Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Severe Weather Warning - 2 Feet of Snow

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Information Overload

I went to an interesting lecture organised by the London Central Branch of the BCS last week, by Ian Price from Grimsdyke Consulting and the Information Overload Research Group.

He started off by comparing Churchill's 1953(?) vision of the future work/life balance with the reality now. Apparently Churchill predicted that the "working man" would soon need to work only 4 days a week because of productivity increases, and hence would have plenty of leisure time. ("You've never had it so good" — or was that Macmillan?).

Of course we know that the picture today is very different. People are tied to their laptops and BlackBerrys in the evenings and at weekends. They feel the need to continually monitor and respond to their email even when "relaxing" or on the move. Tony Blair is quoted as saying, "Today my Blackberry is everything to me, so much so that one day Leo asked me: 'Dad, who do you love more, me or the phone?'"

He outlined the effects of this addiction. Up to 12% of payroll costs are spent on inefficient use of email. Reading just-arrived emails interrupts our flow of work and sometimes completely sidetracks us for long periods. And such interruptions even seem to have a negative effect on our IQ. Further time is wasted because of the temptation to use social networking sites or to play games when we should be working. People read their email in the bedroom and bathroom — even while driving. (BMW has teamed up with BlackBerry so that you can now monitor your emails from the driving seat.) People feel inadequate and insecure if they're not on the phone or dealing with email when they're in an airport lounge.

It is recent technological advances that make more-or-less instant communication possible, of course. The speed of person-to-person communication did not change much, perhaps, from the use of clay tablets in around 3,000 BC to that of internal company memos in the 1980s.

I was disappointed in Ian's analysis of the reason for such addiction. He turned to evolutionary theory and suggested that the need to know snippets of information stems from man's Stone Age past. Knowing the latest gossip would put you at an advantage within your tribe — which only goes to show that you can use evolution to prove more or less anything you like about human behaviour. He didn't seem to notice the significance of his later remark: "Our wiring hasn't changed over 100,000 years".

However, he did make some useful suggestions about how to deal with this information overload — which is why I thought this post might be useful. (We've got there in the end! Thanks for staying with me so far.)

Organisations should set rules for the use of email (and enforce them):
* There is no such thing as an urgent email. (Emails may not be read; they aren't guaranteed to arrive. Why not pick up the phone or go and talk to someone?)
* Don't use email as the first resort for internal communications. (Have a meeting first, and then send an email to summarize.)
* Don't email out of hours. (If the CEO writes emails on Sunday afternoon, he puts pressure on others to act in the same way.)
* Don't use email for negative feedback or "flaming". (I'm sure I'm not alone in having a weekend ruined because of a negatively-phrased email — even if was unintentionally so.)
* Don't use email for complex debates. (Set up a wiki instead.)
* Only copy people on emails if it's absolutely necessary.

He also helpfully suggested how individuals can avoid many of the problems that excessive use of email brings by:
* Tackling emails only in focused bouts, two or three times a day.
* Being ruthless with deleting and filing.
* Aiming to see the bottom of your inbox at the end of each day. (Leaving lots of emails to deal with another time only fills your mind with useless clutter, and you'll feel guilty about not dealing with them sooner.)
* Turning off all new email indicators.
* Closing down your mail client when doing something else.

And, finally, Ian suggested some tools that might help:
* (for Outlook) xobni
* AwayFind
* (for gmail users) Priority Inbox

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Outlook 2007 Rules Not Firing Automatically

I use rules extensively in Outlook at work to sort and filter emails as they arrive, so it was a bit frustrating that they stopped working a day or two back. They ran OK with the "Run Rules Now..." option, but wouldn't fire automatically. (By the way, we use Microsoft Exchange Server and I use Cached Exchange Mode to reduce the effect of connection problems.)

After a fair amount of searching I eventually found an article at TechRepublic that provided the solution. This suggested that the rules might be corrupt and recommended recreating them to fix the problem. The process is quite simple and, whether my rules were actually corrupt or not, it fixed the issue:

  • Select Tools then Rules and Alerts... to open the Rules and Alerts dialog.
  • Select Options.
  • Select Export Rules....
  • Navigate to an appropriate folder and choose a file name. Select Save.
  • Cancel the Options dialog.
  • Select all your rules, and click Delete. Select Yes to confirm.
  • You should now have no rules listed. Select OK.
  • Exit and then re-start Outlook.
  • Select Tools then Rules and Alerts... again.
  • Select Options.
  • Select Import Rules....
  • Navigate to and select the file you just exported, then click Open.
  • Cancel the Options dialog and select OK.

... and all should be fine!

