The Law of Benevolent Inaction

My second (full-time) job, I worked as a Document Controller. In large projects you need people to track documentation, build a library and disseminate them to the interested parties.

Not long after I started, one of my colleagues introduced me to the concept of ‘benevolent inaction.’ Which is to say, leaving a task for a while, because it often saves you time in the long run.

Our main duty was to take documents dropped off by engineers, copy them, then distribute and/or file those copies. By copy I mean photocopy. Depending on the size of the document and the number of teams it impacted, this could be a lot of work. We had an in-tray for processing and engineers would simply leave the documents with us.

As an eager newcomer, my natural instinct was to process the waiting pile as fast as I could. I didn’t want to be responsible for holding up a project or causing expensive alterations because someone didn’t get a document in time. The thing is, engineers aren’t perfect. Not often, but regularly, an engineer would sheepishly reappear after leaving his document and take it back to make amendments. They’d forget something, overlook something, maybe they’d spot a typo.

If that happened after the document had been processed, it meant a new revision and another round of copying. So I learned to let the documents wait a while, not too long, but long enough to eliminate the sort of things we seem to remember only after we finish.

It’s something I have learned to do in all my jobs. Obviously there are some things that blatantly can’t wait, those that are impacting people right now, but it’s also very easy to come up with an idea and ask someone to do it without thinking about the work involved, let alone whether you actually need it.

It could be an idea that quickly gets replaced, or a fad that is hot this week, but not next, or the result of an emotion that dies down with time. You have to make a call on whether the task you’ve been given can be left, which is sometimes a challenge. There’s no hard and fast rule to identify them. As long as it’s not business critical or impacting people right this second, you’re probably safe. The old faithful ‘when do you need it by?’ can be a helpful way to gauge the priority.

If someone really wants the job done, they’ll chase you on it, or at least follow up to check progress. If not, you just saved yourself some time that can (probably) be better spent elsewhere.


De-Icing with Warm Water

A frozen windscreen

When I tell most people that I don’t scrape my windscreen, I pour warm water on it, they look at me aghast. The old adage about it cracking screens is frequently mentioned. I’d like to set that straight.

I’ve used warm water on all of my cars, every winter for the better part of 20 years. Not once has it caused a screen to crack, not once has it caused a chip to expand.

I think this is a leftover from the days when windscreens were made solely of glass. In modern cars (any made in the last 20 years) they’re a composite, with layers of plastic and glass. It’s the plastic that stops the thing shattering (which I’ve seen an old screen do), and the mixture makes them much tougher.

There are some caveats, of course, I would recommend that you DON’T USE BOILING WATER. I think your screen could take it, but you don’t need it. I use water from the hot tap, which is more like 40 degrees (Celsius). Continue reading

Safety Razor Costs

I touched on this briefly in my previous post, but I thought I would break it out into more detail. One of the reasons safety razors are gaining in popularity is cost. As Mike Levine from Dollar Shave Club says in his video: “Do you like spending $20 a month on brand name razors? $19 go to Roger Federer.”

Using a cartridge shaving system, even a middle-of-the-road one, probably cost me £20-26 a year, plus £5 if I was to buy the razor. Not exactly a massive amount, but then I probably only bought 8-12 cartridges a year, plus a couple of cans of gel. I managed this, in part, because I used my cartridges well beyond the recommended length.

Those prices are derived from my local supermarket’s website. They don’t have a safety razor listed, but let’s call that £5. They have a 10-pack of Personna blades for £1.89, a shaving brush for £3.20 and a shave stick for 49p. So the blades and soap come in way under the equivalent cartridge costs, even if you add the brush it’s still cheaper. Continue reading

My Safety Razor Experience

A while back, I wrote about Wet Shave Economics, the costs of wet shaving. I’ve been interested in trying a safety razor for a while, so stuck it on my wishlist for Christmas, and Santa delivered. I haven’t been using my razor very long, but I thought I would throw down my initial impressions and experience.

