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29 April 2006

Scotland Search Engine

The Scotland Search Engine, supplied by Rollyo and compiled by me. This one seems to work quite well, enjoy!

I also tried building a search for UK shopping sites and finding a job with mixed results.

Roll on the semantic web and being able to make more sense of these pages.

28 April 2006

Track all the Digg Frontpage Google stories

Want to see of all the latest Frontpage stories about Google, including new features?

Here's the link!

Track news about Google.

Is Test-First Development an Impediment to Creative Flow?

Weblogs Forum - Is Test-First Development an Impediment to Creative Flow?. Worth a read if you're into Agile/XP. Coincidentally, I'm off to a seminar on automated testing this afternoon.

First Event of 2006
Date :- Friday 28th April
Venue :- Scottish Widows HO building, Morrison Street, Edinburgh
Time :- 13.00 (registration and buffet lunch from 12.15)
Presentations :- By Mark Fewster (Grove Consultants -

Mark continues the trend of excellent speakers who is well known and respected throughout the testing community. He has delivered presentations and tutorials all over the world and is co-author of one of the leading books on Software Test Automation. Since joining Grove Consultants, Mark has specialised in software testing techniques and all areas of test automation. As a consultant, Mark has helped many organisations to improve their testing both by the better use of techniques and by the successful introduction and better use of a software testing tool. The theme of the event is, not surprising, given Mark's expertise, is Test Automation. This theme is in response to feedback and requests at previous events.

Organised by the British Computer Society's Scottish Testing Group.

27 April 2006

How do you discriminate?

Consider this imaginary scenario.

You're a bouncer at a nightclub wondering whether to let people in.

Two people wait to get in. One in a nice suit and tie, the other is rather scruffily dressed with long hair and wearing what can best be described as a white sheet with very casual shoes.

Who do you let in? Most nightclubs would of course go for the nice looking gentleman in the suit.

Congratulations, you just let in Hitler and left Jesus standing outside.

An imaginary situation, but one that highlights how much we can discriminate on appearance and how we should be looking at the person rather than the clothes they wear.

Our society is riddled with opportunities for discrimination and the UK is one of the few countries in the world with a wholly uncodified constitution (the others are New Zealand, Bhutan, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Israel). If we had a constitution and set out a fundamental principle that all citizens are equal and discrimination is illegal we would be a lot further forward. Instead, we end up with piecemeal legislation with loopholes in it that starts with the premise that discrimination is legal unless the legislation says otherwise. So in 1975 we had the Sex Discrimination Act. In 1976 the Race Relations Act (amended 2000). In 1995 the Disability Discrimination Act. In 2003, Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations outlawed religious discrimination. In 2006, there is The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations. In 2007 the Gender Equality Duty.

Why not just start from the premise that everyone is equal, appropriate measures should be put in place to allow equal opportunity and any discrimination should only be on the person's ability to do the job or in other specific limited circumstances. Then we wouldn't be tying up so much of our parliamentarians' time passing another new law ever few years with the ensuing loopholes and nuances best understood by lawyers. It might put an end to the discrimination of women at golf clubs for instance. Then there's the purely childcare element following a birth that women can enjoy for up to 12 months yet men are lucky if they get 2 weeks (has anyone worked out the implications of this for adoption?). Indeed it might even put an end to male only clubs such as the Masons and Rotarians.

Anyway, as a society over the last 30 years we have steadily moved away from discrimination based on sex, disability, religion and race and focused much more on the abilities of the individual rather than their appearance as a woman, whether they wear a turban, the colour of their skin and so on. Much more on the person and less on what they look like.

The last discrimination is perhaps the example at the nightclub and dress codes. Putting this in the workplace, the issue of dress codes is still a touchy subject with many successful companies (Google, Amazon) going for the "who cares" approach right through to banks and consultancy groups with the full suit and tie and the ensuing issues in offices with poor air conditioning. It isn't about professionalism, since many professional companies have informal dress at work. It's a cultural thing and cultural attitudes are always notoriously difficult to argue against and change. Different offices, companies and indeed countries have different cultures and it's a question of blending in. It certainly wouldn't be appropriate for the police for instance to lose their uniform and visual identity.

What surprises me though is the minefield that many companies create for themselves in the complexity of the dress code regulations and the amount of time spent debating them whilst at the same time allowing people with mohican hair cuts and not saying anything about that. Clearly a measure of common sense is required and we should look at the trend of the last 30 years - it's the person's ability to do the job that really matters. This isn't about jeans and t-shirts in the dot com era, casual dress in the workplace goes back to Digital (DEC) in the 1950s and even before that.

Keep it simple, focus on the ability to do the job. Save time discussing the detail. Things would be simpler if we had a constitution framed that way, and things would be simpler in the workplace too.

Or will we continue to leave Jesus waiting at the door?


p.s. I'm not telling you what I'm wearing!

