September 2008

Hello Orwell

by Suw on September 26, 2008

I really do get depressed at the state of the State in the UK these days. Labour have turned us into a country Orwell would be shocked by, and this post from Cory Doctorow made me even more depressed about the direction the UK is going:

Jacqui Smith, the British Home Secretary, had unilaterally (and on 24 hours’ notice) changed the rules for Highly Skilled Migrants to require a university degree, sending hundreds of long-term, productive residents of the UK away (my immigration lawyers had a client who employed over 100 Britons, had fathered two British children, and was nonetheless forced to leave the country, leaving the 100 jobless). Smith took this decision over howls of protests from the House of Lords and Parliament, who repeatedly sued her to change the rule back, winning victory after victory, but Smith kept on appealing (at tax-payer expense) until the High Court finally ordered her to relent (too late for me, alas).

Now, it seems, I will become one of the first people in Britain to be forced to carry a mandatory biometric RFID card in a pilot programme being deployed first to foreign students and we spousal visa holders (government is looking to curtail spousal visas altogether, capping all visas at 20,000 per year, including spousal visas, denying Britons the right to bring their spouses into the country once the quota has been filled).

This sort of stuff is not just academic – it could directly affect Kevin and I. We need to transition Kevin onto a spousal visa as soon as we can. (Indeed, I am currently searching for a good immigration lawyer (recommendations welcome!).) If the Government limit spousal visas, they are going to end up punishing people simply for falling in love.

Kevin’s been away a little over a week and I miss him horribly, but at least I know when he’s coming back. I cannot imagine how hard it would be if we had to be parted indefinitely whilst we waited for the government to deign to give him a visa. Capping spousal visas is, in my opinion, nothing short of evil. It’s bad enough that the government are forcing out of the country the very people we need here to have a vibrant economy – the highly skilled people who contribute all of their talent and intelligence to our country. But arbitrarily restricting spousal visa is the sort of cold, cruel act I’ve come to expect from our government. They’ve forgotten that they exist to serve the people of this country, not to make their lives hell because they happened to fall in love with someone who wasn’t born here.

And let’s not kid ourselves. The people who are punished by immigration laws are the people who respect the law and try to do things properly. The people who ignore the law, either living here illegally or faking their documentation, won’t be affected by this sort of change.

Labour has to be defeated at the next election, because they are turning our country into a suspicious, heartless, cold place. And we have to support organisations like No2ID who are working tirelessly to try and stop this country turning into an Orwellian nightmare.

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A new theme!

by Suw on September 21, 2008

You may have noticed, if you visit the site regularly rather than read via RSS, that I have changed the theme I’m using. I recently found Thesis, by Chris Pearson, a WordPress theme that’s been designed specifically to be adapted. It’s very easy to put in a background image and to use a custom stylesheet, and there are all sorts of options that I have yet to delve into.

When CSS became the de facto way to specify the design elements of a web page, I was in the process of leaving the design side of the web, so I deliberately decided not to learn it so that I could make a clean break from that chapter of my life. It was the post-crash era, when there were plenty of designers around who actually knew lots about design, unlike me who had mainly been making it up as I went along.

Of course now I find that it would be really handy to know CSS… oh, the irony! Don’t be surprised if you visit the site one day and it all looks weird – if the weirdness remains, please email me as there’s every likelihood that I could break something and just not realise!

Meantime, I hope you like the new look, and thanks to Gep for the wonderful photo.

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by Suw on September 20, 2008

I was at Enterprise 2.0 Forum in Cologne last week and one of the people I met there mentioned that they had noticed I hadn’t been blogging so much lately. They’re right, I haven’t been writing even a fraction as much as I used to, either here on Chocolate and Vodka, or over on Strange Attractor. (I have been trying to write on Kits and Mortar, but even that has suffered in recent weeks.)

One friend wondered if it was marriage that caused the decrease in blogging, with Kevin taking up my every waking minute, but that’s not the case. Actually, Kevin spends a fair amount of time on the computer during which I could easily blog, but I haven’t.

