FRI • 24 OCT 2014
Little features make a big difference
But after this holiday I believe I gave it a good work out to not only keep track of my boarding tickets but also the balance on my credit card (useful when the exchange rate is so good) and even the train ticket to and from Heathrow. No longer was I searching desperately after returning from holiday for the most expensive train ticket in the world, it was right there on my phone.
It has opened my eyes to the new payment technology which is being introduced into the new iPhone 6, and while live in the US, will take a few more months before being rolled out here. I am sure, while I don’t currently appreciate what exactly it will do, it will enhance the way I spend and maybe even make my wallet redundant.
So while my new iPhone is still not as good as my old Nokia for making calls, it does an awful lot more, so I am willing to put up with it for all the extra features and benefits I can get.
WED • 25 JUN 2014
Motivate with a challenge
With all the challenges we had, from the coach breaking down, to major roads being closed, we still managed to pull together and complete the challenge. I think for a few of my fellow colleagues, who hadn't done much mountain walking, the realisation of the task ahead dawned as we stood at the start of ‘heart attack’ hill at the foot of Ben Nevis. That set the tone for the rest of the climbs as we were always behind time on the travel and had to make it up on the mountains. Trust me running along a mountain path after no sleep in a bus and having already climbed two mountains wasn't fun.
But the benefits for the team was not just in the completion of the challenge but also accumulation of training that went into it six months previously. For me it is a great opportunity to get people to work together and help each other along to ensure everyone had the best opportunity to complete the event. And even now, a few weeks after the event the office is still buzzing as those people build on their friendships and experiences with the rest of the business.
So if anyone is considering organising such a challenge for your own business, I would wholeheartedly recommend it. The cost of running it (which can be many thousands of pounds) can be immediately felt within the business in terms of productivity, so it is even a good investment. Couple that with raising money for charity and you have a real win win opportunity.
My only problem now is to think of what we could do next…
MON • 07 APR 2014
Surely we should have reinvented the train by now?
I have long harboured thoughts about the idea of a suspended track utilising maglev technology (magnets to suspend the train above the track) to allow pods to float between locations. Such a track would be small enough to be installed into our crowded cities and extend out to the country. Each pod could be the size of a standard taxi allowing people to book a pod for when they wanted it and arrive at their chosen location at a time to suit. The technology of today could allow for such an invention and surely with a £50bn cheque from government it could be made a reality?
You may not be aware that the first installation of a commercial maglev train was installed in Birmingham Airport in 1984 and it operated successfully for nearly eleven years. It fell into disrepair because spare parts were hard to come by and was replaced in 1995 by a cable operated train. Wouldn't it be great though if we managed as a country to then link Birmingham to London using the same technology 30-years later.
Wired magazine recently covered SkyTran which is essentially the same idea and is being considered for installation in Tel Aviv. I like this concept because it looks to be light on infrastructure and reducing the potential cost for such a system to be deployed. Other ideas include Elon Musk's much publicised Hyperloop project which looks to install a tube with low air pressure to sustain travel at 760 mph.
China’s famous Shanghai Transrapid is one step too far in my mind, requiring huge resources to build and support. While the train can travel at 268 mph and carry hundreds of passengers it looks over engineered and a much simpler, sleek and individual solution would be a better bet. It does raise an interesting point in regards to funds, because while the Transrapid cost $1.3bn to build 18.95 miles, it does mean that with our budget of £50bn we could build 1,140 miles across the UK.
I am all for infrastructure builds but instead of using the opportunity to develop something genuinely ground breaking, we are going to wait 15 years for something that is old today.
FRI • 10 MAY 2013
Great value from Avios
For many years I have used BA’s American Express card (little bit ironic don’t you think?) to collect the points and have enjoyed a number of business class flights across the world for me and a friend. The card is pretty good in that if you spend so much a year on it then you get another ticket for free. You have to spend your Avios only on business class international flights to really see the value, rather than on an economy European trip which seems to be not much more expensive than the tax Avios makes you pay.
However for my last few flights I have managed to get first class, rather than business, and on my last flight I was able to experience BA’s newest FIRST product. What made it that bit sweeter was that BA were running an Avios promotion on the week I booked so I actually paid less than if we had flown in business class. And boy was it worth it. Although the flight was from Gatwick, rather than Heathrow, as the majority of BA’s Caribbean flights do the experience once airborne was excellent. For some reason the cabin was pretty much empty out (and full coming back) so we enjoyed our own purser and enjoyed the full luxury of the BA experience at its best.
