much likfe Twitter.

I've been using it since the weekend now and it really is very cool and yes, it is a conversation (although the actual conversation part is something they need to work on - following parts of a conversation is tricky).

The difference from YouTube is that you are talking to your friends. Sure, just now everything is public, but over time it will be your friends because as the public timeline gets noisier, you want to follow only things interesting to you - i.e. your friends.

I have made many friends online recently and many through Twitter, blogs and even Seesmic - so the definition of a friend is pretty flexible.

We all feel a little self-concious when creating these videos but over time this (i hope) will improve and you (or I) will feel more confortable with it all. I DO think that feedback and people talking back to you on Seesmic in a response to your video is a big part of that.

Perhaps we should all be teamed with a mentor who is confortable with it all and can give some feedback. Or maybe just an abrupt "hot or not" system :)

Oh, Seesmic is COOL!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Optimizing NTFS Performance

If you are writing any web services that store large files on an NTFS volume, this section is very useful - full article here.

Optimizing NTFS Performance

NTFS performance is affected by many factors, such as cluster size, fragmentation level, and the use of programs such as antivirus software. In addition, NTFS features such as compression and Indexing Service can also affect performance. Optimize the performance of NTFS volumes by using the following guidelines.
Determine Cluster Size

Before you format an NTFS volume, evaluate the types of files to be stored on the volume to determine whether to use the default cluster size. Some important questions to answer include:

* Are the files typically the same size?
* Are the files smaller than the default cluster size?
* Do the files remain the same size or grow larger?

If the files are typically smaller than the default cluster size (for example, 4 KB) and do not increase, use the default cluster size to reduce wasted disk space. However, smaller clusters can increase fragmentation, especially when files grow to fill more than one cluster. Therefore, adjust the cluster size accordingly when you format the volume. If the files you store tend to be large or increase in size, use 16-KB or 32-KB clusters instead of the default 4-KB cluster size.

Note Compression is supported only on volumes that use 4-KB or smaller clusters.

Cluster size is also an issue for volumes that were converted from FAT to NTFS in Windows 2000 or earlier because the default cluster size for converted volumes is 512 bytes, and the MFT was most likely fragmented during the conversion. For optimum performance, back up the data on the volume, reformat the volume, specify the appropriate cluster size, and then restore the data.

For more information about choosing a cluster size, see “Cluster Size” earlier in this chapter.
Use Short File Names

Every time you create a file with a long file name, NTFS creates a second file entry that has a similar 8.3 short file name. A file with an 8.3 short file name has a file name containing 1 to 8 characters and a file name extension containing 1 to 3 characters. The file name and file name extension are separated by a period.

If you have a large number of files (300,000 or more) in a folder, and the files have long file names with the same initial characters, the time required to create the files increases. The increase occurs because NTFS bases the short file name on the first six characters of the long file name. In folders with more than 300,000 files, the short file names start to conflict after NTFS uses all the 8.3 names that are similar to the long file names. Repeated conflicts between a generated short file name and existing short file names cause NTFS to regenerate the short file name from 6 to 8 times.

To reduce the time required to create files, use the fsutil behavior set disable8dot3 command to disable the creation of 8.3 short file names. (You must restart your computer for this setting to take effect.) For more information about disabling 8.3 short file names, see “MS-DOS-Readable File Names on NTFS Volumes” later in this chapter.

If you want NTFS to generate 8.3 names, improve performance by using a naming scheme in which long file names differ at the beginning of the name instead of at the end.

For more information about short file names, see “File Names in Windows XP Professional” later in this chapter.
Determine Folder Structure

NTFS supports volumes with large numbers of files and folders, so create a folder structure that works best for your organization. Some guidelines to consider when designing a folder structure include:

* Avoid putting a large number of files into a folder if you use programs that create, delete, open, or close files quickly or frequently. The better solution is to logically separate the files into folders to distribute the workload on multiple folders at the same time.

* If there is no way to logically separate the files into folders, put all the files into one folder and then disable 8.3 file name generation. If you must use 8.3 names, use a file-naming scheme that ensures that the first six characters are unique.

Warning The time required to run Chkdsk.exe increases with larger folders. For more information about determining how long Chkdsk takes to complete, see Chapter 28, “Troubleshooting Disks and File Systems.”

Seesmic Citizens Collective

Thanks to Jeff Pulver and his tweet, I got a Seesmic invite and signed up and sent in my first video - it was all spur of the moment and the two kids were kicking off so it was slightly chaotic (whether it gets less chaotic, only time will tell!).

Anyway, i wanted to simply ask whether there were any other Scottish Seemsic folk and wasn't sure what you call a collection of Seemic folks - i.e. "Are there any other Scottish ..... out there"?

1. Seesmicites - i'm sure i saw one of these in a nature program

2. Seesmatics - sounds like a hoover

3. ?

Any ideas?

I should have posted this as a video but the kids are approaching bedtime and so all hell is breaking loose!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

23AndMe, and Geni

So I just visited the site, a personal genome service which
"... is intended to help people understand their inherited traits and to allow them
to compare themselves with friends and family."

At first i thought WHAT?! OK, so I thought it was a gentic based dating site (perhaps that's in their future plans ;) ) but once i looked around i thought - COOL !

It's not cheap at $1k per person but based on the extremely qualified backers and advisors of this site i'd more likely believe it actually works pretty well. I think we'd need educated as to exactly what to take and understand from any results we were given - as well as perhaps some clue as to what to do with it (other than - "i told you you had your fathers stubborness"). Could it be beneficial in education, sports and health?? Even a marginal improvement here can only be a good thing (especially as a father with two kids)!

Now, imagine this.... They do a deal with Geni (one of my fav sites) and over time (as things get slightly cheaper) you get larger percentages of families getting involved. Imagine the kind of searches you could do - even within your own family.

I don't know how far this will extend from the family but clearly their are huge opportunities - with a whole set of new privacy issues to watch over. But clearly this is a direction these kind of services will move into.

Has anyone used the service? If so please let me know.

A startup idea to make £56 Million in one week

Here is my idea to making £56 million in one week. Any investors out there?

