What's in my Bag? Part 1

I have two travel pouches ready to go for short or long trips. One pouch has the essentials for washing and cleaning, the other, technology and miscellaneous handy items.

A short trip is going to Bristol from London for the day or stay over. A long trip is a holiday or business travel.

Nearly everything in these bags is a duplicate or near enough of something I use at home. I have tried keeping items in a travel drawer so I could use them both at home or when travelling. The goal—less is more, be minimalist. Inviability, stuff did not end up back in the drawer, which led to tiresome scrambling around the house. The joy I get from frictionless packing for trips can’t be articulated clearly enough. If you’re not employing a duplicate approach, give it a try, you’ll be liberated. Wasted time, stress, doubt, thankless decision making and on the road purchases are a thing of the past, at least for packing.

This collection of items isn’t perfect. Change is inevitable. That’ll likely come from using the pouches over time. For now though, what have I got here?

Bellroy Travel Pouch

  • Eye mask, Generic Amazon Brand: for sleeping or relaxing on transport.
  • Swappable plug USB Wall Charger, Anker: Plug can be changed for USA/UK/EU, x2 USB-A, x1 USB-C. This is the cornerstone object in the pouch, charges a laptop, phone, watch all at once and over night. Mostly removes the need for a travel adapter.
  • Passport Notebook, MUJI: doodling sketches/diagrams/notes when at a bar, coffee shop or sat waiting. Added benefit of being able to leave/give a written note.
  • Signpen, Pilot: Has ink, it’s a pen. I prefer a marker style pen, not great for page bleed in this notebook, could be swapped out.
  • Battery pack, Anker: x1 USB-A, holds ~1.5 fast phone charges. I’m on the fence if this could be swapped for a smaller unit or if the pouch get swapped for a more flexible material. There is also a case for replacing all USB-A for USB-C, however, hotels, hire cars and aeroplanes are mostly still on USB-A which makes it a tough one to call.
  • Bank Card, Revolut: This is for emergency use if my wallet/phone vanishes.
  • Micro USB: Charging Kindles, vapes, battery pack.
  • Earpods, Apple: Back-up pair if AirPods are out of action, lightning interface for phone calls and music, fitted with EarSkinz silicon covers to improve ear fit.
  • Collapsable phone stand, SFASTER: The is one of the smallest phone stands I could find at the time, folds down to credit card size, pops up so I can watch videos on trains and planes.
  • Cleaning liquid, Method – in a MUJI Clear Spray Bottle 18ml: helps keep my specs and laptop screen clean, smears and dirt on either really winds me up.
  • Microfibre cleaning cloth: It cleans things.
  • Lightning USB-A, USB-C to USB-C, USB-A to Apple Watch cables for phone, laptop and watch. All Apple brand so no funny business with chip licensing. Not the most durable on the market. All cables tied with velcro cable ties, these are a must for cable management.
  • Chewing gum, Extra. UK gum hits different and is good to have on hand post coffee/food.

Matador Wash bag

  • Toothpaste, Arm & Hammer: Can’t get enough of that baking soda. Toothbrush, Boots brand: It’s a brush.
  • Deodorant, Sanex: Could be much smaller.
  • Face Sun Creme 50SPF, Eucerin: Can’t advocate this product and brand enough. If you have any skin worries, spend a bit more than you would on high street brands.
  • Shampoo, Head & Shoulders: This gets refilled at home.
  • Soap: Wrapped in a small sealable bag with elastic band to take up less space and keep it clean.
  • Travel mirror, MUJI: It’s a mirror.
  • Nail scissors: Handy for beard trims, nose hair trims, cutting stuff.
  • Nail clippers: I hate typing with more than a few days of nail growth so carry these to keep my nails in check.
  • Tweezers: They get hairs/splinters out.
  • Moisturiser, Eucerin DermatoClean Hyaluron Cleansing Milk: Just like the suncream, this product is amazing for balancing tricky skin. Refilled into a MUJI 50ml pump bottle.
  • Face Sun Creme 50SPF, Avène: Carried in my pocket in sunny places as a top-up.
  • Sumotech, Bumble and Bumble: a hybrid clay/wax for styling short hair, very natural ingredients that was out and don’t cause irritation. Refilled into a MUJI small travel pot.
  • Washable cotton pad: Useful for removing dirt and sun creme.

What’s missing?

  • Electric beard timmer. Packed in a tote at the top of my bag for airpot secruity.
  • Kindle. Packed as leaving the house.
  • AirPods Pro. Daily carry, packed as leaving the house.
  • USB-A to C adapter for rental cars. I need to re-buy a few of these as they are now in use on USB hubs at home.

Next Up

Writing up this web post got me thinking about other pouches I already have or need to create. Brad and I had been chatting about having no phone days at the weekend. Packing a note book, a camera, iPod and a book. Going for a walk and a pint and unplugging from our devices. I really like this idea and want to encourage the activity by creating a ready-to-go bag specifically for this. I’m wrestling with the idea of buying a feature phone to go with it. Seems better to just unplug completely and use my no-phone back-up contact details to get in touch with Hollie if I ever needed to.

I carry a sling bag with me for dog park visits and walks at the weekend. This has a small zip pouch with a few bits in. We take a couple of essentials out ad-hoc for the dog in the park. In addition, we did make an emergency dog mess car pouch after a code brown poo critical incident whilst travelling down the A406. If we owned a car this would live in the boot, but it’s found its way back into a drawer, forgotten and unlikely to leave the drawer. This needs a refresh and putting in a dedicated bag that travels with the dog. A doggie bag.

Summary

  • Offline bag
  • Sling bag/Dog bag
  • Dog travel bag
  • Self catering bag

Afterword

(to be edited)

Back in the day this would have been an upload to Flickr with heaps of hotspots for you to hover over, tagged #whatsinmybag. I guess that’s where a mild obsession of mine grew, the original photo sharing playground.

When I was travelling for work a lot, be it just visiting a clients office or flying to another country I got used to having some essentials ready to go to save packing headaches.

What with lockdowns, a new fully remote job and then only a bit of travel my tech and wash bag setup disbanded.

I don’t consider this to be an EDC (every day carry). My keys, phone and some dog treats are my actual EDC. These two bags are for travelling to Bristol for work or going on a holiday.

EDC has been fetishised a lot since I surfed it back in the Flickr heydays. Today it seems to be less about #whatsinmybag and more the alpha male version of the laugh, love, life Pinterest meme. Lots of tough knifes, tough watches, tough cases, tough metal wallets, tough pens and tough utility knifes (note: one knife is not enough).

The rise of tech YouTubers have also added to the pile of #whatsinmybag. Guess what they carry? Exclusively the best tech and only tech products from the last 6-12 months.

Written by
Lawrence Brown on 13th September 2022


July Training, Not Training

If you’re reading this and you’re not me, it probably won’t be that thrilling. There are plenty of other content nuggets more compelling and scientific to consume on exercise and health. This is the fourth web post that logs what is on my mind so I can refer back to it later. Read April’s here, May’s here and June’s here. The aim is these monthly posts will be valuable to rewire habits and thinking with my training.


Goal: Keep on reducing body fat so I look good on the beach

Results: Progress stalled, workouts and running significantly down, skipping meals has been helping maintain weight

April 1st April 29th May 31st June 28th July 29th Month
Change
Total
Change
Weight (kg) 73.1 69.8 68.6 66.1 66.4 +0.3 -6.7
Fat (%) 25 22.6 22 20.5 20.6 +0.1 -4.4
Muscle (%) 71.2 73.4 74.1 75.4 75.4 0 -4.2
Fat Mass (kg) 18.3 15.8 15.1 13.6 13.7 +0.1 -4.6

I’ve reached what could easily turn into the inflection point. Four months of concentrating on my body, diet and exercise and the progress has stalled. I’ve been here before and gained the weight, undone the habitual cache of exercise and stuffed any old food in my mouth. Today is 1st August, I need a reboot, a level up a back to basics to avoid the inflection point.

There have been a couple of small wins this month, more on that in a bit.


Context: Eighteen weeks into the mission of losing fat, gaining muscle and improving cardiovascular performance I’ve plateaued in the last four weeks. For a variety of reasons I’ve started to fall off the wagon. I need to get back on. July has been crap. Hardly any workouts, running or progression to speak of.

I’m still feeling really motivated to carry on and recalibrate. Not to dwell on the last month for too long, I think it has been a combination of drinking too much, hot weather, holidays, bad sleep (see drinking and hot weather).

How about some good stuff? I put 2KG on going on holiday for a week and eating everything. The good bit – within four days of returning and skipping meals I lost 2.8KG. And, I saw my first sub 20% body fat on the scale – 19.7%.

Not eating is the biggest progression accelerator.


