Cycling - politics and pleasure
I came across the Kraków Critical Mass gathering in the Rynek on Friday evening on my way home from work. A beautiful warm spring evening, the theme of the ride “Elegance”. As the riders gathered, a competition (voting by acclamation) for the best dressed riders - as well as a prize for the man and woman with the highest heeled shoes! This was apparently the largest Critical Mass the city has ever seen - just short of 400 riders all told.
A fantastic mix of people and bikes - splendid Dutch roadsters, cargo bikes, bikes with trailers, carbon road bikes, mountain bikes, folders (one other Dahon like mine, and a Brompton). And so many people had entered into the spirit of the ‘elegant’ theme that the atmosphere was quite magical. The CM newsletter writer put it very well “a bike itself is a thing of beauty - and with the rider, it’s a combination of rare elegance”.
As the last notes of the ‘hejnał’ sounded from the Mariacki Basilica, the ride began to wind its way through the streets of the city, cheers and applause accompanying us. “Unite!! Unite!! Hoorah!! Bravo!!” shouted one chap who seemed to have started his weekend’s relaxation promptly, and was a little, shall we say, unsteady on his feet. Nowhere was there any aggro, even at some main junctions which could have been flashpoints. Police support was positive - a motorcycle outrider accompanied us, and they seemed to have prepared support at some of the main junctions. One taxi did attempt to muscle its way through or into the group, but was firmly told to stay put by our outrider, which he accepted with a resigned shrug. That was as close to confrontation as I saw.
The attitude to cycling is rapidly changing here. I came away from the ride struck by the smiles and pure joy on the faces of so many of us. There’s a political message we should make about cycling, I know, particularly in a city like Kraków - congested, polluted and ripe for a takeover by two-wheeled transport . But let’s never forget the pure pleasure our pursuit can bring.
More pictures from the ride
More about cycling in Kraków
What’s in a name?
As a software developer, I learned to love surnames. Many the programmer who has stumbled validating the the o’Reillys of the world, or decided that their software-centric Weltanschauung will result in the rejection of those name with apostrophes, hyphens, extended symbols or accents. The possibilities stretch before us like a vast minefield ready to trap the naive programmer. A plea - try at least not to be rude when someone doesn’t conform to your vision. I tried to sign up for a service online recently and just received the unapologetic message ‘FAIL’ next to my surname.
I once worked with a programmer who changed his name to one of the moons of Saturn. That was it - one word, no forename, surname. The problems this caused any time that a system needed him to input his details were many and various. The passport office dubbed him ‘Tethys XXX’, the Electoral Roll ‘Tethys No-Other’. I loved calling him ‘Mr Noother’. I’m not sure he found it as funny as I did.
I changed my surname by Statutory Declaration (under the Statutory Declarations Act 1835) before a Notary Public in May of 1993, adding the ‘Cieślik’ from my mother’s side of the family to my father’s ‘Bridgen’. This wasn’t through any desire to have a double-barrelled name, but through a new sense of identity I’d started to feel with my Polish roots as I spent some precious time with my grandfather in the last weeks of his life. In the UK, it’s very easy to change your name. There’s a basic assumption that you are free to call yourself whatever you want. You can even (in theory at least) simply start using a new name, and have it become your name ‘by common usage’, though these days, institutions normally require some form of documentary evidence. I do like the idea of documentary evidence being a video compilation of friends, acquaintances and colleagues using your ‘common’ name - perhaps singing ‘Happy Birthday to Noother‘… I wonder if that would suffice?
In Poland, I don’t think this would be the case. If fact I had an eventful morning a few days back attempting to convince Polish officialdom of my name. The trouble was, my Statutory Declaration just didn’t look official enough for them. Where was the stamp? Now, Polish officialdom has a curious attitude, especially in the small town where I live. They seem to delight in finding problems. And then summoning other minor officials to discuss said problems. Peering at you with curiosity and even sympathy. And disappearing into offices to debate.
But in this case, they ‘solved’ the problem as follows. My birth name is now (according to them) ‘Cieslik Bridgen’, which is wrong for the following reasons:
1) Principally, it is not my birth name…
2) Nor is it recorded as such on my Birth Certificate (which the department here in Poland have a sworn translation of - it even has a stamp)
Furthermore, it has lost a hyphen (“Our (Polish) system doesn’t have hyphens”), and whilst this change was acceptable, correcting the mistake in the English version of Cieślik (“Our (British) system doesn’t imagine that an ‘s’ might have an accent”) was not.
