Friday, 18 December 2009

Merry Everything to Everyone

I'm not, for reasons that I shall I keep to myself, the biggest fan of Christmas but since having children I've become a lot less resistant to it. I am, though, very careful not to wish everyone I meet a Merry Christmas. When you work internationally you come across people with wildly varying religious beliefs (I know a Satanist, a Calvinist, a Lutheran and a couple of Quakers for example) and wishing them all a "Merry Christmas" can often be a little too broad a brushstroke. My first job was stamping passports for the Home Office back in the mid-1980s and one of my colleagues was a really nice but quite naive guy called Andrew who once uttered the immortal phrase "And a Merry Christmas to you, Rabbi". The dressing down he got from our boss was something I'll equally never forget.

I'm always impressed by parents who only celebrate Christmas "for the children" - both my sons have school friends who benefit from this generous of "belief-suspension" but the last thing I want to do is offend anyone, so from a business perspective I rarely wish anyone anything other than "seasons greeting" and I actually quite like the American "happy holidays" as it's designed to be inclusive.

This hardly goes anywhere near explaining why we don't send out corporate H3B Media Christmas cards but anyone reading this is more than entitled to regard as the nearest thing they'll get to one from us.

Happy holidays, have a great new year and may you enjoy your celebrations, whatever they are and whatever they are for.


Friday, 13 November 2009

This one might fly...

I'm not what you'd call a "techno-geek." I love technology, I'm frequently in awe when I talk to people like web developers and people like my friend John who designs online fruit machines (he does the software that makes the fruit signs whizz round) and highly skilled engineers who design things that actually save people's lives, and not just enhance them. Look at the iPod for example. I have over 5000 CDs so a rough estimate is that I own over 50,000 songs (for every 23-minute Godspeed You Black Emperor song I have, there's a Ramones album that crams 33 songs into 75 minutes) and I'm sure it won't be long before I can squeeze all of them onto one iPod. Ten years ago that idea would have been completely ridiculous to a layman like me as I'm quite pleased with myself when I've managed to buy a movie from FilmFlex.

So, imagine the amazement and bewilderment that came over me when I saw this:

Before you click on it with trepidation, fear not. It is, though, worthy of an explanation. What you are about to see is a real photograph, not a composite or a bit of Photoshop magic. Look at it, work out what it is, and you'll be right. Utterly pointless but nonetheless absolutely astonishing.

Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

That's a relief...

Firstly, there's now a Thinking Highways Twitter page. We resisted for long enough but now you can find (to date) five tweets from yours truly and I'm already bored of it. Go to (thinkinghighways was too long) if you want to see how I got progressively(and rapidly) annoyed with it. I can't really say too much in 140 characters.

Anyhoo - a couple of years ago (actually getting on for three) I was waiting for an article from one of my US contributors, Jim Joseph. He was never late with copy but he has two weeks past the deadline so I started calling and emailing every day. Only when I rang his son did I discover that Jim had died three weeks ago. You can imagine then, what I'd been feeling in the last few months of not being able to contact my good friend, former ITS America staffer and current TH columnist Paul Najarian. We've talked regularly over the last 10 or so years and email each other pretty much every week. I'd not heard from him since May, his work phone rang and rang, his mobile was seemingly switched off and his home phone was on voicemail. I was hoping he'd either moved, fled the country or 'gone underground' but I couldn't help thinking the worst...

And yesterday, I get an email from him. "Hey, I'm a diplomat now and I work for Mrs Hillary Clinton." That was a relief. And to brighten my day even further, that nice Mrs Clinton, the US Secretary of State, has said that Paul can continue writing for Thinking Highways. This will also hopefully mean that she'll register for her own copy. Which is nice.

Also nice to have Harold Worrall back after his enforced absence. His Bright Ideas column will re-energise in the December issue. It's great to have them both back.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Did you miss me?

That was a rhetorical question. Anyway, it's only been 7 months since I last wrote anything on here and I haven't got the time or inclination to go into why, except to say that I'm back on it now and will be blogging on a far more regular basis. My last one ended with me saying that I was off to South Africa and it may have appeared that I never came back. I did, eventually. Great trip, business-wise and personally. When I lived there in the late 1970s apartheid was at it's terrible height - and there I was having lunch in Soweto and taking photos of Nelson and Winnie Mandela's houses.

