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Showing posts from May, 2020

Short of time

A couple of years ago, a Californian intern came to me aged eighteen and on the verge of completing her first degree. You can immediately conclude that this young person was bright, very bright.

Her parents were not monied folks. She had got to where she was by sheer graft and considerable intellect. As with all my interns, I asked her to write a speech for me which I would deliver twenty-four hours later. A brief flicker of concern crossed her face. She had never written a speech before. And while she had done presentations, aided by charts, and relying on the usual academic references, she had never delivered one either.

I explained what a political speech looked like. It relies on three constructs: alliteration, antithesis and triples. My colleague Kevin Stewart produced in one of his speeches a nine-word "sentence" that used all three.

Now it's worth saying, and I always explain this to interns, that we will tend to speak a deal less grammatically than we might writ…

Learning from the young

One part of my Parliamentary life is my working with students as part of their education. Early in my diary writings, I described my last "normal" day as an MSP when I visited Peterhead Academy. Such visits are relatively brief, one-off meetings with students.

By contrast, I have had over the years many interns working with me. They will generally be with me for three to five months. The term intern is one that has crossed the Atlantic, and as a description of an individual can mean a variety of things. The definition of the verb as provided by the Cambridge dictionary is:

"to work for a company or organisation for a short time, sometimes without being paid, in order to get experience of a particular type of work"

In recent years there has considerable debate about what seems to be an abuse of interns. In parts of the media in particular, a large proportion of the work in some offices seems to be undertaken by unpaid interns. And it's that word, unpaid, that is …

Waiting for the last piece

Since I joined my first virtual meeting of a Parliamentary Committee just over a month ago, I have attended seventeen such meetings. Over exactly the same period one year ago it was thirteen. In 2006 it was ten.

So my personal activity level has risen quite a bit by that measure.

However, speaking in debates since 23rd April, my baseline date for this discussion, to the end of May has come down to two compared with five last year. The same figure applies in 2006. The number of words has similarly declined from about 3,500 to 1,400 over the various periods.

The baseline of 23rd April is not totally arbitrary. Lockdown started in the week beginning 23rd March, although the Parliament's over-70s were asked not to attend from 17th March. So it took the Parliament a month to move from a legislature that depended on physical presence to one which could work largely online.

As that involved finding software, testing software, developing new procedures and - this was the biggest challenge…

Exercise of responsibility

Yesterday was a shopping day. The last one had been thirteen days earlier. The car sits out there in-between times in gentle rebuke to me. Unwashed, unused, unloved.

More telling is that it is ten weeks now since I had to claim for any Parliamentary travel. A minor saving for the public purse; an objective indicator of how we have changed how Parliament works. This week sees my participation in ten online meetings.

I have just completed printing out the papers for today's COVID-19 Committee meeting at which will have the Deputy First Minister John Swinney appearing. Their heart is "Scotland's route map through and out of the crisis". (find it at https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-framework-decision-making-scotlands-route-map-through-out-crisis/) Apparently, within an hour of publication, it had been downloaded over 100,000 times. That goes far beyond the "usual suspects" who can be relied upon to be engaged in political matters. MOPs (Me…

Clarity of vision

I remember standing at a bus stop in Aberdeen when I was a student in the 1960s and realising that I could not quite read the destination on the front of the approaching bus very clearly. I did nothing about it. I was 20 years old and immortal.

In 1970 the Commonwealth Games came to Edinburgh for the first time. We got tickets for various events. On one occasion we travelled from Linlithgow, where we had not long bought a house, by train. There was a station adjacent to Meadowbank stadium. But it was a slow journey.

So when we later attended some of the badminton competition in an evening, we drove in our elderly car. It may have been that there simply were no trains at the required times. I just don't remember.

The drive home predated the building of the motorway between Edinburgh and Linlithgow and was a twisty-turnie local road. It was slightly alarming. I found myself seeing two lines in the middle of the road. Not the normal double white line that prohibits drivers from cross…

Cruelty

Yesterday saw me on the road again after a couple of bad weather days. That didn't mean no exercise. It just meant 30 minutes on the rowing machine instead of 90 minutes brisk walking. The machine is ineffably boring. The scenery never changes. There are no new smells or sounds.

But as exercise, it's about as good as it gets. And helps shrink the waistline. It's also an excuse to put the headset on and listen to some new music.

The weather had actually been so bad that I got blown off the road onto the verge. A soft landing but not good.

