Monday, 4 April 2016

When to Connect on LinkedIn

A funeral director wants to connect with me on LinkedIn. Should I be worried? Does he know something I don’t?



The name doesn’t mean anything to me, so it’s not an ex-colleague that’s taken a drastic career change (Steve, you know, data analytics was never for me: what I really always wanted was to be surrounded by cadavers).

My wife quipped that he only wanted me for my body. That’s the second joke she’s made this millennium and as the first was something about ordering my headstone, already I’m beginning to sense a disturbing trend – yeah, yeah, I know, two data points isn’t much to be going on. Anyhow, I wasn’t going to start a debate on the subject as she was busy at her daily routine of sharpening the kitchen knives – I never knew they needed such attention until I met her.  

But back to the subject, random Funeral Director Guy, who doesn’t know me from Adam, suddenly thinks it would be a great idea to hook up on LinkedIn. Oh, the hours of fun we will have online discussing casket styles, trends in floral tributes and the like. Really?

Now, most people who connect to me on LinkedIn are of four types. And each gets treated differently.

Firstly there are colleagues and ex-colleagues with whom I share mutual trust, admiration and a sense of bon homie. We might meet up when visiting each other’s city, or even help with a referral to a new job. These people get a CONNECT and a personal note asking how things are going etc.

Second are the colleagues and ex-colleagues with whom I don’t share any friendly mutual feelings but one of us got bored on the internet and LinkedIn suggested we break the permafrost on our professional relationship. They usually get a CONNECT, too, but that’s all.

Third are the IGNORE crowd. You know them, the usual dregs of society: Russian ladies looking for a lasting relationship (passport); Nigerian ‘UN representatives with surplus funds’ looking for a stupid person; social media “experts” and, of course, bankers. The only ones missing from this list are real estate agents, but I understand that: the last one I dealt with was far too dumb to do anything complex like operate a mouse. If only we could link up the world’s realtors with all those Nigerian gentlemen?

Last are family and friends who don’t know the difference between LinkedIn and Facebook. Unfortunately, as nobody at LinkedIn or Facebook also knows the difference between LinkedIn and Facebook this is an increasingly common, and increasingly cringe-inducing experience. Hey, why don’t you connect with your cousin Toby? We found him in your contacts, so it’s probably great that he can review your career and see all the people you know and add witty asides to all your posts while tapping you for cash. Toby is currently holds the position of “Having a Difficult Time” at the Company called “Nowhere Much” and has been there since 1994. So does Toby get a CONNECT? Only if it would offend to refuse, but in this case it is probably safe to IGNORE as you are most likely to meet up next at one or other’s funeral.

Oh yeah, that reminds me: Funeral Director Guy. What to do? He doesn’t really fit with the above categories, so I don’t know if good things or bad things will happen if I hit CONNECT. Maybe he’s just trying to sell me something, but it really isn’t anything I, or anyone else, wants to buy. It’s something we buy when we have to. And, of course, you only ever buy for someone else. And in any case, why would he think LinkedIn would be a great way of drumming up some extra business? Only if some “social media expert” ignoramus was advising him. And now, here’s the really crazy part…


…let’s take a look at the profile. We have none of the same contacts, which isn’t surprising as I tend to deal strictly in the land of the living, and people who work for local government.  I was concerned for a second that he might be connected to my doctor (that really would be worrying!), but no. And again, not surprising as…wait for it… HE LIVES IN CANADA! Ottawa, to be exact. Now, I admit that I have been to Canada – once to see Niagara Falls in 1985, and once skiing in Whistler in 1996. So, do I think I might like to get buried there? Is it even legal?

Sometimes something is so left field (an ‘outlier’ to my data friends) that it really has to be explored. My mind at this point takes to revelry. Maybe the Canadians have found a great new industry I’d never heard of? Hey look, they figure, the country is pretty empty and in London funeral plots go for big money. Why don’t we ask the Brits if they’d like to get planted on the cheap in Canada? What could be nicer? Save a whole bunch of money on something you don’t want to spend on anyhow, without compromising on quality. Even the service will be in English. Oh, and the quality of the air here…  Well, maybe scrap that last point.

The Canadian Ex-pat Ex-person industry (as I have chosen to call it) could really be the next big thing. You heard it here first. Opportunities, as well as graves, are just opening and all you need is a big empty country. I expect the Russians will be muscling in pretty soon – though they will have to be a little careful of where they start digging owing to previous similar, though less well-intentioned initiatives, back in Soviet times.

