Tag: tips

How “creatives” overcome creative block

Nothing sucks more than writer’s block. Well, actually, that sentence is clearly untrue. Being squirted in the eye with lemon juice hurts more than writer’s block. If I ever have writer’s block I just make an absolute statement and try to come up with creative exceptions. Here you try it – what sucks more than writer’s block – did someone say black holes?

Anyway. Here’s a fascinating article interviewing a bunch of creative people about how they get the creative juices flowing. Some good tips. The consensus seems to be that if you want to be creative you need to become familiar with the works of other creative people – or just branch out into a type of creativity you’re not being paid to produce. For the writer this might mean sketching.

One guy came up with this relatively delicious solution.

The solution to a problem–

Slice and chop 2 medium onions into small pieces.
Put a medium sized pan on a medium heat with a few glugs of Olive oil.
Add the onions to the pan, and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Chop finely three varieties of fresh chilli (Birds Eye, Scotch Bonnet & Green/Red).
Add the chilli’s to the pan, stir together and cook for eight minutes.
Add about 500g of extra lean Beef mince to the pan.
Stir in so that the Beef is coated and lightly browned (should take approx. 2 minutes).
Add salt and pepper.
Add Red Kidney Beans and tinned chopped Tomatoes.
Stir well.
Add a pinch of Cinnamon.
Cook on a low heat for approximately 20 mins.

Measure a cup and a half of Basmati Rice into a medium pan.
Add two and a quarter cups (the same cup you measured the Rice in) of cold water to the pan with the Rice.
Boil on a high heat until the lid rattles.
Turn down the heat to about half way and cook for eight minutes.
After eight minutes turn the heat off the rice, leave for four minutes (with the lid on).

Plate up the Rice (on the side), add the chilli.

Large glass of Red wine (preferably Australian or New Zealand).

Now the important problem solving part–
Take the plates & pans to the sink.
Run a mixture of hot and cold (not too hot) water.
Add a smidgeon of washing up liquid (preferably for sensitive skin).
Start washing up, the mundane kicks in.
The mind clears and new thoughts and ideas appear.

Enjoy a second glass of wine to savour the moment.

How to win at eBay

Here’s a useful guide to always winning at eBay – even when you lose.

Step One:

Find the product you want.

Step Two:

Save the product to your watch list.

Step Three:


Step Four:

Just before the item ends, enter the maximum amount you are willing to pay for the item.

Step Five:

Click submit.

From here.

15 steps to better procrastination

People often ask me how I have so much time to blog, or can justify the time I spend doing so.

The truth is, I’m a procrastinator. Right now I have a newsletter to send out and a booking form to build. But there is no deadline pressure. Not for another hour or so. So I need to fill the time with meaninglessness in order to create that pressure. Sure, I have a to do list filled with other meaningless tasks and I could create the deadline pressure by creating a faux deadline. But then I’d finish earlier and have nothing to do.

Steve Kryger has produced a list of 15 tips to help you not to procrastinate, (H/T DaveMiers.com). I’m going to be counterproductive. Here are 15 tips to guide your efforts in procrastination.

