About Me

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I'm an Australian, based in the Washington, DC, area, with extensive experience in the US, UK/Europe and Australia. I have also lectured in IT and Law related topics at King's College, London, and at The Australian National University.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Snow in April!

Ridiculous! We have been having a number of days in Washington, DC, in the upper 20s Celsius (low 80s Fahrenheit)... and then Jasmine and I woke up Saturday morning to see a light dusting of snow outside! The weather forecast tells us that there's a chance of more snow, too.

According to The Washington Post (login required):

Washington has had the occasional snow dusting in April. But the last time the city got more than an inch in the month was in 1924, when five inches fell, Weather Service meteorologist Dennis Feltgen said.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Michael has reminded me why I disabled comments on this site

My brother, who (like me) uses Blosxom for his website, has reminded me why I gave up on comments on this website. Michael writes:

664 real comments on this site, 18361 I manually said no to, 32111 were blocked based on originating IP, and 5007 contained a bad word. Andrew currently donates 506 mb of disk to hosting just comments.

My experience with comment spam was similar -- and it took more time than it was worth to try to block the spammers. Even now, when I look at my website log, there's a huge amount of traffic from spammers trying to use long-disabled comment links.

Earth Hour

David had an interesting post on Friday about his participation in Sydney's Earth Hour. The Earth Hour idea is pretty interesting: Sydney households and businesses were urged to turn their lights out for an hour on Saturday night to demonstrate commitment to reducing greenhouse emissions. Although it saved power on the night, the event was probably more significant as a high profile way of promoting an environmental cause -- even to people who chose not to participate.

It's interesting that the event has received a huge amount of publicity around the world. This morning, Google News was showing more than 400 hits for "earth hour" from the world's media. Here's an example of the international coverage from CNN.

Wikipedia, Citizendium and reality

Wikipedia is an encyclopedia anyone can edit. Citizendium takes the Wikipedia idea, but adds expert oversight in an attempt to become more accountable.

The Go-Go Blog comments (probably fairly) that:

I hope ... that the emergence of Citizendium inspires Wikipedia to take steps towards better highlighting content contributions from verified experts.

Stephen Colbert claims that the Wikipedia model is great because it brings democracy to knowledge: you can make anything true by putting it in Wikipedia and getting people to agree. See the havoc that his call to arms caused!

The Magic of Magic Quadrants

As someone who works frequently with Gartner Magic Quadrant documents, I was intrigued today to read an interesting critique of the Magic Quadrant approach in The Register.

The Gartner Magic Quadrant is an elegant idea. Basically, it takes a class of IT products, and compares them on a graph with axes for ability to execute (y-axis) and completeness of vision (x-axis). Companies strive to get as close to the top right (complete vision, strong ability to execute) as possible. The simple view which the graph portrays of the market is backed up by a more detailed prose report.

There are other similar approaches to ranking competitive products, for example in Forrester's Wave reports. Interestingly, the Forrester reports use more than the two axes, by plotting companies as different-sized dots to show further company information. Forrester also releases very detailed analysis, often in vast spreadsheet documents, to back up its conclusions.

The critique in The Register is based on the idea that the very simple Magic Quadrant graphs could display much more information than they do, by adding colours, different-sized dots and arrows to show trends. That is probably true: but perhaps the real problem is that readers are too lazy in their absorption and interpretation of information. People often talk about the Magic Quadrant graph, but how many of them actually read the whole report that accompanies it?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

No Impact

In the United States, land of consumption, the New York Times has an interesting article about a New York couple and their No Impact project:

Welcome to Walden Pond, Fifth Avenue style. Isabella’s parents, Colin Beavan, 43, a writer of historical nonfiction, and Michelle Conlin, 39, a senior writer at Business Week, are four months into a yearlong lifestyle experiment they call No Impact. Its rules are evolving, as Mr. Beavan will tell you, but to date include eating only food (organically) grown within a 250-mile radius of Manhattan; (mostly) no shopping for anything except said food; producing no trash (except compost...); using no paper; and, most intriguingly, using no carbon-fueled transportation.

The project is accompanied by a blog, and there will also be a book and documentary in due course!

Perverse incentives

Here's an interesting list of perverse incentives -- incentives which actually have the opposite effect to the one which was intended.

What is wrong with my brother?

My brother seems to have developed an irrational love of dentists. OK, so he got good service from the dentist he found in California, but there must be more interesting things to do around San Francisco!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Can lunar dust harm astronauts?

BBC News has published an interesting article about the potential dangers to astronauts of inhaling moon dust. It seems there are a couple of health risks: the tiny size of the particles, which can cause lung damage; and the fact that they not only contain iron but are so small that the iron quickly reaches the bloodstream, with adverse effects on the blood's haemoglobin content.

