Lightening disconnection prompts slow musing!

03/02/2014

Following the devastating storms (for Ireland) and the destruction caused to infrastructure and property near the coastline we have had time to consider talking about something we suddenly found ourselves without!

Don’t get the wrong impression. The great winds that swept over the country over the Christmas and New Year period although they caused damage mercifully the did not, in so far as we know cause any loss of life. The pictures of surging surf and uprooted or swept away roads and pathways, particularly in our own area of South Conamara and further west were a grimn reminder of the untamability of Mother Nature. Michael Viney’s excellent weekly column in the Irish Times recently gives a flavour as he writes about “The nuts and volts of thunder storms!”

tintreachHere in the Read-out office we were not left unscathed and a very loud thunder clap – obviously preceeded by a lightening strike – put paid to the interior of our working computer. It also appears to have put paid to our connections with the outside world and we were without our land-line and our usual internet connection for ten days. Mercifully no information had been lost but there is little that we could do with that information in the modern world without a reliable and speedy internet connection.

First steps
We have been connected in one way or another to the internet for twenty years. It was in 1994 that we became the 700 customer on Ireland-on-line (the iol.ie in our e-mail address). It was a dial-up service – remember dial-up? At the time of joining up there were three subscribers to our print publication, Read-out, who had e-mail addresses. Hard to imagine!

The following year we started the Read-out Instrumentation Signpost which basically was a collection of links to the then few automation sites available. Gradually as more resources became available we assembled a website of links and briefly an Instrumentation Directory, which over the years has grown less important as the search-engines have become more sophisticated. All the developments we talk about here would have been impossible had not the net been freely available at little or no cost. The big player and the one man band have equal access to the basic platform.

Is the party over?
One of the great things about the internet – up to now – is its neutrality and its accessibility. It has been a great leveller. Anybody can join. Karlin Lillington, a correspondent with the Irish times states, “Net neutrality has long been a major concern for technology companies and service providers large and small. The loss of such a policy will be viewed with alarm in a world where internet access grows to be seen more and more like a utility in the public eye, and underlies the business plans of small entrepreneurial companies up to the largest entertainment moguls.” Karlin Lillington notes the decision by a US Federal court which could overturn this neutrality and signal the exclusionb of the “small guy!” It appears that even in the European Union the legislation proposed has loopholes the exploitation of which could have very similar implications. (Rulings in the us could make the web a dangerously different place.)

Blogs
Where the web-site presence has flourished is in the provision of product, people, application and company news, editorial and comment. At first we linked to stories we found in various places on the web. As things progressed we realised that we received many press releases from vendors and technical innovators which we were unable to include in the limits of a 12 to 16 page periodical and thus we progressed to publishing them on our blogs. Mostly these are included on the blogger platform where they are lightly edited. More technology based and opinion pieces are put on the WordPress platform (You’re reading this post on it!) To date we have put up well over 5000 stories and articles.

As the internet grew and developed so to did the business of business, change, and change radically. One of the little books that we found useful was by Seth Godin, called “Meatball Sundae”, mostly because this new thing is turning everything upside down and putting seemingly incompatible principles and ideas together and coming out with something that turns out to be brilliant. We wrote about it in one of our first blogs!

Social media
However for engineers a lot of this is in a way counterintuitive and contrary. Engineers like to know how things work and to be able to predict outcomes. The left brain skills (engineers & scientists) versus the right brain skills (artistic and creative) is in full play here. For those a useful volume is Di Pietro’sSocial Media for Engineers and Scientists, which we recommend highly.

smdipietroWe first got on-line in the early nineties to access information on the International Society of Automation website, which had and has lots and lots of useful information on the discipline available free of charge to members. This was available not through a browser as now know it but through a platform called Telnet. There were no pictures just simple text. The connection was a dial-up one, it was incredibly slow but very exciting. Here we were in Ireland looking at material live in North Carolina USA.

Our methods of communication were through “list-serves” where one joined a group and emails were sent to a group address and distributed to those on the list. There were also on-line communities where messages were left and looked at and responded to by members at there leisure.

However as the world wide web enveloped the internet the telnet platform faded and a new platform called a browser made its appearence. Names like Netscape and Mozilla became common parlance and it wasn’t long before the giant Microsoft Corporation introduced the daddy of them all Explorer. But things wax an wane and now while we still have Explorer but also Firefox, Chrome and Apples Safari and of course dial-up is never mentioned in polite society. It is broadband, speed and “always-on” internet that is the norm now.

socialmediatree1We posted an item in early 2013 with videos from the aforementioned Jon DiPietro, and Emerson’s internet guru Jim Cahill which is relevent to this topic: Two social media pioneers in Automation ask “Why?” and “How!”

Facebook
It is hard to imagine life without the internet now. The advent of social media has changed things yet again. First facebook came along and people started to share their lives with the world. It quickly developed into an incredible mismatch of things, what people had for breakfast, things that amused them, the pet gripes, politics, religion, pictures of their pets, holiday experiences. What it has turned out to be is a vehicle for communication between people who will in fact prabably never meet or with relations they would otherwise have lost conntact with.

But from a business point of view it could also be useful. We quickly found the our personal page was fairly useless, as there was so much noise from people not concerned with the latest automation widget and/or with personal stuff. Few automation engineers really want to know if your child became champion cheerleader in the school or what you had your favourite eating house! Happily Facebook had an answer to that in what they used to call “fan pages”, these pages are dedicated to particular topics, hobbies etc to which interested people may indicate an interest by “liking” them. Thus the Read-out Facebook page has some people who follow the writer’s personal page but many more who do not! Our automation blog stories are automatically posted to this facebook page.

