Tag Archives: Spare-time Projects

Oasis – Cigarettes & Alcohol – 20 years old today

Cigarettes & Alcohol was released on 10 October 1994 – so the best song ever turns 20 years old today.

I’ve tried a few approaches in drafting this post but I can’t take myself seriously as a music critic, so here goes:

THIS SONG FUCKING ROCKS.

I used to actually stop myself from listening to Oasis on the morning of exams when I was at school, because I lost motivation if I had lines like: “Is it worth the aggravation / To find yourself a job when there’s nothing worth working for” going round my head.

Twenty years later it has a different meaning for me. Now I hear “You gotta make it happen” on repeat after listening to it, and this weekend when it came on my headphones as I got close to a half marathon finish, I got a proper rush and burned up the hill to the line.

To celebrate the song’s birthday in my own little way, I wanted to share a side project with you.

I’ve been working on a directory site for all the Oasis B-sides, because I really believe that some of the stuff that didn’t make the early albums is 10x better than most of the top-charting singles from the same era.

I’ve only added the Definitely Maybe B-sides so far, but here are three absolute tunes to start off with:

Cloudburst – moody rocker, builds like a thunderstorm

D’Yer Wanna Be A Spaceman? – acoustic sing-song with a wistful message

I Will Believe (Live) – simple simple simple demo-style tune, great riff, very early recording

And finally – here’s the link to the prototype site:

oasisbsides.com (URL headshot baby!)

It’s still in alpha, so please do send me your thoughts. And more importantly: discover and enjoy!

~ Todd

MarioKart Trance

I was in a show starring an Arnold Schwarzenegger stick-puppet, and I wasn’t sleeping enough.

We would wrap at midnight, so I would get home around 1am but I couldn’t sleep straight away because I was too wired.

So instead when I got home I would play MarioKart on the Wii. It was pretty fun and helped me unwind. I’d forget everything else and then after half an hour (= eight races) I’d go to bed.

In MarioKart Wii there’s a track called Coconut Mall, in which you can see clothing adverts starring your Miis (Miis are little avatars of you and your friends).

I was playing Coconut Mall one night and just above the bit where you jump over the fountain there was an advert with my Mii wearing a grey hoodie. I thought “Hey, that looks good on me! I should wear that more often!” and jumped over the fountain but then I did a double-take: WTF?! I never owned a grey hoodie.

The problem was that I wasn’t just working on show nights: there were only three of us in the team, so with all the prep and the business bits it added up to 80+ hours a week. On top of that I was doing a PhD application and writing terrible poetry and learning Mandarin and organising volunteer work on HMS Belfast and running a crappy website and still seeing friends even though I was little more than a shell at some points. It was a bit nuts and I was a bit nuts too.

I don’t want that to happen again, so I’m cutting back on a couple of things now.

All this to make room for the many other things going on at the moment. Finding a new job at the end of last year and now settling into the new one. Rewriting an academic essay that I’m going to present at a conference. Moving out of the old house and into a new one. And there’s a woman in the new house who keeps reminding me that I’m getting married this summer. Only doing four things at once – job, article, house, wedding – should make it easy, right?

I don’t want another MarioKart Trance, so one of the things I’m cutting back on is blog posts. This is my first post in almost a month and there are going to be fewer than usual between now and when I’m back from honeymoon in July (sorry, I’m a heart-breaker).

But oddly enough, since I stopped writing so regularly I’ve had a tonne of new ideas for posts, for this website, and for my Facebook and Twitter pages. So I’m planning a revamp for the second half of the year and I’ll have loads of new stuff for you to read too.

Sometimes you need a break. And break time can be the most productive time of all.

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Here’s what I learnt from my first teaching job

“Yeah ok, why not?”

I was in the middle of the Canadian woods when I got the call. With those inauspicious words I began my teaching career, and two weeks later I was teaching my first class.

Those poor kids were paying £13k a year (ok, maybe not so poor) and I don’t think it took long for them to realise that I hadn’t done any teaching before.

But we stuck at it – them as much as me – and it worked out well in the end. I’m happy to say I had the best feedback of all the new lecturers, though since one of them sounds like a total deadbeat and the other had a petition raised against her by the class, there wasn’t much competition.

