Category Archives: Work

Looking on the Bright Side

There is a 48 hour strike by London Underground tube workers at the moment.

I’m loath to comment on my feelings for this as I’ve not investigated the plight of the ticket office staff who stand to be made redundant if the offices are closed as planned, so consequently I’m not sure whether to empathise with them or not.

The impact is a severely limited service for 48 hours for the millions of commuters who rely on the tube service to get from the many mainline stations in London across the city to their work destinations. Clearly with a sudden outflow to ‘other’ modes of transport (bus, taxis, Boris-bikes and shank’s pony) the roads and pavements were going to be full this morning.

Vanilla Skyline
Vanilla Skyline

I chose to walk from Waterloo though and the weather, for once, played ball, and my reward was a stunning view of the London skyline silhouetted against a vanilla sky.

It got me thinking about the positives of such a situation, and although I probably don’t need it, the extra exercise I have been forced into and even the extra food I can now eat, will certainly prove a positive!

Every cloud has a silver lining πŸ˜†

So, who are we going to eat first?

Admittedly, it has been some time since I’ve complained about the service on South West Trains.

Today, though they have made up for the recent exemplary performance with a real cracker.

On the 1815 from London Waterloo towards our first stop Guildford, we were about 25 minutes into the journey when I felt an unusually sharp braking from the train. Instinctively looking up and around, I noticed a few other passengers with equally curious looks on their faces. The train quickly ground to a full stop.

The conductor proceeded to announce, much to everyone’s amusement, that they were experiencing technical difficulties, followed a few moments later by word that he and the driver were carrying out tests to diagnose the problem.

The eerie glow of laptops

Thing started to get serious when he stated that they were going to cycle the power to ‘reset’ the train. Light hearted mutterings about the train being MS-Windows powered and the driver pressing Ctrl-Alt-Del were then accompanied by the lights and air-con going off, and a deathly silence descended upon the occupants of the coach as the thought of what might happen if the power did not come back on, crossed everyone’s minds.

It did come back on, but the now familiar voice over the PA then confirmed our suspicions that the reboot had not cleared the fault.

After an announcement that the conductor was coming through the train to carry out further tests, I had the vision that a big spanner would be required to ‘fix’ things. I was not too far from the truth.

They had decided the only way forward was to split the 10 coach train into its 5 coach parts and then reattach it. This technical sounding operation appeared to be more akin to a jump start than anything else, but all credit to the driver and conductor as the train slowly crept back into life after the bump starting. Muted cheers from the passengers ensued after the 40 minutes delay seemed behind us.

5 minutes later the brakes came on again πŸ™ and now I had not phone network service to let Liz know what was going on.

The operation to split the train was again carried out, a lot faster this time, and within 15 minutes we were on our way again.

Only to stop suddenly again 2 or 3 minutes later.

Coupling mechanism

The problem, apparently, was that the train’s control system kept getting confused and indicated that its constituent parts had been decoupled, hence the sudden and, in the right situation, necessary application of the brakes to arrest what might otherwise be a runaway train. Clearly, while coupled to another set of coaches, this is not particularly helpful.

The same ‘bumping’ procedure failed to work a third time, and after another 30 minutes or so we were told our best bet was to head back to the previous station (Clandon), but it was another hour at least until a second train crew arrived to allow the schizophrenic train to be split into functioning parts.

The final journey was uneventful and we arrived at our destination at 2130 – 2Β½ hours late; pretty impressive for a journey normally of 45 minutes.

My day had started early with a run, a which had been good, but I had missed my post-long run stretching Pilates due to a lunchtime meeting, and now I’d missed swimming.

In contrast to yesterday, a far from perfect day.

The First Steps

All of a sudden, it seems that there have been a lot more things to do than blog, so I’ve not really had the chance to record my daily musings on various subjects. So here’s a bit of a round up from the last couple of weeks.

I finally got around to doing my schedule, fitting together a keenly carved plan to allow me rest every third week, while ramping up my mileage no more than 5% per week. This also takes into account a couple of races I have planned as ‘test’ runs – mainly to get myself ready for the rigours of the MdS as I don’t really want to be finding out new things about race preparation in the middle of the Sahara! More about the schedule later.

