Monday, July 31, 2006

Roller Coaster Boy

That was a really lovely weekend we just had. Saturday we had our neighbours over for a BBQ. It was hard work, we were expecting almost 20 people. Fresh bread, lamb kabobs, hamburgers, sea trout, three types of salad, a summer pudding, fresh ice cream and a pear tart. It’s a lot of work to prepare a feast.

It went off without a hitch. Everyone enjoyed themselves, which was the point. Ours is a very private little road. Other than the family across the road with children of a similar age, none of us mingle much. We might wave if we cross paths on a walk, or as we drive out, but even that is infrequent. Its not that we don’t like each other, for the most part everyone is very friendly. We also help each other out when needed, I’ve assisted and been assisted with floods and emergency calls, even an owl in a house of a neighbour who was terrified of birds (that was fun). The fact is, we just don’t see each other much. The British pride of privacy in spades.

The funny thing is, when we do get together, we all really get along. It was a grand party, very social. LL and I were both really pleased we did it. About every two years we get up the will to organise it. Every time we hope someone else will reciprocate next time, but we’re the only ones who do. Its worth it though.

Sunday was a treat day. The kids have been great lately, happy and cooperative. So, it was off to LegoLand. We were a bit worried about the weather, but it turned out fine and warm (rather than sweltering). Even the crowds, which were heavy, weren’t that bad. I think the longest queue we had to deal with was about 20 minutes.

LegoLand is a family favourite. I know the kids will grow out of it some day, but we do have to spend at least an hour wandering around miniland. I’ve got two budding engineers in the making, they love see what’s built, figuring out what’s changed, and chasing the trains around. My Princess and LL wander a bit more sedately. They both like to investigate with a little more time, rather than the magpie viewing the boys enjoy.

There is also the rides, and it was here I was privately proud. Pirate Pete has never liked roller coasters. He’s always said, “Nope, they look a bit scary.” We haven’t pressed, little neuroses are developed out of the oddest things. This time though he and I had had a little talk before hand, very gentle, just about not letting fear stop you. It certainly doesn’t hurt that his younger brother has no fear. Ali Baba is roller coaster boy in our family, the faster the wilder the happier he is. I expect number two son will be into danger sports clinging off of cliffs with his bear hands and the like.

So, en famile we decided to head to the big adventure roller coaster first. LL has had a bad neck this week, so she sat out with our little princess who is just a few centimetres too short. I took the boys in, and as we’d got to the park early, the queue was nothing. I won’t say PP enjoyed it so much he wanted to go straight back on, but he did it, and felt good about doing it.

It was one of those moments you want for your children, when you see them grow up that bit more. His back was a bit straighter, and he grinned widely when I said we had two roller coaster boys now. Confidence is such a precious thing, it has to be nurtured, loved, and occasionally reined in if it looks like its turning to arrogance. Yet for the moment, on this small little thing, it had worked. My boy knew he could step past his fear and do something. Next time, on the next fear, it will be that little bit easier to do. It may sound silly to be proud of a child going on a roller coaster, but I was hugely proud and happy.

At the end of the day, he was the one who asked to go on the Dragon roller coaster, and he enjoyed it too!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Here be Dragons

The other day Geena wrote of bats in the house. It couldn’t help but remind me of what is most certainly one of the worst nights in my life. I’d taken a year out to travel, and this was about mid way through. The was pre LL mind. At the time I was wending my way East through the Indonesian Islands and had hooked up with a motley bunch to charter a boat out to the Kimodo Ilsands. At the time I hadn’t actually heard of Kimodo Dragons before, and was fascinating to see them.

The trip out was uneventful. My fellow travellers consisted of a German couple on honeymoon, an American girl travelling on her own (very unusual), a couple of Israeli blokes, the requisite pair of Aussies (everywhere you travel there are Aussies (it’s a plague)), and a couple of young Brits on their gap year. There was also a lone Japanese who I’d been travelling with for a while. He was a management consultant who took three months off a year to travel. Very un-Japanese and we’d formed a close friendship. Needless to say the mix of languages and experiences made for some grand conversations, especially as there was a good source of cold beer on the boat.

Conditions where primitive, but no one minded. It was also a very slow boat and we took a couple days to get to the Government reserve where the dragons where kept. We arrived mid day, had a snack, then went hiking off with a keeper front and behind. It was all very exciting, they had big sticks are were very vigilant, though we saw nothing.

Well, nothing until we got to the destination. It was a feeding day, so there was nine of the damn things all lazily moping about. They are enormous, two metres long with extraordinarily large teeth. Think a crocodile, but with a smooth hide and bigger legs and you’ll get the idea.

The sacrifice, a goat, was in a small corral, bleating nervously. Quite right too, because there was three rather nasty lizards circling. Using a very long pole, the gate was opened and the dragons rushed in. Quite something really, I won’t bother describing it, but the visuals are indelibly burned in my brain.

The theatre over we were escorted back to the base camp. For that night we had the luxury of sleeping in government huts. Rather picturesque, they were palm frond huts up on stilts (nothing to do with the dragons, most houses where up on stilts there, had to do with flooding during the monsoons). The cook on the boat had done up a Javanese feast, and I was surprisingly hungry. The food so far had been simple, but safe, so I thought nothing of what was served.

Some of the crowd where less hungry, and not everyone tried everything. We had a fine old time though, and it was well into the night before we retired to the huts. Middle of the night I awoke in agony, my guts cramping something fierce. If you’ve had food poisoning, you know the game. Its instantly recognisable.

