20 October 2013

Are We Robots?

As a prequel to the topic of this blog I would like to make reference to the Pink Floyd song 'Welcome To The Machine' from their classic 'Wish You Were Here' album.  The main premise of the song is that we are all part of a well oiled machine, a factory processing unit where we are but a cog in that process.  Our life revolving around the repetition of life/work and so on, whilst the company we are working for makes huge profits.  So with this view in mind read on as I look at if we are robots or not... 

Over the past thirty years there has been something of an underground revolution going on.  It is a revolution that has not required guns, bombs or even covert operations by elite militia.  It has not required UN Peace Keeping forces and it is not religion based.  By and large this revolution has been under the radar of the media.  In fact, the only time that you would have heard about it would have been through industry related forums and workshops.   Even though this revolution was borne out of good intentions, it has become clear that there is a potential dark side to it as well.

So what is this mysterious revolution?  Well, this is the revolution of business efficiency.
Over the last three decades businesses worldwide have been looking at ways to make processes more efficient.  By efficient I am really talking about minimising errors, making the process simpler and, of course, making the product or service cheaper (or should I say more profitable).  After all, if you eliminate errors you will save money on your production costs.  For a large number of industries (think the car industry) it can make sense to streamline production.  That way, at every stage of the evolution of the construction of the car you can easily monitor its quality as well as being able to pinpoint where any defect or error has occurred.

Business efficiency has become a science as well.  There are a number of theories and worldwide standards that can help businesses and employees alike.  One is Six Sigma which some of you may be aware of.  Six Sigma, for the uninitiated, is a set of tools, techniques and strategies used for process improvement.  It was originally developed by Motorola in 1985.  Since then it has been implemented by a large number of companies worldwide. 

Another efficiency tool is Prince 2.  This is used for project management purposes and covers the management, control and organisation of a project.  Somewhat surprisingly this was developed by a UK government agency in 1989.  It is now seen as one of the global industry standards for projects across all industries.

There are many more theories and concepts aside from the two I have mentioned above.  A quick internet search will provide a plethora of different ideals for business improvement.
From a different angle it could be argued that all business processes that follow these concepts have, in fact, morphed into factory processing lines.  Without a doubt for some this is a good approach (again, think the car industry).  For other industries it does take away the ‘organic’ thinking that is important for the good or service being developed.  This lack of ‘organic’ thinking has, in my opinion, impacted workers.  Nowadays employees who are utilising Six Sigma, for example, may not always see what the overall end result will be. 

They may also not be able to think ‘outside the square’ clearly which is a very important element not only in business, but also for the growth of us as humans.  It could be argued that after three decades of the implementation of these concepts that we are turning into human robots.  Robots that are unable to compute anything outside of their immediate vicinity. 

Recently, I came across this on a project that I have been working on for 12 months.  An issue arose that required input from a number of people as to the best way for resolving it.  However, some of the project team had trouble coming up with a required solution.  Their view was that all the boxes had been checked from their partitioned view, and therefore, all was fine.  They could not grasp what the ‘Big Picture’ was.  It actually took a few phone calls, emails and time to resolve this issue.

Now Sir Richard Branson is certainly not one to get bogged down with theories and concepts.  Aside from any regulatory requirements he utilises an organic and consultative approach to business and issues.  I remember reading that he normally makes decisions based on his gut feeling rather than spending many hours researching.   I think it is safe to say that Sir Richard has had a fairly successful career adopting this approach!  I am also sure that he surrounds himself with like-minded people (I am still awaiting a call from Sir Richard – hint, hint).

My worry is that as we improve technology then more and more business concepts and theories will be introduced.  This could well lead to less ‘thinking outside the square’ situations.   Probably the best way ahead is to combine both business efficiency processes with organic thinking.  We must ensure that all workers and employees are fully aware of what the end picture is.  Until we do this we run the risk of us all turning into human robots.

Remember, that we must always look at the end result.  That is the good or service that we are supplying to our customers is the correct one.  This may require more of the ‘grey matter’ inside our heads rather than any process.

19 October 2013

What A Wonderful World - Or Was It?

Nearly half a century ago an African-American recorded a song that was to define not only his career, but also Music in general.  The song itself had already been rejected by Tony Bennett, one of the top singers of the time.  In hindsight, it probably turned out to have been a very bad decision by Bennett.  Anyway, the song was referred to an ageing 66 year old jazz musician who eagerly agreed to record the song.  The musician was Louis Armstrong and the song was entitled “What a Wonderful World”.

Over the decades since it was released it has become a beacon of hope for the future, as well as being a staple song at weddings during the father and bride dance.  With lyrics such as:
“I see trees of green, red roses too.  I see them bloom for me and you.  And I think to myself what a Wonderful World”.

It is easy to see the positiveness in the song.  A song of hope, of a bright future and of the things in life that we take for granted but ultimately we should be thankful for.  Indeed, from a certain angle it could be seen to be a very spiritual type of song.  However, I have recently been wondering if in fact it is quite the opposite.  If we look at the era in which it was released it could be deemed to be a very sarcastic take on society.  Let me explain further.

The song was released in the US in 1968.  At the time the US were well and truly entrenched in a war in Vietnam that would ultimately end in a stalemate.  From documentaries and films we know that a lot of young Americans were enlisted to fight the Viet Cong and ended up being there for a number of years as well as witnessing many atrocities.  Statistics show that somewhere in the region of 58,000 servicemen lost their lives fighting in Vietnam.   At the time of the song there were many anti-war protesters who were against the US involvement in Vietnam.  Protests up and down the country were growing in numbers virtually by the day.

In 1968 the African-American Civil Rights movement was going from strength to strength.  For more than a decade up to then African-Americans had been staging non-violent protests and civil disobedience in an attempt to end racial discrimination and segregation.  Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were two prominent leaders in this movement.

