Weeknote: Sunday 4th April

Bank Holiday weekends are traditionally the time when everyone piles into a car and heads for the coast, or has a big party, or has a barbecue with friends and neighbours. This time around of course things are different. Although we are out of the first phase of lockdown, there are still limits on how many people we can meet, and where we can meet them. The shops and pubs remain shut. The grand commercial part of our social lives remains under firm lock and key.

However, keeping traditions alive we piled into the car and headed for the coast, a few tens of miles down to Margate. For those expecting mass disobedience and bad behaviour, you’re going to be disappointed. It was quiet: compared to a normal Easter Bank Holiday it had perhaps a tenth of the number of people. With temperatures reaching the giddy heights of 12 degrees we didn’t stay too long, but long enough to remind me how much I love the sight of the sea.

This week has been very much like every other week over the past year, a long parade of working from home, being at home, focusing on the home and avoiding contact with the rest of humanity beyond these four walls.

Last week, though, I was vaccinated. I went along to the Odeon cinema, where I’ve seen many a Marvel epic, and in the spot where I’ve waited for a screen to open while chomping away on the world’s worst nachos I waited to be shown through to have AstraZeneca’s wonder drug injected into my arm. It felt incredibly emotional: not so much because the end of this awful pandemic is in sight, although I’m glad enough for that, but for the kindness of the volunteers, spending free time guiding us around, for the pharmacist who injected me underneath the disused Pick N Mix display. Because collectively, we have done a wonderful thing.

What Boris Johnson doesn’t want to say is that the AZ vaccine exists and was deployed successfully so quickly not because “greed is good” but when the government invested hundreds of millions of our money into making it happen faster. That we can do this kind of thing through collective action rather than fierce individualism isn’t a lesson that we should forget.

There are so many other challenges that need this level of attention, most notably climate change. The way of life we have “enjoyed” (in places) over the past 150 years is over. The kind of globalised capitalism that has spent the last forty years ignoring climate change and kicking the can down the road is over. Either we choose to change it, or climate change changes it for us. Things are not going to be the same.

Related: I’m currently reading Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything. Klein, not to be confused with the COVID-denying conspiracy theorist Naomi Wolf, doesn’t pull any punches and that’s absolutely the right approach. The time for gentle remedies and the equivalent of soothing lullabies about how everything will be alright in the end is long past. It was long past six years ago, when Klein wrote the book, and it’s even more long past now. The nature of the catastrophe is us.

In more personal and less doom-laden news, I had another epiphany this week – I think it’s the time of year for them – in which I realised that I spend far too much of my time focusing on tools and apps and things and stuff rather than looking after my own wellbeing. So instead of the usual cavalcade of SMARTER goals I’ve decided to keep my attention on just two things: meditation, and re-establishing my practice; and morning pages, the three page long brain dump which clears my head of so much when I do it every day. That’s all. Just those things.

Anyway, that’s all for this week.

Weeknote: Sunday 21st March

Hello again. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I wish that I could tell you that I have somehow had a lot on, but in fact, the opposite is true: I’ve had so little on apart from the grinding dullness of lockdown that I haven’t found much to write about.

This week, almost exactly a year to the day of my getting COVID-19, I booked an appointment to get vaccinated against it. There’s a neat symmetry to this. But more importantly what a feat of technology and science going from zero to multiple vaccines in a short period of time is. It’s not likely COVID-19 will ever become an eradicable disease in the way smallpox is, but it will be a controllable one that isn’t going to overwhelm health services and decimate the population, anywhere. That’s something to celebrate.

This morning was also a reminder that I’ve been writing a personal diary more or less daily for over 11 years. This is something that the iPad changed for me. Before its release in 2010 I was an intermittent journaler, writing occasionally in Word or Google Docs to a lesser or greater degree, and very much off and on. After the iPad was released, and once the wonderful Day One app appeared, I started writing much more. There’s something about the form factor of the iPad, even then, which encouraged the daily habit of writing for me.