1. Start a Credit Reference Agency

2. Get loads of people's credit information.

3. Wait 'til the government loses 28 million items of personal information.

4. Charge two pounds per reference check.

5. After one week, sell to someone else who can make cash the next time it happens.

6. Check the bank account to see your lovely £56 Million.

Oh crap, someone stole it when they got your credit details. Doh!

This is obvously tounge-in-cheek but this is what they are asking you to do. Credit Agencies must be loving it!

Alastair Darling - we have technology to fix this

Having worked on a project for schools in Scotland that required the export and trasportation of some personal information I cannot believe the basic flaws that have been made by the "technical people" at HM Revenue and Customs.

Here is it in one line.


This is not difficult. The technologies are far enough advanced. In an attempt to save the trillions of consultancy fees, here is how to fix this.

1. Give every member of staff a certificate and/or smart card.

2. Ensure they use a very strong password when using that certificate

3. Any EXPORT routine MUST ask for the private key of the user exporting the data and signs that data. This ensure you know who exported the data.

4. Additionally, any export routine MUST ask for the public key of the EXACT user you intend to send the data to and encrypt that data. Now only that person can read that data as only they have the private key for that certificate.

5. Now, with the IMPORT routine, when the person wants to read the data they need their own private key to decrypt the data.

6. The IMPORT routine should also check the signature an alert the user as to confirm who SENT them the data.

Additional steps should be :

7 .Use Key Revocation to ensure that should any key be lost, that key becomes IMMEDIATELY invalid and hence can't be used to view the data.

8. Know and ensure that every application that uses this data has a common import/export routine with encryption and logging as standard.

9. Log every interaction with that data. You don't even need the personal data to do this - just an identifier for the user (say the certificate hash) and an identifier for the data items.

This stuff sounds tricker than it is. I have now done this with the Government, Barclays and a few other places.... in short - you CANNOT just allow people to export this kind of data.

Now we are all checking our bank accounts - i have an additional post coming next on the business side of this ...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

YouTube for Parents - you have it the wrong way around

Update : Ian Hayward the founder of Glubble corrected me below in that you CAN indeed restrict on a page basis. We both agree the comments (and links with previews) by others can be quite unfortunate. Tricker to deal with outside of YouTube.

I've just spent 15 minutes trying to find a video for my 4 year old son to watch on YouTube. It's not the fist time. Simply put due to some idiotic and outdated rules on the US site which says only kids in the US can see a certain 5 minute cartoon, it leaves him asking why and me hunting for an equivalent on YouTube.

However, I would never let him use that site himself as some of the "cartoons" content and comments aren't stuff i want him to see. So i can't even use software like Glubble as it works on a site by site basis. In any case - this is for YouTube to sort out. Oh, and YouTube is not alone, please read on if you have any mixed content with some intended for kids.

Here is my guide:

1. Everything should be opt out
Yes, if i say i am under X years of age or go into "parent mode" (doesn't exist but should) then plesae make EVERYTHING opt in. That means when *I* hit the site there are NO videos. Well, perhaps you can suggest some that have been vetted. *I* will then decide precisely what my kids can see. PRECISELY. I will choose what comments and what content- and you will like to other stuff i have suggested. So that means NO previews of stuff you THINK may be suitable and no "That was fucking awsome. The older stuff was shit but this is good." comments.

2. Let you and your friends decide which moves you wish to set as opt in
OK, so i am willing to go one further step and I should be able to specify what friends i have who i also trust to recommend kids material (no offence to any friends :)). If i say my sons Grandma can recommend a kids video to him then i expect you to respect that.... but just because i may be friends with "womanizer77" (i made that up completely btw) does NOT mean i trust his movies by proxy for my kids.

3. Don't recommend clips from the Exorcist when showing a Ben 10 clip to a 4 year old
I really don't think much needs said here. It happened.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

OpenID provider fitness

I'm adding OpenID support to a site i am working on, but came up with an interesting question.

Typically i have the username/password/email and email verification process. Alternatively you enter your OpenID.... but this is where i started to think. Do I limit the OpenID to trusted OpenID providers or do i just accept ANY OpenID? How do i know they haven't juset set up their own provider and how do i know whether the email is valid??

Do I request their email and ask them for yet another verification before they can use the site.... something that could get quite annoying overall.

Would be nice to have an online service which you can query every so often to check the "fitness" of providers so you can decide whether a provider is valid or not. Similar to the certificate lists you get in your browser. This could be managed and be very beneficial for the community i would have thought!? Anyone working on such a service?

If you are reading and have implemened an openid client on your site, how have you gotten round this?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

UK Postal Scam - spam goes offline

"It has been confirmed by Royal Mail. The Trading Standards Office are making
people aware of the following scam:

A card is posted through your door from a company called PDS (Parcel
Delivery Service) suggesting that they were unable to deliver a parcel and
that you need to contact them on 0906 6611911 (a premium rate number).

DO NOT call this number, as this is a mail scam originating from Belize.

If you call the number and you start to hear a recorded message you will
already have been billed £15 for the phone call.

If you do receive a card with these details, then please contact Royal Mail
Fraud on 02072396655 or ICSTIS (the premium rate service regulator) at

Please circulate this to avoid anyone else being ripped off. "

Sunday, October 21, 2007

AI Web Services

I asked Peter Norvig to point me towards sites that demonstrate real world applications of AI - mainly in the software world. As he wrote the book (literally in this case) and now works as Director of Research at a company called Google, i figured he'd be a good start.

He pointed me at a great resource here which has a list of projects as well as some here in Scotland.

I am interested in more however. Although i have a background in Applied Physics and software development, i do not have a very deep knowledge of algorithms and AI - however my experience over a number of years gives me a *feeling* that there are potential reusable components - or more likely - pluggable web services - that use AI and can be re-used in your application.

I want to get a list of these. Imagine a simple one - take a paragraph of text (say a blog post) and reccommend tags. This could be a library component as part of an application or a web service.

Anyone have pointers?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Applications of Intelligent Systems

For a number of years - since actually doing some emergent fractals work in C++ back in 1993 or so - i have been interested in intelligent and emergent systems. I read Emergence a few years back and it only hightened my awareness and desire that rather than creating some elete intelligent system, rather i'd like to add intelligent components to my applications.

