Sunday, 11 December 2011

Albums of 2011: Number 1 - The Felice Brothers - Celebration, Florida

OK, here it is... thanks for your indulgence... This is my  Number One album for 2011:

1. The Felice Brothers - Celebration, Florida

I discovered this at the back end of the year and again I'm late to the party with The Felice Brothers. This album pulls together some great concepts, funky brass, bewildering syncopation and brilliant tunes. I haven't found a box to put them in but I think their name let's them down as they sound like they've got Jools Holland's Later stamped all over them - they haven't.  It's a really great album.

Here's a reminder of my full Top Ten for this year:

... and here's a Spotify Playlist of this year's Top Ten.  Enjoy!

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Albums of 2011: Number 2 - Glen Campbell - Ghost On The Canvas

This year's countdown continues...

2. Glen Campbell - Ghost On The Canvas

By the time I realised what an incredible album this is his farewell tour had sold out. It's great stuff from end to end and includes one of my favourite ever Guided By Voices tunes, Hold On Hope.

This year's big Number One revealed tomorrow... any guesses?

Friday, 9 December 2011

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Albums of 2011: Number 6 - Delta Maid - Outside Looking In

This year's countdown continues...

6. Delta Maid - Outside Looking In

She's as scouse as they come but you'd never know it from this album of cute country and bluegrass. Just great.

Number 5 tomorrow...

Monday, 5 December 2011

Albums of 2011: Number 7 - Patrick Wolf - Lupercalia

This year's countdown continues...

7. Patrick Wolf - Lupercalia

I'd missed out of PW before this year's album but have enjoyed catching up. Poppy, melodic but heartfelt too.  A bit old-fashioned and none the worse for it.

Number 6 tomorrow...

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Albums of 2011: Number 8 - Aidan Moffatt & Bill Wells - Everything's Getting Older

This year's countdown continues...

8. Aidan Moffat & Bill Wells - Everything's Getting Older

I saw Aidan and Bill do this at Manchester's Deaf Institute last month - the perfect venue for them. A mix of spoken word and lilting melodies over a jazzish backdrop. Try The Copper Top as a sample track. Even better watch The Copper Top video.

Number 7 tomorrow...

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Albums of 2011: Number 9 - Battles - Gloss Drop

This year's countdown continues...

9. Battles - Gloss Drop

Nobody thought they'd do anything much after Tyondai Braxton left them in the lurch mid-way through recording this album. The remaining members deleted all of his parts and built the rest up from scratch using guest vocalists to good effect where required. It's what I though all music would sound like in 2011 when I was in 1975. I saw them in Sheffield a couple of weeks ago and they do this stuff really well live.

Number 8 tomorrow...

Friday, 2 December 2011

Albums of 2011: Number 10 - James Blake - James Blake

OK, it's that time of year again. Pleasingly it's a little bit harder pulling together a list of ten favourite albums from this year as it's been a reasonable year for music.

I'll do it as a countdown this year.  Today it's Number 10.

10. James Blake - James Blake

This year's Burial or XX entry. Spooky, ethereal, haunting and so on and so forth. Good though.  If you like this check out Jamie's Woon's Mirror Writing too.

Number 9 tomorrow...

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

You Say Pomodoro...

I've been trying to limit travel expenses... my own and my companies... to see just how productive I can be whilst working from home. I have to say, it's going pretty well. I use the Pomodoro technique when I really have a lot to accomplish and I find that it's much easier to do whilst at home than it is in an office.

Don't get me wrong, it's great catching up with people and collaborating in real life, but when you are using a technique such as Pomodoro, you really need absolute control over your environment in order to limit distractions and potential interuptions.

If you haven't used Pomodoro, it's worth taking a look. It's far from complicated but it's very useful. Essentially it's about working in a very focused way on a single task for 25 minutes before taking a five minute break and then returning for another 25 minute stint. Repeat to fade...

There's more about it here... it was named after those tomato-shaped kitchen timers which, if you have one, you can easily set to use the technique. If you haven't, there are plenty of apps available across all platforms.


Saturday, 26 November 2011

The Only Way Is... UP!

I couldn't resist purchasing UP! The wearable health-band and accompanying iOS app just brought to market by Jawbone, who are famous for making bluetooth earpieces.  Here are my thoughts on the band and its accompanying app:

Buying the Band

I got it from the Apple Store via the store's iOS app. It suggested that delivery would be in 2-3 three weeks but it arrived within a week. In theory, the band comes in a range of sizes and colours, but there were only black ones available directly from Apple. I got a medium and, when it arrived, wished I'd gone for large as it seemed a little tight. However, after a couple of days I read in a forum that you're meant to where it on your less dominant arm and I found that when switching it to my left arm to sit alongside my watch I suddenly couldn't really feel I was wearing it.

The UP app is a free download but doesn't work until your register an UP band, which cost me £80.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Housekeeping Suggestions for iOS 5.01

This isn't comprehensive... I'm just starting a list. They're not major, just annoying in the current state.

All Notifications Off!

There used to be a switch that allowed you knock off all notifications in one go so that you could sleep peacefully at night until the alarm app went off in the morning.

Now you have to dig into the labyrinthine Notifications menu and remove all apps from the Notification Centre one by one. Don't think so. I have taken to switching off my phone completely at night and banging my head on the pillow several times according to the hour I wish to wake.

Clear All switch in Notifications View

If you have lots of different apps pinging alerts at you all day it doesn't take long to rack up a lengthy ticket-roll of notifications to scroll down when you drag down from the top of your screen to see them.

Currently you have to clear them in chunks, all mail messages, all tweets, all Foursquare logins and so on.

This isn't as much hassle as the lack of an All Notifications Off switch, but it could still do with tidying up.