How to procrastinate while feeling productive

  1. Read some articles about how to do what you’re doing better – Consider this professional development and research. At the same time. Also click through to any other links you find that seem interesting.
  2. Tidy your desk – This one is also on Steve’s list – but I use it to avoid doing the jobs I am avoiding doing. And who knows what you might discover going through your physical inbox and your files. Maybe there’ll be another task that you can procrastinate on.
  3. Write a really long list of things to do to achieve your goal, and then your next four or five goals – Lists just feel so productive. And they make your tasks much more concrete. This helps you to avoid doing them.
  4. Learn how to write your goals in other languages – Constant learning is the best way to avoid constant doing.
  5. Visit Facebook, Twitter and MySpace – Ask your friends how to achieve your goals better. Their advice could save you valuable minutes in the long term.
  6. Participate in community – While you’re on Facebook check out your friend’s photos and comment on their walls. It is all about community.
  7. Have a quick game of Tetris – It really gets the creative juices flowing.
  8. Blog – Write a post about “how to” solve your issue quoting your friends and the articles you read.
  9. Comment elsewhere – Encourage other people to write more stuff that helps you. This is like a self fulfilling prophecy of procrastination. The more stuff there is to read through in order to find what you’re after the less time you need to spend doing stuff. Increase the noise to signal ratio. That way when you find something relevant it’s a real triumph.
  10. Engage with differing ideas – Find something online you disagree with and get in an argument.
  11. Get amongst real people – Walk around the office and play a prank on somebody.
  12. Spend 80% of your time developing efficiencies – This is my own personal 80/20 rule. Everybody loves an 80/20 rule. It justifies spending less time doing stuff.  The more time you spend thinking about how you do work the less time you actually have to spend doing it.
  13. Make sure the job still needs doing – Procrastination is a filter to avoid doing unnecessary tasks. Not doing unnecessary tasks is much more efficient than doing them and finding out they weren’t needed. If nobody has noticed that you haven’t done the thing you were asked to do, it probably didn’t need doing.
  14. Make sure the deadline still stands – Perhaps the job wasn’t as important as it first seemed. If that’s the case put it down the list and start procrastinating about something else.
  15. Delegate – Ask someone else (preferably a known procrastinator) to produce an integral part of your work. Then their lack of progress is a perfect excuse for your lack of progress.

Enjoy. This should provide eight or nine spare hours in the work day.

Bonus tip:  Subscribe to hundreds of blogs (including mine (subscription link)) in Google Reader. And make sure you have no unread posts before you start the day.

Top five rules for blogging: #2 don’t blog for comments

Here are all five tips, and here’s my post on the first one.

Comments are great. All bloggers love comments. They make us feel special. Almost as special as a link. Depending on your blog love language (which Simone posted about back in January).

Comments indicate reader engagement. Comments – even negative ones – show that someone cares enough about your ideas to respond.

But if you hang your blogging hat on the number of comments you get – and make a decision to continue, or not to continue, on that basis – then you’re bound for disappointment. People don’t like to comment. I read about 300 blogs, I comment on a handful. I should comment on more – knowing as I do that people like getting comments.

Comments are not a measure of quality. They’re not a measure of how much your post is appreciated. They’re not really a measure of anything except how good you are at annoying people or how cleverly you hook your readers.

Because I like awesome scientific analysis I’ll repost this graph I made a while back.

And further analysis – I mentioned how bad my blog was when I first started the other day (prompting some people to head back to the archives). It was really bad. Terrible. And yet I scored more comments per post in those days by a long shot.

If you’re going to blog for any measurable outcome regular visitors and subscribers. Or blog for google keywords so that you can attract random visitors who might subscribe.

Blogging for comments is a thankless exercise.

Tips for the iPhone photographer

BoingBoing has a series of tips from a Japanese pro photographer who takes amazing iPhone pictures in his spare time.

“Always be on the lookout for change, whether that’s lighting, or the movement of people, or just a slight difference in something ordinary.”

“Walk a lot. The iPhone camera has a fixed focal length. Whether you enliven or kill this feature is up to your footwork. If you need a close up, get real close. If you need distance, you exaggerate that distance. You use your feet to find angles. It’s also important to venture far away from your comfort zone to find good subjects to shoot.”

Sans comic sans

Comic Sans was a font designed with a very specific purpose in mind – and it quickly outlived that usefulness.

If you use it regularly – and particularly in “professional” documents or presentations – please cease and desist.

If, like me, you’re frustrated by the use of this abominable font – visit bancomicsans.com and join the cause.

Morning is broken

Like Joel, I’m not a morning person. I hate mornings. I hate waking up. I hit snooze three times before I do. I get to work later than my colleagues – some of whom are here before I even wake up. I can’t start the day without a coffee – but that’s the same if I get up after 10am.

