Tuesday, 31 July 2012

30 Day Challenge: Photography, Week 2

Last week I started a photography 30 day challenge. Here are the pictures from the second week.

Day 8
We had our house-warming party/birthday BBQ. This was the first time all our friends saw the house. It was a lot of fun. We played football over the road, and went out into Worcester. 

Day 9
While recovering from the party the night before, we had a walk through the woods and nearby park with Neil. Along the way I took a picture of one of the rare English Longhorn cows.

Day 10
Me and Brandi walked further out of the estate and over to the farm land. There were a load of good pictures from the day, and it was hard to chose a favourite. One field we walked through had a load of cows, and they all came running over at once and stood in a semi-circle around us.

Day 11
I spent most of the day sorting through a big spindle of disks I've had lying around for years. I found some really, really old pictures and it all felt very nostalgic. I'll probably be making some posts based on them soon.

Day 12
We went on a 'mini stag' party, a few days before my sisters wedding. We went to laser quest, and it was really fun. The kids were pretty damn accurate.

 Day 13
After finally finishing my Geocaching item on the 100 things to do list, we placed our Geocache to commemorate it.

Day 14
We went into the middle of Birmingham to watch the London Olympics 2012 opening ceremony. It was a good atmosphere, with a load of people sitting on the stairs by the fountain watching it.

Day 15
We spent most of the day tidying the house getting ready for Brandi's friends from Vancouver, who have been travelling for 12 months, to stay with us. We put up our Team GB decorations at the front.

Monday, 23 July 2012

30 Day Challenge: Photography, Week 1

Last week I watched a Ted Talk about 30 day challenges. The man explained how a long term change is almost impossible to keep to, but doing 30 day challenges can be fun. I decided I would start doing them.

I decided my first one would be a photography challenge (using only my phone and Instagram). Find something nice to photograph each day.

Day 1
I was at 2000 Trees Festival. It was muddy.

Day 2
On a walk through Warndon we found a nice area.

Day 3
Pansies were always my favourite flower when I was younger, and there are lots in my garden.

Day 4
For my birthday we went to Coombs Abbey.

Day 5
We bought a chalk board for the kitchen, and Brandi left me a nice message for when I arrived from work.

Day 6
We went for a walk on the old golf course, which has a good view over Worcester.

Day 7
In the path outside my house there is a stencil Elvis. I'm not sure why, but I really like it.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

I'm officially 25

I'm not sure why I write "officially 25". There wasn't much argument about me unofficially being 25.. which is probably mostly because I have never claimed to be.

Anyway, when I awoke yesterday morning I found myself to be a year older than the same day the year previously. While I have the same feeling every day, yesterday felt slightly different, because it was also the anniversary of my birth.

Brandi awoke me with a sausage and egg sandwich, and pancakes, and a balloon. It was a very nice start to the day. She also gave me my present of a BBQ, which is a suitably manly gift for somebody who has just hit "mid 20's".

We had planned to go to Coombs Abbey for afternoon tea (a gift which Ash gave us for the wedding). Thankfully, it was a really nice hot day, which made it perfect. Coombs Abbey looked awesome, and had really nice grounds surrounding it. Brandi thought it looked like "Downton Abbey", whatever that is.

The Abbey has been converted into a hotel, and inside it looked awesome. It was decorated really classically, and was very dark inside with chairs with really high backs, and tall book cases.

I wasn't sure how this "afternoon tea" worked, so upon deciding, after looking at the menu, I wanted ham sandwiches and shortcake, the man told me that we get all of them to try everything! Though we did have to choose one type of tea. I chose camomile. I didn't know what it would be like, but I had Earl Gray at home.

The afternoon tea came with strawberries and chocolate, cornettos, scones (with jam and cream), millionaires shortcake, and fresh fruit pastries. It was really, really nice, but I was pretty full by the time I got to the shortcake.

When we were done we walked around the grounds. It was really nice, and all public as the council had bought the property a while back.

I took a photo of a bunch of Canadians

I photograph badly since I'm 25

Some swan babies!

While we were walking around the park we found a little adventure playground. I really wanted to go on it, and even though I'm pretty sure it was built for older people, the children were dominating it, and when I tried to go on it my feet were too big to grip onto the ladder-post.

All the excitement, food and walking tired me out, and what started as a moments spontaneous sit-down ended in me dosing off for a few seconds.

After we were done we went to my mom and dads for a birthday party. The sublings were excited to see me, which is always nice. Also, my nan met Brandi for the first time, and I'm pretty she didn't make a nasty comment about her!

