The Anonymous Widower

More Overground Delays As Introduction Of New Trains Pushed Back

The title of this post is the same as that of this article in the Ham & High.

These are a couple of paragraphs, about the delays to the new Class 710 trains.

Rory O’Neill, TfL’s general manager for London Overground, apologised for the delay, explaining it was due to manufacturer Bombardier needing to do further software development.

He said: “Safety testing for the new electric trains is now well underway and Bombardier has said that they should be ready to enter passenger service in the second half of December.

So it looks like the software is still being developed!

The Quality Of Programming

I have heard modern trains being described as a computer on wheels, but it does strike me that the standard of software development is slipping all over the place.

  • We have had various banking computer fiascos.
  • I find lots of issues with software on my phone.
  • There have been data breaches, where user details have been hacked from social media and retail systems.

Speaking as a programmer, who once paid a seven figure tax bill because of his competency, I am inevitably led to a conclusion, that important systems are being programmed by people, who are not up to the job.

Is history repeating itself?

In the early 1970s, I realised I was a very good programmer, so I left a secure job and broke out on my own. After a couple of years, I was earning much more than in the safe job, I’d left!

Due to luck and falling in with the right crowd, I ended up with a good share of a valuable company.

Life was more exciting and it set my family and myself up for life.

So today, if you’re a brilliant programmer in say Bombardier or TSB, who thinks that you’re underpaid, do you take the route I took and end up in a more exciting and rewarding programming world?

In the 1970s, due to the close nature of the programming world, where many were known to each other, poaching was rife!

So are we suffering from the same problems?

I would also throw in another problem!

Companies like to outsource their programming to companies and programmers living thousands of miles away.

Even with the Internet, this must mean that response to problems is much slower and a good deal worse.

Conclusions

Those that commission computer programming must not judge the quality of programming on how l;ittle it costs.

As to the trains, I doubt they’ll be in service before the end of February 2019!

 

November 16, 2018 Posted by | Computing, Transport | , , , | Leave a comment

Google Grabs The Best Site In London For Its Massive Groundscraper

This Google Map the site where the massive groundscraper is being built.

Note.

  1. Kings Cross station, which is on the right of the map, has extensive connections to the North-East of England and Scotland.
  2. St. Pancras station, which is on the left of the map, has extensive connections to the Midlands and Belgium, France and the Netherlands, with more services to come including Germany, Switzerland and Western France.
  3. Thameslink runs North-South beneath St. Pancras station, has extensive connections to Bedfordshire, Herfordshire, Kent, Surrey and Sussex.
  4. There are also six Underground Lines.
  5. Gatwick and Luton Airports have direct connections and City, Heathrow and Southend Airports  only need a step-free change.
  6. Improvements in the next few years could mean that HS2 and all of London’s five airports will have a fast direct connection to the area.

In the middle of all these railway lines, sits Google’s groundscraper, which shows as a white structure towards the top of the map.

These pictures show the area between the two stations, the under-construction groundscraper and the new blocks.

And these pictures show the progress on the site.

There is not much that is visible yet!

More Pictures!

But the building will be more visible soon! For those who can’t wait, this article from the Daily Mail has a lot of visualisations.

 

November 8, 2018 Posted by | Computing, World | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Is This The Most Important Door In My Life?

In some ways this is the most important door in my life.

It used to lead through into the superb banking hall of Lloyds Bank.

In the early 1970s, I was doing some programming for the bank as a consultant to a company called Time Sharing Ltd.

The purpose of the software was to take the banks costs and expenses and calculate how much each of the various actions cost the Bank, by branches and area.

I was working for one of the Managers; Mike Spicer, who worked under the Chief Management Account; C. R. C. Wesson, who I later knew as Bob.

I’d never met Bob and as Mike was away, Bob phoned me up one morning and asked me to run the software, as they’d just uploaded a new batch of data.

