What Do I Want to Be?

This is the second of three articles as described in an earlier post inspired by Dave Gamache. Dave posed three questions:

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

This my response to the second question.

My respect for those who immediately speak their mind is tremendous. Sometimes they sound stupid or arrogant. Sometimes they hurt people’s feelings. Sometimes they’re just plain wrong.

Other times, their boldness leads the way to new ground. Sometimes, being brutally honest is the only way to reach your destination. And there is a clear distinction, in my opinion, between brutal honesty and just plain meanness.

Examples are everywhere and often earn labels. Eccentric. Entrepreneur. Icon. Iconoclast. Bombastic. You don’t have to think too hard to pick them out. Hunter S. Thompson (You can still buy top-notch Gonzo gear to support his beloved Owl Farm). Seth Godin. Anne Lamott. The late Steve Jobs. Duh! Jim Henson, Salvador Dali, and Walt Disney.

All capable of creating amazing art that stays locked in your brain for good or ill, holding sway over generations of fans and pundits alike. These examples I hold up here for you (and for me, too) obviously excel at what they do, but all of us are capable of the same influence in our own particular areas of expertise. The fact is the Internet has democratized the ability for anyone to publish and share their craft in a global market and it’s practically free.

Approach life as a craft, and be bold about it.

The examples I provided above and my mindset in this response reminds me of the commercial Apple introduced in 1997 to launch its powerful Think Different advertising campaign.

Independence was one of the three things I wrote about in my first of three articles in this series and I feel it’s worth mentioning again in this second response. My indendence won’t become fully realized until am able to embrace boldness. This yoke of political correctness around my neck has prevented me from being as bold as I would like, and I’m struggling to shake free of that harness.

The constant worry of who I might offend has made me timid, which ipso facto prevents me from being bold. Sometimes, a verbal whack on the head is what the doctor ordered and I need to sack up and start dealing out the right medicine when I know I should.

Happiness is crucial. Some say happiness makes you live longer. Happiness makes you worry less (or maybe worrying less makes you happy?) Hey, let’s take a break for a shiny diversion!

Happiness comes in many packages. Happiness can be wild and out of control and it can be quiet and peaceful. You can find happiness in your work or at the beach. Happiness can be found in the early morning hours, in being the first one awake, in the solitude of just being while the aroma of fresh-ground coffee brewing in the French press tickles your nose before the sun has a chance to rise.

Being bold and independent may lead to happiness, but they aren’t necessary ingredients. You can pull happiness out of a top hat just like a white rabbit if you know where to look, just like magic.

Third-Grade Writing Lessons from 1980

My third-grade teacher was infuriating.

Memories of 1980 include learning to read using advanced phonics (man-u-fac-ture), struggling with multiplication tables (I still do), and writing sentences using our vocabulary words. Ms. Robinson (no, nothing like that) wouldn’t let us start sentences with the words “I” or “The.” Furthermore, if my memory is churning correctly, our sentences had to be at least nine words long.

Put your third-grade brain in and let that settle a minute. Those limitations were hard for a third-grader struggling to memorize his 12’s (the 11’s weren’t so bad). I hated her for making our vocabulary so hard. I could crank those sentences out in no time if not for her stupid rules.

  • I like watermelon.
  • The rock was enormous.
  • David Bowie was androgenous.

But noooooo. She had to go and make us think.

  • Watermelon was one of my favorite things to come out of my grandmother’s garden.
  • While our family was on vacation we found an enormous rock by the lake.
  • David Bowie was among the most androgenous progressive rock musicians of the 1970s.

With her simple restrictions, Ms. Robinson graduated a class of third-graders who were better writers than when they first met on a warm day at the end of summer in 1980. My senses still recoil when I began a sentence with one of those two words. “The” or “I” immediately triggers a rewrite that is always better than the first draft.

Thank you Ms. Robinson for making me think. Thank you for making me a better writer.

Site Redesign and a Renewed Focus

As a recreational blogger who struggles with commitment to write on a regular schedule, I have been slow to pay cold hard cash to a web host for my site. I would love to slap a CMS on there and take off to the races.

I have a long list of excuses to draw from to keep me away from writing. I’m tired. I’ve worked all day. Our kids all have performances tonight. This porridge is too hot. This porridge is too cold. Where’s the third bowl?

Then I read about David Sparks wrangling his own family in California, working as a successful attorney, writing at his own MacSparky blog, recording the MacPowerUsers podcast with his partner Katie Floyd across the nation in Florida, and publishing two books in the past year: Mac at Work and iPad at Work.

Did I mention pocasts? Yes I did. Look at Dan Benjamin’s 5by5 podcast network. He’s been committed to recording audio since he was a kid and has built his current empire in just over a year. He manages production of 18 successful shows and is cohost in 10 of those. During the past year he and his wife had one youngster running around the house, another one on the way (congratulations Dan!), and orchestrated a move from Florida to Austin, Texas, while only missing a few episodes.

Yeah, I’ve got nothing to whine about. I need to shut up and get busy.