26 April 2006

Banish the Post Office queue

Every time I go to the post office there's a queue. No matter how much they try and keep the queue length down, inevitably you get stuck behind someone doing something complicated with a bank account, car tax, recorded delivery and so on. This morning there was at least 10 people in the queue and only 2 people serving.

I've come up with a solution to queuing for those of us with simple things to do such as post a letter or parcel, it's called weigh and pay and it's done by a machine.

  1. You place your letter or parcel on a set of scales to weigh it.

  2. You then indicate where you are sending it.

  3. You are then automatically given a list of postage options and expected delivery dates and choose one.

  4. You then pay for the postage, via an electronic payment method

  5. The stamps or postage vouchers are automatically printed

So simple, why has no-one thought of this before? It would create an express queue for people wanting to do simple things and the post office needn't even be open - ideal for post offices in supermarkets where the supermarket is open and the post office is closed.

The machine to do this is similar to the one you can use to buy train tickets with - select destination, available fare and payment method except the post office one has a set of scales built in. It isn't much different to the in-house systems available to businesses, so why is the post office so reluctant to make it available to the public and save the public's time?

There you go, I've just saved people worldwide millions of hours of time standing in queues. contact me if you want to send a donation...

Next please!

25 April 2006

Using CV (resume) style to write more useful reports

Communication is not only the key to a successful relationship but communication is the key to being a great manager and running a business.

However, some management reports from highly paid and qualified people leave me wondering - what was the point?

If a senior manager on a high salary is explaining to the company what they are planning to do this week, I expect more than just a list of things in their diary. After all, for a fraction of the cost of them composing an email they could just set up a public calendar, share their electronic diary and then I'd have pretty much the same detail.

So what's missing?

About 10 years ago, I took voluntary redundancy and went back to University to do an M.Sc. During this time and as part of the redundancy package, I got help from a professional agency in writing my CV (resume) and I certainly learned a lot about writing a CV that I didn't know previously. Of course, many people just copy the format their friends use and maybe some people buy a book, but for me getting independent professional help was more useful than both of those techniques.

A CV has but one purpose and it isn't to get you a job. It's to get you an interview. The interview has one purpose and that is to get you the job. An employer is looking for 3 things.

  1. Can the person do the job? (i.e. do they have the skills?)

  2. Will the person do the job? (i.e. are they motivated?)

  3. Do they fit? (i.e. is the person a good fit skills wise, personality wise and culture wise with the existing company and team?)

To demonstrate these three points on a CV in the limited space available demands clear and concise communication - the same skills that are useful in management reports or indeed in many business documents.

To do this, you must:

  1. Feature: Demonstrate what you did.

  2. Analysis: Demonstrate the scope of the change.

  3. Benefit: Demonstrate the outcome.

This is sometimes called the FAB factor.

E.g., you might have in a CV:

I have 2 years Java experience. Successfully used this on a project to improve the company website.

However, you could rewrite this using the rules above as:

Using the Java knowledge I learned in my spare time, I led a team of three in the company's first Java project. This project resulted in the website offering new search functionality, positive feedback from customers and maintenance effort going down by 50%.

Certainly has the FAB factor. Now back to those dusty management reports.

Old Style
On Thursday I have a meeting with our main customer.
However, I could find that out via a calendar!

New Style
On Thursday we are having a planning meeting with our main customer to set out our objectives for the following quarter. We expect several key new projects to be approved and commence the following week as a result.
Did you see the FAB factor?

Old Style
John Smith attended a course this week on widgets. Management probably don't need to know this since it was probably them who signed off the purchase order for the course in the first place.

New Style with FAB!
Following the course which John Smith attended last week on widgets, we will set up a meeting for the whole team so that he can pass on key points of the training so that we all have some widget experience. We will commence a project next week using widgets to consolidate this knowledge with John Smith acting as project mentor.
Well, that looked like money well spent on the course!

In the words of Sir David Steel "Go back to your constituencies, and prepare for government" (1981), I say to you "Go back to your cubicles, and prepare to communicate!" Go on, make your reports FAB!

Scottish usability events

Anyone in Scotland interested in usability, the Scottish Usability Professional's Association has an interesting list of forthcoming events.

The Web Accessibility Primer in May looks particularly interesting. Accessibility has of course been a legal requirement for websites since 1999.

24 April 2006

Training courses and prices. Because you're worth it?

The cost of courses - Over priced or justified?

Back in 1997 I did a Higher via evening classes of about 2 hours each. The cost of about 100 hours training over a year? Around £50.

50p an hour. This was in a language which took the teacher about 6 years to become fluent.

Earlier this year, I signed up for an advanced management diploma. The cost of 4 hours training a week for a year at a college? Around £1500.

Around £7.50 an hour.

