Help my family see Mars

Mars is whizzing by, the skies are clear ? and I can’t get my telescope to work! If you have a manual for a Tasco Starguide 80 telescope (or the Nexstar 80, which I understand to be the same beast with a different brand), please send me a PDF, a photocopy or read it out over the phone or something! Tasco’s gone bust, the shop we bought it from can’t help and we’re desperate to get a good look at Mars.

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Healing the health service

Ideology may have created it ? ideology of the purest, most saintly kind ? but it won’t be ideology that saves the NHS. It will be management ? creative, inspirational management that we somehow have to free from burden of decades of ideology, from left and right. Boring really. The FT reports on a really exciting experiment in freeing the surgeons and carers to provide more choice for patients. The experiment aims to get surgery patients operated on sooner by offering them a choice of hospitals ? using capacity more efficiently, basically. An important early lesson:

“It has also produced some uncomfortable lessons for an NHS that is still short of doctors, nurses and operating theatres. It has shown that real choice for patients will be possible only if there is spare capacity – some of which is likely to be permanently underused”

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Flows of electricity are obviously going to be a big deal over the coming decades. According to Wired Magazine, in the kind of euphoric article that wouldn’t be possible since the big East Coast black-out, the whole world will be a single, frictionless electricity grid within a decade and the stuff will flow unimpeded by politics or rotting infrastructure.

The Wired piece shows France to be the third largest exporter of electricity on the planet, which makes the assertion, in this rather more gloomy Guardian article, that France’s export flow actually reversed during the recent lethal heatwave, even more terrifying.

Categorized as Business


Buongiorno is the UK subsidiary of an Italian firm of the same name. On July 9 2003, the company’s Finance Director and Company Secretary, David Kearns (a man with some letters after his name to show that he’s a Chartered Management Accountant) agreed with me to buy the domain name from for €4,000. I sent him an invoice

I didn’t brief the lawyer to draw up an agreement this time because we know Buongiorno quite well, having met and done cordial business with one of the firm’s Italian founders and with Paul Shalet, the firm’s former MD.

So on August 20, I chased payment of the invoice ? we couldn’t start the transfer until we received the money. David emailed me:

From: David Kearns
Sent: 20 Aug 2003 14:33
To: Steve Bowbrick
Subject: Re:

Hi Steve,

Apologies for not getting back to you sooner, I am actually away from the office until 29th September.

However, we have decided that we can actually do without the domain name and will simply use the .com that we already have.

Many thanks

David Kearns ACMA
CFO & Company Secretary
Messagizer/Buongiorno UK Ltd

So David had decided not to pay the invoice and to walk away from our agreement. I guess he’d concluded that, because he hadn’t taken delivery of his domain name, he’d get away with breaking our agreement – especially since I hadn’t bothered to get a formal one drawn up.

Why do I find all of this so annoying? It isn’t much money – no one’s going to go bust. I guess it’s because selling domain names is not’s business and, when we sell one, it’s distracting, we have to go out of our way ? we don’t expect to be led up the garden path or treated like jerks. Today’s telephone conversation with Burton Katz, the firm’s recently appointed MD, didn’t help. He backed David. In fairness to Burton, he’s new to the job and doesn’t know much – he thinks we’re cybersquatters and couldn’t believe that we might have paying customers to compensate, for instance.

Burton’s speaking at a conference in September. I wonder if this might be a good place to bring him up to speed (although I’m sure he’l have cut us a cheque by then – payable to, please).

Categorized as Business

Piratic instincts

I’ve just levered an 80GB drive out of the near-legendary Kitchen Cube (it’s a Cube and we keep it in the kitchen…) to replace it with a larger one (media inflation runs riot in our house). I’ll put the drive on ebay, I guess – maybe 30 or 40 quid – but the machine is our home jukebox so it’s got about 45GB of music in an iTunes library.

Setting the law aside for minute (pretty sure selling it would be illegal), that’s about $11,000 at the $1/track iTunes rate. Puts the approx. $1/GB storage price in context, doesn’t it?

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Holiday diversions, part 2

little_rosie_160.jpgoliver_tractor_160.jpgred_austin_160.jpgA beautiful Summer evening spent at Carter’s gorgeous Steam Fair. Original, often steam-powered fairground rides, lovely painted horses, a proper coconut shy, test your strength, ring toss… and not a video game in sight. They’re from Berkshire but they tour the whole South of England in the Summer. Marvelous.

(click the small pics for bigger ones – more pics here).

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6 megapixels and no digital camera…

If you go into one of those Kodak one-hour photo concessions in just about every High Street you can get your film scanned onto a CD for a few extra quid per roll. My local franchisee let me in on a secret. If you ask nicely, your outlet can turn the scanning resolution up from 1536×1024 to 3072×2048 which is over 6 megapixels and better than you’ll get from most high end digital cameras. The results seem to be gorgeous. My guy calls this ’16 Base’ but I can’t figure out why. Am I getting higher actual resolution or is the scanner interpolating? Is there a catch?

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Secret codes in packaging design

If you want to tell Kodak to cut your Kodachrome film into strips instead of putting the slides into little plastic mounts you have to snip the corner off the processing envelope at the dotted line. This is not explained on the packaging (or anywhere else, for that matter).

The only way to find this out is to ask Kodak. Once you know how to communicate your instructions you’ll never need to ask again – you’ll just know – and nobody who isn’t already in the know will be confused. I’m sure this is the only example I’ve ever seen of a secret code used in customer communications. Can you think of any others?

Incidentally, the only place in the world where beautiful Kodachrome slide (and Super-8) film is still processed is Kodak’s lab in Lausanne in Switzerland.

Categorized as Business

A lake in West Cork

Loch Hyne (pronounced ‘Loch Ine’) was Europe’s first marine nature reserve, a strange and beautiful square kilometre of partly tidal inland lake about as far South and West as you can go in Ireland – ‘the next parish is Brooklyn’, they say.

It’s also about a mile from my parents’ house (over a steep, wooded hill and past an almost hidden roadside shrine where people go to pray if there’s something wrong with their eyes), so I got pretty excited when I heard a whole radio programme about the lake’s special ecology on Radio 4 the other day. It also looks like they’re archiving the programmes – in a series called Wild Europe – properly so this one won’t be overwritten by next week’s. Are you listening, Analysis?)

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Indestructible brands

Donald McRae on the struggle for survival outside the Premiership. Excellent business journalism by a very good sports writer.

“Eleven clubs have been through the mill of administration this year, staggering and lurching from one catastrophe to another. Four remain locked in either administration or receivership. Isolated from the Premiership millions, and devastated by the collapse of ITV Digital, they face an excruciating struggle to survive. No club has suffered more this year than Luton. For all the farcical elements of their summer-long nightmare, the consequences for their fans and players have been chilling. Luton’s anguish has become an emblematic and salutary insight into football’s troubled world.”

Football clubs, even quite humble ones, are obviously very powerful things (brands? Public goods? Community assets?). None of these troubled clubs will be allowed to close, whatever happens to their ownership, management or even their squads. There can’t be many more robust local institutions.

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