Monday, July 27, 2009

Completion Obfuscation

I heard, on Radio 4, this morning that the Olympic site is "about 37%" complete ... not over a third, not getting on for 40%, but "about 37%." I was surprised not to hear that to two decimai places. And the good news is that the contingency budget still has 67% of its funds left, not about two thirds, nor have we spent only a third ... precision where precision isn't available is always dangerous.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

From The Opposable Thumbnail

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Find more here.

Moving to Mac - Thunderbird, Outlook, Entourage

Every week I get a dozen or so people arriving at this blog looking for how to transfer from Outlook to Entourage. I did that about 18 months ago (was it only then?) and wrote it up here. Apart from the occasional comments left by people to say thank you, it's hard to know whether those who try it get a good result. Anyway, I thought I'd check the instructions I left to see if they're still valid - and there were some changes necessary, so here they are.

I tried Thunderbird on the Mac as well as Apple's own mail application but settled on Entourage for lots of reasons. Initially I was very frustrated by Entourage's stability but several updates and service packs have made it rock solid and I haven't had any problems in ages.

How to import or transfer from Outlook (on a PC) to Entourage (on a Mac) via Thunderbird (on a PC)

1. Install thunderbird on your PC.

2. When you start Thunderbird it will helpfully bring up an import menu with only one option which is "don't import anything." Don't worry about this and let it carry on.

3. Configure your email box if you must, but set it so that it doesn't fetch new mail. This will stop mail building up in Thunderbird after you've exported it (otherwise you could end up doing several exports)

3. On the file menu, you'll find that you can import from outlook. This function fetches everything - all the subfolders and so on - but it takes a while. I have about 3gb of email and it must have taken a good hour or so.

4. Now you'll have all of your email in Thunderbird. Well done.

5. Visit this site (the entourage help page on mvps.org), follow the instructions, and download the script (or you can run it in your script editor)

6. You'll end up with a series of folders that are in the right format and with the right attributes to import into entourage

7. Copy those folders to your Mac.

8. Select each file that you want to import to Entourage and make sure you have done the rename - they'll need to be ".mbx" not ".mbox" (sometimes they have no extensions, so just add the .mbx)

9. Go to the Entourage file menu and select "import". Pick "contacts or messages from a text file" and then "import messages from an MBOX-format text file" (note that whilst this says MBOX it means .mbx)

10. Choose the file - this time you have to do it one by one.

11. Entourage will go quiet for a while. You won't be able to press anything but there will be no spinning beachball. You just have to wait.

12. Eventually - depending on how big your files are - it will say "finish". Click that and you'll have to wait again, but you will get a beachball this time. This seems to be a shorter wait, but a wait nonetheless.

13. The folder you have just imported will appear on the left hand side of the screen under the "on my computer" menu. You can then decide what to do with it. I copied all of the inbox file straight into the inbox, one for one, but moved the sub-folders under it. This actually copies all of the folders rather than moves them so, once you're done, you have to delete the old ones.

If this works for you, leave a comment ... Better still, if it doesn't, definitely leave a comment so that I can have another look and see what further changes I need to make to these steps.

Great North Run Hills - 2

I just found another view of the profile of the Great North Run - this one came from Garmin Connect rather than Rubitrack.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

O2 MMS Settings Part 2

A while ago I posted some settings for MMS on O2 in the UK. They worked fine on the OS3 beta and I've seen plenty of searches to the blog for them. There look to have been some changes now - I'm running 3.1 beta 2. So, just in case, here are the new settings:

Data

APN: idata.o2.co.uk

username: vertigo

Password: password

MMS

APN: idata.o2.co.uk

username/password as above

MMSC:http: //mmsc.mms.o2.co.uk:8002

MMS Proxy: 193.113.200.195:8080

Hope that helps if you'd reset them or somehow lost track of them.

Great North Run Hills

I've seen a few searches land at this blog in the last couple of weeks looking for an elevation profile of the Great North Run (often with the search string "Great North Run Hills", or "Great North Run elevation"). So here it is:

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The line shows the elevation (on the outer axis), the bars show the gradient (on the inner axis). So you get a nice downhill run at the start which doesn't feel so bad as it's along the motorway - as you near the end around km 18 and 19, there's what seems like a much steeper decline before you come into the final mile along the shore - the best bit of the race (once you get down the hill).

