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Norway Arctic Cruise – Day 0: Preparation

I cannot remember precisely what point I wanted to go on a cruise to the arctic, but it was in my teens, and for a while I obsessed about it. I actually remember walking into a travel agent in Northampton – where I went to college – and asking for some catalogues. By this time I’d already been wanting to go for some years.
There are probably a number of different factors around this:
  • I like the cold. I mean, I really really like the cold. My family calls me toastie. As we’ll see on the boat, I walked around outside in just a T-Shirt for nearly the entire trip.
  • I’m a huge Douglas Adams fan, and feel privileged to have actually met and spoken to the man himself. For those that do not know, Slartibartfast (from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), designed the Fjords of Norway.
  • I also love Monty Python, and although Michael Palin sang about Finland, not Norway, I think the countryside, Fjords and other beautiful descriptions of the landscape suit Norway just as easily.
  • As a fantasy fan, having read Tolkein, Feist, Howard, Moorcock and many others, the rough and barren terrain holds some kind of draw for me.
  • I do like being on my own, and I fully expected to spend a lot of time on the boat not necessarily in my cabin, but out on the deck with only my thoughts to listen to while I marvelled at the landscape. Being out on a ship – if not in the middle of the ocean, distant enough to not be in constant contact, had always appealed. Things didn’t work out like that, but I wasn’t annoyed by that, in fact quite the opposite.
I’m sure there are other reasons not immediately obvious, but I think those are the main ones. When I finally got the opportunity, and more importantly, when I was reminded of my desire when talking to a friend about boats, I decided to take the leap and book the cruise.
The cruise was picked on the basis of two very specific requirements:
  • I wanted a small ship – I had already decided that a big ship would mean just a floating hotel that could be anywhere, and I would lose the feeling of being out on the ocean.
  • I wanted one that stopped at multiple places – Being on a ship that just goes fvrom one point to another did not appeal. I wanted something that stopped and visited different places, same or different countries didn’t matter, I just wanted to see more country than sea.
This ultimately led me to book Hurtigruten, who use working ships on their route up and down the coast of Norway, and the MS Lofoten, which is the smallest of their ships.
I booked the cruise actually while on another trip. But I decided that I didn’t just want to do the cruise, I wanted to do as many excursions as possible so that I could experience many different things. So that meant picking things like the husky sledding, the aquarium, and trips to different locations and points. If I was going to arctic, I wanted to go to places that made it clear it was the arctic.
But it didn’t feel real until I’d stopped travelling for work and then gotten the tickets in the mail.
Once picked, now it was time to prepare for the journey. I have a lot of walking gear, but not a lot that would help me in potentially sub-zero temperatures, a lot of water, or a lot of snow.
Now I have been a big fan of Rohan for years, in fact, I’ve kept to three basic rules for my equipment for some time. I put Salomon’s on my feet, a Suunto on my wrist, and Rohan for everything else. So a trip to my local Rohan shop in York was in order.
I must say that Charlie, Max and Gary were ever so helpful and patient, although I’m pretty sure that they do not get many people  going with a list and the statement that they are going on a trek to Norway! Charlie in particular was so patient, and very kindly placed all of the clothing into our already-owned Rohan bags.
IMG_3003 IMG_3004 IMG_3002
So for all of the effort, what do the piles contain:
  • Some new walking trousers that are more waterproof than my normal ones.
  • Some comfortable trousers for when I’m not on an excursion
  • Some waterproof over trousers
  • A nice super-warm padded jacket
  • Some thermals
  • Gloves (both thin and super insulating), hat
  • A few more bags and waterproof phone/iPad holder
All absolutely vital, and for this trip, by far the best selection of travel gear I’ve ever owned. We’ll see how practical it became on the cruise in due course.
What else did I prepare for?
  • I got a GoPro Hero 4, so I could record both the views (it’s got a fantastic wide angle lens) and the husky trip (which the assistance of a chest-mount)
  • Charge up both my other cameras – I knew in the cold they would need help, so I also packed and charged many secondary-batteries
  • Prepared a list of things I wanted to do on the cruise, like go through my reading list, sort out my photos, etc. It’s not that I thought I might be bored, I just like to make sure I’m prepared to do things I like while I’m away.
  • Packed my iPad to the gills with books, Spotify lists of music I haven’t listened to yet, and a few movies in case I was super-bored.
That was it, I was ready!
Packing proved to be problematic – I had just too much photo gear to fit into my usual carry on bag, so I ended up taking a suitcase in the cabin and checking a suitcase into the hold to carry it all.
Because of my early flight to Bergen on the Sunday morning (7am) I decided to stay at a local hotel on the Saturday night, which gave me the opportunity to settle in and relax a little before what would turn out to be a busy day.

