The Anonymous Widower

Annoying Advertising Pop-Ups In The Bottom Right Corner Of The Screen

These started a couple of months ago!

Many are from a site called Your Money, but one was selling me cannabis.

How do I stop them?

I use Chrome as a browser and don’t use Facebook or other social media of that type.

Thanks in advance!

February 11, 2019 Posted by | Computing | | 7 Comments

The Bombardier Aventra And Brexit

You might think what is the connection between a radical design of train and the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union.

Great Leap Forward Projects

Both are projects that their promoters would say will create a Great-Leap-Forward for Bombardier and the UK respectively.

The Devil Is In The Detail

Both are in trouble.

  • Bombardier’s engineers and software developers can’t get software for the Aventra and particularly the Class 710 train for the London Overground, working in the way the train and its operator need.
  • UK and EU politicians, aided by some of the most able and expensive lawyers and consultants, can’t stitch together a workable Brexit agreement that is acceptable to all.

Does this mean that both projects are doomed?

Were The Original Plans Creditable?

I’ll take the Aventra first.

Bombardier had missed out on the Thameslink contract and needed to win the Crossrail contract to survive.

So virtually starting with a clean sheet of paper and knowing very well what technology was the best and could be used to advantage, set about designing a train that could adapt for every possible use.

Bombardier also spoke to all those, who would be using or dealing with the trains in some way, to ascertain what they needed.

The result was that Bombardier won the Crossrail order and have since sold fleets of Aventras to London Overground, Greater Anglia, South Western Railway, West Midlands Trains and c2c.

It should also be said that they probably sold some of these fleets before a large number of Aventras were actually running.

So at least Bombardier’s plans appeared sufficiently detailed and creditable to six train operating companies.

Brexit was sold to the British public, in much the same way that evangelists sell you the latest religion, political philosophy, magic cancer cure or con. Is there any difference between the four?

Was any thought given to the serious problem like the Irish border? If anything was, I don’t remember hearing or reading it!

The major policies I remember was that all the money we give to Europe will go to the NHS and that immigration will be cut to almost zero.

Everything that said you should vote Remain was dismissed as Project Fear!

But the philosophy was enough to win the referendum.

What Were The Risks?

The Leavers would have lost, if they had got the estimates of any of these wrong.

  • The power and delivery of their philosophy.
  • The dislike of immigrants.
  • iThe hatred of all things European, except holidays in the sun.
  • The weakness of the Remainers message.

It was an easy sell and a majority of the British public bought it.

Forty years ago, when we created Artemis, we followed a route similar to Bombardier with the Aventra, but on a much smaller scale.

  • We did an extensive survey of users of Project Management Systems.
  • We laid out our objectives, which I have somewhere on a single A4 sheet of paper.
  • We researched and defined what hardware we would need.
  • I was then able to program the first system.

And guess what! The software was late, by several months.

But at least, when I got it right, systems were able to be delivered. And the orders started to flow!

Based on my experience, the software that runs the Bombardier Aventra will be the biggest risk in the design of the train.

If I’d put this risk to the engineer in charge of Aventra development, I would have been very surprised, if they didn’t agree.

Getting Back On Track

Bombardier will probably do what I did forty years ago.

Keep at it, until the software is perfect and the Class 710 trains run as it says in the brochure.

As happened with Artemis, once you have one system going, on the signing off of the software, you can create other systems or in Bombardier’s case; trains.

Bombardier can add the software to the scores of trains they have already built and stored and start testing, certification and delivery of individual trains.

Software, is like a magic elixir, that brings inanimate objects to life.

Will a magic elixir be found to solve the Brexit logjam?

Bombardier have to create software, that does the following.

  • Controls all parts of the train, so they do as promised.
  • Connect all train systems together.
  • The software must also work flawlessly.

It only needs to work in one language.

The philosophy and structure for a Brexit deal are more complicated.

  • There are a lot more issues to be solved.
  • Twenty-eight countries, their governments, parliaments and people must be satisfied.
  • How many languages will be involved?

Anybody, who reckons they could get a deal is probably a fantasist.

Why Was Artemis Developed?

We knew that there was a need for a small Project Management System.

But look at the date we started development; 1976. James Callaghan had just taken over from Harold Wilson as Prime Minister.

  • The country was not doing well.
  • The government didn’t have a large majority.
  • Everything was doom and gloom.
  • Tax rates were as high as eighty percent.
  • There was a housing crisis.
  • Many were worried about their jobs.
  • There was a lot of industrial unrest.

