Posts by Ian Betteridge

Director of content and audience development at Bauer Media UK. Views my own, duh, so don't bother my employer with them.

Weeknote: w/c 31st January 2021

I always have a temptation with these notes to begin them with “this week, I have mostly been eating elderberries” which will make absolutely no sense to anyone younger than about 40.

I’ve been reflective this week. Is there any other way to be when you’re more or less confined to the house? And what I’ve been reflecting on is balance, and how out of kilter things have become. Because I’ve lacked energy, all my energy has been going into work, and not enough into other parts of my life. Because of lockdown, the other areas of my life have also had other kinds of neglect: there’s no visiting friends, the opportunities to get out and do things are limited, and like everyone I feel like my horizons have shrunk.

Things will change, though. This week was the first week of The Focus Course, which is created and curated by Shawn Blanc and seems pretty-much designed to start the process of lifting your eyes and focusing on the horizon. This week was all about examining the roles in your life and working out what your values are. Although you make a big long list of them, you’re asked to boil it down to the two which are really import and which are consistent across all the roles, interests and responsibilities you have. Mine came down to two: self-improvement (I am very definitely a life-long learner at heart) and service. I wasn’t expecting that, but as soon as I wrote it down I realised how much of my love of life comes when I’m doing something which contributes to the well-being of others, whether that is on the small scale of friends and family or the wider view of the environment and society. And the two values are tightly linked: the more capable I make myself, the more I look after myself, the better I can contribute. And the more I contribute, the more I learn and improve.

Perhaps because I’ve been going through this kind of self-reflective exercise I’ve also found myself getting into my flow a few times. Flow is often talked about like a semi-mystical thing among the kind of people who buy every single productive book ever written, but all it boils down to is clarity about what you want to do in the moment. Once you have that clarity, you have to actively resist to stop yourself doing something: distractions melt. Lots of tools can help you make the most of that clarity when you reach it, but there are no tools which can help you get there is the first place.

I also found some time to play some Elder Scrolls Online. I’m fascinated by tit as a game and an experience: the depth and breadth of story is like nothing else I’ve ever played, and it manages to tread the line between being a good and highly playable game for soloing and a group experience. It’s a shame that the Mac client is a piece of crap, but there’s a reason why I always have a decent PC in the house.

Unconnected — I hope — but I don’t feel like I’m getting enough sleep at the moment. Although I’ve long thought that much of my sleepiness is related to long COVID-19, I think it’s more likely to be a combination of things: not enough fresh air and irregular bed times being the main culprit. Nothing that I can’t fix.

Related: if you have an Apple Watch, it’s worth trying out the “Time To Walk” series. These are combined podcasts and walking workout with an interesting person talking to you as if you were just going on a walk together. It’s a surprisingly nice idea and really well executed: I had no idea who Shawn Mendes was, but he was an interesting walking companion.

Two things appeared from the online shopping fairies this week. The first was a penknife. Yes, a Swiss Army penknife, something that I haven’t owned for about thirty years. The Victorinox Super Tinker, which they describe as “the ideal companion for all crafty men and women”. Mostly I bought it because I’m fed up with never being able to find a small pair of scissors, but it’s also a nod towards the post-lockdown world and how much I want to travel and camp and do outdoorsy things in the middle of nowhere. It can sit in my Goruck, ready for the next phase of the world.

The other thing that arrived was a Paperlike screen protector for my iPad Pro. This is another example of something which occasionally happens to me, where I buy something, and it offers such a better experience that I have to do some kind of upgrade for other devices. For example, after buying the Freewrite I had to get a proper mechanical keyboard for my Mac mini, as it basically ruined my relationship with every other keyboard I had.

In this case, using the Remarkable 2 tablet with its exceptional writing feel utterly destroyed the experience of writing and drawing on the iPad Pro. To get it to the point where I could use the iPad Pro again, I needed to get a Paperlike which gives a much better writing surface: not as good as the Remarkable, but good enough to stop me from never wanting to use the Apple Pencil again. It also has the advantage of giving the screen a nice matte look which takes away some brightness but massively increases the readability in sunlight and just makes the whole thing more pleasant. Again, not as good as the Remarkable, but a big improvement.

I have written a draft of a longer article about the Remarkable 2 which I’ll edit and post later in the week. The short version: I like it, but if you’re buying one you have to be clear about where it fits in your life and what it’s replacing/augmenting. The use for it is more fuzzy than something like the Freewrite, where it’s obvious where it drops into your workflow and so you can either use it (if you write everything as an initial draft) or not get one (if you write differently). That makes it harder to recommend unreservedly because there are several ways you could use it, some of this are stronger than others. But as a piece of industrial design, it’s an absolutely lovely piece of work. If Apple can ever get the iPad this thin and light, the rest of the industry should just give up making tablets and go home. If they haven’t already.

