Five things that have lasted longer than I thought they would

Hanging out at Green Thing HQ with Katee earlier this week reminded me that I’ve been thinking for a while about the items I own that have lasted longer than I thought they would. Buying new stuff — and manufacturers designing in obsolescence — has to be one of the most damaging aspects of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. So here goes:

Cambridge Audio Amplifier — bought when my student loan arrived I seem to remember from Richer Sounds in Nottingham in 1996.

JPW Minimonitor speakers — little beauties bought with the amp above. The Technics CD player hasn’t made it but the amp, speakers and cables are still going strong.

Raleigh Kalahari bike — bough when I was 14 I think so now 18 years old. Has had new brakes, a new saddle, new wheels and several sets of tyres. Still going strong though.

Balzano Carmencita stove top espresso — I’ve probably used this 3 or four times a week for 9 years. I bought it from Tinderbox in London fairly shortly after it opened (I think in 2001). I haven’t seen one anywhere else and can’t really find any trace of them online.

Apple Powerbook G4 — Can’t quite remember where I bought this but I think it was in 2004. I did buy a new battery for it a few years ago from eBay but it’s held up remarkably well. I don’t use it as a workhorse anymore — it now really just sits at home and runs Spotify.

I’ve joined the Good Gym

I’m useless at going to the gym. I’ve been a member of various schemes over the years — most recently I was spending about £40 a month and going, well, erm, let’s just say not very often. So I’ve stopped the direct debit and joined the Good Gym instead.

Back in December 2008 we picked Ivo Gormley’s idea for Social Innovation Camp — here’s his original application. Over the course of the weekend a brilliant team developed the idea and in the final pitching session the team won. Since then Ivo and the team have got the project off the ground and now I’ve moved to Tower Hamlets I can be part of it.

So after a CRB check, The Good Gym has matched me up with Veronica who I’ll be visiting once a week to deliver some fruit and have a bit of a chat. And as I met with Veronica for the first time this evening the project was featured on BBC London News which was a nice coincidence.

You can find out more about the project here. If you’d like to join or can help grow the project to other areas, do get in touch.

Things I’ve learned about Bethnal Green

I’ve been living in Bethnal Green for four months now and have to say it keeps growing on me as a neighbourhood. I worked here for a couple of years before moving here so some of these are old favourites but here are some things I’ve learned:

The name Bethnal Green derives from the Anglo-Saxon for ‘happy corner’.

The London Fields Farmers Market on a Sunday morning is very good. The Roman Road market is great during the week.

Museum Gardens is an absolutely gem of a park. Tower Hamlets must spend a fortune on keeping it in good nick.

There are some fantastic bloggers in the area. I found this wonderful one today.

The best coffee shop is Taste of Bitter Love on Hackney Road, Hurwundeki and Climpson and Sons are runners up.

My favourite pub is the Camel — the Wandle beer is brilliant and I’m always a fan of places that only have one thing on the menu and do it well (in this case its perfect pie, mash, peas and gravy). The Dove and The Approach come joint second for me.

The gasometers go up and down much less in the Summer than the Winter.

The friendliest service in the area is found in E Pellicci on Bethnal Green Road. You can also find Dave Gorman in there from time to time.

There’s a tardis like shop on Bethnal Green Road selling hundreds of different type of tropical fish for aquariums.

The cafe in Hackney City Farm is one of the best places to eat during the daytime if you can stand being prodded by small children.

The Film Shop on Broadway Market is well worth joining. Great range and I think better value than Lovefilm and all that malarkey.

First Thursdays on Vyner Street are great for people watching.

Gourmet San is the best Chinese restaurant I’ve been to in London and it’s on Bethnal Green Road.

You can get sushi delivered — hadn’t even thought of it but Demaezushi do it very, very well. A million times better than anything the supermarkets offer.

Best fish and chips is a little walk but definitely Fish House in Lauriston.

The chef at Viajante used to work at El Bulli (I haven’t been yet to find out whether it’s any good).

Square Mile Coffee Roasters are based in the railway arches near Cambridge Heath station. Walking past when they’re roasting is a joy.

Thinking about what we believe

We’ve been going back to basics at School of Everything as we think about what to build next. Part of the process is creating a mini-manifesto that we’ll use to help us make decisions about the technology we build — here’s the work-in-progress version. It’s an evolution of these values we wrote down in the very early days of School of Everything and interesting to see what has changed.

In parallel to thinking about what we believe, we’re going through a lean startup methodology, using interviews and questionnaires to identify problems people would like us to solve and the smallest number of features we could build into some technology that would solve them.

The hunch (or hypothesis to use Steve Blank’s word) we’re working with is that people want to learn new things but find formal courses or lessons off-putting and expensive. The idea we have is to help people organise their own small learning groups. You can find out a bit more about the idea and tell us what you think here. Results so far are very encouraging.

Accountancy Club

A few months back Russell Davies emailed and asked if I’d be interested in occasionally meeting up with other people who run small businesses for a bit of mutual aid and support. I replied and said that every now and then there was nothing I liked more than a good natter about accounting. Well what with one thing and another (and Newspaper Club being incredibly successful), Russell has been a bit busy so I thought I’d resurrect the idea.

Here’s the blurb:

Accountancy Club meets up for lunch at 1pm on the last Friday of each month in Bethnal Green to talk about running small organisations. It’s for people who never thought they’d have to deal with HMRC or Companies House forms and is a chance to share what we’ve learned with one another. There won’t be any of that ‘leadership’ or ‘changing the world’ gubbins, just practical stuff and a good sandwich.

If you’re interested send me an email (paul[at] We’ve only got space for 12 people I’m afraid so it will have to be first come first served.

Jailbrake: The Movie

From January to March this year we ran a project for Nesta called Jailbrake to try and create new tech based ventures that reduce youth offending and reoffending. Although we gave it a different name It was essentially based on the pattern of a Social Innovation Camp and the result — yet again — was that the methodology worked.

One of the best things about the weekend — which you’ll see in the video — is the help we got from young people. So many events are remote from the people who will ultimately use the services being discussed but that definitely wasn’t the case at Jailbrake. Katee deserves a special mention for managing to pull that off.

Jailbrake 2010 from The People Speak on Vimeo.

Charlie Leadbeater’s hacking education TED talk

I was lucky enough to be in the audience when Charlie Leadbeater gave this talk at the TED Salon in London a couple of months ago and I thought at the time it was one of the best explanations of why we need to think differently about education. As a side note I was reading Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist today where he points out that almost all goods and services have become cheaper when compared with the average wage since 1950 except for two areas: healthcare and education.

Beware the Leopard

When it comes to getting information out of local government I’m always reminded of this story from the ever prescient Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy:

“But Mr Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine months.”

“Oh yes, well as soon as I heard I went straight round to see them, yesterday afternoon. You hadn’t exactly gone out of your way to call attention to them, had you? I mean, like actually telling anybody or anything.”

“But the plans were on display …”

“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”

“That’s the display department.”

“With a flashlight.”

“Ah, well the lights had probably gone.”

“So had the stairs.”

“But look, you found the notice didn’t you?”

“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’.”