What phone do you drive?

My wife asked me a question last night- for a change it wasn’t “Have you locked the front door?” but she was puzzling why anyone would buy an iPhone. Functionally you can get a phone that does almost everything that an iPhone does, but for considerably less.

I was stumped until I posed her a question: “Why would anyone buy a Mercedes?”. And so I sat back rather pleased with myself at coming up with a simple to understand analogy to the iPhone question. I thought about this a little more and realised that I had actually hit upon something- an iPhone really is quite like a Mercedes- it does exactly the same job as a Ford or a Toyota, but it just does it with a little more style, a little more comfort and just the merest hint of a statement.

Which then got me to thinking, if an iPhone is a Mercedes what about the other major players in the phone market? Let’s stick to the ecosystems for now, which limits us to Blackberry, Windows Phone, Android and Apple’s iOS. So if an iPhone is a Mercedes, what does that make an Android phone? I think it’s a GM because the underlying brand is diluted by all the different flavours of the phone makers; just as an Opel is subtly different from a Vauxhall which is different again from a Chevrolet and so on, so is Android just a little bit different if you buy a Samsung, an HTC or whatever else.

So how about Blackberry? All about the business, driven slightly differently? It’s got to be BMW. Business focus? Check. Driven differently (rear wheel drive as opposed to physical keyboard)? Check. We are making progress.

Which brings me to my current phone OS of choice; Windows Phone. What car maker is a Windows Phone? I think it’s probably an Alfa Romeo. No, stick with me on this, think about it: An Alfa looks gorgeous, so does Windows Phone. There aren’t as many dealers and spares are a bit harder to come by, which is pretty much what it’s like getting apps for a Windows Phone. It’s also a bit quirky and you stand out from the crowd (whether you want to or not). Which is just the way with a Windows Phone.

So there it is, a short, sweet analysis of what phone you drive. Here’s to the ones who think differently. And here’s to those of us who have a Windows Phone and BMW 3 series- just how confused are we!

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Do you have the time?

When I was at school I had a conversation with my physics teacher, Mrs Price, that truly was a butterfly effect moment. As a result of that coversation I finished up studying geophysics. At the time it was somewhat of a niche subject (come to think of it, it probably still is) but I genuinely found it fascinating (and I still do). The BBC has produced a couple of series recently that had me reaching for my text books again only to realise that I need to sit back and enjoy the Wonders of first the Solar System and then the Universe. As a quick aside, the series titles do beg the question; Where do you go next? You know, after you’ve done the Solar System and the Universe. Is there a multi-verse? Are we alone? What if it all means something? Or even worse, what if it all means nothing? (Or should that be the other way around?). Either which way, the two series demonstrate many of the things that the BBC does best and Brian Cox makes a pretty decent presenter, given that his day job is a Professor of astrophysics at Manchester University and he used to be in a (moderately successful) rock band. Oh and apparently he’s quite good looking too. Yup, he’s the kid we all used to know at school who was just too good at everything. If he didn’t come across as being such a nice chap you could really grow to dislike him.

But back to what I learnt at university: The single biggest concept that you need to get your head around in geophysics is “time”. Geology exists over such a long time that it makes your head hurt and no amount of analogy of compressing the lifetime of the earth into a single day makes it any easier. And in a somewhat related fashion, the 2nd biggest concept to get your head around in the bit of geophysics that I finished up studying is “space”. Which does mean that according to Einsteins’s theory of general relativity actually there is only 1 concept because of that mind-bending concept of space-time, but that’s a subject for another day.

 We, on this small, blue dot spend our days busily doing things and sometimes we fail to notice the passing of time. Sure, on a geological scale we are just a blip but that shouldn’t stop us noticing the changes going on all around us. I am fortunate that I have 2 sons and 2 daughters who seem to change each and every time you turn around to look at them. And every now and then we need to take the time to stop and realise the things that are precious to us and saviour them.

