Tag Archives: writing

Long time, no blog…

I’m not really sure why I stopped writing here.

Actually, I take that back: I know perfectly why I stopped writing. It was, as it always is, a (perceived or actual) lack of time, which can either be blamed on me not thinking I have enough time to write for myself, or not taking the time to do a little dance on the keyboard, tapping out a few words here and there to publish up on ye olde blog.

And it’s not like I stopped writing completely in 2015, either. For a little while, I was into daily journaling with Day One, a little iOS and Mac app that made it easy to create little snapshots of my day. At first, it was pretty great; I’d get to take a photo and record a little snippet of what happened during the day. But eventually, the lustre of doing something new and different wore off, around the time I figured my day-to-day wasn’t as interesting as it once was, back when I was unemployed. So I stopped doing that too, even though I still get daily reminders at 5pm to write in my journal.

As an amateur photographer, I’ve heard the axiom of living in the moment rather than looking at the world through a lens, but I’ve never really subscribed to that theory. How else are you supposed to look back on the good times without some reminder like a photo or a video of that time you flew halfway around the world only to find yourself in a Westfield shopping centre? Sure, some memories will just stick with you, but it’s still nice to see that you have some kind of proof of that time you rode across the Golden Gate bridge on a bike.

But as fun as living in the moment is, I’ve missed writing. As great as it is not having to set aside the time to write about my experiences and what’s been happening recently, Twitter’s micro-blogging just doesn’t cut the mustard when it comes to getting the point across. I mean, I don’t mind brevity at all, but sometimes you need a little further explanation to get your point across, regardless of how well you think you’ve condensed your thoughts into 140 characters.

My day-to-day might not be interesting enough for daily journaling, but maybe I can manage writing something weekly. If that’s not a New Year’s resolution, I’m not sure what is.

So much happened in 2015 I’m not really sure where to start. But I’ve got a couple ideas — watch this space!

Blogvember 2014 Wrap Up

Despite not hitting my target of a post per day for every day in November, I’m not going to call Blogvember 2014 an outright failure. As far as actual posts go, I wrote the same number of posts during November that I did for an entire year previously — 24 posts in November, 24 posts from October 2013 to October 2014 — which kind of explains why Blogvember was so needed. In terms of getting back into writing, Blogvember was exactly the kind of thing I needed, both to reassure myself I was capable of writing blog posts, and in terms of getting stuff up on my blog.

But all that said and done, writing is still undeniably hard. It’s not that I don’t have stuff to write about, as evidenced by the past month, but that actually getting words down into text form is something that just doesn’t happen without forcing it. That is, I can do it, but only if I’ve exhausted all other options. Only if I can’t sleep. Only if I haven’t played through as much Dragon Age Inquisition as I can tolerate. Only if no friends are online in Dota 2, and I don’t feel like queueing solo. You can see where this is going.

A lot of the time, it just comes down to motivation. I have no problems with getting paid to write, or writing as a hobby — but personal writing that only my blog audience sees is something entirely different. I have plenty to say about Dota 2, but finding the motivation to put those words down is hard. I have a few thoughts on Shadows of Mordor ready to go, but lack the motivation to finish it, or any of my other reviews. I could finish my story on getting the Sarkhan pin at PAX Aus this year any time I want, but what’s the point?

I want to write one thing every week. One thing every week doesn’t seem unachievable, especially seeing as I’m do daily news pieces for a number of outlets. But perhaps they’re part of the problem: after doing ~1400 words on Apple and consumer technology every day, I just can’t bring myself to bash out another couple of hundred, no matter how fascinating the topic.

I would have been an OK arts student. But apparently, a terrible writer.

These words are not a part of Blogvember 14, but they are related to the topic. Read more Blogvember posts, if you’re so inclined.

Hello, Hi, Goodbye

Today, I left MacTalk Australia. In doing so, I put an end to almost six years of daily news posts on all things Apple, along with countless of reviews and editorials. It’s the end of an era.

I posted up the news this morning, but that all ends today. I’m leaving MacTalk — it’s time to close this particular tab, nay, entire window, in my web browser, and that means putting an end to the daily news. It’s not a decision I’ve taken lightly, seeing how much I’ve contributed here, or how long I’ve been around. And it has nothing to do with you; I’ve immensely enjoyed writing the news (and your continued readership) over the years. It’s just that this is the part where I disembark the MacTalk train, so to speak.

