Among The Trees, Hayward Gallery

The brutalist concrete of London’s Southbank Centre, some of it originally set for the Festival of Britain in 1951, seems a place at odds – if not an odd place – to hold an exhibition that asks us to think about our relationship with trees and forests. But, that’s what the Hayward Gallery’s ‘Among The Trees’ is asking us to do.  It reopened yesterday after being closed at the start of the COVID crisis and is now extended until October, so ignore the out-of-date dates on promotional banners.  Visitor numbers are limited and there’s a one-way system introduced so that social distancing norms can be observed. 

I’m no art critic, but I think I am with the ES Magazine’s “there’s much here to absorb, unsettle and even, occasionally, provoke wonder” over Time Out’s “the rest just sort of blurs into one, and by the end, you can’t see the art for the trees”.  Most reviewers seem to agree that Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s six-screen, horizontal video of a giant Finnish spruce is the most powerful piece and it is visually very impressive.   Eva Jospin’s forest from cardboard, which is one of the first exhibits you come to, reminds us of both the beauty of the forest and the damage caused by humans.  Later, Steve McQueen’s Lynching Tree, depicting a tree that once served as a gallows for slaves, provides another reminder of our cruel and destructive nature.

In many ways, that grey concrete architecture – a material which itself replaced the need for wood in some construction projects and is the core of the Hayward Gallery – is the perfect backdrop to the trees that form the exhibition. Perhaps my only criticism is that there’s not enough of the contrast, the hard and the soft, exploited within.

The restrictions caused by timed-entry and fewer people in the gallery space, may not be great for the gallery’s finances, but make the experience itself very nice indeed.  No real queues, except to get into the shop afterwards,  and no crowds around the big art pieces. And, given how much of the world is closed off to us right now, the reopening is a  real treat. Although, perhaps we should be spending these beautiful summer days in nature for real.

Red Rose Radio: In memory of St Paul’s Church

Back at the end of January, Bauer Radio – one of the UK’s biggest radio groups – announced the closure of its studios in St Paul’s Square, Preston (home of Rock FM) and the transfer of broadcast operations to their studio centre in Manchester.

In many ways the story is just another small step in the consolidation of UK radio. Increasing shared programming and networking allows radio station owners to create the kind of big, modern radio brand you need to stand out in 2020 without the costs of maintaining lots of studio locations. It was reported that, in recent years, the only programme to originate in Preston was Rock FM’s breakfast show, fronted Joel and Gemma. The rest came from other locations in the Bauer group.

SMS satellite dish outside Red Rose Radio

But this isn’t just another studio move. Red Rose Radio was unusual because the founders commissioned a broadcast complex in an old church, where thick walls could help with soundproofing. Apparently, Red Rose Radio Limited paid £35,000 for the St Paul’s church and brought the conversion project in for £778,000. From my time at SMS, I have a very grainy scan of a photo of the company’s satellite dish outside the church. There’s a documentary on YouTube going behind the scenes of the station in 1993 where you can very clearly see the church architecture in the offices.

The whole story may have passed me by had I not been searching for some recordings that I have on cassette, stored in an old box at the back of a cupboard, on which I discovered a snippet of Red Rose’s closedown audio from the early years and decided to have a look what was the station was like today.

Back in the early years of UK commercial radio, stations would often launch with a broadcast schedule that did not operate around the clock.

On that tape, the station’s first Programme Controller, Keith Macklin, is delivering the ‘goodnight’ announcement that was played each evening. The audio fades a little in the middle but remains audible. From memory, I would have recorded it when the station used to closedown after the news at midnight. Back then I was a big fan of late night phone-ins on Piccadilly Radio, listening under the covers when I should have been asleep. On the same tape was another piece of audio, the engineering announcement that played every few minutes through the night. This was obviously later in the year because the broadcasting hours had been extended to 2am. Who knows what I was doing to get that recording; I can only imagine there was no school the next day.

I thought the closedown audio and the closedown of the studios seemed correlated. So, I upload that audio in memory of St Paul’s church, Preston.

The audio is also on Soundcloud. See other audio I have uploaded on the Listen page.

Tweetless or Tweet Less?

I realised I only tweeted 10 times in 2019 so I wondered (to myself) what I had written about.

