The scope of frameworks

Frameworks for government are important. They create a forum in which companies can set out their pitch for what they can do for government. They allow the government to undertake a certain amount of vetting of those companies. And they reduce the bureaucracy associated with government’s procurement.

Necessarily, their scope is limited. The scope of the framework is clearly defined. Companies specify their competencies against that scope, and this allows the public sector to buy services within that scope via the framework. It all works rather nicely.

However, risk is introduced when that scope is stretched.

Let’s say a framework is geared around a specific subject matter, cloud computing, for example. And let’s say that in being accepted onto the framework, a company demonstrates its competence in this area.

Now let’s say that a government organisation seeks expertise in a different subject matter, the provision of school meals for example. And let’s say it looks on the framework, and decides to go with the aforementioned company to provide its school meals, predominantly because it seems to offer good value for money.

There are two issues here. First, if the company is not very good at providing school meals, where do we go? The framework offered a level of comfort and protection. The companies that are on it have shown a level of competence in cloud computing. But they have shown no such ability in cookery.

Second, what if there’s another company that’s top dog in the school meals world. They make school meals that kids rave about, with locally-sourced ingredients at a price that has to be seen to be believed.

They see the business being awarded within the cloud computing framework. And, rightly, they say “hang on a minute”. This second company had read the terms of the cloud computing framework and dismissed it outright. “We don’t do cloud computing. We’re good at cooking food for kids. How could we possibly benefit from being listed on there?”

The example above is an extreme one for illustrative purposes. (Funnily enough, this specific example was presented to me earlier today by a Cabinet Office employee. They suggested that if the above deal represented good value for money, what was the issue?)

What are your thoughts? Should frameworks be stretched beyond their initial intent and their advertised scope to enable potential savings to the taxpayer? Or should their scope be carefully policed to ensure that companies are not awarded business unfairly at the expense of others; and that government doesn’t do business with companies ill-equipped to meet their requirements?

G-Cloud: Is there a silver, padded lining?

Yesterday, G-Cloud celebrated its third birthday.

In that time, it has accounted for £431m of government expenditure. (The correct figure is allegedly £467m, but the team is yet to update its data file to correct a bug I highlighted to them, so I can’t vouch for the latter figure. They’re hoping to correct this today.)

Of the £431m, £50m (12%) has been spent on software as a service (SaaS); £31m (7%) on infrastructure as a service (IaaS); £6m (1%) on platform as a service (PaaS); and a staggering £344m (80%) on “specialist cloud services”, defined as follows:

Specialist Cloud Services (SCS) support your transition to SaaS, PaaS and IaaS. Examples of SCS include cloud strategy, data transfer between providers or day-to-day support of cloud-based services.

My take on this is that the SaaS, IaaS and PaaS are on the out-of-the-box widgets themselves; and “specialist cloud services” are the people who are needed to either implement or support cloud.

But if you were to buy a truly cloud-based service, one that plugged and played, then even though there are humans needed to support this on a day-to-day basis, my view is that their effort and cost would be wrapped up into the *aaS cost, and would be labelled such. For example, every penny of the £2,970,196 that Ninian Solutions (Huddle’s trading name) has earned through G-Cloud is labelled as SaaS. If you want Huddle, you sign a contract; you get some licences; and it’s yours to use. There are humans who support it on a day-to-day basis – hell, I’ve met lots of them. But to the customer, these people are invisible.

So I expect that the humans covered by the SCS bucket above are doing the stuff that *doesn’t* come out of the box – either migrating stuff to the new solution, or doing something cloud-related that doesn’t come out of the proverbial box. One hopes that they’re not doing stuff unrelated to cloud. That wouldn’t be good, would it?

In my rather simplistic mind, cloud has two features. First, it’s available solely over the internet. And secondly, it’s shared. If it’s not available over the internet, then it becomes infrastructure sat in a semi-dedicated data centre, which is the old world of IT, and therefore doesn’t fit the cloud definition. It’s available over a network, but that network is a pipe dedicated for use by the end client.

And if it’s an application that is designed and/or implemented specifically for your use, then it doesn’t embrace the ethos of cloud that is associated with driving down cost through reuse.