Talking about entering races, the Centurion Running guys had another crack at the whip as they had promised, after the technical problems they’d had with their web registration, due to the popularity of their planned 2013 SDW100 along the South Downs. The race in mid-June goes from Winchester to Eastbourne, passing only a few miles south of Guildford so should be ideal for me. This time (2nd Oct) everything hung together on the website and I, and nearly 150 others, registered in the first hour. The race was sold out by the end of the week. I am looking forward to doing this as it should be a treat, similar to the Cotswolds race I competed in, what seems many years ago now!

Last week, the EBRD IT dept had our team retreat. In the past this has been a rather more social event than was planned for this time, primarily due to senior management changes, but on Thursday I duly made my way across to Frimley, only about 20 minutes drive, to meet up with a good proportion of the team. Being a ‘service’ dept for the Bank, it is always impossible for attendance to be 100%, but I couldn’t help feeling that the threat of ‘work oriented, strategic discussions’ was perhaps too much for some people to bear the thought! In the end it was actually quite a good session, as a team meeting, with the usual brief focus on self-analysis (Briggs-Myers type casting for conflict resolution!) before we got onto the future focussed strategic discussion.

St Peter’s, Guildford

Unfortunately, although the social side started at 5:30 after the day’s work, i had to leave as there was an open evening at one of the local schools which we are looking at for Joshua. Over the last couple of weeks we have been to two other senior schools, and this was to be the last for the moment, but the most important as this is the Christian school and hence has the right ethos that we are keen on for Joshua. Luckily he was also keen on it as well from the point of view of the size and subjects and facilities they offer.

This was all after really not feeling 100% as well. No sympathy needed, but I had spent e previous day pretty much in a preemptive attempt to stop a cold developing, which seemed to be successful up to the point that I had a relapse on Friday where it transmuted to full blown man-flu! My gorgeous wife looked after me on both days, while I snuffled in bed, to such an extent that I felt 80% and well enough to go for a long run on Sunday.

But more of that shortly.

Passing the Baton

All my current posts seem to have a sporting theme. I wonder why πŸ™‚

This morning was a bit strange, since from what I can gather there seems to be some minor sporting event going on about 4 miles east of where I work in Liverpool street, London, and I consequently decided to try miss the predicted rush of tourists and sporting enthusiasts, with their noses in their guide books and underground maps, by getting a head start on the train.

Waterloo & City Line

However, in complete contrast to the anticipated trauma, it was probably the easiest journey I’ve ever had!

I’m not sure it was that much quieter, but the volume of people was obviously just below a certain critical threshold level so as to make everyone far more relaxed and chilled out, or perhaps it was that we were all still half asleep πŸ˜‰ Either way, there wasn’t the usual pushing, jostling, shoving and general loss of dignity which most commuters, if they thought about it, would be ashamed to admit they are part, every workday of the year.

So having reached work in a far more relaxed state, I was then confronted with a handover to my manager, Marco, which I had prepared, but strangely he was less interested in some of the things that I thought were important (and vice versa!) – The handover was interrupted abruptly by some problems in the systems (I can see the headlines tomorrow ‘More woes for British Banks as IT systems fail again’) athough it ended up not being a major issue.

Another Chase

I suppose I needed to record this ‘event’.

It is significant, not in the distance it entailed, nor really in the ‘blistering’ pace in which I completed it!

The major point of this race was that it was the first race I have completed since my DNF nearly two years ago.

It was more memorable for other reasons though πŸ™‚

I did not have high hopes for the J.P.Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge this year, but you never know what is going to happen when the adrenaline starts to course though your limbs and anyway I had made a commitment to my work colleagues. In previous years the best time I had managed for the short 5.6km run around Battersea Park was 22:13 – a shade under 4:00 / km. this year I was not expecting to be able to run much under 5:00 / km, with a lack of speed training and a rather more intense desire to guard my left leg from any further harm for the sake of what is effectively a training run.

So, imagine my surprise when, at 5 km I glanced down and my watch registered less that 22:00 – expectation is a funny thing πŸ™‚ I had set out to take things really easily, but in the end this had been a better ploy than if I had gone all out to beat some of my previous times, in which case I would have failed at the first hurdle, so to speak. The run was muddy, but nothing compared to some of the boggy races I had done in the past, and anyway, I had trail shoes on, so maybe that helped a touch πŸ™‚

The other reason for the race likely to take a place in the Pomeroy ‘Hall of Infamous Races’ is that it was the worst weather I remember for some time – great for running in, but pretty awful when you stop, and although I changed into the freebie tee-shirt and put on a dry long-sleeve top as well, I very quickly started to get cold and left soon after the rather damp picnic had started.

