29 April 2007

Waterloo Station

A cursory glance at this blog and at my photos on flickr show that I like industrial architecture, particularly roofs and more particularly roofs of railway stations and greenhouses.

This is the latest addition to my collection of such photographs and is of Waterloo Station in London. I'm not sure why it has taken me so long to take a photograph of this as I have been here a few thousand times over the years and so have had plenty of opportunity to do so. Still, better late than never and this is a worthy addition to the canon.

28 April 2007

Orange Tree Theatre

The Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond is a real gem and I go to see almost every production. Some friends do all the work in picking the date, finding out how many in our group can come and then buying the tickets - all I have to do is turn up on the night.

This week I went to see The Skin Game by John Galsworthy (of Forsyte Saga fame and a local resident). The play is a drama on the conflict between new industrial wealth and the landed gentry. The landed gentry win but only by acting ungentlemanly so it's a pyrrhic victory.

What makes The Orange Tree special is that it is in the round. i.e. there is seating all around the performance area, as you can see from this picture.

It seats a little under 200 people so the atmosphere is very intimate, particularly when the cast join the audience during the show, as they did in the auction scene in The Skin Game. In one play, about the Vietnam War, the on-stage discussion opened up to include the audience and I joined in!

25 April 2007

River walks

For many years now I have gone for walks with my youngest son. When we was three that was just around the block but now he is thirteen it's at least two hours and can be much more. Our usual walk takes us to Richmond along the river where we have a coffee (me) and a toasted muffin (him) before deciding where to walk next.

These walks normally start fairly early in the morning so that we avoid the crowds. Last Sunday we left the house at 6am which meant an early start for him and, er, not quite getting to bed the night before for me.

We had to leave then to get to Richmond in time for the high tide. The tide tables said that the high tide at just before 7am was going to be 4.8m which previous observations had shown us would be enough to cover the path in many places. We weren't disappointed and got our shoes and socks wet for our troubles.

After Richmond we walked further along the river to Kew. This picture was taken just beyond Richmond Lock and shows the flood defences between the river and The Old Deer Park.

At Kew we went on the green and had a play around in the nets (we took a cricket ball with us) before catching the bus home in time for breakfast!

22 April 2007

Arthur Brown, 40 years on

The whole evening at the ICA was billed as "Freak Out, Ethel! An Evening of Musical Mayhem" but my reason for going was to see Arthur Brown (again).

The evening opened with Malcolm Boyle's one-man play, The Madcap, about Syd Barrett. This gave an interesting insight into the early years of Pink Floyd and was enhanced by some interesting interpretations of some of Barrett's songs.

Then came Circulus. The event's blurb called them "Britain's finest neo-medieval psychedelic folk-rock band", but I thought it was awful. Trying to mix all those themes just did not work and it was not at all clear what they were trying to be. The period costumes hardly helped.

Then came Arthur with a truly magnificent set. To merely list the songs, all of which are established Arthur Brown concert material, would not do it justice as the show was made by the dramatic, vigorous and enthusiastic performances by Arthur and regular musician Nick Pynn.

I was at the front of the stage by Nick and it was interesting, and awe inspiring, to see how the familiar string instruments played by hand were complimented by various boxes of tricks played with his feet. The was particularly obvious during his solo in The Devil's Grip (one of the songs Arthur played in the original concert 40 years ago). Nick went up enormously in my estimation, and he was pretty high up before.

Arthur, of course, was very much the focal point of the set and he more than lived up to expectations. His vocal range, volume and expression were as strong as ever, he pranced around the stage energetically and his facial expressions told the songs' stories as much as the words did. This was the best Arthur Brown performance that I've seen.

The final act were The Pretty Things about whom I knew little except for the songs covered by Bowie on Pin-ups, both of which were played. A bit hit and miss for me but the two straight blues songs were very good, particularly as Arthur Brown joined the band for the first of these.

There was also some good news from the guy on the merch stall with promises of more gigs with Nick to support the new acoustic album when it comes out and, sometime later, some gigs with Instant Flight to promote the DVD of the Astoria gig in 2005.

Tumbling telephone boxes

Kingston upon Thames does not have much public art but it does have this rather lovely set of tumbling telephone boxes.

20 April 2007

Thunderbird 2 is go

Thunderbird has just got better! It was already much better than Outlook (not difficult) but version 2 is just amazing.

These are just some of the new features:

Message Tags: Create your own tags for organizing email. Messages can be assigned any number of tags. Tags can be combined with saved searches and mail views to make it easier to organize email.

Advanced Folder Views: Customize the folder pane to show favorite, unread or recent folders.

Easy Access to Popular Web Mail Services: Gmail and .Mac users can access their accounts in Thunderbird by simply providing their user names and passwords.