1968 also saw the assassination of two prominent progressive public figures.  The aforementioned Martin Luther King was assassinated on 29th March in Memphis.  Less than two months later the President-elect Robert F Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles.   These two assassinations had a profound effect on the nation.

Likewise, Louis Armstrong was seen as a colourful character.  He was one of the few African-Americans that enjoyed celebrity status and benefits that were generally only apportioned to White Americans.  He was often seen as an anomaly amongst his own people.   Armstrong was born in 1901 and was the grandson of slaves.   He spent much of his early life living in poverty in a rough neighbourhood of New Orleans.  At a young age he learnt to play the cornet which was to define his career.

Biographers have always had trouble trying to map out Armstrong’s true life story.  Louis Armstrong was known to tell many stories and innuendos about his upbringing and early years.  So much so that no-one is really sure as to what the truth is and what is false.   Although Armstrong was not as politically active as other African-Americans he did take a stand for desegregation during the Little Rock Crisis.  He even called President Eisenhower “two-faced” and “gutless” over his handling of the crisis.

So, given the above, it is clear that the song was released against a background of social upheaval and political activity.  Although Louis Armstrong did not write “What a Wonderful World” it can be seen that during the late 1960’s it was a time of change.  In addition, this was also the time of the Summer of Love and hippy power was taking off.  The times were certainly a changing as Bob Dylan would sing.  

When you look at this era it can be safe to assume that the supposedly uplifting song “What a Wonderful World” was actually a bleak outlook on American Society.  Certainly for a large number of African-Americans racism and segregation were still huge issues and they, for one could not see “trees of green and red roses too” unlike their White-American compatriots.

20 July 2013

Social Media Fasting

Recently a fellow tweep @little_freedia and I decided to go a week without access to any social media.  We decided to see how we would cope without it.  Would we have withdrawal symptoms? Would we give in prior to the end of 7 days?  Or would we discover things that we didn't know existed?

To make it easier (or harder) we had to deactivate all social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.  For myself, Facebook wasn't an issue as I had permanently deleted my account more than a year ago.  Twitter and Instragram are my main social media nowadays.  We decided that emails were allowed as it really is a communication platform and not a social media outlet.

So on Sunday night 7th July, I deactivated my Twitter and signed out of my Instragram account.  Having done this I actually felt like a naughty schoolboy who has done something mischievous in the classroom.  Well I couldn't worry too much about this as I had made a commitment to my fellow Tweep and was determined to see this experiment through.

Monday came and normally I would access my iPhone and check Twitter.  This time I couldn't. So I  got ready for work and made my way to the bus stop.  Immediately, my bus arrived and I shuffled on board.  I noticed that virtually everyone had their head bowed and were on their smart phones. It struck me that I could not do that, so I decided to look out of the bus window. It was a glorious sunny day and as the bus made its way over the Sydney Harbour Bridge I glimpsed the Opera House looking resplendent in the early morning light.  It was kind of therapeutic looking out of the window rather than looking at my phone screen.

Work was a challenge as well.  Periodically during the day I do check Twitter and Instragram for the latest updates. Naturally, I was not able to do this. What I noticed was that I was more focused on my work and engaged more with my co-workers.  The temptation was to check my phone but I stood firm.

Monday evening was certainly the hardest.  I always send numerous tweets out during the Q and A show on ABC.  This time I had no choice but to watch the show and not participate from a social media perspective.  I noticed that some of my Tweep friends (Em, Jennifer and Mariam) got their tweets posted. I felt helpless and unable to congratulate them.   

Tuesday was also another hard social media free day but it seemed easier to handle than Monday.  I noticed also that I seemed to have more time on my hands by not using social media outlets.  I seemed to engage better with friends and colleagues as well as spending more time on things like reading books.  

This trend continued throughout the week.  The more I was off social media the less I missed it.  I also noticed that I seemed to be more in control of my time and, strangely, felt quite relaxed.  That may have been in part due to the fact that I had a long weekend in Ballina, rather than my social media exile.

Finally, the end of the experiment came around.  I was now able to access Twitter and other social media platforms.  Quickly I re-activated my account for Twitter and re-logged into Instagram.  It felt strange being back after a period away.  

So what did I learn?  probably the obvious things.  In today's society we are very reliant and addictive to social media.  It is a drug that we cannot live without.  It also takes over our lives at the expense of proper interaction with our friends and loved ones.  Like most things, once you have been absent for a period of time the addiction wanes.  I found that time seemed to slow as I had to revert to the pre-social media ways - talking directly, watching television and movies without accessing a phone as well as reading magazines etc.  

I am now thinking of doing this on a regular basis - possibly every three months.  I will see if I can get @little_freedia to join in again.  If anyone else wants to take the social media experiment then I can thoroughly recommend it.

07 July 2013

Migrant Musings

I am a migrant.  I have been in Australia for many, many years and call Australia home.  Likewise, as I didn't come to Australia as a youngster I still have a soft spot for my country of origin - England.  Naturally, I am not a refugee, unless you can call the English weather grounds for applying for refugee status!

For the benefit of all migrant phobic readers, yes I did steal one of your Aussie jobs.  I have been able to create a life here through sheer hard work, and the fact that Australia offers opportunities to those that grab them.  I went out and grabbed mine with both hands.  Although I haven't reached what I set out to do, I cannot complain as to where I am today.  

As a migrant I feel a kinship towards all other migrants whether they are from Zimbabwe, Bosnia, Iran or Venezuela.  To settle into a new country, even if you can speak the language fluently - which naturally I can, takes a lot of getting used to.  This can range from the different climate, unusual food types, culture and understanding what you need to do to, for example, applying for a job or even catching a train across town.