I was browsing back through some old photographs of my kids (thanks to digital photography that’s a lot simpler than it used to be) and it too my breath away to see the changes in them. Of course, we know that they grow, but if you are lucky enough to see your children every day then you probably get totally consumed with the minutae of the day to day routine. But we shouldn’t. We should find time. It’s worth it, I promise you.

Upgrade, what upgrade?

One of the benefits of being a frequent flyer is that occasionally, just out the of the goodness of their heart, an airline may decide to upgrade you from the cheap seat in the back of the plane to a much larger, much more comfortable and far better fed seat at the front of the plane.

On journeys that cross an ocean this truly is a treat, and the only danger is that you get so used to the superior service that the prospect of travelling in the back fills you with fear and dread.

On intra-continental journeys the upgrade is frequently less impressive; in Europe the expensive ‘business class’ seats are actually the same width as the cheap seats at the back. Also, the extra legroom for business class is typically available through the first 7 or 8 rows rather than just those defined as premium. On the other hand, the food is normally good and the service is far, far improved from that typically received by the cattle in the back.

A few weeks ago I was given an upgrade on my regular, early morning flight to the Netherlands. Though, upon reflection, before embarking on this particular rant, I should perhaps explain my routine on this particular flight that takes of at 6am:

  1. Drive into the airport car park between 5:05 and 5:15am (depending on how enthusiastic I have been about getting out of bed- let’s face it, I can hardly blame traffic congestion at that time of the morning)
  2. Walk to the terminal and pick up the ‘Priority’ sticker on my Boarding Pass (there are privileges to being a frequent flyer- and one of them is swooshing through the security checkpoint and incurring the wrath and looks of daggers of the waiting tourists as they line up for hours on end)
  3. Grab a muffin and OJ from the business lounge and wander along to the aeroplane so that I am boarded by 5:50
  4. Install my butt in a none-too-comfortable seat and stretch my legs out under the seat in front of me; place Bose QC2 Noise Cancelling headphones over my ears, pull a sleep mask over my eyes and, if the plan has worked, fall asleep right around the time the Flight Attendant is showing us the way to exit the aeroplane should there be an emergency
  5. Ideally, I will then wake up as we pull up to the gate in Amsterdam, approximately 100 minutes and 1 somewhat fitful but thoroughly needed nap later.

This system seems to work fairly well for all concerned, so why would there be an issue if I was given an upgrade? Well, the upgrade consisted of

a)No food
b)A ‘bulkhead’ seat

Given my previously stated plan to sleep through the entire flight, the lack of food would not be a problem (it would be on a long haul flight, but the increase in seat size would probably make up for that). No, my issue is with the whole concept of the fact that a bulkhead seat is somehow better than a non-bulkhead seat. The reason I choose to sit where I do is so that I can extend my legs under the seat in front. Now I am not the tallest guy on the planet, far from it, but years of various sporting abuses has left me with a knee that doesn’t take kindly to being cramped and bent for too long. Having a seat in front means I can extend my legs out fully, the result of which is that I am able to walk off the plane at the other end rather than limp. Obviously, the person at the check in desk was unaware of why I choose to sit where I do, but when I looked at my ‘upgrade’ and rejected the change of seat I threw the whole system into chaos.

According to the airline, not having any food and not having any leg room must be better than my previous seat because now I was in ‘Business Class’. I tried to politely explain that I didn’t want the seat that they had assigned me, I wanted the seat that I had chosen for myself, but this was not possible, instead, I had to take it up with the cabin crew.

Fortunately, as is often the way, the people actually in the firing line (the cabin crew) quickly resolved the issue and I was able to sit in seat that would not cause me pain. But it still begs the question: Why have airlines invested in all the technology to allow on-line check-ins and self selection of exactly the seat you want only to then totally override your choice? Then if you do decide not to accept the change why is it such a major hassle? And finally, and most crucially, why do they think that a service that too most casual observers would appear inferior is an ‘upgrade’ simply because you are sitting in a different section of the plane?