And, for good measure, here's a course map for the Great North Run:


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Hope this is useful.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

5 years ago this month

40 years ago this month, they put a man on the moon ... 5 years ago this month, the Government Gateway had the following services

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Dexterity

200907211857.jpgSeeing someone on the tube furiously tapping away on a keyboard next to me today, I expected to see them playing some game or sending some email or text ... I was more than a little surprised to see them doing an equivalent finger workout on a calculator.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Be civil, be beta

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With the new Facebook-style Civil Pages in the news this week, I stopped by the civil service website and was somewhat taken aback to see the logo above - it's a website in beta. Funny perhaps - but also good. Why launch a fully working version when you can get something out and see how people react to it and then iterate it. I said something similar back in May 2000 when I first joined government:

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I was actually looking, though, for the Civil Pages service ... I couldn't access it from inside the department where I was today so was hoping to find and internet-facing entry point (on the basis that not everyone is on one of the internal government networks and so it was probably set up with 'net access too).

The Telegraph had this to say

The social networking site was launched days after personal details and photographs of Sir John Sawers, the new MI6 chief, were posted on Facebook by his wife.

The new site, called the Civil Pages, is set to cost taxpayers £1 million and has been dubbed 'the Facebook of the Civil Service... without the man in the Speedos' by Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell.

The service is said to include a Wikipedia-type Civil Wiki application, a Civil Blog to let public servants share their thoughts and a Twitter-like feed known as Civil Talk.

Which reminded me of this post from December 2007

  • What if government took facebook into the inside? What if we ditched every intranet there ever was in every government department and allowed everyone to create, instead, a facebook page for themselves? The same tools and applications would be available; groups joined would be centered on areas of expertise & experience (desired or actual) and room to play would be allowed to - no point in making it all business, there needs to be some kind of trade. Straight away, links would form between people doing similar jobs in different parts of the government (or different parts of the same department but spread around the same country); experience would be shared; job-postings would be easy to find and could be matched by a talent inventory that could draw on all 4-5 million public sector employees (that number could be anywhere from 250,000 to 7 million depending on how you cut things).
  • What if government took a licence for wikipedia and built an internal version? What if that site became the place where all reports from every consultancy that's ever worked for government was published? Where people edited topics that they were interested in and added statistics, links and sources that were verified by the armies of others that were also interested in those topics? What if this became the hub of knowledge were people found out how to do their job, what they could do to develop in their job, where they would find information from others doing the same job, where they could see what consultancies and others had recommended could be done to a given process, function or organisation in another, related part of government. Or even a completely unrelated part of government. Many of those reports, the many hundreds every week, month or year, end up gathering dust in a cupboard somewhere. The very best are 50% implemented with the remaining actions getting swamped by the pressure of time or money, or the clean sweep of a new broom coming in with different ideas. That leaves perhaps a billion and a half worth of ideas left unimplemented every year. That's a lot of intellectual property left on the shelf. And let's not wonder aloud, at least not here, how much of those reports are repeats of what has already been bought and paid for by a government department somewhere else.
  • Next, what if we took every FoI request - and its response - and published it online with a simple search application, driven by google or windows live or any other engine- so that before you asked your question you could see what else had been asked that was similar; you'd then either just use that information and not bother to ask your own question or you'd refine yours to get a better take. Smart journalists would use the search tool to bring together previously unrelated questions and draw even more conspiratorial conclusions. Smarter ones would phrase their next question to take advantage of the freely obtained knowledge that they already have to find something new. Government would respond, one would hope, by getting smarter about its operations and processes and would use this leverage to drive greater change and efficiency. [update July 2009: This is largely handled by what do they know dot com]
  • And lastly, maybe all of this would be turned inside out and put online, not just FoI requests, but reports and consultancy work that government had paid for, so as to act as the single greatest source of pressure for change and, dare I say that ugly word, transformation (the single best example of which continues to be Optimus Prime in Michael Bay's recent Transformers film). The deluge of information would be enormous. The fragments of data would require an entire army to stitch it together into meaningful conclusions. But, let's be honest, government itself is never going to have a big enough internal army to do this stitching but, the outside world, those who want to be part of an open-source government, now maybe they'd have the willing, the time, the intellect and the energy to sort, distill and publish the very best pieces - and government, of course, would pay for such pieces once and once only. Sadly, the name YouGov is already taken by a very clever chap called Nadhim Zahawi, but maybe he'd be open to offers. Failing that, we could always go back to me.gov, the vision of access to government coined in 2000 following the [necessary] demise of open.gov.uk.

