Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Beautiful Days Festival Year 8

Some pictures from the annual King pilgrimage to Escot Park in Devon.

Some of the bands in no particular order which I think are worthy of mention
  • The Strange World of Arthur Brown : probably the best act of the weekend for me. Made my life one step closer to complete. Far, far better than I expected. Beauty and theater in one stage, go see him. In no way is he a past it old bloke.
  • Levellers : no idea after the 60th or so time I have seen them play. I enjoyed the set, even though it was tipping it down with rain.
  • James : great act, very poor set list. Apart from the last 3 songs, very disappointing
  • Ned's Atomic Dustbin : Like the music, knew none of the songs.
  • The Alarm : class as ever
  • The Wallers : again, my life is one step closer to complete
  • Dreadzone : class as ever
  • 3 Daft Monkeys : lots of new stuff which sounded very good.
  • Interview by John Rob of Penny Rimbaud of Crass (or was it the other way round) who spend some time talking about Wally Hope. It was very interesting how Crass became his vehicle to get some element of revenge, but also to promote some of his ideals. It was very interesting to hear him talk about aspects of his life and ideals, how he has tried to live by them and the admission he has not been perfect. While I may not align myself with the Crass view of the world, some of its underlying principles were interesting and worth thinking on. Agree or disagree, its good to have something to stimulate examining your values and beliefs.
  • Port Izzac's Fishermans Friends : very good for the 1st slot on a Sunday (2 under 5's and the need to run on a saterday morning very much limited beer consuption). Usual joke about sucking a fishermans friend, but they did some really good traditional sea based songs in a interesting style.
  • The Wirzzels : 79 year old drummer, drum and bass verison of Combine Harvester in a saturaday afternoon slot. Very good value and good fun. I had seen them at Glastonbury about 10 years ago and they were seemed old then, so it was not a step towards my life being more complete, but it was fun to watch.
  • Myra gave very good reports of Bellowhead and Seth Lakeman.
Weather was OK, but it did tip down on sunday night. Though none of the mud baths of previous years.

Rush, rush, rush. I was in Sweden the week before, Myra did just about all the packing and we ended up bringing the wrong set of tent poles. I was musing on how to sleep 2 adults and 2 children in a VW Transports and mentioned this to the chap parked next to us, who produced a tent out of his van which he kept as a spare and let us use it. That is what I will really remember about this festival, the really good nature and general kindness.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Why living in Wales is great training for global business

Born near Aberystwyth to Irish parants, with school friends and other peers who all had English speaking parants, it is a high probability you will grow up to be English speaking. Lets set aside the merits or otherwise of learning to speak Welsh if you live in Wales for the purpose of this discussion. Welsh language education in Dyfed in the late 1970's and early 1980's was dire unless you were already Welsh speaking. Arguments on both sides, but in the end it is a personal choice and some people have more apptitude, need and opportunity than others.

Communicating in your own language with others who 1st language is the same as your is always more efficient for the parties involved. I am in Sweden at the moment, working with people who's 1st language is not English. When I am out of the room, they all talk Swedish, when I return, it reverts back to English. No point flying in someone to solve your problems if they don't understand what you are talking about. It works well and this is an unwritten protocol which occurs across most countries for business.

I have to admit that during my 37 years living in Wales, the principle of being able to choose your language for a minority has been more important than the other parties who want or need to be part of the conversation understanding what is being said. I just zone out to it and go do something else. I have found a couple of instances this week where I have wondered into a conversation, my very gracious hosts have recognised my presence, made an apology for speaking Swedish and carried on in English. I had already zoned out and not even noticed, years of living in Wales made it an unconcious reaction.

Some may say I should learn to speak the language of my hosts. So in the last 14 years, I would have had to learn German, French, Spanish, Italian, Africance, Hindi, Norwegian, Swedish, American English (the hardest of all), Hungarian, Polish, Arabic, Czech, typically at a notice of less than 48 hours.

I am very positive about the Welsh language and I am making some progress in learning it. After spending a week in a culture where every effort is made to welcome visitors(short or long term), I do question if the cause of the Welsh language is being damaged by a minority being less accepting of the need of non Welsh speakers to be part of their conversation.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Welsh Rail Travel treated in isolation

This document by TRACC on a strategy for Railways over the next 5 years is quite amusing in that it treats Wales in travel isolation. While being able to travel by train in Wales is important, they seem to have neglected that when making the choice of the medium of travel within the UK, trains do need to connect. So if you want to travel to London (A common designation for Rail travellers from Mid Wales I believe), at some point you need to change trains. No account of this is taken in the report and it is of strategic importance.

While there are discussions in the report of electrification, CCTV, etc, there is no consideration I could see in the 15 minutes I spent scanning it (I could have missed something) about using improved rail travel to help promote business and making it practical for people with jobs which require travel to obscure places (like London) to get to such places for a reasonable time.

