Mother Nature, the nature and photographic diary blog of Croydon-based blogging enthusiast Alex Smithson, has marked five years of being online this past week.
Alex has been a long term friend and supporter of HEM News Agency for the past four years, from when it was called the Half-Eaten Mind Blog. Based in the suburban town of Croydon, just south of London, Alex first started working on Mother Nature (under its former simpler title, ‘Photography – Nature’) on the 6th of June, 2013 when he uploaded a number of photography projects taken with a Samsung ST200F camera he carried around with him.
Alex began to use the new blog to explore his passions of gaming, technology and nature photography and show his imagery to a steadily growing audience.
Five years on, Mother Nature has gone from strength to strength, chronicling Alex’s pictorial journey around his hometown, his commencement of an A-Level photography course at a local college and even him getting to grips with the graphic design software, GIMP.
While the design and look of Alex’s blog has shifted much over the years, he still uses Mother Nature as a creative venue for his photos of colourful flowers and wildlife. For Alex, photography is a stimulating vocation that has motivated him in the hard work of maintaining his website and keeping the interest flowing.
In addition to his photography and writing work, Alex Smithson has also taken on the mantle of mental health advocate, publicising various issues and neurological conditions, such as autism, mental health stigma and the impact of social media on youngsters’ minds. The blogger had lent his support to various mental health charities like Depression Alliance, the Samaritans, Mind and others. His advocacy for mental health and neuro-diversity has already won him praise from actor Oli Regan, who collaborated with Alex on one of his articles. Alex plans to further his campaigning for mental health issues through the medium of photography as part of his blog’s fifth anniversary celebrations.
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of British women winning the right to vote in elections, the Museum of London is hosting the Votes for Women Weekend from today in honour of women’s suffrage, featuring various participatory activities for people of all ages, the magazine Skint London writes.
The event, which is being held over two days from 3-4 February, 2018 and is free entry, promises to be an immersive and fun experience celebrating this key milestone in universal suffrage, when women over the age of thirty finally won the right to help choose who governs us, after a long struggle.
Votes for Women Weekend will feature lots of performances, photography, workshops, poetry and other things to do. Visitors can take part in a re-enactment of a suffragette rally, which also has a trip through history to the present day, and a two-hour long ‘banner-thon’ where they can create their own digital banners in collaboration with the charity Digital Drama’s 100 Banners projects. The banners will be taken on a march to the UK parliament.
Herstory fans can also learn about how the early 20th-century police used photography to capture suffragette activities undercover, and even play suffragette-inspired games in an Edwardian living room, including one called ‘Pank-a-squith’, a board game said to be have conceived by the Suffragettes themselves.
There will also be a spoken poetry jam and a chance to discover stories about inspirational women and girls, as well as learning about significant participants in the struggle to gain women the vote, such as Millicent Fawcett and Sophia Duleep Singh.
British women received the right to vote on the 6th of February, 1918, after a long struggle by early women’s activists, known as the Suffragettes, who first planned their protests in the drawing rooms of Victorian Britain, before eventually taking to rallies, civil disobedience protests, and in some cases, even getting into trouble with the law.
As you may have noticed, the blog is looking a little different nowadays. Today is the fifth anniversary of its founding (back in April 2012) and I decided that to mark the occasion, I would give the blog a makeover. We got rid of the old theme we were using (Mystere) and brought in a more modern looking one from WordPress, named ‘Plane’. The blog has also been officially renamed. It is now to be known as ‘HEM News Agency’, to better reflect the content and premise of the blog. The old name “The Half-Eaten Mind Blog” is still acceptable however, and we are keeping it as an unofficial pseudonym (not sure if this would be the right word for it).
Nowadays, an increasingly number of websites are going for the flat design trend, shafting the gradients and gimmicks of old and going for a cleaner and simpler look, with block colours and basic typefaces. The Half-Eaten Mind has joined the fray, and I have spent around 2-3 hours creating new headers and branding with the help of graphic design website Canva. I have spent a good chunk of this morning putting the new branding in place (we had massive trouble with the blog header however, wrong size meant it had to be redone, don’t ever take WordPress’s recommended header measurements as gospel, let me warn you!). The branding also applies to our social media accounts and any related sites like Gravatar. The colours I have used (dark green, sky blue, and slate blue, were chosen as they firstly fit well together, and also they relate to the history of what used to be known as the HEM Blog, in terms of the blog’s previous design. As a mark of respect to how we used to do things, I carried over the famous HEM street sign, which was our semi-official logo for a couple of years. Something new, something old, as people who organise baby showers would say.
We are also introducing new flags at the beginning of our articles. The 7+ year old flags made by FamFamFam (leeched on via StatCounter) will now be replaced by a new set of flags designed by Turkish graphic artist Muharrem Senyil and originally featured on designer’s hangout Dribbble. These flat design-inspired elements suit the new look of HEM News Agency very well, in my opinion.
It has been a great five years at the helm of HEM. I have learnt a lot and made many friends. This blog was originally set up partly to help me enter the journalism profession. While I did not ultimately realise that dream as of yet (stiff competition for jobs!), the blog indirectly helped me score a second job which I have now been working in for two years, as a writer, creative consultant and social media manager for a small consultancy focussed on finance and education between Africa and Europe.
