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The van
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When I first thought about this, I worried I might lose friends, then I realised it was the right thing.

 

“Imagine that money wasn’t something you had to worry about – what would you do?”

Once you figure out the answer, you’re meant to head down the most efficient path there. Working ‘to get rich’ when you’re seeking to ‘have a happy family life’ may not be the most efficient route for you. It’s not a new concept, and worth reflecting on.

Today, I want to share with you how I’m answering that question.

The Plan

Parking the van at work

Parking the van at work

The plan is to buy a van, convert it into a live-in stealth campervan, and live in it. By June ~30th 2015.

Current status: I have bought a Mercedes Sprinter 2008 long wheel base 311 CDI 2.1 with ~150,000 miles – should go to ~300,000. It’s in fairly good nick.

This is my first car, and first thing I’ve driven on my own, so driving around Manchester is fun at times.

Instant FAQs

Where will you park it?

On the street, in different places – wherever we want to be at that point in time.

Will it have internet?

It’ll have 12V onboard electrics powering a 3G/4G wifi router. 25GB of data on EE these days is £30/mo on a one month contract.

What will you do about a toilet?

There will be an onboard Thetford c200 cassette toilet with SOG (so we won’t have to use chemicals). We will be using grey water from the sink for flushing.

What will you do about showers?

Not having them onboard. Showers exist in modern office buildings, swimming baths, sports centres etc.

Who’s going to do the conversion?

Me (with help from my girlfriend Clara).

What van conversion skills do you have?

Ability to read instructions, a nice powerdrill, blind optimism. You only learn when you try.

Why not buy a readymade campervan?

  • Most campervans are built for weekend trips away to caravan sites – where you get an electric hookup, and are never designed for constant use.
  • Parking up in a city, we’d prefer to look “stealth” – just like one of the unmarked white vans you saw today – that you didn’t give a thought to.
  • We dislike the 80-90s retro interior design of the campervans we’ve seen. The white/grey plastic makes me want to vom.
  • When you build something yourself, you value it more highly, so we think building our home will make us better appreciate it for what it is.

Why not buy a house?

You can’t drive a house to another place.

Why not build a house?

You can’t drive a house to another place.

Why not live in a canal boat?

You’re limited to canals, and travelling at about 8mph. So spending a week in the Lake District is kind of hard work.

What will you be doing about washing clothes?

Somehow, laundrettes still exist. Also, lovely friend’s houses. :)

What will you do about an address?

My parents live relatively nearby. That’s a good place to direct snail-mail to.

How will you power your electrics?

Initially, from leisure batteries and a split charge relay from the alternator. I’d love to have solar panels for charging the batteries, and as soon as I have time/money/energy, they’re on the agenda for the roof.

Once I can afford a Tesla Powerwall, and it’s easily available in the UK, it’s of serious interest to me.

Will you be on your own? (How will you ever get a girlfriend?)

My girlfriend Clara has been helping me with the CAD plans and seems open to living there with me.

How does she feel about it?

Clara says:

“*shrug* – it sounds like an adventure. If it’s not a fun adventure I will move back to my place in Sheffield. I’m super happy for my lovely boyfriend to do what makes him happy.”

How much will this cost you?

Hopefully less than a house, and less than rent, and more flexibility. I bought the van for £5,500.

I know someone else who’s done this!

There’s an entire community about it at /r/vandwellers

How did you get this idea?

I took some inspiration from VanDogTraveller and my friend Dan Woods who lived in a van during his University years in Manchester. I also listened to (and sometimes ignored) suggestions from Matt Bibby, Dave Crossland and others. I’m really grateful for their inspiration and advice.

In the ’50s, when my mum was little, she and her family lived in a converted double decker bus.

In the past I had an idea to travel around the country, spending a month in different AirBnBs. When I had the van idea, it felt more efficient and became the plan.

Won’t you be very cold in the winter?

Hopefully not. It will be chilly, for sure, and we’ll have to look carefully at how things are going as the temperatures start dropping, but we’re fairly optimistic that we can make it work. Staying warm in bed should be fairly straightforward, and one of the nice things about a van is that it’s a much smaller space to heat than the average house. We’re going to insulate it well.

Won’t you be very hot in the summer?

