Sunday, May 30, 2010

iPad in Demand ... and Vodafone can't cope

Surely they've learned how to handle these events by now (from Macworld):

Vodafone is struggling to activate iPad 3G Micro Sim devices due to overwheleming demand for the device.

A Vodafone call centre told us that "the server has now been down for a couple of hours" and that they cannot currently activate any Micro Sim devices bought todayOwners of iPad devices in the UK must purchase the Micro Sim separately, and three operators are offering Micro Sims alongside the iPad (Vodafone, O2, and Orange) with a fourth network, Three, selling Micro Sim cards independently.


O2 is the only service that can be activated from within the iPad itself, Orange and Vodafone customers must phone the Vodafone call centre to activate the card.

It appears that Vodafone has struggled due to the demand. The call centre is closing at 8pm today and unless it gets its system online will not be able to activate any 3G cards for iPad owners.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

ParkRun 5km

I ran my first parkrun today, at the invitation of my friend Paul. Every Saturday up to a couple of hundred people do a brisk 5km run in Richmond Park (there are many locations - check this page for one near you).

It was a fun race in a beautiful park. Organisation is handled entirely by volunteers who are plainly well practiced - things ran without a hitch today. It's also entirely free - and there are t-shirts when you complete multiple races (10 for juniors, 50, 100 and 250). There were a few people with 100 club shirts on today.

Paul was way quicker than I was, so now I have a target to beat. I completed the course in 23:35, Paul was about 90 seconds quicker. From the graph below, you'll see that I'm very much a downhill runner.


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Paul is looking to organise a parkrun in Battersea Park (which would have two benefits for me - it's nearer and much flatter) - so if that's something that would interest you, get in touch with me and I'll connect you.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I (x) Adobe

A couple of weeks ago I questioned whether Adobe really did (heart) Apple ... and noted that whilst I'd just installed Elements 8, I hadn't actually tried to run it. I just did. This is what greeted me:

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Followed by this after trying again ... the fabled 150:30 error ... see below for the Adobe-published solution for Mac and Windows:


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Now I know that they totally don't get Mac users. I don't have an IT administrator!

And then this when I tried to uninstall


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Why would firefox running stop an uninstall?

The web is full of tales of woe regarding the error 150:30. I am not alone.

For those who experience the same error, here's what Adobe say you need to do:

Solution 1: Apply the Licensing Service Update

  1. Close any Adobe applications.
  2. Download the Licensing Service Update.
  3. Run the License Service Update.
    1. Extract the LicenseRecovery109.zip.
      Important: A utility such as WinZip must be used to extract the contents on the zipped file.
    2. Double click LicenseRecover.exe.
  4. Follow the on-screen instructions.
  5. Start your Adobe application.

    Important: The patch applies to Creative Suite 3 or 4 products, Acrobat 8 or 9, Photoshop Elements 6, 7 or 8, Director, and Technical Communication Suite.  If your issue was not resolved on the first attempt, run the patch again and enter option 0, when prompted to do so. If the issue persists after you run the patch a second time, proceed to Solution 2: Set the FLEXnet Licensing Service to Manual and Start the service.

I like that last bit ... it's a bug that hasn't been fixed in the last 3 versions of software and sometimes takes 2 or even 3 goes to fix it using the licensing repair tool (which I'm downloading now and is 40MB). Almost entirely completely BAFFLING.
Just to reassure you ... you will be greeted by this
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Do not be alarmed. But do make sure you have closed any Adobe applications, including Acrobat and so on.

I've had to run it twice so far with a reboot inbetween.I haven't seen anything like this since I last saw a Unix prompt. 1987 I think that was.

And it still gives the same 150:30 error. Poor.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Pacman is 30

And, to celebrate, Google have built a playable version right on their home page

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Beautifully done! Although a little buggy.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Really Bad Day In The Market

A graph from FinViz


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This is really quite stunning. 3 green stocks, perhaps 4 with losses of 0.01-0.5% ... and the rest ... well ... the rest ...
The big green circle, top middle, is Mastercard which gained 1.5% today (although is down from $270 to $205 since the end of April).

Greek Tragedy

As seen at Sotheby's ... brilliant humour or complete accident?

