The Song that won’t record = finally recorded

There’s a composition I’ve had in my head for a while now, it refused to be recorded because I was unhappy when I made a mistake, missed the click track, couldn’t get the timing right – I gave myself many many reasons not to capture it.

However, this morning all bets are off. I woke up at 6.00am realising that if I didn’t get this down, the perfect version of this beautiful tune will just remain contained in my head. I lay in bed for a few more hours before breaking ranks, and hitting record here in my studio. So, here’s an imperfect version of the wonderful music that is never far from my world, complete with mistakes, fluffs and stuff I would like to change. Also, because the track is so complex, the MIDI is glitching in parts! The song has inspired me to get more RAM or if necessary, get a new machine.

I have decided the fluffs and mistakes make the song alive – it’s OK that we have scars, it shows we have experienced the world and it’s left its mark on us. I feel as if I have let out a huge breath I didn’t even know I was holding.

It was recorded in just one take, and I’m going to post it before I change my mind.

More than anything I want to perform my live compositions at a beautiful piano in a wonderful recital hall. I would create musical pieces and as the composition continues the music will be inspired by how the audience respond – a fabulous musical feedback loop!

tons more music at and stream on spotify plus loads more on

Music Live-Blogging – Classical Piano on the Fly

At a recent event, the Music Tech Fest in Boston, I took part in a 24-hour hackathon.
Ostensibly I was filming it for the show I present on, BBC Click. But as well as recording it for the programme, the experience and the people I met that weekend left a deep and lasting impression on me.

For the first time, I was surrounded by those who live comfortably in the centre of the Venn Diagram of Music and Technology – I found it to be an incredibly nourishing few days. I was able to talk openly about my synaesthesia and the very sensitive musical side of me that I don’t normally talk about during my day job. That’s since changed -  this week’s show is all about Music Technology.

Plus I finally had the guts to do some live composition in front of people I hardly knew – and their response was incredibly positive, which led me down the path of putting live-composed piano music up on the web.


Each piece of music was recorded live, in just one take.

For years I spent a lot of time fixing every little thing in my compositions – a bit like proof-reading a book for spelling mistakes, but here I’ve deliberately left the mistakes in, this goes up completely untouched by anything – I don’t even record to a click track. And actually, it feels kind of exposed and fantastic all at once to send this out to the world.


How to get featured on BBC Click – a question I’m asked a lot

… in fact I was asked this on the Quora website recently by Michael Kraskin.

I spent a lot of time on the answer, because actually there are a few layers.

I’ve reproduced the text below – the answer on Quora is here

So, with the usual caveat of this being my personal opinion and not necessarily that of the show, or the BBC, below are the top 5 things I suggest thinking about before pitching an idea at BBC Click.


1. Is it interesting to a global audience?

Would someone outside your industry and not invested in the project want to ask you more questions about your Startup? It helps if it does something that people who aren’t hugely technical will also find truly innovative and interesting – for me, as well as being different, the startup has to pass what I call the ‘so what’ test. Before I pitch an idea for a story to my editor, I imagine them saying ‘so what’ after the first sentence. I’ll keep working on the idea until I can come back with a persuasive reason as to why it’s relevant to the wider world.

The other challenge I see for the show as a whole is that as well as broadcasting to a global audience, Click has to cater to people who are interested in technology but not necessarily technical – it has to talk about tech in an accessible and inclusive way. But at the same time, to keep gadget- and tech-lovers interested, the show needs to treat tech trends and startups with a bit of extra thought and analysis – making it a deeper experience for viewers than if they just looked up a product or company online.


2. Is it telegenic / Do you have a working demo?
Do you have a visually interesting demonstration of the tech actually working? Does it actually work? That’s really important. If there are no pictures, you might want to talk to our sister show on BBC World Service, Click Radio instead. However, research projects with visually arresting demos don’t need to work all the time – and I rather love prototypes and reference models – a look behind the scenes of hardware product development!


3. Are you pitching to the right person on the programme?
It’s rare that I can respond personally to every press release and email because we get so many requests to feature things on the show. The extent of the programme’s reach is wonderful. As we can all research, write, self-shoot, present and produce our own features, I also suggest putting a bit of thought into exactly which person on the team would respond to your pitch the most.

