On Instagram again

Have I talked about Instagram, lately?

I’m having yet another one of my rethinks about my relationship with the internet, and technology, and everything. My filters are broken again. I accept Twitter’s essential, but God, I hate it now. Instagram, on the other hand, is a wonderful thing.

When I’m not home, one of the best bits of my day is the few minutes I spend Instragramming. It feels like a proper creative act. That’s quite rare for me – especially for things other than words. Lately it’s made me feel semi-serious about taking photographs again. And the feedback from people, even if it is just the like-count, has been really useful. Who said photograph what you love? They must have been right.

But I also take a few minutes once a day to have a nose at other people’s photos: my timeline, obviously, but also a spot of tag surfing. If you try really hard you can find people who almost exclusively do not take photos of themselves, cats, food, or their shoes. Fill your timeline with those people and Instagram is a thing of beauty. The signal-noise ratio is low, but the good stuff stands out, and you quickly nav through to interesting photographers – there are loads of them on Instagram.

Part of the genius, I think, is that Instagram, in what must be said is very uninternetty of it, refuses to format pasted URLs as clickable links. You can’t even copy them out. Pasting a URL into an Instagram comment is essentially a waste of time. So the only thing you can really spam are links to other Instagram accounts, and mercifully few people seem to think that that’s a worthwhile use of their time.

Of course it wall turn to shit, because all things on the internet do, eventually. But for now it’s my favourite place on the internet. And it was only a little bit of work to get there.

The search for white ones

For the past three weeks, one of the most meaningful relationships in my life has been with a man I’ve never met. I don’t even know his name. But we are united in common cause: the quest for level 30 in Destiny.

That’s trickier than it sounds. The slow grind of XP-gathering gets you only as far as level 20. After that, you need rare armour, which is itself only a vehicle to the armour rarer still you need to crawl over the line from level 29 to level 30. And you need to upgrade it. And the things you need to upgrade it, namely ascendant shards, are hard work to come by. You need other things too. But they’re the bottleneck.

Many activities in Destiny are geared towards gaining these ascendant shards. The game will hand you a few per day for an hour or so’s play, but after that you grind for hours, snatching at the fickle half-chances of random loot drops.

And woe betide the Destiny player who spends too many shards in intermediate armour, not realising that it won’t see you all the way to level 30. To get there need raid gear, which means taking on the Vault of Glass, for now the game’s only raid: a 6-player epic of complexity and time-investment.

You can’t just shoot stuff. You actually have to coordinate plans. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find 6 people on PlayStation Network or Xbox Live capable of doing that? (The raid itself is nothing in comparison, if you have someone in the team who understands the bizarre hoops you have to jump through, that is).

But my friend understands it all, as well as the finer points of shard-aquisition. Why do a daily challenge once, for example, when you can level up two or three extra characters to level 25 to do it multiple times for extra reward? Sure, it’ll cost you 10 hours per character to level them up to the low 20s, but that’s a small price to pay for shards. No really.

Strictly speaking, I’m not a good match for him. He has more time to play than I do. But some of the tougher daily and weekly challenges, particularly Nightfall, benefit from the patience and strategy that comes with an older head on your shoulders. My theory is he likes playing with me because, frankly, I’m not as annoying to listen to as younger male players.

Don’t get me wrong. The PS4 Destiny crowd are a far nicer bunch than the Xbox and Xbox 360 Halo and Call of Duty contingent. I suspect that this being an expensive game on an expensive system shifts the demographics a little. Though, anecdotal evidence alert, I don’t know that PSN isn’t simply a little less a-holeish than Xbox Live. Certainly the lower ratio of headset users doesn’t hurt.

Anyway. Support characters is one area where I fare less well than my friend. My daughter is 6 months old, and incapable of grinding out a replay of the story missions to boost a character into the early level 20s. My friend, in contrast, has two offspring in their teens. This is the new serfdom. And I’m missing out.

