The night that Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards saved me. Part 1

Every generation of men in my family have at one time or another been ‘Bikers’. That’s bikes with an engine of course; Motorbikes. Proper ‘Bikers’ with ‘Bikes’. Not to be confused, or indeed in any way associated with the lycra-clad polystyrene-helmeted brigade that take to the highways and byways (or in fact the Redways if like me you live in Milton Keynes), on ultra-lightweight, muscle-powered pedal cycles during summer weekends; what I think of as born-again cyclists!

The tradition was continued by the most recent biker in my family, my eldest son, and it goes way back, at least to my great grandfather. I don’t know about before then, as it’s not in living memory and probably would be before the turn of the twentieth century. I do know that in his day, my Grandfather had an Ariel. Not the famous ‘Ariel Square Four’, but a bespoke factory customised model, with at that time a unique ‘V Four’ engine I believe. I seem to remember him saying he also had other classic British bikes such as a Matchless and possibly others. My Father had a BSA Shooting Star before I was born, as well as a Lambretta (but the less said about that one the better!). I’ve had various bikes myself including British and Japanese marques, and done my own fair share of traversing the country.

The first ‘bike’ I had was a Motobecane Mobelette and at the tender age of 11 I had managed to get it running (perhaps with a little help from my dad), and was to be found running up and down the garden on it. I often spent my pocket money on half a gallon of petrol from the petrol station located handily less than 100 meters from our home; petrol was around 44p for the half gallon at the time! The ‘moby’ gave way to a Yamaha FS1E, which dad and I worked together on after buying a crashed wreck for fifty pounds. This proved to be a real learning experience and as a young teen I soaked up knowledge on mechanics, wiring & electrics, body-filling and finishing, as well as spraying and painting. Later I also had a sweet little green Kawasaki trials bike that I used in my mid to late 20s for commuting to work.

On turning thirty, I decided it was time I took my full motorcycle test. As a car driver, I could ride bikes up to 125cc on a provisional license (the laws have now changed), but I wanted a bigger bike I could use for the three hundred mile weekly commute (Cleveland to Hampshire). I had the idea that even a big bike would be a much cheaper way to travel, saving money in the long run (at least that was my story). It would of course also be a great excuse for me to get back onto two wheels, and have some serious motoring ‘fun’ once again. As far as the bike was concerned, I wanted something powerful, that could eat up the miles in all weathers and would easily cope with an anticipated mileage of at least two thousand miles a month.

After visiting local bike shops on a regular basis, I finally plumped for a nearly new Triumph Trophy 900 decked out in British Racing Green. Massive power… a six-geared beast, which could be unleashed with a quick twist of the throttle. Until I got used to it, riding this bike was like straddling something untamed; something quite scary. My new bike boasted impressive statistics, that on paper made it sound more like a Formula 1 racing car. From the paperwork and receipts that were tucked into the user manual, it transpired the previous owner had trick parts fitted to the engine, such as high-rise pistons, titanium piston rings and a Dynojet racing kit. Though it was decked out with removable touring equipment such as full paniers and top-box, it was a monster that could manage 0-60 in a lot less than three seconds, 0-100 in less than five and potentially gave a top speed of just under 160mph. Of course I never tested that top end, because that would be highly illegal on British roads; I would probably have left stains in my leathers (something I came close to on a few occasions when I first started riding it). However I will say, the M40 is very straight for long stretches in places, very clear at 3am affording great visibility on a spring morning, and that even with luggage on the bike and a rider hunched down behind the windscreen for maximum streamlining, I have heard it is allegedly, and theoretically possible in those conditions and on such a road to reach close to double the UK motorway speed limit.

Anyway, to the story… This occurred within a few weeks of acquiring my bike late in the year. It was my usual practice to commute between my home in the far North and where I was working in Basingstoke. On Monday morning in the very early hours I would set off for the three hundred mile journey South, and on Friday afternoon I would usually head North. Heading South I would usually use the A19, A1(M), M18, M1, then A42, M42, M40 and onto the A34. On Fridays heading North, the route was reversed.

Whilst I often used to get away early on Fridays (around 4pm), one Friday I had to stay late working on completing an important project and was not able to leave work until fairly late. It was a bitterly cold November evening, and the windchill factor (which is important when you ride a bike), was high. I was running low on petrol so I pulled into a services on the M42 close to Tamworth.

To be continued…

Posted in Family, Reminiscing, Toys, Transport, Woodworking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Business email…. Blessing or curse?

Is the ease of which we can now communicate to potential or existing customers a blessing or a curse? From a business point of view, the fact we can easily inform a previous customer or client about new offers, or a new customer the status of their recent order, in an almost instantaneous manner and at very low cost must surely be of great benefit, right? Whilst these two types of communication are quite different, the first the domain of marketing and the second order processing, they are both vitally important in the day-to-day operations of most companies, especially those trading directly with their customer base on-line.

