Category Archives: Thoughts

Ofgem warn of UK power shortage

In a report released today, Ofgem (the UK regulators for the energy industry) forecasters are warning that the spare energy capacity in the UK is likely to fall to just 4% in three years.

What does this mean?

The UK currently, at any given time, has a headroom/margin of around 14% on its energy creation/delivery capability.  To simplify what this means, if we imagine all of the energy being consumed in the UK right now (gas and electricity) as a figure of 100 energy units, we could cater for another 14 energy units worth of demand right now.

Another way to think of this, if your weekly food shop budget is £100, and you need to buy something extra one day, you only have an extra £14 available to spend in your bank account.

So what?  Why should I care?

Our operating headroom as it currently stands, 14%, isn’t great!

This leaves us in a precarious position as a nation, should we need more energy.  Especially as this margin decreases to just 4%.

We already have a complex system in place to bolster our electrical grid with power from our French neighbors, this can be turned on and off as required.  The national grid utilises this relationship almost daily, the older soap watching generation are the main reason for this arrangement being in place.  Historically the grid could never cope with the demand for power caused during a Coronation Street ad break for example.

We don’t need to rely on this “power bridging” for our usual/ongoing demand, and in principle its a brilliant safety net (think of it as an overdraft, nice to have it there for those little emergencies).

However getting electricity delivered in this way is very very very (keep saying very till you get tired) costly.  This cost is passed on to consumers in the form of our utility bills.  However if we only need the boost in power from time to time, its not such a big deal.

What we are starting to see now (and have been for a while), is that this power bridging is starting to happen on an-ongoing basis.  Think of this as living in your overdraft.  Your outgoings a month are now outstripping your income, and you are having to constantly use your overdraft (which is costly money).  In this same way this energy is costly, and we shouldn’t rely on it.  The bank can withdraw/cancel your overdraft facility at anytime, what happens if this energy capacity is withdrawn?

As we start to run out of capacity, we will fully utilise the power available to us via this bridge, to cater for our normal demand levels… What then?

I haven’t talked about how we manage our gas reserves, there’s a similar arrangement in place to import gas, and one of the reasons our gas prices are so high is that we import most of the gas that we use as a nation.

Potential impacts

Our national energy stability is at risk.  As we are no longer generating the majority of the energy we consume, our prices will be determined by external parties/suppliers, our demand will outstrip supply (in a more noticeable way).

  • Energy reliability will start to waiver – we’ll see an increase in power spikes
  • Energy costs will increase (a lot more than the mainstream media are reporting)
  • Businesses will find it harder to obtain new power allocations (it was impossible for datacenters to get more power in London pre-olympics!)

What can I do about this?

For the most part, there isn’t a lot we can do as consumers, contrary to what energy action groups and the mainstream media would have you believe.  Voting with your feet and moving your utility supply to another company WHEN your prices increase, is pointless, its not the solution.

Power generation and supply in the UK is a centrally controlled monopoly, by design (and it used to be a sensible way of operating).  This means that the energy “supplier X” is selling you, is the same as “supplier Y“, longer term you’ll end up paying the same price everywhere (just like petrol).

The only thing you can do is reduce your power consumption.  If every household (and business) in the UK became more energy efficient we would buy ourselves more time to solve this problem.  The utility providers need to use this time to build new power plants and energy distribution capacity.

I would also recommend protecting your sensitive appliances with surge protectors.

So we need more power stations?

Yes and no.  Traditional power stations are not the solution.  We need smaller, decentralized, NUCLEAR power stations.  I know nuclear power is still a “hot topic” and that people (wrongly) believe it to be unsafe.  The main problem with nuclear power is the waste products cannot be disposed of readily with our available technology level.

However, smaller, distributed, region specific nuclear power plants are a viable solution.  A small scale facility providing power to 2 or 3 towns will last hundreds of years, before we have to tackle the nuclear bi/waste-products issue.  In comparison, a single large scale facility catering for the whole of the south, would only last tens of years.  The extra time would allow technology the time it needs to evolve, and people will find solutions to the “energy crisis”.

Renewable energy is not the solution either (not yet).  I haven’t seen any proof (gathered in the UK) to show that renewable energy sources can consistently deliver for our level of demand.  Its pointless looking at the electrical output of a solar farm in Dubai for example.  We need to invest more time and resources in developing renewable energy sources, but they are not the solution to this problem, short or mid term.

