James O'Neill's Blog

September 1, 2014

The start of a new chapter.

Filed under: General musings — jamesone111 @ 7:19 pm

A symbolic moment earlier, I updated my Linked-in profile. From September 1st I am Communications and Collaboration Architect at the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One Team.
Excited doesn’t really cover it – even if there are some “new school” nerves too. I’ve spent the last three years working with people I thought the world of, so I’m sad to say goodbye to them; but this is a role I’d accept at almost any company – but at a company where I’d take just about any role – I’ve joked with that if they had offered me a job as senior floor sweeper I’d have asked "how senior ?" People I’ve told have said “Pretty much your dream job then ?”. Yes, in a nutshell.

F1 is a discipline where you can lose a competitive advantage by careless talk: anything to do with the car or comings and goings at the factory are obviously off limits. Pat Simmons of Williams said in a recent interview that the intellectual property (IP) in racing “is not the design of our front wing endplate, you can take a photo of that. The IP is the way we think, the way we operate, the way we do things.” The first lesson of induction at Microsoft was ‘Never compromise the IP’ (and I learnt that IP wasn’t just the software, but included the processes used in Redmond). So although it’s been part of my past jobs to talk about what the company was doing, at Mercedes it won’t be. I find F1 exciting – more so this season than the last few – and it’s not really possible to be excited but not have opinions about the sport, although things I’ve said in the past don’t all match my current opinion: the James Hunt/ Niki Lauda battle of 1976 is almost my first F1 memory, if I still thought of Lauda as the enemy I wouldn’t work for a company which had him as chairman. In fact one of the initial attractions of the team for me was the degree I found myself agreeing with what their management said in public. Commenting on the F1 issues of the day from inside a team looks like something which needs to take a lot of different sensitivities into account and it’s something I’m more than happy to leave to those who have it in their job description.

If I have interesting things to blog about things which don’t relate to motor sport or the job or about software which anyone working with same produces could find out for themselves (i.e. not specific to one company), then hopefully the blog posts will continue. 

June 19, 2012

Microsoft’s new surface. All it needs is love.

Filed under: General musings — jamesone111 @ 4:44 pm

People who buy Apple stuff worry me. Their attachment to one brand of equipment is somewhere between addiction and religious fervour. It is Love.

For over 20 years I’ve used Microsoft stuff, because it is simply a better way to get a job done. Some of the people in my office use Macs and can’t do their job without creating a virtual PC running Windows. It doesn’t reduce their love for their Macs. As the saying goes: The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. And its hard to feel anything but indifferent to the products of any of the major PC makers. The Dell in front of me it is well made, well specified and does everything I ask and more. But Love it ? Most PC users will tell you loving a computer is crazy (which is why Apple folk are so disturbing). 

I think Microsoft’s new surface tablets are trying to create a Windows machine which people – if they can’t actually Love – feel more than indifferent about.  Surface is two Machines: one uses an ARM processor and runs the new Windows RT, so won’t run all your existing software. The other uses an Intel chip – and is thicker and heavier to give it 1/3 more battery life (roughly 130cc and 225g more to get 40 Watt Hours instead of 30.), but that means it should work with existing software and USB devices. I can plug in a mouse and keyboard, and attach two monitors via display port and have a system just like the one I have today. Unplug it and I can use it iPad style or take the “touch Cover” keyboard * and write documents or use the Pen to annotate documents if that’s what I choose. The ARM version has office built in, but no pen and a different video connector (so probably only 1 screen). Even with its smaller battery it will probably run for longer (though like the shipment date and price, battery life is yet to be confirmed).

Mary-Jo Foley wrote of the launch of Surface “It’s the end of an era. Or maybe the start of a new one.” Indeed. Microsoft began by providing OEMs (including Apple) with BASIC, then with Operating Systems. OEMs where very much the Geese that laid golden eggs for Microsoft – during the 10 years I worked at there (not in the OEM part of the business) there were times when I felt that the company forgot the problem with Geese is they produce a lot of … guano. The OEMs have been poor on design and innovation for a long time: Bloomberg business week no-less talks about how the PC industry should be shamed by Surface, and talks about recent years of PC Development as “the great stagnation”. The Bloomberg piece puts some blame on Microsoft and Intel for taking too much from the OEMs, I doubt that if the chips and OS had cost less the difference would have gone into innovations that add value. That lack of added value means margins on PCs aren’t great and that’s led manufacturers to take money to install all manner of junk on the machines they ship. The whole DoJ saga – which grew out of Microsoft trying to prevent OEMs installing software it didn’t like – left a situation where the company was required to sell Windows to anyone who wanted it and could not do anything to prevent an explosion of crapware. Lots of people are asking WHY has Microsoft chosen to get into making computers? There answer is either (a) It can make much more profit by selling computers and operating systems together. or (b) it has an idea of what a PC should be in the second decade of the 21st century and it doesn’t trust PC makers to deliver that by themselves.

If I were fielding calls from angry OEMs upset Microsoft arriving in their market I’d make the case that no OEM would have made a product like this: their lack of a similar product both lost them right to complain and forced Microsoft to do something: if they do have something , Microsoft is saying they won’t undercut on price, something we won’t know for sure until the units go on sale. Some people wonder if Microsoft will aim to make the same from selling the hardware as anyone else and make the price of Windows on top of that; or if they will think $x of margin per unit sold is the same whether they sell a computer/OS combination or they sell a licence to an OEM. The latter would make it very hard for OEMs to compete; but Microsoft trying to make desirable hardware profitably ? That’s a lot less of a threat to OEMs. Apple doesn’t sell as many units as Samsung, but the profit to Apple per unit is more than the retail price of the Samsung. When the iPhone was launched I questioned whether there was sufficient market for a phone at that price point: it has actually sold more units than Apple envisaged at the start: which proves one thing – people will pay handsomely for something they love. 


image* There are two keyboards. The thin pressure sensitive  “Touch cover” and a thicker moving key “Type cover” You can see the difference in this picture  (click for a bigger version)

January 3, 2011

Advice, probably wasted …

Filed under: About me,General musings — jamesone111 @ 4:23 pm

Back in 1997 the Chicago Tribune published a column by Mary Schmich. It was entitled
Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young

It has a lot of Parallels with Desiderata, and like desiderata it has been mis-attributed. Baz Luhrmann used it for  “Everyone’s free to Wear Sunscreen” , and if you haven’t come across it before you could use the five minutes in many worse ways than watching the youTube version below.

At the start of a new year I’m probably not alone in wanting to share advice – which  Schmich describes as “Fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.”  I think the two texts are as good as anything I could offer of my own, and offer them here as infographics. You can get them from Skydrive.

December 23, 2010

On the future of tablets …

Filed under: General musings,Mobility — jamesone111 @ 9:07 pm

After the last post – and conversations with several people, notably Mark Wilson I’ve been thinking about how Microsoft’s mobile offerings might develop now that Windows Phone 7 is out in the market. As I’ve said before Microsoft talk about slates as if the ideal is a more portable PC.  Early in 2011 Intel’s  “Oak Trail” Atom Processors will deliver better battery life than the X86/X64 platform has known to date, but I doubt that we’ll get a sub 750g  slate with X86/X64 CPU AND all-day battery anytime soon. 

The usefulness of a personal computer – whether it runs Windows, MacOs or Linux – stems from its working with all the programs, data  data and devices (collectively “stuff” ) that you want it to.  Tell a user of one OS they would be better on another and the response and reason for staying is “the stuff I want is here, not there” and that is as true of company IT people defending using Windows XP past the end of its support life as it trying to persuade a Mac die-hard to get a Windows PC.

I read something recently to the effect that if usefulness was only a matter carry-ability and battery life the calculator is more useful than an iPad.  It sounds facetious; but taking a iPad for the subset of work that a calculator can handle  would be overkill. But it applies in the other direction, the attraction of a mobile personal computer is that you can take all your stuff with you, but that too is overkill if all you intend to do is the work that can be done on a slate device.

It was 2007 when I first told people to expect  what we’re now calling “Windows 8” to be launched in 2012. More specifically the slides said “Point release” – Windows Server 2008 R2 [And client Windows 7] – after 2 years, major release after 3 more.  The first part of that came true and the second hasn’t been un-said so I laugh when I hear“late 2012” quoted as news. Developers should get the OS a year before shipping so after the Professional Developers conference late in 2011 we’ll know if things are on course. I’ve seen suggestions that Windows 8 will break cover, on a slate, at CES in January 2011 – but anything beyond “let’s show you some ideas we’re working on” would surprise me.  When it appears, if there is nothing to make it a better slate platform, then everyone will be surprised. I’ll be interested to see if there is a break from the past Pen-Based tablets. Handwriting input failed on the Apple Newton, it failed on the Pocket PC (I found it worked OK, but no-one took to it), we may be approaching the moment to call time on handwriting input for PCs as well.  

Just as an aside, I wish Microsoft would do two things to make “instant on” a non issue. First the video below shows unmodified Windows 7 can boot from cold in 10 seconds, when freed from a legacy bios.  I’d tell OEMs now that computers with legacy BIOSes won’t get a Windows 8 logo

Secondly, what is the point of a start menu action  “Reboot, cutting the power at half way”. Because this action is labelled “Shutdown” and millions of people think that Shutting down is the right thing to do. Millions of hours get wasted each year through unnecessary reboots, if Microsoft cut the to options  “Sleep” , “Deep Sleep” and “Reload Windows”, a lot of people will cease to care about boot time.

Other people are lining up a bigger task for the Windows team, getting Windows on a long-life slate by porting it to the ARM processor. That’s the wrong answer. Drivers can’t be CPU independent, applications can in theory but many aren’t are in practice. (The iPad gets criticised for lacking support for flash, but Adobe still don’t have an X64 bit Windows Flash player, so how long would an ARM one take ? ).  If Windows-on-ARM can’t pick up all the stuff from Windows-on-X86 then it is a new platform, and wouldn’t  a new platform for mobile devices be better off not starting with 25 years worth of baggage from Windows (we accept that on X86/X64 PCs because without it we don’t get access to all our stuff).

Microsoft have supported the ARM processors for a over a decade on Mobile devices and both Windows Phone 7 and Zune devices use it. Embedded Compact 7  – the latest incarnation of of Windows CE for Mobile devices was announced earlier this year but devices using it have huge rarity value. There is confusion whether these bits underpin Windows phone 7, but there is a standard .NET way of asking what the underlying OS is: on a Windows PC the easiest way to use it is from Powershell

>  [system.environment]::OSVersion

Platform ServicePack Version     VersionString
-------- ----------- -------     -------------
Win32NT              6.1.7600.0   Microsoft Windows NT 6.1.7600.0

So I wrote a little code to test this on the phone emulator.

