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.

 

I have a travel wave coming up, some really interesting events, and some time in the silver tube.

I received this email in my inbox this morning. It made me angry, really angry.

The Netherlands is a stable and highly developed democracy and business travellers will face few security concerns. However, pickpocketing and bag-snatching can be a problem in the larger cities, especially Amsterdam (particularly in central and tourist-frequented areas and at Schiphol airport) and Rotterdam. Travellers should also be cautious of thieves riding bicycles and mopeds. Organised criminal activity is more likely to focus on fixed business interests, not personnel, and is unlikely to pose a direct threat to business travellers or expatriates. The country is a potential target for Islamist terrorism. Several suspected Islamist militants have been arrested in recent years, and other alleged Islamist plots have been uncovered. The risk of an attack remains comparable to many Western European countries. While environmental protests can target businesses, anti-corporate groups occasionally target international companies; such attacks tend to focus mostly on property and pose only an indirect threat to personnel.

  • There is a credible risk of terrorist attack by Islamist extremists in major cities in the Netherlands. Government buildings, public transport, high-profile commercial interests and military facilities are likely targets. Personnel are advised to be alert to suspicious packages or behaviour.

Issues of immigration and integration, particularly of Muslims, have been highly charged in recent years, with a number of high-profile incidents resulting, such as the murder of a prominent film-maker after he produced a film critical of Islam. Most protests are small and relatively orderly, though there is the potential for escalation into unrest if a new, highly sensitive issue emerges. Members are advised to avoid all demonstrations, even if they appear peaceful.

I’m also going to Florida, but I didn’t receive a travel advisory warning me about Koran burning extremist Christians, or suggest I avoid health clinics in case they are attacked by violent pro-lifer terrorists, never mind getting shot as part of a gang initiation ritual.

end of rant.

I’m very pleased to see that Les Hayman has a blog, and that he is rattling off posts with vim, vigour and consistency. If you are interested in HR, career and life advice from someone who has been there, done that, then Les is a must read.  Les was on the the extended board at SAP,  he ran sales in Asia and Europe and then he ran HR.

A number of people have asked me to write of my experiences running a company internal HR department after 40 years in business roles. When I was first asked whether I would do this, rather than retiring, I felt that it was a bit like asking Attila the Hun to look after the Vestal Virgins. I have to admit that it was probably the hardest job that I ever had, the two years being both challenging and frustrating, and it changed and molded many of the views that I have about people and about management

On the state of management

One of the disappointments in my move to Europe in 2001 was that I have seen little evidence that European companies have created a culture of management as a profession. Management skill appears to be more of an add-on to vocational brilliance, rather than being viewed as an art, a science and an asset in its own right. The idea is that management skill is a “nice to have” rather than a mandatory part of an executive’s role.

On business card titles, CEO tenure, and my favourite, the Pesto Effect and buzzwords.

Ten years ago no-one had heard of pesto, and then suddenly it was everywhere. You could go to any restaurant anywhere in the world and the odds were that pesto would be somewhere on the menu.
I even saw a hot dog seller in New York who had a sign saying “Mustard, Ketchup, Pesto”.

Oh, and he lots to say about living in France.

Copper sun sinking low
Scatterlings and fugitives
Hooded eyes and weary brows
Seek refuge in the night

I remember sitting around a campfire in the Umzimkulu valley about 30 years ago. I was in my first year of high school, and we were doing a kayak race, the Umzimkulu marathon. It was a clear African night, the Southern Cross bright and clear.  The older boys told tales of massive rapids and huge drops, and we cooked a sort of  breadlike substance  on the fire.  We were miles from any town or city.

The batteries on the cassette deck weren’t fresh, and the tape copy neither but Johnny Clegg’s music has been special to me ever since.

I saw his band (then called  Savuka) live at university. It it was 1986-7. He intertwined great music with a strong and clear political message. Asimbonanga. He rocked the Student’s Union, and changed the mindset of thousands.  South Africa’s political change owes much to Johnny Clegg.

Last night, with mates Phillip and Dean, I got see him live in Mainz.  The venue was packed and the audience a mix of Germans and a rather more rowdy South African Diaspora.

Johnny and his band gave it all, and the place rocked.  The band played hit after hit. His band were excellent, several of the members have been with him for decades. Johnny didn’t jump quite as high as he used to do (Guka ’mzimba), but his stage presence remains impressive, and the music is timeless.

Here he is with Juluka, back in the 1980′s

Thanks Johnny, for 30 years of great music and a fabulous evening.

Most of his albums are on itunes and emusic.  I downloaded an album that don’t have in my collection this morning, Ubuhle Bemvelo.

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