Tag Archives: Progress

Darling, You Are One In 107 Billion

Congratulations! You are the 107,000,000,000th human born on Earth!

Click here to redeem your prize*

* Your prize is the BBC article from which I got this estimate.


My big chance! And I messed it up.

I was ten and at the county tennis trials. All the kids were lined up on the side of the court.

“Bounce the ball across these three courts, turn round when you reach the fence, then come back.

“But you can’t use the strings. You have to bounce it with the edge of the racket, on the side of the frame”.

Uh-oh. Never done this before.

“Ok – go!”

The other kids threw down their tennis balls and started bouncing them across the the courts.

I dropped mine, twisted my racket on its side, and tried to knock the ball down and forwards so that I could set off too.

Ding! My ball hit an edge on my racket and shot off to the left.

I chased it, grabbed it, and tried again.

Bing! This time I’d hit it squarely but too far back on the frame – it bounced back into my stomach.

The other kids had already crossed the first court.

Ok, and again – thock! I caught it too far forward on the frame and the ball whizzed ahead of me up the court. Phew, at least now I could move off the starting line.

The charade continued for what felt like an hour until someone merciful called a halt. I hadn’t yet made the fence, never mind turned around and come back.

Twenty years later, I still feel embarrassed about it.

You can’t prepare for everything, and you won’t always have the talent to wing it first time.

But that’s ok. I can bounce the ball with the side of the racket now.

I got there in the end.

Don’t be the goalkeeper

My first football match!

Fleetville Juniors vs Camp School. Aged 8, I was pretty excited. And I was picked to play in goal.

Mum said:

Don’t be the goalkeeper. If you don’t let any goals in, all you will have done is what’s expected of you. And if you do let in a goal, you’ll have failed and you’ll feel bad.

I did let in a goal… well, several actually. We were 4-1 down at half-time, so the PE teacher moved me outfield and put someone else in goal.

But I still remember that advice.

It’s more fun to be in situations where it’s possible to create something new, and to go beyond just aiming for zero.

And I hate being in situations where the max possible result is to do just what’s expected of me — to keep a clean sheet and not mess things up.

I’m still a crappy goalkeeper though.

Pretty sure that no motherly advice can change that!

Start with no

I jog my legs up and down the whole time and it drives my girlfriend crazy. I literally cannot sit still for a minute.

I would say that I get bored easily, but I’m not sure that quite covers it.

It’s just so easy to start doing things – free tools, free platforms, cheap equipment – that the most difficult thing is actually to say no.

Bullshit business books say to always have an open mind, to follow up every lead, you never know where it might take you and maybe there’ll be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

I say (and, sometimes, do) the opposite: start with no.



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A personal On This Day

My boss’s wife posts photos of their (super-cute) son on Facebook almost every day. When he grows up he’s going to be able to look back at pretty detailed record of his childhood.

Google recently released a neat video about a father who emails his daughter every day from the day she was born:

I’ve been thinking about how much of my life is being recorded in one way or another, and how I might be able to look back on it in the future.

The record is comparatively incomplete for the first 15 years or so, but over the past decade and a bit (since I got my first email account aged 15) more and more material is being recorded – mostly, of course, online.

It’s pretty straightforward to look back in time at grand historical events. The BBC’s On This Day has been going for a long while (though it doesn’t seem to have been updated since 2005). Wikipedia has a page for each day of the year too – here’s today’s.

Keeping track of what you were doing personally on a particular day in the past is much harder. But it will probably get easier in time, and the results could be rather interesting.

One way of doing it might be to create a personal version of On This Day.

Each day you would receive an email summarising what were doing on that date in previous years.

Information could be drawn from emails, your calendar, Facebook, Twitter, SMS records, photos, Spotify, YouTube, and your browser history. There are a whole bunch of services that store the digital ‘artefacts’ we create (emails, Fb posts, tweets etc) – and of course those artefacts all time-stamped.

The content of the email would be curated according to your recent activity on those services. For example, if on 9 December 2010 you emailed 50 people, but since then you had only emailed five of them on a regular basis, perhaps the content relating to those five people would be of most interest to you in the email you received today, on 9 December 2011.

Obviously there would be privacy issues a-go-go.

But as we create more and more artefacts about ourselves, and since the digital artefacts we create will likely outlast us, there’s going to be a lot of historical information about each and every one of us available to look back on.

I think that the knowledge of the existence of that information will mean that we’ll start to see ourselves as objects of historical interest.

Those digital artefacts are like the fragments of the past that are collected together in museums, illuminating a particular historical period.

