Weeknote, Sunday 26th June 2022

This has not been much of a week. I missed last week’s week note because I was sick: I had been coughing for a few days and generally felt tired and run down. I managed to work through it from Monday to Wednesday, but Thursday decided that I had to take a day off work in the hope that a bit of rest would set me back on my feet. In fact, Friday was worse. The cough continued and I felt absolutely exhausted.

This has been affecting Kim too and at one point on Friday we had decided that this might be something which only antibiotics were going to clear, and so we would call the doctor today (our doctor doesn’t work weekends, but there are emergency services in place). I even looked up what the symptoms were of TB. That’s how bad I felt.

On Friday night I had a terrible night’s sleep, unable to sleep until about 2am, but on Saturday morning I woke up and for the first time in a week felt vaguely human. I am still not entirely well, but I don’t feel the kind of levels of awful that I didn’t. I am still coughing, but instead of being a long, hacking thing it’s now, as the doctors say, “productive” – a sign, I’m told, of being on the mend.

And that meant that finally – after what seems like but probably wasn’t a whole week of being cooped up – I got to go out, down to Whitstable for a couple of hours. First coffee in Blueprint, which has both good coffee and the kind of tiny collection of well-curated books which makes me whimper with delight, and then to Harbour Books.

Harbour is probably my favourite bookshop in the world. Its collection is incredibly well pieced together, with particular prominence to women writers of all kinds. It’s the first general bookshop I’ve seen where there are more women authors on display than men, and that’s incredibly gratifying. What I love about it is that I’m absolutely certain to find a book in there I have not heard of but instantly want to read, often from a new author.

All this lead to a couple of hours of pleasure: sitting in the garden on a bright evening, with a cup of tea and a book to read.

My view from a garden chair (book missing)

Reading

Buyer Beware by Sian Conway-Wood. There are lots of slightly hokey books that I’ve read about consuming less. This is the first one which I’ve seen which not only tackles how to consume less, but looks at both the psychological tricks which manufacturers and retailers used to get you to consume more and takes a view on the way that capitalism itself is structured.

Next in the never-ending book stack is Julian Barnes’ Elizabeth Finch, which I’m actively having to stop myself from diving into instantly (“finish the book you’re reading first, Betteridge!”). You probably already know Barnes is a great writer, but if you don’t, then you really need to know it. There’s an old phrase from Clive James who wrote “all I can do is turn a phrase until it catches the light”, and although James was writing about himself (writing about himself was really most of what he did) it could have been about Barnes.

Writing…

Very much curtailed this week. Writing is one of the things which suffers badly when I’m ill, particularly when I’m trying to fight through it and work. If I work when I’m ill, which I did for the first three days of the week, then I don’t have any energy at all to write in the evening.

What I did manage to write on Saturday was a small wall of angry social media posts. The demise of Roe vs Wade in the US affects many friends and hundreds of millions of women, and it fills my heart with anger and sadness. It put me in mind of Peggy Seeger’s Song of Choice:

In January you’ve still got the choice

You can cut the weeds before they start to bud

If you leave them to grow high they’ll silence your voice

And in December you may pay with your blood…

The weeds are all around us and they’re growing

It’ll soon be too late for the knife

If you leave them on the wind that around the world is blowing

You may pay for your silence with your life

We – I – believed for far too long that the progress we had made on women’s rights, gay rights, trans rights, the rights of minorities was part of a forward march of progress which could never be revoked. Roe vs Wade is the first large-scale unwinding of that, the literal cancelling of a fundamental right for women. We didn’t cut the weeds of fascism early enough, and now we have to work harder to clear them before, as Peggy wrote, it’s too late for the knife.

Watching…

Pistol, Danny Boyle’s utterly brilliant and completely batshit story of the Sex Pistols. What Boyle has done is great: taken fragments of Steve Jones’ book Lonely Boy and turned them into poignant little moments in motion.

Weeknote, Sunday 12th June 2022

One of the many useful things about writing a week note is it give you a regular reminder that life is as much about doing as thinking about doing. But this week has been a lot of watching and tinkering: with WWDC happening and new releases of iOS, iPadOS and macOS, my inner nerd has emerged like a raging hulk.

