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How to spend 20 minutes geeking out with a toddler

How to spend 20 minutes geeking out with a toddler

Rudi, my 2 and a half year old son, dropped by my office yesterday afternoon, armed with Cranky Crane and a few other little toys.

He found comfort lying on my muslin green screen that I have hanging over my big freestanding whiteboard. Watching him lying there, quite contentedly playing with his toys whilst daddy taps away at the computer, I couldn't help but want to go and join him even if just for a few minutes.

But lying there on the green screen was just too good to miss, so I picked up the video camera and switched it on, and so began a quick journey into some video effects. Here's what we made together.

Rudi: "What are you doing daddy?"

Daddy: "Nothing honey, just keep on playing with your trains, daddy's just going to sit here an watch you."

Rudi: {plays with train for all of 30 seconds more while I sit, watch and film}

Rudi: "I'm going to find mummy".

Daddy: "Bye then Rudi"

Daddy: "I'll mess around with this on my own then."

So, first up, importing the original footage into after effects CC and using the Keylight Plugin to do some quick keying, refining this using the various Keylight plugin settings.

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A quick search for some background images, I found a nice little railway scene to use as the backdrop.

Applied some additional colour correcting effects and blurring to bring the composition together. My original footage was a bit shaky and couldn't be bothered to either stabilise it or map the background to the camera movements, so I figured if I chucked a load of other stuff on the screen, it would reduce the effects.

So, a load of smoke assets from Video Copilots Action Essentials for ambient atmosphere of the busy train station (not sure how many steam trains would come through here, but they were there, honest). 

Nope, not enough. 

As Rudi swings around the crane, seemed like as good an opportunity as any to chuck in a little explosion. A bit of masking, very rough, looks good enough. 

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Render out the footage.

Nope, still not enough. Bring the footage back into a new comp.

OK, let's add a whole load of graphics and pretend he's on the news, causing mayhem at a railway station. On Sodor. And the Fat Controller is pissed! Just about resisted the temptation to film a green screen of myself as a midget doing a report live from the scene.

Screen Shot 2013-11-21 at 14.55.49.png

Found a few sky logos, built a scrolling BREAKING NEWS ticker using motion tile effects, a little lower third element and I think that will do.

OK.

Re-render out footage. Ticker is a bit quick and blurred, still not perfect, but I'm not eating into work time... onwards.

A few sound effects from FreeSFX and VideoCopilot found. Import these and footage into Adobe Audition CC. Build the sounds to the footage. Export the soundtrack.

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Everything into Adobe Premier Pro, a few more adjustments and export as a quicktime movie.

Phew, done. Really should stick to just running around the living room pretending to be a dragon, a lot less effort.

 

Welcome baby Tyger

Wow. What a day.

What started as a fairly average Thursday, has ended up a fairly rapid and blurry rollercoaster.

Cas said she woke up feeling a bit crappy, dropped Rudi off at nursery and by 10am had started feeling some sporadic twinges.

At 11am, Cas phoned me in the office to ask me to come home and finish putting the crib together - then I knew something was happening.

I did that and then popped back to the office to finish a few tasks and shutdown properly, knowing in my heart that today was going to be interesting.

We were at 39 weeks - exactly a week before our due date of 2nd May.

When I got back home at around 1.30pm, Cas was fairly regular in her contractions, coming down from 30 secs every 10 minutes, to consistently 45 to 70 seconds every 4 - 5 minutes.

Determined to stay pretty relaxed about the whole thing, we monitored, Cas busied herself by hoovering and otherwise feathering the nest. I just did as I was told, kept recording the contractions and otherwise started my normal habit of making stupid jokes and inappropriate times.

Eventually, we decided to mosey on in to Dorchester, a 30 minute drive from home. We casually chatted in between the increasing contractions, reminiscing about 2 years prior with Rudi and I did some comparison on the signs of labour and the schedule - we seemed to be following a very similar pattern. I worked out that, based on that experience, we were due to arrive at the hospital at around 3.30pm, so I stuck my neck out and predicted that the baby would be born at around 5.10pm.

Things moved pretty quickly after we arrived. We had talked before about trying a Pool birth, which we never got chance to do with Ru. This time, we made it to the pool, just about.  Initial inspection showed Cas at around 8cm dilated. Things were coming along.

In the pool, Cas felt a little more comfortable, just as well, since like before, she made it through the whole labour with no pain relief whatsoever - just a cold flannel and a bottle of water. I have no idea how, but her focus, resilience and tolerance of pain just blows my mind. I'm so incredibly proud of her. 

From the time Cas's waters broke, at 5.05pm it was a mere 4 minutes until baby Tyger made an appearance, gracefully surfacing from underwater in the birthing pool.

What happened next will live with me forever.

Everyone's seen it. Everyone knows about it. Baby is born. Pure elation and expectation. Expectation of hearing the noise that in the future will keep me awake, will make me impatient, will grind on me at 3am. But right now, the sound of baby Tyger's first cry is all I want to hear.

A few moments pass as Cas holds him in her arms. "Please, let's hear you cry baby".

Nothing.

Seconds pass.

"Come on baby, cry for mummy..."

More seconds pass. Nothing.

The midwives become increasingly agitated and the shift from natural and relaxed procedure to a more concerned and frantic manoeuvring of clamps, scissors and people was palpable. 

Still no crying.

The student midwife hits the emergency button and within seconds more midwives and consultants were entering the room.

Moving very quickly to separate mum and baby, the umbilical chord was cut after a few attempts to clamp it were unsuccessful, until finally it was done. A still lifeless Tyger hoisted out of the pool and away from mummy, out into the hallway with the resuscitator machine was waiting with who knows how many people busying themselves as they sprung into emergency action.

