Forget Con Air, this is AirCon

I relish the details behind things we take for granted and this story is about how air conditioning is replete with details and history:

But when air conditioning was first invented in the 1800s, hardly anyone actually wanted it. It took more than 100 years for AC to really catch on. This innovation took a long road, which Salvatore Basile explores in his new book, Cool: How Air Conditioning Changed Everything.

“I think there were many people who thought, ‘God made bad weather so you should just put up with it.’ And I think the idea of dealing with heat was to ignore it,” Basile told me in a recent phone interview.

Eventually, air conditioning did win out and ended up changing a lot — from where people live in the United States to the architecture of our buildings to even the evolution of computers. The interview with Basile is below:

How air conditioning changed America forever – Susannah Locke, (9 September 2014)

By the way, look at the address of the full feature. It’s “”. Apart from that errant i at the end, what I like is that this was almost certainly the original headline on the story. “The History of Air Conditioning is More Interesting Than It Sounds”. No surprise that it was changed to “How air conditioning changed America forever”.

Here’s the Salvatore Basile book.

New book: Filling the Blank Screen

Thanks to your recommendations, the one hundred best articles from The Blank Screen news site have been extended, updated, revised, given a polish – and are now the new book, Filling the Blank Screen.



I tell you, it is as if the book itself insisted on being written. There is going to be a series of Blank Screen books and I am deep into writing the first one at this very moment yet Filling the Blank Screen just demanded to be done. Maybe if I could work out a better way for you to find all the best articles on this site then the book would’ve shut up a bit. But I haven’t yet, so it went on and on at me about how it was time.

Behind the thousand articles and the quarter of a million words on this site there are hundreds of conversations with people online and at the now many Blank Screen workshops. New writers at literary festivals, very experienced ones at Writers’ Guild events, I love that this stuff helps them – and I love even more that every one of them has something useful for me to steal. I mean, use. I mean, um.


I want you to have Filling the Blank Screen and I’d like to suggest that you read it a chapter a day. That way you can tell people it took you one hundred days to read and I either sound like I write a lot or that I’m very heavy going. I’ll take that. Bit of quality, innit? Bit of heft.

The paperback version is scheduled to be published on 12 September and doubtlessly I’ll tell you all about that then. But today the ebook version is out and it’s at a special price of £2.99 on Amazon UK. It’s also at a special price of $4.99 on Amazon US.

One thing, though. If the next 11 months gets us another 1,000 articles and another 250,000 words, you’d hope that there will be enough material in there for a third Blank Screen boo. But what would I call it? Refilling the Blank Screen?

Proof that small moves work

Well, at least call it proof that small moves add up. As I write this, it’s 18 August 2014, The Blank Screen news site has been running for 265 days and we’re closing in on 1,000 posts. That’s coming soon but we’ve already exceeded 250,000 words posted.

A quarter of a million words since 26 November 2013.

That’s something like three times more words than the book that started all this, The Blank Screen (UK edition, US edition).

If we’d written as much fiction in this time, we’d have a trilogy of novels. If I had a dollar for every word I’d be writing to you from New York and inviting you over for a coffee and a dinner.

I do want to revel in this a bit, I do feel rather good about it, but I also want to think about how you can as equally argue that it happened by accident as that it did from hard work. I won’t dismiss the work it took but right now, today, I don’t see any of that, I just see that consistent, regular effort has built something I didn’t have last year.

Next time you or I reckon we don’t have time for something or perhaps that we don’t have enough time for it, let’s remember that, truly, small moves work. I could be less smug about it, mind.

You have to love ideas enough to be willing to hate them

The best work you ever do will be so much trouble, so much effort, that by the end you will hate the sight of it all. But they are important enough to you throughout and you love them so much at the start, that you must be willing to hate them if that’s what it takes to get them on.

I’m not clear. I can feel it. Let me try an example, see if this is any more comprehensible. I once pitched to write a book about The Beiderbecke Affair in part because I love that show. (UK edition, US edition)

I also felt that Alan Plater’s drama series warranted the attention plus I knew there was enough material to do, I had all the professional reasons you can think of covered. But also I loved it and Alan was important to me, that’s why I picked up the phone to the British Film Institute.

Nonetheless, I knew that by the time I’d finished the book, I would’ve seen the show so often and I would’ve said the word Beiderbecke so much and I would’ve thought about it so incessantly that I would be weeping to get away from it.

Still, I knew the book was worth that. And if I came out the other end hating The Beiderbecke Affair, that was a small price to pay for hopefully getting the work to other people, introducing other people to the Beiderbecke world.

As it happens, it didn’t happen, I didn’t hate it once. I got a bit panicky, I got a bit worried about the deadline, but I never hated it.

Actually, there was one night right in the middle of it all when I was away researching Beiderbecke scripts at the Hull History Archive and I needed something to watch. I had a pizza, I had a tiny hotel room, it was so hot and I was so tired that I was nude, actually, nude and freshly showered, stretched out on a towel on my bed and deeply needing something to watch. I had certainly read several hundred pages of Beiderbecke scripts that day and I know I had photographed a thousand. (I had no scanner but I made an arrangement with the archivists that I could photograph the pages to effectively make copies of the script to study later.)