In my time in Australia, I only have been abused twice - both a long time ago.  One was by an Aboriginal who was blaming me for what Captain Cook did in 1788 by bringing 'white people' to Australia.  In this case I didn't really know how to reply, all I could say rather weakly was that it happened well before I was born and was therefore out of my control.  The other occasion was in a bar and I was resting myself against a poker machine.  All of a sudden an ocker Aussie came and started abusing me, thinking that I had played the machine whilst he 'was in the dunny'.  I hadn't played it, but that didn't help my plight.

Up until two years ago I had played soccer here.  Then a snapped Achilles and two operations put an end to my long career.  During my time playing I did get called 'wog' a few times as I am not a pale skinned, blue eyed Pom. I have slightly olive skin courtesy of my father's side of the family.

In social media, eg: Twitter, I have only really been trolled twice.  Interestingly, neither time was by an Australian! One was an American who was a member of the NRA, and the other was a right-wing member of the UK EDL (English Defence League).  Their personal attacks didn't affect me as I have grown much more thick-skinned and tolerant over the years.

As you can see I have had it fairly easy as a migrant.  I am not going to deny this, as I cannot.  Yes, there have been times I wished I wasn't in Australia but by the next morning my mind has always changed.

However, there is the other end of the spectrum.  There are those of us migrants who have escaped from their country of origin due to a number of reasons such as war, fundamentalism, famine and religious persecution amongst others.  I have met a number of migrants who have some of the most heart wrenching stories about how they came to Australia.  One such story involved a husband taking his wife and young children through a minefield to get to safety, and then later on to Australia.  You can only imagine what must have been going through his mind as every step he took could have lead to death.

So a number of migrants come here for a chance to rebuild their lives, a new start, a fresh beginning.  A large number of migrants cannot speak fluent English when they arrive.  This impacts their interaction with others and also restricts what they can do, certainly in the early stages of life in Australia.

Some migrants are of a non-christian faith and as such wear turbans or headscarves and contribute to their local place of worship.  Head coverings have certainly become an emotive issue in the West ever since 9/11.  Skin colour can also play a part in identifying a migrant from 'mainstream' Australia (whatever this is).  For example, there are not a lot of Africans in Australia, unlike the US, UK or Europe.   

However, if I was to ask some of them publically whether they have been abused personally, or trolled online I am sure I would get a reply of 'yes'.  Now I am not saying that Australia is a racist country, but there are elements of racism here and all over the world.  Unfortunately it is a human condition when we see something that is a little different to ourselves, we can be accepting of it, or fearful. 

Recently, I watched the ethnic business awards on television and was amazed at the stories of migrants who arrived in Australia, and through hard work have made something of their lives, as well as employing Australians and giving time and money to charitable causes.  In fact, migrants have been contributing to our society for more than 200 years.  I was also humbled when a few of the migrants said they were abused for their background but just shrugged it off and kept on believing in their dream.

So where am I going with all this?  

I really want everyone to realise the contribution that migrants have, and will continue to make to Australia.  The vast majority of them are just wanting a better life for themselves and their families, which is no different to you and I.  They may look different, they may be devoutly religious, they may even speak with a different accent.  However, at the end of the day they are AUSTRALIAN! 

If migrants seem scary to anyone who reads this, go out of your way to talk to one or two.  Get to know them better.  If you do this, your outlook on migrants may indeed change and we can all start to live together more harmonously.

06 July 2013

Political Boxing

Imagine this - you are watching a heavyweight boxing match between the two best boxers in the country.  One boxer has been on the attack for the first nine rounds whilst the other boxer has been grimly hanging on, hoping for that one chance to launch a rare counter attack.  Then, round ten starts and, all of a sudden, the boxer who has been on the back foot for most of the fight launches a couple of upper cuts.  The other boxer is stunned, not only by the force of the hits, but also by this unexpected aggression from his opponent.  The attacks keep coming and the roles are reversed.  The aggressor is now defending, and the defender is launching blow after blow.

This analogy really sums up what the current political situation is here in Australia.  Since the last election back in 2010, Tony Abbott and the Liberal-National Party have been on the front foot attacking the Government and, in particular, Julia Gillard.  In scenes reminiscent of Groundhog Day, Abbott has been espousing phrases such as "we will stop the boats" and "we will get rid of the Carbon Tax" over and over again.  As well as reminding all and sundry about how the Prime Minister got the top job in politics.

The Government had no option but to go into defensive mode.  Things like justifying the Carbon Tax, explaining why the former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, was ousted, grimacing as the opinion polls showed that the Australian Labor Party was heading for a virtual wipe-out at the September elections.  What could the government do? The sharks were circling, it was only a matter of time before the blood letting would start.

At the eleventh hour our hero arrives.  He is nerdy looking, has a distinct mop of grey hair, wears glasses and looks like an older version of the Milky Bar kid.  Enter Kevin Rudd.  Yes the man who was ousted by his own party had been re-elected as Prime Minister of Australia.  Virtually overnight the opinion polls showed a large swing back to the ALP.  Instantly frowns started to appear on the Opposition's brows.  The easy fight they had been experiencing for three years was about to get much harder.  The worm was about to turn.

Rudd is a clever politician. He knows that he must nullify the only two real policies that the Opposition have made public.  These relate to the Carbon Tax and the refugees fleeing from Indonesia, via boats, to Australia.  Rudd also knows he has to attack Abbott and try to get under his skin.  Tony Abbott is not popular with the electorate despite the polls showing that he would be Prime Minister at the next election, this is the Opposition's Achilles heel and must be exposed. 

So what has Prime Minister Rudd done in just over a week?  Quite a lot really.  He has indicated that Australia will move to an Emissions Trading Scheme rather than an fixed price Carbon Tax.  Rudd has also had talks with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) about the 'boat people' issue.  SBY has made it clear he will not agree to Australia towing the refugee boats back to Indonesian waters, as indicated by Tony Abbott. It is a policy that will not work and gain favour with the Indonesians.  Within a few days, the two main policies of the Opposition appear to have been stifled.  Now it is Abbott with the problems and not the Government.  

