Had to take this shot when I went round my mum’s earlier today – a frost-covered spider’s web on her front gate.

Frosty spider’s web on my mum’s front garden gate.

I had an epiphany this year.

I think it was when the TUC’s Antonia Bance was talking at the CIPR National Conference. In my time working for WYCA I received a great many releases via our monitoring company from RMT. I would read these releases with a small sense of amusement and disdain; the language was so “them and us”, the kind of rhetoric I remember from the 1970s and 1980s. Who were they trying to convince?

Such releases ran contrary to the aim of encouraging more people to use public transport in general and trains in particular by fostering a collaborative working environment. Or something. Whatever it is I tell people at parties what it is that I do (did).

But then the penny dropped. Those RMT releases weren’t aimed at people like me, or national and local politicians, or reporters and the readers of the newspapers they were writing for. They were aimed solely at RMT members.

Everything I’ve ever done has been about better communications, helping to create a common understanding between communicating parties, whether that be in public transport, education or as a librarian. Because it’s only through a shared belief and common position that we can all move forward, for the benefit of all. Right?

It seems I was wrong. It’s about finding a target audience and talking to them alone, to the exclusion of whatever might be happening in the world outside. It worked for Vote Leave – bolster the beliefs of your constituency, even though you some of what you’re saying is a bit suspect, so that they turn out and vote for you. It worked for The Donald too.

It also means that, when it comes to polls and similar, that there aren’t really any ‘undecideds’ at all – just the ‘unengaged’.

That’s a really depressing thought. I’ve made a professional career on creating a dialogue and building good relationships with all parties, when it seems I should have put on the blinkers and buried my head in the sand inside the echo chamber.

Am I in the wrong business?

Inevitably, when filling in job applications, you reach the Personal Information section. Purely for monitoring purposes, you understand.

It’s optional, but has anyone not filled in this bit?

I don’t mind admitting my age (pushing 50), my sexual orientation (boringly heterosexual) and my preferred workplace brew (Yorkshire Tea). But the ethnicity question is a real pain.

When I was much younger I looked a lot darker (it’s as if my skin colour has washed out as my skin stretched while growing up). My name didn’t quite match up to anyone’s expectations of what I might look like. Even in my twenties I would introduce myself and people would ask what ‘Gary’ was short for. I pulled a bottle of wine from a fridge at a place when I worked once, and someone said “I didn’t think your lot drank.” To which I said: “What? Librarians?”

Without boring everyone to tears, I’ve spent the last 12 or so years looking up records in the India Office collection at the British Library, trying to find who the ancestors were that went from England/Britain to the sub-continent, and which local women they married and had children with. Such offspring were originally called Eurasion, then Indo-Britons, then Anglo-Indians (which had originally meant a Briton born in India).

So I’m not white. I’m not Indian – not born there, though my mum was (dad was Burmese, which is also not India). How many generations back are you supposed to go? Are we counting country of birth, or what? I’m not a British Indian. I’ve never even been to India.

Which is why I usually just select ‘Mixed’ if that option is available on the form. If I have to choose ‘Other’ and write something in I do write Anglo-Indian, secure in the knowledge that whoever reads that will almost certainly not understand.

What makes it slightly amusing just now is that I’m tidying up my records in preparation for finally taking the family tree web site I’ve built out of ‘beta’. The 88 sample records used for testing will soon be joined by a further 200, and the online records don’t always tally with the actual records – which is why I was in the Reading Room in the British Library last Monday (as well as becoming a Member and visiting the Maps exhibition – both recommended).

As I left, the security person on the desk decided to engage me in conversation because “you’re an Anglo-Indian, like me.”

Perhaps I should start a campaign to get the term added to the 2021 census?

My period of unemployment (the novelty of which is starting to wear thin) has meant I’ve been able to pay a bit more attention to what’s happening on the professional front. And, I have to say, I’m a bit worried.

I feel like Dante at the start of Inferno, when he says:

“In the middle of the journey of our life I found myself within a dark woods where the straight way was lost.”

(He assumes a biblical lifespan of three score and ten – the age the (C)IPR will be in 2018. Hm.)

