27 January 2007

Sin City

My plan to read more comics than I acquire this year took a welcome step backwards with the first volume of Frank Miller's Sin City which I got for my birthday. Like the Sandman that I got for Christmas and the Planetary that I got last year, this is a large size edition on top quality paper and with a hard cover.

If you have seen the Sin City film then you'll know what the comics are like as the film is a very close copy of the original comics with many of the shots taken directly from the books.

Sin City is one of the highlights of Frank Miller's distinguished career in comics which also includes The Dark Knight Returns (1986) which is probably his most famous work. He returned to this theme with The Dark Knight Strikes Again.

I was lucky to get into Frank Miller at the start of his career on Daredevil at Marvel Comics where he wrote and/or drew around thirty issues starting in 1981. I still flick through these issues when I come across them, e.g. when trying to sort out my office. I guess that I will have to put the hard cover collection on my Christmas list for this year (assuming that by then I have managed to clear most of my large to-be-read list)!

Oh, and today is Frank Miller's fiftieth birthday too. Happy Birthday Frank!

19 January 2007

International Crisis Group

Time for a well-deserved plug for the International Crisis Group which is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation, with nearly 120 staff members on five continents, working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.

I first came across them at a BACEE meeting where a couple of their analysts spoke about their report on Sandzak in Serbia. What impressed me (and I'm analytical, as my Belbin analysis shows) was the breadth and depth of their analysis and also their ability to present it meaningfully.

I have subscribed to their newsletter ever since and I find it my best source of information on the world conflicts. If you want world peace then this is the thing to read.

Belbin Team-Role Report for Rees, Matthew

I have never been a fan of Belbin because I deliberately play different roles within a team according to the situation, e.g. as Chair of Governors I lead governors meetings, at KATA I sit back quietly and listen and at BCSA I play a supporting role to the Chair (I hope!). That said, I was a little surprised how true some of the comments on the Belbin test I did this week were.

Here's an extract:
For a thinking and analytical person, you have an outgoing outlook and personality. This offers you special advantages in the role of an adviser to others or as assessor of external resources. We would expect you to be very well informed about everything that is going on, due not so much to your specialised technical expertise as to your broad interest in everything that is happening. You have an aptitude for being at the right place at the right time. For you, "Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted". Hence, your advice can be widely appreciated because it can often throw a new and unexpected light on things that are commonly taken for granted.

One of your additional values in an organization is to help it stop "re-inventing the wheel". You are not afraid of making contact with the people who can help. This could make you the counter to those who resist outside influences or the "not invented here" brigade. If you choose to make a stand it will be because you have thought it through. One of your special roles might be as the guardian against proceeding with anything that could soon become obsolete.

Your ideal operating role is that of an investigator. In occupational terms, it comes close to that of a detective. Your probing mind can be a force for progress. So whatever job you may be in, you should be a force for improving what is there.
This sounds just right for a Management Consultant!

18 January 2007

Kings of Chaos

My fellow players of Kings of Chaos (KoC) have questioned why I have not mentioned it in my blog, so here goes!

I've been playing KoC for almost four years now, having been introduced to it by one of my sons. The boys have since moved on to Runescape and World of Warcraft but I still play KoC and a couple of my mates do too.

My account is Lord_of_Ham and I am in an alliance called Elite Sabbers, with my mates Orckestra and RichardBajor.

The game is quite simple. You get gold every half hour and by attacking people. You can spend the gold on attack weapons (to take more gold), defense weapons (to stop other people taking your gold), spies (to be able to see other people's gold and to sabotage their weapons) and sentries (to hide your gold and to fend off enemies' spies).

It is difficult to balance all four aspects of your account so most people specialize in some way, e.g. sabbers or attack dogs. My tactics are to build up my sentries so that most people cannot see how much gold I've got and to keep just enough attack weapons to be able to get gold from people.

Our clan, Elite Sabbers, is at war at the moment (we usually are!) so I have lots of enemies to take gold from. They try to sab me in retaliation but normally my sentries are too strong.

Some of you may have noticed a weakness in the game; the gold comes every half hour. This means that either you have to sleep not very much or get used to waking up every morning to see that you have just been visited by an enemy who have taken a 1/3rd of your day's gold. I go with the little sleep option!

16 January 2007

Funding deprivation in schools

The funding of schools is a subject very dear to my heart and is probably the main reason that I have remained a school governor for the last thirteen years. For most of that time I have been fighting the local council for fairer funding for our school which is losing out because it serves an area of relative poverty in an otherwise well-off area and the needs of the school, or rather of its children, are not well understood. Luckily the government now recognises that schools like ours are losing out and is forcing all councils to look at how they fund deprivation in school. The council has established a working party to consider the problem and obviously I volunteered to be on it.

I won't go into the details of schools' funding here as it is a complex issue that is not properly understood by many of the people directly involved in it  but I will give a flavour of the issue by summarizing some of the findings from a recent government study on the issue.

