Tag Archives: writing

Paying for web content

I subscribe to a lot of web applications for my indie business, from hosting to invoicing and reporting services. But I also pay for web content when it’s compelling enough. Here are some web sites with writing and art that I think are worth supporting directly:

New York Times. Still the best reporting on the 2016 presidential campaign. While I usually use RSS for news and blogs, I check the New York Times manually each morning to see what is happening in the world. $10/month.

ESPN Insider. Extra articles to supplement what I read during NBA season. Seemed easy to justify as an expense for my podcast Technical Foul with Ben Thompson. Also comes with the ESPN print magazine. $39/year.

Club MacStories. I’ve enjoyed reading MacStories for years, and the club subscription adds a bunch of great content in a weekly newsletter. You also get occasional book downloads such as for Federico Viticci’s new epic iOS 10 review. $5/month.

Six Colors. Jason Snell wasted no time after leaving Macworld. Seemingly overnight, Six Colors has become an important site for Apple fans. Jason and Dan Moren talk informally about current work, travel, writing, and tools on their secret podcast for subscribers. There’s also a monthly email magazine. $6/month.

Stratechery. Thoughtful analysis of current news and trends from Ben Thompson, delivered Monday through Thursday via email or RSS for subscribers. Great depth to stories about tech company business models and where the industry is going. Helps pay for his NBA League Pass subscription. $10/month.

Craft. An archive of sketches, rough animation, and preproduction artwork from animated films. It’s like an expanded version of behind-the-scenes DVD extras and art books. Initially subscribed for the rough animation for the beautiful film Song of the Sea. $6/month.

Before the web dominated all publishing, it was normal to pay for the newspaper and maybe a few print magazines. Then we entered a period where everything had to be free. Now, paying for content is useful again. The sites above have figured something out about building an audience and creating good content.

30 days of libraries, week 1

After wrapping up 30 days of new coffee shops, last week I started visiting a library every day to work. Libraries and coffee shops don’t have that much in common, but they do share a couple basic traits that are necessary for working on a laptop or iPad: wi-fi and tables. In fact, I’ve found that it’s even easier to find an open table or couch in a library than in a busy coffee shop.

So far, so good. In the first week, I’ve visited Cedar Park Public Library, Wells Branch Community Library, Little Walnut Creek Branch, North Village Branch, Old Quarry Branch, Howson Branch, Westbank Community Library, and Yarborough Branch.

I also heard from readers who wanted to see more than the text microblog posts I did for coffee shops, so I’ve been trying to take more photos. These photos are tagged with #newlibraries too, so they’ll show up together with the library text posts. (Photos can be browsed over the web, but they don’t show up in the default RSS feed. The microblog posts also have their own feed.)

As I mention on episode 15 of Timetable, working out of the house in the morning helped provide some structure to the work day. I’d use the morning for writing blog posts and catching up on email, and the afternoon to focus on code. For libraries, I’m going one step further and only bringing the iPad Pro with me. This means that I’m using a small range of apps — Editorial, Mail, Safari, Slack — and reinforces the idea that I’m supposed to be writing.

Blog when you disagree

The echo chamber. We only follow people who we already agree with. We only jump on the bandwagon of snark and ridicule when it’s already the accepted narrative, and thus safe to be part of the mob.

But sometimes you’ll find an area where you aren’t completely in line with the crowd’s opinion. There’s a topic that keeps coming up for which you have something to add. The default story is missing an important angle.

When you disagree, that’s what you should write about, and you should post it to your blog. 140 characters thrown against wave after wave of mainstream opinion tweets will be drowned out. A blog post isn’t a cheap opinion; it’s a statement that what you think matters.

