Adam

I almost didn’t answer the message. When Chris popped up asking if he could call, I was just pondering going to bed and wondered if it wasn’t something that could wait until the morning. Something, though, told me I should answer.

Chris wanted to pass on the news: our friend and former colleague Adam Banks had died the previous day, after suffering a sudden heart attack.

Adam was the second MacUser editor I worked under, after Stuart Price had recruited me out of college and straight into the basement of the MacUser labs. He had more influence, though, over the course that magazine was to take and more widely too: it’s fair to say that Banksy did more to move the design of technology magazines out of the dark ages of a PC on every cover than anyone else. But the design work he fostered pushed forward not just tech but all magazines, something that’s almost lost to memory today. When The Guardian made a MacUser cover one of its covers of the century in 2013, it wasn’t just about one cover: it was saluting 20 years of amazing and award-winning work.

The design culture Adam built, alongside creative director Paul Kurzeja, launched the careers of a bunch of fantastic young designers. How many computer magazines would have their staff profile pics by Rankin or Steve Double?

And that design-led ethos lasted for years, first under Karen Harvey, then me. I don’t think I was good at it, but even under me the impetus was strong enough for us to win a PPA Cover of the Year. I made our art editor, the brilliant Aston Leach, go up and collect it because it was far more his award than mine.

There’s a million stories about that era of MacUser. The time that our big boss Felix Dennis rang up the office to complain about a particularly abstract cover, while Adam was in San Francisco for a Macworld show, for example. Paul Price took the call and thought it was a prank, as it was his birthday. We wore the phrase that Felix had used to describe the cover — “Art Wank Shit” — with pride, and of course Adam laughed as much as the rest of us. I think he saw Art Wank Shit as what he was trying to achieve.

None of this really captures what a nice man Adam was, too. No matter what the level of stress — and magazine editing can be super-stressful — he still didn’t end up losing his temper or raising his voice about anything. I can’t tell you how rare that is in publishing.

I’m also not going to tell you the story of his stag night. Of course, Adam being Adam, this involved absolutely no unacceptable behaviour on his part (and the funniest part also needs mime actions to truly bring it to life).

He’ll be sadly, sadly missed by everyone that knew him.

Note: There won’t be a weeknote this week.

Weeknote: Sunday 22nd November

Writing this weeknote started out as a kind of training wheels for getting back into blogging. Having not written regularly for years I needed some kind of structure to hang my writing on, and having a regular appointment which summed up what I had been doing and reading each week seemed like a good idea.

Of course, this my weeknote and not anyone else’s and because such a lot of what I do at work falls into the category of “business confidential” that precludes me talking much about it. I spend a lot of my time managing people, and intrinsically that’s not something that I can often write about publicly.

This week though, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing a bunch of young people who have applied to work on some paid internships we’re running, and it’s been incredibly rewarding. It’s part of the government’s Kickstarter programme, which is designed to help employed people to get work experience and training to give them a foot in the door towards a permanent job.

Doing ten interviews in two days is always hard work, but what’s been brilliant is just how fantastic and smart and engaged the people have been. None of them have been over 21, some have been graduates and some not, but all of them have been great. What’s also heartening — and I think important — is that all of them have honed in on the fact that we do a lot of campaigning and support for mental health in the workplace, and that diversity is an enormous and important issue for us.

I think companies need to think about this: these are issues that are important to young people in particular when choosing an employer, and if you’re not focused on them, you could lose out on talent. There’s a demographic time bomb coming down the line, as the lower rates of birth impact on the number of young people entering the workforce (exacerbated by Brexit), which means that companies will need to compete for new employees in a way they haven’t had to do since the era of full employment in the 1960s.

But most important of all: the kids are alright.

Meanwhile, of course my new M1-powered Mac mini arrived. I’ve written about why I got it a bit, and I’m not going to do anything like benchmarking (the world does not need another M1 benchmark) but I’ll write more about my experience this week. So far… well, it’s a Mac. It is incredibly snappy, and with one exception, every Intel-code app I’ve run has worked well. In fact, what code the app is running is basically invisible to you: after the first time you run Rosetta, when it asks you if you want to install it, it’s hard to even se what kind of code you’re running (you have to go and look in the Info for each app, checking if it says “Universal” or not).

