Any Product Manager worth their salt will at least have heard of the principles of Agile development and Kanban. Whilst this is not a post on the merits of either, it is interesting how elements of these disciplines are starting to creep into other parts of my life. As I’ve mentioned before I like organisation. Everything in its place. Everything clearly tagged. It may drive some folk mad, but it’s how I operate and in a sea of increasing information I find it one way to at least stem the tide, if you’ll forgive the ocean-faring pun.
So when two weeks ago our offer on a house in Watford was accepted, my organisational radar started to bleep. Quite loudly. After just one day, emails and then paperwork, started to build up. Forms to fill in, documents to counter sign. You know the drill. Now whilst delegation remains a skill that I’m pretty crap at, I knew that I needed to share the work load and quickly so I turned to an online Kanban board that I have played around in the past – Trello. As a piece of software it visually represents objects (or in this case tasks) moving through a process. And it is proving to be invaluable!
So why does Trello fit the bill?
- It is simple and easy to use. Create a ticket, add some details, drag and drop. Easy peasy.
- It’s free. When you’re negotiating over thousands of pounds its nice to have something that doesn’t threaten to eat into your finances.
- It’s mobile. There is an app that notifies you when cards have been updated and it is easy to update. This has proved really valuable when on long drawn out conversations with mortgage lenders and you need to recall some small statistical detail such as your National Insurance number or the email of your estate agent.
- When you think of a new task that needs to be done it’s easy to add to the board in seconds and then fill in later. No more scraps of paper that you may lose or forget, which could prove costly.
- I feel in control. Whereas in the past on previous moves I have taken a reactive role, Trello is allowing me to at least enjoy the sense of being in control. In a flash I can see what is required of me or others, I can delegate tasks and I can rank them. It saves time and reduces anxiety.
Overall it is helping to relieve the stress associated with moving house. A place for everything and everything in it’s place…until moving day.
For the last two months I’ve been tracking my daily activities with the help of a FitBit. It’s one of these Internet of Things, that is garnering a lot of positive press right now. In short, its like a pedometer that you wear which then tracks your daily steps, sleep, weight loss and a few other more bespoke indicies. It’s also as cute as a button and synchs to your iPhone so you can carry your data around with you.
It’s too early to tell if my overall health is improving as a result but I’m certainly a lot more aware now of the cycles my body goes through. Being able to record my sleep patterns has already seen me focus more effort on getting what I would term a good night’s sleep. I’ve also worn it when playing football and it’s interesting to see how much ground one covers (especially when chasing after pacey forwards).
One of the metrics it tracks is Floors. Each day it will tell me how many floors I have ascended and descended thanks to the inbuilt altimeter. Add up all those stairs you go up and down each day. It soon stacks up and by gamifying the experience they have already made me more likely to turn down the work lift or the easy option of the Bakerloo Line escalators. I walk them instead.
Most days I seem to do the equivalent of around 30 floors (they count a floor as a 10 foot rise or fall) so I thought why not turn this into an even steeper challenge – Climb Everest!
The maths is simple to work out. Mount Everest is recored as being 29,029 feet high. That’s therefore the equivalent of 2,903 floors to climb or descend. At an average of 30 a day, that should be achieved in 97 days. So here’s my personal challenge. Starting February 1st I will attempt to climb the equivalent of Everest by 30th April, 2013.
Ok so the results are in and David Bowie, aka The Thin White Duke, aka Ziggy Stardust, aka David Jones, aka That Bloke From Labyrinth won out with 21% of the vote.
So from starting February 1st I plan to listen to the following albums.
- David Bowie
- Space Oddity
- The Man Who Sold the World
- Hunky Dory
- The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
- Aladdin Sane
- Pin Ups
- Diamond Dogs
- Young Americans
- Station to Station
I reckon that takes me from Croydon, onto America and then finally east to Berlin – which cover what most critics seem to suggest were his best years. I’ll report back what I think.
Remember the days when you used to drive to an actual physical video shop and walk about the corridors of said shop trying to settle on which movie to watch that evening?
You seen that one with with that guy from Cocktail? Not Cruise, the Aussi bloke…
What about that one with Steve Martin where he’s on a horse?
Parenthood or The Three Amigos?
In my year out I needed to scrabble together some dough to go travelling. I needed around a grand and half. My take on it was therefore that if I was going to work all the hours god sends I was determind to make sure it was somewhere enjoyable, or where there were at least some perks that came with the position. As an 18 year old getting into movies there was a small Blockbusters Express in my home time but they weren’t hiring. So I went to the town next door, Hemel Hempstead, where by luck they were. This was the type of store with endless aisles stacked high with 2 inch thick video cassette boxes. It even had it’s own foreign section!
So one afternoon later I was being interviewed for the Customer Service Representative (CSR) position. It went something like this:
Q. Have you ever served people before?
A. Yes. I’ve been Mr Fruit & Veg at Waitrose for the last 12 months
Q. Can you answer these 10 movie questions?
A. Can I ever!
10 mins later I had the job. I was told that I got one question wrong. Ben Hur – my now boss informed me had won 10 Oscars not 11. I challenged this and my rapidly becoming ex-boss gave me a funny look. He got up, walked to the “Classics” aisle and came back with a copy of the VHS complete with cover sticker proclaiming the film that “Won a record 11 Oscar Awards!” Ok, so no one likes a smart arse but at least I got the job on merit and I was determined to enjoy it. Beisdes I was (a) young, (b) desperate and (c) a budding movie geek.
