20 December 2009

Avatar 3D, Disappointed

Friday night I went to see Avatar in 3D with my sister, Lynne, at the Cineworld cinema in the Touchwood centre in Solihull. Quite disappointing.

As a, flat, film it would have been OK. Story was good (albeit a pretty blatant rip off of Anne McCaffrery ('Pern' and 'Petabee' series of books) as both Lynne and I noted). Performances were good, mostly (should hove gotten Sam Elliot to play the Colonel).

The problems started in buying the tickets. Firstly the guy behind the counter (Alexander,according to his name badge) was rude from the get go. Then there was an extra charge for the film being in 3D, despite my having an 'Unlimited Card' (perhaps the management of Cineworld need to look up the word Unlimited or rename the card to the "Very Limited' card), which basically doubled the total cost.

When we got in to the screen there were a lot more ads than usual. Then the film started, the film I'd paid an extra charge to see in 3D. I saw no 3rd dimension. Without the glasses on some parts of the screen looked fuzzy or double image (presumably these were the things that were supposed to appear to come out of the screen) but with the glasses on they just looked less fuzzy, not 3 dimensional. There were various standard 3D tricks (e.g. a golf ball being played directly into camera) and I did get feeling of eye strain, possibly from trying to see the 3D stuff.

The next day Lynne sent me a text to say that she had developed a migraine after watching the film.

My recommendation, go see the film but see it flat not 3D, save yourself the price of an extra ticket and a headache.

7 November 2009

An unhappy experience in Bacchus Bar under Burlington Hotel on New St

Went for lunch at Bacchus bar off New Street in Birmingham yesterday, with my Sister, as our planned venue for lunch was too busy. It was an abysmal experience. The bar tender who served me seemed to be suffering from some sort of cold symptoms and was couching often with no attempt to cover his mouth or use a tissue. The food took over half an hour to arrive, which for a weekday lunch time is a very long time. They could not even use the excuse of being busy as the place was half empty and most people did not seem to be eating or had been served before we arrived.

I had rump steak and chips with beer battered onion rings, my sister had a chicken pie with vegetables. My sister said her pie was fine althought he meat showed obvious signs of being mechanically recovered meat including tool marks on the meat. My steak was small, very tough and slightly over done it also contained far more sinews than rump could reasonably be expected to, it was more like stewing steak than rump. The chips had clearly been fried along side fish (there were bits of batter and a slight fishy taste, although not enough to set off my allergy to fish). The onion rings seemed to have been battered with ordinary batter, not beer batter.

The two meals with a large coke each came to just over £23.

For comparison our normal Friday lunch (either 2 mixed grills or a mixed grill and a roast dinner, again with two large cokes, at the Windsor on Cannon St) is much quicker, much better prepared and comes to around £16.

I won't be returning.

It may be churlish to point this out but, the decor seemed to include Ancient Roman, medieval European, Classical Egyptian and 19th Century European, but none of the Classical Athenian Greek that the name would suggest.

6 November 2009


I was chatting with one of my colleagues at work last night. He's a Muslim originating from the Pashtun region (which covers north west Pakistan and a sizable chunk of Afghanistan), although I believe that he himself was born in the UK. We talked about the 5 British troops and 3 Afghanis killed by the Afghani security officer. My colleague said that this event was because the Afghani people don't see the Taliban as the enemy, they see the UK and US security forces as the enemy, and that the Afghani people see only 2 ways to win, military victory or death. I then asked if he was saying that the only mutually satisfactory outcome would be to just wipe out the entire population of Afghanistan (NB, I'm not actually proposing we do that), perhaps start by dropping Napalm on all the population centres. He agreed (after I'd explained what Napalm is and what it does) that that would be the only possible outcome.

Based on conversations I've had with other people, including recent immigrants from Afghanistan, I don't actually think that he is correct.

5 November 2009

Moving boundaries?

Just seen the latest campaigning bulletin from the South Yardley Liberal Democrats. In it they seem to be claiming responsibility for the opening of a new health centre on Richmond Road.

The thing is, I grew up near Richmond road, my mother still lives in the area, I know that area well. That road is not in South Yardley ward, Yardley constituency or even Birmingham. It's in the Lyndon ward of Solihull, maybe edging into Olton ward at one end but still Solihull. Also, unless the new health centre was built to look exactly like the old one, it's been there over 20 years.

Looking at the front page of that same missive, I can't help but wonder where they found these 83% of local voters who blame Labour for the job losses at JLR, LDV and elsewhere in Birmingham. Acocks Green Conservative Association perhaps? Most of the people I know lay the blame at the door of the leader and deputy leader of Birmingham City Council. My racist (and apparently not very bright) neighbour seems to reckon it's the fault of our former colonies in the Indian sub-continent (well, he doesn't use those exact words).

Overall I doubt the veracity of the whole publication.

