Cybermachines to take over government IT projects?

What is the world coming to?

Letters We'll begin with a deconstruction of the ills of the civil service, in particular, why their recent pronouncements on managing IT projects should be treated as a comedic diversion from the real business of getting stuff done:

Dear Friends

I cannot help a bitter chuckle when I read the UK Government's Chief Information Officer, Ian Whatmore's comments when he announced the creation of the new Swat Team.

These Civil Servants live in Cloud Cuckoo Land where they exist very comfortably but totally out of touch with reality, but on excessive salaries!

He tries to excuse the Government's ludicrously lamentable record of an almost 100% failure rate by saying they, the civil servants, have to implement systems far larger than any private Enterprise. He conveniently forgets that Private Enterprise has to curb any excessive unjustified growth in staff numbers otherwise the Enterprise would "go broke". On the other hand, any rational independent member of the public knows only too well that the opposite is the rule with the Civil Service. It is grossly overbloated, and the people leading this army are completely incompetent. Over recent years nearly all the Civil Service's IT Experts, and I mean the ones who have grown up in IT and therefore know their job, have been disposed of by the Numbskulls in Charge. Is it then any wonder that these IT Projects almost without exception are doomed to failure even before the Contracts are signed.

So Blair appears to be worrying that he is becoming a laughing stock amongst the Public. His answer, a Swat Team costing probably millions in salaries to put right what should never have been allowed to happen in the first place!

I think Mr Whatmore should also be reminded that his statement to the effect that the Departments and Agencies will have to pay for the Swat Team's assistance, is yet another inaccuracy. Mr Whatmore, do YOU not realise that the people who pay will be, as always, the Taxpayers? This is why these Government IT Projects and the MoD's unbelievably bad record in planned costs and the inevitable massive cost overruns keep occurring, Civil Servants and the Government have unlimited resources (i.e. the mentality is inbred which says "as the Taxpayer will have to pick up the Tab, cost doesn't matter"), the exact opposite of Private Enterprise.

He should have a Sign hanging in front of him whenever he is at Work clearly displaying in a very large Font, the following Notice :-

Private Enterprise must do its best to contain Costs otherwise it will go Broke! Civil Servants MUST REMEMBER that they cannot keep mis-spending Millions or Billions of Pounds on Shoddy Work. Someone has to pay AND IT IS ALWAYS THE TAXPAYER FOR WHOM THEY "WORK". Someone who is fully competent MUST specify and control these new Projects from conception to conclusion. Civil Servants must learn the need to delegate to break down Projects into controllable modules AND THAT DELEGATION DOES NOT MEAN PASSING THE BUCK!

Mike A TaxPayer.

Waterstones' decision to sack an employee for writing a satirical blog, despite 11 years of service with the company, has cost it at least one customer:

A typical case of "can dish it out, but cant take it". What an absolutely sorry state of affairs. Everybody in the world probably vents their spleen at some point about work, that's called letting of steam. The fact that this guy has been with the company for 11 years obviously shows that he is loyal to the company, or he would have jacked it in a long time ago. I am only one person, but Waterstones will be a no-go place for me in the future.

And you can print this if you like.



Alright, we will.

Next up, we had a lot of feedback to Charles Arthur's analysis of the future of Apple. We had a lot of the usual: "Yes, but Apple is all about making beautiful things, which Microsoft will never understand" and so on. A few of the interesting thoughts below:

After several years of Apple's growing success, you folks at the Register still don't get it about Apple. If you can't understand why what Redmond does is of little importance to Apple, then just say so. Quit trying to tell us what is wrong and acting like you are sorry that you didn't invest in Apple on the stock market. At least that way you could enjoy being wrong and clueless.


Charles says: Interesting to consider whether what Microsoft (and friends) does is of little importance to Apple. Certainly in music it's made minimal impact (on Apple). Though I'm certain - certain - that Apple would like to offer subscriptions too. It's a guaranteed revenue stream, and billionaires like those. It keeps them in billionaire haircuts.

I enjoy being wrong and clueless on other subjects - my wife usually alerts me to which ones, as there seem to be a lot around the house.

What you say about "the computer wars being pretty much over" would be true, if Microsoft could definitively lick all the security leak problems of Windows and IE Explorer. But all their frantic activity over the past couple of years has so far failed to do this, they only manage to look clumsy and clownish. If this continues, there is a very real risk of a widespread collapse of confidence in Microsoft. And if this happens, Apple is the only plausible beneficiary, one way or another (how hard do you imagine it would be to rewrite OSX to play on a PC)? So I wouldn't be in too much of a hurry to write off Apple as a force in the computing world.


I think you miss Apple's point somewhat, they have never really changed their strategy even since the early days. They have always been about innovation and style before marketing, whether this was on purpose or not I don't know but it is only now that this strategy has started paying off.