Every year I tell myself I won’t race to install the first developer releases of all the new operating systems. Every year, within 24 hours, I’ve become too excited to wait until the public betas. This year was no exception, particularly because the new version of iPadOS offers the feature which I have been wanting for years: proper support for second monitors.

And Stage Manager for iPadOS really will be that most clichéd of things: a game changer, at least for me. I have preferred using the iPad as a device over the Mac for years. However, I haven’t been able to do use it as my main machine because it doesn’t work on a screen size that I’m comfortable using for a long time.

I’m not going to write in detail about iPadOS 16 just yet — I think it deserves a post of its own — but this year might be the one where I finally give up on having a Mac laptop and just use the iPad as my portable Apple device. There are drawbacks, even though the software is almost in the right place, but the advantages now eclipse those drawbacks.

Reading

I’ve gone back to one of my most annoying reading habits: being unable to settle on what book I want to read next, so bouncing from book to book without really feeling I’m achieving much reading. So this week I’m going to settle on A. L. Kennedy’s On Writing, which I have been flirting with for a while.

Writing

In a massively mediated society, understanding how media works is incredibly important if people are to avoid being controlled by what they read, see and hear. I have worked in publishing now for 27 years, which always feels weird when I say it, so I have picked up a lot about how media works.

This is why I’m on a bit of a mission to educate people more about publishing in general and reporting and editing in particular. It struck me when reading Twitter that most people don’t understand what an “editorial line” is and how it interacts with what you see and hear. So I wrote something on what an editorial line is, to hopefully help people understand it a bit more.

Watching

If you haven’t watched the first episode of Ms Marvel, you are missing out on a treat. I think of it and Wandavision as the opposite ends of the scale for how Marvel treats its TV shows. Wandavision was incredibly clever and genuinely frightening, with an impact across the whole of the MCU. Ms Marvel is funny, smart, and endearing. After the mess that was Moon Knight, it’s a great comeback.

Meanwhile, on the internet…

The situation at the Washington Post with reporters attacking each other on social media sounds like an absolute mess. I have an elementary rule about work and social media: I don’t talk about work on social media. I don’t even mention the business I work for on social media. Same rules here: I’ll never talk about my work.

Occasionally, that makes writing these week notes challenging! I spend 37.5 hours of every week working, none of which I will talk about here. That, at least, means I have to push myself to talk about the more personal side of my life.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, Londoners don’t particularly want to return to the office. I’m not surprised at all — the notion of going to a place to work is weird unless your work physical requires you to be there. For any kind of what we used to call “knowledge worker”, who spends their life on a computer all day, the internet makes that pointless. Rethinking the role of the office is vital, but the government can also play a part by improving and cutting the cost of public transport.

Weeknote, Sunday 29th May

Three days in the office this week! THREE WHOLE DAYS. Commuting is such an odd thing: spending an hour on a train to get to a place where you do the work that — mostly — you could also do at home.

One positive thing is that it means I get to cycle down to the station, which is both physical and mental exercise for me. The physical bit is when I come back –– uphill all the way –– and the mental part is mainly on the way down.

I changed the setup for my desk (again). Having a monitor in front of the windows on my desk is efficient, but it feels like I’m blocking out the view. And what is the point of having a window if you don’t enjoy the view?

Next weekend we are off camping with friends so obviously we had to go out today and buy about £200’s worth of camping equipment to replace the things we have either lost or broken since the last time we camped. That was for a festival… four years ago. FOUR WHOLE YEARS.

Reading

I finished Tripp Mickle’s After Steve,and I have a lot of thoughts about it which I’ll save for a longer post. It’s slightly strange reading history that you were there for.

Next is a change of pace: Eversion by Alastair Reynolds. Reynolds has been one of my favourite SF authors for a while, but the last couple of his books were a little disappointing, so I’m hoping this gets him back on track.

Writing

Mostly just journaling this week. Of course, I say “just journaling”, but it’s probably the most essential writing. So I’m happy with that.

Watching

The first whole week of no Sky TV meant that we watched a lot less TV, perhaps predictably.

We waited until today to watch the first episode of Obi-Wan Kenobiand it was a treat — I’m already looking forward to the next episode, which we can watch in a couple of hours.

