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So I went to the Lone Ranger film Premiere

I would have had this posted a week or two ago but we’ve had a small delay, which will be explained in my up and coming blog series, ‘theres a leak in the dining room’, ‘waiting a week for a plumber’ and ‘now the ceiling has collapsed’

A few weeks ago I won a competition from The Light to go to the premier of the Lone Ranger film, it was short notice but it turns out I was in London at that time anyway hosting the end of Hacked at the 02. Continue reading

Disney World

Virgin Holidays Disney World Warning..

If you’ve spoken to me at all in the last few months, the topic of my wedding will have come up, I’m getting married in October and as usual, I’m planning something a bit… different.

This post however is about our Honeymoon, We are planning to travel to Disney World again after a fantastic trip in 2012 with the geeks, the idea is that Heather and I travel to Disney World a week before everyone for our ‘honeymoon’ week, do the full hotel experience, Disney Dining plan, the lot.

The following two weeks, we are joined by our friends and we move into a Florida villa (last years was amazing).

Rather than book everything individually as I did last yeah, I decided to try out Virgin Holidays in Leeds City Centre, I figured it wouldn’t be as cheap but it’s got to be a bit less hassle getting everything from different services and making sure the dates match up.

When we went to book the Holiday, I’d done some research on various things, I knew we wanted Disney Dining and I knew it had been free the week or so before, I wasn’t sure what hotel I wanted to stay in and I was after some advice.

Whilst discussing the trip, we spoke about the Disney Dining offer and that I’d missed it, but it would be coming back soon, I offered to delay the booking until it came back but was told that ‘when it comes back, I’ll add it to your booking’ so that was that..

Whilst talking about the latter part of the trip, I was asked ‘what are you doing for tickets’ and I said we’d be sorting them out once things were a bit clearer (and there is usually a buy one week, get one week free offer on).

So we booked, paid up and that was that.. fantastic!

Roll on to Last week, I saw on TV that Virgin Holidays were offering Free Disney Dining again (and an extra $200 spending money if you booked but I wasn’t bothered about that). I walked into Virgin Holidays just to confirm everything that tickety boo and that’s when things started to go wrong.

The person who booked the holiday wasn’t working but someone from the Sheffield branch was covering (I can’t remember her name but she was great and did what she could), I was then informed that due to a ‘change in service’ they cannot add the Free Disney Dining to my package and I’d have to rebook again with the new prices, there was talk about losing my deposit and a £20 booking fee but I can’t remember the specifics.

Then I was told ‘you can only get disney dining if your going to Disney World and for that you need tickets’.. I said we’ve got tickets, they come with the booking, she checked the computer and there were no Disney tickets added to my account.

  • We’d booked flights to Disney World
  • We’d booked an airport transfer to Disney World
  • We’d booked a hotel for one week at Disney World
  • And yet, our package from Virgin Holidays, doesn’t include tickets.. to Disney World

I was honestly shocked at that.. the only mention of tickets when booking was talking about the latter stage of our trip and at that point I felt.. shafted, adding the tickets and Disney Dining plan to our holiday added an extra £900 to the price and I felt lied to and really let down by the company.

I was told that a manager would call me the next day and try and sort something out, they didn’t. Instead I was called by the person who originally booked our holiday who stated that she’d priced up the holiday with Free Disney Dining and it was £2000 more than we paid so we’ve actually saved money! Apparently a lot of people book the package from Virgin Holidays without booking tickets so that is completely normal, I didn’t make it clear, no apology, no trying to work it out. other than cancel the holiday (which would have cost us a deposit and fee)  I had no choice than to pay another almost thousand pounds.

I tweeted that I felt let down and @virginholidays responded that someone was going to call me.. but they haven’t

So if your booking a Virgin Holiday, make sure you get any offers they give you in writing as it might change and make sure your package actually includes tickets to Disney World. You’d assume booking a Disney holiday would include that but it doesn’t.

Think Startups

Think Startups is less than a week away

A few years ago I decided I wanted to run a conference about startups, I had massive plans of a hackday followed by a two day conference with big prizes and lots of attendees..

But those things take a lot of time, budget and involve a lot of risk so I’m starting smaller and seeing where we go – Think Startups is an unconference which is the bootstrapped version of my idea.

We’ve over 50 people signed up so far and the Round Foundry have kindly agreed to host us for the day.

