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Government COO goes to dangerous lengths to prove PC boot up claims

12 Jun 2013

Like many wage slaves, Sneak has a morning routine that involves nipping off to make a cuppa while waiting for the office PC to boot up. But while this strikes Sneak as a bit of productive time management and multi-tasking, Sneak was shocked by V3 revelations of the IT woes that befall many civil servants. Apparently, Whitehall workers have time to cook and eat a full English before their computers are ready to use.

But not everybody was so shocked. Indeed, one Daily Telegraph columnist sniffed that her sources had cast doubt on the claims made by Stephen Kelly, the government's chief operating officer, that it takes him seven minutes to boot his computer.

Clearly Kelly is not one to let such slights pass without comment. So on Wednesday he got colleagues to video him logging on to his laptop and posted the results on YouTube. However, by Thursday the video had been removed, no doubt after Kelly was taken to task by his seniors for posting a video showing his PC logins, and yet again criticising public sector IT.

For those with more pressing things to do with their time than watch seven minutes 18 seconds of inactivity, Sneak can provide an abridged version: it took more than three minutes before Kelly could log in, and a further four minute pass while his personal account is loaded. Meanwhile, his iPad is timing the log on attempt.

“The iPad's losing the will to live,” he notes at one point. We feel its pain, we feel its pain.

So in many ways, it's good to see that Whitehall mandarins have a good grasp on the IT issues affecting their users. However, Sneak looks forward to the day they have similar levels of awareness over the wisdom of videoing inputting your log credentials to highly sensitive government computer systems and posting it on the internet.

HTC and Samsung in Twitter tittle tattle battle

10 Jun 2013

Sneak loves a bit of a argy bargy, and so was glued to Twitter recently as the people running the Samsung and HTC Twitter accounts in the UK fell out over some awards.

Both firms took to their UK Twitter accounts late on Friday to discuss some gongs that their hardware had picked up.

But Samsung had apparently done the best, and did not want to let HTC celebrate too hard. So it stepped up with a sharpened pin and popped HTC's bubble.

"That's okay guys, our arms were full with the other three awards we took home last night. You can have that one!," replied Samsung.

HTC didn't take long to grab a handful of mud and fire it at its Korean rival. Rather than josh the firm, it brought up the spectre of its apparent tendency to pay people to smear its hardware in public.

"All those students you paid to write fake reviews of your competitors finally paid off. Pay rise, maybe?", HTC tweeted.

This led to an intervention from LG Electronics, asking everyone to just calm down.

Samsung has been accused of using students in Taiwan to smear mud on its rivals. In a Facebook statement in April, it said that it would stop posting anonymous reviews.

"Samsung Taiwan has halted all internet marketing such as posting articles on websites," it said. It hasn't commented on the recent Twitter talk from HTC.

BBC tick-tocked off over alarming clock complaint

05 Jun 2013


Ah time, such a tricky concept. What time is it? Well, it depends where in the world you are, or as the BBC found out, what time your computer tells you it is.

A complaint from a BBC website user with, ironically, perhaps too much time on their hands, raised the alarming fact that the clock on the frontpage of the BBC website does not display the ‘correct’ time, but it merely draws data from the clock on a user's device.

This meant, to anyone who relies solely on the BBC clock to the tell the time, there was a risk of ending up late for an important event by relying on the data supplied by the BBC as it could be wrong – even though it would be the user’s fault for having their computer running on the wrong time. Or would it really be the device manufacturers fault for creating a faulty clock? The legal repercussions could be endless. No doubt someone would end up with a ticking off.

All in all, the BBC Trust agreed it was a serious matter and one the BBC should strive to get right.

"Having a homepage clock which does not necessarily reflect the right time in the UK, and which is not labelled on the homepage as deriving its time from a user's own computer clock, is not consistent with the guideline requirement for the BBC to do all it can to ensure due accuracy in all its output,” it said.

In response the BBC has taken a course of action that Sneak himself wholeheartedly approves of – giving up.

"Given the technical complexities of implementing an alternative central clock, and the fact that most users already have a clock on their computer screen, the BBC has taken the decision to remove the clock from the homepage in an upcoming update."

Well creating an accurate, working clock application would take too much time wouldn’t it?

GIF creator settles pronunciation debate

23 May 2013

Dancing baby gifMore than a quarter century after its introduction to the computing space, the GIF image format remains something of a controversial format.

No, not because the quasi-animated images slow loading times or can be incredibly annoying when recklessly deployed, but because of the pronunciation of the name. Nobody can agree whether the word is pronounced with hard G -as in 'goat'- or a soft G -as in 'gel'.

Now, however, the man behind the format is settling the debate (and quite a few bar bets) by clearing up once and for all how to pronounce the word.

In an interview with the New York Times, former Compuserve engineer and GIF originator Steve Wilhite confirmed once and for all that his iconic creation is in fact pronounced with a soft G sound.

That's right, the platform for the infamous 'dancing baby' shares its name with a popular brand of American peanut butter. And according to Wilhite, the Oxford English Dictionary has had the wrong pronunciation listed all this time.

Now that we've finally settled this silly matter, Sneak can move onto more important things, like whether one should pronounce the individual letters in LOLcats or say it all as one word.


Online benefits system unworkable with almost all modern IT

02 May 2013

Microsoft Windows XP boxes on the assembly line in 2001As someone who likes to sit around in his dressing gown watching daytime TV, Sneak is well-versed with the process of claiming benefits to fund his relaxed lifestyle. So he was very excited with the transition of certain benefit claim forms to the web, meaning even less reason for him to interact with any actual humans.

