Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Glad Notes: A Play, a Pie, and a Pint

Next week, on March 6th, the Society Hill Playhouse here in Philadelphia will be launching their third season of A Play, A Pie and A Pint. This is a casual dinnertime theater special for just $15, where theater-goers enjoy an original short play, along with a choice of beverage and a slice of pie.

This tasty theatrical treat actually originated in 2004, in my old stomping ground at the Oran Mor, a beautiful pub and arts/events space in Glasgow, Scotland, just a stone's throw from my student apartment and campus. It was often the perfect for satiating my appetite for culture and pies, while appeasing my student budget.

Play/Pie/Pint is a sneeky, ingenious way to encourage non-traditional audiences to try out a trip to the theater and boost income for the arts. In Scotland they run matinees for the lunch-time crowd, so we'd catch a cheeky wee pint, lunch and a bit o'culture between lectures. Seeing a Philly incarnation amused me a lot!

Just one caveat: In the UK, pie means meat wrapped in pastry. Here in Philly it refers to a slice of pizza. I hope the quality of the beer and theater is universal though, because Philadelphia has some great beer and an excellent craft brewing scene, and fantastic arts and cultural scene. I look forward to trying it out!

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Sunday Supplements (and Sunday puppy too)

She's obviously looking at cheese. Does your dog love cheese?



The Hunger Games (again) - Far less political than the book(s) but I still enjoy it.

The Oscars…? - I'm not sure I'll be watching tonight, but I'm just going to leave this Tweet from July here…


Urb-Ex photos of an abandoned Chinese theme park - One thing you should know about me is that I simply love photos of urban decay and urban exploration. I once lost a whole weekend to looking at photos of abandoned Japanese theme parks - Japan seemed to go theme park crazy during the economic boom and there are a whole host of empty parks in strange, remote places. These photos are from a place in Florida that blogger Yelle took.

Urb-Ex photos of an abandoned hospital near Philadelphia - This Philly local posts one photo a day on his Tumblr. Here's another from this week of a church mid-demolition.


Living in Harmony with your contradictions - a wonderfully honest piece by blogger Betsy, which resulted in some great comments/discussion.

With no shortcut to Green Card, gay couples leave the US - some US States may now allow gay marriage, but without federal recognition there's no immigration status for same-sex spouses. Additionally, the couple mentioned in the article moved to the UK before the new UK immigration rules came into force. Any later and they could have been stuck between the two countries.

Arianna Huffington renames Millennial generation as 'generation stressed' - As a millennial in the USA right now, I see Arianna's point, but we're not the only generation to have lived in a time of high unemployment or unrest. Arianna again makes her point about the need for good sleep, which I saw her make at the PA Women's Conference last year, and also before that in her short TED talk.

College Degree Becomes New High School Diploma - Just another article highlighting the difficulties millennials are facing. Can someone smarter than me tell me if US education loans could lead to another credit crunch?

and finally…
How I got my body ready for the Oscars - Ordinary person preps body for red carpet ceremony. Very interesting, very funny and very inspiring! These people look perfect because that's their full time job.

Tell me what you've been reading and looking at this week!

Friday, 22 February 2013

Five UK shows I wish BBC America would broadcast

Me petitioning the BBC to show more programs in the USA (actually I was working and that didn't cross my mind, sadly).
I do love American television. I really do. There's just something so garish and gluttonous and appealing about it. Watching US TV is like going for a sneaky midnight drive-thru meal: It's so wrong it's just perfectly right.

But sometimes I miss the hearty, reliable stodge of Old Blighty's television. I miss smooth deadpan voiceovers and useful signals that commercials are going to begin. 

BBC America is there for those moments, but only sometimes. It's catered more to the American Anglophile rather than to the British expat market, and is filled with Dr Who and Top Gear re-runs.

Here are five shows that are quintessentially British, and that I think BBC America would do well to show. Not only because I want to watch them myself, but also because I think Americans would get a kick out of them.

1. Come Dine With Me


Premise: Complete strangers host dinner parties for each other. They judge and rate each other's evenings, and at the end of the week the winner takes home a thousand bucks.

This daytime TV format turned prime-time hit has all the elements of British society. 

