TUE • 22 AUG 2017
Dogs in the Office
For some reason Landlords in London are behind the times and every office we looked at said there was a no pet policy. Why might you ask? Well there is no good explanation for it apart from ‘we have always had one’. So when we finally settled on our office in South Bank Tower we had to work hard with the Landlord to secure a ‘Pet Licence’. The main concession was that we were only allowed one dog in the office at any one time – and hence our BYOD (Bring your own Dog) calendar was born!
Interestingly I got feedback from the Landlord that since writing the Pet policy for us, every single tenant signing into our building (we were one of the first tenants) have requested such a policy. So it looks like we just have to change the mind-set one Landlord at a time! Certainly while we now have the option we don’t have a dog in the office every day. On average we see dogs probably around a quarter of the time due to owners not needing to bring them in all the time.
Certainly one of the benefits I have got from it has been the need to regularly leave my desk and take Tiffin for a walk. I had him in the office all of last week and only suffered one accident – purely because I was too busy to take him out when he asked – also I am sure our fake grass area didn’t help!
THU • 27 OCT 2016
A better use of hybrid
One place however that has proved a real eye-opener in the world of hybrid has been the use of deploying the technology onto push bikes. E-Bikes as they are referred to bring the electric motor into the fabric of the bike and provides assistant to the rider. And I have to say it is amazing. I think previously I hadn’t been interested as the bikes that are E-Bikes were ugly and the motors large devices fitted to the wheels, whereas the new generation by Bosch and Yamaha are now fitted into the gears and are part of road or mountain bikes, even with suspension. This means there are no downsides, apart from some additional weight in choosing an E-Bike over the model you would have normally chosen.
On a recent trip to Cornwall my wife and I decided we would do a bike ride with some friends and also take our 6-month daughter to introduce her to one of our shared passions. The only issue was my wife’s broken leg and being on crutches which sort of ruled out cycling as an option. However the bike shop we used had an electric mountain bike which she could use and what a revelation! With a Bosch motor delivering assistance based on the setting from the control panel on the handlebars, she had immediate assistance and could minimise the pressure through her leg depending on the conditions.
Certainly if you are planning any big bike rides and have the option of trying an electric bike I would highly recommend it. For my wife at least it has also meant I can now argue that the baby seat should really go on her bike as she has the assistance to deal with the extra weight…
WED • 14 SEP 2016
You make your own luck
I met Jimmy when I joined my first fulltime job and worked under his tutelage for a number of years before leaving and setting up my own business. When I worked with Jimmy one of his key mantras that I remember him talking about regularly was that people aren’t lucky in life – they make their own luck. At the time I didn’t really get what he was on about, surely some people win the lottery, ie lucky, and many others don’t – not lucky. But as time has gone on I have slowly adopted it as my own saying as I realised how right he was.
It is easy to let life pass you by, but those who grab opportunities, take risks and push boundaries usually it pays off in the form of progress and change. Now to the outside world looking in, it might be that the individual was ‘lucky’ to get that job offer, meet their partner or live in that great house. However I am sure behind any lucky person is persistence and huge amount of effort.
When I spend time with students or new employees usually they say I am lucky to be where I am or do what I do. What they fail to see is the ten years of graft and sacrifices that got me to that point. At the time I didn’t really see it as sacrifices and graft but looking back it certainly was a tough time. The same goes with Jimmy, with his endless positive attitude and energy, I am sure some people looked at Jimmy and thought how lucky he must be. Super successful in his career, great wife, kids and home.
But then he had one of the worst pieces of news anyone can have, but being the guy he is, and the amazing family he has around him, he managed over the last year to overcome cancer and now finds himself starting to turn his experience from such a huge negative into a positive. He has a blog which detailed his feelings over the last year, and while he did it really for friends and family, it has been picked up and followed by many people all over the world.
This lead to the introduction to the Sprintathon and his invitation to run the last 100 meters in this world breaking attempt to run the fastest marathon. They have a very good video which is worth watching and they are raising money for Stand up to Cancer which goes towards the amazing work that helped make Jimmy better. Maybe he was lucky or maybe many thousands of people have worked tirelessly over many years to improve the chances of surviving cancer which along with Jimmy’s determination has meant that he gets to take centre stage and take a bow. Bravo.
