Starting a business is like playing at Pooh Sticks

12 October 2009

Bryan Mills

During a recent training event I was fortunate to hear Bryan Mills speak. Bryan has had a long and successful career creating and managing IT related businesses (although without an IT background himself). His particular claim to fame is building CMG from a two person business, operating from the founder’s homes in 1965, into a multinational FTSE1oo business.

During his fascinating talk recounting lessons learnt from a lifetime as an entrepreneur he used the analogy of playing Pooh Sticks for business start-up.

As both a fan of the game from early childhood, and having grown up very near to the home of Winnie-the-Pooh the inventor of the game in Hartfield, West Sussex, Bryan caught my attention.

When you are planning to start a business you look down into the swirling river below (the market place for you product or service), you try as hard as you can to see where the current is flowing strongest and is least turbulent (assessing the market opportunity with published and field market research). You drop your stick in as carefully and accurately as you can (detailed business plan preparation). And once it is in, you follow it with Eagle eyes, watching every bob and weave (you track every activity minutely in your newly founded business).

However once the stick goes under the bridge it moves both out of your control and out of sight, and there is nothing you can do to influence its route down the river, across into a bank of reeds, or dropping down to the bottom of the river bed. This is very much the situation once your business is up and running. All kinds of unpredictable events can knock you off course, or sink the business altogether.

Big toys for big boys

22 July 2009

It is often said that men are just boys in adult bodies. This seems to be the approach taken by Männerspielplatz, an amusement park for men that lets them get in touch with their inner construction worker (thanks to SpringWise for the tip-off).

For EUR 219, visitors to Männerspielplatz can shed their office trappings and get seriously dirty while playing with excavators, wheel loaders, Caterpillars, quads, Jeeps and more.

The park, which is situated in an old factory site just outside Kassel, Germany, offers 18 stations for visitors to enjoy to their heart’s content. Challenges include using a Komatsu Hanomag excavator to move huge stones; leveling the ground with a bulldozer; off-road riding on a Quad Unimog; and participating in an archery course.

Participants must be at least 18 years old. A Class B license is required, and admission is limited to minimize waiting times.

The smell of fiction

19 June 2009

Since the dawn of time in the ‘real world’ people have enjoyed creating complicated hoaxes, spoofs and pranks (April 1 in particular being a popular time of year).

However, I don’t understand the thinking behind the multitude of fake products ‘for sale’ on the Internet. The latest to bamboozle the blogosphere (and Internet savvy Librarians) is the Smell of Books.

As you can see from the images and text below, someone has gone to a lot of trouble to create this ‘product’.

However, the Smell of Books is just one of a range of unexpected items produced by DuroSport Electronics. These include the DuroSport, a digital music player that no longer supports MP3 format songs. The DuroSport website links to the Prism DuroSport Insider Blog which contains many long and detailed posts written by Vladimir Concescu, the Chief Product Engineer at the DuroSport Electric Company.

I have included a photo of him below to indicate the nature of this site.

Either ‘Vladimir’ has too much time on his hands, or is working to some kind of agenda I can’t fathom.

Smell of Books

New Book Smell

The smell of e-books just got better

Does your Kindle leave you feeling like there’s something missing from your reading experience?

Have you been avoiding e-books because they just don’t smell right?

If you’ve been hesitant to jump on the e-book bandwagon, you’re not alone. Book lovers everywhere have resisted digital books because they still don’t compare to the experience of reading a good old fashioned paper book.

But all of that is changing thanks to Smell of Books™, a revolutionary new aerosol e-book enhancer.

Now you can finally enjoy reading e-books without giving up the smell you love so much. With Smell of Books™ you can have the best of both worlds, the convenience of an e-book and the smell of your favorite paper book.

Smell of Books™ is compatible with a wide range of e-reading devices and e-book formats and is 100% DRM-compatible. Whether you read your e-books on a Kindle or an iPhone using Stanza, Smell of Books™ will bring back that real book smell you miss so much.

The latest example is the the website devoted to selling

I was an April fool, but it’s no joke for SlideShare

2 April 2009 have always been a fan of April fool stories. My previous job included producing a daily press cuttings service for my organisation, and I used to look forward to trying to find all the April 1  ‘news stories’ for inclusion. One of my all time favourites was from the Daily Mirror announcing that the Channel tunnel diggers had struck gold half-way to France.

