Archive for March, 2017

I’m sorry YOU feel that way (about OUR toilets)

Thursday, March 23rd, 2017 | Thoughts

Earlier this month, we celebrated Elina’s birthday. We went big: giving Venla to my parents to look after while we went on a food crawl around Leeds. By the end of the night, I was taking pictures of toilet signs. Why was this?

First up: what exactly is a restaurant crawl? It’s what you imagine it to be: a pub crawl, but with food, as well as drink.

We started at Yo Sushi. Who charge £1.30 for tap water! I had the soft shell crab tempura, which was good, but not as good as Chaophraya’s version. We moved on to The Alchemist for a round of cocktails, before hitting up Yoko’s Teppanyaki who kindly squeezed us in, before finishing up with dessert at TGI Friday’s.

It was at this point, that I spotted the sign above.

If, for any reason, they do not meet your expectations, please notify one of our team members.

If the toilets were dirty, I think this would put me off speaking to anyone. Why? Because it implies that it is my fault. It is like when you say to someone “I am sorry you feel that way”. That is not an apology: it is making it clear that it is their problem and not yours.

Maybe they want to put people off. However, TGI seems to have a responsible focus on customer service so I will take it as an honest attempt to speak up.

A better way to word it would be to say “if the toilets are dirty”. It is pretty objective, right? The toilets are clean or they are not. People can then make a subjective choice about it. What they do not have to worry about is whether their expectations ae reasonable or not.

7 things I learnt from hiring content writers

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017 | Success & Productivity

Over at Worfolk Anxiety, we have an anxiety blog. Every Monday a new post is published. I have tried to up my game on this. A lot of the articles are over 1,000 words and I have done some deep dives on the problems and solutions I have encountered to provide valuable stuff.

However, writing a lot of quality content every week is tough, especially when you have other projects on the go. Therefore, I decided to try hiring some content writers to fill in a few gaps. 90% of the content is still written by me, but every month or so I may use an article written by someone else.

What did I learn from doing this?

You get impersonal content

When I wrote for the blog, I explore specific topics. I include personal stories. Indeed, the post is often based on something that has come up in my own life and I then expand into a well-researched article.

With content writers, you do not get this. They write from a more objective standpoint. This can be of benefit: sometimes it is good to have a fact-based article and does not wander into personal stories. Most of the time, though, people engage more with personal content. So the usefulness of such content is limited.

The content is more generic

When I select a topic for the blog, it is very specific. I write about one area of anxiety in a lot of detail. Sometimes, it is not even that related: maybe it is being productive when you have anxiety, for example.

Content writers take more of a broad remit. They will pick a large sub-section of the topic and write about that. This is because they are not familiar with the types of topics you cover on your blog. I sent them the link, but given the deadlines they face, it is unfair to expect them to read the entire blog. Therefore, they cannot get into the same gritty detail that you can.

They don’t include references

They all claim that they include references, but they never do. However, if you send it back to them asking them to put the references in, they will.

You sometimes get what you pay for

I tried a variety of price points to see what the quality differences were. At the low end, I hired someone to write an article for $6. On the other end, I paid someone $36. Did the quality differ? Yes, but not drastically. The cheaper writers were not terrible and the expensive writers were not amazing.

You do not save that much time

While hiring a writer does cut out a lot of the research and writing time, it causes management and editing time. When I received the articles back I had to check them for content and spelling quantity, then convert it into the format my CMS was expecting it in. This took a lot of time.

You need to use a spellchecker

I ran their articles through Grammarly. If there were a lot of mistakes, I sent it back to them to correct.

You need to be honest with them

One of the articles I was sent was rubbish. So I told her. Not in those exact words: I was gentle and gave specific feedback about the standards I was expecting. Nevertheless, telling someone their work is not up to scratch is an uncomfortable experience.

However, when I did, she was eager to re-write and improve the article. When I received the second draft, it was excellent, and I was able to honestly give per a positive review.

Conclusion

Hiring external writers has advantages and disadvantages. It does save you some time. However, it increases management time and gives you content that it not as good as you could write yourself. That is delegation, though: it is never as good as doing it yourself but allows you to do more.

