Month: August 2009

Happy NOT doing

Bit of a manic weekend that, although it is nicely aided by the fact that, as we are owned by a French company, we get the English bank holidays, I have today off.

As always I had a few vague notions of things I wanted to get done today. Nothing major, a bit of a potter in the garden to tidy up, maybe catch up on some TV from the weekend, nip to the shop and maybe even check up what is happening online.

As it stands I’ve done a bit of that but not much else. It’s been good NOT doing stuff. And everybody needs some down time, right?

Now, I might go and put on a fresh pot of coffee.

Or, you know, I might not.

When not to laugh

You know those things you already know, that you don’t really need a lesson about?

Yeah, those things. The things life sometimes likes to throw at you, like that annoying teacher who would randomly ask you a question just to make sure you’ve been awake for the past hour. That.

Hmmm I should maybe be a little more polite about teachers, they do an amazing job, are hugely underpaid and undervalued and all round wonderful people (hey Mum, hey Dad!).

Anyway, this is a brief tale about one of those types of lessons.

I’ve been managing to keep a fairly regular schedule at the gym, visiting 3 times a week, and concentrating on cardiovascular exercise as I’m still focussing on losing weight. In other words I’ve been mostly sitting on a bike pedalling up and down ‘hills’ for 30-40 minutes at a time.

Of course to keep things balanced I have also been using the variety of big mechanical machines, with all those fancy levers and pulleys, and the ability to attempt to try and lift what feels like a small cow. It’s a bit of a strange setup that one, and I think I’m not the only person who is sick and fedup of the cows hogging the treadmills.

I digress.

As most of my time is spent sitting on the bike I’ve taken to watching movies, propping up my iPhone on that clever digital display that tells me how fast I’m going, how many kcalories I’ve burned, the distance I’ve travelled and so on. I get warmed up, hop on the bike, set the time and program I want to complete and then decide what I’m going to watch.

Having run out of movies I started watching episodes of Flight of the Conchords. I’ve seen some of them before but I like the mix of gentle humour, xenophobia and music (always a winning combo!). It can be quite subtle at times, with only the odd real laugh out loud moment.

So, obviously, just as the six foot tall Mr.”I Have No Neck And My Shoulders Are Three Times The Width Of My Waist” decides to hop off the machine directly in front of me, just as he almost catches his foot and has to hop a little to catch his balance, a hop that takes him a half turn in my direction, right at that very millisecond is, as I’m sure you’ve all guessed by now, one of those moments where I’ve blurted out a big “HAAAA!!”.

It must have been funny to have been an onlooker at that point. You would have observed me staring at the screen of my iPhone then bursting into a quick clap of laughter, just as a very large, muscley and quite scary looking man almost trips off the machine directly infront of me.

You’d then have witnessed me suddenly realising that the aforementioned Big Scary Man was glaring at me, my nervous look at him and my odd attempt at an apologetic smile, and then my frantic attempts to cycle away as fast as possible.

On a stationary bike.

About blogging

If you were attending a conference, and specifically attending one of the sessions that was going to be covering “blogging”, what questions would you want answered?

No, I’m not being completely lazy, I already have a good outline of what I want to cover (why, what and how) but it’s always good to get some “pre-emptive feedback” as a colleague of mine once stated.

On the flip side, those of you who already blog, any pearls of wisdom? Any information you wished you’d known before you started?

I’ll be publishing my presentation at the same time as I take to the stage at the Technical Communication conference in September and will update it based on any questions or comments raised during my session.

After all, for me, one of the main reasons I blog, and read blogs, is to exchange ideas and knowledge. The conversation is the power and I’m really looking forward to transferring my thoughts from here (on this blog) to the conference and seeing how a ‘live audience’ reacts.

What is the word?

There is a word for everything, and if there isn’t then the English language is quite happy to go and steal one from somewhere else (hello, schadenfreude).

So maybe someone can tell me what the word if for when, all of a sudden, everything seems to happen at once, like all the strands of your life conspire to make the coming weeks frantic.

It’s not coincidence as these things don’t necessarily occupy the same space and time, and they aren’t accidental they are all planned, but they do seem to fall into one block of time.

September will be a busy one and before it has even started it is showing no sign of slowing down.

So, all you smartypants out there, what IS the word for when this happens?