My morning routine, after I have arrived in the office, usually entails eating breakfast while reading a couple of blog posts before diving into my email. This morning, I thought about some content I used to follow on Twitter and decided to look it up. It’s still there: but that’s not the point of this post. Then I thought I would write something to welcome the new decade as, although a day late, I thought it worth marking in my timeline.

That’s when I realised I only tweeted 10 times in 2019. That’s pretty terrible really. I used to use Twitter a lot. Sadly, I find it a pretty depressing place most of the time which – I think – is why I have generally shied away from the platform recently. I’m pretty certain if I had the time I could curate a list that was much more positive to read.

Nonetheless, I decided to look at the topics I did tweet about in 2019 – my logic being that if I use the platform so rarely then what I did tweet about must have been worth the effort of opening the app and might be interesting to see what I cared about in 2019. Sadly not. Here’s my ranking:

So, here’s the tweet I went with:my first of the new decade. I thought about something I’d seen earlier in the day which seemed like positive news:

Give this is my 11th tweet in just over a year, I thought I would look at my posting trends. Using TweetStats and picking July as the sample month for no real reason except it was the first month on TweetStats’ graph, my tweet trend is not looking good. Maybe I should do better.

Currently, I am better at Instagram. Come join me there. As an aside, if Twitter made curating lists and generally managing your feed easier then maybe I would spend time creating the view I want.

In another ten years’ time Who can say what we’ll find

Looking back is fun. Futurology is exciting too. Let’s mix them in a big pot of pointless predictions!

On Christmas Eve I wrote a follow-up to my 2009 piece, ‘Looking Back 10 Years‘. So, now, if I was going to create a new list, what would I add?

Time to ring in with the new …

Video Conferencing Still Doesn’t Work

I admit it’s highly correlated with my comments on business travel but over the last ten years more and more of the office spaces where I have been working come pre-equipped with video conference facilities in every meeting room. And, almost universally, people find them difficult to use, difficult to hear the other side of the conversation and incompatible with the facilities the people on the other end of the call use. I’ll admit that over the last few years colleagues have become more and more comfortable with the idea of running a meeting where one or more people are on screen but I think that’s due to how easy it is to call family on Skype, FaceTime or Facebook Messenger. The fact that most office systems are incompatible with each other means that all that expensive in-room equipment is often wasted. Currently, I work in a office equipped with Google Meeting but work closely with a company that uses the BlueJeans conference service. And so, only one side can ever use the cameras in the room they are sitting in. I have worked in a company where it worked well but they had spent a lot of money equipping the space and it was still only useful when other people were on the same system. And don’t get me started on people trying to hook-up to share a presentation.  Still, it’s better than those awful conference calls.

Music Has Vanished From The Workplace

Even in the last ten years, I have worked in places where we put music on in the background. Communal music adds atmosphere to the workplace and can create a positive mood. It’s true that, often, you end up with an easy listening sound (we loved Magic in one place I worked) but I find silence quite oppressive. But, thanks to streaming music services everybody now has their own music library on-demand and we all don headphones all day. That has changed the office atmosphere and, I don’t think it’s for the better.

Streaming Is Everywhere

Streaming music has changed the workspace and I predict that streaming television will do the same. The iPlayer maybe 12 years old tomorrow (having launched Christmas Day 2007) and, at home, we may have more choices than ever (Apple TV+ and Britbox have arrived in the last month alone) but outside of the home I think streaming video content will change the workplace. Aside from streamed conferences, streamed training courses and streamed meetings, we will move from the above-mentioned video conferences to connecting offices and home workers via a streamed camera, always connected all day long. And where streaming video comes it is closely followed by addressable TV advertising so, at work or at play, brands will be able to target us more effectively.

Voice Control Is Coming

In the last decade, three new people moved into your house. Alexa, Siri and the one who only responds to the phrase ‘OK Google’. And they want to follow us into the office too. I have been surprised about how easy it has been to shout commands to the box in the corner of the kitchen or to dictate a message into my phone without having to type on the keyboard. I’ve observed the way children have taken to talking to machines without any of the awkward feelings adults have. It’s bound to come to the office at some point very soon although I am not sure, exactly, in what form. But if they could take minutes in a meeting to remind us of our decisions (because in this day and age no human does), it would be a great help.

