Creativity? Privacy please.

March 21st, 2011

My Masters course is driving me nuts again.

What I'm finding hard to do are the stages along the way to producing finished work. The first step is usually an outline, then a treatment, then a rough draft, followed by a full draft. After each of these steps there is a tutorial. During the tutorial they take your idea - which is only part-formed at this stage - and tell you that you can't do this bit, that your character would never do that and why don't you do this instead. At which point, it's rewrite time, where the whole process is repeated with their suggestions incorporated.

(I find this very strange.  And, to be frank, unrepresentative of writing as a profession.  Editors in my experience for example do not usually make suggestions of this kind. They may critique or say something doesn't work.  But usually they don't tell you how to fix it. That's the writer's job.)

I don't like people accessing my creative process, especially so early on

Putting that aspect aside though, personally I don't like people accessing my creative process, especially so early on. I don't like exposing ideas that are part-formed to other people's input. I prefer to work on my own, at my own pace and only when I'm happy, will I share what I've done. At that point, I'm happy to take my lumps, please critique away!

None of the writers I know would put their ideas out to tender before they are fully formed. Yes I know ideas can't be copyrighted and they can't really be stolen, but there ARE lawyers and there ARE courts and if you listen to someone else's suggestion then they are contributing to your work and they are potentially entitled to get a share of any money earned from it. Many writers won't share their ideas - let alone sharing them early on - for just this reason.

Many writers also won't read other people's work

Many writers also won't read other people's work for fear of just this kind of come-back later on. There are potential legal ramifications. Sure we are all influenced by other texts in one form or another all the time. Some of the best work, especially in film, relies upon intertextuality. Being influenced by ideas from published and produced works is quite normal. The works form part of the culture and time that we are sharing.  But what if texts haven't been published or produced? How can they be considered part of the same shared cultural pool?  This, I feel, is a morally different thing - especially if that text stands no chance of seeing the light of day as a published or produced work.  This is why many writers just don't read unpublished work.

Why are courses pushing the notion of sharing your work at this very early stage?

So, if writers don't generally take ideas from others - outside of publised works - then why are academics teaching their students that this is how professional writers work? Why are courses pushing the notion of sharing your work at this very early stage? It could be because creative writing, as an academic subject, is a fairly new field, and many would argue it shouldn't even be an academic subject. And of course we've all heard that old argument about whether creative writing can be taught. Now I don't want to get into that argument. (Personally I think creative writing courses do a lot of valuable work - not just in helping fledgling professional writers, but also in encouraging creative writing as an interest and as form of therapy.) But creative writing departments at universities up and down the country however are banking on the subject being something that can be taught. They need to be involved in the student's work from an early stage in order to be said to be having any effect. Without it they can't really justify their own subject. Or their jobs.  Even if teaching this way means giving new writers an incorrect impression of how writers work.

Writing is a lonely job!

Another aspect where this practice can be hazardous to a writer's work is when they come to write projects on their own. If a writer is used to having third party suggestions and support during the writing process it's going to be much harder to adapt to the solitary existence of the writer.  It's a lonely job. Even if, like me, you are surrounded by a family of other writers,  facing the blank page is a daily journey that one must essentially make alone. (Seeing the ease with which other people get down to the business of writing each day, can actually make it harder rather than easier to write!)

Keep your own Counsel!

One of the most important lessons I learned in life was to keep my own counsel. Letting ideas out too soon can, not only affect the quality of your work, but it can also affect your ability to pull it off at all. How many of us haven't shared an idea that we were really enthused about only to find that we felt less enthused because we blabbed about it rather than ploughing our creativity into it? It's a hard lesson to learn - keep your own counsel and you retain your ideas and your energy.

So where does this leave me with my own course? Well, I don't know. I only know I don't roll that way. Writing for me will continue to be something I get on with at my own pace and with my own ideas.

For now, I must  accept that it is just an academic exercise.

