The [passenger side] window in question - right above the door handle!

What happened after my van was broken into (or how you can harness a customer’s negative experiences for good!)

My van was broken into the other night.

Someone removed the front front side window, from the outside, without breaking the pane. They took a dashcam and walkie-talkie but kindly left the window pane in the gutter unbroken!

The [passenger side] window in question - right above the door handle!
The [passenger side] window in question – right above the door handle!
I’m ok, all is well but I had a problem:

  • I had a van with no front, forward, drivers side window
  • I had a pane of glass, and empty hole in the seals where it should be

What were my options here?

1) Fix it myself – if it just ‘came out’, it must ‘just go back in’ – how hard can it be?

Result: Had a go. Turns out, quite hard.

2) I drove to my favourite garage to get them to fix it.

Result: They were busy until Friday and I got the sense they didn’t really want to look at it.

3) I drove to my second choice garage.

Context: This is the garage that my parents always used to use, but recently the long-time owners retired and some new mechanics took over. I had no experience of them at all.

Result: When I arrived, the lead mechanic was busy doing an MOT, but told me that when his colleague got in in 15 mins time, he’d put him straight on it. I was happy to wait!

20 minutes later, with creative use of string, dishwasher fluid and elbow grease, my window was back in the frame where it should be. And I was standing there in awe, very glad to have outsourced that to the experts – and convinced it’d have taken me several hours of blood, sweat and tears to give up – without the same techniques.

I went to pay – happy to be in one piece again and be able to move on with my life.

But they wouldn’t take any money off me. The lead mechanic said “you’ve had a shit night – it’s nothing – I won’t take any money off you”.

I was floored. I was insanely grateful. Almost uncomfortably grateful. For the next half hour I kept wondering – how do you repay something like that?

Analysis: If we look at what he did through a business lens: They’re in a situation where perhaps they are re-establishing and want more business. The customer (me!) has had a poor experience – and at no fault of garage. The garage does something expected – and offers timely fixing – then does something unexpected – and does it for free. The customer is very happy.

But perhaps they also know that the customer will talk about that poor experience (everyone talks about getting broken into) and that for a relatively small cost (perhaps time that wouldn’t have been used anyway) they could position themselves, in that customer’s story – as the one’s who came to the rescue when things went wrong.

No-one tells their friends about an MOT they just had, but a story of how “someone stole all these things, but then the garage were so lovely afterwards” – that’s a story people do tell!

And from a human angle, it’s win-win too. Everyone loves the feeling of doing something that someone is profoundly grateful for – so it feels good too.

The garage in question was Fairways Motors on Arundel street in Glossop.

If you visit them, feel free to mention this story. I don’t imagine they’ll do the same thing everytime, but for what they did yesterday morning, I’m truly grateful.

Will they become my first preference garage? Well, at least now I’ll consider them. ;-)

I wonder where else you’ve seen this used? Do you ever have sad customers coming your way you can help? I’d love to hear more examples of this kind of thing – tell me your stories in the comments!

Happy smiley face

The problem with April Fools day…

The problem with April Fools day is a problem also associated with Christmas, and other days.

I love a good joke, but lots of corporate April fools jokes miss the point.

In the same way that Christmas shouldn’t be the only time you’re generous to your family, April 1st shouldn’t be the only day of the year companies should have fun with their communications.

I mean, a funny joke-prank is just as good a bit of content to share with the public on April Fools day, as almost any other day of the year.

And the advantage, from a marketing perspective: you have much less media competition, and people won’t be expecting it – so they’ll probably find a well executed idea, a lot funnier.

So tomorrow, when the April Fools day jokes have worn old – why not think about how you can help your potential customers have a bit of a giggle, and introduce them to you…

Descending Beinn Alligin, Torridon, 2013

Try not to be amazed, confused and maybe a bit tearful, when you read my plans for 2014

My first plan for 2014 is not to use upworthy-style headlines to drive people to my blog again, but since you’re here, why not take a glance?

Over the past few years, I’ve tried to make plans for the upcoming year.

Read over some of my plans for the coming year from 2013201220102009 – all guaranteed to make me cringe, and you giggle.