Coming Soon

A few months ago I was asked to speak at a conference in Nottingham.

A few months ago I bought tickets for a couple of gigs, one in Manchester (Elbow), one in Glasgow (Massive Attack).

I didn’t really think about these things much until this week when I realised they were all coming up in the next month, all within the same two weeks. I travel down to Manchester on a Friday, back up the next day. Tuesday the next week finds me hopping on a plane down to East Midlands airport for a few nights in Nottingham, back up on the Friday, and then on the Monday evening following that I’m in Glasgow for the Massive Attack gig.

Funny how that happens, isn’t it.

I don’t think I’ll have much, if any, free time in Manchester as it will be largely a case of jumping off the train, checking in to the hotel, going to the gig, then maybe a wee wander in the morning and then back onto the train to head back to Scotland.

However, I may be able to get away for a couple of hours when I’m in Nottingham. I’m staying in Eastwood Hall, so if anyone has any suggestions of interesting places to go then let me know.

Should be a busy couple of weeks but I’m already looking forward to it, not only for the gigs, but the conference should be interesting as well as a new challenge for me. My presentation is on the rather loose topic of “blogging”, so I’ll be enlisting YOUR help, dear reader, at some point soon.

Funny's Cousin*

I am hilarious. I frequently crack myself up, and the bemused looks of co-workers and general passers-by only add to the hilarity.

My humour is largely sarcasm based, with a tag of “friendly banter” and I can be fairly merciless when it comes to teasing people but hey, it’s all (hilarious) good fun, right?

A small example from this evening may help you better understand the depths of my witty reparte; my sister, upon arriving home during a complete downpour, remarked that her legs were wet. To which my instant, and hilariously witty, retort was to imply that she needed to improve her bladder control! HA haaaa!!

Maybe you had to be there. I thought it was very funny.

Mind you, no-one else laughed….

That said, I did manage to illicit a piece of pure comedy genius this evening, all thanks to a man in a fancy dress costume and an inanimate set of sprinting hurdles. If you were watching the BBC coverage of the World Athletics Championship this evening you may have caught this but, unfortunately for you, you weren’t in the presence of my comedic genius.

Let me set the scene.

Melaine Walker had just won the gold medal in the 400m hurdles and the mascot helped her celebrate, offering her a piggyback for her lap of honour. This, in itself is a little funny, but not as hilarious as what happened. As she mounted him (oooer!! see, I can do smutty humour too) and they set off I quipped, blimey, he’s lucky if he can see where he is going!! Ohh, the hilarity that ensued when seconds later he ran into a pile of hurdles.

Maybe you had to be there.

Oh wait, you can be! Sort of…

OK, this won’t be perfect as I very much doubt you’ll nail the sardonic delivery nor be able to provide an accurate replica of my nasal whin dulcet tones but feel free to give it a shot.

Watch this video and around the 17-18 second mark just say the words, with the hint of a smile as you begin to imagine the worst, “Hey, he’s lucky if he can see where he’s going!”

See! Comic genius in action!

TOLD you I was hilarious…

* Yes, I know it should be “Funny’s Cousin”. The font replacement thing on the blog that isn’t displaying the apostrophe, alright? Can’t be bothered thinking up a new post title. RSS feed readers, you can ignore this.

One Minute

My current role is changing a bit, with some additional responsibilities being added, specifically around line management.

As such, I’ve been reading The One Minute Manager and have to admit it’s given me a lot to think about.

The basic principles are to instill any team members or staff with a simple structure in which they can operate by breaking down the main management tasks of praise, reprimand and goal settings, into one minute activities.

The one minute goal setting helps set, review, clarify and agree on (SMART) goals.

One minute praising and recognition makes sure you are rewarding people as soon as you spot a behaviour you want to encourage, which in turn help set the expectation of how they should behave.

And one minute redirection and reprimand ensures that any deviations from the expected behaviour are caught as soon as they happen, making sure it is clear that the behaviour isn’t acceptable, again setting the expectations of how you expect your staff to behave.

The book itself is told from the point of view of a young manager who is struggling to find his way. He visits a successful manager who slowly reveals all of the secrets of one minute management. It’s not a big book, just over a hundred pages, and it’s certainly not a dry read as you are following the story to see what the young manager will uncover next. Yes it can be a bit over the top on occasion but all of the points are well made.

