Tag Archives: consultant

Traffic Light Scam II

More on the Italian traffic light scam. I wrote to Mr. Arrighetti asking for comment, and received this from Silvia Guelpa, who says she is a consultant to the company. In summary, she’s arguing that the company, and its founder Stefano Arrighetti, haven’t done anything wrong and that if anyone has broken the law it’s the companies and police who have been responsible for changing the settings which created the huge volume of tickets.

She makes the points that

  • KRIA is a manufacturer and does not sell to the City Councils but to Companies who rent the T-RED to the Police with contracts based on the number of ticket (about 30%).
  • T-RED—the system–does not actually control the traffic lights, which are managed by a controller.
  • T-RED can be configured to detect immediately after the red phase begins or after a configured delay (0-10.000ms). Local Police and Companies renting the systems set the yellow on the controller for as short a period as possible and reset to zero the above mentioned delay, in order to increase the number of tickets.

This, she says, is what is causing the abnormal number of tickets.

She also says there has already been one investigation, by Milan’s attorney, which concluded after one year that KRIA is “absolutely innocent and out of any private interest.” That investigation, she says, resulted in the arrest of “bosses of the companies buying and renting T-RED and they admitted that they forced and won many tenders incorrectly.”

But with public outcry still strong—three million tickets still had to be paid—Verona’s attorney started investigating KRIA’s certification—whether or not its system had all the right paperwork. The idea, she says, was to find an excuse to cancel all the tickets.

KRIA believes it has all the right certification, arguing that the only parts which need to be certified are “the fixed, immutable components of the device”–cameras, lighting systems, PC and PCI board. But Ms Guelpa says the attorney’s power “is unlimited during the investigation phase. They can even arrest people.”

Her argument is basically that Mr. Arrighetti is being made a scapegoat on a technicality.

Lesson from this? I guess I’m still reeling from the idea that police forces would fiddle the system to fill their coffers, not just in Italy but elsewhere. But I guess the bigger point is that all kinds of technology are susceptible to this kind of manipulation, which raises the question: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Extending Your Brainpower

This Software ‘Thinks’ Just Like You, But Makes Connections You Had Missed

WSJ Online June 22, 2007

By Jeremy Wagstaff

Here’s a heads-up on some organizing software that may take some getting used to. Frankly, it’s taken me nearly 10 years to appreciate its power. But now that I do, it has become something of an obsession. I even have dreams about it.

It’s a defiantly different kind of thought-mapping program called PersonalBrain, and a new version (including versions for Mac and Linux users) will be launched next month by U.S.-based TheBrain Technologies LP. Users include scientists, soldiers, inventors and others who have used it to marshal their collections of thoughts, projects and even databases on criminal syndicates. I find it so useful and absorbing, there’s nothing — be it a Web site link, a random idea, a contact, a document, a scrap of information — that I don’t add to its spider-web-like screen, knowing it will throw up links my brain had never considered or had failed to remember.

So what is it, and what does it do? Well, if you’ve ever created a so-called mind-map — a brainstorming technique that creates a burst of thoughts from one central idea or topic — you’ll notice the similarities. Ideas branch out from the center, organizing your thoughts in hierarchies. PersonalBrain, however, is less interested in building hierarchies, and more interested in mimicking the way the brain works. You nominate whatever is uppermost in your mind, and it rearranges things to illustrate the connections that thought has with other ideas in your head. Think less about branches, more about a freeform spiderweb.

PersonalBrain’s screen appearance hasn’t changed much since 1998, and it still looks contemporary. You’d be hard pressed to say that about any other software program. First impressions are positive. It looks good when you launch it, with its navy blue background and spinning central wheel and its spiderweb of links. Once you’ve got the hang of dragging little circles around a word, you get the idea of adding more threads to the web. Click on a word and it jumps to the center, the web of other words and links rearranging themselves around it.

It’s about now that new users tend to flounder a little. Certainly I did: I couldn’t immediately grasp the idea that PersonalBrain is less about getting a bird’s eye view of a subject — there are plenty of tools for that, like MindManager, or TopicScape 3D — than about helping you build and find connections between things you’re interested in. Italian consultant to the Italian police Roberto Capodieci (www.excomputer.net) uses it for tracking the connections among members of a criminal network, while British science historian James Burke uses it to track the links between history’s great inventors.

Now there’s nothing particularly magical in this. It’s not as if PersonalBrain is doing the linking for you. You have to build the links yourself. But remembering all the connections is something else. That’s where PersonalBrain comes in. Bali-based Mr. Capodieci, for example, adds a few basic terms (what the software calls thoughts) as categories — suspects, locations, criminal activities, phone records, etc. For each suspect, he adds a thought. Under locations, he adds places he is surveying — bars, restaurants, clubs — and then under criminal activities adds prostitution, drug dealing, robberies, etc. The next step is to start linking the suspects to the locations and to the activities. Pretty soon it is clear that two suspects in the same bar engaged in the same kind of activity are likely to know each other. Those frequenting more than one bar might be the links between two groups of suspects. Then he adds the suspects’ phone-call records, further linking them together and building a picture of the gangs he is dealing with.

