Monday, November 30, 2009

Budget flights with Ryanair, where you can’t paint over the craics.

If you like misery stress and despair with your holidays, there’s only one airline for you.

I’ve made around 20 return trips over the past two years with various airlines. How would I rate the flights? Some good, some bad, but the flight’s from hell are always with Ryanair.

The experience with Irish company Ryanair actually makes travelling with British Rail on a Bank Holiday Monday seem like bliss. From start to finish you are made to feel like you ruining their business by using their airline.

Yes they are a budget airline, so no-one is expecting a silver service. But am I wrong to expect any kind of service at all?

A complicated online booking service is followed by an online checking in service which doesn’t actually serve any purpose. The stress of checking in, with the worries of missing your flight, could brake the weak-hearted.

Then there’s the laughably low baggage weight limit – 20kg for a suitcase which is only 5kg more than hand luggage weight, yet comes at an extra cost of £20.

At Edinburgh airport I found myself amongst a sea of other passengers crouching on the floor over an open suitcase trying to stuff heavy items into hand luggage to dip below their suitcase's 20kg limit. This was after queuing for almost an hour because the company employs for too few check-in staff for their flights.

When I began the booking process for two people from Edinburgh to Berlin, the flights were around under £50 each for return flights. Do the maths yourself. Flights, for two people, should have cost under a £100. The total I paid out was £244.22.

This included a £5 debit card transaction fee per flight, per person - £20 in total. And £10 for a web check in – useless as you have to physically check in anyway if you’ve got a suitcase or not, plus £94.26 in ‘taxes, fees & charges’.

But it’s the physical process of checking in that turns a weekend break into a dreaded nightmare. No one smiles in Ryanair’s queues. No one laughs in the stampede to board the flights and get the best seats. Sadly, no-one even bothers to feel sorry for his overworked and probably underpaid staff.

After several journies with Michael O’Leary’s famous airline I feel so bitter that I even find myself hoping that his staff are as miserable as they make me feel. It’s not a good thought to takeaway for my onward journey.

NOTE: For complaints about this article, please contact Ryanair's Customer Service helpline on... oh, er, hang on, Ryanair doesn't do customer service.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Shortlisted: Travel Photographer of the Year 2009

You can travel right around the world.

You can cross four continents.

You can take some fantastic photos*.

And you can get nominated for the 2009 Travel Photographer of the Year awards.

But where in the world were my four short-listed images taken? Himalayan mountains, Bethlehem, Kiev, Tunis or Topeka.

None of the above. 

The answer is, of course, my favourite frivolous weekend destination, the hardcore venue that everybody loves to hate and the place where brash meets trash with appealingly appalling consequence. Yes, it's Blackpool, Lancashire.

This week I sent off my four prints (excellently done by Genesis in London) to the TPOTY organisers for final judging. The result is announced in December (though possibly not on this blog if I fail to bag the first-prize trip to China).

NOTE: The above image was can be seen elsewhere on this blog. It is one of the images in my short-listed submission to TPOTY's Homeland category.
* The term 'fantastic photos' is not necessarily the opinion of this photographer and his over-inflated ego.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Open Sesame (to Open09)

The other week I wandered into a nightclub at 10 in the morning, poured myself a cup of tea and discussed the future of journalism for two hours.

Just another wacky morning in my life as a serial conference dweller.

This one was Open09 and it was aimed at discussing the future of the digital and creative sectors.

It was billed as ‘breaking the normal conference model’ by creating a ‘new participatory experience to explore, inform and create…’

I could go on but you might become as confused as me. Though probably not attended by as many bodies as the organisers had hoped, there was a diverse range of professions represented by the 15 people who attended.

The subsequent debate at Preston's 53degrees student venue answered specific industry questions such as (and I paraphrase) ‘Who will fund the freelancers of the future?’ It was enthusiastically debated. We had to write our answers down on big sheets of paper.

Run by the University of Central Lancashire, Open09 seemed to be of more value to the professors than people like me taking part. There is no doubt in my mind that the opinions of those actually working in journalism, photography, multi-media or the BBC are important in realising how the industry is already fragmenting and developing.

