All entries for September 2005

September 30, 2005

Cautionary tale

Writing about web page http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2005/9/27/95759/4240

Just read a scary story about the power of big consultancy firms to make huge amounts of money from rich and ignorant companies/managers.


At this point, IBM Global Services consultants flooded our conference rooms. Overnight, we ended up with twenty consultants. When I asked how much these consultants were costing us, I was told $250/hr. This information proved to be incorrect – they were actually charging us $325/hr.

What were we getting for $325/hr? People hired off of Monster and Careerbuilder. Seriously.

Management was under the assumption that we would be getting real implementation experts from IBM. In fact, we were getting employees from a subcontractor. We paid IBM $325/hr, and they paid their subcontractor about $165/hr. The subcontractor then paid its people salaries of $90,000 to $110,000/yr, the market average, which equates to about $75/hr when benefits are included. We were paying a markup of about 333%.

It's a depressing tale…but not if you were one of the consultants.


September 27, 2005

A year of Warwick Blogs

So, Warwick Blogs has been officially live for a year now. We've certainly come a long way in 12 months. It's almost hard to remember what it felt like at the start of last year, but this year certainly feels calmer as Warwick Blogs is no longer the new exciting thing it used to be.

So, how has it weathered once the initial interest died down? Depends who you ask and how you measure success, but I would (of course I would) say that it's been a success.

We've certainly let potentially thousands of staff and students express themselves online in a way that they just couldn't before and out of that has come some 42,000 entries, over 100,000 comments and 53,000 images. In the past there was just no easy way to share your thoughts, ideas, rants and photos with the Warwick community (and beyond).

When asked at the start of last academic year how many blogs and entries I thought we would get by Xmas, I said that I really had no idea what so ever as what we were trying was so untested within a university in this country and almost anywhere else. By the end of November 2004 we were getting 20,000 page views per day (proper page views not including images/robots/etc.). As it turned out we had 13,000 entries, 2,000 blogs and 26,000 comments at Xmas, turning it into the biggest educational blogging site in the world in just 3 months.

We are clearly not going to see that kind of rocketing growth again this year as it is only new to the 1st years rather than the whole University this time. However, we have steadily increased the features, reliability and power of the system over the last year and hope that there are new things to offer people who didn't try out blogs before or who gave up early on. Our BlogBuilder News blog has kept track of these changes and shows how far we've come.

I like my graphs, so here are a few showing a years worth of Warwick Blogs (they look a bit poor, but click on them to see a larger view of each graph)

The above entries per day graph shows that we really do quite closely follow the term and holiday times with a hardcode of bloggers keeping going over the holidays. Generally speaking though we've stood at around an average of 150 new entries per day. I must admit a little disappointment that this has not grown much more, but it is still more than I had originally hoped for.

Comments per day is an interesting one. Again it tracks term time very well, but pleasingly it also shows that we have an average of 2/3 comments per entry, showing a good community around Warwick Blogs as the average entry on a blog in the wide world will be lucky to every get a comment at all.

Images were another nice surprise for us. Although at the start we only provided single image upload (now we have zip upload and nicer galleries), people were uploading pictures left, right and centre. We have more images than we do entries, showing that people love to share their pictures, I can only hope that that will continue this year. Now that we have image tagging (like Flickr), finding and categorising images across the system is even easier.

This is a slightly strange one in the sense that the growth is fairly clear, whereas the number of new comments/entries/images a day has not really kept growing, page views has. These stats are for real people viewing pages of entries, not images/css/javascript/robots/etc. We had 30,000 page views yesterday for instance.

Karen and Hannah have yet again done some great publicity again this year, but the emphasis has been a little more on the academic side of using blogs this time as we didn't really push it that way last year. Fingers crossed we can get some more involvement from our academics and get them communicating and interacting with their students online a bit more.


September 26, 2005

XXX 2 – The Next Level

Title:
Rating:
2 out of 5 stars
Second of the two films I saw on the way back from South Africa. In rather stark contrast to Sin City, this is neither clever nor stylish. It is even worse than the original with awful plot and acting backed up only by a hell of a lot of big explosions. Blah…can't be arsed to say any more about this

Sin City

Title:
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

I saw this on the plane on the way back from South Africa last week and I must say that it rocks!

Not going to write an indepth review, but I will mention that it is not for the faint hearted as it is intensely violent. However, it is done in such a beautiful, stylish and down right cool manner that I really don't mind!

The three leading men, Clive Owen, Mickey Rourke and Bruce Willis do a great job and are supported to make up a fantastic cast.