TUE • 14 JUN 2016
Does democracy matter?
One of the main issues for the leave campaign should be the fact that the EU has got unelected people deciding on British laws and policies. It is a reality I think they have failed to accurately articulate. So facts like when Austria was recently going to elect the right wing Freedom Party and the unelected EU policy makers were going to make it illegal for them to be involved in the EU if they did come to power, is surely undemocratic? So people elected by the people are suddenly deemed criminals by a body that, by law, overrules local law? Now whether it is right or wrong for Austria to elect such a party, is one thing, but to take an election and then disregard the result is surely not democracy? I am sure Greek people felt the same when the bailout referendum was ignored after being overwhelmingly defeated.
So whether we decide or don’t decide to be part of the EU the fact is that for many years we have not really enjoyed true democracy. And while the decisions being made might currently serve our interests the lack of true accountability surely should be something to be worried about in the future. Or does it actually matter?
If we look to America we have a potential presidential candidate of a rather ruthless ‘billionaire’ or the wife of a previous president. Have we not already had to endure the Bush dynasty (and nearly more with the likes of Jed running for Republican nominee), and now the American people have to choose between a narcissist or another Clinton? Surely out of 200 million there must be some better candidates? Or is that the point - the perception is that this is democracy in action but the reality is it doesn’t work and what we really have is a Russian version of ‘democracy’?
With the EU referendum soon to be decided it seems to me that if we have voted to remain then actually, as I suspect, we are happy to believe we enjoy democracy, even if the technicalities mean we don’t. And our concern lies more with short term economic stability rather than an ideal our forefathers laid down their lives for. For a country as patriotic as America I find it outstanding that nobody seems to question the quality of the candidates that they are going to put forward for election. Maybe in a few years we will be looking forward to the opportunity to ‘elect’ a Mrs Juncker for presidency.
WED • 30 MAR 2016
What about the Commonwealth?
With recent security fears in Europe there has been a lot of talk about security in the UK but as I understand it our intelligence comes from Five Eyes (FVEY) an intelligence alliance between the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. This can be tracked back to World War 2 and while Edward Snowden brought it more into public conscious, it is widely regarded as the most comprehensive known espionage alliances in history. Our ability to work with our Commonwealth brothers and, in this case, the US is well documented so why is it failing to get any real voice in the discussion on Europe and why have we not done more with it?
As I understand it when Britain joined the EEC after Charles de Gaulle rejected our application a number of times it was agreed that the Imperial Preference, a method of promoting unity through the Commonwealth countries, would have to be abandoned by the UK. This probably was the beginning of the UK turning its back on the Commonwealth as a trading block as it embraced the growing European market. But as we now see global trade grow and Europe decline is it worth looking to embrace a new trading focus? Certainly Europe’s protectionist view and the application of the common external tariff does nothing to help our consumers or Commonwealth producers.
One benefit could be immigration with the abolishment for our appalling point based system where highly educated people from the Commonwealth cannot move and live in the UK because of the current unlimited migration policy within the EU. By evening out migration so the UK can attract the very best talent from anywhere in the world certainly is worth considering. My own office for example has many different nationalities but the ability to keep people from Australia, America, New Zealand and India is difficult under the current system. Certainly feeling is strong and in a letter to David Cameron from Commonwealth supporters went as far as stating that ‘descendants of men and women who volunteered to fight alongside Britain in two world wars must stand aside in favour of people with no connection to the UK’. Strong sentiment and highlights the loyalty and dedication of Commonwealth members, something Britain should embrace.
TUE • 23 FEB 2016
Robots will take over the world
I am a great believer in advancements in technology and while our present is not quite what we would have imagined twenty years ago (I still don’t have a flying car) it is leaps and bounds further on in many other respects. The power of the Internet is only now being fully understood, and while the Information age has opened up vast amounts of data it hasn’t, until recently, started to make inroads into daily society as the preferred method of engagement. Tax discs have gone online, there is no need to ever visit a high street or supermarket, Amazon and Ocado have that licked, it is even easy to do my tax return. I can do my weekly shop on my iPhone in twelve clicks and 11 hours later it is all delivered on my doorstep in perfect condition. That has to be the retail equivalent of putting a man on the moon. But what does that all mean in the real world and jobs?