Well, the night was spent either lying in agony on my small bed, or crouched on or over the loo. Bad enough you might think, but this is where it got really fun. The small bed was a not very well constructed palm frond hut. The loo was 10 metres behind it, and was not a proper flush type, well lit thing, but a hut with a plank with a hole over a deep pit. To get from the bed to the “loo” you had to run across the hut and down a flight of rickety stairs and run like the wind to get to the “loo”. The ground was also not tidy, but littered with logs and holes in the ground, and it was pitch dark. There were two of the “loos”, but four of my fellow travellers where afflicted as I was. You had to hope one was empty, and that wasn't always true.

Now the bat connection. There where bats, lots of them. They roosted up in the eves of the hut, which we hadn’t noticed earlier. So there was a constant stream of bats in and out of the hut. There were also rats, at least I think I was a rat I stepped on. It squeaked and was furry, and was too big to be a mouse.

Those six hours felt like an eternity. There was a moment, when I’d tripped, fell, and vomited, that I honestly wouldn’t have minded if a Komodo dragon had come and gobbled me up. I expect I wasn’t the most tasty of morsels at that point though.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Summer Crazy

There appears to be an inverse proportion to the amount of blogging going on and the weather. Yesterday, myself included, almost (with some notable exceptions) nobody posted. Is it that everyone’s happy? Perhaps the heat slows the brain too much? Maybe nothing interesting happens in the summer. Certainly the papers have a reputation for trawling in the gutter of humanity for something, anything to write about.

Yet that’s not true this summer. What’s going on the the Middle East hugely depresses me. Both in terms of the killing and in terms of the complete lack of understanding about what’s going on. A quick trawl through the papers today came up with both this and this. Truth is elusive and how to resolve it unfindable.

Myself, I have such mixed feelings. I have been, and remain a supporter of Israel. The world owed a debt and a new nation was the partial repayment. On balance I think as a nation it has been admirable. Standing up for its rights, yet giving its citizens the freedom to grow. I know from personal experience that some of the most intriguing developments in new technology have come out of Israeli labs.

Yet… and yet… I find it hard to support some of the actions of recent years. Though I can only imagine what living under the constant threat of suicide bombing and hostage taking is like, disproportionate action can not be the answer. If I’m honest I can understand the reaction to kick and stomp and utterly destroy a threat. To make sure it can not rise and strike again. IF there where an immediate threat to my family, I would not hold back from violence if that was the answer.

The problem is, this won’t solve that. It can’t. Terrorism is by its very nature irresolvable by physical threat. Certainly it can resolve an immediate threat. Killing a suicide bomber before he explodes himself stops the explosion. The problem is, in trying to kill the man behind the suicide bomber, the one who equipped and sent him on his way, you likely kill people around him.

He does not hide behind civilians because he does not see them as civilians. They are his family, his friends. Perhaps more significantly he sees them as part of the fight, as combatants. So he lives amongst them, and very likely they understand the threat, and actively want him to live amongst them. He is family.

So in trying to kill him, you kill those around him, and lo and behold the resentment builds and likely all you’ve done is created more mindsets willing to die in a glorious explosion.

You can only truly stop the threat by making him and his your family. That is so very much harder than dropping a bomb on him. It is also, in many ways, riskier, because he does not want to be your family, resents you. Kindness will be rebuffed and abused.

It is still the only true way to win the war.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


A small snippet of married life. This morning my wife washed her hair. Nothing unusual in that, it happens twice every week like clockwork. She wanted more though, felt that the hairs at the nape of her neck needed trimming. It’s not something you can do yourself so I was handed a pair of scissors.

I hate this job. I am not a hairdresser, have no inclination to be a hairdresser, and have no clue about what to do. Yet I am handed the scissors.

What begins has happened before, and is part of the reason I hate it. Part of the reason for this post, is I don’t know how to break this particular cycle. It starts with me asking how she wants it done. I’m not looking for step by step instructions, though that would be nice, but just a clear description.

The irritation starts. She seems to get annoyed that I don’t know what she wants. Every time I get the same complaint that she doesn’t have a hand mirror to see it, so can’t tell me. All she knows is it need to be done, so do it.

I’m no saint, and I’m sure my irritation at her irritation shows in response. I start snipping. This time she stops me and hands me a razor. “My stylist always shaves the nape of my neck.”

“OK, how much do you want shaved?” I know in asking I’ve asked wrong, not hid my own ire. Sure enough it sparks a response. Again I’m told she doesn’t know as she can’t see it. This seems to be the impasse we always reach. Somehow my asking is seen as an attack or a failing. I don’t know which, but asking the question invariably gets her temper up.

This time I stop and ask her to not get angry. She goes quiet, but I can tell she’s glowering silently. I do my best and finish. We end up irritated with each other. Its just one of those things, two people can’t live in perfect harmony, but this one just gets to me. I know I’ve got to clear the air with her, but I’d appreciate some help. Why is my asking the question such a spark? Is it my showing irritability in doing it in the first place? Is it not knowing how to do it? Is it not being able to read her mind? Help?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Military Prowess

So, we packed up and went to the Farnborough Air Show yesterday. Well, except for Princess. She had a bit of a fevour over the weekend, so was a bit down and out of things. Out little girl got a day of leisure with SN instead. That seemed to be well enjoyed by both.

The air show though, was very good fun. We’d been given dire warnings of traffic hell, and massive crowds. Wasn’t like that at all. Everything was the model of efficiency. Traffic was heavy, but controlled, we drove straight in tp park without meeting any jams. A bus awaited to wisk us to the gates. There was no queue for tickets, and even the air port style security was dealt with easily.

