Worried about the Wikipedia blackout? Don’t be! #twitterpedia has the answer!

As Wikipedia prepares to go black for 24 hours tomorrow, along with Reddit and Boing Boing, in protest of SOPA/PIPA, millions of Internet users, students, and knowledge addicts around the world prepare for the worst, as the phenomenal information repository we’ve grown to love will shut down temporarily in protest of these most heinous pieces of litigation.

However will we get our information now, you ask? What will desperate students do to bolster their essays with information from reliable and infallible sources? What will we do when you wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, panting heavily, as you’re met with a sudden and immediate urge to find out who won the 1989 Honduran general election, because that’s just something you need to know? Don’t despair, dear reader! The solution to all of our problems is quite simple!

Since Wikipedia’s brand of crowdsourced wisdom won’t be available to us tomorrow, let’s make the most of the resources available to us to help out our fellow brothers and sisters of the Web, and let’s have lots of fun in the process. For argument’s sake, let’s say you are struck with the sudden and immediate urge to find out who won the 1989 Honduran general election tomorrow. Simply tweet your question, and tag it with #twitterpedia! Chances are, someone, somewhere, will know the answer to your question. The more people we can encourage to participate, the more questions we can get answered. Think how awesome you’ll feel, having someone benefit from your superior knowledge of Central American politics, or anything else, for that matter.

Tomorrow, let’s not only show our support for net neutrality, and a truly open and free Internet, but let’s use it to demonstrate how awesome the Internet really can be.

Happy Twitterpedia-ing!

N.B. I didn’t come up with this concept. It was dreamt up by animator extraordinaire @JackTheRogue. All credit due to him!

Losing Hair – Hello 2012

The great rock on which we live has majestically completed another solar cycle, calling for equal parts celebration and pessimism by its inhabitants. Last night, I took part in much of the former, although the previous sentence implies the latter, somewhat, I feel. Truth be told, I’ve rewritten that opening sentence ten or more times. I am rusty. Still, nothing escapes the fact that it is blatantly and irrevocably 2012, and I hope you saw out the new year in style, whatever you got up to.

Pessimistic or not, a new year usually signals the need for change in some capacity. Last January, I lamented that I’d not made the most of 2010, and that ultimately it is our own responsibility to make brilliant the short time we have on Earth. Four paltry blog postings later, and here I am again, with much of the same message: make 2012 everything you want it to be.

On the whole, 2011 was quite a successful year for me. I started the year with a tour of the Americas and Australia, the photos of which I still yet have not finished uploading to Facebook. I visited New York and Florida for the first time (New York certainly made an impression, and is now one of my favourite places of all time), and returned home with a steady job, lots of responsibilities, and a learning experience that has (according to others) aged me beyond my years. I am thankful for my good fortunes, and I hope that things continue to get better for me, and for you, too.

Probably the biggest change for me in 2011 was perhaps the most arbitrary; I cut my hair. At its longest, it was perhaps half-way down my back, and I was immensely proud of it. I shampooed, conditioned, towel-dried and brushed it on a regular basis, to ensure it was always in good condition.

My hair has been long for most of my adult life. It was long, although not that long, when I went to university, and stayed with me throughout. Now that I think back on it, it was an enormous part of my identity. Despite having a very unique Christian name, I was always initially referred to, or acknowledged as ‘the one with long hair’. Of course, I’m not saying that my identity was nothing but an empty, yet hairy husk, but it at least felt like a huge part of who I was.

Then, last January, I sliced it all off. A number of events took place leading up to that, which made me feel like I needed to distance myself from who I once was, or at least the circumstances that had plagued the long-haired version of me. I felt the need for change, so I took the necessary steps to change something I had control over in order to effect such change. Do I regret it? No. In fact, I sort of prefer how I look with short hair. It felt like a sizeable change I had to make in order to close off one chapter of my life, and begin another one anew.