Newsstand Icon

You should be able to shift this into a folder... it isn't of interest to everyone. There is a super-tricky Kung Fu Jitsuduko method of achieving this now by swiftly moving the Newsstand icon over another whilst the folder-creation animation is still running but I've never been able to make it work.

I'll think of some more later.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Know Your Fans, Friends & Followers

I went along to a Financial Services Club event last night at the IOD Hub in London. Normally, it's not possible to tweet or blog about what goes on there as they stick to the Charterhouse Rule regarding confidentiality. Last night was a welcome break from this restriction as they welcomed Christophe Langlois from Visible Banking to talk about Social Media in Financial Services.

He's doing a good job working with risk-averse financial institutions who, in the main have shifted from 'should we do social media?' to 'when and how should we start?'. He's done this, in part, by turning some of the banks' own jargon back on them. In particular, Christophe's coining of the 'KYF' acronym... Know Your Fans, Friends or Followers... is derived from the now well-established regulatory principle 'KYC' - Know Your Customer.

By hiding-in-plain-sight in this way, Christophe has been able to work with execs and their teams across the industry and encourage them to start asking the right questions about social media, their businesses and their customers, as well as advising them as to how to avoid early pitfalls.

Christophe expressed reservations about Social CRM, (often seen as a great emerging SI opportunity for suppliers hoping to stitch established CRM platforms together with newer Social Media monitoring platforms!). In short, bundling in masses of unstructured and unverified social media content to already burgeoning silos of often unwieldy customer data is the last thing the banks need right now. There may be some exceptions for the new-to-market.

Later in the conversation Christophe said that analysis of followers and friends could, however, be worth a potentially speculative investment in bolstering data held around a bank's social media activities...

Who are a bank's followers?

Customers? Definitely!

Competitors? Probably!

Journalists? Undoubtedly!

So, being able to, where possible, categorise these followers into meaningful groups, lists or even circles could serve to inform and enhance a social media engagement strategy.

The thorny issue of the Tournier Principles cropped up at this point - these are the legal principles which concern themselves with the circumstances under which banks should and should not disclose information about customers.

Naturally, banks are pretty nervous about acknowledging or otherwise commenting on a customer relationship on an open social network, but here Christophe was able to lend a hand, by making a distinction between customers and followers and treating them slightly differently. Followers may well benefit from directed tweets, articles, events, offers etc based on their location or other aspects of their public profile, without the bank needing to delve into a possible customer relationship.

Indeed this kind of engagement may serve to reinforce established customer relationships or encourage new ones, but won't directly augment those relationships, unless the bank has a strategy to direct conversations from an open network to a more secure environment/channel which might include forums, secure email, contact centres or even branches.

Christophe, in closing, dispelled another myth which is causing unnecessary anguish amongst banks nervous about stepping into social media, and that is how to deal with a potential tsunami of customer service queries and other demands the instant a bank announces a presence on Twitter or Facebook.

The reality is, even the very biggest names in banking find this manageable and are able to establish great engagement practices through a relatively slow and steady (albeit growing) number of customer contacts coming in each day in this way.

An army of social media agents is not required. A small number of passionate advisors willing to learn, engage and adapt their established customer-facing skills is all that is needed to start.

There's much more of this in Christophe's book (sadly not on Kindle)  (Update: Christophe tells me there's a Kindle version on the way) and at his site.

It's worth a look.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Writes and Shine?

I spent the first half of the year rushing out of bed and eating a bizarre combination of eggs, green beans and lentils before I'd opened my eyes properly, as part of the horrendous Tim Ferriss 'Four Hour Body' Slow Carb diet.

I should at that it works... you lose weight and inches, but you also have zero energy and it makes Jack a very dull boy.

Also, a one-day-a-week binge is an official part of the diet, so when you actually stop, you just carry in with the bingeing every day instead of once per week, ensuring that the weight and the inches pile back on faster than the aftermathh of any other failed diet you're tried before.

Just saying.

Anyway, that's not the point.

Now I'm getting up in the morning and scribing three, detailed, cathartic, stream-of-conscious pages of journal as recommended in The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron.

This is meant to be therapeutic and enable you to be at one with your desires, foibles, strengths and weaknesses, in order that you can focus on the positive things you wish to achieve and move on from any negative influences, whilst also leaving yourself a note to pay the window-cleaner.

I've only done three days and not really noticed a marked improvement in my mental or physical well-being, but perhaps I'm being impatient.

I haven't finished reading the book yet.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Losing The Dog

It’s been a week since we lost the dog and I can just about bring myself to write about it now.

It was the shock more than anything. Fidget was due in at the vet for a fairly routine op on his gums (he had an unerupted tooth). In the pre-op check-up the vet felt his stomach and said immediately ‘there’s something not right here’. Next thing, Fidget’s in theatre and the vet is asking us for permission to put him to sleep as he’s discovered an aggressive cancerous tumor attached to the dog’s intestines which can’t be removed... and that was that. Gone. He was only four years old.


Telling the children was very hard. I’ve never seen them so upset. Also, I can’t believe just how distraught I was. Fidget was my first dog and, whilst I’ve loved and lost other pets along the way, nothing has affected me in quite the same way as sharing life with a dog.

So whilst we, as a family, are still grieving... whilst we’re still seeing him out of the corners of our eyes... whilst we still hear him eating his dinner... we’re already putting plans together for a new dog to join our little pack sometime over the next couple of months.

I don’t mean to be maudlin or melodramatic. I just wanted to write this and thank those of you who sent kind messages via Twitter.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Europe Endless - My Data Date...

... or The Traveller's Fear of the Roaming Charge

If you follow me on Twitter, you'll know that I spent the weekend flying out to Geneva and then on a road trip to Milan to see John Mellencamp before driving back to Geneva via France and the incredible Mont Blanc tunnel to catch my flight back to Manchester.

