All the small things: a little writing app that makes a big difference

In the old days, writing for magazines was easy: you’d write a piece, send it as a Word doc or a text file, and that was it. Now, though, everything’s online and in a CMS. Creating content for that is often a pain in the backside, especially if you use apps designed for print rather than pixels.

Hurrah, then, for Ulysses. It’s a genuinely great app that’s already saving me stacks of time – not just in terms of creating copy I don’t then need to tweak, but in terms of the massive time savings that come from the way it does things. At £31.99 it’ll pay for itself in no time.

Here’s the obligatory video.

If you need to write words of any kind, it’s a great app. There’s a free demo too.

Switch me off and on again

Last free song of 2014: this one’s called Three Fingered Salute. It’s on Soundcloud too if you prefer to listen there.

2014 and all that

Here’s my 2014 in a nutshell: it’s Hallowe’en, and I’m at a fancy dress party. I’m dressed as Alice Cooper. I have Alice Cooper’s trademark top hat. I have Alice Cooper’s trademark make-up, including the black lines coming down from the mouth and the slashes across the eyes. I have Alice Cooper’s trademark mess of black hair courtesy of a cheap and horrible wig. And I am wearing a T-shirt with ALICE COOPER: SCHOOL’S OUT on it.

All night, people call me Ozzy.

I didn’t have a great 2014. Professionally it’s been awful, with good friends treated terribly by publishers and broadcasters, august titles canned and long-running programmes pulled. I’m still blocked on the two novels I’ve got in progress, and while David and I have made lots of music that I’m very, very proud of (and which you can get for free from here) I haven’t failed to notice that while we’re making the best music of our lives it’s being heard by the fewest people we’ve ever reached. Ho hum.

The big news here in Scotland was of course the referendum on independence, which the No side won 55 to 45. I’m not going to dig through it all here, but other than renewing my faith in (some) human nature, the takeaway for me was profound cynicism about politics and the media. The Telegraph’s Scottish Editor Alan Cochrane epitomised it, writing in his referendum memoirs about how he thought helping the No side win was more important than being a proper journalist. According to Private Eye, Cochrane was promised a bonus of £10,000 to £20,000 by the Telegraph’s Chief Executive if No won; Cochrane denied the allegation. I’d love to see his post-referendum bank statement. The Yes side might not have won the referendum, but if I’m typical then a lot of people are paying a lot more attention to Scottish politics, its reporting and its discussion on social media than ever before.

Personally things were a little rough, although they’re improving, and some great music saved the day again and again: Beck’s Sea Change, Taylor Swift’s 1989, the Royksopp/Robyn collaboration, King Creosote’s From Scotland With Love, Babymetal… okay, probably not Babymetal. And there were some truly exceptional gigs, including a spine-tingling Staves, a superb Pet Shop Boys, a triumphant Chvrches, a ridiculously entertaining Marmozets and old-school fun from Public Enemy (patchy but still great) and Jesus Jones (superb, honestly). Other gigs were less successful, though: shows by Wild Beasts and The 4 of Us both suffered badly from arseholes-talking syndrome and a Bob Mould show I’d been looking forward to for months was murdered by the sound mix from hell.

Music aside, though, I’ll be glad to see the back of 2014 and I’m looking forward to seeing the beginning of what I hope will be an interesting, exciting and happy 2015. I hope that whatever you do and wherever you are, 2015 brings you everything you want and nothing that you don’t. Happy New Year when it comes.

That’s not really funny

One of my favourite jokes: a kiddie-fiddler and a child are walking through the woods. “I’m scared!” cries the child. “You’re scared?” retorts the kiddie-fiddler. “I have to walk back alone!”

Like many such jokes, the sheer awfulness of it is what makes it funny – but would it still be funny if I tweeted it because a real child had gone missing?

Last night, as six people lay dead in Glasgow’s George Square after a terrible accident, a parody account on Twitter ( @hackneyabbatt) tweeted a joke about the lorry crash causing £3 of damage. It wasn’t very funny, but more importantly the timing was crass and insensitive: people searching Twitter for news of the deaths in George Square, a situation that was still ongoing – the bodies hadn’t been removed at the time and as I write this, their identities haven’t been revealed yet – would see it.

I was one of a few people who replied to the poster – “shame on you”, in my case – and hoped they might realise they’d been a bit of a dick; it’s easy to post something on the internet thinking it’s funny without thinking of who it might upset. The poster deleted the tweet and went off in a huff.

But I think somebody called the police. According to The Drum:

Northumbria Police have announced that they are investigating a crass joke published on Twitter, since deleted, poking fun at yesterday’s bin lorry crash in Glasgow in which six people died and eight were injured.

If it’s the same post, and I’m assuming it is, that’s all kinds of wrong. The post was insensitive, yes, but the poster wasn’t responding to anybody or hurling abuse: they were just making the kind of off-colour joke they’d make to friends in the pub, posting something they thought was hilarious. There are lots of things online the police should take more seriously, but that isn’t one of them.