Last Monday, the CIPR hosted a debate with CIM at the Houses of Parliament: “Marketing has little part to play in rebuilding trust in businesses, charities or public institutions”. The motion was heavily defeated, possibly because there were many more marketeers in the room than there were PRs. You can read about the proceedings from Lisa Jones at Spottydog Communications and from Dr Jon White, one of the proposers, via Influence.

But why were we having this debate at all?

As evidenced by some of the statements reported from the debate, PR will always be viewed by marketeers as ‘promotion’ in the four Ps of the marketing mix. (Is that the same as ‘communication’ in the four Cs? Or in the 7Cs. What?) ‘Promotion’ denigrates much of the work of public relations. If public relations = promotion, what is it I do when I write reactive media statements?

Is marketing so dismissive of public relations that it hasn’t noticed we don’t live in the 1960s any more?

Marketing does indeed have little part to play in rebuilding trust. Dr Jon referred to “one speaker suggesting that only marketing could respond to people’s needs and wishes” – give the people what they want? Really? At any cost? When things go wrong, it’s not the marketing talent that swings in to action, or goes on air to salvage the organisation’s reputation. Marketing might persuade me to buy a Polo or Golf, but the marketing team wouldn’t have a clue how to respond to the emissions scandal – it’s not their job, it’s mine. Sometimes it’s called ‘corporate communications’, to distinguish it from the marketing / selling sort, but it’s still about the management of reputation. And only public relations does that.

Redefinition

I’m reminded a bit of party politics. Instead of Whigs, Tories, Liberals, Socialists, Ukippers, Communists, Labour, New Labour and the Official Monster Raving Loony Party fighting for the same voters and frequently overlapping in their political aims, we have Marketing and Public Relations broken down in to things such as direct marketing, social media, public affairs, media relations, investor relations, marcomms, advertising, branding, sales, display advertising. You could pick up all of those terms and redistribute them to form any communications grouping you like, depending on where you work and what you’re doing at the time.

Perhaps we’re going about this the wrong way.

What is ‘communication’? And, having read the definition, whose work does it sound most like: advertising? Marketing? Public Relations?

I argued in my Chartership paper that public relations isn’t limited to B2B or B2C activities – everything we do as organisations or individuals affects our reputation and standing. Assuming we want a good reputation and high standing, we engage in public relations all the time. Not marketing, public relations.

I engage in public relations and the management of my reputation every time I post something on this site. Some of those posts are marketing – I’d like a job, I’d have liked a few more votes in the election – but they are clearly a subset of my posts as a whole. And in writing, I am communicating.

So: is the act of communicating really the act of engaging in public relations activity?

Nothing fills me with dread more than the prospect of an all-day conference. Well, some things do, but we don’t discuss those things in polite circles.

Hauling myself across London in the rush hour to get to the Barbican for a 9am start – and yes, I got lost coming out of Moorgate, somehow discovered which floor we were on (or starting from) and got confused by the lifts which arrived behind me instead of in front of me, on arrival and departure – is not my idea of fun.

Rob Brown opening proceedings at the CIPR National Conference 2016
Rob Brown opening proceedings at the CIPR National Conference.

Fortunately, we had a great range of speakers. In-house, agency, public, private, government, political – something for everyone. We were only a small crowd, sadly, but we certainly got our money’s worth. And our 10 CPD points.

I’m crap at taking notes at such events – I can’t take notes and pay attention at the same time. How I managed to be the Y&L Group’s Secretary I will never know. So I tweeted this photo then suggested everyone follow Emma Leech, who took lots of photos of slides.

You can also read a report on the CIPR web site, or see what people said at the time on the #CIPRConf16 hashtag.

Roll on 2017’s edition!

We were in the middle of PRide preparations, and we’d had a Committee meeting the week before. So when I got an email yesterday from Paul, our Chairman asking me to make a big-money transfer, I wasn’t too worried. I figured he’d negotiated a deal on something to promote what we do.

There wasn’t an invoice attached. First warning.

Answering him on my iPhone, I asked what the payment was for, mentioned that we did have the funds available but we were waiting for someone else to pay us.

He replied to say that he’s spoken to that person on the phone and that the payment was in connection with that… and here are the bank details. Second warning.

