Monday, July 31, 2006

NHS's Strange Mode of Failure

The title of this post isn't some sort of engineering metaphor being used to explore the tribulations of the UK's National Health Service. Although it could be. No, this post is about a massive IT failure which has resulted in NHS employees not being able to access Patient Administration Systems (PAS) across Birmingham and the Black Country, Cheshire and Merseyside, Cumbria and Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Shropshire and Staffordshire and the southern part of the West Midlands. PAS systems are used to administrate hospital bookings, so as well as managing the patients, the systems schedule the facilities of the hospitals too. The systems, which are centrally hosted by CSC and their supplier Hitachi, have been off line since Sunday morning. I've only been able to find information on the BBC and The Guardian so far, where it is claimed that the problem was caused by a Network Area Storage failure. According to a spokesman from NHS Connecting for Health "The nature of the incident meant that service could not immediately be provided by the back-up systems." Now that is a strange failure mode.

It wouldn't be strange for a home user. It wouldn't be strange for a small business. However, it's quite strange for anything supporting more than several hundred users and extremely strange for as large a deployment as this.

I hope there's an enquiry into how and why this happenned. It's a terrible indictment of the state of IT in the NHS.

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What the UK needs is a Cafepress impersonator

Ok, it wouldn't be very creative to just copy Cafepress, but their business model of printing your pics on all sorts of merchandise for your own, or other's, delectation would work well here in the UK. I must have placed half a dozen orders with Cafepress over the last 2 years and I've probably spent the same again on the US Postal Service to get the goods to me. There are imitation sites in the US such as Threadless but whoever does this in the UK will make a fortune.

There you go... free advice.

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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Foxhills in Surrey

Foxhills, Surrey
Money burning a hole in your pocket? Looking for another monthly subscription? Well, this photo sums up everything I'd want in a golf club. What else do you need?

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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Nokia N70 Update

Further to my earlier post about my Nokia N70, I'm still "generally satisfied" with the product. There seem to be a myriad of features which my network (Orange) doesn't support such as Push Talk and Orange Synch- or is it just me who isn't able to use them? Also, the Symbian OS does not provide enough utility for me to manage the files and applications on the device. Specifically, I can't remove some of the games which came preinstalled.

Anyway, my current main gripe is that after 6 months or so of working fine, the PC synch is being stubborn as an Ox (no disrespect to any of our four legged friends who might be reading this). The cable connection icon on the phone only seems to be working intermittently. When you first plug it in, it works and then seems to change it's mind after anything from a few seconds to a minute. When you do seem to have a good connection (according to the icon) the PC Synch software runs on the PC, but does not react at all when you press "synchronise" or "settings" (and it's not because they're greyed out).

I have the same problem with both my home PC and my work laptop so I can only presume it is something at the phone end or in the cable. The fact that the icon does appear at first suggests that the cable is fine.

This is beyond the limit of the inbuilt Help menus and is driving me nuts.

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Friday, July 28, 2006

Skype and Jajah- how much room is there?

When technologies are heavily based on commodity, you wonder how much room there is in the marketplace. Or at least I do. There's little room to differentiate, so do Skype have the whole market in the bag?

No, of course not, and along comes Jajah to prove it. Free calls between registered users- globally. They make their money on 'off network' calls. Sound familiar? Well, how about this- you need to install NO software. In fact, you don't even need broadband! Why, well you use their website to register, log in and set up your call by entering YOUR phone number and the person's who you're calling. From then on in, it is like a normal landline/mobile call using your normal landline or mobile phone.

Impressive. Ok, so I've not tried it because something says this is too good to be true. Am I being too British about this? Probably.

Oh, and they have a Jajah blog too.

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Orange E-Campaign Stops Before it Starts

Apparently Orange are experimenting with a new way to experience the Internet. Well, that was what the text message they sent me said. Unfortunately, I figure they told too many people at once because the Apache webserver they led you to was showing a 500 Internal Server error.

Curiously, the URL in the text message contained the folder /opera. I wonder if they've finally realised that the browser the Nokia N70 ships with on the Orange network is far slower than Opera and they want to show you this.

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Microsoft makes Biggest move into Healthcare yet

In what I think is an effort to kick start its Healthcare efforts, Microsoft seems to have moved away from its core strategy of selling platforms and enabling partners. The New York Times is reporting that Microsoft has bought Azyxxi (pronounced ah-zik-see), a Washington Hospital Centre incubated business who have implemented retrieve and display technology in their own hospital. Microsoft have also bought quite a sizeable team (when you think this is internal to a hospital) of nearly 45 people.

Unfortunately the article in the NYTimes is under subscription so I can't just cut and paste it or provide a link.

