No time to chat

Published on 13. May, 2012 by in Family, Harry, Millie, Onside Analysis, Time, Wendy


If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you are probably aware that at the beginning of the year I committed to writing more frequently, having struggled to provide even a monthly post last year. In fact, in my eagerness, I became so confident in my abilities that I decided to try to write 52 posts this year. In breaking news, I can now report that this isn’t going to happen.

Millie is very taken with farm life. She asked me to retrain.

Since leaving Imperial at the end of March, lots has changed in my life, not least being fortunate to have abandoned the regular commute. The downside of this is that without my commute, I am finding no time to write. In fact, as it happens, I am writing right now from the train, on one of my rarer sorties into London.

Setting up a new business is somewhat consuming. This has not really come as a huge surprise, I knew what I was getting into, but nonetheless I don’t think I realised quite how much my time would be reduced for little things like blog writing. The good news is that things at Onside Analysis are shaping up nicely and we are very excited about what is on the horizon; we really think that putting the hard graft and effort in here will lead to some exciting results in the not too distant future.

But, back to my life, adding in the work with MDC and other activities (the most recent being my very enjoyable coaching course), what time is left is very little. Poor Wendy and the kids are struggling to get  my attention, albeit as always without complaint, but clearly my priority needs to be spending what time I do have with my family rather than indulgently writing to myself and the handful of other kind people who every so often read these words.

I’m not immodest enough to think that anyone will care all that much about this. Whether I write every week, month or just a few times a year doesn’t have any cosmic repercussions. Interestingly, when I look at the traffic that visits my site, when I used to write rarely I had a lot more readers of the blog than when I wrote every week. This might suggest that increased frequency has come at the expense of quality, or that if I write too often people finally become aware that there is nothing of importance being said. Either way, the extra commitment of writing regularly for a diminishing readership is unappealing.

My big little boy is 2!

All this said, it’s important to say that it’s not going to be the end of the blog altogether, as it is still a very enjoyable way to spend a train journey. Also, I still have plenty to write about. Since my last post I have been busy on my football coaching course (where I have learned plenty); been lambing for the second year in a row (once again a very enjoyable experience); been to the Crucible to watch the snooker (including a great view from the commentary box courtesy of Willie Thorne) and had little Harry H’s magical second birthday. These have all been exciting experiences, that if time permitted would provide plenty of material for writing about. Such things are going to continue, so there will always be things for me to write about.

For now I’ll just observe what fun we had, and draw to a close. The train is pulling into the station you see, and another busy day (for which I am already an hour late) is about to get going. I’ll see you when I see you, and post this blog when I get the chance…

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Time to adjust

Published on 04. Apr, 2012 by in Family, Harry, Millie, Onside Analysis


It’s nearly holiday time! Hold on, I’m less than two weeks into my new job, and they’re letting me take a week (plus Easter) off on holiday – who exactly are this incredible company that I’m working for? Oh, yes, it’s Onside Analysis, and I just so happen to be my own boss!

Actually, despite the impression from the first paragraph, I am probably working harder than I have for quite a while. I have a lot to do, and my business partner Rob is relying on my contribution, and I just love getting my teeth into a challenge like this. Sometimes the hard part is switching off my computer in the evening and finishing for the day.

Before I go on holiday, I think it is time to write a blog, and I thought I’d write a few words on my adjustment to my new life. In fact, last week was not really a typical first week, as I spent most of the time in Derbyshire and Manchester, the latter half of the week being at the SoccerEx conference, a gathering aimed at officials, clubs and companies in and around the football industry. It was a very interesting week, and once again we had noticeable interest in our ideas and business, but it really did make us want to go away and really focus on spending the next few months building the products to demonstrate the ideas that we are promoting.

Millie and the boys for Danny G's birthday

Regardless of how interesting the week away was, it did not really feel like the start of a new routine, largely because what we were doing was not what I expect to be doing on a daily basis. It was a week away from home, followed by a lovely weekend, with a trip to London Zoo with the Stratfords and the Greaves to celebrate the super Danny G’s birthday, before going to see my Mum and Dad on Sunday, just before my Mum’s birthday this week.