Twitter
This can be an invaluable tool. We use it (@ReadoutSignpost) to publicise stories as they are published. We also post other material (mostly in Irish) that interests the writer. We decided early on that it would be impractical to open two twitter accounts one for business and one for everything else. The messages are basically enforcedly short (max 140 characters including URL) and so they can be easily dismissed if not of interest.

Semple_Corporation_jkt.pdfTwitter however is also useful because with the advent of intelligent phones tweets often relay breaking news far more quickly, though not always with accuracy, than more conventional methods of media communication. One example on our discipline is how this writer learned of the arrival of Stuxnet, the first malware discovered that target automation systems. Gary Mintchell, then of Automation World, tweeted brief details in July 2010. Had he not done so we would not have been alerted to this very important story and read and shared (with many others) the first reports and studies of the implications of this important event. We have assembled a large collection of links to pages, reports, papers and videos on our popular ICS & SCADA Security page.

One important thing to remember about twitter (and social media in general) is what Euan Semple says Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do! Indeed if you are ambivalent about the use of social media his book of the same title could be invaluable.

Many times the one man band is far more effective that the large corporation and I think the reason for this is because he/she IS people. The most successful participants, it seems to me, are those who regularly participate with interesting material and telling a story. Few large corporations trust their employees enough to allow this freedom which is the essence of social media.

Another important thing about twitter is that it is said to have a half-life of 4 hours, unlike facebook which goes on forever. No matter what platform one posts on, one must always beware what one posts as who knows it may come back to haunt you!

LinkedIn
LinkedIn is something we have come to late in the day. It was called the “Business version of facebook!” but in reality this writer could not get it. Fine if you were looking for a job etc. Because of its reputation we did “join” it early on and many people became “contacts.” But recently we started our own group, the Read-out Signpost News, and this is another vehicle for us to spread the Read-out news pages. We haven’t been there long enough to gauge reaction but we have garnered some further contacts in many different corners of ther globe.

There are some useful discussion groups on topics, like Cybersecurity, there which to a large extent mirror the old list-serves as they enable daily, or weekly reports of the items that have been shared be posted to your email address. In a way a periodic newsletter! Quite useful.

Google Plus
I am like many people on the internet. I don’y know what Google+ is about. Chris Rand in his Bmon newsletter summed it up nicely recently “My guess is that whatever social networks you use personally, and whatever you’ve introduced into your company’s marketing, Google+ is not going to be amongst them, except as a token gesture at best.” Read his short daily one day last November, “I admit it. I still don’t know what Google+ is all about.” and you’ll understand what I mean.

There are other platforms like YouTube which as yet we have not ventured into but a lot of companies, including automation enterprises,  are becoming involved with varying degrees on success. The important this is regular posting of interesting material.

So what do we think?
Without a doubt the internet has changed our lives. When the first commercial Read-out hit the Irish highways and byways we little thought that we would become so well known in the world-wide automation and control community. We have regular visits to our site from places as far afield as Norway, (indeed more people visit our site from Norway than almost any others country except the USA), India, China and the Ukraine, Germany, the USA, Britain and France as well as Ireland.

We learn of news, mergers, important technological events and achievements at a speed inconcieveable in 1989. We share that information with the whole world through the various platforms on the web. We engage with our automation friends and acquantances all over the globe in previously impossible ways.

And sometimes we get to meet them at exhibitions and conferences and have no need for the preliminaries of getting to know people because if we realise that “Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do!” then we do know them already!

What a wonder!


Insider to Sound Off – analysing automation in 2014 and beyond!

19/01/2014

New team for the INSIDER, to analyse the news in 2014

Operating in the Measurement, Control and Automation business sector, the Industrial Automation & Process Control INSIDER, founded and edited by Andrew Bond and more recently by Nick Denbow (from 2010), and the Sound Off! blog from Walt Boyes, have provided analysis and comment for many years – effectively as competitors. The difference between the two has always been one of style, perhaps based on geography, because the INSIDER could be described as having a solidly British, if not European, physical and cultural base. (Indeed on occasion Read-out has been known to contribute a bit of an Irish flavour from time to time!) Sound Off! has, without doubt, the a distinctly North American, if not USA,  approach and style.

Europe & America in Automation

Europe & America in Automation

The strengths of both these organs is that they are demonstrably vendor independent, unreliant on advertising, possibly unique in trade publications in the world of automation.

Modern communications and the Internet have changed everything today, in that most developments and press releases are available world-wide, once they are written. Even User Group conferences held around the World in specific locations, are reported with video interviews, live streams and tweets available to everyone, and we in Read-out have found tweets particularly useful in this regard using these to give a differently nuanced report on proceedings from venues that we have never visited in the flesh! These factors have increased the overlap between the publications.

An opportunity for change
We learned last November that Walt Boyes had left Control magazine and Putman Media, but he has continuing to write his Sound Off! blog on his own account. Walt, as those of us who know him would know, was keen to expand his activities we now learn that he is joining the Editorial team of the INSIDER. Over the past year, Nick Denbow has been seeking a future development route for the newsletter, that would take away some of the workload involved in typesetting and administration, and also create further expansion opportunities. He tells us that some of this requirement has arisen from developing eye problems caused by glaucoma and the consequent increase in typos that can remain undetected. Probably this is more likely a result of 14 years in front of a PC screen! So we come to a link-up with Spitzer & Boyes.  “The result is that Walt and I have agreed that he and David Spitzer will become the co-publishers of the INSIDER, with Walt sending out the newsletter as from the February issue – next month!”

Walt is to be be the Managing Editor, and the main editorial contact (based in Saint Louis, Missouri USA), and he is also to deal with the subscription administration. This agreement also enables Nick Denbow to continue writing editorial reports for the INSIDER, as the European Editor (based in Winchester, GB) – maintaining the European contacts and approach established over the years by the INSIDER. Walt has, in fact, started his involvement with the INSIDER already, and has provided some of the review articles featured later in the January issue.

