Thursday, 31 March 2011

Thinking Small - but in a Big Way...

I must have been quite a piece of work in a past life - certainly I was no angel. 

Because in my current incarnation to date I haven't clocked up nearly the number of mortal sins that would account for my I having to do such a large penance as to read - in detail - the new Government ICT Strategy.

For that is what I have just done.

It has certainly taught me a lesson for the future - I will mend my (multi-incarnated) ways.  And as my first act of altruism, I will explain what is in it.  So you don't have to read it. 

So (drumroll) here is the Trees around Nunhead introduction to the:
It is a truism that every strategy is written in reaction to the failed elements of the previous one.  With the NHS National Programme for IT in mind, therefore, this paper sets an upper limit on the size of project that ought to be countenanced.  Small is beautiful.  So nothing over £100m (lifetime costs). 

I'm sorry?

Yes that is what it says.  This is the BIG GOVERNMENT idea of Small.  So big projects seem to be OK so long as they aren't really, really, really Ginormous. 

Eighty million quid?  Chickenfeed, off you go. Spend it all at once. 

There is some vaguely sensible but hopelessly optimistic proposal for a common ICT Infrastructure for Government; removing silos, that kind of thing.  The lifetime cost of which I suspect will prove to be well over £100m, but let's skip over that for the moment, Francis.

But the most tiresome, annoying and worrying aspect of this "strategy", and what I really object to, is that "they" seem to have been suckered in to embracing the latest, trendy jargon and ICT marketing hype along with the apparently practical. 

It makes for strange reading:
To ensure that appropriate data is transparent and shared rather than duplicated, the Government will implement engagement processes for open data standards activity and crowd-source priority areas for data standards
Crowd-source?  Have they any idea what that means - and what the weaknesses and strengths of that model are?  Where it is best used, and where unhelpful? 

I imagine they think its something like an opinion poll or focus group.  Which it is, I suppose - I mean it is something like those things.
The Government will establish an approach and capabilities for agile delivery in government which can be replicated across departments (culture, multidisciplinary teams, risk-based testing, service-oriented architecture, product management and road-mapping)
So that's all right then. 

The word 'agile' has begun to make my skin crawl in sentences like this - because it has become almost content free.

Pardon my asking, but does this approach necessarily produce the best outcomes in, say, defence or health?  On what evidence?  Only asking...  It's just that A level students are taught about this stuff, and what it is and isn't good for, so they could have asked one about it if they'd only thought.
The Government will create a ‘virtual’ centre of excellence across government and the private sector which can enable fast start-up and mobilisation for agile projects 

The Government will identify a pilot project within each department to prove and embed the agile approach 
OK.  So they really mean the agile thing.  Whatever it is. 

This isn't necessarily reassuring.

And there is some Cloud stuff too:
To examine the benefits of delivering standardised desktop services using a cloud-based model, the Government will develop a desktop prototype for the cloud

To detail how services will shift to cloud-based technologies, the Government will publish a Cloud Computing Strategy with implementation plans
But then, you have to say Cloud in strategies nowadays, don't you?  So at least that's one box ticked.

In fact, I began to believe that ticking boxes is what this is all about.  The whole report boils down to some serious Government-sounding sentences peppered with enough random marketing hype to provide all the makings of a rich game of IT bollocks buzzword bingo. 

Or at least so I thought before I came across this:

A Government Skunkworks has been established to develop low-cost, fast and agile ICT solutions. Skunkworks provides a new channel for SMEs and entrepreneurs to participate in government ICT with new and innovative solutions. Skunkworks is embedded into the spending approvals process which identifies where existing products can be reused or solutions developed in-house. Skunkworks is working to develop an environment for SMEs to test their solutions to ensure compatibility within government’s future standardised cloud environment
Finally the parody became obvious even to me.  Skunkworks?
As with the spaghetti trees and the floating islands of San Serriffe, eventually the penny drops.  It is of course a spoof, just published (on March 30th as near as I can work out) a couple or so days too early.

But why would that be?  Why ruin a brilliant April Fool by putting it out in late March?  Not by choice surely - and please tell me it isn't an IT cockup?  That would just be too ironic.

You know, I think I know what happened.  "They" hired one or two other people  - 'industry experts' - to write this stuff.  Who sent in a spoof, for a bit of a laugh, and "they" didn't realise it was a joke. 

You can just imagine the scene in Francis Maude's office:
"If it's complete and ready to go then why don't we send it out now?  No point in waiting to the end of the month if we can put it out early, is there?  So let's just publish it shall we?"
"Yes, Minister." 
Still, it could have been worse.  Imagine what an awful cockup they might have made if they'd tried to be serious about it...