Plan for August

  • Full house on training, show up to each planned session
  • Drop 2% body fat
  • Reduce drinking right down
  • Improve sleep
  • Get back on the wagon
  • Think, research and write about mindsets – what makes us believe we’re staying on the wagon

 

Written by
Lawrence Brown on 1st August 2022


Repairing Water Damaged Plasterboard

Unfortunately for us, we ended up with a soggy ceiling at the start of 2022. Assumed sealant failure in the flat upstairs allowed some water to escape, with no obviously logical route, it trickled its way down into a ~60cm long blob on our bathroom ceiling.

The developers builders swapped the neighbours sealant out and patched our ceiling. Weeks later our plasterboard had started to deteriorate. The blob had become boil. Popped, dried and undesirable.


Steps to fix:

These are the high level steps I planned out from a bit of YouTube research and a sense check post on r/DIYUK.

  1. Dry out everything thoroughly
  2. Remove damaged material and surrounding material
  3. Cut a trench for new tape installation over any joins that were damaged
  4. Install plasterboard tape
  5. Cover damaged area with plasterboard bonding agent
  6. Apply plasterboard filler in staged layers, never more than needed
  7. Sand back excess edges of filler to blend level with existing
  8. Apply stain remover paint or spray
  9. Paint two coats of primer
  10. Paint two coats of moisture resistant bathroom paint

Risks

I made a couple of mistakes along the way which took more time and effort to fix. I’d also learnt a few tips from the research.

Not removing the right amount of damage. It’s a Goldilocks problem. Too little and you’re repairing on compromised material. Too much and you’re wasting time and energy. I used a hand sander power tool to sand back the area so I was aware of what was damaged on the surface. This helped determine which bits were dead and could be picked out using a knife. Feeling the board gives you a sense of what’s crumbling and what is cosmetic water marking.

Setting your tape replacement too high or uneven. The damage I was working with was directly on a tape line, this ripped off with ease once I started removing the mess. A join and the material added to boards needs this tape to help form structure, reduce chances of visible lines between boards and hides fixing screws. When you remove the damage you’ll want to cut an area the width of the tape. Don’t make the tape so long that it starts to come above it’s repair trench.

Skipping adding a plasterboard treatment material. Luckily I learnt this step from a helpful person on Reddit that responded to a post I made about my repair plan. Plasterboard that has previously been finished and now needs a repair can be tricky to work with. The new filler can struggle to bond to the surface. Before filling you’ll want to add a material that helps improve the chances of the filler sticking. You can use Polyvinyl Acetate (PVA) – not the school glue – but it requires mixing it perfectly. Alternatively you can use a product like the Bostik plasterers stabilising primer, thats what I used. Only downside is it is sold in large quantities which you might need all of it for a small job.

Adding too much filler that will need lots of sanding back. I made exactly this mistake. Slapping it on without a care in the world and not checking the levelling to the existing ceiling, not working in stages between drying or using a range of tools will, ultimately, you’ll end you up just like me. Next time I repair a larger area my bet is that I need a larger skimming tool and a wetter mix of filler to keep that horizontal line smoothly consistent.

Rushing the sanding. I ended up using a torch clipped to my cap to inspect the ridges and lumps in the filler. Spend time on this bit as you’ll paint over it and still see the difference in levels.

Rushing the painting. Primer helps mask the repair and is essential for getting a surface ready to make paint. I’d never really thought about what primer is until I looked into it. It makes paint work. You’d think paint is paint, it paints stuff and changes it’s colour. Well, it turns out it’s mostly rubbish at being paint without prime underneath it. I’m no expert, so have look at it yourself and what you’re about to slather in liquid pigment.

Tools & Materials

  • Power sander
  • 80 and 180 grit sandpaper
  • Scraper
  • Stanley knife
  • Plastic dust sheets
  • Small paintbrushes
  • Paint roller
  • Dust mask with filter units
  • High powered torch
  • Bostick cementone plasterers stabilising primer
  • Pollyfilla
  • Ploycell stain stop spray
  • Primer and undercoat paint (multipurpose)
  • Bathroom paint, resistant to moisture and steam

There’s a few tools I wish I’d had for the job but I made do with the basics.

  • Vacuum adapter and vacuum for the hand sander. This could have reduced the mess and improved visibility when working on levelling the plaster.
  • Plastering taping knife. This is a wider metal edge tool for getting a consistent line across the application of plaster
  • Angled brush for cutting in paint edges. Our house is all white paint so it’s not a big deal if the edges are not accurate. I learnt as I was about to start painting that an angled brush is the way to make edging easy.

Wrapping up

I’d assumed this job was one for a pro. A bit of research built up my confidence and being methodical with each step helps get a good result. If you’re reading this and wondering if you should do the same type of repair – do it. Contractors might be reluctant to do this job on its own as it requires a lot of short steps and drying time between each. Further more you start to look at your own home with a new level of confidence that “it’s just material and I can repair, replace and upgrade that when I need to”. It’s liberating.

Final note: methodology is a variable based on research, experience and skill. I’m a beginner and learnt through research. Then doing. Once. If you’ve done this more than once you’ll probably do it differently. Email me and let me know what you would have done, I’ll add it here.


 

Written by
Lawrence Brown on 19th July 2022


Photos Feature - Part 1 - Goodbye Instagram

This month I hit an exciting milestone, 11 years of my Instagram photos are now uploaded to this website and my account at Instagram Facebook Meta is closed. After I downloaded all my data from Meta the photos sat on my hard drive gathering dust for a while and I dreaded the hours of manually uploading each one. But, I’m now done with the archive upload phases of the project.

The last photos I published to Instagram were a batch when I was in Milan on holiday in November 2018. Today, one of the next phases of the project is to fill in the gaps between then and now. After stopping using Instagram I started missing the feeling of processing and posting images online. That feeling is one of the driving forces behind working on this project. It is bonkers how quickly time has passed in front of me. I went from my first slow and clunky manual film camera, to low quality, expensive, bulky digital cameras, to publishing at any time just from a phone. Sadly, the story ends in the chasm of despair – attention addiction on mass to a shopping, tracking and advertising platform. Yikes.

I’m interested in the bit where I got to take, edit and publish photos (2009 – 2014). So I made that.

This project isn’t without its faults. I have completed some very basic styling using outdated CSS techniques, there are no responsive variants on the photo assets and worst of all, I probably shouldn’t have used Advanced Custom Fields to store the photos. It will need rebuilding, I’m okay with that. I’ve committed to this for the long run, I’d love to have this running for as long as I live. So, yeah, it’s on the long list to address these mistakes. I’d argue that the psychological power of getting off my arse and making the first version is more rewarding than gazing out the window wondering when my skills will be just right to achieve the standards I see in others.

One thing that really stood out through the upload phase was how pleasing it is to reflect back over time using photos. By contrast, if I open up Google Photos or my camera roll on my phone it’s too much. There is just too much data for me to take in. Curation really helps. A few old Instagram photos were selected for deletion while doing the upload. I used to post way too much. Terrible photos that I can only assume at the time I was using it more like Twitter. If it was a bad photo and I couldn’t really see a point in it, it got deleted. That isn’t to say all the photos are works of art.

If you’re looking through the photos wondering why some of those that made it were really all _that_ worthy? I’d probably chalk it up to keeping a visual memory. I ended up using Instagram in this way, not everything was a balanced, interesting and well composed snap – sometimes it was just some basic bitch insta snap of a cheesecake. And that’s fine with my basic self.

In writing down this entry on the /photo project, I’m scratching my head on what’s next. Also, I’m wondering how I keep on top of new snaps. I think it makes sense to batch download month by month the gap from November 2018 to now and pick my favourites, post-process them on my phone and go from there. When I’m up to the present day – who knows, I do wonder about the value of posting in the moment vs batching them weekly or monthly. Perhaps it’s a good ambient time kill activity to post the recent snaps when standing in a line waiting or on the tube. Perhaps it’s better just to be bored, let my thoughts wash over me. I guess I’ll find out when I try it.

Written by
Lawrence Brown on 5th July 2022


June Training

If you’re reading this and you’re not me, it probably won’t be that thrilling. There are plenty of other content nuggets more compelling and scientific to consume on exercise and health. This is the third web post that logs what is on my mind so I can refer back to it later. Read April’s here and May’s here. The aim is these monthly posts will be valuable to rewire habits and thinking with my training.


Goal: Keep on reducing body fat so I look good on the beach

Results: Slow start to the month but a strong finish, closing in on sub 20% body fat

April 1st April 29th May 31st June 28th Month
Change
Total
Change
Weight (kg) 73.1 69.8 68.6 66.1 -2.5 -7
Fat (%) 25 22.6 22 20.5 -1.5 -4.5
Muscle (%) 71.2 73.4 74.1 75.4 1.3 -4.2
Fat Mass (kg) 18.3 15.8 15.1 13.6 -1.5 -4.7

I didn’t get back into jogging until half way through the month, once I’m in a rut I stay there and I’d love to design a way that I can break out of it. The last two weeks I’ve got three weights sessions in, several one meal per day days and I’m really chuffed to be seeing 66’s-kgs on the scale for what I think might be a decade.


