The future of motorbikes is electric

23 October 2012

Kawasaki KR1-SI normally leave the coverage of all things patent related in the capable hands of my colleague Steve van Dulken and his Patent Search Blog.

However, Steve is not the keen biker I am (nor the owner of the best motorbike ever created). So he is unlikely to have come across this story in the latest issue of Bike Magazine.

It is about a patent for an electric motorbike from Honda in Japan. And I have to admit I struggled to read all 19 pages of the patent application. But my understanding of the innovation, is the use of smaller electric motors located near the rear axle. This avoids the need for a traditional chain to provide motive power from the engine to the rear wheel.

The point of this story is that you can use patents as a form of market research. It is unlikely Honda would go to the trouble of protecting this idea if they weren’t planning to launch an electric motorbike in the near future.

You can read more at the Espacenet website. US Patent: US8028785  (B2) ― 2011-10-04 ELECTRIC MOTORCYCLE or European Patent: EP2168858  (B1) ― 2012-06-06

Honda_electric_bike

Honda_electric_bike2


Soul Trader – Putting the heart back into your business

2 October 2012

Rasheed_OgunlaruRasheed Ogunlaru, life and business coach has been a Business & IP Centre partner since our earliest days. In addition to running the Your life, your business workshop once a month in the Centre and mentoring aspiring entrepreneurs with TieUK, he singlehandedly converted me to the benefits of life coaching.

I have to admit that perhaps due to a scientific background, or perhaps just plain old cynicism, I had always been wary of life coaching. I decided the only way to address this prejudice was to attend Rasheed’s workshop five years ago. After three hours I was entirely convinced by his eminently practical approach, to putting your heart and soul into your business.
So it is great to see his practical philosophy translated from workshop to published book in the form of Soul Trader published by Kogan Page. And having read it through this week,  I would put it at the top of my list of recommended reading for everyone starting (or growing) a business. I am still a big fan of Starting Your Own Business: The Good, The Bad and The Unexpected by David Lester, but Rasheed has addressed the key issue of what you really want to get from starting a business, and to make sure you end up running it, instead of it running you and your life.

Soul_Trader_coverHis introduction sums it up nicely:

Most people do not go into business solely to make money. They want to make a living, make an impact, make a contribution, make a statement, make something of real worth and value. They want to enjoy what they do, and make themselves happy and their families secure and proud. They want to make a break from the humdrum, and express their skill and abilities. But sooner or later many business owners fall into the same old trap, lose sight of what’s important and struggle with life balance.

The book consists of eight C’s made up of seven chapters and a ‘plus’ which focusses on insights to help anticipate and embrace Change.

  1. Clarity: Know your mission, talents and values.
  2. Customers: See life through customers’ eyes to win their custom and loyalty.
  3. Courage:  Unleash your inspiration / wisdom and adopt an athlete’s attitude.
  4. Co-operation: Punch over your weight; collaborate. Use / build your network.
  5. Conversations: Learn the art to connect, converse, create and convert leads.
  6. Creativity: Know when to work, rest and be at your best, (re)gain life balance.
  7. Compassion: Connect from the heart – be transformational not transactional.

Early on Rasheed gets the you to conduct a personal SWOT analysis. Which is an excellent way of discovering what you do well, and what you need to work on or get help with.

heart_and_chairThe book is peppered with examples from his hundreds of clients over the years, and covers a problem I have encountered many times, which he calls the ‘blindness of the visionary’. People become so (understandably) obsessed by their business idea or invention, they completely forget about their customers. This leads to a very expensive and risky approach to market research, where you bring your product or service to the market and then find out if anyone will buy it. Much better to find out as you develop your idea and tailor it to what you customers say they want.

Once again Rasheed gives a practical solution to this problem by showing how to map out your customers. He also explains how to develop a set of customer ‘scenarios’, to help understand the psychology of your customers. He doesn’t shy away from the realities of doing business in the real world as a soul trader. Without sufficient income (and avoiding the number one cause of failure – cash-flow) your business will not survive. Even social enterprises have to generate enough money to pay their staff and to invest in growth if they are to succeed. These are the hard questions that so many avoid tackling in their business plans:

  1. How much money to you need to live on, and to break even in business?
  2. How much money do you seek to make this year, next year and the year after in turnover – before costs and tax – and in your personal profit after cost and tax?
  3. On average how many sales or customer does that equate to per month and year?
  4. What specific action are needed to reach those goals, and what are the challenges?
  5. What evidence, research and assumptions are those figures based on?
  6. Looking again at those figures, what are a) realistic, b) optimistic and c) pessimistic sales figures for the next 12 months, and what would they mean to you and your business?
  7. What are your main products and services? How are they priced? What are all the costs involved? Which are the most lucrative? Which incur the most costs? Which involve the most hard work? Which are most dear to your heart and to your customers?

I have been talking to lots of makers recently such as jewellers, and many haven’t properly come to terms with the issue of wanting to make everything by hand themselves, but also selling enough items to make a living.

Rachel_ElnaughCourage is term one doesn’t  come across often in business books, but Rasheed rightly recognises that this is an essential ingredient in business, and gives practical tips on how you can develop it. I am constantly in awe of the people I meet who are at the beginning of a journey that would terrify me. The book contains an example from ex-Dragon and Business & IP Centre supporter Rachel Elnaugh. Rasheed asked one simple question during an advice session, and at a stroke gave her an insight which revolutionised her life. “I can honestly say that session with Rasheed was like walking through a doorway that has led me into a completely new and completely fulfilling life where success, money and love are all now flowering.”

Cooperation is an undervalued aspect of business, with many people I meet worrying about their competition before they have even started trading. The book talks about the importance of developing business partnerships through cooperation. And again Rasheed gives practical advice on how to grow and then utilize your support networks.

