The Anonymous Widower

Protecting Your Company, Organisation Or Workgroup From Viruses, Ransomware And Other Malware

I am not a computer malware expert and since 1970, I have generally worked alone, with one or more computers , not connected by a network.

But after all the problems of the last few weeks with ransomware, I feel that one of my experiences of a few years ago, should be put into this blog.

A Daisy Demonstration

The Research Department of a major corporation were interested in using my software; Daisy to analyse data being collected in their local offices.

So I was summoned to their offices to the South West of London, so that they could have a proper demonstration.

I found something extremely sensible that I’d not seen before.

The Department had the usual corporate network, as you would expect, with logins, malware protection, but for my demonstration I used another computer.

The Lonely PC

We moved to a lonely PC sitting on a desk in the corner. It had the following characteristics.

  • Adequate power.
  • A recent version of Windows.
  • Direct connection to the Internet through a landline.
  • No connection to the main network.
  • A directly connected printer.
  • A selection of browsers.
  • Microsoft Office, but no e-mail program.

The only thing, that the computer lacked was a large screen.

Uses Of The Isolated Computer

The isolated computer was used for the following.

  • Demonstrations
  • Checking out ideas and web sites in suspect locations.
  • Testing software.

I think that after the recent ransomware attacks, emergency Internet access could probably be added to the list of uses.

Rules For Using The Computer

The Department had setup a series of rules for the use of the computer.

  • The computer could be booked by anybody in the Department.
  • Comprehensive data transfer rules using physical devices had been setup.
  • No software could be installed on computers on the main network, without full testing on the isolated computer.
  • The computer was regularly checked for any viruses or malware.
  • If any nasties were found on this computer, it was immediately restored to a pristine state.

Incidentally, whether it was for my benefit or not, it was one of the cleanest corporate computers, I’ve used for a demonstration.

Benefits

I was told that since the computer had been installed, malware problems on the network had decreased.

But how much was this down to a constantly improving and rigorously updated malware-protection system for the Department’s main network?

An Ideal System

A lot would depend on the type of company and their needs.

The system I used needed a big screen, as often a demonstration needs to be seen by several people.

I also think, that with a large screen, it could be a valuable tool in Corporate Communications.

Some might think, that this type of computer, which bypasses the corporate network, could be used by those with access for nefarious purposes.

Years ago, my software; Artemis was used to do the Project Management on Chevaline. The Ministry of Defence was worried that the Russians might use some unknown technology to read the electromagnetic radiation from the cathode-ray tube of the VDU. So I suggested they put the desk-sized computer in a shielded internal room. But what about the door, they said! I suggested that they get Chubb to put one of their best locks on the door.

A few weeks later, when a software problem struck, I went home with a complete copy of the project on a disc.

I had encoded the data using a personally-designed method that I still believe is unbreakable. But that is another story! Especially, as I’ve never signed the Official Secrets Act!

As this tale illustrates, there are ways to enforce security and holes will always appear.

 

 

 

May 18, 2017 Posted by | Computing | , , , , | Leave a comment

Lionel Stapley

It is with great sadness, that I must report the death of Lionel Stapley, who was a colleague at Metier Management Systems and a friend since we first met in the 1970s.

August 18, 2016 Posted by | World | , | 4 Comments

Now Is The Time To Change

In 1977, the climate for business wasn’t very good. So what did I do?

Together with three others, we started Metier Management Systems to create a ground breaking project management system called Artemis.

Wikipedia says this about the sale of the company several years later.

Metier was sold to Lockheed for US$130m at a time when the US$ and the £Sterling were close to parity. Since then, then company has been sold many times, each time for a considerably lesser amount, and with the company often renamed by the new owner.

The only sad part of this tale, is that the software I wrote in an attic in Suffolk, didn’t fulfil the potential, of which I believed she was possessed.

The moral of this story, is that the worse and more uncertain the times, means the better it is to change what you’re doing and perhaps start something radical.

It might even be the time to marry your long-term partner!

June 27, 2016 Posted by | Business, World | , , | 1 Comment

Is Vivarail True Disruptive Innovation?

Disruptive innovation is defined like this in Wikipedia.

