The appearance of a Ghost

You may have heard about Ghost, a new blogging platform that focusses purely on blogging. Well, now you're looking at it.

While I still love Wordpress and indeed make most of my income from it, I was a little concerned that my blog's Wordpress install was becoming increasingly bloated and unnecessary. It was also filled with content that I didn't really want in there. Ghost was the perfect excuse to start from scratch.

At the moment Ghost is an install-it-yourself-only proposition, however a few of the more bleeding edge hosting providers such as Digital Ocean are making it easy to setup an install in a few clicks. I'm hosting mine on my Linode (referral link) box along with a few other sites, so I had a bit of manual work to do.

While the default Ghost theme can be beautiful with the right imagery, I decided to knock up my own basic theme with some different typography. It was unsurprisingly easy to do without the loads of pages required for a Wordpress theme (no comments templates, yay!). I call this one Flinders. I thought about sharing or selling it however one of the fonts doesn't allow for redistribution. I may look for alternatives yet.

My first experiences with Ghost have been great. It provides just what I need to write without having to fiddle or tinker. Writing in Markdown is also a treat, and I no longer have to worry about Wordpress' auto-paragraphing and sometimes-weird spacing.

While certainly getting to play with a new toy was my motivation for switching to Ghost, I'm hoping a side-effect is an increased motivation to blog.

Announcing MemberNest

For a while now, whenever I’ve been asked what I’m working on, I have usually been answering with the vague “oh, my own projects.” I can now officially state with slightly less self-doubt what it is that I’ve been working on the past few months. That thing is MemberNest.

While I gave it a teaser launch about a month back (after I finally secured the abandoned domain name), I’m now running an alpha version on the server and am ramping up the testing. I believe it’s at that stage now where all of the key features of version 1 have been built, which always takes longer than expected. There were quite a few realisations along the lines of “Oh, now that I’ve built feature A, it won’t work unless I built features B and C.” But here we are.

So what is MemberNest? MemberNest is an online membership and contact management database designed for small to medium organisations. It stores information about contacts and members (both individuals and other organisations), and handles online payments for renewal fees and new signups (AUD only, at the moment).

There are other products on the market aimed at this purpose. Those targeted to membership-based organisations tend to be ugly, overly complicated and cumbersome. Some are rebadged open source products that lack commonsense. They may be feature rich but often require dedicated staff or expensive consultants to customise and bring value. These products often exist in a world where you can’t see the product without “requesting a demo”. No thanks. I’ve seen organisations quickly embrace more transparent webapps such as MailChimp and EventBrite without the need for sales people and annual commitments.

MemberNest was built differently. It was designed for small to medium sized organisations (not-for-profit, charities, arts, community sector etc.) who don’t have the resources to take control of a complex membership database tool. I built MemberNest with three or four specific organisations in mind. They exists in different industries, even different sectors. Every line of code was written whilst I was asking “How can I reduce the burden to these organisations?”. MemberNest has been built to do the administrative work for you (as much as possible), and leave you to do the core business of the organisation. And of course, there are no setup fees, no “customisation fees” (as there are no customisations) and only a monthly commitment.

One of the biggest difficulties was knowing where to draw the line in the sand for version 1. There’s plenty of startup talk about “minimum viable product”, suggesting that you should be embarrassed about your anaemic initial product but I wanted to be able to have something I could take to organisations and know it would be useful. Even so, the future roadmap is extremely full. I have loads unique features which will reduce the administrational burden on organisations even further, and I’m very excited to get to work on them once this version is patted down.

I don’t have a definite release date yet as I want to give myself time to iron out the bugs and let some beta users loose in it. If you want to know when it goes live to the public, join the mailing list on the MemberNest site. If you are interested in helping with the beta testing, send me an email.

Using NAB Transact with WooCommerce

There's a new e-commerce Wordpress plugin on the scene, WooCommerce, and it's beautiful (inside and out). My first extension has just been approved and gone live in the WooCommerce Store: NAB Transact

NAB Transact with WooCommerce

After installing the extension like a normal Wordpress plugin, you can add your NAB Transact merchant details and process credit card payments directly through NAB. They accept Visa and Mastercard by default, and you can apply separately to have American Express, Diners Club and JCB approval attached to your account.

The extension integrates with the NAB Transact Direct Post mechanism meaning that the credit card details of customers don't touch your site (they're posted directly to NAB over an SSL encrypted connection). That means you get away with having to adhere to complex PCI compliance. You should, however, make sure you've got an SSL certificate on your site. It's not a technical requirement, but NAB will more than likely insist on it and it's just good business.

There's another extension in the works to integrate with the popular SecurePay service. It's complete but just awaiting approval. All going well it should be in next week's release.

