Twitchhiker | Paul Smith's travel tales from here and there

The Shorty Awards – a very good night (and day) in NYC
04/03/2010, 19:27
Filed under: travel, twitchhiker project | Tags: , ,

So the Twitchhiker project won a Shorty Award! It’s very nice and shiny. Best of all, even though I stopped out til 4.30 this morning, which culminated in necking shots with a former Navy Seal who did three tours in Vietnam, the award is intact. No chips, no cracks, base still attached. Result.

I met plenty of brilliant people last night, the highlights being shaking hands with Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, and having a beer with Janis Krums, who helped push Twitter in the mainstream with a single photo. I also got to meet my fellow finalists, including @newyorkology – one of the finest Twitter users out there (and Amy’s website is pretty cool, too). The company was great, the bar was free. Perfect.

If you voted, thank you. If you supported the Twitchhiker project last year – whether you followed from afar, provided words of encouragement, offered to put me up on your sofa, shouted me a beer, drove me from here to there – then this really is your award, because it simply wouldn’t have happened without your involvement.

So to summarise: I’m in New York, I have no hangover, the award is in one piece and Stephen Fry has been in touch. Not the best day of my life, but a very good one.


Let’s wish the world a happy new year with AudioBoo
30/12/2009, 14:53
Filed under: other | Tags: , , ,

Obviously it’s New Year’s Eve tomorrow, but New Year’s Day begins in less than 24 hours if you happen to live in New Zealand and the like.

It’d be fun to record New Year messages to other Twitter users as 2010 begins, from wherever we happen to be in the world. We now have the tools to join together and spread a little goodwill and connect with one another, and that alone seems like a good reason to try it. Plus, we’d hear accents from all corners of the globe, the parties, music, fireworks – or maybe perfect calm as somebody sees in the new year alone – and we’d capture and share a moment that unites everyone.

If you want to join in, it’s really easy. Assuming you’re already on Twitter, here’s what you need to do:

First, take a look at – it’s an outrageously simple way of recording short clips of audio (“boos”) and posting them direct to Twitter. I’ve used AudioBoo loads – it’s brilliant for recording sounds and interviews on the move. Get registered (that’s easy too) and you’re almost set.

Then decide how you want to record your new year message to the world. There a free app for iPhone users (search for AudioBoo) but anybody with a mobile can record a boo, too – see the instructions for PhoneBoo here. Alternatively, if you’re at home and there’s a computer nearby you can upload audio straight to the AudioBoo site (assuming your PC or laptop has a mic).

When you give your boo a title, say where it was recorded and add the hashtag #newyearboo so people can search for and find your message.

And that’s it! No doubt the mobile networks will fall over at midnight, so if you do record a boo on your iPhone, it might be worth hanging onto it for half an hour before attempting to send – you can close the AudioBoo application down and it’ll keep the last recording you made.

Hope you take part – even if you’re a little squiffy and miss midnight, send a message later and wish the world a happy new year.

Order, disorder – coming out about bipolar
01/11/2009, 11:23
Filed under: comment | Tags: , , ,

I really don’t have to write this post. Really. And to be perfectly honest with you, I’m not sure why I am. The topic certainly has no place on a travel blog, and it has the potential to do me more harm than good. Then again, that’s rarely stopped me from opening my mouth before inserting both feet. Continue reading

What are Feats of Tweet?
16/07/2009, 22:01
Filed under: twitchhiker project | Tags: , ,

Twitchhiker - stranded abroad, but in a good way

There are worse places to be stranded in the world than here. Not that I’m actually stranded, but merely presented with the illusion of being so. This is because the only sign of life is a supermarket a mile to the east, there’s no pub within walking distance and the nearest town is half a day away, but only if you ignored the advice that suggested CAR HIRE IS ESSENTIAL. I could call a taxi anytime I like. I think.

