Monthly Archives: April 2008

Farewell to the wit and wisdom of Alastair Ross Goobey

Today I attended the Service of Thanksgiving for the life and work of Alastair Ross Goobey at St Mary’s Church in Islington. The entire church was packed out with friends, family and colleagues who wanted be present to mark the untimely passing of such a great and good man.

In keeping with his ability to connect to just about anyone he met, the audience ranged from the most senior City financiers (evidenced by the queue of limousines outside), including two former Chancellors of the Exchequer, to junior clerical staff from companies he had managed.

In my previous blog posting I mentioned how he had made a point of getting to know everyone within Hermes and regularly ate in the staff restaurant. What I learnt today was his ability to completely separate his work responsibilities as the CEO of Hermes, and his incredibly rich personal life. As well as devoting time to his wife, two children and close friends, he held many roles within the arts world. For instance he was on the Management Board of the National Opera Studio, was Governor of the Royal Academy of Music and a Director of the Almeida Theatre, to name but a few. He was also a regular panellist on the BBC Radio 4 Board Game quiz show.

Many of the speakers at the service recognised Alastair’s significance in the financial world as being the person who did the most to raise awareness of corporate governance in Europe. But the words that seemed to capture he uniqueness were wit, kindness and modesty. These are not terms often associated with those who achieve great success in the worlds of business and finance. As an illustration of his modesty, Sarah his widow told me that for many years his family thought his job was something akin to a bank manager in the City, and her father had a vision of him handing out money to customers from behind a wire grill. The reality she eventually discovered was his role as head of a £50bn pension fund management firm with significant influence over the investment and corporate worlds, as well as government.

I will leave the final word with his successor at Hermes, Tony Watson, ‘Anyone who ever encountered Alastair Ross Goobey will recall his wisdom and experience. But the quality for which he will be most remembered by former colleagues is his humanity. He was a kind man, able to make everyone feel good about themselves.’

Walking in London is the quickest route to health

As a keen London walker I was disappointed to have missed Walk to Work Day last week. However with spate of good weather recently I have been walking my full morning route from London Bridge to St Pancras every day.

I am lucky that my journey takes me along the Thames past the Golden Hinde, Clink Prison museum and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. I then stroll over the Millennium bridge with the best view in London as I approach St Paul’s Cathedral.

I have often suspected that it is often quicker to walk than to go by underground, and this has been confirmed by the BBC website. In central London there are 109 journeys between Tube stations that are quicker to walk (taking into account time spent waiting for trains).

Stephen Fry in the British Library Basements

Stephen Fry in the British Library basements

After my recent blog post about the rather exclusive location deep below the reading rooms of the British Library, I was surprised to discover this week that Stephen Fry was there before me. He was there as part of a fascinating documentary in which he helps to build a copy of Gutenberg’s (and the world’s) first ever printing press. You can still catch this fascinating program via the wonderful BBC iPlayer service.

Stephen Fry and a John Bull Printing Outfit

I love the way he demonstrates the principles of typeset printing using an old John Bull Printing Outfit whilst sitting in the British Library Café. I have fond memories of that game from my early youth.

Alex Bellinger interviews me for SmallBizPod

SmallBizPodAs I mentioned in my previous blog post on our first Facebook event at the Business & IP Centre, Alex Bellinger the founder of SmallBizPod was there with his microphone. His podcast based on interviews at this event were delayed a little by Alastair Darling and his 2008 Budget, but have now gone up on the site here.

Alex BellingerAlthough I felt I rambled on a bit, Alex seems to have kept most of the interview in the final edit. It is a mixture of chat about the Business & IP Centre and the role of Facebook and blogs to promote it to a new audience.

The show also included a cross section of interviews with some of the 50 or so members of our Facebook group who showed up on the evening. Talking of which, I see our membership has now grown to nearly 1,400 members.

Promoting new books with video

It would seem that for some publishers the future of book promotion lies in video.

Steffi McBrideSo much for the film or TV series of the book, how about the dramatised promotional video of the book that has yet to be printed.

You can judge for youself by ‘viewing’ the forthcoming title from Blake Publishing. The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride is the memoir of a fictional young soap star who becomes a national icon to be published in September 2008.

“All Steffi’s dreams come true when she lands a starring part in the country’s biggest soap opera, has a number one Christmas single and wins a Bafta. The whole country falls in love with her, including the pop star she had a crush on all through her teenage years. But someone out there knows a secret about Steffi’s past and heartless media revelations blow apart everything she ever believed to be true about her family and about herself.”

