Monday Miscellany

(1) Having just got a Macbook, I am getting back into Unix. Got Unix in a Nutshell to brush up. Hmm. How can anything 906 pages long be “in a nutshell” ?

(1b) There must be a joke in there somewhere about kernels and shells and so on. Err… never mind.

(1c) Or possibly a Hamlet-ish sort of joke ? King of infinite space and all that ?

(2) The consultation panel reports are all done and dusted. But you can’t see ’em yet. Soon.

(2b) PPAN and Science Board have met. No leaks. A few days ago the STFC website had a news item called Update from Science Board. It has to be the dullest news item ever. “Hem. We had a meeting. It was a meeting of the Science Board. The meeting that took place was a meeting that was one of the Science Board. At this meeting, Science Board matters were discussed. Discussions that took place were discussions that pertained to the business of the Science Board. The Board had such discussions, and such discussions were had. By the Science Board. At a meeting. This meeting was one of a series of Science Board meetings.”

(2c) News from Council on July 1st will be vastly more gripping.

(3) I can tell nothing exciting has happened recently, as my stats are down by a factor of several. Honestly, a chap writes deep stuff about Mars and Religion and so on, but all you want is the dirt on STFC.

(4) The other day, the Head of College introduced me to a Very Senior Figure from the BBSRC. This chap from BBSRC said he knew perfectly well who I was, as he reads my blog regularly. Crikey. Errr but.. said I .. you are not an astronomer or even a Physicist ? No, said he, but we read it to find out whats going on at STFC. Blimey. I tried to explain it shouldn’t be taken as authoritative information, just personal opinion, and a space for the usual suspects to let off steam.

(4b) This sort of thing must p*** off STFC staffers, seeing distorted and unreliable information filtering through the blogosphere. Apparently they have decided that if ye cannae beat ’em, ye join ’em. A wee birdie tells me that Richard Wade has started an internal blog especially for STFC staff.

(4c) I have not seen the new blog, as it is only an internal thing for STFC staff. And no I can’t give you the URL. Even if I was naughty enough to want to do so, I can’t because it ain’t that simple. It seems that to read Wadey’s blog you have to follow a six step registration process.

(5) Err … that’s it.

52 Responses to Monday Miscellany

  1. Count Gobular says:

    (2b) No leaks? Who are you trying to kid? A photographed copy of one draft report has been doing the rounds for weeks 😦

    (2c) News from Council – hold on to your hats, ground dwellers! The recommendations are not expected to stave off some deeply damaging cuts. There are rumors of cash miraculously appearing in STFC’s coffers, but not enough to save us. And start worrying, space cadets – though for a different reason – ESA are up to their necks in spectacular cost over-runs, in fact all sorts of over-runs. They’re making STFC seem fiscally prudent. Where are the media exposes when you need them? Though such an expose might make even Richard Wade’s blog look gripping.

    (4b) I know more STFC staffers that hang on your every word than believe a single word from their managers.

    (4c) I would like to thank you, on behalf of the community, the whole Galaxy-wide community, for failing to reveal how to access Richard Wade’s blog. God bless you.

  2. Kav says:

    (2) I noted that Paul Crowther originally had it that the reports would be published last week, but that then changed to sooner than July. I assume there was a breakdown in communications there.

    (2b) hmm, if this is what they think constitutes communication and consultation perhaps they need to think again.

    (3) hah, you should try not writing anything, then they really tank!

    (4c) my morbid curiosity would drive me to look if I could see it. But then again, I doubt I would get anything useful from it.
    I wonder what the views of STFC staff are? Does he allow commenting? In a positive light it could be a good way for him to judge the underlying mood of the organisation. Though I’d have thought that was pretty obvious anyway so maybe not.

  3. andyxl says:

    Kav – I understand the point of the STFC blog is very much to let staff have their say in an unfettered way. But I expect there is a stairgate, or the children will hurt themselves. Count Globular – nobody else will know what I mean, but what an extrornery email address…

  4. Michael Merrifield says:

    Presumably, most people at STFC are IT-literate enough to understand how easy it is to track IP addresses. Think of commenting critically on Richard’s blog as “committing voluntary redundancy…”

  5. Dave Carter says:

    That doesn’t have to be such a bad deal Mike.

