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The cobbler’s children are the worst shod

Régis Jauffret got it right when he said that he was disgusted by writers who think of their readers.

Jonathan Meades in Museum Without Walls

I currently ply my trade as a, variously, content strategist, ux writer, content designer, copywriter, communications consultant. I make sure the content I produce or commission for clients serves a purpose, as part of a tactic that supports a strategy that fulfils a mission.

But what about the content I publish for myself, like this blog? Well, here’s the thing: whether it’s imagined or self-imposed, I’ve felt a pressure to try and apply the ludicrously high professional standards I set for my work to my personal output. And that’s led to a paralysis that’s stopped me from writing here regularly because I end up overthinking things, leading to me either not starting a post in the first place (keeping it in my head) or, starting it, but spending so long trying to craft the flipping thing that I abandon it altogether because I don’t have the time or inclination to polish it to the standard I want. Even this selfsame blog post – the ultimate aim of which is to free myself from my own obligations – was started four days ago before finally coming together with the words you see now.

But that’s not the point of this blog. I’m not writing for any readers. I’m writing for myself: for the joy of writing; for the joy of sharing; for the joy of publishing something without having to get anyone’s approval but my own. If you want to apply a post hoc content strategy to it, it’s to say anything goes. The strategy is there is no strategy.

A particular passage in Jonathan Meades’ introduction to Museum Without Walls gave me the nudge I didn’t know I was looking for. Here’s the fuller quote leading up the one I put at the top.

These lectures, essays, polemics, squibs and telly scripts are intended to entertain, to instruct, to inform and to question […] But before that they are written because I want to read them, to watch them. If that sounds selfish and immodest so be it. But it is surely more honest to write for an audience of one whose peccadillos and limitations I understand than for an inchoate mass of opinionated individuals whose multiple and conflicting tastes I can only guess at and which I have, above everything else, to be indifferent to. Régis Jauffret got it right when he said that he was disgusted by writers who think of their readers.

Jonathan Meades in Museum Without Walls

So with this post I hereby give myself permission to seek forgiveness rather than permission and to chuck any old crap up here. Yes, I hope someone, somewhere finds whatever I publish entertaining, useful or thought-provoking, but if that someone is me and me only, that’s good enough.

Jetpack 4.8 and the white screen of death

Update at 6.22pm BST

Jetpack have confirmed the problem: “If your site uses PHP 5.2 or PHP 5.3 and if you previously used Jetpack’s Sitemaps feature, your site will break.” To be fair to Jetpack, those are pretty old versions of PHP. Time to move some of my sites over to a server that supports a more up-to-date version of PHP, I guess. Better information and further action than what I originally published is in their update post: Fatal Error after updating to the most recent version of Jetpack? Read this.

Original post published at 8.24am BST

A few WordPress sites I manage went down overnight and the culprit is the Jetpack plugin. Jetpack auto-updated itself to version 4.8 which then took the sites down, resulting in the ‘white screen of death’.

I strongly suspect that there’s something in the Jetpack update that requires php 7, as the sites I have running on php 7.1 are doing fine – it’s the sites running on php 5.3 that went down.

The (temporary) fix

It’s a backend thing, I’m afraid. I had to go to my site’s files via FTP and rename the folder /wp-content/plugins/jetpack to jetpackxxx. It doesn’t really matter what you rename it to, just make sure it’s a name that isn’t already used. Once you’ve done that, you should be able to get to your site’s WP admin screen. Head to the plugins screen and you should see a message saying jetpack’s been deactivated because of a problem with the folder. That is A Good Thing.

Optional step: if you have a backup – and you really should – you could upload the older Jetpack files into the plugins folder. This basically rolls you back to version 4.71, assuming you have a recent backup. I left Jetpack deactivated after doing this to prevent it auto-updating to the site-killer version but will manually update once I’m happy they’ve patched whatever it is in version 4.8 that’s killed some sites.

PSA

Things might look wonky for a while. I’ve just moved this blog to a new host and enabled SSL (that’s the main reason why it’s on a new host), and some things might have got lost or broken in the move.

When spellchecking isn’t enough

When spellchecking isn’t enough

There’s something rather lovely about ‘not’ and ‘now’ being common typos for each other but being valid words that can completely change your intended message.

(As an aside, just look at all those exclamation marks!)

What to do if you can’t see the pictures on Pinterest

A few weeks ago we switched our home broadband to Vodafone. Not coincidentally, Pinterest started looking odd. We could get to the site but none of the pictures were loading – instead, all we’d see was blocks of colour.

