Collective Intelligence in Action

Don’t you hate it when you spend months (or years) working on a pet project / book / mad take over the world idea, then somebody comes out with something even better?

Yep, it’s just happened to me. Years working on the idea of the ‘Wisdom of Crowds’ (even prior to web 2.0 in the shape of Red-Piranha). Month’s working on a Masters Dissertation on applying Web 2 techniques to the Finance industry (pdf link). And somebody comes out and does it even better.

Not just better. But much much better.  The sort of better as in ‘If I had this earlier, I’d have just copied it and changed the words around a bit’. The book is available from Manning as ‘Collective Intelligence in Action‘. A free, first chapter (Understanding Collective Intelligence) is available here (pdf).

Collective Intelligence in Action

So what’s it about? We’ve all heard about the Wisdom of Crowds idea. But what if you need to actually implement it on your website? This book shows you how to (using both concepts and practical code, as well as the theory behind all of it that I was missing). It includes

  • Intelligent, learning search, using Lucene.
  • Extracting data from blogs using web-crawling.
  • Executing Real time feedback on facebook-like sites.
  • Scalable data-mining techniques to manage the torrent of information
  • Making personalised recommendations based on all of the information.

Disclaimer:Manning provided me with a free review copy of the book – but no strings attached. And , maybe if I’m nice enough to the Author (Satnam), I can persuade him to talk about making millions using JBoss Drools and Complex Event processing in the book.

You know the Irish Economy is hurting when …

You know the Irish Economy is hurting when Sainsbury’s Supermarket in Newry (in Northern Ireland) has to close it’s doors at 7.30pm on a Saturday due to too many shoppers from the south trying to get in.

For those of you that don’t understand the above line: It’s unusual for an island as small as Ireland to be blessed / cursed with an international border running through the middle. Bad for politics , good for shoppers as it’s much cheaper to travel from the southern part (in the Euro zone) to the northern bit (where they use Sterling) to save up to half on your weekly grocery bill.

Travel to Sainsbury’s supermarket in Newry on the last Saturday before Christmas and you’ll see something just short of a riot as southern punters fight over the last bottle of (cheap) beer. But they’ve never closed the door due to too many people before – which is what happened last Saturday evening. Even more unusual in that June / July are normally very quiet months for shopping in the North.

Now discuss (in less than 100 words): Did this happen because …

  1. Irish people are fed up with rip off prices in Dublin and are finally voting with their feet?
  2. There’s a lot of hidden pain out there – people with no money but desperate to ‘keep up appearances’?
  3. Both of the above

How NOT to do Web 2.0 – No Cork is not near Drogheda

Web 2.0 is great – it allows users to get involved on your website.

Allthetopbananas.com shows not how to do it. Just be lazy and not bother to tell your website that Cork is not near Drogheda (for our non-Irish-based readers, they’re at opposite ends of the country, about a 4-5hr commute!).

Why should I bother to report to you that ‘Cork is not Drogheda’ if you haven’t done your basic research and looked at the map? Save your ‘wisdom of crowds’ stuff for items that you can’t find anywhere else.

Barcamp Belfast 2008

In a reminder that it’s now been more than 1 year since Barcamp Dublin, Barcamp Belfast is on this Saturday, 21st June. Looks like it’s going to be bigger and better than last year’s event.

Barcamp Belfast Logo

Belfast hasn’t moved any further away from Dublin in the last 12 months, so I can safely recycle last year’s plug for the event.

For most people in Dublin , the Belfast Barcamp is nearer than the forthcoming Galway and Tipp events. It’s 2 hours by train from Dublin (with the venue pretty close to both the Central and Botanic rail stations) and about the same by Car , with Motorway for all but 15 miles of the journey.

How to combine Workflow and Business Rules – in 5 easy steps

Tom has a good post on the jBPM (JBoss workflow) community day held at the Guinness brewery in Dublin. Warning – slides may contain pictures of people drinking beer.

Drools jPBM Business rules presentation

How to combine (jBPM) Workflow and (Drools) Business Rules – here’s the summary. Slideset is available on this blogpost.

  • Workflow (e.g. JBoss jBPM) is great – it allows you to take spaghetti code and draw it as a workflow diagram (flowchart) so that it can be reviewed by the business (the nice people who pay our wages). You then attach standard (Java) actions to these steps.
  • Only problem is when you come to a decision node (the one circled in red below): How do you decide to go left or right (in the workflow)? Normally this is coded in Java – good for us, but hidden from those nice business people (which means that this is more room for errors-in-translation).
  • Business Rules allow you to keep those decision making rules in Plain English: When something is true , then do this. That’s it. The rule engine does most of the hard work.
  • Integrating Workflow and Rules is easy. Use JBoss Seam (link) or do it by hand (link). And it works on non-JBoss web / app servers such as Websphere, Oracle Application Server, Tomcat and Weblogic.
  • Repeat x6 : Use workflow and rules. Use workflow and rules …

Simple Workflow

In a maybe related development, Tom Baeyens is now using strangely Rules-y like examples over on his workflow blog ….

Lisbon No voter converted to YES

Update: It looks like 862,415 Irish people (53% of the electorate) don’t read this blog and voted no. Note to self: must increase blog readership. Looks like we’re all going to find out what the consequence (big or small) of a No vote is.

I don’t normally talk about politics on this blog, but this one is important , so excuse me if I make a rare exception. For readers from outside of Ireland, we’re the only country that is holding a referendum vote on the Lisbon treaty next Thursday (12th), which changes how the European Union (EU) is going to go about it’s internal business.

Like a lot of Irish people I was initally going to vote ‘No‘, partly because of unhappiness with the current political and economic outlook. Also partly by the poor ‘Yes’ campaign – loads of posters with policiticans faces, but no reasons why I should cast my vote in favour.

There’s been no official explanation of the (incomprehensible) treaty text. But the guide on RTE’s website shows the treaty changes and gives clear explanations as to what the changes mean.

European Flag

Why I’ve changed my mind to vote yes. And not because of the patronising ‘jobs jobs jobs’ or ‘laughing stock of Europe’ arguments. (For the record , I find the no campaigns scaremongering about neutrality / taxes / take-away-our-babies equally offensive). Here’s why

  • Europe has been good for Ireland – and not just the free roads. A large part of the peace process happened because the EU removed the differences between Ireland and Britain. I remember stopping at the customs post on the (single lane) main road between Dundalk and Newry. Very different now , with the M1 Motorway crossing what was previously ‘bandit country’.
  • Europe has been good to me personally. I’ve been able to work (visa free) in 3 other European countries. It’s allowed me to study (with the host government paying the fees) in two more. Very different from the alternative of being an undocumented worker in the US.
  • This is not a ‘free’ protest vote. There are consequences to voting no (maybe big, maybe small, nobody can guess at this stage). We’re not teenagers any more; it’s a big decision and should be treated as such.
  • Without Europe, we’re more or less just a region of the UK. Before we signed up to EMU (the prequel to the Euro) in the 70’s the Irish pound was tied one-to-one to UK sterling. All economic decisions were effectively made in London. We may have only a small voice at the big European table, but it’s better that what we had previously – no voice at all.

I still think there is a lot that could be better with the EU – despite the increase in the powers of the European Parliament, the EU isn’t (yet) democratic enough. It’s far from perfect. It’s messy. But that’s life, and previous generations of Irish people would love to have a choice like this.

But what pushed me over the edge to vote yes is the Spoofers guide to the Lisbon treaty. Read it. Then decide.