HEM NEWS AGENCY: 5th anniversary + blog makeover



Hey everyone,

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.

Vijay Shah,

Blogger and editor – HEM News Agency.


DIWALI 2015: New HEM festive graphic unveiled

In celebration of the festival of lights, Diwali, which arrives this year on the Wednesday, 11th of November and which coincides with Armistice Day in the UK, the Half-Eaten Mind has unveiled a special commemorative graphic.

The graphic is part of a long tradition on the blog for what is termed in the business as ‘homemade graphics’. Every Diwali since 2013, HEM’s blogger and editor Vijay Shah uses his graphic designs skills to produce special edition graphics which serve as not only a bit of fun and celebration, but also as a tip of the hat to the talent that goes on behind the scenes.

This year’s image is derived from a wallpaper offered by HappyDiwaliGreetings.in and created via image design site piZap. It features three symmetrical and stylised diyas (lamps) arranged over Paisley patterns in a nod to traditional north Indian art. The design carries the official HEM branding as well as a QR code which when scanned with a suitable app on a mobile phone, can take the viewer to the blog.

The graphic will be featured on the HEM social networks nearer the occasion.

The Half-Eaten Mind would like to wish our readers, supporters and the Community a very happy Diwali in advance.

“Beautiful HD Happy Diwali Greetings Images of Diyas” – Celebrate Diwali With Us/Kopasoft (14 August 2015) http://happydiwaligreetings.in/beautiful-hd-happy-diwali-greetings-images-of-diyas.html
“Vector – Pattern” – CanStockPhoto/Can Stock Photo Inc. http://www.canstockphoto.com/pattern-7404553.html
piZap http://pizap.com/

MY JOURNEY THROUGH A LENS: New e-book by Mother Nature’s Alex Smithson

Photographer and blogger Alex Smithson is soon to release his third book detailing his blogging and photography skills and experience with his blog “Mother Nature”.

The Croydon based blogger is now in the final stages of preparing his new publication, entitled “My Journey Through a Lens“, the third instalment in his highly informative series of self-authored and published e-books made available via his blog.

Alex, whose previous titles were “My Journey Through Photography” and “A Year in Photography“, is currently putting the finishing touches to his latest work, which is slated for release during either this month or in May. A definite date is not yet available, as Alex is having to fit the book writing in between college studies and his blogging on WordPress, but he is already beyond 50,000 words into the manuscript for My Journey Through a Lens, which will weigh in at 303 pages, Alex’s biggest entrance in the e-book world to date. The books chronicle Alex’s experiences and lessons as a blogger showcasing local scenic photography, news stories, historical facts and popular music culture, as well as his experiences in further education.

Indeed the book is set to be Alex’s loftiest project yet, as he will not only include the best articles from Mother Nature over the past year, but will also bring a whole new range of articles from outside the blog, including possibly photography projects from his A-Level course at Croydon College, of which he is currently a first-year student on their Photography course.

In addition to his wide ranging nature and scenery portfolio, My Journey Through a Lens will also feature case studies of famous British historical figures such as Winston Churchill and King Henry VIII, as well as his homages to modern music, most notably his special write-ups on evergreen pop songstress Madonna, and fellow Croydonian and X Factor winner Ben Haenow.

As with his previous titles, Alex Smithson plans to make the e-book free of charge to blog visitors via the online cloud site Dropbox, along with the earlier books in his blogging career. The cover of the book is also designed by Alex, who is a formidable graphic designer in his own right, and incorporates his new blog logo, a black cube with the blog’s initials and slogan in thick chunky white and orange letters.

Exclusively on the Half-Eaten Mind, Alex has supplied some artwork for My Journey Through a Lens. His conceptions for the front and back covers of the e-book, with sharp lines and solid colour influenced by the Mother Nature blog’s design can be seen below, along with a composite image showing the development of the front cover as Alex got the book together. The back cover features several dedications to people that have influenced Alex, include the editor of this very blog. You can visit Alex’s site at the blue-coloured link below and subscribe via email for further updates on his brand new e-book. WordPress bloggers also have the option of clicking on the follow button on the black menu bar at the top of the site in their browser window to follow Mother Nature in their Readers.

