The Anonymous Widower

The French Get Touchy About Language

The French can get very touchy, when English encroaches on territory, they think is reserved for French.

But this row, reported here on the BBC is totally of their own making, Here’s the introduction.

The French parliament is debating a new road map for French universities, which includes the proposal of allowing courses to be taught in English. For some, this amounts to a betrayal of the national language and, more specifically, of a particular way at looking at the world – for others it’s just accepting the inevitable.

The English-speaking world has nothing to do with it.

My French is such, that I can get by as a tourist.  I also successfully used the language, when I was at ICI, as it was quicker to read scientific reports from the Belgian company, Solvay, in French, rather than wait for a translation.

On the other hand, when I was in Montreal, a few years ago, I was totally baffled, as Canadian French, is more different to French, than American is to English.

When we developed Artemis, we sold in quite a few European countries, but didn’t bother with French, as we thought they would be touchy, wanting everything in their own language.

In the late 1970s, Metier had installed an Artemis system, at Chrysler in Coventry. For various reasons, it hadn’t been upgraded, as much as it should. Soon after Peugeot-Citroen took over Chrysler in 1979, someone in Peugeot-Citroen decided to do a company wide survey of the various project management systems in use in the group. on one visit they went to Coventry and because they were impressed with what they saw, they came straight down the M1 to see us in our offices in Hayes.

Peugeot-Citroen then decided to buy a system for Paris.  We told them it was only in English, but they said not to matter, as all their engineers knew the language.  They did ask us to get some proper sales flyers in French.

The rest as they say is history, in that Peugeot-Citroen introduced Artemis to a lot of their friends.

Another story I remember, which illustrates the French and their language, happened a few years later. In the 1980s, I owned a company that made hand-tools.  One tool, was exported to France and the United States.  Our American agent asked if we could produce an English/French version for Canada. But a straight combination of what we already had was unacceptable and we had to get a special French Canadian translation at great expense. Eventually, the Canadians excepted it.

A couple of years afterwards, we had an urgent order from France, but unfortunately we were out of French leaflets.  So we faxed over the French Canadian one to ask if that would be acceptable. The response was, that it will do, but that the French would have a bit of a laugh about the language.

Make of that, what you will!

I should say, that I once travelled to the States with a secretary from the New Zealand embassy in Ottawa.  She told me, that some Canadians got very upset, if she sent them a letter with some American  English spelling.

May 22, 2013 Posted by | News, World | , , , | 2 Comments

All Lined Up And Ready To Go

According to this article on Crossrail’s web site, they are at full production of the lining segments for the tunnels at the Chatham factory.

All Lined Up And Ready To Go

All Lined Up And Ready To Go

There are certainly lots of them at the Limmo site waiting to go underground, after being barged from Chatham.

When the Victoria and Jubilee lines were dug in the past, I don’t think that we saw such well-organised manufacture of tunnel linings and other components.

It all shows how our methods and especially the project management has improved.

When HS2 is built, who can predict accurately how much further improvement is possible?

April 25, 2013 Posted by | Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

Margaret Thatcher’s Legacy

You could argue for years about Margaret Thatcher.

But it wasn’t what she did or didn’t do, that she leaves behind. In the course of history, there are only a few politicians, philosophers and sad to say despots and dictators, who have changed the world.

Margaret Thatcher showed that no rule or thought in traditional thinking is sacrosanct, when it comes to shaping the world.  Since then we’ve seen lots of radical ideas work, that would have never even been thought of, had not Margaret Thatcher and a few others shown that you could do something different.

Would Tony Blair have been able to reform a Labour Party, stuck in the 1920s, without Margaret Thatcher showing what radical thinking could do? Or Ken Livingstone, reinvent himself, to make a comeback as the London Mayor. I suspect, if Margaret Thatcher hadn’t been a radical Prime Minister, we’d have had a succession of useless worthies in the last few years.

I’ll only give one example of where Margaret Thatcher ditched conventional thinking.

In 1982, conventional thinking, said that to attempt to retake the Falkland Islands after the Argentine invasion was utter madness, and many on all sides of the political spectrum said that to give the islands away was the best solution. How many people today, think that the decision to retake the islands was wrong? Not many I suspect! I’ve even met an Argentinian, who felt that we did his country a favour, by effectively getting rid of the evil dictatorship of General Galtieri.