A disruptive innovation is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology.

I’ve always been a great believer in this sort of innovation.

When we started Metier Management Systems and created Artemis, project management was worthy, time-consuming and if a computer was used it was an expensive mainframe. So we took a small but powerful industrial computer put it in a desk, added a VDU and a printer to do the same PERT and financial calculations much faster and often much physically closer to where the answers were needed. I have heard argued that one of our reasons for great success in the early days of North Sea Oil, was that you could find space for an Artemis system in Aberdeen, but not for a mainframe. The city was crawling with dozens of our systems.

After Artemis, project management was never the same again!

If we look at the building of trains, it is supposed to be an expensive business, with large manufacturers like Alstom, Bombardier, Hitachi and Siemens make expensive complicated trains, that are virtually computers on wheels. But at a price and to a time-scale that is such, that say a train company needs perhaps some extra four coach diesel multiple units to support say a Rugby World Cup or Open Golf venue, there is nothing that can be delivered in a short time.

Over the last few years, disruptive innovation has been alive and well in the train building industry. In the 1970s and 1980s, we built a large number of trains and electric and diesel multiple units based on the legendary Mark 3 coach. Wikipedia says this about the coach.

The Mark 3 and its derivatives are widely recognised as a safe and reliable design, and most of the surviving fleet is still in revenue service on the British railway network in 2015.

It is truly one of the great British designs. My personal view is that the ride in a Mark 3 coach, is unsurpassed for quality by any other train, I’ve ever ridden, in the UK or Europe.

A Mark 3-based multiple unit also survived the incident at Oxshott, where a 24-tonne cement mixer lorry fell on top of the train. There were injuries, but no-one was killed.

So what has the Mark 3 coach got to do with disruptive innovation?

They are like a well-built house, that constantly gets remodelled and improved by successive owners.

The structure and running gear of a Mark 3 coach is such that it is often more affordable to rebuild and improve Mark 3-based trains, rather than order new ones.

If Terry Miller and his team in Derby, had not designed the Mark 3 coach and the related InterCity 125 in the 1960s, I suspect that UK railways would be in a truly terrible state today.

These trains still remain the benchmark against which all other trains are judged. Two journeys sum up the class of a Mark 3 coach.

  • Travel in First and enjoy Pullman Dining on a First Great Western service between London and Wales or the West. Is there any better rail journey available without a special ticket in the world?
  • Travel in Standard on Chiltern to Birmingham and enjoy the ride and the views from the large windows, in the style that the designers envisaged for all passengers.

But the Mark 3 coach has created this industry in the UK, that can take well-built old trains and turn them into modern trains, that are often the equal of shiny new ones from the factory.

So where do Vivarail fit in all this?

London Underground has always specified the best for its railways and expected the trains to last a long time. In some ways it had to, as when it depended on Government favours for new trains, it could not predict if the replacements would ever be forthcoming.

Until the 1980s, most trains were built by Metro-Cammell in Birmingham and regularly fleets have lasted for forty or fifty years, as they were built to handle the heavy use in London, where journeys can be over an hour of full-speed running with frequent stops and often with far more passengers than the trains were designed. Take a Piccadilly Line train from say Kings Cross to Heathrow in the rush hour, if you want to see the sort of punishment that London Underground trains are built to take. The last of these Piccadilly Line trains were built in 1977 and under current plans, they will have to stay in service to 2025.

The oldest London Underground trains still in regularly passenger service, are the Class 483 trains used on the Isle of Wight. Admittedly, they are running a service in a less-stressful environment after fifty years service in London, but the trains were originally delivered to London Underground in 1939 or 1940.

The London Underground D78 Stock, that has been purchased by Vivarail for conversion into the D-train, were first delivered in 1980, so they have only taken about thirty-five years of London’s punishment.

The trains were also extensively refurbished in the mid-2000s.

It also has to be born in mind, that although London works its Underground trains very hard, they also get first class servicing.

Several factors have all come together to create an opportunity for Vivarail.

