I released a record

I very rarely write here about the creative endeavours I involve myself in, but I wanted to take a minute to publish a note linking up to the new record my band put out at the end of last month.

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Our self-titled album, ellipsis, celebrates the three years we’ve been writing, making and recording music by bringing together the best material we’ve created to date — six new tracks and new mixes to five previously-released ones — in a single collection.

For the first time in Ellipsis’ history, I can wholeheartedly say absolutely everything on the album sounds actually quite good. I’m really proud of it. It’s to listen/download, so if you’ve got a minute to check it out, please do.

Being less distracted/stop looking at your phone the whole damn time, Alex

Pretty much everybody I know will be able to tell you that I am more or less inseparable from my phone. I take it everywhere, will look the second I have a notification and I even carry around a portable battery just to make sure I never ever run out of charge.

It very much fits the stereotype of young people who can’t go anywhere without their phones; I’m that guy. I’ve always dismissed comments about being attached to my phone under the guise of oh, everyone does it yeah whatever, but it’s probably not actually really that healthy after all.

I don’t really want to be that guy who’s always checking his notifications; I’ve got stuff to do, and checking my phone every couple of minutes just represents an unprecedented distraction. Heck, it doesn’t just represent an unprecedented distraction, it is an unprecedented distraction.

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Lessons learned speaking at my first WordCamp

Just over a week ago I had the immense pleasure of spending a day at WordCamp London 2013. It was London’s first time hosting a WordCamp and my first time attending one; on both counts I hope it’s going to be the first of many.

As well as being a first-time attendee, I also signed myself up to talk for half an hour on “Content Marketing for Real People”. The talk should be available shortly on WordPress.tv, so I won’t dwell on it here; instead I’d like to share what it was like speaking at a WordCamp for the first time and offer up some tips on how to be better at the whole speaking thing.

Preparation, preparation, preparation

So you’ve applied to speak. You’ve had your application accepted. WordCamp Wherever You Live is three weeks away. What happens now? You’ll never guess this one: preparation.

This is the place where one quotes all sorts of inspirational people on how failing to prepare is to prepare failing, but I shall restrain from doing so. It’s pretty simple, really, the better you are prepared, the better you’re going to be at delivering your presentation.

The huge collection of videos at WordPress.tv are your greatest friend here. Watch a bunch of them and just see how people who are good at giving presentations give their presentations and what you can learn from them.

Delivery is something to focus on later, so look at the things the pros do which you can replicate and emulate. How are slides done? How much information is on each slide? What is suitable attire? You get the idea. Watch a handful of videos; see how it’s done.

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Speaking at WordCamp London this afternoon #wcldn

As I write this I’m speeding through suburbia on my way to both my first WordCamp and my first time speaking at a WordCamp.

I’m talking at 4pm this afternoon on ‘Content marketing for real people’, it’s going actually going to be quite good, I’m very excited about it and if you’re attending WordCamp London you should definitely come along. If you’re not, I’ll try and adapt the talk into blog format at some point.

See y’all later, and wish me luck 🙂

I was on WordPress Weekly!

Last Friday I had the immense pleasure of joining Jeff Chandler on WPTavern’s WordPress Weekly podcast along with WPShout‘s new owners, Fred and David of PressUp Inc.

It was my first time being on a WordPress podcast (and hopefully not my last!), and it was great fun — we chatted for 45 minutes about the history of the site, how it’s worked out for me, some of the lessons learned (spoiler — don’t publish irresponsibly) and what Fred and David have in store for the future of the site.

Jeff had the podcast set up through a live-streamed Google Hangout which did lose connection halfway through, but thanks to Jeff’s ninja-editing skills you’d never know. It was great fun recording and if you need your fix of WordPress news but in audio format, it’s well worth a listen.

Check out the interview over on WPTavern.

I went to uni and I liked it

I’m now into my fourth week of University (what you’d call College in the US of A; henceforth known as “Uni”). Starting Uni has always been something I’ve been expected to do, and for a long time something I had doubts about.

The ten months I spent at Miniclip last year were amazing — both in terms of the sheer amount of stuff I learned and the practical, hands on experience I got — and when you’re in a job getting stuff done and enjoying it, it makes sense to just double check that leaving to spend three years not working is actually a good idea.

