Any recommendations for free or cheap iPhone games that suit 6-year-olds? My boy sometimes needs distracting or occupying for short times and the games I’ve got installed – Wurdle, Enigmo, Topple, even Jelly Car – are a bit too tricky for him to master. I need something that rewards very quickly and with minimum intellectual challenge.
You know me, you know I have an obsession with writing software for ages. I like to try out everything that comes along. Rarely has anything lived up to the gorgeous simplicity of TextMate and a bunch of folders in the Finder.
The difference for me, and this is something I consider fairly fundamental to my obsessive behaviour, is that a lot of what I write is destined for publication on the web. Right now, about 70% of all my paid work is for blogs and other web publications, and will never see the light of day in print.
If I were solely a print journalist, I’d probably have stuck with something like Scrivener or Mori or DevonNote years ago. They’re just the thing for managing articles where all you need to consider is the words.
But a web writer has to consider more than the words. A web writer has to consider the links, and to some extent, the presentation and formatting of the words. This is stuff that simply isn’t required for print content.
So the direct consequence of this is that most software that’s great for writing just words isn’t so great for writing words for the web. There’s a difference in the required output, and there’s a difference in the requirements of the software.
This is what lies behind my obsession. I’ve been writing for web sites for many years, but I’ve never really found the writing tool that fulfilled that very specific niche. It has to have certain features:
- easy integration with various blog tools and their APIs
- word count (live if possible, called up by command if not)
- treat plain text properly
- convert Markdown to HTML in situ and instantly
- have a full screen editing mode, and be able to flit between window and full screen with one button
- ideally, offer some degree of management of content, so that I can keep track of ideas-for-articles, articles-in-progress, articles-to-be-posted, and articles-posted-previously
Now I’ve known about MarsEdit for years, but haven’t sat down and tried using it properly. Not until a couple of weeks ago, when anger with WordPress-in-a-browser sent me scurrying for a client app that wouldn’t make me quite so cross.
And having downloaded and used it for just a few hours, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t done so years ago. It solves many of the problems I was dealing with, and adds other features to boot. For 15 quid, it’s a marvel.
But there’s more: although MarsEdit doesn’t have everything, I can add things to it with a utility like ThisService. After an hour or so of of Googling and fiddling about, I have set up MarsEdit so that it can do everything on the list above. It can even do full screen editing, thanks to its helpful “Edit with…” command that can be invoked with a simple tap on Command+J.
I’m almost exploding with excitement about this. ThisService makes a sensible Word Count and use of Markdown possible in every app I have. Now I have them inside MarsEdit, which does all the article-management and talking-to-API gubbins too. And it copes very nicely with images too, just drag ‘em in. This is the software setup I’ve been looking for inside a single app for years, but it turns out that three very niche apps, working together, have provided the answer instead.
I’d urge any of you who regularly write for web publications – yes, both of you – to have a try with this setup and see if it makes you more productive. Cos I think it probably will.
- last.fm limits the number of times you can listen to a song for free
- Spotify inserts adverts between songs
- last.fm generates a radio station based on an artist or a tag; so you won’t just get songs from the artist you named, you’ll also get songs from other artists. Spotify lets you play specific artists only, or just specific albums
- last.fm automatically “scrobbles” your music and lets you re-find things you’ve played before
- last.fm puts a lot of focus on the social elements, on sharing what you’ve scrobbled, on scrobbling in groups. It’s just as much social network as it is music service
- Spotify does the reverse, it puts the focus on music. There are social aspects to it, but you have to hunt them down (they’re not obvious to start with)
Right now, I prefer Spotify, but that’s because I usually prefer to listen to a specific album. That’s partly down to my age – I grew up listening to albums and still prefer either that, or listening to my entire music collection on shuffle mode when I want some variety. I’m using Spotify to listen to many of the albums that I feel I should have heard by now, but never have. In recent days that means a lot of 60s and 70s rock by Cream, The Byrds and so on. But the week before that, I was on a world music and hiphop kick and listened to a lot of 90s rap.
Another good thing about Spotify: I can listen to the albums I used to own on LP or cassette, but either gave away, sold, lost, or scratched to the point where they were no longer playable.
The advertising is bearable. It’s only one ad every five or six songs. That’s much less than commercial radio, and I can cope with it without feeling the need to throw the laptop through the window.
iPhone photography is uppermost in my mind today. I’ve been playing with CameraBag non-stop for the last 24 hours, I’m really excited about the possibilities it offers, and what other apps might come in future. This week’s Cult of Mac column reflects my current obsession.
The photo above remains my favourite to date taken with the iPhone. It did a superb job of capturing the detail and the lighting. And in the real world, it’s our bathroom light fitting and the most humdrum thing you can imagine looking at. Just goes to show there’s always something to take a picture of, even in the most humdrum of situations.