OperatingSystem myos = System.Environment.OSVersion;
OSPlatform.Text = myos.Platform.ToString();
OSVersion.Text  = myos.Version.ToString();
OSString.Text   = myos.ToString();
Firmware.Text   = Microsoft.Phone.Info.DeviceExtendedProperties.GetValue("DeviceFirmwareVersion").ToString();

and here is the result.


It doesn’t call itself “Windows Phone” but Windows CE and is quite clear the it is V7 of CE  – it seems that Microsoft producing an OS for ARM based slates running with something as close as possible to Windows Phone 7 and/or Zune HD is both practical and sensible.

Do slates actually matter ?

I mentioned Mark at the start his post started with a view of someone else’s that “the consensus [at a Gartner symposium] is the iPad is either a consumer product or an executive toy” which he disagreed with. Mark takes a more rounded view than just the iPad and quotes Forrester estimating that tablets will account for 20% of PC sales by 2015. It’s not clear if that is saying 1 in 5 new PCs will be tablet PCs (running Windows 8.1 by that point) or if One in 4 PC users will also have a slate device running Windows CE/iOS / Android.

He also quotes a different analyst’s forecast that of 48 Million iPad sales by 2014. Against an installed base of something like a billion PCs it’s tiny.  (It also suggests that there’s not much consensus between analysts, but that’s not news). Apple’s shinny products have made it the darling of Wall Street;  Apples Market value is 20 times its profits, Microsoft’s 12 times , if Microsoft halved that gap, its shareholders would have a heck of a reason to be cheerful.

But will emerging devices have much a role in corporate IT  ? Mark has a wonderfully utopian vision
“What will change (and is changing already) is the type of device that is used to access the desktop. Rather than taking a notebook PC from place to place in the device-centric manner that we do today, enterprises will adapt to human-centric computing models, with end users increasingly accessing their desktop from a variety of devices – perhaps starting out with a smartphone on the way to work; switching to a hosted virtual desktop in the office; using a tablet during meetings; and perhaps using the family PC to finish up some work at home in the evening, with local desktop virtualisation opening up new options for secure computing away from the corporate network”

Truly, I wish I could share this vision. The idea of “Bring your own computer”, which Mark also talks about, is  easy to implement with PCs: acquire a PC connect to the network, install a corporate image, and you have a managed PC in a known state with all your software. How many organizations have got the IT department out of the process ? It’s rare bordering on unheard of. Organisations do allow mail on user phones, but extending that to Bring-your-own-Mac, or Linux PC or even a Windows PC running the newer Windows and Office you use at home (never mind embedded devices) requires a revolution, but talking about that will have to wait for another day.

March 9, 2010

Cars, social media, phones, windows media and there’s no hiding with co-pilot.

Filed under: General musings,Mobility,Music and Media — jamesone111 @ 3:39 pm

As titles go that’s an odd one, but stay with me.

I’ve written before about my Citroen C6: Before Christmas a warning message popped up saying something was wrong with the hydro-pneumatic suspension which give the big Citroens their wonderful ride. A visit to the garage confirmed the problem was real – not a diagnostic issue, and lay with a part which rarely goes wrong i.e. one no dealer keeps in stock. It would be take a day or two to get the part and by the time it was fitted I needed to be at Tech-ed in Berlin. I expected the car to be ready when I got back, but it wasn’t. Having replaced the faulty part it turned out it had failed because of a fault in the hydraulic pump: this is beyond rare – Citroen UK told me later that they’d only ever supplied one before and that was after an accident, but I’m getting ahead of myself. The pump should have arrived before I got back from Tech-ed, but there was no sign of it. We then began a sequence where every few days I would call the garage or they would call me, and I’d get the news the pump had not arrived but would be there in a couple of days.

I’m not totally without patience, but after 3 weeks I was getting cross and started to tweet about it, and found Citroen UK on Twitter. So I posted things like Day 26 of my Citroen C6 being in the Garage. @Citroenuk promised to deliver the part today and they #Fail to. Now promising Thursday. It was partly to vent and partly to see if Citroen responded – if your organization is “doing social media” you really should know what you’re going to do if someone complains – we try to do this at Microsoft when it isn’t the “I hate Microsoft because they’re a big money making concern” variety.  Citroen UK’s twitter account turned out to be someone from  marketing who took enough ownership of the problem to get some information and make sure the right person saw it.  That was how I ended up talking to Brian (I’ll keep his last name out of it – I can see just people calling Citroen asking for him). If Brian was trained in customer care (rather than doing it by instinct) his teacher would have been pleased: he apologized (sincerely – not in an over the top way), saw the customer’s point of view “I know Caterpillar have a ‘parts anywhere in the world in 24 hours, or Cat pays’ promise. You should be able to get a part here in 24 days for your top of the range model”,  explained why it had gone wrong (the pumps showed as in stock but been taken to be modified to the latest specification), committed to speeding the resolution of the problem and promised to follow-up to talk about how Citroen could rebuild the relationship. I’ve had Citroens (7 of them) for 16 of the last 20 years, so I guess I qualify as a loyal customer they’d want to keep. 

USB box,  in glove compartment, showing all 3 connections - click for a bigger version Brian had an unexpected spell off work so it was well into January by the time he got in touch, and offered me a choice of accessories as compensation. I wanted to be able to plug in a music player in the car – I’ve tried those little FM transmitters and found on a decent length journey they’re more trouble than they’re worth. The accessory catalogue had a “USB box” which plays MP3s. Some of the other options which Brian was willing to pay for were pretty pricey and would have felt like taking advantage, but this seemed OK. It took a while to get the kit and sort out a day to fit it, but it went in last week and I have to say it’s a pretty neat gadget. The handbook suggests it goes in lot of cars – Peugeot and Citroen across the PSA group; it has a USB socket which is powered, so will charge my phone (I’ve twice blown the cigar lighter socket fuse with cheap adapters), plus a dedicated iPod socket – which will work with my wife’s nano, and a 3½mm jack plug for anything else. I tried playing a few MP3s I’d copied to a memory stick – and the first impression was nice sound quality: the integration with the built in Stereo isn’t perfect but is quite good enough.  But there was better news: it turns out the USB box plays pretty much any format, including WMA, WAV and even OGG format. Most of my music is in WMA format and sync’d to my phone, so just I tell the phone to connect in storage mode by default , plug it in (even if locked) and the USB box reads the files and plays them.

Playing OGG isn’t quite the advantage it might be when Co-pilot is installed on the memory card, because it uses OGG files for all its messages, and the USB box thinks it should play them – so the first thing it played was “Take 1st exit at roundabout” , “Take 2nd exit at roundabout” and so on. I set the files to hidden, interestingly file explorer on the phone ignores the hidden attribute, so I can’t blame the USB box for doing the same. It’s not an insurmountable problem, unlike its predecessors this phone has enough main memory to allow me to move Co-pilot’s sound files off the storage card.  So that’s another plus for the phone.

And as far as the car is concerned it’s one more thing to like about driving it, I’ve had another, minor problem since which was quickly fixed and thanks to Brian I’m back in the happy customers column.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

A FAT (32) lot of good that did me …

Filed under: General musings,Virtualization — jamesone111 @ 11:35 am

First rule of blogging. Don’t blog when angry.

I’ve been through a time consuming process which could be called educational – in the sense of “Well ! That taught me a lesson”. My drug regime has been mentioned before in my posts, and this is one of those times when the drugs don’t seem to be working – so lets just say I was a shade cranky when before I started and now…


Up on youtube I have a video showing Hyper-V server R2 booting from a USB flash drive, (which I described in this post please note the recommendation to check supportability before going down this path yourself).

And I have a second video showing how I made my phone into a bootable USB device from which I could install windows. .

Why not, I thought, Boot HyperV server R2 from a phone – in fact why stop at phones ? I’ve had a good laugh at Will it Blend ? So I was thinking of doing a Will it boot series. Can I boot HVS from my camera ? etc.


Let’s stop for a second and think. What file systems do cameras, phones, MP3 players support ? NTFS – er no. They use FAT, in most of its forms, new memory cards show up formatted as FAT32.
And what is the limitation of FAT32 ? A maximum file size of 4GB: not a problem for installing Windows because WIM files are sized at less than 4GB to fit on DVD disks.  A bit of a challenge for VHD files as 4GB is shade small by today’s standards. In fact when I ran the setup for Hyper-V server against my sub-4GB VHD it wouldn’t install. Undeterred I have a customized Hyper-V server R2 VHD – which I use as a testing VM on a server 2008 box – I’d pared this down before so it uses comfortably less than 3.5GB on a 6GB VHD. I attached that VHD as a second drive on another VM which has the Windows Automated Installation Kit installed, created a 3.5GB VHD and added that as third drive, and fired up the VM. I used ImageX to make a WIM image of the this disk, and then it was question of partitioning my new VHD, activating the partition, formatting it, applying the image and making sure the VHD was bootable, and testing it in it’s own VM on server 2008. It worked like a charm. Next I copied it to a “4GB” SD card – the card is 4,000,000,000 bytes, which is only about 3.7 true gigabytes (taking 1GB as 2^30 bytes). I switched my test VM on Server 2008 to use the VHD on the SD card and all was well. I went through the steps to make the card bootable. Abject failure. I tried lots of things: without success – to retain one’s optimism and avoid anger, these are classified as things eliminated rather than failures.

Slowly, a picture began to emerge. I tried testing the VM from the SD card on Server 2008 R2, first I attached the VHD to a VM

Click for fill size version

A file system limitation ? Hmm. OK,  let’s see if we can attach VHD files on the SD card Windows 7’s Computer management or Server manager on Server 2008 R2 , go to storage, then to disk management, right click choose “attach VHD” browse to the disk and


I know that R2 removed the ability to use VHDs which had been compressed, and I think I probably did know that R2 also introduced a requirement to keep the VHD on NTFS.

There’s no reason why Windows can’t format an SD card as NTFS, and I can probably use my camera as a card reader for an NTFS formatted card; but the camera can’t save pictures to it. I’m sure I could partition the 16GB MicroSD card which I’m using in the phone so that there was a roughly 4GB active partition which could boot and 12GB left for camera / phone / whatever but I want to be able to reclaim the space at a moment’s notice if I need to put pictures on it – and such a scheme rules that out.