What does one do when starting anew? Well, I can tell you from my experiences (perhaps not the best example of what to do in such a situation) that you rush around trying to find proof of the permanent, unchangeable things that define you. You look to others, friends both new and old, for appraisals of who you are. Probably, also one of the most foolish mistakes I made, is to try manically to grab on to bits of who you once were, using the aforementioned methods, in some attempt to feel as if you’re not ‘losing yourself’, or some similar, silly notion. It is an extremely silly mistake to make. Just as the world turns, and the years change, we change too. It’s something not worth fretting over, as change isn’t always negative. Change is, well, change, and it’s foolish to try and resist something so inevitable.

Don’t be so hard on yourself in 2012. Don’t fret over your failures or your mistakes, by entertaining false notions that you could have done better; that in some alternate, parallel universe, some other version of you could have done it any differently. I tried to keep a mantra going last year: you are currently the best version of yourself, ever. It’s something I truly do believe in, although sometimes trouble does its best to make me forget it. We are the result of all of our experiences leading up to now. We have been tempered by time, if you will. What I’m trying to say, is that it’s silly to think about who you were, and to become obsessed with the idea of what you would have done, or rather, what you should have done. We are who we are, and while we may make foolhardy decisions from time to time, we mustn’t forget that we’re constantly growing, and constantly changing. Perhaps, then, we won’t be so foolish next time.

I’m not really one for resolutions, but in 2012, I’m going to be more accepting of who I am, and I pray that you are too.

Wherever you are, I wish you a fantastic New Year filled with joy, prosperity and love.

The Spark

Yesterday, I taught my dad how to copy and paste. Not Ctrl C, Ctrl V copy paste, but the simple ability to copy a bit of text from somewhere, and transfer it somewhere else, which is something we all take for granted.

We’re currently changing energy providers, and as part of the switchover, my dad was e-mailed a link to a snazzy portal where he can log in and check his new bills from New Energy Provider PLC. The problem started when my dad had to take a reference number from the e-mail sent to him, and transfer it to aforementioned snazzy portal.

Fumble fumble, ruffle ruffle, went the clutter on my desk as my dad searched for a piece of paper and a pen. Considering how messy I can be, this was no small feat. I soon realised what dad was up to, and looked up from my book to see what the tumult was about. When I enquired as to what was going on, he asked me if I had a piece of paper where he could jot something down; something which he had in his e-mail, and which he wanted to put somewhere else.

I sat up, and got my dad to dig out the e-mail with the number he was searching for. Highlight the text you want to move, right click, then left click ‘Copy’. After then getting him to switch tabs (again, no small feat) to his portal login, I instructed him to right click inside the box where he wanted the text moved, then right click, then left click ‘Paste’.

That was when I saw it. Dad sat back, and his eyes widened, as his brain registered what he’d just achieved. “This is wonderful stuff,” he said. That was all he had to say.

My parents are quite a bit older than the parents of most other people my age. They’re not tremendously computer literate, which I think is partly why I developed something of an aptitude for computers and other systems/machines, after I was given a computer at the age of 11. I didn’t have anyone to show me how to use it, so I just had to figure it out myself. Still, ignoring all of that, just to see someone’s face light up like that was very humbling, especially a parent. Whoever you are, chances are your parents kicked considerable amounts of arse to provide you with what you have today. I know mine did.

Even as I write this now, I find it somewhat startling the number of things we take for granted, daily. Things that people weren’t able to do ten, or twenty years ago, or things that weren’t even possible thirty years ago. Things like moving a bit of text from one document on a computer, to another. It’s so easy to get lost in it all, and realise that for some, the world can be an expansive, confusing, and sometimes scary place. Then again, it must be wonderful to have so much yet to discover, and to feel that feeling of doing something you’ve never done before. I feel it less and less as I get older, but for older generations, it must be the other way around, surely?

Simple pleasures.

There will never be another

The world has lost one of its best.

It was almost as if I was in some strange parallel universe, when I saw a shot of Steve Jobs appear on my TV this morning. I was just about to leave for work, but I stayed. I saw the caption and I could not believe it. It was almost as if the news was trying to dupe us; it was having us on.

I froze on the spot, and watched the short report that followed. It just all seemed so unreal.