The joke of it all is that ascendant shards are only one of two types of ascendant material. The other, ascendant energy, is used to upgrade weapons: useful, but it won’t directly contribute to levelling up.

Of course we don’t refer to ascendant materials, shards or energy, because we’re British and middle-aged, and that would show we had paid some attention to the game’s nonsensical lore. Instead we call them “red ones” (energy) and “white ones” (shards), after the prevailing colours of their respective icons. “Bloody red ones” is a typical refrain.

I have all the shards I need to upgrade the armour I have: three of the four pieces of raid gear I need. But I don’t know if I have the stomach for another run at the Vault of Glass. I may have lost the stomach for the battle. Not my friend, though. He’s made of sterner stuff.

But I think we both know we’ve already put too much time into the game. And we’ve used each other to distract ourselves from the grind. Destiny’s perfectly fun enough to dip into for a few hours a week. But, fun-aside, it won’t be for the shards, or for level 30. It’ll be to check in on my anonymous friend.

Unconditionality

It’s 4 a.m. – the worst time, and Alice, 6 months old, is crying. Again. The last time was 40 minutes ago. The time before that an hour and a half. I’ve lost track of the times before that. But I’ve had enough. It’s late. Or early. I’ve had no sleep, and I’ve got important things to do in the morning.

Six months. That’s conceivably old enough for her to be trying it on, isn’t it? This is beginning to feel a little bit like a tantrum. I’ll let her work it out. But she’s not stopping. She still isn’t stopping. She’s just working up to more and more distress. So I pick her up. Of course I do. And I hug, and I soothe, but above all I beg, because I don’t know what else to do. She comes into our bed, and with some hugs, and kisses, and songs she gets back off to sleep.

I look at the clock and decide I may as well get up. And I go to work, and I type, almost on autopilot. And I go to Smith’s where I forget to buy what I went in for, and leave my debit card in the machine when I go back in. And then I go home.

“Alice’s first tooth has come through!” And in six words, the confusion of the night before crystallises into sense. And I feel awful, because it wasn’t remotely a tantrum and I was horrible. Those important things I had to do suddenly feel minuscule.

And I feel wonderful because she’s growing up and I’m there to see it.

And I go to her, and she looks at me, and beams that big toothless grin – not so toothless now, and I sit beside her, and she reaches out and rests her hand on me. And whatever she’s capable of thinking or feeling, I feel welcome, forgiven and loved – wholly and unconditionally.

And as wonderful as it feels there’s also the fear that however hard I try, and whatever I do to try to stop it, she’s going to grow up to be just like me.

Taking photographs

I’ve been trying a bit harder with my photographs lately.

The main thing I’ve done are to completely divorce the acts of taking and sharing photos. If I put a photo online, in a place that matters to me, anyway (which, for now, means Instagram and VSCO), it’s probably years old. Maybe I’ll continue to use Flickr for the sensible, timely or colour stuff. Creatively, I’m all about black and white. And with my current eyes, I’m finding things in my archive I never thought were good photos, but are now my favourites. My eyes may be getting worse, but my eye gets better and better, I think.

The other things is I relentlessly self-edit. Not the photos, so much. But what I’m sharing. At the moment I’m putting a photo a day on Instagram, but on average, I’ve removed way more. I think I’ll continue to keep it as a manageable selection of my best shots.

Anyway, a nice thing happened. A photo I took got shared on VSCO’s featured grid (time-sensitive link alert). Mine is the one second down on the right:

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 11.51.13

Thanks, VSCO :)

Iterate

In the visual language of the slide, Spotify isn’t building a car, starting with a wheel, adding a chassis, then a body, and only then adding a windshield and controls that allow a user to start traveling. Rather, Spotify is providing transport, starting with a ratty skateboard, and then progressing through steps from a scooter to a bicycle to a motorcycle and then, finally, to a car.

Good stuff. But I don’t know why the sktateboard has to be ratty.

