Thursday, 25 February 2016


Seemed a fun title for this blog, and one that is current in the USA just now, one of my favourite countries, which is in hot debate over who will serve as it's President for the next four years.

Last week I wrote about an anniversary of a great American woman from history, that of the 103rd birthday of Rosa Parks. Though not in her league, I have just marked an anniversary of my own.

In late 2011 I was approached by a local group that promotes sustainable practices, both locally and across Scotland. Their acronym is PEDAL, which stands for Portobello Energy Descent & Land Reform group. A mouthful, but basically they were formed in 2005 to look at making Portobello, Edinburgh more sustainable, by it becoming a Transition Town. In short this means going carbon neutral, community buy outs, kicking out plastic bags, and encouraging food to be produced, sold and bought more locally.

It was this last part that brought them to launch a once-a-month farmers market in 2010.

Whilst I was cycling furiously across the United States with my friend Pauline in the summer of 2011, one of the PEDAL board members emailed to asked if I would be interested in taking over the running of the market, making it more interesting, finding ways to get people to stay longer, and improving it's marketing.

By this point it had been five years since I had sold my deli business, and the one thing I missed the most was the interaction between myself and the local community. Working from home, in a good week, I would see and chat to about ten people, compared with the many hundreds during the deli years. So the opportunity was here to bring myself back into contact with traders and local people.

And so, the following February, I took over the management of Portobello Market. 

That was four years ago, and in ten days time, on Saturday 5 March, I will start year five of my tenure.

The market's biggest challenge is that it only occurs once a month. This means that it is not a regular shopping venue, and so it has fought hard to maintain it's foot hold. But it's still here, and at times we have had as many as 30 traders on site. The weather plays a big part, and thanks to El Niño in 2015, many markets were a washout. For the first time in it's history one of the markets was even cancelled altogether, because of Storm Desmond causing havoc across the UK. To make matters worse, that was the Christmas Market, the biggest and most fun one of the year.

But El Niño and other challenges aside, the market is really well supported. I'm personally present during fewer actual markets these days, due in the main part to teaching film to kids every Saturday, but I continue to increase the markets publicity reach and bring along fun events.

As for the remit of PEDAL's ambitions for the market, it has achieved them all, and I'd like to think that is due in part to my continued input.

Here's to the next four years.

Photo courtesy of Pauline Symaniak

Thursday, 18 February 2016


A couple of blogs ago I mentioned the annual celebration in pop culture of Groundhog Day. A lot of tongue-in-cheek fun. But two days later, a far more important event was celebrated in the USA. That of the 103rd anniversary of the birth of Rosa Parks.

Born in 1913, she lived to the ripe old age of 92, passing in October of 2005. She shot to fame, or maybe I should say, infamy, on the 1st December 1955, when she was riding on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. She refused to give up her seat when ordered to do so by driver James Blake. Rosa had committed the crime as a black woman, of sitting in the whites only section of the bus.

On the 100th anniversary of her birthday in 2013, appropriately, President Barack Obama, made a speech to this effect:

         "I call upon all Americans to observe this day with appropriate service, community, and education programs to honour Rosa Parks enduring legacy"

Several states, then, and since, reserve the front seat of their public transport buses on her birthday, to mark the stand she took.

I am inspired by this simple, and brave, act, in an awful time of American history. The American Civil War had sparked off in 1861, primarily because of the slavery of black people, and to think she still had to take what was seen as a risk, almost 100 years later.

Also in 1861, but most likely less well known to the masses than Rosa Parks, one of the women in the next part of this week's blog was born.

Elizabeth Bisland Wetmore. She would become a reporter for The Cosmopolitan (now a popular magazine) in New York City, with her pen name simply as, Elizabeth Bisland. Her family had fled their homestead in Louisiana just prior to a Civil War battle nearby in 1863. The family returned but life was difficult, and they moved to Natchez when Elizabeth was 12. She would start her writing career when she was still a teenager. Not that famous today, despite taking a "mans world" head on.
Until that is, 1889.

The other woman is Nellie Bly, born Elizabeth Jane Cochrane, who was by far the most famous female newspaper reporter of her time, was born three years after Bisland, in 1864. She started her writing career as a teenager also, when she was given a chance to write for The Pittsburg Dispatch  by editor George Madden, in response to a fiery readers letter she had written. By 1887 she had tired of the Dispatch, and moved to New York City. Penniless she somehow talked her way into the offices of Joseph Pulitzer at The New York World newspaper, where she carved out what would become a very successful journalistic career.

She was to shoot to fame whilst working for Joseph Pulitzer's newspaper, when she went undercover in an insane asylum for 10 days, exposing the terrible conditions therein.

But what was to influence Bly shortly after, was a publication from 1873, that of Jules Verne's fictional novel, Around The World In 80 Days. Pulitzer decided to send Bly on just such a trip, and she departed on November 14 1889, aboard the steamer ship Augusta Victoria, the fastest ship crossing the Atlantic at the time, later to be renamed RMS Empress of Scotland. It was to perish in a shipyard fire, appropriately in Blyth!

72 days,  and 24,899 miles later, Bly arrived back in New York City, on the 25 January 1890.

But where does Bisland fit into this picture? When John Walker, editor of The Cosmopolitan, heard of Bly's quest, he decided to send freelance reporter Elizabeth Bisland on the same quest, with a subtle difference: she would journey in the opposite direction.