I’m staying in a gated resort, stuffed full of private villas and apartments, most of them deserted right now. Regardless, the pool is immaculate, the temperature’s high and the sky is a piercing sunshine blue. The halcyon blend of factor 20, backstroke and sangria, away from the distractions of my dining room office, has led me to calmly consider two decisions concerning what happens next between Twitter and I.

First, there’s Twitchhiker. It was a very dear experience, to me and plenty of others, but I almost ruined that by forcing through another idea that really didn’t make sense.

I still find myself travelling plenty, I’ve an appetite to do so even more since March, and I’d like to gather all my thoughts, photos and writing together as I skip naively along the way. So the plan is for the Twitchhiker blog to get a new lick of paint, keeping all the material from the March trip and adding new posts whenever I happen to stray somewhere interesting. It’ll become more of a travelogue than just a holding page for the jaunt to New Zealand.

I’ve also agreed to take part in a project to promote the North East of England. It’s been my home for nearly all my life, so I’m looking forward to exploring all the nooks and crannies of somewhere I like to think I know well. They apparently want me to try out extreme activities; I’m afraid of heights and not brilliant in water, so I suspect I’ll be hanging from rock faces and diving in the North Sea. Gah. I’ll probably post updates through @twitchhiker, because after travelling around the world I’d like to share my place in it with everyone else.

The bottom line is I won’t personally be dreaming up another project to try and move the story on. As I tug on a second can of Amstel and reluctantly take my MacBook indoors to evade an aerial onslaught of black winged things, I really don’t think Twitchhiker is shouting for a sequel.

So onto that second decision.

I mentioned in recent entries that I’d had another idea. As with Twitchhiker, I tested the idea on the same small handful of trusted tweeps, but despite a unanimous seal of approval I hesitated in setting to work on it. What concerned me was losing my life to another project, especially a project that had no fixed end date. I didn’t want to jeopardise my writing career again, and blah blah blah. All of that doesn’t matter now, because while I wasn’t sure initially, I now believe it can work. And if it works, the sort of project it is means there’ll be plenty of people to help me. I also get to stay at home this time, which will hopefully lessen the probability of divorce.

While it makes sense to simply use the @twitchhiker account for this project, it has to live or die on it’s own merits. So there’s a new Twitter account I’d like you to follow, and I’d like you to ask your followers to follow, too. It’s called:


Over the coming weeks there’ll be a new website, chocked full with blurb about what Feats Of Tweet is and how it’ll work. The project itself will hopefully launch in September, once there are enough followers behind it. Between now and then I’ll be asking for some help too – as you’ll have noticed I’m not a graphic designer or a web developer by trade, and I could do with a hand in the PR department too.

Sorry for not giving much away right now, but very soon the information will be coming thick and fast. Thick, at least. If you have a moment, follow the account and lets see what happens. It should be fun.

Connecting with O2 Litmus
27/02/2009, 06:45
Filed under: twitchhiker project | Tags: , , ,

If I’m honest with you, I’m quietly surprised more hasn’t gone wrong so far. Aside from missing out on a handful of inoculations, everything seems to be in order. Of course, the fact that I’ve mentioned this state of affairs out loud means I can expect a multi-pack of whoop-ass scenario to explode in my vicinity.

There are one or two decidedly important matters that should have received some/more attention before I attempted this. I hadn’t considered how I would get home once I’d succeeded or failed in my attempt. I still don’t know, so I may contribute to a country’s illegal immigrant headcount from April. My apologies in advance. I wasn’t sure how I would afford to feed myself or afford anything else I needed in an emergency; there’s no spare savings account waiting to be picked at in times of need. The good news is being couriered from New Zealand as I type. More on that soon.

More significantly, I’d no idea how I could stay in touch by Twitter for a full month while abroad. I’d reasoned that if I was staying with Twitter users then I’d always have internet access, and I’d be travelling between towns and cities with internet cafes. But what about when I couldn’t get online, when I needed to jump onto Twitter to look for a last minute offer? What about sending Twitpics of my journey and staying in touch with my family and the media? International roaming charges would rape and pillage my bank account, and my battered Nokia N73 was already screaming for the last rites to be performed.

