Monday, January 26, 2009

Talking of Clouds


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That's the latest tag cloud, as figured by TagCrowd, for this blog.

Cumulus Defensus

Nine months or so ago I wondered who would be the first in global government to build a cloud or, better, to use a cloud provided by a third party. Turns out, and this is probably no surprise, that the first to the former is the US Department of Defense (or would that be Defence?).

From Bloomberg:

When the Defense Department’s John Garing met Microsoft Corp. and Amazon.com Inc. to learn about cloud computing, he liked what he saw. Enough to send him back to Washington ready to change how government technology works.

Garing, who runs the Defense Department’s technology infrastructure, is now mimicking the companies’ approach internally, developing his own cloud that agencies share. Going beyond that to tap the resources of the corporate world may not be so easy. While using central data servers could save money and protect information from system failures, agencies are hesitant to give up control of sensitive information.

“If I were king for a day, I would say to Amazon and Salesforce, ‘Why don’t we just use your cloud?’” Garing said in an interview. “We are doing the nation’s business here, and the Defense Department can’t afford to go down in any way, shape or form.”

And perhaps very interestingly

The government spent about $68.1 billion in the last fiscal year on technology, with almost a third devoted to infrastructure, according to White House estimates. The portion spent on cloud computing will increase from a “a few percent” of the total this year, Cohen said.

I'd have a guess that $68 billion is about 3 to 3.5 times what UK government spends, at current exchange rates. And if a "few percent" is being spent on clouds (and rising, if I have that sentence right) then several tens of millions are being spent annually already - I wonder how many other governments could say that?

and here's evidence it might be working already:

Garing, whose Defense Information Systems Agency provides the internal network and computer processing for the military, took his inspiration from the corporate world when he developed his cloud for the department.

Military agencies can contract with DISA to rent storage space and to use its computers for processing information. In an October development test, a user in Falls Church, Virginia, logged onto the network, set up a Web site in seven minutes and paid for it with a credit card, Garing said.

“That has fundamentally changed the way we do business,” he said. “You virtually don’t have to buy another computer in the Defense Department because you can use our servers.”

Miles and Miles (to go)

I'm falling behind my training plan, such as it is. So far my training plan is to compare the distances I run each month with the same period in the run-up to previous marathons (so it's not quite a month to month comparison, as I count back in 30 day blocks from the date of the actual race - which smooths out the problems when e.g. NY is on the 6th of the month but London is on the 26th).

I have a mountain to climb, so to speak, to catch up with my "February" target (90-60 days to go) which means that there are some long runs coming up this weekend and the following weekend.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Change Is Rife ... no URL needed

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So cool we don't need no URL? Absurd text speak aside, I loved the morphalike / Mr Men advert - which you can find on youtube.

What intrigued me was that the print ads just say "search change4life" ...

is that an admission that the bulk of Internet users still just head to google/windows live/askjeeves and type whatever they're looking for into the box?

Or is it more of a, you know, statement ... who needs to publish a URL when it's obvious how to find it if you're part of the 'net generation

Perhaps a bit sadly, direct.gov's search engine takes you to a November press release about the site, not straight to the site itself.

If you mistype and go for "changeforlife" ... you get a whole different kind of self help.

Obama Crashes The Internet?

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Will the Internet be able to stand it as millions (billions?) of people stream Obama's speech at 5pm UK time tomorrow?

I'm guessing it's definitely going to be running at least a little slow.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Hours (oh the hours!)

Recently, I promised I was going to follow some kind of programme in the run up to the London Marathon. I've been looking at various such schedules. I've found two so far - one is from Ivan Bisaro at Carmichael Systems (Trainright.com) and the other is from the famed Hal Higdon.

Both require 5 runs a week - 20 or 21 runs a month - and from 5 to 8 hours a week in actual running. Higdon wants you to run 134 miles in the 4 weeks preceding the week of the marathon; Bisaro (who measures his programme in time on your feet) wants you to run 20 3/4 hours.

Running for that kind of time (or distance) per week struck me as amazingly hard to achieve so I thought I'd check what I'd managed since I started tracking my stats in September 2005. The graph below shows how many hours I've run per week (the bars, left axis) and, out of interest, my average pace (the line, right axis).

You can quickly see that I've very rarely got to 5 hours in a week - call it perhaps 4 times in total. I'm thinking that trying to do it every week will probably kill me. I need a different plan.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Are You Integrated

I came across this sign this week - on a hoarding just opposite Parliament.


200901171701.jpg I was in intrigued by the spelling of their name - "intergrated" rather than the expected "integrated"

And also by the, I imagine, deliberate change of colour for the "i" and the "r" - perhaps some play on the word "infrared" when applied to matters of security?

I looked them up today - if you type in "integrated security" on google, you get over 15 million hits (as well as the obvious "did you mean 'integrated security'?" question at the top of the response list). Putting the two words in quotes reduces the count to 1.2m.

The first on the list is "Intergrated Security Management", who whilst plainly being Integrated, have managed to have a list of Integrated Partners. Partners Integrated With Intergrated one assumes.