This could be an issue. The van is white and we’re planning to insulate it fairly well. The UK is hardly Morocco though. We count our very hot summer days, when it reaches 20C+, on one hand. If the van is unbearably hot we will go and enjoy the sunshine outside!

Aren’t you just demonstrating how incredibly privileged you are?

Yep. I’m a white well-educated, cis male, from a well-off background, with a great job and supportive family, in a first world country, with a social welfare system and a nationalised health service. I have to acknowledge that in almost everything I do. I have a lot of people to be grateful for, and I must be mindful not to take anything for granted and to do what I can to help those who’ve been less fortunate in the privilege lottery.

Aren’t you worried about what people will think?

In short, “no”.

I gave this some thought, I was worried my friends might instantly unfriend me. I realised that my friends don’t judge people by their living arrangements, but by what they’re like as a human being. I plan on being the same person, and anyone who wishes to pigeon-hole because of my living arrangements probably doesn’t know me.

Is this forever? Will you never get a house?

I may get a house in future. Who knows? Let’s figure that out when the future arrives.

I wouldn’t do this.

That’s absolutely ok!

Background:

Since about 2008, I’ve noticed that the internet has helped me geographically distribute myself. I noticed I didn’t seem to get homesick because the things I cared most about tended to be accessible via the internet.

(NB. This doesn’t apply to pets. I wish I could have emailed hugs to my dog, and got licks and snuffles by SMS.)

I realise about myself:

  • I love travelling when it seems like the right thing – I love mountains, outdoors, sea sides, long beaches, camping and exploring.
  • I also love technology, though perhaps that’s less obvious – I post fewer photos of it, try to avoid being relentlessly gushing about it – and yet, me and it often work hand in hand every day.
  • I’m fairly independent – I’ve never been in debt and I’ve been financially independent since I got my first job when I was 18, but I’ve been supported and effectively self-directed for sometime before then. For better or for worse, I don’t seem really be afraid of blazing my own path on my own, even if it turns out in the end just to be an interesting footnote.

Realisations:

  • I’m 24. I can make mistakes. I should make mistakes. I should make mistakes NOW.(I don’t seek to make mistakes, just be aware that they provide the most powerful opportunities to learn from, and that it’s easier to make bold decisions when you support fewer people.)
  • If this turns out to be a terrible idea, the downside is not fatal. It allows for learning. In the context of my life, it’s a small bet.
  • I feel that most of my relationships with my friends and family are location agnostic. Sure, I need turn up at my friend’s party, just like I should be at a family wedding – but the rest of the time? I’m not convinced physical proximity is super important so long as you’re there at ‘the right’ moments.
  • Being in one fixed location is less relevant to day to day job than it ever was. Most of my work is conducted over email and phone calls, and last summer I spent three weeks, working remotely from Bulgaria – more recently, close online collaboration in a distributed team seems to be working well.
  • I don’t want to buy a house, until I know I want to live there for ~10+ years. I don’t know where I want to be living in ~10+ years time, so I don’t want to buy a house.
  • There are two unfulfilled ambitions I think I have: one is to travel more, the other is to build something big.

So what’re the next steps?

I’ll be blogging, tweeting, facebooking about it as much as I can as we build it. You can also follow the github repo which contains the the CAD plans (or the cartoon simplified version) and things we’re working on.

The next step is for me to stop writing this blog post and insulate it! :D

The Van

The Van

I’d love to hear from you! Any thoughts? Any unanswered questions? Well wishes? Stories? Things I might want to think about? Let me know in the comments!

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I love you Bess.

My darling dog Bess came to the end of her well lived life yesterday.

My best Bess

My best Bess

I tried to tell her many times, and I hope she knew:

I love you Bess.

Bess and me (2009)

Bess and me (2009)

She’s buried where we often used to walk her, above Glossop, where the pine trees catch the wind that sweeps across the moor and a single tree stands alone amongst the reeds.

Bess's view

Bess’s view

I’d be happy to visit her with anyone who wanted to make the trip out to Glossop and up the hill, to spend a few minutes with her.

I love you Bess

I love you Bess

Getting it wrong
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This One Time I Screwed up (or Sorry I Was a Dick)

I don’t think there’s enough analysis and sharing of non-technical mistakes for others to learn from (see a dramatic hiking trip postmortem).

