Previous month:
October 2009
Next month:
December 2009

8 posts from November 2009

5 Ways To Conquer Writer's Block

iwillwritesomething.jpgWhen people find out that I'm a writer, one of the questions that I often get is "so what do you do when you get stuck writing?" or "how do get over writer's block? When I answer "crank loud hard rock" they usually look at me funny... and then I of course say that what works for me may not work for them, etc., etc.

Since I've been asked, here is what works for me... perhaps it will help you as well.

NOTE: I am not talking here about a block in "coming up with ideas to write about". I have NO PROBLEM with that... every day I wake up with my head exploding with stories to tell. What I'm talking about here is the "Chapter-1-rocks-and-Chapter-3-will-be-awesome-but-to-get-there-I-have-to-somehow-make-it-through-the-dreck-of-Chapter-2" kind of block. When you *have* to write something and the text is just not flowing.

These steps below are also after you do the obvious steps to eliminate distractions like... shut down your email, sign off from Twitter, get rid of the Facebook window, sign off from Skype and all your other IM clients...

So here's my list:

1. IMAGINE YOURSELF SITTING ACROSS THE TABLE FROM SOMEONE - You are in a cafe... or an office... or your living room... and someone asks you about the topic you are trying to write on. You explain it to them in a natural conversation... think about how the flow would be if you were just talking one-to-one about whatever the topic is. Then try to capture that flow in your text.

2. CRANK LOUD HARD ROCK - I'm serious! Turn your music up very loud. And I mean "peel-the-paint-off-the-walls" loud! Crank something loud and hard. No quiet ballads here... just crashing guitars, screaming vocals, etc. Being a child of the 70's and 80's I'm partial to that era... in particular some of the harder songs of the Scorpions, AC/DC, etc. And I find it works best for me without headphones... just letting it echo off the walls in my home office. (Sadly, with young children around this is no longer quite as possible as it was before.) I can't explain why this works... maybe it's the blocking out of everything else? I just know it works for me.

3. STEP AWAYYYY FROM THE KEYBOARD - Leave the computer. Go outside. Breathe the fresh air. Walk around the block. Go for a bike ride. Go for a swim. Go for a ski. Go for a sail. Whatever works for you.... just leave the electronic world, get some physical exercise, get the heart pumping and the blood flowing.

4. FIND ANOTHER PLACE TO WORK - Sometimes you just need a change of location to unblock the writing flow. In the era of laptops, this is easy to do. Go to another part of your office. Go home if you work in an office. Go find an "office" if you work at home. Find a cafe (just don't get distracted by people streaming through). Go sit in a park. Go outside and sit under a tree. Or alternatively go find a room you can shut yourself in. Just change from where you normally write.

5. DO SOMETHING ELSE MENTALLY CHALLENGING - Perhaps what is needed is just to fully engage and focus your brain in some other activity for a short period of time. For me this may take forms like:

  • Programming/coding - Outside all my PR/marketing work, I enjoy the occasional bit of programming. So I'll take a break to play with some new language... or play with a bit of code in some way. These days, odds are I'd toy with tweaking WordPress, building a Tropo app, or playing with Clojure (with which I have a bizarre fascination probably dating back to my extensive Emacs LISP use 20+ years ago). I'll go off and try something for a half-hour, maybe, and then return to the writing.

  • Writing somewhere else - Writing to overcome a writer's block? Sure... I'll go off and write something on a completely different topic. (Kind of like writing this article!) Focus on writing some solid blog post or article. Something that engages the brain.

  • Wood working - I have a tiny "micro-lathe" down in the basement where I very occasionally turn wood to make pens or other small objects. It demands intense focus so you don't mess up the wood... and it goes along with #3 above of getting away from the keyboard.

Whatever the activity is... for some of you it might be video games... or photography... whatever it is, the key point is that you are completely focused and, for that short time, you completely forget about that huge writing task that is dragging you down.

The goal with all of these is to shift your brain in some way so that you can move through whatever block you are suffering and start the text flowing again. And if none of them work... well... sometimes you just have to start typing and typing and typing... and slog through it somehow.

Do any of those resonate with you? What do you do to get past "writer's block"?

If you found this post interesting or useful, please consider either subscribing to the RSS feed or following me on Twitter or

Wow! looks quite horrid on the iPhone!

discon-on-iphone-1.jpgWell, I admit that I didn't quite realize how horrid this site looks on an iPhone. But when Ryan Schoeffler tweeted me such a message, I knew even without looking what was wrong.

And yes, I'll fix it. ;-)

You see, back in 2006, TypePad, who I use for hosting this Disruptive Conversations blog, Disruptive Telephony, Blue Box and a few other blogs, didn't have the range of layout options I wanted. Specifically, they didn't have the three-column layout with a main column on the left and 2 sidebars on the right - and that was what I wanted.

So, not having an issue diving into code, I hacked on the site.

I dove into TypePad's "Advanced Templates", learned the language, learned the structure and built off a TypePad Hacks post from early 2006... all to build the template for this site and for Disruptive Telephony. It worked very well. John Unger over at TypePad Hacks even gave me an "AHA! Award" for my redesign.

