The Day I Realised I Was One Of THEM

I was always on the rebel side.

It was Us versus Them, the forces of rock and roll and musical freedom struggling against the older generation, those in power, the corporate and musical estblishment whose music was of a bygone age. I was always on the side of “Us” and would never change. Or so I thought . .

Of course, my friend and onetime Caroline colleague Christopher England would tell me differently. Chris has many hobby horses, and one of them is a dislike of “oldie music” and a disdain for how quickly the new young thrusting generation become oldies themselves, despising newer music from a younger generation, and believing that theirs was the only true generation of revolution.  Chris talks about this a lot, but it was not Chris who brought me to see the error of my ways, though funnily enough my moment of realisation did come when I was in his company, sitting beside him in a darkened theatre in central London, waiting for a tech launch.

Chris is my tech mentor in life you see. Even though I have been involved in IT for more than 30 years, and have worked either directly or on projects for the biggest names in the business – Microsoft, Apple, Dell, Compaq, HP – Chris has always been at least two steps ahead of me when it comes to living in the future.

My first ever mobile phone? Reccomended and procured for me by Chris (who had earlier got me into that great yuppie trend of the late 80s, the pager).

It was Chris who told me about the Orange network, which had this unique new geeky feature not available on any other network, the facility to send short SMS text messages. My first messages were to and from Chris.

Christopher England, in hiding.

When, at a technology exhibition in Earls Court in 1992 I tried out a very early video-phone on the BT stand, it was Chris who was the blocky, pixellated face at the other end, jerking around at a rate of about 2 or 3 frames per second (or that’s what it seemed like anyway).  Skype was far, far in the future in those days.

It was Chris who first mentioned some weird tech start up called Twitter, long before it was anything other than a curiosity, and at least two years before it became mainstream.

Not all of his playthings went on to success however. I vividly remember a huge, multi-caller, interactive premium-rate phoneline called “The Villa” which he was an administrator of, into which you could dial if you wanted to meet and interact with people. By pressing commands on the phone you could go into different areas of the villa, meet different people in different rooms, play games, chat etc. It was woefully clunky and terribly expensive, but I can’t help thinking back to it when I see some of the interactions on Facebook.

And so it was that when Microsoft were launching their huge step forward that was Windows 95, it was Chris that I was sitting beside in a large theatre or other such place somewhere in central London. I can’t remember the exact date, but a look back at the launch schedule for Windows 95 tells me that this must have been sometime around, or just before, August 1995.

As we sat waiting for the show to begin, I was very pleased to hear a Rolling Stones track “Start Me Up” being played. (of course, prior to the launch we would not have known that this was a planned part of the whole Win95 theme, in reference to the “Start” menu).

I remember thinking that, after years of big corporate giants being very conservative and oldies focussed in their music for events like this, that it was great that finally they were moving forward, and recognising the value of “our” generation’s music, being young and rebellious, rather than middle aged. Maybe we were winning our battles after all!

And then it hit me, and that one single moment changed my whole worldview on music. This was not big business recognising the value of youthful rebellious music. This was my generation, and our music having been around for long enough that people of my age were now moving up into positions of corporate and government responsibility. This was my generation’s music, in effect, becoming the new “safe” choice, favoured by people drifting towards middle age. This was the moment that I realised that, without so much as a whisper of warning, time had played the cruellest trick of all, and now “we” were becoming “them”.

And sure enough, the signs were there. A new generation of music bubbling under that was not really listened to by my generation, the fact that our music was now increasingly playlisted on mainstream radio . .

From that day on, I could see the truth in Christopher England’s polemic about how closed people’s minds became to everything new over time, and I resolved to think and act differently myself.  And this was a good time to do it, as around about the same time as Microsoft was launching Windows 95 another giant was rethinking its strategy, as the BBC started a revemp of Radio 1, to howls of protest from established presenters and audience, that would see a new generation of presenters coming on board, bringing with them the new wave of dance, rock and alternative sounds that had been there, but ignored for quite some time.

Later I was to end up at Phantom FM in Dublin, where for 11 years I was constantly fed a diet of new bands and live gigs. That really helped me to stay up to date, and I couldn’t help but smile when, on the station’s message board in the mid noughties, I saw listeners complaining about how the new music it was playing now was not the same as the new music it had been playing five years earlier.