  6. Chas says:

    Here is biography of Richard Wade on the STFC website:

    http://www.scitech.ac.uk/About/Strat/Council/wade.aspx

    Try clicking on his photo. Is this a plea for help?

  7. Chas says:

    Someone at STFC is clearly monitoring this blog far too closely!

    Clicking on Richard’s photo previously went to an image that read “Replace Me”:

    Within minutes of posting the last item the link was changed…

  8. Michael Merrifield says:

    Not a bad deal for the individuals, Dave, but probably a bad deal for us: voluntary redundancy always tends to filter out those who are good enough to be attractive to other employers or who have the imagination to go their own way, leaving us with those who aren’t and don’t.

  9. Count Gobular says:

    Presumably with a visiting chair at Oxford, Richard Wade leaves the room when anything Oxford-related is discussed, much like Keith Mason must have done when MoonLITE was discussed? 🙂

  10. Kav says:

    Mike, are you suggesting that the STFC management are really so petty that they would harbour grudges against people who criticise them when invited to offer their opinions?

    I’m shocked!

  11. Tony says:

    “filter out those who are good enough to be attractive to other employers or who have the imagination to go their own way”

    Absolutely right – an argument I’ve used in the past against continuing to fund and maintain *any* organisation more than about 10 years old along with one that states that as an organisation ages it spends more and more of its income creating internal structures so that the middling people left feel important because of the number of people they manage.

  12. andyxl says:

    Let me just state that I believe Richard W, while probably not beyond a little opinion management shall we say, really does believe in debate – so I welcome the idea of his new blog. It just won’t be as funny as mine.

  13. Count Gobular says:

    Some employees think about the organisation they’re joining, approve of its ethos, want to improve it further, believe it’s better than the alternatives.

    Sounds like you prefer to be part of an organisation that’s rather more chaotic, can’t learn from past mistakes, and where jobs that require patience, long-term development or attention to detail don’t count for much. Perhaps so that your own errors don’t seem so glaringly obvious or out of place?

  14. andyxl says:

    errr .. eh ? wuh ? speaking to me ? where did THAT come from ?

  15. Paul Crowther says:

    Kav,

    The ad-hoc panel reports were initially due to be publicly released within a week or so of the panel chairs’ presentations to PPAN, but this has been delayed until “factual errors” are corrected (!). I now gather they are still due to be made public “soon”, still ahead of the July 1 Council meeting.

  16. Kav says:

    Good to know, thanks Paul. I guessed it was something innocuous rather than sinister. Though of course now I am eager to know what the “factual errors” are and where they came from! 🙂

  17. Kav says:

    Chas,

    I am a little amused by the caption to Prof. Wade’s picture on the STFC website. I take it that ‘COO’ refers to his job title and is not a comment on teh picture by the web master.

    Plus, I cannot say I have noticed before but my first thought when viewing that picture was ‘Frankie Howard!’

  18. Michael Merrifield says:

    Titter ye not, Kav! Actually for STFC “woe, woe and thrice woe” would be more appropriate. Then again, that was the Senna the Soothsayer who foresaw some aspect of each episode, so also not too apposite for STFC.

  19. Chas says:

    Kav

    Oh well, I suppose Prof Wade could always work as a celebrity lookalike if things don’t work out at STFC. Unless… hang on… maybe he’s moonlighting already?

    http://www.splitting-images.com/frankie_howard.html

  20. Count Gobular says:

    Andy – THAT was a comment directed at Tony and his fatuous comments about employees that fail to fly the nest at the first sign of trouble.

  21. Tony says:

    Thanks for the positive feedback Count G – always happy to learn 😉

  22. Count Gobular says:

    Delighted to be of service 😉

  23. Richard Wade says:

    Chas
    Thanks for finding the photo. The eyebrows certainly look familiar. At least my kids will think its funny.
    Richard.