The new week has been different, and I have slowly been getting used to my new role, my new environment, and not having to commute for more than 3 hours each day. And I’m enjoying it very much! Actually, given the flexibility of my position at Imperial, it probably has not yet sunk in, as there were often weeks where my supervisor was away, and I didn’t go into the office very often at those times. It still feels like maybe next week, or in two weeks I’ll be back to the old routine and having to curtail the exciting work that I am getting to do now, to pick up some other components of a job that someone else determines are the most important.

One of the strangest things to get used to is seeing more of my children. In fact, my days have not been much shorter, given that I am working so hard on the new business. However, it being the Easter holidays means that both of the children are around pretty much all the time, with both school and their regular extra curricular activities postponed for the duration. What does that mean in practice, well a lot more noise than I am used to, but also both of them popping into Daddy’s office every so often to say hello, or having lunch with them as well as breakfast. It is those little things that are really nice.

Other things that I am noticing are changes in the children. Harry for one is developing his speech every day and has started singing; he even tries to copy Millie when she is counting, playing hide-and-seek for example. And they are playing together more and more, and as a parent I’m not sure there is anything more heartwarming than seeing your children having fun together, independent of you.

Another factor that I am particularly enjoying is Millie’s entrepreneurial spirit. Recently Millie has taken an interest in buying things. But while we are in a hugely fortunate position, for us it is very important that she learns the value of money. It seems very early for lessons like this at age four, but with a continued desire to do things to help Mummy and Daddy, and the want to spend money, Millie has started doing the odd thing for a little bit of pocket money each week. For every day she lays the table in the morning, and makes her bed and folds her pyjamas she receives 10p per task. It normally works out at about £1.00 a week. Not mega-bucks but more than enough for a 4 year old. But she has started negotiating trying to get more money in return for doing more jobs. She has offered to clean the car twice this week, and to wash the windows 3 times. The latter she reasoned was because they were dirty. Her downfall was because she mentioned that the reason for this was because had been licked, by her. In a way I wanted to reward this incredible innovative approach, but as a parent I can’t reward her for going around licking windows.

Of course, when Millie goes back to school and term time begins, it will change again, and I’ll get a better idea of what my routine is really like. It might be lonely after this holiday time company. I might have to speak to the postman every morning just to get some human interaction. But in truth, I’m sure it will be just fine, and I can’t wait to push this project on!

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Slightly cheating

Published on 22. Mar, 2012 by in Family, Friends, Onside Analysis


So I promised to write 52 blogs this year. And so far I’ve been more or less keeping it up. But interest must surely be waning in anything I have to say, and to be honest as I begin to write my post each week, I rarely have any idea what I am going to say. So this week I am going to keep it brief. Succinct. To the Point….ok, ok, enough already.

Jacob Stratford and Millie sharing the love.

Today instead of writing more words about nothing in particular I am going to simply put up a picture from last week, when we had a house full of friends over for Friday night. It was lovely to catch up with everyone, with a special visit from our friends Mike and Rach who were over from the US. Getting together as a big group is something that we get to do far too rarely. Sadly, the night ended somewhat prematurely with Millie succumbing to the sickness bug, requiring a major clean up operation, but not before lots of fun had been had by all.

And in addition to this limited offering, if you really are suffering withdrawal symptoms, you can find a lengthy post about sports analytics that I wrote for the Onside Analysis blog. Please have a read and feel free to share it with anyone you think might be interested.

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It’s not academic

Published on 19. Mar, 2012 by in Imperial, Onside Analysis


Another eventful week has passed, although unfortunately this last week has not been as pleasant as I might have hoped. The reason for this was that the recent phase of Hastie illnesses claimed its next victim, dealing me a nice bout of gastroenteritis at the beginning of the week. Of course, I will spare you any details, other than saying it is astonishing just how much you can sleep in 24 hours when your body shuts down non-vital systems to fight a bug. Fortunately, my energy levels seem pretty much recovered and while my stomach is yet to return to normal, the more extreme physical symptoms have gladly now departed.

Once again I am beginning this post on my morning commute. However, this is likely to be my penultimate train penned blog because I have only one week left at Imperial. It is hard to believe I will have been there for nearly 21 months.

