Saturday, 30 August 2008

Let's Move to.....Hebden Bridge (Guardian Aug 23)

And in today's Guardian letters page"One-bedroom stone cottages in Hebden Bridge about £80,000". We wish! (Emma Crute and Joe Romanaowicz). According to local legend and recounted in recent holiday reading (Pies and Prejudice - Stuart Maconie) they used to be available for one pound.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

A bit about what I've been doing (work)

Here is a quick reflection on some of the things that have been happening since the return to work. It has also been a very busy time for a lot of other people too as we begin the preparations for another new Session:
  • Clearing is over for another year - from the hotline perspective anyway - and has been a tremendous success. We are recruiting well both through the UK/EU but also International recruitment and all systems and telephony performed well under stress. The formal process started with A level results Sunday when we download the results internally from UCAS and begin the confirmations process. Of course the planning started months before that - like Susan who was checking data transfers at 06:00 that day, there have been people "going the extra mile" to prepare for this important time. They include Richard who managed the installation of 73 PCs in the large teaching cluster used for Clearing, Ray who took the lead in testing and setting up across the range of rooms used centrally and within Schools, Christine who has implemented so many of the voice-related improvements, Susan who managed the student databases over the busy period including Saturday/Sunday when we were open for business, as well as the team of people who have attended the clearing working group meetings and deal with actions arising. There are too many people to mention everyone by name - it is a team effort by many throughout the University and the IT service has played a vital part again this year.
  • Have met with 7 colleagues in IT services so far as part of the process to meet with everyone one-to-one in the next 2 months or so (51 to go...). I have been learning about how we provide Facility Management from various perspectives, the variety of technical projects that are in progress, about major framework tenders to speed up frustrating new purchasing procedures, how we provide front line support to students and also to staff as well as the back end support for over 70 operational services. It has been very useful already to learn some more about what various people do, what they enjoy about working at the University and sometimes what frustrates them too. We have some great people who are very committed to the students and staff that they serve. We currently don't always do a great job of communicating that enthusiasm or commitment although it's very evident when you pause for a chat.
  • Sara and I met with the CIO and a colleague from the Yorkshire Building Society last week. They were interested in the impact of "Digital Natives". We first met after the Gartner Symposium earlier this year on the way home - we were able to provide some information based on our local experience but also the JISC research. We plan to follow up - Jason in the Careers Service pulled out some really interesting information about University business with YBS in recent years (ref recruitment to their business).
  • I met with two consultants from the new Cumbria University to discuss their plans to re-launch student systems with a unified SITS/Tribal system and share some of our experiences. Bradford was recommended as a site that is more advanced with implementing the full system suite and it felt that we were some way ahead in terms of our processes, support and most importantly student experience, although this University has very ambitous plans to catch up.
  • The Hub is busy working on the annual HESA return at the moment (a huge challenge as the dataset has changed and increased again) and has also launched the Pre Enrolment Portal. This is a service using e-vision (SAINT) available to all new students to basically enrol online ahead of registration week to get access to various services before arrival. The first applicants had already become students before the end of its first afternoon as a production service. Several thousand more are now being invited to register fully online.
  • There is now a weekly meeting in the diary with the PVC e-strategy on Monday's. We have already had the first meeting to discuss how we will work together to support the PVC's work, to review one or two strategic items (agenda items for ISC and Green IT were other meetings this week) and also to discuss operational matters (problems raised with me relating to mobile phone email and I raised HESA, clearing and wireless for visitors).

Friday, 22 August 2008

Photobox Outstanding Service

It seems to me that Photobox (who incidentally are based near Huddersfield I think) know how to deliver great virtual customer service. During our holiday I spent time transferring our photos at the end of each day from the camera to the laptop and then for super security to Photobox. This was made really easy by the Google tool Picasa2 which is also worth investigating. We did this because when you are traveling the equipment can break, memory cards can fail, and worse case (we have seen this happen at an airport) your camera can be stolen from under your nose. Anyway having then reloaded about 600 photos on our return that we wanted to print out I sent them for processing at 11:06 last night and at 7:55 this morning the email says they have been despatched. Its express courier service so they may be on the doorstep for this evening.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Poverty of ambition?

