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Lol Relic
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How not to cold call people! (Recording)

Earlier today, I took an interesting call to my 0800 number from an Irish number:

I should note, that I’ve never:

  • Used New Relic
  • Intentionally provided New Relic with my details
  • Conversed with any of their reps before
  • Hidden my 0800 number

Clearly, what’s gone on here is that:

  1. they’ve sifted through the internet
  2. they’ve found my blog/twitter
  3. added me to their CRM
  4. mis-labelled me, and called me chasing the deal, rather than introducing themselves.

I’m most annoyed about Point 3.

The public availability of my number does not indicate my availability to critique their sales operation (or apparently therelackof).

I can tell anyone now: I will never buy from someone who cold calls me. :)

Ah well, hopefully something they’ll learn from!


Data Protection Act note: If you call 0800 112 6000, before it rings my phone, it announces “all calls are recorded”. I’ve beeped out the poor guys name.

YCombinator
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YCombinator? I’ll do it

Stanford University

Stanford University

One day last November, I was sitting in the student cafeteria, at Stanford University in California with Josh catching up with Paul, an old friend of mine who was studying there.

We’d had just ordered a coffee from Starbucks, naively answering telling the barista, “yes, we would like cream”, so now we were eyeing up these containers filled with half-coffee, half-squirty-cream monstrosities.

We complaining there was “too much cream in your coffee”, in Starbucks, at Stanford, must be the pinnacle of ”first world problems“…


Then Josh checked his email, and we found that the past 3 weeks of blood sweat and tears had been for nothing.

We were wrong. This was the epitome of first world problems.


On April 1st, 2011, I posted on my facebook wall that I was imminently moving to California.

I didn’t actually think anyone would believe me, but somehow, a few people did:

April Fools!

April Fools!


In October 2013, I was having a beer with Josh whom I’d known from the YRS2010 days where he’d done cool stuff along with everyone else. :)

Over the course of the evening, he explained that he’d recently been working on a side project to help people to save money:

Lots of people (even in the UK & US) live paycheck to paycheck. When they want something expensive, they either buy it on finance/a long contract or they drop an entire paycheck on it, and struggle to eat for a month. It’s not ideal. Saving is one of those things that people know they should do (like getting more exercise, eating more healthily) but struggle to do. The application he was developing, Dripfeed, helped people visualise what they were saving for and develop a healthier financial approach to buying things.

Josh told me he’d been accepted to interview at YCombinator – the most prestigious Startup Accelerator in Silicon Valley. The interview was two weeks away.


(A startup accelerator is a programme or boot camp of sorts, often aimed at high tech, high growth new businesses. It’s a strange world.Wikipedia explains more.

YCombinator is *the* best of the best – if you’ve heard of Dropbox, AirBnB, Scribd, reddit, or Disqus – then you’ve heard of a successful company that’s come out of the other end.

If you apply successfully, you gain a (relatively small but not insignificant) amount of cash, you & your team moves to San Francisco for the 3 months, whilst you work on your thing are introduced to, and given advice by mentors, investors and listen to seminars from people who know what they’re talking about and a bunch of other stuff. In short, it’s a good place to be.)


Josh had a problem – YCombinator don’t like accepting companies with single person teams – and so he asked if I wanted to come to San Francisco with him to interview with him. If we were accepted, we’d go 50/50 on it, if not, we wouldn’t. The caveats: the interview was in less than 15 days, and I’d need to pay for my own flight.

 

So for the second time that autumn, I booked a holiday from work and some trans-continental flights at less than 2 weeks notice, and prepared to go to yet another place I’d not been before.

The San Francisco Bay Bridge... and me.

The Bay… and me.

YC’s interviews are are tough.

No matter how much cramming of interview techniques, no matter how much brainstorming of possible questions you could be asked, no much how much you read up about which federal US authority governs which the financial laws you care about, they’re still tough.

Inside the YCombinator's "secret layer"

Inside the YCombinator’s “secret layer”

Firstly, you’re being interviewed by about 5 or 6 people at the same time, all of whom likely know a great deal about building something new “things” with the internet. You’re trying to impress them by showing that you’ve with a slightly offbeat idea, you’ve thought about everything, and that you know how to execute it.