At this point, and with things moving so quickly, we realised none of us had actually noticed what the sex was. Our midwife popped in and out, reassuring Cas and I that baby was ok, but there was still no crying.

I had a growing sense that I was in an nightmare, the scenario escalating in front of my eyes and we were helpless - just asking over and over again "is he (guessing sex) ok?"

"What was that?"

A little cry. Was that him (still guessing sex)?

Again, a little cry.

"Let's take him back into mum". "Him?" It's a boy.

I tell you, my heart had never beat so fast and I was so scared, helpless and insignificant at that point. What was only a few minutes felt like hours. But eventually, he rejoined mummy and me for our first cuddle, a happy, if a little shaken, but beautiful baby boy.

It turns out the sheer speed that he whizzed down that birth canal and swan dived into the birthing pool caused such a shock that it just took a little additional persuasion to kick into normal functions. Very normal, very common, no less scary. Thank god.

And so, Tyger Brook Schofield born at 5.09pm (that's right, I was a mere 1 minute off with my prediction), weighing in at 7lb 8oz and measuring 48cm, joined mummy, daddy and Rudi in this new world.

Welcome young Tyger, you can do anything.

Oh and the name? We just like it. Nothing more. Not named after the golfer or anything else. Quirky, kinda cool (in our opinion) and very different. Just the way we like it.

Now I'm home, Rudi is sound asleep and we both can't wait to visit mummy and Tyger tomorrow morning. Sleep tight.

Rudi's first school report

Rudi went into playgroup yesterday for an acclimatisation session with his new class, since he's graduating up from ladybirds to bumblebees. Along with the graduation, we received his first school report - I didn't realise quite how closely they scrutinize every aspect of development and every little sign means something in relation to signs of the little one's early progression. I thought it was just innocent playtime!

But every dad want's to hear these words on your sons school report. And I quote:

"Rudi has started building relationships with other children. Expressing in a kiss."

But even more proud;

"Rudi is confident on his feet and has a great throw and a long kick. He loves outdoor space and exploring."

"...will be sure to show off his football skills and ability to kick and throw balls. He has a great shot."

OK, mr Ferguson, I'll do you a deal, �60k a week and you can sign him up now... get in early and beat the competition...

Introducing... Rudi Brook Schofield (part 1)

It's been a few weeks since my last post, and for good reason.

Work's been really busy and I've been fortunate to work on some great projects and to collaborate with some exciting companies led by inspirational entrepreneurs. That's partially why I've not been in the right frame of mind to keep my personal blog up to date much recently.

The other reason, for those of you who are tuned in may have guessed based on the timing, is that on the 4th April, 2011 at 6.11am, we welcomed Rudi Brook Schofield into the world. Weighing in at a respectable 7lb5oz and measuring 49cm in length, our beautiful little boy was a picture of perfect health - much to our relief and delight.

The story of his birth, one I've told umpteen times to our friends and family, but one that I hope when captured here in my blog, will live on forever. I wish my parents could have had this kind of tool available when I came about. They may well have captured their thoughts or feelings of the time, perhaps in a notepad, scrapbook or diary, but if they did I'm not sure it exists anymore. Obviously, nothing can beat your parents stories straight from their own mouths, but as in my case, when my father passed away, it would have been great to have even more of his memories captured for my future consumption.

This is but the beginning of Rudi's story.

Rudi was due on Sunday 3rd of April, but despite trying most of the recommended "inducing techniques" - spicy food, raspberry leaf tea, fresh pineapple, long walks (you know which one is missing) by the close of play on the Sunday, there were no signs that he'd be making an appearance any time soon. Convinced that we would be looking at upto 10 more long and dragging days of waiting, we went to bed that night a family of 2 adults, 2 bassets and a bump for the very last time.

At round 12.50am, Cas awoke, feeling a little dodgy, with some stomach problems. After a few minutes on the toilet (not wanting to be too graphic) it became evident that something else was going on, not sure what, but something. I'm not entirely sure what Cas did for the next 40 minutes ir so, but I think it involved more trips to the toilet and standing in front of our full length mirror in the bedroom looking at the bump.

I woke at around 1.30am, to find Cas in the latter position. Not knowing what was going on or even what time it was, I asked if everything was OK. With a slightly excited but nervous tinge to her voice, Cas explained that she thought it might be time - that she was starting to experience the signs of early onset of labour. There was only one thing to do, something any englishman worth his salt would do - wake up and go and make a cup of tea.

We monitored what were some twinges and movements, which very quickly formed into "mild" contractions. Those mild contractions got steadily more intense, but were quick - 30 to 40 seconds. They were also frequent, typically every 4 minutes. Remembering that 1 minute contractions every five minutes for an hour is the "call the hospital benchmark" we were unsure what our situation meant. Not wanting to panic and be too eager to go to the hospital, we went and got out the Tens machine that we'd been given.

What a kerfuffle. I successfully installed the system on the patient, but left the operation to Cas. She couldn't get how it worked at all, regardless of my many thorough and non-patronising demonstrations. In the end, it was tossed aside and discarded as a method of pain relief - much to my relief as teaching Cas to use a gadget whilst in labour was about the most stressful part of the whole thing!

Instead, we also passed time by downloading the BabyBump app for iOS. This enabled me to avidly track the contraction time stats  and feed back the results to Cas. I also took a few not very flattering profile pictures, to use on the app's profile picture page - but we wont go there (unless I receive a decent offer from OK magazine or something!).