(c) A. Smithson
(c) A. Smithson

Front cover – depicting the new MN logo.

(c) A. Smithson
(c) A. Smithson

Back cover – includes special mentions.

(c) A. Smithson
(c) A. Smithson

Side-by-side composite image of Alex’s temporary book cover designs alongside his final draft.

Mother Nature



HEM 3rd anniversary banner pizap.com14293560242241

“My Journey Through a Lens | Out Soon!!!” – Alex Smithson, Mother Nature (29 March 2015) https://asterisk15.wordpress.com/2015/03/29/my-journey-through-a-lens-out-soon/
Images designed and supplied by Alex Smithson.
Web Resizer, Webresizer http://www.webresizer.com/resizer/

GAMER ART: The userbar

Two geeks walk into a userbar…..

Okay, so I might have completely lost the punchline to this joke, but the popularity and artistic capacity for expression of the userbar certainly isn’t any laughing matter. For almost a decade, gamers, geeks and online artists have used userbars as decorations and virtual badges of honour to announce their presence and creativity on the internet.

So what exactly is a userbar?. It’s a small and slender graphic which is a really skinny version of the ubiquitous advertising banners found all over the web. The big difference though is that they aren’t ads for companies. Instead they are used to express a person’s interests, skills and passions; or to advertise their gaming level and prowess. Cramming a lot into a space usually measuring no more than the standard 350 by 19 pixels (with a border of 1 pixel thick, userbars can be larger though), userbar designers will often incorporate imagery, text and even animations and gifs taken from videos or popular TV shows. The most widely used typeface (font) for userbar text is Visitor TT2 BRK with the standard size of letters set at 13 pixels in height. The font gives a very computer generated and retro  appearance to the bar and often, rather like a framed picture, designers can choose to make their userbars visually presentable by applying a ‘glass finish’ that gives the design a glossy look. The natural home of the userbar is usually forums, mainly those connected to gaming or technology, but I have seen them being attached to signatures used in a popular South Asian young people’s forum.

(c) R-a-w-Z/DeviantArt

Userbars reached their zenith in the mid 2000’s, as the internet was already becoming well entrenched in people’s lives and gamers made the transition from downloading PC games to battling and co-operating with fellow hobbyists on online portals such as World of Warcraft. While userbars have never broken the mainstream like other ‘geeky‘ expressions of culture have done, and their popularity has declined since their heyday, userbars still retain a loyal fanbase and several thousand are being painstakingly handcrafted by forum users and passionate gamers today. There are vibrant online communities built around the designing of userbars as a hobby. One, userbars.be, is “a respectful community of creative people who are passionate about creating and sharing userbars they make ” with a showroom of more than 40,000 userbars sorted into categories such as brands, celebrities, computer hardware, patriotic, and sports. The site currently has over 28,000 members and contributors. Another, called userbars.name, is a German-based forum dedicated exclusively to the online art form, the 21st century evolution of the miniature paintings of 17th century India and Persia. It has a cult popularity among gamers from Russia and east Europe in particular.

One of the ideal things about userbars is their democratic nature, and that given such a limited space, there are countless millions of ways to express any vignette of personality or interest you like. Anyone with at least some basic graphic skills can make one, and there are sites, such as best-signatures.com, which offer easy to use userbar generators for the fresh-faced userbar novice. For the experienced artist, photo-editing and image suites like Adobe Photoshop or GIMP offer capabilities for making userbars from scratch and there are web-based tutorials and forums for anyone who wants to learn how to make them using photo-editing software. For those who don’t have the money or the inclination to get to grips with the complicated DIY Photoshop option and are frustrated by online userbar generators, there is also the option of downloading special software that creates userbars without the need for broadband. The one I used for this article is the AmitySource UserBar Generator 2.2, which is a small program that gives you the capability of designing your own bars, using images saved on your computer and your choice of colours and filler effect from a preset menu. Although not without its limitations, such as being only able to use the standard Visitor font and that only in one colour and style, the Userbar Generator is very easy to use, even if you’re utterly new to the game, like I am.

