Friday, 28 October 2016

The New MacBook Pro

I have yet to see the new MacBook pro in the flesh, but can't help worrying that Apple have lost their sense of direction a little. Maybe they're struggling without Steve.

So what's not to like:
  1. No MagSafe! Seriously! I was reflecting on this last night in our lounge, with three MacBook Pros with cables trailing around the floor in various directions. We run a support centre at work and the only major brand of laptop that we don't see with broken power connectors and damaged cables is Apple. USB type C and thunderbolt 3 are welcome, but bring back MagSafe please!
  2. The Touch Bar looks cool, I want to play with one. However it's an expensive addition and I use my MacBook more often with the lid closed. No doubt Apple's suite of applications will make the most of this gadget, so it's a clever USP that will also also drive customers towards Apple's whole ecosystem.
  3. Price. The specs have changed so it's hard to accurately compare, but these devices have become seriously expensive. Earlier this year I bought a MacBook Pro for £862. They now start at £1124 (educational prices). That's a 30% increase. I guess you can blame maybe 10% of that on Brexit, but it's a huge increase.
Whatever is going on here, it looks like AAPL shareholders may share my concern.

I'm really glad that both of our family MacBook Pro's were replaced earlier this year.

Monday, 1 April 2013

BT (attempted) cable theft

A few weeks ago our BT phone line at home stopped working. No big deal as we have FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet) so our 80 Mb/s broadband (though the amazing and wonderful Andrews & Arnold) still works.

Fault not repaired in three days (their target) and as I completely fail to get an update any other way, I make a "complaint". Surprisingly this results in a long email and apologetic phone call. Apparently someone had a go at stealing the copper cable. Talking to the City Council it turns out that they are applying pressure to BT to get this fixed faster as around 3000 people are affected.

It could be worse. The normal procedure for the chavvy wavvies is:
  1. Cut really thick cable on one place.
  2. Cut cable again in another place further down the road.
  3. Grab one end and pull really hard
  4. Scarper
However, in this case, they missed the critically important step 2, so the cable "only" needed splicing (presumably).

[ Update: I'm told there were actually 5 cables cut within 3 days and more like 5000 lines affected! They were cut in such a way that they couldn't just splice and so lengths had to be replaced.  - Thanks Nancy ]

On 30th March BT text me to say fault will be fixed by 21st March (sic)!

On 1st April (Bank Holiday - wow) we get a visit from a cheery chap who says he's a BT engineer. He asks if the phone is working. I report that we have dial tone. He asks if it's on the right number. I suggest (and he thanks me for the incredibly clever idea) that he should ring our number. After asking me for the number, he rings it and all is well. I'm guessing he's probably not actually a C.Eng.

I mull for a while why they didn't simply ring me - and guess that actually coming out in the van on a Bank Holiday probably puts some money in someone's pocket. Sigh.

Wonder if I'll get compensation.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Carpe Diem Style - Combat Bullying

This is a shameless plug for my young friend Lewis who has launched a new social enterprise to combat bullying, especially the kind of bulling that happens when young people wear the "wrong" clothes.

They've just ordered their very first batch of polo shirts, please support them by buying one (or ten).

Carpe Diem Style

Friday, 25 January 2013

The ABB Tipping Point?

In 2013 English universities will be allowed to take all the students with ABB (or equivalent) grades that they can get. This is incredibly exciting as it gives students the choice of where to go, not limited by government quotas.

ABB is an interesting set of grades as (forgive the stereotype) these students are most definitely bright and capable, but for whatever reason have not quite achieved the grades required by some institutions. So why do these institutions want better than ABB - and what happens if they reduce their entry criteria? It might be because they simply want the best students they can get (despite the widening participation agenda) but I have a suspicion that in some cases, only the most academic students (that's not quite the same as the brightest students) can survive.

