Archive for January, 2008

Ethical Action by the BCS (or any other IT organisation)…

January 15th, 2008

My recent post on the BCS questioned whether or not I should join. I’ve decided (also thanks to a fantastic response from Mark Harrison) to do so, probably around March.

The main article that attracted my interest enough to write the previous post, also posed a question that I have an alternate view on. The article covered:

Should BCS take a proactive role in bringing concerns of an ethical nature involving the use of IT to the public’s attention?

The main paridigm of the article was that due the the members of the BCS having split affiliation between the different political parties, and therefore the politics of the individual issue – it was perhaps not in its best interests to voice an opinion – as the membership would have to be polled. The issues brought up for discussion in the article were the ID Cards – and the NHS Central Repository of Patient Information.

In my opinion this is exaclty the sort of thing I’d like an ‘independent’ and ‘chartered’ IT organisation in the UK to be doing. I don’t expect such an organisation to promote/demote the actual policy – but be more involved in how the policy is implemented. Rather than contesting the need for this central repository – the organisation should be analysing and offering different methods of fulfilling the functional specification.

For ID cards, the BCS should be using their collective technical expertise to make sure that there are no ‘weak points’ in the infrastructure of such a critical database. The security should be audited by the BCS (paid for by whichever consultants happen to be doing the implementation). However, the BCS should not question the policy itself. In my opinion that is where the BCS would become internally divisive.

Other areas in which the BCS should operate is in analysing future market trends. The BBC iPlayer debate being something I’ve yet to see the BCS have much publicity over. Someone ‘educated and informed’ and most of all ‘independent’ needs to comment on what the BBC’s policy actually means. The repercussions of the BBC’s decision on small businesses and the IT sector in the UK need to be addressed publicly. The BCS are the only organisation (to my knowledge) that have the respect and perceived independence to be authoritative on this issue. Organisations like the OSC and ORG have done a fantastic job thus far – but as they are more ‘radical’ – their views are easily rebutted by the ‘average joe.’

I think this is a desirable role for the BCS to take – advising people like John Pugh on the technicalities and viable options – rather than have people talk about ‘principles’ which are currently impossible to pursue. If there’s already another organisation that fulfils this role, (as I’ll consider joining that one too,) please let me know.

New Phone – Bigger Problems

January 14th, 2008

Today I received the new O2 XDA Stellar SmartPhone.  I wanted to upgrade my phone and wanted something with GPS.  The N95 was sold out, so I went for this option.  It looked nice enough and the hardware spec was impressive.

Please bear in mind this is only a temporary phone until my openmoko becomes stable.

Well things were going well – I had the funambol connector set up to Synchronise with my works horde server.  It works well.  The GPS via Google Maps was good (but bound to be expensive unless I get on an unlimited data tariff).  I installed a putty client so I could ssh into my servers – the main reason I got this phone was the good keyboard allowing me to ‘hopefully’ do better remote support.  I was looking around for some more mapping applications – I came across smart2go.  It looks fantastic – however, I need to order a bigger miniSD card.  It downloads all the maps ‘once’ – preventing your data bill from shooting sky high.

The problem…

It comes with Office Mobile (2007).  The default formats are the new MS OOXML ones – and although you can change it – they are the ones set to default.  I don’t use office 2007.  If you like spreadsheets – you can ONLY SAVE IN THE OOXML format.

I wish OOo came out for the Windows Mobile Devices – if someone could point me toward an alternate set of applications for this it’d be much appreciated.

British Computer Society – Should I join?

January 11th, 2008

For a while now I’ve been considering joining the British Computer Society – now that I expect my career to evolve in the IT sector. I’m already a member at some Open Source specific organisations, such as the OSC and the OpenDocumentFellowship, but I’m sure getting a better understanding of the global view of the IT sector could be a great education.

I’ve come across the BCS on multiple occasions – my Dad is a member – and thoroughly respect it as a collective of some very important and authoritative names in IT. I read through its published articles frequently. So should I join?

At the moment my role is Systems Administrator on a Linux Server Setup that I manufactured of Open Source components in 2006. There are now two organisations with the server in place in the same form that I installed it with, and a few more who are on a long-term migration strategy. Implementation has recently been held up due to PCI DSS work I’ve been doing. My role I hope to improve to include project management, and as I become more familiar with the capabilities of the small organisation I work for – to help expand the business to fight for bigger and better contracts.

I think the networking ability that BCS membership affords me more than covers the cost of membership – but I’m interested to know other peoples’ views. Are you a member? If so, why? And if not, why not?

I’m also interested in the Open Source Working Group at the BCS (though I believe it to be geographically based in London, and I’m in Manchester). If anyone’s from the Manchester Branch, I’d love to hear your view too.

