from Seth's Blog: Talker's block

Michael Schechter (@mschechter) pointed out another great article about writing shared by the always-great Seth Godin titled Talker’s Block. Here’s an excerpt to round out my hat trick of sharing writing about writing.

Seth’s Blog: Talker’s block:

Writer’s block isn’t hard to cure.

Just write poorly. Continue to write poorly, in public, until you can write better.

 

The first two posts:

  1. Writing in the Margins
  2. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS WRITERS’ BLOCK

OK. I’m done for now.

(Via Michael Schechter)

Writing In The Margins

Another great meta-post about writing in the same vein as my recent find from Andy Ihnatko. This excerpt is by Michael Schechter:

Writing In The Margins:

So often we think of writing as this pristine thing. Something precious, something that requires a special place and a special time. This is crap. Writing is getting words out of your head and on to some media. No matter what, no matter how, no matter where. Don’t get me wrong, some writing is better than others, but the gist of how it’s done is fairly universal.

 

(Via Eddie of Practically Efficient)

You are what you read

Some blogs are comprised of audio, photos, or videos, but most of them are still brewed the old-fashioned way, by stringing together a bunch of (hopefully) related words and publishing them to the Internet for everyone to read and discuss.

Rinse. Repeat. Rinse again. Seriously, go wash up. People are beginning to talk.

My first thought as I began to think about which direction to steer my blog was, “What do I want to read?” I reviewed some of my favorite writers and major influences and found a few common threads:

These folks are the cream of the crop. It’s ridiculous to set my goals so high, but that’s what I’ve done. I’m not here to compete with them and surely don’t claim to join them. I do understand the craftsmanship that goes into what they do and I’m a huge fan of their work.

¡Mios Dio, man! This could get embarrassing!

By the way, most of my reading happens in Instapaper, which Marco Arment (@marcoarment) updated to 4.0 this week. You really should go and buy it now.

Getting Serious About Lists & Goals

Designer and developer Dave Gamache, recently known for releasing the Skeleton website framework, wrote about setting goals for personal growth.

I love to do stuff. So much stuff in fact, I often find myself overwhelmed by my own unorganized ambition, but luckily, I found my fix. I wrote a while back about my brain drain technique, which is fantastic for relieving stress and nailing short term tasks, but I was still trying to figure out how to manage longer term goals. While it might not be the perfect fix for everything, I’ve settled on 3-month goals.

Dave goes on to describe how he outlines several objectives in five categories, or approximately 15 objectives every three months. My five categories will look different than Dave’s, which during one 6-month period were:

  • Personal Growth
  • Career Growth
  • Financial
  • Travel
  • Fitness

When you set your goals, include methods for measuring your progress and don’t set goals that are impossible to reach. Set dates and milestones ahead of time to mark your progress.

“Without committing to a date, it’s not often you’ll realize your goals.”

Use your tool of choice to record your goals and objectives. Organize a project with contexts in OmniFocus. Grab your iPhone (or your pen and a notebook) and write a few words to jog your memory later. Draw a picture. Whatever tool works best for you is the one you should use.

Dave listed a few firestarters for people having trouble starting categories or goals. He suggests committing an hour or so to consider and answer three simple questions. Remember how easy it is to lie to yourself, so be honest.

  • What are three things I want to do?
  • What are three things I want to be?
  • What are three things I want to have?

I’m looking forward to getting started. How about you?

iPhone 4S – An Introduction, Not A Review

Apple’s new releases have encouraged a flair for fiscal irresponsibility in me reaching back nearly two decades.

My will was strong as the positive reviews of the MacBook Air began flooding the web, but this is probably due to the higher upgrade cost. I need a new laptop like I need a new iPhone. Besides, iPhones are cheaper.

So, I have a new iPhone 4S.

I knew the 16gb version at the low end wouldn’t be enough and I was pushing the limits on my 32gb iPhone 4. The available stock at the nearby AT&T store helped me select the 64gb 4S. It was all they had left, so that’s the one I got.

