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Listen to the users. If they want chalk, let them draw.

Listen First, Then Listen More

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

“Listen First, Then Listen More”

Everyday we hear things, TV, people talking to us, but how much do we listen?

Sometimes, it’s quite easy to talk – if someone tells you about their recent holiday, sometimes it’s tempting to talk to them about your recent holiday the moment you get a chance. But that’s not always what you should do.

Lots of people, starved of good listeners, find actually actively being listened to a very powerful thing. You can gain respect, make friends,  simply by listening to people.

When I tried to do politics, and stood in the 2010 general election for the Pirate Party, we learnt this the hard way.

If you ever get involved in a political campaign in the UK, you’ll find that the best way of engaging with voters, is knocking on their door. This is kind of scary the first 2-300 times, but to some degree the fear subsides.

What we came to learn was that it was much easier, and much more effective to knock on people’s door and ask them what problems they had in the neighbourhood, than knock on the door and try and get them to vote Pirate.

A couple of weeks ago, I read How to Win Friends and Influence People which pretty much codifies, and expands upon what we learnt on the streets: people like being listened to.

During a council election campaign, there was this one council house that we knocked on, and asked if they had any problems with the council. At first they said “nope, we have no problems here”, and then “well there is just one thing” and showed us an uncollected recycling bin, and then “oh well there is one more thing”, and showed a half-smashed window, and another bit where the council hadn’t made a correct modification to accommodate one disabled resident, and a string of other things. When we got back to our base, we had huge wad of issues we knew we could help them with, and we knew their life stories.

In contrast, I remember a lovely lady, I once tried to persuade to vote for me. She’d lived in the area for ~30 years, and I’d lived there for ~2, and in the nicest possible way, she batted questions at me to try and get me to justify myself. I suspect I talked myself out of her vote, simply by answering honestly. It was around then, that I decided that trying to influence politics was less enjoyable than I’d hoped, even at the best of times.

My girlfriend once described me as an extroverted introvert, and I sort of agree:

When you first meet new people, sparing using your words, and encouraging them to do the talking can help you to understand where they’re coming from and how to help them relate to you.

It’s easier this way too – you don’t have to say much, and can get a feel for what they’re interested in, and how best to respond to them.

It can even help over email.

One theoretical problem I’ve often thought about is, “if you meet someone very well known, who you respect the work of, but have little to say to, what should you say?”  What should you say if you met Tom Cruise, or Katy Perry or David Beckham or someone?

It’s complicated, but, my feeling is that relying on pieces of wisdom like these can help:

“Wise men speak because they have something to say. Fools speak because they have to say something.”


“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

-Abraham Lincoln

When it comes to customers, and business, encouraging customers to talk about things that they care about can make a great deal of difference. I like rock climbing, and I was looking over this customer’s website, and I noticed the person I was talking to was also a climber, so I asked them where they’d been recently. It was as if I’d opened a floodgate – suddenly they were recommending me places to go to develop my climbing, and suddenly it felt like we were communicating on a friend-to-friend basis, rather than a business-to-business.

Another memorable moment is once when I went to a customer site to work out how we could help them. Talking about the tech they were building, where they were, where they were going, what their challenges were made a real impression on them. I thought I was just sort of gathering information, somehow, by being interested and asking them questions about how they planned to do things, they were delighted to have someone to explain it to. They took me through these details, those plans – and by the time we left, I understood a great deal about their system. The customer was so happy, they broadcasted on social media about it, and still remembered it a few years afterwards.

I think it’s also relevant if someone has some criticism aimed at you, or something you’re in control of. Going and giving them your full attention, and saying “you’re absolutely right, this does sound serious – thanks for bringing it to my attention – I’d like you to tell me all about it”, can make someone feel a lot more valued, and pacified. Do that with enough passion, and it’s completely possible to turn their relationship with your business from frustration to love.

Listening is more difficult than it sounds, but you can learn to do it, and it makes people happy. :)

Listen to the users. If they want chalk, let them draw.

Listen to the users. If they want chalk, let them draw.

The long and winding brook

Show Gratitude

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

“Show Gratitude”

This value is distinct, and yet very complimentary to yesterday’s value.

It took me until my late teens to realise many of the things I am grateful for, when after a series of turbulent times, the stars aligned for a moment, and things fell into place all at once, and suddenly there was a chance to consider where all the pieces of the recently assembled jigsaw had came from.

