Weeknote, Sunday 4th December 2022

Thursday saw the arrival of my Kindle Scribe, which I pre-ordered on the day it was announced. I’ve long wanted a bigger Kindle because the smaller ones just aren’t that great for reading on, and although my iPad is huge, it’s also got a lot of distractions on it, which make it less suitable for reading. The ability to write on it is a bonus, but I’m surprised how effective adding comments using the pen is. It’s like adding little Post-Its, which is exactly how I work with paper books.

Big trip to that there London yesterday, when we caught up with a lovely friend over from New York in the Royal Festival Hall bar, then headed to see Stereolab with another lovely friend. There was dancing — well more shuffling around from me — and this morning, an inevitable plethora of aches. Kids, if you’re under 40, look after your body. Do yoga or something. Don’t eat so many pies.

All that means today involved a greasy spoon breakfast — well, 1pm breakfast — plus many cups of reviving tea and a sofa.

One other thing today has been winding down my Twitter account. I finally downloaded the 1.4Gb archive of all my content from it, and used the Twitter Archive Parser on it. This does four things:

  1. It converts tweets to Markdown with embedded images
  2. It replaces the t.co links with the originals
  3. It copies all the images into a single folder, useful for importing them elsewhere
  4. If an image is a low-resolution version, it download the original
    Once that was done I used ByeByeTweets to do three more things:
  5. Unfollow everyone I was following
  6. Remove all the likes I had put on other people’s content
  7. Delete all my tweets
    ByeByeTweets costs a few dollars if you want to delete all tweets (it will do a limited amount for free) but I highly recommend it. I ran into a bug uploading my archive, which you need to do if you’re deleting all of them, and emailed them. They responded within a couple of hours and had fixed the error.

So that’s pretty much it with Twitter and me! You can find me on Mastodon.

Writing

I’ve written a lot of notes on how to improve a story I’ve been struggling with, along with an outline of how to move it forward.

Reading and watching

I’m reading Harry Turtledove’s Three Miles Down which is, so far, an enjoyably frothy alternate history novel. It’s really interesting that I’m starting to look at books like this with a more technical writers eye, spotting elements of foreshadowing and the odd McGuffin.

Weeknote, 27th November 2022

My notebook, like my week, is blank. This is not a good sign: when there’s nothing scrawled there other than work notes, it indicates my life is moving slightly out of kilter.

That truth is piled all around me in books unread, mugs unwashed, and food left uncooked. It’s there in the MacBook Pro near me, still lurking on the to-do list as “fix MacBook Pro” a good month after it first gave me a random “cryptographic error”. Thank you, Apple, for making things stupidly easy when they go well and stupidly complex when they go wrong.

I keep reminding myself that my inability to fix it isn’t due to age finally stopping me from taking in new information and understanding fresh technology. It’s simply that Apple, and most other companies, have put people being able to fix their own technology at the bottom of a long list of priorities. I suspect it’s just underneath “Make sure Tim’s latte is on his desk at 7 am precisely”. And why would anyone want to fix their own Macs? Just visit a Genius Bar, where a friendly blue-shirted barely-trained youth will try and use you to fill his quota of upsell opportunities.

As you may have noticed. I’m slightly out of love with Apple. Less so with the company’s products. I still love my iPad Pro (and wish I could make it my only machine), and I have yet to find an Android phone which didn’t make me want to run back to an iPhone.

But I wish Apple the company would stop acting like greedy assholes and start reading the room. No, Tim, you cannot sustain a 30% cut of app revenue for the rest of the time. No, Tim, you cannot keep building your devices in a way which makes them hard to repair and then pay sneering lip service to making parts available for them. Those days are over, and if you want to preserve the things which are good for customers about the App Store and your products, you need to accept that sooner rather than clinging on till a regulator changes things for you. Call Bill Gates and ask him how long a company takes to recover after regulators take things out of your hands.

Ah, capitalism.

