Brent Simmons: Shock the Monocle →

I was the editorial editor of the high school newspaper and my favorite writer was Hemingway. I used comma splices all the time.

My English teacher — the newspaper advisor, Mrs. Susie — finally got fed up with it and said, “Two sentences are two sentences! Even Hemingway knew that!”

So he did. Vonnegut knew it too. And Carver and Woolf. And you too.

I’m a bit of a grammar and punctuation nut, so I’ll share this with you.

Thought I must take exception with the use of the Oxford comma. The former newspaperman in me just won’t do it. My wife being an English teacher, use of the Oxford comma — the comma right before the coordinating conjunctive in a list — has actually led to debate in our house. Not as much now that we have three kids, however.

Hidden Habits of Ineffective People by Chris Wake →

These are easily five of the best points I’ve read on productivity in a while. It’s easy to talk about what “effective” or “productive” people do, but more telling is to look at the traps of ineffectiveness or unproductiveness.

Here’s my favorite:

Starting the day responding to others. Ineffective people allow others to set the agenda for their day. They start their morning reading or responding to others’ requests. Effective people approach each day with an agenda for what they want to accomplish, start their day tackling a task crucial for accomplishing their goal, and respond to others when (or if) it works with their agenda.

At one point I was notorious about doing just this. It’s an easy trap in which to fall, whether working for a boss or dealing with clients.

It’s also a hard habit to break, sometimes more so for the boss or client than yourself, but it’s worth it. If you start the day doing the work that needs to be done instead of responding to the new demands on your time, then you will better serve those who benefit from your work — including yourself.

Seth Godin: No →

Excellent use of “No”.

Ideas Are Just a Multiplier of Execution →

Ideas x Execution = Worth

To me, ideas are worth nothing unless executed. They are just a multiplier. Execution is worth millions.

(h/t Daring Fireball)

The Shifting Paradigm of File Management

In the wake of Apple’s keynote address at WWDC, at least three interesting articles have appeared that discuss the changing paradigm of file management in Lion and iOS 5.

The first is from Patrick Rhone over at Minimal Mac. He writes:

The idea is this: Your data is the computer.

This is the new world that Apple is creating. Where your data resides, the device you use to access it, how it is saved, where it is saved, how to manipulate it, how to back it up, how to recover if you make changes to it that you did not intend, all will be things you don’t have to think about.

Your data will be available to you on any device you own. It will be left exactly as you last left it. You can open it in any application that it is able to open it. Should your computer crash, do not fear, your data is safe. And when you get a new machine, simply log into it and all of your data will be there in short order. Buy a new Mac, a new iPhone, and new iPad, simply log in and the data will be there too.

That’s the first big step. Right now, moving data back and forth between my MacBook and my iPad is not easy. Using services like Dropbox and apps like GoodReader make it easier but far from seamless. And it definitely does not do what Ben Brooks describes in the second interesting article I want to discuss:

I don’t know of a single other way to take a document I am working on with my iPad and jump to my Mac having the document up-to-date and the cursor in the same position without pressing an extra button — to me, that is magic. It’s magic because logically that is how everything should have always worked, but in reality it is how nothing works.

That is “magic”, and it’s exactly what has been missing. More importantly, what Apple is creating is what leads to the third interesting article about the shifting paradigm of file management.

This one comes from Federico Viticci over at MacStories. It’s not an easy article from which to quote because it recaps a conversation he had with his wife. I’m going to quote something that sums it up, but only barely. So read the quote below, but then go read the entire article. It’s not long.

Here’s the quote:

I’m not saying iCloud is the operating system (we know it’s not, right?), but it will look like one for many users. And this is because many, many people don’t know what operating system even means. To people like Francesca, the operating system is a bunch of PDFs, folders and songs. Plus the Internet (the web browser). You can call her a “n00b” and whatever you want, but do you see where this is going? If most people are “ignorant” in regards to computing and don’t know the difference between an underlying OS and the user’s files on top of it, don’t you see how Apple’s strategy will work for all of them? Apple is saying they’ll store all the content (documents, music, contacts, calendars, mail) for free, across devices, automatically. Steve Jobs is saying people shouldn’t worry about the filesystem. When you put things in perspective, it’s easy to understand why Francesca got the hang of iCloud as an “operating system”.