I watched the self-aware robots talk by Hod Lipson at TED. If i wasn't doing what i do now, THAT is what i'd like to do. Not so much the robots (although myself and son are playing with Lego MindStorms) but the software and ideas that create and apply this stuff. Amazing.

After looking for some books on writing this (couldn't find any in C#) i found the seminal book "Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach" by Stuart Russell and Peter Norvig. I will re-write their algorithms in C# as needed - there is a Java effort going on too that is cool.

HOWEVER, the single post that really illustrates what i want from this is in Peter Norvig's "Doing the Martin Shuffle".

He discusses and demonstrates a real world technique that could be used to improve how the iPod shuffles the songs it plays to you. How ironic as it's Google (who doing amazing rsearch) and Apple (who do amazing UX) kind of sums up my take on thing.. trying new concepts with actual people!

So the next step IMHO is to take something like the AI book and also take some ideas in the real world (web 2.0 apps are all the rage so why not start there!) and show how intelligent components could be plugged in.

Very cool stuff!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

YouTube Video Identification Beta

David King, the Product Manager of Google's YouTube just launched this beta.
The idea is you can identify your works on YouTube and i guess others can know it is identified as being from you.
I'm not sure whether it's really for security rather then simple identification - the idea of being able to know what videos have been published - perhaps even by others - on YouTube by a simple hash query over the video content is quite interesting.
Jeramiah has some interesting comments on it.

Peek-a-boo FREE Tricks & Treats for You! Get 'em!

Robot helecopter from Stanford

Watched this video this morning with my son after Robert Scoble pointed me at it throw Twitter.

"Is that from Star Wars" said my four year old son Xavier.

It is very very cool but now puts a hell of a lot of pressure on us as we are building a robot using MindStorms.

I also watched Steve Gillmor and Dan Farber get kicked off Dow Jones property whilst discussing whether Facebook is worth $100 billion. Even my wife asked me what the heck was going on. Finally i caught Scoble talking with Six Apart. Good guys and some nice ideas.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Third World Wind Power

I read this great post from Tim O'Reilly - Third World Wind Power

I love this kind of thinking - not only because of the vast amount of good it can do for the Third World, but also at the relative simplicity of it. Thinking different.

BTW - this isn't only for the third world - this could work in Scotland too - we certainly get more wind that many places in the world.

More detailed information can be found here.

Friday, October 12, 2007

re: E-mail Faces Deletion

Scoble pointed me towards an interesting discussion over at Business Week entitled "E-mail Faces Deletion".

I am going to twitter him? No - there's not enough space in 140 chars. Am i going to email him? No. He'll never read it. A few people may read it and it there is enough interest someone may point him to it (or directly through Twitter).

The point is that email is not right for a conversation. 25 messages to arrange a meeting where the overhead is 6 times the content CAN'T be right... and on a mobile (come on SMS has proven this in the UK alone).

A great point by Scoble is
"But when I left, my e-mail account was turned off. I don’t have access to that
knowledge now."

.. and neither do THEY! Everyone loses.

Twitter, Jaiku and so on are not perfect - it gives people like me a chance to write something better. It's all a step in the right direction.

Email is dead as the primary communication method IMHO - i use it because, like letters, people still do things that way. But, for a few key emails, the rest is broadcast or spam. Communication is going to be about content and pointers to that content (tweets, jaiku's, others) - you write, suggest and maybe i read - kinda like reading an email subject line and deciding whether to read the email.

In saying that, anyone who thinks communication is going to be one dimensional probably thinks Google is the final answer in search.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Movavi - please add an API!!!

After doing some research i came across an excellent service from Movavi which allows you to convert media files to flash formats to make it easy to play them back to users.

They even have an SDK and it's a great price too, but here's a suggestion. Add an API!!!!

There is no doubt a a hassle adding all the codecs and such for doing the conversion and when they add new codec support you need to download and update and so on.

However, if they could allow you to call there API as a service it would be very powerful indeed!! I know someone over at Amazon Web Services had created an AMI for transcoding - however the Movavi service is very extensive and supports exactly what i expect most developers would need.

They could likely integrate some payment method - but it would need to be around the level of Amazon's to keep it open and available to small startup companies like my own.

If you read this and agree then add a comment - maybe they're listening!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

WCF inheritance in REST interop scenarios

I am writing Xml that needs to be consumable by any client that can make an HTTP request. I am also trying to write a service API that using inheritance so that i can have a method such as Accept() that can take any object derived from MyBaseClass.

The answer turned out to be easier than i thought, but it was a but of a struggle getting there as most answers are tuned toward your CLIENT also being a WCF client (which is the case in about 5% of my use cases).

The answer is to construct your Xml and use the Xml Schema type attribute to define the type of the object when passing it to a method that accepts its base class.

So if i have a web service method "Accept":

public void Accept(MyBaseClass val);

... and if i have the class MyClass : MyBaseClass , then in code i can simply write:

MyBaseClass bc = new MyBaseClass();

Now, to do the same in an XML REST POST WCF scenario, you construct the following Xml:

<val xmlns="" i="" i:type="MyClass"><br />...</val>

Notice the type attribute is used to state the derived class.

Monday, September 24, 2007

BBC Blast in Glasgow

By chance yesterday we wandered into the BBC Blast event in Atlantic Quay, here in Glasgow.

My son Xavier was fascinated as soon as he saw one of our friends on the big screen (she presents the news on TV) and with that and getting a special badge which went around his neck, we weren't going home anytime soon. It wasn't too busy, but the quality was quite high with artists, musicians, reporters, producers and so on all doing various things to keep your attention.

My son even wrote his own news report abut saving the earth from a meteor which is printed and laminated. It was a dangerous walk home as he asked me to read it to him - along with his sister who, at 9 months, discovered the "Franci-saurus" in Chile.

I still think there must be better ways of raising awareness of events in your local area and i'm thinking hard about that just now.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Wipro and the elephant

I'm reading Bangalore Tiger, the story of Wipro - one of the most successful technical services companies in India and indeed the world.

I have started to look outside of Silicon Valley for inspiration. The problem is that Silicon Valley is a fairly unique community and businesses coming from the Valley have soooo many resources available to them. I read about them and start realizing that most of what they take for granted just isn't available to most of us.

