Burying the Welsh at sea

Dan’s rambling about direct.gov’s new welsh version. He notes that it’s 4 years since we put proper Welsh live on UKonline and it must be 2 years since we put direct.gov live, during which time it’s managed to live quite happily without welsh. Dan has some stats on how many people speak Welsh, I found some others:

The most convenient source of statistics to hand is a survey published by the Welsh Office, Arolwg Cymdeithasol Cymru 1992: adroddiad ar y Gymraeg published about March 1995. It showed that 21.5% of the population of Wales (590800 people) speak Welsh; this divides into 32.4% of 3-15 year olds, 17.8% of 16-29s, 16.7% of 30-44s, 18.7% of 45-64s and 24.2% of over 65s. 55.3% of them (326,600, 12% of the population) are first-language speakers, meaning someone who spoke more Welsh than English as a child at home. 13.4% of the population of Wales claims to be fluent in Welsh, and 66.1% claim no knowledge of Welsh at all.

The thing about Welsh, of course, is that the requirement to publish documents in it (in the public sector at least) is enshrined in law. And so, of course, is the need to ensure sites are accessible. What I’ve always thought odd is how poorly accessibility is handled by public sector websites (which is backed up by dozens of studies that I won’t bother to link to) – and over 14% of the UK population has some kind of disability (although I suspect that individual, specific disabilities, have the kind of percentages that Welsh language speakers have). I’m all for protecting languages that are at risk of disappearing – Welsh has seen a real resurgence recently, probably in part because of the change in the law. It wouldn’t me my first choice of language to translate government websites into though.

It was Dan’s leap to talking about Burial At Sea that most interested me. I used to joke about the problem of “100% online” and whether it included such things as this, or even exhuming your grandparents so that you could emigrate with them and rebury them where you moved to (it happens apparently, although not as often as people are buried at sea).

Google helpfully tells me that there are 18,800 mentions of Burial At Sea in the .gov.uk domain. In typical public sector fashion, rather than have everyone link to the definitive source, everyone wants to write their own content about this “service”. There’s even an ad at the top of the list, to “cremainatsea”, where you can be “affordably” scattered across the waves, after you’ve been cremated.

The top link is for Bath and North East Somerset’s page on burial at sea which is weird, because you can’t be buried there, or at least not at sea. You can, it seems, only have that done at 3 places:

* Near Newhaven, Sussex
* The Needles Spoil Ground, to the west of the Isle of Wight
* In the Tynemouth off the Northumberland coast

They do. helpfully, give you a task list:

* Register the death with the Registrar of Births, Deaths & Marriages
* Prepare the correct documentation
* Obtain a FEPA Licence for burial at sea
* Prepare the body
* Get the right coffin
* Organise the burial/ceremony

And, whilst you can’t get the process kicked off online, there are extensive guides. And they all tell you that you really don’t want to be buried at sea (because you might pop up, or be caught in fishing nets, or pollute the marine environment or whatever).

By the by, there are only 973 mentions of exhumation in .gov.uk and Tameside has the top link. And, of course, there’s the inevitable paid for ad at the side

Whatever you’re looking for
you can get it on eBay.

You’ve got to wonder what eBay is doing buying up every word that shows up in a search box. I’m pretty sure that this is one thing that eBay can’t help anyone with and if there are any Jeffry Dahmers out there , I imaginen they won’t be looking on eBay.

244 people looked at the Welsh version of direct.gov’s homepage in January and 1,146 looked at the directories page.

So we have 18,800 pages that talk about a service that government actively doesn’t want you to take advantage of, a few hundred pages of content that has been rewritten in Welsh that will almost certainly never be looked at by more than a handful of people (most of whom will be the editorial staff checking its published properly) and several thousand public sector websites that aren’t accessible at even a basic level. Is this the legacy of e-government?

eGov goodness

A couple of things impressed me this week

– I couldn’t find my TV licence renewal, so I figured I’d forgotten to renew. I used the online service and paid the money. They wrote to me this week to tell me that I already had one and that they’d credited the money back. Now, this is good, and bad. It’s bad because you’d have thought the online service would have known that I had one, it’s good because normally when you give any government money, it’s pretty hard to get it back.

– I needed to talk to the courts service about all things jury related. Of all the departments I’d expect to be still pen and ink based, the courts would be first on the list. But no, an email to them in the morning, a reply less than 60 minutes later, problem sorted.

And then I found this, from a website in Prague (the site’s in English)

CESKE BUDEJOVICE, South Bohemia, Feb 18 (CTK) – Relatives of the patients who die in the local hospital learn about their family member’s death through an SMS message, something that experts in ethical matters consider inadmissible, the daily Mlada fronta Dnes writes today.

“Sry yr aunt is ded” … maybe not something the NHS should consider just yet. We’re still waiting for doctor/patient appointments to be confirmed by text, but I hear they’re working on it. Bring it on. Next we’ll see DfES talking about sending exam results by text.

Japlish Lives

New trainers arrived this weekend and with 1000km clocked up on the old ones, it’s time they went. They came with a “free” pedometer which I tried out today. It clocked around 6,900 paces on a 22km run. That can’t be right.