Well the global media seem to have woken up to the fact that many jobs are changing in response to this advancement, but worryingly it is the acceleration as technology continues to advance in leaps and bounds. Many years ago The Electric Telegraph Company (before it became hip BT) recruited many hundreds if not thousands of staff to man their telephone exchanges as Operators, as did other telephone companies across the world. Their job was to get calls connected and in 1918 managed to complete long distance calls in around 15 minutes. But soon came the advent of automatic switching and this once important role was made redundant. This was a quick change but fast forward to today and you have a whole industry about to buckle with phone calls almost being free in the advent of FaceTime, Skype and WhatsApp. We have seen the likes of Kodak, Nokia, Xerox, Marconi, CityLink and Amstrad to name but a few struggle with this change and this is only the beginning.
Why for example would TFL continue to tolerate being held to ransom by drivers striking when the technology to automate trains is available? Apparently all across the employment spectrum jobs from secretaries through to travel agents and credit controllers are all inline to be automated. It is reckoned that within 20-years over 35% of UK jobs will have been lost. That is over 10 million people looking for a new career.
The hope is that for every repetitive job that is automated a new job will appear, but realistically if we look the way our economy is going with increasing margins and the profits big business are reporting that isn’t actually happening. I am sure for example Google does not employ more people than all the libraries, mapping companies and media businesses it has displaced. Sure there are a lot of new opportunities but I am not sure all the people who have lost their jobs have been able to retrain as developers.
One of my biggest fears from ‘the rise of the machines’ is that we will end up with a bigger social divide with more have nots than haves. Unfortunately I am not confident our education system is going to be able to cope with the shift that is going to happen so quickly around us. Hopefully whole new industries will emerge that haven’t even been imagined yet.
FRI • 22 JAN 2016
One of the points David was making when he referred to Tiger Mothers, or as I have heard it described, Dragon Mothers, the need to push children while ensuring strict discipline seems to be an art lost and as a result are we ending up with weak, carefree generations. This on a global scale is worrying when we are competing against other nationalities, like the Chinese (where the term Dragon Mother comes from), who are turning out hard working, responsible adults who don’t feel the world owes them anything. I am not saying one way or the other is correct, and I am sure I will find out very soon how difficult it is, but one thing I am concerned about is our society’s push to reduce competition and access to failure.
Some of my biggest defining moments in my life have been around my failures rather than my successes. It is not as though my parents set me up to fail but they allowed me to experience failure, rather than protect me from it, and pushed me to do things that I didn’t want to do so that I could really appreciate the things I enjoyed. One good example of this is learning to play a musical instrument. My brother and I hated learning to play instruments but had to persist until we were about to leave school. Now to our parent’s dismay we didn’t become musical geniuses, looking back we did expand our experience, knowledge and appreciation that we could do something we didn’t like or were particularly good at. The fact that we were regularly tested in the form of grades used to be a big negative, but again a useful life skill that I regularly employ in daily life.
While music might have been my challenge, it could have well been maths or science, which again we are told as a country we are lacking, but it seems to me that if a student picks a non-science route through school then they are pretty much able to ignore a big part of our society. Science touches every part of our lives, and I am conscious that later in life the student who didn’t enjoy science in the classroom might very well have flourished in the working world. So the Tiger Mother approach is not just to discipline but to push. I am sure we all have a view as to how much pushing is needed, but I don’t think it means that the child can’t push back and become stronger through that defiance.
As I say another area of interest is in how generation-X (babies born after the baby boomers generation) are so depressed and unhappy with life. The theory goes that the baby boomer generation were told how tough their parents had it, living through wars with rations and strikes, only to overachieve on their expectations. My generation however thought they would see similar increases in lifestyle, wealth and happiness with minimal effort only for it not to appear on our plates and for hard work and focus needed to overcome the high levels of competition so abundant today.
What does the world have in store for the next generation? I don’t know but I do realise the difficulty in bringing up someone who can deal with anything the world throws at them.
THU • 22 OCT 2015
Robots will take over the world
Scientists have been astonished at how quickly we have advanced our computers and software in the past few years. We may not have hover boards as depicted in Back to the Future for 21st October 2015, but we certainly have a lot of automation in our lives all thanks to the internet and running from our pockets via smart phones. The ability for more and more of our lives to be automated is inevitable but does that mean a loss of jobs?
