Lisa and I had a meeting with somebody the other day. As we sat in her office, the lady nodded toward an ageing PC and bemoaned the fact that “once you buy a new computer these days, it’s almost immediately out of date”.

It wasn’t the time or place to argue, but of course I feel differently.

Sure, if you’re locked into a Microsoft based system, you’re going to find yourself in a viscious upgrade cycle. You’ll constantly be watching for the latest version of Microsoft Office or anxiously wondering what their forthcoming Operating System will mean for you and your business.

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Unreality TV logoOn Wednesday 24th September, I handed in my notice at work. As of the 1st of November, I’ll be a free agent. And I’m not going back into paid employment for the moment – I’ll be working for Unreality TV.

A little over three years ago, Lisa and I started a little blog about Reality TV. I was working for Cleaver Fulton Rankin and doing a bit of web design work in my spare time to bring in extra cash.

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Phew! I’m stuck here in Glasgow airport for an hour or so before my flight home. And while I’ve got five minutes, I thought I’d update the old blog.

Personal Issues

When your blog is branded with your name on it, you are naturally more careful about the frivolous throwaway comments you might make on it. Or even deeper existential questions that are on your mind – after all, what might they reveal about you?

I’m finding it very hard to blog on this site, because I’m really not sure what image I want to project to the spectrum of people who might read it. (I say might read it. Let’s face it, barely anybody knows it exists!)

At the moment, friends and family might find it. Nothing offensive there, and possibly the most accepting group of whatever I chose to write here. But I find myself pondering what employers might think – past, present and future. Should I care? I’m not inclined to, but I know myself well enough to suspect I might care in the future. For one reason or another.

And what about all those lovely people who read my more popular blogs? Well, they’re getting nothing. Nada. But then, very few of them search for me anyway.

So I’m continually spinning ideas for personal posts that I can share here, but my inner editor keeps rejecting them all.

In The Air

So far this year I’ve been on four trips out of Northern Ireland. Maybe more. I’m thinking of losing count early this year.

I’ve been to Doncaster once, then Bristol last week to see the set of a new reality TV show, Glasgow today and Lisa and I went to Prague a few weeks back with our good friends and neighbours. By this stage, all the airports are starting to blur dangerously into one tedious conveyor belt of human cattle standing around in queues.

But I love airports. After spending hours freezing my ass off in Bristol last week, I went to the airport as soon as the press bit for Upstaged ended. I arrived four hours early at the airport and divided my time between reading, watching Ghost Whisperer episodes on my iPod and sleeping upright (which is a trick my family have perfected over the years). It’s actually quite relaxing in that no-man’s land between the security scanners and the flight home.

Big Projects About To End

When I started my new job back in July, I knew that I’d be involved in the go-live of a big project that was nearing completion. That behemoth of a project is about to be released within the next couple of weeks and will signal the first stage of massive organisational change.

It’s an exciting time professionally, but amazingly exhausting. The closer we get, the more deadlines and requirements appear that need dealt with. I’m not that close to the strategic end of the project, but as an IT Manager, I’m involved in setting the stage for technical requirements and making sure that client applications are configured and ready to go.

Hopefully I’ve been typically vague about my job. Don’t want to give away too much…

Anyway, there’s a quick update for interested parties. The flying continues next week to my other office, and possibly even more after that. It’s a great time, and so many things happening at the moment that it’s overwhelming. I can see this ‘intense’ period continuing for a little while longer – perhaps toward the end of April, then hopefully things will settle down and I can review around that point.

I finally tipped the scales with my music blog yesterday. We’ve been edging toward 4,000 pageviews on Unreality Music over the last month and after coming close a few times, finally tipped the scales yesterday.

That’s a milestone for the blog and I’ll set my sights now on achieving 5,000 pageviews per day. Hopefully within the next month.

Competition

The music news niche is notoriously hard to crack – there are many big, established websites covering everything. Then there are innumerable smaller niche blogs and sites covering certain artists and genres. (I came across Brown Sista today BTW, which is a great name)

The music blog had a particularly hard time recently when it was unexpectedly (and inexplicably) penalised by Google. Referrals from Google fell away to nothing for a couple of months – we don’t do anything spammy, so it was a shock to lose traffic so drastically – especially when the rest of the site was still doing so well.

Writing Challenges

Unreality Music has been live for about 9 months, and one of the biggest challenges has been finding my voice on that blog.

I don’t like parroting the music news like other sites do, and I found that my taste for older rock and metal music were hampering what I was qualified to write about.

Having said that, I’m pretty much current with celebrity news and what’s going on in music, so I decided to work out what I wanted the blog to be by working out my goals.