My walk was in pleasant early summer weather, 15 degrees, little wind and high clouds to give some protection from sunburn. The Met office predicts similar or better for a week ahead with Friday pitching for 21 degrees. Today's the day I cross the 350 miles walked mark since lockdown.

It's also going to be a good day for our animals. Not just our two cats who rule the roost at home. They have a good day every day. Rather for anima…

Through the keyhole

There used to be a TV quiz show called "Through the Keyhole". I think I was not much addicted to it and may only have seen it once or twice.

Basically, TV cameras went into a celebrity's home and filmed what it looked like. And then the show's panellists had to work out whose home it was.

I have never been able to work out what a celebrity actually is. It seems to be someone who is famous for being famous. One of the daftest inventions of modern time. Being lauded for being who you are is a very long way short of being lauded for what one has done.

Not that my immediate family has been entirely immune. My nephew Jamie appeared on "They Think It's All Over" in 2003. A supposedly famous sports person appears and the panel had to work out who they were. In Jamie's case, they failed. Although the first UK male to win a World Championship in orienteering, his achievements seemed to have passed them by.

But he did win a gold bar as his prize. When he got…

101 Primer for being video-online: Part 3 - Little hints

Using Your Microsoft Surface for video-online

The Surface is a pretty superior machine in many respects but there is one thing it will not do unaided - sit perfectly vertical while you use the camera for video broadcasting.

Note the use of the word "unaided". To fix any device which has no hinge, that would be a "Surface", an "iPad" or similar, in the vertical position requires three things. And a bit of "barefoot" engineering. Frightened? Don't be.

You need a hand towel of reasonable quality. Four relatively big hardback books - all the same height. And three medium-to-large clothes-pegs. Large bulldog clips might be even better. Oh, and the fourth of the three things, is a table which is at least twice the fore and aft width of two Surfaces etc. at which you can comfortably sit.
Your hand towel should be laid from the edge of the table in front of you, preferably folded over to be reasonably thick. This is the landing area, the safety net, …

101 Primer for being video-online: Part 2 - Presentation

Yesterday I wrote about preparing to go "on-air". Today, it's Lights, Camera, Action.

In a professional TV studio, an illuminated sign "On-Air" will switch on above the door to warn people to keep quiet and be aware that cameras are broadcasting.

Many things happen behind the camera that the public does not see. I have sat in the corner of the BBC's Reporting Scotland studio playing pontoon with some of the stage-hands while Sally Magnusson read the news.
And rescued a cameraman who, in his enthusiasm to obey the producer's instruction to reposition his camera, got his leg tangled in the cables, tripped and fell forward with the camera a mere six feet in front of Kirsty Wark who was speaking to an adjacent camera. I saw it coming and had dashed forward and caught him, and his camera, just before he hit the floor.
Risks in a home studio are less extensive and more banal. For example, The First Minister's daily press briefing yesterday was enlivened when…

101 Primer for being video-online: Part 1 - Preparation

Somebody asked me for this. And like any such description of how I do what I do, it might not suit everyone. Tomorrow we'll talk about some "techie" bits and the "performance".

One of the enduring mysteries for someone working at home is why it works well for some and badly for others. The voice drop-outs, the frozen picture, the awkward framing of the participant, can all contribute to a sense of amateur hour at the local pub. Remember them?

I first started using video-conferencing for real when I was part of a joint information technology project which was a collaboration between a team in Perth, Australia and Edinburgh, Scotland. We had a weekly project meeting at 0800 for Scotland, 1700 for Australia. It was over what we would think of as an impossibly slow communications link. And it worked. Until the clocks changed when we missed each other for a week.

Today video-conferencing is widely available, mostly free, and can use equipment and connections of a va…

GDP or GNH?

One key difference between town and country is shops. As I walk around our area on my daily walks, I pass four retail outlets fairly regularly. If I lived in a town, I would probably have ready access to a few more close by. But it's the nature of these shops that fundamentally differ.

To get to the first, I only have to pass three other houses. That means they are about half a mile away. Its presence is signalled by a sign held in place by two drawing pins on the gatepost which says "Eggs for sale - £1.60 for 12". This emporium is a small shed about 10 feet away.

Down the hill on the outskirts of Cornhill, about four kilometres away, is a rather larger emporium by the roadside. Their range of comestibles on offer is twice the size - eggs and vegetables. A ready trade is quite visible with my rarely passing this hut without seeing someone drop by to make a purchase.

When it's a really long walk, I 've done 12 miles one day; there's a farm shop sign about six …