10 famous people I have met

I have recently made a point of trying to celebrate the good stuff in my life… at least occasionally… rather than constantly trying to fix or whinge about the bad stuff. There isn’t much bad stuff and I am very lucky, but still we often forget all that is good. I was at a dinner party on Saturday and we were trying to help a new guy to the group get to know us old stalwarts, so we went round asking everyone a few questions in turn. One was “name someone famous you have met”. It turns out I have met a few. Here’s the inside track about what I know of them.

10: HRH Princess Michael of Kent

An impressive lady! I had the pleasure of a long conversation with this Austrian born princess. Interesting Factoid: When she married into the British royal family, she was Catholic and under the laws of England and Wales, it was illegal for British royalty to marry Catholics. They simply went and got married in Austria… dumb law maybe if that’s how you get around it, nut I guess plent of common folk have made use of Gretna Green over the years! 🙂 Anyway, apparently Princess Margater didn’t talk to her for 20 years after that! (But I got the feeling it’s all fine now.) Lovely lady and has a really unique helicopter view of modern history.

9: Eddie Izzard

I went to school with Eddie Izzard. He spent half a term sitting on the study desk next to me. After half term he never returned to school… you better ask him about that, but I think he was tired of painting his nails black with a felt tip, but too embarassed to buy proper mail polish at the time! Honestly, we didn’t talk much, but enormously impressed at what he has done running marathons. I have also seen him perform live. Oh my he ca be funny!

8: Chris Evans

The Radio 1 DJ is a person I once ran a Murder Mystery evening for! It was one of the most difficult nights of my life, because I am not really a good actor and my best actor crumbled at the thought of doing a Murder Mystery for a bunch of celebrities! Chris was very nice to me and my team though. He spent a long time talk with me at the bar after, about his days as a Tarzanogram.. Purely by chance I also bumped into him at a Marriott hotel a couple of weeks later… but he didn’t recognize me 🙁

7: Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen

Rather embarrassingly, I bumped into Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen in the wash rooms at the Ritz! An American friend of mine had always wanted to do “Tea at the Rits” which is why I was there. We didn’t chat…

6: Bob Geldof (and the cast of Live Aid 1)

I may be cheating a bit by including Bob Geldof, but I have met him twice. Live Aid was an incredible experience for me growing up. I didn’t have a backstage pass or anything, but I think its fair to say it put him on the map! The second time was a LITTLE more intimate. In the early days of the .com era, there was a VC/Entrepreneur meetup group in London called “First Tuesday”. Bob Geldof was the speaker for the month and I remember him standing up and looking at the crowd and saying “All I see here is a sea of greed”… It was a cool thing to say, but looking back decades later, I don’t think his .com startup is going anymore…

5: Roland Rivron

Sorry Roland – you probably won’t remember. But you were a bit of a dick. I hear you missed your flight the next day after puking all over the hotel. ‘Nuff said. You don’t get a link…

4: Dave Gilmour

Shortly after university, I was living at my then girlfriend’s parents house. Nice place! her father had spent many years as a jobbing musician and so when the lead singer and guitarist of Pink Floyd came round for a BBQ it was just routine for them. I think this is the only tie I have been totally star-struck. I really didn’t have anything useful to add to his conversation about live wing-walking. It wasn’t an experience I have knowledge of.

3: Matt Cutts

Only people that work in my industry will know this name, but if you are in the industry, you WILL know the name! I am lucky enough to have met Matt Cutts on many occasions and I absolutely admire his ability over the years to act as both custodian of Google’s data quality and also mouthpiece to the SEO industry. The first time I met him, was early days for Google. We were both on a link building panel at an event in London. It’s hard to picture how small Google was as a brand back then!

2: Steve Wozniack

I have met Steve Wozniack, co-founder of Apple twice (so far) and he is probably the person I admire most as someone to look up to. I first met him in Dallas as part of a small round table group of speakers, where he was the keynote and we had a chance to pick his brains. I sked about his watch… a strange thing which apparently runs at 240 volts! It was used by the astronauts. The second time I “met” him was on an early morning flight from Berlin to London. He stopped the whole of security after the same watch aroused suspicion! Turns out I sat next to him on the plane, so they let him on in the end.

