Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Why is this Tweet So Popular?!

Before you read on, I should tell you that this post includes a link to a very sexually graphic photograph. Still with me? Okay.

In 2012 I spent a month getting my blog retweeted by as many porn stars as possible to get some exposure to my writing. Mental idea. But it worked.

After I'd written and uploaded the post I showed it to all the contributors to say thanks. One of my retweeters was Erin Marxxx.

She replied to say I was welcome. This particular tweet is here

Take a look at the stats for this tweet. Nearly 2 years after Ms Marxxx sent this tweet, it's still racking up favourites and retweets. At the time of writing, this tweet has 53 retweets and 171 favourites.

My first question: How are people finding this tweet? It isn't just an old tweet; it's a reply. It wouldn't show up in someone's tweet feed unless they were following both me and Ms Marxxx. And even then, it would only have shown up at the time of tweeting in 2012.

My second question: Why are so many people favouriting it? Granted, there's a picture there, but isn't the internet awash with pictures- not to mention videos- with this kind of content?

My third: Are these accounts bots? Even if so, why are they bots that scour old replies and favourite them? What purpose would that serve? Are they searching for pictures?

And fourth: Is it to do with her large-for-a-pornstar 115K follower count?

It's something that has just made me curious over the last few years. I asked a few of the people who recently favourited it why they did so, but got no response. I also asked Ms Marxxx herself. I got a “lol”. The internet doesn't seem to shed light on the reasons for its popularity. Can you?

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

How memory difficulties cause vulnerability- and what to do about it

I just happened to catch Witness, the BBC News programme investigating past events from the perspective of those who were there. Today's show featured an aging woman who escaped the Nazi death camps because she was too young. It is- as many WWII survivor stories are- a harrowing account of ethnic cleansing from a war that genuinely shaped today's world.

It got me thinking about a conversation I had with someone in early 2008- something I've been chewing over for years. I used to be mates with PK- we'd go for drinks at the weekend in the local dodgy bars, and I'd find myself wondering why I was there, considering I didn't like the area and I didn't particularly like him either. An employment support mentor had not long ago dropped the bombshell that I'd been living with an inaccurate diagnosis of dyslexia for 9 years, and that the problem I had been dealing with was a short-term memory issue. I quickly realised why I'd been struggling for so long- with academia, with employment, with day-to-day tasks like remembering where I parked the car- and I was still trying to figure out what I should do with my life, how I should behave, and what I wanted. I was pretty directionless. So if someone invited me out for a drink, I'd go without thinking do I actually want to do this?

The first time I went out with PK we couldn't get into Envy because the doorman recognised him and were sure they'd already barred him. He claimed not to know what that was about. I was suspicious, and made a mental note that he could be a bit of a toerag.

But I forgot.

I saw him cheat on numerous girlfriends, and he frequently got caught and people got angry with him. I made a mental note not to get typecast like him and to encourage him to go somewhere better than Oldham.

But I forgot.

I lent him money which he didn't pay back, despite coming out with me after that and getting drunk. I realised this was a pisstake, and I needed to confront him.

I wasn't- and still aren't- the confrontational type, though. And I forgot.

I eventually distanced myself from him. I got an apology not long after that- probably brought on by some hard-done-to girlfriend who was trying to set him right, and we occasionally went out for drinks in the same shit bars. I blocked him after one of his psycho exes was mithering me on Facebook to get him to unblock her. Instead of doing what she wanted, I blocked her too. And all of his mates. And all of her mates. My life has been so much more peaceful since that Facebook clearout.

But there was one other conversation that I'd had with PK, an incident that slipped my mind for many years, and the Witness programme brought back that memory. We were staggering back from Oldham at 3AM one Sunday morning when we started talking about politics and war, for some reason.

PK said, “If you think about it, Hitler had the right idea.”

I just stared at him.

No, listen. Right. Hitler's idea was that we should all be the same. He wanted everyone to have blonde hair, blue eyes and the same thoughts. That way there'd be no wars.”

Another pause.

“Aw, don't be looking at me like that.”

I was too busy computing how retarded that statement was to offer any argument to it. I didn't tell him that the war involved a lot of politics, which differs to religion or physical appearance, and that-essentially- without these particular differences, we'd just find something else to fight over, like land or resources. Like we are doing anyway.

When we got to the turnoff for his road, we just went our separate ways without a fallout- no argument, no discussion.