One think that does impress me is that the Manchester Branch WebSite uses Drupal… one less hurdle to overcome in my quest for FOSS domination! :)

BECTA – “Let’s get interoperable”

January 11th, 2008

Finally some good news for the open source world coming out of BECTA. Congratulations to all those involved behind the scenes who are promoting the open source offerings.

However, the biggest announcement in that article, for me at least, isn’t the denouncement of Vista and Office, but the positive noises coming for document interoperability. ODF should to all intents and purposes be the next global document format (it alread has ISO status). OOXML is not a vendor-neutral or open format, thus should be excluded as an option. It’s good to see BECTA supporting that for educational purposes.

Where has all the compassion gone?

January 11th, 2008

From the BBC:

A terminally-ill Ghanaian woman who was forced to return home after her UK visa expired is struggling to receive the medical treatment she needs.

It’s stories like this that really get me worried.  It’s when accountants get to decide whether or not to keep someone alive.

I understand that the NHS can’t support everyone in the world; but people who have come to Britain, especially those that have had a British Visa – whether or not they’ve actually done any work while they’ve been across here should be offered our arms of compassion.

Nor do I like the opinion that sure – she’s got a visa so she must have contributed tax – therefore let her stay.  this sets a bad precedent.  If you’ve not paid the tax for your treatement, do you not deserve that treatment?  I’m currently “in debt” massively to the NHS if that’s the case.

The NHS isn’t a pay-your-way system like the Health Insurance setup in the USA.  Whilst you may also claim it’s a two tier system in the UK – often private insurance doesn’t cover Cancer.  Even the richest therefore rely on the NHS to provide their cancer care.  They also rely on the NHS for emergency cover.  When the chips are down – everyone is equal.  There weren’t people queuing up after 7/7 in London saying  “Private insurance this way, private care over here!”

Sometimes we need to really look hard at the policies in place.  I understand that we cannot pay indefinite amounts to prevent someone from dying –  unless there’s a realistic chance of recovery and ‘wellness,’ the figure quoted for the Maximum cost-per-person-per-annum is £50K.  Anymore that that and the switch is cut off. [1]

However, in Ghanian hospitals, this womans treatment would cost ~£12,000 a year.  It’s well under the £50K limit – and it’s another life sustained by the fantastic NHS.

I’d be dead were it not for the NHS – would you?

[1] on a recent Radio4 program, chaired by Michael Portillo.

From when I broke me leg…

January 9th, 2008

Well it’s been ages since I broke my leg.

I was riding home from school on the 12/05/1999 and got knocked down on Seven Star Road, Solihull.

I’m a very lucky guy – as the helmet made a huge difference to the outcome of the accident. Thanks to that helmet, you now all get a few more MegaBytes of rubbish to read :)

The reason it took me so long to put on my helmet was this:

I made a bet with a teacher that there was a mistake with a question on the exam he’d given me. It was a thirty minute exam. The first question asked to reference a table – lets call it fig. a. This table had three columns of variables – call them a.i, a.ii and a.iii. The first question was a simple comprehension of each of the 5 rows.

The second question was much harder – and asked something like – if a.ii was raised by 2 – then what would the answer be. As the original figures were all under 2 – most people in the class read this as “if a.ii was raised to 2.” I’m sure the scientists among you can spot the difference right away. I had to reconstruct the table with these new values – then calculate the new values for a.iv a.v and – it took up the whole of the exam and I was still not finished.

Anyhow, I digress. Said teacher decided that since the exam had been going out to students for “the last thirty years” – it was very egotistical of me to have claimed to identify a mistake – rather than accept my poor mark. (I got 5% in comparison to most of the class getting 80-100%).

The teacher also made me sit at the front of the class – and if I were to lose, I was to stay there.. and if he were to lose – I get £15.

As it transpired – I was correct. There was a failing on the exam. (Of couse, if I was wrong I’d hardly be bloating about it now).

So – given that my deposition at the front of the class had made the “gentleman’s agreement” a few of the ‘more vocal’ lads in the class really started laying into the teacher. Looking back, it was must have been a stressful time for the teacher – with lads coming up and asking them where the £15 for Andy was.

So anyway, after a science lesson on the 12.5.99 – I was kept behind and given a firm talking to. (I also hadn’t been moved back to my original seat in the class). The teacher explained that it was “un-ethical” to bet with a student – therefore he was unable to pay. Anyhow, I was impressed that he was easily able to not only prematurely and confidently placed me at the front of the class, assured of his win – but to keep me there even when the outcome had been reversed.

What made the day more exciting was that it was the day the GCSE students were released on study leave – which really meant that there’d be egg and flour in every bush leaving school by now – and some of those lads were pretty big and scarey.

I legged it down to my bike – got on it and pedalled as fast as I could until I was past solihull city centre. I then got to the end of Ashleigh Road and put on my helmet. You can see the diagram for the smash.. but three weeks in hospital is is an experience.

“Whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.”

