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Music gives me hope

I watched When Albums Ruled the World on the BBC last night and it was one of those documentaries that has stayed with me into the next day. It charts the rise of the album from the single and talks about some of the music that was made possible only by the LP. One of the ideas that stood out for me was that LP collections were like the working man’s art collection. It said so much about you.

I came of age around 1980 and, although I did have a few LPs on vinyl, I was much more of the cassette tape generation. I’ve had headphones on pretty much since the early 80s and I was pondering that just recently as I listened to music on my iPhone whilst out with the dogs. I had on my sound-isolation headphones and I felt like I had arrived; things can stop progressing now, because it just doesn’t get any better. No more tape hiss, no more tape jams!

Then came CDs and I bought them and bought them and bought them. I now have hundreds and hundreds of them in the attic, all ripped into a lossless format and filed away as needless physical media. Nobody can come to my house now and see who I am through my music collection unless they sit down at my computer, and that’s pretty unlikely. I pretty much exclusively buy music now on iTunes or the Amazon mp3 store, or I listen on Spotify. That change has come only in the last few years, since iTunes did away with DRM. And now we have iTunes Match, which I absolutely love!

As I watched the documentary, I found myself thinking of my two children and I was filled with such hope for the future. And that is what music has always given me: hope. I don’t know why; I can’t explain it. Maybe it’s the idea that my kids can do anything they choose to do. If they can find something they love and always get to do that, they can be much happier than I. They can consume, but they also need not fear creating. Maybe that’s it.

So I had the idea of sitting my kids down and listening to albums with them, but as I walked the dogs this morning I realised that that just wouldn’t work. I have to let them find their own music, which undoubtedly they will, just as I did, and what I listen to will perhaps influence their tastes a little, but they won’t realise it until they’re much older. What I should do is make sure I play more music in the house that I currently do. I spend so much time listening to podcasts and audiobooks that music seems to take a back seat. I’d like to change that. I’ll stick to shows with Merlin in them, because they’re so helpful, and ditch the rest. Yeah, that makes sense.

Walking the dogs

The highlight of these holidays has been getting out with the dogs in the dark of the night with the wind howling and the rain pouring.

Here’s the gear:

  • Keela Munro jacket (best jacket EVER)
  • Sprayway waterproof trousers
  • Brasher 3-season socks
  • Merrell waterproof walking shoes
  • Flat cap
  • JBL Beats with active sound isolation

I get my hood up, zip right up, and off we go!

Two nights ago I listened to Paul Heaton Presents… The 8th and it was fucking tremendous. The production is incredible and the content is as entertaining as a good movie. It’s huge!

These are the times when I get to think about life in a way that I can’t really do with audiobooks and podcasts. It’s a rare moment of joy that I feel through the day, when life is the hardest it has ever been and I’m so full of doubt about the decisions I’ve made. So I put on the music and wrap up, and I’m transported back to the centre again, whence all gets put into perspective and I can feel the love the family, the joy of playing music with friends, and I want to create, to write, to talk, to sing, to laugh. Then I see other people approaching and I do all I can to avoid them, so I guess it doesn’t change me that much. Ha ha.

Last night I couldn’t get the music right though. After enjoying The 8th so much, I thought I’d stick with the concept album and put on Tommy. It bored me, so I switched to The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking, but that bored me too. ‘I know’, I thought. ‘Merlin likes Godspeed You! Black Emperor, so I’ll give that a spin.’ So I gave it a spin and didn’t enjoy it at all. By then, the rain was too heavy for me to get the iPhone out to change it. It reminded me a bit of Ride in the 90s, and I probably would have enjoyed it had I been in my 20s. Who knows. It was too much tension and not enough resolution for me, but I was stuck with it, so I persevered.

I won’t manage out tonight because I’m playing a gig again. 🙁

Friends and Family on my Birthday

I turned 41 yesterday and it was just about the best birthday I can remember.

The day before was a Saturday, which means a half-day for me at work. I closed, had lunch and then met Lorraine and the kids and a family friend and we headed off to the cinema to see Ice Age 4. Okay, so the film was rubbish, but the kids enjoyed it and I got to spend the afternoon with the family. From there it was home for a quick bite to eat and then I headed out with Freya to see a fantastic jazz trio, featuring Tim Kliphuis on violin. He was one of the best violinists I’ve ever seen. Phenomenal!

And then home to watch Glengarry Glen Ross!