Nick continues, “The monthly issue of the INSIDER subscription newsletter will continue as it has done for the last 17 years, and we will do our best to expand and improve the publication for the future. Walt and I believe that the format around the newsletter, with the associated websites and other services, needs to develop and change, to bring in new ideas and publishing techniques. But the INSIDER newsletter is set to continue, with both Walt Boyes and Nick Denbow as editors, writers, commentators and columnists throughout 2014.”

Hopefully the combination will bring both the European, American and indeed global view to the INSIDER news analysis!

This story on Sound Off
Spitzer and Boyes LLC Acquires Industrial Automation INSIDER

Now! Anybody interested in Read-out?


Did you meet us last year?

03/01/2012

At the end of the year it is customary to look back and see how things were. Statistics is one of the ways we can look back.

2011 was a difficult years for many. Budgets were trimmed (to put it politely!) and many enterprises, especially in Europe and the United States felt the cold wind of reality sweep through places never thought accessible to such things. The phrase “safe as a bank” continued to have a hollow ring. Politics oscillates from stalemate to inactivity to vicissitude to indecision in those countries, while in others, tumult on the streets lead to sudden changes in government.

One of the great changes in what is happening over the last half-decade is the part played by social-media, facebook and twitter especially. The conventional news media organisations have been struggling to keep up. Exclusivity by any one publication has been usurped by the ability of witnesses to publish their own unexpurgated accounts instantaneously. An example is the assassination of Osama Bin Laden unknowingly reported by a local tweeter in Abbottabad (PK) who reported a rare sighting of a helicopter over head and then “A huge window shaking bang!”

Here in Ireland the national television service RTÉ had a programme called “Now that’s what you called News!” which was an “overview of what news we as a nation searched for online throughout 2011 in the privacy of our own homes, on our own laptops, on our own smartphones.” Some of these items are predictable but others are a surprise! (Hopefully people outside of Ireland will be able to view this – please advise us if not!) Few organisations have really understood this great shift, still less how it impacts on their own enterprises or lives or politics.

If we feel a bit hopeless or plunged in the gloom maybe we could do worse than read Seth Godin’s last contribution in 2011 and view 2012 as the Chance of a lifetime!.

Automation
The automation sector would appear to have been spared the worst excesses of this trauma by maintaing a steady as she goes approach. In past recessions this sector seemed to track by some months what happens in other sectors. This time thus far this has not appear to have happened. But what will happen in 2012. Will the developing parts of the world, China, India, South America take up the slack in other areas?

And us?
Here at Read-out the years has been a bit like the famous curates egg – good in parts! The print edition continued to be published and distributed to around 2000 automation professionals in Ireland. From a circulation of about 500 when it started life in the 1970s as a house magazine for Industrial Instruments Ltd it progressed to being an independent publication in 1989 with a circulation around 800 and quickly grew to over 2000 which we reckon is as close to the size of the market as can be achieved. (We reckoned at the time that if an equivalent magazine had the same penitration in their respective markets it would achieve 240,000 in Britain or 800,000 in the US).

Average blog visits since Aug 2009

On-line
We started on the web in 1995 with a very simple one page information digest but this soon developed into the large site now which is visited by over 17,500 people per month. More recently in mid 2009 we started blogging and there we have been able to track a growth through the months from a small base of 60 visits to today’s figure of over 3000 per month. The bulk of visitors come from North America (of which US comprised over 80%) then by Europe (29% UK and 12% Germany) followed closely by Asia (India 42%) and then South America (Brazil 40%), Africa (Egypt 42%) and then Oceania (Australia 100%). I’m not sure how reliable these figures might be. For instance Australia has 100% of the visits from Ocenaia whereas I know that we did have some visitors from New Zealand.

Stories

And what were the blog stories that people found most interesting?

Here we find things that we don’t understand fully. Why are some pages which we find interesting down the list? Why do some old pages continue to hold sway on these lists? We list the leaders here and perhaps you can make it out. Most readers read 1.5 stories per session!

1. Developing a 3D Optical surface profilometer (Jan 2011) – a account of a project using NI’s LabView in Dublin City University.

2. Number two has been a paper which is consistantly in the top of our stats since it was first published. This is Emerson’s Sarah Parker’s paper Radar level measurement best practice (Sept 2010).

3. A paper from Mike O’Brien of Newson Gale is a close third in the views in 2011. This is on Static earthing protection for road tankers (Nov 2010).

4. The next three in the list are close together too. Wireless strain gauge sensors (July 2010) is about a new wireless telemetry system for strain gauge sensors from Applied Measurements.

5. The great story of the past two years has been the long overdue penetration of automation security by Stuxnet and “Son of Stuxnet.” This blog was inspired by a tweet from Byres Security which decried the security commitment of one of the giants of automation as “abominable!” Abominable security commitment! (Aug 2011) also includes links to the many blogs and articles we have been able to find on this important topic.

6. Stuxnet – not from a bored schoolboy prankster! (Sep 2010) is Nick Denbow’s take on this malware first published in his Industrial Automation Insider.

7.Growth in World SCADA market is the subject of another story on a report from Frost and Sullivan (Dec 2010).

8. Our story on developments in Invensys in July 2009, Taking Invensys seriously! continues to draw readers – though things have moved on since then!

9. Level detection of foaming media is the problem addressed in this August 2010 contribution from Baumer.

10. Tree Safety (Feb 2011) discussed a method of testing the roots of trees alongside highways using a sensor adapted from helicopter technology by Sensor Technology.

Searches
The fact that Security and Stuxnet feature in this list is also reflected in the most popular searches include “USB Stick” and “Security” as the most popular by far of all searches on the site. Most of the referrals to the site come from search engines but also a large number of our facebook page and (perhaps surprisingly) Control Global.

