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March 8, 2014

31-3.6 Time, money and desk space

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I started this daft writing project with ideas of fighting complacency. It's too easy to slip into habits in your blogging, to just keep doing what you did before, without any serious attempt to keep pushing yourself forwards. And, in a sense, I've been scuppered for two days by taking exactly that approach to my technology.

I've been using Movable Type to blog here for over a decade now, and I've been on a single webhost for the majority of that time - since 2007, in fact. Now, I'm seriously reconsidering that decision. The past 48 hours have not covered my webhost in glory. They killed my blog software - and then my whole account - with no clear explanation. It took them 24 hours to resolve a photo uploading problem once the site was restored - and they broke the site several times in the meantime.

And, to cap it all, they gave me utterly wrong information at one point - telling me that I was using very old software (which is true, if your definition of "very old" is two months), which is unmaintained (not true) and therefore my site was "probably hacked". Well, suspending my account because it was "probably hacked' is one thing, although the "probably" is a bit worrying; surely you should check before pulling down sites? Doing it without notification is another.

Migration Labour

So, now I find myself wondering if I should migrate this blog to another of my hosting accounts - and that's another level of work that'll consume time I can ill-afford right now.

But then, I've also been reminded today how much technology does move on when you're not paying attention. It's been over a decade since I bought a printer. That one was on its last legs back in 2008, so I switched it for my late mother's printer when she passed away. That printer has been faithfully serving us every since, but I finally made the decision to do away with it earlier in the year, as the ink prices for it were getting out of hand. When the current cartridges died - it was being replaced. And that happened earlier in the week. This morning, a Canon Pixma 6450 arrived - and it has been a revelation.

Two become one (tech edition)

canon-printer.jpg

First of all, it's replacing two devices. Both my old printer and scanner are exiting, with one device taking their place. Welcome back, desk space.

Also, it connects to my wireless network - and, joy of joys, it supports AirPrint, which means I can print from my iPad and iPhone. It was quite something to tap the sharing button I've never used on my iPhone - the one marked "print" - and see a page pop out of the printer a few seconds later. What was more impressive was loading up some 6x4 photo paper and seeing a perfect little print popping out.

And then I realised how much time I wasted getting prints from Boots and those little printing kiosks when sending letters of thanks to people who bought Hazel clothes. This printer is capable of producing just as good results, faster, and without leaving home. The price is not much different. Sticking with that old printer was a false economy, in terms of the time/money trade off. I should have done this a while ago.

Time poor, cash… OK

Mentally, I've never quote made the journey from "time rich, cash poor" to "time starved, cash comfortable". I still make decisions based on saving money not time - but since Hazel came along, time has been at an absolute premium, and I'm not yet making sensible decisions about how to deploy my money to ease that time pressure a little.

Am I paying too little for my web hosting - and suffering huge losses of time as a result? Would some sensible investment in hosting and a managed move to WordPress pay off in the long run? Where else in my life is corner-cutting costing me precious time? These are questions I need to be asking with more rigour - and focus.

March 2, 2014

31-3.2 A daily thrashing with the 500 word stick

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So, here's a question. Why am I putting myself through the horror of trying to write something substantive for this blog every single day in March?

Leaving aside the possibility of an unexplored masochistic streak, the fundamental reason is because I want to. I like blogging. I love it, in fact. It's been nearly 13 years since I discovered it as a medium and it shifted my world around completely. I'm a busy man, though, trapped between a hectic four-day-a-week consultancy career (long may that "hectic" last) and the demands of being 50% of the available parenting resource for a little girl who has hit the toddler years fast and hard, and is accelerating towards the terrible twos as quickly as she possibly can.

The 40s are a problem for modern couples:

The modern 40s are so busy it's hard to assess them. Researchers describe the new "rush hour of life," when career and child-rearing peaks collide.

Sell, Sell, Self

This blog has got pushed to the sidelines repeatedly since I became a free agent and a Dad, and the closest thing I have to a New Year resolution this year is to rectify that. There are prosaic, financial reasons behind that: my blog remains my showcase, the source of much of my work, and without it I'm essentially doing very little marketing right now (my workload is leaving little room for the round of coffees and lunches that make up my self-promotion). The busy period will end - and I need something there to keep me in people's minds.

