Thursday, 7 August 2014

Why MPs’ Tech Attitude Needs to Change by Lawrence Jones of UKFast

We’ve all heard about the growing skills gap in the technology sector and while small steps are being taken to protect the UK’s technological future by businesses affected by the gap themselves, we are still seeing outdated attitudes toward technology in the bowels of Westminster and I believe that’s hindering any progress we might make.

Our governments’ lack of real tech knowledge was highlighted by a recent software upgrade that left MPs confused and, unfortunately for the country’s reputation as a tech-leader, shamed in the press for the whole debacle. But there are actually politicians flagging up this issue, pointing out that some of their peers are still stuck in the digital dark ages. You’ve got Boris Johnson at the launch of a new tech space saying he’s forgotten how to download apps to his phone, along with regular instances of ministers using tech jargon incorrectly. Earlier in the year it was reported that, during a parliamentary debate, one minister described an IP address as “an intellectual property address”, which led fellow MP Julian Huppert to say that when it comes to technology, “The vast majority of MPs simply do not get it.”

Whilst I commend the handful of politicians who’ve got to grips with technology, the general lack of digital knowhow and the apathy across the board is of great concern. How can these people choose how to drive our country’s technology education forward when they don’t have a grasp of the basics? Whether it’s more training that’s needed or a shift to a ‘can do’ attitude, I don’t know, but it’s an issue that needs to be addressed. How damaging it is to our reputation as a digital nation, not only have our MPs lacking in knowledge, but also openly announcing it? I think they run the risk of making Westminster look completely out of touch whilst giving the impression that they’re completely clueless! I’m not sure how this affects the way other countries see us, but it can’t be the best advert for Britain, can it?

This absolutely isn’t to say that UK isn’t innovating new and exciting technology, as I think we do have an incredible amount of home-grown talent, and there have also been steps in the right direction when it comes to educating young people and creating the next generation of tech pioneers. The change in the IT curriculum at schools, for example, was a welcome move and I think the emergence of careers colleges is another one. UKFast is working alongside Oldham College to develop the UK’s first Digital Career College, which will help to equip young people with the skills that tech businesses actually need.

Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a discussion at the House of Commons with Lord Baker, who came up with the concept of career colleges, and it’s great to see initiatives like this. I also think the very fact that the government is asking for businesses’ contributions is a good sign and the career colleges are just one of many education projects that we are involved in. However, there’s a lot to be said for leading by example, and if the majority of MPs are struggling with technology, it’s a bit of a threat to their credibility. They’re undermining themselves.

Ultimately, I think it stands to reason that if we want to operate at the forefront of technology and compete at a global level, our government leaders need to make more of an effort to understand how the digital world works… or at least be able to download an app!

Lawrence Jones is the founder and CEO of Manchester-based internet hosting company UKFast. Providing colocation, cloud and managed hosting services to thousands of clients from its data centres, UKFast has earned recognition for its commitment to customer service. Lawrence, named Ernst & Young's Technology Entrepreneur of the Year in 2013, has taken the firm from a two person venture in 1999, to the 220 employee strong, £30m turnover business it is today. To find out more, visit and follow Lawrence on Twitter.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Ending Your Marriage At Costa by Davey Stone

Author and blogger, Davey Stone writes about the 'Twin Peaks' side of life where occasional, everyday events can be unintentionally strange... and funny. It's not surprising that this recent post went viral.

I’ve only been at Costa for ten minutes, and I’m just about to write a really scathing attack on a well-known supermarket when I suddenly overhear:

“So, you wait until we’ve got four kids before you decide it’s her you want and not me.”

I don’t turn around. I sit back in my chair, very slowly, and put down the mocha I’d raised halfway to my lips.

Immediately, my mind scans back through the people I’ve seen arriving at Costa since I’ve been in my seat. This couple is obviously sitting just behind me, out of my sight, and there’s no way I’m turning around when they’re obviously about to have such a serious and painful discussion. I want to go and sit somewhere else, but the place is packed and the only other free chair will trigger my back problem.

