30 September 2008

Today's course on ecommerce

I wasn't thinking quickly enough about where to post the slideshow for today's course on ecommerce. That's what comes of maintaining too many blogs, and my IP blawg would have been more approriate.

I have now uploaded the presentation to this address but it is editable and someone might have changed it before you get there.

Please leave a comment when you visit so I know who is looking!

Ruby Tuesday

A new weekly season ticket in my pocket, I am heading to London to spend
a day presenting courses followed by a few days in the office while my
colleagues enjoy a visit to the British Virgin Islands. Tough work, but
someone has to do it. To ensure that I am immediately at home with the
commuting life, the weather has entered a grey, wet and cool autumnal
phase - far from Keats's season of mists and mellow fruitfulness about
which Harry Eyres wrote on Saturday in the FT. Season of drizzle and
chilly dampness. But inside the train the atmosphere is rather
different, though no more pleasant, as a couple of dozen damp people
wrapped in overcoats (or wearing wet suits) enter an already humid
environment. Immediately I feel warm and sticky, and take my jacket off
and place it, carefully folded, on the luggage rack.

No "priority seats" with extra legroom here - I have taken a seat in
coach A, the next one being a trifle full, so no listening to music or
podcasts for me. (My most recent bit of podcast listening was to BBC's
Arts and Ideas podcast from a couple of weeks ago, which was devoted to
"The Quiet Carriage", with Alain de Botton making deep philosophical
observations about this flawed institution which chimed very much with
my own thoughts.) So I take a seat next to a very quiet, indeed
somnulent, traveller with a wool hat pulled over his eyes and a
disreputable-looking hoodie over suit trousers (the jacket, a plain
charcoal grey, is hanging from the hook provided on the back of the seat
in front of him), his feet not in a very battered but fairly shiney pair
of black lace-up shoes. He might be an investment banker, especially
one down on his luck - if luck ever came into it - but now I see the
side of his face, which has not had an encounter with a razor for
several days. Over the aisle sits a more conventional-looking
investment banker type, reading the Telegraph, also in a grey suit,
polished Oxfords, but no tie. Well, I guess I often don't wear a tie to
travel in the train, but that's usually because running vests don't
offer suitable collars.

Of course, neither of them can be investment bankers. However down on
their luck such people may be, they will still travel (if at all) on
first-class season tickets. Coach A is not their mileu. And would they
be seen reading the Telegraph? Perhaps for light relief after having
skimmed the FT earlier, or before having to peruse the Pink 'Un when
they reach the bank.

24 September 2008

Down to the Waterside

Not a bad morning for a run, and I had a couple of routes that I had
found on the Web which seemed to start near my hotel in Leeds. One was
10K, and appeared to follow a major arterial road, and the other was
about 4 miles and took in a rather attractive park. In the event I took
neither, because I saw a sign for a towpath and immediately left behind
the rush-hour road traffic (other than a fair number of cyclists) in
favout of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal.

I learnt which body of water I was following after a mile or so, though
I could barely make out the words on the sign on a bridge because of all
the graffiti sprayed on it. I also came across a milepost - I never knew
canals had them - that told me it was 128 miles to Liverpool in the
direction I was heading (one and a quarter in the other to Leeds).

The canal provided a fascinating bit of industrial archaeology. It was
lined with wonderful Victorian buildings and crossed by elegant stone
bridges, at least one of which had been colonised by a few small trees
which no doubt will soon enough prise the stones apart. The towpath was
well-surfaced, mostly with a sprinkling of gravel (no running barefoot
today) but with a few stretches of cobbles and paving stones. I also
passed three sets of locks, great pieces of Victorian engineering, one
flight of which matched a considerable climb for me. I suddenly realised
where the expression "lockstep" came from: when a vessel enters at the
bottom of the flight, the gates are closed behind it and those in front
of it are opened when the water level has been adjusted. So it can go
forward (and upwards) but not back (and down). Except, of course, that
the opposite happens if it has come from Liverpool.

Less than Zero

Coming out of the railway station at Leeds, the first thing I saw was
the Queen's Hotel. I've been there twice in my life, possibly more, but
I particularly remember two occasions. The first, in the late 1970s, was
to a Conservative party meeting addressed by Enoch Powell. I drove two
fellow Young Conservatives to Leeds in my orange Citroen Dyane, and on
the outskirts one of my comrades, for reasons which may have made sense
at the time, changed into a three piece (ie jacket, trousers and cap)
Mao suit which he had brought back from one of the trips to China that
was an early sign of that country's opening up to the West. We rolled
back the roof on the car and he stood on the front passenger seat,
waving to anyone he saw and clapping in that strange way of the Chinese
leaders of the time seemed to to do. From memory, he changed out of the
suit before we went into the meeting.

I remember nothing of Enoch Powell's contribution to the evening, which
is probably just as well.

On the second occasion, I came to give a talk under the auspices of the
College of Law, on the subject of the reform of UK competition law. It
was a two-hander, possibly more, and Ray Snow was involved. Afterwards
he took me to a casino, where it was clear that he was a regular. This
struck me as an odd distinction for a man based some 250 miles away.
Ray taught me company law at Guildford, and for the first time in my
life I found myself having to work on my birthday (which had always
fallen in school holidays or university vacations). I reached the age
of 21 before I had to attend a class on my birthday, but on that
auspicious day I had Company Law. I was miles away in my own private
world when Ray took it into his head to ask me a question. Not only did
I not know the answer, I don't think I even understood the question.
Fortunately I have picked up a little company law since then.

