Monthly Archives: September 2006

Branson on a Roll

It’s hard to admit my admiration for Richard Branson, because in many respects he seems like an overgrown schoolboy that never grew up and spends his time faffing about in hot air balloons, but he’s definitely been on a roll lately…

Last week he pledged that all the profits of his transport businesses for the next 10 years — a sum estimated to be about $3 billion — would be invested in schemes to fight global warming through the development of renewable energy technologies.

This week he called for greener airlines, and announced a simple idea to reduce the air pollution caused by aircraft on the ground at airports — instead of leaving the engines running for 60 – 90 minutes as the planes are loaded and then using them to power the planes to the runway, he suggested using tugs (the powerful little trucks that pull and push planes to and from from the gates) to tow them all the way to a “starting grid” near the runway, and only fire up the engines 10 minutes before take off.

It’s such a simple idea, but Branson claims it could save “billions of tonnes” of carbon dioxide emissions every year.

In Memory of Ian O. Morrison

Ian O. Morrison socializing with colleagues during a Dublin Core Workshop in Helsinki, Finland. October 1997.
Earlier this week I learnt the sad news that my friend, colleague and mentor Ian Morrison had died suddenly and unexpectedly of a massive heart attack while on vacation in the United States.

Like many people that knew him professionally, I posted a remembrance on the mcg (Museum Computer Group) mailing list, which I’m reproducing below.

I first met Ian Morrison in 1994. He was on the board of the Museum Documentation Association (now mda) when I was hired as Technical Outreach Manager in 1994, and he was always a gold mine of useful advice on how to encourage museums to use technology to improve their collections information. He was also warm, friendly, supportive and unpatronizing — the best mentor I could have hoped for.

I particularly remember Ian saving my skin during the first presentation I ever did for the MDA, which was part of an event that Ian hosted at the National Museum of Scotland. My presentation consisted of me dismantling a computer in front of a bunch of Scottish museum folks in order to demonstrate the different bits of additional hardware that were needed in those days to make a “multimedia PC” (it seemed like a good idea back in Cambridge a few days earlier!).

I was supposed to talk for 30 minutes, but I was so nervous with stage fright after a sleepless night in a cheap B&B in Edinburgh that I choked after about 5 minutes. Ian saw exactly what was happening, and stepped in smoothly and calmly with his talk (about WINDEE, the Western Isles National Database Evaluation Exercise if I recall) as if it had been planned that way all along. There are many occasions I remember feeling grateful to Ian for his kind and wise help, but the palpable sense of relief he gave me that day was certainly the most memorable!

Another favourite memory I have of Ian is giving him a lift to Cambridge after some MDA event in London. It was a dark winter night, and we were driving through a blizzard. We were just about the only car driving on the M11, and couldn’t go much above 30 mph because of the atrocious conditions, so it was a long journey. But it didn’t feel long — we talked non-stop the whole way, mostly about politics, literature and music — Ian was a staunch supporter of the trade union movement, a voracious reader, and had extremely eclectic tastes in music. He was also just damn good company.

Ian and I stayed in touch after I left MDA, and I was always delighted to run into him at conferences and meetings etc., especially when we could get some quality drinking time together (I have a great photo of us out on the town in Helsinki during the 5th Dublin Core Metadata Workshop in October 1997, for example). And when I left the UK for a job in California with RLG in 1999, Ian was naturally my first choice to take over as the owner of the mcg list, a task he accepted without (much!) hesitation.

I last heard from Ian in August 2004, when he replied to an email I sent congratulating him on his early retirement (which I’d heard about through this list). I was in Montevideo in Uruguay at the time, after also leaving a job somewhat earlier than expected! As always, he was warm, generous, open and encouraging.

Ian was my mentor and my friend, and I’m really sad that he’s gone.

Visit to the Old World, part 2

My visit back to the UK improved significantly after the replacement car key showed up (see blogs passim); it turned out that I’d locked the original key in the boot of the car — which was a great relief, because the rental company were talking about charging me £250 – £350 to get all the locks replaced.

I didn’t get to Hunter’s Bar in Sheffield until 11pm, by which time the Lescar Hotel (where I met my friend Nan) was closing. We went to the Porter Brook for a pint, and after that to Napoleon’s Casino. I used to go to Napoleon’s with my father occasionally about 20 years ago, before it burnt down and was rebuilt.

For some reason, blokes kept buying me drinks in Napoleon’s. One guy bought me a Jack Daniels because he was excited that I lived in America, and another guy inexplicably bought Nan & I a £95 bottle of Dom Perignon champagne, in a gesture of largesse almost unheard of in Sheffield!

The next day I visited both of my sisters, Sharon & Vicki, and saw several of my nieces and nephews, including Vicki’s 4-week old daughter Sophie.