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Again she plunges! hark! a second shock Bilges the splitting vessel on the rock; Down on the vale of death, with dismal cries, The fated victims shuddering cast their eyes In wild despair; while yet another stroke With strong convulsion rends the solid oak: Ah Heaven!--behold her crashing ribs divide! She loosens, parts, and spreads in ruin o'er the tide.
Author: William Falconer

New Brooms ...

... get down to work at the Home Office


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Always Important ...

... to get your ducks in a row

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

I (?) Adobe

201005191019.jpg Watching Apple and Adobe to and fro over the evils and virtues of Flash has been vaguely interesting over the last couple of weeks. I don't have a particular view on Flash but I do see that Apple has usually been early in calling time on capabilities it sees as redundant or inelegant - floppy disks, two button mice, firewire and so on. Maybe they're right this time, maybe they're wrong - right click works fine on the latest Apple mouse for instance.

But I do know this:

I installed photoshop elements 8 on my mac at home this weekend. I've been used to installing apps on the Mac in a beautifully clean way - drag app into applications folder, wait 15 seconds or so, double click app to launch. Occasionally it's more complicated than that, but rarely.

Adobe don't take that approach. You double click a file called setup (echoes of windows - not bad in itself, but Windows isn't Mac and Adobe isn't, ummm, Apple I suppose), then have to type in a 16 letter licence code (more windows) and then watch a lengthy progress bar largely fail to progress across the screen for many minutes (more windows). I haven't plucked up the courage to actually open the app yet.

If Adobe truly (heart) Apple, I'd like to see them adopt the mac approach to installation ... And move on to video and html5 authoring right after that.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Secure Collaboration Insecurely

A year or more ago I wrote a post that lamented how I was struggling to book meetings within a project team where a half dozen suppliers used separate calendar systems. The post disappeared from my blog either because of my own fat finger trouble or glitch in the publishing system. I promised to come back to the point and then promptly forgot to, despite being reminded every day of the very point I was trying to make. So here's a reworking of it. I don't know if it makes the same points as I did back then but I hope it makes some of them and maybe even adds some more.

Calendars

The government, by its very nature, wants to keep systems secure. Success at that aim has varied wildly. But one thing it has surely kept locked down is the calendars of its employees. Once you're on a UK [central] government system you can forget about publishing your calendar to the world. Why would you want to do this? Because even then you're on the inside of the great firewall, you want to meet people who are on the outside. And a public - or, at the very least, a shared - calendar is the easiest way to get to organise those meetings. As it is, though, I run several calendars and am forever juggling appointments between them all, copying invitations back and forth (which, when meeting locations, dates and times are updated numerous times gets very confusing).

Today, I have three calendars: internal government, external systems provider and personal. I can publish one of those to the web (using multiple routes, but my favourite is Tungle). But two of them, both behind "restricted" firewalls don't allow me to make that simple synchronisation. That means that people in other government departments can't see my calendar and, of course, people working with suppliers (even those working in the same team as me) can't see it either. Cynics might say that if people managed their own calendars then there'd be no way to keep an eye on what they were doing.

If I could wave a magic wand, then my 2010 wish would be for that to be made a simple click - with whatever devious security rules that need to be manipulated (contravened?) happening in the background. I'd like that to be a feature of the new GSI so that anyone in government could see my calendar and that those that I invited, from outside of government, could also see it. In a flash, things would be synchronised together and the complexity of meeting organisation would trend downwards. So a GSI service that was available outside the GSI. Hold on, we could call it an ex-GSI. Although I think that name is taken.

Beyond Calendars

Is it reasonable that in 2010, someone wanting to send a file to another entity should have to copy it to a CD and send it with a registered courier? No. But it goes on, every day. After the Child Benefit data loss, you'd have thought that this would have been top of the list - right after all the IT folks had banned memory sticks. Sending secure information from [cleared] entity to [cleared] entity goes on all the time because the necessary tools that would remove that need are not yet widely deployed. They exist, of course. Sometime in 2003 the team that I led in the Cabinet Office created such a capability for the folks in Criminal Justice (who wanted to allow barristers, solicitors and the courts to exchange information about cases) - that, or one of its near relatives, is still in heavy use. But it isn't available to everyone (even inside government, let alone those outside government who are running secure systems).