For example, I love anything to do with music tech, productivity tools and hacking/maker stuff. My love of music and technology means I’ll naturally gravitate towards this topic. I also read a lot (a LOT!) of science fiction – so stories on technology affecting wider society are also intriguing to me. Recent features I loved making included wearing a brain cap to generate classical music, fixing my own broken ipad, and the phenomenon of Life Logging.


4. Is your startup able to deal with worldwide exposure?
Make sure you’re actually ready for what may happen after being on the show. Many of my ex-interviewees have come back to me with stories about the increase in demand for their products/services! They say it’s important to be ready to fulfill those demands just in case.


5. Watch Click!
Finally, and perhaps most importantly – watch the show! Engage with us online if you like – some of us are more socially-inclined than others, but we’re all genuinely interested in how progress in technology affects the world around us. You’ll get a great idea for the sort of thing we feature by tuning in to the show or watching clips online.

Good luck!


Sci-Fi for the Tech Addict – Part 1 3D Printing

The ORDbot Quantum 3D printer (Bart Dring, Wikipedia)

I visited the Restart Project‘s Restart Party at Camden Town Shed for BBC Tech feature, and met some brilliant people who voluntarily fix whatever comes through the doors – be it broken printers, TVs, cameras or even stereo radio cassette players.

Talk that evening was of technology, the joy of fixing things & sci-fi. One of the electrical geniuses (genii?) was rather interested in 3D printing. And as I have read a lot of science fiction books, it seemed natural enough to recommend to Francis a reading list which I thought he’d find interesting.

It’s not the first time – a few years back I chaired the Science Museum’s FutureWorld event – people mentioned specific tech and I recommended books that complemented their area of interest. So I’m going to do the same thing – but online – I hope you like it.

Welcome to Science Fiction for the Tech Addict Part 1! I’m also going to add real life links too for those who want to know more about the technology itself.

PART 1 3D printing concepts: Science Fiction

Idoru – by William Gibson* : Cyberpunk espionage novel written in 1996 exploring what happens when the virtual world can mix with the real world. There’s elements of 3D printing here, but not in the way you’d think.

Makers – by Cory Doctorow* : 3D printing takes a more central role in this 2010 novel about a bunch of entrepreneurs who create a ride. The ride appears to take on a life of its own as more people become aware of it and interact with it. The book hits on very interesting points about how widespread 3D printing might affect society.

Altered Carbon – By Richard Morgan* : Written in 2002, this far-future ultra-violent detective/thriller’s concept has echoes of what society might be like if matter was entirely and completely replicable. Some might say it’s a bit of a stretch from 3D printing, but I reckon it’s a logical extension of the ability to create 3D objects.

*click ‘em if you like ‘em, these are Amazon Associate Links – if a link has a * by it, clicking might result in a very small payment – which therefore helps me have more time to write posts like this!


PART 2 3D printing in real life: Science Fact

Makerbot : all you need to start your own (pricy!) 3D printing workshop.

Shapeways : 3D printing service which also sells 3D patterns for other people to print out.

UK Hackspaces / Global Hackerspaces : Sociable member-run spaces where people tinker. Some have 3D printers to play with. I’ve visited both the London Hackspace and the Nottingham one so far – both are populated by wonderfully friendly people who have a lot of time for anyone who is interested in this sort of thing.

Maker Faire : fabulous carnivals filled with people making stuff. There’s a mini one in London’s Elephant and Castle next month where you can learn to design in 3D printing.

Of course there are so many more resources online as 3D printing becomes more and more commonplace.

If you have any requests for science fiction based on some of today’s tech ideas, let me know in the comments area and it would be a pleasure to dredge the old brain for something just right for you. Alternatively if you’ve read something that you think should go on the list, please tell me as I’m always looking for new books to read!



Hold up signs for service

Good Business is the New Business

Whilst on holiday in South East Asia, I came across two incredible companies. In each case, the proprietors and I chatted about how customers find businesses – and how businesses could find the right customers. See, in Cambodia, places routinely emblazon TripAdvisor signs in huge font outside their establishments to pull in the tourists. Even if it’s a 3.5 star review, it goes up on corrugated plastic on a sandwich board outside – I found the whole thing very interesting, as both the businesses below chose not to go that route.

