the meat grinder


Having just been on a CAB call with over 60 people running through a list of over 400 items to work through I’m reminded why I try really hard not to work in places where these things happen.

When you work in a truly agile workflow we don’t need these. We don’t need these because a good agile workflow can fully replace a traditional CAB if the agile workflow is cross-disciplined throughout the business.

At the end of several hours, everyone who was speaking sounded dispirited and thoroughly pissed off – including the leader on the call. That sucks. If you’re the leader and the meeting is depressing you – imagine what everyone else feels like.

Seriously – stop having CABs but if you really have to have one these points may help you:

  • Circulate the CAB items early and anything with a LOW to NONE impact rating shouldn’t be discussed – they should be automatically approved unless someone wants to call out one of them during the CAB.
  • Don’t have CABs that last more than an hour at the very most.
  • Group your changes by impacted areas so you can release people quickly.
  • Don’t speak over someone when they’re speaking – especially if you’re leading the CAB.
  • Don’t get pissed off at people on the call – that’s unprofessional and upsets everyone on the call.
  • Build a cadence to your voice and maintain it. Humans take their cues from a leader of a group – be a good positive leader, not one that sounds like they don’t want to be there.
  • Use a good online communication tool that works for everyone – bad quality voice or video adds an extra cognitive load where enough already exists.
  • Stop having CABs. Seriously.

Catching The Cat


On the subject of encryption that’s getting so much press, one of my friends asked me what the PM was thinking. While we don’t actually call each other up and thus I have no idea what’s she’s thinking at any given moment, I may have an idea of how she’s thinking:

Simply put I suspect it’s a call for options. When you come up against an intractable problem you begin with an impossible answer. It’s an old methodology.  One that most of us were taught in school because we grew up before we could Google for everything. To get people out of their comfort zone you have to push them in unreasonable directions. I expected various technology groups to come up with options but so far all we have is people screaming and making a lot of noise.

One of the best ways to stop insurgents operating in this or any country is to disrupt communications – that’s hard to do because of encryption.

Encryption is the mainstay of much of geopolitics, commerce and humanity from the dawn of the common era. It’s is a boon and a curse. Over the last fifty years we have become extremely dependent on it and its usefulness. However, all these technologies of today were invented in isolation from reality in a past sure of the goodness of all men.

The problem is that those charged with developing these protocols have become used to the constraints of the technology and we need to think beyond them. At one time these technologies were the privilege of the developed world. However as ubiquitous technology opens the doors to more and more people our enemies use these techniques against us. The answer so far from the technology community is “it can’t be done”, where “it” refers to back doors in encryption. That’s not an acceptable answer because it’s not addressing the question.

When the government drafts an outrageous bills it’s looking for constructive responses. It’s asking for more effort from the subject matter experts to evaluate the real objectives.

The very idea of encryption is because we don’t trust anyone. Thus it’s impossible to accept that we should allow those who work against us to use our own technology against us.

While the ultimate decryption key is a sharp knife to a nerve cluster, that kind of behavior applied wholesale leads to a dark and dismal future and isn’t always a viable option. We’re still waiting for our technology experts to come up with an answer but many seem so enamored with their toys they can’t see past them.

Encryption is a tool.

A tool is used to execute an answer to a question.

The question is Security.

Isn’t it?

There’s an interesting blog post by Mythic Beasts on why encryption is vital. They seem to be missing the point. Everyone knows encryption is vital to the continued economic deliverable of the Internet as well as basic technology security.  While this blog post is an obvious political statement, we were rather hoping for options. Turning around and telling the wider society that the cat is out of the bag and that’s just tough is a stupid and arrogant thing to do. We’ve unleashed this double edged sword and we can’t put it back in the sheath but we must have more of an answer if we’re not to look like complete idiots to the rest of society. Like a child that spills their milk but just pouts and won’t clean it up.

When we look for an unreasonable answer this kind of response isn’t wan’t we’re expecting from people who should know better how to handle intractable problems.

So far there’s been little option provided which seems to suggest everyone is happy with the knife and nerves option.

Which is dumb.

So here, in clear and plain terms, is the question:

Given that encryption is easy to acquire and utilize, given our enemies have the access to same technologies as us, what are the options available to our society to ensure we are able to disrupt encrypted command and communication channels our enemies use whilst maintaining our freedoms to use it?