If we look back over human history, and recently the last hundred or so years, our society has seen hundreds, if not thousands, of manual or repetitive roles replaced by computers. Just take our industry which has seen Telephone Operators replaced by computers, or call centre staff replaced by websites and self-support applications. Older industries like farming now make do with fewer people than ever before but produce more than we thought possible. Does this mean there are less jobs in those roles, of course but the question is surely what new roles have been created. I am sure my Grandfather would have never considered his grandson would sit in front of a computer all day building data networks for businesses and that marketing, client communication, billing and support could all be over the same medium. And that a support network of billing software companies, web search optimisation businesses and call centres would be needed.
My point is that yes, thousands if not millions of jobs will automate over the coming years but at the same time new roles will appear that we cannot even imagine today. Bring on judgement day.
THU • 16 JUL 2015
An old idea reinvented
I have longed to build my own home. Using old and classic materials such as oak and stone I would love to build a 'grand design' with modern twists while making the most of all available technology. For years I have talked to friends about the idea of taking a retired German submarine battery (apparently they aren't allowed to run a nuclear fleet) which has seen service and needs to be replaced and putting it in the basement of a new home. This would then power the house with clean, consistent energy while solar and wind could be utilised to top it up. Very similar to a UPS deployed within a datacentre environment. Now though Telsa has beaten me to it and commercialised the idea.
They say the simplest ideas are the best, and the idea of having a battery storing energy created locally is probably a very simple one. The challenge however has always been the battery technology itself, but with Telsa's advancement in developing new lithium-ion technology the product does look to be consumer ready. Also with the new Gigafactory going live shortly Telsa's ability to ship many units at such a competitive price should see high levels of adoption. Especially in the U.S. where grid reliability and access can be less reliable than we are used to.
So will it be a success? I hope it is, and hopefully I will be able to deploy such a pack in my home when I eventually manage to build it. I am not sure how effective it will be in existing homes because of the necessary rewiring that will need to take place but I am sure like any technology there will be early adopters. Can it change the world? Well actually if adoption is high enough then I think it could make a difference. Our ability to store energy is the biggest hindrance with solar and wind energy and I think this might be the shot in the arm it needs.
WED • 10 JUN 2015
Have Microsoft gone mad?
For Microsoft the continuous battle from Apple, without any significant inroads into the mobile space, the concept of trying to persuade customers to upgrade to Windows 10 is a challenging one. With the duff Windows 8 turning people away from Microsoft, me included, Windows 10 needs to once more gain dominance on the desktop. That way Microsoft can at the very least hold onto their valuable MS Office income while also providing leverage to Xbox and mobile devices.
It is a bold move and one that I suspect will see Microsoft continue on its route to move into a rental income model. With the successful Office 365 converting customers to a direct relationship with Microsoft, partners, and importantly their margins, are being squeezed out enabling Microsoft to return further profits to the business. Maybe this is the start of the end for Microsoft charging customers upfront for software and future models will rely wholly on an opex model. That will devastate their revenues globally but probably increase profitability, so a move that investors can support.
I don’t believe for a second Microsoft will continue to offer Windows 10 for free, I believe the offer is only available to customers with a Windows 7 or 8 licence and for a limited time. I assume the majority of income still comes through the sale of new devices although that market has been devastated by the growth of tablets and smartphones. Maybe it is just a sign of Microsoft moving with the times.
TUE • 12 MAY 2015
Mobile networks begin to innovate
But one aspect of owning a smart phone that lets it down is its ability to make voice calls. I don’t know quite if it is the phones fault, or over congested networks as adoption reaches peaks and everyone spends their time updating Facebook rather than making calls. Suffice to say I find I suffer a number of drops a day, better on EE than Vodafone, but nothing I had on my trusty Nokia 7210 (that only had the Worms game).
So I was surprised when I came across an option on my iPhone to enable ‘Wifi Calls’ which when enabled allows EE to connect to my phone over whatever WiFi network I might be connected to. I know apps have been around for a while that lets you use O2 or other networks over Wifi, but I wasn’t aware it was part of the phone and seamlessly registers to EE in the background. No longer am I searching for signal, especially in my office which seems to behave like a big faraday cage keeping all mobile signals at bay.