The big ‘story’ from today has been the Guardian newspaper letting its loyal readers know that it would shortly be giving up on old fashioned ink and paper. Instead they would switch to Twitter for all future news coverage. The Twitter switch for Guardian article has some lovely touches about the benefits of reducing all news to 140 characters. Even going back intto their archives to ‘re-write’ history;

Major stories already completed include:

“1832 Reform Act gives voting rights to one in five adult males yay!!!”;

“OMG Hitler invades Poland, allies declare war see for more”;

and “JFK assassin8d @ Dallas, def. heard second gunshot from grassy knoll WTF?”

slideshare logo

On a less amusing note I received an email today from SlideShare (a free service I blogged about in 2007).

Hi infield,
We’ve noticed that your slideshow on SlideShare has been getting a LOT of views in the last 24 hours. Great job … you must be doing something right. 😉
Why don’t you tweet or blog this? Use the hashtag #bestofslideshare so we can track the conversation.
Congratulations,  SlideShare Team

I checked my three presentations and sure enough one of them had rocketed to 751 views. This was something of a surprise and perhaps I should have been suspicious. However, it took a blog post from Phil Bradley (Slideshare April Fool joke goes disastrously wrong), before I realised I had been conned.

As Phil points out, SlideShare have made ,”a huge error”;
I don’t appreciate anyone manipulating data on my content. That SlideShare are so relaxed about this, and feel they can do what they like is really sending entirely the wrong message about how they view users and content.

To be fair to the authors of this ‘prank’ have confessed their sins on Phil’s blog, and apologised to their customers;

My sincere, personal apologies. Its just an April Fool’s prank. I understand why you are upset, however, we did not mean to offend our users who we love. But I can see your perspective.
Rashmi, CEO & Cofounder, SlideShare

I think I can  forgive them this time, but fear many of their customers may move to rival services as a result.

India moves to patent yoga poses

5 March 2009

On first inspection this would be filed under ‘Friday fun’, although it was drawn to my attention by an email from a customer who wanted the official British Library view on the Daily Telegraph story.

Needles to say, we don’t have a view, but I have to say I was amazed to to discover that yoga positions could be protected:

“Copyrights over yoga postures and trademarks on yoga tools have become rampant in the West. Till now, we have traced 130 yoga-related patents in the US. We hope to finish putting on record at least 1500 yoga postures by the end of 2009,” said Dr V.P Gupta, of the CSIR, who created the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library.

And even more surprised to hear how the Indian government has reacted:

So far a team of yoga gurus from nine schools have worked with government officials and 200 scientists from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to scan 35 ancient texts including the Hindu epics, the Mahabharata and the Bhagwad Gita, and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras to register each native pose.

The topic even has its own Wikipedia page entitled Yoga Piracy.

Find out your favourite blogger’s Myers-Briggs personality type with Typealyzer

3 February 2009

Thanks to Karen Loasby* and her Favourite Tipples from FreePint from 22nd January 2009 for highlighting Typealyzer.

The (currently beta) service is a text a text classifier that analyses any blog and assigns a Myers-Briggs personality to it based on writing style.

“ is developed by the happy people @ Illustrations are made by Sol at Accented. Please also visit our Typealyzer group at Google!. If you want API access for R&D, try free text classification or use psychographic analysis for commercial purposes – please visit PRfekt at uClassify!

How does it work? For a long period of time, we have been training our system to recognize texts that characterize the different types. The system, typealyzer, can now by itself find features that distinguishes one type from another. When all features, words and sentences, are statistically analysed, Typealyzer is able to guess which personality type the text represents.

I have tested it on a some of my favourite blogs (and mine of course) and come up with some interesting results.

My colleague Steve van Dulken who writes about the world of inventions and how it interacts with business, the media and patents, is ISTJ – The Duty Fulfillers. “The responsible and hardworking type. They are especially attuned to the details of life and are careful about getting the facts right. Conservative by nature they are often reluctant to take any risks whatsoever. The Duty Fulfillers are happy to be let alone and to be able to work int heir own pace. They know what they have to do and how to do it.”

Stephen Bury  (Curator of the Breaking The Rules exhibition and blog) is ISTP – The Mechanics. “The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts. The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.@

SurprisinglyEuan Semple a leader in the field of Social Computing with thousands of followers on The Obvious blog is also classified as ISTJ – The Duty Fulfillers.