What reminded me of this episode – well here are the pins I had in my leg – cute :)

Three Peaks Challenge

January 8th, 2008

Well it’s been a lovely new year.  My golf has improved and I had a really long Christmas break that lasted until this morning, when, at 9am, I started work again.

I’m quite pleased actually, I feel fresh and ready for more challenges.  However, I also feel a little disappointed in myself.

You see, my new years resolution was to give up Fast Food.. and for the first 6 days of 2008, I had at least 1 meal from a fast food joint each day.  That’s not a very good habit to get into.  Now the holidays are over I’ve gone good.  My last ‘bad’ meal yesterday was a full English Breakfast after a round of golf at Ombersley Golf Club.

Today, I got up and had some toast – with some olive-oil based ‘butter.’ Only a little.

Then I worked all day, with a lite pasta bite for lunch.  It was nice.  Then I did my weekly ASDA shop, and spent less than my usual amount and just bought healthy food.  My meat was fresh, my eggs free-range and my vegetables and fruit unprocessed.  It was a nice feeling.  I also got myself some fish.

What caused this change in diet?

With comments from a few friends claiming I had the “worst diet of all my friends” and saying “when the fat doesn’t show on the body, it collects in the arteries” –  I decided something needed to be done.  Along with a “years gym membership” from my parents for Christmas I wanted a target to get fit for.  I’ve therefore decided to do the “Three Peaks Challenge.”  That’s up and down the three highest peaks in the UK (Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike, and Snowdon) within 24 hours.  It’s a tough challenge, and one which will no doubt involve some kind of corporate sponsorship to get us to the mountains – but hopefully also a good cause to raise some money for.

I’m hoping to have a team formed and commitment from the 6 walkers and 2 support drivers by the end of January.  It’s a very tough challenge; one which I don’t intend to take lightly.  I’ll also be posting some details of ways in which _you_ can donate to the candidate charity once a decision has been made on which one it is.

So yes, it’s forecast to be quite an exciting 2008.  Wish me luck in training.

Funny or Childish..

January 7th, 2008

Just noticed this on the BBC website: (comments section)

  • At 11:47 PM on 06 Jan 2008, John Richard Jones wrote:

Reworded from George Formby’s “When I’m Cleaning Windows”

Now I go fixing Windows
To earn an honest bob
For a computer whiz kid
It’s an interestin’ job

Now it’s a job that just suits me
A Windows fixer you would be
If you saw what’s on this PC
When I’m fixing Windows

Windows XP, Vista too
You’ll have seen them nothing new
You’d be surprised what PCs do
When I’m fixing Windows

In my profession I’ll work hard
But I’ll never stop
To stop domination by Gates
Who tries to stay on top

The user dating on the Net
Looking for it you can bet
I’d rather have that than a pet
When I’m fixing Windows

The web designer has a thought
A new domain he has just bought
Sticks his USB in the port
When I’m fixing Windows

I know a fella, such a fool
He wastes his time, that’s his rule
While he’s about he looks so cool
When I’m fixing Windows

In my profession I’ll work hard
But I’ll never stop
To stop domination by Gates
Who tries to stay on top

DVDs lyin’ side by side
Sexy ladies I have spied
I’ve often seen what goes inside
When I’m fixing Windows

—— banjo ——

A famous screensaver’s been seen
It looks a flapper on the screen
It’s more like flashing but it’s clean
When I’m fixing Windows

It pulls the clothes off down behind
Then pulls off her… never mind
It’s amazing what clutter I find
When I’m fixing Windows

In my profession I’ll work hard
But I’ll never stop
To stop domination by Gates
Who tries to stay on top

An old maid’s profile goes online
She’s so fed up, but that is fine
She’s happy once she has seen mine
When I’m fixing Windows

When I’m fixing Windows

Shake ‘n’ Take

January 2nd, 2008

I know some people are quite fond of photography.  On Flickr there are lots of photography groups where people peer-mark each others work, and generally give each other a pat on the back – which I like.  However, let me bring to you a slightly different phenomenon – shake ‘n’ take.The instructions are simple.

  1. Get a Camera

  2. Get your subject to relax their face, then start to shake their head. (either vertically or horizontally – each approach/plain leads to different results)

  3. Take their picture as their face moves from side to side.. and have a good laugh at the results

I’ve done the ‘chore’ and created a facebook group dedicated to the cause – however, if facebook isn’t the think for you; post your links to the comments form at the bottom of this page – and hopefully we’ll end up with a collection of rather amusing photos.

iPlayer Officially Launched Today… and… problem

January 1st, 2008

The iPlayer was officially launched today – as you may have been made aware by the advertising over the Christmas period.  One Problem.I sat down to watch the Top Gear “Polar Express” episode on the mac mini attached to my TV.. and lo and behold it’s stuttering every 2 minutes to re-buffer the content.What a reet pain in t’arse.