April 15, 2014

Are You LinkedIn?

When the invitations to join LinkedIn (LI) first started to roll in we checked it out. Because we had no intention of looking for a new job and felt that we already had most of the connections that we were likely to need, we didn't join up for quite a while. But the invitations kept coming and a number of friends told us they had made some very useful contacts through LI, so we finally gave in and joined.

Here we are some two-plus years later and we're still trying to figure out if it's worth the effort. An abundance of completely overlapping public groups related to IBM i and IBM i development exist, making it difficult to even try to follow a subset of them, which requires sifting through numerous posts that are often repetitious. Some days, it seems that for every useful piece of information that filters through to us via the various groups we have joined there are at least 50 pieces of junk. Many of them don't even reach the "thinly disguised" category of advertising. Admittedly much of this appears to be due to failures on the part of the person(s) who initiated the group to moderate the posts. Another problem is that LI doesn't really seem to provide a good mechanism whereby such groups can be flagged as the spam generators they have become.

Where LI seems to work better is with private groups, such as the one we run for our own RPG & DB2 Summit Alumni. Only those who have attended a Summit are eligible to join. It allows us to give them a vehicle for asking questions of the Summit speakers post-conference. This is a big improvement over private emails for two reasons. First some attendees are reluctant to "waste the time" of speakers by sending emails. Second, the questions and answers are visible to all members, potentially creating more discussion.

Of course, it's also a vehicle for Summit alumni to discuss things with each other. We are often asked to share email addresses for Summit attendees so that they can continue the collaborations and relationships begun at the Summit. Our privacy policy doesn't allow that, so instead we send out invitations after each Summit event to join the alumni LI group. Other members often contribute to answering questions and sharing experiences. That helps build the community. Of course we could achieve all of this and more besides by simply hosting our own Q and A forums and indeed may do just that in the future.

While LI may be a reasonable vehicle for private groups, it doesn't seem to be a good solution for the kinds of technical questions typically (and more appropriately, we think) asked on forums, bulletin boards and mailing lists. The problem with using LI groups for this is that often the person with the question (or comment or article) decides to post it in several different groups. And/or a similar question gets posted by different people on different groups. This leads to repetition and inconsistency of responses. If you doubt this, try googling something that you know to be the title of a LI article and see what you get. In our experience even adding to the search doesn't help.

So do you find benefit in LI? It can be helpful to stay in touch with people who may have changed jobs. And it can be useful to learn of news in the community. But the proliferation of overlapping groups for IBM i/RPG/DB2 groups makes it a bit hit or miss as a news vehicle.

If you've found some better uses for LinkedIn, please let us know, because right now the cost-benefit ratio seems slewed to us.

P.S. Speaking of technical forums, in last week's blog we mentioned that Penton's iProDeveloper forums had gone read-only. We're glad to report that they now seem to be back on the air, but so far there has been very little traffic.

April 08, 2014

Just When Things Were Going So Well ...

Back in March we blogged about it being a "Good News Week," so it seems only fair to pass on some bad news.

Last week Penton announced to its subscriber base that the company is ceasing production of its iProDeveloper and Power IT Pro publications. This weekend their forums went read-only. Traffic on the forums had indeed fallen substantially in the last year or two, but frankly we always felt that that was self-inflicted damage. They changed the software they used a few years back and made a complete hash of it. Not only was the new forum truly horrible to use, but they also made a complete mess of linking in the old content. Over time they fixed many of the issues that arose--but in the interim period many folks had "wandered off" and found their technical fixes elsewhere.

We were not really that surprised that Penton pulled the plug on iProDeveloper. There seemed to be less and less content in each issue. In fact with many issues we rarely got beyond scanning the table of contents, there was so little there that interested us.

In part we suspect that this is all related to the vendor consolidation that has been going on in the IBM i space in recent years. When only a relatively small number of vendors own all of the products in the marketplace, it's bound to affect the amount of advertising dollars available. And advertising dollars  drive magazine (print or digital) content. No dollars, no content.

As part of these changes, Penton is making all of the previously restricted content on the website publicly available. How long they will continue this service is anybody's guess. So we suggest that if you have any articles on the iProDeveloper website that you reference frequently that you grab yourself a local copy while you can.

But enough of the bad news. Right now we're off to join a great bunch of fellow IBM i fanatics at the annual NEUGC conference near Boston, Mass. That will make us feel better--at least once we get past the frustration of having had our flight cancelled (sigh)--seems to be be just one of those days.

April 01, 2014

Advertising IBM i

So, did you see that great TV ad that IBM ran during primetime last night? Some of the things it mentioned were:

  • That IBM i has true integration of operating system, database, security and web serving. Designed in from the beginning--not added on as an afterthought. The very same integration that Oracle and others are striving to achieve via acquisition, not by design. True integration brings simplicity and reliability.
  • That DB2 for i fully automates many typical DBA tasks, such as storage allocation and extensions, maintaining database integrity, updating statistics. It has tremendous scalability, such as the ability to handle more than 400 TB of data in a single SQL table and can bring incredible I/O and CPU parallelism to bear to process and query massive amounts of data. A simpler, more powerful and more scalable database housed in a single server delivering unprecedented performance at a lower cost for both transactional data and business intelligence applications.
  • That reliability and security of IBM i systems running on Power are dramatically better than competitive systems. They mentioned that an independent study showed costs of downtime for IBM i servers to be 90 percent less than for Windows server clusters and 71 percent less than for Oracle Exadata, translating into three-year savings of between $700,000 and $35 million for IBM i shops.
  • That SAP runs better on IBM i than on competitive platforms and is easier and cheaper to install and maintain.
  • That IBM i has a lower cost of ownership over three years: 55 percent less than Windows running SQL Server and 50 percent less than Linux running Oracle. In addition, even the initial cost of acquisition of IBM i servers is 18 percent less than x86 servers running Windows/SQL Server and 43 percent less than x86 running Linux and Oracle.

