Saturday, September 24, 2011

I'm Back!

Switzerland was pretty much a disaster, although it taught me one important lesson: Go with your own gut instincts and research and don't let agencies and those with vested interests fool you into thinking that you are being 'too negative' unless they're the ones taking on board all the risk!

Suffice to say a cost of living about two to three times that of the UK (£1500/month for a YMCA-like room where hot water wasn't available most of the time - how stupid does one have to be?!) was a shock. The Swiss devaluation of their currency, on top of a pretty miserable work experience and complete lack of any sort of life outside work were the last straw.

I've been back in the UK a couple of weeks now, and already feel rejuvenated and back to 'my old self'.

Last Saturday I got to go to the launch of The Persuaders Blu-ray set, and got to hear an excellent Q&A by Sir Roger Moore, conducted by Barry Norman and got to shake hands and get an autograph from the former Saint/James Bond/Brett Sinclair himself.

Last night I went to see indie-pop rockers Hard-Fi at the Forum in Kentish Town and it was an awesome gig. Anthemic tunes of the sort Oasis were once famous for.

Aside from that I've been ridiculously busy starting up my new company, catching up on all the huge announcements Microsoft made the week before last, and doing daily updates (no, honestly!) to the new fast and fluid Windows 8 -themed blog. If you're a developer in the Microsoft workspace I definitely recommend you check the blog out - I'm very proud of it and have had great feedback on it from the few who've discovered it!

I have an interview for an interesting new contract next Tuesday. So, fingers crossed, things are on the look up for Silverlight developers (the lack of demand for which was the only reason I ever considered Switzerland in the first place - ironic that Credit-Suisse moved contractors off the Silverlight projects when it was clear they had to let people go).

Hopefully, I'll get time to update this personal blog more regularly, now I'm back home.

Stay tuned!

Sunday, June 05, 2011

New Blog: A Grumpy Brit in Switzerland

I've just moved to Zurich in Switzerland to start a six month contract.

I've only been here a week (and haven't started work yet - that happens tomorrow!) but have decided to start a new blog to document my "Swiss adventure".

My first post at the new blog has already been made, and I'll hopefully be updating it at least once a week.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Chart Hyping and The Increasing Power of the Supermarkets

In the latest UK Blu-ray Review Podcast I have a bit of a whinge about the fact that Amazon now effectively own the film world, with only the super-markets offering any sort of competition.

Amazon totally dominate online shiny disc sales, they now own the biggest film resource The Internet Movie Database (or imdb as it's better known), and last week added LoveFilm to their acquisitions so that they now pretty much own film rental too.

I have no idea what the Monopolies Commission does these days, but I'd have thought this is just the sort of thing they should be investigating. However, I suspect that they'll be pointing out that there's always HMV (which announced the closure of 60 stores a few weeks ago and had its supplier credit insurance guarantees removed last week) and the supermarkets.

The idea that the supermarkets offer any kind of alternative to 'proper' shiny disc stores is laughable. Each week they take just two of the tens of titles released on Blu-ray each week and decide to stock them and promote them.

When I worked in the record industry for a few short years, I was shocked to find that we actually paid money to get showcased in the New Release racks in HMV. If we didn't cough up we were consigned to the alphabetic racks which most casual buyers never look at.

Worse, if we hoped to be flagged as one of four 'Single of the Week's in Our Price we actually had to delay a release until a slot was available. Yup, these slots weren't chosen - they were sold in advance to the record labels who felt they had most chance of a genuine chart hit if they paid out enough cash to become visible to potential purchasers

I don't know how the supermarkets work, but I'm pretty sure that the two new titles they select each week are not based in any way on merit, or appropriateness for their market, but on how much money the distributors are prepared to pay to be visible. How else to explain a family supermarket like Sainsbury's choosing a torture-porn title from the makers of Saw over a family classic (beautifully transferred to hi-def) like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?

When I launched the podcast I wanted to give a rundown of the best selling Blu-rays each week. The only chart that can make any sort of claim to provide this is the official one from The Official Chart Company. The trouble is it's controlled almost totally by the hyped titles being sold in the supermarkets. I can predict without fail which new entries there will be each week, based solely on checking what two titles Sainsbury's and Tesco's have chosen to stock in any given week.

And that's just wrong!

My local Sainsbury's have their own chart, which doesn't even pretend to reflect any kind of reality. This morning for instance it shows two new entries of The Other Guys and Devil, both straight in at no.1 and no.2. These titles only officially go on sale today, and aren't even out on the shelves of the store displaying this chart yet. So how can they be top of the Sales chart? It's farcical.

I'm wondering if I should just put together my own chart, based on my own reviews. Far too many great Blu-rays are getting completely ignored because the supermarkets won't stock them, Amazon aren't promoting them and those who made them can't afford the back-handers involved in getting greater visibility.

It all reminds me of an old saying from my former record label boss, when I used to complain at the back-handers and the fact we spent a fortune flying our acts in from abroad for free Radio 1 Summer roadshow performances we weren't paid for, when despite having Top 10 hits the BBC STILL refused to add our chart hits to their playlist.

We were in the endlessly farcical situation of having the BBC tell us our records 'are too dance, not enough pop' to be played on Radio 1, while Kiss FM would tell us 'you're too pop, not enough dance' to get on Kiss. Call me cynical, but I'm pretty sure the real reason was that we just couldn't afford to grease the right palms at either of those organisations where decisions were made.

