Celebrating 20 years of writing for money—and imposter syndrome

You can blame Stuart Dredge. We’d been in frequent contact for months, with me working for a marketing department and feeding him pithy comments for Cre@te Online, a Future Publishing magazine aimed at web designers. Then the dot-com crash happened and I abruptly found myself out of a job.

I told Stuart, asking him to in future contact me on a different email address. He immediately responded to the news by asking if I’d like to pen the back page of the magazine’s next issue—a ‘Sacred Cow’ column on Flash. I jumped at the chance.

Stuart must have been happy with what I wrote, because my details were quickly passed on to other editors at Future. I started writing software reviews and took over Internet Advisor’s nascent Makeover column, where a reader would write in and I’d overhaul their website, like a cross between Gordon Ramsay and Bill Gates—only with significantly less riches than either of them.

About six months later, I plucked up the courage at an Apple Event to pitch to then-MacUser deputy editor Ian Betteridge (who I recall was happy to briefly escape several hours of dealing with reader tech support issues). I was new and had to write under a pen name. That didn’t last long.

Things continued to snowball. I started writing books on iMovie and web design. (I don’t even recall how that came about.) The number of publications I wrote for grew. Many are now gone… Computer Arts; Practical Web Design; .net. Others from those early days—most notably MacFormat and Retro Gamer—are still kicking.

That first column for Cre@te Online was 20 years ago this week. And I’ll let you in on a little secret: my brain helpfully still thinks I’m winging it. Any day now, it suggests, I’ll be ‘found out’. 20 years of experience, writing for the biggest tech publications and companies around and I have imposter syndrome. I doubt that will ever go away.

Why it’s there, I’m not sure. Prior to that first paid gig, I’d written for years—just not for money. But I suspect my lack of formal training in writing/journalism makes me think I don’t have the ’right’ to be here, doing what I do. This is logically ridiculous when I’ve been smashing words into shape for two decades and am fortunate enough to have a solid number of editors keen to call on me for more work.

Whether I’ll be lucky enough to still be doing this 20 years from now is hard to say. Since I started regularly writing for magazines, the industry has changed beyond all recognition. I half imagine by 2041 (or, more than likely, a lot sooner) an AI will be able to do what I do at the press of a button (pressed by an AI robot editor, natch). Until then, I’ll continue writing and I hope you’ll continue reading—be they my words or those of others, not least any long-time writers who also regularly mull over how lucky they are to be doing what they do.

June 7, 2021. Read more in: Opinions, Stuff by me, Writing

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For Apple and others, flexibility is the vital component to the future happiness of workers

A tale in three parts:

  • Apple states as of September that employees will be back to the office at least three days per week, and will get the option of two additional remote-work weeks per year (The Verge)
  • Apple employees respond, asking Apple to be more flexible and account for individuals who might want to work from home on a permanent basis (The Verge)
  • Daring Fireball writes a surprisingly callous response, slamming the Apple employee letter and inferring those people “aren’t a good fit for Apple”

I’ve primarily worked for home for 20 years now. It has pros and cons. I’ve been fortunate to be there for most of the big moments in my child’s life, not least her first steps. If I’d been on a 9–5, I’d have missed those—and so much more. But I also recognise that for some people, being around others in an office environment is how they thrive. Also, some jobs can only be done in that way.

However, many jobs can be performed well in a distributed team environment. Apple itself has shown that, in all the many things it’s achieved during a pandemic. At this point, my take—as someone who is very aware of being in a fairly privileged position—is that flexibility is the way forward.

The Daring Fireball take is, for me, colossally bad. From a pure commentary standpoint, it’s distasteful for an individual working however they like to hand-wave away requests for flexibility from people who have discovered how they can do revolutionary work and not miss out on things like family moments (while avoiding soul-sapping commutes).

But the same is true in reverse. Some people thrive on in-person interaction. So denying that (as some other companies are looking to do) is equally problematic. Companies will have to figure out new ways of working that are flexible and smart enough to cater for alternate ways of thinking.

For Apple specifically, the company used to say ‘think different’. It could leverage that approach and lead a new way of how major corporations work rather than being so prescriptive. And while Apple shifting to three days in/two days out is a big cultural shift, it has an opportunity to do more. If your company has been by every measure a massive success during the pandemic, then it has space to be more radical, not less, regarding workers.

June 5, 2021. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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Changing my mind on Apple Arcade’s range of games

I’ve broadly been a fan of Apple Arcade since the start. Some gamers got sniffy about it, arguing it didn’t include ‘proper’ games or a pile of AAA hits. That missed the point: Apple Arcade was meant to be something different, not another me-too service. Thing is, I missed the point myself a bit as well.

My Stuff article on the best Apple Arcade games lists titles that personally clicked with me, but in introducing Apple Arcade to my daughter, the manner in which I’m approaching and thinking about the service has shifted.

My daughter has used mobile Apple devices since before she could talk. She could navigate an iPod touch at 18 months. Safe to say, she’s familiar with this stuff. These days, she has her own iPad, which she uses almost daily—for a limited amount of time. It’s stuffed full of games and educational apps. She loves it.

One thing, though, is she’s never been keen on games with risk. There are exceptions: she’ll happily play two-player retro games with me. Broadly, though, she dislikes arcade fare on the iPad (with the notable exception of Super Phantom Cat 2, for reasons I’ve never quite been able to figure out).

She likes comfort and repetition when playing games (and also watching TV) and so stuck with a lot of kiddie games she’s now outgrown. Yet she blazed through Hidden Folks (intentionally deleting her progress several times to start again) and happily plays Dissembler and Threes! So I got thinking… what about Apple Arcade?

