Perspective: Graham Royce & Irish Tech

True-colour image of Ireland on an extremely rare, cloudless day.

Out of a population of 4.59 million there exists in Ireland a potential workforce of just over 2 million people. (Currently, the unemployed account for a sickeningly large 14.3% of that number.) However, by virtue of education and temperament only a very small subset of those available to work are either willing or able to involve themselves in the challenges of entrepreneurship in the tech sector.

For the budding or experienced technology-based entrepreneur who feels compelled to make manifest an inner vision to create a great product or those who may simply fancy their chances, then there is no shortage of facilities and help. Enterprise Ireland contributes funding to 33 incubation centres. There are also a number of enterprise centres situated around the country.

For those moving from academia into the commercial world there are 10 Technology Transfer Offices. Each of them based in a third-level insitution.

Then there are programmes like Launchpad and Catalyser at the NDRC in Dublin and Endeavour in Tralee. These courses are designed to give a real-world shape to an entrepreneur’s vision within a compact time frame.

Of course funding is an issue but if (a big if) a project fits the right profile and is able to tick the right boxes then monies are available.

In 2010 (most recent figures) Enterprise Ireland (EI) was involved in the allocation of €463.6 million of government funds, “For the development and growth of Irish enterprises in world markets.”

EI contributes a portion of that money to a number of seed and venture capital funds. In combination with these other funding organisations over €500 million was available to Irish entrepreneurs of which just over €80 milion was disributed over the period 2007-2010.

Contrast with the US where in the last business quarter of 2011, $1.8 billion was invested in 238 software companies. Although, it is not fair to make a direct comparison due to the different sizes of the Irish and US economies, population and so forth. But in the global economy of tech innovation and enterprise these figures give a good indication of the size of the game being played and where Ireland really stands.

Graham Royce, Mentor at the Hartnett Centre, Limerick Institute of Technology, and Manager of the New Frontiers Programme which is run in collaboration with Enterprise Ireland.

At the moment he is currently assessing the potential of over 80 possible participants for the next Enterprise Start programme.

An essential issue with Irish tech entrepreneurs, he claims, is not one of brains or ability but of attitude, “To me the big thing is not so much about the money being there or not being there. It’s about get off your arse and do it. Those guys in the tech world who have an inkling of an idea of what it is all about and know where to go and what to do have literally got off their arses and done something. I don’t know what it takes to switch people on.

“If you talk to people in Silicon Valley it’s not a case of, “We’ll see.” It’s about how do we do this? Who do we need to talk to? We need to talk to that person there or this person here. Get that person on the phone.

“The attitude in America is completely different. They’ll give me a whole list of names of people I can talk to. It opens up the doors and sets things going. Whereas if I talk to someone here…It’s like the old-fashioned can of treacle, where you open the lid and stick the spoon inside to prise anything out.”

Despite the consequences of the economic boom having turned out to be so dire, Graham claims that not everything everything needs to be tainted by the fallout.

“The Celtic Tiger wasn’t all bad. There is this impression that all of the Celtic Tiger was absolutely horrendous and it wasn’t. Some phenomenal companies were produced in that time. Towards the end of the Celtic Tiger in 2007 and 2008 there were some really big hits. Also, it is the companies that started in 2008, 2009, 2010 that are coming to fruition.”

Despite the reluctance of many Irish entrepreneurs to step down from the stands and whole-heartedly engage with the game of business Graham emphasizes that raw talent is not the issue.

“Each month I go through the 25 top startups from Silicon Valley. Last month, eight of the companies had received between $5.5 and $8.3 million dollars. None of those eight companies would match what’s being done in this building, in Galway or in Cork but look at the money they have been given.

“Silicon Valley is awash with money but it is not necessarily awash with good projects.”

With that in mind, Graham says that we should focus on the creators and innovators, the people who have ideas and are able to implement them.

