Sunday, October 22, 2006

Two Weeks To Go

The New York Marathon is in just 14 days. Today's run, the last long one at 22k before the big day, had me splashing through puddles for the bulk of it. Passers-by shake their heads in dismay wondering what kind of fruitcake would be out in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt in that kind of weather - torrential rain. Other runners, it seems, recognise a kindred spirit (fruitcake) and nod or say hello more frequently than usual. With my training all but done, it's either in me or it isn't. This time round, the second marathon this year, I've certainly down the distance, 651km since May 1st (versus 655 in the run up to London over the same period), but my pace is slower - my fastest half marathon was in Nottingham at just under 1h 47m, against 1h 41m (from memory) in Reading in March. Nottingham was definitely a tougher course, but I can't use that as an excuse as my average pace has been down on every run except the Nike 10k a couple of weeks ago when I ran my fastest 10k in about 8 years. Here's the monthly distance chart for the last 12 months And the monthly average pace graph for the same period Comparisons are a bit difficult - London came near the end of April, New York is at the start of November. But I ought to be hitting 5:45/km or faster this month and, apart from the Nike 10k, I'm at 6:00/km. Still I can live with that difference, this one isn't so much about the time or the finish quartile, it's about the fun and experience of running the streets of New York with no cars and with millions of people out to watch. I'm looking forward to it. If you haven't yet thought about sponsoring me, all contributions will be gratefully received by Macmillan Cancer Support at my JustGiving page.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Gullible info

Is this true or just another gullible story? The Software Publishing Association estimates that on average the chance of a software patch causing crashes or serious compatibility problems is seven times greater than the likelihood of running into the bug or security issue which the patch was intended to fix. If it's not true, it does what all the best gullible quotes do, makes you stop in your tracks and consider it possible. And, like the very best, if it isn't true, you want it to be. Which may go to show that I have no idea whether gullible is truly for the gullible or absolutely true stuff. I can live with either.

RIP Richard Duvall, co-founder of Egg

I met Richard only once, just a few months ago. He was wildly articulate and passionate about first Egg and then Zopa, his most recent creation. He spoke about the focus group sessions where the name "Egg" had been tested and where, consistently, it came out top with potential future customers, despite no one inside Prudential believing in it. I'd played around with Zopa, fascinated by the model and the managed exposure it seemed to offer lenders. His thinking was inspirational. Today I learned that cancer, the scourge of perhaps 1 in 3 of us, has taken him at the incredibly young age of 44. Cancer is a cruel, hardened, street fighter. The news stories say Richard's battle was brief and I hope, therefore, relatively painless. I have lost family and friends to the dreaded cancer, it's never easy. My thoughts are with his family and all those who knew him.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Crackberry Tax?

As if we needed further evidence that we shouldn't believe what we read in the press, except when the Daily Express does yet another front page of the Diana murder conspiracy, this week's fun suggestion was that HMRC would soon be checking eager employees' use of Blackberries to make sure that they weren't be used for personal email (God forbid - I do enough on them already). 'Twas The Sun that first aired this, suggesting that tax inspectors would perhaps confiscate your gadget and count the emails, levying tax accordingly. By today, the story had crossed to several papers including, if I'm not mistaken, the Independent and The Standard. HMRC, responding quicker than a mail flying through the ether from a blackberry, say "Garbage!" according to several sources, not least The Register.

Stock Tips, The Internet Way

You've got to read the odd spam email, every so often, just to see what's the latest thing. This one, picked entirely at random, had me wondering. It's sent as an image embedded in the mail rather than as text - I don't think I've seen that before. Plainly that seems to stop the spam filter in its tracks. Outlook is pretty good - I lose about 95% of incoming spam between runbox (at the server end) and outlook (client end). Anyway, here are some excerpts (I only wish I could add in all the colours used throughout the message): Get ARSS first thing Monday If you've been alive over the last few years you know that any stock can move given the right circumstances ...goes BOLISTIC! This is your chance to get in before it BLOWS Who even knew there was a stock with the ticker ARSS. I had to check, just to see if it was real (and also to make sure I was nowhere near when ARSS decided to BLOW). Needless to say, the chart doesn't make for pretty reading. It goes on, in plain text: The project work involved the expansion of the apron, the construction of an asphalt shoulder, associated drainage and electrical work and the replacement of airfield signage. That should mean something. php - FOR PERSONAL AND NON COMMERCIAL USE ONLY! He was joined by local students and scientists at the unveiling of the seismograph showcase at the Geological Survey of Canada. Monitor displays speed, distance, calories, and time to keep track of progress. There are still places in the Tampa Bay area that. Implant features circulo-trapezoidal neck design that allows for wide range of motion. Conformable, lightweight tape has passed primary skin irritation, cytotoxicity, and skin sensitization product safety testing and does not contain latex proteins. well enough to become a criminal. And then ends, fittingly, with: Is this a good idea or throwing good money after bad? how pathetically cute. com - all the latest news from EU. how pathetically cute. You can preserve your capital and jump back in when stocks begin moving up. I wonder if they spotted "throwing good money after bad" before they pasted in the random text?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Results.gov (the .us is silent of course)

