Monthly archives of “October 2014

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. ☺️

How to stop ‘friends’ looking at all your iPhone’s photos

I read someone a while ago complaining that if they handed their phone to a friend to show them a photo, it would be a matter of seconds before said friend was scrolling through all of their photos and seeing stuff they’d rather they didn’t. (There is a temptation here to think that I’m referring to saucy pictures of our protagonist and his or her funtimes sex friend, but it could as easily be snaps of a damp patch our hero has documented in order to bring to the attention of the landlord, and which he or she doesn’t especially want friends asking about.)

Happily, iOS 6 or later has a feature that can help: Guided Access. All you have to do, once you’ve configured it, is to triple-click the Home button as you pass your iPhone to your friend – an action so subtle that they might not even realise you’re doing it (until they try and fail to swipe and find photos of your damp patches, as it were). If you don’t know how to enable it, here’s a quick-and-dirty (though not that kind of dirty) guide with appalling audio and diction:

How to wipe your Mac and install a fresh operating system – the right way

I used to have the rule that every time Apple launched a major new operating system, I’d do a clean install – wipe my hard disk, put a fresh system on it, laboriously reinstall my apps and copy my data back across. Even if not strictly necessary, this was a reasonable policy in the days when Apple’s release schedule was infrequent, and when each release made big under-the-hood changes, but the now-annual cycle allied to the robustness of the core OS and the upgrade-in-place process has meant that since around 10.7 I haven’t done it. I think I’m due; Yosemite is acting up in small but significant ways on my trusty old 2008 MacBook Pro, and there’s just a lot of accumulated crud on its SSD. A clean install gives you a fresh, efficient system, so I’m going to put myself through the hassle of doing one; now I’ve decided to do it, I’m actually, if tragically, a little excited about it. If you want to do the same, there are a few things you should think about before you begin, and since I’ve been putting together a guide to myself to make sure it’s as pain-free as possible, I thought I’d share and explain. If you think I’ve forgotten something, tweet me and I’ll amend this post.

Back up
Oh sweet lord, back up. Back up in multiple ways to multiple places; you know this, I’m sure. For my money, if you’re about to do a clean install, you should do a bootable backup just for it – in addition to whatever other backup system you have. This is because you can put it to one side as a snapshot of your system just before you did the clean install, and jump back to it instantly by booting from this dedicated backup in case there’s something you just didn’t anticipate. (Remember that while Intel Macs can boot from drives mounted over USB, PowerPC Macs need to boot over FireWire.) I use SuperDuper! to do these bootable clones, but the venerable CarbonCopyCloner or even the Restore tab of Disk Utility will do just as well. Once you’ve backed up, boot from that backup (hold ⌥ during startup to pick it) and confirm it’s working and that everything’s present and correct.

Anticipate problems
Get your Mac running as you would typically and then scrutinise it to look for things that you will need to recreate on your clean system – look along the Dock, in the menu bar, in the Services menu, and at what options you see when you right-click typical files in the Finder; if you’re being really thorough, look in the list of running services in Activity Monitor, since some things will be running ‘headless’ – in the background. You’re looking for things that need to be added to a clean system in order to make it work for you – but do also take this as an opportunity to ditch things you’re not really using, since this will mean a less bloated, more robust system.

Capture your current setup
One of the most annoying things in cleaning down a system is that your old one had grown familiar and comfortable over the years, and if you’re anything like me, using a fresh system is a bit like breaking in new shoes – it’s all very smart, but a bit uncomfortable. Your Dock’s in the wrong order but you can’t remember what the right order is. One way you could combat this is to identify and copy across loads of preference files, but I prefer to do it old-skool: taking a screenshot of my current system showing everything in place. Here’s mine, which shows the Finder sidebar as well as Dock and menus; you might need to capture different stuff, and remember that some apps let you export out the settings for your workspaces.

My current Mac setupOh, and, uh, it should go without saying, but make sure you copy this information off the Mac before you wipe it. Not that I’ve done similar in the past, you understand.

Save out important settings
iCloud and syncing in general can help with some of this these days, but it’s still worth thinking if you use apps which need particular data exporting out ahead of time. For me, the two biggies are the settings for iStat Menus (the first app I install on a new Mac) and some custom Actions I have built in Photoshop. Save ’em out, stash ’em somewhere safe.