I would have hoped that by embracing the two features above, the extent to which humans was needed would be much less than the above numbers suggest to be the case.

There is clearly a need for people to implement the things that you are buying through G-Cloud. But I am surprised that 80% of the money that is being spent on G-Cloud is dedicated to this. I have no idea what an appropriate percentage would be – indeed it might be entirely appropriate for four pounds in every five to be spent on the people associated with the service. Views?

G-Cloud is a fabulous thing. It has transformed the way in which certain elements of IT are bought within government, and has brought into the fold a large number of small- to medium-sized supplier organisations. But I find certain elements troubling.

Valtech, BJSS, Methods Advisory, Equal Experts, PA Consulting and IBM UK are the biggest six suppliers based on total evidenced spend, with a total take of £88m. Of that, £87,188 has been spent on *aaS. That’s less than 0.1%. All of the remainder has been spent on the humans to think about, implement and support this stuff. I wonder whether that was the model intended when G-Cloud was introduced.

Why I’m phoning myself – for 33 hours

At the end of January, my 3Gb giffgaff goody-bag expired. I use it to access the internet from my BYOD via a dongle at one of my clients. I don’t set it to top up automatically, as often, I don’t visit said client for a few days after its expiry.

So I went to the giffgaff site to renew the expired £12 goody-bag. But when doing so, I noticed an £18 goody-bag that had unlimited internet. Wowzers! (It also came with 2,000 free minutes of calls, but that’s of little use to dongle-using Dan. Although as you’ll see, it’s relevant to the story.) I added it to my basket and bought. Happy days!

A few days into my new goody-bag’s life, I received a warning message from giffgaff saying that I was not allowed to tether on an unlimited data plan, and that my internet access had been halted until such time that the tethering stopped. (Neat that they could tell.) I was mildly irritated at that specific condition not having been actively presented to me upon buying (I’d had no idea), but accepted their judgment and tried to go about rectifying the issue.

I posted a comment on their forum asking how I might downgrade immediately to the 3Gb goody-bag. Ah, it seems I can’t. You can only buy a goody-bag if the previous goody-bag has either (a) expired; (b) run out of data; or (c) run out of minutes.

Hmmm. The unlimited goody-bag wasn’t due to expire until 28 February, so that wouldn’t do. I needed it before then. It had unlimited data, so it was unlikely that it’d run out of data. Ever. So I was left with one course of action: drain the minutes.

Harder than you might think.

I needed an old phone, one that could accept the old-style chunky giffgaff Sim card. The only one I had was an old iPhone that literally would no longer accept any charge. So my good friend Bal hand-delivered a cutting-edge Sony Ericsson W995 to my door this morning.

After giving it sufficient charge for it to function, I discovered that it was locked to the Orange network. Expletives abounded. So I took it to a shop to get it unlocked for £12. (Hope that’s OK, Bal.)

And now the phone is sat downstairs connected to its charger. At 8:09pm, it made a call to my main mobile. That call is currently two hours and four minutes old, and counting. To make sure the call doesn’t get cut off (I’ve heard that silence on both ends of a phone line result in it being cut off), I’ve positioned it in front of a speaker playing a Spotify playlist on repeat. (As I type, it’s piping Lionel Richie’s Hello into my main phone.)

My plan is to continue the call to myself overnight tonight, and ideally throughout tomorrow. Assuming no interruptions, my 2,000 minutes (33 hours and 20 minutes in old money) will expire at 5.29am on Monday morning, at which time I’ll be able to buy a 3Gb goody-bag.

Utterly ludicrous.

(I know. Ludicrosity isn’t a word. But wouldn’t it be lovely if it was?)

Freedom of speech: What do you mean?

At school we recited the mantra that sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will never hurt us. Looking back, it’s an odd and misplaced mantra. Often, it’s the words that hurt us most deeply. (Although a good beating is, I expect, also rather painful.)

Of late, particularly in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, people have been talking about the importance of freedom of speech. But what does that mean? And is it really something that people truly want?