Steve Jobs will be sorely missed. As I walked in to work, I passed the office manager, and we made small talk while the news droned on from a TV in the background. I looked at the TV, then asked him, “Have you heard?” I was mildly offended when he seemed nonplussed. Why? Because Steve Jobs changed the world, I told him.

Aside from the revolutionary technology that Mr Jobs and Apple created, he was a character. He was a self-confessed square peg in a round hole, and watching him every year, defying convention and normality with every product launch, he gave courage to those of us who have ever felt alienated for believing in something new; something real. Steve Jobs was a role model for all of us who have ever stood up and said, or wanted to say, “This is the world, and this is how I see it.”

In his iPad review, Stephen Fry concluded that its best feature is that it is a joy to use. It’s a product that despite all of the complex techno-wizardry contained within, still manages to bring joy to its users for just using it. Of course, there were many criticisms of the iPad when it launched. There were those who said there was no place in the market for it, and there were those who complained it was flimsy and underpowered for what it presented itself as. Still, the iPad seems to have done quite well for itself, and carved out its own niche in the market, inspiring a slew of other tablets from a number of manufacturers. What remains, is that Steve was there first. He was the one who said, “Hey, let’s try it this way,” and while we were hesitant at first, we got it. We understood, and it was beautiful.

Steve Jobs represented to us what it means to think outside of the box. It’s difficult to think that he’ll no longer be around, pushing boundaries, kicking ass, and taking names. He was the first great who made the technology world sit up and listen. While he will not be the last, there will never be another Steve Jobs, and he will be missed greatly.

To end on a somewhat saccharine note (or not), it’s our responsibility now to make sure the spirit of Steve lives on. That no matter how many people tell us we’re crazy, or just plain wrong, or full of bad, unworkable ideas, we will not take no for an answer. We’ll keep kicking at boundaries, and changing things for the better. That’s on us.

Thank you so much, Steve. You will be missed.

In Memoriam - Steve Jobs (by @gapingvoid)
via gapingvoidgallery.com

Stay hungry, stay foolish.
Steve Jobs -1955-2011

Eerie as hell, is what it is.

I was evacuated from my office today.

I’m from a leafy, fairly affluent area of West London. I’ve lived here all my life; I’ve grown up here, went to school here, and was lucky enough to find a job here when I left university. You could say, I suppose, that I know the area quite well.

I try to walk to work as much as I can. In most ways, the walk home from work is one of the most enjoyable parts of my day. I’m quite the people watcher, and there’s nothing more wonderful than ambling down the High Road, past cafés and shops, seeing people being people. Today was very different, however.

Just after lunch, I noticed a few police officers walking up and down the road on which my office is located. They seemed to be attracting a lot of attention. They’d go up to a shop, stand in the doorway, poke their heads in and wait for a staff member to come out on to the street. I’d seen all the news coverage from down the road in Ealing, so it was understandable that there would be a heightened police presence in town today. I acknowledged this, and got back to work.

An hour or so later, I received a text message from a friend. “My friend just text me this. Are you OK? Apparently the riots have already spread to Chiswick.” I looked out of the window, and replied back, assuring my friend that everything is fine. More work ensued.

A couple of hours after this, I received an e-mail from reception. They’d had a visit from a police officer, and had been advised to evacuate the building. Due to this, they’d be locking the doors at 3:30. We were all advised to go home.

Reacting to some rumours online (which after all, are just rumours), I decided to leave. I exit the office, then walk up and down the road, which is adjacent to the High Road. Everything is shut, save for a convenience store at the end of the road. A clothes shop had all of its stock pulled away from the windows, implying the police had warned business owners to prepare for the worst. I pass a café which is closing, with its staff congregating near the entrance. A woman says, “All we can do is go home and hope that things are okay tomorrow.”

Moving to the High Road, things are quiet; too quiet. Things are eerie. There’s something a little odd about seeing fruit stall traders packing up their wares so early, their bare stalls a poignant indication that something is afoot. Shops are closed, mostly, and the pavements are relatively empty, as a result. Police officers are on every corner. I pass a shop with a board over the door, with a sign stuck to it apologising for their early closure. A local hi-fi store had ‘whited out’ its windows, while the owner of a nearby TV retailer stood at the front of his shop, Sellotaping bin bags to the windows there. Domino’s Pizza was boarded up altogether.