I guess I shouldn’t complain too much- after all, at least I am assigned a seat and may be offered food (even if I choose to sleep right through it all)

Nonsense Poems

In the realms of posts about silly things, this is a good one. Poetry is and has been a noble art for many years- dating back to the Greeks and Romans, all the way through Middle English and the epics of Milton, stopping to pause on the sonnets of Shakespeare before landing up with Roger McGough, Pam Ayres and Jon Hegley. Much of this has been magnificent literature- though I must admit that although I tried to read Paradise Lost I gave up after a couple of books and just read the summaries presented at the start of each book. I am still able to quote from some works by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (much to the embaressment of my children) but as the first sentence said, this is about silly poetry.

There are many examples of funny poems: Roger McGough has the ability to touch your heart or make you laugh. Pam Ayres is well known for her touching and wry view on much of life and there are many others. In fact the BBC is declaring May 2009 to be Poetry month; I guess we’ll see how successful it is. But I just want to quote from a little poem by William Hughes Mearns. Because it amuses me, in its nonsense and strange view.

As I was going up the stair
I met a man who wasn't there

He wasn't there again today
I wish, I wish he'd go away

Sometimes I feel as though my life consists of meeting people who aren’t there, but that’s OK. The poem reminds me that others feel the same way too

Watching a train crash

A blog is an intensely personal form of communication. It is, for the writer, an immediate and occasionally quite intimate outlet for the thoughts, feelings and emotions that is coursing through your veins. But writing a blog is also an incredibly public process. I have no control over who reads this or any other post. Furthermore, I have no control over who copies, archives or otherwise keeps a record of what I said, even if I have since deleted the post. Of course, I would like to think that anyone keeping a copy will delete any record they have when I delete my version, but I am not so naive to assume that is so.

Although most bloggers realise this, sometimes emotion overtakes us and we allow ourselves to vent without thought of the consequences. I read several blogs and most of them are well thought out and the author will be able to look back at the post in years to come with no fear or recriminations. But just occasionally, even smart people will forget; one blog I read has been describing what appears to be somewhat of an emotional breakdown of an otherwise perfectly healthy woman.

I know neither the blog author nor her friend and the first posts in the series, whilst slightly uncomfortable reading, were acceptable. The recent posts have made me genuinely fear for the friend- for her mental and even her physical well being. The feeling of impotence as I watch this train crash be described over a number of days is extremely unpleasant. Compounding the problem is that I have neither the skills nor the ability to do anything for these people. I don’t wish to be a ‘white knight’ riding in on a charger (though there are other scenarios in life where that image might be fun) but that doesn’t ease the feeling. I don’t know how that story will end, I fear that the answer is ‘not well’, and I am even afraid to look at the blog again. It feels like watching a train crash-you can’t take your eyes off it, no matter how much you want to.

The other example has less actual danger but highlights the danger of venting without thought of the recriminations. As anyone who knows me will tell I am not particularly politically correct. I tend to say what I think and frequently damn the consequences. However, I do try to care how I say things and I try to always include the requisite amount of etiquette in anything I write, say or do. OK, less on the say, but certainly when it comes to the written word I try to take care. So when I come across professional people who either publish very pointed blogs or send curt, incomplete and brusque e-mails; well I generally cringe inside. And the real problem is that by the time I get to read the words they have already been read by the intended recipient. So there is very little I can do can to prevent the damage- it is already there. In this situation the train has already crashed- all I do is to try some form of clean-up.

