The Gateway 9 Years On

Looking for something entirely unrelated, I came across these two slides from July 2000. When I used these, they were printed on transparencies and displayed using an Overheard Projector. From there to pico-projectors!

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Looking at that second slide, not one of the departments named still exists:

IR and C&E became HMRC, DSS became DWP, DTI iterated a few times and is now DBIS, MAFF is now defra (and DECC).

Counting .Gov Pages

I’ve been fascinated by the government website page count for the last couple of weeks. The numbers just seem so extraordinary.

On August 5th 2009 I wrote that there were 112,000,000.

Today, there are 114,000,000. That would appear to mean 2,000,000 were freshly created in the last 15 days or so. I’m suspicious because the numbers are so round. It’s not 112,123,456 and 114,654,321 … but maybe Google rounds up at numbers that large rather than count exactly.

In a later post I showed the timeline that, at first glance, showed pages dated from the 1450s – but Google’s timeline function seems to look for instances of a date in a document. Dan and I have debated why that might be and whilst he leans towards the view that it has some use, I’m a bit more sceptical.

But what you can do is look at pages modified in the last 24 hours, last week and last year (which I think it does by looking for dates within those ranges in the document, rather than looking at the upload date). For government this is:

Last 24 hours: 35,300

Last Week: 1,540,000

Last month: 2,080,000

Last year: 5,390,000

Again, those numbers don’t seem to work … 7 * 35,000 isn’t 1.5m … 52 * 1.5m isn’t 5m. Checking every month through 2009, there’s a reasonably consistent number of between 1.9m and 2.1m pages.

It’s likely that edit frequency varies but it’s been a busy week for UK government if 1.5m pages have been updated – if it cost just 1p to update a page, that would be £15,000 of effort … if it costs £5, that would be £7.5m! But at the annual end, fi it’s 5.3m pages at 1p then we’re at £530k … that’s about 10 people at fully loaded costs. If it were £5 … then we have armies of people updating pages.

In July 2001, google says only 20,900 pages were updated. In July 2009 it was 2,120,000. That’s over 100 times as many pages.

I feel a table of analysis coming on to see if there’s any sense in this. In the meantime, any clues what is going on? Is Google doing something that I haven’t accounted for?

Exams

In May 2002 I spoke at a conference about the prospect of government making more use of text messaging – I was specifically thinking about exam results at the time (although there was a separate thread about “your benefit cheque has been deposited”). The idea was written up by Computing and then picked up by some daily newspapers (a slow news day I imagine). The Independent, for instance, said:

Children could receive their exam results in the form of text messages sent to their mobile phones next year, as part of government plans to expand “online” services. Similar systems are being considered for benefits claimants, to tell them when their money is being paid, and to inform people of the progress of their passport applications.

The plans were revealed by Alan Mather, of the Office of the e-Envoy, who said that the necessary security could be in place within a year. He also added that banks could join in, using software developed and tested by the Government.

“There are organisations that want to issue notification of important things through SMS text messages, such as exam results or benefits information,” he said. “This can be done in a 12-month timeframe. And if we get this up and running there’s no reason why the banks couldn’t do the same – we could extend the model to any commercial provider.”

However, a stumbling block could be that the proposed services would not work on “pay-as-you-go” phones, because they can be bought by anyone without further checks. At the moment some government services can be accessed via PCs with a password sent through the post.

Looking at it now, 7 years on, I have no idea what I was talking about with some of it. I remember being concerned that given 70% of phones (at the time, probably the same now I suspect) were pay as you go and so had no address information, we wouldn’t be able to use it as an authentication token or as something to send semi-secure information to. I can’t remember what I was talking about with the banking reference although at the time we were wondering if we could get banks to do authentication checks for us and then pass the confirmed check to us so maybe it was that.

There were some odd reactions from some people, such as:

Exam company, Edexcel thinks it would be difficult to co-ordinate all the phones numbers for 4 million students who take exams each year.

and

John Lettice noted: We do however doubt the examining bodies’ and/or schools’ willingness and capability to collate and distribute results in secure SMS form. Or indeed as email, or posted on a secure web site. Reality check: just yesterday The Register supplied sprog one’s school with a single first class stamp, GCSE result delivery for the use of. Under the circumstances we do not expect them to be asking us to stump up for our share of an SMS server in the foreseeable future.

