Back home; breaking rules

So, one of the things I wanted to do with this blog was write once per week. Dear reader, you may note I’ve not posted anything for the last two weeks, and I’ve thus failed at my valiant aim. Well, kinda. See, I’ve just got back from a lovely fortnight in Switzerland, and whilst they do have internet in Switzerland, sadly there wasn’t any internet I was able to particularly accessibly use, save for the occasional twenty minutes of surfing one got when catching the local cable-car replacement bus service, which conveniently had free wifi.

I’d say that was a fairly reasonable excuse.

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Hill Climb Racing for GOTY

I have a confession to make. Hill Climb Racing, that charming little endlessly driving challenge thing game? It’s one of my favourite mobile games.

I originally played Hill Climb ~a year ago on my Touchpad and thoroughly enjoyed it. The challenge of using skill and pushing on further distance-wise to get more currency to upgrade the vehicle versus just upgrading the vehicle and brute-forcing progress — or even saving to unlock new vehicles and tracks made the otherwise simple and straightforward game into something which was difficult to put down.

Just one more go get that bit further! And so on.

Last week I found myself redownloading Hill Climb Racing (iOS link), after recommending it to Ben as a slightly better version of a game Miniclip had just released. And, a year later, this thing is just as good as it was. Skill is almost optional, which makes using it all the more rewarding. The option to make savvy upgrades and purchases, too, emboldens that sense of skill and reward.

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Nobody mention writing

After announcing to the world last week how excellent I was at writing every day, I’ve not written anything at all this week. I certainly found that little anecdote funny. It’s almost as though by acknowledging the magical writing process, I immediately invalidated it.

What I have been doing this week is re-visiting the somewhat-laboured joy of my Android 4.0-running HP Touchpad, which I picked up nearly two years ago after that time when HP sold off all their Touchpads for not much money that time. I’ve been waiting for the new generation of Nexus 7s to (finally) make an appearance, and I wanted to get re-familiarised with the whole Android tablet experience, and boy it’s good.

I’m a huge fan of two reading apps on my phone: Pocket and Flipboard, and their tablet equivalents are seriously nice. They link together very nicely, creating a very smooth content-browsing and content-consumption experience. Even my mum gets how Flipboard works. If you’ve not checked ’em out, I’d definitely do so.

Pic is from somewhere near Burling Gap, West Sussex, where I went earlier on.

Write every day

I keep seeing the “don’t break the chain” productivity hack being mentioned again and again as a way of getting things done. The premise is fairly straightforward; to make sure you do a certain thing you want/need to do, you do it every day, keep track of it and don’t break that chain of doing-ness.

I can see it working in some situations, but especially with creative work, there’s dubious value in doing something sub-standard for the sake of it. Do you, for example, absolutely have to do your thing? What if you’re doing something else? Out with friends! It seems to have the potential to dominate other activities.

On those grounds, I would generally never consider taking on such a scheme. Whilst I’ve kinda tried it on a smaller scale before (oh hey, blogging here at least once a week), writing every day? Meeeh. Not really one for me. Routine has a habit of becoming mundane.

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Room for just one more: lessons in consumerism

I’m not sure at which point along in the scouting-out-a-new-purchase process that I realised I didn’t need a new laptop, but it’s probably safe to say it was fairly early on.

With University looming in a couple of months, I’d figured taking my desktop there and back every ten weeks was actually going to be a bit much, and I thus definitely needed a laptop. This was a slightly annoying thought process, as when I bought said desktop thirty-odd months back, it’d been in part justified as “I wouldn’t mind taking it to University”.

So I don’t need a laptop. Taking my desktop wouldn’t actually be too much trouble, and my ageing netbook has found a new lease of life running Chrome OS.

Yet, I’m quite likely probably going to get a new laptop anyway.

I’ve decided that my University experience will be incomplete if I’m unable to write essays in the kitchen and be on Skype at the same time. I will have literally no fun unless I’m able to play Super Meat Boy in lectures.

The idea that there’s always room for one more device is one that seemingly everyone is finding increasingly acceptable. Devices like Google Glass and the Pebble watch are solving problems that you didn’t even know you had until someone told you about them.

And, you know what? It kinda sucks. I try to be “minimalist” in how much “stuff” I have, yet I’m quite happy saving my pennies for the latest solution to my only-recently-existing problems. Heck, I’m even writing a blog post about laptops in an attempt to make myself feel better about it.

You’ll have to excuse me now. I’m going to read a physical book. My Kindle’s out of battery, anyway.

On a new Medium

I was very excited to find in my inbox last week an invite to an invite to the very interesting new publishing platform from Blogger and Twitter founder Ev Williams, Medium. As applications were invite-only, I hadn’t really been expecting to hear anything, and I only vaguely remember even signing up, but still. An invite’s an invite!

One should note that the invite-only method of lunching a web application never fails to generate a false sense of excitement, superiority and exclusivity in the people granted access, and I thus logged into the exclusive Medium club feeling superior.