So, thank you LinkedIn. I have seen the next big trend. This is going to make Smartphones and sliced bread seem like small fry. I’m going to cash in now, and my very first step will be to hit CONNECT to Mr Funeral Director guy.

But I have one tiny fragment of doubt remaining.  Maybe he has been taking advice from a “social media expert”?

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Slade House - David Mitchell

A promising start and then I found that we were back in the world of horologists and eternals, in what is, in essence, a companion (if a lot shorter) volume to Bone Clocks. The setting in a single location works well and for much of the book it seems like a classic horror with great twists and a somewhat cruel trend in killing off very likeable heroes. In the end, though, I felt a little cheated that the central idea was taken from the earlier book, and so there was little here to get excited about.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Lords of the Horizons - Jason Goodwin

Turning, unusually, to a little non-fiction for the sake of educating myself a little on the middle east. Today's talk of 'caliphates' plus the reading of Louis De Berneire's Birds Without Wings (2004) led me to want to know more about the forgotten 'great empire' - the Ottoman.

To most history scholars, such as myself, the curriculum seems to almost literally skirt around The Ottoman Empire. I did the usual Plantagenet's,Tudors, Stuarts etc. Modern European up to the end of WW1. The Ottoman Empire was a part of all that history, and yet was barely mentioned.

So this book is fantastic at filling in some of the gaps. Did you wonder why there were Muslims in Bosnia during the Yugoslav civil war? - here's the answer. What exactly is a caliphate, and why doesn't it exist any more? What was the whole schism between Sunni and Shia Muslims about? Why did we lose the crusades? Why are Turks called Turks when the Turkmen (and Turkmenistan) are somewhere else? What happened to the Mongol hoards and the Huns are their ravaging? Why did Byzantium become Constantinople and then Istanbul? Its all here, and, as such I feel a great gap in my education has been filled. I also know the difference between a sultan, bey, vizier, pasha and a khan - and I can feel smug in this at least until my rubbish memory decides to throw this knowledge away.

So, all that is good. But this book isn't perfect. Firstly there are 2 mistakes that are entirely down to the publisher:

1) The map at the front is a disaster. It just doesn't work. The shading is awful. It's way too ambitious.

2) The timeline and the glossary are at the back. Well, I'm sorry guys but I read this book in the old fashioned "start to finish" method. I almost spilled my latte when I finished, turned the page and found all this great information that would have REALLY helped my understanding.

OK, that's kicked the publisher. Should I kick the author? On balance, no. Some reviewers do pick up on the inconsistencies in dates and the fact that this history does not follow a fixed timeline, but for me these are trifles. The author obviously has a huge amount of knowledge and could fill 10 more books - this is the skimming primer of absolutely everything. No go read the detail.

Is this a good read? It's tough sometimes, but I found it really rewarding. Better to know a little about what others' histories than nothing at all.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Life After Life - Kate Atkinson

More ambitious than any of her excursions since Days in the Museum, there were maybe too many coils in the serpent, and they failed to divert the readers' attention from the Grandfather Paradox - which, of course trips so many up (see Doctor Who almost every Saturday night).

All that said, and this book has had a load of criticism, the characters are as good as any she has written and you do genuinely start caring for their wellbeing ( or "wellbeings" - there are several for everyone as Atkinson plays with time). And I am very glad that her next offering will pick up where this one has left off - the lady's on a path and is not, it seems for turning.

Angela Carter - The Bloody Chamber

My second Angela Carter book is this delightful set of short stories, loosely based on fairy stories, but given a very adult upgrade.

Somewhere in the centre of the book I got a little bogged down with a few similar werewolf / Red Riding Hood stories, but don't let that put you off. The first story - The Bloody Chamber of the title -  will live (somewhat disturbingly) with you for a long time. Well worth the cost by itself. Other gems include the Tiger's Bride (an twist in the literal tail), and an evil Puss in Boots.

I am not entirely sure what this tells us about 'feminist writer' Carter, except that playfulness, love of the earthy and ability to write beautifully all shine through again. There seems little or not attempt to place a feminist undertone into the proceedings, and, indeed, the female victims are never saved the final coup de grace from the evil misogynist villains.

Also, several of the stories have a sensual, even erotic, theme, which does not look to supplant the usual male / female roles and imagery with anything revolutionary. And if you think it is coming in "The Lady of the House of Love" , in which a vampires lures a virgin soldier to her room, well.. no, I'm not going to spoil it for you.

Do these new fairy tales reinterpret the roles of women? No. But this is far from a traditional telling.