Thursday, July 31, 2003
One of my workmates is helping to organize this festival. Looks good.
Gibson on Japan: a must read. Especially if you've ever seen Blade Runner, and you're highly unlikely to be reading this if you haven't.
"Mistakes are the portals for discovery." It's trite, but Jimmy Joyce said it. The old bean was harping on about portals long before it became a Buzzword of the Nineties.
This MSN piece is cheesy, but worth a scan.
It's a good sign of getting back to health after a 1 month bug that I banged off a letter to the Irish Times yesterday. And hey presto it's in print today. No point in linking to it as it's a subscription site. here's the letter:
BRINGING BACK BERTIE'S GRIN
Madam, - It is good to see the old self-congratulatory grin back on Bertie's face (front page, July 30th), after Sum Leader carried the day at the Galway Races. The man has had a hard time of it lately. However, the race course glow is a transitory one, and as the nation's woes continue to assert themselves, our Taoiseach would do well to reflect that the phrase "Some leader" can be uttered in more than one tone of voice. I don't think the admiring one is in the majority at the moment. - Yours etc.,
TONY MULQUEEN, Aughrim, Co Wicklow.
Wednesday, July 30, 2003
I'm getting peeved with the editorial quirks of the rapidly proliferating versions of the blogger web interface. I get a different interface depending on the machine I'm coming from: inconsistency - is there no server side user profile!?! The latest glitch is pasting the URL you're posting at the bottom of the page: I get this on the home PC. Eeeeeew! At a minimum you should be able to stick with a given interface, irrespective. And the whole point of a web interface is not needing to update the client. Duh!
As an old tech writing hack, I relish this Hall of Tech Docs Weirdness unearthed by KL on Boing Boing.
Old Salman Pax is putting his writing efforts in at the Guardian these days. About the right niche, I think. His latest piece is here.
Here's the Reg's take on the (almost literally) unbelievable story of the Petagon's proposed betting shop on terrorism. I think the blogosphere broke this story about two days back, collectively falling off their revolving chairs while laughing out loud. The mainstream media ran with it yesterday, various Senators got in a lather, and by yesterday the story was been comprehensively dissed on the Six One Live radio news. The Reg are a little behind the curve in discussing how it was going to work, and I get the deafening sound of hands being washed from across the water, not to mention military men shouting at one another in back rooms as in "who the hell let this one out??".
Tuesday, July 29, 2003
Here's a way cool idea: composers onstage use the ring tones on audiences phones to create a concert. With polyphonic phones coming on stream, this idea could be a blast.
Philip K. Dick meets David Cronenberg: this mobile operating theatre site is scary but kinky.
Worth a bookmark: MSN has a great top ten list of movies about chicks kicking butt. There's an unnerviingly large overlap with my Personal Favourite Movies of All Time - the top twenty at any rate!
Two weird ones came up today: the Pentagon wants a (real) futures market to play with, and Signor Jackboots is a closet arachnophobe.
I savour this quote from US Deputy SecDef Paul Wolfowitz, who said, "I think all foreigners should stop interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq." Hear, hear, Paul. Now just go home already, guys.
O'Reilly speaks - and it's well worth listening to him as usual.
Monday, July 28, 2003
Some reflections on e-gov in Ireland today. I wrote this piece for Irish Computer.
e-government can be defined in many ways, often depending on what the speaker is selling: from the use of IT to run the country efficiently to providing easy-to-use information and e-transactions between citizen and state. We’re starting to expect more of the latter.
Under the starter’s gun: e-Government in Ireland
The increasing availability of Internet in Irish homes, schools and libraries is moving the definition of e-government into line with anyone’s normal experience of doing business online. We expect more than mere access to public information via the Web. Increasingly savvy about interacting and transacting online through e-commerce, we have more of an appetite for doing harp-related activities online, rather than sinking in a turbulent sea of brown paper envelopes. The public view of e-government has shrank, faces averted, past disappointing internal systems such as the ill-fated PULSE: late, over-budget, and not especially focussed on serving the public. We look optimistically to the future, past community-centric initiatives such as Ennis Information Age Town and the Digital Hub project, and onwards to the aspirations for a single e-government portal – a Public Services Broker (PSB).