I think the TH website says that this blog is about customer service - so I had better make it about customer service. Yesterday I left the house 10 minutes early to get petrol. I pulled into my local Tesco, oblivious to the sign on the forecourt that said SORRY NO DIESEL. It wouldn't have unduly bothered me anyway as I don't drive a diesel car. I parked next to a pump and then noticed that both unleaded outlets had yellow and black "OUT OF ORDER" caps on them. I was about to get back into the car and find another pump when I noticed drivers at every other pump looking puzzlingly at the nozzles, then at the pump displays, then at the shop, then back to the displays. A Tesco worker then came out armed with a small pile of A4 paper and a roll of sticky tape. "Sorry guys, no unleaded petrol today," he said apologetically. I enquired why there was no sign, like there was for diesel. "Someone stole it" he said. Why would anyone steal a SORRY NO UNLEADED sign? Who, other than another petrol station, would need a SORRY NO UNLEADED sign? "There's another Tesco in Addiscombe" he said, "you'll have to try there."

So we all got back into our cars and set off in a convoy of strangers for the bigger Tesco 1km away. We all pulled in, one after another, a procession of seven cars all with one singular goal. I parked next to a pump and got out... before noticing that all three hoses had yellow and black OUT OF ORDER caps on them. I looked at my new-found friends and we all shook our heads. They had no fuel either and to make it worse they didn't have a sign of any kind on the forecourt. No NO DIESEL and no NO UNLEADED. How ridiculous is that? The two biggest and busiest petrol stations in town had not a drop of fuel between them.

I got back into the car, preparing to head off to another station further out of town and further out of my way. I pulled out in front a large truck. As it got closer I noticed that it was a petrol tanker and behind it was another one - both were branded with the logo of the stations had I just had fruitless attempts at filling up from. Where were they going? Why hadn't one of them pulled in to replenish this station's meagre stocks and why had they clearly driven past the first fuelless Tesco?

As customer service goes, that's pretty poor in my book. Would you go into HMV to buy a CD and expect to be told that they didn't have any? Or go into a shoe shop and be told that they were all out of shoes? I think not. As drivers we are customers of a shedload of organisations and companies and on the whole we don't get treated all that well. Phil Tarnoff's article on ITS customer service in our new North American edition plots a similar course - it's well worth a read, as is, naturally, every other article in that issue so if you haven't already, quit this and dive in.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Here's a question for you. What do you get if you forget your Blogger account password? Answer? Nothing. Remembered it now, just as I'm about to head off for Johannesburg for ITS South Africa's e-Transport Conference and Masterclass. I lived there for a while in the late 1970s and haven't been back since so it should interesting.

A few things of note before I go.

1) By the time I get back there should be two more issues of Thinking Highways in existence, one of each. For those of you joining us in Jo'burg you can have yours a week earlier than everyone else. The North American issue will be out the week after.

2) By Wednesday 25th our first podcast show should be online and ready to listen to or download. The Thinking Highways Half Hour Show No 1 actually lasts for about 43 minutes but it's well worth a listen so please go to the PODCAST section of the website but not yet, on Wednesday please.

3) Our new member of the team joins us in three weeks but Lucy Cone (©Yes, Daughter of Robert) has already filed her first copy and her report from the ASECAP meeting in Innsbruck can be found in the LATEST NEWS section.

Right, I'm off to South Africa then.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Wanted: improved VMS security

Copy and paste this link into your browser and it just makes you think that some people must have a lot more spare time than others...

Over and out. Oh, and fear not - this will NEVER turn into one of those blogs where the protagonist tells you every last little detail of what they are doing. "Steve is currently eating a slice of toast and reading the New York Times". Good for you, Steve. Wouldn't it be more accurate to say "Steve is currently posting something horrifically trivial and inconsequential in his blog"...


KB, H3BHQ, Wallington

Thursday, 29 January 2009

OK, you can all breathe again now

I do realise the slightly pointless nature of telling you that our website is now up and running as that's probably how and why 99.99% per cent of the people reading this have come to view this page. However, there are a few who come to it from Gary Bridgeman's iTravel blog (see the link elsewhere on this page) so this is more or less for them (or you, if you are one of "them").

Anyway, after months of frustration, elation, mitigation, rumination and cogitation, we now have a great new website that we're really proud of. Basically, it's everything you liked about our old site plus a hundred and one other things that have significantly improved it. And it's still black. That was one of my requirements. Not too many photos of me (there are three in the main site and 27 in the online magazines, so sorry about that) and it must stay black. I know what people say about black websites but they are wrong and that's that. I'm having a blunt day.

I'll post something else tomorrow that won't mention our new site at all. Honest.

KB, H3BHQ, Wallington