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Showing posts from June, 2003
By Walden Pond

Perhaps it's the weather or perhaps it's the world but I can't think of anything worth writing about this evening. In fact, going on a short retreat in some isolated Spanish monastery seems rather appealing.

It's all rather symptomatic of intellectual burnout. Everyone needs to stop the ride and get off once in a while but in the 21st century that isn't so easy anymore. The concept was probably legislated away by act of Parliament but nobody noticed and anyway Thoreau was an American author and there aren't many ponds left in this country which haven't been concreted over to make way for another motorway or a third runway. But as you can see, I'm writing, so I guess it's a habit , like work, that I just can't avoid anymore.


I turned 47 this weekend so I decided to take a week’s rest from my ‘Thought for the Day’ in Computer Weekly (.Com). I haven’t had a writing break in a year and I’m feeling a little stale. I need a break.

More gloom and doom in the Sunday papers. News these days appears to revolve around an axis of weapons of mass destruction and taxation with very little else of any real significance in between. What I am certain of and as I predicted at the start of this last Gulf war, is that it’s going to be much harder getting out of Iraq then going in. I believe our troops and those of the Americans are emotionally unprepared for a peacekeeping role in a Moslem society. Afghanistan remains a shambles and Iraq is split between Shi’a and Sunni Islam, not to mention the Kurds.

I’m looking after an Iranian Minister this month in London, so maybe, I’ll have some new perspectives on the subject soon. In the meantime, I’ll take my daughter kayaking and pretend that I’m still 30 somethin…
Sue and be Spammed

This week is my birthday and the spammers must have guessed, because the week set a record for the number of unsolicited email offers promising me cheap Viagra or promises to make me “The size you always wanted”. At my steadily advancing age however, I’m going to have to disappoint them, as I’m fast approaching the point of no return and an offer of a pair of comfy slippers or a Marks & Spencer cardigan might be more successful.

The end of our collective may be in site however, as on one side of the Atlantic, Microsoft is flexing its muscles with a long overdue anti-spam campaign and in London, this week, Derek Wyatt PM has organised the first ‘Spam Summit’ at Westminster.

In fact, I’m not really serious about the end being in sight and its taken Microsoft rather too long to appear as the concerned citizen over this problem. If you happen to use Hotmail, as I do, then it’s very likely that your name has been the victim of a ‘dictionary attack’ and 2.4 billion m…

I haven't seen a ferret yet but I'm looking.

I'm in North Yorkshire to write a case study and the couple sitting across from me on the train yesterday, assured me that there's no shortage of wildlife, here on the edge of the moors. On the local news, there's a story that a six-foot python has escaped from its owner and is heading this way. The python reportedly hasn't eaten in eighteen days, which perhaps explains why I haven't seen any ferrets or even small children since I've been here. I hadn't realised that pythons were an indigenous species, so one learns something new every day.

Kings Cross station yesterday, was a zoo and I'm wondering if my motorcycle, which was parked outside, will be there when I get back. There's a Dickensian underworld feel to the area around the station but in contrast with Fagin and the Artful Dodger, the modern Kings Cross "community" have rather less literary appeal.

I rarely travel on train…
When You’ve Got to Go

'It is truly regrettable that a person will treat a man who is valuable to him well, and a man who is worthless to him poorly. One should have insight into this world of dreams that passes in the twinkling of an eye'.
Hojo Shigetoki 1198-1261

It’s time for the e-Envoy to go and I’ll start this thought with a quote from a speech I delivered at Westminster in October of last year:

“Without a solution in place, the continued absence of a universal architecture of trust, in conjunction with very real risk of expensive failure, threatens the credibility of the government’s programme and with it, any hope of building a true knowledge economy at a time of threatening recession. Its action that is needed, not excuses. We’re either an online society or we're not and without an architecture of trust and a readily available authentication capability more elaborate than a simple password or PIN number, we are most definitely not in danger of becoming the first w…
The Inner Game of Tennis

The queue of little tents now reaches back from the gates of the All England Tennis Club to the entrance to Wimbledon park; about 300 yards. It seems to be one continuous BBQ, with many of the tents draped with national flags. It’s a very sultry afternoon here in Wimbledon and the rain we haven’t seen in weeks, appears to be working itself up to coincide with the beginning of the championships.

