my recent reads..

Innovation on show at OpenWorld Shanghai

I've just spent the past few days at Oracle OpenWorld Asia Pacific in Shanghai. Although of course a smaller scale to the one coming up in San Francisco in November, I think there were 8000 or so attendees and in true OOW style, each session slot presented the challenge "which of these 10 concurrent sessions do I want to attend?!"

I also got to present a session myself, which was great fun (thanks to those who filled up my session on the last afternoon of the last day!) More of that in future posts maybe ...

Innovation was one of the key themes of the conference and Charles Phillips' keynote. And I think there was no better illustration of this than the demo that the OARDC team were showing in the demogrounds. It got my "best in show" vote!

Their Second Life "Innovation+ Village" show-cased a solution concept bridging the real and the virtual worlds, and they brought some interesting ideas into play.

The scenario was a Second Life wine store. In the room you can examine the products and get some gratuitous live-video. But then you can make purchases (using Linden$), which are captured in iStore for delivery in "real life" (I hope .. still waiting for my case of Bollinger;-) BI dashboards track order volumes and status. Then back in Second Life, you provide feedback on the wine purchased. The feedback is not only collated in Oracle Database for analysis (more dashboards), but also fed into a blog of comments on the particular wine (WebCenter).

Overall, a great example of an "Enterprise Mashup". I don't think the team created any new technology pieces, just a novel solution using a combination of available components and APIs, and provided the content.

While you may doubt the financial viability of doing business in Second Life, it does emphasise the fact that creating Enterprise 2.0 value for your organisation does not necessarily involve a huge development investment. Just as a great artist can produce a masterpiece with a child's paintbox, real solutions are possible today if you have the imagination and creativity to combine the youthful "Web 2.0" component palette with your existing IT infrastructure.

Congrats to the crew from OARDC that put the solution concept together - Lennard Low, Teo Kian Hui, Wang Rong Rong, Zhang Rong (I believe this is a group photo below) and thanks Rong Rong for the demo;) Hope you get to show this in San Francisco too ... make sure you get a more prominent space in the DemoGrounds though, and don't have the screen facing away from the entrance!

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Playing with CAPTCHAs

Security Now! #101 with Steve Gibson and Leo Laporte covered the deceptively simple challenge of differentiating human from non-human automated clients (great podcast as always .. check it out). Commonly this is done with distorted text like the sample on the right.

The Official CAPTCHA Site has a wealth of information about this field, including discussion of the relay attack that has the potential to defeat any "are you a human?" test (because it enrolls unwitting human accomplices to do the work).

The coolest piece of work though is the reCAPTCHA project. This is a project of the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, and it provides a public service for plugging-in a CAPTCHA to your site. But unlike other systems that are just wasting 10 seconds of your time, this system is actually digitizing public domain archives at the same time (getting you to fix the translation of words that have defied the best OCR software)!

Perl is one language that you can easily use reCAPTCHA with, using Andy Armstrong's Captcha::reCAPTCHA module.

After installing the module, it just takes a few minutes to register your site and setup a test page. I built a quick reCAPTCHA cgi in perl .. you can try it out here (sorry, currently may find it offline but get the script source here: I think I spent 10 minutes setting this up, and then an hour playing with it;) All in the name of digitizing historical works...

But I'm afraid the humour archive has the best captcha ever ..

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After reading The Tipping Point, I realised blink was also by Malcolm Gladwell so I picked it up at the first opportunity.

If anything, I found blink even more engaging and interesting than The Tipping Point. It explores and tries to explain what happens in those first microseconds of automatic insight. Even more challenging is the question of whether you can harness and train this "power of thinking without thinking" ...

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The Tipping Point

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell is one of those books that you suddenly realise is everywhere - bookshops, airports, being read by people on the bus or train.

It's an easy and engaging read - Gladwell's a compelling story teller - and does a convincing job of exploring and explaining just how social epidemics work. He uses a simple model of three concepts to organise the book:
  • The Law of the Few : Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen

  • The Stickiness Factor

  • The Power of Context
I found myself immediately reflecting on how this all applies to what I am trying to achieve at work. I'm sure every reader will do a similar thing - whether your mission is to nurture an idea, a product or a message.

In one of his case studies, Gladwell even makes a very convincing argument for why public health policy has got it completely wrong in regard to controlling smoking!

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