It’s Valentine’s so add romance to your life with a 2-stroke candle

flyingtigermoto-475x443I’ve just popped out to the shops to find a suitably romantic card in time for Valentine’s day tomorrow.

It is always a mistake to expect something in return, but it certainly would be a big surprise if I found one of these Two Stroke Smoke Candles waiting for me at home.

It must rank towards the top amongst the niche products I have come across over the years. And sadly, thanks to emission regulations, the smell of two-stroke engines is becoming a very rare thing (in the west anyway).

Of course I do have my own supply of the smell to hand in the form of my treasured Kawasaki KR-1S.  But I am ashamed to admit that it rarely makes it out of my garage to be fired up in all its smoky glory.

But now thanks to Flying Tiger Motorcycles I can relive the two-stroke smell from the comfort of my sitting room by  for only $20 US Dollars. Although to be brutally honest, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want have that particular smell following my around my home.

Two Stroke Smoke Candle

The one and only original! Super awesome custom blended 2 stroke smoke candle. It’s made with real live Klotz 2 stroke oil with high-octane fragrance.

We have reformulated the candle and are using metal cans with an awesome new label; however, the wood wick and 16 oz of wonderful soy wax stay the same.

Two-Stroke-Candle_1024x1024

50 Shades of Grey – the shopping experience

50ShadesofGreyCoverArtWalt Disney was possibly the first to introduce merchandising to the world of feature films in the early part of the 20th Century, and the company has certainly fully exploited the spin-off potential of their films up to the present day (Disneyland and World spring to mind).

But it was the original Star Wars films from the 1970’s that made cultural history. And in doing so also turned the director George Lucas into a billionaire. In fact he made more money from the sale of action figures, lightsabers, key chains, games, books, pajamas, etc. (thanks to 20th Century Fox giving him the rights) than from the films themselves.

So now we come up to date with the release of the long anticipated film adaptation of E.L. James best-selling erotic romance novel. Which I blogged about back in 2012- The law of unintended consequences and e-books – Fifty Shades of Grey.

Regardless of how well the film is received, it seems likely the spin-off products will sell strongly, however tacky they might be. And according to the Guardian newspaper, they are pretty tacky.

50 Shades of Earl Grey

A less tacky spin-off from the film

fifty shades of grey the official pleasure collectionAnd of course one should not be surprised to find sex toys high on the list of merchandising for the film. Even the Amazon website has a page created especially for these products, with several five star reviews already posted. There is even a Pinterest page for the Official Collection with a quote from the author: “This range is what I always imagined while I was writing Fifty Shades of Grey, I’m so excited that the toys I described in the books have come to life and can now be enjoyed around the world.” E L James

fifty shades of grey the official pleasure collection overview

A sample of the kind of products available

 

 

Launch 22 – a charity business incubator in Silicon Roundabout

Launch22 logoI first met David Hardman the General Manager & Co-Founder of Launch22 back in August 2014. I was immediately impressed by his enthusiasm, and the service offered to business start-ups in the heart of Silicon Roundabout in East London.

Many of our customers in the Business & IP Centre ask where they can find incubation space for their business. And although other incubators exist in London, I’m not aware of any that are run on a charitable basis and offer scholarships. Also, I like the way they offer a mentoring service and help finding finance in addition to the work space.

Launch22-space

Launch22 is a charity business incubator dedicated to growing early-stage startups and connecting entrepreneurs with industry experts as well as like-minded businessmen. We work mostly with disadvantaged entrepreneurs for whom a social co-working space with constant access to professional advice, networking and industry-related events is vital.

Our space runs on a membership basis with scholarships available for entrepreneurs who have a great business idea, but are struggling to launch it.

Workspace
Many incubators are exclusive and expensive. We are turning that on its head so that every new entrepreneur can access great workspace, regardless of their economic or social situation.

We know from experience that starting a business is not easy. Any start-up will face challenges and difficulties on the road to success. That’s why at Launch22, we are not just providing a great workspace, we’re creating a community, a place where people can offer advice and guidance to each other, where they can collaborate on new or existing ideas, and of course make new friends along the way.

Mentoring on three levels
Entrepreneurs-In-Residence have been carefully selected because they have themselves experienced the challenges young entrepreneurs face when building a new business, and are always on hand to provide assistance when problems arise.