The show itself? Fantastic. Two little boys, one big one, and a woman with more than a little bit of testosterone flowing in her veins meant it was toy heaven. The lads walked about with gobsmacked looks on their faces as we got right up to big helicopters and airplanes. Then a hamburger for lunch (more child heaven), chips and even a fizzy drink (they never get fizzy drinks at home (we’re such food fascists (poor things))).

We had a good plot of (very dry) grass to sit on, then the games began. Not everything was wizzy bang. Watching a training jet do sedate loops in the air isn’t that exciting. Some of the others though… Lets just say it was a good thing we got ear plugs as we were up close and personal to various military hardware being pushed to its limits. Fantastic. We were all sitting there with big grins on our faces.

Its hard to say, which was better. The US F18 or the Russian Mig (a tough question hotly debated on the drive home)? I think the Mig probably piped the yanks to the post, but that may have been due to the daring (or health and safety allowances) of the pilots. Watching a plane push itself up to 5000 feet in a few small seconds then deliberately put itself into a tail spin is awe inspiring.

Watching a helicopter to a loop the loop rather made my jaw drop too. I can now understand reports that Afgani Taliban fighters flee from Apache helicopters. Having a helicopter stand on its nose and fire straight down at you would be terrifying.

The highlight of the day was the Red Arrows. Watching those lads fly nose to tail in tight formation gets the blood pumping. All in all it was a fine fine day, only spoiled by having to stand in a few fair ground queues for kiddie rides that lasted a minute.

What was truly amazing was leaving. Despite the fact that we were trying to get back to the parking lot at the same time as the occupants of 5000 other cars, it was remarkably efficient. We waited in a queue for maybe 5 minutes, got on a bus that drove straight back to the lot, bypassing some heavy traffic, and were straight into our car and away. Made me proud.

I couldn’t help but contrast it to my World Cup experience (did I mention that before…). On leaving the stadium in Berlin there was absolute chaos. Traffic was snarled, the shuttle buses over subscribed, meaning massive angry mobs fighting to get on them. What in Britain, with a larger crowd, took minutes of orderly queues, in German took an hour of frustration. It was icing on the cake of a good day.

Friday, July 21, 2006

An Application of Power

My current role has some interesting twists. There are some decisions around technology that I could make and most everyone would nod their heads and say, “Yes, he knows best.” That’s not because I’m a genius, its just no one has a clue and I appear to. As is every aspect of life relativity matters.

We’re about to purchase a system that will significantly effect our efficiency in a major way. It will be used by a large majority of the most important delivery part of the company. The company had been waffling about making a decision in this area for years. It’s a big investment that will be the start of a big change programme.

No one wanted to be responsible for the decision. I was brought in to sort this out, amongst other things. I could have come in and just arbitrarily made a decision, and likely no one would have stopped me. There was one vendor who had a product that most everyone had seen and was comfortable with. The investment would have been made, and the implementation begun.

However, instead I brought in some of the dreaded consultants, and we’ve spent two months in an arduous and intensive selection process. We did workshops, interviews, multiple detailed demos. We started with a long list of 15 products, quickly weeded it out to a mid list of five, then a short list of two. In the last week we had both vendors in for very detailed workshops where we had a group of super users taking the software out for a long test drive. A large number of people have been involved, there is huge buy in to the process. As a result, any decision will be validated throughout the company.

Yesterday was the final selection meeting. It was not easy. On the one hand the initial product that everyone knew had, by far, the most intuitive user interface. It was a familiar look to other systems in the company. The contender though was technically more sound. It was better architected, more scalable, and had a delivery flexibility that was far better than the other option.

I don’t want to call them factions, but there people who favoured one vs the other. Everyone, in effect, looked to me to arbitrate. I could have said 'A' or 'B' and there would be relief and jubulation in the streets. Because of the process I'd led everyone through, the decision felt mutual, conscensus, even if, in the end, the decision was mine.

So, what do you do? On the one hand you’ve got a product that is more familiar, is more easily usable to the large majority of staff who will interact with it. The change programme of implementing it will be eased. On the other you’ve got one that is slightly less usable, but is architecturally more sound? You know the second will be easy for you personally to manage and operate in the future. The user interface is not bad, and you could pay the vendor to improve it, make it more like what people are used to. The price between the two is not relevant, they are close enough in net terms as for it to not matter.

You can go one way or the other. The choice will impact the company for the next three to five years. What do you do?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

About the Boy

This is intended as a tidy up exercise for my other site. Getting close to moving house (just about got a new template done), and indeed the majority of my traffic is hitting there rather than here now. I expect I'll keep both running, but the extra content (like recipies, pictures and rude stuff) will only live over there. But as a bit of background...


The Boy – he that be me. A forty something, happily married father. A wage slave senior manager in the media industry, who has a commute to work that makes most sane people drop their jaws and say “You do what?”. A man who loves his wife, and is committed to his children. Who has refound some of his own childhood through parenting. A lover of books, technology, cooking and one who found an unexpected joy in gardening. Stress relievers consist of playing with his children, reading, cooking a meal and… well… private time with his wife. Stress creators consist of marshalling teams of people to run call centres, build and operate websites, and maintain exhaustive private details of peoples lives for marketing purposes. And the commute, did I mention the commute?

LL – the Love of my Life. A woman of infinite complexity, who alternatively enthrals and exasperates the boy. She who invests silly amounts of money for large corporate clients. A woman who, at a glance at a restaurant bill, can tell everyone what they owe, but whom can get angrily frustrated over a remote control that “won’t work”. Fiercely independent, surviving and succeeding in a heavily male career (not always happily mind), she is quite content to hand over “man’s work” to the boy (such as opening a jar). She is the boy’s muse, his love with love returned, and they both intend to live the remainder of their lives together.

