Meeting on the ledge

(or why I don't get out much…..)

Swan stops traffic

Just driven into work, as usual with the radio on. At this time it is normally interrupted by traffic warnings, but one was a little different. Traffic entering and leaving Shrewsbury by the English Bridge was beng warned that it might be delayed by a large swan (I did wonder whether the swan wasn’t very good at directing the traffic…).  It’s good to be reminded occasionally that the word is bigger than the office!

April 9, 2009 Posted by | General | Leave a comment

IBM to buy Sun?

According to the BBC news website IBM have been in talks to takeover Sun. This is a real sign of the financial slowdown – at one time Sun were making massive profits, and it has long been one of the technological leaders in the IT industry.  To be taken over by IBM would probably lead to big changes as both companies overlap in big sectors of the market. I wonder what would happen to Solaris, Sun’s version of Unix? Or even to Java? I think Sun also has big stakes in MySQL and PostgreSQL, the 2 core OS DDBMS – would IBM choose to continue this when it might take sales from IBM’s own DB2? Another story to watch with interest….

April 7, 2009 Posted by | General | , | Leave a comment

Google find Roman villa in Mozambique?

Google quickly moved to dismiss the possibility that they’ve helped searchers to find Atlantis off the African Coast with their new ocean-bed mapping. They explained that some apparent gridlines on the maps were just an artifact of the scanning process. However I don’t think they quite meant the explanation to continue:

“It’s true that many amazing discoveries have been made in Google Earth including a pristine forest in Mozambique that is home to previously unknown species and the remains of an Ancient Roman villa,” a Google statement said. (from the BBC news website)

I quite like the idea of a Roman travelling to the south-east of Africa to build himself a villa in the middle of a pristine forest, hindered only by unknown species…..

February 21, 2009 Posted by | General | | 4 Comments

Hard-shoulder running

Yesterday was one of those good days to hide bad news, what with the third runway at Heathrow and the Hudson river plane crash.  Hence a story that the government has agreed to use the hard shoulder of the M6 as an extra carriageway got hidden away in the regional pages.  I wonder how many deaths it will take before they realise that this decision saves money by putting people’s lives at risk? I travel on the M6 fairly regularly, and on most journeys I’ll see a vehicle on the hard shoulder at some point. Indeed I once broke down on the M6 near Stafford myself, and was very grateful for the comparative safety of the hard shoulder. Now, anybody whose vehicle breaks down has nowhere to go, other than under the wheels of some articulated lorry whose driver wasn’t able to stop in time.  There will be a particular risk at night, as some of the sections planned for this are unlit.  No vehicle is invulnerable to mechanical failure, and we should be allowing for this rather than leaping on the cost-saving bandwagon.  Sad to say, but I wonder whether the government will acknowledge the deaths and injuries caused by this decision are their responsibility?

January 16, 2009 Posted by | General | | Leave a comment


This is my last week in my current job, and I start my new post in January.  My new library runs Innovative Millenium, so I’m looking forward to getting my head around that over the next few months. In a way I’m sad to be leaving the Horizon community, as I’ve made so many friends over the last few years – even a few within SirsiDynix! I’m always surprised by the openness and generosity of other Horizon users.  Thanks in particular to the genial Dave Pattern, Liz Barton, Tim Fletcher, Chris Leach and other colleagues in the former Dynix Users Group UK.

However times change, so I’m looking forward to  new challenges and opportunities in the New Year. III be warned, I intend to be as open with my criticism and praise for your systems as I have been for SirsiDynix!

December 16, 2008 Posted by | General | , | Leave a comment

A timely reminder

Our staff newsletter today contains some very wise words:

 “6.2.4 Business Gifts – Business gifts, other than items of very small intrinsic value such as business dairies and calendars, should not be accepted.”

I’m not sure whether we can accept the cattle?

November 21, 2008 Posted by | General | Leave a comment

Tim Berners Lee and the World Wide Web Foundation

Tim Berners Lee has announced the creation of what he’s calling the World Wide Web Foundation. There’s a briefing note about the concept here. Basically it seems to be a reaction towards the exponential growth of the web and an attempt to guide it in the right direction. The mission is to

  • advance one web that is free and open
  • expand the web’s capability and robustness
  • extend the web’s benefits to all people on the planet

All are entirely laudable aims and go some way towards guiding the chaos we all deal with daily.

What is also interesting however is the initial reaction from the press. Both the Guardian and the BBC (my main sources of news!) have focussed on his comments on the ease of finding information and the reliability of information once you’ve found it. Berners Lee has highlighted the amount of poor-quality, misleading or even dangerous information that is out there, and suggested a mixture of methods of quality-labelling. It’s good that these messages seem to be at last getting through, at least to the ‘chattering classes’, but also not surprising that they’ve immediately recognised one of the less practical of his suggestions. The manual quality-labelling of websites is both time-intensive and culture-specific, as Yahoo has found, and machine methods are still in their infancy.

