Matt Gemmell

Dissatisfaction

In a way, it all started with the Start button.

On Tuesdays, in whatever year of high school I was in at the time, I had a double period of Computing broken up by lunch. I don’t remember the year, though it would have been the mid-nineties, but I do remember that it was a Tuesday.

I was the kid who volunteered to help out in the computer labs during his lunch break. On this particular day, I was carrying a batch of software manuals from one lab back into the department office. It was a square room between two labs, and its windows looked out onto both.

My high school was one of those schools where uniform was mandatory, and the computing labs were fully stocked with row after row of Macs – at that time, gorgeous little beige-grey-green boxes with dramatic lines and vents. Macs were the norm at our school, which was an exceptionally rare thing. I’d been using them in classes for a few years, and it had never really occurred to me that there was anything else out there.

Sponsor: Alfred

I’m thrilled that my beloved Alfred is sponsoring my writing this week. I’m a long-time user, and a huge fan. I’ve written about my favourite Mac productivity utilities, prominently featuring Alfred. I use it about a hundred times a day – and that’s not an estimate, because Alfred keeps track! I think you’re going to love it every bit as much as I do.

Alfred is a keyboard-driven app for Mac OS X that makes work and play much more pleasant by helping you work quickly and productively.

Grab the free version of Alfred to get started. You’ll be able to find apps and files on your Mac, quick-search the web and control your Mac right away. Create custom searches for sites you use frequently, and keep your Contacts just a keyword away.

Writing a novel: first draft

Yesterday, I finished the first draft of my first1 novel. It came out at just over 90,000 words, which was the target I had in mind. It was a strange and emotional experience. After typing the last word, I felt like I’d been suddenly dumped out of that fictional world and back into this one, with an abruptness that almost made my ears pop.

I finished it while on my exercise bike here in my home office, before midday. During the afternoon, I reopened the project at least five times to check I hadn’t imagined the whole thing. I’ve had mixed feelings of relief and bereavement, coupled with dread of the enormous set of second draft revisions looming ahead of me.

I’d like to talk about a few of my experiences, and the lessons I’ve learned, while writing my first draft.

Unprepared

My father recently turned sixty-five, which is the conventionally accepted retirement age here in the UK. He has no plans to actually stop working, but he has already quit his life-long career in the motor trade, in pursuit of a simpler, less stressful existence.

A few months ago, he called me, telling me of his plan to bring his career to a close and find something else to do. I listened with interest as he made the case for his decision. He seemed to have thought everything through quite thoroughly, and I assumed that he was going into detail just because he was nervous about the boldness of the move, and wanted to reassure himself.

Then he asked me if I thought it was a good idea.

Sponsor: PaintCode 2

My sincere thanks to PaintCode 2 for sponsoring my writing this week. PaintCode is an incredible tool, letting you visually design interfaces and interactivity, and get ready-to-use code for your app projects.

PaintCode 2 is a vector drawing app that generates Objective-C or Swift code in real time, acting as a bridge between developers and graphic designers. With PaintCode, you can create an app that is truly resolution-independent, using code (instead of a large number of image assets) to draw a user interface.

PaintCode has been successfully adopted by many developers, including industry giants such as Apple, Disney Pixar, Evernote, Google, Hewlett Packard, The New York Times and Twitter.

Unprofessional and CocoaConf podcasts

I’ve been a guest on two podcasts in the past week, and I thought you might be interested to check them out.

First up, I joined hosts Dave Wiskus and Jaimee Newberry for episode 98 of Unprofessional. We talked about writing, professionalism, pursuing your dreams, and the TV show Castle.

Next, host Daniel Steinberg was kind enough to invite me to join him for episode 5 of The CocoaConf Podcast. We talked about writing again, and also had a discussion clarifying some of the points I made in my Confessions of an ex-developer article recently.

Staedtler pigment liner and Moleskine notebook

I’ve been addicted to stationery for as long as I can remember. I have scores of pens, pencils, mechanical pencils, and assorted coloured markers. When I’m asked which are my favourite writing implements, my answer is a constantly-varying set of five or more.

I also have dozens of notebooks. Some are brand names, some are handmade in small batches, some are pocket-sized, and some take up most of my desk when they’re lying open. Few are ever finished before I move onto another.

I love stationery. I find it so much easier to think when I’m using pen or pencil on paper, away from the various glowing screens around me.

Handwriting

Dear reader,

When was the last time you wrote something? Not on your computer or mobile device; I mean by hand. Brief notes or shopping lists don’t count, either – I’m talking about something of non-trivial length.

It was probably quite a while ago. I’m in the same position, and I think that’s a sad thing. Handwriting used to be my daily companion, and now it’s becoming a rare art. I’m even writing about handwriting using electronic text. Come to think of it, I can at least fix that particular hypocrisy.

Sponsor: Paddle.com

My sincere thanks to Paddle.com for sponsoring my writing this week.

Paddle.com offers a suite of self-serve tools that make it incredibly easy for developers and creatives to sell their apps, games, eBooks and digital content.

Designed to create a seamless buying experience, Paddle’s two-click checkout offers a secure & simple way for customers to purchase products online, and using Paddle’s SDKs for Mac & Windows, developers can provide customers with a native purchasing experience from within the trial version of their game or application too.

With over 65% of customers purchasing the full product in-app, Paddle’s SDK has proved to be a truly powerful tool.

Keyboard Maestro macros

I’ve previously written about the Mac keyboard shortcuts I use most often, and also talked about being productive on a small screen. Productivity (and avoiding the mouse or trackpad) is very important to me, and to that end I use a macro utility on my Macs called Keyboard Maestro.

Keyboard Maestro can do just about anything, including complex, multi-step automations, scripting, interface control, periodic tasks and hundreds of other things. If you can do it yourself, you can probably get Keyboard Maestro to do it for you.

In this brief article, I’d like to share some of the macros I use most often.