Without Margaret Thatcher my life today would be very different.

After I had sold my first successful software; Pert7 to ADP, I received an offer to go to the United States to write a PERT system for a large US computer corporation.

How they got my number or the fact I’d sold out, I don’t know?

Soon after, I was approached to write a PERT system, which later became Artemis, so I turned the Americans down.

I suspect that if that hadn’t happened, I’d have eventually moved across the Atlantic, as it was just impossible to provide for a growing family with the tax rates, then in force.

i didn’t move, as neither C or myself could have ever lived abroad permanently.

But Margaret Thatcher’s Tax and other reforms enabled me to stay in the country of my birth. If tax rates were still as the eighty percent plus they were in the nineteen seventies, I doubt many of the brightest in the UK, would not have gone to where pastures were greener.

One aside here is a story from my accountant of the 1980s.  A confirmed Socialist, he was not a supporter of Margaret Thatcher, but felt the tax reforms of the time were very good for the country.  Although tax rates were lowered, her Chancellors were good at closing the myriad loopholes that had been developed by clever members of his profession. There may be a lesson here for today’s politicians, who need to both maximise the tax take and keep voters happy.



April 17, 2013 Posted by | World | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Phone Problems Of The Channel Tunnel

Years ago, I met the guy, who had project managed the installation of the telephone system on the Channel Tunnel. It wasn’t as simple as you’d have thought. I remember one problem he outlined in particular.

Say you are an engineer, customs officer or whatever, employed by the Tunnel and because you are French, you live in France, but your major place of work is on the British side.  You want to make a phone call to your wife, husband or partner, to say that because of a problem, you’ll be late home for supper. Obviously, the same problem would apply to British employees working in France.

So is your call home a local call, which it would be if you lived and worked in the same country or an international call, which of course would be at a higher rate.

The solution was to make for telephonic purposes, the Channel Tunnel, its own country.

The guy who managed the installation was British, but he had a French-speaking mother, so BT probably made a good choice, as to who managed the installation of a rather complicated project.

March 11, 2013 Posted by | Travel | , , , | 1 Comment

1960s Architectural Failures

Yesterday, I went to or through four stations; Highbury and Islington, Euston, Manchester Piccadilly and Huddersfield.

Huddersfield is a Grade 1 Listed Building which means it is one of the finest buildings in the country. The others  are three of  the worst examples of how we designed and built stations in the 1960s.

So it got me thinking about what are the worst examples of 1960s architectural design, that I’ve seen. I’ll start with the three I’ve already named.

Euston station - I probably went to Liverpool a couple of times from Euston before the current station was built and I have vague memories of catching trains there during the building in perhaps 1965 to 1967.  The design shows classic “Think Small” attitudes as it was deliberately built with foundations that couldn’t support development above.  Only twenty or so years later, Liverpool Street station was remodelled, which shows how good design can be applied to old buildings. Since then St. Pancras and Kings Cross have been rebuilt using similar thought processes to those used so successfully at Liverpool Street.  One does wonder what would have happened at Euston, if the rebuilding had been a few years later.  Euston is now to be rebuilt for HS2 and I suspect they’ll get it right this time.

Euston has another big problem, that you don’t see on the surface.  The Underground station is one of the worst in London, with no step-free access, innumerable staircases and escalators and a dingy cramped ticket hall. The only good thing about Euston station is that coming off a train, it’s easy to walk to a bus, as I did last night. But try taking a heavy case on the Underground.

In some ways, Euston’s problems with the Underground should have been solved, when they built the Victoria Line, which opened at around the same time as the new Euston station. It just showed how bad project planning was in those days. The fact that the Victoria line was built on the cheap didn’t help.

Highbury and Islington station – This suffers badly because of the decision to build the Victoria Line on the cheap. Again it is not step-free and it perhaps is one of the worst stations for disabled access in the Underground, as when you get down the escalator, you then have a tunnel and a staircase to get to the platforms. At least the Overground platforms have lifts to the surface. Since I have moved to the area, the station concourse has been opened up considerably and it is not dark and cramped like it was a couple of years ago. To be fair to Transport for London, I think they’ve achieved the improvement without using tons of money. But solving the problems of access to the underground platforms will be very expensive.