It is true that I am a lot more social now that I’m with him than I was when I was on my own – I can be quite a homebody, and too much socialising makes me tense and twitchy. I need time alone to recharge my batteries. (Luckily, time spent with Kevin is equivalent to time spent alone when it comes to recuperating – I can be totally myself with Kevin, so can be totally relaxed. I can’t really say that was the case with any of my exen.)

It’s possible that all this socialising has rather slaked my thirst for social interactions of any kind, and that the drive to connect with people via my blog(s) has been decreased because I spend so much more time now talking to people face-to-face than I used to. I certainly think that my enthusiastic (I hate to say obsessive) use of Twitter has also fulfilled that need and taken the emphasis off blogging. There’s a theory that we each have a certain number of words that we need to get through each day, and I think I’ve been getting through my allotment by about 1pm, on average.

But there are other forces at play. Kevin has a theory that your life is split into three main areas – work, social and relationships – and that when things are going well in two areas, the third suffers. Obviously ‘relationship’ is pretty well nailed now – I never knew I could be this happy in a relationship. Kevin was certainly worth waiting for, and I no longer resent all the bad experiences in my past, nor all those awfully lonely nights (and days). Good things come to those who wait, and I could not have asked for better.

Social is covered, as I’ve said. I have lots of lovely friends, although some of them I see less often than I would like. And I have met lots of very lovely people through Kevin, who I like to think are my friends now too, not just “my husband’s friends”.

So that leaves work. And here’s the truth of it: my work life has sucked, all summer. I had lots of work in the run up to our wedding, and then lots of leads that came in whilst I was away on honeymoon, but almost all of those came to nothing, or very little. I thought that it would be a good idea to launch a seminar series, so I put a lot of effort into Fruitful, but as I’m being honest I might as well tell you that it didn’t really do as well as I’d hoped. Mainly because, I think, my marketing sucked.

I’m not good at self-promotion, and have been lucky enough over the last four years that, mostly, work has landed in my lap. People have read Strange Attractor or seen me talk at conferences and have thought to themselves “Yeah, we could use her advice”. I’ve been pretty bad at talking to old clients and seeing how they are getting on, asking them for leads and referrals, and generally trying to do all the stuff that a savvy freelancer should do. I vow to get better at that over the coming months.

Because I feel uncomfortable doing self-promotion, I have actively avoided it, in roughly the same way that your average cat avoids baths. I saw Fruitful as a way to route around the aspects of my business that were frustrating me. I thought it would just take off, and I’d get lots of people at my seminars and life would be good. I got one person at each, and although they both seemed extremely happy to be the sole focus of my attention for a day, I can’t say that that was a great financial success.

It’s funny, but when my personal life is going badly, I am quite happy to blog in sometimes quite gory detail, as you will have seen if you were reading this blog pre-Kevin. But when things go wrong with business, that’s when I clam up. I become unwilling to talk about anything, because I might end up revealing too much, and confessing that my business isn’t doing great feels like exposing my biggest and most sacred secrets to the world. It makes me feel very, very vulnerable. Just writing this, right now, makes me feel like I’ve just striped naked and paraded myself down the high street. It’s an awful feeling, but I’ve learnt from Stephanie Booth that it’s not a bad thing to talk frankly and honestly about your business, even when it’s not doing well.

Stephanie recently had to take the unhappy step of cancelling a conference – Going Solo Leeds – she was putting on. I have enormous respect for her making that decision, because it would have been easy to try to carry on as if all was well and then try to gloss over it later. But she had the strength to say “This conference is going to be under-attended, and it’s not going to be the event that I advertised, or the event that I want people to experience. So I’m cancelling it and taking the financial hit.”

I am just full of admiration for her openness and honesty, and her fortitude throughout the last couple of months. I was one of the speakers at Going Solo Lausanne, which was a fabulous conference, and I was due to speak in Leeds too. We ended up having an unconference instead, SoloCamp, from which I learnt a lot. But I’ve mostly learnt this year’s most important lessons from talking to Steph about the challenges she’s faced, many of which are the same ones that face me.