First, it's like a disastrous cooking show with amusingly amateurish results. Secondly, it has that keyhole voyeurism we all enjoy from the likes of house-buying shows and MTV's Cribs. Third, it has a competitive element and, of course, a supremely sarcastic voice-over. 

My American Mom-In-Law loves it. BBC America actually used to show it, but then stopped for seemingly no reason. Perhaps Americans couldn't believe how terrible Brits are at cooking, or why we have an obsession with poking around in other people's wardrobes. Either way, America has about thirty seasons to catch up on by now. Shame.

2. The Great British Bake Off

Premise: Talented, lovely, chipper Brits prepare baked goods in a marquee on the grounds of an English stately home. It is exactly as twee as it sounds.

Mark and I tried the infamous eight plait bread from the latest series of Great British Bake Off. We were quite proud!
Not quite up to Paul Hollywood's standards though.
The Great British Bake-Off was a surprise hit in the UK because it captured a zeitgeist for patriotic escakeism. It is the complete antithesis to every competitive cooking program on American television.

Unlike Cupcake Wars or Cake Boss, Bake Off is understated and charming. The competitors are all nice. Two baking pros, a formidable bread-master and an exacting cake lady, interact with a female comedy presenting duo for a lilting cookery show that, surprisingly, oozes with subtle innuendo.

Late last year US channel CBS ordered an American series of Bake Off, although the women's institution that is Mary Berry already announced that she would not be involved. I'm very excited, but also intrigued to see if the charming and gentile format will translate well to this brash and proud country. Regardless, I hope whoopie pies are involved.

3. Coronation St


Premise: Working class people living on a cobbled street in Northern England work in an underwear factory, go to the pub and have marital affairs. Almost every day. For over fifty years. It's The longest television soap in the world.

The whining drone of the theme tune was the punctuation to my evening since I was very young. I grew up on a diet of soap operas at dinner.  My undergrad dissertation supervisor even had a PhD in Corrie.

If you've never seen it before, take a look at this classic scene where a young character advises an old neighbor on how to get rid of the weeds in his paved back yard. It's that perfect balance of voyeurism, banality and jovial innuendo that makes the show, along with irresistably trashy yet brilliant story writing.

It saddened me that emigrating meant I would have to resort to nefarious means of accessing my daily fix of this domestic drama. The great news is that Hulu started streaming the show on a two week delay just last month, but I still think BBC America should syndicate the show for the expat market.
This is actually Valley Forge and nothing to do with Coronation St

4.  Have I Got News For You / 8 Out of 10 Cats


Premise: Well known public figures and comedians sit at a large desk for a weekly quiz, and make timely quips about the news, providing large helpings of off-the-cuff sarcasm and political cynicism.


The USA has its own attempts at political satire, sure. The Daily Show (and its spin-off The Colbert Report) are decent, and many Brits actually watch the international editions. Stewart and Colbert satirize the format and sensationalism of most US cable news shows: One person, one desk, lashings of hyperbole and caustic humor based on the strangest political truths.

It doesn't quite compare to the rigors of political satire in the UK though, where politicians are invited to get mercilessly mocked by some of Britain's brightest comedic minds. Occasionally the presenters themselves get embroiled in news stories and become the brunt of the unrelenting punchlines.
The skill of these shows is making the humor seem unrehearsed and almost throw-away. This is what makes them so British. HIGNFY excels at this, but Cats has a special place in my heart because I worked on the show (where I got to work with the charming Jimmy Carr and meet the legendary David Hasselhoff).

5. Blue Peter / Newsround


Premise: One is a magazine show about making popular items from toilet paper tubes; the other is the most trusted and cogent news source in the UK. Both are kids' shows.


Here's one I made earlier…The famous Thunderbird Tracy Island craft make is on display at the BBC Television Centre.
What will happen to it when the BBC moves out of the building?
Blue Peter is like the Scouts for coach potatoes, complete with badges. It's also the world's longest running childrens' TV show, featuring a mishmash of celebrity culture, sports and activities, fundraising appeals and arts and crafts.