1: Her Majesty The Queen

Well she had to be at number 1 didn’t she? I mean really, what an honor to get to go to Buckingham Palace! But the truth is… I didn’t actually get to say hello. I did happily drink her champagne, but there were maybe 500 people there and it just felt totally undignified to go the last 10 yards and say hello. Everyone else was crowding her and she’s 90! Just being invited was enough. But she is quite small!

My First Drive in a 4X4 Electric Vehicle

I picked up a Mitsubishi 4X4 PHEV (Plugin Hybrid Electric Vehicle) yesterday. Brand new and the first retail one on the road in my area, so I am told. Certainly up until now the only ones I have seen in the UK are in showrooms.

I drove it to the airport this morning (yes – the irony of driving an Electric Vehicle to an airport is not lost on me). It’s a journey of 45 miles by motorway and as the battery will only hold out for 32 miles according to the manual, I was bound to use fuel. That said, I chose to save about a third of the battery, just to make sure that leaving it in a car park for a week didn’t kill it if i foolishly left a light on or something similar. The number of buttons and gadgets on this model (it’s the top spec) is crazy and will take me a few journeys to work out.

So what was my Miles Per Gallon?

That’s the while point in buying this car, of course. You get a 4X4 without the guilt. But even Mitsubishi don’t claim 148 MPG on long distances. In fact I managed just over 82 MPG (Imperial Gallon) = 68 MPG (US Gallon) on this first proper trip. My usual journey is a but longer – Luton to Birmingham – and I think my objective will be to break 80 MPG on that run as well… although I assumed when I chose the car that I would max out at around 70MPG. That’s still way better than my 61 plate SAAB 93 Convertible which is doing about 45 MPG on that journey.

 Can you drive better?

Probably. In fact certainly – because I only achieved “four out of five leaves”… it marks your driving style! Awesome! I could have got a better mileage if I had not tried to save the battery; If I had not stopped to get a coffee from the service station; Driven slower (I used the Advanced Cruise Control on this top spec model to lock onto the car in front at around 67 miles per hour).

What else is “Cool” with the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV?

  • I like being able to talk to it to phone home (it hooks up to my iPhone)
  • If the salesman doesn’t tell you, finding the DVD slot will be a fun experience!
  • I like that it can plug into a standard UK 13 amp socket (although they recommend a 15 amp circuit, which British Gas can install)
  • I QUITE like the iPhone app – but have not found a genuine use for it yet.
  • No road tax. Nada. Cool.
  • No congestion charge.
  • It’s a 4X4!
  • If you get this through a company, the tax benefit is even more incredible.

What’s not so Cool with the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV?

It’s not what you would call refined inside. It’ not BAD… electric seats which war you up, great Aircon if you want it, Sun roof it you don’t… but somehow not quite as cool as the SAAB’s.

The acceleration is quite compromised if you want to get decent mileage out of it. It’s the first time I have ever had an automatic (actually… it’s but of a Joystick than a gear stick) and my guess is that people used to automatics would not notice the difference. But us petrol head manual gearbox fans will. The SAAP 93 TTID does 0-60 in 6.9 seconds and the Outlander PHEV takes 11 seconds. That’s not going to win off the lights!

What did I turn down to get one?

I turned down a Tesla S! On the basis that a hybrid gave me a much greater range and the idea of running out of juice in a Tesla filled me with dread. Also – getting one of those in the UK at this point sounds rather complicated.

I also turned down a Lexus SUV Hybrid… on the basis that a non-chargeable hybrid seemed pretty absurd to me. It’s not really a hybrid, just a more efficient breaking system.

Is it Worth getting the Top Spec?

I like the Advanced Cruise Control – which I think is in the second top spec – but if I ever need it, there’s a Crash Mitigation thing on the top, which should stop me in a head on collision. If I ever need that, it will save my life. If in the meantime, it brings down the insurance group. So – as long as all this high tech wizardry works, I am really pleased I went for the top of the range.

Taking Risks in Business

I’ve been running Internet Businesses since the nineties. Before that I set up my first business writing and running Murder Mystery events just in the middle of Thatcher’s recession. Some would say I have succeeded… others would say I have a way to go yet.

I can confirm that I indeed have a way to go yet… but many other good friends fell along the way…

But if everything I had tried had gone well… I would have been knighted. If more of the things I tried had gone wrong, I would be pushing shopping trollies. I think I have played the game by taking considerably less risk than most on the Internet. I feel the Internet has in general been akin to the wild, wild west frontier – where the only two weapons were faith and guns and neither of these have much of a place in business.