Nervous about my data use and as part of my regular travelling ultra-light policy I decided to take just one device with me... the iPhone.  It was a bit of a wrench leaving the BB, the Android, the laptop, the iPad and the Kindle... but boy doesn't that list sound insanely excessive anyway... no wonder my back hurts ;)

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Required Listening Course for a Nine Year Old - work in progress

I've started compiling a course of classic albums for my son to listen to and critique (if he can be bothered)... got some help from my Twitter friends too - thanks!

There are still some gaping holes though... can you help me fill them. Start with David Ackles - American Gothic... or maybe Kylie...

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Death From Above 2011 - Tern Attack

So, yesterday on our journey north we stopped off at Seahouses to catch a boat to the Farne Islands for a few hours. Our plan was to tour the inner and outer islands by boat, for some seal-spotting and bird-watching, before spending an hour on the small island of Inner Farne to take a look at some ground and cliff-nesting birds close up.

Turns out we we lucky to get out in a boat at all as nothing had been sailing for the previous few days due to adverse weather conditions. That said, the trip around the islands was fairly gruelling for the thirty-odd souls getting drenched in the open-topped Glad Tidings IV. At first, the bouncing up and down across the waves was fairly agreeable, but as we got further out into the North Sea it got steadily choppier and oddly draining... we all began to feel exhausted. Pretty soon, waves were crashing into the boat drenching us all. Fortunately we were protected by our waterproofs, many trippers were not!

Still, we saw plenty of seals popping up in the nearby waters as well as basking on the islands and rocks. We saw the famous lighthouse from which Grace Darling launched here famous rescue of nine survivors of a shipwreck in the 1840s. The pilot told us that she had been buried nearby opposite the Grace Darling Museum... she must have made special arrangements to be interred near her own shop.

So, whilst the boat trip was good, it seemed to go on forever and I confess we were wilting a little by the time we got to Inner Farne. As we disembarked, the welcoming party from the National Trust suggested that if we had hats, we should wear them. Looking at the crowd of seagulls, puffins and guillemots swirling across and around the island, we figured that there was a good chance that we might be leaving covered in bird muck sort of like a cross between Bill Oddie and the late Leigh Bowery.

As it turned out, the hat warning was to afford some protection against the ground-nesting Arctic Terns, many of whom were guarding their eggs only inches from the boardwalk which crosses the island. They're less than thrilled to see the occasional boat-load of twitchers and rise up against them on sight, attacking their heads with their already blood-red beaks.

Yes, they attacked us too. We were all subject to this strange aerial bombardment during our time on the island and, whilst it was quite exciting and midly exhilarating, it was also a bit scary... and painful... my son got pecked on the hand by a dive-bombing tern. Amazingly I caught the instant on camera... it's on my other camera, I'll add it in here later.

Still, we got some amazing pictures of puffins, cormorants, terns and eider ducks, many nurturing their young. What a great experience. The return boat trip was slightly shorter but only a little less wet, but enlivened by some great conversations with fellow passengers about birdwatching, football and rugby league.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Insomnia vs Top Of The Pops and @thewordmagazine Podcast

Insomnia occasionally strikes and, like most right-thinking types, the first thing I tend to do is lean over for my iPhone and look up the latest The Word magazine podcast.  Listening to this normally gets me in trouble for rocking the forest with suppressed laughter.

Anyway, at 3am I started the latest episode to find David Hepworth and Mark Ellen missing in action, replaced by imposters Janice Long, Andrew Harrison and Jude Rogers.  Naturally, I was wary, because everyone knows that change is bad, but I stuck with it only to find myself fully and maddeningly entertained until about 3:47:59am.

I obviously liked the opening musings about the Apple Chapel, but the best bit was when they rambled on to discuss the repeats of Top Of The Pops episodes being broadcast on BBC4 on Thursdays at 7.30pm in the same order that they were originally shown in 1976.  Y'know, 'the year punk broke' (take note Sonic Youth).

After listening to the podcast, now wide awake, I couldn't resist nipping over to BBC iPlayer to watch the episode they'd been talking about.  

Well, Brotherhood of Man, Paul Nicholas, Linda Lewis, the Beatles reissues and Sheer Elegance caught their ire, but oddly no mention of a woeful Pan's People appearance and a bizarre double-header of Frankie Valli surgically-separated from The Four Seasons.  No reference either to Noel Edmonds' slammingly insulting interviewette with a bewildered and somewhat Syd Barrattesque Eric Carmen. Anyway, don't let me spoil it... go and watch it.  Do.

I have to say that I was fairly nonplussed by the prospect of the 1976 reruns of TOTP until being nocturnally nudged in their direction, but I have to say they are absolutely addictive.  It will be fascinating to see just how punk makes its presence felt (or not) through the remaining episodes from that year.  

As for me, I leapt straight to the next episode on iPlayer which opens with Fox, who I'd forgotten, but now remember.  I strongly urge you to take a look at this performance, which opens another bizarre show (also check out Sailor later on).  

Now back to Fox...  well in Noosha Fox, we have a singer who absolutely dances to her own beat.  She is so in the wrong band.  She is as great as the rest of them are not.  Oh please watch it.  She exudes a sort of post-Roxy, pre-The Passions vibe whilst also managing to channel altered images of Clare Grogan, Alison Goldfrapp, Lene Lovich and Elizabeth Fraser from far and not so far into her own future.

She is let down spectacularly by her becardiganed band is so many ways, but check out the vocoder solo.  It brings to mind the opening scene from a quirky mid-season-filler episode of House MD, where an off-duty postman has to be intubated whilst delivering a bad harmony.

I am now proper addicted to the TOTP reruns and am about to head over to Sky+ to series-link it.  

According to Janice Long, they've got enough weekly shows to keep it running in order until 2040.

Monday, 28 February 2011

"Oi! Turn That Phone Off!"

