Women in Technology; Be the Exception to the Rule - Hayley Moore

The technology industry has long been dominated by men and the lack of diversity in the field has been acknowledged for some time, but it is only recently that more women are becoming the exception to the rule and are starting to enter the sector. Part of this imbalance has been caused by long-held perceptions that tech only interests men, but this is an attitude that is changing.

Respecting Code Reviews For Effective Delivery - Jamie Piper

Pull requests sit untouched and ignored for days, even weeks. The principal developer drops it off and moves on to the next task. Ready to take on the impending burden of context switching and carrying the belief that they can deliver twice as much this way, unfortunately this just results in twice as much work on the table and nothing to show to stakeholders.

Why I Stopped Creating Wireframes - Lee-Jon Ball

Before Facebook was open to the public; before smartphones had punctured the market; before the iPhone existed, I was stood in front of a CIO with a wireframe projected behind me. It was the first they had seen. Wireframes were useful then, because the world at the time didn’t understand interfaces — or reduced them to an afterthought.

Is there such a thing as a free lunch?

Well… Yes!

It's well known that many start ups offer their teams a free lunch. Often delivered to the office in a brown paper bag with goodies inside. We have regularly indulged in “Pizza Friday” and bacon sandwiches have been an Alliants tradition since we founded in 2009.

We started to feel guilty that we weren’t looking after the health of the team and noticed that with a growing pile of Pizza boxes, a feeling of guilt and responsibility crept up on us… Are we doing the best for these guys? With people in the office increasingly aware of the benefits of healthy eating, I decided back in December to treat the team to a home cooked Chilli instead of a cheese and pepperoni filled pizza pie. The reaction to a home cooked meal provided in our breakout area was brilliant! Everyone came together and took time out of their day to eat together as a “family”. As a result this has become a weekly ritual, I take time out of my week to cook a homemade lunch for the team from Chilli to Spanish stew, curries and Chinese food. What we have noticed, is that rather than people going back to their desks with their lunch (something which is in fact strictly vetoed at Alliants) or bringing their laptops, smart phones or carrying on working , we all take time out of our day to come together and chat about the weekend ahead and the week just passed, an opportunity for us to talk to one another and get to know each other a little better.

So, can free food make for a better working environment? Free food is great but for us, its the coming together of the team over something home cooked that makes this “culture hack” even more effective.


(We are putting together a cookbook of some of the favorite recipes that we have had so far and can make this available to anyone who might be tempted!)

If you are planning on coming in for a meeting, make it a Friday and you might end up with Breakfast lunch and then a beer at the end of the day if you are lucky!

Emerging Technology 2014 Q2


At Alliants we're Agile everywhere, but frequently our clients are not. There's an interesting trait with our non-agile clients: they tend to have very large multi-year projects running. The way to solve any problem is to wrap it in a big budget and throw a large solution at it. This is frequently a bad way to solve a problem. One area which has kept my attention is that of Master Data Management - the flawed idea that you can get control over all your data, centrally, canonically and make it governed and useable. 

Enterprise or Master-Data Management is starting to show its cracks. Its cultural change is too large, and its priority is not large enough to bring it into business focus. Its not just size. Its principles should be challenged now too. Modern companies accept that data is denormalised, agile, siloed, and in different states of correctness. Having a more incremental approach is superior than boiling the data ocean. Using agile to sort the highest priority items by business need is greater than trying to sort out everything in the companies architecture.

Architecting for speed of development has been a mantra of mine over the last few months. Large systems, in large enterprises, typically get designed with cost reduction and risk avoidance as attributes of the design. This is fine if that is your goal but in most environments this isn't the case. Building large monoliths, with long releases, entrenches this slow, risk-averse culture into the organisation. By building architectures which are fast to change and cheap to replace, and selecting tooling and frameworks which facilitate this, an organisation can retain its ability to innovate quickly. It is this idea that Alliants are taking our larger clients through - the way you architect your organisation and its systems determines the culture you want, it isn't just techy-stuff you can ignore.


Docker's philosophy to infrastructure draws heavily on the analogy of the shipping container. A standard box, of standard size, used in ships, lorries, trains, all around the work. It asks why can't we deploy an application to a server, laptop or desktop using the same reusable components. Anyone who has had to develop a web application knows this - in Alliants we almost exclusively develop on Macs, but deploy on Linux machines. Although there is good interoperability between linux and (BSD-based) OS X it isn't perfect and issues can arise. Docker could prove to be a solution to interoperability - as well as a contained (haha) way of scaling.