OK. Now, go read the article

Did you read it? Good. So you see the point he is making? It’s not that iCloud is the operating system so much as it makes the operating system less important. Of course, it is the operating system — specifically an Apple operating system — that enables iCloud to make the operating system less important. (Before we get caught in a loop, let’s jump off and move on.)

What Apple is wanting users to do is what many of us already do: Approach documents from an app paradigm and not a file storage system paradigm. Associate documents as living in the app regardless of where they are stored, not living in a specific folder and manipulated with an app.

Like I said, many of us already do that. We open Pages and go to File > Recent Documents > DocumentIHadOpenThisMorning.Pages. Or, if you are like me, you invoke LaunchBar, hit “P” for Pages, then hit the right arrow to bring up a list of recent documents and choose what you need from there.

Essentially what Apple is doing is taking the way “power users” approach file management and making it the new paradigm. You don’t have to worry about “where” the document is so much as what kind of document it is.

The next question then becomes how you store your documents. Clearly Apple would love to see the file system as we know it today — folders inside of folders inside of folders — to go the way of Mac OS 9. What they are doing with Lion is just the first step.

In some ways, my filing system is probably more in line with where Apple is headed than many. I treat my folders as simply an archival system. For instance, for every client I have one folder. I handle those folders in one of two ways:

  1. Every document associated with that client lives there.
  2. If I have multiple projects for a client, I may have separate folders for each project, inside of which every file for that particular project exists.

My filing system never goes deeper than two layers. (The only exception is when I’m sharing a folder via Dropbox with other people who are accustomed to more structured filing systems. But again, this doesn’t bother me because I don’t use Finder to get to my files. I use LaunchBar and the recent document command for a specific app.)

The way I keep everything organized is through detailed file names. Each one starts with the name of the client, the type/department/tag of the file and then a descriptive name. (i.e. Client – Admin – Contractual Agreement with Vendor A.pdf)

Credit where credit is due… I stole this approach from Merlin Mann after listening to his first workflows interview at Mac Power Users. This is similar to his approach for filing text files, and that’s how it started for me. Using Notational Velocity and TextMate, all of my text files live in one folder regardless of the client for whom they are written.

From there, I revamped my folder system as simply an archival repository for other types of files. Since I export most of my files into pdf format for sharing, it doesn’t matter what kind of file they originate as. I can write a memo with Markdown in Textmate, create a spreadsheet in Numbers or write a speech in Scrivener. When I’m ready to share it, I create a pdf on my desktop, email it and then delete the pdf from my desktop. The original file is stored in an archival folder but is accessed using LaunchBar and the recent documents command.

With Lion, it sounds as if this will be more the norm. You access your files from apps, not from folders. You can “file” or “archive” those documents wherever you choose, but the app is the interface, not a Finder window. And whether you are accessing them from your Mac or your iPad or your iPhone, it matters not. You access the same document not from a file system but from an app.

If iCloud works as advertised, Apple will take a huge step in changing the paradigm of file management. Just as they created the “desktop” metaphor with the Mac, they have already started to change it with iOS.

Alice’s Bucket List

This is a heartwarming blog:

Hi, I’m 15 years old and live with my parents and sister in Ulverston. I’ve been fighting cancer for almost 4 years and now I know that the cancer is gaining on me and it doesn’t look like I’m going to win this one :( I’m hoping to write in here as much as I can and I’m also going to show my bucket list which I’m trying to get done before I have to go. Hopefully, I’ll update as I tick each one off the list :)

Her first post has more than 900 comments on it. Her second post, where she expressed surprise at the number of people who read her first post, has nearly 300 posts on it after just a few hours of being online.

One thing on her bucket list is to have #AliceBucketList trending on Twitter. I’ve done my small part. If you are on Twitter, go do yours.