Defining Goals

I wanted Unreality Music to be a fun place for people to discover music news and new songs. To that end, I try to cover current music news, and to let my readers know what new releases are on the horizon. Here are some of my defined goals:

  • Not just repeating the news: You can get music news anywhere – the unique selling point of my music blog is that you’ll always get an opinion, and I’ll try to make it funny.
  • I won’t write about everything: I’m just one guy, and I haven’t got unlimited time, so I’ll cherry pick stories, songs and bands that I want to write about.
  • I will link out wherever possible: I hate those walled garden sites where they only ever link to their own stuff. I’ll link you to the artist’s homepage and any other good writing I find. I will never link to walled gardens like Digital Spy or sites that ignore the rest of the Internet. Those old-media sites don’t deserve links if they won’t give links.
  • I will try to promote unsigned acts: I’m not a music mogul – yet. But if I can make a difference, I’ll write about musicians I find on MySpace and Virb.com where I can. There’s a lot of good music out there that never makes the charts, and I’d like to be helping people to find it!
  • Increasing readership: I love watching my RSS subscribers rise. It shows that people appreciate my writing and want to come back for more. I think as my confidence as a writer has grown (recently) there’s been a marked increase in subscribers.

Anyway, there’s a random post about blogging for you. I’ll be working on ways to increase readership over the next twelve months, and I think it’ll be interesting to see how various promotional techniques work out.

It’s early evening here and I’ve almost reached my 4,000 pageviews already, so I know I’m doing something right!

By my estimation I’ve been off work for a whopping 11 days over Christmas.

Increasingly over those 11 days, I’ve been dying to get back to work. Part boredom, part family and friends overdose and part terrifying freefall from having no real routine. It seems like I’m a creature of habit after all.

Surfing the web’s been a chore over Christmas – no real news out there, and no good opinion pieces. Everybody churns out lazy 2007 retrospectives and Top 10 lists of the year. I even caught the Chris Moyles ‘year in review’ on Radio 1 yesterday, which was irritating because it tops off a year where Moyle’s show has steadily gone downhill.

All the ProBlogging copycats churned through their monthly archives and regurgitated their ‘best’ posts. And all that proved was that all these dull metabloggers take their lead from 2 or 3 key players instead of charting their own course. Very sad. No style, no passion, no originality.

Anyway, so Christmas made me cranky.

January’s looking exciting though. Lots of interesting work on the horizon, some business and pleasure travel (a trip to Prague being most notable), and a new car to replace the ridiculous Nissan Serena that we bought a couple of years ago.

Most importantly, I’m feeling glad to be back at my desk. I’m finding that having my days structured again makes me more productive and focused. Focus will be important this year, as I’m juggling the day job with helping Lisa to grow Unreality into a bigger and better site. But we can talk about that later, can’t we?

For the second year running, we were invited over to London for the final of X Factor. This time however, Lisa was able to come across with me and attend the press screening and conference afterward.

For me, this series of X Factor has been a washout. Possibly the worst series in its four year history. My own intelligence tells me this, but so did the sight of the assembled jaws of the press, dropping to the ground as Leon Jackson won the competition. The talent competition, I hasten to add.

Thankfully, attending press conferences is still an awesome buzz. You get to mingle with people who write this stuff every day for the tabloids. You get to share opinions and there’s more than a fair few cutting remarks about the contestants.

Despite the weak show, I personally hold the publicists in awe. If I could be reborn in a different career, I’d love to do their job.

No Simon…

Not only was there the disappointment of Leon’s win, but that meant Simon Cowell wouldn’t be at the press conference. Depressing, since Cowell has to be the biggest master of spin since Alastair Campbell left the Labour Party. I’ve never seen the British public eat up someone’s opinions so enthusiastically as they do Simon Cowell’s.

I got to meet Simon at last year’s press conference, but alas, no repeat handshake this year. Ah well…

…Drunken Journalists…

Funniest moment of Saturday night was the drunken journo from a regional paper (who I won’t name and shame), who got up to ask a question at the press conference and almost fell straight down again. Managing to sway in a semi-controlled fashion, he posed a question about Leon’s opinion of the other acts, then promptly didn’t bother to write down his reply.

In the car back to central London, we asked him if he’d recorded it, he replied, “Hell no, it doesn’t matter anyway…” When we got out at X Factor HQ, he promptly legged into an alley to relieve himself.

…And Stunned Winners

Poor Leon. He’s obviously a nice guy, so I almost hate to be brutally honest. He’s a shadow of last year’s runner-up, Ray Quinn. The harsh reality is that even Quinn – talented, but very obviously a stage school brat – has been ‘liberated’ by his record company less than a year after the show ended. What hope for Leon?

He was completely shell-shocked at the press conference, yammering that “it disnae feel real” and “it hasnae sunk in yet”. They hauled his mother onstage and both looked like bunnies staring into the headlights of a heavy articulated vehicle.

