Friday, December 31, 2010

50th anniversaries in 2011

20/1 JFK sworn in
6/3 George Formby dies
8/3 Sir Thomas Beecham dies
15/3 Dr Richard Beeching appointed head of BR
26/3 Leigh Bowery born
31/3 Sir Geoffrey Faber died (there was no other Faber)
11/4 Adolf Eichmann put on trial
12/4 Yuri Gagarin first man in space
19/4 Bay of Pigs fails
23/4 De Gaulle broadcasts appeal in face of Algerian coup
8/5 George Blake gaoled for 42 years for spying
8/5 Anthony Wedgwood Benn barred from Parliament as Viscount Stansgate
10/5 Beyond The Fringe opens
13/5 Gary Cooper dies
31/5 South Africa leaves Commonwealth
27/6 Michael Ramsey enthroned as Archbishop of Canterbury
1/7 Woman called Diana born
2/7 Ernest Hemingway shoots himself
13/8 Berlin Wall goes up
17/9 Ban the Bomb demo in Trafalgar Square (850 arrests - plus ça change)
18/9 Dag Hammarskjöld dies in plane crash
1/10 Last steam train runs on the London Underground
11/10 Chico Marx dies
18/10 West Side Story opens
25/10 Private Eye starts publication
2/11 James Thurber dies
9/11 Jill Dando born
4/12 Contraceptive pill approved for NHS by Enoch Powell
24/12 Frank Richards (author of Billy Bunter) dies

Oh, and it's my 50th too. Bloody Hell, how did THAT happen!

It was ten a half years ago tonight. Another subtle shift in perspective.

I did my usual thing of scanning the teletext pages for the local honours handed out to anyone I might know, when my jaw hit the floor. In Essex Mr R Bryant MBE "For services to justice in North London". I was immediately sure it was Dad as he'd been a magistrate for 20 years in Waltham Forest, and had been chair of the NE London Chancellor's advisory committee for some time (and was especially distinguished as the other 4 chairman were judges - Dad was the only, and I think first, lay chairman).

Having no broadband back then, but a working wireless setup connected to a Microsoft SBS 2000 server with modem (oh happy days!), I fired up the laptop and hooked up to the net and searched around. There I found the website from Buckingham Palace, which showed a similar report, without being *absolutely* sure I was convinced it was him.

Dad had kept completely and utterly schtum on the matter. As he had to.

The following morning, having set a completely unusual Saturday alarm, I rang and asked to speak to 'Mr R Bryant MBE'. "How the hell did you find out?" was his, frankly, shocked response. "Curiosity and the Internet Dad!!". I then explained.

Tonight, catching tweets on this year's New Year Honours, I realise that I'm no longer really bothered by it all, and will catch up with it all in the morning. It doesn't really matter now... Another subtle shift in perspectives.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A different kind of Christmas, ups and downs

With the year we'd had so far, we didn't expect Christmas to be ideal, but for both of us to go down with flu on Christmas Eve, and still be ill on the final bank holiday (Tuesday 28th in the UK) adds a special je ne sais quoi...

We did get to to cook the bird on Boxing Day, and have some - thankfully the cold weather meant that the boot of my car proved to be a excellent fridge.  But we've only had our second proper meal in 5 days!  Christmas Day dinner, was a bowl of soup and a cheese roll.  Still, could be far worse.

In the meantime, the ponds have started to defrost, but not before I got some interesting photos of the near complete coverage.  The lower pond level has dropped about 6 or 7 inches with the amount of water taken up in the ice.

This is the small ring left around the upper pond's pump (used to aerate the pond, and in these conditions ensure the ice is incomplete).  Frankly, given a few days more i think the pond would have been fully frozen!

Here's the waterfall between the ponds, almost something for a climbing challenge

And finally the pond filter system.  Heavily encrusted with ice, the water continues to flow through, but I imagine the contents are probably frozen in part.

Thank Heavens for a temporary thaw!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Steve H's (nearly!) annual Christmas gig - A Natural Christmas in the Garage

It's a strange night for me at this gig, as tomorrow we have a funeral to attend. And that's odd in itself as it's the first funeral in over 15 years where we've had no organisational role. We feel strangely spare over the last two weeks as we have just been told what and when, rather than been co-ordinating.

So tonight it's Christmas fun, and tomorrow will bring what it brings, and then we have 1 last gig and then we can wind down and enjoy the break.

And I hope he hands out the baubles from the tree again!

Friday, December 17, 2010

It was a cold cold day on the beach!

Today was the last day of our short break in North Norfolk.  After yesterday's miserable rainy day (although we did have some fun and shopping!) this morning was a glorious, nearly clear blue sky, day.

We breakfasted and moved out on our way home.  By dint of staying in a Holkham Estate hotel we got a free pass to the Lady Anne Drive car park opposite the Victoria Inn near Holkham Hall (although to be honest with so few people about, we probably would have got away without a ticket!).  Drive down to the parking places we looked to our left and suddenly realised that yesterday's 1,000 goose skein appear to have settled to feed on the field adjacent to the drive, along with a few thousand others.  Despite the cold we stopped and wound down the window and listened to the gentle honking of the geese.

Parked, we started to prepare for our near Arctic expedition. Without any apparant reason the geese all took off and moved field.  The sound and sight was simply amazing.  Sadly i had no decent camera with me, but the phone's camera had to do, and did a decent job.
Then, we set out across through the pines to the dunes and hit the sand.  The sands and beach were rock solid. The cold weather had completely frozen the beach - but there was a residual amount of sand whistling through the air at a few inches above ground as the cold arctic air flew in from the north.  As we looked we could see a few miniature sand dunes forming and building as per 1978 Geography O Level course notes!  In places they were perfect crescent shapes.

By now we were well out towards the sea (probably over half a mile from the trees) and wer still totally alopne on the beach.  This is a rartity to say the least.  We often come here on Boxing Day or New Year's Day and however cold, there is always a large turnout of kite flyers, dog walkers, hungover walkers, recalcitrant children in tow, but this time - we were really on our own.  But with a windchill that was about 15 or more degrees Centrigrade, below, I guess we were the only ones bold enough to brave the weather. 
Eventually reaching the sea I was somewhat disappointed to find there were no indication of ice in the water.  Optimism defeated
As the picture below shows, it was damn cold out there, and despite wrapping up really well, we could do nothing to keep our noses and cheeks from freezing!

