Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Elastic Time

Royal Type, originally uploaded by Dave Gorman.

It seems like it was just a few days ago, that the Edinburgh Fringe Festival seemed to be a distant object, just entering the horizon.

And now all of a sudden it feels like it is starting any tiiiimmmmee.... now. I mean... now.

A full theatre is a fun theatre. If a theatre isn't full, all performers want the audience at the front. It isn't just that you want people closer to you, it's that you want the audience not to be contemplating the empty seats.

An audience isn't just a collection of individuals, they become one entity. Especially with comedy when they all laugh at the same time because the same idea landed in all their heads at the same time.

That means that when the place is full, the back row feel close to the action because they are connected to all the people sitting in the row in front who are connected to the people in the row in front of them and so on.

Well I think the same is true of time and a full diary. When I was doing my first previews Edinburgh felt like it was ages away in part because I knew I had a trip to LA to take care of between then and the festival. It was only 5 days... but in terms of connection, it was like having a few empty rows. It made the back row seem miles away.

But now it's imminent. In fact it's practically started. I do four more previews. Tonight and tomorrow in Shoreham, Thursday and Friday in Taunton... and then I have Saturday to pack my bags because I do the radio show on Sunday morning and train up to Edinburgh on the Monday. (I do technical things in the venue on Tueday and start the show on Wednesday with my first in-Edinburgh-preview aka a cheap ticket.)

So now the diary is full, the back row seems close. It's in the same room as me. It's now. It's started.

It hasn't. But it has.

I'm excited.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Back from LA

Encounter at LAX, originally uploaded by Dave Gorman.

I'm back from LA... and have to get my head back into show mode. I have a preview in Maidenhead tonight.

The glamour never stops.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

London - Los Angeles - Maidenhead - New Greenham (New preview gigs)

I'm in Los Angeles. The ten hour flight was actually quite nice. The five hour war of attrition that was the queues in LAX weren't. There are lots of different queues and lots of people in tight trousers shepherding you into this or that line. I did as I was told. Only I chose a very bad line.

From the back of the line it was impossible to see where the front of the line was. It emerged part way between several booths, two of which were occupied by Customs Officers. But only one of them was calling people from the front of our particular line. The other was looking to a different queue... one that was already being serviced by three other officers. The line to our left was also leading to multiple officers. Only our line was leading to only one officer.

But by the time that had become clear I was more than half way in. I'd already been queuing for 90 minutes. Leaving the queue to join the back of a new one wasn't really an option. None of them were moving fast. It's just all of them were moving faster.

There were rumblings of discontent from my fellow visitors. Screams of complaint were made. Quite something in an airport. Nobody wants to upset the people who decide whether or not you can enter a country after all. One man insisted to us that our line was leading to two different officers as if we were imagining what our own eyes could see us. He wandered by three times and had the same conversation. Before finally deciding that we might not be making it up and going to take a look himself. He then told the second officer that he was meant to be looking to our line for his next visitor and he duly obliged. Problem solved.

Except that he only processed two more people before clocking off. Fifteen minutes later a new officer turned up in his stead. And proceeded to invite people from the neighbouring line and not ours. Uproar broke out again. A couple of people were close to storming the barricades. There were what can only be described as hollers. Yes. Hollers.

Eventually a supervisor came along and was yelled at by five different irate passengers. You could see that she thought we were just a rowdy bunch who needed to understand that this process took time at first... but then slowly it dawned on her that there was sincere pain in those eyes and that we really had been in that line for three hours. In three hours I had travelled ten yards. She took us seriously. She asked who had been on the British Airways flight... a flurry of hands went up. Mine included. She pulls a handful of us out of the line and walked us - with begrudging apologies - straight to the front of some other lines. Such a relief.

Oh yeah... and then I picked up my suitcase and had to join the 40 minute queue to leave the airport. I've never seen one of those before. The journey from plane to hotel ended up taking up half the time of the flight itself. Ridiculous.

Having got here I checked my email to discover that I've got the chance to put in two more Edinburgh previews. I'm a firm believer that you can't do too many - and the four that were already in had sold out so I figured it was worth trying to squeeze another couple in. It's short notice so I hope we can still shift enough tickets to make them worthwhile.

They're on July 20th and July 21st. The first is in Maidenhead - at the Norden Farm Arts Centre (details) and the second is at the New Greenham Arts (details).

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Thanks Folkestone

The Quarterhouse in Folkestone turns out to be a lovely venue and a great place for my first three previews. Doing a new show for the first time is an exciting and nerve-racking leap in the dark. The audience treated me gently and it was fun.

I like doing previews back to back like this... it becomes a sort of bootcamp. You do the show then spend the day changing it, then do it, then change it and so on. So it was three days of 8hrs cooped up in a hotel room powerpointing - yes, that is a verb - followed by a show each evening.

While the core material in each show was the same I did throw in a small amount of different stuff from night to night. But more usefully the order, the structure and some of the way in which it was put on screen were changed and I learned a whole lot about what belongs where. So thanks to all who came.