Of course to maintain the relationship and ensure everything is legal, each new customer will have to have consented to receiving regular updates and communiques when they placed their first order; otherwise they should not be added to the mailing list. This is usually a case of affirming consent by a simple ‘opt-in check box’ on a filled out form. But how many and how frequent the updates and mailings they have signed up for is rarely stipulated.

I’m not going to get into conjecture or open discussion about whether marketing mailing or order update emails etc. are handled internally by the company itself, by third-party mailing providers, or mixture of both, as this can get complicated and there are pros and cons for both.

Does it make it easier to screw up as well?

I believe if the process of B2B or B2C electronic communications is abused, or even accidentally goes wrong, it can seriously undermine the business attempting to communicate with their customer base and have an unwanted negative effect.

For example when it comes to mailing potential customers, a screw up or a bad decision on how to proceed with this operation can be very bad for business; and may not even be apparent to the sender, despite having sophisticated metrics and feedback. There are companies that I might have happily have dealt with (some of whom are household names), who have decided that good business strategy, or that of their main distributors, is to bombard potential customers on their mailing lists with special offer emails. Now these may be great offers, I’m not disputing that, but when they fill up your mailbox in the same way that Viagra did before spam filters became effective, then it becomes a problem. A problem that has to be dealt with. So depending on our preferred email client, we either; identify these emails as spam, set up another manual spam filter or even unsubscribe from the mailing list. This last is not really recommended, as whilst you may be removed from the original mailing list, it alerts unscrupulous third-party mailing list providers that the email is a ‘live’ or ‘valid’ one, thus being more valuable to them when added to ‘verified’ lists they sell. I doubt this was the result anticipated by whoever was responsible for marketing at the ‘guilty’ company, but sending multiple daily emails (or whatever number upsets a potential client), won’t win them any business from you or I.

The second mistake is to let someone send emails that does not really know what they’re doing. I’m sure many of us have had a mail in the past that has hundreds of names in the ‘To:’ area of the email. When you’re in a specific industry having your direct email shared with all your competitors, and theirs with you is highly unprofessional, and after all is what ‘Bcc:’ is for. Then getting an email to say a rather sheepish ‘Sorry’; really? Hmmm…

Here’s what happened to me

Early on Monday morning (in fact around 2am), I got an order update email from a company with whom I had placed an order the previous Friday evening, telling me my order had now been dispatched. I was quite impressed, as this was a bespoke item produced with my specific photographs and logo etc. Impressed because they had obviously processed my complicated order across the weekend. I also knew I would have it in a couple of days, which would be ahead of the initially specified 5-7 days. I was quite chuffed.

Imaging my disappointment when this morning I got another email from the company telling me the order had just been dispatched.

So the first email… was it a lie? Is it a mistake? Which email is true; does it matter? I’m not really bothered which one is wrong. If I had not received the first, there would have been no problem at all. I would be more than happy that they had sent me an update and my order was on it’s way. All I will say now is the company has fallen from a great height in my esteem, all because of an inaccurate email. I’m left wondering if they are incompetent in other ways.

My advice… Sometime the phrase “Less is more” is certainly applicable in these cases.

Posted in Business, Computing, Purchases | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

I’m enjoying screwing again!

The Problem

Over the years I must admit it’s something I’ve found rather difficult, and rather difficult to admit to others… I’ve never looked forward to screwing; I’m rubbish at it.  I’m not ‘cack-handed’, just a bit inept at this fundamental skill of woodwork. Whenever it came to screwing, for some reason I’ve found; I either had the wrong screwdriver for the job, or the angle I have to drive the screw in is so extreme (say well above head height, even on a ladder), that I simply can’t apply enough pressure or get enough torque. Sometimes I start well and then slip, or the screw itself simply goes off true and ends up at a funny angle. Let’s face it, screwing can also be an arduous task when you have a lot of screws to put in, or they’re especially long screws (like the 65 and 75mm ones I use in my planters), doing it manually can knacker you.

So whenever possible over the last few years I’ve used a cordless drill with a magnetic adapter and slip in screwdriver bits. For the most part this set-up worked fairly well. However some of the work I’ve done in my workshop recently, means my normal cordless drill was a little to large to wield; it’s quite a large drill for a cordless and also has a large 24v battery (which takes almost overnight to re-charge).

Desire

I’ve often seen small cordless impact drivers from De Walt, Makita, Metabo and others when visiting stores like ‘Screwfix’ for a top-up on supplies, and thought to myself that when budget allows I may invest in one of them. However a good one did seem rather an expensive luxury, and I always considered it was really just a ‘nice-to-have’, rather than an essential buy. After all I had a drill that would do something similar right? Admittedly hard to use single handed, but at least it worked.

