Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

International Day Against Homophobia

Friday, June 23rd, 2017 | Life

Last month, we had a bake sale at Sky to support International Day Against Homophobia. The crowning jewel of the sale was this…

…which was self-described by the bake-sale team as “the gayest cake in the world”. It was also delicious.

London vs Leeds: what will £32m get you?

Friday, June 16th, 2017 | Life

The property price differences between London and anywhere that is not London have been well documented. A small garden shed in the capital will set you back far more than a three bedroomed house in Darlington. But what if you have some cash to splash?

This came to mind recently when I saw two properties for sale.

One was this £30,000,000 house in London.

What can you get in London?

Technically, it is detached. But, if you look at how close the next building is to it, you could be forgiven for not realising this. And there is no doubt that it is a nice house. But if we look at the description…

Today this Grade II listed building currently extends to circa 9490 square feet (881 square metres).The property is in need of full modernisation but retains a number of period features.

…it turns out it is a fixer-upper.

What can you get in Leeds?

Compare this to the £32,000,000 property you can get in Leeds. It is two million pounds more, of course, so you are expecting something a little better.

That’s right, it’s Leeds Dock. It is a 1,200,000 square foot site complete with 1,100 apartments. And loads of office space. And a bar. And a restaurant (but it’s only a Pizza Express). And a casino (now closed). And the Royal Armouries Museum.

Recently put up to sale for £32,000,000 by its owners Allied London. Which is significantly more than the £1.5 million they paid for it just five years ago.

Why Udemy pay their instructors £2.68 for a £100 course

Thursday, June 15th, 2017 | Life

I like Udemy, both as a student and an instructor. As a student, I have done some brilliant courses on there. As an instructor, it has been easy to create courses and make them available for sale.

But there is one downside if you plan on using Udemy to make a living: the payouts are terrible.

Take a look at My IT Contracting Master Class, for example. It is a £100 course. I was excited when the first customer signed up via Udemy. That is until I realised that I would only be getting £2.68.

What is going on here?

First, Udemy discount everything. The £100 price tag is basically a lie. I’m not sure what they do is legal in the UK. They have an advertised price, but you never pay that. In the five months, I have been using them, there has not been a single day when the have not had a sale on. It’s like going to a furniture store with their ever-revolving discounts.

Sometimes the discounts are bigger than others. Sometimes it is £10, sometimes £15. But as a UK customer, you are getting screwed anyway. The US consumer gets a bigger discount. In this case, the course was sold for $9.99.

Then iTunes take a cut, so that’s $3 gone, and then Udemy split the remaining money with you 50/50. There is $7 left, so that makes £3.50 each. Or, translated into Sterling, £2.68.

Technically, I think you can opt-out of these discounts. But, in practice, very few courses do. And this means that you are competing against a market of discounted courses, which makes it impossible to do business. And Udemy is more favourable to the courses who do not opt-out. So, in reality, I don’t feel like I have a choice.

Udemy is a great platform. However, I wish they would be more transparent about their prices. You don’t ever pay the list price and so instructors are paid very little.

We tried Ocado and this is what happened

Saturday, May 20th, 2017 | Life

Ocado always seemed like a mythical super-supermarket. A land of plenty that stocked everything you could imagine and more besides. So, we gave it a go. Here is what we thought.

We usually order from Sainsbury’s. They are not without their problems. I’ve also tried Morrison’s online delivery, so those are my basis for comparison.

Ordering

Their website is a mixed bag. It’s crowded: the interface is crammed with buttons and promotions. However, the ordering functionality itself is fine. I like the quick view pop-up and being able to hover over a product to zoom in. They often have a lot of product photos, too.

While they have an extensive range, a lot of stuff is sold out. I like the fact that they are honest about this. I’m not sure what Sainsbury’s do, but based on past experience (one time loose tomatoes disappeared, for example) I think they silently remove stuff. Still, being so close to red delicious apples and missing out was frustrating.

Your delivery slot is only reserved for one hour. This is fine if you sit down knowing what you want. However, it was a bit of a rush when you are recipe planning at the same time. I had to place the order and go back and edit it later.

My biggest gripe with the ordering process is that I could only edit it until 5:40 pm the day before. Morrisons also have a cut off of 5 pm, whereas Sainsbury’s is 11 pm. This is probably the biggest reason we are still with Sainsbury’s.

It might not seem like a big deal, but it is to me. I work late, so 5:40 pm means I have to finish the order on Thursday evening, which is a whole day lost. I am regularly on the Sainsbury’s website at 10:45 pm on a Friday night, tweaking my order to accommodate new recipes I want to try or taking food out because I’ve been invited out to dinner one night.