On BA, dead person flies first class

I've flown business class once or twice on British Airways. It was nice but ultimately nothing to remember forever. However, the premium service on some flights is evidently a little different.

Today's London Times has an article about British Airways moving a passenger who died on board a long-haul flight up to the first class cabin because there was nowhere else for the body on the aircraft:

A BRITISH Airways passenger travelling first class has described how he woke up on a long-haul flight to find that cabin crew had placed a corpse in his row.

It seems that the passenger was a woman in her 70s who died of natural causes, and each year around 10 passengers die in similar circumstances on BA flight. According to the article, airlines have differing practices for these situations.

(Via Boing Boing)

Sunday, March 18, 2007

RuleBurst mentioned on Vendorprisey blog

Thomas Otter has an interesting write-up of my company, RuleBurst, on his Vendorprisey blog. RuleBurst sells a product suite to prevent, detect and cure breaches of regulations, rules and policy. The process begins with automation of complex decisions, using familiar business tools, and includes simulation and analytic capabilities. The software integrates easily with enterprise software such as SAP, which is a major RuleBurst partner.

Thomas Otter writes (in part):

I could see all sorts of uses for this application for testing policies and then passing the configuration rules to multiple applications, and when the policy changes, update the application rules. So image you have 20 union agreements and your company has grown with lots of acquisitions. This means you are faced with several 100 pages of rules and policies, with conflicts and ambiguities. Typically analysing this lot would take ages, even before any attempt to automate it, and whenever you create a new policy it would need to be checked against old ones. With Ruleburst this process could be dramatically improved, both in terms of speed and accuracy. The Ruleburst is delivered as a webservice that you can call from SAP or other applications.

The article actually links to my publication list!

Most powerful bomb ever constructed

I normally have zero interest in weaponry, but Damn Interesting's story about the most powerful bomb ever constructed actually caught my attention today. It talks about the 1961 detonation of a Soviet device code-named "Ivan". The article's conclusion is interesting:

Even at half strength, Ivan was so powerful that it was completely impractical. Much of the explosion's energy radiated upwards into space, and that which didn't was so excessive that using the device on any populated targets world would have resulted in adverse effects on Russian interests. It served as nothing more than a show of force, and in that respect, it served its purpose well. Thankfully, no other weapon with the massive destructive power of Tsar Bomba has ever been built.

(Via Digg)

Monday, March 12, 2007

Gettysburg Address in PowerPoint

Here's the Gettysburg Address presented as a series of PowerPoint slides: a cool example of why you shouldn't use PowerPoint to communicate everything. The related essay is interesting.

One thing that really annoys me in my work life is the way that people sometimes think that every meeting needs to be scripted with meticulously crafted PowerPoint slides. People hide behind the messages on the projector screen, rather than cutting to the chase and having a really productive, dynamic conversation. People copy slides from the corporate deck and recite them slavishly, without thinking about exactly what is required for the meeting at hand. The worst meetings are often ones where people actually read word for word from PowerPoint.

This is not to say that PowerPoint is a useless tool -- I actually find it very useful. But it's good for particular things: punchy summaries, providing structure to complex discussions. It shouldn't be the detailed script for a whole meeting.

(via Matt Cutts, where the Gettysburg link was mentioned as a tangent)

Monday, February 19, 2007


After a frantic several weeks -- packing up in London, back to Australia for work and other engagements, and then heading back to the airport -- Jasmine and I arrived back in the United States late in January. We're still working for our Australian software company employer, and we will be back in the States for at least a couple of years. We will be based in Arlington, Virginia.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Beat-up of the day

The Age ran a particularly silly article today, under the headline, "At Heathrow it pays to be rich and organised". It describes the experience of an Australian who was turned around and sent home from Heathrow Airport in London. He had previously worked in the UK for two years, and on this occasion claimed to be going for a two month visit, with about £400 to fund the trip, and intending to stay with someone who could not independently confirm to UK Immigration that he was expecting a visitor.

The clear implication of the article is that UK Immigration is erratic and unreasonable, and that Australians may be summarily ejected from the UK for no good reason.

We can actually draw a simpler piece of advice from this tale. Any country can decide whom it will admit at its borders -- and Australia itself is stricter than most countries. Wise travellers can show that they can support themselves (£400 does not go far in London) and have strong ties to another place, so that they will leave the country without seeking work or using its health or welfare system.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

In Australia!

Jasmine and I are visiting Australia again for a few weeks, after which we will be off to work with RuleBurst in Washington, DC.