13 posts categorized "Travel"

December 28, 2015

2015 Travel: Han Solo could do it in 878 milliseconds


A confession: I quietly love flying. This year, I've done 163,581 miles of it.

I love that when you fly a lot, the airport social media staff say 'hello' on Twitter when you arrive and the cabin crew on your home route (or even on the Brisbane-Dubai non-stop route) recognise you from last time. I like getting great service, and see so many things about systems-thinking that work well in airlines, that I'm happy to forgive small indiscrepancies when they occur. All that said, flying strangles our planet as much as eating too much red meat, and for many, many reasons, I've wanted to stop flying quite so much, while not restricting the spread and growth of the ideas from our firm, NoTosh

I'm quite sure that nobody reading this blog really cares about how much I travel, but keeping an annual count on it has become a new year habit. When I started working at Channel 4, and then continuing when I created NoTosh, I wanted to keep track of what seemed like an interminable number of miles on the road and in the air. By 2012, 2013 and last year, I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever be able to get the number of miles down when they seemed to represent even more trips to the moon and back each and every year.

When you run a company based in Edinburgh with a great team living in Melbourne, you could easily spend your life on a plane - one flying to Melbourne feels better than two or more flying to Edinburgh. Indeed, in 2012, 2013 and 2014 it felt like I really did spend my life on a plane, as I went to the moon and back in my annual travel, with anything up to seven trips a year to Australia.

But last year, I began to find it a real mental and physical challenge to deal with the length of my trips, the nights away from home and, above all, the crazy distances. I made a decision at the dinner table of my friend and client Laurie, in Nanjing, China, while on a phone call to Peter Ford, my erstwhile colleague: in 2015, I'd reduce my miles as much as I could and still keep the company growing best I could.

I've started that journey with a third fewer miles in 2015 compared to 2014 or 2012, working towards getting to 2011 levels once more. It's still a silly number of miles in the air and on the road, but I'm happy to have achieved this without sacrificing the goal of our firm, to put learning at the heart of everything we do, and keep growing that learning mindset around the world.

And here's the thing: the whole team has travelled less than in, say, 2012 or 2013, and we've lost two of our staff - one to university study and the other to an 'offer he couldn't refuse' ;-). But in spite of all that, we have grown our turnover and, with traveling less, look likely to increase our profits later next year, something we can reinvest in developing our team, communications, books and so on. 

Our biggest challenge remains one behind the reason for all this travel in the first place: people still expect human contact, and think that this, rather than anything else, is "what we're paying for". I'm not convinced that's the right reason to get any consultancy firm involved with your school or company. "Having us over" is a luxury our planet can't always afford, and one that we don't always need to create stellar work. The same brains work via web conference as in a room in your school, and online learning and collaboration allows us to work in more flexible just-in-time ways, when the time is right for a busy teacher or executive. The times when I have really felt the benefit of being in the same room as people has been when we are codesigning a new programme, curriculum or learning environment, when being with each other for an extended period of time, in front of the inevitable whiteboard and post-it notes, helps make connections that we hadn't made online until that point. But for diagnostics, leading a PD session, doing a shorter length keynote talk - online still works really well for an audience that plans to actually do something with their learning (and an audience that plans to do nothing with their learning might well be less entertained, perhaps, by an online talk or workshop, but why would we want to take out days on travel for them, anyway?). 

Over the past year, that is the kind of work I've been concentrating on developing with NoTosh, and I think we'll see some great new programmes in 2016 as a result of the work my whole team has been doing to save our airmiles, save the planet and save some money for our clients. 

2007: 51,281 miles

2008: 81,887 miles

2009: 41,902 miles

2010: 106,372 miles

2011: 128,555 miles

2012: 242,266 miles

2013: 207,837 miles

2014: 237,195 miles

2015: 163,581 miles


July 14, 2015

Celebrating 10 years of edu.blogs.com - could we have yesterday's time with today's thinking?

First edublogs post

It's ten years today since I wrote my first blog post for me, and I wish we could have today's thinking with the space and time of a decade ago.


I've blogged since around November 1999, one of the first users of a new, shaky service... Blogger. My first one was, as a student teacher, some kind of "making sense of Scottish education" affair. It was short-lived, audience-free, and felt presumptuous in the extreme. As a French and German teacher, I used the more stable Typepad service to run blogs with students on all sorts of field trips and school partnerships.