The exception, sadly, is Elder Scrolls Online, which has been my favourite MMORPG since I stopped regularly playing World of Warcraft a few years ago. ESO is great if you love a huge, sprawling world with enough story to keep you interested for years, a lot of variety in play styles (any character class can fill any role) and a really nicely developed world.

Unfortunately, its developers have also said they have no plans to support the M1 Macs, which basically means that over the long term they are throwing in the towel on Mac development — in two years, all Macs will be M1. Not only that, they won’t support it running under emulation, which is a shame as other games which run under emulation seem to run, and run well.

I guess they won’t be the only ones: some developers, particularly in AAA games, could use this as a chance to stop supporting the Mac. And that would be a shame because ultimately, I don’t have much doubt that the graphical and game play capabilities of this new generation of Mac will be exceptional.

So… I think it might be time to go back to WoW. Anyone got a friendly guild?

I bought a Mac mini

I lasted a day without preordering a new Mac running Apple’s M1 processor. That’s an improvement, right? Better than I would have done a few years ago?

Well… not by much. My chronic case of former tech journalist disease means that, even though I don’t need to keep abreast of the latest technology for work, whenever a new and interesting change in computers comes out, I end up having to buy it.

That’s how come I own a Surface Pro X, and it’s now why I own a Mac mini with Apple’s M1 ARM-based processor.

I bought the lowest-end model, with 8Gb of memory and 256Gb storage. Having paid out #1800 for a new 16in MacBook Pro earlier in the year, I didn’t really want to pay another #1000 plus for a MacBook Air or Pro 13. I also have too many laptops, anyway.

The timing was right, though, for a desktop Mac, the first one I have owned since another Mac mini about 12 years ago. The shift to working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic has made me rethink my home working setup, alongside how I work. I have another post in the works about this, but having a fantastic, clear working space has become very important to me, and utilising a small desktop computer with a screen makes a lot more sense than it did even a few months ago.

The relatively limited storage doesn’t worry me. The cloud storage services I use all do on-demand downloading and manage how much of your local storage they take up (this is the future, people).

What about that 8Gb memory, though? Almost everyone’s consensus is that 8Gb is paltry, 16Gb is the bare minimum for proper work, and anyone serious has 32Gb.

I think this misunderstands the advantages of moving memory from discreet components to part of the system on a chip (SoC). Apple’s unified memory architecture is fast and efficient, and swapping between fast, efficient memory and fast SSDs is nothing like paging in and out of RAM from spinning disks back in the day. Remember, too that Apple has a lot of experience in this: while flagship phones in the Android world now come with 12Gb of RAM, the iPhone 12 Pro Max has just 6Gb—and the iPhone 12 gets by with just 4Gb. And now one would say those devices are slow or lacking in power.

Sure, the requirements with a Mac aren’t the same as a phone, but neither does the Mac have the same design restraints.

The new Mac arrives tomorrow, and I’ll be setting it up tomorrow night, so I’ll know more then.

Weeknote: 15th November 2020

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking over the course of the last week, some of which manifested itself as a post about a letter to my 23-year-old self which I published yesterday. A lot of the thinking has been about art, and writing, and how I’ve allowed the practice of my writing to lapse a little. Some of it was about the tools that I use, and considered what the right things are to inspire me.

I’ve been reading a book called Japonisme by Erin Niimi Longhurst over the past couple of weeks. It’s a book about Japanese culture and her relationship to it. Some of it is just about the cultural practices themselves, some about the attitudes which spawn them.

One thing apparent throughout is the Japanese understanding of the importance of tools, of choosing the right one for the job and of caring for them in the right way.

I have always unknowingly shared the late 20th Century Western attitude towards tools: disposability. And I’ve coupled this to the technologist’s approach to physical tools: there is always a better one coming out next year.

So much of how we approach technology is formed by the knowledge that whatever you use is outdated almost at the point you acquire it.