When someone at work mentioned yesterday that her daughter had checked her results online and had to login to a website to do it, I wondered how far people had got with exam results by text. I found only a couple of references – and, as far as the UK goes, it’s Scotland leading the way.

From the BBC:

Nearly 160,000 school pupils across Scotland have received their examination results. Almost 30,000 students received their grades by e-mail or text message.

From Australia:

Interactive communications services supplier Legion Interactive has been chosen by the New South Wales Board of Studies to deliver exam results to students via text message. Up to 63,000 students will now receive the results of their HSC exams [by text]

From Tanzania:

Tanzania`s university students will from May this year access their examination results through mobile phone text messages (SMS), according to a local Information Technology (IT) expert. The executive director of Easy Life Group (T) Limited, Benjamin Sitta, said yesterday in Dar es Salaam that the use of mobile phone has widely expanded and starting this year, students will access their exam results through their mobile phones

What, I wonder, is stopping more exam authorities doing it? Back in 2002 I was told that youngsters receiving exam results might need others around them to counsel them … so how does sending them in the post address that?

HMRC has been texting me for perhaps 5 years to tell me that my Self Assessment form has been received, the refund is on the way or that I need to pay them more money.

John Lettice was certainly more right than I was … I just can’t see why it isn’t more common.

Charles Cox – An Update

A kind friend forwarded this news today, which I’d missed … from the LBC website:

Manslaughter In Soho

Police have charged a man with manslaughter after an incident in Soho.

Charles Cox was attacked in Wardour Street in November 2007 – he died at the beginning of this month.

35 year old Jeremy Mark Aylmer is due to appear before magistrates later.

According to the FSA website, he’s a trader presumably in the oil business:

It’s older than you think

Back when Gutenberg was inventing his first printing press and the Renaissance was just beginning, google tells me government was already beginning to post pages on the web … with volume steadily increasing all the way into the Industrial Revolution before peaking recently during the Information Revolution.

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SportTracks, Rubitrack, Ascent – All For Mac?

If you’re a regular runner you’ve probably already bought a GPS tracking device – perhaps a Forerunner (maybe a 305, 405 or the new 310XT) or some other device. You’ve probably also concluded that whatever software came with it is no good and looked for a replacement.

If you’re using a PC then the only software that I came across that was worth having was SportTracks by ZoneFiveSoftware. It’s technically free – but they ask, and I’d urge you to make, a donation. SportTracks is really very, very good. But it’s PC only and whilst it does work inside software like Fusion or Parallels, it can be difficult to get working and when I was using it I ended up keeping a PC on my desk, next to my Mac.

There are rumours about a version of SportTracks for the Mac, but they seem to still be just that, rumours.

For Mac users, I’d always thought that the choice was more limited but there are at least two great options: Rubitrack and Ascent. Both of these are nearly perfect options to use instead of SportTracks not just whilst we’re waiting for SportTracks to come out on the Mac, but for good.

I’ve written before about using Ascent so won’t repeat any of that here. Rubitrack is very similar and it has, just, the edge for me. Trying to boil it down to the biggest differences, Ascent is slightly more technical in its capability – it has greater graphing and reviewing options – but Rubitrack, for me at least, has better presentation and sifting and sorting. Both of them auto-label your runs based on prior runs, but Rubitrack makes equivalent runs easier to find – allowing you to sort by location, by timetable and by distance with selections from the left hand menu bar. I also like the way Rubitrack can present the runs as icons – like the picture below.

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Neither Ascent nor Rubitrack include one feature that I used a lot with SportTracks – the ability to tag runs with a piece of equipment and then keep a count of how far you’d run with that gear – for instance, you could note when you started using a particular pair of shoes and it would keep track of the mileage you’d got to, allowing you to figure out when to replace them (or at least to get ready to – given it’s all about how far and hard you run I suppose).

Two very good choices then, with Rubitrack having the edge for me. The good news is that both are available as free trials allowing you to put a limited number of runs in without making a big commitment. Try them out and then pick the one that suits. And when SportTracks comes along for Mac, if it ever does, you may stay just where you are …