Now, i still love the stories of the big Valley companies, but when i started reading about Wirpo i started to see (and no disrespect intended) a company who hacked around until they got it right. They started off in oil and soaps and now run a 68,000 employee technology company. They are an amazing story of bootstrapping.

I also love the story by Vivek Paul, former vice chairman at Wipro.
He was at a circus on the outskirts of Bangladore and an elephant was tied to a
peg and wasn't trying to break free, despite the fact it easily could. When he
asked the trainer why, he simply said that it has been tied to that peg since it
was a baby and couldn't break free and stopped trying. So in adult life it
continued to believe this and so never tried.

I love this story, as coming from a relatively small country in Scotland there are too many who believe you can't be successful simply because we are small - negativety is a disease! The result against France last night is a good example of this not being the case.

SPAM Frustration

Yet again i have been hit by the problem of emails that SHOULD be getting to me going into my Junk mail. It seems with Hotmail that you either get a load of SPAM in your inbox, otherwise most go into the junk mail - no middle ground. Their SPAM options don't work particularly well either.

A few years back i wrote a short internal paper on intelligent email based on a social network - might be worth looking at it again....

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Celtic progress in Champions League

Well, tonight was quite amazing. Celtic managed to beat Spartak Moscow, the best team we could have faced in the qualifiers and leaders of the Russian league.

They played very well, but we should have beaten them long beforehand - they had a chance or two but we had SO many but never had our finishing boots on despite playing well.

As always the atmosphere just can't be beaten - the reason we were voted the best venue in the UK was obvious... especially to the sorry Russian who missed the last penalty.

I got a few pics, the above was the best. Need a nice camera. I feel physically drained - never shouted and cheered so much. It's hard supporting the best club in the world!

Hail Hail!!!

Maps still need direction - Collaborative Maps?

Well, what with Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and some other familiar names (even open such as OpenStreetMap) i figured Maps were dead. I mean dead in the sense of why would ANYONE write another one.

Well, that is until is actually tried to use them. The Google and Yahoo API's are nice, i couldn't even FIND an API for Windows Live and although OpenStreetMap is nice, it's API was almost impossible to figure out (i just want to use as part of my app).

Now, even though i can USE Google and Yahoo easily, it doesn't work for place names!! Yes, in most apps people are going to enter a place name "Mitchell Library" rather than "201 North Street, Glasgow" - but although this works great for the browser, it does NOT work as part of the REST interface either company provides.

Is this because they KNOW it is so key to future apps? Particularly in the mobile space (prior to us all having GPS)?

So here's a call to action. Why does every company who doesn't regards their location information as core to their revenue model not join together and create a universal database - like OpenStreetMap or something. Put on a nice API and let people integrate the data.

I don't mean with all the graphical maps etc - i mean just the data about placenames and where they are. Done together.

I'm working on something that really needs more than what these companies offer and i'd gladly put my location data into such an open system.


Initial API:

Put(placename, number, streetname, city, postcode, country, latitude, londitude);

Get(placename, country)
Get(placename, number, streetname, city, postcode, coutry)
Get (latitude, longitude)

Scoble video as a social conversation

I've read with some interest the many of the posts "dissing" that search post by Robert.

Now, not saying I agree or diagree with some or all of the points he makes, but HOW he makes it is surely an interesting social experiement for us all - well, more specifically how the responses happened is more interesting.

You see, i believe brainstorming with smart minds is one of the most exciting things you can do in my field. But that only works if the bar is level - criticism is fine, but it needs to be something that is on a par with the original work. So a better response to Scobles post would be a set of social video responses - an ascychronous online conversation.

For example, most of the standards bodies and so on are outwith the reach of the majority of us and typically confied to established companies in that field (if fact you often miss the complete conversation as happened to me with Attenion Profiling) - we have a lot to say, but no way to say it (you sometimes get a public forum if you're lucky). However, the idea of being able to just brainstorm and see what people think through video is pretty exciting.

I'd like to see more ideas, whiteboards and rants about topics I am interested in. Wake up in the morning and there are 5 responses to what you said - not just criticisms in blogs that don't accept comments, but real views and opinions in the same manner you started.

So, why not have "comments" on Scobles video post ONLY be videos. That would be very interesting - it's a hard thing to do to just lay it on the line real time. But would be pretty exciting i'd think ....

Monday, August 27, 2007

Twitter as IM

I added a new Twitter account so i can async IM with people as well as write random stuff i don't wanna bother others with. My new account is at .

If you want my regular stuff i am at

On my ilivz account i will be posting most of the day so expect a ton or random "stuff" ....

Celtic game on Wednesday

So come this Wednesday there will be over 60,000 fans packed into Parkhead to watch Celtic play Spartak Moscow in a qualifier for the champions league. The atmosphere is pretty amazing by any standards and thankfully I will be there! Tickets arrived in the door and my and a mate are set.

I have been told I take on a new persona at football games - maybe we all need something we can vent our energy out on. A couple of beers and screaming at the top of my voice for two hours will be a start!

I will try twittering and blogging - i might even try a live video cast and see how that goes.

Hope i don't become the first guy to get arrested using twitter through some bizarre 200 year old legal broadcast rule (yep, why do you think it's called "Scotland Yard" ?!!).

Friday, August 17, 2007

Changing my viewing habits

btw - blogger - I love you!! Thank God you added "autosave" as IE just died on my and i could see the content behind the "Send Error Message to Microsoft" and thought i had lost it!!

One of the real frustrations for me is that i miss out on some very cool content on the web. I have a wife, two kids, some consultancy and trying to create a startup at the same time (which is now coming on very well). Thankfully I am going to have a lot of free (i.e. my own) time soon (i hope) as the consultancy (to buy food which is apparently an "important part of childrens diet" etc) is coming to an end.

However, there is what seems like endless content out there - and there is a wealth of really good stuff too!! I have Gnomedex, Always On, Scoble Show and (thanks to Sam) - as well as IT Conversations etc - and that is just rich media. My BlogLines keeps going up to 4000 posts... i secretly think Scoble is multi-threaded to get through all this.