Awww my first computer …

March 11th, 2011

The BBC published an article today about the Sinclair ZX81 which really tugged on my heartstrings. I still have my ZX81 (her name is Henrietta) and she still works ... after a fashion.

Henrietta still has the 16k RAM pack which upraded her from 1k to 16. It plugged into the back with rather a dodgy connection so you had to be mega careful to never jog the RAM pack or the ZX81 would crash - losing all your work.  We actually took the RAM pack to bits a few years back to show the kids the huge chips inside. They were remarkable for their time but put one next to an 8GB microSD card and well let's just say it made me feel a bit old fashioned. It's hard for kids to grasp just why a 1 kb chip needed to be at least 250 times the size of an 8gb chip (that has over 8000 times the capacity).


The membrane keyboard (that my dad thought wouldn't last very long) still works just fine thirty years later and is also just as frustrating to type on as it ever was.  Just to think I would type in programs that were hundreds of lines long - being careful never to jog the RAM pack - and then painstakingly debug them for hours on end. There was no internal storage or floppy disk - that wouldn't come along until the later models of the ZX Spectrum  - so we had to manage with recording our work on cassette tapes.  This meant plugging in a standard household tape recorder into the microphone socket on the ZX81 and crossing your fingers.  If you were lucky you would start your tape recorder recording, set the ZX81 to save and no one would come in the room, jog the RAM pack or sneeze until your work was safely saved.  Of course there was no way to know if the recording was a success without testing it. And that meant resetting your ZX81 - and risk losing all your work if the tape recording had screwed up.  Faced with that decision I usually made TWO tape recordings of my programs.  Sadly though even two recordings didn't work and I lost a lot of work - and time - that I never bothered to type out again.

Loading a program was as fraught as saving.  Very often a program would fail to load correctly due to a faulty tape, excessive hiss on the recording - or the squawks of my budgie. He seemed so adept at interrupting the whole process that I was convinced he actually understood what was going on.  My programming time quickly became night-time for him as I would cover him up with a curtain just to shut him up.

The favorite programs we would write were games. Simple things that involved moving a dot about. Another was drawing pictures. Very often this involved drawing vectors and peeking and poking, none of which really means very much to me now. I only remember that I did it - and the proud sense of satisfaction that came from it.

The ZX81 was quickly replaced in my life by the Acorn BBC computer which was a way superior experience in so many ways. It plugged into a color VDU monitor for a start (rather than a portable black and white telly like the ZX81 did).  It also had twin floppy drives in an external drive (which was great for copying and sharing files and programs - all ones that we had written of course, and if you believe that you will believe anything).  And with the BBC was an easy bodge to put a zif socket on the outside so before long we were able to write EPROM chips with programs on. When we wanted to wipe them we simply left them in the sun.

And it was always sunny in those days.  Actually thinking back about it the only time I opened the curtains was to wipe a chip...

Transmedia and Me

March 8th, 2011

I'm currently writing an essay for my MA course.  The topic I eventually chose was transmedia.  In case you don't know what that is a quick shortcut is to think about the film The Matrix.  I say film but it was actually a franchise.

The story was spread across the first film and its sequels as well as partly being told through the games, and the short films on the Animatrix DVD.  To understand what the Matrix was you needed to delve deeper into the clues and the imagery contained in the film and elsewhere - and to really do that you needed to search the web - and there were loads of clues.  Some people were disappointed in the sequels, but this was in part because there were so many references to the other media avenues that wouldn't have been understood by audience members who were aware only of the films.

The Matrix Poster

Transmedia storytelling is about designing stories that will be told across multiple media.  The audience can experience parts of the story online, in movies, DVDs or YouTube shorts, via social media, within games, as apps on the iPhone and other smart phones, as geo-located alternative reality games, quizzes, telephone calls, bus benches and a host of other ways.     The possibilities are endless...