Currently there is legislation in the UK that prevents people from the likes of slander (spoken word), libel (written word) and defamation of character. If I slag you off through untruths to the extent that it impacts upon your ability to earn or your reputation, then you can sue me and claim damages. This very legislation is a limitation on my freedom of speech. I am prevented by law from saying what the hell I like about you.

And we also have the 2006 Racial and Religious Hatred Act, part of which reads:

A person who uses threatening words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening, is guilty of an offence if [s]he intends thereby to stir up religious hatred.

Again, I’m not allowed to say, or write, what the hell I like. (Generally, when people talk about freedom of speech, they include the written word as well as the spoken word.)

My view is that there is a place in society for both of the above pieces of legislation existing. If newspapers were free to write what the hell they liked without any recourse, that would be bad, right? (Possibly a poor example.) And similarly, if someone leafleted a community alerting them to a “local paedophile” who was, in fact, nothing of the sort, then that protagonist should, in my view, be held accountable for their actions.

My view is that the wider legislation covering race and religion is also valid. (Arguably it should be widened to other groups that might be subjected to such hatred, or genericised to talk of a wider concept of “groups of people”.)

But even if you only subscribe to the former of the two pieces of legislation being necessary, you are supporting a society in which speech is limited – one in which unbounded freedom of speech is not desired. So the question becomes not whether or not you support freedom of speech; but instead, where should the line be drawn between what speech is deemed to be legal and what is not?

Saying that you desire freedom of speech, but only within the bounds of what is legal, is not acceptable; or rather, it should not be termed “freedom of speech”. Our own legislation has been built up over time according to the social makeup of our society. It has been built up in different ways in different countries, and therefore it cannot be used in defining something that is free.

Or maybe I’m missing the point. Do people want unbounded freedom of speech? Do they want people to be able to say and write what they want to about whomever they want without any fear of recourse? Because that’s not a society that I’d be comfortable with.

Nats should be applauded

On Friday afternoon, Nats, the National Air Traffic Service, suffered a computer malfunction in its Swanwick centre. The problem, which lasted for 36 minutes, meant that London’s airspace was cleared, many flights were forced to land in alternative airports, and over 100 flights from London’s airports were cancelled.

Since the malfunction, MPs have weighed in with their views. The government said the disruption was “unacceptable” and demanded a “full explanation” of what had gone wrong. Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin is due to be questioned by MPs on Monday about the chaos caused.

Labour has called for ministers to “get a grip” and the Labour chairwoman of the transport select committee, Louise Ellman, said it was “vital that we establish what happened”.

The organisation’s chief executive, Richard Deakin, has come under increased pressure, with journalists citing his 2014 pay package in excess of £1m. (This is irrelevant, for what it’s worth.)

Initial reports suggest that the root cause was a single line of rogue code in one of the 50+ systems managed at Swanwick.

At no stage in the proceedings over the last 36 hours have I seen any reference to how admirably Nats dealt with the situation. In summary, no one died. None of the planes ran out of fuel before being able to land. It seems that the failover process that kicks in when a glitch like this happens had safety as its core. London’s airspace was cleared – very quickly, it seems – and everyone was kept safe.

Instead, the reports have focused on the dreadful time that travellers had sitting around in Heathrow for a few hours.

Our lives involve high levels of sophistication – from crossing the road at a Pelican crossing to contactless payments to synchronisation of music across devices to control of a very busy airspace above the south of England. Sometimes, the systems that support this high level of sophistication go wrong. For a short period of time, a certain bank’s cashpoints are unable to give out cash; a set of traffic lights stops working; Apple deletes your music collection.

We need to accept that there will be an element of disruption associated with system failures. And our demand, particularly for systems that are integral to an aspect of our safety, should be that we are kept safe when they suffer problems. Nats did this with aplomb.

Yes, ask some questions and try to avoid a similar problem happening in the future. But please, get some context. No one died. Some people were inconvenienced.

The need for floaters

At work, everyone has a specific role. They’re an HR manager, a billing administrator, a project manager, a VP of engineering, a secretary. Whatever they are, they are something. Something specific that can be succinctly described in two or three words on a business card.