30 October 2009

Unchecked parents can't loiter in play areas

Just sent this comment to BBC Breakfast news about their item on parents who haven't been CRB checked not being allowed to loiter in supervised children's play areas:

"It seems very sensible to prevent non-CRB checked adults (be they parents or not) loitering around children's play areas. Being a parent and being a pedophile are not mutually exclusive, quite the opposite. Statistically the person most likely to abuse a child is not the media hyped loner lurking in the bushes but actually that child's parents, another parent or trusted family member or friend.

Possibly a more interesting question is why these parents who say they want to stay in the play areas don't get the CRB check. What are they afraid it will turn up?"

21 October 2009

JSA, not EMA

I recently heard through a local college that EMA (Education Maintenance Allowance) may be scrapped because the administrative costs are too high. It seems to me that the best way forward would be to roll those on EMA on to the Job Seekers Allowance system. JSA is unlikely to be scrapped (unless it's replaced with something equivalent) and with the existing scale and infrastructure the additional administrative costs should be minimal.

I have therefore started a petition to the prime minister to scrap EMA and allow those who are/would be entitled to claim JSA. I am aware, from people I know who are JSA claimants that the job centres already let people 'sign on' over the web or to simply come to the job centre and swiping a card. Either this could be carried over to the pseudo-EMA claimants or perhaps the colleges could be required to 'sign on' their students to maintain the requirement of attendance to get paid (though if it's a case of we'll pay someone to sit around and do nothing why should we stop paying someone just cos they miss a couple of days of a course?)


6 October 2009

British Computer Society Birmingham branch launch new website

I didn't know they had an old website so can't compare the new one to the old. There it is though: http://birmingham.bcs.org/

It does follow the new branding of the BCS.

Actually that I didn't know my local branch had a website is probably pretty indicative of the key problem the BCS has. Communication. They don't do it terribly well. Not with their members and especially not with employers. It seems to be the only professional body that isn't the de facto, if not de jure, requirement for advancement in the field they represent.

2 October 2009


Got the results for my PRINCE2 practitioner exam. I passed! Got 84% which is way more than I thought.

Some people at work commented that this is higher than the minimum score you need to become a trainer in PRINCE2. I have been thinking of asking one of the project manager's at work if he would like to collaborate on a book.

Aging population and working past retirement age

Sent this to BBC Breakfast as a comment, don't expect they'll read it out so posting here. They're talking out the aging population and people working past retirement age:

The downside of working part time past 'retirement' is that the way many benefits and pension schemes are set up means that any income from part time work will be taken out of your pension or other income.

I do agree that older people should be allowed to remain in work, I'll be 40 next year and expect to have to stay in work into my 70s. Perhaps the way to deal with the perceived competition for jobs between old and young is to look at the younger end for changes. We're already part way into the change. Rather than expecting the majority of people to leave full time eduction at 16 or 18 we should be encouraging them to stay in full, or close to full, time education longer. This does not necessarily mean 6th form or university, it could mean vocational training, apprenticeship, voluntary work or a mixture of these.

This could be continued into adult life where people could be supported in taking career breaks to study for career changes or development. We've moved from one job for life being the norm to many jobs in a career for life, perhaps we can now move to multiple careers in a life.

20 September 2009

PRINCE2 and British Computer Society

I took and passed PRINCE2 (2009) Foundation level certification last week, also took the Practitioner level exam but it takes a couple of weeks for the results to come through for that so I won't know for a while if I've passed that. I'm really not sure if I passed the Practitioner or not. If I failed I don't think it will be by much. Apparently there were a lot of complaints from employers that the 2005 exam was too easy so the 2009 exam has been toughened up and the pass mark increased so the pass rate will be lower. They've also introduced a new type of question called Assertion-Reason that test knowledge, reasoning and logic and have abolished half marks (in the 2005 objective exam if the question was to pick two items from a list and you only got one right you;d still get half a mark, now you have to get both right to get any credit at all).

On Saturday I got an email from the British Computer Society to say they've added a professional networking site for members. It was launched today so I signed in and set up a profile. I've also created a couple of groups, one for members in the West Midlands (the county I live in) and one for members involved in Project or Programme Management.

30 April 2009

Fake e-mail messages from HM Revenues and Customs

This was circulated at work

Some staff may have received an e-mail message purporting to come from HM Revenues and Customs and suggesting that you may be due a tax rebate. These messages are fake and are an attempt to obtain personal and financial details which could be used to commit fraud or other crimes. HMRC do not communicate with taxpayers in this way.

29 April 2009

"Not a glass ceiling, sticky floor"

Gail Rebuck, CEO of Random House publishing (first female to head up a major publishing group), has won the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year. She said that she feels it's not that there is a glass ceiling stopping women getting into the higher levels (i.e. progress so far then stop) but rather that women find it difficult to rise from the lower levels of a company. She said, "Women don't particularly want to progress onto the next stage - it doesn't look very pleasant, because it is full of stress or because it might interfere with other aspects of their lives."

A couple of years ago Harvard Business Review ran an article that similarly cast doubt on the existence of a 'Glass Ceiling'. The article argued that rather than a simple barrier just below the board room women traversed a labyrinth through out the company to progress to higher levels. The HBR article itself is not publicly accessible, you need to subscribe to the magazine, but a similar article can be found here. There's also an article on Bosswoman from Susan Robinson, PhD, referencing the HBR article.

In her article Robinson makes a number of recommendations, most of which relate to the fact that women are far more likely than men to be responsible for caring for dependants and the home. In particular she recommends that women not complain about their home life at work, if they have to leave early due to a family situation they simply state that they have a commitment rather than going into details and that they be realistic about their home and standards of cleanliness, choose a home setup they can easily maintain (e.g. avoid nicknacks that are just dust traps, choose fabrics that are easy to maintain &c) and set realistic standards about cleanliness. There are 168 hours in a week so if we assume 8 hours sleep a night plus 5 days of 8 hours at work and 2 hours commute a day that leaves 62 hours for leisure, eating, socialising, networking (these days a vital part of career development), overtime, cooking, cleaning, paying bills, shopping &c. The more time you spend on cooking and cleaning the less is available for the fun stuff and career development.

The only issue I really have with Robinson's recommendations is that they are firmly entrenched in the presumption that cleaning and looking after the family are the sole responsibility of women. Maybe that's just pragmatism, or perhaps it's surrender. I see it as a social issue that needs to be addressed.

Incidentally, I'm single and live alone. If my house needs cleaning I have to clean it (although I do sometimes bung my nieces (no kids of my own, just two nieces, no nephews) twenty quid to help me with a big 'spring Clean'). I have had to settle on a standard of cleanliness that balances between how clean I want my house to be and the time I'm prepared to spend achieving it. Others may set higher standards, that's their choice but then the time taken to achieve it is therefore also their choice.

31 March 2009

What is a manager?

A question was posted on one of the discussion forums I use asking "What is a manager?". I came up with: "A manager is a person employed to facilitate and direct the activities of their staff to deliver to the goals of the company."

26 March 2009


I discovered today that one of my colleagues at work was at the same university as me at the same time as me. Well, she started the same time as me but studied a 3 year programme where as I studied a 4 year programme so she graduated a year earlier than me.

Keele was a small university, 5,000 students, but I don't think we moved in the same circles. On the other hand, it's been getting on for 20 years ago we both started and I have a shocking memory for names so we might have met. Also, I was heavily involved in the student's union (I think I spoke at every Union General meeting during my 4 years at Keele bar one) and RAG so there's a chance that she might have seen me pontificating from the lectern or out fund raising.

New Blog - Stephen's SAP Blog

As I'm now beginning to work on SAP I've started a blog about it, mostly just somewhere to make notes about interesting/useful things I come across. If it also helps anyone else then great but if it doesn't then no worries.

One of the things I have noticed, comparing Oracle with SAP, is that whilst for Oracle you can find online free resources at pretty much any level (both official Oracle sites and individual sites and blogs) in SAP there seems to be loads of 'salesy' type sites telling you how wonderful SAP is and how it will revolutionise the way you do business (presumably for the better) and some very in depth technical sites (mostly forums), where you're sunk if you can't get in an manually edit the data and code, there's nothing anywhere in between. There certainly don't seem to be any how-tos, any pages that seem to be telling you howto when they come up in Google searches are actually saying "If you want to find out how to sign up for our course and pay us a lot of money." Of community there seems to be little, aside from the aforementioned bit twiddler forums.


I admit I'm a bit Leonard of Quirm when it comes to blog names.

8 March 2009

How about Free Prescriptions for England?

Having read recently about how Scotland and Norther Ireland were soon to join Wales in giving free prescription medicine to all, I thought I'd go to the Nomber10 petitions site to see if there are any petitions to extend that to England. I found 2:


I would suggest that anyone (in the UK,obviously) who agrees that prescriptions throughout the UK should be free, not just in 'Everywhere that isn't England', signs these. The first closes April this year and the second closes January next year but currently has more signatures. Maybe it will do some good, maybe it won't, but it's got to be worth 5 minutes.

Only 11% of precriptions redeemed are chargable, the vast majority being exempt for any of a number of reasons. In all likelihood the added cost of those 11% being made free would not be onerous. Infact, I do wonder if the costs of administering those charges may not outweigh the income. I submitted an FOI request to the Department of health to find out:


I fully expect them to come back with one of the normal excuses like "We don't hold that information, try the local PCTs" or "We do hold that information but it will cost too much to collate it and send it to you." Worth a try though. If anyone else wants to submit a similar request to Department of health or their own PCT, have at 'em.

Politicians work for us, if we keep bothering them they might remember it. Squeaky wheel gets oil and all that.