Good things this week #5

  • Catching up with friends and making new ones at SOCAP — it’s great to know that the impact investment community is growing up strong in the US and around the world.
  • The conference organisers getting Off the Grid on free vend to feed us at the opening party.
  • The fantastic Interval created by friends at the Long Now Foundation in San Francisco.
  • Buying new kicks at the Darkside Initiative.
  • Reading Player One by Douglas Coupland in a couple of sittings — including in an airport bar which was odd because that’s where it’s set.

Bottle keep

Another Long Now idea I liked this week was one that Alexander Rose introduced me to called ‘bottle-keep’ which originates in Japan. It’s the opposite of a tab in a bar where you drink for a while and then pay for your drinks at the end. At a bottle-keep bar you buy a bottle of drink (usually whisky) and it’s kept for you for future visits if you don’t finish it on your first go.

We had lunch in the office on Thursday and Ian Kennedy told the story of how on a slightly drunken night out in Tokyo he and a friend had stumbled into a random small bar. When they went to the bar, the owner disappeared out the back and came back with a bottle of whisky with the Ian’s name on it. It turned out that he’d been there 8 years previously with his father and the bar owner recognised him and had gone to find his bottle-keep.

The team at Long Now are planning on using a similar system for the new Long Now Salon which they’re fundraising for at the moment. As Alexander told us, “It turns out that the history of alcohol is pretty much the history of civilisation.” so expect lots of interesting ideas (and drinks) when it opens — hopefully in the not too distant future.


This week’s Long Now seminar was a bit unusual. The talk was given by The UX — a clandestine Paris group who occupy, conserve and occasionally repair non-visible historic sites in in the city — mainly underground. They gave a presentation to show two of their projects which people have found out about (it became clear later in the evening that they’ve done lots of projects that nobody knows about) — the underground cinema and the secret restoration of the clock on the Pantheon.

The UX aren’t alone. In London, there are the people who documented the Royal Mail railway under the city and I also met some of the team who documented the Mothball Fleet in California. It was them who told me what’s in the big covered dry dock on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay (pictured above) that me and Ivo spotted a few weeks ago. It turns out it’s even more spectacular than we imagined — a top-secret stealth ship called the Sea Shadow that was built at the height of the Cold War using the technology developed for one of my favourite planes — the Blackbird SR-71.

Here’s to the urban explorers. Long may they thrive in secrecy.

Helping people work out what to do with their lives

It’s been a day of sad news. I guess I knew it was coming but I woke up this morning to find out that Steve Jobs had died. I’m glad that his commencement address at Stanford is doing the rounds — it is a fantastic talk. It’s filled with emotion and insight but I also love the way he doesn’t respond to any of the whoops or applause. He had something to say and was going to say it.

I find it interesting that the Whole Earth Catalogue had a massive impact on Jobs when he was a student. He says that “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish” (a Stewart Brand line) was the phrase that saw him through. I like the fact that 25 years later Stewart is still finding ways to make young people think — now through the Long Now Foundation and his books. Jobs in turn went on to inspire huge numbers of people working out what they want to do with their lives — through the things he created and the occasional interviews and talks he gave.

It hasn’t made the headlines in the same way but I also found out this morning that James Cornford has passed away. I only met James once but he had a very strong influence on me in the short time we spent together. He set up an essay prize which I found out about somehow — I’m fairly sure the day before the deadline. I remember that I liked the given title “In defence of apathy” and so I decided to have a go. It was one of the first times I sat down and wrote down what I thought. A few months later I got the call to say my essay had won.

The ceremony was tagged onto another event and wasn’t a big deal. But we met afterwards and he told me that the reason he liked it was that mine was just different to everybody else’s and that was a good thing. I was just starting to work for think tanks at the time and ‘stay different’ stuck with me.

So I just want to say thank you to the people who spend time helping people who are working out what to do with their lives and how to do it. It’s important and I hope I can do it too.