The decision to first apply for, and then accept, a position at Imperial was not an easy one. When I resigned at Smartodds in November 2009 with a six month notice period to serve, I was unsure of what would come next. There were only two things that really interested me; work that I felt could provide me with the same degree of autonomy as I had been fortunate enough to experience at Smartodds (at least in the earlier days). However, the two options were quite different. One was running my own business, the other was returning to academia.

I certainly had ambitions of managing my own business, I just lacked conviction on exactly what it would do. I had ideas that it might realistically be statistical and software based, but also harboured more innovative start up ideas, whilst realising that I lacked the experience or network to make such fancies succeed.

I also knew that there were many things I enjoyed about academia, and realised I would benefit from the change of environment and refreshed ideas and research methods that a sojourn back in such a post would offer. In the end, perhaps feeling overwhelmed by the steps of setting up a business I decided to go for academia.

I applied for a couple of lectureship positions, well aware that my application stood almost no chance, as (strangely in my opinion) published journal articles are really the only measure that are given any weight when shortlisting candidates. Of course, I heard nothing back. When I saw the advert at Imperial, I applied immediately: it seemed like the ideal opportunity. A position with an excellent professor, specialising in research methods very much aligned with my Ph.D. research, in a department and university that have an excellent reputation. Perhaps the real appeal however, was the fact that it was a short fixed-term contract. If returning to academia really wasn’t for me then there would be a natural way out at the end. And by applying and going through the recruitment process it didn’t mean I had to take the job.

Probably a large part of the reason that my application was successful was down to a lack of pressure. Like everything I do, I went in to the interview well prepared, but I certainly wasn’t desperate to get the job. I was therefore able to relax in the interview. Add in my experience at Smartodds, and the fact I had done many interviews from the other side of the table, and I probably wasn’t the usual freshly qualified postdoctoral candidate.

For whatever reason they offered me the job. Coming out of interview I had the feeling it had been a success, but I wasn’t expecting a job offer within a few hours. I remember getting the message while on a train, and I still remember not knowing what to do. It is very flattering to feel wanted, but I did have reservations that if I didn’t take the opportunity to start a business now then maybe that opportunity would not arise again. In the end, Wendy seemed so genuinely pleased for me that I had the offer, that her enthusiasm rubbed off and I took the plunge.

21 months down the line it is clear that academia is not the way forward for me. Perhaps partially my heart was not ever fully in it, but I like to think that I worked hard and tried to engage myself in the work. I am happy with my contribution, and have certainly enjoyed aspects. One of the great things was the removal of any managerial responsibilities, allowing my time to be dedicated to my research. While I enjoy being a manager, it has been nice to actually have the opportunity to learn new things, but then also put them into practice on challenging problems. Certainly for my personal development the role has served a purpose.

On the flip side of this, it has sometimes been frustrating to be in a position which carries practically zero authority. Of course, by working hard and doing the job well, people begin to realise that you can make a contribution, but naturally that takes a long time to build up, and the sphere of influence is limited. This has been particularly frustrating when watching the huge inefficiencies and bad practices endemic in much of academia.

Another aspect of my decision was my lack of desire to be involved in the politics of being a successful academic. Of course all jobs have a level of politics, but for whatever reason the politics of business feel more natural to me.

I guess part of this is the realisation that to excel in academia you must typically specialise in an incredibly limited area. This is not surprising, given that your role is literally pushing the boundaries of human knowledge in your chosen area. There are other possibilities: some people are happy to forego being the leading expert in an area, in return for being able to focus on broader research or even teaching (non-academics may be surprised to realise just how much teaching is considered an necessary inconvenience rather than an important part of the role). Others truly are geniuses and can be leading experts in a multitude of fields. (Relative) mediocrity does not appeal to me, nor does obsessive research into a very narrowed field, but regrettably experience has taught me there are many many people more intelligent than me in academia, and so I am never going to fall into the genius class.