After an hour or so, we were still non-the-wiser how far along we were - but presuming that it was merely the start of a lengthy process. Keen to stay relaxed, Cas kept mobile wandering around upstairs, and finding a comfortable position as possible for each contraction - ranging from kneeling, bending over, sitting on the toilet and lying flat. After one trip to the toilet, Cas identified a small amount of clear discharge, which suggested that her waters may have started or had broken. It was at this stage that we decided to phone the hospital.

After explaining the nature of the contractions and going through the checklist provided by the midwife at our antenatal classes, the midwife on duty suggested that the contractions should really have been longer and more intense than those we were reporting to warrant the 30 minute drive to Dorchester hospital. She recommended a hot bath, some exercises and other relaxation techniques. That would have been the end of the call and easily no more said, expcept I chose to mention the discharge we had seen, albeit very minor. To this, the midwife changed her mind and suggested that if we suspected that the waters had broken, then we should start to make our way to the hospital as they would want to check Cas over. We were on.

Again, partly because we were sure it was so early on and partly because we just didn't want to be one of those panicky paranoid couples, we leisurely prepared ourselves and a slow and calm pace. Grabbing the prepacked bags, sorting out the dogs, packing the car, we eventually set off for the hospital at around 4.15am.

By this time, it was clear that the contractions were getting more intense and remaining consistently at 3 to 4 minute intervals. We arrived at the hospital after (if I do say so myself) some very sympathetic driving and unlike most days we'd visited before, had the pick of the parking spaces. Heading gingerly up to the maternity ward, a midwife exiting for a cigarette break said "they're expecting you up there".

On first examination, rather than what we were expecting to here - "1cm, go home, don't be so silly!" - we found that Cas was 7cm dilated and things were moving steadily along. With a fairly thin cervix, it was expected that the last 3cm would go quite quickly. It was 4.40am.

Rigged up to a heart monitor, everything was checked out ok, it was just a matter of time. We were not far away, and it appears, arrived at the hospital just in time...

 

My greatest adventure - Daddy Steve

That title is not referring to me in some kind of macdaddy pimpin gangsta term, nope, as it says on the tin - in but a few months I'm going to be a dad.

Let's roll back a few months. Cas and I had decided to start trying, casually with no real expectations of an immediacy in results. For one, my dad had a low sperm count and I had in the back of my mind that therefore I may do too. I have never had the "pleasure" of finding out for sure if that was indeed the case, and I never really spoke about it other than the odd joke (quickie somewhat of a defence mechanism, as those who know me will testify). I would mention that as I am one of four, a low sperm count didn't do my parents chances of conception any harm at all, except perhaps that all of the fellas that he was missing, must have been little pink and fluffy Girly ones as I have 3 brothers.

The other reason was that Cass's pill, cerazzete, was renowned for taking up to like 2 years to potentially conceive. So, with this in mind we gave it a go and would just see what happened.

Not long after we had all the issues with Maisy, her back and her illness. I wrote a long and emotional post about that here. At the same time, Cas was suffering pretty badly feeling sick and with nausea. We put it down to the grieving process with Maisy, and in hindsight, were totally wrong. The symptoms persisted and Cas went to the doctors for some blood tests.

I remember that I was in the office in Bristol when Cas phoned to tell me the news from the bloods, everything was fine - oh, and she is pregnant. I couldn't contain the grin on my face, but, not sure what the etiquette is for announcing these things, tried to play it down with the guys in the office.

Doing some quick mental maths, I worked it back to either being 6 weeks, or 8 weeks. Cas had taken a pregnancy test, which showed up negative and so there must have only been a couple of occasions that could be accountable.

We were soon to find out, at what was supposed to be our 12 week scan, that Cas was actually 16.5 weeks gone! That meant that little Dobby is due on 3rd April 2011, a week or so after my own birthday.

Just to explain, we haven't decided to name our son or daughter after the Harry Potter house elf, but Cas and I used to joke that with my ears and her nose, any off spring was more than likely to bear some degree of resemblance.

As of writing this post, we are now at 23 weeks, and all is well. Cas's illness has settled down, all tests and scans have shown up as well as can be determined, and we have chosen not know the sex - one of life's great surprises. That said, I am now determined not to be told, but to work it out with the evidence I have at hand...

The Basset Hound Story - Maisy, Sleeping Among the Bluebells

I started writing this post a couple of weeks ago, but had to keep stopping and writing bits as it was quite emotional and I just couldn't keep reliving it. It has become easier and I really want to tell Maisy's continued story.

I can easily say that yesterday proved the hardest day of my life, and I've been through some stuff already. Now a lot of people won't understand, they'll think I'm mad, but there will be many people that do feel the same intense sense of loss and heartbreak when their dog goes to sleep for the final time. It hurts so much. Deep in the pit of my stomach and chest, the pain is physical as much as mental. It feels like I've lost a limb and my life has been turned upside down as I struggle to fill the immense gap she has left with all I have - mainly memories, photos and the things that smell of Maisy. She was part of our family and like a child. My princess. Princess Maisy.

Maisy snoozing on the steps at Kingairloch House, Scotland during our wedding

Maisy was a special dog. You can read all about her story in previous posts here and here. It is a story of unbelievable strife interspersed with delightful happiness, from her early life suffering at the hands of cruel puppy farmers, to when we rescued her a gave her all the things she had missed from life.

Everything that could go wrong went wrong with Maisy. From the early days, with a hernia, cherry eye and severe teeth problems. She had epilepsy and suffered numerous fits. She had a heart murmur and problems with her skin. But it was a couple of years ago when things turned pretty ugly. What has turned out to be a chronic disc protrusion within her spine came to a halt when a disc burst and caused some trauma to her spinal chord, completely losing use of her hind legs as a result. A successful hemilamenectomy, hospitalisation, physio and hydrotherapy later, she slowly regained full if not slightly more laboured mobility.