I don’t mean to make the situation here seem worse than it is. Indeed, there is no guarantee that anything will actually happen. For that, I think we can only wait and see what happens tomorrow. I’ve already pointed out that rumours are nothing but rumour. As I’m writing this, the sun is beginning to set, so I expect if anything is going to happen, this is about the time it’s going to kick off. Still, I can’t shake that feeling of walking home today. Even if no tragedy will befall our fair town this eve, we’ve all certainly been rattled.

To anyone in or around London, or indeed to anyone, anywhere that has experienced rioting, my thoughts are with you tonight. Stay safe, people.

Life Lessons from Escape the City

A few days ago, I had the pleasure of attending Escape the City’s fabulous Winter Party at Guanabara, near Covent Garden. It was titled, ‘Start Something You Love’, and featured a number of speakers who have all made a business out of doing things they love. Ideally, this is something I’d also like to take part in, beyond spending my days in bed watching Mad Men, so I thought it best I go along and listen to what they had to say.

If you don’t know, Escape the City is a great website set up by Dom and Rob, who I heard from fellow conference attendees are a bit like Ant and Dec. Essentially, Escape the City is a network of people wanting to escape their boring ‘city’ jobs and do something different (and hopefully more fulfilling) with their lives. It has great job listings, and a lot of wonderful advice from wonderful people who have successfully escaped the city. You should really check it out, if you haven’t already.

Before Wednesday, I’d never been to a conference at a bar before. I strongly recommend it. Speaking at the event was Lara Morgan, founder of Pacific Direct, a soap supply company she sold for some large amount of money. Also speaking was Zarine Kharas, founder of JustGiving, Al Humphreys, who successfully biked around the world, and Ed Stafford, who once walked the entire length of the Amazon. Al and Ed have since become professional adventurers, and now busy themselves with challenges great and small (walking a circuit of the M25 in Al’s case) and talking about them afterwards. While listening to the speakers, I couldn’t help but feel supremely privileged to be receiving advice from such learned individuals. I learnt a lot that day, and would like to share these insights with you all, which I hope will prove helpful in business, and in life.

So, here you have it. Enjoy.

BE A CHAMELEON: Know who you’re selling to. Whether you’re brokering a deal, applying for a job, or building rapport with great people (making friends), gauge who your audience is, and what they’re looking for. Be who they want you to be. I mean this in the best possible way. I don’t mean for you to become a pushover, and bend your will to the fancy of everyone around you. That’d be just silly. Instead, be who you are, but learn which side of your personality to have on show at any one time.

NEVER GIVE UP: This one is a given. It doesn’t matter if you’re starting a business, or trying to navigate your way through the Amazon Rainforest on your own. Don’t give up. Just keep swimming, and you’ll eventually win. At life. Or at swimming.

DON’T WAIT, DO ACT: Zarine Kharas admitted that in coming up with the idea for JustGiving, there was never a ‘eureka’ moment. We can learn from this. We’re all incredibly good at putting things off because it’s not the right time for action. Stop it. In most cases, that eureka moment most likely isn’t going to fly in out of nowhere and hit you in the face. This isn’t to say that favourable opportunities don’t appear; if they do, take them, but don’t get lazy waiting. Enlightenment is a process. Get to it.

EXPERIENCE IS EVERYTHING: Another pearl of wisdom from Ms Kharas was that entrepreneurship is a skill. You can learn it, which I’m sure is a relief to many entrepreneurship practitioners and scholars around the globe. After being an entrepreneur for a while, it makes sense that you begin to know how it works. This can be applied to most things in life. Experience all you can, and keep at it. If something doesn’t work out, try and try again until you get it right. At the risk of sounding massively cliché, never give up.

KEEP BUSY: Al Humphreys let on that in his spare time, between his bigger adventures, he likes to keep himself busy with a series of ‘mini-challenges’. I’m sure many of us don’t have an insatiable thirst for endurance challenges, but it’s important to keep yourself stimulated to keep on top of your game.