I’m not going to sing like a canary and say it was all plain sailing. There were times when I felt like giving up the blog, as I have now have less time to write on weekends than when I first started. But then I would be giving up my dreams and talents needlessly, and I would disappoint a lot of friends, fans and supporters. I did feel the blog needed a makeover, as it was looking a bit outdated and stale, and hopefully this spring clean and makeover will help breathe new life into this baby of mine.
Don’t worry though, we will still be releasing the same news stories, features and personal blogposts that made HEM what it is. That is not going to change.
I hope you all like the new look and name and please feel free to comment or give your feedback if you prefer.
Let’s look forward to another five years of great news, features and writing, and many more memorable experiences and lessons along the way.
The radio station’s television counterpart, BBC1 NI will also air a documentary on the life and history of BBC Radio Ulster to tie in with the anniversary celebrations at 10.35 pm on the same day. The programme, entitled “Radio Days“ is narrated by Stephen Nolan, will also feature never-seen-before footage of life behind the scenes at the BBC radio station, along with interviews. Some of the greatest names to have worked in the Radio Ulster studios during its four decades of service to the Northern Irish people who will appear on Radio Days include veteran presenter Walter Love. Also on the programme will be Wendy Austin, Hugo Duncan, Cherrie McIlwaine and Linda McAuley, Stephen Nolan, Rigsy and Vinny Hurrell. Actor and author Simon Callow and broadcaster and writer Anita Robinson will also make an appearance, paying their tributes to the forty-year-old station.
The concert will be attended by both keen listeners and staff, with a schedule of two and a half hours of fine music and entertainment with the Ulster Orchestra as well as speeches and presentations by BBC Radio staff. There will also be arts and comedy on display at the event. Known officially as the ‘BBC Radio Ulster 40th Birthday Gala’, the party will be braodcast live on BBC from 8:00 pm on Monday 14th December 2015 at the Ulster Hall in Belfast, and is hosted by Wendy Austin and John Toal. Presenters John Bennett and Lynette Fay will present the red carpet watch at half-an-hour before the gala begins and guests arrive. There will also be specially broadcast interviews with Radio Ulster presenters past and present as they share their fondest memories and stories with the public.
Fergus Keeling, the head of radio at BBC Northern Ireland said: “We hope what we have in store will be our way of giving our listeners something special back. They’ve joined in our birthday broadcasts, they have helped make this year special and they are the reason we do what we do. This birthday event is shaping up to be something quite special and I would like to thank our fantastic talent and great friends for taking the time to help us celebrate in this way. Most of all though, I’d like to thank our listeners old and new. This night is for them.”
BBC Radio Ulster, one of two PBS radio stations in Northern Ireland, broadcasts over both traditional radio frequencies as well as online and via digital radio and is located at Broadcasting House in the Ormeau Avenue area of Belfast city centre. It first went on air in January 1975 and broadcasts a mix of news, music, talk shows and sports coverage.
Everyone gather round…quick…quick…you there!!…stop swinging off that chandelier!.
It’s been a special week for this blog. We’ve been expanding our services into online newspaper making by teaming up with online media curation site paper.li to launch two new e-papers.
But that’s not been the only good news here at HEM HQ (Half-Eaten Mind Headquarters).
On the 12th April 2015, the blog reached a very special milestone. It passed the 100,000 views mark and has in fact surged ahead. With more than 350 articles, of which a handful have gone viral worldwide, we have given people all over a lot of great news and features to read and enjoy. It’s been a hard slog to get there, but it is a proud achievement and one that fills my heart with joy. Even I’m in shock that there’s that many views now, but this just goes to show where hard work, graft, persistence and dedication to your ideals and dreams can take you.
Oh we’re not done yet….
This past Wednesday (or Thursday if you count from when we began operations) marks the third anniversary of the establishment of the blog. Our very first article, way back in April 2012, was a feature piece on the Shard tower here in London, which was still under construction at the time and now looks very glimmering. Since then we’ve gone from strength to strength, changed a lot visually and in terms of our content, branched out into all sorts of things, shook hands with several clients and even self-published a book. But most importantly of all, I have made many new friends and followers.
As many of our blogging friends may know, the Half-Eaten Mind maintains a Twitter account, where I share the latest happenings and articles to come out of a partially digested brain. It just came to my attention that it has been exactly a year since we began tweeting our mind on one of the world’s most influential and bitesized social networks.
I was looking through my Gmail account from where I receive all mails regarding the HEM Twitter feed and came across one from the Twitter HQ in San Francisco, California, USA. It said:
“Happy Twitterversary! You just turned 1.
Let everyone know that it’s your Twitterversary.”
So we’ve been one year on Twitter. That works out to 8,106 tweets, 2,001 followed accounts and 976 followers, as of Tuesday 24th June 2014. So we do not have the legions of followers of famous celebrity accounts like Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga, for example, but that’s still an impressive tally. Of course, I cannot stress enough that each and every follower counts… We are also big on multimedia. The HEM account currently has 92 videos and images uploaded.
