Up and down the county for IT Relief (it's a new charity!)
20 March 2020 by David Bott
The week started well before the “start the week” meeting because I went up to Scotland for the Governing Board Meeting. I chose to go by train as a partial contribution to our 10:10 goals and, for the most part, enjoyed it. The bit I didn’t enjoy was the extensive look at Lancaster and Oxenholme caused by the “engineering works”, although it has to be said, I never saw any engineers or people working when we did move!! I eventually met up with the foreign contingent at our chosen hotel and went out for a French meal – I was careful to sit next to John Brown and got some choice insights into the people we were seeing.
On Monday morning, Cyrus had found a person in ITC who wasn’t opposed to Macs on religious grounds and I spent an hour or so trying to get the e-mail client to work. He couldn’t understand why it didn’t and spent almost 45 minutes trying to be helpful before I had to go off to the Board Meeting. All we achieved between us was to wipe my inbox, so I was then without even my history unless I logged onto to the miserable excuse for a front end that Outlook Web Access is. The first part of the Board meeting was to make sure the Board knew why they were in Edinburgh. That went well and we boarded a bus to go to the Scottish Parliament. We had a large committee room and lots of nice, high level things were said. We got promises on more commitment to SBRI, co-ordinated activity in Energy and Stratified Medicine and a joint attempt at peace in the Middle East – although I may have misheard that last one. Then it was back to the hotel for our seminar. The whole event was compered by the ineffably smooth Jonathan Kestenbaum, who laid down the gauntlet on timing. His Spittleness did his usual outstanding job of covering all the right subjects, totally off the cuff (a style thing) but with some firmness about how the audience needed to raise their game. The Board members then went through the presentations built by the Technologists. It is a tribute to the preparation we did and the commitment the Board members made to learning their “lines” (I had all of them asking finer points of clarification up until the last minute) that the six 5 minute presentations had an air of “shock and awe” about them. Fearless Leader delivered the coup de grace with a review of what we actually did in Scotland. The first question was (almost inevitably) about the bureaucracy of our processes (and the questioner was savaged by David Way and Cyrus before I got to her) but then we got some interesting questions about why Scottish Enterprise didn’t tell more companies about us. The final question was a man who said “I applied to the Feasibility Studies competition. It was easy to do and I got the money!” Nice way to end. The dinner that followed gave us more time to meet some of the great and the good in Scotland.
Tuesday started early to fit it all in. There was a lot of probing about our role in the Hauser Centre Review, some questioning about Freedom of Information requests and the Risk Register, but the overview stuff went well. David gave a review of our evolving position on Space and we fed back what we had learned about Scotland. I then had planned to give an update on our progress in evaluating the potential new Innovation Platforms. His Spittleness used this as his opening to understand why we hadn’t done anything as a result of the “metrics and measures” work we reported last month. We then had what FL described as a “robust” discussion about how we WERE following up the work but had to make sure all those involved could contribute to the thought processes. I am not sure he truly understand the web of Steering Groups we have made up of industrialists almost as senior as him and more experienced in the specific fields we engage with them on. He will return to this subject and has even promised to “come to Swindon”. We returned to this theme during presentations made by FL and Obi-wan on the Spending Review and the Delivery Plan. It looks like he wants to be an Executive Chairman again!!
Over lunchtime, I got a chance to meet John Saville and discovered he wants to talk to us almost as much as we want to talk to him. After lunch we got to go to Edinburgh University and listen to another university pitch about how we don’t give them enough money. In truth, the discussion about medical informatics was fun and put our Chairman and us on the same side, which was easier to take!
Jools had been careful and booked me onto a later train, so the fact that we ended on time gave me the opportunity to explore Waverley Station for 90 minutes. I reckon it took me 10 to do it all!! I dragged into the hotel in Green Park to find a slightly worried receptionist pleased to see me but wondering where Mr Gray was.