It must have been a year or so ago now, I was sponsoring and exhibiting at a conference. Also exhibiting were a company I’ll call FooCorp from an industry that I have a strong distaste for. As delegates piled in, FooCorp’s team fired up this well oiled process of handing paper to people walking in. As a one man band, I felt a bit outdone.

I’d used twitter ads at events before, and so quickly I fired up a campaign. Trying to be edgy, I said something along the lines of “if you don’t want to be leafletted, and have your email added to a database, come and find me for a chat”. I can’t remember the exact wording, and whilst I don’t think it went any stronger, I can’t find the original copy so I can’t be sure. I thought “heh, why bother leafletting when this is so much more efficient”.

Learning from mistakes

Learning from mistakes

One might think “I don’t care about any companies in this industry, so this is a good approach”. One might think “I have no relationship with these people, so it doesn’t matter”.

Those points may be true (though these days, I have doubts), but I hadn’t anticipated the thing that happened next.

The conference organiser came up to me and said “Tim, we need to speak”, to their absolute credit took me to a private area and lividly explained that I needed to:

  • immediately delete the tweets
  • apologise to the people in question.

A wise or experienced person might have anticipated that, whilst I didn’t have a relationship with the FooCorp people, actually, lots of people around me, whose mutual support I depended on, did have a relationship with the people, and would like to continue to have one after the event. They might want to continue to ask FooCorp people to sponsor events they run etc. I realised that I’d failed to consider this point of view at all. That was poorly thought through. :(

When someone explains reasonably to me that I’ve upset people, and can easily avoid this, I know that I should do as they say.

Apologising to people face-to-face is hard. Apologising to people, who support an industry you have a distaste for, is harder.

But what makes it even more heart wrenching is when you notice that at the end of the day, they’re real people, trying to do good things, to help their children and families have a better life, and that I’d needlessly upset them.

As it turned out, my heartfelt apology wasn’t enough to undo the impression I’d already given them and I’m pretty sure that any memories that remain of me are about “that awful man”. 

Were one anticipating this situation beforehand, one might assume one would be comfortable with that if it happened. Instead, I feel sad that I had to learn this like this.

And I have learnt from this.

I could be chatting with someone whose sector I utterly, totally cannot endorse, and I aspire to treat them with respect and humility. I reserve the right to continue to dislike their sector, even them personally – but if I meet or interact with them, I’ll treat them with the same respect and humility I show to my friends.


So I guess if either of the two parties in the story are reading this – you know who you are:

Conference organiser: I’m sorry for putting you on the spot in front of your other sponsors and for behaving poorly. I massively appreciate your approach to resolving this. You had a multitude of options, and you took the most professional route, and allowed me to do what I could to right the situation. For that, I’m forever grateful.

To the people of the company I’ve called FooCorp: I know I ruined your mood for the day, and I’m really sorry I wrote those tweets. I wish I could have done things differently now, but what’s done is done, and a lesson has been learnt. I’m sorry that my learning that day was at your expense. As you can hear, it’s a lesson I vividly remember many months later, and I hope it’s one I never have to relearn. Thanks for talking to the conference organiser and allowing this to be resolved in the manner it was. I really appreciate your professionalism under the pressure I know and regret that I put you under.

Painting of Bess
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Describing the monsters under my bed.

I want to describe one of the monsters under my bed – one of the things that keeps me awake at night. I don’t believe describing the monster will make it disappear, but I hope it may help you understand how I’m feeling about something I’ve barely mentioned.

Bess, Christmas 2015

Bess, Christmas 2014

In 2007, I wrote this article about my dog Bess and she’s still my best friend.

The only thing that has changed? Everyone is 8 years older.

Bess is now 13.

I’ve written before about life and death, but mainly with people being uncertain I might hurt myself for me – which in hindsight seems very easy.

Writing about knowing you’ll have to confront the fear of losing your best childhood friend is much much harder.

On the one hand, there are so many things I feel lucky for: so many people whom I’m happy to call friends, colleagues and family – who look up and look out for me, so many more books to learn from, mountains to climb, friends to help finding their own paths through the labyrinths of life, and exciting projects to get stuck into – that I feel as connected and alive as ever.

