Archive for November, 2009

I once … got massaged in a Thai prison.

Crumbs, there are so many ways this story could go, but thankfully mine doesn’t involve a Thai massage ‘happy ending’.

It was June of this year, I was in Thailand with Sarah to celebrate her birthday (note that I left out which birthday, considerate boyfriend that I am). We had spent two days in a hot, humid and over crowded Bangkok. This was followed by a 14 hour overnight train journey. So by the time we reached Chiang Mai in the North of the country, we were more than ready to be pushed, pulled and stretched any which way we could.

The back story

Let’s make one thing clear, I wasn’t arrested. Our massages took place at the Thai Women’s Prison and I consented to such shenanigans. Heck, I even paid for it!

Basically, the majority of women prisoners were serving time for drug related crimes. The Thai Government came to the conclusion that they were dealing in drugs because they hadn’t any other skills to put to good use to get an income. Therefore, whilst in prison, the women learnt skills that would allow them to get paid work upon release. Some of the skills included making handicrafts and one of them was, you guessed it, training to be a masseuse.

The chosen one

All the prisoners who gave the massages were due to be released within 6 months and the massages here cost less than half the price of anywhere else we found in Chiang Mai, plus they were conducted in a building opposite the main prison so there was no cuffing or cells involved, although it was still an offiical prison building with wardens and inmates.

I walked into the room and several travellers were in various stages of their massages. Some were leaving and looked smug as if to say, you haven’t a clue what you have let yourself in for, others were deep in conversation with their masseuse.

I changed into my robe as instructed and awaited my lady. There were 5 in the room, all very pretty and chatty. Mine entered and I’m not exaggerating, she looked liked Mrs Trunchbull from the book Matilda. She was by all accounts, a stereotypical prisoner! You wouldn’t mess with her.

Language barriers

She also spoke no English. I spoke no Thai. We communicated solely through hand gestures and facial expressions and when I didn’t understand how she wanted me to position myself she simply moved me herself.

The massage was incredible. At one point she was swinging me from side to side and my back was clicking and crunching. She also sat behind me and then somehow pulled me into the air on top of her. It was like something from an amateur wrestling show, minus the lycra.

The end

After an hour it was over. I sort of felt relaxed and exhausted all at the same time. It was exhilarating and terrifying. When she had finished, she just put her hands together, bowed to me and vanished. I felt used!

It was then that I became the smug one whilst the new arrivals entered the room probably thinking the same as I was when I entered: I’m going into a prison for a massage in a foreign country, good job I didn’t tell mum beforehand.

That was 5 months ago so the lady who massaged me will definitely be free by now. I feel happy knowing that I helped her practice a skill for her new life on the outside but if I ever go back to Thailand and spot her, I’ll cross to the other side of the road.

Next time: I once … met James Bond in a hotel


My Tweet Cloud

There is a new Tweet Cloud App doing the rounds, built by @icodeforlove. It analyses your tweets over a specified time frame and tells you what words you have tweeted the most.

The results of my last three months of tweets are above. I was surprised by some of the themes that emerged as my tweets seem to me to be nothing more than random musings.

These are the words I have tweeted, ordered by most used:

  • thanks
  • hope
  • time
  • week
  • yeah
  • blog
  • design
  • post
  • tweet
  • weekend
  • book
  • please
  • enjoy
  • looking
  • project
  • cardiff
  • nice
  • getting
  • tomorrow
  • home
  • people
  • talk
  • follow
  • love
  • excellent
  • storytelling
  • soon
  • team
  • article
  • website
  • email
  • write
  • read
  • looks
  • thank
  • maybe
  • seen
  • sorry
  • favourites
  • writing
  • film
  • coming
  • days
  • friday
  • heard
  • doing
  • tonight
  • wait
  • idea
  • news
  • carsonified
  • feeling
  • guys
  • life
  • cool
  • indeed
  • bath
  • list
  • wales
  • reading

I’m pleased to see my tweets are well mannered! I would like ‘storytelling’ to rank higher than it currently is though so watch this space.

You can create your own cloud here.

Introducing – I Once …

Long before I started writing about communication and web type things, I wrote articles about my travels, and I could be as descriptive and creative as I wished. This is something I have neglected of late so I am introducing a new series of blog posts called: ‘I Once …’

As human beings, stories are integral to our lives, we hear them from birth and tell our own until death. So as narrator of my own life, the ‘I Once …’ articles will allow me to share some of my stories with you, adding a more personal dimension to this blog which is my own storytelling platform.

I hope you enjoy them!

COMING SOON: I Once … got massaged by a female convict in a Thai prison.

Combating Writer’s Block

Today I have been experiencing extreme writer’s block. So many words and ideas in my head but I cannot articulate them into written sentences.

