Matt Gemmell

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My book Raw Materials is out now!

A collection of personal essays, with exclusive content and author's notes.

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First world problems

Most of us have heard the phrase “first world problem”.

It’s used in situations where the speaker is (often humorously) responding to someone else’s complaint, and sees the given ‘problem’ as the product of a substantial level of privilege.

It’s a dismissive statement, saying that the complaint isn’t really valid, or worth worrying about. I have mixed feelings about that. I’d like to briefly talk to you about it.


I’ve been thinking lately about digital permanence, or rather the lack of it. The internet offers us an opportunity to preserve our work for future generations like never before, but we haven’t made much progress on providing frameworks and services that will allow us to do so.

We’ve all lost old files (or new ones). I’ve had web sites that are now completely gone from the internet. I have years of chat logs that are locked up in formats I can no longer read. I even have boxes of Zip and floppy disks somewhere, as well as aged recordable CDs that probably aren’t faring too well. That’s the reality of digital data: sometimes it degrades, but usually the technological ecosystem moves on around it, leaving it isolated and inaccessible.

There are common file formats, of course. Plain text presents few worries (encodings and line-endings are some of those worries, but they’re surmountable), and most web-suitable image formats are going to be readable for many years to come. For movies, formats come and go, but we can usually convert between them. We don’t have much to worry about within the five-year timespan.

But what about ten years from now? Or twenty?

What about the distant day when you take your final breath?

Finder Tags

Mac OS X has a feature called tags, which were introduced in OS X 10.9 Mavericks. Tags are metadata that you can apply to files in the Finder. You can then search for files based on their tags, as well as their other properties and contents.

I’ve always struggled to use tagging systems. My tendency is to over-apply tags, resulting in hundreds of different ones in use, barely providing more retrieval value than just searching by the file’s contents. Since everything is constantly indexed on modern operating systems, I see tags as more of an organisational and categorisation system.

I’ve found a simple tagging system that seems to work for me, and I thought I’d share it with you.


Back again, are you? Well, it’s good to see you again.

Don’t worry; I know who you are. I never forget a face. We took a trip together, didn’t we? Sure we did. Maybe even more than one. It’s all coming back to me.

It’s funny you should happen along right now. I was just thinking about something. I’d love to tell you about it, if you have the time.


I’ve been writing here at for more than eleven years.

My publishing frequency varies (though I’m getting back into a more regimented schedule now), but I periodically have high-traffic weeks with popular pieces. I’ve had a couple of those in the past month or so, each one getting a decent amount of linkage, sitting on the front page of Hacker News, and racking up a few dozen thousand reads on the day of publication. That’s great, and I’m absolutely delighted and grateful.

Whenever a piece “hits” like that, I start getting emails - and this has happened for years. The messages from readers are fantastic, no matter whether they’re positive or negative, but it’s the other kind of emails I want to talk about here: the requests for republication.

The gift of writing

Dear reader,

I’m a writer. I’ve spent half my life getting to this point, if I’m only granted the traditional seventy years on this Earth. Today is my thirty-fifth birthday.

You’re one of over half a million readers to visit this blog in 2014, so far. Thank you so much.

I’m often asked by my many friends (and former colleagues) in the software development community if I’m tempted to return to that career. It’s a wonderful line of work, and filled with fascinating challenges, and intellectual achievement. It was a wonderful job for me.

But I have a new job now, and my answer to those who ask is that I’ve never been happier in my work than I am now. A writer is nothing without readers, and again, I’m deeply grateful to you for reading these words.

Letting go

I’ve been trying to let go. It’s a work in progress, and it probably always will be, but I’m trying.

I’m looking for focus, and freedom from noise. More than that, I’m looking for stability; a metaphorical place where I have a chance of doing my best work.

I’m distracted by my interests, but that’s fine. What’s not fine is that I’m also distracted by things I might think are interesting at the time, but are really just opportunities to procrastinate.

I’ve learned that letting go is an active, continuous process. The default assumption is that we want to be interrupted: notifications are enabled, ringers aren’t silenced, and reminders are set. To get rid of that stuff, you have to take a stand.

Macworld MacMania 2015

Update: This cruise has unfortunately been cancelled.

Fellow Mac enthusiasts, were you aware that there’s a conference for you on a cruise ship every year? Well, there is: Macworld’s MacMania. I’m delighted to confirm that I’ll be speaking on the 2015 cruise, which takes place from December 3rd - 15th next year (note: that’s 2015, not 2014).

My wife Lauren will be coming along too. The cruise begins (and ends) in Southampton in the UK, and we’ll be visiting the Madeira archipelago, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Lisbon, and Vigo. You can see the itinerary here.

Staying creative

I recently read Shawn Blanc’s Fighting to Stay Creative, which is about the challenges of maintaining creativity over long periods. I’d like to add a few of my own thoughts on that topic.

I write every day: seven days a week. I’m working on a novel, and I also write for this blog and various magazines. It’s my full-time job now, and I don’t have another one. Staying creative is thus absolutely critical for me.

I’ve learned a lot about the obstacles to continued creative output, and I’ve found a few techniques that can help. Many of these are just common sense, but it’s useful to have them all in one place.