July 13, 2009

When will they ever learn?

The Economist this week has a sympathetic obituary for Robert McNamara, the systems analyst-cum-defence secretary, who died earlier this month.

McNamara brought to American foreign policy and in particular the Vietnam war the economic logic and rigour that he had applied in industry: “The things you can count, you ought to count”, but it did not work out as he had hoped.

In The Economist’s words:

At the height of the conflict, he was called a baby-burner. His son marched against him. Jackie Kennedy once pummelled his chest with her fists, crying at him to “stop the slaughter”. All this was difficult. He was an instinctive liberal, driving a battered Ford, living in university suburbs, where his recommended book for the reading group was Camus’s “L’Etranger”. Warmongering was not in his nature.

He was haunted by the thought that amid all the objective-setting and evaluating, the careful counting and the cost-benefit analysis, stood ordinary human beings. They behaved unpredictably.

That’s the problem: friend or foe, we are still unpredictable. As we head into another recession, and the cost-cutters, bean counters and performance managers ply us with their metrics, let them remember that.

Posted by Chris Bunch at 11:04 PM | Comments (0)

April 23, 2009

What do you say to someone who cannot manage the economy?

"Hello Darling!"

(viaTerry Wogan, BBC Radio 2)

Posted by Chris Bunch at 10:29 PM | Comments (0)

Is the NHS a bully?

HSJ: "Sir Ian Kennedy's parting shots and last month's staff survey both warn of a culture of bullying in the NHS...In a farewell interview as he stepped down from his role as Healthcare Commission chair, Sir Ian said bullying worried him "more than anything else" in the NHS and was "permeating the delivery of care", before calling on managers to stamp it out."

Stamp it out! Did Ian Kennedy use those words, or was it the HSJ?

Posted by Chris Bunch at 9:11 PM | Comments (0)

December 18, 2006

Oh: how true!

Everything worth doing is difficult to do well.

But always worth the effort.

Posted by Chris Bunch at 9:29 PM | Comments (0)

July 11, 2006

Not necessarily the goddamn truth

In an article part lamenting and part supporting the bureaucracy that nowadays underpins Wikipedia, Lance Knoebel reminds us of the need to maintain our critical faculties while reading Wikipedia (and, for that matter, Encyclopedia Britannica).

Not to mention the Daily Mail, Daily Express, Sun, Times, Daily Telegraph and, yes even—The Grauniad (to mention but a few).

The reality is that we are surrounded by and bombarded by a plethora of opinion masquerading as information. One can take it at its face (entertainment) value, be seduced by it—or savour it critically and enjoy the prose over the content, or vice versa—as the mood dictates. The choice is ours.

Posted by Chris Bunch at 10:16 PM | Comments (0)

May 25, 2006

Toshiba - and on how brand loyalty is driven by personal experience

In May 1979 we bought our first colour television. Kath had just recouped her meagre pension payments, Jose was six months old, and Wimbledon was about to start. The box was a Toshiba 14 inch ‘portable’, but it was all we could afford, was small enough not to dominate our tiny living room, and had fantastic definition and colour. The Toshiba was our only television for over 12 years, and when we eventually had enough to justify a larger box I would happily have bought another Toshiba were it not for the availability of an ex-demonstration Sony (which we are still using) at a great price. Nevertheless, the Toshiba loyalty lives on: I bought a Toshiba portable CD player in 1997 which still works well (but only from the mains), and I am now eyeing up a Toshiba LCD television…

On the other hand, Lance Knobel’s experience with Toshiba has been less endearing and serves as a salutory reminder of the irrationality of ‘brand loyalty’, how lingering memories can illogically modulate choice, how appearances may not be what they seem, and—more than anything—caveat emptor.