Undoubtedly other factors have influenced my decision. As much as anything, my unusual career path has meant that I have never really felt like I have fitted in at Imperial. I don’t think I am really very different to my postdoctoral colleagues and peers, and certainly have no delusion of being “better” than them, I am simply a little bit older and therefore a bit further down life’s path. For example, I live outside London and at the end of the day or week, my overriding desire is not to get to the pub for a beer, but to hop on the train to be back in time for my kids bedtime. It was also never the plan to move to Cranleigh for a life of commuting back into London. Who knows if my reasoning is influenced or reinforced by this consideration. Perhaps if the University of Surrey in Guildford had a thriving statistics department my hangups with academia would dissolve.

The good news is, in fact, rather than stifling my ambitions of company ownership my time in academia has allowed it to grow, but more importantly to focus. The result is Onside Analysis, and I am desperate to throw myself into this full time now, rather than just the hours here and there at evenings and weekends that I have been able to give to date.

Of course, the challenges of running a business will be plenty, and I do not underestimate them. But that is the subject for a future post. Regardless, I am excited. And here is hopefully some indication that this is the righ choice for me: my six months notice at Smartodds really dragged, with nothing to keep me going than my day job. On the other hand, I told Imperial I would leave at the end of my contract more than 10 months ago, and for the last 6 I have known Onside Analysis will be the next step. But this time has flown by. Why? Because every spare moment I have I want to work on Onside Analysis stuff.  Which leaves me with just 3 words. Bring it on!

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29th February. It would be a shame not to post today, given that this date only happens once every 4 years. Who knows what will have become of this blog next time the date comes around, but it would be surprising if I still have things to write, and even more so if people still want to read my ramblings.

For me, each year is marked by significant dates which act as milestones, prompting me to take an explicit look at how my life is progressing. Typically, these are the dates that you might expect, including New Year’s Eve, my birthday, family birthdays (especially the kids birthdays), our wedding anniversary, Easter, August bank holiday and Christmas. The 29th feels like one of those extra days, where I should be doing the same.

The wonderful Wendy, (2nd from left) as drawn in Millie's portrait of our family

Taking a snapshot of what is going on right now in my life, Onside Analysis is taking up a large proportion of my focus and attention, along with working very hard to wrap up work at Imperial, and providing what little support that I have time for, for the “A Life Worth Living” project. On the blogging front, I am doing well so far at keeping to my output rate to achieve the promised 52 posts in a year. It is undoubtedly a busy time, and one that would not be possible without the love and understanding of Wendy, supporting and encouraging my projects and never begrudging the extra time that it is taking up, often at the expense of time spent with her. The 29th February then is a day to appreciate and say thank you.

Reflecting on my life over the last week or so, one conclusion that I have come to is that it needs more football! Of course, adding anything to my life at the moment is somewhat problematic, given the main thing I am lacking is time. However, a very strong case can be made that as football will be the core business of our work at Onside Analysis it is a business requirement  that my football knowledge is good. In fact, it isn’t imperative, given that my focus will be primarily the technology and modelling side and my business partner Rob is a football encyclopedia. However, when networking and building relationships as a director of a football scouting and performance analytics company, people expect a decent level of knowledge, so I will be working hard on that.

Football was such a huge part of my life growing up, and up until the end of (my first period at) university, I played a lot, at least 3 or 4 times a week. If I wasn’t playing football I was watching it. However, as life moved on, I played a bit less, first retiring from international availability (sadly with no caps), then with a few social 11-a-side teams, then just in a 5-a-side league, until slowly, it all dried up. The commitment of playing (and training) was very hard to sustain with young children. And sadly, with it, the number of games I watch has seriously diminished, meaning my level of knowledge certainly needs a boost.

On a day to day basis, this means that as part of my working day, I will be reading more sports sections and reports of newspapers and websites, and watching more games on TV. I’m also going to aim to get to one live match a week (midweek evenings where possible), spread around the many premiership and football league grounds in easy reach of home. I have also registered for a coaching course and a performance analytics course, and will be driving my fitness sessions around football based exercises (I tried this yesterday and it was great fun and a good workout – I’m feeling it today). Having begun down this track it has made me remember how much I love football, and how happy it makes me.

Lizzy Greaves and her wonderful family. Will the fascinator be jumping too?