Everyone had fun, but this damp and cold summer is starting to get even the most stalwart of us Brits down!

The Model of Everything

The announcement from CERN yesterday was a welcome end to some years of waiting.

Even Professor Peter Higgs himself, now 83, has been amazed at the excitement around the event, stating that he never believed it would happen in his lifetime. Higgs and his team of researchers first postulated the ‘existence’ of what was subsequently to become known as the Higgs-Boson over 40 years ago, in order to fit with the ‘standard model’ – an extraordinarily successful model at explaining the behaviour of ‘particles’ at a subatomic level and hence explaining the nature of such basic concepts as matter and the fundamental forces which interact together to build our universe and the way that we experience it. The Higgs-Boson is the subatomic equivalent of the missing link, since it has been predicted for nearly half a century but never, until billions of Euros were spent on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, was it ‘observed’. It is important in that the particle, along with it’s associated Higgs field, is predicted to impart mass to all matter.

Proton Collisions

The overriding feeling from the scientific community was that the theory was going to be proved correct and that the particle existed as predicted, but scientists never take anything on faith; that is the premise of good scientific theory and experimentation, where a postulation has to be proved beyond reasonable doubt by observed results obtained through rigorous and repeatable scientific method; a process and procedure developed by titans like Isaac Newton and his Royal Society contemporaries, such as Robert Hooke and Sir Christopher Wren, in the late 17th century.

Before the acceptance of scientific method, the ‘Church’ largely decided how things worked in the universe (which ironically was a pretty small and ego-centric place at the time) despite the efforts and evidence provided by scientists like Galileo, Kepler and Copernicus.

Note that I am not knocking God here, merely man’s interpretation of God’s word through religion and manipulation of these interpretations for man’s own purposes, a process which was blatant in medieval times though the crusades, the renaissance and reformation years, and even up to the Victorian era and the industrial revolution where the Church used it’s power and influence to it’s own ends and to justify many of it’s somewhat questionable actions in it’s approach to the people it was supposed to be supporting.

But I digress, and that it a discussion for another time.

Hubble – What would Newton have thought?

As fascinating as this discovery is, it will, for the time being have little practical impact on the man in the street. Nevertheless, science IS the mother of all invention and in time as with most other research, practical applications based on our understandings may well be advanced. It may not be in my lifetime, but that is the nature of this type of science, especially since so few people (relatively speaking at this stage) understand the mathematics of the discovery sufficiently to take things forward with any speed. If you doubt this, just look at our old friends Newton and Galileo and the ‘telescopes’ they first used 400 years ago, and then look at the plethora of instruments there are around the world now, in space, on mountains, adaptive optics, measuring and allowing observation of different frequencies of the electro-magnetic spectrum to such a high sensitivity that we have seen sights around the universe that would have been inconceivable 50 years ago.

We can now confidently state that we (by which I mean those few hyper-intelligent scientists at CERN) understand a little more about the nature of the universe, how everything works from the small scale, up to the innermost workings of stars, back to the merest instances of time just after the ‘Big Bang’ and being able to predict the dance of planets, stars, nebulae and galaxies aeons into the future; one has to marvel at the intellect and thought of the human mind which has progressed from cracking open nuts with stones by the edge of a river and taming fire by rubbing sticks together, to a detailed understanding of our very existence in the infinite universe.

I’ve no doubt that whenever momentous occasions such as this occur, people throw their hands up and claim that we have discovered all that we can. There is nothing left to explain. We know it all!

Far from it.

Ever Decreasing Particles?

The ‘Standard Model’ of particle physics, from which we derive an explanation for all of the physical laws of the universe, from both the small scale to the incomprehensible immensity of galaxies and further, is just that – a model. Only just over 100 years ago, scientists still thought that atoms were indivisible objects (the word comes from the Greek ‘atomos’ literally meaning indivisible, uncuttable or something which cannot be divided further), but then further structure inside the atomic nucleus was determined in the form of the electron ‘cloud’ surrounding a shell of neutrons and protons and for a while this was a sufficiently granular model to allow scientists to explain things further, bringing the quirky world of Quantum Physics into play in the meantime, but flaws in this model soon became apparent and with the advent of higher energies of particle accelerators to smash the very existence out of matter, further particles were discovered to ‘explain’ the behaviour of the larger scale models, and after 50-60 years we now have a relatively complete picture.

