Monday, November 27, 2006

Leeds Met Culture: Carmina Burana

On Sunday evening, the celebratory mood at Leeds Met continued with a music concert. In the first half, the Leeds Youth Jazz Rock Orchestra, directed by Brendan Duffy, played a variety of popular pieces, adapted and arranged for the orchestra. They played very enthusiastic, with great professionalism. Their performance concluded with "My favorite things" from "The Sounds of Music".

After the break, the main work of the evening was performed: "Carmina Burana" by Carl Orff. More than 25 years ago, in March 1981, I had been captivated by a televised recording of a performance of this work in a choreography by John Cranko. Also, in Latin class, we were translating parts of it.

This Sunday, the Leeds Met Singers performed the choral parts of this work, directed by Andrew Dean and accompanied by 5 percussionists, 2 piano players, and two solists from Opera North. The two pianists Matthew Bilyard and San Lau, both young students at the Manchester Grammar School, did an outstanding job in this performance, driving the melody and providing the harmonic carpestry.

During the intermission, mulled wine ("Gluehwein") was served together with a seasonal Yorkshire holiday treat: fruitcake with a slice of Wensleydale cheese.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Winter Graduation at Leeds Met - George Martin gets a Honorary PhD!

These past 2 days, Thursday and Friday, was the Winter Graduation, held at the Leeds Met, Beckett Park Campus, Headingley. Like the summer graduation, this event too was organised in a Grand Manner: there was a large marquee set up, the walls of the indoor tennis courts were draped with curtains, and the Black Dyke Brass Band provided the musical fanfares. Today was the graduation of the graduates from the Faculty of Arts and Society, and the ones of Innovation North - so I participated in the "academic procession". Again, as in summer, full academic gowns were worn. Since in Germany the universities no longer have gowns and colors, I do not have a gown and had to rent it. And since the colors were not known, I got some arbitrary combination: in summer it had been a black gown with some blue color (wrong hat came with it: a Master hat); this time I got the right hat (PhD hat), and the gown was - bright red! Looked quite flashy...

The highlight of this event was the awarding of a honorary PhD degree - to George Martin! You do not know who George Martin is? Shame on you! :) or Wikipedia ( give some information about Sir George Martin - among many achievements he was the person in 1962 to sign on the Beatles to EMI. George was present at today's ceremony and gave a great speech at the graduation, when accepting his honorary PhD.

After the graduation (and after the reception), another event was held at the same venue: a party / celebration of the Gold/Silver winning in the Times Higher Education Awards.

Yes, I think one can be quite proud working for Leeds Metropolitan University!

PS: there was a short news piece in the evening news on TV (BBC 1) about this award to George Martin, and next day this story made the fromnt page of the Yorkshire Evening Post.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Salts Mill

North of Bradford is the town of Shipley. Its most well know feature is the Salts Mill and Saltaire. Last year, shortly after my arrival here in the UK, I already had found this sight by simply following the many road signs that are on the way.

Formerly a huge steam mill with its own train station and village (Saltaire) for the workers of mill, the industrial production at this site has been closed for many years. Now there are a few small businesses located in the vast building complex, but the most prominent "inhabitant" is the gallery, owned by David Hockney. On several floor there are exhibits of paintings and installations, a cafe and a diner, and shops for purchasing artwork, prints, books, postcards.

Around the mill there is a park. The weather on this Sunday (19. November 2006) was a bit cool and wet, so it felt much better inside the gallery than walking outside.

The Salts Mill main building.

Saltair Village - Unesco-protected housing complex from the mid 19th century.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Leeds Met gets Gold and Silver!

As mentioned previously, Leeds Met was shortlisted for the London Times Award of "Higher Education Institution of the Year". In this category, it won the "honorable mention", after the university of Nottingham. In another category of the same award, it actually won the award in "Outstanding Contribution to the Local Community". The university is of course rightfully very proud of this achievement, as mentioned in the reflection by the Vice Chancellor Simon Lee.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

An Afternoon in York

During the Leeds Met Staff development festival this September, one of the "fringe activities" had been a tour through York. Many people had signed up, and not everyone could participate. So in order to accommodate those who could not take part in that tour, Deb Chapman repeated this tour on Sunday, 12.November 2006.

