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.

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.