life in general


Got an email today, as one does.

 I’ll just cut and paste it here.
If you work in software and you haven’t donated to Bletchley Park then you really ought to.
I bought the signed hardback, but then I think Sue is cool.  She knows:  Computer Science, WWII coding,  and Stephen Fry.

Hello there!

(Firstly thank you so much if you have already supported my book, you are wonderful :))

If you know me, you probably know that I’ve been involved with Bletchley Park for some years now. In 2003 I went there for a BCS meeting and fell in love with the place. In 2008 I started a campaign to help raise awareness of the amazing contribution of the site and the more than ten thousand young people that worked there during WW2.

In 2008 Bletchley Park was in financial difficulty. I wanted to raise awareness and gain support for the people that worked there and make sure that Bletchley Park would be there for my children and their children to visit, to help them appreciate the tremendous war effort and the contribution that it has made to us enjoying the peace we live in today. The work carried out there has been said to have shortened the war by approximately 2 years, saving millions of lives.

Fast forward four years and things are looking much rosier for Bletchley Park thank goodness, they have received funding from various sources including the Foreign Office just last week.

Lots of people have suggested over the last couple of years that I write up what happened as a book, and I’m delighted to announce that I have found a fabulous publisher called Unbound to help me do that.

I’ll be telling the story of the campaign that I started and also the amazing campaigns previous to that, during one of which the only way to save the Park was to get the trees listed. Crazy!

So, please sign up to buy my book, I get to see the names of everyone who buys, so don’t think you can get away with pretending you have bought it ;))

..and please do encourage your networks to buy the book too, someone said to me just the other day that they thought that raising awareness of Bletchley Park has also raised the profile of women and computer science in the UK, how cool is that?

Thanks for your support, the campaign that I started would not have worked if it weren’t for the thousands of people that got involved and played their part.

Here’s the link, please have a look and pledge your support, remember, I’ll be checking the names of supporters….

My book is currently funded to 76% (in just 4 days) but we still need another 24% to make it happen…

10% of all profits from the book will go to Bletchley Park.

Take care and see you soon,

Sue

 

(cross posted from my Gartner blog)
Andrew McAfee recently posted on the dire state of graduate employment in the US. His work on the impact of technology on employment is well worth a read, I reviewed his book here.

Here in little old Germany, the graduate job market is rather different.

Unemployment among graduates in Germany one year after leaving their institution is at 4% and below, compared with a seasonally adjusted national unemployment rate of 5.9%, according to a survey by HIS-HF, a higher education statistics agency.

So what is Germany doing right? Despite Euro doom and gloom talk, the German economic fundamentals are in relatively good shape. Exports are up again, and domestic spending is less anemic than before. But the answer isn’t just in the short term economy.

There is a broader HR and societal issue at play too. As a foreigner living in Germany, I have been stuck by the strength of the apprentence culture here, and not just in the traditional trades. It seems to me that the universities and industry work more closely together than in many other countries to produce the sort of graduates that the labour market requires, while still giving space for studying those things that make you a better human being. It is as if there is some sort of social contract between corporations, academia and society. Most organizations have strong graduate recruitment and development programmes. Interns are paid a reasonable cost of living sum, and intern work is aligned with university study. When I worked for that large German software company I co-supervised a masters student, who worked part-time in my department. We then hired her, and she is now a very successful consultant. This model is common throughout German industry, with an especially strong tradition in manufacturing. Have a look at Porsche, for instance.

Building a sustainable workforce requires corporations to focus on the long term development of the workforce, and not merely short termist hiring. German companies often have someone with the job title HR Marketing, and their role is to build a long term employment brand to attract candidates early. Check out the work of Armin Trost for more about this.

It also requires universities to develop programmes that align with the longer term needs of business and society. While US universities dominate the rankings, I’m not sure that they have everything right, if the recent reports from Florida are anything to go by.

This time of the year tends to be a time of excess.

The people recognize themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, kitchen equipment.

This is a quote from Herbert Marcuse, a German philosopher.  I rather like it, but I’ve never really been comfortable with the term “the people.”  After all, the same affliction affects me too. This is a first person issue, other than the kitchen equipment:  I’m with the Hitch, but there is a part of me that really likes stuff.

Here is my newly discovered antidote; two piano pieces.  The first one, by Bach, I have known for some time.  Here is James Rhodes’ version.

The other, I discovered via the serendipity that is the side bar in YouTube. I’d not heard of either Scriabin or Filjak til this evening.

A Nocturne by  Scriabin,  played by  Martina Filjak.

Both pieces are just for the left hand.  Sometimes less is more.  

I’ve just read Brynjolfsson and McAfee’s Race against the Machine in one sitting when I have masses of other pressing stuff to do.