Upgrade

Anyway, last week I had some funds available for equipment and was planning the upgrade of the workshop’s capabilities with a new planer, thicknesser and waste extraction (more on those in upcoming blogs). I decided now was also time to buy an impact driver; not a top-of-the-range one you understand, but a good one that would work with the Makita 18v battery system that I had purchased for the Makita reciprocal saw I purchased earlier in the year. It’s not really about brand loyalty, but more about having to make a decision between one of the main brands to go with for the cordless system, and I happen to like Makita kit. Also they’re based here in Milton Keynes.

Makita Impact Driver

Makita Impact Driver

I know that the saying goes “A bad workman always blames his tools”, but the reality is that having great tools can certainly help to improve your work; and it’s working out that way for me now.

The Makita LXT BTD146z impact driver I purchased is a brilliant little tool. Like any good tool should, it’s making the task it’s designed to do a LOT easier; a WHOLE LOT EASIER. I won’t bore you with the specifications here, as you can easily look them up on line, but I will say that it’s a nice weight in the hand, only being 1.5 kilos, the grip material and shape of grip feels good in the hand too. The 18V 3.0Ah Li-Ion LXT battery (model BL1830), lasts ages and the driver will push home every screw I’ve tried so far with ease; and I’ve used some up to 90mm. As far as the other features are concerned, whilst I can see the benefit of a belt clip for those working on a site, it is a bit pointless for me. However I’m finding the light (which comes on whenever the trigger is depressed), very handy and the power indicator at the lower part of the handle occasionally useful too. Thanks to the Makita 18V battery system if the battery does run down, it only takes 22 minutes to fully re-charge; just time for a cuppa (or in my case a coffee).

Battery

The batteries are pretty expensive; costing almost as much as the driver. I’ve just sourced a second one for the bargain-price of £70 on eBay. Whilst ‘copies’ can be purchased on eBay and elsewhere (presumably made in China), personally I would only use original manufacture ones with equipment of this nature. The manufacturer claims that the Li-ion battery apparently delivers 430% more working capacity during it’s lifetime compared to an equivalent Ni-Cad, and that it’s also 40% Lighter than Ni-MH battery.

Conclusion

I’m left wondering how I ever managed without one of these beauties. In the past week since it arrived I’ve used it every single day. For example, I had to put screws into the ceiling joists in the workshop for the brackets supporting the ducting for a new chip/dust extraction system and would never have been able to do it with my previous drill and it would have taken ages by hand. Using the impact driver I can even hold the ducting and bracket with one hand whilst putting a screw in with the other. If you’ve never used an impact driver I can heartily recommend trying one out, perhaps like me you’ll realise what you’ve been missing all these years. In my case , it’s given me a reason to enjoy screwing at last!

Posted in Business, Equipment, Garage Workshop, Product Review, Tools, Woodworking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

And so it begins… The ‘GREAT’ Tidy 2012

Part 1, Planning or Procrastination?

Do you think those unfortunate people that have become serial hoarders, often ‘exposed’ in fascinating TV documentaries, were originally quite tidy people that somehow went off the rails? Are they a bit like the teetotaller, who is encouraged to have a single tot of spirits or a pint of beer for the first time in a social situation, and if we fast-forward a couple of years is now a raging alcoholic, squirreling away bottles of whiskey and gin in secret stashes?

Take for example poor Mr. Wassitsface (not his real name you understand), with a house so stuffed full of old newspapers, that he says he is saving to ‘scan’, that it is almost impossible to enter any room. Impossible that is, unless you’re a paper-thin contortionist or ‘the oldest gymnast in town’; like the one he’s been forced to become. It seems that a number of life events, often tragic, have led him to this nightmare reality; one that he is aware of, but seemingly powerless to change without outside intervention. A series of TV documentaries charts his progress, from reclusive, anti-social hoarder to his reintegration as part of the local community thanks to a kindly neighbour.

The reason I ask the questions above, is that contrary to the belief of some that know me well, and the obvious physical evidence, I actually think I’m a very tidy person (I can hear my wife sniggering in the background and in my minds-eye see her nodding in a very sarcastic manner). My excuse is, I’m a tidy person struggling within the confines of having a hell of a lot of ‘stuff’ that I have ‘accumulated’, and no where near enough space to keep it all in. I’d like to state clearly here, this is, like I said in the last sentence “…an accumulation of stuff”, NOT hoarding. Like Mr Wassisface, I’ve gradually taken over a large percentage of  the house… We now have two offices, a music room, a ‘store’ room (that my wife still calls ‘the spare bedroom’ or ‘the guest bedroom’ for some reason, despite the bed now being an ‘unofficial’ storage area), and my workshop (which was originally a double garage).

