Monday, October 29, 2012

Kept in the dark and fed...

I am usually the first to try to see the industry or food brands' side on matters packaging.

Here it is hard not to feel a tad... vexed.

Our local Morrisons has gone all 'veggie', which is actually pretty neat.

The missus is thrilled, with all manner of Chinese veg. on offer (I presume grown hydroponically here rather than in a dioxin-dusted paddy field).

Me... I like mushrooms.

So now going beyond the usual button, field and chestnut options is great.

And most are in baskets to be scooped lovingly by hand into paper bags (albeit with a plastic window). Though one, at £700/kg, may need restraint in the scooping.

However, some are in sealed plastic.

It's hard not to see a possible reason.

The pack is labelled as 100g.

What is a bit naughty is the majority of that is in the base bundle that most will cut away... and is conveniently hidden under the printed segment.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

REview - Movie - 'Trashed' - More clever than wise

That last line is not a critique of the movie.

It's a quote from it:

"The difference between the clever man and the wise man is that the clever man can extricate himself from difficult and intricate situations that the wise man would never have gotten into in the first place."

Author: Jewish proverb

I had been invited to our local Ross theatre (rediscovering what a great little venue it is), by a local media baron, and approached with some misgivings, not least because I also dragged along 'she who must be entertained'.

Me because I have not had the best experiences with such documentaries, and on the missus' behalf because, well, if you are not a bit of an eco-activist, the subject matter does not exactly equate to the latest Twilight. And one and a half hrs plus on Trash talk is a fair old whack.

But I need not have worried. That time passed quickly and was well spent... for both of us, and I think the rest of the audience, which I was thrilled to discover included 'Mrs. Green' of My Zero Waste and her family. Their presence in part being explained by her having a featured role as a zero waste advocate.

However, in doing justice to an objective review, it is not a movie that will be everyone's idea of a good night out, or to their tastes. I think you would need to be interested in the topic, and happy to see your money going to such an exercise in necessary awareness.

But even if it doesn't appeal as a movie experience, I'd say catching it if and when it is on TV, or when the DVD is released, is a worthy consideration.

There's stuff worth knowing, and it is presented well.

The script is solid, and not preachy, and with a presenter/VO the calibre of Jeremy Irons, and music backdrop by Vangelis, the audio-visual experience is top notch.

Though the full HD impact of a 40m wall of rubbish calving into the sea at the East end of the Med is pretty revolting.

This was one of the biggest out of control land dumps there is, at Sidon, and though vile had an awesomely fascinating aspect to it too. It was like those rock strata you see science types getting excited about to explain dinosaur extinctions or tsunamis.

Which is apt, because in a way it is a waste mountain version of the cr*p 'we' throw out over the decades... centuries. No further back than that, as it was pointed out that it's really only in the last hundred years that we moved from 'natural' materials that degraded 'naturally' on disposal to those that do not, if at all. Or, if they do, into something not nice at all.

This was a thread throughout, and was indeed an area that informed even me, when I thought I was quite on top of the messy aspects of human imposition on this planet.

The expert 'talking heads' referred to were very good, and unlike many advocates came across as reasoned and well-informed. And realistic.

But what they had to share, and show, was not too palatable, even as one sits in a comfy cinema in the well-regulated West. Lured into a false sense on security by 3rd world horror stories, I was unprepared to what was closer to home for comfort.

And Mr. Irons was a great guide in complement. Not too earnest if passionate, and even cynical and self-mocking with a wicked sense of humour on occasion to lighten what too easily could become a voyage into darkness if not careful.

But careful we need to be. I was pretty aware of many of the issues around biodegradability (and will need to revisit my open-ended investigation on this topic that I started a long time ago), but the microparticle 'soup' that plastics which enter the eco-system create was really horrifying to be reminded about. And while 'witches' knickers bags are the stuff of many an M&S/Daily Mail PR stunt, this is an area I am much more concerned about.

Also incineration, especially the so-called newly-rebranded 'Energy from waste' variety.

The theory is good, and the intentions of some noble. But I now have serious outstanding concerns on the practice... and the intentions of others.

One look at the news these days shows the 'authorities' are not always smart or to be trusted, especially when in thrall of big business or under fiscal pressures.

The movie spent a lot of time on what comes out of the chimney, and it's not pretty if the thing is not set up right and run right... including changing filters that are needed to meet safety levels, but get bunged up pronto and need replacing a lot... at vast cost.

I was reminded of our 'bagless' Dyson vacuum, that was to 'save' us a fortune, but whose EPA filter ran up such a replacement bill we got rid of it. So too with such facilities. They cost a lot to build, and more to run. And if the money gets tight, they either run dirty or they shut down.

And if they don't shut down and run dirty... you don't want to be near. And by 'near', I mean on the planet. Like plastic micro/nano particles, what goes up, or down, or in the water, goes around... everywhere.

A large chunk of what is in there that shouldn't be are dioxins, and these are not nice. At all.

A distressing part of the narrative was necessary, and this was a visit to Vietnam, to see the results of dioxin contamination as a result of the Agent Orange spraying during the war there.

Now this was concentrated hugely (and there may be other factors), but even after all this time there seems no doubt that this stuff is not great to get into the food chain, and especially by the time it works up to apex predators... like us. 

There was a very nasty scene in a pathology lab in Vietnam to illustrate the one way humans, or at least half of us, can purge out bodies of dioxins, and that is from Mother to unborn child. If you watch... be forewarned, and prepared.

Yet even here in the UK there are 'officials' who at best seem... too comfortable with reassurances from those they'd prefer to hear from than those who don't suit.

And with our headlines currently full of breaches of trust from those in authority... and even complicit media driven more by agendas than professional integrity... I tend to err on the precautionary principle advocated by the Professors and experts we were presented with throughout.

