Who Needs A Mobile Telephone Anyway?

Last week, I needed to buy a new mobile phone. For a while, I’ve persisted with a slightly futile attempt to separate work and family communications by using two phones. And the aging HTC I relied on for personal calls finally gave up the ghost after several years of good service.

The fact that most apps were no longer working didn’t really bother me. Aside from Twitter and Facebook, I occasionally remembered to check in to places with Swarm, used Google Maps, and occasionally got frustrated with the fact Instagram had stopped working ages ago.

But I still liked the idea of having one phone for my personal uploads, and one I could use either for my own media projects or client work – as well as having a separate number for work which could be turned off at a certain point each evening.

The Weird World of Modern Mobiles:

So although I was under a bit of pressure to have a replacement up and running, I did my research. I looked at a range of reviews, and checked what was available in a reasonable price range. I couldn’t justify a new iPhone or an exploding Samsung, even if I wanted one. Ditto the cost and wait for a new Google Pixel phone.

The camera was hugely important to me. I’m no great photographer, but I want to make sure that if I snap something on my phone it’s good enough to keep or share. The Huawei P9 was intriguing, but I couldn’t quite stretch to the outlay – particularly as I already had a SIM only GiffGaff plan I intended to keep.

A decent amount of memory, a recent edition of Android, space for an expandable memory card – all of these were good things to have.

So then having assembled a shortlist of handsets with no contracts in the sub £200-£250 range, I went and tried some out, eventually settling on the Motorola Moto G4.

(I know Amazon have the exclusive on the Motorola Moto G4 Plus with dual sims, but I felt having two sims on one phone wouldn’t prevent the type of cross-posting disaster having different devices might avoid.)

Motorola Moto G4 Box

So far it’s been great. It works well, takes decent pictures despite my artistic limitations, and the battery life has been really good.

But it was only after a few days, I realised something strange.

At no point had I ever questioned what it was like to make phone calls on it.

When I tried it out in the shop, I happily checked surfing the web and texting – but never thought to put it to my ear.

And the week since buying it, I haven’t made or received a single phonecall on it.

That’s not to say it hasn’t been used regularly. I’ve sent messages, used Whatsapp, tweeted from it, uploaded to Facebook, started actually sharing on Instagram again, enjoyed the fact that Swarm works again, and finally got around to signing up for Untappd to log my beer choices so I can finally remember which ones I like.

But it wasn’t until the second day of ownership that I realised how large the handset actually is, and that I might have to try and use it without resting it on a desk or sitting down with two hands free. Or what it might look like when I actually have it pressed to my ear.

It’s hard to believe it’s 13 years since the original Taco Phone (The Nokia N-Gage). And I’ve probably held out longer than a lot of people. But aside from the type of emergency calls I hope I never have to receive, the telephone part of my mobile device is the least used, and least important part of the whole thing…



Big Success for Peterborough STEM Fest 2016

It’s almost a week since the first Peterborough STEM Festival. And to be honest, I’m still getting over how good it was.

I didn’t have any doubt that my chums from Digital People in Peterborough would put on a great event. But I didn’t realise quite how big and exciting it would be.

First, the venue was great. The Allia Business Centre is relatively new, and is built into the Peterborough United Football Ground with offices, co-working spaces and a feel that wouldn’t be out of place in a London innovation hub.

Secondly, the events, talks and demonstrators were all really interesting. It was all pretty impressive (like the child-size robot from Peterborough Regional College), but also really accessible. Everyone was keen to chat to all the children, including mine, and spend as long as was needed to answer the questions which shot forth from kids and parents. It’s not too often my son gets to discuss space with a Senior Spacecraft Thermal Engineer working on the Solar Orbiter. And that was just a chance encounter before the actual speaking sessions began!

And thirdly, there was a great turnout. Hundreds of children and parents came through the doors, and from witnessing some of the feedback, I think everyone was impressed at the fact such a great event was put on for free. I’m not sure it we hit the capacity limit for the event, but we must have been pretty close…

That was partly down to the kind sponsors who rightly saw a great opportunity to get involved in an inspiring community event. And also down to the great bunch of organisers and volunteers.