I wonder how Microsoft's healthcare developer partners will take the news? They might fear that they will end up competing with their own technology provider. Maybe they will welcome Microsoft's, perhaps long overdue, recognition of the healthcare vertical.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Successor to PowerMac to be Announced?

The word on the street is that at their World Wide Developers Conference, Apple are due to announce the successor to the Power Mac G5. The G5s are the only computers in Apple's line up to still use the PowerPC processor, with the rest of the range moving over to Intel. I could put two and two together and guess that...

...nah, we'll wait for the conference to open on 7 August and for Steve Jobs to deliver the keynote address. As if there wasn't enough to look forward to with the unveiling of the Leopard OS.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006


In a story breaking on the BBC site, future versions of the Monopoly board game will have the paper money replaced by a cash card and electronic bank.

Part of me laments the loss of the feel good factor of cash and the fun I used to have in stashing my notes away, but I suppose the makers need to get with the times.

One question- do I need to wait for my chip and PIN number to come through the post before gameplay begins?

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Consolidating GTD Collection Points

Merlin Mann, in his 45Folders Blog, today focusses in on the collection phase of "Getting Things Done" by David Allen. He ends by describing how important it is after the initial sweep to maintain your collection systems and keep them by your side at all times.

A colleague and I, both keen advocates of GTD, have taken this to the point where neither of us have a landline desk phone. The reason is that this removes an extra collection point- the landline answer phone. If we were to have one each, it would add time and complexity to collating tasks into our personal productivity systems (especially when away from the office).

Sure, our mobile bills are a little more, but that's the least of our worries.

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Monday, July 24, 2006

Google Dips a Toe in the Columbia River

Ever wondered what it takes to cool the thousands of servers Google uses? Well, a new hosting facility is being built by the Columbia River, Oregan to provide Google with access to cheap hydroelectric energy in the area... and they need it. Look at the cooling requirement of the building in this series of pictures.

The page you're reading now will physically be in that building one day. Wierd.

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Do Safety Features Breed Unsafe Behaviour?

An order for a Bournemouth bar to switch to polycarbonate 'glasses' on safety grounds is being challenged by the owners. They want to retain glass in a move to attract a more sophisticated clientele. I can see their point although two recent glassings do rather suggest that the clock is ticking.

I've heard things of this ilk described as "The Volvo Effect"- that is the propensity of drivers of very safe cars to drive with less care and attention than they otherwise might. The sub conscious can tend to think that you're immune to the consequences of lane drift etc.

Talking to an architect and an interior designer recently, they were suggesting that barge boards designed to protect walls in public buildings can actually engender a 'culture of disregard'. Staff and visitors see the boards and actually bounce trolleys and such like off them and drag bags along them. The professionals argue that in many circumstances it is better to create a desirable building which people respect- unwittingly or not. Apparently, how people react is not affected by their level of education or background either- everyone respects interesting and arresting buildings.

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New Tactic for Al Fresco Drinking in Bournemouth

Certain in the knowledge that this blog will not reap enough initiated readers to ruin our fun, I'm going to let you into a little secret which MissClick and I have adopted. The problem we are solving is that on the most glorious days, Bournemouth can be inundated with 60,000 beach crawlers. Therefore all the decent pubs and bars with outdoor space are packed, leaving you queuing at the bar, fighting for seating space and generally being disappointed by the experience. We've found how to have an enjoyable, peaceful drink in Bournemouth on days like these...

We head for one of the great hotels... The Royal Bath and The Marriott Highcliff have been tried and tested so far and have proved to be not only chav free experiences, but all round pleasant afternoons. You'd think that they'd be really expensive but for a round or two I've not noticed the wallet becoming thinner noticeably faster than at anywhere else. In fact, the jug of Pimms for £15 at The Royal Bath is a great accompaniment to relaxation in the sun and sandwiches are available for little more than at the chain bars across the town centre.

If you're lucky, you might even get a recliner. How decadant is that?

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Technorati Refreshes Itself

David Sifry today announced a relaunch of Technorati to coincide with its 3rd birthday. Technorati has always been really useful for its core functionality- blog searches. There's been some incremental tickling round the edges, but the revamped site now seems bang up to the mark in terms of ease of use and new features. It also looks like a few things have been ironed out behind the scenes in terms of updates and stability, but time will tell on the latter.

Unlike the quick visits I've been making over the years, I can now expect to lose many hours to Technorati over the coming weeks.

One complaint is that I look a bit of billy no mates- with only ClickRich favoriting the ClickRich blog. I'm sure my, ahem, intelligent readers have more important things to do!

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Pirelli Advert

Here is an advert unlike anything I have ever seen. To use the word advert belies its genius. Even John Malkovich cannot be accused of selling out here. This is intense.

If you hadn't checked the URL, you'd be left wondering what it's all about until quite a way through.

