On the Weather

July 31, 2007

George Mikes originally wrote the book “How to be an Alien” in the 1940s as a means of gently poking fun at the Brits. It was subsequently adopted by the Central Office of Information as a handbook for Polish refugees arriving here.

One of Mikes’s home truths is on how we like to talk about the weather:

“On the Continent there is one topic which should be avoided – the weather;
in England, if you do not repeat the phrase ‘Lovely day, isn’t it?’ at least
two hundred times a day, you are considered a bit dull.”

There are also other insights:

“On the Continent people have good food; in England people have good table manners.”

“Many continentals think life is a game; the English think cricket is a game.”

In this spirit of discourse on the weather, I saw what I think is an interesting article in the FT over the weekend about the unusual amount of rain we’ve been having recently. While southern Europe is suffering in 40+ degrees centigrade, Britain is experiencing record rainfall figures. It seems this is due to the jet stream being further south this year, which has Britain in a low pressure trough while also carrying hotter air from Africa into southern Europe.

The FT has a Flash-based map comparing the jetstream for last year’s record hottest figures with this year.

Banks Agree to Charges Test Case

July 27, 2007

Listening to the Wake Up to Money podcast this morning, I hear that HSBC, LLoyds TSB, RBS and Nationwide will be going to court to establish a precedent on the legality of bank charges. The central point is whether the sums involved can be justified as being service charges which reflect the actual cost of providing the service (and if so, how much of a profit are the banks entitled to make?) versus penalty charges, which are illegal.

I wonder how the banks will justify their charges given the revelations in the BBC Whistleblower programme, aired back in March. In it, the reporter obtained footage showing a Barclays manager claiming that the true cost of bouncing a direct debit (for example) was £1.50-£2.

You can find the clip on YouTube:

Getting into Podcasts

July 12, 2007

I have managed to avoid owning an iPod for a long time because I tend to spend my time doing other things. At home we have a Squeebox which streams WAV/MP3s through the hi-fi, and a Pure Evoke 3 DAB radio which also takes an SD card containing MP3s so I didn’t feel like I was missing out. But I decided recently that I needed to explore and understand what podcasting was about.

I remember reading, with general indifference, an article some time ago about Tim Curry, who is credited along with Dave Winer as being one of the original podcasters. However I eventually came to the conclusion that I must be missing something and picked up a Shuffle.

Contrary to the happy iPod customers that I work with, my first experience was not completely smooth; I plugged in … I like the fact that the old Shuffle model plugs directly into the USB port without cables … and got the ominous flashing orange/green lights. One factory reset and test sync later I started exploring the podcast directory.

So far, I’m enjoying listening to:

I tend to do so while I’m walking to/from the station. And I think I can see the point now – podcasts are much more engaging than just reading words and clearly bring out the personality of the podcaster. I did find myself wanting to skip to the summary sometimes, which is where the transcripts become important – but I’m also enjoying the indulgence of listening to the unabridged version, at the original speed, which is an antidote to scanning large quantities of RSS feeds as quickly as possible.

Passion and Compromise

July 10, 2007

As you will have noticed, it’s been rather quiet here recently; I have been pre-occupied with what’s been happening at work and consequently lost my momentum … the longer I’ve left it, the harder it’s been to find something appropriate to get going again. The wisdom out there seems to be to write about something that you’re passionate about, and ideally that’s what I would be doing on a daily basis; however, while I would prefer to spend my time designing and building useful software, and solving problems, the reality of working with a large organisation is that sometimes strategic and organisational issues get in the way. (So then you have to take a view on how long you’re prepared to live with that.)

The most enjoyable job I had was working for a payment systems company called Interlink from 1991 to 1999 where I wrote software, travelled to customer sites (often in the Gulf states) for a few weeks, got the software working and then supported it afterwards (having built up a rapport with the banks’ people who were on-site). I think there were a number of reasons I enjoyed it so much: we had a really good team of people, the work was varied and interesting, I had the support of the MD and was able to make decisions that made a difference; it was a challenge being out there in front of the customer but very satisfying when the system ultimately went live and I saw happy users.

Anyway, this writing hiatus has had me thinking about what I’m passionate about … I was listening to an interview with Ben Casnocha on Alex Bellinger’s Smallbizpod, where Ben and Alex discussed the idea of randomness, and that you need to try different things to discover what you’re really passionate about. So I bought a copy of Ben’s book, “My Start-up Life”, and I really enjoyed it. Ben comes across as a remarkable individual, not least for the amount that he has achieved in a relatively short amount of time. I agree with Marc Benioff’s comments in the foreward:

… you will enjoy this provocative, honest, and fun romp through an entrepreneurial achievement, which will leave you determined to embark on your own enterprising endeavour — and inspired to find your own way to make a difference.

and enjoyed Ben’s choice of quotes, particularly the last one by Mavis Leyrer.

So I’m working on finding a role now that I’m passionate about every day, which gives me and my family what we need. And I believe I’m moving in the right direction.

Next to my desk is the following quote, often (incorrectly) attributed to Goethe, and I find it helps to keep me focused:

The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.