Note: I wrote this a few weeks ago, before Alice.

I’ve been knocked off my game this week. I’ve written only three blog posts in my notebook. I blame the fact that we’re having a baby soon. I’ve been trying to get things in order: article deadlines, work commitments, and organising that evening of talking.

Amid all that hecticity (I know that’s not a word) I reverted to old habits: living in my email inbox, and poking screens to distract myself from the whirlwind.

The talking thing was brilliant, but otherwise, it’s not a week I enjoyed. It felt extremely busy, but not productive. I’ve long had doubts about hyper-connectedness, but after the baby comes, I’m going to give serious thought to giving up my iPhone.

I remain a vocal advocate of the internet, but it must work for us not us for it.

Photo unmanagement

Finally, I think I’ve hit upon a workflow for managing and sharing photos that doesn’t make me want to drink rat poison.

Basically, it’s this:

  1. Get all my photos from all my cameras into Dropbox
  2. Download a few photos at a time from Dropbox to my iPhone
  3. Edit a few photos when I feel like it on the iPhone using VSCO Cam
  4. Share them wherever I’m sharing these days, at the moment VSCO Grid, Instagram or Twitter.
  5. Delete photos from my iPhone in batches, when I feel like it.

I don’t want desktop photo managers. I don’t want to tag things. I don’t want to mark things on a map. I don’t want to look at browser upload screens. I just want the flow of seeing, photographing, backing up and sharing to be as unimpeded as possible. This is as painless a method as I’ve found.

10 things I’ve learned since becoming a parent

  1. Clothes aren’t for warmth. Nor for modesty. They’re wearable emergency muslins.
  2. If you ask 10 midwives the same question you’ll get 10 different answers.
  3. The Sound of Music absolutely bears watching three times in three days.
  4. Time has no meaning.
  5. That noise is normal. So’s that one. And that one.
  6. Milk is the answer.
  7. Except when sleep is the answer.
  8. Almost nothing matters.
  9. S/he who dares wins, at least so far as the menu at the Happy Valley Chinese takeaway goes.
  10. Tom Cruise did his very best work in the 1980s.


What came first: the engine or the engineer? If you’ve not thought about that before the answer might surprise you, even though you already know it. (It’s just one of those things you’ve never thought about.)

Of course, there were engineers, or people in the business of applying science to the world around them, long before there were engines.

It’d be pointless to claim we know who the first engineer was. I don’t think it makes sense to try. Humans are engineers by nature. Mind you, that hasn’t stopped the internet having a go. Some say Vitruvius, born about 80 BC. That’s silly. We had boats before 80 BC. Boats mean engineers, as do lots of things we made before we started writing things down.

The origin of the word engineer charts back to the Latin ingenium, meaning various things. But it’s the same root that gives us the word ingenious. So when you hear the word engineer, don’t think engines; think ingenuity. Think cunning.

I think, if I carry on tech writing, I’ll focus more on proper engineering, and I’ll try to talk to more engineers.

Finding music

That stuff about listening to music while you work is fine, but you don’t want to obsess about it. Some time last year, I had an I-don’t-listen-to-enough-new-music freak-out, and panic-subscribed to a bunch of music feeds.

The problem was that I was checking out all the new music while I was writing, and naturally gravitated towards music that didn’t distract me. What music do you like, James? Um. Wallpaper. That’s not good, is it?

And, as well as my audiobook plan was working, it only took one duffer to knock me out of the habit. Ever since, I’ve been marching across the square mile with my 500-plus tracks in my starred Spotify playlist for company. There’s no wallpaper in there. Well. No more than would cover a modest feature wall. It’s nice to repeatedly expose yourself to really good stuff. (When was the last time you reread a book? One of the best things Christopher Hitchens ever said was that people no longer do enough of that.)

At the moment, I’m managing to not worry about finding new music. I keep an eye on a couple of my favourite labels rather than going to the music press (except those with a Spotify app). Any records I like get dumped in my Everything playlist – that’s about as granular a music management system as I can cope with.