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Female stereotypes in IT

Information Technology is a male dominated industry. Every one knows that. Lots of steps are being taken around the world to redress the balance. We all know that too. Are we waiting to see what the results are? NO... everyone just wants to see how the Australians are handling this, and expecting a good laugh.

True to form, the Oz strategy is to take IT rolemodel women and show them in a sort of Pirelli calendar. Exactly what we expect. Well done Australia.

Those who think that Sonja is a little close in composition to a certain UK TV advert which I was involved with in 2001, need not fear that I was in anyway involved in this calendar. I'm just a blogger.

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When is RFID not RFID?

HP are keen for their new radio chips (or "Memory Spots") to not just be seen as another RFID technology. Developed at HP's labs in Bristol, UK, these chips will be able to store about 512kB of data- including video, sound or text.

Only readable at very short range, HP is being coy about the commercial applications (or they're not really sure). Putting the chips on patient bracelets with a full electronic patient record is a leading healthcare contender.

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

Will Hack force Skype to Open Protocols?

With the alledged hacking of Skype's proprietary protocol is Skype's best long term tactic now to publish that protocol and enable developers to create alternative clients and hooks in other products? Will the efforts of the Chinese techies, who have built their own client to operate over the Skype network, open the floodgates?

Skype's first thoughts will be around panic, verifying the story, possible legal action and taking technical steps to protect their intellectual property and avoid instability on their network.

Should Skype turn this threat into an opportunity? Think of the extra users that 3rd parties could bring. Skype are probably the only VoIP player to be in a position to build a formidable barrier to entry by being integrated directly into a myriad of apps. If they can control the accounts, and therefore secure revenues, then this could be the opportunity of their lifetime.

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Freescale- One To Watch

Freescale is not a company known to most consumers. However, they are working on technologies which will thrust them to a near Intel-like status in the public limelight.

The first technology to put on your radar is UltraWideBand (UWB) as enabled by Freescale's Direct Sequence UWB chipset. This technology will take Bluetooth-like communications to where it is needed... more than 1GB/sec, minimal power consumption and plug-and-play connectivity. This will enable many industrial applications and, in the home, all manner of wireless media comms.

The second technology is the Magnetic Memory chip which uses magnetic switches rather than electrical charge. So why is that different to a hard drive? Well, there is a holy grail in enabling rich OSs such as the Windows platform to boot up near instantaneously. Accessing data from a harddrive is too slow. You need to use memory. The workaround in Vista might be to maintain power whilst the PC is effectively on standby. Goodbye environment. Flash has long term data degredation problems so is not appropriate. However, magnetoresistive random-access memory (Mram)might just be what is needed to boot up from.

Watch this space.

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Friday, July 14, 2006

Post-relational What?

I was visited today by a couple of chaps from Intersystems. My main hope from the meeting was to understand what 'post-relational' means when describing their database product Cache, and what benefits that brings. To be honest, they couldn't really satisfy my first hope thoroughly. Rather than storing data in rows and columns, it does some clever trickery around multidimensional arrays which means that you make fewer hard disk read/writes and you only store data (rather than the blanks in the fixed length fields).

Hmmm... onto the benefits. More promising, but how do you know what to believe? These gents were suggesting that if you rip out a MS SQL Server or Oracle database and do an ODMS or object port to Cache, then you can expect anything from a 4 to 7 times performance increase. Really badly written apps, or apps optimised for Cache could be as much as 200 times! Really? How do you measure that? Who can corroborate that?

The rest of the pitch was based on handling concerns. Yes, you can treat it like a relational database if you like. Yes, SQL statements run fine. Yes, objects using ADO .Net 2.0 will use the database unhindered. However, the jury is out as to what options you have if you are, for example, porting from MS SQL Server 2005 and using the integrated Business Intelligence-type services. Do you need a Business Objects to replace that?

My biggest question is that if it is so good, why is it not perceived as some sort of benchmark? Of course, what the salesmen won't tell you is what is wrong with it.

I'd love to know people's practical experience with Intersystems Cache.

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

IT Security misinformation in the NHS

After a review of a lightweight FujitsuSiemens tablet PC a reader commented that "I was dismayed by a Trust IT engineer response to a question about the timetable for wireless networking to the effect that the best wireless security can be hacked -wirelessly-in 10 minutes so the Trust is not considering it".

This is typical of someone who knows enough about IT to be dangerous being put in a position where someone actually respects their opinion. The IT "engineer" {choking on the abuse of the word 'engineer'} is living in the past. This was almost certainly true of Wireless Encryption Protocol (WEP) which could be decrypted from a finite number of data packets by finding patterns of known words in the header.

However, Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) sorted all that long ago (was it Windows XP SP2?). Get over it and get using Wi-Fi.

