31 March 2008

A walk in the park

On Sunday we were promised rain but the early omens were good so I set off on a walk with my younger son (14). His choice of route was a clockwise tour of Richmond Park, a walk of some 15km altogether.

For most of the way around the park there is a choice of three footpaths. The inner path follows the road that goes round the park connecting the five gates that allow traffic in and out of the park (there are several other gates that are for pedestrians and cyclists only). This path is the least interesting and is made unpleasant by the traffic so is used by very few walkers.

The middle path is the one most used by walkers and cyclists and was built specifically for them a few years ago. This path is mostly well away from the road and takes you in to wilder parts of the park. However its popularity is a drawback, as is the mixed use, and at times walking is a battle for space on the path with little opportunity to savour the park.

Luckily there is a third path in many places. This path follows the park wall quite closely and so is the longest route. It is through the grass (and mud) so only appeals to the more earnest explorers, which makes it the best route for enjoying the park as a wild and expansive place.

The photograph shows parts of this path as it follows the Beverley Brook along the northern edge of the park. The brook and trees obviously make this a pleasant place to walk but what I really like about it is that there are no people.

28 March 2008

Paying for Local Government

My daily email from the Local Government Association (LGA) Information Services had just these two stories this morning. Does anybody else see a connection?!

Over 800 local council officers are paid over £100,000, it has been revealed by the Taxpayers' Alliance. The six best paid officers earn over £200,000 with 14 chief executives earning more than Gordon Brown. John Ransford from the LGA said that the report needs to be taken with a "dollop of salt" and added: "These figures represent 0.0005% of the total workforce in local government. Many councils have bigger budgets than FTSE-100 companies and to get the brightest people to deliver the best services for local people they need to pay a competitive wage."
Express p1& p6, Mail p36, Sun p2, Telegraph p1

Council tax is to go up on average by 4% this year, after the Government threatened to cap councils that set increases above 5%. Sir Simon Milton, Chairman of the LGA said: "The stark reality is that low council tax rises have come at a cost and many councils have had to make tough decisions on spending." A comment piece in the Express bemoans the fact that council taxes are rising without an improvement in service. Seven police authorities and one council, Portsmouth, have been capped by the Government.
Telegraph p11, Metro p2, Express p12, Mail p36

26 March 2008

2000AD, home to Judge Dredd for thirty years

I started reading 2000AD when I was at university some thirty years ago and read it for many years before the pressure to find time to read it and space to store it got to me and I reluctantly stopped.

But I always felt that I was missing out on something and was unhappy that I was only reading American comics (even though there are many British contributors to them).

So last year I started reading it again, and I am very glad that I did.

British comics are very different to their more glamorous American cousins; they are (usually) issued weekly rather than monthly, they don't rely a lot on stories about costumed superheroes and there are many references to England's past, e.g. the times of King Arthur or Queen Victoria. 2000AD follows these traditions; it is weekly (though there is a larger monthly companion called the Judge Dredd Megazine), it has no costumed superheroes and current stories are set in places that mimic Edwardian and WWII England.

Judge Dredd is, of course, still the star of the show. New fans can catch up with Dredd's thirty years history by reading the reprints in Judge Dredd: Complete Case Files, which currently comprises ten volumes. The picture I chose to illustrate this piece is the cover for volume 3 which I selected because it was drawn by Mike (or Mick) McMahon, my favourite 2000AD artist.

Pick up a copy of 2000AD next time you are in a newsagents and give it a try; Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog, Bill Savage and Nikolai Dante are waiting to entertain you.

24 March 2008

Kingston upon Thames Society meeting

Because of my interest in local affairs and in architecture, I have been a member of the Kingston upon Thames Society for fifteen years or more but never quite managed to get to a meeting until last week.

The topic that final drew me out of the shadows was billed as "Sustainable houses are coming: Brian Mark, eco specialist, gives an overview of changes in building techniques designed to meet the global warming problem."

My summary of the talk is that developers have to meet impossible building standards within a few years and that there is no option as the planet cannot sustain our current lifestyle. The talk grabbed the interest of the audience and there were many questions afterwards, ranging from cremation to turnips.

Now that I have tasted the blood of the meetings I hope to be going to a few more, particularly the one in June on the Thames Landscape Strategy, which I think is a disaster (but you'll have to scour my Ham Photos blog to find out why).