Away from my own life, I have been quite impressed by the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign’s marketing to make the most of this leap day for fundraising. They have been pushing a campaign called “Make Today Count”, especially for the day, designed to encourage people to use the additional day to raise money for their cause. The initiatives that they have been encouraging include asking employers to organise charity focussed events on the day or raffling off the extra day as a day of holiday. On a more personal level, people have been asked to do local collections, and various events have been organised, including a group sky dive. This challenge has been taken up by my good friend Lizzy, a very active supporter of MDC (she ran the marathon with me for them, the.first year that I did). It is her first ever sky dive and as such a brave thing to do, but what better way to mark the day, and not let it pass you by. If you are a supporter of MDC (or would like to be) please consider supporting Lizzy by sponsoring her here.

For me, because of work commitments and a lack of holiday from Imperial before I leave, I’m not able to use the day to fund raise. However, tomorrow will be the MDC sports quiz which we have been building towards for many months now. I am hugely looking forward to the event and will make my contribution to the cause there. As for today, how will I make today count? Well I’ll start by posting this blog, and then I’ll crack on with my day job and try and cross off a few more tasks on the route to my final day on the 23rd March. It’s not exciting but it’s necessary.

Regardless, I’ll keep the message of the day in mind. “Make Today Count”. When you see the challenges that some people face every day it’s good to be reminded not just to take another day for granted. It’s a great message for the 29th February, but an even better way to try to live everyday.

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Get with the routine

Published on 16. Feb, 2012 by in Onside Analysis, Time


Same place, a week later. Beginning this post I am stood in almost exactly the same spot as last week, in the hallway of the same carriage of the same 7:54 train from Guildford to London Waterloo. This is getting routine.

I woke at 6am, had a quick shower, then took the dog for a walk. A quick breakfast of a couple of Weetabix, 5 minutes with the kids and then I left the house at 7:25 and hopped in the car to begin my commute. It is the same most mornings that I commute into London, although sometimes I get to lie in until 6:25 if Wendy is walking the dog.

In fact, much of my life is routine. I believe that this is partially through human nature, and partially through the stage of life that we are in. Having young children, you see, typically lends itself to pretty standardised days, at least in terms of timings.

Of course, the extent to which as a parent you encourage your children to follow a routine is very much an individual choice. For us, having a routine works. The children wake at 7am and are in bed for 7pm. Dinner for them is between 5 and 5:30, and bed is nearly always preceded by a bath. And it’s not just a bedtime routine: after a middle of the day lunch, Harry (and until relatively recently Millie) has a nap, often for a couple of hours. As I say, it might not work for everyone but it works for us. Our children sleep well, normally from 7 til 7 and rarely wake in between times. They both genuinely ask to go to bed, for an early night,  if they are tired. That may be largely down to good fortune but I do think routine helps.

Even parents who choose not to live by such a strict routine typically have to comply with regular timings on a day to day basis. School, for example, is the same time every day. As are more fun things like play groups or after school clubs. When it comes to parenting you can reduce routine if you wish, but you can’t really eliminate it.

More generally,  in my experience, it seems that most people follow routines more than they are aware.

In an average day, there are many routines that are imposed upon us, for example those dictated by our employers or jobs. Routines in this respect are (or at least were historically) necessary to do business. Say for example you have eggs that you wish to sell at a market, by establishing a regular time for this market, a lot more eggs will be sold. And it is also in the interest of the consumer. Sporadic markets may mean long periods with no eggs.

Christmas: a wonderful communication method?

It was recently highlighted to me, at a fabulous talk by the engaging Alain de Botton (thank you May and Phil for a wonderful Christmas present) that religions are also supremely good at imposing and using routines to get their message across. Nearly all religions have an associated calendar, often both on an annual and weekly basis, which dictate particular times when their followers’ attention should be directed to a specific message that they feel is important. That is achieved through regular holy days (be it Friday, Saturday or Sunday) and more focussed annual occurrences (for example Christmas, Easter, Divali, or Ramadam). In other words, routine can be used as a tool to improve communication and education. It makes you think then, perhaps, if you find yourself in a routine that you haven’t chosen for yourself, it might be worth taking the time to think whether there is an associated message, and if so, considering whether you agree with that message, or whether you are being passively and quietly indoctrinated.