More Datacenters in a Container

Not exactly portable (unless you have a container lorry or ship handy), but I’d love to have one of Sun’s Sun’s Modular Datacenters available to use.

The Modular Datacenter (otherwise known as Project Blackbox) squeezes 7 or 8 racks, depending on the the configuration fits 240 or 280 Us of rackspace into a standard shipping container. The idea is that you can deploy one of these containers very quickly with your desired set up, either to handle all of your datacenter requirements (which it could), or it’s used as a quick solution for a particular project.

Interestingly, I can also see it as a potential solution for cloud computing. Not only would a one of these containers make an excellent datacenter in it’s own right, but the ability to quickly expand the capacity when you need kinda takes the idea of cloud computing and easily expanded capacity to another level.

Sun are not the only people doing these datacenters in a container though:

All of them promote the density and power of the systems and, more importantly in todays climate, their energy efficiency.

In an ideal world we’d line these all up next to each other and compare them, but I hardly think that would be practical. It would, however, be interesting to see what sort of power, performance and flexibility these systems offered.

System Administration Toolkit: Set up remote access in UNIX through OpenSSH

OpenSSH has become the defacto standard for connecting to remote machines in a secure way. Not only do you use it for simple interactivel terminal access, but for transferring files and as a backbone for services like Subversion for securely transferring files.

In System Administration Toolkit: Set up remote access in UNIX through OpenSSH I show you how to set up OpenSSH, how to copy files using sftp and scp, and how to set up password-less login by copying across your OpenSSH keys.

Read System Administration Toolkit: Set up remote access in UNIX through OpenSSH

Tracking and allocating time

I’m going to try a new technique this week to see where my time goes.

I’m going to keep a log of everything that I do to see where my time goes. This is a common technique employed and suggested by many people as a way to see where you are spending your time.

However, rather than doing this in isolation, I’m going to combine the tracking of what I do with an attempt to pre-allocate what I expect to spend my time doing. For example, I know what projects I have outstanding and when they need to be completed. I also have some meetings booked in next week. I’m going to combine what I know I’ll be doing (meetings) with what I should be doing (projects) and then allocate the time accordingly.

At the end of the two weeks, I’m going to compare the two - planned and actual. I should be able to determine:

  • What I spent my time doing.
  • Whether my estimations on the time required to complete a project matched the actual. This will help me plan future weeks.
  • Identify weaknesses and potential interruptions.
  • Identify why and when I’m most likely to get sidetracked.

I’ll report back on my progress. Meanwhile, if anybody wants to perform the same task - planning and recording - and discuss their experiences, please leave them here :)

Simplifying your life

Henry David Thoreau said:

As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.

Among the many things which I’m going to be trying is to simply try and reduce the amount of time I spend dealing with things that aren’t work. If you think about your current environment, you’ll probably find that there are a great number of tasks in your life which exist only because they support some aspect of your life out of which you gain very little.

For example, just recently I sat down and made a list of the demands on my time - ignoring the obvious entries of actually writing a book, article or other elements, these are the other elements that take up a good portion of my time, but don’t actually relate to doing any work.

  • Reading magazines and newspapers - often these will pile up to the point that I either have to spend a day going through them, or I simply throw them away because they are now so old or out of date that it is not worth reading their contents.
  • Filing - there’s not much I can do, immediately, to improve this, but the amount of filing is impacted by other things.
  • Accounts - again, there’s not a lot I can do here, although anything I can do to reduce the number of accounts or the complexity would help.
  • IT Management - as a self employed person I don’t have the benefit of a dedicated IT department to deal with issues like backups, faults, or installing new hardware and software.
  • Mailing lists - I’m on a lot of postal mailing lists, despite always ticking the ‘Don’t share my details’ box; this generates post, which in turn need to be filed or shredded.
  • Computer mailing lists - I’m on even more computer mailing lists, many. No, most of which I never get a chance to read, but which I still have to delete or file.

If we extend this to items outside of work that still have an influence we can include:

  • More magazines and comics - some of these I save, and that means I have to seal up and catalog them.
  • More accounts - additional savings accounts, credit cards and others, some of which require monthly or quarterly management.
  • Personal memberships - I belong to quite a few clubs and societies, some of which I get little benefit from.

By making the lists I was able to ask some serious questions about how these things affect my time:

  • If I never get to read the magazines, why do I buy them?
  • If, as in some cases, I’m only buying the comic to keep it as a potentially valuable item, am I wasting more money dealing with it now than it’s worth later?
  • If I simplified the way I operated the accounts (merged some, removed others that I don’t fully use) there would be less to process, and fewer items to file.
  • If I reduced the clubs and organizations I’m a member of to those that I get the most benefit from, I’d again simplify (a small) element of the accounts, save money, and reduce the time required to deal with the paperwork.
  • If I returned unsolicited mail, I wouldn’t have to deal with it anymore.
  • If I simplified my IT infrastructure and the lowered the amount of work required to keep it going, I could save myself a few hours every week that could be better spent elsewhere.

