Archive for September, 2008

Looking Back At This Year’s Edinburgh Fringe Podcast

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

It’s now been a few weeks since the end of the Edinburgh Festival, and I have (finally) caught up on enough sleep to look back on the madness that is the Edinburgh Fringe Podcast (from The Stage and The Podcast Network – sorry but after a month the full tag line is a pavlovian reaction.

And there is no other word than madness to describe it. Numbers for The Fringe itself are mind-boggling… some 2,000 shows, with 31,000 performances and 19,000 on stage artists. On top of that you have all the layers that are needed to make the infrastructure work, some 250 venues to be staffed, agents and promoters watching their charges, the influx of tourists…

Lets throw my personal numbers in this year as well. There were 24 full shows put together (and one video entry). Those shows were a minimum of two or three guest interview slots, music from one of the acts at the end, and a round up of the news around Edinburgh each day. You want a metaphor? That’s the equivalent of producing an episode of the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson every day, single-handedly (“I knew Carson,” says David Letterman, “and you, Sir, are no Johnny Carson”).

Those shows featured just under 100 interviews, between two mintues (for those I bumped into on the Royal Mile) to the 40 minute in-depth interview with Jason Byrne, although that felt more like a musical jamming session (but with words) than a serious interview, although I did steer it into some more human territory than you would expect.

I must pass on huge amounts of thanks, hugs, cuddles and ‘you were stars’ to Brian Luff and Georgina Sowerby. They brought up their own podcast and put it on stage at the Edinburgh Free Fringe, and they interviewed many of their guests for the Fringe podcast, bringing another viewpoint (and voice) to the show.

Thanks also to Alex Hastie, who you heard on one of the Sunday shows interviewing David Benson. He popped up many times behind the scenes with both his address book of contacts around Edinburgh and his velvet voice contributing to the show. Having done work with Alex on talk radio, a lot of his ethos on preparation and what makes good radio rubbed off on me.

For ten months of the year, I can look back on the fringe podcasts as being some of the best work I’ve done – with timely coverage, up to date information, and hopefully giving the listeners the confidence to look off the beaten track at Edinburgh and try something new as well as the names they know off the telly.

The other two months of the year are slightly different. August, the month of the Fringe itself, is rather like a roller coaster. You know at some point it’s going to end, you can rationalise you’re having fun as you are thrown around, but you are very close to it, like riding round blind corners and can’t really sit back and take it all in. July is taken up with the planning – lots of people are in Edinburgh and setting up an interview schedule to speak to enough people, through the month so there is always material to choose for is the main frustration in July. I joke that it’s rather like lining up a handful of dominoes, and trusting that others will turn up in time to be pushed over themselves. As to where it ends up, that’s rather going on a mystery tour and seeing where it finishes.

Both The Stage and I are very happy where it ended up – staying in the Top 10 of the iTunes Arts Charts for most of the Fringe, and peaking at #2. Yes for one glorious moment, the universe told us that only The Archers was more popular than the Edinburgh Fringe Podcast. I’ll take that, for two reasons. One is that last year we only bounced around the lower reaches of the Top Ten in that chart, and the second is that there are a lot more podcasts out there. So the show improved all round on 2007.

I personally think that I’m better for doing the shows – one interview I approached with care in 2008 was with Tim Vine, because he was interviewed back on the first Fringe podcasts in 2005. Having listened back to that episode I wanted to shout at the me from four years ago what I was doing all wrong. The difference in those interviews just goes to prove the old adage that practice makes perfect, even though I have many more years of practice ahead of me.

There were some problems in the interviews this year, but I think I only made two major mistakes when interviewing this year (and both of those were cut from the shows that went out so don’t go listening for them). Plenty smaller mistakes and minor errors, if it was from myself I generally kept them in the show. If they were from the interviewee, then I would edit those out. The rule I follow is always make the interviewee sound good. If that means an edit makes me look bad, then tough, that’s how the cookie crumbles.