So how to balance this out? Well, other than the short viewings that can be done between things or on my PDA, i have decided to dedicate at least 3 of my evenings watching online content (say between 7pm and 10pm). At the weekends I should also be able to catch up on some. I don't watch much TV anyway (other than football), but continuing to purely code can also work against you as you miss all this content.... and what i have found is that a lot of it actually feeds in to what you are doing and either changes what you are doing or the way you are doing it - and sometimes i creates completely new ideas or angles - this is exactly what happened after I listened to Robert Scoble talking with Scott Klemmer Stanford.

This will clearly affect my coding time, but some of the things I learn that have a direct impact on what i am interested in is just too important. I actually think the net effect will be better coding - or rather higher quality results.

How is anyone else coping with this (who is in a similar situation?). There is no way we can catch everything, but there is also no way some this can be missed .... and i have long since lost the illusion of remembering to go back to see it or checking my bookmarks! If i don't watch it there and then, i likely will never.

This isn't really work for me - it's like reading a good book when listening to some of these podcasts and videos so moving from traditional TV isn't hard (it's even easier with the stuff that they show over here). However, it's also very important that i spend plenty of family time with my wife and kids, who aren't quite as interested as me (yet [rubs hands as scary laughter roars out....]).

Thursday, August 16, 2007

WCF RESTful GET queries using custom entity input parameters

I am looking to map RESTful GET queries to custom objects in my WCF service layer and asked the folks over at Microsoft how to do it. To my surprise i got the reply that:
An HTTP GET request may come from a web browser, and all parameters that are
sent to the operation need to be specified in the URL. There isn't any set
way to represent a list of locations in the URL. [link]

Now, I am no expert in REST architecture, but I think of the URI template mapping stuff Microsoft are adding as much the same as RegEx which we have all used for years. I can think of a number of ways that you could map URL parameters to a custom object... even an option allowing you to define a custom mapping layer would be neat. I like the idea of using XPath, but anything that maps an input pattern to a custom object would do me.

Otherwise i need to define all my GET interfaces using simple value types rather than my custom entity objects - which can be returned fine, just not passed in...

I'm in view of flexibility and not having to think of REST interfaces in WCF as something special - other than the attributes you need to apply. I don't think anything i am asking for is difficult in any sense so i'd be interested in where any issue in doing this would lie?!

Son back at school

Xavier went back to school today (Nursery really, but he calls it that) - he is only 4 and just missed out on the "big" school.

He has a great day apparently, very social as he is now the "big kid" and looked afer the little ones really well.

He ALSO corrected the teachers on his name, which they randomly spelled last year. Now he says "There is no need to look it up, it is X-A-V-I-E-R".

He also remembered every teachers name which was pretty impressive consdering i need a map and compass to get home at night.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Geni the next Linked In?

First off, i love Geni. It has put me in touch with many family members and we now have more than 700 people in our tree, most of which has been viral.

I also like Linked In. Scoble mentioned to me on his blog that he hates linked in and will never go back. However, many of my contacts remain on Linked In and moving them all would be more hassle that it is worth. So while i use Facebook, i'd only start to use it as my main social networking solution IF it was part of a distributed open identity network where i could merge people in there with others in other networks.

However, Linked In has remained fairly static for a long time now. Sure, they have added some features, but they have stood still for so long they have lost ground on other networks that have seen the clear need for something after you have made contact... collaboration, community. Facebook have done very well in that area. FB has also added a "platform" that allows people to build on their services. Linked In could probably take this to the next step by completely opening up and acting as a social network platform for other communities. However, they will have to work fast for this to happen.

So how does this relate in any way to Geni? It's the same thing really, only the connections are family. Once that connection has been made, the major problem on Geni is that there is nothing else to do - not really any tools do make you return after you have connected. I have said in the past they should work with Dandelife (in fact i think Dandelife really need that connection too, but perhaps less than Geni).

At the very least, Geni needs to add family blogging style tools. My daughter said her first word today ... "dada" .. something many of my family would be interested in knowing, along with my video and a few pictures. Geni doesn't really provide any tools to enable that to happen. [ Update (based on Geni Team comment):While I know and have used their image upload and tagging tools which work well, i really mean a diary style tool - the reason blogging has become so popular; this would work really well with a family site and would save me having to "diff" the content of my family tree ] They could probably just provide an option to include external feeds from flickr, youtube, blogger etc and that would be a start.

There is a clear window of opportunity for someone to create what Geni has done, but add the stickiness factor to it. I really think they will need more than just connections... they have such a great opportunity and i love their service, so i hope they start brining some of these things to us soon.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Amazon FPS

Update: Seems you need a U.S credit card to use this.... will this be extended soon, as i don't :)

Amazon's FPS (flexible payment system) was released about 10 minutes ago ... Jeff was waiting for about 2 days to post and eventually he posted and didn't disappoint. When Jeff was in Glasgow I had asked about improvig the way transactions could be done through services. It seems he got back to his team at Amazon and they wrote a 250 page spec for me in a week or so... thanks Jeff ;)

I look forward to reading about this through the day... this is really powerful stuff. I am particularly interested to see if there is anything for Micropayments (i haven't look yet) as i was discussing this at AO yeterday - i see this as crucial for pay as you go services... don't want to use my CC every time.

Lot of reading to do ...

HumanML - would be nice to see it gain popularity

Many years ago i was a little involved but mainly following HumanML (or here)- the Human Markup Language.

At AO yesterday, i got talking with Rex Brooks, who was involved in starting the concept and vice-chaired it at OASIS (he is now co-chair of the Emergency Management Technical Committee)- he told me that due to lack of participation he had to close it down.

I'd like to see this come back. Why? Well, i'd like to be able to index my conversations online, Twitter and more specifically in second life. I'd like to be able to search for people i was happy talking with, or confused, or enlightened. "Find me people (or conversations) who englightened me in search technology". You can imagine this could get a little more complex and very powerful.

Emoticons in IM's, chat etc can easily map to HumanML and this could also be indexed and searched upon. It could also make images more searchable - based on your emotions in the image.

Surely Second Life would want us to be able to do this? Anyone able to ask them? I'd love to see this happen again as it's now the right time. Anyone???

Innovation and Technology on Second Life

After some discussion in the Always On chat panel (all brilliantly hosted as far as i'm aware by Evan Donn, aka divergent), I really think Second Life (meetups, conferences etc rather than generally walking around) could be very useful for quite a lot of us.

