Howto make a DIY Teleprompter

Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded

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

“Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Steve Jobs

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

Howto make a DIY Teleprompter
Howto make a DIY Teleprompter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a fun trip. :)

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

#TimOnTour Kyrgyzstan 2013 – Exploring Central Asia’s lesser known mountains

What’s going on here?

I’m on a two week trek, exploring a lesser known part of Kyrgystan, in central Asia. I’m publishing my location (with a Spot device) and that I’m OK, at regular intervals.

Where are you right now?

Back in the UK.

Where did you go?

Have a look at this map.

What do different update types mean:


  • Just that I am at location and everything is ok. (Two thumbs up, absolutely ok, things are going great)


  • Slept here
  • Lots of wow noises due to surroundings at that point
  • Summited something
  • Met someone here
  • Something of interest happened here
  • Repeatedly, over protracted period, with no intertwined OK/Checkin’s -: everything OK, but not ‘awesome’, no assistance required. Probably coincides with return to civilisation.

Note: none of these updates can mean I need help. There is a unique Help alert that carries that meaning and is dealt with separately.

Who is guy anyway?
Who is guy anyway?

How do you pronounce Kyrgystan?


Where is Kyrgystan?

Central Asia. South of Russia, West of China

What timezone is that?

KGT. +5 hours from BST

Who are you travelling with?

I’m going on my own.

How are you getting to Kyrgystan?

Turkish Airlines: Manchester to Osh, via Istanbul.

How long are you  going for?

2 weeks (30th September – 15th October)

My flights
My flights

Where are you going?

Osh for a couple of days, then down to Bakten province, and up the Karavshin valley, right up to the Jiptik (джиптик) valley.

Where I’m planning to go.

Why Karavshin & Jiptik valleys?

There are unclimbed peaks in the area which I plan to scout/photograph. In addition, the scenery is reputedly comparable to Yosemite but in my 300 page guidebook of Kyrgzystan (2011), Batken province was given just 3 pages, and the Karavshin/Ak-Suu area was mentioned in passing in just one paragraph.

Also, it’s the only state in Central Asia with no visas for UK-visitors.

The area is traveled but certainly not well traveled. Seems like enough reasons to me!

What are you aims?

Meet and understand the landscape and people of the Karavshin & Jiptik valleys.

Where will you be staying?

I will probably mostly be camping, though I may do a few homestays in yurts.

Is it easy to get there?

No, it’s a bit of a ballache. Kyrgystan is 90% mountainous, but also, due to the Soviet Union days of Stalin, there are lots of enclaves and exclaves of various different countries in the area… and the main roads go through them. This means that to drive from Osh to Batken, I have to drive round Sohk, and Uzbek enclave (as I don’t have a transit visa), and the avoid the Uzbek border. When I leave Batken for Karavashin, I have to avoid or otherwise pass through the Tajik enclave of Vorukh…. and to go to the Karavashin area, I need a permit allowing me near the border, as it is close to the border with Tajikistan.

And that’s just the access issues.

Actually finding out everything above was also pretty challenging (and perhaps not accurate!). I don’t expect execution to be as simplistic as I explained.

I’m using a local travel company – Karavshin Travel – in Batken to help with a few things, but I’ve no idea how it will play out.

It wouldn’t be adventure travel, if I knew all the variables.

What are the dangers?

Have you done anything like this before?

Sort of.

I have solo cultural experience in Eastern EuropeBaltic StatesWestern Russia and I live next to Rusholme.

I’ve a good deal of solo trekking experience in England and Scotland and notably last year I spent 2 weeks backpacking through the northern Sweden, in the Arctic circle

Kyrgyzstan doesn’t speak English, even as a second language, how will you communicate?

The locals may speak Kyrgz, or they may speak Tajik, Uzbek or other central Asian languages.

Kyrgyzstan’s second official language is Russian, a foreign language I scored an A in, many years ago, at GCSE. I don’t speak Russian very well anymore, but I can read/spell out Cyrillic and, with the help of a phrasebook, I expect to be able to make myself understood.

Are you taking a satellite phone?
No. If you want to catchup, drop me message and suggest sometime when we can chat when I’m home!? Catchups are good. :)

What happens in event of an emergency?

In the event I require assistance, my SPOT satellite device will alert 10 friends/family who will probably then contact my travel company in Batken. They will look at the information available to them and make decisions on that.

Are you scared?
No. What is there to be scared of?

If you buy a car, but are too scared of scratching it to take it out of the garage, then there’s no point having such a nice car.

If you have a nice camera but are so scared of losing it that you refuse to take it to places where you’d want nice photos, then there’s no point having such a nice camera.