So I’ve ended up with a compromise name that is wrong in both languages. And factually incorrect. Seems only fair.
I was delighted to be invited to speak at the SmartPM 2012 conference in Kraków this weekend.
The lessons that I was hoping to impart were about what I consider the real constants in software projects, namely:
- frequent change
- a need to balance the needs of different personalities / egos
- a need for creativity
and hence the need for an approach where we inspect and adapt. For me, the real learning took place in one of the exercises we did in groups.
The ‘Marshmallow challenge’ exercise is well known, and I was hoping to explore some of the issues around self-organisation vs. command and control management by setting the teams this challenge.
The amazing thing for me was how even in a very short, fun exercise, our egos can get in the way of making progress. Two of the teams mentioned this - if someone felt that their ideas were not being listened to, sadly the instant reaction can be a regressive, childish one. Toys thrown out of pram. I’ll go and play on my own thank-you-very-much.
Contrast this with a natural desire of teams to improvise, self-organise, and improve. Half the teams were “managed”, the other half formally “self-organising”. But even for the notionally “managed” teams, the tendency was to adapt the structure itself to make the best progress. One of the managers said “x had much better ideas than me, so when I saw that, I let him lead…”. Now that’s a great example of how we can set ego aside in the best interests of the organisation/project, rather than what feels better for us, our ambitions, how we like to be perceived.
The other thing that is going to stay with me from this exercise is that the team who won (spectacularly - pictured), were the team that were the loudest, happiest, with the biggest smiles, and were clearly having the most fun. I ended a team meeting with this message this morning, and learned from a colleague that kindergarten children regularly outperform CEOs and MBAs on this challenge. Think about that - approach your tasks with a sense of fun, and the lack of ego of a child. Creativity and results will surely follow.
Three moustache waxes
For some reason the moustache is out of fashion in many places. For me at least, this provides ample motivation to grow one, never having been a follower of trends. My moustache was not grown for ‘Movember’ (noble and serious cause though that is) but for me. As it has grown it has required the application of wax, and I am at a point now where I can compare the three that I have used to date.
My least favourite - though it does come with an (occasionally useful) moustache brush. A 1/2 oz tube of pleasantly fragranced pomade, with citrusy notes, available in a range of colour tones (I needed neutral). The trouble is that the wax is so thin that whilst it provides some help shaping, the hold it exerts is negligible, and the effect is short-lived. Given this, it requires application in greater quantity, and I don’t think the tube would last me long were I to be relying on this product alone. The price is also excessive and does not provide good value.
Purchased from Trumpers, Bond Street, London, for £9.00.
Price per oz £18.00
Bounder arrived beautifully packaged, with a personal note from Mr Wax himself - a nice touch. The packaging was in fact so delightful that my designer friend and colleague Mr Mariusz Cieśla put finger to shutter release on first seeing it - a good sign! And it is ‘Tested on gentlemen not animals’ - another good sign. This comes in three small (10g) tins (“one for your bathroom shelf, one for your suit, one for your tweeds”), that are so firmly shut on arrival that it was a struggle to get in at all. In the longer term this is probably a good thing, as the good seal prevents the wax from drying up. In use the wax is highly effective. It requires minimal application, holds well and is pleasantly scented. Recommended.
Purchased from Wax Industries direct for £9.99
Price per oz £9.99
According to the Count, “a moustache is ICONIC, not ‘ironic’”. I hope I bear this out! This was ordered from America, and response times to my enquiry and purchase were very impressive, especially given the fact that I was being served by the Count himself (!). Of the three tested, Count Justinian seems to provide the best hold of all, although it requires longer working in the fingers before application. I’ve tried both the Classic and the Sticky, and am impressed with both. There’s no scent, which is not a problem for me, and will probably be a positive for many. There’s also very little residue on application - the wax applies very well, and yet leaves fingers less sticky than either the Bounder or the Clubman. It is also the best value of the three. The only possible negative is that I’m not sure how well the tin will seal the product in the longer term - the lid being much easier on/off than the Bounder. I’ll keep an eye on this. Recommended - especially at this price.
Purchased from Count Justinian direct for $8.00 per 1 oz tin.
Price per oz approximately £5.00
I don’t miss London when I see views like this.