A more encouraging story on the subject of sustainable living can be found in a TED talk by architect William McDonough.

22 March 2008

The Now Show

The Now Show is a worthy BBC Radio 4 tradition and the latest series started a couple of weeks ago. A more recent tradition is our attendance at recordings of the show. These are held on Thursday evening and the show is first broadcast the following day at 6:30pm.

The routine is bus/tubes to Richmond, Hammersmith, Green Park, Oxford Circus, eating in the Pizza Express near to Broadcasting House, being around 50th in the queue, me getting picked out by the security system, and positioning ourselves successfully in the waiting area so that we get seats in the front row.

Almost part of this tradition is getting one or more of our replies to the audience question being read out. This time I had two read out during the recording but neither made it to the show as broadcast - no real surprise as both jokes were a little weak and the killer punchline to one of them was censored by Steve Punt (again, no surprise given its subject matter!).

The show itself lived up to expectations being 50 minutes of live anarchy that was edited down to 30 minutes of tight comedy and part of the fun is trying to remember which bits were cut.

I'm already looking forward to the next show in a few weeks and until then I have the radio shows and podcasts to keep me going :-)

20 March 2008

What is Knowledge Management?

One of the biggest problems that Knowledge Management (KM) has in promoting itself is the inability of practitioners to even remotely agree on a definition. The extent of this problem has been demonstrated recently by Ray Sims who has collected 54 definitions, so far.

Luckily, Ray is acting like a good consultant and has moved on from data collection to analysis and is producing some useful results. The approach that I really like is to use tag clouds and this is one that he has produced.

The reason that I like this tag cloud as a definition of KM is that it puts K in the middle of KM surrounded by all the words that you would expect to see but without a sentence to add false and distracting structure.

From this you can see the things that are being managed (e.g. knowledge, information, data, documents, etc.), how they are managed (process, sharing, organization, people, etc.) and the benefits of doing this (effective, improve, innovation, etc.).

This is excellent work by Ray and is rightly causing quite a buzz in KM circles.

19 March 2008

Simplicity is a virtue

This shows quite clearly how many of us get the design wrong when we are building new systems :-)

Read more stuff like that here.

18 March 2008

The Tale of the Old Speckled Hen

This is a sad story of two pubs with three names and of two beers with one name.

Once upon a time a happy drinker moved to a new village and found that he had a nice pub only a few minutes walk from his cosy new home. The village was called Ham and the pub was the Hand and Flower.

The happy drinker soon discovered that he liked the pub and he liked the Old Speckled Hen that it served. This was a red, smooth, strong and tasty beer, ideal for those few quick pints at the end of the day.

Over the years the happy drinker became happier and he joined the Old Speckled Hen Appreciation Society (he still has the badge) and the cheery landlord gave him some of the special Old Speckled Hen glasses provided by the brewery occasionally.

But times changed. The Hand and Flower stopped selling Speckled Hen then it stopped being a pub at all and became the Legless Frog instead. The happy drinker became less happy and had to walk further to one of the several other pubs nearby instead. He tried all of them, several times, and eventually he found a new local and he was happier again.

The happy drinker was even happier when his new local got in Old Speckled Hen as its guest beer.

But time plays tricks on people and what had been a satisfying strong beer (5.2%) had been reduced to a tame one (4.5%) and some of the flavour had been lost in the process. So the happy drinker was not quite as happy as he might have been and he drank the London Pride instead.

15 March 2008

Stop the War March

I was in London today for the Stop the War March that was help on the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. This started with a rally at Trafalgar Square at midday so I took advantage of this to pay a quick visit to the National Gallery (which is on the north side of the square) and also to enjoy the square itself.

The square has four plinths but one of them was left unadorned and unloved until recently when they started holding competitions to pick a work of art to sit there for a period. The current incumbent is the colourful and lovely Thomas Schütte's Model for a Hotel 2007.

After the short cultural hit it was on to the main business of the day, standing up and being counted as part of the opposition to wars and occupations Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Somalia, Congo, Tibet, etc. etc. (sadly it is a long list).

As always with these events, I have the mixed emotions of the joy of being with so many with people who share the same passion for fairness and justice and the frustration that we need to hold marches like this to remind people how much of these things we have given up.

The event kicked off with a number of speakers from all aspects of the "peace movement" and there was lots of cheering, whistling and clapping to unite us even closer and to raise our spirits.

