Ada Lovelace Day- Bertha Benz

Sometime ago Suw kicked this off .

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology. Women’s contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognised. We want you to tell the world about these unsung heroines. Whatever she does, whether she is a sysadmin or a tech entrepreneur, a programmer or a designer, developing software or hardware, a tech journalist or a tech consultant, we want to celebrate her achievements.

Well. Here we go. For this I have decided to go local and historical.  Ladenburg, where I live, is one of the cradles of the automotive industry. It is where the Benz family lived.  My Ada figure is Bertha Benz.


Bertha Benz (née Ringer) (born 3 May 1849 in Pforzheim, Germany, married inventor Karl Benz on 20 July 1872, and died 5 May 1944 in Ladenburg), was the first person to drive an automobile over a long distance.

On 5 August 1888 and without her husband’s knowledge, she drove her sons, Richard and Eugen, fourteen and fifteen years old, in one of Benz’s newly-constructed Patent Motorwagen automobiles—from Mannheim to Pforzheim—becoming the first person to drive an automobile over more than a very short distance. The distance was more than 106 km (more than sixty miles). Distances traveled before this historic trip were short, and merely trials with mechanical assistants. (From Wikipedia.)

Other interesting information about that trip. She repaired a fuel line blockage with a hairpin, and fixed the ignition with a garter.

Without this expedition, it is quite unlikely that Karl Benz would have had the successes that followed.  She took on the conventions of the time and proved to the world that this newfangled thing had a purpose.  Not only was this brave, but I reckon it was one of the greatest advertising and marketing moves in history. With this one trip, she turned the Patent Motorwagen 3 from perpetual beta into the real thing. Just think what impact this would have had on the male ego of 1888.

It seems to me that this was a family business, and Bertha deserves just as much credit as Karl got.

There is now a sign posted route following that first drive.


This is goodness, but next time you see a  Mercedes-Benz, pause, and think about Bertha.

As the automotive industry now faces its biggest crisis, it would do well to look to Bertha Benz’s legacy for inspiration.   Thanks Bertha for taking that drive.


The Database state

I would have blogged on this myself, but day job deadlines mean I can’t give it the attention I would like to.  This makes grim reading. 

Instead I will lift Intrepid Ian’s post.

The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust has this morning published our report on the UK Database State, which finds that:

  • A quarter of all major public sector databases are fundamentally flawed and almost certainly illegal. These should be scrapped or redesigned immediately;
  • The database state is victimising minority groups and vulnerable people, from single mothers to young black men and schoolchildren;
  • Children are amongst the ‘most at risk’ from Britain’s Database State, with three of the largest databases set up to support and protect children failing to achieve their aims;
  • Data sharing is a barrier to socially responsible activities. It is deterring teenagers from accessing health advice and undermining goodwill towards law enforcement;
  • Only 15% of major public sector databases are effective, proportionate and necessary;
  • We spend £16 billion a year on public sector IT and a further £105bn spending is planned for the next five years – but only 30% of public-sector IT projects succeed.

The runaway growth of public sector databases was surprising even to those of us that follow them closely. They have taken six months to catalogue.
You can see coverage of the report in the Guardian, Telegraph, Times, Independent, BBC News, Daily Mail, Metro and from Reuters.

Jeffrey Walker. Rockstrong. Cancer dude.


This my favourite t-shirt. I wear it a lot. I got it from Jeffrey Walker.  He is a member of the band “The Occasionals”, President of Atlassian, and all round good egg.  He is now also fighting cancer for the 4th time.

His positive attitude is  simply awe inspiring. Read his post, and you will be moved.  It makes other problems seem trivial.  I tried to find a bit to quote, but I think it is better if you head over there and read it all.

 Zoli’s post is well worth a read. His advice.

So let’s do our part: please comment on his blog, write your own post, Twitter, Friendfeed, you name it – just link to his post, and use the tag cancerdude.  Let’s give Jeffrey all the inspiration we can.

Jeffrey. You rockstrong.

Payroll and cycling


photo. My bike. In Italy last summer

As my readers here know, I enjoy long distance cycling. Throughout the warmer months of the year, I try and get out on my bicycle most days. I normally train for a big event, involving some big hills, so that I have a goal to aim for. I do my best thinking on my bike. Pain somehow helps clear the brain.

It also means I can talk about bicycle components and bore people to death at will.

I had a quick trip to the US last week, and because of meetings, I couldn’t fly out on Friday evening. So I got to sneak in a quick ride with some friends before I flew back on Saturday lunchtime.  I packed my cycling shoes, pedals and a helmet, and Mark kindly lent me a bike. It was easy to plug my pedals onto his spare bike.  Standards in the physical world just seem to work, unlike those in software.

It was a much better way to spend a Saturday morning than trawling a mall, or doing email in the airport lounge. We rode through the pretty rolling hills between Woodside and Redwood, just south of San Francisco. 6 months ago, it would have been a gentle spin, but I felt it in my legs and lungs by the time we got back.  Putting it simply, I’m not as fit as I was then. That fitness that I worked at constantly through last spring, summer and autumn has faded.  This was a sharp reminder that last year’s efforts matter very little this year. Now that the days are a bit longer, I need to find time to get out on the bike again. Use it or lose it.

What has this got to do with payroll?

Well, quite a lot.

A payroll also gets out of shape very quickly if you don’t focus on regular maintenance, much more so than most other systems. Rules and laws change often, as governments add new layers of regulation. New laws and taxes often make what worked perfectly last year no longer valid. When looking at HR systems and especially payrolls, you need to ask the tough questions. Getting payroll fit isn’t easy, but staying payroll fit is even harder.  Look your vendor in the eye. Figure out whether they are just selling you the bicycle or whether they will help keep you in shape.