28 June 2007

La Cenerentola at Glyndebourne

The first visit to Glyndebourne this year was to see Rossini's La Cenerentola (Cinderella).

Glyndebourne is always a joy, even in the rain, and we arrived there in good time to bag a table in the marquee.

The picnic, held during the long interval in the opera, is very much part of the whole experience and the guests take it seriously.

This means that many of the tables are dressed with candles and/or flowers. And of course, there is the frequent sound of champagne corks popping.

Let's not forget that the opera is an important part of the evening too!

La Cenerentola is a little unusual for opera in that it has a happy ending. It shares most of it's plot with Cinderella but she manages to marry the prince without the help of a good fairy, mice or a pumpkin, and the glass shoe becomes a bracelet.

It was staged (by Peter Hall) to show some of the humour but not to overplay it, i.e. it has funny moments but is not a comic opera.

The singing and playing were first class and the long ovation at the end was well deserved.

23 June 2007

Art that even the kids like

We all went to see Antony Gormley's Blind Light at the Hayward Gallery at the South Bank on Saturday and all thoroughly enjoyed it.

The main piece, Blind Light itself, was the second most disorientation experience I've ever had. As you wander around inside the artificial cloud you can only see the other people in with you the instant before you walk into them. There is no sense of direction and the whole effect is very eerie. b.t.w. the place that was worse than this was the coastal path/road west from Petrovacs in Montenegro, there it was so dark you really could not see your hand in front of your face.

Other exhibits that I really liked were Matrices and Expansions (wire cage outlines of people expanded into complex geometric shapes) and Space Station (a large construction made from steel boxes of varying sizes).

Outside of the gallery is Event Horizon, a collection of statues, like the one pictured here, that have been added to the local roof line and which come in and out of view as you walk around the South Bank area. Visually stunning and I hope that some of them stay after the main exhibition closes in August.

21 June 2007

What a good evening that was!

On Thursday I went to the fifth Gurteen Knowledge BBQ which proved to be an excellent event that combined several of my interests, hence the multiple tags on this post!

It was a Knowledge Cafe so all the people there had an interest in KM and this meant that we all had plenty to talk about.

We started with a guided tour of the former Navy College in Greenwhich that was both informative and entertaining; did you know that there used to be a nuclear power plant there?

The site has some wonderful buildings by some famous architects, including Inigo Jones and Wren. The riverside location had great views of Canary Wharf and the Millennium Dome (as I still think of it).

There was even a photograph by Spencer Tunic,that was taken locally, in the Admiral Hardy pub where we started the evening.

More Art Deco in London

I took a detour on the way to work this morning and walked up from Holborn to Euston, just for the chance to walk around an area of London that I worked in about twenty years ago.
The main office I worked in at the time was Churchill House in Red Lion Square which is now the headquarters of The Royal College of Anaesthetists.
My favourite building on the walk was this former Daimler Car Hire Garage in Herbrand Street, just off Russell Square.

16 June 2007

World War Hulk gets off to a great start

World War Hulk is one of this year's big comic events and the action started in cracking style thanks to Greg Pak's story and John Romita JR's stunning artwork. I've enjoyed JR JR's work for many years and I am really pleased that he's on this comic.

Why Performance Management does not work

I've been following the thread on Deming and Systems Thinking on the IDeA discussion board for over a year now and a recent post included the excellent THE GERM THEORY OF MANAGEMENT by Myron Tribus.

This is a very approachable description of what Systems Thinking is and why it is so hard for most managers to understand. I particularly liked this section as it reinforced my previous view that Performance Management is a destructive exercise.

"If you were the supervisor of these workers, what would you do? How would you go about improving things?

"I have presented this table to audiences across the USA, in Mexico, in Canada, in Australia, in the UK and I always get about the same reaction. People suggest a good talk with Eva. They propose putting Eva alongside Mary or asking Mary to help her. They propose to fire Eva. They propose to give Eva more training.