Conversations, which convert contacts into customers replace the ‘hard sell’ for soul traders. After all, no-one wants to be sold to, but everyone wants their opinion to be listened to. This chapter also includes how conversations work via social media channels and what precautions you need to take them online. There a lots of practical examples here, including how to deal with complaints by using, Acknowledge – Reflect back – Say what you can do.

Towards the end of the book Rasheed introduces his two-page business plan. As he says, ‘Business plans are written for two purposes and for two audiences: 1) for you to identify who and where you are, where you’re going and how you’ll get there; and 2) for investors or funders for the same purpose. If you’re seeking funding from others then you’ll need a longer, more detailed business plan…”

To sum up, I found Soul Trader to be clear and simple, friendly and supportive, passionate and soulful – just like Rasheed himself.


Calling all dyslexic entrepreneurs

12 July 2012

The Business & IP Centre is hosting a research placement for Sally Ann Clarke, an MA student from the University of Brighton. She is looking to find entrepreneurs and business people who are dyslexic. Below is her blog post about the project:

Sally Ann ClarkeMany thanks to the British Library for agreeing to host my research project.

First of all, something about me. I started my career as a qualified librarian in Manchester Public Libraries, and since then I have had a variety of roles including managing an independent bookshop. This gave me retail and business experience but also an interest in business information. I decided to return to the library profession and I am now studying for an MA in Information Studies at the University of Brighton.

For my dissertation I am researching dyslexic entrepreneurs and business information. My choice of research topic came from bringing various ideas together. I read the Cass Business School’s research by Dr Logan that entrepreneurs have a significantly higher incidence of dyslexia than in corporate management and the general population. I also visited the Business and IP Centre and noticed that many of their services are aimed at entrepreneurs. I then wondered if dyslexic entrepreneurs had specific business information needs.

I also have an insight into some of the issues dyslexic entrepreneurs have, as I am dyslexic myself. I understand that many people do not realize they are dyslexic although they may have an inkling that they are ‘different’. I didn’t find out myself until I studied for a part-time University Certificate in Creative Writing eight years ago. I am now aware of the difficulties I have, and have learnt some strategies to try and overcome them, but now I am becoming aware of some of the ‘advantages’ such as good verbal communication, lateral thinking and creativity. These ‘advantages’ are perhaps why someone with dyslexia becomes an entrepreneur in the first place.

Richard_Branson

And there are many examples of successful dyslexic entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson, Kelly Hoppen,  Duncan Bannatyne from Dragon’s Den and Tom Pellereau, winner of last year’s The Apprentice.

However, I need your help! If you are dyslexic and have used the Business and IP Centre, if you think you may be dyslexic or if you know a dyslexic entrepreneur please do get in touch. I would love to hear from you. My email is SallyAnne.Clarke@bl.uk


The ingenious Tapsell gates of Sussex

31 May 2012
Tapsel_gate_at_St_Andrew's_church,_Jevington

Image from Wikipedia

On one of my regular wanderings up on the South Downs, I recently chanced across an intriguing type of churchyard gate.

For my undulating perambulations I often carry a day-pack filled with waterproofs, extra layers and ‘emergency rations’ (in my youth I was a Boy Scout, so ‘Be Prepared’ is my motto). So conventional gates are an unsatisfactory ergonomic experience.

The most common obstacle is the stile, which often involves an unsteady climb and descent on frequently wobbly and slippery planks of wood. Kissing gates appear more straight-forward, but the hinges are often rusty, and half the time your rucksack gets snagged as you squeeze through the narrow gap. Then there is the traditional five-bar gate, which if new, requires Herculean strength to prise the spring-lever open, or once old, has collapsed on its hinges and has to be lifted out of the mud and dragged open and closed again.

As you can see from the photo above the Tapsell gate is a much more ingenious device, as it balances on a central spindle. The gate opens with the slightest of touches, and can be pushed right round so it comes to rest on the fixed stops of the gate posts in a closed position. In effect you only ever have to open the gate, and you never have to wait for someone coming the other way as they can pass by on the other side simultaneously.

According to the little leaflet I picked up in Jevington church written by Rosalind Hodge, the Tapsell gates even allow coffin bearers to comfortably pass on either side without breaking step. Apparently, the bearers could even rest the coffin on the gate if they needed to pause before entering the churchyard.

Sadly, very little seems to be known about who invented this style of gate or when. The most likely source seems to have been a branch of the Tapsell families of Sussex, some of whom were carpenters.

For me, the most intriguing thing of all about these gates is just how few there are. Currently only six examples survive, but it seems not that many were made even at their peak.

This brings me neatly back to a regular discussion I have with inventors. So often they assume that their great idea must be entirely new because they haven’t come across it before in the shops. I explain that of the seventy million or so patents registered in the UK, only a tiny minority ever actually became commercially successful.

The sad truth about inventing (or any innovation come to that) is having a good idea is not nearly enough. I fact I would say it is the easy bit. The hard part is proving the commercial viability of the idea (usually to understandably cynical investors), and then find a way to market it successfully.

Too many follow the path of Ray Kinsella the character played by Kevin Costner in the film Field of Dreams, “If you build it, he will come”. And this proves to be very much the exception rather than the rule.


Mad Jack Fuller of Brightling and his Follies

17 May 2012

Jack_Fuller_pyramidOn a recent walk in the Sussex country-side I was rather surprised to come across a 25 foot high pyramid in the corner of a traditional village church graveyard.

Wandering around the area near the village revealed a range of further follies ranging from a fake castle tower to a false church spire.