This year also saw a much greater spread of genres in the show – back in 2005 the majority of guests were from the stand-up circuit, and generally those on road up to fame and fortune. Fast forward to now, and there’s a number of big stand up names in the mix that were on that road a few years ago, but there’s a lot more theatre, first time performers, and challenging productions (and interviews). I think PR people are more confident in handing me the fragile interviewees.

It’s at this point I want to single out the talisman of Stephen K Amos. One of those up and comings in 2005, he’s the only performer to have been in the show every one of the four years it has run. I hope long term listeners will recognise the progression that he has made through the years as well, although next year the editing of the interview needs to give new listeners an easy way into the conversation – it might have been a bit heavy going this year with Amos appearing in the second show and calling back to previous years straight away.

Okay, what about Fringe-Radar? There’s no point doing these shows if you can’t get under the skin of the Fringe and act as that early warning system for the listeners. It came out rather well! I interviewed Sarah Millican on the first weekend, airing that interview a week later. In the last weekend she picked up the Comedy Awards Best Newcomer trophy. On the theatre front, the big winner there was ‘Eight,’ a first time writing and directing performance from Ella Hickson. After airing the interview at the end of the first week, things started really moving for Hickson – I guess the combined Fringe Radar throughout the media picked up the show at the same point. Eight went on to win a Fringe First, a Herald Angel and the Carol Tambor award, which is a massive prize, it includes a week’s run in New York.

Oh and The Martins won Spirit of the Fringe after being in the preview show on August the 1st, but I’m good friends with John, Gerry and Houston and have been championing them for three years. So I don’t think that one counts, although their Mary Poppins meets World War Two sketch was the funniest moment of the Fringe. But I’m biased.

I always say that the Fringe is the biggest single engagement of the media year for myself, with SXSW coming in second place. The same will probably hold for the Fringe next year, although I have a sneaky suspicion that something is going to knock SXSW into third place in the size stakes…

No matter though, the bottom line is the Edinburgh Fringe Podcast had its best year yet, and even though I’ve a sneaky suspicion that I’ll be doing it every August for many more years to come, I don’t begrudge it. The Fringe really is one of a kind in the world, and the fact I can capture even a tiny bit of it and present it to the world makes me very proud.

Personal thoughts on this year’s Blog World Expo

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

As I’ve mentioned before, I couldn’t make the August ‘blog conference in Las Vegas,’ namely Tim Bourquin’s New Media Expo, due to commitments for the Edinburgh Fringe, but the second year of Rick Calvert’s Blog World Expo was on my radar as a potential gig to go to. Thanks to some work comissioned to report on the conference, I was all set for a lightning trip to Las Vegas. Flying out on Friday morning from Edinburgh, returning from the Nevada city on the Monday afternoon left little time for the body clock to get remotely close to the right time-zone – this was certainly a spirit to and around a conference, compared to the more marathon style trips I’ve done in the past.

Landing at 8pm and checking into my hotel, I had just enough time to quickly freshen up, get into the kilt, and head up to the first (and ultimately the main) party of the Conference – the TechSet Party at the Mirage. Frankly this is how to do a good mixer event, so congrats to both
Stephanie Agresta and Brian Solis who put this together. It also showed me why Blog World Expo was a good choice of event to attend. TechSet and the event as a whole had a great mix of people that I already knew and could play catch-up with, but it had a large group of people that I didn’t know… or at least didn’t know at the start of the weekend. Which is as it should be.

By having that varied mix, a lot of issues got raised and challenged in the sessions, there was very little ‘coasting’ from any of the panels. People did get called on their views, and while in most cases they could justify them, the fact that they were challenged is great. There is no one right way of doing anything online.

The evening of Day One saw the strangely titled ‘opening night party’ after most people had been around Blog World Expo and the Fringe events for two days. Finishing relatively early at 8pm, that left most people with a blank schedule in the evening and a gap opening up for someone to make as big a splash as TechSet had done the night before. The only discussed party was by Zappos, being held in The Living Room at Planet Hollywood, but unfortunately it just wasn’t the sort of atmosphere that helped mingling and discussion.

