Oct 032016
 
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Here’s the latest Round the Counter podcast. What do you think of the name? Dave Weight came up with the idea, so we thought we would give it a go. Thanks to Dave and Scott for popping in and chatting, we missed Damian this week, hopefully we’ll have him back next week.

Sep 302016
 

This is a short overview of the topics to be covered in the fifth lecture for TECH3022 Advanced Social Media Production.

Sep 262016
 
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Another nice evening recording our podcast with no name. Except for my butter fingers working the controls of my laptop, and playing all the wrong track in the wrong order, it was another random chat with David Weight and Damian Black. Same time next week.

Sep 192016
 
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Here’s the latest Coffee Counter podcast. Thanks to Damien and David for taking part. We chatted about the differences in the way we find out about music and gigs, our mutual appreciation for trainers, and the way that we collect music. All good chat and no hassles about having a plan.

Sep 172016
 

It’s been an interesting week overall. After getting back from the Community Media Association conference on Saturday I had a nice lazy day at home on Sunday. It’s always good to take it easy and chill out before the working week starts on Monday. As I hadn’t been able to go for a run on Saturday due to the rain in Birmingham, I went for a run around Braunstone Park and was surprised by my pace. I can’t pin it down to the beer I drank on Saturday night, but a run s a good way to get through a mild hangover.

Monday was a working day, my aim for the week was to research and write two exams. One for TECH1002 Social Media & Technology, and the other for TECH3022 Advanced Social Media production. I always try and block-book some time before term starts so that I can get my exams written. The benefit is that I don’t have to panic later in the autumn to meet the deadlines, and I then have a template and a set of notes that I can use for teaching.

An exam is a good route-map for learners reading, as it focusses attention on the specific chapters that I’ve based the questions around. I think its still really important that we use exams as a way of testing comprehension and understanding of the issues that we will be discussing in the modules. I try to pitch the exams to my students as being similar to sitting and writing a letter to a friend about something that they are interested in.

The challenge is to encourage learners to be reading the books on the reading list early on. I’ve set four main books, and the exam questions are based around all four books. Any head-start that learners can secure before the start of the year, and then get the reading done early, will give them a major advantage. And you never know that they might find them interesting as well. Follow the links above if you want to look at the reading lists. A little tip – the reading suggestions with [E] are what the exam questions are based on.

Coffee Roaster Podcast No Two

Coffee Roaster Podcast No Two

On Monday evening it was the Podcast Club at the Coffee Counter on Bowling Green Street in Leicester. I’m experimenting with a regular, weekly podcast to try and find a more social way of developing content that is interesting to discuss between a small group of people. There is no great plan or expectation about it, just a bit of informal chat and some random music. The idea is to meet each week and to talk about how it is we are social these days, especially when we have so much access to social media.

Talking of which, on Thursday I went to the latest Bike Lounge, which is a social occasion for people who are interested in all things cycling. This week the guest speaker was Mike from Bone-Shaker Magazine, who talked about how the magazine started and what topics they cover. It was really cool to hear about the Bristol vibe that gave birth to the magazine, and how it has grown into something of a publishing phenomenon.

Mike from Boneshaker at Bike Lounge

Mike from Boneshaker at Bike Lounge

Bike Lounge takes place at 96 Degrees Cafe on Braunstone Gate in Leicester. My only wish is that they are open in the evening more often, as it was really nice to sit in a cafe for the evening and just socialise. I’m looking forward to the next event that Dave Weight organises, perhaps we can record it as a podcast and share it with people wider afield as well.

On Wednesday I went to an address by the DMU Vice Chancellor, which took place in the new Art & Design building. It’s pretty impressive inside, and with a cracking view of the Queens Building, which has gained a new lease of life by being cleaned-up and opened-up. I might be looking out for a niche in the new building to sit and work rather than sitting in the office!

20160913_084254218_iosSo I got to Friday and achieved my goal of writing my exams, so I took a break on Friday evening and just watched a movie. Then this morning I’ve been into BBC Leicester to do the newspaper review. Luckily I’m an early-bird, so I went for a run at 6am and got to BBC Leicester for 8am to read the papers. Now I can relax and drink coffee because I’ve not got anything else planned for the day. Hurray!!

Sep 122016
 
Play

Today’s podcast was just Damien and myself, so we rambled for a while and played some music. We ended up talking a lot about coffee and a bit about selfies. If you want to take part in a future edition of these podcasts, we are at the Coffee Counter every Monday from 5pm.

Sep 052016
 
Play

Just spent some time with friends recording a podcast, Chad, Pav, Damien and Ruby. We sat around a table in the Coffee Counter in Leicester and chatted about stuff that came to mind. We didn’t really have a plan, and we didn’t really know what we where talking about, but that was kind of the point.

We played a few tracks from my playlist off my phone and just passed the time with some inane ramblings.

