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Saturday, 30 October 2010

Something new there is

The observant of you may have noticed a Twitter feed to the right of this blog, and I wanted to tell you about it lest you are drawn to the wrong conclusions.

As things stand, I am not planning to become a tweet-bot.  I want to try a social experiment, one prompted by Golfy.  He maintains that all I need to do is open a Twitter account and, without even posting a twit, I will get followers.  And it is true, I opened the account and had 3 followings in 5 minutes.  One of them was obviously Golfy, but the other two are complete strangers.  In fairness, one of them has un-friended me, so I am down to two, but nevertheless, that is an infinite percentage increase on zero.

The trouble is, a bit like a painful blind spot or a scab, with which you also know you should not play, I find myself "just doing a couple of twits".  They are complete nonsense of course, but then I think that is the point.  As part of my extended thesis on the use of Twitter, I have just experimented with splitting a comment across two twits.  Of course, this means that you read the second first and the first second, so maybe not so good.  I also fear a backlash from the Twit police who may attempt a virtual citizen's arrest on me for violating the 140 character rule.
I thought I would Google the "best twits" just to get a sense of the psyche of my fellow twitters, and did have a chuckle at a few, which I have reproduced in case they tickle you:

  • My phone reception is so clear, I can hear my wife’s eyes rolling as I talk.
  • Full of peace and calm this morning. Googled my symptoms and found out I died in my sleep.
  • Open my favorite web forum…50 people arguing about a coffee grinder reviewer's motivations…close my favorite web forum.
  • Today is already shaping up to be a "Keyboard not found. Press any key to continue." kind of day.
  • Trapped in a 90-minute meeting next to a lady wearing way too much of that new perfume, Migraine by Calvin Klein.
 Keep having a good weekend.

Friday, 29 October 2010

And..... relax

Another week is nearly over, and this one is special since it is the end of my first week on my new account.  It has been an interesting experience, engaging with my new customer, my new colleagues and my new account team colleagues.  It is all very new for everyone, so as a new newbie, I am asking a lot of questions to which the answer is often "no idea", which is amusing, save for the fact that the said answer means I cannot move forward with the question.  

I told you the other day about one of the quirks of my new account, in that you need a valid badge holder to collect you from reception.  Well, they have  one other interesting quirks, and that is their car park policy.  When I do finally get a permanent pass, which takes 2-3 weeks (ouch. Ed.) I will have to nominate a "no drive day" which is, as the name suggests, a day when you cannot drive.  My day will be, as it is with most of the other Starfleeters, Friday.  Now isn't that a surprise.

My weekend will be fun.  Dinner tonight, Maggot 1 on a sleep-over, and a pasta evening (home-made) Saturday. 

I hope your weekend is as good as mine will be.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Stuck in reception

Day three of my new account, and things are going OK.  For the first couple of weeks, I intend to go to the customer site every day.  It is a 1.5 hour commute each way, so not to be taken on lightly, however it is good to be in amongst the team and my new colleagues as I get to learn the lay of the land.

They do have one strange rule.  I have to be collected from reception by a valid badge holder.  This means that sometimes I have to sit in reception until one of my colleagues who have been granted this esteemed badge either responds to their phone, or walks by.  In fact, I am writing this in reception, waiting for someone I have managed to contact via instant messaging.

And so my day has started.  If noone is available, I guess I will just have to setup camp in reception and work there for the day, a bit like that bloke who got stuck in the US airport.  You know the one, with Tom Hanks where he is stuck, visaless, between airside and the wider US.  Maybe I should grow a beard just in case.

Anyhow, work is going OK.  The account is very new, which means that a lot of my new colleagues have only recently transferred in to Starfleet, which is a disorientating experience that tends to leave people bemused, confused, slightly wary and very unsure what the hell is happening to them.  I do remember this, having transferred troops myself some years ago, however I can barely remember what I had for breakfast (two Wheatabix now I come to think of it), my memory is pretty faint as to how it felt.  Luckily, my new colleagues are displaying very visibly the signs, so I can re-remember via my interactions with them.

So, another day getting to know my new account team, the wider organisation, and also the technologies they have implemented as part of their electronic ecosystem.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Making up for lost time

I have not been posting quite as much as usual, mostly because I have been heads-down clearing the backlog, which could well be meaningless to some of you, and if so I am very happy for you coz it is pretty dull.  However, my BPW* has been pretty poor lately, so I thought I would do a double-entry for Friday.  There is probably a joke there, the boring one relating to book-keeping, and the other one related to... (no, don't go there. Ed.).

I have been doing a bit of reading up on technology, because I may be looking to invest in either Apple TV or Google TV, since I am wanting to get my new TV on the internet.  I have of course spoken with Golfy, who is "the man" when it comes to understanding what is possible.  I have wireless so I don't need to worry about cabling, so it really is just the device.  I like the idea of centralising my photos, music and video and accessing it from the TV, which I think both boxes can do, having my new iMac as the server, so I think I am going to wait and see how the market receives the Google TV box, and also the new Apple TV box that is out or nearly out.  