Watch it!


September 25, 2005

South Africa

Writing about web page http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/kieranshaw/gallery/south_africa_2005/

So, I'm back from holiday. I actually got back on Thursday afternoon some time after another stupidly long day of traveling.

It was a fantastic holiday, just what I needed. It was the first time it's been a holiday just with my brother, mum and dad since we went to Florida about 12 years ago. I had to leave Steph behind this time, but she managed as Maggie was looking after her :)

So, what'd we get up to? Photos probably say it as well as anything else. I came back with around 400 photos from the combination of 3 digital cameras, but I've just put up some of the best ones in the gallery.

Kruger

That'll be the 'Big 5' then :)
We saw pretty much everything we could have wished to see. In just 3 days worth of safari we saw:

  • Buffalo
  • Giraffe
  • Elephant
  • Lion
  • Baboon
  • Rhino
  • Hippo
  • Croc
  • Leopard
  • Warthog
  • Hyena
  • Impala
  • Kudu
  • Zebra
  • Eagles
  • Vultures

Not a bad list I think.

Southbroom

We went back down to my parents house in Southroom (an hour south of Durban). Unfortunately it was a 600 odd mile trip which we did in one go, taking around 13 hours with stops. The most exciting part of which was going 40 km through the mountains of Swasiland on dirt tracks…oops.

Once back down in Southbroom we spent a bit of time chilling in the lovely weather and the gorgeous pool, but actually kept a bit too busy to do much in the way of sunbathing.

It was great finally seeing my parents new home all the way down in South Africa, it is indeed a lovely place in a beautiful part of the country (hell, you get to see whales from the balcony!).


September 08, 2005

Out of office blog entry

After a long old wait, I am finally off to South Africa to visit my parents. My next 24 hours consists of:

  • My taxi will be here in half an hour
  • Coach at 7:00 from Coventry
  • 09:30 arrive at Heathrow
  • 10:00 meet my brother
  • 11:00 check in
  • 13:50 fly to Zurich
  • 16:35 land in Zurich
  • Kill 6 hours!
  • 10:20 fly out of Zurich
  • Sleeeeeeeeep
  • 08:35 land in Johanesburg
  • Meet parents and start holiday!

ta ta…


September 06, 2005

Firefox developers plugins

Writing about web page http://www.bytefarmers.com/log/2005/09/03/extending-firefox-for-web-developers/

To add to my usual collection of Firefox plugins, I came across the above webpage listing a few new ones. On top of my existing ones, I've just added:

View Rendered Source by Jennifer Madden
Neat tool that allows to view the actual generated markup, useful when generating markup via scripting.

View Cookies by Edwin Martin
Utility that adds a Cookie tab on the ‘Page Info’ window, allowing you to see and edit any set cookie that affects that page.

ViewCookies is so much quicker and easier than browsing around the standard Firefox cookies menu and the View Rendered Source is lovely for viewing HTML source code.


September 02, 2005

External Spring configuration

I recently had to generalise some configuration I had for Single Sign On (SSO). Some configuration which I didn't think was going to change on a per server/deploy basis, does indeed need to change. Generally we don't like to do a different build per different server so we try to put settings that will change on a per server basis into external configuration.

Traditionally this is done via system properties (System.setProperty("sso.someproperty","true");) which we set in the properties-service.xml file in the JBoss deploy directory. These are really handy as they are dynamically reloaded every time you change them so you can quickly change something at run time. We use this for hot changing where web services point at for instance in case one breaks.

However, there are sometimes bigger configuration changes that you might want to make which are not really just single strings. Not only that, the system properties don't really fit in very well with a Spring way of thinking.

Spring offers two possibilities. From their documentation they talk about the PropertyPlaceholderConfigurer but that just puts individual string properties in an external properties file again.

I decided just to split out the parts of my XML bean configuration that are per server specific into separate file. You can then just dump a smaller configuration file somewhere in your classpath (such as the JBoss conf directory) that is per server specific. In your web.xml you can reference your configuration like this:

<context-param>
   <param-name>contextConfigLocation</param-name>
   <param-value>/WEB-INF/main-spring-beans.xml,classpath:deploy-specific-beans.xml</param-value>
</context-param>

And there you go, you have a nice Spring XML configuration to put your server specific configuration in, without a separate build.


Cubicle protection!

Writing about web page http://www.thinkgeek.com

We will be going through a possible little office cubicle shuffle soon and I overheard people talking about cubicle privacy and it reminded me of these:

Room defender

Lazer Trip Wire

Defend your cubicle!


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