Whilst I certainly don’t believe in astrology, being a rationalist and having what I consider a reasonably good grasp of science, I do however seem to adhere to many of the ‘allegedly’ typical behaviour patterns of my star sign Gemini. I’m interested in so many things, I flit from one to another as the mood takes me and consequently have a lot of different bits of related kit or as I’ve collectively categorized it earlier, ‘stuff’.

Despite this potentially being a burglars shopping list, I’ll take the chance that the majority of them cant read, and if they can, don’t really bother expanding their intellect by reading blog postings… I’ve got ‘stuff’ such as;

  • Musical equipment; drum kit’s (yes, more than one), guitars, bass, amps various, pedals various, huge pedal board, mixers, rack mounted recording equipment, mic stands, etc.
  • Photographic equipment; tripods, camera, camera bags, studio flash equipment, portable photo studio etc.
  • Office Equipment; Computers, filing cabinets, chairs, cupboards, cabinets, laser printers, disk units, fans etc.
  • My workshop equipment; lathe, mitre-saw, band saw, scroll saw, compressor, generator, disk sander, band sander, orbital sander, hand tools etc.
  • Books, Magazines and Manuals… Don’t even get me started!

It’s totally impractical to consider tidying all those ‘away’ somewhere. Like a child that does not put away one set of toys before getting out another… I’m at the ‘WIP’ (work in progress) stage of a lot of different projects and pursuits. That reminds me…

In my thirties I once stayed at a work colleagues house, and was appalled at how he and his wife shouted and bullied their only child, aged about four, if he did not completely pack away the toys he had finished playing with. They must be placed neatly and carefully into the correct boxes and in the correct place in the cupboards, before getting out another toy to play with. I wondered at the time how that child would end up. I didn’t need a crystal ball or astrology to foretell serious psychiatric problems in his future. An introverted serial killer or basket-case in the making I reckon. Their house looked like a show home most of the time, not the place a young family with a four-year-old resided. Deepest darkest Essex; very ‘Stepford Wives’. It was a short-lived friendship, his father (my friend) was one of the most egocentric people I’ve ever met and decided to stab me in the back for no reason that I was aware of. At least in seventy years time the son would have an immaculate set of toys to take for valuing at the equivalent of the Antiques Road Show; if they let him out of the high security hospital for the day. So there IS an upside to this story.

Unsorted Skittles sweets

A ‘spill’ of unsorted Skittles.

My wife will tell you I am a little bit OCD; she’s the one that ‘diagnosed’ me as such. She may or may not be right. On a number of levels I’ll admit to liking things ‘just so’. If I sweep the drive I cannot be happy and consider the job finished until there is not one leaf left; regardless of the fact that in half and hour, it will have plenty of the little buggers blowing around as if to taunt me.

Sorted piles of Skittles sweets

Sorted Skittles

I suppose the best example of my ‘alleged’  OCD, is that if I open a bag of sweets such as Skittles or M&Ms, I want there to be the same number of each colour or I feel rather uncomfortable. Hopefully an even number too. I take time to separate them into individual coloured piles, then undertake a ‘leveling’ exercise; eating all the stragglers, until there is the same quantity in each pile.

Final sorted Skittles grouped into one of each colour.

Final Skittles grouping, one of each colour.

Then I sort it into secondary piles containing one of each colour, before eating each pile in turn. Obsessive? Well I don’t really consider it to be an obsession, I don’t go out of my way to buy sweets in order to do it. Compulsive? I can stop doing it at any time… such as whilst driving, where I suppose in extreme situations it might be dangerous to other road users. I don’t fee a compelling desire to it until the bag of sweets is open in front of me. Disorder? Nah… I don’t think that it’s a problem.

So the question is why do I not possess the typical trait of the OCD person, that of extreme tidyness? I simply don’t have the answer to that question.

A Grand Plan

So I’m pressing on with planning right now. I do this in my head rather than on paper… I’m currently considering which room to start with, or whether it’s best to do a bit in one room, then a bit in another… perhaps working in a ‘theme’ such as removing all the unnecessary paperwork, old business receipts, statements and client ‘files’ or cardboard boxes that are surplus to requirements. Why do we have so many of those?  Perhaps I should have a purge on old computer games and CDs or DVDs? So many choices!

My wife says that by writing this blog I’m putting it off, or procrastinating. Something she accuses me of regularly. But she is wrong. I really am a man of action…

Right, first things first… I’m just off to sort my rubber bands into size, thickness, colour and shape, before moving onto the less important stuff.

More to come on this…

Best, Steve

Posted in Equipment, Garage Workshop, Projects, Uncategorized, Woodworking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Ten Top Tips for Tidy Video

Please excuse the alliteration in the title; I simply couldn’t help myself.