Returning having dipped our toes in the water, we saw more of the shifting sands, and returned to the location of our big arrow in the main dune (done to show our way back),  Mrs B was astonished to see that the main line of the arrow (dragged out by our feet) was already filled in with the blown sand - even though we'd only been out for 10 minutes or more.  At this point I was about to take another photo, when my phone rang.  Now, Orange, how come you can get a phone call to me at least a mile from civilisation and whilst nearly in the North Sea, but you cannot manage to deliver a signal within 1.5 miles of a mast, and in a populated area? 

Finally, returning close to the trees, we marvelled at the crystaline nature of the frozen sea water in the patches of ice in the channels through which the entire marsh area would later be flooded.

But I like it!

It's a stark winter beauty round our way...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I promised more, but no more until after #ITTU6 !

For tweetup details see

Red sky at night...

Waiting to be called for the first part of my journey home, the moderate <wg> Glen Beck on Fox in the lounge. North Korea shelling the south, Irish Banks in trouble

A visual respite from the unpleasantries of the world.

But on a lighter note

I promised more would be revealed !

Timezones, oddness and Dad again.

I'm back in Barnes and Noble, using the free wifi to catch up with life back home, and it struck me. Back home, it's 1:20 in the morning of the 23rd; what would have been Dad's 77th birthday.

It's not a time for celebration, but commemoration. But with a 5 hour time shift, should i be marking it already? My family are all there (but asleep i hope!). But I'm not. How am i supposed to react, how am i supposed to behave, think, respond?

There are no rules, except to do what feels right at the time. And right now? I don't know.

All i can be sure of is that my Mother and my sister will wake up in a few hours, and be acutely aware of his absence. Over here, i shall miss him (as i have all week i've been here, oddly). But i've got a project to finish, bags to pack, and flights to catch home. Dad's birthday this year will be a few hours shorter, does that make it actually different? Who knows. I've had 2 long birthdays, 32 and 29 hours long. They were nothing special...

Wish you were here Dad.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Dad, books, Starbucks, and Americans

One of things that joined Dad and me was a love of reading. We'd share books and not infrequently buy the same one and end up bringing it to share and get the "nope, read it!" response.

So one of the less obvious ways I miss him is literature. Dad didn't have a great love of America (I often told him, "I don't like Americans either Dad; but then again, I've not met one I didn't like". And that's true, the global image of the 300lb yank in bermuda shorts and hawai'ian shirt failing to comprehend a foreign language and foreign currency is stereotypically wrong, but out there.

Dad also deplored the rise and rise of the "Mall". Here in Lexington the area of Hamburg seems to be one extended Mall over a few square miles. But there is a Barnes and Noble. Big corp they may be, but it's also a temple to the printed word (and of course there are others - bigger or better - to be found). B&N have been holding events this week to encourage schoolkids to buy books and get into reading, and that's a wonderful gift, if accepted.

And finally Dad intensely disliked Starbucks' inability just to serve him a simple coffee.

So as I'm sitting in the Starbucks franchise at Barnes and Noble in Lexington, Kentucky; that gives me a lot to think about.

Although Dad never came this way, I think (in the end) he'd have liked this place; and knowing that simultaneously gives me pleasure; and sadness for all the books we won't share anymore...

#iPad and #iTunes - why i am giving up on films. #fail

I am now giving up viewing films on my iPad. I have a blog in preparation on the experience of a windows person with their first Apple device, but in the meantime, having tried to download 6 films to watch on flights, and had 4 fail with iTunes having to sort out refunds, i am giving up.

Either the iTunes infrastructure is no good for films, or the support desk is not good enough at *really* sorting it out.

In frustration, Peter

Get out of gaol with a failed windows client VPN setup

I (perhaps foolishly) built a new laptop a few hours before travelling to the US for some client work.  It arrived 5:30 pm (on a pre 10am delivery!!), and I was up until 1:30 doing all the setup.  the next morning I was up bright and early (well early) to travel.
On arrival today, I found that I could not VPN from the machine with my (non-Domain Admin) account.  I won't bore you with all the testing I tried, but I did find a get out.
1) Login as domain admin (or similar)
2) connect VPN
3) Switch users
4) login as user
5) although the user cannot see the VPN, it is there "under the covers" and connections back to base worked fine
A victory for lateral thinking!

And after just a few minutes

We're over the coastline and leaving it all behind...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

It's a shame, this doesn't do it justice

And it isn't green, it isn't flat

And we're about an hour or too late for the light :-(

And the camera on the phone is somewhat challenged!

No Peter, pinch zoom doesn't work here...

Greenland from x,000 feet

After cloud for over an hour, the skies clear and the pristine snow is revealed

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hmm water and electricity #TEE10

What could possibly go wrong....

Nice one #Lavazza and #Berlin

Just had one at the restaurant, so didn't try this; but a vast improvement i should think over the cheap and cheerful Nescafe machines on display at other stations.
Next time i'm passing I'll remember.

Nollendorf station.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

This #TEE10 convention centre is huge

And we're only in the southern half with 7,000 delegates...

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The 7/7 inquest and radios

I've been keeping a weather eye on the inquest, and was surprised to hear about the radio communication troubles.

I'm surprised, because as far back as the Moorgate disaster 35 years ago, the authorities knew there were issues. The Kings Cross fire's_Cross_fire 12 years later had similar problems.

Why after so many deaths and reports into these issues was nothing achieved?