Rudd pulled off a masterstroke this week.  Challenging Tony Abbott to a series of debates about the Government's and Opposition's policies for the forthcoming election.  Abbott, not surprisingly, has declined.  

Since the 2010 election Tony Abbott has not appeared on 'Q and A', a programme that enables voters to question a panel of politicians and non-politicians questions about relevant topics.  Abbott has not appeared on the ABC show 'Lateline' for more than a year and a half, Insiders for a year and Radio National Breakfast for a year.  For whatever reason Abbott seems to have a phobia of appearing on shows where he can be questioned in relation to the policies of the Opposition.

This has lead to Kevin Rudd saying that Tony Abbott "does not have the ticker" to debate him.  The word "ticker" is a clear reference to the comment ex-Prime Minister John Howard said of Opposition Leader Kim Beasley when asked if he thought Beasley could run the country.  In fact, Rudd took this further by saying that Abbott could take his 'assistant' John Howard along to the debates as well.

Rudd has come out with all guns blazing ala Milky Bar Kid style.  This has caught the Opposition, temporarily at least, off guard.  The upper cuts from Rudd are making their mark.  Now it is Abbott and Co waiting for the bell to ring to re-coup and try to come out fighting in the last two rounds.

As for Rudd, he has one objective.  That is to win the election.  At the same time we can expect him to continuously attack Abbott and the Liberal-National party.

One thing is certain, this is going to be a messy election campaign up to and including polling day.

23 June 2013

Multiculturalism and Migration - My View

Australia is a country, similar to the US, that has been built on migrants. Since the 'White Man' arrived in 1788, and the numerous convict ships that followed, Australia has been home to many migrants from different regions, religions, cultures and traditions.  

In the early days Australia definitely had an Anglo Saxon feel as virtually all migrants were from the British Isles. Most were petty thieves who were put on boats heading to Sydney, for stealing things like a loaf of bread.  This migrant flow changed in the nineteenth century when gold was discovered 'in them thar hills' and before long a large number of Chinese prospectors arrived with dreams of 'making it rich' through what to some is the most precious of metals.

Fast forward to the twentieth century and Australia said g'day to a number of Greeks, Italians and other Europeans as the country expanded, and the domestic workforce was unable to cope accordingly.  The 1970's onward saw an influx of Vietnamese refugees and migrants from other troubled areas such as Bosnia and Afghanistan.

Nowadays, migrants are an enriched and integral part of Australian communities.  They have brought so much to this country in a number of different areas such as law, engineering, finance, small business, property development and so on.  Even our food intake has been influenced by migrants.  Just take a look at any supermarket to see the diverse range of food and products on display.

Despite this 'positive' picture there remains a small proportion of the community who are not so keen on migrants and refugees.  In particular refugees who are labelled as 'boat people'.  For those of you that may not know, boat people are refugees who risk their lives travelling on an overcrowded boat for the chance of a new and better life in Australia.  The issue has become so emotive for some that both the Government and Oppositions policy on Boat People are very similar.  It could be called a "we don't want them here" policy.  Interestingly, the vast majority of refugees that arrive this way, have valid reasons for coming.

Racial tensions can also cause issues.  The Muslim community were a target for abuse and attacks after the 9/11 Twin Towers terrorist incident.  Sikh's who wore turbans were also targeted incorrectly for being Muslims by a small number of narrow-minded yobs too.

The Cronulla riots in 2005 were testament to racial tension that sent shock waves through Australia.  Before I go on, I would point out that elements of racism do exist in every country. Here in Australia we do not see racist attacks too often so it appears a shock when they occur.  Racism is caused predominantly through migration.  It is also often sensationalised by the media which helps fuel people's prejudices.

For myself coming from England, I see myself as a migrant on par with other migrants in Australia.  Whether we are from my home country, Botswana, Nepal or Brazil we are all one migrant family.  The advantage that I have had is language.  Fortunately for me Aussies speak English.  So I haven't had to learn another language, thankfully.  Over the many years I have been here I have become well adapted to the Aussie way of life.

 I have also seen fellow migrants like my good friend Tanja thrive and prosper in Australia.  Tanja came to Australia via Germany after the conflicts in Bosnia in the early 1990's.  Today she is a qualified lawyer, speaks 6 languages and plays a part is raising awareness for organisations such as the UN Refugee Agency amongst others.  She is also one of a number of migrants who have made a positive mark on this country.  

I have other examples of people of migrant backgrounds who have made an outstanding contribution to Australia. In my example below I have deliberately chosen 3 female Muslims. The reasons for this is to try and break some stereotypes about Muslim women who wear hijab (headscarf).  To some, they wear the hijab because they are oppressed and forced to do so, and only do what they are told by their families.  To others they are pioneers in their communities, striving to help others as well as being model Australians.  I am sure if you continue reading you will be nicely surprised   I should say that the women mentioned below are all aged in their twenties.

Samah Hadid - Western Sydney born and bred of Lebanese background. To date Samah is the Australian Director of the Global Poverty Project an organisation whose goal is to end extreme global poverty within a decade.  Samah is also a human rights specialist and social justice advocate. In the past Samah has worked with Oxfam, Red Cross and the UN Human Rights Commissioner.

 Mariam Veiszadeh - Mariam came to Australia as a refugee.  She came by plane as the vast majority of refugees do.  She is a qualified lawyer, Human Rights campaigner and occasional piece writer for the tabloids. Mariam is also an Ambassador for Welcome to Australia an organisation that aims to cultivate a culture of embracement for refugees and migrants in Australia.

Yassmin Abdel-Magied - Yassmin arrived in Australia aged 2 from Sudan.  At the age of 16 Yassmin set up 'Youth Without Borders' an organisation that enables young people to work together and create a positive change for their community.  Yassmin is a member of the Australian Multicultural Council as well as being the winner of the Australian Financial Review's 100 women of influence list. Yassmin is a qualified engineer who works on gas and oil rigs.  