The Living Room turned out to be a curtained off area at the top of a balcony which had a bar squeezed in, and a very loud PA system. Everyone squeezed in, overpriced drinks, and just a complete inability to enoy it. I think I left all that behind in my first year at University. Next year, someone should have a late evening mixer event and be able to gather a lot of goodwill.

Sunday was a day where the question was “when are you leaving?” With most of the attendees based in the US, they were all talking afternoon and evening flights to get home for work on Monday morning. It lead to a feeling that the conference was fizzling out at the end, rather than having a definitive end, although Rick did say that the last burst of the tradeshow at 3pm was one of the busiest of the event. Perhaps having a definitive ‘end’ to the program at 1pm might have cured this feeling. It wasn’t a wrong feeling, and it’s not a negative criticism, it’s just that it felt a little bit weird.

A word about the hotel… I was in the Excalibur, on the southern tip of The Strip, and a very strange mix of a hotel it is. With typical American subtlety, it’s a Medieval / Arthurian theme, with a rather fairytale castle built between the four strong walls of the forty story hotel room blocks. It looks great in pictures, but the rooms are still your rather simple big beds with a bit of space around them, and a reasonable sized bathroom – plus a 45” TV which came in useful for some Sunday night American Football (always nice to catch that in person, rather than some dodgy P2P stream).

I was also buddying up with a room-mate for the weekend, so thanks have to go out to Nicholas Chase for putting up with my snoring and generally never once giving me the feeling that I was getting in the way of all his A/V equipment in the room.

For such as short visit, Blog World Expo was definitely worth confusing my body clock for, even though by the time my first batch of jetlag was hitting me I was already on the flight home. The venue (Las Vegas Convention Center) and seminar rooms were the perfect fit for the numbers of attendees, the opportunites to connect and reconnect were plentiful, there was time between sessions to mingle and socialise, there was a wide range of skill and expertise over a number of genres… everything about the event had been mixed together with good effect.

Yes there were a few quirks, but on the whole I’m glad Rick invited me along and that I attended. I can’t compare it to the NME, as I wasn’t at that event and would be relying on other’s view. What I do know is that from a personal point of view, Blog World Expo was worth every minute of my time… and yes, I’m looking forward to heading back next year, but perhpas with more than 6 days notice.

Blog World Expo Report - The Professional View (via BBC News)

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

I’ll be doing a more personal look from my time at last weekend’s Blog World Expo in the next few days, but I’ve (a) got some catching up to do after spending a carbon-footprint decadant long weekend in Las Vegas and (b) the paying gigs come first. In the meantime you can get my professional thoughts via BBC News.

The advertising slogan says that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. But at Blogworld Expo it was more likely to appear online, either written up on a website, as a photo on image sharing sites such as Flickr, or as a video clip uploaded to YouTube… It is the connections between these groups, and the spirit of sharing that was on show both at the conference and online every day, that drives the rich and diverse modern internet.

The full article, not surprisingly, can be found over at the BBC News’ Technology section

I’m Speaking at Le Web (when you’re all listening to The Doctor)

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

No sooner is one trip over, than the planning for the next one starts. Thanks to some planning over the summer, I was already looking at a December’s trip to attend Le Web 2008 was already in the final stages. Loic and Geraldine have announced this year’s program, although it’s always worth pointing out that there’s a lot of people in the team that sort out these programs.

I’ll be speaking on the panel “Love In Motion - Mobile Ubiquity and Social Networks,” alongside Dr Lai Kok Fung (Buzzcity) and Antonio Vince Staybl (itsmy.com), with Ferhan Cook (Any Screen Productions) in the Moderators chair. Those of you with sharp eyes will note that I’m representing the worst kept secret on the UK tech scene at the moment, namely Wubud.

But let’s be honest, you’ll all be at Dr Brian Cox’s panel that starts half way through my one. After all, he gets to play with liquid helium for a living, and straps on a magnetic suit so he can be accelerated around round the Large Hadron Collider when nobody’s watching….