Hotel weights and measures

1mm - the minimum clearance around the bed
1kC - the maximum range in temperature of the shower
£450 - the acceptable rate per MB for Hotel WiFi
£15 - the minimum reasonable cost per bottle of water supplied to the room
By the lift - a quiet location
7:15 - sufficiently close to 8:00 for your alarm call
17.4kB/sec - Super Fast broadband connnection
By the car park entrance - alternative quiet location
2 - a wide range of pillow choice
€12 - a reasonable charge for laundering socks
€17.50 - bargain charge for 2 boiled eggs and a slice of ham for breakfast
45minutes - close to the City centre
6:30am - reasonable time for room service to knock on your door to see if you have left for the day
2 - sufficient hangers in the wardrobe
1 - copious supply of electricity sockets
1st floor overlooking the main road by the lift and the car park entrance - the quietest room in the hotel

#TEE10 Keynotes and how not to do them

if you keep a weather eye on my twitter stream ( you may have noticed i got a bit annoyed this afternoon at TechEd Berlin.

This was because of the keynote. When Brad turned up in suit and tie, i knew we were
in for a repeat of the 2009 disaster that was (now departed to Nokia) Stephen Elop's keynote. I could go on for ages, but i'll summarise instead:

1) Keynotes at conferences have been paid for by the delegates in some way. They have certainly given up their precious time to attend the conference, and expect value back from Microsoft for so doing. At a cost of €1895 for the conference, each session is about €75. I like to get value for that.
2) Keynotes have (traditionally) been exciting. They have brought a genuine WOW into the day, and kickstarted the conference such that everyone feels energised and ready to go.
3) Keynotes have been timed to the start of the day, so rather than meander into the conference you'd want to turn up, get your freebie (if there was one), and see something you've not seen before (the South African drumming especially comes to mind).

This keynote repeated last years failure - Microsoft clearly have not learned from the maxim that you have to remember the past, else you are condemned to repeat it. It failed on the criteria above as:
1) This was not value for money, i did not come out (and many others did not) feeling it was €75 well spent. In fact i came out thinking i'd wasted an opportunity to better plan my conference.
2) There was no excitement, nothing new, no electrifying demo
3) The keynote fizzed out. At the end of the day people left to go and do something better. This keynote was clearly timed to be able to broadcast to the widest possible community (most of whom HAVE NOT PAID for it) including the US. Brad was talking to the suits outside the room not the golfs and t's in the room.

Finally, i was pretty active on twitter during the keynote. It was interesting to note the large number of tweets coming from Redmond (and other locations) staffers who were clearly deluded enough (or encouraged enough) to cheerlead from the sidelines.

Microsoft, get your house in order. Make the next TechEd Keynote 100% relevant to the people in the room, and let others watch because they are interested, not because they are the true audience. Make sure delegates go away:
1) fizzing with excitement for the rest of the week
2) glad to have been there
3) inspired to do something when they get home
And that the online viewers really wished they had been there.

Repeat the same mistake next time, and i'll know for sure you don't care about me as a delegate, and that may mean I (and others) may give up coming. I can watch a lousy keynote from home; and have nicer coffee.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Ye Gods the bags have got smaller and cheaper! #TEE10

But frankly that's a good thing. My wife doesn't really understand why I want to keep 19 previous TEE bags :-)

And to be honest I'll never have 20 laptops to carry around.

#TEE10 Apple 1 Microsoft 0

At Tech*Ed there is a wireless network. With 7000 delegates and staff (possibly more) it's a network i would not like to have to supply. It can get a bit flaky. This morning they are still tuning the setup i should think and the organisers prefer not to have a strong signal in the session rooms to put people off using their devices.

Well, the new iPad has maintained the connection so far, the winmo6.1 phone has connected but been unable to shift a single byte... Maybe I should upgrade to Windows Phone 7...


Under a lowering sky, and the lightest of showers, Tech*Ed 2010 is under way

#TEE10 prizes for bag contents

A) for a tempting goody and probably the strongest draw to a stand Dell. For the single glove and a "get the other at our stand". It's a tad cold here in Berlin, and if you did not bring gloves, you may well be tempted

B) for chutzpah Nokia. For advertising a non Windows Phone 7 device at the Tech*Ed immediately after the winmo7 launch. A bold move :-)

C) Microsft for cutting the cloth accordingly. I've already commented on the bag this year (although that blog entry seems delayed in my phone as the day 1 WiFi seems flaky) but given the choice between a financially secure Tech*Ed and yet another smart laptop bag, i know what i would choose

Now, to Exchange 2010 DR and HA planning :-)

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Nice afternoon!

Well it was a few days ago when I took this :)

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Honestly #NHS

Have we really reached the stage where this kind of thing is needed on Hospital ward because trained caring staff wouldn't know otherwise.

PS please get my Ma some food that she can actually eat...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Oh well, there's always book to read

Seems like powering it off and on again ain't going to work this time...

Friday, October 22, 2010

Tech*Ed Berlin 2010 - PDC sessions track has been released

The PDC sessions track is now released.  The content team is adding some of the sessions from the Professional Developers Conference (PDC) (being held in Redmond next week), to the TechEd Europe event.
For any developers feeling that Tech*Ed has too much of an IT Pro focus, this should redress the balance!  Go to the sessions page and filter by Track = “PDC”.

Tech*Ed Berlin 2010 - Connecting With Fellow Attendees

Microsoft recently announced the Tech•Ed Europe 2010 Delegate Directory

So, let people know you're attending the event.  It's a chance to make connections people with similar skills and experience and expand your professional network.

If you have registered, then sign on, and sign up.  There are many people I meet at Tech*Ed, and it'd be nice to make contact before the show to organise a beer or 3!  Too often I bump into them on the Friday, sometimes even at the airport - too late then.

The directory is to be published in October, so sign up soon.

Note, if you didn't join the directory during registration you can still sign up by returning to the registration site and accessing the Returning Services Menu, Attendee Directory.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Tech∙Ed Europe 2010 - Sessions & Speakers Details

A while back the speakers and sessions were announced, if you've lost track of the details - then head over to the session builder, not only can you see what is on, you can build your own schedule.  A full list of sessions by track can be found here: TEE10 Technical Tracks

Don’t forget about the Pre-Conference Seminars on 8 Novemberas well!

Registration is still open for the event – so it's not too late to join 1000's of IT Pros and Developers to learn more about the latest and forthcoming technology from Microsoft.