Yeah, that is how I spend my Friday nights. Fuck you and your rock and roll lifestyle.

Product range

This is where I was expecting Ocado to excel. But, honestly, I was a little disappointed.

Sure, they had veal, and goat, and cloudberry jam. That is awesome. But we had been keeping a list of all the things we couldn’t get at Sainsbury’s and when it came down to it, that list was not that long.

On the flip side, they have stuff missing, too. No longley farm yoghurts, no smarties, no strawberry old moot cider. They have a better range of speciality mushrooms, but only to the extent that I could get them in larger quantities. No chanterelles.

They do have all of the Schwartz spices that Sainsbury’s have decided not to stock anymore. However, they do not have all of the own-brand stuff that drives down the cost of your shop. They have Waitrose Essentials, but it’s Waitrose, so it often the same price to get the branded stuff.

Fresh produce is a problem, too. They’re not a supermarket; they’re a warehouse. So you can’t buy a red pepper or a single apple. You have to buy a bag of them. This is probably okay if you are a cook who just opens the fridge and decides to make something based on what is in there. But I’m not there yet. I have plans. And those plans get expensive when you have to buy a bag of carrots just to get one.

Delivery

We usually get our shopping delivered in the 10 am – 11 am slot on Saturday morning. This has never been a problem. However, Ocado had no availability between 8 am and 11 am, so we had to push it back to the 11 am – noon slot.

Taking a look now, if I book a week in advance, I can get almost any time I choose for next Saturday. They have a system where you can reserve a time slot on a weekly basis, so if we went with them full time, I should be able to sort this.

The delivery was on time.

They have the best receipt I have seen. Everything comes in order of date, so you can easily tell when things are use by. This is great: I can easily compare if anything is going out of date before my meal plan schedules them in. With Sainsbury’s, you have to do this manually.

The bags are colour coded for freezer, fridge and cupboard. Morisson’s do this, too.

There is a substitution on my order. Not a great start for somewhere to claims to have very few of them. Worse, although they email me to tell me about it in advance, the guy never asks me if I want to return the substitution. I did want to return it. But, as they’re not separated into separate bags, I never got the chance to say anything.

Product quality

One of our big issues with Sainsbury’s is the expiry date of bagels. When we buy them from the Co-op, they last four weeks. When we buy them from Sainsbury’s, they expire in about five days. We were hoping Ocado would product Co-op results, but they do expire in five days.

Cost

It was an expensive shop. We sent £120. We got £20 off this off for being a new customer, but that is still a lot of cash.

It’s true that some of that cost was because we saw we could finally get veal loin and rack of lamb, and did so. However, I have put my regular order into mySupermarket for price comparison several times and Ocado regularly comes out more expensive. See this comparission from 2015.

There are a number of reasons for this. Having to buy branded products rather than own-brand. Having to buy multipack vegetables rather than individual ones. But Ocado is also just more expensive. Take Pampers nappies, for example. Our current pack is £7 from Sainsbury’s, but £8 from Ocado.

£10 extra per week is a pretty big deal: that’s £500 extra per year.

There is also the cost of delivery. I am not sure what the cost of individual deliveries are but the Smart Pass (free deliveries) costs £110 per year. It’s £60 for one at both Sainsbury’s and Morrison’s.

Conclusion

Ocado has a lot going for them. However, I don’t think we will be switching anytime soon. The biggest issues, for me, are that I cannot edit my order after 5:40 pm and the cost (which I think is a result of the lack of individual fresh produce, higher prices and smaller range of won-brand items).

Why I’m annoyed at Sainsbury’s

Friday, May 19th, 2017 | Life

This is a rant. We get Sainsbury’s to do our weekly delivery. On the whole, it’s good. However, it is not without its problems. Namely:

  • They miss stuff out
  • They send incorrect items
  • They fall out with suppliers
  • Their bagels are short-dated

Incorrect items have not been a big problem recently. But, in September last year, they sent the incorrect item three weeks in a row. The exact same mistake. So I’m not going to be removing that item from the list for a while.

Missing items is a problem, too. Maybe every two months or so we will notice they have missed something out. I’m not religious about checking it. Last time, they forgot to include our bread. They always refund me for the missing items when I complain, though.

Several times, things have disappeared from my order, including the confirmation. However, I can’t prove this and Sainsbury’s deny it happens.