If you have a nice life, but you’re so scared of taking calculated risks that you don’t get to have fun, then frankly, what’s the point?

I see the world, not as a world of dangers, but as a world of opportunities.

I’ve written about this in more detail in two blog posts:

My prints of 1980s soviet military maps.
My prints of 1980s soviet military maps.

Is Google Maps the best maps you have?

Fortunately not. I’m navigating off a 1980 1:200,000 Soviet military map, that I have printed to A2 (each square = 4km), and several fragments of 1:100,000 that cover the same area. You can browse the maps with ease on

How bad will your withdrawal symptoms be through lack of internet?

Pretty bad… my hair may start falling out. Oh wait, it already is.

I’m kind of looking forward to it – last October I did 12 days in Sweden without internet.

How much does your rucksack weigh?

Too much.

18kg (inc camera, ex. water)

If you're Tim, this is the electronics you take, including spare batteries
If you’re Tim, this is the electronics you take, including spare batteries

What’s in your rucksack?


Surely you don’t need XXXX?

If I didn’t feel it was necessary, I wouldn’t be taking it. We may have to agree that we have different definitions of “necessary”.

What money are you taking?

Kyrgyzstan uses the “som”, which isn’t a very strong currency. I’m taking US dollars and some euros I have left over and am going to change them on arrival.

This doesn’t seem very organised, how long have you been planning this?

About 9-10 days from concept to takeoff.

Basically, I had been mis-counting my holidays, and so when I noticed the end of my holiday year approaching, I did a check, and rather than finding I owed holiday, I found I was owed about 2 weeks of holiday…

At that point, began the rush to find a way to make use of my time. After much thought, this was what I decided on.

This sounds very stressful. Wouldn’t you prefer to sit on a beach somewhere and have a casual beer?

I think by “stressful” you mean “exciting”. Having said that, I love beer and beach holidays as much as anyone else, they’re rarely “exciting” though.

No expense spared on food!
No expense spared on food!

Aren’t you vegetarian? Won’t that be tricky in Kyrgyzstan?

Well, for me, it’s a lot less tricky, as I’ve 22 years experience at it, but it’s true to point out that most Kyrgz recipes start with “first you kill your sheep”.

Being sufficiently polite and respectful is far more a concern for me than starvation – bread is an important part of Kyrgz culture and I’m certain I’ll find something to eat.

Why are you vegetarian?

It’s a long story. 22 years long, and I’ve summarised why in a previous blog post.

What will you be eating?

Whilst I’m in the mountains, I anticipate eating expedition food which I spared no expense in buying from a British supermarket. Food is a strangely polarising subject, and I anticipate no end of criticism for my choice to carry food from the UK.

How long will it take you to get your photos online afterwards?

I anticipate taking 2000-5000 photos, perhaps 2-6 hours video footage. I’d anticipate that only about 5% of that will be of interest to most people. Separating that 5% is time consuming and somewhat draining – 6 hours work in several stages. I’ll get it done, but it’ll take time and energy, both of which I won’t have. Expect a multiweek lag.

Who’s paying for your trip?

I’m entirely self-funded.

Are you receiving support from anyone?

Bytemark Hosting Logo
Bytemark Hosting are helping provide 24 hour response to alerts

My employer, Bytemark Hosting – has allowed me to hook my emergency SPOT alerts into the 24 hour s alerting framework, Mauve, that we use for monitoring servers 24/7.

When an alert is raised via this system, the oncall engineer is alerted and/or woken up, and goes and deals with the problem.

I’m very confident in my colleagues, and so, by hooking my call for help into Bytemark systems, my colleagues can help alert my ground-team straight away, so help can be sent straight away.

I’m very grateful for Bytemark’s support on this front – not every organisation would be comfortable with such a thing – so I really appreciate working with people who are happy to watch my back.

Any words of gratitude?

I’d like to thank my family, for their positive outlook on everything. It’s really been a great influence on me.

My awesome girlfriend Clara for happily letting me go off and do my own crazy things, and then happily suggesting we go camping in March in the UK. <!–more pukeworthy comments–>

John Proctor for suggestions and moral support and for his part in the Muzkol 2013 expedition with Jonathan Davey, which partly served as encouragement and inspiration. John’s other climbing buddy, Ed Lemon, also deserves a pint for map assistance.

Anita Wilczynska, my former trekking buddy from Morocco, for moral support & encouragement – it’s appreciated!

My sister & her partner for being part of our safety web – thanks!