Jack_FullerIt turns out they were all the creation of John Fuller the squire of Brightling village, better known as ‘Mad Jack Fuller‘.

Fuller’s pyramid mausoleum was built in 1811, twenty-three years before his death, and local legend had it that Fuller was entombed in the pyramid in full dress and top hat seated at a table set with a roast chicken and a bottle of wine. This was discovered to be untrue during renovations in 1982. My theory is that Fuller might have read about the mythological preservative powers of pyramids.

Mad Jack inherited the family fortune in 1777, at the tender age of 20. Their wealth had been built on the manufacture of iron goods, such as cannons, as well as a substantial income from sugar plantations in Jamaica.

The family was heavily involved in politics, both nationally and locally, and  John served several terms as Member of Parliament during his life.

He seems to have fostered an image of eccentricity, and never married, but enjoyed supporting good causes, including funding the first lifeboat at Eastbourne, and helping the building of the Belle Tout Lighthouse on the cliffs near Beachy Head.

Fullers Follies:

Brightling Needle, an obelisk over 65 feet (20m) high was built on the second highest point in East Sussex and was erected around 1810

The Sugar Loaf, which is sometimes known as Fuller’s Point, is in a meadow and stands 35 feet (10.7m. The name comes from the conical shaped loaf that sugar was sold in at that time. It was apparently built to win a bet that Mad Jack made whilst in London. He claimed he could see Dallington Church (a nearby village) from his house in Brightling. When he returned he discovered that he couldn’t as a hill blocked his view, so the Sugar Loaf was hastily erected to win the bet.

The Tower or Watch Tower built by Fuller in the middle of a field, stands 35 feet (10.6m) high and 12 feet (3.7m) in diameter.

The Temple or Rotunda was built in the grounds of Brightling Park perhaps to add a classical element to the gardens.

The Observatory, now a private residence was completed in 1810. It was equipped with all the equipment of the time including a Camera Obscura.

More information and photos of Fullers Follies.


Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do by Euan Semple

16 May 2012

euan-sempleYesterday evening the British Library hosted a book launch for Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do: A Manager’s Guide to the Social Web by Euan Semple.

Instead of a speech, Euan was interviewed by Richard Sambrook a friend and college from their days together at the BBC.

Here are my notes from the evening followed by my selections from Euan’s book:

  • The development of the internet and social media present a unique opportunity for social change – Euan considers this a phase change in society.
  • Euan wanted to be part of that change for his children’s sake.
  • He felt that when he was at the BBC, the World Service was a role model for the rest of the organisation. There people rubbed along together from all departments and levels sharing information. Other parts of the BBC were much more hierarchical and stuck in their silos.
  • A lot of the use of early collaboration technologies were simple tools to help people find out answers to simple questions, such as ‘does anyone know a fixer in Poland’, or ‘how do you claim for petrol expenses’.
  • On a wider level introducing these collaborative tools helped to create a shared understanding of corporate issues.
  • Euan recognises that the control issues for social media for many organisations such as law firms are non-trivial, but he believes they will get there eventually.
  • Finding your own ‘authentic voice’ through blogging is so much more valuable than writing endless management reports written in “management bollocks”, to a set formula,  which no one actually reads.
  • Euan describes his idealised vision of future corporations as ephemeral meritocracies.
  • He wonders if it is unreasonable to expect people to be able to, or want to have their own voice. And thinks that education and corporate structures have led to many thinking they don’t. But he believes that ultimately everyone wants to have a say in their lives.
  • The barriers to social media are not about age, but about open versus closed approaches to the world.
  • He believes the internet and social media is the next big story after 18th century religion, early 20th century fascism and communism, and late 20th century capitalism.

The tweets from the event have been Storified here.

A more detailed summary from the Strange Attractor blog by Suw Charman-Anderson.

Book coverReview of Organisations Don’t Tweet, People Do

The book comes in 45 Bite sized chapters, each with introductions and summaries. And in fact each chapter can be purchased individually in electronic format. Euan’s idea is to make it as easy as possible to spread the message to those who remain unconvinced by the benefits of social media.

An essential read for anyone with a connection to social media in the workplace (which means everyone), it is very wide ranging, quite philosophical at times, and always passionately personal.

Euan makes a strong case for the democratising benefits of adopting  social media and collaborative tools.

However, my experience of both successes and failures to introduce these technologies in various workplaces, makes me think that Euan is somewhat naïvely optimistic (an accusation he is aware of, and attempts to address several times in the book).

He ended the engaging question and answer session by saying he thinks it will take up to fifty years for the change to fully occur, and this strikes me as more realistic.

Here are my highlights from reading the book:

What is the book for? It is not a “how to” book nor, I hope, is it cyber-utopian vision of the future….I prefer to think of it as a collection of ideas that… can make the web more understandable and useful in the world of work.

Growing up onlineWe will only be able to take full advantage of the networked world if we grow up, think for ourselves, and take responsibility for our lives and our actions. I am not naïve. I know that, at least to begin with, truly thinking for yourself and saying what you think with any degree of authenticity is a big ask. It may never happen for many people. There may just be too much at stake and too much to take into account for a politician or someone in a corporate setting to really be authentic.

Don’t let the techies ruin the party…keep things out of the hands of technologists as much as possible. Some of them aren’t so bad, and some of them are re-inventing themselves…if there is a single biggest block to making social media happen encountered by my clients in large organizations it is with their IT department.

Ten steps to success with technology:

  1. Have a variety of tools rather than a single system.
  2. Don’t have a clear idea where you are headed.
  3. Follow the energy.
  4. Be strategically tactical.
  5. Keep moving, stay in touch, and head for the high ground.
  6. Build networks of people who care.
  7. Be obsessively interested.
  8. Use the tools to manage the tools. E.G. Blog about blogging in your organisation.
  9. Laugh when things go wrong.
  10. Unleash the Trojan Mice. Don’t do big things or spend loads of money. Set small, nimble things running and see where they head.