Peterborough STEM Festival Volunteers

Spot the Dan. And then wonder how I managed to look in the wrong direction at precisely the wrong moment….

Everyone was kind enough to donate their time, patient enough to deal with anything that came up, and well led and organised by the core trio behind the whole thing.

Even my son and I managed to run the reception desk for a couple of hours without major mishap. Mainly due to the help of other volunteers, and bribing him with a hot dog, Babbage bear in a Raspberry Pi shirt, and some Minecraft pixel sunglasses.

Just awesome…


Supporting the First Peterborough STEM Festival

Peterborough holds a few special memories for me. As a cathedral city, it’s not known as a particularly exciting or glamorous location, but it’s a site of rich historical value. It’s also where I moved to become a full time journalist for a publication I’d always dreamed about working for.

Having gone on to start a family in East Anglia, it’s also the place where I first began working for myself. And after a short period of solitude, it’s where I suggested one or two freelancers I knew came down the pub to chat about work and technology. And that became DPiP, a monthly meetup which has become hugely successful despite my early involvement.

Peterborough STEM Festival

So I’m hugely excited to be traveling up to Peterborough at the end of the month to be a volunteer at the first Peterborough STEM Festival, which is a day of family-friendly events to celebrate Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, inspired by Ada Lovelace Day.

When it came to DPiP, my biggest success was getting out of the way once I’d persuaded talented designer and organiser Tia to get involved. Besides securing the best cupcakes in the county to encourage people to come along, she also transformed something a bit ramshackle into a well-oiled machine.

So I confess to chuckling when I got an email explaining that she’d had an idea for a STEM Festival and was worried that it might not all come together. Because I knew it would – and lo and behold, it looks like it’ll be an amazing day.

There are a full day of workshops, doing stuff with Raspberry Pis, MakeyMakey boards, Cambridge Science Centre and Microsoft.

And a similarly impressive range of speakers – including spacecraft engineers, scientists, mathematicians and programmers covering space, robotics, and game theory.

Plus a load of exhibitors running Minecraft competitions, explaining genetics and demonstrating humanoid robotic companions.

Basically the DPiP team of Tia, Jonathan and Andy have recruited a great team, sorted out a load of fantastic speakers and events, and put it all together in an area which has been increasingly embracing technology over the last few years.

And did I mention it’s all free?

I’ve been to a lot of events over the years, and it’s probably safe to say that all this entertainment could have come with a price tag. But instead, it’s all available for free to encourage more children, and particularly girls, to consider STEM subjects.

Some of the workshops etc will require booking online in advance, so check out the website and see what might take your fancy (or be the best to inspire your kids).

And hopefully I’ll see you there!


Inspiration to Keep Pushing

Tony Hawk is a skateboarding legend. He started skating professionally at the age of 14, and has since become probably the most famous skater of all-time, particularly after featuring in a series of video games.

In 1999, he made history by landing the first ever ‘900’ at the X Games in San Francisco, which involves spinning around two-and-a-half times before landing successfully.

And having repeated it in 2011 at the age of 43, he’s now released a video of what may be the final time he ever completes the trick at the age of 48.

And this weekend, I’m going to show my son the video to share the most important lesson from it.

The video has obviously been edited down, but even so, I counted 7 falls before Tony Hawk successfully completes the trick.

That’s a 48-year-old, wealthy, legend throwing himself down a vert ramp. And doing it again, and again.

He’s not doing it as part of a promotion, or for a competition. And the seven failed attempts aren’t hidden from public view.

He’s overcoming the challenge despite failing several times because he wants to achieve something. And that’s the lesson. Sometimes we all need inspiration to keep pushing. Despite previous failures. Because we need to achieve something for ourselves.


Fascinating 15 Minute Wired Documentary on Shenzhen

There’s an overwhelming amount of things recommended to read, hear and watch on a second-by-second basis these days. But I’d say it’s worth spending 15 minutes checking out this Wired Future Cities video on Shenzhen in China, described as ‘The Silicon Valley of Hardware’.