The existing regulatory framework places only a very modest requirement on local authorities to distribute funding to schools on the basis of deprivation. The emphasis that local authorities place on deprivation in their funding formulae varies greatly.

There is a wide degree of variation between local authorities’ strategies for assessing and funding the costs of deprivation, and there has often been no systematic approach to reviewing need.

Local authorities and Schools Forums sometimes have little understanding of the national system of deprivation funding, and of the intended purpose of this funding at a local level. This leads to significant variation in funding levels between schools with similar proportions of pupils eligible for free school meals.

It is clear that additional expenditure has a positive, if relatively modest, impact on attainment. This impact is greatest when expenditure is targeted on the most deprived schools, and towards pupils who are eligible for free school meals.

Overall, local authorities’ decisions on the balance of funding between schools are not leading to deprivation funding being accurately or consistently targeted towards schools in deprived areas.

12 January 2007

Exploring Mornington Crescent

I've been in my new job in London Euston for almost a week and thought that it was about time that I had an explore of the immediate area.

This was partially an excuse to go for a walk and was partially to get a photo of a cool building to put in this blog to justify the claim in my profile that I am interested in architecture.

I scored on both counts.

Not that far up the road, almost opposite Mornington Crescent tube station, is this wonderful building that I had not come across before. It is now called Greater London House but originally, and the name is still on the front of the building, it was the Carreras Cigarette Factory.

The rest of the walk showed the marked contracts that there are in that part of London. To the west of Mornington Crescent lies that large and not very pretty Regent's Park Estate. It's not as bad as some places, and I felt comfortable walking through there in a suit and bow-tie (because it was during the day!), but it has safely avoided the gentrification that has spread across most of Central London in the last twenty years or so. Just beyond the estate is Regent's Park itself which is ringed by mansions that are out of the price range of lottery winners.

That sums up two of the things I really like about London, the variety and the surprises. And walking where the whim takes you is the best way to find both.

11 January 2007

The Cheese Shop

This evening I have to make a short train journey just outside of the zones covered by my TravelCard so I need a single ticket to cover the extra part of the journey. To avoid buying this ticket at Waterloo Station during the evening rush hour I thought that I'd simply stroll along to Euston Station at lunchtime and buy it there. No such luck!

I queued for the British Rail (as most people still call it) ticket office only to be told that they don't issue these sorts of tickets. Previously I have bought also sorts of tickets from all sorts of stations, e.g. from Richmond to Newcastle at Brixton Station, so I have no idea why I could not do that there and I was too stunned to stay and try and find out.

The next port of call was the Travel Information Desk. They confirmed that the ticket office does not sell these tickets (but, again, no explanation why) but offered to sell me one themselves. My joy was short-lived when they realised that I only wanted a single journey ticket (cost £1.80) rather than a one day TravelCard that would have allowed me to make this journey (£4.90).

The best that they could offer was to suggest that I try the ticket office in the underground station which is, er, under Euston Station. I declined this advice fairly certain that a) the underground station will only sell underground tickets and b) there will be a long queue of people who are unsure of where they are going, how they plan to get there and what ticket they need to do this.

So, if you want to buy a rail ticket then Euston Station is like the Cheese Shop in Monty Python, i.e. devoid of the article it purports to sell. I now have to decide between trying to get a ticket at Waterloo or risking the £10 fine for travelling without one. We'll see...

3 January 2007

I'm half Irish

An evening in the Canbury Arms listening to impromptu Irish music has got me thinking about nationality, and if you believe in John Bull you had probably better stop reading now.

I find nationality to be odd concept. I was born in England and have lived here all my life. If you read my profile on the right you'll see that I am very proud to be from Leeds and Yorkshire. But my support for England is less strong.

As I write this, I am listening to fifth cricket test match between England and Australia and I am definitely cheering for England.

However, when the Rugby Union season starts I'll be cheering for Wales and will be wearing my Welsh rugby shirt with pride. My Dad is Welsh and I was brought up in the 70s with the great Welsh rugby side and all that went with it, e.g. Max Boyce.

My Irish side comes from Mum (pictured). My Irish heritage manifests itself in politics rather than sport and, as a general rule, I support the Catholic nationalists against the Protestant unionists. I also like Irish music having been sung to sleep with it for years. Mum loved the songs and could remember every word of every one of them. Though, being Irish, the words often had more import than they seemed to and I remember one evening in a pub in Richmond upon Thames where the Irish band that we had gone to see sang one set of words and Mum another. Mum's version of the song was the Catholic one. In Richmond that was amusing, in Northern Ireland things like that got people killed.

So far I've explained why I'm English, Welsh and Irish but I usually think of myself as European. By that I mean that I think of all of Europe as my homeland and I don't (apart from cricket) hope that England, or Britain or the UK, succeeds at the expense of another part of Europe.

I'm Yorkshireish, English, Welsh, Irish and European, all at the same time, and so nationality has little meaning for me and I find it very hard to understand the "my country, right or wrong" crowd. Sadly that's quite a large crowd.