Well it’s mainly a promotion tool for the blog. Our public face. As any online business expert will tell you, social media counts for everything in getting the word out and making your blog, in this case, more accessible. Twitter has millions of users and accounts and your tweets can very easily reach an audience far greater than word-of-mouth or paper-based promotions, perhaps more than the website or blog can generate itself.
The Twitter feed works functionally as a means of showing off new articles. Whenever a new blogpost goes online, a Tweet is automatically created by WordPress straight onto the HEM account. I then manually access the account and pin the tweet to give it prominence for any visitors. I also share other bloggers’ posts, with priority given to those who like articles on the blog. I’ll retweet the article on their site which I like as a reciprocated thanks for visiting the Half-Eaten Mind. I also retweet development from the Daily Post and Hot Off The Press online newsletters from WordPress and news stories furnished via Twitter or LinkedIn. I also retweet articles on blogging techniques or handy advice concerning the noble art of blogging.
I also use the account as a source for news and article ideas which feed directly into the blog. I follow several hundred news and media organisation accounts which provide breaking news and features which saves me having to sniff around the wider internet looking for that next ‘scoop’. Separate from the media section, there are many other bloggers who also tweet their work and I make it a habit to follow other bloggers, mainly those already following HEM on WordPress. We also have a contingent of followers who are Tweeps who are outside either blogging or journalism and media, both individuals and companies. I aim to follow everyone but currently we have reached our following limit which is imposed by Twitter and we cannot do much about it.
The account also has links with providers of journalism resources which is helpful for a bit of self-education and awareness on new issues and techniques affecting the world of news reporting across all platforms.
“News & views of a partially digested brain – a news and features blog run by Vijay Shah (@VShah1984)”
All accounts added to our followers/following portfolios are sorted into one of several lists. That is partially because I am obsessively organised, but also to help place people and businesses into suitable categories for when, for example, I need to find a news story or locate a blogger. In return, we have been added and always subscribe to, other people’s lists. We consider it a big honour and appreciation of our work when we are added to your lists.
This is for accounts on developments and reactions in the field of journalism. This includes educational accounts on the media, press freedom, influential and aspiring journalists, jobs, journalism tools and news on the industry.
This is the list of all personal (not company) accounts we follow. Often many readers who visit our blog decide to subscribe to the Twitter account so get information at their fingers without needing to be on WP or overfilling their inbox.
These are miscellaneous businesses that follow us on occasions who are not connected with newswriting or reporting per se. It runs the gauntlet from South Asian promotional events, facts on whales and alcoholic drinks to flower deliveries, human rights and pubs in London.
Our largest list. This consists of mostly news media organisations and some journalists. A very important list as it supplies much of the blog’s news content when I am using Twitter. We follow both local, national (British) and international news providers from TV, online, magazines and newspapers, across language, political leaning and reporting style to aim for an unbiased and multi-angled coverage of the world’s news.
‘Twitterversary’ is a portmanteau (word-blending) of the nouns ‘Twitter’ and ‘anniversary’. In its basic form, it is a fun way of marking your arrival on Twitter. The MacMillan online dictionary describes it as “the anniversary of the day somebody started using the microblogging site Twitter”.
To celebrate the HEM Twitterversary I produced this cool graphic to illustrate social media’s impact on the blog and incorporating elements particular to HEM, especially our new “London road sign” logo and mascot Woodsy. The globe in space does look ‘pretty’ but it also reflects our focus on news from all four corners of the world, and the dominant blues and turquoises utilised in the original wallpaper image by Geralt chimes in nicely with the flock of Twitter birds. Twitter is valuable in disseminating both news and my writing to more than 200 countries and territories worldwide.
Yesterday was a very special day for the Half-Eaten Mind. While for the owner it was yet another long one at work and surviving the Hammersmith and City line followed by buses that just don’t want to wait for you, the blog has marked two years since its establishment on the 16th April, 2012. That’s a whole two years of news stories covering the globe, of entertaining and visually powerful features on a variety of subjects, hordes of awards and of course, the dozens of friends and supporters I have made along the way. It has been a great twenty-four months, in which I have developed and grown as a blogger and journalist and the blog has become a labour of love which has brought a lot into my life, even if that means slogging a bit on the weekends. Especially when my landlord supplied with a squeaky second-hand office chair that is a heavy as a pregnant walrus and does my back in.
In the couple of days running up to the anniversary, I was slowly becoming jittery with measured excitement at the Half-Eaten Mind reaching this important milestone. On its official Twitter account, I tweeted on the impending birthday a couple of times, complete with our own unique hashtag #HEMturnstwo. The way I was going would have perhaps got the casual observer wondering if I was talking about a living breathing human being… or going slightly soft in the brains, but for me, HEM has been almost like a child of mine, one that I helped nurture and grow. Now it has reached the tender age of two, I can stand back from my laptop and say that I have really achieved something here, which for someone like me who was not born with a prestigious life and a silver spoon in his mouth, means a great deal.
