Geostationary Lube

It’s funny how social groups form on Twitter. But before I get into all of that, let’s take a step back.

After the big bang, one could reasonably assume that all matter in the universe would be equally spread – that all particles would be spaced out in equilibrium for all eternity. From observation though, we know this is not the case. Matter is not equally spaced out in the universe, something at some point made some of it stick together to form things like the Sun, Jupiter, Mercury and (the cock) George Osborne.

Similarly, users on Twitter do not follow other users in an evenly spread equilibrium. One slight perturbation can send users scattering around, sometimes bouncing, sometimes sticking, forming their own galaxies and within the galaxies, their own solar systems.

One such solar system is Stationery Club.

TheAzzo, TheManWhoFell, Carrozo and the uninhabitable gas giant, Biltawülf are some of the many Stationery Club planets in orbit around the binary stars of Wowser and IamJamesWard.

The icy comet of RedEaredRabbit has long felt the gravitational pull of Stationery Club and yesterday it entered into a stable orbit.

Enough metaphor.

I’ll be honest – I have no great interest in stationery but, despite this, in recent months, I have found myself drawn deeper and deeper into a group of people who are all members of a Twitter based group called Stationery Club. What is the raison d’être for such a society?

Stationery Club is where people go to talk about stationery.

Seriously, I am not making this up.

And so it was, that last night I found myself in Camden, braving 28C temperatures and drug dealers, en route to the third meeting of this prestigious establishment. Despite performing a continual (and seamless) stream of exquisite martial art upon the pill-pushers as I walked, I was in fact, deep in thought.

  • How will I recognise them?
  • Will we have anything to say to one another when I do?
  • What if this is an elaborate ruse to entrap me so they can cut off my willy then cook and eat it like what happens on the internet?
  • It really is uncommonly hot today
  • My martial arts skills are totally sweet

When I entered the pub, my first worry was immediately eased, as I was hullooed by TheManWhoFell – the one person attending who had ever met me.

As I wrote previously, he is far more than I at ease in Twitter etiquette and proved it by swiftly introducing me to the group, which included ChocoSquirrel, Wowser, Biltawülf, OyeBilly, Mapsadaisical and The Azzo all with whom I tweet regularly.

As time moved on, more and more people showed up and each time someone did I found myself in an odd and increasingly familiar situation : This person could be some random member of Stationery Club I wasn’t aware of, or it could be one of the people I converse with regularly on Twitter that I had turned up specifically to meet – after all, I had no idea what anyone looked like.
Fortunately, TheManWhoFell did a hugely professional job of assisting in introductions. For example, he introduced me to @rhodri:

TheManWhoFell : Rhodri, do you follow RedEaredRabbit?

Rhodri : No, I don’t think so, no.

TheManWhoFell : Well you definitely should do, he’s great.

Me : Just a minute, you don’t follow me yourself, you bastard.

TheManWhoFell : Don’t I? Well, I definitely should. I’ll do it immediately.

(He still isn’t following me)

We moved on – during the next 3 hours we learnt all there was to know about Post-It Notes. As I mentioned, the stationery aspect of the evening was not what had brought me along but in its own way the subject in the hands of James Ward became surprisingly magical.

More to the point, I talked a lot to, and interacted with, the people around me. ChocoSquirrel wrote out “Stationery Club” on Post-It Notes and stuck them to the table. After a few lexicographically immature moves this had been transposed to….

….I enjoyed that.

I won’t spend time on the stationery part – I’m sure this will be covered by my others, but I did get to ask a question to the actual inventor of Post-It Notes. I asked if he was in fact James Ward’s grandfather and how much James was paying him tonight to act the part. Fortunately, James did not ban me from Stationery Club for this minor indiscretion and we had instead a nice chat at the bar about New York and his imminent visit. He was lovely.

So – you know my reason for attending Stationery Club wasn’t the stationery, so what was it? My reason was simply to meet some of the brilliant people I know only through Twitter, to have a beer with them and to see for myself if someone you like in the virtual world is someone you would like in the real world.

Here is the raw data so you can perform your own statistical analysis:

Or in graphical form:

Ultimately though, I will rate the evening according to two simple measures:

Did I have a good time?
A resounding YES. The kind of people I get on with on Twitter really are the kind of people I get on with in every day life.

Would I attend another Stationery Club?
And surprisingly this one is a NO. I have seen all I need to see, experienced all I need to experience and am satisfied at that. I am hanging up my stationery club boots.*

*Just kidding, of course I’ll be at the next one, you muppets. See you then.

RedEaredRabbit

Could I See the Job Description, Please?

For the last two years, George Osborne must have been odds on favourite to be the next Chancellor of the Exchequer and this week it finally happened. Strangely he doesn’t come across as having been particularly prepared for this event, and has spent much of this week wandering Downing Street with a look of utter bewilderment plastered across his eminently slappable face.

