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!