Writing Tips : How do I start?

writingBack when I started my website, blogging was not mainstream. Don’t get me wrong, blogging did exist, but it wasn’t a popular pastime. Blogger started life in 1999, but wasn’t big for a couple of years. WordPress was not release until 2003. So I didn’t have an obvious choice when publishing content. As a result, I went through several iterations of doing it all manually, then eventually wrote my own CMS, which I still use for the main website. It was the bad old days… ūüôā

Here are some quick thoughts.

  • Which Platform?¬†I would suggest using¬†WordPress¬†to start. Although my¬†website had existed for a few years, my first blog post was in 2005. At the time I started with Blogger. After a while I got frustrated with it and switched across to a self-hosted version of WordPress. I’ve been there ever since. If you find something else you prefer, go with it, but there is a certain safety in being on the biggest platform. Plugin and theme support for WordPress is really good because of the popularity of the platform. Of course, the counter argument is that more people are looking to hack¬†it.
  • Self-Host or Free Service?¬†For the majority of people, one of the free services is probably the best option. WordPress and Blogger can be used for free. You can also choose to pay for extra services, like custom domains etc. I was already hosting my own website, so self-hosting was a simple choice for me. Self-hosting is more flexible, but it’s going to cost more money. I would suggest starting free and simple, then if you change your mind you can also change your platform.
  • Switching Platforms.¬†The popular blogging platforms allow you to switch between them. There will probably be some broken internal links, but the main body of the site will be fine.

I’ve recently been getting a lot of emails from Google asking me to take surveys about my preferences for¬†blogging and CMS tools. It looks like they are looking to either revamp Blogger, or put a new tool out on the market. It will be interesting to see what they come up with, and to see how long it lasts before they bin the project. ūüôā

If you are honest, these decisions are really delaying tactics. You¬†just need to sit in front of the keyboard and start. ūüôā Go for it!

Cheers

Tim…

Writing Tips : Why should I bother?

writingTowards the end of last year I wrote a series of blog posts about public speaking tips. I’ve decided to¬†start a similar series, but this time about writing. It could be blogging, writing articles and whitepapers, or just writing documentation in your company. So for the first instalment, lets talk about why I think you should take the time out of your day to write something.

  • Check your understanding. Writing has always been a¬†really good way of ordering my thoughts. There are plenty of occasions when I’ve thought I understood something, only to find as I wrote it down there were gaping holes in my knowledge. For me, the process of writing something gives me an indication of how much I really understand it.¬†If it’s a struggle, it’s probably because I don’t really understand the subject¬†and I should take a step back.
  • Aid Memoire. I’m always telling people, the single biggest user of my website is me. I don’t have the best memory in the world, so I rely on my¬†articles¬†to remember how to do things. That’s the reason the articles usually have simple copy/paste examples. If you write for yourself, not to please others, you will be happier with the results.
  • Build your confidence.¬†The more content you write, the more confident you become. Having access to a whole bunch of “recipes” you’ve created makes life a lot easier, which in turn allows you to be more confident about the approach you are taking.
  • Documentation skills.¬†If you’re a developer, you’re probably saying to yourself, “I write self documenting code, so I don’t need to document my work!” My response to that is, “You are full of shit!” All systems need documentation. The art with documentation is to write enough to be useful, but not so much that people¬†can’t be bothered to wade through it. Writing blog posts and articles helps you learn this balance.

Cheers

Tim…

Birmingham City University (BCU) Talk #3

bcuOn Friday I took a day off work to pop over to do my 3rd talk at¬†Birmingham City University (BCU). This one was rather unfamiliar territory for¬†me, because it was directed at¬†the staff and was focussed on student employability…

During a previous discussion with Stuart Hutchison from BCU, he suggested I take the “Community” session I presented at¬†the UKOUG Next Gen event, add in some information about graduate recruitment and Bob’s your uncle. Sounds fine, but what do I know about graduate employment? It’s 20+ years since I left university…

Luckily, the online community came to the rescue. I sent a bunch of emails out to friends, small companies and huge corporate types.¬†Over the years I’ve built up a network¬†of contacts¬†all over the world who were happy to help me out directly,¬†or put me in touch with people in their organisation that could. I’ve already sent out thank you emails, but I’d just like to take the opportunity to say a big thank¬†you once again¬†to everyone that helped me out!

As the session started, people introduced themselves and it became apparent that everyone¬†in the room (except me) was in some way linked to student employment and career development. Needless to say, I suddenly felt completely¬†out of my depth,¬†incredibly¬†nervous and needed a change of underwear! ūüôā I introduced myself and made it very clear I was definitely not an expert in this subject, then proceeded to present the information I had gathered. It was meant to be about 60 minutes, but there was a lot of audience participation, so it ended up being more like 90 minutes. Despite my initial nerves, it went really well and was really good fun.

After the session I chatted with Professor Nick Morton, the Associate Dean (Student Experience) at BCU, and he was keen to get me involved in some of the other stuff they are doing, which also sounds like fun. After that I spent quite a long time chatting with Stuart. I will of course keep doing the technical stuff with his students.

I guess some of you may be wondering about my motivation for doing this stuff, especially the non-technical presentations. This isn’t a career move. I’m not being paid to do this. It’s good to¬†try something different and stretch yourself. I’m not suggesting that technical presentations are easy, because they are not, but doing things like this take you out of your comfort zone and teach you a lot about the craft of presenting. I definitely feel this is making me a better presenter, which¬†is a great confidence builder.

Cheers

Tim…

MOVOBall : Kickstarter

movoballThis morning I went to the launch event for MOVOBall, an invention by one of my (In Real Life) friends Steve Priestnall. The event was held at the Electric Cinema in town.

It was kind-of fun to see the name up outside the cinema.

cinema

I’ve kept the ticket as a memento.

ticket

Later this month they will be launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the product development.

deviceSo what is it? It’s a neat little device to make using a swiss ball a lot more fun. You can either put your mobile device into the cradle, or use a MOVOBug to talk to your phone. It uses the motion detectors in the phone, or MOVOBug, to detect the motion of the ball, so it can be used as a game controller or to interact with fitness apps.

ballI can imagine Noel Portugal and the AppsLab folks coming up with some party piece at OpenWorld using this. Maybe MOVOBall controlled Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots. ūüôā

When the Kickstarter film is released I’ll put a link to it. It’s pretty fun, especially the outtakes at the end.

It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out.

Cheers

Tim…

Update: Here is the Kickstarter URL.

WordPress 4.2.2

wordpressAnother day, another WordPress release. I woke up this morning to see WordPress 4.2.2 has arrived. It’s common after a big release to get a bunch of quick fixes, so I expect to see a number of these over the next few weeks.

Downloads and changelog in the usual places, but you will probably find your auto-update has already installed it for you. ūüôā

Cheers

Tim…