Then it was time to head back to London for one last night before the long journey back to Brooklyn (although I was only home for 45 minutes before rushing out to Emily Zuzik’s CD release party at Piano’s).

All in all, it was a fun but rather stressful visit back to the Old World.

A Steady Stream of Minor Misadventures

I’m on holiday in England at the moment, and although I’m having a good time visiting friends and family, my trip has comprised of an unprecedented number of minor mishaps and debacles.

My trip started brutally early on 31 August, and continued to feel grim as I joined the back of the long, slow Virgin Atlantic check-in line at Kennedy before dawn. However, my mood brightened considerably when I was upgraded to Virgin’s Upper Class! This has happened to me a couple of times before, and is easily the nicest way to fly that I know of. I got a glass of champagne on boarding, a seat that converted into a very comfortable bed, a wide selection of movies, good food and wine and a scalp and shoulder massage.

The contrast with grotty Heathrow airport was stark, particularly when I discovered that the company I’d rented a car from weren’t actually based at the airport, and I would have to take a £4 hotel shuttle bus. But eventually I was driving a brand new VW Polo with only 50 miles on the clock through London towards Brixton, my first port of call.

Things started to go wrong the following day. One of the reasons for my trip is to move two boxes of books and papers from my parents’ house in Kent to my friend Carrie’s house in Brixton, to facilitate bringing the stuff back to New York between us in installments.

I woke up jetlagged later than I’d intended, and set off for Chatham without having breakfast because I needed to get there before my Dad left for a meeting at 1pm. I arrived with plenty of time, had lunch with my father and was setting off back for London when the first of several car-related mishaps happened — I smashed the driver’s side wing mirror into the gate post as I was backing out of my parents’ drive, cracking both the mirror itself and the indicator lens at the bottom of the wingmirror housing. Ouch. I knew immediately that it was going to be expensive (especially since I’d declined all of the optional insurance), not to mention embarrassing, since my father saw the whole thing.

My father & I reassembled the remains of the wing mirror as best as we could, and I returned to London and started looking for a VW garage that I thought I remembered in Stockwell, but I couldn’t find it so I went back to Carrie’s house, found one online in Battersea, called to verify that they had the necessary parts and went to buy them. The replacement mirror and lens cost £47.

I returned to Brixton and started trying to fix the wing mirror, but quickly discovered that I would need a special “star-drive” screwdriver to do the job, so started calling various friends to see if anyone had one.

At this point, my Pay As You Go mobile ‘phone ran out of credit. I was planning to buy food for dinner anyway, so I walked into Brixton and went into Woolworths to top up my phone.

Unfortunately, the card reader in Woolworth’s didn’t like my American-issued credit card because it didn’t have “chip & pin,” so the sales assistant had to call up to authorize my £20 purchase. This took an absurd amount of time, because the person on the other end of the line had to call the United States, and there was some problem with the authorization system. It never did work — after 30 minutes waiting on hold sweating in a stuffy, non-air-conditioned store, I told her to give up and use a different card, and after some more faffing was finally able to top up my ‘phone.

Next I tried to access my voicemail, but for some reason it wasn’t set up properly any more, so I spent another frustrating 30 minutes on the ‘phone to T-Mobile trying to sort it out.

Finally I bought some food for dinner at Sainsbury’s, and called my friend Paul while I was walking back to Carrie’s to see if he had a star driver I could borrow. I was initially delighted to discover that Paul did in fact have a star driver, but my good mood soon turned to panic when I discovered that I was no longer in possession of Carrie’s only set of house keys! I hid the shopping in a bush in her front garden and ran back to Woolworths. Fortunately it was still open and I got the keys back.

At this point, things started to go slightly better. I recovered the hidden shopping from the garden, went round to Paul’s and borrowed the star driver, returned and fixed the broken wing mirror, bought a few more groceries and made dinner.

The rest of the weekend was a lot of fun — I met Francis, Phil & Debs’ four week old son for the first time, and caught up with lots of friends at Claire’s birthday barbecue.

I also managed to destroy yet another digital camera at Claire’s barbecue by dropping it on a tiled floor from a height of about 7 feet, although people that know me understand that I lose or destroy cameras on a regular basis anyway, and now consider it as an opportunity to upgrade.

In fact, things didn’t start to go seriously wrong again until Sunday evening, when I discovered that I’d lost the key to the rental car. I had no idea where I’d last seen the key, and had been out all day travelling across London on the tube and hanging out in verious friends’ gardens. No-one had seen the keys, however.

This meant that I had to contact the rental company first thing on Monday and arrange for a spare key to be sent to me, and then had to spend all day today at Carrie’s waiting for the spare key to be delivered when I was supposed to have been in Sheffield visiting friends and family (including Sophie, my brand new niece). Which is why I had time to write this long rambling blog post!

But the key finally arrived at 3:30pm this afternoon, and I’ll be setting off for Sheffield shortly.