The other part of the equation is the furniture on which to house the TV.  We want it to have some storage, and also to house the above box, maybe a hard drive recorder, definitely home cinema.  We want it to be a "statement piece" and we have something in mind.  However, when I mentioned it to a designer friend of mine, he turned his nose up, since he is a man of refined and cutting-edge taste.  I therefore aim to ask him what he would recommend instead.  It might be eye-watering!

That's all for now folks.  Have a good weekend.  Speak next week.

* BPW equals blogs per week, of course.

And..... relax

I know I have used this heading before, but if you are going to plagiarise, the do it from the best (huh? Ed).  Or at least do it from the one least likely to sue.

However, it really is how I always feel come Friday.  The week has been manic, living the life of a city boy when I really much prefer, if not the country, then a small place you can get your arms round.  London is full of busy people in suits who are smoking, drinking and generally, in their eyes, kicking the wotsit out of life.  The truth is, and maybe it is age, but when I am away I miss my family, so for me, London ain't all it's cracked up to be.  Just ask three of my colleagues who, on Tuesday, after our "little drink after work" decided to go to a late night drinking establishment and consequently got to bed at 2am.  Let's just say that they were in on Wednesday morning in body, if not soul, and definitely not mind, and even then the bodies were looking a little worse for wear.  The two older colleagues who have kids will now take two weeks to recover, whereas the younger, single colleague was "same time next week?".

Another thing that really gets my goat in London, and doubtless in many other places in the country, is that everyone is on their phones.  Give enough monkeys enough iPhones and eventually one will get the world's highest score in Doodle Jump.  Give enough monkeys enough typewriters and eventually one of them will write "wey hey we're the monkeys".  But that is another story.

Anyway, phones.  The day they put Google Maps, Grinder and social networking apps on phones was the day that people ceased communicating with anyone in their physical vicinity (except for Grinder of course. So I have heard. Ed.).  And when you are walking anywhere, and there is an annoying person in front of you going just a bit too slow (80% women, 18% men, 2% dog) you can be damn sure they are on their phones, updating their Facebook status to "doing exercise" or some other vacuous pursuit.  I understand that in and around the city, the number of A&E admissions for people with mobile phones stuck in one orifice or another has increased 250% over the last 3 years.

If you are detecting any wistful reviewing the last 4 months kind of vibe on this blog, then that would be for a very good reason.  Today seems to be my last day on my London assignment, and I am moving, as of Monday morning, to another assignment, one that I spent an emergency two weeks on about a month ago.  This new assignment will mean me returning to my car to get to the office, and it also means me not needed to spend nights away from my family, which I am very happy about.  Being in the car means I can catch up on all my podcasts that have been building up in to a sizable backlog, and it also means a welcome return to story CDs, which are the best way I have found of making you look forward to an hour drive home.

Have a great weekend one and all, and speak again next week.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Twenty three years ago

Twenty three years ago I left college, having spent the final year in a rented house with three friends.  Last night the four of us met up in London.  Our calculations have determined that it has been five years since we were all together, but that did not stand in the way of us having a great evening.

Everyone was just the same as they always were.  Perhaps a little thinner on top and a little wider at the belt (speaking for myself at least) but overall it was as if we had never been apart.

I have always described us as the tortoise and the hare, with the other three being the hares.  They have all made the way fast in the world; big jobs, second marriages, probably a fairly ordinary story of ambitious people in the smoke. 

I on the other hand am the tortoise.  I have made a slow and steady progress through life, away from the Capital, with every step a steady and measured one.  It works for me, and I am certainly happy with my lot.

They all seem happy too, and we didn't even spend too long reminiscing about the past.  Well, we did a bit, looking back fondly on those reckless and carefree days, bemoaning that "we didn't know how lucky we were". etc. etc. etc.  However, we are mostly happy with our lot and where we are in life, looking for the the good bits in every situation, and we should, I think, be creating a sense of pride in our college's career advisor.  If we had had one.

We went to a very trendy pizza restaurant in an old tea warehouse.  The interior decor retained the warehouse feel; steel and concrete abound.  The seats were long benches with circular seats on a swivel arm.  Just like the dining tables at the maggots' school.  So far, I can tell that I am not selling it to you.  It was very busy, and we had to "have a drink" waiting for the pager to vibrate.  Taff did do his usually blagging routine, saying he had booked the night before etc. etc., and maybe it worked coz we had a table in 15 minutes.  I still don't think I am selling it to you.  However, and here is the clincher, the food was absolutely amazing.  Quite simply the best pizza I have had in a long long time.  Not that large, thinnish base with a bulbous crust, but the flavours were amazing.  A very fresh and very tasty pizza.

