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Monday, 28 February 2011

That was the weekend that was

I had a very productive weekend.  David came over mid afternoon on Saturday to help with the removal of the innards of our utility/study/store room area, and we have a very productive couple of hours taking down two of the three stud partitions.  This was a job for the persuader*, the claw hammer and Big Bertha**.  The maggots had a go with the claw hammer making pointless but fun holes in the plasterboard walls, whilst the men did real man's work ripping stuff down.

By the end of the session, the whole area was covered on bits of door frame, lumps of four-by-two and a mass of small and large bits of plasterboard.  Oh, and they insulated, of that is not insulting the world of insulation, with sheets of polystyrene, which were singularly useless, and collectively no better, and which made one hell of a mess.

The next day was the clear up, and Maggot 1 helped me sort first the polystyrene out from the rest, to fill up the back of the Punto, seats down, and to take to the tip.  Next trip was for all the plasterboard, which did make one hell of a mess of the Punto.  Scobi is gonna be hoovering soon me thinks.  Finally, all the ripped up laminate flooring.  I did wonder whether I could Freecycle this, but in the end speed won out and the tip it was.  I did Freecycle a fridge, a shelving unit, a computer desk and a door, so hopefully they will go soon.

Have to spend today working, but the builders will be here early to start and I for one cannot wait.  Maggot 2 asked whether they would still be here when he got home from school, so I think he may be a bit excited also.

* The crowbar
** My biggest, and best, cross-head screwdriver

Friday, 25 February 2011

And . . . relax

Nearly the weekend, and have had a good day tying up some work loose ends, and getting some more of our stuff cleared from the extension.  Once I am done it will be cupboards off the wall, and then tomorrow, smashing down stud partitions.  Will need a muscle-relaxing bubble bath tonight, to ensure my body is in tip top condition.  No sniggering now.

Have a good weekend.

We weren't expecting that

We had a call from our uncle the builder, let's call him Bob, last night, in which he confidently informed us that he would be starting on Monday.  We weren't expecting that.

We are not frantically finishing the clearing of garage, study and utility room, about 80-90% done, and removing all the decking from the back, now 100% done.  Just need to finish the study, get the computer and chair in the loft ready for a weekend of destruction.  David and Samantha are coming over on Saturday, and David has volunteered to arrive early and help do some clearing of the utility/study/garage area.  There will be much removing of cabinets, for safe storing in my parents' garage, and we also hope to do some bringing down of stud partitions.  Now that we are going the Bob the Uncle route, this will be a more hands-on (and lower cost) option, so anything I do is stuff we don't need to pay Bob to do, and we do have our eyes on a number of furnishings that will finish off the room nicely, but for which we need some of our budget to be left over once all the structural stuff is complete.  Now, I am an avid fan of Grand Designs, and I know that the budget and time line always goes over, and I know that when we interviewed at the start of the build, we will make assertions on timescales and budgets that will be blown out the water, since that is how the show goes.  About half way through we will want to give it all up, but by the end we will proclaim that it was all worth it, and we hope never to do anything quite so stupid every again.

Having said all that, we are very much wanting to control the finances, and that means for us using relatives, paying day rates and generally taking it a stage at a time.  The goal is for Bob to complete the brickie duties, up to first fix, when my father-in-law, let's call him Bob the Second, will take on the work from first fix to completion, being his own plumber, and being related to a carpenter in his brother, my uncle-in-law, and with Bob the Second lining up all the specialist resources as needed, drawing from his large circle of fellow tradesmen, all of which will be personally vetted by Bob the Second, which I think is just the ticket.

I am off to do a day's work now, with the aim of finishing on time ready for the next phase of project strip-it-out, which will continue all weekend.  I hope to give you a thoroughly good update early next week.

Until then, be good, be safe, and think of my poor little office-boy hands.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

That's better

I have just returned from three days holiday, or vacation if you are American.  We went to near Stratford in the 'van and visited The Cadbury factory one day, and Warwick Castle the following day.  There was a slight generational split in the scores for each, with the older members of the group marking Cadbury low, whilst the children marked it high.  They gave away free chocolate.  Say no more.