And I thought, not bad ... that's potentially quite a lot of that list done. I hope Civil Pages works, i.e. that it lets people within and across government find each other and harness what has already been done elsewhere rather than doing it over and over again. If it does that then a million quid (or even 50 million quid) would be a cheap deal. Maybe the powers that be do read this blog.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The British 10k - The Wrongs and the Rights

200907132008.jpgI've run the British 10k several times. It's a great opportunity to test how my training post the London Marathon is going. But it has a lot of flaws. Some 27,000 people run this race. That's bigger than every race in London other than the Marathon itself. They say it's the largest non-televised 10k in the UK. The organisers need to learn that with great size comes great responsibility:

1) I applaud anyone who enters any kind of race, whether it's 5k, 10k or longer. Everyone deserves a chance. I think they also deserve the chance to run it at their pace. I started about 2,000 people back from the start line. There were, therefore, 25,000 people or more behind me. It took me 13 minutes to get to the start line. When I finished (about 49 mins later) there were still people running - not walking - at the 1-2km mark, meaning that they'd probably had to wait an hour to cross the start line. That's just crazy. You can see from the photo at left how far back the start stretched - it goes from the top of the roundabout at Hyde Park Corner all the way back to the Ritz Hotel.

It's time to rework where the race starts. Either use both sides of the road and have people run down by St James' Park and along to Parliament Square, have people line up along the length of Park Lane (and route the traffic to the other side - it's Sunday morning after all) or have the start in Hyde Park itself and set people off and running through multiple routes on to Piccadilly.

2) I'm not the fastest runner and I'm not the slowest. I ran the first 3k in 4:15, 4:30 and 4:45. But within yards of the start I was dodging people who were already walking. Like I said above, everyone should get their chance, but there needs to be some kind of banding. If there were multiple routes to the start, then different speeds could line up in different places; or those with slow times could line up to the left and the runners on the right. I was talking to a lady next to me at the start who was hoping to finish in 2 hours - her doctor had told her not to run as she had a heart condition! Someone like that needs a gentle start - not one surrounded by thousands of people jostling to get going.

So, some pace banding, some room to one side for charity walkers, some different start points or something to ease the crush and confusion at the start.

3) The Mayor of Westminster made a lovely speech, we had God Save The Queen (the long version if I'm not mistaken) and then a minute's silence in memory of someone (I really don't know who) who had recently died. And this was all before the gun. The race started late.

Runners with itchy feet don't like to be kept waiting. It was hot on Sunday and getting hotter the longer we stood around. For those expecting to finish in 90 mins or more and starting way back anyway, it must have been extra torture. Keep the start quick and to the point. Do the speeches when everyone is milling around the baggage area.

4) You made the cardinal mistake of running out of water. At the 7km mark, you'd closed up shop. Water bottles littered the road and you'd folded up the tables. And I was at that point probably 60 minutes after the gun (5min/km * 7 plus 13 mins to cross the start line). That wasn't a good moment for a lot of people, especially with the next water on Westminster Bridge. When I got to the bridge, the marshalls moved me to the right hand side of the lane, away from the water - so that was closed off to me too. But I was up front, relatively, what was going on for the 25,000 people behind me?

Forecast how much water you need and add some more. Then add some more the week before if it's going to be a hot day. Then add some more again. I'm sure you can get a sale or return deal.