On this up-beat note we set of on our march. The route was rather circuitous taking us to Parliament Square, over Westminster Bridge, south past Lambeth Palace, back over the river at Lambeth Bridge then north to Parliament Square again where we collected for a final short rally.

I was near the head of the march and we arrived back at Parliament Square just as the tail of the march left, some 4 Km behind us.

I am not really expecting much to change as a result of our march but there are times when you need to stand up and be counted and I am very glad that I did so today.

12 March 2008

Fifty years of CND

I have been a member of Kingston Peace Council/CND for as long as I can remember and while I read the newsletters that they send me I had not been to one of their meetings until this week. The occasion was a talk to celebrate fifty years of CND given by the current chair of CND, Dr Kate Hudson. Her talk covered the history and future of CND and was followed by questions from the audience.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn of (or be reminded of) the successes that the Peace Movement (not just CND) had contributed to over the years. These successes include various arms limitation treaties, the removal of short-range nuclear weapons from Europe, improved communications between the major powers (including the "hot phone") that prevents crisis situations from escalating, and, most importantly, no further use of nuclear weapons since WW2.

Campaigning is a slow process and the work that is being done today will not bear fruit for some time but hopefully there will be further successes in the decommissioning of Trident in the UK, unilateral withdrawal from nuclear programmes by other countries (following the examples of South Africa and Libya), and extension of the nuclear-free zones that currently exist in some parts of the world.

It also appears that the new Labour Government recognises that when one country enhances its nuclear capability then this helps to make the case for other countries to acquire their own weapons.

Overall it was a very positive and uplifting meeting, it is just a shame that after fifty years there is still a need for organizations like CND.

9 March 2008

Another reason not to like Ofsted

Many people, myself included, have concerns that the inspection regime that pervades Local Government in the UK is doing nothing to improve services to people. I believe the opposite to be true, i.e. we are spending lots of government money on an inspection process that is actually making things worse. A recent example helps to explain part of the problem.

The school that I am a governor of has just had one of the new "quickie" Ofsted inspection and the report was published last week. In most of the categories we scored a "2" for good or a "3" for satisfactory but we got one "4", poor, for standards. However, what Ofsted have not told us is why are our standards are poor when everything we do is good or satisfactory.

The report just tells us what we already know, offers no insights or advice, and so has no value.

8 March 2008

Watching TV on my iPod touch

The news that the BBC iPlayer has been made available for the iPhone and iPod touch is fantastic! I've only dabbled with the potential so far but must confess to watching an episode of Two Pints ... in bed last night :-)

The screen on the iPod touch is superb and I prefer wating vidoes on that to using a laptop (I have several) with a larger screen. It is also much more mobile so you can watch it, for example, when lying in bed or sitting in the bath.

The iPhone and iPod touch are dream machines and they just get better. Perhaps I should get an iPhone too ...

7 March 2008

Jack Kirby's Kamandi

There is a lot of talk about Jack Kirby on the web at the moment, probably due to the number of compilation books that have come out recently covering titles like Fantastic Four for Marvel and the Fourth World series for DC Comics, so I thought that I would chip in.

I am a big Jack Kirby fan because he brought a great sense of the fantastic and the majestic to everything that he drew.

I can live with some of the loose anatomical drawing (like never drawing finger nails) because of the sheer excitement he brought to the page on galaxy spanning adventures with heroic characters such as the Fantastic Four and the New Gods and on personal dramas with characters like Captain America and the Black Panther.

But out of all these, Kamandi is my favourite.

It tells the story of the last boy on earth who emerges from his shelter to find the world run by animals who find him an object of curiosity and fear.

Jack Kirby wrote and drew this one so in the words and pictures you get the same vision and excitement that focuses on the big picture and eschews the heavy ballast of too much detail, Excellent stuff.

I know my back copies are in my study somewhere ...!

6 March 2008

What will be the impact of Social Tools on KM?

This was the topic of the latest Gurteen Knowledge Cafe and, like all the others I have been to, it was an interesting and provocative night out.

For a change, David led the session himself, rather than facilitating a session for a guest speaker and it was probably because of this that he forgot to do the "speed networking" session that normally opens the show and we had to remind him to do this after his presentation instead.

The presentation was just a way of introducing the talking point and so it was short but still fairly broad in scope. It was based on a talk that David has been giving in various forms recently, e.g. at Online Information 2007. This explained how KM started with two opposing perspectives, technology led and people led, and that Wed 2.0 had become a disruptive change. Hence the question, what will be the impact of Social Tools on KM?

