Wednesday, 31 December 2008

The Last Post

This is my Last Post.

I started blogging almost exactly a year ago, on the 4th January 2008 and it has been a fascinating experience. I had to invent a new person - Mr Bojangles - and give that person a voice. (Incidentally, I also gave that person an extra Xmas present, from Tom to Mr Bojangles :) and Mr Bojangles got exactly what you would expect him to get).

I found my voice through Mr Bojangles and I told my story as it happened. I had to find my tempo too. Do you blog every day? Once a week? Once a month? I blogged 73 times in 2008, about 6 times a month and that worked well for me. I think I captured the main events of my year and only missed out one major incident, concerning a pot of glue, a left handed badger and two unusual shades of the colour mauve!

2008 turned out to be an eventful year for me.

What a year. I've had a good year. Garlik has had a good year and this blog has had a good year. But all good things come to an end. So this is my last post...

...for 2008.

See you all in 2009 :)

Happy New Year to you all and best wishes for 2009.

Mr Bojangles

Sunday, 21 December 2008

When Geeks Rule The World

A couple of days ago a friend of one of the Garlik team popped in to the office. She was introduced as a Geek Anthropologist. Not Greek. Geek. Anthropologists study humanity and, as I understand it, a geek anthropologist studies that branch of humanity knows as geeks, if that's not a contradiction in terms.

Co-incidentally, we were in the process of putting a new service into public beta, and it's a pretty geeky service at that (if you have never heard of FOAF - do NOT click here). So the office was a bit of a geek-fest, with people shouting syntax across to each other, wearing t-shirts with lines of code proudly displayed across their chest, suddenly and unexpectedly diverting into the detail of obscure films and random gadgets and having an all round good time. Including our friendly geek anthropologist, who blended in like any good ethnographer, whipped out a note book and proceeded to make notes in an unobtrusive "just think of me as a member of the tribe" sort of way.

Now, most of the time I think of myself as a businessman. A "tech entrepreneur" is what I claim to be. But I think underneath this thin veneer there is the heart of a geek pulsating strongly ready to burst out in an Alien-like way (Note: spurious cult movie reference). I think it traces back to my early computing days as a mainframe Assembler programmer. Sure, like any old beast, I have been shoved aside by new thrusting young alpha-geeks in the tribe, but I sit there up on the hill, a proud, old geek has-been picking at my fleas.

I am proud to have geek blood in my veins though, as ultimately geeks will come to rule the world (cue evil genius-like behavour, mwahahahaha), whatever Fiona S thinks.

"Who's Fiona S?" I hear you cry as one. Who indeed. Let's go back about 35 years. I am in a train carriage on the way back from a school trip with the cool kids. You know. Guys like Mark A, David W, Hilary P and of course the class pin-up Fiona S. We are 11 years old. The cool kids decide that, given the absence of a teacher in this particular carriage, we will pair up and do some snogging. Arrgghhhhh ! How did I, one of the class geeks, end up in this carriage? Pairs were quickly formed and there were two people left over. Me and the class pin-up Fiona. She looked disgusted. I looked at my feet. The girls went into a huddle, came to an agreement and Fiona turned to me.

"Oi, Tom", she said "you've got to leave the carriage".

"Oh, oh, okay" I said, dissapointed but quietly pleased that Fiona S, the class pin-up, had actually spoken to me.

"Yes" she said "go down the corridor and find Steve and tell him to come to this carriage for snogging".

You see, that's the lot of the true geek. To be sent away, and not only sent away but told to summon another cool kid for snogging. But our day will come, I tell you. We will rise up and reclaim our place in the carriage. Do the cool kids have their own anthropologists? No way.

And if Fiona S came up to me right now, begged for forgiveness and offered that snog that was so cruelly snatched from my grasp 35 years ago, I would merely snort with derision, quote some really cool movie line and turn away in disgust. Probably.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Caught on film half naked and given a prize

Last night I stripped in a car park in Mayfair. As I stood there in the freezing cold, naked from the waste up, I glanced up and saw a CCTV camera smiling down at me - whoops!

There was a reason for this moment of madness, trust me. Following a days worth of back to back meetings up in London, I had to do a quick change in my car into "black tie" so that I could attend the annual British Computer Society Awards event at the Dorcherster, Park Lane. I was in two minds about attending at all but Garlik was up for awards in two categories and a couple of Garlik colleauges were attending with me so I wrestled with the suit in the back of the car, slipped on the cufflinks and strode out of the carpark, across the road and into the warm embrace of abut 1,000 luminaries of the UK computer industry.

The compere was Gyles Brandreth, and he was amazing. Hilarous. I laughed so much, I actually had to clutch my belly with delight. He controlled a crowd of over 1,000 people effortlessly and punctured any pretentious characters, including himself. If you are ever organising a big event - BOOK GYLES ! He's brilliant.

