Geek Rage: AirPlay Devices!

January 22nd, 2013

Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE Apple’s AirPlay.

Being able to send music and video wirelessly from iPhone or Apple TV or AirPort Express is brilliant and so beautifully implemented. I love the whole ecosystem. Mirroring Mac screen or iPad screen onto a large screen via Apple TV has saved my neck on many occasions and facilitated some excellent screen sharing writing and video editing collaborations.

The problem comes when it comes to the audio output because, let’s face it, television speakers are generally pretty crap.

Unless you want to pay a lot of money for dedicated AirPlay speakers, Apple TV only has optical audio output. AirPort Express only has 3.5mm jack output.  So what speakers do you connect your AirPlay device to?

When it comes to outputting it seems there are three choices: Surround sound, PC Speakers or the iPhone Dock.

Surround Sound

Surround sound systems are increasingly turning into a full home 5.1 cinema setups that includes Blu-ray and massive feature speakers.  I haven’t found one yet that offers AirPlay yet. And few of those set ups include Bluetooth (for when you want to let someone play music without sharing your wifi password).

PC Speakers

Something smaller with 2.1 speakers and a wireless sub-woofer would be ideal for a work setup.

AirPlay Dock

The only other alternative is the AirPlay enabled dock. Most of the ones I’ve found don’t actually allow you to dock your iPhone or iPod for playback now – instead they offer only a USB port for charging.  So you’re stuck with AirPlay only.  A few of the AirPlays docks available offer Bluetooth as well but that’s all. You can’t plug in an iPod or any other device now.

Why can’t one device have it all?

My bugbear is the lack of multimedia output convergence devices – or in other words speaker setups that do it all. Why do I have to choose between the ability to use the new wireless technologies as well as keeping the ability to use the old legacy methods? I know it costs companies to license AirPlay from Apple – fair enough, but seriously the cost of putting a 3.5mm jack input and optical and digital audio inputs has suddenly put the price up so high they can’t afford to manufacture it?? And I’ve yet to see any that support Apple’s new lightning connectors for the iPhone 5 or the iPad 4. Still. (What has audio output technology ground to a halt lately??) Updated: OK there are some out there, but few if any available in the UK yet.

So hey, Sony, Panasonic, Logitech, Phillips – how about it? Embrace the new AND keep the old. AirPlay is here to stay, but let’s face it most of us still have PCs, DVD and video players, iPods with earphone sockets and 30-pin connectors that we’d like to plug in as well as airplay over wifi networks that are increasingly struggling under the bandwidth weight of streaming music, movies, downloads as well as airplay to speakers.

(And don’t get me started on in-car audio setups, which are still lagging behind on the iPhone 5 in terms of Bluetooth compatibility and the lightning connector. Another bugbear!!)

Luckily today I found this link to help share my PC speaker system between PC and Apple’s AirPort Express’s 3.5mm outputs.  Sometimes you have to go Old School to get the new tech to do what you want. Happy at last.

Geek rage over. For now … 😉

Rise … and dance!

November 19th, 2012

Join One Billion Rising 

Rise! V-day February 14th 2013

London Screenwriters’ Festival 2012 – Julie Gray

October 30th, 2012

The London Screenwriters’ Festival 2012, like the previous years, was incredible.

Personal high points for me were talking to Writer/Director Mike Leigh and chatting with Doug Naylor and Robert Llewelyn of Red Dwarf fame.

I learned so much – it’s really impossible to distill it into a single blog post. So I shall start off with the amazing session by Julie Gray: You ARE the Hero of the Journey

Julie GrayThe session proved both instructive and inspirational by inviting us to use our painful experiences or our writing, and, in doing so, employ the writing process as a type of therapy. This is an idea that is not unfamiliar to me, but Julie has straight-talking manner that slices straight through that natural resistance that makes you want to hide from your pain, and she very quickly helps you begin to accept the tough stuff you’ve had to deal with and move on to reaping it as good grist for your writing mill.

So once you’re ready to use your pain, it’s time to inflict it on your characters!! New writers, she said, are afraid to put their characters through hell.

“Fall in love with your character one page 100, not on page one.”

Interview your character to find out everything about them and then use their vulnerabilities.

Think about the positive qualities that you admire – that’s the place they might be at the end of the story arc – but to bring those positive qualities to life they have to fail. As do we!

“Great writers write about what scares them, what makes them uncomfortable,” Julie says.

“Writers are entrusted with being the inspiration for others. But first, you have to be courageous to do that in your own life.”

Words to live by. Words to write by!

Many thanks to Julie Gray for the inspiration and advice.

More soon…

Blogging break

June 6th, 2012

I’m going to be taking a break from this blog for a while. Lots to do, lots to think about. Time to step back and concentrate on the non-virtual world for a while.