An Entirely Reasonable Assessment...

... of the rather dodgy Government White Paper entitled "Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS":-

Kurt Weill's "Seven Deadly Sins" - and several bonuses.

I appear to have acquired an annoying Amazon habit. 

However that may be, it meant that a few days back I impulse bought a copy of Kurt Weill's The Seven Deadly Sins sung by Marianne Faithfull (they really make it too easy to do that kind of thing). 

Really quite wonderful, and another reminder that classical opera singers tend not be so good at this more Music Theatre-y stuff.  

Of course, what I didn't notice in my hurry was that the CD had several other tracks on it, including The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, Pirate Jenny and Bilbao Song all sung by Faithfull.

And all fantastic.  Lucky me!

Just the other day - Stressed

I saw a strange man wandering around, his shirt covered with slogans.
One of which read:

Stressed spelled backwards is desserts

As indeed it is.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Poem of the Week

William Blake
James Thomson

He came to the desert of London town
Gray miles long;
He wandered up and he wandered down,
Singing a quiet song.
He came to the desert of London town,
Mirk miles broad;
He wandered up and he wandered down,
Ever alone with God.

There were thousands and thousands of human kind
In this desert of brick and stone;
But some were deaf and some were blind,
And he was there alone.
At length the good hour came; he died
As he had lived, alone.
He was not missed from the desert wide;
Perhaps he was found at the throne.

Back out East

The peculiar am-dram staging gives everything the atmosphere of a heavily airbrushed school play, with Mike Leigh's technique applied to shop dummies.
It's the oddest combination since John Lydon advertised butter.
Tonight, some very bronze women ponder their interest in some heavily caramelised men and the caramelised men punch each other's arms playfully as the bronze women look each other up and down.
(Guardian TV Guide)
Yes, The Only Was is Essex is indeed back on our tellies.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Budget for Death


As we face huge cuts to our social services and healthcare...

Government spending plans will test the NHS and social services in England to the limit, according to a report by the Commons Health Select Committee.

The MPs say the plans assume efficiency savings on a scale never before seen in the NHS, or in other countries.
(BBC Web site)

As we see huge reductions in budgets to our Universities and Schools...
Prof Steve Smith, head of Universities UK – suggests £3.2bn will be cut from university teaching budgets and a further £1bn slashed from research.

The losses are equivalent to some 57 per cent of the £7.3bn funding universities received directly from the state this year.
(Daily Telegraph)

As we watch our police force being substantially reduced...
Last week ministers unveiled plans to axe police stations and more than 150 courts to save millions from the criminal justice budget.

But experts predict that the 25 per cent cuts needed across Whitehall will lead to the loss of 35,000 police officers, 20,000 civilian staff and 4,000 community support officers.
(The Daily Mail) 

As we see many of our safeguards and protections taken away...
Liverpool Council has announced 100% funding cuts to Rape Crisis. Liverpool Rape Crisis helped 522 women last year with a meagre £60,000 funding from Liverpool City Council.
(Touchstone blog, reported widely elsewhere)

As we watch support for key environmental measures being eroded, increasing the likely impact on us of local and global climate change...
(Subsidies for Solar panels removed in this week’s budget)

As vicious reductions are applied to the fire service, to the armed forces, to libraries, to playschemes, to litter collection, to local parks services and to the Arts (actually the single most productive – in terms of income generated - part of the economy)...

To air-sea rescue, to community transport, to day centres, to the prison service, to legal aid...
There will be 547,000 fewer people each year getting help to resolve legal cases that matter to them and who can't afford their own legal advice. Many of them will be about family matters but they will also involve redundancy, housing, and debt which are all bound to get worse in the public sector squeeze.
(The Guardian)

To drug rehabilitation schemes, to the BBC, to youth clubs, to the disabled...

And as inequalities across society increase and increase again...

And as we discover, that if we are lucky enough to have a job, we are going to have to work harder, for longer, for less money...

Isn’t it nice to know we can still afford a foreign War?

Friday, 25 March 2011

I Do Wish Professor Brian Cox Would Make Up His Mind

One moment he's telling us "Things Can Only Get Better," the next he's on about the Heat Death of the Universe.

I do wish he'd decide.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

I've had a go on one...

So now I've had a go on one of the new 484s.  A certain clunky retro 1980s feel to it.  Like a bus in red braces and a stripey shirt.  This is not a good thing...

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Poem of the Week

Ten Ways to Avoid Lending Your Wheelbarrow to Anybody
Adrian Mitchell

May I borrow your wheelbarrow?
I didn't lay down my life in World War II
so that you could borrow my wheelbarrow.

May I borrow your wheelbarrow?
Unfortunately Lord Goodman is using it.