I think the main reason I like Transmedia so much is because it bridges my two worlds: my old familiar world of social media and crossplatform, and my new and slightly scary world of screenwriting and filmmaking.

The only rather retrograde aspect of this is that ultimately my instinct tells me there is a book in all this …

To be continued...

Those who can, teach in their blogs

March 4th, 2011

I get asked very often how to set up a blog, what to talk about, and inevitably how to get to the top of Google. As I said in my previous post How do I make my blog work for me? you need to think carefully about what you mean by getting to the top of Google and secondly you need to write.  The next thing I hear is: What should I write about?

The answer I always give is:

Write about what you know

That is often answered with a shuffling of feet or a sudden interest in shoes.

Very often people are brave enough to write a book, make a film or start a band but they're not brave enough to say how they did it.
Why? Because they feel that their experience of doing whateveritis is inadequate. They are scared that detailing the ardous journey they have travelled will reveal that they are not the possessors of innate talent. They are afraid that they don't have enough experience and they don't know as much as the guy who wrote this book, or that film ... yet.

My answer to that is:  GREAT!

If I wanted to read that guy's book I wouldn't be trawling the internet searching for 'experiences of starting a band' or 'beginners how to direct a film' or whatever-it-is.

Inspiring is advertising!

Mostly people want to be inspired. And this is where you are an expert. You know what it's like to put your first animation up on YouTube because you are right there in the middle of it, doing right now or very recently. So by sharing that experience you not only advertise yourself and your project, you inspire someone else AND you may make a friend along the way too. When that person you've inspired writes their blog they'll be referring readers back to yours and singing your praises for having inspired them right when they needed it most at the start of their journey. Wow wouldn't that feel great?

Never be afraid to teach!

A lot of bloggers are worried about this because they fear some experienced, knowledgeable person will come along and call them out on their lack of knowledge. This practically never happens! Sure there will be other sites and books etc that will explain the subject in greater depth than you can. So put in a link to help your reader progress from your page to theirs - this not only helps your reader but it makes you look like you are in the know with all the best sites to go.

You remember how it feels to start out!

From a teaching AND blogging point of view this is invaluable information!

Put yourself back in the shoes of the person starting out at whatever-it-is and remember how you felt reading that in-depth stuff at the start. I bet you probably felt pretty out of your depth when you first started learning! That is great, because very probably the people who wrote the in-depth sites and books and courses about your subject don't even remember how it feels to be starting out. It can even be said that very often teachers have forgotten the most basic skills and theories that underpin their subject. This is often because they learned those things and came to accept them so long ago that they might not even be able to recite the basic principles now. This happens a lot! I speak from experience here both as a teacher and as a learner. Here's why it happens:

There are four stages to learning.

As you read these four stages, remember - if you can - when you were first learning to swim or ride a bike:
Unconscious incompetence - You don't know just how much you don't know about the subject because whatever-it-is is all so new to you.
Conscious incompetence - You are starting to learn, but you are also startling to learn just how much you don't know yet and just how much more you have to learn about whatever-it-is.
Conscious competence - You keep plugging away at it, learning whatever-it-is and you're even starting to do really well, but you have to concentrate really hard to get it right. Very often in this stage you will find yourself dreaming about whatever-it-is at night.
Unconscious competence - You could do whatever-it-is with your eyes shut and one hand tied behind your back! Pretty soon you can't remember how it felt not to be able to do it!

Find me on Google!

That last step is the doozy!

Now of course it's great for you because you've learned a new skill but it's lousy if you want to teach anyone else. Your brain has no need of the experience of learning the skill so it ditches it all and your perspective changes.

So, start blogging when you start learning!

My Tip is to begin documenting your progress from day one. This will not only help you to help other people but it will provide an invaluable record of your journey, giving you a lasting empathy and insight into the world of the beginner. In the long term you will find you can inspire a lot more people.

And remember, inspiring is advertising!

Good luck!

I give up, she exclaimed!

