Saturday, 27 January 2007


Todd Bishop posted an article recently in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer about something called Infomania, which I found very interesting. When you first hear that term, you think it's one of those terms that you here in things such as management speak. However, it's a bit more than pointless terminology.
"A September 2005 study by Basex Inc. estimated that interruptions from e-mail, Web browsing, instant messaging and other electronic communications cost U.S. companies $588 billion a year. It estimated that interruptions constituted 28 percent of the average knowledge worker's day."
As this study had such stark stats, Microsoft held a two-day workshop recently to find ways of removing the problem, or at least making it less of a worry.

There was a good point made in this article though. This entirely depends on how many times a person checks their email, how many RSS feeds they have, etc. Also, their particular role might mean they don't have as many emails as others. It's an estimation - not a fact. This means we have to investigate further.

The executive summary is the only part of the report that I'm able to get hold of because I'm not prepared to pay £199 for the whole thing! Naturally, as it's only a summary, it doesn't tell you much. However, it does include what Basex consider to be the four main categories:
  • Total interruptions
  • Dominant interruptions
  • Distractions
  • Background activities
Total interruptions are obviously the worst. These would presumably be things such as power cuts or system crashes - they prevent you from doing any work. The dominant interruptions would be those that slowed you down considerably, but weren't so bad that you couldn't do work. The other two are less worrying.

Another thing the report summary mentions is that it's important to use the right program (also known as the 'horses for courses' principle).

The problem with this is that for huge global corporations such as Microsoft, they live by email and IM. Without those valuable communication tools things could grind to a halt. Any reduction in usage would mean that things would grind to a halt. There's also the possibility that the more communications mechanisms you have, the better. It makes the company more dynamic and if one system were to fail - you could always use the other.

So what do you think?

Technorati tags: Infomania, Information, IT

Monday, 22 January 2007

Oh Brother!

I have only ever seen a few hours of a couple of series Big Brother and have never seen the 'celebrity version'. I stopped watching it after being very unimpressed. I just couldn't enjoy the endless cycle of watching people sleep, wake up, make porridge and sit in chairs for hours. Some people do, but I don't. Some of the most recent series I didn't even realise were on until they were several days (or weeks) old. Even when I did find out I couldn't be bothered.

They say it's 'reality TV', but it isn't. How many people can say their life involves being stuck in a house for several weeks with several cameras pointing at you and having to get on with people you hardly know? Also, those people are quite often from the extremes of society and that ends up creating explosive situations over minor things.

One thing I do remember from the occasional bit of Big Brother I saw (and news pieces) was Jade Goody when she started off. I couldn't believe how dense she was. However, after she left the house, she managed to make some money and moderate success from the Z-list career that she earned. She could have quite easily ended up where she was beforehand - so Jade had to have learned something.

Anyway, now she made her way onto the Z-list, she qualified for a spot on celebrity Big Brother. It was another effort to boost the ratings (which went against the original idea of the show bringing people back into the house after they had already left). Once again, this series had 'characters' who were completely different when compared to each other.

I didn't even start thinking about this series until the controversy started. I couldn't believe that Big Brother had allowed the racist abuse to be broadcast. Jade directed it towards the absolutely stunning Bollywood star, Shilpa Shetty - a fellow housemate. The show is watched by thousands (possibly millions) of people of varying ages and they were exposed to something that is truly abhorrant. The following is one of the things Jade said:
"I couldn't think of her surname. Why would I be talking to someone like that, I don't know what her surname is. What is it? Shilpa Cookamada, Shilpa whatever Rockamada, Shilpa Poppadom."
Jade apologised afterwards, also saying that her comments were "nasty and ugly". No matter how much she apologises though, the memories will still remain.

She said she made some of her comments in anger. That maybe right, but the fact is that those racist words should not have been so close to the forefront of her mind. There are plenty of other ways to express anger without being racist.