I was in London a couple of weeks ago and dropped by a curry house near Tavistock Square for a bite to eat in the early evening. The place wasn't empty. There were a few couples in there. One or two people working away from home on their own a little like me, dipping into a paperback, a magazine or using their smartphone in between courses.

There was a table with a couple of guys enjoying a meal after a days work, chatting about their day and what they had planned for the rest of the week.

The place wasn't quiet. Neither was it too noisy. If you wanted to you could listen in on the various conversations going on around the place. At one point, one of the two guys chatting about work got out his phone and let his colleague listen in to a voice-mail he'd received, maybe from a colleague, a boss or a customer. The volume of the phone wasn't any louder than the conversation they'd been having but almost as soon as playback started I sensed guy at a nearby table having dinner with his wife/girlfriend getting agitated. I mean really agitated.

After about twenty seconds of the message he scraped his chair back, leaned dramatically across the room and loudly shouted "Excuse Me!" at the blokes listening to the phone. He was incandescent.

The chap playing the message switched it off and put his phone down. He and his friend awkwardly began to carry on with their meal. The attention of the rest of the diners in the place was directed at the guy who'd loudly and somewhat dramatically complained, who, red in the face, began to tuck back into his curry.

Things got back to normal.

Now from a digital etiquette perspective, I'm pretty sure that playing the message out loud on speaker in a restaurant was out of order in some way (I've just read this article in Fast Company which brought this tale back to mind) but in reality, the overly-dramatic hissy-fit played out by the offended party caused much more of a commotion and some embarrassment for all concerned.

I suppose it's all about context. For me eating my workaday dinner alone in a neighbourhood curry-house, the whole scene played out for me as a little side order alongside my main dish. If I'd been in there with my fiancee about to go down on one knee over a tarka dahl, maybe I'd have felt a little more aggrieved about the disrupted ambience. However, the volume of the message was no louder than the conversation going on across the restaurant, so I just wonder what makes the tinny, digital quality of a recording that much more offensive than a nearby conversation between two people. It certainly generated a hair-trigger response.

I thought it was interesting to watch actually, How would you have felt?

Photo:  Skip the Filler

Thursday, 17 February 2011

So, who trained you to use Facebook then?

I'm doing some interesting work with a couple of customers at the moment who are thinking about how their organisations can cope with the demands of Generation Y, both as customers and potential employees.

Twenty years ago, one of the reasons people liked to work for big companies was because they had access to better tech than they had at home. These days, people routinely access more powerful and sophisticated devices and web-services at home than they are able to use at work.

We're thinking about how to create open policies which enable them to use their own devices, apps and social tools whilst at work, without adding unnecessary risk to the organisation. There's a lot to think about.

I was chatting to a colleague about the project and showed him the slide above. He's in the midst of delivering a major enterprise social software implementation and a big chunk of his budget is dedicated to user training. So, you can imagine that his instant take on the picture above was...

... "so who trained everyone in Facebook, Twitter, PS3, iPlayer, eh?"

I thought that was a very good question.

How about you?

Friday, 11 February 2011

Hey Project Manager, How Does Your Garden Grow?

About five years ago we had our garden landscaped. I know that sounds poncy, especially as we've only got a small garden, but we had some 'high-level business requirements': clearly defined areas, colour throughout the year, nice fragrances, low-maintenance, etc.

We gave these requirements to a designer who drew up a plan for us to review and approve. We then passed the work to a landscaping firm who, working to the plan, sourced the plants and project-managed the levelling, turfing, planting etc. Great. We've been very pleased.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, the project manager from the landscaping firm called me up out of the blue. He wanted to call around to see how the plants were maturing and have a look how the garden was developing as a whole.

Don't forget, this project ended five years ago!

Now, there was certainly a commercial angle to his visit... there may have been some rework to do, restocking of certain plants, rethinking of certain schemes, but in this case, other than one or two early plant deaths and the odd leggy herb, the garden has matured as originally envisaged.

But here was a project manager interested in learning more about his craft, both from his successes and his mistakes. He wanted to learn what happens to plants in our climate, at our altitude, in our location.

Now a post-implementation review is best practice for project managers in all walks of life. However, such is the pace of change, that even the best of us forget to go back and do this even when we are working to timescales of five weeks, never mind five years!

So, this attention to detail impressed me, especially as there was no immediate commercial benefit to the landscaper straight after his visit. But guess who I'm going to recommend to friends? Guess who will be the first person I call when I do need some more work doing in my garden?

Just a thought, but maybe we should all make sure that we carve out enough time to go back and ask our customers how things are growing?

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Keeping Your ID in Your Mobile Phone - Safely

Many people leave their ID documentation at home, including their driving license, passport, etc.

I now carry a photograph of all of these important assets around with me in my iPhone.  Normally I'd recommend @evernote as a good place to store this stuff, but as the app isn't password protected, I feel better keeping it in one of the many photo apps which requires a password before access is granted.  The photographs are encrypted and, once transferred to the app and deleted from the standard iPhone photo library only accessible to you.

If it's something like a library, gym or swimming card, featuring a barcode, the receptionist may even be able to scan the card directly from your phone... carry your card with you the first few times just in case.

pic: Laika-chan

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Toy Division

I love this:

tibbr - At Last! An Enterprise Social Media Tool based on sense

I attended the launch event for a new enterprise social media platform called tibbr last week in Southwark.  Made by Tibco, the platform extends their reach from their solid base in the corporate middleware and BPM world out across the organisation.

Enterprise Social Media is a beginning to creep onto the agendas of corporate boardrooms in Europe, but few organisations understand the blurring of identities between employees, customers and the company itself.  tibbr is ahead of the game in enabling a sophisticated blend of enterprise information with personal social media tools.  

The cloud-based app brings together the best of public and private social media platforms by enabling users to aggregate feeds from Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, with people followed at work, internal processes eg invoice payments or expense claims and internal themes like marketing, HR or business development and access all of this on a clean-looking Facebook-style wall.