The problem is, I’m not giving new stuff the repeat listens it sometimes takes to realise you really like something. I demand to be surprised now. I need things to not sound like anything else .

And I worry a bit that I don’t seem to talk to people about music much any more.

Rambling now. Let’s stop.

A place to write

These days, you can perform the mechanics of writing almost anywhere. But I suspect we all have our favourite places to write, especially when we’re trying to write something that meets .

I have my own ideas.

Cafes are good. Pubs are better, possibly. Both beat “public spaces”, which tend not to be great. Offices are awful, obviously. Libraries, though fantastic for input, and for thinking, aren’t great for creativity in my experience.

Wherever you are, a full venue is bad, but an empty one is worse. The quiet side of the middle is best. I prefer to sit to the side, but not in the corner: one foot in, a foot out, as it were, but definitely a participant in what is sometimes misguidedly called “the space”.

New places beat familiar places, unless the familiar place is a proper favourite (whatever that is).

Crikey. I could go on. I haven’t even touched on mood. Maybe I’ll write about some of my favourite haunts. How would that do?

I <3 Chepstow

I wouldn’t wear an I <3 London garment, but I’d think twice about these lesser-spotted$ alternatives:

  1. I <3 Newport
  2. I <3 Lancing
  3. I <3 Fraserburgh
  4. I <3 Llanelli
  5. I <3 Letchworth
  6. I <3 Kilmarnock
  7. I <3 Portslade
  8. I <3 Groggan
  9. I <3 Cadgwith
  10. I <3 Frimley

$. I subvert the meaning of lesser-spotted. Of birds, it doesn’t mean rarely sighted, it means small and spotty. But you know that. I just need you to know that I know that too.


…people moan about there being information overload these days, which is nonsense, ever since Gutenberg it’s been impossible to keep up with all the “information”.

What’s changed is that your filters don’t work as well as they used to.

I listened to Clay Shirky speak the other day, but the main thing I noticed was also the main thing Ben did, so you may as well just read his blog post about it.

The only thing I’d add is that it’s not even a signal versus noise issue. There’s way too much signal. It’s about homing in on a digestible core that works for you at this very moment in time. And what that core is will change as your interests do.

This is something I think about a lot, so expect more from me on this. And by “think about”, I mean struggle with. I was just trying to sound cleverer than I am.

A simple life

Watch this New York Times film on Dr. John Kitchin, aka Slomo. It’s your common or garden give-up-the-rat-race kind of story, but a good one, and it’s a nice film too.

I think anyone who decides to start calling themselves Slomo must be doing something right.

The love and the fear

We had a baby last Sunday, so blogging hasn’t been a very high priority – not while we figure things out.

Nothing prepares you for the love or the fear.

Fortunately, the fear quickly subsides.

The love – not so much.


Informations Architects based their new writing workflow on Hans Blumenberg’s theories in his book titled “Sources, Streams, Icebergs.” It consists of four steps — note-taking, writing, editing and proofing/publishing — and that’s how Writer Pro is structured.

From Wojtek Pietrusiewicz’s review of iA’s Writer Pro, which I’ve only now realised exists. Ben Hourigan’s less positive review is also worth reading if you’re thinking of taking the plunge.

1985, from memory

Bonfires and new tarmac.
A halfpenny piece.
Pebbledash from here to the horizon.
The gravel alley where
You taught me to ride a bike.
The implausibly long tumbledown shack.
There’s a bird in the stove again.
Standing on a rake to see if it works like in the cartoons.
(It does.)
Potatoes on the bonfire.
Sister’s boyfriend’s car with sunroof –
I lost my cap.
Our first computer.
The Morris Minor Estate that never moved.
A rabbit and two cats…
Or was it one by then?
My first and pins and needles.
You can see the sea from the loft.
Can we go to Brooklands?
There are cookies and coke in Chichester.
The road with two bends.
No precipitation to speak of.
Muggy hours inspecting spider mites
And making starships from the flower-weeds.