On Twitter, I recently parodied Osborne’s meeting notes from the first cabinet meeting:

Osborne Meeting Notes

However, joking aside there is surely a big concern here. The UK’s economy is in a bad way – The Office for National Statistics’ figures showed, as of the end of 2009, that the UK national debt stood at £950.4bn – equivalent to 68.1% of GDP. In such dire times, what skills and qualifications should the person in charge of the economy have?

Let’s do a a little quiz and compare the appointment with what would happen in the private sector when a bank is interviewing to appoint their most senior economist:

We have two candidates – let’s call them Gideon and Vince.

  • Gideon studied Modern History at university. He got a 2:1, so we can safely say he is quite good at Modern History.
  • Vince studied Natural Sciences and Economics as an undergrad before completing a PhD in Economics. Vince has also lectured in Economics at LSE and been Chief Economist for Shell – one of the largest companies in the world.

Q: You are on the board of the bank. What is your response?

Those of you who answered “Give Vince the job!” are in fact wrong. The correct answer is, “How the fuck did a history grad, with no experience of economics, get this far in our selection process?

You may think this a harsh assessment, but I stress again the financial mire in which we find ourselves and ask you to bear in mind the importance of the position of Chancellor of the Exchequer in addressing this. My cynical side can’t help thinking the selection process was more along the lines of: “He may know fuck all about numbers, but he is my mate.”

Now you may think I’m singling out George Osborne unfairly. “After all”, you may say, “Teresa May knows fuck all about anything useful at all, and she’s in the cabinet.” This is entirely correct and I do not want to single Osborne out – more to use him as an extreme case of a general concern I have. Cabinet posts, while hugely important, rarely seem to be filled with the best person for the job. Should we not insist that our Education Secretaries have extensive experience of working in schools? That our Health Secretaries have extensive experience of working in the NHS, and that our Chancellors have extensive experience of finance and economics?

We will never know exactly what the decision making process was and perhaps there was a lot more to it than this but can anyone, hand on heart, say that George Osborne is the best possible person to take on such a crucial role at such a crucial time?

RedEaredRabbit

TweetUp

Around the start of 2010 I became properly involved with Twitter. Around 6 months before, I had created an account for the sole purpose of following Bradley Wiggins during the Tour de France and during 2009 I did little with it. I am not sure of how many people I followed or followers I had by the end of the year, but I would guess around 10 and 5 respectively.

In January, due to a mixture of gadget envy and frustration with my turd of a mobile, I decided to buy an iPhone and then, because it was free, installed TweetDeck. This seemingly insignificant step was probably the flap of the butterfly’s wings which caused the typhoon – I now had access to Twitter everywhere I went.

If something funny happened to me or something funny occurred to me pre-Twitter, it would have at most been shared with a couple of people in my immediate vicinity, or often it occured when I had no one to share it with at all. Now I started to Tweet these things as and when they happened, I suppose because I always had an audience.

More importantly, I started to find other interesting people on Twitter and follow them. All of this quickly snowballed and as I exchanged tweets with other users, I started to enjoy feeling part of a virtual community.

I can’t remember exactly how or when I started following Simon Key, but over time he has become one of my favourite people on Twitter. Simon, I should add, co-owns The Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green. Unfortunately, Wood Green is absolutely miles away from the bit of London in which I live and until yesterday I had never even been there but as fate would have it, I found myself only two tube stops away with some spare time, and I thought what the heck, I’ll pop in.

This decision is more significant than it perhaps seems. This is the first time I have actively gone to meet someone I only know through Twitter. I have followed a few people I know and bumped into a couple of people I started following because we share a local but this was different – this was me changing my plans specifically to meet someone with whom the only connection I have is Twitter.

As I entered the book shop, I immediately recognised Simon. This is partly because I have in built Terminator-style face recognition software but also because he is distinct from the crowd with long hair, a super-hero t-shirt and woolly hat. (And partly because he was standing a metre or so from the doorway.)

For this much, I was prepared. However, I also recognised the man with whom he was in conversation. You see, I also followed him on Twitter. This second, unexpected Tweeter, was Greg Stekelman who’s blog I even link to from my own.

Now, I do remember roughly how I started following Greg. As I recall, I was watching MasterChef and someone retweeted one of Greg’s tweets. Greg used to tweet a lot about MasterChef and not in a “Now Dave is chopping an onion.” kind of way. Whatever it was made me laugh out loud (I don’t say lol, I’m not 15) so I checked his other recent tweets. During that episode of MasterChef he had been tweeting something equally funny every few minutes for the entire duration. It was stunning and I was hooked.