Clicks
Sometimes people are so interested in a product or news story that they click forward to the page of the company or service. Again these may surprise with Frost & Sullivan heading the list with Applied Measurements close behind with Long Watch’s fascinating video of an oil leak and Wikapedia on Stuxnet! All in all however most automation professionals seem to be happy enough to read these items and go on to other stuff.

Interaction
One of the things that is perhaps a little disappointing is the number of comments or interactions from all these visitors. We welcome these but not those which seek to advertise products or seek followers (“I found your blog fascinating and will visit it regularly from now on!”). If a visitor wishes to have their product or service or appointments or other company or technology news mentioned the best way to see it on-line here is by sending an email to readout@iol.ie.

Like most statistics these are interesting and some of them are meaningful and we will use them to try to improve the service we provide for our visitors. As we finished writing this we came across a critque of a book by Katie Paine called “Measure what matters!” Paul Gillum’s critque is called, “Sensible Talk About Social Media Measurement.” Hopefully I can learn from it and maybe you dear reader might too! His final word is “Paine’s practical and time-tested advice is a welcome relief to a Klout-obsessed world that seems more taken with fans and followers than with business results.”

We thank those who have visited us during 2011. We particularly thank those who provided us with material or who generously supported us with advertising and sponsored our journeys to those events we attended.


Would you believe? Figuring numbers!

06/09/2011

I don’t know what it is but statistics and percentages  have always fascinated me and most days I look at simple figures related to the number of people who read the Read-out (and my personal) blogs not to mention those who sign-up to follow us on facebook, twitter and linked-in. Every so often I blog about these but the fascination continues. The last time was in February of this year – Of pages, blogs and stats,  and a a year earlier and in more detail we spoke of, Lies damn lies and statistics (Jan 2010).

Algorithms of search defeat us!

I have not got into anything too sophisticated, things like SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and stuff like that which I am inclined to leave to the experts. In fact what little I’ve seen (or understood) of these things seem in some ways fruitless because Google (and presumably other search engines) seems to change the algorithms they use just as soon as anyone seems to be getting the hang of how their calculations are made!

I suppose one could say that statistics are the “old way” of measuring things! It used to be the only way of measuring reaction to what was published on the web, and it does do that!  However they are somewhat impersonal when one considers what the web and the internet has become. Now that everyone is a potential publisher or webmaster numbers possibly become less and less relevant. The market has shrunk as it has grown! Seth Godin asks the question “What does the world look like when we get to the next zero?” in his blog Consumers and Creators. In any case I enjoy statistics, especially if they can be interpreted favourably, and they nearly always can!

Read-out has never shied away from giving these stats and have maintained archive of statistics of visits – sessions – hits since the start of the century. These show rises and falls over the years. Take a look, starting at this years stats to date.

Sometimes there is a big surprise in which items achieve the most visits, sometimes not. For instance the most looked at blog in the last seven days is Abominable security commitment! (11th Aug’11)  And it is also the most looked at during the past month. Not surprising really with all the controversy and worry around Stuxnet and its implications and the work of Eric Byres and others has been invaluable to the automation sector.  The number of people visiting this particular item has no doubt been helped by an item and link in Control Global last week – Stuxnet Overview!

(The more recent news last Thursday of the link-up between Byres’ company and Belden which we reported last Thursday has attracted a fair few viewers over the usually slack weekend period!)

However when we look at the past year – or indeed at the whole period since the inception of our WordPress blog site (March 2009) the most visited blog has been a paper Radar level measurement best practice (10 Sep”10) by Emerson’s Sarah Parker. I certainly could not have predicted that.

As always I suppose the interesting places perhaps are those in secondary positions in the field, creeping up, as it were, on the front runners.

Average monthly visitors to Read-out blogs!

Looking at the All Time figures well number two is again a Stuxnet page, this time Nick Denbow’s Stuxnet – not from a bored schoolboy prankster! (27 Sept’09). So I guess we should continue to keep an eye on anything to do with security. This is followed by a story Taking Invensys seriously!  (2nd July’09) on the belief that that company was “poised for a renaissance.” Jim Pinto’s recent item Invensys for sale, in his newsletter no doubt will lead to more blogs on this company. This is followed by an article from Newson Gales’s Mike O’Brien, Static earthing protection for road tankers  (26 Nov’10). Is there a pattern emerging? I’ll leave that to you dear reader to decypher!

Of course most of these figures are false in one way or another because by far and away the most visits are paid to the story of the day which obviously changes from time to time. Today’s story may be looked at frequently but without too much time consuming work I can’t work out over a period which story has the most “look-at” stats while they were the “home page” or the page looked at if the visitor just goes to the blog willy nilly.

So how are we progressing – blog wise – in the statistics stakes.

As we said we started blogging in March 2009 and since then have been fairly consistent in our blogging stories with what can be said to be an eclectic mix of automation stories or at leaset loosly related to that discipline. From low of 62 in that first month we have progressively climbed to an average of 2500 per month. Whether that is good bad or indifferent I leave others to decide but indubitably 2500 is a better figure than 62!

And what about the other social networking platforms?

Twitter

I’ve been on twitter for nigh on two years and the number of followers has steadily grown, not exponetially but the numbers exceed 400 now and there is a steady increase of a few a week of relevent followers. We do get the odd follower collector but I do take a look at each newbie and block those who are merely selling recreational and other drugs, themselves or just like to add people to their list. We don’t list aor link all our blogs here but those we think will particularly be of interest. We also put some personal links (in several languages!) here but Read-out related material will be in English or American. In fact I notice rater alarmingly that I have tweeted almost 5000 times since I started.

