A tale of two clients.

Posted on March 21, 2014. Filed under: Education | Tags: , , , |

I have different types of clients. I provide services to all of them.

For some, I am registered as a supplier, we agree a fee, I do the work to the agreed specification (or better), I submit an invoice, and they usually pay me within 30 days.

For others, I am asked to do some work, we agree a fee (usually expenses only as it is an education or CPD-related activity and I consider myself a responsible professional who is willing to share knowledge and experience), I do the work, I submit a claim form and I wait. And I wait. And I wait. And I ask them what’s going on. Then they find another form that I need to fill in, so I do that and submit it. And I wait and wait and wait while they drag their heels and spend countless hours impersonating the Vogon civil service.

Why the different treatment ? Am I not providing a service, at an agreed price, to both organisations ? Do I not provide that service ?

Well, the second entity doesn’t consider that we have a commercial arrangement. It’s a university, in fact just about every university I’ve given a guest lecture for in recent years, and the expenses systems they operate.

I’m tired of that situation. Practically every time I give a guest lecture, I end up giving an interest-free loan to an organisation that isn’t even paying a nominal fee for my services.

I think I’ve finally started to understand the underlying problem though. Universities do not operate in the commercial world. They pretend they do. They have “business plans” and teams dedicated to “business engagement” and “innovation”, but the reality is that they are simply just trying to demonstrate that they are hitting political targets better than the other Universities. They don’t actually have to achieve anything, they just have to be less terrible than the others and tick the right boxes for the current manifesto promises.

The relentless pursuit of handouts (grants) and sausage-machine degree awarding has created a bunch of institutions that, frankly, no longer really care about what they can do for society. All they want to know is how much they can extract from society in order to continue to exist in their own little indifferent bubbles.

Please note, by the way, I’m talking about the institutional level. At the actual level of the people there are many good and caring staff who do want to make a difference – I used to be one of them – but they are hobbled by the hordes of self-serving administrators whose only aim is to expand their own empires and preserve their own pensions.

Time for a shake-up I say, let’s change the way we measure success in our HE establishments. Let’s stop looking at how much they produce and let’s start looking at what real effect they have. Forget impact ratings on journals, and counts of graduate destinations – let’s look at what they really produce – where’s the change for good ?

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Journeys

Posted on August 12, 2013. Filed under: life, motoring | Tags: , , , , , , |

I spent a lot of time on the road last week, probably more than was good for me, but it led to a small moment of clarity.

On Friday, I was trying to get home from Brighton. That involved, notionally, driving around the M25 and then up the M1 to the north-east of England. There are other routes, but when you’ve committed to meeting someone part-way up the M1, it pretty much locks you into that. (And yes, I know that trying to drive away from London on a Friday is always a bad idea because all those who work there do exactly the same).

As expected, within a few minutes of joining the M25, it was gridlocked. Average speed was about 5 mph, it seemed. I couldn’t do anything except sit in the jam, edging forward little by little, watching my ETA increase until, eventually, after an hour-long delay, the jam magically cleared in front of me and allowed me to get off the M25 onto the M1 and to my meeting.

After the meeting, I rejoined the M1 – to see another jam. Now, I had a choice – I could sit in the jam and hope it cleared, I could get out the maps and plan another route, or I could drive in vaguely the right direction to find another good road north and hope that the SatNav would work out what I was up to.

I chose the third option. I had no need to stick to a planned route any more. I just wanted to get on the move and feel like I was making progress towards my destination.

The revelation – a lot of the time, this is how I run my business. I don’t like to have plans that are too well-formed. I need to keep some flexibility because things change, usually unexpectedly and in interesting ways.

I like to feel like I’m making progress, even if it’s not in the way I had planned. I do start with an outline plan, and I always know what my goals are, but exactly how I achieve them is quite loosely defined. It works for me, but it causes problems too.

Right now, I’m stuck on a couple of projects because I made two mistakes. Firstly, I decided to use a large organisation as a sub-contractor and secondly, I trusted them to deliver their contracts on time.

The organisation is so large, and so beset with a mindset that tells it that all risks can be managed, that it’s got stuck in drawing up the contracts. It simply can’t cope with a situation which is flexible and which requires elements of doubt and uncertainty to be accepted.

Unfortunately for that organisation, I’m preparing to take a different route – I can see a promising little side-road up ahead and it looks interesting.

They say that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Finishing that journey means that you have to keep moving, no matter what obstacles get in your way.

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Valid conclusions?

Posted on July 12, 2011. Filed under: forensic | Tags: , , , , , , , |

WARNING : Initial thoughts on a recent situation ahead – incomplete  – more to follow, eventually !

Recently, the Casey Anthony trial in the USA has been a source of discussion in many fora, but most recently a bit of a “spat” seems to be in danger of breaking out between the developers of two of the tools used to analyse the web history.

Leaving aside the case itself, let’s start by looking at what the two developers have to say about the issue that came up during cross-examination :

http://blog.digital-detective.co.uk/2011/07/digital-evidence-discrepancies-casey.html

http://www.cacheback.ca/news/news_release-20110711-1.asp

No preference is implied by the ordering of those links, by the way, it’s just the order in which I became aware of them. I don’t use either tool – I have my own methods for doing these things when necessary.

Two issues arise from these two posts, for me :

i) Both developers admit that there were possible problems with their tools which may have resulted in incorrect results and no-one was aware of this until the two tools were run side by side

ii) Neither tool seems to have been validated for the case in question. I’m sure they were verified (i.e checked for conformance to design/specification) but not convinced that they were tested against the requirements for the case.

Here comes the repetitive bit : as far as I’m concerned under the requirements of current and proposed ISO standards, neither tool could be considered reliable. There is no clear documentation about errors nor is there evidence that either has been subjected to a proper structured validation process. Dual-tooling is not validation. It merely compares two implementations of methods designed to solve the same problem as the developers understand things. At no point does anyone check that the results are correct, just how similar they are. Two implementations of the same wrong algorithm are more likely than not to come up with the same wrong results.

This is typical of the issues we will see more and more of in the digital forensics world – we depend too much on third-party tools which use algorithms developed through reverse engineering and have not been completely tested.

I’m not suggesting that every tool needs to be tested in every possible configuration on every possible evidence source -that’s plainly impossible – but we do need to get to a position where properly structured validation is carried out, and records which document that validation – including areas which have NOT been tested – are maintained and made available.

An examiner should always be free to use new methods, tools & processes, but should be personally responsible for choosing them and justifying their use. Information about usage limits & limitations on testing are vital and any competent examiner should be able to carry out additional validation where it is needed.

Let the flamng (of this post) begin…

 

P.S. – I’ve been doing a lot of work on models & systems for validation recently – they’re currently commercially confidential but if you’ld like to discuss the issues more please do contact me via n-gate.net

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    About

    This is the weblog of Angus M. Marshall, forensic scientist, author of Digital Forensics : digital evidence in criminal investigations and MD at n-gate ltd.

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