The rhythm that comes from your soul is yours and yours alone
10 March 2022 by David Bott
I have to admit that I now get through “start the week” meetings mostly on autopilot.
The first main meeting of the day was with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Despite the inaccurate assertions of the Daily Mail, this was not a personal thing, but a result of a spirited debate at Daresbury before Christmas, when I had been asked about the different in approach between R&D Tax Credits and our Grants – but luckily discovered there were some HMRC people in the audience before I answered too fully! The people in the audience were from the Manchester R&D Unit and they turned up with a guy with the job title of “Head of Profession” – so I think they might be taking the relationship with us seriously! Cyrus had thrown a sicky, so I dragged Finger Man out of some RCUK meeting to keep me company – my Mother told me not to go with any strangers on my own! They talked about how they wanted to give money away, how they didn’t know how to reach small companies in the first place, how they didn’t know how to get people to understand how easy it was to get money and how most people distrusted them because they were taxmen! It all sounded really good until they sent us the links afterwards and we realised that they speak a different language and make it incredibly difficult for small companies to understand what they do in the first place, so it’s no wonder they have problems. It’s (occasionally) nice to see how others get the whole interaction thing wrong and make us look good!
After a catch-up with the Nurse and Jools (to make sure I went to the right places for the rest of the week), I had a visit from Peter Cochrane (see – http://www.cochrane.org.uk/). FL and I had met him at the Intel Number 10 gig a few weeks ago and he appeared to talk real sense (not, of course, that anyone else in the room didn’t!) so we “reached out” to him. Aside from a minor god complex on display on his website, Peter is definitely “one of us” and we discussed the challenges in helping small companies make it into the commercial world and stopping government from doing stupid things that inhibit that journey. He’s a keeper!
The rest of the afternoon was taken up with asking and answering questions about the FoI request from the Sun about the expenses of the Directors. It appeared that my expense claims were all over the place because we recorded when they were paid rather than when they were claimed (a small disagreement with Penna, as I understand it) but since MD and her assistant had told us to be open but boring, any irregularity is what journalist are looking for, so I started to worry that I was about to go through the trial by media process again – especially because the Sun had asked for expense claim forms rather than total expenses and, as a contractor, nearly everything goes through the forms and isn’t paid for directly. Makes for an interesting life though!
I also talked to Junior Catapult Media Boy about a piece he had written on FLs behalf for the New Statesman. He had butt-joined some words on personalised medicine with some other words on the Cell Therapies Catapult – and they didn’t fit, so I talked him through a more sensible story arc as I drove home.
Tuesday saw another morning given over to another of my jobs, this time a Board meeting of Oxford Biomaterials (see – http://www.oxfordbiomaterials.com/). This is a completely different company to OAS in that it remains a technology boutique, spinning off daughter companies that develop the products whilst remaining the plaything of its founders. The board meetings are much more about constraining the grandiose schemes of the academics and stopping them for interfering too much in the work of the product offspring!
Bizarrely, my first meeting in London was also about the people involved in small companies in that an HR guy (see – http://www.ip2ipo.com/about-us/our-team/central-team/stuart-thompson) from the IP Group (see – http://www.ip2ipo.com/ for more details) wanted to talk to me about CEO for UK based start-ups. I think he was asking my advice, but seemed to know much more than me!
I then went across London and met up with Anthony Lilley (see – http://www.magiclantern.co.uk/aboutus/people/anthony.aspx) to talk to him about possible involvement in the Connected Digital Economy Catapult Interim Advisory Group (CDEC IAG!). Over a beer in a dark (but sophisticated) bar, I learned about his involvement in a Chinese media company and other things before he confirmed his interest in making the CEDC work but that he wanted no part of it once it was established (which is essentially the job description of an ISG member!)!
