Thursday, 28 June 2007

Speedwalking into business

Tony Blair had just left office and Brown was facing being the new Prime Minister as I arrived for a Boardroom Lunch at the invitation of UHY George Hay in Huntingdon. It was an eclectic mix of UHY Partners, clients and others brought together for a pleasant form of networking between businesses that might not otherwise have met.

Neil Parker was from the Greenwich Observatory Ltd, a company specialising in optical equipment from Telescopes to my particular interest, microscopes. pre lunch conversation swirled about the visibility of Venus by day to the glare of city night lights drowning out the stars.

Over the main course, Ken Barber of Capita Solutions Ltd and I swapped stories about the pleasure of meeting different businesses and learning the variety of mostivations that people have for running their own business. his company deals in financial solutions for companies unable to obtain funding from other sources and could prove useful for some of my overseas contacts should they wish to enter the UK market.

During the dessert course my quiet neighbour to the left, Peter Howard of Rayzel International Properties Ltd, revealed himself to be an ardent speedwalker and I learnt that the hip and bottom wiggling technique was passe and that a key requirement of the technique was to straighten the advancing knee before the foot touched the ground.

I had to leave early to meet with another future client, behind me a room still buzzing with conversation.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Opportunities for startups and disadvantaged communities

Thinking of starting up in business? There is a new kid on the block with assistance and training as I found out today, attending the NWES launch of CREAM (Cambridge & Rural Enterprise Advice and Mentoring). NWES, with its roots in Norfolk, has taken over Enterprise Fenland to become one of the UK's largest enterprise agencies. NWES provides assistance and loans to new companies and is particularly supportive of disadvantaged, ethnic and minority groupings.

With the restructuring of Business Link to provide information, diagnioses and brokerage within the East of England rather than providing training and similar services as in the past, the launch of CREAM is timely in its provision of free business support and training to startups. This will be delivered over a four year with free training courses being available from July onwards at a reange of locations in Cambridgeshire. Interested parties can find out more by phoning 01354 660900 or e-mailing

I would not even have been aware of the launch, had Andrew Wilson, Head of NWES Support not contacted me. Furthermore, as a potential business user or referrer, it is hard to keep up with the current changes in business support, agencies and training provision in this area, by agencies that might often feel themselves in competition with each other. Existing businesses and networks like the Chambers of Commerce and HBN could also play a valuable role. Perhaps the GCP could emulate their provision of centralised contact/information for international visitors by providing an overview or common information point on their website on the diversity of business support services/agencies.

CREAM looks like an excellent idea and I hope that it reaches its intended clients.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Goodwill and the Value of your business

I learnt a new word today as Barry Jefferd of UHY George Hay gave an entertaining talk at the Premier HBN Event, held this evening at the Huntingdon Race Course: Goodwill.

Barry was talking about valuing your business if you had the intention of selling. Whilst able to dispell the myth that accountants could not be amusing and excellent speakers, the general tenet of valuation still resided with the numerical elements of assets, turnover, profits and shares; value was in part dependent on the integrity of the accounting practices with which the business was run. We were getting into less tangible areas when considering how the business was managed. If it could run without you, value might increase, if it could not run in your absence, value would be likely to be diminished.

Whe all the financial and managerial factors have been considered and there are no hidden skeletons in the cupboard, that is where goodwill enters the balance sheet. Not just any goodwill, for goodwill is a real accounting term, it has to be purchased goodwill; it is the surplus over the fair value of the net assets which someone is prepared to pay for the business.

Goodwill is an intangible asset, a fickle thing, influenced by factors from business contacts, location to business potential. It can be high at one evaluation of the company and diminish to nothing if the reputation of a company becomes tarnished.

Ultimately the value of goodwill and the value are dependent on one final factor, the presence of a willing buyer.

Monday, 18 June 2007

Practicalities of Cherry-pip spitting

Sunday trip to Wells Next the Sea for an enjoyable walk by the seaside. Here I unexpectedly came upon the "11 to sign" party in the midst of their annual Northern Hemisphere Cherry pip spitting competition! (One of the Southern Hemisphere Cherry pip spitting competitions is by GlobeVista.)

So what is the best spitting technique in this sport? Not being able to find anything on the web, I submit the following theoretical considerations:

From conventional ballistics, the maximum trajectory is theoretically obtained with a launch angle of 45 degrees from the horizontal. This YouTube video by a ladies amateur team demonstrates the benefit of launch angle.