Allocated mentors provide vital one to one feedback, and are here to go that extra mile when it comes to understanding every facet of your business, and what it needs to succeed.

Specialist mentors are experts in their field, all giving up part of their day jobs as successful lawyers, accountants, and many more to share their wealth of knowledge with our startups.

Finance
When your business needs a kick start we’ll be there to make sure your getting the right help, at the right time, from the right people

The future of money is here now and in my pocket

Last week I made my first ever cashless payment using my shiny new debit card. The transaction itself was something of an anti-climax, but those additional four little curved white lines on my card brought back memories of the future of money.

contactless-debit-card

Many years ago I went for a job interview with a company called Mondex, who were developing a cashless payment system they called the ‘future of money’.

Mondex logo from 1993

Mondex logo from 1993

Mondex logo from 1997

Mondex logo from 1997

I didn’t get the job, but I have been watching out that future to arrive ever-since.

And now finally it is here, just 21 years after its initial announcement, and twenty years after a three-year trial began in the unlikely location of Swindon in Wiltshire.

As with so many new technologies, such as mobile phones,  the early hype did not match the reality. But gradually the impact became much bigger than predicted by the so-called futurologists. Now many of us are dependent on our phones, and I wonder how long it will take before cash begins to disappear from our pockets, and we become reliant on the little chips in our cards.

Below is one of the first newspaper reports on the Mondex card, and a reminiscence of the ill-fated Swindon trial from the Swindon Advertiser earlier this year:

`smart’card to wipe out cash – 8 December 1993 – The Evening Standard

THE National Westminster Bank, Midland Bank and BT today announced plans to introduce a new plastic `smart’ card which puts Britain ahead in the race to create a cashless society.

The Mondex card, which will be offered to more than 11 million customers of the two banks within two to three years could eliminate the use of money for many everyday transactions within a few years.

Instead of carrying hard cash, customers will be able to use the card to pay for anything from a newspaper to a drink. The cards are charged with cash electronically either down a domestic phone line, from a payphone, or through the bank’s existing hole-in-the wall cash machine network.

The cards will dramatically reduce the Pounds 4.5 billion of hard money in circulation in Britain. They will also have the capacity to carry five different currencies at once, making it possible for cardholders to move freely from country to country without going to a bank.

How smart was that? – 21 May 2014 – Swindon Advertiser
BARRY LEIGHTON revisits the electronic cash revolution of 1994…

TO borrow a line from an old HG Wells novel, it was the shape of things to come… a society where grubby notes and pockets full of change had become a spent force – something to reminisce about alongside the eight-track cartridge, loon pants and the Watneys’ Party Seven.

And in all the towns in all the world, Swindon was where it would all begin. The “electronic cash” revolution, that is. At least, that was the plan. Twenty years ago this spring financial institutions around the globe cast their collective eye upon our unlikely Wiltshire town.

Swindon in 1994 was chosen for a unique experiment that, it was envisaged, would bring to an end to more than 1,000 years of tradition – the way people bought and sold goods. A new company called Mondex had created a “smart card” that would see the pound in your pocket vanish. Carrying cash would become a thing of the past. You won’t need the stuff anymore. No more holding folding.

In the not-too-distant future, everything you bought – from a packet of chewing gum and a round of drinks to a bag of fish and chips – would be done with an electronic card. But before going global Mondex needed some guinea pigs to practice on. A community with which to experiment. They chose 170,000-population Swindon. Why? Because we were deemed ‘average’ – a typical British town, in terms of age and social make-up, whose spending habits could be scrutinised and analysed and regarded as “the norm.”

It took just over a year to install Mondex in Swindon – a project that saw hundreds of shops, restaurants and pubs gear up to receive payments for the “cash-on-a-card” system by training their staff to use new-fangled, hi-tech Mondex gadgets (see panel).

“Farewell to filthy lucre” said the Adver as one shopkeeper, eagerly embracing the concept of a cashless community, branded conventional notes “nasty, dirty and unhygienic.” Mondex predicted: “The people of Swindon will go down in history as pioneers.”

The focus of everyone’s attention, bizarrely, was one of our paper vendors, retired railway worker Don Stanley, 72, who made history by accepting the world’s first electronic cash transaction – 28p for a copy of the Advertiser.