Now your work or interests may not stretch to Soprano-like family trees. (Mr. Capodieci says he began using PersonalBrain when he found it installed on a hacker’s computer: the hacker was using it to store information about employees at a company to improve his efforts at engineering a scam.) But whatever your interest, however smart you are and however good a memory you have, you’re unlikely to be able to make and remember all these kinds of connections — especially over years. One longtime user, U.S.-based technology consultant Jerry Michalksi, has more than 60,000 so-called thoughts in his PersonalBrain, covering everything he has collected in 10 years.

While the new version dovetails better with Microsoft Outlook and has several important new features, it doesn’t feel quite as attractive as its predecessor. Nonetheless, after a few unsuccessful attempts I finally got going with it a few months ago, and now I can’t leave it alone. Pretty much every idea I have (admittedly not many), every Web site I like, every contact I’ve made ends up in my PersonalBrain, linked together by topic (such as “Web sites promoting good shaving practice”), or place, or friends in common, or temporary categories (such as “What I need to work on next”). While other tools would balk at trying to relate one item to more than a handful of others, PersonalBrain positively cries out for it.

Even after three months I’m only scratching the surface with about 4,000 thoughts. I’m also discovering connections that wouldn’t have occurred to me — and finding, lurking there in my PersonalBrain things I’d already forgotten I knew. As its creator, Harlan Hugh, said recently: “It’s like anything that’s truly new; you’re not going to be an instant expert, but we think it’s easy enough to see the benefits.”

I can’t guarantee PersonalBrain will help you sleep better. But if you persevere, I feel sure it will grab you as much as it has grabbed me.

The Consultant Scam

This is nothing to do with technology but it’s something close to my heart: the waste of money that are many aid projects. British charity organisation ActionAid UK has issued a report which reveals the high cost of consultants:

Aid provided by rich governments needs to target poverty. Instead, one quarter of their aid – $20bn a year – funds expensive and often ineffective western consultants, research and training.

This is no truer than in Indonesia and East Timor, where huge amounts of money are spent on projects that go on for years. All these are led by foreigners. The East Timorese government recently collapsed in an orgy of violence, effectively taking the country back to when it first liberated itself from Indonesia in 1999. How much money had been spent in the interim on building up those institutions, and how much of that money went to foreign consultants? As the report says:

A typical cost of an expatriate consultant will be in the region of $200,000 a year. According to the OECD, in typical cases more than one third of this is spent on school fees and child allowances – spending which would not be needed if local consultants were used.

Findings show that in Cambodia, consultants’ fees were $17,000 a month while government salaries were only $40. In Ghana, even relatively inexperienced consultants earned per day what government officials earned in a month. In Sierra Leone, according to one former UK-funded consultant, daily take-home pay was the same as the Auditor General’s monthly salary.

It’s not as if all these consultants actually help:

In Tanzania, Japanese consultants on an irrigation project introduced the use of diesel pumps that have become too expensive for local farmers. A massive increase in fuel costs have made them three times more expensive than other alternatives. The pumps now lie idle and farmers are worse off than before.

This is not a one off. I’ve heard dozens of these kinds of stories.

It has to be said that some projects are excellent and the consultants doing great work. To attract these people so they are willing to commit to a career in this field the rewards need to be attractive; it’s OK to do some voluntary work for a year or two, but not many are going to dedicate a life to it. But too often the money is silly money, and much of it is wasted on mediocre work. And the priorities are skewed: Usually the consultant’s goal primarily to extend the contract, or use his or her final report to argue for extending or furthering the project (which of course means the further hiring of that consultant or his/her organisation.) Rarely does one see a consultant arguing for less projects, less money spent, or simply acknowledgement that their work is not cost-effective and should be canned.

Save Money: Fire Yourself

How often does this happen? Mankato editor resigns rather than cut staff

MANKATO, Minn. — The top editor of The Free Press announced she would resign rather than cut newsroom jobs to meet budget targets.

On Tuesday, The Free Press reported the decision by editor Deb Flemming to leave the company on April 9 as part of a broader cost-cutting plan. She informed her staff on Monday.

“Clearly, my leaving kept additional folks in the newsroom,” she said. “You need people to do the job. Without people, it will impact the quality of the product you give readers.”

Flemming, 50, said she wouldn’t be looking for another newspaper job, at least right away. “I’ve been doing this for 25 years and I’m really looking forward to a change.”