Angry at the time I’ve wasted ? No, no I’m calm, composed and working on other ideas for what I can do booting from off the wall devices.

Creating an image of me , in a pram, throwing toys from it is left as an exercise for the reader .

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

November 27, 2009

Decisions Decisions, and “When is a phone not a phone ?”

Filed under: General musings,Mobility — jamesone111 @ 2:08 pm

Someone at work (no names, no packdrill) keeps telling me I’m set in my ways, and I keep disagreeing, since I’ve always thought it’s one of my personality traits to challenge the status quo (see Apparatchik vs Autistic). But I’ve been forced to confront my own conservatism when it comes to phones.

I’ve had my E650 since April 23rd 2007. Our phones normally get replaced after two years, but we wanted to make Windows mobile 6.5 the base level for phones and so people renewing were asked to wait for the new phones to start arriving.  2 years and 7 months have been hard on my E650. Being shoved in pockets with coins and keys has done horrible things to the finish, and it’s been dropped onto hard surfaces on several occasions – even bouncing down a flight of concrete steps. When I get fidgety I play Bubble breaker, obsessively, 200 games without leaving my seat is not unknown (yes, yes, another Asperger’s type behaviour, don’t think I haven’t noticed). I’ve played just under 12000 games, and if a typical game involves 100 button clicks that’s well over a million key activations. The keypad is getting to the end of its working life.  I need 3G data only rarely but when do the E650’s lack of it is a nuisance. 

As Magritte might have said, this is not a phoneFor the moment we have a choice of 2 phones the Samsung Omnia Pro and the HTC touch pro 2 either would be a new form factor for me.The Samsung has a qwerty thumb-pad which isn’t as good for dialling numbers as a 4×3 keypad and not great for typing messages (some people – Blackberry users think this compromise is ideal. I don’t) and it can’t use a standard USB cable to charge. So I’ve ruled that out. The HTC can use a standard USB (although HTC have added the ability to output sound and video via extra pins), and has a slide out keyboard for messages and correcting documents. But no keypad on the front, and it has GPS integrated so I no longer need to worry about my bluetooth GPS puck; and the big screen should work nicely with co-pilot. It’s a nice piece of industrial design, and it’s had good reviews especially for the 480×800 resolution screen.I wrote a piece called the mobility dilemma before I got the E650, and a lot of it still applies. iPhone users seem to manage doing everything including typing messages by caressing the screen: the slide out keyboard removes my biggest objection to the iPhone design, yet after 17 years using phones with 4×3 keypads, some instinct says without one it’s not truly a phone. (“See: you are set in your ways” … “No I’m not, because of the next question”).  Why am I carrying a telephone ? These days I use my “mobile” more as a PDA than a phone – but it is designed to be a phone first. When I ring someone it is almost always using a saved or emailed number, so the lack of keypad  to dial from shouldn’t matter. My PC has replaced my desk phone thanks to Office Communications Server and communicator, so if the telephone isn’t the best template for a mobile device why cling on to it ? I’ve rationalized getting the HTC by telling myself I’m going to stop carrying a “phone” and go back to a proper PDA (I loved the original iPAQ back in 2001) – just a PDA which can do phone calls. I have a suspicion one iPhone user I know (she knows who she is) will say “A-ha you get it now. Phone calls aren’t the main function why not optimize for the other stuff”. Indeed “Phone” may turn into a throwback term like “dial” or “ring”. The order should go in on Monday and the experience should give me the material for for some more posts once it arrives.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

November 23, 2009

A few thoughts on the power of social media

Filed under: General musings,Social Media — jamesone111 @ 1:12 pm

Click for the originalBack in the middle of October I started writing about couple of big events so-called “world of social media”. One was the reaction to a piece which appeared in Daily Mail about the death of Stephen Gately. On Twitter Stephen Fry showed 140 characters is no bar to a devastating response. “I gather a repulsive nobody writing in a paper no one of any decency would be seen dead with has written something loathesome [sic] and inhumane.”  Without the space constraint his blog post,  covered more of the issues including his self-confessed tendency to engage the mouth before the Brain is up to sufficient revs. By linking up some of the other comments – not least Charlie Brooker’s demolition piece – Fry became a focus for the the reaction (in fact, to a lot of the media it seems Twitter is Stephen Fry). The storm of complains to the press complaints commission was greater than their web site could handle. Derren Brown picked up the story and linked it with another I had also seen on Twitter: to travel on the London underground – or indeed to simply be in London at all means having cameras of many different organizations watching your movements.  The latin tag Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? “who can guard the guards themselves” has been around for a couple of thousand years: recently people have said looked at their camera-phone and thought “We Can”, and started to turn lenses back at the organizations who watch them.  Jonathan MacDonald did that when he saw a London Underground employee being abusive to a passenger. It caused a fuss on twitter and reached the Mayor of London and powers-that-be at Transport for London, and within a few days the man had resigned.

Both can be held up as examples of how campaigns can be “Orchestrated” using social media. But only by people who don’t understand it.

One of Margaret Thatcher’s more famous quotes was “There is no such thing as society”; and, if I understood what she meant correctly, she would have argued that there is no such thing as a cloud – just billions of water droplets in lose formation. That thinking says Society is not an entity of its own right , just the imprint of millions of individuals: society doesn’t do things people do things, and so on. Seeing the impact of “society” is like seeing a shadow : unless you live in the world of Peter Pan, a shadow does not lead a life of its own. I’m sure arguments can be had about whether the idea is right (and whether I’ve correctly explained the sound bite) but it is a good way to think about “Social Media”.This cartoon of Hugh’s came in about the same time, and summarized part of what I had been writing

From the start, internet has reduced the “friction” in communication. I don’t know if Bill Gates coined “at the speed of thought” which was part of one of his book titles, but with (effectively) instant one-to-Many or Many-to-many communication, ideas can spread about fast as you can think them. Forums pre-date the Web: dial-up bulletin boards were there in the 80s. But it would take hours for a message to spread, the same effort pushing out a message on the internet causes it to spread faster and further (because there are more people on-line), that’s what “less friction” means. Initially the web had a model was like newspapers: few had the capital needed to get their message out and there was little by way of reply. Your choice was simple, read or not read. Web 2.0 has become a shorthand for describing a place where anyone can choose to have a voice, and inevitably most of those voices are noise. Trying orchestrate that is as pointless trying to shape clouds. But every so often someone will say “I think this” and others will join in and say “So do I”, and a wave develops.

Click for full size version Once, Daily Mail columnists could assert, with relative impunity, that as a homosexual Steven Gately lived an unnatural life and died an unnatural death. If people found such a column “loathsome and inhumane” what could they do about it ? Who would write a letter to the paper or the press complaints commission? I suspect the only people who would have put to paper would be those who felt their own lives were being called “unnatural”. But in October people who neither cared much for Gately’s music nor shared his way of living his life paused and said “No one should be written about like that”. It’s possible to argue that people adopted that view because someone like Stephen Fry told them to, but Jonathan MacDonald’s video didn’t have a famous name telling people to do anything  and still people saw it and said “No one should be treated like that”.  Each comment saying so was like a rain drop – and when a lot of people coalesce around an idea we get a storm. The BBC’s Moral Maze programme was not the only place where people wondered aloud when this legitimate democratic protest (and they cited the Trafigura injunction case, described by PR week here) and when it shades into rule by lynch mob – I can’t help feeling that the answer is “when you disagree with it”.

The ability for ideas to spread quickly changes how we put our messages across. On the right are a couple of comments a few minutes apart from my Twitter feed. First, Sharon links to this comment – again from Stephen Fry. “Today, Britney Spears tells her PR manager, ‘Why should I care about this journalist of this newspaper with a big circulation? I will reach their circulation just by typing into my keyboard.’ So well, whole newspapers are on the one side filled with resentment against Twitter, on the other side they are using it and searching Twitter messages.”  It seems it is not just Britney who thinks like that. James picked up that McLaren tweeted the fact that they signed Jenson Button for next season 15 minutes or so before they posted the press release.

I’m starting to see people in Microsoft get that what is said about us in the different kinds of social media is at least as important as what we say. It isn’t always knowing to know what is being said and it is telling much harder to tell noise from the thunder of an approaching storm, but we are learning, for example what was said about Tech-ed or our Wembley on twitter was used as evidence for the success or failure of different parts of those events. And for the launch of Windows 7 the main Microsoft web page had a collection of quotes from ordinary people on twitter about how great the product – in past years these would have come from journalists. Does that mean the profession  of journalist will peter out ? I doubt it, because just as social media allows a spotlight to pointed at the “loathsome and inhumane” so it allows it to be pointed at the great piece of writing or photography: that’s all that happens when a you-tube video “goes Viral”

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

November 5, 2009

Car trouble – a possible metaphor for new software ?

Filed under: General musings — jamesone111 @ 12:26 am

A little over a year ago I mentioned I had taken delivery of a big Citroen. It’s my seventh, I’ve likened it to driving a church – not as a criticism but because of the sense of serenity inside, due in no small part to Citroen’s clever HydroPneumatic suspension. Last night as I was leaving work a warning message appeared: “Suspension failure – do not exceed 55 MPH”. Initially I thought it might be a diagnostic problem, but as the journey went on it was clear that there was something seriously wrong – 15 years ago Citroen number 3 had a hydraulic leak and the early stages of that felt similar (on that model brakes and Power steering were on the same hydraulic system as the suspension, and this happened when working at the other end of the country; the last part of the journey to the local Citroen dealer was memorably scary.).

Systems whirred into place and the local Avis got a call to deliver me a car, which the did amazingly quickly. So I have been driving another car today. Its ride was worse than the faulty Citroen. The brakes were didn’t feel right, the power curve of the engine seemed wrong, the seats were very nice leather – which is odd on a rental car – but wrong. Control positions, wrong. Heating and Air con: wrong. Instruments, strangely styled and , you guessed it, they’re just wrong too. Though I did have to concede it has boot the size of Belgium.* The odd thing is that this has been one of the best selling cars in Europe for years. Clearly a lot of people don’t seem to think there is anything wrong, with the controls, instruments, road manners and so on. It’s just a question of being used to something else. As a former colleague once put it WIKIWIL: what-I-Know-is-what-I-Like. 