Facebook
The Read-out facebook page is where all our blogs are listed as they are uploaded. In some ways this was the most disappointing of all the social-media sites in that it took a very long time to take off. We got about 30 “likes” in the first few weeks and then it crawled up to the current level of 112. It has a nice feature though in that this can be included in a box on our website which shows the latest two or three stories and has a scroll-up/down feature. (I also have a personal facebook page which is usually purely social, hobby and family stuff and for revealing personal peeves!) See Jon DiPietro’s 7 Reasons to Include Facebook Fan Pages In Your Marketing to understand the marketing importance of having a facebook presence.

LinkedIn
LinkedIn is our latest social media presence. I actually haven’t yet worked out how fully to use it properly though the number and type of followers accumulated is by far and away the most and the most relevant to automation. Currently standing at about 420 “connections” it is also the place where I find more Irish automation people than either facebook or twitter. All tweets are automatically posted on my LinkedIn site.

On occasion we have looked at the possibility of measuring email effectiveness. How many people actually read your e-newsletter? This blog from Chris Rand, Open Rate: just an indication that your emails arrived, expresses our feelings exactly.

In passing the figures for our read-out.net main website remain relatively stable now at an average of around 15000 visitors looking at 40000 pages.

Average visits versus number of pages viewed on read-out.net


Google’s Ill considered decision creates uproar!

14/06/2011

One of the most useful programs offered by Google, and one which is used by Read-out frequently is Google Translate. It is particularly useful is identifying the general meaning of communication and websites which we use from time to time in languages other than English particularly in French, Italian, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese, though we have used it for Russian and other languages as well.

Google Translate

Ní féidir liom?

The translation offered are sometimes picturesque but generally it is easy enough to extract the general drift of meaning and enables an initial decision whether to follow up or leave an item.

However I discovered in a local newspaper that Google for some reason have decided to discontinue this service and that this is creating grave inconvenience for many. The article stated that a great on-line uproar went up last week after the decision announced. Apparantly they plan to discontinnue this and other API (Application Programming Interface) shortly withdrawing it completely by the end of the year. (The other include VideoSearch API, Books JavaScript API, ImageSearch API and some others. But it is the decision to kill Google Translate API that is creating the greatest controversy as it is the most used of the APIs.)

Many difficulties will be created for programs such as Trados, Wordfast and DéjáVu used by translators. But there are hundreds of smartphone apps which use it too to deal with many diferent languages. The API product manager of Google Adam Feldman somewhat glibly calls it a “spring cleaning” citing “substantial economic burden caused by extensive abuse” as a cause. He, in an apparent slight backtrack has said that “will be releasing an updated plan to offer a paid version of the Translate API.” (Spring cleaning of some of our APIs 3/6/2011)

The correspondent Ciarán Mac Fhearghusa, in Gaelscéal reports one developer as saying “It will be difficult for me to have any confidence in any new API issued by Google from now on! I will have to consider strongly if it is worth it to invest my time and other resources making facilitating these APIs in our own systems.” And he asks the relevant question, “Why should any developer who is developimng a long term product trust Google’s API ever again?”

Another blogger, Wolsrealm confirms this in has blog, Google to kill the Translate API, as he says  comments “…this move has resulted in a backlash of ill-will and mistrust from many who are now wondering whether or not to continue to utilize ANY of the Google API’s for fear they will be killed off with little warning instead of Google’s stated period of 3 years to deprecate an API before removing it.”

There is now some agitation for the Google Translate API to be mantained especially for non-profit organisation and educational establishments.

As we write this we have come across an article in praise of translators. “Treasure your tech language translators” which is of course is a different type of translation which Google or other translators cannot hope to emulate! It is the transmission of the vast area of knowledge that is contained in the minds and writings of automation professionals and making it available to their colleagues throughout the world.


So good we’re doing it again!

13/05/2011

Are you ready for Customer 2.0?

Last year we did something we never did before! We agreed to sponsor an event outside Ireland. We talked about this in our blog, “Sponsorship! A new departure for Read-out Signpost!” We pointed out that Read-out and our virtual presence The Read-out Instrumentation Signpost rarely sponsor events.”

The venue Chase Park Plaza, St Louis

The sponsorship was for the 5th ISA Marketing & Sales Summit which was held in Atlanta, Georgia in early September of 2010. We really had very little expectation as to how this might effect  our business and were more then surprised at the impact it had on the viewing figures of this blog. From a lowish figure of about 450 per month it started to climb rapidly to double and then to settle at a figure in excess of 1000 per month. (We discussed this in our “Lies, damn lies or statistics” blog).

So this year we are going to do it again! Let’s see how the stats go!

The 6th ISA Marketing & Sales Summit is scheduled for 7th & 8th September in the Gateway city of St Louis in the heart of the USA. It asks the pertinent question:  Are You Ready for Customer 2.0?

Each year they recruit thought leaders and industry analysts who deliver important and innovative presentations. Attendees can also choose from nine different breakout sessions across three tracks that will cover a variety of sales and marketing topics, which this year will be designed to get them ready for Customer 2.0.

And what is Customer 2.0. The digital revolution is radically changing the way businesses must market themselves and requires new tools and tactics for sales. Customer 2.0 is more mobile, better informed, less reachable, and expects more than ever before.

Jeff Cawley of Northwest Analytical, one of the contributors to the active blog on the event website adds in an article entitled, “Getting the Most Web Performance Information with Process-based Analytics:”

“Our 2011 meeting in St. Louis will focus on reaching Customer 2.0 with Web 2.0.  To succeed in this effort, we must know how Web 2.0 is performing and how we can continuously improve performance.  Even though all effective marketing efforts are part of an on-going process, typical web analytics focus on providing snapshots and provide little actionable time-based information.”

So what do we do? Do we know how our virtual presence is helping our marketing and sales? Is it helping our marketing and sales? Or are we present there because everybody else is? Is that enough?

Learn how to be effective and ready for Customer 2.0. He and she are out there already, but are we?

Be in St Louis on the 7th and 8th of September and learn how to meet them!


Musings on safety and security!