HEM's 2 year anniversary coming this week. Can't wait. Thanks to everyone for your support, likes and comments 🙂 #HEMturnstwo#blogging
To ready HEM for its birthday, I decided to do a reorganisation of the front menu and basically sort our two hundred plus articles and blogposts into set categories based on subject. I did this, as apart from being a bit of an organisation freak, I wanted to give HEM a more professional news website setup as you would find with any mainstream news media outlet. Equally important, there was a significant need to make the blog more user-friendly too. By reforming the menu options, visitors would not only find it easier to locate what they’re looking for but also to search around subjects that interest them. So for example, if you are looking for international news, there is now a tab on the menu that takes you directly to all our ‘World News’ stories, with minimum fuss and maximum relevancy. This of course supplements the existing search option on the right of the webpage which came pre-packaged with the theme I’m using. As the blog matures and increases its online presence, and with the anniversary rapidly approaching, now more than ever was an ideal time to tidy up the menu. All articles were categorised according to certain broad themes and using the HEM dashboard’s ‘quick edit’ function, took only two days to designate those categories for eleven pages of articles stretching back to our very first feature published in the spring of 2012. I was incredibly grateful for the quick edit function. It made things for me a lot easier than having to manually edit each article which would have taken more like two weeks than two days.
On the 16th April, 2014, I was unable to produce this article then as I was on the day job. However with the long Easter break coming up and with both the upcoming Friday and Monday being public holidays (bank holidays), I was in for a long lie-in. So after arriving home with a steaming hot lamb doner kebab in hand, I stuffed tonight’s dinner in the fridge for later and went upstairs to my room and the epic nerve centre that is the home of this blog. In other words, my Toshiba Satellite C660 laptop. Literally the first thing I did upon switching the laptop on and waiting for it to (slowly) power up, was to begin searching for pictures. Why, you may ask?. Because just like a chef will rummage through the fridge to find the right ingredients for the perfect casserole, I needed to find the right visual ingredients to make the official HEM second anniversary graphic. I used the Google CC search to pick out media and blogging related images, but the crux of this beastie was a wallpaper. A free PC wallpaper that showed a glass sphere sitting and refracting sunlight onto a newspaper page so straight and flat it appeared to have been heavily ironed and folded immaculately.
While there were many other wallpapers and backgrounds with a newsprint or journalistic theme available, this particular wallpaper spoke volumes to me. I needed something that would fit the blog’s purpose as a news site, but not be gaudy, childish or be too loud for the components I would be adding later. The contrast of light and physical state between the orb and the paper struck me as being particularly attractive yet subtle in its portrayal. This was amazing especially given that the image, taken from a free wallpapers site, was in black-and-white. The image’s simplicity, unabashed intellectual design, and its size would give me ample room to work on with my graphic design skills and follow the recipe instructions that were rapidly unfolding in my head as I opened up another website that would be the online ‘kitchen’ of my ideas….the photo editing page of piZap.
Those of you who have followed this website for a while will know that piZap is my go-to source for easy to make yet flawlessly appreciable graphics. Indeed a lot of the homemade graphics I have produced for the Half-Eaten Mind, including our Plaistow tower blocks header came out of the pizap foundry. I won’t go into the long and probably boring detail of how exactly I put the HEM 2nd anniversary image together, but let’s put this way, this image was probably one of the best I have created to date.
Now while I do have a good eye for the artistically wild side of life, I’m not under any delusion that I am an amazing Photoshopping whizzkid who can make Michealangelo masterpieces with some pixels and a few clicks of a mouse. But when I finally pulled the tarpaulin off this baby, I was so shocked that I could hear my mind shout at me “I’m bloody impressed”. After about one and a half hours of working on an empty stomach, mind buzzing while tweaking image sizes and opacity and moving text boxes all over the place, I had created a masterpiece that I think would win a few plaudits at your local design awards bash. I think what works for this special ‘poster’ graphic is just that it appears professionally done and forged in the visual essence of what the media is about in a single element.
This image is colourful, but restrained in its expression. It is busy but not over the top. It’s catchy, but not in-your-face. You could say I have reached a happy and settled medium between my desire to go crazy with all the colours and widgets that piZap offers, and the need to project a professional clean-cut image, which is a steadily increasing importance as my blog matures as a news and views website. Everyone will have their impression and perception of this picture, but when I looked at it yesterday I was saying to myself that this would not look too out of place in a trade magazine or even as a half-page spread in a newspaper. Subeditors: if you like what you see, you can find my contacts on the About page 😉
Please bear in mind that the clarity and resolution of the HEM 2nd anniversary image might be less than perfect. That is due to the limitations of showing piZap images on these blogpages but also due to resizing to help accommodate it in this article. You can see the original unstretched version on the HEM Flickr page.
Before we round off things with a little birthday cheer, here is a Top Ten of HEM-related stuff from the past two years we have brought you cutting-edge news and amazing features, as well as various other facts and tidbits.