The company from the sign has only a placeholder website promising an update soon - although like the "back in 10 mins" sign in a shop window, it's unclear when the page was first put there.

So are we to think that all of these hundreds of thousands of people can't spell? I couldn't find a trace of a confession - something like "hey, when we registered the company name, we were drunk and mistyped it and so we're stuck with it now." Some would say I have too much time on my hands I guess.

Commentary

If everything worked out ok this post marks two things:200901171635.jpg

1) Post number 992 on this blog

2) The debut of a new comment management system, called JS-Kit.

Whilst I was converting my blog to the new format for comments, JS-Kit kindly told me that it had converted 767 comments

And, if it really worked, you should see several new options if you want to leave a comment - including support for avatars/user profiles and images and facebook connect logon (as well as several other logons).

I heart Data

Heart rate data from a morning of skiing at around 2700m

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Data from a 14km run a couple of weeks later, at about 5m 20s pace on average

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CashFlaw

200901171307.jpg So what is the key combination for "Control-Alt-Delete" on an ATM keyboard?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Getting To Done

200812240828.jpgSooner or later, every programme drowns in its own do lists (known by at least one chap I know as do-do lists). There are lists of lists, summaries of lists, lists of summaries of lists and everything in between.

Every meeting takes hours, produces minutes, and weeks go by before the actions are checked.

Every task on the plan produces another task for someone to check that the task was done, and to figure out what went wrong with the task, and then a task is created to fix what went wrong.

Most of these actions or tasks are never added to a plan - they're too small, too short-lived, don't really "fit" anywhere or simply no one thinks to add them to the plan; or the plan is too cumbersome so people keep them on a sheet, in a word document, in Excel or - heaven help us - in a "tool" that was never designed for them but was the nearest thing.

As a result, no one knows the dependencies between them all and even fewer still (if that's even possible) would understand those dependencies if they had them explained to them.

How, in nearly 2009, after arguably 5,000 years of large scale project management (from the Pyramids in 2600BC via the Pantheon in Rome to the Channel Tunnel and now the Burj Dubai) and certainly 30 years of large scale IT projects in public and private sector, have we continued to be in a place where the default boot option on a project management PC or Mac lacks the toolset that would help make this problem go away?

The organisation chart of a programme says who is responsible, sometimes even who is accountable, for what. It doesn't say what they do. Their job descriptions don't say what they're doing now, only what areas someone might generally cover. In a project or a programme, work moves from person to person based on skills, availability, initiative, ambition, nearness to the person with the problem or maybe even just wrong place, right time ... and many other difficult to pin down factors.

In day to day project management, across a large team, I find myself asking a lot of the same kind of questions most days. These are mostly obvious things that you can find out quickly when the team is within a few yards of you, but as you span floors, buildings, campuses, towns, timezones and countries, they get harder and harder to find out. These are all made up but doubtless any project manager has wondered something similar to these at some stage:

  • Who is covering the actions from the customer meeting last Monday?
  • Did we ever figure out who needed to talk to Bill to sort the problem with the server?
  • What happened to that action that I gave someone to figure out how to connect the widget to the whatsit?
  • When was the last time we spoke to our key customer, Mary, and what was said?
  • Where is Bill right now?
  • If I get my whole team together now, what will it disrupt? Can I live with that?
  • What are all the tasks we're doing now, across the team, that relate to going live?
  • Do we have any tasks in the team about disaster recovery? Have we even thought about it?
  • Have we filed the monthly report that was due yesterday?
  • Who is working the issues that came from the security audit?
  • When will those security issues be fixed?
  • What am I supposed to be doing today?
  • What is Bill supposed to be doing today?
  • Bill's sick ... who can I give his work to?
  • Who has the job of producing the new plan? When will it be ready?

And then, more generally

  • Are we closing down actions? Or leaving them dragging for weeks?
  • Who is overloaded? Who is underloaded?
  • Who is closing their actions? And who isn't?
  • Are there any specific areas where we're not doing what we should?

And of course it's not just "me" (and people like me) tracking these kinds of things in a programme, but my peers, subordinates, bosses, supplier opposite numbers and all of the people in the supplier organisation. Thousands of do lists being tracked across every meeting and every individual.

Let's face it - in every meeting you go to, you see everyone writing notes. Notes of notes of notes. Notes noting the same notes. And yet few notable notes.

I have a hard enough time tracking my own task lists - which I do pretty religiously in a 3 column A4 page. I have tried endless productivity tools on every computer I've ever owned, from ZX81s, to a Psion 5 to my current Mac. And nothing has ever really settled.