I looked into doing an MBA. The cost of this for a year? About £3,500. Around £20 an hour.

I'm looking around at the moment at doing the PRINCE2 practitioner exam. The cost of doing this ?

According to the training index at Underoak, about the cheapest I can find is £1,390 + VAT for 5 days.

Around £50 an hour. More than twice the price of a university education.

The cost of doing a non certified course, say in advanced Java? Around £1,600+VAT for 4 days.

Around £67 an hour

There's quite a difference between £7.50 an hour and £67 an hour.

Assuming a mere 6 people attend a course, the maths works out as

£1,600+VAT * 5 = £9,400

Trainer's actual salary = £40,000
Scale up on the assumption they only work 1 week in 3 to prepare the course = £120,000
Add on a factor for their overheads and training = £150,000
So cost to employ a trainer = £3,000 a week
Cost to hire a conference room £ 110.00/day or about £700 a week including VAT and refreshments.

Total cost rounded up, around £4,000.
Total income = £9,400
Total profit = £5,400 a week, around 57%.

Just for comparison, the gross profit of Learning Tree is around 50%. Not much different to the profit percentage above.

Am I just imagining it or have course prices reached a settling point?

Back to economics. In an unregulated free market, the main beneficiary is usually not the consumer, it is the providers. They are free to set prices, potentially form cartels and importantly there is usually insufficient incentive for them to reduce prices once the market has stabilised (until someone like EasyJet comes along).

In a free market with constraints, the consumer can benefit if cartels are broken, price fixing ends and there is genuine competition.

I'm not suggesting any cartels here but isn't it odd how training courses have all settled around the £1500+VAT mark per week.

Especially when back to the PRINCE2 example you can get a PRINCE2 practitioner and
hire them as a contractor for about £400 a day.

Including their overheads that can't be any more than about £600 a day or £100 a day per course attendee.

Why are courses £1500+VAT a week per attendee when you could hire someone to teach the course for only £100 a day to do a roughly equivalent job?

Am I missing something here or does the prosumer need to speak out and start setting course prices?

That would be an education for all.

Web 2.0, I prosume?

Web 2.0, the Prosumer has arrived. About time.

Web 2.0, the trendy new web with pastel shades, rounded graphics but above all user interation.

However, why is Web 2.0 taking so long to happen when we could see it coming before the dot com crash?

The rise of the prosumer, the centre of Web 2.0, was first foretold in 1980, about 10 years before the web was invented.

26 years after the seeds of Web 2.0 were sown we begin to see it take off. So much for Internet time then. If that's Internet time in action then maybe Internet time has slowed down to real time in the post crash era.

Perhaps anyone interested in Prosumerism and web 2.0 could help me make some use of which I registered 5 years before Web 2.0?

Once web 2.0 begins to move from chat and recommendation into product creation, then the prosumer economy will have arrived and the third wave will be in full force.

About time.

23 April 2006

The speed of light is defined, you c


Probably the most famous equation in the world, although perhaps

e + 1 = 0

is the most beautiful.

Anyway, I would recommend derivation of Einstein's equation from the Lorenz factor as a quick introduction as to how the famous equation was derived as a consequence of Special relativity.

Why mention this 101 year old equation now? Well I was interested in going back to first principles. If Einstein's equation is derived from the Lorenz factor, where does the Lorenz factor get it from? Even looking at the very interesting mechanics and special relativity paper from Harvard still begins from the principle that the speed of light is the same in any inertial frame without proving why the speed of light is the value that it is. Mathematical constants such as PI can not only be measured but their value can be derived and proven.

What then for the speed of light - can we do more than just measure it? Can we prove why it has to have the value that it does?

I asked this question over on Questionville and found that the speed of light can be expressed in terms of Planck time and Planck distance.

However that only resulted in unanswered questions over these values and what causes them to be the natural units of the universe.

New Scientist has a special treat this week, Stephen Hawking and Tim Berners Lee in the same edition. I've mentioned Tim indirectly in an earlier post on the semantic web and in the strange new universe that Stephen Hawking writes about, surely it is not so strange if all the building blocks in all the universes are the same size?

We recognise the universal building blocks
do we understand their dimensions yet?

The thinking human's religion

In earlier articles I have tried to use quotes from religion to show that religious teachings have relevance outside of the religions themselves, such as discussing the evolution of the web.

However, we need not be religious to believe these things and indeed religion comes with its own baggage. About 2000 years of it, and that's quite a lot of baggage in anyone's Book (old or new testament!). Particularly when the formation of the canon of works known as the Bible is in itself subject to a significant amount of editing. See this Formation of the Canon of the New Testament. This could in part explain the lost books of the bible or an unholy interest in reading The Da Vinci Code. There is also the controversy of the Letters of Christ and Abgurus which despite being allegedly written by Jesus appear prominently in Anglican religion yet are dismissed by Catholics.