Feeling the need to contribute something, last Thursday evening I sat down to write a piece I’ve been wanting to write for about three months;  I had a really good idea for the title and the first line, and sadly I’d never really got further than that. I ended up re-writing the whole thing three times over the course of as many hours, but it’s turned out well in the end. If you’ve got a minute, my first post on Medium is well worth a read: Imagined Communities.

I’m not quite sure what I make of Medium, but it’s certainly interesting, and I’d definitely like to write there a couple more times before figuring out what it is I’m doing and indeed what it is the platform is doing.

Rules of Engagement: Finding The Holy Grail of Effective Social Metrics

One of the interesting things about doing “social marketing” (that’s FancySpeak for marketing through social networks) is that nobody really knows what they’re doing; “tried and tested” is just the stuff you did last month that happened to be more successful than the stuff you did the month before.

Thus, rules and goalposts are constantly changing and as a result, it’s difficult to offer meaningful or consistent measures of how good a job you’re doing and how effective your social strategy is.

With a few of the key statistics — reach and clicks to name two — essentially at the mercy of Facebook, Twitter and whichever other platforms you roll on, big changes in results can often happen through no particular fault of one’s own; it’s more often a case of a job well done being working with the changes to deliver the best results possible rather than straight off doing something different which results in results plummeting.

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The Google+ Conundrum

I’ve got a minor confession to make: I actually really like Google+. I wanted to like it before, but some of the features announced over the last couple of days coupled with the redesign have moved the service into the “this is a nice product” category.

I’ve even actually used it(!) to upload some photos I took whilst I was in Scotland recently and sent them to some family. It’s nice, and it works well. I like especially how the photo-sphere photos I’ve taken are displayed in a panorama-style, with the option to switch back to “normal”, and whilst the auto-correction was a little over-zealous on some photos, it generally worked very well (and made Scotland appear misleadingly sunny).

The big cycle the platform is stuck in at the moment is that nobody’s using it, so there’s no “social” or “network” and thus nobody’s using it. Whilst well-done features such as the new photo sharing may start to change that, there are still big flaws in the accessibility of the platform, and this mainly comes down to the Circles system.

Circles works in principle, just not in practice. The mix of public, partially public and private results in a system which is confusing for non-geeks and frustrating for geeks. With the aforementioned photos I uploaded, I was never entirely sure how I was sharing, and had to check my profile in a logged-out window to make sure I’d set sharing correctly.

That’s a big stumbling block and for the foreseeable future is going to prevent Google+ from becoming mainstream. It doesn’t make perfect sense to a mass-audience and thus a mass-audience isn’t going to be persuaded to make the switch.

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You don’t /have/ to be angry at the Daily Mail

Earlier this afternoon I got back from a lovely ten-day break with family in the small Scottish town of Dunoon. I’ve got a lot of family heritage there, and it was great to see the place everyone’s been talking about for so many years, and when it wasn’t raining, the scenery was really beautiful (when it is raining you can’t see the scenery).

Not having a laptop, I was entirely reliant on my phone for all technological access, and on the whole, that worked well. I was slightly too constant in my checking of the battery level at times, but once I got past the idea that “it’s actually fine if the battery runs out”, I was quite happy being computer-less.

As one would expect, I did a little bit of writing when I was away, and for that I used a bluetooth keyboard I got on Amazon for 10 quid. I didn’t spend long writing, but when I took a quick look over it earlier on, I was slightly amazed how much I’d written in not-very-much-time.

And then I stopped looking over what I’d written and went on Facebook.

And then I decided there wasn’t interesting on Facebook and checked Hacker News again.

This continued for a good twenty minutes or so until I realised I’d stopped being productive entirely. I don’t really like Facebook, and I’d been on Hacker News already, but the mere option to check them tempted me. Had this happened when I was writing this on my phone? Nope; the single-task, app based interface doesn’t allow for it. On the computer, though, the temptation’s there and I’m all over the place.

For me, the big problem is the “Speed Dial” that loads up every time I load a new tab. This lists a bunch of websites I visit frequently, and it results in me visiting Facebook every time I open a new tab cause the button’s there. Another one of my big speed dial time sinks is the Daily Mail.

Reading the Daily Mail generally just makes me angry, but it’s also just bizarrely intriguing and I’ll frequent it… frequently.

I didn’t go on it once when I was away, and you know what? I didn’t miss it at all. It’s now gone from Speed Dial, along with Facebook. I won’t be absent-mindedly clicking those any more, nor will I absent-mindedly wasting time on them.

You don’t have to be angry at the Daily Mail, right?

Down by the seaside


Today is Easter Sunday! I don’t go in much for religion… at all, really, but I’m not complaining about Friday and Monday Bank Holidays.

I’m also not complaining about having the chance to go down to the sea and visit my Aunt, who lives in a lovely cottage there. Her partner’s Father (or maybe Grandfather) built it by hand in the 1920s and it’s since evolved into a very homely home, complete with chickens and rolling countryside.

It always annoys me a little bit that the phone signal there is nonexistent, but once I’m over not being able to check Twitter and emails for vital updates, it’s quite nice to get away from it all for a bit.

And that’s kinda what I’m doing with this blog post. No drivel about driverless cars or phones pretending to be computers, just a nice thing for a change.