Which is when I got really worried – and slightly impressed. I’d heard about this scam before, but the level of effort was quite impressive. Whoever it was had managed to impersonate Paul’s writing style, called me by my first name and emailed the address I use for CIPR stuff from Paul’s work address. If the details of the proposed transaction weren’t so obviously wrong I might have carried on the conversation and revealed more than I should have.

The advice from our bank is to call or see in person the person who sent you the email – not easy to do with members of voluntary groups.

I read the email in three email programs. Mail on my iPhone said it came from Paul. Outlook on my laptop said it came from Paul. Thunderbird said it came from Paul… but that the Reply-To address was different. Reply-To is a perfectly legal email function thing that allows, say, HM The Queen to invite you to a garden party while your response goes to the someone else doing the organising.

Sadly, our modern email clients prevent us from making this simple check by not allowing us to easily see the email headers, or even if the reply is just going to someone / somewhere else. Only Thunderbird did it, and I’m trying to wean myself off that package on to something more up to date.

It’s only a matter of time before one of us is caught out out. So, if you do get an email like this, and you want to query it, and you can’t easily get hold of the sender – forward it, don’t reply to it.

PS. Being unemployed, with no-one to talk to, it did cross my mind to keep stringing them along until they got bored… they did, after all, email me last night and again this morning…

Not so very long ago I had an address book. Yes, it was small and black, but the point is that it was a physical collection of all the people I knew and wanted to stay in contact with. (It wouldn’t surprise me if it was still lurking in a packing crate somewhere.)

Then came technology.

All those contacts were dutifully copied in to my Nokia 6310i. Then to my Palm Tungsten T3. From there in to my Nokia N95. Finally, to my various iPods, iPad Minis and now my iPhone, via iCloud.

Which is all well and good, but how do I connect Thunderbird to iCloud? And, since I’m migrating from Thunderbird to Outlook (2013 – turns out I had a copy) how do I connect iCloud to Outlook?

Well… you can’t. You can export from one to another – but not easily. It’s not a case of exporting one file of 100+ contacts from iCloud and importing them in to Outlook.

Which means I now have all my contacts in iCloud… and Outlook 2013. And Windows Contacts. And some in Thunderbird. And I have an outlook.com account as well, again with its own contacts book.

And, of course, in LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Where I also have lots of direct emails which can’t be exported to reside with all my other emails (you can get a download of everything from Facebook but it’s just one long file). I can connect some of these address books together on my iDevices but they aren’t merged and synced, just available on that device only.

There is a certain irony as well that, while I prefer my own emails to site-specific messaging, most of my written contact with one of my closer friends is via Facebook Messaging, LinkedIn Mail or Twitter Direct Messages – not via her gmail account.

We often worry about information overload and how we can cut through the noise to filter out what’s important and what isn’t. I suggest that the real problem is remembering on which platform you had the conversation with in the first place, with whom and what the best email address for them is.

And as for calendars… sheesh. Why can’t I connect all these things together, platform- and device-independent, under my own control?

I can get part of the way. I just need to buy a Raspberry Pi, install some software and learn a new programming language. But that only solves the subscribed calendars and contacts issue. Still, it would be a start. And I’ve nothing else on the horizon.

I was thinking I should write a post about letters, emails and that sort of thing.

Partly, this is because of sorting out lots of emails last month. What do you keep and what do you throw? A question Hillary Clinton doesn’t seem to have answered satisfactorily, but that’s one of the perils of copying potentially sensitive information to your own private mail server.

It always feels there’s just so much more ‘modern’ communications around. It takes longer to plough through it all, especially if you have LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. How do you cut through the noise? How do you determine what is relevant and what isn’t? How do you store it? And if you don’t store it, who does?

And with systems designed to be ephemera, such as Snapchat, how do you know it’s even happening?

While I was musing about what to write however, I read today’s Guardian and found an article by Karin Nyman, the daughter of Astrid Lindgren. Lindgren was best known for writing the Pippi Longstocking stories, but she also kept a diary during the Second World War.

I do sometimes regret never having started to write a diary. An observant diarist can take us on a journey every bit as enthralling as fiction, which might mean it’s for the best that I never did. Then again, this blog covers a range of topics so perhaps I have, in some small way, done so. I’ll let you decide just how observant I’ve been.