Clearly as a book of legends, the Bible is on one level little different from other legends from other ancient cultures such as the salmon of knowledge from Celtic legend. Yet these tales remained as separate works, rather than forming into a religion or a biblical canon.

With religion there is also the contradiction between cannibalism being considered one of the worst sins, yet isn't mentioned in the 10 commandments. Clearly it might cause a problem with communion - or is cannibalism OK if it's Christ's body?

Anyway for a moral slant on life without the religious baggage, why not drop in on the British Humanist Association. Certainly a very interesting read, particularly from the point of view of highlighting inappropriate and unbalanced religious influence in a modern secular society. Particularly relevant also if you want to fight the Intelligent Design / Creationism school of thought that's been pervading certain schools in the US.

Humanism - religion for those who want the message without the baggage.
The thinking person's faith.

If the theory of natural selection is one of the greatest ideas ever, perhaps we should think about how to mark the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth when it comes around on 12th Feb 2009?

19 April 2006

Optimized eMarketing, making sense of the numbers

A very interesting read on Optimized eMarketing and how to get the most from online marketing campaigns.

From Richard Irwin, the man behind, which became the world's leading independent hotel site and which had one of the lowest customer acquisition costs in the industry.

18 April 2006

Google, Amazon and the wonder of Scotland

About 18 months ago, e-commerce giant set up a development centre in Scotland in South Queensferry, home to the Forth Bridge which recently won the "Seven Wonders of Scotland" competition.

Included amongst the 30 wonders listed by The Scotsman were several which allude to Scottish engineering, creativity and inventiveness. The Forth Bridge for engineering, Scottish literature and the Scottish enlightenment, and Scots inventiveness is at number 25. There is a full list referring to the motherland of invention and the many things which Scots have given the world. The telephone, the television, penicillin, steam engines, anaesthetics and right through to Dolly the sheep. It isn't just the Forth Bridge, once hailed the 8th wonder of the world, which is the wonder of Scotland; it's the fact that for such a small country we have so much to offer and a well-deserved reputation for talent. This is the wonder that is Scotland.

Of course education is one of the main things Scotland is famous for, Scotland had five universities for a long time when England only had two. Scotland had by far the largest percentage of primary secondary and tertiary educated population in Europe, until Prussia caught up in the 18th Century. excerpt from the Scottish Education part of the Scotland FAQ.

Our reputation for excellent education and universities is one reason why chose Scotland as the place to build its first development centre outside the US.

That being the case, what can we do to build on the Amazon investment and encourage other high intellect companies to come here? Google is the obvious prize to land and I'm wondering why Google hasn't spotted the same opportunity as Amazon. It doesn't take a Stanford Ph.D. to spot the opportunity not only that Silicon Glen in Scotland could offer but also a campus of Google, Amazon and other high power companies in close contact with one another would not only benefit Silicon Glen, but would forge a vibrant and dynamic community. Like an extension of the University campus it could form a community where ideas would be born and developed in a hotbed of inventiveness, ingenuity and creativity.

I'm searching for a reason why Google isn't already here.
Are we feeling lucky and can Google seek out the answer?

16 April 2006

Rising at Easter, a new dawn and a chance to reflect

Not so much a comment on the gospel of St Mark Chapter 16 and Jesus Christ but another JC who lost his life for a cause he believed in. The other Easter Rising is probably a bit less widely celebrated in the UK but it has made Britain the country that it is and one of the most prominent figures in it was James Connolly of Edinburgh.

Today is 90 years since the Easter Rising of 1916 that ultimately led to the creation of the Irish free state and in doing so, created independence for Eire and changed the shape of Britain, forming the nation we now have.

Having visited the The General Post Office in Dublin and also The Bastille and Concord in the US (celebrating 230 years since the "shot heard around the world" on 19/4/2006) it is interesting to see the varied places associated with the birthplaces of nations.

What have we in Scotland? The foot in the hill at Dunadd? Iona? Bannockburn? Arbroath? The ballot boxes of 11th September 1997 which caused us to say "There shall be a Scottish Parliament"?

Sometimes the symbols of today are not as romantic or as inspiring as the symbols of the past, particularly when you're not even an independent country. Which countries celebrate "devolution day", oh. none of them. right.

Back to Ireland. It is clear that Eámon de Valera, James Connolly and others would have had an easier time of it if the British state has simple allowed a free vote on Irish independence. This is not the way of a democracy however.

Democracy - from Greek (demokratia), the common people + (kratein) to rule seems to be a great stick to beat nations with in the name of progress but a double edged sword when it comes to matters closer at home. It seems people+rule is convenient enough when it's another country on the other side of the world but not when it's your own country and it's single issue politics such as independence. Since when did democracy mean "only within the confines of a western party political system", this seems to be a rather narrow self-serving definition.