Improved New Mail Notification Alerts: New mail alerts include information such as the subject, sender and message preview text.

Folder Summary Popups: Mouse over a folder with new messages to see a summary of the new messages in that folder.

Find As You Type: Finds and highlights message text as you type.

Improved Filing Tools: Recent folder menu items for moving and copying messages to recently used folders. Move / Copy again functionality.

Read all about it here.

The Candyman can

Most of the podcasts that I listen to are educational but I do like to mix in some comedy too and, for example, have been downloading The Now Show for over a year. So I was rather pleased to see a Danny Baker podcast listed on iTunes a couple of weeks back and it's now part of my regular listening.

The format is much the same as his long running radio show, which is long running for a good reason. The phone calls are a little surreal as, obviously, they have to be arranged beforehand so that the caller knows when the show is to be recorded. It still works though and it's well worth a listen.

I almost laughed out loud on the tube as we passed through Knightsbridge this morning as this rather excellent email was read out on the show:

"I found the podcast on iTunes and thought that I would give it a go as a former fan of the Danny & Danny show on Radio 5 (shame on the BBC for ending that) and listened to it on the way to work this morning between Melvyn Bragg's "In our time" on anaesthetics and a timesonline MBA podcast on globalisation. The breakfast show was definitely the funniest of the three and I'll be back for more!"
I've appeared in all sorts of media over the years but this is the first time that I've been in somebody else's podcast!

A few things to read

I'm not sure for certain if I'm managing to keep to my New Year's Resolution to read more books and comics than I buy but I suspect I'm well short of the target. Looks like I will be doing a lot of reading over the summer holidays.

Obviously none of this is my fault.

For example, somebody on The Saint forum was offering paperbacks recently so I had to get the five that I did not already have. And nice books always make good birthday / xmas presents. And there have been some special issues, such as the two Philip Jose Farmer books and the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser collection. And Rebellion has started reprinting old Judge Dredd, Nemesis and Strontium Dog stories from 2000AD.

Not my fault at all.

16 April 2007

Some graffiti is good

This story comes from The Guardian and I've copied it here simply because I agree with it.

In Lambeth, local residents are in uproar at the council's decision to speedily remove a graffiti tribute created to mark the death of Billy Cox, one of the south London teenagers to be shot and killed two months ago. The decision to remove the graffiti piece commissioned by friends - a classic spray can portrait of the 14-year-old - says more about council bureaucracy and politics than the public's perception of graffiti. Residents and relatives have campaigned to keep the mural and its accompanying floral tributes. So why is it being removed?

If it was official artwork sanctioned by the council, the piece would be allowed to remain. The problem is not the mural itself but the wider concept of public art. It is arguably impossible for interesting, resonant art to be created through the exceptionally bureaucratic, uncreative process of local government. Why should councils rather than the public have final say on the look of urban space? The short-sighted decision to remove the piece so soon after Cox's death is unlikely to change the public's perception of graffiti.

Murals such as this are still seen as "good" graffiti, closer to folk art, than the harder to read "bad" graffiti of taggers and artists creating text pieces. Visually, this particular work may not appeal to many as technically developed. But the fact it raises so many questions about politics, urban life and public space makes it an accidental and very valid artwork.

13 April 2007

The Goodies, still alive and still funny

I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I decided to go and see The Goodies on stage in Croydon but it turned out to be a real treat.

The show was sort of a story of how The Goodies came together and failed to learn to ride the trandem but it went off in various tangents including, I'm pleased to say, a brief sketch from I'm sorry I haven't a clue, which, like most people there, I am old enough to remember. In amongst all this were a few clips from The Goodies, a song (Wild Thing) and some well rehearsed one-liners.

The show itself was presented by Tim Brooke-Taylor and Graeme Garden with Bill Oddie appearing on film and as a puppet. This was rather well done and at one point Graeme Garden walked off stage and reappeared on the film to smack Bill Oddie before returning back to the stage. It may sound a little cheesey but it was continuously funny, and I mean laugh-out-loud funny.

Before the event I went to what is becoming my regular pre-event pub, the boring but serves-its-purpose The George in, er, George Street. It's a Whetherspoons so it does reasonable beer (Pedigree) and reasonable food (mushroom curry) at a reasonable price (£5.99). While waiting to be served at the bar I bumped into a former colleague from some years ago, who was also going to The Goodies, and plans are now afoot for further reunions in more interesting public houses.

Genies and bottles

One of the several blogs that I subscribe to is The Obvious and this is a recent posting there:
Interesting to see The Times print edition quoting unofficial UK forces forums about the selling of captives stories.

to which I added this comment:
It's well established that truth is the first casualty or war so it is interesting to observe the first war conducted in the age of Web2.0. I suspect that it will be a loooong time before all the truth about this incident emerges ~ currently my money is on Iran being more right than Britain.