As for Warwick Castle, we were unanimous in our ten out of ten score.  It is a magnificent structure in its own right, but also brings a lot of character actors together to provide a full and enjoyable experience.  We were all booked on the Dungeon tour, however had not read the small print and missed the fact that it was not suitable for under tens.  We therefore split in to two groups, the first being men and eldest child, for whom the tour lasted just under two minutes, with the first dark and scary "set piece" scaring the children to the point that we had to retrace our steps and leave the tour.  The women went afterwards, and found it a fantastic, if scary, experience.

Next we watched the birds of prey in the main arena, and they were truly magnificent.  The final eagle taking a long flight from the top of the highest tower down to the arena, skimming low over the heads of the audience in doing so.

We also say a demonstration of weapons by three men whose delivery style was the spit of Top Gear.  It was telling us the myth, and then the reality, of a number of aspects of fighting in those days.  Facts such as shields being wood and leather, not metal, to absorb blows, and also that most fights lasted under ten seconds, not five minutes like the table-jumping and candle-snuffing stuff of your average Errol Flynn film.  Favourite comment of de-bunk was "For instance, I am not really a knight, I am a fifty year old diabetic".

We then toured the restaurant, the main house and the Weekend Party tour, which covered the Twentieth Century aspects regarding the parties, and the hanky panky in which they apparently indulged quite regularly.  The devils.

Combined with Canasta every evening, we have a very enjoyable three days in the 'van.

Now I am back at work, and the few days off and the busy nature of the workplace means that I don't really know where to start.  I am currently on a conference call in listen-only mode, hence the blog.

Hopefully catch up tomorrow.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

A day at the office

Now, I need to explain that yesterday I went to the office.  Nothing strange in that.  However, this week, that is the only day I will not be working at home.  The reason is that my normal office is being visited by a large bunch of off-shore folks, whose job is to learn how the on-shore folks do their jobs, and via some knowledge transfer - KT as it is known in the trade - equip themselves with the capability to do the on-shore person's job.  These off-shore folks need desks, and with the now limited hot desks made available to Starfleet troopers, a bunch of us have been politely asked to work elsewhere.  So I have.

Now, I as much as the next chap know that progress is inevitable, and that we are moving in to the era of Automation, Abundance and Asia, and even I, as sick as I am can see that that is a bit of a bum rap.  In the whole world of motivational speaking, I have never heard anyone quote the "tell someone how to do your job so you can be made redundant" method as a way to instill team spirit and cooperation, and so it is not without some inevitability that some of the chaps on the ground are not that happy right now.

Broadly, they will fall in to three camps:
  • they are going to do it anyway, why should I care, I am just going to build up my store of company paper-clips and take the money and run when the time comes
  • be one of the minority who like their job, like their new employer and stick doing what they were doing prior to the contract starting
  • can't wait to take the opportunity that working for a large and diverse organisation offers them, and find themselves another job.
Now, I went through this, perhaps in a slightly gentler era where the redundancies did not happen so fast and so decisively, however I did experience most of what these folks are going through, and it is pretty grim.  The paradigm shift required to turn from poacher to gamekeeper takes some time to happen, and it requires a fair degree of positive thinking to achieve.  For me, I took the third option, and for better or worse, here I am still.

I wish them all good luck with getting through this process, and with whatever choices they make, or choices that are forced on them.  I also look forward to greeting those that remain when they emerge out the other side of the process.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Just a quick one...

My originality (huh? ed) is waning, because every time I go to write a title for a blog, the text appears below, which says I have already used it.  Ho hum, I doubt my millions of readers will notice.

I did a silly thing yesterday.  I was trying to bang a long screw out of a balustrade (long story) and in so doing I managed to smash the end of my ring finger, left hand, between the balustrade and the concrete floor.  To say it hurt is not really making use of language to convey the full meaning of things.  I have never felt pain like it, and I have been through child-birth*.

My finger is now swollen up to the size of an over-ripe grape, which does not sound much, but I can tell you the blood has made it tighter than a timpani drum in a freezer, and if only I was allowed to stick a needle in it....

