Door creaks open

Spiders scurry for cover

A distracted ursine figure wanders in clutching a broom in one paw

Frenzied sweeping commences and stops almost as quickly

The now very dusty bear looks around, shrugs, breaks broom in half, drops the pieces and leaves closing the door

Spiders emerge from hiding places, a particularly brave one approaches the broom pieces and begins to weave…


The Only Management Handbook You Will Ever Need

No, we don’t need to get rid of managers, we need to stop tolerating poor management and stop using process as a substitute for management.

Leadership is about vision and behaviours, development is about support and challenge, pastoral care is about caek and inclusion.

Management is about creating space, resolving problems, stopping things becoming problems, making a positive difference to your team daily.

We need leadership, development, pastoral care and management. If any are missing then the corporate culture will fail.

Look at your own organisation. Are these four things in place? Do they exist in reality rather than just in process or rhetoric?

As a manager do you do these things? What would your team say? Honestly?


DISTRACTION – So coin! Much gender. Wow

Ah Bitcoin, you reminder that cognitive dissonance and random hope are the fundamental drivers of human culture.

Let us draw two circles, let us create a Venn diagram of two sets. One being those who “mine” the Bitcoin, the other being women. And the intersection of the two, the common members of both sets? I strongly suspect that it will be zero, a null set.

Has currency, the concept of money, always been gendered? Has Bitcoin merely thrown a light on something that always was there, obscured by time and common practice? I reach for my Delphy.

Let us draw another circle, this time let it be made up of those who complain about “fiat currency”, those who demand that money be based on something that has intrinsic value.

Which is of course an absurdity, anything and everything is only worth what someone is willing to give in return for it. And that applies to the medium of exchange like everything else. But I still remember the shock in my classmate’s voices when, as mere cubs, we were told the truth about money. That it is an agreed collective delusion. Like everything else we call culture or human nature.

Now let us look at the circle of true money believers and the Bitcoin “miners” (so macho, much struggle, wow). I suspect that this time the intersection is not empty and that the two groups overlap to a marked extent. Despite, no, of course, because Bitcoin is a delusion based on bits, on the hum of the machine. Boil the oceans so that we may be journey deeper into the Bank of Babel.

Bitcoin is Tlön. An answer to an obscure trivia question in 2021. It is not caek.

The Killing Words (Updated)


I have a medical condition. Thanks to the NHS I take a pill every morning and the condition is controlled. allowing me to live a normal life.

This morning I popped into Boots to pick up my drugs, as I use their excellent prescription renewal service, and ran into a potentially lethal issue around language.

My previous prescription started on the 1st October for “2 months”, however the pills come in packs of 28. So I was given 2 packs of 28, a total of 56 pills, to last 61 days.

You can see the problem. The chemist was very apologetic, had contacted my surgery earlier in the week, but there was nothing they could do without the renewed prescription.

I do not blame them in the least. Nor do I blame my GP.

The problem lies in language. Whenever we are involved in service design we need to be obsessive about driving out any loose terms like “month”.

So back to the chemist’s on Monday and I hope that the prescription is in.

I am lucky, I can safely go for a few days without my medication and I have no difficulties in expressing myself, but others may not be so lucky. I cannot be the only person who finds themselves in this situation. For others the consequences may be much grimmer.

Loose language has no place in service design, that is a basic principle we all need to recognise as we work on developing new services or redeveloping existing ones.


So it is now Tuesday and the prescription has not yet come through. This is going to be a tough week…

Installing an SSD in an Asus X202e

My old Windows laptop had finally reached the end of its useful life as a laptop, the trackpad had stopped working and compared to my work MacBook Air it was heavy and clunky.

So I looked around for a new laptop and ended up choosing the Asus X200 because it was on special offer and had a touchscreen. I was intrigued to find out if Windows 8 worked better with a touchscreen. The answer turns out to be “Yes, and touchscreens on small laptops work surprisingly well. But, I still use Start8 and ModernMix to make Windows 8 work like a fast version of Windows 7.

The Asus is light and nice but horribly constrained by an achingly slow hard drive. It only has 4Gb of RAM which is soldered to the motherboard so there is no way to up the RAM.