Height also increases distance traversed.

The distance is then dependent on the launch velocity, so the longer you can accelerate an object before it enters free flight, the faster the speed and the greater the distance travelled. A professional cherry-pip spitter will purse their lips to provide a simple "gun barrell". The higher the explosive pressure release to accelerate the pip, the better.

Distance travelled is also dependent upon air resistance.

Therefore for maximum spitting distance I would recommend standing on tip-toe for maximum height, pursing the lips as much as possible to achieve the longest mouth barrell/acceleration route for the pip, and placing the pip at the back of this barrell as opposed to the front of the lips. Aim to spit the pip at an angle of 45 degirees upwards. Build up a good lungfull of air and explosively blast the pip. Additional centimeters may be gained by thrusting the head/body forward and the same time to impart further momentum. A few millimeters may be gained by conducting the contest either at high altitude or during a low pressure weather system.

The playfull amateur may wish to spit in the wind direction instead of against it, the professional might wish to take wind velocity into account when establishing records.

I would be interested in the opinions, experiences and advice for trainers & practitioners in this sport of Cherry pip spitting following this article.

Friday, 15 June 2007

Young at Art

A plodding day at the PC and a dismal wet evening had not left me in the most positive of moods to venture out for the Cottenham Village College GCSE Art Exhibition to which I had been invited as parent and Governor. But once through the door, my mood lifted dramatically!

Meandering through the crowds of students laughing and chatting, proud parents and relaxed and pleased teachers, the eye was initially gripped at random by a portrait on the right or an abstract ahead in the large collection covering the walls of three rooms.

Technical competence varied dramatically but came second to the sendipity of the gems scattered independently of ability - where an idea had clicked and connected with the viewer. Fabrics were one thing I noticed on my second tour - studies of saris that I had mistaken for photographs, a sleeping figure swathed in gentle folds of a pastel blanket and unassuming at first, an oil painting of a simple apple on a dark green fabric which one overlooked until you came close to marvel at its execution. Portraits that captured a smile, longing or sadness, ranging from posterised ink studies to positively Shreklike. And in one corner, an abstraction of shells in a few simple lines and colours.

But the best thing was the ideas, the different ways of representing something. I wanted to bring a camera to capture some of them so I could go back and try them out myself, to develop further!

I left with lifted spirits - and a new desire to try experimenting with pastels again, having been seduced by the soft blends and textures.

photo - microscopic foraminiferan shell, CT

Thursday, 14 June 2007

North Atlantic Fish

As part of an existing project for Europartnerships, I needed a passing knowledge on some of the pelagic fish species in the North Atlantic, otherwise known as FAO 27 fishing area.

Mackerel (Scombus scombus) I had heard of and of course eaten (tastes great with a sweet gooseberry butter sauce). Horse mackerel (Trachurus trachurus) was however new to me. also known as scad, it can grow to 60cm and is eaten in the mediterranean countries and Japan.

Tuna turned out to describe a multitude of species, such as albacore or bonito or the bluefin. Their red flesh is due to the increased amounts of myoglobin, the oxygen capturing molecules in muscle. Apparently tinned tuna tends to be skipjack tuna from tropical waters and has the added benefit of less mercury accumulation that the other larger species.

Sardines also covers a range of species (up to 21 according to Wikipedia!) and the sardines in supermarket tins are often not sardines but young herring or sprat, close relatives.

The attached picture is of a Dorade fish scale, a mediterranean species, taken using polarised light and filters.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Colour reproduction and printing

You send off your company images to the printers and are then dismayed at the result that comes back! This is a common result, frustrating to both printers and their clients. It inevitably arose in converstation with Peet Hiddink, a Dutch photographer (whose work on Doors has been accepted by UNICEF for a colourful series of cards) and her partner Jos when visiting Cambridge over tha past two days. For an artist especially, the transition from photo on the screen to print by a distant company can be a traumatic experience.

So how do you ensure avoid these problems with material your company is producing? The following comes from my years of experience wrestling with the issue and suggests a pragmatic solution.

The first step is to accept the fact that as an image progresses from one medium to another or from equipment to equipment, it is never quite the same. What our eyes perceive is different to the film camera which is different to the individual brands of digital camera, to the PC screen to our deskjet printer, to the commercial printing machine. There is a lengthy informative article and related information available at the Technical Advisory Service for Images (TASI) if you want it but here's the message in brief.