Hats off to her. I await a report that a consultant hired to cuts costs immediately scrapped his own contract on cost-cutting grounds.

WhenU’s Popup Victory

WhenU, now known as Claria, has won what it calls an “important decision for the entire Internet industry” in its motion to enjoin the Utah Spyware Control Act, passed in March. WhenU had argued the Act “affects legitimate Internet advertising companies and therefore violates the First Amendment and dormant Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution, among other laws”. (Here’s a CNET story on the verdict.)

If I understand the ruling correctly (and this is based largely on Ben Edelman’s assistance), the judge has ruled that, in this particular law, Utah was unconstitutional in trying to limit popups, while it was within the constitution in trying to outlaw spyware — or more specifically, software that is installed without a licence and lack a proper uninstall procedure. As the judge did no want to break the act in half he ruled in favour of a preliminary injunction for WhenU. Ben, who works as a consultant for the Utah government, reckons WhenU could lose on appeal, since under Utah law, the judge “is obliged to regard the act as ‘severable'” — in other words, that he can keep parts and discard parts.

Avi Naider, WhenU’s Chief Executive Officer, meanwhile, is celebrating his victory. “Spyware is a problem and we want to put an end to it,” he says in a press release. “WhenU supports appropriate anti-spyware legislation at the federal level, but unfortunately Utah’s Act also impairs legitimate Internet advertising.”

More On Plaxo And Privacy

An interesting academic piece on the privacy aspects of Plaxo (and other networking services), noticed by bagus.

Roger Clarke, who wears several hats as an academic and consultant in Australia and Hong Kong, focuses not on the privacy of those who sign up for such services but “on a matter that is new, and of great concern: the privacy of other individuals whose data is volunteered to such services by its users.”

The piece is worth reading. He makes some important points about how this is more than just an issue of some sleazy marketing guy making use of your data to sell you stuff, or build a profile of your shopping habits. He also points out that this kind of data — stored by individuals in a private capacity — is not covered by most data protection laws.

His conclusion:  “In general, people would be well-advised firstly to stay well clear of all address-book and ‘social networking systems’, and secondly to prevail upon their friends, colleagues and acquaintances that they should avoid making any data about them available to service-operators like Plaxo.”

Column: Under the Wire

UNDER THE WIRE

The Latest Software and Hardware Upgrades, Plug-Ins and Add-Ons

from the 5 June 2003 of edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review , (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

History Scanned

The past is being digitized — fast. The ProQuest Historical Newspapers program has just finished scanning more than a century of copies of The Washington Post to its existing database. The database includes each page from every issue, in PDF files, from 1877-1987. The program has already done The New York Times (1851-1999), The Wall Street Journal (1889-1985) and The Christian Science Monitor (1908-1990).

Cellphone with Character

Somewhat belatedly, Nokia is getting into the handwriting phone thing, aiming itself squarely at the huge Chinese market. On May 20, it unveiled the 6108, created in the firm’s product-design centre in Beijing. The keypad flips open to reveal a small area on which Chinese words can be handwritten with a stylus. A character-recognition engine will convert the scrawls into text, which can then be sent as a message. The phone will be available in the third quarter.

Security Compromised

A new survey reckons “security breaches across the Asia-Pacific region have reached epidemic levels.” In a report released last week, Evans Data Corp. said that 75% of developers reported at least one security breach — basically any kind of successful attack on their computer systems — in the past year. China is worst off, from 59% of developers reporting at least one security breach last year to 84% this year. It doesn’t help that most of the software is compromised: Tech consultant Gartner has recommended its clients drop Passport, the Microsoft service that allows users to store all their passwords, account details and other valuable stuff on-line, saying Passport identities could be easily compromised. This follows a flaw revealed earlier this month by Microsoft after an independent researcher in Pakistan noticed he could get access to any of the more than 200 million Passport accounts used to authenticate e-mail, e-commerce and other transactions. Microsoft says it has resolved the problem and does not know of any accounts that were breached. Gartner’s not impressed: “Microsoft failed to thoroughly test Passport’s security architecture, and this flaw — uncovered more than six months after Microsoft added the vulnerable feature to the system — raises serious doubts about the reliability of every Passport identity issued to date.”

Son of Napster

Apple’s apparent success with iTunes seems to have prodded some action in the on-line music market. Roxio, maker of CD recording software among other things, said last week it would buy PressPlay from Universal Music and Sony Music Entertainment for about $40 million in cash and rename the whole caboodle Napster, which it earlier bought for $5.3 million. Pressplay offers radio stations and unlimited tethered downloads for $9.95 a month in addition to song downloads that allow for CD burning. My tuppennies? None of this will work unless companies put no restrictions on the files downloaded. Emusic does it that way and it’s why a lot of people keep coming back.