Three years ago Joel Spolsky wrote an article on customer service. His first point he called “Fix everything two ways” and it revolved around the idea that when a customer complains you should not only fix their immediate problem but you should also look at how that problem arose and what you can change to stop, or at least reduce the chances of, other people being affected by that type of problem in the future.

I would actually go one step further and say that if a customer complains and you fix their problem, and you then find the underlying cause and fix it for the future, then you should also consider whether that problem has already affected any other customers and whether there is anything you can do to proactively fix it for those customers. Call it “Fixing everything three ways” if you like.

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The Today programme had an interesting piece on the NHS Summary Care Record issue this morning, most notable for Evan Davis’s excellent interview with a representative of Connecting for Health which he opened with the deceptively simple question “Can you tell me how many people will have access to my Summary Care Record”. After a number of attempts not to answer the question the interviewee was eventually skewered when he was forced to admit that there was nothing to stop any member of NHS staff with access to care records anywhere in the country from accessing it.

In fact, he admitted, the only real constraint was the existence of an audit trail that could catch people out. Of course audit trails only work if people are actually reviewing them and are in a position to spot discrepancies and investigate them - in a system the size of the NHS care records system I imagine this will be a task of mammoth proportions and the actual risk of any individual being caught will be negligible.

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I finally got around to writing my response to the government consultation on releasing Ordnance Survey data - you can read my formal response but the summary is basically that yes I would like them to release some data but there are serious issues around some of the details such as the proposed license.

Yesterday Steve Coast posted some proposals for a redesign of the OpenStreetMap web site. It has been recognised for some time by those involved in writing and running the site that a redesign was needed so it is good to see somebody trying to do something about it.

That said, I wasn’t (as I made clear, maybe a little too forcefully, in a comment on his post) particularly impressed by the unilateral way he went about it, or the approach he used to the redesign, or the result.

That all sounds (and is) rather negative so I thought that I would, in the cold (and more sober) light of day try and write something more positive explaining what I see as the current problems, how I think we should go about fixing them, and what I think a solution might look like.

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After my last run in with BT when they called me (in breach of the regulations on unsolicited marketing calls) to offer me a Visa Card I filed a complaint with the Telephone Preference Service.

I few weeks later I got a letter from BT Complaints Managment saying that my complaint had been passed on to them and they had been unable to find any record of the call to me (hint – try looking in the logs of all those Indian subcontractors you hired) but that I had been added to their suppression list so should not receive any more calls.

Well today they went for the win by calling me again – this time to try and sell me Broadband. This time round I have a recording of the call so it will be interesting to see if they try and deny it again.

What’s more as their previous letter acknowledges that they are aware of my wish not to be called they are now in violation of regulation 21(1)(a) of the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 as well as regulation 21(1)(b) which they breached last time.

A second complaint has been filed with the TPS and a letter will be winging it’s way to BT later on…

Recently I received a fairly typical “please do my research for me” email from a graduate student at a US university. It related to an open source software project I’ve done some work on and asked a couple of questions:

  1. I was wondering if [project] has gone under any major restructuring/redesign initiative in its history. Restructuring/redesign initiative can be defined as a concerted effort during a time period in which major changes were applied to the code base to improve software architecture/design while little or no functional enhancement was made.

  2. If the project has gone under such an initiative, then would it be possible for you to give the dates or revision/release numbers that are “right before” and “right after” this structuring effort? I would like to checkout the source code from the repository to compare structural measurements that belong to “before” and “after” snapshots. Note that the dates and revision/release numbers should be right before and right after the initiative because I would like to be able to isolate and observe the effects of this effort.

Both these questions, and the second one in particular, would call for a considerable amount of work to be done in order to answer them even if it were possible to get past the wooliness of the first question and decide which changes counted.

The real issue however, is that surely the point of being a research student is to do research to answer whatever question you have set yourself? Not just to email lots of other people and ask them to do the work for you…

In this case the originator in fact implied in a subsequent email (after he decided that my lack of reply meant he should ignore the fact that I had unsubscribed from his list and email me again and I had told him exactly what I thought of this) that he emailed somewhere in the region of 3000 people with this request.

The ISP I use at home and at work, Andrews and Arnold, support bonding of multiple lines with per-packet load balancing. Incoming traffic is handled by them using custom hardware and software - the control panel lets me select which lines should be used for each block of IP addresses and they then handle balancing the traffic over those lines on a per-packet basis.

At work we have four ADSL lines and to handle the load outgoing balancing we use a set of four ordinary DSL routers connected by ethernet to a four port D-Link ethernet card in a linux server which then does per-packet load balancing for outgoing traffic using the teql traffic scheduler. This post describes how we configure the load balancing.

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The new National Express East Anglia timetable doubles the trains between Liverpool Street and Hertford East on a Sunday evening which is excellent - no more waiting around at Broxbourne for the Cambridge train to catch up if you happen to have got the direct train.

The really shocking news however is that they seem to have figured out time travel - the Sunday timetable looks like this:

Proof that NXEA trains really can time travel

Pay close attention to what happens to the 22:22 from Liverpool Street when it reaches Broxbourne, and more importantly while it is there…

CloudMade have tonight launched their Mapzen flash based editor for OpenStreetMap. It’s officially described as a beta, but as they’ve made it publicly available and it is working against the live API and editing real data I assume that is more of a “Google beta” than anything else.

The basic editing of roads and such doesn’t seem to be much improved from the (fairly dire) interface we saw in the previous alpha builds - trying to move nodes in a way is still way harder than it should be, working out how to start a new way is even harder, and it still seems to be impossible to end a way unless you remember that you want to do so before you add the last node. As to extending a way well I’d forget it if I were you as I’ve never found a way to do it, or to join a new way onto an existing one (which would be a workaround for not being able to extend a way).

Presumably there is some help somewhere, but there is no effort to promote it as far as I can see - no “you might want to read this before you start” type prompts. There is a “help” link but it just goes to a CloudMade wiki page showing how to connect Mapzen to your OpenStreetMap account.

One word of caution by the way - there doesn’t seem to be any indication whether or not you have any outstanding edits that need to be saved, and the “Close and Exit” button does exactly that, without any sort of warning if you have unsaved edits which will be lost.

Perhaps the most worrying thing however is the so called “Mapzen Dashboard” which provides the entry point to the editor. That isn’t the problem however - the problem is that it provides it’s own, CloudMade hosted, social environment with “friending”, “messaging” and “home locations”. Anybody familiar with OpenStreetMap will know that the core site already provides all those things (though not as slickly) so the obvious question is what exactly CloudMade are doing duplicating this? Is this an attempt to create some sort of parallel community to the main OpenStreetMap community?

Overall I think we have to class the editor as a fail for now, and the dashboard as something that needs more explanation.

We’ve all dealt with web site which have rules (ostensibly to increase security) about having a certain mix of character types in your password. Today however I encountered an entirely new security concept:

Yes, that’s right, this site has invented a whole new idea - the secure username that has to contain both letters and numbers!