On the other, I can’t communicate with my sofa-bound, best friend to tell her how much I love her, and have appreciated all moments we’ve shared together. To tell her how much her sniffs and snuffles meant through a decade of teenage turmoil, to share memories of our stomps around Blake Moor, or simply how much I enjoy rubbing her tummy.

When Bess was a young puppy, she used to be small enough to fit underneath a wardrobe, and used to disappear under it, and the emerge as a wild-monster-puppy, growling and showing how ‘big’ and ‘bad’ she was.

At other times, when Bess would sleep on my bed, with her nose at my toes, she’d sometimes wake up a from an exciting dream about rabbits and snap out at the nearest thing to her mouth – for example, my sleeping foot, which would be subjected to a surprise attack… until she realised my now-very-awake-foot, was indeed not a rabbit.

It’s easy to argue from reason: to point out she’s had a good innings, to say she’s lived almost every one of however-many-lives-a-dog-has, or to point out how lucky she’s been to have such a caring family. These are true, but logic and reason doesn’t make it any easier.

It’s so challenging for me to acknowledge that many of those great moments have passed and they must now live on as memories. Not unexpected, just very challenging.


So that’s out there. Those thoughts are something that’s taking up brain space right now, but isn’t something I talk about much.

I find it really challenging to talk about – maybe to the point that I don’t really want to talk about it because wanting to avoid uncontrollable floods of tears and an instant urge to go and see her is… well a pragmatic approach of sorts in many situations. I suspect there are no ideal approach.

I think the best thing you - as someone reading this – can help can do to help is just to empathise and be supportive where and when you can.

And so that’s the monsters under my bed and the ‘monster’ that used to shoot out from under my wardrobe. It’s good to put it out there.


Footnote: Different cultures see time in different ways, and my culture has a very linear approach (past, present future) which is reflected in this blog post. It doesn’t make it easy to see things as a cycle of things that have happened before and will happen again.  

Flowers, Isles of Scilly
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Tim’s Core Values (v0.00001) – Request For Comments

I’m trying to find my personal core values. Can you help?

It takes effort to find out what those values are, and I suspect this document is about version v0.00001. Probably equal to “a vague prototype” that may change considerably.

Take a read and let me know what you think.


The ultimate goal is: happiness, and contentment at a life mindfully working towards self-fulfilment.

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I aim to:

1) Be relentlessly confident things will be ok in the end (whilst confronting the brutal facts of the situation and working out the next steps to improve it).

2) Be persistent in journey of personal growth and learning

3) Be a consistently great communicator

4) Be down to earth

  • Aspire to be humble, selfless, generous and approachable
  • Show gratitude towards those who’ve helped me
  • Acknowledge my shortcomings
  • Be slow to criticise, and quick to apologise

5) Leave other people in a better state than I found them

  • Frequently ask myself “how can I help this person enjoy life more and be a better person?”
  • Help people where possible (even if it’s just helping them meet someone who can help them)

6) Work hard to make cool things I care about happen

  • Avoid things that don’t assist the furthering of these values
  • Create a medium term plan. Make that happen. Reflect. Repeat.

I also have some thoughts that it’d be nice to have:

  • Integrity
  • A tendency towards openess and sharing
  • An element of daring – a willingness to take calculated risks
  • and a bunch of other things

But I’m not sure they fit into my values… yet? Or at least I do some of them without thinking or thinking about thinking of them?


This is version v0.00001- very much a public draft for discussion and certainly missing points that I’ll probably want to add in later.

This probably contains sloppy language I should clear up, and maybe points that are ‘obvious’ or too specific and so can be removed.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Howto make a DIY Teleprompter
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Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded

This is a post from my My 20-day Zappos + Buffer Values Challenge

“Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded”

oooh. Another one about hacking… Let’s tackle this set of values in reverse order.

In Paul Graham’s essay “What you can’t say“, he asks

Who thinks they’re not open-minded? Our hypothetical prim miss from the suburbs thinks she’s open-minded. Hasn’t she been taught to be? Ask anyone, and they’ll say the same thing: they’re pretty open-minded, though they draw the line at things that are really wrong. (Some tribes may avoid “wrong” as judgemental, and may instead use a more neutral sounding euphemism like “negative” or “destructive”.)

