Archive for the ‘Other’ Category

International man of mystery

Well, a well traveled Briton at least.  In the space of a fortnight I will have accumulated nearly 1500 miles of travel, which is a lot for a homeboy like me.

Last week, I was in Lancaster for the second, and final, PhD residential experience.  Of the twenty-five who started the course, we’re now down to effectively sixteen.  Attrition rates are traditionally high on higher degree courses, and whilst it was great to meet everyone again and renew our commitment to the course, it’s also a little sad that so many have dropped by the wayside.

The week itself was busy, both socially and academically.  I’ve mind mapped like there’s no tomorrow, been confused by some discussions, and had foggy ideas clarified by others.  One important element was the discussion of our ‘Part 2’ ideas, the thesis which I’ll be working on from the end of the year through to the end of 2013.  I have the germ of an idea, which wasn’t completely laughed out of the classroom, which I’m pleased about.

This week has been manic so far, writing online lectures and resources, and also catching up on Open University marking – I couldn’t do this the weekend as one of my PhD colleagues stayed for a couple of days – great fun but I have been playing catch-up which has only just eased itself.

Tomorrow will be an interesting day, a crack-of-dawn train down to London to a legal practice, this time to look at some risk-assessment software and look at risks that the Charity sector face.  It’s been a long time since I’ve done something like this, though it used to be a regular part of my job evaluating software packages.  It will be interesting to see how many awkward questions I can ask.

The it’s the glorious weekend, when I hope the toughest thing I’ll do is battle with Morrisons and hang out some washing, before flying off to Edinburgh next week for ICPD2 – not as I thought at first one of the lesser known droids in Star Wars.  I’ve already written about this, so I won’t bore you again, but it could be an intense, but fun packed few days.

Then we’re into Easter breaks, and with bank holidays and royal weddings I don’t have a full week at work for a good while… around this time though the next part of my PhD starts.  I’ve already accessed many of the readings, and this is a subject that does interest me.  I’m looking forward to this, the last substantive module in the ‘taught’ part of the course.

So, if anyone emails me and gets an ‘out of office’ reply, then you’ll know why over the next few days.  As Trillian says, we’ll have normality – “just as soon as we know what is normal anyway”.

Radio 4 Extra – The First Weekend

I have spent much, some would say too much of the weekend listening to Radio 4 Extra, the successor to Radio 7, or as some of us will still think of it due to early publicity, BBC 7.
I actually set my alarm for 5:55 on Saturday morning so that I could hear the switch over, and see if my digital bedside radio (one of two by my bed actually, for complex reasons) would change the name automatically.

Maybe they could have chosen a better start to the station than a play by George Bernard Shaw, but remember that the start of channel five was heralded by the Spice Girls singing 5-4-3-2-1 so at least it’s an improvement on that.

There is much to like about the new schedule. Comedy and drama seem to have a roughly 50:50 balance in the new schedule, with space for more 90 minute dramas. Whilst none of these yet have been my cup of tea, that isn’t the fault of the programme planners. Sci-Fi is still planned for 6pm and midnight, and in a shamelessly popularise move, the heavily plugged Torchwood dramas, all of which I have heard before and have varying levels of success are leading this.

But there are some criticisms. Repeats within the day are still to frequent, and for the moment appear unpredictable. I am sure over time I will start to notice when the repeats are scheduled, and this weekend was exceptional in the amount that I listened to, but there’s still to many. There is a good argument to be made that with iPlayer there is no need for any repeats, but I know a schedule has to be filled.

And the 10:00 Saturday evening comedian stand-up slot is a good idea, but to start with a frankly filthy routine by Whoopi Goldberg, which dealt with ‘lady parts’ for much that I was able to listen to (about 10 minutes) – I was glad to switch to Family Guy for something more cerebral.

I am away all this week, but have packed my little Pure Mi radio in my overstuffed gadget bag, and will enjoy listening to the new schedule. I did really enjoy waking to Dick Barton, special agent at 6:45, and even forgave the whimsical (i.e. boring) Ballylenon at 7:00 – after eight years of big toe/little toe/cbeebies in the morning, I’ll forgive much – except for King Street Junior, for which I have a personal hatred that goes beyond the rational.

So I would give Radio 4 Extra 7.5/10 for its first few days. Room for improvement, but could have been much worse.

Brownhills Brownhills, a wonderful town!

The Health Centre’s up and the Anchor pub’s down.

Brownhills Brownhills, it’s a hell of a town!

Ahem..

Anyone who talks to me for more than a minute will know that I am Midlands born and bred. Friends from down south call me “the Brummie Git”, and when abroad natives have looked at me frustratingly and said “I know you’re from England, but which part?” unable to work out quite where.