Your PC or mobile screen cannot reproduce the full spectrum of colours we see, although we build our colours in the same way from red green and blue light (RGB). The colour range of the printer is different to that of the screen and is generally made up of cyan, magenta, yellow and blacks (CMYK). By the time you get to the printed version, you have lost a lot of the potential colour spectrum! it also means that certain shades of blue, red and green visible on the screen cannot be reproduced accurately by printing (techies say that the RGB colour extremes are out of gamut from the CMYK range).

A good photograpic or printing company will take account of this by getting the screen to display in the more limited range of the printer and then adjusting contrast, brightness and colour balance in such a way that the eye/brain believes it is seeing a pleasing full colour image.

The second step therefore is to find a good local printer who is prepared to work with you. Build a relationship where you get an idea how they work and they understand what you need over successive contracts. If you can, view the images before they are printed on their screens as they will have tried to get their screen views as close to their printing machines as possible.

The final step is to get a proof printed, preferably on the machine that will do the complete run, and to look at that proof WITHOUT reference to the original. Minor colour changes can often still be tweaked on the printing machine at this stage. If you like what you see printed - go with it, if you don't, ask the printers advice on how the original should be changed, or what you should do differently in future.

For an artist or director with a real emotional committment to the image being printed, a lot of stress is reduced by judging the printed product on its own merit without the critical eye of comparison with the original. If you and the printer are happy with the product, your clients will not know the difference when they receive your printed brochure, postcard, flyer etcetera.

Peet was interested in photographing angels for a new project, so here is one I photographed on our sightseeing tour around Cambridge. Looks good doesn't it? Ah, but you should see the original stained glass window in Kings College Chapel!

Friday, 8 June 2007

Warning Tale to the young from Godmanchester grave

Today I was practically brain dead, exhausted from the hyperactivity of the past week, and stuck in a jam in Godmanchester on a grey day. Tantalisingly just a few minutes away from the HBN networking meeting I wished to attend, my thoughts returned to the last Friday. There, glorious sunshine had prompted me to get out of the car after the HBN meeting and wander around Godmanchester with my camera, somewhere I had previously just driven through for the past three years.

Chartered in 1212, Godmanchester turned out to be a little gem as I sauntered across the Chinese bridge, over the river Great Ouse. The boats, gardens and blue sky reflected peacefully on the water and pedestrians wandered unhurriedly past the timbered buildings. A friendly greeting to a local resident with a comment that I was enjoying looking around led to his suggestion that I make my way to the graveyard and look out for the grave of Mary Ann Weems to hear of her cautionary tale!

Through a side lane I entered the graveyard of the Pittoreque Church of St Mary the Virgin, with its open mouthed gargoyles and came upon the stone bearing the following inscription (in many cases, the lower case s was substituted with an f - not the long s as might have been expected)

"As a Warning to the Young of both Sexes This Stone is erected by public Subscription over the remains of MARYANN WEEMS who at an early age became acquainted with THOMAS WEEMS formerly of this Parifh this connection terminating in a compulfory Marriage occafioned him foon to defect her and wifhing to be Married to another Woman he filled up the measure of his iniquity by refolving to murder his Wife which he barbaroufly perpetrated at Wendy on their journey to London toward which place he had induced her to go under the mask of reconciliation May the 7th 1819 He was taken within a few hours after the crime was committed,tried and subfequently executed at Cambridge on the 7th of Auguft in the fame Year Ere Crime you perpetrate survey this Stone Learn hence the God or Juftice sleeps not on his throne But works the Sinner with unerring Eye The suffering Victim hears and makes the Guilty die"

A sprightly octagenarian told me that she understood that Mary Ann was not as innocent as she seemed, having used a feigned pregnancy to snare her man!

Another chance encounter in the White Hart pub back on the main road revealed that the body of the poor murdered MaryAnn had been laid out in that pub near the window so that the locals could pay their last respects. It was said that she still haunts the pub!

The Godmanchester White Hart regulars also had another tale - of when a large truck screeched into the carpark and a horde of Americans piled out. Thinking there was going to be a fight, the locals rushed out to find that the real reason for the visit was much less confrontational. Whilst being stationed in the area a long time ago, an enterprising american had bought the old pub sign from his favorite watering hole and taken it back with him at the end of his tour of duty. Now, years later on a visit to the UK, he had returned to show his friends the pub where the sign had come from!