March 1st, 2011

Last week I began what I can only call a 'fast' on my use of the exclamation point (exclamation mark if you are from the UK).

Today I am officially ending this attempt to not exclaim. Tomorrow I could have said I made it through the seven days (with only a few minor infractions) but in truth I really gave up trying days ago. As easy as it sounds to give up using exclamation points, it was actually very hard to do.

Funnily enough I found that I didn't use many exclamation marks in general writing so the ban didn't pose much of a problem to my work. Luckily, this last week I have mostly been concentrating on writing the theory essay for my MA Screenwriting course so not a lot of exclamations were called for. (If I had been writing for the screen, working on my novel or coding it would have been far more difficult of course, but my MA course has been taking far too much of my time these past few weeks to attempt much else.)

Where I found I needed an exclamation point most was on Twitter and Facebook. This is because, let's face it, an awful lot of what we talk about in these places is bullshit. This "phatic" conversation - consisting of jokes, light hearted teasing, things said tongue-in-cheek, a bit of textual back and forth banter between friends, strangers and colleagues - is just plain hard to do without the much-maligned, but under-appreciated, exclamation point.

I found out that I used an exclamation mark to perform so many different functions. For example, an exclamation mark:

  • softens comments that might be misread.
  • lightens the impact of friendly teasing.
  • 'lifts' the appearance of the mood of the writer
  • adds flavor!
  • adds a textual smile, in the absence of body language, at those times when you want to make it clear you are joking but don't want to go all-out and put in an emoticon.

During my almost-week I noticed, not only that everyone around me in all areas of life seemed to be watching the end of my sentences ready to pull me up if I accidentally used one, but also that I found my own voice feeling duller and duller. As my finger hovered time and time again over 'that key' on the keyboard I would pause and mentally shrink backwards, like a shy kid who wants to crack a joke but worries that others might not get it or worse that they might misunderstand it. I found it made me self-conscious. And, bizarrely, not only in writing. In speech too!

I ended up mentally yearning to add an exclamation but resorting to some sneaky tricks to avoid doing so, for example:

  1. :) or ;)
    using a smiley can replace an exclamation albeit with the rather unfortunate effect of seeming cutesy.  I found I got almost as creative with emoticons as I used to be back during all those years that began with 199-!
  2. {nothing}
    Put nothing, no form of punctuation, at the end. Does not work - especially if you're trying to be funny. Putting nothing at the end of a sentence feels vaguely naked
  3. "."
    A full stop, otherwise known as a period to US folks. (I grew up in the US and the UK so henceforth in this post I will call it a "full stop" as 'period' makes me titter almost as much as the word "iPad" did when the name of that wondrous gadget was first announced last year!) A full stop works just fine for serious stuff. Obviously. For humor a "." seems too final. Too dour. Too disturbingly sensible.

    A full stop is ok for deadpan - and I do like deadpan - but I've got to be honest: being a girl, deadpan frequently backfires on me. If I crack a deadpan 'I'm-playing-dumb-here' kind of joke (god-forbid about something techie or scientific) most blokes will seriously** think that I am being seriously dumb. Dyeing my hair blonde has just made this worse, so as much as I like deadpan humor, guys really don't get it coming from a girl.

    ** Er, guys, I really DO KNOW that Taco Bell is not a Mexican Phone company but it's funnier for us both if I play along, so suck up that fear of being politically incorrect and just laugh! ;)

  4. ASCII, hex and HTML e.g. !
    Well, I thought it was cute!  Of course it doesn't really work because most humans don't speak ASCII. (Also see 3 above re: deadpan. Guys just can't be sure it wasn't a dumb broad making an accidental - but geekily bloody hilarious! - typo.)
  5. a "mehclamation" point ¡
    This one proved quite handy (although some people thought it was the letter i.  It's not as you can see: i ¡ but let's face it you'd have to be an eagle-eyed font-loving geek to spot that in a tweet!) It's actually quite handy if you want to do this on the iPhone/iPad just hold down the exclamation and you'll have the mehclamation on a menu.

