Now, I don’t agree with every single point of this video – I can’t handwrite for to save my life and clearly legibility is a facilitates smooth communication, so all my letters are typed.
In fact, I hate paper, printers, envelopes, stamps, postboxes and all that time-wasting prehistoric infrastructure… but it has a use… and this is it.
E-mails are ephemeral, letters are not, I always try to send letters.
Being massively lazy however, I found a service called pc2paper which lets me send letters for a low cost from the web – so I don’t have to interact with printers, envelopes, stamps, postboxes etc.
There are different ways of phrasing letters, there are different amounts of proof reading you can do, you probably have a specific idea of the right amount. Personally, I almost always prefer writing in an informal tone, and try to get to the point as quickly as possible.
However, I also try and be personable. It’s not about removing all elements of humanity. I’m always polite, non-confrontational, and reread it afterwards just to check it doesn’t come off as passive aggressive. Changing people’s points of view, and channeling someone else to see things you see as important, as equally important, is very challenging – and anything you can do to distinguish yourself from masses in a positive and uplifting way, will win your perspectives extra consideration.
Throughout my childhood, my family never had a TV.
From the day I was born, until I moved out when I was 19, I had relatively little exposure to TVs or their content.
At primary school, all my classmates talked about Cartoon Network and ‘play-stations’ and I had no idea what it was all about. At the time, I had some kind of Fisher Price play-kitchen so I assumed these “play-stations” they talked of were Fisher Price stations that they all had!
When I was at school, Red Nose Day and Children In Need were these strange events that never really made sense, and my classmates at school couldn’t understand how I didn’t know these popular TV shows were.
Sticking out at school was really rubbish, but at home I was doing other things…
I don’t really understand my parents. I mean, I guess, either they were hoping I’d accidentally die early on in life, or they had taken the somewhat famous Smallows and Amazon’s telegram to heart:
BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS IF NOT DUFFERS WON’T DROWN
I’m going to assume the latter, but you never could tell, because the things I spent my ‘early childhood’ doing can certainly leave grown people shaky at the knees, even if it did all start very innocuously.
When I was in reception class – just 4 or 5 year old – I took great interest in my dad nailing and cutting bits of wood. At Christmas, I decided wanted to give my favourite teaching assistant a [small] wooden stool to sit on. With a bit of help sawing the offcuts to the right lenth, I nailed it together and gave it her. Apparently she was very touched. That year, one of my Christmas presents was my own, real life, working tool kit (complete with hammer, saw, spirit level, tape measure, etc).
About a year later, I remember playing with hot wax (how to make candles), fountain pens, ink. As I got older, I only got more adventurous and more ambitious, it just went downhill from there.
One of our neighbours was a handyman and woodworker, and would give us his offcuts to burn and so when I was around 8 or 9, I decided I wanted to make a raft – because, heck, rafts are cool.
The problem is that you can easily nail together a platform of wood which floats on the surface of the water, but it doesn’t have enough buoyancy to support anything on it (me!). I didn’t have any oil-drum-like barrels to hand, but I had heard something about 1 litre of water weighing about 1 kilo – and somehow extrapolated that a 1 litre bottle of air would more or less support a 1 kilo weight. By scaling this calculation, you can work out how many 3 litre squash bottles you need to tie to the bottom of this wooden platform, to support a small boy (who’s weighed himself on some bathroom scales).
The wood platform was nailed together from offcuts, with empty squash bottles tied to the underside. Pretty, it was not. It wasn’t even a regular shape. But it’s not like I cared! I had a raft!
Eventually, my parents let me launch it somewhere, and with the help of the son of a family friend (who was a good deal older than me), we found that it floated (great!) and it could support me(bonus!). There were several outings with it, but it’s ultimate downfall was that, due to there being lots of unsealed wood, it gained quite a lot of weight after being in the water for some time, making it heavy to carry back…
Around that time, I decided watercraft weren’t enough, and so in the back garden, I built a treehouse. Not on my own, for sure – I think my dad wanted to make sure it was somewhat safe, and so lent some basic help to make sure there was a stable, sturdy, well supported platform in place around the rather flimsy tree in our back garden that was previously known as “the climbing tree”. After a while, I got bored of the platform on its own, and decided it need a roof, so I with some more offcuts, I constructed walls and a the roof which was covered with some spare tar paper.