However, it's also the place where I crystallise my ideas about the subjects I follow. Some of that "writing myself into existence" has transferred into my lecturing and training, where I've been forced into developing a new language around some of my areas of expertise just so I can communicate them effectively - and that's a subject I intent to return to this month - but my blog still remains the most compelling way of doing so. Why? Well, because I can expose my ideas to the criticism of my peers - and that's incredibly useful in making sure I'm talking something that approximates to sense.

Blogito Ergo Sum.

The Inspiration

Also, some people have been doing something similar, and that lodged the idea in my head. MG Siegler kicked off the year doing something like this. The Man Mayfield pushed me into subscribing to Dan Hon's current experiment in daily mailings (leading to his probable nervous breakdown given the volume he produces) has been a daily(ish) prod to my own conscience.

Besides, a couple of recent posts which have garnered good engagement (and I feel dirty using that word) have reminded me that it's the personal stuff that makes a blog fly. Be it photos from the US, or an insight into an advert I ended up appearing in, that kind of material makes a blog engaging and human in the way some links and commentary doesn't.

I seem to need to relearn - or, at least, reinforce in myself - these kinds of lessons every few years. That's no bad thing, because it also forces me to check and re-evaluate what I know in the light of changes that have happened over that period. After over a decade's blogging, it would be horribly easy to get into a rut - and I don't want to do that.

The Rebellion

Somehow, over the last six months, I've slipped into being predominantly a trainer. The majority (but not the entirety) of my work has been teaching other people stuff. That's great, as far as it goes. It pays well - very well, at times - and is something I seem to be good at. There's also a pretty evident gap in the market for someone with my particular skill set, which works well for me.

I don't want too walk too far down that path, though. I enjoy both the strategic consulting and the content creation aspects of my work, too, and I'm going to be putting some more effort into landing that kind of work in the coming months. In the meantime, though, it's important to do as well as teach. And this blog is the place where I can do whatever the hell I want - even a stupid writing project when I'm far too busy already.

This is the second in a series of one-a-day substantive posts I'm going to try to write through March.

January 8, 2014

Fitness and the self-employed blogger

A chair on Shoreham Beach I try not to do New Years Resolutions - they just seem to place an unnecessary burden on you when you are trying to get back up to speed on your working life.

That said, I did find a few of Mashable's 7 ways to sneak exercise into the self-employed lifestyle useful. Some clearly betray that the writer doesn't have children, but this one is the one I want to take most seriously:

5. Go Outside During Lunch

Not everyone can take a long break during the day, change clothes, and come back sweaty and flushed after a mid-day run or basketball game. However, you can probably go for a brisk 30-minute walk at lunch and still be presentable to meet with an important client.

Depending on where you are on the fitness spectrum, a 30-minute walk may not be sufficient, but it's always better than sitting at a desk a 30-minute walk may not be sufficient, but it's always better than sitting at a desk. You'll also get the mood-enhancing benefits of sunshine, fresh air and a change in scenery.

More beach walks for me.

January 7, 2014

2014 dawning after disconnection

2014 dawning

And I'm finally back at my desk after the best part of three weeks away from work. Taking serious time off as an independent consultant is a nerve-wracking thing - if you're not working, you're not earning. But this time it was vital. No only did my wife need the time, but I also needed the break. The last two years have been hectic, and I've barely paused for breath over that period.

The disconnected time over Christmas and New Year did my stress levels and creativity a great deal of good. I feel relaxed (if a little pressured by the in-box ahead of me...) and I have plenty of new ideas for things I want to invest my time and energy into over the coming year. And, if I can sort out a pesky flight to New York, I'm in the happy position of being essentially fully booked work-wise until the middle of April.

(Of course, if you have something big happening in the spring you think I can help with, or smaller projects before that, drop me a line)

Most importantly, I think, that disconnected time gave me some distance from the bubbles I live in. I've spent precious little time thinking about the worlds of journalism, social media and tech over the past few weeks, and that allows me to come back to them with an amount of distance - which is incredibly useful when you're trying to do some cogent critical analysis on them.

As a result, I'm looking forwards to blogging up a storm in the weeks to come, before teaching kicks back in at City University...

