They are here to help

So there I was minding my own business finishing off the Friday FryUp when I got a phone call. The call was from a certain well known minister of communications who shall remain nameless. He wanted to roast me alive for comments made in this very column a couple of weeks ago.

So there I was minding my own business finishing off the Friday FryUp when I got a phone call.

Nothing unusual about that. I often work from home and get many phone calls, though our stupid automated switchboard thing that forwards my calls to my home number can't cope if the lines engaged and cuts people off. Do try again if you're being obfuscated, won't you?

The call was from a certain well known minister of communications who shall remain nameless. He wanted to roast me alive for comments made in this very column a couple of weeks ago.

You should know that in my household we have a new baby, so on occasion I can be found writing the first story of the day in my pyjamas.

And so it was that I received a dressing down while still in my dressing gown.

Actually it wasn't really a roasting -- more of a clarification, but that wouldn't have been so amusing to write (and I couldn't have written that last sentence). I'd written about the east coast and the problems facing any broadband rollout over there (huge and immense and overwhelming, on the face of it). I'd said there was no way any commercial entity would look at building infrastructure and that it would need government support if we were going to bring the region online. What I neglected to mention, of course, is that the government has promised to do just that and has budgeted "tens of millions of dollars" for such projects. Good point, well made. I was really only trying to reinforce how important that decision is. Really.

Politicians are an interesting bunch when it comes to technology. I've been talking with political parties about their use of technology and it ranges from extensive to "yes, I've got internet and have downloaded it to my hard drive". The latter ignorance is annoying in this day and age. Each party has a roading policy, some point of view on trains and on border control, yet some seem to think it beneath them to talk about technology or the internet. You won't become propeller-heads just because you admit to surfing the net, you know.

Fortunately there are saner people around than election campaign staff and some of them manage to work in government. Ours has just been judged third in a rating of e-government initiatives by the UN, just behind Australia and the US (second and first respectively). Trailing behind is the UK and Singapore, both of which I figured would score more highly.

The survey defined e-government as: "utilising the internet ... for delivering government information and services to citizens". National websites were checked over for content and services available that the "average citizen" would be most likely to use. (This is always a good sign. Too often sites are designed by companies without too much reference to how an external user would view them.) This was then compared with an index of 144 UN member states to judge apples alongside apples. No point saying East Timor doesn't have much of an e-government presence when it's been around for less than a year.

So hats off to the people behind e-government, though I see the new government portal has been put off till after the election following a decision based in part on technical problems. The site's search engine is returning results too slowly for anyone's liking so they're delaying till that's fixed. This is good -- there's little that irks me more on the web than a search engine that fails in its mission. That and pop-up windows. And websites that play music at me. And ads that are targeted at Americans and have no relevance to me despite my IP address clearly screaming "he's not from round here".

But those are probably topics for another column or two. I promise I'll be fully dressed next time.

Brislen is IDGNet’s reporter. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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