Off To Las Vegas and BlogWorldExpo

Friday, September 19th, 2008

I’m writing this in the American Airlines Lounge at Heathrow, after the first leg of the trip to Las Vegas. Edinburgh to Heathrow just proves Terminal 5, and specifically transfers from T5 to T3 (where the American flights are) is pretty hellish, and much worse than T1 to T3 ever was (and I have to say I think today’s transfer went very smooth).

Anyway, from here it’s on to Dallas, then into Las Vegas. Should be getting in around 8pm local time, and after stopping off to freshen up at the Excalibur Hotel, I’ll be heading to the TechSet party. My UK mobile will be running, so call or text me on +44 7966 152772. Twitter will be running, but as I’m a UK number I won’t get DM’s on my device. Send SMS texts instead.

As for the conference I have notes on what I want to see in the seminars, but I really want to see you! Whoever you are reading this blog post. Please stop me in Vegas and tell me what you’re up to, what’s cool, or how you are doing. even if it’s just to say hi, do the business card/moo card shuffle and follow up in October, that’s why we all go to conferences!

To help you all in this quest, here’s a recent picture of me, and given I’ll be in the kilt for the conference, it should be a good match.

How The BBC Should Change Eurovision

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

At the end of last month, after I made a flurry of posts regarding the perceptions of the Eurovision Song Contest (and negating each one of them), The Stage approached me to ask if I could do a column based around a simple question… “[what should the BBC] do to improve the competition’s standing (and our [the UK's] standing within the competition)?”

In 500 words.

The column went out in this week’s print edition of The Stage, and has also been posted online via their TV Talk Blog…

The contest will run for a full entire week in Moscow, with rehearsals, events and two semi-finals all leading up to the Grand Final on the Saturday night. If the BBC can devote acres of coverage to the latest Andrew Lloyd Webber production and create an enduring emotional link with the county, it should do the same with Eurovision.

The full article is online at The Stage. It’s also been picked up by Eurovision.TV (the official Eurovision site) leading off an article on international coverage to the changes in the voting system - not quite the intention as the lead deadline for print is about a week, but the timing is nice!

How To Fix Eurovision

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

I love the unintended double meaning in this blog post from Daniel Sullivan. With the title ‘Eurovision to be Fixed,’ he points out his delight at the re-introduction of the jury vote. Of course, with perhaps only eight people in the jury to influence, rather than a whole country voting on the phon, doesn’t this fix make ‘fixing’ Eurovision (in the sense of Franco, Spain and Cliff Richard’s “Congratulations”) a little bit easier?

I’ll stop giggling quietly to myself now.

Picture of the Day - Doctor Who Muppets

Monday, September 15th, 2008

Paul Cornell is one of the writers on the latest season of Doctor Who (he does other stuff as well), and his blog is always a nice read. But part of his post today, and the accompanying picture, is gorgoeous.

And I was delighted to encounter, at the weekend, these puppets, made and operated by Julia Houghton and Jason Lythgoe-Hay, of the Tenth Doctor and Donna. Not for commercial purposes, mind: these are labours of love. I’ve only seen one other like this, the work of the fabulous Mrs. David in New York.

Comparing Live Streaming Sites Qik and Flixwagon

Monday, September 15th, 2008

Over on All About Symbian this morning is a lengthy article comparing two of the services that let you stream live video from your smartphone to the world, namely Qik vs Flixwagon. Rather than quote the article (which I normally do), here’s my thoughts on both of them…

Flixwagon…

Qik…

Oh and why no Kyte.tv? Simple really, their applciation was java based, while Qik and Flixwagon were native C++ code on Symbian. And the site is call All About Symbian. Yeah it’s flimsy, but head to head is kinda tough with three!

Jury Voting Returns To The Eurovision Song Contest

Sunday, September 14th, 2008

Interesting decisions from the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) from their meeting in Moscow to discuss the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) 2009. Apart from the almost formality of confirming Russia’s capital as the host city next May, the voting system to decide the winning song will now be made up of a mix of pre-selected juries and telephone voting of the general public.