Primary school politics

Last year, the local council decided that it needed to close some local schools. The process generated a great deal of controversy, because the consultation process was seen by many as a sham. The local Liberal Democrat MP, Jo Swinson, came in for particular criticism: she told parents of local schools that the decision was entirely up to the council and then threw her considerable clout behind the campaign to save a single school in the affluent area of Bearsden.

Incidentally, I don’t have a dog in this fight: the school my daughter goes to wasn’t one of the ones marked for potential closure.

In the end, the council decided to close St Joseph’s Primary School, the only Catholic school in the area. The decision was made by 14 votes to 10, with SNP councillors voting against and 9 Labour, 3 Lib Dem and 2 Tory councillors voting for the closure.

So it was rather odd to see our local MP tweet this:

The tweet has led to angry responses from St Joseph parents and a rebuke from the Keep St Joe’s campaign, the very local families who are devastated by the decision. So why are they pissed off at the messenger?

The answer’s simple enough: Swinson’s carefully worded tweet is trying to paint the “SNP govt” as the bad guys, even though the decision to close the school was made by Lib Dem, Labour and Tory councillors – and the Lib Dem councillor for Milngavie, where St Joseph’s is, voted for the school’s closure. He’s the Education Convener.

So how on earth is the government the bad guy here? The answer probably won’t surprise you: it’s spin. Swinson again, replying to a critic:

“Backed”? As Swinson knows very well, the government’s involvement is what’s known as “calling in”, which is when a complaint about a council decision is escalated to the Scottish government.

Calling in is very simple. It’s not up to the government to judge whether the decision is a good one; their remit is merely to ensure that procedures have been followed. If you care about such things it’s detailed under section 17(2) of the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010, which says that a call-in can only be made if ministers believe that the education authority may have failed to comply with the law, or if they have failed to take proper account of a material consideration relevant to the decision. The “SNP govt” judged that the council had indeed followed procedures. The letter is here if you fancy a read.

I’m picking on my local MP here but this is part of a wider malaise, a kind of playground politics where politicians on all sides indulge in yah-boo attempts to score points off one another and hope that people don’t look beyond the headline or the tweet. It’s no wonder that so many people have become so cynical.

Dad dancing

Time for a new song, I think. This one harks back to one of my musical loves, the KLF, and it’s about men who don’t realise it’s time they grew up. You know the type, the exuberant dancer who doesn’t realise he’s invisible at best and laughable at worst.

As ever, this one’s a free download. If you like it we’d appreciate it if you could share it.

In my head there’s nothing but music

Today’s post title is from erratic musical genius Babybird.

I was late to music – playing it, at least. I was told at eleven that I’d never be musical* (which is a pretty shitty thing to be told by a music teacher, isn’t it?) and I didn’t play my first note on a guitar until I was fourteen. That note was the bass line from Eddy Cochran’s C’Mon Everybody, a song I still love.

I was in bands from about 16 to my mid-thirties, with varying degrees of success: we did some decent gigs but, as I’ve written before, stage fright meant that the live side of things didn’t really do it for me. Unfortunately the bit I really did like, writing and recording, never quite lived up to what I hoped it would be. I’ve never been in a band that had the budget, the time or the expertise to really get things right in recording studios. That’s a real shame, because some of the songs I’ve been involved in over the years have been pretty damn good – which is why I don’t have a problem digging out some of my favourite ones and trying to get them right many years later.

It’s the best part of a decade since I played a gig, and I don’t really miss it – but I did spend a year or two where I wasn’t making music or writing songs, and with hindsight that was a pretty low period. Music’s a crucial part of who I am.

I started doing music seriously again about two years ago, when my brother and musical sparring partner David and I put together DMGM and ended up releasing Good Times, High Times and Hard Times. Thanks to the internet I know exactly how few people give a shit, but that’s not why we do it: we do it because we enjoy making noise. Music is its own reward.

And now there’s a whole bunch more coming.

As with the last album, the stuff we’re doing is all over the place stylistically. There’s NIN stomping and the odd outbreak of disco, some really squelchy electro-pop and some nods to various musical inspirations such as Faith No More, Talk Talk and The Human League. And I genuinely think it’s the best stuff I’ve been involved in: I’ve finally lost my fear of looking like an arse, so the music’s more honest and ambitious than ever before. It’s a pity that I’m doing it at the point in my life when the fewest number of people are likely to care: as much as Bono talks bollocks most of the time, he’s bang on when he talks about the fear that songs you’ve poured years of your life into won’t be heard.

Anyway. Here’s a new song. It’s called All Messed Up and you can have it for free.

This is the first thing we’ve put out since Hope And Faith jinxed the Scottish independence referendum, and it’s going to be joined by others really soon. If you like it you can download it for nothing from our bandcamp page, and if you do please ignore the pay what you want option: the plan is to keep adding tracks as and when we finish them, so it’s unlikely we’ll hit the limit on free downloads. All we ask is that if you like it, please tell someone else about it.

As ever, if you’d like to use our music for anything just drop me a line.

