The right out of office message means a clear inbox after a holiday

For most people the return to work from a holiday usually involves a great stress about peeking into your inbox to see what horror awaits. I get between 50-100 emails every day. This year I’ve had a three week holiday and a two week break. That would be hundreds of email to “catch up”. However I won’t be seeing any of these messages sent during my holiday on my return Monday.

I was finding it increasingly stressful last year playing catch up digging through hundreds of email just in case something important was hiding in that pile. This year I introduced a new way to completely side step the issue. I delete ALL email sent during my holiday with the exception of two people – my boss and my bosses boss. I have a modified version of Tim Ferriss’s out of office that is explicitly clear that if you need a response you have two choices, either contact someone else or email me from the date of my return. I’m serious.

It should be obvious why I exclude my line management – I like my job ha plus they know I’m away so anything I’m being sent is assumed for after my return.

After using this successfully for two holidays back to back it will now be part of my holiday check list. I can the jump straight back to work without wasting a week chasing shadows.

Visit to Brooklyn Museum 9th September 2016

I’ve wanted to visit Brooklyn Museum for years. I love hip hop and the museum crops up directly and indirectly in the culture – from my favourite rapper talking about art “Cop Rembrandt, hang ’em, pay the lot. Can’t complain, we ballin, true or not ma?” To showing artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat which pop up in my feeds frequently. No other museum has crossed my radar as much as the Brooklyn Museum and its famed African art collection to name just one area.

All of the above coupled with the exciting digital work such as the ASK project made choosing a holiday to NYC a sound decision. We took a stroll around the botanic gardens located next to the museum before visiting which our daughter loved. In addition to wanting to see the museum as a fan, in the back of my mind I’m also looking at our own future redevelopment of Bristol Museum & Art Gallery so seeing how other museums position various services will give me good ideas for the welcome, shop cafe, toilets etc.

The welcome

I’d say that the main entrance has three phases: an initial public outdoor space with cool foundation and seating, an inner floor to ceiling glass area with further seating and security (my normal bag too big which left me carrying a zzz 2yr, her change bag and my iPad – common practice in nationals) and then finally a large reception with bag checking-in area, welcome desk, access to the shop and toilets in view. The cost of “admission” is a suggested $16 or pay what you think. The messaging is good at having the bahaviour of paying the fee for me. The person at the desk explained the admission policy and that a benefit of paying is access to the special exhibition ‘Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to the Present’. I took up this option whilst my wife went for $4 as she wasn’t bothered about sports. At this point I was expecting to hear about the ASK app but nope. A missed opportunity as Sara did say that staff normally tell folks about it. Hey we all have this happen. At this point I always ask the first visitor asssistant I see a question (I have a mystery shop list that is secret ha) and after they finally got my Bristol twang they gave me a very helpful answer. But first I needed to check out the cafe as I oversee two cafes at our own museums.


They have two options, a lovely looking restaurant and bar called The Norm or a standard cafe. I was tempted to try The Norm but it looked too lovely to disturb the diners with my young daughter. I’m sure it is kid friendly but I had that “pang” of not wanting to be loud as it didn’t look like that kind of space – more cool date type. This is the same feeling everybody has about being very quiet in gallery spaces even though this isn’t a rule! Instead we ate a lovely curated (I forgot the name of the artist) turkey cheese sandwich with coffee. Service was very good and I loved the design of the menu and bar area itself. There was indoor and outdoor seating.

ASK app
Whilst having lunch I started to spot messaging for the ASK app on the tables and lift. The app connects you in real time to staff who you can ask any question to and they get back to you. It wasn’t immediately obvious if you didn’t already know what it did. They seem to have mostly solved this by the helpful staff who work at the ASK station which you pass early on the first floor. I “asked” about what Ghanaian art they had on display and got a few suggestions and liked the style of interaction which was friendly and felt personal with lines like “my personal favourite”. The app worked well and lived up to my expectations having read about it on their labs blog for the whole development.

As much as I wanted to see everybody in the museum using the app I feel that this strand of “connection” with the public is very much in its infancy. The team behind ASK are tinkering with the future by making it. In 20-30yrs it may not be ASK but it will be a distance relative. Personally I think voice recognition will be something to keep an eye on. As an aside when I’d previously mentioned ASK to our curatorial team they were intrigued and also concerned about the time involvement of answering questions – when is too much of a good thing a burden? I didn’t get a chance to ask about this.