This doesn’t mean that I have magically solved my problems, but I feel like I have a bit more direction now than I did even a month ago. I have learnt that using social media to market to people who don’t already get social media is inevitably going to be difficult. I’ve learnt that I need to put myself in front of the right people, and in order to that I need to figure out who the right people are. I’ve learnt that in order to do that I need to pull in favours from friends and from acquaintances – some of whom I have done favours for in the past, some of whom I now owe.

I’m still struggling with questions that begin with ‘how’, though. Some promotional actions – such as “Email details of my seminars to Fortune 500 companies’ HR departments”, which seems like a good way to promote Fruitful – still confuse me. Where do I find the right people and their email addresses without either a) spending a fortune or b) spending hours fruitlessly in Google? How do I communicate with strangers without it being spam? This sort of stuff just doesn’t come naturally to me, and I know I’m going to find it difficult, but I also know that it’s something I must address.

But that’s not the only corner turned recently. An opportunity – about which I can say nothing except “Squeeeee!” – has arisen. The exact shape and form of it is not entirely clear, but it does give me hope that I will have a constructive autumn, winter and spring at the very least. Knowing that there’s something exciting on the horizon is also probably the one thing that has let me write this blog post at all – it gives me a positive note to end on, a moment of hope and excitement that wipes away all previous uncertainty.

And just as soon as I can go public with it, I promise that I’ll tell you everything.

UPDATE: The opportunity that made me go Squeeee! sadly went away. Oh well, can’t win ’em all.

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Olympics v freedom

by Suw on September 2, 2008

Blatant copy from Ian Brown’s blog, but it was so good I wanted to keep it for myself:

“I admit, I questioned the wisdom of giving the games to a city with such a poor human rights record — every citizen under surveillance, police executing suspects, people interrogated just for taking a photo in a railway station — but maybe London can rise to the occasion.” —Dave Garner

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Neil Gaiman & ORG, October

by Suw on September 2, 2008

The Open Rights Group has organised an evening with Neil Gaiman, its Founding Patron, on Friday, 24 October (7.00 – 9.00 pm), where Neil will talk about Piracy and Obscurity:

In this, the first public appearance of his Graveyard Book UK tour, he invites fans and ORG supporters to discuss piracy from the perspective of a creator, what it means to be one of the tribe of readers, and why most people discover their favourite authors for free.

The venue – The Crypt on the Green, St James Church, Clerkenwell – is tiny compared to many events Neil does, with only 150 places, so it’s going to feel very intimate and personal.

The schedule for the evening is:

19.00 – Doors open. We’ll welcome you into the crypt with wine and nibbles.
19.30 – Neil’s talk starts and will be followed by an extended Q&A
21.00 – The talk finishes and all attendees are invited for a drink to the private upstair rooms of an adjacent pub, The Three Kings

If you’re a Neil fan, then you really need to sign up fast. I meant to blog about this when the announcement was made last Thursday, but have been insanely busy what with one thing and another. In the meantime, the ‘£10 on the door’ tickets have all sold out, leaving only the New ORG Supporter tickets (join between now and the event, and entry is free, 20 left), and the Existing ORG Supporter (£5 on the door, 28 left) tickets.

(UPDATE: ORG have released some more ‘£10 on the door’ tickets, and there are currently 24 left. Grab them now whilst you can!)

I would highly recommend that you sign up asap, because these tickets aren’t going to be around for long! And, as you can see from the counter to the left (if you’re reading this on the site rather than RSS), ORG is up to 921 supporters now. Hopefully this fundraiser will push it over the 1000 mark. That would finally get ORG the same number of supporters that originally pledged, and that we were supposed to launch with (although, of course, we were working on campaigns before we even had a name or a bank account!).

The aim is to get ORG up to 1500, and it’s important that they reach that goal. The list of issues that they need to campaign on isn’t getting any shorter, and there aren’t any more hours in the week, so the best way to continue being as effective as they have been is to expand. And they can’t do that without money!!

So, don’t just sign up to support ORG, don’t just come along to see Neil, convince a friend to sign up too!

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