The Geek Dad blog at wired.com has a great ten tips for people who struggle to get up in the morning. One of which is to put your alarm over the other side of the room so you get up when it goes off. I’m all for that – especially if it means I take into account the 20 minutes of “snooze” I have every morning and set my alarm later. Here’s why:

“The thing is, snoozing sucks. It’s low-quality sleep that doesn’t leave you feeling restful in any way. My groggy brain is not rational enough in the a.m. to understand this. So there is no alarm on my bedside table.”

Things I use

I’ve been thinking about producing a couple of series of posts in a more didactic vein than my regular profiles of useless gadgets, my rants on general stupidity and my list of links of things I’ve read using Google Reader. 

So I’m planning some regular features – maybe weekly – on useful tools, software, blogs I subscribe to – things that might be helpful for my regular readers or mini tutorials that will be helpful for me to revisit at some stage in the future.

I’m also planning a bit of a series on coffee – on the essentials for making cafe quality (and that is a little bit of a lose description) coffee at home. You don’t need an extreme set up like mine, the basics are actually surprisingly cheap and easy. 

I’ll put these posts in their own category and probably link to them permanently from the side bar of this blog and will maybe even create stand alone pages at the top where you’ll currently see already existing pages on who I am, my coffee set up, and our New Zealand holiday.

Why am I telling you this? I don’t exactly know, I just thought it would be a good way to introduce what will possibly be something useful I can contribute to your life.

Keep the Customer Satisfied

You may think this post, with a nominal reference to a Paul Simon song, would be about our return home. Given that the opening lyrics are: 

“Gee but it’s great to be back home
Home is where I want to be
I’ve been on the road so long my friend
And if you came along I know you couldn’t disagree”

But it’s not. Today’s story is about our recent experiences with each end of the customer service spectrum. 

The good (it’s a long story)

Just prior to leaving Townsville we decided to buy a TV. We’d heard that prices were going to go up post Christmas and we’d been saving for an upgrade for a while.  We spent an evening price matching at various outlets in Townsville. We knew what we were looking for and we were quoted various prices roughly within the same $800 ballpark. Until we got to Dick Smith Powerhouse  – where we were quoted a figure of $650 for a Panasonic we’d seen elsewhere for $1000. We were pretty sure it was a good deal. But we wanted to check two more shops before confirming the purchase. We were told by another shop that this was below cost – and we should take it. Upon our return our friendly salesman went out the back to get the TV. He came back empty handed. The TV out the back was broken. He could only sell us the display model. I asked if we’d get a further discount. He said yes, he could sell it to us for a further $20 off – for $830. $830? But he’d just quoted us $650… no, the salesman couldn’t possibly give us that price. It was a mistake. $830 was still the best price we’d found on the unit in question – and we had decided we liked it. We got to the counter, and much to our surprise the salesman told the guy at the counter to sell it to us at $630. Hooray. At the last moment he went around the counter to check the details – and ammended the cost to $830. But I said this was the good. We reluctantly paid the $830 – having made noises about how we should have been given the $630 price – even though it was a mistake. The customer is always right. Right? 

Two days later I wrote used the Dick Smith website’s customer feedback page to write a letter. The basic format of a good complaint letter is some heartfelt praise for the company, the reason you chose to do business with them, a lengthy description of the circumstances, and a closing argument “I know you’re a company that prides itself on customer satisfaction… blah, blah blah…” and contact details. The letter worked. After Christmas I got a phone call from the store manager promising to refund the $200 on our return to Townsville. That happened today. So good on Dick Smith Powerhouse and their most excellent customer service. We now have a $630 TV that we are more than happy with – and they get a mention on the internet, unsolicited.   