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Don't Worry 16 - Seek Christian Fellowship

16. Seek Christian fellowship

Avoid being on your own.  Don’t avoid meeting with other believers.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb 10:25 )

There’s a tendency when we’re worried to cut ourselves off from others, especially the people of God.  I don’t know if it’s because we feel inadequate, or because worrying makes us feel that we haven’t time for Christian fellowship.  Whatever the reason, it’s got to be unhelpful — if only because fellow Christians will help us to focus on the important issues and encourage us to stop thinking only about ourselves.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Don't Worry 15 - Recognise Satan's Purposes

15. Recognise Satan’s purpose to divide and weaken the people of God

In his first letter, Peter says, Cast all your anxiety upon him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7).  It's surely significant that he then immediately goes on to say, Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

We've already seen that we can trust God in difficult times because he's all-powerful and all-knowing, he is present everywhere and he is dependable. By worrying we are affectively refusing to believe these truths, and that is bound to weaken us and make us more prone to attack from the devil.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Online Shoppers Unknowingly Sold Their Souls

This was posted in the ACM RISKS Forum a couple of weeks ago:

British game retailer *GameStation* has revealed that it legally owns the souls of thousands of online shoppers, thanks to a clause in the terms and conditions agreed to by online shoppers. On April Fools' Day they had added the "immortal soul clause" to the contract that you would sign before making any online purchases. It states that customers grant the company the right to claim their soul.

"By placing an order via this Web site on the first day of the fourth month of the year 2010 Anno Domini, you agree to grant Us a non-transferable option to claim, for now and for ever more, your immortal soul. Should We wish to exercise this option, you agree to surrender your immortal soul, and any claim you may have on it, within 5 (five) working days of receiving written notification from gamesation.co.uk or one of its duly authorised minions."

GameStation's form also points out that "we reserve the right to serve such notice in 6-foot-high letters of fire, however we can accept no liability for any loss or damage caused by such an act. If you a) do not believe you have an immortal soul, b) have already given it to another party, or c) do not wish to grant Us such a license, please click the link below to nullify this sub-clause and proceed with your transaction."

The GameStation folks apparently intended to make a very real point: No one reads the online terms and conditions of shopping, and companies are free to insert whatever language they want into the documents.

While all shoppers during the test were given a simple tick box option to opt out, very few did this, which would have also rewarded them with a 5-pound voucher. Due to the number of people who ticked the box, GameStation claims believes as many as 88 percent of people do not read the terms and conditions of a Web site before they make a purchase.

The company noted that it would not be enforcing the ownership rights, and planned to e-mail customers nullifying any claim on their soul.

Friday, 30 April 2010

Finchley and Golders Green in the Balance

Moral and ethical issues are often ignored during election campaigns. The focus is on how to solve the so-called "big issues" – problems with the economy, efficiency in the health service, etc. Yet the moral priorities of those who govern often have a deeper and longer lasting effect: witness the changes during the last decade, for example, in medical ethics, in opinions about marriage and the family, or in attitudes to religion.

So, through my church web site, I have been trying to find out the views of the prospective candidates in my constituency (Finchley and Golders Green) on a range of issues where important Christian principles are at stake. The results can be seen here.

According to this BBC article this constituency will be one of the closest fought in the capital during the coming election. It is currently a Labour seat but, because of boundary changes, the Conservatives hope to win – though they have a notional majority of just 241. What a good opportunity, then, for these important issues to play a more prominent role in the final decision.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Seeing is Believing

"I can't see God. He doesn't exist."

(Holding hands over eyes) "I can't see you!"

(The Pyromaniacs did it first and better.)

Friday, 26 February 2010

Keir Gets it Wrong

Yesterday the DPP published his guidance about assisted suicide. He doesn't seem to be thinking as clearly as Gordon Brown.

The scene: a typical suburban home. The date: a year or two in the future. A man has just murdered his wife with a lethal overdose. The interviewing police officer reviews the DPP's "public interest factors" with him ...

The 16 public interest factors in favour of prosecution:

1. The victim was under 18 years of age.
"She was my age."

2. The victim did not have the capacity (as defined by the Mental Capacity Act 2005) to reach an informed decision to commit suicide.
"Far from it; she had a very responsible job."

3. The victim had not reached a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision to commit suicide.
"Of course she had."

4. The victim had not clearly and unequivocally communicated his or her decision to commit suicide to the suspect.
"She kept telling me she wanted to die."

5. The victim did not seek the encouragement or assistance of the suspect personally or on his or her own initiative.
"She begged me to help her do this."

6. The suspect was not wholly motivated by compassion; for example, the suspect was motivated by the prospect that he or she or a person closely connected to him or her stood to gain in some way from the death of the victim.
"But I loved her!"

