Brighton Burgers

burger
As if running my own videogames site and short fiction blog weren’t enough, today I’ve launched my latest venture, Brighton Burgers, a project that’s not so much close to my heart as it is close to my belly. Taking inspiration from the legendary Burgerac, and the fact that I always choose a burger whenever I eat out these days, I thought “Why not write about it?” – thus ensuring Brighton has a site to visit for discerning burger lovers and I have a better reason for snapping pictures of my food on my iPhone. Go have a read, and then follow Brighton Burgers on Twitter and Facebook.

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Productiveness

Productiveness is your acceptance of morality, your recognition of the fact that you choose to live–that productive work is the process by which man’s consciousness controls his existence, a constant process of acquiring knowledge and shaping matter to fit one’s purpose, of translating an idea into physical form, of remaking the earth in the image of one’s values–that all work is creative work if done by a thinking mind…

From the Atlas Shrugged Facebook page. If you’ve not read Ayn Rand’s seminal masterwork, do. Although I do prefer The Fountainhead.

Skull-bone

I’ve literally only just started Jack Kerouac’s first novel, ‘The Sea Is My Brother’, bought as a gift for my birthday, but I already needed to share this.

All life is but a skull-bone and
A rack of ribs through which
we keep passing food & fuel –
just so’s we can burn so
furious beautiful.

‘Furious beautiful’. Fuck me, I love Kerouac.

Fads

carmelo

Historically, I’ve always been partial to a good fad. In my formative years it was karate, Greek gods and the periodic table (don’t ask). During university, you would have found me collecting retro consoles (the most extravagant being a Virtual Boy that put a large dent in my student loan), nose-deep in Beat literature or playing acoustic guitar. There was even a short period dabbling with a harmonica after my first hearing of Neil Young’s stunning ‘For The Turnstiles’ on his ‘On The Beach’ album.

More recently, my fads have run the gamut from fish-keeping and cats to collecting spirits, baking bread and getting excited about high-end cookbooks. My latest obsession is American sports, incited by last week’s NBA match between the Knicks and the Pistons hosted in London. It was further inflamed by the NFL Championship games at the weekend, as I got to grips with the initially confusing rules of American football, aided by an old friend of mine. Even as I write this post, I’m watching a recording of the L.A. Lakers vs. Chicago Bulls from last night. If you’d told me even as little as two weeks ago that I’d not only be watching basketball, but actually really enjoying it, I’d have laughed at you. But lo! witness the power of the fad.

Now, traditionally, a fad is viewed as a negative thing. As if losing an interest in one thing to check out another is viewed as weakness, as lack of discipline. Maybe. But I see it as a sign of open-mindedness and the desire to try new things. Your breadth of experience widens, and new connections with your field of expertise tend to open up. By way of an example, my strongest Flash project at university was directly influenced by that Beat literature obsession, as I used a lot of ‘stream-of-consciousness’ type prose directly inspired by Kerouac to build an experimental animation.

We’ll see if my new obsession with American sports fades away or turns into a lifelong pleasure. But for now, I’m happy to embrace the fad. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to buy a Carmelo Anthony replica Knicks jersey and make some hotdogs.

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Setting A Rhythm

… forcing yourself constantly to go beyond the merely ‘necessary’ is a matter of setting a rhythm, of establishing an everyday habit of going to exceptional lengths. As Brian Wilson, lead singer and songwriter of the Beach Boys said: ‘Beware the lollipop of mediocrity; lick it once and you’ll suck forever.’

The above excerpt is from the hugely interesting and inspirational ‘Velocity‘ by Ajaz Ahmed and Stefan Olander, which I recommend to anyone who works in digital industries, and even to those who don’t. I devoured the book over a few days, and turned up the corners of a fair number pages in order to record some of its wisdom in my Evernote account. The quote above seemed particularly apt for my current situation.