Steer Clear the Em Dash

Chris Bowler linked to this slate piece by Noreen Malone on the overuse of the em dash.

Chris writes:

“You can pry Shift+Alt-Hyphen from my cold, dead hands!” That was the thought going through my mind when this article entered my flow of information. I’ve long had a bit of an infatuation with the EM dash. And so, firm in my convictions, I read the article confident in an unwavering stance.

Not to spoil Chris’ conclusion, but he finds Malone’s piece compelling and has a slight change of heart.

Admittedly, I love the em dash as well. I use it often. Generally I use it either for emphasis, for a short aside or to elaborate with a secondary point in the midst of the main point.

But Malone did, in fact, make two salient points.

The problem with the dash—as you may have noticed!—is that it discourages truly efficient writing. It also—and this might be its worst sin—disrupts the flow of a sentence.

An explanation is not an excuse, though—as Corbett wrote in another sensible harangue against the dash, “Sometimes a procession of such punctuation is a hint that a sentence is overstuffed or needs rethinking.” Why not try for clarity in our writing—if not our lives?

Granted, the second point is not so much her’s as that of Philip B. Corbett, associate managing editor for standards at the New York Times. Nonetheless, they both ring true.

To the first point, Malone is dead on. The em dash, if improperly used, can make ones writing inefficient by disrupting natural flow and causing ideas or logic arguments to be presented in a disjointed fashion. Then again, the same can be said of a comma used to set off a phrase in much the same way. (I’ve probably been accused of overusing commas more than em dashes; I love them both!)

To the second point, while not Malone’s, she contributes to it thusly:

Perhaps, in some way, the recent rise of the dash—and this “trend” is just anecdotal observation; I admit I haven’t found a way to crunch the numbers—is a reaction to our attention-deficit-disordered culture, in which we toggle between tabs and ideas and conversations all day.

With that, I can argue not…

It’s a fun article, and well worth the read. I’ll not ruin the ending, but it’s sound advice indeed — not that I’ll adhere to it, mind you.

Black on White

For a writer, the most important thing is to put black on white. Get the paper wet with the ink. Don’t worry about the entire story or article or post; just write the part you already know.

That’s the approach I’ve taken to this blog. There are lots of design changes coming. I want to add a few pages about various interests. I’m still working out exactly what categories I’ll use and what my editorial calendar will look like.

In short, there are several reasons — seemingly legitimate but only deceptively so — why I should not start writing. Shouldn’t I finish all of these other tasks first?

Absolutely not. I should write.

Tim Van Damme wrote an excellent piece on writing more. It was timely to me because I was having many similar thoughts. He, like me, wanted to write more but kept finding ways to put it off. He figured this out:

The only issue is me, looking for excuses not to write, and actively denying it.

So here I am. Writing.

Starting Over

I’m starting over.

Writing, that is.

My life has gone through several stages, but at the heart of everything I’ve done from the time I’ve been a child until today, what I’ve loved about every job or hobby is writing. Research, reading, learning and writing.

That’s why my first career was as a journalist. It’s why I left politics to return to journalism. It’s why I started blogging when I returned to politics for a second time. And it’s why I’m starting over with my blog now.

I need a clean slate. A fresh page, so to speak. Somewhere where words can form anew again.

There are times when I miss journalism. I miss being a newspaperman. I may never return to that career. Personal reasons. A personal mistake. Not a professional one.

But I need to write. Need. Perhaps I don’t “have” to write, but I certainly need to do so. It’s therapeutic. My mind clears when I write. There’s a peace inside that comes from doing something you truly love. And writing is what I truly love. It’s not just the words but also the sharing of the words and the thoughts and the ideas and the opinions.

If you love something, and you don’t pay that something attention, then it calls out to you and the void it once filled grows larger and often fills you with regret and remorse until that something you love catches your attention and you give in to it.

So I’m starting over. I’ve killed my old blog. There were some good things on there, but on the whole it wasn’t what I wanted to write. To be honest, I’m still not sure what that is.

But I know I want to write again.

So I’m starting over.

Page 3 of 3«123