Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Publish and be damned

Well the issue of integrity in reviews has raised its ugly head again on WoodCentral. I will try not to rant, but feel free to move on. The gist seems to be that if you're allowed to keep the tool you review you can't possibly be going to do anything but give a favourable review in order to ensure the flow of "freebies" doesn't dry up. Much to my amusement one person commented along the lines of why else would anyone take all that effort if it wasn't to get free tools? Erm, right, yep... Anyway, I thought my non-reviewing readers might be interested in what's involved:

So what happens. Well I get an email saying such-and-such should be with you sometime; that could mean 3 days or a month, depending. Once it turns up, I hope there hasn't been a mix-up on who's paying the duty, and take delivery. First step, unpack, see what's there, read any additional info that might be enclosed and check everything's present and correct. Next, email L-V to say it's safely arrived and I'll let them know how I get on as soon as possible. Because of the demands of forum members, I try to get the reviews done within a week of arrival now so L-V tend to expect quick turnaround too I fear. D'oh! If it's the weekend I can devote the whole two days to it solidly, but otherwise I try to juggle real life round to give me some solid 2 hour chunks of workshop time in the afternoon - when the natural light in the workshop is good for the photographs. Reviewing in the summer is much easier in this respect!

Once in the workshop I unpack and take the initial shot of the assembled plane as is. Then dismantle it and clean all the anti-rust off and take the "parts" shots, also taking comparative shots with a tool I already have if appropriate. Any particular feature or problems will get close-ups, which usually need 3 or four attempts to get right. About half way through that my 16Mb memory card is used up, so I dismantle the camera from the tripod and swap for my other one. I know, get a bigger card. Finances, my friends. Finances. :~( Before I go any further with the tool, I then upload all the pics so far to the computer and check through to see I have all the technical/glamour shots I want. This is in case it should get dinged when I come to use it. I give the review its own folder and put the text file in there too. Next it's a case of running over the tool checking the measurements, weighing it etc, and remembering to write it all down! Then, assuming it's a plane, I'll sharpen the blade or blades and take notes on blade condition, if it took a long time, flatness of the back and so forth. Perhaps take a picture if necessary. Only then do I get to use it; having checked the adjustments, tried to get a rough idea of how much backlash in the depth adjuster, fiddled with the set screws etc etc. Further pictures of the tool in use, the results, more close-ups of wood texture or bevel condition or whathaveyou. Oh, I forgot about gathering together various timbers to test on, or blades to sharpen. Usually that's the equivalent of a weekend's work.

Meanwhile I'm thinking about the tool all the time even when I'm not in the workshop; what things have struck me about it, how I'm going to word such-and-such. Often I also need to check a fact or two, either with L-V or in my books/on-line. Then I like to leave the tool for a day and come back to it with a fresh eye. Use it some more, check what I thought I was going to say is still correct. At that point I can start to write the review.

That sort of evolves in tandem with choosing, editing and renaming the images; trying to see where a picture would help the explanation and where the text should help explain the picture. Often I find I have to nip down to the workshop and take another shot... Generally the pictures I'll use get set in stone a lot quicker than the text, so I can upload them to the 'net. This takes a while on the dial-up connection, so in the meantime I gather any urls I'll need for instructions or product pages and insert them in the text. Once the pics are uploaded and sorted into the right album, I then need to gather their urls, both main image and thumbnail, and insert them in the text too. Then I go away and forget about it until the next day, when I re-read and start tweaking the wording. (And people have claimed it comes naturally!). At this point I decide if I need to say anything additional to L-V via email, but so far, when I've done a review, that's included anything of relevance to them anyway.

At some point, and it can vary depending on how well things have gone, I'll copy it up into the forum post message window, hit "preview" and hope I've not fouled up the image codes. That has happened more than once and it's a real pain. Somehow I find most of my editing easier once I see it in forum conditions, so I can spend an hour and more tweaking, previewing, tweaking some more, preview, etc. All the time saving every change back to the master text file in case something crashes. This is also when I insert smilies and check the thumbnails link to the correct large image.

After a good deal of this I'm sick of the sight of the thing and hit submit, and it's out there in the real world. I then email L-V with the link to say it's up and a brief resume of my thoughts if necessary. Then I wait, a nervous wreck, until I get the first feedback. Either on the forum or from L-V; the former more important than the latter, to be honest. Generally it's in case I've made some huge, glaring error - which I have before now. If there's a problem then a couple of days of stressing over it ensue. If the reception is good and especially if, wonder of wonders, I've actually spotted something that has a bearing on the future of that tool, then I can log off happily and get a large drink.

And yes, you're not the only one wondering why I don't just buy the damn plane... :~)


  1. Well there you go! Work out how many hours labour are involved and you are "paying" too much for the plane!!
    Since writing the odd article myself I really appreciate how much effort is involved-when reviewing gear you are also putting "yourself" on the line with your opinion. A tough one....
    It really winds me up when people post crap on forums-they know they are being a pain, and don't really care anyway! If we could just ignore those stupid postings........... But we gotta reply!
    Anyway-keep up the good work, especially as your readership is growing! ;)

  2. I've been thinking about this (hence the delay in response - that takes time) and aren't you also putting your opinion on the line in a project article? Your choice of design, timber, joints etc. And much worse, everyone else can legitimately have an opinion on it without having had to have made it.

    Not that I'm trying to put you off... ;~)

    Anyway your support is much appreciated. Gotta say I got a nice warm glow from the fact that none of my "home team" appear to feel the same way about bias and such. Poor Derek got similar insinuations from a memeber of the Aussie forum at about the same time, which was a bit of a nasty double dose. :~(

  3. Hah! Just spent 10 minutes writing some passionate rant and accidently hit the "back" button, losing the lot......
    Lets face it-anything you post is open to criticism. But part of being member of a forum is the mutual respect you build as you share your experiences. Internet forums have seemed to replace "Clubs"-I certainly don't have anyone local I can meet up with to swap woody talk. The handicap of typing means sometimes you can misunderstand what someone has said. But being plain rude or spiteful is another thing altogether....
    Sorry to hear Derek is getting it from his end as well. :(
    After reading his long post's on WC I can tell he's been agonising over it. At the end of the day I enjoy reading reviews from individuals-they are so different from magazine reviews, more personal. But they are not the "be all and end all" when it comes to choosing a purchase-thats down to me trying one out and seeing what suits my working methods, etc.
    Not worth getting upset over, but doesn't mean it doesn't hurt.
    Anyway-forgot what I was ranting about now......
    Be good
    Philly ;)

  4. It is hard for me to fathom those who believe people only do things for selfish reasons.
    Your reviews are so casual and easy to read that I'm sure many get the impression you can do them in no time at all. I've tried my hand a bit and I know I don't have what it takes to do the kind of job you do on your reviews.
    Forget the naysayers and think only of us who appreciate the gifts you've given us.

  5. Coo, Roger, took me a while to find this comment when the email notification flopped into the inbox. For those who may read this later, it's 26th October! :~)

    It's very nice to have such support though - thank you.


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