May I borrow your wheelbarrow?
It is too mighty a conveyance to be wielded
by any mortal save myself.

May I borrow your wheelbarrow?
My wheelbarrow is reserved for religious ceremonies.

May I borrow your wheelbarrow?
I would sooner be broken on its wheel
and buried in its barrow.

May I borrow your wheelbarrow?
I am dying of schizophrenia
and all you can talk about is wheelbarrows.

May I borrow your wheelbarrow?
Do you think I'm made of wheelbarrows?

May I borrow your wheelbarrow?
It is full of blood.

May I borrow your wheelbarrow?
Only if I can fuck your wife in it.

May I borrow your wheelbarrow?
What is a wheelbarrow?

Comic Relief 2011

Well, for the first time in a while we watched it all the way through (and donated, of course).  Highlights were Alan Partridge spraying blood on a nun, Outnumbered with Andy Murray, and the "Smithy" section which was more about "how many more famous people" can we cram into one short film than anything else.  Including Sir Macca, Coe, JLS, Keria Knightley, Gordon Brown and others. 

Low point, as expected, was Gervais, and Walliams was predictably self-indulgent, as was Miranda Hart, but Jimmy Carr was surprisingly weak also.

Spring Evening on the Rye

Saturday, 19 March 2011

More 484 News

And now I'm told the other wonderful new thing about the 484 is that - from yesterday - it has a brand spanking eco-friendly design.

So maybe the Z-route was just an advertising ploy?  I think we should be told.

The Zed Bus

Or at least that's what the temporary roadworks yesterday evening in the East Dulwich Road turned the 484 into.  Caused by a gas leak apparently, it meant that EDR became one-way westwards.  Hence the 484 I jumped onto at East Dulwich station had to divert.

And what a diversion it was.  We went all the way up Lordship Lane to Dulwich Library / The Plough, and then down Barry Rd.  And at each bus stop the driver stopped and explained to all and sundry what he was doing and how his new route worked.

Back at the Rye end of Barry Road, we went down the Rye to Nigel Rd, which was the first point where a right turn was legal.  And then back up the other side of the Rye. So it became the first bus to serve both sides of the Rye. Marvellous.

So I call it the Z-Bus.  If you squint at the new route it looks a bit like a backwards Z.

Like this:

View Larger Map
So finally we have a route that connects The Vale, Bishop, Plough, Clock House, Rye Hotel and Brockley Barge.  Just what the area needed, really. 

And it was making request stops at those places - or at least, when someone rang the bell it pulled up just outside the Rye Hotel, where there is no stop.  So it must be.

The 484 has a strange enough route anyway - at least near the Lewisham end. So I think they should stick with this.

Cold Spring Garden Sun

There's a hidden sadness about that first picture above. It shows where the kids' climbing frame was, before their nasty parents sold it...

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Bunhill Fields, Missing Bones

There has been a little bit of a splash about the recent Grade I Listing of the Bunhill Fields nonconformist cemetary.  The final resting place of Bunyan, Blake, Defoe, Isaac Watts, Thomas Newcomen and others.

Although the headstone is easy to find, The Guardian article referenced above says of Blake's actual grave that:
His bones were lost in a partial clearance and landscaping in the 19th century and the original sites of more burials were lost as a result of 1960s landscaping to repair second world war bomb damage.

In fact, the Blake Society thinks it knows where they are - see here for the link to the detailed guide.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

2012 and more

And of course the Guardian TV reviewer today points out that 2012 (the BBC4 comedy mentioned in the last post) will always fail to be as funny and ridiculous/incompetent as real life.  You only have to think about Boris Johnson's speeches (whiff-whaff, etc).

London 2012ish

Pleasant light comedy on BBC4 last night based around the organisation (or lack of it) in the run up to the London 2012 Games.  With ex-Green Wing people, and Jessica Hynes.  Nice story in this episode about the launch of the 1000th day countdown Games clock.  Which (ineptly) counts down backwards.  Seb Coe will be doing occasional cameos in future episodes, apparently.

Today, life follows art and the real life 500-day Games countdown clock is launched in Trafalgar Square.

And promptly breaks down.


And on the subject of lines, Down The Line  is back. 
Quiet Yay.


See this! Posted on the Nunhead Forum a few months back and just spotted... Nunhead Station in 1955.
Lots of comments on the Forum (which sometimes adopts a rather grumpy, crusty-old-man tone, rather like, er, me), about how much nicer the station was then.  I'm not so convinced...