When editor Peter Wells left almost a year ago, I was given the choice: did I want to stay, or did I want to go? While that would have been a nice, neat, ending right there, I stayed. Even thought I knew there weren’t going to be anymore podcasts, opinion pieces, or reviews from some of the smartest people I know, I stayed because it was no different to what we’d been through before. You know, when Anthony sold to Niche halfway through 2011 and basically everyone complained about excessive advertising. I was a little disheartened by the community at that point, and said so in the piece that I wrote back then.

Tumbleweeds on the front page weren’t anything new, and I’ll even admit I got used to sharing airtime with the infamous sponsored posts of 2011.

So, I stayed. After all, someone had to, and I wasn’t ready to give up on the community just yet.

But after Mr Wells left, little by little, I wondered how much longer I could stay and write the news with little to no input from MacTalk’s parent company, with no map for the future, and no plans or goals to speak of (at least, none disclosed to me). Probably forever, if I really wanted to — but that was the question — did I really want to?

And when it came down to it, I didn’t really want to. Like I said in the last paragraph of my post above, I’ve more or less done as much as I can. MacTalk is now in that strange position where a website built around a community, not eyeballs, is expected to somehow make money while spending at little as possible — that’s not an equation for success, no matter how far you stretch the dollars.

I stayed because it was no skin off my back. And I left because there was nothing left for me to do — if Niche still have no idea where things are going a year after they re-oriented by killing off the daily articles and weekly podcasts, then I’m not sure when they will. But I guess I won’t be part of the team that finds out.

Lastly: I’m not completely ignorant. I’ve read the threads in the forums surrounding MacTalk discussions, and even participated in a few private discussions of my own. If my leaving kicks Niche and MacTalk into gear like it seems to have done, then all the best to them. I wish them the very best with their future endeavours, but at the same time, I have to ask myself what else there is to be done. The question is not what people can do to restore MacTalk to its former glories, or even whether MacTalk can be restored to its former glories at all, but what people can do to prevent it becoming a complete ghost town, any more than it currently is.

That’s not saying I don’t think it’s possible. I’m just… sceptical.

But enough about that. Onwards and upwards, as they say.

I can’t wait for you to see what’s next.

Words

We’ve become obsessed with fancy designs, responsive layouts, and scripts that do magical things.

But the most powerful tool on the web is still words.

I wrote these words, and you’re reading them: that’s magical. I’m in a little city in British Columbia; you’re probably somewhere else. I wrote this early in the morning, June 20th, 2013; you’re probably reading it at a different time. I wrote this on my laptop; you could be reading this on your phone, a tablet or a desktop.

You and I have been able to connect because I wrote this and you’re reading it. That’s the web. Despite our different locations, devices, and time-zones we can connect here, on a simple HTML page.

I wrote this in a text editor. It’s 6KB. I didn’t need a Content Management System, a graphic designer, or a software developer. There’s not much code on this page at all, just simple markup for paragraphs, hierarchy, and emphasis.

via Words.

In my never-ending quest for a new blog theme, I’m constantly on the lookout for something that looks similar to the ideal theme I have in my mind, which is as whimsical as a light summer’s breeze. I’ve used the current theme for around two years, and as much as I like it, it might be time for find something new.

Choosing a new theme is harder than it might sound: you can’t just pick any theme that you think looks good. Most of the time, the live demos of potential themes don’t really give you a feel of how your content will look in different skin. When looking for a new theme, you have to consider things like typography and layout, and even then, you still have to worry about the WordPress-specific stuff; post formats, video embeds, images with captions, and so on. You have to be super picky about the theme that you do eventually choose, because it’ll likely represent the whole look and feel of your blog/website for years to come. It’s no small undertaking, if you take it seriously (which you should).