Blogs and emails are the digital equivalents to diaries and letters. How much more bereft would our world be, how little would we know of how others lived, without those permanent records from the past? We owe it to future generations of historians, sociologists, economists or just the plain old inquisitive to ensure that these digital equivalents have persistence and permanence, are archived, indexed and made available. Yes, even the embarrassing love poetry. So much of our modern cultural heritage was wiped in the late 1960s and early 1970s – from Doctor Who to plays including The Year of the Sex Olympics – that only our own content, the stuff we create and have direct control over, can be guaranteed to be ‘saved’. We just have to want it to be.

I’ve been applying for jobs – the redundancy cash isn’t going to last forever. And I’ve been struck by the varying degrees of communications from the organisations I’ve been applying to (and being rejected by – poop). It’s all done electronically these days; create an account, fill in a form on-line or upload your CV, sit back and wait. And wait, in some cases.

No names, no pack drill below.

The best was one from a named person – part of my interview panel – who said I wouldn’t be getting through to second interview, and that feedback was available via email or phone. I took the email option, I figured I wouldn’t take it in otherwise.

I’d had my choice of seven interview slots over two days, so I was pretty certain how many people I’d be up against. It would have been nice to know there would be a second round of interviews *before* the first one rather than at the end of it, but still… we’re talking rejections here, and this was by far the best, and a good example of how it should be done.

There’s one I submitted my CV for and which is at the ‘application received’ stage, according to the on-line account. It has, however, been re-advertised. So do they just want more people to give me some competition, have I been rejected and not told, or what?

Then there was the one where I was given a time and interview panel – all of whom I knew. Cometh the hour, we started 20 minutes late, one of the panel was a no-show and I had to think of all the things the HR person (who also wasn’t present) might have brought up. Four weeks on, I’m still waiting to hear the outcome. Yes, I’ve prodded them.

One job had a closing date in early August. No news yet…

The worst came in earlier this week. Sixty-three words across six lines. “I regret that on this occasion you have been unsuccessful” being the sum total of the response. No named contact (even though it said “I regret”) and no offer of feedback, so I don’t know why I was rejected nor do I have anyone to ask. Yet there must be a reason – so why not share it? A couple of lines from the interview panel’s review would have sufficed, you’d hope they’d made notes as they went through the applications. I’m quite grown up now, I can take the criticism / rejection (I’m getting used to it).

I’m beginning to think there may be a niche market I can tap in to here. Perhaps I should set myself up and offer my services to organisations on how to write the perfect rejection letter? Would anyone like to recommend me to their HR teams?

(A shorter version of this appeared on my LinkedIn page.)

I took the plunge, registered tggr.uk and set it up as a personal short URL service. Easy to set up and all seems to be working so far.

I’ve been getting wound up by that long list of tags on the left of every page.

My favourite part of librarianship was (and is) cataloguing and classification – cat & class. When I did my first degree the bits of maths I really liked were logic and computability and there’s a certain commonality between the two areas. If you don’t believe me, Colon Classification was created by S. R. Ranganathan – a mathematician.

I only have one category on this site, for blog posts; everything else is a Page (which means something in WordPress different to how the rest of the Internet might understand ‘page’). All the blog posts are tagged, as you’d expect. But the list doesn’t discriminate enough. It can be set to show the most popular tags in larger font, but that doesn’t show what’s currently on my mind.

It turns out there’s a script (and a plugin) which I can use and adapt, and which shows what I’ve been talking about over the last x days. Lovely. Except… we then need a way for all the tags to be made available. I did try coding this myself as a jQuery reveal, but gave up as it fairly quickly became apparent that I’m just not that good at coding.

Help of a sort comes from another Automattic theme, called Sorbet, which has a drop-down sidebar instead of the left-hand one that Fictive uses. Of course, it isn’t that easy to mix and match elements from two different themes but with a bit of careful planning I now have Sorbet’s menu buttons at the top of the screen, different widget areas to Fictive’s all populated, so that’s that.

The menus don’t work.

No idea why, but guessing I’ve gone wrong on the css somewhere. It looks nice, but a bit pointless if it doesn’t do anything (and that’s even before I get round to sorting the responsive css calls).

Monday update It’s looking a lot better now 🙂

Back in the 1980s, when the Conservative government wanted to break the hold the Labour-held northern councils had over large swathes of England, they came up with a couple of wheezes. Firstly, they would abolish the metropolitan councils (and Greater London Council). Then they would make the ex-councils sell off their bus operations.