I made a posting a little while ago about promoting yourself by using a video on YouTube and in that post included a few suggestions as to best practice on how to promote that video. As I said in that posting, until recently I was a professional video producer/director, and I originally trained as a TV cameraman and director many years ago; so I think I know a little about using a video camera. Which brings me nicely to the subject of this post.

I realised that in the post mentioned above, I suggested in the tips how the video should be promoted, however I did not really give many tips on how to make the video itself. What it could contain and how the footage is shot in the first place all contribute to whether the video is worth watching… or not.

First a little about me… I’ve always been a rebel, quite an nonconformist; not a ‘law breaker’ you understand, more what I would describe as a ‘rule challenger’. In fact my wife say’s I’m a real ‘rebel without a cause’, which truth be told, I’m quite proud of… My earliest rebellion being playing hooky during the day, in the pre-school Macmillan nursery that I went to. At the age of four, I really didn’t want to lie on a little camp bed for a nap in the afternoon after taking my warm milk. Hells Bells! You have got to be kidding!

For me there was lots of life to live and lots of things to experience. Sleep I had decided even at that tender age, is for wimps! Why on earth would I want to spend part of the day sleeping, just because it was the ‘expected’ thing or the ‘regular’ or ‘conventional’ way of doing things? Yeah Right…Not for me!

Many a happy hour was spent sitting high up in the natural bowl of an oak tree in the grounds of the nursery, with my best pal of those years; Mike Adams, looking down on  nursery staff desperately searching for us, whilst the other children were blissfully sleeping. I don’t think they ever sussed out where we got to as we only ever climbed up or down when they were not around, and the tree itself was surrounded by big stinging nettles. I suppose nowadays they would have called the police in after half an hour and we might have had a serious telling off. How I remained a serial rebel all my life, yet have avoided getting into serious trouble with the authorities, is perhaps best kept to myself. However consider, the very best criminals are the ones you never ever hear about; because they’ve never been caught.

Anyway I digress… The point I was making when I went off on that considerable tangent, is that I’m not someone that always believes in sticking hard and fast to recognised rules; especially if I don’t trust them. The ‘rules’ as we know them can often created for the wrong reasons and if they were never challenged we would be living in a very different world. Perhaps the ‘bed rule’ in my nursery years was created to give the staff a break… time to pop out for a smoke or a cup of coffee?

But whilst I believe rules should be questioned and challenged, in video production it often takes considerable skill to break a recognised rule and get away with it. There are all kinds of rules, such as ‘crossing the line’ or ‘rule of thirds’ as well as others. So lets forget rules per se, I prefer to attempt to give useful tips, hence the title of this posting.

Making improvements to your video making and the resulting videos really is not that difficult. By following just some of the tips and advice I give below, you should get better results, and therefore produce more ‘watcheable’ videos.

Here’s my tips:

1. Get rid of ‘The Wobblies’; use a tripod whenever possible.

Nothing puts people off from watching a video longer than a few seconds more than constant wobbling footage. In fact many people say they feel something similar to seasick watching them, and therefore switch off quickly. One of the best ways to reduce this effect and therefore improve the appearance of your videos, is to regularly use a tripod in order to get steady shots. If you’re unfamiliar with what a tripod is, it’s essentially a three legged stand for putting a camera on to hold it steady, usually with a tilting and rotating ‘head’ which the camera attaches to. The tripod is particularly useful for cut-away or close up shots, or if you want to leave the camera in the same position for a long time. If you want really good results, get a tripod with a head specifically designed for video cameras, however be warned these do cost considerably more than tripods sold in photographic stores on the high street.

2. Avoid using the dreaded ‘Zoom’ when recording.

A camera’s zoom control, or zoom lens, is designed simply to move your view closer-in or further-from the subject. Nothing screams ‘amateur’ in the finished video, more than constant zooming in and out, often on the same view.A professional camera operator will very rarely use zoom during the recording and a good editor will usually try to remove it. It is far better to stop the recording, then zoom in or out and start recording again. Sometimes a camera takes too long to start and stop recording, so you may need to zoom whilst filming. If you must use the zoom when recording a clip that will definitely be used in the final video, try to do it very slowly. Alternatively, zoom very quickly and remove the zoomed section of the recording when editing the video. But PLEASE don’t start recording, then zoom in, hold for a few seconds then zoom out again!! Aghhhh!!

3. Learn how and when to move.

One of the most common video mistakes made by amateurs, which often also contributes to very shaky footage, is the constant movement and ‘wild’ swinging around of the camera. As mentioned above, watching the resulting footage can make a viewer feel decidedly unwell! Obviously when shooting someone talking, as in an interview, keeping the camera on the subject for as long as required is a given. But for cut-away shots or other subjects that you want to record to ‘flesh out’ your story, once your happy with the framing and focus, record a static shot for around 10 seconds maximum (many professionals might say a maximum of 6 seconds). Then stop the recording, move to a different position and take another shot. Of course this links back to tip 1. Use a tripod for best results. When panning the camera (moving it sideways) or tilting (moving up and down), use very slow, smooth, and deliberate motion and go as slow as possible without resorting to ‘the shakes’. This will make your videos far more enjoyable to watch. If you have to walk with the camera, use both hands to hold it, and walk as steadily as possible, using your arms and elbows as built-in shock absorbers. It is often easier to do this sort of filming holding the camera at waist height. Practice makes perfect in this case.