It is short, sharp, engaging and easy to read. Put down that Scandinavian crime novel, ignore your travel expense application issues and read this book instead. I’m perhaps reading too much into the title,  but I can’t help wondering if it isn’t a hat tip to the rock band Rage Against the Machine.  If it is, deeply nifty sub-editing coolness.   If not,  it is a lovely  unintended consequence.

The book highlights the accelerating disruption that technology brings to the workplace and to the very definition of work. There is dark side to technology, and the authors have done a nuanced job in exploring this.  It makes a worthwhile change from the technology=progress drum beat.

It was especially good to see a section on the growing gap between wage  and productivity growth.  To see disquiet about median wage stagnation from technology focused researchers is a very fine thing.  There is more than a whiff of valorization in their argument.

Brynjolfsson and McAfee make excellent use of statistics, and this work is no exception. They use numbers to illuminate, and they do it well. The Bill Gates in a bar story is a lovely explanation of mean and median. They explain, but don’t condescend.

As with much of US business academia, the book is centred on the US economy, with fleeting mentions of the rest of world.  I didn’t spot the dreaded phrase “Corporate America”, but it may have been lurking there. In particular the solution section was too US focused. Moaning about  H-1B visas etc… However suggestions 17,18, 19 are spot on.

17. Reduce the large implicit and explicit subsidies to financial services. This sector attracts a disproportionate number of the best and the brightest minds and technologies, in part because the government effectively guarantees “too big to fail” institutions.
18. Reform the patent system. Not only does it take years to issue good patents due to the backlog and shortage of qualified examiners, but too many low-quality patents are
issued, clogging our courts. As a result, patent trolls are chilling innovation rather than encouraging it.
19. Shorten, rather than lengthen, copyright periods and increase the flexibility of fair use. Copyright covers too much digital content. Rather than encouraging innovation, as
specified in the Constitution, excessive restrictions like the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act inhibit mixing and matching of content and using it creatively in new ways.

There are strong echoes of Larry Lessig in the IP section (as an aside I’d like to get the authors’ views of Lessig’s recent work on political corruption).

More broadly though I’d like to see business school academia and IT research engaging more with the rich research tapestry of sociology and political philosophy, how about more Jessop and Harvey, and Herbert Marcusse needs a serious dust off.  I fancy I heard the very faint clang of  Weber’s iron cage in this work. I’d suggest that Maslow and maybe Hayek can take a rest for a while.

This book is excellent,  but would have been seminal if it had built upon the work of that chap from Trier.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone.
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling in the sky the message He is Dead,
Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever, I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

I like cars.  I watch Top Gear, even though I find Clarkson xenophobic and misogynistic.  I read  Unabashed Gearhead Gnarlyness.  I window shop for cars all the time.

Yesterday I had a blast. My mate Rainer organized for a group of us to do the BMW intensive driving course on the Hockenheim ring.  In a BMW M3 e92.

The M3 has roughly 420 horsepower, which is about 3x more than my people carrier.   It is automatic, but not as you know an automatic.  It has a doppelkupplungsgetriebe, which I think means a double clutch. It changes really quickly, but you don’t have a traditional clutch pedal.  It also has a lot of three letter acronym buttons which turn the car from family car into track beast if you know which ones to press. (0-100 km in 4,6  seconds ).

The handling of the car is impeccable; it is forgiving, but in the hands of an expert it is wickedly quick, i.e not me.

The instructor, Karl-Heinz Müller, was brilliant.  He explained the theory, and then we got out on the track for training in emergency braking, obstacle avoidance and drifting.   There were two of us in each car, so we had plenty of practice.  The braking power of the car was what impressed me the most. Going fast is cool, but stopping fast is cooler.  We spent the morning on these handling exercises.  The cars were connected via radio, so we got adult supervision.  Karl-Heinz was patient, but with just the right amount of discipline.  His other job is driving very fast for the Politzei, and it shows.

In the afternoon, we got to drive around the Hockenheimring.  Karl-Heinz drove the pace car, and we attempted to follow him. He talked us through every corner, telling us what gear to be in and what line to take.  We drove one half of the track 5 times, the other half five times and then we had 5 full laps. I felt myself getting better each lap, as I got more confident.  Sandro, my copilot for the day,  has nerves of steel, great company too. I’ll watch next year’s grand prix with a lot more respect.

A fabulous day for anyone interested in becoming a better driver and experiencing what it is like to drive around a formula one track.  Having never really been a BMW fan, I’m now a convert.  Thanks again to Rainer for organizing it, and to Karl-Heinz and the BMW team.  Oh, and thanks to those Bavarians for inventing the M3,  a job well done.  As a marketing tool for BMW, I can’t think of a better way of them bringing the Freude am Fahren tagline to life.  Einfach geil, saugeil.

update here is the link to the track day website.

An old Gapingvoid cartoon says it all.

 

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