Weeknote, Sunday 22nd May

I spent some time restructuring my setup in Ulysses for writing. It had spiralled completely out of control, with countless filters, folders, workflows and who knows what that I had developed – and promptly abandoned – over the years.

Instead it now has a clean structure which focuses on what kind of writing it is; Blog posts; Books; Newsletters; and a catch-all bucket for other kinds of creative writing, whether that is short stories or exercises. There’s also a single bucket for Ideas, and I use tags to annotate those ideas according to kind. Some are observations, where I’ve seen something and attempted to capture it. Some are fragments: a line from a character, something that just pops into mind. And then there’s blog post ideas, which range from a single line to a few half-developed paragraphs.

This is all part of a move to try and have less-but-better tools, and to stick with them and use them consistently. I’m an absolutely terribletool hopper, moving from software package to software package depending on mood. This is a very destructive habit if you want to make things, and one that I want to get out of. It’s hard: half a lifetime of playing with new software and hardware for a living makes it awfully tempting to try new things.

Reading

I have temporarily put other books on hold while I wade into Tripp Mickle’s After Steve, which is an excellent account of the post-Steve Jobs era at Apple. I’m about half way through and really enjoying it. The level of research is excellent, although I don’t think that the structure Mickle has adopted – which bounces between Tim Cook and Jonathan Ive as point of view characters – actually does the narrative of the book any favours.

Writing

Nothing completed this week but I have been hammering what I think are three good ideas into shape.

Watching

Friday was our last day of Sky subscription, which meant a desperate race to watch all the hundreds of hours of content we had recorded (we didn’t make it). It’s odd going back to just the thirty or so channels, but also pretty refreshing: I can’t lean on the crutch of just diving into whatever’s on the Sky movie channels as a default option.

If you’re my age, 2 Tone will have been an influence: the documentary “2 Tone: The Sound of Coventry” is well worth a watch, not just for the great music but also for the fantastic background. It does not, though, answer the most important question about 2 Tone: why did Jerry Dammers never get his teeth fixed?

Meanwhile, on the internet…

Elon Musk continues to be an ass. This interview with his first wife is really interesting, and one passage from it really stood out: Musk telling Justine that her grieving for the loss of their first child was “emotionally manipulative”.

Speaking of assholes… anything Musk can do Ellison can do better.

Weeknote, Sunday 15th May 2022

Yesterday we went to London (a trip into the big city!) for the Art Car Boot Fair, held in Kings Cross. There was some decent work there, and it was nice afterwards to look around the various shops and food places around Coal Drop Yard. Unfortunately, it’s not that long since that part of Kings Cross was, to put it mildly, less than pleasant. I remember going to a warehouse event there and feeling pretty threatened when walking back late. And while “gentrification” gets a bad rep, this does feel like it’s made a shitty bit of London much better.

On Friday, we saw Everything Everywhere All At Once, an incredible movie. One of the few pleasures of lockdown was when cinemas were open, but no big blockbuster films were being released. Because of this, and because people were understandably reluctant to go and spend an evening locked in a small dark room with others, we sometimes had the whole cinema to ourselves, which was actually rather lovely.

Canterbury is getting another Curzon soon, a larger newly-built cinema, but the current one is staying open to focus on arthouse movies and more minor releases. It will be great to have more movies on. Even though I love a big dumb science fiction movie, I’ve rediscovered my love of smaller films in the last couple of years.

Reading

Context by Cory Doctorow. I haven’t read much of Cory’s fiction, but I’m a massive fan of his non-fiction work, and I’m also a sucker for collections of essays. So this is well worth a read.

Writing

I did a lot of writing last weekend…

Just why did a company owned by a former UKIP leader pay Andrew Bridgen £500?: There are quite a lot of connections between UKIP and Tory MPs. Almost as if UKIP became the Tory party.

The New Victoriana. This was a piece I originally wrote for Rewired back in 1997. Sadly Rewired went offline a while ago, but it’s in the Wayback machine, and I thought it would be good to bring it back to life. It’s one of the articles that I’m most happy with, although the writing is a bit juvenile in other ways.