Since I put the final version of Windows 7 on my laptop, I haven’t installed Mind Genius – my preferred mind mapping software, and I’ve got a couple of things simmering away in my head which need it, and so I installed the new version 3 on tonight. It uses the office 2007 style ribbon. I knew and liked both version 1 and 2, but the adoption of the ribbon takes me back to when office 2007 arrived; what was familiar was taken away and it all felt wrong. I can’t recall anyone telling me they liked the ribbon on first sight, but very few have maintained a dislike after a few hours working with it. My first hour exploring Mind Genius 3 has been the same, grinding of teeth and wanting to shout “why did they have to change it” with the occasional “OK, that’s clever”. I expect the new version will work better than the old – they have not taken away the ability to thoughts in quickly which is the essence of Mind Mapping.

Working as an evangelist for new versions of software it’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing those who don’t take to it as luddites. Today was a good a reminder for me that it takes a while to persuade me of a change, so why shouldn’t other people be the same? Even things which are “better” aren’t to everyone’s taste. It was a timely reminder because of  mail  I had today, which asked
“What the hell is the point of libraries and if you have the name of the person whose idea they were please post it for summary flaming”
Now, a mail entirely in that vein wouldn’t normally get an answer, but the writer made some good and intelligent points so I’m going to devote the next blog post to that.


* For any US readers “boot” = Trunk, and “Belgium” is a country which produces proper chocolate. 

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

November 2, 2009

You can’t be a 21st century admin without PowerShell

Filed under: General musings,Windows Server 2008-R2 — jamesone111 @ 6:11 pm

When I was at school my father gave me a copy of an article he’d seen at work. I remember nothing of the article itself, but the title has stayed with me: “You can’t be a 20th century man without maths”. I think even then “You can’t be a [time] [person] without [skill]”  was a  Snowclone – I’ve adapted it from time to time – hence the title.  In a recent conversation someone asked me if I knew “That sunscreen thing” which was turned into a song by Baz Luhrmann (On you-tube) and having been reminded of it, I found it wanted to morph into the the opening of a session I was doing on managing Server 2008-R2 The original began

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’97: Wear sunscreen.
If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

newskill.. it was all I could do to avoid opening with “Ladies and Gentlemen: Learn Powershell. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, PowerShell would be it”, the long term benefits of PowerShell …”

I’ve been saying the same thing in different ways a lot recently. The slide on the left was in the session I delivered at the big Wembley event in October.  A few people picked up that I’d said “Everyone should learn PowerShell”, and I’ve since had to explain that this requires a suitable definition of “Everyone”. But it is my firm belief that IT professionals working Microsoft technology are at an advantage if they know at least the basics of PowerShell. Being able to automate complex processes , and show that the steps have been followed isn’t a new idea ; it always was important in the mainframe and mini computer world. There are plenty of situations where using a graphical interface is easier than using an obtuse command line tool, yet the focus on GUI tools in the Microsoft world means that command line and scripting skills are less prevalent among system admins than is the case in Unix / Linux world. Those skills can mean better efficiency, or allow tasks to be carried out which would otherwise be impractical. If the setup is simple or IT management is not a persons main job, doing the work optimally matters less because there isn’t much of it. If there is little repetition writing a script takes more time than it saves. When IT is your main role and includes repetition of complex tasks then scripting puts you ahead. Of course I equate “scripting” with “PowerShell” which simplifies things too much: the tools will vary between environments – I took the following list from one of the Slides in the Wembley deck: – it is not designed to be complete but to show pre-eminence of PowerShell in the Microsoft world.

In Server-R2 there is: Not forgetting that we also have
  • PowerShell for Active Directory
  • PowerShell for Applocker
  • PowerShell for Best Practices
  • PowerShell for BITS transfer
  • PowerShell for Clustering
  • PowerShell for Group Policy
  • PowerShll for Installing components
  • PowerShell for Migration
  • PowerShell for Remote-Desktop
  • PowerShell for Server Backup
  • PowerShell for Web admin
  • PowerShell for Exchange 2007
  • PowerShell for HPC
  • Powershell for HyperV @ codeplex.com
  • PowerShell for OCS in the OCS Res-kit
  • PowerShell for SQL 2008 R2
  • PowerShell for System Center

You can see anyone who says “I don’t do PowerShell” is at a disadvantage, and the first thing to explain to them  that opening up a PowerShell window and running the cmdlets which are provided by any of the above is no different from starting a CMD.EXE Window and entering commands there – in fact it’s easier because the way parameters and help are handled is consistent. The idea of an environment extended with task-related Snap-ins which we saw with the GUI management console is the same in PowerShell – we load something which understands the task into an environment which provides the UI. The cmdlets are just a foundation: building things up from them takes things to another level. But you can build things up around free-standing programs too – by allowing them to be scripted, PowerShell makes it possible to deliver things which otherwise would be too time consuming. The example I’ve been using to show this is the following:  In Server 2008 R2 we have a new feature called off-line domain join; ODJ allows you to create a domain account for a computer, and a file containing the information needed for that computer to be added to the domain. This file can be applied to the OS offline without needing to boot it, logon as an administrator, connect and change the computer name and member-of setting from the default workgroup to the chosen domain. The command to do this is a traditional .EXE and it looks like this.

djoin /provision /domain MyDomain /machine MachineName /savefile filename

Great … but what if you have 1000 machines ? Are you really going to sit there all day typing the names in, and checking you didn’t mistype any or miss any out ? If you have a list of machine names in a text file, you could do this with PowerShell

Get-content Machines.Txt | forEach-object {djoin /provision /domain MyDomain /machine $_ /savefile $_ }

For each machine name (line)  in the file machines.txt the command will run djoin with that name as both the machine parameter and the filename parameter.

The successful admin is not automatically the one who knows every possible way to use every possible command in PowerShell. Nor the one who turns their back on GUI to do everything from the command line , but the one who understands the tools available for the task at hand, can select the right one, and can put it to use competently. PowerShell is one of the tools available in so many cases in the Microsoft world, that you can’t meet that definition without it.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

July 25, 2009

Vulcan hunting: a mini case study in social media

Filed under: General musings,Photography — jamesone111 @ 8:00 am

I’ve described some of my activities over recent weekends as the biggest hunt for a Vulcan since Star Trek III – The Search For Spock. The Vulcan I’m after isn’t the pointy eared kind but XH558, the only flying example left of the V Bomber. It’s very easy to talk a lot of tosh about beautiful machines of various kinds, but big delta winged aircraft do have a certain something… Concorde always made people stop and look, and the Vulcan has been doing the same since it first flew in the 1950s. The Vulcan set a record for the longest bombing mission in history when one bombed the airfield at Port Stanley during the Falklands war in 1982. The task sounds crazy: “Chaps we’ve got an aircraft which entered service in the 1950s and is due to to be decommissioned. We’d like you to use it to bomb a runway, which is defended but we don’t know what with exactly. The good news is we’ve got you a base within 4000 miles of the target. The rest of the news isn’t so good, the aircraft’s navigation system is based on terrain mapping radar, and those 4000 miles are over featureless ocean, but before you worry about finding the target you’ll need to figure out how to get this aircraft to do  do air-to-air refuelling. We need this … well as soon as possible really”. They did it of course, and its been chronicled in at least one book.

The RAF kept a Vulcan flying for display purposes up till 1992 – ten years after it was meant to have come out service.  Enthusiasts wanted to keep it flying and it when it was retired it was flown to Bruntingthorpe in Leicestershire. Getting it back in the sky made getting to the Falklands look like seem like a walk in the park, it took 14 years. Even then it won’t fly forever: the engines have a very short life: they are rated in cycles so the translation to hours is approximate. There are two sets of engines available and they will last about 200 hours each – I don’t reboot my PC as frequently as once every 200 hours. The  Vulcan to the Sky trust wants to spin out the 400 hours they have 10 years, so they have 40 hours a year to maximize the chances people have to see the aircraft, and that will be it. 

The Trust has two linked problems. Like any charity their main problem is raising money. People only give in a crisis, and when the crisis is averted the money dries up till the next crisis comes. The other is making sure people who want to see the aircraft get a chance to do so. Of course the more people see it, the more donors they get, and they don’t show up when expected they alienate those donors. So XH558 is now registered on twitter. This has been a help for me since it has been spending the air-show season 20 miles or so from where I live. The first time twitter worked for me, I was standing in a field hoping to catch the take off. Late in the morning I checked twitter on my phone “Planned take off 14:00, return 16:00” I had to be home for 14:00, so that cut a lot of wasted time, and I came back to see it land. Next morning “Taking off 14:30 …” back I go – knowing I have to collect my children later. 14:30 comes and goes. At 14:45 I checked twitter on the phone. “Working on a problem” it said, so I went to pick up the children and found later that the problem wasn’t fixed in time for the days display, so flight cancelled and again I’d been saved a pointless wait. When XH558 finally did take off and do a practice display run a few days later I was there thanks to another tweet.

Think about this – if you’re trying to build a community around what you are doing, a few moments here and there to connect with your customers can produce some real results. Does it work for generating donations ?  I can’t extrapolate to everyone but they’ve got some money out of me. And here are the pictures I got – not just of the Vulcan  but of the other planes which came and went while I was waiting, produced with Microsoft Research Autocollage


This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

July 24, 2009

Seventh Heaven

Filed under: General musings,Photography — jamesone111 @ 8:40 pm

As I mentioned recently I have bought a new Camera – the Pentax K7 : as a proper photographer I’m bothered more by lenses than camera bodies and last year I acquired Pentax’s beautiful 77mm Limited series. All those 7s and a new version of Windows… So I thought I’d grab a photo , so I picked up my compact (a 7MP one), and took a photo to have in the Windows 7 screen shot below. Quite by coincidence it is one of 77 pictures in the folder and the lens is focused at about 7M. Instead of doing this post on a Friday I should have waited to till the weekend, not for the 7th day of the week, but because I will be flying to the US – you guessed it, on a Boeing 777 with Air Canada – the great circle route does quite take me past seventy degrees north, sadly. Or Perhaps I should have shot it at 7 minutes past 7 O’clock….

Editing a 7MP image of a Pentax K7 with 77 mm lens, one of 77 pictures in a Windows 7 folder.

tweetmeme_style = ‘compact’;
tweetmeme_url = ‘http://blogs.technet.com/jamesone/archive/2009/07/24/seventh-heaven.aspx’;

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

A tale of two codecs. Or how not to be a standard.

Filed under: General musings,Photography,Windows 7,Windows Vista — jamesone111 @ 12:16 pm

I’ve just bought a new digital SLR camera. Being a dyed in the wool Pentax person, I’ve upgraded to their new K7.