With so many airlines advancing BA in terms of aircraft and cabin quality it was good to see they are slowing getting their mojo back. What was really good to see is how luxurious the soft service is (washkit, food, bedding, pjs and so forth) and how much more classy it felt over the competition. Suffice to say it was the highlight of the holiday and all thanks to the Avios program which means I am now stuck forever in point accumulation hell.
FRI • 08 MAR 2013
Back in love with video
That however has now changed through two advances. First the iPad and the very clever iMovies app which allows me to edit reasonably good video wherever I am (making the most of the trip to and from a holiday), and second the recent purchase of a GoPro Hero 3 Black. The GoPro has been around for a few years but after trying last year skiing goggles with a camera built into them I thought the idea of a go anywhere camera meant I could once again get excited about making videos. This latest model, the Hero 3 Black, delivers better than HD quality at 60 frames per second which is better than larger camcorders and the benefit of the Hero is that it is in an indestructible waterproof case with attachments for literally anything.
As you will see from my below very rushed example it delivers incredible flexibility on where the camera is mounted and gives a great view of the action. More to follow…
MON • 18 FEB 2013
Integrated to perfection
The hotel didn’t disappoint but much to my partner’s disgust my interest suddenly became very technology focused as I found the in room tablet (Samsung Galaxy) which not only controlled the TV and music but also the lights, heating and blinds. Now I appreciate this is not new but the application, especially with the rooms being reasonably priced for London, was impeccable and it got me thinking as to how long before this not only becomes the standard in hotels but also within homes.
Without any instructions the tablet was quick to navigate giving access to a wide range of free films, the ability to change the colour of the shower room (most amusing when other people when using it…) as well as the rest of the lights, access the internet and so forth. It was all nicely branded as well along with a great touch in terms of programing it for an alarm and picking the way it woke you (from ‘peaceful’ to ‘get out of bed!’), which included increasing light intensity along with music.
Working from within the industry (well more on the connectivity and cloud side) it is easy to forget about the applications, so it is really nice to see how a multitude of technologies have come together to deliver a seamless solution which, and this is rare, seem totally normal. With so much new technology available it is nice to experience the complete package executed with panache and in a way that passes my father test (i.e. could my father use it without calling me for assistance!). To be honest it completely passes that test because those free films also include some of Europe’s more saucy movies increasing the appeal to learn how to use it.
TUE • 05 FEB 2013
How safe is safe?
I have been skiing all my life and consider my abilities above average but I have never, until now, considered the need to wear one. But peer pressure aside, what are the benefits for wearing one, especially when the rest of my body isn’t protected as I travel at 50 mph + down an icy slope on a pair of wooden planks? Obviously if I am involved in an accident and my head gets hit then I am going to be thankful for wearing it, but while a number of recent tragedies have made the headlines, surly a head injury is just one of many potential hazards while skiing?
My girlfriend was wearing a helmet for most of the week but when she removed it and skied without it she was amazed at how much more aware of the slopes she was in terms of people around her and noise. Obviously we were concerned about tempting fate, but it is an interesting point that in a world of health & safety and the need to protect ourselves are we going one step too far and trying to make something inherently dangerous look safe? Could I argue that by wearing it you are in fact less aware of the potential risks and therefore take more?
It is amazing how much busier ski slopes have become as its popularity has grown and with modern piste bashing and advances in equipment we are travelling faster than ever. So maybe I have answered my own question in that this is the motivation to wearing a helmet, but in fact reducing ones awareness of those around you is not what should be happening on a busy slope. I am sure the day will come when I am compelled to buy a helmet (well just to fit in) in the same way I did for my bike but in the world of safety at what point do we accept it is just a risk we have to take?
Bit of a silly example but more than a couple of times last year pedestrians have been knocked down in London by buses. So surely as a pedestrian I should be walking around with a helmet as the likelihood of being knocked by a 40 mph bus is a real and present danger? You never know in a few years it might catch on…
FRI • 05 OCT 2012
Life’s a Beach
One of the things I most enjoy about visiting America is comparing the different aspects of our society, the good and the bad, because usually on the whole there is a lot to like about America. Probably as I spent my early childhood living in Alaska I do find America familiar and enjoy the get up and go of the people and the endless levels of enthusiasm. It is definitely easier being a business owner in America with lower levels of red tape and positive encouragement for being successful, rather than our more negative view.
