Posts in "Information Communication Technology"

Sticking with Las Vegas, a billionaire, Microsoft and a Volksie shop

The week started with a bang.

On Monday, the EyeforTravel WhatsApp group started pinging madly. Mostly I annoy people by ignoring WhatsApp, but this activity seemed unusual. It was, I soon realised. The news of the crazy, incomprehensible, senseless shooting in Las Vegas this week was headlining in the UK.

Pinging aside, I could almost hear a collective groan ripple from Devon, where the boss was, all the way up to the Spitalfields office and across to South West London, casting a shadow over my sunny loft office. You see, EyeforTravel’s next event is taking place in the very Mandalay Bay Hotel from where Steven Paddock fired his shots from the 32nd floor. 

Before long, the team already had an email from one delegate who was in the midst of the carnage, and unsurprisingly wanted to cancel – she doesn’t want to ‘set foot in that city again any time soon’.  However, there was never really any doubt that the show should go on – EyeforTravel represents the travel industry and these incidents hit hotels and airlines, and the livelihoods they support, hard. Luckily this strategy is one many have rallied behind. It was particularly nice to hear from one the event’s key note speakers Paul English, the former founder of the travel company Kayak, which was sold to the US firm Priceline for $1.8bn in 2012, that he agreed with this call.

Interviewing Paul, whose rise in the world of travel has been immortalised by the Pullitzer prize-winning writer Tracy Kidder in a memoir titled A Truck Load of Money, was a highlight of a week that started badly. Though hard to be sure, from our +-45-minute telephonic interview about his latest venture Lola, he seemed decent, determined and very smart.

Paul told me that for the past few years he and one other foundation have been the main funders of 10,000 students in 40 rural schools in Haiti, where they’ve been investing in teacher training and are also building infrastructure. He is also working with the homeless community in Boston, and doing a big project related to building a Martin Luther King Memorial in the city.

In preparing for my interview, I read somewhere that his background is Irish Catholic but I forgot to ask. Need I say more.

At the end of the interview Paul thanks me for asking about his philanthropic work. ‘Nobody ever does,’ he says.

It’s nice he thanked me, but I’m surprised people don’t ask. Surely if you claim to be doing philanthropic work and you’ve made a ‘truckload of money’, you need to held accountable.

Like, Wow, Microsoft!

The week’s next highlight has to have been the email that landed in my inbox on Tuesday from a Stuart Greif, a senior executive at Microsoft who I also interviewed recently.

I paraphrase Stuart here in a few paragraphs, that can only be described as blowing my own trumpet.

‘I’ve interviewed with hundreds journalists over the years from the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Marketwatch, CNN, Fox …USAToday, as well as countless from the trade press. Your approach, lens, writing, incisive insights, storytelling and accuracy are all exceptional.

‘Often times, journalists are good at a few of these things.  Factual information frequently is misunderstood, misconstrued, and more often than should be the case, factually wrong. You are truly in the top 1% of the journalists with whom I engaged over the years.’

Like wow, how great am I, I thought, before the self-doubt kicked in. I found myself reflecting that, although Stuart might deny it, this was probably a little too positive a story about Microsoft’s foray into the brave-new-world of artificial intelligence, augmented reality and machine learning – heaven help us all.

In my part-time gig at EyeforTravel I have editorial independence to a degree but we’re the travel industry’s ally, not whistle blowers – although be warned, I will if I have to.

Feeling good about Volksies

An email later in the week from one of my first, and still favourite editors, Business Day’s Tim Cohen, brought me back down to earth. I’ve not been in touch with him for a while, but earlier that morning had sent a pitch along these lines to what I referred to as the Saturday Magazine.

‘I’ve got a feel-good story about two small and growing businesses in Joburg. The first is renovating and fixing VW Beetles and campervans and seems to be flying, the other is run by a Ford Lancia fanatic, (whose mother-in-law’s chestnut brown, leathered-seat classic is parked up on one floor).’

My pitch continues:

‘There are couple of old geezers, one of whom couldn’t hack retirement, a 40-something mechanic, and VW aficionado who happens to be gay. There is also an energetic 20-something young black woman, who has ‘small hands – useful in this business’ – a wide smile and fantastic hair, who trained in electronics but wanted to be a mechanic, and the just turned 21-year-old white male, with a complicated family history.

The old boys are training the young one’s up. I transcribed my interviews last week, which had me laughing out loud – there’s definitely a story here. Got some half decent pics too.’[South Africans might understand better than others why it’s necessary for me to mention age, colour, sexuality and gender, so overtly in this pitch]

The response from Tim: ‘Sure, story sounds good. But I think you may be getting kinda old and forgetful – we never had a Saturday magazine. We had the Weekender, which was a tabloid paper, but it’s long closed.’

Forgetful maybe, but who is calling me old?

Tim’s not interested, however, in a media deal with the African magazine publisher, which also asked me this week if I’d be willing to cover Africa 2017  to be held in Sharm-el-Sheikh in December. Winter sun, here we come – well maybe. It’s a toss up between Egypt and Ivory Coast.

Still I’m chuffed that I’m going to be able to write my vintage car story. Let’s just say it will be another sort-of homage to my Dad who died suddenly and expectedly in Japan, a year next week. My father loved a classic car, and would be tickled that the jolly Volksie-Lancia crew, a growing business doing good, have found a home on the top floor of his ‘Rainbow Building’ in Wynberg.

The market for vintage cars in  Africa is growing,  Mike Mullan the boss of the Volksie shop tells me – and for many the VW is still an affordable statement.

I’m penning that piece today, so the week, it seems, is ending with a story about a few old bangers. That’s kind of cool, I think, air-cooled should we say.