Because computers are so malleable they also invite constant change in how we work, too. The almost infinite flexibility that software provides means that we can change the process by which we create things almost at will. It also means there’s a temptation to fiddle with the way we create.

I wrote a review earlier this week of the Freewrite and I mentioned that the device is opinionated. Its lack of flexibility forces you into a particular way of working with words: first thinking, then drafting, then editing, with the role of the Freewrite sitting solely in the middle. You can’t edit on it, which means you have to adopt that draft to edit process. It forces you to codify the idea into a draft, then to use another tool to pare it back into something worth saying.

Compress fossilised trees for long enough, and you get coal. Compress coal for long enough, and you get diamonds. So much of what we write never gets beyond being coal: valuable, but not valuable enough.

The first couple of days of this week also saw me reestablish my practice of going for a walk in the morning before settling down to work. This is a very different lockdown to the last one. Last time there were almost no cars on the road. The parade of four-by fours taking children to the private school at the top of the road is back with a vengeance, leading to increased air pollution which, I have no doubt, leaves those middle-class parents wondering why their child has asthma. The cognitive dissonance which those kinds of parents manage to have never ceases to amaze me.

On Tuesday, I had the realisation that I’m 17 years away from retiring. That is exactly the distance between now and when I left MacUser magazine in 2003, and that feels like about five minutes ago. We live our lives on a logarithmic scale, inching forward like tortoises when we’re young and gradually learning to walk, then run, then sprint, until your later years start to pass by at an alarming pace. Life moves pretty fast…

Things I’ve been reading this week

Apple has some new Macs out, you might have noticed. This is a really sensible look at the new M1-equipped Macs and their implications.


A great piece of writing about the lovely new Raspberry Pi 400. Related: I am really glad the Chuck is doing actual proper blogging again. One of my favourite writers and he’s giving us more words!


A good strategic look at the M1 Macs from the fantastic team at TechPinions


It turns out that under-18s love books more than almost any other medium. How good is that?


Google has started charging for photo storage. Like Om, I think this is overblown, but also it should have been obvious that sooner or later Google would want more money. You don’t get owt for nowt, as my dad used to say.


Some really tips on how to write an article when you’re utterly bereft of inspiration. Which is about where I am now, so I’ll leave it at that.

A letter to my 23-year-old self

Dear Ian,

Congratulations on leaving Hatfield and getting a pretty good degree! I’d like to say that you worked hard for it, and you certainly put the effort in over that last semester. You’re a bright lad and you have come a long way. You didn’t have many expectations of yourself when you started this journey but I hope you have come to realise that you’re cleverer than you thought you were.

Thirty years later, I think that I’ve learned quite a bit more about life. I know you’re not good at taking advice, but I thought that I would put this letter in a time bottle and throw it overboard. Perhaps by some kind of temporal miracle it will reach you and change how you think about a few things. But I guess that I know already that it didn’t. Unless that many worlds interpretation of quantum theory is correct, in which case this is another future you who never existed typing this, and there’s a different future me trying to whisper to another me in not-his past.

This whole time stuff is confusing.

Anyway, this is as much about me as it is you which means I’ll write it anyway. That’s the first lesson by the way: it’s never always about you.

When we look back at our past selves it’s easy to become either condemnatory or nostalgic. What a prat I was. Or on the other hand how full of youthful energy, how lacking in fear!

Like most views of the past, no one can never really know which is more true, but I suspect that actually neither is all that accurate. So, I’m not going to judge you and find you wanting, or lionise you and wish I was you, again.

Instead, I’m going to write about a few things that I’ve learned more about since I was you, and hope you can consider them. Feel free to reject them — I probably would, and I was you once — but also think about them often.

The first thing I would say is to care less about what people think and more about what people feel. When I was you, I was obsessed with reason and thinking. I was very much a rationalist, even though I thought of myself as a renaissance man. Spending your time obsessing about what people think about you is less important than making them feel good about themselves. People are always more insecure than that look. You can capitalise on that, but to be honest that makes you a bit of a bastard. Lift people up. Make them feel like they are the most important person in the world.