I duly did this from home, and checked that it had run successfully after cycling to Time Sharing at Great Portland Street. They then asked, if I could take it to the Bank on my way home to the Barbican.

I was worried that I was not dressed for visiting the Head Office of one of the UK’s big banks. I was painting our flat and wearing a pair of ice blue jeans and a short-sleeved shirt. . Luckily, I had a carrier on my bike, for the couple of inches of fan-folded green-striped print-out.

I had been told to ring the bell by the side of the door in the photograph and despite the banking hall being closed, I would be let in.

I arrived safely about six and rang the bell.

Perhaps a minute or two later, the ornate and extremely heavy door slid aside  and a footman appeared, immaculately dressed in the Lloyds uniform of green tail-coat and top hat. He said. “You must be Mr. Miller!”

When I affirmed, he ushered me through and I offered him the printout. He then said, that Mr. Wesson would like to see me. I protested about my clothes, but he firmly showed me to the lift and pressed the appropriate floor. He added that Mr. Wesson would meet me at the lift.

It was the start of a very firm friendship.

Together we developed the software and produced loads of copious tables and graphs.

I learned a tremendous amount from dealing with the only innovative accountant I have ever met.

A lot of his philosophy found its way into Artemis.

One thing he told is that bankers when given a table of figures, always add them up to make sure there are no mistakes.

So I developed a technique in the Lloyds Bank software, where if money was allocated between various rows in a table, the total was always correct. If you round each row, this isn’t always the case.

I used this technique in the aggregation of resources and costs in Artemis.

Sadly, Bob died of I think cancer, a few years later!

I owe him a great debt!

October 9, 2018 Posted by | Computing, World | , , , | Leave a comment

Pick Your Own Hours With (Really) Flexible Working

The title of this post is the same as that of an article in today’s copy of The Times.

This is the first two paragraphs

More than 2,000 staff at PWC offices in Britain will be allowed to choose their own working hours under a scheme introduced by the accounting network.

PWC’s “flexible talent” initiative will allow people to apply for jobs, stating their skills and availability. It will then match the recruits to relevant projects on which they can work shorter weeks or work for only a few months a year

I think it’s a brilliant idea.

Although, in some ways, it’s a pity, that I’ve retired from programming.

Programming a computer system that could handle this problem, would have been right up my street.

Will PWC make me an offer I can’t refuse?

I doubt it, as they probably believe there are no capable programmers over thirty. And certainly not over seventy.

But then I’ve written four programs to allocate resources.

  • A Space Allocation Program for ICI in the early 1970s
  • PERT7 for Time Sharing Ltd.
  • The original Artemis.
  • Artemis for the PC.

All share the same basic algorithm that I first used for the Space Allocation Program.

But I’m certain, that everybody, who has programmed a resource allocation program, uses their own version.

 

August 31, 2018 Posted by | Computing | , | Comments Off on Pick Your Own Hours With (Really) Flexible Working

DB Says Innovative Freight Train Project ‘Very Promising’ So Far

The title of this post is the same as that of this article in Global Rail News.

This is the first paragraph.

A project to design innovative freight wagons, which is being financed by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI), DB Cargo and VTG, is producing ‘very promising’ results.

The article is worth reading in full and in my mind it could be important in the development of efficient and reliable freight trains.

I remember in the 1960s, British Rail were trying to run faster freight trains and a lot of wagons derailed.

Research at Derby using computer simulation solved the problem and went on to lead to a greater understanding of the dynamics of steel wheel on steel rail.

I do know that British Rail Research had one of the best tools for this job; a PACE 231-R analogue computer.

 

This is the one, that I worked on at ICI.

They were a powerful computer, which were capable of solving a hundred simultaneous differential equations.

They were late 1950s technology, based mainly on electronic valves, that responded to tender loving care.

But two of them working together, did the dynamic calculations for the moon landings, when linked to the digital computers of an Apollo capsule and lander.

On Apollo 13, when Jack Swigert said “Houston we have problem”, it was these machines, that were used to find a way to bring everyone home.