"One astute statistician at a meeting of the Royal Statistical Society in London even went so far as to observe that there was a 30 day periodicity in Eva's output and that might have something to do with things.

"After the audience suggests different cures based on the common wisdom, I explain to them that the numbers in the tables were actually generated by the random number generator in my computer. The flaws were generated and assigned to memory cells, to which I attached people's names. In other words, the faults were generated entirely by the system.

"In only two or three instances, out of thousands of people, did anyone suggest that perhaps the problem was in the system itself - that the system had been infected with the virus of variability and it was not the fault of the workers.

"In the last four years, only three people have suggested that we analyze the data in the table to see if we could compute whether Eva's results should be expected in the light of the variability exhibited by the system."

To try and simplify that as simply as possible, in order to understand the performance of a component (e.g. a person) in a system then you first need to understand the variation in the inputs.

A worst-case example is setting performance targets for dealing with that most variable of inputs, people. That is why it is impossible for Performance Management to work for jobs like teaching and social work.

15 June 2007

LogicaCMG research highlights knowledge gap

I've been interested in Knowledge Management for ten years or more and so it was good to see my employer, LogicaCMG, issue a report that highlights its importance.

If effective knowledge management practices are not implemented UK industry could see £2.6 billion of projects under threat due to a lack of expert knowledge amongst staff. The UK faces the risk of a yawning knowledge gap: the amount of new infrastructure required in the UK outstrips the knowledge available to build it.

LogicaCMG independent research conducted with large firms in the UK energy, utilities and allied industries market, found that 70 per cent of UK companies anticipate the emergence of a knowledge gap within just five years.

The critical importance of effective knowledge management was fully appreciated by most companies, with 92 per cent of respondents reporting that technical expertise is a key intellectual property required for sustained growth. However, 69 per cent of companies have little or no knowledge management processes and provisions in place.

13 June 2007

Another not particularly useful meeting

This evening's meeting was about Performance Management in schools which now means a combination of performance monitoring, continual professional development and determining pay.

Unfortunately nobody seems to have thought the process through end-to-end. We spent an hour or so talking about planning the objectives setting, monitoring performance, appeals, the regulations that underpin this and the guidance and support available. But the process ends with the governors' Pay Committee who make the actual pay decision and there is no guidance for them, no regulations governing how they should reach their decision and no appeal process if a member of staff does not like the decision they made.

A wasted opportunity to get fair funding

Last night there was meant to be a major workshop to kick-off the review of the funding formula for Kingston schools that will be used for the next three years.

Sadly the opportunity was missed and the Local Authority asked us detailed questions on some of the formula elements rather than the big questions on what the purpose of the formula should be and how we need to restructure it to achieve this.

The battle for fair funding for children at Kingston's schools will now continue at our working group meeting on 28 June.

11 June 2007

Mixed feelings about Grownups

I went to see Grownups being recorded again on Sunday and came away happy but not delighted. (This is what I thought last time)

The show was a little confusing in that the episode I saw was earlier in the series than the one that I saw last week. So people who were engaged last week had hardly met this. The plot seemed rather thin (Michelle getting married just so that her new flatmate would think she was mature) as did the characterisation, only Michelle and Grant seemed like remotely believable people.

There was a little less slapstick this time but some of the main jokes were visual, e.g. Michelle's favourite teddy bear getting shot and Claire wearing a "I do anal" sign. From this you will also guess that the humour is unsubtle and not very clever.

Sheridan Smith must also be wondering how many times Susan Nickson is going to make her wear a wedding dress without her actually getting married (that's 3 times in Two Pints and now also in Grownups).

The warm-up man, Patrick Monahan, stole the show, again. It was almost like watching two shows in the same place at the same time. The floor manager frequently had to tell Patrick to be quiet as he was still doing his stuff while they were ready to record (or re-record) the next scene.