Based on that statement, can one ever plausibly claim to be open minded at all? 

Some people certainly seem to seek out challenging experiences and challenging viewpoints to try and gain a better understanding and learn from those experiences. Those experiences may reinforce pre-existing views, but will help them understand their pre-existing views with more clarity.

To me,  being open minded means working out where your nerves & boundaries are – exploring them, challenging them and trying to understand your values better.

Most of my life, I’ve lived in very accepting community, but when I was younger, I spent some time with an area of society where racial tensions were high, and racial slurs were social currency. It was too much. The people were good people, who I genuinely believe just want good things for themselves and their families, but I had to remove myself as I felt it rubbing off on me.

However, I came away from it a stronger person, because I understood more about my values of respect and equality – and where my limits were – something I might have otherwise been unclear about.

Recently, I spent 3 weeks living and working remotely from Sofia in Bulgaria. Whenever I visit new places – with their own ways, customs, traditions – I try to approach as non-judgementally as possible, or at least, defer judgement. It’s not “wrong”, it’s not “right” – it’s how they do things, and that’s different.

This is because there’s a good chance you’re wrong about something. You probably don’t know what it is, but whilst doing something one way may seem alien and new to you, it may well be the best thing there in that situation. You don’t know. Until you have all the information, all the background, know all the parties and reasons, it’s best to defer a value judgement and just try to understand as much as possible. One of my favourite stories about someone realising how wrong they are is this story of a train in Japan, told by an American (kindly introduced to me by David Day).

(Interestingly, trying to stay open minded is what I found hardest about in the US - much more difficult than Kyrgyzstan.)

Open-mindedness often becomes noticeable when you travel, because you often put yourself in places where you don’t know any of the details, but there are places much closer to home where you might be quick to write people off because you can’t understand how they can hold views that you disagree with so much. If you took the time to understand why they held those views, you might find you still disagree with them – but can agree to disagree…. or one of you might change your mind!


Being creative is hard… and easy. Sure I can take photographs but I think I prefer to approach the word “creative” as in “creative approach to problem solving”.

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.”

- Steve Jobs

When I flew to Bulgaria a few weeks ago, my luggage was lost. For over 7 days I tried and tried to get someone to help, but with generally unhelpful airline contractors, nothing seemed to be happening until I was told that my bag had been in Sofia for 5 days already.

Howto make a DIY Teleprompter

Howto make a DIY Teleprompter

Still nothing happened so I made a video challenge to the CEO. The next day, my luggage arrived (yay!), and I got a call from one of the senior airline exec board members who wanted to talk about what could be done(wow!). Whether anything ultimately happens or not, that 2 minute video had more of an impact than the hours of calls and emails before.

I’ve blogged previously about other creative things, and I think – following on from the Steve Jobs quote – the trick is just be happy to take inspiration (copy!) an approach that seems to have worked elsewhere and (if appropriate), tweak it slightly and apply it to a different context. It may not work, and if it does, I can certainly sympathise with the quote – you’ll probably feel a bit of a fraud – when really you’re standing on the shoulders of giants.


I want to take “Adventurous” away from the outdoor adventure context: I like outdoor adventures, I’ve done them - it’s kind of devalued for me, and if I attempted to say “I value adventure because solo-hiking in Swedish backwoods” you might say “yes”, but I’ve set my personal bar for what seems adventurous quite high in that regard, and I’d prefer to consider the areas of life where I’m just beginning my adventures (and I don’t mean trying new adventure sports).

Living and working in a foreign country is surprisingly easy, and surprisingly hard. The difficult things – (in my case at least) were not the work (chatting with familiar UK clients on the VoIP phone!) but the basics you take for granted.

Finding vegetarian food on a menu like this is pretty straightforward - transliterate each option into Google translate til you get something good. No problem!

Finding vegetarian food on a menu like this is pretty straightforward – transliterate each option into Google translate til you get something good. No problem!

For example, imagine that going to the supermarket becomes an experience where there is a possibility, it could be an adventure.