And honestly, one of the hardest things about making choosing  a new WordPress theme is that it’s kind of hard to find something even vaguely suitable, never mind one that has the layout and features you might be looking for. There’s an absolute tonne of themes out there — which you might think is good, until you actually start looking for something that suits your particular site. Check out any theme catalog and you’ll see a million and one themes which are totally unsuitable for a blog. I know that WordPress is now a fully fledged CMS and whatnot, but remember when it was about writing content that you could publish online? What’s with the portfolio/magazine/everything-but-a-focus-on-actual-words themes all over the place? Look at the first nine or so themes on WooThemes — apparently one of the better WordPress theme shops out there — and tell me how many would be suited to, you know, publishing actual words.

Even those statically-built websites (Jekyll, Octopress, and the like) have great default themes. As much as I like WordPress, I’ve been tempted to switch to blogging with Octopress in the past, but haven’t really looked into it seriously. There’s a lot of WordPress advantages that mean I haven’t left just yet. It has an insane community, for starters, and it’s extremely extensible and customisable. Plus, I’m kind-of, sort-of, familiar with PHP, making WordPress a pretty good fit so far. Unfortunately, it’s also a victim of its own popularity: it’s gotten to the point where trying to find the right thing for what you want to do might be more trouble than it’s worth. Maybe I should have backed the Ghost Kickstarter after all.

Either I’m not looking in the right places, or what I’m looking for — a minimalist theme with great typography that’s responsive and optimised for the kind of writing you see right here — just doesn’t exist. To be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever find the perfect WordPress theme. The current theme — Minblr, from Themify — is pretty good, but it’s not perfect. There’s honestly not a lot I could do to improve it without making some major changes, and if I’m going that far, it might just be easier to find another theme altogether, you know?

Of course, I could just go ahead and make my own from scratch, but WordPress themes are a lot of work. Besides, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel — if I can get by with customising something someone else has already made, I’ve saved a tonne of hassle, and probably extended my lifetime by a few years to boot. You don’t know pain until you’ve experienced web development pain.

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English 1A, aka Reading Too Much Into Things

English 1A Header

Alternate title: I think I would have made a good Arts student. Maybe not a great one, but at least a good one.

As part of the final semester of my long winded Computing degree, I’m doing an English unit.

It all started when I realised that there weren’t enough Computing units this year for me to do that I hadn’t already done, or didn’t have the prerequisites for, or just plain wasn’t eligible for, in order for me to graduate this semester. A quick email to my degree coordinator revealed that I was allowed to do units outside the School of Computing and Information Systems, and that was that: I started looking for something a little different, something that I would actually enjoy.

And truth be told, I’m interested in a lot of things, but wouldn’t necessarily want to do a course at Uni on them. Take statistics, for example: I like knowing how statistics are derived and an intrigued by the whole numbers side of things, but from what I’ve heard, statistics at Uni is more of a mathematical nightmare than it is “fun stuff to do with numbers”. With that in mind, it was basically a toss up between some photography-based unit, and some writing-based one.

Photography would have been cool. I’ve been wanting to get into the whole darkroom development side of photography, and I’d like some kind of formal training rather than just reading PetaPixel posts on how to be a better photographer. Then I read something in the unit outline which said that you needed to do a certain number of hours of photography per week, and that kind of turned me off. Reason being, most, if not all, of my photography is done for my own enjoyment, not so I can impress someone else with my compositional technique. Forcing myself to get out there and shoot might have turned me off photography altogether, and I’m a little scared by the prospect of someone else critiquing my work, as much as I might want them to.

With photography out of the picture (so to speak), I looked towards a writing-based subject. Of those, it was a choice between some journalism based unit or a writing-one — not having the prerequisites for a more advanced unit, I chose English 1A for two reasons. One, I thought I’d be able to get feedback on my writing process, and two, it would be something a little different. Plus, I thought I’d be able to get decent enough grades without really having to try. Sue me for being lazy.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect going in, but honestly, it all turned out pretty great. I always looked forward to the tutorials, even if they were at the end of a long Monday of other classes, and even though I couldn’t go to lectures due it a clash with another subject, I was there in spirit whenever I listened to the recorded lectures at home. But that wasn’t the same as the real thing, as I soon discovered…

About two-thirds through the semester, I realised that it was probably time to start blowing off the other class (which wasn’t really worth going to anyway, seeing as all the material was given to us online), and start going to English lectures. Starting around week 9 of the 13 weeks in a semester, I went to my first ever English lecture, and just like the tutorials, they were an entirely different experience than the Computing lectures I was used to.