Anarchy versus controlSomeone once called me “an organizational anarchist” and I have to admit I was quite chuffed at the description and took it as a compliment…. What I am talking about here is not complete free reign for individuals … I am more interested in the possibility  of all of us taking full responsibility for ourselves and those around us – the ultimate in democracy.

How about moving democracy inside the firewall instead of outside it?

Bosses who don’t get itIf you can’t get support from your boss, see if you can get support from their peers. Find senior people who get what you are trying to do and enlist their support … Keep talking to them in their language about what you are doing and why – even if they occasionally glaze over!

Collaboration and trustThere is a lot of “collaboration software” out there that is really just the same stuff that failed to deliver data management, information management, knowledge management  and is now failing to deliver collaboration. In fact a lot of the tools labelled as collaboration tools actually work against effective collaboration.

Blurring work boundariesThe blurring of the inside and outside raises issues both for us as individuals and organizations we work for. For us it means that we have to take more responsibility for whatever lines we draw between work and non-work.

PR and marketing under threatI believe that marketing and PR are professions at real risk of disintermediation by the web. We will need people to do our marketing for us less and less as we use the tools in everyday work and start to have more effective conversations between ourselves and our customers.
Help your staff to become your best advocates. Give them the tools and the insights to become your ambassadors online.

The Return on Investment of social media – … I am becoming more robust about the ROI question and turning it back on those who ask it. What is the ROI of the way we do things now? … Where is the competitive advantage in preventing staff from using these tools to build and maintain the networks that develop their knowledge and their ability to get things done. Where is the competitive advantage in allowing your competitors to embrace these changes before you do and potentially re-inventing the industry you are so rigidly clinging to?

Online indiscretionsMuch has been made about recruitment teams searching Facebook and LinkedIn to find prospective candidates and the damage supposedly done by online indiscretions. In some ways this is an anachronistic attitude coming from people who don’t themselves engage online. People are becoming much more robust and open in their online lives. Besides, what is so awful about these supposed indiscretions? Rather than worrying about photos of potential recruits drunk at parties, I would be more worried about people who appeared to have something to hide. In fact I would be less likely to employ someone who hadn’t been indiscreet as a student!

Deal with management fearsOnline …You can’t hide behind your status or your pomposity. In fact being remote and pompous will severely inhibit your attempts at effective communication on the web.

So the answer is to help those who are disapproving or pompous in reaction to what is happening on the web. Don’t dismiss their reactions or sneer at them but make it easier for them to relax and say what they think. Show them the ropes and hold their hands rather than ridicule them as they discover  for themselves the fast changing world they have felt excluded from.

Develop guidelines-not rules, collaborativelyDon’t start with rules. Learn to use your tools, and see how people make them work before you cast too much in stone.

Use Trojan miceSet up small, unobtrusive, inexpensive, and autonomous tools and practices, set them running, and cajole and nudge them until they begin to work out where to go and why.

Don’t feed the TrollsThe best way to deal with trolls is to befriend them. Even the worst of them are human.

If your critics have shown the energy to engage, and can then be turned around to be supportive of you, then this sends a very strong signal to other dissenters.

Radical transparencyIn fact online I recommend that people assume that if you have written something on a computer then someone else will at some time be able to see it.

Does this mean you can’t write about anything? No, but it does mean you have to think harder bout what you are writing, where, and why.

Blogging as therapyBy writing about the workplace you become more thoughtful about your place in it and what it does for you.

My favourite quote in the book comes from Vint Cerf, one of the ‘fathers of the internet’. When asked by a journalist if the internet was a good or a bad thing, he replied, “It is just a thing. Whether good or bad depends on what you are doing with it.”

Euan ends the book with his final blog post at BBC after 21, years about the importance of love at work.


Fixies re-inventing the bicycle

10 May 2012

I never cease to be amazed at the products and services being re-invented for the modern market. I’ve already mentioned the bare-foot running movement and it’s breathtakingly expensive equipment.

Adam rides a Tokyobike Classic © Horst Friedrichs

Image © Horst Friedrichs

However, since my bicycle was recently stolen (UK bike crime figures), I have been on the lookout for a replacement, and intrigued to discover the fixie bike phenomenon. I have to admit I was half-aware of a different and simpler kind of bicycle from my lunch-time wanderings around the Kings Cross area, particularly in the vicinity of the University of the Arts, inhabited by trend-setting students.

My eye was drawn to the almost Nietzschean purity and strong colours. One bike was all-white, even including the drive chain, another was mat black and gold with painted tyres. A recent article in the Evening Standard about Horst Friedrichs‘ new book London’s most stylish cyclists, seemed to only show examples of fixie bikes.

The point is that once you remove the complex Derailleur gears and forget about heavy suspension, bike designers can let the minimalism of the two wheels and frame come to the fore. The fact that these bikes tend to be hundreds of pounds cheaper than their more sophisticated siblings is another attraction.

However, there is just one fly in the ointment, and that is the hilly nature of the geography around my local area. Bicycles developed gears for a reason, and that was to get their riders up hills without having to get off and push every time the slope got steep.

I’ve been assured that in London they work just fine, but I certainly haven’t seen any up on the South Downs on my walks.

Then there is the question of true fixed wheel fixie, or the softy version with a free wheel bearing. I have to say the thought of being thrown over the handlebars because I forgot to keep pedalling when going downhill, does worry me somewhat.

So I have a dilemma, choose a beautiful two wheeled retro bike that harks back to the early days of cycling – and suffer, or go modern for an easy ride.