* Admittedly, first time I didn't know much about it, and second and third times I was in the audience, albeit my hand was squeezed very hard, and the names I was called can only really be understood when under the influence of "gas and air", a service I thought was a nice touch for the father-to-be.

Friday, 11 February 2011

And . . . relax

We find ourselves at Friday, and the usual form is for me to tell you about the up-coming weekend.  I may do that, but more importantly right now is a burning need to respond to Golfy's recent blog.  I this he expounds a theory I have heard a couple of times recently about the use of email, or more precisely, stopping the use of email.  The article to which Golfy links sounds like it was written by a Starfleet trooper, and talks about how this person has stopped using email, using social networking tools instead.

The other article I read was about a sometimes competitor of Starfleet who is planning to be email-free in three years, and again plans to fill the void with social networking tools.  Now this is bold stuff, and I absolutely support the boldness, but I struggle to support the logic.  Here's my view.

To start with, I should say that I sit firmly in the middle ground between early adopter and late adopter when it comes to technology.  There is some wizzo stuff out there, and there is stuff where the Scobi jury is out at the moment.

So the main thrust of the argument is that email has become so ubiquitous and so over-used, it consumes way too much of a chap's working day being serviced.  It is also not the best tool to enable remote teams to collaborate and communicate.  The answer is social networking tools, in all their various guises.  So, here is the Scobi guide to some of them (and don't forget I am a middle-ground kind of chap, so this may be a bit basic).

Instant Messaging - this is a killer app.  Anyone who does not use it could not possibly understand why it is so good.  All you need to do is use it in an environment where everyone uses it, and you realise how cool it really is.  It is great for quick, off-the-cuff communications, and you can send files and screen grabs, have multi-person chats and even make voice calls over it.  What it is not so good for is collaborative working on projects, documents, presentations etc.  This works for me when used in the right way.

Screen sharing - not so new or clever, but a fantastic tool for two or maybe three people to talk on the phone whilst sharing one of their screens to review and collaboratively work on a document.  This works for me also.

Wikis - let's not get too carried away, this is a web page with knobs on, and is no better and no worse than a web page.  i.e. it tends to be static, has nothing on it I want to read, and, in Starfleet, is so buttock-clenchingly slow that it will never rock my boat.  When I am enthusiastically informed of another wiki or workgroup or connections has been setup to aid me in my work, my life-expectancy does reduce by a few minutes.  We simply have too many to follow, with too little information to be useful.  These do not work for me.

Teamrooms and other shared web spaces - I read the marketing blurb, and it sounds good.  However when I try to use them, they tend to inhibit rather than improve my working experience.  These may have a very good use, but I have yet to find it.

Customers - oh yes, I remember them.  They are the ones that have different ideas to me, and still want face to face meetings, use faxes, and want to use email for general communications.  Until we can get these folks on to our new social networking bandwagon, we are doomed with any plans to remove email from our toolkit.

None of this is to say that I support email.  It is a burden.  I really cannot keep up with every email on which I am cc'd "just in case I need to know about it" and sometimes I do miss something that is important because something I needed to do or know was in a note right at the end of such an email.  However, with all the volumes coming to my inbox, I do at least have a local copy of it and control over where I file it and if I am organised, I am able to find something at a later date I have filed.

Email is, in my view, a necessary evil, and I am also not convinced that an hour I save on email servicing would not instead be turned in to an hour and a half trawling round the seven hundred and fourteen wikis, shared spaces, archived IM chats and public discussion forums in search of the information I need.

My sense is that the day I am convinced social networking is a good thing as a business tool is the day that it really takes off.

As for Golfy's comments on the commuter laptop brigade, I concur with all he says, and at the same time confess that I was one of those for six months.  The train became the only place to get some quiet time to write that report or read that document.  Oh, and to sort out my inbox.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

A quick mid-week note

Hello folks, just wanted to provide a mid-week note so that you know I am still in the land of the living.

My week is turning out to be very busy, and as a result of a lack of appropriate troopers, we are being escalated by our customer for late delivery of stuff all over the park.  I was reminded of the old phrase about the stages of a project being:

  • Forming - putting the team and the project together
  • Storming - the initial crazy phase when everyone is shouting and stuff is very slow and painful
  • Norming - starting to get control of the situation, bringing in workable governance and making sense of the madness
  • Performing - starting to hum like a well-tuned engine.