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Hinxton Technologyworld07

Hard to believe from the photo that we were networked out after the second day at TechnologyWorld07! This time the location was Hinxton, home of the Human Genome Project, where just a day earlier there had been news of the largest study of genetics of human diseases (see Sanger Centre News item).

This time Dr Jo Stanley of Anglia Ruskin joined me in supporting Richard Wishart in a packed day of meetings with the great and small from Sanyo to AuthorIT. This was in effect an International Sector activity arising from the cooperation of three members of the active networking group, HBN. We are pictured here with longstanding contact Catherine Atkins of I10, (on the right) who facilitates communication between businesses with specific technology queries and the academic might of the regions universities.

We had an extremely productive day with Jo's academic expertise in IT and Digital Business Ecosystems supporting Richards Strategic role in RFID and logistics, whilst I fulfilled the role of Research director and meeting facilitator/project manager for Delivery Management.

This time the buzz concentrated around the main marquee with the central coffee area surrounded by the business stands.

Giving, sharing or altruism in business and the advantages of positive thinking

David McMullan of the McMullan Group and I entered a philosophical mode as we retired to the Jolly Brewer in Milton for a quick lunch inbetween discussions on newsletter and other designs.

We both shared an enjoyment of meeting with others from different business backgrounds and were happy to share our experience and advice if asked. But why did we do it unpaid a lot of the time? Our conclusion was that there were benefits in the longer term: The building of trust and relationships that in turn often lead to new opportunities where we would benefit in a Win Win situation. David had impressed me previously by the open way that he had welcomed Graham, a potential competitor in the fleet management area, to our our networking meetings at HBN and offered assistance. A closer business relationship has grown with an added synergy due to the different skill set the two bring to it.

The key though is not to expect a return or consciously work towards it with particular objectives in mind- that would be more on the manipulative side. The objective is to share (without getting into the realm of business incompetence), preferably across a spectrum of contacts and be pleasantly surprised at the opportunities that do arise at a point in the future, without one necessarly knowing what form they may take. That's how Milton Contact entered self publishing or learnt about blogging!

Our second mutual experience was that thinking positively about setting and achieveing an objective was far more successful than worrying about all the potential hurdles in the way; the latter more likely to lead to giving up trying before even beginning to go down a new path.

Hunger stilled and mind stimulated, we returned to battle with the more mundane realities of Spreadsheets.

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Technologyworld07 Ascot

Dragged myself out of bed at the ungodly hour of 5:30am, forced some tea and cereal down before heading off to huntingdon to meet my friend Richard Wishart of Delivery Management. Swapping to his car we took a leisurely 3h drive to Ascot for the first of Technologyworld07's two event days.

This was our third outing to the event at which UK companies could showcase their ideas to visiting overseas companies. This time Richard was the first speaker of the day. By one minute to the 10 o'clock start of his speech, three members of a prospective audience arrived so I slipped out briefly and wandered amongst the attendees reminding them that the keynote speech was about to start and could they please make their way to the Seminar Room if wishing to attend. Five minutes later Richard started his innovative talk on the evolution of society and technology with particular reference to RFID (radio frequency identification) to a considerably swelled audience!

The rest of the day was spent in 20 minute meetings with a variety of companies according to an ambitious schedule, arising from people we wanted to see and those who arranged to meet Delivery Management. It was great fun but exhausting as we met directors, vice presidents and others from Singapore, Sichuan, Chengdu, Germany, Malaysia, India etc. to learn about their services, products, needs, dreams and ambitions, and regaled them with Richard's skills in strategic consultancy in all manners postal and RFID.

The buzz subsided into a warm glow on the homeward trip as we reflected on the positive responses we had encountered. Richard was justly proud of his excellent seminar and commented

"I had quite a good attendance at my seminar!"

"Ah! Richard," I started, slightly shamefaced, "perhaps I should explain..."

Monday, 4 June 2007

Was visited by Dr Paul Gans of Plant Health Management today where we finalised his companies new logo. This delicate flower is actually that of a potato!

the most exciting event this week has been the publishing of Milton Contact's second book, Nimrod - a Memoir of Mischief and Mishap, by Peter Newman Brooks and with illustrations by Ian Levene. It is a tale of a siamese cat, Nimrod and his nine lives, told by his 'Obliger' with occasional comments by Nimrod himself. More information on the book can be found at!