It was quite cold and chilly, as we walked through the town to various historic places. We saw several Roman sacrophagi and went on a segment of the wall around the town. Deb told about a few ghost stories for which York is so well known.

During the walk around the town on the wall.

Evening in York.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Annual EPSRC Conference, London

On 2. November 2006, the Annual EPSRC conference took place in London, in the British Library. EPSRC is one of the main agencies in the UK for funding engineering research.

Originally I wanted to travel the evening before, to spend a night in London. But I had lots of things to do here in Leeds, so I could not afford this. Instead, I got up early, drove to Leeds train station, and took a morning train to London. The ride takes 2h 10 minutes, from Leeds to Londong Kings Cross. I was quite tired, so I slept most of the time.

Early morning at Leeds Train Station.

The conference venue was the British Library, just a few steps from the train station Kings Cross.

This one-day conference served two purposes:
  • for the senior management of EPSRC to give an overview on the future funding strategy
  • f or the participants to network for possible collaboration opportunities.

The first presentation was given by Professor Dame Julia Higgins, chairman (chairwoman?) of EPSRC since 2003 (vacating the post in 2007). She pointed out the results of an earlier consultation process, which identified the following research themes:
  • Creativity and adventure.
  • Supporting of talented people
  • Building collaborations.
  • Crossing borders.
  • Shared vision with stakeholders (e.g. industry).
  • Better understanding.
  • World-leading researchers in the UK.

She presented five strategies for success:
  1. Partner relationship management, where EPSRC would partner with enterprises or institutions (e.g., an existing partnership with Philips).
  2. Empowering and incentivising, leading to long-term commitments for long-term research projects.
  3. Research careers: funding CASE studentships and advanced fellowships.
  4. Grand Challenges: organising "sandpits" with about 25 researchers for 5 days. Special topics: "computing with uncertain future devices", and "emergence".
  5. International engagement.

The 2nd speaker was Professor John O’Reilly, Chief Executive of EPSRC. He pointed out the vision of EPSRC: "to make UK the most dynamic and stimulating environment in which to engage research and innovation". In order to achieve this goal, he noted that the following pillars are necessary: excellence (ensured by peer review), engagement (with strategic advisory teams), and empowerment (by giving platform grants and fostering portfolio partnerships. Researchers are encouraged to submit unsolicited proposals. He identified the following areas: health, crime&terrorism, e-science, energy, nano-science, and digital economy.

For both Julia Higgins and John O’Reilly, this was their last performance in their official duties – as their posts will both vacate in 2007. Prof. Randal Richards will be the interim Chief Executive until an official successor has been determined.

The 3rd speaker was Professor Sir Michael Brady, U. Oxford. In his presentation he talked about technical progress in image fusion and about symbiotic relationship between academia and industry.

The last speaker was Dr. Malcolm Roberts, Managing Director of Guidance Ltd, who made the case for close collaboration between industry and academia, representing the business side. His company pays an annual license fee of 1 M £ to University of Oxford for a specific tracking technology (laser guidance and navigation) which had been developed there.

The morning concluded with a Q&A session where the participants could post their questions to the panellists. These questions led to discussions over the benefit of a longer funding period and to the RAE 2008 and the future implementation of RAEs with a move to metrics.

I could then have gone back with the next train to Leeds, but I wanted to use the time here in London for a bit of sightseeing. First of all, I went to an exhibition right here in the British Library. There were manuscripts from the past millenium, some dating back to the 11th century. The Magna Carta is there, manuscripts of composers, writers, scientist. Fascinating.

Then I decided to walk for the remaining hour with daylight through the city centre, down to the Thames, then back up with the subway to the train station. No rain this time, a very pleasant crisp autumn weather. I got stuck in the area with all the electronic stores... lots of gadgets there to buy!

As the sun set, I walked over the pedestrian bridge near the "London Eye", tbe big wheel. From Waterloo Station, I then took a subway back to Kings Cross.