Angular.js seems to be coming into the mainstream - certainly from how many people request us to help support it this year. If there is to be resolution in the JavaScript MV* frameworks war then its looking like Angular, backed by Google, is a winner. But angular is old news. TypeScript by Microsoft is starting to look interesting and looking like a real contender to Dart. Definitely technologies to start to watch.

Libraries & Languages

Functional languages, once consigned to an academic's drawers, are making a resurgence as programmers are reaching for them when a system's performance and integrity are both critical. Clojure for example powers Akamai the massive content delivery network utilized by Facebook among other. Twitter famously switched its back-end to Scala from Rails. Haskell is used by AT&T for its network security. And Erlang is used extensively in telephony, and recently came into focus as the language behind the massively scalable WhatsApp infrastructure.

Functional languages are criticised for have pretty dense difficult syntax, but that may change. Last year our alumnus lead developer, Joe James, introduced us to Elixir, and I'm kinda hooked. Things I love in the language are its pattern matching, which, like Erlang, feels like an acceptable Prolog. The pipe operation makes function currying look beautiful [(out(inside(rather.than(_self_)))); ]. It takes a sensible approach to immutability allowing for variable re-assignment, but not allowing for a change in state of the variable. And being built on the excellent Erlang virtual machine, comes with super hardy resilience, without the syntactic onramp that Erlang carries over from Prolog.

With functional programming becoming more popular as companies want multi-core scalability, Elixir's easy syntax, modern style, and Erlang interoperability make it exciting. For those who find Erlang or Haskell a little daunting Elixir could become the answer to functional, resilient, and concurrent programming. DISCLAIMER: Its not quite near stable yet!

Google + Nest = Better Health?

Could Google’s acquisition of Nest have the potential to improve our future health?

In the last 12 months we have witnessed some incredible product developments and company acquisitions. From WhatsApp to Nest the news has been filled with the billion dollar headlines. Why are these companies worth so much? Is it the product offering, the engineer talent, the superstar management team or the data they are collecting? Perhaps it is a mix of all?

With the recent acquisition by Google, I wanted to speculate about whether or not it would be possible to mine the data from Nest and combine it with our Google Search results to identify any correlations between the conditions in our home and our health and well-being.

The data these companies and products are collecting has tremendous potential if harnessed in the right way. What could Google, who already has so much insight on our everyday interactions, do with an additional physical data source like Nest? Nest has two products, a learning thermostat and a smoke/carbon monoxide detector. Both destined to be all our homes in the not so distant future. These devices suddenly become very intelligent phycial sources of data, they know about movement, temperature, LUX levels, behaviour patterns and much more. If you were to combine  this with the search history of homes in the same area the results could become very interesting. Ever looked at Google Trends? Publicly available, Google Trends allows you to see what people are searching for over time by country and region. This is a free tool and is often used by analysts to spot industry trends. If this tool is free then one can only begin to imagine the additional data-mining power available behind the scenes!

Did you know that 80 percent of Internet Users have searched for health related issues online?

Expanding on this notion lets add some additional thoughts:

If we were able to combine these sources of data and scale across cities and continents then it  could be possible to surface trends. From this data could we determine whether people who over heat their homes simultaneously impact there health?

We’ve all heard the story of Target supermarket in the US predicting a teen girl’s pregnancy before her family were even aware. Between 2002 and 2010 Target’s revenue grew from $44 billion to $67 billion, and much of that was attributed to a heightened focus data. If a supermarket can predict pregnancy and even home-in on a due date by studying our shopping trends, the potential for a partnership like Google and Nest is enormous.

British Gas with their Hive app, which promises to save customers up to £150 a year on their heating bills, and now even Staples with their home automation offering Staples Connect are getting into the internet of things market. Who will be first to harness and surface that Big Data and feed it back to us to help us with our health as well as our bills?

There are already many examples of how big data has been harnessed in the social media world. Facebook was slow to exploit it's real revenue stream from advertising because it couldn’t segment the data and users well enough. Once cracked, it was worth a fortune -  the marketeers dream. Twitter, whilst I’m sure wasn’t designed with this in mind, has been used to monitor HIV Outbreaks.  Through mining the big data they were able to surface trending topics by specific regions. It clear people are already engaging with these platforms as a way to highlight and research their health problems. All that’s missing is an organisation that can join the dots together to combine the existing data sources with the new connected hardware with the goal to surface health trends as they appear.  

