Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Great Paula Ostrowska Mystery

So the other day I got a random Facebook request (I'm on it to see who else is on it, and because I saw the movie and had some time spare to fill stuff out, but I'm on as my real name). It was from Paula Ostrowska. Which the last time I looked was an Eastern European name. There is a real Paul Ostrowska you can find on the Internet - she's student at the School of Social Psychology in Warsaw and she looks classically Eastern European.

This is what my "Paula Ostrowska" looks like...



Look carefully. See how long and rich her hair is? The smooth and tanned-looking complexion? Those cheekbones, and those lips, not to mention the way that green eye liner doesn't look slightly sickly, which it would on an Eastern European girl? Because this girl is Indian, with a decent probability of being born in the US or England.

So... huh? Of course the profile is private, which should ring alarm bells, and she only has 18 friends. Just maybe ol' Zuckergerg's code has assigned the wrong photograph to the account, and it really is the Polish student, who happens to be a friend of Anna who was in the blog a few entries ago, but I don't think so.

I'm assuming this is some kind of scam - for who could resist being befriended by a girl who looks like this? Well, I could, but my hormones are under reasonable control these days.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Now We've Had The News, It's Even Quieter

A couple of weeks ago I said that it was too quiet in here: no-one was talking about the upcoming re-organisation. Soon after that, we got the news. Or rather, we got our little bit of it.

The division was divided into grey and yellow positions. Grey positions were assigned - "blueprinted" is this month's word - to people; yellow positions are up for grabs by anyone within the division on the same grade as the position - "preferencing" is the word.

I have a grey position and working for the same manager as I am now (sigh of relief), but there's no place for our supervisor and that's a damn shame. About six other people are in grey jobs, everyone else has to preference.

Preferencing is where you fill out a form explaining what jobs you would like to do and why you should get one of them, and then they give you a job you never even heard of. Everyone who is bored or unhappy applies for anything as long as it's out of where they are: in the last round two years ago, everyone in my team applied to get out (except me, not because I liked where I was, but because anywhere else was even worse). Our Director carefully explained that a position and its accompanying person were grey if they matched seventy per cent or better: otherwise the job was yellow. The catch is that if the incumbent applies for their own job, they are pretty much the best-qualified, most-experienced for it, so they get it. Look at the new chart that way and you can put names to about half the positions.

The general feeling is that the re-organisation has been done to look strategy-friendly rather than practically useful. A perfectly good team of cross-brand analysts, product development and pricing people is being split into two by brand, so that there are two competing brands within the product. That reduces the support the brand teams can call on and when the people who aren't happy leave, one of those teams won't have any senior-level analytical support at all.

No-one is really talking, because everyone is competing for the same jobs, or isn't happy and doesn't want to let on that they will shortly be looking outside.

The real silence is from the rest of the organisation. I'm gathering that some areas are being cut with a blunt and bloody axe, but you wouldn't know it except from the rumour mill. Apparently the Unions were involved in this, but nothing came from them to their members, of whom we have a few. As yet, no real pattern or intention has emerged from what we've heard, no "getting rid of all the central / product / twenty plus years in the pension scheme / with red hair / from Wales / without at least one Sicilian parent / whatever" criterion. This silence is really quite spooky.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Books Waiting To Be Read (August 2011)

(This is what happens when you have Foyles and Waterstones less than two hundred yards from your office.)

A History of Illuminated Manuscripts - Christopher de Hamel
The Klee Universe - various
Photography: A Cultural History - Mary Marien
Notations 21 - Therasa Sauer
Dreamworld and Catastrophe - Susan Buck_Morris
This Book Is Broken - Stuart Berman
A Hole In Texas - Herman Wouk
Hegel's Aesthetics (Vol 2)
Hollywood Cinema - Ricahrd Maltby
The Philosophy of Money - Georg Simmel
Improvising Jazz - Jerry Coker
Totality and Infinity - Emmanuel Levinas
The Book of Symbols - various
Model Theory and Algebraic Geometry - Bouscaren (ed)
Chocolate Wars - Deborah Cadbury
The Making of the British Landscape - Francis Pryor
The Real Global Warming Disaster - Christopher Booker
Olives: The Life and Lore of a Noble Fruit - Mort Rosenblum
One and Other - Anthony Gormley
Dark Matter - Gregory Sholette
How Well Do Facts Travel - Howlet & Morgan
Go Ahead John: The Music of John McLaughlin - Paul Stump
The Jazz Ear - Ben Ratliff
Text-Me-Up - Tracey Moberly

I now buy books when I think "this will be interesting" rather than "I want to start reading that tonight". I bought The Memory of Pablo Escobar about three years ago and read it recently: I'm glad I waited, because I was reading a fair amount of "True Crime" stuff at the time and would have expected that, rather than the art project it actually is. There are also books that get bought and read the same week, giving me a break from stuff that I know I need to read but is a real slog, like this.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

On The Coastal Path


Ancient cannons defending the port of Fishguard; foxglove; that chrome yellow moss I don't know the name of but is beautiful; the view inland; turn round, the view out to sea.