Surely, it wasn’t the time to risk all on a new venture?

But we were not of the herd and we didn’t hold back and went for it. And the rest as they say is history.

It is now 2019 and many of the issues I listed about the mid-1970s still apply.

  • The country is not doing well.
  • The government doesn’t have a large majority.
  • Everything is doom and gloom.
  • There is a housing crisis.
  • Many are worried about their jobs.

But there is one big difference. If you have an idea that is worth developing, raising money to develop it, is a lot easier to find.

To me, Brexit is a once in a lifetime opportunity for many to develop an idea and/or create a business to overcome the myriad number of problems leaving the EU will bring.

  • As leaving the EU without a deal will create more problems, it might be preferable for job creation.
  • Brexit may also create opportunities in Europe for new and innovative businesses.

It will be large industries, that will find times harder.

 

 

 

February 2, 2019 Posted by | Computing, Transport, World | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Structure Of Artemis

Some claim, that Artemis was the first relational database. I don’t! Although, I must admit, it would be nice to have invented something.

When the system was being designed, we realised that we needed to use a small computer that could fit into a desk. This would differentiate us from the competition, which was inevitably based on large mainframe computers like the IBM 360.

We all had experience of dial-up time-sharing computing using a teletype, but we knew of the limitations of dial-up lines and wanted a project management system, that could fit into a small office, possibly on-site or at a remote location.

In my mind, I had an image of a computer system like the IBM 1130, I’d used a few years earlier at Liverpool University.

This had a processor, a keyboard, some rudimentary data storage and a printer in a desk-sized unit.

I can remember drawing up a list of three possible computers, that could be used.

I think, we thought that the DEC would be favourite.

  • It was the market leader in small computers.
  • Our chairman, had spent a lot of money buying PDP-10 computers for his company; Time-Sharing Ltd.
  • I had a lot of experience, with their Fortran compiler on the PDP-10 and it was very good.

But, they just didn’t want to know and felt our plan was an impossible dream!

DG tried hard, but to get the computing power, I estimated we would need, their offering would be expensive.

Luckily HP were more interested.

I remember the day, that their two salesmen, gave the Chairman and myself a presentation, by his swimming pool on a very hot summer’s day in possibly 1977 or 1978.

HP  gave me a lot of help and I was able to use a machine at their premises in Wokingham to thoroughly test out the 21MX computer and its Fortran compiler.

We ended up using a computer with a specification like this.

  • A 21MX processor.
  • 64 Kb of memory
  • A five megabyte hard disc, with a 5 megabyte removable disc.
  • A VDU and a printer.

It all fitted into a custom-built desk, about the same size as a typical office desk.

I’d now got a computer and ~I could start to design Artemis.

All complicated software systems need access to some form of tables or arrays.

If you have ever used a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel seriously, you’ll know that you can create a series of worksheets in a workbook.

But this was the 1970s and the first spreadsheet program; VisiCalc didn’t launch until 1979.

For Artemis, I needed arrays to hold the following during processing.

  • The activities
  • The events
  • The calendar details
  • The resource details

And I didn’t think small, so the maximum-sized project was going to be 16000 activities.

For a time, it looked as if, I would have to write a sophisticated database structure to access the data on the limited five megabyte hard discs.

But HP had just released a program possibly called DSMP, that could handle up to 16 tables of up to 16,000 records.

So I used this program to handle the data that I needed.

Activities

In a PERT network, activities are entered for each task in a project.

I used two tables for this. The main one held the activities themselves and a secondary one held details of the resources needed for the activity.

Both tables had a 16,000 limit.

Calendars

Artemis had a comprehensive calendar structure and these were stored in another table.

Each activity was linked to the appropriate calendar record.

Resources Available

Another table was used to list the resources available to a project.

Working Tables

One working table contained all the event names used by the activities.

Linking Them All Together

I used a variety of techniques to link these tables together.

In some cases, I used simple pointers, which used the record number, but in other cases, I wrote very sophisticated and fast software to generate the links on the fly. Incidentally, the algorithm was based on research I found in IBM’s library on the South Bank, that dated from the 1950s.

I had taken HP’s DSMP program and effectively created a relational structure, that created links as it needed them.

Building On The Original Structure

In my view, I made the right decisions technically, as it enabled the scope of Artemis to be expanded.

The Multi-User Version

This was designed in an alcohol-fuelled session with Nobby (Richard Nobbs), in either Suffolk or Amsterdam and basically involved Nobby creating a version of DSMP for HP’s multi-user operating system.