So where is democracy, 90 years after the Easter Rising and what have we learned? Not much it seems. Just as the Irish and Americans were denied a free voice to exercise their right to vote for independence in a single issue ballot, so the same situation exists today with Scotland.

It isn't about whether you advocate independence or not or whether you want devolution, independence, a federal UK or something else. It's about having the right to decide in a single issue vote whether democracy (= the people rule) should prevail and allow the people to speak where politicians fear to tread. Is this not the finest hour of the freedom of speech we're so quick to defend when it comes to Moslem cartoons? Would a referendum not be a more productive use of this right than using it to offend others?

Moving on to the situation today. As a signatory to the Independence Convention, I was in a meeting with The Earl of Mar and Kellie recently where the Parliament (Participation of Members of the House of Commons) Bill was discussed. This Private Members Bill introduced by Lord Baker, seeks to resolve the West Lothian question, but has covered wider ranging issues along the way including the mechanism for recognising Scottish independence. This question was put to both the Lord Chancellor and Attorney General by the Earl of Mar and Kellie yet I am not yet aware of an answer. Although a Liberal Democrat, asking the question caused Lord Elder to accuse him of coming "dangerously close to coming out as a nationalist".

It isn't about being a nationalist, it's about freedom of choice and self determination through the ballot box on a single issue.

If it's good enough for the Falklands and Gibraltar, surely it's good enough for Scotland or does the UK government not want to support free speech and true democracy in this country? Have we still not learned the lessons of Ireland and America when it comes to domestic politics?

Do we need to wait for the 2nd coming or will politicians learn to put their faith in what the people, rather than their party think is the best way to govern?


Software development: Quick fix or long term solution?

The most important word you can say to a customer is 'yes'. Yes, we can do it within budget. Yes, we can do it to your specification. Yes, we will deliver on time.

The other, equally important but often forgotten word is 'no'. Don't be afraid to use it. 'No' there is too much scope for us to deliver a quality product in the available time. No, we cannot give an accurate estimate until certain scope is pinned down. No, although you want this functionality, the public at large will not understand it and it will cause the website to confuse them.

There is a balance to be struck. I've worked on a large number of projects over the years for a wide variety of organisations where project managers were a lot keener to say "yes" than they were to say "no". These are symptoms of the industry as a whole where projects are cutting corners for testing, there are over running budgets, and a failure of large scale projects from Taurus (500 million pounds) to the national firearms register and no doubt the national ID register too. The Scottish Parliament Project has become so well known it is now used as a case study in management classes.

However, on a more subtle level there's another balance between the apparently successful project which meets the customer's needs but which is achieved at the expense of longer term goals.

We're all happy to bend over backwards to meet the customer needs on a project by project basis, but I have a saying that seems to be gaining in popularity particularly amongst those who deal with the longer term effects and it is that if you bend over backwards enough, you eventually break your back.

The problem is that many projects are delivered on fairly tight timescales to limited budgets and when the project development costs are quoted, the overhead of long term planning and strategic development can easily be sidelined and this simply stokes up problems for the future. Too many quick projects layered on top of one another adds quick fixes on top of quick fixes and the whole infrastructure starts to snowball in complexity, bugs increase, testing time increases, performance can suffer and team morale declines.

Time to take a time out and say where to we really want to be with this infrastructure and what do we need to get there? This shouldn't be a big bang every 4-5 years where you go through a massive, expensive rework and address all those "quick" fixes, it should be an ongoing process as part of each project so that the problems don't pile up to haunt us down the road.

My concern is that this has been problem has been a recurring theme for more than 20 years. Today, as we move to an increasingly Agile development, quicker development cycles and faster development environments (e.g. Ruby on Rails instead of Enterprise Java) we need to work harder than ever to ensure that the mistakes of the past do not get worse as we adopt these new techniques.

In the new world of agile development, are we doing enough in the strategic corner or are we simply stoking up more problems in the future for the sake of a quick fix?


Keeping the faith at Easter Time

After days of waiting, they woke on Easter Morning, noticed the stone had moved and knew that in the night a joyous change had occured.

No, not John 20:1 telling the story of Mary Magdalene visiting the sepulchre to see it empty at Easter time, but the story of our children waking and noticing that the Easter Bunny had hidden some chocolate under the rocks in the garden.

On a day when many children will be having chocolate for breakfast, I think we will all need a helping of faith to see us through the day with hyper active toddlers running on chocolate power. The duracell rabbit (we have the genuine article, don't ask!) has nothing on chocotoddler.

Is Easter with its chocolate eggs and Easter Rabbit an analogy of Christmas with its presents and Santa Claus?

It isn't just about the commercialism, but what do chocolate eggs and Santa Claus have to do with the bible anyway?

Since Christianity has dressed up many pagan rituals to make them acceptable, how should we dress up Hallowe'en with presents and a happy figure to allow it to be discussed in schools?

