Freesteel Blog » Whipping
A lot’s been going on in the world. It’s out of my hands. I don’t know anything or have any influence over it, so what I say shouldn’t matter. Very sensitive. Yadda yadda. Got to watch out because it’s publicly listed companies and there’s shares and high-stakes gambling and all that money stuff.
Funnily enough, private non-listed companies that do not have any jittery share-holders or regulations to worry about are even more extremely secretive about their businesses. I wonder if they bother to invent positive and vaguely plausible excuses for their secrecy when there is apparently no commercial reason for it.
Secrecy is actually about power in all frames. This is the week that the TPP trade agreement got leaked. The text outlines a vast expansion of no-strings-attached corporate monopolies (aka “Intellectual Property”) in all sectors of the economy — policies that have been soundly and democratically rejected in the past. There’s no reason to keep that stuff secret, except in order to facilitate a plan to ram it through into law in an instant as a shock to the system in an opportune moment.
Not sure why I’m talking about that. I wanted to talk about food.
Wednesday, October 16th, 2013 at 6:02 pm - Whipping
We hit the culture night last Friday on our approximately annual working visit to Copenhagen. With only a program in Danish to guide us, it was a bit hit and miss. Mostly miss. One thing that was a hit was an exhibit in a back room of the design museum where we said hello to lots of different materials.
Thursday, July 18th, 2013 at 12:04 pm - Whipping
The project for bringing forward the final date of human extinction remains on track.
We seem to be doing pretty well with our global engineering project to move as much as we can of the deeply buried fossil carbon into the atmosphere as quickly as possible.
But how are we doing with that other threat to the species: nuclear annihilation? Last night there was a Parliamentary debate. I am happy to report that Great Britain intends to maintain its responsibility for ensuring that this continues to be a potential outcome.
Thursday, May 9th, 2013 at 1:57 pm - FOI
In their new executive-summary-style webpages, the UK Government sets out its case that it is fulfilling its side of the deal that allows them to remain a nuclear weapons state under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty wherein they promised to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
I remember the old days of awesomely crap government IT projects procured for billions of pounds that always failed after going three times over budget, then got covered up along with their contractually obligated fail-safe profits for the corrupt IT consultants — who then repeated the process having successfully claimed that anyone who said it could be done any other way was beardy hippy whom you should take no notice of. Funny how the stereotype of a computer expert was usually a beardy hippy.
Mr Liddell-Grainger: The Government set up a project called True North… Does anybody know what it did? The Cabinet Office gave the okay to £83 million to set up a project called True North, which was to paper sleeve a deal with Government. It has gone somewhat wrong. The only reason we came across it was because the company sued the Government for £24 million, saying that they were plonkers and they did not know what they were doing… Do you think it is farcical that we have got to the stage where you cannot get papers, we cannot get papers? The Government are covering up projects that have gone wrong to the tune of £83 million —- and that has been a snip compared to some of the things they have messed up. Are we just getting to the stage where this whole thing is becoming a farce?
…It does not seem to work. You have portals everywhere; you have websites; you can go in one way, another way. How on earth we are going to have an ID card system that is going to work, if the Government itself at the highest level cannot even get a project right?
…Who should be in charge of this? Do you know what the total assets of the Cabinet Office’s computer resources are? £122 million. That is more than the asset value of all the buildings they have in Whitehall, believe it or not. We cannot find out what they are. Do you have any bright ideas? Why has the Cabinet Office got £122 million worth of computer assets? They wrote off £52 million last year in depreciation. Either there is an awful lot going on that you do not know about and I do not know about and we do not know about, or one heck of a mess has happened and we are not sure whether it has or has not.
Mr Collins: Again, it is hard to get information. There is usually quite prolific documentation in the early stages of the project about its benefits but they do not publish result implementations. There are some examples. The DWP is probably one of the biggest. They announced to Parliament that their modernisation/computerisation of benefits would cost, I think, £713 million and would save 20,000 jobs, but at the last count it was £2.6 billion and the number of staff involved had increased. There is a magistrates’ court system called Libra, which was announced as being a £140 million project. At the last count that was £390 million. But it is hard to get information on costs, because they revise contracts.
So, what’s going on now in this same Cabinet Office?
Well, the money finally ran out, and the expensive do-nothing consultants could no longer be afforded, leaving no option but to hire the programmers directly and take on board their profit-reducing rationalizations related to actually getting stuff done.
And now there is code, visible, being produced, that you can see does something.
The URLs are all pretty cool. That’s the front doormat of any website. Go check out their blog and be amazed.
Here’s my favourite bit:
What we learned
…We also learnt about the benefits of agile software development – starting small, getting user feedback early and iterating fast based on evidence of real need.
To give a small example of a possible many: before the beta several of us thought a WYSIWYG text editing interface would be essential for departments to format their content. But by building working software and unleashing it early we discovered that editors quickly came to like the simplicity of markdown and, a year on, more than a hundred people around Whitehall are happily using it. Developing something more complex would have been a waste of time.
