Monthly Archives: January 2008

Sore arses and other ailments

tweedcc_web.jpgLast year my old mate Mark and I decided that we needed to undertake a grand physical challenge while we were both still in our 30s.  We decided that – as we did when we were at school together – it’d be a good idea to cycle from Mark’s house to mine.  We grew up in Hertfordshire, and the distance from Codicote to St. Ippolyts was about 10km.  In fact I imagine it still is.

The distance from Wimbledon – where Mark now lives – to my house in France is about 750km, depending on the Channel crossing you take.  It’s unlikely that I’ll be back by teatime.

Still, a challenge is a challenge and we’re doing it.  Not only that, but we’re going past my house and all the way down to St. Emilion, which seemed like a suitable place to collapse.  We’re starting on May 2nd and should arrive on May 6th.  We’ve even managed to convince some similarly middle-aged friends to come along too.  In all, there’ll be 10 of us hauling our generous backsides onto the unforgiving saddles of road-racing machinery of varying quality and vintage.  Should be quite some sight.

It’s all for charity of course.  Our headline beneficiary is NCH, and a very worthy one it is too.  Ken Deeks gave a moving speech about NCH’s work at The Flackenhack Awards last year and I can’t think of a better cause for which to be riding.

You can sponsor me here personally (all contributions very gratefully received) and if you represent a company and feel that having your logo stretched across ten slow-moving arses would be good for business, then I’d love to hear from you.  There’ll be room for the biggest of logos, I assure you.

Oh, I’m also after the loan of a van for a week.  Long-wheelbase Transit size.  Ta.

As a frequent flyer…

art_plane_gi.jpg…I take a certain amount of comfort from the fact that a jet can drop short of the runway, lose its wheels and end up looking like this, and not only can everyone walk away virtually unharmed, but (as the Economist reports) have one passenger say that they thought the landing was “a little heavy” and another say that the “first sign of problems was when the wing began to detach shortly before the aircraft came to a standstill…”

Mind you, after half a day flying from Beijing, they might’ve been drunk.

Less comforting are the reports that the plane might have run out of fuel on its approach, something that, if confirmed, will add fuel (sorry) to the debate about overcrowded skies and congestion in the air.  No doubt there’ll be details of how long the jet had been circling above London and, had it been asked to do another circuit, where it might have come down.  Gulp.

In search of the fairer Twitterer

I’ve been Twittering for a week now.  It’s been OK.  Quite entertaining.  That’ll wear off I expect.  Or perhaps not, as I’ve realised the compelling thing about Twitter is that it’s just so damn easy.  Like blogging but without the thought or effort.  I can see why people like it.

I am following 19 other people’s Twits (I think the official term might be Tweet, but I like Twit so much better) and have 10 people following mine.  Clearly there’s some overlap in these two groups.  In fact, in the Venn diagram of my Twitter universe, the circle containing my followers sits entirely within the circumference of the one containing my followees.  I realise that true Twitting power comes when the reverse is the case.  I am never likely to attain that.

The thing that struck me is that all those people that I’m following are male.  Not a girl among them.  Obviously 19 isn’t the biggest sample but looking at some of the other Twitterers with which I’m linked, there don’t seem to be many women around.

It might be, of course, that they have better things to do with their time.  Or perhaps that they’re generally later adopters of the latest geek porn…but then Twitters been around for a while now, hasn’t it?

Some might say that asking a member of the fairer sex to say anything in fewer than 140 characters is nigh on impossible (I wouldn’t, of course).

Kids, manage that online rep

Update:  I see that Simon’s posted about this!alein.jpg  Slightly more mature perspective, too…

Dr Richard Barnes, a Cambridge University admissions tutor, seems like a reasonable bloke to me.  I have no idea how old he is (this isn’t him in the picture…) but I’m going to guess at 52.  Being a man whose job involves dealing with lots and lots of school-leavers Dr Dickie, as I like to call him, thinks he should be down with the kids.  So this year he joined Facebook…as did I (and half the bleedin’ population).