Being fairly serious about (some of) my photography I shoot quite a lot in RAW format.(In case you didn’t know higher end digital cameras can save the data as it comes off their sensor without converting it to JPEG format). There are only a small number of ways of expressing RAW data but every camera maker embeds one of those methods into their own file format: then each new camera introduces a new sub-version of the format. This is, frankly, a right pain.

Adobe came up with an answer to this, Digital Negative format, DNG. It has been adopted, but not Widely.  Pentax were first to support it in parallel with their own PEF format; Heavyweights like Hassleblad and Leica support it, so do some models from Casio, Ricoh and Samsung. But Canon and Nikon who account for somewhere round 3/4 of all DSLR sales have stuck with their own formats. Adobe maintain a converter which take proprietary files and convert them to DNG, so if you have an application which supports DNG but not your specific camera, Adobe’s tool will bridge the gap. So the take-up in photo processing software has been quite good. My chosen RAW software Capture One needs an update to work with the latest PEF, but will take DNG files straight from the camera. And I’d switch the camera over from PEF to DNG format if it weren’t for the vexing matter of Codecs. 

Before Windows Vista shipped we introduced “Windows Imaging components” WIC, which provide  RAW file using imaging CoDecs (COmpressor DECompressor). Windows 7 and Vista include WIC, and it’s WIC which provides image preview in the explorer: the net effect is that if you have a suitable Codec you get image preview. But, only a very basic set of codecs ships with the OS, partly because of the maintenance headache and partly because some RAW processing requires a bit of reverse engineering and we try to avoid doing that. Camera vendors provide Codecs and Pentax had a new PEF Codec on-line when I got my K7 home. But this is 32 bit only – other camera makers also lack 64 bit support. I could take this as inspiration for a huge rant  but let’s just say I’d make it a requirement for 32 AND 64 bit Windows to be able to preview a camera’s files before it was granted the “certified for Vista” logo – which the K7 sports on its packaging. Perhaps it’s good for our partnerships that I don’t decide such things.

I was on 64 bit Vista and I’m now on 64 bit Windows 7, so you might think the 32 bit codec would be totally useless … but no. A 32 bit codec won’t work with 64 bit software, like Windows explorer. But it will work with a 32 bit program like Windows Live Photo Gallery. (Photo Gallery from Vista has been moved over to Windows Live). Since WLPG shares a thumbnail cache with explorer, anything which you have seen in the Gallery will get a thumbnail in Explorer.  Now, granted, this is a Kludge but there are worse ones out in the world – so I can see my PEFs. But using PEF format means I need to use the (less than great) bundled RAW software until Capture one support the revised PEF. If I want to use Capture one today, I need to use DNG. So  do Adobe have a DNG codec ? They do, but their web site has (unanswered) complaints about the lack of 64 bit support going back to May of last year. Unlike the Pentax codec the Adobe one catches that I am on 64 bit Windows 7 and tells me it only installs on 32 bit Vista. [Users with the Windows Imaging Components installed on XP are out of luck too].

It’s a pretty poor show on Adobe’s part, but it’s easy to see how this comes about. None of the Camera vendors see it as their job to write a Codec for DNG – especially as Adobe have started the process. Microsoft don’t write Codecs except for major standards like JPG, PNG and TIFF and our own formats like Windows Media photo:  DNG doesn’t have enough of a foothold to be classed as a major standard. Adobe – I suspect – must feel that too many people are and not pulling their weight – expecting them to do all the work. It’s perhaps unfair to draw a parallel our support for Linux in the virtualization world (which I have only just written about) – after all it is in our interest to get our virtualization platform adopted, Adobe aren’t disadvantaged if people don’t choose to adopt DNG. But it needs a bit more commitment to get something adopted than Adobe are showing. If you were a product planner at Canon or Nikon would you write DNG support into the spec for future models ? Or would you decide that the support for DNG was half baked and you’d leave it as “something to keep an eye on” for now ?

In researching this I had a look at the Microsoft’s pro photo web site. Which is worth a visit just for the “Icons of imaging” page if you haven’t been there before. The downloads page does feature a 3rd party codec for DNG , which I must investigate. Sadly it’s not free: it’s not that I begrudge the money, but if I have to pay even a token amount to get something which bundled with something I have bought and is supposed to be a standard, to working in the all the places I’d expect it work then how much of a standard is it. I could level the same charge at Adobe over PDF iFilters and preview – but as I’ve written before, Foxit software plugs the gaps and is free – reinforcing the idea that PDF is a standard which is bigger than the company which devised it. I’d love to think DNG would do for RAW formats what PDF has done for documents, but sadly it doesn’t look like it will go that way.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

June 18, 2009

Fifteen minutes of fame. Not like this, thanks.

Filed under: About me,General musings — jamesone111 @ 2:10 pm

What some people refer to as “Life’s rich tapestry” has had more knots and twists in it than usual for me of late. The biggest of which was the plane crash.

We’re used to the sounds of aircraft: if you extend  the runway line of the former RAF Abingdon it passes through our village, which meant in the 1950s a stricken plane trying to land there crashed here, and in 1989 a plane taking off suffered a bird strike, crashed and skidded to a halt within sight of the same spot. The RAF moved out in the 1990s and the base is now used by the army but the RAF still take helicopters there for exercises: some days it seems like a scene from Apocalypse Now. I’ve always been interested in aviation, these days I read more accident reports than is good for me. I was in the air Cadets at school (by coincidence I did my annual camp at RAF Abingdon, and flew with the air experience flight there) I got my gliding wings; I haven’t been in glider for 20 years but I still have a fondness for them. That made Sunday seem worse.

For me it started with a sound which was somehow wrong. It was a light aircraft, not a jet, but it was here and then gone too quickly. Then there was the crash, I thought for a moment if the plane had startled my children and they’d toppled a cupboard over or something like that, but immediately my wife came in and said what it really was.  Before I could get the emergency services on the phone she was back to say a glider had crashed as well. I had three thoughts. 1. Summon help, 2. See if you can help, 3. Record the scene. I grabbed a map to give the grid reference to the Ambulance service who seemed to be getting calls from everyone in the area but weren’t getting a  clear idea of the location. The Police helicopter must have been nearby because it was on the scene while I was talking to them. There was a parachute in the sky and if I had thought about it I would have got someone to watch where it came down, I didn’t. I grabbed my camera and headed for the glider, which had come down in the field across the road, afraid of what I might find.  One wing was broken off lying beside it, the tail was missing (we assume severed in a collision) and the nose was smashed in as if it had taken the impact. My first aid skills weren’t going to be any use – although thankfully because there was no sign of the pilot –  it seemed that was him on the parachute. I took some pictures: someone was keeping people from disturbing the wreckage, so nothing I shot was going to have much value to an investigator. There was nothing I could do there. The police helicopter had landed over the road, in the field beside my house, fire engines, police cars and ambulances were arriving, the air ambulance landed close to the police helicopter. I crossed back to my house and followed the path that runs along the side of field: there’s an oilseed rape crop growing there and it’s about chest high, and all but top of the tailfin of the powered aircraft had disappeared, at a point about 150meters from my house. At first people thought that the crew had got out of this plane too. Those who’d seen it said it come down almost vertically – hence shortness of the noise – then the realization dawned that only one parachute had been seen and if that was accounted for, it could only mean the worst of all outcomes for whoever was in that plane. With no fire breaking out, and no one to rescue the Fire and Rescue service joined the police in securing the scene. An off duty policeman identified himself and went about getting names of possible witnesses. There was nothing for me to do: working on auto I shot a couple of photos of what could be seen and went indoors.

I thought someone should tell the BBC – as much as anything to tell people the roads were closed. They asked if I had pictures and I sent them one of the police chopper parked with the tailfin of the powered aircraft showing and the fire brigade wading through the crop, and another one of the glider which they used on their web site with a quote from what I had said to them: 3 other news organizations phoned me. (I’m in the phone book: it was no great detective work). I gave them the same photos: in case you’re wondering I didn’t think of asking for money and no-one offered. What I said got re-quoted by people who hadn’t spoken to me. The Mail – who phoned and asked me for the pictures credited (and I guess paid) the news agency who’d got them from me for nothing. Whoever passed the story to The Independent changed my “All you could see was the tip of the tail” to “there was metal wreckage in a field” and by the time it got to The Daily Telegraph I was supposedly describing the metal wreckage which I couldn’t see as "There were two separate heaps of it.". which there weren’t. They also credited me with counting five fire engines which I didn’t*. I feel petty for complaining about such things, given the circumstances. The BBC asked if I’d talk to them, which I did and ended up on the national evening news, and doing two bits for Radio in the morning – the chap who asked me “Are you shocked” live on air deserved withering sarcasm, but didn’t get it.

It is, to be honest, a little bit of fame I’d be happier not to have. It was the BBC camera man who told me it was an RAF training flight: it was from the same air experience flight that I had flown with all those years ago (now relocated to RAF Benson). The instructor was a local man in RAF reserve having retired from the RAF (RAF Benson has a piece detailing his great experience) and the student was an air cadet from Reading. The police – both local and RAF Police – kept the road closed for a little over 24 hours so those whose job it is could recover the bodies and the wreckage and discover what they could about how the accident unfolded, without having to worry about sight seers and souvenir hunters, and so the area could be combed for smaller bits of debris which fell away from the crash site: it seemed slightly incongruous to see the specialists from the RAF mountain rescue teams come in to do that. Their work is done now; and those of us whose lives are returning to normal will have those who are not so lucky in our minds for some while yet.


As I always say at the end of these non technology posts, I expect normal service to resume shortly. 


* I do wonder what is happening to the so called quality press. If the telegraph cut and paste my name, why not what I said, and if they want to make up a quote why assign it to a real person? I’m glad I don’t have to blog anything secretly; the Times wants to “Out” anonymous bloggers even if the public interest is to hear what they say, rather than to know who they are (see Inspector Gadget is not slow to point out the Hypocrisy of the Times seeing Iranian anonymous bloggers as good. A blogger is not without honour, save in their own country).  

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

May 1, 2009

F1 thoughts.

Filed under: General musings — jamesone111 @ 11:47 am

The first F1 season I remember properly is 1976: James Hunt being champion, winning the British Grand Prix (I was at the Benson and Hedges cup final – Kent vs Gloucestershire – that day), then having the win taken away as my first memory of the governing body being pro Ferrari.  Niki Lauda nearly dying, in a Ferrari.