I was quite impressed.  It will give many of the existing enterprise tools which have been clumsily constructed from applications designed many years ago to do something else, a significant run for their money.

Check it out:

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

TRULY Great Film from Daniel Pink on Creativity and Motivation

At a great creative session in London which took up much of Thursday I got pointed in the direction of this fantastic video about just what motivates us to do good and... and what doesn't.  It really is worth watching:

To Infinity & Beyond - How Pixar Encourage Creativity!

Also at the Creative session I attended last week I was handed a copy of an article from the Harvard Business Review about How Pixar Fosters Creativity.  

It's a subscription only arrangement I'm afraid, so I can't share the whole article, but take a look at this and listen to the audio that goes with it.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Social Media Awareness for Children - Useful Film

I don't do much journalling per se but after a busy and diverse week I've gathered up lots of things which I thought I might share.  Here's the first.

I had an accidental meeting with @dughall, @chrisrat and @joga5 on Friday which bounced around various topics.  @dughall and I are shaping a social media surgery for Key Stage 2 children and I was pointed to a useful video which, whilst probably aimed at children a little bit older, packs quite a punch in its warning around the risks to privacy associated with social networking:

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Twitter and the Custard Tart Disaster

Last Sunday I spent the entire afternoon over a recipe to which I'd allocated about half an hour when flipping through the recipe book in the morning.

It was for a Fig Anise Custard Tart and I'd chosen it from the Thomasina Miers recipe book 'Cook', which lives on our shelf of cookery books. I'd been drawn to the recipe because the flavours sounded great, but also because of the breezy story which accompanies the instructions on page 198:

"This pudding was the result of having some friends over for lunch and at the last minute suddenly deciding they did need a pudding after all."

That was all I needed to hear... I made sure we'd got the ingredients and thought nothing about it until I re-entered the kitchen in the afternoon planning to make it.

Three-and-a-half hours later I was ready to serve a dish that tasted pretty good, looked only marginally better than the dog's dinner and for which I'd really lost my appetite.  


Well this recipe was really three recipes in one. I needed to make pastry, which needed to sit for at least half an hour before it could be put into the tin.  It then needed to be blind-baked before it could be filled and cooked again.  Separately, I needed to simmer the figs in a syrup of water, Ouzo and sugar for twenty minutes whilst also creating a custard from a million egg yolks, some star anise and orange zest, part of which needed to infuse for an age.

In and amongst all this, I stupidly grabbed the pine nuts rather than the dried white beans to sit on top of the greaseproof paper whilst blind-baking the pastry- the value of which easily exceeded the actual cost of the pie.  What's more, I forgot the greaseproof paper the first time and had to throw the lot away and start the process of making pastry all over again.

Eventually I got around to the custard,the last phase calling for at least 30 minutes stirring on a low light, only for it to curdle at the last minute!

I served the slop up and everyone was very kind... they had endured my drama-queen histrionics, the clattering of pans and Sunday-league language for much of the day and felt that anything other than meek thanks might just nudge me over the edge.

Now look.  I made some mistakes in there that weren't the fault of the author or the recipe, but even without those disasters, the recipe involved a whole world of juggling and complexity for a keen but workaday home-chef like me.

My point?  Don't lose your audience. 

Don't forget who your are writing for and don't get lost in your own fabulousness.  This isn't particularly a dig at Thomasina who I like a lot... I hear St Jamie of Oliver has also got into a spot of similar bother over the grassroots unachievability of his so-called '30 minute meals'.  It's not a dig at anyone, but it's a reminder to me, you and anyone who harbours a passion for anything.  Don't forget how much time and effort you've put into the subject that makes your heart beat faster over the years. Don't forget that you are probably more than a couple of pages ahead in the manual than many of your readers.  

Whether it is design, technology, social media, stamp collecting or ballroom dancing, it's brilliant that you want to share your passion, but even the basics are a lot harder than you remember.  Be patient.  Be realistic.

Think abut Twitter for example.  I always say that it takes an investment of up to 6 months to really 'get' Twitter.  To really, really, get it and make it work for you.  To know the tools, tricks and techniques.  To cultivate a following and to locate people who can offer great things to you.  

Twitter looks easy.  It has low barriers to entry with free apps, easy websites, ubiquitous mobile phones, but getting people to stay on board and overcome the apparent vacuousness and loneliness of the first few days in Twitter is hard.  They need mentors not teachers, they need patience and understanding, they need encouragement, support and ideas.  They don't need to be told, 'it's simple', when really doing it justice is far from that.

Everyone of us has a passion for something. Many of us want to share it. That's a beautiful thing. Don't waste it by forgetting who you're talking to.

pic credit:  Emilian Robert Vicol 

Friday, 28 January 2011

Apps vs Skills - Kevin Cummins at Creative Networks Leeds

I went along to listen to rock photographer Kevin Cummins address an audience invited along by Creative Networks West Yorkshire at the Leeds College of Art last night. Most famous for his photographs of Manchester acts around the punk and post-punk eras, as well as for many years of cover-shots for the NME, Kevin kicked off the evening with a brand new 15 minute documentary.

Along with many of the iconic shots he is famous for, the film featured quite a number of additional stills I'd never seen along with some up-beat, up-to-date interviews from the likes of Paul Morley, Bernard Sumner and, touchingly, Natalie Curtis speaking to Kevin on the walkway across Princess Parkway in Hulme where he took perhaps his most famous shots of Joy Division during the bleak and snowy 'winter of discontent' - 1979.

After the film, Kevin gently rambled through a number of tall tales about the work he's done and the time he's spent with his subjects over the years. Emphasing the human and social elements of photography which happen before the camera comes out of the bag, Kevin also highlighted the forced economy which was imposed upon photographers in the pre-digital age, as they sought to 'edit in camera' to capture only the very best shots on their expensive 36-exposure rolls of 35mm film.