It’s my Christmas, birthday, and anniversary gift for the coming year and that’s just fine with me. There aren’t a lot of little things I want, but there are a number of big ticket items on my wish list. Now, there is one less item to worry about.

Now, it’s time to get reacquainted with my new friend Siri. I knew her when she was younger, but we have a lot of catching up to do.

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS WRITERS’ BLOCK

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS WRITERS’ BLOCK. – Andy Ihnatko’s Celestial Waste of Bandwidth (BETA)

As a writer, you are never “blocked.”

Here, let me say it again, with more markup tags:

***As a writer, you are never “blocked.”***

The fact that you’re not actually writing doesn’t mean that you’re not actually working. You’re also working when you’re thinking. Figure out what the problems are and _solve_ them. Solve them in a half-assed way if you have to; slap enough duct tape over the problem that you can proceed to the next step. Go back later and improve it in the editing process.

Or! Just put the whole thing aside. Just for now. Even in the worst, most frustrating situation, you’re not “blocked.” You just can’t make any progress on this one thing.

So write something else.

Every Day is Opposite Day

Why do our kids insist on doing the opposite of what we ask them to do?!

“Shut the door.”

The door stays open.

“Open your door.”

The door stays shut.

Going a little nutso here. Advice welcome.

“Stop yelling.”

They get louder.

“Speak up!”

They speak quieter.

We’ve run the gamut of “suggestions,” with our fair share of wheeling and dealing, whispering and yelling, rewards, time out, and groundings. Same results, nada, for years.

“Turn the TV off.”

The TV is on.

I’m not talking about the occasional butting of heads. I’m talking about exactly the same conflicts in our house every single day.

“Put your backpack in your room, not in the foyer like a trap!”

Backpack? Right there in the foyer.

Seriously, we’re open to suggestions. E-mail me.

My Wrist Used to Hurt

I had a theory that Apple’s Magic Mouse, possibly exacerbated by the Magic Trackpad, was killing me. I use the mouse at work and the trackpad at home, and the pain in my right wrist has been steadily increasing during the past several months.

Three days of field tests that began with swiping a larger mouse off the desk of a coworker who has been out of the office lately seem to support my theory. When the pain eased after a single day of use, I quickly ordered a Logitech Professional MX. After three days, the pain in my wrist has practically vanished.

Something else that pains me is that I adore my Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad. Alas, I am passing those on to others and digging the Pro MX.

Hmm. Something to consider

A quick Google search led me to this article on WebMD about stress:

Some stress is normal and even useful. Stress can help if you need to work hard or react quickly. For example, it can help you win a race or finish an important job on time.

But if stress happens too often or lasts too long, it can have bad effects. It can be linked to headaches, an upset stomach, back pain, and trouble sleeping. It can weaken your immune system, making it harder to fight off disease. If you already have a health problem, stress may make it worse. It can make you moody, tense, or depressed. Your relationships may suffer, and you may not do well at work or school.

May be worth thinking about.

An Adventure in Atlanta with Jonathan Coulton

Introduction

Note: It may help to hum the tune of Gilligan’s Island while you sit right back and read this tale.

I heard Jonathan Coulton was coming to Atlanta to celebrate the release of his latest recording, Artificial Heart, so Julie and I planned a simple overnight trip to enjoy the show. It turned out our trip wouldn’t be so simple.

Awesome evening. Thanks @Jonathancoulton

Prologue

Julie left the workforce at the beginning of July to focus on her education. Working toward her master’s degree in educational leadership while overseeing five departments at her 60-hour-a-week job wasn’t working so well.

We gave this decision a lot of thought. It meant I became the breadwinner at our house. My check, with help from loans, pays the bills and puts food on the table. We had to shore up our household budget to make it and one of my first costcutting measures was to buy tickets to see Jonathan Coulton.

Huh?