Back soon!

Dawn is a feeling

May 28th, 2012

I am awake at 4 am. Sitting outside. Watching the dawn.

The sky is beautiful. The birds are singing. I love the sound of sea gulls. It makes me so happy.

My garden is a mess. Full of weeds. And yet there’s not a thing I would change about it. I don’t even want to mow the lawn because it is doing what it does and who am I to change it? Dandelion heads are everywhere. In the night they shine like lanterns.

My flowerpots are looking so pretty. They make me so happy. I did that small thing. It is a good feeling.

I could be asleep now in my bed. But instead I’m awake. Out here. Having a beautiful, wonderful moment. Or rather an hour. Wondering at the sheer beauty and miracle of the dawn.

They call it insomnia. They say it’s a problem. I call it wonderful.

I will go back to sleep in a while, then later start my day.

I will go out into my world. Go to my interview. Go for a drive.

Sit by the sea.

Write some. Think some. And wonder at the day.

I will meet some people. I will wonder at the people as I always do. It’s what I do. It’s who I am.

For a long while I turned that off. The warmth of our bed was too perfect to step out of. Even for a moment.

But I am grateful for this moment. Even with its bittersweet pain.

For without the cold, loneliness of my bed I could never have experienced this perfect moment of joy.

If we don’t step out of the warmth sometimes, just for a moment, we don’t experience the wonders of our worlds.

When I step back into my bed I will miss him.

But I will resent not the coldness of my bed, only regret the fact that I never stepped out of it to experience such joy as this, when my bed was still filled with his warmth.

Why does life have to be one thing or the other?

Let go of your dreams, girls! Goals are better!!

April 12th, 2012

As little girls – and boys – we are taught to dream and to dream big. Whether that’s fairy castles or great sporting victories, dreams are something that is ingrained in our upbringing.

Sometimes in life the hardest thing is letting go of the fantasy and letting go of the dream, but there are times when this is essential. Maybe they are the dreams for a future that’s no longer going to happen or a past that wasn’t quite as perfect as we recall, but until we do this we can’t really embrace reality – and without reality where are we? Dedication to reality and mindfulness of the present are essential for our well-being and success.

Society and media constantly promote the idea of dreams. “You gotta have dreams!” But do we really need them? Are they real? Do they really serve the purpose of taking us to where we want to go or who we want to be? Or do they keep us rooted firmly where we are?

Well, if you think about it the clue is in the word dreams – something we do when we are asleep; incoherent random fancies from the unconscious.  How often do we actually dream about those things we call our ‘dreams’? Career ambitions? Luxury purchases? Exotic vacations? Does your sub-conscious provide uplifting motivations that serve to get you where you want to go? How often does it provide nightmares that highlight our fears via terrifying visions of an unrealistically scary future? Why are we even talking about sleep, anyway? Isn’t there a danger that the very word we use keeps what we want in the realms of unreality, that soft-focus fairyland that is, and always will be, out of reach?

What’s better than dreams?  Visualisation!
Visualisation enables you to focus on what you want, seeing yourself in that setting, encompassing all of who you will need to be to get there and to stay there. Dreams on the other hand always encompass an element of unreality as well as the bitter sting of our fears. Dreams are really only useful in telling us the kind of places that we might like to go or the sort of things that we might like to do.

In terms of actually getting there, we have useful and much more practical tools at our disposal for getting us to where we want to go than our dreams:

  • By visualising, you focus on what you want instead of what you don’t want. If you think about driving your car you need to look at where you’re going. All too often, in driving as well as in life, people will focus on the obstacle they are skidding towards. Exactly what they don’t want! So aim for your destination.
  • Get your sub-conscious to help out by asking great questions! How often do you ask yourself questions like ‘why do I always fail?’ and your brain responds with ‘Because you’re an idiot’? Your brain will do more to avoid pain that it will do to seek pleasure. One of the most important steps you can take to get what you want is by asking great questions. These are typically questions like ‘how can I do get this?’, ‘what are some solutions to my problem?’, ‘who do I know that can help me?’ – questions that will set your sub-conscious working and doing what it does best. Asking yourself these type of questions before you sleep or as you do repetitive physical activities like doing the dishes, digging the garden or waxing your car, will let your intuitive brain get to work.
  • Goal setting allows us, not only to focus on what we want, but gives us a roadmap to get there. By setting small achievable, realistic and measurable goals we can chunk down big, seeming impossible changes into small tasks that we can tick off along the way.
  • Stretch goals are massive changes – the things that are closest to what could be called ‘dreams’, and these can be seemingly impossible which is why they are most easily and quickly given up as something that is truly beyond us. But stretch goals can be approached just as easily as any other by visualising who we need to be to achieve that ‘dream’. What sort of person would we need to be? What qualities, disciplines and habits would we need? Are you that person yet? If not, then you know what you need to do! Break it down into smaller goals, then tasks. Keep them small. For stretch goals there will be more of them, that’s all. Extra honesty about where you are starting from may be required (more on this below) and you will constantly need to reassess. All progress is good!
  • Modelling enables us to look at successful people (those who are perhaps already ‘living the dream’) to study their habits, qualities, attitudes and behaviours in order to copy them. If those qualities got them to where they are, would those same qualities help you to get there? You betcha!
So, while your dreams may be useful in identifying what it is you really want, the time is now to take that dream and start to make it a reality.
Here are some more ways to do that:

