Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pensions and Dendrograms

I was invited to be on the panel at a Pensions conference yesterday. The event is run by SPS Conferences who run a series of events for pension funds trustee's. It was very nice, if somewhat surprising, to be asked to be on the panel. The event was titled "Investment Strategies for Pension Funds". Most of those attending were either trustees or worked for large defined benefit (final salary) pension schemes who have many multiples of money more under management then the Sun Scheme. E.g. I was on the panel with the head of Pensions at Mersyside Council who have in the region of 15 billion under management.

It was interesting the type of people that these sort of pension funds attract. Which all jolly nice folks, I saw no evidence of any dynamism from either speakers or those attending. I guess that is the personality profile that you really want from your D.B. pension trustee or manager.

Over here in the Defined Contribution world where all the investment risk is on the member, our remit is to set default, ensure good governance and make the life of our investment and scheme managers a misery if they don't shape up. Its a very different role.

The day did reinforce my now deep held belief that Defined Contribution (money purchase) schemes of any sort are inappropriate pension vehicles for most workers. The investment risk is on the individual. They can't manage the risk because they don't know enough. The industry is not geared up to give good quality affordable advice and few trust the financial advice industry, so they do nothing, take whatever the default is.

My fellow panel member made the very good point that many of his members were manual/blue collar workers and they had no clue about pensions. For them some type of final salary scheme was right. It is what D.B. was defined for. It was not designed to de-risk the future of M.P. and company executives.

There is a desperate need to be able to provide pensions which offload the investment risk to those who know how to take it (pension providers, investment banks) and let the member just concentrate on putting enough money in and this need to be wider than the public services.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Confidence in the Law

The following 3 events
  • #twitterjoketrail where Paul Chambers tweeted a comment out of frustration to his soon to be girlfriend which resulted in his conviction until an obscure law.
  • The locking up of Stephen Gough for walking in Scotland as nature intended.
  • The death of Ian Tomlinson and subsequent lack of trial of the police man who can be seen to beat
are worrying for reasons beyond their legal mis-management.

The 2nd two are more complex in that Stephen Gough is putting himself forward as a marter and Ian Tomlinson appears to have been not that far from his grave. It does not excuse the mess that has resulted in the prosecutions or lack of them. Why is Stephen Gough being kept in prison. A clear case of wasting public money by the Scottish legal system. Babies come into this world with nothing on, so provided he is not exposing himself for sexual gratification, so what.

The Paul Chambers has no case to answer unless common sense is being set aside.

These cases make a joke of the legal system and what is even more worrying is that it builds distrust of the police, CPS and courts. That is the real crime that the non-criminal class cease to trust that the rule of law is being applied properly, fairly and with common sense.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Computer Science Industrial Year Skills Weekend No. 14

At least I think it is year 14 at Gregynog, a country house owned by the University of Wales near Newtown, where 2nd year students go through the mill with a view to improving their chances at interview. I think I have missed 2 weekends in that time.

For the last few years I have not interviewed, but lead workshops on goal setting and this year was the same, though I did join some interviewers to give a grilling during some of the free time I had.

I get a lot out of these weekends, mainly in terms of hearing about new technology. I work at the bleeding edge of technology, rather than the leading edge. When the stuff I work on does not perform, the company concerned bleeds. So I heard about a pile of technology I had not stumbled across before such as DBUS, Launchpad and Lua.

In terms of the students, I make the following general observations

  • They were far more interesting then the story their C.V.'s sold
  • They really were not confortable in building short term transient social relationships (which is what an interview is). In fact my 4 & 6 years olds are better at it.
In contrast to previous years, Aberystwyth Comp Sci now have a very switched on Career's person. What a great resource. Someone who has some industrial experience and a large slab of drive. C.V.'s were 95% very poor and in fairness to Caroline where only started in September. Most of the Student C.V.'s were produced by the students when they were in their 1st year. I had enough of reading about how good "team players" they were or how "highly motivated" they were. I will be the judge of that, just tell me what you have done on your C.V., not what you think I think you should think of yourself !
The weekend is all about learning and I also observe that as invited Industrialists we forget just how much we have learned in time between our 2nd year in University and today. The students are very much work in progress, though a bit of a wake up call was due in most cases. Perhaps awake up call the Industrialists (Clive included) got when they were of a similar age.