Last year, I managed to get tickets for the centre court on finals day but didn’t say long, as my small daughter lost interest in the tennis very quickly and showed more enthusiasm for the ice cream stand.

It all rather takes me back to my twenties, when tennis was an obsession and a source of income. It was fun while it lasted and like many others, I learned that there is a gulf between those who are good enough to scrape a living on the circuit and those, like me, who kept falling at the final hurdle. In my own case, it was very much a lack of the ‘killer instinct’ and…
A World Turned Upside-down

It’s hard to fathom, for me at least. The richest woman in Britain is the author of a series of children’s’ books, Harry Potter of course. Good luck to her, as I have made a small contribution to her £300 million fortune on behalf of my eight-year old daughter. However, as novels go, it is rather predictable lacks the depth of CS Lewis or Walter Scott. But this is the 21st century and Harry Potter has, with the help of clever marketing, become ‘the’ children’s book of the decade and if it encourages children to read, then I’m not one to criticise.

Of course, the other phenomenon of the week and the century is David Beckham being made a living God in the land of the rising Sun. A nice lad, good with his feet and poor with sentences, Beckham, to my knowledge has never said or done anything that might be considered profound, other than be sent off the pitch at a vital moment in a football match. None the less, his success proves only too clearly that God has a …
Men in Tights

Two recent statements by the Prime Minister finally convinced me that our government is at odds with reality. The first of these, only last week when Mr Blair mocked the office of The Lord Chancellor, describing the most senior judge as a man dressed in woman’s tights, while the second, a little closer to home, showed little understanding of the true condition of the domestic IT industry:

Responding to a question from Conservative backbencher, Andrew Selous, concerning unemployment in the IT sector, The Prime Minister answered:

"I simply point out to the Honourable. Gentleman that in his constituency, as in others, unemployment has fallen dramatically over the past few years and there are increasing employment opportunities for people in IT and other sectors as well”.

Last year, I wrote in ‘Thought for The Day’, that the recession in the IT industry was largely invisible to government, because the self-employed professional rarely if ever, ‘signs-on’ until he or she i…
Between the Devil & The Deep Blue Sea

Since I wrote about Microsoft losing the city of Munich to the Penguin, a combined bid from SuSe and IBM to introduce Linux on civil-servant’s desktops, I’ve been tracking the progress of the many stories that suggest Microsoft’s days are numbered.

Robin Bloor is touching up his Windows obituary and IDC Research are predicting that Europe will, in the next four years, be knee-deep in penguins, 162,000 servers and many more desktops, expected to reach half a million servers by 2007.

This growth is of course being encouraged by the willingness of the large vendors, IBM, Hewlett Packard and others to offer Linux to boost their lucrative service revenues as much as their hardware sales and it is not always as a rival to Windows. In many cases, Linux is pecking away at UNIX, which is arguably more vulnerable than Windows in a straight fight over ‘Total Cost of Ownership’. However, it is becoming increasingly obvious that Linux is both maturing out …

It's been threatening a storm all day and I expect it to arrive over where I'm sitting very shortly. Another pilot who diverted to avoid it, tells me the front is sixteen miles wide.

I decided to take my own aircraft up a little earlier for a 'look see'. In the very bumpy conditions, the Cessna seemed to have trouble climbing, which caught my attention and which I put down to the ambient temperature but as I coasted out over the sea at fifteen hundred feet, it started making 'interesting' noises. It felt like a helicopter and immediately had me scanning the instruments for engine problems. I suspected carburetor icing but wasn't sure but applied full heat just in case with very little change to the shuddering sensation.

Time to go home I thought, wondering if I had enough glide to reach the airfield if it packed up. Probably not. I radioed Manston Approach and informed them I was cutting my flight short because my engine was making "interes…
See the World in Green and Blue

I arbritrarily moved my little office to the opposite side of the English Channel to coincide with lunch today. In fact, arriving at Le Touquet it was hard to tell whether this was the Cote D'Opale or The Cote D'Azur, it was hot enough for both and even customs were having an afternoon nap.