Make no mistake, there were times when things went wrong but bruised thumbs and hammered fingers only served as better motivation to avoid hitting them again in future.
Due to the design, the roof even had a “loft” – a bit of space to put things – and it wasn’t long until I put several large 6V batteries up there (in series), hooked up with speaker wire to some low voltage light bulbs I’d rigged up. I even dropped a watertank made from an ice cream tub, up there, with a tube and a tap on the end, which allowed for siphon-powered “running” water.
It was not perfect by any means; for example, due to my expert wood working, there were sort of the ends of nails sticking through the roof which your head might come in contact with if you weren’t careful, but it was a still a great hideout.
Over time it evolved, and the final iteration had a panel that slid aside to display a window (using some cool tongue-and-groove planks I’d been given) and a similar sliding bolt for the front door so I could ‘lock’ it.
Bows and arrows came next – as my siblings are a good deal older – there weren’t really issues with me trying to unleash any aggressive tendencies at them with a bow. I never really produced anything particularly accurate, but firing a bow and seeing how far you can send your homemade arrow flying is a quite a lot of fun in itself.. There’s an added bonus if you can reliably get it to stick properly into the ground when it lands, but I don’t think I ever truly perfected that. The most developed I ever got was that I figured that paper flights really did make a difference, and that by splitting the narrow end of the arrow, sliding a flight in, and then superglueing it shut, you could get an arrow which tended to fly much better than one with out.
I quite liked cap guns too. I mean, what’s not to like about them? They go bang. That’s pretty awesome. I learnt all about the different sorts of toy cap guns (ringed caps for revolver-style capguns are clearly the best and most reliable, but paper-based caps are still fun). My mum vividly remembers me finding a big bunch of mixed up coils of paper caps. These are kind of coils of 100 or so small charges that go off when they’re hit. I suggested to my mum that it might be fun (with this big mess of caps), that rather than untangle them, to take this big tangle out onto the back step and hit it with a big hammer. My mum agreed, and came to watch. Lo and behold, there was a spectacular bang, (amplified by the very closed environment with two stone walls, which went up to the back garden), and our ears were ringing for some time. Hmmm. Yes. We both learned a lesson there!
My parents weren’t luddites by any means and obviously we had central heating, but we also had an open fire and I’d take a lot of interest in it, which ultimately resulted in building campfires in the back garden. I remember learning about starting fires and playing with matches when I was definitely only around 7 or so. Getting the kindling right, and then piling on offcuts of wood is something of a skill. Occasionally I had friends round who were (somehow) allowed by their parents to join in the fun. I never could understand why people just wanted to hold the end of a burning stick and wave it around when there were so many more exciting things one could do with a fire…
Cook things! Baked potatoes… in fact, baked anything worked pretty well. Sure, marshmallows work, but that’s more of a faff, and and isn’t half as fun.
As a I grew older, fires pointed the way from cooking to much more interested activities. Why bother cooking when you can melt metal? And what can you do with molten metal? You can try to mould it into shapes! And so for a time, I turned part blacksmith, searching for old bits of lead piping in skips, and melting them down in a steel [not-at-all-tin] can. Why lead? Lead melts at a relatively low temperature that’s easy to achieve. Copper piping was also fun, because if you got it red hot, it bent much easier, and so armed with a hammer, you could bash it into fun shapes (the best I ever managed to make was a hook!). Making moulds for molten lead was a bit of a faff – although sand moulds are a thing, sandpit sand isn’t the sand they’re talking about, and so the most interesting thing I ever managed was pouring molten lead into sea shells – which produced nice shell-shaped nuggets of lead. (In general, lead is only poisonous when you eat it. Lead was used for water pipes until not long ago, and is used in shotgun shot. Basically, if you eat molten lead you’re doing something wrong. )
Of course, with a keen interest in building projectile-throwing devices, and with a copy of Bevis in hand, it was only a next step to see whether I could build a gun. It seemed like a fun challenge. I took some hints from muzzle-loading flint-lock style things, and it actually sort of worked. I stopped up the end of a thick copper pipe with molten lead, hacksawed a hole near the blocked end, and then slid an illicit france-bought ‘banger’ down the tube, poked the fuse out of the hole (actually very fiddly!), pointed it in the direction I wanted and lit the fuse.