For 2014, there are various things I’d like to do: (in no order)

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

    • I don’t need or want a car in central Manchester, but I would like to be able to drive/hire cars for long trips.
    • I’ve taken about 30 hours of tuition in central Manchester in 2013, but haven’t sat my practical test yet.
    • I’m not really interested in it for the ‘reduced’ insurance premiums, and I think I’ll find motorways relatively similar to motorway-style dual carriageways.
    • My aims are to:
      • be a safe driver by having experience evaluating the complex and worst case road scenarios and thinking through the best course of action.
      • be able to park and manoeuvre with impressive precision.
      • get experience driving different vehicles (small vans, automatics, non-power steering, 4×4, trailers etc.)
      • get experience with less-than-optimal road conditions (snow, single-track, rain, night, steep hills etc)
    • I’ve booked my practical test in early February, so I’ll prepare for that, and we’ll take it from there.
  • Learn a new sport (or several)

    • This year I’ve learnt to climb. I wouldn’t say I’m very good, but I know enough basics to pass them on to other people.
    • Often people pose the question, “what would you do if money was no object?”. Well, I’d learn a new, exciting adventure sport (or maybe several). So that’s what I’m going to try and do.
    • I’m quite interested (at some point) in learning to:
      • snowboard
      • hangglide/paraglide
      • pilot/glide
      • jetski (without being a dick)
      • windsurf
      • surf
      • kayak (whitewater and/or sea)
      • ski (cross country and/or downhill)
    • Other stuff that is on the list but isn’t really as appealing:
      • skydiving
      • caving
      • horse-riding
    • For the moment, I’m learning to snowboarding at chillfactore in Manchester, and we’ll take it from there.
  • There are several skills I’d like to develop:

    Climbing indoors in Manchester
    Climbing indoors in Manchester
    • Photography:

      • I’m really pleased with what I’ve done in 2013, it’s been a big step up from 2012
      • I’ve started combining it with climbing, and I want to do more climbing/mountaineering photography
      • I’m hoping this year that perhaps I can take more landscape/action sports photos with people in shot.
      • I want to be better at framing and composition – specifically I want to break ‘the rules’ more – things like:
        • overexposing the sky on purpose
        • chopping off the top of peoples heads (just on photographs though!)
        • shooting greyscale
    • Climbing:

      • I’m really pleased how can far I’ve come since I started in March:
        • Indoors: I’ve led some 5+’s. I can currently top-rope some 6a’s.
        • Outdoors, I’ve done various little bits, but most significantly I’ve seconded a trad HS route.
      • This year, I’d like to:
        • Develop my stamina on overhangs (which are often within reach in terms of difficulty, but are too tiring).
        • Do more outside:
          • second more easy trad routes.
          • setting up some top ropes on easy climbs/grade 2/3 scrambles, to make fun scrambles better protected.
        • Improve my knowledge of different roping techniques, such as:
          • what to do if you drop your belay device
          • how to get down from high places
          • how to place simple gear on easy trad routes
          • how to setup a belay
          • do more multi-pitch trad routes
          • gain knowledge in snow related ropework and belays
    • Descending Beinn Alligin, Torridon, 2013
      Descending Beinn Alligin, Torridon, 2013
    • Mountaineering/Hiking/Walking

      • I’ve done a lot in 2013:
        • Snow camping on Pennines, camping to Langdale, winter mountaineering in Torridon, backpacking in the Mammores, exploration/backpacking in Kyrgyzstan
        • Assorted day hikes
      • Whilst I’ve done some impressive things in 2013, I feel I got out less frequently in 2013 than I did in 2012. I’d like to spend more days on the mountains in 2014
      • I’d like to improve my micro-navigation skills.
      • I’d like to do more things in snow.
        • In Jan/Feb/March, I’m planning to do several days winter backpacking fun, possibly in Scotland.
      • I’m going back to Skye around Easter and am on standby to decamp into a tent in the Peak District at the first sign of a snowy weekend.
    • Public speaking