With the second wave of my magic wand, I'd create twin track email systems that would recognise what they could and couldn't send to any given email address and would block what they couldn't send (much of government has this in place) but would then - cleverly - consult a central address book looking for alternative, and secure, email addresses for that person and then send the material to the relevant address. A separate note would be sent to the usual mail address letting them know that they had new mail (and perhaps even allowing them to stay on the cc loop for any replies to the original mail).

I'd have this as a hosted service within the GSI too - one that knew who had secure email capabilities and who didn't and, based on rules about which documents went where, would automatically swap out insecure email addresses for secure ones.

Beyond File Exchange

I'll need a bigger wand for this one. I work with a lot of suppliers on various projects that, inevitably, overlap and interconnect in various ways. We exchange a lot of information - certainly emails and meeting requests but also files, ad hoc thoughts, ideas, cost proposals, requirements, designs, pictures, photos of whiteboards and so on.

Today there is absolutely no way that we can do that in a secure and managed way. I'm looking for the hosted social network [facebook, sharepoint, ning equivalent] for people involved in a programme who *and this is the important bit* whose only shared network is the Internet. They're not on the GSI, they're not on their own corporate network, they're not on some super secure network in a tempest-protected building. Often, they're not even in the same building and occasionally not in the same country. But what they are all doing is working on the same project and trying to stay up to date with torrents of information, latest versions, thinking and status checks. They have tasks allocated to them on the same plans, issues from issue lists and risks from risk lists.

This problem has been solved where everyone can freely access the Internet and exchange data - but I can't find anyone who has solved it in a public/private setting where various (necessary) levels of security prevent the creation of a simple sharepoint (to name one solution) structure.

Some of the data will be freely available (possibly even public - indeed, I'd like to think that a lot of it could be public so that there was far greater transparency over programme status), some of it will be held so that anyone invited by the programme team can access it and some if it will be more closely guarded, available to only a few of the programme team. Controls would probably need to be in place to stop some information from being further circulated - and this is where it gets difficult and where the problem in getting it done so far lies.

This is another service that I'd host centrally but allow access to from inside and outside government. Invite only, management of who was in and who was out devolved to the programme teams. A high turnover team would have to be on its toes to ensure that as people moved in and out of teams, their access was kept appropriate (another thing that, I'd suggest, would make some people throw fits about this kind of service being made available).

There would be risks in this. The expectation would be of rock solid secure collaboration. Yet it would have to be insecure to make it work. Too much security and it would be too hard to use and so no one would use it. Hence, Secure Insecure Collaboration. Or the idea of collaborating securely yet insecurely.

So...

If government programme management - and delivery - is going to evolve ... these need to get solved. [Relatively] simple tools like these would allow the delivery umbrella to be extended to a wider range of organisations including small ones who don't normally see the inside of government.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Have You Been Goldman'd?

201004251100.jpgSmart money, dumb money: Buy housing, sell housing. Buy bonds, Sell bonds. Buy banks, Sell banks.

Smart money, dumb money: Sell housing, buy housing. Sell bonds, buy bonds. Sell banks, buy banks.

What was smart is dumb. What was dumb is smart. The trouble is, at the time, everyone thinks they're smart. People forget there's always a fool at a poker table, and if you can't see who it is, it's you.

With the most recent market gyrations, initially caused by subprime mortgages, I'm reminded of M.C. Escher's famous picture, from 1961, titled, simply, "Waterfall" - what goes down, must go up. Until it goes down again.

Now the famously smart money, Goldman Sachs, is being pursued what many had previously labelled the dumb money (Madoff, Stanford, Moody's), the Securities and Exchange Commission. Did the smarts just get dumb, or are the dumbs smart again?

Doing God's work indeed.

Subprime bonds were packaged in tranches (a more positive way of saying layers which would imply some kind of hierarchy where if you're at the bottom, you don't want to be). Tranches were weighted in letters essentially from A to Z, but rather than say it that bluntly, special codes were created where AAA was exactly what you'd imagine it was (originally the lowest risk, where risk was relative rather than absolute) and BBB or BBB- was a much higher risk (how much higher is again a relative term - in this case it was much like sticking your feet in concrete as it was setting and just as the steamroller was firing up the engine. You could tell bad things were going to happen, but it wasn't going to be quick).   