I then wandered downstairs for my next meeting (Jools is good at minimising travel these days) – the launch of the Intel Xeon E5 chipset (also known as Sandy Bridge!). I met Sarbjit hanging around so sat next to him and got a blow-by-blow commentary on what they all said! After an introduction by Graham Palmer, we got an interesting and insightful talk from Genevieve, their own staff anthropologist, talking about how the cloud (and the associated Intel products) will make our lives nicer. This was followed by a series of badly labelled graphs talked at by a guy called Steve who is their senior scientist. The only real takeaway I got was that for every 120 iPads, the world needs a new server! Meanwhile Sarbjut was whispering in my ear that the cloud was already becoming commoditised as suppliers rushed to provide capacity to users who weren’t yet convinced. Just as I thought it couldn’t get any worse, the guy from Amazon Web Services gave the worse presentation I have ever seen!! Considering the AWS story I got at the Wired event last October had me searching the Internet for days afterward because of what he said, this guy wasted an opportunity to inform and impress!! Happily their final speaker was a user, who explained how the scalability of the x86 instruction set meant that he didn’t have to rewrite his software every new chipset but could concentrate on understanding the medical diagnostic technology he had invented and leave the computing problem to Intel! As the talks broke up, I realised that most of the people in the room were hardware geeks and wanted to show you server racks and new chip systems, so I went in search of food!
The next morning it was an early start to do a live interview for Radio Manchester (see – http://www.bbc.co.uk/manchester/programmes/schedules/2012/03/07 and note that Andy Crane was filling in on the morning show – it was he I talked to a few weeks ago about the science of graphene but this time he wanted comment on the plans for making Manchester the centre of graphene commercialisation (see – http://menmedia.co.uk/manchestereveningnews/news/business/enterprise/s/1487406_graphene-takes-centre-stage-at-mipim). I agreed that the plan was sensible but there were no guarantees in where the money would be made for what is basically a new material, and that a flexible response was a prerequisite for success! I was now late, so caught a taxi across London and made it down to Swindon to learn that John Perkins (see – http://nds.coi.gov.uk/content/Detail.aspx?ReleaseID=422503&NewsAreaID=2) was going to be late! He and his Sith apprentice, Rupert, duly turned up and were astounded and amazed by a series of discussions (with occasional PowerPoint) by Healthcare Man, Finger Man, Energy Man, Low Carbon Vehicle Manboy and Sustainability Man (all of whom appreciated my support and interruptions!). I think he got an impression as much of our approach and attitude as he assimilated the details!
We ran late (because we started late), so my next meeting (with David Way who was now in with John!) also got pushed back, but we did get a chance to discuss what we needed as an output from our “networking strategy” as opposed to what we thought we should do to make the KTNs more effective. There is a real problem that we need to get the question right before we rush to an answer. I then got 30 minutes with Low Carbon Vehicle Manboy to discuss the paper for the Governing Board about the LCV IP that summarised its achievements, status and future.
I had to go back to London, so Jools had the wizard wheeze that I should travel with HR Woman and discuss the “interim problem”. The problem is that we almost certainly have to transfer all our interims onto PAYE contracts, but we’re not really sure what the rules are – Treasury are more guided by media hysteria than any form of logic (for example, I have now transferred and pay less tax – go figure!). We need to make sure we treat the interims fairly but also cannot break the normal pay structural rules. We will have to be innovative!
In London, she went off to discuss the offline assessment of the candidates for the CEO of the Cell Therapy Catapult, whilst I read e-mails. My next meeting was with the CTC Enforcer and (as an experiment) invited HR Woman to join us (it was over a cheap but filling dinner!). The main subject for discussion was the location options, but we did wander into HR issues, so the extra dinner guest added value. I now know rather too much about medical laboratory options in London and agreed to go see the first choice (secretly to avoid people getting all agitated and causing FL and I to have to go to talk to a series of Vice Chancellors again!)
