Archive for the ‘Work’ Category

Denial of Service attack predictions

February 6, 2017

Recently I’ve been working with activereach to help them with their blogging activities. Here’s the latest piece I’ve written for them, summarising industry predictions for Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks in 2017.

DDoS attacks involve flooding a victim’s network with data requests in order to knock it out of action. This is done either to stop the organization operating for a period of time or to divert IT staff attention whilst a data theft takes place. Last year there was a significant rise in the number and scale of attacks and it seems likely this trend will continue in 2017 with many in the industry talking about “terabit attacks”.

The preaSOAic era

April 18, 2008

I came across a new computer-related term the other day: the “preaSOAic” era. SOA stands for Service Oriented Architecture and – together with Enterprise Architecture (EA) – form the two hottest buzz-words in the business computing world.

The SOA ideology envisages recasting a company or public sector institution’s myriad software applications into a series of services that are open to each other via the Web and have formalised methods for exchanging messages and data. By turning software applications into services all the different business processes and databases of an institution should be able to co-operate merrily with each other. It is hoped that this will avoid the usual situation that most companies find themselves in, where there are many applications spread across dozens of departments, all with their own databases, most of which are extremely reluctant to talk to each other or use each other’s data. In this “preaSOAic” era there is the potential for massive amounts of data duplication (referred to as ‘data silos’) and general muddle. It is generally portrayed as a period when large amounts of staff time are spent simply taking data from one computer application and [manually] entering it into another.

SOA is potentially a huge paradigm shift for an organisation, not only for the computer development team, but also for the business processes that link departments and functions. The recognition of the potential for large scale ‘reordering’ of the way information is handled within an organisation has led to increasing interest in the second concept: Enterprise Architecture. This involves a formal process of analysing and articulating a company’s fundamental organising business logic (i.e. what it actually does on a day-to-day basis) and activities, and tries to work out how the ICT infrastructure should go about modelling this. Frankly, it’s big brain stuff, but research by Harvard Business School seems to suggest that organisations that get it right can lower their ICT costs and be more effective and efficient in their day-to-day activities.

The commercial world has been pretty heavily engaged with this in the last few years and the education community is now starting to take notice. JISC is starting to articulate the ideas of SOA and EA to its community of higher and further education institutions and has started to fund a series of pilots. As part of this work, I’ve been commissioned to help out by providing technical reporting and editorial support for these activities and I’m off to Glasgow next week to learn more at the OpenGroup’s annual Enterprise Architecture Practitioners conference. As you’ve probably gathered by now, this is all ‘adult material’ and so I’ll probably require some light relief: I’ll be on the hunt for a vegeterian haggis or two and perhaps a wee dram.

Oxford dining

March 21, 2008

My brief sojourn to the dreaming spires was completed with a day at the Towards Low Carbon ICT conference. A series of academic and business speakers explored issues around developing and procuring ICT equipment that saves energy and uses less of the world’s resources in its manufacture. All this will be useful as I gear myself up to begin editing JISC’s forthcoming report on greening ICT.

In the true spirit of the occasion, the conference lunch was officially described as consisting of “fair trade, organic, local produce and, where possible, open source, food.” I wasn’t quite sure which parts of the lunch were open source – I suppose it must have been the dishes made to recipes that have fallen out of copyright – but it seemed to go down well with the attendees.

This eco-lunch was extremely tasty, but I have to confess was trumped by a business lunch I had had earlier in the week at Raymond Blanc’s Brasserie Blanc: the tarte citron was sublime. However, my Bed and Breakfast establishment won first prize for the most unusual meal of the week – they had the following on offer for breakfast:

Marmalade Omelette.

Opening University research papers to the public

September 27, 2007

The Open University officially launched a website today that allows public access to the research papers that its academics produce. The Open Research Online website allows anyone to search the online database by author’s name, or to use keywords from the title or abstract of the paper. You can also browse through a list of departments and disciplines and subscribe to an RSS feed of announcements about new papers.

This project, which is the sixth largest such repository in the UK according to today’s search on the Registry of Open Access Repositories (ROAR), is part of a growing movement to provide free access to publicly funded research. This is being driven by the fact that universities have become increasingly concerned by the increase in subscription fees that are charged by the international journals. Up until now, these journals have been the only places where research papers are published.

An excellent by-product of this is that the general public and small businesses can gain relatively easy access to the fruits of university research. As the OU says: “The repository serves the dual purpose of recording the University’s research activity and, where possible, making the full text of the research publicly available”. As we all pay the taxes that ultimately fund most academic research, this is an important and welcome development.

nOU to blogging

September 14, 2007

The Open University is one of the world’s largest, oldest and most respected practitioners in technology-supported distance learning. So you’d think blogging would be the technology du jour.