Food for thought. Mine's the fourth egg on the right.

Honest businesses and dodgy numbers

For some time now, I've had anonymous call rejection (ACR). This is a subscription service that automatically bars calls from people who intentionally withhold their telephone number or CLI (Caller Line ID). I wouldn't answer the door to someone who hides their face, why should I do the same on the phone with someone who wants to hide something?

This service has worked wonders, where the Telephone Preference Service was less than 100% successful, in stopping unsolicited and unwanted sales calls and means that in nearly all cases I have the person's number and can return the call, even if they don't leave a message on the answering machine.

It also pretty much puts a stop to hoax calls, malicicious calls, potential burglars seeing if your house is empty, and so on.

Great. The only down side is somewhat clueless businesses, banks and NHS 24 who for some unknown reason intentionally withhold their number as well. Since this means from my phone's point of view I can't tell the difference between NHS 24 and a dodgy double glazing salesman or a burglar seeing if my house is empty, I cannot understand why any reputable business would want to carry on in the same way as those nefarious characters. Indeed when my bank called recently for a security check, they withheld their number too. If they do this, how can I tell it's the bank calling and not an identity theft merchant?

I'm not suggesting that doctors on call on NHS24 have to give me their mobile number but how can any legitimate business justify hiding their number? The reasons for this are hard for most reasonable people to understand.

It's £60 to set up and a derisory £7.70 a quarter for a legitimate business to present an alternative number of their chosing.

Thus any doctor on call on NHS24 could elect to present the NHS24 number rather than their mobile.

Why do legitimate businesses, rather than pay less than 9p a day, still withhold their number and make themselves look like criminals, and junk callers and deny the public a chance to be confident in the knowledge that they are talking to who they think they are rather than a hoaxer?

Roll on ACR for mobiles. That'll put an end to those endless "free upgrade" calls.

15 April 2006

Chartered status

The letter came through today that on 3rd April I have been elected a Chartered member of the British Computer society. Chartered manager next?

Leonardo da Vinci | Renaissance Man

Happy Birthday, Leonardo da Vinci, Renaissance Man. Probably one of the brightest people ever. Inventor of many things hundreds of years ahead of their time.

Besides being a brilliant scientist and inventor he is probably the world's most celebrated painter with his works "Mona Lisa" and "The Last Supper" probably being the 2 most famous paintings ever. Read more about this remarkable man on the site above.

Like his younger contemporary by 23 years, Michelangelo, they were both left handed.

Is there any intellectual advantage in being right handed?


14 April 2006

100 at 100%

Got my new Ebay feedback badge today as I hit 100 transactions, with 100% positive feedback.

13 April 2006

The Entire Monty Python scripts

Dead Parrot. The Viking spam sketch. Argument sketch, all your favourites are here. Hilarious!

read more | digg story

Girl with a one track mind: Winner of the 2006 bloggies for best UK weblog

If you can't work it out from the title, you'll soon see what it's about when you visit the weblog. Sex sex, more sex and then even more sex. However, the quality of writing is superb :-). Oh,and there's sex as well.

The wonders of RSS are especially useful for reading the blog discretely in places where you probably shouldn't.

read more | digg story.

12 April 2006

Best Tech Blogs - we're listed!

This blog is listed on the 16 Resources on Best Tech Blogs - Listible!. If you like this blog, please vote for it, thanks.

As I write, we're only 17% behind the venerable slashdot.


Using Ruby on Rails for Web Development

This guide, Using Ruby on Rails for Web Development on Mac OS X, is a useful step by step guide to using Ruby on Rails, the rapid development environment which is now outsurpassing Python book sales.

You can also view an installation guide here although I'm not convinced it'll allow me to develop a web application in a tenth of the time.

Does that time saving include the endless hours convincing management that switching languages, retraining staff and adopting agile is a Good Thing. Time will tell...

11 April 2006

The birth of the machine

There is only one time in the history of each planet when its inhabitants first wire up its innumerable parts to make one large Machine. Later that Machine may run faster, but there is only one time when it is born.

From Wired, 10 Years That Changed the World. A review of the 10 years since Netscape IPO'd.

10 April 2006

Seven wonders of Scotland revealed: Forth Bridges come top

After an extensive poll, The Scotsman newspaper reveals the seven wonders of Scotland as chosen by its readers.

read more | digg story

09 April 2006

The Grand National and Investment strategy

It was the Grand National today (today for me runs from 2am one day to 2am the next incase you were checking the timestamp). The Grand National is the horse race that gets more people to place bets than just about any other event. The equine fence hurdling got me thinking about equity finance hurdles (yes, quite) and the odds of predicting a winner in each.

We all want to win of course but the only winners in the long term are those who can beat the odds. As in the casino, even a small edge when it comes to predicting the next winner in a race or the next card to be drawn will statistically mount up and the probability is that you will end up a winner in the long term.

