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Couchsurfing in the USA (or how to cut costs at SXSWi)

couchsurfingusaTypical. I wait six months to write my Austin, Texas, feature after visiting South By South West Interactive and then go on holiday just when it’s published. It went in the Sunday Mercury travel section on 4th October 2009 to tie in with Austin City Limits (Austin’s ‘other’ music festival).

I don’t normally like my own travel writing but I do like this one so I’m posting it up! Thanks to Midge_UK for getting hold of a print copy and to Davey Kay for hosting me.

The feature is mostly about what it’s like to Couchsurf, which involves finding a willing local host to put you up while you’re in town.

In this case it was Davey, a former truck crane operator and trainee helicopter pilot with a liking for pirates and death metal. Brilliant.

You can read the full text here: Couchsurfing USA.

Why I am moving back to Brum…

Birmingham New Street station
Birmingham New St Station here I come

It looks like I’ve reached that moment in a blogger’s life when you log into your poor neglected blog(s), make apologies to folks for the lack of posting, explain why and then make a new promise to report back a bit more often in future.

Except… as Neil Gaiman once said (not sure who actually coined this): ‘Never apologise, never explain.’

Sooo, suffice it to say, that I have spent the last year in transition in many, many ways. One of the biggest changes has been going permanent on digital ‘stuff’ from a 20-year background in print journalism. How did this happen?

Well, in February 2008, I started a blog in my spare time (What to wear where), a good idea but ill-carried out by me while I got to grips with Web 2.0 changes.

Then I started Subs’ Standards in August 2008 – all about sub-editing and its changing nature in the digital world – and started to get the hang of things a bit more, thanks in the main to Pete Ashton‘s free social media surgeries. I’m well overdue to post on that blog, too, as I’m now only very occasionally subbing, and it’s digital subbing at that – which is quite a different type of ‘quality control’ beast.

Anyways… updating my digital chops late into the night after a hard day in print was exhausting – and salary-free. I did it for three months almost solidly but it got me into Seven Squared‘s digital team, which was in need of a web editor, back in January 2009. And now I’m busier than ever, corporate blogging for clients and producing a variety of digital work from ezines to SEO features.

Going to SXSWi back in March 2009 also gave me a load of context for working purely online, as well as a whole load of new ideas for playing with online content plus a contact book full of innerestin’ webby types from all over the world. I recommend it for anyone working online and trying to get their head around the bigger picture. (And yes, before you ask, it’s also a big festival with lots of bands and parties in the rather cool uni city of Austin, Texas.)

Unfortunately, working long hours in Seven’s digital bunker means I have little time to ‘rawk SXSW’ and so change has come again.

From October, I’ll be living and working in Birmingham, with my blog mentor Pete Ashton, as it happens. Turns out romance can blossom in the blurry gaps between online and offline.

I’ll still be corporate blogging for Seven Squared’s digital team, I hope, and maybe writing an SEO feature or two. And before I leave London I’ll also be joining a great new event (and site) for brand managers and those who represent a brand online, courtesy of Jo Geary – and maybe even guest-blogging on there if she’ll let me.

But for now I just want to say that I’m looking forward to the next era – to meet new people in Brum, and give myself some headspace to decide which projects to start/play with/experiment with in the West Mids, which seems to be something of a hot bed of  ‘social media’ goings-on, if the SXSW rival WXWM, the new FAILcamp and other such events are anything to go by.

I’ll also be looking for blogging or other content creation work, probably in the commercial sector, or quality control work for corporate clients. If you think you might want something like this, please do get in touch.

So, life has switched and instead of working in London and visiting Brum at weekends, I’ll be working and thinking  in Birmingham instead and visiting London for work days here and there, and sociables at the weekends. So if you’re in either vicinity, find me online (@fionacullinan if you’re on Twitter) and come say hi.

As they say, change is inevitable – except from a vending machine.

PS. (I’m a serial PS blogger.) Apologies if you get this 10 times in your feed, my WordPress preview appears to have karked it.

‘Yalla Yalla get a wriggle on!’ – Jordan press trip

wadi_rum_tentsTranslation: get a move on. This was the running theme of a last week’s busy busy press trip to review Jordan’s natural wonders – well, that and lots of Spirit & Destiny magazine plugs (tick) – which involved:

1. No less that three nature reserves.
2. Two seas in one day (Red to Dead).
3. The lowest nature reserve on earth, 400m+ below sea level.
4. The Jordanian branch of the Great African Rift Valley.
5. A night sleeping out in the desert at Wadi Rum.
6. Elijah’s birthplace, Moses’ resting place.
7. Canyoning, rock bridge walking, hill trekking, mudbathing.
8. More rock than Blackpool at Wadi Dana, Petra and Wadi Mujib.

Due to write up next weekend, but for a pictorial taster, here’s the Flickr set.

While you were sleeping: the 4am Project

An auto-level adjusted green palm on the Southend seafront.
An auto-level adjusted green palm on the Southend seafront.
Bollards at 4am.
Bollards at 4am.

A bench in Southend at 4am

A bench in Southend at 4am

At 4am on the 4th of the 4th – on Saturday just gone – my phone alarm rang, I hauled myself out of a rather snug hotel bed on Essex’s east coast and walked out into the night with a rather expensive Canon 30D around my neck. Why? Well, here’s the ‘six honest serving men’ of the 4am Project.

What: A photographic project started by my Flickrmeet friend Karen Strunks, which began in Birmingham and went worldwide in the last few weeks, thanks to the 4am project website and Twitter, and attention from The Guardian, BBC Midlands Today and other media. The idea was to create a global snapshot of the world at this unearthly hour of the morning.

Why: Because wherever you are looks and feels very different at 4 in the morning. But like many successful internet things, it had that ‘never been done’, ‘you’re doing what?!’, ‘why the hell not’ lure – and all while ‘the normal people’ were sleeping, too. In November in Birmingham, there was also 11/11/11 event – 11 hours on the 11th of the 11th travelling around the circular number 11 bus route and creating multimedia content – though I’m not sure if this was a direct inspiration.

When: 4am (natch). But the main event was 4am on 04.04.09. Karen has hinted that there may be more events to come. I thought I’d nip out for five minutes then run back to bed but was out for an hour and a half in the end.

How: With cameras of all ilks from mobile phone cameras to TTVs, compacts to SLRs; tripods and other stabilising gear; and with family, friends, Twitter contacts, or solo. My 4/4/4 experience was solo and with a Canon 30D, experimenting with the bulb setting and veering onto the ‘M’ manual setting for the first time. Later there was some post-prod work in Photoshop – ranging from a quick resize to full scale colour warping manipulation fun.

Where: Many many countries took part: see the map – but I was on a trip away at Thorpe Bay near Southend so I went on a solo shoot along the seafront – which was both exhilarating and coldly adrenalising. If I sat still, I turned to stone and drivers didn’t clock me. Like being invisible. I also snapped some indoor activity at the Roslin Hotel – at 4am a wedding guest chatting up a girl at the long-since-closed bar, at 5am the doorman vacuuming away the wedding disco debris with a perpetually happy Henry vacuum cleaner.

Who: Karen Strunks is the photographer behind the project. She started taking 4am photos a while ago and, with this amazing initiative, has taken it to the next level. She gave the project passion, professionalism and a sense of community that I found really inspiring.

Check out the results: View my Thorpe Bay Esplanade shots on my Flickr. Or, see all the 4am pictures here – over 1300 photos uploaded at last count.