I hope you all had a great Christmas and New Year.

December 30, 2013

AFK - BRB

Adur momentHey, all. I'm on an unexpected Christmas keyboard break, which is why silence has fallen around here. My wife has a huge pile of marking to get through (although, given how much university marking is digital these days, I only have her word for that, not a huge pile of scripts on her desk...), and so I've been on pretty much full-time daddy duty with a daughter who has just figured out how this walking thing works.

I'm quite tired, as you can imagine.

I'm even more happy, as I'm sure many of you can imagine as well.

It's been a nice antidote to the difficult events of earlier this month, and I feel like I'm on the road to recovery. A few more afternoons rampaging on Shoreham Beach should complete that journey... 

See you all in the New Year!

December 7, 2013

The three paths of grief

Sunset on Shoreham Beach

What grief can be:

Even stranger, I discovered, is that I wasn't strange, at all. Despite the warnings that grief would drag me through the prescribed five stages and discard me in a darker place, bereavement researchers have recently learned that we've been wrong about loss for centuries. For some, grief is a dull and unrelenting ache that fades--or doesn't. But for many of us, grief is something else. Grief is resilience.

Words that are keeping me going through a pretty bleak week. There a three paths of grief, and the easiest one has a surprising beginning.

November 28, 2013

Lunch advice from a journalism student

fud.jpg Just had a lousy lunch? Here's some lunchbox advice from one of the MA Magazines students I teach at City:

Instead of spending £7 at Pret or getting a £2.50 'meal deal' from Boots (a sandwich, crisps and drink does NOT a meal make, you dicks), how about spending half an hour chopping up shit, throwing it into a lunchbox and being the envy of your co-workers come 1pm? Especially when it's SO BLOODY EASY. Read on, hungry friends, and thank me later.

Not sure "pride" is quite the right word here.

November 18, 2013

Walking towards work

A glorious morning. Not because of the weather -- it's foggy and cold -- but because I got to walk to the station for the first time in over a year. Yes, the Adur Ferry Bridge is open and my mornings of guilty car journeys to the station - or unpredictable shuttle bus rides - are done.

This morning walk across the river and up through town to the station was one of the things I loved about living here -- and now it's back.

Happy days.

November 4, 2013

The purposeful gonzo life

Hunter S. Thompson on finding your purpose:

As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal) he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).

[via Brain Pickings, of course]

September 22, 2013

A Sunday e-mail sabbatical

Cloudy Adur

There's something seductive about counter-intuitive solutions. The fact that they feel wrong makes you think that they're right...

I'm trying something counter-intuitive right now. I've been struggling with balancing productivity and family time since my wife went back to work at the beginning of the year and I committed to only working a four day week at the same time. There never seems to be enough time to get everything done that I need to get done. So far, I've been doing the intuitive thing - working more. I've slowly carved away hobbies and relaxation time to try and cram it all in. When Hazel goes down for her nap, I bolted to the computer to get some stuff done.

The last few days, I've gone the opposite direction. Family time is family time. I check my e-mails during my daddy day on Fridays, because that's working time for everyone else. Today? I have not opened my e-mail once. There are plenty of other non-e-mail ways of reaching me, if it's urgent. I'm just treating myself to a 24 hour break from the urgent ping of the in-box once a week, and see if that helps me focus better on my family time, and then on my working time tomorrow.

Today, I took Hazel to the play park, walked her while she slept, and played with her on the beach. It was awesome. It was worry-free.

Tomorrow, I work.

September 5, 2013

Essential coffee addict reading

A coffee grinder

I'm going to need this to get through today:

And yet, if you're like us, no one ever taught you how to make coffee properly. Or how to appreciate it. When you stop in at your local coffee shop, everything is hidden away behind the counter, too far removed for you to understand. That was us not too long ago. But through trial and error--and an absurd amount of mistakes--we've managed to learn. It's a shame to waste these moments on bad coffee, and if you're going to drink it every day, or if you're going to serve it to other people, it may as well be good, right?

Yes, it's a long guide to brewing the perfect coffee from The Atlantic.

September 2, 2013

Sometimes, you just need to live in the moment

About as beautiful reminder as you could ask for that sometime we need to live in the moment, and not mediate every experience through our phones. 

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