We Are All Storytellers Now

If one of the big trends of the last decade, that I didn’t really mention in the 2009 piece, involved the rise of the social platforms in our personal (Facebook) and work (LinkedIn) spaces (or both, Twitter) then the rise of the Story format across platforms (and, into messaging apps) is the social trend of the late 2010s. Inevitably, that will come into the workplace in some way. We’ve already seen the arrival of the work chat and social tools (Yammer, Teams, Slack and Workplace) and the visual – and temporary – nature of the Story format will invade the workplace in the next few years. As a company’s marketing team embrace the format for promotion and advertising then it will arrive as a corporate communication tool as well at as team level. A fun picture of your CEO ahead of a board meeting with a flashing ‘yaaasss’ label – it’s bound to happen!

Of course, in many ways, these are fairly minor changes to the way in which we work and the spaces in which we work today. We are undoubtedly going to see more and more automation in all aspects of our lives and, I suspect, we’ve only just started with the impact of ‘Big Data’ on all aspects of our lives. Workplaces, especially in customer-facing spaces, will finish the transition to cashless and all of us will be working in more environmentally friendly ways over the next few years – we have no choice in the latter and, I suspect, the same goes for the former.

As I said at the end of the last one, “If I am lucky enough to remain employed for the next ten years, I wonder what changes will appear?” – hopefully, I will around to update you.

(thanks to Abba for the title)

Looking Back on Looking Back

We’re playing the nostalgia game again. This time looking back to the last look back.

Life is full of repeating moments, isn’t it? This morning I got up at the usual (weekday) time. I went to the station, tapped-in and got on a train. Pretty much the same as every other working day this year. But somethings repeat themselves on a lesser frequency. Say, once a decade.

I wrote these words on Christmas Eve 2009:

It’s not unknown for me to state the obvious, so here goes. Today is the last working day before Christmas. And for many, including me, it was the last working day of the year. It has also dawned on me that it’s the last working day of the decade.

curnow.org, 24 December 2009

As I haven’t written very much on this site in 2019, I thought I’d look back at my comments from the end of the last decade and see if they still ring true to me and my experience working in the last ten years. And, next week, I want to see if I can come up with any new observations on workplace trends that may see us through until 2029. 

First, out with the old …

Internet Access Is Ubiquitous In The Workplace

The first one is not really worth discussing: almost every job has been impacted by the internet and not just those who work in offices. Is there an industry in 2019 that is not, somehow, connected? And who would have predicted that I’d be walking around with access to 25GB of mobile data every month. Also, how do I end up using most of it?

Digital Connectivity Hasn’t Cut Travel

I stand by the comments that travel has not been cut; I probably travelled more for work in the second half of the decade than I did in the first. The planes were marginally more energy efficient – but not that much more comfortable – but that ubiquitous connectivity I mentioned isn’t ubiquitous in the sky, thankfully. Nobody really needs to answer emails 35,000 feet up in the air, but when you do it is kind-of fun.

Business Travel Still Sucks

Even when I wrote those words ten years ago, I had a disclaimer: “But, as long as you know it sucks, then it’s still a great deal of fun”. And, as I travelled more for work I really did enjoy it more. My general travel mood was improved by my self-imposed rule that 4am starts should be avoided at all costs and – at the very least – travel to arrive the evening before you need to start rather than on the day itself, even for short distances. For work, this decade, I travelled further than I ever had done before for a business meeting (11,400 miles) to Auckland, New Zealand where I really did have to avoid traveling all that way for just one meeting.

Constant Connections Means No Off Time

We have even less downtime that we did. Who’s answering Slack messages at 10pm? Now, that is a sentence that would not have been written ten years ago but the development of more of these productivity tools has meant we can answer questions everywhere. If you’re in the right job that can be empowering but, anecdotally, I know people who feel their employers abuse it. So, nothing changes here and maybe improved connectivity has made it worse. Still, it’s acceptable to use emojis in work messages now.