So at the end of trying all these different things to avoid exclaiming when I just wanted to EXCLAIM! I realized sometimes you just have to!

So, what did I learn???
Mainly I learned what I already knew before I started: I use exclamation marks too much! It's something I've known for years and long have I watched and wondered at writers who seem to get by without using them and yet manage to be funny without their jokes being misconstrued or offence being taken. Quite probably it has never occurred to them to think otherwise (in which case I sincerely hope they are not reading this, lest they develop a sudden punctuational self-consciousness and destroy their own diamond - yet understated - wit!!)

Am I using them less now?
Perhaps. I'm certainly thinking about it more. I might even go as far as to say it's made me rephrase things more precisely – which is always good as it aids brevity**.

If you think you overuse exclamations too I would really recommend you try your own exclamation point 'fast' - if only because it makes you think about how you mean something to be heard, rather than just the words on the page. And hopefully maybe you will do better at it than me! Let me know!!

- Thanks for reading!

Next week!! Getting rid of those two most-overused habits — the m-dash and… the ellipsis!

** And of course if you've read THIS far down this page, you know well that brevity is NOT one of my strong points! 😉

Something about number 8, a cake and a handshake that never happened

February 27th, 2011

An open letter to Elliot Grove after two days at Raindance's Lo to No budget filmmaking course:

I'm back in the executive lounge in my hotel drinking free rosé and eating free canapés. Trust me this is not my world. I am so lucky. I ask myself how I can afford this? How am I so far from home? I am crying and hiding my tears - badly - from the businessmen around me.

Why am I here? Why am I crying? Where did my mood change from hard-nosed business numbers this weekend, talking in strangely real terms about improbable - but no longer impossible - dreams in the film industry? Again, not my world.

And then we got to number eight. Number eight in the list of things we needed to make a movie was to be the finalé and you teased us with it - building tension, creating suspense, making us wonder and guess, at what number eight would turn out to be. Martin - an actor, producer and filmmaker - said number 8 would be 'steel balls to see a film through to the end'. Well, as a woman, that's me out I thought. So when you got to number 8 in the programme you would not believe how much I hoped it would not be steel balls. Instead ... you said 'something'. Literally something.

Just that word meant a lot to me.

Last night I was exhausted after the class and a long chat session in the pub after with my classmates. I went back to my hotel room and my husband reminded me on the phone that because I sounded exhausted, this was the point at which I must be sure to take care of me. Do something for myself. Even a few hundred miles apart, he is still taking care of me. He is a good man, my soul mate!

So I went for a swim. In the basement of the hotel is a salt swimming pool. The lighting in there is incredible. I thought about filming there, what it would look like through the viewfinder with the greens and purples chasing around the ceiling. I had the whole place all to myself - no one else was there at all. What a luxury! I swam around the pool like a frollicking dolphin and when I got tired of swimming I just floated. It was warm and quite heavenly. I went back over everything from the class day one. I was quite honestly amazed myself at how much I had learned - and retained - in one amazing day. What an incredible thing it was, not only to be in London at this hotel, but to be at Raindance and to be learning so much, not just from you, but from all my classmates who are happy to share so much, so freely. Some incredible people. One year ago I could not in my wildest dreams have imagined being here and doing ANY of this or meeting any of these wonderful people. As I said, I have come a long way.

I went into the steam room. And sat smiling to myself in this thick, hot mist. And right there I swear this committed atheist found religion. I realised I believed in something that had brought me there, somehow. It was ok to believe that. And I decided that the word something would be enough for this purpose. As a miniscule human being I couldn't begin to define or name a thing as unimaginable as a superior being so 'something' was a perfect word. Something beyond me.

And so today, right when you started to talk about number 8 and I caught your drift and realised your meaning for the eighth thing we would need to make a movie I wrote down the word 'something'. And right at that moment you spoke that very same word 'something'. Just as I wrote the word. A tiny bit incredible. Now I don't believe in coincidence. I don't believe in luck either. So weird.