It seems so long ago, but that's the effect August has on me: the year is divided into Before August and After August, and right now, I'm in the doldrums that is August.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Moving to Ubuntu 11:04 (2): compuwiz and the Subsequent Re-Install

Yep, I re-installed. It didn't take as long as the first time, partly because I decided not to put Open Office on. 11.04 comes with Libre Office, which is an Open Source fork of Open Office and not so very different. I can work with it. All I really use is Writer anyway. (If I use a spreadsheet or presentation programme, I think I'm in the office and I get the shivers.)

Why did I re-install?  Because setting up a computer to be the way you need it takes time. It's not just about installing your favourite browser, cloud and office applications and like that. It's about turning off tap-to-click on the trackpad, which I have to do because of the way I take my finger off the pad when scrolling, which I have to do because I slow the trackpad / mouse down because then I don't have to do lots of cramping fine muscle control to get the pointer where I need it, and consequently need to take my fingers off the trackpad when they reach a side, move them to the other side and replace them, which causes a click if I have tap-to-click set on. There are a lot of little tweaks like this and everyone has different settings. Not all of which you get to control from the stock GUI.

So after some Googling, I wound up installing compuwiz to make some adjustments. Big mistake. It doesn't play so well with the new Unity desktop and for some reason I ended up down to one application workspace. Now on a Windows machine I accept one workspace, but on a *nix machine "I want my work-spac-es". I use four on the Macbook Pro, set up the exact same way that Andy Hunt (of Pragmatic Thinking and Learning authorship) has his set up, which I found a little spooky when I read it and maybe goes to show that a) great minds think alike, b) alike minds are equally great, c) everyone does it that way because it's the best way to do it. So I was not going to shrug and settle for one workspace on Ubuntu.

At some point afterwards, I found out how to boot into Gnome (aka Ubuntu Classic) at log-in, and when I did, I got my four workspaces back. I uninstalled compuwiz and went looking at the settings via the Configuration Editor to remove anything attached to the uninstalled program. I did that, after figuring out how, and logged back in to Unity.

Oh dear, oh no. Don't do that. Utter mess. Now I had the Gnome interface with the Unity Dock appearing and disappearing like a frightened mouse. And I lost the Ubuntu Applications menu. Logging in to the Gnome interface, I had... the Gnome interface with the Unity Dock appearing and disappearing like a frightened mouse. And I still lost the Ubuntu Applications menu.

There are of course no books on this stuff and I decided it would be shorter and simpler to re-install than go Googling and manually un-pick the damage. So that's what I did. I now log into Gnome and set the menu bars at the top and bottom to auto-hide. Unity isn't quite ready yet and compuwiz certainly isn't. I can understand why Apple are obsessed with controlling third-party applications.

But, but, but... Windows stopped doing stuff like all that a long, long time ago. Amongst the many things they understand in Redmond, it's managing backwards compatibility. The program base for Ubuntu is now large enough that they need to address that if they ever want it to move out of geek-land to the normal user (i.e. someone even more clueless than me).

And don't get me started on networking, or I'll write a whole post on that.

I'm going to persevere. So far it seems to run everything faster and smoother than Windows 7 Starter does. And using any Linux distro is cooler than using Windows 7 - if you care about that sort of thing.

Monday, 15 August 2011

The Joy Formidable: The Big Roar

I have written about The Joy Formidable before. I will doubtless do so again, to say "I told you they were going to be huge".

Their first album, The Big Roar, came out on July 11. I have been listening to nothing else on the commute for the last few days, and that's the first time that's happened for a long time. For three people, they make a hell of a lot of noise and it's all good. There's the awesome Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade,which makes the hairs on the back of my back stand up every time. Check out Whirring, with an enormous finish...



... and A Heavy Abacus, which proves that they as soon as they decide to move on from the indie/quirky lyric thing, their proven ability to write massive anthemic tunes will net them a serious Big Song...



They are touring the US and Canada in August, and they could be one of those bands that makes it bigger across the Atlantic than they do here. This is one of the best bands around right now. Really. Get with it before they do a breakout set at Glastonbury or wherever. And before the first DJ/dance remixes, in about six months...