My visit to LA however was somewhat marred by the high levels of homeless people living in and around the city and the general disregard by the residents about their fellow citizens. It seems surprising in a country such as America and a state like California, which by itself just as a state has a GDP that would put it number eight in the world economies, which so many people are falling through the cracks of society. Take a drive around LA and every street corner or beach sees people forced to live on the street with a society disinterested in helping or rehoming residents.
It seems to have become such a common site that existing charities are not making an obvious impact and government policy is such that the safety net is not there. Obviously the number of people made homeless has been accelerated due to the recession but what surprised me were the different walks of life and that it was not just drug abusers or alcoholics but once well-heeled members of society making their bed on the beach.
While I am no expert on the differences in our welfare state compared to America, it is apparent theirs doesn’t work very well or that ours must be somehow better. While I agree ours needs reform and is abused by many I know which country I would prefer to live in if I was up against it.
WED • 29 AUG 2012
What about Gatwick and Stanstead?
I think everyone is agreed that air traffic will grow and if London is to continue to sit at the global table then we need to provide more capacity. Even people previously against the idea of a third runway are already capitulating, realising that while the disruption to noise is a pain, the disruption to business would be a dire if there isn’t a long term solution. And if you think about it over time air travel will get quieter, as technology gets more advance, and if these new scramjet engines ever make service then environmentally friendly as well.
My solution to the problem is a rather simple one which I believe would keep the bean counters happy and ensure London has sufficient capacity for the future. It is to scrap the idea of the third runway at Heathrow and instead invest in a second runway at both Gatwick and Stanstead. This would give us twice the capacity of a third runway at Heathrow in a north and south hub. By spreading the additional capacity as well would ensure the impact to the local residents would be reduced. This would then be supplemented by a new high speed rail line that would link Heathrow and Gatwick and Heathrow and Stanstead – call it HS3 if you will.
That way we turn regional airports into one massive city airport linked by a high speed, reliable and punctual rail service, meaning customers can easily contemplate catching planes from either airport or transferring between airports. Essentially making each airport a hub rather than a standalone airport and with the distance of such a train line being about 100 miles it should be cheaper to deploy than HS2 (London to Birmingham) and take less than 40 minutes to get from Gatwick to Stanstead via Heathrow.
If you then link this into HS2 and Cross Rail you end up with a well thought-out public transport plan which not only benefits London but also the rest of the country.
THU • 23 AUG 2012
End of the line for Virgin
The fact that the journey we took that day was rather different to the one we planned (ie head to Wigan rather than Manchester and take a taxi) due to the ticket costing over £600 (!) for a day return compared to £250 to go to Wigan. The fact that the ticket could be expensed as part of travel expenses softened the blow but it was still a significant sum for a relatively short journey and one day meeting.
Yes the train was clean and ran pretty much on time but surely that is what anyone would expect from a train service? The fact that Virgin are one of the few companies to have actively invested in new rolling stock is probably the only reason as to why Virgin should retain the franchise rather than passing it onto the ‘that will do’ First group.
It isn’t however a business I would want to be involved with and I am surprised Mr Branson is putting up such a fight for something that can only really tarnish the Virgin brand. To be in charge of a product (ie the train service) that is completely reliant on Network Rail seems absurd, especially when you have no control over it. I appreciate you could draw a comparison with BT and the telecoms industry but it isn’t as if you get much choice of train company on each track so why they can’t look after the train and the track seems rather odd.
However it doesn’t look like Virgin is standing still with a public petition taking place, well if you are a branding company you might as well fight with your best weapon, as well as taking on British Airways with domestic flights.
As a very occasional traveller my view doesn’t really count but looking at the feedback from some seasoned 30-year train commuters the service, while more modern, hasn’t improved over time in either service of timescales. Maybe instead of handing the franchise over to First, who have promised more government payments (but also seem to have a very cheap get out of jail card should they default), we should be looking at the industry as a whole and make some bigger changes. As for Virgin I would get out and run and while I was at it exit the other brand destroying industries they like to be involved in – I remember a quote Mr Branson gave once which was ‘if you want to become a millionaire then you need to become a billionaire and then buy an airline’.
THU • 26 JUL 2012
Sweden rules with an iron fist
I spent an enjoyable weekend in Malmo which is a short train ride from Copenhagen where we flew into and is the 3rd largest city after Stockholm and Gothenburg. Although ‘large’ isn’t the same term we would use with Malmo supporting around 800,000 inhabitants and the whole country only 9 million. Apparently being the third largest country in Europe they therefore have one of the lowest population densities. Obviously their climate puts some restriction on this but I am surprised they aren’t seeing greater population growth due to their high quality of life and ability to speak English perfectly.