Things I’ve been reading and watching

The final episode of Andor wasn’t quite the finale I had been hoping for, but it was good. The whole series was excellent, and although it’s a cliché to call it “Star Wars for grown-ups”, it is still the best description. It’s a thriller and a spy story rather than a space opera and an excellent example of what happens when you apply a different genre’s set of rules to a world built for another kind of writing.

Things I’ve been writing

I started a new blog just for creative writing. The first was a piece about a child’s Christmas — OK, my Christmas — and the second was about a couple of early memories and my family. The third piece was just something super-short about a sound you don’t hear much anymore: the ticking of a clock.

I like writing fragments like this (I have a tag in Obsidian, where I do most of my short writing, called “fragments”, just for this). Of course, it comes relatively easy to me, unlike plotting which makes me feel like I am pushing a wheelbarrow full of concrete up a hill while the wind and rain come straight down on my face.

Weeknote, 13th November 2022

This week has mostly revolved around the trapped nerve in my shoulder, which came on last Sunday evening. It took me almost completely out of action on Monday and Tuesday, as I just couldn’t sit at a computer and work – sitting up for too long was just painful.

I think that a lot of it is to do with posture, not so much when I’m sitting and typing but when I’m in the endless parade of online meetings on Teams which forms quite a chunk of my work. When I’m in meetings I tend to slump a bit to my left, usually with my hand supporting my chin, which probably isn’t the best position to be sat for a long while.

That’s exacerbated by my chair, which is lovely to look at but not ideal for spending a great deal of time sitting in and typing. The height of it isn’t adjustable, and it’s a little low with a back support which is OK at the bottom but not quite at the right sort of angle for my daily use. To compensate, I’ve raised the height of my monitor so that it’s higher, which forces me to sit more upright when I’m using it.

Of course, this was also the week when the long-awaited Muskapocalypse basically happened on Twitter, which led to some reflection on the state and development of social media. I should, of course, write something up properly about this, but it’s made me understand that the difference between social media now and in 2006 is that the news we think requires immediate delivery to our followers is no longer personal, it’s political.

When Twitter started, it was one of a slew of services which aimed to decouple the “Status” field from instant messaging apps like AIM to a third party which could then provide a brief message about what you were doing to all your friends. My first tweet on December 3rd 2006 was “going for a dump”, and in a scatological way that summed up what Twitter was there for.

It became that, but on a much larger scale: a method of delivering “vital” information in a timely fashion to large groups of people. News breaks on Twitter now, even before it hits the (already fast) 24-hour news services. I doubt that’s a good thing, for reasons which would take a whole post to define.

Weeks which start with being off or sick often don’t turn into particularly productive times, but this one was a little different. We’re at the end point of a phase in the project I’ve been focused on at work, and the beginning of planning for the next phase. That means there’s some breathing room, although there’s still a lot of wrapping up to do (and there will be until the end of the year).

We also went to see Black Panther: Wakanda Forever on Friday (more on that below) and I booked my train ticket for the weeklong writing retreat that I’m going on in December. I’m really looking forward to this, not only because it’s a week of writing, but also because it’s a week with no internet. Yes, that’s right: there’s no Wi-Fi (thanks to the building being ridiculously old and so hard to get connected) and virtually no mobile signal (5G? Forget it). I can’t wait.

Things I’ve been reading and watching

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was good. It wasn’t as good as the first film, but given the awful death of Chadwick Boseman, how could it be? The way it handled his passing and made it a part of the movie was brilliant: sensitive, emotional, everything you could have asked. I think I counted four or five times that had me sobbing, from the opening Marvel logo (which forsook the usual montage of many heroes to be all Chadwick) through to the credits which start with “For our friend, Chadwick Boseman”.

I have no idea why his death has affected me so much – I can’t remember an actor’s death making me feel like this – but I think it is something to do with the impact of the first film and the realisation of how a black movie made me feel. Or maybe how having a movie which attracts a young black audience makes me feel: as with the first film, the majority of the audience at our showing was young and black and very much not the kind of audience you see at most Marvel films. It’s huge, and feels important.

