So that was Boston. That was hearing Bill Gates talk about delivering financial services to the unbanked via their mobile phones.
And a lot else besides. But all the rest of it - another time.
The unbanked - the exceptionally poor, with no credit records and hardly any money - can't get into the banking system because they can't give satisfactory answers to any of the "know-your-client" questions that banks are obliged to ask these days. So they can't put money in the bank. Or borrow from banks.
But they do have phones. Mr Gates' suggestion is that banks could develop very simple savings accounts, phone-based, that could be exempt (because they're so small) from all that fandango about producing ID and a utility bill, yada. Fine notion, and I'm in favour. I like the thought that the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation has the clout to make it all happen.
IT is pretty reliable nowadays, and although I suppose we have to acknowledge the occasional eccentricities of the average (smart)phone, and the tendency of wifi connections to be slow or to drop completely, and the whole thing about losing your phone, dropping it, forgetting to charge it,* this could be real. Check this out.
Come on - let's be optimists.
*And all the things people say about regulators. And banks.
I wonder where the romance has gone in the Scottish referendum. An argument for independence is that Scotland will be able to keep the British currency. An argument for union is that power will be devolved from London to Edinburgh. This is Scotland. Scotland. Clans. Loyalty. Burns Night. Bagpipes and pipers, Highland regiments, legends, feuds, that Australian actor in Braveheart. Haggis, Glamis Castle, grouse moors and lochs.
Scotland. Scotland. I'm English, but my children are half-Scottish. If I had a voice in this, I wouldn't want a squabble between politicians about currency units and tax-raising powers. I'd want everything that I celebrate when I celebrate my country.
We need airstrikes and they need to be "carefully targeted", said the retired general on the radio this morning.
Why "carefully targeted"?
On 4th May 2009, the US Air Force carried out the Granai airstrike, in which around 100 Afghan civilians were killed. “Apologising” afterwards, the USAF explained that “the inability to discern the presence of civilians and avoid and/or minimize accompanying collateral damage resulted in the unintended consequence of civilian casualties.”
So you see, carelessly targeted airstrikes just won't do.
Nor do airstrikes where you can't "discern" the civilians in the target area.
On 4th September 2009, ninety civilians were killed in the Kunduz airstrike.
On 9th October 2009, President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
The citation told us that Obama had “captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future.”
Obama accepted the award. “I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds,” he said in his acceptance lecture. “All responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace.”
Embrace airstrikes responsibly, you civilians.
And hope for a better future.
If, after thirty years' absence, you come off the A12 at the A414, and drive eastwards towards Danbury, you will be struck by the quantity of trees. It's very green here, the wider roads and the flat horizon concealed by mostly young trees planted close in to the road. Even the familiar houses and landscapes concealed by the trees.
A one-word policy decision by the road-builders or the council: trees.
As if everything new is to be hidden by trees, with collateral concealment of the old not considered.
The Bell has a big italic B that wasn't there on its roof-line when it was just the pub, and there's a black turtle in the pond at Eve's Corner. The main road through is busy. But the yacht chandler is still there, The Griffin as well, and the church and churchyard haven't changed. Take one of the first lefts after you pass the village sign and state-of-the-art road maintenance ceases to be an issue within a few yards - the trees are old, the houses are visible behind their hedges, and the road surface has character.
Find your way to the main bridleway through Lingwood Common, and the new world asserts itself for just a moment - there's a sign bearing a lengthy explanation of what's being done to help nature along. But if these are the woods where you grew up, what you will really notice is that all the old ways, the secret paths and hiding places, are all still here. The head-high bracken has been mostly replaced by waist-high new trees, but if you were younger and smaller, you could push a tunnel through this foliage just as easily.
You had to be lifted into this tree once, to start climbing.
So what I think is, we need to be careful about the forced classification of people. We've had serfs, peasants, working class, middle class, "We, The People", the proletariat, capitalists, hard-working families, immigrants, minorities, I heard "young British Muslim men" discussed the other day, the unemployed, people who say "As a writer, I..." or "As a woman, I...", and many other classifications into which it is often convenient to push people. The poor. The voters. The fans. The public. Minorities.
There's a danger here that we lose sight of the individuality of individuals. We talk about "the middle class" as though they're out there somewhere hogging public services. All of them, simultaneously. We talk about "immigrants" without necessarily thinking about the great variety of pressures that brought them here. It's convenient and no doubt it's necessary. But anything done in the name of "The People" that excludes "This Specific Person", whoever that might be, is problematic, surely?
Whether we're running High Speed [insert number here] through somebody's back garden because it will "create jobs" (incredible, the confidence with which that outcome is promised), or embarking on some other social-engineering project in the name of (say) the people or the unemployed or young British Muslim men, we could usefully start by reflecting on (1) whether we've actually consulted any of them, and more importantly on (2) whether, if we did get them all together in a room and ask them first, they'd agree on an answer.
Impossible to do right by everybody, but necessary not to forget that there are individuals, with the same human rights as everybody else, who don't fit neatly into any of the classifications. Once their rights are ignored in the cause of the majority, we're in danger of resorting to cliches: it's a slippery slope, et cetera. The term "human rights", since I seem to have started using it, is meaningless unless it refers to the individual as much as, if not more than, the group.
One of the advantages of being my age (seems I was scratching my name on ceramics back in 1862) is that you begin to hear echoes.