To celebrate the miniscule artistic awesomeness that is the humble userbar, I have used both best-signatures.com and the AmitySource generator to make some userbars of my own. In honour of their original spirit, I drew inspiration from other’s creations to make a series of bars that reflect my personality and interests, as well as things that are special to me. As well as the static userbars, I also found another website, www.myspacegens.com, which will quite happily take up to 10 static ones and blend them into a GIF that shows each individual bar in 2-second intervals, transforming your creations into a sort of uber-cool userbar slideshow. That’s very handy if you have a lot to say and display to your fellow gamers or forum commentators.



Anglo Mauritian 1z1b3fd

Cadbury's Creme Egg Fan

Casual Photographer

Emoji Abuser

Frequent Whatsapp User

HEM Userbar SPHdlw

Informa Plc.

Kebabish King

Kraving for Kellogg's Krave

London Commuter

Newham Resident

Newspaper Junkie

Pound Sterling User

Proud Hindu

Reppin' Plaistow

Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini User

Shaniya's Uncle

Simpsons Fan

Tax Stamp Collector

Trad Asian Dude

Wordpress Blogger


Animated Userbar 1 4246826

Animated Userbar 2 4246830


A brief explanation of the static userbars.
1. ANGLO MAURITIAN: This bar represent my ethnic heritage, half-English (British) and half-Mauritian. The image is a pin badge featuring the intertwined flags of the two nations
2. CADBURY’S CREME EGG FAN: In honour of one of my favourite items of confectionary and a childhood favourite. The image is of a batch of the UK version of these sweet treats
3. CASUAL PHOTOGRAPHER: I do like to pull out my phone once in a while and take some jaw-dropping pictures, and I humbly appreciate the great expression of photography as an art. The image is a Nikon camera lens or some other specialist model
4. EMOJI ABUSER: As my Whatsapp and Facebook contacts can attest, I am trigger happy when it comes to emoticons. Well it does save on typing. The image is of a gallery of emojis commonly used on messaging services and social media.
5. FREQUENT WHATSAPP USER: Whatsapp, the almost-free messaging service is very important for me to keep in contact with distant family and friends. I used the app’s logo and made the background the same colours.
6. HALF-EATEN MIND: Why should I have all the fun?. This was the first userbar I made, using the Best Signatures site. In honour of this wonderful blog which helps me express myself and keep the reporting dream alive, I used the blog mascot, Woodsy the Owl, as a background.
7. INFORMA PLC.: Made with pride to represent the company I work for, using their corporate logo.
8. KEBABISH KING: This one is to pay homage to one of my favourite restaurants, Kebabish Original (K.O.). As with the Informa bar, I used their logo.
9. KRAVING FOR KELLOGG’S KRAVE: In honour of one of my favourite breakfast cereals. Full of chocolatey goodness.
10. LONDON COMMUTER: They say if you tire of London, you tire of life. I don’t always enjoy commuting, but it is a fundamental part of my day-to-day life. I used a Transport for London (London Underground) ‘Tube Map’ as a background.
11. NEWHAM RESIDENT: In honour of the London borough where I live and grew up in. The logo is that of Newham Council, our local government body.
12. NEWSPAPER JUNKIE: I can’t get enough of that black and white, baby. In honour of a news media that has inspired my journey as a journalist and taught me so much about the world. Graphic used comes from a picture of various British newspapers.
13. POUND STERLING USER: In honour of my currency of choice when at home. This userbar features Bank of England paper money.
14. PROUD HINDU: This bar celebrates my religious identity. The symbol is ‘Aum’ the first sound to originate in the universe and an identifier of my faith. The orange colour is another marker of my beliefs.
15. REPPIN’ PLAISTOW: A little statement of local pride here, Plaistow is the part of east London where I now live and also grew up in. The logo is a signblind from the N69 night bus which cuts through Plaistow and Stratford. I used to take the daytime 69 route to go to college in Leyton.
16. SAMSUNG GALAXY S4 MINI USER: Influenced by the userbar’s original purpose, I made this one a technology special. The mobile phone in question is my current model.
17. SHANIYA’S UNCLE: I made this in honour of one of my nieces, who I’m very close to. I used a family photo of her and chose pink as a background as it’s her favourite hue.
18. SIMPSONS FAN: Depicting the yellow-skinned family at rest, this bar celebrates one of my all-time favourite cartoons.
19. TAX STAMP COLLECTOR: A homage to one of my pastimes. The picture was supplied by a fellow collector of some stamps I was swapping with him.
20. TRADITIONAL ASIAN DUDE: Paying my respects to one of my ancestral cultures. Unlike a lot of South Asians in the UK, I try to remain close to my roots.
21. WORDPRESS BLOGGER: As my blogging friends know, old WP is our bread and butter.

