Jun 062012

The plan was to avoid as much of the inane media coverage of the Queens Jubilee by spending an extended weekend cruising on the boat. The plan was to set off from Carnforth on Thursday evening and head south towards Garstang, returning to Carnforth the following Tuesday. The first thing we noticed was the number of boats that had been dressed in bunting for the weekend. Avoiding the Jubilee was going to be harder than we thought.

After spending the first night at Hest Bank we moored just on the approaches to the Lune Aqueduct for lunch on the Friday. While lunch was being made I used my smart-phone to take a few photos and shared one on my Facebook page. This was to be the last thing I did on my phone.

After lunch we were getting ready to set off over the aqueduct which is considered one of the seven wonders of the waterways. I decided I would use my smart-phone once more to make a short drivers-eye video of the crossing to post on YouTube. I attached the phone holder to the windscreen and clipped the phone in securely. I opened the video app’ and lined up the shot. Twang went the phone holder as the phone whizzed past my ear followed by a splash!

“What was that?” asked the crew as I hurriedly assembled the landing net and started scooping up mud from the bottom of the canal in a desperate attempt to recover the phone. The phone was renown for its ruggedness and water resistance so I hadn’t given up yet. “If it’s so f’in smart, why can’t the bloody thing swim”, I thought.

After filtering through several nets full of evil-smelling brown sludge and turning the canal into a disgusting looking chocolate colour, I had to admit defeat. The boat was covered in mud, I was covered in mud, the crew was… you get the idea.

Moored by the aqueduct

Last photo taken before my phone went for a swim

After the clean up we continued on our trip, although I don’t have a video to prove it. It soon became apparent and quite disconcerting as to how much I would miss my phone. I have stopped wearing a watch and relied on the phone to be my timepiece so I have no idea what time it was when we arrived at Galgate that afternoon.

After tying up, the first job was to call my network provider and order a replacement SIM card. I borrowed the crew’s mobile. (A simple device that makes calls and texts but nothing else.) I didn’t know the number to call, it had been stored on my phone, but fat lot of use that was now. I had my laptop on board but without my phone I had no way of accessing the web and looking up the number, or reporting the loss on-line.

We knew our sons were at work and couldn’t be contacted and so we called our daughter who was sat on a train heading to Newcastle. She in turn sent a text to her friends asking if anyone had web access to look up the number for us. A text was duly received with the networks helpline number. Isn’t technology great when it’s not lying at the bottom of the Lune Aqueduct.

I called the number and went through one of those infernal press one for this, press two for that call management systems and had almost reached the press nine to slit your wrists option when I finally got through to a human being, a very pleasant Indian sounding lady. “Lost phone service, how can I help you today?”

I told her I’d lost my phone in a canal. There was a pause before she said, “How can I help you sir?”

I repeated that I had dropped my phone into a canal and I would need a replacement SIM card. I got the impression she was not familiar with the concept of a canal. “Is it for the phone you are using now?” she asked.

“No”, I said, “It’s for the phone that is lying at the bottom of the canal”, says I. There’s another pause and the line goes quiet, I have a vision of a young lady in an Indian call centre typing Canal into Google. Suddenly she returns…

“I understand the phone is water damaged?” she asks.

“I expect so”, I reply, “It’s lying at the bottom of a canal. So it’s a fairly safe assumption.”

“We can disable the phone so that no one can use it and run up charges on your account” she offers.

“I don’t think that’s necessary”, I said. “Not unless a Bream can use a touch screen.” The line goes quiet again while Bream is typed into Google. Finally she returns and confirms my details and arranges for a new SIM card to be despatched.

This is the kind of encounter I would normally have shared with friends and family through the medium of Facebook and Twitter. However without my phone I was cut of from my online social networks. Not necessarily a bad thing when you’re supposed to be getting away from things.

That afternoon we made the most of the sunshine and did a bit of Geocaching and fishing while a constant stream of decorated boats chugged past us, all heading north towards Tewittfield where a beer festival was being held. We’d never seen so much traffic on the canal and as one particularly long train of boats passed by; I jokingly called to a sorrowful looking skipper of the last boat, “What do you all know that I don’t?”

“The motorway’s bloody quiet!” he replied.

The following morning we woke to grey cloud and a stiffening breeze and we debated whether to continue south or not. Normally I would have used the Met’ Office app’ on the phone to check the local forecast. Had we been able to do so we may have made a different decision, but we decided to turn around and head back north arriving in Lancaster a few hours ahead of the wind. It looked like we’d made the right call.