The good news is that the PSB project is work in progress. The less good news (unless you sell IT goods and services in this area, of course) is that it will be a work in progress, with many mountains to climb, for a long time to come. While no vendor we spoke to was willing to be downbeat, there was an underlying sentiment that we have started well but have reached a point where we’re losing valuable momentum, and falling behind where we used to lead.
Seamus Mulconry, Manager - Strategy and Business Architecture, Accenture, provides a succinct definition which reflects a public moving towards a web-centric view of e-government: “e-government is the application of the tools and techniques of e-commerce to the business of Government to deliver enhanced services at a reduced cost to citizens and businesses.” In the vision of web-savvy consultants and solutions providers such as Accenture, it’s all about providing better services for a lower cost to demanding punters who want “Texan-style taxes with Scandinavian-style social welfare”. The e-economy has relentlessly driven down the cost of transaction in activities such as banking, trading and travel booking, so there would seem to be no compelling reason why it should not similarly reduce costs and increase efficiencies in the state sector.
In this benign world-view, portals offer government services on an electronic self-service basis, developed around what the customer wants to achieve rather than what agencies want to deliver. They provide greater service to the citizen at a smaller cost to government. Services are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year: citizens online not standing in line! Useful services are at citizens’ fingertips. Increased customer services are provided at a reduced processing cost. Democracy is enhanced by a more open door to government, making communication easier.
Commenting on the portal strategy, Tom O'Connor, Version 1 Software, an Irish IT services company, sees a new sense of innovation and fresh thinking in relation to the delivery of public services across the entire public sector: “Enormous progress has been made on the specification of the Public Services Broker, which will provide the infrastructure to allow agencies and citizens/businesses interact and complete services online, or via phone/front-desk. The thinking behind the Broker is hugely innovative and when delivered will position Ireland as the leading e-government country, bar none. The procurement process for such a complex task will take some time to complete, but given the detailed thinking completed and documented already by the Reach agency on key matters such as security interoperability, and architecture, we can look forward to results sometime next year.”
The dystopian view is that for the Public Services Broker to be a reality for the general population, and not just a privileged minority, we have a lot of infrastructure ground to cover. We need to make much vaster strides in providing computer access to all: to the point where young and old alike use a PC as an appliance in the same way as a TV. We need to get seriously out of the blocks in ramping up the available bandwidth while relentlessly hauling down access costs through aggressive deregulation, and massive deployment of wireless networks such as WiFi. Apart from the democratic principle that government should be equally accessible to all, the vaunted economies of scale won’t really kick in while we’re still running massive paper systems on top of electronic ones.
Brian Fenix, Marketing Manager, HP Services, HP Ireland, is cautiously optimistic. “The level access to the Internet among Irish citizens has risen dramatically in recent years. The drop in the price of PCs and the explosion in Internet cafes have fuelled this rise. However, more still needs to be done to increase access levels across a multitude of devices including PDAs, mobile phones and interactive TV. There also needs to be more focus on promoting better access levels and Internet education in schools and in areas of disadvantage. “ He points to the success of projects such as the Classroom 2000 initiative in Northern Ireland, which will enable every child from primary school through university throughout Northern Ireland to have an Internet address and to access virtual classrooms. This ambitious Government initiative in the North may provide a model for development of a similar program in the Republic.
Likewise Mike Lucas, Regional Technology Manager, Compuware Ireland sees positive trends: “e-government is on the verge of reaching the masses. There will always be a need to further educate the public on what's available to them but that's a slow process. There are signs that it is happening now though . Back in 2001 more than 32% of Irish households had a home PC and of those more than 63% had access to the Internet. The CSO are conducting another Quarterly household survey in Q3 this year, the result will be due out at the end of Q4. It is expected that the number will have significantly increased. I think for the first time in the last 25 years the public sector is growing faster than the commercial sector - a sure sign that things are moving in the right direction. The public just need pointing in the right direction to the public services sectors and this can be achieved through localised education programmes. "
But we only get a low pass grade on broadband. According to HP’s Fenix: “Bandwidth limitations continue to cause problems with speed of access, particularly in the regions. The Government is actively progressing with its Regional Broadband initiative. However, lack of bandwidth is currently a major inhibitor to the success of Ireland's overall e-government vision and indeed a major inhibitor to Ireland's ability to attract and retain investment in the regions.” The nations IT journalists and industry users have been less tactful, and the public mood on broadband (outside the multinational data centres who are pampered with big pipes in and out of the country) may be broadly summed up as: “Could do better. Go to dunces’ corner”.