Kenwood stick blender review

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017 | Reviews

Our arsenal of kitchen gadgets now contains a stick blender. Despite my reservations about the reliability of my stand mixer, we opted for Kenwood because of a mixer of price and better the devil you know. Also, it has three blades, which is one whole extra blade than normal.

Gordon Ramsay uses a bamix, but that was out of my price range.

The model I settled on was the Kenwood HDP406WH Triblade.

User experience

Initially, I was pretty annoyed by the Kenwood. it has almost no instructions. What attachment does what? It is not clear. It is heavy and hard to lift for any period of time. It gets hot if you use it too much. The power cord is too short.

However, I always give myself a bit of time to cool off before posting a review because I know I usually feel different after a few weeks.

It has been useful. I realised the secret was to use physical force. It struggled to blend everything initially. However, it if you really force the thing down into the jug, it does the job. Whether this will have long term implications I am not sure. But there is really no other option: being able to blend is an essential product feature of a blender.

Attachments

I have not worried about the other attachments. I don’t need them. Perhaps the soup blender may be useful, but you can do the same thing with the standard attachment. Everything else, I will continue to do in the food processor.

How to run Webpack Dev Server with PHP

Monday, March 20th, 2017 | Programming

You are making an awesome new JavaScript-based app in React. However, it needs to live inside an existing framework, such as Symfony for PHP. You want the hot-reloading function that you get with Webpack Dev Server, but you also need the content to be served from your LAMP stack because it creates the HTML wrapper page.

What do you do?

The answer is to run two servers: both Webpack Dev Server and your existing Stack. Here is how…

Configuring Webpack

Start by installing Webpack Dev Server as usual.

npm install --save-dev webpack-dev-server

Create a script entry in package.json to run it:

"scripts": {
    "start": "node ./node_modules/webpack-dev-server/bin/webpack-dev-server.js"
}

We also need to make one change to our webpack.config.js file. We need to tell the output to point back at the Webpack Dev Server. Otherwise, it will point at your LAMP stack.

output: {
    publicPath: 'http://localhost:8080/scripts/'
}

Super. Next, let’s configure the LAMP stack.

Configuring your existing server

This step is easy. All we need to do is to point the JavaScript at the Webpack Dev Server.

Let’s say you have this at the moment:

<script src="/scripts/app.js"></script>

Change it to:

<script src="http://localhost:8080/scripts/app.js"></script>

Remember that when you are building for production, you will want to take the changes out. The easiest way to do this is to have a dev webpack.config.js file, and a production one, and have your build tool use the correct one depending on the context.

Influence: The Science of Persuasion

Sunday, March 19th, 2017 | Books

I will admit it: I’ve been a bit prejudice. When I was recommended a book called Influence: The Science of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini, I thought to myself “wow, that is a very Machiavellian-sounding name.

However, as I read the introduction to the book, I was soon corrected. Cialdini is a professor at Arizona State University. His research on influence stems from his own confusion as to how he continues to end up with magazine subscriptions, kitchen appliances and charity direct debits that he never wanted.

He is an academic, trying to make sense of a world in which compliance professionals (sales people, charity chuggers, marketers) keep hoodwinking him. Of course, a true master of the Machiavellian art would disarm me by leading to believe this. But, if so, fair play: I’m sold.

He did his homework, applying for sales jobs and following people around to see how they worked. In the book, he describes many commonplace situations that many of us have probably found ourselves in. Everyone should read this book, if only to understand what has happened to us so many times over the years.

He breaks the tactics down into a series of topics. I will discuss some of the most interesting below.

Contrast principle

Sell someone a less expensive item after selling them something big. For example, why are extras on cars so expensive? The answer is that once you have spent £20,000 on a new car, £500 for a slightly-better-looking tyre seems like small change.

Reciprocity

When we are given a gift, we feel an obligation to give back. It is wired into us. This is a tactic used relentlessly by the Hari Krishna movement. They thrust a free gift into your hand, and then ask for a donation later.

I have a copy of the Bhagavad Gita on my shelf. And yes, I gave the guy a donation after he gave it to me.

It even works when you do not want the gift. At airports, Cialdini observed the Kristina’s in operation, scooping their gifts out of the bins people had thrown them in, to re-use on the next target.