And guess what? I went home, fell asleep and forgot about it for YEARS. I carried on being friends despite further problems. People were understandably disappointed in me just for being around him. So why was I entertaining this mug?

It's frequently easy for me to forget things if they're problematic- a fallout means difficult conversations, and it means disappointing mutual friends and having to explain myself to people I do like over issues involving people I don't. I don't know whether I suppress these memories or whether they just fade to the back of my mind until I remember them, by which time it's too late to just bring up and start arguing about. Therein lies the problem. When you have a disagreement, you need to be able to back up your perspective with examples. You need to be able to say, “this is what I'm not happy with.” When you can't remember the solid examples, the temptation is to back down from the argument in case you fall short and look like an idiot. Having memory difficulties makes you constantly doubt yourself. So what do you do about it?

You need to make a record. Make details of what happened. Download the Colornotes app from the Play Store on your phone. Using this you can tap in whatever text you want, and as far as anyone around you knows, you'll be sending a text. If you remember anything else later, add it to the note. (If needs be, use the “checklist” option to keep all related incidents on one page.)

Having done that, you need to make the decision: will you speak to them about it? If so, you will need to back up your argument with examples of what it is you're not happy about. The chances are you won't be able to reel them all of one after the other- you'll be cut off, the subject will change, you'll go off on a tangent and you won't get to say what you want to. Not to mention, you'll forget most of it without the prompts in front of you. So the challenge will be to steer the conversation back to the points you want to raise. If needs be, be completely upfront about your need to make notes about their behaviour. If you're discussing it face-to-face, you'll have to as they'll see the notes on the phone.

A Facebook conversation can be helpful in this way- everything you write between each other stays on the screen so you can always break and come back, or review the conversation to avoid repeating yourself. You can have your notes in front of you as you discuss the situation.

Of course, you can always just tell them you're busy and distance yourself that way. If you're not comfortable with confrontations, this could be the easiest option. But the important thing is that you make the records for yourself, and then act on them. Cut out negative people and do not concern yourself with what mutual friends think. Don't worry about further fall-outs. Fall-outs are normal, whether you have memory difficulties or not.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

What Happens if You Eat a Whole Head of Lettuce?

This is harder than it sounds. For brunch yesterday morning I did just that- I ate a whole lettuce. Why? Because there is a rumour that it takes more joules of energy to eat lettuce than the calories that it contains. It takes one joule of energy to burn one calorie of fat, so in theory you should be able to lose weight by eating more lettuce. Right?

Not exactly, it seems. I had the bright (read: ridiculous) idea of attempting to eat ten heads of lettuce in order to lose weight. So, how did it work?

First, it took a LOT longer than I'd expected to eat. Eating lettuce is a much slower process than I'd imagined. Second, lettuce loses its non-taste after a few mouthfuls and turns quite sour. Third, it doesn't do your stomach much good. Fourth, after thirty minutes of chewing it starts to give you jaw-ache.

It took five minutes to eat the first third of the lettuce, but a further forty to get to the end of said head.

It took thirty-nine minutes for me to realise I'd forgotten something before I ate it.

It turns out that lettuce is a stomach expander, which will make me hungrier. And may give me rickets. Fail.

In short, it was a terrible idea. But hey, I'm full of them. At least I got a healthy dose of vitamin A and Betacarotine (which is a form of vit A itself). Best to eat a little lettuce often, along with a bit of super-food greenery like spinach and watercress.

And then, at 41:00, the reveal. You're welcome.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Try Using Gawker to Create Flash Fiction

Gawker is one of the funniest, most sarcastic and irreverent news websites on the net, offering “Gossip from Manhattan and the Beltway to Hollywood and the Valley”. But its output ranges much wider than that. From a “hero pig” scaring residents in Maine to Weird Al Yankovic's parody of Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines, the Manhattan-based blog scours out every outrageous, hilariously-banal or damning news article / video / tweet and offers their own edgy slant on it. At feedback group Writers Connect I suggested we use the site for a homework project: create a 500-word (no more) flash fiction piece inspired by a story on the site. Here's what I devised.

This might be the last time you hear from me,” he said into the phone.

I patted the air in front of me, silencing the guy at the front of the queue mid-order. People don't say that unless they mean it.

I glanced over the young guy's shoulder, the bloke in the flat-peaked baseball cap, to the quietening restaurant. A gasp from a mother in the far corner caused further head-turns. She covered her daughter's eyes.