Context: For the last 12 weeks I’ve been working towards the goal of shifting fat, growing a bit of muscle and increasing my cardiovascular performance. Last month in May the plan took a slight detour when I got quite sick for a long time, spent a long time not moving and recovering. Q2’s plan was all about the Hackney Half training, better attention to diet and following one all round weights routine that ensured I worked my core and legs as well as my upper body.

June has been pretty good, considering it gets harder to shift mass as you lose more of it, the numbers above are quite strong. I’m still really motivated by the idea of looking great on the beach, I’ve never felt confident in my body to wonder around in the sun without keeping a baggy t-shirt on. The longer this journey goes on, the less the numbers are really in my head and more the visual of not having a podgy overhang on my trousers, boxers or shorts. They are still handy to keep the balance of “what happens next?” when getting on the scales twice a week.


What has happened?

  • Longer durations between eating, sometimes eating once a day
  • Some meals are just protein and veg
  • There were a couple of spikes in weight data, from memory this was poor eating and no running
  • Two experiments ran with weights sessions flat out (~30min)
  • Upped weights on a few exercises, made some harder by body position
  • Jogging at the gym started again half way through the month, pace 7km/h
  • Lowered boozing during the week for half the month

When I was sick in May I extended skipping meals a bit longer than just breakfast. This month I’ve done it again a few times and it works especially well after a weekend of eating out and catching up with people. For example, eating between 3-5pm on Sunday and then waiting until Monday 5-6pm to eat again is pretty easy for me. I have wondered about setting fixed days in the week to do this but I think it’s better to do it ad hoc to allow for a flexible social and couples calendar.

Look at the graph below. The start of the month had a couple of spikes (“Lynn, I’ve pierced my foot on a spiiiiike!). I can’t remember specifically what happened there, my bet is it was sweets, take-aways, eating out and booze compounded. I wasn’t back running again at the start of the month either. The fasting, dog walking and weights seemed to nicely correct them pretty quickly. I did end up thinking about when I’m my ideal body weight and shape – what will my maintenance intake of food look like? My bet is on skipping meals, the benefits are huge and I will always be doing this in some form regardless of how steady I feel.

Weights. The two sessions I did at fast pace – fifteen exercises with zero rest in between until one set was complete – were an absolute energy drain for nearly three days afterwards. I haven’t looked into if the increase in pace is beneficial in any way. It is reassuring to know it can be done in ~30 mins, but it kind of sucked doing it. As soon as form vanishes or motivation dips, it feels like it would be easy to get out of the rhythm of 2-3 routines a week. I started upping some weights 2kgs, second sets was mostly possible, sometimes a reduction in reps. I also made press ups a touch harder by changing hand positioning and switched to a leg elevated bench dip.

The plan is that Q3 will have two weights routines. One normal mode, one functional strength. My bet right now is that doing every single one as functional strength may be too hard to sustain three times a week. Somedays you need to show up and get on with it after a bad sleep or a night out – so I’m building in that insurance layer to the plan. I need to start the routine tomorrow and currently it’ very scrappy – Russian twists, farmer carries, press up and raise above head, walking lunges, standing press, pull ups, jackknife sit-up, push to dumbbell burpie, squats, calve raises. Not yet added to my Strong app as a routine. Let’s see.

Not much to say about the running itself, it just needs to happen. I’ve started making a techno playlist on YouTube so I can watch DJs mixing while running, probably the easiest way to zone out for 30/40 mins.

Finally, here are the quarters numbers:


Plan for next month

  • Call me crazy, I might do a dexa body scan ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  (might)
  • More skipping meals, boost that mitochondria fat breaking function
  • Fast runs need to come back, two weeks of jogging under my belt so this should be easy
  • Functional strength routine should help grow and develop more interesting muscles than the isolated normie ones
  • Training while in Barcelona, don’t let the flights make you fat
  • Stability training of some type, probably combined with warm ups and cool downs on running
  • I feel slightly under prepared with the details on the training, it will help to get a few basics down on paper for the month
  • Drop 2% fat (<18% body fat by August 1st)

 

Written by
Lawrence Brown on 30th June 2022


High-end Audio: The iTunes Audit

You know when you start a thing and pretty soon enough it dawns on you that you’ll be doing that thing for a long, long, long time? And, the more you consider when you might be done, you realise it’s highly likely you will never really be done. I got to that stage a few months ago when I decided to tackle ~90GB of music files sat on an old hard drive. If I can offer myself any post-rational advice, when you find yourself at that stage, ask yourself if you genuinely care about what you’re spending your time on. Luckily I’m delighted to say that I’d rank music and its technology ecosystem a 10/10 on the MEGAFUN for Larry Index. MFFL.

Swiftly moving on from talking myself into the delight of another Sisyphean tale being added to my waking hours, I’m keen to jot down a few exciting moments along the way. And this web post marks the completion of skimming through all ~90GB of music files and processing them to either the trash, Roon, a DJ folder for rekordbox or an inbox folder.

Before I started the music files audit I had an idea in 2019/20 to reduce my digital clutter. I had ended up with a lot of data in all sorts of places and it needed some attention. The journey my music took was pretty wild. I moved off iTunes as Spotify became feasible for everyday use and the ~90GB got uploaded to Google Play Music. My thinking at the time was that I’d recreate what I could in Spotify and use Google Play Music when I wanted to dig something out the archive. What actually happened is that my collection went into cold storage there, only to be pulled when I had a lightbulb moment for a track, mix or album I wanted to hear. Spotify dominated by always having a new new to hit play on. Google closed their storage service in 2020 and sudo merged the streaming part with YouTube Music. I downloaded the ~90GB of music files and put them on a physical spinny hard drive under our bed.

Now listen, before the rise of streaming there were the far more thrilling days of buying albums from shops, sharing albums with friends, downloading DJ sets from forums, downloading shows hosted on websites and ripping CDs. They all went into one database, which, at some stage in my life was organised at just above average level of care and attention. That data was now without its base and it sat in a worse place than the ignored cold storage of Google, it sat with the eliminated usb cables of yesteryears, unplugged, dusty and dead.

Beep, beep, beep. Wait. What is that? Can you hear it too? That is the sound of life once again. The collector has come to his senses, dust dusted, untangled from the tether of useless cables, the spinny hard drive has been plugged in and is … transferring … for quite some time.

I used our media server MacBook Air to start trying to make sense of the data in Finder. That was impossible as the filenames were bonkers and everything was in just one folder. It was time to go back to where it all began and drag that one folder straight into iTunes. I don’t care that it got renamed to Apple Music. It is still iTunes when you’re doing something like this. And so began the monumental quest of auditing all of it to work out what to actually do with it.

The plan at the time was to get the best of the music into Doppler and sync that with iCloud or Google Drive. I’d bought into Doppler as the user experience and interface is wonderfully elegant with just enough features. However, I stumbled into a couple of gotchas. FLAC playback was stuttering and I was repeating my previous failure of separating streaming and local files into two experiences. After many chats with Dan and Brad, a handful of John Darko videos and starting to nerd out on high end headphones and audio formats I decided to double down and bought into Roon.

Six months later, I’m done. The gigs of music is less gigs, the good stuff is saved and the bad stuff is trashed. But, I’m not done. In reality I’ve only just poured the foundations of the house. House music.


What did I learn from the audit?

There was a lot of shit. iTunes libraries suffered from more is more. Mine was a victim.

There was a fair amount of gold. Music that hasn’t made its way onto streaming. Mixes, EPs and albums from an era when I was dedicating a lot time to music discovery as opposed to letting a computer program choose tracks for me.

I got rid of a lot of classics. These are songs that are easy to find on streaming but I’m unlikely to listen to the whole album or the song unless it is on a mixtape. Usually pop or rock. They deserve a place but cluttering the library is low value.

MP3s are shit quality. Who knew? Well, yeah, a lot of the gold requires an additional audit to determine if I link the high end TIDAL version or if I buy the lossless files. This got me thinking not only about the cost but then how much I actually value that particular creation. Not having a bag of endless cash is good, it makes you focus on what you really appreciate and assign a value to it.

A small library is a tough concept. While reviewing the seemingly endless ~90GB I kept thinking, “can I get my core library to 100 albums, if I add one I have to take one away”. Today, I’m at 490 albums and I haven’t yet started to sift through the Spotify playlists. I haven’t got a solid answer for this one. My current bet is that I will use tags to define 100 essentials. Works that I consider to be the sounds that are important to me, available in lossless formats. The Roon library only has entries that I know, listen to and believe to be a great work. This needs a bit more thinking through, it’s tough.