Long-form writing as a filter

Soroush Khanlou, looking for more new blogs to read, makes a great point that the process of blogging leads to better writing:

“Opening my RSS reading and finding 30 unread items makes me happy. Opening Twitter and seeing 150 new tweets feels like work. I’m not sure why that is. I think Twitter has become more negative, and the ease of posting quick bursts makes posting negative stuff easy. With blogging, writing something long requires time, words, and an argument. Even the passing thought of ‘should I post this’ creates a filter that lets only better stuff through.”

I think there’s something to that. It’s often only after writing our thoughts down that we fully understand how we feel about a topic.

And here’s where I bring this back to microblogging. Because when starting a post, we don’t always know whether it will be long or short. How often have you seen a series of tweets that in hindsight even the author would agree should have been a blog post?

This is less of a problem if instead of tweeting you start out with the intention of posting to your own site. Short post can stay short, and posts requiring more words can naturally expand to a full essay.

I don’t think that our short-form, seemingly unimportant writing should exclusively be on centralized networks. If it’s worth the time to write something — whether a thoughtful essay or a fleeting one-off microblog post — then it’s worth owning and publishing at your own domain name.

WordPress drafts workflow

Since moving to WordPress, I haven’t changed much with how I write blog posts. But there are more tools available now, so I thought I’d revisit my workflow.

The key is being able to work on a blog post from any device and any text editor. I have a Notes folder on Dropbox that I use for draft blog posts and notes about other projects. When I have an idea for a post, I create a new note there and either start writing it, or leave a link, quoted text, or a few topic ideas to come back to later.

On the iPhone, I use Editorial. On the iPad, I use Byword, since Editorial hasn’t been updated for the iPad Pro yet. And on my Mac, I use Justnotes. All of these sync from the same Dropbox folder. They are plain text files, so I can edit from anywhere and they’ll survive platform and hosting changes over the years.

If I’m on my Mac, when I finish a post I’ll preview it in Marked and then copy it into MarsEdit for posting. On iOS, I’ll copy it into the WordPress iOS app. For microblog posts from iOS, I use an unreleased iPhone app that’s part of the microblogging stuff I’ve been working on.

I’ve also been using the Calypso-based WordPress UI a lot lately. I usually work on several blog posts at once, and if a few are ready to go at once, I schedule them to go out later in the day or over the next couple of days. WordPress’s web UI makes keeping track of scheduled posts pretty nice.

It hasn’t been all perfect switching between multiple apps, though. I noticed today that some of my new posts, which I always write in Markdown, were converted to HTML for publishing (likely by Calypso on WordPress.com). But for the most part, no regrets switching over to WordPress. The added flexibility and future-proofing have been good.

Six Colors and the iPad Pro

Jason Snell has posted his initial thoughts on using the iPad Pro:

“What the past few days have taught me is that if I needed to switch from Mac to iPad, if I had a compelling reason, I could absolutely do it. I can edit podcasts, write articles, edit spreadsheets, generate charts and graphs, edit photos, build web sites, transfer files via FTP, and more.”

I don’t think Jason got an Apple Pencil or Smart Keyboard, although maybe he’ll have one of each in time for his full review. If you’ve enjoyed reading Six Colors as much as I have over the last year, consider subscribing too.

John Siracusa’s unbreakable record

I’ve been watching a lot of NBA games this season. I’ve caught well over half of the Spurs’s 82 games so far alone, on TV and SiriusXM in the car (and a few in person in San Antonio). I’m not sure how far they’ll make it, but you can’t argue with the greatness of this team over so many years.

The NBA has some records that just seem unbreakable. Either because the rules or style of play have evolved in the modern era, or because the records were insane at the time, these are feats we may not see again. Here are 10 such records, from Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game to the Laker’s 33-game winning streak to Bill Russell’s 11 championships. The Spurs’s 16-year streak of 50-win seasons is approaching this category of success as well.

That’s kind of how I view John Siracusa’s series of Mac OS X reviews on Ars Technica. There have been other excellent reviews about Mac OS X over the years, but the depth and consistency of John’s reviews may always stand apart. If you’re starting today and want to top it, you will have to work for the next 15 years just to be competitive at all.