This reminded me of many months ago when I direct messaged Stephen Fry on Twitter, asking him how he combats writer’s block. To my amazement he replied and I want to share his answer with you, just in case you find yourself suffering from it too.

He answered:

I combat WB by writing a diary, just a stream of words in which I talk to myself about how I can’t write. Primes the pump.

There we have it. A simple approach and one that will hopefully help me when I get back to the writing later this evening.

If you have alternative solutions, then please feel free to share your tips in the comments below.

Designing the Invisible: The birth of a book


No idea is a bad idea. Well that’s not true, tons of ideas are awful and you only need to watch Dragon’s Den to find that out. But some ideas start as a simple, rough around the edges thought, that can be honed and polished into a winning concept. That is exactly how Designing the Invisible came to life.

I remember the moment well. It wasn’t a eureka type event, more of a ‘I’m going to email Mark (Boulton) with a book idea and expect to be laughed at’ moment. Hours later I was onboard as a Five Simple Steps author. I’m getting ahead of myself here though, let’s go back to the root …

‘Mark, I’ve got an idea …

I was working at Mark Boulton Design as a Project Manager and I was heavily involved in the work for Five Simple Steps, this is the publishing company headed by Mark and Emma Boulton. As a team we were in the latter stages of getting Mark’s first book released but were already thinking beyond that, including future titles and authors.

I had written for several travel publications previously, but it was media studies and the web that really ticked my boxes, so those passions coupled with my year working at BBC Wales in Audience Research led me to email Mark a book idea which has since been polished to what is now Designing the Invisible.

A dirty diamond.

In its original form, the book was more focused on audiences and was going to discuss topics such as audience research, analytics, and personas.  It was given a title (which I won’t reveal in case Five Simple Steps want to use it at a later date) and the ball was rolling.

When Mark and I met about the book for a progress report, we both had the same reservations about some of the subject matter. Mark felt that the chapters that were centred on communication and semiotics were the more interesting, as did I, and so we agreed that they would become the focus of the book.

I went away, did my research, revised my table of contents and sent it to Mark. That makes it sound easy but it was a time consuming and at times, tough process. The whole time I had to focus on what made this book different to others, what was the unique selling point? So whilst it may seem that I have dismissed several weeks work in one sentence that isn’t the case. Honing the idea was hard.

That said, it went through a couple of revisions over a few weeks and it was a relatively fast and pain free process compared to many publishing stories I have heard. Before long, it was signed off.

The aim for any book published under the Five Simple Steps brand is for it to arm the reader with practical advice for working in that subject area – eg web design. It should also be written in an easy to read, friendly style and the design of the book/packaging should be beautiful, simple and clean. We had the content pinned down in keeping with the brand, but we needed a title to represent the broad range of topics and content to be included. Because it was part of the Five Simple Steps brand the title was most likely (though it didn’t have to) start with A Practical Guide to …

The naming ceremony.

Thinking of titles and headlines is my downfall. I struggled. Then one day Mark came into the studio and said ‘Designing the Invisible, I think we should call your book Designing the Invisible’. At first I felt it was a bit of an enigma, people wouldn’t ‘get it’ and connect to the book but it does represent the content so well and it grew on me. I said yes and then I probably made him a cup of tea or something.

Never judge a book by its cover …

…but if you do then you will judge the Five Simple Steps books in a positive way. With the nitty gritty details agreed we continued working on Mark’s book, Designing for the Web. As we reached April 2009 when the print version was released we included two postcards, one for Mark’s second book, Designing Grid Systems, and one for my own, Designing the Invisible. These postcards featured the covers, designed by Nick Boulton, and a synopsis of each book.

Soon, but not yet.

Since April lots has been going on behind the scenes regarding legalities and contracts but I won’t bore you with that or it will be a future blog post. The book was originally due to be released on December 1st but such masterpieces cannot be rushed so it has been pushed back for a short while. We have a tentative date and should be able to confirm this publicly in the coming weeks.

Stop talking and start writing.

I have been beavering away researching, writing, panicking, worrying, but above all, getting excited. I am in a position now where I can start to reveal the process and content of the book and this will be happening here on my blog, via the Designing the Invisible Twitter stream and on the Designing the Invisible website.

There will be more blog posts to follow documenting the whole process. We are hoping to show you a behind the scenes, warts and all account of self publishing.

It’s worth asking.

I had part of an idea and within weeks I was confirmed as an author. I urge you, even if it is just a small idea, to share it. You never know what it might grow into after a few creative discussions, brainstorms and some research. It is better to try and be told no, than always wonder what if (bit soppy there sorry). You can even contact Five Simple Steps with your idea.

For now though, thanks for coming along for the ride. It’s going to be bumpy but I’m strapped in.