Writing privately is always cathartic but what makes tools like Day One more valuable is their ability to surface what you were writing, how you were feeling and where you were over time. You start to see the repetitions and rhythms of your thoughts and your life and that is what allows you to grow and develop. When you see the same themes cropping up, year after year, you start to understand the habits and considerations that have become ingrained in you, filtering out (or at least better understanding) the shorter term worries and joys.

It also lets you see the periods of your life which became dominated by the events of family and friends around you and see how for a period of time they came to define a large part of who you were. For me, and for Kim, a large part of the last ten years was defined by caring for her mother and father and for my mother. My forties were defined by caring, death and grief. So strange to think that a decade of your life can vanish like that.

The pile of books that I want to read expands with every issue of the London Review of Books which arrives. Reading more is the yin to the yang of writing more:when I don’t do one, I don’t tend to do the other either. Whenever I reacquaint myself with one the other quickly follows. Of the many parallel lives that someone shaped like me is living in the multiverse, I sometimes wonder if the most content of all Ians is the one who reads and writes the most.

In the garden, one of our jackdaws — dubbed the CORVID-19 because there’s so many of them — has discovered that if he perches just so on a particular part of the bird feeder, he can happily peck at the one containing the fat balls with their delicious crop of worms and seeds. And, of course, he’s also worked out that pecking at bottom one will ultimately lead to all the other fat balls dropping down: like a bottomless soft drink at the restaurant, this is the gift that never stops giving. Meanwhile the blue tits, sparrows, long tail tits, robins and occasional woodpecker also come to feed, and are looking fat this year already. I suspect a crop of chicks will be getting well fed soon. The rabbits who feed on the lawn continue to mostly ignore me, and the healthy country foxes continue to patrol every now and then, making the rabbits scatter.

Our cat, George, continues to be old. At nearly 19 and with virtually every organ having a slightly different level of wonkiness, her hunting days are over and she has taken to sleeping in my armpit. She will even happily let me cover her with a blanket, which would have been anathema not that long ago. Old cats are often anxious — every fibre of their instincts are telling them they are likely to be eaten soon — and so they often tend to seek the company of their owners. George will now come and settle with me whenever I sit on a sofa.

In a week and a bit, the first quarter of the year will be over. How’s yours going? Or, like mine, has it just… gone?

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.

Weeknote: Sunday 27th December

This is the last week note I’ll write this year. So, how did 2020 feel to me? I’m struck by the similarities to space travel. We have endured stretches of boredom, unable to move from the safe havens of our homes. But underneath the ennui and routine of occupying our little ships there has been a constant level of background anxiety, as our limbic systems dealt with the uncertain future by levelling up our cortisol, cranking the alertness until we are left constantly fuzzy and tired.

We have all lived on the edge. For me, this year has been yet another one that has been a holding pattern. Since my father got sick and died in the latter half of the ’00s, for one reason or another our lives have been on hold. And now, a global event that has forced all of us into shelter, put a stop to movement both physically and mentally.

Of course that’s not the only major even of the year which has dripped anxiety into our lives. For anyone who understands its potential impact Brexit has been a constant source of concern, and — until the moment it became obvious he had lost — the prospect of another four years of Trump putting American democracy to the sword didn’t help.

And yet… you would have to be extremely unaware of yourself for this year not to have forced you into some reflection about yourself and what you find important. Times like these change everyone in ways that are unpredictable, but they also coerce you into a better appreciation of what is important what, possibly, you have taken for granted. For me, it’s the ability to travel, both within the UK and overseas, and once we’ve all been saved by science I intend to spend a great deal of time on the road.


I’ve been trying out Roam Research, currently the hottest note-taking application among the kind of people who like “personal information management” as a topic. It combines three concepts in a simple way to good effect: Daily notes; two-way linking between notes; and the ability to reuse blocks of writing anywhere in other notes.

What do I think of it? The temptation with a tool like this is to try and do too much too quickly. You could try and create the perfect Zettelkasten note-taking system, and try and impose too much structure, but I think the best approach is probably the most simple: Just write daily notes, creating pages for projects and topics as you go along. If nothing comes of those projects or topics, no harm done.