      Speaking at FLOSSK13 in Pristina, Kosovo
      Speaking at FLOSSK13 in Pristina, Kosovo
      • I’ve done various bits of public speaking in the past, this year I even ‘keynoted’ at the FLOSSK13 conference in Pristina,
      • I think I have what it takes to be quite good at public speaking – confidence, interesting anecdotes, and the patience to try and breakdown high level concepts into things other people can understand, all wrapped up in a compelling narrative.
      • I’d like to do more public speaking events, of all sizes, and I need to establish a way of doing that, and find a style and set of topics I’m comfortable with. I’m considering joining Toastmasters.
    • Systems Engineering

      • I quite enjoy making systems do things. In the past when I’ve been on holiday, after several days I’ve found myself designing scalable live video streaming platforms in my head.
      • In the past I’ve blogged about systems a bit, but I’d like to investigate and play with more tools and test them different situations.
      • In particularly, I’d like to become more familiar with Varnish-ESI, which is currently powering this blogs Recently Added Articles box (though not in a very effective way) and discover and play with more server tools like that, which can do exciting things.
      • I’d like to play with Varnish-ESI, Icinga,
    • Personalised mug at Barcamp Blackpool 2013
      Personalised mug at Barcamp Blackpool 2013


        • In 2013, I’ve spent a good deal of my time thinking about marketing, promotional and communication questions – from reading a book on crisis PR and blogging about epic customer service, to visiting 20+ conferences for work and getting personalised mugs into the hands of thousands of people.
      • In 2014, I’d like to:
        • improve my analytical skills in rapidly prototyping and iterating campaigns and pulling conclusions from from them.
        • find better ways to understand of the potential customers, so as to tailor things to them as best possible.
        • improve at identifying areas where the users see the most pain. and then optimising those processes to reduce wasted unnecessary steps (essentially applying the Toyota Way to web-service end users).
        • understanding and using ‘clever’ and perhaps underused strategies to create self-amplifying campaigns.
        • improve my understanding or how good and bad PR works, in industries I’m unfamiliar with.
    • Programming

      I'd like to learn to understand programming better
      I’d like to learn to understand programming better
      • I can write basic bash scripts, and in the past I’ve written trivial programs in PHP, C++ & Javascript.
      • For a long time, I’ve largely been only able to read/hack around with high level programming environments. Obviously this has lots of benefits and can get you a long way, but even a small, self-written bit of code added to an existing codebase which does something I need, would be a massive step forward.
      • My ambition here isn’t really to become a good programmer, but simply be more literate, and able to use tools better to get things done.
      • I’d like to
        • Meticulously go back through a basics book for a common programming language to make sure I understand the concepts that frequently occur correctly.
        • Make sure I under some basics in procedural programming.
        • Learn to use these limited skills to manipulate a library/existing codebase that does stuff I want.
        • Have a look round and see where I want to get to next.
  • Lose weight

    • At the start of January 2013, I weighed 11 & 1/2 stone. I currently weigh 13 & 1/2 stone.
    • Losing weight makes Mountaineering easier (less weight on knees), it makes climbing easier (less weight on arms) and whilst it doesn’t make photography easier, it would leave more room for weighty camera gear!
    • I have enacted low carb diet, round two.
    • In 2014, I’d like to reach and maintain 11 stone, and then develop a sustainable lifestyle around that weight band.
  • Blog More

    • It’s super embarrassing that there are 3 months in this year where I didn’t publish a single blog post.
    • I don’t expect anyone reading to find it embarrassing, but I do – I enjoying writing blog posts. It’s challenging, and often very fulfilling to get my thoughts into a coherent shape..
    • I’d like to do a month of blogging again, but I don’t feel that frenetic “months of blogging”, with large gaps in between them, is the way it has to be.
  • Read more.

    • I grew up without a TV and when I was a child, before I had a computer, I ingested most knowledge through books. Then dialup came along, and suddenly, everything was a short-form article or video consumed  through a screen of distractions.
    • I am resistant to DRM-encumbered ebook platforms, but I enjoy dead-tree-style reading materials and have a great deal of books I’d like to read.
    • In 2014, I’d be very happy if I got through 24 decent length books from my “unread” shelf. I think its ambitious, but not unrealistic.

      Smoke and Lasers!
      Smoke and Lasers!
  • Socialise more.