Remember too that love is something that requires nurturing, and expect it to change. You don’t love people in the same way all the time. Love ages, and like all things that age that can either mean it withers and dies or it becomes deeper and more seasoned. But it never stays the same, and harking back to how a love was is to choke it with the thorns of your memories.

Take some risks. You have time on your side here, but no matter what age you are you can always shake things up a little. Don’t do it for the sake of it, but remember that life is change: the more you hold on to it the more quickly it will slip away from you.

Grasp opportunities — but only if they are something you want to do. Just because someone else presents with you with a chance to do something doesn’t mean you have to take that chance. Of course, that depends on you knowing what you want…

To understand what you want, you need to be more reflective. I know it feels like navel-gazing, but without understanding what you want you can never have it. It’s only recently that I’ve understood that failing to think about what you want is really all about being afraid: afraid that if you find what you want, you might not be able to have it.

Academic philosophy is not for you. You’ll find this out of your own accord, of course, and it all turns out absolutely fine. But I think you probably know this already.

Remember that friends are not hot-swappable. Moving away doesn’t have to mean moving on. It will take you a long time to realise how much you miss people but you’ll get there in the end. Getting to it earlier will save you a bit of anguish.

Do more art! Don’t be afraid to call yourself an artist. You can write and you’re a good communicator, but keep practicing. Art is a practice, but that means you have to keep flexing those muscles. Put the words out daily, and never be afraid to show your work in progress.

You’re a good lad, and you are still such a lad in so many ways. Not a boy, not really yet a man, but very definitely a lad.

I would say all the best at this point, but I know that you don’t get all the best. No one does. But I still wish it for you.

So, all the best,

You + 30.

Writing with the Freewrite

For anyone that has spent the last 20 years or so typing on ever less satisfying keyboards, writing with the Astrohaus Freewrite is a strange experience. In fact, in some ways it is profoundly disconcerting. Going back to a normal computer keyboard and regular large screen is like emerging from a wilderness retreat.

Like a wilderness retreat, the Freewrite is an attempt to regain some simplicity and with it that often talked of but little understood condition of flow. Flow has attained almost mystical status in the productivity and artistic communities as a kind of meditative state in which, thanks to an extreme of focus, the words just come. In an age when your phone goes ping and there’s an incoming message request every few seconds from one or more demanding social networks, flow is power.

So, how does this relate to the chunky little box on which I’m typing this draft? It helps at this point to describe what the Freewrite is and what it’s intended to do. Launched in 2017 by a small company called Astrohaus, Freewrite is a combination of excellent mechanical keyboard and e-ink screen, all in a box which looks like a steampunk typewriter. You type, words appear on screen. That, in a nutshell is what Freewrite is and does.

Hardware

Compared to any computer you’re likely to use daily the Freewrite is an absolute chonk. It weighs around four pounds and the case is made from some kind of metal — probably aluminium but whatever it is it’s substantial. The base is plastic with a slightly grippy feel, which obviously ensures it firmly stays even on your expensive executive glass meeting room table, Mr Hipster Executive.

Everything about this machine is designed to look and feel analogue. The switches which allow you to change which folder you’re writing in and turn Wi-Fi on and off are big, mechanical beasts rather than wimpy little buttons. The power switch is a red button with a satisfying push to it.

Then, of course, there is the keyboard. It’s mechanical and uses Cherry MX Brown switches. For those relatively new to technical switches, the Brown switch is often favoured as it has a relatively short depth of travel before the key is activated, but then an extended depression which gives it a satisfying thunk if you bottom it out. In other words, you can go relatively gently on it and be about as quiet as a mechanical keyboard can get, or you can hammer it a little harder and thunk to your heart’s content. Because the activation depth is relatively short, if you are coming from a normal computer keyboard it will not feel like you have to do insane finger workouts before you can actually type anything at speed.

Just as importantly, like all quality keyboards (and like no laptop keyboards) this is raked at an angle, which gives your hands a more comfortable position and lets them travel across the board a little faster. Once you get used to it, don’t be surprised if your typing speed goes up, but do be prepared to make many errors in the meantime. If, like me, you have typed millions of words on laptop keyboards and just got used to them, it will take a while to adjust. But it’s worth it in the end. Your hands and your typing speed will thank you.