4. Compose and consider every single shot.

The purpose of video taping something, is so you will be able to remember and enjoy it later or to assemble it into a film for some purpose. We’re more interested in the latter reason in this case. Before you hit the record button, look carefully at your shot and consider if you have everything in the frame that you want to capture. Then look carefully to see if it is framed nicely. Do this as you would if you were taking still picture; BEFORE pressing ‘record’, not after. However, remember if you can edit, then you can edit out mistakes, so if you notice it looks bad whilst recording then don’t hesitate to re-frame.

5. Learn your camera’s features and controls.

The best camera operators know every function of their camera and could probably operate it with their eyes shut or in the dark; I’ve had to do this on many occasions in my professional work. Having a good knowledge of your camera’s features and functions, and what all the controls and switched do is a necessary element of making better videos. More than just knowing where every control is, you should make time to learn what they are used for and how all the image settings such as white balance, exposure, and backlight affect the recorded image. You may have seen the abbreviation RTFM – and if you don’t know what that means I suggest looking it up. It’s very true and good advice in this situation.

6. Tell a story using pictures.

If you don’t have the time or equipment to edit your videos, you can use ‘in  camera’ editing. This is really just a fancy name for recording and stopping or pausing at just the right times, in order to tell the story without removing the media from the camera; it’s very hard to get right without careful thought or planning.

Whether you edit or not, people will enjoy watching your videos far more if they tell a story they can understand. You don’t have to narrate a video to tell the story; if done skillfully, pictures alone can do that. Alternatively, if you are going to edit the clips together into a finished film, consider if you have everything your story needs. More shots are better then too few when you’re editing. Even multiple shots of the same item or activity from different viewpoint angles and different distances are very useful. Always remember to get a lot of close ups to use as ‘cut aways’. These are shots where in the film we ‘cut away’ from the main action or interview etc. to show an illustrative shot or a close up detail. So for example; A florist may be talking about the range of flowers her shop has available in the Spring and we ‘cut away’ to see a number of different shots of the flowers, some wide shots as well as some close ups, before returning to the florist.

In the editing stage you can easily drop shots if you have too many, but if you have too few it would mean going to shoot again or finding something to ‘fill the gaps’, often not possible or practical. Even the best professional editors count on having enough well shot clips from a camera operator.

    • Using a video on ‘Tyre Fitting’ for example… in order to produce a credible story your shots could include;
      • A driver examining his/her tyres and shaking their head (setting up a reason for the video)
      • Perhaps showing a tyre gauge reading low (reinforcing the reason)
      • The driver using his computer to look for a tyre fitter
      • Calling the fitter on the phone
      • A smile on the drivers face when he gets an appointment
      • The outside of the tyre fitter’s building with the vehicle/driver arriving
      • The company sign – A close-up
      • The inside of the office/sales area
      • A close-up shot of an order form being completed
      • The racks of stored tyres (wide shots W/S and close ups C/U)
      • The vehicle being driven into the tyre bay
      • Wheels being removed from the vehicle by the fitter (W/S & C/U)
      • Removing the old tyre from the wheel rim ( shot from a couple of different angles)
      • Close up of worn/damaged tread
      • Empty wheel rim on machine
      • Fitter selecting correct tyres
      • New tyres stacked up ready for fitting
      • New valve being attached (C/U)
      • Rim being cleaned/lubed (W/S & C/U)
      • New tyre being fitted to wheel rim
      • Customer watching (C/U on face)
      • Refitting wheels to vehicle (W/S & C/U)
      • Happy client face (C/U)
      • Vehicle being driven away (W/S)
      • Close up on moving wheel with new tyre

All the above shots could easily be edited together to produce a great little ‘Tyre Fitting Co.’ promo, with or without a voice over.

7. Improve your Audio.

Unless you don’t intend in using any sound, one of the best ways of improving your videos and making them sound as well as look professional, is to invest in an external microphone to get better audio. If you intend recording people talking, buy a tie clip microphone, which can bought from as little as £20 at places like Maplin. If interviews are not your thing, then consider another external microphone, such as a short shotgun mic. The reason for doing this is simple; a built-in microphone cannot be placed any closer to the audio source than where the camera is located and even good built-in microphones will not do a good job of picking up soft sounds at any distance. An external mic can be placed closer to the sound source you want to record and will help to reduce interference from other noise source.