Following the usual Knowledge Cafe format, we then discussed the topic in our tables and, as is also part of the Cafe tradition, the conversation wandered off in all sorts of directions that may, or may not, have been related to the topic in hand. Table discussions like these enable everybody to contribute to the debate and is one of the main reasons why the Cafe format works.

After half an hour or so it opened up to a whole room discussion where points that were discussed earlier were shared and built on. David stopped the session around 8:15, probably something to do with getting a train home, and we die-hards went down the pub to carry on talking. So, a good night was had by all.

And as for the question, well there was no real answer, nor was one expected, but there seemed to be a consensus that social tools are useful and are here to stay but whether KM has any role in this or will survive as a discipline (if it is one) is much less certain.

5 March 2008

London Overground is really useful

The London Underground (tube) network is well know but the newly rebranded Overground network is bit of a hidden gem, but a really useful one for those of who live near it.

For most journeys "up north" the National Rail journey planner suggests routes via Willsden Junction, thereby avoiding Central London.

And for journeys to East of England, including Stansted Airport, the Overground network takes you to Highbury & Islington and to Stratford.

The Overgound stops at some useful places inbetween, such as West Hampstead, for the Czech and Slovak National House, and to Camden for all that that lively Borough has to offer.

3 March 2008

Neil Gaiman fest

By coincidence, I have been wallowing in Neil Gaiman more than usual at the moment taking dips into both Stardust and Neverwhere, but not in book form.

Last night we all watched Stardust on DVD. I had read the book some years ago so my memory of it is a little hazy but there were parts of the book that I did remember that were not in the film and bits of the film that I don't recall from the book. But, overall, it seems like a reasonably close adaption of the book. The biggest change is that the film has a lot more humour and a little less magic (which is a lot easier to do in words!). Even the two teenage boys liked the film and there can be fewer higher accolades than that!

Currently spinning on my iPod touch is Neil Gaiman reading his preferred version of Neverwhere (which I had to get from the USA for some reason). This is unabridged and so runs to ten CDs. I am currently on number eight but with limited prospects of another long-haul flight in the near future to finish it off. Again it is some time since I read the book and so am not too surprised not to have noticed any differences in the text. I did, however, spot some Americanisms which Neil defended when challenged.

There are common themes in both stories (and with others), such as magic, different realms that people from England manage to cross in to, and cross-race/species lovers that you can spot on page one. But they are very different books.

Stardust is a great story that hangs together very well and contains some wonderful ideas (definitely Neil's biggest strength), e.g. the princes having to kill each other to succeed to the throne. Neverwhere also has some fantastic ideas, mostly around London place names, e.g. the Black Friars and the Knights' Bridge, but overall the story lacks the momentum that Stardust has. This is compensated for in the audio book by Neil's reading which makes it well worth getting.

My recommendation, read Stardust (with Charles Vess illustrations), watch the Stardust film and listen to the Neverwhere audiobook.

1 March 2008

March, march, march across Red Square*

On my last day in Moscow I had a little bit of free time before heading off to the airport so I made the trek though the falling snow to Red Square to see the must-see things, such as Saint Basil's Cathedral pictured here.

Not surprisingly there are several majestic buildings in and around Red Square and you can see these in my Facebook photo album, but I found Red Square itself a little disappointing. This may be because it was wet and grey and cold but the gaudy temporary ice rink also had something to do with it!

For me, the highlight of Moscow was the pedestrianised Arbat Street which starts from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Being pedestrianised is a real plus as most of Moscow is dominated by the motor car which makes getting anywhere above ground really quite difficult and noisy. And the street has numerous attractions including market stalls, statues, restaurants and artwork in the paving. It's a great place for a leisurely stroll, which I did three times in three days :-)

* The title comes courtesy of the Human League's The Things That Dreams Are Made Of (from the excellent Dare album) which I could not get out of my head once the lyrical connection had been made.

Leeds still rules the world (of Rugby League)

Excellent news!!

Leeds Rhinos ensured the World Club Challenge trophy stayed in England for a fifth successive year with a tense victory over Melbourne Storm.

This good result has set Leeds up well for what, even at this early stage, looks like being a good season with Leeds being the only unbeaten team in the Super League after 4 games and already having a 4 point gap to the second place team.