Update : I created the Eventful group "SecondLifeTech" for second life technology events - the general one had over 5000 random events....

There was a general view that moving what we were doing into a "virtual" environment would be quite a neat thing to do.

So I am going to try and capture (a) active places, groups etc
in Second Life discussing innovation and technology, and (b) related innovation
and technology events. Follow their events listing on SL is too difficult.

So why not use Eventful, with a tag of "secondlife tech" to life tech and innovation events? Please let me know if you know of some. I will be adding the Amazon AWS event and meetup location first. Not sure where I'll list them, but i'd like to get more involved... there are some good people out there and i enjoyed talking with them on AO!! Contact me if you know anything i should at add weblivz AT hotmail DOT com

ps. next year i'd like to see AO open thing up so i can finally have a good reason for my webcam and mic and ask from questions direct to the panel. They answered three this year which was great!

Thursday, August 2, 2007


update: FWIW, i'd like to see something similar for Latin America. I got my first ASDL line there long before i could get one in Scotland.

Sam Sethi et al are doing some very cool things over at Blognation - especially if you have ever wished there was something concentrating on the European startup scene. Our countries are generally smaller than some of the big players, but collectively we are quite large in comparison - however, most times i just assume a startup is from the US unless a notice it is not by chance (e.g. Plazes from Germany) or I am told directly (as happened with WeeWorld which is a stone throw away... I do actually know this after having to pay for a replacement window for them - sometimes theory is as far as it should go!).

You may ask why it matters where a startup is based. Well it does and it doesn't. In terms of technology, it probably doesn't (most of the time). However, US startups are closer to where the action has been traditionally. Even if you are not from the US, you often have US investors and in some cases end up over there. So these startups get more press and there is an uneven buzz about them .... as of course would happen when events are closer, timezones are more aligned (e.g. staying up 'til 3am to listen to always on an be part of the chat is tricky during the week!).

However, there is a lot going on in Europe and i want to hear more about it. In fact i want to hear more about startups closer to where i am (Glasgow/Scotland in my case) - for a different reason. They may not be competitors or even in the same field, but is it encouraging to know there are more of you out there and from this you can perhaps form smaller localized startup communities - share information - wisdom of crowds and all that! Earlier it was mentioned that with localized startup data and Google Maps Microformats support we may see this in Blognation sooner than later - now that is something that i think will be very cool indeed!

Global Patenting

Yesterday i asked a question to the patenting panel at Always On and got a response - what is cool is that it was from David Hayes, Partner, Intellectual Property Group, Fenwick & West . he has represented companies such as Apple, Cisco and Google so really knows his business.

I simple asked where companies based outside the US should consider patenting - US, China, India or UK (based in the UK).

The obvious answer was "depends on your market" - but as he said that everyone in the forum commented that most businesses these days are global.... just as he said it :) Good to know we're all on the same page.

His answer was US, China, India and Europe (i assume you can get a pan-european patent).

I wonder how soon until China comes at the start of that list?!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Peer Patents

After a chat whilst watching Always On today (where i got two questions answered by the panel!!), i decided to join the PeerToPatent project.

Peer-to-Patent involves 1) review and discussion of posted patent applications,
2) research to locate prior art references 3) uploading prior art references
relevant to the claims, 4) annotating and evaluating submitted prior art, and 5)
top ten references, along with commentary, forwarded to the USPTO. The goal of
this pilot is to prove that organized public participation can improve the
quality of issued patents.

I would ideally like to see a process that is startup friendly and allows you to have your patent validted by the community and reserved for one (or two) years until you ahve the money to pay for it. We all know that for all butthe larger companies, getting patents in more that one country is using finances you really can ill afford to spend on anything other then keeping your business alive!

Anyway, I hope to be able to help out.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Amazon Web Services Talk

Jeff's talk here in Glasgow went very well last night. Over 75 people turned up and it was a good size crowd as it was interactive - both through questions as well as Jeff demonstrating some technologies live through the University Wifi connection.

I'd like to thank Jeff for giving the talk and Duncan for organizing the room.

I hope we can have more of these in the future - it was great to here about some of the most important technologies coming out of out one the big companies of the web.

I also had an enjoyable day talking with Jeff, but due to a busy schedule i never got much time to ask him about some of my own stuff - hopefully i'll catch up with him offline!
Oh, i recoded the talk, but right now i captured the audio and i'm trying to get this uploaded as an MP3 - perhaps on GigaVox... doing that just now ....

If you know of other who may be interested in giving talks, let me know and we'll try and get something arranged! Mail to weblivz AT hotmail DOT com

Monday, July 23, 2007

Jeff Barr talk tonight

Had a great day talking with Jeff and others about Amazon Web Services - and some abstract things. The weather is quite amazing today.... i'm saying it's always like this so we can get more great speakers in Glasgow :)

See everyone at 5pm tonight. Details here. We're at 61 registered and quite a few contacted me by email, so please do come along :)

Saturday, July 21, 2007

iPhone v Harry Potter

I woke up this morning (and went to bed last night) to news about the Harry Potter release. I'm not huge Harry Potter fans, but it's kinda cool to think the whole phenonemon was started in a Cafe not too far away. The iPhone on the contrary couldn't have been created from a more different environment - created by Apple with millions of $'s of investment and resource.

Wouldn't it have been neat for them to have lauched at the same time with Harry Potter available as an iBook on the iPhone.... what kind of queues would we have had then!?

But when it comes down to it, what we have is what you see below. A great couple of pictures for any lone entrepreneur starting with a new idea.

I wonder whether the iPhone bunch should have dressed up as mobiles....


Harry Potter

Friday, July 20, 2007

Francisca and her first tooth

Francisca has her first tooth. She keeps touching it with her toungue. So today i got her a bright pink toothbrush.... it will be the only time (for maybe 60 years) that the expression "toothbrush" has such a literal meaning.

Meanwhile we got some old XBox games - first time we have bought any for years as we don't want Xavier obsessed with games. Right now he's playing Star Wars Lego edition.

Cool - we just managed to configure the Logica JoyStick i bought last week (which nothing worked with)... Xavi is loving it!