Friday, 12 August 2011

South Bank Thursday Evening August



Thursday evenings this August is a Yoga class, an ice-cream from Scoop on Brewer Street and a walk back to Waterloo past the ICA and over Hungerford Bridge. The crowds are out, the skies are perfect and sometimes it's just time to take photographs with a camera phone.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

White Riot, I Wanna Riot....

The Bank told us all to go home early Tuesday afternoon, after a Facebook posting that encouraged people to go to the West End and get the shareholder's money back from The Bank. It had already closed a number of branches in various dodgy parts of London - though Bexleyheath isn't my idea of anywhere anyone is going to riot.

After a quick stop at the gym for a run, I proceeded home. And passing through the Cineworld complex, which on cut-price Tuesday is starting to get full right about that time, saw this lot instead.


The green doors are to an amusement arcade. They have shoved a large drinks fridge, seats and a games machine against the door. The Burger King has never looked so clean and tidy. The car parks never so deserted and the point of the last shot is that while this area is, well, doesn't have the same proportion of graduates as Richmond-upon-Thames, it's not an urban grime-hole like Mare Street or most of Peckham. The unemployment rate round here is actually quite low. And it is a long way from the nearest enclave of, errrm, disaffected youth. The riots haven't been in Hounslow and Southall, but Brixton and Tottenham. Any rioters would need to be imported and there are plenty of nicer places between them and me. Like Richmond, or Twickenham, or Putney. But perhaps when the nice places start boarding up and closing, everyone else has to.

This won't last to the weekend, if it isn't stopped by a couple of nights of 16,000 policemen on the streets of London. This isn't a real riot, there's no political motivation behind it, and my guess is that the opportunist anarchists who were probably the one putting things like the Facebook message out will have found that the disaffected youth aren't up for being guided.

If you really want a conspiracy theory, try this: these riots were inflamed by MI5 provocateurs to provide an incident for RIM/Blackberry to either provide GCHQ with the cryptography keys to the BBM kingdom or to have it shut down in this country. Or try this one: it was inflamed by the wide-screen smartphone makers to ensure that the Blackberry image was moved irrevocably down-market in the eyes of people who aren't disaffected youth.

It doesn't matter if either of those are false, because you can bet that MI5's lawyers drafting that request, and that the Nokia / Apple / HTC / Samsung marketing departments are all currently lighting candles to the God of Happenstance and ordering in more for the copycat white kids to buy or contract. That's the thing with Capital: when it loses, it wins, and when it wins, it wins.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Things I Saw Where I Lived and Walked: Part 42


The skateboard graveyard on the downstream southside pontoon of Hungerford Bridge; Anna in front of the Lloyds Insurance Building during a fam trip to the new offices - sometimes I wish I was twenty years younger; yes, cup cakes at the office, we know how to live large (and very tasty too); two views of the crowds Tuesday evening at Piccadilly Circus, when it was really hot and I was finishing a two-scoop ice-cream from Scoop after my SCS class and before descending into the tube; the Cycling Horde on the north side of Waterloo Bridge waiting for the green light; what happens to your Silhouettes when they fall out of your bag and you don't notice for a couple of hours in the meantime a car ran over them.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

It's Too Quiet In Here

A few weeks ago, our CEO announced that 15,000 jobs would be "saved" over the next three years. Not from the poor bloody infantry in the branches and telephone offices. There were promises to leave the infantry alone and noises about "reducing layers of management" instead. Even in an organisation which hands out "manager" titles too easily, 15,000 is a big chunk: someone worked it out as 1 in 4. During the internal announcement, they mentioned en passant that The Bank hires 12,000 people a year, so a hiring freeze would do the trick. Maybe it does, but it doesn't hire 12,000 managers a year.

And if anyone is worried, they aren't showing it. There are no rumours, except that we should be hearing something in the next couple of weeks, and that the Director-level people know what's happening. There have been no mysterious project groups or secondments and if the angels of death from HR have been flying (they were roosting in senior managers' offices every day during the last re-organisation) it's been at night. Nothing. Which could mean everything (no change, just a recruitment freeze) or nothing (the evaluation and redundanc... err... rationalisation process will be announced).

Because of size of the company and the numbers involved, an actual cull would need minimum 30-day notice for At-Risk letters and a public process to get rid of people. This deflates morale faster than a pin in a balloon, and they did it to us a couple of years ago. The feeling is that with a major IT integration due to happen in the next month, management don't need us distracted by re-applying for jobs within the company, looking outside and generally feeling like crap. They don't need us feeling like that, but they might be willing to live with it.