I really enjoyed the four open floors of galleries and started top down. The Luce Center for Amercian Art visible Storafe Study Center is the best example of explaining how a museum works I’ve come across. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a simple clear explanation of an accession number. The ASK app suggestion had the additional benefit that I felt I was seeking out a unique way to find objects.
I enjoyed seeing a closed section being worked on. I loved the African art, Rodin and got a sleeping baby and me selfie with the Venice scene by Monet. I enjoyed the sports photography and was pleasantly surprised to see a photo of Wolverhampton wanderers football team (I lived there for 12 months and saw them play) among the basketball all stars, boxing stars and Motorsport. Use of tech was subtle and mainly used for TVs with bright signs. I liked the use of directional audio. There was lots of big open empty space throughout the building.


Our own shop suffered from neglect for years so shops are front and centre in my head at the moment. The layout of the main shop was very nice and sweeping. I thought I’d see lots more budget kids stuff we love in the uk but it was more gift stuff which I’m sure works very well. I saw a print on demand station but sadly ran out of time to try it out. There was a pop up shop in the special exhibition area that was well visually merchandised. I liked the seating by the book section and overall visual merchandising.

Meeting a few of the team

I was very fortunate to get to spend an hour with Sara Devine, JJ and Christina who took me up on the offer of saying hello. I explained how we’re trying to transform our service and focused on our own version of Pay What You Think, user research, shops and digital literacy for staff. I picked up Some helpful nuggets and hope to see these guys on the circuit soon.

Thank you Brooklyn Museum and thank you Sara, JJ and Christina for taking time to meet me…. Now back to my holiday!

A few thoughts on in-car technology

View of the cockpit from the drivers seat

This is a post about how in-car technology has clearly moved on since our 2001 car was built.

Last week I rented a Nissan Note for our week in the South of France. I grabbed the keys and found my silver car in a long line of shiny new cars. I pressed the unlock button on the key fob and jumped into the driver seat. Everything lit up like a runway and my immediate thought was what the heck do I do now AND don’t touch anything. I moved to put the key into the ignition and realised it didn’t have a keyhole but those ‘push to start’ buttons. The car knows i’m the driver as it senses the key fob close enough. The last time I saw this feature was on Top Gear with a Ferrari. At this point I think must people will try and press the button to start the car but they’d be wrong. You need to press the clutch at the same time or the car won’t start – i found this out a few years back when I wasted 15 minutes failing to work it out on a previous rental. Once the engine started I decided to check my surroundings properly. My dashboard displayed a range of completely comprehensible details, which I later learned stood for ‘range of fuel left’, how green I was currently driving, current fuel level, gear etc. My steering wheel also had a number of buttons which I steered clear of initially. These controls allowed me to change the radio settings, activate cruise control (which I played with at 130kph to learn…!) and mess around with bluetooth devices.

In short, things have moved on in 10-15 years but not massively and I was a little bit disappointed. In addition to the above, I had a front and rear camera to assist parking (a bumper is a much simpler feature ha PLUS I built a parking sensor in college in 2000 for under a fiver), LCD display control unit with GPS and some odd flashing lights for whenever I was very close to a car or wall when driving – something that is required to drive those amazingly twisty narrow roads like the D44 between Plan De La Tour and Le Muy.

We are looking at buying a larger car yet I can’t help wonder who would pay for all these ‘features’ which basically poorly replace good road craft. Also I can’t imagine the LCD screen or many of these features still working perfectly in 10-15 years.

The best features? a cup holder next to the driver seat and a cubby hole under the boot, which probably is possible with a small spare instead of a full blown wheel I lug around.

At least now I can rest easy just looking for a second hand car with a decent cup holder and the will to carry me around.

A few details:

  • Approx £190 for seven days rental from the airport
  • We covered 650KM for £40 fuel




Nexus 7 on the midnight train

Fresh back from Copenhagen, I declare that my nexus 7 tablet makes an excellent travel companion.