Today is May 1st. And if you ask anyone who has followed F1 as long as I have what does May 1st mean, they will say, 1994, Imola, Tamburello, May 1st is the day Ayrton Senna died.

I try to keep a balance between posting here about the technologies which Microsoft employs me to talk to people about, and other things which interest me (How technology is making our privacy go away,  Scuba diving,  photography  and its intersection with computers and  Formula one).  A few posts about the latter keep the blog interesting an excess just makes it defocused. Privacy is beginning to shade into party Politics: with Gordon Brown being on of the Labour people most closely identified with the ID cards scheme, and David Cameron lining the conservatives up to scrap it there is a tightrope to walk about having a legitimate view on a political issue (OK in my view), and using a work platform to influence how people vote (not OK). Since I have had both holiday and a spell off sick my postings overall have been way down over the last couple of months, but it is nice to find I’m getting mails and face to face comments about the lack of F1 posts on here lately, I’d normally keep an F1 post for the weekend.  So a quick round up and then I’ll stay off the subject for a bit.


I remember some time in the 1980’s Murray Walker saying he was sick of people talking about the 1950’s as some kind of Golden age, the 1980s he said were a true Golden age. Clive James once described F1 cars as moving sculptures propelled by burning money. At the end of the 80’s  we had 3 great drivers Nigel Mansell propelled his cars by guts and will power, Alain Prost’s cars moved by force of learning, and Ayrton’s by pure talent. Which isn’t to say I liked him, I didn’t much: he was too “Win at all costs” After taking 3 championships with McLaren, Senna saw has future with the all conquering Williams team, and he’d manipulated things first with Mansell and then Prost so both had left and he the  team to himself. I’ve called myself a Williams fan since the days of Alan Jones, and I lived in Didcot where the team was based and drove past the factory every day. I’d have had Mansell in my team any day, but Senna meant we’d win everything. It didn’t turn out that way. On May 1st I was with a group of friends driving back down the M6 listening to the grand prix on the radio and we heard the accident. We’d been stunned the previous day by the Death of Roland Ratzenberger – it had been a dozen years since a driver had died at a grand prix event (though two had died in testing), and the idea of two fatalities in a weekend was unthinkable. As motoring racing impacts go it was totally survivable, but for the random trajectory a front wheel took as it left the car. It hit Senna on the head, and there was no surviving that.  The May bank holiday in Didcot was bizarre; the whole town seemed bereaved. The gate of the Williams factory were shut and inside the flags hung at half mast, people hung around for hours just to be there. Some put flowers on the gate, beginning a ritual which continued for weeks: when the gates opened in the morning the staff  took the flowers, messages and pictures  and placed them around the flag poles, people would come during the day and add to them, and in the evening the gates would shut. Overnight flowers would be placed on the gate and in the morning the process would begin again. One of the “what if …” things I wonder about is what kind of Golden age we would have had with the up and coming Michael Schumacher against a Senna thinking of retirement.


Diffusers and the FIA

I heard a great quote that said F1 was about very clever people beating the merely clever; and loophole which the then Honda team found (and supposedly one of their ex-employees took to Toyota) and Williams found independently (or possibly via their link with Toyota) is a case in point. No one should be surprised that other teams ask “Is that really legal” , and go to appeal when told “yes”. There was no question of teams who had been told by the powers that be at the race that their cars could race with the clever diffuser would have their points taken away, but they could be sent back to the drawing board (well CAD screen). The surprise in all of this was best summed up by someone calling themselves the Kitchen Cynic, who commented on James Allen’s blog

To summarise the Ferrari argument:

” ‘Legal’ always used to be defined by the FIA as whatever Ferrari happened to be doing at the time. What’s changed?”

Well indeed

Brawn and Jenson Button.

I watched the Australia race and said that if you put it as a film script no one would have believed it. A team with no owner, no sponsor, no engine and frankly no apparent future a few weeks before the first case managed to bring its cars home for a one two finish. If I were Ross Brawn I’d find someone to hawk the film rights around the movie studios. As for Jenson Button those of us who though he had huge potential when he came into F1 , and then thought we were mistaken, aren’t sorry to see we right the first time. Little details like all the teams agreeing to waive the rule which said an Engine supplier can only supply two teams (and in particular Mclaren allowing Mercedes to supply engines, and Ferrari also offering) shows the sport in a good light

Hamilton and the stewards

I didn’t want to talk about this until the FIA closed the issue. Two years ago, when McLaren employees were found to getting information from Ferrari, I wondered how much information had gone the other way Ferrari took no blame for the employees who passed on the information. McLaren’s punishment seemed excessive and the whole thing supported the view that the FIA were pro-Ferrari and anti McLaren (or at least anti Ron Dennis) and that came through again when Hamilton was demoted at the Belgian grand prix 08. Another view was that McLaren under Dennis were focused on winning at any cost. You could trace that at least as far back as Senna and Prost pushing each other off the track to decide the ‘89 and ‘90 championships.  Alonso’s blocking Hamilton in the pits to prevent him taking pole position in Hungary in ‘07 was the same thing. That was a culture which needed to be changed.  If you subscribe to that view the leading the stewards to a false conclusion in Australia is part of a pattern… McLaren only wanted to get Trulli’s and Hamilton’s positions reversed – but the senior person (Dave Ryan) who met the stewards with Hamilton was so determined give people who seemed biased against him before any grounds to find against him, he let them come to a false conclusion, which was as unfair to Trulli as Belgium had been to Hamilton.  Supposedly when McLaren’s new boss, Martin Whitmarsh asked Ryan if he had denied the radio calls had taken place Ryan said no, Charlie Whiting the race director had heard the tapes of the calls and was in the meeting – How could he possibly deny it ? In fact no one in the meeting had listened to the tapes , no one took minutes. The whole thing looks a bit of shambles.  As for Hamilton there is a long history of people doing things they shouldn’t because some authority told them to (see the Milgram experiment), if he did that (instead of being an active conspirator) then we might like not like human nature, but we shouldn’t be surprised that Hamilton can’t overcome it. Whitmarsh went to see the FIA alone (no big legal team) and came away with a suspended penalty: could that be a new outlook at the FIA ? Who knows; but the signs are good.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

April 7, 2009

Google Street View : photography and the breakdown of common sense.

Filed under: General musings — jamesone111 @ 8:55 pm

Working for Microsoft, and holding views on privacy which border on paranoia, you might expect me to to be doing a gleeful little dance at the news that Privacy International have lodged a complaint with the Office of the Information Commissioner about Google’s Street view, and the villagers of Broughton sent the Street View car packing. If you know that I’m a photographer you might guess that things are not quite so simple.

Laws vary in different parts of the world, but in the UK the law gives almost no protection for the people in a picture. For example a wedding photographer owns the copyright in the pictures they were paid to shoot, and until the 1980s had complete freedom to re-use those photos for advertising.  Human rights law covers the “expectation of privacy” – you don’t have an expectation of privacy if someone in the street can see you, even if you are in your own home (it’s different if you can only be seen with binoculars, or by standing on a ladder – part of the Broughton issue was the height of the Google camera meant it could see over a high wall which otherwise gave privacy to one of the objectors). There is no law which prevents the taking of photographs – however anyone who allows you entry to private property can make a “no photography” a condition. The upshot is you can take and publish photograph of something which anyone could have seen – whether the person in the photo likes it or not.

In recent years the freedom for photographers to do this has taken knocks from many directions.  When I was 10 years old there was an old gentleman who photographed the swimmers in the club I belonged to. He had the approval of the club, and we saw and liked the pictures he made: I’ve no idea what motivated him but today he’d be branded a paedophile. Photographing your own children in a public park where there are other children is risky. “Child protection” is used as a reason to keep cameras out of school plays and sports days. There’s no logic to it: you don’t have to protect children from a stranger who doesn’t interact with them. Yet people can’t photograph children enjoying themselves in public in case the photographer has something in common cause with people who make pictures of children being abused behind closed doors. A minor freedom has gone because we don’t feel able to challenge illogical limits imposed in the name of “protecting children” , “saving the environment”  or  “preventing terrorism” –  anyone who spends time on photography discussion forums will have seen accounts of photographers being harassed for taking photographs of this or that building because they might be a terrorist on a reconnaissance mission.

Google has less fear of being attacked than the casual photographer – writing in the Observer Henry Porter dubbed Google one of the internets WWMs “worldwide monopolies that sweep all before them with exuberant contempt for people’s rights, their property and the past”. OK so Google might be rude, (Porter also says he “detects in Google something that is delinquent and sociopathic, perhaps the character of a nightmarish 11-year-old” on Twitter Rory Cellan Jones  observed that Google is getting the kind of abuse which used to be reserved for Microsoft) , but Street view only exercises the rights any photographer has; though there are two crucial differences: scale and “indexabilty” I can find you only if I know where to look. A picture of you in the street outside your house doesn’t show much – I need to know what you look like to know it is you in the picture, and I need to know where you live, if I know that what do I learn from the picture ? If the cameras caught you doing something noteworthy it probably isn’t where I can find it, and someone who chances upon it probably doesn’t you. Something which might have been glimpsed by a few becomes an incidental part of a picture with a long life; but the chances of Google’s camera cars seeing something you feel is private are smaller than being seen by someone you know.

On the other hand there are thousands of CCTV cameras recording us every day; while not exactly furtive, these cameras don’t draw attention to themselves, they don’t show you what they have captured (which is their objective, for Street View it is a by-product). It is said that “the average Briton is caught on CCTV 300 times a day” , and David Aaronovich embarked on a quest for the source of this figure, and found it dates from 1999 (when the number of cameras was lower than it is today) and it was not an average, but a study which said someone could be recorded by 30 different systems using multiple cameras (giving a total of 300) provided that they took a somewhat contrived journey. (Over at the Guardian Paul Lewis argues that if CCTV is ubiquitous, it doesn’t matter if you appear on 30, 300 or 3000 cameras). CCTV is is kept from us – a colleague was assaulted by a member of staff on Reading station after attempting to record the man being obstructive to customers, but the CCTV evidence wasn’t available to him. We accept CCTV cameras watching parks and open spaces without any idea if the people who watch it or voyeuristic perverts or conscientious public servants, we have no idea how long it is kept or what used it is put to. With the government wanting to gather facial recognition data as part of their ID cards scheme do we want to see the systems linked so our whereabouts logged as we go about our lawful business ? That’s not a society I want to live in,

And yet that is exactly the society we do live in. I saw a quote recently “I don’t know what is going on with the UK, it’s like they’re using 1984 as an installation guide”. The information commissioner talked about our sleepwalking into a surveillance society for years and eventually concluded that we have. The Information Commissioner is a government official – I like to think of him as the governments conscience – and his office deals with issues like warning teenagers not to provide “Way too much information”, and telling organizations not to use the Data Protection Act to evade their responsibilities to supply information. Difficult to cast him as a paranoid crackpot then. Ditto the Joseph Rowntree reform trust – founded by the Quaker philanthropist and confectioner which came out with a report entitled “Database state”. It looked at 46 state databases and found 40 of them wanting, and said a quarter of them were probably illegal (Including the national DNA database , the National Identity Register, the ContactPoint system which tracks every child in the country , and the OnSet tool which predicts which children will be criminals rather than victims or witnesses.). It also called out the high rate of failure of government IT projects, described the benefits of data-sharing as illusory, and criticized the tendency to draw data to the centre.  Reports are called “damning” far too often, but this one deserves the tag.