The show has had some defining moments: making a popular toy (the Thunderbird island above) out of paper mache and soft cheese containers; having a baby elephant poo in a studio live on TV; and breaking the news to young viewers that the goldfish in the studio garden were killed after drunken soccer players broke in.

Newsround is not Aaron Sorkin's latest HBO drama; it's a long running news broadcast specifically for children. It's one of the best news shows on television due to the BBC's remit for balanced reporting and its ability to simplify complex news stories. Perhaps Sorkin's Newsroom would have been more entertaining if it had been about a kids' news show instead.

Kids in the UK graduate from Sesame St and progress onto Blue Peter and Newsround before becoming sensible, civic-minded citizens. Or at least they used to before the Disney Channel became more popular. Kids just aren't into toilet tubes like they used to be.

Fun Fact: There's a video in existence of myself interviewing the current Newsround newscaster, the lovely Ore Orduba, while he pretends to be Jessica Alba. No - you ain't ever gonna see it.

What are your favorite UK TV shows? Do any of these sound more appealing than Sherlock and Downtown Abbey?

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Do you blog? If so, you need to read this.

On Sunday I posted a link to an open letter to Maria Popova, curator of the popular Brain Pickings blog. This letter accused Popova of claiming her blog was 'ad-free' when in fact, it wasn't.

Whether you're a fan of her site or not, if you have your own blog this is an important story to learn from. Here I explain how blogs work, why you should be aware of blogging disclaimers and how best to disclose advertising to your readers.

What is blogging?


Blogging has become a huge genre in of itself, and although it's not strictly journalism, the lines between the two mediums are becoming much fuzzier. There are, in essence, two types of blog:

1. Original content blog

Totally new content created with the aim of people reading/watching it and sharing it with others.

Examples include Fairy Tales for Twenty Somethings, and Raspy Wit. The content can be anything - guides to blogging, parenting, personal stories, photos, you get the idea.

2. Curated blog

Content created by other people and shared in one space.

Two really great examples of curated blogs are This Isn't Happiness and Brain Pickings.

There is a third category, and that's a combination of the two styles above. Many lifestyle blogs fit into this category, mixing original content with Pinterest posts, fashion remixes, etc. The news site Huffington Post is also an example of a combination blog, as is economics blog Marginal Revolution.

Huffington Post literally wrote the book on blogging
The mark of a good blog isn't whether the content is original or not - it's the branding, the interestingness, and often the way the blogger connects with their readers.

Brain Pickings works as a curated blog because Popova knows her target audience. And a large target audience is key for making income from a blog.

How can you make money from blogging?


Lifestyle and curated content blogging has become more commercial in the past few years. Just last week Aunie Sauce, a popular lifestyle blog, announced a giveaway with a huge $1500 visa gift card prize for one lucky reader.

As media shifts from print to digital journalists, bloggers, innovators and media moguls are all pondering: How do you make money from publishing stuff online?

There's no one answer, and what works for one blog could fail completely for another. Many blogs use a mix of these methods:

Adverts - Either banner or word based ads placed on the blog by a third party (eg Google Adsense) where the blogger receives a cut of the advertiser's pay-per-click (PPC) costs.

Blog sponsoring - These too are like old-fashioned banner ads, although the blogger is paid by subscription and not on a PPC basis. In lifestyle blogging they are usually less intrusive side-bar ads, often purchased by small stores and fellow bloggers, using a platform such as Passionfruit ads.

Sponsored posts/Advertorials - Either paid-for guest posts written by other bloggers/companies, or written by the blogger about a product or service, where the blogger is paid cash or in kind.

Donations - A 'please donate' button allows reader to pay what they like for the enjoyment of reading their favorite blogs.

Affiliate links - Bloggers link to products/services within their posts and receive a cut of the PPC costs or a cut of whatever the reader buys.

Other ways of making income include giveaways (like Aunie's which requires entrants to follow and tweet about various blogs), tutorials, paid for content, or merchandizing. All of these are legitimate, and there are up and downsides to each.

For example, if a blogger chooses a sponsored post that doesn't fit with their brand there can be negative repercussions. Recently The Atlantic magazine's site featured an advertorial on Scientology. After a backlash, The Atlantic took the post down and announced it was re-evaluating its sponsorship policy.