I remember my boss telling me "It's called the music business, Ian. And it's all about the business, and nothing to do with the music.". It seems the movie (and shiny disc) business is no different. Naive of me to think otherwise I guess.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Podcast Feedback

When I decided, three weeks ago, to start the New Year with my first podcast - reviewing Blu-rays which are my main non-work activity at the moment, and have been for some time - I don't think I realised how much work I was setting myself up for.

It's not just producing the podcast itself single-handedly that's the problem but the hours of 'behind the scenes' work to set up web pages for the titles reviewed with screencaps, links, trailer etc.

I'd very soon realised that there are a lot of hard-of-hearing people who love watching Blu-rays but seem to be ignored by many of the podcasts, so it was a pretty high priority to get a good web-site up and running, with a downloadable transcript of the podcast for those who couldn't 'listen' but would be more than happy to 'read'.

I seem to have had to survive on 5 hours sleep a night (especially at weekends when the podcast is produced) for the last couple of weeks, but I think it's been worth it. I've been really impressed with the speed with which everything seems to have taken off. Those advice pages saying "Just start and practice and improve. Don't wait until everything's perfect" are bang on the button I think.

Despite many horror stories on their podcast fortunes ("Apple just don't care") iTunes actually took the podcast on board after just one week, and although it's annoying that the image to represent the podcast is still missing from the official iTunes page for the podcast even though it was correctly submitted and displayed in a preview test, everything else has gone very smoothly. Within a few hours of being approved my podcast was the first to show up in a search in the podcasts area for 'Blu-ray'. Nice!

LibSyn have turned out to be the perfect podcast hosting partner, after my awful start with a UK company who seemed incapable of doing anything that worked, not even having a 'Contact Us' process that worked. As part of their deal they even provide an iPhone/iPad application for downloading podcasts on those devices via a fun customised app. That will take a few more weeks to appear (Apple's App Store approval process is notoriously slow) but it's good to know it will be there.

But in the meantime the biggest surprise has been the feedback on the podcast that's appeared on my iTunes page (below). All five star reviews so far. I'm sure there will be some lower ones as more people discover the podcast, but being told you're better than the BBC's Kermode and Mayo podcast (which I download religiously every week) is one hell of a nice compliment

Screenshot of favourable reviews on iTunes

In case you haven't heard the podcast yet, or seen the associated web pages, check out the UK Blu Ray Review podcast blog for all the links, an in-page MP3 player for the podcast and the latest news.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Podcast Woes Solved (fingers crossed)

Having moved to a new podcast hosting provider (the excellent LibSyn) I'm happy to report my podcasting woes appear to be over, although it's been a ridiculously crazy week getting everything sorted.

I'm not on iTunes yet (that takes time and a few more episodes) but with LibSyn's help I've managed to get an in-page MP3 player for the UK Blu-Ray Review podcast blog up and working with the podcast (the trick is to use a WordPress plug-in which can be hacked to work with Blogger :-))

I've also managed to get the podcast on the FeedDemon feed reader so that you can subscribe to the podcast with an RSS reader. Even better if you subscribe using the blog RSS feed you get the MP3 of the podcast associated with that blog entry in the feed as well.

None of this stuff is very well documented, although LibSyn have a couple of tutorials that give you clues as to how to get started, so I'm feeling very proud of myself, if totally knackered having averaged about 5 hours sleep a night for the last week.

Of course that's the easy stuff. I now need to find a way of improving my presentation and audio editing skills. I'm hoping that will improve with more time and more experience. Fingers crossed!

I've also been working hard on accompanying web pages to go with each Blu-Ray that gets reviewed, that include hi-res ScreenCaps, the title's Trailer and a transcript of the review from the podcast.

I'm very happy with the results, but am now ready for a week's break. Alas, it's going to be a tough week in 'the real job' and the commute just seems to get worse instead of better.

Only 7 more days until the next podcast becomes due.

Help! What have I set myself up for?!

Monday, January 03, 2011

New Year, New Broom, Same Old Technology Issues (Ian launches a new podcast)

I've used the new year to do some tidying up of various blogs and Twitter accounts. is gone, and its associated Twitter account renamed to UKBluRayReview.

I also used the New Year break to finally get a long-planned weekly audio podcast launched, mainly because of my old boss John Mitchell who's recently discovered podcasts and loves them, but like me has struggled to find good film review or shiny disc review podcasts. You know there's something wrong when podcasts are 90 minutes in length and that's just for one film. Downloading them invariably reveals that the so-called film review podcast is actually two flat mates arguing for most of the podcast about what they just had for dinner, or who messed up at the last social event they attended!

As with my ill-fated video podcast experiments, struggling with the technology has been a nightmare. I won't bore you with the details of how difficult it is to get sound clips extracted from Blu-Rays to help illustrate reviews, when each Blu-Ray seems to have developed a different method for hiding away the audio you need to grab and convert to a podcast friendly MP3 format.

But that was as nothing compared to the frustration in spending a couple of days rushing to get the first podcast ready in a timely fashion only to find that your chosen podcast hosting company are absolute crap.

You can find out more about the specifics if you click on the image above advertising the new podcast. I'm hoping to have a proper podcasting provision service working by the time the next podcast is ready (next Sunday) but in the meantime if you're patient and don't mind a slow download you can click the image above and then click on the Temporary download link on the podcast home page to get hold of my first attempt at podcasting.

There are problems with this first episode. The review of Scott Pilgrim vs The World is too long, the volume level for my intro is a bit too low, and the Top 10 sales countdown could do with being a bit shorter. But those are things that will be easy to fix with time as I get more experience. If you download the podcast and give it a listen let me know what you think. What don't you like? What DO you like? And what suggestions have you got for improving the podcast (apart from finding somebody with a more podcast-friendly voice?!)