Saturday, September 29, 2007

BT contract ends ...

So after a record 16 months, my work with the BT Wireless Cities programme has finally ended. I was rather touched by the emails and phone calls I got yesterday afternoon, all, I hasten to add, saying nice things. Very kind, as they absolutely didn't have to do that.

So I am now in marketing and sales mode again. Here is how it works.

1. There are plenty of agencies out there who exist to bring freelance consultants and work-opportunities together. The economics are those of the classic middleman. All I had to do was to send some emails, make some calls, and generally let people know I'm back in the market.

2. Obviously margins are better if you can go straight to the customer. Rather than just contacting prospective clients directly (mostly senior carrier executives, who hate spam) I think it's better to deliver some value. In the past, I have sent out an occasional newsletter or news release, with included links to material I've put together.

It's then up to the recipient as to whether they wish to 'click through' and read further. Often they do, and I've been contacted like this:

"We have this problem, and I read your newsletter and thought maybe you'd be interested ... ."

Another way to get work.

And I do have something to say of interest. The BT Wireless Cities programme is one of the world's most ambitious urban WiFi developments. Our experience has lessons in terms of negotiating with Councils, technically rolling out a working network, and the viability of various business models. While properly respecting commercial confidentiality, I do think there are some public-domain points which can be documented, and I'm minded to write them up as core news release content.


Incidental point: it's not often you read a science article with the title "6 Die From Brain-Eating Amoeba in Lakes" but this tragic story is recounted on here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Peloponnese in September 2007

I have put together a collection of photos and videos here.

The summary clip below highlights fire damage, the giant theatre at Epidauros and the Acropolis, Athens.

Just back from Greece

We arrived back yesterday evening from a nine day tour of the Peloponnese, taking in Delphi, Olympia, Sparta, Corinth and Athens amongst others. This was with archaeological tour company Andante, and the theme was "Homer to Hadrian and Beyond" and it was good. I'll put some pictures and videos up on the website at the week-end and post a link here.

My book royalties for the first six months of 2007 came in while we were away. Admittedly I'm on a tiny percentage (technical books don't sell enough to easily cover their fixed costs) but at well short of a thousand dollars ... let's just say that I may need to move genres!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Piano Diary #2

My first Music Theory class last night with tutor Helen, at the Harrow Way Community School. I turned up not knowing what to expect, and as I parked in the school playground, I reflected that it had been a long time since I had been in a comp.

Making my way past boisterous gangs of kids kicking footballs around - which reminded me why - I soon found the Community Education Centre. At the reception I duly completed a lengthy form which enquired closely into my ethnic background, disabilities and requirements for income support & benefits.

In the end, there were seven of us around the table in that classroom, Helen rapidly establishing that three of us were newbies. The four veterans included a saxophonist (recently passed grade 4 music theory with merit), a singer (recently achieved grade 5 music theory with distinction) and an experienced flautist.

Helen interrogated the newbies. One, it turned out, was a student at the very college she taught at, and had passed grade 8 piano and grade 5 music theory. The other was a music student studying guitar and drums. Finally, Helen turned to me expectantly.

“Um - three months piano?” I said hesitantly.

“Go on,” she encouraged.

“Er, well, I’ve never actually written down a single musical note.”

At this confession of utter incompetence her lips curled slightly, and she seemed at a loss.

“I don’t suppose you have any manuscript paper?” (Paper with ruled ledger lines, on which you write ‘musical notes’). I shook my head.

“OK,” she said decisively, ripping off a top sheet from her pad. “Here, I want you to write on this page everything you know about music and the piano.”

It was evident that had she had a postage stamp to hand, then that’s what I would have been given. Granted her expectation that this task was unlikely to trouble me for more than a minute or so, she also handed me a copy of grade 1 music theory to study.

My humiliation was completed when she went around asking each of the students about which exam she should put them in for.

“Well, I see you did very well on your grade 5. OK to put you down for grade 6?”

“Definitely. Oh, yes, please!”

Eventually it was my turn. She looked at me sorrowfully and said gently “Well, Nigel, I don’t think we’ll be putting you in for any exams, if that’s alright?”

Blushing, I could only concur.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Driveway -- Atonement

Hampshire planning regulations: they won’t tarmac the driveway for the six houses in our ‘street’. Gravel is, apparently, more rustic. The picture shows the consequences - not rustic but agricultural.

Our neighbour, Mark, circulated a note suggesting each house should contribute to buy a total of ten tons of gravel to re-cover the driveway. This is not totally cheap, so how ought we to respond?

Elementary economics highlights the ‘free rider’ problem. If five of us decide to go ahead, and the sixth declines, then the sixth house still gets the benefit while incurring none of the cost. The standard social response to free-riding is compulsion by the state (e.g. taxes). However, we are too small a community to have a state of our own ...

Social psychology explains that in informal social groupings, social sanctions are brought to bear against free-riders - ‘your neighbours hate you for ever’. Hmm, that’s not a pleasant thought!

Economics again. The cost might be equal, but are the benefits equally apportioned? If the benefit is improved driveability, then the people at the end of the driveway would surely accrue disproportionate benefit. But in my opinion, it’s preferable to drive on a hard, smooth surface than on gravel - easier on the tyres and less possibilities of chipping the paintwork. Mark’s note was all about appearance, and here we seem to come out equal.

Of course we’ll pay up. Evolutionary psychology ensured we had made all these calculations pre-consciously in an instant!

Note: We duly went to see Atonement down at Salisbury on Sunday. Very well-made film and pretty faithful to the book (already much discussed here on previous posts).

I just have a few, deeply-buried lingering doubts. Is it really anything more than a tale, expertly told by a master craftsman, full - to an extent - of sound and fury, but ultimately signifying nothing?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Ballooning over Hampshire

Tuesday we finally managed to fly Clare's birthday present, as the weather was calm enough for hot-air ballooning. Here's the video as we came into land.

The balloon pilot was, in Myers-Briggs terminology, a classic ESTP. He celebrated his top-dog, alpha-male persona by putting down the retrieval-truck driver, Nick, at all opportunities. He was similarly waspish with us, the paying punters, to our general amusement and the odd hurt feelings.

His views on the role (and likely behaviour) of women were pretty unreconstructed - although probably in accordance with evolutionary psychology. We also learned that the recent 'accidental' outbreak of foot-and-mouth virus from a Government facility was probably a plot to make Gordon Brown look commanding and decisive!

We got up to around 4,000 feet and the view was remarkable. Somehow the height of the basket, and its stability prevented the experience from being scary. Here's The Grange from a couple of thousand feet.

Sunday, September 02, 2007


From the imdb entry: "Based on a true story, FBI upstart Eric O'Neill enters into a power game with his boss, Robert Hanssen, an agent who was ultimately convicted of selling secrets to the Soviet Union."

Great film, which we saw yesterday evening at Basingstoke. Most of the pre-film trailers ('hitman' etc) seem to be crashing cars, large explosions and heavily-muscled dudes firing automatic weapons, one in each hand. This by contrast, is a battle of wits played out in windowless offices and airless corridors.

Hanssen progresses, through the 110 minutes of the film, from misunderstood, technocratic patriot to monumental scumbag. Eric O'Neill has to work all hours, day and night, on the case and has problems with his wife, to whom he is forbidden from explaining anything. No wonder he left the agency once the case was cracked.

As the film ended, the final screens revealed that as we sat there, Robert Hanssen was himself sat in a solitary confinement cell in Florence, Colorado, serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

He still is as you read this.