However, it was a hack. And sometimes... hacks break.

And so it was that about a year ago, I had to re-style Disruptive Telephony after one of my posts completely broke the layout. By this time, TypePad had come out with an "official" layout of "3 columns with a big col on left", and so I moved DisTel to that layout. The good news ever since was that not only did the layout no longer break (and the few remaining IE6 users could read the site! ;-) ) but that also I could make use of new TypePad developments which were not easily available to users of their "Advanced Templates".

I need to make the same move here on Disruptive Conversations.

It just... takes... a... chunk... of... time...

Maybe this week... maybe next... but yes, iPhone users (and I am one myself), I hear you. Thanks for caring enough to tell me.

If you found this post interesting or useful, please consider either subscribing to the RSS feed or following me on Twitter or

The Single Biggest Reason Why I Can't Yet REALLY Use Google Wave

googlewavepreview.jpgI'm a big fan of Google Wave. A huge fan in fact. I've written about it, posted a screencast about using it in conference collaboration and have much more about it in my writing queue. I love the promise of the Wave protocol that will allow for distributed/decentralized collaboration that is in line with "The Internet Way". I've been a long-time fan of the XMPP protocol that is underneath it all. There is so much great potential in Wave.

But I can't really use it today.

Not yet, anyway.

It's NOT because of the common sentiment I hear about not having anyone to communicate with on Wave. Between Voxeons trying it out, PR/marketing folks associated with FIR trying it out, and a whole lot of other early adopters I know, there are probably easily 150-200 people that I could use Wave with.

And I very definitely can use Google Wave for PUBLIC Waves like those I described for conferences in my screencast. For public waves, it's great and works well.

But I can't really use it for true collaboration with a team a people - and therefore can't really push Wave to see what it can do.


Two simple pictures illustrate the issue:




Figure it out?

Yes, indeed....


Like I alluded to earlier, no big deal for a public wave. Public waves are by definition, well,... public... and so anyone can join in a public wave. And anyone contributing to a public wave should realize that anything they type there is potentially visible to everyone. It is an annoyance that you can't leave a public wave... but that's it.

(Note: the Google Wave team did hear the cries from Wave users and have allowed anyone to remove a bot from a wave. So bots can be kicked out, but not people.)


I'll give you two examples, though, where this is a huge problem.

First, imagine that you are trying to use Google Wave to collaborate on, say, a news release for your company. The content of the wave is confidential. You invite your team into the wave and you all work on the document. Then, because the current Wave user interface is, um, not entirely intuitive, one of your team members accidently adds someone from outside of your company into your confidential wave.


There is no way to boot that person out. In fact, via Playback, he/she can see everything you have ever typed into that wave... every edit... every snarky comment...

All you can do at that point is: 1) appeal to the person's brother/sisterhood as a fellow early-adopter to excuse the problem and try to pretend they don't see everything going on in the wave; and 2) start a brand-new wave (copying content over) that includes just your team and not this person.

Not ideal solutions.

Second, let's say that you are working with a team of people and one of the people decides to leave the team. Maybe they quit or are fired from the company. Maybe they start a competing project. Whatever the case... you don't want them to have access to the Wave any more.


copytonewwave.jpgAgain, no way you can remove them. The best you can do is go up to the upper right corner of one of the "blips" in your wave and do the "Copy to new wave" command... and then add everyone to this new wave.

I recently had to personally do this for a wave of 25+ people. Not a fun experience, particular because the current Wave UI only seems to let you add one person at a time. So I had to create the new wave and then figure out who all was in the old one and add them one at a time to the new wave. It didn't take a long time... it was really only a few minutes... but it was a pain. And then I had to flip between the old and new waves to be sure I had brought everyone over.

And then, since everyone would still see the old wave in their inbox, I had to change the title of the old wave so that people would not go into that one and would know they could archive it to get it out of their Inbox.


As The Complete Wave Guide indicates, it's not necessarily an easy problem to solve due to Wave's collaborative nature. Having said that, the problem has been solved in the IM space in places like Skype Group Chats, IRC channels, etc. Now, federation isn't here yet, but Wave's distributed and decentralized architecture could add some interesting syncing challenges to this issue - but yet it still seems to me to be solvable.

As "GeekLad" notes in "5 Reasons Google Wave Is Not Ready, it's an issue of lack of any real kind of "access control". I agree with with GeekLad that something like this kind of system needs to be in place:

  • Allow the wave creator do add/remove any participant from a wave.
  • Allow the wave creator to assign/modify the following permissions that can be set at the wave and participant level:
    • Permission to add bots to the wave.
    • Permission to invite other participants to the wave.
    • Permission to remove participants from the wave.
    • Read-only or read/write access to the wave.
    • Permission to grant/modify each (or all) permissions for other participants and/or the entire wave.

That's what we need.

Access control and the ability to remove participants from a wave.

Until that time, as much as I dearly want to be using Google Wave for all sorts of collaborative development... I won't... I can't in good conscience do so with private information.

Here's hoping that the Wave team does give us this feature real soon now... until then... I'll keep using it for public waves, and for non-confidential private waves... but I want to use it for so much more...