Posted by Chris Bunch at 10:50 PM | Comments (0)

May 9, 2006

Restoring one's faith

For many years now we have bought coffee beans in bulk from H.R. Higgins (Coffee-man) Ltd, following a recommendation from the late Sheila Callender. Higgins has a wide range of excellent coffees and their service is impeccable. We buy our coffee in 250 gram vacuum-packed foil bags whose extra cost is more than offset by bulk purchase. We then keep the bags in the freezer until needed. Higgins reckons that coffe beans keep fresh in their foil bags for six months without freezing. A bulk purchase lasts us three months and tastes absolutely fresh throughout.

As an example of one of the advantages of dealing with a long-established family business (and I don’t mean the likes of Sainsbury’s), added to the bottom of the invoice for our most recent purchase was the following:

We are very sorry to find that we omitted the 10% discount on your invoice for 19th January. We have deducted it from this order and assure you of more careful attention in the future.


Posted by Chris Bunch at 11:25 PM | Comments (0)

May 8, 2006

Apple vs. Apple

It was a relief to learn (from Daring Fireball) that Apple Corps (aka The Beatles) has lost its High Court action against Apple Computer for trademark infringement. This is also a victory for common sense. The only thing their trademarks have in common is their derivation from the humble apple—unsurprising in view of the companies’ respective names. That Apple Corps was successful in brokering an out of court settlement in their favour in 1991 is now largely rendered irrelevant by recent events: Apple Computer has become immensely successful in the electronic music gadget and distribution business, whilst Apple Corps’ impact in the music creation business has been negligible of late. Perhaps its action was a reflection of the colour of its apple.

The only unsatisfactory rider to the story is that Apple Corps intends to appeal. Why not just move on and earn some extra (r|l)oyalty by allowing us to obtain your music legally, via the iTunes store?

Posted by Chris Bunch at 10:33 PM | Comments (0)

May 7, 2006

The Sack of the NHS

That Blair did not sack Ms Hewitt in his panic reshuffle on Friday simply confirms that what he really intends is the sack of the NHS.

Shortly after his election in 1997, he exhorted his drooling NHS acolytes that they had no more than 10 years to ‘save the NHS’. He embarked on an ambitious programme of reform (or modernization as he would prefer it known). Few would argue with the need for reform and not many with its direction. The problem has been with the manner of its execution.

The irony is that those of us NHS professionals who have dedicated our working lives to the NHS would have gladly ‘saved’ it for him, given half a chance. For some reason Blair resents professionals and professionalism, and has done a good job of carrying the media with him. He sees doctors and nurses not as much as caring as heavily unionized and self-interested. The reception afforded Ms Hewitt at a nursing conference last week will have simply reinforced that view.

The reality is that most of us are exceptionally hard-working and dedicated to doing the best we can for our patients, and for the NHS generally. The new consultant contract was predicated on the belief that we are all lazy sods and that management needed new levers to bring us into line. In truth, the necessary levers were always there but few had the leadership qualities to use them effectively.

Just last week a good friend of ours had an elective surgical procedure at our hospital. All went well and after her discharge she called me to say just how amazingly well it had all worked. She also noted just how hard the nursing staff were working and the long hours the consultants were putting in. (Thanks to the European Working Time Directive, this degree of commitment is now rarely apparent in the junior medical staff.)

As the media has been quick to spot, the new consultant contract proved more expensive than anticipated and it is now being ‘blamed’ in part for the NHS overspend, when all that has happened is that a bit of transparency and accountability has been brought to play which highlights how hard the majority of consultants have actually been working. More than they reckoned— and now we have the extraordinary spectacle of a consultant workforce that is now financially substantially better off but more demoralized than ever. Thank goodness Andrew Foster has decided to move on.

So what happens next? Well, having heavily overspent on salaries and disastrous PFI contracts, the NHS will have to claw back as much as it can by wielding an indiscriminate axe here and there. It is going to be very painful and the worse is yet to come. Nor would Gordon Brown have it any other way: the Treasury has long been convinced that the NHS is a lost cause financially and he really must be smarting at how his generosity has been rewarded.

And that’s before we even consider Connecting for Health

Blair is a conviction politician. No harm in that except that he also believes (more strongly than anything else) that the end justifies the means. I’m not certain it ever does but, to be sure, the two don’t mix well.