It wasn't quite twelve yet, and we were still due the surge of junk-food addicts. I could still see to the door from behind the counter. At the back of the small queue, dressed in brilliant whites, topped off with one of those fisherman hats that kids wore to raves in the nineties- the type that, today, only a black man could pull off- an imposing figure swaggered.

Like an unwitting Moses, he stepped forward to the till, parting the sea of would-be diners, regulars who were wary when he approached, terrified once he'd passed.

With a hand on the counter he licked his lips, seemingly trying to focus. “I know it's been hard. But I guess I just wanted to, uh, to tell you I love you very much,” he said, and pointed at the poster showing this week's meal offer. “I'll go for that.” He cleared his throat. “Please.”

It took me a moment to realise which part of that dialogue was directed at me. “Eat in or take out?” His meal came with a plastic toy, and I wondered whether he ordered it for that reason.

Um.” He licked his lips. “Probably best to take out.”

Flat-peaked-cap-guy almost held out a hand to steady him. “Are you okay, mate?”

Shit,” the man said, “I got a cool demeanor.”

It was only after I took his money and slammed it into the till that I noticed the blood on my hands. I thought of my hygene certificate blu-tac'd to the office wall upstairs.

I gave him his stained change and his food, smearing the folded lip of the paper bag reddy-brown.

In the distance, a siren wailed.

He turned and lurched back to the door like Frankenstein's monster. That's when I saw the black handle of the kitchen knife jutting out from between his shoulder blades, an isosceles of blood beneath it dyeing the fabric of his shirt. The siren wailed louder.

His last moments, his last desires, maybe: a phone call to a loved one, one more sad conversation... one more Happy Meal.

The article that inspired this flash is here.

The story worked for one member of the group, but the purposefully steady reveal of the location and situation made it very hard for most to get into. The project and the site itself were generally well received. Give it a shot!

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Poets and Writers Let Me Down

Poets and Writers is a non-profit organisation serving writers, and their site offers a free online database of fiction and poetry markets. If you're a writer looking to see your work in literary magazines, it's possible that this website could be a brilliant place to start...

But it wasn't for me. I used to use Duotrope, a similar literature resource, before they started charging a membership fee. And using this site I got a string of written pieces accepted into a range of literature magazines. (See the section on the right of this site.)

Poets and Writers offers a similar search tool to find magazines that are looking for the type of story or poem you're looking to get published. I used this site, as mentioned here, to send out a number of finished pieces that have been sat on my hard drive waiting to be seen by publishers. Here were a few initial pros and cons I found whilst using the site:


You can filter your results to show magazines that accept simultaneous submissions, and to cut out those that don't.

The same goes for unsolicited submissions- i.e. you're a writer like me with no agent.

The same also goes for submission type: I only wanted magazines that would accept electronic submissions- by email or through their own site.

You can choose to filter out magazines that only accept a certain smaller percentage of from a number of percentages of unsolicited submissions published. 

You cannot arrange results by most likely publications to accept work.

You cannot filter out publications not accepting submissions.

You cannot filter out publications that will not accept multiple submissions.

You cannot filter out publications that charge a reading fee.

The biggest con, the most important let-down for me, was a big problem: I didn't receive a single acceptance from any of the magazines I approached. I made over 50 submissions. After sending out each piece 10 times, I made a note of the date and waited a month. I figured that would give enough time for editors to make decisions.

That month has passed, and I've so far received 9 rejections and no acceptances. That's a fairly average ratio, although there are still over 41 submissions unaccounted for. This is a problem with the individual magazines more than anything, but this still doesn't reflect well on the Poets and Writers site. I quickly started to wonder whether I was doing anything wrong.

Have you used this site? What kind of experience did you have? Comment below...

Monday, 14 July 2014

Eating and Writing

A recent prompt at Writers Connect was the combination of these two activities. It was probably inspired by the fact that we juggle these two during the sessions' warm-up exercise- most of us scour the Wetherspoons menu when we first get in, and by the time we start the exercise the staff are already serving us. Here's what I devised:

Rick Tucker, food critic extraordinaire, sat with his notebook open at the table.

“You won't have had a meal quite like this,” said Brent.

Brent, in his thirties, had wiped his hands on his apron, staining it further on the day he opened his restaurant. “It's our South American special. The ingredients aren't easy to come by.”