It is an amazingly simple feature, but complex I am sure behind the scenes, but one that has given my mobile a new lease of life as I don’t have to suggest to anyone that I speak to that they should call me on the landline. At the moment I understand the feature only works with Apple and Android phones and with EE in the UK but I am sure more will follow in the coming months.
WED • 15 APR 2015
Take an interest and make a difference
While I appreciate my vote will make little difference to the outcome, I don’t feel for one second that I shouldn’t vote and use my opportunity to have my say. How could I have any criticism in the future on our government if I didn’t take the opportunity to help shape it in the first place? I think the problem is that we look at our government as this far away and irrelevant creature, something the SNP focused hugely on with the Scottish referendum, rather than actually closer to home.
For many years I have used every opportunity to help try and make my life and those around me a better place to live. I have been surprised about how easy it is to make a small difference just by taking some time to talk to someone about it. As a keen cyclist and driver I have been appalled by the state of our roads, however to be fair to my local council whenever I have raised an issue it has been dealt with. I put through so many complaints on one stretch of road in my village in Worcestershire that the whole road (about 2 miles) has just been freshly resurfaced. Even in Southwark they are quick to respond to my concerns about litter, potholes or security.
To be fair to our overlords, there is just too much that needs to be done, all the time. So without the public taking the time to highlight issues on what needs their attention they are unable to prioritise, or they do for the few of us that do contact them, leaving the silent majority frustrated at the lack of action.
What gets me is that is that surely the younger generations should be all over this? With the use of technology it is now very easy to highlight concerns on the street via apps like FixMyStreet or even Twitter. Businesses have for a long time focused on the needs of the consumer and do their best to listen to feedback, because if they don’t consumers vote with their feet and go elsewhere. In the world of government and politics it is very much the same but we have to work a bit harder and together to get our message across.
So don’t despair things can be done you just have to take five minutes out of your day to contribute and maybe you might see some positive change.
MON • 08 SEP 2014
Bye bye Scotland?
Firstly I am advised that I shouldn’t have a ‘political view’ as a businessman, but to be honest if nobody speaks out about the potential travesty of Scotland departing and leaves it just to the politicians then we are all screwed. Now I understand a lot of the swing vote has come from too much of a negative rhetoric from the ‘No’ campaign and patriotic anti-conservative momentum from the ‘Yes’ side. But the problem is, I cannot see any positives for Scotland in choosing independence, and while the whole nation will suffer the turmoil of a split I can only see England benefiting in the long term. This surely should bother the nationalists more. If they are going to use the anti-English propaganda then the realisation that business and hence jobs will move south, to England’s benefit, should take some wind out of their sails?
I can understand the issue with Westminster making policy over Scotland, it is a long way away and has very difference social and domestic issues, but the Scottish Parliament is meant to appease that. With its current devolved matters including education, health, agriculture and justice it does have significant impact over day to day issues and with further powers it could do more. However running the whole country including currency and security are surely significant costs and overheads that 5 million people can’t support on their own? Or if they can it will add significant costs to the running of the country, all of which Scotland can’t support on its current income. And this is where I believe the ‘No’ campaign has faltered. By focusing too much on the negatives of leaving the union it has played into the hands of the patriots and their upbeat ‘what if?’ oratory. Unfortunately however there is no getting away from the costs Scotland will face, its lack of income as an independent country and the relative security and stability of the remaining union remaining on its doorstep. Surely any business or inward investor will just go south of the border?
And it begs also another question a bit closer to home in terms of Universal Service Obligation (USO), there has been a debate on the subject in our industry of what it will mean to telecoms in the sense that currently the cost of a phone line in the northern tip of Scotland is subsidised by installations across the UK. But as a separate entity the cost of delivery to remote parts of Scotland will surely rise? Having said that by not having BT as the monopoly might allow Scotland the ability to leapfrog the rest of the UK and deploy universal fibre access… oh wait sorry wrong argument! But you get the point – easy ones like Royal Mail will be impacted but also what about the likes of food. I am sure Tesco will do whatever it can to increase costs and improve margins. Would they argue that the cost of delivery an orange to Aberdeen is the same as delivering it to Birmingham? Does it matter anymore if you are then comparing two separate countries rather than separate cities in one nation?