Source all your software
Before you wipe a Mac, make sure you can reinstall all the apps you need. If your apps are all from the Mac App Store, great, since reinstalling them is a case of clicking a few buttons on your new system, but for everything else, make sure you have install discs or access to downloads, as well as serial numbers, all to hand. Although I’ll double-check, I should be fine, as I put disc images for big apps in a folder on my Drobo, and store serials in Wallet. It can be easy to forget what apps you had installed, so an easy way to remember is to go to Applications, ⌘A, ⌘C then ⌘V into a Plain Text document to quickly generate a list. (You might want to do the same for Utilities as well.) Again, though, don’t just unthinkingly reinstall everything – use this as an opportunity to ditch cruft.

Some things on your Mac get authorised to a server, and usually you get a limited number of activations. So that your old system isn’t using up one of your precious activations, before you wipe it deauthorise it for each. For example, for me, I deauthorise my Mac to play my iTunes Store purchases and Audible audiobooks, and I deauthorise Creative Suite.

Set up your new system
You’re probably ready to go. Start up from an installer drive (see Dan Frakes’ handy guide on how to create a bootable Yosemite installer) then before you install, go to Disk Utility, erase your internal hard disk or SSD. Install, then step through the process of creating a new account. Once you’re logged in, there’s one more thing I would do before copying back data, reinstalling apps, and linking your new system to, say, cloud backup services: rename it. Go to System Preferences → Sharing and then change the Computer Name to something new; this means it will be clear which machine originated files in any sync system, and should reduce the potential for conflicts. Now: slowly, carefully, copy over your old data from the backup, and reinstall just what you want and need – and enjoy your fresh, nimble new system! If you’ve forgotten anything, reach for your backup; that’s what it’s for!

Again, tweet me if you think I’ve missed something important!

Further apart, not closer together

My friend and erstwhile colleague Barry Collins thinks Apple should make a hybrid laptop/tablet which combines OS X and iOS. I think that in this regard at least my friend and erstwhile colleague Barry Collins is a bloody idiot.

I can completely see the place he’s coming from. I can see the thought processes that brought him to where he is, and I don’t doubt his ‘MacPad’ would appeal to some – maybe even many.

Apple, though, is never going to make it. And nor should it.

Its vision for OS X and iOS seems very clear to me: let each do its job well, but provide ways to share information between them. It’s never been more explicit than in Yosemite and iOS 8, where the Continuity suite of features means that now more than ever you can reach for whatever device is best for you at the time to complete a particular task, and find the task to hand and ready to be worked on. To be sure, the vision is still nascent, but the point is that despite the harmonisation of chrome and the back-and-forth borrowing of features when it’s justified, OS X and iOS are, and for the foreseeable future will remain, completely distinct.

None of this, of course, explicitly argues against Barry’s MacPad – indeed, I don’t doubt he read the preceding paragraph while spluttering something about this making his hypothetical product even more feasible.

Apple, though, prizes clarity, and rightly so. If its vision is to keep OS X and iOS distinct, then it won’t make a product that muddies that distinction. Marketing it would be tricky in part because of the lack of clarity in the message; aiming a product at everyone is aiming a product at no-one. And it just is an inelegant product; it smacks of a Microsoft-like notion of a ‘no-compromise’ device, when it seems obvious to me that a no-compromise device is impossible.

Barry’s isn’t a bold new vision for what a new category of device from Apple could be. It’s a tired, unimaginative, tech-led mash-up of a couple of things we see, use and like.

I’ve made a bet with Barry that Apple won’t make his MacPad in the next five years (so, by 16 October, 2019); if he’s right, he’s asked I stay off Twitter for a week save to tweet ‘Barry was right’ daily at 9am. If I’m right, well, that will suffice! Tim will arbitrate.

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!

The Magazine Diaries

The Magazine Diaries book

When Peter mentioned that he was starting a little project ahead of Magfest to collect into a book the honest 100-word reactions of a hundred people working at the coalface of magazine publishing, I expressed some concerns. Oh, I had no doubt he could do it, or that the result would be interesting, but I worried that unless he allowed anonymous submissions, it would end up being hagiographic and present an imbalanced view of the industry.

I needn’t have worried.

It’s not, to be sure, filled with invective and doom, and there are some submissions that seem to describe a thriving, bullish, even arrogant industry that I just can’t recognise, but through some strange alchemy he’s managed to create a fascinating little vignette whose very variety gives it a clear voice with which to describe the magazine business in 2014.

If you’re interested in magazines – either from the inside or the outside – I think you’d find The Magazine Diaries intriguing. It’s a fiver, and the proceeds support MagAid.

Buy The Magazine Diaries