“We can put sales people on top but we cannot build techies. For techies to be in the position to start up companies it takes years upon years of work. What we want to do is understand the technical person, understand his idea and turn it into something people outside can see.”

twitris: Social Media Analysis with Semantic Web Technology

The Kno.e.sis Center at Wright State University is host to one of the largest Semantic Web working groups in the United States. Its most important task, according to Amit Sheth, LexisNexis Ohio Eminent Scholar and the Center’s Founder and Director, “Is doing world-class research and creating world-class innovators.

“The simplest way to describe what we do, is that we use semantics to empower a variety of things in Web 3.0: dealing with social data, traditional data, the web of things and cloud computing. For example, working on the interoperability of applications over the cloud using semantics — plus other interdisciplinary projects.”

One of Amit’s current projects is twitris, an online platform that analyses social media activity from a variety of perspectives.

Amit says that with twitris we obtain a, “360 degree analysis of all the social signals that we can find. There are multiple ways that people offer their views, opinions, data using social media.

“Micro-blogs are short, informal. You can’t easily apply traditional processing techniques because they don’t have good structure. There is a lot of slang, there are a lot of new terms that come up, there is a lot of dynamism; changes in terms of topics. There are multiple perspectives.

“Analyzing this kind of text is challenging.”

The idea for twitris came to him as he watched a tragic series of events unfold on the social media channels. “On the 26th November, 2008 I was glued to the computer watching what was unfolding in Mumbai, India. That was the day when the terrorists struck. I noticed that the terrorists went from one place to another place, and then another place — there was a spatio-temporal thematic unfolding of the event.”

“On social media we were getting news ahead of the traditional media. We were getting stuff at a different level of granularity, at a different speed. We thought we should find a way to analyze the whole thing. Because you not only have just tweets, you have links to flickr and links to articles. People put up map information and diagrams. All these things act as pointers towards knowledge about a new event.

“So we started building this system for spatio-temporal thematic analysis. Later on, we stumbled across another dimension of analysis that we called people content network analysis. In many cases, with people such as journalists, politicians and students you can tell where they are coming from by their profile.”

At present the three subject areas that twitris is covering in extensive detail are Occupy Wall Street, the US elections and corruption in India. Twitris is able to provide answers to such questions as when you network, who is talking to who? How does information spread? How do you acquire audience? And how do you become an influencer on a particular topic?

According to Amit, “There is some very interesting analysis about Occupy Wall Street. What can we learn from each of these snapshots on different days on how the movement is changing? Is it involving more people? Are they able to convince the people? What is the role of academics? What say politicians? What say journalists? What’s happening in the particular discussion?”

It is possible to detect rumours, counter rumours or even start rumours in order to shape opinion. Amit says, “I can study the reactions to my actions and calibrate my activities.”

This ability to not only analyze data but to also interact with it makes the capabilities of twitris very attractive to many potential users. Political organizations can keep better track of public sentiment, brand managers will be able to see how their products are performing. Anyone who needs to about or makes a living from predicting, measuring or just observing social trends could find this technology very useful.

The technology is currently available for commercialization and, “It is all semantic web technology. All the tweets get tagged and there massive amount of triples generated. There is a very healthy combination of text analysis and semantic web analysis that is going on behind the scenes. There is heavy use of RDF.

“Even though it all looks social media in the underlying semantic web technology plays a very critical role.”

VERYSchool: Managing Energy Consumption in Our Schools

No one is going to solve the issue of global warming overnight. It is going to take long-term thinking and planning based on real data — not hopeful stabs in the dark fueled by wishful thinking. Along with rational thinking and clear reasoning we have to change outlooks and attitudes while making a serious effort to develop new habits that will to lead to the beneficial behaviours that will be substantially less damaging to our planet and the quality of our lives.

Since we are going to have to work across the generations to solve the most important problem of our time then we need to start with our children. More than 22% of Europe’s population attend a school every day. That amounts to more than 107 million students and more than 3 million faculty, staff and administrators.

Most of these schools that these children attend are either very old or were low cost builds on tight local authority budgets. But they are what we have and in many ways they are the ideal place to implement the changes that we know are necessary.