However what did interest me though was the higher level of restriction on society as a whole and whether this had an impact on delivering the apparent high quality of life. Firstly it appears an incredibly safe country with people conforming to high levels of discipline when in public - there is literally no litter for example and very little graffiti. However when you delve into some of the restrictions your first response is one of shock only to then consider would it make a difference in the UK and would we be better to adopt some of their policies?
Policies such as credit cards have to be paid off in full every month, even to the extent that your card will stop working during a month if it looks like you won’t have enough funds in your current account to clear the balance at the end of the month. In our credit laden country such measures seem draconian, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to start my business under the same conditions – at one stage I had five credit cards maxed out and needed more cards just to keep up minimum payments (scary times!). But then my case was the exception and on the whole should we be less reliant on credit?
But also other restrictions such as no supermarket in the country can sell alcohol and that the only way to buy alcohol other than via a bar/restaurant is by using a government approved liquor stores (of which there are only 11 in Malmo). Now this to me seems rather draconian but it seems to work dramatically reducing casual drinking and, most importantly, anti-social behaviour. Obviously you aren’t going to help those intent on getting drunk but without alcohol being so readily available you have to put a bit more thought into what and when you are going to drink.
Along with this legislation is a ban on any public drinking, so again no taking a few cans to the beach or the park bench. This seems rather excessive but it appears to work with less litter and no fewer people enjoying the outside space. But if you do want a drink then there are more than enough pop up cafes where you can buy a beer but you have to drink within their specific area.
So on the whole Sweden lived up to my expectations as a country and it is definitely somewhere I could live (as it would suit my OCD!), and to my surprise I wouldn’t be put off by their unusual laws as I think they work. The question is would there be an appetite for such changes in the UK?
THU • 28 JUN 2012
Professional meets amateur
It all started with a visit to a specialist mountain bike retailer in Cheltenham which had a knack of displaying all the bikes just so and after trying a few I was convinced that I now needed a full suspension bike, especially one in carbon fibre, 150 mm of travel front and back, and with a seat that goes up and down automatically. Obviously my life had been incomplete until this point and spending car money on a Cube bicycle appeared completely normal. I then had a number of months in which to regret my decision but the other week I took delivery of my new toy.
I wouldn’t call myself professional by any means of the word but I do enjoy cycling more than running and off road more than on road. This bike is just incredible in the way it feels and how it rides to the extent that I even now consider it good value. I am even planning my weekends now around when and where I can take it, with a trip down to the Alps required as soon as possible.
I did get a mountain bike fix recently in Montenegro while visiting my old man; however riding for four hours up 700 meters of ascent in 38 degree heat on a child’s bike didn’t really match the experience of the new bike but was enjoyable all the same.
THU • 18 AUG 2011
The new place in the med
Unfortunately the hotels for the marina aren’t finished yet but if you are looking for a location next year, when they probably will be, I can heartily recommend it. That whole coast including Croatia is stunning and rather unspoilt making it one of the most interesting coastlines in the med. I even managed to do a bit of diving with ex Russian military divers Boris and Igor (I love a good cliché) who demonstrated how clear the water was at 35 meters.
I am already planning the trip next year and even considering the diabolical idea of taking the Atom there
FRI • 13 MAY 2011
London could learn a bit from Hong Kong
With walkways suspended above the streets to an air-conditioned underground the city looks vibrant, bustling and above all cared for. Other cities such as New York, Paris and Rome have a sense of disrepair, which only got worse since the recession; Hong Kong looks remarkably unscathed by the recession. They are apparently sitting on a surplus, helped I am sure by the buoyant investment by China. Apparently now the airport sees 70% of all visitors to the island from mainland China, but with all this inward investment and interest the island still maintains its own identity. I just hope London can keep up, otherwise with the likes of HSBC looking to move their headquarters to Hong Kong it might just overtake.
MON • 02 MAR 2009
Live the good life in Austria
Something I think our society misses is the precision, organisation and forward planning that the Austrian’s seem to put into their daily life. It might look from the outside a little boring but they do appear happier and definitely have a better quality of life than we enjoy in Britain. There is a high level of respect for each other, and a real sense of community, even in the larger towns such as Salzburg.
I don’t quite know how you instil these values into Britain, but something I think we used to have and after being back in Austria, something we are definitely missing out on.