What did I take from it? Probably what I knew already: If you’re not working for the BBC you could slip away in a tidal wave of cuts and closures. I also learned a new word, churnalism, which I quite like.

Welcome to the Phoenix Club

It costs nearly £575 to join. You have to pay £8 a week to attend their weekly meetings. Every meeting starts at 7am.

Welcome to life with BNI International, Chorley Phoenix branch.

BNI is the Business Network International, ‘the largest business networking organization (sic) in the world’.

Briefly put, this is how it works: Local groups are called chapters. Chapters are made up of people from local businesses with no profession represented more than once. At each weekly meeting members, through their own business contacts, try to bring in business to other members, known as a referral.

You can tell from the spelling of organisation that BNI originates from the US of A. These referrals dictate chapter succeed or fail. Each meeting runs through a tightly-scripted itinerary and success levels are measured statistically.

But does it work? Well, in England (according to BNI’s own stats) there are over 640 chapters in the UK. 

In 2008 that equated to over 560,654 referrals and led to business worth £190m. I’ll have a bit of that.

Though skeptical as I was at first, the facts do present a strong case. There would not be that many groups – I detest the phrase chapter – in Britain if it was a white elephant organisation.

The literature and website is disturbingly Americanized (it makes me sic) but the ethos – where your one-man-band business suddenly becomes a 15-strong marketing team – is actually an inspired idea.

It’s easy to knock America and its business model but you can’t deny its success. Having forked out £575, denying success is the last thing I need.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tunisia - the slideshow
Slideshow of photographs taken during a press trip to Tunisia.
For more information on Tunisia visit the tourist board. For press enquires go to Rooster PR.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Disk jockeying or Which is the best brand CDr to buy?

In my continuing search for best products for your computer and camera I turn my attention to CDr disks.

I’ve done all the hard work so I’ll keep it simple: Verbatim disks made by Taiyo Yuden.

Verbatim disks made in Taiwan and India just aren’t as good as these Made in Japan beauties.

If you’re interested Taiyo Yuden invented the recordable CD. Verbatim just bungs their logo on and sells them.

You can buy them from SVP for starters


A couple of week's ago I attended the launch event of something called InFUZE at the Moet Bar in Selfridges, Manchester.

If you can give me a moment I'd like to summarise the event in normal people's speak: It was about placing a journalist from one area of the industry and placing them on three month's paid placement in another area of the industry.

You're still with me so far? Much of the talk was by American Amanda Michel who had flown in from Yankland especially to explain her groundbreaking work in citizen journalism (though the concept involves a much steeper learning curve than I can explain here).

If you're still with me, Michel was director of something called OffTheBus at the Huffington Post and is now with something else called ProPublica. If you've heard of these you will be quite impressed that she was in Manchester.

And if you want more excitement out of these photographs, see if you can spot Manchester's big wheel thingy in the background. Clue: It's near Paul Egglestone of the University of Central Lancashire who is also pictured.

More information about InFUZE here.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Lest we forget: Remembrance Sunday

Today was Remembrance Sunday, where the British public and the BBC comes out in force to show their respect for those who fought and died for this country.

This photograph was taken in November, 2007.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Business with Business Link

A dozen or so years ago I went to see a Business Link advisor in the hope of expanding the boundaries of my work.

It was a right waste of time. I listened to a few wishy-washy statements, was handed a few leaflets and never heard from them again.

The persistence of Gemma from Creative Lancashire led to me agreeing to meet up with a Yusuf Musa, Business Link’s Digital & Creative advisor.

The only downside was that it was arranged at the coffee shop of Borders book shop in Deepdale Retail Park. It was half-term week.

Anyway, this Business Link fella was brilliant. His knowledge of the photography industry and digital media was spot on.

He made several suggestions on how I could better market myself as a photographer, some I had heard of, others that I was totally unaware of. He was an excellent communicator and talked neither in business jargon or digital riddles. This was appreciated immensely.