Brad Anderson to Keynote Tech∙Ed Europe 2010

Brad's the Corporate Vice President, Management & Security Division  so I guess if you are a developer you might be worried about the keynote content this year, but to be honest - I expect Microsoft to take the Keynote far more seriously this year after last year's significant walkout during (the now departed for Nokia) Stephen Elop's.  Admittedly, timing the keynote for the end of the day whilst a good idea - was in this instance bad planning as that night was the celebration of the Mauerfall - 20 years since the Berlin Wall came down and a spectacular (but damp) domino fall of wall-like segments - you can see a bit of it here: Official Mauerfall site from 2009

And there's a mass of videos of the event here Google search results for Mauerfall 2009 videos

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tech*Ed Berlin November 2010

Even if you are going to Tech*Ed Berlin next month, you may have missed the Channel 9 videos about the planning and expectations for the week.

They are still available for viewing here Channel 9 Tech*Ed Videos

But it's far too late to win the free ticket!

Tech∙Ed Europe - free TechNet Professional Subscription

If you've not gone to Tech*Ed in recent years then you may not know that Microsoft have handed out a free TechNet Plus Subscription for a few years.  This year the freebie changes slightly as it's now called the Professional Subscription (but still costs about €275).

But the content is the same, and what's more, you still get the 2 complimentary support calls to Microsoft Support.  If you're a freelancer like me, these can be a great "get out of gaol free" cards.  As much as you like to think you can solve any problem, sometimes it's better to call, and (other than call charges) this is free. 

And of course you get access to reams of software to evaluate and try out (just don't run your business on it!).

You can see more about what the subscription offers at TechNet subscriptions

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Taking on the unknown: #VMware 4.1 upgrade and how to move from 32bit to 64bit vCentre host and keep your data

The internal setup I run here at Corylus towers is a largely standard VMware ESX installation of SME proportions but with Enterprise style licencing.  One of the anachronisms is that as a test bed rather than “full production” I have the vCentre installed away from the cluster.  In this way if my testing borks it, then I can still manage a recovery.
In addition, having a legacy from 3.0 days the vCentre box is a 32bit windows with 32bit MSDE (again, self-contained for manageability and recovery).
Well, now that 4.1 is around, the vCentre box has to be on a 64bit windows environment.  So an in place upgrade is not possible.  So I checked out the notes from VMware and found only this to cover my situation: Migrating an existing vCentre Server database to 4.1 using the Data Migration Tool.  So the migration looks interesting, but it’s only going to apply to a limited number of clients.  So I thought I would try to manually migrate the box.
First up, was to create a clean Windows 2008 R2 64bit box.  This done (and a snapshot taken for quick restarting of the upgrade process), I thought I’d try installing vCentre 4.0 update 2 on the machine first and see what plays.  I get the MSDE installation, and then with Windows Update, get it patched.  9.0.4053 is the SP3 version number.  On top of that goes the Management Studio Express Console so that I can do backups etc.
Now I know that the MSDE is 32bit, but it is listed as a supported Database for the vCentre at Upgrading to ESX 4.1 and vCenter Server 4.1 best practices  and given that the source database from my old vCentre machine is MSDE, this might make the issue a bit easier to work with.  I then decided to remove vCentre and vOrchestrator so that the vCentre installation was clean and then restored my current VCDB and UMDB.
VCDB restored OK, and then UMDB was attempted – because of the transition from 32bit host to 64bit host I had to change the database paths accordingly [program files (x86)] but the restores went fine.  To satisfy myself, I took a look at a few tables, and all seemed well.  Finally, I created the 64bit System DSN (make sure to create it with the Native Client and not the SQL Server client) to the vCentre database and was ready to go.  Note the DSN should also have the default database changed from Master to VIM_VCDB.
You might also want to create the appropriate AD user account for the installation and grant that the necessary Database permissions (and account) in MSDE so that
So, mount the ISO for 4.1 and go!
It’s the usual VMware CD/DVD experience at first, choose vCentre Server and then go for a nap as the installer “prepares”, then you get a welcome screen (and then take another nap whilst the Next button is greyed out).  Then be prepared to be amazed at the list of patents VMware wants to protect, then you start doing the real stuff.
You pick up the DSN that you created earlier, and then get the chance to tell the install to upgrade the database (you even have to confirm that you took a backup!) and then eventually click Go.  At this point the database is upgraded and you can get another coffee, maybe a pizza and sit back and relax – my choice was Tora! Tora! Tora!
Later that day…. I read this: Upgrading to vCenter 4.1 with bundled SQL Express Edition – database migration fails and decided I’d probably taken the correct route

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Late sun from Canterbury's city wall

Taken last week on our hols, Mrs B pointed out the sky behind me, a quick turn, point and shoot.

Quite pleased really! And we'd finally managed to get a couple of christening presents we'd been trying to get for weeks.

A good day (the Shepherd Neame tour in the afternoon was a definite aid)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Is this an #Airfix Anorak moment?

I was browsing in a model shop today when I found both old and new tooled versions of (A01071 & A01071A) of the 1:72 Supermarine Spitfire Mk1a. So I bought them both.

Inspecting the kits the detail in the new one is incredible - lines are crisp and clear (but practically speaking probably way out of scale). The number of decals is much increased - you even get red decals for the gun ports on the wing (what's wrong with paint?).

I'll take a while to finish both models, but the old one certainly need tweaking as the upper wing sections don't fit at all well. Milliput to the rescue!!

Sunday, September 05, 2010

There'll be more later!