I won’t bore you with the technical troubleshooting but basically Vodafone was blocking Pinterest pictures. I don’t know why but I do know how I fixed it: basically taking Vodafone out of the equation. As I write this, Pinterest and Vodafone seem to have sorted out their differences but I’ll keep this up for anyone still experiencing problems.

These are instructions for Vodafone’s routers. If you’re using a different provider, the general principle of changing your DNS configuration is the same but obviously you’ll need to work out the exact steps yourself.

Vodafone Connect settingsVodafone Connect settings

  1. Log in to your Vodafone Connect broadband router admin at http://192.168.1.1
  2. If you’re in ‘Basic mode’, you’ll need to change to ‘Expert mode’ using the option at the top right.
  3. Go to the ‘Internet’ tab.
  4. Then click ‘DNS & DDNS’ on the left nav.
  5. Change your DNS configuration to ‘Manually’.
  6. Enter your DNS servers of choice (see below).
  7. Click ‘Apply’. You might need to wait a few minutes before Pinterest starts working properly again so don’t worry if doing this doesn’t fix things right away.

What numbers you put in the DNS address boxes depends on what service you want to use. The simplest option is to use Google’s public DNS service, in which case use this:

Domain Name Server (DNS) Address: 8.8.8.8
Secondary DNS Address (optional): 8.8.4.4

You’ll notice in the screenshots here that I use 208.67.222.222 and 208.67.220.220. These are OpenDNS servers. I use them because by registering an account with them, I have a bit of control over what sites to block, but it’s the slightly techie option, so if you just want a quick fix, stick with Google’s service.

All my violence gone, nothing is wrong…

I’ve temporarily lost Amélie to Capital Radio despite having brought her up right on 6 Music. Every morning on the school run she switches the station on the car radio while I switch it back to 6 Music after dropping her off.

This morning Beetlebum was playing as we got into the car and Amélie didn’t switch the station. I thought, “Bless her, she’s keeping it on because she knows it’s one of my favourite songs,” and told her it was ok to tune into Capital instead. She said, “After this song.”

She’ll be back to being a 6 Music listener before long.

I’m spitting words but there’s no meaning…

It’s Twitter’s 10th birthday so what better day to stop prevaricating over a blog post about me breaking up with Twitter that’s been brewing for about 6 weeks and finally get it out into the world?

This is my truth, tell me yours

Before anyone gets all het up and huffy, I’m not here to tell you Twitter’s rubbish and you should leave. I’m not here to preach on why you don’t get Twitter. Just because I have my reasons for disengaging with it, it doesn’t mean I think my reasons are anything other than personal or that others should follow suit. And I certainly don’t claim any superiority over those who continue to engage fully with Twitter. Everyone has their own reality and if mine doesn’t match yours, that’s fine, especially when it comes to something trivial like Twitter or Facebook. And yes, I see Twitter as trivial. Yeah, yeah, force for good, and all that. Not in my world, and me staying on or off Twitter doesn’t make any difference to that.

I need to start by thanking Jon Ronson. Muscle memory meant I nearly wrote @jonronson just then; given that this post is about why I’m not really on Twitter so much nowadays, that would have been ironic. I was looking for a reason to leave Twitter and, like anyone too cowardly to make a decision, I found validation through someone else.

A few months ago I started reading Jon Ronson’s books as part of my bedtime routine, in an effort to build a new habit to replace staring into my iPhone all night which I was pretty sure was bad for my health – in my head I started calling Twitter ‘The Sleep Thief’. (Here’s a tip: if you go to Amazon you can get three of Jon Ronson’s books – Them: Adventures with Extremists, The Men Who Stare At Goats, The Psychopath Test – in one bargainous volume.) The thing I like about Ronson’s writing is he can make a topic enjoyable and easy to read without compromising its seriousness. The other thing I like is how he really is an incredibly masterful story teller, stringing together lots of different related stories into a coherent whole. And the other other thing I like (apart from how he’s obviously much more articulate than me and wouldn’t dream of using ‘other other’) is how he’s self-critical and not ashamed to call himself out if he does something wrong or thinks in an unfair way.

Jon Ronson’s latest book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, is a compilation of stories about public shaming that comes together as a history of how out of control public shaming on Twitter has become. I’m not going to say too much as I don’t want to spoil the book but after reading So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, every time I see a Twitter pile-on I feel more like an outsider watching an angry mob from a safe distance with horror and, frankly, find myself feeling ever so slightly morally superior and smug when I don’t join in.

Who the fuck do I think I am to be above all that?