I was staying in Sandgate and went for a brief stroll on Wednesday morning - the only time I really saw anything of the area - and where I saw this sign...

I was only there for three days.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Linked Out

A few weeks ago I tweeted something about how annoying I found the incessant emails from Linked In were.

I was hugely surprised by how widespread the hatred for them was. With things like that I don't expect most people to know what I'm talking about and of those that do, I don't expect many to share my frustrations.

But in this case they did. Nobody defended the site. Nobody told me that they found their emails helpful. And lots of people tweeted me to basically say, "Yes! If you ever find out how to make them stop, please let me know how you did it!"

Well I have made them stop... so I figured it was worth posting something here about it. As much as anything, it'll be easier to point people here in future than it will to explain afresh each time.

The first thing to say is that I don't really know what Linked In does but as far as I can tell it's meant to be a sort of facebook-for-work. My only encounter with them is as an unwanted presence in my inbox. They've been sending me emails... hundreds of emails, asking me to join the site for more than two years.

It looks like spam. It reads like spam. So surely it is spam? Apparently not. Linked In aren't fly-by-night shysters trying to hawk virility drugs, they're a hugely successful and seemingly respectable company. And technically - legally - it isn't spam.

Because technically the email doesn't come from Mr and Mrs Linked In any more than you'd identify an email from a hotmail address as coming from hotmail. Sort of. Because the emails would all come from the address invitations@linkedin.com but the message would be telling you that a specific person had invited you to join their 'professional network.'

Linked In are simply the messengers. They're doing what they're customer asked them to do. They haven't bought your address from a corrupt data-miner. They don't even have your email address on file. They're emailing you because they were asked in the same way that the post office do the same with your mail. It's not for them to stop and ask people how they got your address... they just do what they're told to do.

Which sounds reasonable... except anecdotally I'm not sure that's how their users think it works. I think - and if you know differently do let me know - that things are a little less clear than that.

The impression I have is that when someone signs up to Linked In they get a message saying something like, 'Would you like us to connect you with your contacts?' A lot of people say yes because... well, because what's the point of joining a social network if you don't connect with your contacts? - and then the system does the rest.

But that's not quite what people imagine is going on. A couple of people I've spoken to thought that clicking that button meant that Linked In would search its existing customer base to see if any of their contacts were already there. They thought the only people who'd be contacted were other people who'd chosen to join Linked In already. They didn't know that Linked In would be sending emails on their behalf and they certainly didn't know that when those emails were ignored Linked In would start sending reminder emails to chivvy you along.

But of course your email address isn't only known to your friends and family. If you reply to someone they get your email address. Are we supposed to remain hermetically sealed in our own online worlds never responding to anything anyone sends our way for fear that they will inadvertently create social-network spam for us further down the line?

Wouldn't it be much easier if you could just ask Linked In - a nice big, respectable company - to stop emailing you no matter who clicks what? You'd think so wouldn't you? But their emails never contained an unsubscribe link. Every time I searched for ways to make them stop emailing me I found the same piece of advice. The only way of making them stop is to join the site.

It starts to feel like a protection racket after a while.

I emailed various addresses and got no help. I asked their twitter account and got no help there either. When I first searched their FAQ I found questions about removing email addresses and thought I'd finally struck gold. But the answers always led to a login page.

It was like an endlessly looping conversation:
"You want to remove your email address? Sure thing... just go to your account page and change your settings."
"But I don't have an account. So I don't have an account page."
"That's okay... you can sign up and... "

But then, one day I managed to find a magic link in the FAQ. It was a question about removing your address from a Do Not Contact list. In other words it was the exact opposite of what I wanted... but it was exciting because at least it proved that there was such a thing as a Do Not Contact list. (It just seemed wholly in keeping with Linked In's corporate mindset that they could only ever envisage people wanting to find out how to be more contactable rather than less.)

I clicked the link. It led to an email form. I had to change the pre-ordained subject line in order to make it say I wanted out and then I explained that I'd spent two years trying to make them leave me alone.

And it finally worked. I finally got a response... and they tell me I'm now on the Do Not Contact list. And so far I haven't heard from them. And I expect them to stay true to their word because they are a legit, law abiding company. Albeit one that annoys the hell out of me and - judging from my twitter stream - hundreds of other people too.

Interestingly the page I found seems to have been reworded since. (I'm not claiming that they've changed it because of me, I'm just mentioning it so that I don't get a load of messages telling me I'm wrong.) There is now a question in the FAQ that tells you how to add your address to the Do Not Contact list. Finally they acknowledge that there are people who don't want to hear from them!

It's still not the easiest link to find. I've replied to a few people telling them how I did it but I didn't have the link to hand at the time so I could only tell them that it existed. They've come back telling me that they couldn't find it. So here, for everyone else who feels spammed by Linked In, is the magic button to get you out of the system:

And this is what freedom looks like:

I'd be interested to hear from anyone who uses the site to find out what it looks like from the inside? How clear is it that the site is emailing people on your behalf? I've no problem with those who like it... I just think that when a big company sends out so many emails and they don't make opting-out an easy option they might as well be spammers regardless of what the law says.