Companies Haven’t Embraced Remote Working Opportunities

Of all the items on my 2009 list, this is probably the one that had changed the most. I think many more companies are embracing some kind of flexible working even if it’s not totally remote. I did spend about 18 months working from home in the last decade and I thought I would enjoy it but, in the end, I didn’t. I found it isolating and – at times – quite lonely. When the staff of my local Starbucks started to become my only connection to other people during the working day I knew it was time to find an office again. In doing so, I ended up working in some incredible offices spaces for people who were less concerned about the 9-to-5 than getting the job done (although they all adored instant messages and so my previous point stands). I think many workplaces have improved over the past ten years: I learned that stand-up desks are one of the most productivity-enhancing improvements for office-based workers but I also learned that almost no companies want to pay for them. A desk that could be raised really did work for me when I access to one. Maybe I should talk to my current boss (but maybe a raise of the pay type is a better first ask in a new decade).

So, I think my big five from ten years ago have more-or-less continued and have become workplace norms. Perhaps they were already quite well embedded in the way we had been working by the time I wrote that piece. I didn’t talk about the rise of the social platforms in our personal lives and the impact they would have on our professional lives but they did impact working life and I think there’s a lot more to come on that.

I’m going to save my thoughts on trends of the last ten years until after Christmas. I won’t be working on Friday but it is, officially, a working day so I’ll aim for then. They say you should always tease your audience, don’t they?

In the meantime, Happy Christmas.

turkey.rats.lobby

Although it was not squeezed in anywhere – the grounds of the old house were substantial – it was squeezed in

When I was 14 years old my family moved house to a place on the road into (or out of, depending on where you are heading) Shrewsbury, Shropshire. In my mind, I probably have a bunch of stories buried from that time. But one thing that sticks our from the first months (or maybe years) that we lived in Shrewsbury was how difficult it was for anybody – including, at times, the Royal Mail – to find our house.

We moved to a newly built house with an address supplied by the Royal Mail. But the building was in the grounds of another, much older and grander, house and our patch of land was out of view when looking from the main road. Although it was not squeezed in anywhere – the grounds of the old house were substantial – it was squeezed into the postcode and numbering system that existed along the road. It was 89a and, a few years later, we were joined by a second new build home imaginatively numbered 89b.

If we’d been dwelling in a property along the main road, perhaps a property split into multiple units, then I think that deliveries would have easily found us. But, being out of the way, behind the trees, it was hard for people to know we were there. When talking to visitors I was able to describe the post box on the street and the driveway to the right which needed to be followed. In the days of online delivery where every address is database-matched it was harder to leave instructions for somebody to actually locate the front door.

Last week I was introduced to a piece of technology and a mapping algorithm that would have solved all of that. In fact there’s a lot of problems this solves. For example, I work in a large building in central London. The main entrance in on one street while the goods entrance is around the back on another street. But they have the same address. Think about how many times your GPS has taken you to the front door of a building when you’re actually in a vehicle and need the car park at the rear. Or what happens if you need emergency help stuck in the middle of the countryside at a site devoid of postcode and building number?

I haven’t written about too many technologies recently but the possibilities for this one are amazing. If your shopping is to be delivered by drone then much better given them an address that is actually your roof terrace or your back garden rather than the pavement in front of your door.

So, do go and get what3words (there’s an app). They have divided the world into a grid of 3m x 3m squares and assigned each one a unique 3 word address which is easy to remember, clearly located and remarkably simple to use. You are able to talk about specific locations, in multiple languages, with real recognisable word sequences. Words are easy to remember and, usefully, are simple for voice assistants to understand.

But, I do have to wonder, if the Queen really uses Buckingham Palace’s entrance at turkey.rats.lobby: https://map.what3words.com/turkey.rats.lobby

Is Every Railway Project Is The Same?

When it comes to major UK railway projects, everything changes and everything stays the same, huh?

People who occasionally visit here may notice that I talk about transport and trains, in particular, quite a bit. But, I’ve not written anything about the failure of London’s big transport projet, Crossrail, to open because, on a day-to-day basis, it does’t impact me. No part of my daily travel would use the new trains. I don’t think Crossrail will remove that many people on my daily commuter route into Waterloo so the only thing I’m unable to do is try riding the new trains (and so, I will wait a while).

I have been following the news about the project and, last week, read the Evening Standard article that began

None of the nine new Crossrail stations are complete and testing of the £1 billion fleet of trains in tunnels has been “paused” due to technical issues, it has been revealed.

