Derek Owen’s Weblog

NEC news and other tech geekery

My Dad, a tough start to 2009 and the comfort of hospital technology

Wow what a start to the year. Unfortunately my father was diagnosed on 2nd January as having Cholangiocarcinoma a very rare terminal cancer. This was after being admitted to hospital after his pressure dropped and his temperature reached 41. It’s a difficult time for the family, but I was amazed at how much the technology in hospitals had come along.

My father was connected to a needle which recorded his pulse and recorded his heart rate, blood pressure and a number of other things. This way they were able to immediately respond when something changed dramatically, thus ensuring the well being of my father. The hospitals rely on donations to the trust for the HDU in Southend on Sea to enable them to continue to bring new technology into the HDU and Intensive Care areas. I am sure without this my Father would have declined considerably and may in fact not have been here today.

We visited the London Hospital this week, and in the meeting we were able to see the full CT Scan and MRI scan results in a way which pictures alone would not have made sense. Once again amazing how technology has progressed in the last 5 years or so, and what was really comforting at a time which is very upsetting, is that the doctor was able to completely walk us through everything that was happening to my father in a methodical and pictorial way.

My father is now on a palliative care programme and along with this he hospital have already supplied some equipment and when the stage gets worse in the next few months, we have already been informed that monitors and drug dispensing systems will be sent to his home until he no longer requires them.

It’s great to see that even in difficult times, we are so dependent upon technology, which can predict and save lives. Were just a little late in diagnosing my father’s condition for such a rare cancer.


Computer Weekly readers love NEC…and Kylie…

Rebecca Thompson at Computer Weekly recently ran a fantastic article about the NEC technology infrastructure at the heart of the O2 Arena, interviewing my colleague Richard Farnworth, Manager of Enterprise Solutions at NEC.

We managed to include some great photography of the site and some of the gigs that have taken place at the arena, including Kylie and Take That. We obviously loved the coverage but it seems so do the discerning readers of Computer Weekly, with 1,500 views within a very short period of being uploaded to the site.

The coverage even made it into the Twittersphere after being posted by Computer Weekly and then quickly being picked up and retweeted by tech observers online, I love it when a plan comes together!

EU takes first big step into making online research a precise science

There has been a longstanding debate around the now established trend of students and professionals conducting research online, primarily using Google as the key portal for their work. The area of contention around this is the lack of regulation of information sources online and the thought that more rigorous assessment of data is needed during research before it can be thought of as accurate.

In sharp contrast to these concerns is the obvious point that information via Google is far more accessible and searchable than information held within hardcopy publications. As a result, accurate research has required an uncomfortable mixture of on and offline delving. But no longer.

Yesterday, the European Union launched Europeana, a searchable online portal hosting over 2 million digitised books and other pieces of cultural or historical importance held in more than 1,000 institutions in the 27 EU states. The archive includes the likes of Dante’s Divine Comedy and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and has made these prized works available to a far greater audience than ever before, whilst providing a service that enables accurate research online.

The service has proven incredibly popular receiving a frequency of 10 million hits an hour, a volume of traffic which served to freeze the site on its first day in service.

Initiatives like Europeana are a great step forward in making the Internet a valid source of information, an important step in the social integration of online technologies. This is a barrier that needs to be broken down to drive the mainstream adoption of the Internet as a utility for more than just email and online news.      

BT solves broadband issues….ish

The subject of broadband speeds has been in the news for a while, especially after it emerged that a number of internet providers were restricting the bandwidth of their most dedicated users to share the finite resource more evenly. This would be fine except that most of these internet providers were shaping the bandwidth of customers who had purchased unlimited contracts – supposedly guaranteeing them free rein to use the web as they saw fit. 


ISPs offering unlimited subscriptions had made the mistake of believing, and projecting, that consumers would simply continue using the internet for limited browsing and email. Obviously times – and browsing habits – moved on and consumers are now using the internet for content downloads and streaming and the many other applications that require far higher bandwidth than was initially anticipated.


To prevent their broadband services from crashing to the ground, providers tried to disincentivise users from downloading anything by crippling their broadband speed for a couple of days immediately after heavy internet usage.


Machiavellian activity like this from internet providers got people reviewing the small print of their internet subscriptions and most were seriously disheartened. It quickly became obvious that few people were receiving the broadband speeds advertised by ISPs due mainly to an aging and failing broadband network. There simply isn’t enough capacity for every user.


The limited bandwidth available is due to the copper wired telephony infrastructure that is used across most of the UK, which loses signal quickly and can only carry a limited amount of information at any one time.