This is the complete oppersite to Think Visibility, just to see how it works, we’ve no ticket price, no sponsors (apart from our venue host) which means no massive parties, bring your own lunch and hopefully it will mean we get feedback as to what people actually want out of a startup event.

What is an unconference?

An unconference is a participant-driven meeting. The term “unconference” has been applied, or self-applied, to a wide range of gatherings that try to avoid one or more aspects of a conventional conference, such as high fees, sponsored presentations, and top-down organization – wikipedia

So in my language, you turn up at 10am in the morning, we have a little chat about what we want to get out of the day and we have a grid on the side of the wall, when we open the grid, you take a post it note, write a session and put it on the grid in a specific time + room.

We don’t expect everyone to present a full presentation about ‘Lean Startup’ or ‘Gaining Customers through networking’ but if you don’t feel confident enough to start a session, start a discussion or round table where everyone talks.

An unconference is only as successful as the people who get involved during the day, so I hope at least half the people coming have a session in mind they’d like to run, otherwise I’ll be running sessions all day and I don’t think I’ve got that much material.

So I really hope to see you this weekend, it’s a new event for me and it’s an exciting opportunity for everyone to get something out of it.

Prioritisation or What am I working on now?

It’s often noted that I work on several things at once, It’s always been my nature that ‘a change is as good as a rest’ having a break of a day from one project and moving onto another.

Almost every project I do work on shares something with at least one other, this allows me to share code, customers or commitments across multiple projects, working on one project can have knock on benefits to others. Continue reading

Photo by Sk8Geek

The other side of working for yourself

I’m often asked about going freelance or setting up a company and I’ve come up with a few set tips that I recommend. I’ll get to that in a different post but I wanted to write about things that go through my mind or have happened when I ‘quit the day job’. There are many tutorials on how to freelance and pick up clients and the best ways of networking but there are factors beyond that.

Money

As soon as you start to work for yourself you are completely responsible for your income. If you work for a company and have a bad month then try better next month. If you work for yourself, oh look! I can’t pay the electric bill. The lack of a stable salary is a massive thing on your mind and it always will be. Work comes in peaks and troughs usually and you’ll find you have two months with work coming out of your ears then nothing for a bit (this can be tied to seasonal budgets).

It’s easy to miss all those direct debits that come out of your account automatically and in the age of SaaS, $30 here $10 there can soon start adding up to quite a bit of money and it matters a lot more when you’re doing your monthly budget.

Money has never been my strong point so the first thing I did when I wanted to set up a company was call an accountant, luckily I was recommended Stuart, who over the past few years has put up with my sometimes stupid questions and made sure the company stays on the right side of the tax code.

(Just an aside on this point, Heather does the accounts for Hodgetastic, I don’t know if it’s because she wants to know the finances or she just doesn’t trust me not to try and claim gokarting on the company)

Discipline

Discipline is hard. When you’ve no boss it’s easy to have the day off and go and catch an early showing of the latest film, but unless you’ve built an app or subscription service every second you’re not working is time you’re not earning. That’s not to say you have to work 24/7 but it’s easy to fall into the trap of taking an extra hour for lunch, then going to do some shopping and before you know it it’s 5pm and the day has gone.

Choosing what to work on at times is as much as an issue as not having any work. It’s far too easy to say yes to several things then realise you don’t have time to do them all. One of the things people joke about with me is that I’m always doing several things, partly that’s due to enjoying working on different projects, partly that’s about me trying to have backup plans in case a project fails. It’s also down to not having the confidence in myself to say no to work, and if you keep doing that, you’ll find yourself overloaded, stressed out and you’ll let people down.

Discipline also comes to other things like eating well and getting out to do things like exercise, this is something I constantly struggle with (and not just because I own a sweet shop!), when you’re coding or designing and ‘in the zone’ it’s easy to just warm something up in the microwave or nip out for KFC rather than spending time on something good for you, snacking for me is a massive issue. When I worked from home the first time I put a lot of weight on because I didn’t get out much and I’m still trying (not hard enough) to lose it.