The ‘necessary’ in this case is the bread and butter of the freelancer – the paid commissions. In my case, I’ve just come to the end of a lengthy contract, with the next one yet to be secured, so for the moment at least, the ‘necessary’ isn’t, well… necessary. So it’s vital in this situation for me to set a rhythm in order to maximise the days when my time is all my own, and the random nature of cracking on with projects (that I highlighted in my previous blog post) is certainly creating that rhythm for me. After a few days off with my fiancé in London, to celebrate my 31st birthday, the itch to settle back into my ‘random rhythm’ was palpable. Today, the sweet release. My long-dormant videogames website has seen its content updated for the first time in nine months, I’ve begun wireframes for my most exciting project, I’ve learned a few new tricks in Flash that should help with my next booking and I’ve written this blog post.

One pleasing side effect of the 1-hour blocks of time that I allocate to each randomly-generated task is the the longing to continue working on the task at the end of the time period. But forcing that hard cutoff point creates a few ideas which float around in my noggin, waiting patiently for the RNG to select that task once again. The upshot is, when the next 1-hour block on that project starts, there is no inertia to begin the task – my mind has already decided upon the first steps to take. After a few minutes, the natural flow of the project becomes easier, and there’s no resistance to seeing through the entire hour.

I’m sure many time-management or habit-forming gurus would decry that I’m trying to spin too many plates at once with this method, but I’ve been finding it enormously effective in providing the push to finally crack on with all these ideas I’ve been sitting on for months on end. A rhythm has definitely been set – now it’s just a case of keeping it going strong.

Giving Up Control

When I was at university, I read a book called ‘The Dice Man‘ by Luke Rhinehart. I can’t remember if it was recommended to me, or whether I just came across it on Amazon. It doesn’t matter; the only thing that’s important is that I loved it. I absolutely devoured it in a small number of sittings. Now, don’t get me wrong, ‘The Dice Man’ isn’t particularly well-written (sorry, Luke) but the premise itself was very compelling. In a nutshell, the central character of the book runs his life on the whims of a die cast. He writes out a number of options (up to 6, or maybe 12, if memory serves) and then he acts out whatever the die/dice choose for him. At the beginning of the book, he plays it conservatively with the options he jots down, but as he begins to enjoy more and more the freedom of not being in control of his own actions, the options become more and more “out there”, leading him down paths that he never would have trodden had he followed his normal routines and habits. It’s a good read, despite its duff prose.

So enamoured was I with ‘The Dice Man’ that I began to live it, mostly as an experiment on which to base my end of year project on in the middle year of my Graphic Design degree. I called it the Dice Diary. It was easily my favourite project of my entire course, even if the output now looks a little rough the edges. A girl I was seeing at the time, who happened to be a keen photographer, got roped into helping me out, taking snaps of me doing some pretty weird shit in some pretty weird places. Not *that* weird, though. I promise. Think more on the lines of “Brush your teeth” “in front of the number 27” “at 9.24am” – each of these options being part of their own lists which the die was to choose from. If memory serves, this ended up being in front of a spray-painted 27 on the side of a skip – a perfect place to brush your teeth, I’m sure you’ll agree. Another dice roll had me dancing (badly) in the library. The will of the die even infiltrated our private life too – we rolled it to determine where we would go away for the weekend. It chose Oxford, which hit our student loans pretty hard, but it could have been worse… if we had rolled a 6, we would have ended up going to Barcelona.

That project, and the times I used the die to determine what I was going to do that day/night/weekend, were brilliantly exciting times. Having the control taken away from you, to a certain degree (you still determine the options after all), allows you to just go with the flow, taking it all in stride. The die determined we eat at a place called Mongolian Wok in Oxford (I don’t think it’s there any longer) and it was one of the best meals of my life. And it was an experience that I perhaps never would have had, had the die never chosen it for me.

So why do I bring all these ancient memories and old projects up? Because I’m doing it again. Kind of. These days, my options for entertainment and ideas for personal projects go well beyond 6, or even 12… and, well I can’t find any dice. So step forward random.org and a lengthy list of things I want to do, and projects I want to crack on with. And yes, you guessed it, writing a blog post was on that 20-strong list, and the random number generator (RNG from this point on) chose it for this hour of my day.