So I stay seated….and I think. Immediately, I know which couple it is. I’m a people-watcher, and I distinctly remember them being two places behind me in the queue. I know this because the woman has a distinctive lilt to her voice which rather curiously makes her sound cheerful even when she’s saying things that must evidently be very difficult to say. She was also quite attractive (yes, I know, but I’m a guy and little Dave does a lot of my thinking for me) whereas her partner had a pinched sort of face, as if he was made of Playdough and someone had rolled out his head just to make the nose. If I had to guess, I’d say they were in their mid thirties…which is a bit impressive if they have four children.

All this runs through my head before she makes her next statement, in a much lower voice:

“I feel like I don’t matter to you at all.”

I suddenly get a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. I hate seeing people in pain, or hearing it. My mind tries to focus on the blog I’m writing, but I’m now officially grading this guy optimistically. I decide his name is Jim, and that he’s a good guy who has made a terrible mistake.

Then she says:

“Were you f*****g her while I was on the operating table?”

I’m really trying to root for Jim, but this new horror – coupled with the fact that he hasn’t said anything in reply – is quickly reclassifying him in my judgmental cortex as possibly a bit of a dick.

There’s a brief pause where neither of them say anything, and then she ploughs on.

“You were with her on my birthday, weren’t you? That’s the reason you got those theatre tickets for my mum and insisted I went with her. You filthy piece of s***.”

Part of my mind cannot believe they’re doing this at a Costa Coffee, but mostly I’m racing to alter my view of Jim, who has now slipped slightly below ‘not a nice guy‘ and is heading straight for ‘tosser’.

It’s then that I notice the old lady sitting opposite and slightly to the right of me. She has a coffee cup halfway to her mouth, and looks absolutely delighted. I mean, seriously delighted, by the whole situation. My jaw drops, and I just gawp at her. I can’t believe she is openly enjoying the misfortune of some poor couple she’s never even met, and I immediately decide she’s a wicked, cacky-fingered old crone who spends her nights stroking some tiny green iguana and writing poisonous letters to her grandchildren. I glare at her. I mean, really glare: teeth out and everything. She notices, offers me a strange half-smile and quickly returns her attention to the magazine she’d been reading (Spiteful Knitting Monthly).

The couple behind me haven’t said anything, and I’m guessing this means the situation is actually getting worse….something that turns out to be correct when she says:

“If I’m going to lose everything, I might as well just kill myself.”

The old woman looks up, and grins again. This is beyond belief. She can actually *see* them – she’s looking right at them – and she’s enjoying their pain. It’s just horrible. What’s WRONG with people in the world today? I stare her down, praying that Jim is about to make everything better for his poor, suffering partner, hoping against hope that she’s wrong and that he will say something, anything to save the situation for his children. Then she practically explodes:

“Aren’t you going to say ANYTHING? Seriously? Come ON: you’re obviously a terrific bloody actor, so SPEAK.”

“I’m sorry,” he says, finally. “I can’t really remember any of it…I just…”

Even from where I am, I feel her lean forward: I hear the coffee cups rattle as she hits the table. She says:

“Well you better start learning some of this stuff, because you were supposed to say ‘I still love you’ after I said the thing about the kids.”

I immediately spin round and look behind me. She has a book open. They’re rehearsing for a play. A play.

A f*****g play.

My heart is pounding, and I feel angry: actually, genuinely furious.

That’s when I look back at the old woman, who winks at me. It turns out she wasn’t enjoying a messy break up at all, she was enjoying the look on my face because she knew I thought it was all real.

I feel myself flush bright red, and I pick up my laptop.

I can’t write under this sort of pressure: that hideous old crone has made a complete fool out of me.

David Lee Stone is a best selling author with over 25 books in publication. He writes for children, teenagers and adults. To read his blog, visit Follow him on Twitter @DavidGrimstone and Facebook.