Dipping my toes into Linux (again). When I bought my ThinkPad X1 Carbon last year, one of the thoughts behind it was to start using Linux again — and I finally got around to installing it a couple of weeks ago. I liked it so much that I nuked the Windows partition altogether, and since then, I’ve been using the ThinkPad much more. In fact, it’s probably become the device I use more than any other.

Watching

Everything Everywhere All At Once was our Friday night movie at the Curzon, and it was easily the best film that I’ve seen this year. It’s a fantastic movie: there’s so much to it that it’s tough to encapsulate. Just go see it.

Meanwhile, on the Internet…

Google I/O has been on. It’s a much less focused event these days, as Google has moved away from an approach of big fixed calendar announcements and releases towards drip-feeding more though the year. So instead, they talked about Android 13 and a new cheaper version of the Pixel 6 and teased the release of a Pixel Watch and a tablet next year.

Of course, Google’s focus on the tablet has been seen before. From the Nexus 7 to the Pixel C, the company has tried — and failed — to create hardware but has been unable to get traction for Android as an operating system for tablets.

I hope that this isn’t yet another false start because if it is, then I think it’s the end of the line. And this time, Google must get enough developer support to build apps optimised for larger screens.

Weeknote, Sunday 8th May 2022

With the demise of the ivy on the back fence came the discovery there wasn’t much in the way of a back fence left. The ivy has grown over it; it’s evolved through it. In fact, the ivy was really all that was holding up the fence. So technically, the fence isn’t ours: it belongs to our neighbour at the back. However, our neighbour at the back is a student house where the landlord really hasn’t done much to maintain the garden (hence, of course, the demise of the fence). There’s already one fence panel which has collapsed which he hasn’t replaced. I suspect getting him to replace these will be another long, drawn-out affair.

Two days in a row in London left me feeling drained. I’m not sure if it’s post-covid effects or just a combination of getting older and my body not being well looked after, but I have much less energy now than I had even a handful of years ago. So the only thing to do is try and push through it as gently as possible and be more active.

For me, that means gentle walks and making more of my bike. I miss cycling: it’s something that I never really took up in London but had done a lot of in Brighton and before that in St Albans. I have to keep reminding myself that it was long ago. It’s about seventeen years since I moved from the coast to the city.

Adventures in Linux

I have converted my ThinkPad into a dedicated Linux computer. I always had half a mind to do this — it is one of the reasons I went for a ThinkPad rather than a more exciting Windows laptop — but I was surprised by how much improved Linux was since the last time I used it in anger. Then I remembered that would have been about fifteen years ago; I would be surprised if Linux hadn’t improved.

At first, I just partitioned the drive and left Windows on there, but after a day of tinkering, I realised there was absolutely no need to keep Windows about. For emergencies, I have other Windows laptops (my gaming machine may sound like a jet engine, but it’s a more than capable computer), and Linux was running more than smoothly enough.

At first, I installed Zorin OS, an excellent distribution if you are coming from Windows and still want to run Windows apps. It has a nice feature which lets you just double click on a Windows application, and it will install Wine and any other bits and pieces you need to run it. You can also make it look like Windows 10 or 11 if you want, and it comes with plenty of software pre-installed.

When I decided to nuke Windows entirely, I also saw that the latest long-term support (LTS) version of Ubuntu is out, 22.04. I like LTS versions of open source software. You’re not at the cutting edge of things, but it will work well for a very long time. Canonical supports LTS versions of Ubuntu for at least five years.

Hence, I’m typing this using Typora, my Markdown editor for Mac and windows, which has a Linux version. I’ve shifted to using Firefox as my browser across the board, and there’s even a version of Microsoft Teams for work. So far, so good.

Ubuntu took a bit more tweaking to get looking how I wanted than Zorin did. In particular, fractional scaling (which bumps the size of the UI up and which is needed for me on a 14in 1920×1200 screen) made text annoyingly fuzzy. The answer was to keep scaling at 100% but use the accessibility features to switch to large text. I wouldn’t call it large, but it’s definitely bigger (I’d say about 125% of normal) and sharp.