It’s definitely useful for putting together Weeknotes. All I have to do is write snippets during my daily notes, then pull them together with block embeds at the end of the week. No additional writing required. Of course, the only down side to this is I need to write my notes as if they were going to be published, or sharpen them up later (embedding is two-way: if I amend a block in the weeknote, it’s changed in the daily notes too).

Chore of the week: we finally swapped the old Prestcold fridge from the kitchen for a newer one which had been in Kim’s old flat years ago. This means we’ve exchanged a 60-year-old fridge, which was still working but tended to get iced up, for one that’s a mere 20 years old. Domestic appliances, eh? They really don’t build them like they used to.

The excellent BookTrack app tells me that I have read 23 books this year. I’m not 100% sure that’s correct — I definitely don’t feel like I’ve read that many books — but I’ve definitely been reading much more than I used to. That’s been one positive of 2020: there’s been so much more time available to read.

Weeknote Sunday 6th December

Sometimes weeks drift by with only one or two things to write about, and because those things often involve super-commercially-confidential work-stuff I can’t always write about them at all. This has not been one of those weeks.

On Tuesday, I co-wrote an obituary piece about Adam for the PPA, which my old colleagues at Dennis Publishing had kindly thought of me to write (and a massive thank you to James Tye and Tim Danton for this).

I realised after writing this that it wasn’t the first time I have had to write a tribute for a friend who has passed away. A few years ago, Adam asked me to do the same for Paul Nesbitt, MacUser columnist and one of the formative influences on my writing career. Paul was both a brilliant reporter and — in his guise as Paul Hofner — a fantastic musician too. Another of the MacUser polymaths. Doing the annual MacUser columnists’ lunch with Paul, Tony Tyler and Charles Shaar Murray was both an exercise is extreme drunkenness and a huge privilege. The stories that Tony, in particular, would tell about the music business that he had been a close part of for many years while working on the NME were mainly libellous and definitely unprintable.

There’s been a bunch of work stuff too. Completing the first draft of a document to help print teams create better digital content; some work on a Big International Project; some social media auditing. Most importantly, working on the essay for the next module of my M.Sc. coursework, which is all about change management.

The spooky thing about this course has been how the modules have magically mapped on to real world events. We looked at business resilience just as COVID-19 hit, which unsurprisingly meant our assignments were all about looking at our response to COVID-19. This, I will state publicly, was actually incredibly impressive. In particular, the IT teams ability to get a lot of previously desk-bound workers set up to work from home within days was amazing. I’m sure a lot of IT teams did the same, but ours did a brilliant job.

Two things on the personal side. I’ve picked up my meditation practice again: although I have been meditating regularly for a good couple of years it had slipped from daily to a couple of times a week. So, I’m back to daily, as I really feel the need (and feel the difference it makes to my stress levels). Taking a hint from Matt D’Avella, I’m adding a degree of semi-public accountability by having the chart where I mark off the days in the kitchen, rather than just in my notebook. Yes, only Kim can see it: but having that degree of just-enough public notice is important.

I have also picked up my Bullet Journaling practice again. My current notebook is the fifth that I’ve used as a Bullet Journal, but over the past few months I had drifted away from it. As I was spending more time in front of screens than ever, thanks to working from home, I had got it in my head that an all-electronic system would be better.

That meant plenty of faffing with different task managers, note taking apps, and so on — until I ended up just realising that for 90% of my purposes, handwritten is just better.

One other thing from this week: I wrote about 750 words about my experience of post-COVID fatigue. Since I got the dreaded bug back in March I’ve struggled with a level of tiredness (particularly in the afternoons) that I’ve never experienced before. I’m also struggling with whether to write about it or not, at least publicly. It feels like whining — my symptoms are so minor compared to people who got it bad and still really suffer. It affects my work and life but in ways that can be worked around and managed. Perhaps I’ll publish it, though. I don’t know yet.

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?

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.

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.