Ten days ago I sent a tweet asking if anybody would be able to help me. The first feedback I received was from @shepy, who had approached a friend working at Vodaphone; they’d refused to entertain the idea because there was “too much scope for abuse”. I may have been a little upset at the insinuation.

Fortunately,@jonxyz had also seen my plea and suggested I message @jamesparton. James is the head of O2 Litmus, a new web-based platform for the development of new mobile applications, designed to allow mobile developers to collaborate with users on new projects that benefit both the customer and the operator.

Twitchhiker - O2 Litmus

On Wednesday during a conference call with James and @benrmatthews at Hotwire PR, the deal was struck; aside from a handset and enough data to see me through my travels, James will be supplying me with new applications from O2 Litmus to try out along the way.

Unfortunately, O2 Litmus cannot magic sausage rolls out of thin air or grant me the power of flight upon command. If you’re the managing director of Greggs or David Copperfied, I’m waiting for your call. Obviously, I’d like the managing director of Greggs to provide the sausage rolls and Coppoerfield to make with the flying trick – although the other way around would be altogether more interesting.

The list
14/02/2009, 08:56
Filed under: twitchhiker project | Tags: ,

The heating clicked into life at 5am and stirred me awake from a dream about owls. I did plan to tweet hello to the world and see what folk were up to. Twitter however, had other plans:

Twtichhiker - Twitter FAIL. Gah.

Oh dear. That’s the second time in two days I’ve seen Twitter go down for an hour’s maintenance. I’m hoping my three day window for forward-planning will mean these blackouts won’t affect me, but I’d hate to miss a last-minute opportunity.

Since then I’ve written a bunch of pitches, made three rounds of coffee, caught up with The Daily Show and hid in the bath. There seems little procrastination left within me. I need to write this damned to-do list or I’ll be lynched by all concerned.

Reading through people’s comments, I think a small percentage of tweeps are reading the word “twitchhiking” but hearing “hitchhiking”. I’m hoping there’ll be little or no need to thrust my thumb into the air as car drivers busy themselves averting direct eye contact; my thumb will be entirely dedicated to updating Twitter by phone. That’s the point of this experiment. It’s not backpacking with Twitter thrown in to drum up interest; it’s all about Twitter, travelling with the help of the community that embraces it. If you’re a fan of Douglas Adams, Twitter is my real life Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic; I’ll be hitching my way electronically.

Items I won’t be taking with me include: a couple of good books (suggested by Paul Richardson – I’d love to, but there won’t be enough hours in the days); floss (from Jen – seriously?) and a “hacky sack” (thank you Andy). I don’t think I’ll be so far off the grid I’ll require water purification tablets and I’m not entirely convinced I’ll need a tent; again, I’m relying on the kindness of tweeps to see I don’t go without a roof over my head. You might be rolling your eyes at this seemingly blasé attitude, but that’s what this trip is all about.

So here’s the list as it stands, aside from clothing; I’m a big boy now and hoping I can manage that myself. Some hot stuff, some cold stuff, some clean pants. Nailed it. Thanks to everyone for their suggestions; I’ve acknowledged a handful of those who contributed, specifically those of you who suggested items I hadn’t considered:

  • Passport / driver’s licence
  • Paper copies of documents @itybtyctykty
  • US currency
  • Passport photos
  • MacBook (to back up before travel)
  • Power leads and adaptors
  • Camera / video camera / something or another
  • Mobile phone for tweeting / photos / video uploading shenanigans
  • Very generous international roaming tariff to allow said tweeting / photos / video uploading shenanigans
  • Tent / sleeping bag / ground mat / bivi bag? Conor Roche
  • Rucksack
  • Sunblock (please, let me reach a country where I need sunblock) Jen
  • Earplugs @weirdsis
  • Plastic bags to keep electronics in @weirdsis

And decisions / appointments that needed to be made yesterday:

  • Decide how and where I’ll record the trip, beside this blog and Twitter: where should I post photo and video?
  • Upgrade my mobile and try and find a sponsor / donor for the international roaming
  • Sort out any pre-paid internet access up-front; I have my Three broadband dongle which will see me right in partner countries in Europe. @paulcarr uses Boingo on his travels, and I’m sure that I’ll be able to grab wi-fi and online access from those I meet.
  • Devise a back-up plan in case something goes horribly wrong (already working on that)
  • Have some clue as to how I’ll get home, wherever I end up (currently no currently whatsoever)
  • Arrange an appointment with the sadistic bastard that is my dentist @simonklaiber
  • Call the nurse. Quickly.