The Equipment

I was a very lucky boy, and Father Christmas furnished me with:

  • An Edwin Jagger DE89L razor
  • A dish of Mitchell’s Wool Fat Shaving Soap
  • An Edwin Jagger Best Badger brush
  • A pack of Derby Extra blades
  • A pack of Feather blades
  • A brush and razor stand
  • An Osma block of Alum

As I said, I was very lucky.

The Costs

As with everything, you can spend as much or as little as you want. I was lucky to receive some top-quality items, but you could buy everything you need for under £20. Equally, you could spend £100 on a brush alone (or more), £20 (or more) on single shaving soap and that’s before the pre-shave treatments, the post-shave balms and colognes, or any other nice-to-have equipment.

On the other hand, you can pick up something like a Wilkinson Sword Classic for under £5 (with blades), a brush for under £10 and a shaving stick for as little as 49 pence (that’s what my Palmolive Shave Stick cost me in my local supermarket). Continue reading

Why So Silent?

I’ve been a bit quiet lately, not because I haven’t had thoughts on the current events (Syria, anyone? What exactly does the United Nations do?) but because I can only write so many words and I’ve chosen to write them elsewhere. To be more precise, I’ve been writing fiction.

With the rise of self-publishing, I finally got myself in gear and tried to put some of the things I’ve been thinking about down on paper (or rather pixels), and then getting them into a state where I was willing to send them out into the world.

Having read a lot of information on those who had been successful publishing their own work, I first started with a novel in a popular genre: thriller.

I haven’t finished rewriting that yet (still on the first draft), but I also read a post by Joe Konrath about writing short stories because they can be used in multiple ways to ‘better monetize your intellectual property.’ Having just written something that was 70,000 words, I figured I could bash out five stories of 5,000 words each in fairly short order.

Well the shortest ended up at 8,500 words, and the longest is over 20,000. I’d finished all five by October 2012 and I’ve been rewriting them ever since. The first one was released in May this year. It’s called Riders of the Wind. I have three out to date, with another hopefully in September. You can find all of them on my author website or my Amazon author page.

Still plenty more to do, but I will get back to writing here more often as well, so the world can ignore my views on it once again.

Building Down

Watching a TED talk video presented by Bjarke Ingels — who works at BIG, a Danish architecture firm — with a friend of mine, it raised a question I’ve had for a while about buildings in the UK: why don’t we build down?

I don’t know anyone who has a basement, which is strange for a nation as populous as ours, certainly one that is (relatively) land poor (actually, we only rank as the 53rd most densely populated country, though that is the UK rather than England, which is close to 30th). In London it seems basements were all the craze (back in 2009 at least) to expand your home as there was no other way, but it doesn’t seem done much anywhere else.

I’m not just talking about homes either, what about commercial buildings, why aren’t they adding floor space and parking below ground so they can better utilise the space above?  I’m not the only nutter inspired thinker to propose making better use of space below the surface either, just look at this design for an ‘Earth-scraper’ from an architect in Mexico. Continue reading

Why I (sometimes) Hate Cyclists

To be fair, it’s not their fault, but when I’m driving around I regularly encounter cyclists on the road and it generally drives me nuts (no pun intended). The reason is simple, British roads are often narrow little things, claustrophobic at times, in fact some of the roads I use feel like you need to breath in when you meet oncoming traffic.

So what you do not want to meet is a cyclist, because the road isn’t wide enough to go around them if there’s anything coming the other way.  If you do meet one you end up sat behind them travelling at ten miles an hour, or, usually, much less (meet one going up hill and it feels more like you’ve stopped). When there’s a lot of traffic coming the other way it can be hugely frustrating, especially when you add the pressure of traffic behind you.

What’s worse is that there are plenty of cycle paths around where I live and the cyclists are often pedalling along, blocking my smooth transition, right beside a path dedicated to them. It has caused me to utter more than a few obscenities at the offender.

Generally I can sympathise though. I’ve been out on a bike in the not-too-distant past and there’s a frustration when using cycle paths because they’re an afterthought, built by people who don’t cycle. Taking a pavement, widening it a bit (if at all) and slapping a sign on it does not make a cycle path. Continue reading