How to Make Sure Your Uber Doesn’t Drive Past You

How to Make Sure Your Uber Doesn’t Drive Past You – Jonna Stern, The Wall Street Journal

I’m using Uber more and more as I travel. I’ve got a business trip soon, the kind where previously I would have rented a car but this time I’m going to Uber instead. That’ll be five Ubers in one day. But the alternative is picking up a car in San Jose and dropping it off in San Francisco ten or so hours later — not worth the hassle.

How to unplug when you should

Do you obsessively fiddle with your phone all the time? Win back some mental space with these tips – Michael Duran, Wired

I see many articles like this. They all recommend similar steps. Don’t put your phone in your pocket, keep it in your desk where you have to make some effort to get it. Go a couple of days without connectivity.

These tips are not helpful. Keeping my phone out of reach would create more problems than it’s worth, because it’s a legitimate inconvenience when my phone is out of reach. The problem is that I fiddle with the phone at times when I should be doing something else. THAT’S what I’m looking to control.

Going a few days without connectivity is like going without electricity. It’s doable. People call that “camping.” And it’s good for you. But it’s kind of a big deal. Not to be entered into casually.

One tip that is helpful: Turn off nearly all your notifications. You do NOT want to be notified when you get new email, a mention or comment on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. You just don’t.

Journalists need to collect “string:” fragments of ideas and information that might turn into stories later

Laura Shin at Poynter.org describes how several journalists build their string collections, and organize them — or don’t:

Fleeting thoughts and observations that seem interesting, if not directly relevant to your article, could someday lead to another story, whether that’s a quick blog post or a book.

Capturing these random thoughts in an organized fashion is challenging. That could be why few writers do what is sometimes called collecting “string” — or, random threads of thought that could someday be spun into a larger story. (When reporting this article, I approached many writers who said they do not collect string. Some even asked me how to define the term.)…

Whether you decide to go with a detailed organization scheme or a looser method, the emphasis here is that you should collect random thoughts and observations that seem interesting, whether or not you end up using them later. And you should have a method for reviewing them to make sure that the ideas you’ve collected don’t gather dust.

I’m thinking about trying out DevonThink, which now has an iOS app. Among other things, it seems like a good way to organize a string collection.

And this blog is of course a big string collection. Which might be a good tagline for it.

Novelist David Hewson: How to start writing a book

The opening should conclude with “a surprise” or “revelation that something we’ve come to suspect is actually true.” The surprise or revelation “will pose a problem which the characters I’ve introduced will have to tackle.”

Hewson describes how the opening of “Treasure Island” follows that formula.

“The setup is the fuse for the book to come,” Hewson says.

How to start writing a book – David Hewson

Today’s creative writing: 778 words on “The Reluctant Magician”

866 words total. I’m just getting started.

Rather, I’m just getting started for the third time. I made a couple of false starts.

Then I read this essay from Michael Moorcock on how to write an adventure novel in three days.

I do not plan to write this novel in three days. If I can finish it in a year, I’ll be satisfied. But the essay got me thinking about outlining.

Moorcock doesn’t outline exactly. But he does have situations and locations worked out in advance, at the ready, like a metaphorical briefcase into which he can dip and pull out whatever he needs to keep the writing going.

I’ve never tried creative writing with an outline. I always thought outlining was the opposite of creative, and looked down on it. But after reading the Moorcock essay I realized that’s just a silly prejudice. Some excellent writers work from outlines. Others work freestyle. It’s just a matter of what works best; outliners are no better than non-outliners. Maybe outlining would work for me?

I did some research on outlines and came across the snowflake method. You’re outlining your novel by starting from the center and working outward. Like a snowflake — get it?

You start with a one-sentence summary, build that to a paragraph, expand further to studies of your secondary characters, and so on. I started with the snowflake method but abandoned it immediately after the one-sentence-summary stage, because it wasn’t working for me. But outlining was working for me.

I don’t mean a formal outline, with roman numerals and all that. I mean I just started writing down notes about the novel, in sequence. Who were my main characters, what was their problem, how were they going to solve it?

I also remembered a tip from Cory Doctorow on how to structure a novel: A character gets in trouble, does something intelligent to solve the problem but that only makes the problem worse. Repeat that several times until all is very nearly lost, and then the character does one more intelligent thing to solve the problem, and this time it works

Or something like that. I can’t find where Cory said that; the closest I can find is this article on InformationWeek that I wrote nine years ago but have no memory of writing. (That happens sometimes. I write a lot of articles.)

I worked on my outline for a couple of weeks and ended up writing 3,178 words, which I think covers the whole novel.