Monday is a quiet day in Le Touquet and the best time to come for lunch. In fact, it's even possible to get a word in edgeways on the radio. Mind you, on the ground, a wireless modem connection seems to work equally well in a French restaurant as it does in here on the North Kent coast. I even managed to catch a telephone call from Tehran, so location is a 'non sequitur' where mobile connectivity is concerned these days.

The contrast between the opposite sides of the channel is remarkable. Two different worlds forty-five minutes apart by air. No wonder the French say "Vive La Difference". You can hardly blame them.

Maybe next time I'…
Towards a Culture of Security with Privacy-

By Detlef Eckert

In a rare article exclusively for eGov monitor Weekly, Detlef Eckert, Senior Director, Trustworthy Computing of Microsoft EMEA and formerly head of analysis and policy planning in the European Commission's Information Society Directorate General, argues that to increase the public's confidence in using electronic services, eGovernment must be built on a secure platform of trusted relationships.

Privacy, data protection, security and identity theft are among a number of issues that prevent the mass take up of online services. Couple this with recent media reports of record levels of hacking incidents and system security vulnerabilities, and we can begin to understand the reluctance of citizens to interact with government online.

Read the Article Here.

Don't Look Now

It’s a growth industry and a complete mess, snooping on staff that is. I have been writing about the subject for at least three years and it has taken that long for the government, in the shape of the Information Commissioner to draw-up a code that business can use as a reference point for their obligations under the Data Protection Act.

The UK’s Data Protection Act of 1998 is based on the earlier European directive (95/46) and embraces all personal data regardless of commercial or civil activity. The problem facing company directors and civil servants is that breaching data protection regulations represents a criminal offence and as a consequence, a criminal record for anyone who happens to be convicted of neglecting or ignoring the legislation.

Add this to the fact that companies are increasingly paranoid about inappropriate content, viruses, harassment and the risk of commercial secrets slipping out of the door and you have the beginnings of an eavesdropper’s para…
Can You Feel The Force?

I’ve just subscribed to eCademy in the hope of becoming a ‘Power Networker’. A year ago I wrote a couple of tongue in cheek columns about Internet dating agencies and now I’ve found something almost as fascinating but which I don’t have to hide from my wife.

According to the message on its Website, “Ecademy's cause is "to build the world's largest Trusted Business Network by connecting people to each other - enabling knowledge, contacts and opportunities to be shared for World Wide Wealth."

What I find fascinating about the eCademy site is that it has moved the principle behind on-line dating into a business dimension. This allows a subscriber to create a network of like-minded vertical contacts, so instead of tall, blonde, single white female, you can have its engine go looking for people much like you among its 20,000 subscribers and then swap emails, create Blogs and lots of other powerful stuff besides. So go have a look, it’s free for th…
A Very British Coup D'etat

I want to make a small point, a protest if you like, which may be lost on some readers but which has been accurately captured by today's editorial in The Daily Telegraph.

Today, Prime Minister Blair effectively abolished the role of the Lord Chancellor. As Derry Irvine has arguably discredited the post, most people won't care, yet the Lord Chancellor's office represented one of the few remaining checks and balances against the threat of a dictatorship in a democracy with an unwritten constitution.

Lord Irvine

The independent House of Lords has had its teeth pulled through the appointment of 'political' Lords to replace stubborn and independently-minded heriditary peers and the Civil Service is now under the control of 'The Party' and has been since the first hours of this government coming to power. How long, I wonder, before people open their eyes and realise what is happening in our country. The House of Lords and the inde…
Capitalism at its Very Best

I noticed traffic from a site called BlogShares today and discovered a fantasy stock market for weblogs. Players get to invest a fictional $500, and blogs are valued by inbound links. Somehow, this Blog has found its way onto Blogshares and is now a tradeable commodity, you can own a virtual piece of this valuable and virtual real estate.

Naturally, this idea follows-on from similar markets set up to trade and value celebrities over the Web, which has become quite serious, as Kylie Minogue, could, for example, see how much she is valued against sister, Danni. And then there's David Beckham and how much he's worth to Barcelona but that's another story.