The tablet made the flight bearable as I watched some funny Louis C.K comedy to take my mind off the fact I was off the ground. Like nearly all hostels, the Danhostel Copenhagen Downtown has wifi in the main lounge area. But instead of the common desktop PC, they let guests make free use of several laptops and an iPad in exchange for I.D. On top of this they had a charging station behind the counter so that anybody could safely charge mobile phones and USB devices like my tablet (it really needs a name: Frank Mobile, FM for short ok?).

I found out about the charging station as my lack of foresight had me bring a generic charger that failed to breath any life into FM. Luckily Copenhagen was so much fun that I didn’t actually ever flatline.

Me and the brothers (an aside: we got called “semi-black” in a bar cue #awkward moment lost in translation) mostly used the music in our hostel room with a dash of twitter/facebook stalking thrown in for good measure.

The size of FM is perfect for my backpack, a North face “Big shot” and sat easily in the front zip. I fashioned a case from a used Amazon parcel cardboard box with rubber band which did the trick. I have yet to stumble across an affordable case so this will do for now.

At this point it is worth highlighting the cost. At £199, I felt totally happy to use the device everywhere and not cringe whenever I handed it over or rammed my bag into a carry compartment. The price point is pretty compelling and my fellow travelers will be investigating devices at this price point (amazon fire and maybe the rumoured Apple iPad mini). The only disappointment for my brothers was that most UFC sites still use flash for video, can’t win every time.

The apps we used in no particular order were Flipboard, google reader, youtube, Google chrome, Google email.

I forget that I am a nerd and have a need to code, but that for most of the world, email, facebook, youtube and web browsing is plenty enough internets. I did sit in the bar over the 6 days looking at travelers from all reaches of the planet. I observed that none of them had a laptop, it was either the Apple iPad or various flavours of mobile phone. Anybody who says that a mobile phone isn’t heavily used for reading is a mug.

An interesting discovery was that one USA traveler was using the 2nd Gen Kindle purely for the 3g connectivity, for email and twitter no less. 20 bucks well spent was the simple answer.

So next time I travel I will be bringing my new travel friend along.

Coping with flying

I have a fear of flying and have sadly turned down some great opportunities to see the world and meet great people. Eventually I decided that the risks paled in comparison to the regret I would have in later years.

I started off quite enjoying flying, my first flight was in 1996 from Bristol to Ghana (6.5hrs) via Amsterdam (1hr).

After that I did the USA (6hrs) and Canada (7.5hrs). Then I had a shocking flight returning from the Caribbean and decided a white-knuckle ride wasn’t my thing.

so I then turned down some amazing trips (so my family keep reminding me) to visit Portugal, New Zealand (twice) and some other spots.

I can’t pin point why I have this fear as I am a passenger in cars, bikes, trains, buses and all sorts of vehicles quite easily.

My brothers were going to Amsterdam and although I turned it down they booked me a seat anyway…. a short huff (under 1hr) they said with family would ease me back into the travel.

Needless to say I was petrified and drank like a fish as that’s what you’re supposed to right? (more on this later).

After surviving this I got brave and we went to Italy (2.5hrs) where I was just as scared.

I decided to list what I didn’t like and then investigate further – the result of which is now I am still scared but I can tolerate many of the things that trigger my fear. I thought i’d list them in the hope this brings some relief to others:

  • I struggle to sleep days before a flight – acknowledge little can be done but that you aren’t the only one laying awake thinking about it either
  • drown out the sound of other people, put some music on in the waiting room – somebody always has a bad plane story so just drown others out
  • the plane looks odd compared to others – stop looking at the darn thing, just follow the person in front. Do not look at the plane except maybe to glance at the pilot
  • take something to read as you can use this during take-off and it at least gives me a distraction from trying to look out the window
  • That large knock shortly after take-off is the sound of the wheels returning to the carriage – this used to freak me out so much
  • other people annoy me so listen to some music instead or watch a video
  • I accept that I will have highs and lows during the flight – i focus on my breathing and the reason that I am travelling
  • Talk to a pilot – within 1-3 people I bet you’ll know a pilot who will be happy to chat about the bits you hate the most
  • Drinking doesn’t help at all i just need to use the toilet more which involves getting up so i have ditched this method
  • those herbal things are useless

All of the above have helped me in the last 2-3 years cope with flights and these have evolved to allow me to fly to New Zealand, Asia and other part of Europe.