Metadata is messy data. I wasn’t super diligent with metadata in the days of building an iTunes library. Some stuff got fixed, a lot didn’t. I’m crossing my fingers that what I experienced in the recent audit in Apple Music was a look-up and not permanently changed in the file meta. Roon has done a wonderful job of providing the right data on its lookup. The worry is when I want to use these files outside the platform. Conveniently, this app popped up in my Twitter timeline this week https://www.nightbirdsevolve.com/meta/ which looks a touch friendlier to use than others

I’m missing amazing albums. They were not in my collection. They were overlooked or never discovered. But, perhaps they should be added. Where does this start and end though? How do I keep a simple system and not just overload by adding “missing” and never really listening? I’ve been wondering about setting focus for a few weeks at a time and going through artists back catalogue, listening, deciding, refining. Album of the Week web posts are likely the best way to capture my research and link back to stuff as I go.

I don’t want to do this again. Never again. I guess my approach to music collecting and listening is very different now. I was, like a lot of us in the iPod era, a greedy little shit that took any MP3s I could get my hands on and stuffed them into the iTunes database and never really did much to keep things clean, updated or managed in anyway. A well thought out library is the way.

Apple Music is buggy and the ux doesn’t work for me. Playback often didn’t work during the audit, I’d have to go backwards and forwards between tracks to try and get it to kick in. It could be me, but I never seemed to hit target spots for transport controls that easily, the basics of pressing play was tough. Scrubbing the same.

Supporting artists is important. Buy more music. Stream to discover.


The High-end Audio Quest

This is my first go at writing this down so I’m likely to revise this plan over time.

  • Set-up Roon Server to run on home network, KEF LSX and Bluesound Node
  • Transfer out of Spotify and into TIDAL
  • Organise Roon and TIDAL so hearted songs don’t end up in {My Library} – I want to make active decisions to add an EP or album to the library, I want to remove the behaviour of having a track only collection that Spotify promoted and I guess iTunes started
  • Audit old local files and add the good music to Roon 👈 (I am here)
  • Audit old Spotify playlists and add albums and EPs to Roon that are missing
  • Double audit local files and buy or link high end audio formats (MP3 → FLAC)
  • Triple audit local files and evaluate where the discography gaps are with the music styles I love
  • Define a tagging system for stuff I care about – e.g. I want to see a list of DJ Mixes
  • Fix metadata tags on local files so they can be used easily outside Roon
  • Create 90 minute fixed duration mixtapes (now called playlists) that are fit for themes, invest more time and effort than the endless mess of Spotify playlists I ended up with
  • Figure out how I get music on my phone for offline listening
  • Figure out budget and plan to buy more music from Bandcamp
  • Consider downloading vulnerable online only DJ Mixes
  • What do I do with audio/music that is not a fit for the Roon library but I still want to hold onto
  • Buy a DJ controller and start using rekordbox, audit mixable tracks that were salvaged from the ~90GB
  • Create a “one USB key” approach to DJing that enables me to be mobile if I want to DJ out of home
  • Carefully consider if and when any audio hardware additions or upgrades are worth it

I did say a few paragraphs ago that I wanted to “reduce my digital clutter”. This list can appear to be an increase of clutter rather than reduction. I coud just ignore the hard drive under a bed or just use Spotify. For me, clutter in this context is music you’re mindlessly adding to a library, not listening to or haven’t listened to. I’m highly interested in music and along the way tools, services and technology devalued it by increasing its capacity, discovery bandwidth and encouraging likes and loves rather than purchase investments. Finally, digital clutter is everywhere and having purpose and plan for each area of your digital data is the most important thing, otherwise we all end up mindlessly storing more and more stuff with very little need for it and zero joy.

Next up, auditing the Spotify playlists whilst picking albums of the week to go deeper into the library and define the essentials.

Written by
Lawrence Brown on 5th June 2022


May Training

If you’re reading this and you’re not me, it probably won’t be that thrilling. There are plenty of other content nuggets more compelling and scientific to consume on exercise and health. This is the second web post that logs what is on my mind so I can refer back to it later. Read April 2022 training post here. The aim is these monthly posts will be valuable to rewire habits and thinking with my training.


Goal: Reduce body fat and build a reliable base fitness for running Hackney Half marathon in 60 days. Start date 1st April, race date 22nd May.

Results: Cold virus contracted on 2nd May, too sick to run.

April 1st April 29th May 31st Month
Change
Total
Change
Weight (kg) 73.1 69.8 68.6 -1.2 -4.5
Fat (%) 25 22.6 22 -0.6 -3
Muscle (%) 71.2 73.4 74.1 0.7 -2.9
Fat Mass (kg) 18.3 15.8 15.1 -0.7 3.2

It has been 29 gruelling days of living with a cold virus. I managed all of two runs and seven weights session. Cancelled running the half marathon and I’m gutted about the outcome.


Context: I started May the leanest, strongest and fastest I’d been in years. On April 30th I ran for an hour at my race pace, felt amazing and logged a 4:39 /km average. My assumption was that I’d train for three more weeks up to the half marathon and focus on three times: 1:35 – 1:40 – 1:50.  I bet that I’d finish the month with my weight around 67kg and be closer to <20% body fat. I’d just come from months of ballooning and no running, more detail on this in April’s web log.


What happen?

  • Caught the cold virus (probably at a night out in Birmingham) on the 30th April, by the 2nd of April I was in bed
  • Training ground to a halt, I was too sick to concentrate, work, run and sleep
  • The virus haunted me on and off for three weeks, I always felt like I was around the corner from recovery – I never quite arrived until week four since being in bed. Week four I was back at work and had my spirit and energy back
  • During week three of the virus my GP was alarmed by the blood coming from my nose and sent me for chest x-rays, bloods and a face to face consultation
  • My assumption that I had sinusitis turned out to be true, a huge relief after an evening in hospital
  • Seven weights training session in total over month, I think the goal would have been 14
  • Two runs, one while sick which was a terrible idea, one yesterday now I’m better
  • Skipped two meals on a few days, eating only dinner
  • Indulged on food more times than I can remember, puddings, large portions, take-outs, carb heavy options

What a shitty month. Perhaps one of the most prominent examples in my life of a well made plan not going to plan. Perhaps running races are just cursed. Before I delve further into the dark of the last month, I’m going to look at a few positives that and the bigger picture. I reached 67.2kg | 21% body fat | 14.1kg fat mass on May 26th – this is with diet being all over the place, no running and a few weight sessions. That is just under 6kg total loss, 4% body fat loss and 4.2kg of fat mass loss in 60 days. Those are some great stats and they can get better. On top of that, my weights session yesterday (Mon 30th May) saw me push arnold press and tricep extension up to 14kg, squat, goblet squat and floor press all to 20kg. I learnt that the dog can jog! Over the last year I’ve tried running with her and it’s been a nightmare, she steps into a sprint and pulls your arm out of its socket whilst tripping you up with the lead when she changes direction. However, if you jog and never let her get past a fast trot – she can actually jog. I’ve done about three of these so far, ideally I want to get as many in as possible in June. My belly isn’t so fat that my Nike Germany t-shirt clings to it, only noticed this month. Skipping two meals wasn’t that hard. I want to test this out now I’m feeling heaps better, it could have been the ride of paracetamol, endless tea and living on a sofa that made it so easy. However tricky it might be, I’ve been learning about the benefits so I’m all for as many additional skipped meals as I can squeeze in whilst still feeling strong and capable. Which leads nicely into learning about electrolytes. In the past, when I’ve skipped meals I haven’t had any supplements. In June I’m going to see how I feel when topping up on electrolytes.

Right, onto some analysis – I haven’t seen huge wins this month, it is a slow and steady improvement. Which is okay, but we’re approaching familiar plateau. Potentially a dangerously complacent one when combined with no running. The total wins of dropping a bunch of fat of 60 days can easily become the only thing I concentrate on. Whilst at the same time my fat loss is slowing, my eating plan is closer to random guess work and a few bad habits of sweet treats are creeping back in. If we add all these together the forecast could easily trend back to fat gain. The numbers right now look like this:

Note: I mentioned the best day of the month, this wasn’t a weigh in day so it sat between logged spreadsheet days.

May is now behind me. Thinking about the 30 days of June, what do I want to get out of it? I really want to break into the sub 20% body fat. Now, this is a strange concept as fat percentage is calculated from total weight and a dexa scan is the only real way to determine fat composition. So the goal is more about seeing the fat loss in the mirror and feeling less fat. I’m using my scales a bit like I use Google Maps when I have a working knowledge of how to get somewhere, it’s a calibrator to keep you in check. Also, as I can still pinch a fair old grab of belly fat with my finger and thumb – theres no real concern on the metric accuracy when the evidence is a fist of fat.

