Monthly Archives

March 2009

Length does matter…

Annoyingly, I own the smallest large car going!  I have a Ford Mondeo Estate with masses of storage space in the boot, but frustratingly, I have a list of things that won’t fit in it, because I’ve tried it.

1) A divan bed,
2) A sofa,
3) A ladder.

In the same style as ‘will it blend’,  I feel a new Internet phenomena – Will it go in?  Attempting to insert large objects into the boot(trunk) of my car.

Inappropriate Religious Harassment?

Is it inappropriate for me to put a sign on my door that read’s "Bugger Off God Squad"?  The reason I ask is that they regularly feel the need to come a knocking trying to sell their wares to me, unannounced and uninvited.   Why, when even double glazing salesmen have stopped this aspect of their trade (at least round here) do the various religions feel that because I’m not in church, I must have missed out on what they’re offering, such that they must come and reedumacate me.

Well, let me tell you this!  This country teaches its children about religion, and I have been exposed to ‘Christian Value’s for the last 27 years, so I’ve kind of got an idea of what its all about.  And in my humble opinion, its all a load of tosh.  That’s just what I (and many others in this country) believe, but you don’t ever hear atheists tapping people up to ask if they don’t believe in a god.  I’m perfectly happy with people wishing to worship whatever deity, god or gods they may choose,  but don’t try and enforce your value’s on me.   So keep your prayers, thoughts and worship to your temples, homes and the occasional hour on the telly.  At least then I’ve got the opportunity to not participate in your beliefs if I choose not to.

Until that happens, I’m going to get some quotes from a sign company.

Driving me round the bend…

Tis the time of the year when I commence the watching of sport with the return of Formula 1 to our screens, and best of all it’s back on the BBC!  I’m looking forward to the beeb’s ‘new’ viewing experience, because as well as the obvious no adverts, there’s going to be lots of red button action, including the option of having an in-car feed and alternative commentary.  Plus the return of Martin Brundle and Ted Kravitz won’t make the transition too strange.  One disappointment this year is that there will be no HD coverage, but this is apparently more to do with FoM than the BBC.

I’m waiting to see the rule changes with trepidation – it worked quite well last year and was an exciting season, so I’m hoping that things won’t go too far awry with the new rules. 

Kers (Kitentic Energy Recovery System) – should be an interesting system to see – being able to have a ‘turbo-boost’ each lap, but with the added weight should make for interesting viewing.

Wings – the front wing now lower and as wide as the car have been fitted with adjustable ‘flaps’ to allow upto two adjustments per lap by the driver,  and the taller much narrower rear wing which will reduce the amount of wake might make cars more competitive.  It will be interesting to see how the diffuser argument pan’s out.

Slick Tyres – Finally, slicks reappear for dry races which should create more grip and give a more entertaining spectacle,  provided the teams can manage their tyres effectively.  The only disadvantage is that it will be more difficult to visually see the wear on the slicks compared to the grooved tyres of the last 11 seasons.

Management – FoM have really tried to reduce the cost of competing this year (Quantitative Easing anyone?) so have introduced a number of cost saving measures.  No ‘off track’ testing, 6 week factory shutdowns and the sharing of fuel and tyre data between teams will all help to save money and help the smaller guys compete with the big bucks teams of old.

My big fear is that they’re going too far with these cuts and turning it effectively into a 1 car formula, just with different stickers on each motor.  And part of the magic of F1 is the crazy technology that the brains behind the scenes come up with to eek out those few tenths of a second to get their guy a bit further up the grid.  Whilst the new season should open it upto the smaller guys (you only have to look at the speed from the Brawn GP team),  I really don’t want to see it ruined for the fans.  I don’t want it to become A1GP, because that already exists – F1 needs to remain the pinnacle of world motorsport and I hope this season will demonstrate that that mix of technology and team/driver skill still exists.

I’ll try and post some regular updates of how my Fantasy F1 team that we’re running here at George Road is doing – I suspect it may also be an also-ran, but I’ve hedged my bets a lot better this year.