Linked Datasets

I was able to use the structure to create other tables in the projects.

Again the linking was on the fly and it greatly increased the applications of Artemis.

So Was Artemis A Relational Database?

It is true to say, that from the earliest days in the late 1970s, I used relational techniques deep in the program to link all of the data together.

Working on such a small computer, I had no choice!

 

 

January 18, 2019 Posted by | Computing | , , | 3 Comments

Class 710 Trains And Software Problems

There is a lot of chatter in various web sites and publications, and from some London Overground employees, that the late arrival of the Class 710 trains, is down to bugs in the train software.

I have heard or read phrases like “computers-on-wheels” and “thirteenth software upgrade”, which surely doesn’t bode well.

I am reminded of something said, by a Senior Maager of a Computer Company at a conference in the 1960s.

If it takes, one man a year to write a program, then it will take two men, two years and two hundred and fifty-six men, two hundred and fifty-six years.

I have written a lot of software and generally my work was accepted as good. Or at least, no-one ever told me anything I wrote was rubbish!

My guess is that Bombardier have used too many programmers and many are too far from Derby.

January 16, 2019 Posted by | Computing, Transport | , | 3 Comments

A Double Database Cock-Up From The NHS

At three on Sunday morning, I phoned NHS 111 to ask for a bit of help with my terrible cold that was stopping me from even getting to sleep.

I had some advice which helped, but I was also booked in to see a doctor at 09:00 in a surgery a short bus ride away.

So far so good and no complaints.

I duly saw the doctor and he prescribed several drugs, which I took to my local Boots later in the morning.

I should say at this point, that four years ago, I officially changed my name from the one my parents gave me to the one I’ve used continuously since 1968. I was starting to get problems with some airlines, where my passport had a different name to my bank account. My current GP has only ever known me by the latter name and I’m registered with their surgery using it.

When I got to Boots, they initially rejected the prescription, as for some reason it showed by old name, although my address, NHS number and other personal details were correct.

How did the wrong name get on the prescription?

Luckily, Boots were pragmatic and as they recognised me, I got some of thew drugs.

But not all!

The pharmacist recognised that two drugs were incompatible with the Warfarin I take.

So why did the NHS computer system allow the doctor to prescribe the drugs?

As someone who was at the forefront of database technology, I believe, these two problems are inexcusable.

My incorrect name could have led to failure to obtain needed drugs.

The lack of interaction checking, could have led to serious problems for a patient.

January 7, 2019 Posted by | Computing, Health | , , , , | 4 Comments

Oyster Card Scheme Extension Agreed

The title of this post is the same as that of this article on the BBC,

This paragraph describes the extensions.

Its extension, due in early 2019, will include Hertford North, Welwyn Garden City, Luton Airport Parkway and Epsom.

As the Oyster Card extension will also include intermediate stations, the following stations will be included on the four routes.

  • Hertford North – Crews Hill, Cuffley and Bayford.
  • Luton Airport Parkway – Radlett, St. Albans City and Harpenden
  • Welwyn Garden City – Potters Bar, Brookmans Park,Welham Green and Hatfield

All intermediate stations to Epsom are already in the Oyster Card Scheme.

Fourteen new stations will be added.

These are a few random thoughts.

Contactless And Oyster

Oyster card and most contactless payment methods with a card or mobile device can be used on Oyster Card reader, so in this post, I will use contactless to cover all methods.

I believe that in a few years, Oyster could be phased out, as cards and mobile devices will take over the ticketing.

Luton Airport Parkway

Adding Luton Airport Parkway station to the network, brings Luton Airport in line with Gatwick and Heathrow Airports.

This is very much a logical extension.

Airport Services

This is a list of the current times for airport services from London.

  • Gatwick – Express – 29 minutes – Thameslink – 39-60 minutes
  • Heathrow – Express – 15 minutes – Crossrail – 28 minutes
  • Luton – East Midlands Trains – 21 minutes – Thameslink 30-47 minutes
  • Southend – 52-53 minutes
  • Stansted – 49-52 minutes

If you look at the passenger statistics for Gatwick Airport station, they have been rising at around a million passengers a year for the past few years. How much of the recent rises have been due to the station going contactless in January 2016?

Certainly, if you’re late for a plane, contactless ticketing might save a couple of minutes.

I always remember an incident at Southend Airport station.