He admitted as such to Emmanuel College’s magazine (“Inside Emmanuel: Ducks and Punts”…probably), where he’s a senior tutor.  Nothing wrong in that, of course.  But then our Dickie also admitted that he sometimes checked out the Facebook profiles of college applicants. 

Nothing wrong in that, either (for me).  But a bunch of people are up in arms.  The Guardian’s article on the matter states that “Cambridge, like Oxford, insists it only offers places based on a candidate’s interview performance, academic record and personal statement, outlining their interests and reasons for studying a particular course.”

I realise it might be absolutely folly to suggest that the dusty world of academia takes a step into the real world, but COME ON academia, take a step into the real world, if only for the sake of your students.

While a socially dysfunctional nerd might be able to get himself a place at Cambridge through a hatful of A-levels, a personal statement written by his mum and a drug-enhanced interview, when he steps out of the safety blanket of university life, do you think prospective employers are going to take such a blinkered approach to recruitment?  Course not.  They’ll be straight into Google, Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, and the rest.

“But it needs to be a level playing field for all,” they’ll cry.  “What happens when the hot girl from Hampshire gets accepted because she listed “crusty old men” as an interest on her Facebook profile, when the spotty fella from Cumbria with Stephen Hawkings’ brain gets turned away because he likes paintballing?”

Don’t care.  She’s going to go further anyway, so it might as well start now.

Anyway, Dr Dickie would only have been able to see the Facebook profiles of those people stupid enough to have them visible to all and sundry and not just their mates.  In which case, perhaps their applications should be tossed straight in the bin immediately because they’re clearly idiots?

Feeling supersonic

0108wb3.jpgI’m back in the UK this week.  New year, new job and all that.  As per usual, I flew out of La Rochelle on Ryanair’s flight to Stansted (sadly, without having indulged in the planet’s best cheese sandwich).

Lots of people moan about Ryanair – I hear them all the time – but I have to say that, in four years flying between France and the UK and probably 100-odd flights, I’ve only ever not managed to make it to the UK on the day I intended to once (which was weather related) and only ever been seriously delayed a couple of times.  It’s proper basic, sure. But it’s proper cheap, relatively speaking.

On today’s flight I finished off Duncan Hamilton’s brilliant, brilliant book about his time spent in the company of Brian Clough, the greatest football manager ever to walk on God’s earth (oceans and all).  I also had the current Economist with me and one little story stood out, if only due to the stark contrast it presented to the environment in which I was reading it.

As you might expect, the demand for private jets is greater than it’s ever been.  The pain of navigating tightened security at large airports and flight congestion has made the argument for a private jet even more compelling, especially for business.  No point having half a dozen execs standing in line with the great unwashed when they could already be poring over spreadsheets (or more likely pouring cognac) at 30,000 feet.  But, as the Economist points out, though they might be in the air a bit quicker in their soft leather armchairs, the same bigwigs are only going to be travelling at the same speed as the plebs in the Jumbo.

But maybe not for long.  A company in the States has plans to produce a supersonic private jet!  How cool is that?  12 passengers, 1,000 mph.  It’ll also be able to fly subsonic (so up to about 750mph – faster than almost any other passenger planes) more efficiently than existing private jets.  And it’s only going to cost you $80m.  Something to save up for.

I can see plenty of corporations picking one up.  London to New York in three hours?  Leave at 9.00am and arrive before breakfast…get away at 4.00pm and be back around midnight.  Wonderful.

It really is.  Allow me to crow for a minute, and reminisce about one of the best experiences of my life (so far).  I was lucky enough (and I do totally feel completely, like, honoured) to have flown supersonic on Concorde.  Better than that, we didn’t go to dull old NYC.  Oh no, we went to Barbados!  It’s a slightly surreal experience, I have to tell you, to climb on a plane on a drizzly January morning at Heathrow and a mere four hours later be hopping down the steps at a sunny Grantley Adams airport.

I’m chuffed to bits that supersonic flight is back on the agenda.  I wonder if it’s too late to train as a pilot?

Go on Facebook my son, go on

scoble.jpgThis Scoble thing’s a laugh isn’t it?  I’m entirely with Facebook (on this, at least).

