Dec 30 2008

He Who Must Be Obeyed

East Midlands Speakers Club held its final meeting of the year over Christmas dinner on 15th December.

I was lucky enough to get a speaking slot and presented my Level 6 speech from the Toastmasters Competent Communicator manual.

Since the theme was Christmas, and I was in the process of an intensive round of singing with the Leicester Bach Choir, I hit on the idea of singing snatches from Handel’s Messiah. Why? To illustrate how a choir is an example of achieving a goal under the direction of its Music Director – He Who Must Be Obeyed! Watch the video to see how.

I also delivered this speech at the choir’s Christmas lunch on the previous day. Since they were ‘more in the know,’ they fell about laughing!

If you live in Nottingham, Derby or Leicester, or other parts of the East Midlands, and would like to use the Toastmasters International programme to develop your speaking skills and confidence, come and visit us at East Midlands Speakers Club. We meet every first and third Monday of the month at The Clockhouse, London Road, Shardlow, Derbyshire. Visit the website for more details and directions.

Dec 30 2008

Now offering SEO and Online Marketing

I’ve just refurbished my website and its companion blog, SoozNooz.

October through to December, I’ve been very lucky to be able to attend several business seminars sponsored by East Midlands Business Link, paid for by the East Midlands Development Agency.

The seminars have come at an auspicious time for me, covering issues of online marketing, search engine optimisation, selling online, pay-per-click advertising and social networking.

I’ve already implemented many of the practices suggested, which means I’m on the right path. All the same, I learnt something new in every session, making the investment in time very worthwhile.

I’ve discovered over the last year or so, that when I tell people that I design websites, they ask me to take a look at theirs.  “I’ve just paid out all this money on a new website, and I’m not getting any business from it!” they complain.

It takes no time at all on clicking through to their sites, to discover that the designers have not optimised them.  Simple things like Flash animations without entry text, no page titles, lack of copy text on the home page and generally, no targeted proposition or call to action.

I think there is going to be more and more emphasis in the future on making your website work for you, rather than just on building websites to have a directory presence on the web.  Online marketing is all about connecting with your customers.  Use your experience in dealing with customers face-to-face combined with web 2.0 technology to sell online.

For example, I’m hoping to have my bathroom overhauled in January.  It makes sense to me to look at bathroom websites to see what ideas bathroom companies can offer and evidence of their work.  Very few of the tradesmen who came to see me had an understanding of this need, often dismissing their websites as ‘something the wife does.’

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a structured process which aims to lift your website to the top of Google search engine results for your particular product or service.  There’s no mystery about how it’s done.  There’s plenty of websites out there falling over themselves to offer advice.  In fact, Google offers some of the best resources.  See my page on SEO for some starter links.

In the end though, do you have the time?  This is work that you can out-source. Or you may like some guidance on how to set up your own SEO strategy and maintain it yourself.  These are services which I am now offering.  Call me on +44(0)1509 650759 to talk through the options.

Dec 29 2008

Toastmasters International

I am now a member of Toastmasters International

I joined East Midlands Speakers’ Club last year to support two friends with whom I had worked in the 1980s. We chartered to Toastmasters International in June, celebrating by holding our first speech contest and  a charter dinner at the end of September.

East Midlands Speakers Club - Charter Dinner

East Midlands Speakers Club - Charter Dinner

Here are the members of East Midlands Speakers Club ‘dressing to impress’ at the dinner with the exception of me who was taking the picture.

Two of our members won our Area speech contest held on 5th October.  Judy Dyer won the humourous speech contest with her tale of Gregory, her green parrot, and Stuart Webb proved that he could speak extempore by winning the table topics contest.

They both went on to take part in the divisional (UK and Ireland) contest in York on 19th October.  Stuart came third in this national competition.

As for me, I have been participating in all the ‘leadership’ roles as required by the competent leadership award, and reached my Level 5 speech in the competent communicator programme last Monday October 20th.

The objective of the Level 5 speech is ‘Your Body Speaks.’ The evaluation concentrates on posture, gestures, body movement, facial expression and eye contact. I chose to speak about gothic bellydancing, which naturally gave me scope. Watch the YouTube video to see how I performed.

My camera had been set to video-email, which explains its tiny dimensions.

First published 25th October 2008.

Dec 29 2008

Singing John Betjeman

I look forward to the summer as a quiet time, but this summer has been anything but.  Perhaps it’s just that I’ve been using the time to catch up with tasks that I haven’t had the opportunity to tackle before.

This summer, I have finally succeeded in downloading video from both my JVC Everio (read how awkward that episode managed to be) and also from my JVC tape camcorder, which was used to film my show last year – How to Get On In Society! – a review of the life, poetry and broadcasting of Sir John Betjeman.