“Well, said Rick. “I'll be sure to savour it.” He'd already broken a sweat but he couldn't taste any spices. “Is this a vegetarian dish?” he asked, wolfing a mouthful, his appetite ballooning instantly.

“It is,” Brent said. “Made from nothing but vegetation.”

Rick scribbled with his pad at the side of his dish, his shorthand getting more crippled with each word. “Now, if you'll excuse me, I need the gents,” Rick said. “If your toilets are up to scratch, you'll get a glowing review.” He began to feel strangely arrogant. “Glowing.”

The urinals were pristine: Rick realised they had no drainage, no hole. But he went anyway. It filled the urinal. After he'd finished, a metal sheet slotted down over the receptacle, sealing it off. The door slammed behind him.

“We now have a sample of your coked up urine.” Brent stepped forward. “About that review. Do I have your assurance it'll be as glowing as you say?!”

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Repping Out

I think it's safe to say that no matter what a man does to work out, if he's got a 36-inch chest he's never going to turn into a unit of epic proportions, is he?

I've always had a slim build, and throughout my adult life I've been in great physical shape and shit physical shape. It's usually come down to diet, but it's also been down to padwork- Muay Thai and boxing. I'm boxing at the moment but- now age is catching up with me- I'm not finding it as easy as I used to to tone up. So after years of smashing the weights and trying to lift 10 reps of the heaviest weight I can, I'm going to spend the next month repping out.

This will include:

10-minute cross trainer
Bicep chin-ups
Wide grip chin-ups

I have a PB on each of these- I'll see how much I can add to them in the course of the next month. Hopefully, I'll tone up better than I have been doing.

Friday, 11 July 2014

So... How did that Porn Star Tweet Project Go?

Nikki Daniels, my top retweeter

I wanted to show the internet that there was a method of getting free publicity for your website on a mass scale, a method that no-one was talking about. Hence, I spent five months working on a self-devised blogging project. I tried to get my blog shared over Twitter to boost visibility and start conversations about social media.

Oh, one more thing- the project involves hundreds of porn stars.

In 2012 I found an online directory of Twitter accounts for adult entertainment performers called Porn Star Tweet. I spent a month using it to get my blog retweeted. During that month, my daily page views surged. I wrote up the project here

Before long, that particular post had become my most popular on the blog. (It's been overtaken since by this very strange piece about a depressed lovebird.)

I left the Porn Star Tweet site alone for a year whilst I worked on other projects, but I knew the site was a goldmine for garnering page views, and that there were some interesting questions to ask about the concept of porn stars being on Twitter and being available to talk to. Eventually, I came back to Porn Star Tweet to approach the remaining 800 accounts listed on the site.

Due to faults with the Porn Star Tweet site it took 9 months to exhaust all the accounts. During that time, though, my stats leaped from 166,837 to 206,813. Considering I set up the blog in 2008, that's a big jump. I then wrote up the experiment as Ballooning Your Blog Stats With Porn Star Tweet: Take 2.

I wanted to publicise this particular blog post to gauge a few reactions. A month ago I tweeted to all the contributors to say thanks. A handful retweeted the post, helping to rake in a few hits. I showed it to a few social media people who I was following on Twitter, getting the odd favourite here and there. All of the feedback I got was positive, except for one of the porn girls. I'd tweeted to her so long ago that when I showed her the post she had no idea what I was talking about. “don't know who you are and I didn't help you with anything....new spam.” Not entirely correct.

Finally I trudged through my Twitter followings for social media-related accounts, people or organisations that might be tweeting / blogging about sites like Twitter. I fired a few tweets their way to see what they thought about “Ballooning Take 2”, but I didn't hear much back from them. The post in question has racked in around 1500 hits so far and will enter the top 10 in the next few days. And overall, I've racked up a further 55,000 hits since uploading it. So the project can hardly be deemed a failure.

It's strange that when I wrote up the first Porn Star Tweet project it quickly got into the top 10 posts on my site, and received 27 comments. Yet the second attempt involved more people and received less hits and no comments. But, whatever. I know it's a totally mental idea, and it wasn't going to revolutionise the world of social media.

There's still time for that. At least people were reading my stuff.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Don't be Manipulated on Facebook- Manipulate Yourself

So recently Facebook admitted it “manipulated” its users in a social experiment. The social media site had been tweaking the news feeds of 689,000 users- some users were shown more positive statuses, others more negative.

