Fish & Chips

There are only three things I can tell you about the great British institution that is Fish & Chips. This is what I learnt when I attended the Kings College London inaugural Impact Reception earlier this week. It was a unique evening highlighting six specialisations, and featured three presentations by leading academics. The focus was on “doing some good in the world” and we explored:

Global Affairs
Education for Displaced Persons
Women’s Leadership

And three niche areas of medicine where KCL excels:

Simulation and Interactive Learning
Virtual Reality Research Lab
Surgical & Interventional Engineering Lab

I have never been in a room so full of intelligent people doing good! Later in the evening, when I was chatting with Professor Richard Trembath (Health & Life Sciences) the discussion naturally turned to Fish & Chips.

traditional fish and chips in a takeaway container

Fact One

Until the advent of the Chinese Takeaway (at some point in the 1970s) the only enduring fast food outlet was the local Fish & Chip Shop. McDonalds did not arrive in my corner of the UK until 1980, and I do not recall ever having a pizza until one day in London in 1982 when I discovered that there are Pizza Restaurants in London. The same thing goes for kebabs. In London, in 1982, I found a kebab shop (a kebab van to be more accurate). I had never seen one before! Hence the humble Fish & Chip Shop was the standard which all UK kids encountered if they grew up before 1980.

Fact Two

Fish & chips are generally doused in vinegar and smothered in salt. That was standard practice in the 1970s before the government was pressured to legislate about salt and sugar intake. I spent most of my childhood in the Sixties and Seventies eating anything I felt like, regardless of the salt and the sugar content. And I was slim! We were all slim (except for, roughly speaking, one kid in every class). So what happened? Why is the population now so overweight and why is Type 2 Diabetes so prevalent?

Fact Three

In 1970 the overweight/obese proportion of the UK population was about 15%. It is now 64%. Type 2 diabetes more than doubled in British men between the 1970s and the 1990s and it continues to increase. There is a reason for this and it’s not caused by fish & chips. Fish is a natural food, it turns up in your traditional Fish & Chip Shop in its natural, raw state. So do the potatoes. With a focus on “being a miser with time, and being a miser with money” your local chippie will do the minimum preparation necessary to make some batter, slice some chips, fry it all and quickly get it into your hands in exchange for payment. A minimum of fuss and processing. That’s not the case with modern fast food.

Consider . . .

How many calories and additives are there in your traditional fish & chips? And in your Big Mac and large fries?

Moreover, having a take away meal was a rare treat in the 1970s, and the choice was simply between fish & chips and Chinese. Nowadays, vast swathes of the population will gorge processed food as often as they like . . . several times per week! Processed food is the culprit, that’s why the nation is so overweight. Legislation on sugar and salt content does not address the root cause of the problem . . .  it’s processed food! And Giles Yeo will tell you more if you care to read his book Why Calories don’t Count.

Nowadays fast food outlets are everywhere, and cycle couriers will do the leg work for you so that you can just sit there and sloth. Poorer people tend to spend a disproportionate amount of their income on cheap fast food. According to Tedstone one third of the country’s fast food outlets are in the most deprived areas of our towns and cities. If you’re in London go and walk around Chelsea, and then walk around Lewisham. Try it in your own home town, walk around the upmarket neighbourhood, and the downmarket one. How common are the cheap fast food places?

What are you doing to ensure that you get some authentic real food on a daily basis, and avoid the gloop?

Where is the emphasis on values in Healthcare?

Aspiring students of medicine, trying to get into the UK’s best universities, will tell you that the main message they need to emphasise (and highlight in their application) is a genuine desire to care for people.

Healthcare is such an important issue, that we might imagine that all healthcare providers place a great deal on emphasis on worthy values. Selling your healthcare data to big corporations is probably not one of them. Honesty, fairness, and compassion probably rate highly on anybody’s list of values.

This subject came to the fore at a HealthTech meetup run by Palta on 6 Jun 2023. Lina Zakarauskaite from Stride VC stressed that values are the key to any HealthTech Start Up and that they need not be “written in stone” on day one. The founders will want to adapt their own values and the values of their fledgling business, so that (with input from others) a statement of values can be established soon after the founding date. By starting with a white board and an open mind, the key is to consider all inputs and achieve a reasonable consensus on what the business values should be. It’s not a unanimous vote, nor really a majority vote, it’s a team effort where the team agrees a set of values that they call all subscribe to. Google learnt this in the early days when their executive coach emphasised that you agree what is good for team, and you do what is good for the team, even if that was not your personal first choice.