PP – Pirate Pete. Number one son and heir. Cleverly intelligent and most like the boy in personality, without being a replica of his father. Fiercely competitive, and moody when he looses, he is normally a bright and cheery child. A book worm by nature, he can already while away an afternoon reading. Then again, he likes nothing more than larking about with his brother, who is clearly also his best friend. A fit boy, he’s showing talent and inclination at swimming, but desperately wants to be a footballer at which he may only be indifferent at. The inspiration for “the boy” as that’s what he called himself when he first learned to talk, because that’s what his parents called him…

AB – Ali Baba. Number two son and heir. Physically attentive and needing lots of cuddles, he is normally the sunniest personality in the room. Except when he’s not, as there is an underlying mood that settles in at the oddest moments. Best friend with his older brother, and frequently put out by his younger sister. May actually be the most intelligent of the three, but also is highly emotionally acute. Loves to sing, but struggles to carry a tune. Most likely to crack a joke that makes no sense to anyone but him and his father.

TP – The Princess. Sole daughter, incredibly cute and knows it. Appears to have inherited much of her mother’s personality, including the temper (sigh). Desperately wants to do whatever her brothers are doing, but is often still too little. As such, mostly a tomboy, but every so often quite happy to play with her doll house or hold a tea party. Quite capable of charming the socks off of anyone around, which she uses to her advantage. Hugely self confident, and long may it continue.

SN – Super Nanny. Our second, and has been with us for a couple years, and will likely be with us many more. Thirty something and happy in her own marriage, but without her own kids. We don’t ask why, as the question appears to be a difficult one. Very loving of the kids, and well loved in return. Quite simpatico in how she parents to our own style (we’ve been lucky that way twice now), she welds a firm disciplined influence whilst letting the kids be kids. LL often jokes (while being quite serious) that our children have two mothers. In employing we’ve also employed her husband and parents, all of whom have taken care of the kids at times. Our children also have three sets of grandparents!

CC – the Caring Cleaner. Has been with us over nine years now. Loyal and completely trustworthy, she’s a single parent managing on her own without help from the state. As such we are loyal in return, and she’ll have a job as long as she wants one. She helps out with more than cleaning, and quite enjoys playing with the kids when she’s by. Perfectly good at what she does, but with quirks. Completely incapable of putting some back down from where its been picked up. Has inspired the verb to be “cleaned”, which means nothing is where is was. Hugely likable, but… hmmm… a bear of little brain.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Threats to our World

No, I don't mean Global Warning. For those of you that don't follow Petite Anglaise I'd suggest taking a wander over to her site. She is an excellent and honest writer, I truly enjoy her blog. She has kept it anonymous, but only lightly so. It contains no names, and only the meerest of reference to her location and job in Paris. No details that would completely identify her, except she has posted pictures of herself.

Her employer found out, and recently dismissed her for gross misconduct (ie immediately with no compensation). She is fighting it, but her employers were a legal firm, so its going to be a hard battle. This clearly has implications for all of us in this virtual world, whether anonymous or not. Though the case will be fought in France it will invariably invoke European human rights legislation, and will set precidence in the UK.

Keep yourself informed, offer help, money even. These sorts of things get expensive and she's a single mother, now with no job. Unfairness in life is common, but this is absurd.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


My father was a benevolent gardener. When it suited him he was keen, when it didn’t he performed the minimum necessary to keep things tidy and moving along. As we rarely lived anywhere with a garden larger than arms spread could cover, or in the few times we did, long enough to do anything about it, most of his gardening was of the pot or allotment type. He particularly liked his pansies, and had quite the collection at times. They are such hardy things, and I still vividly remember some growing through the snow mid winter.

No, what he was really keen about was compost. Gardening was play, rotting matter was a passion. He researched it, experimented with various methods, and at times even constructed Heath Robinson type contraptions to aid in the decomposition of our kitchen waste. With some success too, the quality of soil he got out the other side was usually quite extraordinary. Which was a good thing as he often had to give it away due to the quantity he’d developed.

So, it was with some alarm that this weekend I found myself becoming my father. It is such a definite sign of age to succumb to your parents foibles. Mostly it doesn’t bother me, there is much of my father I admire, and try to emulate. Compost though, that is not one of those things.

Yet I found myself outside in the garden, down at the compost heap, busy digging and turning, sprinkling with dried bacteria, and generally feeling quite pleased with myself. I don’t go for the complex scientific methods. No rolling tubes, or multi tiered worm nurseries, I like big heaps. Pile it up high, throw it all the kitchen leftovers, soft garden waste, guinea pig droppings, anything at all really. Once a year (usually at the prompting of LL (no… always at the prompting of LL)) I get out there and turn it over, adding the magic formula of yeasts and nutrients I’ve found, and moving the heap from one wood box to another.

It is eminently self satisfying. By next spring I will have created, though benign neglect, rich dark friable soil. It will get spread about the garden, turning the heap into a mound, then into nothing. In so doing, it will help keep our garden fresh and lush. I can be my father without being my father. Other than one hard slog of a weekend, one bit of hard graft leaving blisters on my blisters, I can ignore it. I can deliver the result, be proud of myself, and not have to work and research.

Not often in life you get that, especially through something as simple as rotting banana peels…

Yet I’m still being my dad, sigh…

Monday, July 17, 2006

Where's My Mummy!