Accenture’s Mulconry takes a contrarian view to the idea that broadband is a prerequisite to adoption of e-government: “People do not need and should not need broadband to access e-government services, unless you want to video downstream Dail debates or the like. Broadband is not an issue for the provision of e-government services to the masses. In terms of skills, anyone who can surf the web can access on-line services. As a provider of services, if people need training to access your services, you have failed miserably.”
The UK Government, however, has taken a much more bullish line on broadband’s role in deploying e-government to the masses. According to David Hopkins, Business Development Manager for Local Government, Cable & Wireless UK, “The UK Government, especially through its Broadband Aggregation initiative (DTI led) has recognised the need for 'i before e', infrastructure before e-enablement. We see the benefits of aggregating Public Sector broadband demand to stimulate the enablement of BT DSL exchange and thus, as a knock-on benefit, help the private sector (SMEs and individuals). Much more emphasis placed on access for the individual and making IT available in community centres, public buildings and so on.” In short, broadband isn’t just needed for streaming Dail speeches (currently held in a 4 gigabyte XML database on a Sun Microsystems Enterprise 250 – one of the largest XML repositories in the world. The mind goes numb at the thought.)
Hopkins’s point is that broadband is also needed to reach large numbers effortlessly with basic information. And if you put in big pipes for the big users, make sure some of the benefit flows to SME and public too: Ireland please note!
According to Accenture’s Mulconry, In Ireland the majority of interactive services are currently Government to business rather than Government to citizen, and “there the numbers are looking very good”, and services are starting to deliver real value to Government and businesses alike. For the public, the overwhelming point of access remains the phone, and this will continue to be the case: until ubiquitous PCs, cheap or free access, and easy to use, well-known interfaces become much more common features of our relationship with the state.
Derek Wilson, Managing Director, Siemens Business Services agrees: “The wider issue is about ensuring that people can readily, quickly and affordably access the Internet from their home, workplace or community location. This requires more bandwidth, multiple access channels and simple low-cost offerings.”
Phil Codd, Oracle Sales Director, Oracle Ireland makes the added point that new and existing media can be considered also as information delivery systems: for example, text messaging. “The Department of Agriculture and Food is focussing on delivering services (where appropriate) to farmers using SMS technology as their research tells them that over 99% of farmers have a mobile phone. According to the telecoms regulator, the average mobile phone user sends 52 text messages a month. With mobile phone penetration at 79% of the population, that adds up to over 1.5 billion messages last year. This is a clearly well-established channel that is ripe for further development.”
Apart from insufficient availability of PCs, lack of IT training, access and bandwidth costs, other restraining influences on e-government are citizens concerns about data privacy, data protection, and data retention.
Data privacy defines the extent to which information about you can be shared with other agencies. Data protection is the right that such information should be correct, and verifiable by the person to whom it applies. Data retention is the extent to which information – including emails and phone calls – can be kept on record. In contrast to the lame-man-of-Europe track record on providing nationwide broadband access, Ireland – or at least our current Minister of Justice - is staunchly determined to lead the way with the most draconian measures on data retention.
Data privacy rights are stringent – and possibly less rather than more secure in a paper-based system. Argues Version 1’s O’Connor: “In relation to data privacy, it's time that someone started calling a spade a spade - a citizen's electronic dealings with Government are infinitely more secure and private than traditional methods. Putting valuable information and money into an envelope, sticking it in a box to be delivered at sometime in the future by a person unknown to you is not exactly secure, when you think about it! Yet the perceived paranoia about web-based data exchange has been allowed to persist unchallenged. “
Accenture’s Mulconry agrees: “The broker strategy was explicitly created to address the issue of data sharing by ensuring that the citizen owns their own data, and (and must explicitly) grant permission for Government to share it internally to provide a service. If people don't want data shared, they are not obliged to let Government share the data. “
Version 1’s O’Connor goes further, arguing that the data protection laws are so draconian already that they inhibit the development of really valuable applications that would deliver benefits to citizens - the difficulty in using PPSN numbers as an identifier in Health, for example, because of the necessity to share that information with private providers, restricts the ability of Health Boards and Agencies to develop a unique patient identifier. Similarly the data retention proposals are too restrictive and according to O’Connor, should be changed before they are brought into law as they will impose restrictions on service providers that will prove costly and difficult to manage.