He broke the rules, they chucked him out.  Fair enough.  I don’t care if he’s high profile and can make an almighty fuss.  I don’t care if he had 5,000 friends.  Rules is rules.  If Facebook capitulates then I’m outta there.  That is unless they change the rules for everyone.  In which case, I’m outta there.  I don’t want every Tom, Dick and Harry running scripts to download my personal information.

But of course I won’t do, because I know all of my Facebook friends.  I’ve met them.  Scoble doesn’t know all of his 5,000 so-called friends…he’s just been happy to accept all the friend requests.  It’s not his fault that, in the friend finding frenzy that smothers us all when we sign up to Facebook, people send friend requests to anyone and everyone they’ve ever heard of, let alone talked to.  And can you really blame Scoble – ego boosted by this superficial popularity – if he gives in to human weakness and decides to grab all that lovely data?  After all, he probably didn’t have many friends at school.

But he got nicked.  It’s a fair cop guv…just go quietly, for Christ’s sake.  Jack Schofield’s got it right this morning: “So what is Scoble playing at?  If he wants to harvest data from his Facebook friends, he should not only tell us what and why, he should ask us first.”

Surely we can all learn something from this about Facebook?  When I was little, my parents told me not to speak to strangers.  Parents these days should be telling kids not to make friends with strangers on social networking sites.  It goes for adults too.  This morning I went through all of my Facebook friends and “defriended” all those that I haven’t actually met in person or had some meaningful communication with.  That was just two out of 219. 

Coincidentally, Hugh MacLeod has a post on his blog this morning in which he interviews Seth Godin about his new book.  MacLeod asks him whether handling the public side of being Seth Godin is becoming harder as he becomes better known.  The first bit of Godin’s answer:

Facebook is pretty much the only hassle right now. I joined to check it out, but I don’t use it, and I end up disappointing a lot of people I don’t ‘friend’. I should just turn it off, I guess. (Once you friend someone, I figure, you really owe them quite a bit of interaction).

Now there speaks a man who understands marketing.  No indiscriminate friend making for our Seth.

My week in media

pfd1575lightning-mcqueen-posters.jpgI’ve been tagged.  I think it’s the first time.  It’s the “my week in media” thing that’s floating around.  Wadd’s tagged me and I feel that I need to respond, if only to point out that he’s spelt my name incorrectly.  I’m meeting him for breakfast next week so I’ll slap his legs then. 

Anyway, here goes:

What I’ve read: I whistled through the autobiography of Alex James over the break.  It’s a lovely read.  Rock star excess but with an awareness that makes it quite charming.  Plus he uses a whole page to describe the wonderful cheese baguettes from the bar at La Rochelle airport which, as it’s my local, I can vouch for.  I’ve just started Duncan Hamilton’s book about Brian Clough, and the first couple of chapters are very promising.  I also managed to work my way through the special Christmas double issue of The Economist.

What I’ve listened to:  I had my classic little music player on random play and docked in the kitchen for the entire Festive Season, so we enjoyed a right mixed bag of tunes (and it has also resulted in my mum becoming a firm Foo Fighters fan).  I’ve been quite enjoying the Radio 1 Established 1967 album, The Gossip’s cover of Careless Whisper being a particular favourite.  Other than that, my eardrums have generally been filled with the sound of screaming kids.

What I’ve watched:  Despite the previous post about my nostalgia-driven purchase of the Christmas double issue of The Radio Times, the consensus has been that TV over the break was rubbish.  I can’t think of much that stood out, though I was pleased to catch The Terminal, a film that I’d wanted to see for ages and provided a very pleasant couple of hours.  Kids in bed, fire in the hearth and a bottle of wine…that sort of thing.  I’ve also watched all or part of Cars about a million times with my little boy.

What I’ve surfed:  I haven’t spent a huge amount of time online in the last week or two.  The odd flick through my feeds to catch up on news and sport is about the measure of it.  I’ve also been sorting out a few logistics for the London to St-Emilion charity cycle ride I’m organising for this coming May.  But more of that soon.

Has anyone tagged James Warren yet?  Consider it done.