Posted by Chris Bunch at 10:31 PM | Comments (0)

April 25, 2006

Comments? Be damned!

A while back I had to start moderating comments before publication as the vast majority were specious, opportunistic and irrelevant (in other words, spam). I have been busy of late and haven’t checked the pending list for a while. Today I discovered that 1650 comments had been received and were awaiting my ‘approval’. Fat chance: even though most of them feigned flattery (“Nice site”, etc), they were all trash, so that is where they went. The same fate befell the 733 or so accumulated trackbacks.

For now, and until I can upgrade to weblog software that can handle these intrusions more appropriately, its goodbye comments, and goodbye trackbacks. Anyone who has anything sensible to say can email chris at this domain. If it passes my substantially more rigorous mail spam filters, and I like what you say, I’ll publish it.

Posted by Chris Bunch at 11:16 PM | Comments (0)

January 4, 2006


Today I discovered that a backup routine I thought existed was a figment of my imagination. Nothing was lost, nobody died, but it put a shiver up my spine around what might have been—or not been. The necessary script was quickly cobbled together and tested, so all is well. The gap was small and affected only my personal websites: those I run for others have been backing up nightly forever.

The episode gave me pause for thought. How many of us have lost important work through failing to save a file, or to back up important work? Murphy knows. Yet why is it so difficult: why do we fail to do it so often?

The truth is, it’s a chore, and the busier we are the more of a chore it is. Programs that do automatic file saves are a godsend, provided they do so without one having to set a preference first. Backing up whole filesystems, webservers, mailboxes and the like is another matter. Where are the operating systems that do this automatically, without one even having to think about it? For sure, there is (expensive) software that will do the trick, but it still takes time and effort to get it working.

One of the allures of Mac OS X is its Unix underpinning which should, in theory, make backing up a relatively easy and inexpensive business. After all, tape archiving (tar) is at least as old as Unix itself. But as it turns out, its not quite so straightforward: the Mac HFS filing system has quirks (resource forks and the like) which can behave badly with the traditional Unix routines such as cp and the like. Slowly, Apple is modifying these routines to behave more coherently with it’s filing system conventions, but its still a minefield. And to cap it all, the lovely LaCie mini firewire external hard drive that sits under the Mac mini on my network as a backup device is quirky about setting owner and permissions on its folders.

All said, backups are happening here nightly. So far, Murphy has been benign and I haven’t had to retrieve anything in anger. Testing a the restorability of a backup is something I suspect is rarely done until its too late. I can’t say I’m squeaky clean on that one either: it all takes time. The trouble with this risk management business is that it’s a never-ending story—even before you think about the precautionary principle.

Posted by Chris Bunch at 9:27 PM | Comments (0)

January 1, 2006

2006 - The Resolutions

  1. Get fit
  2. Plan the next bit
  3. Write more

Happy New Year to All!

Posted by Chris Bunch at 10:50 PM

September 1, 2005


it is only proper that a weblog with the name Jambalaya should pause and reflect on the devastation that Hurricane Katrina has wreaked on the home of the said dish, the loss of life, and the virtual destruction of its major city, New Orleans.

I have visited New Orleans twice and have very fond memories. Although it has its problems, it was a fun place to be, and no human community deserves the fate that has befallen it. Our thoughts at Bayswater Farm are with you all.

Another visit was looming this December, for the American Society of Hematology annual convention. My first visit to both New Orleans and ASH was for such a convention twenty years ago. It was a large event then, but would have been massive this year. It seems from this side of the Pond that there is no way this year’s convention can now take place.

New Orleans thrived on tourism, and conventions such as ours will have been major players in its economy. Should this year’s ASH convention not now go ahead, I suggest that the least we could do is donate our registration fees to a relief fund for the people of this stricken city.

(Addendum: It now seems that ASH plans to relocate its annual meeting to another city. I may or may not go, but have made a donation to the Red Cross.)