Early 2000s

There were various Paris-Normandy trips, the highlight of my teaching year, where we live-blogged from a Nokia 6230i with a 1.3megapixel inbuilt camera and extortionately expensive and unreliable 2G connection, while munching on smelly cheese and exploring the history of Omaha beach and surrounds. In the early years, mums and dads were sceptical of what it was for and why - most posts would garner barely 30 comments. Just one year on, though, the utility of the blog was clear to all: no more nervous phone calls to the school asking how we Johnny was doing, and literally hundreds of comments per blog. In fact, I've just spent the weekend at a wedding where I met many of the students from the 2005 blog for the first time since then.

Carol Fuller, a US teacher from South Cobb, near Atlanta, who I have never met, but to whom my primary school colleague John Johnston paid a visit over a decade ago, is still an online friend today. She got her students helping in a couple of projects where a US perspective on the world was essential to gain empathy beyond the pages of the textbook. The most popular post in one collaboration on politics was by far around banning guns. Plus ça change...

Her students took the often traumatic and insightful writing of our senior students' field trip blog to Auschwitz and wrote their own play on the back of it. It was pre-YouTube, so VHS cassettes flew across the Atlantic. Having the powerful writing of students still online, still being downloaded, feels important today as our world continues to struggle with terrible things happening in the world, viewed only through a screen. Laura Womersley's Confession is still one of the best pieces of writing I think I've ever read from a student, rendered more poignant than ever today knowing that just a few months later she died, suddenly, from an unexpected illness. Her words live on.

We used our blogs to publish the first high school podcast in Europe, maybe in the world. The wee lad who edited everything is now an accident and emergency doctor, and through micro-blogging - Twitter - is newly in touch with me this past year. He's no long a wee lad, either - six foot tall, and seeking his next challenges in life.

2005: the start of edu.blogs.com

It was only when I left my classroom to start a secondment with the Government, in the summer of 2005, that I knew I would miss sharing with other people. Until that point, it had always been through the conduit of my students' work. Now, I wanted to share whatever I might with a newly emergent group of educators, educators who wanted to share beyond their four walls. The first post was awkward (and indeed called "That awkward first post"). The early posts are bum-clenchingly naïve. But it was also the place that some small things were kicked off, and became big things. A few weeks after the first ScotEduBlogsMeetup, TeachMeet was born in a post in 2006.


Early on, Loïc Lemeur, the founder of the blog platform I had been using for so long, invited me to speak at his emergent Les Blogs conference in Paris (now Europe's must-go-to tech conference, LeWeb). It's his birthday today, the day that I started my own blog - serendipity perhaps?

What followed my intervention there was the first sign that people might actually be reading and listening to what I was saying. James Farmer got stuck in, annoyed, I think, that a young buck was on the stage talking about classroom blogging (and he wasn't ;-). He was actually complaining about what everyone else on the panel had said, not what I contributed, which were just stories (much the same I what I try to contribute today). We didn't speak much after that, in spite of promises of beer in Brissie. 

I was fed up at how few teachers were sharing long-form thoughts and reflections on teaching, through blogs, and how a self-nominated cabal hectored those of us joining the fray "for not doing it right". Today, I feel that about the self-nominated if-Hattie-didn't-say-it-it-didn't-happen brigade. Back then my chief supporter in the collision with James Farmer and, later, Stephen Downes, was one Peter Ford - still one of my best buddies today, and working partner of the last three years. Collisions, I learned early on, are how we challenge ourselves to learn better. Heck, even Stephen came around to like something I did once... one of the best presentations he's ever heard. The content of it, too, came from collisions on this here blog.

I also had collisions through the blog with people who did not blog, namely my employers at the Scottish Government. I spent a few blog posts correcting newspaper stories in which I was misquoted, and many more writing my own thoughts on why the creation of a national schools intranet, a social network no-one outside schools could see, was doomed to fail. It did. Two years after leaving the education department, I was invited back by a new Education Minister to his expert committee that has overhauled the whole, expensive, useless venture. 