I will write something longer about why I wanted to start using Linux again. The short version is that I’m not thrilled about the direction of travel of either Apple or Microsoft is building in more and more integration which ties you into their software and services stacks. Just using Apple or Microsoft or Google is incredibly convenient, but there might come the point where switching costs become so high that it’s really impossible to do. Using Linux and open source software as much as possible is less convenient — anyone who pretends otherwise is wrong — but you are paying a long term price.

Related to this, I’m shifting my saved web reading from Matter to Pocket. That’s no criticism of Matter as an app or a company, but I do not want to convert reading into another platform, yet another social network. Pocket is now owned by Mozilla, and I trust them to do the right thing. Also, I pay them, and I’m generally favouring paying for services rather than relying on generosity (or, more likely, advertising).

Reading

I haven’t done enough reading this week, partly because I’ve been tired (see above). As a result, the book stack gets ever higher. However, there have been a few long reads online which have kept me reading.

The first was this 1998 interview with Steve Wozniak. Woz, as always, comes across as just a gentle soul. And speaking of tech, this interview with Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger suggests there is still life in the old dog.

Writing

I wrote a piece on the prospect of Keir Starmer resigning and how this being a story driven hard by the Tories shows how much they are failing to think strategically.

Watching

Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness was good, but not excellent: so far, of the latest phase of MCU movies, I think only Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings has been an out and out success. Next week it’s Everything everywhere all at once, which I am looking forward to immensely.

Timey-whimy universe bending stuff is all the rage right now. The season-ending episode of Picard managed to bring all the parts of the plot together in a satisfying way, but it still felt like there was far too much going on. And, of course, you can now watch season two of Russian Doll. If you haven’t watched season one, you’re a fool, just go and watch it now.

Meanwhile, on the internet

Blah blah blah Elon Musk blah blah Twitter blah blah clueless.

Weeknote, Sunday 1st May 2022

A wedding! Friday evening saw the lovely betrothal of an old friend and his darling in Kew Gardens (which has to be one of the loveliest venues to get married in). It was first due to happen in April 2020… and obviously that couldn’t go ahead. Third time’s a charm though.

At first it was a bit strange. This was I think the first big event with friends and family we have been to since lockdown ended, which means the first after an interregnum of two years without the kind of regular clockwork rhythm of social events which, even in my season of life, are like the heartbeat you barely notice until it’s gone. At felt at first like I had lost my cultural mojo: what do you do at these things? How do you talk to people you don’t know?

Normally I suspect the answer to this would be “alcohol” but I’m not the drinker I once was. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve drunk more than a single glass of anything in the past few years. If you imagine that you have a set number of alcohol points in your life before you can no longer drink, mine ran out in about 2008.

However after a while an odd thing happened: we just started talking to people, and somehow the ice was broken. We ended up chatting to a lovely older couple who live not a million miles away from my sister in Norfolk and who I would like to stay in touch with.

Look! A wedding!
Look! A wedding!

At home we finally got the enormous hedge that the council had complained was blocking a street light cut back. It was too high and too thick for us to do it ourselves, so we hired in a lovely tree surgeon to do the work. He also cut down an old silver birch at the end of the garden which had died last year. While it wasn’t in danger of falling – it survived the last storm – sooner or later it was going to go and probably fall straight into one of the neighbour’s houses.

There’s some more work to do in the garden, trimming back a huge chunk of ivy which is gradually dragging down one of the neighbour’s fences towards our side. In theory, it’s not ours to fix. In practice, getting that particular neighbour to replace a fallen fence is such a long and arduous process that it’s just easier if we take care of it. We also need to clear back some slightly overgrown parts of that garden near the now-gone silver birch.

And once that’s done, there’s the vegetable garden at the side to deal with. For those who don’t know our house (which is almost all of you) we have three gardens: a small front garden with the standard English lawn and beds; a larger back garden with a lawn that’s mostly made of moss, some nice mixed beds and several trees, with greenhouse; and a side garden which is about large enough to put a bungalow on. This side garden was where vegetables and fruit were grown many years ago, but it now mostly grass and shrubs. It also houses Kim’s dad’s old shed, which is probably reaching the end of its working life (we have barely touched it).

The vegetable garden needs some mild clearing to make it usable again, along with some beds digging: probably a weekend’s work for a couple of people, at most, if you don’t count removing the shed (which is both physically and emotionally much more tricky). One for later in the month.