Promises were made to meet up again, and we are hoping to plan a get-together.  The others were urging a lads' night away, but I really am not sure.  It sounds a bit soppy, but I don't really like doing things without my family, so I was urging them instead for a group get together.  My suggestion was camping, which was rather vigorously poo-poo'd, so it may be something else altogether.  Time will tell.

Friday, 15 October 2010

One small word, one big problem

Not been much to report this week, so I have been rather quiet.

As the weekend approaches, I have a lot of things to try and close this week, so things are busy, but manageable.

As for the title, the small word in question is "nit".  Maggot 1 has got them, and the little suckers are very hard to eradicate, as anyone who has experienced them will confirm.  We are now on a daily "wet comb" treatment for the whole family, which means using a nit comb through conditioned hair.  The fine-toothed comb gets most of the little suckers, and the conditioner makes the hair and scalp slippery so the little darlings cannot hold on with their evil claws which are on the end of each of their six evil legs. 

For those who like to know the details, the following passage describes all you would ever want to know about head lice and nits, and it may well be telling you too much.

Head lice are wingless insects. They are grey or brown, have six legs and are about 1 to 3mm in length when fully grown (the size of a sesame seed). Female head lice lay eggs that are smaller than a pinhead and these attach to your hair close to the scalp. The eggs hatch about seven to 10 days later. Young lice are called nymphs - it takes about 10 days for them to become adults and capable of laying new eggs.
When lice hatch they leave empty shells called nits attached to the hair. Nits are white and you may mistake them for flakes of dry skin. Unlike dandruff, nits stick to the hair and you won't be able to remove them with normal shampooing.

So, in summary, there is a new generation of lice every 10 days, and if you do not remove every single egg, they can stick around for much longer than is entirely healthy.

The hardest thing is that the mere mention of "nit" has the unfortunate effect of making you itch, all over, but particularly your head.  Now I have wet-combed myself and it seems I do not have any infection.  However, try telling that to my itch gland.

On that note, have a great weekend, which I hope is considerably less itchy than ours is likely to be.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

It's all downhill from here

I refer to us being at the middle of the week of course, a phrase borrowed from someone, maybe Chris Evans, not sure.

The weekend was pretty successful.  Legoland was full of lego, and people.  We rode the big rollercoaster, at least it is the biggest there, as a family and Maggot 2 did have a couple of flutters during the ride, but by the end was talking about doing it again.  We even, for the first and probably last time in our lives, bought the photo taken during the ride, since it just captured our delight beautifully.

Sunday saw the UK-based family, my in-laws, visiting for Sunday lunch.  My mum was also over for a few days, but her knee pain kept her at home on Sunday, although she did come round for supper on Monday and it was great to see her.  Walking is not easy, but she is doing all her exercises, and the consultant (nearly a personal friend, don't you know) was very pleased with her rehabilitation.

I am now in London doing my Tuesday to Thursday stint.  We are in week 3 of our backlog clearing exercise, and are probably behind the curve with stuff closed, but with a large tidal wave of nearly finished stuff that may get us back on track by early next week.  It is hard work keeping it going, and our need to drive everyone in the chain to deliver means we are probably being viewed as a right royal bunch of wotsits, but needs must and the devil drives a Volvo.

We had a team meeting last night in a couple of pubs, the latter with the footy on, followed by a nice meal at an owner-run pizza place.  As for the footy, the least said the better.  We never really got out of third gear, and maybe can just about frame an excuse in that our opponents, Montenegro, have yet to lose a game.  In addition, Venus was in the ascendant, the tea leaves spoke of frustration and several commuters walking across Tower Bridge stepped on the cracks.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Preparing for a busy weekend

So it was, 5 years ago to the day, that LO was starting to get some pains, that were to lead, at some unholy hour of the morning, to Maggot 2's birth.  Tomorrow is his fifth birthday, and I am full of the same questions as everyone else has about their offspring, amongst them "where did the time go?", "how did we get through that five years?" and "never again".

We had planned a day out at maybe Legoland, but when asked what he really wanted to do, he replied "just stay at home with mummy", which is sort of cute, but also a recipe for cabin-fever madness. 

In the meantime, we have a small mountain of presents, and at 5 I can tell you that they are something he REALLY likes.  He goes about the unwrapping like a shark in a feeding frenzy, with a quick "nice" at the contents before moving on the next.  In fairness, after the initial frenzy he does actually play with them too.

So, that is my weekend.  I hope yours is as good as ours will be.

Until next time.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Tales of woe

There were three people in the office at the same hotel as me, so tonight we shared a cab.  The talk turned to work, as unfortunately it often does, and the views were pretty unanimous - work sucks, the pruning of trooper colleagues has left great big holes in many parts of the business and the hours seem to be increasing every year.  And yet our UK leader asserts that "we don't have a people shortage, we have a skills shortage".  Where is he looking?