Congratulations John on a great run. Nothing seems to last forever on the internet — web sites fade away, and some obscure technology isn’t well-covered to begin with — so it’s nice to know that these Mac OS X reviews are at a stable site where we’ll be able to reference them for years to come.

The new Day One

Shawn Blanc reviews the latest version of Day One, which now supports photos:

“Over the years, most of the major, monumental milestones of life were documented in my Moleskine. But not all. And that’s why I’m glad to have an app that let’s me easily and joyfully add a snapshot or a quick note about an important or memorable event. These are the things my family and I will look back on 20 and 30 years from now with great fondness.”

While I keep the important stuff in my journals, I also use a protected Twitter account for the everyday notes and photos while away from the house. It has no followers; it’s just to have a date-stamped entry with a photo that’s easy to sync. Now that I’ve read how people are using Day One for this, I’m going to switch away from my private Twitter account to use Day One on the iPhone instead.

I like having one place for this kind of stuff. If the same type of content is scattered across multiple services, it makes it less likely that everything will be together in the future when I finally want it.

Especially interesting to me from Shawn’s review is that he also keeps a hand-written journal, even after using Day One for a similar purpose. I’ll keep using real-world pen and paper too, and everything I write there I will also transcribe into Day One. But I’ll write new things in Day One that will stay exclusively digital.

Federico Viticci also has a great review. He starts with the big picture, the why of writing it all down:

“I don’t even know if I’ll be around in twenty years. But I do know that I want to do everything I can to make sure I can get there with my own memories. We are what we know. And I want to remember.”

I think the best writers know that it matters what their work looks like in a decade, or two decades, whether the writing is private or public. You can see it in everything from permanent URLs to blog topics to what software they use — a conscious effort to create content that lasts.

First drafts on iPad

“Iain Broome”:http://writeforyourlife.net/writing-ipad-review on iPad writing, via “John Chandler”:http://byjohnchandler.com/:

“I can, and do, write regularly with my iPad. But, to be perfectly honest, I rarely use it to edit, because I find it kind of clumsy to move the cursor around the screen with my finger. However, the iPad is a marvellous first draft machine.”

Most of my blog posts start life on the iPad too. I write them in Simplenote, sync with the Mac to finish the post if it needs editing, then copy to MarsEdit to publish. It’s not completely smooth, but it’s a workflow that wasn’t even possible a year ago.

Five days, one paragraph

So I am 5 days or 700 characters in to my Story 140 experiment. Even though separation between each tweet is only implied, this is the end of the first paragraph, and on the web site I will be formatting it that way.

If you were to put the ideas you have in life into two buckets — and I don’t meant the little one-off ideas, I mean the big ones you care about and could passionately defend — you might divide them into ideas which are truly great, and ideas which sound great. The key here is to avoid the ideas which are neither great nor which sound particularly good at all. It’s too early to know which one of these idea types Story 140 is, but at this point I’m leaning toward the “sounds great” side.

Put simply, writing something 140 characters at a time is exactly opposite to the way I normally write. It is much more challenging than I thought, and after 2 days I immediately wanted to start cheating and writing a bunch ahead, so that the story flowed properly.

I’ll keep at it, but I did realize that I have to at least partially plan what the story is about. I have only a vague idea in my head, but as I give it some more thought I will probably jot down notes so that when it comes time to write the tweet each day I know a little bit about where it is going. Even so, please don’t expect greatness from this work of fiction. You will be disappointed.

On the plus side, I have received feedback (see “Ryan Irelan’s post”:http://www.ryanirelan.com/past/2007/11/03/story-140/) that it would be great for multiple people to contribute. As I said about NaNoWriMo, what makes some of these projects work is the community. I’d love to open up this concept, and I can turn the web site into more of an aggregator of sorts. If anyone has suggestions, please email me.