At the moment it seems that software and the internet has entered a period of gradual evolution, and all the predictions for revolutions will be in bio technology, hardware etc. As always, what will actually power any revolution is harder to predict, and probably won’t look much like anything we’ve got at the moment, but it does seem than Shenzhen might be where it will appear first.

It’s also interesting to compare the current Western trends for both Makers and artisan craftsmen who seem more attuned to reviving traditional small scale manufacturing methods. At the highest end of Western manufacture, there’s the ability to rapidly prototype and iterate, and there’s a similar potential for groups of companies at the smallest end if ecosystems like Shenzhen spring up (I know there are pockets of hardware/manufacturing technologies in various Western countries, but I wonder if they’ll reach the same scales and levels of accessibility, particularly with regards to cost and the rather loose concept of copyright and IP that exists in China).

Either way, it’s fascinating – I’ve always been fascinated with the manufacture of physical hardware, whether it’s related to combustion engines or silicon chips…


Are Vloggers Growing Up and Facing the Creative Economy?

A lot of people in my online networks have been sharing a popular article on Fusion, ‘Get Rich or Die Vlogging‘ by Gaby Dunn – one half of Youtube comedy duo Just Between Us who have amassed more than 500,000 subscribers. It’s worth taking a look at the full article, but the summary is that it turns out you can have potentially millions of followers on Youtube, Instagram, Snapchat or any other social network, and still be struggling financially.


This is apparently a shocking revelation – ‘Why would someone with 90,000 Instagram followers be serving brunch?’

Without being patronising, it’s a familiar tale to anyone familiar with creativity beyond the last handful of years. Ask the likes of Hugh McLeod, Austin Kleon, or Mason Curry.

Probably the most ignored fact about any creative or artistic endeavour is that even many of the famous names we’re familiar with either struggled financially or died penniless. The most famous composers were either poor, such as Elgar, or managed to live beyond their means and get into huge debts. Or take painters such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Gaugin and Van Gogh. Penniless writers include the likes of Herman Melville and Oscar Wilde.

In some cases, it was due to talent being discovered only after the artist had passed away. But it was as often due to the instability of earning a living from creativity and terrible business acumen and decisions. Unfortunately Gaby dismisses the ‘starving artist vs sell-out’ paradigm as ‘thankfully, Van Gogh didn’t have to shill for to pissed-off fans of his art‘. Luckily he only had poverty, mental illness, self-mutilation and suicide.


Then came the broadcast media of the 20th Century. And yet creative people known around the globe could still be financially destitute. Actors and actresses, musicians, sports stars – they were all capable of fame without fortune.

And then came the internet. Many bloggers started with hopes of full-time self-employment at their laptop only to realise that actually it’s as tough to be successful as ever – increased accessibility not only means more competition, but more advertising inventory and lower payments.


Just because you can, doesn’t mean you will:

The open ability for anyone to publish articles, videos, music or art doesn’t mean that everyone is suddenly about to earn millions, or even a reasonable middle class income, by being internet famous. The power law curve and Pareto distribution written about a decade ago by Chris Anderson as ‘The Long Tail’ benefits the aggregators of digital content which can be supplied to niche audiences with miniscule costs. Amazon can hold an infinite stock of digital books that may sell one copy a year and make a big profit on the aggregate sales, while Youtube can offer videos on every subject and combine a big enough audience for advertisers.

It doesn’t mean that because you can publish to the internet that it’s any easier to make a creative living than it ever was.

You can plugin advertising services and affiliate links, but you need an ever-increasing scale for ad revenue, despite all the talk about how advertisers would target relevant niches. And you need scale or a very devoted following to make money from affiliates unless it’s an extremely high commission, in which case competition is fierce.

And whatever your medium or platform, you need to be in the top few percent to make it viable as a decent standalone income. There’s only room for a handful of videogame Youtubers, fashion vloggers or Instagram models to make it rich, and the next tier of a livable income is not that much bigger.


So what to do?

There’s no simple answer for how creative people can live a prosperous life. But some soul searching and looking at the motivation for being creative in the first place will help.