Sure – I took a big risk when I left university, choosing to start a business with less than £1,000 borrowed from a friendly bank manager. But I had no money to lose anyway… so how big was this risk compared to six or seven figure VC funding for an unproven P&L model? Very little. If I had failed, I could – at that age – have picked myself up and the damage would have been less than if I had written off a motorbike. It FELT like  a risk at the time, but it really wasn’t great.

Then when the Internet came along, I was learning about search engines – or rather how I might influence the algorithms – and found myself going to a group called “First Tuesday” It was an alien world to me, where VCs and entrepreneurs met in what Bob Geldof – the night’s speaker- observed was a “Sea of Greed”. He was right… so I set up a smaller consultancy, with about £30,000 worth of cash as I recall, shared between my mortgage and my business partner’s cash. Hardly a king’s ransom. By contrast, Bob Geldof”s Internet business – worth £30 Million at its height – was eventually sold for £150,000 in just 2003. I may have risked my house – but my risk was nothing compared to the guy that thought the others in the room smelt of greed. I have to wonder how spectacularly some of the others in that room must have risked and lost compared to me.

Now I have again taken a risk – by working with some incredible people trying to crawl the Internet. You would think that there are some other pretty spectacular companies already doing this rather well, with Google and Bing leading the field. But as you grow older, you learn to better assess risk. I don’t believe we have risked anything like Microsoft risking the farm with $1 trillion. Now I would happily sell out for that $1 trillion – but I think that the point is that I saw innovation and commitment in the guys at Majestic and thankfully they saw some kind of value in me. Majestic IS successful and I am convinced will continue to be so, but the risks are far from Casino like in nature. Sure, when you play a game you want to create a winning strategy, but try not to leave your back door open… a Fox will come in to take your first born.

Don’t risk more than you can afford to lose.

I am also rubbish at Poker.


Remember what you read online

Here is a great way to dramatically improve memory when reading articles online.

This week I finally get to sit down and do something constructive with Bryan Eisenberg, the founder of the Web Analytics association (now renamed the Digital Analytics association). He’s been around forever and it amazes me that so few businesses are able to get to grips with his essentially obvious mantra that business online needs to be underpinned with good decisions based on good data. Recently, the mantra changed a bit though, as we all start to realise that some of the power within the mass of data that some companies have managed to harness, lies not in analysis – but in knowing what the “Big Idea” is that you want to get out of the Big Data.

But that’s not the full point of this post. Bryan gave me a bunch of posts he had written on the subject. As I started to read, it dawned on me that I really wasn’t taking in the words like I used to. I think ADT is growing in all of us involved on the web. Age doesn’t help and the glass of red wine was the final straw. I closed the laptop and left it for a few days.

Well I am glad to report that I have now taken in the articles and found an excellent way to aid memory retention online. I downloaded an app from iTunes onto my iPhone that turns web pages into audio. The idea for the app is that you can turn any news feed into a podcast. That’s useful in itself. But the real “deep” recall occurs when you read AND listen at the same time.

By reading and having computer generated spoken word, you combine two senses, dramatically improving recall. We all use PowerPoint (or in my case “Prezi”) to help us elaborate and communicate in different ways, because a picture can say a thousand words, but we rarely combine senses when reading online. I heartily recommend that you change that now.

Using different senses online to communicate is one of the reasons I use WebmasterRadio.fm to broadcast My Search Kingdom Radio Show. (Next show is on Thursday). Using those senses to RECEIVE information is just as important.

If you want to look at the iPhone App I have started using, it’s called “Speakably”. It looks new, so not perfect yet, but it does the job. What’s more, you can speed up the speed of the spoken word. Going at double speed won’t work just by listening alone, but it is pretty easy to read fast with the audio running at the same time.

It turns out this is especially effective. A few months back I was at the Glasgow Science Museum. A great day out by the way. In there, in the top floor, is a whole interactive experience about sound. One exhibit let’s you hear something spoken very fast. It is hard to understand. Then you hear it at normal speed and of course it make sense. The “Wow” moment comes when you hear it fast a second time. Now your brain has a pattern to follow and this time it all makes sense at the faster speed.

Put a computerised audio over web pages when you want to read fast and take in the content. You’ll be amazed at how much faster… And effective… Your reading will be.