I made my own rules. Each randomly-chosen activity is only to last an hour before the RNG is “rolled” again. I also liberally mixed “entertainment” activities with “project/work” activities, so that I wouldn’t be tempted to crap out of the RNG’s whims if it just chose a whole day of taxing work challenges for me. And clearly, there will be days when I’ll be on a freelance booking and this kind of crazy, laissez-faire lifestyle will seem like a distant memory again. But so far today, the RNG has instructed that I: watch Mad Men, do some training on Lynda.com, play Paper Mario: Sticker Star on 3DS, write a Worth 1000 Words story (not published yet), get on the treadmill, work on our long-neglected A to Z Project and write a blog post. And I’ve not shirked any of them. Making this day infinitely the most productive (but still enjoyable – Mad Men and videogames!) of the year. There’s something about the authority of leaving the decisions up to the RNG that allows you to cut through the procrastination, of the overwhelm of wanting to do so much with your day that you’re paralysed to do any of it.

It’s certainly worked for my productivity today at any rate, and it’s something I’m keen to explore. Not tomorrow though, as its my birthday and my fiancé has already planned it all out for me ahead of time!

 

A Promising Start

Happy New Year everyone! Hope your starts to 2013 have been as promising as mine has. My early “resolution” to put in some sustained effort has been going well. I’ve managed to get my arse back on the treadmill consistently; running every day since that post, bar New Year’s Eve (we were travelling to our evening’s entertainment). I’ve also pickled more eggs (don’t ask), cleaned the fish tank, surprised my fiancé with dinner when she got home and sent out some feelers for some new, but old, activities to spice up my evenings moving forward. More on those soon.

I’ve also been reading heavily about some new fads – namely cocktails, and specifically the bitters that go in those cocktails, and also the fifty states that make up America. Ever since I saw Stephen Fry’s series a number of years ago about his travels through every one of the US states, I’ve harboured vague ambitions to do the same. The finite and round number of destinations appeals to my ‘collector’ personality; I’d love to visit (read: collect) all fifty. So my fiancé and I have decided that our first choice for a honeymoon is a road trip across 15 of them, following the historic Route 1 as it snakes its way from Maine down to Florida along the East Coast. We’re not planning to slavishly follow it, as it meanders inland fairly heavily further south, but it provides us with a simple way to soak up a lot of America in one go, including stop-offs in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington D.C. and Savannah. Now we just have to work out whether we can afford the three weeks of travelling, hotels, food, drinks and exorbitant flight fares to Portland, Maine and back from Miami, Florida. In the meantime, however, it’s a project that I’m hugely excited about.

Two days into 2013, and I’m feeling good. Best is still definitely yet to come though.

On resolutions

So Christmas is done and dusted for another year and 2013 is right around the corner; so it’s time to look back in a reflective mood and also start making plans for the year ahead. I’ve never been big on New Year’s resolutions. They invariably fail – petering out without so much as a whimper in late January or early February, the initial burst of motivation at the turn of the year having long since burnt out.

So I’m not making them. But I still want to use the start of a New Year as a spur for creating a few changes. But so I don’t trick myself into making it a resolution for the new year, I’m starting today. Hence this blog post. A mere two months after the last one! This blog is a perfect demonstration of what is currently afflicting me – a worthwhile project started in good faith which has withered away due to lack of effort. My recent past is full of similar ventures – my videogames site infintecontinues, my personal writing project Worth 1000 Words, a pair of iPhone apps I’d begun to sketch out in wireframe form that are begging to be taken further, a number of new Web languages I’ve scratched the surface of but would like to understand further. And so on, and so forth.

I need sustained effort. Projects that inspire me and incite my passions get a great deal of love – but only in short bursts. Invariably, my attention wanders to some new idea, meaning previous ventures remain half-baked. Sometimes I just get lazy, slumping in front of the box or firing up some videogames. But the guilt remains, along with the realisation that when I give something a laser-like focus, something great happens. Like recently when I learnt the basics of HTML and CSS over the course of a few weeks. Complete immersion, and a lot of passion – but faded with the passing of time and the day-to-day demands of current freelance work.

2013 will be a new start in making myself accountable to go the distance, to approach new things with sustained effort and a willingness to ‘ship’ them – to get them out the door, warts and all. I’m still not quite sure what I’ll tackle first, as the list of things I want to do that I’ve left languishing in their formative stages is as long as my arm, but hopefully a clearer picture will emerge over the days and weeks ahead.