8. Always consider the Lighting.

A lot of image quality problems can be solved by employing some simple lighting techniques. This does not mean you need to buy lighting equipment, because with some thought you can make the best of the natural or available light in the filming location. Whenever possible, shoot in a well-lit area. Make sure there is not bright light like the sun behind a subject or shining directly into your subject’s eyes. If your subject is standing in a badly lit place, move them into better light and the result will look far better. Standing an interview subject close to a window in an otherwise dark room during daylight hours can produce dramatic results.

9. ALWAYS make sure your lens is clean.

There is nothing worse than watching video from a camera with an obviously dirty lens; it de-values everything else you have achieved; all of the above tips would be for naught.

Before shooting always ensure your lens is clean. If you don’t have a dedicated lens cloth (they are only £2 to £5 from a high-street camera shop), breathe on the lens and use a clean dry handkerchief. Never use paper tissues from an unknown source, they might be impregnated with oils which can potentially harm a lens.

10. Pack your kit bag carefully.

Every video camera operator has their favorite goodies that they keep in their camera bag, but there are some basic things that I think every video camera owner should carry with them.

    • A lens cleaning cloth that does not scratch the lens. These can be picked up cheaply at high-street camera stores (don’t forget to use it, especially after rain).
    • A blower. To be used before cleaning a lens to remove any dust or grit which can be very damaging.
    • At least one extra battery. Buy an extra long life battery; whilst they can be expensive, they are almost always a good investment – and make sure they are charged before heading out on a ‘shoot’.
    • Blank media.  A few blank videotapes or cards.

I hope these tips prove useful… I’ve wittered on far too long now. Let me know if they help.

Cheers, Steve

Posted in Business, How To, Video | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What is a ‘good’ product review?

I’ll try to answer the question raised in the title of this blog posting a little later, but first I’d like to say that I think it’s all too easy for a blogger or reviewer to write a ‘bad’ product review.

Do I mean it’s easy to criticise a product and write it up as a poor item, or perhaps one failing to meet certain expectations or being not fit for purpose? Do I mean it’s badly written, uses poor grammar or does not include everything you would expect to read in a product review? Perhaps I’m suggesting that there are lazy reviewers simply using the manufacturer’s descriptions as the path of least resistance?

No, quite the contrary. Whilst all the above could certainly make for a poor review, my reasoning behind this particular blog posting is that I’m suggesting it is often all to easy for the reviewer to have preconceived opinions based on their ownership of said product (or brand). You might say a ‘foregone conclusion’. When someone has purchased a product with their own money (selecting it from a number of alternative products on the market), it often seems very difficult for them to admit they may have made a bad choice, as this then calls into question their own judgement. For years forums have been full of people arguing that their ‘owned’ product or brand is the best. Well known examples include; PC vs Apple, Nikon vs Canon, Lexus vs Mercedes, DeWalt vs Makita etc. Some of these forum postings descend into slanging matches and heated arguments, eventually inevitably resulting in someone being called a Nazi! Manufacturers such as those already mentioned as well as many others are well aware that they can build ‘brand loyalty’, and will go a long way to establish and maintain this in their customer base. I suppose what I’m really saying is that some blogging reviewers simply ‘kiss ass’ due to brand loyalty, or because they can’t admit they made what they recognise with hindsight was the ‘wrong’ purchase. I think nowadays savvy web surfers quickly get to recognize these sites and don’t trust the advice given. This can tarnish the reputation of even a good product.

I got to thinking about this issue, as I intend this blog not only to be my soapbox, but also to be a review site for products items connected with my passion for turning. Whilst the obvious way for me to start is reviewing the tools and products I use in my work on an almost every-day basis, I certainly don’t want to be classified as one of the above ‘kiss ass’ or ‘sucking up’ reviewers. I want my reviews to be credible and not biased by the fact that I’ve made a previous decision to purchase. Above all I want my reviews to be completely honest. This all means I have to face my own bad decisions as well as good, and admit my own failings and mistakes; something that can be difficult for anyone to do. I will qualify this however, by saying that I always try to carefully weigh up all the pros and cons before parting with my hard earned… So I’m hoping as I go on with the reviews, it will prove I’ve made more good choices than bad when kitting out my workshop over the last eighteen months or so. If I did make a good choice then I’ll happily say so, but if it was the wrong one, then I’ll know what has to be reviewed when building the next shopping list!

So finally, let me get onto what I think constitutes a good review. Firstly I’ll state that I believe there is no definitive ‘best way to review’. However, I’ll be very happy if you want to add any suggestions to this post in comments below, as I’m sure it will help me to produce better and more interesting reviews. The kind of reviews that hopefully YOU want to read.