Apr 102016
 

Yesterday I went to London for a day out. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. I didn’t really plan it, so I didn’t have a fixed idea of what I wanted to do. I wanted to mooch and wander about, and see if anything caught my attention. Sit in a café and watch the world go by.

It wasn’t the best start to the day when my train didn’t even get out of  Leicester station because it had a fault. Forty minutes later and I was tucking into my breakfast, but it should have been an omen for the rest of the day really.

Coffee Festival Queue

Coffee Festival Queue

First destination was Shoreditch, and it’s easy to get the Tube to Liverpool Street, and then a short walk through Spitalfields market. As it was early there was still a lot of setting-up being done. Lots of stalls, but to be honest, they were all selling things that can be bought any day. If you are into chain cafes and restaurants I suppose Spitalfields has some pull as a destination, but it’s become as much a generic shopping centre as any other.

London Coffee Festival

London Coffee Festival

Heading over to Brick Lane I wanted to pop into Rough Trade – I bought the new Parquet Courts album. Getting to Rough Trade meant walking past the queue to get in to the London Coffee Festival. It snaked down the street and around the block. So many people interested in coffee that has been regurgitated by gerbils!

Brick Lane Bagels

Brick Lane Bagels

Brick Lane has the feel that Camden Lock has, with standard food stalls, vintage market stalls and tat shops. It’s good but I did feel that I should have tweaked a moustache and brought a fixy-bike with me.

The next thing I wanted to do was visit Tate Modern, so I got the Tube to St Paul’s then walked over the Thames to the South Bank. It’s a pretty impressive approach and the views up and down the river are cool. The problem with the Tate is that it is so busy all the time that it’s almost impossible to make sense of what you’re looking at. The special exhibition fees are way too much as well. It’s like the art is given second billing to the numerous gift shops and cafes.

St Pauls

St Pauls

Tate Print Shop

Tate Print Shop

I ended up thinking it will be just as easy to read an exhibition catalogue than wander about trying to get some appreciation of the otherwise iconic works.

I then wandered over to the West End, through Covent Garden over to Foyles, where I got a copy of Paris Spleen by Charles Baudelaire and a book of essays by Michael Oakeshott. What I wanted to do was sit somewhere and relax for a couple of hours, but obviously this being Soho it was massively intense and every café seemed to be busy.

Tate Art Demo

Tate Art Demo

The problem is that I hate chain cafes and restaurants. Anything that has a ‘brand’ is just dreadful, and London is dominated by corporate brands. I used to look forward to finding small, independent cafes and restaurants, but they seem to have vanished from the West End. Indicative is the chain The Breakfast Club. London used to be serviced by proper cafes. Now people queue in the street to get into The Breakfast Club for a bacon cob!

I can’t complain entirely, the French House still resists the corporate onslaught and offers a more traditional environment of association with no music, no theme, just people sitting drinking and chatting without being instructed in how they should feel about themselves, which is too often a priority of the ‘we-are-all-so-wonderful-and-amazing’ types. It’s rare to find a space that isn’t dominated by a surfeit of ego and self-entitlement.

Blackfriars Bridge Steps

Blackfriars Bridge Steps

I think the problem is that London has stopped being a city and has instead become a destination. What was once a place that people congregated, cheek-by-jowl to do their business and live their lives, has now become a corporate enterprise that has to be managed and homogenised so that the maximum efficiency can be squeezed out of the place.

The problem is it is so boring. The West End bustles, there are millions of people wandering about, but the script has been laid-out for them. Go see a show. Have a dinning experience. See the iconic landmarks. Visit the galleries and stare at the picture postcard exhibitions. Shop in the same stores you get in the rest of the country. Travel efficiently between well laid out points of the map. Have the ‘London Experience.’

I have to say by the end of the day I was thoroughly bored and couldn’t wait to get on the train back to Leicester. It’s going to be a while before I go back to London for Leisure. It’s just not worth it. I couldn’t even buy any interesting postcards. They were all the same as well.

Nov 072015
 

I’ve escaped from Leicester for a couple of days to take a break over the weekend and recharge my batteries. Rather like Superman when he stands in the suns glare, I will head towards the River Mersey and stand at the Pier Head and take in the spray of salt water, the cold wind whipping off the Irish Sea, and contemplate the slate grey sky that forms the backdrop to the Liverpool seafront.

I’ve been enjoying running my modules this year, and have settled into the themes with more confidence, as I’ve been able to develop them and add content that is more to my liking and my tastes. It’s a challenge to run three modules simultaneously, and to refresh the content as I go along. ‘It’s doing the working and the thinking that tires a fellow out!’ Now where did I hear that?

One of the things I’ve introduced to my first year social media module is getting the students to play cards for the first twenty minutes. It’s been useful for a couple of reasons. Firstly it means that the learners are able to sit and chat and get to know one another more easily, as the groups vary each week, and they often teach each other different games. Some students have played cards with their families and friends for years, while others are new to them. What I hope they are gaining from having a couple of short hands of either Pontoon, Rummy, Blackjack or Bullshit, is a sense of sociability and a sense of collaboration while engaging in something that is playful and distracting.

I always introduce a topic of suggested conversation related to the lectures I’ve delivered, and as we’ve been finding our way into thinking about media and the process of mediation through bands like The Velvet Underground, Talking Heads, Roxy Music and The Art of Noise, then we’ve been discussing how art has often been closely associated with pop culture. So we’ve mentioned Andy Warhol, Richard Hamilton, and Italian Futurists – anything that connects the world of popular music with the world of ideas, alternative ways of viewing the world. I’m hoping that by looking back on some music movements of the past, these students might be inspired to create something for themselves. I wonder if any of them will form a band, or write a manifesto?

Likewise, I’m developing an introductory module to Community Media, which is something that has emerged from the ongoing PhD work. It’s a bit like building the railway line as the train is moving down the tracks. There’s a lot of trying things out and looking for live wires that can be used as a contrasting example between mainstream media, and community media’s more DIY and alternative approach. The students have hit on the idea quite quickly that community media is about giving a platform and a space for people who would otherwise not have a voice to speak and be heard.

We are experimenting with a story about people cycling on the pavement, and looking at how mainstream media in Leicester have covered it, and how alternative and independent media might look at this as a story. We’ll write blogs about it, perhaps put a news article together based on what we find out, and record a podcast based on the ideas and responses that can be collected and found when we talk with our friends and neighbours.

I’ve also been developing the final year social media module, that has taken the excessive use of sugar in our diets as a campaign issue, and is looking at ways that social media might be used to change peoples attitudes to the processed foods that we over-consume as a society. Our efforts where given a good kick this week when Keith Vaz MP told Coca Cola that their Christmas lorry wasn’t welcome in Leicester. This is a story that has stirred up a lot of controversy and has generated loads of comments on social media, and is a great example of how embedded attitudes to a consumer product and brand can be difficult to shift and change.

We are only at the end of week five, and there is some considerable way to go with these modules, with lots of marking and assignments to come in. So I’m going to use the week six reading week as an opportunity to get some reading done myself, start some marking, and maybe get ahead in preparing some classes, while also seeing if I can work through some of my PhD chapters that need writing. So no rest then, but at least I’m not on the hamster wheel for a couple of days.

May 242015
 

I was won over to Liverpool Sound City a couple of years ago, with it’s innovative mix of music festival, conference and the creative opening-up of regular and hidden music venues across the city. I could book into a hotel then dodge between bands, coffee shops, and shopping. Chilling out and exploring some amazing temporary venues, like Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral, or a run-down car park that had been turned into a performance space.

This years Sound City Festival has a new format though, and it’s taken away the joy and the pleasure that made this a unique festival.

Firstly, getting to the new site down on Bramley-Moore Dock, is a major pain. There are no regular buses that service this part of Liverpool. There is a train service that runs nearby, or a special bus service, but otherwise it’s a good half-hour walk away from the Pier Head.

The site is now a self-contained festival with restrictions on what you can bring in, and bag searches to get through the gates. In the past the major venues operated a bag-check policy, so it’s not much different, but the big difference now is that the site is locked-down, and once you are in you can’t get out. So if you don’t like wraps, burgers, noodles or pizza then you are pretty limited in what you can eat.

It sounded worse than it looked!

It sounded worse than it looked!

There are few places for sitting and chilling out. A couple of wooden pallets have been set-up for people to sit on, but otherwise its hard to find a space among the rubble and the hard-standing dock-sides. This isn’t a space to relax. Quite literally it’s an industrial dock, with metal railings erected to keep people in or out.

Being on the banks of the Mersey seems a lovely idea, and when the sun is out it’s pleasant. But once the weather changes and the wind whips-up, then there’s no protection from the harshness of the Irish Sea.

These are small complaints though, compared to the quality of the sound of the festival. Whoever chose the locations for each of the stages and tents never gave a thought for the way that they would sound. The central area around the North Stage is surrounded by five other stages. The bleed of noise from each of them is overwhelming and exhausting.

The main stage sounds anodyne and insipid as most of the sound is whipped-off by the strong winds in a vast riverside open space. This is not a natural amphitheatre that would enhance the delicate nuance of the performances. Instead it’s a harsh, post-industrial concrete landscape that is unforgiving to anything but the most brutal sounds.

The Baltic Stage should be more interesting than it is, as it’s inside a warehouse. But by blasting the sound systems to their maximum it’s generally impossible to hear anything of the performances. I measured 100db on my phone sound meter. I’m sure people left with permanent damage to their hearing.

I thought I would be writing about the bands and the music, but the environment and the sound management of this festival is so poor that I can’t really tell if the bands that I’ve heard and seen have been any good. It’s become just another boring rock festival. I won’t be coming back next year.