Today, the following was reported on the BBC News website:
"Channel 4 bosses have ordered a review of Big Brother following the racism row, but say that the current Celebrity edition of the show will remain on air.

Chairman Luke Johnson said that the Channel 4 board expressed profound regret for any offence that may have been caused."
It's good that a review is taking place, but will the public agree with the findings?

The Government and the NUS were two other major bodies that commented on the situation. The following is from Ruqayyah Collector, the NUS Black Students Officer:
"It is unacceptable that people should see abusive racist language openly displayed on prime-time television unchecked by broadcasters. The NUS is working on promoting unity and good race relations, with many young people across the country responding positively to our call. The racist views on display are an offense to Asian people and will do nothing to garner a climate of acceptance in Britain today. On the contrary, around the world, British culture is being perceived as bigoted, aggressive and offensive, as Endemol's cynical ploy to boost ratings and profits by allowing racially abusive language to continue unchecked in the Big Brother House."
As you can see I totally agree with her. I'm sure many other people do too.

After Jade left the house, she said her fee will be donated to charity. That's good, but it's not enough. Jade has had celebrity thrust on her too soon and she's been unable to deal with it. That's the problem with the 'fifteen minutes of fame' culture.

Another thing to note was the suspicions of 'coaching'. I hope that didn't happen or it means her apology may not be genuine and giving the money to charity could have been forced upon her. That would be a shame.

Big Brother should be axed after the end of this series, but it probably won't. Channel 4 and Endemol (the producers) will probably secretly enjoy the publicity and the short term ratings boost. Nobody should be allowed to profit from racism though. That would be disgusting.

Technorati tags: Big Brother, Racism, Television

Sunday, 21 January 2007

The NHS Programme for I.T. (Part 3)

The first of the remaining parts of the NPfIT I'm going to cover is the new communications service, NHSmail. According to the Connecting for Health website, the new service (which replaces the existing Microsoft Exchange setup) is:
  • A national directory of people in the NHS, containing the name, email addresses, telephone numbers, name and address of their NHS organisation, and information about departments, job roles and specialities.
  • Accessibility from anywhere on NHSnet or the Internet, particularly useful for staff who work from more than one location.
  • An email address that stays with you as you move around the NHS.
  • Calendars and folders that can be shared with other users across the NHS.
  • Automatic encryption during sending of emails.
The theory behind this is great. I'm a big fan of replacing paper systems because with IT, you can create instant and multiple backups, but it would take much longer to make copies on paper. I wonder about the value for money though. I'm glad they took into account encryption, but quality encryption packages can be bought relatively cheaply. Sharing of calendars can be done with Exchange, so in that respect there was no need to replace the old system - that point is not a benefit. Having a unique email address is good, but fairly easy to organise. I think the first point in the list of features is the big selling point, although it doesn't state whether it will be everybody and how regularly it is updated (people can leave the NHS and other will join - it's not just about having unique email addresses). I would still be interested in finding out how much it cost. The features are fairly inexpensive, but as the organisation is huge that might change things.

Now onto PACS:
"Picture Archiving and Communications System, more commonly known as PACS, enables images such as x-rays and scans to be stored electronically and viewed on computer screens, so that doctors and other health professionals can access the information and compare it with previous images at the touch of a button.

By delivering more efficient imaging processes, PACS will contribute to the delivery of a maximum 18 week patient journey by 2008."
That 18 week goal could be considered ambitious, but there are signs of improvement already (86.9% of outpatients waiting under 8 weeks and more than three quarters of inpatients waiting under 13 weeks). This is something that I think will really struggle. X-rays need to be really high quality, therefore the file sizes will be huge. You would need an absolutely vast amount of storage and a massive backup facility. I'm sorry, but it just seems too problematic.

Choose and Book is another interesting idea. Like other aspects of the NPfIT system, there's been an earlier adopter program, so there is opinions available already. An online/phone system for booking (as well as the possibility of picking from multiple hospitals) sounds great. However, there are reports of problems with the implementation already:
"Half of the GPs said the choose and book online booking system was poor or fairly poor. The poll was completed by 447 hospital doctors and 340 GPs.