Secondly, the interviews are only 10 minutes long. This means every second counts for quite a lot, being eloquent, concise, knowledgeable counts. Qualifications are worthless. Knowing your area and know the idea kick ass idea, counts.

On top of that, you’re thinking – these next ten minutes influence the next three months of my life and the path I take from here. Will I have to spend three months (probably more), working my arse off, thousands of miles away from my friends and girlfriend? Will this be a big step into a stage of perpetual uncertainty in my life?

I don’t remember exactly who interviewed us, I know Paul Graham was not there though the new head of YC, Sam Altman was in our interview.

The good thing about the interviews, is that you find out if you got in, later on the day of the interview.


Stanford University Memorial Church

Stanford University Memorial Church

We didn’t get in.

As we said bye to my friend Paul in the Stanford University cafeteria, we knew we probably weren’t going to return anytime in the near future.

And then the self-evaluation kicked in.

“Which bit did they not like?”, “Could we have done better there?”, “What if things had been different?”.

Two questions stuck in my mind – probably the two we had the poorest answer to:

  • Q: What’s your plan to promote this thing?
    • A: Reddit Ads – Tim has experience with social media ads.
    • [Response from interviewers: no that's not the answer]!
  • Q: You’re both experienced hackers – why this? Why not work on something more exciting?
    • A: “errr, it’s not easy – it’s a hard thing to do… etc.”

There are good answers you could give to both of those. We didn’t.


San Francisco, Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, San Francisco Bay

San Francisco, Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, San Francisco Bay

As I spent the rest of my time in San Francisco touristing, I reflected that actually, I wasn’t as sad or disappointed as I’d expected I might be.

I’d been hit by more culture shock than I’d imagined. I found that it was hard for me to accept parts of US culture as the status quo, despite finding similar differences straightforward in non-English speaking countries. Urban areas generally don’t excite me much, and I’m sad I didn’t get out to Yosemite. Despite Silicon Valley and San Francisco being nice places they didn’t really feel where I wanted to be right then.

I realised that whilst the experience had been good, and I’d learnt a lot from it (particularly, what I didn’t know!), perhaps not all the variables had lined up 100% that time, and that actually, I was probably happier as a result.

Returning to the UK was easy…. not that the weather helped! It was 24C and sunny in California and 5C and raining in the UK! But I knew what I was returning to and I could plan parts of my future again. I also knew where I could improve myself, what areas I was weak on, and more about what makes me tick.


And the April Fools day joke on Facebook?

My parents aren’t massive April Fools day fans. Fortunately, they’re not on Facebook so I’d made sure it was just a private prank on my close friends.

Unfortunately, my sister had phoned my mum that day, and just casually asked remarked she hadn’t heard about my emigration until that day…

Well neither had my mum!

In the end, it was all resolved with phone call, leaving just an amusing lesson about how hoaxes go viral.

Maybe that was the scale of first world problems, I enjoyed having… ;)

Happy Late April Fools day! :)


Also see: DripFeed.

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Understanding Julian Huppert MP’s support of Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill

Of all the things I might say about Julian Huppert MP, stupid is not one of them – he’s consistently informed, reasoned and principled. Pretty good qualities of an MP, as I think you’d agree.

This makes his support of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill… surprising.

It seems to be a broadly unpopular stance, which (appears) inconsistent with what one might expect from him. I’m pretty sure we won’t change his mind, but I’m interested to try and understand it from his point of view.

My feeling is that he’s making this decision based on data that is privileged to him which he can’t share with us.

His major contribution to the bill, which legalises wholescale spying (including you Facebook, Gmail) in the UK and expands it to include non-UK citizens, is to make it expire in 2016, after the next General Election.

I think this article in the Guardian goes some way to explaining his point of view, and yet skirts the big questions like “but clause 5 and 6 massively change the scope of the bill” to target people outside the UK.

I feel like I’m going /r/conspiracy, and suggesting that lizards in the rotary club control the world, but one hypothesis for the bill seems less outlandish given the backdrop of Edward Snowden’s revelations about GCHQ and our knowledge that multiple foreign ISPs are suing GCHQ in a UK jurisdiction for spying on them.