Though I am not a big business CEO (yet!) I have been lucky enough to talk frankly with some pretty big movers and shakers in technology, manufacturing and more as part of my job. And tea and good food makes me very talkative. I was particularly intrigued by the places below because there was an extra element to them: the idea of running a small business with a degree of social responsibility built in.

Place 1: Haven, Siam Reap, Cambodia

Haven Restaurant is run by a formidable couple who after holidaying in Cambodia, decided to sell everything they owned, and pack in Switzerland for the ‘wet and sweat’ combo of Siam Reap – beloved home to Angkor Wat and hundreds of smaller temples. Sarah and Paul braved the complexities of setting up a business in a foreign country. They built (and now run)  a chilled-out restaurant that serves tasty cuisine at a reasonable price for tourists – the place also happens to train young adult orphans as apprentices as part of its business model. As well as a salary, graduates gain the skills required for re-employment, and have all their tips saved in a bank account so they also get a lump sum at the end of their year’s training.

The food is good too. So I asked if Haven could make me a fresh Vietnamese roll that I could triumphantly unpack and eat while everyone else looked on with undisguised jealousy. It occurred to me - if I (and other lovers of tasty food) could be discerning enough to seek out good restaurants then clearly we would be prepared to pay for a nice packed lunch. I suggested this to Stef, one of the staff members between mouthfuls of baked Oreo cheesecake.

My business-minded companion added that this is actually a well known strategy – to ‘expand into related revenue streams’ outside a business’s limitations – for example, in a restaurant, you can only sell to people physically sitting in a space, and when they are full of food and drink, that’s it. So, restaurants can offer cookbooks, hampers, packed lunches, food delivery, you get the idea. I’ll update this blog if I hear they’ve decided to do that – because my lunch was indeed triumphant.

Above: Pictures from Siam Reap, Cambodia

Place 2: Reaching Out Teahouse, Hoi An, Vietnam

A beautiful coastal resort, Hoi An is liberally scattered with tourists who forgive the ‘theme park’ nature of the Old Town because of its beauty and tranquility, that is, on certain days when they close the tiny streets off from motorcycles.

Side note: People who spend enough time with me know I have a serious thing for tea – notably pu-erh and oolong as well as good old builders (without sugar), not forgetting what I like to call a Picard (Earl Grey, Hot). These long-suffering types have accepted that passing a teahouse for me is pretty much impossible. They are resigned to the fact that, left to my own devices,  I am happy to consume tea until there is no tea left. Small wonder then, that the Reaching Out Teahouse and I were destined to cross paths. An artisan teahouse, complete with artisan biscuits. As far as I was concerned, this was where I would sit for the rest of the day. And so I watched the sun set, slowly bloating myself with delicious, high-quality tea.

Time passed. After a vast and quite frankly impressive quantity of tea – in many forms –  was absorbed, one of the owners of the social enterprise, Quyen, came to say hello. She explained that the staff here are deaf or speech-impaired, which is why it is in fact a silent teahouse. Everyone communicates with smiles, gestures, or wooden blocks with writing in English on one side for the customer which is held up to summon the staff member.  By the way, it wasn’t just the contentment gained from silently enjoying tea and biscuits which made me fall in love with this place. It’s also that the Single Estate Oolong tea might be among the best I have ever tasted. Readers of the previous paragraph will realise that is a very, very big data set indeed.

Above: Pictures from Hoi An, Vietnam

I like the “Good Business” business model!

Both places were so delightful, I visited them twice. And, in both cases, this was mainly because service and product were outstanding. I came away with the feeling that if places just had a good idea and ethical ‘feel good’ factor it might get people visiting – but repeat custom and earnest recommendations will only come if the product is ultimately desirable regardless of any worthy underpinnings. I wish both Haven and the Reaching Out Teahouse the best of luck in their endeavours.

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Above: Pics from the Heaven & Earth Bicycle Trip, Vietnam


New Websites – New Beginnings

I’ve been updating my website – which lives at  – it’s amazing how just a text or colour scheme marks something as ‘old’ – and some minor issues like typing something ever so slightly wrong can result in shouting ‘Oh No, I’ve Broken the Internet’ followed by a determined burst of what I like to call “google, cut’n’paste” pseudo-coding. No matter, I’ve somewhat knocked it into shape, and it’s not bad. OK the typeface isn’t my first choice, but when I get the inclination to go a second round in the WWE (WordPress Wrestling Exercise) I’ll give it a go.