London Evening Standard

Today, the Blast From The Past links on this site point to a piece from 2004 in The Guardian titled “The £10bn rail crash” on which I commented. My immediate thought was that it was a piece about Crossrail but, of course, in 2004 Crossrail wasn’t the project it is today. No, this was a piece about the West Coast mainline.

Everything changes and everything stays the same, huh?

57 days until you know what

When the clocks go back it means another – and much more fun – annual tradition: Christmas songs.

The clocks have gone back. The mornings are now a little lighter and the commute home is a little darker. I wrote all about this last year in It’s Not (All) About The Farmers.

The days are getting shorter which means Christmas is getting closer. We’re already starting to see festive articles being published; if you are looking for the 10 of the best Christmas cards or 10 Best Women’s Christmas Jumpers then there’s already an article for you.  

But I’m not reading about those. When the clocks go back it means another – and much more fun – annual tradition: Christmas songs. As I said last year, “If you love Christmas songs and have never read the Fizzy Pop festive blog then you should go and do it right now”.  And, as last year, if you’re on Apple Music I am going to try and keep updating the Apple Playlist of the musical selections made.

Every day is like survival

The post marking 20 years is a lovely example of blogging 15 years ago. Short and to the point, with nothing superfluous. Let’s examine it:

I’m riding a wave of nostalgia at the moment, aren’t I?  My last piece was about something written sixteen years ago.  Today, I sail in a much more modern boat and I’m looking back at a newer post from just fifteen years ago.  The only trouble is, that post itself referenced an event 20 years earlier. Wow, it was 35 years ago, Culture Club was number one with Karma Chameleon.  

I’m sure lots of people write about that feeling of time speeding up. You know, the whole “it only feels like yesterday” view. It’s true, but if you weren’t there then you won’t care. Trust me kids, it may seem important to you now, but nobody born this morning will much care about the British rappers Dave ft. Fredo’s Funky Friday except as a footnote telling them it was number one the day they were born. What do you mean, you don’t care either. Kids of today, huh.

But I digress. The post marking 20 years is a lovely example of blogging 15 years ago. Short and to the point, with nothing superfluous. Let’s examine it:

It’s twenty years since Culture Club’s Karma Chameleon was the UK’s number one selling single (full list).

We’ve already hit a problem. The ‘full list’ link I originally used is no longer accessible. Thankfully, it’s on the wayback machine so I’ve updated it in the original. The list in the version I linked to stops in 2003 when Blu Cantrell feat. Sean Paul reigned with ‘Breathe’.  The current version of this page from the Official Charts site is surrounded by a monstrous noise of cookie alerts and advertising. But, it is up to date with the aforementioned Funky Friday as the latest UK chart topper.

I really remember the video set in Mississippi (but I don’t imagine it was actually filmed there).

Back in 2003 could I have looked up that the video was filmed at Desborough Island in Weybridge? Wikipedia tells me that – so maybe I could have done.  Anyway, it’s not that far away from where I live. One day I should plan a visit but I promise not to reenact the video for you. I can’t believe anybody fell for it being Mississippi. However, it was the 80s and music videos were all new. And I was 13 and would have believed anything.

I suspect it would be very dated now …

Well, in the intervening years, a little thing called YouTube arrived which means I can now watch the original video and confirm it’s datedness or not. And I can embed it in the post itself for you to make up your mind. The pace of change, huh? You get to see how much like a cloudy day in England it appears to be. That’s the British weather for you.

all together now, “Every day is like survival, You’re my lover, not my rival …”

Back when Karma Chameleon was top of the charts, did anybody know the ‘You’re my lover’ was a reference to Jon Moss? I know a 13 year old that certainly didn’t.  I wonder if I would have reacted differently had I known?

 

It Was Sixteen Years Ago Today

What does the web of previous 1 October tell us?

I few months ago I wrote that sometimes, “I come to visit my website just to look at the Blast From The Past section.” Admittedly, I don’t do this very often but today, on my morning commute, I did and found three entries from the first day of October in years gone by: 2002, 2004 and 2010.  As a view of the past, I thought they made an interesting set of posts to study.