I was able to edit the files to produce videos of five of the songs that I sang, musical settings of Betjeman’s poems by Madeline Dring and Mervyn Horder, and uploaded them to YouTube.  Watch them at my YouTube channel

Performing at How to Get On In Society!, Leicester, September 2007. Song of a Nightclub Proprietress, poem by John Betjeman, music by Madeline Dring.

I also uploaded a video of Tom Chambers, a friend of my son George, reciting A Subaltern’s Love Song.  He really was the right age for it.  JB sounds just a bit too old and leery when you listen to him.

Well done Tom!

First published 21st September

Dec 29 2008

Gothla UK 2008 Videos

Excerpts from the first seven performances at Gothla UK 2008, British Theatre Dance Association, Leicester, 18th July.

Excerpts from six of the later performances at Gothla UK 2008. Deva Matisa expressly asked not to be filmed.

Video and editing by Sue Hutton. Videos uploaded to GothlaUK YouTube site.

First published 24th July 2008.

Dec 29 2008

Aarachna dancing at Gothla UK 2008

The second Gothla UK event took place in Leicester, UK, this last weekend, 18th-20th July 2008.

The hafla was held in the theatre of the British Theatre Dance Association.  Fourteen acts included some of the foremost exponents of gothic bellydancing – Ariellah, Sashi and Tempest from the USA, Deva Matisa from Germany and Morgana from Spain, as well as performers from around UK.

I have been the webmistress for Gothla UK since the beginning of 2007 and instrumental in setting up the online payment system.  I print the tickets, design the posters, send out the newsletters, maintain the blog and generally liaise with managers of the venues in Leicester in partnership with my daughter Rosie.

Over the weekend, I’ve stood on duty in the booking office at BTDA, been ‘chick on the door’ at Studio 79 and minded the Gothla stall at the souk (bellydance accoutrements).

The event passed off very smoothly. We had ladies coming from as far afield as the Czech Republic, Poland, Italy and Sweden as well as from all over UK.  It looks as if it will become an annual event.

I’m very pleased and proud to air this video I took of Rosie, stage name Aarachna, dancing at the hafla on Friday evening.  Her backing track was Exterminate, Annihilate, Destroy by Rotersand. As her intro stated, there’s not a cyberman, doctor nor dalek in sight!

First published 22nd July 2008.

Dec 29 2008

Leicester Bach Choir in Germany

I travelled with the Leicester Bach Choir to Germany between 13th-16th June 2008. We visited Thomaskirche in Leipzig, where J S Bach worked for the last 27 years of his life

We sang a concert of accompanied and a capella pieces of European Sacred Music in the Stadtkirche of Meiningen on Saturday evening to an audience of over 100. The acoustic was tremendous.

We also sang the accompanied items in the morning service at Georgenkirche in Eisenach on Sunday. J S Bach was baptised at the font in the church.

View the photos on Flickr.

The video shows some of the more informal moments of our tour around Eisenach.

First published 18th June 2008.

Dec 29 2008

ELAPs Juniors and Ernie

Fairground roustabout summons the crowd to the boxing match

Fairground roustabout summons the crowd to the boxing match

I’ve had a great time the first half of this year directing East Leake Amateur Player’s Juniors (ELAPs Juniors) in Alan Ayckbourn’s Ernie’s Incredible Illucinations

Twenty-one youngsters travelled to the Dukeries’ Theatre in Ollerton to perform the piece at the NANDA Youth Theatre Festival on May 10th

The company rose to the occasion. I only wish I could have seen their performance but I had to stand in the wings as prompt as one young person consistently forgot his lines

Four kids were Highly Commended for their acting, three of them aged 11 or younger. I only wish the adjudication could have been more positive, but sadly, one had the feeling that the adjudicator did not like the play, had not read the script beforehand and chose to concentrate on irrelevant issues such as the naming of ‘visionary’ characters in the programme

He did manage to say that the ‘illucinations’ were good. For those who don’t know the script, Ernie’s parents have taken him to see the doctor since Ernie’s fertile imagination can bring situations to life. This isn’t always convenient. For example, the Nazi soldiers are all shot dead and a spy is murdered in the library

My favourite illucination was the fairground which gave everybody to adopt and express a character. Auntie May was played by a tiny ten-year old who scampered around the seedy former world boxing champion, Kid Saracen, felling him with a right hook.

Doctor leads the brass band through the surgery

Doctor leads the brass band through the surgery

I was delighted that the East Leake Revival Band gave us such magnificent support. Not only did the leader rehearse the kids in marching, he and his band also came all the way to Ollerton to accompany the final illucination in the background as a brass band.

The main purpose of adjudication is to give positive and constructive feedback, and thus is directed as much to directors as performers, if not more so. I agreed with the adjudicator about minimising the movement of chairs and tables, which ‘broke the magic’, and I could have done that differently at the festival if my brain had worked in time. I could also understand, with hindsight, what he meant about certain scenes being ‘rushed’.