Looking forward to seeing how Nest landscape develops now Google are involved.



The Money Revolution

Do you remember the days of the cash register?

Technological advances have led to changes in our behavior when it comes to most of the ways in which we live our lives, and they’re now beginning to impact established methods of payment. This means that in the foreseeable future many beloved products, like the cash register, will most likely be going out of use. Sights like a ‘cash only’ sign on a cab interior are hopefully becoming a rarity as companies like Uber with their automated payment process begin to emerge as a new take on the traditional taxi.

At this stage we don’t know which innovations will dominate the world of currency exchange, be it bitcoin or some other virtual barter system, but it is possible to predict which existing components will remain. Intelligence from the Business Insider has recently focused on the bigger picture of the credit and debit card ecosystem.

In a recent report they looked at the complicated series of interactions among different legacy players that powers each credit card payment. They then outlined the six types of companies that play key roles in the credit payment chain, they explained what each player does, and how much value they add. They also explained why two parts of this chain – the hardware providers and the merchant service providers – are particularly vulnerable to disruption.

They identified that credit card companies like Visa and Mastercard, and credit card processors like First Data, are safe because their role is one of simply enabling the transfer of funds from one place to another. The makers of hardware related to current physical payments in stores, however, are most vulnerable to changes in the system.

This should come as no surprise, as shops evolve to take payments via iPod and iPad, Visa and Mastercard still process the payment. Apple have managed to slimline traditional cash registers which have been in use in more or less their current form since the late 1800s, but their role is still one of producing innovative hardware rather than changing the basic nature of payment transactions. But the curve has been sketched, and for the most part we all know where it’s headed.

What about removing the concept of going to the checkout all together?

Interestingly, Apple, while leading the way in iPod and iPad transactions in their stores, are disrupting the way we do things by allowing customers to self-checkout via iPhone. Using their app EasyPay, a customer can scan a product’s bar code with their iPhone camera and enter their iTunes password, the app then uses iOS’s location features to pinpoint their location and the store so that the correct sales tax can be applied.

This kind of payment innovation makes the transition between paying via credit/debit card and paying via internet-based currency only too easy.

Will accepting credit cards via your iPhone be the next MiniDisc?

These card systems address the current need to take payments from credit cards in the same way that MiniDisc solved the need for portable music before the iTunes world came along… Will the industry see another disruptive transaction entirely when the internet can enable a different kind of transaction in store?  The technology is there, all that remains is to implement a monetary system that works and that can co-exist with our current economic framework.    


Alliants, Aquaid & The Elephant Pump

We at Alliants are aware that keeping our staff members hydrated will aid them to perform at their very best throughout the work day. As a result, we decided to invest in water coolers from AquAid – our unique relationship with AquAid has also given our company the opportunity to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

Our decision to install a water cooler from AquAid means that  for each of the machines that we have, we have donated £20 per year per cooler to The Africa Trust. Through our contributions to The Africa Trust, an ‘Elephant Pump’ is being installed in Africa on our behalf. This pump will bring much needed, clean, fresh drinking water and improve the quality of life of those who will have access to our well.

Our company’s name will be displayed proudly on our well and we look forward to adding some photos and letters of thanks from the villages to our site in the near future.

AquAid, along with their sister company Perfect Printer Cartridges have to date donated over 6 Million Pounds to Charity.

We Support AquAid and Perfect Printer Cartridges

The Office 1 Year On

Its now a year since we moved to our lovely new offices on the Marina
We have had countless barbecues one Christmas party two all hands meetings, a 48 hour charity hackathon, numerous movie nights, late working nights due to working on a number of cool and exciting but very demanding projects.

In the last 12 months, we have had 7 new starters, all of them bringing different and exciting new skills and qualities. Having wondered how we were going to fill the space, we are now wondering where we will put the next set of desks in order to fulfil our need for more developers and consultants... perhaps an office in London is required? Watch this space!

In the meantime, the office here on the river has come on a huge amount since the first time we wheeled our chairs across the car park to the vast and empty space that we now occupied. Its taken a year and I still haven't quite finished tweaking the look of the place (I could probably go on forever) but take a look at the photographs and see for yourself the difference in the environment.

My favourite area which we wanted from the outset, is the breakout area and bar. I Love the relaxed atmosphere that it gives and working down there is a real pleasure. So much so in fact that we have had to set up another "work bar" as there wasn't enough room for everyone to break out, and we were finding that people were choosing to work there permanently. The cosy new Chesterfield sofa and excellent new dart board give it a brilliant chilled finish.