Since then, making an effort to go out of my way to thank people is something you may notice me do. I guess occasionally there are the times I’ve shouted about itto encourage other people to follow. Most of the time however, I’m more likely to say in private, or by email/letter, how much I appreciate someone’s efforts – often, it doesn’t feel like anyone else’s business.

I think showing gratitude is important – acknowledging sacrifices, support and encouragement from others is important, and it also reflects into a strong desire to pay it back/give back to the same community.

One of my favourite stories about paying it forward is a simple story about running of petrol. If you’ve not read it maybe take a look?

The nice thing about gratitude, is that it’s free. It doesn’t cost anything to profusely thank someone for their time, or their help showing you something, or the manner in which they did their job.

But the impact it can have, is much larger than anything that can be bought. Surprising your IT department with an email of thanks. Sending a family member a card for helping you get through a tough time. Thanking people always has a positive impact, and the more frequent, free and enthusiastic you are about expressing your gratitude for others, the more you’ll find things go the way you want them to go. :)

I’m also grateful for the luck and privileges I take for granted, but I feel that discussion is actually separate from what this value is trying to convey.

Happy Daffodil!

Always Choose Positivity and Happiness

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

“Always Choose Positivity and Happiness”

I once watched a film on television. I didn’t know it at the time, but it had quite an effect on me, until today, I’d always attributed it to other films.

The film was the Pollyannathe 2003 adaptation of the 1911 book by Eleanor H. Porter. As Wikipedia explains:

Pollyanna’s philosophy of life centres on what she calls “The Glad Game”, an optimistic attitude she learned from her father. The game consists of finding something to be glad about in every situation.

It originated in an incident one Christmas when Pollyanna, who was hoping for a doll in the missionary barrel, found only a pair of crutches inside. Making the game up on the spot, Pollyanna’s father taught her to look at the good side of things—in this case, to be glad about the crutches because “we didn’t need to use them!”

I don’t think I realised quite the effect that this (and my family’s apparent worry-free approach to life) had had on me, until relatively recently.

It’s very easy to get distracted by things that induce negative thoughts, and often things seem like worthy causes, but consider this:

We’re put on this planet for a lifetime. The reason we care about anything is because it may impact on our happiness, or the future happiness of others. But if we aren’t enjoying the present, we are wasting our minutes.

We can do the right thing AND choose happiness.

I’ve blogged before about happiness and focusing on the positive. It’s clear to me that ‘objectively’ it’s a good thing – not just for philosophical reasons, there are clear pragmatic benefits.

I actually think this is one of the hardest core values, because I think that it’s something that most people attempt to do, but find it difficult to actually put into practice. It looks simple on paper but the concious effort required, every day, to do it, is nontrivial. Having the discipline to relentlessly pursue things is hard – but often very rewarding!

There’s a question everyone will someday consider:

What would I do if I won the lottery?

If you can bear to spend a moment thinking what you do if you won a spare couple of million, stop now and think.

Otherwise, let’s move on.

My feeling is the wisest answer to this question is, “continue doing what I’m doing now, just with more money (and I might not tell anyone about the cash)”.

One of the best things you can do, is to find what you’d like to be doing, and then everyday, cross one thing off your list of things to help you get there.

I think I am doing what I’d want to be doing, whether I won the lottery or not, and I find encouraging other people to be a way of renewing my own positivity… It’s complicated, but it seems like the more of it you give away, the more you get back. :)

Star paths in Kyrgyzstan!

Do the right thing

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

“Do the right thing”

This is quite a difficult value to blog about, because if you try to do the right thing, it’s possible you might not even know you’re doing it.

I guess the point to give you confidence that specifically in circumstances where there might be a conflict of interest, you should do the right thing.

In the context of an organisation, this might be a bit like something that happened this morning.

A cost-concious customer was explaining some new requirements and was interested in how we could help. It wasn’t something we could help with easily – they’d have to take out a year contract, when all they wanted was this thing. The customer mentioned that they other competitors had given them a price they couldn’t afford, and they were considering doing it in house.

At this point, some sales people would say that I should have push the services on them, even knowing that the costs were 10x what they could manage. Instead, I told them them upfront that we wouldn’t be able to do it, it’d be way too expensive, and they should do it inhouse if they had the ability to do so. At the end of the conversation, the customer thanked me for being direct with him – he was happy to have saved both of us time and energy faffing over things that wouldn’t work out.

One of the reasons that I dislike DRM is because, in the real world, DRM can cause 10 year old girls to cry – it feels like it catches out all the wrong people and so fails to do the right thing.