As you can see from the brief descriptions above these women are striving to make a difference to the world and communities they live in.  They are shining examples of why multiculturalism through migration can pay huge dividends for countries such as Australia.

14 June 2013

Panic Attack

Just over a week ago, something happened that had a profound affect on me.  In hindsight it probably wasn't a big deal.  However, at the time it certainly seemed like it was!

So what was this 'thing' that happened that affected me so much?  Well the short answer is 'my iPhone'.  Read on and I will elaborate...

There I was getting ready for bed after a hard day's yakka when I checked my iPhone. It wanted me to update some Apps that I have on the phone, as occasionally happens from time to time.  So I clicked on the updates and let the phone do its thing.  However, this time something different happened.  All of a sudden my iPhone became frozen.  The screen was stuck and the home key, or indeed any key, was not working.  There was only one thing to do, and that was to reboot the phone.

Nothing special about that either.  Occasionally an iPhone can get 'frozen' and a reboot will generally fix this.  This time something different happened.  My phone booted up correctly but would not allow me to put in my passcode.  The keypad was frozen. Then after a few minutes the phone turned itself off.  A couple of minutes passed and the phone started booting itself up again. As before, I was unable to enter my passcode.  Again, the phone turned itself off! This process was to repeat itself all night and all of the next day.  In fact it happened until I got the phone fixed.

Fixing the phone was a problem in itself as Apple would not touch the phone as I had replaced a cracked screen a few months ago at a non-Apple store.  "It is not our problem" muttered the ever helpful Apple employee.  Finally I got the phone fixed.  The issue was that somehow my iPhone had been hacked.  Hence it was stuck in an eternal loop of switching on and off.

Whilst this was going on I was mobile phone free.  This is what impacted me the most.  Normally I use my phone to speak to people (duh), communicate via social networks, read emails and occasionally surf the net! This comes in especially handy when my bus is stuck in Sydney traffic, which is normally every working day.

The first of the two days without my phone was the hardest.  I felt like a reforming addict. I was constantly wanting to use a smart phone to do things. It was as if I had lost a very close family member or friend!  My bus trip home became one of looking out of the bus window at the sights such as the Opera House and Harbour Bridge as the bus travelled at its usual snails pace.  Inside the bus, virtually every passenger had their heads bowed, as in prayer.  However, the God of worship was not a religious one but their Smartphones!

Day 2 and I finally dropped my phone off to a non-Apple repairer (praise the Lord).  I was given the news that it had been hacked and that it was fixable.  However, I would lose whatever had not been backed up on the phone.  This didn't worry me too much as it would only amount to a few photos.  

I had 6 hours to pass at work before I could pick up my iPhone. I felt more relaxed. Actually whilst at work I didn't really miss my phone.  Maybe it was because I was going to collect it later that day. Maybe also because I realised that you can function without a smartphone. Whatever the reason, I did come to one conclusion.

Whether we like it or not, technology totally rules our daily lives.  We are addicted to it.  Especially platforms like iPhones, iPads and tablets.  We are starting to lose our ability to interact on a personal basis with other humans on a train or bus, for example. We worship social network outlets like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and so on.  They have become religious-like in their status.  We would rather read a status update than spend some extra time with a loved one or friend.  Like most of you I am guilty of this.  

Maybe what we need are 'technology fasts' every now and then.  For example, leave your smartphone at home deliberately when you go out.  Cutting off from technology for a few hours.  Maybe we could instigate a sort of Technology Ramadan? That could be very interesting indeed!

27 May 2013

Ebbsfleet United v AFC Telford

The following is my article I wrote for the home game against AFC Telford in April:

Season 2012/13 has certainly been crazy as far as Ebbsfleet United are concerned.  Admittedly there have been more lows than highs which has meant that for next season the Mighty Fleet will be plying their trade, hopefully, in the Blue Square South.  The defeat at Hyde United effectively sealing our fate.

Discussions about what went wrong this season will no doubt take place after the final whistle has blown.  However, for this article I thought it would be good to look at some of the highs of the season.  Believe it or not, there have been a few!

A highlight was the first game of the season where the Fleet came out on top of a 9 goal thriller at Nuneaton.  Despite going 2-0 down early the lads fought back to take the lead and come out eventual winners by 5 goals to 4.  So after the first game we were equal top of the Blue Square Premier.  Oh how we miss those days…

Another highlight actually happened in the FA Cup 4th Qualifying round.  Having not won an away game since the season opener, the Fleet travelled to Woking looking to get back on track.  A last minute goal by Ashikodi saw Ebbsfleet through to the First Round proper of the FA Cup.  Hopes were high for a local game, perhaps against near neighbours Gillingham, or a plum tie against a team like Portsmouth. 

The draw was unkind and the team was pitted against League 1 Carlisle United.  More than two hundred fans made the long trek to Cumbria to cheer the players on.  By all accounts the team played superbly and were praised by the Carlisle management and fans for their battling spirit despite losing 4-2.

During March the Fleet needed to put in a strong performance to help in the survival push.  Southport were the visitors to a very chilly Stonebridge Road and were sitting safe in mid-table.  Despite this the Fleet turned on a great performance to win the game 4-1! This gave the team impetus for the next few games including the 1-1 away draw against Cambridge United.

The players have certainly given their all, every single one.  Anyone who plays under Liam Daish always gives 100% and nothing less.  A few players deserve to be singled out for a special mention.  Preston Edwards, England C’s number one, has had a fantastic season.  Despite the results this season, Preston has made many fantastic saves to keep the team in the match.  He has certainly contributed to the points tally with his shot stopping.

Nathan Elder too has had a great season.  As at today Nathan had scored 16 league goals.  Not too shabby for a striker playing in a struggling team! There are certainly a number of teams in this league that would love to have a striker scoring that many goals.  I would also like to mention Moses Ashikodi who has missed a large part of the season with injury.  Despite this he did become Ebbsfleet United’s second International player, having played World Cup games for Antigua and Barbuda.  A fully fit Ashikodi could have made a huge difference to the Fleet.

