Saturday, 21 March 2015

The system is fine. It's the users that don't work

It has fallen to Bryan Glick, the estimable editor of Computer Weekly, to perform the first post mortem on the Rural Payments Agency's (RPA) computerised Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) which was discontinued yesterday and replaced with paper – "successive software releases failed to resolve the problems with the mapping tool".

Friday, 20 March 2015


Just another government IT failure, BBC news website:
A multi-million pound government IT system to process EU subsidy payments for farmers has been largely abandoned following "performance problems".

The system will be re-launched next week with farmers asked to submit Basic Payment Scheme claims on paper forms.

Farmers say they have struggled with the £154m website for months ...
Or is it?

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Budget travel to Estonia

The UK Chancellor of the Exchequer delivered his 2015 Budget report yesterday.

The media have clocked all the good jokes, please see for example How George Osborne's Budget jokes cost Britain £81m.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

The lesson of the web? There. Is. No. Such. Thing. As. A. Secure. Website.

There is no such thing as a secure website.

You know that.

You've read the papers, listened to the radio, watched TV and browsed the web. You know Sony were hacked. You know JP Morgan Chase were hacked. And Lockheed Martin and the US State Department.

You know that. They know it and so does everyone else – there is no such thing as a secure website.

Knowing that, if someone offers you a web service and promises that it's secure, how do you react?

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.
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