Bringing the various islands of e-government into a coherent central portal will be a technical as well as a legal challenge. On that note, Siemens’ Wilson points out: “The IT architecture and infrastructure in different departments and agencies is quite diverse. Some have J2EE, others .NET, and so on.” Translation: The Microsoft versus Linux wars are already raging fiercely. Expect no prisoners to be taken by either side.
This integration issue, adds Wilson, “is to be addressed by the provision of a Public Services Broker by the Reach agency. One important aspect of the Reach project design is to provide a transparent gateway for the public without interfering with individual Department infrastructures or forcing them to install specialised servers that may require different skills than those they already possess. XML will be used to pass forms from the different systems through the Reach Public Services Broker.” Translation: they know this will all be very difficult indeed, they have a viable plan (“use XML as a common format”), and it will keep those clever folks who integrate diverse, warring systems via XML very busy for quite some time.
Sunday, July 27, 2003
Walking the Wicklow Way: Moyne to ... well was to be Tinahealy but turned out to be Ballinglen. We broke the never-to-be-broken rules "always bring rain gear" and "never wear jeans", because it was a scorching hot day. However, we learned the corrollorary which is "If it's a never-to-be-broken rule, never break it, cause it you do you'll be stomped on." We were drenched with mighty a mighty thunder shower, and with more in the offing, we broke out to the main road and the pub at Ballinglen (cue banjo music). After a few libations, we ordered a cab to Tinahealy (Werner from South Efrica, working for Aughrim Cabs), retrieved the car we had left there, and the one we left in in Moyne. Tired and emotional after our exertions, we had fish and chips later in Macreddins.
Saturday, July 26, 2003
Busy busy in the garden, with Sam helping me build the boules court, and tonym doing lotsa mowing.
Friday, July 25, 2003
I'll be making this Cadiz fish soup later. Three cheers for Sue's Recipe Server!
Haven't spent an awful lot of time wondering who is the appropriate patron saint of the Internet. But right at the moment it's exercising Vatican minds. The Reg has an article on how the race is shaping up. St Isadore of Seville is the front runner, apparently, but my fella, St. Anthony of Padua, is apparently in with a chance. Given that he is the patron saint of scholars (read "hackers), and lost objects (think "search engines"), I would have thought he was an obvious choice.
Also in the article ("slightly related news") is a story on a guy who put his soul ("near mint condition, with only minor scratches") up for sale - on eBay. The bit I like is the "$400 offer from a woman in Des Moines, Iowa", made just before scandalised sysadmins threw him off the site.
The flash mobs concept is gaining some page space. Today's Slashdot has a link to an article about them. There's supposed to be pics at www.cheesebikini.com but just at the moment they're slashdotted. Check back in a week or so ...
Thursday, July 24, 2003
Having a bit of writer's block on the subject of Die and the Valle de la Drome, but will get something started over the weekend - I have to write up my Irish Computer piece anyway.
Bushism of the day: found it myself, on the radio, not on the Web, so the quote may be inaccurate, but the spirit of it is as follows:
"People thought we were just playing games in Iraq. But hey! Today we got the ace of clubs and the ace of hearts!"
referring to the famous "52-most-wanted" deck of cards.
Face-off time: enjoy a flash-based dust-up between Helvetica and that spawn of Microsoft, Arial. Kick ass, Helv old buddy!
More on blogs in the mainline press: the Globe discusses their role in the 2004 election campaign.
Microsoft are in choppy waters with a lawsuit from InterTrust, who claim that MS swiped their ideas. Anything new here, folks?
Wednesday, July 23, 2003
Here's an article about e-voting. The general gist is: we need a paper trail. Just in casey-wacey.
Sun Microsystems are involved in this project to digitize the entire surviving Afghan cultural heritage, given the amount of fragile manuscripts etc in the war torn country. Seems like a pretty good idea to me!