And it's not like some 'we're all doomongering' efforts where the pulls are economic vs. environment; there are compelling triple bottom line arguments in mitigation to be had too. Win-win-wins abounding, just like those we try and push here at or with RE:tie. It doesn't have to be a stark choice between living in a cave or dying a horrible slow death.

If I was to offer a critique, it would be that the movie was 80% problem, and 20% more positive. Though the positives were inspiring. I was thrilled to see a section on the inspirational unpackaged concept, for instance, and especially to hear their spokeslady talk not just in savings terms, but also... shock... making a profit!

But it is necessary to grasp and appreciate that there are some ideals that reality may not allow. Population densities, budgets... time.

These are all vast, intermingled issues that are hugely complex and need to be discussed as part of the whole 'green' deal (and another time than here). And too often this rather key fact gets lost in focusing on one issue. Focus is good, but it can lead to dogma, and dogma can create pockets, and pockets competing for attention can mean inconvenient truths that don't suit get ignored to push the passion, more than being aware of the pragmatic actualities.

The movie made me realise how easy it is to get caught up on one's own little area of concern, and perhaps ignore the bigger picture and how others in theirs need to be related to. But on the whole I felt a strong sense of vindication with what we at Junkk are trying to do, and how it can't hurt and hopefully can help. If in a small way. But it also made me realise that the movie addressed reduction (which has limits), and recycling (which has 'issues') and disposal (which has huge consequences), but barely even tipped a hat at the potential of reuse... especially designed-in reuse, or repair.

Now these are niche and poor cousins, but with a bit of imagination and will, they could become just as big as solutions... and money-making ones too. I hate to say it, but a lot of effort does seem focused on areas of dealing with waste that are now profitable but maybe not that great on enviROI and hence as good for the planet as often claimed. Box-tickers and target-setters do like such things as rates and bonusses can be easily related.

Yes, sending a container with bales of compressed milk bottles to be 'recycled' is better than sending it empty... but what about the possibility they don't need 'processing' at all, and get sent to a place where they can become a new, long-lasting product in their own right? The movie well showed that the resilience of these new waste materials makes them pretty effective in aggressive environments. Why not apply them rather than keep looking for ways to deal with them, if not having them is simply not a consumer society-realistic option?

I noticed that a member of the Rausing family had helped with the funding.

Maybe Tetrapak would be open to an approach from or RE:tie again on the back of this movie, when any tries before have not got past the gatekeepers who can often talk a good tale, but end up failing to walk quite as well in complement?

If they did, maybe together we can find ways to be both clever... and wise?

Caption: By coincidence, in chatting with said media baron last week, I happened to stumble across an experiment I had bee conducting, namely leaving a bio-degradable shopping bag to do its thing. Clearly, after a few years, it is on its way, but if non longer a turtle-choking threat, those little pieces are still not very benign. 

ADDENDUM 1 - In researching this further, and in wishing all on the US Eastern seaboard well post-Sandy, I found this interesting:

‘New York City is an island built on garbage. Dutch settlers constructed much of the southern tip of Manhattan by extending the shoreline with landfill.’

ADDENDUM 2 - A URL of a new post about the issue closer to home:

ADDENDUM 3 - In compelment to the Energy from Waste segment:

ADDENDUM 4 - an interview with the producer by the packaging industry:

Saturday, October 20, 2012

AWARD - World Juice 2012

This is a link to a story on the RE:tie blog, as this is what the award was for.

I include it here as there are some packaging/2nd use-related areas of interest too.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Good news for a wet Monday

Some nice news to start the day!

My invention has been shortlisted in the Best Sustainability Initiative category of The World Juice awards - 

Goes some way  to offsetting all the grief I've been having on IP for RE:tie with the US Patent Office.

In other news....

We are in the middle (erring on wrong side of that midpoint) of a massive rejig of the entire online & social media estate.

So much has moved on since (which, sadly, remains in her 'classic' incarnation, at least as far as the 'guts' are concerned - which, fingers crossed still do what they are meant to, if in a clunky way) was created, with amazing, free scripts now available to allow content to be put up and exchanged across platforms so much more easily.

Hence we are trying to integrate, link and automate them all as much as possible. So, for instance, this news will, with luck, get 'placed' on one platform and then be distributed across others (even LinkedIn) without needing to cut & paste or edit.

In theory.

It's proving a massive undertaking so please be patient.

I'm also hoping to 'split' shares and RTs from such as twitter, that have to now been pooled under JunkkMale, such that what is eco goes under a green section, advertising under Firebird, music under a category for that... etc.

There will still be 'views', but also a bunch of extra shared information that will, with luck, also be easily archived and searched.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Spring Cleaning (a bit late)

OK... back in the saddle.

Promptly thrown off. Repeat. A lot. Robert the Bruce would be impressed.

Actually had a pretty good summer holiday. It was just the rest that sucked. When you are pretty much on your own juggling plates like those acts on the Generation Game, pretty soon the place is going to look like the aftermath of a Greek wedding. Stuff doesn't go away when you take a break; it compounds.

There were thus two options.

Carry on and freak out (even more)

Or.... deep breath and stop..............
............ and, then, start over again. 

Like that awesome bit of wiring in the picture (taken from the poolside of our holiday hotel), it's not exactly broke, but could probably use fixing (water-created rust streaks from a live socket!).

So you are looking at the first shot in a root and branch re-jig of everything. Not just (which will, by virtue of being steam-driven, remain the same as almost nothing cannot be changed now the last Benedictine Monk who programmed it has given up his vows to hit Vegas), but all around that it feeds and feed it. Blogs, tweets, FaceBooks, YouTubes, newsletters, etc. Including other blogs such as (already 'holding', but showing a hint of our plans with automated tweets ported in from another location), & even (our design, music & A/V director), all of which do have some kind of relationship with the content and its management.

