Quotation : Gilbert Murray

“A machine is a great moral educator. If a horse or a donkey won’t go, men lose their tempers and beat it; if a machine won’t go, there is no use beating it. You have to think and try till you find what is wrong. That is real education.”

Gilbert Murray

This is a great quote from Gilbert Murray and is certainly true of machines. However, we also believe its sentiment is true of the outdoors.

Does this work?

“The outdoors is a great moral educator. If people make their lives difficult, men lose their tempers and argue; if the outdoors makes your life difficult, there is no use arguing. You have to think and try till you find what is wrong. That is real education.”

Quote: Teddy Roosevelt

It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.

-Teddy Roosevelt, US President

The Kranz Dictum : Tough and Competent

Gene Kranz was the Flight Director for NASA during the end of the Gemini programme and into the Apollo programme. He is perhaps most famous for being the Flight Director on shift when the explosion happened on Apollo 13 and is widely credited with leading the team that saved the astronaut’s lives.

However, he was also in charge when the Apollo 1 launchpad fire that killed Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee happened. The following Monday morning Kranz called a meeting of his branch and flight control team and made the following address, which has become know as The Kranz Dictum.

Spaceflight will never tolerate carelessness, incapacity, and neglect. Somewhere, somehow, we screwed up. It could have been in design, build, or test. Whatever it was, we should have caught it.
We were too gung-ho about the schedule and we locked out all of the problems we saw each day in our work. Every element of the program was in trouble and so were we. The simulators were not working, Mission Control was behind in virtually every area, and the flight and test procedures changed daily. Nothing we did had any shelf life. Not one of us stood up and said, “Dammit, stop!”
I don’t know what Thompson’s committee will find as the cause, but I know what I find. We are the cause! We were not ready! We did not do our job. We were rolling the dice, hoping that things would come together by launch day, when in our hearts we knew it would take a miracle. We were pushing the schedule and betting that the Cape would slip before we did.
From this day forward, Flight Control will be known by two words: “Tough and Competent.” Tough means we are forever accountable for what we do or what we fail to do. We will never again compromise our responsibilities. Every time we walk into Mission Control we will know what we stand for.
Competent means we will never take anything for granted. We will never be found short in our knowledge and in our skills. Mission Control will be perfect.
When you leave this meeting today you will go to your office and the first thing you will do there is to write “Tough and Competent” on your blackboards. It will never be erased. Each day when you enter the room these words will remind you of the price paid by Grissom, White, and Chaffee. These words are the price of admission to the ranks of Mission Control.

Tough, forever accountable for what we do or what we fail to do, and Competent, never take anything for granted, words to lead any project, expedition, team or organisation by.

Best wishes for the Solstice, Christmas and the New Year

With a run of festivals coming up, first the Winter Solstice, then Christmas, then the arrival of the New Year, we at Totem are going into hibernation for a couple of weeks before emerging in January to set you more challenges, help you have more adventures and most importantly, to help you learn from them.

Every year we look for a piece of advice or prose that sums up the festive period for us and every year we come back to the same one. This piece could probably be read every day with becoming old so once a year won’t hurt. It’s from master storyteller Neil Gaiman and if it needs a title, “Benediction” would probably suffice.

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.

Have fun in the snow and we’ll see you all in the New Year.

Advice for Apprentices, from Apprentices

In the last month we’ve had three groups of apprentices through our Personal Learning and Thinking Skills course, challenging themselves and thinking hard about learning in the beautiful surroundings of Snowdonia. With more groups taking on the course in the coming months we asked one cohort to come up with some advice for those that followed in their footsteps. With no prompting from our Development Guides, this is what they produced;

[Click for full size]

Read More »

“Here’s to the crazy ones” – Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

We are a Mac based workplace here at Totem. I could bore you with why we made that decision, ease of use, low support costs, etc, but you probably don’t care. We like them and we like the customer focus that Apple has.

It was for that reason that we were very sad to hear of the the death of Steve Jobs. Aside from the human tragedy of someone dying so young,  the world has lost a maverick, a visionary and an incredible business man. He probably wasn’t easy to work with but people wanted to work with him. He stood on the shoulder of giants, in the form of his team of engineers and designers, but he assembled that team in the first place. He gave them their goal and ensured they stayed focused. He defined one clear model of leadership in the tech industry.

Fuller obituaries are elsewhere, everywhere really, a measure of the impact he and his team had. If we can have 1/100 of the impact on the world that they have, we’ll be a pretty happy team.

Hidden in one of Apple’s core products is something that I think sums him, and Apple, up well.

Read More »

Reykjavik Graffiti

Just look at how the mountains,

So very mighty be,

Sharp as razors at the top,

They span the land and sea,

But don’t forget that though,

Majestic spires capped with snow,

From each and every grain of sand did grow…

Seen on the side of a building off Hverfistgata in Reykjavik, Icleand.

Quotation: Come to the Edge…

Come to the edge.
We might fall.
Come to the edge.
It’s too high!
And they came,
and he pushed,
and they flew.

Christopher Logue

The Resurrection Ground

Overheard on a recent expedition:

Assessor: “Can you show me where we are on the map?”

Candidate: “Here, just before the resurrection ground.”

A: “The resurrection ground?”

C: “Yep.”

A: “Do you mean the recreation ground?”

C: “Same thing, isn’t it?”

A: “….”

Oh the Places You’ll Go!

by Dr. Seuss

I recently read this at my sister’s wedding and I love the sentiment contained within it.

Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.

You’re on your own.
And you know what you know.
And YOU are the couple who’ll decide where to go.

You’ll look up and down streets.
Look ‘em over with care.
About some you will say, “We don’t choose to go there.”

With your heads full of brains
and your shoes full of feet,
you’re too smart to go down,
any not-so-good street.

And you may not find any
you’ll want to go down.
In that case, of course,
you’ll head straight out of town.

It’s opener there
in the wide open air,
Out there things can happen and frequently do
to people as brainy and footsy as you.

And when things start to happen, don’t worry. Don’t stew.
Just go right along. You’ll start happening too.

You’ll join the high fliers who soar to great heights!

You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have all the speed.
You’ll pass the whole gang, and you’ll soon take the lead.


You’ll be on your way up!
You’ll be seeing great sights!

Wherever you fly you’ll be best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.
Except when you don’t.
Because sometimes, you won’t.

You’ll get mixed up of course, as you already know.
You’ll get mixed up with so many strange birds as you go.

So be sure when you step. Step with great care and great tact
and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act.

Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.

And will you succeed? Yes! You will indeed!
(98 and three quarters percent guaranteed.)

You’re off to great places! Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting. So … get on your way!

Oh, The Places You’ll Go! on Amazon.co.uk