The screen

The screen on the Freewrite is a pair of e-ink panels. The top one, which is about the size of a small smartphone, is where your words appear as you type. As you would expect from an e-ink screen it is a little laggy, but not dramatically so. There’s a backlight for typing in dimmer conditions, or you can turn that light off and it’s perfectly readable in almost every light.

The second screen just underneath serves as an information panel, giving you useful information like a word count, a timer, or a couple of different kinds of clock. I suspect that for me this will stay on the word count permanently. I don’t often need a timer, and annoyingly the timer isn’t persistent. If the company upgrades the software, I would love to see an information panel which combines word count and timer, which I think would be the most useful option of all.

A digression

While I was finishing off that sentence I heard the “bong” of Outlook demanding my attention on my laptop and quickly had to break to answer an email. And I instantly realised that this keyboard is going to spoil my experience of my lovely new MacBook Pro unless I get an external Cherry MX Brown keyboard to go with it. The feeling is that different, and even now I can tell it’s that much better. Which leaves me wondering why I resisted getting into mechanical keyboards for this long?

Software

In line with the rest of the device the software on the Freewrite is minimal. In fact, there really isn’t anything which anyone raised typing on computers would recognise as software. There are no apps. You just type, and words appear on the screen. That’s it.

You have three folders to store files in and you access them not through a fancy touch screen but by moving a mechanical switch. You turn it off and get a screensaver. Turn it on and you are back where you left off in whatever document you’re working on. There’s no spell check, no grammar checker, nothing which could potentially get between you and writing.

The philosophical typewriter

This is because, unlike most devices, the Freewrite is opinionated about the way you should work. Computers, particularly modern ones, are built on the principle that the user is always right, at least about the way they want to work. Don’t like this word processor? Fine! Use this other one instead! Like to write and edit as you go along? Word will let you do that all day long, with its squiggly red lines and attention-grabbing autocorrects.

The Freewrite does not care about your approach. It is built for one approach and one only: you draft, by writing in an uninterrupted way as possible. Then you use another tool to edit and turn your steam of consciousness and raw words into something polished.

Freewrite has absolutely no aspirations to be a device that you edit on. It lacks every editing capability except for a backspace key to get rid of that typo in the previous word. There are no arrow keys. Although you can page up and page down if you want to look back into your text, there’s no cursor that you can more anywhere backwards.

Like I said, the Freewrite has an opinion about the way you should write, and if you don’t like that opinion you should go somewhere else.

However, the Freewrite does have another trick up its sleeve: it does everything possible to make sure that you can get your words into another tool for editing which suits you.

Postbox and sync

On the back of the Freewrite is a USB Type-C port which you can use for charging the device, or for connecting it to a computer and pulling files off it. However, remember that Wi-Fi switch? It’s there to connect you with Postbox, which is Astrohaus’ cloud sync service. When connected to Wi-Fi every thirty seconds or so Freewrite connects to Postbox and syncs the latest version of your document to the cloud. From there, you can sync it to Google Drive or Dropbox, and these synced versions are in Word format. This means you can seamlessly move from drafting with the Freewrite to editing in Word, with all its excellent editing features.

There’s just one caveat: it’s not really sync as you normally understand it. Although Postbox includes a capable little distraction-free writer called Sprinter, changes you make in Sprinter are not synced back to the Freewrite. In fact, if you open a Freewrite-originated document in Sprinter it moves it to a different folder which the Freewrite can’t even access, and removes it from your device.

This is a bit of a shame. It’s not that I want to get into a cycle of drafting then editing on the Mac then back to the Freewrite, but there are times when an idea appears while I’m in front of the Mac and I would like to jot it down quickly there and then and expand it later on the Freewrite. But I can’t — yet. There have been some murmurings that it might be possible in the future to edit and roundtrip documents to and from the Freewrite through Sprinter, but it’s not there yet, and if that feature never comes along at all, I won’t be crying over it.