So with these examples out there in the blogosphere (or the world of internal e-mails) I hope I don’t ever offend anyone by the contents of this blog. If I do feel I am saying something negative I will endeavour to hide or disguise the person concerned so much that they are unaware of the point I am making. Conversely, if I am complimenting someone I will generally let them know directly (especially if I know the person). I feel I owe this to whoever I am communicating with, whether I know them or not, whatever personal feelings I may have or whatever medium I am using. Perhaps I should remind others of this, but I fear that the advice would not be taken well (but that may be due to the aforementioned lack of political correctness and subtlety in my communcation of the message)

Alternative Dating in the 21st Century

After the title of the previous post I was going to call this ‘Dishonest Dating in the 21st Century’ but that is not the case as I actually believe that there is more dishonesty on traditional dating sites. However, as one of the few honest men on the internet and whilst I was being singularly unsuccessful in my attempts at ‘Honest  Dating’ on mysinglefriend.com I ventured onto a few other sites. Some were similar to mysinglefriend, some were a little more specialised and one, well one is still giving me nightmares.

The intention of many dating sites is to set people with life partners, soul mates or other long-term relationships. But some sites appear to focus on a more short term, immediate form of gratification. Suddenly the internet acronyms and abbreviations you have learnt elsewhere (e.g. LOL for ‘Laugh out Loud’ and not as I first thought ‘Lots of Love’- that misunderstanding nearly resulted in a truly embarressing moment) don’t work any more: Now you need to know NSA (‘No strings attached’), FWB (‘Friends With Benefits’) and many more. For the single man looking for uncommitted, passionate sex these sites would seem to be heaven. Except…..

Apparently there are lots of people out there willing to pretend to be something they are not in order to get hold of some of your money, there are people who judge their worth by the number of friends in their network (they remind me of the PUA’s from The Game) and there are people who are just plain weird. So instead of a paradise of likeminded souls you find yourself searching through profile after profile of bizarre characters. Even worse, as a single guy you are competing with a lot of other single guys. At one point I saw a man berating the lack of replies he was getting from women he was contacting. I, on the other hand, was experienced and was able to help this poor soul. What he had clearly not done was look at the statistics available on the site:

Single men looking for a woman: 1,543,867
Single women looking for a man: 95,235

Now I am pretty good at competing, but even I have to admit that greater than 15 men: 1 woman ratio is not the sort of numbers you want to see (as a comparison, mysinglefriend had 2:3 ratio of men to women i.e. more women than men on the site). In fact, the odds are so heavily stacked against you that you could even conclude that the whole site is simply a money generating exercise that preys on single men. When you consider that a good number of the ‘female’ profiles are actually men pretending to be women (yes, it does exist) or ‘honeypots’ who are there to attract more men the ratio becomes even worse. So, if you see an advert promising ‘Sex tonight in your town’ and you believe them… well you should probably also reply to some of the e-mails that will transfer money to your account from a west African country. Yes, hard as it may be to believe, the adverts lie.

And here is where life takes one its fantastic twists: Just as I was getting totally disillusioned with all forms of contact via the internet a curve came in from left field, took me quite by surprise and made me smile. But that is story best told to no-one more than the people involved…

Honest Dating in the 21st Century

There are more dating and relationship sites on the internet than any sane man would wish to count. Some of them are ‘good’, some are focussed on a particular niche in the whole panorama that is men and women trying to find that special someone for whatever they need and some web sites, well some web sites are just downright scary (and I have been in some really, genuinely frightening situations in my life, but trust me, I’d rather face that loaded and angry AK-47 again that go back to 1 particular web site)

Which web site you use to find your partner of choice depends on what you are looking for: As I started into it, I wanted a ‘normal’, ‘proper’ (‘dull’?) relationship with a woman. And so I chose a fairly normal site: mysinglefriend.com. A friend of mine wrote my profile and duly posted it on my behalf. And I sat back waiting for the hot dates to come flooding in…..

Yeah, that wasn’t gonna happen, now was it. So I started to send messages to women who appeared to meet my criteria. The first few messages were like entries on this blog- a bit wordy at times, occasionally making a good point but (I like to think) an overall reflection of my character. Except that I wasn’t getting any responses and each message was taking ages to compose. Then one of the women to whom I had written to replied to me: She politely rejected me (she was a bit out of my league anyway, but you always shoot high at first) and then went on to say that my message was far too long and I should read the help files on the web site. What? There is a help section? Damn, I should probably read that- and read it I did where it pointed out what I was doing wrong:

Point 1. When you first make contact, the message needs to be no more than a couple of paragraphs.