The time to simplify

One of GDS’ design principles is “do the hard work to make it simple”. That’s as true of writing as it is making digital services.

Sometimes words are easy to find. Other times, when an idea is subtle, or you’re the first to define it, you have to word-wrestle. Maybe the only thing that differentiates someone who identifies themselves as a writer and someone who doesn’t, is that the writer is prepared to spend the time to do that.

I’m sure that’s as true of lots of things. Those that seem best at film-making, model-building and song-writing are the ones that realise that it takes time to do well, and yet are willing to do it all the same.

The good news is that writing’s easier than all those other things.

Writing for no money

“But that assumes one wants to write for money.” A writer said that to me the other day, when I was mouthing off about getting into freelance writing. Not about how to be a writer. But how to be a freelance writer.

This writer clearly wanted to have a different conversation to the one I was having (the one about freelance writing). I stuck to my guns then, because I was talking to a few people that wanted to be freelance writers. It seemed a good time to have that conversation.

But now is an excellent time to have that other conversation (the one about writing for no money), because a) I’ve had a lot more time to think about it, and b) that writer isn’t around to argue.

I read a proper writer (one who writes for money) praise pretend writers (who write for no money) the other day. They were saying that, in a sense, pretend writing (for no money) is the purest form of writing. You know: writing for the sheer unbridled passion of words and sentences and stories. Writing for yourself, or a special someone, or bees or whatever, is very rewarding I, as a proper writer, imagine.

It was inspiring to hear from a real-life pretend writer who had written a novel. It hasn’t been published – not because it’s not good enough to be published, you understand; but because this writer has no interest in it being published. That’s what being a proper pretend writer is all about.

They have another novel planned for that most popular of genres of unpublished novels: books about the author’s grandfather’s war stories, which are much braver and more interesting than your grandfather’s war stories. The publishing industry is yet to realise the cash cow it’s sitting on, the tragedy being that much of this material is already between 2 and 3 percent written.

I am grateful to this writer for this insight into the world of the pretend writer, because I (and you may not realise this) have always been a proper writer who writes for money, and no other reason.

When I started this blog in 2001, it was at the behest of the Spirella company, who would send me £100 and prototype corset for every 500 blog posts I published.

But even before that, when I wrote stories as a small child, I was paid 2p per page by an aunt who would photocopy my scrawls and tack them to telegraph poles to raise awareness of the dangers of chewing the hands and feet of He-Man figures.

And it continues to this day. Though no one else will ever read them, I am contractually obliged to include the words Saudi Aramco in every haiku I write, which means I have whole notebooks which are 30-percent full of the words Saudi Aramco.

My only consolation is that with all the money I earn being a proper writer, I can afford to go on some of those expensive courses that are so popular with pretend writers, so I can at least glimpse how great it must be to write for no money.

(Apologies if you have found my use of the term “proper writer” patronising. It’s just that the minute you receive a paycheck for having written something, it becomes absolutely impossible to not look down upon anyone who hasn’t. Luckily, proper writers are singled out and tattoo’d at birth, so it’s not a vantage point that comes with any risk at all.)


It usually refers to a collection of technologies too abstract or complex to describe in a way that anyone would care about if they were explained in plain English.

– Glen Turpin, a communications consultant, from The Most Annoying, Pretentious And Useless Business Jargon.

Unless you mean a liquid composed of a solute dissolved in a solvent, or maybe the answer to a well-defined problem (mathematical, most likely), I really wouldn’t.


Here’s a lovely wee web service: Blogtrottr sends your RSS subscriptions to your email. You get separate emails for each feed you subscribe to, and you can choose how often you want to receive them.

If that sounds anathema to serenity, fine, but couple this with an approach to email that doesn’t involve the inbox of perpetual openness, it actually works really well. And it’s one less thing to think about.

It also has something approaching a business model, so hopefully it’ll stick around.