I hope you have enjoyed my userbar collection, and perhaps are inspired to make your own.

By the way, this will be the last article I will be publishing for 2014. This one came out on the 31st December 2014, New Year’s Eve and the very last day of this year. I will not be posting tomorrow, but will be back on Friday 2nd January hopefully. I wish you all a prosperous new year 2015.

Made with Thank You Mario.
Made with Thank You Mario.
“Userbar” Wikipedia http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Userbar
“Userbars.be – the best userbar site of the web !” – userbars.be http://www.userbars.be/
CC Search/Creative Commons http://search.creativecommons.org/
“Halo Clan Userbars” – R-a-w-Z, DeviantArt http://r-a-w-z.deviantart.com/art/Halo-Clan-Userbars-81516428
“Userbar Designer” – Best Signatures/Best-Signatures.com http://www.best-signatures.com/userbar/#designer
AmitySource Userbar Generator 2.2, downloaded from UptoDown.
“Animated GIF Maker” – myspacegens/MyspaceGens.com http://www.myspacegens.com/handler.php?gen=animatedimage
“Thank You Mario! – Super Mario Brothers Animated Text Generator” – Zach Beane, Thank You Mario/WigFlip http://wigflip.com/thankyoumario/


NEW BLOG GRAPHICS: In collaboration with Canva

From time to time, I like to make little tweaks and improvements to the Half-Eaten Mind. As regular readers are aware, I have some fairly passable graphic design skills which I put to good use in giving a smart, fun and appropriate visual appeal to the blog.

While reading a blogpost by new blogging friend Olga, I chanced across a reference to a website called Canva. This website is a simple-to-use graphic factory online that enables you to produce your own contemporary images for your website. Canva offers its own text templates, backgrounds, cliparts and patterns, many of which are free, which are as high-quality as those used by website designers. You can churn out anything from infographics to Facebook headers and posters for publicity which can be printed in real life.

I decided to take on the awesomeness of Canva and make some new graphics for pages on the blog. With the help of the site’s ready-made templates, resizing, image upload facility and placement rule marking, the graphics I did were practically professional standard, considering this was the very first time I used Canva. I used different, but contemporary styles for each image, combined with creative commons imagery and my own supplied images. You can also obtain images from Canva, but it’s a one-dollar fee per image used. You can download the completed graphic as a JPG or PDF file, but be careful to choose the option for downloading one of the pages (choosing page one) otherwise you will have a fat ZIP file to contend with. With the images below, you probably can see my ‘design personality’ show through, but also I have incorporated elements and colours derived or inspired from the HEM’s branding or previous graphic projects I have undertaken on here.