Back in the nineties, there were people who would say "We've got a website!" as though this meant they'd cracked the internet. I remember early bank websites that were a picture of a room. Teller windows, filing cabinets, other bits of furniture, all of which gave access to literature on whichever services fitted the visual metaphor.
Nothing happened online - just documents to print out (and post). That went on until about 2005, which was the last time I heard somebody in a business environment say "We need a website!" as though that would solve everything. [Remember the advent of TV advertising? Guess you don't. It was the same.]
By then, we were sitting through those seminars and conference sessions on how to "leverage" Facebook. They never happened for Twitter, as I remember, and LinkedIn kind of crept up on us. Yes, Pinterest, Tumblr, namecheck, namecheck. Those seminars morphed into today's endless flood of "ten ways to get people to listen to you" blog posts, which all add up to "one catchy way of telling other people what to do in the hope that they'll listen to me forever".
Then we hit social media. Stage one: realising you could talk to your customers online. Stage two: realising that if you screwed up service delivery, they could rubbish you online. Stage three: realising that talk is cheap while fixing service delivery is expensive. Talking more. And more. But always sounding like a robot taking lessons in cheerful.
What's significant to me, in all of this, is not the moments of excitement - We've got a website! We could leverage Facebook! - but what happens when they don't solve everything. The excitements echo down the years, but so does that sense of bafflement that comes afterwards. It's the same every time, and it leads to real innovation, by which I mean a change of attitude leading into a change of behaviour accompanied by whatever new or re-purposed tools are needed to facilitate that new behaviour.
Two days ago, I was invited to "like" a new Facebook page. Yes, I "liked" it, but all that does is make me aware of it. That's something, but it'll take something more to stop me forgetting it.
Three days ago, I read an article (online) about teenagers' preference for reading stories in print. This wasn't a screamer; it was a sober little piece observing that teenagers also like books (alongside screens, games, et al).
Two weeks ago, I attended a "social media marketing" seminar. The usual. What Google's doing. Stats on what people do when they go online. I say "the usual", but it was useful. I've kept my notes. I mention it here because the over-riding theme of the whole thing was: good content. A few years back, it might have been: keywords. [It was. I was there.]
But now - content.
That's a change in itself. Thinking back to that Facebook page I "like". Facebook's useful. But so many people use it that it's a baseline. I might go back to that page. But not because I "like" it. Need more than that.
Maybe that echoing sense of bafflement is a lot of people getting ready to realise that the content has to be interesting. Not just frequent, or catchy, or "liked" by them or anybody else, or broken down into a list, but a genuine must-read.
Wouldn't that be great?
What could you really say, if you took the time to think about it? What do you really think?
Oh, those mornings between commissions. Finished yesterday, sent off, done. Start the next one ... in a minute. Just time to come in here and acknowledge the lack of progress on The Sanity of Crowds. It's going to have to wait for the end of next week. Too much work on. Sorry about that.
Way back in 2012, I wrote a short-ish book called - well, see left. A friend was setting up a publishing company, and he send out an email to various people asking if they just happened to have any 10,000-word manuscripts, fact not fiction, tucked up in their sock drawers.
No, I didn't. But I did have an idea. So I wrote, I think, 9,996 words and sent them off. Yes, came the answer. Soon, came the answer. I really do want to publish your book, came the answer. Then: it's been a while, do you think it needs updating? came the answer.
So we - or rather, I - started procrastinating. After all, the easy part of writing a book is thinking about writing a book. I can do that all day.
Then, a week or two back, I found a discussion on LinkedIn about procrastination. Other people are as good at it as I am, it turns out. We all have parallel lives in which our dream-selves are scribbling away madly, getting things done, keeping fit, not drinking too much coffee, achieving. While we think about getting round to all that.
So here's the solution. The only way this book is going to get out of my head and my sock drawer*. I'm going to update and finish writing it (duh). But not only that. I'm going to teach myself Adobe CS InDesign and upload it in PDF form, at a rate of 1,000 words per week, excuses permitting, until it's done. Nine weeks? Ten? Then I'm going to talk nicely to my friend with the publishing house, or do something else pro-active and dynamic that I haven't thought of yet.
You'll find a link to what I've done so far under the Read Me tag above, or you can just click the title here. It's now called Extra-Ordinary Popular Perceptions And The Sanity Of Crowds, which kind of resonates with me and perhaps with you. And fits better with the mobile in the picture, perhaps.
Don't expect perfection. To get it right first time would be an unrealistic aim, and to learn by doing (InDesign, et cetera) can turn rather too easily into learning while delaying. Or not learning while procrastinating.
It's free. Download it. Offer closes whenever I get it finished.
*No, I don't have a sock drawer capable of storing Word, InDesign and PDF files. I have clouds, like everybody else. It's my dream-self who keeps dog-eared manuscripts in his sock drawer.
Quick post-to-self to record that I did what I said I'd do. Intro to the book written, pasted into a crude layout using InDesign, then uploaded here as a PDF. Worthwhile exercise. I'll redo the InDesign layout, but as a method of getting a book finished, publishing it in serial form (free to download, but it's it's only the intro so far) seems like it might be a way of self-imposing a deadline.
Tune in next week for Chapter One. Same time, same website...
Er, I've just posted a comment on a LinkedIn discussion, committing to starting a personal project (the first 1,000 words) by Friday. The discussion was about procrastination and it was happening in the group called "I am a writing machine", which is all about getting words written.
So that's what I'm going to do. No, really.