* Some say I’ve spent the 30-odd years since proving that particular point.

Unintended consequences

Inevitable, but unintended: the same remote wipe tech that protects your data from thieves is being used by criminals to outwit the police. BBC News:

Asked whether the police felt that the issue had damaged their investigation, the spokeswoman said: “We don’t know because we don’t know what was on the phone.”

The Magazine Diaries is now on sale

I’m one of 100 contributors to The Magazine Diaries, a book by and about the magazine industry that’s raising money for a good cause.

Here’s the blurb:

In 64 pages, 100 magazine professionals tell their stories, 100 words at a time. All magazine life is here, the optimists and pessimists, veterans and newbies, pixel heads and page sniffers…

Buy a copy. You’ll nod your head, shake your head, throw it across the room then rush to pick it up so you can read the next 100 words. Most of all it will help MagAid get magazines into schools and develop a love of reading in under privileged school children.

What a difference a week makes

I’ve been meaning to write about the referendum result for a while, but I haven’t had the time or the inclination: unfortunately for me it coincided with a particularly nasty bout of depression and some major work stress, so blogging has been fairly low down the list of priorities. I’ve cheered up now.

With hindsight, I of all people should have realised that the online Yes campaign was existing in an echo chamber: when you’re surrounded by people on one side of a campaign, it’s easy to assume that you’re in a majority. Of course it turned out that we weren’t.

I understand the anger and the desire for someone to blame, but allegations of vote rigging are nonsense and claims that No voters were tricked are nonsense too. I’m quite sure very many No voters were just as well informed as their Yes equivalents; they just reached different conclusions because the Yes campaign didn’t answer their questions satisfactorily.

Of course there are headbangers on the No side, as we saw in George Square the night after the referendum. But there are plenty of headbangers on the Yes side too. I think they balance one another out.

That doesn’t mean it was a fair fight, though. I tend to take claims of media bias with a pinch of salt – if the media’s doing its job properly, it’ll piss off somebody – but in the run up to the referendum, the claims had merit. The Yes campaign I encountered online, in the streets and in mass rallies was generous, cheerful, inclusive and multi-racial. The Yes campaign I read about and saw on TV was a bunch of “vile cybernats” and angry men with beards.

While some broadcasters were scrupulously fair – broadcasters such as John Beattie on Radio Scotland and James Cook on BBC TV – others really weren’t. It was particularly noticeable in news programmes and phone-ins, where the former routinely reported scare stories that didn’t add up, personalised the news (“Blow for Alex Salmond”) and continued to give the impression that the Yes campaign and the SNP were the same thing, just like the No campaign wanted them to. The latter treated Yes callers with aggressive contempt while No callers were given more airtime and weren’t challenged on even the daftest claims.

Incidentally, I know many of the people involved in producing those programmes and they’re all good people; the issues I noticed were with particular presenters, not the production teams.

Between that and every single daily newspaper taking the No side, it’s hardly surprising that the Yes campaign didn’t win. What is surprising is that despite having the entire weight of the establishment ranged against it, it still got 45% of the vote. That’s amazing.

I wonder if it would have been higher still if some Yessers hadn’t played into the No campaign’s hands. Calling the Yes campaign “team Scotland” and demonstrating outside the BBC demanding the silencing of a journalist doesn’t play well among undecideds. I suspect current talk of “the 45″ as a movement to take Yes’s place is equally divisive.

Incidentally, I wonder if some of the most passionate pro-independence campaigners were the biggest liabilities. My wife got talking to a local Yes canvasser, and during the conversation the canvasser worked herself into a foam-flecked fury talking about No voters. When a householder told her they were No, she said, she informed them that they were traitors and Quislings. This, in an area of fairly affluent elderly people who don’t use social media and buy the Daily Mail. You can be certain that every single person she said that to told all of their friends about the crazed SNP woman who’d been at their door. My constituency voted overwhelmingly for No.

Anyway, it happened, and now we’re bombing Iraq for the third time at a predicted cost of £3 billion (money we don’t have for the health service or to alleviate poverty, but it’s fine if we want to chuck £27K laser-guided missiles at brown people), the oil isn’t running out after all, more austerity is coming down the pipe irrespective of who wins the 2015 election and the Central Belt of Scotland is going to be fracked for fun and profit. If only there was some way we could have prevented that.

We can’t go back in time, and calls for another referendum are daft. What we can do, though, is try to maintain the energy. I don’t feel like I can go back to numb acceptance now the referendum’s over: if the fight was to have a better, fairer country then that’s something we can still try and achieve. Some of the powers to make that happen are already in the Scottish government’s remit; others should be. I think one of the best ways to influence those issues is to join a political party. In my case that means I’ve joined the SNP; many of my friends have joined the Scottish Green Party. I’ve also found myself joining in crowdfunding projects such as the plans for a Scottish news programme from the people behind the excellent Dateline Scotland.

I suspect that’s going to be more helpful than my other plan, which was to buy loads of badges saying “don’t blame me. I voted Yes.”