I mean, they still had someone who delivered the lectures, obviously, and they still used PowerPoint presentations, but the kind of lecture delivered was so much different. There was interaction! The lecturer asked people questions to do with their opinion on certain ideas, certain aspects of whichever text we were studying at the time — something that is pretty much unheard of in Computing lectures. The atmosphere of an English lecture was just so different — people seemed more engaged, attendance always seemed great (although this was a first-year Arts unit, so not entirely unexpected), and yeah, there were heaps of cute girls. Again, not entirely unexpected — although welcome — for a first year Arts unit.

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On Starting Again, Earth-Scorching, and Legacy

You’re familiar with the scorched earth concept, right? Wikipedia says it’s a military strategy where a retreating force destroys anything in their path that might be useful to the enemy. It’s this idea that if the enemy captures that territory, it’ll be useless to them. The scorched earth concept is mostly applied to retreating forces since there’s a higher likelihood the enemy will capture that land anyway, but here’s the rub: it can also be used for advancing forces, too.

I’ve been toying around with the idea of starting an entirely new blog in my head over the past week. Not just “Benny Ling’s Bling 2.0”, but something entirely new and fresh.

On the one hand, the idea of starting again is exciting. Leaving all the old stuff behind so there’s no baggage, nothing tying me down or holding me back. Free to explore new horizons, a place to write about stuff I find exciting and things I’m enthusiastic about, and so on.

On the other hand, I’m the kind of person that would feel extremely sentimental about all the old stuff I’m leaving behind. I mean, I get sad throwing away parts of my childhood, even stuff that I have absolutely no rational use for today or in the future, stuff that I haven’t touched for years. There’s quite a number of posts here that are nothing more than short sentences on a particular topic — which is great, sure, but compared to some of my longer pieces?

When I first started this blog I wasn’t sure if I wanted it to be a Tumblr-style reblog-fest where I’d repost any old trash from my social network, or whether I wanted it to be only about my writing. At first it was the former, and for a little while, I wrote a few bits here and there about cool things. But somewhere along the way I must have decided that maintaining such a blog was either daunting/exhausting/too-much-work or all of the above, because I soon stopped posting about stuff I had written and simply linked to stuff online that I thought was cool.

And don’t get me wrong, I still think most of that stuff is cool and/or worth your time, it’s just that, well, is my blog the right place for it?1 Do I want that stuff to have the same permanence as the stuff I’m proud of, the stuff that I’ve written personally? Stuff like my gaming reviews, pieces on why iOS is kicking Android’s butt, and putting together home servers.

Which is why I’m drawn back to this idea of starting again, and having a place for just my writing. It’ll mean less updates, even more sporadically than they currently are, but maybe — hopefully — it’ll mean an increase in quality.

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One More Thing…

What’s the word for that moment when you realise that the work you do is appreciated by many, many people all across Australia?

Yeah, that.

This weekend was nothing short of amazing, all thanks to a little site called MacTalk.

Back in 2007, I joined a little site called MacTalk. Fast forward a couple of years, a few thousand posts, and many internet arguments later, and I come across a little post by then-overseer and hater of pants, decryption, asking for volunteer writers for some news posts. I put my hand up.

The rest is turtles all the way down.

This weekend was basically the culmination of all that; a dinner with most of the people who have contributed to MacTalk in some way, those who have silently decimated the not-so-silent spam, those who have kept things ticking over behind the scenes, and those who have written articles, reviewed products, or gotten on their perennial soapbox and given a few thousand listeners an earful about how non-developers shouldn’t be using beta releases on the podcast, past and present.

There were a few people missing, but by and large, most of the big players where there and a fantastic time was had by all. Putting faces to online personas is always good fun, even if it can be a little daunting at first. Once you get over that initial awkwardness of “hey, do I follow you on Twitter? What’s your name on the forums?”, then it’s apples, ladies and gentlemen, apples — which is lucky, because that’s pretty much what MacTalk is about (Apple, Inc).

At some point during the night, there was a thing where had to go around the table and tell everyone about ourselves — our Twitter or MacTalk usernames, what we did, and so on.

Some people were known simply by name or by reputation, others had to describe their role in MacTalk a little more. When it came around to me, I simply said “I’m Benny, and I write the news”.