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Business... Make it personal

In this modern age of IM, blogs and emails I've just had an extremely refreshing experience. I've had a one hour phone call with the CEO of a large technology company we are wanting to do some business development with around a BIG opportunity. We must have spent 90% of our time NOT talking business or technology. We've not met before and covered about everything from William Pitt the Younger to the demise of native Indians as Europeans populated North America.

I've little doubt that this 'small talk' was essential to building trust and therefore securing the partnership. Don't forget that business is done between people. Make those calls.

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Monday, July 10, 2006

My 200th post, so put your feet up and watch this...

I can't believe that this is my 200th post on the ClickRich blog. So, I'm going to put my feet up and celebrate by watching this video by Frenchman Claude Lelouch who attached a camera to the front of his Ferrari in 1978 and handed it over to a Formula 1 driver who blasted round the open streets of Paris at speeds of up to 140mph. On release, Lelouch was arrested but to this day he has never revealed the identity of the driver.

A fine French achievement to detract us from Zidane's attrocious behaviour.

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

How sites used to be...

I was chewing the cudd with an old tech buddy tonight, lamenting how easy tech leaders have it today. "You can have a website without ever having touched a server", "I remember when we used to pay £36,000 per annum for our hosting" etc etc. We then started talking about "what the web used to be like". So, I thought I'd have a look to see what an antique website might look like. I figured that not-for-profits and associations might be fertile ground and sure enough came across The Channel Swimming Association.

Isn't it quaint? I love it. You can't help but spend money on their 'regalia'... oh, but wait- you can't. You need to email them your credit cards after placing the order online. Superb. I love the level of manual intervention required to fulfill the order.

You have to ask yourself the question... why need they do any more? In no way am I intending to write a post which is either patronising or snobbish. It's a great website. I might even swim the channel to prove my sincerity.

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Early Firefox assessment

Recently, I reported the need to install Mozilla Firefox, so what do I think? So far so good. The download was very smooth with my history, favourites and cached data ported over automatically from IE. This made the transition far less problematical.

So, what about the user experience? Well, it seems faster than IE6.0 and I like the tabbed browsing, although I think it will become more profound as you get used to it (I was naturally trying to Alt-Tab between windows). Equally it was frustrating that some sites wanted to open new windows rather than use the tabs. Hardly surprising really.

I found a few pages being rendered differently to IE6.0 and certainly not as the web designer intended. However, none of these occassions really disrupted my life immensely. Once such instance was in the editing facility, the other was on our corporate website.

Oh yes, and the first time I came across Flash there was all this business. Not an unsurmountable problem, but it makes you think about cross browser compatibility.

I'd summarise my experience with Firefox as really good so far, but it is interesting to see to what extent sites are largely optimised for IE. It's been educating.

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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

My African ignorance


To me, the mention of this nation conjures up images of droughts and starving children. This is why, when I read that Ethiopia produces 90% of its electricity power from hydro, I nearly fell off my chair.

When I alight this train, I'll have to take 30 minutes to learn more about this vast country.

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Monday, July 03, 2006

Great tool for documenting software requirements

The problem with documenting IT requirements is that you either reinvent the wheel in the detail you go into, or you leave gaping holes. Either that or the tool is too technical for a business user so they cannot express their needs.

But now we have a tool from STP which cleverly uses MS Visio, Excel and Word to help formally capture requirements in a structured way. This is no substitute for Unified Modelling Language, but then few true business analysts use UML (it's the domain of the developer analyst).

stpBA Storyboarding allows the user to drag and drop screens, controls and other components in the Visio environment and automatically drafts Functional Requirement documents in Word and Excel. Of course, versioning is all looked after and there are some neat screen grab tricks for where you are starting with a legacy system.

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When people are cleverer than you

Don't you just love it when you step back home after delivering a Technology presentation at a Healthcare conference, sit down to read your RSS feeds and see that someone has done a far better job of the subject matter on one of your slides?

I'm referring to Electronic Medical Records. I referred to half a dozen reasons as to why they're a good thing...

... Let me introduce you to the person who has thought of 50 reasons. Actually, the best I can do is to refer you to the EMR and HIPAA blog because I don't know who's behind it.

The first 13 reasons are here.
Reasons 14-26 are here.

Stay tuned to see the rest.

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Saturday, July 01, 2006

Open Mic for President

On hearing this clip of Al Gore turning comedian on Davenetics Blog, I figure this should be part of the presidential campaign. An open mic spot. It's perfect.

On a serious note, this is a clever tactic. Making your audience laugh (especially at yourself) is engaging and disarming. Al Gore goes on to discuss what the audience can do to reduce their impact on the environment- it's not the most seemless of links between the comedy and tough talk, but hey, that's why he keeps coming runner up.

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