For all his fondness for film photography, Kevin acknowledged a love for digital photography but also bemoaned the constant difficulties in having to prove you own the copyright on an image that has been purloined from one place on the internet and used elsewhere without permission.

He also expressed some frustration at the cost-cutting approach of the media who are happy to fill their pages with 'citizen journalism', picking up 'user generated content' for free - both words and pictures. The Guardian was singled out as the worst offender in this regard, with The Independent running fairly closely behind...  Kevin half-jokingly begged the audience not to support this trend as it was 'taking the food out of his children's mouths'!

Kevin also highlighted a disregard for the skills and training required to become a professional photographer, when 'anyone can do it' using an iPhone!  

He recounted a conversation with a PR asking him which app he'd used to create a particular effect, when he'd actually crafted the image using a long lens and a short depth of field.  

I spoke at an event a couple of weeks ago about how apps like Instagram were having this affect of professional photographers who often see them as the 'Comic Sans of Photography' and whilst I think they're great for giving everybody the chance to create, I do feel Kevin's pain. I was going to ask his advice re my Instagram shot above, but thought it best not to.

Some very funny moments from Kevin's career involved all of the usual suspects, with the loudest laughs reserved for Mark E Smith, Morrissey and The Stones Roses. I don't know how often Kevin speaks about his work, but if you can, try and get to see him.  Alternatively, his documentary is well worth a look.

I'm a little ashamed to admit that this was my first Creative Networks event and I'm pleased to say it was well organised and well attended.  I'll be back.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Smoke Fairies and the Ethics of Free

I called in to Piccadilly Records in Manchester this afternoon to watch the wonderful Smoke Fairies play a free, in-store acoustic session ahead of their show tonight at the Ruby Lounge which, unfortunately, I can't attend.

They were everything they hoped they'd be. Shy, talented, a little nervous. They played around five songs, one of which I captured below.

After the set, they nipped behind the counter to sign copies of their album and singles. Their album came out last year and featured in Piccadilly Records Albums of the Year, as it did in my own.

For me though, I'd done all my listening via Spotify. They were hard-pressed to sign a playlist though, so I picked up the CD (and when I say that I mean I did actually purchase it) as a nod of thanks to the Smoke Fairies and also to the record store which does a great job arranging these in-store shows and which also curates an excellent weekly email which summarises the latest diverse and not so diverse releases.  I heartily recommend that you sign up for it.


Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Which Apps Do You Choose To Demo The Power of the iPad?

I'm sure that people get a bit tired of hearing iPad owners whiffling on about how great the devices are. If so, move on now... nothing to see here.

However, iPad owners also get a bit tired of hearing people telling them that 'it's just a big iPod Touch'.

That phrase is the equivalent of Twitter-users being told by non-Twitter-users that it's for people telling each other what they've had for breakfast.

I'll often be called upon to demonstrate just why I think the iPad is a great device and often surprise people when I tell them that I use it as much for work as I do for leisure.  Depending who I'm talking to, I'll select two or three apps which I think capture the essence and power of the iPad, passing it across to let them have a go for themselves.

My selection of apps varies, but there are a few which I tend to return to time and time again.

I asked my iPad-owning Twitter followers which apps they tended to demo when called upon to do so and got some interesting results.

First of all, here are my choices.

Evernote - this app syncs across numerous devices and websites, enabling you to save almost anything for retrieval at a later date.  Whether it's web-pages, audio, photographs or text, this portable, cloud-based memory-system just keeps getting better.

Noteshelf - this app is the best I've seen for enabling you to capture handwriting via a stylus on the iPad screen.  Other apps do this, but results tend to look like children's scrawl, with only a few very large words legible on the screen.  Noteshelf introduces a 'zoom' view which lets you write comfortably whilst it reduces the size of your handwriting to fit neatly on the lined page.  There are several notebook styles to choose from and it's an attractive experience even if you're a big Moleskine fan like me.  If I owned Moleskine, I'd buy Noteshelf and rebrand it as the office Moleskine iPad app.

The Heart & The Bottle - this is an interactive children's story book which captures the attention of parents and educators alike.  You can choose to read each page, or be read to.  There are also interaction opportunities hidden in each page for young fingers to explore.  You can even take on the role of the little girl from the story and sketch a picture on her paper, only to see your efforts framed and displayed on the wall in the next page of the story.  A charming app and a sensitive implementation too.

Time Crisis HD - This is an old-school, rip-roaring, arcade shoot-em-up from Namco, surpassed by many games for your serious game-players... but it's great fun and looks terrific on-screen... It's an eye- catching demo for anyone who needs convincing of the iPad's suitability for this kind of gaming.

DJay - I am DJ Dad!  Normally I DJ using a couple of pre-loaded iPods and a Numark mixer hooked up to my amp/PA.  Now, I can DJ straight from the iPad!!  This app also 'gives good demo'.  I can mix, beat-match, scratch, change pitch, cue... in fact anything that can be achieved via a normal DJ mixer.  It can even run as a minimised app, gently mixing your tunes together automatically from pre-selected iTunes playlists... good for parties or for just chilling out to whilst catching up with other stuff on the iPad.

LogMeIn Ignition - This app gives you remote access to your PC at home whilst you're out and about.  In fact it lets you access any number of remote machines.  I'd recommend this to anyone who regularly gets called upon to sort out minor bugs and glitches on their parents' or other family/friends' PCs, as you can quickly get on the machine, take control of the desktop and delete/install or fix whatever needs to be tackled...  it's a nifty way of getting Flash on the iPad too!

ReBirth - For those with a smattering of musical ability or a passion for retro-beats, this a great iPad recreation of the Propellerheads tool for PC/Mac which replicates the 1980s sequencing and beats machines created by Roland - the TB-303 Bass synth and the TR-808 and 909 drum machines. Set the thing going and go Acieeed-mad showing off your squidgy-beats.

