Persistent data; non-existent object

We’ve just returned from a short trip overseas. Mostly holiday, and re-making some old acquaintanceships, but at the event which was the trigger for the visit one of those acquaintances mentioned the persistence of an International Standard Book Number (ISBN).

It seems that, some years ago, our friend was writing a textbook (his field is astrophysics) with a publisher’s contract, deadlines and so on when he was pre-empted by a couple of other authors. Realising there would be no benefit in continuing (no personal pride there!) he agreed with his publisher to abort the project and the volume was never completed, let alone published.

However, an ISBN had been obtained for the putative title. And it proved impossible to get the issue of this ISBN rescinded. So out there, it appears, there is an ISBN for a book which does not exist, has never existed, and never will exist.

I should note that the obvious easy searches have not turned up the rogue volume; but what price the persistence of data?

Post election blues

I learned one IT thing during the campaign by participating in a “Thunderclap” – a coordinated social media shot on Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr, sent by party members at 7 pm on the night before the election. At that time, we’d just finally got our broadband up and running following a move.

Thunderclap invite you to think of a Thunderclap as an “online flash mob”. It’s a coordinating app which requests permission to access your social account (choose just one of the three) and then sends the message on behalf of all the subscribers at the specified time. It’s not necessarily a standard message; you’re offered a starter, but can customise.

This particular Thunderclap exceeded its subscription target many-fold. Sadly it didn’t swing the day …

Thunderclap is at

The Imitation Game

Finally yesterday we got to see the Alan Turing film The Imitation Game.

Asusuming the details are reasonably true to reality, there’s so much more than even IT people are aware of: opposition, misunderstanding, frustration … Is it significant that Turing went over his director’s head directly to Churchill to secure funding for his project? Churchill knew, between the wars, what it was to be the maverick no-one believed in.

Unlike the Stephen Hawking film, there is a realistic focus on the science and maths of what Turing achieved at Bletchley. And with subtlety; there were things that were there, but not dwelt on. Like so much in systems development, it was the realisation of a limiting condition on the computation that made it computable in real time. And so on.

Early in the film, both cyanide and apples make their appearance, but the obvious tie-up at the end was left unsaid. A great film.

Perhaps the best phrase from it is the one exchanged between Turing and Joan Wood, tying the film together. “It’s the people no-one imagines anything of, that achieve things no-one can imagine”.

With the election approaching, and so many of the politicians promoting a spurious idea of a unified identity for “the British”, this celebration of difference is timely. Vive la différence!

• The Imitation Game
• The Theory of Everything

An odd stat …

Some time ago, I crafted a presentation called “Disrupt or disappear”, looking at responses to the disruptions of new technology paradigms. I put it on Slideshare, and I more or less forgot it.

Stats mailed by Slideshare just now tell me it got nearly 350 views last year. That’s gratifying. But what’s odd is that around three quarters of those apparently came from Ukraine …

I have no idea why !

• Disrupt or Disappear, Slideshare by InformationSpan, 27 July 2010

We have changed …

You may have noticed the blog looks different.

I’ve just set up a second WordPress blog. In trying to select a theme for the new one, I inadvertently changed ITasITis. And I couldn’t get back, so I made a new choice.

Hope you like it!

Why I hate the new Google Maps

I finally allowed myself to be pushed into using the new Google Maps instead of the old familiar one.

Here are all the things that I cannot do as easily as previously.

1 – have it open by default with my own location rather than the blanket map of the USA

2 – immediately find my own list of custom maps. It’s an extra click and I have to know that it appears as a drop down from the search bar. Custom maps have become a lot more complicated to create and manage, too, with “layers” and so on. And there’s a different set of marker icons, differently styled from the old ones. So modifying an existing map, such as the one I maintain for Brighton Early Music Festival, won’t be straightforward if I want to maintain consistent styling.

3 – sharing has changed. It used to be simple: create a map, and embed the HTML provided. Now, for example, the Brighton Early Music Festival map doesn’t properly display the venue markers. Never had a problem before. Still working on this one!

4 – “search nearby” was a simple click from the pin marker on the old version. These pin markers have got “smart” which means that if I search for Victoria Coach Station, when I click or hover on the pin what I get is a list of all the coach services which leave from there. If I right click, I get three options: Directions to here; Directions from here; and What’s here, which doesn’t seem to do anything. If I search for Ebury Street (essentially the same location) I get a pin with no smart hover at all. But the marker does not now pop up nearby information, Directions, Save and Search Nearby options.

5 – no accessible help without going out to separate web pages; and even then the instructions don’t make sense. For example, Google says that “Search nearby” is on a drop down you find by clicking the search box. No, it doesn’t. Not in Firefox. It does, though, appear to work in Chrome. I don’t like being pushed to a different browser.

6 – having found Search nearby, I get given (of course) a set of strange, supposedly related, links. Well I suppose this is what Google does. But for me, it gets in the way.

7 – extra panels and drop-downs obscure parts of the map I’m trying to look at

Now all this, and more, is partly the natural response to changing a familiar application. Let’s assume that overall the product is fuller-featured and more flexible than the old version, and its links to the rest of Google’s information are more capable. But software vendors in general are not always good at user-oriented upgrades. Keep the backward compatibility unless there’s a really, really good reason not to. Icon redesigns, and added complexity in the user interface, are not good reasons.

I’m exploring alternatives. Apple’s new map application doesn’t have near the same level of functionality, and older offerings such as Streetmap haven’t really moved on either. But for (UK) route planning, for example, I’m now using either AA or RAC route planner – which still have the simple, straightforward A-to-B interface.

• Google Maps (new version)
• How to search “nearby” in new Google Maps? Google Forum, 11 Jun 2013
• Google Removes “Search Nearby” Function From Updated Google Maps, contributor to Slashdot, 16 Jan 2014
• Route planners from the AA and RAC
Streetmap (UK)