All Roads Lead to Romania

The large anti-virus software vendors put on a brave face when they heard the news that Microsoft are to acquire GeCAD Software a relatively obscure anti-virus company in Romania. “It’s great news of course and show’s Microsoft’s commitment to its ‘Trustworthy Computing’ (TWC) initiative but we still need to understand the full implications”, summarised the reaction from Symantec, Trend, Network Associates, Computer Associated and others. It would however be hard to find any sensible business that would welcome Microsoft’s appearance as a competitor and the global antivirus software market, according to Gartner, was worth $1.1 billion in 2001, growing at a steady 11%, far better than just about any other technology sector.

The writing has been on the wall for some time and I will tell you why, at least in principle, this strategy shift on the part of Microsoft might be a good thing.

Returning to Gartner briefly, last month, it released a study which said that…
A Popularity Deficit

I see, with some surprise that this site's popularity rating has dropped to an all time low of 74%. Looking through the referral logs, I can see where the search engines are directing users and this is sometimes for the wrong reasons. As an example, I once described my horror at the two hostage decapitation videos on the Web, in a piece I wrote for one magazine and at the availability, on sites, which I won't name, of every unspeakable atrocity known to man.

Unfortunately, a Google search on 'decapitation', now sends the searcher in this direction and I'm sure that some are more than a little disappointed by the content of my more mundane columns, so I'm sorry. The best I can do in the horror department, is the photo of my lunch below.

Myths & Legends of the 20th Century

I found my neatly ironed, black ‘Citrix’ monogrammed shirt hanging in my wardrobe today. It’s a long time since I last wore it and it made me stop and wonder how the arrival of Windows Server 2003 has impacted what was once a highly lucrative ‘thin-client’ computing niche, dominated by of course Citrix.

Once upon a time the world was hell-bent on a course towards thin-client computing and industry figures were writing the obituary of the Personal Computer, which was to be replaced by Network Computers, NCs or ‘Thin-clients’ or even Java-powered devices, courtesy of Lotus Development and it’s eSuite. Nothing quite happens to plan in this business but Microsoft, careful to hedge its bets, with Windows NT, developed a strategic relationship with Citrix, the darling of the Thin-client revolution.

Citrix created a completely new way of looking at Windows systems based on Ed Iacobucci, its founder’s, mainframe experience. Thin client meant better mana…

Sunday and it’s time for my two-yearly ‘General Flight Test’ (GFT), with Clive, the instructor who taught me to fly in the first place. These days, one has to revalidate every two years or risk having to sit all the exams again if one lapses, a fate worse than death and expensive too. Flying is increasingly wrapped in red-tape and keeping abreast of the regulations isn’t always that easy. Falling foul of them is even worse.

Full credit to Clive for showing great courage in sitting in an aircraft with me again and we spent a happy sixty minutes between the North coast of Kent and Dover, manoeuvring in cloud practising my instrument skills or at least, what’s left of them.

As my aircraft’s ancient intercom isn’t working properly, Clive had to resort to a mixture of shouting and writing instructions on my knee pad while I felt my way between the banks of cloud.

In fact, bachelor Clive has just returned from flying his own aircraft down to Corsica for a week’s holiday. I’m jealous, b…
Sherlock Holmes in Cyberspace

It was William Gibson’s novel, ‘Neuromancer’ that offered us an alternative vision of a connected future. A new dimension called ‘cyberspace’ where the clever criminals thrived.

Three years into the 21st century, we are uncomfortably close to the future described in the pages of Gibson’s prophetic novel. So close in fact, that Whitehall is reportedly giving serious thought to the idea of recruiting a new kind of special constable, the ‘Cyberspecials’, volunteers from the IT industry who might be able to assist the police in fighting rising crime over the Internet.

In principle, the argument looks good to the public. More police officers, if not on the streets, then in cyberspace instead, even if they are still only civilian computer experts trained in gathering evidence to the same forensic standards as the police.

In practise, the idea strikes me as impractical, with suspiciously more spin than substance. The unusual thing about the suggestion is that th…
The First American Emperor

George W.Bush, the first American Emperor?