Add in the quarterly results announcements that declare "another quarter of growth", which combine with yearly announcements that there are no pay rises, and you really do wonder where it is all going.  

Certainly, that was the mood in the cab.  We do appreciate the current climate, and are not whinging in isolation from the real world, it is just that our company seems to have fallen out of love with its employees.  What the answer is I really do not know.  I certainly would not like to have the job of trying to turn around morale, and I am both creative and generally upbeat.  In fact I am still relatively content in myself, but I am observing other colleagues who are seemingly much less content, and it does have an affect on a chap.  Dash it all if it doesn't put a man off his Pimms, or diet Coke as it is tonight.

So that is what is on my mind as I write this blog.
The other thing I am pondering is the logistics of changing our front door in to a classic wooden four-panel door with stained glass upper panels. 

Aesthetically, there is no question.  Financially, ouch!  We need a budget and to be honest until we have planning permission we cannot proceed to detailed plans, and without detailed plans we cannot get a decent builder's quote, and without a decent quote we cannot create an accurate budget.  We want to get a lot for our money, so we must be sure that we don't go and get a new front door only to then not have the money to put in a floor.  Or a shower.  

Now, that is not such a bad problem to be having, and does put the first part of the blog in to perspective.  As I said, I am generally optimistic and upbeat, and long may that continue.  If I can only bottle it, would make a fortune.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Something for the weekend, at the end of June 2011

Well, all I can say is that it started with a drunken discussion on "experiences" with Brad and Angelina, and ended up with me buying 4 tickets for Glastonbury.  This is our story.

We had planned this a long while back, and then a little while back we had to pre-register, which meant uploading a picture of ourselves, which was then validated by the validators, and that then entitled us to go and try and order tickets. 

The lines opened at 9am on Sunday, and we had 2 laptops and 1 phone on the go for several hours.  Brad and Angelina had visitors that weekend, so we did not ring until about 9.45am, to find they had just got up and had not even logged on (not quite true, but why let the truth get in the way of a good story).  Needless to say that a few words of encouragement and they were avidly chasing down a spare slot on the website.

We spent the first 2 hours being told on the phone, but that nasal woman who does the BT messages, that "your call could not be completed", and on the internet that we could not connect to the website. 

After 2 hours on the laptop, we finally refreshed to a message saying we were in a queue.  Every 20 seconds it refreshed.  After just over 1 hour, it finally showed an order screen.  A quick input of our respective registration numbers and 4 tickets were ours.  A quick call to Brad and Angelina and our day could start.

Wow.  We still have slight reservations about childcare, and also about my back sleeping on the floor, but now we have the tickets, we are genuinely excited.  I am already planning my micro-wardrobe which will be based around a pair of para boots and a German army sleeping bag, or a little cotton number with matching gaiters.  Probably.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Can the whole world fit on the Isle of Wight?

This was a question raised by Maggot 1, the answer to which he believed to be yes.  I have to say, I agreed.  But then viewers of QI know that the obvious answer is often wrong, and would be followed by the siren and flashing video to confirm the error.  And so it was this time.  LO said, with a wisdom beyond her years, that it was bo!!ox.  And she is right, since here is the answer.

So that is one very important issue sorted.  Another one that needs a bit of work is what am I going to do with my career.  Over the last week I have had various conversations with various people, each of whom had either recently changed roles, or were in the process of changing.  It is my natural reaction now to go and speak immediately to anyone I know who has changed, to see if I can learn more about my organisation and myself that might open up doors to new roles that I might like, and ones that might like me.  So far, lots of talking and not many new ideas.  I shall keep speaking and thinking and let you know what I find.  

The big thing that I think is affecting my decision-making is a two-part problem.  The first is that I really would prefer not to have to stay away during the week.  In the "old days", this was easy, but at the moment the need to stay away seems to be part of every interesting role, so this personal criteria may prove to be limiting.

The second issue is the appraisal system in IBM, which is being used rather punitively right now.  Certainly, for the last round of redundancies, the appraisal rating was a major factor in the management decision-making process, with those with low ratings in line for the old heave ho.  So the message is, don't get a low rating.  The rating itself is done by comparing me with my peers.  I may be running at 4 out of 5, but if every one of my peers are running at 5 out of 5 then I will get a low rating.

Now, IBM claim to be creating a "high performance culture", which means the top performers get pay rises and bonuses, the low performers do not.  So, if you put these things together, then you have a climate that really does not encourage an individual to look for promotion to a higher band, or to move to a new type of role.  Why on earth would I want to risk being the least good person on the team, when that could cause me to get a low rating, which could expose me to the old heave ho. 


I am off to ponder.  Enjoy your weekend, speak again next week.