If you found this post interesting or useful, please consider either subscribing to the RSS feed or following me on Twitter or

Flip Video Cameras with WiFi Might Be Useful for Conference Videopodcasting

flipcamera.jpgIntriguing to read today that new Flip video cameras will be coming in 2010 with WiFi support. I don't (yet) own a Flip camera, but I've been watching their evolution, particularly after Cisco acquired the company. I've watched friends use them quite effectively to upload quick video snippets to YouTube and/or their blogs... and sooner or later I know I'll get one. Probably wait for 2010, though, for these WiFi-equipped models...

My particular interest is in being able to shoot quick video interviews at a conference or trade show and then upload them to YouTube directly from the show floor. Sure, you can do this today with a Flip camera by simply plugging it into the USB port on your computer - but you have to open up your computer to do that. That's one more step that gets in the way of rapid posting of videos. As the Mashable article notes, the iPhone 3GS solves this issue by letting up upload video directly over AT&T's network. And for those with a iPhone 3GS that is true (I have a 3G and am too cheap to upgrade), assuming you have decent AT&T coverage wherever the conference is.

A Flip camera with WiFi support, though, could be quite useful at conferences with decent WiFi - which, admittedly can be a challenge. Still there are several that I go to that do have decent video, and when Voxeo has a booth at an event we have our own (secured) WiFi... so I could see it working.

I also could see it working well in an office environment, too, for quick video interviews.

What do you think? Would you buy one with WiFi? If so, where would you use it? Or will you just stick with something like the iPhone 3GS?

If you found this post interesting or useful, please consider either subscribing to the RSS feed or following me on Twitter or

First e-newsletter went out last Friday...

As I mentioned previously, I have decided to experiment with an email newsletter. The first version went out last Thursday night, November 5, 2009, at around 11:42pm US Eastern time.

If you signed up to receive it, and haven't seen it yet, you probably should check your spam filters. I can assure you it did go out. :-)

If you didn't sign up, you still can... for a number of reasons I am not creating a web archive (yet, anyway) of these newsletters, so you only get it if you have signed up.

Having fun with it so far... interesting little experiment...

If you found this post interesting or useful, please consider either subscribing to the RSS feed or following me on Twitter or

Die Mauer! Die Mauer ist weg!

20 years ago, I was sitting in an apartment in an old farmhouse in Madbury, NH, watching some news footage via a satellite link. I was in my final year at the University of New Hampshire studying for a degree in German language. I watched events unfold in utter astonishment... and then called a friend of mine, Thea, who was working at the UNH library... as I recall, my words were simply this:
Thea... die Mauer! Die Mauer ist weg!

She, also a German student, did not believe me... and this was before ubiquitous Internet access where she could have jumped online to see.

It was true, though, and today Germany - and the world - celebrates the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

It is, indeed, a momentous day...

If you found this post interesting or useful, please consider either subscribing to the RSS feed or following me on Twitter or

VIDEO: How to use Google Wave for Collaborative Conference Note-taking

googlewavepreview.jpgOver the past two weeks, I've both witnessed and participated in an incredibly powerful way to use Google Wave. The use case is simply this:
collaboratively taking notes at a conference

I saw this first Oct 28-30 at eComm Europe in Amsterdam. Members of the Google Wave team set up some initial waves and showed "live waving" during the actual event. Others then participated in (everyone at eComm was given a Wave account). I joined in asking some questions and participating in the dialog. Although I wasn't there, I wound up learning a lot of what went on there and now there are some great notes people can reference about the sessions. If you have a Wave account, you can see the eComm waves yourself by going to the search box at the top of the center column (where it usually says "in:Inbox") and entering in:

tag:ecomm with:public

Now you will see all the public waves that were created by multiple people during and after the event.

At VoiceCon and Enterprise 2.0 this week in San Francisco, I and a number of others did our own "live waving" and the process was quite powerful in cases where a number of us were collaborating. You can see the waves in Wave by searching on:

tag:voicecon with:public
tag:e2conf with:public

There weren't as many Wave users at the two conferences, so we didn't have quite as many collaborators in some of the public waves - but look at the ones relating to "Google Wave" to see some strong collaboration.

I actually used ScreenFlow on my Macbook Pro to capture one of the editing sessions, because I think you really need to see that in action to fully appreciate what it can do. I'm hoping to edit that and get it up as a screencast soon.

To show how to use Wave in this manner, I created this Emerging Tech Talk screencast based on the eComm public waves:

The Emerging Tech Talk blog post has a few more details about what I showed in the video.

If you use Google Wave in this fashion, please do leave a note letting people know how to find your waves. As we all explore this early preview of Google Wave, it's great to learn from each other.

If you found this post interesting or useful, please consider either subscribing to the RSS feed or following me on Twitter or

Best Twitter Lists ever.... (from Christopher Penn)

I love it when people find the humorous side to new features that are getting over-hyped in the social media space right now... from Mr. Penn comes:


As he noted in a tweet, you do not want to be on them... :-)

If you found this post interesting or useful, please consider either subscribing to the RSS feed or following me on Twitter or