Here’s a brief list of what I think should and perhaps should not be included in a product review;

  • Good images of the product and images that illustrate particular aspects of it’s application.
  • Relevance – Keep the information given relevant to the review and expected reader.
  • Keep it interesting – An interesting and engaging read, whether long or short makes it more pleasurable for the reader. Bad jokes are NOT mandatory though!
  • Basic description – What the product is and what it does should of course be in any review.
  • Key features – This can be useful and should be in most product reviews.
  • Technical specifications – Perhaps some important ones can be included if relevant in a review, but I would leave most of the finer details to the manufacturers website.
  • Unique offering – Anything that is unique to the product.
  • Choices – Some products come in with options, different sizes or colours etc. this should be mentioned
  • Materials – This can be useful in many cases as may illustrate the quality (or lack thereof).
  • Performance - Does it work as expected?
  • Accuracy – Is it accurate?
  • Pros/Cons -Advantages and disadvantages of ownership of this product.
  • Experiences – Positive and negative experiences of use. There may be a story involved, but NOT a rant.
  • Critique – What does nor work well or what could be better/improved?
  • Comparisons – Honest comparisons to similar products if known.
  • Recommendations – Would you recommend it or not?
  • Conclusion – Value/Worth and summing up with an opinion.
  • Availability – Perhaps naming a good place to buy or name a specific supplier.

The above list is not exclusive and may not be necessarily in that order when a review is produced.

As always, thanks for reading. If you do have any comments, please post them, I’m happy to read them, good or bad. If you spot any typos etc. please also let me know. Don’t forget though I’m from the UK, so it’s UK English that I use and my spellings reflect this.

Cheers for now, I hope you return to read my upcoming reviews.

 

 

Posted in Business, Equipment, Product Review, Purchases, Tools, Uncategorized, Woodworking | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Promoting yourself the YouTube way

I was a professional video producer for many years, so I know what goes into making a successful promotional video or advert; either high or low-budget, I could write a book on it… I’m not going to though. However for this blog posting I’m going to assume you have no budget, and yet have an inkling that a short video might help to promote your business.

Currently Google and other search engines seem to be giving a certain degree of favouritism to video content, which means that ‘potentially’ a for a company, a video would be a good thing to have if they want to help their SEO. Making a ‘YouTube Channel’ for a company is a great marketing asset, which should help to promote their services for years to come. Many spend hundreds of thousands on content. However you can get a foot in the door for next to nothing.

Honestly, most people with a little bit of effort can at least have a go; it might not look like it’s been shot by a professional, but at least you will have something to show. You can even shoot some video on most mobile phones now… On an iPhone you can shoot, edit and upload without even having to use a computer.

Here’s a few tips…

  • When shooting any kind of video try to keep the camera as still as possible; use a tripod if you can.
  • Make sure you clearly name the YouTube channel after your company or your name.
  • Have a ‘reason’ for shooting the video… Promotion of a product, About me… etc.
  • Name the video carefully; PD03455.mov does not mean as much as ‘My Second Widget’.
  • Use logos or graphics in the video or at least use text to help describe and get the message across.
  • Make the written YouTube description meaningful – perhaps a story on how you shot the video and why or a little about you or your company.
  • Annotate the video to include a link to your website and make sure that a link is also in the description. Read the YouTube help files for info on how to annotate.
  • Promote the video on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ (What do you mean you don’t use those! Get over there and create and account on them, they’re free!!).
  • Make sure you use the tags, and use them in a meaningful way. Think of words that are associated with the video.
  • If you have a website, don’t link to YouTube, instead embed them in your own player if you have the bandwidth.

At the very least a video will help to liven up your blog, social media page or website to get more visits, hopefully getting your message across at the same time.

Here’s a short video that I shot on my desktop in about 5 minutes, spent an hour editing (using a free package on my Apple), uploaded to YouTube and then promoted via social media all in the space of about two hours. It was shot on a Panasonic stills camera with it’s standard lens and the only other accessory was a small £20 tripod.

View my little ‘off the cuff’ video here… enjoy…

Padauk Fountain Pen from Turned Out Well

Padauk Fountain Pen Video

Now I just want to make it very clear… I’m NOT advocating the DIY approach as a real alternative to using a professional. Expert advice and professional help wins out every time. If you have the budget (or at least something approaching a realistic budget) then speak to a time-served pro. If you get a good producer/director they will have a grasp of what makes a good video and can shoot something that will be polished and professional with a great soundtrack and designed for purpose. Don’t cut corners if you can afford not to, a professional video is a great investment. However be wary, look very carefully at their previous work… any producer worth their salt will be happy to supply multiple examples of their past work (and carefully check it IS theirs). There are a lot of untrained cowboys out there purporting to work professionally in video production that are very poor at the job.

Best, Steve

Posted in Business, Turned Products | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments