Are we all integrators?

I read Alan’s post with interest about employees becoming integrators.

My view is that in government this will take time. A long time.

In my experience, there are two factors that determine the level of IT integration that individuals do: the organisation’s size and the technical competence of its employees. For government, the organisations are large, and the average technical competence of its users is relatively low.

Small organisations rely on their employees to do some of the grunt work, to try rebooting printers (off then on), re-installing packages, configuring their wireless settings, reading some FAQs, Googling, consulting a discussion forum, etc. This is down to necessity. There often isn’t a dedicated IT function to call upon (or call) when problems are suffered.

Technical organisations that are larger also undertake self-help, but they do so out of interest and convenience. People would rather have a go at sorting out their own problems than log a ticket and wait hours, nay days, for their issue to be resolved.

Large organisations have processes. They have locked down machines. And users are directed towards official channels to resolve their IT issues. People won’t try to reboot printers, shake their toner cartridges, stop processes. They will instead reach for their phone and dial 4357 (HELP), or the equivalent number, raise a ticket and await its resolution.

And this behaviour soon becomes the norm. People won’t consider any other course of action.

Changing that model will be hard. My own experience suggests that upon integrating cloud-based applications, Departments’ IT functions immediately seek centralised system and service integration. And users follow suit, uncomfortable with calling this number for this IT issue, that number for that issue. There are exceptions, granted. But this is the norm.

The only thing that can break this model is austerity. In a bid to save money, will IT functions push more of the onus onto its users? I hope so. When some Departments pay upwards of £12 just to raise a ticket, there is a need for users to step up to the plate, take some responsibility for their IT, and, where necessary, to act as service integrators. But doing so, will need a huge cultural shift.

The IT function will demand the provision of an end-to-end service. And users will demand easy access to that IT service. And something will have to give.

If the Tier 1 IT service providers act as the veneer beyond the disparate system provision upon which the Departments rely, then that will come at an inordinate cost, cancelling out any benefits of the move to the cloud. And so users will have to step up, take some responsibility. IT departments will need to identify subject-matter experts locally in the business to act as tier one support.

It will be interesting to see what actually happens. My bet is that cloud will be hidden from the users from a service perspective, the Tier 1 providers will act as that veneer, and the TCO for the new model will be as much, if not more, than that of its predecessor. And IT departments will justify the cost by clouding (ha!) the issue in amongst others. IT is complicated, so we need the money.

Putting Middle Eastern politics aside

Today is a momentous day for the Middle East, as Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, submits an application to the UN for independence.

The Middle East has ever been clouded in an element of mystery for me. My formative education in the politics and geography of the area was virtually non-existent. And information thereafter has focused on those places where significant stuff is happening: Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and more recently Libya et al.

So rather shallowly, I built up an image of the countries therein based, I think, on the syntactic qualities of their names. Below is the resulting picture.

#VirginMedia and the ever so British complaint

I had an odd interaction with Virgim Media the other day on Twitter. Below is a transcript.

Me: The new #VirginMedia combined modem/wireless router is flaky at best. So I’ve wired my Netgear router to it. All now good.

Virgin Media: Glad to see you’ve managed to find a combination that works for you Dan. PM

Me: Odd response from @virginmedia: Glad to see you’ve managed to find a combination that works for you Dan. PM

Virgin Media: With any product some customers will like it & have no issues, where others won’t. We’re just [happy] your netgear is working good. PM

Apart from not quite understanding the PM sign-off, I was more than a little perplexed. I was, in a very British, polite way, bemoaning some hardware that had been supplied by Virgin Media, for which I pay a handsome monthly rental fee. Their response congratulated me on my ingenuity and expressed happiness that I’d managed to find a solution that bypassed some of the functionality I was paying so handsomely for.

Had I had more than 140 characters to play with, and had I not been British and reserved, my tweet might have instead read:

The new #VirginMedia combined modem/wireless router is an utter bag of shit. While its modem functionality seems to work well, its wireless capability sucks donkey balls. On very rare occasions my laptop can connect to it, but it has always dropped out within a minute. (My iPhone behaves similarly, btw, so it doesn’t seem to be a client issue.) I’ve now resorted to connecting my Netgear router (fab, btw) to it using an Ethernet cable, and connecting my clients to that. It’s a much easier solution than bemoaning the issue over the phone and waiting for days for an engineer to turn up (between nine and six) to tell me that it’s a client issue.

Astute spam

Most of the time, Akismet catches my spam comments. But once in a while, one gets through the net. More often than not, they’re spurious. But one arrived overnight that was surprisingly astute, copied verbatim below.

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Spot on!