HEM Canva Publicity



Images added in from Pixabay, OpenClipart and my own images and cropped with Fotor. All graphics done with Canva.

The inspiration comes with thanks from Olga NM at Just Olga. See her experience of Canva (and other web-based thingummies) at this link: Are you bad with images? Try Canva. And other bits and bobs.

HEM THE LONDON BLOG: Our new header image goes live

When it comes to creativity and just making things happen, I’m a bit of a ‘night owl’. That doesn’t mean growing feathers, hooting like an idiot and silently divebombing the local drunkards. But it does explain why we have an owl for the blog‘s mascot. What I really mean is that some of my best ideas, thoughts and plans come to me in the dead of night, when everything is quiet and I’ve got me a space to think.

It was exactly such a night only yesterday that an idea that had brewed around in my mind finally took a concrete form. For a while I have mulled over creating another header for the Half-Eaten Mind, especially once I had confirmed that the Mystique theme that HEM uses could support multiple headers. Now don’t get me wrong, the old header with the dawn sky and tower blocks is good as gold. That image and its reincarnations have been there right from the blog’s start and there is no question of ever letting that go. But now and then I’d like to give the blog a small tweak. Try out new things and move the furniture around a bit.

So last night, I had one of my brainwaves after finding I had a lot of spare time suddenly available on a Friday night, so began sifting through the Images of the Internet looking for the perfect ingredients for that perfect header. As the visual idea of my new project churned around and ran circles in my mind like a ferret on LSD, I was chucking stuff into piZap, the photo-editing software (comes highly recommended by our Woodsy the owl) and then after about thirty minutes….my mind (with loyal assistance from my laptop) gave birth to this….

(c) V. Shah/Half-Eaten Mind/piZap
(c) V. Shah/Half-Eaten Mind/piZap


My theme for this header is London, by the way. To give you an understanding of how this design came about, let’s take each of the individual parts in turn and I’ll explain why I used them.


(c) Irinnicos/HD Wallpapers
(c) Irinnicos/HD Wallpapers

The Half-Eaten Mind is based in London, so in keeping with this, I wanted to use an image that is quintessentially all London, but one that both Londoners and people from beyond the M25 motorway would both understand and relate to. I wanted something that would be attractive and bold, yet not liable to get me slammed down with a copyright infringement notice. I found the image I needed on a free wallpapers site. It depicts the Tower Bridge, one of London’s most iconic bridges, a formidable landmark spanning the great river Thames. The bridge looks especially captivating at dusk and night, lit up with floodlights that accentuate the masonry of the structure’s supports. Here the stony hues of the bridge and its yellowish lighting makes a strong, but not overwhelming, contrast with the sky above. Though often a grey concrete jungle when it feels temperamental, London has the ability to really impress with its crown jewels of amazing architecture, where medieval and Victorian rub shoulders with the latest skyscraper project by the Foster Brothers or Zawa Hadid.

The ideal image setting for the Mystique template used in this blog is 940 x 200 pixels. I used a site named picresize, which calls itself the ‘Internet’s best picture resizing tool’ to achieve this. I just uploaded the picture, entered the dimensions, and once the preview was good, downloaded it again before exporting it to the Flash editor in piZap. I did make one minor miscalculation though. I had set the Tower Bridge picture at a length of 960 pixels, 20 pixels overboard. That meant when the final header was done and I uploaded it to the WordPress customiser, I had to crop it a bit, but thankfully without any detriment to the design.