Finally, a special mention too for Joe Howe. Last year’s runaway player of the year has had another solid season and continues to be one of the backbones of the team.  He has even managed to score a few goals as well, which is always appreciated!

So it has not all been doom and gloom as you may believe!  In a few month’s time a new season will start and we can begin afresh with new challenges and the quest to return back to the Blue Square Premier League!

Ebbsfleet United v Forest Green Rovers

The following is the article I wrote for the home game against Forest Green Rovers at the end of March:

The last couple of weeks have certainly been crazy to say the least.  The lads had a fantastic 4-1 victory over Southport and were 10 minutes away from a stunning away win at Cambridge United.  However, in the scheme of things a draw was a very creditable result.

Then came the wasted journey to the North West of England to Barrow.  The heavy snow meant that the game was called off.  The players then had to face a long journey back to Kent with the prospect of a future Thursday night game against Barrow, to be followed less than 48 hours later with another game!  As our International goalkeeper, Preston Edwards, stated on Twitter that surely now the Football Authorities should consider extending the season by a week.

This view took on further credence following the postponement of the mid-week away game at Luton Town.  This time due to a waterlogged and frozen pitch.  Hopefully today’s game against Forest Green Rovers will go ahead as scheduled! One thing is certain though.  There will be a lot of football played between now and the end of the season.

Given the recent spate of bad weather I thought that I would not mention that finally in Sydney we are experiencing a period of hot and humid weather.  I thought that for this article I would take the opportunity to try and describe what it is like to play football Down Under in temperatures far different to what are experienced in England.

Aside from the A League (the Premier League equivalent) which is played throughout summer, most football is played from March until Late August.  The friendlies and the first handful of league games are played in temperatures ranging from 26C up to 36C with high humidity.  Needless to say that after 15 minutes or so the game has to be played at a slower pace, due to the energy sapping heat.  After a season or two, expats, like myself, learn to adapt to the conditions.

The weather generally stays warm around the 20C mark until June.  Then for the last few weeks of the season the temperature drops to the mid-teens, and that is when playing the Beautiful Game becomes enjoyable. The pitch conditions can vary too.  From rock hard, where the ball at times bounces around like a beach ball, to soft and wet.  I should say that one of the main issues playing here is the occasional artificial cricket pitch located in the centre circle! Sometimes when the ball hits the edge of the pitch it can go in any direction! 

So as you can see, playing football Down Under is a different experience to that played in the Old Country.
Today we take on Forest Green Rovers who are having a great season and are just outside the play off zone.  It should certainly be a great game today as both teams will be going all out to win and gain those precious three points.  Hopefully, from our point of view, we experience a home win and a step closer to safety.

This weekend is also the Easter long weekend.  Aside from the religious aspect, Easter is also a time for a family get together and chocolate! I hope that you all have a great time and don’t feel guilty about eating too many chocolate eggs!  For myself, I will settle for 2 Ebbsfleet victories and a Cadbury Crème Egg! 
Enjoy the game and remember to sing your hearts out for the lads.


Ebbsfleet United v Southport

The following is the article that I wrote for the home game v Southport in March:

As we reach Mid-March we are certainly coming to the pointy end of the season.  The pre and post Easter period is certainly a make or break time for most football teams the length and breadth of the country. This is the time to stand up and be counted – regardless of whether you are a player or a fan.  We all have an important role to play from now until the end of the season.

 With just over 10 games to go, there are three distinct groups of teams in the Blue Square Premier League.  There are those teams that are vying for promotion to the ‘Promised Land’ that is League 2, those that are comfortably sitting in mid-table and are tentatively thinking about next season, and then there are those battling to save themselves from the dreaded drop to a lower league.  Unfortunately for us, Ebbsfleet United fall squarely in the last group!

The fixture list shows that we have many battles ahead with our fellow strugglers.  To use a worn out cliché, these are the six pointer games.  Now would be a great time to go on an unbeaten run!  Liam and the coaching staff will be doing their utmost to ensure that the Fleet are able to compete for another year in the top non-league.

Today we welcome Southport who are one of those teams who find themselves in mid-table.  For them there is not the worry of a relegation scrap.  Hopefully they will not be at the top of their game and the Fleet can gain a valuable three points.  Only time will tell – well ninety minutes actually!

Being a big fan of trivia I thought I would trawl through the World Wide Web and find out some interesting facts about our opponents today, or I should say the town itself. 

Did you know that the BBC football pundit and ex-Liverpool star Alan Hansen lives in Southport? No, neither did I!  Marc Almond, the lead singer of Soft Cell was born in Southport.  For those retro fans in the crowd today, who can ever forget the classic ‘Tainted Love’.   Creative geniuses, the Reverend Marcus Morris and Frank Hampson created the Eagle comic and Dan Dare character respectively.

The name Rimmer is certainly one that has become synonymous with this seaside town.  To date there have been two well-known footballers with the surname Rimmer (Jimmy and Stuart).  Jimmy went on to represent England in one international in the 1970’s.  Stuart made his name as a goal scorer with Chester City.  Michael Rimmer is an 800m athlete who has represented Great Britain at athletics.  Finally there is the renowned composer from the 19th century, William Rimmer. 

Not to be outdone the Ebbsfleet area (well Gravesham) has had its fair share of notable people too.

The Native American princess Pocahontas is actually buried in Gravesend.  There is a statue of her in the grounds of St George’s Church.  The chemist and Nobel Prize winner Derek Barton was born and bred in the area.  One of the greatest writers of all-time, Charles Dickens, lived locally for a number of years.

Whilst writing this article, my wife has reminded me that she also grew up in Southport.  This one happens to be about 12,000 miles away in Queensland, Australia!!