7. The suspect pressured the victim to commit suicide.
"She told me she couldn’t stand it any longer."

8. The suspect did not take reasonable steps to ensure that any other person had not pressured the victim to commit suicide.
"It was definitely all her own idea."

9. The suspect had a history of violence or abuse against the victim.
"Our marriage was extremely happy."

10. The victim was physically able to undertake the act that constituted the assistance himself or herself.
"Unfortunately, she’d got to the point that she couldn’t even feed herself."

11. The suspect was unknown to the victim and encouraged or assisted the victim to commit or attempt to commit suicide by providing specific information via, for example, a website or publication.
"We’ve been married for years."

12. The suspect gave encouragement or assistance to more than one victim who were not known to each other.
"I’d never help anybody else in this way."

13. The suspect was paid by the victim or those close to the victim for his or her encouragement or assistance.
"Of course not! How absurd."

14. The suspect was acting in his or her capacity as a medical doctor, nurse, other healthcare professional, a professional carer (whether for payment or not), or as a person in authority, such as a prison officer, and the victim was in his or her care.
"Definitely not."

15. The suspect was aware that the victim intended to commit suicide in a public place where it was reasonable to think that members of the public may be present.
"She wanted to die peacefully, at home."

16. The suspect was acting in his or her capacity as a person involved in the management or as an employee (whether for payment or not) of an organisation or group, a purpose of which is to provide a physical environment (whether for payment or not) in which to allow another to commit suicide.
"No, I don’t approve of such organisations."

The six public interest factors against prosecution:

1. The victim had reached a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision to commit suicide.
"She asked me over and over again, for months, to help her."

2. The suspect was wholly motivated by compassion.
"I loved her so much."

3. The actions of the suspect, although sufficient to come within the definition of the crime, were of only minor encouragement or assistance.
"I only did what she wanted to do; but she just couldn’t do it herself."

4. The suspect had sought to dissuade the victim from taking the course of action which resulted in his or her suicide.
"I kept on asking her if she was sure."

5. The actions of the suspect may be characterised as reluctant encouragement or assistance in the face of a determined wish on the part of the victim to commit suicide.
"I never wanted to do this, but she was so adamant that it was the right thing for her."

6. The suspect reported the victim’s suicide to the police and fully assisted them in their enquiries into the circumstances of the suicide or the attempt and his or her part in providing encouragement or assistance.
"I called you as soon as it happened."

"Don't you understand, it was because I loved her that I had to kill her?"

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Gordon Gets it Right

It was good to see that the Prime Minister has written a piece in the Daily Telegraph today against assisted suicide. (And as I write that sentence it strikes me forcibly just how much the country has changed in my life time. In earlier and, at least as far as this is concerned, better, times the subject wouldn't even be discussed; the possibility that such an act could be legalised would have been laughable.)

He begins by saying...

Many times in the past 80 years, Parliament has considered – and rejected – the legalisation of assisted suicide. If, in the wake of revived debate on these matters, a new proposal were to come forward, I do not believe the outcome would be any different.

Cases dominating the public arena make for harrowing reading and the first and most obvious response is to say that something must be done. But when these complex, individual and distressing cases are considered in detail, a solution that at first might seem sensible – the right to die in a manner and at a time of one's choosing – swiftly becomes less straightforward and more worrying.
And rightly concludes (my emphasis)...
The law – together with the values and standards of our caring professions – supports good care, including palliative care for the most difficult of conditions; and also protects the most vulnerable in our society. For let us be clear: death as an option and an entitlement, via whatever bureaucratic processes a change in the law might devise, would fundamentally change the way we think about mortality.

The risk of pressures – however subtle – on the frail and the vulnerable, who may feel their existences burdensome to others, cannot ever be entirely excluded. And the inevitable erosion of trust in the caring professions – if they were in a position to end life – would be to lose something very precious. For when I think of the kind of care Sarah and I saw in our local hospice, where we worked as volunteers, I know in my heart that there is such a thing as a good death.

And I believe it is our duty as a society to provide the skilled and loving care that makes it possible; and to use the laws we have well, rather than rush to change them.
Now if only he could think as clearly about abortion, sex education and religious liberty we might be getting somewhere!

Monday, 25 January 2010

What's on Your Mind?

I came across a helpful post today on a mailing list that I subscribe to, which summarizes a good point made by Timothy Keller in a "Reason for God".

The Dawkins' argument that religion came about through evolutionary responses to fear of the unknown, etc., assumes on the one hand that the human mind created a "false thing" to understand the world (theism), and so cannot be relied upon. Yet the argument assumes on the other hand that the human mind has also created a "true thing" to understand the world (scientific naturalism), and in this instance the mind can be trusted. Stripping away all the rhetoric, all you end up with is, "My mind can be trusted, but yours can't".

Makes me want to read it ...