However, it appears this is not necessarily the case. A very interesting survey by Lucinda Kerawalla and colleagues at the OU found that, of nearly 800 Open University distance learners, only 18% thought that blogs and blogging would be ‘useful’ or ‘fairly useful’ within the course. Even more interesting was the fact that only 8% of the students who were about to embark on courses that may well utilise blog-based work had their own blog, and only just over half had ever even read a blog. A further 35% of the sample did not want the OU to provide a blog as part of their studies.

The authors note in their conclusions: “These findings suggest that, although educators recognise the potential for blogging to support learning, most students do not agree” (p. 176).

Of course the OU caters for an audience that is likely to be older than the typical cohort of a traditional university, but, given the astonishing levels of media-hype and supposed general public interest in Web 2.0 services and technologies these figures make sobering reading.

XML gets X-rated

August 8, 2007

XML is one of those technologies that usually goes about its business quietly, with hardly anyone noticing (a bit like me, I like to think). It is widely used for the exchange of data between applications and systems and it also provides the foundation of XHTML, the latest version of the mark up language that underpins millions of webpages. Recently, though, things in the XML world have got a bit heated, to say the least, and are likely to get more so in the next month or two. A new technical report by Walter Ditch, published by the UK universities’ JISC, and which I was involved with publishing, sets out to explain why.

It’s all to do with the seemingly mundane subject of how a computer goes about saving a word processed document or spreadsheet file and, in particular, which ‘flavour’ (format) of XML it should use.

Web 2.0 and email

July 20, 2007

The speed at which Web 2.0 technologies and services are changing the way young people communicate continues to gather pace. I spent the beginning of the week at a conference of university website managers and Web development staff. One of the speakers, Alison Wildish, from Edge Hill University, had some fascinating stats about students’ communication habits gained from some surveys she had carried out at the university.

Of the first year students who started last autumn, 98% had already been active in the blogosphere and social networking media space (MySpace, Facebook etc.). They had a strong preference for Instant Messaging over the use of e-mail for basic communication. Indeed, Alison revealed that only 25% of these new students had made any use at all of the student email account provided for them by the university. Obviously, this has made life a little difficult for academics and support staff wishing to communicate with the students. I’d have thought they would be grateful.


June 20, 2007

I enjoyed last week’s meeting of East Anglia Online User Group (EAOUG) at the Royal Society of Chemistry. There were several interesting speakers from the library world talking about ways in which technology was changing their working practices and introducing the need to learn new skills. Some of the presentations are now available online at the group’s website.

There were some interesting discussions and I learned a lot about some of the everyday realities of working with new technologies in libraries. There was a definite feeling that an issue for library staff is a developing ‘digital divide’ between the younger users, who are steeped in technology and have expectations as to its use, and the staff, who tend to be older and have less time to learn about new things. One delegate recounted how she had resorted to using Facebook in order to contact a young borrower who had failed to return a textbook as all other forms of communication, even email, had failed. Several people concurred in the view that students, in particular, viewed email as rather old fashioned!

As ever, a quick note on the lunch. My offline feedback is that I don’t devote enough time to lunch and that I need to try harder, so here goes. You may remember that I was a little bit worried about how far the Royal Society of Chemistry might go in the preparation of lunch. As the clocks on the wall had chemical symbols instead of numbers I was concerned that this might demonstrate a rather unhealthy interest in all things chemical. However, I’m pleased to report that this was not reflected in the either the choice of ingredients or the means of preparation. Lunch, in fact, consisted of a tasty spread of sandwiches with an interesting twist – the brown and white bread mixed together on the same sandwich. It’s these little touches that I find interesting. Desert was a platter of exotic fruit slices, so, an overdose of fructose rather than anything less healthy.

SOA in the movies

June 19, 2007

I was in Birmingham a couple of weeks ago for a series of talks on Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), an approach to IT that is gaining prominence, particularly in corporate environments. There is growing interest in the education sector and the event was organised by UCISA (Universities and Colleges Information Systems Associations).

SOA is a complex concept to get across and requires a rethink of the way an organisation delivers its information services. As part of the day there was an opportunity to see the explanatory animation that JISC have produced. This Quick Time movie provides an excellent introduction to the subject that just about anyone involved in IT will find helpful and be able to grasp.

Speaking on Web 2.0

June 11, 2007

I have been invited to speak about Web 2.0 at the “Managing New and Emerging Library Technologies – Skills for the 21st Century” event being organised by the East Anglia Online User Group (EAOLUG).

The event takes place on Wednesday at the Royal Society of Chemistry so I’m hoping for a lunch in the style of one of these molecular gastronomy chefs like Heston Blumenthal. Then again, of course, it could just involve lots of sodium chloride or be something a bit weird like potassium permanganate on toast.