We all know we can’t put the cat back in the bag. I refuse to believe that a trillion dollar discipline such as ours can’t come up with some feasible answers that don’t involve the road to perdition.

If this is too tough a question for us, perhaps we’re not really worth the fuss.

Personal Responsibility, Privatization and the NHS


We can’t keep expecting any public service to absorb any and all demands made of it. We can’t keep expecting the public purse to keep pouring money into services at whim. That’s just not how a country works or grows. We can’t keep raising taxes to pay for run-away demand. We’ve been treating public service as if they’re in the same world as they were created in. They aren’t.

To my mind there are three things at play here:

Firstly, many of the NHS staff are outstanding. I have yet to run into clinical staff that are bad.  Even the junior doctor who managed to prod my abscess like it was a lift button wasn’t bad. You just can’t do that job effectively year after year if you don’t care about what you’re doing. Nurses in particular do an amazing job on the whole.  There are bad apples in the medical profession just like there are in any profession but being a public service it’s harder to get rid of bad staff when you’re already short staffed. Some effort being better than no effort.

Secondly, the NHS infrastructure is, for the most part, outdated. Sure, many hospitals build extensions, patch problem areas, build shiny facades but actually underneath its old and failing. Rectifying this will cost a great deal of money.  I’ve had to spend some time with a relative recently in a hospital which has a nice shiny new centre but where the main building needs attention. Most hospitals and care centres need to be relocated and rebuilt. They’re now in the wrong place and can’t grow. There isn’t the money for that in the public purse.

Thirdly, there is not accounting in any of the published reports for personal responsibility. It seems that we are suggesting that no matter how we behave, what risks we choose to take – the NHS should “just be there” like mommy and daddy to make it all better. It’s time to ask why we think that’s ok.

To the question of why I support privatisation:

  • We need to be able to manage, rate and reward staff better. Bottom line, shit performing staff should be canned. Excellence should be rewarded. Mediocrity nurtured to grow. This is hard to do in the NHS because of various issues. By the way, this goes for all jobs, just turning up doesn’t count. Business knows how to find, train, invest in and exit staff.
  • We need to rebuild our health service infrastructure. Hospitals built in the 1970’s are in the wrong place now and/or too old. There’s no parking or the charges are likely to induce cardiac issues. We need new centres of care to replace these old places which can be sold on to bring billions in to the pot.
  • We need to modernise the tools and treatments we use. In some areas we’re leading the world. In others we’re a notch above using leeches and calling the shaman. Ok, I exaggerate – I’ve never actually seen a shaman being called.
  • We need to fund research in a more transparent way – it’s bloody Ponzi scheme in disguise at the moment. With all the millions raised by donations to various charities why do all these new drugs cost us so much? If you’re interested go learn how all this money ends up in the same group of companies we end up paying for the drugs.
  • The NHS isn’t a fluffy thing. It’s a vast organisation and we need better management of its resources by people who do management well. The NHS don’t do management well. There’s a conflict of interest. Management is a skill just like anything else. Get in organisations who know how to do this. This isn’t a place you want to “promote out of harm’s way”.
  • We need to be able to hold that management to account better and reward/penalise without affecting services. Penalising a trust effects the pot available to care. Penalising a company makes for an interesting shareholder meeting.
  • We need the slogan “Your health, your choices” mean more than where you get treated. It should mean we accept the responsibility for our health and should pay toward treatment when it’s the result of poor personal choices. Getting pissed and ending up in A&E shouldn’t cost the rest of the country. Smoking and getting cancer treatment shouldn’t cost the rest of the country. Causing an accident and needing treatment shouldn’t cost the rest of the country. Palliative care should be means tested for contributions against your estate.
  • If you’re not a UK citizen you should be paying for your care. When we leave the EU you definitely should be paying for your care or your insurance should be. We are not a freebie. If you’re a UK citizen abroad you should be paying for your care – that’s what travel insurance is for.
  • Being retired shouldn’t mean a delegation of the responsibility for your healthcare costs to the rest of the country. Yes you paid in and yes you also got lots for it during your working life. If you have the means you should pay something towards the cost of your treatment and care. If you don’t we’ll take care of you. You shouldn’t be able to hide your assets by transferring them to your children so it looks like you haven’t the means either. Your direct family should be taken into account at a different rate.
  • Medical insurance is a cost. We value what costs us money. You drive carefully partly because you know the impact on your bottom line if you drive like a dick and cause an accident. The same should apply to your health. If you’re unemployed or within the non-taxable bracket your healthcare should be free.