(c) V. Shah/M. Kampf/MyFunStudio
(c) V. Shah/M. Kampf/MyFunStudio

Again fitting in with the London theme, I decided against using the text normally supplied with piZap and opted to create a logo for the blog which used something that could be customised and look cool. I decided to base the logo on a road or street sign, but not something clichéd. I first thought about motorway signs, but could not find a suitable site to make them on. I changed my focus to road name signs, of which London has plenty, with each borough using its own format/style. During my Google research, I stumbled across this site ‘MyFunStudio‘ by Marijn Kampf. MyFunStudio comes with a special custom ‘London Street Sign’ maker where you can enter your own details and choose font and border colours and create your own take on the iconic central London road nameplate. The style that the customiser uses is the standard used by the city of Westminster and other parts of central London. These street signs, though relatively minimalist in design, have transcended their original purpose and have become synonymous with olde London Towne for many a visitor. Indeed many of the postcard sellers there market cards that simply feature the road sign, usually of a famous throughfare like Oxford Street or Pall Mall

Using the site’s pre-existing template, I ditched the road name in favour of my blog’s name. The real-life signs carry a set of numbers and letters which are the postal district where the sign is located. The bottom of each sign also displays the issuing authority, the city of Westminster. I changed all that to make the logo geographically relevant to me. So WC2 became E13, the postal district I reside in, and “CITY OF WESTMINSTER” was transformed into “LONDON BOROUGH OF NEWHAM” the borough (local government urban district) where I live. By the way, the Newham road signs look nothing like the sign above. They also show the postal district and use a similar colour scheme, but feature the Newham borough coat of arms on the left-hand side.


(c) M. James/FamFamFam/Icon Archive

They’re a tad on the small side, but if you look to the right of the header, you’ll see three small flags, equally spaced apart. They are in turn, the Union Flag (Union Jack), the banner of the United Kingdom; then in the middle the flag of Mauritius; and lastly the St. George’s flag that represents England in particular. The Union Flag is of course a nod to both my and my blog’s nationality. Please note though that HEM does have an international focus in news stories and a wide-ranging readership from across the globe, so this isn’t an expression of any nationalistic fervour. The Mauritian flag is a homage to my mother’s country of birth and an important part of my personal cultural identity. The English flag was also chosen for similar reasons – as a marker of both personal and a greater regional identity personally, and as a small acknowledgement of respect for the country of my birth. I was in fact born in the Greater London area (the city itself plus suburbs and annexed bits of surrounding counties).

The new header will run concurrently with the old one. When using the site, you will find that if you click on another page or article that the headers change. A third header with a solely news-related theme is in the pipeline, and may be available as early as next week, time permitting.



I would like to dedicate this article to my brother Azzy, who turns 22 today. A very happy birthday, ‘Hitman’ and wishing you all the best on this special occasion.

“Iconset: Flag Icons by FamFamFam (239 icons)” – Mark James, FamFamFam via IconArchive (4 April 2011) http://www.iconarchive.com/show/flag-icons-by-famfamfam.html
StatCounter http://statcounter.com/
“Category:Flag icons” – Mark James, FamFamFam via Uncyclopedia/Uncyclomedia http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/Category:Flag_icons
“Tower Bridge London Wallpaper Hd” – Irinnicos, HDWallpappers.com/HD Wallpapers (6 October 2013) http://hdwallpappers.com/tower-bridge-london-wallpaper-hd/
“Mauritius Flag” – Senojflags.Com http://www.senojflags.com/images/national-flag-icons/Mauritius-Flag.png
“London Street Sign” – Marijn Kampf, MyFunStudio.com http://www.myfunstudio.com/designs/lss/
picresize, InterNich LLC http://www.picresize.com/
piZap http://pizap.com/
Vijay Shah { विजय }, Twitter 


By Vijay Shah

Regulars of the Half-Eaten Mind may remember two articles I published in March this year where I showcased a selection of photo montages and creations produced by my youngest sister using the online editing software piZap. Well today I decided to take the site for a spin myself and see what my creativity could manifest with piZap’s funky filters and stick-on graphics and text.

This is what I made…….