Email’s horrible, it conveys nothing of your tone of voice. This leads to problems.
A chunk of text that you’ve written in a cheery tone can be easily misinterpreted by the recipient as snarky, sarcastic, and rude. Something you’ve sent to be supportive might be read as condescending or patronising.
I’ve seen it happen, we all have. Just recently, a friend described an email conversation and was spitting with fury at what she saw as obvious rudeness. And in the tone of voice she related it to me with, it was rude. But the words themselves were not rude, and I silently wondered whether they’d been intended to be read in a different tone altogether.
This bothers me to the extent that I’ve adopted something I call the “tone-of-voice indicator”, which I append to the bottom of very occasional emails where I believe the tone of voice they’re read in is important.
Usually these are difficult or troublesome conversations that involve disagreement. Just because I disagree with someone, doesn’t mean I don’t like them, or don’t see their point of view.
A tone-of-voice indicator isn’t new. Here’s one: :)
That’s what smileys were invented for. They were designed to add emotion to text, hence the name emoticons.
The problem is that they’ve become so ubiquitous that no-one pays the slightest bit of attention to them. They fade into the background, like the words “the” or “said”. You can insert them into controversial text as much as you like, but instead of conveying your emotion or tone-of-voice, they will just make you look like a leering, gurning loon.
What I do now, then, when the circumstances warrant it, is add the following to a message:
[Tone-of-voice indicator, because emails are easy to mis-read in that regard: :) ]
(And almost every time I use that, it is a smiley icon that I insert. Usually because I’m stating a point of view or an opinion, but don’t want to give the impression that I’m being snotty or uppity about it.)
What’s different between a normal smiley and my tone-of-voice indicator is the context in which it is presented. I make it very clear what I’m doing with the sentence that precedes the smiley. I state what I’m doing, in plain English.
Or to put it another way, I explain why I’m putting in a smiley, rather than simply littering my text with the damn things and hoping they get understood.
Ages ago, I bumped into a Twitter account being used by a junior school class in Hertfordshire: Fairfield 5MJ, and it really struck a chord with me. (The account hasn’t been updated very recently, but it certainly was in active use during the last academic year.)
School web sites are hugely variable, and teachers are always much too busy to be blogging or writing lengthy updates on what’s been going on in class. But at the same time, parents want to know — and can’t always depend on their children to tell them (I speak from personal experience on that front).
But a Twitter account is the ideal solution. If my son’s class had a Twitter account, the teacher would only need to add one post each day, nothing more demanding than 140 characters, and us mums and dads could be kept up to speed.
I’m very tempted to suggest it to his class teacher.
Some odd stuff has been happening today. In fact, before today.
I’d noticed that I was sometimes being prompted to fix “errors or omissions” in my iTunes billing information, every time I tried to buy an application from the App Store. Sometimes, though: not always.
But today it failed completely, and I was caught in a loop: try to buy app, get prompted to fix errors, fix them, click “Done”, try to buy app, get prompted to fix errors… and so on.
My fix (and I have no idea how long this is going to work) was to remove my billing information altogether by choosing “None”. Quit and restart iTunes. Then enter it afresh. And restart iTunes again, just for good luck. And now – finally – it lets me buy something.
I’m just mentioning it, in case you get stuck in the loop too.
I need some fresh air.
I’m posting quite a lot of words over on the list these days. If you like my stuff here, and you want more of it, more often, you might want to subscribe to the list.
I’ve got a new toy – a mailing list of my own, just like the good old days of gorjuss and luvly. If you remember them, you’ll know what it’s like. Stuff, from me, sent out as and when. So far, it’s mainly chunks of text and thoughts that occur. In the future, it might include works-in-progress, stuff that got spiked, bits of interview, you know the sort of thing.
It’s a Google Group because that was the least hassle. Apologies to those of you with a burning hatred of Google Groups or hosted list services generally.
For a moment I was going to call it “triffic” or something similar, but in the end opted for the duller-than-twigs “gilest”.
Sorry to keep banging on about Mac writing software, but here’s another one I’ve been enjoying recently: Bean.
I tried it when it first came out and didn’t really find much to shout about. But then I tried it again a week or so ago, and suddenly found myself loving it.
What’s so great? The live word count, of course; and the simplicity. It doesn’t faff about with anything and isn’t bloated with any useless crap. My editor at PA recently asked me to make some changes to my weekly internet column, which means I have to keep a close eye on word counts as I go along. As much as I love writing in TextMate, Bean is easier for this sort of task because the word count is always visible.
And some other great things about Bean: it’s free, it’s open source, and it’s Cocoa.