So instead I replaced the 500GB drive of sloth with a 128GB Samsung 830 SSD.

The original drive was partitioned in two with the C:\ drive holding the system files and the larger D:\ drive empty.

My first challenge was to clone the C:\ partition to the new SSD. The Samsung drive came with a copy of Symantec Ghost but no licence key! More usefully it came with a USB connector so one could plug one end into the drive and mount it as a bus-powered USB drive for installation.

I initially thought about following the suggestions I found on Lifehacker but then I discovered Paragon Migrate OS to SSD. It costs £15 and will only copy the system partition to the SSD but it handles everything else itself.

So I connected the new disk to the connector and plugged it into the laptop. I then ran the Paragon software which spent ages “preparing” and then when it started it reported errors on the disk. I restarted the laptop and ran the software again and this time it worked without problems, taking about 30 minutes to complete.

Once it had finished the software recommends changing the BIOS settings to boot from the USB drive to test that it has worked.

And of course *cough* *cough* I did that.

The Asus has 9 screws holding the underside in place. The 4 at the front are short screws, the remaining 5 are long. Once you have removed the screws, the underside is held in place by plastic clips. I used a slim, flat piece of metal to pop the clips and then I could remove the underside.

The hard drive is held in place by three screws although there are four holes. This will be important later!  I removed these screws and could then pull out the hard drive. I removed the rails from the side and attached them to the new SSD. I then slotted the SSD into place and replaced the screws. 

I then clipped the bottom back in place and put the screws back. Unfortunately I ended up with one left over. Remember the missing screw from earlier? It turns out that if you put a screw in the top right of the disk holder it stops you from replacing one of the base screws. So, don’t do that.

I then rebooted the machine and it is day and night in comparison. It now flies. I downloaded and installed the Samsung Magician software and configured the drive. I also ran Windows Experience which tells Windows it now has an SSD.

So for half the price of an equivalent MacBook Air, I have a fast touchscreen laptop.

National Hack the Government Day 2013

I had the pleasure and the privilege of being one of the judges at National Hack the Government Day 2013 yesterday.

The event is organised by Rewired State and at its heart is about putting public data in the hands of the public. In previous years the focus has been very much on central government data but now, thanks to the work of many, we can see many more datasets becoming available and this is reflected in the hacks.

There were too many great hacks to mention them all individually so this is an impressionistic piece on those hacks and themes that have stuck in my mind.

Hansardine was emblematic of the new style of data analysis – it took Hansard debates and used ngram comparison to pull out topics which were trending above average. 

Universerator won my prize for disruptive thinking by comparing university courses and future earnings. This kind of thing can be crudely reductive but for me it highlighted some of the cognitive dissonance in our culture – why do we value the arts so highly and yet so little?

Plc3bo was a nice piece of classic data analysis looking at NHS prescriptions. Extending this to cover generics vs. proprietary brands is exactly the kind of idea we should encourage.

The Taxpayer’s Alliance provided some datasets around council performance and Chief Exec pay scales. They would be the first to admit that the data needs work but even in its current state it is interesting.

For example, Council Chief Exec pay ranges from £120,000 to £450,000 which may well be “right”, I have only ever known one such Chief Exec and whatever we were paying them it was not enough. And it should never be about simplistic, reductive comparisons. 

The question for me is that my first reaction was astonishment at the range. It is easy for astonishment to lead to a search for overly simplistic responses. Data, like everything, requires context. Perhaps we all need to be better at contextualising the data we release.

I also awarded a feline centric prize to a hack which used cat pictures to represent data categories. Much like les quatre chats de priorité on my office wall, changing how we represent concepts visually makes a huge difference to our understanding of them. 

And finally we had a couple of projects looking at the data now released on the Hillsborough tragedy. One looking at putting an open RESTful interface on the structured data, the other using cloud tools to OCR scanned PDFs to allow for free text search.

These are both potentially very powerful tools but they bring home the obligation we all have to remember the people at the heart of the data. Technology gives us a chance to create a people’s history but that can only be done with the cooperation and support of people themselves.

The teams have done an amazing job and I am going to see if there is anything I can do to help.