My suspicion would be that:

  • Julian has been told this bill will be pushed through whether he opposes it or not
  • He’s been given an opportunity to insert some clauses into it, so long as they don’t alter the ones about interception
  • He may or may not have been told semi-directly by a bunch of security types about how GCHQ is in a precarious legal position which the establishment want to shore up

If we took those things as given, then if you look at his approach from his point of view, it kind of makes sense. I don’t support it. But it makes sense.

I guess we might find out after the next General Election when he can talk freely.

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DRIP drip… a legislative stitch up: My letter to Lucy Powell MP

Hi Lucy,

Tim Dobson

Tim Dobson

Thanks for your recent replies on Twitter. I really do appreciate your agility in responding – it does help to get an almost immediate link to you. Thanks also for keeping me updated about the situation in several committees.

I’m concerned about the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers (DRIP) Bill that’s being rushed through Parliament on Monday.

As your colleague Tom Watson (MP West Bromwich East) has said, it’s a “stitch up”. I feel Tom has a great deal of integrity, and when he feels something isn’t being done right… well, it’s worth looking at twice.

https://medium.com/@tom_watson/something-terrible-could-be-happening-in-parliament-on-monday-and-i-need-your-urgent-attention-22c3136de17c

I find it frustrating because I feel Her Majesty’s Opposition’s job is to ensure robust debate and due process, and I’m saddened to find the Labour leadership don’t seem to want that here.
You moved to the frontbenches to make a difference and have more of a say in things, so I’m hoping you’ll look at this bit in more detail.

The draft has been published here:
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/328939/draft-drip-bill.pdf

In particular, I’m interested in how clauses 4 and 5 are:

(a) not substantial amendments to RIPA
(b) things that require emergency legislation.

Expanding RIPA’s scope to include people outside the UK is a massive expansion, and equally I’m not sure why the definition of “communications” counts as small revision, in such a loaded context.

I work for Bytemark, an internet company based in Manchester and York that is based on due process being a key tenet of our society. It feels to us that the way in which this legislation is being enacted is further eroding the trust we have in those processes and we encourage you to do what you can to maintain that trust. This letter is posted on our blog.

Best regards,

Tim Dobson
@tdobson

Community Manager
www.bytemark.co.uk

<address withheld>


Originally published on blog.bytemark.co.uk

Value offerings of Generic Festival Food Retailers vs "The Carrot Soup Company"
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A Blue Ocean business plan for you: The Carrot Soup Company

I’ve been reading Blue Ocean Strategy over the past week. I’ll write up my thoughts on the book in due course – I’ve not quite finished it yet.

Clara & I were throwing around the main premise of the book – about how to create Blue Ocean markets – and break away from the existing competition by compete in a market devoid of major competitors.

Festival Food Problems

Clara was explaining how Festival Food Retailers at major music festivals like Glastonbury work and how they’re characterised by:

  • largely high quality
  • low portion sizes
  • high price (most dishes more than £5 )
  • lots of choice per stall
  • slow delivery / long queues

This is partly because the stalls must deal with some festival-specific considerations:

  • limited onsite refrigeration space
  • limited ability to resupply during the day
  • large peaks in demand (eg rush for food when a band finishes)
  • constantly ready / readily available food

A Blue Ocean?

This creates an environment that could be shaken up – just by not benchmarking oneself against the competition, and creating something that attracts people who might give a festival food stand a miss (and maybe just skip a meal!).

If one was thinking of shaking things up, you’d have to have a quality product. I’m not qualified to talk about this, but I suspect the problems in catering are not whether it’s possible to create mouthwatering food, but whether you can sell it for a profit.

An Orange Ocean!