As the months rolled on more and more Mondex machines and appliances sprang up like an alien invasion. They were everywhere: in telephone boxes, public car parks, shops, post offices, on the buses. Keen to make it easier for us give them our money, even bookie shops got in on the act.

Mondex tended to polarise opinion. PE Ault of Devon Road wrote to the Adver saying: “It is a very smart card indeed, I am delighted.” Pinehurst pensioner John Archer opined: “It’s a load of rubbish. The hassle of messing around with a card is a waste of time.”

In July 1998 Mondex said “Thanks a million Swindon” and were off. Trials were continuing elsewhere.

“Mondex devices evaporated from our streets, car parks, shops, buses and telephone boxes as if they had never been there..

 

UK Christmas spending totals £43bn – but have you spent your £680 yet?

"Christbaumkugel" by User:Euro2008 - Transparent version of Christbaumkugel.jpg. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Christbaumkugel.png#mediaviewer/File:Christbaumkugel.png

“Christbaumkugel” by User:Euro2008

According to consultancy firm PwC, Christmas spending in the UK totalled £43bn in 2013, with consumers spending £680 on goods in the last two months of the year.

The Christmas period is still the busiest for the UK’s retailers, with just under a quarter of annual spending being carried out in the last two months of the year.

This year I did my bit for the Christmas economy by buying my first ever Christmas fir tree. After seeing lots of signs offering trees for sale, we ended up at the ultimate niche pop-up which sold Christmas trees, stands and nothing else. But they were doing a roaring trade, driven by a single sign by the side of the road.

Christmas Trees sign

Sign says all it needs to

The site was professionally run, with the trees sorted by size and needle-drop variety (drop or non-drop). I assumed they would only accept cash, but they had a credit card machine tucked away in a cosy shed. With our 8 foot whopper selected, they soon had it wrapped up, and three burly men carefully inserted it point-first into our car (for easy extraction at home).

Christmas trees for sale

Plenty of Christmas trees to choose from

 

Have breakfast all day at the Cereal Killer Cafe

Cereal Killer Cafe logoAs you may have guessed by now, I love niche products and services. The ‘nicher’ the better as far as I am concerned.

So how about a cafe in London that only sells cereal? Well, identical twins Alan and Gary Keery from Belfast, have just opened Cereal Killer Cafe in Brick Lane, in trendy East London.

Apparently the the idea came to them when they were hungover one morning and really craved breakfast cereal.

They offer British, American and global cereals all at £2.50 for a small bowl with a choice of milks and toppings such as banana or marshmallows. Also on the menu are what Gary calls “cereal cocktails – mix different cereals together with different milks and toppings to create different flavours.”

Gary is confident that people won’t just come for breakfast: “Many people eat cereal throughout the day as a snack or a meal … we will be open until 10pm.”

Slightly worryingly they didn’t have enough takers when they tried to crowdfund the project. The publicity, however, enabled them to get a loan and a sympathetic landlord.

Alan and Gary Keery - Cereal Killers

Gary (left) and Alan Keery at their Cereal Killer Cafe

 

KrustyOs

Here is a niche within a niche… Krusty the Clown from the Simpsons in a box.

My new favourite trademark… Magicman

MagicmanLOGOWhilst enjoying my ‘mindful commute’ on my Brompton (as recommended by the Evening Standard – How to have a mindful commute), I spotted a van with my new favourite trademark – Magicman.

I had a quick search on the UK IPO trademark database and was relieved to see it was registered to Magic Man Limited under class 37;
Maintenance, repair and restoration and resurfacing of all (i) surfaces, cladding and facades (in each case both internal and external) including but not limited to ceramic tile, stone, stone resin, marble, granite, wood, laminate, uPVC, plastic including but not limited to thermosetting plastic, glass and powder-coated surfaces and (ii) fittings including but not limited to bathroom and kitchen worktops, sanitaryware, floors and doors; glass scratch removal; plumbing; general commercial and domestic repairs.

Magicman and van

Surprisingly there is only one other use of Magic Man on the database. It is owned by Dieck & Co. Erfrischungsgetränke OHG, and is used for;
Class 32 – Beers; mineral and aerated waters and other non-alcoholic drinks; energy drinks, fruit drinks and fruit juices; syrups and other preparations for making beverages.
Class 33 – Alcoholic beverages (except beers); alcoholic mixed beverages and alcoholic energy drinks.