Meanwhile, Andor continues to be the best Star Wars ever made. It’s lazy to call it “Star Wars for grown-ups” but it’s a proper adult thriller set in the universe, and has some absolutely terrific acting in it. Even if you don’t like Star Wars, I would recommend it.

Things I’ve been writing

Not much, is the quick answer. Those two days spent mostly flat on my back meant that I couldn’t write so much – this is easily the longest piece that I’ve written since last weekend – and what writing I did was mostly “manually, in a notebook” which barely counts.

Weeknote, 23 October 2022

This has been a pretty busy week at work because I HAVE A WEEK OFF THIS WEEK. I’ve promised myself that I’ll spend a major chunk of it writing, as it’s my writing group next week and I really do want to have something completed to share, even if it’s only a bit of flash fiction. Obviously I’ve started something much more ambitious than that (see below).

Something happened in politics this week. Not sure you saw it. The only thing I can add is GENERAL ELECTION NOW.

And that’s about all that’s gone on this week, other than some vague discussions on what to do at Christmas (other than read ghost stories).

Writing

I’ve put other stuff to one side this week and started working on a ghost story for halloween. Except that I’ve called it A Christmas Ghost Story, as that’s a MUCH more likely deadline. Sorry.

Reading and watching

I’ve finally dived into Becky Chambers’ A Prayer for the Crown-Shy, after it’s been sitting on the top of the pile of books to read for quite a while. I adored A Psalm for the Wild-Built, the previous story in the Monk and Robot series, for its gentleness and calmness. I’m already a quarter of the way through (these are short books) and it is of course lovely.

If you haven’t watched it already I would recommend The Art of Japanese Life, which is available at the moment on iPlayer. James Fox’s documentaries on art are always excellent. Also well worth a watch is We Are England: Trouble at Sea, which is a documentary on the struggle of a northern fishing community to get to the bottom of why thousands of crabs and lobster are washing up dead on their beach. Really well made stuff.

Weeknote, Sunday 16th October 2022

I spent a lot of this week being ill, with the really noxious head cold that Kim had been poorly with finally getting me. Bad head colds are one step up from the flu: Imagine having flu, but take away the fever, and you have it. They are annoying in part because you never feel quite as ill as you think you ought to while not being able to do much, as they really sap your energy.

I recovered enough to have my annual flu jab on Saturday, and as they had some spare, they gave me the COVID booster too, which I’m really glad about. Living on a campus of thousands of students is a good way to get exposed to a wide range of exciting bugs, particularly at the start of term when everyone brings something from all over the country, like the world’s worst party.

The only downside is that I’ve got mild side effects today, similar to what I get with any vaccination: a bit of tiredness and a mild headache that just won’t shift even with paracetamol and ibuprofen administered.

(That, by the way, is a trick a nurse taught me: if you have a fever or bad aches, you can take both paracetamol and ibuprofen simultaneously to knock it dead. Because they work in different ways, it’s not dangerous to do both.)

So here’s to next week… and hopefully not being sick.

Writing

Unsurprisingly, I haven’t written much this week — I just didn’t have the focus required for it till today. Just a couple of hundred words scattered across some of the work in progress. There are a few things in the “in progress” folder at the moment:

  • A long article on switching to Linux: 1,181 words.
  • Why journalism is never objective: 600 words.
  • On Stage Manager and the iPad. 441 words
  • Prompted by a conversation on Twitter with Matt Gemmell, I am also going to write something on using Obsidian for writing and how it can replace Ulysses if that’s your thing. There are pros and cons, and it takes some setting up.

Reading and watching

We had two finales this week: Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power lived up to its name by actually including the rings of power, and She-Hulk: Attorney At Law which broke the fourth wall in spectacular fashion. I enjoyed them both.

I’m halfway through Cory Doctorow’s Chokepoint Capitalism, and it’s a good — and shocking — read, particularly if you’re into the politics of technology. For many reasons, breaking the stranglehold of monopolies (and monopsonies!) is an important battle.