Due to a mixture of retakes and overruns by the warm-up man, it took three hours to record a 1/2 hour programme, some of which had been recorded outside and was already completed. Sadly this meant getting back to Ealing too late for a drink which did not help.

I guess the bottom line is that I am glad I went to see the show but I am not trying to et tickets for any of the other recordings. I will probably watch it on TV though to see if the edited version is better.

9 June 2007

The "local" has changed into a gastro pub

My nearest pub, and my "local" for a number of years is the Hand and Flower which has just been transformed into The Legless Frog, featuring unusual chairs like this one.

The jury is out on the makeover. The new colour scheme and the lack of smoking makes the interior bright and attractive. The new furniture is distinctive but not to every body's taste. The beer is OK but the range is limited. And, for reasons that I do not understand, it closed at 11pm.

So it's fingers crossed for the future and for the opening of the restaurant.

No comment!!

7 June 2007

Four funny plays in one night

The latest programme at the Orange Tree is four short comedies:

PLAYGOERS by Arthur Wing Pinero
SHAKES vs SHAV by Bernard Shaw.

As usual it was a cracking good night and there were many laugh out loud moments, particularly during the Playgoers in which a young couple's wish to be kind to their domestic staff fails to be appreciated and leads to the staff (with one exception) leaving their service.

5 June 2007

The Candyman still can (everyday)

Working away in Finland I missed the launch of the new All Day Breakfast Show from Danny Baker and crew. Luckily it's a podcast and not a radio show and so I am able to catch up with the missed episodes.

And as the show is daily I am able to arrive at work with a smile on my face every day. It also means that I have to be careful about laughing out loud on the tube.

The new shows are being recorded in central London in this rather uninspiring building which is just down the road from where I work.

Oh, and it's still funnier than Melvyn Bragg.

It pays to shop around

I have never been a great believer in shopping around, thinking that market forces keep prices close enough together for it not to matter; until now. I spent a couple of hours over the weekend trying to find a hotel in central Tunis (having booked the flights some time ago) and started looking on Expedia and Travelocity with limited success. The guide book suggested a cheap boutique hotel which was only available on Opodo so I tried to book it there but got a failure message at the very end of the booking process. I then used Opodo to look for other hotels in Tunis and found a five star hotel in the very centre of town at less than half the price it was quoted at on Expedia. Two rooms for nine nights cost me £1,360 on Opodo when Expedia would have charged me over £2,800!

4 June 2007

Grownups is like Two Pints without the jokes

As a big fan of Two Pints I should like Grownups too as both are written by Susan Nickson and feature Sheridan Smith but the first series did not grab me that much. But then the first series of Two Pints was a bit weak too and is usually dropped from the continuous repeats on BBC3 so I was happy to give Grownups a second chance and so I went to the recording of the second episode of series two on Sunday evening. I was not impressed.

The second series is quite a change from the first with two of the three main characters gone (Michelle's brother Mike and her boyfriend Dean) to be replaced by Michelle's new flatmate Chris, her boss Rachel, and the frequently topless barman Alex.

The "frequently topless barman" is a clue that the characterisation and snappy dialogue that makes Two Pints so good has been largely replaced by visual humour. In the episode I watched being recorded this included man falls over sofa, man falls and breaks table, woman smacks bottom of blow-up doll and man gets set up with fat girl. Lame. Lame. Lame.

As if to prove that Grownups has no ideas, it featured a scene where Michelle (played by Sheridan Smith) gets sacked by her scatty, black, female boss and one of the two episodes of Two Pints that I watched on BBC3 after I came back from the recording (Homeless and Horny) featured Janet (also played by Sheridan Smith) being sacked by her scatty, black, female boss. Only in Two Pints her boss is Louise (played by the wonderful Kathryn Drysdale) a much better defined character.

Luckily the evening was rescued by the presence of Sheridan Smith and by the warm up man who had us all laughing out loud throughout. I'm going again next week, more for the warm-up man than for the programme itself and this time I'll try and remember his name; he deserves recognition.