Can Children Have Control Over Their Education?

This is a recent posting on Onlinesapiens, one of the education blogs that I subscribe to:
Let us find ways to give our children back their birthright, their natural curiosity and facility to learn. There have to be ways that we can organize our learning institutions to accommodate individual curiosity and the standardized curriculum. I believe that thoughtful educators can create environments that are less restrictive and provide much more natural habitat for learning.
to which I posted this comment:
I think that one thing we need to do to achieve this is to break-up the monopoly whereby a student goes to one school.

Extra curricular learning activities (e.g. arts and sports) are already usually provided outside of school and it is a natural step to increase the range of specialist providers to include what are currently normally considered to be school subjects.

This move would also embrace home schooling as a valid option for some children.

12 April 2007

A consultant's tools and techniques

A stray thought at work (these things happen!) has prompted this post on business modelling, knowledge management and systems thinking.

One of the side effects of working as a consultant for many years is that I have come across many modelling techniques and approaches to problem solving, and I think that one of my strengths is being able to pull the right tool or technique out of the hat when required. The problem is that much of the stuff that is in the hat is pants and should be left in there. Process Modelling is a case in point; I have yet to see a process model that was useful.

Over the years there have been a few things that I have come across that have immediately struck me as being "right" and in every case this opinion has been reinforced over the years. Three approaches that I have used again and again over the years are Data Modelling, Mass Customisation (Joseph Pine II's HBR paper), Knowledge Management and Systems Thinking.

The diagram here shows how I used the Mass Customisation to explain approaches to Knowledge Management at Lambeth Council. A key features of these different tools is that, just like in mathematics (my degree subject), it does not matter which of these approaches to a problem you use you will get the same solution. They provide a consistent description of the same domain.

Systems Thinking (a.k.a. Lean Service) is a more recent addition to my repertoire, boosted by a conference that I managed to wangle my way onto just before leaving Lambeth. The conference was given by Vanguard who are leaders in this area in the UK. Below is an extract from Vanguard's most recent newsletter which sums up why public service cannot get better under the current regime:

"Dear Mrs Kelly, I am moved to write to you today because I have just attended a presentation by [client name not reproduced here]. They have taken the systems approach to re-designing housing repairs and, like others, now achieve levels of performance beyond what might have been considered achievable if set as targets. In doing this work they have learned, as others have before them, that the statutory BVPIs are actually making performance worse. Attendees at the presentation - board members, senior managers and contractors - were concerned that, in the face of the evidence, your agents have failed to act. Like others in housing who have taken this route, these people now find themselves in the ridiculous position of having to measure and report things that they know are making their performance worse."

One of the nice things about learning about Systems Thinking was the realisation that this is the approach our school had been taking for years (e.g. designing for outputs and dealing with variations in inputs, i.e. children) which, for me, helped to prove the case for both Systems Thinking and our school.

11 April 2007

Classic Car Crushed by Lambeth Council

This story explains what sort of organisation Lambeth Council is, which is why I left.

A rare classic car was crushed by Lambeth Council after it mistakenly thought that the vehicle had to pay road tax when under current rules any car more than 25 years old does not have to pay the duty. The Council has apologised to the owner.
Daily Express p34

9 April 2007

My (small) collections of signed books

The recent arrival of my signed copy of Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman started me thinking about how many signed books I have.

Until a few years ago the thought of getting a book signed had never occurred to me and then I started buying Redwall books for the boys and the Redwall website says, "all books purchased from the Redwall La Dita Book Club are autographed by Brian Jacques". As there was no extra cost for this, and I was buying the books online anyway, the books came signed as a matter of course. I have several of these.

Not long after that the younger son started reading the Measle books by Ian Ogilvy (alert readers will have spotted The Saint connection) and, again, I was able to buy a signed copy of one of them online at no extra cost.

The first signed book that I got for myself was Jim Starlin's Dreadstar. Jim Starlin has been a big favourite of mine since the Warlock series in the early seventies so this was a nice treat to myself.

I'm not sure what other signed books I have, a clue that perhaps signed books are not that special anymore, but one is worth mentioning and that is my signed and numbered limited edition print of Pearls of Peoria by Philip Jose Farmer, pictured here. 

Philip Jose Farmer is still my favourite author thanks, mainly, to the new worlds he invented and the fantastic stories he placed in them. The obvious examples are the Riverworld and World of Tiers series. Well worth a read, signed or unsigned.