Let me know what you think. I’m sure some of you will disagree wildly on specific points or even my expectations of the Twitter community, but it’s best I hear them before I hit the road.

What is Twitter? (clue – it’s not Facebook)n
07/02/2009, 18:56
Filed under: twitchhiker project | Tags: , , , ,

This morning’s interview with Phantom 105.2 left me feeling a little frustrated. Twitter is something I’m a massive advocate of, so I’m always disappointed to hear it described as another Facebook-style “fad”.

I was the second guest on the show, there to explain what Twitchhiker is, but the conversation that pre-empted me effectively summed up Twitter as a something to tell people what you had for tea. No wonder people think I’m a nutjob for attempting this:

“I’m going to Campbell Island near the Antarctic circle!”

“Well I’ve just had a creamy chicken tikka masala for tea. Have fun!”

“Er. Aren’t you going to help me cross oceans and stuff?”

“Would you like a poppadom?”

As far as the UK is concerned (I’m not sure what the situation is in other countries, but I’d love to hear) Twitter is going mainstream in a fury right now. The two key factors have been the prominence of Stephen Fry on Twitter, and the suspension of presenter Jonathan Ross from the BBC; Ross’ lack of profile during his suspension led several tabloids to create sensational stories out of his throwaway tweets, inadvertently creating national press coverage for Twitter. When Fry discussed Twitter with Ross on his first TV chat show following his suspension, the UK went ape-shit for it.

The problem is that, aside from a handful of exceptions, the mainstream media hadn’t entirely cottoned onto Twitter either. They were, and still are reporting on a phenomenon they don’t quite understand themselves, which is why whenever there’s an attempt to describe Twitter, a comparison is invariably made to a well-established social media network like Facebook.

Twitter isn’t Facebook. You can use it to provide status updates, like Facebook. But that’s where all similarities end. The two are as different as chalk and Chesterfield.

Plenty of very new users are following @twitchhiker; a quick glance at their profile tends to show they’re following plenty of famous people, they have very few people following them, they’re still testing the water with teatime-style updates and their first tweet is something of the lines of: “Trying to figure out how to use Twitter.” For example:




My worry is that having been sold this unmissable new craze, the masses will denounce it as the Emperor’s new clothes. It can take weeks, even months for Twitter to click; it took me nearly a year of dipping in and out of it before I twigged. So I’ve been giving a lot of thought to helping new users quickly understand the potential of Twitter, and that’ll most likely be my next blog post, as I continue to avoid more pertinent questions such as “once you get wherever you’re going, how are you going to get back home?” and “aren’t you afraid somebody will murder you?”.

To be fair, Twitter is a tricky sell when Twitter themselves don’t explain it very well. No wonder the media think its sole purpose is to report what mundane mealtime choices when the the homepage states: “Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?”

That statement might be tidy, but nobody I know uses Twitter in that manner. The service has the potential to be so much more, but then it’d be arrogant to say it should be used in a particular way. So this lunchtime (I had bacon sandwiches, since you’re asking) I asked followers of @twitchhiker to describe what Twitter is and what it means to them. In 140 characters or less, naturally. My contribution was:

@twitchhiker: Twitter is a room full of strangers. Talk just to your friends and you’ll leave the party early. Mingle, and you’ll learn, share and grow.

As you read on, three points become abundantly clear; everyone uses Twitter in their own way; it is what you make it; it’s not bloody Facebook. Continue reading