But, you know, as cool as that was, it's not what changed my mood. That didn't make these tears or make me rush back in a cab to start writing.

It has more to do with what you said about giving.

And that has more to do with lunch, when I had the pleasure of running into Victoria, a promising young filmmaker, who was on our course. We sat down together and we talked about dreams and filmmaking for an hour. It started raining outside. Just then an elderly homeless guy came in and went through to the bathroom. He then came out sat down and drank a coffee left in the cup left by the last people. Seeing - and perhaps smelling - this, the people at the next table got up quickly leaving their coffees half-drunk, which he picked up and poured into his cup. When I saw that I offered him my yellow lemon cake which I was not going to eat and Victoria didn't want either. He took it and thanked me. Victoria said that I'd done something good. Hmmm. That was pretty nice of me, wasn't it?

And no I'm not writing this because I gave away my cake and because you said about us giving something everyday and not wanting to be thanked for it.

I'm writing this because when he'd finished eating the cake he came over to me and thanked me again. Only this time he held out his hand to shake mine.

To be honest I don't particularly like shaking hands with anyone - it's a weird funny habit anyway, and with so many colds and flu and noroviruses going around to be honest these days I try to avoid it. But this guy's hand was in my face and I literally - for the first time in my life I think - refused to shake a hand that was proferred to me. I did perceive him as dirty and the thought of shaking his grubby hand literally made my skin crawl. I must have washed my hands five times over the course of the afternoon just from thinking about it.

My tears are not because of giving. You see I saw the pain in this man's face because I did not accept his hand. He saw that I perceived him as dirty. And I saw that he saw that.

My tears are tears of shame. I think I might see his outstretched hand and the betrayal in his eyes for a long time.

He quickly scurried away back into the toilets. I left quickly before he came out.

And later sitting there waiting for the class to start again I got to thinking about why we do things and yet do not want to be thanked? Why is it easier to toss a coin at someone without meeting their eyes? Are we paying not to see into their eyes perhaps?

Sometimes we need to be thanked.
Sometimes we need to hear it.
Sometimes we need to see it.
Sometimes - like for me and that man today - it comes through a simple touch.

However it comes, sometimes, we have to turn and face it.

For that is the price we pay for having the thing we give away - or the 'luck' or 'good fortune' - or the 'something' - which gave it to us in the first place. His hand was all that man had to give to me.

And by not taking his hand - his thanks - it's possible I did more damage to him than if I'd looked the other way when I first saw him drink the cold coffee. Or if I'd got up and left like the people at the other table did. Or if I hadn't have given him that stupid yellow cake in the first place. Let's face it, on reflection, he was probably going to eat it as soon as I got up to leave anyway!! So who gained from my generous gesture? There was only loss. That is what I saw in his eyes. And that is what I know as I sit in my warm, swanky hotel tonight.

We know so little of how our worlds intersect. How one person's words or deeds or kindness affects the life journey of another. From listening to you these last two days I learned that - for me at least - maybe movies are one way to show a little of this. To give each other a glimpse. After all, we all love story.

Even when that story is one of shame.

Now right now - as much as I would like to - I cannot go out into the night and find that homeless man tonight to apologise and shake his hand.

But I can thank you Elliot - despite you perhaps not wanting those thanks - because you cannot know how much this weekend has touched my life. Or how much it has made me think or exactly what I have learned. We always teach more than our curriculum.

You are a true teacher.

Thank you.

To anyone reading this I can whole-heartedly recommend Elliott Grove and Raindance and the Low to No Budget Filmmaking Course. You will learn so much more than you will expect!

Happy New Year!

January 4th, 2011

Starting off as I mean to go on by updating my blog. My personal blog gets so little attention these days, but I'm going to make sure I update more often from now on.