My plane was late and arrived very close to the departure time of the last train to London. There had recently been a lot of arrivals and the queues for tickets were long.

So a Greater Anglia employee took the decision to tell everybody to get on the train and we all went to London without tickets.

If ticketing had been contactless, Greater Anglia might have collected some fares.

But contactless at an airport is not solely about making money, but getting the passengers away from the airport quickly.

Hertford East And Hertford North Stations

Hertford East station accepts contactless cards.

Adding the facility to Hertford North station may open up some journey possibilities and ease ticketing.

The National Rail web site recommends that to go between Ware and Bayford stations on either side of Hertford, that you walk between the East and North stations.

An anytime ticket will cost you £19.50.

But buy two separate tickets between Ware and Hertford East stations and Hertford North and Bayford stations and it’ll cost £6!

Using contactless ticketing and touching in at all stations will save £13.50! Will this cost difference encourage more journeys with a walk in the middle?

When I visited the Hertford East Branch recently in mid-morning, I thought that it was surprisingly busy. Does lower-hassle contactless ticketing encourage more passengers?

Analysis of contactless touches will provide the answers to my two questions.

St. Albans City And St. Albans Abbey Stations

The Abbey Line between Watford Junction and St. Albans Abbey stations is not contactless, although Watford Junction station is so enabled and St. Albans City station will be.

There is surely a case for adding contactless ticketing to this short line of five intermediate stations.

Welwyn Garden City Station

Enabling Oyster on the route to Welwyn Garden City station, will mean that all stations on the Great Northern Route from Moorgate station will be enabled except for Watton-at-Stone  and Stevenage.

This would surely be less confusing for passengers, than the current arrangement, where Oyster tickeing is stopped at Hadley Wood and Gordon Hill stations.

Hopefully a suitable announcement would wake-up accidental fare avoiders at Hertford North station.

Epsom Station

The two routes to London from Epsom station are both fully Oyster-enabled, so surely adding one station to the routes shouldn’t be a difficult problem technically.

Further Routes For Oyster

Distances of the new Oyster-enabled stations, with a few existing ones, by rail from Central London are as follows.

  • Epsom – 16 miles from Victoria.
  • Gatwick Airport – 26 miles from Victoria
  • Hertford North – 20 miles from Moorgate
  • Luton Airport Parkway – 29 miles from St. Pancras
  • Shenfield – 20 miles from Liverpool Street
  • Welwyn Garden City – 20 miles from Kings Cross

So what other stations could be added?

Southend And Stansted Airports

Airports seem to like Oyster and as I said earlier, it can help to sort out ticketing problems at certain times.

  • Southend Airport station is 39 miles from Liverpool Street and there are five other stations between Southend Airport and Shenfield stations.
  • Stansted Airport station is 36 miles from Liverpool Street and there are six other stations between Southend Airport and Broxbourne stations.

This story on ITV is entitled Rail Minister Urged To Roll Out Oyster Card Payments To Stansted, Luton And Southend Airports.

Luton Airport will soon be Oyster-enabled, so hopefully Stansted and Southend Airports will be enabled soon.

Thirty Miles From London

There are a lot of places within thirty miles of London on commuter routes, that I’m sure eventually will be Oyster-enabled.

  • High Wycombe and Aylesbury – Chiltern have ambitions for this.
  • Rochester – 30 miles from London and on Thameslink.
  • Windsor

There will be other suggestions.

Extending Freedom Pass

I’d like to be able to just touch-in and touch-out to go to any station in the Oyster card area.

My Freedom Pass would be connected to a bank or credit card and I would be charged beyond the Freedom Pass area.

If Oyster cards can be linked to a bank or credit card, surely London’s control computer can be programmed to do something very powerful for Freedom Passes.

It could be a nice little earner for cash-strapped Transport for London.

Conclusion

Oyster is extending its reach and after this flurry of extensions in the next few months, lot of places will be wanting to be Oyster-enabled.

I suspect the only objector to this roll-out, will be the RMT, who have made the Luddites look like pussycats!

 

 

 

December 15, 2018 Posted by | Computing, Transport | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

I Have Just Been Microsofted!

I run Office 365 and today it updated itself.

Now nothing in the suite works.

I don’t like automatic updates, as they have this power to drop you deep in it.

I usually only upate software, when there is a problem!

 

December 14, 2018 Posted by | Computing | | 3 Comments

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 branch,area and region.

I was working for one of the Managers; Mike Spicer, who worked under the Chief Management Accountant; 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 the results 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