On the day of the first lesson, I was terrified. I really felt doubt in myself – that black hole emptiness, like your stomach is being sucked back in on itself. I was sweating, ugh. I rehearsed my first words over and over, like I was going to ask someone out on a date (thirteen 20-year-olds in this case).

I was teaching a course on how to make web projects – everyone started from scratch and in the first lesson we all built websites (based on WordPress, like this blog), then in each lesson after that we looked at a different way of trying to attract people to our sites – e.g. how to run Facebook ads or find customers through Twitter. There were projects on everything from movie food recipes to unusual furniture designs, Oriental beauty tips and ‘Living on the Edge‘ (mine was more prosaic, Advice for Media Students).

I’m not sure that all of them quite understood everything, but they did get the hang of posting stuff that would prompt a response.

At the end of the course I asked the students to write a report on how their own project had turned out, what went well, what went wrong, etc.

The last question was ‘What was the most interesting thing you learned during this project?’.

Here’s what one of them answered.

Funnily enough, that’s exactly what I learned too.

 

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Roll the dice

(Russell Westbrook slams it)

 

My girlfriend Emma told me that sports photographers use cameras that take 11 photos per second.

 

(Carmen Basilio beats Tony DeMarco 1955)

 

That’s because everything happens in a split-second, and they don’t know exactly which will be right shot.

 

(Wladimir Klitschko – BOSH!)

 

So instead of taking one shot and hoping it works, they press the button and spread their bets. It’s a focused scattergun approach – you’re taking many shots, but you still need to be in the right place, press the button at the right time, and nail a really great shot.

 

(Bob Beamon breaks the long jump world record in 1968)

 

It’s hard to make something great. But if you roll the dice over and over again, you are loading them in your favour.

 

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How to become a world-ranked sportsman (just like me)

In 2010 I was ranked #705 in the world. Heady days!

I also made it to #105 in Britain. I won a bronze medal in the British Championships and had beaten a couple of tricky opponents at the English Open.

But then I quit.

Why?

Not burn-out for sure. No injuries to speak of. No drug rumours swirling! (My agent took care of those.)

I quit because I didn’t want to practice. I was playing 2-3 times a week but I was getting tired of the late nights, it meant a lot of travelling, and winter was coming.

So I quit, and abandoned my world ranking.

But how did I get it in the first place? Skills + Niche.

1) Skills

I’ve been playing tennis since I was a kid – I’m not great (ok club standard at best), but it means my hand-eye coordination is decent so I’ve always been ok at other racket sports.

2) Niche

My world ranking came in a sport called racketlon. ‘Racket-l-o-n‘. It’s a Finnish sport: you play the same opponent in table tennis, then badminton, then squash, then tennis (with a two-minute break between sports). It’s first to 21 points in each sport, and you add up all the scores at the end to see who won.

Racketlon is pretty niche. My friend Jo told me about it and the next day I discovered I could simply sign up on the internet to play in the British Championships, which were happening the following weekend. I got my British Champs bronze by beating one guy – there were only four entrants in the amateur category, so by winning one match I came 3rd and got the bronze.

Skills + Niche = World ranking!

That’s probably true in lots of areas outside Finnish sports. Wikipedia’s list of sports is enormous. Maybe you would be a world-class player of Hooverball, Yukigassen or Old Cat? Figure out what you’re good at, and apply it to a niche.

The same must be true outside sports as well. It’s pretty cool to be the best damn recycled pencil maker in the world. Or the finest mandolin stringer in the world, or the funniest fridge poet. And if you combine >1 thing you can create all sorts of other niches – I’m sure someone out there is the greatest maker of brail for packaging, and there must be world-class manufacturers of shoelaces for football boots and utterly brilliant writers of jokes for Christmas crackers.

Who knows who they are – who cares? So long as they know, so long as they get the rewards of a feeling of mastery, and so long as they can hang out with the other best guys and girls around, it will still be a pretty cool feeling.

It’s not so hard to be one of the best in the world if you combine Skills + Niche.

So if you want a game of racketlon, come and get me.

But be warned: I’ve got this little bad boy in the trophy cabinet already, and your head is next.

