The first ever breakfast gov tweet-up?

A few weeks ago, I had the idea of arranging a government tweet-up breakfast: an opportunity for some tweeters who work with and in government to get together for breakfast to chew the fat, in both senses. (I chose breakfast to allow for a greater turnout, what with childcare and people’s hectic and conflicting evening social lives.) It was scheduled for this morning and was, in my eyes, a success.

Our turnout totalled seven, joined as I was by, in order of appearance: Sean Garvin, Stefan Czerniawski, Paul Clarke, Simon Everest, Jenny Brown and Emma Mulqueeny.

The conversation was marginally geeky, which I enjoyed thoroughly, but mostly I loved putting faces to names/avatars and enriching my appreciation of the personas of Paul and Emma. And it was also lovely to add a follower and followee in the form of Jenny.

Paul is legendary in these circles and I warmed to him immediately. We’ve spoken previously on the phone (about musical note separation) but it was good to meet in the flesh and I already see ideas in the offing that bring the opportunity for us to collaborate in the future.

Although the meeting of some was blind, Twitter provided a great prior insight into the characters in attendance—their interests, wit and quirks—and this made the conversation all the more relevant and rewarding. I’m already looking forward to the next meet-up and progressing the ideas that were seeded this morning.

Thanks to all who made the effort, particularly Mr. Everest given his lack of awareness of that part of the day and for trying to get #danosirrahasalottoanswerfor to trend.

Pic here for those interested, courtesy of Paul Clarke.

Why shoot for the Moon when Milton Keynes will do just as well

I once enjoyed a talk from Stuart Moore, the co-founder of Sapient.  It was a talk about, among other things, aspirations.  It was only to half a dozen people or so, and was fluid and interactive.

In it, he drew up a chart on a whiteboard, asking whether should aim high or aim realistically.  I responded, taking something of a devil’s advocate stance, that in some instances you should aim realistically.  (Remember, this is a man worth nine, possibly ten digit dollars, excluding decimals.)

I gave my reasoning.  In some instances, if you believe too much in your own hype, then that rosy view view will cloud your perspective, and you may remortgage your house a few times to chase what amounts to a dud business idea.  In that instance, it would be much better to chase reality, and if you failed, you wouldn’t have lost quite so much.  He struggled to deal with the example, instead arguing that if you shot for the Moon, at least if you missed you’d end up in the stars.

The attitude I portrayed is in keeping with me as an individual.  I’m risk-averse, although I can have optimism in abundance when the mood strikes.  I tend not to shoot for the moon, which will always hold me back while at the same time keeping me steady.  I guess that’s just the way my cloth’s cut.  And a reason why my bank balance doesn’t have nine digits—with or without the decimals.

Proofreaders: know your game

Proofreading is unique.  Unique in the sense that as well as your CV and cover letter/email containing all of the specifics of your career and experience, they also embody the quality of your work.  Before you’ve even been invited in for an interview, I’ve had a small taster for how good you are at submitting error-free documents.

Yet it’s frightening how many people have emailed me recently asking for work in this very area—my business specialises in document editing—only for their covering emails to be littered with errors.  Admittedly, if I’d received the emails from people outside the field, people not looking for related work, I would have let the mistakes pass me by.  But their context has meant that I’ve either responded with some heartfelt, cotton wool-lined guidance, or responded with a pleasantry only to confine the email to the Never hire folder.  (Actually, the latter step is a given.)

Paragraphs have lacked closing periods, proofreader has been written as two words (yet as a single word within the same email), the Oxford comma has been used whimsically, appearing in some places but not in others, hyphens have appeared instead of em dashes, and quotation marks have been used in instances where one might not even expect someone to sign them in a bar with their hands.

Some (all?) of these points might sound pedantic.  And they are.  But then proofreading is all about pedantry, and if you can’t get your covering email right, what hope do I have that you’ll fare any better with a client’s document?

Big isn’t always good

I’m fed up.  Specifically, I’m fed up of large organisations, organisations that have lost the concept of accountability.  Allow me to explain.

All too often, I will call a company to express my disappointment and displeasure at the service they’re offering, only to be reduced to a heap, rocking backwards and forwards in the corner of my living room, defeated by the interminable bureaucracy.

Below are some recent examples:

British Gas

I have an insurance contract with them (HomeCare) that covers my electrics, drainage, boiler and central heating.  I pay a handsome sum for the privilege.  I called on a Friday reporting blocked drains.  They deemed it a non-emergency so refused a weekend callout, but promised me an 8–10am slot on Monday morning.

No one arrived.  At 10.02am, I called asking their whereabouts.  I was told that no such slot should have been promised, but that someone would be with me before 6pm, and they would call giving one hour’s notice.  At 4.54pm, I called again asking their whereabouts, only to be told that they weren’t coming today.