And the rest, as they say is history!

In my view, after over fifty years in computing, the rescue of Apollo 13 was the greatest piece of computing ever done with an electronic machine.

The second paragraph of the Global Rail News article has this phrase.

feature new digital systems which optimise handling.

Does this mean the Germans are worried about the handling?

I do sometimes wonder, if dynamic systems are best analysed using analogue computers and the demise of the technology means the same problems keep returning in different guises.

There can’t be many of us left, who’ve used an analogue computer seriously.

August 19, 2018 Posted by | Computing, Transport | , , , | 2 Comments

NHS Is Still Reliant On Fax Machines

The title of this post as the same as that of an article in The Times last week.

This is the first paragraph.

Hospitals are still using 9,000 fax machines according to a survey that highlights the NHS’s with modern technology.

Other points from the article.

  • The survey was done by the Royal College of Surgeons
  • Newcastle on Tyne NHS Foundation trust had 603 machines.
  • Barts Health uses 369 faxes.
  • Only ten trusts said they didn’t own any faxes.

Coupled with another report last year, which showed that NHS hospitals still use an estimated 130,000 pagers, it surely shows the NHS is stuck in the past, as far as communications are concerned.

But this is not all!

A friend told me, he is trying to analyse the computer network of a trust, that stretches across three English counties.

These days, computers and complicated equipment usually have an address on the network, which in most organisations follow a logical pattern controlled by a sensible comprehensive specification.

But the NHS does things differently, with each county relying on one person in their area to create idividual node names.

How much could the NHS save, if they sorted out their communications and computing?

 

July 16, 2018 Posted by | Computing, Health | | 2 Comments

Network Rail’s Independently Powered Electric Multiple Unit (IPEMU) Trial Report

The report of the BEMU trial using a Class 379 train is freely available on the Internet, after a simple registration and download.

It is a very professional document, that goes a lot further than describe how the trial was carried out.

Other information includes.

  • Battery power can aid the introduction of power sources such as hydrogen.
  • Objectives included a target range of 50 km and speed of 60-100 mph.
  • The list of those contributing to the project were impressive.
  • Three different types of battery were comprehensively tested.
  • The batteries were able to handle the regenerative braking.
  • Testing included runs at up to 100 mph and an extreme range test.
  • It is suggested that battery power could enhance safety.
  • It is suggested that electrification could be simplified, if trains had batteries.

In addition, Bombardier have developed software to analyse routes to see if they are suitable for battery operation.

As someone, who has spent most of my working life looking at the mathematics of systems, I suspect that lots of useful ideas have been indicated by Bombardier’s modelling.

I suspect that the bi-mode Aventra I discussed in Bombardier Bi-Mode Aventra To Feature Battery Power, is one train that has been designed extensively by computer simulation.

Aircraft have been designed that way for decades.

 

June 26, 2018 Posted by | Computing, Transport | , , , , , | 10 Comments

£250m Bypass Will Destroy Woodland

The title of this post, is the same as that of an article in today’s copy of The Times.

This is the first paragraph.

A four-mile bypass will be built partly in the South Downs National Park under a plan that conservation groups fear will set a precedent for development in other protected areas.

This map shows the route of the proposed bypass.

The route may be the best solution, but I believe we need to be more radical.

Overcrowded and inadequate roads exist all along the South Coast of England and in many other scenic places in the UK.

I think we need to develop a philosophy to solve the problems of roads in these crowded places.

Building a four-mile bypass at Arundel, may be needed, but we should do many other things to ease traffic congestion and improve transport capacity.

So what do I believe we should do?

We could introduce negative measures like road pricing or other restrictions, but I believe there are positive things we could do.

Broadband

You might think, what has broadband got to do with reducing the need to build roads.

I believe that as more houses and businesses get very high speed broadband, this will reduce the number of journeys taken.