But it would have been much more positive if he could have taken the time to congratulate ELAPs Juniors on their enthusiasm, confidence and diction. We spent a lot of time on warmups and bringing out voice in rehearsal. It paid off. Everyone could be heard at the back of the theatre.

We had an infinitely more appreciative audience at East Leake Village Hall the following week, when friends and family thronged in to support their Juniors.

First published 29th May

Dec 29 2008

Creating panorama shots in Photoshop CS3

Petra Tou Roumio, Cyprus, birthplace of Aphrodite

Petra Tou Roumio, Cyprus, birthplace of Aphrodite

When I can’t decide on a creative issue on a website, or if I have to write something, I procrastinate. Don’t you? This morning, my procrastination led me to review the photos I’d taken while on holiday in Paphos, Cyprus, in April last year. I rather fancied the idea of entering the Creative Challenge at Webshots Blog and thought there might be something suitable in the Paphos folder, but there isn’t. I had a very handy, small Nikon camera with me on holiday, but the light was very bright in Cyprus and the camera tended to over-expose.

However, I thought I’d try making a panoramic shot of Petra tou Roumio Bay in Photoshop CS3. The individual photos aren’t anything to shout about, but the view as a whole is breathtaking. Photoshop has enabled its users to assemble panoramic montages in several earlier versions, and has provided more scope with this facility in its latest CS3 rendition.

Open Photoshop. Go to File > Automate > Photomerge. A dialog box opens offering you five editing options, depending on how much control you want to take over the process. There’s Auto, Perspective, Cylindrical, Reposition Only and Interactive Layout. Rather than my trying to explain what each of these options do, I think you would get a more intuitive grasp by going through the process. You are able to choose the photos that you want to include, either by having them already open in Photoshop, or in a folder, or by using Control + Click on a PC (presumably Apple key + Click on a Mac) on the particular files within a folder.

Make sure that there is an identifiable feature at the edge of each photo which can be matched to the next one, and you should have taken each of the photos with the same camera settings from the same spot for the process to work most smoothly.

Click OK and Photoshop goes into action building the panorama. Depending on the amount of RAM in your computer and how big each individual photo file is, this could take seconds or minutes. I have a lot of RAM on my PC, but it still took at least 10 seconds to build my panorama of Petra tou Roumio.

The delay might have been caused by the fact that Photoshop simply couldn’t match one of the photos at one end. There wasn’t enough of the recognisable feature for the program to work on. In this case, I cropped and saved the panorama image as a psd file, then expanded the canvas, making sure to stretch it to the right, added a new layer, opened the offending photo, selected and copied it, and then pasted it into the new layer in the panorama.

It wasn’t a perfect match but the clone tool used on the top layer helped me smooth out the obvious joins. Since most of the join was sky and sea, this was fairly easy. You’d have a hard time of it with something detailed. Alternate between the underlying panorama image and the top layer to adjust your clone tool settings. Then I cropped the photo once more.

I had to resize the image and save it for the web to be sure that it wouldn’t overload bandwidth and might actually have a chance of displaying in its entirety on a web page. Click on the image above and it should open in a pop-up box.

What’s the story behind Petra tou Roumio? Cyprus has been a centre for the worship of Aphrodite and fertility and her earlier incarnations since even before Greek times. There’s a magical quality about the light at Petra tou Roumio, which lies at the southwestern point of the island. The bay is backed by white chalk cliffs. The whiteness of the chalk stretching under the sea gives the colour of the water a milky quality and also enhances the blue. The light is very bright.

The legend is that Aphrodite/Venus rose out of the sea here at the rocks, where the seed of her father Uranus fell into the ocean. For a most wonderful representation in art, see the Botticelli painting held in the Uffici Gallery in Florence, Italy.

First published 12th April

Dec 29 2008

Public service, new websites

At the beginning of November, I received a phone call from someone working at Public Service Events, a quasi government body which organises promotional events such as conferences and workshops on behalf of government.

I had, apparently, been identified as an SME too small to bid for government tenders.  Aware of the discrimination this caused, certain elements in public service were examining measures to enable freelancers, such as myself, to bid on local and central government projects not exceeding £140,000 (or similar figure) in budget.  Various bureaucratic hurdles in the tender process would be waived.

I had come to somebody’s attention as a practitioner of accessible website design.  The caller asked if I would be prepared to speak at an event to be held in London on 6th December.  As it happened, I had a prior engagement, playing Dandini in the East Leake Amateur Players’ pantomime that week, so I had to decline.

If you look on the PSCA website you will find that the meeting was entitled ‘Skills for the Future –Leadership and Management in the Public Sector’.  It’s not quite how I interpreted my caller’s explanation, but is, presumably, the same event.

In the meantime, I have built two more small websites according to accessible principles, for a client in Oman.  In Oman note, not UK.

See them at Oasis Tours, Oman, and Music Awards Oman.

First published 23rd December 2007

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