Reading

Matt Gemmell wrote a fantastic piece on getting ideas for stories which should be required reading for any writer in any genre or trade.

Anne Applebaum’s article in The Atlantic on “Ukraine and the Words that lead to Mass Murder” is something everyone should read, although it makes harrowing reading. Words lead to dehumanisation, dehumanisation leads to atrocities.

Laurie Penny writes eloquently about their experience of family, and how COVID-19 has impacted on all our expectations of the people around us. And, as she points out, “a found family can break your heart just as much as a traditional one”.

And of course there’s books: I need to pick up The School of Life’s How to survive the modern world again as I’m half way through it but took a break.

Writing

It’s getting a bit embarrassing now that the only thing I’m writing and posting publicly is this. However, I have been collating together quite a few ideas: there’s plenty to write about, there just isn’t as much time as I would like to write it.

Watching

Picard and Moon Knight. I think both of these series are falling into the classic trap of over complication. Not everything has to be as complex as The Sopranos, people. And not every writer can carry it off.

Meanwhile, on the Internet…

A long while ago I download Yomu, which is an iOS/iPadOS ebook reader – and then promptly forgot all about it. I recently found it again on my iPad and it’s a lovely little app if you want to read ePubs, PDFs etc and then export your annotations, quotes and comments into something else. It supports export into Markdown, which makes it really easy to use with note taking applications which support it such as Obsidian or Craft. Definitely a good one to check out.

Weeknote, Sunday 17th April

A sunny bank holiday feels like such a pleasure after the winter. Our ancestors knew a thing or two about how to break from the bleakness of the cold. Although I’ve always preferred the cold to the warm (my northern roots showing) there’s definitely something about the spring which lightens the mood.

Every time there is a four day week it reminds me how uncivilised five day working weeks are. I never feel like I’ve had time to actually catch up on the rest which I don’t get around to having during the week when there’s only two days. And if I actually do anything on the two day weekend I’m exhausted. So thank the lord – literally in this case – for Bank Holidays.

Next week is even better: just the three days before we head to Oxford for a weekend.

I spent a little bit of time this week writing some notes for an article about the cult of productivity, inspired by am “AITA” post from a parent who talked about their child being “unproductive” for a long period of time. There’s a lot of productivity gurus out there, and the core advice they have is often decent, but all too often people either beat themselves up for “failing” to be productive, or forget to allow themselves time for things which just bring them joy and aren’t time-blocked, scheduled, turned into a project or worse.

Reading

Low-life: Irreverent reflections from the bottom of a glass by Jeffrey Bernard. Bernard falls into that category of “men who are a bit of a shit but life intriguing lives”. What’s interesting about him is the way that his writing manages to sidle away from the pub bore, despite very little ever happening to him down the Coach and Horses. Other than drinking himself to death of course.

Release the Bats: Writing your way out of it by DBC Pierre. Another fascinating character – I hope that reading both Bernard and Pierre at the same time doesn’t indicate some kind of impending mid-life crisis. Decamping to Mexico, buying a boat or spending the rest of my life drunk don’t feel like quite the right path.

Writing

The only things that I’ve written this week have been notes on articles which I might write – it has been dreadfully unproductive and I really do need to get back into the habit soon, before my brain atrophies.

Watching

Marvel’s Moonknight is alternately baffling and hilarious. I have only the vaguest idea what is going on. What’s interesting is how Marvel is using the TV series format to explore characters which are a little bit deeper and have more to them than the standard movie heroes. With the movies, you don’t have the benefit of time to explore the character: it needs to be straight into the action. TV offers more depth, which is ironic when you consider how often TV is seen as the lesser medium.

Meanwhile, on the Internet

You might have heard that some guy called Musk threatened to buy Twitter. When a man with a lot of money gets this jollies from shitposting, the world is a worse place no matter how many spaceships they build. And of course Marc Andreessen – a man who coded a browser 30 years ago and has been coasting on achievement ever since – is just as bad.

One of Pebble’s founders wrote a really nice insightful piece on why it failed. The important point for students of leadership: while he had a vision of where he wanted to go, he could never articulate it properly and never used it as a point of reference for what they were doing at the moment.

