I’ve been involved in a few debates recently over why people need a Kindle when they have an iPad or other Kindle-enabled tablet.
It’s a ridiculous argument, in my view. For two reasons.
First, battery life.
My Kindle stays charged for weeks. Literally. I’ll probably charge mine every three weeks or so, more to top it up than necessarily because it’s running low on juice. This is of massive appeal. I can pop it in my bag, just as I would a book, and forget about it until such time that I choose to read it. If I had to take it out of my bag each night to charge it, something would be lost. Something very important.
Second, and more importantly, experience.
When I read my Kindle, I’m reading a book. It’s the size of a book, and the utterly delightful E Ink technology makes it feel like a book. A beautiful, imperfect book, even with slight “printing” flaws owing to the technology.
When reading on a tablet, I’m reading a magazine. Even when the screen’s brightness is set low, the experience is completely different to that of the Kindle. It’s backlit, and that fundamentally changes the reading experience. My eyes are working, not dancing. I’m no doctor, but I expect that their state while reading a Kindle is very different to that when they’re reading a tablet.
And that’s why for now, there’s absolutely a place for the Kindle in your bag, even if you’ve got a tablet.
(Note: I don’t own a tablet. But I’ve borrowed them, from the likes of my daughter.)
Certain 2D shapes are such that their height is the same regardless of their orientation on the plane. The obvious example is the circle, meaning that your bicycle runs smoothly down the road.
But there are an infinite number of other shapes that share this quality. For the UK contingent amongst you, the 50p and 20p pieces are examples.
You see, they’re not quite heptagons. They’re actually Reuleaux heptagons. That means that where they might have straight edges, the edges are instead slightly curved. And the point on the coin that is opposite that curved side lies at the centre of the circle of which the curve is an arc.
To prove it, take a ledge (e.g. the bottom lip of a laptop screen, or the point at which a radiator guard meets the wall). Place two 50p pieces upright on the ledge. And grab a ruler. Place the ruler across the top of the two coins and drag the coins left or right. You’ll find that the ruler remains the same distance from the ledge at all times.
Simply delightful. And yet more so when you discover that there are Reuleaux triangles!
Now you couldn’t make a bicycle using these shapes, as the centre moves around as the coin rolls. So while the highest point of the wheel would remain a fixed distance from the ground, the point of the axle would wobble go up and down relative to the ground, and so the ride would be a little bumpy.
Now, it gets better. As well as there being an infinite number of Reuleaux planes, there are also an infinite number of Reuleaux solids, which share similar properties. So you can balance a board on a bunch of them, roll it around, and the board will remain a fixed distance from the floor.
You can buy a bag of them here. *reaches for credit card*
(Oh. I also love the guy’s enthusiasm for the subject.)
So. My car tax is due to expire on 30 November.
The trouble is, my insurance is due to expire on 26 November.
I am able to renew my car tax any time after 5 November, and received a letter to this effect from the DVLA on 5 November. So I went online to renew the following day.
The site said that I couldn’t renew online, as the motor insurance database did not have proof of my having insurance beyond the point of the car tax renewing. Apparently, I’m unable to renew my car tax within the last three weeks of my insurance policy. Coincidentally, that means I’m unable to renew my car tax after 5 November.
So I went through the process of renewing my insurance, with Privilege, and they have now confirmed that on 26 November, my insurance will renew with them for another year.
The trouble is, they are unable to inform the DVLA of my new insurance policy until my existing policy is at the point of expiry.
So I will instead need to go into a Post Office to renew my car tax; or else I need to try to do it in the four-day window between 26 and 30 November. And here’s the rub: the proximity of the two expiry dates means that this will be an annual “feature” of my relationship with the DVLA, unless I choose to pay an £11 premium to only renew my car tax for six months.
A little under four months ago, I made a conscious decision to become more creative. And I started creating maps.
I experimented with a few styles and did some pieces on A4 that at the time I was pleased with, but looking at them now, I’m less convinced. I moved up to A3, a size much more at one with the subject matter, and honed my style through nothing but iteration.
And I became comfortable. Comfortable in the sense that the act of creation was fulfilling, that it was therapeutic, that it was emotionally rewarding.
But as I guess is the case with anything creative, and indeed things beyond creativity, I was caught between two pillars. On the one hand, I thought that what I was doing was amateurish. On the other, I thought it was rather impressive. Maybe it was a bit of both.