The Bush Administration sounds fed up with criticism of its e-government initiatives - Congress has blocked funds proposed for several projects in the past. They've published a rebuttal to some FAQs, including this one, under the catchy title of results.gov: MYTH: E-Gov initiatives haven’t improved services to citizens. FACT: E-Gov initiatives have made it easier for Americans to access government services and find information about federal programs. For example, GovBenefits.gov provides citizens a single point of access to government benefits and services. To date, the initiative has provided information to more than 22 million citizens and generated over 5 million referrals to agency benefit programs. Prior to the launch of GovBenfits.gov, citizens had to search multiple agency websites in efforts to locate federal benefits. E-Gov initiatives have also made it easier for citizens and businesses to pay their taxes online. With IRS Free File, eligible taxpayers can prepare and electronically file their tax returns over the Internet using commercial software for free. IRS has received more than 15 million tax returns through the initiative resulting in processing cost-savings of more than $32 million. The Expanding Electronic Tax Products for Businesses (EETPB) initiative aims to reduce the tax-reporting burden on businesses while improving the efficiency and effectiveness of government operations. Since the inception of EETPB (and through July 2006), employers have filed over 5.2 million SS-4 forms online to obtain Employer Identification Numbers (EIN) electronically. Furthermore, businesses can access a range of tax forms online (e.g., 94x, 1120, 990), resulting in reduced burden and increased government efficiency. Grants.gov is the Federal Government’s single website for over 1,000 grant programs that award more than $400 billion annually. In FY 2006, 75 percent of all Federal discretionary grant opportunities (2,011 out of 2,678) were available for electronic application submission via Grants.gov, and grantees submitted more than 80,000 applications through Grants.gov. This is a 31% increase over the number of opportunities that were available for electronic application submission in FY 2005 (44%). Whilst I was looking at this factsheet, I was pretty surprised to come across another site, ExpectMore.gov. It's a reasonable facsimile of the UK's OGC reviews except for the fact that you can see a list of programmes that are peforming and those that are not. Here are the findings from one, General Services Administration - National Information Technology Solutions: Results Not Demonstrated A rating of Results Not Demonstrated (RND) indicates that a program has not been able to develop acceptable performance goals or collect data to determine whether it is performing. * The assessment found that the program is useful to federal agencies that do not have in-house expertise to acquire information technology (IT) products or services. However, the program must better demonstrate the value it provides to customer agencies. * The program must develop long-term outcome goals and efficiency measures which are comparable to other federal agencies or the private sector. While the program does have annual goals, it must develop annual goals which measure the savings and quality improvement that agencies achieve through use of this program. And, for comparison, here's a programme rated as "not effective" as opposed to "results not demonstrated" Ineffective Programs receiving this rating are not using your tax dollars effectively. Ineffective programs have been unable to achieve results due to a lack of clarity regarding the program's purpose or goals, poor management, or some other significant weakness. * Performance goals have been created, but progress has not been adequately assessed. The program measures performance by estimating additional natural gas reserves attributable to technologies developed by the program. The program is working to more clearly demonstrate the validity of its performance assessments, including through regular use of periodic, independent program evaluations. * Actual additional natural gas reserves attributable to technology developed by the program have been relatively small. Moreover as noted by the National Academy of Sciences: "It is difficult to separate the contributions made by the Department of Energy and contributions made by industry and others." * This program and other applied research and development programs at the Department of Energy are working to improve their estimates of potential program benefits and use that information to guide budget decisions. The program has made progress, but estimates are not yet comparable between programs because of different modeling methods and assumptions. Who would have thought that the US government would be more open on this kind of thing than the UK government? There are 5 pages of "programmes not performing" and 12 pages of "programmes that are performing" - which would make a mockery of the Standish Group's Chaos Chronicles if it's true and might give us something to think about regarding public sector project success. What I think is also fascinating is that you get to see programmes that you wouldn't even think to look for - Missile Defence (The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) mission is to defend the U.S., deployed forces and allies from ballistic missile attack. MDA is researching, developing and fielding a global, integrated and multi-layered Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS), comprising multiple sensors, interceptors and battle management capabilities), or Advanced Computing Simulation (The program provides leading edge, high-end computer simulation capabilities to meet nuclear weapons assessment and certification requirements. The program uses code computer models and experimental data to predict the effect that aging and other changes will have on the U.S. nuclear warhead stockpile.).

Nike+ An Apple - A Dollar A Mile

For the last couple of months I've been playing around with my latest ipod and the nike+ gadget - it sticks neatly between my laces and seems to stay put. I haven't really taken it too seriously: Mostly I listen to audibooks and they seem to be recorded at a lower volume than music (or maybe the nature of the content means that it just seems that way) so I have to listen on loud, the Nike+ voice owner, pleasant though she is, therefore shouts in my ear every mile or every time I press the centre button for an update. Usually, it freaks me out because I'm really not expecting to hear anything interrupt the book and I'm often lost in my own thoughts not really counting the miles. Nike may have just changed that and made me want to take this thing more seriously. Today they sent me a mail inviting me to sign up to a group challenge. This is the first one: RUN WITH LANCE 5,394 miles donated to date Lance Armstrong is training for the marathon in NYC, and he's raising money for the Lance Armstrong Foundation as he goes. Donate your miles to reach the goal by 11/5. Lance is running the NY Marathon - November 5th - and is expected to do a near world-record time. So over the next 3 weeks I'm going to run for his cause and make sure I wear my ipod and nike+ for every run and I'll just have to push myself a little harder to make it come good. That said, I haven't figured out how to sign up for the challenge so if you've figured it out already, I'd really like to know. The email links to the "sign up now" part of the site, but not to the "already a member, press this button to donate". There's no sign of a donate button on the site and nothing about "group challenges" which is how Nike refer to it. Maybe a screw up on Nike's part here? I think this is just a fantastic idea. Kudos to Nike for pursuing this in the week that the Independent's front page carried a story noting how the Americans are eating themselves through the world's resources and figures that show that 30-40% of Americans are obese. One way to make people exercise more is to make it worth their while; a far better way is to let them make it worth far more peoples' while.