20 Years In The Blink Of An Eye

So today is my 3rd daughter, and firstborn's, 20th birthday.


20 years!

Philips PR747
Philips PR747

I remember sending about 20 texts to friends and family “It's a Girl!! 7lbs 6” that morning on my Philips PR747 GSM Digital Mobile Phone. I couldn't afford the ubiquitous Nokia 2110 so got this one, actually an OEM of the Nokia for £10 on a contract. Ironically I worked for Nokia at the time, but this was before companies, even Nokia, issued mobile phones to staff. Before people considered using mobile phones for work.

Amanzi's labour was all fits and starts, false contractions alternating with long periods of 'nothing to see here.” So the hospital sent me home after visiting hours. About 10 minutes into my 40 minute drive, they called our home number and left a message on our microtape powered answering machine. WTF! So yes, I had to drive the 40 mins back to the hospital.

Sony Discman
Sony Discman

Amanzi was born to the strains of White Heart's “Desert Rose” played on a Sony portable CD player. We had a stack of about 20 CD's that we'd listened to over the 2 days spent in hospital. MP3's were around, of course, but only the geekiest 'connected' people listened to them, and then on a PC. At the time 'audiophiles' were raging about the loss of audio quality on CD's compared to Vinyl. They were oblivious to the 'lossy' MP3 format that was going to disrupt the music industry.

Talking of PC's our home machine was a Dell Dimension XPS P120 with the original Pentium processor running at 120MHz. Fully specced with 16MB (yes, that's megabyte) RAM and a whopping 1GB (yes, that's gigabyte) hard drive. It came with a 17″ CRT monitor that itself weighed over 15kgs. I installed Windows NT 3.5 (pre 3.51) because I didn't trust the consumer Windows 95. That first family computer cost £5000, most of my inheritance.

Newborn Amanzi
My newborn

Photo's of the happy event (well immediately post the actual birth) were taken on a Minolta SLR camera on 35mm, 400 ISO colour Fujifilm. These took a couple of days to be developed and shared with friends. In an album. Each photo on the 36 shot roll came to about 50p – £1 depending on how many shots were actually worth keeping. But typically you'd pay about £20 all up for film, processing and printing.

I didn't buy my first digital camera until almost 2 years later. But later that year at work we did get a Casio QV-10, which took shots natively in QVGA resolution (320 x 240 or 0.08MPx) or interpolated up to VGA 640×480 (0.3MPx).

We had no way of digitising photos at the time. Scanners were expensive corporate devices. It didn't matter too much. Apart from a couple of business people at work, very few of our friends were connected to the Internet, let alone had an email address. We actually had copies of photos printed and posted these to relatives overseas.

In fact there was no “plug and play,” no USB. To even connect a peripheral, like a printer or joystick, you needed a parallel (printer) or serial (most other devices) port on the computer. You also needed the drivers on a floppy disk or it simply wouldn't work.

Talking of the Internet, at the time I had just changed from Compuserve, to AOL, to Force9 for my ISP. I had a 56k modem, and Force9 offered a 1800 “dial-up” number that saved me the cost of the phone call when connecting. In the UK calls were billed by the second. In those days, if someone picked up the phone in the kitchen, it would knock the sole PC in the house off the “Net.”

There was no 'Social Media' of course. Some of us more dedicated techs would scan the Alt.News sites, a precursor to forums (and post dialling into BBS 'Bulletin Board Services'). I was proud to have memorised my ICQ ID, a 9 digit number, that allowed me to have 'real-time' chats on the platform. ICQ an early Instant Messenger client, and precursor to Yahoo! Messenger, then MSN Messenger. This was a decade before Facebook.

VHS had won the video format wars, and there were consumer video cameras. All of these were massive, clunky affairs, that recorded natively to VHS or to 'Hi-8' 8mm tape cartridges. Video editing was an analog linear process, computers simply didn't have the power to render and edit video at the time. So we have no video from those early days. In fact we don't have any video of our wedding either, as we decided it not worth the £5,000 copyright licence to cover the songs in our service.

USRobotics Palm Pilot Professional
USRobotics Palm Pilot Professional

Amanzi was born about a year before I picked up my first Personal Digital Assistant, or PDA, the USRobotics Palm Pilot Professional. The 'Professional' had 1MB of memory, instead of 512k. But by the time Charis was born, almost 2 years after Amanzi, Lucy would take a digital photo of her then email it to me in hospital at the time. I would dial-in to my email account on the Palm Pilot, with a clip-on modem, and show the 2-bit monochrome image to the medical staff. Futuristic stuff indeed.