And out in the field, the very few people who have been exposed to my “work” have had varying reactions. Some love it, some aren’t particularly impressed.
Anyway, I gave away prints of a couple of my early creations to friends and family as presents. One particular friend framed hers and put it up in her hallway.
And her girlfriend, who I don’t know, popped round at the weekend to visit her. And she loved the piece of work on her wall –my map of the UK mainland. So much so that she asked where it came from. Three days later.
Last night, she ordered a print of my London map as a wedding present, for the handsome sum of £30. She received it this evening, saying that it was “clever” and that “[she] love[d] it”.
To create something from scratch that someone loves is an immense feeling. For it to delight so much so that someone is willing to part with £30 for a piece of it is mesmerising and utterly humbling. And to know that the creation might be hung on someone’s wall, someone that you don’t even know, puts a spring in your step and a smile on your face.
It’s a feeling I’ve never experienced before. And I love it. I didn’t decide to be more creative to make money. But the money signifies the value that people place in the stuff I’ve created. And that, to me, is much greater than the money could ever be.
Here’s my shop, btw.
I am one in 20 million. I genuinely believe I am.
Out of all of the people in the world, I would argue that I’m in the top 0.2% of people when it comes to Excel prowess. That equates to being one of the top 112,000 people in the UK, assuming equal global representation. Old Trafford plus White Hart Lane. A safe bet, I reckon. It becomes even more realistic if you consider that only around 50% of the UK’s 28m workers are office workers, so the majority of the rest will not even feature.
And out of all the people in the UK, I reckon I’m in the top 0.5% of people when it comes to proofreading prowess. Just look at a YouTube comments board and you’d struggle to argue.
Finally, I reckon I’m in the top 0.5% of people when it comes to unicycling prowess. An estimated one million Americans can unicycle, or 0.32%. So 0.5% is probably quite conservative, given that Americans are probably more likely than most to unicycle, and given that I might even be better than the odd one or two.
So assuming the three skills are not correlated (there may actually be some correlation between Excel and unicycling), if you’re looking for an Excel-trained proofreading unicyclist, I’m a better choice than the next person, and the next 19,999,998 people after that.
This isn’t arrogance, by the way. It’s intended to highlight that every one of us can identify certain skills that we’re better than most at. And when we combine those skills, we’re on top of the world.
(My ability to find the butter in the fridge, my cooking prowess and my creative artistic ability probably also combine to make me one in 20 million. But at the lower end of the spectrum.)
So find those skills. Hone them. And make sure people know how good you are at them.
(Oh, and as an aside, make at least one of those skills fun, and also choose one that can make you some money. If all three fall into both categories, you’re golden. I made 10 Deutsche Marks juggling in Köln (spelt thus to avoid aftershave gibes) in 1993. Not enough to pay the mortgage. But a fun experience nonetheless.)
On Friday 17 May, I made a conscious and important decision: to force myself to be more creative.
You see, I haven’t been creative since leaving school. Yes, creativity comes in various forms. I could easily argue that I am creative in my analysis of data. I love to make data sing. And I like to think that I’m more creative than most in my emails. I like to craft them and try to make them pleasing to the reader. Only their recipients can vouch for my success in this area.
And arguably, this very blog, all nine years of it, is a symbol of creativity.
But no. Here I mean creativity in the sense of art. I don’t draw, I don’t paint, I don’t sculpt, I don’t write music or make things. And I haven’t done anything in this field since leaving school. (At school, I made an ace keyring for my mum, which I believe she still uses to this day. It’s a rectangular piece of brass, maybe 3cm x 2cm, adorned intentionally with vice marks and drill holes. I also made a supremely shit owl in pottery class. I also happened to write a full orchestral symphony for my music GCSE. Pretentious doesn’t come close!)
But since 1991, I’ve not done anything remotely artistic.
It seems that my brother got all the creative genes. He can pick up a pencil and things just flow. He draws for fun. He’s created artwork for CDs. His works litter his own apartment—sketches, black and white ink work, watercolours, the list goes on. And it’s all fabulous. If we were both asked to draw a horse, any genealogist could only conclude that one of us was adopted.
A couple of months ago, I stumbled upon some work done by a Twitter follower/followee. She’s a friend of a friend who I’ve never met, and likely never will. But I liked her artwork and felt an urge to do something in a similar vein. So I did. (She was nothing but supportive of my endeavours, btw.)