And in a further blow, ministers said other parts of the project were behind schedule, pushing it over budget.

The Financial Times reported that the government had admitted the electronic records system - a database which could be accessed by health professionals anywhere in the country - was more than two years behind schedule."
Sure, many big projects fall behind schedule - but two years! Also, for 50% to say it's poor or worse is worrying. The problem is that as it's been in place long enough to see 400000 bookings, it could be difficult to make any changes if they are needed.

There's also ETP. This is a great idea, as long as there is proper security in place. It would be a major disaster if prescriptions were changed en route. Apart from that, I don't really have any worries about it. I couldn't find negative news articles either.

I have highlighted some good points in these three parts, but there are some clear worries/problems with NPfIT. Also, there was little consultation with the people who'll be using the setup - the doctors, GPs, etc. The people on the 'shop floor' will see problems with things and they are capable of coming up with ideas about how to fix them. Also, why not provide doctors and surgeons with tablet PCs and PDAs? That way they could access patient notes and records that are perfectly readable and if the person is from another country, they could change the language instantly. That must beat patient notes written on paper and made available on clipboards at the front of beds. Notes at the front of beds aren't the most portable either and they could be damaged. Of course, to make PDA and tablet PCs work in that environment, WiFi would need to be freely available. Why not focus on those things too?

I'd like to know what you think about what I've posted in any or all of these three parts.

Technorati tags: NPfIT, Connecting for Health, Government, IT, NHS

Saturday, 20 January 2007

The NHS Programme for I.T. (Part 2)

This part covers the Patient Care Records System (CRS) because I believe it's one of the most important parts of the whole setup. Without accurate records it's makes everything so much harder. They also have to be retrievable quickly. It's possible that it could make things much better if done properly though.

The terms of reference for the 'taskforce' who introduced the system was:
  • To identify and analyse the problems perceived by different stakeholders.
  • To resolve identified problems in ways that are practicable and for the benefit of patients and the NHS.
  • To resolve identified problems in ways that are practicable and for the benefit of patients and the NHS.
  • To take account of the legal basis for storing, sharing and using records and Department of Health policy.
  • To take account of the technical and practical barriers to implementation.
  • To draw up an agreed plan for implementation of the shared summary record.
  • To make recommendations to ministers.
  • In doing this to take account of the implementation and use of shared records by the Veterans’ Administration in the US.
As you can see, a lot of those points are fairly generic, but the important ones concern technical barriers and legal difficulties. As it is an electronic system, where people details will be communicated over internal networks and the internet, security is essential. Without adequate procedures in place, it will fail straight away. The legal issues will be about things such as sharing information, so it's about the Data Protection Act and Computer Misuse Act. It's good to see that they also took notice of the implementation of similar systems (see last point).

Back in November, there was an article on the GuardianUnlimited website about the new records service and the opening paragraph was:
"Millions of personal medical records are to be uploaded regardless of patients' wishes to a central national database from where information can be made available to police and security services.."
It went on by raising concerns about details of things such as alcoholism and the staus of HIV patients being available and potentially vulnerable as the system could be 'hacked into'. There were a number of responses to this, one of which was from Ian Hayes, who is a trustee of the Terrence Higgins Trust:
"I am writing to express my concern about the lack of balance in your coverage of the Electronic Care Record. The articles seemed calculated to raise concerns, especially in vulnerable groups with most to fear, without attempting to look at the safeguards that will surround the system and potential advantages of a national patient information database."
He also said:
"The Care Records Guarantee, which you only mention in passing in your coverage, represents a significant attempt to give people rights in over their medical records. It is based on a clear view that my medical records are my property over which I have control and includes a right to opt out."
Ian Hayes makes a good point in the second quote - people have the opportunity to opt out with certain pieces of information. That almost completely takes the worry about make data more available to other services out of the equation.