The instructions offer the solution though:

If “… not all your steps were detected … mount the pedometer properly and ensure your walking method is right” – I have to walk in a certain way? They do warn that “false mounting or walking way will possibly arouse inaccurate result” – Mounting? Arouse? Where did these guys learn their English?

Note though “… Precise instrument it is and be sure operated and maintained properly … ” – Yoda speak?

It comes with a radio but “Due to reception environment, the station listening may be jumped off”

Seems to me that they’ve fed the original through babelfish and back a few times.

Marathon Update

I’m getting ready to send out my email request for sponsorship. Just like last year, I’m running to support Macmillan Cancer Relief. But this year, you get 3 races for the price of 1 – I’ll be running the Liverpool Half Marathon a month today, the Reading Half about 3 weeks later and then the full London Marathon on 23rd April.

Progress so far is pretty good. I’m getting a couple of runs in a week, which is more than I managed last week (but way down on what the training plans recommend). Today I covered more than 20km for the 3rd time in 6 weeks. My time, 2h 6m or so, is slower than I’m targetting, but I’m getting faster each time. I’d planned to run futher today but when I got to Tower Bridge (about 11km from home), I found that it was “open” (i.e. closed), so I turned round and ran home the same way. I should have seen it was open from a couple of km away but I guess I was so busy concentrating on the run, plus the book I was listening to, Ambler Warning, that I missed it. Here are the details:

Map of Tower Bridge Out and Back

My Macmillan fund raising page is on JustGiving as before.


It’s been interesting to watch the fuss over Qinetiq’s privatisation and whether the small investor should have been let in on it or net or whether it was sold too cheap a few years ago when the Carlyle group stepped in. There’s been an almost equal amount of fuss about whether Sir John Chisholm should have been allowed to make so much money – something like £26 million I think.

Something from my distant memories tells me that this is his second chance at hitting the big time. I can’t be sure, but I’m reasonably certain that back when Sir John was plain John and was running CAP Scientific Limited, he was approached by IBM who wanted an operating system for their upcoming personal computer. He turned them down … and the rest is history. So why begrudge the guy a second go at making his fortune?

Can’t stop this thing we’ve started

Another good comment on an earlier post:

So there are vast numbers of broken processes in government – processes that have been broken for years because of bad thinking, poor design, terrible IT delivery, an over-reliance on paper, overly complex legislation, too much tinkering at the edges without structural reform and so on.

Why are we even entertaining throwing good money after bad with all this egov nonsense?

Rather than building crap websites that front crap everything, why don’t we give the budget to more needy causes and tell the geeks in suits to go dive dive in the lake?

Why indeed. A good question with no simple answer. When I used to do chalk and talk sessions on e-government (before I figured out powerpoint), I’d often start by drawing a line on the whiteboard from one side to the other. I’d announce that this was the scum line – I’m not sure it was me that came up with that description, it might have been SimonF. I’d then draw government silos underneath the line, and citizens interacting through the web cloud above the line.

Government thinks that it’s on the clean side of the scum line and that the line is there to keep everything grubby out. Citizens think that they’re all clean and shiny and the real mess is on the other side of the line, in government. The trick is to make both sides see the mess and then figure out how to clean it up – data and process, process and data, both sides of the line.

My original pitch for e-government in the UK was that a few, well designed sites and services would buy the departments time to sort out their backends. There was no way to drive e-government bottom up – that is, no time to clean up the back ends and join things up sensibly and strategically. But, some artful front end services could create the illusion of a joined up government and whilst the illlusion was being maintained, departments could update their 20 year old systems, their even older processes (after all, much of the computerisation of the 80s simply automated whatever process was already in place – paving the cowpath they call it now I think), and clean up their data (and, if we were lucky, the process of registering online and using services would give us up to date information and data a piece at a time, because if people tried to use services and found they couldn’t, they might make a call and sort out the data discrepancy, e.g. an old address or whatever).

That was a pretty snappy plan at the beginning – in March 2000 or so when it was hatched. But it hasn’t worked out that way. Funding has gone, in capital terms, to sexy new projects and maintenance costs for back ends have continued to rise.

The eGU is hanging its hat now on the prospect of holding back 10% of the £14 billion spent on government IT each year and redirecting that to new services that are shared across departments. If it were me, I’d impose a legislative freeze for 2 years – no new taxes, no changes that weren’t table changes, no new tax credits, no changes to benefits administration and I’d use that time to race to create new business units that were charged with running things from the ground up in a new way. Then I’d migrate people in chunks from the old world to the new world. Sounds simple, fraught with problems and risks though, and unlikely anyone would buy it. That said, I don’t see a queue of other ideas that could achieve the same result.

Short Massage Service

I’m always intrihttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifgued by misquotes … Hans Snook makes one in an article this week where he writes about Marshall McLuhan’s famous book “The Medium Is The Message”. The book’s title is actually “The Medium Is The Massage“.

Google has 303,000 results for “message” and only 66,000 for “massage” … does that mean getting it wrong is 5 times more popular than being correct, or perhaps that the top sites get it wrong and so the misquote perpetuates? Wikipedia (inside the top 10 for Marshall McLuhan) gets it right. But others in the top 10 don’t.

McLuhan’s official site quite clearly lists the proper book title.

So, did Hans get it wrong or did some anonymous sub-editor make the change for him?