I’ve also been doing some reading of accounts of Steve Jobs’ return to Apple, and came across this excellent piece by Tim Bajarin. I remember the return for many reasons but one stands out: the announcement went out at about 4pm on 20th December 1996, which also happened to be my 30th birthday. Cue one evening where I didn’t get home in time to celebrate much. I also remember the following year’s Macworld Boston keynote which Tim refers to, where the giant face of Bill Gates appeared on screen and some in the audience booed. Jobs scolded the audience, saying that we needed to let go of this idea that in order for Apple to win, Microsoft had to lose.

I am very much looking to optimise my computer set up at the moment, so this post about an M1 Mac mini and iPad Pro caught the eye. My setup at the moment just feels wrong: I’m trying to do too much on too many devices and it’s confusing and causing me vague angst. I need to sell a load of equipment, bite the bullet and just buy a new Mac. Argh. The one thing that’s really stopping me is there are no Macs to buy: delivery dates for every single one of Apple’s machines apart from the 13in M1 MacBook Pro are backed up to the end of May, with some a lot longer than that.

Related: a great quote from James Clear: “”Look around your environment. Rather than seeing items as objects, see them as magnets for your attention. Each object gently pulls a certain amount of your attention toward it.”

#Weeknote- 10th April 2022

It took me a few days but I feel like I’m finally over the bought of Covid which I wrote about last week. I still have a cough, but it’s getting better and of midnight on Wednesday the “government advice” was that I didn’t need to isolate.

That was good, because on Thursday and Friday I was down in Brighton for BrightonSEO. It’s always good to go to something which sharpens my skills a bit and makes me feel connected to the industry I make a living in. It’s very easy, in any job, to become inward-facing and focus so much on your own company that you never really learn from outside.

It was also a good chance to see Brighton again. I lived there for about eight years and had a tremendous time. It cemented that I love to live by the sea, and it’s still surprises me how much just sitting listening to the waves and watching the open ocean relaxes me. I spend too much time cooped up indoors, and not enough time sitting on beaches.

The only downside was getting up at 5am to get there. Despite looking pretty close on the map, Brighton and Canterbury are between two and a half and three hours apart by train. It’s something I’ve said before, but Kent is a big place. It’s also quite isolated: once you get past the comfy commuter belt, it’s a generally poor place, with a lot of both rural and urban poverty. The countryside is pretty, but it’s largely working farmland, and as anyone who has lived in that kind of environment knows that means scrub, old buildings, and industrial-scale agriculture rather than pretty cottages with thatched roofs. Those are all owned by bankers, now, who don’t live in them during the week.

Reading

Reading has been a bit underwhelming this week, which is my polite way of saying I haven’t done much.

Writing

No public writing, either. I did though polish up a couple of short pieces of science fiction I’ve written.

Watching

A lot of sport, and the next episode of Picard.

Meanwhile, on the Internet…

Megan McArdle wrote a really good piece on why it’s time for major institutions to get employees off Twitter. It’s actually mostly a piece about why Twitter is bad for journalists, and to that extent I agree with a lot of what Megan is saying. Journalists massively overestimate Twitter’s importance, largely because all their journalist friends are on it. It’s an echo chamber for media and that leads to some pretty horrendous results: journalism is already too much of a chummy club without it being amplified online.

Something which will surprise no one who has being paying attention: UK offices are emptying as large numbers of employees get Covid. Who could have possibly predicted that bringing people back into the office in uncontrolled large groups would lead to lots of them having to take chunks of time off sick? You can see this affecting services too: I was delayed coming back from Brighton on Thursday after two trains in a row were cancelled owing to a lack of train crew.

Weeknote w/e 13th March 2022

This week I have mostly been working – which is not, of course unusual. We did manage a trip out to Sissinghurst yesterday to see our friend Jen, who I haven’t had chance to meet up with since the start of the pandemic. There’s a lot of friends who fall into that category and if you are one of them, I apologise and will get round to you soon!

Last weekend we ventured out to the local Curzon to see The Batman. It’s long, but very, very good: a proper Batman detective story, rather than the gadget-laden superhero tale of Affleck’s DC Universe version. And Robert Pattinson is always worth watching: I thought he was one of the highlights of Tenet, too.