    • Over the past year, I’d say I’ve done quite well at channeling and training introverted & extroverted sides for different tasks. I love my solitude, but I also enjoy catching up with friends.
    • Last autumn/winter, I held two ‘epic parties’, that were great, but on reflection aren’t going to be repeated. (Too large, too inpersonal, too disparate).
    • This year, I think I’ll try and arrange several gatherings, that are smaller in size, but more focused and perhaps easier to enjoy.
    • I’d like to try to perhaps aim to spend at least one day a week socialising with people who I don’t see every week – which is a great excuse to make contact with old friends.
  • Travel as much as is appropriate

    • I don’t have any particularly noteworthy travel plans, nor do I have particularly strong urges to go anywhere right now.
    • Most plans, I have tend to be semi-spontaneous, or preplanned and then rapidly executed when the occasion arrives.
    • On balance, I probably prefer solo-travel due to reduced communication requirements, and not feeling responsible for others’ welfare.

      Me and my fixer Jules in Kyrgyzstan
      Me and my fixer Jules in Kyrgyzstan
    • My current travel interests
      • Currently I’m interested in (historically) Russian/Soviet influenced areas (particularly Baltic states, Eastern areas of Europe and Central Asia), the Middle East and Northern Africa.
      • I have a personal preference to climates that don’t stray far outside ~-10C -> ~25C whilst I’m there.
      • I’m not a fan of painful insects (mosquitoes, midges, etc), parasites, viruses or large omnivorous animals (bears).
      • I prefer countryside to cities, cold to heat, cheap to expensive, obscure to well-touristed, quiet to busy, self-planned to chaparoned.
      • Selfishly, I prefer countries where a significant proportion of the population’s first or second language is English, Russian, French or Swedish.
    • I’d like to do more travel on a bike in 2014. I don’t really have an ideal bike for this, not that it’s stopped me before.
    • The chances are 2014 offers a few scenic tours of the UK, perhaps with one trip somewhere cool abroad, but if the opportunity presents itself, you’ll just see a blur as I grab my stuff and go!

And that’s it! I think that’s all my current plans and aspirations for 2014. What do you think?

Do you think I should be focusing on something I’m not?

Explain in the comments! :)

5 things to consider about transport types :: What’s most important to you?/How can you get people to go your way?

Transport usually comes on a scale. There are 5 things to consider:

  • Travel time (Simply, how long does it take you to get from A to B?)
  • Price (How does the journey cost you? This includes food/accommodation/anything bought in or specifically for your time in transit.)
  • Comfort (How comfortable is the journey? How much do you enjoy your time spent travelling?)
  • Accuracy (Do you get to your exact destination or do you have to take other modes of transport onwards to get to your final destination?)
  • Reliability (How confident are you that you’ll reach your specified location in the time specified.)

Let’s demonstrate this with a real life example:

  1. I want to get from my flat in Manchester to a campsite in Glen Coe, Scotland.
  2. I am traveling at short notice and have not had more than 24 hours to plan/book journey.

My options are:

National Express/Citylink coach:

Travel Time: Long. 10+ hours

Price: Less. Low tens of pounds

Comfort: Low. Own seat. Multiple changes (reduces chances of uninterrupted sleep). Onboard toilet. Possible annoyances include other passengers.

Accuracy: Good. 1km walk from my flat to Coach Station in Manchester. Coach straight to Glen Coe village. 1.5km walk from village to campsite)

Reliability: Relatively good. Potentially can be affected by heavy traffic but in reality drives so slowly you probably wouldn’t notice it anyway. Potentially susceptible to industrial action.

Daytime National Rail network:

Travel Time: Reasonable. 7+ hours

Price: More. High tens of pounds.

Comfort: Reasonable to Good. Different services offer different levels. At best: own seat, table, A/C power, paid wifi, enhanced phone signal, onboard shop, onboard toilet. At worst, onboard toilet, standing room only if no reserved ticket. Possible annoyances include other passengers.

Accuracy: Reasonable. 0.5km walk from my flat to Station. ~30km onward journey from Fort William to Campsite in Glen Coe.

Reliability: Relatively good. Susceptible to delays, industrial action, though this has never affected me previously.

National Rail Sleeper Service:

Travel Time: Reasonable. 10 hours

Price: More. £90-180.