Ok, so sharing data is less of a worry, but what about security. It is an almost worry now. What measures does the project have to protect records from things such as 'hacking' and viruses? We're talking about more than 50m patient files here.

On the Connecting for Health website, there are two technical pages. One is about the Central Design Authority and Technology Office. The other is for NHS Data Standards and Products. Unfortunately, they don't cover anything in any great depth. Those pages don't tell you about the safeguards to protect the records. None of the other projects covered in my previous post tell you anything either. I checked the factsheet for N3, which gives you basic details about infrastructure, but nothing about security. I'm sure there will be some measures in place, but unless they are publicly available and clearly explained, the worries will still remain.

The next part will cover the other parts of the programme and will also have my ideas for how it could have been done better. I'll also mention how the new setup will affect GPs.

Technorati tags: NPfIT, Connecting for Health, Government, IT, NHS

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

The NHS Programme for I.T. (Part 1)

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear - where shall I start? It seems like such a good thing in theory - getting all the technology up to date is excellent - theoretically reducing failures and improving efficiency - the latter happening with appropriate staff training. However, it is something that has had problems from the start.

This topic will be split over multiple posts because it is so huge. I'll be covering it's faults, it's positives, why it was developed and also what I think should be done. It's a subject that I've been talking about for ages, but now I'm posting about it here.

I think one of the first things that needs to be covered though is the description of the programme. NPfIT is delivered by the government agency Connecting for Health. The parts of it are:

  • NHS CRS - A new patient records system.

  • Choose and Book - A new service for booking appointments and choosing hospitals.

  • ETP - This is the Electronic Transmission of Prescriptions, which has been introduced as something which will be faster and more convenient.

  • N3 - the broadband network.

  • NHSmail - A new central email service.

  • PACS - This is the Picture Archiving & Communication System, which will store things such as x-rays.

  • QMAS - For those of you who are old enough to remember the Quatermass Experiment, it's nothing to do with that. It's the Quality Management & Analysis System.
The next part in the series will be covering the new patient records system.

Technorati tags: NPfIT, Connecting for Health, IT, Government, NHS

Saturday, 6 January 2007

Interpretations of Equality

I think one of the most publicised issues with employee recruitment over the years has been equality. Major milestones were the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 and the Equal Pay Act of 1970. They were in place to make sure that everyone had the same opportunities such as pay and promotion. Nowadays, we see a lot more diversity in the workplace - which is absolutely fantastic. This metaphorical 'glass ceiling' seems to have been broken by a lot of people.

However, some people seem to misinterpret 'equality'. There are people who see this as having e.g. the exact same number of men as there are women. There's nothing wrong with that if everyone can do their job to a high standard. I think that businesses have too much pressure put on them though, which cold lead to them recruiting to meet targets, and not necessarily recruiting those people who can do the job.

A recent Independent article stated that:
"Women have failed to make an impression among the elite group of rich and powerful people who control Britain's boardrooms and public bodies, according to a report published today by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC).

Unless there is a dramatic change in recruitment and promotion, it will take 200 years to achieve an equal number of women in Parliament, 60 years to win parity in City boardrooms and 40 years to reach equality among the judiciary."
It relates to the report called Sex and Power: Who runs Britain? 2007. Stats from the report included:
  • 3,067 missing from among the 21,103 public appointments
  • 448 missing from among the 1,130 directorships in public sector companies
  • 233 missing from among the 751 members of the House of Lords
  • 217 missing from among the 914 Civil Service top engineers
  • 197 missing from among the 646 members of Parliament
  • 162 missing from among the 449 Council leaders in local government
  • 101 missing from among the 269 senior police officers
  • 78 missing from among the 194 senior judges
It says there are 33,000 top jobs in the UK and the missing women figures are calculated from the number of women it would take to bring the percentage up to 50%.