Without a proper butt, it never looked like more than old copper pipe, and the charges in the bangers were never strong enough to do more than toss a small stone across the garden (10 yards), but it still felt like a great success.
There were also experiements with electronics – taking stuff apart; failing to put stuff back together; a learning experience that involved mains electricity; soldering irons; learning to remove capacitors with a soldering iron; learning that soldering irons are, indeed, hot; and other stories… but none of them really produced any results, other than being able to explain how this old tape deck had previously worked, and how fitting it back together didn’t seem to be working out for me.
But if it sounds like I spent the whole of my childhood blowing shit up, I’d be doing myself a disservice. From the age of 7 or 8, I really started reading, and remember, no TV means no distractions. I used to spend hours lying on the floor, on a beanbag, reading books, cover-to-cover. It was at this point that I developed my interesting style of reading: I have a tendency to skim read, to miss paragraphs or sentences if I think that part is uninteresting or dull, whilst still picking up the main gist. It’s almost like my brain was pre-empting the web. I read a lot – I read twenty of the twenty-one Famous Five books, as many Biggles books, the Dr Doolittle series, James Herriott’s autobiographies, Gerald Durrell and a significant number of others. When the first “long” Harry Potter book came out (The Goblet of Fire), I went through it in a matter of days, leaving me to try to comprehend why my peers were still carrying it around weeks or months later.
Around the time I started secondary school, we got our first computer, and suddenly, I was less interested in building things in real life, and more in figuring out how to do things on the computer – I mean, it could even play DVDs! In addition, exceptionally dull homework started to take its toll, so the amount I read, and the amount I did things with my hands decreased.
I’m pretty confident that this background helped a great deal – once I applied it to computers a “just do it approach”, actually got me work.
If you don’t have enough time, stop watching TV. #quoteoftheday
and I think I’d agree.
I could talk about what it was like to miss out on lots of TV, but honestly, I never missed it because it never was there. I was too busy building tree houses in my back garden, lighting fires, melting metal on the fires, making bows and arrows, building muzzle loading projectile throwers…
But here’s the thing: only recently did I understand who Jools Holland was, and why he held cultural significance. But when I think back, and remember that when I once asked for a Playstation for my birthday and got a dog instead, I don’t care.
Because now I know that I had an awesome childhood, and I can still watch TV when I want to.
It’s interesting. The premise of the service is that the top 5 tracks for popular artists will be displayed, and you can listen to them.
Technically, that means it basically, just pulls the top 5 songs, band art, similar artists from (for instance) the last.fm API, and then links them to the Artist’s twitter account.
It encourages a certain type of listening, good for gaining followers, but not listening in a way most fans will listen…
The problem is, often fans won’t want to *just* listen to the top 5 songs of an artist (judged by algorithm, not fan-perspective), so the platform offers no value to them at all.
In fact, it’s rather like someone is trying to package top40 radio back into an online streaming format… and I just don’t think it fits.The decisions users have to make don’t make sense.
Actually, the decisions users have to make don’t exist, because I’m pretty certain any self respecting music fan, would take a look at this, and sniff “NOPE” and head back to Spotify, Grooveshark, iTunes, Tomahawk, The HypeMachine or any number of other places.
For artists, I could see if possibly, of being one place they could gain followers quickly from. If you’re flicking through music, you might come across an artist, and decide to click “follow” – however, the “quick” aspect, implies that people have to be using the service like that, and I don’t think many people use it at all.
To me, it feels like a polished, somewhat licenced hackday or internal mashup project. There’s combination of two things, yet very little added value from the combination to intended users.
I recently read about a group from MMU hiking club having to call out Mountain Rescue, (disclosure: I’ve hiked with MMU Hiking club once in the past), and I don’t want to dwell on what happened to them, but rather what’s important – they’re all alive, well, uninjured (perhaps except in pride!) and will live to climb another mountain.
Sharing stories of when things didn’t all go to plan is very useful, if you’re like me, you learn best by making your own mistakes but hearing someone explaining how they fucked up is also extremely useful.