 

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21st-century job hunting

On Thursday I started a new job at King.com (woohoo!). I spent the last few weeks of last year looking for work and I want to share 5 things I found out about modern-day job hunting.

Maybe everything below only applies to finding mid-level media jobs in London, or is specific to me in some way, but I don’t think so.

1) It’s a job, not a career

You’re not looking for something to do for 50 years. So don’t worry about finding it. It’s like dating. Don’t worry about whether you’re going to marry the girl when you’re on your first date. Just find someone interesting for the time being and see what happens.

2) Crossing borders

I’ve moved out of TV and into games. I also spoke to companies in tech and in music. No-one ever asked why my TV experience would be useful. This was a surprise to me – but it was just assumed that transferring skills to a new industry won’t be a problem. So I don’t think there’s a need to fret about staying the same exact industry. Don’t restrict yourself to changing lanes if you want to crash through the central reservation (NB this analogy cannot be safely applied to driving).

3) Metcalfe’s Law

‘Networking’ is a horrible word and some people who are good at it actually suck at being people. But if you think about it as building a network, instead of spinelessly fawning over the most powerful person in the room, it’s much easier to digest.

A couple of days ago I read about Metcalfe’s Law: the basic idea is that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users in the system. If you have two telephones, there’s one connection. But five telephones make 10 connections. And 12 telephones can make 66 connections.

So the value of the network increases as the number of people in it goes up. The same could be said of email or Facebook. And it could also be said of your personal network, because each person you know and trust has another set of people that they know and trust. I don’t have a huge network. But 80% of the jobs I considered came to me through it.

4) DIY track record

The most interesting projects / skills / experiences are the ones you developed in your own time. With free tools and free publishing you can build a DIY track record (see Start a project now – here are 5 tips). Back in the old days this would have been hard; now it’s easy. Most people don’t do this, but luckily I’ve done a few spare-time projects over the past few years so even though most of them were dumb, I think I got some marks for persistence.

5) One Direction

Last year when I was looking for a new job I went around asking for advice. That worked ok but it didn’t produce a lot of job opportunities. This year it’s been different – at the outset I chose a small number of directions to explore. That made my discussions 10x more productive, because I was asking about specifics rather than general stuff. And that makes it much easier for people to help you out.

I hope this post helps you out. Good luck!

 

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Your New Year’s resolutions won’t work, so try this instead!

Your New Year’s resolutions won’t work, so don’t stress about keeping them!

Instead follow James Altucher and decide on a theme – something to tend towards, instead of an absolute promise that you’re unlikely to keep and will feel bad when you break.

So I have no resolutions at all for this year. Only one theme.

I’m sticking to one but there are lots to choose from. It could mean less email or less TV or less booze. Not ‘no email’ or ‘no TV’ or ‘no booze’ – those are specific resolutions and they’re almost impossible to keep. A theme like ‘less email’ is much more manageable: it would encourage me not to check my email so often when I get up or last thing at night, not to be reading emails on the journey to or from work, not to be tapping away on my phone when I’m on the loo (I know you do that too).

But for me in 2013 ‘do less’ that means less projects. Less new ones. Less old ones. Less continuing with projects I’ve lost interest in. Less less less.

So today I’m killing off two projects.

1. toddmgreen time machine

This is a collection of things I find interesting, beautiful, or inspiring. The aim is to record specific things I think are cool, along with the date when I discovered them – like a time machine for interests. A new post has appeared every Tuesday at 10pm UK time since September 2011 – 79 in all. I posted today’s just now though and it’s the last post.

2. Advice for Media Students

This is a project I made for the undergraduate class I was teaching. I figured it would be easier to teach the students how to make a web project if I did one too. So I made a site (18 posts in all) offering practical advice on how to get a media job. I’m done with teaching for now, so although I think there’s a gap here for something like AFMS, I’m done with this project too.

Two dead projects. Less less less.

So why do less?

To make room for more.

More time for getting good at my new job.

More time to help plan mine and Emma’s wedding.

More time to write!

Themes not resolutions. Less is more. Happy new year.

 

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So I applied to be an astronaut

My life’s ambition is to go into space, so a few years ago I applied to be an astronaut.

At the time anyone could apply to ESA (the European Space Agency), so I went to the doc and to the hospital, had a bunch of tests done, filled out the application form and sent it off.