Next up, running. Running and spinning. From watching a few training videos I really like the idea of mixing up my heart rate zone 2 training with spinning so I get the benefits of effort exertion but I’m not overworking muscles in the same way day on day. This should reduce the risk of injury and increase the volume of training. Dog jogs, park jogs, in and then out routes, fast laps in Victoria Park and laps with Chris are all on the cards. I might not hit the final target this month, but there is a plan to do a half marathon distance with Hollie on the bike next to me when I feel as physically fit as I did on April 30th.

I’m going to continue with the Q2 weight lifting routine, ideally pushing a few sessions to fatigue, overload and reduce the rest time. These will be done on days where I’m well slept and up for the intensity. It would be a nice to have to get some big lifts in at the gym, highly likely to only do these if and when.

Food is easy to get complacent about, theres been a lot of eating out, over eating, eating sugar and carby meals and larger portion sizes this month. June is about recalibrating these. I’m tempted to set some rules on the consumption, but, I know they tend to be hard to follow to the letter. I will let the scales guide me and aim for a mix of skipped meals and veg/protein only after spikes. I do need to get better at picking healthier options when I eat out. I’m still in the stage of seeing weight loss even when not running, however, my bet is this will plateau soon if what I’m eating still follows three a day and spikes. It is a tough one as I don’t sustain a strict plan for long.

Plan for next month

  • 65kg | 19% body fat | 12kg fat mass – these are tough targets, but that’s the point, right?
  • Running training back to 1hr at 4:39 /km average or better
  • Run with Chris, dog and in-and-out routes
  • 15 chin-ups in a row
  • Four mega weights session (low rest, higher volume)
  • Skip breakfast unless a weekend, skip three lunches on weekdays (around 40% meal skipping from three meals a day)
  • 50% of meals out are healthier options and/or not a full portion eaten

 

Written by
Lawrence Brown on 31st May 2022


Album of the Week: The Dead Bears - Newworldaquarium

I’ve been digging through my old hard drives for a while now, a few months back I started sorting the music folders. The aim is get rid of all the crap and discover some gold along the way. My memory is patchy, but I think I bought this album when I was living in Manchester and Chris was working at Boomkat. The more I try and access that memory the more clearly I can picture him telling me I needed to buy it.

It was an instant heart warmer, still is today.

Quick notes: Pleasing distortion. Dub techno signature sounds. House kicks. Phasic shuffle style. Haunting keys and melodic sample sprinkles. Some tracks feel like an intermission or passing soundtrack through moments. The build on every track is wonderfully subtle. Kicks are blaring at the front. Delightful panning across the sequencing – I’d savour this on headphones for sure. There is a strong diversity in mood across the album, feels like a journey.

Tracks to concentrate on:

  • Avon Sparkle is a stand out track
  • The Tide You Can’t Feel is dreamy
  • Trespassers is a driving 4/4 banger

Looks like there was a reissue and an adapted red overlay added to the artwork for that. I’m a massive fan of the white original above.

Written by
Lawrence Brown on 7th May 2022


April Training

If you’re reading this and you’re not me, it probably won’t be that thrilling. There are plenty of other content nuggets more compelling and scientific to consume on exercise and health. I’m writing this down to clear it out my mind and refer back to later. These two things feel most important to me right now, clear a busy mind, keep myself on the horse. Hopefully, these monthly posts will be valuable to rewire habits and thinking if and when I’m not training like I have in the last month.


Goal: Reduce body fat and build a reliable base fitness for running Hackney Half marathon in 60 days. Start date 1st April, race date 22nd May.

Results: A solid start out the gate.

April 1st April 29th Change
Weight (kg) 73.1 69.8 -3.3
Fat (%) 25 22.6 -2.4
Muscle (%) 71.2 73.4 2.2
Fat Mass (kg) 18.3 15.8 -2.5

All round, I’m feeling stronger and faster. The training of 2-3 weights and 3-4 runs a week is a better mix than just the weights.


Context: I’ve got the Hackney Half coming up in a few weeks. It will be my fourth half marathon and I’ve gone into the last three with no training plan. The first quarter of this year was pretty focused. I chose to do an enjoyable weights routine, trained every Monday, Wednesday and Friday – covid and travel permitting. I started karate training for the first time as an adult and was at practice nearly every Monday and Thursday. The focus and discipline from that quarter feels banked, just like a savings account with a wedge of money in. It feels like it has potential.

However, I’d noticed my weight creeping up. When I caught a side view of my gut in the mirror it was depressingly large. Hollie and I had chatted about going to the beach in Mexico in March. It filled me with dread knowing that my pregnant milky belly would be joining us. That idea got scrapped.

So, I had a huge slice of motivation to feed the change. Perhaps destroying a few less huge slices of pizza might also help. Last year I reached around 68.6kg and 21.9% body fat when I focused on my food and training. I didn’t look amazing. But I looked and felt heaps better than I did going into April.


What has happened?

  • Skipping breakfast, dropping oat milk before 1pm
  • Added more protein back in to meals, cooking quick pan veg, brown rice, chicken
  • Watching booze, aiming for 1-2 drinks max on casual nights
  • Weight training is now full body routine, reps till failure on a few exercises
  • Started 50 min jogs 2-3 times a week, staying in heart rate zone 2
  • Started incremental fast runs 2 times a week, going off how my legs feel and sustainable pace for the time allocated (20, 30, 40 mins)
  • Focusing on form when running: mid foot strike, feet under knees, upper body leaning forward, quick steps
  • Weigh in every Tuesday and Friday, keep it on track but avoid the spiral of weekend fluctuations

Skipping breakfast most days makes sense. I find it easy and the benefits to insulin spikes are a massive win. I’m trying out removing coffee to improve my diverticular reactions. The experiment is to see if coffee alone (not caffeine) impacts my ability to form a 3-4 score Bristol stool scale poop. Oat milk has been dropped from tea before lunch. I don’t mind black tea but would like to find other teas to mix it up.

A few weeks before the race and I’m not overthinking the food. I know chicken, veg and rice is very easy and quick to make. Hopefully the macronutrients are near enough. Once the race is done I might look at measuring macronutrients again, although there is more of a temptation to try skipping a day of food or two meals here and there instead.

Booze hasn’t seemed to have a massive impact on weight loss, however, a big however, it is messing up my sleep more than ever before. Lack of good sleep will only damage muscle recovery and kill opportunities for my body to shift weight. Three drinks (two beers and wine) was too much one night in April to get good sleep. FFS. Ideally I need a two drink limit on casual nights.

Weight training shifted from upper body only in Q1 to all body in Q2. I’ve been working my core a lot more and getting lunges and squats back in. Q1 routine was all about getting back on the horse, making it easy and doing exercises I enjoy. I didn’t push hard or challenge myself. The Q2 routine is about variation of muscle groups, core work, pushing a bit harder. I haven’t always met the three workouts a week goal I set, but, with adding running into the week I have needed rest days here and there. Morning workouts are best, any later in the day and my brain struggles to find deep concentration again. I’ve pushed the second round up to failure with reps or increase of weight.

While I was in Mexico I started researching and planning my running training. YouTube suggested Peter Attia’s podcast with Iñigo San-Millán on heart rate zone two training. A few aspects got my attention: lower resting heart rate, decrease in blood pressure, improving resilience and ability to deal with increasing load, improve zone four-five function and performance. I learnt for the first time about mitochondria and how zone two training improves the efficiency. I suck at keeping pace on the road, I need something to make it easier to just stay on the slow pace of heart rate zone two. A few months back Dan had showed me around his gym in Homerton. I bit the bullet and got a membership just to use a treadmill for jogging at zone two for 50 minute blocks.

My resting heart rate seems to have lowered from the mid sixties to mid fifties in the space of a month.

Faster running didn’t go exactly to plan. The plan has way too much volume. I dialled back the frequency to allow for recovery after listening to my legs. Nina and I had chatted about her shin splints, and remembering my history of injuries I just went off feel of legs alone. However, the results have been pretty good. Last training day of the month I held a 4:39 /km average for 60 minutes. Listening to the legs has been key and trying to get that heart rate sustainable on feel. I’ve not gone mad on the stats yet, guess I can tuck into those later when I’ve got my of a rhythm built up.

Form feels okay, I’m conscious that changing form before a race is a recipe for injury so I’m not forcing form when I run, just being mindful of easy stuff I can do to help my body: relaxed upper half, arms high and on beat, slight upper body lean, toes landing under knees.

Nothing exciting to say about weighing, expect it is essential to staying on the horse. I’ve been doing a couple of extra weighs here and there but only the Tuesday and Friday weigh ins get logged into the spreadsheet tracker. Think of it like checking your bank balance, you can wing it and guess that you’re doing okay or you can check it every few days and keep spending in check.

