Thursday

Thursday 13/03/2003A friend calls up, in some distress. She has a brother in the army, stuck out in Kuwait, and since they've all had their mobile phones taken away there's no way she can get hold of him.

Thursday 13/03/2003
A friend calls up, in some distress. She has a brother in the army, stuck out in Kuwait, and since they've all had their mobile phones taken away there's no way she can get hold of him. She's desperate to pass on some family events, and to that end has tried to use the British Forces Post Office e-Bluey service. A Bluey is forces slang for a letter from home, and e-Blueys are a way to send one from a computer. Fantastic idea -- or would be, if it works. My friend can't make head nor tail of the system, and just gets incomprehensible error messages. So I take a look at www.bfpo.org.uk to see what's going on. Now, even if you're not a Web designer you might expect it to be a simple matter of registering, filling in an online form and pressing a Send button. Not a bit of it. The instructions are in a PDF file, so you have to have Acrobat Reader on your computer (she hasn't, and it won't load), and the system uses 'Bank level' security -- in other words, you've got to have cookies enabled, SSL and various other things set up just so. Oh, and you've got to be running a PC, preferably not behind a firewall, and using IE. Now, SSL I can understand -- after all, there will be some pretty personal stuff said in these letters and while I doubt the security of the realm is at stake you certainly want equivalent privacy to that you'd get in a letter. The rest, however, seems remarkably bureaucratic -- especially given that forces' families won't always have a high level of technical expertise, up-to-date computers and a willingness to spend ages online downloading things like Acrobat. A plain form with simple authorisation would do the trick. In any case, I failed to get much further than my friend when I tried to register myself. I got to the point where it said "Check your email for your authorisation": the message I got had a link to click, but this just put me back at the beginning of the authorisation procedure. A scrolling ticker on the site apologised for unspecified technical difficulties, and promised a resolution in an unspecified time: not good. As my friend said: these are the people who are organising a war? (Fun War Project: next time you see a nice cosy piece in the press about army chaplains helping their khaki flock with matters spiritual, see if you can't track down the US Army Chaplain training documents on the Web -- the ones where they go into the psychological warfare aspects of the job. Nice stuff, like finding out the religious concerns of the local populace and handing over the details to the psyops teams back at base in order to create better propaganda. Amen to that, brother...)