Everybody got me nice presents, which Ellie, Savannah and Sam helped me open. My mom and dad got me a big box of nice sweet and savoury snacks (which is always appreciated), as well as money and a Rocky dressing gown (since I'm not boxing now it is always nice to pretend as I come out of the shower).

After we had food I played on the bouncy castle (trying to bounce the sublings over) and then dodgeball (trying to knock the sublings over with a ball).

After that we sang happy birthday (me included), and then we all went home (apart from my mom and dad, who were already home).

All in all, it was a very good birthday, and I don't overly feel too bad about being 25. The 'life plan' I had when I was much younger is strangely and unintentionally very accurate. I am happy and have no regrets, so I probably shouldn't complain too much about being 25... as long as I stick around this age now.

Monday, 16 July 2012

My First Festival: 2000 Trees

On Friday the 13th of July I went to my first ever festival. For years I have considered going to Glastonbury, but the stories of how disgusting the toilets are and how muddy it is had put me off. Occasionally I will see the bands and decide it is still worth it, and one year I even got as fas as submitting a photograph for the tickets, but they had strict guidelines and I couldn't be bothered to submit another.

This year I finally got around to going to one... 2000 Trees. This festival strives to be nicer than the others. They are the most eco friendly, and even got "2nd best toilets at a UK festival" awards. The line up isn't the best around, but it is decent enough, and the main reason I wanted to go was for the festival experience.

And... well... I got that.

The when we got there it was very, very muddy. Brandi had bought some wellies before, but I decided against it, until Mike sent me a text strongly recommending I do. It was the best £14 I've spent. There was so much mud.

Mike had saved us a position next to him and his friends, but it wasn't quite big enough for my main tent. Thankfully my dad had lent me one, but it was a really small 2-man. It was easy to put up though, and meant we would have somewhere to stay.

We trudged through the mud to see some bands. The evening before it must have been raining loads as the ground was so sticky. I didn't see that many play before my legs ached and I wanted to sit down (I am getting old...). We watched 'Maybeshewill', who were really good, and also 'Lanterns on the Lake', and 'We Were Promised Jetpacks'. There were a few other bands on while we were standing around/walking, but I wasn't paying a lot of attention.

2000 Trees is the most middle class festival I can imagine. Aside from everybody having a hipster beard, most of the people seemed friendly enough (in that they weren't chavs looking for a fight). Instead of the expected burger vans they had Pieminister (a really well-rated pie place), Tibetan cuisine, Thai cuisine, burritos and a sausage BBQ. I wasn't hungry enough to justify buying anything though, and decided I would have something on the Saturday.

As mentioned before, my legs ached, so we went back to the tents to sit around drinking for a bit. I was drinking cider (dry, as I've decided to watch my sugar intake). It was really really hot, to the point that I had burnt my nose, and slightly burnt my arms. And then I noticed a really dark cloud.

It rained a load. It was pouring off the gazebos Mike's friends had set up. I had to have an umbrella up even though I was undercover. The tents didn't fare well. Early reports from people coming back from theirs was that they were flooded. I didn't even want to imagine how mine was.
We stayed under cover for the rest of the night (until about 1am when I went to bed... as I said, getting old...). I got through a few ciders, and was talking to a few people.
A little later in the night I needed to go to the toilet. I drunkenly stumbled over the Shanty Town-like tent setup, trudging through the mud with the ground lit by the light bouncing off the puddles of rain, with music playing in the distance, and towards some haystacks set up with the intention of being makeshift urinals. That is exactly what I expected from a 'festival experience', so I felt it was a success.

Mike tried to convince us to sleep in his car, but after previous attempts at sleeping in a car I thought it was best to avoid it if possible. When we got into the tent there were a few puddles of water which we got out using a cup (yep, enough water to scoop up with a cup...). I lay there, curled up (due to the tent not being long enough for me) in my unzipped sleeping bag (zip was broken), and resting on a bag as a pillow, and prepared for the worst camping sleep I've had. Worse than the walk.
The next morning I awoke to it still raining, my sleeping bag soaked, and my knee really hurting from keeping it bent. The sticky mud that was there yesterday had been replaced by 4 inch deep slush. Neither of us were in the mood to stay around for long. Even though there were a few bands I wanted to see we decided it would be best to pack up and head home for a shower. There was no way I was going to stick around for the rest of the day.

One may think the story would end there, and I wish it did...

We had parked on a field. I already thought it was going to be difficult to get off, but hoped that since we were leaving early it would be OK. When we got to the field it wasn't actually as bad as we thought, and figured it would be fairly simple to get off. Nope. For the first few metres I couldn't get over 5mph. The wheels were spinning and there was nothing I could do. In the end I got out and tried to push it while Brandi drove, except she has no experience driving a manual car and stalled every few seconds. Eventually we got it moving, only for it to stop about 20m down the field.