The real art in the subprime market was packaging tranches that were originally BBB or worse into new tranches that magically - David Blaine kind of magic - were suddenly AAA. Classic three card monte. Find the lady, watch her fly, where'd she go? Oh I see, she ran off with your money.

The dumb money, thinking they were making a bet in a one way market, thought they were buying AAA yet they were buying BBB. In many cases, they weren't even buying the bonds themselves, but selling insurance that those same bonds wouldn't default. For a few million for every hundred million you wanted insured, they'd sell you a policy - a binary bet: if the bonds defaulted, they'd pay you face value, if they didn't, you'd keep paying your insurance premium.

The insurance premiums payable were calculated on two simple things

1) The risk weighting of the bonds. Given the diversity of the US property market, and keeping it simple, the risk models assumed that if you owned the mortgage on a house in Florida and one in San Diego, the odds of them each defaulting were independent, that is, there was no correlation. Multiplying that across all states of the USA (where nearly all of these mortgages originated), the correlation was assumed to be even lower. You soon learn that whenever someone brings algebra and applied mathematics into investing, you need to keep your wallet closed.

2) The one way moves in house prices over the prior years meant that market volatility was low (that is to say that prices hadn't bounced up and down but had only moved up in the previous 10 years) and so the risk premium was further lowered.

The oddest thing about the insurance market for such bonds was that you didn't actually have to own anything to buy insurance.

- You didn't have to be the house owner taking a bit of insurance in case your freshly bought house suffered a loss in value.

- You didn't have to be the banker who had sold the mortgage taking additional insurance in case your client couldn't pay.

- And you didn't have to be the eventual buyer of the securitised loan tranches that had been painstakingly assembled

This is much the same as me being able to buy a fire insurance policy on an allotment shed and then being able to throw a can of petrol and a match into it - without anyone knowing that you were going to be the beneficiary of the insurance policy.

Actually, the people buying these insurance policies didn't need any petrol. They had studied the market and decided that the unvarying ascent of house prices couldn't go on and so they'd decided to bet against it - that is, to go short.

In stock markets, if you want to go short you have to find someone to lend you the stock (you then sell it for them, promising to buy it back and deliver it back to whoever you borrowed it from). This has the neat effect of meaning that you can only go short what is out there - you can't find twice as much stock as exists to go short. It is also self-regulating - the more stock that is borrowed, the more risk there is that a sudden spike in the price driven by a news event can financially cripple those going short.

Those shorting the subprime market didn't need to own any of the bonds, didn't need to borrow them from anyone, they didn't even need to know how many were out there. Entirely synthetic (i.e. made up) transactions could be created that mimicked the behaviour of the real bonds. And they could be made up in huge volumes - far higher volumes than existed of those bonds. $1 of bonds could be insured once, ten times or a hundred times. Worse still, the lack of a central clearing house and a liquid market meant that everything was priced individually - there was no easy way to get a price for what you were buying (or selling) other than from whoever had their hands on it at the time. This was Michael Milken and Drexel's junk bonds all over again.

With the housing market moving up, those buying insurance were widely thought of as the dumb money. Insurers were happy to collect a couple of million on a $100 million portfolio every year. After all, housing was strong, the economy was strong, house prices hadn't gone down in 10 years and it was easy money. All money in such instances is easy. Until it isn't. We've been here before - the South Sea bubble, the LTCM crash, the dotcom bubble and so on.

And as everyone surveys the global wreckage and now that the money has been spent to prop up the banks, the regulators are going after the perpetrators. They have, though, started in an interesting place. Goldman Sachs, the poster child for banking profitability (and one of the few banks left standing largely on its own two feet after the crisis). Others will follow - it looks like Morgan Stanley is already next in line. This feels a bit like the Martha Stewart prosecution - go for the highest profile victim, hope to get a quick settlement and sizeable fine and then use that to scare everyone else into paying up without a fight. Martha resisted for a long time and went to jail for her trouble. It seems likely that Goldman will resist too.