I also fell for this in Milan. Around the major squares are groups of African men who put bracelets on tourists and then ask for money. Before I knew what was happening, there was a bracelet on my risk. And yes, I did give him a euro.

Cialdini points out that the defence strategy we most often use is to steer a wide mark around such people. Why? Because it is to hard to resist our natural urge to give back.

Concession

Concession is about asking for more than you want and then backing down. Say you want to borrow £50. Ask for £100. Then, when they say no, ask for just £50. Because you have made a confession, the other person will feel like they have to make a concession also. It also makes them feel like they have set the terms.

This can often be seen in extended warranties. “Do you want the 5-year super-protect plan? No? Okay, just the 3-year basic plan then?”

Declarations

Companies love to get you to declare that you like their product? Why? Because people are driven to act in a way consistent with what they have said.

Charities do this all of the time. They will give you a free sticker or ask you to sign up for free information. Why? Because once you have expressed that you are in some way a supporter of them, when they ask you for money, you are far more likely to feel you have to.

Written commitments are the best. These were used extensively by the Chinese communists during the Korean war. They would get American prisoners of war to write essay contests and give away small prizes. Once someone wrote something positive amount communism, they would have them read the essay out. Maybe even put it on the camp radio. Step by step, American soldiers were broken down as their guards asked for more and more.

Likability

Bad times for ugly people: being attractive helps. People are more likely to help out and be more generous to attractive people. Shared interests are important too. Salespeople love to find out your hobbies so that they can pretend they do them too.

Similarity is a big key here. You identify with people similar to yourself. So, if you want to market to a certain demographic, you need to use an actor from that demographic.

Finally, compliments are also powerful. Cialdini tells the story of a car salesman who earned more than almost anyone at the entire company. What was his secret? Every month he sent a postcard to all of his previous customers with three words on the front: “I like you”.

Summary

Compliance professionals are experts at getting us to do what they want. We do this because we work on auto-response. There is too much data in the world for us to sort through all decisions and check everyone’s back stories. So we use social cues to shortcut these decisions. Salespeople know we do this and try and exploit it.

Cialdini suggests the best defence is to listen to your gut. If you feel awkward, even if you cannot describe why it may be that you have been pressured into doing something you did not want to do. If so, follow Cialdini’s example and say “I’m not taking your product: no click wurr for me!”

Make your videos look awesome with a shallow depth of field

Saturday, March 18th, 2017 | Video

If you have done any talking head or tutorial videos, you may have run into a problem. Namely, that your videos suck. I know mine do. Yours are probably way better. But there is still a clear distinction between your videos and what the pros produce, right?

This is the problem I have been trying to solve. I have a nice camera, so it should be possible.

Lighting

The first thing I did to improve my videos was to bring in some proper lighting. I have two softboxes with high-output bulbs on them. In an ideal world, you would have three to set up the industry-standard three point lighting arrangement. My kit only came with two, though, so I have had to make do with other lights around my house to fill in the gaps.

For comparison, here is me under my natural houselights:

It doesn’t look terrible: it appears natural. However, one side of my face is over-exposed while the other is in shadow. My eye sockets are too dark. Detail is lost.

Here is my ugly face in the studio lights:

Notice that the shadows in my face are filled in. It is not the dark and gloomy picture you tend to get when just using your standard home lighting.

Things are looking a little better. My next jump is the one I want to discuss in this blog post: using a shallow depth of field.

Why depth of field is important

Most people do not have a home studio. Therefore, your background is whatever you can find. In the video still above, I have the piano in the background. This works well but does mean I have nothing but hard surfaces behind me, resulting in a lot of echo.

Any background is going to be distracting, though. The ideal solution is to have the background blurred so that the audience focus on the talent exclusively.

Using a large aperture

The way we create this affect is using a large aperture. The above clip was filmed with my 24-105mm lens. This is a nice piece of kit but only goes down to f4. So I switched it out for my 50mm prime lens so that I could shoot at 50mm.

Here is the result:

I spent no time getting the lighting right, composing the shot to make sure I was in it, or working out what I was going to say. And yet, it looks cool. I am in focus while the window behind me is very blurred.