A desire for things to be done “right”, specifically in relation to laws that affect the way the internet works, is one of the reasons that I got involved in politics. Of course, “right” is subjective, but for me, supporting the future of the internet was a very compelling “right thing” to put myself behind – the one that drove me to stand for parliament, run an election campaign, and go into politics when sane people might choose not to!

Doing the right thing, is also what leads my support of mySociety – the charity behind lots of the best e-democracy sites – theyworkforyou, writetothem, fixmystreet.

When I found my parents didn’t understand really what their son did for a living, it seemed sort of natural for me to take a day of holiday, bring them into the office, and explain it all to them. They may not have been kickass sysadmins afterwards, but they knew what a client-server relationship was, and they understood web pages weren’t like TV.

Doing the right thing, is why several times, I’ve taken time to mentor young people – to give back to the community, and to pay forward the support I was given. In 2010, I remember taking a week out of my holiday allowance to mentor Young Rewired State 2010 (I guess I’d sort of helped co-ordinate some of the northern contingent of Young Rewired State 2009 so it was a natural progression?), in any case, whilst taking the time off work was definitely “the right thing”, I don’t really think about it like that. The friendships forged during that week have lasted a long time, and I expect will last decades longer – that in itself is worth it!

I think I’d go back to what I originally said – this value is used to give people confidence to do things for good, and not for evil – and to empower them to let them figure out what that means themselves. I like this. :)

Pokebook public stream

Create Fun and A Little Weirdness

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

“Create Fun and A Little Weirdness”?

This is an unusual value, but I like it a lot. It kind of has the effect of celebrating diversity and, in an organisational context, highlights that it’s an organisation of real people.

One of the things I like most about this, is the message it sends out – everyone is a bit special an unique – and you should celebrate that and have fun!

Pokebook public stream

Pokebook public stream

Back in the day, my friend Ben Webb and I came up with a social network(before YO!) that simply allowed people to poke each other. There were no other features. We even came up with a slidedeck pitching it for business users.

A hundred or so people signed up, and with the API, a few people built API apps.

We were about to roll out version “2.0″ (for the third time), with a new feature which allowed users to upload profile picture, so you poked them by clicking it – a feature we were going to call “poke-her-face“. But by that point we figured we had sunk enough time into a joke…

One of the great things about Ben is that he completely ‘gets’ this value, and good natured pranks are something he does well. :)

Most of my forays into music are a little weird. A rapidly produced rap song to celebrate a young people’s hackday (Thanks Maria, Kerodean!), the worlds first (and only?) hike-hop video - satisfying that unfilled niche of hip-hop songs about hiking (thanks Dan, Bethesda!), and then there’s the love song to Nano, the unix text editor

I guess it business contexts, it’s often easy to confuse seriousness with being solemness. John Cleese nails it when he says that you can laugh about serious things things (“the future of our children’s education”) without detracting from the seriousness of what’s being said:

On Creativity: Serious vs Solemn by John Cleese

It’s not even that being slightly weird and creating fun is hard… or disruptive. One of the easier ways to create fun in a relatively consequence-free way is simply by giving internal documents entertaining names – one might title a strategy document “The One Plan to Rule Them All“, or reply to an email asking “Does anyone else think this a good idea?” with a Star Trek, Captain Picard “Make it so” gif (or currently, my favourite thing is using OpenArena voiceover soundfiles!)

I guess the value also aligns well with this blog post that funny press releases and pranks aren’t just for April Fools day. 

Endorsed for high availability sarcasm

Endorsed for high availability sarcasm

My feeling is that we spend most of our working life at work. We’re all somewhat weird in our own way.

Wouldn’t it be great if instead of trying to compress our people into the a sort of average-centric predictable mush, we just celebrated our weirdness and created some smiles along the way?

I think it produces a harder working, more creative, happier environment. :)

My maps that I lost in the mountains in Kyrgyzstan

Be Passionate and Determined

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

Be Passionate and Determined?