For next year I need to go back to interviewing for a change. My reputation has the hardest interviewer has been surpassed by Bryn.

Well Done Ceredigion Council

Congratulations to Ceredigion Council who have no problem in chasing me for Council Tax, so they know where I live and that there is a house there. However, they appear incapable of producing a complete list of properties from which they collect refuse and to communicate changes to these residents.

It is only a good thing that Ceredigion Council are moving to bi-weekly collections with improved recycling. However, if they can't communicate their plans to the households it effects which by all accounts is a simple task, you have to wonder what else they can't get right.

Each household should have got at least 2 sets of leaflets, a food bin and some recycling bags. We got zilch because were are not on a list which out of 6 house in our area , only 4 were on the list referenced by the chap I spoke to who works for the Council.

This is about as simple a task as a council could have. They had time to plan, so there is little to excuse. The chap on the phone was as helpful as could be, its not his fault and he did mention that we were far from the only ones to have this problem.

I trust someone in Ceredigion Council management is having to consider an alternative career path, but that would require competence in leadership to identify the waste of space.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

An excuse for a visit!

In June 2009 I was giving a talk in Newcastle and had spent the previous day working in Manchester. Hence this gave me the chance to visit Nine Standards Rigg which is on the watershed between Yorkshire and Cumbria. As a side effect of visiting piles of stones placed in a formation, I had a run and learned a bit about hand gliding. You never know what visiting these places will turn up.

So lets have a think about some other places in the UK I fancy visiting. Many are influenced by reading blogs on fell running, seen something interesting on a map, read about, drove past but not had time to stop, someone else mentioned it and just sounds like fun places to go for a run or a beer.
  • Lord Hereford's Knob. A hill which has been "on the list" for a while as I have driven past it 100's of times, but the rather daft Half Man Half Biscuit song has brought it to the fore.
  • Mother Shipton Inn in Knaresbrough, North Yorkshire for a beer. Has Guy Fawkes Table inside.
  • Winter Hill. I read blogs of lots of folk who use it as a training ground. Enough said.
  • Star Inn in Dylife. I drove past it last week or so while proving my wife plus friend some bike training support. Highest pub in Wales and its like the moon up there. Also provides an excuse to explore the surrounding area which looks very interesting and dramatic.
  • Giant's Causeway. With a large slab of my ancestry from northern Ireland, it is curious I have yet to find an excuse. Seen similar feature on the West coast of scotland, but this looks the best. Exercise the latent geologist in me.
  • Knoydart. Very wet and very remote. 3 Munro's to do there. Access is a long walk in or by boat. Been on the bounds to the north and east, but not ventured in. Be great to stay in Inverie.
  • St Kilda. A bit more of a trek and probably not the destination for a family holiday.
  • Hebden Bridge. I hear vague references to it being posh and querky, but I don't understand them, so probably time to get informed.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

When does a work colleague become a friend?

Some context is needed for why I am asking this question.

Last month, someone I worked with over a number of years decided he did not want to continue in this world and ended his life.

I probably had not spoken to him for 6 months. We meet or spoke when work needs brought us together. There was always a warmth in our greeting and a laugh. Over the years he got some of the really hard accounts to manage and he had the vision to ask for the type of help I can offer. In 1998 he dealt with the only complaint by a customer against me where I offered to visit them on a saturday morning (at that time I worked mon-fri in Camberly in the Solution Centre, so it was not a matter of popping in) to have a look at a long running issue. He dealt with this curved ball with a mix of professionalism and "I have this idiot who has complained you offered to help them above and beyond and the clown has complained about it".

I have no insight into why he decided he did not want to go on and when I read an email about him I 1st thought "its a common name, there most be an other ...... ......". Sadly not.

So my answer to when a work colleague becomes is friend is when you look forward to your interaction with them and their company when the job brings you together. Sun Microsystems was a very rich place according to this definition.