If we carry on the way we are going, as a nation of “broken thinkers“, we won’t have sufficient electricity to light, and gas to warm, our homes within the next 10-20 years.

Only the wealthy will be able to afford stable energy, and this disparity will lead to civil unrest and chaos…  Some of you will read this and think I’m being overly dramatic, however, if you think about the problem totally unemotionally, and keeping the big picture in mind, you’ll see the sense of this line of reasoning.

If we continue to look at renewable energy as the solution, we will run out of time.

Small scale, distributed, nuclear power stations are the only viable short to mid term solution!

I would love to hear your views on this.

Track and graph your Inbox

We spend a lot of time looking at what makes us different from each other, rather than recognizing our similarities.  One commonality we share is “intention mismatches”, where we know and want to “be better at” doing a regular/repetitive task, but yet rarely do, in a focused and sustained manner.

For me, like most of my network, my biggest pain is caused by “daily email management”.  Checking for email, reading emails, taking action on emails, and deferring those that need “to be thought about”.  Lots has already been written about email management tactics (Inbox Zero, 43folders, etc), I’m not rehashing any of that with this post, merely setting some context as to how this came about.

Another commonality is how we are typically triggered to take action, and how we measure ourselves.  Measurements need to be taken regularly and automatically.  Across my various business interests, when we log, graph and display the number of open tickets overtime, the support team are automatically motivated in a very different way to resolve tickets as quickly as possible.  This gives us empirical metrics of how we are doing over time, are we improving, etc.


Graphing Inbox

For a while now, I’ve been looking for an automated way to log and graph the number of items in my Inbox.  There are lots of web services out there that have this ability as part of a more complex set of features.  I didn’t want all the other fluff, just the pure metric of “Items in mailbox over time”, and I definitely did not want to be giving access to my mailbox to any sort of cloud/hosted/web service – I needed a self hosted solution.

So, I’ve built my own, and I’ve published the code on github, so you can run your own version.


Graphing my Inbox using GraphMailbox

The graph above is live, and generated by;

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GraphMailbox uses php_imap to connect to your IMAP server (you can use POP, GMAIL etc too), and logs the number of items into a mysql database.  The graphs are generated using the Google Chart API.  You set the frequency at which the logging happens, mines set to every hour.  You can then construct pages to generate specific graphs, and embed them in pages as iframes.  I’ve included my two graph pages in the code repository, and I’ll add more over time as I dream them up, or based on feedback. For example, this is the 30 day view of my inbox (tracking only started on the 20th Sept 2012).

Feel free to grab the code from github, deploy it, modify and improve on it.  Please fork the github repository, and push changes, any added features etc back to the repo.  If you find this useful, and build on it, no doubt someone else will – commonalities :)


The End Game

As interesting as it is to have these metrics, this actually becomes more useful as a triggering mechanism.  The graph for my personal mailbox is now on my desktop dashboards, so I am constantly and subconsciously reminded of how I’m doing.

Lets see if this helps clear the backlog, lets me get to inbox zero, and this time, stay there!


How else could these metrics be useful?

There are some features I want to add, and I’ll build in over time.  Such as support for multiple mailboxes, and multiple folders, from the same instance.  The way this is currently built, you’d have to run another instance and db for additional mailboxes/folders.  I’m already doing this (through multiple instances), you can see that here:  I’d also like to add more charting options, and test/document more ways of connecting to mail servers.

How else could these types of metrics be applied?  What would make this more useful to you?

As always, interested in your feedback.



Online invoice software

Lets be honest, creating, managing, sending and chasing payments on invoices, its something we all have to do at one time or another.  Its not glamorous, its not sexy, but its a very important part of any business.

There are lots of options, so much so that things can get confusing, and picking the right tool job can become tricky.  Traditional software that you install locally on your computer is cumbersome, the world has evolved, and invoice management is something you’re much better off doing online.  A lot of online invoicing software evolve into full blown accounting suites, introducing lots of features, and the invoicing element gets lost.  I’ve seen some systems where this evolution gets in the way of sending invoices.

With that in mind, we’ve (Stu & I) launched (quietly at this stage) a new startup called Invoiceable, a completely free online invoicing service.

Yet another online invoice service?

Not quite, here are some things fundamentally wrong with a lot of the invoicing services out there.