According to the Rowntree report, Automated Number Plate Recogniton cameras make 50 Million identifications a day covering 10 Million drivers, with the data being stored for 5 years. We have no idea who will use it, or how, a survey of local councils showed they had little respect for privacy, and every day we seem to get a new story of the government mismanaging our information. As the report puts it “This is a clear case of technology push; in the absence of evidence that the resulting privacy intrusion brings real crime-reduction gains, we have to rate ANPR as Privacy impact: amber.”  That term technology push is a good one, no government would order everybody’s letters to be read by the post office – it’s just not practical, but scanning all e-mails is something which technology allows, so it’s claimed as useful in the fight against terror. That’s Technology Push. Technologies like ANPR can be helpful, I can’t fill my car with fuel until it has been scanned by ANPR, yet when I come to pay with my fuel card the car’s number must be entered manually: it’s a good reminder that the technology isn’t for my benefit. ANPR doesn’t allow the UK government to see where you are every moment, but they are trying to revive the idea of GPS spy boxes in every car, not raising taxes or tracking people (no, no heaven forbid) this time in the cause of safety and the environment. The rate of road fatalities has stopped falling while the number of speed cameras has rocketed, so it seems we are to have a full time observer making us keep to speed limits. And the effective way to be green is to increase the cost of fuel, so even drivers of efficient cars think about driving less – or not being so heavy with their right foot; but price rises hit everyone which means politicians dislike the policy: instead the UK government opts to increase annual taxes on more polluting cars which doesn’t make them drive less.

Sometimes it seems we choose to ignore the surveillance apparatus which surrounds us.  If we pay attention to it for a moment, Street view is very small beer indeed. In the same way I rate it as one of the smaller issues for which one can criticize Google. I don’t subscribe to Henry Porter’s view “Google is in the final analysis a parasite that creates nothing, merely offering little aggregation, lists and the ordering of information generated by people who have invested their capital, skill and time. On the back of the labour of others it makes vast advertising revenues …” one could make similar criticisms of banks, but we’ve discovered what happens when they stop working properly. No, the internet is  better for search engines, and if Google build a big business by being the default choice for lots of people I see nothing wrong with that – of course working for Microsoft I wouldn’t – BUT for a long time Microsoft didn’t get that with size comes responsibility, and I think that is a lesson Google still have to learn, especially in their attitude to privacy and their pursuit of information about you for behavioural targeting of adverts. But this piece is long enough already so I’ll leave talk of that for another time.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

Imminent Death Of Twitter Predicted: A case study, the Malaysian F1 GP.

Filed under: General musings — jamesone111 @ 4:23 pm

First to explain the title “Imminent death of X predicted” is a snowclone , and its entry* in the Hacker’s dictionary sticks in my mind

Hugh Macleod proposed “All online social networks eventually turn into a swampy mush of spam.” as Hugh’s law, and a few weeks ago an article entitled “Can Twitter Survive What is About to Happen to It? “ – which could serve as a proof of Hugh’s law got a lot of attention, not least from the twitterati, it said “There is soon going to be vastly more content in Twitter, and too much of it will be noise.” Which fits the “Imminent Death” template perfectly.

I want to call out one source of noise which that article missed: the “Blind retweet”. We had a good example of this among PowerShell folk recently – Hal Rottenberg posted a message asking people to “Please help me share the news of my #VMware #PowerShell book pre-order”. Over the next few hours 50 or so people reposted the message. Now, a re-tweet by someone widely followed of someone obscure is good. If you’re big in the PowerShell or VMware communities on twitter then telling your followers would be good. But Hal is widely followed: the re-posters are less followed that he is, and anyone interested in the book saw the post the first time, either because they follow Hal or because they watch the tags VMware and PowerShell. Those possible book buyers get a tide of messages repeating the same thing. It didn’t help Hal share the news, because that needed to be done by posting somewhere else, or at least long enough after the first post that it would catch people who missed it.

So which sources of noise did the author of “Can Twitter Survive…” indentify ? One of them was

  • Hypertweeting. Some Twitter users tweet legitimately, but far too much. Or the content they tweet is just inane.

This only becomes a problem when someone or something you think is worth following is swamped by a tide of posts with little worthwhile content. For an example lets turn to F1, and James Allen. As an F1 commentator people were divided into whether he was the best commentator since Murray Walker, or the worst commentator since Murray Walker**. His blog – shows the journalism skills he’s honed over the years. When the cars are on the track, however, his tweeting goes berserk, and because it is stream of consciousness stuff, those journalistic skills go out of the Window. On Sunday night I fired up my PowerShell library for twitter, and ran

    $JA= Get-TwitterUserTimeLine Jamesallenonf1 200

$JA | select created_at  | clip

And pasted the times of his posts  into Excel – during Sunday’s race he posted 102 tweets in 108 Minutes. In qualifying he managed 65 tweets in 68 minutes.  Twitter is a lousy medium for a running commentary : his useful insights don’t come through the deluge of stuff I could get more easily elsewhere.

  • Notification Overload. Another issue is the rise of Twitter bots from various services, whether benign in nature or deliberately spammy:
    • News and content sites are starting to pump updates into Twitter for every article they publish.

I follow Autosport magazine on twitter, which is a classic case of pumping “updates into twitter for every article”  across all forms of sport they made 51 posts on Saturday and 33 on Sunday and I can’t filter those to just F1: I’m not interested in Moto GP or IRL; although Autosport does have “per category” RSS feeds. James Allen’s blog has RSS too. So the moral of that is, I suppose, Don’t follow on twitter what you can subscribe to via RSS. However unless I take steps to filter them out I still get the tweets in a search for F1…

Back in PowerShell I thought I’d have a look at the last 1500 posts on F1 (the maximum twitter will allow)  – since I did this at 11:30 PM it didn’t cover the race or the immediate aftermath when James Allen and Autosport were at their peak– the oldest tweet I got came in at 3PM, some four hours after the race finished, yet lots of tweets say things like “Wow it is raining a lot in the F1”. Everyone who cared either knew already or was trying not to find out until they watched a recording. A tweet which reports a recording as if it was a live event  This PowerShell got me the people who had made more than 10 posts in that time. 

    $f1 = Get-TwitterSearch "F1" –deep 

$f1multi = $f1| group author | sort Count -desc | where {$_.count -gt 9} | foreach {$_.name} 

9 posters had posted 149 tweets between them – although that ignored ollieparsley of “Footy tweets” who announced the creation of a similar service for F1 using 37 different aliases which he controls – all 37 posts were made in the space of a minute, which I’d call deliberately spammy.  (He has registered F1_ and the names of all 10 teams and all 20 twenty drivers,  which I hope that gets him Another Cease and desist notice).  There was also the person who made 10 tweets to tell 10 people about a blog post.

What were those multiple posters putting up ? I got the information into the clipboard with this line of PowerShell

  $f1 | where {$f1multi -contains $_.author}  | sort author,pubdate   |
format-Table -a  title,author,pubdate | out-string -Width 300 | clip

ALL these posters posted in great splurges (10 per minute or more) of links – to the same handful of stories data. Twitter’s 140 character limit compounds the problem because the links use shortening services (TinyUrl, Snurl, Bit.ly, is.gd and so on). The services don’t all return the same short URL for the same page (and even if they did different people might use different services to link to the same page) – so, without some client side processing we can’t tell when the same page is being linked to by multiple people. which means twitter can’t point to popular stories being linked to (which Digg, Technorati, stumbled upon del.ico.us etc can). Again, the widely followed person who links to something is useful to their followers. The person who posts links to pages we all read any how – and for the 10th time with a commonly followed tag – is just helping to turn it into the swampy mush of spam. 

People often cite Metcalfe’s law – the Value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of users connected to it. The theory being that if 10 people are on a network each can talk to 9 others, so that’s 90 possible conversations, but if 1000 people are connected that 999,000 possible conversations.  The problem with Metcalfe’s law is that all connections are assumed to add equal value. Of course that is not the case – the fact that I can get messages from some people actual reduces the value of the system, so there is an optimum size for each individual on the network – the key is how to segment it. Telephone systems and e-mail are effectively segmented to the people you know, as for twitter… Well if I was developing a twitter client I’d concentrate on ways to do that filtering.



* The entry reads: Imminent Death Of The Net Predicted Since USENET first got off the ground in 1980-81 it has grown exponentially, approximately doubling in size every year. On the other hand most people feel the signal-to-noise ratio of USENET has dropped steadily. These trends led, as far back as mid –1983, to predictions of the imminent collapse or death of the net. Ten years and numerous doublings later, enough of these prognostications have been confounded that the phrase “Imminent Death Of The Net Predicted!” has become a running joke, hauled out any time someone grumbles about the S/N ratio or the huge and steadily increasing volume, or the possible loss of a key node, or the potential for Lawsuits when ignoramuses post copyrighted material etc etc etc.  15

** For those who don’t follow F1 in Britain, Murray Walker was its first regular commentary on TV and continued until he retired, when James Allen took over. Many people loved Murray, and many thought he was an idiot; some even seemed to think both.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

February 8, 2009

On Accidents

Filed under: General musings — jamesone111 @ 1:04 pm

I’ve lost one of my best jokes recently. I first heard it from the mouth of Jack Dee; “Those drawings of ‘planes landing on water they have on the safety cards … I want to see a photo: if it didn’t fly why should I believe it will float …” Of course the recent “Miracle on the Hudson” proves that it can be done, although we shouldn’t expect it that often, it needs calm water, some luck, and close to perfect flying. The thing I  found most remarkable was having pulled off a quite remarkable landing the pilot did a final check down the length of the cabin to make sure everyone had got out. That, rather than the feat of flying, justifies the use of terms like “hero”.