All-time (total) blog views – as of 17/04/2014 13.06
All-time number of comments – as of 17/04/2014 13.06
Whenever an important anniversary comes up, there is always that question of how exactly you are going to mark the occasion. If you are a country that once won its independence from a colonial power, you would have a big party coupled with a national holiday, and issue some commemorative paraphernalia to shore up the patriotic pride. If you are a business celebrating the anniversary of your founding, then you might go for a company re-branding or at the very least stick a rosette in a good location on your annual report/website/catalogues. Wedding anniversaries have their candlelit dinners in fine dining restaurants, birthdays have their parties complete with uncle-turned-DJ and endless bottles of cherryade or cheap booze. The situation of celebrating in style, in my case, was that my blog’s first birthday was coming up. How exactly was I going to mark this special milestone in my site’s existence?. A party would be a bit too much just for a blog, and I do not fancy vapourising the entire contents of my bank account. And I do not have the Royal Mint and Post Office on speed dial…
As befitting my half-eaten mind, ideas began to take root in my head. I did some initial research and stumbled across something that was my celebratory ‘eureka’ moment right there. One simple but significant idea. Create a book. A book that will feature a selection of articles drawn from my blog, presented in a physical format. On glossy book paper. In glorious offset technicolor. Something that I could keep as an everlasting memento of my blog, and a keepsake that I could unabashedly show off to all and sundry. Something that would make a great talking point with friends and family alike. Yep, I was liking this. Picking up idea. Running with it.
Now I needed to find a book publisher that could handle the big responsibility of developing and hopefully realising my new concept. I researched round a few companies and one in particular caught my eye. It had a stupid-sounding name but as we all know, companies with goofy names employ good workers with limitless supplies of creative juices, which meant my own creativity would not be held back. They develop a whole image that they need to live up to. They are usually quirky, customer-centred and fun. That company was Blurb.
In short, Blurb Inc,. is an American-based online book publishing firm that gives anyone the chance to design and print their own book using their custom BookSmart software. You can produce both paper books with a selection of paper grades and cover types, and if you want to go digital there is also an eBook option for your Kindle, Nook or other reading device. I was pleased with this company because you could publish more or less anything with them…wedding books, art books, baby books, novels, cookbooks, poetry collections and stories…so I could definitely observe that Blurb could easily handle a ‘blog book’. I also noted the fact that they offered video tuition and guides with the BookSmart program to help familiarise myself with the services they offer, especially the crash course in book design that was going to be very, very important to me in preparing for the next few weeks.
Like a lot of websites these days, I needed to register with Blurb to use the service. I did that on their United Kingdom site and thankfully they did not ask too many questions. So no being asked what brand of toilet paper I used. I got the confirmation emails and then downloaded the software directly from the site.
There was an option to ‘slurp’ the content of the Half-Eaten Mind straight into BookSmart to create the book instantaneously, but that was a massive fail when I attempted it. All the articles were simply layered into the book template all in one go, and the text looked really ugly and disorganised. Everything got copied, even the comments from me and the blog’s readers, which I was not planning to include. None of the article photos or pictures were included – though they were slurped first. My experimental virtual book was a disgusting convoluted mess. I was not too happy, and scrapped the whole thing. While I was still showing myself the ropes with BookSmart, I decided there and then, after that initial disappointment, to go the long route. And all this while overcoming my first-use jitters about the whole thing. Luckily when dealing with new software, my ICT literacy means I learn new skills and software relatively quickly.
I was going to have to copy-and-paste all the chosen articles one-by-one and settle them into pages as I went along, making sure also to include the correct visual elements for each article, all of which I had stored in an image gallery on a fancy blue crystal USB stick. It was going to be a long, repetitive and pain-staking process, but a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.
My first objective was to create the cover of the BlogBook. My idea was that the cover would reflect the design of the blog itself, as much as the software would allow me to. So I used a bright variety of sky-blue to reflect the traditional default background that colours the Half-Eaten Mind on your PC screen. For imagery, I used the classic header pic on the blog, the two tower blocks (apartment blocks) underneath a dawn sky that I photographed originally six years ago while working as a leaflet delivery person.
I had also planned to include a small side portrait of our mascot, Woodsy the Owl, which occupies pride of place on my own Gravatar profile, but that idea was shelved after I accidentally clicked on a button on the software interface that radically changed my book’s front and back cover, altering it in a way I did not like, meaning I had to waste a good hour putting everything right again. Oh well, no-one’s perfect. In order to guide my first steps into book cover design, I tried remembering the various books I had read over the years and examined the covers of a few novels I had stashed away behind my telly.
Writing the blurb (back-cover summary of the book) was a cinch. I included a screenshot of the blog as an image to fill up excess space but also to try to retain a link between the ‘First Anniversary Special’ BlogBook and the original blog I maintain on WordPress. I was spending a bit of time reminiscing of using WordArt in my secondary school days to knock up quick front covers for my GCSE coursework, subject reports and homework, then it was that time in an online journalism class with Mr. Greer at university when I was getting the hang of Dreamweaver to cook up a pretend public relation website for British Airways. But main thing was getting this sodding cover completed, because from then on things would be more workaday.
In my first weekend working with BookSmart, I managed to add around ten to fifteen articles into the embryonic BlogBook. All I had to do was copy-and-paste of the original article from the blog and add it to the blank pages. I could choose different pre-set page layouts for different articles. For example a feature I did on going out in Picadilly Circus had one page with text containers, spaces into which I could import the text, and a separate photo gallery where I could just drag the photos I took of that day into a collective of ‘image containers’ which were basically image holding devices to help me layout the photos in a satisfactory way. For a lot of the news reports, I usually stuck to a generic layout, with two image containers on top and underneath them, two text boxes.
I started work around the 28th March 2013, and aimed to get the book design wrapped up by the 15th April, which was my blog’s first birthday, but with work and social commitments, I could not see that happening. I managed to average about 2 to 3 articles every two days, when I was working on my laptop. I put in more effort on weekends.
