Archives For Off Topic…

For those of you who might be wondering at the lack of recent posts I’m a little pre-occupied at the moment as I’m writing a book. Hope to have a first draft ready in July. ; )

Simple sabotage…


Earlier this year the US Government declassified a WWII OSS field manual on sabotage. Now the Simple Sabotage Field Manual is not what you might think. No it’s not a 101 on blowing up bridges, nor is it a cookbook for how to conduct Operation Kutschera, but rather it’s aimed at a lower key sabotage of ordinary working practices inside the organisation. For example using conferences and meetings to strategically delay decision making. Nobody get kills but that new Panzer design with the Porsche turret? Well sorry Reichs Marshall it’ll be buried in design committee until about 1948. Charlie Stross went on to twitter asking for modern updates to the OSS manual, I’m not sure whether that exercise increased or decreased the net sum of human happiness, but hey, it was amusing.

Which got me to thinking, if you read the OSS manual and find that every working day seems like a text book play courtesy of the boys from Prince William Park, then shouldn’t you logically conclude that you are sitting in the middle of a war? If you see folk in your organisation regularly using moves out of the OSS play book they may not be just haplessly incompetent. If nothing else this should make you look at your daily fare of corporate hooey in a new light. So stay frosty people, and remember three times is enemy action.


For no other reason than to answer the rhetorical question. Feel free to share.


Once again my hometown of Newcastle is being battered by fierce winds and storms, in yet another ‘storm of the century’, the scene above is just around the corner from my place in the inner city suburb of Cooks Hill. We’re now into our our second day of category two cyclonic winds and rain with many parts of the city flooded, and without power. Dungog a small town to the North of us is cut off and several houses have been swept off their piers there, three deaths are reported. My 8 minute walk to work this morning was an adventure to say the least.

On the road again



Well after a week away teaching system safety to Navy in the depths of Victoria I’m off again! Current destination, the IET’s System Safety and Cyber Security conference in Manchester.

Just to mention that if you’re coming to the workshop day I’ll be running one on safety cases, so if you’re interested drop by and pull up a chair. 🙂

Good grief, apparently it’s five years ago that I started writing this blog, with the first post being Flu pandemics and Small World Theory, percolation being all the rage back then. 🙂

Garbage, lots and lots of garbage. I guess if nothing else this shows what a giant waste dump we’ve turned our oceans into.

Hopefully the sub-search will have more luck, but with the search box as big as it is, and the undersea terrain as mountainous as it is, it’s a bit like searching from the air for the glint of a needle that’s been thrown out of plane somewhere over the Rockies…when you don’t even have a good map of the Rockies.

For his outstanding contributions to computer science, Leslie Lamport, father of the Byzantine Generals problem, has been awarded the 2013 ACM Turing Award.

What an unexpected pleasure. I’ve been asked to give a keynote speech at this year’s IET system safety and cyber security conference. So if you want to hear me in the flesh gentle reader, come along to Manchester this October, I promise to provocative.

WRESAT Tests (Image source: Australian government)

Australia is a lucky country, run by second-rate people who share its luck

At the end of WWII my country could make its own aircraft, radar sets, ships and tanks. By 1947 Ben Chifley our war-time prime minister had launched the Snowy Mountain scheme,  and by 1958 we had built HIFAR our first nuclear reactor. In 1967 we were the fourth nation to launch a satellite into orbit, and were pioneering digital computers on the Snowy scheme. So how did a nation that did all these things not because they were easy, but because they were important, end up in a situation where the dying heart of it’s industrial might is considered a few foreign-owned car manufacturing plants in Victoria?

I had in mind in particular the lack of innovation in Australian manufacturing and some other forms of Australian business, banking for example. In these, as a colonial carry over, Australia showed less enterprise than almost any other prosperous industrial society.

Donald Horne

We seem to have lost the ability to imagine a tomorrow different from today, and then to act on that imagining. Instead our future is mapped out by the great and the good as little more than a large open cut mine. Nation building? We’ll have none of that, it’s all about homo-economicus, the citizen defined as consumer and the devil take the hindmost. Energy policy? Why would we need that? We’ve got plenty of coal to burn for another two centuries. Imagination and reflection? No time in the feeding frenzy media cycle that substitutes for informed and rational debate. Nor are our so called business leaders any better, an obsession with short term gain and an unwillingness to take risks has led to our best individuals and their ideas decamping overseas.

The problem is that this century is shaping up to to be even tougher than the last and any nation that lacks imagination, courage and the tenacity to stay the course will just go under. I wish I could report that I think Australians have what it takes to weather the coming storm, but viewing the puerile partisan debates swirling around the latest casualties in a long dying half century of neglectful myopia I am less than optimistic.

In June of last year I gave a short three day course on system safety at UNSW@Canberra, and this year they’ve asked me back to run it again!

Anyone who wants a good understanding of the theory and practice of system safety and how to manage safety risk, as well as an overview of modern risk theory, would find the course of interest and, I hope, useful.

There’s currently planned two course dates. The first is the original three day form, for those of us who are time poor, while the second is five days. Dates are as follows:

  1. 16-18 Jun  – 3 day short course.
  2. 14-18 July – 5 day course.
Look forward to seeing you there. 🙂

Elysium (Image Source:

Guess what, you’re living in the future

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The pentagon is functioning (Image Source: USN)

….And there are still unknown, unknowns

A while ago I posted a short piece on the difference between aleatory, epistemic and ontological uncertainty, using Don Rumsfeld’s famous news conference comments as a good introduction to the subject.

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In any significant design effort a fundamental part of managing and controlling the design effort is establishing a single entity, independent of the ‘agency of design’ itself in which accountability, responsibility and authority over the design is vested.

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After an interminable discussion with some engineering colleagues as to what was the expection of a design team should be when they saw the word ‘preliminary’, I got fed up and stomped back to my workstation to nail this particular issue to the floor.

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Information theory and Twitter

Having observed the behaviour of the twitterverse for some time now I propose the following general law of twitter and information value:

The number of twitters on any given subject is inversely proportional to the number of known facts taken to some power.

Just thought you’d like to know. 🙂

Light this Candle


What is it, that makes a man willing to sit up on top of an enormous Roman candle … and wait for someone to light the fuse? On the 5th of May 1961, Alan Shepard was launched from Cape Canaveral Florida, on a sub-orbital mission as the first US manned spaceflight.

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This week marks the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s orbital flight in Vostok 1. Salyut Major Gargarin.

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Way off topic for this blog but I watched the ABC’s 7:30 current affair report on thursday in which Kevin, our illustrious prime minister, was put on the spot about why he has publically supported Australia having a population of 35 million people. His response? Well basically his argument was “it’s bigger than both of us so jus lie back and enjoy it”.

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