The European Commission thinks so too. It has funded the VERYSchool project as part of its greater aim to reduce energy consumption by 28% by 2050.

Four schools are part of the pilot scheme, two in Italy, one in Bulgaria and the other in Portugal. At the technological heart of the initiative is the Energy Action Navigator (EAN). It is designed as a decision-making tool with the ability to integrate hardware and software with readily available technologies.

With 25 years experience working in the areas of energy efficiency and sustainable building/development Alfio Galatà is ideally suited to help lead the VERYSchool project.

According to Alfio the Navigator allows the energy manager to apply, “What we call action management. In general the Navigator will supply the manager, case by case, with the best automatized scenario. The automatized scenarios are a catalogue — a playbook in the Navigator. The Navigator, using experimental data, will check which of the parameters are not automatized and suggest modifications.”

They have the possibility to simulate some scenarios and be able to [make decisions.] It can also suggest the best technology they can use. If you look at the market, everyday we discover there is a new ICT solution or a new ICT proposal to do something.”

If you have to make a decision it is easy to be confused about what is on offer.

“Once we have identified one automatized scenario we are able to provide the decision-maker with a complete set of information. ‘To do this you can use this type of sensor and this type of sensor costs this much in the market.’

“Information about scenarios are cataloged in an intelligent database. You can have descriptive answers about what is available. What are the things you can do? What are the technologies and systems available to you to implement the solution? The implementation will also cover the ICT selection and also costs along with the payback period.”

All this operates within the framework of the new ISO 50001 standard. It puts, “All the action management in a closed loop control called PDCA — Plan, Do, Check, Act. For any action that you might do there is always feedback.

“We are technicians and we are trained to find technical solutions but we strongly believe that the public awareness campaign and the role of knowledge sharing is [important] for this project.

“Technology is not enough to achieve results. We need to merge technology with the organisation and people’s behaviour. So, knowledge sharing is extremely important.

“There is the school manager, there is the facility manager, there is the energy manager, and there is the property manager. Included in this managerial mix are the people for whom the building exists, the teachers and the students.”

The students themselves are referred to as ‘learning users’ and can give input to the process by such means as questionnaires.

“Students are our future. We need to prepare them. This is a key concept that we have clearly in mind.”

Alfio points out that VERYSchool is a result orientated project as opposed to pure research. “We have four technologies that have been integrated that constitute the Navigator.

“One is Enerit’s platform which 50% of the Navigator relies on.

“Then we have other software from a Scottish company, IES that deals with simulations. When we identify a scenario the IES software will be able to simulate it and provide very detailed information in terms of energy performance and carbon emissions which we can combine with cost analysis.

“We have technology at field level that performs the building control.

“All this information will be put together in the Navigator by our partners at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences where a user friendly interface is being developed.”

“We strongly believe that we need tools like the Navigator. We are moving from the building to the district. It is recognized that it has a huge potential for hitting the targets the the European Commission has committed to for 2020 and then 2050.

Enerit, one of our partners in the project, claim that through action management alone they can save up to 10% on energy consumption. We think 28% is a doable target.”

VERYSchool is funded by public money. Alfio and the consortium of organisations involved in the VERYSchool project are keen to acknowledge the role of the European Commission for making this project happen.

Better Remotes

Last week we published an article about how simply doing things better is a more creative and interesting option than trying to be different for the sake of being different. The idea for the post came from an interview I read with Sir Jonathan Ive.

The possibility always exists that almost everything and anything can be made better because technological development never stops. There are always new innovations providing new opportunities for improvement.

But somehow these ideas on design and innovation do not seem to have been noticed by the manufacturers of the television and cable industry.

Last weekend, I helped a family member switch over to cable. Up until then I had not been particularly motivated to think that deeply about finding a design solution for watching television. How hard can it be? You select a channel along with the appropriate volume and off you go — easy peasy. However, with the arrival of almost 200 new channels it seemed that 200 new buttons to press also turned up.

What a waste.

The quality of the television in terms of audio and video was excellent. The problem lies with the remote controls. Their basic purpose is to provide function selection from a user defined location such as a couch or an armchair.