I am a single parent this week. Well, not really, SN is still on duty with the kids during the day. LL is off on business for the week, left early yesterday and not home until Friday. This is a regular enough occurrence that it doesn’t hit the routine much. It’s a bit hard on SN as she has to work longer days given my commute, but given its warm and sunny and the kids are off school I don’t think she minds too much. The kids are easy work when its like this.

Except for this morning. I wasn’t expecting anything untowards, and indeed each of the kids came in to say good morning and get a cuddle as I was finishing off getting dressed. A little while later, as I’m opening the curtains, I see my Princess wandering in the garden. This, this is not normal. Poking my head out of the window I ask what’s up.

“I’m looking for mummy!”

I rush downstairs and pick up my now distraught little girl. Its funny what didn’t effect them a few months ago is trauma today. This is certainly not the first time her mother has been away. Poor thing is inconsolable, will take no cuddles, bribes or breakfast.

They have a funny relationship my wife and her daughter. Thick as thieves one minute and bickering over nothing the next. Their personalities are perhaps a little too similar to ever be completely comfortable. I dread the teenage years as I suspect there will be storms. No… I know there will be storms. Two absolutely hard nosed female wills clashing over every little thing.

The boys both seem to have got my easy going nature, so I’m hoping I’ll have a relaxed ride of it. We’ll see, that though, is for the future. Today I have a little girl desperately missing her mummy, and daddy or nanny just isn’t quite good enough.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Prisoners Dilemma

The Prisoners Dilemma is one of my favourite theories, and has been on my mind lately. It’s extraordinarily well researched, and is one of those little conundrums that one comes across frequently in real life. Its description is simple. You take two prisoners who have done a burglary together. They have both been arrested. There is no direct evidence.

The best response is for both to stay quiet. If they do, then both receive a minor sentance. However, the police make the same offer to both, confess, we’ll let you go, and convict your partner to hell and back. If one stays quiet, and the other grasses, the one who kept the faith is dealt with harshly, and the one who broke it gets off. If both confess, then both are treated less harshly, but both do go to jail.

Hence the dilemma. Do you trust your partner to do the right thing, which ends up in a decent result for both of you, or do you take the action that at best lets you off free, at worst gives you a sentence slightly worse than both staying silent?

The reason its been on my mind lately is the incredible story of the NatWest three. Now, truth be told, the three have profited from highly suspicious circumstance. Details here, but basically they appear to have convinced their employer to sell something at a discount, then personally profited from the result. Its murky, unclear, and they may be completely innocent, but it doesn’t look good.

However, this is messed up in the Enron scandal, which has the Americans incensed and running amuck. UK legal bodies have looked at the case and have determined there is insufficient evidence to convict. Not a nice answer, but there you go. This is not good enough for the Americans, and so they look for other avenues.

Here we come to the prisoners dilemma in action. In good faith, the US and the UK negotiated a new extradition treaty to allow more easy transport of terrorist suspects where evidence is thin or can’t be revealed for security reasons. Personally I do not agree with the removal of habeas corpus (in this case the three could not contest the evidence, as none was provided, only contest the legality of the treaty), as is happening throughout the world, but I do understand the driving logic behind it.

The UK, with a culture of following the spirit of the law dutifully, ratified the treaty. The US has not. A classic prisoners dilemma scenario. One side keeps the faith, the other does not. If reports are to be believed, this is due to a suspicion that the UK would then misuse the treaty to extradite suspected IRA terrorists who perform vile acts a long time ago. Truth be told there are many IRA killers who’ve found safe haven in the US, its just a complete misread of the situation to think the UK would derail further the Northern Ireland situation by doing such a thing.

Now here we come to another cultural difference. In the US, law is followed to the letter, not the spirit as it is in the UK. Hence US prosecutors have dug through treaties and found one that, in print, allows then to extradite suspects without detailed proof being presented, on anything they like. Ignoring the spirit of the law, they use the letter of the print.

The UK has fallen trap to the prisoner’s dilemma. By ratifying a treaty before its partner, it has allowed itself to be harmed when the partner can not be.

Again, there’s a lot of other factors at play here. There is the US misusing a treaty meant only to cover acts of terrorism to extradite for acts of white collar crime. That says the treaty was badly written. There is also the sheer arrogance of the US for thinking it can prosecute a criminal act performed by foreign nationals on foreign soil.

The whole thing is a mess, and leaves me angry. I have no sympathy for the NatWest three, but this should not be happening. I am proud to live in a country that so fervently believes in the law, and in following the rules. That does not mean we should be fools and allow ourselves to be abused by others who do not do so.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Life from the Train

The train I take every day flows through a wide range of landscapes. From forest to wide open fields, some filled with perfect cows. Then into suburbia, allotments, industrial estates, high streets, every imaginable snippet of modern living.

In many of the views people live. There are back gardens of every type. Some are tips, filled with the most amazing mounds of rubbish. Some are just plain flats of grass (often brown this summer). Others are beautifully maintained gardens, though remarkably similar all the same. The garden gardens all seem to follow the same pattern. A centre square of grass, borders with bright flowers and carefully curbed shrubs. There is always a shed at the back, and usually a tiled or wood patio just outside the back of the house.

You can always tell if it’s a family home, there will be a bike or two, and like as not a small footie net. The grass in these gardens is always lovingly worn and brown. Too many feet running around.

The allotments fascinate me. Unlike back gardens these are quite varied. In one, it is a small flower nursery. Not laid out to please the eye, the flowers are clearly being raised for themselves, and like as not cut and taken home. Bar that one exception the others are all veg. But not alike, not a one. There are different plants in different patterns. All neat and tidy and not a weed to be seen other than in the pathways between. Those are obviously communal, and owned by no one.