As for the main crux of the office, not much has changed, some pictures and plants and our two oversized red lamps add a bit of style and much needed colour to the space. Its amazing how just a few small changes can improve the feel and the mood of a space

I am pretty sure we have mentioned before the office Dogs that regularly visit us? Soon you will be able to check out the office stress busters, Zippy, Jeffrey, Skyla, Bolly and Jinx on the team page of the website.

For now, the sun is finally shining and we are all looking forward to another year on the river. Drop in and see us on a Friday afternoon and we will show you around and make you a coffee. See you soon!



Protecting yourself in a digital world doesn’t need to be complicated

Even the most tech savvy of us think we have digital security sorted but in reality, people are always trying to get in and there are always ways that we can improve. It’s a bit like pulling your front door closed behind you in the morning but not double locking it. Why should we double lock the door? To make it just as hard for an intruder to leave if they have gained entry by other means.  At Alliants we are always striving for ways to improve our security and we particularly like this easy to follow checklist that we picked up from Jason Fried at 37 Signals, in his book Remote. It is not an all-encompassing bulletproof security plan, but it has some great simple guidelines for everyone to follow in their business and personal lives in order to protect against some of the most common security vulnerabilities.


Here is an extract:

1. Put a password on your devices

This is a must. Think about how much someone could find out about you now, if they picked up your phone. Do you get twitchy when a friend picks up your device and starts looking through your photos? What about your messages? How would you feel if someone you knew was snooping around? Passwords are an easy way to protect the data on your computer and smartphone, and you should ensure that your devices are set to automatically lock when you put them down. Whilst we know that isn’t very often these days it is important.

2. 12345 or password are not acceptable passwords.

Having a password like 12345 is like leaving your keys under a flowerpot by the front door. It’s best practice to create a unique password for everything you use. If one service you use gets hacked, you don’t have to stress out about the vulnerability of others. Whilst this is good practice, even those with the highest IQ are going to struggle to remember 100+ unique passwords. There are some great solutions that can take the stress of this away. We like 1Password by AgileBits, some of the guys use it internally. There are some great free alternatives too so have a look in the app store.

3. Make sure you can wipe your device from anywhere

Nowadays, it is smart to use an app that can remotely wipe your smartphone if it’s stolen. Those living in the iDevice world, check out Find My iPhone. If you are Android lover then look at Android Device Manager.

4. Encrypt your Hard Drive

It is a common misconception that a hard drive encryption is complicated in nature. If you have a Mac, you can turn on the FileVault setting for your hard drive. If you run Windows then search on Google for “How do I encrypt my laptop” and you will find some great ways to do this.

5. Two-factor authentication for email

Firstly, what is two-factor authentication?! Well, you are probably using this today to access online banking. It is simply the way a company wants to double check you are who you say you are by another means before letting you use their service.

This might be a future step for those that don’t have a password on their devices yet, but is definitely worth considering if your email contains sensitive information or if you have been a victim of hacking in the past. Simple to implement with services like Gmail, after you turn on your device, every time you wish go to your emails a unique code will be sent to your phone which you will be prompted to key in. Though it may be a long process, it is definitely an effective way of ensuring it is you that is accessing your information and no one else! Great tip for those looking for tight security.

6. Health Check

So here it is a simple security health check:

1.        Do you encrypt your Hard Drive?

2.         Are any of your devices just unlocked with a simple swipe and no password?

3.         Can you wipe your device if you left it in a bar, taxi or train etc?

4.         How many websites do you use the password 12345 on or something similar?

5.         Have you thought about two-factor authentication?

Ask yourself these questions and take action to protect yourself!


TEDMed 21st April 2014

This week we were excited to have one of our projects featured at the TEDmed event at the Royal Albert Hall in London. There’s something very surreal about seeing the project you’ve been working on, talked about at a televised event on a platform viewed by thousands of people. Suddenly the scope became apparent, and as the audience spontaneously took out their phones to download, we were hit with an overwhelming sense of pride.

What became clear, as we sat there surrounded by professionals and academics, is the amount that’s going on between the tech and medical industries. It would seem that innovators who can see a technical solution to one or many biological problems, are constantly appearing and driving the treatment of medical conditions forward. Our app was just one of the exciting progressions enabled by the meteoric rise of mobile technology.