Eight years ago I was sharing interesting news links from the world digital advertising on an almost daily basis; something that you’d find on Twitter today and not laguishing on a blog. As I’ve said before, Twitter is probably a better place for such updates. Back then, I expressed surprise that part of the digital ad world was described by AdWeek as a ‘cesspool’: I thought it was a little extreme. Today, I’d probably not be so surprised and I might even agree with that description.

The ‘cesspool’ comment was used in a session at AdWeek 2010 where, “[T]he easy availability of low-cost online advertising space was a theme, and a problem, the panel returned to several times” [quote].  I imagine many of the people have come back to that theme a good few times since then! I wonder how many of the attendees 8 years ago are amongst the podcasters, influencers and digital prophets at AdWeek 2018.  Certainly, three roles that were not in use at the turn of the millennium when the other 1st October entries were written.

In 2004 I wrote about a phone being stolen which seemed quite important at the time but, from today’s vantage point, the focus on the newspaper headline of the day is much more interesting.  These days I have no idea what the headline on the evening paper is as I head home and it’s unlikely I’m using my phone camera to grab a snapshot. Somewhere along the way, at least to me, headlines became less interesting because my news sources were much more personalised and my experience of the Evening Standard today (primarily accessed via a news aggregator on my phone) will be different to yours.

But it’s the sixteen year-old entry that really caught my attention. How does the ‘Snapshot of the Blogsphere’ stand-up today?  It’s rather poor: all the three links noted are no longer accessible from their original pages because none of the sites are active anymore, although Tom’s plasticbag.org is still archived even if the links are broken (a little bit of searching does come up with the original entry).  There so much of the early web that’s gone. Fortunately, the Wayback Machine has some kind of copy of the material and I have been able to update the original links (see: Tom, Meg, Bart). It’s not great because I don’t imagine many people will go searching for them if they get a ‘not found’ error.  I wish there was a way to prevent this but what to do when the owners don’t want to do it anymore?

I’m glad I managed to rescue the snapshot of 2002. I don’t read anywhere near as many blogs as I did back then but, just in case I want to check in with myself in another 16 years, here’s a quick look at what I read today:

  1. Some years getting the Gold Card discount added to my Oyster is really simple, and other years everyone shakes their head and says “no, we can’t do that here, go away”. This year’s attempt proved almost, but not quite, at the easy end of the scale. [DiamondGeezer]
  2. Musk doesn’t deserve to be compared to Steve Jobs, he’s a category unto himself. He has improvised on a scale we’ve never seen before and has forced the incumbents to wake up and adopt EVs as their future. [Monday Note]
  3. It was not hard to see why Trump hadn’t seen the point in preparing to take over the federal government: why study for a test you will never need to take? [kottke.org]

Let’s just make sure the Wayback Machine has a copy.

King of West Midlands Mornings

Les Ross was the kind of West Midlands morning radio for 26 years. Hear his story.

BRMB radio logoI’ve written a few times about my childhood love of radio. In the early 1980s, Piccadilly Radio was my radio station and I was a devoted listener. By the middle of the decade my family had moved to the Midlands, but an overly large FM aerial on the side of our house kept me tuned to Piccadilly 103 FM.

Post-1987, after the launch of Beacon Radio in Shropshire, interference from their Wrekin transmitter prevented any serious listening to a station from Manchester, and my allegiances shifted to Birmingham and BRMB. Les Ross was still the reigning king of West Midlands morning radio – and would be for more than a decade to follow on BRMB and XTRA.

I was only a loyal listener for two or three years. After that, I was at University in Scotland trying to figure out which morning show to listen to until, one day, some friends and I decided we’d do our own on the University’s campus radio station. Our breakfast radio career didn’t last 26 days never mind Les’ 26 years.

Last week, Les was the subject of one of David Lloyd’s “conversations“. It’s a really great listen – download it now to your favourite podcast player.

I Used To Blog

I used to blog when blogging was something that people who believed in the open web did. It was when I believed that having a place to write was good and that personal publishing was a democratising force.

I used to blog when blogging was something that people who believed in the open web did. It was when I believed that having a place to write was good and that personal publishing was a democratising force.

I used to blog when conversations happened, and ideas were shared, across blogs and not as trolling-comments or 140 character part-thoughts.

I used to blog when trolls lived under bridges before the mainstream thought of trolling as an activity you needed a keyboard to engage in.

Some of my early blogging is cringeworthy and has little substance: but the point was to share an idea, thought or experience with the world. Or with yourself. It was the status update before there was such a thing.

Very occasionally I still write something here in a way that might be considered a blog. I wish I had the patience and time to write more. I admire the people that still do it.

Even less often I look at other places in case there are some artefacts left that should have migrated here many years ago. I rarely find anything.

Sometimes, I come to visit my own website just to look at the Blast From The Past section. It’s a list of blog pieces I wrote on this day of the month in previous years. It’s a nostalgia trip: something like opening a teenage diary or journal and feeling vaguely embarrassed at the person you used to be. I didn’t keep an adolescent diary, so I’ll spare you that. This is the closest you’ll get.

Today, I arrived here and discovered 6 Blast From The Past entries: 5 of which all date from 2005. My Blast From The Past is really a rather narrow view. The blogging years were really 2003-2005. But 5 entries on a single day was unusual, but when I look closely, I find that these entries would live on Twitter today. Aside from a separate post about the G8 summit; they are all a countdown to the announcement that London had been awarded the 2012 Olympics.

Perhaps, tiny updates like this work better on Twitter. There, they are posted in real-time and shared alongside others who may be witnessing the same thing. But Twitter makes it really hard to get a sense of my past. I wish they’d do a better job surfacing my history. I love being reminded about things like I was today.

Interestingly, I don’t really need the Blast From The Past section to remember that day, but it is useful to remind me that it is today. The memory is very vivid. I wish I had blogged during the actual 2012 Olympics in as much detail. I wrote a couple of things. Not much.

Of course, I remember the next day too. For very different reasons.

Taking A Moment to Read

Stop flipping through a social feed and really read.

On this day last January, as part of my #SOLS goals, I wrote about a challenge that I had set myself to complete during 2017: to read 12 books in the year. In January 2018’s first post, I discussed my failed writing challenge and mentioned I would return to the subject of books. Of my 2017 aims, the reading objective was much more successful.

Towards the end of 2016, I realised that I was not spending enough time reading: it was too easy to flip open my phone and aimlessly scroll through a social media feed. I have a lot of books that I would like to read, but I would go for months without starting one and, when I did, I would only skim pages. People I admired are often quoted as saying how important books were to them and their careers. In my post, I quoted Bill Gates and linked to a list by Barack Obama. Equally useful would have been reading lists from Elon Musk, Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos. The signs all suggested I should read more.

At work, sometime in late 2016, each member of our team committed to a personal goal, and I decided mine would be to stop flipping through a social feed on my phone while I sat on the train to and from work. I was going to read a book and, what’s more, I decided that they would be old-fashioned, bookshop-bought, books. As January came around, I decided my reading objectives ought to be public, and so I joined the Goodreads challenge.

Of the 14 books I completed, I found Elon Musk’s biography inspirational and Jony Ive’s story was remarkable, showing how vital your passions are in life. David Ogilvy’s experience, told through The King of Madison Avenue, was a fascinating blast from the advertising past. I read David Lloyd’s Radio Moments book – a marvellous insight into life in the British radio industry from the 1970s to the present day – in one sitting on a flight I was taking for work. That one brought back a lot of memories. It took considerably longer to get through Paul Theroux’s The Old Patagonian Express which I found a hard to plough through even though the voyage across the South American continent sounded fascinating.

My favourite books were both surprises. The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century by George Friedman was an imaginative look into the future and what the world will be like in one hundred years. Although I will never know how much of it comes true, it’s fun to imagine and more accessible to comprehend when there are the theories George brings to support his predictions. The other big surprise was also a story of the future – and the past – in Elan Mastai’s novel All Our Wrong Todays.

I ended the year with perhaps the least challenging of all the books I read across the 12 months. A trio of crime/action fiction novels – from Grisham, Connelly and Flynn – was a lovely easy read to end the year: all three were gripping in a way only master story-tellers like these can do.

What was most unexpected was that I discovered that I was enjoying reading and, even more, the act of turning pages in a book was especially satisfying. At the end of the day, I was arriving home more relaxed, and I believe much of that was to do with the ability to focus on something other than work. My boss encouraged all of his team to commit to something through the year, and I’m happy I chose a book challenge because it reminded me how much I enjoy – and can learn from – something more in-depth than a 160 character social post.