  • There is a desperate shortage of diesel multiple units all over the UK. Partly, this is because of a need to replace the ageing Pacers, but mainly because of the growth in passenger numbers and the reluctant of Government in the 2000s to invest in much-needed new diesel trains.
  • Network Rail’s well-publicised problems with electrification, only makes the need for more diesel trains more important.
  • A lot of trains will have to be taken out of service as they don’t meet the disability regulations.
  • The UK’s world-class train refurbishment business, which has honed its skills on creating new trains from old for forty years, is ready for a new project.
  • There is now a supply of well-maintained, corrosion-free D78 Stock, that may not be sexy, but are as tough as teak, that are surplus to requirements.

It should also be said, that train operators and passengers want more flexible and better specified train services on difficult lines that are unlikely to be electrified in the near future and are difficult lines on which to provid a decent reliable train service.

Read any of the serious literature about the D-Train and it shows that the engineers are taking the project very seriously and are thinking very much outside the box.

  • Power units are based on Ford Duratorq diesel engines mounted on rafts under the train, with two to each power car.
  • These rafts can be changed using a fork lift at a remote location.
  • Flexibility of interior layout to suit the route.
  • Extensive use of LED lighting, Wi-fi and other modern technology.
  • The crash test has been released as a video. How often do you see that?

But perhaps this article from Rail Magazine entitled Catering for VivaRail’s rebuilt D-Stock, illustrates their innovative thinking better than ever.

The more I read about the D-train, the more I think it will surprise everybody.

It is true world class disruptive technology. And British technology too!

 

September 18, 2015 Posted by | Travel | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tales From Artemis Times

When I was writing Artemis, I got to meet some very interesting people.

I remember being in Denver at an Artemis Users Conference at the time of the Falklands War. I was talking over drinks with three Americans; a New York banker, the project manager on the US Harrier and the another from Long Beach Naval Shipyard.

The banker with all the naivete of no experience, said that all the Navy needed in the South Atlantic was a big flat-top and some F14s and they’d be able to blow the Argies away.

Then the Harrier guy said that they were getting the weather reports and it was so bad down there, that the only aircraft you could recover to the carrier was a Harrier. The guy from Long Beach compared everything to the Arctic convoys and said it was doubtful which was worst.

The banker didn’t say anything more on the subject.

Another incident was meeting a recently retired US Army or Marine officer. I’m not sure where this was, but it was somewhere in the States. It might even have been at the same conference. On finding I was English, he said that he’d got a lot of respect for the British Army and told this tale.

The Pentagon had wanted to find out how we handled the situation in Northern Ireland from a soldier’s point-of-view and he had been asked to go to the province to observe the British Army at work. So he turned up in Belfast, as a guest of the British Army and was given a briefing by senior officers and a couple of tours around the city in a Land-Rover.

They then asked him, if he’d like to go out on a patrol.

He said he would like to go, so early the next morning he was taken to a barracks and introduced to his patrol. He said that as a white US officer, he was surprised that the patrol would be led by a black corporal. At the time in the US Army, such a patrol would always be led by an officer or at least a sergeant.

They kitted him up, so he looked like the average squaddie and off they went. He didn’t really describe the patrol, except to say that he was impressed by the professionalism and that nothing untoward or unexpected happened.

On returning to barracks and after a good lunch with his patrol, he was taken to a debriefing. There he was shown a film taken by the SAS, who had had a sniper on the roof-tops with a film camera.

He realised that the US forces had a long way to go, if they were to handle urban situations like Northern Ireland.

October 20, 2014 Posted by | World | , , , | Leave a comment

Do I Pass The Branson Test?

Richard Branson is being quoted on the BBC about his ten tips for success in business.

So as someone, who likes to think he’s been successful at times, how do I think I stack up?

1. Follow your dreams and just do it!

Guilty as charged!

2. Make a positive difference and do some good

I argue, that I was part of the movement, which of course included the mighty Artemis, had a lot to do with transforming project management, so that important projects are now more likely to be implemented on time and on budget.

Unfortunately, some people, who tend to be mainly politicians and government employees, don’t abide by the principles we laid down.

But it did deliver the London Olympics and it looks like it’s going to deliver Crossrail in the next few years.

3. Believe in your ideas and be the best

Guilty as charged!