Early Doors Disco at Drink, Shop and Dance

7 May 2012

DrinkShopandDance_logoI’ve already blogged about Drink Shop & Do – a new kind of consumer experience back in October 2010, and am glad to report they are going from strength to strength.

They have now taken over a former sex shop in the basement and created Drink Shop & Dance.

In something of a bizarre coincidence, it turns out that the husband of a former close colleague of mine from my previous job has a regular slot at DS&D. Andy and Luke have created Early Doors Disco as an alternative to the late night party scene in London. I think they describe what they do better than I could.

Because we know you want to dance…but you also have to work the next day

EarlyDoorsDisco_logoEarly Doors Disco was spawned in the winter months of 2011. We were confused as to why there was no mid-week, early starting indie disco going on for those who wanted to have a few drinks, get their dance on and still be able to get the last train home. So, we got together a few friends, some of our favourite tunes and decided to get our clubnight on, with the help of the lovely folks at Drink, Shop & Dance in Kings Cross.

In terms of music, the hard and fast rule is that everything played after 7.30pm needs to be dance-able, so that you can drop in at any time and dance…for as long or as briefly as you like. Other than that we operate a fairly open music preference, which is really determined by the DJ on the night. Mixing up a bit of indie, pop, electro, soul, funk, rock, 90s hip hop and punk, with a slew of other genres thrown in depending on the feel of the night.

We’re not a fan of rules, but we’ve jotted down a few ‘guides’ for the EDD way of thinking:

  • We want people to dance and have fun. Bad attitudes not welcome!
  • We don’t play self-indulgent tunes… well, not many of them we hope
  • We aren’t a glorified wedding party, or school disco…

I went along last Wednesday and the place was buzzing, even before the official start-time. The point of the story however, is that with just two performances under their belt the story went viral in the mainstream press, including Time Out, Who’s Jack, Londonist, Google London and  The Observer, as well as on a couple of BBC news programs.

This all goes to show that if your new product or service hits the Zeitgeist, then you don’t have to spend money on advertising or promotion, the media will come to you.

Andy and Luke hard at rest - image from Laura Tosney

Andy and Luke hard at rest – image from Laura Tosney


The law of unintended consequences and e-books – Fifty Shades of Grey

18 April 2012

50_shades_of_greyThe law of unintended consequences is an interesting topic in its own right, with perhaps the most well known example being the unexpected use of text messaging on mobile telephones.

The latest example according to David Sexton in the Evening Standard is the way e-book readers have allowed more women to read adult fiction. Apparently the lack of a racy cover and give-away title when reading a discretely packaged Amazon Kindle or Apple iPad, allows more and more women to indulge their tastes in public. No longer do they need to fear the snorts of derision or disapproving looks as they plough their way through the latest Bodice ripper.

Apparently the growth in e-books (one in eight of adult fiction books is now purchased digitally) has allowed for a rapid growth in what some call ‘Mommy porn‘, or literotica.

The UK market leader in this genre is E L James and her début adult romance novel Fifty Shades of Grey. According to her official website;

E_L_JamesE L James is a TV executive, wife and mother-of-two based in West London. Since early childhood she dreamed of writing stories that readers would fall in love with, but put those dreams on hold to focus on her family and her career. She finally plucked up the courage to put pen to paper with her first novel, Fifty Shades of Grey.

It is claimed 250,000 copies have already been sold in different formats, and has topped the New York Times Bestseller list.

So, the next time you see a fellow commuter looking a bit hot and bothered, it may not be due to the faulty heating system on the train, but caused by something hot and steamy in her e-book reader.


The Deeley Bopper rises again for Sport Relief 2012

22 March 2012

Deeley BopperThis evening I stumbled across a Deeley Bopper in a Sainsbury’s supermarket on my way home from work. In its current incarnation it is being used to raise money for Sport Relief 2012.

The Deeley Bopper or Deeley Bobber is one of my all time favourite ‘inventions’. I’ve used quotes because this multi-million selling innovation from the creative mind of Stephen Askin in 1981, is not actually registered as either a patent or even a trade mark.

Although I am definitely not a fan of the object itself, and you are unlikely to catch me wearing one out in the street (or in the house come to that), I use it as a great example in my business innovation work.

One of the strict rules we apply when we meet clients for our confidential Information Advice Clinics, is never to give an opinion on their business idea or invention. And the main reason for this, is however many years one might have in business, it is impossible to tell what will be successful – and vice versa.

The Deeley Bopper provides the perfect illustration. I just ask my colleagues to imagine how they would have reacted if Stephen Askin had come in for an advice session, and asked for their opinion on his latest business wheeze. I can imagine my response would have been something along the lines of; “You have to be joking. No one will buy those”.

And yet they sold in their millions in the 1980’s and appear almost as popular in their revised ‘Red Nose’ guise today. So, however stupid an idea might appear, it can still make a fortune for its creator.


British Standard for a cup of tea – BS 6008 (revisited)

14 December 2011

morning_tea_4_1165221_porah

Today we had a visit from British Standards Institution demonstrating their British Standards Online service (BSOL), to which we have full access in the British Library.

It reminded me of one of my earliest posts on this blog, way back in 2007, British Standard for a cup of tea – BS 6008. Surprisingly this has become my third most popular topic of all time (after the Bic Crystal ballpoint pen and the not so simple paper clip)

Perhaps not so surprising when you know (according to the United Kingdom Tea Council), tea is the most popular drink consumed in Britain, with over 165,000,000 cups being (image by porah) drunk in the UK every single day of the year.

Drinking tea the right way has it’s own popular website and book with A nice cup of tea and a sit down.