At an event such as this one, where cutting edge technologies are being discussed with reference to how they can alleviate suffering, attention naturally turned to how our access to new methods could benefit those in the third world. A theme of excitement ran through many of the speeches. New ideas here mean greater access in shorter time to those who need it most, and it was humbling to hear so many impassioned professionals talk about how this type of work had driven their ideas, contributed to their careers, and, sometimes, superseded their career entirely.

It seemed appropriate that one of the main focuses at TEDmed this year was that biological computer, the human brain. The link between imaginative solutions and cognitive function, and how one could aid and better the other, was a running theme. Along with talks on saving the brain from unalterable damage, was a speech about the nature of the brain at different stages of development. During teenage years the brain undergoes extreme growth, and there was a plea for brain function at all levels to be respected as part of the evolution of a child, to an adolescent, to an adult. Hopefully in time we can learn to appreciate people at all ages, especially as it’s during adolescence that many become developers, and it’s these developers that go on to save lives with their ideas.     

Ultimately the event highlighted the fact that our project is just one in an ever-expanding community of medical innovations. We can expand our knowledge and our understanding of the human biological condition only so far, but unless the technology is in place to implement the solutions by making this new-found wisdom accessible, there is no practical benefit. This week I learnt that our contribution is one in a rich tapestry of change that will eventually build to make a continuously evolving picture.

“The only constant in life is change.” Heraclitus


Spring on the River

Finally the rain has seemingly stopped and the relentless down pours seem to be waining! The Marina is a hive of activity at the moment with a lot of boat maintenance as well as a new restaurant opening soon. 

Alliants held another of our bi annual meetings yesterday and the sun was out and spring was definitely in the air. It was a good opportunity to get together and discuss what we have all been doing and the direction that the company has moved in in the 6 months since our last proper meeting. In summary, business is good and we are working on some exciting products and with some very cool clients so there are exciting times ahead. 

As usual, after the important stuff, we were able to spend some time together doing something fun - We arranged laser clay pigeon shooting in a clearing behind the marina and all stomped off adorning sensible shoes to have a go! The new dart board in the office has improved some peoples aim. It was a lot of fun and brought us all together outside of work and reminded most of us, that we really like spending time together whether in a social or work capacity.

All that shooting gave us an appetite so back to the office for one of Dan Hubbard's barbecues - more sausages, cheese burgers and chicken wings than you can shake a stick at. The first of many barbecues that we intend to host this year. 
As we all stood outside chatting and laughing I was able to really reflect on how what a great environment we have at Alliants, coming together for beers and burgers on the river as the sun goes down - we feel that we are in a pretty privileged position. 


Accessibility Is Hard

There are two types of people in this world;; those who have disabilities and those who haven’t found theirs yet.

We all use assistive devices every day, want to travel 60mph to get to work? You need an assistive device, it’s called a car. Want to grind the finest Luwak coffee for your morning pick me up? You need an assistive device, it’s called a bean grinder. Want to collaborate with people half a world away? You get the picture...

“Who cares if my website is not accessible to people with visual or hearing impairment, they probably aren’t in my target market and even if they were it’s a tiny percentage of the market - not worth the effort.”

You Are Wrong - And this is why...

Blind and visually impaired people account for 285,000,000 (2013) of the world population. Deaf and hearing impaired make up 275,000,000 (2004).

To put all this in perspective, the population of the United states of America is around 315,000,000 (2013). If your application is not web accessible you are in effect ignoring the planet’s 4th and 5th largest “countries”. How’s that for Big Data?

Accessibility is unfamiliar, but not out of reach

Accessibility is not hard, it’s just easier to ignore it and hope for the best. Just like anything new when you start out it looks like a mountainous task and it’s all too easy to return to base camp claiming conditions were unfavorable and the task was not worth the time and effort for the benefits gained.

Fortune favors the brave so don’t follow the crowd, take a step ahead of your counterparts and open up to a fresh pool of untapped revenue in users that rely on accessibility with these starter tips.

ARIA Landmark Roles provide feedback to the user about the intention of a section in a web page, whether it be a navigation area or main content block this helps to better understand the overall structure much like the three blind monks describing an elephant based on the part they are interacting with at that moment.

Use appropriate ‘alt’ text to describe an image for the benefit of the visually impaired who may not be able to make out the image or struggle to appreciate the context. Consider writing a description of the image based on the flow of your content so that it will read in such a way to make sense to the user what you are conveying because a screen reader will dictate the content up to the image - read the alt text for the image - and continue on reading the content that follows. ‘Tree’, although accurate, isn’t very useful without context to explain the relevance of this image in particular. ‘General Sherman - world’s largest tree - Tulare County, California’ might be a better option and be much more interesting and useful to the user.