There are also many routines that we choose to follow with little external pressures. For example, I typically always stand on the same place on the platform waiting for a train or a tube. Judging by the faces that I recognise standing next to me on a daily basis this is not unusual behaviour. Another example is when people attend regular meetings or lectures. It seems typical to me that most people will sit in the same position as they first chose on the first occasion they entered the room.

A sensible explanation for such behaviour is that we have a (perhaps subconscious) security derived from the familiar. It doesn’t take too much thought to suggest a plausible basis in evolutionary  forces and historical reasoning. But it would appear that we tend to carry this security too far, letting it provide a general inertia in escaping from the familiar. This must no doubt carry an opportunity cost. If you limit yourself to only a tiny subset of experiences, just try to imagine what you might be missing out on. Most people choose not to only go back to the same place on holiday, year after year; we should adopt that recognition of the importance of variety into our wider lives.

Obviously, routines can change either because someone or something changes them for us, or because we choose to change them ourselves. Shortly my routine will change significantly because I won’t be working at Imperial any longer, but instead will be solely dedicated to growing my new business, Onside Analysis. No longer will I be commuting in to London (what that will mean in terms of finding time to write my blog I don’t know!). Nor will I even have to stick to the routines and norms that are demanded by working for someone else. Of course, as our client list grows with time, these routines will simply be replaced by others.

But like others I will still have a number of routines that are mine to decide. Where possible I’m going to challenge myself to mix it up and not simply revert to the norm. Any takers amongst you for joining me?

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A Brief New Year

Published on 03. Jan, 2012 by in Family, Onside Analysis


Brevity is the order of the day. In fact, it is the order of the New Year. As anyone left who used to read this blog before the posts dried up will testify, recent posts have not been very frequent. What you may not have noticed (but I have in writing them) is that they have also gradually been getting longer and longer.

Unfortunately, this has become a bit circular. I don’t write for a long time so I have lots to mention. The posts become long. But finding time to write a long post in what is already quite a hectic schedule becomes increasingly difficult, meaning it gets delayed and delayed.

Time will be needed to manage 2012's next big band!

In general I am not one for resolutions, so starting simple like this seems wise. It is also a resolution that is measurable. And now that it is written down I just hope it doesn’t go out the window; the way, I presume, of most other resolutions made at this time of year.

As many of you know, my contract at Imperial ends at the end of March. 84 days as I write, not that I am counting. Next up is Onside Analysis, my joint venture with Rob Esteva, providing independent football scouting, with a strong modelling and quantifiable component (that’s where I come in). As the ever patient Wendy will tell you, I am already immersed in this new business. I know that to succeed requires hard work, and I am relishing the challenge, but at the moment that means evenings and weekends. We plan to launch out services in July, and there is a great deal to do before then. So to get back (some of) my evenings I need to make sure that before I finish, as many Imperial loose ends are tied up as possible before. So brevity makes sense.

My 2011 finished in the same way as the rest of the year: with much fun and happiness. We enjoyed a lovely family Christmas with all the magic of having young children. It was also great to have Grandma and Grandad Turner to stay, providing the endless help (crèche and dog walking) that they always do. We enjoyed a lovely turkey Christmas dinner (which astonishingly I cooked) with my family too, with my parents and my brother joining us for the afternoon. With visits from Wendy’s brothers and their families, and my grandparents and aunt, we really got to catch up with nearly the whole family. The kids particularly love the attention (and I dare say presents) that comes with having so many visitors. Added to a lot of good quality Mummy and Daddy time, I think they too had a very special Christmas.

A very happy family Christmas

By New Year’s Eve everyone had left and we were happy but bushwhacked. We saw in the New Year quietly, sat on the sofa, watching London’s incredible firework display. With the Olympics, all eyes will be on our capital in this next year. I really hope we can exceed expectations.

So with little more ado, I will wish you a fantastic 2012, and hope that it brings everything that you hope and wish for. I know for some of my very close friends 2011 brought times of frustration, sadness and loss, so for them especially I hope that this year is full of happiness. For me, of course I want my business to succeed, but much more importantly I hope that the New Year brings the continued happiness and good fortune that I have enjoyed so far throughout my life. With such a wonderful wife and children who could wish for more. Happy New Year.

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