Thus it was that on Sunday 26 October 1986, Yorkshire Rider came in to life, born from the former MetroBus operation of West Yorkshire County Council / West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive.

It’s an important date for me for two reasons. Obviously, I’ve just left the remains of WYPTE / Metro / WYCA after almost 16 years. That’s the non-bus part of the former WYMCC transport operation. We were responsible for financially supporting those routes that no operator wanted to take on commercially, administering a county-wide, zonal pass (MetroCard – now MCard). We tried to work with operators to fill in gaps in service and manage complaints. They contributed towards the costs of timetable production and MetroLine.

It’s also important because I’d just started my degree at TASC. The first thing I did on Media Production was location recording – interviews. Wanting to do something topical, I and another student took a Uher reel-to-reel tape recorder down to Swinegate to interview Bill Cottham, head of Yorkshire Rider.

Has deregulation been a success? You’d expect me to say no, and you’d expect right – but it isn’t as simple as that. Metro, at the end, was a lean organisation, especially compared to similar PTEs – so splitting off the bus operations was not such a bad thing. The newly-independent bus operators, sadly, were almost all bought out and made parts of larger groups. So each depot has to contribute to the profits of the region, of the sector, of the parent group. That helps push marginal routes out of profit much more quickly. And larger groups means less competition, so deregulation, in the sense of promoting greater competition, has failed miserably.

And it creates confusion in the mind of the travelling public too. Why can’t Metro/WYCA do anything about an operator that keeps not running a service during the day? Probably because it’s a commercially registered service – talk to the Traffic Commissioner instead. They won’t accept MCard? They’re not obliged to take part in a regional ticketing scheme. Rude drivers? We don’t employ them, the bus companies do.

Perhaps then there ought to be competition *for* the market, since there’s very little competition *in* the market – but that thought leads us towards Statutory Quality Bus Contracts, which didn’t go down so well when Nexus/NECA tried it in the north east. I started work on QBS in around 2010, and we quickly got nowhere, fast.

But 30 years after deregulation, we don’t have the competitive market the Act was created to bring and we don’t have happy bus passengers either. I’m not entirely sure that the bus companies are overjoyed either. So something does need to be done, and soon – buses are still a major economic driver in getting people to jobs and leisure activities. Without our buses, what would we do?

  1. Swinegate in Leeds was where Leeds City Transport had been based, until it became part of WYPTE in 1974. Then it was the Leeds HQ for MetroBus. Then it became the main office for Yorkshire Rider. Now it’s a Malmaison.

As so many things do, it started with Emma.

I’d finished my part-time MA in the summer of 2001 and over the next year had found myself at a loose end. “Why don’t you help me at Squadron?” asked Emma, “I’m losing staff and I need help with the paperwork.”

First time I went down was for a fund-raising wakeathon. Not that I could get in through the gate at first, but that’s another story.

Me, ready to fly
Me, ready to fly. I suffer from motion sickness. You can guess the rest.

A couple of months later I signed on as a Civilian Instructor and took over Adjutant duties at the end of September 2002. After being there for three evenings. It should be remembered that at that point I knew very, very little about flying, the MOD, RAF, cadets, anything.

With help from Emma, some lovely other adults and some remarkably sensible cadets I survived the next 14 years relatively unscathed. I had my first (and last) Air Experience Flight. Man who gets motion sickness looping the loop over York… what did they expect was going to happen?

I went on my first Annual Camp in 2008 – still one of the best holidays I’ve ever had and only cost me a fiver. Several years helping out at the Race for Life in Huddersfield, lots of Wing Athletics competitions. I even learned how to sail at TS Palatine on Lake Hollingworth (now closed). Actually, I went in so many times I drank most of it. And I still have no idea how to sail.

We did the Three Peaks. At least, I did the first Peak, got left behind for the other two and made my way back to Horton in Ribblesdale. Next time I just joined them for lunch.

Remembrance Day Parades and lunches, reunion events, Christmas parties, birthday parties (including my 40th), the Red Bull Air Race – we did so much. And then, I’d write it up, take a photo, send it to the Examiner and we’d get more coverage than you could shake a stick at. I’ve got a file of scans somewhere, I might yet turn it in to a .pdf so you can see it.

But knowing that any new job I get will limit my opportunities to get down even further, I thought it best to call it a day. No longer CI Taylor. But… there’s always the Civilian Committee…

Last week I received an email on one of my many and varied (trying to dodge the spammers and UCE) email accounts, from Instagram, suggesting I have a look at new posts from various people.

Now, I now that Instagram is owned by Facebook, so I assumed it was just some form of selling-in, especially as I am friends with everyone contained with the email. But the nickname was different to the one I used on Facebook.

Which means that, at some point, I’ve signed up for Instagram. I’ve no idea when or why. You can’t find out when unless you’ve posted something. I’ve blogged before that I don’t need to.

So, I went to the Instagram web site, took a guess at the password and lo and behold I was able to log in.

Deciphering the icons top-right of the home page to get to my profile page, I discover that I have 27 followers on Instagram.

That’s 27 people who have yet to notice that I have never posted anything. One is a company, one is a private account, the other 25 I’m friends with on Facebook. Bizarre.

What’s more worrying for me is that I honestly don’t remember setting up the account at all. I never visit the web site and I haven’t got an app installed anywhere. I don’t post and I don’t follow. I wonder how many other virtually dead accounts there are, making Instagram’s numbers look good?

I also had better go and check out which other sites I’ve forgotten I signed up to. I found some old emails from Foursquare and Gowalla. Pinterest? Who knows.

Now I know that the title is a bit controversial, for me at least. Read on, and you’ll see what I’m getting at.

But first, an extract from what it says on Nominet’s web site about .uk domain names:

“We’re the trusted guardian of the UK domain name space, providing millions of people and businesses worldwide with their perfect domain name ending in .uk.”

Remember that bit.

History lesson

Back in June 2014, Nominet opened up the .uk space to domain registrations. Previously you had to be a .co.uk, .org.uk or .me.uk as an individual (yes, I know that there are other second-level domains). Among the handful of top-level .uk domains at the time were parliament.uk. bl.uk and mod.uk, so this was quite a big thing.

Sensibly, to give current owners like bbc.co.uk and cipr.co.uk a chance to get their .uk equivalents, what’s called a sunrise period was opened, with a .uk equivalent being held for the owner of the .co.uk address. The sunrise period lasts five years until 10 June 2019.

I’ll repeat that in capitals for the hard of believing: FIVE YEARS. When .eu was launched across the European Union, the full sunrise period lasted six months.

‘Trusted guardian’

I thought I’d register a short url, so that I can create a bit.ly- or tiny.url-style service for myself. I played around with some random three-letter combinations and found none of those I looked at were available.

For example: mwt.uk (my late dad’s initials, if you were wondering). This domain is reserved on behalf of the owner of mwt.co.uk. Follow the link to that site, and you’ll see the ‘Buy this domain’ link top-right. That’s because it’s ‘owned’ by an outfit called Parking Crew, who will release it for a fee. Another (non-.uk) domain I looked at was registered in China and Sedo (the registrar) suggested $90 as a minimum bid. Ouch.

So: if I wanted to get hold of mwt.uk I would need to:

  • put in a bid to Parking Crew – say $100 (oh, and give them my phone number – not bloody likely)
  • register mwt.co.uk (which I don’t want or need)
  • claim ownership of mwt.uk on the basis I own mwt.co.uk

There are millions of combinations of valid domain names are that are being sat on, not pointing anywhere (including gary.co.uk), for sale to the highest / stupidest / most desperate bidder.

Now: scroll up the screen and look at that web site excerpt again. Do you think Nominet is doing what is says it does, by letting companies ‘warehouse’ domains and close off part of the .uk domain space until mid-2019 as a result? I don’t.

Do you think they care, bearing in mind that:

  • mwt.co.uk is registered and paid for until 2020?
  • if I buy it off the Parking Crew people, I will have to pay to register it myself?
  • I would then have to pay to register the .uk version?
  • if I didn’t want to pay Parking Crew I’d have to register another name – and pay for it?

In other words: is Nominet using .uk as a cash cow?

(This note was updated late on Sunday to reflect that the Chinese-registered domain wasn’t a .uk one.)

