Manchester March


This weekend I’ll be in Manchester supporting the stop brexit march and I thought it would be worth letting my MP, Mims Davies, know some of the reasons why.

Dear Mims,

Thank you once again for taking the time to respond to my letters. In particular, I greatly appreciate your public support of EU citizens’ rights. You have consistently been supportive on this issue since I began writing to you, and I hope you will be able to build on that support with your colleagues at the Conservative party conference. It is time to turn promising language from the Prime Minister’s recent speech into real progress on implementing an acceptable guarantee, independently of the rest of the negotiations. Our friends and neighbours have already waited too long with the current uncertainty.

While it has been my long held view that this country is significantly stronger and more influential as a member of the European Union, I do understand that there is a perception that the UK is somewhat detached from the rest of Europe, and perhaps has differing aspirations.

If our exit from the EU had been skillfully handled, shaped on the basis of the small majority who voted for that outcome, with proper debate and broad agreement, I would probably not be marching in Manchester this weekend.

The unfortunate reality is that the whole process has instead been botched at every step. From the bill to set the terms of the referendum; the appalling referendum campaigns; the subsequent Conservative leadership election; the questionable manner in which Parliamentary consent was finally requested to trigger Article 50; the arbitrary deadline for making the Article 50 notification, without even agreeing on what brexit actually meant; the utterly irresponsible snap election while the two year Article 50 countdown was already running; to the deal with the DUP to cling on to power when the border in Ireland is such a key issue in the negotiations. This is not our finest hour.

If we manage to negotiate an agreement with the EU before the two years ellapse, good, bad or otherwise, it will be a miracle. Regardless of what the current Prime Minister offers by way of a final vote on the deal in Parliament, I hope and expect all MPs to put the country first and act in the best interests of their constituents.

Regards, James


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Twenty years!


It hardly seems possible but I celebrated 20 years at IBM today! Here’s me foolishly thinking that I’d be staying for up to four years while I work out what I really want to do…

…and now I work just up the stairs from where that photo was taken. I’ve gone far!

Twenty years is a long time but I’ve done a few things on the way, so it hasn’t been at all dull!

MQSeries

I started out in technical support on a machine/OS I’d never heard of, asking such questions as, ‘Where is the design that describes what this command should do?’ Much mirth!
Later I worked in test when I discovered that ‘temporary’ generally means several years… maybe decades… probably still there actually… sorry!

Message Broker

…or whatever it happened to be called in any particular week.

Here I learned that a solution can take on a life of its own, becoming only tenuously related to, or even completely detached from, the problem it was meant to be solving. (If only someone had come up with design thinking sooner!)

Master Data Management

Lots of Master Data Management- almost 10 years of that alone!

Product information management, user interface generators (still gutted this one didn’t make it), model driven development, sketchy thingy, the MDM Developers community and probably more. There was definitely some virtual universe community in there as well.

Plus a really nice office with a window seat! And rats, and floods…

Watson

A tiny amount of Watson! Despite being barely a year, most of that time seemed to involve moving desks! Also the only time I really didn’t want to move on but serendipity led to…

Blockchain

An actual open source project this time, which is something completely new for me! And blockchain which I still think is one of the most interesting technologies to come along in… well, in the last 20 years!

And then

I doubt I’ll be in Hursley for another 20 years, so who knows. Having said that, I never intended to be there by now either!

It has been a privilege to have worked with so many amazing people who together made most of those 20 years an absolute pleasure. There really are too many to list without an Oscar speech but I will just mention two: Mark Phillips, who was a bit of a role model right from the start, and Patrick Wagstrom who you should jump at the chance to work with if you ever get the opportunity!

Lies, damned lies, and more damned lies


It was tough to settle on just the one rant today but the general election had barely been announced before I spotted the first reminder on twitter about the Lib Dems broken tuition fee promise…

Yep, no arguments there. Broken promise. Bad. Still, Nick Clegg did actually apologise, which is something. And, to be fair, Labour had already let students down on tuition fees. Is that broken promise a good enough reason not to vote Lib Dems though?

I guess it’s hard to quantify or compare broken promises. (I’m not a student, although I have another reason for caring about tuition fees who is rapidly growing up.) Having said that, there seem to have been a few broken promises about lately. “We say: yes to the Single Market”, “Let’s give​ our NHS the £350 million the EU takes every week”, “There should be no general election until 2020”, and so on.