Just had to post this photo from yesterday's amazing air display at Duxford.  They equalled their record with a 16 Spitfire formation.
Two other great facts of the day:
  • all 5 UK based airworthy 2 seat Spitfires flew in the display
  • a formation of 4 out of the 6 airworthy Hurricanes were in the air, a fifth came over with the Battle Of Britain flight

Friday, August 27, 2010

Postcard from Dad

I looked at this postcard from Dad on the fridge this morning.  I wish I’d done so it before I wrote his eulogy! (  It gives a great snapshot of him
Weather: wet, windy, cold
Food: excellent
Wine: better
‘nuff said.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Idea for vCentre improvement #VMware #vCentre

I use vCentre all the time, amongst the VM’s I have a bunch of desktops for development and even my accounting package.  Keeps them separate, and keeps them clean.
But I have a thing… Whenever you change the power state of a VM vCentre asks you to confirm.  This is not unreasonable, but I’d love to make that optional by VM (or even resource pool).  Then when I accidentally suspend my Exchange server the interrupt will generate real attention rather than (potentially) the “of course” reaction that leads to problems.
So VMware, how about it?

The curious case of the Radio Interview (and the things that can happen from an innocent tweet!)

Some time ago (mid June) someone (I think @ruskin147 or Rory Cellan-Jones of Auntie Beeb) re-tweeted a request from @ChrisMason for help in getting input to some work on the experiences of the rural broadband user. Ever keen to get my message across (that the rural community needs ADSL as much as the city dweller, and that the rural communities are seriously disadvantaged and uncared for by the telecoms industry) I tweeted Chris and we set up a dialogue. Over the course of the next few hours we exchange emails, and then phone calls discussing the issues at stake, particularly in the context of the government’s impending announcement on the “2Mb for all” policy.

After listening to my rant (!) Chris decided that I’d be a useful sound bite in the forthcoming article on Radio 5Live.

Within a few days the government made the announcement and Chris and I were in touch to fix up an appointment to record a few words. In the end as I was attending a business breakfast in Cambridge, we agreed to meet there – Chris was coming from London, and then moving onto rural Suffolk to spend some time with a BT engineer to see the practical issues in rural ADSL.

Setting the interview up was an interesting process! We sat down in 3 or 4 places only to find that peripheral noises were likely to be a problem both in recording and in editing – I’d not given too much thought to the latter but Chris explained that some noises (especially music) would distract the listener and potentially lead them to listen to the background (and hear the cuts in the edit), rather than listen closely to my dulcet (not!) tones. We eventually relocated one last time to a balcony which had some quiet motor noise in the background, but this was better that the crisp clear notes of the wineglasses being set out in the restaurant!

I’ve done interviews a number of times – but all on video. Each of these experiences had me (mostly irrationally) edgy and nervous, and was not what I would call pleasant and easy. They’ve mostly been done for Microsoft Tech*Ed conferences, and are therefore to a closed community (but highly expert) so my testimony could be harshly judged. But the sheer fact of a camera (or more than one) quite literally in your face is something I just don’t feel comfortable with.

With Chris it was so much simpler – no director, cameraman, soundman etc. Just Chris, and his state of the art microphone with built in digital sound recorder. Immediately it’s a more natural situation and more comfortable to deal with – just a conversation (which draws on the previous discussions).

Before starting Chris ran a couple of recordings to check that a) his microphone was really recording OK and b) to ensure that the background noises were sufficiently in the background to avoid the editing traps, then we were off.

Chris was impressive in his questioning – at no time was I led in any direction, but open questions were asked which allowed me to get across my frustrations, and make points that I wanted. A couple of times I found myself just go down a cul-de-sac without any idea how to reverse out, so we just stopped and then started again. Inevitably there were things that I forgot, and Chris helpfully reminded me of my previous comments, and we got the statements down. But the most interesting points for me in the experience (as opposed to the subject under discussion), were the “when we discussed that before…” observations from Chris when I completely forgot a really good point, and even more so – Chris has a great ability to keep thinking further ahead in the conversation to keep it going smoothly rather than stop, check a list, and then kick off. There’s a lot more to pre-recorded interviews than I thought!

During the day Chris had to go to Suffolk to see Mr BT, and then edit his footage (?) and then transfer to the studio for transmission. Very kindly Chris also kept me in the loop to tell me when the interview would air, and late in the afternoon I got the confirmation that I would be used to cut into the Minister’s (Jeremy Hunt) interview at 5 to put certain points to him. Earlier in the show would be the BT engineer segment, and then later a BT spokesman would be on. Fame (of a sort) at last!

My wife and I were organising a car rally that evening, so whilst en route we listened to it live and I found myself substantially unembarrassed by the sound of my own voice (register your surprise in the comments!), I could hear where the editing was done, but it was surprising to hear three separate parts of the conversation edited together to give one much more focussed and pointed observation to which the minister had to respond.

Completing the service, Chris then emailed me the segments (mine, and both BT people) so that I can embarrass myself in perpetuity.



Even better, Chris has released the segments as audio boos, and you can listen here:

BT Engineer

The Minister and me!

BT Spokesman

As for (some of!) my views, well:

  • The rural broadband gap is really bad and getting worse. In the old days of modems there was a gap between city centre (say 56.6Kbps) and rural lines (say 28.8). But overall the difference was a factor of 2. With the basic broadband of 512Kb and some providers delivering 50Mb, the factor is now 100. Content cannot be delivered assuming one or the other. I would like to see some sort of rule of thumb that requires providers to ensure that the divide is no more than (say) a factor of 10. This would mean they would HAVE to improve the rural experience before delivering insane speeds in city centres.
  • Working from home is normal, and the government wants us to do more. The biggest environment impact is out of town people driving into the cities and towns for work. We generally have no choice because the public transport options are so rubbish.
  • Information technology businesses are, by their very nature, more able to work in distant locations – yet the Broadband structures specifically work against that
  • Consumption of high data amounts is now the norm – yet provision is not up to the demand. Training and education courses require webinars or video downloads – who’d do that when the download will take many hours?
  • Patching (and waiting) – everyone needs to update and patch their computers. Yet if a full patch is measured in GB rather than MB, then a) they are discouraged, and b) they will be exposed to the vulnerability for longer.
  • Remote working and support for customers – another ideal ‘work from home’ setup – again frustrated.
  • Opportunity for villages to do information businesses in place
  • SLA’s – there are no proper SLA’s in place for broadband provision. You lose your phone line and ADSL, and who knows when it will come back. This needs to improve so that any business can assure themselves of their connectivity.
  • Finland – has made ADSL 2MB a standard service. Alongside water, electricity, gas etc. A mature response.
  • And when sewage or gas is installed into rural locations – why is nothing done to piggy back the infrastructure and deliver a better broadband or mobile phone experience?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

@MarksandSpencer Animal Welfare standards #fail

Last week we were returning from a family get together and popped into a Marks and Spencer food hall. Paying a bit more attention to the ham and bacon, we realised that the “M&S assured” statement on the pork products did not actually have a clear statement of what the assurance was about.