So why do really bright students get "only" ABB. Sometimes they are only OK at one specific thing (like maths perhaps), or they are a little dyslexic. Maybe they don't have parents who have the academic background to help them with study skills. The great news is that some universities already welcome ABB students and understand how to help with all of these things. They have excellent courses, their best academic staff teach (and don't hide away doing only research), their libraries are designed to be good places for undergraduates and it's all a bit friendlier. Interesting things will happen if these universities start to get more of the ABB (and AAB or AAA) students - I wonder if there's some kind of tipping point here!

Friday, 29 June 2012

Like to succeed, but not afraid of failure!

I went bowling with 100 or so of my closest friends this afternoon. A few of us are pretty good, but most just enjoy having some fun with people they don't see much of. I'm not much good, but like most of us like it when I somehow manage to knock some pins over, but feel a bit embarrassed if I miss completely too often.

While watching some of our high achievers I noticed something interesting. When a throw immediately looked pretty good they would watch intently to see where the ball went.  More interestingly, when their aim was less accurate they would quickly turn away and not pay attention to the outcome.

This is all obviously only a bit of fun, but it seems to me that we have a bunch of people who do their best, really like it when we do well together, but are not terribly afraid of failure. Overall it seems to me that people who think like this very often do much better than those who are worried of what will happen if they get something wrong.

For what it's worth I watch any ball I throw like a hawk from the moment it leaves my hand. Sigh.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Please come and kick my bin!

In a previous life I was a manager in a very large North American technology company. The pace was rapid and the environment was robust. If you messed up (and we all do) the feedback from senior folk was generally rapid and fairly explicit. We had a VP from the US who liked to kick bins around. This was pretty scary, but it was a great environment to learn and grow. The feedback was clear, but so were the objectives. Decisions were made and stuff got done. The feedback also came upwards. If I messed something up for my team, made a poor decision or forgot to communicate nobody much was shy. Sometimes I got shouted at, but I always knew what my team thought of me.

The UK is a much gentler environment, especially in the public sector. Senior people say that they are "not sure that they are entirely comfortable about something" (this means the same as when a US manager comes and kicks your bin). You have to work harder to be sure you're going in the the right direction. Senior managers generally understand the language (otherwise they wouldn't be where they are) but it's tough for new first line managers who don't always perceive a clear direction or clear feedback. Staff tend to treat managers (especially those with fancy titles) with great deference. You need outstanding listening skills to spot when you've messed up and your people are unhappy.

The message of the day is cherish the staff who come and rant at you and value the feedback if your boss kicks your bin.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Learning Versus Qualifications

I work in a place where giving out qualifications is a big deal. Huge ceremony, fancy clothes, lots of fuss - a grand day out for everyone. However very few of the academic staff here seem to think that giving out qualifications is our main business. We help people make sense of their world, learn lots of useful stuff and go out having gone through a good deal of personal and professional growth. The qualification is our acknowledgement of the growth and learning our student have achieved.  It's an exciting business to be in.

Somehow, this is not what young people perceive education is all about as they go through school and college. Visit a "good" college and you will be told about A-level results until you are sick of it. Sounds good until your willing offspring pick up the idea that nobody is much interested in whether they develop any deep understanding, or whether they grow and develop through being there. All that matters is the grades. This really comes home when you see bring students being forced to undertake mind numbingly unchallenging Computing A2 projects because the college has figured out the mark scheme and knows that a pathetic little project with a beautiful write up gets an 'A' more easily than a complex and difficult project.  No wonder so many university computer science departments have much interest in A-level computing.

Other sciences are the same. I went to an open day at a "top" sixth form and some very enthusiastic students showed me a chemistry experiment. It was big and complicated and had a long chemical formula above it that read something link blah + blah = blah + H2O. I'm not a chemist, but know that H2O is water. However, these bring young people would not even guess what the clear liquid dripping out of the tube at the end was. I bet they both got 'A' grades. Conversations with other students were similarly disappointing.

If you know any really smart kids who hate school or college, perhaps the the qualification fixation explains it a bit. Educators who believe that qualifications are more important than learning should quit. Today. They betray our young people, their parents and our society.