If you manage a team, no matter how big or small, I’d recommend you pick up a copy as it will undoubtedly change the way you think about how you manage your team.

The One Minute Manager (from Amazon UK, currently less than £5.

How to write an instruction manual

BBC Radio 4 are broadcasting a 30 minute show on this topic.

Engineer Mark Miodownik presents an instruction manual on how to write an instruction manual, exploring the history and the future of product guides and how they chart our changing relationship with technology.

He looks at how product guides have changed over the centuries, from the very first examples, written by James Watt on his new ‘copying’ machine, to the latest Ikea pictograms.

In the first half of the 20th century, manuals not only described how to use your television, but also how to fix it. Now, the first few pages of any TV manual contain stern health and safety warnings about the dangers of tinkering inside the TV.

Mark travels to Yeovil to visit Mr Haynes, of Haynes car and motorcycle manuals, to ask whether people still need a manual to fix their vehicle. As our products get more sophisticated, is the instruction manual becoming extinct?

One to catch I think, hopefully it’ll be available afterwards online as well.

One & Other

I know what I like.

It’s a phrase I use quite often when discussing art, mainly because it’s not an area I’m all that familiar with having never really studied it other than the odd wander round a gallery or two.

I’m quite open to most forms of art, and I’ll happily wander round an installation and see if it has any impact on me and, digging into my opening phrase a little, if something manages to illicit an emotion from me then it falls into my definition of ‘art’.

I don’t limit that statement to a specific set of emotions, there is much beauty to be found in disgust, as there is horror in the mundane. But sometimes I find myself baffled and, worse, disinterested. At that point I’ll happily concede that I do not appreciate whatever it is that is being offered to me, whilst retaining the right to change my mind in the future (such are the vagaries of something based on emotion).

So I currently find myself at odds with… er.. myself, with regards to the current art installation One & Other:

This summer, sculptor Antony Gormley invites you to help create an astonishing living monument. He is asking the people of the UK to occupy the empty Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square in London, a space normally reserved for statues of Kings and Generals. They will become an image of themselves, and a representation of the whole of humanity.

To which my instant reaction is “poppycock”.

Placing random individuals on a televised stage isn’t art, surely? And, with the greatest of respect to the “plinthers”, the little I’ve seen doesn’t suggest it is more than some art students and random oddballs doing, well either little of interest, or lots of things that aren’t interesting.

And so the voyeurs are lapping it up, having gotten bored of Big Brother, the tourists and crowds in Trafalgar Square are drawn to the cameras with hopes of their 15 minutes of fame. My disinterest kicked in big time.

Until the other day when, channel hopping, I caught some coverage of a young man who was filling in for an someone else. He didn’t have anything planned, he was bemused and awkward and the loneliness of the plinth became evident.

My interest slowly woke up and I started to think about this piece of art.

I’m still thinking to be honest. There is something that galls me about it, the exploitation of those who stand atop the plinth, reduce to a number for the most part, and the voyeuristic nature of the entire thing.

But it has me thinking, considering why I am reacting to it the way I am and if that isn’t what art is all about, then what is?

I know what I like. Even though it can take me some time to make up my mind about what that means.

On getting older

I am middle aged. I am in the middle of my life, the young foolish years are behind me, the more sensible, thoughtful years, lie before me.

Or so says convention but, you know what, I can’t say things like convention have ever bothered me all that much.

Don’t get me wrong, I am very conventional in all the nuances of the word. I live in a semi-detached house, in a cul-de-sac. I have a sensible car, I have a good job, I have Sky+ HD and many other trappings of middle age, middle class life. Oh dear, did I just say I was middle class?

Anyway, none of that is really what I was going to discuss. Instead I was going to muse on how my body and mind have changed in the past few years, through various factors, and how much I’m enjoying being me.

But that all sounds a bit twee and I very much doubt that it will be of much interest to anyone else, other than me (I do find myself endlessly fascinating, it’s true).

Suffice to say that I am noticing that I am aging. Not something I’d been hugely aware of in the past but then what young man ever is? Mostly I am realising that life goes on, regardless of what happens, something that you can really only get a feel of from life experience.

I say all this against the backdrop of yesterdays date. It was supposed to be a special day for our family, but things changed so instead I sit here and remind myself that, no matter how hard it is now, life goes on.