Recently though, they seem to have fallen out with suppliers, too. Things disappear from their store as they change their ranges: McCain wedges and HP barbeque sauce being two examples. But all the Schwartz spices have been disappearing as well.

I emailed them about this in February. They emailed me back to say that they had not fallen out with Schwartz. Then refused to answer any of the emails I sent in February, March and April. When I phoned them about it, they said they were dropping Schwarts. Which means they lied to me in their original email.

This was the same email I complained about their bagels. When you buy them from Co-op, they come with a month’s shelf life on them. When we buy them from Sainsbury’s, they come with five days shelf life on them. They’re still investigating this.

EDIT: Since writing this they have contacted me to say that they cannot explain how Co-op have such long shelf lives because they have spoken to New York Bagel Co who have told them they only release bagels with a shelf life of 5 days. We’ve also ordered the same Bagels from Ocado who only had 4 days shelf life on them.

The perils of being an entrepreneur

Monday, May 15th, 2017 | Business & Marketing, Life

Starting your own business it tough. Every day you run into problems that seem insurmountable. If I had £1 for every time, I had run into something that made me want to scream “ah, we’re fucked, this entire project is fucked” I would have a very viable business.

At every turn, you discover that you have to constantly raise your game and execute at a higher level. It’s like repeatedly being punched in the gut and told to get up and try harder.

Good audio is hard

Take my video courses, for example. I don’t shoot with cheap stuff. I have a full-frame SLR camera and a Rode shotgun microphone that mounts on the top.

But Udemy rejected my videos. They said there was too much echo on the video. By this point, I had already filmed an entire course. I should have used single-piece flow, as The Lean Startup advocates. But, in my defence, I did this originally, and only came up with the idea of also selling on Udemy later.

Nevertheless, I set about recording the video with a lav mic instead. This too failed. To get the focus correct, I need to monitor it on my laptop. But this sends the laptop fan into overdrive, noise that the lav mic picks up.

Funnels gone wrong

How hard is it sell on the internet? First, try giving your stuff away, and see how hard that is.

The answer is really hard. In March, I launched registration for Worfolk Anxiety’s 30-Day Challenge. A month of free coaching: who could say no? A lot of people, apparently. Initial acquisition costs were £10 per person. People would click the ad, read the entire long-form sales letter about what we were offering, and then leave.

This cost eventually came way down, to the point where it was averaging less than £1 for the entire campaign. I tweaked the copy, and the targeting and we saw better results.

Rejected ads

The problems with the funnel only arrived after I had already faced down one disaster. Having designed the ads, set the targeting and built the landing pages I proudly hit submit on the Facebook ads to turn them on.

And Facebook said “no”.

They don’t allow adverts to do with mental health. The reason is that Facebook knows way too much about you. But they don’t want to admit they have way more data on you than the NSA. So they don’t let advertisers mention it.

All of my beautiful copy using personal and friendly language had to be scraped and replaced by cold and impersonal statements. No wonder my acquisition costs were so high.

I could go elsewhere for the ads, of course. In fact, I tried. I went to Pinterest. But a bug in their software meant that you couldn’t create an audience in the UK.

Failed payments

There was one light at the end of the tunnel: someone went through my sales funnel, clicking on a newsletter ad, signing up, completing the double opt-in, hitting the tripwire page and deciding to take advantage of the hefty discount on my book that I offer new subscribers.

And then the payment failed.

Not just failed but failed silently. None of my error reporting picked anything up. Stripe didn’t pick anything up. The session recordings did not pick anything up.

I had lost my first sale on the project, and I didn’t even know why. I tried it with my own credit card, and it worked fine.

That was a crushing day. Luckily, someone else bought it the next day, and the feeling of making your first sale on any project is ecstasy. It’s amazing.

Sailing the sea of troubles

I picked out a few examples of the “oh shit” moments I’ve had over the past few months. But there have been loads more.

Phoney copyright claims against my YouTube videos, holding them hostage. 40% of people not clicking the double opt-in email. Heroku outages. Facebook custom audiences being filled with incorrect data. Bloggers never answering your emails. Apple refusing to give you a sandbox account to test Apple Pay.

Every day you run into things that stop you in your tracks.

But then you find a way a past them. Or a compromise. Or change strategy. Or just pick yourself up, shrug it off, and find a different way to move forward.

This process has to make you more resilient. It teaches you that all is not lost.

I’ve found a new monger!

Friday, April 28th, 2017 | Life

As everyone knows, there are four primary types of monger. A fishmonger, a rumour monger, an ironmonger and a warmonger.

I turned out to be a popular phone-in on Alan Partridge’s radio show.