So for me this year’s National Hack the Government Day was about people not data. That’s a good sign, it shows that as a community we continue to mature. It’s also the way it should be.

Guru Nature

1. People are doing something
2. Write about how revolutionary this is and so much better than the old way of doing something
3. Lecture on this way of doing things
4. Pick small number of arbitrary things about how the people are doing this something and define it as a framework
5. Find someone to offer certificates for this framework and then sell expensive training courses with certificates
6. Repeat until market saturation or revenue begins to fall.
7. Tell everyone that the framework has been abused and, having true guru nature, you now reject it and have found the real answer.
8. GOTO 1


It would be easier if we either remembered things or just simply forgot them. But sometimes things just do not enter our minds.

If memory is one and forgetting minus one, then there is a zero. A nothingness of things that neither are nor are not.

Sometimes a thought trips over a nothingness and we feel a moment of unease, like but not like the sensation we have when we think we have forgotten something.

For that sensation still has an echo of the object, whilst this is wholly of the void. No matter how much we strain we can never find the lost memory, it never existed in the first place.

What is is but an infinitesimal in what is not.

And that is why your birthday card is still sitting on my mantelpiece.

Bartleby, the CIO

I recently shared this piece on how “IT Departments have become utterly useless”. The number of retweets shows that it has resonated with many people.

So why is that? I mean, I have been a CIO for a number of organisations and on some massive projects, why have we allowed ourselves to become a stereotype of delay, obstruction and failure?

Here, in no particular order, are a few of the reasons why:

Risk – We live in a world where the core assets of our businesses – information, money, delivery systems – are all completely reliant on technology. Companies are robbed these days not with guns but with 0-day vulnerabilities. This creates an immediate tension between what people want to do and what they should do.

This is not a technology issue, it is a business issue. Yet it is convenient, simpler to push the onus down to the CIO, on to the back of technology. So risk then becomes embedded in the service management sausage machine and like all machines, it grinds and it grinds, and it grinds and it grinds very small.

In the public sector we have the concept of a Senior Information Risk Owner (SIRO). This is someone who can take a pragmatic, business view of the risks around a particular asset, system, service or project. I am often asked who the SIRO should be?

My answer, brutal but important, is that it needs to be someone worth sacking if it goes wrong. Their seniority, their reputation, their authority needs to be aligned with the value of the asset and scale of the risk. “Business is the management of risk.”

But individual responsibility is tricky concept so too often we return to the service management sausage machine to not just control risk but to grind it into vanishingly small chunks.

So when you wonder why you can’t access Twitter from your office machine or why it takes 7 minutes to boot up in the morning it is often down to an unowned risk being ground in the machine.

Outsourcing – Outsourcing is a tool, like all tools it is both morally neutral and proffered as a universal panacea. The MBA siren call of the recent past was “Focus on your core business”. Unfortunately outsourcing has revealed that a lot of people do not understand what their core business is.

Outsourcing has boundaries – I wash the plate, I hand it over to my outsourced plate drying service, they return a plate that has been dried to the agreed standards by the agreed upon deadline. And those boundaries need to be policed, policing of the boundaries means more service management and more grinding into dust.

Contempt – much enterprise IT demonstrates contempt for the user. I often ask people from big organisations, public and private sector, how they feel when they have to use their corporate HR or finance systems? And I do mean feel, usercentricity starts with how we feel.

The universal, UNIVERSAL, response I get is a chorus of groans. People hate using these core, fundamental business systems. Some of that is down to the business processes which themselves are often bedevilled by some of the things I have mentioned previously, but a lot is down to a user experience which seems rooted in a contempt for those who are forced to use these systems.

Delivery – by which I mean the opposite, no delivery. My current team and I have about 40 projects on the go at any one time. Some are large and involve perhaps 30-40 million users and in some cases hundreds of billions of pounds, some are small and involve a handful of users.

There are 5 of us, we ship an average of 5-6 products every quarter, we save an average of £10 for every £1 we cost.

Why aren’t we the norm? You can call it agile, you can call it digital, you can call it user centred. It is all of those things but most importantly, it’s delivery.

I have been a CIO, I may be one again. The name is irrelevant, the challenge is clear. What is stopping you from doing the same?

Or are you Bartleby?