Even more of a surprise was only finding one reference to ‘magician’ on the database, which is now dead, but was owned by Branston’s Limited, and used between 1948 and 1997.

Magicman has plenty of examples on their website of their ‘magic touch’ to “repair, renew and restore”.

window_repairhard_surface_doors

 

 

Fracking with the F-word on the Battlestar Gallactica

battlestar_galactica_logoOne of the ways I try to ameliorate the boredom of my five hours of daily commuting is to distract myself with entertaining TV shows.

I have always been a fan of Science Fiction, and still remember watching early Doctor Who episodes from behind the sofa in my youth, and revelling in the cult trash of Blake’s Seven in my teens.

So I was aware of Battlestar Gallactica, but was confused by very mixed reviews of the series. It turns out there were two separate versions of the series, with a rather weak original from 1978, followed by a far superior ‘reboot’ from 2004.

The premise of the series is a familiar one from the annals of Sci-Fi. Robots developed to serve humankind develop consciousness, rebel and go to war against their masters. The Battlestar Gallactica version of this story takes place far into the future, after we have left earth and colonised distant space.

It follows on from 40 years of peace after a bloody war against the Cylons. Needless to say the Cylons (dismissed as ‘toasters’) have not been idle. They have spent the time infiltrating the human defences, using replicants (referred to as ‘skin jobs’). When their offensive finally starts the consequences for the human population are devastating, with billions wiped out in a nuclear apocalypse across the 12 colonies.

A mere 50,000 manage to escape destruction in a rag-tag collections of space-ships under the protection of a rather long in the tooth battlestar (think rusting old aircraft carrier), under the leadership of retirement ready admiral Adama. Their desperate hope is to find a new home in the now mythical planet of earth, whilst avoiding any run-ins with the vastly superior fire-power of the Cylon fleet.

Battlestar-Galactica

So far so straightforward, with the addition of lots of fighting to keep things from getting dull. However the writers manage to take the story to the next level by exploring the overlaps between human intelligence, and these newly created sentient beings. For instance the many of the humans have a belief in their ‘old gods’, but this is trumped by the Cylon’s much stronger faith in their one god. They firmly believe it is their destiny to discover and repopulate earth, instead of the humans.

In one episode the humans are shown to be capable of an ‘inhuman’ level of cruelty to a flesh and blood Cylon. An ongoing theme concerns the humans who fall in love with ‘skin-jobs’ and vice-versa. Each being perceived to have betrayed their community. One case even leads to the birth of a human-cylon hybrid child, over whom both sides contest ‘onwership’.

As you can see, the four series of the show has kept me entertained with rapt attention over the past few weeks. But that is not the theme of this blog post…

For many years I have been aware of – and irritated by – the way American television programs are so prudish. Having been used to hearing swearing on British television since a teenager, it always seemed odd to have hard-hitting US programs limit themselves to the occasional mild obscenity. The notable exception to this rule is the HBO subscription channel, who have produced such wonderful series such as Six Feet Under, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Game of Thrones.

So, I was shocked to hear the F word uttered in the very first episode of Battlestar Gallactica. How were the makers of the show allowed to do this on American network channels?

But when I started listening more closely I realised the F word being used wasn’t ‘fuck’, but ‘frak’. Thanks to the hard work of some dedicated viewers it is possible to hear every frack voiced during the show on YouTube.


As you can hear, the word is used in all of its rich and varied contexts and meanings. Needless to say Wikipedia has a whole page on the use of frak and fraking in the series, and difference between the ‘frack’ used in the earlier version of the show.

At first this substitution seemed ridiculous. But after a while it began to seem natural and didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the series. In fact it enhanced the ‘believability’ of the show. After all, people do swear a lot in life and death situations, and the military are famous for their sweariness.

So if you do get the chance to watch this epic series, which according to a friend was a “life-changing” experience, listen out for lots of fraking and try not be offended.

The Humble Cycle Clip

When I first started this blog back in 2006, my intention was to review a selection of significant product innovations and the impact they have had on our lives.

My post on the Paper Clip remains one of the most popular, but over the years I have rather neglected this topic.

But thanks to my daily ride aboard my Brompton folding bicycle, I found myself in need of one of the most simple products of all time – the humble bicycle clip.