We’re asking, what is the worst monger? Iron, fish… rumour… or war?

But, last week, my world was turned on its head. There is a fifth kind of monger! A “costermonger”. Here is the description from Wikipedia:

Costermonger, coster, or costard is a street seller of fruit and vegetables, in London and other British towns. Costermongers were ubiquitous in mid-Victorian England, and some are still found in markets. As usual with street-sellers, they would use a loud sing-song cry or chant to attract attention. The costermonger’s cart might be stationary at a market stall, or mobile (horse-drawn or wheelbarrow).

What an age to be alive.

Udemy courses

Friday, February 17th, 2017 | Life

I have been binge-learning on Udemy. If you have not heard of it, Udemy is an online education platform where people can buy and sell courses. They offer a range of features such as text, slides, quizzes and exercises. In practice, though, everyone just uses video lessons.

The pricing is a bit of a joke as well. You regularly see courses marked at £100-200. However, you never pay that. It is like the sofa store with a never-ending sale. My three most recent courses cost me £10, £15 and £15. At this point, you would be a sucker to pay more: if the sale ever did end you could just wait for the next one to start.

Here are the ones I have enjoyed:

Graphic Design Masterclass

This teaches the basics of graphic design using Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. I was hoping that there were some core concepts that by learning I could greatly improve my graphic design skills. However, I knew almost all of it. There is no big secret: it is just being able to apply it that makes a great designer.

Nevertheless, the course was fun and it was useful to have a refresher on all of those principles.

The Complete Video Production Bootcamp

This teaches you everything you need to know about producing high-quality videos. It is delivered by a set of three instructors. As film-makers, their video lessons are excellent, of course. They cover setting up shots, lighting, sound, editing and distribution.

Modern React with Redux

I have used React before, but my Redux knowledge was limited. This was a great course to get me up-to-speed. The instructor, Stephen Grider, takes the time to explain everything he is doing. This can be a little slow at times but does ensure you come away with a solid understanding. I have just started his course Webpack 2.

The top floor

Sunday, January 22nd, 2017 | Life, Photos

We moved into our apartment three years ago. We are on the fourth floor, but the building goes much higher. For years, we talked about going up to the top floor and seeing what the view was like. But we never did. I am not sure why. It felt silly to schedule it in, but we never felt like a spontaneous trip.

Until now.

Turns out that the view up there was not that exciting. It looks a lot like the view from our balcony, but with a slightly better overview of the car park. Probably not worth the three-year wait… You can at least see the town hall in the way we used to be able to become MPEC built more of their offices.

Funerals

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017 | Family & Parenting, Life, Thoughts

I have been meaning to write about funerals for a while. Looking back, I think there has been quite a lot of emotional resistance, so I will probably keep this post brief.

I was only six when both my grandfathers passed away, and not much older when my uncle died. Therefore, when my grandma passed away in August, it was the first funeral I had been to as an adult and the first one where I really knew what was going on.

In a way, I was actually curious to see how I would cope with the whole affair. For years I had known that eventually, someone would die, and had no idea how it would affect me. It turns out that I coped just fine. There was no emotional breakdown, nor much in the way of tears. Nor was it a surprise, though: when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I knew we were on the clock.

Mostly, I felt bitter at the world for my own selfish reasons. Venla, who arrived two months later, would have been her first great-grandchild. I felt I had failed her in some way.

It has been a while since I have been truly nervous before giving a speech. Even my wedding was fine. But delivering the eulogy was a tough one. I always joked at my public speaking club “humour improves any speech: but I have not had a chance to try it out in a eulogy yet”. Well, now I have had that chance, and I can confirm it is a good idea. If anything, humour is even more important at occasions that are bound to include an element of sadness.

The truth is, I already had a few ideas for what I was going to say, should I be called upon to give a eulogy. Because that is what happens when you have an anxious mind that never switches off: you think about all the horrible things that could happen to everyone you love, and what you would do if it happened.

That all sounds very gloomy, and that is not the message I want to convey. Actually, funerals are fun. They are enjoyable, in a macabre way. Not because it is a celebration of life, which it is, but because it is a time when an entirely family comes together.

Over the past year, I have witnessed match and dispatch of the hatch-match-dispatch triangle. These events are important. They bring families together, using social rules and customs that other events have not been able to achieve. You get to see people you do not normally see, and bond over an emotional event, forming stronger ties between those that remain.

Funerals are always going to be bittersweet by nature. But they provide more than closure. More than a celebration of someone’s life. They are part of the social glue that help hold families together.