I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to persuade Lorraine to go hiking with me on the Sunday, but I had mentally prepared myself to accept what came my way. But, lo and behold, she agreed and we headed off the Glen Rosa and a walk all the way to the top of the Saddle. The walk was spectacular, but what the best thing about it was was getting to spend such a long time with my wife and no kids. Not to disrespect the kids you understand. They are kind of all right, I guess! But I don’t think I’ve spent that long with my wife without being too dog tired for much of a conversation since moving to Arran five years ago and probably a long time before that.

There’s a lot going on in our lives right now and it really gave us the chance to talk it through and come up with some options.

In the evening we ordered pizza from the Lamlash Bay, totally non paleo but I’d decided it was all right since it was my birthday, and it was all the better for being forbidden. We watched Alice in Wonderland with the pizza, which was highly enjoyable, oh so much better than Ice Age 4!

When the kids went to bed, I put on Amélie, which is undoubtedly still my all-time favourite movie! It’s just perfect. The colour balance, the lighting, the music, the content, the performances, the sound, EVERYTHING. I just don’t think it can be beaten. If I were a film, that’s the film I would be.

I got a lovely message today from my very best friend, Maria Cristina. I also got a The The concert program from Eeko. It inspired me to listen to Mind Bomb whilst cooking the tea on Friday night and it was an awesome experience. ‘Was our love too strong to kill, or was I just too weak to kill it?’ Ponder that!

After tea on Friday I spent a bunch of time watching Regina Spektor videos on YouTube and was moved to tears, quite literally. I felt so inspired and creative, and out on the hills it had me thinking about the link between nature and art and creativity and peace and serenity. All that. And it made me want to SHOUT OUT that I had the answer. I HAD IT.


I just finished reading the free Read & Trust issue, where a bunch of writers wrote about creativity. It was, dare I say, inspiring!

The thing that jumped off the page at me was a quote from Ray Bradbury about risk that Shawn Blanc wrote:

“You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.” – Ray Bradbury

This jumped out at me today because I’ve been teetering on the edge of a cliff for a while now, but this morning made a phone call that pushed me over the edge.

This topic of fear is something that Merlin has covered extensively in Back to Work, particularly in relation to changing jobs. It’s definitely worth subscribing to B2W if you’re at all interested in what I suppose is referred to as ‘life hacks’.

But back to the creativity thing. It’s interesting that I should mention podcasts, because that’s what this post is ultimately about.

Both Shawn and Brett talked about giving the brain time to process information so that ideas can form themselves. Brett even goes so far as to suggest sleeping! Well, I wasn’t giving myself much time at all for that processing to happen. The reason for that was podcasts. I started listening to Security Now! and TWiT when they started, and from there I have only ever added new shows, never removed. That is until recently. And if I ever did manage to get through my podcast queue, I’d be straight into my Audible queue.

I had a thought in the shower that I seem only ever to have ideas in the shower. (See what I did there?) And although the reason for this is patently obvious, it never really dawned on me until quite recently: It’s the one part of the day when I take off my headphones!

So, about a month ago I made a rule. It was a very hard rule for me to enforce, I suppose because of my OCD nature. Some of these shows I’ve never missed an episode! But I did it, and nothing bad happened. They didn’t eat me!

So, what was the rule? Simple. Any podcast that’s over two hours long gets deleted straight away. No questions asked. I’ve missed a bunch of Hypercriticals, MacBreak Weeklys and TWiTs since I made that decision, but I did start getting some time back. Probably the most painful one was The Talk Show with Marco. I’d probably have enjoyed that, although I suspect it was all about the iPhone 5 so chances are that I’ve heard or read their views anyway.

So, I’ve been spending the time I got back listening to music again, something I just never seemed to have time for anymore. And d’you know what? I’ve been experiencing fleeting feelings of fulfilment and joy whilst out with the dogs when listening to music. I’ve been processing thoughts and generally feeling a whole lot happier. Standing on the beach looking out over Holy Island and listening to alt-J gave me an incredible feeling of joy and gave me back some perspective on some of the difficulties that life is throwing at me right now. And I’m finally using those expensive Beats headphones that I bought myself for my 40th birthday last year!

So, although I do enjoy the podcasts, I’m considering cutting back ever further. I’m not quite sure how I’ll do that just yet. I’d considered listening only to shows with Merlin in them, since they actually help me on a, dare I say, spiritual level. Brett’s Systematic has also helped me on some shows.