This is definitely not a New Year’s Resolution, though. Honest.

Adapting

It’s already been a month and a day since I quit full-time employment. It’s amazing how quickly that time has passed, especially when you consider I’ve only worked seven days in that entire period. As you can probably surmise from that math, freelancing did not initially get off to a frenetic start, but the ball is certainly rolling now.

In my first week of freelancing, I worked a single day, on a project that was a little out of my depth. It was sink or swim, and to be honest, I did neither. I just sort of splashed about, treading water. But it taught me an early and valuable lesson – never do a one-day booking again. If the shit hits the fan, as it did repeatedly on this occasion, there aren’t any second chances to clean up the mess. If that’s not a serious case of mixed metaphors, I don’t know what is.

The second week could not have been more different. This time, two whole days of on-site freelancing, this time for a massive corporate behemoth as opposed to a burgeoning agency. On this occasion, I aced the work, delivering above expectations and much quicker than asked – not only was a provisional third day not required (to my detriment, sadly) I was also able to leave London an hour earlier than planned as there was nothing more to be done.

If my freelancing adventures had continued in a typical vein, I’d be struggling to pay my mortgage right now, but for now, my proverbial ship has come in. I’m currently four days into a 3-6 week stint in the heart of Soho, on an exciting project that I’m comfortable with but am also challenged by – a perfect mix. And the length of the booking assuages my financial fears, so I can breathe easy again. It’s a strange feeling, wondering where the next job and next pay check is coming from, but it’s also incredibly exciting. Not knowing where my skill-set will take me – London, Brighton or my home studio, working on my own stuff – is so liberating.

But with every silver lining, comes a cloud. The commute into London has reminded me how intolerant I am of public transport and those who use it. My evenings and mornings have been savagely cut in half. And my travel expenses, recently being zero (and a healthy walk for good measure) have now skyrocketed through the £100+ barrier.

But it’s all good. The times they are a-changin’, and all I need to do is adapt.

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Linchpin

I’ve been a bit of a ‘self-help’ book junkie for as long as I can remember. There’s just something reassuring about learning about new ways of looking at things that always makes the time invested in this kind of literature worthwhile. And, on that note, I’ve just finished Seth Godin’s ‘Linchpin’.

I’d not heard of Mr. Godin until quite recently, when a number of people I follow on Twitter had quoted one of his blog posts. Having subsequently subscribed via RSS, I then had a browse through his fairly extensive bibliography. ‘Linchpin’ was the book that stood out for me, particularly in light of my upcoming freelance switch – being indispensable sounded like a pretty good thing to learn at this point! And I’m glad I picked it up; not only does it dispense some well-researched wisdom, it also does so in a very readable manner. It’s also quite amazing how much of it feels immediately ‘right’, too – advice that feels like total common sense, but which, for whatever reason, is difficult to put into practice. Consider this excerpt for an example of what I mean:

The only purpose of starting is to finish, and while the projects we do are never really finished, they must ship. Shipping means hitting the publish button on your blog, showing a presentation to the sales team, answering the phone, selling the muffins, sending out your references. Shipping is the collision between your work and the outside world. The French refer to esprit d’escalier, the clever comeback that you think of a few minutes after the moment has passed. This is unshipped insight, and it doesn’t count for much.

This is the central tenet throughout Godin’s book – that the linchpin ships, he gets the job done, he blasts through the resistance that bogs down many projects as a deadline looms. He assesses a situation and rather than wishing that things were exactly like he expects then to be, he adapts to changing circumstance and still delivers the work. It’s a simple idea, but one that is traditionally difficult to grasp. How often does one complain about something going wrong that you could not forsee, expending energy on getting angry about it; energy that could be spent wisely in adapting to the situation and coming up with a different solution? Godin puts this idea, and others, much more eloquently than I ever will be able to here, so just take my advice and give it a read. There’s some very well-grounded and useful information in there.

I’m glad I read it, and I’ll be damn sure to get down to “selling the muffins” whenever I feel the resistance rearing its ugly head. Just like I did with this blog post.