I found the whole experience both exciting and tedious. Putting the articles in, keeping the typefaces constant and consistent throughout, sifting through my bank of images – it was boring and monotonous at times, but you got to plant seeds if you want to grow fruits. There was many a time my heart jumped a little bit with joy and pride as I saw my book slowly take shape, looking over the page previews for every article and admiring my handiwork – my innate knowledge of graphic design and aesthetics really working up a mild sweat. I was not planning to market the book for profit at that time, but I wanted to put in the effort so that the book looked as good and tidy as any publication you could pluck off the shelf at a bookstore or public library.When I do things, I do them properly.
The whole design process took me around 2.5 weeks, give or take. I left out a lot of articles, partly out of sheer laziness, but some, like the festive wallpaper announcements were deemed not good material to appear in something as timeless as a book. Others were omitted from publication as they had videos or moving images so were dropped for technical/stylistic reasons. I also had cost considerations to factor in as well. Life ain’t sweet when you’re getting paid peanuts.
Finally on the 20th April, the Half-Eaten Mind First Anniversary Special BlogBook was ready to go. I opted for a softback format with normal glossy 118 gsm paper, as it was not only the cheapest option but also at around 84 pages, it would be suited to a coffee-table book concept. I paid up for publishing and postage via PayPal and was informed that my order would be with me in about three weeks. I could rest easy now and spend more time playing Diamond Dash. All work and no play makes Vijay a stressed-out man.
What really took me by surprise was that it in fact took only a few days for the book to be printed and parcelled to my doorstep, not even two weeks, never mind three. After my BlogBook order was electronically received by the Blurb printing house in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, the HP inkjet printers and book binding staff at Blurb’s European publishing facility, PARO N.V. got to work straight away it seemed.
Although the delivery date was stated on the email as 7 May, by the 24th of April, the book has been trucked out from the printing press in Eindhoven and was on its way to a FedEx sorting facility in Veldhoven, Netherlands. From there it was a two-hour trip across the border to another FedEx office in Koeln (Cologne) in Germany. The next day, the parcel was loaded on a plane at 6.41 am and arrived via air courier at London’s Stansted Airport at 3.45 pm. By the 26th, a Friday, my book was stopping off at FedEx offices in Beckton, less than a mile from my home before arriving at Plaistow at precisely 4.52 pm, where it was signed for by my live-in landlord, Monir.
I was really pleased with the quality of the book. It was bound professionally, the colours of the cover were bright and not fuzzy in the slightest and the book’s firmness and workmanship stunned me. I was very impressed. They had been on point with the packaging too. The book arrived unblemished and undamaged in a sturdy but unobtrusive white cardboard flat box. More impressed I was.
Beaming with pride, I brought the book into work, carefully retaining it in its polythene packaging. I showed it to a few people, all of whom enjoyed leafing through it and pointing out their favourite articles. They were just as impressed. I even got a few handshakes. Only yesterday I brought the BlogBook to my mum’s house in Seven Kings and my younger siblings were squabbling among themselves trying to have a look. My brother’s mate tried to keep my feet on the ground as I could not stop smiling at everyone’s compliments. He said it looked like a book you would find in a dentist’s waiting room. I told him jokingly I would bury him in the back garden in his favourite dinosaur onesie (lols Ali, I kid, I kid!!). Two of my siblings wanted to order their own copies, and I gave them the link to the order page on the Blurb site. Now I need to show the BlogBook to one of my other sisters, who has her own place, so I can show her, her husband and their daughter/my niece their pictures in the book.
I am very proud of the Half-Eaten Mind commemorative printed edition. It looks fabulous and professional, and I found a unique and very appropriate way to mark my blog’s anniversary. A lot of people have been telling me that I should run up more copies and put them on sale. A tempting idea, of course, as a little extra funds in the bank would be a distinct advantage, but with even J.K Rowling, author of the Harry Potter book series, getting rejects from over 300 publishers, and with many other bloggers also having similar ideas, for now I decided to put any merchandising on hold, as I do not think there will be a viable market and customer demand for the book I made.
I did not create the HEM BlogBook for the money though. I made it as a cool, off-the-beaten-track means of celebrating my blog reaching its first full year of life, as a small but notable achievement in its own right and because it makes a great glossy keepsake. But if anyone reading would like a copy for themselves, have a look at this order page and we can arrange for a copy to be sent out (at your expense).
Title: The Half-Eaten Mind Blogbook – First Anniversary Edition
Strapline: The printed edition of the news and views of a partially digested brain.
Author: Vijay Shah and contributors.
Pages: 84 pgs
Year of publication:2013
Publisher: Blurb Books
Country of publication:United Kingdom
Country of printing:Netherlands
Dimensions: Standard Portrait (8 x 10 inches, 20 x 25 centimetres); Standard Paper (Weight: 80 micrograms, 118 gsm)
THE BLOGBOOK SLIDE SHOW
All photos copyright V. Shah / The Half-Eaten Mind.