If you want to enjoy making things without any pressure at all, get a day job and treat your creative passion purely as a hobby you can enjoy regardless of whether anyone else is involved. Write, paint, draw, sculpt, weld, dance, or whatever takes your fancy and don’t put it on social media to build up followers or define your personal brand. Share it with friends and family if you like, and just enjoy yourself.

It’s possible that you may build your hobby into a side business that makes a little extra cash and that’s cool. Use the money to treat yourself or stick into a savings account for the future. Keep the day job, spend some spare time on your side business and remember to also go out and have fun. There are lots of ways to minimise the time running a side business can take, and registering as a sole trader is quick and painless. Budget for some basic accountancy software and an accountant to check your returns and life can be fairly simple.

But then there’s the desire to earn your full potential wages as a creative artist hunched over an easel, potters wheel or laptop in a loft apartment located in a bohemian part of a swinging city.


There are lots of things you may have to think about should this become your career plan

  • You need to fully engage in the business side of things. How to sell products and services directly to customers or other businesses? How to find potential advertisers to deal with? How to meet other business owners (because that’s what you are now) and find out how they get the most profit, or what you should be charging?
  • Realise that you’re going to spend 50% per cent of your time not being able to sit and be creative because you’re doing admin and business work. And that’s if you’re lucky. And you’ll need to do that for a while before you can start looking at virtual assistants or help to get some of the time back.
  • Accept that you may need to focus on work besides your long awaited ‘Great American Novel’ or ‘Cinematic Epic for Millenials’. But you should also realise that everyone with a laptop now considers themselves a social media marketer, commercial copywriter, and logo designer (if they’ve bought Photoshop). So that side of your income can be as much of a struggle, and take as much of your time.
  • And finally you need to be open and honest with yourself and realise that it’s OK if you don’t make it rich. It’s possible that you may not find success in your lifetime, and that’s not the end of the world. As a business owner you can pivot and try different revenue streams, hone your product and tailor it to what people want. And that’s what most people try to do without losing their passion or vision.


WTF does he know?

I’m not a world famous blogger, Youtuber, musician or actor. I’m one of the majority of people who operate somewhere between obscurity and being on the cusp of a good living. And I’ve maintained that for several years since I was last employed full-time.

I run a marketing business and consultancy which earns me most of my income. I run a handful of websites with some very talented people which are starting to deliver small financial returns after a lot of hard work. And I write articles like this which will probably earn me absolutely nothing, but hopefully help to build my business and reputation.

I may never see my company make millions, and I used to get depressed about the fact I hadn’t made a fortune by 25, 30, *ahem* 35. But given that I’ve lasted longer than the lifespan of most companies, I’ve been able to earn a reasonable living by largely doing things I enjoy, and I’ve made progress in building my own brands and websites which I can be proud of (And which give a platform to a whole load of talented new people), then I’m OK with that.

As I wrote earlier, I can identify with the problems Gaby is experiencing. I’m lucky enough to have great clients, but I still need to improve my financial situation for myself and to hopefully support more people in the future. Which means if I do miss out or turn down work, it can lead to worry and guilt for a bit.

And I appreciate the challenge of authenticity and maintaining an audience whilst posting branded content to pay the bills – I never felt comfortable blogging about how to make millions from writing a blog like many did during the boom time.

Just remember, fame does not equal money. And creativity and happiness doesn’t depend on either of them.


Is Mobile Dead?

Since PC and Tablet sales slowed over the last few years, there have been a million articles written about the death of the desktop in particular.

So presumably the news that mobile handset growth is slowing to single figures must mean that we’re about to have a deluge of predictions that mobile is over?

It’s in a new report from IDC. They predict the total shipments 2015 will amount to a 9.8 percent increase compared to last year, or 1.43 billion units. According to the firm, growth has slowed in the Asia Pacific region, Latin America, and Western Europe. Apparently China is saturated, so the big places for growth now are in Africa and the Middle East – and Wired predicts that this is all good news for Apple as consumers will start to trade up for a more premium product (The subtext is that apparently only iOS and Android will be worth worrying about).


A quick Google search for ‘desktop is dead’ points to this article by Gizmodo back in 2009. At that point, the desktop was in a death spiral due to the rise of laptops. It also stated that PC Gaming was dead.

