The Writers’ Toolkit today in Birmingham

This isn’t productivity and if I were being productive I’d have told you about it sooner. But the annual Writers’ Toolkit event is on in Birmingham today and I’m there all day. Here are the details of the event.

I’ve produced one panel for the Writers’ Guild – and will be there all day representing the Guild so look for me at the stand, would you? – which I’m particularly keen to see. The Job Lot’s Stuart Lane and film writer Andrea Gibb are talking about Writing for the Screen at 10:45.

But then I’m also speaking on another panel about being a non-fiction writer and I’m getting to chair a discussion about how writers can, should and do use the internet.

It’s always a good day and I’d be going even if I weren’t working. But I might have got to sleep in a bit more if I were just strolling up to enjoy it all.

See you there?

Take a moment to look around you

This afternoon I was saying to someone that I realise I rarely stop to look around. As in the Ferris Bueller sense of how life moves pretty fast and if you don’t look, you may miss it. Fine.

Except, I then spent this evening at a poetry event. I went with one friend and by chance knew many, many people there. At one point in between the poets performing, I took the moment to absorb that I was sitting in a group of seven people I like very much. The chance of it, the people involved, it was startlingly special to me and I looked.

“To Do lists are evil, use your calendar”

To say I don’t agree with this is to emphasise how I put the advice in speech marks. Tasks and events are different and if you try mixing them you are screwed. For instance, say you have to phone the Mormon Tabernacle Choir – wait, that’s exactly the example that popped into my head when writing the book of The Blank Screen:

…you can be tempted to start putting some tasks in your calendar and some in a To Do app and that way begins with a certain amount of sanity but ends in an overwhelming amount of madness. You start putting things in that are really obvious like that phone call to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir that you said you’d do on Thursday, that’d go in to your calendar easily. But the MTC is a busy bunch, if you’re not to waste the call, you need to plan what you’re going to ask them and when exactly do you put that in your calendar?

Maybe you pick a date for that and go into this cycle of moving the task to tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow until you end up doing it right before the call. Or you put the planning into your To Do app and then you are stuffed. If you look at the To Do app, it doesn’t tell you when the call is due. If you look in your calendar, it doesn’t tell you whether or not you’ve finished the planning. Sooner or even sooner, you end up having to look in both and you end up having to keep looking in both. Over and over. And each time you think about whether this task in your calendar has an associated task in your To Do app, or vice versa, you’re wasting time you could spend on doing this stuff. I’m more okay with wasting time than I sound but I’d rather waste it doing something I like.

Now, a To Do application that includes a calendar: that’s different. Those I love. It seems such a simple thing, but to have my list of things I’ve got to do today followed by a stolen peek at my calendar is just great. It’s everything I need to know in one glance.

The Blank Screen – William Gallagher (2013)

But just because I believe this, it only means I’m right for me. Your mileage may vary and since I want you to be more productive more than I want you to say nice things about agreeing with me all the time because I’m a special little snowflake, I’d like you to take a look at someone who disagrees with me. They have many points. But they boil down to this one plus a lot of justification:

To-Do Lists Are Evil. Schedule Everything.

To-do lists by themselves are useless. They’re just the first step. You have to assign them time on your schedule. Why?
It makes you be realistic about what you can get done. It allows you to do tasks when it’s efficient, not just because it’s #4.
Until it’s on your calendar and assigned an hour, it’s just a list of wishful thinking.

How to Stop Being Lazy and Get More Done – 5 Expert Tips – Eric Barker, Barking Up the Wrong Tree ( 10 August 2014)

Do read the full feature: I usually think Barker has a lot of good things to say.

How and probably why Apple’s streaming event failed so badly

My interest is in how a bad presentation – the video stream was so very poor though the actual talk was good – can affect the audience’s experience. I’m interested because I present and I’ve had things go wrong. Just never on this scale.

The short answer is that it wasn’t how many people tried to watch it at the same time. It was the fancy page that Apple put it on.