I dumped a ton of games on to her iPad and kind of left her to it. She’s working her way through Monument Valley. She’s got quite far in What The Golf? Mini Metro has had a few launches. Farm It! has gone down well. I’m glad I figured out that this service could provide new gaming opportunities for her—new things to try; new challenges to solve. It also opened my eyes to a certain diversity of approach within Apple Arcade that I’d not fully considered before.

A lot of gamers—myself included—were (and, indeed, are) quite sniffy about certain choices Apple made. I still think some Apple Arcade games are objectively poor. But it’s interesting to see a few cute ‘grind’ games in the mix, since those tend to align with exploitative freemium loot boxes and related horrors.

Ultimately, these games sort of are freemium games without the hideous business model. But you know what? My kid is really enjoying Farm It! She’s having fun. BUT. There are no ads. There’s no IAP. It’s safe from the crap we so often see elsewhere. And it showcases that Apple Arcade is a service intentionally designed to be for everyone. Even today, that seems quite rare in gaming and can only be a good thing. I wish I’d figured that out sooner.

May 21, 2021. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, Opinions

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Quick tips for app/game devs to improve their chances of press coverage

At some point, I really need to get around to writing a little book about how app and game devs can boost their chances of press coverage. But earlier today, I wrote a Twitter thread instead (which is just like a tiny book, right?) and so I figured I’d ‘reprint’ the tips here.


1. Tell me about your app. Seems obvious, right? But many app/game devs never contact the press. That makes it harder for us to find your amazing work!


2. Have a press kit. Said kit should outline what your app does, what its main points of interest are, and, if relevant, how it differentiates itself. Have the kit online or send it via email. Up to you. If emailing, ALWAYS include app store links.


3. Provide a promo code. You don’t necessarily need to send this right away, but at least offer a code and please be responsive when asked for one. Also: don’t send me ten of the things. They’ll just go to waste. One is fine!


4. Have images readily available. I reckon about 75% of devs do not have suitable images for press that journos can quickly access. If I have to quickly make a choice between two apps of equal quality, I’m going to go with the one that didn’t make my job harder.

On images, do not put them in a device frame—or at least provide unframed versions. What I need is several shots of your app at its best, in uncompressed PNG. Also: provide shots across all platforms (Android, iPhone, iPad, watchOS, etc.), not just one.

You might want to get clever with captions and shots of your app comped on to multiple devices. Or lifestyle shots. Or crops of a bit of the screen. Sure. But offer full-screen grabs too, or I cannot feature your app in most publications I write for.


5. Get a video on YouTube. This one isn’t mandatory—but video can be useful to embed into online articles and some publications require videos for mobile games (not apps). If one doesn’t exist, I might make one, but your game would have to be bloody great for me to do that.


6. NEVER offer money. OK, so most of you wouldn’t think of doing this anyway, but I am getting a lot of “how much would it cost to add our thing to your list” emails these days. No writer of any integrity will accept money for coverage. Ever. Do that with me and I will blacklist you.


7. Don’t be afraid. So you’re a tiny one-person indie? Great. I love tiny one-person indies! I feature stuff by them all the time! I wasn’t keen on something you previously made? OK, but I might like what you did this time. Worst case: I don’t feature your app. But if I like it, I will.


Other journos might have different thinking regarding some of the points I’ve mentioned here, but I’ll bet the majority of them are broadly universal in nature. As one dev put it when responding to my Twitter thread: “Main takeaway: make it easy for someone to cover you by giving them all the tools they need to do so.” That’s it exactly.

And good luck! Creating apps/games is tough. But many of you really are doing great things.

April 6, 2021. Read more in: Helpful hints, Technology

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My iPhone and iPad apps of the year (2020)

I use a lot of iPhone/iPad apps. This year, I thought I’d list my favourites. Without further ado…


10. Voxel Max: An interesting creativity app, based around drawing in voxels rather than pixels. Packed with features that feel desktop-grade, especially when used on an iPad.


9. Longplay: An intriguing music player, designed to get you listening to albums again, mostly by omitting or hiding controls for messing around with individual tracks. Entertainingly lets you sort albums by most ‘neglected’.


8. Looom: This iPad-only animation app is an oddball. Want a traditional timeline? Steer clear. Fancy something that’s more like playing an instrument and that makes great use of an Apple Pencil + free hand set-up? Then it’s ideal.


7. Photoshop Camera: These days, the ‘Photoshop’ brand is slapped on a lot of products. This is one of the better ones—a creative live camera app with a slew of imaginative, fun and customisable filters.


6. Zen Brush 3: There are loads of great painting apps for iPad and iPhone, but Zen Brush 3 offers something different, carefully emulating East Asian ink brushes for a meditative and unique creative experience.


5. Pastel: Anyone of a visually creative bent will work with palettes at some point. This minimalist yet powerful app lets you quickly make your own—including from photos—manage and stash them, and also sync them across iCloud.


4. Portal 3: You’ve likely seen and used audio apps designed to help you sleep or focus by drowning out background noise. Portal is a more immersive experience, integrating beautiful looped video that helps take your mind somewhere else for a few moments.


3. Universe in a Nutshell: If you ever wanted to know your place in the universe, this app will make that very clear. Comparing objects from the Planck length to the size of the observable universe, it’s a fun ride for kids and adults alike.


2. Halide Mark II: The original Halide did enough to cement itself on countless iPhones. This evolution takes things further, effectively becoming the only pro take on a camera app you really need—especially if you’re into shooting RAW.


1. NetNewsWire 5: RSS is a tech I’m baffled isn’t more popular. Perhaps if there were more readers like NNW5, it would be. It excels in elegance, simplicity and options. That it’s free means you’ve no excuse for missing a story from favourite publications.

December 31, 2020. Read more in: Apps

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