It is a bit belated, well, a week’s worth of belatedness to be exact, but your favourite news and features blog – the authentic outpourings of a partially digested brain – has just turned one. Over the past twelve months there has been a lot of changes. Only last month the blog got a facelift, with a brand new theme and layout, incorporating more user-friendly features and easier navigation. We have enlisted the help of the blogging software Zemanta to offer a more interactive experience for our readers, introducing relevant news articles, webpages and blog posts to develop the story further. Working with Zemanta will give the means to open up new worlds of opinions and news reporting so that the Half-Eaten Mind’s articles will have a new place among the millions of blogs and sites informing us all on the Web.
Meanwhile in real life, I had relocated from Stratford to a new houseshare in Plaistow, where I have been publishing new blog posts since the beginning of March. I have started my own Twitter account – which has proved quite useful as an avenue to self-promote and link up with other bloggers and news organisations, many who have served up inspiration for a few HEM posts.
The Half-Eaten Mind is not the most well-known or popular blog in cyberspace. That does not matter a jot to me. I never set up this blog for any worldwide virtual popularity contest. I set it up and laboured long and hard for a couple of hours every Sunday, and sometimes more than that, as I wanted a chance to develop and show off my writing skills to the world, such as it was my strong admiration for established and paid career journalists writing for the online versions of organisations like the BBC, Huffington Post, Al-Jazeera, The Guardian and other great news outlets. I never expected my small blog to have the ratings or multi-million pound investments in content and other such things that they have, but I wanted to replicate their professionalism and “roving reporter” spirit here on this blog, at a fraction of the capital.
What started off as a mere thought gathering dust in my mind about six years ago eventually reincarnated itself as a massive glowing Osram light bulb of an idea a year ago. With the help of a special someone, I cleared away the cobwebs, got over my insecurities about what exactly I was going to write about and began setting up my account on WordPress. Within about half an hour, I took a hold of that light bulb of an idea and hit the ground running. While many other bloggers come up with great plans for their blogs only to see the whole thing fizzle out after a few months, my blog was not so restricted that I could not find any topics to write about. I did not have to worry about long periods of inactivity would have put off followers. Instead I had the freedom to write about anything that I felt like, as well as being guided by the suggestions of ideas and stories from the blog’s loyal contributors.
Although the Half-Eaten Mind is my personal blog built with my (now extremely worn-out) laptop, moulded upwards on my blood, sweat and tears – not to mention countless keystrokes and strong mugs of tea – it is not just about me. This blog is not only a place to show off my writing skills, stories or that I am good at sticking pictures on a page, it is about giving people a chance to learn about the world, to see things that they might otherwise completely pass by, and to give them what hopefully is helpful information to aid them in discovering things for fun or as serious research for work projects or educational reports. There are times when I feel too tired or busy to think up a new post. Times when even the blogging software makes me curse the computer in anguish. Writer’s block sometimes sets in, albeit temporarily. My perseverence is the key to get me past these obstacles though, and nearly every weekend (and once every two days when I am on annual leave from work) I have kept my faith to the blog, always surprising even myself with what I turn out just before I hit the ‘Publish’ button.
Most importantly, my motivation for keeping the Half-Eaten Mind digesting the world around it has been those who have helped support it. Friends, family, work colleagues, WordPress followers, and various organisations have all motivated me and made me proud of this blog and of myself. I do not say this because I am a vain allsort who likes to puff my chest out and preen my feathers in the manner of a self-absorbed peacock. This pride has given me a new lease of life. I come from a difficult background and experienced a very unhappy childhood thanks to certain so-called family elders who are now long removed from my existence. I grew up in one of the poorest parts of one of the richest cities in the world: London. I grew up seeing, and being exposed to, a lot of painful things and had to see many others get caught up in the difficulties of life – and not all of them escaped. People who grew up in the same environment as me usually ended up as drug users, alcoholics, criminals, prisoners or dead. But even though I have had a difficult and miserable life and I still struggle today, I vowed I would make something of the years God allocated to me. I may have not been able to reach all the perks and opportunities afforded to those born into luckier lives, but when opportunity did come knocking at my door, I damn well made sure I got my backside off the couch and answered its call.
On the 15th April 2012, I shook Opportunity’s hand and invited her in for a chat. She gave me the motivation, the time and the idea. The Half-Eaten Mind was born.
A year is a long time, and a lot can happen. In the past 53 weeks, the Half-Eaten Mind has:
Published 78 posts, ranging from basic online news reports, to personal accounts, reviews, guides and photo features.
Been viewed 14,219 times (as of Sunday 21st April, 2013 – 1:45 PM G.M.T.) from more or less 70 countries around the globe. Of these, 4,561 were from the United Kingdom, where the blog is based; 2,669 were from India, with the United States a close third at 2,099 views. We have received visitors from places as diverse as Iraq, Fiji, Mauritius, Bermuda, Ireland and Vietnam. These figures are taken from information supplied by the blog’s official statistical centre, powered by WordPress.
Published articles under 643 tags. The most popular tags are ‘London’, ‘photography’, and interestingly, ‘Half-Eaten Mind’.
Been featured on the likes of photoshare site Tumblr and Q&A portal Yahoo Answers. One of our articles was even quoted in a semi-academic website on the Chelyabinsk meteor explosion in Russia. Read it here.