We are definitely in the storming phase of this "project", and that just means a lot of escalations, a lot of shouting, a lot of calling out to the wider Starfleet and getting back nothing but a large echo.  There is also the occasional moment when you lead the charge, raise your sword and scream at the top of your voice as you rush towards the enemy, only to look round to find you are on your own.  Luckily, the team with which I am working are fine upstanding folk who understand the meaning of "team" and who are, against all adversity, doing what they can to make their piece a bit better.  And long may it continue.

Must concentrate on my three hour (yes, count them and weep) conference call now, coz as sure as eggs is eggs, the moment I am not concentrating, someone will ask me a question or seek my input.  And trust me when I say there is nothing more buttock-clenching than that moment when you have to say "Sorry, could you repeat that" and the other call participants know that in this situation, it is you that has been caught out.

Monday, 7 February 2011

That was the week that was

So I did the education thing last week, and now I am back, and while I did all the usual handover and cover thing that a chap is want to do these days to ensure continuity for a chap's customer and to be seen to be continuing the perception that we are indeed a seamless and infinite resource. 

It is like having a week off, except without that "not being at work" feeling, mostly because either side of the educating and exhausting day, I was working anyway.  The bit that is the same is the pile of work, all tagged urgent, waiting for me when I returned today.  I am following the Luge principle, and am trying to ensure that every minute of every hour of every working day is moving something forward in a meaningful way, and if that is not enough, which a couple of the things on my plate are not, then so be it.  I can only deal with the possible, and anything more is, but definition, impossible. 

I also had a little chat with Golfy today.  It was something like the X Files, or maybe The Twilight Zone, or maybe even Tales of the Unexpected.  But enough of Golfy's life.  "Check out what my location is on the chat screen", says the Golfmeister, and blow me if he was not in London, at my last customer's office, sitting pretty much in the same seat as I did when I worked there.  I am beginning to think he is following me.  He has been drafted in for a time-boxed period of a month, in which time he will no doubt be working on the considerable backlog, just like I did as part of my exit plan.  And the team is even the same.  I have given him the low-down on the people to watch out for, although on reflection I didn't mention the woman who laughs like a chimpanzee who has just been told the best orangutan joke she has ever heard, complete with the snorty-hiccup at the end as she draws a breath in to her cavernous lungs.  Let's not mention her, and that can be a joy for him to discover one fine afternoon.  I can still see the face of, let's call him Jock, who was much disturbed by the said laughing and who needed restraining on more than one occasion to stop him decking her.

Anyhow, back go Golfy.  He now has a 2.5 hour commute each way to get in to the office, although he seems to have negotiated a part-time attendance pattern which should ease the travel pains.  I wish him luck in the role, and would very much urge him to get down the Subway for an Italian bread sarnie, six inches for the waist-conscious, or a full foot if you just don't care.  I also recommend the chocolate-covered coffee beans in Nero next door to the office.  Pound a box, and if you eat them all you can bounce off the ceiling.  The guys who clean the Gherkin use them to wash the upper windows.  Honest.

Thursday, 3 February 2011


Just needed to share with you the thought that were Sheila an employee of Sky Sports at the start of the week, there is no doubt that he would be down the job centre by the end of Wednesday.  And that is with three women on the course.  Apparently he would be worse if there were only men on the course.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Ah, education. There is no pursuit finer than expanding the mind*

I am now in the classroom for four days of your finest Starfleet training sessions.  The trainer, let's call him Sheila, has been doing the training for this system, in all its different versions, for as long as I have been a trooper, and his style is, to say the least, idiosyncratic.  Actually, it is a style that can only be developed by copious amounts of red wine and a longevity in Starfleet that would, in any other situation, warrant a medal, or parole.

Needless to say we can expect a few laughs, some photos, music, and a pretty intensive technical training course.

I will let you know how it goes, but for now, I shall bid you farewell as I sharpen my pencil for the training event of the year*.

* as I always say, never let the truth get in the way of a good story.