Make More Skateboards (Ed Batista).

Remaindered links

You remember delicious. It was pinboard before pinboard was, but worse. And worse and worse and worse. And then, when it died, we set fire to the corpse. Except now it’s alive again and no one cares.

But, one thing it did quite nicely was let you post a set of recent links as a blog post, maybe once a day or once a week (I forget). One blog post per link is way too spammy, but a weekly collection of links to good things on the internet is a nice thing.

Before I go a-hunting, does anyone know a way to do that with pinboard?

Packet origins

I’m not sure why I love this, but I do. Why a packet is called a packet:

Davies wanted a suitable term for his invention and, after consulting with an NPL linguist, he used the term packet as it was capable of being translated into languages other than English without compromise. The devices that decided where to send these packets were packet switches, the whole system being called packet switching.

From Who is the Father of the Internet? The case for Donald Watts Davies (PDF)

Breaking: white men have meeting, agree nothing

Just received this. A new low for PR emails. Note: not a single word on anything that actually happened at the event. As a journalist (which I’m not, but it was sent to me in the assumption that I am), what on Earth am I supposed to report?

I’m all for offshore wind, by the way. And I’m sure it was a useful, if not particularly diverse, event. But some effort on the PR front wouldn’t go amiss.

Greenwood_141001_52139

Please see below a caption for the attached photo from the ‘MOR Opportunity Knocks’ industry event, which was held in Cornwall and focused on how businesses can tap into a market that could be worth £4.5 billion to the South West economy by 2030.

For more information, please call me on 0207 [redacted].

Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly’s marine renewables industry gathered at a one day conference in Falmouth yesterday, playing host to experts in marine energy at an exciting time for the sector. The event was seen as an important opportunity to share knowledge and expertise across the marine energy business sector, jointly hosted by the Offshore Renewable Development Programme (ORDP), the universities of Exeter and Plymouth, Cornwall Marine Network, The MOR Group and Channel MOR Project.
From left to right, Peter Child, MD at A&P Falmouth, Julian German, Economy & Culture Portfolio Holder for Cornwall Council, Stuart Farmer ORDP Manager for Cornwall Development Company, Mike Reynolds, ORD Forum Chair, Andrew Williams, Board Member of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership and Matt Hodson of Mojo Maritime.

Brevity as a means, not an end

I work with a few other writers these days. We have lots of conversations about brevity. I’ve started to wonder if it’s more useful to think of it as a tool, a means rather than an end – the end being clarity and simplicity (no, those aren’t the same thing).

In 99 percent of cases, there’s little conflict, but if you begin to think in character counts you start to introduce things that make work harder for the reader, which is the opposite of the intent behind keeping things short.

In this list, I’ll start with a perfectly good word or phrase, then put the shorter version, and then, in parentheses, some notes on why I don’t think it’s an improvement:

  1. and -> & (a mere two-character saving, but one which makes a sentence much harder to read. It jars the reader. “Hello. I’m used to seeing those in proper nouns like company names, but I didn’t notice one of those. Let me read that again.” Plus it’s ugly and plain wrong. Just write and)
  2. 30 million -> 30m or 30M (what does the m stand for? I’m pretty sure they mean million, but could it be miles. Let me double check. In prose, just write million)
  3. Captain -> Capt. (this could be any abbreviation. They take longer to parse. That might be only fractionally longer in the case of a familiar contraction, but it’s lazy writing all the same, passing the hard work on to the reader)
  4. Make it shorter -> reduce (make it shorter is a favourite piece of feedback at work. But it’s been quipped that it can in itself be made shorter. Yes and no. If you tell me to reduce something, I need to clarify if you mean the length, its range of subject matter or its potency. If you tell me to make it shorter, I know exactly what you mean. The broader point? A short phrase with simple words often trumps a single word which might need extra context, or be downright unfamiliar)

The example of acronyms and initialisms surely no longer needs saying. If it’s unfamiliar, define it the first time you use it. But there’s another trick. Rather than littering your text with the contracted form, it’s perfectly okay to call it “it” after that. One acronym per paragraph is more than that. Or you can refer it as the agency, company, corporation or what have you (often whatever the last letter tends to stand for). Readers will barely notice these words but perfectly understand your meaning. A capitalise TLA is a flick on the nose every time it appears. And if you have more than two acronyms knocking about your text you’re up the proverbial creak.