4. Have fun and look after your team.

I certainly had fun and it is not for me to say, if I looked after my team.

But I will say that many people, who I worked with in the past, are still friends. Some also looked after me, through my troubles of the last few years.

5. Don’t give up

Many people after what I had been through with the loss of my wife and youngest son to cancer and a serious stroke, would have taken the easy way out.

But then London mongrels have more fight, than a whole kennel-full of pit bulls.

6. Make lots of lists and keep setting yourself new challenges

I managed bugs in Artemis with lists and I still use them extensively on a card for each day. But then my father was the master of creating paper-based management systems, so it must be in the genes.

7. Spend time with your family and learn to delegate

Not sure about this one, but I’ve always organised my work from home since 1971. I can’t understand those who commute!

I don’t know about delegating, but if I have a problem that needs solving, I usually delegate by finding the best and getting them to do it.

8. Try turning off the TV and get out there and do things

I always have the TV on and have done for years, as I created Artemis, whilst watching the box.

But I’ve always been open to distraction by a pretty woman, who wants to take me somewhere to enjoy ourselves. C was a master, at coming in and saying that we perhaps go out to see a play in a Cambridge College.

I am obsessive about completing major tasks, but very easily distracted.

9. When people say bad things about you, just prove them wrong

I use criticism as a motivating tool and generally go on to prove people wrong.

10. Do what you love and have a sofa in the kitchen

C and myself, generally did what we loved and lived in the kitchen. We had a sofa there since we moved to Debach about 1980.

Even today, I live in a large living room, with a bedroom behind and a kitchen in the corner.

I can’t understand why people want to live in houses with masses of rooms and an eight figure price tag.

I certainly do what I love, too!

So I think I followed Branson’s principles pretty well!

Would I add any of my own? Yes!

1. Experience as much as you can of life

So if someone offers you a trip in the sewers of East London, don’t turn it down!

Branson is certainly not short on experience.

2. Never forget anything

I have an elephantine memory, but there are successful people, who make sure everything they have read, written or said is archived.

You never know, when you might need that information.

As an example, I went on a Health and Safety course at ICI. Some of what I learned has been invaluable since my stroke, when navigating my way around streets with impaired vision.

3. Don’t get divorced.

Branson hasn’t! But I suspect, he’s not always been a Saint, where the ladies are concerned.

4. Steal ideas from the public domain or experience

Two things in the design of Artemis come to mind.

The report writer of the original Artemis broke new ground, but I stole the template from a dead IBM program called 360-CSMP, that I’d used at ICI.

The other was perhaps more trivial. When I developed the PC version of Artemis, I needed a strong well-designed interface. So I mimicked the keyboard and the function keys on the old IBM-PC and used the bright colours from a BBC Television program called Three of a Kind, which used jokes on the screen in a system they called Gagfax.

One of my colleagues disagreed with my choice and said we’d employ an expert to choose them. But we didn’t and I won the argument by default.

5.Don’t trust lawyers, accountants, bankers and patent agents

I could add a caveat here, in that if they have a stake in the success of the venture, then in many cases it turns out for the better.

I’ve only met one accountant and one banker that I would ever trust. Sadly both, are sorting out God’s problems!

As to lawyers, I got to screw my own for forty years and luckily we bred a good one. So if I need a good one, I can generally get a good recommendation.

On the other hand, the biggest mistake, I made in life, was when after C’s death, I didn’t sell everything and move to something like a two-bedroom flat in Docklands or the Barbican!

I’d love to hear Branson’s view on what I call Professional Theft

 

But

March 16, 2014 Posted by | Business, World | , , , | Leave a comment

I Know How Kevin Phillips Feels

It is being reported that Kevin Phillips penalty kick in the Championship Play-Off Final was worth £120,000,000.

I know to a certain amount how he feels today.

I was part of the team that sold Metier Management Systems to Lockheed for a similar sum in 1985., although with inflation it’s probably worth a lot more today.

As we went about the pre-sales process, we realised we had good methods and software, but everything was rather boring.  So I was asked if I could create a version of Artemis with style and charisma. I did nothing else for six weeks, except write software, eat and sleep occasionally, but the result was that we received a lot more money, than we had decided we would accept.