For a bit of light bedtime reading, I’m also going through Ian Hunter’s Diary of a rock and roll star. Hunter was (is?) the lead singer for Mott The Hoople, and this tour diary comes from the era when Mott were hanging out with David Bowie, who adored them — Bowie, learning they were about to break up from lack of success, gave them his song All the Young Dudes so they could have a smash hit. And hit it was, too — it was one of Bowie’s finest. Diary is one of the best first-person books about 70’s rock, and much more honest and truthful in conveying the boredom of touring than anything else.

Weeknote, Sunday 9th October 2022

OK PEOPLE I got so excited doing some other writing I nearly forgot to write this. I’m slightly tired so I’m not going to write much.

Writing

First draft of a micro-short story, called Like a mother’s love. 1199 words.

Continued work on Abigail Harvey returns home, which is now 4422 words. Someday I will finish this.

Link post with Meta’s Metaverse, Graphene and more: 358 words.

Musk! Twitter! And why Google is a bit cheeky over RCS: 279 words.

Does my alien have a penis and other interesting things for today: 719 words.

Reading and watching

Decentraland is valued at $1.3bn. Decentraland has just 38 users per day. But sure there’s no bubble around this nonsense.

Weeknote, 2nd October 2022

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Go down to Brighton. Kim doing a drawing group with some Proper Art Friends(TM) while I have a mooch around, see old sites, and generally enjoy sitting around and doing some writing. Then do something fun in the evening and back on Sunday.

HOWEVER… we took one look at the prices of the hotels and decided to cut it a little short, staying only on Saturday. That meant setting off at 8am to get there for 10. Plenty of time. It’s only an hour and three-quarters drive.

Except the M2 is closed, and there is a diversion. A diversion and a queue. A long queue.

Three hours later, we’re finally there. I’m pretty good in these circumstances because once there is nothing you can do about something, I relax about it all going horribly wrong. And Kim wasn’t too late.

With no hotel to check into, I spent the day wandering around, going back to old haunts and sitting around. I got a decent chunk of writing done, too — over 1200 words, which doesn’t sound like much but is more than I’ve been doing for a while — and managed not to drink myself into an over-caffeinated mess.

I met up with Kim after her course had finished at 4pm for a quick pint with a couple of her artist chums. Which turned into three pints. In fact, as I had sneaked one while I waited, four. I am not the kind of man who can drink four pints. More important, Kim couldn’t drink three pints and drive us to the hotel, which was out at Preston Park. Hence we ended up walking back this morning in the rain.

Of course, I also had no change of clothes and no charger. So my first, slightly hungover stop was the car to pick both up, then a nearby Costa to charge my phone.

All of which makes me realise how much I have come to rely on smartphones. Instead of trusting that when we arrange to be at a place with people, we will be there, we want the belt-and-braces of being able to send a message to someone, to check where they are and if they’re still coming. And it opens up the possibility, too, of not coming: if you text someone beforehand, you can just rearrange.

Reading and watching

Stephen Baxter released The Thousand Earths this week, and I have already finished it — one of the benefits of being around for a weekend without much arranged to do is the speed at which I read (something I should remember). Like some other Baxter works, this one involves a plot that revolves around the far history of the universe, in this case, trillions of years. It’s a decent read, with some good ideas, but the end feels rushed, and as with quite a few of Baxter’s novels, the secondary characters feel like caricatures designed to nudge the plot in the direction he wants to go.

Also started, Chokepoint capitalism by Rebecca Giblin and Cory Doctorow. If you have been following Cory’s recent blog posts about monopolies and how they come to dominate the creative landscape, you will find this familiar territory — but of course, with a lot more detail.

A trip to the cinema while in Brighton to see Moonage Daydream, a documentary about David Bowie. I love Bowie with all my glam heart, but this was an incoherent mess that went on too long despite jumping from 2000 to Bowie’s death with virtually no mention (and how could you miss out Tin Machine… ok, well, that was one good thing).