My Goodreads Reading Challenge 2017 can be found here. I have publicly committed to reading a few more books in 2018, so you might want to follow my progress.

Challenge – Failed

The #SOLS challenge failed in 2017 so I am trying again in 2018.

It’s the last Sunday of January 2018 and I have a decision to make. Shall I continue with the #SOLS project?

#SOLS (Sermon of the Last Sunday) was a self-inflicted challenge to see if I could write on this website at least once a month and make the hosting costs somewhat worth paying. It almost worked.

January started off strong with a note about the reading challenge (more on that in another post). In February, I used the #SOLS challenge to post an entry about my amazing trip to Japan. I failed to make the last Sunday in March and the post about Google dominating UK digital advertising was written at the start of April. There was no post at the end of April, nor in May, but the fascinating diary exhibition formed the basis of June’s “Dear Digital Diary“.

Major rail engineering works outside London Waterloo station and a shake-up of the train service in South West London formed a trilogy of #SOLS in July, August and September. As we moved into winter time, I wrote about adjusting the clocks in October and a great visit to the top of London’s BT Tower for the nighttime view finished November. Somehow, I missed writing anything in December which means I failed in my goal of writing something every month.

Even though I failed the specific challenge, I actually wrote more here in 2017 than I have done for a while. I’m enjoying the experience of trying to be creative at least once a month and so, for 2018, I have decided to try again. I want to go for a full house: an entry every month this year. Stick with me.

Tower of Technology, London

It experience was as incredible as I’d expected it to be.

BT Tower (previously, the Post Office Tower) was once the tallest building in the UK. Officially opened in October 1965, it was built to provide London with microwave communication links to the rest of the country.

Interestingly, this icon of the London Skyline was, apparently, an Official Secret for its early life. In theory, you couldn’t admit it existed. It originally opened with a rotating restaurant operated by the Butlins holiday company. I wonder how you made a booking if you couldn’t say where it was? For security reasons public access, including the restaurant, closed in the early 1980s.

BT Tower: Broadcast Hub

View of the BT Tower from Charlotte Street, London
View of the BT Tower from Charlotte Street, London

In the mid 1990s, when I worked for the audio distribution company, SMS, we had audio circuits connecting our satellite network to ‘Tower’ to allow us to send –  and receive audio from – BT’s broadcast network.  We were based only a 9-minute walk away from the tower with a perfect line of sight (if we leaned out the front door). We didn’t use the circuits very often but there was always a little excitement when we called BT to arrange a connection.

Years later, I was back in the Euston Tower for work which provided a birds-eye view of the rotating screens. By then, many of the dish-shaped aerials had been removed for safety reasons but the Tower was still at the heart the UK’s broadcast network even if the signals had migrated to underground fibre cables.  And even now, at least until we move offices at the start of December, I walk along Tottenham Court Road every morning past Maple Street, the Tower’s official address, with a daily view of whatever message is set to appear on the big screen 167m (548 ft) up in the London sky.

Rotating View

I’ve been to the top of many buildings with a birds-eye view of London but, until last week, I’d never been to the top of the Tower. The charity RedR arranged an evening of visits as a fund-raising activity so I got to look backwards to my former, and current, work places.

While at the top of The Tower, they turned the rotation on for a full sweep of the London skyline which, at night, is very impressive.  As we are in the season of Christmas lights, there were some spectacular views of the lights along Tottenham Court Road, at Regent’s Place and of the Hyde Park Winder Wonderland. It experience was as incredible as I’d expected it to be.

According to the London Landmarks site, the Tower is the “only building in the country which is allowed to be evacuated by lift (an oddity which required Parliamentary legislation to be passed)”. Fortunately, an evacuation was not required this evening.

A few more pictures from the visit to BT Tower on Flickr.

#SOLS

#SOLS is the project to have something written on this site on the last Sunday of every month.  I covered topics such as a visit to Japan, the state of the trains and why we change the clocks. I have one more expected in 2017 at the end of the year.  I wonder what that will cover? Follow the sequence with handy sols tag.