After a good, solid dinner (including mash potato so it couldn't go wrong) the awards part of the evening kicked off. Gyles, who knew nothing about the industry, seemed to be filled with pure joy as the name of every winner was read out. He did tease almost every winner as they went up to get their prize and I had my fingers crossed that we wouldn't win, as I could only image the fun he would have at our expense with a name like Garlik.

So it was with a mixture of surprise, delight and trepidation that I heard him saying "oooohhhh, you'll like the taste of this one" when our first category came up, the best Web-based Technology Project. Sure enough, we WON! Hurray. We strode up, collected our prize and went off to have our official photos taken. What a lovely surprise.

We had only just sat down back at our table when the big prize of the evening, the BT Flagship for Innovation, was being announced. We were down for it, but having won the earlier one, we didn't expect to win this one too. Amazingly, we did! I was genuinely shocked and really, really pleased.

In fact I was so pleased, that I found myself dancing to Abba songs and waving my hands in the air like I just don't care (and so on and so forth). One of my colleagues attempted to down a glass of champagne in one, only to discover that the effect of the bubbles renders this near impossible and quite entertaining. The other colleague regaled me with the benefits of undergarments of a magical nature in the context of award ceremonies.

All in all it was a tremendous evening and a big pat on the back for the Garlik team. We started the year as winners of the World Economic Forum, Davos Technology Pioneer 2008 award and we are ending the year as winners of the British Computer Society's flagship innovation award. We've done okay :)

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Of Fast Cars and Celebrities

Yesterday was a day of fast cars and celebrities. It is funny the places that you end up and the people you bump in to as a tech entrepreneur.

In the morning I and a Garlik colleague travelled out to the Oxfordshire countryside to visit the headquarters of the Williams Formula 1 team. The marketing guys there wanted to explore some very innovative branding ideas, a novel way of opening up the massively powerful and international world of Forumla 1 to the VC and start-up community. The 17 F1 races that take place around the globe each year are watched by over 600m fans in 189 countries and attending an F1 meeting is a bit like attending "Davos on wheels" as you get to rub shoulders (and do business) with chief executives of major corporations and take your key clients for a stroll around the pit lane. Anyone interested?

Then we went on a quick tour of the facilities. Wow! Talk about British innovation and engineering excellence. Williams can go from a new car design to a handbuilt formula 1 car on the test tracks in 6 weeks. I held large bits of engine made of special material so light that I could balance it on one hand. They are at the cutting edge of "clean tech" with a flywheel device that stores energy when the car slows and releases it on request. They took us to a huge room containing practically every Formula 1 Williams car going back 30 years. Each car costs about £10m, so I was probably looking at half a billion pounds worth of vehicle! I tried to think of good "bloke" type of questions to ask but could only think of things like "So, does that car go really fast then?" Fortunately my colleauge knew the right questions to ask and I trailed along saying things like "core" and "wow". I also found that if you repeat the last word of a sentence that someone has just said whilst nodding, you can appear very knowledgeable.

In the evening I attended the Medical Futures 2008 Award ceremony. I was a judge on the main prize of the night so sat on a table near the front. Which was good because it was a bit of a UK celeb-fest as Jonathan Ross, Tony Hadley (Spandau Ballet), Andrew Marr, David Mitchell (comedian), Vanessa Feltz (TV and radio), Anthea Turner (presenter), Melanie Sykes (presenter), Mishal Husain (presenter), Michael Buerk (news reader) and Martha Lane Fox (co-founder of came up one by one to appeal on behalf of the charities that they are involved in supporting. Jonathan Ross was a big hit with the hundred of doctors in the audience despite his recent problems. In the auction, he offered to leave a personalised message on the answerphone of the highest bidder :)

There was a brief moment of slapstick when an eminent gentleman (who shall remain nameless) turned the wrong way after speaking on the stage, took a step and disappeared off the side of the four foot high platform. Organisers rushed about in a panic (I think this fell into the "what's the worst that could happen" category for the organisers) whilst one of the hosts joked "is there a doctor in the house?"

The lifetime achievement award was won by Sir James Black OM, the Nobel Prize winner and inventor of the beta blocker, a true titan in the medical innovation field. The list of medical innovations coming out of the UK as the awards ceremony progressed was staggering. If the guys at Medical Futures succeed in unleashing the potential of all this talent, a whole new industry will emerge in the UK.

Oh, I should throw in a Royal I suppose, since I'm namedropping. I was nearly mown down by HRH Prince Michael of Kent as I was coming in and he was leaving. It is funny the places that you end up and the people you bump in to as a tech entrepreneur.