Plan for the next month

  • Drop at least 2 kg in weight
  • Sub 20% body fat, start focusing on shifting the teens
  • Reduce the impact on my body with a taper two weeks before the race, this means weight training will go down so I could see muscle staying at the same metrics I’m at now. This isn’t such a bother
  • Sleep as much possible, removing booze where possible or reducing it down to just one drink
  • Knee strengthening exercises every couple of days
  • Pull ups and chin ups
  • Film my running
  • Skip two meals in a day where possible

Links

Written by
Lawrence Brown on 3rd May 2022


Roland TR-909

In 2018 I put together a PechaKucha talk at NET-A-PORTER. I wanted to share my interest for music with the team and a journey down YouTube had led me to some pretty interesting stuff about this drum machine.

For a while I’d wanted to make a video version of the talk, below is a very rough first edit of that I’ve put together.

 

My editing skills need to come a long way to meet what I imagine this could be in my mind. I guess part of the creative process is learning to let go of the imagined quality level and putting your idea out, standing back and taking a breath.


Checklist for future edits

  • Add intro and ending, explain what a PechaKucha is
  • Link in all references and further reading
  • Create my own sound bed for voice over sections
  • Try swapping sound bed for music samples at lower volumes
  • Edit script to fit a regular pace for each slide
  • Move project from Screenflow to Adobe Premiere
  • Improve visual transitions and timeline
  • Research how to use samples in work for full referencing

Written by
Lawrence Brown on 27th August 2021


Did IKEA just kill UK Grime?

Do you remember when your parents started using slang words that were only used by your mates? It was awkward, right? You stopped using them.

Brands can have an equally awkward habit of the same weird flex, but ok.

18 years ago, the BRIT awards crowned UK Garage group So Solid Crew with the best video award for 21 Seconds. It is seen by some that this was a turning point for the cultural perception of the brand of UK Garage. It became commercial and destroyed its founding principles.

It’s 2019 and the IKEA Christmas Grime ad is here…

If you squint you can see the approach of this campaign. But something here is very awkward and we’re closing in on two brands—UK Grime and IKEA— destroying their own principles.

  • Ad Agency Pitch: It’s a funny ad with a dis grime battle rap from cuddly toys aimed at a family getting their home together for Christmas.
  • The Awkward: The word shame. This is a powerful word. A deep critique on your worth and representation to others. Multiply this by the toughest time of the year for some families. Mental wellbeing?
  • Subtext: Families are in continued tough times globally and they are more aware of the divide in wealth than ever before, it’s now our everyday spiral of political mess. Even the size of their house is up for grabs here
  • Distraction: We have all been sold to using the “show your best self” and everyone likes funny grime songs, right? Stormzy played Glasto this year guys! Come on. Also, it’s just a rapping T-Rex.
  • IKEA’s Problem: their vision is — “To create a better everyday life for the many people” — this campaign message isn’t for the many, it’s actually for the very few. Those with enough capital to do home upgrades while paying for presents, food, booze and more.
  • Grimes Problem: you just rapped about buying an IKEA folding table. Awkward. Who’s brand is next on your list? Pepsi?
    Perhaps it would have been less awkward to have an ad that focused on families upgrading their everyday lives not just a short lived shameful view on being judged at Christmas.
  • My pitch: Don’t buy yourself some AirPods you melt, buy your family something they can use all year round designed for a compact living space.
    It’s 2019, I doubt anyone will think Grime has peaked by rapping for IKEA, everything is a remix, re-memed and upside down. I just don’t think it’s that cool to rap about folding tables — a bit like being on the BRIT awards.

Written by
Lawrence Brown on 8th November 2019


An idea for augmented reality

The pitch: reporting damage to hire car clubs is slow and done over the phone when you need to get moving. You don’t want slow—that’s why you hired a car. Instead of phoning, use AR to overlay the known and already reported damage. If it is new damage, report it in the app before you start the journey. If it is existing — no need to wait on the to phone customer services and check it, off you go.

DriveNow is great, I’m a fan. Their customer service is super responsive and detailed too. However, when you’re renting a car you do need to check if it has damage — which in their London fleet seems to be quite common. If you force customers down this route in the app, checking damage becomes part of the rental journey process, it could be super quick and gives DriveNow more data. Saves the phone call too.

▲ I comped this dodgy screen together in a few minutes. Beep beep. 🚗💨


Update: The wonderful Annalisa Cividati — shared this company with me: https://www.ravin.ai

“Using most camera types, under most physical conditions, we detect more damages, reduce inspection costs and restore trust anywhere vehicles change hands”

Written by
Lawrence Brown on 23rd July 2019



What company mission do your customers actually remember?

Deliveroo has changed. Businesses do change. The thing is, I remember the mission of the 2015 Deliveroo. I can order from amazing places that don’t actually do delivery and eat at my own kitchen table. “We are on a mission to bring the world’s best local restaurants to everyone’s home or office.” — Deliveroo 2015. View the early pitch deck here

Four years later I open the app when working from home, cupboards are empty and I get this beautiful selection shown below.

  • How much has the idea changed?
  • Why did the idea change?
  • Is this idea as good?

Let’s face it. It’s not is it? “Crap food at any time for a premium rate delivered by drivers making a tricky salary.” Why did this change? Scale, growth and greed. Perhaps, and hold onto your hat here, the idea was never meant to be as big as they are trying to make it.

There’s loads of add on ideas to try and keep companies like Deliveroo growing, all in the name of the future bet of big profits from tiny margins and questionable outsourced labour. Be it:


What company mission do your customers actually remember?

🖥 Designers tell you Apple isn’t in it for the creative professional anymore.
✈️ Travellers tell you British Airways isn’t a top-end experience anymore.
🏨 Soho House members will tell you it’s too much like WeWork now.

The problem is, these statements are somewhat false. One of the brand ideas of Apple is to be creative, the joy of making something easily. British Airways offer some of the best customer service whilst competing in an aggressive price war sector. Soho House value members having memorable and unique experiences in their houses.

🍔 I will tell you that Deliveroo isn’t the place for the world’s best restaurants.
But I’m wrong, you can still order from some of London’s best affordable restaurants. You can also order from some of the worst.

Protecting your brand idea and mission takes care, time and saying no. Saying no a lot. I wonder where the brand idea of Deliveroo will be in the next four years, is this just part of the growth struggle? This is true of Airbnb too.


What can brands do to protect their idea, their mission, their place in our mind?

  • Define your Brand Architecture. Deliveroo could make fast food a sub-brand, a category choice off the homescreen. The effort of making a portfolio of rules for your brand and products gives you a huge return in equity and clarity.
  • Set brand rules based on the idea, Art Directors — this is your design jurisdiction and you get to put your team and suppliers in time-out or jail for breaking these rules
  • Plan the journey for the brand. Yes, it will change. Look at the greats who have done this over time, Apple is often overused but damn, they are strategy hero’s of positioning, quality and delivery into music, phones, media, health, finance, education… what’s next?
  • Keep your business plan in check with your idea. My bet is growth greed has caused Deliveroo to compromise. Keep your brand, keep your customers, keep your idea.
  • Help suppliers, they are your weak point. Airbnb are cited for helping hosts photograph their homes and add finishing touches, again, set your standards to the experience and enforce it.

Written by
Lawrence Brown on 19th July 2019


The balance of your business operational models, brand and customer experience

Short story: I got fined by Uber JUMP because I parked a bicycle outside their operational zone. A few days later I got refunded and emailed the above automatically. This business rule was quite well managed, it created a feeling of trust in JUMP that I haven’t always felt with Uber Taxis & Uber Eats.

It got me wondering, what triggers, nudges and logic for your business can be optimised for a reliable operational model and great customer experience whilst strengthening your brand?

Are you looking at the big picture of customer journeys with a Service Designer, Brand Strategist and an Accountant?

📚Valuable Reading:
This is Service Design Doing
This is Service Design Thinking


Long story: Uber are here in London with their bicycle rental service; JUMP, it’s exactly the same as the others, except, the hybrid bikes are better. Although, I’m still a fan of City owned schemes for economic and sustainability reasons.

On my first ride I didn’t look up JUMP’s operational zones. With hindsight it’s an obvious thing to check, especially for rental and sharing services.

I pelted it across London from Hackney to Waterloo station, had 5 mins to spare until meeting someone, locked the bike up, opened the app and then… £10 parking fee (shown above, left). I’ve taken the bike out of its agreed area and this idiot just got fined 229.36% the cost of the journey.

A few days and rides later I got the email above (middle and right), refunding me and explaining a bit more about their service terms. I’m guessing a few pieces of programmed logic are happening here. It’s a designed service journey that is carefully balancing operational costs, lifetime customer value (LCV) and the brand experience.

The blind spot is booking a bike away from an exclusion zone shows you a regular map. Book it near the edges of the zones and you see greyed out regions. You’ll quickly get where you can and can’t finish your ride. I didn’t get that where I started my ride.