The aim will... is... hoped to be to incorporate more that is automated and updated from other sources, such that 'stuff' will be seen to 'happen' a lot more than it is currently.

Sadly some things will still lie fallow and slumber on a while longer (such as the Forum:(, as the aforementioned steam-driven system is now over a decade old, and what can be done in a trice, for free, with some nifty script, on takes an age just to program on an admin system that cost an arm and a leg. And that's in a time when body parts were worth something.

With luck you won't notice too much.

Maybe a holding page here (if we're lucky), or an error message there (if we're not).

All we ask is your patience and indulgence.

With luck, and a following wind, it will all be worth it. And all right on the night.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Summertime, and the blogging is...

... easily going to be a smidge slower than its already erratic, often glacial pace for a wee while.

Manpower issues, namely not having enough or... for a few weeks... any, will mean the site might not be maintained at its usual volume, and service may be less than perky too. Rather dependent on what is often quirky remote internet access.

Fear not. When returned, reinvigorated, any questions, etc will be addressed as soon as we remember the access codes.

So, meantime, enjoy the glorious weather as we hope to do, presuming it still exists... somewhere.

Rest assured, rain or shine, thoughts will be had. And with luck, good ones.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Lazarus' Preferred Garage

I put finger to keyboard tentatively, rather wishing I had one of those bamboo laptops.

Not that I am superstitious or anything, but something nice just happened and touching wood reassures.

And it happened here:

A short while ago my Volvo V40 bi-fuel developed a problem with its LPG operation that our local garage could not handle.

Hence I brought it to our nearest dealer, in Hereford.

They kindly provided a courtesy car and kept it for investigation.

After a fair amount of time they got in touch to say that they had worked their way through the system and had already near reached the £200 mark without success (I foolishly had not specified that such amounts to see what was up were not favoured), and with no guarantees on a solution being found, I was looking at a very expensive component being sourced they could not easily locate, plus a major job swapping it in.

Hence I agreed with them on disconnecting the LPG for safety, even this meant lugging around a 40kg (they had asked for it to be filled) LPG tank despite future petrol operation, as there was no venting facility (fun fact... LPG has to be at a very precise mixture in air to be explosive, so a leak in the open is unlikely to be as serious as may be feared).

Upon picking up the car, after a few miles smoke started pouring from the bonnet. Rather foolishly (despite the above fun fact, LPG is not something to mess with) I drove it straight back.

The staff present were very defensive, claiming all sorts of nonsense. I was in particular unimpressed that, after a £200 engine investigation they tried a) to claim that the leak was possibly coincidental and b) had in fact been noted. Just... no one had evidently thought to mention it to me or on the invoice/advice. Plain silly to try such a tack.

Following a conversation with the manager by phone I was at least provided with the courtesy car again and left it with them.

I was called some further days later by the manager who, to his credit, conceded that the smoke was not from a leak at all, but due a a cap blowing off pressure testing, resulting in oil spraying on the hot engine. They had cleaned and checked and deemed all well.

However, I was now lumbered with a mono-fuel car.

Enter, thanks to Kathy, lovely PR for Autogas, Hilton owner Billy and LPG guru to the stars, Arthur.

In less than 3 hrs these guys reconnected the system (comprehensively unconnected by the dealer), ran diagnostics, identified problems, replaced parts and serviced other key areas that had, until that point, still been left unaddressed/serviced. Including one component most likely responsible for or contributing to the running issues that were the initial problem. Not the one guessed at with such a vast proposed cost, I might add.

Specifically, look at the components above. The one at the bottom is what was removed. It seems to be  a bodge, welding two parts together. This was what was in the governor (also possibly called regulator). It was either in there when brought to the main dealer, or introduced by them. In any event, it remained unremarked. The one above is what should have been in there, and now is. That the car runs perfectly now suggests it was a wise thing to replace, and did not require a £multi-hundred governor to be replaced as well, as suggested in their invoice.

So, for the price of Volvo taking days to tell me nothing could be done and almost setting fire to my car, these guys took but a few hours to fix and improve.

I am now under no illusions that bi-fuel was an experiment by Volvo (as with the other major brand dabblers) and dropped very quickly as a unprofitable job (this model was not even registered with TFL for the congestion charge exemption). I bought that car as factory-fitted to avoid any such concerns, trusting the brand would live up to its commitment to reliability and eco (that I support thanks to green beliefs). Not to have hands washed as it's all 'rare' and unusual and too hard.

Volvo evidently dropped LPG years ago as a priority, and despite a responsibility and duty of care has not admitted it, failing to train, or ensure the authorised service centres are aware of the systems and how to service/repair them.

No one has been honest enough to admit this, preferring instead to try a stab at addressing maintenance or problems, but actually making stuff worse, adding the insult of huge fees to the injury of failed, dangerous work and clearly inaccurate advice.

It is my view (expressed now to Volvo head office) that if you cannot handle your own manufactured product any more, at least have the decency to locate and recommend those who still can.

There are folk out there who do know what they are doing. They should be sought after, treasured, and highlighted as I do here.

What was as amazing as the repair, was that I was welcomed as an observer throughout, and learned a lot in the process.

A few snippets (I may get my regulators, governors and distributors mixed up as the terms seem to vary between who is talking)...

LPG in the UK

Unlike our EU cousins, LPG is treated rather differently here. It is a sensitive fuel, comprising a mix of butane and propane. With temperature, this mix can offer markedly different results on performance. Hence, before getting into our tanks, on the continent the blend is tuned to optimise the result.