WiReD - The early benchmark for all iPad magazines and still the best.  It's a magazine that's been waiting for years for the iPad to come along as its preferred delivery-mechanism.  Now they just need to sort out the pricing conflicts between the digital and paper subscription models.

Keynote -  This is Apple's version of Powerpoint and there's an iPad specific release which is a joy to use.  Along with Pages and Numbers, which counter Word and Excel from the MSOffice suite, it's amazing just how much actual work I can achieve on the iPad without ever having to bail out and head for the lap-top.  Plus, if you get the adaptor which connects this straight to a projector or monitor, it's a breeze delivering your presentations straight from the iPad.

Here are the suggestions I received from friends on Twitter when asked which apps they tend to choose to demo their iPads to the unconvinced. Thanks to @jonthebeef, @kellyjs and @paulsmith7 for sharing their thoughts.

Dropbox - easy cloud-based file-sharing across multiple devices.

Angry Birds - acclaimed and addictive - wildly successful on iPhone... even more fun on iPad

Alice for the iPad - Over-engineered, but alluring re-imagination for the iPad of the CS Lewis tale - Alice In Wonderland - to me it seems designed more to enable people to show off their iPads, rather than enjoy the story itself.

BBC News - A nice looking news app from Auntie.  It's robust and clear but, for me, frustratingly limited in portrait mode.

FT - Another nicely delivered news app - requires a subscription though!

iPlayer - a web app, rather than an iTunes app, but one that has been fine-tuned for the iPad user.  It would be hard to live without iPlayer

Aweditorium - nicely designed music sharing app, pre-populated with hundreds of songs from hip artistes from around the globe... additional YouTube content is a click away and sharing tools are built-in.  A bit ostentatious and everyone needs a good wash.

World of Goo - Another handsomely crafted game which makes the absolute utmost of what the iPad can offer to the casual gamer.  I've hardly begun to explore this yet and feel some pressure to set aside some serious time.  Like that's gonna happen.

Marvel Comics - there are many, similarly-constructed comic-apps for the iPad, but the Marvel one was one of the first and certainly one of the best.  Whether you choose to flip through the comic, page by page, or let the app swoop and glide you through the story, frame by frame, you'll quickly realise that the iPad is a fantastic medium for reading and purchasing comics.

Dragon Dictation - these dictation tools have been around for years on the PC, but now there's an app for the iPad.  I thought the best way to demonstrate its effectiveness would be to read out this paragraph and then cut and paste the results, errors-and-all in to this blog post, so that you can judge for yourself.

Here are the results:

Dragon dictation these dictation tools have been around for years on the PC but now there's an app for the iPod I thought the best way to demonstrate its effectiveness would be to read out this paragraph and then cut and pasted it was and all into this blog post so that you can judge for yourself

Flipboard - plenty has been written about Apple's iPad app of the year for 2010. Get Flipboard.  It's a hugely enjoyable way of reading and sharing news from a variety of customisable sources... you can now use it as your Google Reader client too.

Twitter - when the official Twitter app first launched, I described it as a 'car-crash' after about half an hour struggling with it.  By the end of day one I was addicted and very few other Twitter apps for iPad are as much fun to use.  If in doubt, use this as your default Twitter app on the iPad.

iA Writer - this is a rudimentary word processor and deliberately so.  No bells, no whistles, just you and the words, enabling you to unitask and focus on whatever it is you are writing.  A minimalist design-classic.

Loops of Zen HD - this a maddeningly addictive puzzle game which calls on you to rotate the ever-increasing number of puzzle-pieces on the board until all of the lines and nodes connect, leaving no ends exposed.  The sense of achievement after completing a level is only offset by the sense of dismay at looking at your reward... the next level!!

To sum up, I'm not sure that any single app would convince someone to purchase an iPad, I think it's the personal choices and almost limitless combinations of apps and functionality which drives the popularity of the device and passions of it owners.  I'm also sure that there are hundreds of other apps  which people choose to demo the power of the iPad.  

What do you think about the selections covered here?

What are your go-to apps when someone asks for a demo?

Friday, 14 January 2011

Is Instagram the Comic Sans of Photography?

Last night I spoke at a Pecha Kucha night at Huddersfield Media Centre.  Here is a short video I shot this morning of what I said, plus the slides I spoke to.

Also, here's a previous blog post written on the subject, plus another useful one from The Next Web.

Let me know what you think about Instagram... or even Comic Sans!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Huddersfield Town vs Twitter - The Social Media Goldfish Bowl

Some of Huddersfield Town's first team squad have begun to experiment with Twitter... I take a look at the prospective victories... and the potential own goals and gaffes.

I confess to taking a keen interest in the progress of Huddersfield Town Football Club.  They are my local team and I've been a season ticket holder for several years. I'm actually very passionate about the club, the players and their performance on and off the pitch.  It's been a roller-coaster of a Christmas period, but, after securing their second victory of the season over Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Wednesday this week, Town are on the up!

So, Town are one of my passions.  If you follow me on Twitter, or read any of my blog-posts, you'll know that I'm pretty passionate about social media too!

Until now, my twin passions for Town and for social media have come together through the connection with and discussion in-between Town fans from the local area and from across the globe.  So, imagine my delight when I noticed three or four of our current first-team squad experimenting with Twitter over the Christmas and New Year period.  The opportunity to get to know what makes them tick and gain some insights into how they work and what interests them after the final whistle has blown is very compelling!

However, having witnessed some of the gaffes made by those in the public eye through their use of Twitter, I also became a little bit nervous... especially when one of the guys started grumbling about too much time spent on the bench (to be fair, he manoeuvred himself out of difficulty on this one with some aplomb!).  

