All good things come to those who wait…

Here’s an exclusive preview of what I’ve done on the mahjong book so far:

An open book with blank pages.

I’m going to call the book A Writer’s Block Tribute to Mahjong.

Only kidding, but I do wish that I had more energy. As much as I’m enjoying the discipline and new rhythm to life, this ‘proper job’ 9-5 routine is rather tiring. It’s either that or something to do with my not having had a break since February, when we visited the lovely Steve and Cath in London Town.

The last few undocumented-by-blog days have been very productive and very exciting, albeit very hot. My office has a couple of 15 ft windows that don’t open, and no fans. I’m half tempted to go and work in the server room next door, which has air conditioning to keep the shiny, flashing boxes cool.

In terms of work, this week has been really quite exciting, and our work-load is set to increase even more. I wish I could say more about what we’ve been up to than I can.

What I can say is that this week, like most weeks, has been spent working on both the big picture of what is to come in the website redesign (we’ve now estimated that we have around 10,000 pages to somehow squeeze into the new site!) while also working on smaller redesign projects as interim stages towards the Brave New World. I won’t say any more, but will wait until it’s all done and launched and then you can see for yourselves. Patience… patience…! All good things come to those who wait, and all that.

In the meantime, I’m off for some sleep, and to read this interview with Steve Lawson. I’m back up at 06:00 to do some more writing.

A little bit about how work is going

Gears, not sure from what.

Quite a few people have been asking me recently how work is going. So I thought I’d say a little bit about how work is going: Work is going very well, thank you for asking.

I can hardly believe that I’ve been in the job for ten weeks now. In some respects it feels like I only started last week, and in others it feels like I’ve been here for ever. It feels like the most obvious and natural move that I could have made.

I did wonder how it would feel returning to St Andrews to work having been an undergraduate here, but it doesn’t feel weird at all. Apart from the fact that I know where everything is. Almost every other job I’ve had has been marked by the first three months or so of wandering around lost, trying to find out where shops are, or work-related buildings, or whatever. So in that respect it felt like a coming home; oddly.

Which is odd because between the time I left (1993) and I don’t know, maybe a few years ago, I really felt that I’d failed, somehow. That I’d not lived up to the potential that my St Andrews educated expected of me. Which is nonsense, I know, but hey! I was feel all insecure about a whole host of things during that decade. Like failed relationships, and weird part-time jobs, and my dad dying and stuff.

And now this job. And it feels the most natural next step. It’s as though so many of my past experiences and interests and skills have come together at the right time.

Someone said to me recently how sad it was that I’d moved from a parish job to one that saw me stuck in front of a computer screen all day. And yet it’s nothing of the kind. In my first month here I was having about three meetings a day. Meeting people, listening to what they do, who they are, how their job fits into the larger picture of the life of the University, so that we can pull it all together in the end and create the best website that we can for staff, students, parents, alumni, press and Joe Public. This is very much a job with people at the centre of it; this is about person-to-person communication, and it begins with listening.

It’s been interesting adjusting to this new pace of life. Obviously it’s doing me the world of good, what with my blood pressure returning to normal for the first time since about 1997, and my doing weights and going out cycling and not getting ill.

Mind you, I have dumped my old bicycle built from recycled radioactive waste!

I love the boundaries of this 9-5 lifestyle. There is a kind of monastic discipline that I love about it. I love that I can come home in the evening and that’s me off until the next day; no 24-7 on-call; the last time I had that I was working in a homeless hostel in South London, and even with the abuse and assaults I still found that less stressful than aspects of public ministry. I found that always-on-call lifestyle and expectation very stressful; that’s just me. I also love that I work within a geographically-close community; not quite a campus, but not far off.

In so many ways this post works to my strengths and allows me to work to my best abilities. Except in one small respect: I do mornings very well. And I do (late) evenings very well. But I’m not great in the afternoon. But hey! You can’t have everything.

I mean, where would you put it? (with apologies to Steven Wright, for ripping off his gag.)

The transition from full-time ordained clergyman to Assistant Information Architect/Web Manager has been interesting too — from Reverend to Mister, if you like — and at times painful as I adjust to a new role, new expections. It’s funny, I think people find it easier to understand someone who moves from IT into “the Church” than the other way round. The idea of someone moving from “a proper job” into an ordained role has a certain romance about it, but the other direction: is that not just selling out?! (Personally, and predictably, I don’t think so.)

I was encouraged today by a friend who told me that they appreciated that I didn’t shovel religion at people, but that I try to live my life as an example of who Jesus Christ is. Because that’s what it’s about for me. My faith in Jesus, and also my ministry, has something to do with just being with people, and journeying with people (there are plenty of stories in the Bible of God journeying with his people); it’s about relationship with people and God. It’s partly why I blog such personal things, too: a recognition that sometimes what is most personal is also most universal. And so if there is anything that I’m going through that can be some kind of encouragement for someone else going through something similar, then great.