It’s not quite my cup of tea, but I’m sure they have done their market research.

The British Library Basements

Easter is the busiest time of the year at the British Library (so be warned if you are expecting a quiet space to do your research). In order to help cope with the volume of requests for books from our capacious basements in St Pancras, staff volunteers are requested.

As a member of staff who rarely visits the basements this is an opportunity not to be missed. After all, the basements are the very foundation of the library, from both a physical and information perspective. The four double height basements containing the bulk of the library’s 15 million books stretch down to 75ft or 23m below ground level. The construction of these required digging the deepest hole ever seen in London. I could hear the nearby sounds of trains on the Northern and Victoria Lines when I was in basement 3.

I spent a fascinating couple of hours re-shelving books in the humanities modern section. However, my trolley contained a random selection of topics giving a revealing glimpse into the subjects being researched above ground, as well as the incredible breadth of knowledge stored below ground.

automatic_crate_conveyor_systemOne fact that often surprises visitors to the basements is that the books are not stored according to any classification system. Although the British Library has adopted the Dewey system in the Reading Rooms, this would not work in the basements. The explanation is simple enough – the sheer volume of new books (6 miles or 13 kilometres) each year means that they have to be added onto the end of the previous set in acquisition order. Any other would require constant shifting of the book stock to make room.

So, for instance if they were in alphabetical order by Title, the Z’s would slot nicely in at the end of the sequence but any new A’s would require moving the whole lot. This results in some vary odd pairings of books on the shelves. I re-shelved a book on Islamic terrorism literally cheek by jowl with a volume on right-wing Jewish politics.

The photos above come from a website Subterranea Britannica which has a detailed article on a visit to the basements.

Nice Girls and Quechup + clarification from a Director

(Since I wrote this original post I received a comment below from Glen Finch a Director of Quechup clarifying my problems).

As someone who monitors Web 2.0 developments I was aware of Quechup and their controversial email spamming techniques.

However as they had claimed to have turned over a new leaf I was somewhat surprised to receive an email from Nicegirl, who indeed did look like a ‘nice girl’ with her adorable puppy.


Intrigued, I registered with Quechup and was somewhat disappointed to be greeted with this page.

Blank screen

Yet another example of empty promises of Web 2.0?

I should say that I was somewhat suspicious of Nicegirl’s user name. As I would be receiving an email from

A new comment from “Glen Finch” was received on the post “Nice Girls and Quechup” of the weblog “In through the outfield”.

Comment from Glen Finch:
As the first comment rightly states you were already a member of Quechup, registered with the username ‘infield’. You then registered (a second new user) and are suprised that you did not have a message in the inbox. Why would you? – this was a new user you had just created, if there had been an email already there from a member this surely would have been cause to raise suspicions, but not the opposite. Let me clarify a few points for you, I do so as a director of Quechup and as spokesman for the company. 1. To receive notifications from Quechup you have to be registered as a user, this is only done by people completing our registration form. We have never purchased emails, shared emails or acquired emails from anyone, period. Moreover our policy states that we will not sell or share members emails or other details and we never have. This means at some stage you or someone that knows your email address registered for you at Quechup. We track and store registration and login details so we can provide the date, time, IP address and country of location where the registration took place. 2. Regarding our address book checker. Yes we received several complaints about the way this worked in September 2007. How it worked was printed directly on the page above the feature (which was optional), the checker has worked this way for nearly 2 years without such complaints. However, given the amount of complaints we realized that address book checkers were much more common on such sites and that users were not reading how they worked before using them and that the manner in which Quechup’s worked was not what had become the perceived norm. We recoded it and changed the way the feature worked within 4 working days. As testiment to Quechup’s policy against spam we have always had the following policies in place: A member cannot send an invite to an email address more than once to stop pestering type spam. Quechup does not send ‘reminder’ emails for invites (unlike other sites such as linkedin) Members can only send messages to 1 member at a time to stop the service being used for bulk mailing. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Quechup is certified by SenderScore the industries leading email ‘SafeList’ accreditation program. Companies such as Windows Live/Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail and SpamAssasin use and rely on SenderScore for providing a SafeList of email senders. In total over 67% of consumer mail boxes in the world depend on SenderScore as to wether email is safe or spam. Maintaining this accreditation means adhering to strict anti spam policies and meeting criteria from Windows Live, Yahoo!, SpamAssasin and other sources on a daily basis.