In the end and over the course of three university interuptted years I ended up working at both the Hemel branch as well as later managing my hometown branch in Berkhamsted. I opened up and closed up shops in Wycombe, Tring and Chesham, did a mad 15 hour Boxing Day shift in Aylesbury (who rents videos on Boxing Day you ask – weird, lonely people), and generally crammed in all the shifts I could. So I have to admit to being a little saddened when the news of the company’s decline into administration hit the headlines this week. It’s been coming for some years and Blockbuster v Internet battle is well documented. Pure and simple it’s a business that failed to evolve to the changing times, but I was 18 so what did I really learn?
1. Don’t leave trap door open
Customers can fall through it and into the cellar below. It hurts when a customer lands on your head with a copy of True Lies in their now shaking hand.
2. No one respects The Oscars
The day of the 1995 Oscars I dusted down one of the shelving units, slung aside some slow moving stock and laid out my own Oscar section (albeit from a limited selection). Rain Man, The French Connection, The Godfather (Part II was missing), Ghandi, Annie Hall and many more worthy winners. Roll up, roll up. Manager walks in, takes one look and says “Get rid of that, we’ve got 50 copies of Ace Ventura coming in.”
3. Customers will return the wrong tapes
And occassionally it will be a copy of last night’s Eastenders and occassionally it will be a copy of them having sex with their wife.
4. Simon Bates can get on your nerves
When ever you rented or bought a video in the nineties there is a good chance you were greeted with this annoyingly drawn out message on the perils of video piracy. It didn’t work.
5. Acting in Crime Watch
One of staff was once attacked on the way home. In the end she was okay but for some reason Crime Watch got a sniff and wanted to reconstruct the drama of it all. So one night, several of us got our chance to be actors for the day. I was “Browsing Customer #3″ hastily dressed in some one else’s t-shirt. In the end, the whole scene ended up on the BBC cutting room floor and they just cut to a shot of her stand in leaving the store. I wonder if there was ever a director’s cut?
6. Geri Halliwell won’t rent Spice Girls: The Movie
Right at the height of Spice Mania, the ginger haired one once walked in when I was running the store and asked me what was worth renting. Funnily enough she declined her own recently released film, and plumped instead for my left field recommendation of The Last Seduction. Wonder if that’s how she snared Chris Evans?
7. A £2.99 pricing model pleases no one
Especially the newsagent next door given at least once a week I would go round pleading for more coppers for my cash till. Still he got free rentals in return.
8. Drunks make poor film critics
Generally from around 1030 on a Friday, the steady stream of customers would turn into a steady stream of drunks that could be split into roughly two personality types:
Type 1: A kebab carrying neanderthal who wants to know which movie carries the most violence
Type 2: Amorous drunks asking what selection of movies we have “under the counter mate”
9. The computer never forgets
Understandably no guy is going to admit in front of his partner that he once hired Animal Instincts 3, but there was always the opportunity to publicly announce this information when he annoyingly challenged the late fees on his account.
10. There are a lot of films out there
Looking back, the biggest thing I learnt from my time there wasn’t the art of customer service, but more the detail and delight of movie making. The free access to thousands of films that ranged from the good to the bad from the silly to the sublime, was amazing and has singularly shaped my love of the medium more than anything else has. Nostalgia is a terribly self indulgent thing but I’ve started to log these films at iCheckMovies.com which is pretty much the best movie list maker I can find out there. I’m up to 653 so far.
I leave you with this. Wow what a difference indeed!
So I’ve pretty much given up on discovering new music. I think last year there was one new album I got introduced to (M83) which I quite liked. The rest I don’t remember. Time is one factor – I just don’t have enough time. Podcasts is another. Quite frankly I’d rather, at times, listen to the Football Ramble or a TedTalk. And then there’s Spotify which seems to me to encourage nostalgia better than it does discovery.
So with that in mind, and because I’m a bit bored of my current playlist, I thought I’d challenge myself to delve into an artist’s back catalog. And I would like to invite you to make that selection for me. Below is a poll – click on the artist you recommend I discover and I’ll share my thoughts back on here later next month.
Firstly some caveats:
- The poll below was garnered by asking friends and followers.
- Yes, I know they are all old artists. That’s the point. A new present day artist won’t have a back catalog (although are One Direction on their fifth studio album yet?)
- Some I may have the odd album of. In a Best of The Beatles type way. But that shouldn’t matter. It’s the singles, the early albums, the B-sides I aim to listen to.
Whose back catalog should I try?