Needless to say, all of the above applies only to writing for utility. Writing for entertainment is another matter entirely. Throw out the rulebook if it gets you a laugh.

Scrap the moving plan. Staying here for now. Good news for all humanity. All life, Earth-bound and beyond.

Test (plus a poem)

This is a test to see if posting to WordPress from Byword is still working.

But that isn’t very fair to you is it, dear reader? So, have a poem:

Hour after hour after
Hour after hour
In your bower
There’s ne’er
e’er
e’er
e’er
A glower.
That is your power:
The flower

A workflow for writing

It doesn’t solve my deep deep blogging woes, but this workflow for getting writing done on the Mac is gorgeous. It uses nvALT and Byword to stunning effect.

nvALT is a notes app. Byword is a Markdown editor, but this workflow will work with any Markdown editor you choose. You use nvALT (a fork of the lovely Notational Velocity) to manage your Markdown files (with a simple but very powerful search, so use slugs to divvy up your clients or projects or what have you), and to do light edits. But if you want to roll your sleeves up, your heavy duty editor is only a keyboard shortcut away.

Better still, I’ve started using an app called Write on an iPad. Now, nvALT talks to a notes folder in Dropbox. Write can be synced with exactly the same folder. So as long as I can find some Wi-Fi I’ve got a nice long-life lightweight writing setup. In fact I can work offline too, as long as I’ve already synced with Dropbox before I head away from my desk.

This doesn’t solve my chronic problem of getting words onto the internet more easily, but since I gave up on tags and categories, that’s taken a little of the pain out of it. My stats said neither of you were using them anyway.

Edit: Bugger. Monetising my links hasn’t worked.

Actual proper edit: I forgot you can publish to WordPress from Byword. That’s where piddling around gets you.

Bookmarklets tip

If you’re anything like me, you rotate your browser between Chrome, Safari and Firefox each time, every 3 to 6 months, you cross the annoyance threshold. By the time you’re back to number one, you’ve forgotten what the problem was and there’s every chance it’s gone away.

I have a PRO INTERNET TIP to make the switch easier.

If you’re anything like me, you switch service allegiance with alarming regularity too. For that reason, don’t have a “Read Later” bookmarklet, because when you come back to that browser, you’ll wonder, hmmm, was that before or after I switched from Instapaper to Pocket? Don’t have a “Bookmark” bookmarklet, because you’ll wonder if you changed browser before or after you ditched Delicious. Alright, bad example, because that was ages ago, but you know what I mean.

In summary, then: NAME BROWSER BOOKMARKLETS AFTER THE SERVICE.

Barriers

I’m still playing with blogging. I downloaded some third-party iPad app that talks to WordPress, but has an interface like Berlin, 1945. Why is there so much stuff in the way? All I ask is to be able to type something, and then have it beamed directly into the cerebral cortex of every mammal on Earth in such a way that they’re unable to think about anything else for the next 90 minutes. Is that so hard?

Telling time

As a writer, there’s a time for utility and there’s a time for poetry. The tricky thing is to tell one from the other.

That goes for some writers more than others. Poets need to summon up a high proportion of poetry, I imagine.

Sub-blogging

I set up a Jekyll blog hosted on Github pages. I wrote a couple of posts, and pushed them to Github using terminal. That was a fun exercise. I’m not convinced it’s the way I want to blog. I think there must be an even simpler way. But I’m glad I did it. More of that sort of thing.