And … erm, that’s a bit about how work is going.

Overnight in Selkirk, and a tale about Kirkbank Cottage

Kirkbank Cottage, Selkirk

On Friday evening, the BBQ at work having been cancelled due to the inclement Scottish summer weather, Jane and I drove down to my hometown of Selkirk in the Scottish Borders for a flying, overnight visit.

I’d not seen Mum since my final service at the end of April, which was strange because when I was living in Edinburgh it was quite easy to pop down to see her for an evening (45 miles door-to-door) and she frequently met me in Edinburgh for lunch as it is free for Mum to get the bus from the Borders up to Edinburgh. Mum still hasn’t seen our current house here in Cellardyke; she has seen the holiday cottage.

The photo above is of Kirkbank Cottage, where I grew up. We moved into that house when I was all of a few months old, and Mum (and, until 1998, Dad) and the family have been there ever since. It occurred to me for the first time this visit that the cottage’s name now only makes sense historically. Kirkbank Cottage is a cottage situated on a banking (hillside) by the kirk (church). But there is no kirk there now: it was demolished last year. It is very weird stepping out of the front door now. Where once there was a huge monolith of a sturdy, Church of Scotland building for worship, there is now sky.

Tales of the Unexpected…

Sign reads Kirkbank Cottage

Here’s a little tale about Kirkbank Cottage (built in 1871, and extended in 1982), that I’ve been meaning to blog about for ages.

At the start my fourth year at St Andrews (so, September 1992) I needed a passport photograph for a form at my halls of residence. I had a deadline of two weeks to get it done, and one one particular day during those 14 days I decided that that was the day. I knew where there was a passport photograph machine, and off I headed after breakfast; a quick detour on my way to college.

When I got to the passport photo booth there were a couple of women in the queue in front of me: a middle-aged woman wearing a bright red coat, and an older woman, whom I presumed to be the red coated lady’s mother. I joined the queue and waited for them to finish.

“Would you like me to look after your bag?” the woman in red asked me, as I stepped towards the booth.

Hmmm, I thought, what if she wants to steal it? “Okay,” I said handing it over to her, my confidence in humanity obviously overruling any scepticism that I might have had about kleptomaniac women wearing bright red overcoats. And sure enough when I stepped out of the booth my bag and two women were still standing there. I’m sure my photographs, however, came out with me looking down nervously to my left.

I stepped out of the photo booth and we all waited for our photographs to develop.

“Are you a student here?” the woman in red asked me.
“Yes,” I said. Because I was.
“What are you studying?” she asked.
“Theology,” said I.
“Theology? Do you know Dr Lovegrove?”

When I said that I did, the woman in red told me that he was a neighbour of hers. What a small world. Little did I know that it was just about to get smaller. There was a pause in the conversation.

The younger woman spoke again. “Where are you from?” she asked.
“Selkirk,” said I. For it was true.
“Oh,” she exclaimed, “I used to live in Selkirk. About 25 years ago.”
“Twenty-five years,” I said, “I wasn’t even thought of then.”

The stranger chuckled, and there was another pause.

“Where about in Selkirk did you live,” I asked her, this time taking the initiative.
“Kirkbank Cottage, 35 Forest Road,” she replied.

I froze.

“That’s my house!” I exclaimed.
“Are Keith and Rosalie Saunders your parents?” she asked me.
“Then you must have been the little baby that moved in when we moved out,” she said.

It turns out then that this lady — this stranger in a bright red coat, standing in front of me at a photo booth on a random day in St Andrews — sold her house to my parents in 1972.

I would never have met her had I not moved back into halls of residence for my fourth year; had I not needed a passport photograph; had I not decided to get my photograph taken that day, at that time; and had I not got talking to her while we were waiting.

Isn’t life great when you’re paying attention! That has to have been my most Twilight Zone moment to date.

A week of IA and contrasts

Display in the wood panelled Parliament Hall in St Andrews
An Information Architecture report displayed in Lower Parliament Hall, St Andrews.

It’s been a busy old week, as we’ve been working on the Information Architecture report by American firm Dynamic Diagrams, hence the noticable lack of blogging action; yesterday was an 11 hour working day, Thursday was over 12. As tiring as it has been, it has never-the-less been a most enjoyable week — as indeed most weeks here have proved to be.

Dynamic Diagrams’ visit

Much of the week was spent in the company of two splendid consultants, Kim and Mac, from Dynamic Diagrams an Information Architecture firm from Providence, Rhode Island whom the University are employing to untangle the mess that the current websites are in and present us with a better, more intuitive and usable information structure and design. This is only one aspect of the University’s website redesign strategy.