Logistics and sharing app experiences are deliberately paired back, they have minimal controls, snippets of information and rarely can you access all your data. Product Designers want simplicity and therefore hopefully more bookings.

Let’s go. Let’s book. 🚙 🚲 🛴 📈

There isn’t even a cancel button for reserving a JUMP bike. So you get £1 fall out your wallet if you change your mind, which you can get back by emailing them.

As an industry, we Designers are removing or masking more in the name of simplicity and usability, but we’re not always in it for the customer, especially when the revenue model is precarious (ride sharing, food delivery, etc). This will be at the cost of the brand. Experience = brand.

Still, I believe JUMP made a fair call on the charge here, definitely not the lack of cancel button. It appears to be the careful balance of business sense and customer experience.

One of the big tasks we’re undertaking at NET-A-PORTER & MR PORTER is to fully map out all service journeys. We want to understand them not only from an interface perspective but from a deeper business analysis — we need that careful balance to our customer service, returns policy, logistics promises, stock control… and so on. I know the challenge will always be make sure every function here feels remunerated whilst the customer feels great too.

To wrap up, a few examples I’ve seen or been thinking about

  • Strava ask if you want to join a local running club a few days after a run logged — it leads customers to see the value in a paid account.
  • BOLD hotels surprise you with free drinks at check-in if you say yes to your room not having sheets cleaned every night
  • 💡DriveNow should add an AR feature to check car damage before you drive (I’ve been stung a few times by forgetting to check, they could make it fun and easy and logged)

Written by
Lawrence Brown on 18th July 2019


Decision nuggets

▼ This got me thinking. Damn I want some chicken nuggets. Would I ever go to Burger King for them though? Wait. But why? I haven’t even tried BK’s nuggets.

You’ve got to love a strategy that can have a place in our mind the second before we commit to a competitor. They are your doubt. They are your wake up call. At this point, they own questioning a decision, if only for a second.

BK are notable for a variety of interesting marketing ideas, stunts and executions, I wouldn’t say this is one of them.

Although, there’s something wonderfully childish about this. It’s cheeky and we all know BK’s brand is too. Often you hear marketeers talk about “brand positioning” – a place in a consumers mind. They have nailed it here just by the physical positioning and opportunity, with added bonus of not having to worry about any smart ass copywriting.

Questions I’m thinking about

  • Where is your companies brand positioned literally and strategically?
  • Will you get this close to influencing your customer during a decision?
  • How can you deliver brand voice without needing copy?
  • What are BK’s chicken nuggets actually like?

Written by
Lawrence Brown on 17th July 2019


Make it more uncomfortable

Recently, I’ve been thinking about when is the best time to get someones attention. How could your message be interpreted and received by editing simple variables?

I walk past this campaign / idea / initiative(?) every day

It’s very pretty. Well done Design team. Pretty stuff is the big idea of the Westfield mall. However, I can’t help feeling there are two huge opportunities missed here, and perhaps a vacant mall unit is not the place for this…

  1. Why are there no actual signs of homelessness here — just this sign?
  2. Why isn’t this positioned where dwell time meets audiences consideration — paying for your parking, walking out of the mall, next to the actual pavement?

I’m going to take a bet why.

Because it’s too uncomfortable for these brands to have these reminders next to your shopping session, the brief was about being pretty next to the other pretty retailers +use RFID please.

How effective is this thing if it’s not actually stopping people?

The space should be used to rotate a real story, a real person and real objects, that you have to really deal with as you pass through.

Make it more uncomfortable.


Written by
Lawrence Brown on 16th July 2019


A film is written three times…

This film essay video below is brilliant. If you haven’t got 18mins to watch it, all you need to know is — making things is hard, you have your own perception on what you’ve made and what it’s communicating. Then comes along someone else and they see it differently. And again, and so on. You need these people.

Star Wars was a mess in its first screening and idea. It took a lot of effort and humility to address the less than perfect to make it somewhere—some might say—close to perfect.

  • How often do you let someone edit your work?
  • How happy are you to admit it isn’t ready?
  • Are you building this process and mindset into your work or are you being caught out by others peoples last minute feedback?

I keep thinking about workflow and processes that allow you to get an idea down but keep it moving around. Onto Milton Glaser. In this interview he says:

“I move things around till they look right”

There’s something in this comfortableness of changing things. I like this idea.I keep editing these posts I’ve been publishing. I’m aiming to get ideas down that are in my head. I know the words are not great, they are just ok. Giving myself that space to edit and learn feels right though.


For my work output and ideas I keep coming to:

  1. Write it like you’re saying it to your friend
  2. Then re-write it for my Director to read
  3. Now re-write it for our customer to hear

Finally, this jogged another useful process — Upworthy had a guide to content that went around a lot in 2012, the bit I often cite is the “write 25 headlines”

The idea is that you keep going with that edit, keep refining to get the rubbish and the half good out the way.

Written by
Lawrence Brown on 15th July 2019


Design challenges: Why ‘how’s it going?’ is the worst question to ask

When you have a design or business problem to solve, what steps do you take?

  • Do you get your head down and sketch out ideas?
  • Do you turn to the internet for inspiration?
  • Do you talk to anyone who will listen?

Before you do anything, firstly, see if you’re thinking about the entire ‘thing’.

A buddy taught me a problem solving model he uses daily:
[Problems, Plan, Progress], shorthand — PPP. He’s a doctor working in A&E. Emergency wards are fast paced, critical and stressful environments. The conversations he has with patients and his colleagues must be responsive, structured and analytical.

By contrast, problem solving a design solution allows open, ambient and sometimes irrelevant communication. Shooting the shit. Which is fine, if we’re getting closer to the answer and we’re remembering to question the problem. It’s doubtful anyone’s life is on the line in a design review*.

The PPP model might feel specific to doctors, but it’s transferable and helps force you into holistic thinking.

Broken down:

  1. What do you think is the problem? Why are you right?
  2. Using your experience and expertise, what is your plan for solving this and what have you done so far?
  3. Are you right? Is the problem solved or are we seeing an improvement?

Why is the model robust?

  • It forces you to describe the full picture in 3 sentences, not just focusing on your amazing (proposed) plan
  • It communicates time and status
  • It opens discussion for improvement
  • It is transferrable to colleagues, no lone rangers here
  • It is not subjective

Too often when we focus on problem solving we have a bias to the activity of just ‘doing’. PPP forces you to continuously monitor not only your evaluation of the problem but the efficiency of your answer.

Asking ‘how’s it going?’ often won’t tell you much about what’s actually going on.

*Some designers will tell you they have been close

Written by
Lawrence Brown on 13th January 2017


Apple tvOS right now

The launch of Apple tvOS has created a new opportunity for media and service companies, this time on the (Apple) big screen. Right now there are few apps offering the rich experience of mobile and tablet.

Here are the reduced key takeaways for those venturing into the new promised land:

  1. 1st generation apps are always too safe. Stand-out experiences stay on home screens
  2. The processor sets a new standard for the possibilities of motion design
  3. Popular tvOS games will set the path for new interaction patterns
  4. Media partners are working with Apple on the full-fat Siri API to expose endpoints anywhere
  5. Twitter owned auth service Digits works with tvOS to login users using a simple PIN
  6. Use tvOS to ‘stress test’ features before distributing across products

More detail below…


1st generation apps are always too safe. Stand-out experiences stay on home screens.

In 2008 Apple launched the App Store. Developers had worked too closely to the HIG and for the first year the majority of apps were built on the design and interaction patterns defined in this document.

The apps that got attention and became ‘home screen’ apps were those that started to challenge these rules and create a unique experience.

Today we can see exactly the same with tvOS. App creators have a huge opportunity to launch a ‘stand-out’ experience that generates interest and creates loyalty.


The processor sets a new standard for the possibilities of motion design.

Apple have two strong differentiators with their hardware over competitors streaming boxes or traditional TV units. The remote and the processor. The speed and agility of applying visual transitions and effects is outstanding. Live blur and parallax were fundamental to the design framework of iOS7 and they too have found their way into tvOS.

It won’t stop with live blur. Harnessing the processor capabilities will allow app creators to create a rich experience and pave the way for motion language and rules that legacy set top boxes never fully achieve.


Popular tvOS games will set the path for new interaction patterns.

The gyroscope built into the new remote makes the device great for fun gaming. It is doubtful we will see serious video gaming publishers porting their titles as the fidelity of controls needed are not there. Much like the Nintendo Wii the successful titles in the app store are those providing fun, playful interactions and very family friendly.

Some of the multitouch patterns and interaction design in these games will find their way into other apps as over time. Keep playing with the apps (although you might quickly rack up a nice little bill)


Media partners are working with Apple on the full-fat Siri API to expose endpoints anywhere.

