A Small World Conspiracy

I keep getting caught up on small world coincidences, since I started working at the Bodleian Library last week. I know about selective biases, of course, and I’ve always said that coincidences happen nine times out of ten, but this is really starting to feel like some kind of amazing conspiracy that I’ve somehow wandered into.

The most recent chain of connected coincidences is also probably the most impressive. But to explain it, I’ll need to take you back in time by almost three years. Back in the summer of 2008, I went to BiCon for the second time, accompanied by Claire and Matt P. Among the various other things we got up to, we met a young lady called Ann (who, if I remember rightly, got along very well with Matt).

This morning I received an email from Ann. It turns out that she works in the Bodleian Libraries: she’s likely to be one of the very users who it’s now my job to provide training and technical support to! She saw my photograph in the newsletter I mentioned in my last blog post and looked me up: small world! I emailed back, suggesting that we get together for a drink after work, and she agreed: great! She also asked if she could bring a friend along, a colleague from the library. Sure, I said, sounds good.

This lunchtime I sorted out some of my holiday entitlement for the rest of this academic year. I booked off a few days for a Three Rings “code week” in the summer, and a couple of days around the time that I’ll be moving house next month. One of these days clashed with a meeting that I’d had planned with the Web/Digital Officer of one of the libraries (I’m doing a grand tour of many of the libraries that comprise the Bodleian, in order to meet all the relevant people), so I sent an email to this staff member to ask if we could reschedule our meeting to another time.

“Okay,” they said, “But I think I’m meeting you in the pub in 90 minutes anyway…”

It turns out that the person whose meeting I’ve asked to reschedule is the friend of the person who recognised me from the staff newsletter, having originally met me three years ago. Out of all of the people (I’m not sure how many exactly – it’s probably in the staff handbook I haven’t read yet – but I’ll bet it’s a lot) that are employed by this, the largest university library in the UK, what are the odds?

With The Bod

I know that there are about a million things I ought to be writing about; I’ll try to get time at the weekend. In the meantime, I thought I’d share with you this snippet from Outline, the internal newsletter of the Bodleian Libraries:

Welcome to Dan Q: a snippet from Outline, the Bodleian Libraries internal newsletter. Click to embiggen.

What does this tiny appearance on page three mean? Well; it means that the many libraries that I’ll be visiting over the next few weeks (I have a surprising number of meetings set up!) will know I’m coming, for one.

The article mentions geocaching, because the editor asked me for “something personal about me”, and it was the most family-friendly thing I could think of on the spot. I was also asked “what I did”, which I struggled with a little because, despite having been here a week, I’m still not entirely sure what it is that I do. That said, I achieved the first productive parts of my work, yesterday, helping a user with a self-inflicted (probably!) bug in the Libraries’ CMS system. Apart from that, I feel like I’ve spent most of my time running around the city meeting people and networking! Lots of new faces and names to learn!

Two things keep coming up in conversation with people, upon discovering that I’m new here:

  1. Several people have asked “What university I worked for before?” The majority of people here were either Oxford undergrads or worked at other universities: to have somebody come in from the private sector is a little… unusual, it seems.
  2. People keep telling me that I shouldn’t expect (or be expected) to achieve anything for the first six months or so. Six months! It’s taking a while to get started, certainly (I’m still finding my way around all of the systems I’m now responsible for), and I still don’t have logins on half of the computers and services that I’ll need them on, yet, but that’s just ludicrous!
The main Bodleian Libraries website; one of about 32 websites for which I now find myself responsible.

On the other hand, I’m seriously enjoying the comparatively-relaxed attitude that everybody seems to have, here. And I’ve been given a bugs-list as long as my arm that I’m sure they’ve been saving up for me to arrive, so there’s plenty to sink my teeth into even if I will have to go through half a dozen committees before I can implement any of the new features that these websites so desperately need.

The Final Hours

With all of the rush and busyness of this last week, wrapping up a great number of projects, it’s been easy to forget that these are my very final days as an employee of SmartData. As I mentioned last month, I’m soon to start a new job with the Bodleian Library here in Oxford, and my time with SmartData must come to an end.

This, then, is my last day. It crept up on me. In a teleconference with my boss and with the representatives of a client, today (a regular weekly “check in” on a project I’ve been involved with for some time now), we came to the point in the call where we would set an agenda for the next meeting. It took me a moment to remember that I won’t be at the next meeting, and I had to stop myself from saying “Speak to you then!”

In accordance with tradition, we SmartData boys should knock off early this afternoon and go down to the pub to “see me off”. But, of course, I’m not with the rest of the SmartData boys – they’re back in Aberystwyth and I’m working remotely from here on Earth. Instead, I shall try to arrange to visit them – perhaps on one of the upcoming long weekends – and we can go out for our traditional “goodbye pint” then.