Talk on Monday

It has taken a lot of effort, but Monday is almost here and the talk from Jeff Barr of Amazon Web Services has a great number of people coming. I think i must have contacted most people in Scotland to promote this - easy as it is free and i managed to pull other stuff together also for free (including listings on the major tech sites in Scotland) through sheer effort.

If you are in Scotland and have ANY interest in Web Services - make sure you DO NOT miss this presentation.

OpenID.ORG - *your thoughts* - PLEASE!!!

So it's all kicked off again. Scott has posted. Dmitry has posted. I'm to be honest starting to feel weary. Dmitry even says i have added some neat features to the site - i've probably done as much as any OpenID site to add features above and beyond the basic authentication modules - and was thinking i was doing some nice things in integrating some of the communities we have - even to demonstrate some of their talking points .... and it has taken a hell of a lot of time. I was hoping that through this people may stop worrying about my site and concentrate on the concept.

So I posted this response to Scott. I really don't feel any negative vibes toward them all despite the crap that has been said about me - probably because i have got a lot of support too and I only worry about my kids - other stuff doesn't concern me.

I want to hear from YOU though. Email me at "weblivz AT hotmail DOT com" with your thoughts.

I'm now wondering whether all the effort i have put in for things like mobile, microformats, foaf and so on has been worth anything. I have really enjoyed doing it, but this keeps coming up. Maybe it's time to sell up and get out - hard with a domain that was valubale before the OpenID concept ever came to fruition and which sits number 5 in Google - something I never intended doing... but i have too many other things in my life to worry about that to cope with people taking all the positive stuff i am trying to do and making it negative. With Google and in 20 years my kids will see all this stuff and wander what the heck i did that was so upsetting to a few people. The Microformats people said "cool". Some FOAF people said "neat". I have been working on some other ideas people may like... and it's taken me a lot of time. But this comes back again and again.

Anyway, by reply to Scott...

Let's look at this another way. It was actually useful for me to point at your site - you would never had asked me to do so otherwise. I got zero benefit from this. Remember, the original reason you asked me to do so was because people were ALREADY pointing at the .org rather than the .net - so the fact i redirected was to help you guys out. Had I not redirected I'd still be around the same place in Google - it wasn't *because* i redirected that this happened.

I am the villian to you guys for no reason other than i bought a domain name. Then you invent an idea that, had you thought it was to be as big as it is, you would have bought all domain extensions for it (i have done that with some of my ideas) and then get annoyed at ME for not handing it over.

I live in the real world where i have two young kids and a living to make somehow. So i put on some Google ads - I am now the proud owner of $8.95 this month. You guys offered me $2k - at the same time you offered a $50k bounty for applications on it. You also can also charge $100,000 for platinum membership of OpenID. You guys are also travelling around the world promoting this stuff - my last trip was 4 years ago. You all seem pretty well off by my standards. So imagine where i lose the domain name, and openid disappears and then two years later i see someone else using the domain for some identity system that is not the openid we know and love - perhaps it just never took off. You can't pretend to me that in that case someone hasn't made a killing on the domain name. May not happen, but that's technology.

You say "That’s stooping pretty low Steven." - man, I did that BECAUSE i didn't want people thinking my site WAS the real site. Honestly. It is to read that the is the REAL site and my is in no way affiliated.

And to say i am gleaning anything. I added mobile support, messaging, microformats and foaf (and some other stuff not yet released) to try and pull in some of the other thinking - it was to help the idea of OpenID... but you make it sound like these were already in place - as though i took some template of all the work people had done and dropped it in. I have spent countless hours working on this stuff (that's why i have trouble sleeping) - a big deal when you work full time and have two kids.

Trust me when i say i am raking nothing in because of all this. Really. I'd getting sick of all this though - maybe OpenID and all these well off sponsors, members and individuals should think together and make an offer i can't refuse. Not something I would have considered before, but i'm seriously getting frustrated by all this. But I can't really win in this. Ask around for what people think is worth - as a domain name in general and then with the OpenID concept around it - in both cases it's worth a lot as it's a cool domain. People who didn't even know there *was* and OpenID have said it's a very snappy domain. So whatever i could sell it for I won't get its real worth - i know that - espcecially if the foundation took it. But then if i sell it for a decent amount i'll be the villain of the community - i may even make Time Magazine and new releases of SpiderMan will do away with the Green Goblin and have me in its place (which may be pretty cool for my kids). It's not as though we were talking in millions of dollars - it's all the companies that are benefitting from this technology that talk in those numbers.

I don't know - anyone - please mail me at weblivz AT hotmail DOT com with your thoughts and ideas on this.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Why Services will win over Installs and Source

I've had a nightmare of a week - next week is a busy week for me and i think i've actually gone backwards this week (some kind of human rollback it seems). In trying to get my various environments up and running, i've run into numerous issues and problems. Now, part of that is because i'm using beta products - yep, i expect that hassle (although the Virtual Machine image i originally got worked first time... enhancing my argument below). In some other cases i'm using open source software which has, as is always the case, been customized and branched. I've had version conficts, dependency errors, configuration issues and stuff just now working.

My savior through all of this has been VMWare - i don't know what i would have done if i did not have snapshots!

However, it has made me start to think a little deeper about services (well, combined with some stuff i've heard privately and also online from people such as Jeff Barr and Don Box). It has driven into me how you doing software installations are on the way out. For personal users - and for business users. Especially the SME. Furthermore, Open Source projects are out too. Well, let me re-phrase before i get a million comments. Open Source projects that work will be distributed and managed through a small number of expert groups - rather than downloadble and distributed to everyone who wants the product.

Furthermore, IMHO, these Open Source projects will no longer be installable products - they will be API's. So will commercial software. Most software will. It's just toooo much hassle. A week wasted when i knew what i wanted - i really didn't want to know the details... just some services i could ask some questions of and get sensible answers back.

Take queuing (something i need soon, not yet). Amazon offers a simple queue service. Microsoft are looking at an Internet Service Bus. Others are doing similar work. These are accessible via API's and there is NO NEED for me to download and install this stuff. It's just too much hard work... well, when things go wrong it is - and my experience in IT is that if you have 2 complex things to install you're gonna have problems pretty quickly. I want people who create these services and are experts at that - they can scale them if i need and manage all the complexities around backup, failsafe etc...