There was little chance I would succeed. But it made perfect logical sense to try.

There are two ways of getting into space: (1) become a billionaire, or (2) get hired as a professional astronaut. Maybe one day I’ll be a billionaire but I don’t want to count on it. So I just applied.

Actually, all my best decisions are made when I ignore the chances of failure and just do it.

  • Want to learn how to code? Ok, build a website.
  • Want to try building a business? Ok, start one now.
  • Want to find out if teaching would be a good career move? Ok, do it part-time and see whether it’s fun.
  • Like that girl a lot? Ok, ask her out.

These simple decisions are the best.

A) You can’t regret them

If it doesn’t work out, no big deal. You did the logical thing and tried. Your mind is at rest. Ssshh now little brain.

B) You know exactly why you made them

It’s a simple formula. You won’t get confused about your motives. Want something? Ok, have a go.

C) You always gain something unexpected

Building a website taught me how the internet works. Starting a business taught me a million things that I put into a recent post (How I lost £1,500 when I was 23). Teaching part-time right now is making me 10x better at explaining stuff and speaking in public. And the last girl I asked out is going to become my wife next summer, so that one worked out pretty well too.

Worrying about failure kills good decisions. Whenever I worry I lose the magic power to make simple logical decisions and I waste my life fretting. I’m glad that didn’t happen with applying to be an astronaut.

The physical tests and most of the application form were ok, though I couldn’t really disguise my lack of a PhD in astrophysics or biology. The weakest bit though was when I had to describe my experience in radio communications:

I did hospital radio for two years when I was at school. I was a presenter and had my own weekly show.

But since I haven’t actually heard back from ESA, I assume they’ve got me on the reserve list.

Hopefully someone will drop out soon.

 

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One year on – 10 things I learnt from Me In TV

One year ago today, I was extremely bloody nervous. It was day 1 of a project called Me In TV.

Here’s a short video about the project:

The aim was to give young people from tough backgrounds access to the TV industry. Over five days the participants created a TV show idea, filmed and edited a trailer for it, and then pitched their idea to a panel of TV experts. The young people were from Community Links, and the event was held at FremantleMedia.

It was so much work that it nearly killed me and Josephine, who ran the project with me. At one point I was waking up at 5.15am and I stopped trusting pencils.

But it worked out really well. Everything came together, there was a great atmosphere throughout, and the feedback was amazing: it averaged 96% positive on every single thing we measured.

Last week I was asked to offer some advice to a lady working on a similar project. So, on the anniversary of the project launch, here are 10 things I learnt from Me In TV.

1. Record everything

I had made a huge mistake on my previous project, and I didn’t want to repeat it.

I did nothing to record the event, so afterwards it was hard for those involved to tell people about what they’d done. “So I attended these workshops, and we were working some kind of social enterprise, er…”.

For Me In TV I did the opposite. meintv.org was built to record everything. In a project like this, it’s important that everyone involved has something to point to afterwards – a link for their CVs, a reminder of what the project entailed, and something they can be proud to show other people.

2. Get a partner in crime

There’s no way the project could have been such a success without Josephine Serieux. About two months before launch, I realised I had way too much to do and was struggling to prioritise. Getting a partner in crime means you get more capacity, but also more ideas – Josie changed loads of stuff for the better.

3. Give everyone else a clear vision (even if it’s still in flux)

It took me about six months to set the project up. The plan was changing constantly throughout. But I realised early on that I should keep that a secret. That way anyone I was trying to sign up would feel confident that I knew what I was doing, even if everything was still in flux.

4. Find a leader the young people trust

You’re dealing with a lot of nervousness and uncertainty in projects like this. So you need a Jason Forde. He’s a youth leader from Community Links, and because he had the trust of the students before the project began, he could ally their fears and (almost) always get them to turn up on time even when they’d been working late the night before.

5. The non-charity people will be the most nervous

The biggest single mistake I made in the planning was misjudging what one of the tutors needed from me. She didn’t need ideas, or structure – she needed reassurance! It hadn’t occurred to me that my colleagues would be more nervous than the students.