I was cross-eyed and knackered. Too hungry and too hot to just sleep, too weary to read, too bone-tired to think. There was no TV and all I had on my iPad was The Beiderbecke Affair episode 5.

And I loved it. Was disappointed that I hadn’t got episode 6 on there.

But I was willing to hate The Beiderbecke Affair if necessary. And if your work, if your project, doesn’t come with that risk, find a better project, okay?


The worthy and best way to present

What’s it called when a book as one title followed by “Or” and another one? As in Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus? This is The Worthy and Best Way to Present or A Longer Term Review of David Sparks’ Presentation Field Guide.

This iBook was released on 21 July and I started reading it immediately. I remember saying on the launch day that:

This book was released sometime overnight, I got it around 8am, I’m maybe a third of the way through the text – I’ve not looked at the many videos yet – and I have a complaint.

He’s so persuasive about preparing your presentation before you ever go near Keynote or PowerPoint that I resent the bejaysis out of him. I have one presentation to give tonight and three tomorrow. I wanted a quick fix! I wanted a magic sauce!

David Sparks’ Presentation book now out – William Gallagher, The Blank Screen (21 July 2014)

In the end, I actually gave five over those two days, 21 and 22 July. It’s complicated. But it was also true what I said about how good it made me feel that I was already doing some things Sparks recommends: that’s how persuasive and convincing he is, I read this book and feel that he’s right. Therefore whatever I do that is the same is also right, therefore I am right, therefore I feel good.

And then there’s the stuff he recommends that I don’t do. It was quite hard doing those five presentations with the book’s advice about planning in my head. The book’s very specific advice about how using Keynote is actually the last step, or at least toward the last step, as you should know what you’re going to say through planning and thinking first. The fact that I thought I had three and it became five rather tells you that I didn’t plan or, in my defence, couldn’t plan ahead.

I have not given a single presentation since then. But I have some coming up and I am using Sparks’ advice from this book. That may be the best review I can give it except that I think this leaves you only with the idea that the book is useful. It doesn’t tell you that it’s also fun.

Those five presentations went well but they were hard and they were part of a bigger project I enjoyed yet I’d got at the last moment. Even so, even with trying to plan in the gaps during the first day and then learning I really had to rework everything overnight, I was still going back to this book to read it at points because I was enjoying it.

Actually, as I write this to you, I still haven’t watched the videos or listened to the audio interviews. The book works without them but I’m expecting to find that they’re a good watch and listen too.

The therefore hugely recommended Presentations: a MacSparky Field Guide by David Sparks is available now in the iBooks Store for £5.99 UK, $9.99 US.

David Sparks’ Presentation book now out

This book was released sometime overnight, I got it around 8am, I’m maybe a third of the way through the text – I’ve not looked at the many videos yet – and I have a complaint.

He’s so persuasive about preparing your presentation before you ever go near Keynote or PowerPoint that I resent the bejaysis out of him. I have one presentation to give tonight and three tomorrow. I wanted a quick fix! I wanted a magic sauce!

I do have the very smugly gratifying fact that a few of the things he says I do already swear by. So it’s not as if my talks this week will be bad, exactly. God, I was nervous enough already, thanks a bunch for this. But I do also recognise and am persuaded of how they could be better. So you just wait for next week’s talks.

Presentations: A MacSparky Field Guide is now out in the iBooks Store (and only the iBooks Store) for a truly ridiculously cheap £5.99 UK or $9.99 US.

This week’s MacPowerUsers podcast is all about the book and the topic of presentations so you can get a good idea of whether you’ll like the book from that. But, spoiler alert, you will.


Bugger. Got to buy this.

I bought an iBook called Paperless by David Sparks some time last year – wait, this is iBooks, this is the 21st Century, I can tell you in a flash… I bought it on 10 January 2013. It’s a very good read, it changed how I do a lot of things in my work, all’s good.

Then the same fella released a book about Email and I thought nah, I know from email. Then caught some of his MacPowerUsers podcast about the topic and thought, well, okay, possibly I don’t know quite as much as I thought. So on 15 November 2013 I bought the MacSparky Field Guide to Email

But that’s it. No more. What can this fella cover that I’d need?

Cue this morning and this announcement:

I’m pleased to announce the newest MacSparky Field Guide, Presentations. Most presentations are terrible. That, however, does not need to be the case for your presentations. This book explains how to create your own exceptional presentation. This Presentations Field Guide explains how to plan a presentation that will connect with your audience, the technical wizardry to create a stunning presentation, and walks you through presentation day to make sure it goes off without a hitch.