It only took me about 20 minutes to put this together, with a photo taken with a Samsung Galaxy S II while at a end-of-week visit to my mother’s house. I had taken some pictures of my niece, Shaniya, while she was messing around and pulling faces in her own inimitable style, and decided to use one as the basis of this creation. I did not really intend it to be anything, but it could make a good poster or book cover. Hell, it even reminds me of one of those rave flyers you get for garage music events at nightclubs. Shaniya does love a good track.

Nye-Nye is our nickname for her. It is a reduplication of the second syllable in her name. As the ‘crazy’ in the title suggests, Shaniya can be quite nuts. Chucky is her other nickname, in honour of a certain murderous doll with ginger hair that terrorised cinemagoers in the Eighties. Her naughty streak drives her parents round the bend, but really she means well, and is very sweet and polite. She is like a daughter to me in fact.

The photo I chose for this is perfect. Shaniya was doing her characteristic funny faces and moving her head from side to side at the same time, giving the photograph this insane and delirious motion blur, certainly adding to the crazy, off-your-rocker factor.

I uploaded the photo in its original state to the piZap console, added a “DJ” colour filter to reflect Shaniya’s colourful personality, and put the main title in deep pink, as pink is her favourite colour, while using shading behind the titles to give the image more perceptive depth (a 3-D feel if you like). I added some emoticons and a monster character from piZap’s bank of Cliparts, slapped on the obligatory copyright notice to put off any chancers from downloading and claiming this image as their own, and voila!!…it’s the Crazy Nye-Nye poster, featuring the toddler of your nightmares.

I have an artistic nous and a small amount of experience with design and photo manipulation (i.e. the Adobe programmes Dreamweaver and Photoshop) but had not touched such programs in a while, so I was quite surprised…and impressed with what I turned out here. piZap is quite easy to use if you have at least some comfort with computers and design packages…and I have been years out of the design game. Some of the stuff it has is a bit ‘girly’ and more suited to pre-teens, but that does not detract from piZap’s fun and user-friendliness. I certainly enjoyed it.

You can find Anjali’s piZap intepretations below – check them out to see other ways of using this incredible site:

ANJALI’S PICS: Family photo showcase

ANJALI’S PICS 2: More family photos from the Princess of piZap


BLOGBOOK: The story and the reactions

By Vijay Shah

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.

Image via CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

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. 

Blurb NYC Popup Store
Blurb NYC Popup Store (Photo credit: Dave Pinter)

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.

BookSmart (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
BookSmart (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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).

(c) V. Shah/HalfEaten Mind, alongside Blurb Books.


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

Cover: Softback

Dimensions: Standard Portrait (8 x 10 inches, 20 x 25 centimetres); Standard Paper (Weight: 80 micrograms, 118 gsm)


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All photos copyright V. Shah / The Half-Eaten Mind.

VIDEO: How Blurb books are made.


VIDEO: BookSmart quick tutorial

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“blurb – Make your own book” – Blurb LINK 

” FedEx Tracking ” – FedEx LINK 

“Storytelling Series: Your Blurb Book: Behind the Scenes” – Blurb LINK

” Getting Started with BookSmart (2:11)” – Blurb LINK

ANJALI’S PICS 2: More family photos from the Princess of piZap

By Vijay Shah

On March 17, the Half-Eaten Mind played host to a selection of family portraits and fun images made by my youngest sister Anjali (with one produced by younger brother Arjun on his phone using an app he has unfortunately forgotten the name of). She built up these works of art using the photo effects/editing suite piZap (pronounced ‘PIE-zap’) which can be found at this link –  piZap.

piZap is an online photo editor and collage maker with more than 7.1 million likes on the social network Facebook. With piZap you simply upload a photo and using a range of templates, filters and decorative graphics, you can make your own fun collages and jazzed-up photos to display or share with family and friends. It attracts thousands of users a day and is headquartered in Los Gatos, not far from the ‘Silicon Valley’ region of California, home to many cutting-edge technology start-ups.