Oh, and the 'quality' of UK LPG is a lot lower too. Sadly, the price difference and range from a 40l tank doesn't make a Calais top up trip worth it.

ps. On matters fuel storage, LPG is good to go for long periods. That 4* in the Jerry can in the garage for the next tanker strike?... little better than last week's milk. Best to only use in the lawnmower.

pps: Never be tempted by cheaper gas options. Arthur showed me the guts of a unit where the 'saving' on fuel was rather offset by the need for a new unit.


LPG is a fickle beast. You need to get from a high pressure liquid in the tank to a precise pressure gas/air mix in the same pots as fire up on petrol. That takes some kit. Kit with moving parts, and ports, injectors, etc. These need to be tuned to perfection and clean.

The top unit pictured above is the distributor. It has a piston that moves up and down, with V shaped apertures vertically along the barrel. The piston moves and you get more or less gap, and hence fuel. The edges can fur up. So they need cleaning. The good news is that, at 8k a year, this can be stretched to 2 years. I'd guess that may be pushing it to ensure optimal performance.


Finally, beyond all the filters, etc needing to be clear, there are the spark plugs. Again, any old plug will not do. Different fuel, different demands. And LPG needs a perky spark. Hilton recommend NGK LaserLines. Not cheap, but false economies catch up with you. Looking to find, and figure out how to fit.

I am now poorer, but a lot wiser, though richer in knowledge. Especially about LPG as a fuel and source or vehicle power. Plus I have a car deemed at one point worth £750 as a favour, but now a still perfect, 5-door estate with 75p/l fuel. Good for several more years, he hopes, holding the table top.

Hope my experiences are a lesson of use to others either driving LPG or thinking of doing so. It's good to share. (first published 10/6/11)


Addendum - Follow-up service - 26/June/2012

An unashamed plug for the Hilton Autogas guys. Some misfires necessitated a re-visit. After a thorough once-over nothing was found, but some sage advice on living with an aged car with a temperamental fuel system was freely provided. Tx, guys

A few new tips...

Part of an LPG system is the regulator. These are usually rated at 80,000 miles. And around £400+ fitting to replace. So, worth bearing in mind if buying 2nd hand.

If not totally messed up (a diaphragm degrades and affects performance) they can be 'helped' by some behaviour changes. These can also help with cars, such as Volvos, where the auto switch-over on start up from petrol to LPG, rigged too early to meet emissions demands, can mean that the chamber is not warm enough to pre-heat the gas and causes misfires.

Hence the trick is to start with the LPG disabled and only switch on once the engine has warmed after a few miles.

So far... it has solved the problem.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

In memory. In honour. In love

Thanks Dad.

Time to again reflect on the person who helped make me what I am, and whose example inspired this site.

I still use all the tools (physical and experience) he left me, and continue to share his love for making the best of things.

Friday, June 08, 2012

IP, IP Hoo... no... make that boo

This really should be on the RE:tie blog (and will be later).

But as it goes to bigger issues, and more people read this, I'll kick off here.

Quick bit of background.

I have, with much encouragement from HMG and her various organs of business promo, patented the RE:tie around the world.

Where its patent has been granted, no questions, or hassles, bar one place: the US of A.

Starting in November of last year, when they blew it out... on the basis that if the inventor of a bottle cap and the inventor of a woman's breast pump met in the pub, they 'could' together, if so minded, have come up with a RE:tie, such that the world's consumers would rush out and by a one-off $30 personal milk expressing device to get a free 0.00000001 cent weekly multiple-use hardware item.

Yeah... me too.

But games have to be played.

But games take time. And if lawyers get involved, expensive.

So two sets of lawyers, and two sets of rejected (the second, by a different USPTO examiner to the first, being a pure cut & paste job) appeals later, I am no further on. Bar being down a set of lawyers. And a ton of money.

Now, when painted into a corner you have little to lose, so you reach out anywhere and everywhere.

Which I did. UK IPO, BIS, British Embassy, UKTI, Chamber... you name the acronym purporting to support SMEs and or IP protection, I told 'em all.

And to a man... or woman... up to Baroness and Minister (or both) level, I got oodles of sympathy. 

'Tut-tut', they said. 'Awful', they intoned. Some thought it fun to share they knew it would happen as that's what always does.

Coming from paid civil servants who are paid to seduce unpaid SME innovators to blow time and money on IP, that can rankle a smidge. No, make that... a lot.

As it stands, I not only cannot argue my appeal, but the US examiner is, to all intents and purposes... hiding. Won't answer phone calls, or emails. Me having danced to every stupid tune and leapt every hurdle and obstacle put in my way.

And on the UK side (from London to Washington) now, the same. Blanked. It can't be happening because they don't have to look at it to see it is.

This... is what country and international governance has come to. Looking like stuff is going on, and spending vast resources on that 'look', but behind the edifice...zippy.

So, Ladies & Gents, let me bring you this gem of a PR email just in, which as you may imagine, was just what the doctor ordered:


You are a subscriber to the email alerts service from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS). 

A new BIS press release has been issued and is 

UK and US call to make the most of international patent system

Measures to make the international system of patent application faster and more effective were announced today by the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) with changes to the UK’s Fast Track system. These moves come as part of a wider effort by the UK and US intellectual property authorities to get more businesses to use the PCT system.

 So... businesses... more of you... USE IT!!! Tick them boxes.

That none of it works, at all, and no one wants to go near why, or how to resolve it... that is not a matter of concern.

No wonder this country is stuffed.

The few doers that remain have their very own posse of stoppers ready to knock them out at every turn, and vast PR machines in complement to pretend that it is all going just fine.

With some experience, and well-filed archives, I beg to differ. It's patently clear it's not working. At all.