Am I alone in seeing the first real signs of 'Empire' consciousness from The United States? Ironically, the USA came about as a violent rejection of imperialism but today, like it or not, it's following the very best traditions of the Roman Empire. The Caesars had problems with the Germans and the Gauls as well but then, as now Judea, the middle east and religious fundamentalism was as much of a problem to Rome as it is to America today.

Interesting how history repeats itself but then George Bush is hardly Russell Crowe but then, with the world's largest arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, who needs to be?

Carry on Patching

There was an almost uncanny coincidence in the timing of Microsoft’s first ‘patch’ announcement for Windows Server 2003. We all knew that it had to come sometime and it managed to coincide with Gartner’s announcement that "2003 will be the first year in history in which most industries will spend 5% of their IT budgets on security”. Apparently, Enterprise security spending will have grown at a compound annual rate of 28% between 2001 and the end of 2003, while cash-strapped IT budgets overall will have grown only 6% in the same period. Security is no longer a hidden cost of business; it is rapidly becoming the principal cost of doing business in the 21st century, after staffing and other IT costs, which between them chew-up the lion’s share of business income.

Microsoft’s little piece of bad news held its own small silver lining because it illustrated how the company’s ‘Trustworthy Computing Initiative’ (analysed in my Computer Weekly special report last month) i…
Memento Mori

Reading the story that endangered species will be recorded in an online records 'ark' , I immediately thought that this might have some connection with the IT industry rather than the planet’s disappearing wildlife.

The connection, of course lies with Hewlett-Packard, creating digital profiles of those species that haven’t yet been eaten, shot or turned into fur coats or traditional medicine and I rather wondered if the time was right to create an equivalent archive for the IT industry?

After all, twenty years ago, the software industry in particular, enjoyed a remarkably diverse ecology, with products such as Lotus-1-2-3, SuperCalc, WordPerfect and many more pieces of software, now buried in the reviews that I once wrote for PC User Magazine. Of course, this all happened before the Internet, which means that thousand upon thousands of pages of industry history, comment and analysis are lost to the future, because many of the magazines of the time and the companies…
Take Up or Talk Down?

I am a little confused by the report that the Office of The e-Envoy (OeE) is to create ‘another’ single access point for Online services.

When I was first involved in the OeE when there were fourteen people crammed into 70 Whitehall, the revolution was to be driven by a single portal, you know, the one that they spend millions advertising on the sides of taxis, ‘UK Offline’. Now however, the eGov monitor reports “The Online Government Store will bring together the various e-services scattered across department websites into a central hub or 'one-stop shop, where citizens could pay their income tax, buy a TV licence or apply for a passport”.

Not so long ago, one of my friends in Government commented:

“In the UK, as in most other countries, less than 1% of the population use government websites on a regular basis. It is hard to move from offering a "service online" to witnessing a "service used" For the most part, people are not even trying t…
Mucha Lucha

I'm reminded of 'Jeeves & Wooster' The chemistry that is, between the President of the United States and Mr Blair.

President Dubya Wooster makes a hasty exit to the Middle East, leaving 'My Manservant Tony Jeeves' to pick up the pieces, make peace with the Europeans and attempt to stave off those awkward questions about you know what.

It's those weapons of mass destruction (WMD's). They're like buses. When you want evidence of their existence there are none to be seen and when you want an excuse to declare war on an oil-rich and despotic Middle-eastern state, they're everywhere.

Who would want to be Prime Minister, I ask you? Personally, I would subscribe to Jack Straw's elegant theory but he hasn't got one yet.

Claire Short has a much better theory but it isn't printable

Vive La Difference

When I was interviewing the Microsoft CEO for Europe, Jean Philippe Courtois, last week, we touched briefly on Web Services and those areas where he felt that Europe was leading the rest of the world.

The arrival of the Internet made the world a much easier place to develop workable ‘Open’ standards and standards can be good for business, as they can deny a single company the opportunity of controlling an important technology. You may have read that Microsoft has finally been ‘persuaded’ to reveal its source code to Governments and has been active in working with the industry to develop and support the next generation of open standards and technical rules, with acronyms like SOAP, XML, UDDI, WSDL and others.

John Gotze reminds me that: "The definition of a Web service is a software system identified by a URI, whose public interfaces and bindings are defined and described using XML. Its definition can be discovered by other software systems. These systems may …