Stephen Abram previous President of SLA and thought leader for Libraries 2.0 through his blog Stephen’s Lighthouse, will be pleased to hear he is INTP – The Thinkers. “The logical and analytical type. They are especially attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications. They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.”

Finally, I am rather pleased to be able to report that this blog also falls into the the INTP category… remembering of course that it is all just a bit of fun.


* Karen Loasby is an Information Architect for the RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People) and Contributing Editor of the FUMSI Manage practice area. Karen was previously Information Architecture Team Leader in the BBC’s Future Media & Technology department, managing a team of 16 information architects. She is a regular presenter at information architecture conferences and writes about information architecture and creativity at Karen can be reached at

The ultimate feel good movie for depressing times

8 January 2009

mammamiateaserposterI was amazed to see from the latest edition of 10 things you didn’t know last week, that we Brits have spent £69 million so far on tickets to see Mamma Mia!

This film version of the musical based on Abba music is now Britain’s biggest ever grossing film, overtaking the previous holder Titanic. To add to this impressive feat, over 1 million copies of the DVD were purchased on its release day, another UK record.

Having reluctantly watched said DVD on Christmas day, I have to agree that it has a remarkable feel-good factor. A combination of those annoyingly catchy Abba songs and a cheesy love story for young and old alike. The smile factor wasn’t even badly dented by Pierce Brosnan’s shouted version of SOS and a couple of other songs.

So this could be the next big market for those in creative world for our recessionary times.

Christmas sells – Christmas sales

26 November 2008

During a spot of television watching the other evening I couldn’t help noticing how many times the word Christmas was used during the advert breaks. I know that Christmas starts earlier every year in the hope that business will reap the benefit. But this was almost as though the word was being thrown at the viewer as some kind of mantra. The irony is that almost all of these pleas to worship at the cult of Christmas commercial consumption ended with a hastily tacked on half price offer.

By chance, on the same day I read about a character who has well and truly bought into the ‘Christmas spirit’, by celebrating Christmas day every day since 1994. His name is Andy Park (aka Mr Christmas) and he estimates to have consumed 117,600 brussel sprouts, 5,110 bottles of Champagne, and opened more than 230,000 Christmas cards. He has also worn out 37 electric ovens, and 23 video recorders by watching the Queen’s Speech every day.

However, this year the electrician from Melksham, Wiltshire, is being having to cut back due to the credit crisis.

Divorced Mr Park said that this year the postage is so dear he is having to deliver his cards to himself by himself, instead of relying on the Royal Mail. Also he is being forced to downsize his turkey from 14lb to 9lb.


South of England wild with big cats

15 October 2008

I’m not sure if BBC South have been reading my blog recently, but this evening they had a feature news story on big cats spotted in the South of the country.

They had a couple of scratchy videos which could have been a lynx, plus lots of citizens who had seen these beast close up – even brushing past in one case.

As you can see from the graphic copied from the BBC website there have been plenty of spottings. I still can’t quite make my mind up on this. Some of the stories are worryingly similar to the kind of alien or crop circle ones I have heard over the years.

‘Beast of Balcombe’ spotted in my backyard

13 October 2008
Definitely not the Beast of Balcombe

Definitely not the Beast of Balcombe

Although I feel very fortunate to live so close to nature in my rural retreat on the edge of Balcombe, I feel somewhat perturbed by the recent spotting of the ‘Beast of Balcombe’ just beyond my back garden.

As you will have seen from my recent post, deer are not unknown in my garden, and in fact are becoming something of a pest in to gardeners in Mid-Sussex. When I first moved into my current house we also used to have rabbits wandering freely in the garden. But that all stopped when our aged cat was replaced by two young and active farm cats. Now we just get recently deceased remains brought in through the cat flap for final consumption on the kitchen floor.

However this ‘big’ cat appears to be a puma from the recent sighting (and sounding) from a reliable source in the village. I shall certainly be on the lookout for the ‘beast’, and if I manage to snap a photo you will be first to know.

Fans of big cat sightings in the south of England can keep up do date with a blog dedicated to this topic.

Vote Silly 2008 – Vote Michael Palin

5 October 2008

My intention is to keep politics (and religion) out of this blog. However I couldn’t resist the Vote Michael Palin campaign. Especially when you consider how qualified he is for the job (watch the video below). Added to that is the gift of a free ‘fuzzy thing’ when you sign up to their newsletter.