Addendum 1

In the mail yesterday day I had a letter from the USPTO, apparently sent round the Horn via clipper to beat the Royal Navy blockade of Boston.

A snail mail letter that, frankly, takes the whole thing to a new level of farce if it were not already. If they simply did their jobs as opposed to concocting stuff like this in avoiding doing so, they might clear the 5 million case backlog apparently causing such behaviour.

If I understand what they have written correctly, I am now in some feedback loop of Purgatory, whereby I can't appeal on my own patent's behalf because they refuse to release the US affiliate as power of attorney. This being the one they would never talk with anyway. But is the only one they wish to deal with. But now deny was ever appointed.

Because I note, in amongst the vast legalese, two intriguing statements, especially given what I understood to have happened based on what I was told, and the USPTO's version of events:

1 - 'a review of the record shows that no attorney's/agents were ever appointed power of attorney in this patent application'

Given the USPTO's rather clear dedication to procedure up front before doing anything, if my US affiliate was, as far as they are now claiming, never appointed, why then have they spun this out with them over several months, including costly appeals,  if they never ascertained they were our/my representatives in the first place? They seem pretty clear on who they can or cannot be talking with, and when... if it suits.

As I recall, the USPTO called my US affiliate to complain that I was trying to contact them directly, and they can only talk to them, which was what instigated this latest flurry of activity. Now... they are claiming all this?

2 - 'Additionally, the present request cannot be approved because the requested change in the correspondence address is improper'.

What it goes on to define as 'proper' is beyond me, as it was, presumably, to the person first advising it.

Maybe it is best left here as they surely cannot reject the patent if they are unprepared to live up to their own procedures, which at the very least means that while the patent is not granted it is stuck at not being rejected either, which serves to deny any copycats.

I am stumped. I have reached out for advice and help from UK trade and IP bodies but... so far... nothing.

So now thinking of adding to my lexicon of public sector syndromes, with 'If not you... who?'.

Because a ton of folk earning a ton of money and spending acres of time promoting endless 'initiatives' have suddenly gone quiet. The IPO. BIS. Chamber. UKTI. Embassy.  All the guys advocating the joys of IP and getting me in this deep... mute.

Not hugely impressed. Landed it back at the door of my now IP UK lawyer too, as some of those accusations from the USPTO also go to professional competence and codes of conduct. At least as to the actions of the affiliate they commissioned (or possibly did not) to act on my patent's behalf there.

Addendum 2 -

Have been kindly contacted by Ian Hartwell of, and offered a further option, for which thanks:

The USPTO has a “Patents Ombudsman” for “when there is a breakdown in the normal application process” – see

As I am painted into a corner it can't hurt, but am not too hopeful, as my experiences with Ombudsmen of any hue, from any country, is not great.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

REUSEDviaRE:tie - Age Issues

Just popped this on the RE:tie blog.

And noticed that it has 'languished' somewhat of late, in terms of me writing anything and, hence, folk reading.

So excuse porting (in the name of reuse) over here, which is a bit more active.

Still relevant I hope:)

Friday, May 11, 2012

IDEA - Flip Flopping

Every little bit helps!

I share this having not be so impressed with the rather 'all or nothing' stance taken by a journalist here.

OCD excess is awful and to be sympathised with and helped.

A bit of saving for a rainy day make and mend should not be conflated with it, or used as some daft stick to spout on consumerism around.

I'd go so far as to say a healthy squirreling of things to combine to reuse is about as good as it gets!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Scraping the top of the barrel

A little idea/tip for the day.

Was having my lunchtime juice and ended up, as you do, polishing off the juice box.

Keen to get the most from this, I walloped the top and swirled and stuff, but some still remained inside.

So I yanked the top off.

This gives you some interesting componentry, from a multi-piece cap pourer to the box.

All present reuse promise, but here I look at 'waste'.

Because that cap arrangement intrudes down a wee bit, at least 2mm, into the box body.

Yank the whole deal out (and keep it... you never know) and you get a fair bit more juice out (see pix).

Heck, you may also even make the folk at the recyclers a bit happier at one less contaminant in the recycling waste stream to address.

Win, win.. win. I'll drink to that:)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Cheltenham Festival of Design - A personal (re)view

Good job it has been a horrible weekend's weather.

Because 'working', indoors, over a nice weekend does not float my boat.

And that was, indeed my main task Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Cheltenham Design Festival.

Now in sharing my thoughts here (heads up, it was a long set, so the screed is too), I should stress they are not based on the totality of the event, which was eclectic, covering anything from the philosophical to the educational to the down and gloriously dirty.

Though actually very reasonably-priced at £30, the all day tickets were not really in my budget range, given where my professional interests lie (personally, jet planes and race cars were also right up there, but a price too far).

I restricted myself to those which, as billed, seemed to offer most promise to my Junkk/RE:tie endeavours, with one extra for the 'ad man' in me (of which more, in a sad way) later.

Friday I chose two, frustratingly at either end of the day, as the venue (while very nice) had little to occupy one outside the seminars.

First up was 'Colossal Issues, Simple Solutions', with Simon Kavanagh of KaosPilot.

I was seduced by the blurb, which inferred 'saving the world'. There were a few elements but it was more on design education and, whilst interesting, really not too helpful for me. For the large student contingent, maybe, as at least he seemed to appreciate the role of earning a living whilst designing. One thing he did do, which was good, was take time out to get the audience to write out a project we had not yet moved on with, and then turn to explain it to the person next to you, with reasons why not and how that will change. It was effective and good fun. Sadly, bar one pulled out to share, this was not amplified upon.

Mine, for posterity was: "To create a range of consumer packaging that can be reused to solve the problems of the potable water collection and storage in 3rd world environments with no or poor systems to do so". On a back burner, but bubbling still.