I arranged for the problem to be sorted privately, and am awaiting their response on reimbursement of the invoice.

Lambeth Council

Last week, I arranged a bulk rubbish collection, of which I’m allowed four per year.  The guy arrived today and took away a rug and a bedside table, but couldn’t be arsed with the large carpet.  The operator couldn’t do anything about this because the ticket was still “live”.

A man with a van is coming tomorrow morning to take the carpet, costing me £50.

Virgin Media

In October, I signed up to an all-inclusive Virgin Media package for a monthly amount quoted to me over the phone.  After the service (including new set-top boxes) was installed, they started billing me 20% more than that agreed monthly amount.  On questioning, they apologised for quoting the wrong figure and told me that the correct figure was the higher amount.

I am still working out how this might be resolved.

Many of the people I speak to in these organisations are, in themselves, lovely.  They are polite, courteous and seem to want to help.  But the bureaucracy that surrounds them, through no fault of their own, prevents them from doing so.

You see, no single person is empowered.  Each department exists in isolation, calls passing between them but with no one having a holistic view of the customer experience, nor the power to manage that.  And often, as was the case today with Lambeth, the operators blame the process for their inability to resolve the issue.

Smaller companies carry more accountability, don’t blame their colleagues or sister departments and generally give a shit about the customer.  The above companies, as organisations in themselves, do not.  Even if some of the people therein do.

Agency madness

I’ve been working through, among others, two agencies of late.  Recruitment agencies, if you will, although rarely do they seem to recruit me—often they’re merely a means of contracting.  I’ve suffered two experienced which to me are unfathomable.

First, on enrolling with an agency, they informed me that they would need to perform a check with Companies House, a process that cost them £1 (one Great British pound).  They informed me by letter and by email that the cost of the check would be taken off my first day’s charges.  And sure enough, payment against my first month’s invoice was £1 short.

Second, I received a call the other day from someone who I’d never dealt with before in an agency through which I was already working.  He asked me whether I was looking for work.  I truthfully responded that I wasn’t.  He asked when my current contract was due to expire and I suggested he asked his colleague, my contact within the agency.

Both of the above examples showed the value that the companies placed on the individual.  My immediate experience of the former agency was one of penny-pinching madness.  Yet it probably cost more to process the £1 reduction than they saved by making the reduction in the first place.  As for the second, three and a half years of unwavering commission was reduced to my being a commodity, one who had not been de-duped properly from one database to another.

I know I’m a commodity, a dispensable one at that.  But it’s nice not to have this pointed out to me, particularly when I’m helping pay your wages.

My violin fingering: is it still right?

I gave up the violin almost 20 years ago.  Or over half my life ago.  Yet to this day, I often mime the fingering that my left hand would do were it playing the melody of a song I’m listening to, my fingers generally tapping on the pad beneath my thumb.

Or at least I think I am.  I have no idea whether the notes that would ring out if a violin were in my hand would bear any resemblance to the song.  Maybe so many years of dormancy render the mime talentless and the resulting music similarly tuneless.  And doubtless the bow in my right hand would be playing the wrong string anyway.

One day soon, I’ll pick up a violin and see just how true my renditions are to their originals.  Until then, you’re safe.

The power of a retweet

I wrote a blog post recently that I delighted in writing, and that people, it seems, delighted in reading.  It drew from experiences from 15 years ago, and highlighted the need to treat deadlines with the respect they deserve.

The post drew no comments.  But it drew a lot of hits.  (The term a lot here is relative to the number of hits drawn by most of my posts.)  The bit.ly link that drew people to the post itself via a Twitterfeed URL that adorned my Twitter feed drew 94 clicks.  By way of comparison, most of my posts draw fewer than 20 hits via the same route.

The reason: the retweet.

Paul Clarke retweeted my original tweet within four minutes, together with a humbling pleasantry.

RT @danosirra: Blogged: knowing when to stop http://bit.ly/87wyGE < Dan. You are great. Please can we meet soon.

Now Paul is a well-respected figure, with 1,855 followers without, it seems, actively looking to build his following.  He just writes interesting stuff and has wide respect and appeal.

Seven minutes later, the lovely Emma Mulqueeny (who I also only know electronically) acknowledged the post.

The snail like snakings of SWTrains means I can read all those blog postings @danosirra loved yrs, brilliant

And five minutes later, Chris Thorpe, who I don’t know, retweeted Paul’s retweet.

RT @paul_clarke: RT @danosirra: Blogged: knowing when to stop http://bit.ly/87wyGE < awesome. may have to frame this

The attention brought a smile to my face.  But it also highlighted the power of the retweet.  I’d noted that I should write a post about the subject two weeks earlier, but only noted its relevance midway through writing it.  It was lovely to receive such compliments, and delightful to see so many clicks as a direct result of some lovely twitterers.