Weeknotes, Sunday 18th October

Tuesday saw us head again to the Curzon to see Kajillionaire, which is a lovely film that I’d recommend to everyone. We’ve been seeing a lot of independent films lately, partly because I want to stay in the habit of going to the cinema and partly because… well… there isn’t much else on. A very big FU to Eon, who aren’t releasing James Bond and so are actually damaging cinemas that desperately need revenue (and yes, you can go to a cinema safely).

Seeing quite a few indie films has definitely rekindled my interest in movies, which has been bludgeoned into submission by years of mostly seeing huge films about people with various kinds of superpowers. One from last year that everyone ought to see is Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart which is a sharp little comedy. I was reminded of it by something which arrived this week, Google’s new Chromecast with Google TV. Google TV is a revelation – it has a better interface for movie discovery than anything else I’ve found, and because it incorporates every streaming service1 it works really well. It also supports movies that aren’t available to stream anywhere, letting you tell it that you want to add them to a watchlist or have seen it before, so it can base recommendations and alerts on even movies which aren’t available anywhere.


It’s funny how rearranging your working space can have such a big impact on how it feels to work. For months I’ve had my office space set out with the window to the side of me and my desk facing the wall (one with some lovely pictures on it, but still a wall. On something of a whim I decided to move the desk so that I am sitting facing outside, which means I get a glimpse of sunlight. I also did away with the (quite lovely) big monitor, replacing it with a 12 South MacBook Stand which works brilliantly with my MacBook Pro.

It also works really well with my iPad Pro, which sits up at a perfect height for typing and reminds me of the way Matt Gemmell has his iPad-only work desk set up. Mine is, of course, more cluttered than Matt’s but I’m still stuck in the dark ages of using an actual laptop for some of my work.

In fact, two laptops. I’ve always liked having an up to date Mac and an up to date Windows PC. It’s an old habit from computer journalism: an effort to be cross platform, to know “how the other half lives” and not to get too wedded to either Windows or macOS. It’s a professional thing.

Of course I’m not actually a computer journalist anymore. What I should be doing is simply striving to use the best tools for my job and sticking with those. But that old habit dies hard.

The iPad as main device

Using the MacBook Stand with the iPad is a joy and a reminder that the iPad can be a perfect brilliant standalone computer. The screen is big enough to work and iPadOS means you’re not constantly bombarded with the distractions inherent in a multi-window operating system. Where most computer systems encourage you to multi-task, the single window approach of iPadOS means it’s actually harder to be distracted.

Of course plenty of people have been using the iPad as their main device for some time. However, I think we’re now at the point where it’s a viable option for most people, including ones that don’t want to go down the route of setting up endless Shortcuts to compensate for something that’s easy on a laptop but hard on an iPad.

Things I’ve been reading this week

Ulysses 21 Brings Revision Mode to iPhone and iPad Alongside Updated Design. Ulysses has been my writing tool of choice for a while for everything except work documents (we’re very heavily invested in Microsoft there, and I still love Word). Revision mode answers some of the biggest issues with it as an editing tool where the aim is to sharpen when you have written. And it’s on both iOS and macOS.

FoodNoms’ Widgets Thoughtfully Combine Goal Summaries with Actions to Make Food Tracking Easier Than Ever. Food tracking is a privacy nightmare, because all the main apps you can get for it use the data on what you’re eating to either advertise something to you or sell you some kind of expensive weight loss course. FoodNoms is designed to be private: what you log stays with you (at the moment, it doesn’t even support syncing with Apple Health, although that is in the plan).

The downside is that its food database is incredibly US-centric, and although it has the ability to use text recognition to bring in data from food labels, it’s designed for US food labelling and doesn’t do a brilliant job of UK labels. It works, but it’s sometimes confused between the amounts for portions vs 100g.

Things 3.13: Bringing Your Field Notes To-Do List to Things. Things gains support for Scribble on iPad and it’s excellent. You can literally scribble anywhere on a list in the app to add in an extra to do, which makes the Pencil a great tool for capturing idle thoughts about tasks into your inbox.

  1. Except, of course, Apple TV – Apple, please do support this!