Saturday, July 31, 2010

Apple's Time Machines Goes Wrong

Saw this event advertised at the White City store (aka Westfield - something wrong with the Westfield brand?):

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Maybe they've missed the launch of the iPhone 4 out west?

Hard Coded Boris Bike Pricing

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Wondering (very much) why the prices for Boris' Bikes are printed alongside each rack. Surely a brilliant opportunity missed for demand-based pricing (not to mention that if they do want to change the prices they'll have to visit each and every rack)? Cheaper in the day time (to encourage tourists?), more expensive in the morning (to discourage commuters?) or entirely the other way round depending on the usage model and how things work out over the coming weeks and months.

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Meanwhile the one I looked at was looping this message over and over again, despite there being no customer anywhere near.

I wonder if they're using the StreetCar supply/demand forecasting engine to figure out where new bikes will be needed and where bikes will have to be transferred between during the day?

Still a huge fan of the idea and hoping that these are just teething troubles.

Electric Parking Tickets

£90,000 on a car ... no congestion charge ... but attracts parking tickets like iron filings to a magnet

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Diet Running

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A full day of fly fishing yesterday ... caught some fish ... ate the same fish that evening (surely as fresh as they come) ... accompanied with fine Burgundy ... ran 5km this morning

Not typically good preparation for a run you'd imagine

But I took 30 seconds off last week's 5km race at Parkrun.

There must be something to the wine and fish diet - I even took the long way home and ran another 15km.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Art of the Possible

I've passed this building several times in the last few weeks

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I'm keen to go in and find out what they do. And, especially, to ask why this kind of study wasn't around when I was at school.

Meeting Output

Why is a whiteboard something like this so common in meeting rooms?

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It seems to me that all meetings start off with good intentions - people want structure and note-taking and discipline. Quickly, that all falls away. And what's left is like the imprint in rock of a long dead animal - evidence that something was there, some flash of inspiration, the remnants of a desire for that structure. Not, though, enough to see the DNA of the meeting and determine actually what went on.

This text was still on the whiteboard 3 days later when I was back in the same meeting room. I hope someone will use it soon.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Facilitators Unite

Another photo from Matthew ...

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No non-participative, argumentive, unfunny mobile phone calls then. And, apparently, you can't agree.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Apple On Twitter

As long as "on" means no more than present. This is the twitter page of one Scott Forstall, an SVP responsible for iOS at Apple:

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Oh to have 25,000 followers - and not even made one tweet. If you're wondering who the one person he's following is, it's Conan O'Brien.

What No Nokia?

From Silicon Alley Insider:

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RIM is tanking, Motorola is slipping and Palm is dead? Them's fighting words ...

The .GovApp Goldrush

Last May I looked at iPhone apps delivered by governments. Almost inevitably, Utah had been first but there was already an "open.gov.alike." I challenged direct.gov to do the same (at launch in 2002 it rendered a version with cutdown content to fit any mobile screen and we'd enhanced that over the years to deal with newer phones, using CSS that detected which browser was accessing it, but an App, well, that's a whole new thing.

At the time, though, I missed the obvious point which was to define that moment as the starting gun for the goldrush. Just as departments had rushed to put websites live in the years from 2000 onwards, it should have been obvious that the same would happen for apps.

Now, a year on, the BBC published this story:

BBC News has learnt that the Government has spent tens of thousands of pounds developing iPhone applications. A Freedom of Information (FOI) request revealed that development costs ranged from £10,000 - £40,000.

The most expensive application was a proposed Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) app that provides "a masterclass for changing your wheel".

Documents seen by the BBC reveal that the DVLA Motoring Masterclass app would cost £40,000 and would also work out fuel mileage, act as a hazard light and track RAC patrols.

By the end of May there were over 53,000 downloads of the Jobcentre Plus app, although critics have asked why someone who can afford both an iPhone and the expensive running costs would need a Jobcentre Plus app.

But very quickly the guillotine has come down on this line of spending - and many departments have said that they have no plans to even start:

However, a number of government departments said they had no plans to develop iPhone applications, including the Department for Culture. Media and Sport, HM Treasury, Northern Ireland Office, Scotland Office, Government Equalities Office, Ministry of Justice, the Cabinet Office and the Department for International Development.

"Future spend on iPhone development will be subject to strict controls: only essential activity, approved by the Efficiency and Reform Group, which is chaired by the Minister for the Cabinet Office and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, will be allowed".