Not surprisingly the media are paying attention towards the aspects of the web that they are most aware of – most of us only come up against infrastructure issues when downloads don’t come down as quickly as we’d like. Similarly our media largely only pays attention to a small part of the world’s population, therefore the 20% or so who have web access largely aren’t aware of the other 80% who don’t. However I hope that the bulk of Berners-Lee’s message isn’t overshadowed by a small portion of what he has actually said. The Web is already out of control and all of us who use it daily should be aware that some guidance is needed to turn it into an instrument for freedom and equality.

September 15, 2008 Posted by | General | | 2 Comments

We think

I’ve been reading the latest book which has the blogs all a-twitter, We-think by Charles Leadbetter. Leadbetter is a management guru who looks primarily at innovation, and here he examines the impact of the Internet on society as a whole. He points out the way the Internet facilitates the sharing of information, and how this less competitive attitude is already changing society. In his view people primarily want recognition for their ideas, and the easy sharing of these ideas that the Internet can give is leading to a more egalitarian and cooperative way of doing things: being creative en-masse. Linux, created by the then-student Linus Torvalds and developed initially by volunteers is one example. The book itself is another: he points out that 257 other people contributed ideas for it and edited the drafts on his wiki.

It is well worth reading, and quite inspiring at points, but I don’t fully share Leadbetter’s optimism. The last chapter talks about how ‘we-think’ could co-exist with the private ownership of ideas for financial gain, and I think this is where his theories have their weaknesses. I’d like to say that people are prepared to share for the common good, but I don’t always see this in my workplace or in the world around me. Perhaps the power hierarchies and fierce protection of copyright are the signs of a system under threat, but the recent government statistics indicating that in the UK we’re rapidly becoming a more diversified society are not evidence that we are becoming more inclined to share and cooperate for the greater good.

Perhaps this is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in operation, and simply means that some people’s lower-level needs are greater than others, or maybe it is just Darwinian survival of the fittest?  It does reflect that the Internet is changing society in ways we can only speculate upon. My hope is that the world of 2050 is closer to that of We-think than a cyberpunk dystopia, but it is good that influential thinkers like Leadbetter are raising possibilities – both in the minds of our powerful decision-makers and those of us who influence them through We-think.

August 1, 2008 Posted by | General | , , | Leave a comment

Bin chips

I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so back in May last year:

A trial in South Norfolk of putting a chip in bins to measure how much refuse you put out has failed miserably. BBC Radio 4 said that it had led to a massive increase in fly-tipping. I’d agree that some way of changing our ‘throw-away’ society is necessary, but none of the methods I’ve seen so far have been at all workable, as this experiment proves. There are some very clever people out there in Councils, but until some common sense and understanding of human nature is used in understanding problems, rather than simply ticking boxes to meet arbitrary targets, this kind of shambles will continue…… 

June 17, 2008 Posted by | General | 3 Comments

Student fees

There’s a fascinating story on the BBC website today about a recent student survey done by the Dept for Innovation, Universities and Skills. A series of ‘student juries’ were asked for their views on University life, and not surprisingly fees came out as one of the main concerns. They were understandably worried about graduating with an average debt of £12,000. Typical new Labour phrases such as ‘Value for Money’, ‘Transparency’, ‘Guaranteed levels of service’ were used, as you’d expect from a generation of 18-21 year olds who probably don’t even remember the previous government. There was even a suggestion that arts undergraduates should pay less than science undergrads because they have less teaching time and need less resources (which would make for a very interesting fees structure not to say economic impact).

All of these ideas were predicted a few years back when fees were brought in, but were ignored at the time by the decision-makers. It makes for a very dynamic and potentially litigious HE market. In theory those universities which can demonstrate good ‘vfm’ (to use the jargon) will come out the winners. But this is something of a two-edged sword. It doesn’t account for the importance of image – BMW thrive in the car market through having a superior image to their struggling rivals such as Ford but not necessarily superior real quality. In the same way those Universities such as Oxford and Cambridge can continue to cost more in real terms because their graduates are happy to pay extra for the cachet of an Oxbridge degree. They therefore remain viable despite possibly more ‘relaxed’ ways, but the establishments without such image are the ones who struggle. Ironically it may lead to the Universities in the low to middle range who can demonstrate ‘accountability’ (jargon again) being the sufferers?

April 10, 2008 Posted by | General | Leave a comment