Monday, 16 February 2015

The most unhappy science of face recognition

There were scenes of disgraceful levity at DMossEsq Towers this afternoon when the entire staff was reduced for an hour to helpless fits of infantile giggles. Only the appearance of the scowling proprietor himself, surging forth from his inner sanctum, furious, restored order.

Readers should know that this is a rare event, the news room normally being the very epitome of decorum. Stranger still is the occasion of this hysteria – an article in the Guardian newspaper. Po-faced and scandalised by every fact of life, you don't readily associate that organ with mirth.

There was obviously something in the air today.

The Nidd Hall portrait of Anne Boleyn. Putatively.
What did Anne Boleyn look like?

That was the question the Guardian posed themselves.

And the answer is simple.

She looked like the so-called "Nidd Hall" portrait alongside, clearly labelled "Anne Boleyn, spouse, Henry VIII".

Except that the answer isn't simple.

The Nidd Hall portrait wasn't painted until the late 16th century whereras Anne had parted company with her head in 1536.

Most contemporary pictures of her were destroyed on her death. All of them, in fact. Except for one – a likeness of her on a battered lead disc known as the "Moost Happi" medal.

The question is, does the woman depicted on the medal look like the late 16th century portrait?

And the answer, according to the Guardian, was to get an academic software engineer to use a face recognition system to determine yes or no whether they were pictures of the same woman:
Researchers in California used state-of-the-art face recognition to compare the face on the Moost Happi medal with a number of paintings and found a close match with the privately owned Nidd Hall portrait, held at the Bradford Art Galleries and Museums.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Matt Ridley and the GDS PR blitz


"It is not just me who is starstruck
by what Mr Maude and Mr Bracken are doing"

Matthew White Ridley, 5th Viscount Ridley, DL, FRSL, FMedSci (born 7 February 1958), known commonly as Matt Ridley, is a British journalist who has written several popular science books. He is also a businessman and a Conservative member of the House of Lords ... Ridley was chairman of the UK bank Northern Rock from 2004 to 2007, during which period Northern Rock experienced the first run on a British bank in 150 years ...

Thursday, 27 November 2014

The Whitehall Effect

Not a single solitary soul on the whole editorial board of DMossEsq had heard of John Seddon before he published The Whitehall Effect on 5 November 2014. They all have now:
Agile is an example of the IT industry re-inventing itself ... if the way work is done is central to the problem (as is the thesis of this book), Agile can only amount to doing the wrong thing faster. (pp.48-9)
IT innovation is truly faddish: plausible but fuzzy ideas pushed by large marketing budgets on unwary lemmings who follow the herd ... Take, for example, the 'cloud' ... (p.152)
In any event, 'digital-by-default' is guaranteed to fail (see later). (p.153)

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Current and future uses of biometric data and technologies

"EVIDENCE HEARING Current and future uses of biometric data and technologies, Wednesday 26 November 2014, Committee Room 15, Palace of Westminster" – that's what the email says.

What's this all about?

Friday, 31 October 2014

Changing the organising principle of Whitehall

"Hello. I'm Mike Bracken. I'm from the Internet."
Public Servant of the Year ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken CBE CDO, executive director of the Government Digital Service (GDS), has made another one of his astonishing speeches.

En passant, please note that "CDO" doesn't mean that he's become a collateralised debt obligation. He's a chief digital officer.

The last speech of his that caught our eye was delivered a year ago on 16 October 2013 to the Code for America Summit 2013.

Friday, 3 October 2014

HMRC digital team plights troth to wrong Liege

Monday 29 September 2014, the week was launched with these rousing words:
I’m Mark Dearnley, HMRC’s Chief Digital and Information Officer. Today we have published HMRC’s Digital Strategy.
 Be still my beating heart, the strategy is no less than to ..
... give all of our customers – individuals, business and agents – their own online tax account ...
Christmas has come early. Not only are we all to get our own on-line tax account but our most Estonian dreams have at last come true – HMRC (Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs) want Martha-now-Lady Lane Fox's digital-by-default to be realised here on earth. They want ...
... the vast majority to deal with us through modern digital services that we’ll offer.
-----  o  O  o  -----

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

RIP IDA – notes to editors

... the unveiling
does not coincide
with the availability of the service ...