Maisy basset in the snowWe were so careful not to inadvertently cause a relapse so ensured she stayed off of the sofa and carried her up and down stairs. But, it wasn't enough and in November 2009, Maisy suffered a relapse. The options here were considerably fewer and it was only Maisy's sheer bloody mindedness that quickly enabled her to regain use of her legs. At the same time, Maisy picked up infections of the urinary tract, her bladder and then finally around the vulva. She was on a different antibiotics every week as the tests increasingly showed that the bacteria was resistant or the infection changed from e-coli to pseudomonus. This was hard going for Maisy and she was subjected to so much in tests and treatment that must have been awful. But, in her usual fashion, she just stuck her head down and got on with life,

doing the same little rituals that became her style.

Little things, like the bed time routine. We'd carry her upstairs and put her on the landing, while Cas carried up her bed. Maisy would then toddle into the study and roll around on the floor while I went back down and let the boys out. It was always the study, never the spare bedroom, maybe because sometimes I would sneak her upstairs to sit with me in the study while I worked. Or when we got to Cas's parents house. She loved it there. After getting her out of the car, she'd always toddle off onto the stones on the front garden for a wee, without fail, while the boys headed straight fir the back gate.

Well, in the last couple of weeks, the spinal problems came back and again, she lost use of her hind legs. This time it felt different, it didn't seem to be getting any better. After a week we took her to the vets and they tested her urine. They found a number of infections again, namely e-coli. It was back. We had been considering getting her some wheels, never contemplating any other scenario. We'd fight the infection as we had done before and we'd give her the best quality of life she could get. She wasn't a gun dog or a spaniel who just wants to run in the fields, Maisy was used to being fairly sedentary and just adored being with the boys and us. Wheels could be the answer.

A month or so ago, Maisy had a weird spontaneous episode of bleeding from the mouth. She went to the vets and they stitched it up. It appeared to be a puncture wound in the top and bottom gum, as if she had bitten down on a stick and it had pierced through. She was stitched up and the bleeding stopped. On Wednesday night, I noticed Maisy sitting at the bottom of the stairs while I was upstairs, changing the bed. Given the effort it takes for Maisy to get all around the house, I knew something must possibly be wrong - she's quite expressive in that way. As I came downstairs I noticed drops of blood on the floor and on her leg where she had been licking. She'd also wee'd on the floor and had a poo just for good measure, she was clearly in distress. I cleaned it all up and mopped the bleeding from her mouth. I took her to the vets in the morning. We left her in overnight so that the could assess the origin of the bleeding and stop it. The vet also wanted to take some blood tests to see why the issue has persisted.

Maisy when we first rescued her. Such a sad start to life.All they found was an ulcer on her tongue. The question was why hadn't it healed up? There was a worry that her liver was not functioning correctly in allowing the blood to coagulate (clot) as it was supposed to. While under GA, they did a clotting test to find out if this was an issue. The clotting test involves creating a small nick in the gum. In an ordinary dog, it would take 2-3 minutes max to stop bleeding. They aborted the test after 5 minutes with Maisy, no sign of stopping the bleed.

We took Maisy's pills into the vets and when we arrived, the vet was there to great us. He seemed agitated, almost frantic. He explained how the blood tests showed that Maisy's liver wasn't producing the level of protein that would be expected and he was seriously worried about it. In addition, her red blood cell count and platelet levels were worryingly low. She was anaemic. Overnight they carried out some more tests. The nurse called us in the morning and let us know that Maisy had recovered from the GA and was perky like she normally is. At this point I wasn't thinking about any other scenario (except maybe deep down) other than that they would find some further course of treatment that would at least give us some hope and some more time. They would be scanning her liver to check for physical abnormalities that morning and we would hear back around midday.

I got the call from the vet and she walked us through their findings. No physical abnormalities of note with the scans. Unfortunately, that wasn't a good sign, as it gave us nothing to go on with what to treat, as we know something is definitely wrong. Her faeces showed signs of blood in it. She seemed to be haemorrhaging into her intestine and/or ingesting the blood from her mouth. Either way, she was already losing more red blood cells through this and with the anaemia, she really couldn't afford to be giving them up so freely. They tested her bone marrow to see how she was producing blood cells to replace those that were being lost. There were no signs of reproduction at all. Her bone marrow had given up the fight. It was time that Maisy could rest and stop the relentless battle for health. It was her time, and as her mummy and daddy, we had to make the decision for her. That is what every responsible pet owner must be prepared to do. In fact, over the last 3 days I've come to appreciate the privilege afforded to me. I was able to offer Maisy eternal peace and spare her the inevitable suffering she was bound to endure should we take any other course of action with what would only have been purely selfish motives.

Maisy during hydro. The most important post therapy treatment and gave her back her legs.Signing the consent form, I felt numb. We were ushered in to sit with her before hand - for as long as we wanted. I thought we'd spend as long as possible with her, cuddling, kissing and reassuring her. It was impossible. We just couldn't prolong the inevitable. The longer we sat there looking into her eyes, we could see that all she wanted to was go home, to her sanctuary where she felt safe and where she had been so deeply loved. It was breaking our hearts. We beckoned the vet and agreed that the time was now. Cas and I both stayed with her, I held her face in my hands and Cas stroked her back. She was laid on her side and the vet tried to find the vein in the inside of her hind leg in which to inject her.