My maps that I lost in the mountains in Kyrgyzstan

My maps that I lost in the mountains in Kyrgyzstan

I can think of three things that embody this:

  • Scouting access for an unclimbed Mountain in Kyrgzystan:
    • Undocumented location, undocumented transport logistics, undocumented passport logistics, undocumented human logistics (who? language? make friends with them?)
    • With only 10 days to work out the details, there were some minor hiccups
    • But once it figured out the details, turning around would have been silly
    • I actually lost all my [soviet] maps on the second day in the mountains, rather than just retreating, I just planned to return the way I’d come and drew my own topo-map in my notebook.
  • Not bothering to get a degree in Tech, and wading straight in
    • At GCSE and 6th form, most people thought I should go to university
    • However, due to getting involved in local tech scene in Manchester, I learnt about what opportunities were available.
    • Luck was on my side, I walked into a graduate job fair and got a part time job as a Sysadmin
  • I guess there are other stories…
    • Taking a group of young people (at the time, my friends) to a big sporting race for them ~100mles away
      • Persuading a local caravan company to sponsor us a caravan for the weekend
      • Team ranked near bottom – ah well, it’s all about trying.
    • Attempting to repeat the above story, but because of poor communication on my part resulting in $drama, only half the team and none of the kit arrived
      • We found another half-formed team, beg borrowed kit
      • Placed respectably (and higher than we’d ever previously ranked!)
      • (Lesson about communication!)
    • Finding there was no peer group for young people who liked technology and creating one
    • Many mountaineering trips that haven’t gone to plan.

I guess it all boils down to:

  1. Caring about things
  2. Not taking “no” or small setbacks as a reason to give up!

Both are things I’m pretty comfortable with.

Create Fun and A Little Weirdness - Zappos Values

My 20-day Zappos + Buffer Values Challenge

Two companies whom I feel have very positive company cultures are Zappos and Buffer.

Because these organisations go out of their way to embody a high purpose, I’ve a feel a great deal of respect and awe towards these them.

The thing is, the values all seem relatively familiar, and I’m interested to see how many of these values are things I already feel aligned to.

One of the way Dave Logan and friends recommend finding your core values in Tribal Leadership (buy it, read it, reread it), is by writing a story about how you learnt something from an experience. A specific given example in the book is about honesty, when an 8yro is caught stealing in a shop, and the painful memory sticks hard into their values from that point onwards.

For the next 20 days, I’m going to try and release a blog post a day, each dealing with a mixed up list of Zappos and Buffer’s core values, and seeing how much it is aligned with me and whether I can relate to it.

The aim is simply to understand more about myself, whilst also probably being a nice opportunity to tell stories.

The Values I’ll be investigating:

  1. Be Passionate and Determined
  2. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  3. Do the Right Thing
  4. Always Choose Positivity and Happiness
  5. Show Gratitude
  6. Listen First, Then Listen More
  7. Embrace and Drive Change
  8. Be Humble
  9. Pursue Growth and Learning
  10. Make Time to Reflect
  11. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  12. Do More With Less
  13. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  14. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  15. Live Smarter, Not Harder
  16. Be a “no-ego” Doer
  17. Have a Bias Towards Clarity
  18. Deliver WOW Through Service
  19. Have a Focus on Self Improvement
  20. Default to Transparency
Plans for 2014

Q2 Review of my plans for 2014

In January, I put together a list of things I wanted to get done in 2014, this is my second review of how I’m doing.

As I mentioned in my Q1 review back in April, it’s one thing to write down plans for the year, and another thing to review them at the end. But if that’s all you do, it’s almost like gambling blind. There’s no real focus, just

“this is what I want to do”, “did it work? 20%? Jolly good!”.

So I’m trying to do Quarterly reviews. I suspect… that monthly reviews might be the way forward, but we’ll see.

Pass my driving test and take lots of post-test tuition.

  • I passed my driving test!
    • Woop woop woop. I’m really pleased about this. Not the passing the test per se, but the “nailing a good deal of this goal” bit.
    • To celebrate passing my test, I’ve bought myself a …. road atlas! You can tell I know how to party.
  • I’ve done a great deal of post-test tuition, and have committed to doing a lot more:
    • We’ve driven over the Snake Pass (which was less scary and more fun than I’d expected), and round Torkington Bends in Hazel Grove (‘exciting’ bends).
    • We’ve done some motorway driving
      • Basic motorway driving seems ok, but junctions etc need more work.
      • I’m pretty sure we’ll get this nailed in the lessons with practice.
    • Parking with precision and clue is getting better. I think there’s more distance
    • We’ve done a few bits of “creative” driving, when traffic lights have failed (including failing on red!), road flooding and other things – all this is great
    • We’ve done some bits on single track, national speed limit roads, I think there’s more room for practice there.