As I came back to the station, there was already a long line queuing for the 17:03 train. Just 10 minutes before departure, the line was allowed to move forward to the platform and enter the train. I was not able to get a seat, and so I stood together with others in the exit area of the car. Only after the first stop, after one hour in Peterborough, most people left the train, and seats were vacant. I came back home around 20:00.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

MS Internet Explorer 7 - first try

Yesterday, when performing the usual Windows Update, I saw that in the list of updates the new MS Internet Explorer Version 7 was there. So I installed it on my office PC, but had no time to try it out. Today in the morning I ran it. First issue: something with the toolbars - they were disabled. I looked for a way of enabling them, but could not find how to set them. I was prompted on the welcome page to download the Windows Toolbar. First I hesitated, because I had the Google Toolbar, and that served me well and I wanted to keep it. But since all the toolbars had been gone, I decided to give the Windows toolbar a chance.

I noticed that there were much fewer buttons - where were the "Favorite Links"?

After loading the Windows toolbar, a page with a Welcome screen and various customisations was shown.

Somhow I got to two instances of IE7 on the desktop... although several website can be viewed in one instance, by being displayed in separate tabs.

The old Google toolbar now showed up.

The Favorites toolbar is actually not a toolbar, but just shows the favorites (bookmarks) on the left side, as folders. I do not like this, as this takes space away from the viewing area...

Finally I figured out how to get back the Links in the top: Tools/Toolbars/Links, then unlock the toolbars, shift it into the visible region, then lock them again.

I will play more with this new version and will report peculiarities.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Car Breakdown

It finally happened: one of my cheap cars broke down on Sunday, 7.November. It was the Suzuki Vitara. I had not driven it for the past 3 weeks; but on Sunday I wanted to drive it, to avoid it getting too rusty. It started immediately - so I drove from the driveway up onto the street, then just stopped the engine, leaving the car in the middle of the road before we would leave for shopping. I should have been warned by what happened next: when one of those rare occurences happened that another car wanted to pass through our narrow street, I needed to start the car again and move it to the side. But nothing happened, as I turned the ignition key. What was that? I signaled to the other driver that I was unable to move the car right now, and he had to back out in reverse...

I tried again for a couple times to start, then I gave up. I had no idea what could be wrong... to low battery? I connected my back-up battery, tried to start again - and it worked! So now I decided that I had to drive the car, to recharge an obviously low battery.

We went to do some shopping at the Leeds White Rose Shopping Center, and the car drove nicely. Then, as we were done and I tried to start the car again, nothing. The starter did not make any sound at all. I tried again with my spare battery, but this time it did not help. So for the first time, I could use my membership in the AA, to get help. I already envisioned to be towed away by a truck, and I was wondering to where they should bring the vehicle: to my home would not make much sense, as then I would still have to get the car to a repair shop. But to bring the car to a repair shop now, on Sunday afternoon, also did not seem very sensible, as all car repair shops would be closed. Also, I did not know to which one the car should be brought....

Calling the AA on the mobile phone. The woman there at the other end did not seem completely to understand my location - I told them several times that I was at the White Rose Shopping Center, near the Sainsbury, Parking Lot #1. But when I got 1/2 hour later a call from the actual AA driver, he called from another Sainsbury, at the other end of Leeds... So a closer driver was dispatched, and he arrived after another 20 minutes. When he arrived, he very confidently bent over the open front hood and jiggled something very deep down in the engine. He then asked me to start the car - the starter motor worked, and the engine immediately started! It was just the cable connector to the starter motor which had a bad connection. He fixed it and told me that this would hold for a while - no need to go to a repair shop. I was relieved, and then we drove back home again.

Horray - I do have Broadband Internet at home!

The engineer from British Telecom (BT) just left the Parkside Cottage a few minutes ago, and he finally sorted out the technical problems which prevented me from having internet access there, for the past 2 months.

So I try this now, and yes, I am able to upload to the blog. Finally I can access the web also in the evening. I already had drafted a flaming entry about British Telecom, but now it is pointless since everything works ok now. (Well, let's see).

The problems were:
  • The DSL signal on the line had a low signal-to-noise ratio, so the synchronisation blanked out once in a while. This was rectified now by the engineer who went to the exchange (?) to fix something there. I did not quite understand what it was... it was NOT boosting the signal as I would have expected, but some other kind of "conditioning".
  • At the exchange, he also "remarked" my line which had been with another provider, from the previous tenant. This is quite revealing about the slow and incompetent internal procedures of BT: since 2 months they knew that I had subscribed to BT, but they still had left the line designated to another provider, from the previous tenant... ok, I am not ranting now - will keep this for a later entry.
Now I am simply glad that I do have online access at home. Let's see how long it will last.