So, collisions on the blog were vital to my job, when I had one, and for the creation of NoTosh, my company. For ten years of professional collisions, thank you. I really wish there were more of them in long form.

TLDR has become the norm as educational discourse takes place in machine gun ratatats-à-Twitter. Where once we had comment feeds, dripping ideas, thoughts and disagreement with our ideas each day, we now have a tsunami of detritus in which we must seek out the comments of yore, never connected directly to the original thought that sparked them. Ten years ago, the half-life of an idea, of a discourse, could be as long as a month. Today, one is lucky if a thought lasts twenty seconds before it falls off the fold of the electronic page.

In the past decade, though, something better has come along, I think. More educators are writing books than ever before. More than most genres, there are plenty destined to become pulp, but there are so many more than a decade ago that offer genuine insight, great ideas, years of learning to the reader for no more than thirty bucks. They even come to your screen in a flash, if you want them to. I wonder, sometimes, if teachers writing books is not the long-form blog post in a different guise.

To that end, I've wondered about going back over ten years of blog posts, ignoring the truly embarrassing ones and unpicking the contentious ones with a more mature head on my shoulders. I'd love to write a book that takes ideas that mattered 10 years ago to me, and see whether they might matter more to people today. I have no idea whether this would work, whether it would even be of interest to people - the same questions I asked in my parents' dining room as I set about kicking off this electronic version of the book draft.

Thanks to those of you who have read my stuff, especially the longest posts like this one. Thanks, too, to those with whom I have collided over the last ten years. And to those who don't read my blog any more, who have unsubscribed because you feel it is "no longer relevant" (that's the most common reason for an unsubscribe), peace be with you. You have no idea of the fun you've missed out on ;-)

February 23, 2015

Expectations #28daysofwriting

This is what they call a "forward" post. I wrote it yesterday, when I had wifi and time, and am posting under today's date. I have a (reasonable) expectation that I will be alive tomorrow, and that this will not, therefore, freak out anyone unduly.

In the early days of blogging with my school students, back in 2002/3, I'd use forward posting on the foreign trips we made because mobile access to blogging software on my Nokia was so expensive. At the time I gauged our expectations of living tomorrow high, but was young enough and foolish enough to forget that, should our coach have gone off piste 88 mums and dads, notwithstanding the rest of our families, would have been rather taken aback to see us "happily arrived in Caen", and not in the mortuary. 

Expectations are funny things. We all like to believe we have different expectations, but some of our expectations are just hardwired, like the pentatonic scale, into our beings. This year, the case was proven when I felt obliged, finally, to remove my kid from her local school and attempt to fund a better future in a local private school. The principle reason for this move, against many education bones in my body, was that state education in my neck of the woods feels like it has lost its sense of expectation for every kid. Our expectations are realistic, perhaps, and the intention of supporting all children to achieve will help the lower 20% become a much more able lower 20%. But there will always be a bottom 20%. And if our efforts are in setting expectations for the middle, all kids will  tend to aim a little below whatever we set them. In her new school, Catriona is flourishing, with expectations set at a stratospheric level and a hidden understanding that, really, the goal isn't to meet them at all. There's something else going on.

This ties into what we consider 'normal' expectations. My expectation of being alive tomorrow (today) when this is posted are high. I place trust in my pilots, my plane and my fellow passengers, not to do us any harm.

My expectations of living another day along with my students back in 2002 were equally high, but not entirely shared by nervously grinning colleagues when they knew what I had prepped for future-posted blog posts.

My expectations for my kids' own learning are stratospheric. At 4 and 7 years old, I expect them to be able to do anything that they want, as long as... and there is the tough bit. What are the conditions for expectations that mean some schools succeed in pitching them perfectly, and others, on a systemic level, fail completely?

This is not a pushy parent, or a doting dad post. This is all about helping my kids learn earlier than I did what Steve Jobs put thus:

"When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way that it is, and your life is just to live your life inside the world, try not to bash into the walls too much, try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money...

"That's a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact:

"Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build things that other people can use.

"Once you discover that, you'll never be the same again."

February 21, 2015

Crazy, stupid... innovation. The imperfect perfection of Tower Bridge #28daysofwriting

I've had a lovely week on holiday down in London with the family, being proper tourists. Under the dreich weather of Monday we ventured Thames-side and towards the terrifying but fun seethrough walkways of Tower Bridge. Along the side of the walkways were photographs of some of the world's great bridges, together with some of the history about how this iconic bridge came to be.