Episode six of Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power delivered in a big way. I can’t wait for the next one, and I wouldn’t count myself as much of an LOTR fan.

Weeknote, 25th September 2022

Today was a bit of a double art extravaganza, as we went down to Folkestone to see Sara Trillo talk about a project she is currently working on about dene holes. Deneholes are interesting earthworks dating back to the bronze age, and consist of a shaft dug down, usually between 50-100ft, meeting the chalk. Whoever built them then excavated, mining some of the rich chalk, probably for use as fertiliser. There are estimated to be around 10,000 across Kent and Essex and very few anywhere else. Sara has been researching them to do some kind of artwork.

Also, we looked at our friend Judith’s piece, A Square of Time: Prelude, which features Kim’s voice reading.

Folkestone is a fascinating place for art at the moment. It reminds me of Brighton when I first lived there, with the kind of cheap semi-derelict spaces artists can afford to use and has a proper creative feel to it.

And we’ll be down in Brighton next weekend. Kim is attending a two-day drawing event. On the other hand, I will be hanging about somewhere and hopefully getting some writing done.

Writing

Ah, writing. I have been putting off writing more of my short story. I hit a wall with it: I have a beginning. I have an end. I have an idea for a middle. But when I try and write that middle, it just doesn’t seem to work.

Of course, the only thing to do is to keep writing it. As Cory Doctorow wrote:

What I realized, gradually, was that the way I felt about my work was about everything except the work. If I felt like I was writing crap, it had more to do with my blood-sugar, my sleep-deficit, and conflicts in my personal life than it did with the work. The work was how I got away from those things, but they crept into the work nonetheless.

You can’t get away from the work. Part of my thing is that I haven’t yet established the habit of writing coherently. I don’t — yet — show up at the same time, every day, to write. It’s still something that I do as and when I can. But that can change.

Reading and watching

I’ve started reading An account of the decline of the Great Auk, according to one who saw it by Jessie Greengrass, and crikey, it’s good. I love short stories — I’ve always preferred them to novels — and Greengrass can really write.

In parallel (yes, I have a problem with this), I have been dipping into Words are my matter by Ursula Le Guin. Le Guin’s non-fiction is as good as her fiction, and I recommend you read it.

I’d recommend you read Kaspersky’s report on How smartphone makers track users, as it’s a real eye-opener. You probably won’t want to use the version of Android you get with your phone once you have done it.

We are still watching Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power and enjoying it. The one thing to note is that the various strands are currently a little ungainly and uneven. You’ll care about some much more than others.

Deep in the depths of the satellite channels, on Talking Picture TV, you will currently find some repeats of The Outer Limits from the early 1960s. One episode they showed this week was the classic Demon with a glass hand written by Harlan Ellison. Set your devices to record.

Weeknote, Sunday 4th September 2022

I spent yesterday at Interesting 2022, organised by the redoubtable Russell (Not T) Davies. Of course, the talks were all great, but it was also nice to bump into friends I hadn’t seen for a while, including Phil Gyford, Nick Ludlam, Zelda Rhiando, Matt Jones, John Willshire and many others. And it was great to finally meet Purplesime too.

This was the first time I’ve been out to any conference-style event since before the pandemic started, and it was a reminder of all the things that COVID robbed us of. Seeing friends, listening to talks, having fun — all the kinds of social stuff that previously were part of everyday life just vanished for a while. And, worse: it takes time to get used to doing them again. It’s not just a case of returning to normal, as the “new normal” was something we all got used to.

Afterwards, we took a long stroll down to the South Bank and went for a drink in the Royal Festival Hall. It wasn’t the first time I’ve been to the RFH since the “official” end of the pandemic, but it was great to go up to the member’s bar and look out over the Thames, something I used to do a lot when I worked just across the river.