I am West Bromwich born, went to school in Wednesbury, and lived in Tipton and Darlaston (and a caravan in Shropshire for six months), before settling for fifteen years in what was always optimistically called the ‘village’ of Featherstone – let’s be honest it’s a huge housing estate the likes of which we rarely see built nowadays.

I knew my neighbours, and the local PCSO who helped me out a a few times with some anti-social behaviour (not mine, just to clarify). But I never felt part of the community, maybe the lack of any school runs, or local shops didn’t help. My only contact with the council was when there were plans to develop another large housing estate on the edge of the village – I was one of the few supporting it, mostly because it would have brought a pub within walking distance of my home.

Time moves on, the commute into Birmingham was becoming less and less feasible (a bus and two train journeys, or sitting on the M6 for three hours a day). And so I looked to move.

Even before I had committed to purchase my new home, I knew a lot about Brownhills and the surrounding area through the activity of Brownhills Bob, a local blogger who pulls no punches about what is great, and what isn’t, about the area. He has since turned into an online friend, and my first point of contact for anything local, much as in the past neighbours would have asked each other for advice.

Looking wider, and through ‘Bob’, local website the YamYam (which used to be a derogatory term for those from the Black Country, but is now a badge worn with pride by many) I’ve become much more informed about what’s happening locally.  I have also been able to request, and receive help from my local councillor, Mike Flower, who picked up on a tweet a couple of months back.

So whilst I still may know little about my neighbours apart from the nicknames I have given them due to their habits, endearing or otherwise, I feel more of a sense of community now than I have ever done where I have lived elsewhere – for me it makes no difference whether interaction takes place over a garden fence, or via Twitter.

The YamYam is to cease soon after some really great work,  and I will miss it’s RSS feed.

I’m still standing

I can fully appreciate that the number of people who hit this blog has somewhat reduced.

I just wanted to let everyone know (again) that I’m still here, and still have more that I want to write.

But juggling my full time job in a new faculty in the university, part-time job with the Open University, studying for my PhD, and still have some semblance of a family life, and watch some of the huge amount of TV that is stuck on my Sky+ box, well blogging has dropped off my radar somewhat.

But, no excuses now, and finishing work at the end of this week for three whole weeks should give me a chance to practice those writing muscles.  And who knows, writing here may help me when I put finger to keyboard elsewhere in my life.

That said, at the moment University Challenge whilst ironing calls, let’s see Jeremy Paxman do that!

Two wheels good, four wheels bad?

I am designed for comfort, not speed.  Anyone who has seen me run for a bus, or a lecture will be aware of this.

However, I do aspire to be fitter and healthier.  I used to be out on my mountain bike fairly regularly, but age, dodgy knees and a dodgy back have set me back over the years.

But, partly inspired from local blogger Brownhills Bob, and the great tax/NI savings available through the Cycle to Work scheme, which are substantial for me, I spent a very useful hour at Chasewater Cycles, firstly at the weekend (the fact that the local micro brewery had an open day too was a pure coincidence), and then today to get more advice and a written quote.

I’ve gone for a Kona Africa Bike.  It’s a sturdy beast, designed for, you guessed it Africa.  It’s got some nifty features too, including a built in lock, and european-style rear brakes attached to the hub, just back-pedal slightly to slow down (I found out about this sort of bike when on a German Exchange trip in 1984, tootling along the Straße at a fair old rate of knots I started to back-pedal, and promptly disappeared over the handlebars.)

It also comes with a feel-good factor too, that for every two bikes sold in the ‘developed’ world, they commit to send one bike to Africa.  So I can get a warm glow without even straddling the crossbar.

I’ve not skimped on the accessories, lights, trip computer, another (two!) locks, pump and a reflective gilet should keep me and my steed safe.  All being well, it’ll be with me in a couple of weeks.

It’s not an inconsiderable commute for me, but I’m determined to give it a go.  It’s also Bike Week this week, so what better time to dust off that old jalopy in the back of the shed.

Some local photos

I went for a walk at the weekend, enjoying being able to walk without slipping everywhere was an interesting change.

I took some pics on my iPhone.

Suited and booted – day two

For the second time this week, and only the third time this year, I’m suited and booted.

This time it’s work related however.  It’s strange how the formality of a suit can change the tone of a meeting, or a workplace.

I remember when it was announced at a previous company that ‘smart casual’ dress would be allowed, and then came with a long list of what wasn’t acceptable ‘smart dress’.  One category of clothing not approved was ‘gardening wear’ – I have no idea to this day what this could possiblt be, apart from wellies, which was unlikely for an office environment, no matter how cold it got.

I do remember rushing out the lunchtime it was announced, to stock up on casual shirts in bright colours (this was the end of the 1990s, so please forgive me).  The next day I was proud to sit at my desk suit-less, and more daring than that, tie-less.