And for future reference, the current F1 Calendar is as follows:-

Round Grand Prix Date Time (Local) Time (UTC) Laps
1 Australia 29 March 17:00 06:00 58
2 Malaysia 5 April 17:00 09:00 56
3 China 19 April 15:00 07:00 56
4 Bahrain 26 April 15:00 12:00 57
5 Spain 10 May 14:00 12:00 66
6 Monaco 24 May 14:00 12:00 78
7 Turkey 7 June 15:00 12:00 58
8 Britain 21 June 13:00 12:00 60
9 Germany 12 July 14:00 12:00 60
10 Hungary 26 July 14:00 12:00 70
11 European* 23 August 14:00 12:00 57
12 Belgium 30 August 14:00 12:00 44
13 Italy 13 September 14:00 12:00 53
14 Singapore 27 September 20:00 12:00 61
15 Japan 4 October 14:00 05:00 53
16 Brazil 18 October 14:00 16:00 71
17 Dubai 1 November 15:00 11:00 55

Good Luck Everyone!

What time is it?

And the answer to the question is NOT Chico time.  The correct answer is ‘it depends’.  One of the core network services, but one that often gets overlooked is having an accurate time across all IT systems.  Back in the time before the railways,  the time of an area was generally set by sunrise and sunset.  This was fine when people only travelled a few miles each day.  But when you could journey several hundred miles across the country in a day, you could end up with massive problems, especially when you wanted to catch a connecting train.  If your intermediary station was on a different time to your watch and the timetable set at your departing station, you could be in all sorts of trouble.  Hence the adoption of GMT and ‘Railway Time’,  a commonly agreed standard time across the country and around the world, regardless of your location. 

And so to the modern age of time synchronisation across a computer network.   Why is this so important you might ask?  Well, having the correct time is less important than making sure every computer clock is set the same.   However, it does make it easier if everything is set to the correct time as well.  From allowing people to login at certain times of the day, to analysing logs from different devices as you pass through the network, if everything is on the same time,  correlating activity can be an easier task if everything is synchronised.  Back before the days of flexible working where you were expected to clock on at 9am and clock off at 5.30pm, you needed to know that you were on the same time as the boss, otherwise there’d be hell to pay!

The company I work for operates two time servers.  These servers run network time services which check both with time servers out on the Internet and each other to decide on the correct time.  The reason for this multiple checking is that as time data is sent across the Internet, the inherent time delay and number of hops can skew the time out leading to inaccurate information.  However,  the accuracy shown is generally accurate to about 10ms,  plenty enough for what we require.  Users of more accurate time servers such as finance services and broadcasting have access to far more accurate time sync services and generally synchronise with what is known as stratum 0 devices. 

Time servers are referred to being in stratum groups – Stratum 0 are the ‘core’ clocks, be they atomic, gps or radio clocks and display the most accurate time available.  These are generally not available to the network, but are connected to Stratum 1 servers.   These level ‘1’ devices receive the time feed from the 0 level, and then feed that down to Stratum 2 computers.  Our time devices are Stratum 2 devices synchronising with several stratum 1 servers.   These servers also check the time with each other to verify that neither are wildly off.  The companies servers, routers and other ‘core’ devices query these level 2 servers and become Stratum 3 devices.  Finally, your computers which synchronise with these servers become Stratum 4 devices.   It is possible to have upto 256 stratum levels, but generally 5-6 is seen.   However, stratum level DOES NOT INDICATE ACCURACY.  Because of the multiple check paths available to lower stratum devices, these can be more accurate than individual level 0 or 1 devices, because of this compare and contrast work that they do.  It simply notes how far ‘away’ from the central clock it is.

We could reduce the layers of stratum services within the company – the easiest way to do this is to invest in GPS time clocks.  GPS navigation requires each satellite to know precisely what time it is, in order that the receiver can compare the signals and work out how far away each satellite is, and therefore where it is in the world.  This can be harnessed using high quality GPS receivers to calculate the time, and passed to local stratum 1 servers, for example in the core data centres.  But is it worth it?  Probably not.

Another key requirement of the network time service is to ensure the clocks are regularly synchronised.  Computer ‘Real-time-clocks’ can be wildly inaccurate, often losing or gaining several seconds per day, especially when machines get switched off and on.  Our Stratum 2 servers synchronise every hour with the Internet and themselves, but generally lower stratums update every 4, 8 or 24hrs, or when machines are first switched on.   If you find that your clock is inaccurate, and you do not have the ability to update it,  try rebooting your computer and it should come back into line.