Update (Monday, 9pm). I contacted one of the domain registrars who had one of the short urls I’d selected at random. They said the asking price would be “in 5-figure USD range”. I can register a .uk address through my ISP for around £5 per annum. Which makes Nominet’s view that they are “the trusted guardian of the UK domain name space” even more laughable.

A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.
Eeyore

It isn’t much good having anything exciting, if you can’t share it with somebody.
Winnie-the-Pooh

Happy birthday, Winnie-the-Pooh.

Richard Evans’s post yesterday on Influence got me thinking; a similar question was posed to the President-Elect candidates during the election (and I can’t for the life of me find my reply).

Ethical practice is the hallmark of any profession, and public relations is no exception. But I think it’s important not to conflate ethical practice with personal ethics.

The tobacco industry is, in a way, an easy target. Smoking has been proven to be bad for your health and the health of non-smokers, it puts a strain on health services greater than the tax revenues it generates (I assume…), manufacturers have known about the risks for decades and it is all-round considered to be a Bad Thing by everyone who isn’t turning a profit from the tobacco industry.

But choosing to work in the tobacco industry is a matter of conscience, not professional ethics – until your employer asks you to do something contrary to the Code of Conduct of your professional body. Public relations isn’t yet a profession in the sense that lawyers are – no-one has to work in an industry they detest in the way that lawyers have to represent obviously guilty mass murderers.

For the record, no – I don’t want to work in the tobacco industry.

I’d disagree with Richard though where he says that it’s the only cut & dried industry we can make this argument for (or against). Even if we do need and manufacture weaponry, do we need to sell it to others? And isn’t choosing to drink the same as choosing to smoke – a lifestyle choice that can affect others as much as yourself?

Public relations should create a common understanding between communicating parties. And in that sense I do agree with Richard that public relations can be a force for public good, by making us think more about our actions and how open, honest and transparent they are; what we say, who we say it do and what we want them to do as a result.

But ethical public relations practice shouldn’t be used as a catch-all to make up for our own inability to take responsibility for our actions. I choose not to work in the tobacco industry, for an arms manufacturer, for Stringfellows, Trump or McDonalds. That’s got nothing to do with ethical practice and nor should it, ever.

Better doctrine than dogma.

You may think that I’m stuck for things to do having taken voluntary redundancy and, having trawled through 16-plus years of old emails, sorting, filing, cherishing or discarding, I fear you may have a point.

But you know what it’s like. You get a PC, then you get a new one so you transfer everything across, swearing blind that you’ll sort and file as you do so. Then you don’t. Then you get another new PC, copy everything across and the cycle begins again.

I’ve kept most of the personal ones because, well, they’re personal, like any other letter or postcard. The first email Birgit ever sent to me in December 1999 (and which she says what her first email ever). I’ve deleted masses of old emails relating to women’s football because I don’t do that stuff any more. Saved all the photos, obviously.

I don’t know how large the email files were or how many I had, but the final deletion reduced the size by two thirds. Even adding in the personal emails I’d managed to rescue from my WYCA account didn’t increase things by much. I now have one Inbox for each account and everything else sensible stored in a shared (‘Local’) folder space – by subject not by receiving account, as I’ve had several accounts over the years (with your own domain name you can make and delete on a whim, or after they get spammed to death).

And yet… there’s a problem.

I use Thunderbird as my email program, and Mozilla has stopped doing any major work on it. That means it is unlikely, for example, to have a multi-line display for emails when in a three-column layout (you know, like Outlook or pretty much everything else). And lots of other things as well, I’d imagine.

So I cast my net around and found a couple of recommendations.

Postbox is developed by one of the people who developed Thunderbird, which is why the setting panes and most of the dialog boxes look awfully familiar. And it stores emails the same way, in a folder under AppData. So to test it out all I had to do was copy my existing message folder over et voila!

Except… that only works for the folders, not the other (account) settings. And it doesn’t show all the stored emails – sometimes it shows the header but corrupted text, or the header and text from a different email. Ho hum.

Mailbird has a whizz-bang interface, single and unified Inboxes and recognised my existing three Thunderbird accounts during setup. Brilliant!