Enjoy your afternoon’s entertainment.  Let’s hope it’s a great game of football!


28 March 2013

Gun Control Perspectives

The following is my view on the US attitude to gun control, and the current mindset that is prevalent in the powerful pro-Gun Lobby:

 It was a sunny Sunday afternoon in Sydney way back on 28th April 1996. I was making my way to the local gym when I heard on the radio that a gunman had been on a killing spree in Tasmania. Initially, only a small number of people had lost their lives and when I got to the gym, the number of deaths had risen to 23. I mentioned this to my gym instructor. His response was that it was the gunman’s form “of self-expression”. The instructor was reading the Celestine Prophecy at the time, which probably explained his comments. Personally, I preferred the term “madman”.

 The gunman was named Martin Bryant and the final death toll was 35. How could anyone kill 35 innocent people? There was an outpouring of disbelief and anger in the community. The whole of Australia was in shock. How could we stop this from happening again?

 The Prime Minister at the time was John Howard, and he had only been in the role for only a few months. How would he respond? What could he do from a government point of view? The nation held its collective breath.

 John Howard had to act fast. He introduced strict gun laws into Parliament. This had the bi-partisan support of the opposition Labor Party, led by Kim Beasley. The new gun controls had to also be made law via the State and Territory Parliaments. A number of citizens, particularly in Tasmania and Queensland, were outraged at the new laws. This outrage was fuelled by the support of the Christian Coalition and amazingly the US National Rifle Association.

 New gun controls were finally made law Australia wide after a lot of intense debate. In addition, the Federal Government implemented a 12 month amnesty/buyback scheme to allow people to hand in any illegal firearm without running the risk of prosecution. Amazingly, 643,000 firearms were handed in at a cost to the taxpayer of $350M.

 Since the laws were established, it has become extremely hard to purchase a rifle or indeed any gun. A number of valid reasons and references need to be supplied before a gun can be sold. Naturally, if there is a genuine reason to have a gun, and the person appears mentally stable, then they will be able to purchase one, subject to the relevant State and Territory requirements. It is safe to say that John Howard’s tough stance that he took all those years ago has paid dividends. Since that fateful day in 1996, Australia has not had any gun related massacres.

 I mention the above purely to give any American reader an idea of how gun control can be implemented. Australians were deeply shocked at the Sandy Hook school massacre in Newtown last December. It is not hard to feel the shock and sadness, especially as it happened so close to Christmas, the time of traditional family gatherings. I feel for the parents who lost their children and the families of all those that were killed in that terrible shooting.

 To outsiders, the US has way these type of shootings way too often. For pro-gun lobbyists to claim the Second Amendment as a right to bear arms in today’s modern society, is at best a bad joke! The question is a very simple one - how many more people have to lose their lives before action is taken? Yes the GOP (Republican Party) and the NRA are bed partners, and yes there are radicals in both organisations. Do ordinary citizens really require a semi-automatic weapon to protect their property?

The answer, one suspects, has to be a resounding ‘No’. The US has to tighten up its gun laws immediately. It is the only way to go to restore faith with the public at large. Barack Obama needs to act decisively, and he requires the GOP and others to support any proposed law changes. The good old days of “gun toting” are over. Let’s logically move on and ensure that our children and innocent bystanders are not used as “shooting practice” by a madman.

 If the US can instigate tougher gun controls, I am sure its citizens will be able to sleep better at night. It will send out a message to the rest of the world that, finally, the US is serious about the
implementation of stricter gun laws.

28 February 2013

Ebbsfleet United v Stockport County

The following is my programme article for the Ebbsfleet United v Stockport County game played on the 16th February.  The game ended in a draw.

February is certainly turning out to be a month of home games for the Fleet.  In fact, the whole of this month revolves around Ebbsfleet not venturing away from the hallowed turf of Stonebridge Road.  That said, it is safe to say there are more than a few away games coming up between now and the end of the season.  This includes some very long road trips to Hyde, Barrow and Gateshead.  The players will certainly have plenty of time then to master their card skills.  Who will emerge as the Poker king? Time will tell.

Fortunes can change very quickly in football.  Two games ago, and in front of the television cameras, the Fleet suffered a humiliating 0-4 defeat to Macclesfield Town.  Then a week ago, the team got back on track with a well-earned 3-1 victory over Gateshead.  This has now put the Fleet within 4 points of the safety zone. 

Liam Daish has brought in a number of players to try and ensure that the team remains in the Blue Square Premier for another season.  One of them, Josh Scott, scored two of the goals against Gateshead.  There were also impressive performances from other new boys Gareth Gwillim and Stefan Payne.  There is a new air of optimism within the club that the Fleet can stay up this season.  A win today would certainly help that cause!

Today’s opponents, Stockport County, are one of the ‘name’ teams in the Blue Square Premier.  It is only a few years ago that The County were playing a number of the ‘big boys’ in League One. Go back a few more years and Stockport were in a League Cup semi-final, before losing 2-1 on aggregate to Middlesbrough. So there certainly is a lot of tradition in the club.  Interestingly, Stockport’s highest league attendance this season so far was for the visit of one Ebbsfleet United!

Given the league table, this is a crucial game for both of these teams.  A win for the Fleet draws us closer to safety.  A win for Stockport helps pull them away from a potential relegation battle.  Hopefully the attendance today will be on the healthy side, especially given the importance of this game to both teams. 

A couple of days ago it was Valentine’s Day.  Hopefully all the ladies in the ground today were spoilt rotten by their husbands, boyfriends, beau’s and secret admirers!  However, if there are any ladies here today looking for a present for their man, then can I suggest a MYFC membership.  What better present than giving your footy mad partner, or even yourself, a chance to become an owner of the club! Please go to www.myfootballclub.co.uk or speak to one of the club officials here today about becoming a member. 