Network time is stored as UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) which to the casual user generally means GMT. This means that no matter what time zone you are in, or if its daylight savings,  your computer will be able to work out the correct time for your location, even if you’re based in Australia, the Falklands Islands or Central London (provided the time zone database on your computer is accurate).

So when you put your clocks forward this weekend (1am Sunday becomes 2am Sunday), at least you know that the clock at work SHOULD be correct.

WeekEPG 3.1 – An Update

Just a brief update to those following my work on WeekEPG and integrating it with MV.  Well, I’ve done a fair bit of work, those useful bits of it published here.  However, the work has been put on hold until we wait to see what BSkyB are doing with their new cards, due in the next month or so.  Initial reports indicate that the replacement cards should work in the dreambox (I bloody hope so – I pay my subscription even though the box sucks!) and that any further work I put into the convertor will not be in vain.   Let me know though if you do any work on the subject in the mean time.

**** me, this is difficult.

Those of you with filthy minds may have already filled in the missing word in the title of this article, whilst the rest of you can’t even think of a word.   Which raises an important point – what is a swear and what is acceptable language these days?  Now obviously on a corporate blog, you shouldn’t cuss, but I’ve never seen a swear list defined anywhere.  We’ve discussed this in the office around having a swear box, but the people who might perhaps use fruity language from time to time feel that perhaps there should be a sliding scale of seriousness for example a C is more expensive than an F but an S should be cheaper in comparison.  If you refer to the BBC list of swears, the most obvious are listed, and there is even a ranking of least to most acceptable.  Some words don’t appear (a male chicken for example) but some might consider them to be unsuitable for use, even if they are in peoples everyday vocabulary. 

A good friend of mine works in the billing department of a major utility supplier, managing their software tools, and one of his projects a few years ago involved creating a script that would spit out new and unique account numbers for any new customers signing up to the company.  Because the billing account could be alphanumeric, they didn’t want the system spitting out any account numbers which might be taken out of context, for example 1ISAFOOL124.  So he literally spent 3 weeks compiling a list of all possible swears that the system could generate, including researching lots of foreign word lists with swears included. 

Now, The company I work for (AFAIK) doesn’t have a word list like this, and I’m pretty sure that Sharepoint which we use on our intranet doesn’t filter content.  But even if it does, who has the final say as to what is appropriate and what is not.  I suppose language is a little like comedy – whatever you say,  the chances are someone somewhere will take offence and make a complaint.  But as we’ve been taught from our equality and diversity training, have a quiet word with me first and I’ll be sure to try and correct whatever has upset you.

NB.  The word above is ‘PING’

Blue Sky thinking from the LGA

Council leaders have compiled a banned list of the 200 worst uses of jargon, with "predictors of beaconicity" and "taxonomy" among the worst horrors.  The Local Government Association says such words and phrases must be avoided for staff to "communicate effectively".  The LGA’s list includes suggested translations of some terms, such as "measuring" for the civil servant’s favourite "benchmarking", "idea" for "seedbed", "delay" for "slippage" and "buy" for "procure".   For most, though, no explanation is forthcoming or, perhaps, possible.  The LGA spokesperson Ms Eaton said: "Why do we have to have ‘coterminous, stakeholder engagement’ when we could just ‘talk to people’ instead?

This isn’t exactly ‘outside the box’ thinking from the LGA.  People have been discussing this for years, and I’ve attending meetings to numerous to count where I’ve been able to complete my buzzword bingo scorecard within about 5 minutes, due to the presenter really going ‘above and beyond’ with their use of jargon.   Often when this happens, more time is spent trying to stifle a chuckle and decipher the lingo than is spent trying to understand and follow the content of the presentation. 

I’ve listed all 200 words below, some are worse than others, but most of them I consider idioms – words for which the meanings are untranslatable between one language (jargobabble) and another (English), and really should be avoided wherever possible.  However, just as some words and expressions fade into the texts of history,  new and exciting language appears, and we should embrace the best of the modern best, rather than making pariahs out of every single new word that appears.