Finding a way of accessing, understanding and examining them – the fragments of our own personal history – is definitely a problem worth solving.

Update: this product already exists! Check out timehop.com, who thought this up a year or so before I did!



If you liked this post, you might want to read this: A time machine for interests

Technology and magic

Arthur C. Clarke famously said that

There are already many technologies that seem like magic to us. “Magical” was the exact word used by a colleague’s wife when he showed her Blippar, an app that triggers an augmented reality ad on your phone when you points it camera at the advertiser’s logo.

She couldn’t believe that something physical – like the label on a jar of Marmite – could cause something to happen digitally on my colleague’s phone. She actually accused him of playing a trick!

But the connection between physical things and the digital world is, I think, going to become stronger and more obvious over the next few years.

There are two reasons for this.

1. Intermediary devices (like phones) are linking physical things to the internet

Blippar is one example; another is Google Goggles, which enables a photo of anything you see to trigger a Google image search. Both provide a bridge between physical things and the internet.

2. New physical things are being created that use an internet connection to do useful or interesting things

This has been described as the internet of/with things. For example, a wristband that tracks your physical activity and sleep patterns, and stores the data online so that you can monitor and learn from it. Or, more simply, a little gizmo that sits in your pot plant and sends you a message when the soil needs watering.

When objects are connected to the internet, they are also connected to one another.

I suspect that this will mean a change in the way we see the physical world.

The things we see around us will become increasingly networked, and less a set of discrete objects that exist in isolation.

The network that is growing around us seamlessly connects the physical world with the digital world. The connections between the two will become more commonplace, and there may well be a point at which we expect those connections to exist and place less value on certain ‘dumb’ objects.

I hope that doesn’t take too much of the magic out of things.


Thanks to Paul Skeldon (and his wife!) for the story about Blippar.

A time machine for interests

toddmgreen time machine is a collection of things I find interesting, beautiful, or inspiring. A new post appears every Tuesday at 9pm UK time.

My other time machine is a DeLorean

I schedule them in advance for three reasons.

First, I think it’s an interesting way to separate what you might describe as my physical and digital ‘selves’. My digital self posts something every Tuesday at 9pm – but I’ve now got so many posts scheduled that my physical self has no idea what is going to appear each week.

Second, this blog acts as a history of my interests. Every post has a ‘Post created’ date on it. That date marks the date on which I came across the subject of the post. Earlier this week, on 15/11/11, I scheduled a post containing a quote by George Bernard Shaw. On 21/03/12, that post will appear on the blog. It’s a time machine that keeps reappearing.

Third, I aim ultimately to schedule so many posts that they are still appearing after I’m gone (hopefully that will require a lot of posts!). Most of the stuff that I put anywhere online will outlive me – perhaps I can also create things that aren’t even born until after I die.


If you liked this post, you might want to read this: A personal On This Day

Google vs. memory

Sasha Magill recently wrote in The Guardian about the effect of Google on memory. The basic theory is that being able to Google stuff is bad for your memory.

There are several challenges associated with using Google to find information:
– distinguishing good sources from bad
– finding the important stuff among a large pool of information
– making connections between bits of information

Sound familiar? Having spent several years doing a history degree, they certainly do to me. They’re the core skills you use in studying history.

(Image from eyelevelpasadena.com)

It would be difficult to argue that remembering lots of names and dates is a core skill. Yet that is a large part of studying history, especially when one is assessed by examination.

Each exam question demands an answer in which the student connects names, dates and scholarly opinions to create a coherent response. Remembering names, dates and scholarly opinions is critical in exams because one needs to be able to select from a large pool of material in order to be able to construct an argument.

Using Google as the entry point to a massive database of information allows students to spending less time searching for and memorising basic information, and more time doing the challenging, intellectual stuff:
– distinguishing good sources from bad
– finding the important stuff among a large pool of information
– making connections between bits of information

Those who would resist this change, or deny its positive effects, are fighting a losing battle – the internet is not going to go away, and this is in any case how younger generations access information most of the time already.

Moreover, I would argue that this is a battle that does not need to be fought. From a young age, people today learn the core skills of historical study innately. Every day, many times a day, they are assessing the veracity of sources, selecting the most valuable information, and combining it to create narratives.

That can only be a good thing for the health of historical study. It might even mean that the historians of the future are much more skilled than the historians of the past.

This is the only 14 September 2011 there will ever be

This is the only 14 September 2011 there has ever been, and it’s the only one there will ever be.

Tomorrow I’ll have one day fewer to do all those things I’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t yet made the time for.

Same for you…


How to overcome the tyranny of the blank page