Perhaps if the only dishonest politicians were Liberal Democrats, I might vote for a party that supports brexit. (More likely I’d spoil my ballot again.) Back in the real, post-truth, world, I’ll probably be voting for the only pro-EU party I can.

Game on for Fabric Composer


Earlier in the week I was pondering some blockchain gamification with @howard_is, inspired by a recent GameOn challenge for early professionals in IBM. After helping out with a run through of the IBM InterConnect Fabric Composer lab this morning, it seemed like a good opportunity to make a start.

BlueBlockAlone

Instead of running yet another car auction, I think it could be fun to have a demo based on a ‘business’ network for playing games. To keep some similar elements to the more common trading examples, I’m currently wondering if keeping tabs on multi-player adventure games would work. This is the model I’ve come up with so far, and it seems like something that could be hooked up to a simple text based (powered by Watson Conversation of course!) or graphical game interface.

If you’re interested in playing with your own blockchain network, fire up the Fabric Composer Playground and have a go. If you want to know more @danielselman will be at InterConnect next week, or get in touch with the community. Better yet, join in!

350 million squirrels


If you’re unfortunate enough to follow me on twitter, you’ve probably noticed that I’m currently just a bit grumpy about the UK’s crazy course towards the worst possible exit from the EU.

To be clear, unless someone can convince me otherwise (I’m still waiting for a reply from my pro-brexit MP), I will be voting to remain in or rejoin the EU at every available opportunity. I’ll also be at the Unite for Europe march on the 25th March.

But the thing that really makes me grumpy is the lack of any kind of sensible opposition. What usually gets me yelling at clouds is when someone pops up moaning about the pledge to spend more money on the NHS. (Apparently some people don’t think the bus was really misleading but the billboard seems less ambiguous.) The whole thing reminds me of a larger scale version of distracting a toddler. Oooooo, look, squirrel…

Photo © Patrick Wagstrom

Even if, and this is clearly never going to happen, the current government suddenly do decide that they’ll give any of the supposed £350 million to the NHS, it kind of misses the bigger picture. That £350 million is already worth less than when it was plastered on the side of a bus and we haven’t even started to leave yet. Pointing out that the Conservative manifesto included a commitment to the single market would probably do more to help the NHS than complaining about a bus. Actually ensuring MPs get a meaningful role in shaping the UK’s future relationship with the EU might also be a good idea. There are plenty of issues that will impact the NHS at least as much as extra funding, all of which deserve more scrutiny than they are going to get as things stand. For example, the European Medicines Agency or staffing from the EU. I’ll stop before this turns into even more of a rant but the point is that Brexit could mean anything and it’s about time we started taking it seriously.
It’s not that I don’t have a problem with misleading busses. For some reason you can get away with saying whatever you like in a referendum, which needs to change if we’re going to persist in having them. I’d personally prefer never to have another referendum again but if we must have one, perhaps it could be on the NHS? Unless the government know the will of the people on that as well.

Watson Conversation System Entities


The Watson Conversation service now includes built-in support for a few new entities. These system entities make it much simpler to identify numbers, currency values or percentages in a conversation.

The only slight gotcha is that system entities are not enabled by default. I would definitely recommend enabling all the system entities when you create a new workspace- there’s no downside and you’ll start seeing what system entities will be matched in the try out panel. (It’s also worth checking for new system entities when you make any changes to an existing workspace!)

system-entities-screen

I’ve recorded a quick demo on YouTube if you want to see system entities in action, and there’s a demo workspace in the conversation-starter project on GitHub.

A little more conversation


More than a year seems to have vanished somewhere since I left MDM for new adventures with Watson. It’s even been a few months since the new Conversation service first appeared on Bluemix, along with the tools I’ve been helping to build.

If you’re interested in Watson Conversation, or just curious about what I’ve been up to for the last year, these are a few blog posts which I’ve come across which explain everything better than I could:

This thing seems pretty popular, so there are videos too!

 

There are even a few GitHub repositories:

And of course, tweets

If that’s not enough, you can ask questions on Stack Overflow and dw Answers, or join the Watson Developer Community.

If you’re building something with Watson Conversation, I’d love to hear about it! And finally, if you have any tips or tricks that you could share, I’m trying to collect some for a conversation-starter project on GitHub.

Updated: lots more links!