Read the rest of this entry »

Shared pain? Good grist for the writing mill!

February 28th, 2012

My last post about writing through adversity covered how to use your own tough life experiences as a well-spring of new ideas for your writing. This post is about using those experiences that you share and that others share in return to inspire your writing.

One thing I have learned lately from my journey into the world since the break-up of my marriage is that a lot of people have problems. Not just me!  😉 And sharing your problems with people involves listening to theirs too. Usually a story they share will relate in some way to your own experience, so it becomes a dialogue of stories and experiences shared as lessons for all those taking part in the conversation. Humans love to teach!

Recently I’ve heard a lot of stories. Some that make mine seem very minor indeed. That brings with it gratitude and a sense that ‘no matter how hard my life is right now I am glad I am not in your shoes’.

Right after that feeling comes the urge to write. To save the lesson I’ve learned, record the insights that person has given into my own problems and preserve the gemstones of life experience I’ve received from listening to theirs.

Grist for the Writing Mill?

Maybe, and this is a slightly guilty confession, their problems give me a few ideas for new writing. Fresh unexplored characters spring to life. Scenarios that I had never thought about before are laid out before me like a new and as yet undiscovered landscape.

Should that be a guilty confession? That I use these things to write??  My answer is no. I don’t think so. Most people share their story with you as a lesson, a little parable to help guide you on your own journey.  So if you as a writer are able to take that lesson and make it into something that can be travel further and help spread a little more light in this sometimes dark and lonely world, where’s the harm?

A Few Rules

That said it’s important not to tell their story exactly – use it to inspire you. It’s important not to be mercenary about it or cannibalize their lives. In reality few people’s real-life stories would ever fit exactly into an appropriate narrative structure – especially for the screen – so writing from life almost always requires reworking. This is usually enough to make it difficult to recognise themselves in your writing.

And it’s important never to include names or details that could be used to identify that person.

If in doubt be straight – and ask for the life rights to write about their story. Most people will be flattered at the notion and will happily give you permission.

Giving Back

It is also important to say thank you. If someone has inspired you why not say “Wow the other day after talking to you, I forgot my own troubles enough to write a story and I wanted to say thank you.

Most people are thrilled to be included in a writer’s work. And if they read your work chances are they will only recognise the parts of their own story that you used to inspire you in a casual way. “Oh my God, that’s just like what happened to me.”  People, in my experience, rarely recognise themselves in what you’ve written.


Occasionally, I find people are nervous when I say I am a writer. People will ask me if I am there to steal their story or to make them into characters in a film.  I even got accused once of being “another scumbag writer” by someone  who’d had a bad experience with a journalist once.

Usually though, if you are honest and open people will quickly relax and start to share their ideas and will often even turn around and say later on “you know what because you’re so nice, I don’t mind if you DO use me in one of your stories”. Result!

My main caveat in writing from other people’s experiences is that you must have a good purpose behind what you write. It must be for good – to help, to educate, to raise awareness or to alleviate the suffering of others.

Otherwise that would be just downright scumbaggery that gives all of us writers a bad name!

e-family: The Seeds of Recovery

February 26th, 2012

An update to my previous post about our little e-family since last writing:

Well, I am pleased to say that the kids have plunged themselves into activities in the outside world. This is a happy discovery. Living the way we did does not seem to have had any impact on their ability to socialise and meet new friends. They are likeable and well-liked, mature for their ages, outgoing and friendly. Thankfully they have found some good friends!! It is hard to keep up these days and after a few short weeks they are involved in different interests and productions.

This is all great, although for me personally it is a harsher reality to accept. No longer is everyone together, now none of us are together. And that gets a little lonely for me at times. It is however heart warming to see the progress they have made.

Well the iPad is never far from my hand still, but I do find that I enjoy the days when I have left it behind more.  I even deleted the Twitter and Facebook apps temporarily, but I have put them back on now. The iPad is not nearly so cool without them and social media is important for communication with colleagues and also my main method of support in these difficult times. I do need to get out and meet people in the real world more – and I am! – but it takes time to build new friendships. In the meantime, killing the apps was cutting off my nose to spite my face.