I’ve often had arguments with dogmatists who think that programmers and users are separate classes of people whom it is desirable to prevent comingling. However, this last statement cannot be true. Nobody develops complex WYSIWYG editors any more when there are enough of them out there that you can install for free. Someone must have been far-sighted enough to keep that type of rot out.
The real reason to shun WYSIWYG editors in favour of markdown technology (like the kind you find in Wikipedia) is that (a) they obstruct touch typing and other performance improvements that come with practice, and (b) they are fundamentally incompatible with end user computing, which is where the real enhancements are going to take place.
is twofold: (a) Their human performance is slow
Somehow fate has led me to spend the night of the 2012 USA election in some crappy hotel on in the centre of Birmingham airport, rather than at an all night election party (not that I could find any). The £1 I just spent at the desk for a spare toothbrush was the best thing all day. I was drafted to be on the ScraperWiki stand at the EHI trade show today and tomorrow where I can witness the closed-source profitably defective UK health IT industry in its full self-sustaining glory, and be denied the free lunch because I only have an exhibitor’s pass. Humph! I’m not coming here again.
So the election is going to be close. Between the Bradley effect and the stolen votes (a corruption for they have worked so hard on for so many years) it can still credibly be won by Romney, who shouldn’t be scoring more than 10% if people voted according to their actual self-interests. You have to look on the bright side: eventually they will cut taxes so far they will be forced to rationalize the size of their military. Nothing else is going to do it — and war is the institution we invented taxes for.
Here is a scan of an absentee ballot, just to show what kind of choice is available to New Jerseyans.
I’ll wake up in the morning at some point, spend another day baffled, get home in time to play octopush, and fit in some real work after that
Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012 at 11:55 am - Whipping
The UK universities are currently tearing themselves apart with the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in a dog-eat-dog competition for positional prestige and percentage share of the fixed-sum cash grant. The process involves submitting the names of selected academics and their four choice papers to panels of professors for the purpose of ranking excellence and impact. The impact of a paper was to be objectively measured by counting the number of other papers that cited the chosen paper.
Now, no wise person would have embarked upon the mission to design such a process without immediate and first line reference to the well-known Goodhart’s Law:
Any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes [eg distributing money].
The law has two consequences: (1) The outcome will, over a brief time interval, cease to measure what it is intended to measure, and (2) the process of collapse can result in a great deal of collateral damage.
What sort of damage? Distortions of the scientific process. Numerous and unnecessary citations between publications that are often gratuitous. Many minimal scrappy papers rather than fewer complete and well-rounded ones when the numbers count. The submission of papers to inappropriate journals of higher ranking instead of to the specialist publications where they belong.
All of this activity drains people’s precious time and degrades the quality of the output.
And beyond this there is the more corrosive moral damage, the internal institutional jockeying for positions among the researchers who are selected by their superiors to have their names put forward. Those not in the list can be discarded, sidelined, harassed and generally disposed of as though their presence is of no material consequence to the outcome score.
Luckily, the REF2014 website has all the background paperwork, consultations and pilot studies necessary to piece the story together, and see to what extent the professorial class — the smartest guys in the land and on whom we depend upon to chart the course of the human race — considered the basic parameters of the human condition when they designed a process that applied to their institutions. God help us.
Thursday, July 12th, 2012 at 11:44 pm - Whipping
Just spent a long time getting to and spending time in a hotel in Florence at Europython 2012.
It was touristy, hot, sunny, very Italian, good conference food. This is from the fantastic painting of the dome interior of the Duomo
We also contributed a poster:
No more time for blogging. Gotta get work done and get to bed.
Friday, April 6th, 2012 at 4:35 am - Whipping
So the ScraperWiki hackday in the Washington Post worked out. The team arrived the previous Tuesday in order to get on with some of that capitol city networking. There was a shared apartment for three of us and a good old fashioned diner round the corner with waffles.
It’s been a long time since I have been at home, and half the people I know from home were here. Except the important ones.
Wednesday, March 28th, 2012 at 10:31 pm - FOI
Still hammering away at this. The Tribunal judge served the Directions, which said: “Having considered the reasoning and effect of the Supreme Court judgement I now consider these appeals now fall to be struck out on the provisions of rule 8 (3) (c) of the Tribunal Procedure (First-tier Tribunal) (General Regulatory Chamber) Rules 2009. This is because I have formed a provisional view that these appeals no longer have a reasonable prospect of success.” The final hearing date is 5 April 2012.
My first reply referred to all my other detailed submissions, which no one seemed to have taken the trouble to read yet. Then the other Parties (the ICO and the BBC) weighed in with their submissions “inviting the Tribunal to strike out [my] consolidated appeals.”
My reply to their submissions is below the fold: