8 Random Things about Me. Thing the third.

00011The most obvious landmark viewable from my kitchen window is the Crystal Palace Television Transmitter. It’s about 6 miles SSW of here and does look like a rather weedy Eiffel Tower.

At 728 feet it was the tallest structure in London until the completion of 1 Canada Square at Canary Wharf (which can’t be seen even from my bathroom window).

The chimneys of Battersea Power Station are far shorter (about 350ft) but they are visible from my flat, if you lean far enough out of the…. aaaaaaargh! splat!

Make your mark with a doughnut

Back in November (gasp! time flies) I told you about Oli’s latest socially-entrepreneurial wheeze: Make your mark with a Tenner

Pigeons are now coming home according to the FT:

Six months later, more than three-quarters of the money has been paid back, a success rate that would delight most early stage business investors.

The biggest profit was £410, generated by a student at east London’s Walthamstow School for Girls, who set up a homemade doughnut business, persuading a local shop to donate ingredients.

She returned the £10 to The Entrepreneur Channel, a satellite television station that funded the scheme, and donated the rest to various charities.

The average profit from the 50 biggest earning schemes was £99.33, according to Mr Barrett.

Yay Oli! Yay Doughnuts! Yay Walthamstow!

8 random things about me. Thing the second.

OK, here’s another.

I’m not a railway buff or a model railway fiend but I have always enjoyed travelling on the railway. No that’s not the fact, it’s a bit of flannelly introduction to divert you from the true geekiness of the fact.

The fact is: the final year project I chose for my degree (Computing & IT, Surrey, 1996) was an examination of railway timetabling through modelling and simulation.

I think I’m getting the hang of these random things – they’re things that make me go: “Hang on, is that true or have I just made it up?”, the sorts of things that you have to read a couple of times to be sure you’ve got it right.

Yes, I spent large parts of my final year at University creating a software model that simulated the activity of a railway system. To show my appreciation of the importance of abstraction, I created an algebra of train system elements. The first model was the simplest possible operational railway system. It consisted of two stations, a track, a single train and a single passenger. I constructed a timetable for this system by running a simulation of its activity (the passenger getting on and off, the train running from station to station etc) and thereby constructing a starting schedule, empirically. When I spoke to the people at Railtrack about it as part of my initial research, they said, no, that wasn’t the sort of thing that they did to produce their timetables, though it was a fascinating idea, they simply introduced tweaks to timetables that had “always” existed.

I then added complexity to the model in the form of more stations, longer track (broken down into sections), signalling, more trains, more passengers. I had to deal with the difficulties of shared track, over-crowding, staff rotas etc. Running the simulation produced further timetables. The model was implemented in an object-oriented modelling & simulation package ModSim. It was probably the last time I did any serious coding.

I thought it rocked, most other people though it weird, though I still got my 2:1 Plus ça change…

8 random things about me. Thing the first

Thank you to Helen, who has tagged me with the latest X Y’s about Z meme. This time it’s 8 random things about me, a subject dear to my heart.

I’m not sure about tagging 8 people, so I may leave that to the end, or not do it at all. I propose to write one post per random thing as I’m struggling with the random bit at the moment. I know what it means when my kids say “err.. Dad… random” but I can’t believe that me talking to myself is of any interest to anyone here. Though of course, I’m completely missing the fact that this blog always involves me talking to myself – it would be very difficult to write otherwise.

So, if I can get beyond the definitional fudge, I’d like to present to you Random Fact #1

I received my Drama School Diploma from Arthur English.


Yes, that Arthur English.

We really shouldn’t have been so snotty. At least he worked…

Social Media in the NHS

june07 120One of my current projects is for the newly re-organised Primary Care Trust in Surrey. They are looking at how they can use social media to engage better with local people through the web, as a complement to their other media activities.

I’ve started a blog with a flickr account and video storage on blip.tv and so far published some short pieces on activities around National Falls Awareness Day last month.

It’s still very early days, but I’m interested in your thoughts on this. We’ve started off doing things the way that the Trust knows how to do things – that is, get your journalist/photographer to go along to an event and report on it. I’m honestly not sure whether this is playing it too safe, or if trying to do something more radical would be too much too soon.

I’m aware that the stuff that’s up at the moment is quite provider-focused. I’m putting together more that gives the service-user/patient voice but I think I’m too close to it at the moment to know whether these are truly interesting or not so if I’m missing anything that you think is obvious do let me know.

‘ello, ‘ello, ‘ello

Helping with enquiries

So this is what asbo-fodder looked like in 1986. Well to be accurate, it’s an interpretation of 1986 yoof by a bunch of nice middle-class drama students (…and me, pffft!)

Did we even get paid? I can’t remember – it might have been just for the pleasure of seeing our young faces in print. I’m not really sure what Surrey Police ever did with this either. Sniggered probably. I’d pay really good money for a copy of the training video we shot for them on another occasion. We would act out scenes of crime and disorder for probationers to practice their recitation of the newly formalised words from the then Police & Criminal Evidence Act. I just remember a bunch of us singing “Here we go” and trying to give some PCs a good kicking and another scene where one of them tried to arrest us on suspicion of possession, on the basis of a screwed up bit of tinfoil from a Mr Kipling Bakewell Tart.

Unfathomable juxtaposition

Picture 041These boots were made for walking, but they were just sat on a wall in the back streets of Westminster the other day and just screamed “photograph me” when I walked past.

Quite why I chose this pic to illustrate this post which is nothing more than a wrapper for another outing for my voice & ukulele (1min, 330k) is beyond my comprehension. This number’s called “I want a little girl” and has nothing to do (unless you have a bizarre imagination) with walking, boots, leather or Westminster.

Perhaps I need to increase my dosage.

Toshiba Tecra A8

Well Euan didn’t want one, but I’m not so fussy 🙂 she stayed with me for a week and I’ve just handed the A8 over to a DHL man to carefully take back to the Toshiba marketing folk.

Let me first be clear about the basis on which I took part. I wasn’t paid anything for this, I just got a loan of a new laptop for a week. Toshiba covered the cost of couriering the machine to and from me.

I gave up being nerdy and spec-obsessed a long time ago (well the spec-obsessed part anyway) so I can’t reel off lots of geek-speak about it, and my current laptop is a Tosh Satellite, so that was my main point of comparison. A week really isn’t very long to try it out. I was working hard when it arrived so didn’t have time to play until a few days in. I wish though that I’d taken the time because actually it was so much faster than my Satellite that I could have got things done much more quickly….

The speed comes courtesy of a dual core processor, 1GB of RAM and a 95GB hard drive. Weight-wise, it was like all laptops – heavier than you want it to be. It was wide enough to fit in my social media empire bag but only just and made getting other kit in and out tricky. But the screen did feel pleasantly wide.

It worked fine with everything I do (though for a 1 week trial it was a bore to have to download and install my staples of Firefox, Audacity, SonicStage, The Gimp & Core FTP), and far faster than any of the other machines I have to hand – in fact I was gobsmacked by how quickly video got processed. But without experience of other similarly-specced machines, I can’t say for certain whether this is the *best* choice of dual core/1GB/95GB option.

This really isn’t about this machine, it’s about me. I hanker for something prettier and more out-of-the-box functional and useful for what I do, or else a big change from my usual environment. If I’d had longer, I’d have tried installing Ubuntu – that might have made for a more interesting review, but it might also have ruined my all of my personal and business relationships while I sat engrossed in tweaking device drivers.