The only real drawbacks from this method of human/technological interaction are the effects on waistlines and the triggering of innumerable domestic arguments.

Why are remotes so unwieldy and why do you have to have more than one of them? Well, one answer would be the standby of lumpheads everywhere, “Well, that is the way we’ve always done it.”

Technical issues could be advanced as a reason. After all coding infra red light to pulse in a certain manner so that each part of the TV system knows what is being asked of it must be a devilishly difficult and Herculean task.

If that were really true, which it is not, then you have to wonder how we ever made it to the moon.

Steve Wozniak came up with a one unit fits all device, the CL 9, back in 1985. It worked but was limited by the technology of the time and one totally bizarre design flaw where if the battery that is soldered to the main board goes flat then that is the end of the device.

Of course with the iPhone and the iPad no one seems to think that its nuts to have a device dependent on a battery that you cannot change. Bit of a deal-killer back then, though.

TV manufacturers regard the specifications of a television set as being the deciding factor in making the sale. They seem to assume that no one buys a TV based on how they feel about the remote control. Hence, they see them as a necessary cost on which the least amount of time, money and design effort should be spent. There is no denying that it shows.

It is a bit like buying a BMW and finding you have a coat hanger for a steering wheel.

This lack of care in the design process has resulted in homes across the planet littered with ugly, unmanageable lumps of plastic that are simply not fit for purpose. It is an ergonomic nightmare compounding itself into an environmental mess for no other reason than callous lack of thought or consideration.

But imagine if you could control your domestic entertainment devices with your smartphone or something of that ilk?

After all, they are, mostly, intelligent and they work. They are able to harness the immense power of the internet. Listings and the setting of record times could be done from websites.

On immediate benefit is that the awful, clunky, unhelpful and inefficient inbuilt cable “guide” can be simply done away with. (Here is a classic design failure in its own right. Something that is supposed to make it easier fo you find and view programmes actually gets in the way and slows you down.)

Almost certainly, a few dozen great ideas for improving human/TV interactivity could be crowd-sourced through any of the app stores or online market places within days. For instance, there could be apps where you can easily share what you are watching so others can join in and comment along with the programme.

All of this is would be so much better than the hard to use, unwieldy mess we have now.

The only advantage that the current controllers would have in this bright, new world is that you would not have to throw them away when the battery goes flat.

I think we might have moved on from that issue being a deal-killer now.

StreamGlider Pro Version 3 Released: iPad Content Delivery for the Enterprise with Geo-Awareness

Today, StreamGlider, Inc. announced the availability of version 3 of StreamGlider Pro, the first fully-customizable, content-delivery app and enterprise platform for the iPad. News, information, and entertainment is available via the free consumer app in the Apple App Store. But StreamGlider Pro has been specifically developed for the enterprise content-delivery market.

StreamGlider Pro version 3 offers several UI/UX improvements and adds geo-awareness to its abilities. Consequently, information from social media can now be filtered and delivered based on the physical location of the user.

StreamGlider is a new alternative to distributing content via Flipboard, Pulse or other third-party newsreader apps. Designed with the enterprise in mind, it lets publishers, brands and enterprises rapidly create and deliver their own state-of-the-art white-label iPad magazines and newsreaders for their internal or external audiences.

Or, for higher value, private-label customization can be provided. In addition to public news and information sources, in-house, proprietary, and enterprise databases, documents, linked data, and other knowledge in the enterprise can be delivered to authorized users. Semantic filtering and searching can be provided for private-label versions as well.

“Now anyone can make their own branded iPad magazine that is as powerful as best-of-breed apps that cost tens of millions of dollars to develop,” said Nova Spivack, co-founder and Chairman of StreamGlider, “And best of all, they can do it as cheaply as they want to.”

For example, using StreamGlider, a consumer brand could distribute their own branded iPad newsreader, a college newspaper could make their own iPad magazine, an event could give a branded iPad app to attendees, a band or TV show could distribute their own iPad fanzine, while an enterprise could distribute an iPad magazine to employees or customers. The possibilities are endless.