This makes sense as, speaking from personal experience, the chances are, that your ideal woman (or man) is going to take one look at you and go “Oh no. Nope, not a chance.” Or words to that effect. So there is no point in putting in your life history.

So I shortened my opening gambit. Which was a good job because….

Point 2. If you aren’t getting anyone checking you out then the web site advises that you send 10 messages a day to 10 different women

I guess they had to make it clear about sending the messages to different women because 10 messages a day to the same woman is probably grounds for a restraining order. But the vaguely stalkerish element to this approach notwithstanding, this is where I started to have a little issue with the internet dating scene. The very nature of sending this number of messages means that you are going to get multiple replies. I didn’t send anything like that number (don’t worry the stats will be produced later) but even so my ‘moral code’ was stretched as I found myself conducting fairly flirtatious conversations with multiple women. Sure it did wonders for the self esteem, but I worried (though it must be said, not much) that I was just playing and dabbling rather than making a commitment. In the past I had always focussed my entire attention on a single woman (though that may explain my lack of success) but now I was flitting from woman to woman: Some were replying to the first message, some were replying lots and lots and the prospects looked good and every now and then there was a series of messages that I just knew were going nowhere, but it seemed harmless to continue the electronic conversation. I am not at all proud of my behaviour during this period of internet dating but the facts are what they are.

Point 3. There is an accepted rate at which messages sent on a dating site should switch from (hopefully) funny, to mildly flirtatious and then on to wherever you wish to take it. My personal experience was that light flirting should begin almost straight away but full on comments should be saved for message 3-4. Converting that into something a little more steamy depends on the number of additional phone calls, SMS messages and the way in which the first flirts are received.

Point 4. Once you have established this rapport the ‘standard’ dating scene of coffee/ lunch for a first date (or a walk around an art gallery/ country park) then a follow up for dinner (or a movie/ theatre trip) kicks in. However, these dates are very different from those where you truly have only met the other person once or twice. The nature of the communication via the dating site frequently means that may have disclosed far more about you than in a normal dating situation because you will have sent several possibly long messages and frequently conducted long (long!) phone calls. In my experience when you meet someone in the ‘real’ world you won’t have discussed deep emotional aspects of your life by the end of the 2nd date.

Or maybe you will have, what I do know is that the insecurity engendered by meeting someone through a dating site can mean that there is a level of mistrust that can kill a relationship before it starts.

I understand that people may mistrust the system and no-one has any reason to place any explicit in trust in someone you meet through the internet, but equally there should be no reason to mistrust someone. And here is the real challenge for men who try to date: There are an awful lot of men who lying, deceitful, shallow and downright despicable scuzz buckets. And far too many of them are out there trying to pick up women. What this does is that the few honest ones (and I am not even sure I am totally honest) are tarred with the same brush. When it comes to dating on the internet, as a gender, men are not to be trusted and extensive checks need to be made before embarking on any sort of relationship. I have generally told potential dates about this blog and those that have read it sometimes start to feel more comfortable with me- I don’t have anything to hide, I don’t think I am (too) scary and what you see is pretty much what you get.

But I am clearly in the minority in this situation. It’s actually a minor miracle I managed to find anyone willing to take a chance on me. To those women who were brave enough to have a drink with me, I say thank you. To anyone else, well clearly this wordy, geeky, frisbee playing dual nationality man is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I am OK with that. What I still struggle with was the overlap of women. The only way to prevent this is to fully exhaust each possible relationship before starting on another. But that takes time and the word exhaust is perfectly apt: Dating via the internet is a tiring activity- and the fact that there is a level of duplicity stretched this man’s moral code and honesty streak to its limits