The houses themselves invariably catch my eye. Not because they are unique. There may be variations, but the British terrace home follows a time worn pattern. No, it’s the ability to think about the lives within. I never see people, either through the windows or in the gardens. The houses could be empty for all I know. I suspect if I lived opposite a train line I would remain invisible as well. Still, it’s a thought process of imagining the lives. Pitchers and glasses on a table hinting at a party the night before. Glimpses into conservatories that prove a love of plants or a love of sun. Washing hung up by the environmentally sound, but careless as they’ve been left out overnight.

It’s a panoply of sights and thoughts that helps make the mornings bearabl

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Nature of Tiredness

I am utterly knackered at the moment. Self inflicted I’m afraid. Before last night I had three nights on the trot with less than five hours sleep. Night one, so I could catch an early flight. Night two due to a certain football game and an overly noisy hotel in the morning. Night three because I had a late flight home which became much later with the mandatory delays and too many people trying to get through customs at the same time (I really must get a UK passport (I can, I just can’t be bothered to fill out the forms)).

Then last night. After a long days work I get home at about 9:30. Amazing how one day out of the office more than doubles the amount of work you have to catch up on the next day. LL greats me warmly, but equally is tired. She’s not been sleeping well with a summer sore throat bothering her.

Thing is, instead of heading up to bed and going straight to sleep after a little sleepy reconciliation, she decides she has to re-tan her legs. This is a lengthy process requiring a shower so she can shave, then an application of tan stuff, then a wait, then extra moisteriser.

I’m to tired to be anything but indulgently astounded. I think she's too tired to have really thought about what she's doing. We’ve been together too long for me to be surprised or angered. There are times I don’t understand my wife, but to love the woman is to love the foibles. So we chat, and half watch the news, and take an extra hour before finally drifting off to sleep.

Instead of a catch up on my sleep I had another late night. I am utterly knackered…

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Irate Frenchmen

Have you ever heard 30,000 angry Frenchman voicing their displeasure? Nearly burst my ear drums when Zidane was sent off. That the Italians kept their composure during the penalties with the cacophony that was going on probably earned them the cup more than anything else. Frankly, they were outplayed by the French, but they stopped them from scoring, so the cup is theirs.

Being in Berlin the day after the final had other advantages. My boys are now fully kitted out in lots of odd let overs. “Official” FIFA World Cup t-shirts where going for a song at E5, so I got a few things then. The hotel was oddly giving out free Subbuteo men at breakfast, so I snagged some of them as well.

All in all it was a grand time, though getting back to the hotel after the match was chaos incarnate. The normally anal Germans hadn’t thought to put traffic cops out front of the stadium. As a result, there was carnage as busses and taxis gridlocked themselves, and I nearly had my ribs caved in during a scrum to get in one of the shuttles. Civility doesn’t last long when its midnight and all everyone wants is to get back to the corporate trough to scarf a final meal and a few drinks before collapsing onto the hotel bed.

Some memorable moments where listening to the French supports sing “Football’s Coming Home” during the match. Try to think of 30,000 French accents garbling the words and you won’t even be close. Watching a small cluster of Italian supporters kiss each other when the final penalty shot won them the game. Given we were surrounded by more than a few French I thought murder likely. Then, of course, Zidane’s head butt in response to comments about his mother. I caught it out of the corner of my eye, but most people in the stadium didn’t. There was no doubt the crowd thought it an absurd call. I even had the offside rule explained to me by an indulgent American, which was amusing (admittedly he played Varsity soccer for Stanford (I just didn’t expect the Yank to rise to the bait)).

A good time was had.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Corporate Entertainment

Corporate Entertainment. It’s a funny pair of words, almost an oxymoron. Yet it’s a integral part of modern business. We live in an age that prides itself on the rule of law, and a base set of ethics. Things go wrong, Enron is a prime example, but on the whole businesses are run to a set of rules that allow society to work. Some are clear, even legislated. Some are not.

In the grey area is graft. To accept money in exchange for awarding a contract is wrong, to accept “entertainment” is not. The first is deemed harmful to society, the latter an whimful extravagance that allows dour men a moment of pleasure. “Entertainment” is big business in its own right, which is part of its respectability. It is transparent, understood.

Few companies have rules governing its acceptance. The rules are mostly unspoken, yet frankly, vary wildly from individual to individual. Everyone has their “entertainment” that won’t be turned down. Even me.

I do have my own rules, and as yet have never broken them. Temptation is rife though. I manage large budgets, and am continually bombarded by companies interested in selling me their wares. A large part of my PA’s job is weeding out the continual stream of cold calls from those in the sales profession desperate for my business. I get offered a lot of “entertainment”.

My rules are, I think, straightforward. I will only talk to companies that I am serious about buying from. If we are in the purchase process, and no contract is awarded I at most will accept a drink or lunch. This may sound faux, but social interaction is important in buying and selling. I only buy from companies who’s personal face I trust. I need to know that if something goes wrong, as it often does, I have contacts I can pick up the phone and know they will do their best to sort it out. That means spending time with them, and a drink or a meal helps oil that process.

For companies I have bought from I have occasionally accepted an offer of something more. It has to be proportional. For a company I’ve just spent a few thousand with, tickets to the Ashes and a corporate pavilion are over the top. I will generally only accept if its clear that the company is doing this regardless of whether I accept or not. That is, the offer is in no way individualised or tagged to any purchase or contract. That it’s a general event the company is sponsoring and I am one of many. If I say no, someone else will just get the offer. I also will only accept no more than one or two big events in a year. I do hand off offers to subordinates who’ve been as involved as I in a purchase. Its my way of staying comfortable that I’m not going over the line in gaining benefit from my job.