I find I use the phone for communication much more now. I have seen so much miscommunication that has come about from text, iMessage and email over the last six weeks. It is hard to trust it with important communication anymore.

Well my work has largely gone out the window of late. Oh to be a man! Men tend to throw themselves into work after a split (rightly or wrongly) whereas women often have so much else to deal with that work gets forgotten or pushed to one side.  This must change!!

This is the same with the kids and their education. Perhaps this is a real drawback to home education. If they had gone to school then they would have had that to focus on daily and their work would have continued. It is very hard for them to settle down to study in a home that is so very changed.

I suppose I knew this was a problem for home educated kids as I have heard of other families that worked just fine up until their parents’ separation and then it all fell apart. But it’s not like they can start school now in light of this so I need to stay the course with home education, even if it is the last thing that they, or I, feel like doing.  Their education as younger children was autonomous – that is entirely self-directed – but now they have courses to follow and deadlines to meet. Self-direction helped them meet those deadlines before, which is not the case now. However, most people achieve things through extrinsic motivation, because they have to and this is an important life lesson. Sometimes you have to knuckle down!

So I need to kick ass on this as they can’t let their education slide just because of everything that has happened.  “Life is hard” and “life moves on” are both  important lessons – no matter where you do your learning!!!

One of the things that the kids don’t like is the suggestion that their old life was bad or wrong. It is their background and their foundation and I must respect that. Kids whose parents separate often feel their life before is invalidated by the separation, which is very difficult as it also invalidates part of their identity.  This is even more the case with my kids because in a very real sense it is all they have known.

Maybe in light of that, my previous post was mis-titled as ‘The End of the e-Family’. I think it is perhaps more of a ‘re-imagining’.

Either way, it is up to me to stay the course!!

Between sleep and waking

February 15th, 2012

Between sleep and waking
I hear you turn beside me
and feel soft breath
upon my neck. Life’s
overwhelming warmth
envelopes me.  Greedy,
I turn to face you,
waking myself,
destroying the dream,
and, with my eyes open,
I greet the empty
mourning of another day.


by Kathie Kingsley-Hughes

Writing through Adversity

February 8th, 2012

One of the things I want to share on here are some of the great tips that I have received from generous people about ways to get through everything that has happened recently.

Of those tips, the greatest is to write, write and write some more.

In fact I am writing around 8,000 words per day at the moment. And that’s in addition to my regular writing work.  It is a phenomenal output for me and has really made me glimpse what I am capable of in terms of sheer daily word-count. All this writing reduces the ‘activation energy’ that is normally required to start getting words out onto the page, which makes the writing flow better all round, including my work.

Write. It helps!

The most important thing about the writing, though, is that it helps. It is a cathartic process, but a discreet one. It’s all too easy to go telling all and sundry your problems and it’s easy to turn into a relationship bore, which not only turns off your existing friends but also gets in the way of making new ones. More than ever during a relationship crisis it’s important to get a life. Going over and over your old one will just get in the way of moving on. If you can tell most of it to the page it means your friends are still ready, willing and able to help out with the practical things and for those times when nothing short of crying on someone’s shoulder will do.

The page comes in very handy. It doesn’t care how much you bang on about stuff. It doesn’t care whether you repeat yourself, or constantly go over old ground. It doesn’t judge you. It doesn’t try to advise you. It doesn’t have an ego to get in the way. It doesn’t care if what you say today completely contradicts what you said yesterday. It doesn’t have a vested interest in the you of the past or the you of tomorrow.

Great Prep for Relationship Counselling

If you are receiving counselling your writing can be very useful in clarifying your thoughts and aiding in your homework (One thing about break-ups is not just counsellors seem to be setting me homework. I have found even total strangers telling me to read this book, or to ponder on that.)  This part of life is a learning process, or perhaps a crash course, and it seems like everyone has something to offer. Distilling all this wisdom as well as your own revelations onto the page gives you a rich repository to call when you need it.

Build yourself an Emotional Nest Egg!

What’s more all this writing will come in very useful later. If you keep a blow-by-blow account of everything you’re feeling and experiencing at this difficult time you will find it pays dividends not only in terms of charting your growth and giving you a perspective on your thoughts and feelings now and in the weeks to come that you wouldn’t be able to recreate in retrospect, but also in terms of being a rich vein of raw life experience that you can refer to later in your writing career. In those terms, that raw tear-streaked emotional record will be worth more than gold!!

So write it down!

And good luck! Please share your comments and feedback below. I look forward to hearing from you if you found this useful – or even if you disagreed! Let me know how you get on!!


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