Sadly the vexed topic of when to put in the milk has the nation (and families) divided, despite the British Standard suggestion of putting it in last (for tea brewed ‘properly’ in a pot);

7.2.2 Preparation with milk
Pour milk free from any off-flavour (for example raw milk or unboiled pasteurized milk) into the bowl (5.2), using approximately 5 ml for the large bowl and 2,5 ml for the small bowl described in the Annex.

Prepare the liquor as described in 7.2.1 but pour it into the bowl after the milk, in order to avoid scalding the milk, unless this procedure is contrary to the normal practice in the organization concerned.

If the milk is added afterwards, experience has shown that the best results are obtained when the temperature of the liquor is in the range 65 to 80 °C when the milk is added. While addition of milk is not essential, it sometimes helps to accentuate differences in flavour and colour.

Many, including that great British writer George Orwell, who wrote a detailed eleven point set of tea making instructions, insist on putting the milk in second;

Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.

Needless to say, the Tea Council have their own ideas;

  • Use a good quality loose leaf or bagged tea
  • This must be stored in an air-tight container at room temperature
  • Always use freshly drawn boiling water
  • In order to draw the best flavour out of the tea the water must contain oxygen, this is reduced if the water is boiled more than once.
  • Measure the tea carefully
  • Use 1 tea bag or 1 rounded teaspoon of loose tea for each cup to be served
  • Allow the tea to brew for the recommended time before pouring
  • Brewing tea from a bag in a mug? Milk in last is best

And of course Wikipedia have a wealth of information on the topic of tea preparation.

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The only ‘proper’ way to make a cuppa – image by rubenshito


Trends in the computer games industry

15 September 2011

WiiAs part of the Library’s work to engage with the creative industries, my colleague Fran Taylor has been finding out some of the key facts and figures about the UK games sector.  We’d like to encourage games makers to use our collections for inspiration and contextual research and to use the Business & IP Centre to commercialise their ideas. Fran used the Business & IP Centre’s resources to gather it all together, including reports from Euromonitor, Datamonitor and online NESTA reports.

1.    In 2009, the global video gaming market was estimated to be worth approximately $72.2bn. It is expected to grow by 5.1% during the period 2009–14, to reach $92.5bn in 2014. Software revenues are worth 69.4% of total revenues.

2.    The UK video games industry was worth £2.8bn in 2010, which is bigger than its music or film industries.

3.    In the UK, the most popular brands are the Xbox, Sony PlayStation, Kinect and Call of Duty.

4.    Almost one third of all people older than 16 in the UK describe themselves as ‘gamers’ (with an equal breakdown between men and women).  The percentage goes up to 74% for people between the ages of 16 and 19.

5.    One in every two UK houses owns a video games console.

6.    The profile of the industry is changing, with a new breed of games developers working as sole-traders, freelancers and in small companies. Growth is expected at the lower end of the price range, i.e. online and mobile games.

7.    The online gaming segment is rapidly gaining traction and is gradually overtaking the PC and console gaming segments. Business Insights forecasts that online gaming revenues will increase from $13.2bn in 2009 to $25.3bn in 2014.

8.    The global PC gaming market was estimated at a value of $4.5bn in 2009, and is likely to erode to $4.3bn by 2014, posting a decline in of 0.9% CAGR during the period.

9.    Mobile games are the fastest growing segment of the video gaming market, with a forecast CAGR of 14.4% during the period 2009–14. Increasing mobile and 3G and 4G penetration are the key market drivers.

10.    Emerging technologies that are in a much more advanced stage of development include thought-based games, motion sensors, connected TV and HTML5.

 


An evening in the charming company of Amanda F***ing Palmer and her ukulele

9 September 2011

I actually wrote this blog post late on Monday night, but thanks to the unpredictable nature of web editing, the whole thing disappeared in mid-edit. Whilst mustering the energy to start again from scratch, who should pop-up on my iPod but the Dresden Dolls. Considering I have over 5,000 songs, it is set to random, I took this as a sign to finish what I had started.

As I have mentioned before, the British Library is a wonderfully eclectic place, and the events we hold reflect this.

This Monday saw a performance from Amanda F***ing Palmer to a full house of her loyal and adoring fans in the intimate setting of British Library conference centre. With the exception of a couple of songs played on an electronic piano, AFP accompanied herself with a ukulele and mandolin.

 She was also joined on stage for a couple of songs by new husband Neil Gaiman, who just happens to be an award winning science fiction writer, who surprisingly hails from my home town of East Grinstead. Neil also gave a talk earlier in the day as part of our excellent Out of this World science fiction exhibition (which closes on 25 September).

I have to admit to not being aware of what I now understand is the cult of AFP, before Monday, so like any good librarian did a bit of desk research. I discovered she has performed as a solo performer, the driving voice of The Dresden Dolls, the Emcee in Cabaret, and as half of the conjoined-twin folk duo Evelyn Evelyn. And that her approach to clothes seems to be ‘less is more’. So I was somewhat surprised by her initial rather prim and proper outfit (below).

All rights reserved by Hannah Daisy

However, it did not take long for her to revert to her more ‘traditional’ attire of basque and suspenders (below with Neil Gaiman).

(Many thanks to Hannah Daisy for allowing me to use her wonderful photos of the evening.)

All rights reserved by Hannah Daisy

Although Amanda’s cabaret style of music is not normally my cup of tea, I was really impressed by her intelligent lyrics, humour and emotional depth.

The only slight niggle from the evening’s entertainment was the swearing. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not easily offended by rude words, and of course AFP’s stage name gives something of a clue to what might be expected at her shows. But I am now rather bored by the number of visitors to the British Library who seem to think that swearing in such an august institution is terribly naughty, and so irresistibly cool.