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Poem of the Week

A Song About Myself
John Keats

There was a naughty boy,
A naughty boy was he,
He would not stop at home,
He could not quiet be-
He took
In his knapsack
A book
Full of vowels
And a shirt
With some towels,
A slight cap
For night cap,
A hair brush,
Comb ditto,
New stockings
For old ones
Would split O!
This knapsack
Tight at's back
He rivetted close
And followed his nose
To the north,
To the north,
And follow'd his nose
To the north.

There was a naughty boy
And a naughty boy was he,
For nothing would he do
But scribble poetry-
He took
An ink stand
In his hand
And a pen
Big as ten
In the other,
And away
In a pother
He ran
To the mountains
And fountains
And ghostes
And postes
And witches
And ditches
And wrote
In his coat
When the weather
Was cool,
Fear of gout,
And without
When the weather
Was warm-
Och the charm
When we choose
To follow one's nose
To the north,
To the north,
To follow one's nose
To the north!

There was a naughty boy
And a naughty boy was he,
He kept little fishes
In washing tubs three
In spite
Of the might
Of the maid
Nor afraid
Of his Granny-good-
He often would
Hurly burly
Get up early
And go
By hook or crook
To the brook
And bring home
Miller's thumb,
Not over fat,
Minnows small
As the stall
Of a glove,
Not above
The size
Of a nice
Little baby's
Little fingers-
O he made
'Twas his trade
Of fish a pretty kettle
A kettle-
A kettle
Of fish a pretty kettle
A kettle!

There was a naughty boy,
And a naughty boy was he,
He ran away to Scotland
The people for to see-
There he found
That the ground
Was as hard,
That a yard
Was as long,
That a song
Was as merry,
That a cherry
Was as red,
That lead
Was as weighty,
That fourscore
Was as eighty,
That a door
Was as wooden
As in England-
So he stood in his shoes
And he wonder'd,
He wonder'd,
He stood in his
Shoes and he wonder'd.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Nay Sayers

For those of us who really don't have any interest in the Royal family, its weddings and divorces, but would rather they weren't involved in foreign policy, this piece on the Beeb Web site is perhaps a glimmer of light.


Today the Rye was frosty, the sky a pearly, opalescent colour in the East where the sun was rising, and a clear blue opposite.  A beautiful day and the bus came on time!  Amazing.

Monday, 7 March 2011

The Pubs Around Nunhead: 13

Rumour has it that the Rye Hotel is being sold by its current owners.  Which is why the stocks of spirits have been creeping downwards, and the range of wines has decreased dramatically in recent weeks. 
Because why would you bother to stock up your pub if you are selling it?

Clear Blue

A beautiful, clear, blue and sunny sky over the Rye on the way to work today.  Not a cloud to be seen, unless there were a few wisps high up and far away.  Chilly, but the first hint of Spring?

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Poem of the Week

Epigram on Rough Roads
Robert Burns, 1786

I'm now arrived-thanks to the gods!-
Thro' pathways rough and muddy,
A certain sign that makin roads
Is no this people's study:
Altho' Im not wi' Scripture cram'd,
I'm sure the Bible says
That heedless sinners shall be damn'd,
Unless they mend their ways.

Sax Appeal

I've ranted elsewhere about how pleasurable and wonderful it can be to speak with real experts when you go to shop or buy a ticket.

This weekend we found another such emporium - on Denmark St near Tottenham Court Road.  We (I say we, I mean eldest really) got to try out mouthpieces in soundproofed (ish) booths and talk to an assistant who really seemed to know what they were talking about. 

And as a result, of course, he managed to radically upsell us (horrible term).  We went in intending to spend around £30 and ended up shelling out more than three times that amount. 

And enjoyed almost every minute of it. 

Real class.


Yesterday, while shopping in Nunhead, I passed Sopers and spotted a chap being interviewed.  It was quite low-key: the interviewer held a small mike and carried a digital-l0oking black box on his belt.  The interviewee was bouncy and bearded and was explaining how he liked a good Pollock.  My guess was it was a bit of local advertising and/or the local paper.

So, today, imagine my surprise to hear a bouncy voice explaining on Broadcasting House how it 'liked a good Pollock' - from Sopers fish shop 'in South East London'. 

Which turned out to be quite an extended piece about ensuring you bought sustainable fish - with the Sopers person sounding quite knowledgeable about the subject.

Imagine my surprise...

Thursday, 3 March 2011


So Hunt the Culture has decided to cave in to Murdoch, with a few simple organisational window dressings as a sop to good governance.  Appalling, but that is what we are coming to expect from this ramshackle, sleazy, incompetent crew.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

A Wish That Didn't Come True

OK. So Wish 143 didn't win an Oscar.  'Tho the King's Speech did its business.
But the film that did win instead of Wish 143 seems interesting as well, and the clips look quite amusing.  So I'm not that disheartened...