First photo taken by Felipe

What a waste of (web) space.

I’ve been looking for a domain name this evening as I look to develop my own site. I’m clearly very late to the party or the world is full of more people called Robert Mills than I first imagined.

All the obvious domain names are taken. Now I don’t mind too much because the law states that if you snooze you lose. I snoozed alright. But what irks me are people who sit on domain names and do nothing with them. Look at for example:

Robert MillsWhat a pile of crap!

But this isn’t the only example of wasting web space that I came across this weekend. I was trying to find some information about Starbucks and branding so naturally I started with the Starbucks website. Now I’m talking about the UK site not the .com one. Check this out:

starbucks homepage

What a pile of crap!

I expected more from Starbucks. Perhaps they don’t see their online presence as being integral to their brand/marketing strategy. Shame.

Anyway, I’m sure there are loads more examples but I wanted to share those two with you. Grumble over.

Dear Twitter, we need a break

I’ve been falling out of love with Twitter in recent weeks, so much so I felt compelled to write about why.

I can definitely see the benefits of Twitter. Here are some:

  • It can be used to promote new blog posts, releases, products etc. In fact I have been invovled in using it as a marketing tool and it was invaluable.
  • You can create communities and easily find like minded people and those with shared interests (especially since the addition of Twitter lists).
  • I have ‘met’ some fantastic people via Twitter and enjoy conversing with them and learning from them.
  • It is perfect for utilising the knowledge and contacts of others. When I was made redundant the support of my Twitter pals and the number of job leads I received from them was incredible.
  • It is a good tool for encouraging healthy debate and sharing opinions.
  • It is a great platform for sharing wisdom, articles, asking questions and generally having access to a plethora of people that you would never normally be able to contact so easily.

Too easily?

But therein lays a problem. With many people able to connect so easily it leads to trouble. Here are some reasons I’m falling out of love with Twitter and please note that I have no quarms in admitting that I have been guilty of some of this myself too:

  • Tweets can be taken the wrong way by those reading them
  • People can make the tweets be about them and start unnecessary bickering
  • Tweets can be used to target others negatively in an anonymous way
  • Some tweeters seem to think that someone with a different opinion to them is wrong.
  • People can join in conversations on Twitter part way through and again, take things out of context
  • A lot of people moan on Twitter (I have) and sometimes you just don’t wanna see moany tweets in your stream
  • It is a breeding ground for snide remarks, flipant comments and if truth be told, bitchiness.

Truncated Communication.

I think a big contributor to these negative aspects of Twitter is what I call, truncated communication. We are restricted by 140 characters or less so we have to choose our words wisely. At times we have to omit words and this can have a big impact on what we are trying to say.

A word, or lack of, can change the context of a tweet or accidently make a tweet seem negative, aimed at specific people/groups, or cause knee-jerk reactions which create conflict when there is no need.

Tone of Voice.

It is so easy when reading tweets, and this applies to emails too, to misinterpret the tone of voice in which something was meant.

If I were sat opposite someone, my tone of voice would communicate if I was being sarcastic, saying something in jest or down right livid. With online communication we don’t have this luxury and whilst a tweet might be sent innocently, we have no control over how the readers of that tweet will interpret it.

A 😉 or a 🙂 helps at times but there aren’t always enough charcters to tack one of these on the end!

Too easy to respond,

When we see a tweet that might annoy us or upset us then it is too easy to type a response and post it. Once that moment of retaliation or anger has subsided it’s too late. The tweet is already out there in the public domain. That’s why it is so important that we should all think before we tweet.

Practicing what I preach.

I’ve been more mindful of how I tweet lately and I do use Twitter less than a few months ago. In fact I think I’m going to take a back seat from it for the foreseeable future, simply using it for new blog posts like this one. I will watch what is going on but don’t think I will contribute as much for a while.

Likewise I once lived happily not knowing what people were eating or watching, not knowing where they were going or have just returned from. I’m going to review the tweets of those I follow and see what, for me, is noise and what is of interest. I’m not in any way trying to tell people what they should tweet, it is freedom of speech and people can and should say what they like (provided it is considered) but does it bring value to my life? I’m not sure it does. I didn’t need this information before, so why now?

In short …

I suppose my issue isn’t with Twitter itself but those that use it. Maybe the answer is to change the people I follow? I guess that Twitter is the vessel through which this communication flows and perhaps unfairly I am shooting the messenger here.

That said, I might start to fall in love with Twitter again after a cooling off period but for now it’s moving down my list of communication tools and I won’t be opening Twitterific this week in work. I will of course be using it to promote this blog post and if someone shares something of interest then I will click the link or retweet and so on but I’m afraid dear Twitter than for now at least, you will be sleeping on the sofa!

Am I overreacting? Please share your thoughts below.