Kit Logan from Avie (an exercise app which is now a part of the Holland & Barrett empire) added that early adopters are just as important as the founders’ team in shaping what the company values should be. Instead of having a fitness app which chastises you for missing a week of exercise (because you were ill or on holiday), the app needs to understand that users often have good reason for not following a regular routine. In discussion with early adopters of Avie, the founders, Kit and Charlie discovered from the users that their app was “understandable” and that this was a value which they needed to add to the Avie mission statement. They also learnt that exercise routines have to fit around other activities, notably “hair washing”. A significant percentage of users stressed that the competitor apps neglected the importance of fitting schedules around the more important activity of “washing your hair”.

Finding your niche was also important. Moving on from working as the CEO of a dating agency, Michelle Kennedy (the founder of Peanut) discovered an opening for a social network for would-be mums, expectant mums, young mums, and later mums with medical issues. Even ladies without children, who wanted to share concerns with like minded people, on issues like HRT and the menopause.

The discussion of values in Healthcare was central to the HealthTech meetup, and it ought to be equally important in any business. Even to employees, and certainly to candidates looking for a job. What values do you have? What values does the organisation have? Are they aligned? Working relationships can be very short lived when values are mismatched. Try writing down your top 5 values. What are they? Use the list here if you’re really struggling.

Anyone, in any position, in any organisation, should examine the values and then ask themselves “do I want to work on these challenges, with this team, within this organisation?”

Soft Robotics at Pint of Science

Pint of Science is an informal way to find out more about an array of weird and fascinating facts. Spanning 37 UK locations, and a handful of international ones, it runs for a few days in May every year. On Wednesday 24 May 2023 I went to the gathering (in the Student Union bar) at Queen Mary University London to learn more about robots!

Apparently “soft robotics” has been around since about 2018 although this was the first time I had heard of it. I had a fascination with robots when I was much younger, bought an original Aibo mark 1 in 2006, but have never been any good at making my own robots.

Today, the big question is “how do robot hands know how much grip to apply when picking up hard or soft objects”? And because they lack eyes, experience and human sentience, how do they carry out delicate and proportionate touch? The answer is cilia, lots of cleverly constructed cilia containing micro magnets.

Cilia are the fine hairs on the outside of microscopic organisms.

simple diagram of a microbe with about 80 cilia, and a picture of pine needles, about 200 of them in 3 prongs at the end of a pine tree branch

Scale them up a bit and they look like the gentlest, softest pine needles at the extremities of your Christmas tree.

Make some miniature ones out of silicone, embed some magnets inside them, and in effect you have what looks like a row of railway carriage windows in a soft bendy tube.

simple black and white illustration of a row of railway carriage windows, first straight and then slightly bent into an S curve

Why magnets? Magnets have magnetic fields, and when magnets move they create electrical impulses. That’s how dynamos work, and if you reverse the system that’s how electric motors work.

photos of a lecturer beside a table with robot devices, a close of of a two finger robot gripper, and a diagram showing that the cilia are fitted to the tip of one finger of the robot

Tiny magnets in soft bendy silicone tubes create tiny magnetic fields which can move about and create variations in their tiny electrical impulses. Now, all you need to do is to place an electrical impulse sensor near the soft bendy silicone tubes. Not inside them! That’s the crucial bit, these artificial cilia are independent of the electrical bits around them, they can operate freely, and they “sense” in a similar way to the tips of your fingers.

daigram of robotic cilia with magnetic fields, and size comparison of cilia pad about the size of a finger nail

The slightest touch of the cilia creates a magnetic distortion, and the level and speed of the distortion tells the robot gripper how hard or soft the object is. That in turn allows the software to calculate how much grip is to be applied, and that message is passed back to the motors which control the movement of the robot gripper.

Fascinating! How did I not know this sooner?

Maybe Pint of Science has rekindled my interest in robotics!

How to write a photo essay

This week, the hallway track was where I learnt how to write a photo essay!

The hallway track is one of my favourite places at conferences and seminars. It helps my business with “lead generation”, and who doesn’t want a bit of “lead generation” when you’re running a business?

A hallway track is the collection of gaps in the proceedings at big conferences and at small events, a place where you have a chance to chat with people, to shoot the breeze, and to explore conversations that you might not ordinarily have had in your daily working life. That happened to me this week, when I went to an event run by the London Chamber of Commerce & Industry (LCCI) to celebrate the achievements of The Royal Photographic Society (RPS).

As a result, this blogpost is a bit of a double whammy! This article is an overview of what I learnt at the LCCI event and then there’s a link at the end, to a full blown example of what I learnt, how to write a photo essay.