Since I took up scuba diving I’ve become  interested in how accidents happen. A dose of aviation in my past, combined with the good records which are available (and the death of a friend on Garuda 152) have made me more interested than perhaps I should be in air accidents.

There are three root causes of accidents: people, environment, and equipment.  In dangerous environments – whether it’s on snowy roads, under water or in the air, we have both processes and equipment to handle the danger. Where life depends on a piece of equipment either a process  or redundant equipment means a failure shouldn’t be fatal. So, where we recognise risk, accidents have a compound cause rather than an isolated one (If you think the Air France Concorde crashed only because a burst tyre, read this report on how, but for a set of other failures, it might have been saved)  My friend died because her plane was flying in limited visibility (environment) and air traffic control muddled up left and right in an instruction to the pilot (human error), but the courts found the crash would have been avoided if the Ground Proximity Warning System on the aircraft had worked advertised (equipment).

[In the week that this post has been sitting in my drafts folder, investigators have more to do than usual, and the report has been published for Colin Mcrae’s fatal crash. It’s been widely report that his pilot’s licence had lapsed – but logic, rather than my lasting admiration for him – says you can’t extrapolate from that saying he flew irresponsibly. The report says McRae was flying fast and low and “placed his helicopter in a situation in which there was a greatly reduced margin for error, or opportunity to deal with an unexpected event.” That’s the first part of a “compound cause”, but the investigators could not indentify what finally caused the accident to happen, and don’t apportion blame. So nor will I. ]

Human error can be a failure to speak-up. Think of the charge of the light brigade, read the account of the engineer who knew that the “O” rings on the space shuttle challenger would fail in the cold and watched the decision to postpone the launch being changed (scroll down to the bit after “Figure 10” if you don’t want to read it all). Or consider the Tenerife air disaster – the worst ever – which was a combination of environment (fog) and human errors. A KLM 747 (with their most senior captain at the controls) attempted to take off, without the proper clearance when a Pan AM 747 was taxiing towards it on the main runway. The  crew could didn’t seem to feel able to tell the captain to stop: to quote from one of the official reports. 

The Pan Am aeroplane responded to the tower’s request that it should report leaving the runway with an “O.K., we’ll report when we’re clear.” On hearing this, the KLM flight engineer asked: “Is he not clear then?” The captain didn’t understand him and he repeated: “Is he not clear that Pan American?” The captain replied with an emphatic “Yes” and, perhaps influenced by his great prestige, making it difficult to imagine an error of this magnitude on the part of such an expert pilot, both the co—pilot and the flight engineer made no further objections. The impact took place about thirteen seconds later.

When disasters are avoided, as they are there seem to be two themes. First, as a scuba instructor told us on a safety course “keep thinking about the options”. At the trivial end of the scale, the organizer of the event I was at in Belfast was impressed having changed airports, I had a fallback plans for the ferry if that didn’t work. I could hear Ed Harris as Gene Kranz in Apollo 13 saying “Let’s work the problem people”. Of course Apollo 13 is the other end of the scale. In the movie script at least, flight director Kranz gets quotes like “What do we got on the spacecraft that’s good?” and “I don’t care about what anything was DESIGNED to do, I care about what it CAN do.”  Apparently the captain in the Hudson ditching is also a qualified glider pilot, but the A320 wasn’t designed to be a glider, with only 3000 feet to play with and a glide ratio not much better than 10 feet forward for 1 down, it can stay airborne for only couple of minutes (and cover about half a dozen miles)… the transcript  shows 2 minutes 15 from the first call of the bird strike to the controller saying radar contact has been lost. It also shows the pilot was thinking about the river as the only viable option after 40 seconds. Worst case that would have killed everyone on the plane. Worst case trying to get to a runway was too awful. The FAA site has an MP3 from the air traffic control tapes(things begin about 7:50 in the file), the calm of the captain has drawn a lot of attention, but that of the controller also deserves a mention. When told of the bird strike he comes back with a heading for the aircraft and then tells the La Guardia to hold all departures and what the situation is, he’s also helping with other possible runways, and continuing to handle routine traffic. As yet, the cockpit voice tapes have not been made public, but I’d bet there was both relative calm there too , AND evidence of the second factor in disaster avoidance; team work. It comes up again and again whether it’s  Apollo 13,or the Gimli Glider – in the latter case an aircraft ran out of fuel at 43,000 feet, and landed on an disused air force runway: the captain was also a glider pilot, and credited the co-pilot with cockpit management of “Everything but the actual flight controls” .
There are lessons for business in this. Good IT people  know about dealing with single points of failure, and know that reliability is the result of process more then underlying technology. One article I read talks about what business can learn and refers to something General Electric CEO Jack Welch said: that effective leaders exhibit a particular set of attributes in a crisis: “forthright, calm, fierce boldness”. The survival of the Apollo 13 astronauts was at least party because the leader on the ground – Gene Kranz showed those qualities. If I think about what’s happening in the economy at the moment and look for those qualities among political and business leaders they are disturbingly rare.


This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

January 31, 2009

On Geekdom, Windows Live, Twitter and Stephen Fry. Just another weekend post.

Filed under: General musings — jamesone111 @ 8:13 pm

First , a geeky joke which my wife told me after hearing it on BBC Radio 2.

“I bought a book called 1001 things to do with binary. But when I got it home it only had nine in it”.

While we’re with all things Geeky, I always thought that proper developers, guys like Mike Ormond, looked down on PowerShell, so it was a pleasant surprise to see he’s blogging about his experiences with it – starting with some stuff I did , he’s using it to link his blog with twitter.
Staying with twitter – we’re experimenting with projecting interesting stuff from it on the wall in the office. Something I saw on there made me go an have a look at something Long Zheng wrote about Windows 7 (I hope we make changing UAC levels generate a UAC prompt before release). The next post down Long’s blog is about using RSS to populate the pictures on the Windows 7 desk top… that might make another post here when I’ve played a little more, but that post took me one of Jamie Thomson’s , which introduced me to a Windows Live service I was previously aware of named frameIt. Frame it doesn’t store your pictures but it rounds up the stuff you want as a single RSS feed and pushes them down to digital picture frames – or anything else which takes pictures as RSS attachments – like the Windows 7 desktop. I think the digital frame is a great way to share pictures with distant parts of the family and combining a service like frameit with Wireless-equipped frame takes some of the friction out of the process.

Since I mentioned Windows Live: I’m a bit hacked off with it on a couple of counts. First (and staying with photos), I used to have a couple of Albums in a live space, I didn’t want people to have to sign in to see them . I also have my Skydrive presentations folder linked to on the side of this blog. One system for a work persona and the other for a non-work persona, but recently the folks at live decided to put my spaces folders within 1 click of my presentations folder. I need to use different accounts (or services) to keep a gap between them. So I dumped my photo galleries from live spaces. Secondly Skydrive has recently acquired the most annoying and intrusive advertising; I have talked about this whole “Aspergers-Like” issue I have with flash-based Look-at-me Look-at-me animations on web pages: I just can’t focus on the rest of the page with that going on. On Friday, Live was trying to sell me some diet product or other with “before” and “after” shots of a woman in her underwear. I don’t have a problem with pictures of women in their underwear per-se , indeed I think Horst’s Mainbocher Corset is as good a piece of art photography as I’ve seen. These, by contrast, are artless. I don’t want to explain why there is a partially dressed person on my screen at work but it’s the constant hopping from one picture to the other which is the real nuisance.  I’m actually a bit ashamed that Microsoft run such ads on our sites. Normally IE7 pro filters out this kind of junk, but Live uses a twisted combination of files which defeats the filter. IE 8 helped me find the .JS file which perpetrates this ad-crime, and I put that site on “Restricted” (i.e. run no scripts) list. Sorted.

This inability to shut out noise is one of the things which has kept me off Twitter (that and  “how can you develop an idea in 140 characters ?”). I’ve never quite got past Stephen Fry’s initial impression of it as “the weirdest and naffest idea I’d ever come across”. As he puts it “A lot of that is pretty banal and commonplace it’s easy to mock”. Indeed. But Eileen and others have been telling me that with some of the twitter clients out there now, and using some of the methods people have for working with it I might be able to cope, so I might experiment with it in the near future. (I might have a use for that PowerShell script of Mike’s)  Hang it all, Fry has interesting ideas to develop, and yet finds a use for something where you have to live in 140 characters, and copes with having a follower population the size of a decent town (On Thursday he said on his blog that he had 80,000 of them, today his twitter page reports over 94,000) so there’s no way he is reading every last “banal and commonplace” thought they have. 

Stephen Fry’s explanation of his conversion to twitter is more interesting than most reasons given for people use it; and he was talking about it on Jonathan Ross’s TV show recently and apparently Tweeting during it. ( Ross is another user by the way) Fry described the first show of Ross’s new series as his return form the “naughty step”. Ross is supposedly the highest paid personality on British TV, and his suspension following the phone calls he made on BBC Radio 2 must make those some of the most expensive calls in history.

Talking of Radio 2 ….that’s where we came in.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

January 26, 2009

Camera-phones One Note and OCR.

Filed under: General musings,Mobility,Office — jamesone111 @ 1:43 pm

Everyone uses different bits of office. There’s a core piece that everyone uses and then we all have our personal 10%. I like the OCR feature of One-Note. For example on the way to the BETT show a few days back I saw an advert on the tube that’s a grander variation on “How do you pronounce Ghoti ?” *

If GH can stand for P in Hiccough
If OUGH can stand for 0 in Dough
If PHTH can stand for T in Phthisis
If EIGH can stand for A in Neighbour
If TTE can stand for T in Gazette
It EAU can stand for 0 in Plateau
Then the way you spell POTATO is…


Isn’t it?

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I just grabbed a snap with my phone (the handles for standing passengers make a great camera rest to keep shake down) and when I hooked up to my PC  I dropped the picture into OneNote: One notes does OCR on pictures offers a “copy text” menu option when you right click them. I’m finding myself using this more and more, even for slides with a variety of cameras and even screen grabs of on-line presentations. I’ve noticed than some phones now do recognition of input from business cards via their phones. I wonder how long it will be before the whole thing can be done in the phone without needing the PC to do the OCR part.


* Ghoti is pronounced “Fish” , Gh as in enough, o as in women , and ti as in station

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

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