One department was unable to provide information:
But the Home Office declined the FOI request for information on its iPhone apps, saying security concerns "prevent us from supplying information".
Earlier this year I wrote a couple of posts about what gov should do with mobile apps:
1) Can gov do beta? On how .gov might deal with negative feedback over its apps on iTunes2) Apps on the move - suggestions for other apps

I find myself, therefore, torn when I read the BBC's article. Surely we want:
Our government to be where the people are. My dear, late, friend Angela Vivian talked often of putting her JobCentrePlus kiosk in the local pub- because that's where the unemployed people are (a very John Dillinger-styled quote).
Services that are easy to use, that require no thinking, that don't tether people to a PC at their desk (remembering that we have more phone penetration than PCs in the UKs and that whilst the bulk of those phones are not smart phones, they will be
Innovation at many levels in government, including in the way services are offered, the way data is opened up, the joining up of services and so on
Migration from call centre operations to self service, whether on a desktop or mobile phone so as to reduce costs
But we certainly don't want a wildly diverse ecosystem of departments writing mobile phone apps, learning the lessons over and over again. Which leaves us with two options
All mobile apps are written by the direct.gov team and so consistency of brand, presentation and capability is maintained. Spend can be tightly managed and audited, code will be reused and lessons learned each time, making the next one slicker. But direct.gov doesn't own the integration with the back ends of [m]any government departments, so will be reliant on those departments opening up their systems for access. Direct.gov is also not the likely route for local government applications (which formed the bulk of the apps in my "apps on the move" post above)
Or

Government writes no apps and continues the policy of making its data available by making its APIs available. If opening data is hard, opening APIs is even harder - imagine the risk you take if you allow a 3rd party app developer to access you tax information. Imagine also the flak that government will come under if services developed are shoddy, lack features, are unstable or insecure and so on.

Neither solution is ideal but, on balance, I favour the former. At the same time, I favour controls over what gets built and why, to ensure that there are no vanity projects - ie that each app fits a real need that is backed up by strategy and underpinning data.

The remaining problem then is which phones to support? From the sounds of it everyone has so far gone for iPhone presumably because that's where the customers are (although I remember seeing announcements that directgov would be supporting Android).

When we put Self Assessment online, all those years ago, we started with the most common tax forms (the ones that 7 million of the 8 million odd taxpayers needed). We didn't put the complicated ones in - those that dealt with foreign income, multiple homes and so on. We also only supported Windows. We had plans to support everything eventually of course.

But not long after launch we received a formal complaint from a Welsh Mac-using vicar. It turns out the clergy have a special tax form, just for them. And, of course, we hadn't got as far as Macs or the Welsh language (in contravention of the 1995 Welsh Language Act of course)

Inevitably, the mobile app teams started somewhere. And all those who weren't at the same start point naturally complained. They will have to broaden their offer but I am sure that was the original plan. With the new controls on app development, it may be some time before we see further innovation (or even expansion of the range of platforms supported). Personally I think that will be a shame.

Having cautioned government to think hard about venturing into mobile services in 2003 because of a range of difficulties, I was proud to see directgov step into the fray with their initial offer.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Indian Infrastructure By The Numbers

It's a while since I've been to Delhi but when I was last there it was crying out for infrastructure investment - power, roads, communications and, especially, at the airport. in the next few weeks a new terminal opens with

48 gates

78 aerobridges

97 automated walkways

168 check in counters

4,300 parking spaces

12,800 bags per hour capacity

15,000 volunteers doing the testing (let's hope they read the T5 lessons learned review)

30,000 workers involved

170,000 square metres of carpet

215,000 square feet of retail space

500,000 square metres of granite floors

1,000,000 trees (in and around)

5,500,000 square feet built up area

34,000,000 passengers per annum capacity

2,000,000,000 GBP in investment (up about 30% on the original budget)

To put that in perspective, in 2007 the entire airport handled only 23 million passengers. They're forecasting a need for 100 million by 2030. Climate change notwithstanding.

This will be an air terminal to rival, say, Hong Kong's. It will be the 3rd largest passenger terminal (after those in Dubai and Beijing of course). Yes, it's bigger than T5 at Heathrow and T4 in Madrid.

Delays have hit the project recently, perhaps inevitably given its enormous scale.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A different Alan Mather

May he Rest In Peace

For the last 3 years an employee of Natural England (an NDPB that I worked with whilst at defra some years ago), has spent a week each summer volunteering as part of a Great War archaeology group called No Man’s Land that has been undertaking an archaeological dig in Belgium. The multi-national group has been following the fate of the 33rd Battalion of the 3rd Infantry Division of the Australian Army, who trained on Salisbury Plain and were then deployed at the Battle of Messines in 1917.

In 2008 the group recovered the remains of an Australian soldier from an excavation in a flax field, the soldier has now been identified as Private Alan Mather. Private Mather will be buried with full military honours this month with members of his family in attendance.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

British 10k Tips

I've written before about the British 10k. Great race though it is, it has some problems that you might want to know about before you run, especially if the weather is as hot as the current forecast.

If you've got the race t-shirt, you're probably none the wiser what the actual race route is. This is the route that we ran last year, I think it will be the same this time round (although in previous years it has changed a little each time). First the whole course and then a slightly zoomed in version:

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Watch for the 3 double backs

1) Just by Southwark Bridge

2) On Westminster Bridge (on the South Side)

3) On Victoria Street (a 1/2 km past Parliament Square)

If you're running, have a great day.