Tuesday, April 17, 2007

MPs condemn £12bn NHS National Programme for IT

Via the Guardian:

"A £12.4bn programme to modernise IT systems throughout the NHS in England is running years behind schedule and failing to prove it is value for money, a committee of MPs said today.

The Commons public accounts committee delivered the most damning assessment to date of the health service's national programme for IT and Edward Leigh, its Conservative chairman, called last night for urgent remedial action to protect the interests of taxpayers."

The Public Accounts Committee's 20th Report outlining the criticism is available online.

Thanks to HJ Affleck at FIPR for the link.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Appeals Courts Refine Computer Search Rules

Appeals Courts Refine Computer Search Rules

Microsoft lose out to Google in chase for Doubleclick

Google have beaten Microsoft in the bid to take over DoubleClick, so Microsoft would like the antitrust authorities to examine the deal. I actually have some sympathy for the Microsoft position here, primarily because I've long found the advertising firm an irritating and intrusive actor in the general web surfing experience and I'd prefer if they didn't get into bed with Google. Yet the average Net user has probably never even heard of DoubleClick. Jo Soap might be surprised to find the number of cookies from this little known firm which reside on their computers, a firm that they have never knowingly visited, should they ever try the view cookies option in the tools menu of their browser.

It also brings us another step closer to GoogleZon.

Gaps in the Investigation of Sarasota's Disputed Election

Evoting uber experts David Dill and Dan Wallach have written an important report on the gaps in the investigation of Sarasota's disputed congressional election of November 2006. Executive summary:

" The November 2006 race for Florida's 13th Congressional District resulted in a 369 vote margin of victory for the winning candidate with more than 18,000 undervotes recorded on the ES&S iVotronic touch-screen voting machines used in Sarasota County. Since then, the losing candidate and a coalition of local voters have filed suit against the state and local election officials (among other defendants), seeking a judicial order to rerun the election. A key question is whether a system malfunction may have induced the undervote rate. We evaluate the two major efforts previously undertaken by the State: a mock election, conducted by the State, and an analysis of the iVotronic source code, conducted by academic computer scientists under contract to the State. Press reports and summaries of the State's findings have created a public perception that the investigation was thorough and that the voting machines have been exonerated of contributing to the undervote. Based on our evaluation of the investigation, this perception is not justified.

There are many significant gaps in the tests conducted by Florida and its experts. The defined scope of the mock election specifically excluded examination of the vote selection process, which, based on voter complaints, should have been a major focus of the investigation. The tests were conducted in an artificial setting with the iVotronics mounted vertically, unlike their horizontal orientation in real elections. Furthermore, the State's report claims that there were no anomalies observed during the vote, yet video recordings of the test show occasional vote selections not registering on the machines.

The State's inspection of the iVotronic's software was also incomplete. The State's academic team read the source code but performed limited hands-on experimentation with demonstration machines. They made no attempt to examine whether the hardware functioned properly, nor did they examine iVotronic machines that were used in the actual election. The team performed no analysis based on compiling and executing the software, either on iVotronic hardware or in a "test harness." Such testing is commonly used to identify bugs that may manifest themselves only under obscure conditions. Likewise, the team did not review internal ES&S documents, such as their bug tracking systems or software repositories, which might contain important clues about the problem. For key issues, including how the iVotronic screen is calibrated and how its smoothing filter operates, the final report contained insufficient detail to determine how these issues may have impacted the undervote.

In total, the State's investigations have provided no persuasive explanation for Sarasota's undervotes. We recommend additional testing and analysis of both the software and hardware used in Sarasota. We also recommend analysis of ES&S's internal documents, including their bug tracking system and other versions (earlier and later) of their software. We estimate that this additional investigation could be conducted by an appropriate team of experts with about a month of work."

It is a pretty damning indictment of an actual review of an apparently serious failure of the voting process, involving computer voting machines during a real election.

Microsoft mugged over VC-1 codec patent terms

From the Register: Microsoft mugged over VC-1 codec patent terms

If you can take technojargon, this one is well worth a read and beautifully illustrative of the power of the patent process to interfere with the development of technology. It covers digital audio visual standards relating to which 16 different companies hold 125 separate patents.

"Effectively Microsoft has been mugged by the attempt to make its VC-1 technology a standard through the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers. In so doing it had to reveal how its codec technology worked, and offer a license, and in going to the respected MPEG LA as a patent pool agent, it exposed its technology to all the know how that went into licensing the MPEG 2 and MPEG 4 Level 10 AVC/H.264 codec that has stolen the market.

Usually all of the combatants (essential patent holders) will argue for some basis or other for splitting the royalty stream, and these rules are not public and they are not always the same. But as a general principle the more patents you hold, the bigger your slice of the patent pool pie. Now that’s not absolute, but it can be an indicator."

DRM watchdog established in France

According to Nicolas Jondet, France has set up a regulatory body to keep an eye on DRM.


The EU branch of the EFF have launched a new campaign against the second intellectual property rights enforcement directive (colloqually known as IPRED2). They would like us to Tell the European Parliament to Fix IPRED2 Good idea.

From World War II to Google Print via the Statute of Anne

John Lanchester has been publicising his new book, Family Romance via a wide ranging article in the Guardian on copyright.

"The broad story of copyright is one of creative individuals feeling they are being stiffed, and that the public interest is losing out as a result. Everyone has a beef about it. This is mine. Between Christmas 1941 and the dropping of the atomic bombs in August 1945, my grandparents were in a Japanese internment camp in Stanley, at the far edge of Hong Kong island. Many internees died of malnutrition and illness, only three Red Cross parcels arrived during the entire war, and some of their closest friends were tortured and executed by the Kempetai, the Japanese military police and equivalent of the Gestapo.

Personal possessions were scarce. By the end of the war, my grandmother owned only two things: a one cent coin with the middle drilled out, which she wore as a wedding ring, since she had traded her ring away for food in early 1945; and a small pocket diary for 1942, which she must have bought before the fall of Hong Kong. She used that diary for the next three years, writing in pencil, and commenting almost exclusively on food - basically, every time they had something other than rice, she made a note of it.

At the end of the war, the internees were given a typed newsletter that filled them in on what had happened while they were in the camp. (Almost the first thing on it was a remark about the influence of women in all areas of civilian life during the war: "driving buses and working in factories".) At about the time she was given that newsletter, Lannie, my grandmother, must have found a typewriter, because along with the other scraps of paper from this period I found a poem that she, or someone else, had typed out. It was called "A Farewell to Stanley":

A farewell to Stanley - it's over
Of internees there's not a sign
They've left for Newhaven and Dover
For Hull and Newcastle on Tyne.

The poem must have meant a lot to Lannie, or she wouldn't have kept it for the rest of her life; it is, it seems to me, a rather good poem. But you won't find it in the American edition of my book Family Romance, because my American publisher was reluctant to let me quote it. The fact that I couldn't find anything about the poem's author made them too nervous. If I couldn't find him or her - didn't even know whether he or she existed and wasn't a pseudonym - then the poem was probably in copyright and as such couldn't be published."

I love these kinds of anecdotes and include the story of the development of radar in Britain in my own book as an illustration of the reality of information systems development. It is these kinds of stories that make the impact of the abstract concepts like intellectual property clear. Lanchester goes on to talk about the origins of copyright in the UK, the DMCA in the US and the potential of the Google Print project. Recommended.