I could change the habit as well, something like podcasts in the kitchen or when fixing computers and music when out with the dogs. It’s a work in progress…

In terms of news though, I don’t watch TV news at all, nor do I read newspapers on or offline. The only news I consume is tech news, either via podcast or Websites. So I guess there’s a lot of redundancy there anyway.

I’m going to buy a couple more issues of Read & Trust magazine, because I enjoyed very much the free issue.

And if there ever is an episode of Back to Work or Roderick on the Line that goes over the two–hour mark, I’m guessing that I’ll keep them.

Hey, they’re my rules!

I’ve just got a subscription to for training videos and am having a ball!

I’m going through Chris Orwig’s Lightroom 4 Develop Module tutorial right now. I ‘found’ his tutorials on Lightroom back when I first started using the app when it came out and it was really that that got me into photography more than anything else. I loved the app so much after I’d learned how to use it from Chris’s tutorials. Since then, I’ve upgraded to every version, but never gone back to the tutorials until now with Lightroom 4.

And, while I’ve got the subscription, I’m going through GarageBand and Adobe Audition as well. It’s a shame that there isn’t anything for GarageBand on iOS, but I’m guessing that the skills will be transferable to a large extent. Now I’m just waiting on the arrival of MIDI cables so I can get the MIDI keyboard controller up and running and I’ll start creating songs with Hamish for Tech Tuesdays.

Google two-factor authentication →

For those of you following on the recent password security buzz that’s been going around for the past couple days, Matt Cutts has a good FAQ on using the Google two-factor authentication.

Robert over at Gridwriter has posted a link to how to set up two-factor authentication for Google services. This is in the wake of Mat Honan’s being hacked and losing a bunch of data. Despite the fact that the hacking was not caused by a lack of two-factor authentication on Mat’s part, the Internet has woken up and started battening down the hatches.

I’ve gone through the process myself and it’s painful enough for me to feel like I’m actually doing something! I had to reauthenticate gmail on my phone, iPad and in

I’m going to set this up for my good lady as well, and my kids. It’s time for the Internet to sit up and take notice that, although we know what we should be doing, we very often can’t be bothered.

Oh, and to quote Marco of Instapaper[^1]:

Backing up is easy and cheap. Do it. Right now.

[^1] we don’t say dot com

Shawn Blanc reviews Day One →

As a writer, I believe journaling on a regular basis is critical. It’s writing that will never be judged. It’s writing that doesn’t require an editor. It’s the only place where I am completely free to write for my truly ideal reader: a future me. I have my own inside jokes, my own running story arc, my own shorthand. I love the freedom to write whatever I want, however I want, with no need to make it tidy or clear or concise. And I have no doubt that it makes me a better professional writer.

I totally agree.

Shawn’s writing shows that it works; his work is short on typos, has no grammar mistakes and, most importantly, it has style and voice. So the writing practice for him is obviously working!

I’ve been using Day One for a while now, on and off, just on the Mac, not on iOS. I kept journals for years, writing long hand into a school exercise book or A4 refill pad. Some of my best moments are recorded in those pages, along with some of my worst.

As part of my Step 4(1) of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step programme, I read through my old journals and it was fascinating stuff. Particularly the entries I made whilst, shall we say, not entirely sober. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all drunken ramblings; some of it was actually quite good. But the overall picture was enlightening to say the least.

And now, as part of my recovery, writing helps me a great deal. I even toyed with the idea of setting up an anonymous blog to write about my daily recovery or lack thereof. I may even still do that, so I’m keeping the URL just in case.

Writing helps me in so many ways, so when Andy Ihnatko recommended Day One on MacBreak Weekly, I bought it and gave it a whirl. All the things Shawn so eloquently describes in his review are why I carried on using it. It’s such a nice-looking app and it’s a joy to use.

I’m not sure that the new features will be of particular use to me. I think of my Tumblr / Google+ / Twitter as my public journal for photo-sharing and suchlike, but I suppose there could be room for photos in my journal. Certainly not weather reports though. I couldn’t(2) really care less about what the weather was when I wrote something.

(1)Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
(2)US English variant: could care less (wink)

Creating Flow with OmniFocus

I’m about two-thirds of the way through Kourosh Dini’s book, Creating Flow with Omnifocus and am learning bucket-loads from it.

However, there are some things that I’m finding overwhelming.

This is partly to do with the fact that I’m trying to use the application in the real world at the same time as I’m learning to use it with fake projects. So, although I now have some knowledge about the app, I’m still feeling bewildered when I open it up. I know, I know, it’ll all come with experience, right? But for now, the perspectives in particular are baffling me. I’ve created a Start Date perspective, a Flagged, a Today and others and I don’t’ know which to use when I switch it on.