Posted by Chris Bunch at 8:08 AM | Comments (0)

August 25, 2005

Cetriolo—cucumber for Italians

Skip Lombardi has issued a plea on his Italian Food Blog for Italian recipes containing cucumber, which he has hardly ever seen in Italian cuisine. It had never occurred to me before that cucumber has made such a minimal impression on the Italian palate. Perhaps it has been eclipsed by its cousin the courgette, or zucchini. One doesn’t see many zucchini sandwiches: unlike cucumber, which is purely a salad vegetable, zucchini generally has to be cooked.

As Skip points out, cucumber is a key ingredient in the famous Tuscan salad, panzanella. And salad it is with the few other cucumber recipes I have come across. Marcella Hazan, in The Essentials of Italian Cooking has recipes for orange and cucumber salad, and roasted aubergine with peppers and cucumber. Elizabeth David, in Italian Food, has an intriguing Insalata di finocchi e cetrioli. I guess these could all be classed as types of insalata mista. Cucumber-only recipes however are rare: the only two I have come across are from Janet Ross’s early 20th century Leaves from our Tuscan Kitchen, more recently re-edited by her great-great-nephew, Michael Waterfield:

Cetriola alla comasco. Cut some strips of peel from a cucumber and slice the cucumber very fine on a mandoline. Arrange on a dish and sprinkle over half an onion (grated or very finely chopped), 1 tbsp tarragon vinegar, and 2 tbsp good olive oil. Allow to ‘pickle’ for 15min before serving.

Cetriolo condito al miele. Cut some strips from a cucumber, cut the cucumber into inch pieces and then into rather thin wedges. Pour over the following dressing: 1 full tsp honey, salt, pepper, pinch chopped marjoram, 2 tbsp wine vinegar, 4tbsp olive oil.

Posted by Chris Bunch at 11:05 PM | Comments (0)

August 12, 2005

Connecting for Health: too little too late?

A rather depressing article in E-Health Insider reports on what sounds a bit like a panic measure:

NHS Connecting for Health is urgently looking for experienced NHS clinicians, interested in ensuring that NHS IT systems are fit for purpose, to be flown out and work on assignment with clinical software developers in India or the United States.

It has been my impression for some years that the politicians driving this (not very original) vision have been blindly seduced by BigCo IT into believing that simply rolling legacy systems from across the Pond and imposing them on an unwitting NHS would be a piece of cake. Not so. As any observant student of large IT projects will tell you, a system stands or falls on its usability far more than its underlying sophistication, and you cannot assume that usability in one context translates simply into usability in another. Put more simply, the North American healthcare system and the NHS differ in so many social, cultural, and professional respects that a system designed for one will almost certainly fail in the other without significant redesign. It is no surprise then that the successful contractors are discovering that their prized systems are needing to be rebuilt virtually from scratch.

The real sadness is that if those driving this scheme had thought differently, they could have harnessed the knowledge, expertise and enthusiasm behind the large numbers of successful small scale systems that were already in productive use throughout our NHS. As it is, a large cohort of “early adopters” now feels alienated and frustrated.

The more egotistical brand this as the The world’s biggest IT project. It may well be the largest, centrally-driven, top-down IT project on the Planet—but that is hardly a category with a conspicuous history of success. I suspect that the real contender for the “largest IT project” accolade must be the Internet, which is unquestionably hugely successful. Think for a moment about how the Internet came about: its project director, project manager, project plan, champions, whoever. Then read Tony Hoare’s 1980 Turing Lecture: The Emperor’s Old Clothes (especially his take on the classic Hans Andersen tale at the end, and the following quote).

At first I hoped that such a technically unsound project would collapse but I soon realized it was doomed to success. Almost anything in software can be implemented, sold, and even used given enough determination. There is nothing a mere scientist can say that will stand against the flood of a hundred million dollars. But there is one quality that cannot be purchased in this way—-and that is reliability. The price of reliability is the pursuit of the utmost simplicity. It is a price which the very rich find most hard to pay.

Then go place your bets.

Posted by Chris Bunch at 10:03 PM | Comments (1)