Got chatting with a recent graduate of the University this morning before the clearing helpline opened for the calls which will hopefully be continuing today as a result of the GCSE results. Some students have been employed on a temporary basis to help with the calls which seems like an excellent idea for various reasons. Anyway, we were both in early so he was telling me about his job hunting and where he might get references and that he had nothing really in the pipeline yet. By his own admission he had drifted into a degree course that didn't really excite or inspire him and although he had got a good degree result at the end of it he was now applying for IT support jobs of one sort or another. But his real passion was something quite different and he became much more animated when he talked about that. We talked some more and I told him how I ended up working where I do and why, and also how there is graduate work around in the areas that interest you but you have to go and seek it out and be proactive. I hope he pursues his dreams and doesn't end up compromising. It seems to me we have not succeeded if just one of our graduates is leaving with a good degree but somehow lacking the ambition to pursue his dreams and make a difference.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Olympic coverage

We were in the USA at the start of the Olympics and it has been interesting to compare the television and radio coverage with the UK over the last few days. To be honest we had forgotten about the opening as we had not watched TV at all, and it was never mentioned on the radio stations which we were listening to in the car from time to time or in the local papers that we picked up (versus the nationals which we didn't). We tuned in for the first of the swimming and team gymnastic events on our last evening and the commentators were really building up every competitor with individual pen profiles, lifetime statistics, interviews with family and friends, it was like every athlete was competing on one of those Simon Cowell fame programs. All of the pressure was on the other team or competitor, whether the USA was leading or coming from behnd. Over here, the coverage on digital TV has been exhaustive and the commentators extremely knowledgable about sports that I've never heard of before. I have particularly enjoyed listening on the radio to the Five Live coverage which has been very entertaining as usual. This morning's piece on Eric Liddell was very inspiring whether you are an athlete or not (like me).

Friday, 15 August 2008

Returning to Clearing

Yesterday was first day back at work and it started early as I volunteered to work on the clearing helpline from 07:30 along with about 50 others. Still feeling tired and out of synch with the travelling and time zones so probably not at best but it was a really interesting day talking to such a wide variety of callers during my stint. Of course while I was away people had been in over the previous weekend to download the results which took a couple of hours and it all went smoothly due to careful planning (thank you Susan). Every one of the calls was different and this surprised me I was expecting a stream of 18 year old A level students who didn't quite get their grades but in fact there were mature applicants, students who had taken a year or two out, students who were changing courses after a year from other places and they were from all over the place. Lots of interest in the Life Sciences but a wide variety of other courses and the callers seemed very clued up on the specific course they were interested in. Perhaps the internet is changing the way that people do their research prior to calling as they can get so much quickly online. Also I was surprised by the quality of the candidates - mainly very good and often excellent grades. Positive stuff overall but we won't know the final out-turn for a little while yet. The telephone and IT systems worked pretty faultlessly all day and that is thanks to a big team effort - lots of people involved in making the day a success from an operational point of view. No one really notices when it all goes right but it's truly appreciated by those with scars from when it wasn't so smooth.....

Monday, 11 August 2008

setting off for home

Back in San -rancisco for our last night in a best western motel near
SFO. Like Dave Gorman we have tried to avoid chains throughout the
trip and even on our last night and only by chance the Best Western we
stayed in was fouth generation family owned. Just a form to fill in
on returning the hire car despite the broken door mirror. The gorilla
tape held up pretty good. Glad we took out the extra LDW insurance
without realising. Now departing for 17 hours in the air via ;algary.
Hope the suitcases join us in Heathrow too.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Yosemite bug

Today we drove 350 miles from the south up to the Yosemite national park. We arrived late afternoon after a fairly uneventful drive which included our final drive past Los Angeles. We are staying at Yosemite Bug which is a hostel and camp site and they also have a barn which we are staying in for two nights just up the road. Bit isolated feels a bit like we might get a visist from slack jawed Cleatus (Simpsons reference). I am writing this from the bedroom where wireless internet coverage is provided and where cell phones get no signal. There is no running water (provided from a well system). We do have electricity though. Tonight when we came back from the main camp there was a mouse on the outside veranda. Hopefully it will scare the bears away. Looking forward to a tour of Yosemite Park tommorrow. Enjoyed swim in river this evening which was warm and clear as the sun was going down. At its hottest today we had 102F on the thermostat but feels milder now.