Michael Palin could be the new ‘nice’ face of politics, even if we discount the fact he can’t stand, as he is not a US citizen.

Dead Wringers and the Thatcher Nut Cracker

28 September 2008

I’m not sure if the current trend for politically inspired products indicates a growing disenchantment with politicians (of all flavours). Or is just another unexplored niche in the crowded household products market.

One of our success stories Bill Anderson has developed a range of salt and pepper grinders under the brand Dead Wringers. He hopes to expand the range beyond the existing set of politicians and royals to include celebrities. You get the chance to vote for who’s neck should be next on the line.

Bill hopes Dead Wringers will put some much needed colour and fun back into politics. “For seven years I lived directly underneath Screaming Lord Sutch of the Monster Raving Loony Party. Some of his spirit of mischievous wit must have trickled down through the ceiling.”

A more recent, and even less respectful, product is the Thatcher Nut Cracker

“The Iron Lady is back one last time to serve her country, crushing nuts between her steely thighs. Walnut, Macadamia, you name it – there’s no nut that’s a match for Maggie’s mighty pins!”

A dog’s dinner

31 July 2008

Another reminder spotted on the streets of Seattle, that the United States is the home of innovative products and services, and that nothing is too niche.

Dine with your Dog is an ‘additional’ service provided by the Three Dog Bakery.

Friday fun with Leonard Cohen

10 July 2008

Having read a recent Guardian newspaper Great Lyricists supplement on Leonard Cohen, I was reminded not only of the genius of his songs/poetry, but also his sense of humour. I know he is widely considered to be one of the most depressing singers of recent times, and his music is often unkindly referred to as ideal to commit suicide to.

However there is a lighter side to Cohen as illustrated by my one of my favourite lines at the very beginning of First We Take Manhattan, his hit single from the 1988 album I’m Your Man; “They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom, For trying to change the system from within”. And in “Tower of Song,” Cohen sings ironically that he was “born with the gift/ Of a golden voice”

It would be a mistake to pretend that it is all sweetness and light. A listen to Dress Rehearsal Rag on Songs Of Love And Hate from 1971 is not for the faint hearted.

But Cohen is also something of a romantic, as proved by my favourite line of all from Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye on the 1967 album Songs Of Leonard Cohen, “Your hair on the pillow like a sleepy golden storm”.

More cool librarians – Part 1

23 June 2008

My search for the coolest librarian continued during the annual SLA conference in Seattle.

My previous winner of this (grossly under-recognised) award Louise Guy from Cirque du Soleil was not at the conference this year, although I did bump into Chad Eng, drummer in the death metal band From the Wreckage, looking suitably cool with his shoulder length blond hair and goatee beard.

This year I didn’t come away with a clear winner, but instead a trio of cool librarians.

Mary Ellen Bates

The first, and most surprising discovery for me, was Mary Ellen Bates. She is a big name in the information profession with more than 25 years of experience in business research. She has written hundreds of articles and white papers, conducted hundreds of speaking engagements, and is an acknowledged expert on variousPatty Hearst aspects of online and Internet research. Instead of her usual topic relating to what’s new in internet research and tools, her much more ambitious title was, The Next Information Revolution, and our Role as Revolutionaries. She caught my attention with her second slide which flashed up for just an instant with this photo of Patty Hearst, best known for her attachment to an SLA organisation with truly revolutionary intentions.

Her presentation (which I will cover in a later blog) was primarily about our new clients and customers known as millennials or digital natives. And how we must re-educate ourselves to provide services they want in the way they want. These are customers who will be telling us what they want rather than vice versa at present. Her blunt but effective scenarios contained scenes of librarians explaining the limitations of their databases or catalogues only to be met with, ‘I see your lips moving, but I’m not listening’. Or even worse, a response consisting of one of the two favourite three letter responses of this new generation, OMG (Oh My God) – meaning I’m not impressed, and WTF (What The ‘Heck’) – meaning I really don’t care at all about what you are saying to me.

Mary Ellen BatesAs you can see by her photo Mary Ellen does not immediately strike one as of the revolutionary mould. In fact you could say she looks something close to the stereotype of the female librarian (although sans hair in a bun and wearing a pearl necklace). But with her casual (joking) references to giving up on her crack pipe, and other amusing but unexpected comments I didn’t have time to note, she effectively destroys that negative image of information professionals.