I asked that question and, to be honest, never really got a wholly satisfactory answer. Everyone told me that Uni would be the best three years of my life (oh hey, Ben; not to over-hype it or anything) and that it’d be amazing, but nobody could really tell me why.

Still, I figured I might as well give it a go and if I didn’t enjoy it, I didn’t have to stay.

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Markdown tools for bloggers

There has been an explosion in both the quantity and popularity of markdown-based writing tools over the last twelve months. The likes of web-abased Editorially, desktop apps such as MarkdownPad and Mou and even whole blogging platforms — Ghost being the example — have pushed what’s essentially a niche and geeky way of writing into the mainstream.

In my ever-continuing quest to work more efficiently and find the perfect writing tool, I’ve tried a huge bunch of different platforms over the last year. There’s no single markdown editor that does everything, but nearly all of these do one or two things really well. To see what works for you, you’re just going to have to see which one of these sounds like it would best suit your needs and give it a go. Without further ado, then, here are the best markdown tools for writers, split up by category.

Wait, mark-what?

Okay, okay, let’s back up here a little and explain a little about what this markdown thing even is. In a nutshell, markdown is a writing language designed and built for web writers. As the original release post from 2004 explains:

Markdown is a text-to-HTML conversion tool for web writers. Markdown allows you to write using an easy-to-read, easy-to-write plain text format, then convert it to structurally valid XHTML (or HTML).

It’s a straightforward way to write HTML without the HTML, basically. By extension, it’s a faster way to write for the web. That’s why it’s great, that’s why I use it, and I suspect that’s why you’re reading this to find out which tools are the best for writing for it. Ready? Let’s actually get going.

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I went to Argos and it left me thoroughly confused

I’m headed to University next weekend, and in preparation for that, I’ve been doing a hell of a lot of shopping.

I’ve essentially needed to buy at least one of everything — kitchenware, bedding, bathroom stuff… a loo brush. Heck, I even got a new laptop. It gets very expensive very quickly, and that’s led to me spending far too long on HotUKDeals (a UK-specific “deals” community – kinda like Reddit, just for stuff that’s good value) and the like, trying to squeeze marginal gains in value out of the purchases which are going to have serve me for at least the next three years.

Last week, in search of a duvet (and informed via Hot UK Deals of a particularly good value duvet that was only available in-store), I headed to Argos.

For the benefit of those who haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Argos, it’s basically a mix of mail-order catalogue shopping, Amazon and a normal bricks-and-mortar store. You go in, choose what you want from the catalogue, note down the product numbers, take the numbers to the checkout and then wait five-odd minutes for the items you’ve ordered to magically appear.

You then carry them home.

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Fixing truncated RSS feeds

Truncated RSS feeds — where only an except of a site’s content displays in its feed — are possibly the most annoying thing one can find on a site one wishes to follow. When you’re cruising through your RSS reader, it’s a real pain to see all of the lovely content you subscribe to and then find ten 50 word entries, cut off mid sentence and ending with “CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE READING”.

I’ve given up reading many great sites because I can’t consume their content how I want to, and that’s sad.

I get why people create truncated RSS feeds; the idea is if you only offer a snippet of content, people who want to subscribe are going to come and visit your site instead. That increases page views, ad impressions, and the site gets to work its magic of hooking one-time viewers into becoming long term, signed up readers.

Trouble is, it doesn’t really work like that. If I grab a site’s RSS feed, it’s because I want to know when said site has new content I can read. If  I like the content, I’ll click through and browse through the comments, perhaps add my own and maybe even tweet it. For me, RSS is a way of putting all the content I might be interested in in a central place, and from there I can find the stuff I’m actually interested in.

I’m still subscribing, and I’ll still visit the site, provided the content is interesting.

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Addicted to redesign

As I write this, sevenironcows is undergoing its very first redesign. Nine months after I launched the site, rocking a purpose built ‘personal’ theme (which I later released as Empty Spaces, a free/pay-what-you-want download), the site is in need of something which better shows off the quantity of content I’ve amassed since the start of the year.

I started redesigning fairly late last night, and went to bed in the early hours thinking I was done. This morning when I booted up my desktop and took a poke around the ‘finished’ design, I decided it wasn’t actually done after all and set to work again.

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