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Surfing the waves

OK so its a boogie board and its not a very big wave but this is surfing at Dana Point. The frightened look is for real prior to a wipe out situation. Soon be back surfing the real web....

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Thursday, 7 August 2008

Disneyland California

Just a day to enjoy all that Disney has to offer. How can anyone not love Disney - where all your dreams come to true? - well as many will have written before it just is the best day's family entertainment on the planet - but can probably only work in the land of its birth where each and every cast member seems to love their jobs (that's their job). Or is it? After our first exhilirating ride of the day (Space Mountain) at 08:00 we went for breakfast and the chef was celebrating 52 years working at Disney and his birthday. I mean where else do the rest of the team gather round with helium ballons and sing happy birthday and give the day off so he could wander round and talk to all the guests at every table? We have been very fortunate to visit the other Disney (in Orland) and this was like a carbon copy but on a smaller scale and of course it was the prototype. They still get over 40,000 visitors a day. Must be doind something right. Three random pictures from the day include the sallon bar act which we really enjoyed over lunch (especially Billy). The Star Tours ride included lots of Star Wars movie memorabilia and the gratuitous Disney character from the afternoon parade down Main Street. Jacob's highlight of the day was watching Manny Ramirez who has just joined LA from Boston on a $20 Million a year transfer (this is baseball nor football after all = scoring his third home run in five games at the EXPN sports bar where they even have TVs in all the toilet stalls. Never miss a ball I guess. Choregraphed fireworks at 9:30 (sponsored by Honda) provided a suitably cheesy end to a wonderful day. Nice one Disney - why can't we all serve our customers like Disney it's not rocket science they do it 365x24 and it'll be the same tommorrow as it was today.

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Tuesday, 5 August 2008

SeaWorld San Diego

We went to SeaWorld today which is one of those all american theme park chains operated by the beer people. There was only one beer shop on the park and the focus is on presenting professional shows with sea animals - its kind of like a circus and a zoo and Disney schmuck all rolled together. Sounds like a potentially terrible confection but in fact it works beautifully for all ages - especially the dolphins and the killer whales - Shamu rocks. We enjoyed it so much we didn't leave until 10pm for the hours drive home which included missing our interstate junction and an interesting diversion among the auto dealers. Best car today a bright red 30's hot rod cruising down the motorway top down. Best sight - Shamu playing an electric guitar....only joking we went to see Shamu twice. No national anthem today but a loud cheer and round of applause for all members of the armed forces in the audience past and present (10percent plus?) Quite right too. Gratuitous video of Shamu and trainer may work who knows.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Hollywood and Universal Studios

A great day at the Universal Studios up at 6:30 for the drive into Los Angeles along I5 which has nine lanes in each direction at its widest point - and two lanes each way at its slowest point! We got there before opening and were there all day enjoying the rides, the studio "tours" and the general madness of a hot weekend with thousands of others. There was plenty of shade and special coolers/sprayers and the rides especially The Simpsons Ride were worth the short queues. Megan visited a place cllaed Wysteria Drive which she liked....I guess you need to be a fan to understand. Billy is being eaten by Jaws in this photo.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

California its Saturday already

Now we are in Dana Point South of Los Angeles in Orange County. It was a fair old drive here in the Friday evening rush hour from Santa Barbera where we spent a night enjoying the coast and the annual Old Spanish Fiesta now in its 80th+ year (viva la fiesta). We seem to have a habit of stumbling on fiestas when on holiday and this was pretty impressive affair. We also slotted in some historical diversion with a trip to the best Mission in California allegedly. Now we are preparing for the onslaught of Universal Studios, Disneyland, Hollywood and SeaWorld San Diego. Fortunately we are staying in a beautiful and quiet place just by the sea that is miles away from the unreal world of theme parks and we had time for a swim in the sea and the nearby pool as well as a tour of the harbour full of million dollar yachts. Our written journal is coming along nicely with some interesting new clippings from the local papers - there are some wacky stories to enjoy.