Conclusions

When my friend, colleague and now published author Thomas McMullan reviewed the Freewrite a few years ago, he concluded with this:

It is easy to write the Freewrite off as an expensive oddity, angled to nostalgic retirees and well-heeled posers, but it shows that the progress of writing technology doesn’t need to travel in a straight line. With its USB Type-C port and automatic cloud syncing, the Freewrite doesn’t ignore internet connectivity, but instead keeps it under tight control. It shows an alternate path, perhaps into a cul-de-sac, where typing doesn’t happen across 20 tabs.

Other critics gave the device a lot of stick, arguing it was a bit of a hipster toy, but I think Tom was on to something. There is a lot more to the Freewrite. Or rather: there is a lot less to it. It is devoted to one task and one task alone: hammering out a first rough draft of whatever you’re writing. I wrote the first draft of this review on the Freewrite and the experience of it was excellent. Not the experience of the device: the device just got out of the way. What was delightful was the experience of the writing itself. I don’t think I have actually enjoyed the physicality of writing quite so much for years.

In and hour and a half, I’ve written as little over 1800 words on the Freewrite and I have experienced a sense of flow while I’ve been doing it. That is well worth the money this machine cost. Now you’ll have to excuse me — I’m off to order a decent keyboard for the Mac too.

Weeknotes: Sunday 1st November 2020

It’s hard to write anything meaningful at the moment without referring to COVID-19, and the prospect of another national lockdown makes it a subject that’s even harder to avoid. Everything is going to be dominated by this for the next month.

In the past week, I’ve done several things it won’t be possible to do for a while: walk around Whitstable and go for a meal out not once but twice. Visit friends, and have friends randomly drop in on us. Some plans we had tentatively made for the next month or so are now shelved.

The Stoics had a view of the world which suggested that you should embrace what fate has given you. Nietzsche, later, went further and encouraged you to actively love fate: “amor fati”. That means not just acceptance and acquiescence, but saying “no, I’m glad this has happened. I’ll take it.” Cameron, in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, comes to this perspective when he accidentally rubbishes his dad’s favourite Ferrari.

When you’re talking about a pandemic which has killed nearly 60,000 people in Britain and which — if we didn’t lock down — would be likely to kill another 85,000 people over the winter, that can be very hard. When you have lost loved ones that’s doubly true. It feels cruel and heartless, but as a way of living your life… I can see the attraction. It’s a philosophy which was honed in an era familiar with death in a way which we in the west rarely are.

Writing rediscovered

Probably the biggest personal thing this week was beginning to read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I first picked this up in the mid-90’s, committed to doing morning pages for a while, then allowed it to peter out. I was a little busy being stupid.

This time round, instead of a chore I’ve found it something I am eager to do and to embrace. Writing three pages every morning longhand is a challenge, but it’s a good one: I’ve already rediscovered that I have a turn of phrase which doesn’t have to lapse into cliché. Some of it is going to take a little creativity to do in lockdown, but if you’re looking to rediscover your inner voice, then I really recommend it.

Meditation practice

The other thing I’ve rediscovered is the impact that meditation has on me. I’ve been meditating regularly for a couple of years, using the Headspace app, but over the past couple of months I had got out of the habit. I hadn’t stopped — but I wasn’t doing it every day, which is where you’ll find the most impact on your feelings and life. So, I’ve picked that up again, and already it’s making a difference.

Related to this, I’ve also picked up Bullet Journaling again with a little more seriousness. If you haven’t read Ryder Carroll’s The Bullet Journal Method I highly recommend it. It is, as Ryder says, “a mindfulness practice disguised as a productivity system” so come for the lists, stay for just making you more attentive to your life.

This week I’ve been reading…

Evan Dando knows he’s lucky. I can’t remember how I ended up with this year-old article, but it sparked many memories of the 90s. I saw The Lemonheads quite a few times, and It’s a Shame About Ray was one of the CDs in constant rotation. The last time I saw Dando, he was sat on top of a portaloo at Glastonbury playing his guitar to everyone queuing for a pee. I’m glad he’s still alive.