I’ve been in numerous situations that I’d prefer to look back at and agree not to repeat, but there’s relatively few of those that I’ve written about in detail… until now.
This is the first of several blog posts to tell stories of when things didn’t quite, go to plan.
It was the start of May 2013 and some friends and I had been planning to go camping in Glen Coe for part of a week, as the departure date approached, the weather forecast looked pretty poor, and they decided not to go.
Branding them “wimps”, I decided I wasn’t going to stopped by a bit of weather. As Pete Goss once said “it’s only wind and water”.
I wrote an enthusiastic blog post: I was going and try and do the Mammores & Grey Corries… and well, I’d make it up as I went along – I’d figured a good plan for the first day would be to do Mullach nan Coirean and Stob Ban, and then camp in a sheltered area on the ridge, near Lochan Coire nam Miseach.
So on Saturday night, I got the coach up to Glasgow overnight, catching a whopping 2 hours sleep, then at 6am jumped on the bus from Glasgow to Fort William. From Fort William, I hitchhiked up Glen Nevis to the start of the walk, all in time and reasonably clear weather to make a start up the hill around 11am.
Achriabhach in Glen Nevis, I headed up through the forestry commission to Sron Riabhach. Upon reaching Sron Riabhach, it started raining. No problem! I popped my Paramo Jacket and Berghaus trousers on and headed on up to the first Munro: Mullach nan Coirean.
As got to the first Munro summit, the visibility dropped and the wind and rain increased.
As I soldiered on, rain started to find its way into everything, the gloves were the first to show signs of weakness and what were two warm, cosy linings, soon became a chilly, sopping fridges, whose only redeeming feature was that they blocked out the wind.
The Rain Continues
It was heavy going. The poor visibility made it hard to keep track of progress, and I kept estimating myself to be further towards my destination than I actually was. The rucksack wasn’t as light as it could have been and I had to rest periodically
And the rain continued to work its way in… creeping up from my ankles, attaching itself to my face and then running down inside my jacket, finding its way through zipped and snapped up ventilation zips and eventually, somehow getting in between in jacket and over-trousers. Before long, I was utterly soaked.
By this point, I could tell it was not a good situation to be in. My waterproofs were now mainly only for wind-blocking purposes, and my body temperature was not very warm.
When I was younger, I liked sailing and spent days sitting stationary in boats, whilst cold lake water was thrown over me… at least until it was blown off by the wind. I think it was from those years, that I developed the ability to be able to drop my surface body temperature and maintain my core body temperature.
And that’s what I was doing by this point. It wasn’t ideal – yes, my feet were cold, yes, my fingers were cold – any piece of skin you touched would have been wet and cold, but I was still functioning, and not super-uncomfortable.
I knew that at this point, the most important thing was to keep moving and move as fast as possible. The sooner I was in a place I could put my tent up, the better.
Eventually I reached the top of Stob Ban, and after checking the map and taking a quick compass bearing, headed off down the only obvious path down the opposite side of the summit.
As I descended the scree path, I started to see the outlines of people that I hoped were walking up the hill through the gloomy mist towards me, only to feel deprived when every person turned out to be yet another cluster of boulders.
Stopping to check the map, I concluded it couldn’t be much farther anyway, and continued stopping down the hill with increased fervour.
I considered whether this was the time to call out Mountain Rescue, but figured if I could still walk, and could still get myself to my campsite, then wasting time and effort in such an exposed position, only to have to wait the amount of time it’d have taken me to keep walking, was a poor decision. The most important thing was to keep going – I could already tell that the wind was dropping, and with every step down the hill, I’d be a little more sheltered.
Eventually, I stopped and had another look at the map – the path really wasn’t very clear, and I felt I should have been seeing signs I was arriving at the col, with its sheltered tarn and good campsite prospects…
I took a compass bearing. The compass said that downhill, was south west… “That’s strange – it should have said I was going easterly?”
The compass doesn’t lie, clearly I wasn’t where I thought I was. I looked carefully at the map to see where I might actually be.
I guessed I was somewhere around Coire na Sleubhaich, and I walked easterly slightly, and quickly saw a big scar-like cliff emerge from the gloom which somewhat confirmed it.