Manchester Piccadilly station – This suffers in that it doesn’t have enough platforms and lines. Additionally, of all the main stations in the country, it probably has some of the worst connections to other means of transport.  It makes you wonder if it was designed as a cheap stop-gap solution to accept the new electric trains from London. They are spending a fortune on the Northern Hub, but will it get rid of all the hangovers from the 1960s and all the resulting layers of sticky tape? Only time will tell, but judging by the improvement of planning in recent years, it probably will. If you want to read about planning failures in the area, read this Wikipedia topic about the Ordsall Curve, which is a crucial part of the Northern Hub.  It would appear that it had the go-ahead ( and money) in 1979.

So that’s dealt with yesterday’s examples, what others can be added to this list?

Kings Cross station – Although not specifically 1960s, but a few years later, this now virtually demolished extension was best described as a wart on the face of the Mona Lisa. The man who designed it, must have had the biggest conservation stopper of all time. I can’t wait until I see the new Kings Cross plaza in the autumn.

Various stations – There were a lot of stations built in the 1960s that I don’t like, although some are listed.  I would start with a short list of Harlow Town, Stevenage, and Walthamstow Central. Railways have a lot to answer for, but some of their worst excesses were reserved for buildings like this signal box in Birmingham. Many reckon that Birmingham New Street station is another bad example, but at least the operation of the station seems to be pretty good. In fact the planned reconstruction of the station; Gateway Plus, is all about greater passenger comfort. So yet another 1960s monstrosity will bite the dust. Gateway Plus has this condemnation of 1960s thinking.

The current New Street station was built to cater for 650 trains and 60,000 passengers per day, which was roughly the same usage it experienced when it was first constructed. It was believed that demand for rail travel would decrease. However, it now caters for 1,350 trains and over 120,000 passengers – twice its design capacity. Passenger usage of New Street has increased by 50% since 2000.[2] It is predicted that passenger usage of the station will increase by 57% by 2020.

We do seem to have cut corners for decades and only now the chickens are coming home to roost.

February 24, 2013 Posted by | Travel, World | , , , , | 5 Comments

Where’s The Building Gone?

The last time, I walked through here on my way to Liverpool Street station, I’m sure there was a building.

But it’s gone now to be replaced by a new 5 Broadgate, which replaces 4 and 6. Those buildings didn’t live as long as I have so far!

Note that it will be completed in 2015.  That shows what I think is a very tight timetable and probably some good project management.

January 17, 2013 Posted by | World | , , | Leave a comment

Cambridge Busway Troubles

The Cambridge Busway may be running fairly well now, but it still seems to cause trouble for politicians, as this report shows.

At least though the Edinburgh Tram has come along to give the busway company in the book of bad projects.

January 7, 2013 Posted by | Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

The Olympics Come In £377 million Under Budget

This has just been announced and you can read about it here in the Independent.

Various commentators and politicians have said that this is all down to good project management.

Sadly, there is no credit given to those that started the project management software revolution in the 1970s. It is truly an unheralded mainly-British software development, of which I played a small part.

October 23, 2012 Posted by | Computing, News | , , , | Leave a comment

The Quickest Solution To London’s Airport Problem

The Sunday Times is saying today, that it would be quicker to build a completely new airport in the Thames Estuary, than to add a third runway to Heathrow.

I’m not sure, but I do know that project planning engineers always have ways of building things faster, if they look at a problem in depth.

If we look at Chek Lap Kok Airport in Hong Kong, that was effectively built in eight years. That is a massive airport and involved a similar type of construction to say building an island in the Thames Estuary with two terminals and four runways. Admittedly Hong Kong didn’t have to deal with our planning system.

But hopefully, there will be less planning problems with putting an airport in the middle of the estuary, as several have proposed, like this guy.

To get another estimate on the minimum construction period, look at the London Gateway port.  They estimate a construction period of about 10-15 years.

The Sunday Times says that a report has said, that the Thames Estuary airport would take 14 years to build and a new runway at Heathrow would take twelve.

Given that the third runway at Heathrow doesn’t solve any of the other airport problems like moving traffic away from London and good passenger access from a lot of the UK, it would appear that this report bangs a big nail in the third runway at Heathrow’s coffin.