I suggest an ultra-cutback, ultra-simple, no-frills, offering nothing but::

  • A polystyrene cup of delicious Carrot (and Curried Apple/and Roast Parsnip/etc) Soup
  • An “Artisan” Bread Roll in a paper napkin
  • For £3
  • Served as fast as possible
  • With a Smile

In Blue Ocean Strategy’s [questionable] value diagrams style, you’d compare “The Carrot Soup Company”‘s offering with the Generic Festival Food Retailers like this:

Value offerings of Generic Festival Food Retailers vs "The Carrot Soup Company"

Value offerings of Generic Festival Food Retailers vs “The Carrot Soup Company”

Cost savings

In addition to the obvious changes in value to the customer – reducing price, increasing(?) portion sizes and increasing speed of deliver, you’re also able to cut backend costs:

  • Your inventory is much narrower (Soup, Bread, Polystyrene Cups, Paper Napkins)
  • You can make rolls & soup offsite (or purchase them from a third party!)
  • You can store the soup in large ‘tea’ urns/vats, allowing for constantly ready, quickly dispensable food (and no other equipment)

Customer Service

One way that Generic Festival Food Retailers cut staffing costs is making use of part time workers who will work several shifts, and get to spend some spare time seeing the festival. My suspicion is that one might be able to provide a better experience to customers by seeking out the superstars of the fast food industry who are extremely adept at rapidly making personal connections with a smile for long shifts, and seeing whether they’re interested in moonlighting for significantly above average wages. This point is moot, as I suspect that great customer service isn’t necessary to make it a success, but in my mind, great customer service is one part of a great customer experience – no matter how simple the experience.

You’d want to be able to cope with peaks in demand where the team could serve 100 customers in 10 minutes – that’s a customer every 6 seconds, and so you’d want to be able to work with your team to be able to specialise roles (collect £3, give orange ticket/collect orange ticket, give soup/give roll & shoe them away from the stall to avoid traffic jams) but them adapt if someone needed to step away to refill the soup urn, etc. My feeling is that you’re more likely to get this level of reliability from a close-knit paid team with experience and the right mindset.

Marketing

A neat marketing thing you could do is make all your polystyrene cups very distinctive – maybe a distinctive bright orange (carrot!) colour? When your customers are walking around the festival, people may wonder – “what’s in those orange cups?” and then if/when they link them to your Carrot Soup Company stand, every time they see one, it’ll be a trigger for your brand.

A more traditional marketing thing you could do, if you proved the previous idea worked as intended, would be to do a twitter giveaway just as a major act was finishing – so the mass of people walk into the food area, to see a preseeded diminishing queue of people, and nearby people with orange cups.

It’s also worth pointing out that your product could probably be Vegan, Vegetarian, Halal, Kosher, nut-free etc with relative ease. Advertising this clearly would reduce questions (time-consuming) and objections (costs you a customer).

The finances

You’d have to sell a lot of soup. But not an unrealistic amount.

Glastonbury festival has 135,000 attendees, and a small, off-the-mainstream patch might cost ~£2-3k (and a better location, many times that – maybe ~£32k!)

But let’s suggest you start small, and after a successful MVP at a country fair or car boot sale, you try a small festival of ~10,000 attendees where I’d guess a catering pitch might be got for ~£750.

Your breakeven point on materials would probably be around 300 units? Not unachievable I’d say, with the right product fit.

Why is this online? Why don’t you do this?

  • I don’t know anything about catering
  • I don’t want to know anything about catering
  • Crowds are not my natural environment
  • Maybe someone I know, likes the idea of this
  • I reckon the net returns over 3 years are only something like £50k-75k
  • I reckon returns will drop off in the 3rd year as other traders emulate you
  • Opportunity cost – if Clara & I thought this up in 10 minutes, imagine what an hour would bring!
  • It’s fun to throw ideas around – sharing is caring!
Unclimbed mountains by night, Jiptik Valley, Batken Province, Kyrgyzstan
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Hiking Epic Rap : The Background

So you’ve seen the Epic Hiking Rap, and now you want the background?

Are you serious or is this a joke?

I’ll leave you to apply Poe’s Law.

Where did this start?

For years, the University of Manchester Hiking Club had a tradition where a specific longstanding club member would write and present a poem at their AGM. In 2012, for the first time in a long time, that club member was absent, and so people were each egging each other on to write something. Originally, I parodied Dan Bull’s Epic Skyrim Rap, and included various bits of club folk-lore.

This looks like a skyrim screenshot, only even prettier.