Imagine you just want to buy some food – you find what you want and head to the checkout. You mutter a greeting to the cashier who starts to scan your stuff. He asks you (in Bulgarian) if you want a bag (and you understand because of body language). You say “да” (“da”/yes) and instinctively nod. He asks you again. Again you say  ”да” and instinctively nod. He asks you again. Again you say  ”да” and instinctively nod.

This is the moment that you realise that Bulgaria is one of the few countries in the world which has reverse head nods and shakes. Shaking your head indicates an affirmative, whilst nodding indicates a negative.

So now you’ve thoroughly confused him and realised how, you yet lack the language skills to explain why or how this happened, to effectively apologise for the faff or. Eventually, you’ll get the bag, the food, pay and leave the shop. You’ll let out a big breath, and your heartrate will drop. Drama over.

Encounters with shop assistants were often the most adventurous moments of my day – the very poorly pronounced Russian that I can speak might be understood by the shop assistant, but you can bet that any non-trivial response in Bulgarian, will be completely lost on me.

As I’ve blogged before, communication challenges are the scariest (yet often most rewarding) parts of any story,

I think really most best thing about being abroad is the unexpected adventures in the mundane things. The large adventures you’re (hopefully) prepared for.

It’s the moment when your taxi driver, holding his phone to his right ear, lets go of the wheel with his left hand so he can reach across his unseatbelted body and change up to 4th gear so you can do 130kph in a 80kph limit, that make you think, “this is interesting – what actually is my risk appetite with regards to road safety”? Is he even not legally required to wear a seatbelt? Do I know anything about Bulgarian roads law? So long as nothing goes wrong, should I even care?

In my case, we arrived at the airport before I had a chance to answer those questions, and so I gave him £8 (20BGN), and mulled it over on the flight home. Since I had had a very small number of taxi rides, I decided to defer judgement. The drivers creative approach to driver might make a lot more sense if I’d be able to communicate and understand the reasons, but with only a short time, and limited understanding, I decided to keep an open mind and continue to form my opinions when I return next. :)

It was a fun trip. :)

An incredible mess of cables... or the best the engineers could do given the circumstances? You don't know til you've unraveled it.  (Kosovo 2013)

An incredible mess of cables… or the best the engineers could do given the circumstances? You don’t know til you’ve unraveled it. (Kosovo 2013)

Ben Nevis and the Carn Mor Dearg Arete
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My thoughts on Scotland

  • I support self determination of the people of Scotland.
  • I think it’s great that we can have an open and democratic conversation about it, in a civilised and peaceful manner.
  • I’m delighted by the level of engagement and thoughts people have on it, north and south of the border
  • If Scotland does become independence, I’m fearful about relations between the UK and Scotland. I hope these fears are unfounded, and I hope that, were it to happen, it would not become a source of conflict. I’m fearful because:
    • It’s really hard to separate without bad feeling:
      • was this deal negotiated in favour of one side or the other? (both will likely say the other)
      • did someone not play fair? (both sides will likely say the other)
      • it’s a very easy political manoeuvre to blame tough times, on another country – both sides may face those in the future
    • Very few countries have separated without violence, especially with a smaller unit devolving from a larger entity. Arguable the best example in recent history would be the Velvet Divorce of Czechoslovakia. I hope in the event of independence we can outdo them in peacefulness
    • I’m only afraid of bad feeling, aggressive posturing and violence. I’m hopeful that we enough shared respect and understanding for each other that this is not such an issue.
  • I’m excited by the referendum, because no matter what the result, it will have shaken up politics and engaged people in issues they care about.
    • I hope the interest and political engagement can continue to shake things up
    • I hope that each political group focus on positive ways to engage the people who are apathetic to the political system
    • I hope the quality of life in the whole of the British Isles continues to improve as fast as it has since the mid 20th century.

Really the referendum isn’t about you or me, it’s about how our children play together. I hope they’re free to play and enjoy a better life than the one we have.

No expense spared!
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Do More With Less

This is a post from my My 20-day Zappos + Buffer Values Challenge

“Do More With Less”

Howto repair the best phone in the world

Howto repair the best phone in the world

Well, I’m an incredibly humble, world class expert shopper at Lidl – where your money buys more for less!

I should be more serious: But this is a fun one to talk about. This is basically about hacking, scrimping, making ends meet – lots of doing.