Unlike the last live stream Apple did, this time around Apple decided to add some JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) code to the page which added an interactive element on the bottom showing tweets about the event. As a result, this was causing the page to make refresh calls every few milliseconds. By Apple making the decision to add the JSON code, it made the website un-cachable. By contrast, Apple usually has Akamai caching the page for their live events but this time around there would have been no way for Akamai to have done that, which causes a huge impact on the performance when it comes to loading the page and the stream. And since Apple embeds their video directly in the web page, any performance problems in the page also impacts the video. Akamai didn’t return my call asking for more details, but looking at the code shows there was no way Akamai could have cached it. This is also one of the reasons why when I tried to load the Apple live event page on my iPad, it would make Safari quit. That’s a problem with the code on the page, not with the video.

Inside Apple’s Live Event Stream Failure, And Why It Happened: It Wasn’t A Capacity Issue – Dan Rayburn, Streaming Media Blog (9 September 2014)

Where to watch today’s Apple event

Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 13.05.49Short answer:

Slightly longer answer:

Slightly longer and a little more useful answer: it used to be that Apple would post videos a few hours after the event but now they stream it live.

This has somewhat scuttled the many news sites and unofficial Apple ones which still post second-by-second typed updates live from the venue. Think of that as a really specific single-topic Twitter and, naturally, there’s at least a lot of the same updates going on the real Twitter too.

In the years of watching these things, I never did find one such source that I could recommend. Some typed faster than others, that was good, and some had websites that updated automatically instead of your having to hit Refresh all the time. But still, I would end up with two such text feeds rolling up the screen while I wondered what in the world it is that gets me so interested. I suppose there are people who study football results so maybe it’s that we all have a natural capacity for minutiae.

Or maybe it’s just men.

Anyway, fun is fun, so whyever this appeals, let it appeal at 6pm UK time on

Harder than it looks: big event takes a Tumbl

Before I began producing the odd little event, I thought it was all pretty much like wedding planning. It is, but give me a wedding any day: the church isn’t likely to back out at the last minute and if any guests don’t appear, that’s one less family row to worry about.

I have found it profoundly satisfying to sit in an audience knowing that this thing around me is happening because of me. Other people are hosting it, my work is entirely done – until afterwards, anyway, when you start settling up the bills – I can just enjoy it like everybody else.

But I can’t imagine the difficulties of organising the a weekend-long event with very many star guests and a hoped-for 3,500 attendees. The makers of Dashcon 2014, a convention devoted to but not in any way endorsed by Tumblr, don’t seem to have imagined the difficulties either.

It only took a few hours for DashCon 2014 to degenerate into the most catastrophic fan convention in recent memory.

Over the course of one weekend, the organizers took $17,000 from conventiongoers as part of an emergency fundraising drive, failed to pay any of their high-profile guests, and attempted to compensate disappointed ticket-holders by offering them an “extra” hour in a children’s ball pit. The ball pit only fit around six people. There was apparently not a very long queue.

Over the course of a weekend, DashCon 2014 descended into chaos – Gavia Baker-Whitelaw, The Daily Dot (13 July 2014)

The story goes on.

Where to watch Apple’s WWDC announcements

Follow this handy guide based on how much you like Apple:

You’re vehemently anti-Apple:
Go anywhere you like and you’ll find plenty else to watch. I think there’s football somewhere. Or is that next week?

You’re vehemently an Apple fanatic:
You already know the answer.

You’re a vehemently uninterested in anything to do with technology:
Well, thanks for reading this site anyway.

You’re everybody else:
The short answer is that you should go to Apple’s WWDC Event page . That’s not only short, it’s obvious. But it’s also new. I’m sure I’ve seen some Apple announcement streamed live but until recently the quick way to find out what is and isn’t announced is to check out an unofficial Mac website and watch as they live-blog the event.

I loathe live blogs. I have mocked live blogs. I can live without being told what music Apple is playing before the event.

And I can live without any of the actual news Apple announces. Yet I like these events, I enjoy them and I would be watching the new live stream. Except:

You’re me:
Throughout the event you’ll be driving to a place near Stratford to talk with a reading group that you’re going to write a story for.

I am obviously and understandably excited about that, but yes, you can bet that on my way home I will see if the recording of the event is up.