In fact as early as 1998, just two and a half years later, we took all the ID photos for our migration to Australia, on a digital camera and printed them at home. We researched and arranged the purchace of our new car, and organised the move all online.

Today of course, you'd do everything on the computer in your pocket. Your smartphone.

It's laughable to think of an event that isn't shared online. Hardly anyone apart from enthusiasts bother with buying a still or video camera. When last did you wait to get online? When you bank, look for a house, buy a car, have a party, book travel, check-in for a flight, or a hotel, or simply catch-up with someone, you do it on your phone.

What difference the next 20 years, er, blink of an eye?


Copy it Better

Project 2012: Day 313

I had to laugh. In the office yesterday one of the grads was asking the grad in my team how her website was coming on. Intrigued, I asked about the website (always interested in start-up ideas). “oh,” she said, “it’s a website where you can design jewellery.”

I pointed out that just such a web business already existed.

Quick as a wink, Kelly turned back to Chat and said: “That’s great, head over there and copy it, but do it better.”

There’s all sorts of lessons in this. From a website (or app) is not a business, to market segmentation, to the value of an idea. But what I want to draw out is that this is a valid approach.

Not only a valid approach, but one that heaps of entrepreneurs from Branson, to Zuckerberg, to Jobs, follow. Not the copying, far from it. But the entry into a busy market, rather than seeking an original idea.

Magazines, music stores, and airlines already abounded when Sir Richard started his versions (and Cola, Mobile Phones, Trains, Gyms). Similarly MySpace was a going concern before Facebook, personal computers before Apple, not to mention MP3 players, smartphones, and retail stores.

But each of these outlier entrepreneurs did something that disrupted the market. Perhaps it was a commercial innovation like Virgin did with pre-paid mobile phones rather than the standard lock-in contracts.

People copying your idea? Not a problem. Either they’ll provide good competition or they won’t find the secret sauce you have in execution.

What is MUCH harder is when you have that unique idea, that’s never been seen before. No competition to validate the market, no reference point for prospective customers to latch on to.

Galileo had it tough Smile

So stop trying to find something brand new, just disrupt a current market. Do it better!

*Note: Don’t worry Pascale, Chat is nowhere near competing with StyleRocks Open-mouthed smile

The Grass May Just be Greener after all…

Project 2012: Day 161

How often does someone tell you “The Grass isn’t Greener on the other side you know!” Bunkum I say! Total codswallop. Of course the grass is greener.

People don’t mind change. If that were the case, no-one would go to university, get married, have a baby or move house. There wouldn’t be a car, motorbike, or computer industry. Music would still be classical, and we wouldn’t have the diversity of instruments we have today.

Of course the grass is greener.

Why the platitude then?

Usually you hear this from the 20/20 retrospective commentators after you made a change that didn’t quite work out as expected. Or from someone who finds it hard to change when you’re discussing a new job, or even a new relationship.

This is often the cop-out to stay in a boring, underpaid job; abusive relationship; or location. It’s the “our grass may be brown, but despite all evidence to the contrary, the grass isn’t greener” excuse.

And the platitude is dead wrong.



I have a very good friend who worked for the better part of a decade for Microsoft. In Services as a Technical Account Manager. His job was to work with clients that have a support agreement, and co-ordinate the resolution of technical support issues. He’s exceedingly good at his job.

After 10 years with the company though, he’d had enough and decided to become an Operations Manager for a legal firm. Essentially the same job, but working within an organisation, rather than as a service provider to one.

After 3 months of struggling uphill against archaic management practices, and some pretty unethical behaviour from peers, he decided to move on again. He works for another US technology vendor, again as a TAM.

So was the grass not greener? As all of his (MS) friends said.

Of course it was. Or rather could’ve been.

You see, speak to anyone who has a lawn. Green grass requires significant work. Mowing, weeding, watering, spiking, fertilising. It requires dedication, discipline, patience, and not insignificant skills.

The grass may well be greener on the other side than your side. Not because of magic, or something the universe declared, but because of the diligence of the gardeners.


This leaves you a choice then.

Can you ‘green’ your own grass? Is there still opportunity for you to apply discipline, passion, and skills to regain the joy and success of your current situation? Then do so, because…

If you can’t, understand that greener grass requires more dedication, discipline, and passion. Speak to any of my divorced friends and they’ll identify (if not tell you) that the new relationship is just as much work as their previous marriage, and often they have to deal with their ex-wife + double expenses as well.

The grass may well be greener, but it is always up to you.