  • Not free to use – I see very little reason to pay to send invoices
  • Ugly – Just because invoicing is a “traditional” operation, there’s no reason it can’t be beautiful
  • Overly complicated – There are very few services which focus purely on sending and managing invoices.
  • Package limitations – The services that claim to be “free”, either have limits on the number of invoices you can send, or the feature set you have access to as a free user
  • Broken business models – The majority of services are based on subscription pricing models.  In a future post I’ll share in more detail my thinking as to why subscription pricing is outdated and “broken” for this type of service

This may be seen as biased, but these are my opinions and things that I thought needed to be addressed in this space.  Only time will tell if the strategic thinking is right.

What makes Invoiceable different?

  • Invoiceable lets you create and send beautiful looking invoices to your clients in seconds
  • Invoiceable is built around making the job of invoicing quick and simple
  • All free users have access to all the invoicing features, no limitations
  • Ad supported that works – There’s a small “Powered by Invoiceable” link at the bottom of every invoice sent by the system.  These can be removed for a one time payment, not a yearly payment, not a monthly payment.  A single one time payment and the Invoiceable branding is removed from your invoices.

More to come

I’ll share more details specifically around Invoiceable in future posts, including;

  • Launch story – it really was a lot of fun getting things live, challenging and a lot of pain, but a lot of fun
  • Our metrics – at the time of writing we’re seeing around 60-70 new registrations per day, and we haven’t done any press releases, or started promoting the service yet
  • The thinking – behind the business strategy, and the lessons we learn along the way

Create an account and have a play:

Broken the blogging habit already…

A few weeks ago I started to revive my personal blog, my aim is to write about something I’ve found useful, interesting, or cool.  It doesn’t matter when I write the post, and I have a large list of topics / post ideas, ready to go.  The thing is, I’m supposed to be getting into the habit of publishing a post at 13:00 every Friday.

This week, with the launch of yet another co planned to go live on Monday, I’ve been bad, very bad.  I’ve not made the time, although the intention has been there, launch of new co has eaten all of my time.

Rather than skip posting all together this week, I thought posting the reason behind the lack of a “thought out” post would serve a more useful purpose.

It will act as an everlasting “I’m sorry sir, the dog ate my homework” excuse note, visible to the whole world.  This should help the “must publish something useful every week” habit develop a little quicker.

Next week I must avoid this embarrassment!

PS: The news of the new co launch will be posted on Monday evening…

Using the stairs, progressively changing your habits

My office is on the 7th floor of our building, this has been my primary excuse for never/rarely using the stairs.  I have a tendency to always run down stairs, 7 flights of stairs, I’m going to build up quite a bit of momentum and someone will get hurt – most likely me.  That was excuse number 1.  Climbing up the stairs is out of the question, it will be too strenuous, I’ll get out of breath, and it will affect my productivity.  Mainly as I have to run up stairs too (yes I am actually a small child mentally).  That was excuse number 2.

Using the lift was just one of those habitual things, that just happened, without really being thought about.  Admit it, we all do it!

As part of my ongoing regime of being more efficient, working smarter, and trying to be happier, I realised this is a bad habit that needs fixing.

We all know that making drastic changes doesn’t work, there’s no long-lasting impact.  Even though we may have the intention, desire, or commitment to change, drastic changes don’t last.  Change, habitual change, comes gradually over time.

The approach

For the last two weeks, this has been my approach;

  • If wearing all my motorcycle gear (going to office/home): use the lift
  • Going downstairs: walk down the stairs
  • Coming back up to the office: take the lift to the 5th floor, climb up stairs to the 7th floor

The intention is to increase the number of floors I climb up over time.  I want the change to stick.  Being honest with myself, I know that if I try to climb up all 7 floors, I’ll do it once, maybe twice.

The results

To begin with my knees would ache at the end of the day, as I kept running down the stairs.  It’s just what I find natural.  To temper this, so that I walk down, I use the time to read items on my reading list (I use pocket), or quickly flick through emails.  Having the phone in my hand slows me right down to walking pace.

Walking up the stairs today, I noticed how awesome the view from the staircase is :)

If you find yourself trying to kick habits, the first thing to do is to be honest with yourself, then try making small changes.  Maintain those changes for a month, then make another little change, maintain, and repeat.

If in a few months time, I’m taking the lift up to the 3rd floor, rather than the 7th, the gains will be compounding and I’ll be happy :)