You read it right. As evening fell on that lifechanging day, I saw Jonathan’s announcement that he was bringing the band to Variety Playhouse. His Atlanta performance wasn’t just one in a string of shows. It was his release party for his latest aural celebration, Artificial Heart.

I was powerless. We had to go.

Getting Out of Town

Our lives are busy. Julie has her studies. I have a hectic and stressful job. The kids are in band at the middle and high schools (and you band parents out there know the havoc that wreaks on a schedule).

We needed a break.

I took a vacation day from work, we loaded up the car with a few items, and we headed south to Atlanta. If you’re still humming the theme song from Gilligan’s Island, this may be a good time to switch to The Beverly Hillbillies; at least for a moment.

Smoke Under the Hood

So, Julie and I are packed, loaded, our kids Jordan, Meg, and Katheryn all have a place to stay, and we hit I–75 south. We were about 25 minutes into s1e30 of of Back to Work (“I’m not Working In An Abbatoir”) with Jonathan and Merlin Mann when the engine revved up all itself. While on cruise control. Strange.

I turned off the podcast and turned off the cruise. I stepped on the gas and it revved up again, but no go. I check the gearshift. Firmly in Drive. Then, I saw the smoke trailing behind us. I began to slow down and really saw the smoke curling out from under the hood.

Uh oh.

I pulled onto the shoulder of I–75 south just before Exit 278 for Acworth and Glade Road to take stock of the situation. I open the hood and look around. I’m not sure what I was looking for, may a shoe with an untied lace or a snowman with his hat blown off by the wind (apologies to Jake Johansen).

Decisions, Decisions

I was sobbing and shaking from the pain. Blood was oozing from under my blackening fingernail. I wondered if we should just hang it up and try to limp back home with smelly white smoke roiling out from under the hood.

Nah. We decided to press on.

The Positive Power of Social Networks

Facebook led to our roadside salvation. Julie’s quick thinking led her to Facebook to scan friends available for chat. She found a few who live in the Atlanta area. Bob was carrying a bus of band students to an away football game. James was out of town with his family. Thomas was in a position to help. He was online, he responded, and followed up quickly with a call to Julie’s phone.

Not only was Thomas willing to help, he turned out to be the perfect man for the job.

This may surprise you, but many people around here don’t know who Jonathan Coulton is. Thomas not only knew who he is, he has seen him live three times and his wife Nikki counts him as one of her favorites. He understood DragonCon and attended as one of several Captain Jack Harknesses roaming the halls of the Hyatt and other host hotels. He knew the back roads to avoid traffic. He even already had plans to attend a play at 7 Stages next door to the Variety Playhouse in Little Five Points.

Yep. He was the perfect man for the job and we can’t thank him enough.

Julie and I had worried about finding a place to stay and spent a good deal of time researching hotels near the venue. We found the options weren’t good after reading a string of one-star reviews for several places that mentioned “strong smell of marijuana in elevator and halls,” “roaches all over the room,” and “felt threatened.” Our budget prevented us from booking a room at the easy-to-find options starting at about $300 a night. Julie finally found a place to stay for about $100–the Emory Inn.

Natalia greeted the three of us at the front desk of the Inn. She quickly checked us in before offering a parking pass to put in our windshield. With a pained grin I said, “That is so cruel and you don’t even know why,” before sharing the short version of our saga. A gentleman overheard my need for a sterile adhesive strip (commonly known by the brand name Band-Aid™) and brought me a couple to bandage my pinky.

We dropped our stuff off in the room and Thomas ferried us to Little Five Points. With some time to spare before our respective showtimes, Thomas invited us to join him and his wife Nikki for dinner at Corner Tavern. Our server Jimmy brought our meals: a hamburger for Julie, salmon sandwich for Nikki, and a couple of black and blue burgers topped with bacon and bleu cheese for me and Thomas.

Yes, we were on Paleo vacation. Yes, it was delicious. And yes, our stomachs paid for it later. We’re firmly back on the wagon again now.