What The Atlantic did here wasn't wrong, but it miscalculated the response from its readership and ended up backtracking for fear of losing its audience.

So what did Brain Pickings do wrong?


Brain Pickings is a successful blog, and through it Maria Popova solicits donations from readers as well as using affiliate ads within posts.

None of that is wrong.

But she got into a sticky situation by claiming her blog is ad-free. It isn't.

She failed to disclose that the blog is part-funded by affiliate links. So not only did Popova break the trust between blog and reader, she came across as disingenuous by knocking ad-filled journalism, and she also possibly broke the US FTC's guides governing endorsements and testimonials.

Popova argued that because the products she advertised were products she used anyway, it didn't count. But according to FTC guides she should have disclosed that she uses affiliate links. These guides have been updated to cover endorsements on social media and blogging, and state:
…an endorsement means any advertising message …  that consumers are likely to believe reflects the opinions, beliefs, findings, or experiences of a party other than the sponsoring advertiser, even if the views expressed by that party are identical to those of the sponsoring advertiser…
(access the pdf here)
Was this a deliberate ploy to mislead readers who give donations? Or a genuine mistake?  Either way, Popova has responded to criticism and now her blog does have a disclosure at the bottom, which states:
Brain Pickings participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn commissions by linking to Amazon.
Although, on the 'support' section of the site, she still claims Brain Pickings is technically 'ad-free' which I think refers to the presence of banner ads:

Keeping it a clean, ad-free reading experience — which is important to me and, I hope, to you — means it’s subsidized by the generous support of readers like you: directly, through donations, and indirectly, whenever you buy a book on Amazon from a link… 
So what is best practice when trying to make an income from your blog?

Bloggers must be honest with their readers


Be open and honest about where your funding and your content comes from. Simple as that.

The UK blog Money Saving Expert is one of the top 60 UK websites, and has a unique way of finding income, which is explained in full to its readers. Affiliate links are individually marked, so readers can be sure when a company has paid to be featured on the site.

In a completely different example, lifestyle blogger Katherine from Of Corgis and Cocktails is very open that Of Corgis and Cocktails is a 'for profit' blog. She told me:

I believe in honesty. Sure, I would like to make some profit back from the countless hours I put into my blog. I personally don't ask for direct donations as I don't feel it would be fair - I want to give something back to the person, like a sponsored post or ad on my sidebar.

Katherine is very explicit in disclosing how her blog makes an income:
I have a permanent location for my disclosure that is mentioned at the end of any post that was sponsored and also easily located at the bottom of my blog.

My biggest thing is that I work with affiliates - meaning if you are going to shop at a store, say Amazon, and you click a link on my blog to get there, I'll get a portion of the sale. You pay for a product you wanted anyway and maybe even found because I wore it in an outfit post or used the product, and I get a maybe 5% back from the company. My readers don't pay extra, but it's a nice way to help out, and I want them to know that!
 Katherine was also quick to mention the FTC guides and advised that disclosure wording is available for free online. She also highlighted that:

…it's important to mention because it is the law, and also because the companies you are working with require and need it to protect themselves as well. If you don't disclose properly, you could end potential great relationships with companies you love…

Trust is a funny thing online, but you can do your best to gain it by being open about who and what you are working with. Otherwise, you gain a large amount of disdain and distrust…
If you make an income from your blog, think carefully about how you'll disclose it to your readers.

The FTC guides state that they don't actively monitor blogs, and there is no fine for not having adequate disclosure. However, as highlighted by the Brain Pickings blog, not disclosing your relationship with advertisers can badly affect your relationship with readers - and in blogging, that's the last thing you want.

If you want to read more about this, I recommend Felix Salmon's op-ed on Brain Pickings, and Kelly Fairclough's coverage of the issue. 

As far as this blog goes, I know my 'support' section has been 'coming soon' for a long time and this is something I've learned from too. I can't claim to be ad-free, but I don't get paid if you click any link within my posts and I don't charge for blog buttons/button swaps. That's because I'm still deciding how best to monetize my blog beyond Google ads - if at all. If I do, you can be sure that you'll be the first to find out. 