Currently Apple have not opened the Siri tvOS API to all developers. They are working with exclusive partners behind the scenes to integrate apps and end points so users can use ‘Hey Siri…’ to expose content across the entire unit.

If you’re part of big media or service company you should be concentrating on search outside of your app.


Twitter owned auth service Digits works with tvOS to login users using a simple PIN.

Signing in and setting up apps is boring. It becomes infuriating on the Apple TV with just a remote and a huge set of input fields to complete. Fortunately the groundwork to improving this experience has been done. Digits is a service from Twitter that completes authorisation using your phone. A six digit code is displayed on the TV that you type in on your phone.

Where possible we want to remove or reduce the need for complex character input. Authorisation, account settings, experience preferences and handover can all be managed by a phone or tablet. The first time use must feel simple, frictionless and journey as quickly as possible to the content.

Using a partner app on native can also achieve auth — but the development overheads are increased.


Use tvOS to ‘stress test’ features before distributing across products.

This is the same strategy as Spotify, have an idea, launch quick, test, iterate. Smart TVs, traditional TV boxes and streaming boxes are all running at a slower release cycle.

Use tvOS to build fast, with the best hardware and gain automatic updates and detailed analytics.

Written by
Lawrence Brown on 24th February 2016


Emoji Treasure Hunt

You can have this idea.

I’ve been thinking about it for a while and I have no opportunity to apply it to any live projects.
Introducing… The Emoji Treasure Hunt 💯👏. If you’re working at or with a company talking to a younger audience and you have mobile figured out – this will/could work.

  • Start a flash sales campaign. 💸
  • Put some insanely good discounts out on retail/services items. Retail works better – think ASOS. 📉👕👚👗👖
  • Now setup search 🔍 so that unique combinations of emojis ⛱🎤 surfaces theses SKUs.
  • Make it limited to 10s or 100s of items for each SKU to spike interest. 💰📈

The best bit is the opportunity for combining emojis to surface the related products. This can be made really fun 👻👟🐓. Null results should be dealt with small clues 🕵, get users searching again and again, guide them to the prize 🎉, let them solve the pattern.

The aim – create a result of awareness 📈, create a reward incentive 🎁, increase time on site 🕝, increase eyes on product catalogue 👀 and some offers so good it’s hard to put your phone down 📱.

The phone is crucial. Right now emojis are hard on desktop keyboards (or could be considered niche).

Here’s two examples:

👯🙈 = Alexa Bodysuit
🏕❄️ = North Face Jacket

Written by
Lawrence Brown on 21st February 2016


What’s your dining experience?

It is very difficult to be fully aware of the day to day experience your company provides its clients, suppliers and employees.

Abstract your business. Think of the last meal that you ate out with friends. Think of the full dining experience from pavement to pin number.

What table were you sat at? Did the menu ‘concept’ need explaining? Was the specials board in another room? What price was the house wine and did they take your order before you looked at the mains?

Eating at restaurants exposes an extensive list of interesting service, product and experience elements. The value here is asking ourselves where these map to in our own business and acknowledging our room for improvement.


Do you have a reservation?
Translation: We greet you with barriers and protocol first

Do you know how the menu works?
Translation: We’re complicated, it’s about us

Normally we suggest that you order x and then y with z
Translation: We up-sell before sale

We have one last table left, sorry its not our best
Translation: We’re fine with poor experience for one more sale

Let me recite the eight special dishes for you to memorise
Translation: We’re good at knowing what we do, hope you can keep up

We clear the empties as quick as we can
Translation: We’re busy, you better hurry up

Our cutlery is our cutlery
Translation: We don’t eat our own food with our own knives

Our house wine starts at £25, next bottle up is £32
Translation: We love sales not products


Dining out is a very contained experience, it only lasts a few short hours and we’re very critical when parting with our own cold hard cash.

What’s your ‘worst table’ and who’s getting the blunt knives? Service experience and communication are fundamental to the satisfaction of the products we sell.


The list could have gone on.

Although I fear it was in danger of going full Larry David.

Written by
Lawrence Brown on 15th February 2016


Why I’m not going to give £2 a month to help beat cancer

I received a call from Cancer Research a couple of weeks ago. The guy on the phone thanked me for my donation I made this year. I couldn’t remember donating. He reminded me that I ran a half marathon this year and perhaps it had something to do with that. He moves quickly on to his sales script:

“Why did you choose to donate to Cancer Research?”

Interesting question. He’s keen to establish the motive behind my decision. Ok, but don’t forget: I can’t remember that I donated at this point. Understanding motives is crucial in sales and communication. However, I’m going to stick my neck out here and make an assumption. The forecast of 2013 is that 33% of people in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer. So the chances are incredibly high that everyone he asks that question to is going to have either had or have cancer in addition they know someone they love who has or had cancer. With this in mind — there is no need whatsoever to understand motive on this call.

Furthermore, this script has now opened a can of worms (which, could be intentional)

I reply: “ah, right, I remember, there was a list of charities on the signup form and I picked you guys because my mum was diagnosed a few years ago”

…Phone goes cold…

He replies: “well, I’m very sorry if I’m crossing a line, is your mother — “ I break in and stop him: “dude, she’s fine, they caught it super early and she’s nearly out of remission and doing very well”

Imagine the possible range of answers anyone being phoned with this script could have to that question. At 1pm on a weekday. You’re at lunch at work. Not a great start to what’s about to follow.

He offers his best wishes and continues with “let me tell you about what we’re doing…” And then reads a statistical sell to me about impact of work vs funds raised. Then wraps up with — “Just £10 a month can make all the difference to this, are you interested?”

I stop him. I tell him I’m donating to a charity monthly that I chose years ago and that’s my deal. He then counter offers with suggesting a smaller deal, just £2.

Now you’re thinking come on Lawrence, you cold bastard, you’re not worth £24 a year for cancer research? More on that later.

This script follows the same old routine we all hear all the time.

It’s stale, lazy and really weak for their brand.


Here’s how the call should have gone:

“Hi Lawrence, I’m calling you because you ran Hackney half marathon last year. First off, well done and second, thanks for donating your ticket sale to cancer research, it makes a big difference.

Are you going to run Hackney Half again in 2016?

[Now, at this point I could have said yes or no, the script still works]

[Great] or [If you did run again] we’d love it if you chose us again, but what would really kick this out the park is if you considered sponsorship and ran for us and yourself. I’m sending runners a one-time email today, it’s 3 super powerful tips for those getting sponsorship, to help raise as much dosh and save you time and hassle.

How does that sound? Can I send you that email? [reassure them its not a newsletter]

[Let’s follow the close of the offer]

Give it a read, let me know if you have any questions, you can phone me or just reply.

Final thing you need to know, your race entry will be paid for by us and the money you raise makes a massive difference to our work and to so many lives. There’s a link the email about the details of what we want to raise and how it will save lives.

Thanks for your time and just drop me a line with any questions. We would love to have you board.


A few key takeaways for me here are:

They had my name, address, email, age, donation, if I sponsored ran, my finisher time (watch out for the DNFs) — use this data

  • Give your audience something useful that they can use
  • This script is old and stinks:
  • — “Have you got time today?”
  • — “Can I tell you about this?”
  • — “Do you care enough to help us make this change?”
  • — “All you need to do is sign a direct debit?”
  • — “How about a smaller direct debit?”
  • — “How about I try again next time?”
  • — Lazy lazy lazy
  • Cancer Research outsourced this call to a 3rd party sales team (they had to tell me this) — why are they not thinking about their data and their segmentation before ‘just chucking people on the phones’
  • Building brand loyalty and success for charity is about reach and effect, this call was about converting a database entry into a direct debit. It’s done nothing for them as brand for me, I have no real connection there
  • They only wanted £120 a year, thats not much
  • They could have landed me running for them every year and getting my entire network to consider backing them and me in that race — which I would hope is way more than £120 a year and includes a message
  • Charities, companies, start-ups—whoever has a CRM—needs to think about why and how that data got there before they start applying what they think converts to the whole set
  • Don’t follow the “rule book” just because fundraising has been doing this technique for the last 10–15 years — why carry on with the rubbish conversion rate, linear sales pattern and brand damage?
  • Brands must think about service journey not sales charts

Finally and way, way more importantly:

  1. My mum caught her cancer early. Go get checked, if you’re in the age and risk zone. Just go get checked. Mum, I love you. I can’t promote that enough. I don’t even want to think about what I would be writing now if she hadn’t had the medical professionals and testing programme we have in the UK.
  2. If you work for Cancer Research and you’ve read this, get in touch, this isn’t a bomb at you, it’s more an observation on the status quo of consumer charity sales. It sucks. Lets do something awesome with your data: email [at] lawrencebrown.eu

Written by
Lawrence Brown on 13th November 2015