No need to say it, it goes without saying, it should be obvious to all but, just in case it isn't obvious to all, IDA is dead.

IDA is the Cabinet Office Identity Assurance programme. And it's dead.

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1. All the rest of you editors have been scooped by Bryan Glick, the esteemed editor of Computer Weekly, who published GDS unveils 'Gov.UK Verify' public services identity assurance scheme yesterday:
The Verify brand will be unveiled tomorrow (Wednesday 17 September 2014) as the public-facing name for the Identity Assurance Programme (IDAP), which the Government Digital Service (GDS) has been working on for the past three years.
You didn't know it was happening today (17.9.14), did you. And you didn't know that IDA had become Verify.

Friday, 29 August 2014

The magic of open data #1

"Sharing information across government databases
will dramatically increase governmental powers –
otherwise the UK government wouldn't have proposed it."


Lough Erne in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, "is a particularly scenic waterway, renowned for its beautiful setting. The area is popular for angling and watersports, with waterskiing, Rowing and wakeboarding being amongst the most popular; the stretch of water alongside the Broadmeadow, Enniskillen, has hosted stages of the World Waterski Championships annually since 2005, and in 2007, a pro-wakeboard competition, 'Wakejam' was hosted by the Erne Wakeboard Club (EWC) after successful national wakeboard competitions in the previous years. Canoeing is also a popular recreational sport on the Erne".

That's what it says in Wikipedia and that's where, on 18 June 2013, after a hard day's fishing and wakeboarding, the G8 canoed back to shore and issued their famous Declaration (para.7):
We, the G8, agree that open data are an untapped resource with huge potential to encourage the building of stronger, more interconnected societies that better meet the needs of our citizens and allow innovation and prosperity to flourish.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

midata – still waving, still drowning

The following article was published in Digital by Default News (DbyDN) on 21 August 2014:
Initiative to explore how citizens can be empowered with their own data

Five organisations have come together to run a three-month feasibility study to explore how to empower citizens with their own data. The miData Studio initiative is a collaboration between Ctrl-Shift and Milton Keynes Council, the Cabinet Office, Open University and Connected Digital Economy Catapult.

The project aims to create an open, collaborative environment where citizens, the council and developers explore how empowering citizens with their own information can enable better services, better quality of life and efficiency in the delivery of public services.

The project will develop exemplar use cases that deliver benefit to the council and citizens and the local economy more generally.

The project will look for new ways for citizens to gain control of their information, exploring how they can give controlled access to trusted service providers for the services they want or need. It will also act as a pilot for the Cabinet Office’s identity assurance scheme in a local authority context.

This overarching project aim is to empower citizens with their own data in a way they can trust. The project will create a space for learning about working with citizens’ data, building a safe environment to try things out and study what works and what doesn’t work. Crucially the project aims to understand how to do this in such a way that individuals are in control of their data.
It was 3 November 2011 when Ed Davey first announced midata:
Today’s announcement marks the first time globally there has been such a Government-backed initiative to empower individuals with so much control over the use of their own data.
Little did we expect then that it would be the best part of three years before anyone started to "explore" how midata might work. But only now, if DbyDN are to be believed, is a "feasibility study" being launched.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

RIP IDA – gander rejects goose's sauce

No need to say it, it goes without saying, it should be obvious to all but, just in case it isn't obvious to all, IDA is dead.

IDA is the Cabinet Office Identity Assurance programme. And it's dead.

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There are 23 problems with UK government IT, Chris Chant told us, and they could all be solved by the adoption of cloud computing, he said.

You may or may not agree but the Government Digital Service (GDS) certainly do. They're all for cloud computing. Like all go-ahead people.