Sometime afterwards, I cleaned up the lyrics, rapidly recorded it, took various videos of me rapping in Sweden & in Kyrgyzstan.

A friend saw one of timelapse stills from Kyrgyzstan, and mentioned Skyrim, and it started to come together. I finally finished the video editing, put it on youtube, and there you go!

How long did it take you?

Days, sporadically, over several years.

How did you record the track?

Poorly. With much difficulty. Ardour and some condenser mics were my friend, but gosh, it’s hard work. New respect was developed for people who can perform stuff well enough to record it easily. I’d say I’m good enough with audio editing to produce something that’s a thing out of what I can perform. That’s not a very high bar.

Where was the video shot?

Sweden, Kyrgyzstan & the UK. All mountainous timelapses are in Kyrgyzstan (with one of the mountains shown currently being unclimbed), there’s two shots of the peak district, and two from the lake district.

What was the video shot with?

I shot all but four of the shots on a Canon 5D mkII with the Magic Lantern Firmware. The remaining four shots were a Sanyo CA100 (I bet you can easily spot 2). I think they’re all with my f24-105 f4 lens except the timelapses, which were a 50mm f1.8, and all the shots in Sweden were taken with a Glidecam XR-2000.

It was edited on a Debian system with Kdenlive.

Who do you have to thank?

Dan Bull, for being a massively awesome and generous dude, for giving me the track to record onto, and always being so supportive – it really makes a difference! Anyone who’ve ever had me point a camera at them, or held a camera for me. (There’s a shot in there that my girlfriend Clara held the camera for on our first date!). Anyone who ever encouraged me to try something, or give it a go.

What are the Lyrics?

Who’s rapping?
Hiker Tim!
Where?
I’m in nature’s gym.

I’m sprinting like a shadow,
who knows I’m running right behind him.

My hike-shout-flow is sweeter than a post-hike swim
You won’t believe you eyes
I’m like an overload of adrenaline!

An ice-axe in one hand
and a scared hiker in the other

I’m the last of the Hiking Kings!
There’s no other my brother
don’t run for cover!

If you’re going up-dale
then I’m on your tale
and I will NOT fail

like a half-crazed freesoloer
I’m off the rails
I walk the trails
through awful gales
and storms of hail
til all your ramblers
are racing for the bottom

I’m not stopping, til you’ve all gone home
and I am alone
in amongst the peaks
there’s silence for weeks
until I’m disturbed
by the sound of your shrieks

And I walk with this bloodthirsty hound!
She follows with a growl and a bound!

I’m draining my force, so chemistry comes into play with retorts and recipes.
Ceildih dancing like a DJ
HYDRATION. RESTORE my energy!

My legacy,
odessy,
elegy,
prophecies
written in heavenly bodies
and buried
with every hiker
that ever did bother
to mess with me
Deading them
Terribly
Horribly

I’m a celebrity!
Honestly!
You’re a wannabe!
I’m a prodigy!

The suggestion you’re better than me at being a hiker?
Ha!
Comedy!

It’s a gift to me, I don’t just bag peaks lyrically, but literally
and the OS maps are scripts in which I’ve written your obituary

I am the Hiking King
I’m risking life and limb!

I’m Hiker Tim,
known globally
you’re nobody at all!

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Notes of a Book: Organizing Genius by Warren Bennis

I recently finished reading Organizing Genius by Warren Bennis (professor in business administration) and Patricia Ward Biederman (journalist).

Organizing Genius by Warren Bennis

Organizing Genius by Warren Bennis

Notably, the reason I picked it up is because in Tribal Leadership – David Logan mentions Warren as mentor, and his work in this book as a predecessor to the Tribal Leadership book.

It’s easy to see why, yet they are very different books. In contrast to Tribal Leadership, Organizing Genius is a collection of stories (some might say case studies) of famous “Great Groups” (or in Tribal Leadership language, Stage 5 groups).