Anyway. Back in the bookshop, I was standing in the doorway (like a muppet), watching these two in conversation. I introduced myself, slightly nervously. I had no idea how to do this. “I follow you on Twitter,” I said to Simon. “I’m RedEaredRabbit.” If I contravened the official Twitter etiquette for these situations, he didn’t let it show and he shook my hand and offered me a cup of tea.

While he went off to brew it, I chatted with Greg. Now Greg, I should add, is somewhat famous on Twitter. Not famous like Lady GaGa in that people only follow him because he is famous outside Twitter. Greg is famous on Twitter for what he writes on Twitter. To give you a measure of this, Greg tweeted that he was talking to me and I instantly got 10 new followers. True power.

Greg doesn’t follow me on Twitter, so us meeting led to an interesting social situation – I knew a hell of a lot more about him than he did about me.

Greg : I recently moved.

Me: I know – your neighbours sound like hell.

You may think this would make conversation difficult but actually it was discussing this phenomenon which opened the conversation up. Hands up, I am a complete Twitter novice compared with Greg. Not just in terms of the respective number of people who follow us, but also because I have never had :

In spite of this, it transpired, the way in which Tweeters interact with each other through these seemingly insignificant messages is a genuinely interesting subject to both of us.

While I was talking to Greg, Simon was trying to split time between us and running the shop. When he was free he would always come over and easily drop into the conversation, be it Twitter, books, buses or MasterChef.

I hadn’t just visited the book shop to chat though, I was keen on buying some books and asked Simon if he could recommend some. I didn’t want to guide him too much – I wanted to see what he would recommend given how little he knew about me. If you are ever fortunate enough to visit Simon in the Big Green Bookshop, I recommend you do this. Simon is passionate about books – not at all in a contrived way, but he has a genuine, understated love of what he does. As it turned out, he did a fine job and as he went through the selection he explained a little about each book and why he liked it. Simon’s selection (plus two choices from Greg) is below:

Simon's selection, plus two choices from Greg

I left the shop happy in the knowledge that what I worried could have been a disaster was actually an hour spent meeting two marvelous people. I have no plans to seek out all the other people I interact with on Twitter (Dave Gorman’s next project?) but I hope to bump into some of them at some stage.

I hope by the time I do, I’ll have understood the Twitter etiquette for such things and I hope, as well, they are every bit as nice as @simontkey and @themanwhofell.

RedEaredRabbit

The Future of Office Furniture

Over the past few weeks I have been closely monitoring my bathroom habits at work. On average I do 4.6 wees and half a poo at work every day.

A round trip for a wee takes 107 seconds. A round trip for a poo takes 343 seconds*. This means every day I lose 11m 4s of valuable work time going to the bathroom. I work about 225 days a year but 5 of them, a full work week, is spend going to the bathroom.

The number of people employed in the UK is 28.82m so we are losing around 664,000 years of work time every year by people going to the toilet. Imagine if somehow we could get this time back. Imagine the boost to the economy if overnight we added 664,000 person-years of work to the economy annually.

I have a solution. Office furniture.

Specifically, I have designed a new chair. For the most part it is the same as a standard office chair with variable height, arms and lumbar adjustment. However it has one key, built-in feature not found in the current generation of office chairs – a toilet.

Just take a moment to behold the beauty of this suggestion. Office chairs with built-in toilets.

There are two key benefits:

  • 664,000 person-years of work extra in the economy every year
  • Cheaper office space (since you don’t need to pay for floor-space for bathrooms)

There is one down-side however:

  • Someone in the office might do a smelly poo

I have thought about this problem at length and have solved it by making a small adjustment to the chair design. I would have one of these built into the arm on every chair so any worker could quickly avoid embarrassment with a simple press of the button.

The chairs would not be cheap but given the boost in productivity they would easily pay for themselves in a few months.

Although the office is the most obvious place for such a device there are many more applications. A couple of years ago on a flight to New York, I sank a few mini-bottles of wine and just as my bladder told me it was time to go to the toilet, we hit turbulence and the seat belt light came on. I spent the next hour in agony – unnecessarily in my opinion. The simple installation of toilets into aeroplane seats would have completely removed this problem. It would also mean that airlines could remove bathrooms from the plane and therefore fit in more seats. Again – they pay for themselves.

Our fragile economy needs a boost now more than ever. No party has shown us a policy which comes close to instantly add 664,000 person-years of work to the economy annually. Our nation’s financial ills will not be solved overnight by national insurance hikes or inheritance tax cuts. The solution is far more simple. The solution is office furniture.

RedEaredRabbit

* Note I did not count today’s disaster in the time keeping as it would have skewed the figures

P.S. Since writing this article I have trade marked The Stool Stool as the brand name for this product.