It was the software and business equivalent of Kevin Phillips’s spot kick.

I also have two other characteristics that I share with Kevin.  We’re both about the same height of 1.70 metres and we both performed our most important feats at just under forty years of age. He also is a man from North Hertfordshire, whereas I was brought up in that part of London, that used to have a Barnet, Herts postal address.

May 28, 2013 Posted by | Business, Computing, Finance, Sport, World | , , | Leave a comment

The French Get Touchy About Language

The French can get very touchy, when English encroaches on territory, they think is reserved for French.

But this row, reported here on the BBC is totally of their own making, Here’s the introduction.

The French parliament is debating a new road map for French universities, which includes the proposal of allowing courses to be taught in English. For some, this amounts to a betrayal of the national language and, more specifically, of a particular way at looking at the world – for others it’s just accepting the inevitable.

The English-speaking world has nothing to do with it.

My French is such, that I can get by as a tourist.  I also successfully used the language, when I was at ICI, as it was quicker to read scientific reports from the Belgian company, Solvay, in French, rather than wait for a translation.

On the other hand, when I was in Montreal, a few years ago, I was totally baffled, as Canadian French, is more different to French, than American is to English.

When we developed Artemis, we sold in quite a few European countries, but didn’t bother with French, as we thought they would be touchy, wanting everything in their own language.

In the late 1970s, Metier had installed an Artemis system, at Chrysler in Coventry. For various reasons, it hadn’t been upgraded, as much as it should. Soon after Peugeot-Citroen took over Chrysler in 1979, someone in Peugeot-Citroen decided to do a company wide survey of the various project management systems in use in the group. on one visit they went to Coventry and because they were impressed with what they saw, they came straight down the M1 to see us in our offices in Hayes.

Peugeot-Citroen then decided to buy a system for Paris.  We told them it was only in English, but they said not to matter, as all their engineers knew the language.  They did ask us to get some proper sales flyers in French.

The rest as they say is history, in that Peugeot-Citroen introduced Artemis to a lot of their friends.

Another story I remember, which illustrates the French and their language, happened a few years later. In the 1980s, I owned a company that made hand-tools.  One tool, was exported to France and the United States.  Our American agent asked if we could produce an English/French version for Canada. But a straight combination of what we already had was unacceptable and we had to get a special French Canadian translation at great expense. Eventually, the Canadians excepted it.

A couple of years afterwards, we had an urgent order from France, but unfortunately we were out of French leaflets.  So we faxed over the French Canadian one to ask if that would be acceptable. The response was, that it will do, but that the French would have a bit of a laugh about the language.

Make of that, what you will!

I should say, that I once travelled to the States with a secretary from the New Zealand embassy in Ottawa.  She told me, that some Canadians got very upset, if she sent them a letter with some American  English spelling.

May 22, 2013 Posted by | News, World | , , , | 2 Comments

Margaret Thatcher’s Legacy

You could argue for years about Margaret Thatcher.

But it wasn’t what she did or didn’t do, that she leaves behind. In the course of history, there are only a few politicians, philosophers and sad to say despots and dictators, who have changed the world.

Margaret Thatcher showed that no rule or thought in traditional thinking is sacrosanct, when it comes to shaping the world.  Since then we’ve seen lots of radical ideas work, that would have never even been thought of, had not Margaret Thatcher and a few others shown that you could do something different.

Would Tony Blair have been able to reform a Labour Party, stuck in the 1920s, without Margaret Thatcher showing what radical thinking could do? Or Ken Livingstone, reinvent himself, to make a comeback as the London Mayor. I suspect, if Margaret Thatcher hadn’t been a radical Prime Minister, we’d have had a succession of useless worthies in the last few years.

I’ll only give one example of where Margaret Thatcher ditched conventional thinking.

In 1982, conventional thinking, said that to attempt to retake the Falkland Islands after the Argentine invasion was utter madness, and many on all sides of the political spectrum said that to give the islands away was the best solution. How many people today, think that the decision to retake the islands was wrong? Not many I suspect! I’ve even met an Argentinian, who felt that we did his country a favour, by effectively getting rid of the evil dictatorship of General Galtieri.