I think an outline is great for me for a couple of reasons: First, it allows me to forget about the big picture for a little while. I don’t have to hold the whole novel in my head every day, just whatever bit I’m working on at the moment.

The outline is also helpful because the novel I’m working on is a cross between a caper story and urban fantasy, in a fantasy city resembling 1970s-80s America in some ways, and drastically different in other ways, with a lot of background that needs to be explained in a lively fashion and moving parts to keep track of.

I’m not going to claim “aha! I’ve solved the problem of creative writing and will just keep plugging along and producing one novel after another!” I’ve thought that was the case many times before.

How to make a tennis ball

How to Make a Tennis Ball from Benedict Redgrove on Vimeo.

Benedict Redgrove:

I was commissioned to make a film and shoot a set of images by ESPN for Wilson, to show the manufacturing process of their tennis balls for the US Open. We flew to the factory, shot the film and stills in one day then flew home. Its an amazingly complex manufacture, requiring 24 different processes to make the final ball. It was hot, loud and the people who worked there, worked fast. So much beauty in each stage. I love the mechanics of how things are made, it fills me with great pleasure. I hope you enjoy the film.

Hypnotic!

Via kottke

Small changes to this blog, big deal for me

I made a couple of changes to the blog recently. Readers will find these changes to be minor. But they’re a big deal for me.

Linked List

The first thing I did was install the Daring Fireball Style Linked List plugin for WordPress, by YJ Soon. The plugin is designed for link blogging — which is most of what I post here.

When I put up a post that’s primarily a link to something elsewhere — an article in the news, for instance — the DFLL plugin changes the title of the post so it links to the external article. Normal behavior on WordPress is for the title of the post to link to the post itself.

This solves the problem for me of having to figure out where to put the link when I write a link post. It’s a small decision, but eliminating it speeds up the blogging process and makes the process more pleasant.

Also, readers of this blog can more easily find the link to the external article.

And it means less of a need for me to reformat blog posts for posting to Facebook and Google+.

So it’s a nice little utility.

The DFLL plugin is designed to modify the RSS feed of the blog. To modify the Web pages, I had to learn to install a child theme on WordPress, which is simple — once you figure out how to do it. The author of the DFLL plugin provides pre-cooked child themes for the Twenty Ten and Twenty Eleven WordPress themes, but none for Twenty Fifteen, which is the one I used. So now I’m using the Twenty Eleven theme.

At some point, I may want to figure out how to modify WordPress themes more to my liking. I like a lighter theme. Examples: Manton.org, The Loop, 512 Pixels, and Hypertext.net. However, those blogs don’t run as many photos and images as I do, so maybe this blog is just going to be heavier and there’s nothing I can do about it without making unacceptable sacrifices.

Thanks to Benjamin Brooks for pointing out this nice little plugin, and for responding when I asked him if he is still using it, and it still works well despite no updates in years. (The answers of course were yes and yes.)

The name of the plugin — Daring Fireball-Style Linked List — comes from the blog Daring Fireball, which pioneered this style of blogging.

Hiding categories

I figured out how to hide categories so they don’t display on the website. I’ve been wanting to do this since I relaunched the blog in February, so while this is a small change externally it’s a bit of a triumph for me.

WordPress offers the option of assigning both categories and tags to posts. I have never figured out when to use categories and when to use tags. After doing some reading — for example, here and here — I have come to the conclusion that the reason WordPress supports both categories and tags is that categories came first and now some people like categories and some people like tags and some people like both.

Categories and tags seem redundant and confusing to me but as long as my blog displayed categories and tags I felt obliged to select both in a way that would be useful to readers.

Hiding categories is simple — once you figure out how to do it. You create a child theme, then go into the files content-single.php and content.php, navigate down to the sections for the blog entry footer, and delete everything that looks like a category listing.

On the home page, which is controlled by content.php, that code starts with something like “Posted in”

On single entries, controlled by the “content-single.php” file, the wording is slightly different.

Look to the public web pages of your own blog to find the exact wording, then go into content.php and content-single.php files to make the necessary changes.

And now that’s done and I no longer have to decide on a category for every blog post.

I may stop using tags too, but for now I’m sticking with them. I’m trying out the Strictly Auto Tags plugin to automate the process. I’m not sure how much help it actually is — it doesn’t usually seem to choose the tags I would have chosen. Perhaps I can fiddle with the settings and make it work.

Categories and tags are supposedly important for search engine optimization. SEO isn’t a priority for me on this blog. It’s desirable, but it’s not something I’ll go out of my way to do.