The chain of people involved in this crisis is long and distinguished - involving everyone from individual home owners, to local banks, to big syndicating banks, to international buyers, global insurance sellers, regulators in each and every country, rating agencies, the media and others, including you and me. It's important, I think, to look at the role each of those played in creating this monster of a market, but concluding on the guilt and innocence of the chosen target, Goldman Sachs/

As Escher himself said:

"So let us then try to climb the mountain, not by stepping on what is below us, but to pull us up at what is above us, for my part at the stars; amen"

This is Part 1 of 3.

Viewers of this profile also viewed ...

Linkedin is trying to convince me I know someone who I'm sure I don't know. When I look at their profile, it says that people who looked at it also viewed:

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That's some collection ... Celebrity linking in action?

MiCoach and Me

Ever the sucker for more data about what's going on with me when I'm out running, I've started using MiCoach from Adidas. Three runs in, I like it. Here's a sample of its output with the same run as recorded by my Forerunner 310XT and then synced to Rubitrack. I've written about Rubitrack and why I like it before (and there's still no sign of SportTracks for Mac either).

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(figure 1. 6.25km run in 30m 57s - MiCoach output)

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(figure 2. Same run, Rubitrack data)

So why more data? And what's so interesting about MiCoach? Here's what I think:

1. It connects between through your MP3 player (an iPhone in my case) and talks to you through the headphones as you run. Not so good for audibooks (it doesn't pause the audio, just silences it and talks over it) but fine with music.

2. You can use the default zones or set customised ones. In the graph above, I've used a slightly higher rate than the default for my yellow zone (set to 158-166 in my case). In figure 3 you can see a more complicated set of zones - essentially interval training where I asked MiCoach to push me every few minutes, gradually stepping up the pace, and then reducing it again. You'll see that I couldn't get my heart rate down to the blue zone (I'd have been walking). So you'll probably need to spend a bit of time customising the zones. In figure 1, the yellow zone seems to correspond to a pace of about 5min/km +/- 15 seconds/km for me. That's reasonably consistent with figure 3, where the green zone is about 5:45min/km and red is sub 5min/km.

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(Figure 3. 13km run in 1h 8m 7s - MiCoach output)

3. Audio Interruptions are only as often as you change zones or occasionally when you are outside a zone you're supposed to be running in. MiCoach doesn't butt in every 30 seconds if you're way outside of a zone. Those interruptions are brief - "speed up to yellow zone" or "maintain green zone". It will take you some time, I think, to figure out where any given zone is - and because MiCoach doesn't interrupt you too often, you won't always be sure. In figure 1 I maintained the yellow zone around 65% of the time; in figure 3 I'm in zone only about 35% of the time (although at about the 50 minute time I realised I was in for a shot at a good time for the route so I stepped up the pace for the last 20 minutes finishing the last two km in less than 5min/km)

4. Pace data is interesting but I'm often thought heart rate data was perhaps more interesting as you can get a better sense of your level of exertion, particularly as you get fitter. But what is interesting is the audio reporting on how you're doing. And MiCoach does that neatly, only telling you where you are with your heart rate when you need to change pace - or if you press the centre button on the device itself (when it gives you a complete summary).

So far, I'm intrigued by the MiCoach. Of course I'd like a single device that does all this - or, worst case, multiple devices but a single place to view all of the data. This is early days, still, for exercise telemetry and there are too many new entrants to allow for data format standards to emerge, but I hope that they'll emerge. Until then, I'm tracking myself with combinations of:

- Forerunner (and Rubitracks and, as a side effect, Garmin Connect). This covers distance, pace and auto-mapping of the route taken.

- MiCoach (and its own website). Heart rate, distance and pace (via the footpod)

- KiPerformance/Bodymedia (and its own website). Calories consumed and burned.

- Fitbit (and its own website). Steps and distance.

- Nike+ (and its own website). Distance and pace (via the footpod)

- Dailyburn (and its own website). Manual data entry of calories consumed)

- Dailymile (and its own website). Manual data entry of distance and pace.

That's too many! Inevitably, they don't all get used, all the time. I probably use FitBit the most consistently. Fitbit is so good, it could have been made by Apple. It is a zero overhead gadget. All you have to remember to do is take it with you wherever you go and charge it every 10 days or so. All syncing is handled automatically whenever you go in range of your PC or Mac.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ever Wondered ...

... where taxis go when you want one and can't find one anywhere?

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