So what does Twitter mean for Football Clubs and for Players?

On Twitter, whether you're in the public eye or not, you really do place yourself under scrutiny... in a goldfish bowl, if you like!  That's all good, provided you take care about what you say, how you say it and to whom.  Also, tweeting from a smartphone just might reveal your location... which is OK if that's what you planned, but could present some awkward moments and potential security risks if not.

I know that, from a player perspective, some clubs take a very hard line on players' use of social media - sometimes banning it.  However, this is often an opportunity lost as it presents a chance for a club to demonstrate how switched-on and progessive it is in both in the Football League and across other sports.  

For the players, this is a great opportunity for them to build and manage their own personal 'brands'.  

Equally, this presents a great chance for a club to extend its own relationships with fans, customers and sponsors, by working with the players to ensure that their own images as positive role models support the club's vision.  This is also a good time to align the players' activities, if appropriate, with the club's existing social media presence on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere.

Basic social media training for management, players and coaching staff at any sporting club could enable them to get it right, build the right relationships with other professionals, fans and the media and avoid the various pitfalls for themselves and their clubs.  

Similarly, creating a Social Media Policy which connects a club's marketing and communications strategy with the players' individual profiles, could benefit clubs, as they develop techniques for monitoring discussions and 'sentiment' across various social platforms.   

This would reinforce relationships with the media, fans and other clubs and ultimately drive revenue through sponsorship, enhanced ticket sales, innovative promotions and invaluable word-of-mouth support.

So, Town vs Twitter... who'll win?

I'm feeling very positive about Huddersfield Town's performance on the pitch this season and it was great to be at the Yorkshire derby yesterday.  

Off the pitch, Town is a club which loves to innovate... its matchday programme was reinvented last season as Give Us An H and has won awards because, rather than look at other club's programmes for ideas, the club looked at the quality monthlies market and created a glossy booklet which looks more like a GQ or an Esquire.  

I'm hoping that the positive attitude on and off the pitch, extends into the world of social media and sees the club continue to turn heads throughout Football League and beyond.  

I look forward to seeing the rest of the squad take their first steps into social media and feel sure that they will be taking their social media coaching as seriously as they take their fitness coaching.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Some Current Thoughts on iPad vs Paper Magazines

Since getting an iPad last year I've steadfastly avoided buying magazines. 

Previously, I'd spend quite a lot on magazines across a range of topics from tech through music through walking through politics, economics, design, etc. 

The thing is, the iPad is so good for media consumption that I never run out of interesting things to browse, read or share across those topics and many others. What's more, by abstaining from magazine purchase, I have been adding to my cost-justification for purchasing the iPad in the first place (kinda).

That said, I already had subscriptions running for WiReD and New Scientist before I bought the iPad and they're still running. I look forward to their arrival in the mailbox. Out of curiosity, I bought the first US WiReD iPad app, just to check it out, but since then I haven't bothered, as I get the paper one pushed through my door and that, in itself, is a design classic.

Where I've certainly cut back is on music mag purchase... I'd often have a Wire or a Word or a Mojo or an NME or something tucked in my bag. Since the iPad, not a one. I've replaced this with various alternative sources of music news and knowledge, through Twitter, many RSS feeds and great great weekly emails from independent record shops such as Piccadilly Records in Manchester who do an excellent job in curating their ever-changing stock for customers.

However, I was tempted to pick up the latest copy of Mojo the other day, predominantly for the cover-mounted CD. This month it's retread of of Neil Young's Harvest, featuring several of my favourite acts from recent months and years like Phosphorescent, Jane Weaver, Smoke Fairies and Villagers.

Now, the CD is actually worth the investment (£4.50), which is good because these tribute-style CDs can be pretty disposable. This one isn't. I'm listening to the Smoke Fairies doing Alabama right now. However, on flicking though the magazine itself, I realised that there's a quality to the way it communicates with me which would be hard to replicate on the iPad.

Like many people, my first flick through a magazine is often from the back to the front - this is something to do with the way our brain works. This hasn't been considered by iPad magazines yet, I don't believe. After that, I'll take a more leisurely stroll through the pages from front to back investigating the shorter newsy gossipy bits at the front before considering which longer pieces I fancy tackling later over a cup of tea. [a sort of analogue Read It Later function - I stop short of putting fluorescent stickies to mark the pages for easy reference but I have to fight the temptation ;)].

I'll then pick it up and put it down several times over the next few weeks. Once or twice I'll flick through just to read the ads for forthcoming gigs, tours and releases. In fact there's some pleasure in the type of ads carried by these magazines, they're sometimes useful beacons for fun to be had later in the year.

I can't imagine carving out time to browse a standalone ad section in an iPad magazine. Those iPad magazines I do have see me whizzing through the ads as quickly as poss, and quite why I'd want this experience extending through video and added FAQs I've no idea. However, that could be because the quality end of the music mag market has yet to really venture into this space, and there's an element of the advertising that they carry that can be relevant and interesting to me, rather than the aspirational claptrap in, for example, Project, Richard Branson's latest hobby which I only picked up because it's free over Christmas [review: dull, over-choreographed, hard to navigate].

So what have I learned?
  • I love my iPad.
  • I still enjoy some paper magazines.

Quality music magazines preparing tablet versions have some additional challenges to match the romance of their paper equivalents. [I have to say, Zinio may be the simplest and best platform here, as it affords a simple flick through from front to back... the option to deliver cover-mounted content via iTunes might also be worth a thought].

In closing off this ramble I should also mention the great NPR app developed by Bottle Rocket for distributing news, culture and music content via the iPad and iPhone. It really is understated excellence and, whilst it doesn't attempt to emulate a magazine, it has found some nifty methods for building rich content and social tools into the whole delivery experience. Publishers could learn lots here and, to be fair, probably are doing.

What are your thoughts?