Have just updated the copyright notices to 2011 on some 13 blogs and another half dozen websites. Some sites I never actually get around to putting actual content on!! Think this site needs a redesign. Even if it's only my charicature's hair colour. I've been blonde for about five years now!

I've been very busy with my MA course for the last six months - transforming myself into a screenwriter (hopefully) at Bournemouth University. The course is much more intense than I had imagined it would be. I have so far researched and written a thirty minute short film script (which you can read more about here about Bardsey - a remote Island in North Wales that is in many ways like a time capsule - without electricity, telephones or plumbing - with stunningly beautiful scenery. Observational research there was a dream and I am proud of the script that I ended up with. It still needs work of course, but I'm happy with it as it stands for now.

I'm also busy working on another tech book and several multimedia projects. (More info as and when I can share it!)

The novel is progressing well, although it hasn't had nearly enough attention of late. Am looking forward to some solid time in the next month when I can settle down and write. And I'm also working on two projects that may or may not end up as novels. They could be feature scripts - I don't know yet! I'm still not sold on the medium to be honest. But it's growing on me steadily. I have thought of writing them as BOTH a novel and a screenplay and then deciding what to do with each project when it's finished. For now I'm still in the research phase so lots to be considered still. But I am like a mule equidistant between two haystacks in terms of the medium. Bottom line it has to be the medium that suits the project best, so I can't make any decisions yet. Which is rather annoying. Before I started screenwriting there was no choice to be made! As they say: a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing!

I'm also going to be teaching again later in the year, which is great. I love teaching! I'd really like to be teaching creative writing - that is my goal. But for now I will be happy to be teaching tech again!

So that's me fulfilling my pledge to update my personal blog more often. Now back to updating work websites!

Kindle Unboxing

September 23rd, 2010

The Amazon Kindle arrived this morning. When it would arrive has been shrouded in mystery, so this was a surprise. Originally I bought it as a birthday present for my daughter. Primary reason - we have three floor to ceiling bookshelves in the living room, another room with two walls, other book cases dotted about in various other rooms. And that doesn't include the tech books! Whilst I don't see myself getting rid of all these books ideally all future purchases will be on Kindle. That was reclaim any future loss of living room real estate to paper books. And be kinder to the trees too.

The unboxing was cool. Not quite Apple standards, but very exciting nonetheless. The first thing that struck me about the Kindle was that it had a sticker stuck on the screen telling me how to turn it on. Better peel that sticker off first, I thought. But, then I realized it wasn't a sticker - it was the E Ink screen. It really does look like paper! There's not a backlight as such. The screen is very matt. Somehow it just looks like a changing page. As I'm an iPad owner already I had purchased lots of books for the Kindle App on the iPad so downloading them was just one click. And they came in FAST! It was pre-configured to my account. No need to fiddle about finding email addresses and passwords. Magic!

It's the size of a paperback book, so small enough to fit in my purse - handier than the iPad in that respect. I bought I nice leather case (Amazon's own) for it. It looks cute. It feels robust.

So, why did I just give the Kindle to my daughter two weeks before her birthday? Why did I make no attempt to keep it for myself? (Yes, I am that mean when it comes to tech!) Why am I not ordering my own? The main problem is the flicker. When you press the button to turn the page - and compared to the finger swipe across the screen on the iPad, this seems clunky - the screen turns for an instant the inverse colour - white on black - and it's this function of the E Ink that isn't quite ready yet in my opinion. If you don't notice it, it won't bother you. If like me, you get after-images and migraines, you'll hate it. It's just the sort of thing to mess up my eyesight for the day. Apparently it's a feature not a bug. It's part of how E Ink work, so there's not likely to be a nice software update to fix it any time soon, sadly.