So we asked. The shopfloor staff did not know, so they called the manager. He did not know. He asserted that the farms used were government assured and therefore he did not know what that involved as it was not M&S policy. This was clearly inappropriate as the labels clearly stated "M&S Assured Farm/Pork". Besides, even if it were just government policies, it would be useful to know what it meant.

So I used the feedback form on M&S's website to ask this (with a pre-amble not reproduced here):
"We are anxious to determine whether the standards that M&S use take into consideration the welfare of the animal, or just the animal products after slaughter. Either way your staff SHOULD know what the ruddy labelling means."

The answer came through:

Thank you for contacting us about our M&S assured farm pork.

As you may be aware, animal welfare is a very high priority for Marks & Spencer and we pride ourselves on our high standards and quality of our animal products and suppliers.

We are continually receiving feedback concerning this area and please be assured that your comments are important to us and will be passed to our Animal Welfare and Ethical Trading Team who are responsible for the progression of this aspect of our company. They will be very interested in your comments and look at how this can be implemented in to their future planning and carefully consider the points you have raised.

We do have a large amount of information regarding our welfare standards, product sourcing, and food policies on the Marks & Spencer website under the section entitled 'About our food', just go to our website at

I hope this information helps and thank you for taking the time to get in touch.

Please be aware that this email has been sent from a ‘no reply’ email address.

If we can help you any further, please contact us via our website. You can do this by clicking the following link and selecting 'in store service and feedback':

Alternatively, you can call us on 0845 302 1234 where we will be happy to assist you further.

Kind Regards

As a search on M&S’s website failed to get a hit on welfare standards, my reply went thus:

This was your answer about pork welfare standards.

You'll notice that it doesn't actually tell me either:
a) what the standard is
b) where the standard is to be found on your website (i have tried)
c) how the standard compares with RSPCA freedom food

A search for Welfare Standards on your website produces 0 results.

Care to try again?

Monday, August 09, 2010

NHS Data Confidentiality #Fail

I have been on an interesting and lengthy journey through the NHS IT project and the data that is (or is not) held on me. In 2007 my wife and I lodged with the GP our objection to our medical data being uploaded from the GP practice to a central NHS database. Given the ability of National Government bodies to lose personal information I wanted to have as little as possible to be lost. This was all accepted and done, and then the Summary Care Records farce began. If you want to read more try these:
The big optout campaign
NHS Statement on opting out
Computer Weekly’s view on matters
And their report on Janet Street-Porter’s article

Frankly I think that it is more likely that either
a) an inaccurate SCR will cause my death or injury, or
b) my medical data will be leaked to someone who has no need to read it
than my being injured/killed as a result of no SCR being held.

Think about it – when you arrive in A&E you’re mostly conscious, or have conscious friends/family with you. If neither occur, then emergency life saving procedures rarely run the risk of killing you with the wrong thing, yet an inaccurate SCR (and there are reports of significant inaccuracies - I've seen numbers like 1 in 10 bandied around) will be taken as Gospel and used.  I'd much rather the well understood and exercised defensive A&E practices kept me alive.  That link also includes the observation that there is "No evidence of safer care"
Nor is it clear who is responsible for errors and ensuring that the records are corrected .

If you have a serious allergy (some of my family members are allergic to penicillin) then an SCR will not prevent A&E killing you with the wrong substance if you are outside the scope of the SCR (say Ireland, Scotland, Europe, Asia.... anywhere outside England & Wales in fact).
Besides, really, if you have a serious allergy or similar then wear a medical alert bracelet!

But back to the point – the website detailing what can and cannot happen with your records seems to have a contradiction at its core.
On the page detailing Access to medical records  it is stated that "Access to a patient's demographic record does not require a legitimate relationship."
Yet, when you click on the link from the words "Legitimate Relationship" you go to (surprise suprise) Legitimate Relationships page  you get the statements
"A legitimate relationship (LR) is an electronic record stored on the Spine. It details the care relationship between a patient and a healthcare professional (or group of healthcare professionals).
It is used to restrict access so only the healthcare professionals involved in the patient's care can access clinical information"

So which is it?  Can anyone read my records, or only closely involved medical staff – I’ve asked, maybe you should too; and in the meantime maybe you should opt out of the SCR process too.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Dear @Google, just how much Wi-Fi data did you take; and did you decrypt?

Firstly – please note I am happy to be educated about Wi-Fi in the comments!
We recently visited my sister in law and family (see previous article for why); and as I wanted to do a bit of data work on my phone, I asked if I could hook myself up to their Wi-Fi (that I setup a few years ago when they first got it).
We were planning a couple of journeys so I fired up Google Maps and was then surprised to find that my location was showing as accurate within 40m, but in totally the wrong part of town.  Then a penny dropped.
My sister in law and husband moved this year.
So Google had recognised the Wi-Fi data that they had taken on the street view crawl.  Now I don’t profess to be a Wi-Fi cryptography and protocol expert; but:
  • my in-laws' network does not broadcast SSID
  • and is encrypted with WPA2-PSK
  • the data take by Google was allegedly very small (just how long was the Street View car in range anyway?).
So how on earth did they get enough useable information in such a short space of time to be able to get a big enough fingerprint to geo-locate me?