Those who want to claim either Attendance Allowance, Disability Living Allowance or Overseas State Pension can simply visit the Gov.UK website, where they are then pointed to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) website to fill out a form online.

So far, so impressive, in that the government is allowing citizens to apply for benefits over the web, rather than having to fill out forms and send them in via the post or visit offices in person.

However, it seems that many of those claimants could fall at the first hurdle due to some rather outdated stipulations  about the computer systems supported by the DWP.

"This service doesn't work with some modern browsers and operating systems," the DWP notes. "We are considering how best to provide this service in future. You may want to claim in another way."

That's putting it mildly. Sneak has decided to post these system requirements here in their full glory, as he couldn't word them better than the DWP.

"The service does not work properly with Macs or other Unix-based systems even though you may be able to input information.

"You are likely to have problems if you use Internet Explorer 7, 8, 9 and 10, Windows Vista or a smartphone. Clearing temporary internet files may help but you may wish to claim in another way.

"There is also a high risk that if you use browsers not listed below, including Chrome, Safari or Firefox, the service will not display all the questions you need to answer. This is likely to prevent you from successfully completing or submitting the form. You may wish to claim in another way."

And now on to the much more restricted list of what your computer needs to be running if you actually want to claim a benefit online.

"The service was designed to work with the following operating systems and browsers. Many of these are no longer available:

  • Microsoft Windows 98: Internet Explorer versions 5.0.1, 5.5 and 6.0, Netscape 7.2
  • Microsoft Windows ME: Internet Explorer version 5.5 and 6.0, Netscape 7.2
  • Microsoft Windows 2000: Internet Explorer version 5.0.1, 5.5 and 6.0, Netscape 7.2, Firefox 1.0.3, Mozilla 1.7.7
  • Microsoft Windows XP: Internet Explorer 6.0, Netscape 7.2, Firefox 1.0.3, Mozilla 1.7.7."

This sent Sneak running to dig out his old Windows ME machine from the loft, running IE 4 - but there are still further obstacles to getting any money out of the government.

"This service is not available on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings from 1.00am to 1.30am because of essential maintenance work. We apologise for any inconvenience," warns the DWP.

Perhaps that's when their hamsters change shifts - you know, the ones that run inside wheels keeping government IT systems up and running.

Tetris proves effective treatment for lazy eyes

24 Apr 2013


Sneak has often been accused of letting video games get in the way of work. But there are days when it's only the prospect of getting a highest score on Stick Cricket that makes the prospect of heading into the office palatable. But thanks to Canadian doctors, Sneak now has the perfect excuse.

A McGill university team have shown that playing Tetris can be used to treat lazy eye. According to the researchers, the game makes users' eyes work together, providing a more effective approach than the traditional patch.

“It's much better than patching, much more enjoyable, it's faster and it seems to work better," Dr Robert Hess, the group's lead researcher, told the BBC.

The researchers got their volunteers to play the game while wearing specially modified goggles, which enabled one eye to see only falling objects and the other the blocks piling up on the ground. A hour's Tetris-playing a day for two weeks was enough to demonstrate an improvement.

And not only does Tetris provide an effective treatment, other computer games might also work, he added.

Sneak is quietly confident that all those accusations of laziness will soon be a thing of the past.

Judge pays $25 fine for breaching his own phone rules

16 Apr 2013

Judge's gavel

Sneak has always been a strong proponent of the inviolability of the courthouse, and cannot abide those ill-mannered citizens that let their mobile phones interrupt proceedings with their incessant ringtones.

So Sneak was doubly pleased to see that at least one judge, Michigan's Raymond Voet feels the same way, and issues on-the-spot fines to anyone whose phone disturbs his courtroom – even if that means fining himself.

According to the Sentinel Standard – Sneak's Michigan news outlet of choice – poor judge Voet got himself in a right pickle when he inadvertently activated the voice command functions of his new phone while the court was in session.

Apparently, Voet had been a loyal BlackBerry user for years, but like most gave up with the platform to move to a new device, only to discover he had no idea how to turn off his new smartphone's voice function.

“It started talking really loud, saying 'I can't understand you. Say something like Mom,'" he told the Sentinel. "My face got as red as a beet."

But as an upstanding citizen, judge Voet also believed that he had to abide by the same rules he set for those in his courtroom, so during a recess, ruled that he was in contempt of court and fined himself $25 for the interruption.

Now that's what Sneak calls swift justice.

Falcon's nest forces Vodafone to switch off mobile mast

15 Apr 2013

A falcon has knocked out mobile coverage in Southampton

Sneak has come across some bizarre excuses for the infuriating loss of mobile coverage in the past, from operators having their datacentre kit pilfered or problems with its user database. But, for Vodafone and its customers in the Southampton area, Sneak thinks this is something of a first: loss of signal being blamed on a bird's nest.

It might sound like a feather-brained excuse, but the bird in question happens to be a peregrine falcon, one of the creatures that gets protected under British law. Disturbing its nest could land you in jail.

In fact, such is the protection these birds enjoy that Vodafone is not permitted to tell anyone which mobile mast it's had to turn off – although Sneak suspects that its customers in the Southampton area probably have a pretty good idea.

A Vodafone spokesman told the BBC it would be unable to access its mast until after any chicks had flown the nest – which would probably be some time in June.

While that might seem like an interminable wait for Vodafone's customers, Sneak can't help but get a warm glow from knowing that a peregrine has made itself a home in one of these ugly metal constructions.

After all, Sneak has always been something of a secret twitcher, and the high-powered, infra-red binoculars are definitely used for watching our feathered friends, regardless of what the neighbours might say.

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