- Bruce Springsteen (14%, 4 Votes)
- Cream / Eric Clapton (11%, 3 Votes)
- David Bowie (21%, 6 Votes)
- Elton John (11%, 3 Votes)
- Joy Division / New Order (14%, 4 Votes)
- Public Enemy (11%, 3 Votes)
- The Rolling Stones (14%, 4 Votes)
- The Who (4%, 1 Votes)
Total Voters: 28
Hot on the heels of Part 1, comes, well yes, Part 2!
6. Diving with Bull Sharks
They were big – about 6 feet on average. They were grey – a dark menacing grey. And there was around 15 of them in total as we descended down to about 30m in the Caribbean Sea just off the coast of Cancun, Mexico. Amazing creatures. Beautiful and not the slightest bit dangerous. It’s the other way round really and more people in the world need to understand that before it’s too late.
7. The Olympic Opening Ceremony
What will it be like? What if it rains? Who’ll light the torch? So many questions and so many ways that it could have been a disaster which may have set the wrong tone for the start of the Games. Yet; in the end it was anything but that. Idiosyncratically British in style and substance, Danny Boyle and the amazing team of volunteers and performers, nailed it and up and down the country via Twitter and Facebook you could sense the mood of the country changing in real time. In the course of one evening our collective pints went from half empty to half full and we were off on a journey many of us will cherish for ever.
8. London & The Games
It was so easy to get caught up in all the pre Games scaremongering that you have to remind yourself just how well London handled the Olympics. In fact our capital city has never performed better or looked more fantastic. The transport worked, the Games Makers kept us moving with grace and good humour, and even the weather did it’s part. The world was watching, and we all in our own unique ways, delivered. It made me so proud.
9. Launching new products at work
Having a vision for a product and then delivering it are two very different parts of a connected puzzle and this year I got to finally deliver at work a couple of products that I’m truly proud of. Along the way it has required some substantial user research – we had to be tough on what we weren’t going to do (which is just as important as what we are going to do). We had to redesign features that many users have become accustomed to for some five years – it’s not always easy to see beyond the now. We had to work with partners who work on different time scales and sometimes with differing visions. But we did it and I’m proud that my leadership of these will empower others to raise even more online.
10. Bambino #2
Yep, due in June of this year, a new addition to the Family Parkins. And we can’t wait!
God I’m such a sucker for these end of the year list things. I love lists me. So in the spirit of looking back over the last year here are my 2012 highlights. In no particular order, and of no particular ranking, just stuff that made me smile and consider that 2012 was a pretty good vintage.
1. Seeing Messi play
The original idea was to see Barcelona play at the Camp Nou but then Messi started to play a style of football that enthralled the whole world. My visit to Barca’s home game versus Getafe became more a pilgrimage than just another football game – and the Little Flea didn’t disappoint.
2. Nina gets published in John Lewis
I love seeing one achieve their ambition. It always gets my teary eyed to see someone cross the line first and fufiling a dream and god knows we had a lot of that this summer, but earlier on in the year I stood and marvelled in John Lewis, Oxford Street, when I saw my wife’s amazing card designs on display – no, on sale! – in the shop that she set out to appear in. I’m still in total awe.
3. Dr John Dee
I’m always prepared to cut Damon Albarn a bit more slack than others. He may be a little pompous at times but at least he tries and you could never accuse him of peddling just one style. Dr Dee – the opera on the 16th century mathematician (take that NME!) – was the most visually sumptuous show I saw this year and was filled with haunting laments that spoke to a time past, none more stunning than the tune Cathedrals.
4. Nice Birdie
I’ve never scored a proper birdie on a proper golf course – until I nearly drove the green on the Par 4 13th hole at Iberostar Golf Course, Cancun. A 9-iron chip and a 15 foot putt later and I’d done it. And celebrated like Ian Poulter would.
5. Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour De France
Sir Bradley to you now. Ok, there’s a danger that it’s going a bit over the top now, but he achieved what no other Brit has ever done, in 99 years of trying and he did it with style, skill and an endearing respect for the traditions of Le Tour. The perfect antidote to the poison that was Lance Armstrong.
So the last few months I’ve been working with Cancer Research UK and their agency of choice, Manifesto, on developing a fundraising project aimed at generating a new wave of supporters in the young, male populace.
The idea of “owning” a month, much like Prostrate Cancer have done with the hugely successful Movember, was one we played around with and the annual pledge that thousands of us make to “get fit in January” seemed an apt place to start. From there the idea of going dry for a month emerged as one that was eminently achievable - and from here the campaign rather snowballed – if you forgive the festive time pun. Last month the resulting campaign – Dryathlon.org – launched and to date has inspired over 5,000 souls to say no to alcohol (for one month at least).
So having been part of the campaign launch, it’s only right that I enter into the spirit (I thank you!) of things and become a Dry-athlete myself. I’m only trying to raise £100 and the good news is that it starts from 9am on January 1st so at least I can party into the early hours this New Year’s Eve
If you fancy challenging me to go without a beer this January or to say no to a tipple or two of wine then you can support me on my JustGiving page or text me £3 by texting WINE76 £3 to 70070
If you are feeling equally inspired, it is free to sign up and you can do so here on the official Dryathlete site or even from within Facebook. There is no set target to raise – but you might surprise yourself with how far you manage to go!