In the evening was a Q&A on the them of 'Is There A Future For Design?', which was meant to feature Sir John Sorrell but he was ill so covered by Chairman Stephen Marston, Chancellor of UoGloucs. Interesting chap bearing in mind my current  efforts on talent/business matchmaking as his career as a CivSev also embraced time with the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, on top of overseeing educating creative talent to integrate into the workforce.

Steven Kavanagh was also on the panel, along with two 'seen it, done it' cynical old, bearded blokes (probably younger than me), the local MP and a woman from the outfit who, I think, designed the Olympics logo. Can't see she inspired much later on, either.

For a Q&A session not many got asked and few, IMO, answered very sensibly. There had been a request made to pose questions in advance by Twitter, and I had duly obliged. One of mine was the only one of these read out, and out of context to cover another point. Disappointing.

Saturday was 'the big one': Talking Rubbish.. creating sustainable design'. Hosted by the University Professor of SD, Daniella Tilbury, it featured Architect Craig White, and Ed Douglas Miller of Remarkable fame.

What..was not to like?

Well, while it jogged along as far as it went, it didn't go very far. A few rather 'loose' scary claims on climate to kick off, which I thought were unnecessary (not to mention of questionable accuracy) in light of the triple bottom line benefits of the actual concepts being pitched.

I cannot see, for example, any issue with promoting the BaleHaus where practical as an option.

I was also struck by a quote attributed to Prescott Alan: 'There is no country, place or people that can be sustainable'.

There were not many opportunities for Q&As and exchanges, and on closing the panel went into a protective huddle. I had a few.  One did get, sort of, answered. But there was a silly lady who was hot under collar that a reused pencil still produced shavings, which were wasted, missing that one more use is still a reuse and double the benefits.

In fact, this propensity to huddle up with your mates and bale stage right meant I decided to forgo the evening keynote from John Hegarty. Somewhat of an iconic figure in the ad world, he had extra meaning as he once hosted a workshop that inspired young creatives like me. Then, years later, he hired an art director that I had discovered at a Singapore College and trained up at my agency. I am sure what he had to say was going to be, and indeed was awesome, but this really was not enough for me to wait several hours for to be talked at and then see him scoot out a side door and away. I donated my ticket (the most expensive of the weekend) to a needy student.

Sunday was just one: 'From Garden Shed to Dragons' Den' by Mark Champkins, amongst other things Inventor In Residence at the Science Museum.

This redeemed some of the disappointments a fair old way. He was funny, interesting, and hung back to chat.

And a prodigious inventor taboot.

Kicking off at college with 'self-heating crockery' he also opened a few eyes on 'Dragon's Den'. From some others I knew most of the horrors of TV ratings over actual discovery or reality, but he added a few further reasons why this is one show to keep a bargepole away unless it can be totally 'managed'. Which, given it is post-shoot edited, seems a near impossibility.

He then got into process issues, with examples/tips, and this was both interesting and useful.

And he made it very 'real' and personal, with great anecdotes. As one cursed with the monkey on my back of loving to create but ever aware of the imposition of new ways to add 'stuff' to the consumer stream, I was intrigued that Jamie Lee Curtis patented a disposable nappy concept, but mandated it not be marketed until proper disposal technology had been invented to deal with it.

Would I go back? Hard to say. The value of these events.. to me at least... is in the interchanges and networking. The best part was the Friday evening, at an event post-festival by an RDA-sponsored local group where I met possible synergistic partners in design, eco, and music.

Design is such a nebulous construct. There's what it was, what it is and concerns on what it might become. Less of a priority in some cases at this event was what it needed to be, good or compromised. Too often, to cheers from the gallery, some speakers (whose designer spex went not to savers for a service) would chant some 'right on' populist slogan, and the assembled BMW drivership of that urban jungle that is the leafy boulevards of Cheltenham, or their iPhone-adorned progeny, would roar in approval.

One speaker even made play of the 'new breed' of student who were only interested in 'doing good'. Nope... I recall this was pretty much the deal in the 70's too, Bub. And while I am a living example of that aspiration, those frames and SUVs do not get sustained from thin air.

People have to 'buy' the design, in all senses of the word.  Like my definition of an entrepreneur as a person with an idea that has actually sold, so design is but a doodle unless a market embraces it.

Despite the intimate surroundings of even The Studio, one venue used beyond the very nice Theatre, the overall sense was to me more one of 'broadcast only'. Yes, after the pontification or pitch that was the lecture there was usually a Q&A, but these were tightly controlled and limited.

Such events do seem to be catching on, and if the ROI (time and money) is sound, that is a good thing. I share this merely because it arrived at my in-box just now. It also appears to be free. Unsure what the content is, and there seems a fair bit of 'show to sell' vs. interactive discussion, but it may be worth a gander. Pays yer money and all that...

Thing is, even if 'free', the investment in getting there and hanging around can carry a huge cost too.

But like that ever-elusive seam of gold I dig towards, you won't strike it unless you are there swinging the pick.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

"All the reviews that are fit for printers"

Ok, that one was a stretch as headlines go:)

However, it still serves to headline a nice story for today's blog.

A wee while ago our two Epson C900 Lasers were starting to show their age. This age being back to them helping with the first Gutenburg Bible run, was considerable.

Sadly, they were 'sort of' working. Even sadder, in the world of printers, 'sort of' doesn't quite cut it really.

These days we barely print, but when we do, it's nice if the page looks 100%.

That is where the nice folk at Cartridge World Hereford came in.

Learning of my plight at a recent 'do', and with a branch in Ross-on-Wye, they kindly offered to see what they could do.

Well, I am glad to say they have done a lot. Sadly not a full rescue, but in this case '2 into 1' did go.

