Archive for October, 2006

Innovative workplaces make for innovative people

Thursday, October 19th, 2006

Went in one of the new break-out rooms at work today. These have been popping up across the site over the last week or two, but I’d not got round to going to have a look before.

They’ve got comfy chairs and sofas, coffee tables with newspapers and computing magazines, plasma screen TVs, and a small kitchen with fridge, microwave, hot water, and posh coffee machines. I like the idea of these rooms – more than just a useful alternative to the cafeteria as a space to make our own food. They’re a place to get away from our desk and take time out to bounce ideas off each other. More importantly, they reinforce that our job is about more than sitting at our desk, keeping our heads down and quietly churning out code.

Lifehacker had a link a couple of weeks ago to an interesting webpage about “cool workplaces”, which talks about some more innovative approaches to making your work place an exciting place. One of these was (as they admit, a little predictably!) the very cool Google offices.

Okay, so our new rooms aren’t quite in the same league as the Googleplex (how cool would that be?!), but add them to the stuff we’ve already got on site like foosball, tennis courts, sports hall, gym, and so on, and we’re pretty lucky.

Census polls are taken at the roadside

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

Drove past a roadside census on the drive home this evening. They had a taxi-rank-style lane set up to the side of the road, and were pulling over (presumably a random sample of) cars into it, so people in natty flourescent-yellow jackets could ask questions.

Despite my best Jedi-mind-trick efforts to will them to me, I wasn’t chosen, and so didn’t get to find out what they were asking about. (Actually, I was even sadder than that – got to the roundabout at the end of the road and went back past them for another try… And still they ignored me! :-))


Is fear of litigation and red tape hurting volunteering?

Monday, October 16th, 2006

I’ve been reading a report published by Volunteering England last week. Entitled On the Safe Side, it is the outcome of VE’s research into risk, risk management and volunteering.

They highlight several areas of concern – including ever increasing amounts of paperwork and bureaucracy, burdensome time and resources needed to complete risk assessment and health and safety activities for small organisations, the effort to keep up with new legislation and regulations, increasing cost of insurance, and external pressures towards excessive risk aversion.

It’s this last one which most struck a chord with me – small organisations feeling pressured towards excessive risk aversion. The report refers to “…several examples of smaller organisations having to restrict or cancel activities…” because of risk management concerns.


What happens to Outlook add-ins when Outlook goes away?

Sunday, October 15th, 2006

I tried writing another Outlook extension tonight. This time, a desktop widget to display a dashboard-style at-a-glance view of how busy I am (based on my Microsoft Outlook task list).

screenshot of the app I wrote it to run in the background, and update itself once a minute. This raised an interesting question – what to do with the handle to Outlook.

Getting the handle to Outlook is probably the slowest bit of the app, so I don’t want to do this every minute. But caching a handle and reusing it ad-infinitum probably isn’t safe – what if Outlook is closed or restarted, (or… whatever happens when Windows hibernates?) while the widget app is running? Would the widget hold locks on the Outlook data file and cause a closing Outlook to hang? Or would the widget just fall over the next time it tried to use an invalid handle to the Outlook object model?


Arranging meetings is easier with Doodle

Saturday, October 14th, 2006

I seem to spend a lot of evenings in meetings. Annoyingly, this also involves spending far too much time trying to work out when is a good time to have meetings. It can be SYA, or Norwood, or Sams, OTL or whatever – but it always involves a bunch of people with different jobs, different commitments, and diaries stored in different ways, trying to find a time when we’re all free.

So, when I read about a neat web-based tool to arrange meetings on 43folders today, I kicked myself for not thinking of this myself.

Doodle is simple, but brilliant. The person scheduling the meeting goes to and puts in a description of a meeting, and list of dates/times that they could make. This gives a link which you can email to anyone else you want to invite to the meeting. They then visit the page, and tick the times that suit them. The page aggregates the responses, and gives you a quick visual way to see the best time.

I love it.

WebSphere MQ is out today

Friday, October 13th, 2006

Just heard that we’ve (finally!) released refresh pack for WebSphere MQ V6.

As a service engineer for WMQ, this is something that I’d be interested in anyway. But isn’t just any old bunch of fixes. Refresh Pack is the new-ish term that we use when referring to maintenance which is not only bug fixes, but also some new functionality. And one of the biggest bits of functionality in is the inclusion of my WMQ Healthcheck (now called ‘Tests’, I think) – into the product for everyone!


xgl is sweet

Tuesday, October 10th, 2006

A friend from work played with setting up XGL on his ThinkPad this evening. Wow… I’d heard it was nice, but…. wow.

For those who’ve not heard of it, it’s a 3-D X server architecture. And for those to whom that makes no sense at all, it gives you a 3D graphical desktop environment – instead of your normal flat ‘desktop’.

That really doesn’t do enough to sell it. Take a look for yourself. Or better yet, give it a try!

What will happen to Millennium Volunteers?

Monday, October 9th, 2006

The times are changing for Millennium Volunteers. How and when isn’t exactly clear. How long it will be around in it’s current form is something that we’ve been talking about this evening.

Probably best to start with a little background. Millennium Volunteers, or MV, is a national government initiative which aims to get young people into volunteering. MV provides nationally accepted recognition for volunteer work done by young people, through Award Of Excellence certificates signed by a government minister. The vision is for young people to gain experience and skills while making a positive contribution to their communities.

In each town or area, MV can be delivered differently, by a different type of organisation – in almost a franchise-type way. I’ve seen MV projects run by organisations from the voluntary sector, the local government sector, and further and higher education sectors. They all sign contracts to provide MV (promising to meet certain targets like number of young people, quality of service, etc.) on behalf of the Department for Education and Skills (DfES). In return, they get funding and benefits like the use of the national brand.

Why do I care? Well, my organisation runs one of the 160 (?) MV projects. Although it’s not the only project that we run, it was how we started and still provides the biggest chunk of our funding. Changes to MV could have a big impact on our work, so I watch it with interest.