What did we learn?

This landmark, required to cope with the overwhelming population growth on either side of the river and increased river traffic to the upper parts of the Thames, was borne out of many, mostly failed, prototypes, most in the form of sketches.

Thank goodness we didn't stop at the first prototypes submitted to the public competition. The dual lock system would hardly have helped with the drastically increasing river traffic of the industrial revolution:


And a system of hydraulic elevators would have failed in the other sense, not really foreseeing 2015's automotive traffic needing a quick north-south crossing:


Some designers simply did without a bridge and went for the tunnel - perfect for traffic throughput in the longer term and not disruptive at all to the river traffic. In the end, though, it was feasibility that killed these tunnel ideas off - the runways required to descend human and horse-drawn traffic into them were so long that they ate up most of the land either side of the river:


As the final designer was chosen, even his first drafts were off the mark on the aesthetic side:


In the end, the rules for killing ideas and honing the kernels of interesting ideas down haven't changed since the bridge's completion in 1894 and today, as I describe them in my bookdesirability (do they want or need it?), feasibility (can we do it?) and viability (should we do it?).

The result, is an imperfect perfection that we recognise in an instant:


December 22, 2010

Beating the recession by working internationally: 2010's Travel in Review

A year ago yesterday I started NoTosh Limited, a to-the-point, action-based consultancy for digital media and education arenas, which has proven far more successful than I had hoped. Here's hoping 2011 is just as successful (actually, no, our target is to double revenues with some new stars on our team).

Crucial to this velocity has been the acceptance of overseas clients (thank you all so much!) to take a risk and have us over to inspire, cajole or troubleshoot. Plenty of their stories will appear on a new NoTosh.com site in the New Year. Exporting our skills makes up around 65% of revenue.

But this has also meant a fair level of travel; the last quarter of the working year saw me personally undertake 56 flights, covering the world two and a half times. This year, I've travelled 106,372 miles on Seat 53F (big, modern aircraft), compared to a much more tiring 41,902 miles of Extreme Commuting that I did while working for Channel 4 in 2009 (on seat 23C -smaller aircraft, less efficient, more carbon). The nature of that travel wasn't easy to handle, and noted when I was leaving the company last year. 2008, back when I was doing more educational stuff, saw some 82,000 miles.

A colleague told me that every time you do a transatlantic flip you experience the same radiation as a chest x-ray, so neither I nor my current or future colleagues leave our families and jump on a plane lightly. We do so because we believe in our work, that it will make a difference to thousands of students lives and that this will far outweight the environmental impact we're having.

Not content with that, though, we're announcing a pro bono project in the New Year which will more than make up for our own airmiles (and probably all of yours, too, dear readers). Planting trees with Carbon Credits doesn't solve the problems we're creating today at all - it's going to take 20 years for their impact to be felt. So we're planning something far more here-and-now, that will take the edge of all those miles.

Until the New Year, and notwithstanding a blog post or two inbetween, best wishes for the festive season from a thankfully Edinburgh-based, airline-free Ewan!

December 13, 2009

Extreme Commuting: 2009 Travel in Review

Ewan McIntosh Travel Map 2009
Doing anything three times or more on a blog almost makes it annual custom, so I wasn't going to disappoint. This year's travel was about 50% less in mileage than in 2008: 41,902 miles compared to 2008's 82,000 miles or so. But the map's not a global one. It's highly localised. Something's up.

While fewer miles have been flown, most of this travel has been done in what Mark Penn spotted a decade ago and coined as "Extreme Commuting". That is, I've been one of a couple of hundred people who regularly make the commute from Scotland to London each and every week for work, often coming back within 18 hours of leaving home. It's a trend that, thankfully, is becoming less and less common as companies feel the economic pain of sending someone around the world for face-to-face time. In January I noticed that my plane was less about 30 suited and booted regulars from the previous six months. By August, they had been replaced by tourists filling up cheap seats on their way home to the States and the Far East.