Mobile Phone Coverage

I am not sure, what effect excellent mobile phone coverage will have on traffic, but it certainly will have one.

Cycling

We will all be cycling more and one of the consequences of excellent mobile phone coverage will be the growth of park-it-anywhere bike schemes like ofo and Mobike.

I think a few years time, many short distance journeys will be done by bicycle.

But expect some Luddite councils to legislate against ofo, Mobike and their ilk!

Rail

Fast forward five years and a train journey in an area like along the South Coast or in East Anglia or the West Country, will be very different.

  • Digital signalling will increase the capacity of all lines and mean that most stations will have at least four trains per hour (tph) in both directions.
  • Digital signalling will also allow more routes.
  • Advances in train design will mean that journeys are faster.
  • Ticketing will use contactless bank cards or mobile phone payment systems.
  • Trains will be a much more comfortable and work-friendly experience, with wi-fi, 4G and power sockets.
  • Track layouts will be improved and level crossings will be removed., to allow trains to operate more efficiently.
  • Improved information on trains and stations.
  • The improved dwell times of modern trains, will allow new stations to be added without degrading services.

The biggest development along the South Coast, will be an improved service between Ashford and Portsmouth/Southampton/Bournemouth.

  • Existing tracks will be used, with the addition of short stretches of new track at possibly Brighton and Eastbourne.
  • Line speeds will be at least 100 mph.
  • Most stations will have a Turn-Up-And-Go four tph service.

There will also be other improved routes to and from London and Gatwick Airport for many of the coastal towns.

This improvement in rail services will be impossible with a rail company like Govia Thameslink Railway providing services.

  • They are more conservative, than the RMT.
  • They look after their core commuter traffic, at the expense of other passengers.
  • The franchise is just too big.

However, digital signalling will allow Open Access Operators to compete and create new services geared to customers needs.

Thameslink

The current Thameslink service will have the following characteristics, when it is completed in December 2019.

  • Twenty-four tph through London.
  • A well-designed track layout at Bermondsey that unlocks London’s North-South railway.
  • Services at a level of at least two tph to many stations in Kent, Surrey and Sussex.
  • A set of uncomfortable Class 700 trains, designed by a moronic civil servant in the Department of Transport.

The major Thameslink upgrade was designed totally without vision and charisma.

However, the basics and possibilities are there to do the following.

  • Increase the frequency to thirty tph through the Central London core.
  • Increase the frequency on the Brighton Main Line through Gatwick, substantially, by using digital signalling.
  • Rebuild the trains, with what passengers need.
  • Add extra services all along the South Coast.
  • Develop a massive rail-air interchange station at Gatwick.

I believe that Gatwick could develop into the busiest station in the UK.

I also think, that anybody going between London and the South Coast, will have a frequency of at least four tph from their local station, using either a direct service or a single change at Gatwick.

Freight

This Google Map shows the A27 through Arundel.

Note the number of trucks on the roads.

Where are they going?

The bypass would get the trucks out of Arundel, but would it just encourage more to use the South Coast route as a bypass for the crowded M25?

We need a proper philosophy for freight in this country.

  • As much freight as possible should be by rail.
  • Trucks should be for short distance or specialist needs only.

Does Southampton Docks have good enough access to the UK rail network?

I think not, especially as it would be very difficult to increase freight traffic through Southampton Central station, due to the restriction of the double-track Southampton Tunnel.

Conclusion

There is a lot to do, before we spend £250million n a bypass.

 

 

 

May 14, 2018 Posted by | Computing, Transport | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Huge Outlay On Motorways Despite Reduction In Traffic

The title of this post, is the same as a small news item in The Times on Friday.

According to the Commission on Travel Demand, individuals used cars and other vehicles fourteen percent less than they did in 2002.

Reasons given include internet shopping, Netflix and flexible working.

They also say that many in their teens and early twenties shunning car ownership altogether.

There is a graph in the article, which shows that the reduction has been largest in Greater London. That seems to fit with my observations.

