Halfway There

I was having a conversation with a colleague yesterday and the topic of retirement came up. It’s likely that I’ll be unable to retire until I’m 68 (thanks Government peoples!) which leaves me with another 25 years of working life to dredge through.

Then it occurred to me that I’ve also been working for 25 years. I got my first full-time job when I was 18 (putting pieces of paper into numerical order for a credit agency – yawn!) before joining the RAF when I was nearly 19. 25 years gone and 25 to go – I’m halfway through my working life!

I guess this is better than being near the end of you life, but it’s still a somewhat depressing realisation. It’s been such a long time since I started work and I’ve got another 25 years to go before I can put my feet up, read the paper and complain about all the crap on daytime TV.

Oh well, better make the most out it. Anyone got any lemons?

Running

Running by rutty
Running, a photo by rutty on Flickr.

The weather has been somewhat bracing of late, but that means nothing to our energetic daughter who loves running around and not wearing her gloves.

We spent a very enjoyable hour or so at Bramcote Park yesterday. Lots of space for little legs to exercise, and loads of lovely fresh air. There’s even a very nice play park, and an occasional visit from some guy selling coffee (missing on this visit, sadly).

Has it been 30 years?

I was born and brought up in Leeds and have been a fairly apathetic supporter of The Whites for most of my life. I’ve had some poorly-judged dalliances with both Nottingham Forest and Liverpool in my youth, but my home team has emerged as my chosen supported football club. I tend to follow most games via the BBC text if I can, but I otherwise don’t really make any effort to make it to any games.

I am the archetypal armchair supporter, for which I do not apologise. There are higher priorities than football, and I’ve pretty much put my other activities (brass banding especially) above standing amongst several thousand sweary men at Elland Road.

Anyway, my Dad took me to my first game at Elland Road. This was either very late 70s or early 80s, I can’t quite remember, but it was against Nottingham Forest and we lost 3-1 (if I remember correctly). Leeds were on their first slump out of the top division since the Revie heyday. For some reason my Dad knew David Harvey and we ended up meeting him on the day. I had no idea at all who he was, but I remember him having a nice ‘tache.

This was my first visit to Elland Road, but it took me around thirty years to visit again. My sister and her family visited from Toronto over Christmas and my brother-in-law Phil and I both got tickets to the Leeds v Bolton Wanderers game as gifts. On New Years Day Phil and I were dropped off for my first game in about three decades. Phil has been far more frequently than me and he lives in Toronto!

I had a lot of fun and I will not leave it another 30 years before I go again. It was great to stand in the South Stand and take in the atmosphere, although it would appear that the Bolton fans did most of the singing in the first half. Things are not exactly ticking along nicely at Leeds and the fans are frustrated. The quality of the football by both teams was absolutely awful, almost like a Sunday League game. There was a stray McDonald’s bag rolling around the pitch in the first half that was showing my footballing skill than most of the players on the pitch. The second half was slightly better, and Leeds won a penalty (converted by the mighty Luciano Becchio) to win all three points, but as games go it was bloody awful.

Still, Phil bought me some Bovril and a pie and it was fun just being there. If I lived in Leeds I would most certainly go a few times a year. I might even try and make some games when they visit Nottingham in the future. I’m not convinced that 2013 will see Leeds promoted – there needs to be some incredible improvement in quality – but I will be keeping my fingers crossed during every game.

New Year, New Me?

Hello 2013, you snuck up on me a bit there. 2012 has been a bit of a busy year and has ended rather earlier than I thought. Still, here we are in a brand new year.

I had loads going on in 2012, although my (irregular, rare) readers wouldn’t know it due to the paucity of blog entries in the latter half of the year. I have been a rubbish blogger over the last six months and I would like to write a lot more in 2013. We shall see.

Last year saw me complete two Open University modules: M257 and T306. I struggled with M257 (due to both lack of time and interest) but did achieve a grade 4 pass, while I enjoyed T306 rather more due to the nature of the materials. I have found systems thinking to be an immensely useful too for all sorts of situations and I was fully engaged with the course over its nine months run, when I did well enough in the exam to get a grade 2 pass. This means that I am well on the way to getting a 2:1 BSc (hons) in Computing and Systems Practice once I’ve finished the final four modules over the next two years.

I have less than two years left of OU study! Hurrah! Also: shame! I’m enjoying this experience immensely, but it’s taking up too much of my spare time and I have other things I’d like to do, like spend time with my wife and daughter.

2013 brings two modules, both Java-based: M362 and M256. Netbeans is going to be getting a battering this year for sure. I struggled a bit with concurrency in M257, so M362 will need a bit of extra work, and the exams in these programming modules are hard. I should probably book a week or so off prior to my exams for some intense revision because I really want to do well in these modules, if only to improve the latent developer in me.

I will do better this year, I will. I was repeatedly behind with my OU work in 2012, I must not let that happen this year. I won’t. I must get more organised. Yes.

T306: Block 4

This block has been a real struggle. It’s not that the subject material was particularly hard, it’s just that my poor old brain has been unable to cope with such a packed few months. I finished M257 – exam done, just awaiting my final mark at the beginning of August – I’ve taken on extra responsibilities at work (I’m now the test automation “expert” – so help me…) and I’ve also been off on a very rainy holiday in Dorset for a week.