Update: I now have a number of WooCommerce payment gateways available: * Pin Payments * Westpac Payway (API and NET) * Merchant Warrior * NAB Transact * SecurePay

They're Playing Our Song

They're Playing Our Song

Usually, at these sort of one-night-only theatrical events, I run into a surprising number of people I know. Due to very little advertising, there were no familiar faces to be seen at the Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne for what appeared to be the first performance of this new touring production of They’re Playing Our Song.

The show, which more-or-less recounts the relationship of real-life composer and lyricist team Marvin Hamlisch (in the show named “Vernon Gersch”) and Carole Bayer Sager (“Sonia Wolsk”) as they pen some pop songs in the 1970s. Husband and wife Scott Irwin and Danielle Barnes play the duo with great chemistry. Irwin is a tense but successfully witty, while Barnes has a manic energy (and even appearance) similar to Margot Kidder in Superman. With a short score (by the subjects themselves), the single-plotted book by Neil Simon takes primary focus, and it can be quite some time between songs. When the songs do occur, they’re wonderful, ranging from the disco title number to the pop ballads of ‘Falling’ and ‘I Still Believe In Love’. Irwin and Barnes far out-sing their original Broadway counterparts (Robert Klein and Lucie Arnaz), and indeed the original Australian cast of 1980 (John Waters and Jacki Weaver). Barnes’ voice perfectly suits the style and her “I Still Believe In Love” is a highlight in the show. Irwin’s voice is probably too good for the character, though I certainly didn’t mind. Of the three cast recordings of They’re Playing Our Song I have, this is the one I wish I had. Although the show is scripted to include two small greek choruses (3 men and 3 women), this production does away with the additional actors and some of the dance music in the show.

Musical Director Robyn Womersley is the production’s sole musician beautifully accompanying on piano, often supported by a surprisingly effective 3-piece backing track. While backing tracks should only be the very last resort, it was clear that this production had compromised on many fronts to afford its existence; the music was not unfairly reduced. Only once did the backing tracks jar with the live accompaniment, though I would have loved to have heard the inclusion of some of the great string parts in the backing to add some colour to the ballads.

Being a lightweight touring production, the set had to accommodate the Athenaeum’s small stage and was a little cramped, particularly during the few moments of choreography. The costumes were highly evocative of the era, and Sonia’s dress in the opening scene got a terrific laugh. Slight over-amplification of the cast led to a few moments of distortion, and the entire sound level could easily have been taken down a notch with no damage to the legibility, though these were surely teething problems with a new production and unfamiliar venue.

HIT Productions’ They’re Playing Our Song is certainly not a grand production, though the quality of the performances makes this a worthy night out. I’d gladly accept lower production values in favour of more productions of material such as this with a terrific cast. I hope it finds a greater audience through its various New South Wales performances.

Full tour dates and booking details.

Recent Reads

The Music of James Bond

The Music of James Bond

by Jon Burlingame

Tracking film by film from Dr No through to Quantum of Solace (including the unofficial Bond films), the book tells the story of the scores and theme songs and the composers who wrote them. Each chapter contains two parts; how the score and song(s) came about, and a cue-by-cue music breakdown noting what’s available on the soundtrack, and how it differs from the film.

The book is not a musical study of the scores, but does mention some of the key changes over the films, including John Barry’s introduction of synthesizer in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Instead, the book focuses on the production issues and processes. It’s well researched with loads of primary sources quoted and referenced.

You wouldn’t have to be a music nerd to enjoy this, but you’d certainly need to have an interest in Bond films or film scores in general.

Check it out on Amazon – Hardcover (~$30) and Kindle (~$14).

Letters from Backstage

Letters from Backstage

by Michael Kostroff

The premise is similar to Jeffrey Denman’s A Year With The Producers; this is a showbiz diary of an actor firstly in a production of The Producers (this time the touring production), and then during a stint in Les Miserables. What’s so wonderful about this book is the insight into the touring life. Kostroff writes about his hotels, good and bad, the logistics of learning a new city and theatre each week. Kostroff writing is lively and full of “show business” so it never reads like a manual.

Kostroff is honest about the downtimes of touring, and maps his emotional state against the states of America throughout his travels. The book is filled with his philosophies and mantras as much as it is filled with anecdotes of mischievous actors misbehaving onstage.

This is one of the most honest and explicit backstage diaries I’ve read, and highly recommended to anyone interested in musical theatre or the stage actor’s life.

Take a look on Amazon – Paperback (~$15) and Kindle (~$3.50).

White Night Melbourne

White Night Melbourne 2013

White Night Melbourne 2013

White Night Melbourne 2013

White Night Melbourne 2013

White Night Melbourne 2013