The case of the disappearing Windows Mobile battery charge

A couple of days ago I discovered that just a few hours into the day my phone’s battery was already down below 50% charge.  For the remainder of that day, and the following day it continued to chew battery charge like it was going out of fashion.  Needless to say with the work I was doing at the time I could not do much about it, just grin and bear it and use every opportunity to top up.
Yesterday I was sat in a Lincolnshire auction rooms with my wife watching over 400 lots go over the space of 3 or 4 hours.  Some of these were lots from her parents’ estate that she and her fellow executors were selling, but many were not, and quite rapidly it got tedious.
So I set to on the phone.
Whilst generally looking around I checked ActiveSync (it connects to my Exchange Server) and found it syncing the last 2 appointments (it was about 1097/1099 done).  So I killed it, when it failed to die, I soft reset the phone (a common Windows Mobile diagnostic trick!) and synchronised again.  This time (I have forgotten the numbers) it was 2 short, but then the total and the number completed increased by 2, and then again.  It seemed to be in a massive loop always trying to synchronise 2 more appointments.
So I thought I’d clean up the calendar – this I did by removing it from the Synchronisation list, letting the phone delete all the calendar data, and then recreate the link.  This time the synchronisation got to 395/397, but then it jumped to 397/399, and then 399/401.  I could see this would not end, so stopped the sync.
As all my data is held primarily on Exchange and the phone has no original content, I knew I could delete the connection and start again, just to take diagnosis to a second level.  So the Exchange connection was deleted – the content deleted (this takes a while when you are an Outlook junkie!!), and the phone left blank of Exchange data.
I then re-created the line, connected and downloaded email, then contacts, then tasks.  These all synchronised fine, so finally I added in the calendar synchronisation again – annoyingly the “all but 2 appointments” fault recurred so I stopped and removed calendar; and left it like that – I could fix it tonight.  My resolution was to wait until I got back to the office and then move my calendar items out with Outlook and then move them back in until the error recurred.  My feeling was that there were 2 corrupt appointments causing this problem.
However, later that day, over coffee and cake, curiosity got hold of me and I (to my wife’s rolling eyes reaction!) played around a bit.  For some reason (not really sure why – but it seemed like a good idea at the time!) I decided to scroll through the empty calendar.  To my surprise I found 2 recurring appointments in the diary – these were recently created (a week or so ago), and of course as the calendar was deleted, should not have been there.  So I took notes of the contents and deleted the 2 items.  It seemed too much of a co-incidence to ignore.
Then came the acid test – I re-established the calendar link in ActiveSync and synchronised.  It worked! 395/395 appointments transferred.  And no errors.
That meant of course that my evening appointment with Outlook was now cancelled and I would not have to contemplate the rebuild of the phone from a factory reset as a possible diagnostic step.  Hurrah (twice over).
Of course, I’ve yet to see the data package bill for the damn phone continually trying to synchronise those 2 appointments over a 36 hour period L  But at least I know my sync is working properly again.

Monday, August 02, 2010


High speed chopping and a (so I realised later) a lubrication layer of water under the chopping board, do not make a good combination!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

How not to win customers... SMC Removals of Sandy #fail

We live in a quiet lane in a small hamlet, but unfortunately just outside the house is a short spur of public road which is often used by visitors to our neighbours (and lost drivers) to execute a three-point turn.  Generally it’s not a problem – but when dirty great lorries do it, at stupid o’clock, with the musical accompaniment of the reversing beeps it can be annoying.
Occasionally it can be *really* bloody annoying.  When drivers cannot manage their vehicles, and either do 15 point turns, or get jammed in the middle of a turn we often feel it necessary to nip out and survey their works and ensure that they do not either a) knock down our wall or b) drive over the planted verge that is in front of the wall.
Last week a removal lorry got almost completely locked in across the lane, and we had to go out and keep an eye on things.   In doing almost completely static 3 point turns they managed to churn up the tarmac.

So I thought I’d use their web presence to give them our feedback, which was a bit pointed but then we did want them to mend the damage to the road surface:
“We prevented your driver from knocking down our wall, and corrected their impression of a garden verge as being "just weeds"; however what remediation do you intend for the (albeit mildly) churned up tarmac on the lane outside our house where your driver… …was only able to move by turning the wheels on the spot…”

It was with some amusement that we received this back:
“It was actuall me who was driving the vehicle on the day in question.
Whilst I appreciate your wife being exrtremely irate that we came close to your wall, it was I believe reasonable to assume that the ground outside of your wall was not part of your garden.
I did apologise to your wife at the time for this oversight.
With regards to churning up tarmac, I would have thought that the last people to lay tarmac on that piece of road were the Romans in 55BC, and I am absolutely amazed that you are trying to seek some sort of recompense for what I saw was at best a dirt track, and in the short space of time we were there we saw large dumper and building trucks going up and down the lane.”

I don’t see this as a logical part of their “friendly and professional service”, I’d dispute the word extremely.  And of course the word remediation has nothing to do with recompense – we just want the surface re-instated.

Equally tickling is the dual assertion that the road surface is both dirt and tarmac (which was invented about 1500 years after the Romans left!).

I’d say it’d be better to mollify complainants than discharge aggressive, factually incorrect and facetious replies to potential customers.  Pissing people off is never a good B2B or B2C tactic

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Why a lot of non-jobs should go

As you cannot fail to be aware, the UK is going through a massive planning exercise to remove large sums of expenditure from the public sector.  It's not nice, but it's a necessary part of getting government spending down to lower levels so that the country can live within its means.

I have a suggestion.  In many local councils and government bodies there is a swathe of jobs in recently popular areas.  The jobs are a declaration by the body that they take an issue seriously and are taking steps to sort it.  I'm thinking of jobs in environmental, diversity, promotion of recycling, you know the sort of thing I mean - jobs that pay £30-50,000 a year (along with the associated employers and benefits costs).

Compare this with the real world of manufacturing which is part of an economy that actually generates money for the country rather than just spending it (OK that's perjorative, but not unfair).  There, as far back as the 80's Quality departments were under pressure as manufacturing costs had to be clawed back for businesses to survive.  The thinking then (and some of this came from the Japanese manufacturing world), was that everyone has a responsibility in the company for quality.  It wasn't a bolt on feature that came after the widget came off the line - it had to be built in, every member of staff had to understand their role in ensuring that quality was to the necessary standards.

I propose the same for all these jobs in local and national government and organisations like the BBC.