Tomorrow is also the third annual TAO Journalism pledge day - this is a pledge for transparent, accountable and open journalism. If you're a blogger or journalist have a look and maybe even consider signing it.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Sunday Supplements (and Sunday puppy too)

Sunday's sleeping puppy
Here's what we've been up to this week…



The State of the Union - A US democratic tradition, although to be fair, I was also paying a lot of attention to the Tweets and commentary. #nerdsuperbowl



Byker in the 1970s - For Brits in my generation Byker Grove was a cheesy kids show set in Northern English neighborhood. But these photos of Byker are a phenomenal peek into working class England, and are on display in New York until May.

Cough Syrup from 100 years ago -  Yeah, that would do the trick.



My day in Parliament - Recently I was invited to attend a session at the UK Parliament on the new UK immigration rules. For obvious reasons, I couldn't attend. Luckily however this attendee wrote an excellent account of the meeting. I promised I'd keep you up to date on this investigation.

The Artistic Rebuttal Project - This Philadelphia-based project is full of personal accounts of why the arts are so important. Nobody needs to defend the arts to me, I'm convinced already, but I love this concept.

Louise Mensch's fashion blog - Louse Mensch is a former UK Member of Parliament, a romance novelist, and now it seems she's giving fashion blogging a go. I'm actually not quite sure what to make of Ms Mensch, or this blog. Thoughts?

An anonymous letter to Maria Popova - Maria Popova curates the popular curiosity blog Brain Pickings. This week it was revealed that her 'ad-free' blog is full of affiliate ads. If you're a blogger, big or small, this is an important conversation to follow. I'm going to talk a lot more about this, so watch this space!

What have you imbibed this week? Let me know or link to your own Sunday round-ups - I love being introduced to articles and images that I overlooked.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Thriftbag Thursday

Take a dull February day, a dull background, and a dull outfit. Add a camera and some different techniques and see just how the photos can vary, no matter how dull the set-up!

These two photos came straight out of the camera. In the second one I shifted the color brackets. Which one do you think pops out more?

Jumper/Sweater: Thrifted
Another $4 gem

Tights: I have no idea.

Skirt: Old Navy
Ancient, just ancient.

Coat: House of Fraser (UK)

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Glad Notes: The musical fruit

Have Americans really never heard of beans on toast? 

Recently a good friend of mine asked me if this Reddit thread was based in truth. It kind of is, and kind of isn't. America has beans, and America has toast, but beans on toast? Not so much. But that's because there are some subtle differences between the US and UK concept of beans.

I'm not a UK baked beans fan. I don't like the orange sweet tomato sauce - so much so that the sight of beans irks me out. In the UK beans on toast is 1. A breakfast item and/or 2. A significant part of  most UK university students' diets. Except me. It was really hard being a student in residences and having to live with other students whose diets consisted almost entirely of beans on toast.

I am a US baked beans fan though - especially BBQ maple bacon beans. The other day I heated a can and poured them over a slice of toast for what I thought would be an acceptable brunch. I may never have eaten beans on toast before, but that's the way I thought it was done. I almost caused a UK-US diplomatic-domestic incident going by my husband's reaction. In the USA beans are part of a dinner meal - a side for corn dogs perhaps.

Here are 17 random facts about beans, beans on toast, and Heinz, which is probably the most well-known bean brand in the UK. I tried to get to 57, but ran out of, er, beans.

1. According to Heinz, the company invented beans on toast in 1927. 

2. Heinz Foods was founded in Pennsylvania in 1869.

3. Pennsylvania is known as 'The Keystone State'.

4. The Pennsylvania Keystone symbol is seen on many Heinz products, including Heinz Beanz and Tomato Ketchup.

5. The first can of Heinz Beanz was sold in the prestigious London department store Fortnum and Mason.

6. Classic Heinz Baked Beanz in tomato sauce is number three of the Heinz 57 Varieties

7. I've been told I have a Heinz 57 accent because it's influenced by so many regions and is very difficult to place.

8. There were more than 60 Heinz Varieties when the marketing phrase Heinz 57 was invented.

9. Beans on toast counts towards your daily vegetable intake. 

10. During WWII the UK Ministry of Food classified baked beans as 'essential'.

11. Baked beans aren't baked, they're stewed.

12. "Old Bean" is a slightly old fashioned term of affection still used in the UK.