A 1st train getting to Shrewsbury at 7.14 is not a lot of use if you have a meeting in London at 9.30am. Wales won't prosper if those doing strategic planning ignore the bit of land to the east.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Wales@home : sorry, I haven't a clue !

One of the sites I follow on a regular basis is Wales@home. It contains informed short articles, some of which are reprints of speeches or presented papers and some are written specifically for the site. They are all good, the vast majority are about Wales. The writers for the site are typically political types (A.M., various advisors) or journalists. The site appears to have been the idea of Duncan Higgit and a very fine idea it is to. I don't agree with much of what is written, but that is only goodness as it makes you think and often change your mind.

Duncan Higgit wrote part of an article (probably just a view) about the Afghan War and Wikileaks. What this did illustrate to me is that both the authors and most of those who left comments thought they knew the effect (good or bad) that Wikileaks will have.

I work on what are quite complex computer systems. The points of failure are quite obvious, and most parties that are effected will have a voice. While the diagnosis of problems can be highly non-trivial, you either know that you have fixed an issue very quickly or in 2 times the mean time between occurrences. My working life is a battle against cognitive bias, my own and that of others. We are not designed to deal with systems of this complexity, so we delete, distort and generalise, find pet causes and then look for details to support our pet cause. Here are documented many cognitive bais traits which I see (in myself and others) in my working life on a daily basis. Other than a degree of self awareness, there are tools like Kepner Tragoe rational process which help a great deal.

What Duncan's article and the comments made me grasp was that the Political class and Journalists are born more immune to the ravages of bias that effect us mortals. They work in a hugely more complex social system where the voice of many of the agents involved is not heard, the system itself is continually changing in subtle ways and the parties involved can't even agree on the problems that need solves, their priority and often don't involve experts. The experts don't fully understand their part of the part of the eco-system (think economic forecasts if you want an example). They have limited information about the subject areas, but can make informed correct decisions every time.

While my comments are somewhat opaque, I still stand by them.
  1. We can't know the long terms future of Wikipedia and its legacy can't be known in advance. Good or bad, we don't know yet.
  2. We can't know what impact the document leaking will have in aggregate
  3. Wikipedia's morals can only be judged right and wrong in reference to your ideology
  4. Duncan would be a fun chap to have a beer with
A gross generalisation I grant, but I think here lies a significant difference between the types of people involved in the discussion I mentioned above on the Wales@home site. I am dam sure I can't know the future, I struggle bringing some type of order to the chaos of much more constrained environments in the present. What do the Political class and Journalists know that I don't or are they just far better at putting forward credible arguments today which stand no better chance of being right when judged by history ?

I guess I have an advantage in that history won't be bothered to judge what I think.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Hugh Munro was a hard nut

I watched the BBC 4 programme on Hugh Munro and his legacy of a list where he did not manage the last three. What struck me was that during the time Munro (or A. E. Robertson) was climbing all of Scotland's 3000ft+ peaks, transport was a different scale of challenge than today.

Scotland is quite big, the roads are variable, so even today it takes some effort to travel between some of the more remote hills. When we today think of a long walk in from the road to something like Seana Bhràigh which has a 8 mile walk in we think of it was remote. How long must the walk in's in Munro's day been? Less roads, no cars, all travel by train, horse, bike or foot. The West Highland railway was opened in 1894, so the train would have been some some use in some areas. No Gore-tex, no light weight ice gear, GPS or even accurate maps. I expect he had more than 24 days holiday a year to explore, so did not have to try to get as many done in a day as he could.

I have done about 90 of the peaks over the last 20 years. I do a few a year and the vague goal of doing them all before I get put in my box is an excuse to explore and experience wild Scotland. How much better Munro must have got to know Scotland, not just the mountains, but the bits between.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Learn a language?

I was sent this by a Dutch Engineer I am working with. We had a misunderstanding in terminology and a good laugh about it.

A foreign diplomat, looking for directions, pulls up at a bus stop where two Americans are waiting.

“Entschuldigung, koennen Sie Deutsch sprechen?” he asks. The two Americans just stare at him.

“Excusez-moi, parlez vous Francais?” he tries. The two continue to stare.

“Parlare Italiano?” No response.

“Hablan ustedes Espanol?” Still nothing.

The diplomat drives off, extremely disgusted. The first American turns to the second and says, “You know, maybe we should learn a foreign language.”

“Why?” says the other. “That guy knew four languages, and it didn’t do him any good.”

Some links I found interesting or important : From Iran to Wigan to Newport

  • Protest can be a very positive force - here is an example using Pink Floyd the Wall. Significant enough to get a segment on the Today Program.
  • An very worrying example from 2 years ago of Police overuse of force against a serving soldier who it appears they mistook for someone else.
  • I was in Newport waiting for a train 2 weeks ago and saw the Dragons being unloaded. I suspect I am not capable of understanding why the need to damage this objects exists, but it does. Newport centre is not the most upbeat of places and something like the Dragons does improve the feel.