Except… it didn’t import any of my folders apart from those sat in the three Inboxes waiting to be filed. And the icon interface is fine if you know what the icons actually are, of course. And the calendar app, Sunrise, isn’t working (pretty sure it doesn’t work now, it was a Microsoft product and they withdrew it).

So I’m back to Thunderbird. But still on the search for a POP3-friendly program that will allow me to store my emails locally (not in the cloud or someone else’s server) before TB dies its inevitable death before next year is out. Any suggestions?

On the CIPR Yorkshire & Lincolnshire WordPress.com site (we really must post something new there) there’s a sidebar widget that shows what events we have coming up. I thought I’d add it to my site as well, to help promote our forthcoming events. And, my current theme has Eventbrite-specific .css calls so I know I wouldn’t have much formatting to do.

First problem: there’s no list of plugins on our WordPress site, just the widget.

So I had a look in the plugins directory and found two, one created by Automattic itself, one by the people who have an Eventbrite-based template. Both are dependent upon another plugin (Keyring) to handle the OAuth credentials (the science part) but that’s fine.

The trouble came when I went to get an OAuth key, so that the plugin can securely identify itself to Eventbrite.

Having gone round in circles trying to find the right page, going back to the My Apps page in Eventbrite and getting to the point where I can get an OAuth key, it asks me for details I don’t know about the application URI (address). I know where my web site is, but is that the ‘application’? It’s different to where the plugin files sit on the server.

So back to Keyring I go, which gives me the answer to the OAuth redirect link (but not the application link) I need to insert on Eventbrite. Copy & paste. Fill in the rest as best I can. Accept the terms & conditions and generate a key.

I then get three keystrings back, none of which have the same name as the three boxes I need to complete in the Keyring plugin. Re-read the instructions to work out what’s supposed to go where and save the keys in the plugin. Go to the Eventbrite plugin, log back in to Eventbrite, allow the plugin access, back to my web site.

The first plugin doesn’t have a Widget.

Swear a bit, try the Automattic one. Activating it breaks the whole web site.

Swear a bit more, open up the ftp program and delete the first plugin from the server. Site works again.

Still no widget. No menu options either.

What the chuff does this plugin actually do? Find the documentation; it creates a Page template. This says “nothing found”, possibly because we have no live events at the moment.

It should not be this difficult!

Sigh loudly. Drink tea. Give up.

I confess to being something of a romantic at times. I am interested in the hard science that comes out of the various space programmes, but nothing beats just gazing up at the stars and trying to make out the constellations. And make sense of them.

Last night I was at Squadron with not much to do (and once I get a new job, I shall be leaving them, I suspect). Standing out in the square-cum-car park I looked up and, through the haze of light generated by being in a town centre I could make out a few dots of light.

Three of them formed a triangle and, by straining my eyes, could just about make out two fainter stars so that the triangle became a ‘W’. The constellation of Casseopeia.

But that was about it. A few single stars but nothing in proximity to each other. Then I had an idea; there’s a perimeter wall, and by ducking down behind it as far from it as possible I was able to block out the orange glare from neighbouring lights. The meant I could see the Plough (known as the Big Dipper in the US), which is actually part of Ursa Major. So there. I much prefer ‘the saucepan’, as anyone who has read Swallows and Amazons might call it (it does look like a saucepan). And having made that one out I could follow the line of the rightmost two stars to find Polaris, the (current) northern pole star.

Many years ago, Tracy was driving us up to see her family in Scotland and we took the A74 – this was long before work on the M74 had begun, so there were many sections of unlit single carriageway. Tracy was concentrating on driving (of course); I looked out of the passenger window and saw Orion rising over the horizon in a clear sky.

As a life-long townie it’s rare I get to see any stars in the sky at all. I once went to Luxor on holiday. Our hotel was on the Corniche, and it was easy enough to step outside, cross the road and take a few steps down to the banks of the Nile. Unfortunately, at that point we were interrupted by someone wanting to be our guide and fixer during our stay, so I never did get a proper look up.

And yet… looking up at the night sky takes us away from our everyday problems. It gives us something else to focus on, even if only for a few moments, and even if it’s only to wonder where an Earth-destroying alien invasion will come from…

In these enlightened times of course one can download an app on to one’s tablet device, lay back and get your fix, but it really is no substitute for using your own eyes. If I had a bucket list, an evening of stargazing would be on it.