The vet had warned us that her blood vessels had contracted to such an extent that it had previously proved difficult to insert a needle. He assured us that he would try his best to get it first time, but we should be prepared if he missed that he may have to administer some gas. I had my fingers crossed that it would be quick and clean, I was dreading any more distress than we were already facing. The needle went in, which I watched despite trying not to look. My stomach was filled with dread and my throat had a lump in it the size of a grapefruit.

During one of our basset walks. Maisy + 25.

I continued to hold onto her face and stroke the soft, familiar fur around her jowls, tears streaking down my face. As the needle was pressed and fluid administered, Maisy stirred briefly, knocking out the needle. The vet cursed, unsure if enough had been put into her blood stream to take immediate effect. After a couple of frightful moments, Maisy's body relaxed, her eyes closed and she fell asleep in my hands as if she had just laid down on her bed after a long walk in the fields. The vet checked her heart beat. Nothing. It was over and Maisy's pain was no more. Cas and I wept and caressed her lifeless body, emotion running free and uncontrollable as the realisation began to set in, the loss being realised in the pits of our stomachs.

Afterwards, we left and went back home. I then went back not long afterwards to pick up Maisy's body. We left her fleecy blanket to be wrapped in and the nurses brought her out to my car. I drove to Cas's parents house, where we were to lay her to rest, in the field behind their house where she loved to run with the boys, Penny the Westie, puppy Scotty Lexie and the Spaniels; Teale, Willow and Rowan. Man, that was one big hole I had to dig. 

I brought her body from the car and laid her on her blanket on top of an old duvet cover, next to the grave. I let the boys come out into the field and they came over and sniffed her. So did Lexie and Penny. They knew where she was and they were respectfully gentle and in sombre mood.

We said a few words, shed many tears, said our final goodbyes. Cas then left me, as I wrapped her fully in the blanket and duvet and lowered her slowly to the bottom of the grave. Taking the shovel and with every load of dirt, my tears got fewer and my sorrow easier as if the act of burial itself was cleansing my grief; as she finally disappeared from sight, beneath the earth that was now her blanket and where she would be able to rest, painless, for ever more.

It's been really hard since that day. All I kept thinking about for some time after was what had happened, what had we done? The look on her face when we went in to see her. It still gets me going but I'm a lot better. Cas is still very upset and it pains me to see her so. 

We received a card of condolence from the vet a day later. He wanted to reassure us that there was nothing more we could do, that her suffering would have been great, and that we gave her the best life possible in the time we had with her. He had become very fond of her in the time he knew her, as did many of the vets at Damory - not just because all of her treatment funded their xmas party 4 years running (Cas and I often liked to joke...) We have learned to take great comfort in that and it is what I've had to force myself to remember whenever I feel low. More than anything, he thanked us for treating Maisy with love and respect, which I know we did.

On the front of the card, there was a picture of a beautiful woodland, serene and calm. All around the floor of the wood, the most beautiful image of bluebells in the long grass. Quite befitting, and it touched our hearts, for Maisy rests in the meadow, among bluebells.

 

 

First Post with My iPad

Just got a shiny new ipad today. It's been a few weeks in the off-ing as my desire for a tablet has grown and grown. Being an Android fan (though some-what peeved with my HTC Hero thus far) it was a bit of dilemma. Wait for the myriad of Android options to flood the market or go Apple. I succumbed. Apple it is. Along with a wireless keyboard and kickstand case, I'm all set. I'm so looking forward to carrying this around - on the train, on the plane, rather than my bulky 15" laptop. Now, which carrier should I go with?

All change again - I'm changing the way I blog

I've been busy sorting out how and where I spend my time blogging about the things I enjoy and am passionate about. I figured that the R3trosteve blog - my personal dumping ground and place where I had been kind of publishing everything apart from updates on my activities and sports (which I publish on Fidgetstick) - was not really suitable if I wanted the content to actually be seen.

You see, because of the diversity of subject, the content is not focussed on a specific area of interest and ended up a bit of a mish mash. As a result, my keyword optimization and targeting was all to cock and hence, didn't really get much in the way of organic traffic.

So I decided that, alongside my new DoubleDigg venture, I would also restructure the way I generate and publish content and updates about the things I'm involved in.

R3trosteve Blog - this will still be the home of my personal blog and will be more oriented to my personal life, bits and bobs that I do that don't fall into any significant bracket or topic. It will also act an aggregator of all the stuff I create on my other blogs, but without any serious push to get people to read it there - it's more about having everything under one roof for easy access. This will be everything that I do in one site.

Fidgetstick Blog - My adventure log on Fidgetstick will contain all my updates about the activities and adventures that I take part in and try to accomplish. This is a community full of adventurous people, so I want my tales of adventure to be seen there. It's relevant, it's targeted and it's great for the community. There's also 10,000 people across the community social pages waiting to see my updates.

DoubleDigg Blog - This is my new blog which will contain updates about the projects I am working on through the DoubleDigg service, outsourcing advice, new technologies, tools, tutorials and interesting digital stuff. This will be my "business" blog, where I will talk openly about my business activities and perhaps that will help you in your endeavours.

So, that's it - I've now got to get on and write some stuff. Toodle Pip!

Honeymoon Fantastic - Meeru Island, Maldives

So I just arrived back from my honeymoon in the Maldives and I must say, I am frickin' freezing! I couldn't get my head around how, when I got back, it wasn't going to be anywhere near the solid 32 degree sunshine we were enjoying every single day out there. More so, I couldn't believe anything would stop me wearing my shorts and T-shirt and showing off my newly acquired tan. I was very wrong!