Extreme commuting is tiring by its regularity, bad food at weird times, and the sneaking suspicion that your constantly stuffed-up nose is related to the circulated air you consume four times a week. You feel hungover for the day before and after your extreme commute, regardless, I'm afraid to say, of how much fun with a bottle of shiraz you have actually had.

Heading into the new year, I'm not sure the amount of travel will decrease too much, but it will be on longer adventures, to hotter places, and just a few of them. Some of them, dear reader, might even be to see you. Bring on 2010.

December 04, 2005

Paris - Les Blogs

Arrived in Paris on Friday night - late - and then spent another hour the wrong side of airport security as the one and only passport control monsieur checked us out with particular attention. The following morning I had a chance to walk around the Seine and Champs Elysées area, taking photos for the MFLE's Photo Bank of 'typical' French things. Got a strange look or two as I snapped street signs and metro plans. It's so much nicer to be a tourist in Paris than to be a worker. Normally on a Saturday morning when I worked here I would be round at a Space Shuttle Research Institute giving lessons in English. No, really, I would have been.

Off on the 12.40 to Rouen where Andy and I caught up over a pint at O'Kallaghans before heading home for an evening's raclette. Today, Sunday, we're croissanting and pain-au-chocolating with plenty of coffee (little Matthew was up yelling at 6am) before going to the Christmas Market at the Cathedral. More photos tonight of that.



My mate Andy

Emilie and Flo and the famous raclette machine

November 04, 2005

Language Show 2006

Had a great time today in London at the Language Show in Olympia. Got some really nice feedback from the audience and made to feel very welcome. I promise I'll put up more details on the presentation on Sunday. Tomorrow (Sat) is the SALT conference and I just can't believe that six hours after arriving back in Edinburgh I've got to be on the move again to Stirling. Let's hope tomorrow's Scottish audience is as enthusiastic as the international one I had this afternoon.

October 29, 2005

White Van Man Brings Me Home

I have been away from the Internet for over a week now and am proud to say that I survived. Indeed, it's given me a chance to be relatively normal and talk to people. Today I am grateful to Ollie Bray in his stupendous White Van and to Caroline for her scintillating (and slightly hungover) chat for bringing me back safe and sound from Dundee. I was speaking at the Hilton (very good lunch) and Ollie was up in the University speaking about Geography stuff. As expected, he found me at the station (good at the navigation stuff, these geographers) and was kind enough to cut an hour off my journey home to Auld Reekie.

So what have I been up to this last week and a half? Most of it in Austria working with Jamie, Claire and their Austrian counterparts on a joint project. Got lots of good film clips for the MFLE about blogging, podcasting and making digital video on the move and in collaborative groups. They were speaking great German to communicate with Russians, French, Austrians and Americans (though the latter was admittedly more anglophone comms than anything else).

More on that later. In the meantime, I leave you with Ollie and his Van as they left me in Leith tonight (Caroline can be seen hiding under the dash).

October 16, 2005

Polish lesson Part II

Spent a great morning with Beata and her husband Janik (which, I learned through my Polish lessons, means “Little John” – there are apparently 25-odd other versions which I cannot and will not go into now, leaving that for another visit, perhaps one to learn some more Polish). Also present was 8 (and-a-half) year old Julia, Beata and Janik’s daughter number two, who speaks French with an accent I would be proud of, understands this Scotsman’s elaborate English with apparent ease and who says prszeprasam (please) and djinkuje (thank you) at every opportunity. She’ll go far. Her older sister was going to arrive at Krakow Balice at the same time I was about to leave, coming back from a £14,000 scholarship to learn through English (CLIL en place, if you will) and who looks like she is on the way to a second year in Ipswich doing much the same. Another Pole to look out for, methinks.

Beata and I worked on the geoblogs project together and are trying to find something else that might work. This morning was spent sharing our photos and talking about all the wonderful places both of us would like to visit in the future. But an exchange will happen soon. Trust me on that.

We had a coffee in a cool little café down a pasaz. On leaving we heard the most atmospheric street music for this cold and crisp season. I recorded some on my mobile phone Quicktime:

Download Record000.amr

After a quick stroll back round the city walls they were kind enough to deliver me to the airport – so no more of that mad Krakow coach driving that seemed to get me there on time but put me at more risk than seemed reasonable.

About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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