Do you have one or more objectives when you go to business events?

I do. In brief:

• Meet some new people
• Get some business cards
• Learn something new
• Follow up

It doesn’t always work like that, though this week I was able to tick every item on the list. It helps to do a little advance preparation. In my mind I had already likened photography to art, and so I quickly checked my library of quotable quotes to see who has said what about art. Just in case I needed to kick start a conversation with some relevant material. I found a quote from Aristotle and another from Tolstoy.

Aristotle: “the aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.”

Tolstoy: “the main purpose of art is that it tell the truth about the soul, revealing and giving expression to all the secrets that one cannot say in simple words – art is a microscope that the artist focuses on the secrets of his own soul, and that then reveals to men the secrets common to them all.”

Photos are a form of art, so I thought that I had a reasonable foundation before I arrived at the LCCI venue. In the event, I didn’t use any of the prepared material, as my customary open ended questions turned out to be more than sufficient.


The formal presentations were predictable, and lasted around 30 minutes. The hallway track before and after was very illuminating. I was talking to Mark Phillips who is the chair of the RPS Documentary Group, and my normal conversations start with something like “so tell me, why is X so important” or “what’s the thing you’re most proud of” or in this case (with my art quotes mentally prepared) I said “how do I judge the significance of a photo”.

Mark was very enthusiastic about lots of things, and he gave me the big “golden nugget” of the day. Normally at every event there’s a golden nugget, if you go and look for it.

That’s one of my other stock questions for events . . . in the group networking after the formal presentations have ended I will often ask “what was the one big thing that stood out from that talk”. Try it, you might be surprised that half the time your counterpart will reply “I dunno”.

And half of half the time, I agree with them! The speakers really didn’t say much at all. The other half of half the time I ask myself if the delegate was really listening. This week I was listening carefully (as usual), and Simon Hill (President of the RPS) did have something valuable to say. He told us about London’s heritage with a focus on trade and shopkeepers. That tied in with the photo exhibition which is on display at the LCCI Queen Street venue for one month.

Anyway, the golden nugget was Mark telling me about Life magazine and Time magazine, and how they had an “Eight Photo” guidance document on how to prepare a photo essay for publication. It’s guidance, it’s not a strict formula, and it was clearly the right way to handle articles in paper magazines in the pre internet era. There’s a lot of value in it still, and in order to demonstrate that I have dived in head first and prepared an “Eight Photo” essay on my experience of Stirling University.

That comes a bit later! I prepared it because (a) I liked the idea of an essay formula (though it’s not a strict formula) and (b) I wanted to have the experience of doing one for myself and (c) it ties in neatly with my fourth objective which says I have to follow up!

In summary the eight photographs recommended by the magazines are:

• Overview – typically wide-angle giving comprehensive impression
• Medium Shot – focussed on activity or a group
• Close-up – spotlighting one element, or detail
• Interaction – humans element, talking or activity
• Portrait – strong image, or key protagonist or character
• Signature Image – synthesis that tells whole story in one image
• Series –show how something happens, inject pace or convey action
• The Clincher – often a close-up to close the series

My outline preparation looked like this, before I even started thinking about adding the dialogue:

Follow Up

How do you follow up a business meeting? Especially one where nobody is pressing you to do a follow up?

Send some thank you letters or emails. And write a blogpost. In my case I also add some notes to my company knowledge base. This week the knowledge base has a new section entitled “photo essay” and as a result of that new information, the section entitled “blogpost” has also been tweaked a little.

Then email some more people, and tell them what you learnt and what you’ve blogged!

“University” was an apt choice for my photo essay, because my son is now in the final stages of his journey through university, and it brought back memories of my own. And, having completed his final essay, my son shared with me a quotable quote from his conclusion. It recognises that some people feel they can’t start a conversation, or they can’t make the most of the hallway track, or they can’t begin writing a blogpost or a photo essay.

How to Actually Start the Task You’ve Been Avoiding

Bregman: “the biggest challenge to moving forward on anything is the transition to working on it. It almost always represents a shift from doing something comfortable to doing something uncomfortable”.

Bregman’s article in the Harvard Business Review helps with that, so does Checkland, and so does Descartes.

Bregman’s details have been added to my library of quotable quotes which is on my own knowledge base. That’s one of the tools that help my clients, firstly you need a business plan, then secondly a knowledge base, and thirdly a team which helps the business grow. Checkland has retired. Descartes is dead. Is this knowledge base something that I could help you with?

By the way, here’s my article A Stirling University Photo Essay which helps illustrate how I interpret the advice I was given this week.