Sunday, 8 September 2013

TOGAF++ principle 24: the strength of the monolithic

I’ve commented before on the charmingly Utopian architectural principles that The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF) suggests.

For most of my systems design career, I’ve been taught that it’s a bad thing to lump lots of different functions together into one indivisible monolith of code: that it’s a good thing to separate each useful function into a distinct unit that can be re-used for new purposes: and that those functional units should have explicit interfaces that don’t couple them together permanently in a set pattern. These ideas are the essence of the Composite/Structured Design thinking that Yourdon & Coad promoted in the 1980s. They are the foundation of the Service Oriented Architecture that Microsoft and IBM promoted in the 2000s. They appear so obviously to be true that for twenty-five years I believed them.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Playing with Energy

The Technology Strategy Board’s Smart Power Collaboration Nation event last month demonstrated much excitement about using game technology to promote domestic energy saving. Two kinds of game were discussed. But neither kind can entirely succeed, for each has its own inescapable limitations.

Friday, 19 July 2013

The power may be smart, but what about the neckwear? Man with brain-frying bow-tie talks about local energy markets

The organizers of the Technology Strategy Board's 'Collaboration Nation for Smart Power' event kindly let me explain three minutes' worth of what I've been doing in local energy markets with Swanbarton and IPL over the past year. Here's the video. The video quality is excellent, whatever you may think of the content or of the apparel.

Monday, 8 July 2013

TOGAF++ principle 23: the architect doesn’t know best

I’ve commented before on the charmingly Utopian architectural principles that The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF) suggests.

There’s an unwritten central dogma in the TOGAF literature, demonstrated in the attitudes of many architects, that the flow of control is inevitably from the architect to the implementors. Yet in my experience as an architect, the flow only seems to work that way in exceptional circumstances.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Maths does plants

Last week the BBC published a  cheerful article ‘Plants do maths…’, which began with ‘Plants have a built-in capacity to do maths’. Seeing that, I assumed that it was just a piece of inexact but eye-catching journalism. But reading on, I was surprised to read a quotation from Prof. Alison Smith of the John Innes Centre, saying ‘They’re actually doing maths in a simple, chemical way… this is pre-GCSE maths… but they’re doing maths.’ Later, there was a quotation from her colleague Prof. Martin Howard, saying that ‘This is the first concrete example in biology of such a sophisticated arithmetical calculation.’

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The catastrophic collapse of the risk vector

Risk-based testing of complex systems is fairly standard practice, and software systems are no exception. You identify the biggest risks associated with the system you’re testing, and you test for those risks first. Then you go on, in order of descending risk, until you run out of time or interest. As well as being common practice, it’s recommended by the ISTQB in its software testing guide.

But there’s something hopelessly naïve about the way that risk-based testing is done.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

TOGAF principles for an imperfect world

The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF) is a marvellous thing in its way. Recently, after many years of working as an ICT solution architect, I've qualified as a TOGAF practitioner. But TOGAF has such an air of lofty other-worldliness about it that I can’t resist presenting the following little case study.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

No easy answers from ISO/IEC 29119

The new ‘definitive’ software testing standard may not meet the needs of systems architects.

The value of standards seems to be that they help you to ask for simple answers instead of complicated ones. For example, I don't have to ask for a detailed report on the combustion properties of the fuel in the petrol pump. If I really want to know that it’s the right kind of fuel, I just need to look on the pump for a label mentioning the standard ‘BS EN 228:2004’. Similarly, as an information systems architect, I don't have to ask for a detailed explanation of the remote management interface on a home router: for my purposes it's often enough to ask whether its supports the standard ‘TR-069’.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

GB energy markets beyond the Thatcher era

Margaret Thatcher’s funeral was held today in London. Her legacy includes the present structure of Great Britain’s energy markets. She presided over the development of the Electricity Act 1989, and the breaking up of the Central Electricity Generating Board in 1990. As a result, we have an electricity market structure which allows consumers some freedom of choice in which company to buy their electricity from, or to sell their solar generation to.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

The bizarre economics of Hinkley C

This week, UK government approved the development of the twin 'Hinkley C' nuclear power stations by the French company EDF. It’s interesting to compare the economics of Hinkley C with an something radically different but equally effective.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Mobile networks splendidly off-the-rails

Olaf Swantee, CEO of mobile operator EE, posted last week about the parallels between digital connectivity and the planned new UK high speed rail link. As well as the parallels, there’s an important difference, which explains why the UK government is investing in railways but not in mobile networks, and why Olaf has done well in choosing which business to work in.

There are only two sorts of railway engines: the charming ones, which look like this,

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Superfast broadband its own killer application?

This morning, Ofcom published the European Broadband Scorecard, showing how much better the UK was doing than its major European neighbours, in its race to equip the people with superfast broadband.
This afternoon, the BBC published an article summarizing today’s review of UK health performance in The Lancet
I brought together some statistics from the two sources into a little chart.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Vodafone's spectacular test of the Femtocell market

There's been a lot of hype about femtocells, and most of the UK mobile network operators have made at least a half-hearted effort to offer them. However, there's been little hard evidence of strong demand for femtocells in the UK. It seems that most of my friends don't even know that they exist. Many of the people who've tried them have had (if the bulletin boards are to be believed) unsatisfactory experiences. One could be excused for doubting the strength of public desire for the things.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Telecoms versus old-school vice: HMG shows which it prefers

HM Government is squeezing telecoms far harder than some more traditional forms of vice:
  • Amount raised for HM Government by 4G spectrum auction: £2,341 million
  • Levy on UK mobile telecoms subscribers (for who else will fund it?): £2,341 million
  • Levy on UK betting, gaming and lottery, HM Government, 2012: £1,682 million

Friday, 18 January 2013

The fossilization of networks

Facebook’s release of a voice call service via its iPhone app is the latest in a string of ‘over-the-top’ telecoms services. They follow a common pattern:

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Electricity markets for everybody – really everybody

At the Local Sustainabilty conference in Freiburg last October, I met Drs. Hugo Niesing of Resourcefully, who was speaking about experiences with smart energy technology in ports and harbours – places where heavy and intermittent industrial energy demand is located close to the point of delivery of offshore renewable power.

Later, he told me about energy management on a more modest scale: about his domestic electricity supply arrangements, which are quite different from what most people in the ‘developed world’ have. Hugo has 4kW of photovoltaic generation capacity on the roof of his boat. Yes, Hugo lives on a houseboat, in the old harbour area of Amsterdam.