W/e 24 January 2021

I realised a few days ago that, apart from taking out the bins and refilling bird feeders, I hadn’t left the house for at least a week. Possibly longer. This is an era of strange hibernation, when I am constantly in contact with people every single day and yet see very little of the world.

That’s a shame (and it’s something I immediately started to fix) as this is also one of my favourite times of year. Every time that I feel the January cold on my face I remember being 17 and walking the three miles from my girlfriend’s house to home, late at night and freezing cold. Like the weather in Autumn – still my favourite season – winter is a time when I feel like anything in possible.

But not so much this year. If there was a word to describe January 2021 it is “waiting”. Everyone is waiting for something: waiting for their turn to get a vaccine, waiting for the shit to hit the fan about Brexit, waiting for signs that our government might be going the same way as that of Donald Trump. We’re all waiting for something, like the moment when the pub is closing and you’re waiting on the corner outside to work out where you go next.

Meanwhile, Kent is its usual self, a place that’s both conservative and radical. It’s also one of the places that is likely to feel the worst effects of Brexit, with parts turned into lorry parks and food prices on the rise. These are the kinds of things which disproportionately affect the poorest, and Kent has more than its fair share of poverty.

This week also saw the arrival of my Remarkable 2 tablet. For those who have managed to avoid the company’s endless adverts on Instagram (or is that just me?) it’s a thin, light tablet designed to be written on which has an incredibly readable e-ink screen. I finally succumbed to buying one after reading Rev Dan Catt’s review and then finding that Relly had bought one too.

My original thought was that I’d mostly want to use it as an e-reader, as a lot of my books are DRM-free ePubs which don’t really work particularly well with a Kindle. Actually, I think I’ll get a lot more use of it from the task it’s best at: writing notes. It is really nice to write on, much better than an iPad.

So given that I have a 12.9in iPad Pro, why did I buy this? Mostly it’s the same reason that I bought a Freewrite: I like devices which offer a distraction-free environment for doing one particular thing. Just as the Freewrite is really good at just hammering out a draft, so the Remarkable is just focused on taking notes. If I brainstorm and take notes on my iPad, even with Do Not Disturb on, there’s the siren call of doing something else. I could just check Twitter, or I could just check what’s happening in the news, or I could just watch one video on YouTube. On the Remarkable, I can’t do any of those things – and that’s a really useful brake on my level of distraction.

Like Dan, I do my best thinking by just scribbling something down in a notebook. That gets turned into something else, and copying notes by hand into the best format to take them further is a valuable part of the process – essential if I want to really understand whatever it is I’m working on. Adding the little bit of friction involved in moving from a single-purpose device like the Remarkable or Freewrite improves the work and makes it more considered.

This week I also realised quite how much I’m aching to travel again. Mythical places like Manchester, Oxford and Bristol, which I’m now convinced only exist in my imagination. I have a new rucksack that’s sitting, ready to be packed. I’d even accept a train trip into London as a valid piece of travel, rather than one of the world’s most dull commutes.

Like half the people I know I watched the first episode of It’s a Sin. Unlike everyone else, I’ve only watched the first episode, and I don’t know if I will watch any more. It’s clearly brilliant, but I am just not sure that I need to be taken back to that era, which is a time that I have enormously mixed feelings about. You should watch it, because it really is good, but it causes me too much pain.

This week we also watched Joker for the first time, and my feelings towards it were exactly as I expected (and why I had avoided it for so long): I didn’t like it. All I could hear in the back of my head was a chorus of emotionally under-developed men’s rights activists cheering that here was a character who was fucked up by women and took revenge against society. Against the background of where politics and society are right now, I don’t think that the movie’s joke really lands.

A couple of weeks ago Phil wrote that “I’m quite tired and feel like I’m plodding on through identical days until some unknown time when maybe things will be OK again.”

I think everyone is feeling that way right now. I know I am. But writing it all down helps. So here we are.

23 books read in a year isn’t a bad effort, especially given the fact that remarkably few of them fell into the category of trash science fiction. This year, I want to have read 20 non-fiction books that I haven’t read before – got to keep that mind moving.

Chaffinches are funny little birds – like something drawn by a three year old, all triangular body and spindle legs. They like to hunker down too, which makes them even more squat and fat looking.