The blog’s professionalism and diversity of material has helped attract follows by 72 bloggers on our shared platform and we have been reblogged twice. You can view my blogging friends on the ‘Blogroll’ page accessible from the menu at the top of any article.
Not to mention another five on our Facebook page and 222 more on my private Facebook profile. Then add to that another 134 on my Twitter account as well ten via comments and the HEM email list.
Worked with an amateur film-maker based in the US and a media marketing firm here in London on the production of three of our features.
Received a shoutout from the founder of the bloggers’ collective IndiBlogger both on Twitter and on the relevant article’s comment section.
Created a commemorative ‘first anniversary edition’ BlogBook, currently waiting to be published by online book printing partner, Blurb. It is a fun coffee-table softback book featuring a selection of articles from the blog, rendered in glorious Technicolor on glossy paper. You can take a peek, and maybe order a copy yourself right here.
Being nominated for our first blogger’s award: The Hope Unites Globally HUG Award – a mutual recognition of bloggers bringing hope into a tough world through their posts.
These are small accolades and achievements, but very satisfying ones. Each new follower, retweet, comment and Facebook like is just another step to motivate and continue doing all the hard work to make this blog a place worth visiting. I am very pleased with the progress and development of the Half-Eaten Mind, and I am looking forward to writing yet more hard-hitting news stories, involving features and really useful stuff you have just got to read.
So where does the Half-Eaten Mind see itself in another year’s time. Well unfortunately I am no clairvoyant with a crystal ball, but unless the internet is rent apart by a cataclysmic solar flare or a North Korean cyber-virus, the Half-Eaten Mind will still be digesting minds and feeding them too, just as strongly as ever. We hope to have twice as many articles on here as we did in the past, with a greater, more accommodating mix of topics in our published work. We want to reach out to more people via social networks, blogging sites like WordPress and of course, good old-fashioned word-of-mouth. I want to make more effort in this area, because as you all know, more effort=bigger audience. This will not only help me in the publicity stakes, but it will give more individuals and organisations a chance to contribute to the blog and benefit from the wealth of information I have put out there.
Sometime in the near future, I hope this blog will help me land the journalism job of my dreams or at least offer a exciting talking point at my next job interview. That it will continue to give me pleasure, pride and something useful to occupy my deadbeat time on a Sunday afternoon. Maybe if we make it to the Half-Eaten Mind’s tenth anniversary, I might even be teaching my children to read with the Mind’s help. Who knows what we will have achieved by then……
April 15 will mark the 101st anniversary of the sinking of the transatlantic liner Titanic on its first voyage. The Belfast-built ship, once dubbed the ‘unsinkable’, sunk within minutes after striking an iceberg in the north Atlantic Ocean, with the loss of 1,500 lives. The downing of the New York-bound liner is still regarded as the worst maritime disaster outside of the World Wars.
To mark the anniversary, the Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA will be running an exhibit of artefacts taken from the stricken ship and will open to the public this Saturday (23 March). The museum’s display will consist of 125 items salvaged from the wreck underneath 12,000 feet of cold water. The exhibition’s creators hope to tell the personal stories of the 2,200 passengers aboard the ill-fated vessel, many of whom had planned to begin a new life in the States.
The Titanic sank in April 1912, with a thousand passengers and crew still on board. The ship’s band continued to play as the liner was submerged in the space of three hours.
So far only about 5,000 objects have been collected from the rusting remains of Titanic, which broke into two halves before it struck the seabed. Items ranging from restaurant menus and candlesticks to telegrams have been uncovered by specialist teams of divers and painstakingly preserved by museum curators and historians in both Europe and the United States.
The Albuquerque artefacts will be located over six rooms. Highlights include leather bags used for carrying documents which survived years under the ocean. Their surfaces had been treated with oils that preserved them from water and bacteria that would have digested them to nothing. This helped save the papers and objects concealed in them which are now on public show for the first time. There is also a model replica of the Titanic capturing to scale the erstwhile magnificence of this prestigious ship which was considered the ultimate in luxury sea travel upon its construction in the opening decades of the 20th century. It shows the exact number of lifeboats used by passengers as they fearfully fled the sinking ship. The owners of the Titanic were heavily criticised for underestimating the number of lifeboats needed, which could have drastically cut fatalities. Public outrage saw the drafting of safety rules for sea travel that are still in use today.
A traditional display of Titanic photos and documents (display photo from another museum)
Visitors can also view footage of the Titanic’s construction and the story of her preparation for her ill-fated maiden voyage. To make the exhibit as authentic and emotive as possible, guests will be given a special boarding pass just as the Titanic’s passengers did as they boarded the ship. Each pass will bear the name of one of those passengers and at the end of the tour they can discover if their name was among the 750-odd survivors whose names are displayed at a memorial gallery. Another highlight will be a giant wall of solid ice, symbolising the Arctic iceberg that tore a gash in the Titanic’s hull as she tried to sail past it 600 miles off the coast of Newfoundland. Visitors are welcome to touch the ice, their touches bringing to life the harsh and fatal conditions faced by those who found themselves floating in the middle of the sea that fateful night.
The New Mexico Natural History Museum in Albuquerque will play host to a special exhibition of objects from the Titanic shipwreck opening this weekend.