The Linguistics Engagement


Prep: indicating contrast

A little while ago I went on a difficult conversations course. It was ran by an HR support company and I went along because at the time I was beginning to work with new people who I didn’t know as well as I knew the people I’d previously been working with.

Aside from picking up some useful bits about body language, I picked up one good point – use of the word ‘but’.

The word ‘but’ is quite negative in its day to day usage.  It suggests by its very definition that it is about to contrast away and usually is used to put a negative into the conversation. For example:

I really like what you did with the planet but I would have preferred it with more ozone.

The question was then raised of what word do you use instead?  ‘However’? It’s still a but, using none of the same letters and instead seven new ones.

The answer is ‘and’.  Coupling a positive with another thought maintains the positivity in what you are trying to convey.

I really like what you did with the planet and I would love to see more wind farms.

I’m still suggesting there need to be more wind farms and I embracing the idea that it would be positive to see more.

So, my new years resolution about 2 and a half months ago was to stop using the word ‘but’ and instead switch to using ‘and’.  It has to say the least been a challenge.  I have enjoyed it though for I like to be nothing but a cunning linguist.

If I’d thought about it, I’d have suggested this to others for Lent… maybe next year?

The Electrical Multiple Unit Symposium

I think it is fair to say that I really enjoy my job.  I enjoy working with the public, even when it can be hard to explain some things to them. I also enjoy working with transport providers – no matter the mode – bus, taxi, train or even air or boat, I find it invaluable that we can call on their experience and opinion.  I have to say, although there are some dark days, most of them are pretty decent.  On this basis, today was legen – wait for it…

dary. Legendary. Flipping amazing.  And here is why.

One of our colleague providers is the rail company Greater Anglia.  I’ve worked with them and their predecessor for some considerable time – Sheila has been mentioned before in fact, as I will again now.  (Link back: This post.)  I know that when they received the new class 379 trains as I photographed in the previous post they also got a brand new sparkly simulator to train drivers on.  But I haven’t ever seen the simulator… until today.  Sheila invited me along to the Greater Anglia Academy to see the other side of what Greater Anglia do – the rigorous assessment drivers go through in order to remain on the rails, moving us from A to B.

We arrived at the Academy and the first thing to note – its not like school.  The lead manager came over and introduced him self, as did the manager who would be assessing me for the day.  This isn’t just general politeness, as Bruce explained – we’re talking about a livelihood here, they focus on the driver being relaxed and not feeling pressured. Train driving is not just a job but a career and the driver must remain fully competent in his role.  30 years ago, drivers were given some training and when passing out as a fully qualified driver, they were given their keys and not seen again by their assessors unless they did something wrong.  Now, when a driver is passed, they are reviewed every year, including a short exam and a simulated scenario or two – not a run of the mill trip but with some issues.

The exam covers rules and regulations – for example where you can or cannot walk on the railway, things you should do or not do or signs you might see.  I was half expecting a pop quiz but I gave this a go.  One thing to note – there is no pass or fail.  If they have concerns then they deal with each driver individually.  My score though was not as great as I would have liked to do but considering I had no revision – 30% correct.  D’oh.  But then I was also taken through the things I had got wrong and Bruce explained why they follow the regulations and what purpose they had.  Safe working distance from Overhead Electrical Lines?  2.75 metres.  And that bit of land to the side of the train track on the left between a field and the track? It’s known as the CESS or “Formally the 10 foot”.

Class 379 CabI was introduced to the Simulator too starting with a class 379, the train class I got up close and personal with about a year and a bit ago.  Fun fact – it takes about 6 or 7 high end computers to power the simulator.  The layout is much akin to the actual train – its a mock up cab.  Every button and dial is replicated, the touchscreen is a touchscreen; the CCTV for DDO is faithfully replicated; even the lights and wiper switches function.  Oh, and the seat moves!

The controller in the office – Bruce in this case – can change everything from the time of day, the weather, the windscreen conditions (dirt or a crack), the adhesion and even obstacles on the line.  The train functions are very realistic – AWS to cancel when approaching caution aspects or danger aspects and TPWS if I don’t cancel the alert.  A DRA button to set and reset at red aspects.  Dials telling me brake cylinder pressure.  And all I had to do was sit in the seat, keep my foot down (unless it bleeps when I have to lift up and push back down again).  Sound easy still?

