"Real Artists Ship"

Colin Johnson’s blog

Archive for August, 2013

The Evolution of Architecture (1)

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

First Law of the Evolution of Architecture: anything described on the original plans as a “cloister”, “arcade”, “loggia” or (God help us) a “stoa” will invariably be filled in within thirty years to make additional office space:

Overhang shelter being filled in at University of Kent

Millennium (1)

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

“We’ll make damn sure that that millennium bug don’t happen again”


(Apple iWorks internal date representation)

“…the Whooshing Sound they make as they Fly By.”

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

I’m currently dealing with lots of students asking for extensions to project deadlines.

One thing that we often say to students is “No, we can’t give you an extension. Imagine if you were at work—you wouldn’t go to your boss and say ‘I’m running late, can I have more time.’.”

But people do, all of the time, in all sorts of workplaces. One of the perennial issues in books and courses about project management is how to deal with overruns and delays.

So, perhaps we need to find another reason for being strict about deadlines.

Open Plan (1)

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

There was an interesting comment on open-plan offices in a feature on the BBC News site today. It is commonly asserted that open plan workplaces facilitate communication. Exactly what this means is rarely expressed, but it contains some aspects of vicarious learning (people new to a job observe how other people interact with each other and with external visitors, for example) and the idea that in an open plan environment it is easier to just casually ask someone a question without feeling that you are disturbing them. I’m not too sure whether these are true…but, anyway.

One form of this is where a boss shares a workspace with the people that they are responsible for managing. This sounds good at first, it has a glow of egalitarianism and “we’re all in this together”. But, as the article points out, it can actively inhibit communication. In the example, an employee was trying to persuade other workers to leave (presumably to start up a new company or something like that). Interestingly, it is suggested that with “an open plan office, Mrs Balliett thinks staff might have found it hard to come forward and tell her what was going on”. I can see how this might happen; in a closed-plan office it is easy to say “can I have a quiet word” and discuss something like this. In the supposedly more communicative world of the open plan office this was harder.

Perhaps open plan offices give the impression of more contentment because people can’t moan in the privacy of their own workspaces. But, is the quiet seething going on underneath this even more pernicious?

To Ensure Accuracy

Monday, August 12th, 2013

I occasionally get messages like this whilst trying to type my email address into a web site:

In order to ensure accuracy, you are required to type your e-mail address into this field.

This message is triggered when the auto-fill spots the key-phrase “e-mail” and tries to auto fill in my email.

I wonder which is more accurate? I can see what the motivation for writing this might have been&#8212″oh, the autofill might just grab the wrong field or the wrong entry, so let’s make sure”&#8212″but, equally there are lots of occasions where people can mistype an email address. Furthermore, as has been pointed out on several questions on AskMe, a lot of people surprisingly don’t know their own email address and just vaguely assume that anything with their names and a well-known email suffix will get to them eventually.

Wilfred Dennis Johnson, 1924-2013

Saturday, August 10th, 2013

Here is the talk that I gave at my father’s funeral a couple of weeks ago.

I am sure that you will all be as shocked as I was by my father’s death. He led an active life for eighty-nine years, and it was a shock to all of us to hear so suddenly that his life had come to an end.

This life began eighty-nine years ago in the mining village of Langwith, which provided an ideal environment for growing up. It was a place that valued hard work—a value that remained with my father throughout his life. But, it was also a place where families engaged in sport, music, church and community. This balance of work and leisure was important to him throughout his life.

Family was important to him. He enjoyed greatly growing up in a large, extended family in the village, playing with his sisters and learning from his parents and grandparents. He had two long marriages, and cared deeply about his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, all of whom are here today.

His working life was also important to him. Having decided after a few months that working in the mine was not for him, he joined the navy towards the end of the Second World War, and was active in the Arctic convoys, visiting places in Russia and Iceland along the way. Sadly, illness forced him to leave the Navy after only a few years. Once he recovered he studied hard at evening classes in Mansfield, whilst working at an electrical firm by day. This study gained him a place to train as a teacher, which was to provide the mainstay of his career. After initial training at Freckleton in Lancashire, he worked at the school in Sandiacre, where the enthusiasm of the staff provided an inspiring start for his career. He trained further at Loughborough, specialising in woodwork and other crafts, an interest that he retained throughout his life—he was always making and repairing things. This laid the foundation for a career that saw him teaching in schools throughout Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. He also had many other jobs, most notably as a driving instructor, and I am sure that he taught many people in this room to drive—a difficult task that showed his care and patience.

Whilst teaching he also took an active role in sports, in particular coaching school football teams. Physical fitness was important to him, and he was very proud of the fact that he could still run and swim well into his eighties. He also enjoyed watching sport. He would travel around the country to race meetings, and particularly enjoyed the cricket matches in Nottingham—I understand that not all that many years ago, following a particularly successful England victory, he was wheeled across Trent Bridge in a shopping trolley by his son Keith!

Whilst he was at Loughborough, he wrote a study on the design and construction of public clocks in the region as his final project. To finish, I would like to read a little from this:

“I have had the pleasure, on many occasions, of visiting a Nottingham clock factory which, apart from providing domestic clocks and other instruments, has a workshop devoted to the manufacture and repair of turret clocks. […] The craftsmen constructing this type of clock appear to get plenty of satisfaction from their work. I suppose that this is because they are able to see the job through all its stages and have the delight of seeing it work when finished. In these days when mass production and specialisation abound, most craftsmen are not so fortunate as the turret clock maker who can still enjoy the same ‘pride of achievement’ which the old hand-craftsman derived from his work.”

Picture of Wilfred Dennis Johnson at the seaside