The political price of complexity.

Posted: October 2nd, 2014 | Author: antoin | 2 Comments »

When will politicians learn the political price of complexity?

Look at Irish Water.

First things first. Establishing a national utility out of a local authority patchwork of pipes and personnel is complicated to begin with. There are a lot of people to satisfy, a lot of metaphorical buried bodies, and a whole load of politics.

But layering on even more components makes the project even more complex. Look at how Irish Water has made a complicated assignment into a labyrinthine project.

Firstly, there’s the accelerated meter installation program. The plan was to have a large proportion of the two million remotely readable domestic meters installed by the beginning of this month. That didn’t happen. Installing and commissioning one of these meters requires many steps and a lot of things can and do go wrong. Dodgy pipes, bad workmanship and shared water supplies are just some of the obstacles. At the wider system level, these remotely readable meters are a new technology in Ireland and there is relatively little expertise in making them work. There are no statistics that I know of on how far Irish Water has gotten with its meter project, but it looks like they are less than half-way there.

There was really no need to install such complex meters on the first go out. A simpler in-home non-digital meter which water users could opt into having installed would have been cheaper and faster. The fancy meters could have been rolled out over a number of years, as the mains got upgraded.

Secondly, there is an ultra-complex system of charging, based on a structure of allowances and estimated assessments of water use (these assessments are critical because the meter program is so far behind schedule). The official description of the charging structure is some 31 pages long.

The simple alternative to this charging system and was described by Richard Tol in 2011. With this system, meters would be opt-in. The same allowances for children and usage could have been provided through increases in social welfare and through adjusting tax credits to put more money in people’s pockets to pay the charge.

Finally, the two factors above have converged to create a requirement for an extremely complex IT system. The requirement to collect personal information to assign allowances to individuals means that there are extremely complex issues around privacy, which Irish Water does not seem to have fully grasped.

This complexity has also resulted in a pretty odd website, a disastrous PR campaign based on some pretty dodgy conceptual work described in this fascinating PowerPoint presentation. There are ‘tribute’ sites inspired by and devoted to the topic of Irish Water and which give (un-useful) tips on what to do if Irish Water should happen to try to install one of their new fangled gadgets outside your house. The long term comedic value of the Irish Water ‘ecosystem’ should not be underestimated.

The end result of this is that Irish Water is wasting a lot of money on effort on a metering system that doesn’t really do anything to help it achieve its goal. Instead of focusing on driving down the cost of water, encouraging water saving and fixing the leaks in our rather dodgy national water network, Irish Water has gotten itself bogged down in an expensive, unpopular and ultimately unnecessary project which is going to deliver a lot of problems and very few benefits. But it isn’t Irish Water who will have to bear the cost. It will be citizens, and their elected politicians, who will pay the price.


A car you can download

Posted: June 25th, 2014 | Author: antoin | No Comments »

The Tabby, an open source car, is now available for download. The idea is that this open car ‘platform’ can be customised for particular needs in particular markets. Cars could be produced in batches of hundreds or thousands or even as an individual item, to meet an individual need, but still be based on the core platform.

A little like the way every Android phone and iPhone is built on the same basic platform, but can be customised in umpteen ways by the owner to meet their particular need.

illustration of Tabby Car

Tabby Car from OSVehicle

I look forward to hearing from experts how open this design actually is, and what can really be done with it, and what price point it could be done at.


A short guide to buying health insurance in Ireland

Posted: February 4th, 2014 | Author: antoin | 2 Comments »

There was an interesting article in the Irish Times today about health insurance in Ireland by Fiona Reddan. It was interesting, in that it addressed some questions and queries about health insurance, but not that helpful in that it didn’t provide any answer to the question of how to get the best value for  your health expenditure. It also stepped around the obvious conclusion: private health insurance is good value, if you can afford it. So, here is my short guide to buying health insurance. Read the rest of this entry »


The MOOCs and the A’s, B’s and C’s of education.

Posted: January 14th, 2014 | Author: antoin | No Comments »

In 2012MOOCs promised, in a roundabout way, to change the way education delivered. In mythical MOOCland, education would no longer be tied to place or constrained by numbers. It didn’t quite work out that way, but like any trip to a far off land, the MOOC experience teaches us some  ’home truths’ about education. The educational system isn’t really about delivering educational excellence and a lot of the time, it isn’t even about delivering education. Rather, the education system is actually focused on delivering adequate outcomes and protecting social cohesion. Read the rest of this entry »


How not to lose mail; how not to lose €3.6 billion

Posted: January 13th, 2014 | Author: antoin | No Comments »

The Department of Finance loses mail. When you are responsible for cash flows amounting to billions of euros per year. I used to lose mail too. Really, I was very disorganised. Read the rest of this entry »


Charging for Postcodes and the Legendary Ryanair Toilet Levy

Posted: November 19th, 2013 | Author: antoin | 4 Comments »

Yesterday we got some information about how open the Irish postcode system will be funded. Essentially the idea is to pay for its setup and operating costs out of a charge to end-users for the database – charging for access to the ‘facility’, if you like. This ‘licence fee’ is a rather humdrum traditional idea about charging for things to do with computers and information.

Read the rest of this entry »


An electric car, by the kilometre.

Posted: November 3rd, 2013 | Author: antoin | No Comments »


This new electric car chassis concept, the Tabby caught my attention. Worth also checking this coverage from Bloomberg. Now, this isn’t really meant to be a finished car; it’s supposed to be an open-source platform for building a finished vehicle, electric or otherwise. But they are talking about being able to build a car for ten thousand euros with this kit. Read the rest of this entry »


Why the kids shouldn’t have to use MS Word

Posted: October 12th, 2013 | Author: antoin | No Comments »

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Microsoft Word is a software program with serious issues. But is the issue really with the program, or is the issue with the whole idea of a print-oriented word processor? Read the rest of this entry »


Too many bad decisions – why the Seanad matters

Posted: September 23rd, 2013 | Author: antoin | No Comments »

The Seanad debate trundles on with discussion of power grabs, costs, referendum powers and so on. What is getting lost is the issue we should all be obsessed with – the consistently bad quality of decisionmaking at the highest levels in Ireland -.

As a nation, we make too many bad decisions. Our political machinery makes these decisions apparently without being fully informed of the full range of options available, or indeed of the consequences of the options chosen. And sometimes we just seem to sleepwalk into these mistakes. The job of a well-formed Seanad should be to awaken us and our politicians from our stupor.

Read the rest of this entry »


Patronage not profit. The future of Irish news media

Posted: August 23rd, 2013 | Author: antoin | No Comments »

As a nation, we are mad for opening up media outlets. We have over 20  daily or weekly newspapers of national scope (see lists for Ireland and Northern Ireland) and countless local and specialist publications. The Internet is a facilitator for new publications and there are plenty there too. This continued expansion seems like the future.

Some optimists in the industry believe new revenue streams will open up as web users get used to paying for their content. (see this report about the Irish Times’ plans and this one in relation to the Independent.)

I think that on the whole, the opposite will happen to Irish media on both scores. Read the rest of this entry »