The Bad

I mentioned the grumpy lady at Hanmer Horses in my review of our time at Hanmer Springs – she was not a great picture of customer service – but she was not the worst case we came across on our New Zealand adventure. The worst case predated our arrival in New Zealand – and carried through to our travelling companion’s (another gratuitous Paul Simon reference) departure. Cancellation fees can be a legitimate way for a business to recoup lost earnings, a protection for operators against unscrupilous bookings designed to hurt the bottom line, they can be a tax on stupidity, or they can be extortionate revenue raising. Cancellations are the bane of tourism businesses. I know this. Robyn and I both booked accommodation through the same company in the same town on the same night – and they graciously waived the cancellation fee for us. $30 they could by rights have held onto. For that, Alpine Holiday Homes can have a free link. And a hearty recommendation as a cheap, good quality accommodation option in Hanmer Springs. But this is “the bad” – the Interislander Ferry has a monopoly on travel between the North and South Islands of New Zealand – unless you want to fly. The Interislander also demands a 50% cancellation fee on any of their bottom end bookings. Sure, it’s there in the terms and conditions, but that shouldn’t rule out compassion – particularly if you want to maintain a reputation as customer focused. That 50% figure comes regardless of notice – and regardless of the fact that they will operate cancellations notwithstanding. This is an example of extortion. We learned the hard way. Robyn’s sister booked us on to the boat thinking that we would be accompanying them to the North Island as they departed. We were planning to continue circumnavigating the south. We notified the Interislander service by email as soon as we realised a mistake had been made. A month prior to their departure. We received no reply. We had to call them three days before to check that the cancellation had been made. It hadn’t. They gave no quarter. Showed no compassion. And whacked us with a $65 fee for what essentially was an innocent mistake. That was poor. Dreadful service – and a dreadful way to handle customer emails. Even a cursory response to acknowledge the email had been received but ignored because of heavy email traffic would have been nice. A standard autoreply. But no. So they earn a terrible review here. I hope lots of people google the Interislander and find their way here. The interislander ferry is evil.

The Ugly

This is not a first hand experience – unlike the others. This is a case of terrible practice using the user generated content phenomona. I linked to the initial story using my google reader shared items post yesterday. Belkin. Maker of modems, routers and other technowizardry, has been caught trying to solicit 5/5 reviews from users on Amazon. Amazon has a service called Mechanical Turk – a chance for human users to be paid to do pseudo robotic tasks too simple for computers to manage. Collate articles on a topic, summarise an article etc… you can earn Amazon credit – or get paid cash. Not only did Belkin want reviewers to write perfect reviews, in perfect English, they wanted them to pan other reviewers who had been less than flattering of the product. Worse still, Belkin got caught. Now everybody knows what a flagrant disregard they have for customer feedback and customer satisfaction. That’s ugly.

Fake ID

Rules for public Christianity 101 – If you’re going to put a stupid Jesus fish on your car – don’t put it under a massive advertisement for your fake ID business.

Want faith with that?

Want faith with that?

Clearly the guy behind this business isn’t the smartest cookie in the Cookie Man store (mmm cookie man, incidently Townsville has a combined Cookie Man and Baskin-Robbins the two nicest smelling franchises in the world)… anyway. If you’re going to have a Jesus fish on your car:

  1. Don’t advertise an illegal enterprise.
  2. Don’t swear when a light turns red (in case of lip readers).
  3. Don’t speed.
  4. Don’t partake in road rage.
  5. Don’t tailgate.
  6. Don’t honk your horn.
  7. Don’t extend your middle finger in another driver’s direction.
  8. Don’t talk on your mobile phone.
  9. Don’t cut in front of anyone.
  10. Make sure you give way to pedestrians, let other people in at busy intersections, and let people change lanes when they’re indicating.

These are all reasons not for me to put a stupid Jesus fish sticker on my car. And probably for you not to put one on yours. Here are some reasons you shouldn’t have a Jesus Fish on your car from urban dictionary. If you want people to know you’re a Christian – tell them the gospel. Or wear a good novelty T-Shirt.