When they leave, we recruit a replacement against a predefined job description. We ascertain candidates’ strengths against that job description, and we go ahead and recruit.

Yes, people stray outside of their job description. But they generally only do so within the confines of their field, their department. And many organisations stifle such straying, either through culture or guidance.

But what if there were fewer people with such predefined roles. What if there were more floaters in companies. People with ill-defined roles who were there to plug gaps; to figure out what can be improved; to challenge the modus operandi. I don’t mean temporary people. I mean permanent employees. Would that yield benefit? Maybe they could be nominated for the position, take it on for a temporary period, a year, say.

Would the salaries awarded to a few people whose sole job was to challenge be outweighed by the benefits their actions brought about? How would they be managed? And how might they report?

Without those people, businesses will continue to do what they did yesterday, even if what they did yesterday isn’t optimal.

Secret Cinema: A review (contains spoilers)

When the Secret Cinema tickets for Back To The Future were released on 5 June, I jumped at the opportunity. Too much so, some might say. I bought six tickets for 7 August, not knowing who might want to come along.

I told a few friends about it, and my other five tickets were snapped up quickly by some truly lovely friends.

My anticipation built throughout June and July. There were a few articles about the event which I tried hard to avoid. And then there was the hoo-ha surrounding the cancellation of the first four screenings. Rumours abounded that this was owing to a lack of sign-off from the local council.

The first showing eventually went ahead on Thursday 31 July, and again, I tried to steer clear of people’s feedback and reviews. Further showings took place throughout that weekend, and next would be our turn, on Thursday 7 August.

We were told to arrive at Hackney Wick station at 5.45pm. For the evening, I took on the persona of Charles “Chuck” Penland. And I was accompanied by Patricia “Patsy” Lott, Bruce Wilson, Jason Cooper, Alicia Butler and Treva Guill.

Our party convened, all coming via Stratford, and we were then asked to walk past the Olympic Park. Back up towards Stratford. Well that’s all rather odd.

We climbed the hill and could see a Ferris wheel off to the right. We were made to discard/drain water bottles (safety or revenue?), and then had to hand in our mobile phones. Yikes!

We then climbed the hill further, passing Otis Peabody’s farm, complete with goats, and some of the Hill Valley residences – single storey temporary dwellings with artificial lawns out front, complete with sun loungers, mailboxes and acting occupants. One such occupant used his American accent to express confusion when I changed my socks on his front lawn, using his sun lounger to sit on. (My socks that day sported a logo on one side only, and I had donned them that morning with the logos facing one another. Upon discovering this, they simply had to be switched.) All very amicable; but the pretence was impressive and fabulous. I apologised, we shook hands and we were on our way.

We picked up some drinks and walked in, to be presented with the town square: a full-size 1955 town square. The centre was carpeted in a lush, thick artificial grass with a picket fence around the edge. And it was enclosed by a road, with zebra crossings to the shops around its perimeter. Across the full width of the square at the far end was the Department for Social Security, complete with clock tower. In the centre of its façade was a huge cream rectangle, onto which the movie would be projected. Across the back edge of the square was Lou’s Diner, where you could pick up some dinner.

And down either side of the square were shops and outlets, included Bank of America, a Texaco garage, a barber’s shop, a comic store and a record store. Down the right-hand side was Hill Valley High School. And off the rear corner of the square was Hill Valley Fair, complete with a Ferris wheel, one of those rides where you swing around on seats connected precariously to the top with chains, more food stalls (including a converted American school bus) and lots of funfair-type activities. It was 6.30pm. It was 25C. And the place was magical.

After setting out our stall (picnic blankets) on the square, which was already busy and buzzing, we went off exploring. We had a little dance to a live band at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance. We rode the Ferris wheel while ’80s music piped out across the square, a picture-postcard deep amber sun dropping through the horizon off to the west (as is its wont). We even noseyed around the lockers in the school, which were rich in detail, including half-completed math(s) homework.

A postman stopped us asking whether we knew a Susan Smith, as he had a letter for her. Marty McFly himself wandered around in a red life vest looking dazed and confused.