How to keep yourself in focus

The pros have someone to shoot the video and somebody else to be the talent. When you are on your own, you do not have that luxury. One of the problems with shooting at a high aperture is that the depth of field is incredibly shallow. This is the effect we want: however, it does mean it is tricky to get the focus point correct and stay within in.

Enter EOS Utilities from Canon. This little piece of software allows you to remotely control your camera from your computer.

My EOS 6D has wifi. However, I could not shoot live video over wifi. Therefore, I had to connect it using the mini-USB port on my camera. Once I had done this, I was able to get full control over the live shooting mode from my laptop.

This means that I can be in position and then set the camera up. By clicking on the screen where I want the focus to be (my head) the camera’s autofocus then adjusts to set it correctly.

Remember that if you want full control, you need to set the camera to manual (M). This applies for the software, too: if you want all of the controls on your computer, you need to alter the dial on the camera itself.

Amazing Malaysian

Friday, March 17th, 2017 | Books, Food

Malaysia is a cool country when it comes to culinary history. They have the Malay people, along with large minority populations of Indian and Chinese people. They also have colonial influences from the British and Portuguese. Their food is almost fusion in itself.

I also like that they do not worry too much about food being hot: it all gets served together. This is nice because serving scorching hot food is, quite frankly, a hassle. A hassle worth going to when the food calls for it, but in this case, it is fine to let rice steam for 15 minutes after cooking.

The narrator is Norman Musa. He hails from Penang, but is better known for Ning restaurant in Manchester.

Most of the recipes followed a set pattern. You would start by blitzing a mixture of ingredients: typically chilli, garlic, cinnamon, star anise and onion (or not, in my case) then mixing it with some ground cinnamon and a pandan leaf, before frying it and adding some meat.

It turns out that you can get pandan leaf in Leeds. Many of the other rare ingredients we were unable to procure. Musa also uses dried chilis in most of his recipes. We managed to pick up a bag of a few hundred at the international supermarket.

Fish pate. I have no idea if I was doing this correctly.

Indian lentil patties.

Spicy baked haddock.

Beef with pineapple.

Beef with tomatoes.

Aromatic chicken curry.

Beef with rice.

Christmas at the Crowne Plaza

Thursday, March 16th, 2017 | Photos

I took this photo in February.

Still, maybe the Crowne Plaza is just so popular that you have to book your Christmas do in February. Not that any Toastmasters will be eating there after what happened last time.

How to beef up your YouTube channel (if you have a podcast)

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017 | Success & Productivity

Recently, I was putting together a YouTube channel for Worfolk Anxiety. The problem? I did not have many videos. I could have released a lot of our content up-front, but I wanted to put it out on a regular schedule as doing this achieves more engagement.

It also means that all of our content is the same format.

Instead, I decided to leverage some of the work I have already been doing. The Worfolk Anxiety Podcast has been running since last year and now has a small archive of episodes with more scheduled to come out every two weeks.

So, I look the podcasts and re-encoded them as videos.

I put together a title card, which, as you can see, is just a simple image with some text directing people to the podcast URL. Then I combined it with the audio to make a video I could upload.

Doing this for every episode would be time-consuming, Instead, I picked out a few select episodes and named them “best of the podcast”. Doing this allows me to upload a bunch of videos without creating any more content. If it turns out to be a useful acquisition channel for the podcast, we can do more work on it then. For now, I see it as a showcase of the best that will direct people towards subscribing using their usual podcast app.

Logotype

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017 | Books

Logotype is a book by Michael Evamy. Here is the description:

Logotype is the definitive modern collection of logotypes, monograms and other text-based corporate marks. Featuring more than 1,300 international typographic identities, by around 250 design studios, this is an indispensable handbook for every design studio, providing a valuable resource to draw on in branding and corporate identity projects.

It is literally just that. A big book of logos. There is nothing else in here. No real commentary on logos or review of what works well and why it works. Just lots of logos.

It comes in a regular and mini size. The regular seemed to be out of stock. The mini size does have incredibly tiny print. However, as someone with average eyesight, I was able to read it fine by moving my face closer to the page. If your eyesight isn’t so good, you will struggle.