Some notes:

  • I have a greater appreciation for Disney films. I’ve never been a fan of Disney… until now – reading about the start of the Disney corporation, I have a much stronger insight into how it was created as elegantly oiled machine. I’m still not a fan of the films, but the effort, and the organisation are impressive.
    • When Disney was getting started, they were the only animation studio – and since animation was such a new thing, hiring was a big point – so Disney hired lots of Architects and industrial artists, and gave the the freedom to study art in greater detail – later setting up a faculty to do so.
  • In Disney, like in other Great Groups, there was often an insane amount of specialisation – “I mainly draw rabbit’s feet”- but in a large organisation where they are actually very good at drawing rabbits feet, and they enjoy it, this makes sense.
  • In many of the Great Groups, weekly meetings were a foundation of the group – in the Xerox PARC for instance, they were the only time of the week one had to be there. In almost all examples, they were used as opportunities for the group to share knowledge – what they were working on, what they had been working on, what they were going to be working on next.
  • I found the description of Bill Clinton’s initial election campaign very interesting. I guess partly because I’ve ‘done’ election campaigns myself, albeit on a different scale. What I noted from that especially was how even a “very serious” thing like an election campaign had a esoteric custom of giving “staffer of the week” award, every week, that was a bottle of sauce!
    • In other places, in-jokes were also a big thing – the Skunkworks was named after a practical joke (when someone answered the phone “Hello, Skonkworks!”.
  • Leaders in great groups appear to be multiheaded, multithreaded expert generalists – the ability to provide creative and technical direction, see where and how people work best, and herd cats in the right direction are characteristics of a one of these people. Interestingly, leaders in great groups often seem to find these strengths inside them during the collaboration, yet may not display them at other times.
    • In large organisations, the role of the leader may also be the role of the organisational buffer person – the one who intereacts with the parent organisation, and makes sure both parties get what they need, whilst insulating the language and cultural differences between the child & parents groups.
  • In the chapter about Xerox PARC, the book describes how Taylor mediated disagreements in the group by trying to get people from (what he called) a Stage 1 disagreement – where the parties couldn’t describe each other’s positions, to a Stage 2 disagreement – where both parties still disagreed, but could eloquently explain each other’s positions. I think this a basic representation of various Non Violent Communication mediation techniques – I should read more into that again.
  • The final chapter sums up a lot of Warren’s thoughts about great groups – that’s the distilled knowledge in essence – if you found the stories dull, you could just read that. But don’t do that – if you find the stories dull, just read Tribal Leadership instead.
  • The book is organized into chapters (first we talk about this group, then in the next chapter, we talk about this group) – however right from the first chapter, the book makes comparisons between the group dynamics of what’s happening in this group, with a group in a future chapter. I found that without proper introduction, these moments were a bit unhelpful – I hadn’t read ahead, so I didn’t know about the things being compared to.
  • One thing about the book that struck me was how often in the groups there was conflict and interpersonal drama that I think I’d find quite stressful. Interestingly, the collaborations often lasted through these moments – so much did people feel drawn to their mission, but I think it might be interesting to look at Great Groups that also have stated aims of being nice to each other.

I wouldn’t say this book is “as good” as Tribal Leadership for actually explaining what is going on, but it does explain give a lot more examples of Stage 5 groups, and consequently is useful for understanding more about those. It’s an enjoyable read if you like stories, but for many people will have limited practical use. You should read it to understand more, and to enjoy understand more.

If that appeals, grab yourself a copy!

You can fit almost anything on a bike...
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What’s the best way to travel round Manchester?

I’m learning to drive (and have just passed my test!), but don’t be misled. I don’t want a car. Not at the moment at least.

I live in the centre of Manchester. I work in the centre of Manchester. I have a bike. I don’t have a family. I like trains.
So mostly, I cycle everywhere. When I want to travel further afield, I cycle to the train station, and get on a train. Sometimes that train even takes me to the airport.

But I would like to be able to drive and take myself places that are inconvenient to get to by public transport, and are so unappealing I’ve yet to convince a friend with a car that they’d like to go there.


When travelling through Manchester, bikes are a relatively fast mode of transport (it’s all about average speed, not top speed), and bikes can often easily take the most direct routes (eg through the city centre, rather than by ring road).