I shall be knocking off early today, though! There’s nothing like taking a few days off between jobs, and what I’m doing… is nothing like taking a few days off between jobs. My weekend will be spent in Lancaster at the North-West Regional Conference of Samaritans branches, representing Three Rings. Three Rings now represents the rota management interests of over half of the branches in the North-West of England (and getting-close to half around the UK and Ireland in general), so I managed to wing myself an invitation to go and show the remaining 47% what they’re missing! Then it’s back down here in time to start my new job on Monday morning!

It’s a good job that I’m of the disposition that would rather be busy than bored!

On This Day in 2002 (New Job!)

This will be the first time I’ve ever written an On This Day post where I haven’t been able to link back to a blog post that I actually wrote in the year in question. That’s because, in 2002, I was “between blogs”: the only thing I wrote about online that I still have a copy of was the imminent re-launch of AvAngel.com, my vanity site at the time. In that post, however, I did mention that I’d re-written my CV, which was relevant to what was going on in my life in March 2002…

Looking Back

On this day in 2002, I first began working for SmartData, my primary employer for the last nine years. A few months earlier, Reb – my girlfriend whom I’d moved in with in 2001 – and I had broken up, and I’d recently found the opportunity to visit Aberystwyth and visit friends there (the trip during which I first met Claire, although we didn’t get together until a little later). On that same trip to Aber, I also met Simon, who at that point had recently accepted a voluntary redundancy from the Rural Studies department of the University and was getting started with the launch of his software company, SmartData. He’d recently landed a contract with the National Dairy Farm Assured Scheme and needed an extra pair of hands on board to help out with it.

Sorting out premises was coming along somewhat slower than he’d planned, though. As part of the SpinOut Wales scheme, SmartData had been offered cheap accommodation in a University-owned building, but they were dragging their feet with the paperwork. On our first day working together, Simon and I crammed into his tiny home office, shoulder-to-shoulder, to hack code together. The arrangement didn’t last long before we got sick of it, and we “moved in” to the room (that would eventually be legitimately ours) at Peithyll, a former farmhouse in the village of Capel Dewi, near Aberystwyth.

The entrance to Peithyll, where SmartData established itself for much of the first six years of its life. It was quite a cycle to get out there every day, but in the summer it made for a great office: not many people can sit at their desk and watch red kites hunting outside, or go for a lunchtime walk up a hill with a picnic.

Over the last nine years since, as the company has grown, I’ve always felt like a core part of it, shaping it’s direction. As we transitioned from developing primarily desktop applications to primarily web-based applications, and as we switched from mostly proprietary technologies to mostly open-source technologies, I was pointing the way. By working with a wide variety of different clients, I’ve learned a great deal about a number of different sectors that I’d never dreamed I’d come into contact with: farm assurance schemes, legal processes, genetic testing, human resource allocation, cinema and theatre, and more. It’s been a wonderfully broad and interesting experience.

Looking Forward

When I began making plans to move to Oxford, I initially anticipated that I’d need to find work over here. But Simon stressed that my presence was important to SmartData, and offered to allow me to work remotely, from home, which is most of what I’ve been doing for the last year or so. Thanks to the miracles of modern technology, this has worked reasonably well: VoIP phones keep us in touch, tunneling and virtual networks allow us to work as if we were all in the same location, and webcams help us feel like we’re not quite so far from one another.

But this wasn’t to be a permanent solution: just a way to allow me to keep contributing to SmartData for as long as possible. Last week, I was offered and accepted a new job with a new employer, here in Oxford.  Starting in April, I’ll be managing the administration and the ongoing development of the website of the Bodleian Libraries, the deposit library associated with Oxford University.

My new office, right in the heart of Oxford. It looks a lot less green, and a lot more prestigious, than Peithyll.

It’s a huge change, going from working as part of a tiny team in a West Wales town to working with hundreds of people at one of the largest employers in Oxford. I’ve no doubt that it’ll take some getting used to: for a start, I’m going to have to get into the habit of getting dressed before I go to work – something I could get away with while working from home and that might even have been tolerated in the office at SmartData, as long as I threw on a towel or something (in fact, I have on more than one occasion taken a shower in the SmartData offices, then sat at my desk, wrapped in towels, until I’d dried off a little).

This feels like a huge turning point in my life: a whole new chapter – or, perhaps the completion of the “turning a page” that moving to Oxford began. My new job is a brand new position, which provides an exciting opportunity to carve a Dan-shaped hole, and I’ll be working with some moderately-exciting technologies on some very exciting projects. I’m sure I’ll have more to say once I’m settled in, but for now I’ll just say “Squeee!” and be done with it.

Oh: and for those of you who follow such things, you’ll note that Matt P has just announced his new job, too. Although he’s a sloppy blogger: he’s actually been working there for a little while already.

This blog post is part of the On This Day series, in which Dan periodically looks back on years gone by.