He offered hope, guidance and support. How this support will develop I don’t know. But I quite like the new face of Business Link.

Sadly for you lot my camera was left at home so you’ll have to wait for my next appointment to for a photograph of Mr Business Link.

A profile of Yusuf on Lancashire & Cumbria ICT Clusters says he previously worked in publishing and had his own IT business.

And I can exclusively confirm that this is not the same Yusuf Musa you will find in a google search who sends out thousands of spam messages which begin like this:


At least I hope he is not this Yusuf Musa. He already has my email address.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

More problems with Lulu uploads

A new, if slightly boring blog, on how to publish books with Lulu.comThe first blog posted in January 2008 was for problems with my Flashes to Ashes book. It was a Crown Quarto Full Bleed book.

This one, a promotional copy of Outsiders, is a 44-page saddle-stitched A4. Book sizes below 68 pages cannot be perfect-bound with Lulu.

The key phrase here is ‘saddle-stitched’. The covers for saddle-stitched books require no spine, though it is almost impossible to verify this on the Lulu website.

It took me five hours to find these words (only revealed when you try the online one-piece cover upload):

One-piece cover requirements:

Your file must be a PDF

Spine width: 0 Postscript points wide (0.000cm)

Spine begins 604 Postscript points (21.31cm) from the left.

Total cover width: 1208 X 860 Postscript points (42.61cm x 30.34cm)

Basically, this means the length of your InDesign document should be 42.61cm x 30.34cm.

If your pdf cover includes imported text or graphics against a similar coloured background they can often come out in a different tone – even though it looks perfect on your screen.

Best thing to do is open the pdf in photoshop which will flatten which will rasterize (whatever that means) the file in to a single layer after asking for a DPI (choose 300) and colour palette (choose RGB).

Converting to a pdf (from an InDesign file)

Follow the Lulu pdf guidelines here, which include downloading a Lulu pdf preset, then selecting it during the Adobe pdf preset process.

Also you must still embed the fonts. The same Lulu guidelines page has this information. You may have to download Lulu’s Adobe Job Options too.

And the last problem concerns ftp transfer, which you will need to do because your pdf will undoubtedly be over the 300mb limit

FTP file transfer

With ftp software FileZilla you need to fill in three login boxes (connect to, username, password).

You connect to Lulu with this address:

Lulu tells you that username and password is the same as your Lulu login details – but you actually need to type your full email address in the username box for the ftp logon to work.

NOTE: This blog may be amended as further problems arise. Goodbye.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Martin's Parr'd

Martin Parr opened his Parrworld and Luxury exhibitions at the brilliant Baltic in Gateshead in October 2009.

If photographer's are famous then Parr is undoubtedly the most famous in Britain and one the most well-known in the whole wide world. Not bad for someone who lives in his own little world of irony, wryness and kitsch.

Parrworld is an exhibition of Parr's own memorabilia collection, from ultra-rare photography books and prints to tea trays and Osama Bin Laden watches.

I was at the opening night. This was the second talk of Parr's I have attended.

Like the first at Manchester Metropolitan University in 2007, Parr came across as luke-warm understated speaker who is not really one for engaging with his audience during the Q&A's.

Even when I asked him to sign a copy of his new book I could only get a couple of sentences out of him (I mentioned Middlesborugh photographer Ian Macdonald whose work is in Parrword, Parr agreed that Macdonald was talented).

But it is fascinating to get an insight into what makes his photography work. He has ideas, often about ordinary subjects, but he puts the effort in to produce the results.

And he admitted he quite likes controversy surrounding his work. He's had a fair bit in his time. It hasn't done him any harm.

The Luxury photographs are fantastic, but if you're after a lesson in the history of photography there is no better place to start than through Parr's own collection. Worth the entry fee alone to see the 911 rugs.

Parrworld runs until January 17 2010 at The Baltic. And entry is free, by the way.

Sunderland Host City bid

Here's a link to a story about Sunderland's 2018 Host City Bid which features one of my photographs.

That is all.