Thus if the actual probability of a number on a roulette wheel (European odds) is 35 to 1, you'll get back £36 for a £1 bet. However, there are 37 numbers and thus the house has a 2.7% advantage and over time the odds indicate you will lose. However the world of horse racing and equity investment is not as clear cut as an unbiased roulette wheel and the odds vary over time. Thus if you place a bet at 11-1 on a horse that over time has a 1 in 10 chance of winning, the odds are stacked in your favour and ultimately indicate that you will end up in profit. The same is true for investing in businesses, however the potential winnings are much greater.

Take Google as the example. The $100,000 investment which Andy Bechtolsheim made in Google as their initial investment ended up being worth more than half a billion dollars. 100,000 to 500,000,000 is a 5000 fold return on investment. Back to the casino - if someone offered you odds of better than 5000 to 1 that Google would return a 5000 fold ROI then these are odds worth accepting. In reality if you were to look at the Google business plan back in those days even the casual investor would put the odds at probably 10 to 1 or less. Even a mere $200 at the right time with Google would have made you a millionaire. The trick is not the odds, it's having the opportunity to invest. If Google had advertised for investors back then and only asked for $200, I expect they would have got more than $100,000 and there would be at least 500 happy millionaires out there as a result.

So why is it that with reasonably good odds of a business surviving and turning a profit and with very good returns on investment if it does, we do not see the startup business community as one of those places where we can beat the odds in the casino and with long term probability turn in a profit? Indeed, why is it that businesses even in the age of Web 2.0 have to go through so many hurdles to get investment and it is still so hard to find with so much associated red tape? It's easier to put $200 on a horse than it is to have a bet on a business that if it comes home will not only benefit you but the economy as well.

Anyone who finds this an interesting analogy, please get in touch with the amount you are willing to invest and the odds you are prepared to accept and we will see where this ends up.

08 April 2006

Extreme management or extreme lack of interest?

When Extreme Programming (XP) began in the late 1990s, it started a revolution in software engineering which through the Agile manifesto is still evolving today.

That's all very well for writing code, but what about managing companies? Could the same principles of Communication, Simplicity, Feedback, Courage and Respect not be considered universal values that are just as applicable to CEOs as they are to workers at the code face?

This task in hand, I was surprised to compare the results.

Extreme Programming Explained by Kent Beck, creator of the extreme programming technique has 126 reviews and currently stands #8,517 on's bestseller list.

Extreme Project management moves a little down the Amazon charts with a mere 11 reviews and is #29,139 on the Amazon bestseller list.

Meanwhile bring up the rear we have Extreme Management that claims to tell us What They Teach At Harvard Business School's Advanced Management Program. Yet, despite the illustrious name, this book trails at a mere 7 reviews and is #625,532 in the best seller list. Moreover it doesn't seem to be about extreme management at all, instead it is an intense management course.

Is this a reflection of the quality of the books? I think not. It seems that whilst programmers are embracing change and adapting to the techniques of Communication, Simplicity, Feedback, Courage and Respect there isn't much happening higher up. Unless someone can point me to a good textbook for lightweight, agile management that is.

"Nothing endures but change" Heraclitus (c.535 - 475 BC) Greek philosopher. Often quoted as "Change is the only constant". That being the case, why does management seem reluctant to embrace it when it is the main driver of running a business?

The Anatomy of a Search Engine

The Anatomy of a Search Engine. This is the original paper describing Google, an interesting read for those interested in Internet history. As the article comments "Google is designed to crawl and index the Web efficiently and produce much more satisfying search results than existing systems". I guess they missed out the bit about making its founders fabulously wealthy in the process...

UK turning into a dictatorship - controversial legislation

The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill is on its way through the UK parliament. The gist of it is that it'll give ministers the authority to pass legislation (i.e. to make law) without it having to be passed through the parliament. In effect, it will turn the UK into a dictatorship.

read more | digg story

Good Morning Silicon Valley: Off Topic

Good Morning Silicon Valley: Off Topic. Some great amusing stories daily from Silicon Valley.

07 April 2006

Quiz of the day

What's the difference between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown?

One went to school in Scotland, was elected in 1983, moved into No 10 in 1997, strongly advocated the war in Iraq and is happily married with a family.

The other one is Prime Minister.

06 April 2006

Bird Flu arrives in the UK

Story submitted to makes the front page. 3rd attempt at getting the blog facility on digg to point to the correct place :-(

read more | digg story

Tartan Day

Happy Tartan Day. For the background on this event, no it didn't start in New York, see the soc.culture.scottish FAQ article on it.

Tartan day marks the signing of the declaration of Arbroath and alongside winning Bannockburn (Scotland 1, England nil incase you need reminded), these are two of the most significant dates in the struggle for Scottish nationhood and independence.