By the time Bly finished, Bisland was still traveling. Bly's record would be broken just a few months later by George Train, who completed the circumnavigation in 67 days. That would stand for 23 years, until a Broadway producer, John Henry Mears, would smash it, to finish in just 36 days.

You may have guessed that I am currently reading Eighty Days, by American author Matthew Goodman, all about the two women's adventure, and I just cannot put it down. He quotes a small paragraph just before the prologue, from Jules Verne's book:

"You have a strange way, Ralph, of proving
that the world has grown smaller.
So, because you can go around it in three months..."
Phileas Fogg interrupts. "In 80 days".

Friday, 12 February 2016


Last week I mentioned that I was attempting to make a "blimp", a special casing to house a microphone so you can mitigate the effects of the wind blowing outside.

I'm pleased to say it worked a treat, and here is a picture of the finished item. Instead of £200 it cost just £40 to make.

Another challenge then arose. Some sound recording that had been captured earlier was fairly poor, but we don't have the time to film them again. So the solution is to record the artists voices again, in sync with the original. We call this ADR (Automatic Dialogue Replacement) To achieve this, the audio has to be recorded with zero background noise. Ideally you should create it in a recording studio, which has the walls covered in a bumpy, acoustic foam, that basically "deadens" the room.

But these costs thousands, or you have to travel to a studio and hire one. Again, expensive.

So I broke out the pens and pencils, and tools, again, and set to designing a table-top portable version.

I finished it today, and I am amazed how well it works. Total cost: under £50. Here's a wee picture, complete with microphone and pop-shield, headphones and a 7" monitor for the artists to watch themselves in the original recording:

Maybe I should make a "how to" on a YouTube video, or an article on "".  Or you could just ask me.

Finally, I've been trying to find a remote control for my MacBook Air. It wasn't just to control Key Note (Mac's version of Power point), I wanted to go a step further and control videos playing on the screen. I wasn't even sure if that was possible.  The Mac's getting on a bit now, like myself, and software updates have left it behind a bit. There are remotes out there, but my laptop is no longer compatible with them.

What to do?

No, I haven't made one. Practical things I can do, computer coding is a bit beyond me.

But I have found a solution, and thought I'd post it here as it may help others. It's called ROWMOTE, and first of all you download the app to your smartphone (79p). You also need the other half, which is the software on your computer. All well and good, but the version I found was not compatible with my system. A bit more searching, and I found the downloads for older versions, and, voila, I have my remote.

Just in case you are in the same situation, first, here's the link to the app for your phone: Rowmote app

And for the software part, the link to the older versions (which you need to install for it to work) for your Mac computer OS X: Mac Rowmote

Then you launch the programme on your Mac, then select the installed app on your phone, and it will give you a password number to enter when prompted on your computer, so the two can link.

And, relax.

Thursday, 4 February 2016


Well, that's kind of another way of saying that Tuesday this week was Groundhog Day! Yeah!

Punxsutawney Phil, the famous groundhog residing in the town he is named after in Pennsylvania, did not see his shadow, which means there will be an early Spring.

I had a little chuckle to myself when I saw the listing for one of the Sky channels this week. It was showing the Bill Murray movie, Groundhog Day, over and over again, all day. Someone in programme scheduling clearly has a sense of humour.

I've had a bit of a Groundhog Day myself all week, as I feel I have been continually editing the same short film over and over again for one of the young student groups at the performing arts academy, here in Edinburgh. I've been using a technique called rotoscoping. This is where you take the image of a person moving and trace round them accurately, so you can transplant them from the original background, onto a different one. It's basically animation, as you have to do it one frame at a time. And there are 25 frames every second! Most clips I've been using are only around two seconds long, but that can take me around eight hours. More if I get it wrong, which I did at the start of the week and had to start again.

As I said, my very own Groundhog Day.

Aside from editing I'm attempting to make my own sound recording blimp. This is a sausage shaped housing, roughly 10cm wide and 40cm long, with rounded ends. Normally made of plastic mesh, with roughly 5mm holes, I'm making mine out of steel, mainly for strength. Then I've added a fine net curtain-type mesh onto one side, rolled it into shape, securing it with steel wire. I then bought some faux fur, and made what is called a "deadcat", a big fluffy, hairy sleeve, which goes over the outside to further reduce wind noise.  The kids always have a chuckle at the name.

So what is this "blimp".

When you are recording sound on a windy day, even with a slight breeze, it can be heard like a jet engine going across the camera's microphone. But within the shielded space inside the blimp the air is perfectly still. So you place the microphone inside on a special shock mount, and hold the whole thing as close as you can to the person you're recording, and you get almost perfect sound, with not a hint of any wind. It is quite remarkable. Last week we were outside with one we had hired, and the wind was gusting 50mph. So effective was the blimp that initially I thought the microphone had not been switched on!
I have a fairly good microphone but no blimp, and they are upwards of £200 to buy. So I sat down to design my own one over the course of a couple of days, and I'm almost finished. One challenge was how to create the curved ends. As I was in my local supermarket I had a eureka moment when I found 10cm wide sieves! Perfect. I just have to cut the supports off and fit them on each end. Job done.

It's not been tested yet, as I'm still making the deadcat to go over it.

In some countries they call it a dead wombat. Maybe this week I should call it a dead hog, in honour of Phil.

Maybe not.