  24. Richard Wade says:

    Andy
    I was going to say that my blog was as funny as yours but then the Frankie Howard stuff started up and I had to admit defeat. You were certainly right to abandon the intellectualising and get back to some good old STFC bashing. You were in danger of losing your readership for a while there.
    Richard

  25. Kav says:

    To be fair, unless you count his critique of the bland news item in point (2) of the post Andy has not yet ‘gone back’ to STFC bashing with the post, though others have.

    Regarding Frankie Howard: I did say that it was a likeness I had not recognized before seeing the picture on the biog. On the plus side, i would say that Howard is a step up from Chas in Chas ‘n Dave

  26. andyxl says:

    Frankie Howerd, please. Frankie Howard is a baseball player.

    And obviously nobody is worried about Brian Cox’s feelings. Or maybe Brian thinks James Blunt is really cool and is secretly pleased.

    Actually after my last post, I have been waiting for the letter from scientology lawyers.

  27. Michael Merrifield says:

    I don’t think anyone has been bashing STFC in this thread, Kav: the posts here are of the lightheartedly abusive variety that it is healthy for any authority to have pointed in its direction, lest it takes itself too seriously.

    Most people are presumably saving their real bashing for when the consultation panel reports are finally released and the proverbial hits the fan once again.

  28. Dave Carter says:

    Mike, as you know I have seen this from both sides now (must be a song title in there somewhere) and its hard to think of an alternative. If STFC is overstaffed, then staff numbers have to be reduced. The alternatives are “natural wastage” or redundancy. There are all sorts of agreements which say that you can’t have compulsory redundancies until you have exhausted other possibilities. To just pick off the people you think you don’t want involves you in a world of woe involving lawyers and worse. Even picking off people who criticise from within will be very hard. Trust me on this last one.

    Paul, I would have though that it would help if the rest of us could see the reports, so that we can help to identify these “factual errors” before they go to Science Board and Council. It seems that the window for doing this has been squeezed unnecessarily.

  29. Michael Merrifield says:

    Hi Dave. Not sure there is a real alternative, but wanted to emphasize that when an organization is up against it then the damage in voluntary redundancy is out of proportion to the numbers lost because you tend to preferentially filter out good people. I wasn’t seriously suggesting that Richard W has a little list (they’d none of them be missed).

  30. andyxl says:

    The references are coming thick and fast … Elvis Costello ?

  31. Michael Merrifield says:

    Gilbert & Sullivan… but they are easily confused.

  32. Dave Carter says:

    Later usurped by Peter Lilley.

  33. Conor says:

    Prof. Lawrence (Still not comfortable with First-naming the head of school!): Have you considered hosting advertising on your blog- given that it looks like the stfc treat this as their primary source of information on what the stfc is doing, it might be one of the few ways anyone will get money out of them!

    I’d like to add that although I started reading this regularly for the AstroPolitics, I’m still regularly checking it for the science.

    Prof. Wade: While I agree that ‘STFC bashing’ may not be the most productive of pursuits, I see little of it here and when I do it is an attempt to let off much needed steam. Have you considered that such bashing may be indicative of the feelings of the UK physics and Astronomy community, and that it would not exist if we were not in this situation? One, I might add, that you may be in a position to do something about.

  34. Jim says:

    Was a bit confused by this, at: http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm200708/cmhansrd/cm080602/text/80602w0001.htm#subhd_25 :

    “Mark Hunter: To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills what assessment has been made of the effect of the £80 million shortfall in the annual Science and Technology Facilities Council fund announced in December 2007; what steps have been taken by his Department to address the shortfall; and if he will make a statement. [207369]

    Ian Pearson: We have made no such announcement The STFC’s budget will rise by 13.6 per cent. by the end of the CSR period making it the third largest Research Council by budget This amounts to an additional £185 million over that period and a budget in total of £1.9 billion over the same period.”

    It reads like there is no shortfall; everything is just fine and dandy with the STFC.

  35. andyxl says:

    Jim – this is the same stance that DIUS have taken all the way through. “We have given the research councils lots of extra money, so there is no problem”. It is also true that DIUS have never “announced an 80M shortfall” – it was STFC that said this. Of course you could never expect the government to publicly admit they have caused cuts. However, in some statements / meetings Pearson has given the impression that he genuinely believes there is no real problem – that the “cuts” are reductions against aspiration. However those of us going through the PPAN and PALS re-prioritisation process know this is not the case. We are cutting against real commitments, or at least threatening to.

