Friday read: Wimbledon’s other servers

LONDON—Outside, it’s about 35 degrees Celsius (95F) and close to 100 percent humidity. Hat-wearing tennis lovers fan themselves with genteelly flailing limbs, or whatever else they have to hand, while they sip on a cup of Pimm’s. Down here, though, away from the punishing sun and thronging crowds, I’m bathed in the soothing susurration of servers (of the computer variety), and—more importantly—some really powerful air conditioning.

At the heart of Wimbledon lies the IBM bunker – Sebastian Anthony, Ars Technica (2 July 2015)

Read the full piece.

Lifehacker: 10 Unusual Ways to make your To Do List Work

Unless the first way is to hire someone else to do the other nine, I’m suspicious. But Lifehacker’s Melanie Pinola writes persuasively about methods of getting stuff down onto a list and then doing it. I don’t agree with them all but it’d be boring if I did. Here’s one unfair sample from her ten ways: she doesn’t claim it’s the best and I don’t think it’s representative of the rest but I just liked it as a dramatist:

Turn Your To-Do List into a Story

Visualise and map out your to-dos into a story, a narrative for your day. This storytelling technique can not only help motivate you to complete the tasks, it could boost your memory and help you make better sense of your days. There are other ways to visualise your to-do list that can prompt you to act more.

Top 10 Unusual Ways to Make Your To-Do List Actually Doable – Melanie Pinola, Lifehacker (22 Jun 2015).

Read the full piece.

Get more out of that expensive computer of yours

I’m not saying you and I should spend more time in front of our computers. I’m saying that while you’re there, you can make these things work harder for you.

Seriously, how much did that thing cost you? And you’re just switching it on to write in Word, check out Facebook and send the odd email?

Take a minute to just look into it a bit more. You spend a lot of time writing, for one thing: start there. Start with how no matter what word processor you use, I know that it is replete with shortcuts. You know how much, much, much faster it is to open a document by pressing Control-O on PCs or Command-O on Macs? There’s more. Google the name of your word processor and the phrase “keyboard shortcuts”. You will recoil at how many there are, but learn a couple of them now and they will become muscle memory.

This isn’t about teaching yourself something, not really, and it’s not even exactly about getting faster at the repetitive things you have to do on your computer. It’s about removing obstacles. Someone asked me recently about the whole Blank Screen thing and why I prattle on in workshops, books and online. Among many reasons – you know me, I can’t be concise – I remembered that I’d shown someone how to speed up a thing on her website.

I created a button for her which meant to write something on her site, she pressed that instead of schlepping through the most tortuous series of steps to get into where she could right. The result is that, yes, it’s quicker for her, but the real result and the reason I talk to you so much, is that because it’s quicker, she does it.

She does it more. She does it a lot. It is great to see her dusty old blog become this active, sparkling new thing.

My book goes as far into this as you usefully can while keeping you awake and more specific issues have cropped up in most mentoring sessions I do. I wouldn’t want to force you to become as technology dependent as I am – but you already are, you already have that computer, get more out of it.

I wanted to say this to you now because it’s on my mind and it’s part of a project I’m working on for later in the year. But you say something and then you realise it: do take a look at my Blank Screen mentoring service as this is just one thing you’ll find it good for.

Site recommendation: The Wirecutter

This isn’t always the case but it nearly is. And it’s worth trying every single time. If you want to buy some new computer or other hardware but you don’t know what’s the best thing to get, go to The Wirecutter.

It just tells you. This is the best – and why. This is the best for that budget, this is the best at this or that. It’s very straight and straightforward so the only problem I’ve found is that it’s American. If you’re visiting it from the UK as I am, the site recognises that and offers to swap all the links to be instead of That’s very smart and nicely done.

But sometimes you’ll find things it recommends just aren’t available here. So it’s not a guaranteed route to get everything, but for narrowing choices, for seeing what options there are, for judging what features are worth what to you, it’s good. For the many times when it does have exactly what you need and you can get it here, it’s excellent.

What to do when your computer slows down during a job

Buy a Mac. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Whatever type of computer you have, there comes a moment when you need to quickly do this particular thing or other and it is taking ages. I don’t know what happens now with Windows, but with a Mac it’s when you get that spinning beach ball.

Given that I keep saying you shouldn’t multitask, am I really going to say you should stay looking at that beach ball instead of going off to do something else?

A little bit.

Partly because, yes, multitasking is that bad for you. The time it takes you to switch over to a different task, mentally, is equal to the time it takes you to switch back and both times are huge. Much worse than you imagine.

So I would stare at the beach ball for a fair while before I’d be better off doing something else.

But there is another reason. Very often, if our computer is slow saving a Word document, say, then we’ll nip over to Mail on it. And now that’s slow. So we just open that graphic that we need to tweak in Photoshop. And what do you know, dammit, now Photoshop is slow.

Whatever was causing the original slow down, we are compounding it by turning to different tasks on our computer. So if we’d just stood sitting there, we wouldn’t be distracted, we wouldn’t be slowing down our computer and we wouldn’t therefore be getting frustrated at how everything seems slow now.

I just don’t know how long to give that.

I do know that sometimes I should really restart the whole machine and that if I do, things will work better. Taking the time to restart is hard but it can be worth it, you can repay that time soon.

But in the meantime, here’s a shorter answer to the problem: try a little patience, it’s worth the effort.