“They are playing crap aimed at 16 year olds” these 21 year olds would complain, “not like when we were 16, the music was much better then”.

Having recently left Phantom to strike out on my own, I’m working harder than ever to keep up to date on new music, and try to feature a minimum of 50% new material on my shows each week on Radio Seagull. I don’t have the dislike of oldies that Chris has, but on the other hand I don’t have the dislike of modern music that so many of my contemporaries seem to have grown into.

And, though it is itself an “oldie” now in computing terms,  that’s as good a reason to be thankful for Windows 95 as any.


Slaving Over A Hot Computer

So that’s it – Christmas over, and nose back to the grindstone.

I have a lot to do in my various different worlds this month – a complex global IT project to manage, a ream of radio shows to put together and present, and a second draft of my second bookRunning Away From The Circus – to complete.

In times past, these would all be involve very different locations and equipment – transmitter rooms on salt-enrusted radioships, bright office buildings and meeting rooms, and quiet book-lined rooms.

These days though, all my efforts in all the different fields end up as gigabytes of data passing through routers and stored in giant data centres.

Ireland is actually becoming a location of chice for many of these vast temples of computing, as our temperate climate makes cooling less expensive.

Pictured above is a so called “hot corridor” between the backs of several hundred racked servers at a location in the west of Ireland.

Warmer than a drafty hold in a rusty radio ship, and cleaner too, but not quite so much fun!


The Long And Winding Road

I’d love to be angry with Chris England.

Logging on to his compulsive-reading England’s England site, and seeing a post titled “Steve Conway Fights Fat Bastard Syndrome” is probably not the ideal way to start a Monday morning, and not the kind of flattering portrayal one likes to see of oneself.

But I can’t possibly object, because I’m a realist, and I have to admit that Chris is only (kindly, as you’ll see when you read the text) telling it like it is.

I have got myself into an overweight, unfit state, and that’s my doing, not his.

Over the last 20 or so years, I have allowed myself to go from this:

Steve on a ship in 1988

to this:

Steve on a ship in 2011

So I can’t really complain about Chris pointing out what is inescapable reality, especially as in doing so he admits to similar problems himself, and wishes me well in my quest to fight back to fitness.

And, as I mentioned in a previous blog post, I am taking steps to change. Interventions from friends such as Chris are useful in reminding me of how others see me, but only I can make the change.

Over the past month, I have been walking almost every day, and I’m aiming to continue this. I’m doing a minimum of 2km on working days, and at least double that at weekends.

Now, I’ve done this in the past, intermittantly, but always petered out.

This time has to be different. And I mean has to be.Whereas previously I could start and stop my weight-loss kicks with no real consequences, this time it is a neccessity.

What spurred me into action at the start of December was finding myself at a tipping point, health and fitness wise. I found myself at the point where I was actually beginning to waddle rather than walk. The smallest bit of activity would leave me breathless. And my feet, which had always been fine, were beginning to hurt, presumably under the ever increasing burden of carrying me. As someone who used to walk a lot, who in his youth had climbed all of the Dublin, Wicklow and Kerry mountains without a thought, this appalled me.

I’ve had a full health check-up. My heart is fine, I don’t have any health complications like Type 2 diabetes yet, but it would be only a matter of time if I abandoned myself to further inaction. So I’ve started walking, and I won’t stop.

I wish I could do more than 2km a day, but such is my level of unfitness that my feet give up after this and become numb, so I will have to do a little every day, and get them used to this before I can do more. On the longer weekend walks I have to rest halfway.  Just ten years ago, I used to walk from Ballinteer to Eastpoint (about 12km) on bank holidays without a second thought. I’d love to be that person again.

I have some help in the form of technology, a great smartphone app called Walkmeter which tracks and records my walks, maps them for me afterwards, and whispers in my ear each time I have completed another half a km (user defined setting – it can announce at any interval you like).

So there you have it – my biggest challenge for 2012.

Tougher than keeping this blog up to date, more important than getting my second book published, but if I can pull it off, more rewarding than anything else I could achieve.

I’ll keep plugging away at it, and we’ll see how far I’ve got at the end of the year.

But time to put down the keyboard now, and get outside.

And, though it hurst to say it, thanks Chris.