I’ve had some good times from all this. Wimbledon, Ascot, Twickenham (I’ve done that more than anything else, Rugby I like), various music events, you name it I’ve been one of the corporate suits sipping something suitable from the sidelines.

Yet I’ve got one at the moment that’s made me uncomfortable. It fits my guidelines to a tee. A big purchase last year, and though I negotiated a hard bargain (I’m pretty sure I got it at price or close to), they got a lot in return. I’m a deep user of technology, and in this case they got great case study, plus I hosted various reference visits. They are one of the sponsors of the event, so if I had said no, someone else would have got the invite.

But it’s a big event, one many people in the world would give their eye teeth to be at. It’s a sport I’m at best indifferent to. So I keep wondering if I should have said no. I’ve told almost no one, and in a way I’m almost glad England dropped out, otherwise I likely would have been lynched. You see, I’m going to the final of the World Cup.

Don’t hate me…

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Minor Misdemeanours

So, the other day my eldest, Pirate Pete, was caught red handed nicking coins out of the coin jar in our bedroom. In a way I’m not surprised. We’d had a go with that a while back, but at that point it was both boys, and frankly they were just playing with the coins. They didn’t have much of a notion of money yet.

Recently Pete has started to buy things with his pocket money rather than just hoard it. They’ve been getting pocket money for a while, and its handed over at the end of the week when we check how they’ve done with their chores. Nothing serious, just cleaning their school shoes, and sweeping under the table after dinner. All meant to make that connection between work and money. That old protestant work ethic runs deep in both LL and I, and we want to instil it in the kids.

Its just little things he’s been buying, like the Beano or a small toy airplane. Again, this is a good thing, makes him start to understand the way the world works. You work, you get paid, you use the money for things you need and like.

In parallel he’s a real net surfer. One of the sites he loves is lego, and he’s been going through a real phase of star wars lego. I love lego, think its one of the best toys ever. I’m not so sure about the focus on kits lego has these days, but Pete will build the kit to exactly how the directions show, then break it apart and rebuild his own things, so its not that bad.

What we missed was his linking the value of buying lego with what’s in his pocket money bank. Something recently kicked in when he realised that his 50p a week wasn’t going to add up to what he needed to buy his favourite kit very fast. So he stole a little.

Its one of those moments I’ve been both hoping wouldn’t happen, and had been waiting for. I sat him down and tried to talk him through what he’d done. Poor thing was miserable, and didn’t like talking about it. He especially didn’t like my confiscating all but £2 of his hoard.

Then he compounded his error. When he handed over his stash, saying he’d kept all but two pounds, it was found he’d kept back a wee bit more than two pounds. The first misdemeanour I was ready for, the second caught me by surprise. Time for another little talk, and time to take away his stash and create a little bank book instead. Its hard to judge how hard to be, but it’s a message that needs brought home into his growing brain.

Sometimes being a parent isn’t very fun.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Contractual Perambulations

Another business scenario for you. As always details and individuals are changed to protect the guilty, including myself. This particular one is done, dusted and closed, but I’m intrigued by your responses, so will stop at an appropriate point to see what you might think.

I have a supplier I’m dealing with at the moment. We currently have placed about £400K in work with them. Not enormous, but substantial enough. The big carrot is in the next phases of work. Having selected this company as a partner, there is the potential of a good million or two more being placed with them.

Now we placed a separate project with them, not related to our main streams of work. They won it competitively, despite it having tight budgets and impossible time lines. It more than equals all the other work they've done with us. They were keen to do it. Because of the deadlines we had started work with them, and though they had a valid purchase order (PO), no contract had yet been signed.

These days Sarbanes Oxley is raised as the spectre of many hauntings. For those unfamiliar with SOx, it is a piece of US legislation, passed after the Enron collapse, which places extraordinarily tight financial and audit controls on all companies headquartered in the US. Like any legislation, it is open to interpretation, and having now been involved in four companies implementation of the new rules, I’ve been astonished at the differing ways companies bend themselves around the rules.

In this case, our supplier had the bizarre guideline that if a contract had not been signed three weeks after work commencing they had to “down tools” and stop work. Though I can somewhat understand the reasoning, there are many ways of assuring legally binding payment for work, and a PO has traditionally been one of them. A PO is a binding document that obliges the issuer to pay for the work and goods listed (assuming they are delivered in good order).

Now, we as the buyer had been told of this deadline, and I’d run up against it before in the first placements of work. This time though, we did not receive the draft contract until business day 7 of the 15. To compound the error the document was light, and didn’t adequately reflect the nature of work, though it did provide all sorts of legal cover for the supplier.

Negotiations commenced. We put in new terms, the other side modified those terms, we modified their modifications, and the days slipped by. The other side’s deadline approached. There was no malice on either side, but some important points, such as software warrantee, and the sequence of transfer of ownership of intellectual property (the legal term covering such things as software code) where being hotly debated.

Last Friday being the deadline, both of the three weeks, and our supplier’s quarter end (so they can recognise the revenue) came. We debated on and off throughout the day. I was taking the boys camping, so had to leave the office. Arguing contract terms while on the train is not something I even remotely like doing, but I did. I get off the train, continue the debate while I drive home, while I pack the car, while I get two boys ready (though LL was marvelous in helping). Tempers are very heated on both sides of the conference call (there being a VP and lawyer on their side, me and our lawyer on ours).