Part of the reason for Kim and Mac’s visit was to present the draft of their Information Architecture (IA) report, which was presented to a group of around 60 members of the University community in Lower Parliament Hall on Thursday afternoon. The response was very positive, and the feedback received so far has been helpful in helping to determine whether this IA is right or whether it still needs tweaking and reworking in places.

My part in this aspect of the project now gets busier and more involved as I work through scenarios and current portions of the website and see whether the IA holds up, or whether there will be significant parts of the content left over at the end of the exercise. I can see that I’m going to be spending a lot of time standing in front of the IA diagram (above). It’s a so-called ‘2.5D’ isometric diagram, also called a “Z-diagram” and is a favourite of information architects.

Another aspect of DD’s visit was to get a feel for St Andrews as a place. We’d planned for it to be a visit of contrasts: the old and the new, the traditional and the cutting-edge. What we couldn’t plan was the weather and it simply joined in: Thursday was glorious sunshine, Friday was cold and foggy.

Following the presentation on Thursday we were able to take a walk to the ruins of the cathedral and climb St Rule’s Tower, which offers a beautiful view over the town and surrounding countryside.

The ruins of St Andrews Cathedral
The ruins of St Andrews Cathedral.

A saltire flag flys over St Andrews
A view over the rooftops of South Street and beyond. I think the saltire flies from the roof of the Town Hall.

Much of yesterday — over 5 hours — was spent working on the IA for the website: are the labels right? what about the categories? are items listed under the correct categories? do these fit with the priorities of the University? do we need an A-Z index, etc. I could have gone on for much longer, had it not been 20:00 and we were all tired, and hungry.

Friday evening has never been associated in my mind with stopping work and knocking off the weekend. On Fridays I used to be gearing up for Sunday. Thursday was my day off, and so Friday was my Monday.

… meanwhile at home

Anyway, it’s been a great and very productive week at work. Meanwhile, at home I slept, ate, watched some Big Brother, and wrote some more of the Teach Yourself Mahjong updates.

A little bit about my new job…

Three ducks beside the Kinness Burn in St Andrews
Ducks by the Kinnessburn in St Andrews, which I pass each day on my walk to work.

Journey to work

I can hardly believe that it has now been three weeks since I started work at the University of St Andrews. I’ve deliberately not posted much about work on my blog as I’ve been settling in and getting my head around the job, … until now.

Each morning I leave the house here in Cellardyke sometime between 08:20 and 08:35 (depending on the usual variables: the time I got up, how long I spent in the shower, the number of places I have to look for my ID badge, etc.) and walk past the beautiful Cellardyke harbour (sans swan) to my car. It’s a view that I don’t think I’ll ever tire of, looking out towards the Isle of May in the Forth. My drive to St Andrews takes about 20 minutes, and so far has been accompanied by a soundtrack from Metallica, Iron Maiden, Anthrax and Megadeth. It’s a very metal road, it would appear.

I park on Kinnessburn Road, a creatively named road that runs parallel to the Kinness Burn, and then walk from there to North Street, to Butts Wynd, where Business Improvements (BI) is located. In fact, BI is located in the creatively named building called the “Butts Wynd Building”. Bright people who named these streets and buildings. And I certainly approve of that level of usability.

What I do

My job title is Assistant Information Architect/Web Manager, and at present comprises of two main tasks: helping to oversee the redesign of the University website, and assisting the Schools and Units with their websites.

So far I’ve written a report on the Press Office website, and made some updates on the Estates’ Environment and Sustainability Development website. Today was the first time in about six years that I’ve had to deal with nested <font> tags!

Despite having been in post for only three weeks, I must have attended nearly 25 meetings so far. I certainly hit the ground running, with hardly a minute to catch my breath and trying to think strategically about what I might need to prepare for the long-term in this post. That will come, no doubt. And now that the University Web Manager and I have moved into our own office that will certainly help.

My new office

The furniture arrived for the former seminar room on Wednesday, and I finished moving things in this afternoon, with some kind help from a couple of new friends in the Business Improvements office. On of the challenges in getting the room set up is that there is a PC Classroom at the end of the corridor, where there are examinations being held all week. For some reason (I’m sure there must be a good reason) the invigilator doesn’t close the door to the classroom, which means that every time I open the door at the end of the corridor he pops out of the exam room like some kind of meercat! This morning I took some WD40 in and oiled the hinges!

Anyway, here’s my new work environment:

Photograph of my new office.  A desk in the corner of the room, beneath a window.  A table in the foreground, and a bookcase to the left of the desk.

And here’s Steve’s desk — although he hasn’t seen it yet, and I know that he reads my blog, so I don’t want to spoil the surprise!

A pixelated photograph of Steve's desk.

Did I tell you how much I’m loving my job?