Hence, that's my Kindle story for now. The two plus points I see it having are:

  • the small size of it. It's not as tiny as reading Kindle books on my iPhone (which can render the world blurry for the rest of the day if I do that for too long first thing in the morning) but it's small enough to fit in my pocket, unlike the iPad.
  • The matt screen makes it easier to read outdoors that the iPad (which on a sunny day can be anywhere from impossible to see to downright dangerous if you happen to catch a reflection of the sun).

I am hoping they'll solve the flashing problem in the next version. Then I'll be back, I'm sure!

How do I make my blog work for me?

September 2nd, 2010

Very often I get asked how to set up a blog, what to talk about, and inevitably how to get to the top of Google. This is a subject that I've been writing and teaching about for years. These days however I'm getting asked this by a whole new set of people. These are often people who don't really want to be bloggers - they just know they need to blog in order to play the social media game to publicize their book, their movie, their band or whateveritis they've done. They don't have time to learn about blogging - they need answers fast

Now my first reply is to ask what you mean by getting to the top of Google. What do you want the Google user to have searched for to find you? Your name? The name of your product? The title of your book? Your movie? whatever-it-is. This usually stumps people. Invariably they've typed in their name into Google and what they really want out of SEO is to get to themselves to the top of the listings for their name. Changing your name is the only option if your name is a common one (short of inventing a time machine to go back and get your parents to give you a more unique first name, with a possible second temporal journey to get your mother to choose a man with a more unique last name). Most people do something important or become famous in another way then their name will jump right to the top ahead of all those other Smiths and Joneses.

Find me on Google

But what if I need my blog to help me get there?

So now you are past the fixation with getting  your name into Google, let's get back to getting what ever it is you do into the search engines. Well, unlike your given name, you have more control over what you name your film, your book, your band or your album. For goodness sake before you give your project a title, Google it! Check it out on who is to see if the domain name is available.

Think about the words that you choose - are they search engine friendly? Very common every day phrases will take longer to get to the top. If you type the word 'movie' in as well as your title, Google will pick up on this much quicker. Remembering to use the keyword 'movie' however is difficult. Many people worry about stuffing keyword meta tags into all their webpages. My take on this is a little bit different. This is partly because I've created a LOT of websites over the last fifteen years. In the early days it was pretty darn easy to get to the top. These days it's inevitably harder. Everyone is writing, blogging, tweeting. It can seem so much more daunting when you're starting out.  Stuffing meta tags ain't gonna help much!

It's all too easy to get bogged down worrying about your keywords or getting the right theme rather than doing THE most important thing for your site and your project which is to:


If your site has no content it has nothing. You are not going to get anywhere in the rankings until you've surmounted the problem of an empty site.

But even more importantly than search engines, PEOPLE love content. So start writing, start Tweeting. Share a link to every post you write on your Facebook page, email a link to your Mom, anything and everything to get it out there.

Remember, content is king. So get writing! Good luck!

BitDefender problems strike again!

March 24th, 2010

Yes, BitDefender trouble strikes again!

On Saturday March 20th, 2010, some BitDefender customers received a nasty surprise when the company released virus definitions update that crippled Windows 64-bit PCs.

The buggy update caused hundreds, and some systems thousands, of critical system files to be placed in quarantine, which resulted in the machine becoming unbootable.

Over on BitDefender’s support forums there are two large threads covering this issue. There's one for users looking for a solution to the problems caused by the update (this thread is 81 pages long) and another of users trying to squeeze compensation out of the company for the trouble caused (this thread is 16 pages long).

If you are affected, is there a fix? Well, BitDefender is recommending that users download the Rescue CD and use this to fix their PCs. Some users report that this works, while others say that it only partially works. Some users claim that the only recovery menthod is a complete reinstall of the OS or recovery from a backup.

The good news, if you can call it that, is that you might be able to get something back from BitDefender as a result of this mess. I’m hearing that BitDefender is issuing refunds or extensions on licenses to affected customers asking for such remedies. So if you're sick of BitDefender and want to buy another package, you can get a refund. If you're sticking with BitDefender then you can get a free extension on your license.