21/03/2011

Safety has been a more and more important facet of industrial life since the middle of the last century. Before that the condition in which workers, and before that slaves, worked was, except in the rarest cases, appalling with scant regard to principals of safety.

ISA Symposium April 2011

More recently safety has become an important part of modern life. Health and safety are watchwords used more and more frequently and many practices of the past have been outlawed. Indeed sometimes one wonders how anybody survived the past it was so dangerous. Last night I saw a victorian rocking horse which had been in a locam school for over a hundred years which gave immeasurable joy to children through the generations but which may not now be played with by the children because of “health and safety implications!”

As technology developed, and processes became more and more sophisticated, so too did safety systems. In the early and mid parts of the twentieth century safety in process control was one of two things. Pneumatic instrumentation (remember 3-15psi/0.2-1bar?) and the big heavy cast metal explosion-proof box. Pneumatics as a safety method has now largely been replaced by the more sophisticated and less unwieldy electronic safety systems, though one may still find the odd explosion-proof contained instrument around!

Since July when we first learned of Stuxnet in an email in mid July 2009 from Eric Byres of Byres Security (our blog Security threat to the control system world!), we have been following developments. Indeed we have listed links to developments as we learned of them on Nick Denbow’s article, “Stuxnet – not from a bored schoolboy prankster!” the following September. We gradually learned of the seriousness of this malware incident (Though Byres had realised this almost from the start), and indeed its implictation, as we started to understand that this was a direct atack on automation systems, designed for that purpose.

Virus infection and malware have been around, I suppose, since the invention of software. I first realised that it could present a problem was at the Read-out Forum in 2003 where, in the inimitable words of Andrew Bond “..Brian Ahern of Verano (now Industrial Defender)… sent a shiver up everyone’s spine by pointing out just how vulnerable Internet enabled, Windows based automation systems are to ‘cyber terrorism’. (There were) few dissenters when he told this largely pharmaceutical industry oriented audience that the security issue is “the next 21CFR11.” Nevertheless..“given the degree of concern shown by the audience it was perhaps surprising to hear the vendors respond pretty much with one voice that they have as yet to see the issue addressed in RFQs but would of course respond once they did, not a view which particularly impressed some members of the audience who took the view that vendors were under an obligation to ensure that their systems were secure. “

Several events in the mid-past and more recently have tended to amalgamate these two important considerations and in some cases have blurred the lines of demarcation between them. Events like Bhopal in 1987, the blackout of the eastern states of the US in 2003 (or Brazil more recently), the explosion in Buncefield in 2005, Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexica, the terrible tragedy still unfolding in Japan, see out blog Assessing nuclear threat in Japan, and unfortunately many more take the headlines and show that we still have a lot to learn.

While preparing this blog our attention was drawn to a useful volume from the ISA stable. Starting with a description of the safety life cycle, Safety Instrumented Systems Verification – Practical Probabilistic Calculations,” shows where and how SIL verification fits into the key activities from conceptual design through commissioning. The book not only explains the theory and methods for doing the calculations, the authors also provide many examples from the chemical, petrochemical, power and oil & gas industries.

Training has assumed an important role here and this blog has been inspired by a number of notifications received in a few short days of events and publications which confront these issues.

First in a few days time Industrial Defender have a webcast scheduled for the 24th March 2011 addressing, “Security AMI Solutions for the Smart Grid: Creating enhanced capabilities in secure cyber-infrastructure” featuring the aforementioned Brian Ahern and Jeff McCullough, Director of IP Communications, Elster Solutions, LLC. They will discuss the newly announced partnership between the two companies, and the benefits of their integrated security solution.

The 2011 ISA Safety & Security Symposium is scheduled for Texas will focus on training including courses: An Introduction to Safety Instrumented Systems (EC50C) and Introduction to Industrial Automation Security and the ANSI/ISA99 Standards (IC32C). This two day event (13-14 May 2011) will provide an in-depth look at today’s safety technologies and procedures associated with identifying and mitigating safety hazards in industrial environments. This symposium will focus not only on Safety Instrumented Systems (SIS) topics, but also include material on cyber security and associated challenges in designing and implementing SIS and process automation solutions. It will include a small exhibit and promises to be well worth attending.

We travel back across the Atlantic now to Manchester (GB) the ProfiBus organisation and the University of Manchester will hold a one day event on 12th May 2011, Functional Safety and IT Security. This new, one-day seminar addresses the key safety and security issues arising from the use of digital communications technologies in automated manufacturing and advanced engineering applications.

Staying in Manchester, IDC Technology are hosting the Safety Control Systems Conference, a three day event focusing on the technology and application of safety-related control and instrumentation systems in the chemicals, energy, mining and manufacturing industries. In particular it will discuss the changes to the IEC61508 standard and the implications this will have on your industry. The dates are 24-26th May 2011. Speakers include Paul Gruhn, (co-author  of Safety Instrumented Systems: Design, Analysis, and Justification), and Clive Timms, a globally recognised expert in functional safety.

Safety and security will continue to excercise our minds. Perhaps the problems in the final analysis are not so much technical problems as a procedural one. In any case where procedures are not followed there must be a way of dealing with the aftermath.


Of pages, blogs and stats

03/02/2011

This is a compilation of the most visited pages on our site and blogs. As we said in a recent blog, Lies, damn lies and statistics, these are not always the most reliable way to measure the effectiveness or otherwise of a web presence. Nevertheless they hold a certain fascination don’t they?

Main website: read-out.net

We have had a website since 1994 but only started taking stats around the year 2000. It has grown from an average of about 500 unique sessions a week up to over 6000 and seems to have settled around 4000 over the last few years.