My first encounter with the  f word at the library was back in 1997, courtesy of James Brown founder of Loaded Magazine, and perhaps not so surprising given his role as father of the ‘Lads mag’. You can still see him in action on our YouTube channel.

Not long after came Richard Reed of Innocent Smoothies fame,
and Sam Roddick founder of ‘erotic emporium’ Coco De Mer, and daughter of the Body Shop legend Dame Anita Roddick.

Perhaps both could be excused because this was how they expressed their great passion for their business activities.

However, the same cannot be said of comedy veteran Arthur Smith, who during his set at What’s So Funny @ British Library last January, lead a rousing chorus of “I am the Mayor of Balham / oh yes I f***ing am / I am the Mayor of Balham / I f***ing f***ing am”

I could see he was positively revelling in his ‘rebellious’ swearing.

So, I’m afraid on Monday I refused to sing along when Amanda asked us to yell “f*** it”, in response to prompting during her performance of Map of Tasmania. Although, from the sound of it, I was probably the only one not joining in.

The evening wasn’t all swearing however, and including a surprisingly warm mention of my local (and rather dull) town of Crawley, for being the home-town of Robert Smith founder of 80’s pop band The Cure.

She has also covered Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in concert with her father, which is a good sign of musical taste in my opinion.

Needless to say, in our age of social media connections, you can follow both Amanda and Neil on their twitter feeds with half a million, and one and a half million followers respectively.

I can’t wait to see what surprises the library will throw up next.


How to revive a brand

5 September 2011

On the way home from a recent road trip to Scotland, I made a ‘pit-stop’ at a McDonalds restaurant near Birmingham.

I’m not a regular customer at the ‘golden arches’, so was very surprised to discover a waterless urinal
with a sticker on it saying it saved 100,000 litres of water a year.

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Copyright Sorven Media ltd

This is all part of McDonalds’ efforts to combat the negative press that has built up over the years. In particular the reaction to ‘McLibel’ case and reaction to the 1994 documentary film Super Size Me by Morgan Spurlock.

McDonalds have created a website to allow you to Make up your own mind, which currently contains 24,000 questions and answers:

Your Questions
A dedicated Make Up Your Own Mind team from across McDonald’s is working hard to answer your questions. You can ask whatever you want, and we aim to answer even the toughest question within two weeks in an honest and straight-talking fashion. The ‘Questions & Answers’ can be searched either by keyword or by sub-sections – this should help you find the information you’re looking for.

The website also includes reports from their Quality Scouts.

What is a Quality Scout?
Quality Scouts are members of the general public from around the UK who are curious about McDonald’s business. They are not paid, and have no ties to the company. All they do is take an honest, behind the scenes look at McDonald’s and report back. And they’ll tell you exactly what they hear and see.

I have to say I am impressed by their efforts, but wonder what it will take to change public opinion.

Two examples spring to mind:

Fiat cars of the 1970’s, which became notorious for their rust problems.

In response they built the Tipo in the 1980’s (a car I owned), and gave it a fully galvanised body, giving it better rust protection than almost any other car on the market. However, it took many years for their ‘rust bucket’ reputation to disappear.

A more recent (if fictitious) example is from The Archers radio show where an outbreak of E. coli,  has resulted in regular customers deserting Ambridge Organics, despite having been given the all clear several weeks ago.


A Land Rover for all seasons

24 August 2011

The actual Defender that took us through the Serengeti

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am interested in niche products and markets. Previous examples include A cake slice with a musical difference and Luxury foods in terribly bad taste.

Driving to my parents house the other day, I notice an unusual garage by the side of the road in shape of a thatched house (The Thatched Garage). Even more surprising was the extent of the niche of their shiny objects filling the forecourt. Not just off road vehicles, or even just Land Rovers… they only sell the Defender model of Land Rover.

However, they have been doing very well thank you occupying this tiny niche for over twenty years.

Having recently spent two weeks on safari in Tanzania, I have new found admiration for the sturdiness and off-road capability of this particular product of the Land Rover factory. After hours of pummeling on corrugated and rocky roads, I fully expected the vehicle to start shaking itself to pieces. But our driver had spent ten years driving the same car, and explained that all it needed was a thorough service after each adventure to be as good as new.


Pole-pole to the roof of Africa

21 July 2011

Kilimnanjaro 2011 - Uhuru PeakHaving tried all kinds of different training methods in preparation for my Kilimanjaro Climb, (Will falling forward get me to the top of Kilimanjaro?), the one technique I had not thought about, turned out to be the most important.

To get to the top of the highest free-standing mountain in the world you need to go really slowly, or ‘pole-pole’, to use the Swahili term.

Making forward progress at 19,341 feet or 5,895 metres above sea level, where the oxygen levels are fifty percent less than normal, requires minimum physical effort.

Our very conscientious mountain guide was always keeping an eye on our speed, our ability to cope with the conditions, and for onset of the feared acute mountain sickness or AMS.

Walking the fifty mile climb, at times as slowly as one mile an hour, gave plenty of thinking time. And my thoughts turned to the Aesop’s Fable of the Hare and the Tortoise. In the case of climbing Kilimanjaro, it is not that the tortoise arrives first, it more about arriving at all. According to one company, the success rate for those on the quick three days up climb is less than fifty percent.

In fact our five days of training to plod slowly up the mountain were so successful that one of our our party made it to the summit on automatic pilot, despite suffering from altitude hallucinations. She had to be shown a photo to prove she had actually been there, in body, if not in mind.

Knowing that generous supporters had already donated to my JustGiving page gave me the extra motivation to keep going when I felt like giving up. The page is going be up for a few more weeks if you want to make a contribution.