This Tory government smells of corruption. It’s not just that they obviously think rules aren’t made for them, it’s that they see things like procurement process as inefficiencies, but don’t see the millions they are throwing at their friends in wasted projects as anything but “fail fast”. You don’t fail fast when you’re doing it with taxpayers money. You just fail.

There’s so much stuff about at the moment designed to help you work more effectively from home. This collection of articles and books from Microsoft is excellent — not just for working from home, but also just working generally.

Weeknote, Sunday 25th October 2020

I’ve been watching episodes of The Computer Chronicles quite a lot lately (they’re all available on a YouTube channel). It’s quite a blast from the past and makes me nostalgic for the era when computers were huge desk-bound machines which required you to type arcane commands in them to make even the most trivial things happen. I say trivial but at the time — we’re talking about the mid-1980s — what those computers could do was amazing. The idea that you could write a book and then go back and easily edit it was revolutionary. If you’re at all nostalgic about the earlier years of computing I recommend it. And yes, portable computers really used to look like that.

The earlier episodes feature Gary Kildall as co-host. Kildall was the inventory of CP/M, one of the most popular early microcomputer operating systems. According to legend, when IBM wanted an off-the-shelf operating system for their top secret IBM PC, Bill Gates pointed them in Kildall’s direction. Kildall, though, was out when the IBM people arrived — he spent a lot of time flying to visit customers — and his wife (co-owner of the business) wouldn’t sign the required NDA. So, we ended up with DOS, not CP/M on the IBM PC and Bill Gates as the richest man in the world.

Another piece of my early computing history was Byte Magazine and Jerry Pournelle’s column “Computing at Chaos Manor”. Pournelle’s columns were epics, rolling in at around 5000 words a month of rambling prose detailing what felt like every single computing action he took over the course of a month. You can get a taste of one on his website, which still looks like something from the late 90s.

I started reading Byte way back even before I bought my first computer. I was obsessed with science fiction and computers which you could actually own were like a taste of the future. And Byte was where you read all about it. Every month Pournelle would receive new equipment from vendors eager to get a mention in his column and having all that technology ¬¬– which I would have called “kit” at the time, a word I later went on to hate with a passion — sounded like a fun job.

It would be remiss not to mention that Pournelle was also a raging right-winger who consistently claimed climate change was a hoax and thought the democrats were all pawns of the Soviet Union. His fiction was often steeped in virulent militarism, and he got worse as he got older.

Eventually, of course I became a computer journalist which lead to a career in publishing and my current status as what can only be described as “a suit”. I may still wear the t-shirts, but my work is really people and business. Perhaps that’s why I’m still so obsessed with technology: it’s the link to my past.

Stuff I’ve been reading

Viticci’s review of the new iPad Air is interesting and of course as in-depth as you would expect. If you’re thinking about getting an iPad and want something powerful but not as expensive as the iPad Pro, this looks like the one to get.


One of my aims at the moment is to back to more slow reading and writing and less social media and instant reacting, so I’m using RSS more. There’s a new release of Reeder out and it’s an excellent newsreader. Highly recommended.


This is a good thread on why writing makes you smarter. But then I would say that, wouldn’t I?


How do Norwegians stay happy in the winter? Part of the answer is “get dressed up and go outside” which feels like heresy to those used to warmer climes.


How do you break bad habits? By replacing them with good ones, of course.


I’ve always thought that multitasking was a myth. So is “dual-focusing”. Pay attention, Microsoft. Related: I have turned off almost all notifications on my phone and watch.


Speaking of email… Shawn is right here, the default mail client on iOS is the best one. Fight me.


Good interview with Cory. I particularly liked this quote:

Technologists have failed to listen to non-technologists. In technological circles, there’s a quantitative fallacy that if you can’t do maths on it, you can just ignore it. And so, you just incinerate the qualitative elements and do maths on the dubious quantitative residue that remains. This is how you get physicists designing models for reopening American schools — because they completely fail to take on board the possibility that students might engage in, say, drunken eyeball-licking parties, which completely trips up the models.