Best bit was when a girl in the press area raised her hand to ask a question. She took the microphone and said “Leon, we’re from your official website..” The poor guy did a double take – “I’ve got an official website?” Yes you do, fella. Hilariously, they were also responsible for the Rhydian Roberts website and the Same Difference website. Depending on who won, of course.

That’s why I love showbiz!

Well, not Dudley exactly, but the lesser known nearby town of Kingswinford. I’m sitting at the top of a squat, five storey building, looking out over the houses and surrounding countryside. It’s as flat a landscape as you could imagine outside the Netherlands…

The sky this morning is a smooth, cool blue, and a fading white marble moon is still suspended there, gradually disappearing from view. A convoy of fluffy white clouds is making its way slowly across the panorama from right to left and a rowdy flock of seagulls is circling the industrial buildings below. I wonder what’s attracted their attention. When they fly close together, they look like the beginnings of a little whirlwind.

In the time it takes to type this, they’ve descended upon a corrugated roof. They look for all the world like they’re awaiting further instructions from leader gull, whoever that may be.

And I wish I had my camera. That’s why I’m using words to paint the picture instead.

I’ve been looking forward to this trip. This is my third one since I started the new job, and I’ve been looking forward to this one, since I am the IT Manager for this office as well as Belfast. Kind of an absentee Manager, but thanks to modern technology I can pretty much manage it from Belfast without too much hassle.

From the outside, the office tower is pretty grim. If the sky was blanketed in cloud this morning, I’m sure it would look much worse. But against a crisp, cobalt blue backdrop, and the leafy design of the industrial park we’re based in, the dark reddish brown building isn’t even a concern.

This is the second day of a two-day trip to do an IT audit and check out this new part of my job. I stayed in the Village Hotel in Dudley last night, a comfortable evening supplemented with a nice meal, some free web surfing and an early night for once. Weather’s great today – looking forward to flying into City Airport just in time for rush hour!

It's been a week of challenges in the new job.

Running as part of a distributed, multi-site network is the part of the job that I knew I would thrive on, and that's exactly what's happening.

Because our staff spend their time between various sites both in the UK and abroad, they're mostly laptop users, and mostly connecting to different parts of the company network.

I've discovered a number of long-standing problems this week that have been bugging people. The remote site I visited on Tuesday, the user who couldn't connect to a remote share, deploying a new AntiVirus across my local site. Basically interesting stuff and problems I'd become disconnected from over the last couple of years.

It's nice to walk into a firm, discover lingering problems that have been around for months or even years and resolve them. These are the 'wins' that make IT work worthwhile. And as I said before, the people here are appreciative of the work I'm doing.

These early days are full of challenges, as I learn more about the network, resolve and document issues. Having challenges and rising to them is all part of the fun!

Well, today was my last day at Cleaver Fulton Rankin. I had worked there as IT Manager for almost 8 years. It would have been a full 8 years in September.

Leaving a job after such a long time is an odd feeling. On one hand, you've been there so long that being anywhere else seems alien. You're part of the furniture, one of the old-timers. On the other hand, there's something refreshing about a new start. All that history, years of developing a network and resolving problems, are at an end. A new challenge is on the horizon, new system, new people.

As a last day, it was pretty eventful. People in the office suddenly realising that they needed some piece of information before I went. Suppliers calling to wish me well and maintain some contact at the new firm. Colleagues stopping by to chat for a minute or two. Then there was a nice bit of server drama as the file server needed a reboot and we subsequently discovered it was reporting a disk failure.

Talk about testing closure to the limit! It's hard to walk away from a network that you've tended to for 8 years. But it had to be done.

So, I take a break tomorrow and spend a little time with the family. Hopefully we get the weather for a day out. Then it's off to the new job on Thursday, which I'm really looking forward to.

I did a site visit a few weeks ago and have a mental note of some of the areas that need attention, some things I need to know. But all in all, I'm looking forward to the experience. I'm not daunted or intimidated, just excited about being given a challenge to rise to. One thing I've realised over the last weeks at CFR is that the job wasn't challenging me anymore. I'm looking forward to changing that now. 

Haven't posted here in a while, but there's a lot of good stuff going on with Unreality TV and I wanted to share it here.

Unified Themes

Since we decided to launch companion blogs to Unreality TV, we decided to create a professional template, which you can see at Unreality Music. Over the coming weeks, the entire site will be unified with this theme. I think it's one of the most professional I've ever designed, with a little help from the guys who wrote the Sandbox theme for WordPress.

New Blogs

We've been working on the music blog for a while, and we'll be putting together the Primetime blog very soon. I want to get down to blogging a bit more as well, since it's what piqued my renewed interest in blogging again! The music blog will be my big thing, and I want to cover unsigned acts as well as mainstream music. those visitors who come for mainstream music will discover some interesting new acts!

New Advertisers

We've been trying a couple of different new advertising schemes which are yielding great results. I'm glad they're doing so well. I'll maybe cover these in a future post.