This has as much to do with changes in what customers want as it has to do with luck.

The truth is that apple fired the first shots in the war twenty odd years ago. They lost that battle ( and many subsequent ones ) because the terrain changed, only now has it come round to a battle field Apple really understand, style and innovation.

PCs are moving into the home in many new guises, people don't want ugly, noisy boxes in their living rooms. This is what Apple really excel at and that is why they had their best results ever recently.



I liked your article about Apple... Except for one thing that you missed... The other point Microsoft & the other PC companies (as well as the other music player companies) don't get is beautiful design...

The Window XP Media Center PC? Give me a break! Who wants to have to re-boot their Television?

This is the same thing that has happened w/ cell phones sporting Microsoft's OS (remember the horrible SPV from Orange that you had to re-boot by removing the battery from the back?) ... I'd really like you to give me one example of a Microsoft success in the consumer space that they have achieved w/o illegally leveraging a near monopoly... I can't think of any...


Charles offers his response:

1) SPV isn't a flop 2) PocketPC now leads PalmOS (as I recall) 3) Windows, actually - can't argue that Microsoft used an illegal monopoly in Windows to achieve an illegal monopoly in Windows.

A round of applause for the company that responded to research about the dangers of mobile phone use for children:

Congratulations to these guys for having the courage to do what is right. About time a corporation stood up for something of moral significance, instead of shrugging and getting on with making money. Too bad this is not going to help their bottom line. I hope they can weather this and keep on going. Best wishes to them.


We don't like mysteries here at El Reg, oh no. The US company making wi-fi busting paint had priced it per US gallon. But what would it cost per Imperial gallon, or, even worse, in metric? Well, thanks to you, our beloved readers, now we know:

69 $/USG is about $83 per Imperial Gallon (the USG is 231 cubic inches, a.ka. the wine gallon our ancestors were using in Queen Anne's reign; the Imperial one is the volume of 10 lb of water under suitable conditions, just over 277 cubic inches) or about $18.23 per litre. Just so you know.


Research leaked to Nature suggests that unburnt rocket fuel from space launches could contribute to a rise in various diseases in nearby populations. But is it?


Toxicity thresholds for hydrazine are

LD50 - 400-2000mg/kg body weight.

The swimming pool comment is clearly ridiculous except for very tiny people and very small swimming pools. It's easy to check this kind of statement using web resources.

A little study of biostatistics would also convince you that a sample of 1000 children is too small to conclude anything about already low occurrence rates. Unless the researcher already knew the answer they wanted to publish.

Cheers, Cliff

Now to the important stuff: the Rise of the Machines (TM). It emerges that there are dangers in the little Robosapien robot that we hadn't forseen:

Robosapien as a killing machine? Possibly, I'm more worried by other more mundane tendencies according to BBC News:

" "If you left a beer on the floor, with the camera in its hand, it would bend down and pick it up," said Mr Janis.

With its eye cameras, the robot can recognise a human in front of it. If that human moves, Robosapien eyeballs the human and politely inquires where they are going. "

Are you looking at my pint?


I don't think we have anything to fear from Robosapien. From the web site faq section:

Q. How can I make Robosapien quieter? A. Cover the speaker grill on his back with tape.

This will work fine until Robots get their own legal rights and start suing their owners for the "emotional trauma" of being gagged.


EDF? Renault? Clearly there is a French connection. Could it be that their recent Pacific nuclear tests have woken an ancient, slumbering machine intelligence?


Axis Communications, the company that sells the networkable web cams unearthed by a little bit of googling sent us the following statement:

Following media coverage on SecurityFocus and The Register, leading IP-Surveillance vendor Axis Communications has the following statement:

“The ability to view images from network cameras from anywhere via the internet is regarded as one of the key advantages of network video technology.

Many cameras are publicly available today for marketing purposes. Potential buyers view show homes, architects keep up-to-date with building projects. Axis has lots of examples of applications of network cameras on its own website at

Axis advises owners of all network cameras to consider the use of built-in security features such as password protection and IP-filtering to restrict usage to those that have been granted access rights and can authenticate their identity. But ultimately the owner of the camera has to decide if his network should be accessible to the general public or not. In some cases it is clearly in owners interests to make it possible for all internet browsers to view images from their network cameras.”

Finally, some good news for anyone worried that CCTV could be intrusive, or violate their privacy. Our security is being monitored by the very best of the best. We are in safe hands:

Working in a bar in southport (also in sefton), I used to occasionally watch the CCTV camera outside (it got that quiet in the bar). Every time that an attractive girl walked out of one of the local bars, the CCTV camera located outside our bar would track her down the road, then resume random sweeps. They have some nice pan tilt zoom camera setups in Sefton :-).



With that thought, we'll leave you (particularly our Southport based readers) to enjoy a few drinks once work is done, and get the weekend underway. ®

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