Friday, January 04, 2008

Cat Eats Dinner

Cat 5
More cash on the bonfire
In view of the couple of unpleasant real 'dog bites man' or, rather more usually 'dog bites small child', stories in recent weeks it seems inappropriate to use the usual cliché for reports such as this from the Guardian. Also, items like this crop up with greater frequency than savage attacks by dogs often of breeds wholly inappropriately kept as pets by morons.

Yes, it's another admission of the inability of the public sector's inability to implement a system any more complex than Windows Notepad (Mac users insert name of simplest OSX/Leopard accessory) without pissing a few million up the wall and then writing the system off.

The highlight is:
Joe Harley, programme and systems delivery officer at the Department for Work and Pensions, said the government's £14bn annual spend on IT could be used to build thousands of schools every year or to employ hundreds of thousands of nurses in the NHS.

"Today only 30%, we estimate, of our projects and programmes are successful," he told a conference. "It is not sustainable for us as a government to continue to spend at these levels. We need to up the quality of what we do at a reduced cost of doing so."

Source: The Guardian

Disgusted? Yes. Shocked? Still a little bit, yes. Surprised? Not in the least.

The rent-a-bullshit-excuse line will be for some unnamed civil servant to waffle on about what the measures of success were, and how not all of the under performing systems were completely canned.

As I've posted in the past, I'll be the first to admit that the private sector doesn't achieve 100% success, and when I started out in what eventually became CRM (Customer Relationship Management) around 60% of systems failed to achieve all of their objectives and most overran in terms of costs and time scales, but that was a long time ago. In the real world things have moved on massively while if, and it's a big 'if', there is progress in the right direction in terms of the commissioning of government IT systems then the term 'glacial' comes to mind.

Of the couple of dozen systems I've managed the implementation of, only two ultimately failed to meet the commonly agreed measures of success for the project, and neither overran by enough to even trouble the client's bean counters. I'm ashamed of the two that failed, even if it was largely because I was too young and green at the time to tell the sales person where he could go when he asked me to sign off on the scope document. I'm not sure that a civil servant with a pretty secure job and 'only' tax payer's money to play with would even take away that basic tough lesson from the experience.

Mr Harley is right to highlight the scale of the waste. It's not something we can simply shrug our shoulders at and assume that this level of failure is just the way it is when big business IT interacts with the public sector. More civil servants need to find a career better suited to their limited abilities. Perhaps even more importantly, some large service providers need to spend a very prolonged period on blacklists before they can once again suck at the teat of the taxpayer — I've seen how some keep the billing clock running and it would make a lawyer blush.

The overall spend on government IT will and, in many ways should, continue to grow as new opportunities arise to thereby offer better and cheaper services. It makes it all the more essential that we get these projects right.

Oh, and back to dangerous dogs...Yes I do have sympathy for those affected, but I'm not linking to the stories because I can't bear to read one more '...we never though Tyson would do a thing like that' line, no...really?

Heat, but Little Light

Energy Saving Light Bulb
A Health Hazard?
I don't mind doing my bit to save the planet if, that is, it needs saving; the common sense stuff at least. I do almost exclusively use public transport, but then I live in Greater London, one of the few places in the country where this is remotely possible. I do most of the basic recycling that lies within the bounds of reason for my relatively modest consumption, albeit more from a general aversion to waste than any great belief that it is saving planet Earth from some rather nebulous potential catastrophe.

I have also replaced over time most of the high wattage bulbs in the flat with energy efficient equivalents. This has not prevented me enjoying the beginning of a skirmish between two of my more loathed self-important interest groups, the zero-risk-tolerance health lobby and the enviro-fundamentalist likes of Al Greenpeace, over the news that energy efficient bulbs may present one or more health risks, above and beyond churning mercury into the environment.

With both lobbies being granted most-favoured busybody status by the current government I suspect that health and environment ministers may find themselves firmly impaled on the horns of a dilemma. It would have been better had this happened when the incumbents of these rolls were the truly appalling Hewitt and the increasingly irritating Miliband, but you can't have everything. Better still, according to the BBC article, their own Disability Discrimination Act may come back to haunt them, as those with sensitivities to the conditions in question may be able to claim a legal right to have access to old style incandescent bulbs.