Things That Have Been Happening

I’ve had a couple of moderately hectic days, and somehow haven’t found time to tell you all about them yet. Let’s see what I can remember:

The Tale Of Troma Night 50
Troma Night 50 was a success: a chance to re-watch some of the films that made Troma Night’s 1 and 2 so… bizarre. And it was great to see folks like JTA, Andy, and Liz returning once more to the enlightened watchers of awful films (Liz reports favourably on Troma Night 50).

The Tale In Which Geek Night Returns
And just to make the weekend that little bit more fun, we had a (long-missed) Geek Night on Sunday night: two games of Chez Geek and one of Carcassonne. Sadly, my copy of Munchkin hasn’t arrived yet. The idiots who were supposed to be sending it to me addressed the package as follows:

Daniel Huntley
The Flat
Aberystwyth
Ceredigion
SY23 XYZ

…completely missing the address line. And then they were surprised when the package was returned to them by the post office. Grr.

The Tale Of Kit And The “Awwww” Chain
It’s kind of sweet that Kit’s posted a declaration of love onto his blog. And now everybody’s posting a whole chain of “Awwww” responses. Looks like I’m not the only one who found this a happy little uplifting post. It’s the little things, really.

The Tale Of The Students Who Couldn’t Use A Bus
Yesterday, riding my usual bus to work (the 526 to Penryncoch) we stopped, as usual, as the bus stop on North Parade. At this time of year, all the students have returned and a lot of them can be seen at this bus stop waiting for the morning ‘university service’ bus to take them up the hill. Obviously these particular students are unable to read, because events unfolded a little like this:

First Student: Up to the university, please.
Bus Driver: This bus doesn’t go to the university.
<university service bus pulls up behind>
First Student: Oh. Can I just go up the hill then?
Bus Driver: No; this bus isn’t going up the hill. This bus is going to Penryncoch.
First Student: Oh.
<first student gets off bus again, making room for second student – stood behind first student – to step up to the driver. meanwhile, students are getting on the double-decker parked behind, which has the words “University Service” on the front. second student puts a ten pound note in the cash tray and stares at the driver>
Bus Driver: Where are you going?
<second student spends two or three seconds staring at the driver with a look on her face that implies that she’s never heard of buses going anywhere other than to her destination>
Second Student: To the university!
<the university service bus pulls out and overtakes us, and starts going up the hill>
Bus Driver: No. This bus does not go to the university. This bus does not go up Penglais Hill at all. This bus is going to Penryncoch. That’s why the large luminescent letters on the front of the bus say… Penryncoch.

How difficult can it be? You’re probably a second year or above, now (by the fact that you’re presumably living in town) – pull your finger out.

The Tale Of Claire Getting A Job
I found myself in Game a couple of days ago, where a student was applying for a position working for them in the run-up to Christmas. They turned him down flat, of course, because he was planning to leave town as soon as term finished – 18th December, or thereabouts – which kind-of defeats of the object of Christmas staff. But “a-ha”, I thought, and grabbed an application form for Claire, who applied and was subsequently snapped-up. So Claire’s got a job again, which is nice.

The major side effect of this is that it’s very liklely that we’ll both be spending Christmas in Aberystwyth. Which is unusual and kind-of scary. Still; we’ve agreed that we’ll try and zip around the country and visit our respective families the following week, if we can’t manage to do so otherwise (Claire will be working on both Christmas Eve and Boxing Day). Hmm… Nothing more to add to that at the moment, so “Hmm” will do.

In other news, she’ll probably get a staff discount. Yay. =o)

The Tale That Involves The Technium
SmartData is moving by instalments. By this time week-after-next, we ought to be in our shiny new WDA-sponsored office in the newly-built Aber Technium, on the harbour’s edge. This is a win for several reasons:

  • I can walk to work. I mean – I can meaningfully walk to work. A one-hour walk, like where we are not, isn’t “meaningful”.
  • We’ll have a 2Mbit dedicated line, with no contention. I smell DVD downloads.
  • We have a bigger office, shiny new desks, a proper server room, a meeting room of our own, and a balcony.
  • We’ll have a new 0845 phone number, which looks all shiny and professional.
  • If I get my way <big grin>, we’ll also have a digital whiteboard and projector. Toy.

Will keep you posted.

I’m wasting time and I have plenty to get on with, so that’s enough of an update for now. Kittens.

New Site Preps For Launch

The new version of AvAngel.com is under full developmental swing… and within a week or two it’ll be uploaded. Of course, you know what we’re like for deadlines, so don’t hold your breath – but if you don’t believe us, catch Dan online (e-mail him for his ICQ number) and he’ll show you what he’s working on!

The new site will include a brand new interface and a host of new features… I’m not going to give away too much unless you catch me online or come round to my house, but I’m pretty sure you’ll like it.

Oh, and for the time being, I’ve uploaded my new CV, ‘cos I’m looking for a job…