  • I’ve chatted to several youngsters , who have no intention of learning to drive for some years. It’s all just too costlyin the Capital and there are few places to park securely.
  • I’m also sure, that my road which is wide and has cars parked on both sides, is less crowded than when I moved here nearly ten years ago. Now, when I get a parcel delivery, there is always space for the van outside.
  • In Dalston, we have also benefited from the Overground and lots of new buses, although the frequency of the latter hasn’t increased.
  • I wouldn’t underestimate the fact that those of a certain age, like myself, get free public transport in Greater London.
  • There has also been a tremendous increase in the use of bicycles for commuting.

I don’t think that all parts of London have seen as much reduction as the North and East.

It always seems that traffic is busy, when I go to Chelsea, Westminster or the West End. But I don’t think we can stop, those with large 4x4s going to the local Waitrose and Harrods.

I also think, that Crossrail will reduce traffic across a whole swathe of London from Ealing to Ilford via Paddington, the West End and the City.

It will be a well-designed stylist railway with trains every few minutes.

According to the article, Metropolitan areas are also seeing a reduction in car use.

Although, they haven’t got as comprehensive, a public transport network as London, over the last ten years, several large metropolitan areas have improved public transport considerably.

Traffic also seems to have reduced slightly in what the report calls shire towns, resort and rural.

I would put this down to the three factors said earlier by the article; internet shopping, Netflix and flexible working.

The only places not showing a less significant decline is districts with industry and new towns.

But a lot of these have been built for car use.

Conclusion

It is a thought-provoking article.

Given that Greater London has shown the biggest decline in traffic and it has the most comprehensive public transport system in the UK, the question has to be asked if more money is spent on public transport, could it reduce the amount of money spent on the roads!

I would do the following.

  • Build more welcoming new stations with adequate parking like, Apperley Bridge , Bromsgrove, Cambridge North, IlkestonKenilworth, Kirkstall Forge and Maghull North.
  • Update some of the worst stations in the country to a modern standard.
  • Put more seats on busy routes.
  • Increase train frequency where possible.
  • Make certain everybody who wants to, can work flexibly from home.
  • Use more sophisticated and better managed home delivery systems.
  • Build HS2 as fast as possible.
  • Develop more rail-based freight solutions.
  • Make it possible to get to most Airports by public transport.

Hopefully, with local mayors and other devolved bodies, we’ll see more areas of the country taking the decisions they need.

May 5, 2018 Posted by | Computing, Transport | , , , | 2 Comments

Will TSB Exist In A Couple Of Months?

I am seventy and I have been programming computers and using them since I was eighteen.

I also worked for Lloyds Bank in the 1970s, although not on their computing side, but as a high level consultant, where I was using data extracted from the main computer system to calculate bank costs, through a program I had written that was effectively a giant spreadsheet.

So I have heard a lot of stories from the 1960s, of when banks were first computerised, over drinks with bank e,employees.

One was about an absolutely brilliant fraud, that would make a good film.

None were as horrific as what TSB have inflicted on their customers over the last few weeks.

I like to check my bank account every morning, as in my view, that is the best way to pick up any fraud.

So if I had been a TSB customer, I would already have long ago moved my account.

It would be in everybody’s interest, if all TSB account holders moved to other banks.

As that would hopefully, close TSB!

This would surely mean, all banks and other financial institutions made sure they got their computing right.

From my computing knowledge, I do wonder whether the TSB problems are being caused by an evil programmer!

The chaos undoubtedly, could have been created deliberately.

But for what purpose?

  • There is always a rogue state or organisation, wanting to create mischief.
  • Banco Sabadell, who are TSB’s parent, are a publicly-quoted company.  Their share price appears to have been falling recently. Could someone have placed a big bet on the share price?
  • Chaos is a good smokescreen for fraud.

Hopefully, the truth will come out in the end!

 

 

May 3, 2018 Posted by | Computing, World | , , | 2 Comments