Once I’m done with the book, I may revisit D. Sparks’ excellent screencasts to compare.

[OmniFocus screencasts]

To that end, I reckon Kourosh’s book is more of a reference book than an end-to-end solution. Once I get to the end of it, I’ll remember the concepts that were mentioned and then be able to refer back to them. For example, I’ve forgotten already the keyboard shortcut to move the selected focus from the right-hand column to the main body window and that’s rather frustrating.

There are so many shortcut commands that it’s going to take a lot of use before they become ingrained. But one of the apps strengths is that it’s so wide open to be used in so many different ways. All KD’s book is giving me is instructions on how to mimic his use of it. Once I get that, I will be able to start moving things along.

500px vs Flickr

I just signed up for a 500px account and, after 10 minutes of browsing, I’m sold! The interface blows Flickr out the water. Even the official Lightroom plug-in is way better than the Flickr one.

Interestingly, a prominent tech blogger recently wrote about what a good idea it would be if Yahoo! were to buy 500px and make it the new Flickr.

[Brooks Review]

The suckiness of Flickr has put me off socialising online with the local camera club I’m in. Good software and sites draw me into the hobby. For me, the tech comes first, at least in photography anyway.

But, I have a Flickr Pro account and some real actual friends on there, so switching to a new service seems a bit silly. It’s all about the interface for me though. I mean nobody reads this blog and I have friends who follow my Facebook. But I don’t use Facebook much, partly because the interface is kind of crappy and I’d rather host my own content.


My 500px page

Creative Breathing Space

John Cleese and OmniFocus

I just watched a 10-minute video of John Cleese talking about creativity. Here’s a link:

[John Cleese WCF]

I got the link from Kourosh Dini’s book, Creating Flow with OmniFocus, in which he referred to JC’s concept of a tortoise mind and an oasis. In other words, one needs to clear from one’s mind the clutter in order that the tortoise mind of creativity thinks it’s safe to come out.

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, not in terms of creativity but in terms of spirituality. I think the two mean the same thing really—the mind can be creative when it’s cleared of clutter in the same way that one can feel a connection to the universe.

This came about in reference to OmniFocus because that particular app is designed to be a repository of clutter from one’s mind, freeing it up to do some actual work or find peace.

My Clutter

In the digital age there is so much information that it’s easy to become overwhelmed. If I’m not listening to a podcast or an audiobook when I’m doing a mundane chore or walking the dogs, I feel like I’m wasting time. If I don’t get to read my RSS feeds during lunch, I’ve wasted more time.

I like to read novels and non-fiction. I have tutorials to go through on Lightroom, Photoshop and Pixelmator. I have albums to catch up on. I have so many guitar books it’s ridiculous, not to mention the practice for forthcoming gigs.

I’ve got work six days a week. I’ve got to walk the dogs before work and prepare dinner at night for the family. I’ve got church on Sundays. I’ve got to clean at work.

I’ve got the entire Twilight Zone to watch, as well as Six Feet Under.

And then there’s family. How much time do I spend with the kids? Well, almost none, because if I do that I’m going to fall behind in all the other stuff.

Does this sound familiar?


My weekly podcast list is at 32. That means that if I’ve not go headphones on at every conceivable moment, I’m going to fall behind, and that’s before I even consider my Audible queue. The one-in, one-out policy clearly has not worked, because I seem unable to unsubscribe but continually subscribe to new ones. Something’s got to give. All it takes is one weekend away from my routine and the queue starts to build up and up and up.

So, this afternoon I took Poppy out for a walk to the shops without my headphones and I felt my mind beginning to breathe. This must be why I always have ideas in the shower—I’ve got no device in there! And to think I was putting it in terms of: ‘how can I capture ideas in the shower?’ Hah!

This must also be partly why I feel good after an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting or church, where I feel my mind beginning to wander.

I guess that the mind does its processing when I’m asleep. It puts me in mind of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation [Night Terrors], where the crew are prevented from dreaming and begin to go insane. In other words, the mind is doing its information processing in dreams. But dreams are fleeting. I need some space to let my mind breathe when I’m awake. Mindfulness and meditation would be ways to get there.

I often feel incredibly overwhelmed, like I have no time for anything, let alone an AA meeting, but that’s usually when I get the most out of going to the meeting.

Will I give up the podcasts though? It has become a habit over the years and it’ll be a hard habit to break.