Yet tartan day in particular is commemorated more in North America than it is in Scotland and outside of Arbroath and the Scottish Executive, it passes by in Scotland with not much of a mention.

Given that we are One Scotland, a multicultural nation which embraces traditions from all round the world, why are we so reluctant to embrace traditions about our own country when they are so readily taken up by Scots elsewhere in the world? Can we not embrace the best parts of Scottish American culture and have a parade on Princes Street that ranks alongside the one that will be taking place in New York this week?


05 April 2006

Boing Boing: Why is it OK to show a man's breasts on TV? asks Bennett Haselton

Boing Boing: Why is it OK to show a man's breasts on TV? asks Bennett Haselton

Old supermarket trolleys can land you in hospital

A little over two years ago when our youngest daughter was 26 days old she was rushed by ambulance and admitted to hospital because of a defective shopping trolley. Had she been in the trolley seat rather than in a car seat in the trolley, the consequences could have been a lot more serious as she would have been a lot less protected. More than two years later, the shop in question still has equally ancient shopping trolleys that could result in a similar accident.

I'm not mentioning the shop in question not because of legal reasons (we have now settled financially with the shop) but because all of the major supermarket chains seem to be just as bad as each other and it would be unfair to draw particular attention to one of them. My aim with this posting is to raise the issue to avoid the problem happening anywhere, not just in the store we visited.

What happened is that we parked the car, carried the baby from the car to the trolley park in the car park and then pushed the baby in the trolley from the car park to the shop, a distance of about 20 metres. The trolley pushed fine and was perfectly stable, even going over a few kerbs.

Once in the shop, however, one of the front legs of the trolley almost completely snapped off. It looked like it had been hacksawed but subsequent investigation simply showed it was stress. The trolley wheel ended up pointing upwards and the leg had a 180 degree bend in it. The fact that the trolley was moving, now only had three legs on the ground and was top heavy with a baby in it resulted in it tipping over and the baby landing with the trolley on top of her in the food display area. She was asleep at the time and did not wake at the time of the accident.

With a bump on her head, and being only 26 days old, the ambulance was called and she was admitted to A&E and subsequently to the children's ward for an X-ray.

Fortunately two years later she is doing fine and there are thankfully no apparant long term effects.

However, had she not been protected by her car seat things would likely have been a lot worse. Similarly with our two older children who were a good bit heavier, had it been them then the trolley would have collapsed with even more impact.

My concern here is that if ancient trolleys can simply snap due to stress, why are so many ancient trolleys still in circulation? Subsequent to the accident we took a much greater interest in shopping trolleys and were shocked to note that actually trying to put the two older children in a safe trolley was a significant challenge as few of the trolleys had two working belts to keep the children in safely.

Shops often post notices about telling them about wonky trolleys with dodgy steering and so on. Yet, many of the major supermarket groups have trolleys that lie around for months with broken safety belts and have trolleys in use for years until they become potential deathtraps and collapse catastrophically with no warning and endangering the life of any children in them. Equally an old person pushing a trolley that collapses could end up in hospital with a broken hip.

With the profits that these shops are making, is it not time that they took more interest in trolley safety, made sure that safety belts actually worked properly and retired trolleys from use before they became deathtraps?


02 April 2006

Sabbath ferry service makes waves

Sabbath ferry service makes waves.

CalMac is proposing a Sunday ferry service to Lewis and Harris. Once upon a time there was a campaign Keep Sunday Special which tried to force a particular way of life on everyone. People now accept that keeping Sunday special means being able to do what they want without legislation or other people's religions preventing them. Like last Sunday when I could't buy a bottle of wine for a mother's day lunch because I was shopping before 12:30pm. This religious over dominance needs to change in favour of accepting diversity.

I have no problem with others following a religion if that's their choice, but they need to also accept my point of view too. Religion, despite its "turn the other cheek" ethos is often remarkably intolerant of others' views. However, the practice should be that people should be free to lead their lives as they wish.

If those people who wish to follow the practice of not working on a Sabbath wnat to avoid using the ferries I have no problem with that. But for economic reasons and also even for Gaelic students on Skye returning home for the weekend, a Sunday ferry is surely a good thing.

I have an article on The BBC about this and you can read some of my other posts which mention religion.

Funny how the religious advocates aren't suggesting closing the roads on a Sunday. Why should the ferry be different?

It's Sunday as I post this and we're off to church later today.

01 April 2006

China buys Google | The Register

China buys Google | The Register

Free NHS eye checks for All

The Scottish Executive has introduced free NHS eye checks for all. A great move, but wasn't this the same executive which was against free prescriptions for all. Why one and not the other? Maybe we also need free political consistency checks in the Scottish Executive?

Waterfall 2006

The Waterfall 2006 conference takes place today, enjoy!

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