8 April 2007

Philip Glass' Satyagraha at ENO

I could not miss the rare opportunity to hear a Philip Glass opera and so tonight I went to the English National Opera to see Satyagraha.

The performance was excellent and the staging was interesting if somewhat confusing at times ~ I have no idea what the purpose of all that cellophane was! Overall though, it worked very very well and even the critics agree with this. For the best part of three hours I was mesmerised by the music and the singing which, in the absence of anything you might reasonably call a plot, is the essence of the opera.

That's my second visit to ENO in recent months, the last time was for John Adams' Nixon in China. It's good to see somebody doing modern classics like that and not just the usual repertoire of Tosca, Madam Butterfly et al.

As a venue, however, ENO is rather old fashioned and leaves a little to be desired by modern standards, but not as much as the disastrous Royal Opera House. If you want to see what an opera house should look like these days then go to Glydebourne.

7 April 2007

My software and social networking websites

I know it's bit of a busman's holiday but I've spent the start of the Easter break sorting my technology out on my PC. This is the oldest of five PCs in the house and is the only one running Windows98, the others run XP, MAC OS and Ubuntu. Despite this low technology base I can do all that I want so I'm in no rush to upgrade.

I have been using Netscape 7.2 for email and browsing for some time but this is a technology dead-end (I did upgrade to Netscape 8 once but it was far too slow on my PC) so I have now moved to Firefox and Thunderbird. Both of these are based on the same source at Netscape so the user experience is much the same and the installs copied most of the settings across. The only minor problem was that Thunderbird copied my message filters to the wrong email accounts, but I can live with this.

I use OpenOffice for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations, and had great pleasure in uninstalling Office97 recently. There is a new release of OpenOffice out, v2.2, and I installed this as well.

Having got the PC software sorted I did a bit of work on my social networking websites. Much of this was prompted by David Gurteen whom I am continually indebted to. Buying him the occasional gin and tonic seems scant reward for this.

I am now using del.icio.us to manage my bookmarks. The main advantages of using this over the browser bookmarks menu are that it uses tags and it's server based so is not tied to one PC. There is also the bookmarks sharing element but that's something to experiment with on another day.

I am using Bloglines to aggregate RSS feeds from the blogs I read and sites like BBC News to one website. Basically, this presents new postings on the websites that I monitor much as Thunderbird presents new emails. RSS, the technology that does this, is very common and is used by most major websites, like the BBC, Guardian, Business Week etc. Even UK Government sites like DfES and DCLG use it, though DoH is a notably exception and the lask of an RSS feed was the main criticism of the site made by doctors in a recent survey.

I still use MyBlogLog but now that I have Bloglines for reading blogs I use MyBlogLog for monitoring my sites' statistics and, more importantly, seeing who else is interested in the sites that I subscribe to so that I can see whether other sites that they subscribe to are also of interest to me. It's like getting like-minded friends to recommend books or albums to you.

There is still a role for MySpace and I use my account there mainly for keeping track of the bands that I am interested in.

My Facebook account is currently only really used for communicating with the Czech and Slovak community in London.

As a consultant I have to have an account on LinkedIn but this seems to be a network that you only go to when you need to, i.e. when looking for somebody with specific expertise, rather than for social interaction.

That may seem like a long and complex list of social networking websites but I acquired them over time, I have found them all to be useful and they are all low-maintenance.

If any of this technology is new to you then I recommend that you give it a go and see how it works out for you. I went in with no great expectations but am now a firm advocate ~ hence this post!

6 April 2007

Come on Leeds (United, Rhinos and Tykes)!

It's crunch time for Leeds United in their efforts to remain in the football Championship and, like all good supporters, I am still confident that we can do it; and get promoted back to the Premiership where we belong next season.

But while there is still some concern over Leeds United the other Leeds teams are both top of their leagues.

Leeds Rhinos beat the previous league leaders, Bradford, last night to go top of the Super League.

Leeds Tykes are top of the English National League 1 and should be promoted back to the Premiership, though we do still have to play Earth Titans.

1 April 2007

Brett Anderson solo

I was relatively late getting into Suede and the first album I bought was Dog Man Star, having been persuaded of its merits by my then colleagues at Strategic Thought Limited (a minor career diversion that no longer appears on my CV). Since then I have bought everything that Brett Anderson has come, including the reunion with Butler as The Tears and now the eponymous solo album.

Brett Anderson solo sound like Brett Anderson in Suede and in The Tears, which is a good thing as far as I'm concerned.

The mixed reviews it has had seem to be mostly on that basis, i.e. critics like the solo album if they wanted more of the same but don't if they were hoping for a new direction.

My sole gripe at the album is that iTunes classifies it as "easy listening" and, despite being 50 now, I definitely do not go for easy listening albums!