New MacSparky Field Guide: Presentations – David Sparks, MacSparky (30 June 2014)

I do a lot of presentations now. I have no choice. I’ve got to buy this. I would’ve bought it immediately and now be telling you what I think of it, but it’s not out yet. You can pre-order it for £5.99 UK or $9.99 US and it will ship on 21 July 2014. While we wait, here’s a short video trailer for it:

Book recommendation: The Blank Screen

Earlier this week I sort-of recommended David Allen’s book (and accompanying cult) Getting Things Done. But amongst all the praise I had and have for it, I said this:

Getting Things Done (UK edition, US edition) is a self-help book by David Allen. The strange things first: it was written in 2001 and you will be amazed how long ago that seems. (Example: Allen talks a lot about how, for instance, you obviously can’t access the internet unless you’re in your office. It’s practically Victorian.) Also, it feels as if Allen is focusing on office workers and people who may do fantastic things but aren’t the kind of messy-minded creatives that writers are.

Getting Things Done – book (half) recommendation – William Gallagher, The Blank Screen (24 June 2014)

No question: my own productivity techniques owe a huge amount to Getting Things Done and in fact I credit David Allen extensively in my book. But The Blank Screen is written for us writers. I know normal people will get a lot from it too, but it’s written for us. So it’s about coping with the kinds of things we have to cope with – how to be productive when no editor ever bleedin’ phones us back productively – and it’s very much about making more of your computer. Jonathan Davidson of Writing West Midlands (a truly fine charity without whom The Blank Screen wouldn’t exist and which you should definitely be supporting, please) said this to me once:

Writers were the first to go digital.

He means it and he is damn right. We went digital back in the 1980s when we saw, we understood and by hell we coveted word processors. The rest of the world that is now so mad keen on digital, they’re just catching us up as best they can.

I’m just not sure they all come with our writer neuroses. That’s another big issue with us: we have to battle the curse of ourselves as well as the curse of other people when we’re trying to make our way as working writers. That’s something The Blank Screen is riddled with.

And the book also has one especially popular chapter on specifically how to cope when you either have too much work or you don’t have any at all. Those are both crippling for writers and we get them all the time. I suppose I should try to flog you that chapter, but I’ve seen how it helps people: I want it to help you too. So go on, since it’s you: download the free chapter, Bad Days, from The Blank Screen. If there’s someone you know it will help too, give them the link.

There comes a point when my free Bad Days chapter has solved that time when you are so fraught you have to hold your chest and breathe slowly, when you’ve passed it to other people and been thanked for how it’s done the same for them, and when you should really be buying the book.

The Blank Screen is on Kindle and iBooks plus – my favourite – it’s in paperback. Seriously, check out the free and complete Bad Days chapter but then:

The Blank Screen is on Amazon UK (Kindle and Paperback)
The Blank Screen is on Amazon USA (Kindle and Paperback)

And it’s a rather gorgeous iBook too.

One thing. I’m saying this to you today because I do want to celebrate a little milestone. You’re reading the 600th article on The Blank Screen website and I’m rather proud of how this spin-off from the book has become a productivity resource of its own. I do hope you keep reading and I hope that you enjoy it.

Getting Things Done – book (half) recommendation

It’s one of the strangest books I’ve ever read yet I can see, I can clearly see, how so many of the things I do to stay productive either came from this book or were confirmed for me, were oddly validated.

Getting Things Done (UK edition, US edition) is a self-help book by David Allen. The strange things first: it was written in 2001 and you will be amazed how long ago that seems. (Example: Allen talks a lot about how, for instance, you obviously can’t access the internet unless you’re in your office. It’s practically Victorian.) Also, it feels as if Allen is focusing on office workers and people who may do fantastic things but aren’t the kind of messy-minded creatives that writers are.

So I remember reading this and rather translating it on the fly. The very last thing he says is that you should wait three months and then re-read the book. He promises it will seem like a completely different thing. I did that. It did. The second time through, it was rubbish.

But the ideas. Next Action comes from David Allen: the idea that you can break down a mountain of a job by listing just what the one very next thing you can or you have to do is.

OmniFocus works with this Getting Things Done system – the cool kids call it GTD and it actually is a cult – though you don’t have to use Allen’s techniques to get a lot out of that software. David Allen doesn’t: I believe he prefers a paper-based system. Strange how I’m not surprised.

But if I can’t recommending it entirely, I do recommend it fairly wholeheartedly. How about this? Go to Amazon UK or Amazon US and use the Look Inside feature to read a few pages and see what you think.

There is also an official site for David Allen that you might like.

Eat the frog

Screen Shot 2014-05-03 at 07.45.31

This came up in The Blank Screen workshop I just did at the Stratford Literary Festival: “Eat that frog”.

It’s a phrase and a book title and it means whatever the worst, most horrible task you’ve got to do is, do it now. Do it first. If you eat that frog now, it is done and it is over. If you don’t, it’s going to be on your mind all day and just getting harder and worse and harder and worse all the time.

Author Brian Tracy came up with this and I think he’s right and smart. The full title of his book, though, is Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time – and I think it’s telling that nobody can remember the other 20. Just the frog-eating one, that’s what we hold in our heads.

Take a look at the book on Amazon where you can read the opening pages and get a feel for whether you’ll like the book or whether just knowing the frog phrase is enough. Click here for Amazon UK and here for Amazon US.