The final trigger/excuse was when Stephen Fry was hounded off Twitter after he made a comment while presenting the Baftas. It wasn’t that I was a massive fan of his on Twitter; it was more that it fitted Jon Ronson’s narrative and Stephen Fry, in his blog post explaining why he’d left Twitter, made a good point:

But Stephen, these foul people are a minority! Indeed they are. But I would contend that just one turd in a reservoir is enough to persuade one not to drink from it. 99.9% of the water may be excrement free, but that doesn’t help. With Twitter, for me at least, the tipping point has been reached and the pollution of the service is now just too much.

Of course there was lots of reaction in the media to the furore – far more than it deserved, looking back at it. Alice Arnold’s piece, I felt missed the point: “The up side is that you have a right to reply; Fry was able to tell us all that he knew the person he had insulted. If it weren’t for Twitter we would be left to think he had been uncharacteristically mean to a stranger.” Yes, but the fact is lots of people either didn’t see the explanation or chose to ignore it and so the pile-on continued. I did like the payoff line from Arnold: “In the meantime there is a simple solution. No need to leave Twitter – just don’t turn on the app.” And so I decided not to turn on the app. In fact, I deleted the app from all my devices. I added extra inconvenience by turning on the setting that meant I had to get a verification code via text message whenever I wanted to sign in to Twitter to provide another bit of friction.

I didn’t flounce off – my ego isn’t that big and I wasn’t trying to make a public point – but I did leave a hint with this tweet:

And you’ve been so busy lately that you haven’t found the time to open up your mind and watch the world spinning gently out of time

Apart from feeling uncomfortable about my alienation from what Twitter was becoming, I also had a strong awareness that I was spending too much time on Twitter. Actually, let’s be straight: I was becoming addicted. Far from being a filler for otherwise empty time, social media was becoming the main event and taking over, stopping me from being able to fully concentrate on anything else. I could observe myself in bed switching between Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, searching for that interesting update yet couldn’t stop myself even as my eyelids were drooping.

Another warning sign: the measure of how good a tv programme became whether I was so engrossed that I wasn’t tweeting during it. (The underrated BBC adaptation of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell being the last example of such a programme, in case you’re interested.)

And, of course, I found myself living life thinking about how I would tweet about certain moments.

Since distancing myself from Twitter, I’ve experienced the glorious feeling of boredom. My evenings feel long again, with time enough to do more constructive things than spouting crap into the ether like bringing my piano playing back up to scratch or learning the guitar all over again or reading a novel or even going to bed at a time that guarantees I’ll have at least eight hours sleep. I’m sure my health has benefitted from that last point, if nothing else. (He says while nursing a snotty nose at the time of writing.)

This is not my beautiful house

Brands on social media. It smacks of those people who come round selling you roses when you’re in a pub having what was up till then a pleasant evening. (Do they still do that? It’s been a while since that’s happened to me, to be fair.) Anyway, I hold my hand up on this one: I was definitely part of the problem last year, when it unexpectedly became part of my job and I fought a losing battle trying to maintain some semblance of authenticity against a tsunami of marketing bullshit. No doubt the experience of what was by far the worst year of my working life has contributed to my negative view of social media.

And when the moment arrived, he just found he had nothing to say…

And so to the fundamental reason why I’ve become disenchanted with social media. I just don’t feel I have much to say. If I did say something that went beyond my usual reach and was seen by enough people to make a difference, I suspect a noticeable number of responses to me would be negative and cause me to do a Stephen Fry. The fact is, I’m an introvert and while Twitter was seen as a great place for introverts – interact with people without actually having to meet them! – in the end, when I look at it, it looks to me like a place for extraverts now: a Venn diagram of circle jerks made up of people seeking validation from other people for their views, witticisms, aphorisms, stolen jokes and so on.

No one noticed when I disappeared from Twitter and that’s A Good Thing. It proved my point and set me free from any sense of obligation that comes with being missed.

I’m coming home but just for a short while…

I haven’t quite left Twitter. I don’t want to delete my account (though I might make it private) and I’m feeling I’m in a happier place having redefined my relationship with it. But I am going to switch to broadcast mode and return to this blog as the main repository of my stupid thoughts and ideas and ramblings, pushing out links to Twitter and Facebook, when I remember and feel like it.

You can tell me I’m doing Twitter and Facebook wrong all you like but honestly I don’t give a shit. Now that is freedom, my friend.

Sock it to me, sock it to me…

Birthday socks

There’s something wonderfully comforting about receiving a pair of socks for your birthday from your 9 year old daughter. Love her to bits for choosing these ones.

Lazarus

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Far too long. And before I turn this into an ill-advised confessional, I’ll just leave this post here as a reminder that I’m still around and this blog hasn’t been forgotten about.