And now, with luck for a while, I again have at least one laser that is operating on the best from components salvaged from two. And really, after all this time, you really can't ask for more than that, can you?

Had a good chat when it was dropped off, and the news for the future is less good. Seems build qualities are really heading downhill further, and even top brands are really only designed to last... 3 years. That... is a heck of a short built-in obsolescence period. Not to mention the cost of consumables.

Still, a nice RE:pair story for the day, I am happy to say!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

'First, kill all the lawyers'

Kidding:) OK, now I have your attention...

At the kind invitation of a small business support network locally, and having been encouraged by Dr. Vince Cable leads following an event here in Herefordshire recently, I have shared these thoughts as requested here. I hope the investment in time will be of value and pay off.

Vast amounts are being invested in all sorts of support; we simply need to ensure this is not just on process to please the awarders, or money to please awardees initially, but in deriving long term end results that please all, and deliver end benefit to the country.

"We would like to hear your views on these plans"
Mine are, of course, based only on personal, if not always great experience. However, we learn from mistakes, and if those I have experienced can help others then great. More selfishly, if a problem shared can see it reduced by collective experience and brainpower... even better.

First a general comment. Appreciating designations and parameters are of course as necessary as they are inevitable, under SME there is of course, a world of difference between a 249 staffed 'M' vs. a lone 'S'. But that latter of course can just as easily be where the ideas that need protecting emanate.

I'm not complaining, but it is a simple fact I merely ask be borne in mind by some who, perhaps enjoying experience more from larger enterprises, can forget that the person doing the looking and chasing and filing and researching may be the same one trying to create and sell and fill out the tax returns and week's end invoicing.

And while any professional input on IP may equally be a phonecall away, it may not, as can be, in-house and free, but with a hefty hourly charge attached.

This needs bearing in mind when asking for input on documents that can run to many pages. The small SME owner does not earn a salary or generate (immediate) income reading these, much as they can be helpful and warrant the investment. I was not aware, for instance, that we had in Baroness Wilcox a Minister for IP. One I may well be getting in touch with about special relationships with trading partners.

This will provide them with the knowledge they need to identify the opportunities and risks that IP presents for their business and to seek further advice at the right point

I have, in my time, been lucky enough to enjoy many opportunities to learn more on the topic, and indeed benefit from the odd award (Fillip via our RDA a few years ago). On the whole these have been OK, but have tended to avoid, perhaps for fear of scaring folk off, the utter nightmare of the the long term costs simply on renewals, much less what happens in the case of a fight.

Also, with some recent, bitter experience, the apparently well known pitfalls of government level hurdles in some markets have not been highlighted.

* We are also considering further options to create new networks across the country to reach out to SMEs: first, working with the Local Enterprise Partnerships to offer tailored local advice to businesses in different regions and second stimulating the creation of business and IP advice networks across the UK.

This was mentioned by Dr. Cable and would be a good step forward.

* A new mentoring portal to provide a single, easy to use route to find experienced business mentors

As is this.

* too often they miss opportunities to maximise the potential return on their investment in innovation by failing to protect their ideas or intellectual property in ways which would help defend against competitors or generate revenue through licensing

Or... they do all by the book, and get screwed over by very dodgy national practices.

* identifying three broad areas of difficulty for SMEs:

1. The complexity of advice offerings;

2. A lack of strategic business advice;

3. The cost of IP management.

Yes, yes, and yes.

* In 2006, the Gowers Review estimated that, faced with an infringement claim, the cost of challenging a patent could be £750,000 even for a relatively straightforward case.

A one man band with a great idea... how is that kind of money even worth getting into?

This goes to the heart of ideals vs. realities, and routes folk get seduced down.
Chapter 1 Raising awareness and understanding of IP

Apologies, but much here is way too simplistic at practical levels. Is the intent vague box tickings on 'awareness' or helping resolve tangibles?

The Masterclass may go towards solving this, but who gets it and at what cost is unclear.

Helping business manage and exploit its IP
Dr. Cable mentioned the latter, and this is necessary and welcome. A core point was that few who are good at creating IP-worthy ideas may have the necessary skillsets alone to then develop and market them. A team is needed, and at least at government/NGO level, help in matchmaking complementing partners.

Strategic IP Audits

This looks more promising. I note the funding, but concerns again are inspired by what gets you launched and then left. £3000 is the cost of appealing (so far, I know) a silly objection from the Patent Office in just one market.

Improving access to IP advice

For many SMEs, and especially start ups when minimising costs is a priority, yes...

IP is often not seen as a critical factor, despite evidence that shows that those companies that effectively use their IP have a better chance of survival and growth

...and, not in my experience.

We are keen to hear from SMEs, their representative organisations and advisors operating in the IP space whether they feel that a directory of this sort would be helpful.

...couldn't hurt, but again is but the tip of what can become an iceberg.

I am pretty confident I have by my efforts and helpful pointing from others (Coventry & Aston Unis) found the right and best in their fields, but as a one man band the costs, especially when advice can often carry 'on your own head caveats', can be prohibitive.

My needs are twofold:

One involving advice higher up the strategic ladder of IPO, and matchmaking with much more usefully complementing talents in exploitation.

Integrating IP advice within public sector business support programmes
The following therefore look attractive:

* Access to high quality facilities by partnering with leading business incubators, science parks and Technology Innovation Centres;

• Advice on how to identify and protect intellectual property and copyright and develop strategies to commercially exploit IP and innovation;

• Specialist help to commercialise innovation and to build a culture of innovation within the business...... Cost? Consultancy? Commission? Duration?

• Fast track access to trusted sources of specialist advice and support such as the Technology Strategy Board and UKTI;

• Access to business and knowledge networks. ... can be a huge time drain if not channeled, with dangers of 'little knowledge' on top.