It has to be remembered though, that these are still just models.

There aren’t really little particles, like miniature billiard balls, floating around in space called leptons, quarks and bosons. these are just the names we apply to these infinitesimal things to try to ‘visualise’ and articulate them with our vocabulary. The language is mathematical and is used to try to describe the properties that these objects, if they can even be called that, have in relation to their interactions with each other, and how they then consolidate and combine as foundations of the more basic model components which is where chemists take over with their explanations and definitions of the properties of materials.

In time, I have no doubt that further explanations and refinement of the models will be required and the search will be on again to explain the nature of our existence and the laws which govern our being and place in the universe. So where does it stop and do we really have the answers?

The human mind seems to know no limits in terms of it’s capability to explore the universe, and it also appears that the lines and bounds between the academic disciplines of theology and physics are starting to blur. They all have the same basic aim – to explain how we are where we are in the universe and to try to make sense of the purpose of life. The difference between them is the approach that they take to the postulation of their respective theories, the language they use to describe the results, and of course, our old friend ‘Faith’.

Faith is the main thing that separates scientists who study the physical sciences and theologians who profess to explain where our existence came from by different means. Science does not have all the answers though, such as what happened before the Big Bang and why the Big Bang happened in the first place, and many scientists still also hold religious beliefs in order to fill in the gaps at the extreme edges of our understanding that science is still unable to answer.

We live in interesting times, and I personally live in an interesting household, since Liz is a very religious person and is currently having an exciting time as she is exploring and renewing her relationship with God. I, on the other hand, am far more of a science based ‘doubter’ πŸ˜‰ I struggle with non-evidence based claims. At the end of the day though, it strikes me that neither side has all the answers or are infallible, and we have to remain open to all possibilities in life.

The Wild Place

Today was another mixed day, mainly because I only worked half a day, then had the afternoon off to spend a couple of hours with Savannah at school.

American independence day had for some weeks had a greater significance for me, and my team at work, as a long planned internal governance committee meeting was planned to decide upon the priority of my larger projects for the rest of the year. Having provided all of the input I could feasibly achieve over the last few weeks, there was little point in me being around for the actual event (the discussion was not taking place at the level of mere mortals like me) so I did not feel guilty about taking the afternoon off with Savannah.

Indeed, it was probably the best distraction I could have arranged!

The original arrangement for the afternoon was to take the reception class to a site they refer to as ‘The Wild Place’ which perhaps conjures up images of overgrown forests and hard to reach coastal caves, but in reality it is a wooded area off the edge of some local allotments on the top of Pewley Down, close to the school. For 4-6 year old minds it is ‘wild’ and exciting though, being out of the classroom, and the teachers regularly have an excursion for them to explore nature, find bugs and generally let off some steam. Perfect πŸ™‚

Unfortunately, the place was closed due to a fallen tree, or something (I wonder if anyone saw that) so today’s energy expenditure involved a trek to the senior school, Holy Trinity, where they have a similar, but smaller, nature trail to explore.

I was paired up with Savannah, her friend Tew, and four other reception children who seemed to sense my apprehension, as the small impromptu groups were pointed off in various directions.

I’ve never seen children disappear so quickly 😯 and my attempts to corral my small group back into some semblance of unity was largely superfluous. Eventually, I calmed down a bit only to find them trying to descend the steepest, muddiest corner of the trail down to the skull cracking Tarmac below; my attempts to convince them of the virtues of the gentler slope to the side which “makes it a lot easier to get down” seemed destined to fall on deaf ears.

Once down to the Tarmac safely, they spotted the long jump sand pit (okay, we must be slightly off the nature trail by now) and of course this was one temptation too many. They all had a few goes at imitating Bob Beaman after I realised the sandpit had not become an impromptu quagmire after all the recent rain and then, my nightmare continued as they spotted the dipping pond!

