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Apple eMate in a café

On finding and protecting the things you like to do (and what to do next)

I’m having a terrific time writing and doing photography for my Think Retro column at Macworld. My latest is on how computers, austere and anodyne today, used to be much chirpier – literally.

The thing I always forget I love till I pick up my eMate again is the noises it makes. As you use the stylus to select things on the screen, little confirmatory noises sound, and the joyous thing is that they’re not the same sound. The effect, as you tap about the screen to format a document and send it by fax, say, is that you get a cheery burble of “beek,” “bik,” “bok” rather than the same “click,” “click,” “click” as you’d expect on other systems. It’s emblematic of a much more human, much friendlier approach to operating systems than any other I can think of.

You can read the whole thing at

It’s a funny thing; life seems inevitably and inexorably to lead to the present when you look back at it, but you had no idea where it was heading at the time. I just used to like old Apple stuff, and so bought it if it was cheap and I wanted it – with the result that now even I’m surprised by how much stuff I have from which I can draw for Think Retro.

Today, then, I have a regular writing gig sharing an enthusiasm with others who seem to be enjoying it. I’ve always struggled to know what I want to do with my career, and you often hear the advice that you should identify the things you enjoy doing, then work out how you can turn them into a job. I suspect I rejected that at some subconscious level for two reasons. First, it seemed too easy; surely a job was a necessary evil to be endured? It should be arduous; it’s called ‘work’. Worse, I had come to dislike the Confucian quote ‘Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life’ because experience suggested to me there was no surer way to leech the delight out of a hobby than to bury it under a thick layer of work apparatus and office life.

I think I probably got it wrong – thrice. I was slow to recognise the things I actually enjoyed doing, had a deep-seated and unhealthy attitude to work, and needed to get much, much better at translating my curiosity and aptitude for a broad range of subjects into money. Let’s see if I can get better at learning from my mistakes in 2015.

Thank you

Today is my last day at work. Having gone straight from school to university to work, I don’t remember a time when I haven’t woken up every day and travelled to an institution where someone else had dibs on my time. It’s likely, once I have stepped back, gained some perspective and regained some drive and creativity, that I will want to go back into full-time employment, but today at least feels like I’m closing Vol. I of my life – and so I’d like to say thanks to some of those people who mattered to me in it.

Thank you to my wife for being endlessly inspiring and for always being in my corner.

Thank you to my teams for helping me make good stuff, and especially to those colleagues who’ve become friends, for making the bad days tolerable and the good days glorious.

Thank you to everyone who took a punt on me – and to anyone who does in the future!

Thank you to my parents for instilling in me some good values, and to them and my wider family for support, encouragement and love.

Thank you to the community in technology and publishing who have proven time and again to be some of the best, smartest and most exhilarating people you could hope to meet.

Thank you to those who’ve read my words, bought my magazines or otherwise engaged with my professional output – and not just because you indirectly helped pay my wages.

Thank you to anyone who challenged me to think more, to prejudge less, to be kinder, to empathise, to care. And to up my game, explicitly or without you realising it.

And thank you for reading this. ☺️

My last day is Hallowe’en, but never fear; I’m still around to write frightfully good copy to scary deadlines. If you need a terrifyingly experienced writer who understands better than most what a nightmare freelancers can be, just yell!

Biscuits, Big Shots and bad puns: a Phin guide to self-promotion

Because I’ve worked as a journalist for over 12 years, I can tell you first-hand that nothing gets a journalist’s attention quite like free chocolate biscuits, so when I wanted to come up with a way of reminding commissioning editors at the company I still currently work for that I’d be leaving and available for freelance writing at the end of the month, giving them chocolate biscuits as I told them seemed like an obvious choice. Today I’ll be handing out the above little packages, and I thought I’d talk a little about how I put them together.

Taking my leaving date of Hallowe’en as the starting point, I did the design itself in InDesign (shamelessly stealing Matt Gemmell’s idea), and printed them, just as dark grey rectangles with the reversed-out white lettering, onto sheets of magnetic-backed glossy inkjet paper. I then picked a suitably gothic Sizzix die-cut and ran the roughly cut-out rectangles through a Big Shot (a deeply satisfying experience; I can’t recommend it enough) to punch them to the final shape. Then it was a simple case of punching the magnets and the bags of chocolate biscuits and threading through some gauzy ribbon and cutting the ends into inverted points.

The fact that I printed onto magnetic paper means that if I’m very lucky the relevant commissioning editors might just stick the little summary of my details to a filing cabinet or something, keeping me in their eyeline.

Or, you know, they may forget I ever existed as soon as the last crumb is swallowed, but at least I gave myself a chance!

My setup

What’s next?

“What are you going to do next?” is something I’ve been asked often by friends and colleagues since it was announced a few weeks ago I’m leaving Future at the end of October. It’s a fair question, not least because it’s one I’ve been asking myself a lot, and the answer is simple: I don’t know.

Make no mistake about it: this is terrifying. At some point I’m hoping it will start to be exciting at least as well, but right now it’s mostly deeply disconcerting; I am constitutionally not well suited to not having money arrive regularly in my account on the 28th of every month.

Still, it feels like the right thing to do; there are two reasons I’ve decided to leave now despite having no other job to go to. The first is to do with me; since I started 12 years ago I’ve been steadily (if not always deliberately) climbing the ranks in magazines to my current position of editor-in-chief, and the more senior I’ve gotten, the more I end up merely administering rather than creating stuff. And I miss that. I miss writing, I miss researching, I miss communicating with an audience. I’m excited about being excited again, and stepping off the monthly grind of a regular magazine will be a balm. Some of that, to be sure, is to do with how I feel about a situation rather than the situation itself – which brings me on to the second reason.

The job in the current climate has frankly become too challenging for me. I’ve faced – and not shied away from – a few significant challenges in my career, but had I stayed I would have faced some especially tough ones. They don’t sound to me like the fun, get-your-teeth-into-them, let’s-all-make-something-amazing kind of challenges, so – and I am a little ashamed of this – I’m not prepared to take them on. If you’ve read Jason Snell’s announcement or Serenity Caldwell’s similar note you might get an inkling of the context; certainly, since I read them between handing in my notice and it being announced, I read them both with a mixture of amazement and weariness at how familiar the stories were. I’ll leave behind some wonderful brands and some astonishing people, and I wish them nothing but the very best in meeting the challenges the next six, 12 and 18 months will bring. Nothing about my decision saddens me more than knowing I won’t be working in the same room as some truly inspiring colleagues and friends.

So, what am I going to do next? In the short term, I’m going to get back to writing, speaking and consulting, and while I’ll be pitching ideas to technology and lifestyle brands in the coming weeks, I would, of course, love to hear from you if my expertise sounds useful to you.

Longer-term, I frankly don’t know. I have a nebulous aspiration that once I disentangle myself and my brain from the overhead of my current job, I’ll get some clarity on what I do want to do next, and it might be something completely unrelated. I’m very lucky that my wife supports – indeed, is delighted by – my decision, so while we have a rocky few months ahead, financially, I fervently hope that we’re building towards a happier 2015.

If we’ve worked well together in the past, I’d be most grateful if you would let me know if you hear of any opportunities you think I would a good fit for.

I don’t know what the next chapter will be. Let’s turn the page and find out.