Needless to say, as a cutting edge librarian she has a blog (since 2006) called Librarian of Fortune (Mary Ellen Bates contributes white noise to the blogosphere) at

I can’t wait to hear her next presentation.

Facebook in Reality

6 May 2008

I still haven’t quite made my mind up about Facebook.

Our Facebook get together in March was a great success, but I’m still not sure how many serious applications the service has.

I have also stopped ‘friending’ everyone I come across and started removing ‘friends’ who I don’t actually know.

It would be better if there were categories such as family, friend, acquaintance, colleague (or is that just the librarian in me wanting to categorise everything)?

To give you a sense of how ridiculous some aspects of Facebook are, have produced a video called Facebook in Reality. It is currently running at 460,000 views and comes up first when you type Facebook into YouTube.


Lucy Kellaway: Puncturing egos and praising good service

12 February 2008

Lucy KellawayI have been a fan of Lucy Kellaway‘s columns in the Financial Times for many years. Her humour, usually at the expense of corporate gobbledygook and management fads, would often brighten up a dull day in the office.

I now get to hear her columns via the wonders of podcasting as I walk to work, which adds a personal element to her columns.

A recent target was Accenture’s group chief executive for management consulting in a column entitled “Accenture’s next champion of waffle words“. This gives a good indication of the content of the item, but I can’t resist including a short quote:

“The memo starts with some background to the announcement: “…wanting to give you continued visibility of our growth platform agenda…” it says. Visibility is the latest thing in business. Companies and executives all crave it but, until last week, I didn’t know that growth platform agendas were after it too. What is he saying here, I wonder? I think, though couldn’t swear to it, that he wants to tell his colleagues how the company plans to make more money.”

However it would be a mistake to assume all of her output consists of (well deserved) barbs aimed at self-important executives. A more recent article concentrated on (an admittedly rare) case of customer service that created a warm glow inside, rather than an icy chill, or getting hot under the collar. Unpolished exchanges put soul into shopping, concentrated on the rare experience in today’s consumerist world of having something repaired, in this case shoes. As Lucy points out:

“An immaculate, luxurious shop gives pleasure the first time, but after that diminishing returns set in. By contrast, having something mended has become an exciting novelty, a nostalgic return to how things ought to be.”

An Easter egg in Firefox

7 February 2008

Thanks to my Gadgets and Gizmos Pageflakes page by Jenny Zuko I have discovered that Firefox has a virtual Easter egg (Wikipedia definition for those who are curious). It was discovered by one of the geeks at

Just go into the address bar and type ‘about:mozilla’.

easter eggHere is an indication of what you will see, but unless your eyesight is a lot better than mine you will need to view the page.

Customer service with a sense of irony

8 January 2008

I recently joined the loyalty scheme run by my local plant nursery and was rather surprised to receive a letter with the following introduction:

“Greetings, Oh Most Highly Esteemed Green Card Applicant (letter composed by Wych Cross Hype Ltd a wholly dis-owned subsidiary).

We are delighted to announce that your application for a Wych Cross Green Card has been entirely successful and your expensive looking, gloss green card is enclosed with this letter. Please try not to lose it before you have at least tried it out!

As you know, your card is to be used for scraping ice off your windscreen, wedging that wobbly coffee table leg that’s been irritating you for years, flicking paper pellets at work colleagues and impressing gullible people at parties. You will also be aware that cutting your card into little pieces for security reasons is the recommended way to make your scissors very blunt very quickly. In between times you can also use your card to collect and redeem points (and we all know what points mean!) every time you shop at Wych Cross.

We wish you many hours of happy and rewarding activity with your new Wych Cross Green Card and anticipate your next visit to us with particular pleasure.

With Warmest Felicitations,
Ray Kennedy
Managing Director
It certainly appealed to my funny-bone in this age of over-egged marketing letters.

Rose Wych Cross logo

Egypt ‘to copyright antiquities’

27 December 2007

One thing I have learnt from my exposure to the subject of copyright since joining the British Library is to quote an expert, “it’s complicated”.

Which makes me wonder how the Eqyptians plan to implement this new international law.

According to the BBC news website, Egypt’s MPs are expected to pass a law requiring royalties be paid whenever copies are made of museum pieces or ancient monuments such as the pyramids.

Zahi Hawass, who chairs Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, told the BBC the law would apply in all countries.

sphinx with copyright logo  Pyramids and Sphinx Retroactively Copyrighted