Wednesday, 20 May 2009

The Turtle Moves!

Oh dear, Life is doing it to me again!

They always say similar events come in three's don't they? Well I think it's true, especially as I have three "Pratchett-related" events over the past 24 hours.

First was last night's CSI on channel 5 (we're only just starting with Laurence Fishbourne in the UK) where a monk dies when a tortoise gets dropped on his head by an eagle,

Second was my wife finding various pictures of people getting their own back on Death - the best being him slipping over a banana skin,

And finally, this morning we have "Duckman"

Well, the wizards do say million to one shots happen 99% of the time!

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Language - a changeable constant.

You could quite easily sub-title this "Evolution or Perversion".

As my knowledge of others is quite limited I don't know if this happens outside the English speaking world much, but with my native tongue words acquire other or alternate meanings. For example, I am working in a group that is charged with maintaining and supervising those parts of our customer's IT installations that aren't the actual server, network or communications hardware, the power and cooling, the cabling, the security, etc.: classically, the environment of the rooms and the infrastructure that connects and supports it.

However over the past few years someone, somewhere in the IT industry decided that the term "infrastructure" should include everything that doesn't sit on someone's desk or in their office.

This has made my life a little difficult as I'm the only one in the team who has any inkling into how the active part (servers, switches etc..) of the system actually works, so guess who ends up fielding the questions our technicians can't answer and re-directing them to our NOC or SOC!

I'm sure we in the IT world cannot be the only group to suffer this.

Change for the better or just meaningless change?

As Ford Prefect noted, "Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so." I'm actually wondering when I can get to eat at the moment.... you can crunch only so many glucose tabs before your tongue revolts!

This morning we had one of those occasional tortures that they inflict on you: the "Management Meeting" This morning's effort was all about "Lean Management" and "eliminating waste in the procedures". This all stems from the experiment Toyota tried back in the 70's which they employed the principles that became "Kaizen". IT seems to work well in the manufacturing industry, but seems to fall short in most other sectors.

Kaizen is a Japanese term formed from the words Kai meaning change and zen which means good. In Korea, this translates as ge sun and in Chinese gai shan both meaning improvement change for the better. However, modern management has perverted it to stand for one of it's supposed foundations: continual inmprovement. From what I can see this is just another case of "smoke and mirrors"

While I agree waste, in terms of time and effort should be got rid of with all possible speed, I'm not sure how we in particular can do this as most of the waste is generated by the procedures thrust upon us by the management itself.

As a team, once our own pointy-haired boss had left (20 minutes into a scheduled 90!) we sat down and worked out some ways we could use to measure how much time we are actually spending on fulfilling the reporting tasks he demands from us as against how much time we are spending actually servicing our customers; we intrinsically know we are spending less on the latter, we just can't prove it yet.

This afternoon I'm going over to see the union rep. with one of the team (I'm acting supervisor as he's resigned!) as the guy has issues with the pointy-haired one

Friday, 8 May 2009

Ah, the irony!

One for the motorists, especially Jeremy Clarkson.

The boss of the company in the UK responsible for installing Gatso cameras everywhere has just had his licence revoked having been caught by one doing 103mph(166kph) in a 70mph(112kph) zone!

There is a God!

Big is not beautiful.

Michael Douglas' character Gordon Gekko, in the movie "Wall Street" famously said to his audience of stakeholders: "Greed is - for lack of a better word - good". I've never agreed with that philosophy as most, if not all the people who subscribe to it, end up in a worse state than when they bought into it. Unfortunately, there's a lot of innocents that unwittingly subscribe to it as well and get burned even worse. The movie reflected the time at which it was made, where banking and stock markets were the place to be. and the premise that "big is beautiful" seems to have persisted to a large degree even through the current economic crisis: some may even say that it in fact started it, but this is not my point here.

My point is that sadly one area of industry where this philosophy does still persist is IT. This is understandable considering that the financial world was one of it's biggest founders, and even after 20+ years of non-financial use some companies IT is still run by the Finance Department.

So, what's the problem? In a word, inertia.

Talk to any physicist or engineer with any mechanical background and they will tell you that the larger an object is, the more force you need to get it to start. However, once it is moving it will keep moving without much force at all - that roughly is inertia.

You can apply this analogy very well to corporate bodies - you can say they're like a super tanker: once they're moving it's easy to keep them moving, but they take a long time to do anything once they are unless you use a lot of energy.

What's worse is if it loses all power, no matter what the command crew does, it will just keep going on the same course until it hits something hard, and the results will not be pretty - as the real Wall St. found out with Lehmann Bros.

In the IT world the alarm bells should start ringing sooner but, as above, it's a case of whether the right people hear them. I've now heard two with my current employer: a global IT support company. The first was when we started to have to jump through hoops to get even the smallest travel claims approved, the second made me and others where I'm based do an enormous mental double-take. It is that the upper management are considering the option of off-shoring our own IT.

Scott Addams once drew a Dilbert cartoon about this - I thought he was joking!

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Best job in the world

Congratulations to Ben Southall from Hampshire for finally winning through against the other 35,000 or so people to get every one's dream job - only having to work 12 hours a week as caretaker of a semi tropical island.

If I was younger I think I'd have applied for it!

UK ID card scheme.

The pig-headedness of politicians never ceases to amaze me.

10 Downing St. and the Home Office are still pushing to get this running even after having all the problems the chosen implementation will suffer from made pellucidly clear.

I personally have no objection to a national ID card system that would make my daily life easier - I'd welcome it in a minute if it would combine all the goverment/tax/health/social services data that currently exists about yours truly.


Unfortunately these are still science fiction due to the stupidity inherent in the human race.

So what are my objections to the current scheme? Well, it has nothing to do with human rights or anything to do with the so-called "surveillance society". They can be summed up simply as:

  • Fraud: No matter what the underlying card system is, Chip'n'Pin or contact-less, it is still open to abuse. Note how quickly the criminal fraternity caught up with the technology after it was introduced.
  • Physical reliability: The physical environment and cleanliness of the card can and does cause significant problems. With Chip'n'Pin it's the build up of crud on the contacts that causes the problem. It then builds up in the reader and it's not going to be long before
    the reader needs servicing, if not disinfecting!
  • Cost: the current government estimate is about £5bn ($7.4bn). In the past, an overspend of not less than 50% of the original estimate is a good bet for HM Gov. projects, so the independent experts saying £10bn to £20bn is quite feasible.
    Oh, and you the holder of the card are going to have to pay £50 just for the privilege of having the card produced.
  • Logistics: yes.... well the way the UK's vehicle licensing system works seems to be OK, but it's only dealing with one un-related item of data at a time, this system is eventually going to have so many hooks and tie-ins it's bound to collapse eventually.
Give it up for now Jacqui, wait until the technology is a little more reliable and can cope with these problems.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Queen's Day Attack

I feel a deep sadness at the news that came from Appledoorn yesterday. That someone should feel so depressed as to take their own life and the lives of innocent people around them is as horrific as the scene he created.

In what must have been an attempt - in his mind - to embarrass his former employers for dismissing him, he ended the lives of six people (himself included) and irrevocably altered the lives of their families and the lives of the dozen or so survivors and their families. I do not believe any situation like this can warrant the actions this man took and it should be condemned for the heartless act it was.

That said, we must not forget his family and how they must be feeling. They are most likely as shocked and stunned as those of the others directly affected by this horrible event.

My thoughts, prayers and sympathies go out to all those directly affected by this: the victims and their families, and those indirectly affected: the Dutch Royal family, the other spectators and most especially the emergency services and the police who have the unenviable task of clearing up afterwards.