379-cab-with-meSheila was stood with me and observing as I took my “train” through changes in the speed limit, encountering emergency speed restrictions, snow, rail, fog and a cow on the line.  In driving a train for an hour and 10 minutes, I had experienced the worst a driver could expect to encounter from the environment.  I was surprised to hear Bruce then tell me I’d actually done ok for a first timer, which was testament to Bruce’s short but very informative tutorial.  However, my head hurt – it had taken such a lot to concentrate to where to stop, what speed limits to adhere to and when to sound my horn.  I’d only been doing it an hour – imagine a two hour run from London to Norwich!

During a short break and a chat about how I found it, Bruce explained the other aspect about the assessment – pastoral care.  Driving in shifts is demanding work and drivers have to plan their life accordingly.  This means going to bed at the right times and alcohol intake limitations before their shift.

I was also shown the wall of SPAD fame – Signals Passed At Danger – which helps drivers understand the lessons to be learnt, and the latest initiative to help drivers who rotate patterns – DISH: Do I Stop Here?  Its clear that the Academy is there to help their drivers be the best by learning from every opportunity – as someone else pointed out, messing up in the simulator, you can have another go.  You don’t get that chance in the real thing.

315-drivingBefore I left, I was given one last run on the class 315 simulator.  I could hear another assessment going on in the background too, as I was shown a completely different cab and way to drive.  The difference between old and new is astounding – seating position, controls – even the way that you key in.  I found this harder, because the core difference is a separate brake to accelerator, compared to a single controller on a 379.  I know I went over the speed limit a few times by a little but I could feel my concentration begin to waver.  How the metro drivers do it day in day out I do not know.

I left the Greater Anglia Academy with a renewed respect for train drivers everywhere.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself but learnt a lot – not just about driving trains but the investment that goes into each driver.  I was awestruck at how the drivers are put into the deep end of a scenario, not to try and get some to “fail” but to help them to identify where they can focus on.  Above all, the experience was very useful, informative being an understatement.  I hope I can translate some of their skill set in to other areas I work now.

A big thank you to Sheila for inviting me along today – I won’t shut up about this for a while…

Time line

We’ve been listening to a lot of Jean Michel Jarre here lately, mostly because A) I downloaded some on Zune and B) I control the music when I cook.

So, since we’ve been listening to music that is 30 years old and I will be 30 in just two short weeks I thought I’d timeline Jean Michel Jarre’s music broadly vs my life.  At the age of 30, I’d hope that I am thought to be as fresh and alive as his music is 30 years on. 

And if not, it was fun playing with my tablet.  You can click to view it larger.


The Champion Thesis

After a week of living with a wheelchair that could revolutionise how I get about, here I am, asking myself one question in particular: is this the chair for me?

It started off strong, the chair moving quickly, requiring very little effort to move, even with a child on my knee. The chair itself has a framework that holds the seat canvas, a bucket seat for added comfort and the drop to the footrest and casters allows the frame to curve with your knees.  However, the cross hinge means that the chair flexes on each side as you turn and the casters have odd heights or when you go over bumps.

The fold takes place with a hinge locked cross that requires a tug on a piece of nylon rope to release the back to fold forward and another tug to release the brace. The footrest, which is sprung usually, should be lifted slightly to ease the fold – we had the spring removed as without it, the footrest remains flat at all times, a boon when trying to stand and swivel a transfer. To open, the front should be opened, and the linked string at the front pulled hard. This took practise with those regularly folding the chair but once mastered was a doddle. Brakes, on this chair, were side flick active locks. I am surprised how quick I got used to them

So, aside from the footplate, is all well with the mechanics? Sadly not. The nylon string, after a week in my home, started to fray and come away from the attaching point under the seat.

To make up for his misdemeanour the chair rode well, the ability to roll coupled with decent bearings and a good seating position. The casters location offered a good steering access, too. Word of advice, get the adjustable back, as the standard one will do your back in.

The chair, with a bag on the back, can get very tip prone – worth noting if you commute but makes up for this with a good front weight.