Anyway, the honeymoon was absolutely amazing. It began with a nice relaxing complimentary glass of champers in the lounge at Gatwick airport followed by a tortuous 9.5 hr flight direct to Male on Monarch. Cattle class and long legs do not mix.

the Trans Maldivian Taxi service

Arriving in Male, we were ushered through the melee and onto the Trans Maldivian Air Taxi company for our short hop flight to Meeru. It was so bizarre being picked up by some laid back chaps in their shorts, t-shirt and sandals and delivered to a floating jetty in the middle of a lagoon around our island home. But was it awesome? Absolutely.

The Maldives is made up of 1192 islands, which are grouped into Atolls. Of those islands, 200 are inhabited - 100 resorts and 100 local inhabitants. Our island, Meerufenfushi (or Meeru) is the fourth largest resort island and was one of the earliest resorts to be formed in the 70's. That said, we could tell straight away that the island felt far from crowded, was incredibly welcoming and beautiful. At no point whatsoever, would we have said that we were anything other than completely satisfied with the size, level of activity and privacy on the island.

View from the air

The only thing, which is very common in the Maldives, is that they have a policy of overbooking. We had read much about it on Tripadvisor before leaving and on arrival, we were informed that we would be upgraded to a Jacuzzi Beach villa for one night, then moved to our normal beach villa the next day. We were offered a three day cruise for free instead, which (to my disappointment and Mrs S's delight) we declined. Largely because our luggage hadn't yet arrived and the boat was due to depart in 30 minutes! The next day, we were in our accommodation and were able to unpack and settle properly. No problem at all.

When I went to Meeru, I had no intention of scuba diving. I hadn't dived for about 6 years, and it had been about 10 years since I did my PADI Open Water. Since Dad died (he used to be my dive buddy) diving just fell off the radar. But, one look at the crystal clear waters and who was I kidding. I signed up to do a refresher dive, but then thought, screw that! I went straight out on the boat for a nice drift dive at a place called Long Reef. It all came flooding back after a while. 

Next dive was a place called Palm Reef, where, not wanting to do anything by halves, I did an adventure deep dive down beyond 30m and saw manta rays, napolean wrasse, and moray eels.

As much of what I do now is all about generating content - video, photos, editorial - I took the decision to do the PADI Digital Underwater Photography course, with the Ocean Pro Dive team on Meeru, specifically with their photography and videography expert Thorsten. This was covered in two separate dives, the first; a nice dive site at Kuda Thila. Following this dive, we had a photo review, critique, discussion and feedback, before putting the learnings into place on the second dive; a glorious coral garden dive site called Coral Reef. As you ascend up the side wall of the reef, you are greeted with the most stunning unbroken coral bed you could ever imagine. The only problem here was that the reef fish seemed extremely timid and particularly camera shy! 

Along with the practical element, there was also reading to do for both the deep dive and the DUP course. Shucks, that meant I just had to sit out on the beach in the hammock with my iced tea, reading over my materials. Never been such an arduous study scenario. I also got through "Googled - the end of the world as we know it" and the audible book of "Accidental Billionaires" about the founding of Facebook.

Manta Ray at Bodu Hithi Thila

I passed the course and got some cracking photos, but it didn't end there. My final dive expedition was to a place named Bodu Hithi Thila, which is renowned at this time of year for it's cleaning stations - where giant manta rays, white tip reef sharks and nurse sharks gather to be cleaned. It's a couple of hours boat ride across the North Male Atoll, and proved the pinnacle of my diving experience. Dive 1, we made our way down to the coral block at about 24m, settled in and got comfortable as 3 friendly Manta Rays made their way over and performed a graceful, awe inspiring dance for us onlooking strangers. It was majestic and captivating.

Following that delight, we made our way up for lunch. The boat anchored nearer to the reef and we spotted some more Manta's in the shallows close by. Donning snorkel, mask and fins, we were soon back in the water getting up close and personal to 4 or 5 extremely friendly Manta Rays. One took such a shine to me, I literally had to hold one of it's wings as it passed so closely, mouth wide open, taking in gallons of water and krill as it passed. Tearing ourselves away from this truly mind blowing experience was a bind, but food and a second dive was calling.

The second dive, in terms of logistics, was the same as the first - back down to around 22m and sit and watch the dance of the Mantas. A large stingray showed up, not to be outdone and made it's presence known along with a lonesome white tip reef shark of around 2m in length. It felt like everyone was vying for attention over the hypnotic Manta Rays. I took a look down to the rock I was holding, and again, not wanting to be overlooked, a small school of Oriental Sweetlips we floating around a foot from me, just looking and hoping to be given a moment of limelight. This was amazing, after the elusiveness of the Coral Reef inhabitants.

Oriental Sweetlips

When swimming closely with one of the Mantas, I noticed some extraordinary markings on its back. I felt a connection with this creature and it's markings made me consider some higher level consciousness I never thought I possessed. When I got back to the villa, I looked more closely and saw what I thought I had seen. The markings, two parallel diagonal lines of different lengths and a third line, crossing the two lines at an opposing angle. It reminded my straight away of a hunter using a spear to fish - poised and ready to strike. It was almost like this beast was telling a story it couldn't verbalise but could, on some level, get across visually. Captivated and fascinated, I've decided to get the marking tattooed on my foot as a constant reminder of the occasion, the experience and the bond I felt with this giant creature.

dolphins frolicking in the sunset

The rest if the holiday was a relaxing, stress free, all you can eat, all you can drink amazing quality time with my beautiful, interesting, funny and fantastic wife. We enjoyed lounging in the sun, in the hammocks in the shade, making up names for the herons, geckos, bats, reef fish, sharks and rays that were on or around the island. We played ping pong, pitch and putt (on the only 9 hole pitch and putt course in the Maldives) and basically just enjoyed our time alone together. 