We both concede points and seem to get close to agreement. However, all this has been verbal. The document has yet to be marked up and changed. You have a choice. Remember, its 8:30pm. You haven’t had dinner, its already past the boys bedtime, you still have to drive and set up camp. Its been a long long week.
  1. You get a faxed copy of the document and sign immediately. Note, you don’t have full authority to sign. However, they would accept it, and frankly the worse you’d get would be a slapped wrist.
  2. You delay taking your boys camping, get a faxed copy and properly read it before signing, but this will likely take you up to the 12pm deadline.
  3. You defer until Monday morning. That allows you to actually read the document, ensure yourself and your lawyer are comfortable with the final wording, and it can get signed by the appropriate senior officer of the company (one of our SOx terms, the negotiator is not supposed to sign).
The consequences of 1 – your supplier is happy, but you have to live with signing a contract you haven’t read. With 2 your supplier is happy, but you have two very unhappy boys. With 3, your supplier may actually carry out its threat of downing tools and thus jeopardising the project. Goodwill might also be irrevocably broken between the two parties, and you might have to terminate all contracts, thus putting all your projects at jeopardy, not only this one.

What do you do?


Fascinating, I love seeing how people think. If you're enjoying these I'll try to keep actual case studies more frequent. None of you were far off, but the reasoning wasn’t always the same. I went for 3, but for a large balance of factors:
  1. I was tired, so was R, our lawyer. To do a rushed review of a contract is to miss things, and the law is often in the detail. We both agreed we just wouldn’t do a good job of it right then.
  2. Personal ethics, I can not sign a contract I haven’t read. Has aggravated salesmen no end in my life. Even if signing a minor retail sales purchase I’ll go over the small print and ask awkward questions.
  3. Making a point. Contractual partnerships are supposed to be that. Looming threats loose goodwill, we felt it important to be clear we were working in good faith, but would also follow our own internal guidelines.
  4. The kids. I do agree with Geena’s point that kids have to realise the priorities of the wider world. I don’t make all their school events, nor does LL, but we always try to make sure one is there, and talk to them about why we can’t come when we can’t. There is one overriding principle I try very hard not to break though, I keep my promises. If I can’t come to something, or can’t do something with them, they know in advance. If I’ve told them I will do something, that’s a bond. I want them to understand how vital a promise is.
So, we didn’t sign that night. Our supplier was livid, though he kept this side of polite thankfully. I suspect some personal bonus targets where missed by our not signing. It was a good thing, when we reviewed the contract on Sunday we found a few agreed items missed, and some wording we didn’t agree with. Nothing major, but these things matter.

However, when we got in Monday morning ready to sign, our supplier still downed tools. This very nearly blew up. We came very close to a nuclear option of terminating both this and all other contracts with them. However, our own deadlines loom, and we just pressed ahead with signing. Thankfully, on my making clear how poorly their actions had been taken, our supplier sent staff back on site, prior to getting a signed contract, so tempers were mollified and the work went on.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Moral Camping

So, despite a last minute contract discussion turning sour on Friday night (the MD of the company in question is going to get such an earful this morning) I managed to get me and my boys packed and to the campground. Imagine this if you will, about 15 dads and about 25 boys under the age of 11. Mayhem, pure, delightful, energetic mayhem. I finally managed to get the boys bedded down in the tent around 10:30, way way way past their normal bedtime.

We couldn’t have asked for better weather. Bright and sunny, perfect for doing manly things. We did team building games, let the boys get us lost with compasses and maps, raced each other madly about on bikes and go carts, let the boys trash the dads in a game of water polo (of course we let them win…), larked about on a rope course and generally behaved like a pack of fools. Food was simple, carnivorous and charred on a BBQ. The only aberration was a break with beer to allow the gang to huddle around a telly and watch the England match.

Here’s the thing. There are times when I cringe at the white middle class nature of my boy’s school. Yet… this weekend was a breath of fresh air. I’m not just talking about letting a bunch of boys get a bit wild and a bit dangerous. Though that is something I feel strongly about. I think the Dangerous Book for Boys is a bible to manhood in our modern times. Boys need to see their wild side, understand it, work with it, and form their personality around it. They need to see nature, live a bit outside and just be boys. That’s not something that happens much these days.

That’s a sub point, what really struck me was everyone’s behaviour. Let me start with the boys. There were a lot of please and thank you’s, everyone waiting for their turn at the activities, rules where followed and if broken penance was taken and appologies made. The older ones looked out for the younger ones, and though they all played hard, they played with each other. Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of competition and a few dust ups, but these where boys who in my eyes where going to be good men.

Then the men. I didn’t do a detailed point by point survey, but you talk over a beer, or over the BBQ and you pick things up. There where no divorces in this group. No fathers having a solitary weekend with their sons. As best as I could determine this was a group of hard working men in long term relationships raising their family as best they could. I’m not making them out as angels, but there was a firm foundation of morals.

Now, this was a self selected group. The school, by its nature, attracts that sort of family. Yet it isn’t a solitary bastion in the wilderness. Such men are not unusual (nor the enclave of the white middle class, you find such men in every race and social strata), and the boys are proof that its not just nature, nurture matters in raising kids to be good.

For me it raising such questions about our society. This used to be the norm, where have we gone wrong such that “happy slapping” becomes popular, or that we actually have to legislate knife control? I know the golden times of yesteryear often weren’t, but among parts of our society, we do seem to have lost the way. A weekend like we just have shows me that all is far from lost, but it also emphasises the difficulties we as a society must face up to.

I’m not positing answers today, but the questions remain.