Learn a new sport (or several)

  • In the last quarter, I took a one-day snowboarding class, but didn’t really manage to follow up quickly enough to maintain my confidence. So…
  • I’ve booked another one-day snowboarding class, which hopefully will help me find my feet, balance, and confidence. Although it’ll just be repeating the same things, it’ll let me get twice the practice, and lets face it, practice makes a massive difference.
  • Clara & I had a go at Surfing in Devon. It was interesting.
    • We had two lessons, and I think more would have been ideal to a higher level.
    • I’d how much more enjoyable falling into fresh water is compared to salt water.
      • Learning to surf is a lot about falling into salt water
    • “Popups” – going from lying to standing as fast as possible is as much about push ups and leg-bendyness as it is about balance
      • I think being able to do more (any) pushups, and doing more yoga would make it easier
  • I think, if the opportunity presented itself, I’d like to focus on making an effort to have go at Windsurfing, probably off-season, towards the autumn.

Skills I’m trying to develop:


Heptonstall Climbing

Heptonstall Climbing on evening

Shooting at MCC

Shooting at MCC

I’m not sure that I’ve developed my style much but I did get outside (and inside) and take some photos:

  • I did a whole blog post of pictures about of the Aonach Eagach, and all the exciting Scottish ridge scrambling that entailed.
  • I went on a few hikes, and scrambles, walked through a few fields, got some nice shots of fields, beachs, sunsets etc
  • I shot some outdoor climbing one sunny evening, and got some really pleasing shots.
  • I shot some indoor climbing.
    • It’s really difficult – I either need a f2.8 300mm lens…
    • …or, some great, predictable, one-directional light sources.
    • It’s really tough indoors, and so I think the answer is probably not to shoot indoors, (and expect great photos).
      • The light in indoor climbing walls often fluctuates between bright and dark so much that it can be really hard to see the climber in the murk, whilst being blinded by the light above/beyond them.


  • I’ve climbed a few 6a’s (on toprope), I’m getting to the point where I can consider them on routes that don’t require too much stamina, and are mainly technical
  • I’ve tried (maybe done?) some 6a+’s (on top rope).
  • I’ve continued teaching a few people about climbing – from newbies, to indoor middling-newbies trying outdoor.
  • Unfortunately, I’ve not focused on climbing as much this quarter, and as a result I’d say I’ve not developed my rope skills further, or my stamina – something to work on!


  • I’d say I’ve not done as much as I wanted
    • A weekend in Glen Coe (resulting only in completing Aonach Eagach - which I’ve wanted to do for ages!)
      • It was great fun (but not for inexperienced) – clean, exposed, sustained, demanding scrambling – and great weather for it!
    • A chilled bimble around Malham Cove, Janets Foss, Goredale Scar
    • A gentle day hike from Croyde to Woolacombe and back
    • A spur of the moment overnight bivvy over midsummer night in Edale
    • A fun weekend in Langdale, which involved:
      • An exceptionally warm (also rainy), The Band, Crinkle Crags, linking up to Pike o’Blisco and back to Dungeon Gyll
        • Helped a Dad and his son, who’d set off from Seathwhaite to climb Scafell Pike via Great End, got mis-directed in the mist, and walked up Bowfell, and then walked the wrong way off Bowfell. They walked down to Dungeon Gyll and took the bus home
        • Made good use of GPS/OpenStreetMap
      • An exceptionally hot, sunny and lazy hike up Jack’s Rake, Pavey’s Ark and Harrison Stickle, descending via a path I’ve not done before, below Harrison Stickle
  • I’ve ruled out any significant summer expeditions. If you’re Tim, it’s too hot to do any real exercise in the northern hemisphere at the moment. I’m looking forward to a cooler climate!
  • I now have a proper 4 seasons tent – a Terra Nova Quasar
    • I quite like the idea of an autumn trek, probably as late as I can.
    • I’m also planning to make the most of Winter when it comes.
  • It might be fun to do some short weekends hiking and camping.
    • Maybe as lightweight as possible, bivvying or at least taking as little as possible!

Public speaking

  • It’s not really public “speaking”, but I finally finished editing the video for this Hiking EPIC Rap, and pushed it out there (where it got some minor attention on UKC)
    • I’m pleased it’s out there, considering the amount of time that went into it, the number of trips it spanned, and the quality of the footage in the video.
  • I’ve not done much public speaking really. There’s not much more to say. I’d like to, but nothing has presented itself, and I guess I’ve not sort after the opportunities.
  • I’m not really sure how to break the impasse here and do something. Perhaps you can help?
    • I can talk about tech, hiking, adventuring, life?
    • How do I find a deadline or opportunity to work towards writing something for?
      • Perhaps I should prepare something for Oggcamp? What?