We sheltered in the canalside pub watching the moored boats take a beating from the wind. Rain, Hail, Sleet or Snow isn’t a problem when you’re boating. Wind (anything over a breeze) on the other hand can make things very interesting. Canal cruisers only draw a few inches and manoeuvring a big Tupperware box along a narrow ribbon of water while a strong wind tries to shove you into the bank, tree, another boat or bridge can be quite challenging, and expensive if you get it wrong.

As we were rocked to sleep that night we heard the rain start to tap, tap, tap, on the roof of the boat so we weren’t surprised to wake the following morning to a grey, wet and windy day. We’d resigned ourselves to spending the day and another night in Lancaster in hope of better weather to come. That was before the crew went to make the bed.

Above the sleeping area is a hatch in the roof. The hatch has a heavy blind to keep the cabin dark as we sleep. This morning however it was even heavier. It was soaking wet and there was now a constant drip into the boat. It needed fixing and another night sleeping under the leaky hatch was out of the question, so we untied and motored back to our marina at Carnforth. The wind made for an interesting trip but we made it without incident.

After a night at home, during which I ordered a new phone, the sunshine returned and we returned to the boat to inspect the leaky hatch. It was a minor problem which was easily fixed in the dry and we took the chance to do a number of other little jobs around the boat we’d been meaning to get around to. In the end, not a total disaster of a bank holiday weekend, but a bit of an expensive one. Now looking forward to the next…

Sep 262011
Scocial Networks

Many companies are trying to jump on the Social Networking bandwagon in the belief that they can harness the power of social networking. There are several reasons touted for doing so such as empowering their employees, generating innovative ways of working and improving communications among a diverse workforce. Companies are investing big money in implementing social networking solutions in the belief that we, the workers, will all subscribe and collaborate to improve our productivity and therefore improve the company.

The key thing about a social network is the people in your network are there because you want them to be. On Facebook you invite people into your network or require someone accept you.  On twitter you Follow people you find interesting and ignore the rest. You can’t just connect strangers and expect them to collaborate in same ways a social network does.

Most people consciously (and correctly) separate their Social life from their working life. This doesn’t mean we can’t have real friends at work or that we can’t talk about work when we’re out with them. It’s the way we interact, and the fact we feel at ease while doing so. Anyone who’s ever been on an Office night out or a Team Building event will attest that, as fun as such events can be, they fall a bit short a truly “social” event.

You get the guy who tries to impress the boss at the bar by talking the talk, vis-à-vis value stream objectives within the delivery space from the product development perspective in a consumer driven schema across the global enterprise. (Yawn!).

You get the guy who wants to be talent spotted and immediately, annoyingly and loudly tries to take charge whenever the opportunity arises to take a leading role making sure that anyone in authority notices him.

You get the includer who goes around making sure everyone joins in (whether they want to be or not) forcing you to comment just to make them leave you alone only to leap on every syllable as if it’s the most profound thing they’ve ever heard, thus making the shyer victims recoil even further in embarrassment.

Then there’s the old guy who seen it all before and dismisses everything with a “been there, done that” or starts every sentence with “In my day” and constantly goes on about how things should be done and/or how the management are doing it all wrong. These guy’s are often accompanied by the enthusiasts who are usually novices who hang on every word and if they could, would follow the old guy around with a notebook. These are our future captains of industry and the reason we keep going around in circles.

You can probably think of quite a few other “types” to add to this list. The point is, that the way we interact with these types is totally different from the way we interact with our friends. In fact, other than the brief interactions demanded by social etiquette we probably wouldn’t socialise at all outside of work. We also know that during these events we too are being observed and typed and we subconsciously, or even consciously, adapt our behaviours accordingly. A company provided forum or social networking platform is exactly the same.

So why would anyone actually subscribe to a company social network (assuming it’s not compulsory, but let’s not even go there)?

Initially curiosity will get the better of most people, especially those who already use social networks anyway. The company involved will perceive this as a successful launch and announce it as such to the world. “Look at us, we’re a futuristic company with hip technologies!”

However once they start gathering metrics and measuring everything as all companies do, they will come to realise how many of these subscribers actually continue to contribute in the longer term. I suspect very few will for the reasons discussed above and then the reality will hit that they’ve spent shed loads of money on a party nobody wants to go to apart from a few “types” of employee . Meanwhile all the other users are just watching and making fun of the “ types” with their friends on Facebook.

The companies will then subtlety and quietly cut their losses and retreat from the social network arena and go back to doing what they do best. Telling us what to do and then making sure we get on with it.