You know how it is, something stops working – so, first up, search for the error message in quote marks in a search engine, and then try to not only copy the answer to the query that seems the most logical and trustworthy, but actually try out the fix in a safe and measured way. Now, I’m not about to recommend that anyone bricks their computer by copying and running code off the internet – but (with generous helpings of common sense of course) it seems that our access to an incredible resource online – learning pretty much anything off the internet – from inspirational advice to how to solder – is unbelievably cool.

It’s taken me this long to realise something fundamental about the connected society that hadn’t occurred to me until now.

All the learning of all the world’s experts is a click or two away from my screen – and in a few short minutes, I benefit from the wisdom and experience of others in a tiny fraction of the time it has taken for them to learn their craft, just by following their electronic lead.

See, I’ve had this hunger to learn for as long as I can remember, and up until recently I’ve been pretty good at keeping that part of my personality under wraps – for many (stupid) reasons. But the realisation that I can learn how to do stuff online  has awakened in me an unapologetic and glorious need to absorb all I can about the world and all its contents.

I drew inspiration from those I met in the maker community (an incredible group of inquisitive and adept self-starters) to see whether I, too, could join the ranks of ‘people who can’ – hence the TV feature I created for BBC Click recently.

(Can’t see the link? Click here)

I loved making this feature – partly because the people involved are all incredibly passionate about what they do – like Raspberry Pi’s Eben and Liz Upton, Ben from Phenoptix and the wonderful people at the London and Nottingham Hackspaces. That remarkable optimism and ‘can do’ attitude that permeated the feel of this piece was infectious enough to inspire me to share my music more widely. Scary but I’m guessing worth it.

Observant subscribers will notice I’ve also changed the name of my blog after many years away from Geek Chic. Now that’s a whole other post, which I’m in the process of writing – but in the interim, I’d just like to say hello to you, new subscribers, how lovely to meet you and thanks for wandering by and subscribing.

Meantime, if you would like to pop by my new site, feel free. And do tell me what you like about it, though please remember I am most emphatically NOT a web designer, just an amateur with an enthusiastic joy of learning, a penchant for searching error messages, and a recently renewed sense of optimism. I might even get around to fixing that typeface.

incredible view of spiral staircase

New Broadcasting House 2012

This morning, we were given a tour of New Broadcasting House – this time there’s a lot more of the soft furnishings and design elements in.

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Above is a slideshow which contains the old photos from a year ago as well as the new ones taken today. And below is a gallery for those of you in a hurry!

More info for those interested:

you can't see how crowded it is in this pic....

Niche Tech at CES 2012

you can't see how crowded it is in this pic....

Innovations at CES Unveiled 2012

A mere 3 hours after my plane landed, I squeezed into 2012’s CES Unveiled Exhibition : the show before the Show, as it were. In fact, the word ‘squeezed’ might be too understated; the place was utterly rammed with jetlagged journos hungry for good food and good stories.

A chap got his wristwatch caught in my rucksack! Cue awkward but funny unentangling

The CES Unveiled Zoo

This year’s theme focused more on household tech rather than ‘bling’ toys.  A cleverly designed flat plug which gives wall outlets USB charging facility prompted me to wonder why it wasn’t done before. Another retailer a few metres away had a slightly different, cleverly designed flat plug which did the same thing.

If the Unveiled show was the precursor to CES 2012 proper, then niche-tech i.e. ‘doing one thing well’ looks to be next on our consumer tech lust list. Take Qooq, for example – a recipe-centric tablet. (More info on Qooq from Cnet)

actually, the spicy ahi tuna sushi was lovely.

Qooq Recipe Tablet with plates

It plays movies and music, like a lot of the other tablets on the market. But its makers have stuffed the tablet full of High Definition video of ‘gourmet chefs cooking stuff’, and made it more rugged, i.e. ‘kitchen-friendly’. $399 gets you around 3,000 chef-demonstrated recipes, sitting atop a Linux-based OS. The tablet’s been around since 2009, and already sold over 15,000 units in its native France. Further recipes can be streamed from the internet (for a subscription, of course).

Bodymedia's FIT kit.