Area based
Area focused
Best Practice
Blue sky thinking
Can do culture
Capacity building
Cautiously welcome
Citizen empowerment
Cohesive communities
Community engagement
Core developments
Core Message
Core principles
Core Value
Democratic legitimacy
Democratic mandate
Direction of travel
Distorts spending priorities
Double devolution
Early Win
Engaging users
Evidence Base
External challenge
Flexibilities and Freedoms
Funding streams
Gateway review
Going forward
Good practice
Holistic governance
Horizon scanning
Improvement levers
Income streams
Innovative capacity
Joined up
Joint working
Level playing field
Management capacity
Meaningful consultation
Meaningful dialogue
Menu of Options

Network model
Partnership working
Peer challenge
Performance Network
Place shaping
Pooled budgets
Pooled resources
Pooled risk
Predictors of Beaconicity
Preventative services
Process driven
Provider vehicles
Quick hit
Quick win
Resource allocation
Revenue Streams
Risk based
Sector wise
Service users
Shared priority
Shell developments
Single conversations
Single point of contact
Social contracts
Social exclusion
Step change
Strategic priorities
Sustainable communities
Tested for Soundness
Thinking outside of the box
Third sector
Upward trend

A little comic relief…

OK, so its Comic Relief/Red Nose day today, but I’m not doing anything.


No, in reality  my hair isn’t usually rouge, but as its do something funny for money day,  I’m adopting the Tesco line ‘every little helps’.  If you laugh at the above picture, text ‘climb’ to 88808* or ‘Yes’ to 66609*.  You must NOT use your work mobile for this however.  Or phone up this evening and pledge some cash!!!  I’ve also changed the theme of my site for the day to comic relief colours.

And now for some silly jokes:-

  • I went to the local video shop and said, ‘Can I borrow Batman Forever?’ The owner said, ‘No, you’ll have to bring it back tomorrow.’
  • I met the bloke who invented crosswords. Can’t remember his name, it’s P something T something R.
  • A bird in the hand is always safer than one overhead.
  • How do they make cheese on toast in the Jungle?    Put it under a Gorilla.

Feel free to add your others in the comments box below.


* texts to climb 88808 cost £1 plus your standard network operator rate,  texts to 66609 cost £5 plus your standard network rate.  Do not use your work mobile.   Ask the bill payers permission. 

ET Fon Home


One of my personal projects at the moment is to look at a good way of getting Wifi minutes whilst I’m out and about, at a reasonable price.  Whilst 3G and HSDPA are great in built-up area’s, often its quite easy to stray out into the countryside and find that one is lacking in Internet connection.  Whilst this is fine for a few hours, I’m a little bit addicted to the ‘net so wanted to find an option whereby I could stop by a wifi point perhaps once a day and synchronise my e-mails, update my twitter and perhaps dial into my satellite box and schedule a programme to record.  I used to maintain a BT Openzone account, but this was costing me around £15 per month when I only needed it for ‘occasional’ use. 

So, during my research, I hit upon a product called La Fonera from a Spanish company,  Fon!  Their ethic is to offer a shared wireless service, where hotspot owners get free access to other Fonspots.  This works by a user acquiring one or more Fonspots and plugging it into your existing broadband router.  

The Fon router has two networks, the public Fonspot, and the private internal network, ensuring that any ‘public’ access is kept separate from the internal network, ensuring that a) People are less likely to try and break into your secure network just to gain internet access, and b) You cannot be held responsible for any illegal usage on the public network (all access requires you to be a member of the Fon community and requires logon).

There are 3 types of Fon users –

  • Fonero’s – People who own and run one or more FonSpots.  Fonero’s who share this connection may use all other Fonspots free of charge.  Fonero’s also receive a portion of the proceeds of any access passes sold through their Fonspot.
  • Aliens – People who do not share their network, and must pay to use a Fonspot.
  • BTFON – BT Broadband users who configure their routers to allow Fon connections.

The latter type of user is a BT Total Broadband customer (generally with a HomeHub) who enables the Fon service on their router.  This allows them to become a member of the Fon community without buying a specialist router, however, they are unable to receive payment for any credit sold through their Access Point.  This agreement however has vastly increased the coverage of the Fon service and made the service more appealing to UK customers.   Other international ISPs have also agreed to offer similar coverage in their local country. 

Fonspots can be located using the site, a Google Maps service with Fonspots located, and it is also possible to download a Points of Interest file from the site for a particular country (or countries) you may be interested in.

Unfortunately, the delivery service is a bit poor – I’ve just been told that they should arrive within the next 3 weeks, so time will tell how the service will be, and if I make any money off it, but the major point to the exercise is to be able to get reasonable speed wifi whilst I’m out and indeed about.