For now, I’m dressing up this free WordPress.com website with a new (to me) theme. I hope you enjoy my implementation of Dusk to Dawn.

What would I run on my own server? I enjoy WordPress.com. I’ve been using it here on the free hosted site for years now and wouldn’t mind rolling my own installation of the .org variety; however, the latest version of Drupal is enticing as well. For the record, I have been using Drupal Gardens at work and can vouch that it provides an excellent hosted version at a reasonable cost.

I’m going to percolate a little longer in the womb here at wordpress.com and continue to focus on writing more before seriously considering a move and rebirth of sorts with a hosted provider.

What do you want to do?

This is the first of three articles as described in an earlier post inspired by Dave Gamache. Dave posed three questions:

Writers don’t have to heave up turgid prose in countless cheesy paperback romance novels to share their passion. Hardware. Software. Computers for desks and laps, phones smart and dumb, and apps free and paid for all. When you love what you write about, your passion shines through.

If you think writers can’t be passionate about technology then you haven’t read the Daring Fireball. Do you think high-tech mumbo-jumbo is just a bunch of boring topics stuffed with technical terminology nobody understands or cares about? Let’s talk again after you read Robert Noyce and His Congregation by Tom Wolfe. Can’t have a little fun with it? Spend some time at Andy Ihnatko’s Celestial Waste of Bandwidth (BETA)

Flipping bits from the latest microprocessors to the lowly index card can’t be any better. Right? Merlin Mann was passionate about the value of index cards when he published Introducing the Hipster PDA in 2004. If you heard him talk about them with Dan Benjamin last week on his podcast Back to Work (s1e36 Writing on the Wind), then you know he is just as passionate about them today.

Paper can’t be cool? Check out Moleskine. Even better, take a gander at some products by Field Notes. Paper is magical even today. Put paper and technology together and you’ve got a horde of productivity nerds shouting mantras (Do it, delegate it, or delete it!) and waving copies of Getting Things Done in the air like it’s a street preacher convention. I can say this because I have practically been there myself, like, literally.

One of my goals is to write for a living. Technically, I did that for a while as a newspaper staffer reporting the news to readers of local weekly and daily newspapers. The life of a general assignment reporter wasn’t as grand as it sounds.

No, really.

Sure, you can get hooked on finding the inside scoop and breaking a story before the competition, but most mornings and nights are spent with city council members and county commissioners, with school board members, police officers, and emergency responders. Just listening to the grinding sound of that bureaucratic sausage in production.

Like the man pleading with the genie after getting what he wished for (I mean, like, literally), I need to revisit my definition of writing for a living. Make that writing about something I love to write about for a living. I’m not saying I want to get rich, though as “side effects” go that’s not a bad one.

I want to earn enough to provide comfortably for my family and feed my gluttonous (not glutinous or gelatinous, which popped in my head immediately after thinking of the word gluttonous and are related by more than the letter “g”) desire for technological crack. iPhone 4S? Yes please.

Here’s what I think I’m trying to say. I don’t want to write to make money, but wouldn’t mind earning money while writing. If you’re writing with the goal of making money, chances are you won’t make a lot of it and probably won’t be happy during or after the attempt.

Steve Jobs gave oodles of great advice during his time with us and bundled some of his best ideas in one speech given to the Stanford University Graduating Class of 2005. If you haven’t seen it yet, well, as they say here in the South, “Bless your heart.”

I’m making this easy for you. The video is embedded here, runs about 15 minutes long, and worth every second. Gobble it up now if you have the time (or sling the transcript over to Instapaper to read later).

Jobs shares three simple stories. One about connecting the dots, another about love and loss, and a third about death. A paragraph in the third story–the one about death–leapt out at me.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma–which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

The bow around this gift he left us was his memory of the final edition of The Whole Earth Catalog, its back cover decorated with a photo of a country road and a simple caption. “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”

I hope I can do that.

This is the first of three articles as described in an earlier post inspired by Dave Gamache.

Nailing the Workflow

I’ve played around long enough. It’s time to commit to my writing tools and stick to them. Here’s the list.

As far as I’m concerned, Scrivener is the winner on Mac. I’ve tried them all and have no more questions. Scrivener is it for me.

Discovering Writing Kit made this decision easy. It quickly became the de facto app for writing on my first-generation iPad.

I’m still waffling here, but since growing to version 2.0 Writing Kit has the edge. It not only syncs with Dropbox (natch) and handles Markdown beautifully and mimics the writing environment I enjoy on my iPad. Elements 2 by Second Gear Software still runs in my stable on my iPhone and iPad because it allows me to send HTML-formatted emails from within the app.

By setting my default Dropbox folder to the root directory, I can move within both apps from one project to another. For instance, I just swapped from my Mac to my iPhone and back to edit this article within the Scrivener hierarchy. Cool huh?

Note: I’ve heard it’s best to close Scrivener when you leave your Mac if you plan to edit files while you’re away. I hear that’s bad juju.

Just because I’m nailing my workflow to the apps I described above doesn’t mean I’m excluding apps–such as OmniOutliner for iPad and iThoughts–that support my work.

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.