Mrs S

We took the sunset cruise and watched dolphins playing in the light of the setting sun. Cas even came and watched me play two football matches - guests versus staff, on their amazing $500,000 artificial full size football pitch, in the middle of the island. The pitch was laced with water, so you can actually slide and fall over without burning your legs off. As the continued heat evaporated the water on the pitch, it became like playing footy in a sauna - which I'm sure they did on purpose!

The Maldivians take their football extremely seriously. So much so, they even drafted in a couple of professional national team players for the game. It was surprisingly close fought, and the speed, skill and fitness of the Maldivians proved triumphant in a classic 10-8 win for the home side. My two (modestly) stunning goals weren't enough to secure vistory on this occasion.

We met some fantastic people, including all the dive team from Ocean Pro, Helen & Howard from Manchester, Colin and his wife from Inverness, Ibrahim our waiter. I hope to keep in touch with them all in some way or another (Ibrahim by visiting the island again next year!).

Anyone who is thinking of visiting Meeru will not be dissapointed with their choice. it is a truly fabulous island, with lots to do if you want, but certainly no pressure, and your privacy is respected and encouraged.

Now we're back home, I can't wait for my next visit to the Maldives - but it has also tickled my interest for wider travel - maybe Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand or similar... Maybe now I should complete my Master Scuba Diver award? Anyway, back to work - I wonder how long the tan will last??

The dawn of a new era - R3trosteve flies the nest

A momentous occasion in my world, as I have now left the security of a "day job" to concentrate my time, effort and the little cash that I have on evolving, developing and growing my my internet based businesses.

Madman? Crazy? 

Perhaps. But this is now my moment, everything I have been dreaming about since I was a teenager - having the independence, responsibility and freedom to control my own destiny and career rather than relying on the abilities - and often inabilities - of others.

In my mind, this is the perfect time to be starting out. That said, I'm not just starting out. I have created and tested a concept that I believe will work, whilst maintaining by day job, and and am now able to put the learnings from that into a distinct strategic plan for the future. One that hopefully, as the economy climbs out of the sespit it is in, will only serve to strengthen and solidify the work me and my team put in now.

So, what am I working on?

Fidgetstick/ - adventure sports community


The main part of my time over the next 6 months will be spent on the redesign, redevelopment and relaunch of Fidgetstick/ (www.fidgetstick.com). Fidgetstick/ is an online community for adventurous people who love to take part in adventure sports and activities or believe they should be taking part and for whatever reason, can't do it enough, want to try new things or want to improve in different areas.

Fidgetstick/ is a noble gesture, one that stands for something greater than just a quick fix internet business. The team at Fidgetstick/ and our community believes that adventure sports are a symptom of a greater human need - to live a varied and adventurous lifestyle. A lifestyle that involves taking risks, reaching for something big and doing it with the best of intentions.

 

  • Connections - Fidgetstick/ aims to make it really easy and intuitive to connect with people of similar interests - such that those connections assist you in achieving your own adventure goals and those of others. 
  • Participation - On a more macro scale those connections will assist in improving participation - through the forming of social connections and sharing resources such as equipment, knowledge and training. Fidgetstick/ will work tirelessly to breakdown the barriers to participation and retention.
  • Content - Increase in participation leads to an increase in content generation, sharing and distribution - articles, photos, videos, blogs, forums, reviews etc. The valuable content will attract new members through search and viral means, creating a culture of growth and continuous improvement.

 

It all starts with getting out there (in the big wide world) and taking part, mucking in, having a go, challenging yourself and others. Break sweat, scare yourself and then come back and tell the community all about it.

The site will give information through community generated content or provide routes to the best information through the thousands of poor quality sources that exist. Fidgetstick/ will become the first port of call for adventure sports enthusiasts seeking information. 

Fidgetstick/ needs to be a sustainable business entity in order to grow and survive, no question about that. Through the correct setup and planning, we have created a model that doesn't rely on traditional CPM/CPC ad campaigns in order to generate revenue. We have multiple revenue streams available, that can be activated at different stages, according to the growth and development of the site. 

In these early days, it is imperative that our cause gets the backing from the commercial world. Such is the is the potential benefit to our corporate sponsors, we are encouraged and deeply grateful for the support we have received so far - but it can't end there. If your company wants to get behind our crusade, then now is the perfect time. Contact me for more information about how you can get involved steve@fidgetstick.com. 

I am so excited about what lies ahead for this community and the team can't wait to get the Fidgetstick/ 2.0 site out there. We've had a lot of positive feedback about the current site, but this will blow that out of the water in every way.

 

Other Projects 

Well, it's a bit early to goo into any great detail. Needless to say, I will be a busy boy. I am also working on a couple of other projects in the online gaming and traditional marketing services (with a twist!) industries. Watch this space for more updates.

So, there we go. All change in my world - what's going on in your world? I would love to hear your thoughts on what I've done, am doing and what you plan to do to live a more interesting, varied and personally gratifying life. Hit me back!

 

R3trosteve

 

 

Nick Griffin - Bigotted Nazi Plonka or just a Plonka?

Now, I'm not one to be drawn on political debate, so I won't start now. I pretty much keep my political opinions to myself (mainly because those opinions are generally misinformed and largely irrelevant to must people). However, as many people would have found, last nights BBC Question Time was truly fascinating, for a few reasons.

1. I don't subscribe to the notion that Nick Griffin shouldn't have been permitted to be on the show. I agree it would have been censorship, which goes against our country's very solid approval of free speech. At the end of the day, it's a political show and like it or not, this far right (and even extremist) standpoint has been part of politics for lifetimes.