Cue thunderous applause.

In all seriousness, I was kind of taken aback. Stunned, that people recognised me, just from what I had done. Little did I realise how far my daily news posts reached. Little did I know that people actually recognised —nay, applauded — my work.

This isn’t just me being naive, it’s a genuine realisation of the culmination of hours of early morning (and some not-so-early) news posts over last two years. It’s me realising that podcast topics which were formed off the words I had written, it’s about me realising that “whoa, people actually read this stuff — and they like it!” Me realising that the words I type into one of those new-fangled computers actually has some sort of impact.

One comment (from Chrome, I believe): “everyone sets their clock from Greenwich Mean Time, but Greenwich set their time from [me]”.

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of being appreciated and recognised for your work, which, I guess, was really the whole point of that night; everyone in that room had contributed in some way, shape, or form to MacTalk over the past few years.

This morning I considered writing a piece on Steve Jobs (you know, seeing as he stepped down as CEO) as a sort of editorial on MacTalk (like all the cool kids are doing), but as I thought about what I would write about, I couldn’t think of anything. Seriously, not a thing — not because there wasn’t anything to say, but because anything I wrote about would be so, so, insubstantial compared to the big picture.

And yet it’s times like the above, when I was applauded for simply saying my name and what I do, that make it all worth it.

Thanks guys 🙂

Why I dont write more often

Short answer: I’m lazy.

Long answer: I’m laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaazy.
(Whoa, just noticed that WordPress doesn’t seem to wrap long text?) Lame Zero Punctuation puns not withstanding, it’s not just because I’m lazy, it’s that most of the time, the time spent writing could be doing something equally as rewarding, time-wise.

I just counted up last week’s articles that weren’t automatically generated, (i.e. I had to actually do something to blog them, even if it was just hitting a couple buttons), and I counted eight. Just eight. Not ten, not even nine, but eight. At an average of just over one a day, that’s abysmal (more on this later).

Okay, so that’s maybe not the full truth. Maybe it’s because the content I usually want to write about deserves so much more than the paltry couple paragraphs I can produce in any short amount of time. As you may have seen from the Severus quasi-build log, it’s hard to actually put everything I want down if I just say to myself “yep, gotta get this done within the next hour or so”. Not saying that it can’t be done, but it’s certainly a little harder than it needs to be.

Maybe it’s something to do with my writing style (I can usually just bash out any paragraph without going on too much of a tangent), and maybe some forward planning would do me good, but I’m not sure. To truly cover some of the topics I want and do them the justice they deserve, I’d start to be creating articles as long as Anandtech’s Gargantuan SSD Articles of Death – and you, dear reader, without any knowledge of iPhone app Instapaper or the attention span longer than a minute (I’ve seen the Analytics logs; you can’t fool me!), would utterly hate me for it.

It’s not that theres any huge lack of content, either. I might have told you about this before, but I have a note on an app on my iPhone which I write notes in about good things I might want to blog about – once upon a time I would have told you that I kept it as a secret backup store for my weekly blog postings (back in the day when Freshbytes wasn’t, you know, defunct), but now, it’s merely a place to draw inspiration from, a place to put long-term thoughts that don’t necessarily go in a tweet, status update, or elsewhere. Sometimes I get lonely at night and bring out that list again, but for all other times, it’s just the keyboard and I.

When I talk about eight being a pathetically small number for a blog in a week, think of the times where you’ve visited the site and found all (12?) of the posts on the front-page to be different from the last time you visited. Hopefully this isn’t a huge number, and with any luck, it’ll be zero. While I believe in having awesome new content as often as possible, sometimes there are too many things on these big, bad internets, and some things don’t make the cut. That being said, if I ever put some ridiculous number of things up in a day, I officially allow you to come over to my house and trash my room. Or whatever makes you feel good.

Don’t get me wrong, though: I LOVE writing. I’m no Shakespeare, but there’s something intrinsically satisfying about being able to string together words which convey a simple thought, concept, or rambling. That’s just awesome, and being able to do so in a coherent manner ever more so.

So, dear reader, I apologise for what may as well be the umpteenth time for not writing as often as I’d like, and to those who maintain their own (completely user-created) blogs, I salute you. I know full well that you’re a better blogger than I am.