MAKE LOTS OF FRIENDS (BE NICE): Ed Stafford was forced into some pretty sticky situations whilst trekking across South America. He was held at gunpoint, spear-point, and even jagged rock-point, I’m sure. When his original adventuring partner dropped out, he thought his journey was over. It probably would have been if it wasn’t for his capacity to make friends. His talk was certainly inspiring, so I’m going out on a limb here to say that Ed Stafford is an inspiring kind of guy. Assuming this is correct (which I’m sure it is), he inspired many to accompany him on his travels, and even recruited one South American gent relatively early on, who stayed with him for the remainder of his journey. He also ‘inspired’ the chieftain of a Native American tribe not to kill him, and instead hired him as a guide to help him navigate his way through a particularly treacherous part of South America. Just as Ed’s ability to make friends ensured he completed his trek in earnest, we too must not underestimate the importance of making friends. We never know when they could (literally or metaphorically) save our lives, so be nice.

DON’T BE EVIL: One of Zarine’s parting entreaties was a warning to not be evil. Lara Morgan also echoed this sentiment in her talk. Indeed, it is very important to treat others how we expect to be treated ourselves. Be fair and accommodating, and people will want to do business with you. Be cold and miserly and you can expect not to benefit from much of anything.

JUST (FUCKING) DO IT: Zarine Kharas, before exiting, joked about her most favourite of corporate slogans. I think this one is pretty self-explanatory. Go out there, and make amazing things happen. You have the power.

Well, that’s all, folks. Thank you to Escape the City, for putting on a brilliant night of inspiration and revelry, and thank you to the speakers for the much-needed kick up the proverbial. Thank you to you, also, for reading. I hope it’s been helpful.

Happy New Year

Today marks the beginning of something amazing. I saw out 2010 in my living room at home, surrounded by my family and our close friends. There was champagne, lots of amazing food, and an air horn. It was fun, but it was mostly joyous as it marked the end of something else. Something that was horrific at times. Something that was (on occasion) lonely, painful, and somewhat miserable.

If I’m honest, 2010 was not a good year for me. Admittedly, a lot of good things happened, but I also let things get the better of me a lot of the time. The reasons behind this are irrelevant. I didn’t have a good year because like many people, I wallowed. I finished up with formal education (for now, at least) and expected the world to hand me a decent career and equally decent prospects, just like that. Why? I don’t know why. Maybe it was something to do with higher education’s repetitious but deserved routine of constant gratification. That’s just a shot in the dark; don’t read into it. However, expecting anything at all was my fatal mistake. It’s a mistake I wish no one to make in 2011.

A common term I hear bandied about is that if we’re down on our luck, we’re “owed something”. Whatever your religious or spiritual affiliation, we all have a tendency to mope when times are rough. To assert that we’re “owed something” is something quite special, however. What are we owed? All of our hopes and dreams coming true? Who owes it to us? Karma? Luck? Jesus? The FTSE 100 index? Also, why are we owed? What have we done to appease the powers that be, to warrant any reciprocation? A line from Fight Club, one of my favourite reads, comes to mind: “You are not the all singing, all dancing crap of the world.”

Perhaps that’s a little harsh, but the sentiment behind it is interesting. The world is so much bigger than any of us can anticipate. Our actions are so minuscule, and our problems so tiny, that in the grand scheme of things they appear almost insignificant. If anything, this places us all at an advantage. It is only when we know our station that we can work to improve it. If we really are this ‘small’, then perhaps that’s an indication that we need to work that much harder to get what we really want out of 2011, or of anything, instead of waiting for something positive to rush by and hit us in the face. For me, at least, this was a much needed kick up the proverbial.

I don’t wish to drag you away from your New Year’s Day any longer, but I hope that I have imparted something useful to you all today. Don’t waste 2011 by sitting around, waiting for something good to happen. We’re each wonderful, amazing people in our own way, and we all have the potential to make this the year when you get a job, find that special someone, buy that house/car/ring, start a family, or just learn to be happy. I promise you, 2011 will be a great year, because we have the power to make it so. Smile, take a deep breath, and just go for it. This time, we’re going to win.