Comfort: Own bunkbed. Sleep optional, but recommended. Onboard toilets, onboard buffet car. Annoyances limited. Free wakeup call with tea/coffee/orange juice & biscuit.

Accuracy: Reasonable. 0.5km walk from Chez Tim to Station. ~30km onward journey from Fort William to Campsite in Glen Coe.

Reliability: Relatively good. Susceptible to delays, industrial action, though this has never affected me previously.

Driving yourself:

Travel Time: 8 hours+

Price: Less but not trivial – purely petrol costs. Most costs have already been sunk in the purchase/insurance/road tax/upkeep of the car, but it ain’t cheap bro!

Comfort: Reasonable. Forced to actually look at the road for whole journey, stay awake. Food/drink/toilet stops require stopping. Possible annoyances include other passengers, but you get to choose them. You get to choose the music the car has to listen to. Even if you have onboard wifi, you can’t use it. :(

Accuracy: Perfect. Straight from Chez Tim to the Campsite.

Reliability: Probably excellent but depends on your car! In all seriousness though, roadworks, navigational mishaps and heavy traffic are all potential hazards.

Flying by plane on scheduled flight on a non-budget airline:

Travel Time: 20 minutes flight time, 2 hours faff time.

Price: More. £100+

Comfort: Wholly dependent on how much you enjoy having your balls felt up by strangers at an airport. In all seriousness, probably relatively comfortable on the flight itself. Some small snack inflight. Beware of ear popping. Cannot use mobile phone in flight. Onboard toilet. Possible annoyances include other passengers, silly regulations about liquids, insufficient baggage allowances.

Accuracy: 14km journey to airport from Chez Tim. Manchester to Glasgow. Reasonable. 0.5km walk from Chez Tim to Station. ~150km onward journey from Glasgow to Campsite in Glen Coe.

Reliability: Generally good, but dependent on good weather conditions – fog, high winds or Icelandic volcanoes may prevent take off/landing. Possibility of lost luggage.

Flying by personal helicopter:

Travel Time: ~2 hours

Price: A lot. Purely fuel costs. Most costs have already been sunk in the purchase/insurance/tax/upkeep of the helicopter, but they’re pretty cheap these days. ;)

Comfort: Forced to actually look at the controls for whole journey and stay awake. Food/drink/toilet stops require complete takeoff/landing. Possible annoyances include other passengers, but you get to choose them. No onboard stereo or wifi. :(

Accuracy: Pretty good. 14km journey to Manchester Airport.

Reliability: Dependent on good weather conditions – fog, high winds or Icelandic volcanoes may prevent take off/landing for days.


Travel Time: Unknown. Not quicker than driving yourself (8+ hours) but potentially quite long.

Price: Nothing. Zilch. Nada.

Comfort: Not much. Forced to stay in your seat for whole journey. Advisable to stay awake so you get dropped in right place. Food/drink/toilet stops require stopping which may be problematic/require forward planning. Possible annoyances include the driver, but the Vogons can make you listen to their poetry if you’re on their shi… er… car.

Accuracy: Pretty good. Best to start hitchhiking outside an urban centre somewhere near the M60 ~7 miles away. Ideally to the Campsite. Just a few detours onto the verge…

Reliability: No concept of delays. Trying long enough will succeed, but there are no grantees about what timeframe that will be in. Some form of portable overnight accommodation or splitting the journey might be recommended.


Travel Time: 8 hours+

Price: A lot. Probably negotiable, but I’d expect £200-£500.

Comfort: Reasonable. Forced to stay in your seat for whole journey, stay awake. Food/drink/toilet stops require stopping. Possible annoyances include the driver, but you choose them. Guaranteed awkward moment when you ask them to change the radio station.

Accuracy: Perfect. Straight from Chez Tim to the Campsite.

Reliability: Probably excellent but depends on your driver’s car! In all seriousness though, roadworks, navigational mishaps and heavy traffic are all potential hazards.

Travelling by time machine:

Travel Time: Instant and/or infinite

Price: Astronomical

Comfort: Great. The Tardis has a full 5 star hotel onboard, including free wifi. One friendly member of staff will cater for all your needs. Sadly still discriminates against Daleks.

Accuracy: Perfect.