Finally, a huge welcome to the officials, players and supporters of Stockport County who have made the long journey down from the North West.  We hope you enjoy your visit – but not too much!
Enjoy the game today.  Get behind the team and cheer the lads onto victory!


Ebbsfleet United v Macclesfield Town

The following is my programme article for the Ebbsfleet United v Macclesfield Town game that was played on 1st February.

It was a televised match - the first time the Fleet had been on television for many seasons.  Despite this, it was not a good game as Macclesfield ran out 4-0 winners! 

January is certainly a crazy month in footballing terms.  The inclement weather has meant that a number of teams in the lower leagues have had an “extended break”.  Whilst snow can look nice, and create picturesque photos, it can also be a nightmare for football teams.  A manager may have his team on a run of undefeated games, and then find their progress halted.  On the flipside, a team could have been experiencing some bad results, but with the postponements a re-grouping happens and, all of a sudden, the results pick up.

From our point of view, we hope that the Fleet can go on an undefeated run, and hence move away from the bottom of the league.  Liam Daish has been pro-active by bringing in defenders Gareth Gwillim and loan signing Jack Saville to bolster the defence. At the same time the club has parted ways with Jay Folkes and Ben Greenhalgh.  Psychologically, the Ebbsfleet players must view the remaining league games as if the season has just started. A clean slate, so to speak.

The fans also have a role to play in the Fleet ‘renaissance’.  We must ensure that we get behind the team and cheer them onto a much deserved victory.  A vocal crowd can truly make a difference, and help the players to give 110%.  Such are the league positions that 2 or 3 wins can see a club quickly move up the league.

Tonight’s game should certainly be an exciting one.  Macclesfield have done the Blue Square Premier proud with their fantastic FA Cup run, and narrow 4th Round defeat to Premier League Wigan Athletic.  To side track for a brief moment, congratulations to Luton Town on their giant killing exploits against Norwich City.  To see a non-league team in the last 16 of the FA Cup is truly amazing to say the least!

I should also mention two other things in relation to this evening’s game.  Ebbsfleet’s last victory in the league was against Macclesfield Town back in November.  Hopefully the Fleet can do the ‘double’ over the Silkmen tonight and get 3 valuable points.  One player who will need no introduction is the Macclesfield goalkeeper, Lance Cronin. Lance, of course, played many games for Ebbsfleet in his career including 10 games on loan last season. I am sure, if selected, he will get a big cheer from the locals.

Tonight’s game is being televised.  It isn’t often that a ‘less glamorous’ team like Ebbsfleet United is shown live so let’s make the most of it!  Hopefully, a largish crowd will be there to witness a fantastic game.  If you are a passionate fan of the Fleet and want to play a pro-active role in the future of the club, then please consider joining My Football Club – the community owners of the team.  Details can be found at www.myfootballclub.co.uk.

Finally, a big hello to all the Macclesfield Town officials, players and supporters who have made the long trek to North Kent.  Enjoy your time tonight and have a safe trip home, albeit a pointless one! 

January was also a crazy time in Sydney. Temperatures of 42C and then a record breaking 46C were certainly hard to endure.  For those of you who hanker for hot weather, I can ensure you it is overrated - at times! 

As I write these notes Queensland and New South Wales are suffering from floods, wild winds and torrential rain.  If only it snowed in Sydney…..


02 January 2013

Ebbsfleet United v Dartford

The following is the article I wrote for the New Year's Day local derby between Ebbsfleet United and Dartford.  Ebbsfleet came back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2. 

Firstly, a very Happy New Year to all the supporters of Ebbsfleet United and Dartford.  Here’s hoping that 2013 is a fantastic year, not only for you personally, but also for both of our North Kent clubs.  I also hope that you didn’t all get too merry last night, especially when the clock struck twelve!

The Festive Season is certainly one that involves an abundance of food, drink, family time and relaxation.  It is also fair to say that the Boxing Day and New Year’s Day football matches are part of that tradition too.  Nothing beats getting away from the house to go to the local football ground to support your team to a win.

Before I go any further, please spare a thought for me.  I have had to spend Christmas and the New Year here in Australia.  As you can imagine it is a tough life that I lead, especially when the sun is shining and the temperature is hovering around the 30C mark! Wearing t-shirts and shorts all the time also becomes quite boring too! Oh, and I won’t mention the New Year’s Eve fireworks…

Anyway, today is the match that the Fleet fans have been waiting for all season.  A home game with a bumper crowd, against our near neighbours from ‘just up the road’.  I think it is fair to say that when the fixtures were released in the summer, that this match was probably the first one pencilled in.

Football derbies are always hotly contested and this one is sure to be no different.  The form book and league table positions are thrown out of the window, as ‘Local Pride’ takes precedence.  The fact that this is the second game between these two clubs in six days adds an extra bit of spice to this afternoon’s meeting.  Both our own Liam Daish and Dartford’s Tony Burman will certainly have their squads primed for 110% effort in what is expected to be a closely contested game. 

Dartford have had a fantastic season so far.  They have probably exceeded their own expectations, which is a tribute to their coach and players.  From a Kentish point of view, it is great to see how they have progressed.  However, I am sure they are due an off-day sometime soon!

New Year is also a time for resolutions.  It is like the slate has been wiped clean for all of us now it is January!  At MYFC we are always looking to expand our membership which, in turn, helps the club.  The more members we have, the more we can contribute funds to help bolster and improve our squad.  

Why not make a resolution to help Ebbsfleet United by becoming a MYFC member.  Please contact the club for more details, or visit www.myfootballclub.co.uk .  Your membership DOES make a huge difference to the club, so please come and join us.

Finally, with a huge crowd expected today, please get behind the team.  Players respond much better to vocal support, so please cheer on the Fleet to a well-earned victory.

Although I will not be at the match, and believe me I would love to be there, I will take solace in having a nice cold drink whilst sunbathing on one of Queensland’s fantastic beaches.  Anyone want to swap places with me?