I bought some paper whose gsm count would make my printer weep. I bought myself some tracing paper, traditional pencils (2B), some mechanical pencils and some fine-tipped black pens. And I set to work.
The idea involves tracing from printouts and a degree of creativity thereafter. (I’m not going to share any more detail at this stage, for reasons that I won’t go into. Suffice to say, I will share some of the pieces at a later date.) I like to think that I’ve taken the idea that formed the inspiration, and put a spin on it that has made it my own—although at first, I felt a small sense of guilt at the similarities.
I started off doing a handful of pieces on A4. And I’ve since graduated to A3, a size that seems beautifully suited to the style of work. Thus far, I’ve done three full-size pieces (ha, “pieces” sounds *so* pretentious).
At first, I was nervous. I was uncertain of my own abilities, scared of putting pencil or pen to paper, much like the act of hitting a key on a traditional typewriter. There’s no turning back once the ink is on the paper. But once I’d overcome this initial fear, things started to flow and form.
And now, I’m thoroughly enjoying myself. I would guess that the big pieces are averaging about 15 hours each. The process is therapeutic. And liberating. And my production from scratch of something that I consider to be quite beautiful is rather exhilarating.
It’s also wonderful that one or two people have voiced genuine (I think) appreciation of the pieces produced. (I have always been the type of person who needs some form of external validation in life. Weak? Maybe. But honest.) So this goes down well. (Some people have even suggested that it’s saleable at a far from insignificant price. These people are deluded.) And as with everything, there are the nay-sayers (“it took you how long??”), and that’s fine. They’re welcome to their opinions, and I won’t foist my efforts upon them.
I have planned another piece, and have another variation on the theme to play with. And the nature of the work means that the only limitation to its possibilities lies in my own imagination.
So if you’re one of those people who, like me, is devoid of any true creative outlet, I encourage you to challenge yourself. Like me, you might be pleasantly surprised at what you find.
The rather farcical Where’s Wally/Waldo–style arm’s-length manhunt that is underway to locate Edward Snowden is, perhaps intentionally, deflecting from the important topic of snooping. But I think people are missing the important question.
The question being asked is:
Are the authorities breaking the law in accessing our information in the name of security?
The question that should be being asked, in my opinion, is:
Should the authorities be allowed to operate above the law in accessing our information in the name of security?
The problem is, the authorities have done little to engender our trust in the past. The police are never out of the news for their corruption and cover-ups, alleged and otherwise. The Stephen Lawrence case is the most recent example. Before that, phone hacking, Ian Tomlinson, Jean Charles de Menezes, the list goes on.
And in government, MPs are rarely out of the news for their own indiscretion: expenses scandals, selling of information, employment of relatives, cash for questions, their all too cosy relationships with the media.
And this behaviour, this reputation tarnishes the entirety of the security services. Few people nowadays trust that their information will be used in a responsible and positive way, and so there is uproar at the very idea that MI5 or GCHQ might go beyond the confines of the law in an attempt to thwart terrorist activity.
I wonder whether people’s perceptions of the security services’ use of data would be different if operational policing were better trusted, or if those that were responsible for the government of our country operated in a transparent and honest way.
My view is that if the public-facing sections of the authorities behaved in an honest manner, we would have little issue with the security services’ use of our data. Instead of asking whether they’d operated within the law, we’d be asking the extent to which they’d thwarted terrorist activity.
Perhaps this is a naive post, and that I’m ignoring the more fundamental rights we have to privacy. Perhaps. Only you can judge.
The idea of government earmarking specific items of income for specific items of expenditure is, to me, preposterous. In the most recent example, George Osborne today confirmed that £10m per year from the fines imposed on the banks for their part in the Libor interest rate fixing would be made available to help war veterans injured in recent military campaigns. A similar example of earmarking previously cited by George was one that confirmed that not a penny of RBS bosses’ bonuses would be funded by the taxpayer.
(As an aside, the spending sums being spoken about here are trivial: £10m equates to 37 pence per year for each UK household, which comes down further when you factor in the fact that the majority of HMRC’s tax intake comes from businesses.)
As a taxpayer, I’m unable to request for example that my corporation tax, VAT, employer’s and employee’s PAYE and income tax is only used for NHS care and that it is not used for the purposes of war.