Putting September 11 into perspective

In the four attacks on 11 September 2001, 2,977 victims died. (A further 19 deaths were of the hijackers themselves.)

In the US, 2,977 people are murdered every two and a half months. The same number of people die every 26 days in car crashes.

The relatives of these people don’t have a memorial or an annual news furore associated with the death of their loved ones.

11 September 2011 was unique. It was a crime of enormous proportions, in which a huge number of people died in a unique circumstances, ones with enormous political ramifications. But the cumulative loss and direct heartache is no greater, no less, than that associated with the events detailed above.

This post in no way intends to denigrate those lost on 9/11. It merely intends to put it into perspective.

My colourful maw

Today I went for a tooth colour matching.

Why? Well, back in November 2010, I had a little accident. While walking up our front steps at home, I slipped on the wet tiles. Under my right arm was an Ikea box, held with both hands. With no hands free to cushion my landing, my front teeth took the full impact, shattering as they met one of the terracotta treads. As I rose, I could make out tens of pieces of enamel through the tears that were forming in my eyes. I was inconsolable.

Almost a year later, I’ve had lots of dental treatment and paid lots of associated bills, with thanks to my dad for his much appreciated contribution.

By 9am, my daughter and I were 20 miles from home having ridden six Tube trains and were sat in a dental laboratory in Northwood Hills. We were there to ensure that the two crowns that filled the gap you can see in the photo were the right colour. And it’s quite an art.

Because teeth are not white. Their colouring is subtle, with elements of opaqueness. And it was these subtleties that my technician, Raul, was trying to replicate.

To do so, seemingly oddly, he used paint. He had a colour palette containing, among others, colours you wouldn’t immediately associate with teeth: blues, browns, oranges, reds, yellows. Certainly an array beyond those that form the average American’s view of the average British maw. He went through two iterations, each heated to 800°C before we were both happy.

The result was tremendous. I struggled to tell the difference between the natural front tooth and its new neighbours. I couldn’t take them away with me, but I can’t wait for the last dental appointment of the series, when my smile will once again be complete.

Earliest memories

People sometimes ask me what my earliest childhood memory was. Apart from noting (to myself) the redundancy of the word “childhood” in their question, I struggle to answer.

I don’t know if my mind works differently to those of others, but my memories and childhood photographs are inextricably linked. There is a picture of me, stark-bollock naked (calm down, ladies), pushing my toy bus round the back of the garage. I am unsure whether I remember the event (for event is the right description for such an activity), or whether I remember the photo. The same is true for countless others.

That said, thinking about the question the other night over a curry and a couple of beers with my brother, I think I happened upon a definitive memory. At least, it will remain the definitive memory until someone convinces me otherwise.

I was in Mrs. Page’s class (4–5). I was sitting at a grey, trapezium-shaped desk, one of the ones so beautifully shaped so as to allow for myriad table layouts. In front of me, was a huge piece of card, folded in two, sitting upright on the desk, the V of its fold allowing it to stand. It was a formal piece of teaching equipment as opposed to something I’d thrown together. Its branding was orange. If I had to estimate its hugeness, I’d say it was the size of an open broadsheet newspaper. Yet I expect that it was actually smaller than a tabloid, such do our minds play tricks on us.

On the inside walls of the V, there were small cardboard pockets, each labelled with a word and each containing small cards displaying that word: and, the, a, in, on, cat, dog, hat. You get the picture.

And we used the cards to make sentences, pulling them out of their pockets and moving them around on the desk until the sentence made sense.

When we were done, we put the cards back in their respective pockets and folded the equipment away.

I remember this fondly. I don’t know whether it’s a memory of a specific lesson, or one built up over and reflective of a number of weeks. But I’m sure it’s a memory as I don’t remember seeing any associated photos.

My daughter starts school tomorrow, her 4–5 year. (The terms “prep” and “reception” are still anathemas to me.) I hope her memories become stronger than mine have proven to be. Whatever her own memories, mine of tomorrow will be strong, of that I’m sure.

Excel KML creator

So. I created an Excel KML creator. For those not in the know, KML files are used by Google Maps as the basis for automatically uploading icons.

The KML creator allows you to create your data in a familiar setting, the associated KML generating itself in the background. This version allows for up to 1,000 points to be created.

Here’s what you do to create the KML:

To create the associated map:
  • Go to Google Maps,  logged in with a Google account
  • Hit My places
  • Hit Create map
  • Give it a name and description and hit Import
  • Choose the txt file you just created.
If you need help creating latitude and longitude coordinates from postcodes or zip codes, read this post. It describes how this can be done in Google Docs, albeit 50 locations at a time.