Working on my writing workflow

I’ve wanted to write more for a while, but one thing which has been stopping me is that my writing workflow has been an absolute mess. I’ve been doing a little work this week to tighten it up.

I’ve started using GoodLinks to collect together all the things that I’ve read during the week and which I think are worth sharing. I’ve really struggled with how to do this well: Matter (my current offline reading app of choice) isn’t great at collecting together stuff which might be quite short. I hate using bookmarks for this kind of thing. And Ulysses, which I used to use for a lot of writing, can collect links and has the advantage of using the iOS/MacOS share sheet but isn’t really designed for it.

GoodLinks on the other hand, is perfect for this. Not only can it function as a simple, but decent, offline reader, it includes comprehensive tagging which makes content much easier to find. The way I’m working with it is to save everything that I might want to read later to it, short and long. If I read it later and decide I definitely want to write something about it, I add a star – and once I have written about it, or included it in a weeknote like this one, I remove the star so I know it’s been used.

Posts at the moment usually start their life in one of two places: Roam Research, if it’s an idea which needs a lot of fleshing out; or Typora if it’s something I can start drafting straight away. Actually that’s not quite true: drafts or some kinds of writing start their life on the Freewrite, particularly if I’m trying to just get down something out of my head quickly. Posts which begin in Roam get exported as flat Markdown files for editing and polishing in Typora, then once I’m happy with them they are put into Ghost or WordPress.

Why Typora and not a Mac/iOS app like Ulysses or IA Writer? Partly that’s because I want something which works across platform, but it’s also because I now prefer to keep my writing as boring plain Markdown files in a simple folder structure, rather than an automatically synced iCloud location.

And Typora is lovely. It’s simple, unfussy, and it has a neat system which hides the Markdown until you click in it, which means it’s the best of both worlds between the “purist” editors which show you everything (messy) and the “simple” ones which hide everything (annoying if you want to edit the code). It’s available for Mac, Windows (both Intel and ARM) and Linux and I recommend it.


Links

You might have noticed Apple released a new Mac. The Mac Studio which uses the M1 Ultra is nearly a kilo heavier than its M1 Max sibling. That’s down to “a larger copper thermal module, whereas M1 Max has an aluminium heatsink” – in other words, twice the size equal twice the thermals.

Inside the Mac Studio is the M1 Ultra, which basically is a pair of M1 Max’s connected using a super-fast bus. Anandtech has a lot of good coverage.

Ryan Britt pointed out on Twitter that the M1 Ultra appears to the Metal API as a single graphics process, which means if you’re using Metal there’s no need to concern yourself with rewriting any code in order to take full advantage of it.

I missed this when it was first announced, but Huawei are producing an e-ink tablet called the Huawei MatePad Paper. It looks like it ticks all the boxes: high quality e-ink screen with backlighting, ability to take notes with a pen, and it mounts as a drive when connected to a computer so you can just drag and drop files to it. Pricey – €499 has been cited in some places – but if it delivers it could be a really good device.

Substack announced an app, and Adam Tinling does not like it one bit. I agree with Adam, and it’s one of the reasons that I moved my blog and email newsletter from Substack to Ghost. This put me in mind of Anil Dash’s piece on the broken tech/content culture cycle: Substack has resolutely refused to think about anything but the most cursory content moderation, and yet wants to be seen as a platform, with all the future financial benefits that accrue from ownership of the audience.

Michael Tsai recently wrote about how Google search is dying, and I largely agree: Google has become much less useful than it used to be. I think this is down to a set of algorithm changes that the company made last year which dramatically favoured large general news sites and local new sites over specialised information sources. The rationale behind this was explicitlly about rewarding publishers, and supporting local sources. But the result has been two fold. First, it’s crowded out higher-quality specialist information sources. Second, because local news sites are overweighted, it has rewarded them for writing generic SEO-driven articles, as their content ranks highly even for topic areas which aren’t local to them. It’s a real problem, but as with most thing Google-related, I expect them to rebalance it at some point.

This 14 year old post from Matt Webb reminded me just how broken the internet is. Follow the link to the formerly-excellent Atlas of the Universe, and you just got a for-sale parking domain. What is the solution to this?