Tag Archives: IT

Podcast Reviews – 1

iCatA lot of literary ladies here review books. Well I am going to review podcasts and I may continue to do so intermittently.

Let me declare here and now that the podcasts I like fall into four categories: History, IT, Management and occasionally Science. I’m a geekette, and proud of it.

Aphra’s favouritest podcast series ever is Hardcore History from Dan Carlin.

Carlin describes these as “conversations around the water-cooler”; he picks up an historical event or theme, peers at it from all sides, pokes it a bit to see what gives and puts it back so we can re-consider it from a distance. There are some very pedestrian history podcasts out there at least one of which must owe serious royalties to Wikipedia, but Carlin shows everyone else how it should be done. Very strongly recommended if you like to have thoughts provoked, connections made and paradigms subverted. Carlin’s not made that many of them, so I have started listening to his riffs off American politics and finding them almost as compelling.

Another must-listen podcast in Aphra’s car is The Reduced Shakespeare Company Podcast

A bunch of likable actors from the West Coast of the US shoot a themed breeze each week on some subject relating to their present and past touring shows. A particular favourite was Let it Snow. Gentle and amusing fun. I’m growing rather fond of them, and will of course go and see them next time they are in the Literary Festival in Little-Wittering-on-the-Wold.

I also enjoy the Business Week Cover Story

These are cheerful interviews between one of the editors of Business Week and whoever wrote the cover story that week. They’ve not made me go out and buy the magazine, but they are interesting, informative and sometimes illuminating.

Alt.text from Wired Magazine is good for a quickie

Running to 5 or 8 minutes or so, one of Wired’s columnists casts a flippant and frequently surreal eye over whatever catches his attention that week. Geeky. Silly. Witty. Worth 8 minutes of anyone’s week.

The National Archives Podcasts

Informative and interesting British history from real live academic historians. The lecturers are specialists and really know their stuff, working from primary sources. The slides they refer to, which one cannot of course see, show original documents. No wikipedia here. So understated it’s cool.

Old English in Context

These are undergraduate lectures from Oxford University which provide background information on the Dark Ages for students studying English Literature. They are detailed, funny and fascinating, and – woo hoo – you and I can listen to them and know we don’t have to write an essay or sit an exam. How bloody jammy is that?

There are several podcasters I am trying out to get a feel for:

Dan Klaas does laid-back essays about whatever strikes his fancy. They are classed as comedy, but I find them thought provoking.

The Cranky Middle Manager seem to have quality interviews on business-related subjects without pretending its aimed at the directors of plcs.

Occasionally the HBR Ideacast has interesting interviews with the authors of academic papers or books, but I overdosed on them early on and now I shake nervously when I hear their theme music.

There was one outstanding podcast from The University of Bath Public Lectures by world-class academics and politicians. These are frustrating because the original lectures were illustrated and the podcasts are audio only. Even so “Dead Sexy – the corpse is the new porn star of popular culture” is an exceptional lecture in an exceptional series.

It’s gotta beat Terry Wogan on the way into work, eh?


I download all my podcasts from i-Tunes. However, it has not escaped my notice that you are going to be looking at this at a PC so the links go to web pages and you can download the podcasts directly and listen to them on your PC. Isn’t that helpful of me?

Ain’t got no algorithm, baby

Just when I think I’ve got my head around the MTAS debacle, yet another thing happens which takes my breath away.

This, from Remedy’s website, reporting on the Judicial Review of MTAS:

Mr Greenfield states “The decision not to proceed with MTAS for matching candidates to training posts was taken as a result of recent security difficulties and the fact that the Defendant could not be certain that the algorithm necessary to operate the ‘single offer system’ would be effective.

That statement, right there, is worth the cash I put in their fighting fund.

That’s me, breathless again.

What can you say?

What can you fucking say?

MTAS – The silent “SH” in Department of Health IT

Five out of eight reasons why IT projects fail come down to the the project team failing to understand how the system will be used or what it it should do – MTAS ran depressingly true to form.

I found an MTAS Milestones document on the web some time ago and didn’t know what to make of it. I still don’t. However, MTAS is now officially dead, so I’m going to critique it here before it disappears forever.

The document is a one-page timescale for the MTAS IT Project including the engagement of sub-contractors. There is much here that I am not qualified to comment on, but even so there are a few points that I find interesting.

One month (Oct 05) to scope and set up the project

Fairy nuff. There’s not enough information here to assess whether this is enough time or not.

One month (Nov 05) to initiate the project, set up project board and agree project brief

As above.

One month (Dec 05) to “agree requirements” and that month is December, so in effect you have only two weeks.

This is what has set my alarm bells ringing like klaxons. The Standish Group did a survey, admittedly in 1995, which discovered that five of the eight major reasons for IT project failure are requirements based. In other words if you don’t know what your users need, you won’t be able to build it. I could get rather tedious on this subject.

Let’s just say that I would allocate between 6 and 12 weeks for requirements gathering assuming that I had full access to representatives of those who might use the system. The first thing would be the conceptual stuff including the security of the system, (hah!), the amount and nature of the data, how would it be searched and sorted, how many users in total, how many users at once, and stuff like that. The next thing would be the step-by-step process, and the final stage would be a screen-by-screen storyboard.

You can see that this is not something that can be done in 2 weeks, and that you would need to speak to a very wide range of people including security specialists and sample end users, (sample Junior Doctors, sample Consultants, sample final year students).

This sounds to me like a system designed entirely in theory, with no reality checks or sanity checks from real people.

Four months (Jan-Apr 06) for the procurement cycle.

Four months to choose a supplier, and two weeks to say what they will be delivering? Yes, that is as insane as it sounds.

Five months to deliver (April-Sept 06).

This is the infamous “Miracle occurs here” step. There is nothing about taking the list of requirements and turning them into a design, nothing about building the system, nothing about testing it.

Good work, but I think we need a little more detail right here

The DoH has kept for itself the luxury of time – a whole third of the time available has been allocated to picking a supplier. The poor supplier has had nothing like that wriggle room: they have had to design, build and test the system in less than half of the total time available.

Now, picking the right supplier is crucial, no doubt about it. But no matter how beautifully built a car is, no matter how gleaming the paintwork, how smooth the leather, how fast it goes from 0-60, it’s no bloody use if what you want is a tractor.

As I said, I am hesitant to rip this document to shreds; I have no idea whether it is a final copy or a draft, I have no idea what other documents supported or contradicted it, I’m not even an IT Project Manager. But I am both competent and qualified to comment on the idea of allocating only two weeks for requirements gathering.

If the rest of the project was as mad as that is, then it is a wonder the bloody thing lasted as long as it did.