I should point out that 6 years later, Steam has 125 million active users, and has had as many as 12.5 million people playing concurrently. Xbox Live has around 48 million, PlayStation Network 110 million (65 million active monthly), and one of the most popular mobile/tablet games Clash of Clans had around 8.5 million daily players.

One day I dream that hardware makers and analysts will finally accept that there is no ‘one device to rule them all’. I know this, because in the last 24 hours I’ve used my laptop for work and streaming some television, used my tablet to check in on Instagram and Clash of Clans, and had a quick go on both by Xbox 360 and Xbox One. And browsed the latest prices for a new desktop PC purchase after Christmas (Primarily for work and video/photo editing, but potentially also for iRacing).

I’ve also used my mobile to check in at various places, send texts and updates, and for navigation – and even caught a few minutes on a traditional television set.

Perhaps the best example of refusing this logic is Microsoft. First Windows 8, and then the Xbox One interface, which tried to be an entertainment hub but does a worse job of it that the Xbox 360 version.

I might occasionally watch TV on my Xbox One, but the primary reason I bought it was to play videogames, so that’s what it needs to do well. Just like I want a desktop capable of handling 40,000+ line spreadsheets and editing big video files, a laptop which can handle most tasks, and a tablet that can serve entertainment, lightweight games and possibly a presentation or two. I don’t need my mobile to do any of that at the expense of a decent camera, battery life and connectivity (including a decent GPS).

There are plenty of stats about how people now use their mobile more for a variety of tasks, but I’d be interested to know if that’s because they prefer it, or because they don’t have access to a better option. I’ll use my mobile to view TV or for eCommerce if I have to, but not if my tablet is nearby. And I’ll use my laptop if possible.


Unintentional Marketing Humour

I had to take a screenshot when I followed an article link in an email to land on this.


Right now you’ll either be chuckling, checking your own website for inconsistency, or installing a pop-up/ad blocker.




Supporting new British film ‘Meet Pursuit Delange’

Back when I was employed at Motorcycle News, I happened to have a conversation with a nice chap who had produced some kind of amazing mix of live action and graphic novel. The fact that it also had bikes in it basically combined three of the biggest loves of my life – comics, movies and motorcycles. It’s no wonder I was interested in finding out more.

The man behind the project, Howard Webster, is one of those people who seems to go from one fascinating project to the next, so I’m glad we kept in touch.

And his latest work is a new British film starring the likes of Jason Flemyng, Stephanie Leonidas, Colin Salmon and Right Said Fred.

If that doesn’t sound intriguing enough, there’s more…

After putting a call out for anyone interested in being an extra, and assuming that I didn’t end up on the editing room floor, it may be possible to catch a glimpse of me in the film. It’s a non-speaking, and indeed, non-acting role, as Howard wisely decline the chance to cast me as a leading man, and instead offered me the role of a media company executive. Fortunately it’s not featured in the trailer and therefore my ineptitude can’t affect the pre-release promotion.

What I can say is:

  1. The fact that I’ve kept in touch with people, and the fact that social media has made it easier, continues to lead to amazing opportunities years after we first connected.
  2. Making films is incredibly difficult and extremely hard work. So to get something made to a high standard, and with such a quality cast, is ruddy impressive. Especially when even the lowliest extra (me) was made to feel welcome and given as much help as was required on set.
  3. There really are an amazing amount of people on a film set. And despite having been filmed for various projects in the past, it’s incredibly hard not to stare at the expensive movie camera on rails a few feet away.
  4. I don’t know how much of the scene I was in made it to the final film. But I do know the script I heard was bloody funny. And the professional thespian required for the shoot, Ben Starr, was extremely talented, funny and very understanding about working with a group of people with varied and somewhat limited experience in many cases.
  5. Thanks to Howard, I’ve managed to tick something off my bucket list. Although I still need to finish writing my own scripts soon.
  6. I’ve never had as many admiring glances (I assume they were admiring) from ladies when walking through London as I did with the required makeup for filming.