Wednesday saw an early start in London where Fil and Derek had arranged for me to be the surprise speaker at an Advanced Power Generation Technology Forum/EGS KTN meeting. They didn’t let me burst out of a cake but instead I got a formal introduction and a chance to explain the move to an Integrated Delivery Plan approach for EGS, how the Low Carbon Innovation Group was getting better at co-ordinating work in the area and how we had 3 live activities people ought to know about. I then caught the train down to Swindon for my quarterly beating by FL, an interesting Digital Britain meeting – as we get more into this area we are having to do stuff we’ve never done before – and the collection of a hire car to enable me to get to the places for the rest of the week. One of the first of those places was Bristol University for a dinner where I was impersonating FL – and they made it clear they would rather have had a native Bristolian than some interloper. I did get some points for knowing that one of the Professors present played guitar in a band where my friend used to be the drummer – see http://www.ld50.info/ (that’s the Prof on the left!!) The dinner was about how Bristol could embrace and exploit the National Composites Centre (which had opened that day). A lot of the conversation was about aerospace so my contribution was to point out that automotive and sports goods were equally valid markets and might get them to new places.
The next morning (in Swindon) I was courageously networked by our new biologist Helen, spent some time with Paul Lewis alternately thinking about the future of “cyber security” and moaning about why IT Departments have such difficulties allowing Macs into the system and generally trying to catch up before driving off to Gaydon to rendezvous with FL. On the way, I got a phone call from Brian Collins about things semantic. (Time for back story) Sometime last week, No 10 got a letter from TBL and Nigel Shadblot asking for lots of other people’s money to set up a semantic web centre at Southampton. The research councils had given the idea a raspberry but I had noted that we were on a similar (business driven) parallel path and would like to talk. That resulted in one of those “what would you do if we gave you £20m to work in this area?” question but officials didn’t seem to accept my response because it didn’t have the phrase “give it all to Southampton” in it. At this point, Drayson had taken a break from racing in Sebring to insert Brian Collins into the mix. Brian was calling to find out if we had been involved. When I told him my version of Zoe’s plan, he thought it was the best thing since sliced bread and – even though officials have since tried to submerge it in verbiage – it seems to be a possible part of the budget.
I got to Gaydon about 5 minutes head of FL so had to bluff it with the new CEO who had turned out to meet us. I subsequently discovered that he has set JLR the goal of getting £100m of government funding, so presumably he was checking out the size of our wallet! They fielded a serious level of management for the intro meeting but then let us see the next generation Range Rover, Range Rover Sport and the new “baby” Range Rover in the Design Studio, and how they develop new design in photons, clay and metal. As we walked around, we noted there were a large number of people at desks but that they had abandoned Outlook as their e-mail system in favour of GoogleMail! We then got a chance to be driven in the Range Extended Range Rover – a complicated parallel hybrid system that I couldn’t quite understand – before we went out onto the test track in Limo Green. FL observed that I didn’t follow the speed limits but I think he was mistaken. Actually, this is the third time I have had a go in it, but the most impressive bit was when they drove it away – very quick and totally silent!! FL was due to have a dinner in Bath that evening and I was due at the LIB sandpit, but somewhere near Cirencester the will to live gave out and we decided to take the evening off. I was anyway about an hour late and his dinner date had tooth decay, so he went home and I went back to the Swindon Marriott!
Friday contained 2 interviews – neither of them productive – a debrief on the Governing Board meeting, FLs staff update and telecons with a man from SRI who wants to write a profile of us and a worried man from MRC who thinks we are going too slow on Stratified Medicine. During all that time a very nice person from ITC was setting up a loan PC so that I could work over the weekend. Imagine my surprise when, early on Saturday morning, I tried to get my e-mail and discovered that my new PC hadn’t been set up properly. So, once again, this is being sent courtesy of the clunky front end they allow people who don’t use Explorer as their web client to use.
For the record, I returned home 128 hours after I left it, and calculated that I worked an 86 hour week. I think I can take FL to the European Court claiming a breach of human rights and if I throw in the IT support I get, I might even be able to claim cruel and unusual stuff as well!