During the month of Januray 2011 we had 16,296  looking at 36,150 pages. The bulk of these were from .com domains which include US users but also many other locations. The highest country location outside of the .com (USA?) visiting the site during January was .co.uk, followed in close succession by Canada, Netherlands and Israel. All in all over sixty domains visited from locations as far apart as Romania, Turkmenistan, Singapore and Chile.

January 2011
News Page:Contains brief headlines and link to full story.

All time (Since January 2000)
Acronyms Page:  Acronyms and Initials Index used in Instrumentation, Controls and on the Net.

We have more detailed stats listed on our stats pages on the site

Our Blogs

There were 2240 visits to our blog sites during the month. We have three blog sites, two on the WordPress platform and one on the Blogger platform.

Word Press sites:
InstSignpost’s Blog: This mostly has papers, reports on events and comments. (This blog!)

During January
Radar level measurement best practice: Article by Sarah Parker of Rosemount. (Posted 10 September 2010)

All time (Since March 2009)
Stuxnet – not from a bored schoolboy prankster! Article by Nick Denbow of IAI with a side panel of links to more up-to-date information on this malware.  This side box is updated regularly which may also explain its popularity. (Posted 21 September 2010)

Conference & Exhibitions Blog: This features press releases and supplementary information issued at conferences and exhibitions. This is the latest blog site in the Read-out stable.

During January
#OpsManage People: Brief biographies of Invensys personalities who attended the Invensys User Group meeting in Paris. (Posted 20/11/2010)

All time (since November 2011)
#OpsManage People: Brief biographies of Invensys personalities who attended the Invensys User Group meeting in Paris. (Posted 20/11/2010)

Blogger Site
Instsignpost: This features for the most part press releases issued in the normal day-to-day business of Read-out. Some of these will later appear in the magazine especially if they are of particular interest in the Irish market.

During month of January:
Appointment brings focus to energy and controls markets: News of the appointment of Amir Sami to the British arm of Carlo Gavazzi. (Posted 12 January 2011)

All Time (Since midAugust 2010)
#EMRex Beaten by an avalanche of tweets – admission of failure to keep up with tweets from Emerson’s User Group meetings (Posted 28th September 2010)

All blogs from the WordPress InstSignpost Site are automatically posted to our Facebook Page and to our twitter account. All tweets are linked to our LinkedIn presence too. We are not sure as to how effective the facebook presence is as yet. It has only been online for about six months.


Lies, damn lies or statistics

08/01/2011

“Sir,–It has been wittily remarked that there are three kinds of falsehood: the first is a ‘fib,’ the second is a downright lie, and the third and most aggravated is statistics…..” These are lines from an anonymous correspondent writing to the editor of London’s National Observer in 1891. (Mark Twain in 1906, later popularised the expression attributing it to Disraeli in its more common expression “Lies, Damn lies and Statistics!).

Producing stats!

In April of 2010 we penned some lines on the first year that we operated this blog headed “Are you paying attention?” This looked back at some of the stats and gave our thoughts on the operation of the blog over that period.

As the year turns perhaps it is a good time to have another look at what has happened statistically not only on this blog but also on the other blogs and websites we operate under the Read-out Instrumentation Signpost banner. During this period we also became much more active on some other “social media” platforms, notable twitter, facebook and LinkedIn. Some of these have personal sharings as well as business postings. The facebook page is however Read-out Instrumentation Signpost Fanpage on facebook is a handy way of keeping up with our blogs as it is automated automatically as a new blog is published.  As these came online they effected the stats sometimes greatly sometimes less so. We will endevour to point out what we think effected the stats. The quote above should always be born in mind however when dealing with statistics. Remember the figures are probably factual but the interpretation may be highly subjective!

First we will look at the stats for this (WordPress Instsignpost’s Blog) blog  which we started in April 2009. In all there were 186 posts in 23 catagories and 309 tags which generated 114 comments since we started.

Here is a pictorial representation of the site viewing stats.

Views of Instsignpost’s Blog (WordPress) April 2009 – December 2010 – Total 11,668

So what’s behind the figures?

The first few months were obviously the start of things up to August 2009 when there was a doubling of views due we think to the use of twitter and facebook to publicise entries. Then it trundles along steadily at between the high 300s and the low 500s Then suddenly it leaps to 700 in July and from then on increases to an average of over 1000 a month! What happened?

We did something new, for us, and we talked about it on our blog: Sponsorship! A new departure for Read-out Signpost. This was agreed in June and almost immediately we noticed an upswing in viewings of our blog, from 440 in June to 760 in July and August, 999 in September and thereafter over 1000. Whether that was the catalyst or not we cannot prove but it is an interesting coincidence is it not?

Now let’s go to the most popular pages. Remember the older pages will have been on-line longer and this will effect the comparative relationship between pages. Nevertheless they are interesting to look at. Obviously the Home page will head this list but what visitors see on this page will vary from time to time.

Popular Pages – period 1 Jan 2010 – 31 Dec 2010

Page % Popularity
Home page 60%
Stuxnet – not from a bored schoolboy prankster! 6%
Radar level measurement best practice 4%
The next HMI Revolution 4%
Wireless committees get their wires crossed 3%
Wireless strain gauge sensors 3%
Taking Invensys seriously! 3%
Understanding the psychology of climate change scepticism 3%
Top Ten Tips for the Industrial Trainer 3%
More on wireless 3%
Level detection of foaming media 2%
Innovation is everwhere! OpsManage EURA meeting in Paris 2%
Wireless convergence? 2%
Conquering complexity 2%

(In passing it might be of interest to see which pages topped the list since the blog started. After the home page these were Taking Invensys seriously! – Jul ’09,  followed closely by Conquering complexity! – Nov ’09) and then, Stuxnet – not from a bored schoolboy prankster! – Sept ’10)

And where did our viewers in the last twelve months come from (other than search engines)? Here are perhaps some surprises.

read-out.net 30%
longwatch.com 16%
linkedin.com 11%
twitter 11%
networkedblogs.com 10%
instsignpost.blogspot.com 9%
en.wordpress.com 5%
student-loan-consolidation.com 4%
factorywidgets.com 3%

There is little surprise in the number to come from our own website read-out.net, but some of the others might surprise.

