Climbing onboard the Disorient Express

Things are going to be a little bit different round here for the next few weeks. Everything’s going to become a little Disorienting.

Let me explain.

Back in 1998, I started an exciting new job at a new, thrusting new media firm called Yahoo! I was a senior producer – though it was never?precisely clear what this meant, the job basically entailed doing everything it wasn’t somebody else’s job to do. I didn’t write code. I didn’t do design (but then, at Yahoo! in 1998, nor did anybody else). I didn’t sell advertising (but I did do a fair bit of business development). Basically, I organised scarce resource around key projects, tested them, launched them, and represented ‘the user’ in conversations about them. These days, you’d call me a product manager. But I still prefer ‘producer.’

One of my tasks was working with the tiny development team at Yahoo! Europe. And by tiny, I mean tiny. Four or five guys huddled in a corner, making products which were being used by hundreds of thousands of people, even then.

In those days, Yahoo! was basically two things: a search directory, and a suite of ‘media’ properties basically consisting of News, Finance and Sport. The search directory ran on code developed and managed at then-HQ in Santa Clara, California. The media properties, though, had been developed in Europe, with European media partners such as the Press Association, Reuters and AFP. The platform on which these media properties ran was called Jake, and was basically the invention of one guy: Mark Lester.

(Note: this isn’t to say other guys didn’t work on it, then or subsequently. But it was Mark’s baby – he was the tech architect).

A lot of people outside development seemed a bit afeared of Mark, but I liked him enormously. He was a proud Mancunian, just like my Dad. He was a United fan, just like my Dad and me. He was incredibly proud of the flexible, powerful media platform he’d built for Yahoo! Europe, and he was delighted to work with end users, like me, who had ideas about how to make it work.

Fast forward more than a decade, and Mark and I have both left Yahoo! behind. To be honest, I’m not clear?what Mark has been doing for money in the years he left. But I do know he’s been in the business of redefining travel with a developer’s mind: creating massively complicated travel itineraries, with lots of moving parts and lots of internal dependencies, based on the biggest programmable motherboard of them all – the railway network.

He did it in 2011 with the Indian railway network and the Great Circular Indian Railway Challenge, or GCIRC for short. That involved getting a group of people he’d never met to do a circuit of India by rail, in a little over a fortnight. Go to the site to read all about that. I didn’t go on that trip, for various reasons.

But I’m going on his next one.

The Great Circular European Railway Challenge, or GCERC for short, or Disorient Express for fun, is an attempt to go as far north, east, south and west as reasonably possible by rail in Europe in a little over a fortnight. Mark’s been arranging this for over a year. We leave in a little less than two weeks.

So, in the spirit of using a blog to explain things to oneself, I’m going to be blogging a fair bit about Disorient Express over the coming days. I’ll be drawing very heavily on Mark’s own site, which is the best place to go if you want real detail on train schedules, menus, accommodation and suchlike. Over here it’s going to be a more self-indulgent exercise of trying to make some sense of it all.

All of which requires a new category. So here it is: Disorient Express.

Boilerplate (I’ll stick this at the bottom of all Disorient Express posts): Find out more about Disorient Express at GCERC HQ. Follow us on Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter.


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