Heart-rate monitors, pedometers and other body-sensing kit has been around for a while. For a TV feature a few years back   for the BBC, I wore a then-new device from Bodymedia that measured calorie burn-rate. At the time, I had to download my device manually every few days. But the 2012 reboot uses the owner’s smartphone to update results in real time on the web. And, like the designer USB wall plug, competitors aren’t far behind, with another company showing a similar device.

Zensorium's Tinke

Another sensor, Tinke, comes from Zensorium – plugged into an iPhone, it takes your pulse and measures oxygen saturation and respiration levels. Fitness console games have proved there is a market in this area – and the makers are keen to ‘upsell’ the lifestyle aspect of tech like this. Of course it tracks your progress, and gives you the option to compare your score with other users.

Bikn's Tag

Treehouse Labs, a wireless sensor company, showed Bikn (pronounced ‘Beacon’).  Remember those old keyrings you had to whistle to find? The modern version uses an app and custom-made iPhone case to trace tagged precious items to within 30 metres or so – a  small but significant move toward the inevitable ‘Internet of Things’ that everyone keeps talking about.

What do I think these devices have in common?

Most of these devices focus on just one thing, and base it on something else’s power. The USB Charger uses existing wall sockets, the cooking tablet plugs into the net, the body-sensing and tagging devices tap into the processing power of a smartphone. Each product stands a chance of being successful in the market place because it fulfils a specific need that our ‘do everything’ smartphones can’t quite manage yet. Specialist add-on gadgetry is emerging.

7 Must-Have attributes to make your video watchable

What Works on Youtube?


to make your video watchable

(using viewing figures as a measure of success)


- feel free to add to my Completely Unscientific Taxonomy of YouTube Popularity. I started this a while back, and never got around to publishing it until now…

NOTE: Vids with More than one attribute are even more watchable.

NOTE: Yes, I’ve probably missed some good ones…

  1. Unusual content – people, machines or animals doing something unexpected:
    Wedding parties dancing down the aisle, cat standing up on 2 feet, finch perfectly imitating construction workers
    are all great examples of this.
  2. Shocking or surprising or slapstick – mainly people falling over, or reacting to predictably shocking stimuli, such as scaring someone with a fake head. Extra points for pride before a fall. In fact, a lot of failblog videos have a slapstick element like Dance Fail.
    Corollary: Also pointworthy is the “Nelson Munce Haa-Haar”  factor i.e. joy at the misfortune of others.  Although in the case of Drunk Kitty there is a caveat: You can’t feel too bad about laughing, otherwise it cancels out the funny.
  3. Feelgood / cute factor – baby animals / kids being adorable – most people respond positively to cute in real life, it’s no surprise that enough people looking at the same things online.
    Corollary: In the case of David After Dentist, and Charlie Bit My Finger, these have elements of point 1 and point 2 about them too. For cats, there is also appeal in them displaying human attributes such as Cat Fixes Printer or yet again Standing Cat (original version)

  4. Mass  Participation – getting a bunch of  people to do something at the same time -  prisoners dancing to thriller, and improv everywhere’s frozen in grand central are both good  examples of the genre.  I think the appreciation of the effort involved is part of why this works.

  5. Incredible Talent or Effort in makingchat roulette piano guy and Lego Matrix fairly represent this section, although there are so many others who can go into this category.
  6. Bright lightsextreme sheep LED Art – at the time of writing, Leamington Spa nightclub has only been up for a couple of weeks and is at 100,000 mark already. UPDATE it’s now at over 500,000 views.

  7. Watchability – We are impatient beings – and watching something 6 minutes long on the internet is like watching a 30 minute programme on the telly.  Evolution of dance  works because it’s instructive, nostalgic, well-structured and funny – even if the video quality ain’t that great, we’re happy to watch it because it gives us so many other reasons to do so. The recent phenomenon of Fenton the Dog chasing deer in London’s Richmond Park now has over 3,000,000 views at the time of writing.****

A word on Repeat Viewing Potential – most of these videos are easy to watch more than once. In the case of Nyan Cat, Fenton the Dog and countless others, they stand up to more than just repeat viewing, for whatever reason.  What’s particularly interesting is that some of these videos generate re-mixes and inspire interactive participation.

For more on these, pop over to the BBC’s website here to watch “The Stuff that Memes Are Made Of“, where Joel Veitch and I attempt to make a meme out of a squirrel.