Anjali has very kindly emailled me another three images, two which would look smashing in a special piZap family album, and one very limited edition collage made as a special commission of sisterly love for me and the blog, as we head towards the Easter weekend here in England. All will be revealed below:

(c) Anjali Shah / piZap
(c) Anjali Shah / piZap

PHOTO ONE: Entitled “Family Collage 7” this picture is one of Anjali’s trademark family photo collages showing our coming together as a family unit and the love and kinship that binds us and not just through blood. It is also a colourful and meaningful method of Anjali using her creativity to show her love for all of us. I am really touched by this. I think Mum would have loved getting a framed glossy printout of this picture for Mother’s Day that just went past. The photo content is so wildly varied in terms of backgrounds of the component portraits and the different kinds of stick-on hearts Anjali has included. The sheer diversity of it all is so overawing and involving to me. I love the proverb in the top right hand corner….”No Gift to your Mother can ever equal her gift to You – Life!!”. A very humbling and truthful quote.

Shaniya,Soraya & Anjali
(c) Anjali Shah / piZap

PHOTO TWO: This jazzy picture full of neon and tinsel has been entitled “Shaniya, Soraya & Anjali“. It pays homage to three of the craziest girls in my family (I kid!!). Shaniya is my niece (my other sister’s daughter). She is famous for having a cute little face that has launched a thousand expressions and an adorable, intelligent personality to match…and she’s only three years old. Trying to squeeze her way in in the middle is my cousin Soraya who is also a piZap fan. On the right is the legendary photo master herself. I am really feeling the party vibe with this picture. Anjali has used a filter with the image which makes them look either like a) ghosts b) they were doused in flour, or c) the photo was developed on rice paper. But I am not making fun. Oh no!. For me also it has to be said that this filter makes them look like little angels bathed in the glow of some heavenly light. That is until you look a little closer and see the cheeky faces they are pulling. It is never a dull moment in the Shah/Bachell/Maghoo household and family.

(c) Anjali Shah / piZap. Republication copyright solely under the Half-Eaten Mind & Vijay Shah.
(c) Anjali Shah / piZap. Republication copyright solely under the Half-Eaten Mind & Vijay Shah.

PHOTO THREE: A complete change of subject here. Hell, not even a change, but a complete shift into an alternate dimension. One where the sun always shines, spring is definitely sprung, the grass is perennially green and the eggs are not made of cheap chocolate fortified with maize starch and dioxins. This special edition emission of Le Studio Photographique du Mlle. Anjali (cue haughty Gallic laugh) is titled “Vijay Easter Pzap” (sic). My sister made this completely as a surprise for me to commemorate Easter and I assume as a thank you gift for the previous photo article I penned for her. She was really chuffed and pleased with it and I was just as happy to put a smile on her face. She even read that article three times. That’s love. That’s family.

This commissioned piece just screams cute. Looking back into Easters long gone past from my childhood, this picture reminds me of the beautifully designed and child friendly packaging you get with certain Cadbury’s Easter eggs that are marketed in the run up to the holidays for a good month now (the shops start flogging off festival stuff really early here!). Just like the Easter bunny with her basket full of different patterned treats, my mind, as half-eaten as it is, is always full of ideas of what to write in this blog. Well, 70% of the time anyway. It is a crazy place sometimes up there in that brain of mine and the emoticons sound that little fact out nicely. I was so impressed with this image, it is now the cover photo for the Half-Eaten Mind Facebook page.

Returning to the piZap site, I have mulled over creating some of my own interpretations of family and other general pictures  – redefining them with the help of piZap’s many filters, stock images etc etc. Anjali even gave me a quick crash course in the software’s features. Hopefully during my time off this weekend, I might just give it a spin and publish the results here. You have been warned!!

To see Anjali’s earlier work, why not acquaint yourself with the article below:

ANJALI’S PICS: Family photo showcase

The Half-Eaten Mind wishes all of its readers and supporters a very Happy Easter.

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