Counting blessings

“Darling, why not phone them now and say we will ring them when we get to Nairobi. Tell them Mummy wants to take them to Carnivore tomorrow night.”

Carnivore, this slightly overweight, posh Brit tells her public school looking teenagers, is a restaurant. As I’m standing in the queue at Heathrow waiting to board the Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt, I imagine them gnawing on a great big kudu leg, and I shudder, suddenly grateful that my family have lived in Africa long enough to have lost this colonial edge. Continue reading

Putlocker, piracy and parents: when sharing isn’t always caring

“Art is art. That’s how it is in our household. No way would any of us ever download free music or films. Absolutely no way!”

It was an emphatic response to the question I’d put to the crowd at coffee last Friday: “How would you feel if your children were downloading films or music illegally?” Continue reading

The Cloud Lifts

At 4am the day after my Gmail account was hacked over a month ago now, I penned a blog, Google’s Very Dark Cloud (see below if you didn’t get a chance to read it before I binned it). Sleep was elusive and there was little else to do while I waited for two hours to run my anti-virus programme before reactivating my account. Words flowed easily. Continue reading

Do we need more education?

Yesterday afternoon as I am loitering in the playground a friend tells me she has read my blog ‘Our Monsters on Moshi’ – . “Wow really good,” she says. “It even prompted me to ask [daughter’s name] if she ever talks to people she doesn’t know online. Of course she looked at me and said ‘No Mum’ and that was the end of the conversation.” Continue reading

Our Monsters on Moshi

Last night my six-year-old son signs in to MoshiMonsters, the popular online children’s game, which now has over 50 million users worldwide. He is very excited because he got a monthly membership for Christmas so he can now do more with his pet Monster. So while I get dinner started he clicks through to his friends’ tree, the space where children post messages to each other, and lets out a shriek of delight. A pink monster in America called KittyKat wants to be his ‘friend’.  “I’m going to send her a message,” he yells and excitedly begins typing. Continue reading

Fireworks please

On the evening of Friday 28th October my dear friend Basil sends me a text: “Congratulations on the publication of your book. Well done.”  I respond quickly: “Thanks for remembering the date but has it actually been published? There have been no fireworks.”

Don’t worry, he texts back, “I’ve arranged some for tomorrow night and some more on November, 5th.”

On Saturday, on a Harry Potter Muggletour for my daughter’s 11th birthday I surreptitiously peer into bookshops from the South Bank to the West End – no sign anywhere of Is Your Child Safe Online? There are, however, fireworks that night.

On Monday, in Kingston with my mum, we pop into Waterstones. Nothing. By Tuesday, I decide to email my publisher, White Ladder. Has the book actually been published? They respond quickly. Yes indeed it has! It was in the warehouse on Friday, my copies will soon be in the post and they are very pleased with the book. Must say, I know the book is about the online world but I’ll be rather relieved to see a paper version. I was starting to wonder if it only existed in my imagination.

Heartened by the news from the publisher, I visit the Wimbledon Waterstones, my local bookstore. I know they have ordered 200 copies because the publisher told me this on the day I did the BBC radio interviews two weeks ago. It isn’t on the shelf yet so I pluck up the courage to ask when they expect it in.

At the counter, a young shop assistant asks if he can help. I ask him if the book is on order and he does a quick search. “Yes,” he says, “we have one on order.” My mother raises her eyebrows. I am hoping he means that is my one of the 200 ordered! Nervously, I mutter, “I’m just curious as I wrote the book.”

“Oh,” comes a rather disinterested response, “well it is in the warehouse so I guess not too long now”.

Before my son’s school assembly, one of the Dad’s congratulates me on the publication of my book. I tell him about my experience in Waterstones. “No, no, no,” he says, “you should have walked out, walked back up to the counter and said to him, look sir, can we try this again, please.  You see, I am the author.”

It makes me laugh. But, I am after all, just another author in a country where over 200,000 new books are published each year – that is over 550 a day.

Okay, so it may not be the next Harry Potter (or War and Peace) but, even if I say so myself, it is a serious book written in an accessible way which I believe will give parents plenty to think about as well as practical advice. In the playground, one Mum tells me she really worries about her children online and thinks there is a need for it. I hope others will too.

It is currently available online at Waterstones, Guardian Books, Tesco and Amazon, among others, will soon be in selected bookstores and as an e-book.

Radio Gaga

After 13 interviews in a row with the BBC’s regional radio stations yesterday about my book Is Your Child Safe Online?, friends and family have been ringing to ask if they can listen again. Having played back the five that were live, and feeling very much like my own worst enemy, I’m not sure they should listen to any but in the interests of publicity here goes. Continue reading

Is Your Child Safe Online?

After six months of fascinating research my book Is Your Child Safe Online: a Parent’s Guide to the internet, Facebook, Mobile Phones and other New Media is finally in production. In the course of research I have interviewed a wide cross section of people from child psychologists to computer scientists, teachers, academics, criminologists, parents, children and experts from the industry.   It is due out in October and will be published by White Ladder.

The blame game

Image created by my 5-year-old son

For parents over, give-or-take, the age of the 35 the ease and familiarity with which children use technology today is at best perplexing and at worst terrifying. Now, according to the editorial in the latest issue of Psychologies magazine, there is some evidence to suggest that computers may cause psychological problems in later life. The magazine cites a study by Bristol University’s Angie Page (more on this here) which finds that children spending over two hours a day at a computer screen have a 60 per cent higher risk of psychological problems. So, for those of us whose childhood memories are of wind-in-the-hair freedom, Ladybird books and spot of benign telly when the nights drew this is something of a relief. The computer after all, must be to blame for poor literacy skills, increases in violence and the rise in teenage pregnancies – the list goes on.  It is certainly a view the Daily Mail would have us believe. Continue reading