But for them, this project was an unknown – even though they would only be teaching the stuff they get paid to do every day, none had never taught before, and none had ever worked with young people from tough backgrounds (not that there was any difference in practice from any other youth group, but pre-launch it’s all about perception). It took me ages to figure all this out, and it nearly lost me a tutor.

6. Have a single, clear end goal 

Me In TV built towards a grand finale: the pitch. Having this single, clear end goal was exceedingly useful. It meant that the students were highly motivated to pay attention. They knew they had to do the pitch, so they were grateful for anything that would help them prepare for it.

7. Clearly define and explain what happens afterwards

I got these questions a lot: would there be jobs for the students at the end? Or at least job opportunities that they could apply for? Would there be more training, or mentorships, or follow-up workshops on CV-writing and interview skills?

No no no. Me In TV was meant to be self-contained. It was supposed to give the students skills, experience, and contacts. But it took me a while to define that list, and to make it clear to everyone – hence the repeat questioning. Know what happens afterwards before you even start.

8. Look for spin-off opportunities

We had a problem: 6 spaces in the project, but 7 people desperate to do it. At first I said no to Emmanuel – everything had been set up for a group of six and it was too late to change it.

Thankfully, one night I realised that I could just invent a role for him, without changing anything else. So Emmanuel became the Content Producer, tasked with recording the experiences and reactions of the students, and posting them on the student blog. He did a great job – 40 posts during the week of the project! – and still got to learn a lot alongside the other students.

9. Make it measurable

All this good stuff is harder to communicate without numbers. You have to be able to put numbers on your project, because numbers make things tangible. Here are some key numbers from Me In TV:

Website: >3k views in the week of the project, 1k visits, ~500 uniques

Feedback stats: 96% positive overall; 100% of tutors described as Excellent or Very good, 95% of students said they learnt useful future skills on every single day

Cost: £800 (kindly funded by FremantleMedia’s HR department)

Cost per hour – students: £2.96 per hour of training delivered to the students

With these numbers I could create a solid project report to send to everyone involved, and to all the people elsewhere who had heard about the project and wanted to know more. If you want to read it yourself, the full project report is now online.

10. Reward everyone

I gave all the tutors a hand-written note.

And I added every single person who made a contribution, however small, to the list on the Who’s involved? page.

No-one expected it. And it took ages. But in many ways it was the most enjoyable bit.

So what happened in the end?

I wrote to all the students last week. Two have found work in TV production; four have not; one didn’t reply (perhaps he’s busy on a production somewhere? I don’t know). All of them were very happy to have been involved, and very grateful to my colleagues for their help during Me In TV.

So if you’re thinking of doing a project like this, I hope the ten things I learnt are useful.

I’m very proud of this project, but if I wish I’d known all this before it began!

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How I lost £1,500 when I was 23

I lost £1,500 when I was 23.

I spent it on a website called whatsitliketo.com – a Wikipedia for experiences.

I did everything: I made a limited company (I started putting ‘Todd Green, Director’ at the bottom of my emails, that felt good), got a registered address, set up a business bank account, got an IP lawyer to advise me how to draw up the contract with the developer, even got a qualification in Small Business Financial Management.

I had no idea what I was doing – all my time and money was spent on the company stuff, but I had almost zero users or retention or revenue or marketing ideas.

(Actually, I can blame my friends for having no marketing ideas because I cooked them a three-course curry dinner in order to get their ideas, and none of them were feasible or worked.)

I thought I would make money from putting Google Ads on the site, because if someone is reading what it’s like to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge they should be interested in ads for flights to Sydney, tours of Sydney, hotels in Sydney etc.

I earned $1.10 from those ads, but since Google won’t pay out until you earn $100 I never actually got it.

So in the end I killed the site and felt like a complete goon. £1,500 is still a lot to me now; when I was 23 it was everything I had saved by living cheaply at home with my parents when I first started working. I could have saved that money for a mortgage or a car or a shirt with no stains on for work or something. And now it was all gone.

But I’m glad about it now. Yesterday I showed a colleague how to use Google Ads. Today I’m going to add a new page to a little site I built to solve a problem at work. And between now and Christmas I’m teaching 15 classes on how to get people to come and look at your website.

All that began when I was 23, and I realised I didn’t need to ask anyone’s permission to create something on the web.

Turns out I made a good investment completely by accident.

 

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