Finally what searches were carried out on the site? Here again there are some surprises (or maybe not). Obviously the Stuxnet malware was playing a lot on peoples minds and wireless was of interest too.

Search terms (1 Jan 2010 – 31 Dec 2010)

stuxnet timeline 24%
usb stick 20%
invensys blog 15%
white usb stick 7%
abb fieldkey 7%
signatures 6%
peter zornio 6%
stuxnet 4%
isa 100.11a 4%
wireless instrumentation 4%
jim pinto Invensys 4%

Our second bog on the blogger site, instsignpost.blogspot.com, is used primarily to publish press releases we receive, mostly product information, appointments, company news etc. Though set up shortly after the WordPress Blog coverd above, we did not start collecting stats until mid August 2010. There are usually a number of these blog pages published each day and as maybe imagined there is a formidable amount of information now mounting up here. Prior to the setting up of this blog site we would publish a very brief account of a press release and link directly to the website of the vendor. We have changed this in that we now link from our news page directly to the press release which has a link to the vendor’s own site.

Viewers of our Blogspot 15th Aug to 31 Dec 2010: Total - 3,607

We would not expect so many people to visit individual pages here unless they had a specific interest in the topic of the release.

During those four months we had 3600 visits looking at almost 6000 pages and spending an average of 3.2 minutes on the site. According to these figures about 30% came from the US and 15% from Ireland followed by Great Britain, India, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Australia and Hong Kong.

We have recently instituted one other blog which includes press release from events where a multiplicity of releases occurs say at events. Links to these releases are included in our general report on these events. This blog is entitled Conference Releases. The conferences and events covered to date are listed in the right hand column of this blog. Visits to this site (instituted about two months ago) seem to be settling at one or two hundred a month.

The main Read-out site seems to be holding its own these days. Set up in 1994 we didn’t start taking stats on the site until the year 2000. Then we had a visitor total of around 500 a week and that steadily incresaed over the decade sometimes exceeding 6000 a week but setting at around 4000. Like all stats we have a healthy scepticism about these figures however they are useful to estimate activity on the site. These stats are provided by our site host – Verio – using a program called Urchin.

Sessions v Page View

The bars (Sessions) show the trend of activity on the website in terms of Visitor Sessions over time. A ‘Session’ is defined as a series of clicks on your site by an individual visitor during a specific period of time. A Session is initiated when the visitor arrives at your site, and it ends when the browser is closed or there is a period of inactivity. Sessions quantities will vary to some degree based on what type of visitor tracking method is employed.

The yellow area behind the bars shows the trend of Pageviews over the same time. A ‘Pageview’ is defined as a request from a visitor’s browser for a displayable web page, generally an HTML file. Urchin’s configuration controls which file extensions are treated as Pageviews. In general, images and other embedded content, such as style sheets and javascript, are not considered to be Pageviews. The default time-frame is one month.

As regards the most popular pages always surprising to us is the fact that after the home page, the most popular page is the Acronyms Page followed by News and Events. We have been listing stats for this site over the years on our Stats Pages! Because our facebook page is automatically updated from our blogs the news appears first there and thus appears up to 24 hours before our main page are updated.

The web and social media are exciting and sometimes unexpected methods of reaching out and the above figures are of interest of course but as we said in the intro they can be used to show what ever you want them to say. Our own conclusions are that they continue to show the increasing interest in our sites from the Automation Community throughout the world.

And remember when you examine the figures of any site that aphorism: “Lies, damn lies and statistics!”


The start of two hectic weeks…#EMrex #ISAwk

24/09/2010

The last week of September and the first of October promise to be hectic for automation professionals endevouring to keep up with developments.

Emerson Global Users Exchange kicks off the frenzy on 27th September and continues until Friday 1st October. Last years was an exciting affair and Readout attended “virtually” and some of the streamed sessions were excellent. We wrote a brief report this in our blog  as “Real and virtual at Conference.” This year they intend streaming some of the sessions again on the Livestream site. A facility is included to register so that one may be advised in good time when a presentation is to be streamed.

Here are Some Handy Links to Know for Emerson Exchange for both personal or virtual participants from  Emerson’s blogger par excellence, Jim Cahill.

People may also follow the event on twitter using the #EMrex hash tag. It is surprising the amount of information that may be gleaned from these 140 character messages.

This event is being held in San Antonio (TX US).

In the same US state, down the road so to speak, in Houston, the ISA’s Automation Week is been held in the following week. It starts with the annual ISA Gala Event commemorating innovators and trail-blazers in the automation field throughout the world. This is on the evening of Monday 4th October.

The event proper starts on the next morning and the programme looks exciting and innovative. They have a facility on the website for visitors to plan their time there. They may navigate their way through the dozens of conference options with PathFinder. This assists them in selecting their own unique combination of sessions—a conference “path”—that shapes a learning experience suited to the participant’s individual job function and professional goals.

In preparation for this event the organisers have also instituted an on-line community, where participants may articulate their particular interests and perhaps meet. Called conference 2.0, through this new feature challenges can be identified and solutions can be proposed before the first stroll through the exhibit hall or the first word spoken by a speaker.  Pat Gouhin, Executive Director and CEO of ISA commented that this feature “is designed to add to the intimacy and networking opportunities that are a key value proposition in the new ISA Automation Week model.”

ISA Automation Week may also be followed on twitter using the #ISAwk hashtag.

Read-out’s Eoin Ó Riain will be a virtual attendee at #EMRex but hopes to attend Automation week in person and hopes to meet his many twitter, LinkedIn and facebook followers and friends there.


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