This time the objective is not to hold pieces of paper together, but to prevent trousers getting caught in grubby oily cycle chains, ruining the sartorial elegance of the trouser owner.

Now, some simple hearted folk might say that socks were perfectly capable of fulfilling this important role, in addition to keeping feet warm. But having tested this approach thoroughly, I’m convinced there is a better way.

My first choice was the traditional steel sprung cycle clip available from ‘all good bicycle shops’. And I was happy with this method for a few weeks. But gradually I became annoyed at the way they often slipped down during riding, or how they pinched my growing calf-muscles. They are also quite fiddly to store between journeys. The temptation is to hook them over the handlebars. But this inevitably results in them rotating around and dropping to the ground with a clang, followed by scrabbling in the road to pick them up.

Steel cylce clip

I turned to Google for a better solution, and found a coalescence of positive reviews around the leather trouser strap from Brooks England. This long established British firm are known for making the best leather replacement seats for bicycles. The product is almost as simple as its shiny rivals, and consists of a steel band, which in this case is covered in soft leather. The difference is the band rolls up into a neat little ball when not in use.

Brooks cycle clip

The cost compared to a steel clip was a challenge, but I decided the potential benefit was worth the investment. And I was proved right. As with all well designed products, daily use is either almost unnoticed or a small pleasure. The way my Brompton folds away is an example of the latter.

Not only does the band fulfil its primary purpose of holding my trouser leg firmly in place, despite the jarring of London’s badly potholed roads, it is simplicity itself to fit, and sits nice and securely on my handlebar when not in use. What more could one ask of a product?

Farewell Boris Bikes – hello to the Brompton folding-bike experience

Brompton logo smallDuring my daily commute from Eastbourne to St Pancras and all the way back, I have been doing some ‘commuter observing’. And I have noticed most ‘hard-core’ travellers have two specialised devices in their possession. The first is a computer screen of some kind, to help distract from the long train journey by delivering various forms of entertainment.

This can vary from reading ebooks on a Kindle or similar, to watching the latest instalment of Game of Thrones on an iPad or Andriod tablet. Occasionally I have even spotted commuters actually doing work on the train.

Now that I have settled on my somewhat garish clementine orange Yoga Pro ‘laptop’, it is time to move on to the second of these devices.

And that takes us from new technology to an invention nearly 200 years old – the velocipede, more recently known as the bicycle.
Brompton Logos B&W on top

But for the serious commuter just any old bike won’t do. Or more specifically, won’t be allowed by the train operating companies. Having endured standing room only on trains for many years, I am sympathetic with banning of full-sized bicycles during the rush-hour times. Although, perhaps bringing back the guard’s van would be a way of accommodating conventional two-wheelers.

In the meantime, the only solution is a folding-bike, and this explains why they are such a common sight on my morning and evening journeys. With the rapid increase in cycling in London over the past few years has come an increasing choice of bikes, and folding-bikes in particular.

Using my information search skills I conducted thorough research into the subject, and came up with a shortlist of two manufacturers. Both had excellent reviews, and both cost just under £1,000. The first was of course the Brompton, which is by far-and-away the market leader. And a proud ‘made-in-Britain’ product exported around the world.

So being perverse I decided to go for the alternative brand. I found a shop near Eastbourne which stocked both makes, and explained my wishes to the salesman over the phone. He assured me that I would come out of the shop with a Brompton rather than the brand I wanted. And it turned out he was right. After a short discussion, the superiority its ingenious folding system and 25 percent smaller size when folded, won me over to the Brompton.Brompton folding bike

But why I hear you asking, have you abandoned the wonderful Barclays Bike Hire Scheme you blogged about in 2010? The answer – sadly, is that the Boris Bike service (which should really be called ‘Ken Bike’ in recognition of Boris’ predecessor Ken Livingston’s decision to implement the project) is not reliable enough for my needs.

A combination of glitchy technology and lack of bikes has always been something of a problem. But  since moving to Eastbourne, at least fifty percent of my attempts to hire a bike have failed. And doubling the annual subscription to £90 has only added insult to injury. The unreliability of the Barclay’s scheme added significantly to the stress of my morning journey. And as the secret to successful long distance commuting is to remove as many variables as possible, it had to be replaced with something more reliable.

Today is only day-one of my folding bike commute, so it is too early to say how effective this serious investment in improving my commuting experience will  turn out to be.