My reward for getting to the top was a nine day safari in northern Tanzania where I saw some wonderful sights.

Tanzania_2011_leapard

Tanzania_2011_lion

Tanzania_2011_hippo

Tanzania_2011_sunset

More photos on Flick.com and videos on YouTube.com.


Will falling forward get me to the top of Kilimanjaro?

22 June 2011

KilimanjaroWith just a few days to go before my big trip (hopefully) to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, I have been told about a revolutionary new way of walking.

Apparently all I have to do is ‘fall forward’. and I will be at the top without even realising it. This ‘new’ technique is called Chi Walking (with a Chi Running offshoot).

What I find interesting about this idea, is how even the most basic of human activities can be re-invented and turned into  a commercial product or service.

As one of the videos explains, when we are children we run by leaning forward, but by the time we are adults we have unlearned the natural way to move.

loiclemeur.com-how-do-you-like-my-new-five-fingers-shoesSo you can now buy a range of books, ‘five-finger’ shoes, or join classes to re-learn from the experts how to walk or run properly.

I am aware than many runners do get injuries from their activities, especially road running, but my scepticism is still high on whether this whole thing is some kind of Snake oil charm. Try watching this video of Master Stephen Hwa’s Tai Chi Walk Lesson, and see what you think.

However, I am prepared to try pretty much anything reasonable that might aid my path to top of the highest mountain in Africa, so will try it for a while.

Although my climb was not planned to raise money for charity (more to prove I’m not quite over the hill yet), quite a few people have asked if they can sponsor me. justgiving_logo_detailSo I have created a JustGiving page with a choice of charities to donate to if you would like to contribute.

What is Chi?
http://www.chiwalking.com/what-is-chiwalking/what-is-chi/

Master George Xu, our T’ai Chi teacher, asks us to focus on our dantien, our center and to allow all movement to  come from that place. The energy moves from the center into the body and into the  limbs to create movement. Why? Because Chi is stronger than muscles, and movement that comes from Chi is more deeply powerful.

More powerful than muscles? In the West, muscles are almost akin to a god the way we worship them and what they represent. Covers of magazines and TV commercials extol rock hard abs and buns of steel. What is stronger than rock and steel?

In T’ai Chi we quickly learn that muscles are no match for the power of Chi. Like the flow of water that created the Grand Canyon the power of Chi takes you much further and faster than vulnerable muscles whose duration is very short lived.

Your dantien is the best home for your Chi and the best place for you to focus your energy so that you can come from a balanced, whole place in yourself. Your dantien is just below your navel and a few inches in toward your spine. In Chi Running, Chi Walking and Chi Living we encourage all movement, all action, all choices to come from this center, that deep place in yourself that is home to your greatest potential and power.


Hello Kitty – Goodbye Cathy

16 June 2011

HelloKitty-vs-CathyI have to admit that children’s characters are not something I have spent much of my time thinking about since my kids left primary school some years ago. Despite this, the distinctive Hello Kitty brand has successfully impinged itself on my consciousness.

Such strong and simple designs obviously have a wide appeal. However, the lesson is that you need to ensure that yours are truly unique to avoid potentially damaging copyright wrangles.

A recent story from the Evening Standard about Cathy from the Hello Kitty range illustrates this problem (Hello Kitty waves goodbye to friend Cathy).

There have been months of legal bickering between the Dutch firm Mercis who own Miffy, the well known Dutch character created by Dick Bruna, and Sanrio, the Japanese owners of the Hello Kitty brand.

In the resulting settlement Sanrio promised to drop the character Cathy. And both will donate £135,000 to the victims of the earthquake in Japan, rather than spend more money on legal fees.


A cake slice with a musical difference

13 June 2011

cake server musicWhilst shopping for a new corkscrew today, I stumbled across another fine example of a niche within a niche, (Luxury foods in terribly bad taste).

This time the niche in question is cake slicers (also known as cake servers).  And I am rather ashamed to admit that the source of, what is in my opinion, a rather naff  product is my homeland the United Kingdom.

As you can see from the photo of the bright pink packaging on the left, the manufacturers are well aware of the rather tacky nature of their product. In fact the Kitsch’n’fun range from Kitchen Craft is deliberately aimed at the fun end of the market.

Kitsch’n’fun is a novelty range of items taking on a life of its own. Having quickly developed with some of the most talked about and fastest selling items available. Ideal accessories or pocket money gifts, the selection continues to grow and appeal to the youngster in all of us!

However, the photo does not tell even half the story. But, fortunately I was able to track down a video of the Cake Server in action on YouTube. Of the choice of four tunes available I think the wedding march has to be my favourite, as my mind boggles at the idea of it in action at some posh wedding. I challenge you to watch the video more than three times in a row.


Get Out of this World at The British Library

7 June 2011

wells-jun-130I’ve only managed to spend a few minutes so far exploring our exciting new exhibition Out of this World: Science Fiction but not as you know it, but I will definitely going back for more soon.

It has already had a great deal of positive coverage in the media, and there are some great events associated including Sci-Fi legend Alan Moore.

The exhibition has some first editions and manuscripts of some of the great stories I discovered in my youth, such as John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids.

One of the most memorable short stories I read way back then, was about an anti-gravity device (always a popular topic in Sci-Fi… and with some of our inventors, now I come to think of it).

The concept is that a selection of scientists from various disciplines are shown a grainy film of a working anti-gravity device, unfortunately the machine crashes and the inventor is killed. They are then shown the inventor’s study with  books on range of disciplines such as physics, biology, religion and witchcraft. They are then asked to try and re-create the machine. After many false starts they manage the impossible, and are only then told that the film was a fake, designed to help them get over their mental blocks.

The story is called Noise Level by Raymond F Jones.

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