StreamGlider is a powerful platform to build on. It is the first news and information delivery application to provide multiple viewing modes, real-time stream updates and sophisticated mashups. StreamGlider is currently available only for iPad, but support for Android tablets is coming.

“StreamGlider Pro version 3 is one of the most significant releases for the iOS environment. It’s the equivalent of a WordPress for tablet publishing,” said Bill McDaniel, co-founder and CEO of StreamGlider. “We’re already developing custom versions of StreamGlider for private-label partners in e-learning, financial services, and publishing.”

StreamGlider, Inc. is also announcing a new StreamGlider Solutions Consulting service whereby the app may be deeply customized for clients by the StreamGlider development team to meet specific needs. “This service provides what we refer to as the private labeling of the app, as it goes far beyond the simple white labeling concept”, McDaniel said.

StreamGlider, Inc. is based in Los Angeles.

Contact or for more information. Download StreamGlider and try it out on your iPad, free of charge, today:

‘CodeNinjas’ Unmasked in App Competition for Galway Student Developers

The winners of CodeNinja, the app development competition for NUI Galway and GMIT students have been announced. First prize in the individual category went to GMIT, with NUI Galway scooping first prize in the group category. The competition was designed by local businesses and academics to train and encourage students to be creative in the cultivation of their own tech ideas. Individuals and groups were encouraged to build web and mobile applications, and were given a number of tutorials and workshops along the way.

The first prize of €500 in the group category was given to the app ‘What’s the Score’, created by NUI Galway students Mike Rockall and Con Crowley, who are both from Oranmore. ‘What’s the Score’ is a mobile application for taking scores during any type of sports game, and for reporting both ongoing and final results through a website to interested parties. In their decision, the judges cited its easy usability for small sports clubs and teams, including Facebook user logon functionality, and also highlighted its strong commercial potential.

Group winners and NUI Galway students Con Crowley and Mike Rockall, who are both from Oranmore.

First prize in the individual category went to GMIT student Cathal Mac Donnacha from Rossaveal, creator of ‘iSpeak’. This application allows people with differing native languages to communicate with each other through a Windows Phone 7 Mobile application. One person speaks in their phrase, it is converted to text and sent to a translation service, and the result is spoken to the second person in their native language. The application was selected as the individual winner due to its novel use of both software APIs and hardware elements like the phone’s accelerometer to achieve its aims. Cathal won an iPad for his winning app.

Individual winner and GMIT student Cathal Mac Donnacha from Rossaveal.

Runner-up prizes were awarded to the group project ‘Message in a Bottle’, a web app where people cast short messages into a virtual sea and others can choose to read and keep these messages or throw them back in the ocean, and to the individual entry ‘Implexis Adiutor’, a crossword solver application for Android phones.

John Breslin, NUI Galway Lecturer in Engineering and Informatics and co-founder of Technology Voice and the StreamGlider app for iPad, said: “We were delighted with the high standard of apps developed as part of our inaugural CodeNinja competition. It was great to see a range of areas targeted, from sports to leisure games to language translation. We are hoping that this will be the first in a series of CodeNinja events to raise the level of app development skills amongst Galway’s student population that will then diffuse into industry as our students take on roles in local Galway companies.”

Damien Costello, GMIT Lecturer in Software Development, said: “Competitions like CodeNinja are a great initiative. It is an ideal forum for students to showcase their creative abilities and their programming capabilities to their peers and to local industries. It allows our students to take their mobile development skills learned as part of the Software Development course to the next level.”

Judging the competition were NUI Galway’s John Breslin, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Dr Jim Duggan, Information Technology, Dr Michael Lang, Business Information Systems, Clodagh Barry, Bright Ideas Initiative, and local company founders Paul Killoran, Ex Ordo, Michael FitzGerald, OnePageCRM and Dave Kelly, BeautyBoss. Professor Chris Curtin, Vice-President for Innovation and Performance at NUI Galway, presented the prizes.