I'm guessing everyone is thinking that it will be everyone else. A large number of people have been working full-time on integrating The Other Bank into The Bank, and yet the business has carried on. Those people are wondering if they aren't rather disposable. My bit of The Bank went through a blood-bath (sorry, rationalisation) a couple of years ago, when they really did get rid of a bunch of... less-performing... expensive middle managers. (And I got stuffed.) Other bits of The Bank dodged that, so many people in my bit think the axe will fall elsewhere. Everyone is hoping that Operational Risk will vanish in a puff of smoke to some central office, never to be seen again.

The City, of course, is expecting 15,000 pulses to be stopped. The internal announcements made it sound like it would be 15,000 positions, a decent proportion of which are already un-filled already, so what we were looking at is a hiring freeze. I don't think so.

Earlier this year, the new CEO held a meeting in Birmingham of all the managers and head office folk involved in the businesses. It took the largest conference hall in the NEC and the trains to and from London in the morning and evening were rammed. I'm guessing he took one look at the assembled crowd and said to himself "We do NOT need this many f....g people to run a frigging bank".

I think we're going to get a really nasty shock.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Moving to Ubuntu 11:04

Over the weekend I moved my Asus netbook to Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal. It still has Windows 7 Starter and I won't be getting rid of that, but I've long wanted to make the move to Linux, and now may be the time.

The install of Ubuntu was easy: go to website, download Wubi, an installation program that runs under Windows, let Wubi do its thing and when the computer re-starts, choose Ubuntu from the Grub menu. First time around, it takes a while, and it's a short on feedback. At one point I was clicking and hitting keys at random because the damn thing wasn't saying or doing anything but seemed to be very busy.

Just after the Desktop comes up, it prompted me, from something that looks identical to the OS X wireless network symbol, to join a wireless network and when supplied with passwords did so with no fuss. The previous times I've tried installing Ubuntu, it didn't want to know about my wireless network, for all that I followed the instructions for ndiswrapper. I used to say that I would go over to Ubuntu when it "just did" wireless networking, and now it does.

I need Open Office, Chrome, Evernote, a music player and Dropbox. Chrome and Dropbox come in .deb files for Ubuntu and the install is, well, automatic but not very polished. Clicking on a righteously constituted .deb directory should start up Ubuntu Software Centre, which should take care of the process on its own. Its progress bar gets a little way across and vanishes, only to re-appear almost done a while later, and the whole computer just stopped responding while the install was going on.

Installing Open Office had me looking for advice on the web (at a site called OMG! Ubuntu) and using Terminal. It turns out that you have to install a program to convert something in the Open Office files from one format to another, and another program to run that other formatted file. Once you've done that the Open Office Installer runs just as fast, if not faster, than it does on Windows 7. You would think a company with Oracle's resources would have built a slick install routine.

Evernote is not available for Linux, but an intrepid and seemingly lone developer out there as developed Nevernote, a clone with all the functionality a text-basher like me needs. The Ubuntu Software Centre told me off for trying to install a package that was missing some hash constant-sounding thingy, but let me carry on anyone. Feeding my username and password into Nevernote, pressing Sync and waiting about three minutes got me my notes.

There's a version of the OS X Dock on the left-hand side of the screen, and I put my programs onto it while taking off Libre Office and other stuff I don't want.

I had to faff around the filesystem a bit before locating the NTFS directories and more importantly the iTunes directory for my music files. Ubuntu makes Banshee the default player, and it looks like an early iTunes. It will also recognise any AAC / MP3 files you have already in your iTunes directory and import them to its catalogue, so there was no need to re-load my music. It even found a lot of the album art.

You need to remember.... CaSe SENsitiVe!! Linux is, while Windows isn't. This matters when you are in the Terminal or for directory paths, but doesn't seem so important in the GUI.

The rest is about getting every little thing working the way I want: things like mouse speed, scrolling, appearance, default programs and the like. That takes a while.

I did all this without having RTFM, or indeed any FM, on Ubuntu. I suspect that I'll be getting one of the manuals on 11.04 and learning some more stuff.

Ubuntu / Linux developers need to polish the install routine. Regular folk like me who use computers to Do Real-World Stuff (as opposed to Doing Computer Stuff) do not want to get involved with the operating system. We want our software. Installation has to be as simple and as full of feedback as it is on Windows or as seemingly instant as it is in OS X.

However, I'm looking forward to the experiment. What would it take for me to abandon Windows on the Asus? If Irfan Skiljan would release his peerless IrfanView program for Linux, that would be it.