Systems Engineering

  • On the home network front:
    • I’ve started to architecture my network onto new hardware (gig-E everywhere!)
    • I’ve bought a Micro-Tik router to replace my WRT54G that tops out at ~40mbps from the internet
      • It has a configuration interface designed by… people who wanted different things from me
      • So I’ve not got it set up yet.
      • In fact, the only thing I’ve succeeded in doing is learning the factory reset sequence very well.
  • I’ve got some more backups set up even better
    • Yay. Backups are good.
    • I still need to work out how best to rate-limit backups done over NFS, over 802.11g
  • I need to re-architect this blogs backend to remove nginx… or at least reduce its presence.
  • I probably should consider having a look at Ansible


  • I read Contagious by Jonah Berger which I think
  • I went to one of @stef’s Play Learn Hack workshops
  • I’ve got some interesting books about design, and interaction and user interfaces which… (I guess?) counts as fits into marketing. I’m planning to read those soon.
  • I’ve got some fun projects to think about, but I should probably not talk about them here.


  • I’ve been intending to learn more Ruby, but I’ve not actually done any since last time I wrote.
  • What I have been doing is looking at Bootstrap and attempting to understand how websites are designed, in (in)sane ways.
  • I’ve done a few unexciting bash scripts including a fugly hack of a bash one liner:
    • for i in {1..100000}; do sudo mount -t auto -o ro,loop,offset=$i CIV3.000 /mnt/; done”
    • Which mounts the utterly stupid .vc4 file format in linux, since it’s just a ISO image, with a custom header

Lose weight

  • Last quarter, I thought I was making progress on the weight loss front. This quarter, I know I’ve lost ground. Ideally I’d like to be ~10&1/2, 11ish stone , and I think I weigh closer to 14 stone than 13 at the moment.
    • This is mainly diet related.
    • I need to get back on the salad, protein and soup diet, and just stick to it. I know I can make a real difference, but as a friend said, it requires enormous discipline.
  • I don’t believe it would assist with weight per se (compared to dietary choices), but I’ve not been jogging since Q1 and I should start back on C25K.
    • If anyone wants a jogging partner in Manchester – give me a shout!

Blog More

  • I’ve pushed out a series of blog posts I’ve been drafting/wanting to get out there for a long time (these: 1, 2, 3), some new things, some photos, some business ideas and some anecdotes.
    • Despite this, I haven’t published nearly enough blog posts!
  • I still have 100+ draft blog posts, and bunch of ideas for pushing lots of blog posts out
    • So I need to make some of these happen!
  • I’d like to publish more in my “notes on a book” series – I haven’t published nearly enough given the number of books I’ve read!

Read more.

  • I’ve been doing well here. I’ve read a number of books, and what’s more, I’ve even published a number of sets of notes of some of the books I’ve read.
  • I’ve got a massive stack of books to read, and a lot of enthusiasm to read them, so hopefully I’ll continue along these lines just the same as I started.
  • So far this year, I’ve read:
  • I’m almost finished:
    • Peak by Chip Conley
    • How to Win Friends and Influence people by Dale Carnegie
    • Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne
  • My aim is to read “24 decent length” books this year, that’s 12 above.
    • I enjoy reading, though it requires focus and time, both things that you have to make an effort to provide. Both very good things though.
    • As I mentioned, I hope I can incorporate sets of notes of as many of these books as possible (all of them?) into blog posts for me (and others) to refer back to!

Socialise more.

  • I set myself aims to spend more time socialising this year. I’m sort of doing that, and I’m sort of changing it I think
  • I’d like to spend more time trying to socialise for leisure in real life.
    • Time spent with friends is always well spent if you’re enjoying it, or improving that connection.
  • I think I’d like to spend more time building professional connections remotely
    • and in real life one to one/small groups, improving those relationships
  • Over the past few months, I’ve done bits of this, but I need to get better it.

Travel as much as is appropriate

  • Clara and I went camping for a week to Croyde in Devon for a holiday.
  • I considered a summer trip to Sofia in Bulgaria (and Pirin Moutains, Burgas etc). I might still do this, but I’m less keen on it compared to when I originally thought of it if it means using valuable holiday which I could be using to visit a cooler climate

So there we go – That’s the last 3 months in summary!

See you in November for the next review!

Lol Relic

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? 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.