Reliability: Usually great. The driver is also a well qualified mechanic and only ends up in the wrong place “sometimes”.

Why is this interesting?

  • If you are a National Express/Citylink or National Rail member company executive:

You’ll be trying to get people out of their cars and onto your specific mode of transport. How can you persuade people use your mode of transport instead of a different one? Perhaps if you can get them to buy into some kind of discount scheme where fares are much lower if they pay a small fee. That way when comparing the two, they’ll note they already are part of a discount scheme for that mode of transport and stay a coach/train user.

You’ll be seeing what you can do to improve the experience. You probably can’t speed up the service, improve the number of vehicles that breakdown or drivers call in sick.

Can you provide things to make the journey more enjoyable for the passengers? Can you help reduce inter-passenger irritation? Can you provide refreshments? Can you provide facilities to help people use laptops or smartphones on the move? Can you let people reserve a seat? In the event of disruptions, can you communicate this as effectively and quickly to those affected so they can make alternative plans? Can you help provide information on connections to different modes of transport for them to continue their journey? Can you incentivise business travellers (who might otherwise fly) that you offer a more comfortable option? Can you build a warm fuzzy do-good image around your company? Do you have an effective feedback loop to help you understand and address avoidable traveller frustrations?

  • If you are a non-budget airline executive:

You’ll be trying to get people out of their cars and off the trains and onto your planes – you’ll be aiming for the higher end of the market.

Can you reduce the amount of airport-security testicle-groping? Can you make booking regular trips easier than other transport methods? Can you help people carry the same things that they’d have carried by car/train? Can you incentivise business travellers  to block book with you? Can you offer fast track facilities for frequent flyers? Can you help business travellers stay as productive as possible? Can you sell the benefits – “Enjoy the shores of Loch Leven in under this many hours!”, “beat the traffic jams!”?

One problem your customers have is that getting to and from an airport will involve travelling some distance. Can you help people connect to other forms of transport for the rest of their journey? Can you offer them discounted car rental prices? Can you show local public transport information? Can you help people link up with other transport options?

  • If you’re a campaign manager at a prominent environmental movement:

You’ll note that the volume of people driving is greater than the volume of people flying helicopters and will focus on getting people out of their cars rather than “out of their helicopters”. You’ll be trying to persuade people that going by bus or train is better with your primary argument that it is better for the environment.

One problem is that most car owners have already sunk a great deal of money into owning a car, maintaining a car, taxing a car and so will want to “make use of” or “recoup” this cost by using their car for all travelling – after all – once they have it it is convenient. Can you show people other options than buying in the first place – how does renting a car for several road trips a year way up against the costs of owning one? Considering insurance prices, can young people get a better deal by joining a car club? Can you show car owners how much more they could travel with less money by public transport? Can you sell people the benefits of not driving – “you can get drunk and watch Youtube whilst going to Glasgow by train”?

Can you target your campaigns to specific demographics so that you suggest to student how much they’ll be “saving the planet and saving money” but suggest to business travellers how they’ll “be able to work whilst making a difference to the world”? Can you offer information to help people find the easiest way for them to travel sustainably from A-B? Rather than upsetting or patronising people, can you use positive messages to make people feel good about themselves?

  • If you are a travel hacker

You’ll be trying to get the most out of your transport and you’ll be investigating all your options. You’ll be working out what is most important to you – probably thinking on a “price/comfort vs time ratio” and seeing how you can mix it up to get the best result.

Is extra faff on the journey worth a faster result or would you prefer to keep things simple? Is extra faff on the journey worth it if it keeps your costs down? Can you combine various different transport types to get the most enjoyable/best price trip? Does a first class ticket on one type of transport offer more comforts, but still a lower price, than another transport type with an acceptable journey time? Do you frequently travel with any of the same companies so you can save in the future with loyalty card? If it’s your first time, are there special introductory offers you can get? Can you get extra comforts without having to pay full price for them, using a loyalty program, voucher or otherwise? Is there anything you can bring along with you that will make your journey more enjoyable?

Of course, actually this information is interesting to a great many more people – car manufacturers, helicopter showrooms, but here I’ve just tried to show what options there are to choose from, and why one might choose them…

I hope it’s widened a few eyes! :)