A few years ago, I used to use a Nokia 3310. Almost indestructible, but yet I managed to destruct one and crack the screen. I had another broken 3310 that wouldn’t turn on – though the screen looked alright. I set about to see if I could replace the broken screen. Unfortunately, Nokia 3310′s use torx screws, and I only had philips and flat head screwdrivers. So, using a trick learned from my dad, I sawed a groove into the top of each screw with a hacksaw – and simply them used the flathead screwdriver to unscrew them.

From that point on, it’s a trivial task of swapping the internal circuit boards around, and doing the screws back up. I got pretty good at repairing them in the end. I can’t remember exactly when I finally retired them, but I was still seen with a Nokia 3310 in 2010.


The stairway with an improvised handrail

The stairway with an improvised handrail

Finding a way through things, is just what I do. I mean, it doesn’t really occur to me that I’ve some cupboards build with scrap wood from an old bed, or that I turned the rubbish filled cellar of the house I live in, into a home office by salvaging a table, dropping several extension cords down, and setting up clip spot lamps. It’s just standard problem solving.

I guess one thing that I’m aware is less normal is a piece of functional interior design. The cellar leads down a number of uneven steps, and the bannister was long gone. Replacing the bannister looked like a real faff, so instead, I got two big loops, and screwed them securely at the top and bottom of the stairs, and hung a thick, knotted rope between them – so that people walking down the stairs can steady themselves with a hand on an overhead rope.

Flawless? Certainly not.

Functional? Definitely.

Characterful? I’d say so.

There’s a bunch of other things like this in this blog post about growing up without a TV.


When it comes to tech, the easiest way you can do more with less is just to use slightly older hardware and open source. I’m pretty good at that. Apparently the company laptop I’m writing this blog post on was made in 2011 – but I don’t care – to me it is pretty fantastic and does all I want from a laptop. It runs Debian with awesomewm, and the concept of buying software I can’t just install with a sudo apt-get install is foreign to me. I self-host a lot of things (like this blog!), but there are also services I pay to have managed for me. There’s a pragmatic line to tread.

I guess some people might arguing that getting a job without a degree is doing more with less. I think I dispute that – the degree was never the requirement – just the maturity, knowledge of area, and attitude.


One of the pragmatic lines I tread relates to travel. I cycle round Manchester most of the time, but occasionally I take a taxi or a train. I still find that to cheaper (and more comfortable) than owning and insuring a car.

Lots of things are about tradeoffs between different things – travelling is a good example. Hitchhiking is certainly the cheapest form of transport, but often the least reliable. Flying is often the fastest, but probably most expensive. It’s good to always be aware of the options because sometimes you find that, the cheaper options can be the most fun, or something be advertised at an unbeatable price.


In business, being able to hack the way around problems is great trait. Especially if the problem is “limited funds”. We might be talking something as simple as sleeping on a friends floor whilst you go to a conference, or just watching lots of conference talks on youtube rather than paying for a conference ticket. It might be about working from your bedroom, sharing office space, skimping on furniture, reading second hand books. There’s an almost endless stream of options.

In sysadmin, this probably means automation. One well known digital rights commentator whose website once hit the reddit frontpage 3 times at once, told me that he hosted the site’s server at home on the balcony of his flat to keep it cool, with the site served behind a CDN.


I like doing more with less. It often can be a fun challenge – though it’s often wise to take a pragmatic view – weigh up a range of options and take the option that’s best for you. Doing more with less doesn’t always mean spending the smallest amount of money.

This is where we are, this is where we're going
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Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication

This is a post from my My 20-day Zappos + Buffer Values Challenge

“Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication”

This is a tough one to blog about, because anecdotes, by definition – no matter what the nature of the relationship, is always going to be very personal – between me and them. It’s kind of a shame, because anecdotes about open communication are often some of the best, but I’m struggling to think of any I want to write about online!

Great communication isn’t just about making sure everything you just said is understood, but about making sure you understand the other person’s position, and making sure you’re both working towards the same goal.

It’s not too complicated really though; the best relationships – working, personal, families, friendships – whatever the context, are ones that involve being honest, and clear, and proactively communicating things. Often it can be that you’re fearful of how someone might respond to something, and actually the fear is completely unjustified.