5) The course, in its 10km length, has three doublebacks - three points where you have to do a 180 degree turn from one side of the road to the other. Inevitably, people slow down, bunch up, trip over each other and then have to speed up again. This isn't good. It also routes you through the road tunnel at Southwark Bridge both on the way out and on the way back. On a good day it's sticky and ugly in there, on a hot day it's a lot worse.   

I'd love to work with you to design a different course. We could take in Marble Arch, Admiralty Arch, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, cross the river, a couple of km on the south side, back via Westminster or even Lambeth and along to the finish line in Whitehall. The worst turn you'd make would be 90 degrees How much more fun would that be?

6) The official map in the race brochure is impossible to follow. I mean completely impossible. Each time I've run the race, the route has been different. The big change this time was a run down Victoria Street with a 180 turn and then back to Parliament. The last thing I want to do as a runner is have to figure out where I'm going and when I need to speed up. The km markers are hard enough to see as it is - I missed 8km and 9km - so it's important that the route is clearly marked in the brochure. I ran the last km in 3m 40s - I had plenty of gas left that I was saving for the last couple of km but ended up using it all in the last km and then, for the first time, finished without feeling like I'd given it everything I had.

This is the map they provide of the course

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From this you might think you'd see Tower Bridge, maybe even cross a few bridges (why make them red?) and that you'd cross Westminster Bridge twice and then go down Embankment again before turning left (New Scotland Yard or thereabouts) and going up Whitehall (away from Trafalgar Square) to the finish - which you'd say was somewhere around where Westminster Bridge is or, at least, at the Parliament Square end. And you'd see all those TV markers and wonder what that was about given it's a non-televised race.

Here's the actual 2009 British 10k Race Route (or race map if you prefer)

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If you want a bigger copy of this to look at, let me know and I'll send it to you - leave me details in the comments section.

Why not do a proper map in the race book that comes out with the numbers and the t-shirt? Make it clear where the km markers are and let people think about where they'll be making turns.

7) The finish is just weird. You cross the line - actually, not always, a chap just ahead of me collapsed yards before the line and, as far as I could tell, didn't make it up again based on what the paramedics were doing - and then what? To get your medal, you have to go all the way back to the bag checkin. I didn't have any bags - what I wanted to do was go and cheer the people still going. But last time I did that, you'd run out of medals by the time I got back to the bag check (I eventually found one thanks to a kind marshall).

Make the finish clean and simple - hand out the water, check the chips, give everyone a medal and a photo. Every race does it that way.

Wrap Up

So that's my list. They'll probably never let me run it again, but I'd love to do it if some of these were fixed. I'll even volunteer my time with the organisers to help sort it out - and to poll wider running forums for their ideas of what to change too.

If anyone's interested, here's my race profile


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I know I could have run this one faster. I've never really trained for 10k races so I have a lot to learn about when to cut loose. I think that last km proves I could have run faster.

Friday, July 10, 2009

R.I.P. Charles Cox

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Charles, you were first a wannabe supplier to my team, then a supplier, then a partner in the truest and most rarely seen sense of that word in our industry; you were even nearly a colleague and a boss. Somewhere along that journey you became a trusted friend. We never saw enough of each other in those days. Dinner was often cancelled at short notice as you maintained some madcap global role with endless travel - but the time spent together was thought provoking and fascinating with madcap ideas hatched at regular intervals. You were a man of many talents - some of the statues that grace the front of the House of Commons were yours, as were large parts of the restoration of St Pauls. Somehow, despite being a stonemason by training, you ended up in IT outsourcing - there's a joke or two in their somewhere, but some other time perhaps. You even introduced me to polo - a sport that I didn't understand then, and still don't. In the weeks leading up to the horrible incident that first took the person we knew away from all of your friends, we saw a lot more of each other; I remember you'd just call or text on the offchance some of us were out and about and then join us wherever we were. Then came that incident and we thought we'd lost you. Everyone hoped, prayed even, that you'd make it back. Sadly that was not to be and now, many months later, you're gone for good. There were and are few people as genuine as you and now there's one less and that loss is deeply felt by everyone who knew you. Rest in peace Charles. I'll miss you.