 

When everyone takes more responsibility for their choices there’s more money in the pot to help those who don’t have the means. When everyone sees a tangible cost each month for their lifestyle choices they get to make those choices better informed of the consequences. We don’t have to pay for everyone’s choices. Just ours and those who didn’t have any other choice.  By the way, I’m still at a loss as to how anyone in the history of the world ever thought inhaling smoke wasn’t going to cause problems.

When we use private investment to upgrade and manage infrastructure and services we have better accountability and more leverage. If you want better health care then you’re going to have to take some responsibility for it and not just assume government will take care of you. It’s not actually your parents.

As always none of this exists in isolation to everything else that we have to take care of and consider.

We have to reach for it all, for everyone.

#VoreTory or #VoteKhushForGlobalOverlord but whatever you do #GoVote

it’s never happened here


its never happened

There are somethings that I dislike. The image above is a screen capture from a conversation I was part of recently and said by someone who I respect deeply. On this point, we disagree deeply however.

Modern DevOps culture demands a great deal of pragmatism. In particular it demands that you don’t solve problems before they become problems. It’s the benefit of working in a non-critical environment. We’re told that ‘just-in-time’ is the best fit for fast iteration and product development and who can argue with success?  I wonder however if we’re losing a key component of good Engineering, that of forethought.

The conversation was around GitHub protected branches and whether they were a good idea for some/all our repo’s. I think these are a good idea for all repo’s and selected branches, especially master, and doesn’t take long to setup nor much in the way of maintenance or documentation. I can also understand my colleague’s position that there’s no need to go enable this everywhere as nothing bad has happened yet that would suggest this would be a good protective measure.

To me that’s a bit like putting the safety on after pulling the trigger. The thought’s there but the execution is suspect. It’s too Dev and not enough Ops for me.

In operations/SRE or whatever you call it these days, the paramount responsibility is safety. Safety leads to uptime. Uptime leads to sales. Sales lead to money. Money leads to wages. Wages lead to whiskey. Operations engineers are there to make sure that the business is supported and protected at all times. Operations engineers are there to ensure that engineering is able to deliver but that the what’s delivered is supportable and operable on an on-going basis – even if the entire engineering team changes. There is I think a fine distinction here between enabling the business and enabling engineering teams. Those two enablements often require subtle differences in approach, tact and execution. It’s the fine line that sometimes trips you up.

On this occasion I left this well alone, no one needs this kind of debate on a Friday and it’s a small thing. But small things have undone great enterprises before so in the back of my head a warning bell will sound all weekend! I like to think I allow teams I manage a great deal of autonomy and the operations team haven’t expressed any concerns. Whether that’s because it’s easier not to is up for debate – but not today.

a good policy


The new immigration policies coming into effect in April 2016 for the United Kingdom make it clear that we demand that those who wish to immigrate to this country are able to contribute and grow with the nation.

The left of course are up in arms over this and so are some sectors such as nursing. Of course people will be affected by this.

Policies aren’t defined to effect the least number of people but to enact sensible constraints under which this nation can grow and become stronger.

If we require more nurses then let us invest in the training of nurses. Of educating young adults about the vocation, not buying the cheapest we can find or going abroad and paying rates that we can ill afford.

Disturbingly, this article cites the RCN as saying:

Research released by the RCN to coincide with its annual congress in Bournemouth, suggests that up to 3,365 nurses, who cost £20.19m to recruit, could be affected. But it says that figure could spiral by 2020, particularly, if workforce pressures lead to increased international recruitment, in which case 29,755 nurses, costing more than £178.5m to recruit, could be affected.

I wonder if I’m the only person who is dumfounded that it cost roughly £7K per nurse in recruitment fees? I’ve recruited large numbers of people before, with much tougher and rarer skillsets than nursing, and I’ve never paid that sort of price for a far small volume of staff.

Someone somewhere is fleecing the NHS and the country.

The article goes on to quite a Home Office spokesperson as saying:

A Home Office spokesman said: “As the prime minister has made clear, the government wants to reduce the demand for migrant labour.

