The transient internet revisited

Ambulance picture

Internet attacks crash computers

Internet and computer failures spread chaos across the world beginning last Friday (12th May) as a criminal, or criminal gang, released a malware virus to hijack and hold computer systems to ransom. A much bigger problem than the one I covered last year with my article for the BACOMM course blog on the Transient Internet (8 Jan 2016) A different cause admittedly this time, but an even more catastrophic outcome as the all-digital systems and internet and network linked systems have again shown that when they fail to be sufficiently robust everything grinds to a halt.

“This seems foolhardy – [ …….. ] but ending the tried and tested back-up system for electronic trading does seem to be short-sighted in the light of these recent issues, all of which can be expected to recur.” from my earlier article – Jan 2016.

What is of concern is that, 17 months on from the problems of January 2016, society does not seem to have done anything about this predictable issue of occasional, serious and widespread, system failures. Vital systems like prescription issuing and other medical records are now 100% digital, in many highly important, and system critical internet and network linked processes there is apparently not an analogue based system or record keeping method that can kick-in and replace the digital when it fails. There may well be a generator on stand-by for when the power fails, but no back up for the internet based system, which, given that the internet was developed to provide just that resilience to communications, is a farcical scenario.

Ambulance picture
Ambulance (privatised patient transport) image from 2015. (Author’s own)

Emergency planning thoughts

I retired as an Emergency Planning Officer in 2008. The above is a worrying trend that had begun before I retired. Then it was the Blackberry phone that was the latest in hi-tech all singing, all dancing kit, the latest “sexy” must have gadget and older, more robust systems, like RAYNET were under threat of displacement. There was a perception among many of my younger colleagues that the idea of a radio operated from the back of a car or Land-Rover was unfit for purpose in the 21st Century; despite low battery life on the phones compared to running a radio rig off a full-tank of fuel.  True there are many things computerised systems and modern cell-phones can do that older provision either can’t do or does much slower but there needs to be resilience and back up. The internet is brilliant, but it is a flawed brilliance, as the last few days have shown.

Picture of an early internat capable computer
An Amstrad PC1512. This image is reproduced under Creative Commons rights. Amstrad_1512_DD.jpg: KoS derivative work: Ubcule (talk) – Amstrad_1512_DD.jpg

I am not anti-computer by any means, I use PC, lap-tops, tablets, smart phones and the internet all the time, and was heavily involved with introducing IT and the internet into office systems from the pioneering days of the desk-top PC revolution of the 1980s, with early machines like the Amstrad above,  through to retirement. I still use them nowadays in my secondary career as historian/writer. We have left the analogue world behind, probably for ever in the mainstream, but also appear to have lost some of the caution and planning that went into system design in days that aren’t that long ago in real-time but are an eternity in computer progression time. Don’t overlook the need for an analogue back-up with a simple pen and paper based option for when the fancy IT system fails.

Do they save businesses money today?

The savings from IT were huge when the simple PC systems first arrived; repetitive re-keying and redrafting of work meant the shedding of labour among an army of clerical workers, typists, drawing office staff and the like, and the PC systems themselves were not that expensive. All that has changed, we can do more, we expect more, and the systems require ever more costly experts to get the best out of them. The systems themselves  have also now become expensive too, arguably not in hardware but software. The labour costs shed by the loss from payrolls of relatively low-paid operatives has been replaced by much more expense on hiring IT specialists. Pause for thought and the catch-22 scenario; without this highly expensive kit the NHS can’t perform many of today’s medical procedures but the sheer cost of it means there is no money left over to hire, and adequately pay, the ordinary ancillary staff and the nursing and other care professionals needed on the wards.  We can diagnose the problems with this expensive kit, but can’t afford to keep the wards open to undertake the cures.

IT is not going to go away, but there is a need to think through the result of our headlong rush to adopt digital systems without a thought for how to process their tasks when they inevitably fail, sometimes catastrophically. 2016 (January), 2017 (May), 2018 – ???

November pot pourri

Floor damage

A pot pourri for November

November for me is always a strange month so a pot pourri of miscellany for this blog entry.  This year the month has been even stranger than usual due to dealing with the aftermath of a broken central heating boiler at my mother’s house.
Floor damage
Damaged floor due to burst boiler.
The month marks the true onset of winter; dark nights drawing in with the rolling back of the clocks and not yet the spirit of Christmas to cheer things up. Add to that the usual mix of storms and mayhem plus a touch of crime, theatrical activity plus showing a stand at The NEC and the blend is a pot pourri of contrasts; hence this post’s title. 

Am I a victim of theft or ?

When this blog post was started the intention was to write about the NaNoWriMo event (See below) and pieces of fiction; instead I find myself writing up what reads like a short flash fiction event. The problem is it is a true story.

The setting of a local take-away and restaurant (which for obvious reasons is not being named), together with a take away order with cash payment is not usually the stuff of crime tales but this time yes it is. Entering with a mixed wad of notes and a pocket of change I check what I have as the time of making payment approaches and verify to myself I have enough; in fact it is four £10s and a £5 in notes plus change.

As for persons present there are four of us, the proprietor, who I have no reason to doubt, plus two other customers and the bill requires payment of two £10 notes and mixed change. With the £20 on the bar in the extremely short interval it takes me to fish from my pocket and count the mixed change two of the £10s disappear leaving me with the residual £25 and a proprietor adamant he hasn’t got the £20 to go with the coins I’ve given him. Now somewhere along the way in that brief interlude £20 went missing, I didn’t have it, it wasn’t visible on the floor having been dropped anywhere, nor did I take it out with me.

The reason for this post is that I didn’t cheat, the £20 genuinely went somewhere in that restaurant so either there is/was a poltergeist or, sadly, a quick handed thief. Not been back since and it will be embarrassing when I do.

A sad little event and all over an amount of money too small to even bother reporting as a crime.

Storm Angus/Legally Blonde

The Autumnal Equinox produced the usual storm, this year Storm Angus, and with it the usual trail of mayhem and destruction. As the local papers reported Swanage in particular got badly hit; that same night was not a good time to be trying to get a major theatre set loaded back into the truck following the run of the excellent WOW production of Legally Blonde. We coped, but only just, and I guess the set will eventually dry out again!

Could you write a novel in a month?

Continuing the theme of the creative arts writing a novel in a month seems a strangely masochistic pursuit. However, as the clocks go back and the dark evenings arise our writing juices are expected to burst into life. Yes, it is NaNoWriMo time again. The idea, write a novel entirely within the month of November.  I did think about it during October but the constraints of thrashing the word count in a month when I already had several major commitments was overpowering.

Perhaps the little cameo crime scene above will inspire for next year.

Warley Model Railway Show at The NEC

To round off the month an annual event for The Stephenson Locomotive Society and the first post BREXIT event. Lots of punters as usual but the general feeling amongst most of the traders and Societies we spoke to, little money being spent. There were some positives but on the whole a somewhat disappointing event this year. The foregoing was not helped by terrible traffic volumes on the journey up and a serious decline in food quality and service standards at the adjacent hostelry.  We had been looking forward to that as it had been good last year. Unfortunately big changes, the reality was cold food, slow service, less of the wood fires lit than previously so a touch in the cold side and I wasn’t entirely convinced the beer in the pump was the brew on the pump handle badge. All the atmosphere of an iceberg.

So now on to to December and another year almost done.