If you can make it, the premiere of the film is on Thursday, October 1st, 2015 at the VUE Picadilly with a Q&A afterwards, and a second screening takes place on Friday, October 2nd in the afternoon. Both are part of the Raindance Film Festival and are very reasonably priced…



Why Television and Radio Won’t Die

Last night I started watching The Wolverine. Before you judge, let me state that it happened to be on Amazon Prime, and I’ve read, re-read and indeed re-purchased the Wolverine Graphic Novel after mistakenly lending it to people over the years.

It was late and I was weak.

In fact it was late enough that about half of the way through the film I decided to take a break and get some sleep. So when I stopped working to grab some lunch today, it seemed like a good time to finish the film off. Except that I couldn’t.

The process went something like this:

  • Go to Amazon Prime Video and search for Wolverine, as the main pages only want to show me new films/TV shows.
  • Click to view.
  • Wait ages.
  • Get a Silverlight error message.
  • Try again.
  • Get the same Silverlight error message.
  • Sigh deeply, then go to Settings, and select the Flash player.
  • Go back to Amazon Prime Video and get a Silverlight error message. Return to settings, and back to the video and then it loads in Flash.
  • Watch approximately 2-3 minutes of the film with 60 second intervals for it to buffer.
  • Go back to Settings, revert to Silverlight and spend a minute or two reading the Troubleshooting Guide.
  • Download the Silverlight Diagnostic Tool as recommended and watch as it fails to find the problem.
  • Restart Router. Restart PC.
  • Realise that I’ve finished my lunch and gone way over the time I’d planned to spend.
  • Cry a little inside.
  • Decide to give it one last try just to see what happens. Silverlight etc doesn’t have a problem, but in the process I seem to be watching the film from the beginning again
  • Cry a little more inside.

And this is exactly why broadcast television and radio won’t die.


In order of problems viewing:

  • Amazon Instant Video – 1-2 problems per month
  • Virgin Media Digital Box – 1 problem every few months
  • Broadcast TV and Radio – I can remember 1 problem when someone stole cabling supplying one of the transmitters in Peterborough a few years ago.

But it’s not as simple as blaming Amazon, Netflix, Hulu or Youtube for a poor video experience.

Or Silverlight, Flash or HTML5.

Or Virgin, Sky, BT or other ISPs.

Or someone else in the house using a different device for gaming, streaming or downloading Wikipedia en masse.

Or all the neighbours deciding this is the exact time they all want to stream something as well.

Because the problem with internet television and radio is that it could be any part of the chain that causes an issue, and generally it’s down to the individual to figure it out.

The rationale is easy to understand – no service can provide effective troubleshooting for every individual combination of internet, viewing device and browser. But even as someone who has picked up reasonable technical knowledge over the years, it’s a massive pain in the arse.

Is it the software, the browser, the PC,  the wifi, the router, or the ISP? The diagnostics told me it was Silverlight, my observations were that my connections seemed to be running slowly, and restarting an entirely different piece of hardware fixed everything, and Silverlight runs fine again.


Meanwhile I can turn on a television or radio in a matter of seconds and enjoy whatever is available with simplicity and reliability. And if there’s a problem viewing, it’s either:

  • The TV is broken. Replace.
  • The transmitter is broken.
  • The end of the world has begun.

I love streaming films, TV and music on-demand, and accessing shows and artists I’d have never discovered and spent money on. But it’s hard to defend something which takes a working knowledge of IT to operate.

It’s why I worry about Net Neutrality, and the horrific idea that the EU could be moving towards accepting a two-tier internet. Access to a decent broadband speed is an infrastructure required by everyone – without it you limit the ability of individuals and startups in favour of the dominant players being able to mask the fact their services are inefficient.

It’s why I worry about curbing the BBC as a free-to-air service which is able to share information, education and news to anyone regardless of their devices or ISP.

And it’s why a part of me worries every time Spotify unveils new features, or Amazon tries to deliver a new technological innovation. Because it means that there are less people working in the boring ‘Just make it work’ department.

Years ago, I would have happily predicted the imminent demise of print and broadcast media in favour of digital services. All this time later, and I’m still waiting for something approaching reliability to make it conceivable.

On the plus side, the original comics are still awesome. And still work perfectly 33 years after they were first released.