I haven’t particularly engaged too deeply with the course materials and haven’t done any of the activities for the block at all. Disappointing. M257 took up far too much of this block’s reading time and my brain’s processing power. I lost all interest in the block and had to painfully construct the resultant assignment from fragments of half-remembered course notes. I, somehow, got 73%. I’m not sure how I did, but I’m glad that I covered enough of the subject material to get a decent mark.

Even better, my superb tutor marked it within 24 hours of me submitting it and provided me with some extremely useful feedback. I now need to plough on with block 5, which is all about reflection and becoming an aware systems practitioner. There’s some material about Chinese Astrology, which I really hope isn’t going suggest that there’s any element of truth in it at all.

Better get a move on with that then…

Too much study, not enough time

I never went to university after my A-levels, unlike most of my friends, so I have no idea how much stress is involved with doing a proper degree. However, I can say from experience that doing a part-time degree with the Open University can be an immensely stressful experience.

I’m finding it a bit tough at the moment. I’m having to overlap modules due to the OU making the decision to withdraw my named degree at the end of 2014, and this is leading to intense crowding of assignments. I’m managing to get through my work, but I’ve had to ask for several extensions this year and I’m having to cut back on other things in order to make time for family.

I have just finished M257 but I hardly concentrated on it at all. I was hoping to get to grips with Java in a proper sense but T306 is my priority module this year and something had to give. I will be lucky to get a grade two pass, but my time is limited and it got just enough time for me to pass it. The exam was difficult but I’m fairly sure that I did enough to get over 55% and a grade 3 pass, but I would have loved to have done better.

I have a full time job and a family that I like to spend time with. Doing this is hard. I don’t go to band as often as I’d like, my evenings are often spent studying and I don’t spend as much time with my wife as I should. It’s tough, but enjoyable. I do enjoy the study and I’m doing this  degree to give me the kick up the arse I need to get on with my career. I should have done this years ago, but here I am in my 40s making life difficult for myself.

I have something to aim for, something to achieve. I want to do well and I’m finding it difficult, but I’m not going to give up now. I will pass and I will learn something useful along the way. The Systems Thinking material is life-changing stuff and the technical modules may give me sufficient programming chops to hop into a slightly different career path. We shall see. I do know that despite the stress and the sacrifices that I am finding this whole thing rewarding and worthwhile. It is worth it.

I know I don’t say this to Jo enough, but the support she gives me during my studies is very, very much appreciated. I’m sorry it cuts into our time but it’ll all be worth it in the long run. Love you very much!

T306 Block 3: Activity 3

For the organization that you used in Activity 2, what are the changes in its environment that it can tolerate, i.e. for which it is viable?

One thing that has affected our band is the current economic situation. We used to have a sponsor but business became more difficult and he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) provide further funding. The band can survive on a surprisingly small amount of cash but we lost quite a large amount of income when that happened and we’ve been losing money ever since.

Similarly, the economic situation affects concert goers. If they can’t afford to go out quite so often there is less opportunity for us to put on (or be invited to) concerts. We may also be paid less for the same job. The local council has less money to spread around and so park jobs are more scarce.

Another problem facing many brass bands is the prospect of losing players to other bands, or players generally losing interest in playing at all. Quite a few bands have folded due to this. If the quality of music being played isn’t very good then you can’t attract the better players, or the players you do have may be tempted to go elsewhere.

Brass bands are also becoming more and more old fashioned. Concert goers tend to be older people and it’s difficult to persuade the younger generation that brass band music is something worth listening to, or playing.

These are just a few of the problems that affect our band (and others). Funding is hard to come by but is possible through having a dedicated committee trying to find different sources. We have lost and gained players in the past – and will continue to do so – but we do seem to be able to maintain a generally high level quality of music. Having a good MD helps, and we do.

Attracting a wider range of audience involves having an eclectic mix of music to play. We do try and play a selection of more modern and traditional music, including quite a few jazzier pieces that might attract younger people.

T306 Block 3: Activity 2

Select one of the organizations that you identified in Activity 1. For that organization:
(a)   describe your main relationships within the organization;

I’m going to choose my band for this as I think this is likely to be the source of my project for T306.

Principally, I’m friends with the people at band. They’re not my closest friends, but I’ve known the majority of people there for quite some time now. I’m friendlier with some more than others of course, but there isn’t anyone there that I don’t like or have personality clashes with.

(b)   make notes of the power structure within the organization;

There is a committee that runs the band and a musical director (MD) that conducts us. The MD does not have any power to run the band – he’s an employee – but does have the final say over what we play and our musical direction.

The “leader” of the committee is the Chairman but decisions are made by the whole committee, and any decisions that have large repercussions (such as the appointment of a new MD) are generally opened up to the whole band. The committee is appointed every year at an AGM and it’s all very democratic. The organisational structure isn’t flat – more like a flattened hierarchy, with the committee members elevated just a little bit. Other people’s perspectives are generally taken into account.

(c)   describe its purpose from your perspective.

From my perspective? To provide a platform for playing and enjoying music, and to create an enjoyable social atmosphere. We are self-supporting and so need to raise money from subscriptions (we all play to pay) and from concerts, so another purpose might be to raise money in order to provide this musical platform.

I just want to play music and I enjoy going to contests. I also enjoy the social aspect, but perhaps some of the others may have different ideas about what the band is all about.