Things like this, and others can be of value in complement (if sometimes, confusingly overlapping, if not competition), but the caution must be that folk are launched into a highly complex and hugely expensive money pit that often confronts one, too late, with some unenviable options having been seduced into investing in areas that are perhaps not the highest priority or indeed wisest.

Catapult Centres
The IPO will work together with the Technology Strategy Board to develop an SME engagement pack.

Of interest, if 'assisted' in engagement.

Local Enterprise Partnerships
These were mentioned by Dr. Cable and bases have been touched already.
Again, reading the summary, I caution against 'fund and forget' box tickers, or any 'awareness' that seduces with basic knowledge into areas where much more, and worse, can lurk.

Independent IP advisory service

capped price consultancy support to do so, potentially with a payment subsidy from the IPO.

I have several more ideas in the pipeline. The cost and experiences in IP management to date has placed a curb on my enthusiasm. Such an offering may at least help, especially if introduced into a more supportive network, and with luck, motivated (by mutual reward) 'team'. The key is knowing where you stand and with some reliability, from start to a few years down the line.

I am in a black hole without end in sight, that has blown all budgeting estimates into touch as unexpected costs and delays have appeared from nowhere.

Long term skills development
Entrepreneurs and innovators of the future

I'll repeat it again here: an entrepreneur is just an innovator whose idea has made a profit. And any fool can have a good idea. The trick is selling it. I am, currently, just a bloke who tinkers in his shed. No more; no less. That one idea has a global market value of billions and true green contributions is, currently, neither here nor there. Or that there are others on the prototype jig.

My current view is that the costs and effort and delay I have ploughed into conducting (what may have been a flawed) IP strategy could have been better invested in getting to market first, biggest, best and with most noise. And risk the copycat notion of being first to be second being left in my wake.

However, that is not always practical, for reasons of cost, scale, expertise, logistics, etc. Back to building the team. And to share the idea to create one, you need IP reassurance. Win-win... or lose-lose?

Future work on dispute resolution
No one wants to think of problems. But they do happen. Best to acknowledge, and allow for them.

For future efforts, I like the idea of an opinion service, which I was not until now aware of, as it seems a useful interim before hitting the costs of professional IP lawyers.

But, with bitter current experiences ringing in my ears, I note a couple of omissions:

1) Disputes at official, national level - what about help when countries start playing fast and loose? I have a 3rd appeal on a frivolous and vexatious objection where, it seems, only masses of money will break the jam... at which point no costs can be recouped. This also raises...

2) Disputes with professionals hired to advise or help. Who can assist if dropped in a mess, or left to resolve one by a paid (or even funded) consultant, especially if having been seduced down a path from which there is now no easy exit or retrace?

Now like I say, this is all based on personal experience.

But views were asked for, and I have tried to offer them, perhaps with value from the perspective of the very small SME innovator who has hit hurdles. Some of these comments may be borne of ignorance or naivete. That... is the point. Folk who create out of thin air often are not blessed with more down to earth legal or business minds more suited to today's structured markets and administrative disciplines.



In the course of the above, I added the links and sections below, with a view to addressing these also in this response.

But looking at documents of almost 200 pages, I think that this is best left to a separate, future review and share on my part.

Sighs of relief noted. If there is value to be gained (not sure my area of expertise in economics), I'll give it a shot.

Our Universities, Research Councils and businesses are national assets that form the foundation of the UK’s future competitiveness. However, if we are to realise our vision for the UK’s future we need to strengthen our innovative capability and encourage further investment in innovation.

The Government has already made clear its commitment to the UK knowledge base by maintaining the annual £4.6 billion budget for science and research programmes with £150 million each year supporting university-business interaction. Going further we intend to maximise the impact of our research base on economic growth and have committed an additional £495 million to Science Capital Investment projects since January 2011.

The Government is improving incentives for companies to innovate especially SMEs. In addition to our successful changes to the SME R&D Tax Credit we will invest an additional £75 million to support small business innovation including additional funding for Smart, grants that support SME research and development. We will implement a new innovation voucher programme enabling small businesses to engage with universities and the wider knowledge base. We will invest more in the Small Business Research Initiative helping more small businesses to win government contracts for their innovative products and services.

The Government is putting innovation and research at the heart of its growth agenda through greater investment and increased collaboration ensuring that the UK has a promising future. This is our Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth (PDF, 1.1 Mb) .

Economics Paper

Underpinning the BIS Innovation Strategy is an economic analysis that sets out the conceptual and empirical thinking behind the Strategy. It rests on three bodies of work and evidence: recent results from innovation economics, recent policy-related studies, and new innovation data. Both theory and evidence show that innovation is the central source of economic growth. But innovation is changing its scope and forms: across borders, across institutions, and in terms of its methods and processes. It is necessary to look at innovation as a system, in which different actors (universities, infrastructures, companies, and the public sector) collaborate directly and indirectly. Four primary policy challenges are identified: the need to facilitate knowledge flows, the need to maintain a high-grade knowledge infrastructure, the need to support business investment in conditions of uncertainty, and the need to build an innovating public sector. View the Economics paper: innovation and research strategy for growth (PDF, 2.4 Mb) .

Working with Devolved Administrations

Components of both innovation and research policy are devolved, but we will work closely with partner organisations in the Devolved Administrations to raise awareness, build capacity and ensure coherence. We will:

help build the innovative capacity of businesses throughout the UK;
increase take-up of the innovation advice and support services being funded and delivered through the various bodies and agencies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; and
ensure coherence between the initiatives and investments being carried out in each of the Devolved Administrations with UK programmes and priorities, so as to maximise their reach and impact.