This chair is good, but I need to be convinced. It offers a lot but it has a formidable challenge coming up – the Sunrise Xenon.

Pincer like movement

Nuzzle and Scratch are getting a little bit bigger. No hair yet, but better body control…

To pick them up is difficult, takes rebalancing of my body at each turn. Usually MBW will pick the girls up, one by one, and hold them with me so they get that standing up cuddle, sat on my hip, that they do so love.

But this weekend, they and I managed, where I was leant into a corner, something really special.

First, they stand up against my leg and reach out up. As they do, I lift them just below their elbow until they grip around my leg with their thighs. I then move my hands to their arm pits, hold for a moment and then with all the strength I can muster lift again until they are gripping around my thigh. Next step is to get one hand under their bum and lift to a hold, them with arms around me, head on my chest, legs gripped tight. Lowering is under the arms until they are standing.

It feels fantastic. The girls love the moment that they get of an independent cuddle. I enjoy a moment I achieve myself. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to do this for even. I know I can’t pick up Monkey (who happily takes the stood-on-a-chair subsititute) and although I feel bad about that for her, I know she knows why.

The point of this post though is to record the feelings – happiness, achievement, fulfilment, joy, enjoyment, expressions of love – all those bits that can get lost in the memories of time. I didn’t think I would be able to do this act of picking up the girls like this beyond their first few weeks, something I really enjoyed, so to get a second shot with my own little ones is a true luxury… The only other time I will get the chance will be (whispering now) having another or borrowing someone elses small baby for a quick cuddle.

I should also remind myself though: Monkey really doesn’t mind the chair cuddles, so I shouldn’t beat myself up about not being able to pick her up.

So that’s this mornings thoughts.
Time for work…

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Principles of Project Management: Chapter 1

Part of the Principles of Project Management is understanding how Projects fit into line with the programme, and how following simple principles and processes can actually implement into your every day life… even if it does make you appear a complete sad act.

Every project has someone who is ultimately responsible.  The Executive.  The person who is going to take the flack if something goes wrong, and that something is the project failing.  They are joined on the board by two others – Senior User and Senior Supplier.  But how is this defined, how do you decided who they are?

Users are those that are the end user.  They will decide what they want.  You don’t have all of them on the board – they’re represented.  They tell the representative what they want through focus and stakeholder groups.  The person who represents them all: – the Senior User. They are internal to the company.  The things they want – it has to be descriptive but to a point – too deep a de

Suppliers don’t have to be internal or external.  They are essentially going to be supplying the solution.  If it’s an IT project, it can be your IT department, it can be a contractor.  I’ll draw up a scenario in a moment.

And then you have the project manager.  The project manager should not be from the supplier.  Why? Because they have  a conflict of interests.  The project manager must ensure Quality as an outcome within the costs.

So, quick example:

We need to go to shopping.  MBW has made an executive decision.  I have users – the family – who want food in the house.  They have drawn up a list of requirements – the shopping list.  I have a provider (Saincosons).  I have been assigned the role of project manager.

Now, why is it important that Saincosons are not the project manager?  Because they will go around and pick the most expensive products.  I’m not saying that it’s true to real life and is no way a slur on Saincosons – this is just the fact of most suppliers – its maximum profit.  Heck – I’d do the same.  But – I have a list.  Now, my end users stipulated they want Heinz beans.  What if the cost of a can is £1, but Saincosons own brand is 50p.  Now, typically, if it’s my budget, then it’s my decision as to which can I buy.  But – in a project the users have said they want high quality beans, the executive has agreed the budget… as a project manager, you don’t have an authority to change the requirements.

And then when I get home, the outcome is checked – did I get everything I was asked for.  This is called Quality Assurance.  Does it meet the requirements?  Does it meet the budget?

If yes – successful outcome.  If not – what lessons do I learn?

This is the basics of project management.  Tomorrow I might discuss the Principles, the Processes and the Themes.  Job done.


Two quotes for you:

It’s very cold in the freezer, I’m not sure it’s working properly!


MBW: I just flushed a spider down the shower.

Me: Big, hairy, looked like Boris?  Had a few flies in his web?

MBW: Yeah, rest in peace.

MBW demonstrates sympathy.