To provide the level of capacity required to ensure consumers can receive their broadband at the listed speeds and removing the necessity for ‘shaping’, the whole aging infrastructure needs to be upgraded and replaced with fibre-optic cabling. This is prohibitively costly however and any discussion around which parties will actually pay for its delivery tends to regress into a bunfight.


BT commendably  put its head above the parapet back in July, regarding plans to invest £1.5 billion in upgrading its network to super-high next generation standards but has now opted for a different solution.


Rather than tackling the problem head on, the company would rather eke the last possible reserves from its network by offering hardware filters to BT customers – and potentially charging them for it.


These space age devices will filter out the distortion created by peripheral household electrical devices, which can a have an adverse effect on the quality of the broadband signal but any gains made will pale in comparison to the unrealised benefits available through an overhaul of the network infrastructure.


Without this desperately necessary overhaul, all online development within the UK will slowly grind to a halt. If the UK wants to continue to act as a hub for technological innovation and development, it’s  imperative that this infrastructure is brought up to standard…and soon.        








ChildLine using mobile and online to broaden its reach

At NEC we’re very interested in the concept of a Next Generation World (NGW), looking the future applications of current and evolved technology and our demo room at the O2 Arena is a key demonstration of the investment that NEC is placing in this area.

As a side point, we’re always interested in providing tours around the facility to interested parties, please leave a comment if you’d be interested inbeing shown around . Photos of the demo room are available here. 

I’ve already written in a few posts  this year about how the education sector is looking at engaging with teenagers through the use of mobile phones and other technology and it’s fantastic to see that the charity sector is also travelling in the same direction. A recent article on the BBC’s website has announced that ChildLine has begun to integrate online and mobile technology into its strategy for protecting vulnerable children.

Today ChildLine struggles to answer more than 67 per cent of the thousands of daily calls made to the organisation by children trying to find someone to speak to. To counter this shortfall. the charity is recruiting more telephone operatives whilst developing a broader spread of communication channels. Now children will be able to find the help they need by text message and via online portals such as MSN.

Through the roll-out of this service ChildLine has become aware of the different ways in which boys and girls are preferring to get in contact. Boys it seems are far happier discussing their problems via text message and are less likely to call help-lines, an audience that would not perhaps have previously benefited from ChildLine’s activity. It’s great to see such a worthy cause making its presence and impact even greater through the sensible utilisation of technology and the charity is a good example to many other organisations without such forward thinking strategies.

Mobiles as an educational tool

I wrote recently about an NEC-led future of education roundtable which took place at the O2 in July. At the event we discussed how teachers can better engage with students and how technology could and should be integrated into the teaching process to recognise the shift in this new generation of digital natives.

Strangely enough, this topic was at the heart of a recent BBC article, covered as part of the BBC’s School Report project.

Pupils at Marden High School in Tynemouth were surveyed about their mobile phone use, with the final results demonstrating just how pervasive technology is amongst today’s youth. Out of a survey group of 520 pupils only three didn’t carry mobile phones and most were using between £10 and £40 of credit each month.

Unsurprisingly, the reaction of teachers to this mobile phone epidemic was to err on the side of caution. Most teachers were concerned about the dangers of bullying, happyslapping and the inappropriate videoing of teachers and this seemed to be supported by anecdotal evidence provided from the pupils. As a result, at Marden High mobile phones are banned on school premises but even the Head Teacher David Stainhope was convinced that mobiles were still being used and that there was little that could be done to hold back the tide.

Funnily enough however, the school has realised that rather than adopting a see no evil, hear no evil approach and ignoring technology it needs to better integrate it into school life to manage the risks.

Children are being given advice on how to act if they are the victims of a mobile bullying campaign and most impressively teachers are even beginning to look at ways that mobiles can be used as educational tools.

What a remarkable and innovative approach. All hail Marsden High.

Just when you thought it was safe to leave the house…

I spotted a brilliantly quirky story in The Times yesterday, all about alien intruders on the International Space Station (ISS).

Luckily however the ‘monsters’ were just low-risk computer worms that had been transferred onto two of the astronauts’ laptops when back on Earth.

It’s quite telling, just how easy it is for computers to become infected with viruses even in the loneliest reaches of Space. It scares me to think just how hard it must be to keep a PC clean when it’s constantly interfacing with different bits of hardware and subject to thousands of downloaded files every month. 

Apparently neither of the laptops has any interaction with the main controls in the Space Station so we don’t have to worry about the ISS crashing into Earth from 217 miles up just yet. Although, if NASA with its billions of funding can’t keep it’s computers clean, what chance do we stand? I had better go and renew my Symantec subscription….