Thursday saw me early in BIS and trying to catch up with the progress of the “Registration of Interest” document for the Connected Digital Economy Catapult. I was not impressed. As I have said many times now, it would be better to record what we say in the pub as we explain what we do to our friends than continually make us sit down and write it. Luckily, David Way was also an early bird in BIS so we discussed our shared disappointment and agreed to communicate it! I then went off to the first meeting of the e-infrastructure Leadership Council (of which I am apparently a member). This stemmed from the £145m injection of capital into the said infrastructure – which seemingly went straight into existing EPSRC projects without touching the sides and caused bit of a “kerfuffle” and the call from the community for a more joined up approach. We filled room 13 in the Conference Centre and most of the meeting was concerned with people stating their credentials rather than addressing the problem, but it was the first meeting. Although many large companies are represented, it suffers from the fact that it is the lead IT person who attends, not the CEO or Strategy person, we tended to get “more of the same, only cheaper” ideas. There also seemed to be a lot of “sales” people from government organisations!
As it ended, I managed to invite another person (this time David Docherty) to join the CDEC IAG, so discharged my promise to Finger Man!
After another look at the CDEC RoI document, which had apparently gone back for surgery, I joined FL and David Way in a small room in BIS to take part on a planning meeting for the next Governing Board meeting. And jolly good fun it was too – I hope someone records what we say, because it’s all a bit Chinese food to me these days!
The evening was taken up with celebrating the talent of Development Man in a completely different field, and it was probably the best fun I had all week/month/year!
Friday morning saw an early start, as Development Man picked me up from the hotel in his old skool Jaguar for the drive to Stratford for our quarterly Innovation Programmes off-site meeting. We made good time out of London, although the opposite side of the road looked a little crowded, until just north of Banbury, when a loud noise and smoke behind the car caused us to pull over. We had a flat (and mostly trashed) rear tyre, but luckily on the nearside. Although we won’t get a job in any Formula One pit, we did manage to change for the space saver tyre and got back on our way within 15 minutes – although the 50 mph drive for the next 15 miles of motorway was not pleasant as we got overtaken by everything! (we did overtake a sludge wagon at some point, to loud cheering in the car!). Development Man dropped me off to pick up my car and we got to the meeting 30 minutes early, which gave him time to charm the locals into helping him find a tyre place that would fix it in the car park! I took a short call from Declan of the MRC about the Biomedical Catalyst before the hordes arrived! Then got a text from Transport Man to learn that he had been driving up in his big red, not-so-green, car and the water pump had failed just outside Banbury. He kept us up-to-date through the day as he was recovered back to the place in Chessington that regularly takes large amounts of his money!! That said, we got Zoe back – and most thought that was a good trade!
We spent most of the day going through the details of the Delivery Plan and agreeing what we could fund next year. We are a long way ahead of last year but still have some odd little issues, where the underlying process dictates that we need to do something that makes no sense whatsoever! For example:
- Having spent the last year setting the themes up as cost centres, and also realising the power in the outside world of combining interests, we find that we can’t combine support for a competition!
- We seem to be setting up two kinds of Special Interest Group, one that is classed as a PAFable (not a real word, but you know what I mean) grant and the other is a POable contract. Go figure!
- There is real confusion about the relationship between people involved in the different stages of Catapult development, and a worry that some people are setting terms for their own futures. Actually, the problem is that too many people think they speak for the Catapult team!
- We are not really sure if the costs of running a competition are to be budgeted in the Competitions Team (where they used to be) or in our individual Competition budgets (where we were told last month they would be). Once again too many people speaking for their bit of the organisation!
We also discovered that Finger Man is a gossip at heart! We had 3 open flip-charts – Agenda, AOB and Unresolved Issues. At the end of the meeting, Jools snaffled them all. I think she is going to blackmail us with them!
This is the 200th Internal Blog I have written. I started on 8th February 2008, which is 213 weeks ago, which suggests I have had the temerity to take 13 week off over the last 4 years. After I got over an early truck motif, and with the support and encouragement of FL and David Way, this has become a time-consuming weekend activity that prevents me suffering from early memory loss. Sometime I get feedback, and sometimes I don’t. Following the practice of other journalists I know, I am considering making it a product and charging for its distribution. What do you think?