I am still a sweaty, grumpy mess but trust me the other end is worth the hassle. See you in the sky!



Missing a trick – Hotel guestbooks

It is a constant struggle to identify good hotels/hostels – this time we were lucky that a colleague suggested ‘The Havelock‘ on the Isle of Wight, a place which has exceeded our expectations and we couldn’t have been happier.

On the front desk the owners have a guestbook which reflects the happy stay of many guests . What’s wrong with that? Nothing except we are already here and so the comments don’t  really add value much to anybody – although my better half suggests it can be good for local recommendations.

Those comments would be very helpful to anybody who is considering the hotel via the website. I propose that all hotels transfer those comments to their own websites on a regular basis. This would help interested potential guests AND surely help keep fresh material on the site – who loves this more than a search engine and a bunch of hotels with static sites vying for a higher search ranking that’s who.

It is good that The Havelock is on tripadviser as at least those comments can help you decide.

Staying with a friend of a friend – airbnb

As part of our honeymoon we decided to try the airbnb accommodation service to find at least one of our lodgings for a leg of the trip, in this instance Paris.

After a quick look at tripadvisor and the costs for barely average hotels in Paris we decided we had nowt to lose giving airbnb a shot as we knew we could easily find an expensive hotel if needs required.

With only an iphone and 30 minutes flaky hotel wifi in Geneva I had searched for a bunch of potential apartments and contacted three about staying. 1 got back to me within an hour or so and the others turned me down – so why advertise an apartment that you aren’t trying to rent (excuse was that friends were over).

The apartment that said ‘yes’ was hosted by Boris who was quick, informative and helpful later down the line on the phone! Once he accepted our request I decided getting the app would be helpful to exchange messages.

The app was good except that to see messages you need to be logged in and this is not easy I can tell you when you are traveling multiple countries without accept to 3G and wifi.

Everything went very well and we had access to wifi – the only thing I really ask for in a hotel and that is very rare.

The airbnb experience was good, I would recommend it and we decided staying in a stranger’s apartment felt like staying at the apartment of a friend of a friend.

Bristol to Whitby

Bike at the side of the road

Last week we had a few days planned up North in Whitby and I didn’t need more than a seconds thought to take the bike.

It was a great ride up with a highlight of crossing the Humber Bridge and enjoying the trip over the Moors (A169).

My GPS device, igotu worked a treat and now I can add ride data to my holiday collection with memories, photos and….trip data haha – very happy.

Oh and Whitby was worth visiting for a few days least I forget the reason for my trip and the food, particularly the sausages at Bothams was a welcome distraction from the pub.


A46, A164 (dull), A15, A169
273 miles one way
943 ft elevation (max)

igotu – first impressions

i-gotU is a GPS logger device (maps your position) that is aimed at the traveler, suspicious partner and photographer.

iGotU GPS location logger device

Essentially you set off and it claims to record up to 262,000 waypoints with the interval set between 1-60 seconds thus mapping your route. I was talking to fellow biker @davidhartland about recording travels and he successfully used it last year for a trip on mainland Europe and for under £50 from my local Maplins I figured it was worth a punt.

I have the Gt-200e model which includes bluetooth that should let me connect to a mobile phone and laptop according to the packaging, which I must say looks rubbish and hides the key features of the device. Also the website is pretty crap too and I think they’d sell a ton more by sorting it out as it comes across as a Dragons Den dream catcher.

Out of the packaging I was surprised at how small it was and impressed that it charges via USB. That said, the USB connector is some weird design that looks like it could easily break – not exactly travel friendly as I have no clue how i’d ever get a replacement.

The key features are – gps logging and the ability to put the data on things like Google Maps and also sync a waypoint with specific photos from your camera which sounds cool on a PC.

So being a crap scout I didn’t realise that the software is PC compatible only… luckily somebody has made their own software which will hopefully work (albeit without the photo syncing which I can live with).

It is on charge right now so my brief trip to Wales tomorrow will be my first test.

Dear makers of igot-U please fix the PC only software for us mac folk and sort your packaging and website – you’ll get richer quicker.