On with the Show

Paul and Storm opened the show. All I knew about the duo was hearsay from strangers and a few visits to their website. They have an amazing chemistry on stage together.

Coulton followed with a terrific performance that included most of the “classics” I wanted to hear with great new songs mixed into the set. Skullcrusher Mountain. Good Morning Tucson. Code Monkey. Creepy Doll. Mandelbrot Set. On a side note, I look back on every concert I’ve ever attended and regret that I didn’
t record the set list. That continues to be the case. Suffice to say he played a bunch of songs and it was great.

Julie and I have been going through some tough times and Jonathan helped us forget about that for one wonderful evening. For that, we thank him.

Pinky Smashed!

After failing to conjure a cab by phone from two different companies, a cabbied stopped alongside us looking for fares. We shared a ride and conversation with a fellow Coulton fan and DragonCon guest hailing from Cleveland, Tenn., just a few clicks northeast of our home in Ringgold, Ga., a nice garnish on the evening.

To rent, or not to rent?

After a decent night of rest at the inn, Julie and I woke to face reality again. We were stranded! We didn’t know who we could enlist to carry us home and had no idea what to do about the Acura stranded in Acworth. We called the front desk to request a late checkout. Natalia answered. She remembered us and our broken down car and recommended the Enterprise car rental service provided on-campus. It was about three minutes away on foot. Natalia came through for us again!

We met Evan at Enterprise Rent-a-Car. He worked up a deal for and pointed out a little Hyundai for us in the lot. He took a look at that car, then another look at us.

“Do you have a lot of stuff with you?”

We didn’t, so he offered up a tiny blue 2012 Fiat. It was awesome and a ton of fun to drive! We took it back after a week even though my car is still sitting idle with no wind in its sails. Julie and I are down to one car.

Success

This story has gone on long enough, so I’ll wrap it up. My finger is smashed. My busted car is parked 70 miles south of home at an Acworth garage I know nothing about. The transmission on my 2003 Acura TL is “toast” (a quote from the mechanic) and will significantly bump up the final cost of our overnight trip to Atlanta. As a point of reference, it costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 to replace one headlight. I think that means a transmission may cost $1 million, but I’m not that great at math.

Irony alert: Did I mention we’re making the final payment on that car this month? Yeah, so there’s that.

But do you know what? We had a blast. It was a little more painful and lot more expensive than we planned, but there is more to life than pinky fingers and automatic transmissions.

We became reacquainted with an old friend and met a new one, his wife. We added a lot of souvenirs to our bucket, and you can’t put a price on terrific memories.

iPad met its match in the TouchPad | Nanotech – The Circuits Blog – CNET News

iPad met its match in the TouchPad | Nanotech – The Circuits Blog – CNET News:

On Friday, August 19, Apple’s iPad finally met its marketing match. That’s when Hewlett-Packard’s TouchPad went on sale for as little as $99 and triggered the kind of buying frenzy that had been reserved exclusively for products from Apple.

Uh huh, and the Microsoft Zune is going to destroy the iPod, right?

I shouldn’t be so snarky. I’ll reserve further comments until the next version of the TouchPad is released.

I hope @gruber has this one filed away for future claim chowder.

Update: He found it.

Possible Dark Linen Kludge on OS X Lion

When I use my MacBook in my home office, I run my display on an external monitor and use Apple’s bluetooth and Magic Trackpad to work. Since updating to OS X Lion, I’ve notice a couple of quirks in regard to the desktop background.

Without some fiddling, the background on the external display defaults to Apple’s dark linen background on the desktop. If I try to change it I can see the changes reflected through the translucent menubar, but the desktop background stubbornly hangs on to that dark linen pattern.

After the obligatory 30 to 120 seconds of research on Google, it’s easy to learn this is a common problem. I discovered a fix of sorts.

The linen pattern is associated with fullscreen apps. I went through my apps and pulled them out of fullscreen mode. I put them back in fullscreen mode and my preferred desktop background remained.