“There are exemptions to this threshold for occupations where the UK has a shortage – but the independent Migration Advisory Committee recommended against adding nurses to the shortage occupation list after taking evidence from groups, including the RCN.

“Employers have had since 2011 to prepare for the possibility their non-EEA workers may not meet the required salary threshold to remain in the UK permanently.”

So it seems that we’ve had four years to plan for this and yet, once again, our public sector seems to have buried it’s head in the sand perhaps? Could they have been baking on a labour government to keep the feed trough open and pour more money into a badly run and poorly organised system? I suspect so.

Yes there will be disruption, which could have been avoided if these public service sectors who knew about it for four years had not ignored the coming change. Instead they chose to ignore it in the hopes it went away. Well, it won’t. It’s coming.

Time for change.

end austerity now


I posit that we must indeed end austerity now. As I’m an engineer and I never bring a problem to the table without options for resolution, let’s have a look at this challenge shall we?

First, let’s work out what that word Austerity means shall we?

Austerity– policies enacted by governments to reduce national debts.

Simple isn’t it.

They are the policies that governments use to reduce national debt.

They are the policies that governments use to reduce national debt.

They are the policies that governments use to reduce national debt.

Now lets see what the national debt is shall we?

The National Debt – the total amount of money that a nation’s government has borrowed.

The total amount of money that a nation’s government has borrowed.

The total amount of money that a nation’s government has borrowed.

The total amount of money that a nation’s government has borrowed.

In taking these two terms we may then say that Austerity is the way in which a national government reduces the amount of borrowing it is forced into making.

Thus the real question becomes:

How do we end the reduction in borrowing.

How do we end the reduction in borrowing? Does that even seem like a sensible question to ask?

Well, my experience is that there are no nonsense questions but merely questions that help to refine ideas, so let’s tackle this question.

If we are to attempt to stop the reduction in borrowing we must first understand why we borrow money. Think of it in personal terms. How much personal debt do you have? How much money have you borrowed for things and activities you really wanted but didn’t have the cash for yourself?

Let’s take a look at some key items of personal debt as researched by The Money Charity 2014 Debt Stats :

  • £54,197 was the average household debt (including mortgages) in November
  • £163 million was the daily amount of interest paid on personal debt in November
  • 7,015 debt problems were dealt with by the CAB each working day over the year to September
  • 1,315 people were made redundant every day between August and October
  • 866,000 people had been unemployed for over a year between August and October
  • £11.0 million of loans are written-off daily by UK Banks and Building Societies (based on Q3 2013 trends)
  • Every 18 min 15 sec a property is repossessed (based on Q3 2013 trends)
  • Every 5 min 3 sec someone is declared insolvent or bankrupt (based on Q3 2013 trends)
  • £1.479 billion was the daily value of all purchases made using plastic cards in October

Those are startling figures and very worrying ones too I think you’ll agree. But we’re talking about the national debt so what’s our national money being spent on? From the very useful website UK Public Spending we can see the following:

2014 UK Spending

That website is really useful and you should spend time there looking at how spending is increasing. All those figures are in BILLIONS of £.

Sensible people will understand that ever increasing debt causes real issues. In your own life think about what problems mounting debt has caused and yes I speak from experience. In your own life think about what measures you took to get your debt under control and reduce it to a manageable level or eradicate it completely and yes once again I speak from experience.

The end goal is the same whether dealing with personal or national debt. Reduce it and if possible eliminate it. A surplus is what we as private individuals and as a nation should be aiming for. The mythical beast of manageable debt is a two faced hag that will get you in the end. It’s really hard and sometimes not possible. Sometimes it takes years. For a nation, it takes decades. The numbers are so much bigger. I hope!

Going back to the question of ending Austerity then, we are trying to stop the reduction in borrowing. Should we in fact be trying to stop this then? The answer, should in my and a lot of peoples considered opinion, is no.

It is a good thing to reduce debt.

It is a good thing to reduce borrowing.

It is a good thing to have surplus cash in the bank.

I hope we can all agree that living in debt whether a private citizen or an entire nation is a very damaging situation to be in. As individuals there is a tendency at times to think, that as we are already in debt there’s no harm in being more in debt. As a nation, socialist policies are in the same vein.

Both are irresponsible and completely without reason.