My colleagues at work, and the building security guard for putting up with most of Amazon, being delivered to our office, for the past 2 weeks. ;)

Who’s influenced and inspired you?
Jessica WatsonLaura DekkerRobin Knox-JohnsonPete GossEllen MacArthurMike PerhamJoe SimpsonTom AllenTheodora Sutcliffe and Zac Sutcliffe, Alexis OhanianTim Moss

Both sets of grandparents’ own style of epic voyages and casual “jaunts” round unusual places.

Who are you raising money for?


Can I pay for your holiday?

I recommend giving money to your favourite charity instead. ;)

British Muzkol Expedition Departs for Tajikistan: Unclimbed Peaks Await

Two local mountaineers from Greater Manchester, left this afternoon to attempt to summit an unclimbed 6000m peak in a remote area of Tajikistan.

Jonathan “Jonny” Davey and John “JP” Proctor flew out from Manchester this afternoon bound for Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan – one of the former USSR republics of central Asian, starting a month long expedition in which they’ll attempt to climb several unclimbed peaks..

Assisted by a Goretex Shipton-Tilman grant, they each have 23 Kilos (50kb) of equipment each, which will support them through the heat of the central asian summer (35C in the shade) to high in the mountains (glaciers).

John Proctor climbs a rocky outcrop in Snowdonia is the pouring rain. © Tim Dobson 2012. CC-BY-SA 3.0
John Proctor climbs a rocky outcrop in Snowdonia in the pouring rain. © Tim Dobson 2012. CC-BY-SA 3.0

John, living proof that the physics lecturer stereotype is outdated, is a veteran of such expeditions, having attempted this expedition last year, only to have to turn back because of political tensions. Known to be an ambitious climber, he recently surprised his friends by completing a 50km (30mile) fell run to get fit for this trip.

Greatest fear: changing snow conditions throughout the day
Favourite alcohol: “not sure”

Jonathan Davey hiking in Torridon 2013. © Tim Dobson. CC-BY-SA 3.0
Jonathan Davey hiking in Torridon 2013. © Tim Dobson. CC-BY-SA 3.0

Jonathan, from Todmorden  has completed numerous long distance hiking routes in the UK, is an active climber. and is a known by his friends for his almost encyclopedic grasp of British mountains.

Greatest fear: “3 weeks in a tent with John”
Favourite alcohol: “pure undiluted ethanol”

Whilst many high mountains get lots of attention, in the Alps, in the Himalayas, there are scores of high, barely mapped, mountains in remote areas of the world, that present an immensely inviting challenge to mountaineers wanting to step off the beaten track, off the documented paths and summit their own route into the history books.

Whilst the exact target of John and Jonathan’s efforts is somewhat under wraps in case of competing teams, the area is as well documented, as far a largely unexplained corner of the world can be, with satellite pictures and old soviet military maps assisting their navigation.

Having said that they’ve explained much of their itinerary which in itself, illustrates the massive challenge they have in simply getting to the start line!

I’ve known Jonny and JP for several years. Jonny first taught me my first winter mountaineering skills, and later introduced me to climbing is a safe and engaging way. JP has been a familiar face at social events, always filled with exciting stories involving mountains and a great enthusiasm for loud hard rock music!

Last night as they finished packing and kicked by and put some drinks inside them, they seemed eager to get on and give it a go.

You can follow their progress on twitter, facebook and their blog.

After a few drinks last night and they were, in fact, ready to leave. © Tim Dobson 2013. CC-BY-SA 3.0
After a few drinks last night and they were, in fact, ready to leave. © Tim Dobson 2013. CC-BY-SA 3.0

Plans for 2013

With reference to my round up of my 2012 resolutions and aims, here are some for 2013:

  • Develop my photography skills

I recently had various compliments on photos I’ve taken, which is always very gratefully appreciated. However, having a nice camera does not make someone a good photographer, and I need to reduce the ratio of dud-photos to good-shots and work out how I can improve my skills further.

Taking photos (Photo by Steve Kemp)
Taking photos (Photo by Steve Kemp)
  • Develop film-making skills

I need to do more film-making and editing. I’ve already a few ideas of how to improve, now I just need to put them into action!

  • Public speaking

I want to get better, more confident, and more natural when it comes to public speaking, in particular, I want to learn to modulate my voice – speaking clearly, forcefully, quietly, and clearly, forcefully and loudly are skills that I wish came naturally to me – unfortunately like most people, raising my voice means shouting, and lowering my voice means whispering. This doesn’t have to be.

  • Learn to cook

There’s a difference between feeding oneself effectively, and being able to serve a meal to friends. I’m quite good at the former, but I aspire to the latter.

  • Develop upper body strength

Hiking and cycling have helped my leg muscles become quite strong, but I still have the arms and hands of someone who works in front of a keyboard everyday.