And then we settled down on our blankets, ready for the film to start. There were some announcements from the stage in front of the clock tower from the mayor. A little live music, and some health and safety announcements from the local police. No jaywalking was the big one. He wasn’t joking. Cars would be travelling around the square’s roads during the performance, and so we weren’t allowed outside the picket fence, unless escorted across a zebra crossing.

And then all went dark.

STEVEN SPIELBERG

Presents

The cheer was enormous. As if the prelude wasn’t enough, the main event was about to start.

As you’ll be aware, the film itself is fabulous. But this was no ordinary film. The film played in its entirety. And key moments of the film were reenacted around us. Marty skated round the square while clinging to the back of a truck. The DeLorean reversed out from the huge doors beneath the clock tower, engulfed in steam. The Libyan terrorists drove in from one corner of the square in a Volkswagen Type 2 to shoot Doctor Emmett Brown. The DeLorean hit a speed significantly less than 88mph and disappeared in a cloud of smoke. The timings were utterly impeccable. The illusion was magnificent.

The fight scene took place in the diner. Marty stepped over Biff’s moving car, skateboard in hand, and carried on boarding on the other side. It was all utterly brilliant.

And then, the finale. Doc Brown appeared way up high, clinging to the clock face. Our actor couldn’t see the screen. Yet his every movement mirrored that of his on-screen namesake. It was clear that he was tethered in place, yet his actions put the fear of God up the audience. And yes, he zip-wired down to the roadside to make sure the cable was connected ready for Marty’s arrival in the DeLorean.

The whole evening was utterly epic. The shops. The atmosphere. The short queues for food. The feeling of not being ripped off. The unbelievable sunset. The perfect ball of fire touching the horizon seen from up high on the Ferris wheel. The tropical temperatures. The car chases. The lockers. The cheering. The music. Oh God the music. The fabulous faux-American accents. The lack of mobile phones. The laughter. The five hours of constant, ear-to-ear grinning. The professionalism. The attention to detail. The relentless attention to detail. The synchronisation. The value for money. The actors. The square. The spectacular last scene. The friends.

I had massive expectations of Secret Cinema. Those expectations were not met. Instead, they were blown out of the water. Fabien Riggall clearly stretched his dreams way further than they’d ever been stretched before. But he pulled it off. He so pulled it off.

Mobile strategy: Amazon vs. Flickr

I would love to understand the mobile strategies of some of the biggest brands on the internet. I am the user of two apps that one might consider to be rather major: Amazon UK, and Flickr. (On an Android phone.) Their strategies seem to be vastly different. And from usage of the respective apps, below is my interpretation of their supporting mobile strategies:

First, Amazon UK.

Make sure you can do everything on the app. that you can do on a computer through the website. Do so while recognising the difference between the way in which people use the different devices.

If you can add a new delivery address on the web, you should be able to do the same through the mobile app. Wishlists, split deliveries, save for later. All of that. Make sure people can do it. And make sure they are able to do it in an intuitive way.

Never lose sight of people’s desire to instruct us to do everything we can do for them while on the move. But also, never compromise the beauty and simplicity of interacting with Amazon.

Now, go deliver.

Now, Flickr.

We need to recognise that the mobile interface is way more limiting than the web browser on a computer. So we need to be mindful of which features we enable through the mobile app.

We can’t expect that the user can do everything through the mobile app. that they would be able to do on their computer. So we need to select which features we enable, and which we don’t.

We need to make judgments on what people might want to do, and not clutter the interface by giving them the option. For example, if someone’s in one of their friend’s photostreams and wants to search, we should make a judgment on what they want to search within.

My view is that Amazon’s strategy is right. It strives for the best, and it hits the mark. Flickr’s is wrong. It strives for compromise, and I always feel cheated when using the app. I am writing this very post from my computer. I turned my computer on after trying and failing on my phone to find an old photo from a friend’s Flickr photostream.

The heated discussions that surround thermostats

Well that was all rather bizarre. Some time ago, I joined a Facebook group called Photo Of My Thermostat. As its name suggests, it involves people taking pictures of their thermostats, or those they encountered upon their travels. The group’s description is as follows.