As a private individual, if we push ourselves further into debt it is only ourselves and our dependants we put at risk. As a nation we risk millions of people’s lives and futures.

It is irresponsible.

The way to reduce debt and borrowing in either case is reduce expenditure. As a personal citizen it means being more rigorous about what we buy and what we think we need. As a government it means looking at where the public spending is largest and reducing that spend as much as possible. That means the government also has to be rigorous about who the money is really targeted at. It means making sure that those that need get the money and not those that just want it because need and want are two very different things.

We all have to reduce our debts. Because debt is bad.

The problem with the general public perception of Austerity is the one sided reporting by the media intent on feeding the frenzy of public reaction in order to sell copy or drive traffic to a website.

The government’s Austerity measures are designed to better manage the available funding and to reduce the amount of extra funding we need from external sources.

Austerity measures are NOT designed to stop you paying your mortgage, getting medical help, being protected in your home, feeding your children, heating your home, going to work or any of the other things you want to do.

But that is exactly the way in which the socialist left want you to look at these measures.

The socialist left want you to feel that the government is attacking your ability to do the things you want to do.

The socialist left want you to feel that the government is trying to prevent your access to public services.

The socialist left want you to feel that it is them and us.

Don’t believe the hype.

Yes. Some people are wealthy. Some were given their wealth by their parents. Some won it. Most however worked bloody hard to get it. But don’t believe that just because they have money they don’t worry about losing it all or that some financial market fluctuation couldn’t see them and their families out on the street. The higher you climb the greater the fall. They worry about how they leave what they have earned to their children without a large part of it being taken by the government. They worry that perhaps they won’t be able to send their children to the best schools to ensure they get the best chances for the future. They worry about being seen to be wealthy because they could be targeted for theft or worse.

Yes. Some people are very poor. Some don’t have the education to enable them to get better paying jobs. They worry about how they can afford to get that education to try and better themselves and their families. They have more visceral concerns about where the next meal is coming from. They worry about paying for the heating. They worry about paying for the electric. They worry what happens when the last fiver is spent and they have to wait for the next benefits payment from the government to buy anything. They worry about how they’re going to get their children better educated so they can have a better life. They worry about how they get their children to believe in being better when surrounded by so much negativity in the media.

Yes. Some people can’t be bothered to be anything more than they are. They’re concerned about affording that new flat screen T.V. and sure, the kids can have chips and low quality fried chicken so they can afford it. They worry they might have to use all the effort at doing nothing to actually do something to get their benefits in the future. They worry about popping down to some type of weekly payments store and getting themselves more debt they can’t hope to repay. They’re worried about these immigrants with their strange customs and languages coming in taking all the jobs they didn’t apply for.

Yes. Some people are handicapped. They’re worried that it’s hard to find a job because employers aren’t educated enough to understand a physical handicap is not an obstacle to mental agility. They worry that public transport doesn’t always make it easy to get around when you have to rely on a wheelchair. They worry that the benefits they get might be reduced making it hard for them to live even though they’re doing all they can to work hard.

Yes. Some people are liars, lazy or just stupid. They’re worried they’ll get found out for not actually being in need. They worry they’ll be found out for stealing money from those that actually need to support to get ahead. They worry that the perhaps they’ll have to do some level of work to get their benefits. They worry that their life of complaining and whining isn’t enough for people to feel pity any more. They worry that they won’t be able to get as big a part of the social fund as possible so they don’t have to work or try as hard elsewhere.

There are many more types. Which are you?

Are you really so simple an entity that the term ‘them‘ or ‘us‘ fits who you are?

Think about it.

The only difference between each of us is the context we live our lives in. Of attitude. Of the desire to be better and have a better quality of life. Whether we understand that quality of life is defined by our effort and not given to us by anyone else.

If you want to end Austerity you have to be part of that solution. Because guess what?

THAT’S WHAT THE GOVERNMENT WANTS AS WELL.

Do you really believe the socialist press when they paint the government as some maniacal evil machine bent on oppressing you? Really? It’s just easier for you believe in the black and white of the cartoon press instead of using your intellect to question and search for challenges and answers yourselves? Really?

The government wants to end the reduction in borrowing by eliminating the need to borrow.

That’s the secret you’re not meant to find out.

You’re an intelligent and capable human being.

Be better than what the socialist left want you to be.

Please.