Manchester Piccadilly: Trains can be good for travelling between cities

Manchester Piccadilly: Trains can be good for travelling between cities

Of course, you can own a car for long trips, and use a bike for everyday commuting, but it’s not that simple. Once you own a car, you have a sunk cost that you’re looking to recoup as much value from as possible. Only a certain amount of the maintenance and fuel costs scale with milage, the initial cost, insurance and tax, are all largely fixed – so from the moment you buy it you’re incentivised to use it as much as possible.

Regardless of ecological arguments, owning a car may not be the most economic approach if you only need one occasionally – hiring cars is convenient, it incentivises non-use (you’re billed by the day/hour), and you have the flexibility to use more convenient forms of transport where you see fit (eg take the train, fly, commandeer a pony – whatever is best).

That is what I’m learning to drive for; so I can hire cars, and take myself to see the wide and wonderful world.


The thing about having a car, is that if you drive yourself places, you’re unable to drink if you’re driving yourself home, yet it feels wrong to pay someone to drive you there and back when your car is sitting in your drive.

For every private car, you need a private car park

For every private car, you need a private car park

Fortunately, knowing how much I’m saving by not having a car in central Manchester, and I can make pragmatic decisions about liberal use of taxis when it suits me. Last year, I got to know the cheap and cheerful taxi dispatchers so well, the average call length ordering a taxi to my address was 10 seconds (yes – average – there were some below 8 seconds!); they even knew me well enough to send me a Christmas card!


Some years ago, I remember a taxi journey where I was blown away by the driver’s customer service. I mean properly astounded – the driver took time to learn my name, made an effort to use my name, came across super professional, but also friendly and super accommodating – it really was the best taxi ride I’ve ever had..

So I heard that Uber was coming to town, I was eager to try it.

What is Uber? Uber is a taxi service, where everything is done through technology, with an emphasis on customer service.

So you order the taxi via a web-page or mobile app and tell it exactly where to go on a map, you’re given a live view of the route the taxi is taking to find you, and an estimate of how long it will be, and then when you arrive, you don’t touch cash – your credit card that they already have on file is billed, and you’re free to go. No cash, no tips, no drama.

The thing that re-enforces the good customer service to the drivers is quite clever. When you finish a journey, you’re asked to rate the driver out of 5 stars. If a driver can’t maintain an average rating of a certain amount, they’re thrown off Uber, boom. Not a nice driver? You won’t get nice customers.

Clearly, this means that drivers are incentivised to be super awesome, and provide kickass customers service, and it also means Uber will always have really good drivers.

Add this all with the fact that you get pretty emailed receipts, and Uber exists in of cities round the world, it makes a pretty compelling deal.

If you do fancy trying Uber, try enter the code ManchesterLaunch and see if they’re still in the Beta phase. :)

(As I’ve blogged about before, engaging creatively cyclists would be a clever way for a taxi firm to grow, could Uber be able to do that in Manchester?)


Obviously, if you’re travelling round Manchester, you’re going to use a variety of methods of transport available, and so bike, taxi, train, metro, car can all be worthwhile, but for me, bike+taxi is a winning combination whilst I live in the city!

You can fit almost anything on a bike...

You can fit almost anything on a bike…

Bidean Nam Bian's snowy top
Gallery

Aonach Eagach in pictures

As I wrote I might, I traversed the Aonach Eagach ridge in Glen Coe on Saturday.

We were on the ridge it in ideal conditions and it was every bit as exposed, long and committing (there are no escape routes once you’re on it) as expected. I was glad to be travelling with a group of experienced friendly scramblers whom I know and trust a great deal, with great visibility.

Here are some photos:

The ridge ahead

The ridge ahead (path sticks to the ridge)

The Aonach Eagach requires a good head for heights

The Aonach Eagach requires a good head for heights

Giving advice...

Giving advice…

Up up up up!

Up up up up!

Looking back along the ridge - can you see the path?

Looking back along the ridge – can you see the path?

Pose for a photo here?

Pose for a photo here?

People taking the highly unpleasant and unwise 900m scree descent from Sgorr nam Fiannaidh to the road

People taking the highly unpleasant and unwise 900m scree descent from Sgorr nam Fiannaidh to the road

Looking down over Glencoe...

Looking down over Glencoe…