A group for people who wish to post a photo of their thermostat. Please note that only one photo of your thermostat is permitted, though if you have more than one thermostat (perhaps through inhabiting more than one property, or due to having an atypical central heating regime), you may post a photo of each thermostat*. In the event of one thermostat being shared by more than one group member, each member must post their own photo of the thermostat. *For these purposes thermostatic rad valves count as individual thermostats.

It’s an “Open Group”, meaning that anyone can see who’s in it and what its members post. But membership must be requested; and granted, refused or cancelled.

The group is humorous. It’s dry. It appeals to my geeky side, and, it seems, to that of its 200+ members. Its purpose is exact and exacting, and its members seem to relish in the geekery and humour that accompanies the subject matter. To me, it holds a similar allure to the Pencil Museum in Keswick.

I was alerted to the group a few months back through a friend’s status updates. I thought that it might be fun to join, and so requested the group’s owner to allow me membership. My request was accepted, and I was granted membership. I never got round to posting a picture of our thermostat, but I enjoyed the updates that the group yielded. And on the odd occasion, I contributed to the friendly banter, both with people I knew and those I didn’t.

Until recently.

One member of the group, Sharon, posted a picture of her air conditioning unit, complete with remote control in the foreground. Naturally, some lighthearted banter ensued surrounding the definition of a thermostat – specifically whether the device or the remote control technically constituted the thermostat. As you can imagine, things got pretty heated. (Ha!)

But actually, they did. I chimed into the discussion with a viewpoint, and agreed with Sharon when she cited what she saw as a constitutional crisis for the group. I suggested, rather glibly, that the group be renamed to “Photo Of My Thermostat And/Or Its Associated Remote Control, Wireless Or Otherwise”. The group’s owner, Neil Edmond, who had already shown frustration at the possibility of a constitutional crisis, seemed to come in heavy-handed with Sharon, challenging that there wasn’t a constitutional crisis beyond her that of her own making.

He was right, of course, although I would argue that Sharon’s comment was meant entirely in jest. At first, I thought Neil Edmond’s retorts were also in jest, but their frequency and lack of humour suggested otherwise. Greg chimed in.

It’s tantamount to anarchy, what’s next? Pictures of ceiling fans???

At this point, I posted within the comments a picture of a remote-controlled ceiling fan, with the comment:

Look at this bad boy!

Neil Edmond then took what was clearly banter that the group was enjoying, and thoroughly shat on it. Figuratively.

You see, Dan, that’s just you being provocative while knowing that it’s an infringement of the Thermostatic regulations, so you may either remove it or leave the group.

His comment was lovely and warranted, apart from the threatening and rather sinister final clause. After some further banter surrounding the word “umbrage”, there was another comment from Neil Edmond, recognising the quality of my involvement and then further threatening me.

Dan, yes, that’s good. However, it does not compensate for your inflammatory fan. You have until 11:00 GMT today to remove it.

Oddly, in the height of summer, he was still operating in Greenwich Mean Time. I would expect better from someone whose Facebook group is doubtless so seasonally aware. I left the picture up, and posted the following comment.

I’m sure the fan picture will be taken with the humour with which it was meant. If the authorities deem its posting to warrant expulsion from the group, then I relish the 53 minutes that I have remaining.

Some further banter. Then, shortly after 1200 BST, I was expelled from the group. And, indeed, all of my comments on said post were removed. (I know that this latter piece was a specific action on the part of Neil Edmond, rather than a symptom of being removed from a Facebook group, as my comments on other posts remain intact. A subsequent comment compared Mr. Edmond to General Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean dictator. Neil Edmond threw in his final oar.

There have been some very nice Photos Of My (Their) Thermostats posted today. That is why the group exists. I do not enjoy people deliberately testing the boundaries of the Regulations because they think that’s the point. The Regulations in place allow tasteful, playful self-governance. Demands and accusations – which disrupt and overshadow the advice, discussion and communal invention which this Group is full of – will be met with warnings and action.

I believe the “demands and accusations” comment was directed at me, though I have no idea what demands I was making, nor indeed what accusations I was levelling.