The balancing off of receipts against expenditure is nothing more than emotional blackmail. We don’t hear, for example, how the legitimate tax owing that has been written off for numerous large corporations has reduced the NHS’s ability to provide primary care for children. That wouldn’t make a good headline now, would it?
The issue is further clouded by the fact that HM government owns 81.14% of RBS, which was fined £390m in relation to the Libor scandal.
So please don’t patronise me, George. Talk about savings; talk about income. But don’t tie the two together, there’s a good chap.
In one of my recent client engagements, I’m surrounded by people with Apple Macs. Everyone’s on laptops, MacBook Airs outnumbering MacBook Pros about 2:1. There’s even the odd person running Windows on a Mac—wanting the cool but yearning for the functionality.
And then there’s the odd leper like myself, running Windows on a PC laptop. (From memory, I can only think of one other PC user besides myself, someone whose laptop is the size of a small aircraft carrier.)
And here’s the rub. I know of only two Mac users who appear serene and content in their worlds. Three at a push. The rest love their shiny toys. But they struggle to use them. They certainly struggle to do so in a way that looks comfortable.
Now I admit, most are new to the technology. They’re recent converts from the comfort of Windows. But even those that have been around Macs for a while seem to struggle. They struggle to do things that were commonplace in Windows. Sometimes, they seem vaguely aware that a certain swipe combination will yield a certain result. But don’t ask them to do it, because it probably won’t work.
Now I love Macs. They are beautiful. They’re functionally rich. And when used well, they are poetic. But I doubt that I’ll ever adopt for two reasons.
First, Excel. Excel on a Mac is truly a dog’s breakfast. It sucks so much ass. It feels like going back to Excel 5.0—at its launch in 1993, the most mesmerisingly sublime piece of software you ever did experience, but not so now.
And given that I live and breathe Excel, no thank you.
And second, the learning curve. It’s way too shallow for me to make the leap. My productivity would go through the floor for weeks, and would still be suffering months, quarters later, as I grappled with gestures, and an entirely new way of interacting with the OS.
I regard myself as a relative power user of computers. If I lived in word processing and email, maybe I’d think about leaping. But alas, I don’t. And I so I won’t.
There’s a quality that doesn’t come out in CVs that with time I find more and more essential in the workplace. That quality is the ability and willingness to admit fault and apologise.
I’m not sure whether the trait is becoming less prevalent as society changes; or whether I’m becoming more aware with time of its lacking.
Knowing when you’re wrong, acknowledging when you’re wrong. These traits are hugely important in building strong relationships with colleagues, clients and suppliers.
As for knowing when you’re wrong, I don’t think there are too many problems here. People generally know when they’re at fault. They may lie to themselves in order to create a version of reality that they can portray to the outside world. But usually, deep within, they’ll be conscious that they screwed up. No, it’s the acknowledgment of the error that is at issue.
I’ve worked with a few people in my career to date, both male and female, who are hopeless at this. Sometimes, even when the fault is clear for the world to see, the admission and the apology don’t come.
And I think there are two related issues at play: the human aspect and the career aspect.
First, the human side. People simply want to save face. Human nature is to be as good as you can be. And admitting error shows that you’ve failed somewhere. How on earth can that be good?
And second, the career aspect. Making an error might go against you in the promotion rounds. It might mean your contract isn’t extended. Or worse, if significant enough, it might mean you’re terminated. The workplace can be highly charged and competitive. And it’s often not easy to step up on this front.
But everyone makes mistakes. And once the mistake has been made, the stronger person is the one that admits to it and faces its consequences, as opposed to the one that hides behind falsehood.
Often, admission of blame sets things up for an open and honest discussion about how best to proceed. It’s amazing sometimes to see how this plays out. Try it. Before the apology, there’s an error that no one’s admitting to, which can create a highly charged, confrontational environment. Throw in the apology, and suddenly the confrontation disappears. Often, the other person is slightly thrown by the admission, and it creates a pleasing atmosphere, for both them and you. The change can be massive, and is often instant.
Failure to admit error delays the resolution of the issue at hand. It creates animosity between the parties involved. And it taints their relationship going forward—both with one another and with you.
On the odd occasion, I’ll even apologise when I’m *not* at fault. It’s generally an apology on behalf of a department or business unit. But it comes from me, and is worded in the first person. In these instances, I consider the benefit of a smoothed path outweighs the personal drawback of stepping into the frame.
So go on. Try it. As well as being the right thing to do, it can be rather therapeutic.