The Agonist at large: he's keeping a blog on his travels in Central Asia. Fairly agonizing, in fact. The posts get shorter and more harrowing as he gets into China (things weren't so hot along the Silk Road either). It's going to be radio silence through Tibet and Nepal, I fear ....
His world-class news feed is bombing along just fine, so he has plenty house-elves to keep stuff going while he's away.
Keeping an eye on the vermin of the skies. This amazingly underfunded outfit monitor near-earth space for approaching Armageddons such as comets and asteroids.
Tuesday, July 22, 2003
Interesting idea: a blogmap so bloggers might meet in real life. Dublin, anyone?
One of those Net things: there's always a canonical list. The one on Full Deckisms is always guaranteed to amuse an idle hour.
Prophetic or what? Spotted by Gibson, an account of early innovations in Mesopotamia (world's first battery, anyone?) and how they were at time of writing under threat from impending invasion. How right they were.
Only finally starting to get over quite a bad chest infection, and starting to blog again regularly. Today I got the shots of Die back, hmmmmmmm. Planning to drive down there next year and smell the roses along the way ...
A review of Palm on a wristwatch. Real Dick Tracy stuff. I want one of those!
Monday, July 21, 2003
Once more with feeling: the latest "upgrade" to blogger is a piece of crock. I've been trying several times just to get a few edits working.
Here's a good piece on googleholes- the design flaws in Google's methodology that are becoming more noticeable over time.
Back from Caerleon - a good visit to Wales. We went over on the Lynx ferry, smooth crossing in less than two hours. It's a good service: even though it was a bit choppy on the way back we were able to bomb along at 40 mph without two much turbulence.
Caerleon itself is a pretty little place with lots of Roman bits, though these are sanitized and don't have much implact on the overall look of the place, which is essentially that of a Cotswolds village (the Cotswolds aren't too far away). (Die, by contrast, looks as if the Romans left about 100 years ago).
We were pleasantly surprised to discover that thanks to the mad prices in Ireland, and even counting the sterling differential, food and drink are noticeably cheaper in the UK. I developed a liking for a real ale called the Reverend James, (£2 a pint), which could be quaffed at the Hanbury Arms, a grand old boozer overlooking the River Ux, and visited by the author, Arthur Machen.
The social side of things was grand too with a catered lawn party, marquee, and loads of jollity to celebrate the 70th birthday of Aisling's auntie. The Ryans were present in force, so it was just like a Ryan party with added lawn settings and sunshine.
We drove back to Fishguard in a fragile state, to find rain, ferry delay, and the usual horrors of a Welsh port - gritty pubs, rotten food, horrible people. An excursion to the Ocean View Hotel to escape the grimness of the town was an experience of even more bizarre awfulness. The worst brandy I ever drank, combined with service from an extremely dim and slow Welsh lady. We finished our drinks rapidly and fled through the rain.
Overall, Wales gets good ratings. The South is a bit built up, and the scenery is a lot more mundane than Snowdonia, but it has potential as a jumping off point. And we're thinking a lot more bullishly about using it as a springboard for France next year.
Thursday, July 17, 2003
Briefly back after a bit of an outage. We're off to Caerleon (Wales, the former site of Camelot) this weekend, so blogging is unlikely to resume properly till next week.
The end of an era. AOL pull the plug on Netscape. The recriminations are likely to run and run on this one.
Tuesday, July 1, 2003
One of those very minor usability points that makes such a huge difference. The blogger edit button has been moved from the bottom of the text to the top. It removes a few seconds of scroll-scroll-scroll, but if you do it a few times a day, that's a lot of scroll-scroll-scroll out of yr life.
Mind you, there's now this irritating little tendency of a couple of characters to the left of the screen sorta popping out of view now and then. Might be the squeeze factor of the new Help window. Must read that stuff sometime, btw.
Madly changeable weather - big rain, blue skies, sunshine and showers writ large. Such a change after the limpid blue skies of the Drome valley. Had lunch at the Eagle - boquerones (marinated anchovies) from Caviston's with a pint of Guinness.
Back from the Drome, and back in harness at work. Instead of doing a day-by-day diary, I'll just write up the Drome visit as a single piece, and post it when I'm done. Mad busy just now catching up, so the blog may just have to languish for a day or two.
posted by A Seeker after Knowledge 8:06 AM