Interesting point of note: I “minimized” the fullscreen apps Safari, iTunes, and third-party email client Sparrow to uncover the correct desktop image; however, Terminal.app remained in fullscreen mode as my background returned to normal. Maybe it’s a display bug with Safari or iTunes? “So…”1 I exclude Sparrow because, as a third-party app, I assume the widespread reports of display weirdness are associated with stock applications.


  1. a la Karl van Hœt

N.B.: Learn how to type weirdo characters like “œ” at How to Type.net

A New Printer: Brother HL-5370DW

We upgraded from a color to a black & white printer, replacing an HP Color Laserjet 2600n with a Brother HL–5370DW.

Upgrade? Yeah, I think so. I paid about $400 for the color printer years ago and it served me well until I had to replace the toner, which retails for about $400.

Ouch.

We paid less than $300 yesterday, and that included an additional high-capacity toner replacement. Rumor has it that “compatible” toner replacements can be found out online for about $30.

WiFi printing on OS X Lion

Figuring out how to get the printer and computers in the house to talk to each other on the network was a little tricky. Networking prompted the only negative comments I remember from reading several reviews, but wasn’t an impossible challenge with a little nerdery and forethought.

The biggest installation hiccup for me was the Flash-based installer on the CD that came with the printer. I hate Flash and didn’t have it installed on my system. With much fear and loathing in my soul, I installed Flash and Shockwave. You know what? It still didn’t work. I finally got everything running smoothly using the printer’s web server and ended with the additional task of chasing down and flushing Flash detritus from my system.

I didn’t take notes so I’m doing this from memory, but here’s how I remember piecing things together:

  1. Connected the printer to my MacBook via USB to trigger automatic installation of all necessary driver updates.
  2. Connected the printer to my [Airport Extreme Base Station (fifth generation)][5] via Ethernet to introduce it to the network (which I think turned out to be unnecessary).
  3. Logged into the printer’s webserver to change passwords and visit the Wireless settings.
  4. Entered my wireless network information allowing the printer access to my secure network.
  5. Unplugged the Ethernet cable.
  6. Enjoyed high-quality printing joy!

After I finished the first installation, it was just a matter of visiting other Macs in the house and installing the printer from the Print & Scan pane in Apple’s System Preferences. Works like a charm.

Brother HL–5370DW Specs

So how does this printer roll? The Brother website tells us it includes:

  • Flexible networking. Built-in wireless 802.11b/g and Ethernet network interfaces‡ allow you to share this printer with multiple users on your network. Eliminate extra cables and conveniently place your printer with wireless networking.
  • Easily print two-sided documents. Produce professional looking documents, brochures, and booklets using the built-in duplex feature. This feature can help save money and reduce your paper use.
  • Fast results. Operating at print speeds of up to 32 pages per minute, this printer is ideal for busy offices.
  • Outstanding print quality. Delivering up to 1200 x 1200 dpi resolution, all of your printed materials will look their best.
  • Versatile paper handling. An adjustable 250-sheet capacity paper tray easily handles letter or legal size paper and a 50-sheet capacity multi-purpose tray is for printing letterhead and custom paper sizes. Add up to two optional paper trays‡ for additional capacity.
  • Straight-Through Paper Path. A convenient fold-down, 50-sheet capacity multi-purpose tray and rear paper exit provide a straight-through paper path for printing envelopes, thicker media and custom paper sizes.
  • Easy to set up and use. For users with wireless access points that support SecureEasySetup™, Wi-Fi Protected Setup™, or AOSS™, you can automatically configure your wireless settings by simply pressing a button on your router.

A bonus is the nifty free app for printing directly our iPhones to the networked printer. The same Brother website says the Brother™ iPrint&Scan is a free app download for wireless printing (JPEG & PDF) from your Apple®, Android™ or Windows® Phone 7 mobile device (scanning not available).

Going Paleo

My wife Julie and I have united to announce we aren’t happy with our lives.