I'd really like a tool that:
  • Everyone has access to. That means it needs to be on the Internet, not the Intranet. And it needs some kind of security around it that is better than mother's maiden name.
  • Seamlessly moves between 'net and mobile phones. So it needs clients for iPhone, Blackberry, Windows Mobile and maybe even the new Palm Tre. Tasks could be entered on any device and would be replicated.
  • Allows sharing of do lists within teams, across teams, up, down and sideways in an organisation. The default might even be "share all with everyone"
  • Enforces some kind of tagging and sub-lists so that tasks related to specific areas could be pulled together
  • Has a generic reporting engine that would allow the questions above to be answered quickly and easily
  • Would allow me to assign a task to someone else - that they could accept or reject - and where status of the task (e.g. drifting completion date) would be reported back to me
  • Sends email reminders about tasks needing to be done
  • Might even have role based do lists so that, say, "architects" could be given tasks at a group level that would appear in the lists of all those with architect in their title
  • Accepts emails of tasks - and, most importantly in this context, would have the ability to parse a set of minutes from a meeting (ok, they can be in a template) and update the do lists of all those referred to in the actions

That doesn't seem like an extravagant feature list, does it? Have I missed anything? Does it exist now?

Until then, to help keep me sane, I'm using an application called "RTM", as opposed to the more expected "RTFM." It's called "Remember the Milk".

It's not as comprehensive as I'd like - and it doesn't match all of the requirements above. But it does sit on the Internet, sync to my iPhone, allowing sharing of do lists, tagging and emailing of updates and reminders. It doesn't parse the minutes of a meeting and it doesn't have a reporting engine that would let me see what everyone across a programme or project was doing.

RTM is by far the best task management app I've come across that sits on both the web and my mobile device - the iPhone in this case. So far it's been rock solid, despite apparently being in beta (or perhaps they're just following the google trend of infinite beta). It costs a few pounds a year, but nothing is for free really. Least of all good task management software.

But if anyone wanted to work on the big pan-project task management app I'm talking about above, or even knows that one already exists, I'm interested.


When There's A "W" In The Month

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For a while there it felt like companies were going to go bankrupt in reverse alphabetical order:

Zavvi ... Woolworths ... Whittard ... Wedgewood ... Sofa Workshop

If you have a W in your company name, Worry noW. But, if your company name is Aaron's Aadvark Aactivities, the mortgage is probably safe for a bit.

Friday, January 09, 2009

e-Government Goes Mainstream (again)

Over two years ago the first story on e-government phishing story broke, It wasn't a big story and it took me a while to blog about it - some 4 months.

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So imagine my surprise on boarding the tube yesterday to find it strewn, as ever, by copies of the Metro, with this headline.

e-Government is front page news, of a kind. Plainly any time the taxman offers you something for nothing, you'd imagine it's a fraud so I'd be intrigued if anyone had actually fallen for the emails that are apparently being sent in their tens of thousands.

The roll out the barrel/Nigerian 419-type scam has been around for decades, moving from letters to faxes to emails and losses have been real and genuine through that time, so doubtless some have indeed fallen for this. And we need to do something about that. But it's an old story and not an easy fix.

Back in 2000, we quickly learned in the Inland Revenue that there really was no such thing as bad publicity. An outage of the Self Assessment service - whether planned or unplanned - quickly became mainstream news (I have less than fond memories of front page features in the FT and top of the hour stories on BBC news), traffic went up. Too few people knew of the option to use the web to engage with government and so this free PR was actually helpful in getting the message out - even though the content of the story was generally negative.

So here we are again - in the run up to the end of January - the biggest peak in tax return filing - a headline story about e-government ... and maybe a boost in visitors to government websites. It sounds like I was suggesting there was an agenda there - I wasn't. The spammers are certainly not in league with the government - my point is that it is rare for e-government to make the headlines, even rarer when it's actually a good news story (i.e. the news here is "take care folks, there are bad people about, here's what you need to do" as opposed to "another bloody government disaster.")

Meanwhile ... what to do about the underlying problem, that it's all too easy for a fake website or an email leading to a fake website to capture what ought to be confidential details? I've posted here more than a few times about my suggestions - back in 2004, I talked about AOL and its keyfob plans and in 2003 referred to a piece by Simon Moores, and I even proposed some answers. We're still not there. My bank uses credit-card sized keypads that generate numeric keys that need to be tapped in every time, some sites use pictures that if they don't appear tell you that the site isn't genuine. We need something for government too.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Dun Data Roamin'

200901021630.jpgThe kind folks at O2 sent me a gentle reminder a couple of days ago:

"While abroad all Data used is excluded from your tariff allowance and charged at £6 per MB (£3 per MB in the EU)"

Apart from the peculiar capitalisation of Data and the multi-country message (surely they know where I am and so could send a specific message), I wondered:

  • What's a MB? In a world of all-you-can-eat bandwidth at home, wireless networks on the street and - when on your home cellular network at least - unlimited texts and web browsing, why do I even care what a MB is?
  • How many MB does it cost to check the weather forecast every day? How would I know? Why should I care?
  • In 1994 when I used Compuserve, I was charged data access by the minute - not by the byte - so why is that model back?
  • Does O2 make more money by charging a per byte fee than it might with a more liberal model?

Couldn't O2 put a package together that offers me, say, 7 days unlimited data usage on my iPhone whilst abroad? Some days I'd get more bytes than other days, some days I perhaps wouldn't trouble their network at all.

Back when MMS was new, the networks couldn't figure out how to bill for it - so they charged you a flat fee - usually £10 or £20 a month - for unlimited messages. It's time they all used that model for international data roaming.