Give links appropriate state styling to provide useful feedback to the user as to whether the link is active or has been visited previously by the user. Most browser clients have default link styles (blue and purple link text) so just remember that if you amend these styles they should convey the link states just as well as the browser default styles do.

Accessibility is an exercise in hearts and minds, when you look after those with accessibility needs they are more likely to use your products and services as well as recommend you to others due to your adherence to web accessibility standards.

Put yourself in the shoes of the blind user by using a screen reader and wearing a blindfold to give you a real sense of what it is like to use your website as a visually impaired person.

For further in-depth articles and tips you should checkout The Accessibility Project where some of the brightest minds (and myself) have contributed to a community-driven effort to make web accessibility easier.

Emerging Technology 2014 Q1

When we're not building applications in Ruby on Rails, or helping large companies improve their technology processes and tooling, we're busy evaluating new ways of solving problems. We're not big enough to evaluate everything - so we focus on those which help companies grow online; those which improve processes for web-companies; and their underlying languages. This is my view of technologies, which you should consider.


Although most technology companies have cracked automated deployment, a lot of larger, older companies still miss this technique. Simply put - there shouldn't be a delay between the creation of code and realising the value of that code. Two techniques I think are worth exploring are blue-green deployment and immutable infrastructure.

Blue-Green Deployment is a technique where the production servers are mirrored. The blue being the live environment and the green the new. When the green environment is ready and tested, a simple router or networking change switches them over. A roll-back is as simple as switching back. In the cloud this could be simply implemented with an elastic IP or a load balancer. In Amazon Web Services, their Elastic Beanstalk can be configured to do this. The key in any deployment configuration is having a simple switch to move from blue to green, and back again if required.

Immutable infrastructure is another deployment technique where, once live, a server cannot be changed. Chad Fowler goes as far to say throw away the SSH keys! This aims to remove the problem of knowing the state of the server. Contrast this with some environments we've worked. After a period of time there could be parts where no-one quite remembers what they do; or after upgrade after upgrade, patch after patch there are parts which aren't necessary. By creating an immutable server, through automation, you know the state of that server will be the same as when it was created. Need a upgrade to the application? Build a completely new server and throw away the old one.

A common adage goes: what gets measured, improves. A recent infrastructure technique is to focus on Mean time to recovery, in place of measuring mean time before failure, or side-measurements like test coverage. The thinking is an interesting one. The idea is to focus on designing systems in a way that is conducive to recovery and hence to build in resilience, over traditional techniques like extensive testing. This isn't as crazy as it sounds - cloud hosting (especially in its early days) can have downtime. Older companies traditionally have deployment windows of days - with frequent downtime, a focus on recovery is an enabler to faster production builds. Netflix has taken this a step further with its Chaos Monkey, a service which randomly knocks out production services forcing developers to build easily recoverable infrastructure.


Elasticsearch isn't really an emerging technology. I first encountered it at notonthehighstreet.com as a solution to our ageing search daemon. It provides out-of-the-box, advanced & fuzzy querying of datasets, and the ability to provide real-time search. Elasticsearch comes with a much nicer API than Apache Solr, sitting firmly in the modern camp of developer productivity first. Paired with tooling like Kibana which allows for data visualisation, or Logstash which is a tool for parsing and indexing logs we predict Elasticsearch becoming a very core component to a mature infrastructure.

Riak is showing promise as an alternative key/value store, with binary storage and interesting primary query types like MapReduce. Its design principle is one around fault tolerance, without the bloat and complexity of a solution like Dynamo. It works in a masterless way - with consistent hashing and replicas; and handoff and rebalancing to heal the cluster when nodes go offline. Riak should be on all developers radars if you have data spanning multiple machines and availability is required over consistency.

Libraries and Languages

We spend our time in data, and new ways to visualise or represent data are critical to effective communication. D3.js is a javascript framework I've been watching for some time. It was borne out of tools used to visualise data for the web. Historically these were in languages like Java. D3.js's initial novelty comes its use of JavaScript - a language specifically designed to manipulate information in the browser - which also explains its high adoption. It uses elements within a HTML page and outputs SVG - a much more dynamic and natural way than most data visualisation - which is represented as a jpeg image.