All in all, I find his reaction all rather hilarious. Yes, I lose out for not being part of a rather enjoyable group. Yet I feel strangely freed from the dictatorial regime that seems to define it – though I quite enjoyed the support I received from fellow members.

Someone who has clearly set up a group partly for amusement purposes has come in heavy-handed on one of its newer members. Cuntitude of the highest order.

Here is a link to the diatribe-fuelled discussion in the Facebook group itself, after the edits that Neil Edmond made. Below is an image of the full discussion, complete with ceiling fan image, with many names redacted purely to protect the innocent. Click through (three times) to see it in all its glory. And notice the lack of a comment box at the end, signifying my lack of right to reply.

PoMT (reduced)

Candy Crush Saga: Saving the Planet

I have a theory. It’s utterly ridiculous. But it’s a theory nonetheless.

Who knows the book/film Ender’s Game? If so, carry on reading. If not, I thoroughly recommend you read the book. (I’ve not yet seen the film. I’ve heard it’s a bit shit.) And come back once you’ve read the book. (The book is wonderful.) If you choose to ignore my advice, then note that there are some spoilers to follow. Read on at your own risk.

So here’s the premise of Ender’s Game. It’s all about a kid called Ender Wiggin. He is selected by Earth’s authorities and is made to spend much of his life in Battle School, pretty much playing shoot-’em-up video games.

Spoiler alert: The last video game he plays is not actually a video game. Unbeknownst to him, it is instead a real-life battle against a bunch of aliens that are invading Earth. Ender wins the battle. Earth is saved. For the win. Literally.

Now here’s the theory. King, the company that developed the Candy Crush Saga game, is actually the Ministry of Earthly Defence. And Candy Crush Saga works on the same premise as the video game in Ender’s Game.

Every month, 46 million people are presented with screens filled with pieces of candy. They play the “game” every day some people every waking hour. In the game, they have a certain number of moves, or a limited amount of time, to complete each level. They practise the game, getting better and better, faster and faster. Hell, they even send invites to people who have no interest in receiving said invites asking that they join the legion game players. (I’ll politely decline, if it’s all the same.)

King has a record of who is good, who is not so good, who’s dedicated to the cause, who’s learning quickly, and who’s not worth bothering about. They know who’s stuck on Level 33. (Apparently, Level 33 is a bitch.) And who’s made it past Level 350 (also a bitch, though a more advanced bitch).

All the while, King are fine-tuning a sister application, Candy Crush Missile. This is a program that uses people’s activity in Candy Crush Saga to control real-life missile launchers that are positioned at various points around the globe.

When aliens invade Earth, the United Nations will press a button. The button is red, naturally. And the button links the Candy Crush Saga app with the Candy Crush Missile app.

Upon pressing the button, the world’s six most proficient Candy Crush Saga players will be selected to defend Earth from alien invasion. They will have no knowledge of having been selected. The candy in the games that appear on these players’ screens will suddenly be a live feed representing the aliens’ attacks.

The swipes that Pauline Collyer makes on her iPhone while stood in the aisle by the toilet on the 0656 train from Chelmsford to Liverpool Street will directly feed Candy Crush Missile, launching alien-bound missiles and rockets from all corners of the globe. Likewise, while the kids are sleeping upstairs in Richmond, CA, Ted Rubenstein will switch on his Nexus 7, his swipes sending yet more missiles skywards. Seinfeld will be on in the background. “The sea was angry that day, my friends.”

Their actions will feed the missile launchers along with those of Hanari Akemi from Umahori, who will decide to grab a quite late bite to eat while playing Candy Crush Saga during her lunch hour in downtown Kyoto, Japan; Brad C. Johnston, who by all rights should be paying attention to his 4pm Applied Mathematics lecture at the University of Newcastle on Australia’s east coast; nine-year-old Kirsty Tenneson in Honolulu, playing on her Nexus 5 instead of sleeping (her parents are downstairs watching Orange is the New Black); and Tania Nuñez, a night owl in Valparaiso, Chile, who has taken a break from her history assignment that’s due in on Friday.

Only time will tell whether their skills will be enough to protect us. And whether the history assignment will ever be handed in.

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