The Devil, on the same news, also points out that their room for manoeuvre is somewhat limited, as since this is an issue of petty bureaucracy and limiting choice for the consumer that the EU is supporting an outright ban anyway. I did think that it wasn't a done deal in Brussels, but I shall defer to his marginally greater loathing and much greater knowledge of what the scumbags over there are up to.

In an earlier article on other alledged health risks with the bulbs, a campaigner on behalf of those who suffer from migraine pleads:
"We would ask the government to avoid banning them completely, and still leave some opportunity for conventional bulbs to be purchased."

Source: BBC News

I fear the spokesperson's words will fall on deaf ears, for in the world of officialdom, a banning that is not complete and absolute is like having sex wearing a reusable 19th century condom. In the case of our lords and masters in Brussels an even greater climax can be obtained by combining the ban with a little bit of protectionism for European markets for the substitute product. Common sense and pragmatism are forms of wrongthink for those bureaucrats whose limited talents deny them the capability to employ either.

Even for those who can't complain about a medical condition, there remains the simple fact that for anything other than basic functional lighting that energy saving bulbs are absolutely useless. Anyone who believes otherwise has either made the fatal mistake of reading a Greenpeace press release or some manufacturers carefully worded non-claims, or in the alternative considers that a couple of bare fluorescent tubes in their kitchen/dining room constitutes 'mood lighting'.

For all the appalling devastation I may be causing I will be stockpiling, in advance of their banning, a collection of the 20-40 watt standard incandescent bulbs and even lower wattage halogen bulbs (also fundamentally incandescent technology with an uncertain future) that I actually use in very limited quantity on a day-to-day basis. Their eco-friendly cousins will serve admirably for illuminating the smallest room in the house, and for when I'm doing my rare whip round with the vacuum cleaner.

On another minor rant...Is there anybody out there who actually believes the claim that part of the extra cost of these bulbs is offset by extended lifespan? In my own case, in a modern flat with a healthy mains supply, they seem to have an attrition rate the same, if not worse, than their predecessors. I understand that this is because it is unwise for them to be switched on for less than fifteen minutes, but am unsure how I am meant to get round this problem, especially in the case of the aforementioned toilet lighting.

I can only assume that at some point our ever helpful government will spend a few million to help educate us on the answer:
"Pee slower to save the planet"

"Take a shot in the dark to save the human race" (probably coupled with a "Men - Sit's now the law" reminder for obvious reasons courtesy of the leader of the Commons)

"Cross your legs, not your fingers for the future of the Earth"

Never forget, the capacity of Government for stupidity is the only truly limitless resource our planet has to offer.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

New Year Irresolutions

Champagne Bottles
Champagne bottles ranging in size
up to the mighty Kennedyaboam
Before I whinge, let me wish one and all a happy and prosperous New Year. Yes, slightly belated, but bugger all else happens on New Year's day so I didn't get round to a blog post either.

This is not my favourite time of year, other than its association with alcoholic excess, for a hundred and one reasons entirely unconnected with the motivations that make me spout my usual collection of poorly informed bile on this blog. These though are very personal ones going back many a year and there is still a a dormant, yet not extinct memory of writing off the dross of the year past and hoping that something good happens in the year to come.

After all, science teaches us that a violently inclined, over-excited white rhino, whose pension scheme was well and truly shafted by the last Chancellor, could spontaneously appear in the row of Commons seats immediately behind the Government front bench midday on any given Wednesday when Parliament is sitting and take its pent-up sexual frustrations on anyone who happens to be leaning over a dispatch box. It's about as likely as our current administration introducing a half decent bill in to the said chamber, true, but as long as it doesn't violate the fundamental rules we can still live in hope.

I'm the sort of person whose likely date of giving up smoking was severely retarded by Patsy Fuckwit's smoking ban, so it goes without saying that I don't really do New Year resolutions where every man, with or without a dog, can watch you fail to keep them, but I will try not to just seethe inside as much as I have done over the festive season and will get back to sharing the rage and what occasionally passes for my take on common sense, from here on in.

Slainte Mhath!