Then as everyone else came in still wearing their suits and ties, I wondered if there had been a massive April fool joke played on me.  No, the policy had been adopted, but my older, more conservative co-workers had decided to take their time and only dip their toe into the casual dress pool.

I’ve been through the casual dress, slobby academic stage, and now generally wear a shirt and tie, all be it with smart jeans… I’ve not resorted to shorts as some colleagues have.  But each time that I turn up in a suit some ‘wag’ always asks if I’m going for an interview… …

Video Formats

A very productive day today, preparing for teaching next year (with the assumption that I’ll be teaching the same modules on existing courses).

I’ve also sent a ‘position’ paper out with regard to how we could incorporate PRINCE2 2009 revisions into the teaching next year, meaning that I don’t have to rewrite the two modules which heavily use PRINCE2.  In fact, I’ll be using the changes as part of the assessment.

One thing that’s causing me hassle/grief is to try and convert a DVD which I want to use online.  Copyright’s not an issue, it’s a university generated resource, but there’s a limit on the size of files which we can upload to our Virtual Learning Environment.

Luckily, on my Mac at home I have all the tools which I need to adapt this.  I just need to get the trade off between quality and size right.  I’m not doing too well.  I also, of course need to use a format which will work with Windows – not the easiest combinations.

Still, the weather is gorgeous here, I’ve had a really good day so I think I can spend a little time staring at a progress bar – and writing this update.  It amazes me how long video can take to encode even with the beast of  Big Mac.

(I would try to put the video here, but the only easy way is via YouTube, and I don’t think it’s cleared for that).

The weekend looks warm and sunny too – we’re definitely not used to this after the washout of last year, so I’ll be balancing study, seeing friends and family.

A space to think

There’s a slim chance that things may be moving on the house front – I’ll know more after the weekend, and maybe be able to talk more then.

But, one thing that has been occupying my thoughts is the idea of what form my new study would/could take, and what I would like, which my current home office doesn’t have.

I’ve been hear fourteen years, another way of looking at it is I’ve also been here for four PC’s – not a bad record for someone who’s supposed to be a gadget freak really.

  • 1994 – 1999 – Fujitsu DX2/66 with a whopping 2 Meg of RAM.  I also got ‘online’ for the first time with this machine, a 14.4 kbps modem and AOL.  This was the first PC which I had which met the ‘MPC’ multimedia PC specification, my first CD-ROM and my first colour monitor!
  • 1999 – 2003 – Compaq 2292.  This is still doing sterling service for my parents, with a built in moden, a whopping 4 Gig hard drive, and a really nice keyboard/mouse.  No DVD with this, but I did upgrade the CD-ROM to a CD-RW
  • 2003 – 2008 – Advent ‘beige box’.  It was a surprise to me too that my much maligned Windoze XP box lasted so long, though like the woodsman who’s had the same axe all his life apart from the new head and new handles, it’s been upgraded over time.  This machine is still sitting balefully in the corner, though has been plucked for parts over the years.  It’s on my ‘to do’ list, to get this recommissioned, maybe as a media box.
  • 2008 Onwards – Big Mac.  See the many passing posts on this

But the PC is only the heart of my study – two desks, umpteen chairs, more printers than I would care to think about, and an ever-growing book collection and study materials have made the study my most dynamic room in the house (It took me thirteen years to change my bathroom, the only change in that time being the addition of a power shower!).

So, what do I want from my new study?

Firstly, there needs to be space for my desk, chair, and somewhere for me to pace around.  I also need somewhere to store not only books, but course materials for my Open University teaching, plus any other documents I need to work from home.  Handy access to the loo stops me wandering around when I should be focused, and (wish list time here) – a fridge for a plentiful supply of cold drinks (non-alcoholic and alcoholic, for those late night writing sessions), and a huge whiteboard (my current whiteboard is A3 sized, not large enough by far, it just about holds the tickets for forthcoming shows).

I’m not fussed about having huge amounts of ‘personal’ stuff around me, the rest of the house is fine for that, though I’ve a couple of prints on the wall here which I won’t give up, despite their age and irrelevance. 

It will be importance for my productivity (and my sanity) that this room be up and running as soon as possible – both for my earning capability, and for my recreation (I’ve taken a break from studying my Open University course to write this blog).

See, my needs are simple – all I need is my Mac, Printer, phone, DAB Radio, gel pens, external drives, apple remote, halogen lamp, fan….

National Memorial Arboretum

A pleasant couple of hours spent this morning at the National Memorial Arboretum.  Just off the A38, and part of the National Forest, it’s a strange mixture of park, memorial and nature trail.  Hopefully, when I’m living closer to it, I can make it a regular visit.

One thing I forgot to do however was take my camera, the pictures below were taken from my camera phone, but came out ‘OK’, though the good weather helped.

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The picture below (courtesy of Microsoft Virtual Earth, and Windows Live Writer) shows the site under construction.)

Map picture