13. The French equivalent of "Old Bean" is "Mon Pote" but pote does not mean bean.

14. "Haricot" means "bean" - does that mean a can of haricot beans literally means bean beans?

15. "There is no physiological harm from the flatulence caused by eating beans" - The British Dietetic Association.

16. Sitting in a bath of baked beans is a common fundraising strategy in the UK.

17. The Guinness record for most baked beans eating in five minutes using a cocktail stick is 258.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Sunday, er Monday Supplements!

Hello all! Last week I took a bit of a bloggy/social media break. It is the first time I've done that in a while and it was quite refreshing. Here's what I've been doing lately:


Mulan - Possibly a comletely inappropriate way to acknowledge the Chinese new year. But it did re-enforce my inkling that Disney Princesses are a tough bunch. I loved Brave, not just for its accurate mossy landscapes, but because Merida was the strongest Disney lady yet. I recently read that the Disney princesses of my era (Ariel, Jasmine, Belle) are actually just as strong-willed, contrary to popular stereotype.

I can't remember the article that I read, but instead here's a pinterest pin and a video from Disney that highlights the point. Do you agree? 


Hillary's new website - Nice and simple design! What did you think of the hype?


Will private sales create a public menace? - To a Brit like me, Pennsylvanian liquor licensing is utterly baffling. For a capitalist country to have a governmental alcohol market struck me as very strange. Currently Liquor can only be purchased from state owned stores, but this will soon change and alcohol sales could soon be privatized.

NJ issues first distilling license since 1933 - This is similarly baffling. The State of New Jersey will soon be producing rum!

I'm a 30 year old intern! - This was such a refreshing read! Since moving continent, I've had to take a step back in my career and that's been disappointing and frustrating, even though I knew it was likely to happen. Spousal expats seem to experience this quite often.

Moving country has allowed me time to reflect on my career to date and brush up skills. I've been applying for jobs and internships as well as trying to network online and offline. This blog post and the comments on it emphasizes that if interning is the key to meet and prove to US employers that I'm the super-human they need, then I should go for it.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Happy Superbowl Sunday! As it's my first one in the USA, I've been instructed to watch it all, only use the bathroom during the game (and not the ads) and to eat ribs, wings, and tortillas all day. Go Ravenclaw!
Other than the Superbowl, here's what we've been enjoying in the Gladley House… 


Bones on Netflix - I don't know how it happened, but Mark sneakily got me into this show. Before I even realized it I was watching it with him almost every night. He reckons I appreciate that the protagonist is a socially awkward, overly intelligent brunette.

The OC - I found my season 1 boxset and decided to treat my mother-in-law to a marathon. I was a fresher at university when this show came out, and graduated when it ended. Again, it was one of those shows I was reluctant to watch but got sucked into it by my flatmates. It's very of its time, and I imagine a post-recession OC show would be very different. 


Frozen Wave in Antarctica - unbelievable photos.

London Tube map makeovers - if you read my defense of public transport this week you'll enjoy this!


The all-new British citizenship test - remember when I suggested that the new test should contain questions about tea and Eurovision? Well they didn't listen to me, but it's fun to try anyway. Luckily I got 100%!

Things Brits do that annoy non-Brits - Oh dear! After the initial outrage at being culturally insulted a few times subsided, I found this Reddit discussion really interesting. I'm going to return to this a few times to defend my quirks!

Immigration: You won't like it here - The UK Government realizes that attempts to reduce student and spousal immigration won't reduce UK immigration much without a policy to reduce immigration from the EU. There's little they can do about that…except tell Europeans that Britain isn't worth moving to.

On Immigration, Obama Acts as if he has the Upper Hand - On this side of the pond however, the discussion over immigration is running in an entirely different direction.

Have a great rest of weekend everyone!
Our poochy was disappointed that there were no English bulldogs in this year's Puppy Bowl
No matter who you're rooting for, don't overdo it this Superbowl