  • Do more cool stuff.

2012 involved doing lots of fun, cool things. 2013 should be just as good, if not better. Find out what’s fun, what’s achievable, and give it try.

New Year plans: 2012 final quarter review.

At the end of 2011, I made some vague plans for 2012. Not resolutions. Nothing grandiose. But things that would probably be good ideas.

  • Do more offbeat, adventurous, unexpected, unusual things.
  • More travel. It largely doesn’t matter where, just more of it.
  • Find some new ways to take myself out of my depth

Ok. I’m doing that quite well. It can get difficult to find a way to escape the comfort zone, but I’m doing it.

  • Work out boring things in my life, and work out strange new ways to liven them up.
  • Example: work out a way to make shopping for boring things, fun

Yeah, I’m not sure there is a way to do this. Internet, can help. If only we had Zappos for clothes in the UK.

  • Do more pirate party politics
  • Stand in May council elections
  • Do more education-specific work
  • Develop public speaking skills

I’ve done the first few of those things, but I think I’ll be doing less of the politics. Right now it’s not what I want to do.

Education stuff. That’s a good question, but probably not going to be solved right now.

I do need to improve my public speaking skills, probably by finding something I want to talk about and talking about it, repeatedly. Practice practice practice!

  • Find some new things to parody and satirise.

I’ve not done any of this recently. Probably a good thing, I’d have probably got myself in trouble/created unwanted drama, if I’d properly done some ideas

  • Take small steps in lifestyle healthier directions
  • Perhaps start swimming again?
  • Learn to cook more adventurously

Boom. Doing this.

  • Blog more

Did this. I’ve blogged at least once a month, usually many times a month. In February I think I even tried to do a post a day. I actually have about 60 draft posts in various states of half-completion, blog posts are certainly a lot more frequent than they previously have been.

  • Maintain old friendships and keep in contact with old friends and family.

I think I’m doing ok at this, but if you think otherwise, give me a shout and let’s meet up. :)

  • Listen to some new styles of music

I’m getting into swinghouse, downtempo/chillout and smooth jazz as well as everything else I listen to.

  • Work out some more inspiring and interesting goals, because these ones are pretty much just “try to do more of the same”.

I thought up some. I need to think up or select some more at least.

Well done Laura Dekker!

Some of you may remember Laura Dekker – the plucky young dutch girl who, as a 14 year old, was involved in a massive legal battle with the dutch child protection agencies to allow her to sail round the world single handed.

Laura,  who has been sailing from a young age and was born on a yacht, has had a bumpy ride. After she was told she wouldn’t be allowed to go for another two years, she ran away. She didn’t run away to the next town, the next county or even the next country; this badass ran away to the Caribbean!

Anyway, eventually she prevailed in her legal wrangling and on the 21 August 2010, aged 15, she began her voyage which was predicted to take two years. I blogged about it at the time in fact, she showed great persistence in the face of legal, logistical and natural challenges simply by getting to the start line.

Laura Dekker, speaking at the Hiswa Boatshow, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Laura Dekker speaking at the Hiswa Boatshow, Amsterdam last year - CC-BY-SA - From Wikipedia

Whatever her critics said about her, her ambitions, her parents; don’t matter now.

As her website says:

January 21: at 3.00 pm local time Laura will reach the Island of Sint Maarten to complete her circumnavigation after her departure from Sint Maarten on January 20 2011.

Laura will become the youngest sailor ever who sailed around the globe!

…and she’s done it. Well done to her!

It’s been a long trip, but she showed that persistence and tenacity, no matter your age, can literally, take you round the world.

Plans for 2012

At some point, I may get a chance to look back on 2011, weigh it up, work out whether it was largely good or bad. That sounds like a lot of hard work. It’s almost like a history essay.

Instead, I’m going to think about my plans for 2012; not “New Year’s Resolutions” just some vague goals on my own.

  • Do more offbeat, adventurous, unexpected, unusual things.
    • More travel. It largely doesn’t matter where, just more of it.
    • Find some new ways to take myself out of my depth
  • Work out boring things in my life, and work out strange new ways to liven them up.
    • Example: work out a way to make shopping for boring things, fun
  • Do more pirate party politics
      • Stand in May council elections
      • Do more education-specific work
      • Develop public speaking skills
  • Find some new things to parody and satirise.
  • Take small steps in lifestyle healthier directions
    • Perhaps start swimming again?
    • Learn to cook more adventurously
  • Blog more
  • Maintain old friendships and keep in contact with old friends and family.
  • Listen to some new styles of music
  • Work out some more inspiring and interesting goals, because these ones are pretty much just “try to do mo reof the same”.