I have thought about this a lot and have a lot more to say on the subject but my main gripe is how helpless I feel in helping to persuade the people of Scotland that they have a lot of benefits by staying and that they are stronger and richer by remaining a part of the UK. I am not all for big unions, I for one would currently support our exit from the EU (a separate debate!) for example, but I think the segregation of the UK would bring no benefits, especially to Scotland. We don’t have currency union with the EU but we do with Scotland for one. A United Kingdom outside of Europe, but able to trade with Europe, would be very exciting and may bring the change to the country that Scotland so craves. However that reality doesn’t become an option should Scotland choose to leave next week, and instead helps solidify the anti-English rhetoric that should have been put to bed generations ago.
Let’s hope the ‘No’ campaign can put a positive (ironic don’t you think) twist on things this week and advert this potential disaster.
FRI • 15 AUG 2014
It is finally here!
Little did I realise it would take 10 months to build due to my desire to have a custom colour (Fluidata blue of course, well actually Kingfisher but very close) and custom interior full of light grey suede, leather and blue stitching. It also seems the factory is flat out, which I got to see the other week when in Neckarsulm (home of Audi Quattro and every RS model) as part of my handover of the car. Part of my love of the Atom was actually the process of specking and supporting the car with the people who designed and built it. The fact that the factory is so close to the sale and support process brings a certain amount of cache and understanding of what makes the car tick. I didn’t realise Audi was so close to this idea, and it turns my R8 from being a mass produced car into a highly custom, hand built machine, made in a small production line by 300 specialists. Even though the Audi has a full aluminium space frame the whole car is built by hand. Being able to walk between all the engineers welding parts together was a sight for any car nut, and even my partner was slightly impressed.
The production line was actually being closed down a week later to make way for the new Audi A8 production line which was going to be built at the site so the R8 line was being moved about 14 KM down the road. This I believe is where it will stay for the next year or so before it closes down and the new R8 (or R9 if the rumours are to be believed) replaces it. However the new site doesn’t allow for factory tours so my personal tour was the last they will ever run for the R8. It was great to see the factory, spend a lot of time with my new car (before it was sent back to the UK by a courier), see other cars and have a great lunch in their reception. Apparently as a factory they hand over nearly 250 cars a day while building about 1,500.
So what is the car like? Great as you would expect. I haven’t been able to stretch its legs yet due to the run in period but if feels well-built and while some of the switchgear is quite old in its design it is a very special place to sit. And the noise of the V8 down shifting just behind your head is as exciting as the Atom supercharger whine. It was worth the wait.
MON • 07 JUL 2014
Is more screen time a good thing?
I was probably the last generation to grow up without the Internet and it only started to influence my life when I was 14. That meant until then I was a TV addict with only four TV channels to choose from. Films came in VHS from the video store and computer gaming was either via a first generation Game Boy or Nintendo 8-bit. Now I make it sound like I spent my whole time in front of the TV but actually I think I had a very balanced upbringing and while I watched an awful lot more than my girlfriend did when she grew up, I used to really enjoy being outside building camps or causing mischief.
However I also remember times of boredom when my friends were away or when there was nothing on TV. So this created opportunities to play and use my imagination. How much boredom kids are subjected to nowadays seems to differ depending on parenting styles but there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot, and I think that is a shame. While there can be huge benefits educationally with the information we have at our fingertips, I can’t believe the adults of tomorrow will thank us that they didn’t spend their childhood using their imagination and learning to deal with silence or boredom as we try to stimulate every second.
The problem with a screen is that it if infinitely variable in the colours and sounds it produces and it is no wonder that recent research has put certain devices such as a smart phone as being more addictive than crack cocaine. And this is the device we choose to give to our child to keep them occupied? For me not being a parent it is easy to look over the fence and have a view, and I am sure I will be the first to reach for the iPad to give to the nipper when I am lacking sleep and need some quiet time.
So is 1/7 of a child’s life watching a screen a good or a bad thing? Well I assume time will tell. Already I am seeing new recruits hitting our business who have been protected from failure, a phenomenon introduced in the last decade, so struggle to deal with the real world. Will the increased screen time produce a generation of geniuses - or distracted, unimaginative individuals?