Skip to main content

Land speed record and inspiration and informal education

The conference was closed by a talk from Richard Noble about the challenge of breaking the land speed record, first with ThrustSSC, the first car to break the sound barrier, and now with BloodhoundSSC, which is planned to be the first car to travel at 1000mph.  This was a story of derring-do and engineering.
 
One less obvious aspect of the BloodhoundSSC story is the education project built around it.  The UK doesn’t produce enough engineers and is the worst country in Europe for the gender balance in engineering: only 10% of professional engineers are women.    In 50% of all state co-ed schools not a single girl is taking Physics A-level.  Richard attributes this in part to the lack of projects to generate excitement in children.  In the 1950’s and 1960’s kids would see Avro Vulcans, English Electric Lightnings and Concorde flying overhead and some of those kids would be excited by them.  Americans had the space race.  (Later on, of course, British kids had Spectrums and BBC Micros and learnt all about computers).
 
Richard sees the BloodhoundSSC as an adventure which can generate enthusiasm among schoolkids.  The education project has team of 20 people and has reached 5,400 schools throughout the UK and more schools overseas, including the remote desert area of South Africa where the test track is being built. 

Another interesting aspect of Richard’s story is the role of the web vs conventional mass media.  During the ThrustSSC project he tried to engage conventional broadcasters in producing TV programmes about the design and the challenges.  None of them were interested.  His contact at the BBC told him that the public weren’t interested in technology.  Then he was approached by a web design company.  This was in 1992 and he hadn’t even heard of the web but he saw an opportunity.  By 1997 this was the 5th most popular web site in the world and people were reading the technical specs as well as the promotional material.

This story is repeating itself.  The BloodhoundSSC project has been approached by many TV companies but none of them have wanted to include any technical material so the project has turned them all down. 

This was a fun presentation and parts of it were inspiring. Richard didn’t directly address any issues that might affect us in our own work.  He stressed that the teamwork was vital but didn’t give any suggestions for how to make a team work, although he exemplified several aspects of leadership – he obviously has a clear vision, tremendous enthusiasm, dogged persistence in the face of setbacks and good communication skills.  He could do with a bit of work on his timekeeping – the hour-long presentation overran by almost half an hour and I had to miss the last ten minutes.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

A new EA Repository

One of my goals since starting this job two years ago has always been to create a repository for architecture documents.  The idea is to have a central store where people can find information about the University's applications, data sources, business processes, and other architectural information.  This store will make it easier for us to explain our plans, to show the current state of the University's information systems, and to explain what Enterprise Architecture is all about.

It's taken a long time to reach this goal, mainly because we're often had more pressing and immediate work to be done.  The creation of a repository is one of those tasks that is very important but never quite urgent.  So I'm now very happy to say that we are in the process of deploying a repository and modelling tool.


This is the culmination of a careful process to select the most appropriate tool for our needs.  We began by organising several workshops to gather requirements from a rang…

A brief summary of our major initiatives

I notice that in 2016 I wrote 34 posts on this blog.  This is only my fifth post in 2017 and we're already three-quarters of the way through the year.  Either I've suddenly got lazier, or else I've had less time to spend writing here.  As I'm not inclined to think of myself as especially lazy, I'm plumping for the latter explanation.

There really is a lot going on.  The University has several major initiatives under way, many of which need input from the Enterprise Architecture section.

The Service Excellence programme is overhauling (the buzzword is "transforming") our administrative processes for HR, Finance, and Student Administration.  Linked to this is a programme to procure an integrated ERP system to replace the adminstrative IT systems. 

Enabling Digital Transformation is a programme to put the middleware and architecture in place so that we can make our processes "digital first".  We're implementing an API framework, a notification…

Business Model Canvas

A Business Model Canvas is a tool for mapping the core functions and capabilities of an organisation.  Compared to the Core Diagrams that I described in an earlier post, the business model canvas attempts to present more aspects of the business, starting with the value proposition – a statement of what the organisation offers to its users (in the business world, to its customers).  It shows the activities and resources, as Core Diagrams do, but also shows user relationships & channels, and also benefits and costs.  I’m not aware of any universities that have used this tool but you can find examples from elsewhere on the web.

We are considering business model canvases as a tool for mapping the strategic capabilities of units at the University of Edinburgh.  Phil Taylor, our EA contractor, sketched an outline of what a business model canvas might begin to look like for HR:
This is only intended to be suggestive: the real canvas would need to result from in-depth discussions about th…