19 September 2008

Pretty Baa-Lambs [,The]

To Sutton Coldfield yesterday, to present what CLT call a "Webinar" on domain names. Talking to a camera while the presentation is recorded - which I have done several times - is unnerving enough, but when the performance goes out live to an audience (even a rather small one) it is in a different league. But I sounded convincing, and dealt competently with the technology, though I pressed the button to end the session without asking if anyone had any questions. If they had, they could have posted them in the course of the presentation, so I assume they hadn't.

The train journey to Sutton Coldfield takes a couple of hours and a couple of changes, but I anticipated using the hour-long stint from Oxford to Birmingham New Street to get some work done. Not only could I not connect to the Internet for more than a moment or two, but my smartphone finally decided to stop responding to any commands less compelling than the removal of the battery. Many people, including me, rue the fact that technology makes us constantly available to clients and to the stream of information that the Internet delivers to us: however little I like it, the fact is that my life is now organised on the basis that I will have telecommunications (including voice, SMS and email) wherever I go. A flat battery is bad enough, but a dead phone with a good battery is even worse.

On the way home, I took advantage of being in Birmingham to have coffee with Llion, or £outstanding as he and the rest of the recruitment world is known, thanks to Shane. Then I spent an hour or so in the municipal art gallery, following up on Grace's suggestion that I acquaint myself with [The] Pretty Baa-Lambs by Ford Madox Brown. (There appears to be some inconsistency in the use of the definite article.) It sounds appallingly twee, and the subject matter is just that, but the execution and the technical results are fantastic. I could pick fault with the strange expression on the baby's face (not very different from that on the face of the prophet in the same artist's Elijah and the Widow's Son, I noticed) and other elements, but that would be too picky. I might also observe that the sky was just too blue, and note that a few rooms further on the description of a Canalletto of Warwick Castle under a similarly deep blue sky noted that he had only recently arrived from Venice when he painted it, and ight not have adjusted to the English light.

Speaking of the English light, which has almost deserted us these last few months, Ford Madox Brown's English Autumn Afternoon depicted weather that would have been the high point of this summer. Not that yesterday was, as it happens, a bad day weather-wise, but it looks as if late October in FMB's day was a very pleasant time of year.

10 September 2008

Indian Summer

My first run with my new Garmin Forerunner, and I lost the first mile or so while it told me it was still trying to find a satellite to lock onto.  Once I called its bluff and told it to start measuring something, it worked fine - 6.48 miles, 55 minutes 34 seconds, average 7mph, maximum 10.4 (though the graph shows me exceeding 12 mph right at the end, as I ensured that Andrew stayed behind me).  It even produced a map showing where I'd been (with a blank space at the start before I had started it going).

Also my first run with new shoes, so predictably it was muddy.  And after this miserable summer, the evenigs are already drawing in - so we finshed in near-darkness.  But at least it was warm, and dry, if not underfoot.

04 September 2008

My aim is true

Yesterday was a return to the routine, with a vengeance. Cycled both ways and ran from office to Paddington in the evening - over six miles, I reckon, though I must measure it. Then a track session this evening, 8x600m with 200m recoveries. Add the 4-lap warm-up and that makes 8K. The 600s I did in around 2:40 each: I calculated that 4 minutes per K is 2:24 per 600m, so bearing in mind how I normally do a 5K (first km in under 4 minutes, then the other four a lot slower, about 4:30) that was rather better than 5K pace, which is what we were instructed to aim for. Feeling good!

03 September 2008

Chimes of Freedom

Summer never properly arrived this year, but today it seemed to be having one last attempt. Having finally replaced the inner tube on the rear wheel of my bike, and also having missed three days running (arriving too late, and in the middle of a thunderstorm, for a club run yesterday), I resolved to make the most of being mobile again and rode to the station.
I didn't make it in time to get the 0730 (not a very ambitious target anyway) but I enjoyed a beautiful early autumn morning. So did several others, and I passed two runners (one actually proceeding at little more than a walk, but he did look like a very senior runner) heading north and three or four cyclists heading south. I arrived at the station feeling very mellow, and even found myself singing "Tonight" from Nick Lowe's first album, Jesus of Cool - which I haven't heard for, what, at least 25 years.
I realised sometime in the last twelve hours - perhaps it came to me when I was asleep, or perhaps just dozing - what has changed in my working life. Although I can still interrupt myself and get sidetracked, and my priorities are turned upside down from time to time when a new job or new client appears, I find myself in command of my own time. It's self-determination, an expression that formed a central part of political debates in the seventies (before Nick Lowe recorded that first solo album). I don't have to fit in my work round meetings, usually meetings that achieve very little (like a scene from John Cleese's great training film, Meetings Bloody Meetings), nor am I on an externally dictated programme of anti money-laundering checks, client verification and preparation of detailed, backside-covering engagement letters. Although I can't ignore these requirements, I can deal with them in my time and in my own way.
Now that I am liberated, I just need to be careful that I use that liberty responsibly ...