If you want to read the posts Bryan sent me:





Pass the word. Please share the post if you find it useful.

At SES, Bryan and I are heading up the “Big Data” Meet the Experts table at lunch in San Francisco. This year I have been pushing Majestic SEO within a new but growing conference circuit based around Big Data and Predictive Analytics and along the way I have found some great ways to mine Big Data.

Taking water for granted at Pubcon

One of my favourite charities is Oxfam. It’s only one that has managed to get a monthly payment out of me every month for the last decade. My father set up the first ever Oxfam shop in Hong Kong (Not the first shop… just the first in Hong Kong) and every month my payment is in his memory.

By contrast, I find myself heading to Pubcon next week in Las Vegas. Smack bang on he heart of Nevada’s desert – blistering heat and hardly any rainfall. Yet Sin City thrives. The hotels rise out of the ashen ground and water flows from the taps, supplied courtesy of the Hoover Damn.

Compare conditions in the Nevada Desert to those in Ethiopia – taken from the Oxfam blog:

There’s a women standing at the top of a hole in the ground – bright yellow jerry cans and donkeys surround her. There are nine other women down the hole she tells us… forming a human chain to bring water up from the bottom of a cave. They don’t need ropes because, “God has provided a ladder” – a series of rock-formed steps.

They walk all day to get there. They break their backs carrying the water back.

Living in these conditions, how can you expect Ethiopia to compete on a world stage? they can’t.


So I’m going to Vegas and I have a fun packed week of meetings and presentations. I’m also going to enter a poker tournament.

But when the tap water starts flowing like a little miracle out of the taps, think about the miracle that “God has provided a ladder” to the ladies of Ethiopia.

Charity shouldn’t always start at home… it should sometimes start as far away from home as is humanly possible. I looked at Oxfam’s accounts once, and found they were one of the most efficient charities in the world at getting the donations through to front line services. Can you help them? Not even to build the Hoover damn. The ladies of Ethiopia would just be happy with a water carrier like this:


Time to Reflect?

I just had a bizarre online experience. It’s 10:50 pm on a Friday night. I just heard @randfish (who was at my table at a social occassion wedding a few weeks back) is going to present to the UN Secretary on Sunday. I was told that by @ciaranj, just after he told me that my new favourite program; Flash Forward was on TV.

I think it is about time to consider dixonjones.com as distinct from Receptional.com. No longer is it a dilemma of business and personal time overlapping. Now my personal politics and preferences are mixing with my business life.

My wife has gone to bed, but my 9 year old daughter is asking to borrow a key for a magic trick. If my wife was awake, there is NO WAY I would be writing a post on my iPhone using the WordPress publishing app.

It really has gone all Pete Tong. (translation:wrong). Life has all gone arse about tit.

Is this right?

Or is my wife right?

Should I watch my daughter’s magic trick or Flash Forward or @randfish’s Twitter feed?

When I write it down… It becomes clear that of course, I should watch the magic trick.

WordPress For 8 Year Olds

Blogging really isn’t hard. My 8 year old daughter is on the other computer as I write, typing her first WordPress page up. Favourite colour, age, etc. To be fair I set up the installaton for her, but now she’s pretty much on her own.

I have to say it’s not with a little intrepidation  that I am letting her loose on the Interweb. It’s far too unregulated, she’s going to post things she’s going to regret, and quite frankly an 8 year old going anywhere near my web server makes me keen not to show her how to install plug-ins for a fair few years. But in the end – what am I going to do? When both my kids were born, I bought the .co.uk versions of their names, with the intention of somehow giving them the domains as presents when they were old enough. At the time I thought “old enough” would be 14-16 or so. But kids today need different skills to the ones their parents needed. They need to start young and I can’t teach things that haven’t been invented yet. So I guess all I can do is show her how WordPress and a website gives you the tools to talk to the world.

She’s been asking for me to have a web page for ages now. What scares me is just how quickly she has stopped asking questions and just started using it.

I don’t think I’ll add her site to my blogroll JUST yet though.

(Added…) I guess that to make this post useful, I should give a few ideas on how to protect an 8 year old blogger. I’d appreciate any other ideas. So far:

  1. The family computer is in a family room. Keeping an eye out is easier if she’s not locked away in a bedroom.
  2. I did not give her admin access – just set her up as an editor for now.
  3. No FTP access!
Now… are there any good plugins I can use to tie the system down?