My initial thought was that I was going to have to walk back up to Stob Ban – unappealing at the best of times, but given how wet I was, very unappealing.
However, then a second though came to mind – the descent so far hadn’t been that bad – if I wanted to descend all the way to the valley below, I probably could do it. However, if I kept walking in the exact direction I was walking right now, I’d walk over a cliff.
I took a West-South-West compass bearing and headed at a stronger angle into the corrie, eventually coming to the remains of a fence and following it, and the sound and outline of an angry brook further down the hill.
Eventually, as it started to level out, I found some bumps and humps which created some boggy areas flat enough to pitch a tent.
I needed no second invitation. Down went the rucksack, up went the tent, up went the thermorest. Woo. Now I could sit down on a insulated, rain-free piece of ground and consider my next problem.
For some reason, I’d not wrapped my down sleeping bag in a binbag/plastic bag, and as a result, it was about 50% wet.
If it being wet isn’t bad enough, down sleeping bags in particular are things you don’t want to get wet – the feathers that work so well when dry stick together when wet and provide minimal warmth (unlike conventional-foam-padding sleeping bags that are largely equally effective wet as dry).
There was something else to consider: conventional wisdom says to change into dry clothes at this point, however, I’d seriously skimped on spare clothes and, apart from some spare underwear, socks and a pair of thigh length shorts, I didn’t have very much to change into anyway.
In the end, I took my waterproofs and sopping wet socks off, took out my [dry] silk sleeping bag liner, and piled into the damp sleeping bag. The only thing that was likely to dry any of these things out was my own body heat, and so I might as well start as soon as possible.
As I lay down, the exhaustion hit me, and I managed to warm up to a much more enjoyable temperature… and quickly fell very deeply asleep.
I spent most of the next day lying in my sleeping bag continuing to rest eating some of the food I’d brought and reading a book I’d brought.
The day after was sunny, and I packed up, walked down to the West Highland Way – busy with foreign Tourists only 100m below … and well, that’s another story for another blog post.
The things to think about:
The navigation error:
The most obvious mistake is the navigation error that took me off a side of a very spiky mountain, which compounded with other issues. I could blame the environment – from aerial photos, it appears that the path is not as well defined as the route I took, which looks like a path at the top, even though it’s not.
Ideally, I’d have had a map with higher resolution, taken more compass bearings, or had a GPS.
GPS’s aren’t flawless, and if I was travelling in unmapped terrain, or hand completely exhausted the battery, then it is important I could micronavigate in mist off the map with a compass.
The Packing Error
Arguably, you might say that down sleeping bags aren’t appropriate for above 0C temperatures where there is a potential for moisture.
I think that might be a little over-cautious, but not putting your sleeping bag in a big bag, or preferably, a heavy duty rubble bag, is a newbie mistake, and I am idiot for not doing it. I ‘always’ put my sleeping bag and dry stuff in rubble bags and I’m not sure why I didn’t that time. Clearly, that’s not going to happen again.
The Clothing errors?
My preferred setup with gloves at the time was to wear fingerless cycling gloves, with ocean-going sailing gloves on top of them. This means that you have a degree of hand protection (not much, but some) if you need use your fingers, but all the layers of gloves should provide warmth, even when wet. For some reason, I couldn’t find my sailing gloves before I left, and so I took some ski-ing gloves. (These days, I prefer a three layers of gloves approach in the worst conditions).
I’m somewhat unconvinced that different clothing would have significantly slowed the approach of the water. I am disappointed with the performance of my Paramo jacket and I now have a yet-to-be-seriously-tested Mountain Equipment Gore-Tex jacket.
Ultimately, in sustained rain and wind like that, waterproofs are only going to delay the inevitable.
It could be argued, that I should have been carrying more than a very minimum of spare dry clothing. If that’s argued on the basis that I smell, I’d happily agree and cast the argument aside. If argued on the basis that I needed something to change into, I think I’d be unable to agree that’s a very worthwhile approach. If you have wet clothes, and you’re on a wet mountain with no way to dry them off your body, risking getting a second pair of clothes wet is not very wise. In my opinion, the lesson here, if there is one, is on the importance of quick drying clothes. Had I been wearing cotton, things would have certainly been different.
The Conditions Misjudgment?