The bias did colour those individual users' own postings later on on Facebook,” says Gareth Mitchell from BBC's audio technology show, Click. Those dished up with positive content were more likely to go on to post positive things themselves, and then vice versa for those who had more negative information.”

Those familiar with psychology- and some of the content on this blog- will be no stranger to the concept that positivity begets positivity. That having the right attitude can influence things in your favour, and that it isn't just psycho-babble to make naïve people feel better.

Hold that thought.

A few years ago I was using a failing Macintosh G4 computer. I'd had it for 8 years and it was CONSTANTLY freezing on me, to the point where I was borrowing my mum' laptop to get by. In the Mac's dying days, I managed to post my frustration onto Facebook, berating the Apple brand and my annoyance with the situation. I quickly forgot about this post once I got running with the laptop.

Cue the weekend. Ferro phones me from a pub out in Uppermill or somewhere, letting me know they're all already out, and asking where I was. They're all drunk already, and in the background I can hear them all screeching like wild animals and chanting my name. That's when I hear Hicks pipe up with “Macs are shit!” in some over-emphatic northern accent.

I went out to meet them, but that isn't the point. Hicks, Ferro- everyone in that group, I realised- had noticed the negativity I was pumping out on Facebook. So much so that, when they're pissed and think of me, they think of the bitching and moaning I do on social media.

I can't remember anything of the night (because it was years ago. I was sober, so can't blame the alcohol). But I remember getting in at the end of the night, thinking about my mates and our Facebook statuses. Hicks and Ferro- and pretty much everyone in that group- are generally positive people. Popular with men, popular with women, always have a joke to crack and are never short of conversation. Their statuses were generally positive. I, meanwhile, was depressed, broke, not doing well with women and didn't really get on with that many people. On Facebook, I was showing it without realising it.

Not long after that, I got an add from a woman who lived local to me. We had a handful of mutual friends, including Hicks and Ferro. She was beautiful, and she'd talk to me a lot on Facebook chat. I may have ploughed in too soon and we didn't meet up in the end. Maybe I asked her for a drink too early, or, maybe it was something else.

I tried really hard not to piss and moan in my statuses, but eventually I let something slip- possibly about people not going out as much. She asked me about it and I had to bluff my way around it and make it sound like I wasn't that bothered about this thing holding me back- whatever it was.

Since then, though, we don't talk as much. And it's a real shame.

Since these two moments occurred, I've made a concerted effort to make my statuses positive based on this one principal: If the person of your dreams were to add you on Facebook today, would they like what they see? Are you showing your best side? Are you making it as easy as possible for yourself to grasp opportunities when they arise? And are your friends influencing you to be more positive? And finally, are you- as you should be- influencing others to be more positive yourself?

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

The Round Dog

Here's an odd-but-effective method of developing a creative writing piece. Next time you're at your writer's group, warm up with this exercise: Give each member two slips of paper. On the first, we write an adjective. On the other, we write a noun. These are folded up and placed into two respective piles.

Each pile is shuffled separately and each member picks out one nounslip and one verb slip. The title and subject for each person's vignette is “The (adjective) (noun)”.

With 10 minutes on the clock, I produced this story. You might be surprised by where it leads. (Geddit? “Leads”? Oh well.)

The Round Dog

Bert's dog wasn't like other dogs. Sure, he could take Dougal for walks, and yeah, he'd bark once in a while, but Dougal was a difficult dog to look after. Difficult to stroke, difficult to explain and very hard to get over stiles on country walks. Dougal was round. I don't mean rotund, like Bert had been feeding him too much- I mean round. He was a circular dog. A tubular canine. A growth defect after being born in an empty tank on the back of a diesel transporter.

When Bert took Dougal for walks, he clipped the lead to the collar, a leather strap fitperfectly to the circumference of the dog. Bert would go for a stroll, Dougal for a roll. As they walked, the lead would whip up and down like a lasoo.

Across from Dougal, on a bright day, a border collie was chasing a frisbee, leaping to catch it in his mouth.

Dougal tugged at the lead and Bert untied him to let him roam.

Dougal, confused by the collie's behaviour, rotated towards the dog and bit the dog on the ankle. The dog went full-circle and bit the 360-degree dog in return.

Hmm. Yes. The last sentence was written after the alarm had sounded, hence the clunkiness. Rebel!