When you’re working for yourself you soon realise the 9-5 rules don’t apply. At the moment my working day goes something like: -

10am – wake up
10am – 11:30 – check server and answer mails in bed
11:30-12:30 – get up, walk to town and have some breakfast
12:30- 15:00 – find somewhere in town to work
15:00 – 15:30 – walk home
15:00 – 19:00 – watch TV that Hether doesn’t like whilst coding and waiting for her to come home
19:00 – 21:00 – catch up with Heather, eat food
21:00 – 04:00 – work

It’s not the best schedule but it suits me at the moment. The downside of that schedule is that apart from Heather and a few people that serve me a drink in town, that’s not a lot of human interaction.

Family and Friends

I’ve spoken to friends in a similar situation and there is an element of loneliness in working for yourself, especially if you’re working on a different time pattern, I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been sending emails and waiting for people to come on GTalk to discuss something before I realised that it’s a Bank Holiday and they’re off work.

I might be working wrong but I don’t take Bank Holidays off. When I went on holiday, I took my laptop. To me owning your own company means it’s part of your life and unless you’re in a position with a great team that you trust and clients that are settled, or a product that is generating revenue, it’s hard to break away for two weeks unattached.

Relationships are hard at the best of times, a relationship with someone who is working for themselves or in a startup, wow. I’ve been working for myself for a while now (I think close to five years) and Heather has been with me every step of the way, she has supported everything I’ve done (apart from the odd eBay purchase or two & the whole setting up of a sweet shop). It can really take it’s toll when I come home miserable after a mad meeting or can’t come down to eat because the servers aren’t up.

Recently I wrote about the closure of emberads and wrote about some of my feelings there, but I didn’t write about how that affected me or the people around me. I put on a lot more weight and I started scratching (which I do when i’m stressed) which flared up my eczema ( some of you have noticed what looks like a burn on my right hand).

All this was affecting me but also affecting family. Since Christmas I stopped visiting family and basically stayed in the house because I knew things were falling apart and I didn’t feel great. When you start working for yourself, the first question your family will ask is “how’s the business going” and I didn’t want to face it with them.

Freedom

As unsettling and difficult both financially and mentally as it is at times, I try my best not to have to get a ‘proper job’, Hodgetastic doesn’t pay me a lot but to me, freedom is worth so much more (at this time in my life).

I love the freedom it gives me to be able to say yes to things straight away, Last year I had the opportunity to go to both Berlin & Tennessee with a few days notice. I was able to say yes straight away without having to worry how many days holiday I had left this year, sure I took my laptop on the trips and did some work but I’m in Tennessee!

My grandparents are often ill and my mum will phone and say ‘Your nanna is in the hospital’, working for myself allows me to say to Heather ‘I’ve gotta go to skegness, when’s the next train?” rather than ‘I’ve got to call my Boss to see if I can’t come in tomorrow due to family stuff’, I might be working on the train to the Hospital but I have the freedom to say Yes.

When Heather and I took a summer holiday to Delft with some friends, we laughed and joked one night we should do a trip to Disney World, then the next week decided we actually SHOULD do a trip to Disney World. We booked it and it was magical, now we don’t have the money to go to Disney World whenever we want, but we had the freedom to say yes and work towards it.

So I guess this is another feelings post, no real point or ending, I didn’t write this post to scare people off working for themselves, I think it’s a wonderful thing to do and it gives you some wonderful opportunities but I think many of the posts and guides write with rose tinted glasses that it will all be fine as long as you work hard, working hard is great but that’s not the only factor.

I’ll write a post soon about what I’m working on at the moment, I’ve joined a new startup with some friends and I get to work with my wonderful fiance as well which is fantastic. Startups are always a risk, but with every opportunity I’ve taken, I’ve grown and learned.

If you enjoyed reading, let me know and I’ll write some more, if your only commenting about the grammar, I know, I’m working on it please don’t.

Pebble Watch Face

Pebble Watch First Impressions

Yesterday I received my Pebble Watch, almost a year after pledging to the kickstarter fund and immediately I was asked for my first impressions, so here they are;

It’s definitely a version 1 (or 1.5?) product. The watch looks lovely and the strap is comfortable but the buttons are just a little too difficult to press easily and the software still needs a lot of work.

I won’t go through the full experience of unboxing and reviewing what it does and doesn’t (you can find them easily) but I’ll write down a few of the things that stood out to me you might not know

  • Uses a proprietary USB charger (something I’ve run into recently with the fitbit)
  • Notifications do not work on iOS5 (which is annoying as Heather has an iPad one)
  • The music display and control works flawlessly
  • I’ve been unable to get Mail notifications working (even with a long workaround)
  • The preloaded watch faces look great
  • The iOS developer SDK / Watch face designer still hasn’t been publicly released and there are no third party apps, the developer forums seem to be a bit of a ghost town to be honest which is worrying
  • I was initially excited that the Pebble has the ability to connect to more than one device (I’d like notifications / calls from my phone but my music from my iPod) but it seems as soon as you connect one device, it disconnects the other.
  • Both my iPod and iPhone keep asking me to allow connections to the Pebble, I think there are still some security issues to work out
  • IT TELLS THE TIME
  • It has a fairly decent motor in it for the vibration,

So those are my first thoughts, I’m sure I’ll write more as I’ve gotten used to it and other patches are released. I don’t mind waiting almost a year for the watch, the point of kickstarter for me is to support projects like this and see how they grow and develop, when your expecting 500 orders and end up with 80,000 that comes with some steep learning curves (and to think, I shit myself when I send an email out to 2000 people, imagine sending a product out to forty times that)

If you’ve not ordered one yet, I’d recommend you wait till version two. There is no doubt the team have learned a lot with this watch and whilst I’m happy I got the chance to buy one (or two) & support the product, I don’t think the watch is there yet as a product.

But hey, I’ve only had it 8 hours, I’m probably using it wrong :)

Sick of SEO Scumbags

I stopped calling myself an ‘seo’ a few years ago, I saw too many ‘seo’ people who didn’t actually do ‘seo’, sure they did title tags and pretty urls and could tell you that you need a few links here and a redirect there but that’s about it..

I believe that if your involved with search, you should know how to implement the changes, you should know how 301 redirects work on IIS or how to generate them in a .htaccess file, you should know how to change meta tags and the basics of HTML, you don’t have to learn to code, but at least meet half way.

I’m not saying I was a superstar SEO either, I look back on some of the things I did & said, sigh and want to slap myself, but I’ve grown and learned.

Whilst I don’t do day to day search campaigns these days, I mainly do audits, a client will come to me with some work from an agency and ask me to impartially audit both the work and the reporting, I’ve been doing this for years and the one thing that angers me more than anything, is SEO Scumbags.

I don’t use that term lightly, it’s reserved for a special kind of person that puts peoples livleyhoods at risk, let me explain.

Recently, a well known flower shop lost both the rankings for the brand name and the keyword ‘flowers’, the SEO agency involved are a good agency and this post isn’t about the tactics used but large companies like Interflora have years of brand building, offline campaigns, TV advertising, word of mouth, mailing lists, newspapers and shops to fill the gap incase any one vertical (search) drops, they can and will still survive, there will be a dip in some profit sheet somewhere and someone might lose their job, but the company doesn’t fold.

If you do that with a small ‘mom and pop’ shop (Dom’s Flowers) and they get banned or lose the rankings for ‘flower shop east leeds’, Game Over, most of the smaller clients I see depend on Google traffic, it’s sad but true and if you fuck that up by pissing about, it’s not a case of ‘oh well, lets buy a new domain and rebrand’, it’s a case of ‘oh no, we might lose the house and car’.

It’s upsetting how often I see this, a client has bought into a contract which includes link-building, the company has sold itself on the ‘whitehat’ techniques and it’s internal processes, but you pull a majestic report and what do you find? Spammy blog comments and directory submissions.

If your telling the client your doing high quality link building, then buying the cheapest package you can from a link seller, that’s fraud and in todays world, you can cause serious damage.

I’ve seen companies who have built a site for a client, no index it then charge for an SEO package to ‘sort out the rankings’, Domain change audits with no 301′s,  I’ve seen agencies charge £10k for ‘keyword research’ which is copied and pasted straight from Google Adwords and more than a few times I’ve seen companies charge a thousands per month for an IBP report.

We all make mistakes, we all have clients that want to be #1 for $crazykeyword, but as the search team involved with the campaign, you have to set realistic expectations and know the risk when placing links and making site changes, those that don’t, that just take the money and hammer with shitty links or try and scam the client to extract more money, those are the SEO Scumbags and they are giving the search industry a really bad name.

</rant>

Trinity Leeds Shopping Centre

Is Trinity Leeds good for Leeds City Centre?

At 10am on the 21st of March, Leeds will open the ‘UK’s Latest Shopping Centre‘, I’ve been quite excited about it for a while, My initial worries about it being another empty shopping space in Leeds were put to rest over time.

But as the date draws closer, I’ve started to see signs on stores around Leeds “moving to Leeds Trinity, New store in Leeds Trinity”, at first it was just Next and Primark but that got me thinking.. those are two big stores in Leeds, I doubt they will open up another store so close to each other, so it makes sense that they will close the other one, leading to more empty spaces in the City.

I saw the list this morning of the stores opening in the centre and it’s great, there are some fantastic brands in there and as an AFOL, it’s about time we got a Lego brand store but I can’t help but notice all the duplicates of stores already in Leeds, I don’t know how many are opening an additional store compared to moving completely, but looking at a few names;

  • Bose
  • Burton
  • Coast
  • Dorothy Perkins
  • H&M
  • La Senza
  • New Look
  • Pandora
  • Oasis
  • Primark
  • River Island
  • Superdry
  • Urban Outfitters
  • Warehouse

I’ve not mentioned food places or mobile phone shops since usually they will stick some close together, interesting that a certain fruit based mobile & computer retailer is missing from the confirmed list, even though they are looking for staff in a Leeds store, when that opens, I can see no possible way that a reseller such as KRCS will stay open (not that I’m against it, it’s business, it’s just another empty shop space in Leeds).

Overall I think Trinity Leeds is a going to be a great thing for Leeds but I am constantly annoyed at the empty retail units around the City centre, how long has the old borders building in Leeds been empty now? It just makes the City look empty and I’ve personally tried to take retail space in Leeds, but even on a space that has been empty for years. but anyway that’s another post.

We can only wait what happens to the spaces around the area and City.

La Senza Leeds MovingRiver Island Leeds MovingWarehouse Leeds MovingNext Leeds movingSuperDry Leeds Moving

Stores Moving To Trinity, a set on Flickr.

Virgin Media Logo

Reluctantly Switching to Sky from Virgin Media

I’ve been a Virgin Media subscriber for over 10 years now, though various names; Cable & Wireless, NTL, Virgin Media and whatever the new owners end up calling them, I’ve always been quite brand loyal (and lazy).

But I logged in last night to find that we were paying £80 a month for our TV/Phone/Internet package.. it seemed like a lot to me since the only thing we watch on the TV is Doctor Who & the BBC F1 Races, everything we time shift online.

We are on the top Virgin broadband package, no problems with that, it costs us a bit (£35 a month on it’s own) but the benefits out way the costs, however we didn’t need the top TV and phone package because to be honest, we don’t use them.

I called cancellations, partly to see what they’d offer me and partly to turn off part of the service, the first woman who answered wasn’t exactly rude, but didn’t lend herself to the term ‘warm and welcoming’ by reducing my broadband, telephone and tv packages and adding sky sports package (for Sky F1), I can save £2 a month.. Yes that’s right. £2 a month.

I realise that Sky don’t let Virgin sell the F1 channel without the package and I know they are in a bind but when I went to look at the Sky packages, I could get

  • Sky+ HD Box
  • Sky Entertainment Package
  • SkyHD Package (with SkySports F1 HD)
  • SkyBroadband lite
  • Sky Telephone

For less than £40 a month.. which means I could take all that out, leave the 100meg broadband with Virgin Media AND STILL SAVE £5!)

Then I received a few messages from friends and family who work at Sky about offers they have, those offers have brought the price down to less than £20 a month (for 12 months),

I’m probably going to keep the Virgin Broadband but still remove the television & phone line, I’ve not taken out a package with a phone line from Sky as I’ve been told these days you don’t need it and the only time we ever use our home phone is

  1. To find my mobile phone when I’ve lost it
  2. To call Virgin Media when the internet breaks

So by switching, we’ve managed to save ourselves over £30 a month, it baffles me how easily Virgin let me go, but they don’t appear to reward loyalty these days.

alea-casino-leeds

Farewell to the Alea Casino – home of #thinkvis

I was all set and ready to go to Legoland for the day when two things happened,

  1. Heather said she really wasn’t feeling well and whilst I do love Lego.. I’m not about to leave her on her own for the day.. 
  2. I received several messages from members of staff at the Alea Casino that it was closed and they were told not to come in that day.

I didn’t believe them at first, I thought it was a joke, I mean, who would? We had been in the casino all weekend and now.. it’s gone.. We would never be able to run something in there again.

Continue reading