Without Margaret Thatcher my life today would be very different.

After I had sold my first successful software; Pert7 to ADP, I received an offer to go to the United States to write a PERT system for a large US computer corporation.

How they got my number or the fact I’d sold out, I don’t know?

Soon after, I was approached to write a PERT system, which later became Artemis, so I turned the Americans down.

I suspect that if that hadn’t happened, I’d have eventually moved across the Atlantic, as it was just impossible to provide for a growing family with the tax rates, then in force.

i didn’t move, as neither C or myself could have ever lived abroad permanently.

But Margaret Thatcher’s Tax and other reforms enabled me to stay in the country of my birth. If tax rates were still as the eighty percent plus they were in the nineteen seventies, I doubt many of the brightest in the UK, would not have gone to where pastures were greener.

One aside here is a story from my accountant of the 1980s.  A confirmed Socialist, he was not a supporter of Margaret Thatcher, but felt the tax reforms of the time were very good for the country.  Although tax rates were lowered, her Chancellors were good at closing the myriad loopholes that had been developed by clever members of his profession. There may be a lesson here for today’s politicians, who need to both maximise the tax take and keep voters happy.

 

 

April 17, 2013 Posted by | World | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Banks Dismal Record On Innovation

I’ve worked on and off with senior banking professionals and those that think about their banking since the early 1970s.

In that time, I doubt, I’ve seen much really good clever innovation, that would have been to the benefit of either the banks or their customers.

I’ll start with a classic from the Midland Bank.

I was putting together a finance company in the late 1980s and  the Midland Bank were keen to be a source of bulk money. We of course, had a beautiful little spreadsheet in the format of the time, Lotus 1-2-3.

The guy we were dealing with at the Bank, then said that he had no in-house facilities to examine the data.  In their wisdom, the bank had provided those with a multi-user system based on a PDP-11, so they could run their own spreadsheets.  Unfortunately, there was no way of uploading your data to their system. The guy we were dealing with had actually bought himself an Amstrad PC so that he could run them at home. Needless to say, we didn’t deal with Midland Bank.  But what idiot in the bank, decided that PCs were a fad, when virtually all of their customers were thinking of or actually using them to run their own businesses.

The second is from the same time and applies to all of the banks.

My accountant at the time was pretty good and for years, he’d felt that one of the banes of his life was the lack of connection between the banks and small business accounting. His ideas, were that you could put a two digit code on all of your cheques in a space by the numbers along the bottom.  You might put 67 for electricity, 68 for gas etc. These would then appear on your statement, so all the accountant would have needed to do was split everything down in his accounting software, especially if it was possible to get the statement in a simple electronic format.

He felt that any bank enhancing their service in this way, would have been very profitable to themselves, as they could have offered a simple accounting service.  He did of course realise it would have lost accountants like him a lot of business.

But banks have done nothing to move into this area, which would have seen them offering a simple and much-needed service.

And then there was Lloyds Bank and their Cashpoints.

I was still doing my management accounting work for Lloyds as I was writing Artemis and someone there, asked how the bank could use a system like Artemis.  As they were installing Cashpoints here, there and everywhere at the time, I said Artemis would be an ideal system to plan the roll out of the terminals.  I did suggest, Artemis might be used to predict the cash flow and generate the budgets for the program.

I was then told that banks didn’t have cash flow problems as they used customers money and anyway, all of the Cashpoints they needed for the several year program, had already been delivered and were sitting in a warehouse somewhere. How about that for good management thinking?

The Management Accounting software I wrote for Lloyds wasn’t revolutionary in its own right, as any decent programmer could have written it, but the methods under it were far from conservative. An outsider, who had been the Chief Accountant of a major company had been recruited to try to get a hand on the bank’s costs.

It was truly innovative, but it never got beyond a trial, which seemed to end, when most of Lloyds’ staff were moved to Bristol.

One day, I’ll write up more on that work, which probably had a major effect on the design of some of the parts of Artemis.

March 14, 2013 Posted by | Business, Computing, Finance | , | 1 Comment