I guess a good example my be in the context of a mountaineering expedition. There’s two of you, presumably friends, in a remote place seeking to climb a thing.

Communication is the key – if you need a rest, you need to explain you need a rest (as opposed to just sitting down), if your partner needs a rest, giving them an opportunity to tell you that (because you’re walking next to them, rather than 500m in front) will work best.

If your partner feels that you’re taking too many rests, or is concerned about the progress you’re making a team, they can make things better by saying so. Often the most difficult things to say are things like this: “I feel we’re not making enough progress. Is there anything I can do to make things easier for you? Can I carry something perhaps?”

This is where we are, this is where we're going

This is where we are, this is where we’re going

You might be in situations where one person can speak a local language, and the other cannot, and so in a conversation where the linguist was negotiating a meal, he might choose the appropriate moment to relay that on to his friend, to give his friend confidence in the situation. After a while, they might trust each other enough to know that the linguist would do the talking, whilst the other person did something else – but only once they’d built up some trust between them.


Learning to communicate, under pressure, in a non-confrontational, problem-solving way like that is a fantastic skill.

Often, if you communicate clearly about how you’re finding things, and what your thoughts are – particularly when it comes to fears, worries, nerves, frustration – then as a team you can work on them to solve them. Often the things that seem like a big deal, once communicated openly, are actually nonissues.

Sometimes there are issues, but communicating well (and in some cases over communicating – reiterating and saying things that may not be necessary, just in case they are) can make things much easier – because you’ll both respect the others ease of communication, and honesty and frankness.

Often other people aren’t as good at communication as you, so you can help them, and help your relationship with them by offering them lots of opportunities to tell you their thoughts. In a mountaineering context, you might ask your slow walking friend how they were finding it, or where they were looking forward to reaching.


Communication is the key to all social units of people. Learn about communicating, and how you can do it, and you’ll get good at building relationships surprisingly quickly.

Reflect in nature
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Make Time to Reflect

This is a post from my My 20-day Zappos + Buffer Values Challenge

“Make Time to Reflect”

My favourite way to reflect is solo hiking. The fewer people the better.

Some people have told me that going deep inside their head, and being just with themselves is scary. I respect and understand that, but I find I’m the one person I can always trust, always have time for and is always happy to spend a long time on thinking.

That’s the foreveralone manifesto is right there. ;)

But as Paul Buchheit has said, “Walking in nature helps”, and it does.


When I spent 12 days, solo hiking round through Northern Sweden one year (and didn’t see another person for a 5 day stretch at one point), I didn’t take any books. Instead, mentally I contemplated a number of topics that I later wrote up into a series of blog posts.

Once on a solo cycle touring trip, I remember lying in the tent, designing video live-streaming systems.

I do enjoy great conversations whilst walking in nature, but one of the great things about the solitude is leaving your brain with the minimum to concentrate on. There are very few interrupting distractions, there’s very little to think about apart from where to put your feet, whether you’re walking in the right direction, and when you can have your next rest.

Solo hiking is fun.


But reflection isn’t just in the execution. Reflection is also in the theory. I’ve found that reflecting on my current goals on a regular basis, and tracking my progress helps me remain focused, and helps be check I’m on the right path. It might be that when I think about it, the end-goal which seemed sensible at the start, isn’t relevant anymore – but at least then I’d know not to worry about it anymore.

Often I find, at moments of conflict where it’s easy to respond instantly, it’s wiser to take some time to reflect, and think about the situation. lots of sleep often helps a great deal.


I remember a story I once heard about someone, let’s call him “Jim”, who went to his friend “Rob” and said “My business is failing. I’m trying to do all these things, but everyone wants me. I’m not sure what to do. Help?”
His friend Rob suggested that instead of focusing on one thing or the other, or replying to emails from only these peoples. he should go on holiday.
He went on holiday, and when he returned, he knew exactly what to do, how to deal with it all, and set about making it happen like a new man.


It’s always worth taking time to reflect. I like hiking, but meditation is also well recommended (and much easier to do frequently). You might err away from that level of hippiness, though people often find it helps them separate and steer their thoughts, so they can choose when and what to think about.

Reflect in nature

Reflect in nature