I’ve been trying out Obsidian for my writing. My favourite writing app is Ulysses, but it has two issues: it’s only available on Apple devices and stores its files in an opaque way on iCloud. I would like something that’s cross-platform and which uses plain simple files in a regular directory — and Obsidian fits the bill for this. I tried it out a couple of years ago and didn’t like it because of its lack of a proper live preview as you write (unlike my friend Jason Snell I don’t want to see the Markdown all the time).

The way I tend to work involves a lot of quick note-taking. I have always been a jotter, writing down descriptions of people, places and events and quickly putting down any ideas I have. This is mostly out of necessity: I have a terrible memory. I always have thought it’s one of the reasons I made a good news writer because my bad memory meant I had to quickly get into the habit of writing everything down.

This means a good mobile client is essential, and Obsidian has one. It lacks Ulysses’ integration with the share sheet, but I have other tools I can use to save items, which means they end up in Obsidian.

Out of the box, though, Obsidian is a pretty poor writing environment. It lacks things I have come to rely on, like focus and typewriter writing modes, the ability to export as Word documents, and even the ability to break down a piece of writing into sections, dragging and dropping them into the right order. This last one is absolutely essential for fiction, where I tend to write in small discreet scenes.

The good news is that Obsidian is infinitely extensible using plugins and has a great community behind it who have built almost everything you could want. There’s a Longform plugin which lets you write and reorder scenes. There are typewriter scrolling and focus modes and Pandoc for exporting in virtually any format you could want. There are even plugins for footnotes and activity trackers so you can keep an eye on writing progress.

One thing I definitely like is the way you can use templates in Obsidian. It’s a very powerful system that, with the addition of the Templater add-on, lets us use things like variables in a template.

If you are considering using Obsidian for more than just note-taking, I recommend Curtis McHale’s site. Curtis has done a huge amount of work digging through the plugins and has many videos recommending the best stuff for writers, whether you’re creating long or short form, fiction or non-fiction.

Writing

  • About 750 words on a short story which has been newly renamed Abigail Harvey returns home. It’s a short story about a woman’s relationship with her mother. It’s been fun writing fiction!

Reading and watching

We finally got around to watching the new Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power series on Amazon last night and you can see where the money is going. It was, in almost every sense, epic. And that might be why I found it a little hard to engage with: it’s all a little overwhelming at this point.

I’m still reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, a wonderful exposition on writing and life that I would highly recommend.

Weeknote Sunday 24th July

“The hottest day of my life so far” is an event which should cluster in your childhood. I suspect that for the next few years we will see quite a cluster for most older people too. The long stretches of time when the weather stayed about the same and very hot days were exceptional look like they’re over.

It’s really been a week where, if you’re paying attention, you’re likely to get quite depressed about the state of the world. Climate fucked, politics fucked, climate even more fucked because the politics is fucked. War in Europe… Roe vs Wade in the US. You name it, it looks like humanity is in a bad shape.

Normally the best advice for the kind of depression all this engenders is to get into the outdoors and enjoy the sunshine. But when one of the reasons for your depression is the parlous state of the climate, even that advice is hollow.

It’s tough. The only thing to do is look after those close to you and do what you want you can for the world.

This week though we have at least had the pleasure of a dog’s company. Laika, who has now become a regular house guest when her owner is away, is a two year old spaniel, which is quite a contrast from our old dog Zoey, who was a sedate 16 year old rescue dog. There is much more licking of feet and (if she can get to them) noses.

Yesterday we went down to Folkestone to see a friend’s gallery exhibition. I like Folkestone: it has the same feel as Brighton had when I first started going there in the early 90s, and when I moved to it in 1998. Empty buildings, ripe for use for culture. Art thrives in the liminal spaces at the edges of things, which is why towns on the physical periphery of the island often end up full of art. Artists are the flotsam that the land washes up on the borders of the sea.

Meanwhile I have been transferring documents from the cloud on to the local drive of my ThinkPad. I have mixed feelings now about cloud services. It’s not that I don’t trust them, but when your documents exist only on a hard drive elsewhere in the internet they cease to be yours in some intangible but undoubtedly real way. I should write something about it: this is part philosophical, part political and part purely practical.