I could write forever about these services such as authentication, storage, reporting, processing, e-commerce and so on. I want to drop these services as modules, combine them and add MY stuff on top (oh, maybe i should also write about modular UI AJAX/Flash/Silverlight style components that marry these services, such as authentication, registration, reporting etc). Writing and managing them all is just too much work. Importantly however, i don't want these as part of something like Facebook! I want them purely and simply as services. I know where i stand with an API which i know is a product and is supported as a core part of the business - not an addon. These services will need to stretch what we can do RESTfully and so SOAP wil come into its own.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The programmable web - mixed opinions

Tonight i watched the Don Box, Steve Maine Mix 07 video. What i see is Microsoft trying to catch up. Now i personally feel that their WCF offering and C# 2.0, ASP.Net and so are miles ahead of other languages.

The issue is that they have been very pro-enterprise and less involved in the day to day hackers that are heavily involved in building many of the high profile web apps we see today.

However, i think a lot of the REST apps, driven by API's that use GET are medium term services..... on the way to what SOAP offers. I don't think SOAP itself is the problem, i think it's just that the people who would require the advantages that SOAP offers build more complex applications - they are the established companies, corporates and so on. People writing REST services won't want to manage session state, message level security and more - things that aren't easily avoided long term.

Many of the web api's out there using REST don't do a while lot in terms of message security, authentication, transactions or sessions. However, this is the initial wave - many of us ARE thinking of ideas requiring these services. There is also the evolution of web service interop to consider - a couple of years back i wrote some services that talk to Jave SOAP services and it wasn't easy. We did this internally on some basic ideas so could avoid some of the complexity of message level security and transactions and so on - but there was definitely thinking around scaling those services up - something only SOAP and not REST protocols would be fit for.

However most using REST are (like us) startups - larger scale enterprises are still figuring out what web services are and how they may be of value. They certainly aren't going to expose online transactional systems on the web via simple REST API's. Some may try, but most won't. So REST is a good start and no doubt will fit many scenario's but i firmly believe that as services get more complex SOAP will start to become a more popular format... i just cant imagine all my data being exchanged as hacked versions of RSS/ATOM :)

But I spent 4 years writing Perl code in the early 90's and everything worked great - until the time to build, tooling, scalability of the compiled langauges offered so much it was just too hard to resist. Microsoft just need to make the time to build simple REST apps as quick as the other toolsets out there - they have the complex, scalable stuff covered.

Oh, i'd like to see an Xml-RPC intergave to WCF services if possible!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Window Communication Foundation Unleashed - Xml Fetish

I am reading through the copy of "Window Communication Foundation Unleashed" that Craig McMurty, PM in Identity at Microsoft sent me.

I was sent a copy as i made a comment some time ago on integration of Xml Schema constraints with Web Services. I read his argument in the book, but i cannot agree it is the right way to do things.

His argument is to convey the business rules (well, the basic rules initially) through the name of the property. So you may have a property called "QuanityBetween10And1000" rather than define a simpleType in your schema that states that "Quantity" must be a value between 10 and 1000.

His argument is at its core based on the fact that current proxy generation tools (such as Microsoft's xsd.exe) do not go any deeper into the schema than the name and type of the property. What happens if you have two rules, or three?!

IMHO this is a tooling issue. If i create a web service interface and set a simple constraint (complex types are more difficult) then i expect good tools to take this into consideration - i really can't imagine why not!? Especially with the relative overhead of a web services call, the more intelligence that can be put into a proxy generated class, the better... and Xml Schema is cross-platform and cross-language. So ANY language can get these rules. if the proxy generation tool doesn't support it then fine, they get the hit. But most really should.

In fact, in WCF i'd expect a proxy generated class to not only provide a typed and named property, but i'd expect any simpleType definitions to be included. How hard would a check on an integer range be? And it adds a lot of value. Something like BPEL will do this with even more sophistication... so why not put in the beginnings of this.

The book is excellent, but as the point above is probably the reason i got a mention in the book in the first place, i felt i had to write something. I Craig doesn't ask for it back :)

Friday, July 13, 2007

Amazon Web Services Video

Chris Pirillo has just added an Amazon Web Services video - cool :)

Facebook for Single Sign On

Jeremiah runs an excellent blog and a few week back he added a great post on "Web Strategy Predictions: Facebook, Identity, Social Networks".

I was reminding of this by a recent twitter post (it hurts calling it a "tweet"!!):

I predict that Facebook will release an "Identity/Login widget" and will
overtake Open ID, why? Consumers rule, and Open ID is too geeky

I don't really agree that FB will overtake OpenID and then become some kind of central identity or authentication mechanism. Something we already have seen tried with MS Passport (where Jeremiah sites the trust issues with MS).

Now, i'm not specifically referring to OpenID [ i approached Scottish Enterprise way back in 1998 about an open approach something open, but similarto MS Passport ] so i'm talking about a general authentication mechanism for the web if you like...

My reasons are:

1. This should be a service. My view is that companies providing and managing this kind of data should be a service which doesn't directly conflict with half it's customer base. If you offer identity and then a bunch of web apps and api's, then it makes it harder to convice others that you won't simply lock them out by stopping them accessing the data you hold (even if it came via that site in the first place).

Ironically, this Twitter post from VC Fred Wilson was quotes Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook:

'being a tech company means you aspire to be a platform, a layer in the stack
that others can build on'

Yes! But i can't see that happening when you ARE the stack. Facebook is cool, but we need to be careful what constitutes an identity service layer. Do we want to mix that (would TCP/IP work as well if it was the OSI model, rather than two layers within it)?

2. FB is a commercial company with fingers in many pies - other companies will not just hand them their most important data. It's going to be hard enough for OpenID providers to accomplish this - but at least they are somewhat independent. I already talked about FSBSoftware who were told to remove their sychronization application..... the user should be the one who controls their own data and where it sits.

3. Decentralization. There are too many scenarios in the real world where you, or a company you work for doesn't want to use an external site. OpenID means writing your code once and interacting with external bodies easier.

I also don't think OpenID is too geeky, but that's kinda like me saying that Scotland or Chile are brilliant places to go holiday.... but a username, password and email are all you need.


How I never saw i don't know. Have a look :