  36. Count Gobular says:

    Something to amuse people until Andy supplies his weekly musings –
    http://www.moderntoss.com/spaceclip.html

  37. Michael Merrifield says:

    Looks more worthwhile than firing projectiles into the Moon to see if it squeaks (for a modest £100M).

  38. Count Gobular says:

    I can at last claim to have found a practical use for MOONlite. The A&G article was a most impressive sleep aid.

  39. Black dog says:

    Black dog saysGrrrrrrowl to RW’s STFC blog page – snore
    No where near as entertaining as yours Andy
    Is it true RW is the Watcher on your blog?

  40. Dave Carter says:

    No chance. RW is really The Stig.

  41. Black dog says:

    Stig of the Dump?

  42. Black dog says:

    Dear All,
    Just thank goodness you do not have access to the video footage of the forums at STFC (hold on another Up Pompeii reference)
    Black Dog wags tail

  43. Stephen says:

    On a clear disk, one can seek forever.

  44. Andy McKinna says:

    I work in the STFC Corporate Web Team … and I am probably one of the most vocal, critical members of staff at STFC Swindon Office! I don’t get invited to many meetings, probably because of the amount of time I take up complaining about STFC / management at the ones I DO attend!! I sympathise 100% with the plight of the e-Astronomer and the former PPARC community (as a former PPARC member of staff) – so please PLEASE don’t think I would defend RW lightly.

    However, I genuinely believe RW is trying to engage with staff, and his blog is just one way of doing so. Please bear in mind that, to the majority of staff, STFC rarely communicated with us over the past 15 months, so RWs attempt should be applauded wholeheartedly (by STFC staff at least).

    I think most IT-literate people do indeed understand IP addresses, but I don’t believe that RW (or anyone else for that matter) would ever ask for the identity of a member of staff who posted something to the RW blog anonymously.

    There ARE house rules for the use of the blog – obvious stuff like no abusive language, no dafamatory comments about individuals etc… – common stuff, which, I’m sure, Andy L would agree with. Provided that staff respect the house rules, RWs blog should be recognised by staff as another forum for a senior member of STFC management to inform staff, and for staff to raise comments/criticisms with a senior member of STFC management. Comments like Michael Merrifield’s regarding IP addresses and identifying anonymous contributors are unhelpful and bordering on hysterical.

  45. Michael Merrifield says:

    Comments like Michael Merrifield’s regarding IP addresses and identifying anonymous contributors are unhelpful and bordering on hysterical.

    I am sorry if my failure to put a smiley face after the post did not make it clear that I was joking. However, if you had read a couple of subsequent posts, you would see that I had also written

    I don’t think anyone has been bashing STFC in this thread, Kav: the posts here are of the lightheartedly abusive variety that it is healthy for any authority to have pointed in its direction, lest it takes itself too seriously.

    and

    I wasn’t seriously suggesting that Richard W has a little list (they’d none of them be missed).

    So, not really hysterical, I hope you will agree. As for unhelpful, I spend enough time serving on STFC committees, etc, to do my fair share of helping the organization, so I can’t see that anyone has real grounds to complain if I occasionally amuse myself with a minor joke at the organization’s expense.

  46. Andy McKinna says:

    As a non-blogger, smiley faces don’t do an awful lot for me, so there’s no problem that you didn’t use one on your comment. What’s really worrying to me though is that, I knew my sense of humour had taken a serious bashing over the past eternity, but I didn’t realise it had got quite so bad that I don’t recognis(z?)e minor jokes any more…!

  47. Black Dog says:

    Black dog says Meow 🙂

  48. Black Dog says:

    hey Andy Mc, turn that frown upside down 😉

  49. Black Dog says:

    Luckily the sun is shining and it is a glorious Monday
    Unluckily I work for the STFC 😉

    Oops wrong page

    Black dog continues chasing his tail

  50. andyxl says:

    Thats enough now. Ed.

  51. Black Dog says:

    😦 yellow carded by the editor

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