So here’s my first action plan of changing the way I work:

  1. Simplify my accounts, close those I’m not using, merge some others (particularly investments).
  2. Arrange to pay the accounts that can be covered through direct debits or standing orders.
  3. Do the accounts, including data entry, as I get the information. This means the accounts file will never build up, and I’ll never have to think back to what a particular charge or other item relates come year end or tax time.
  4. Close subscriptions to magazines and clubs out of which I get little or no benefit.
  5. Return every small piece of mail that I didn’t either request or expect to reduce the amount of junk mail that I have to deal with.
  6. Unsubscribe from magazines and newspapers I don’t read.
  7. Unsubscribe from the computer mailing lists I don’t read.
  8. Get rid of my ‘filing’ pile - instead, I’ll now try and file items as soon as they come in. For those that need processing (for example data entry, payment etc.), I’ll do it that day (or ASAP if I’m out) and then file it immediately.
  9. Simplify my IT environment. I’m going to reduce the servers I have and try to reduce them to two, from six, and change both new machines to the same platform.

This approach will require some changes into long-held habits and practices (like creating a pile of filing or accounts to be done in one big batch), but I’m hoping it will prevent the piles building up, and that should, in turn, reduce the feeling of dread when I have to deal with them. It should also help me keep a clean desk and reduce the amount of time I spend either throwing away or otherwise filing material that never gets to the see the light of day.

The whole experience - listing what I do in a typical day or week - has been an incredible useful way of determining where my time goes and if nothing else I now have a better idea of what I spend my time on, rather than the belief that at the end of of the day I’ve achieved nothing.


If you listen to ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’ by the Charlie Daniel’s Band there’s a line that reads:

Johnny, rosin up your bow and play your fiddle hard

After years of listening to this I’d always wondered by ‘rosin up your bow’ meant.

The word rosin is the key part to the phrase, and rosin refers to a substance used to treat the bows of stringed instruments (including a fiddle as heard in the tune). Rosin itself is the solid amber residue that remains after turpentine oleoresin or naptha from pine trees is destilled. Rosin is not just used for bow strings, it’s also used in adhesives, varnishes, inks and, in powdered form, as an anti-slip agent (similar to the use of chalk in weightlifting or gymnastics).

Wikipedia has an excellent page that goes into more detail.


Sometimes I don’t feel like I’ve achieved as much as I could have during the day. Sometimes that feeling lasts for weeks.

In an effort to change that, and hopefully improve my performance and the amount of work I achieve in a day, I’m going to try a variety of different techniques in an attempt to find the one that works for me, and then report back on the progress I’ve made. Hopefully during that process I’ll cover some techniques and methodology that might help other people to change the way they work and help their situation.

Change the way you work is therefore all about ways to improve your working environment, and hopefully help you to improve your performance and your ability to get your job done.

Along the way we’ll look at books, techniques, methodologies, hardware, software and other tools that can help.

If you’ve got a particular technique or technology that you think might help, use the Contact Us form.


I have been writing books, articles and other material since 1996.

As soon as people know that I write, many wwill start asking me questions about the process:

How did you get started?
How do approach a publisher?
Should I have an agent?
Do you have editors correcting your work?
How do I promote my new book?
Who do I contact to get my article published?

I’ve always answered every question thrown at me. Often at some length, and I’ve always tried to give a level, and considered response, usually providing information and opinions from multiple perspectives, as well as warnings and pitfalls to be aware of before going qith a particular solution.

The Writing Biz is where I will post my responses to these past questions, along with new issues, ideas and comments, so that people other than those who originally posed the question can benefit from my experience.

I don’t claim to be an expert on these matters - but I do have a lot of experience from a number of different angles, and I’m willing to share that others.

If you have a specific question that you want to see answered, please use the Contact Us page.


Have you ever watched a film, listened to music, read a book or watched TV and come across a word or phrase that you didn’t know before. HAve you ever wondered what a particular word or phrase from one those sources meant, and wanted to know more than you could find out from a dictionary?

Perhaps you misheard the word or phrase, and now can’t find an entry for it?

That’s what Improve Your Vocab is designed for!

Partly for my own edification, this website is designed to provide information on those words and phrases that I come across in the material I watch and listen to. The blog is designed to help me document what Ifind so that I can remember it and, hopefully, in the process make the information useful to other people.

Here you’ll find information on English and other language words and phrases, including where the expression came from, derivations and an original source for the expression so that when you watch or read the same film, TV show or book you can also find the information.