There are several things that all of these plans ignore.

The first is flood protection for London. The Thames Barrier should give protection until 2060-70, but it would need to be supplemented or replaced in the future. An estuary airport could be designed to eventually incorporate another flood barrier.

The M25 is not the best designed of roads with a real pinch point at the Dartford Crossing. Every estuary airport proposal incorporates road and rail links to both Kent and Essex, which would add a lot more capacity between the Channel Tunnel and the Midlands and North.

So a properly built estuary airport would probably take longer to build than they have planned at present.

On the other hand, none of the estuary airport proposals seem to pay much attention to the handover from Heathrow. Would it be on a one-night basis as the changes in Hong Kong or Paris or would it be on a gradual basis, as the airport was completed?

This is where the project planners come in.

I suspect that the optimal would be somewhat different to any of the proposals.

Remember that Brits are rather an inventive nation and a cussed lot to boot, so the obvious solutions wouldn’t happen. There would be so much inertia to keep Heathrow, as moving it would effectively change the working lives of millions of people.

So perhaps the most cost-effective solution would be to build the road and rail links from Kent to Essex and create the island for the airport in the first phase. These would improve transport links from the UK to the Continent and take a lot of pressure off the roads in the south-east of England.

The road and rail links would also join the massive port and logistics centre at London Gateway directly to the Continent and probably to the North and Midlands as well. At present, it’s assumed they can fit the trains on the tracks through London, that are shared with the London Overground. Fat chance, that’ll work well!

I’ve not done any calculations and I am just kite-flying, but I’d like to see this planned and costed.

Once proper road and rail links are there, they would make the building of the new airport a lot easier. It might even be started as a cargo airport, if that is where the most urgent need is, as it is ideally suited for that because of its position.

Only when the traffic requirements become known, will we build the airport.

One things that strikes me, is that most pushing extra airport capacity in the South-East have vested interests.

As an example, airlines see railways as competition.  Could this explain why the UK’s rail link to the Continent was designed not to annoy them? A rational design might have driven the High Speed link to the Channel Tunnel right under London with stops at Stratford, Kings Cross/St. Pancras/Euston, Paddington and Heathrow. But that would have annoyed the airlines. And probably the French as well, who would want passengers in North East France to use Charles de Gaulle rather than Heathrow.

The French will probably fight an estuary airport with a vengeance.

I actually think that in the end, we’ll stick with what we’ve got! Although, I do think that a road and rail liknk across the Thames estuary will be built.  Let’s face it, the Dutch would have done it years ago, if only to protect London from flooding.

September 2, 2012 Posted by | Travel | , , , , | Leave a comment

Midland Main Line To Be Electrified

It is being reported this morning, that the Midlands Main Line from St. Pancras station to Sheffield is going to be electrified. At present it only goes as far as Bedford, which must be one of the most stupid planning decisions by Railtrack and its predecessors.

But then there are several cases, where electrification stopped in the UK, rather than continue to its logical conclusion. I remember as a teenager, that the original plans for electrification in East Anglia included the branch line to Felixstowe.  It should probably have included Ely to Norwich and Norwich to Yarmouth as well. Now there is a strong case to electrify Ipswich to Peterborough to haul all that freight from Felixstowe. Although the last bit would be difficult due to the number of bridges on the line, but hopefully when the line was upgraded for larger containers, they did it to allow for electric wires as well. But knowing the muppets in the Department of Transport, that like to think it’s their railway, deliberately didn’t, so that electrification would stay in the sidings.

This is what surprises me about Midland Main Line electrification being announced. Logically, it should be done before the Great Western, as it is a smaller scheme, doesn’t have a difficult tunnel like the Severn Tunnel and many of the current trains can be converted to electric operation, as I posted here. I think it is mostly three track too, which helps with the engineering.

But when do governments do things logically?

Have they seen sense or does Justine Greening read the railway press?

It will be interesting what is said on Monday.

Thinking about this more, we have to take into account the fact that a spur into Heathrow from the west has also been announced. Putting my old project management hat back on, I can’t help feeling that underneath all this is some very good project management. Three electrification projects on the go at the same time, all relatively close together mean that the expensive electreification train that Railtrack has bought can be fully utilised.

July 14, 2012 Posted by | Travel | , , , | Leave a comment


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