2. I also believe that in the end, the BNP's presence, and particularly that of Nick Griffins on the show actually demonstrated that the British public are not stupid. Everyone can see through the smoke and mirrors. When the arrogant, slimy man sits nodding at smiling at the member of the audience time and time again, clearly appalled by the party and the man's point of view, without logical or explanatory response, you get the measure of a man so totally out of his comfort zone. David Dimbleby had him sussed from the off.

Oh and Bonnie Greer was great, she gave it to Nick Griffin in a way that was both humorous, and in equal measure, succinctly damning. Nice.

It's been a while since I last watched question time (and about 4 years since I went to watch one live and asked the then Conservative Party leader in waiting some mumbled question about accountability) but I was massively impressed to see that they have a live Twitter feed from the show and how many times did they mention youtube? Social media is the winner here - Nick Griffin you cannot hide!

Anyway, enough from me, take a look for yourself and make your mind up...

 

 

Welcome to my blog.

Hi there and a warm welcome to my blog.

"This is my personal blog, where I will post about stuff that's of personal interest to me - so it may not be your cup of tea (and that's OK). This may involve the seemingly mundane, spurious and sometimes interesting ramblings normally around the subject of my business life, my dogs, the things I enjoy and my friends. Apparently, I also cross over into other subjects, but I'm not convinced..."

I only started blogging on my favourite subjects in 2009, after re-discovering my passion for writing  content following a period of reflection about where my life and career were headed. This is the bit about me you won't find in any CV.

Having worked as a senior consultant in retail marketing for the past 8 years, working with some of the world's top brands from the sports, telecomms and consumer electronics sectors, I have always had a passion for business and entrepreneurism. Ever since I worked my way through university as a security guard, I have written business plans for companies that I would one day start.

I experienced the sh*t end of the stick when, having left university, I went to work for my fathers printing company. His lithographic house became a fully fledged printers in the late 1990's, after the arse had fallen out of the platemaking and reprographics industry, effectively rendering the skills of the tradespeople obselete. Forced to diversify, they moved into digital print, introducing one of the first digital presses to the South of England - £200k worth of Scitex Spontane (it killed me when the auction following the companies liquidation sold this for a mere £12.00!) and then a Roland B2 press.

In hindsight, the writing had been on the wall for sometime, having had to endure bad debt after bad dept when the business ethics built on a handshake and goodwill were not sufficient to protect the business from hooky buyers and dodgy sales reps.

My father ploughed everything he had into the business, because he couldn't stand to owe suppliers. He remortgaged, sold their premises, but it wasn't enough. It drove him to drink excessively and quickly he spiralled out of control. In the first few months of working for him, I went from van driver to stand in MD as was ever absent.

One of my first acts, as a 21 year old, was to work with the insolvency practitioners to formulate a CVA, to lay off staff and cut the wage bill and to try and keep sales moving and pay the bills. All while trying to protect my family, my employees and my business in the process. Unfortunately, while the CVA was accepted unanimously by our suppliers, the factoring house were unable or unwilling to release funds against our debtor list.

So the business closed, and on my birthday in March 2003, we closed the business after 14 years of successful trading. I had to break the news to 8 guys, after having already gone through the same process only a few months earlier. It was to be "one of" the worst birthdays of my life. I learned some key lessons about business and life through this experience;

1. An entrepreneur should be fuelled by passion, but emotion should never cloud judgement

2. That you shouldn't be afraid to fail, failure is part of business, it is how you cope with failure, learn from and apply it that is important.

3. To treat staff, suppliers, customers and the process with respect and make decisions that are morally and ethically in the best interest of all parties. Don't be evil (ok, so I'm not the first to use that, thanks mr and mrs google).

The loss of the business hit my father extremely hard and his drinking spiralled out of control. In the end they lost the family home and my parents seperated. I didn't speak to my father much for the next few years as he spent time in and out of rehab clinics.

Eventually, it was 2007 and he was turning his life around. He moved back in with my mother and things were looking up. I was driving down to Woolacombe in North Devon for my birthday (yes that date again) celebrations with a few pals, when I received a call from my mother. Dad had been taken into hospital and scans had shown a shadow on his lung.

A few days later he was diagnosed with an aggressive and advanced lung cancer. It was terminal. He eventually passed away in August 2007. I was due to head out to Las Vegas for a conference and I remember standing in the foyer at BT's HQ at Newgate street, when I received the call from my mum, saying that he only had a few more days.

There is nothing like the trauma of bereavement to create a sense of reflection about one's own life. I decided;

1. That life is too short not to take (carefully researched and measured) risks, big or small.

2. That I would cope with any kind of trauma by dedicating myself to  and refocussing on my passion, business and sports, rather than spiralling into depression through drink and drugs. 

3. That what ever happens, you should always have your health. Even if you have no material possessions, as long as you are fit and healthy, in body and mind, you can always start again. There is no subsitute for this.

Why have I just subjected you to an abridged version of my life story? Well, we all have experienced trauma and chaos in our lives. What I've learnt is how you can apply these experiences in a positive way to build your character and make decisions that will enable you to dust yourself off, pick yourself up and try again. Hopefully next time, things will be a little easier and more successful. These are many of my motivators and drivers, things which inspire me from deep inside to do what I want to do and achieve my goals.

The first thing I encourage you to do is consider what inspires or motivates you, from your experiences - good or bad - and reflect on the decisions you made as a consequence. Did you curl up into a ball, all timid and afraid. Did you choose to try and forget by using alcohol or drug abuse as a means of escapism? or did you channel the pain into a focussed and determined new path for your life?

This is my blog. You can now understand where I'm coming from and hopefully share in where I'm going. And I hope it'll help you do the same.