Did you notice that today's blog is dated April 1, 2014? Yes, it's April Fool's Day.

Sorry, there was no ad for IBM i on prime time TV last night. But that's the only part of this blog that is not true. So maybe we could all help to make sure that even without ads the IBM i story is heard.

For more details on the facts stated here and more data to use in spreading the word, take a look at some of the resources on the System i Developer iAdvocate page.

Spread the word.


March 25, 2014

The Summit in the Corral

Sorry we didn’t get to “chat” with you all last week ‑ we were so tied up running our RPG & DB2 Summit in Dallas that the blog fell by the wayside.

We thoroughly enjoyed the Summit. Getting together with more than 150 of our fellow IBM i aficionados is always invigorating, particularly when folks come up to you after one of your sessions and tell you that the information “more than paid for the whole event.” When we first arrived at the hotel though we did begin to wonder how things were going to turn out. This picture will give you a good idea why:


This is what we found in the ballroom one evening! This beautiful Texas Longhorn and about 99 friends were being auctioned off. Cattle in a hotel ballroom? Yup ‑ we were in Texas after all. But not just any cattle ‑ these were very expensive breeding stock. Top price paid for a bull was apparently just shy of $500,000 and the top cow went for about $340,000. Don’t think anyone is planning on turning them into burgers any time soon! We took a lot of photos of these beautiful creatures out in the rear parking lot (which had been turned into a stockyard) and will pass the link along in a future blog post once they have all been uploaded.

We had been assured that the cleanup on Sunday would remove all trace (including smells) of the cattle. We really had our doubts about that when we came downstairs for breakfast on Sunday morning! It seemed a little like eating breakfast in a barn ‑ not that Susan has ever done that, but she can now imagine what it might be like.

Turned out the hotel’s cleanup plans were based in part on the assumption that they would be able to have the rear doors open all day Sunday. The weather however had other ideas and the wind direction rendered that impossible. By the time our Monday Headstart sessions came around, there was certainly still an interesting aroma around the place. But the hotel moved us to rooms a little further from the problem so it was definitely tolerable. By the time the Summit proper started on Tuesday, the smell was all but eliminated and all went ahead as planned. By the end of the week, you’d never have known that the cattle had ever been there. But we still nicknamed our main meeting room as “the Corral” for the week in honor of the earlier inhabitants of the room.

Before we close, an update on a completely different note. Back in December, we blogged about “The Hour of Code.” In that piece, we mentioned that a version of the graphical programming language Scratch from MIT was used in the tutorial. This week we saw on KickStarter a new project established to fund ScratchJr ‑ a new version of Scratch aimed at children 5 - 7 years of age. If you think that is too young to be able to program then all we can say is “Watch the video.” The project has already met its funding goal for producing the iPad version. If they get enough additional funding they will be producing a version for Android and add features to allow the sharing of ScratchJr projects with friends and family. They will also be able to create additional resources for parents and teachers.

We think this is a fabulous project well worth our support. We encourage you, our readers, to also chip in a few dollars to support this effort. We need more kids who can think logically. ScratchJr can help achieve that.



March 12, 2014

It's a Good News Week!

Good news? Really? Looking at today's news, it is hard to believe there is any good news to be found. But this spring is indeed bringing a much needed batch of good news to the IBM i community.

What news? Well we are currently at the WMCPA annual conference and are absolutely delighted to see that attendance is at a much higher level than it has been in recent years. Not only that but they have set new records for vendor and sponsor participation.

From here we go directly to Dallas for our spring RPG & DB2 Summit. We are also seeing a significant increase in attendance for that event. Indeed, we ran out of space for exhibitors and even closed registration recently for fear that overcrowding could impact the comfortable, interactive feel of the event.

We are also hearing similar good news from organizers of other upcoming conferences like NEUGC and TUG TEC. From what we hear, COMMON's spring event is also seeing a similar resurgence in numbers.

This is good news for two reasons. First, it is indicative that the economy is turning around and companies are beginning to invest again. Second, and more importantly for us, it means they are investing in their IBM i assets! And that has to be good news for all of us.

But this is no time to breathe a sigh of relief and relax. This may be a limited-time opportunity. For now, IBM i shops seem to be investing in what they have and in finding out what they could be doing. But unless we "carpe diem" and get rapidly involved in modernizing our applications and development practices we may well miss the boat. If we do not respond to the needs of the business, we will find ourselves once again having to defend against other inferior "solutions." For inspiration, take a look at our previous blog post about surprising your users

So now is a good time to tell you the other piece of good news. The draft version of the new Application Modernization Redbooks publication is going to be available "any day now" -- Tim Rowe of IBM just told the audience at WMCPA so it must be true. He even had a printed copy with him; it is about the size of a large telephone directory and there's still a bit more content to come.

So it is a good news week. Make the most of it -- go out and DO something!