Any job that relates to a policy that should be embraced by all staff, and acted upon universally should be removed and those responsibilities transferred to all staff as part of their normal job requirements.

So for instance: promoting equality in the workplace.  Everyone in any workplace should know that they are required to be fair to all people irrespective of race, creed, colour, religion, sexual orientation, shoe size (OK, that's a joke).  Anyone failing to do that should be processed by the organisation's hierarchy as a natural part of employment.  It does not need a flotilla of staff within the organisation to ensure this.
Equally for an organisation that requires this of it's clientele (a local council for instance), the staff should also be able, trained, and required to ensure that the treatment of the clientele, and (if necessary) the behaviour of the clientele is appropriate and reasonable.  We don't need a bunch of highly paid staff to ensure that this happens.

The bottom line is that government funded bodies need to learn to integrate their policies and standards into day to day life, and stop employing expensive staff who only create policies and procedures that self justify, and then create a further workload to ensure that the incumbents positions are secure.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The non-delights of being a @virginmedia customer, and their feeble approach to security

Now i don’t suppose anyone out there would expect an ISP to deliver a 100% performance given that a lot of their delivery is over third party (BT) equipment.  But I do expect a reasonable, informed and effective response to problems.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t live in the vain hope of getting that, but I do expect it!
My recent experience started on Monday when my secondary ADSL service (from virginmedia – a hangover from my time as an ntlworld customer in the 90’s) stopped working.  The line is used to give me some redundancy, and (perversely given the physical BT lines come on the same circuit) a better performance than my Nildram business service.  Because of this I use the connection for more domestic surfing to keep the load off the business network.
To give Broadband some credit, I assumed there were issues in my network or router for some time before I discovered by checking the virginmedia website that they had some ADSL provision issues.  My router was showing a connection, but had no IP or IP settings.  In about an hour, all came back and all was well.
On Tuesday, about 6pm the same thing happened.  After the first experience I hit the virginmedia site straight away and discovered they had another major outage.  So I gave them some time, and then tried intermittently to get the service (by rebooting the router, and occasionally trying the “IT Crowd” switch it off and on treatment).  By midnight it was still out, so I tried calling the helpline.  On the first occasion I spoke to someone who seemed a) 8000 miles away, b) sounded like they were 8000 miles away.  I asked her to turn up the volume (my phone was already on max), and during the process she cut me off.  So I went through the same tiresome menu options again (at *MY* cost), to get through to an agent who cut me off as they answered.
By take 3 they were clearly receiving a lot of calls (at midnight?) and I was asked what type of music I wanted to listen to on hold – not a promising question to be asked.  But I chose, and then a couple of tracks came in, to be repeated, and repeated.  At this point having wasted a substantial number of my earth minutes I gave up.
Two days later (and despite a tweet to the virginmedia account) I still had no connection.  So I tried calling again.  This time I got through to an engineer who on getting the details decided he should put me through to someone higher up the tech support chain.  I guess my use of the phrase “your DHCP service seems to be failing” might have over-stretched his technical skills.
So onto the next engineer – he clearly knew what he was talking about in terms of the technical background to the problem; but I was rather bemused by the requirement to connect to the router by a wired connection.  Eventually he accepted that I could connect using my mobile phone browser as I was able to give him the answers he wanted (about information on the router’s webpage) from the phone.  (Although this did come back to bite me later on when I tried to type in the password field!)
At this point (after checking some values were as they should be) things took some interesting turns…
  • He asked me to retype my password into the router.  And read me the password from their files!
  • When that failed, my password was changed, and then I had to type it in and it all came to life.  However as it was doing so he put me on hold.  After waiting 2 minutes to see why he could not talk to me I gave up, and hung up the phone – it was working and why should I help fund virginmedia further?
So this all begs some questions:
  • Why do virginmedia keep password information in clear text – obviously some customers with weak password policies may use the same password on more than one site (not recommended I know, but…) and therefore a data leak may lead an identity attack, or compromise other information or website access
  • Why can virginmedia staff change the password and then tell you they have done it – surely a good protocol would be to explain they think they need to do it, and ask if would be OK?
  • Why does changing the account password mean that their entire technical infrastructure will suddenly let my router connect and allow me to use the service?
  • Was there some deeper technical problem earlier in the week where client passwords were compromised or lost?
  • Why did the password change significantly remove a hardening approach by removing all upper case letters?
  • If a company offers a service with a helpline that costs the client, then why does it need 2 minutes of press 1 for a, 2 for b etc. to get through to the right line.  If you have that structure, why not give it out with the number and allow customers to route more quickly to the technician, thus reducing the cost?
  • If you are going to cut customers off – do you not have a moral duty to reimburse the costs the customer has lost by having to make the call more than once?
  • If you have had serious infrastructure issues – why are you not offering apologies to customers and refunds for a service paid for, but not received?

Monday, July 12, 2010

How not to deliver and electronic forms service. #HMRC #fail

When someone dies you are obliged by UK to complete a number of forms for the HM Revenue and Customs.
Intelligently they have created the forms as interactive PDF’s so that you enter the details, and if there are figures to be calculated it does them for you.  However I think their testing was somewhat limited.  I was using Foxit 3 on Windows 7 64bit and it was an imperfect experience…
When you first open IHT206-2 you get this
OK, it sort of makes sense, but what am I supposed to do if either a) or b)?
Then when you click on your first field, up comes this beauty – 8 times
What’s more it does not even say where the input value is on the form (it’s before I typed anything in!).  When I look through the document it looks like random text has been inserted into the numeric fields.
So at this point I thought a call to the helpline might be worth it (the clue being in the name of the service).  Getting through fairly quickly I spoke to a helpline operator.  However… …when I describe the problem, I was offered
a)      A paper form in the post
b)      A call back from someone who could help me fill in the form
I wanted neither – I wanted to report a failed document.  Someone might be ringing me back…
Some hours later they did call.  It seems they regard the 32bit Adobe Reader world as the only thing in town and other options have not been considered, let alone tested.  In the meantime I’ve discovered and installed Foxit 4 and it works a treat.