Two girls came over and offered help. I asked one to get in the car and drive while I push it, and we managed to get it another 30 metres more, but she left it in a place that was even more muddy. We couldn't slightly move from there, even pushing it wasn't doing anything.

While waiting around for help, I helped two women get their car off. While pushing it I was hit all over the face with mud, and it was in my hair. Eventually one of the event staff helped push the car and we got off. My car is literally covered in mud now.

All in all it was an experience, and though not a very pleasant one, I now know what a UK festival is like. I don't plan to return to one any time soon.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Reddit, and my subreddit, 'RedditDayOf'.

This post is about the birth and growth of my subreddit, r/RedditDayOf.

About a year and a half ago I started to go on Reddit.com. I'm embarrassed to say it took me quite a long time to actually understand the site, but after making an account and following some subreddits it all started to make sense.

I found memes pretty quickly got painful to see. Thankfully, you can remove the subreddits the promote the lowest common denominator humour. I subscribed to the more interesting ones, such as TrueReddit, FoodForThought and Excelsior. With the amazing articles people post, there always seems to be people in the comments that are able to add something interesting.

This lead me to thinking of a subreddit of my own. In thinking about how it is a huge community which seems to include experts and hobbyists in different areas, I decided that I could make a group and provide a different topic each day, which people could post about.

This idea hadn't been done before, and in general each subreddit kept to a specific topic. I assumed there would be many people like me, who like to have a broad knowledge of interesting things. Thus, at the end of October 2011, r/RedditDayOf was created, and on 4th of November it had it's first topic of "Norse Mythology". This was follow by topics like "North Korea", "Unsung Heroes" and "Ancient Games".

My aim was to eventually get 8,000 subscribers. It started off pretty well, getting a couple of hundred in a few days after posting to
r/NewReddits. My initial plan to spread the word was to find subreddits that relate to the daily topic, and post a message in there. This strategy was starting to work, and by 3 weeks we had 700 subscribers. I had a lot of help from 'Kleopatra', the owner of the huge subreddit, ' r/TrueReddit ', who helped me with ideas and kept my subreddit listed on her sidebar.

It was a lot of hard work on the earlier days. I had created the logo and styling myself, and each morning I was logging on to type out the new topics and descriptions. The hard work paid off on 21st November, when the subreddit was selected as "Subreddit of the day". This lead to a further traffic increase.

By the new year we had 1,500 subscribers, with about 700 views per day. This made us one of the biggest up and coming subreddits. It was still mostly a solo job, though with the help of a handful of admins to sort out spam. I had started to find it difficult to maintain updating each morning, and to post to other subreddits each day, but I wasn't ready to stop it yet.

The daily maintenance was made more difficult by my solution to keep the quality high. A general consensus with Reddit is that as a community gets popular and grows, it gets dumbed down. Easy to read articles are upvoted more as more people are likely to read them. Pictures gain even more 'karma'. I didn't want to stop people posting things, but I wanted to reward the people who kept the quality high. The decision I came to was to award "post of the day" to good articles. This would put a badge next to the user to show how many awards they've received. This works by showing my appreciation to them, but also to show people which people generally post the most interesting things.

I decided to put my programming abilities to use, and build a RedditDayOf Bot. I could give the bot the list of topics and each day it would update at the right time. I would tell the bot who gets the awards and it would handle all the uploading.

Creating the bot wasn't an easy task. I didn't even know what a bot was, and how it would work. It is something I've never thought about before, and I didn't really have any resources to read. I thought it through for a while and figured it out. It would be program that would run daily, and work with the Reddit API. The only problem is I code in C# and Reddit API is written in Python I think. I've not done something like this before, so I needed some idea on how to do it. I found a person on the internet that had converted part of the API to C#, so I downloaded his work, fixed parts, made changes, and extended it.

The bot came at a good time, as Reddit had agreed to start advertising my subreddit on the sidebar of the main website. They had even got a graphic designer to come up with a logo for it. When the advert first went live I was amazed at the rate of subscription. It had gone up to 200-300 a day, which was awesome.

The bot was completed in time for my two week wedding/honeymoon to Mexico. This was needed, as the subreddit was growing really fast. In March it had reached 6,000 subscribers, and in April it reached my goal of 8,000.

Today the subreddit is still going strongly. I am posting this because I have just reached another milestone of 15,000 subscribers (and about 2,200 views daily from 1,700 people). I get a load of nice comments from people saying how interesting they find it, and how much it teaches them... and that is almost enough to stop my bitterness from subreddits such as "SpideyMeme" and "iiiiiiiitttttttt" from having more subscribers in less time.