This is similar to the recent Eurovision Dance Contest, where roughly 25% of the available points were awarded by four judges in the venue (they were given the weight of four countries, so instead of their top cote being worth 12 points in the final mix, but 48 points). What was interesting on the EDC 2008 result was that even if the Jury had not been there, and only the points from the telephone counted, then Poland would still have been the winner.

The EBU have not yet determined just how much weighting will be given to jury, but I’m wondering if it will be enough to sway the final results away from the winning telephone votes. This has been the case in some of the National Finals in previous years, and can leave a bad taste in the mouth.

But I think the biggest change that having the jury in the mix will be the perception of the voting. No matter what evidence there is, certain countries (and certain commentators) still believe that entire countries will do the will of their governments and vote for political reasons, rather than the fact they are voting for their home country, or the heart-throb male singer that’s been on their TV for months. So the jury will give confidence in the final result, but I don’t think that there should be enough weighting that the jury can ultimately over-rule the phone vote except in very close contests (such as 2003, where the top three were separated by only three points).

Here’s how you win Eurovision… You write the best song, you perform it well on the night, and you make sure that everyone in Europe has heard of you before the Grand Final. That way you get more ‘Douze Points‘ from around Europe than other songs, and you end up winning.

I don’t think adding national juries will change this, but I do think that the jury will enhance the result enhance the standing of the contest, and ultimately that’s a good thing.

So bring on the jury… now, how do I apply?

I’ll Be At BlogWorld Expo Next Weekend… Will You?

Sunday, September 14th, 2008

Not quite a last minute decision, as I’ve been keeping an eye on flights and everything else surrounding next weekend’s BlogWorld Expo in Las Vegas, but over the weekend I booked the flight tickets from Edinburgh to the city of a billion lights… which were all paid for by people loosing at Blackjack.

Anyway, the plan is pretty simple. I’ll be landing at 8pm on Friday (local time) and heading to the opening night party at The Mirage, hitting the conference floor all day Saturday and Sunday, and then flying back to Scotland from Monday afternoon.

In terms of things during the confefence, my diary is pretty open. I might nip out to make an appearance here live on Sunday morning for Java with John , and you shouldn’t be surprised if Rick Calvert squeezes me onto a panel either. Otherwise if you want to meet up drop me an email, ewanspence@gmail.com, or call me on the mobile, +44 7966 152772 will be roaming, and if I get a US mobile number I’ll post it here as well.

Secret Agent Clank on The PSP Show

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

Whoops, been a slow couple of days, but in case you missed it, The PSP Show over on The Podcast Network continues to bring you a 10 minute burst of news and reviews on the Sony PSP. The platform game Secret Agent Clank was the review for the latest show…

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Show Notes - Download MP3 - RSS Feed

Posts I Love - #563, Tom Morris

Monday, September 8th, 2008

In all the web remixing, hacking culture, and general tinkering we do, I just love seeing posts like this one from Tom Morris…

…just testing something. He-heh. Even if it is nothing special, there’s something nice about seeing that sort of post.

Free Drinks and Crap Tech Pitches This Week In San Francisco

Sunday, September 7th, 2008

Those of you in San Francisco this Tuesday (Sept 9th) might want to swing by the House of Shields (39 New Montgomery St) at 10pm, where Smack My Pitch Up is being held. Get enough VC’s, investors and entrepeneurs in town, you’ll get people pitching business ideas around like poor baseball pitches. ‘Smack’ is no different, but willbe looking for the most terrible ideas in tech possible.

Prizes include a grand prize of $50 (in non-sequential, used single dollar bills). Bonus prizes will be available for best URL containing a pun (or a pub), most creative misuse of grammar and the Calacanis Cup for the most arrogant pitch. One more thing to note… no powerpoint presentations - flipcharts and sharpies, yes, microphones, yes, spending any real prep time, no.

Make sure you have a Wubud sticker on and the drinks are on the latest company not paying to pitch themselves. It shouldn’t be too hard to find a sticker, they’ll be at the door. As Paul Carr points out, be there or pay $2,995 to be somewhere else…

The ‘Nul Points’ Picture of the Day

Friday, September 5th, 2008

dConstruct? Naw, I’ll pass on that for this…

I had fun…