Based on the conditions, I think maybe I should have re-assessed the situation on the top of the first Munro. I’m not certain, in that situation, I’d have done anything different to what I actually did, but I think I should have noted that it was borderline.
I know my limits, physically, psychologically and with that in mind, I’m very happy I was alone and wasn’t in a position to put other people at risk. If I’d been walking with someone less experienced, I’d hope we might not have soldiered on after the first summit, but if we had, I would have been very nervous. It’s one thing to have to push yourself through uncomfortable situations, it’s another thing to push yourself and someone else. If I’d been walking with someone more experienced, I’m worried that communication problems might have caused people to push themselves or each other too hard.
Many people prefer walking in groups – and it can be fun, but for incident, I’m glad that I made the mistake on my own.
On the plus side, I have now a much greater awareness of what wet and windy situations are like in exposed places. I don’t seek to replicate the experience for fun anytime soon!
It’d be stupid to leave out the observation that I’d only had ~2 hours poor sleep on a coach the night before. It’s hard to pin down exactly how that might have affected my decision making processes and physical and psychological state. All I’ll say is that it probably wasn’t ideal given the circumstances.
The Final Word
In the world of technology where I’m from, it’srelativelycommon for people to publish detailed postmortems of things that went wrong (especially if it affected any other people). These are often well worth a read (even if you’re not a customer), and also give a good indication that the provider is happy to be open and honest about their weaknesses and has learned from it. Not everything is realistically preventable, and the people who say so are the people you should trust the most – at least they’re honest and know what calculated risks they’re taking and why.
It’s somewhat rare to post detailed postmortems of trips, (probably for fear weekend-keyboard-warriors will descend on the comments section to give them perfect 20/20 hindsight), but this way, everyone can learn from the experience, rather than just me.
What do you enjoy doing the most these days?
You’ve done various things, made various things happen – what do you do to make you happy?
Cuddling my cat. Reading. And meeting + helping people be awesome using the internet. That’s why I wrote the book, why I’m doing an insane 5month tour for internet entrepreneurship, and why I care so damn much about not letting government or business screw up the internet.
If you were doing a startup again, without your past work at various of these companies, as a nontechnical guy, what would you say you brought to the table, to other, more technical founders?
No doubt, non-technical founders have a lot more to do to justify their worth at the pre-product stage of a company. We all have ideas. They’re worthless. A non-tech founder has to be egoless enough to do ANYTHING that is not technical. Ordering delivery, handling paperwork, collecting receipts, as well as the ‘sexy’ things like product and branding.
I’m particularly good from that brand + community building side, whether it’s creating the logos (notice all the mascots? heh) or developing that relationship with users and customers to create businesses that people love.
Of course, without first having a product that people want, all of this is worthless. I love that about the internet.
When you were doing $a_startup, who did you ask for advice, how much did you listen to them and how did you know how much to listen, and how much to JFDI?
You know, PG was a great mentor for me and Steve during the first 6mos of reddit because YC was still so small (we were first round, so there were only like 12 companies) but after that, I never really had a mentor.
Aside from Mr. JFDI I wish I did have someone, though. Like Gabe. Or Jay Z.
Do you have any advice for British nightowls up late hacking on things between days of a python conference?
Please stop putting “u”s in places where they don’t belong.
On the 5th of August I wrote to my MP about Tempora.
My concerns are quite generalised, and my letter format and styling is to be worked upon, however the most important thing was to convey my opinion, and that is what I did:
Today I received a response. Take a read, it’ll only take a second.
Some points of note:
Lucy is recently elected, and could not have personally voted RIPA into law.
Parliament is on recess
Lucy is currently on maternity leave after giving birth to a new member of her family
I like paper responses, in specific cases like this.
It’s quite easy to be disillusioned by a letter like this, but I’m happy with it. The Home Secretary, Teresa May and I will not see eye to eye, but the most important thing about this letter is something that you may not noticed first time through.
I’ve had to blank it out partially, but I now have a reference number, and this reference number means that, rather than simply sitting and waiting for Lucy to hand me a form-letter from Teresa May’s summer intern, about why “GCHQ is important for our national security” and we must “prevent terrorists and think of the children”, what the reference number means, is that I can write back and engage Lucy in the issue more.