Don’t worry. We are just as in love with each other as ever (actually, we are more in love than ever). We are disappointed with our health and have a strategy to fix it. We have committed to the paleo diet. Julie jokes that we’re “eating like cavemen.” If so, cavemen ate well!

Dan Benjamin, The Man who oversees the awesome 5by5 podcasting network, put the idea in my head. So far, I have found that Robb Wolf provides one of the best introductions to this lifestyle change (don’t call it a diet, it’s not a diet).

We’re one week into it and haven’t even begun to exercise, yet each of us has lost some weight and feel better already. Our daughter Kat has enjoyed the same results and the whole family is getting dragged along with us because there isn’t any “bad food” in the house any more.

After a week, we aren’t missing the bread, cereal, and cheese that made up a large part of our diet. You heard that right. No sandwiches. No breakfast cereals. No dairy. No quesadillas with flour tortillas. Meals are mostly comprised of lean meat with vegetables. Our biggest cheat during meals so far has been having a little steamed jasmine rice on the side with dinner.

The best part for me? My stomach doesn’t hurt all the time and I don’t get the shakes when I’m hungry. We plan to begin exercising as the hot Georgia summer begins it’s cooling slide into autumn. I can’t wait!

Happy as a Dog

sam running with ballI could learn a lot from our dog Sam and you could learn from yours. The innate lessons dogs have to teach are not exclusive, but inherent from birth.

When I come home from a long stressed-out day at the office, I’m probably tired, likely to be hungry, and usually grumpy. Sam shows me this is not the way to come through the door.

Sam never seems happier than in the moments immediately after we let him back in the house after a canine romp in the back yard. We could put him out and let him in every half hour and he’d run through the house with his tail at full wag looking for that chewed up red sock he loves so much and a look on his face like he’s smiling. Every time is like his first time in the house.

Every. Single. Time.

I love that dog. I hope I can learn from him.

Coffee

Coffee

My “go juice” during the work week is brewed in a drip machine from a prepacked filter pod of standard issue name brand coffee. Those who capture a cup with the last drops dripping from the coffeemaker may get a decent cup, but the odds aren’t good. More likely, java drinkers will find a half-full pot of coffee scorching on a burner burning a little too hot.

After five days of “work coffee,” the weekend brings with it a special treat. Each Saturday and Sunday morning begins with three cups of steaming black coffee rich with aroma and natural oils. My weekend coffee is as much of a treat as a candy bar or milkshake. The recipes are so similar, hot water and ground coffee, yet the results are so different.

Here’s a look at the differences as I see them.

Office Coffee: Preparation

Rip the metallic bag open and place one pod of coffee in the basket. You don’t need a filter; each serving is conveniently wrapped in its own paper filter. Place a glass carafe underneath, turn on the burner, and pour water into the top of the machine. Wait five to 10 minutes and pour a cup of hot coffee.

Office Coffee: Observerations

Looks like hot black water. The taste reminds you of coffee and the metallic smell reminds you the weekend is never more than five days away.

Weekend Coffee: Preparation

Pour filtered water into a kettle and bring to a boil on the stove. While you wait, place coffee beans in the grinder, but don’t grind them yet! The kettle’s whistle is your cue to grind. Slowly pour the hot water over the ground coffee you placed in the glass carafe of your French press. Give it a quick stir, put the lid on, and wait four minutes. Gently press the grounds to the bottom and pour a steaming cup of coffee.

Weekend Coffee: Observations

An irridescent sheen glimmers on tanned bubbles across the surface in your cup. The rich aroma enhances the flavor to help you relish two precious days out of the office.

My weekend coffee

Cook like a caveman

In my culinary experience, the more old-fashioned the better. Cooking in a microwave is quick, but food has a better taste when cooked in the oven or on the stove. The best flavor comes when you are able to cook over an open flame. The closer you come to cooking like a caveman, the better your meals taste. Maybe that’s why the paleo diet appeals to me so much.