I am quite familiar with our four children dipping into ponds and rock pools. In fact they will dip in any patch of water more than a feeler gauge in depth, but their curiosity is generally confined to the ecosystem of life forms contained within said volumes of water. I had not, however, really considered the approach other, shall we say, less naturalistically inclined children might take to a pond full of water. While half my group were interested to spot the water-boatmen, tadpoles and a few other types of water-nymphs, the other half decided to explore Archimedes’ Principle with a few badly positioned logs and tree stumps, while making waves on the surface which would have excited tsunami chasers from all around world, had they been present at the opportune moment. Still, no one fell in πŸ™‚

Finally, after a couple of pit-stops, we ended up at a play area; even this seemed a potential disaster scenario to me though, since we were at the senior school and the bars and climbing wall were, understandably, designed for children with a slightly longer reach, and slightly stronger fingers, arms and legs in general. Even a couple of the teachers had to keep reminding them they were not allowed to play on one particularly high climbing frame – so of course, you can imagine what they all wanted to play on.

The call to muster and start our return journey was a welcome relief after the stress of the last 90 minutes and I now have a newfound respect for junior school teachers πŸ™‚

Where is all the work coming from?

It has been very busy at work recently.

I think this time of year seems to be busy for almost everyone at the EBRD. Generally speaking, there are mid-year reviews of projects and budgets to get in place and, because of the nature of the Bank, specifically the high proportion of people who come from foreign countries, August seems to be a bit of a ‘close-down’ month and as a consequence of impending two or three week holidays approaching everyone tries to get as much done during late June and July.

Solstice Sunrise…. Not this year.

Of course, since we are in the middle of a financial crisis and credit from other private investment Banks has reduced, especially in Eastern Europe, and the fact that as a Bank, we are currently expanding our areas of operation to countries involved in the last year’s Arab spring, we have even more projects and investment to get through than ever before.

From an IT perspective, we are also going through a mid-year budgeting and prioritisation process in order to clarify the work plan for the rest of 2012. I have had so many requests coming through into my area that many of my projects are being put into the prioritisation hat for consideration, although this is frustrating as it means we are doing less ‘real’ work.

So my week to date has been filled with budget reviews, project investment analysis and a lot of project feasibility work, all, of course, needed yesterday!

I’ve had the chance to get down the gym a couple of times and my foot is a lot better on the top, although the side is still of concern. As a result I’ve been doing a lot more cycling again and keeping up the physio exercises as well as pilates and swimming at the beginning of the week.

It is the longest day (summer solstice) in the northern hemisphere as well today, which always reminds me of things that I have done in past years; 2 years ago I was about to do the Cotswolds 100 miler and the year before that, Tim, John, Greg and myself were off to Snowdon for our first attempt at the Welsh 3000’s. It was similar weather back then, as it is now, and at that time the rain in the Welsh hills beat us into submission very quickly. This year, the sunrise at Stonehenge was an equal washout.

Quiet Week

It has been a quiet week (hence the blogging silence), mainly because I had a lot of projects paperwork, specifically project budget analysis for our governance committee.

Bentley Copse

Still, Morgan is home from a field trip this evening, and it is the weekend.

He has been out on a school trip for the last few days, where they have camped and done activities at a place called Bentley Copse, which is a local scout camp. I’m sure he will write it up in his blog in the near future.

We have no plans for the weekend either, as we are waiting to hear what will happen with our house chain, as it collapsed earlier in the week. Our buyer’s buyer dropped out a few days ago and so now we have to sit tight and see if she can find another buyer (or if we can). It is a frustrating business, but there is nothing we can do about it as it is largely out of our control, so I generally feel there is little point in worrying about it too much.

That doesn’t stop it being frustrating though.

Rest Day 2

The good news is that my foot is getting better a lot faster than I had dared to hope and I may even be able to get down to the gym tomorrow for a light touch of cross training, although running is unlikely to be a sensible idea.

The limping has already ceased, I haven’t had to ice my foot today and my walking is almost up to normal speed as well, so I’m certainly happy with progress, less than 48 hours after my last run.

Other than that, nothing much has happened today.

For me.

Shambolic George

It has been another interesting day for the chancellor, George Osborne though, as he makes another embarrassing U-turn on his tax implementations promised in the budget back in March. Having backed down (a little) on the pasty tax, which was clearly unmanageable, but now changed it for something equally as confusing and complicated, he is now reversing his decision on the charities tax (cap) plan which seems to be equally as pleasing to both the charities and to the Labour opposition leader, Ed Balls, who is frankly having a field day at the moment without even trying. Young George seems to have picked his timing perfectly, however, as the Leveson enquiry was going through some more meaty enquiries today with the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who was involved in apparently inappropriate behaviour around News International’s BskyB takeover bid.

My life is so simple πŸ˜‰