There are a number of holes in this report. First of all, how did they work out that there were 33,000 top jobs in the UK? This is highly subjective as one person's idea of a top job could be entirely different from someone else's. Also, I agree that 50% woemn is one definition of equality, but like I mentioned earlier, surely recruitment should be based on the ability to do the job properly - not whether you're a man or a woman. I'm sure there are a lot of women who would want to be judged on their merits, not on their gender.

Those 'top job stats' that I quoted concentrated on public sector and emergency services. What about the private sector? There are a lot of top jobs there, so they should be included. That way it can be more representative of the UK. However, there's still an argument for not including the stats at all as the word 'top' is subjective in this context.

It doesn't mention the Sex Discrimination Act or Equal Pay Act in any great detail, it doesn't make use of much private sector information and it's highly negative - not focusing on all the positive steps that have been made in employment. It's calling for positive discrimination, which is just as bad as the other type.

What do you think?

Wednesday, 3 January 2007

A new year

Happy (belated) new year to everyone. I hope you all enjoyed your holidays aswell.

I'm going back to work on Monday, so I've been catching up on my film-watching during my time off (it's the only time where I'll be able to watch them). Thanks to Sky Movies (and a couple of DVDs) I've managed to see quite a few:

Herbie: Fully Loaded - Yes, it's a kids/teenage level film, but it ended up been quite funny, just not Oscar-winning.
The Pacifier - It was weird to see Vin Diesel in this after seeing him in both Pitch Black films and The Fast And The Furious. Was good though.
King Arthur - Good performances from all the cast. Fight scenes were good too.
The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy - Really funny and was glad that I finally managed to watch it.
Elektra - Saw Daredevil, so I was interested in how good this spin-off would be. It wasn't as good as Daredevil, but was still good as a standalone film.
Wimbledon - Really funny and one of the better sports-based films that I've seen.
Miss Congeniality 2 - Hmmm. Funny, but not Oscar-winning at all.
Flight Of The Phoenix - This was a really good film and I thought the performances of Dennis Quaid and Hugh Laurie were good.
Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow - Great old-fashioned style adventure film.
The Girl Next Door - Really funny, but also really low-brow. Elisha Cuthbert is stunning. Always thought that after seeing her in 24.
Unleashed - This became one of my favourite films. Fight scenes were excellent, Jet Li was awesome in his role and there was a surprisingly good performance from Bob Hoskins.
The Da Vinci Code - Brilliant film. All the actors put in good performances and the storyline was excellent.
The Chronicles Of Narnia - Remembered the story from ages ago when I was young. Good film version of the CS Lewis classic.
Stealth - Good action film with great special effects. I think they could have used Jamie Foxx a bit more though and the computer in the plane was too friendly and obedient towards the end.
The Longest Yard - Good, funny (especially Chris Rock), but also a blatant rip-off of this film.
Serenity - Not as good as I thought it would be, but the jokes were good and so were the action scenes.
Fantatic Four - I don't remember reading the comic, but this was a good film with good action and humour.
The Transporter 2 - Turned my brain off completely for this one. Wasn't as good as the first, but the fight scenes were decent.
Walkting Tall - I think this is the Rock's best film, but Johnny Knoxville could have been better.
Doom - another one where you have to turn off your brain. It was enjoyable though and I don't think it was as terrible as other people make it out to be.
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story - Another film I should have seen ages ago. was laughing all the way through. Both the lead actors and supporting cast were good.
X-Men - The Last Stand - Great fight scenes and the best film in the franchise.
Lightning: Fire From The Sky - Ok film, but the special effects were abysmal.
King Kong - Really good film and an impressive performance from Jack Black.
Star Wars III: Revenge Of The Sith - Great fight scenes and it really made the star wars universe seem vast. The end of the Obi-Wan/Anakin fight could have been better though.
Anchorman - One of the funniest films I've ever seen. I used to be the only person in the world who hadn't seen it.
The Interpreter - Good film. Penn and Kidman put in good performances.

I'm also going to be watching:

If you've watched any films during the holidays, I'd be interested in knowing what they were and what you thought of them.