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The Mobile System

I tend to alter the way in which I start my day, every year or so. The details of it.

I still get out to the pub for at least an hour at the start of my day (for two reasons: one, I have a terminal allergy to house dust and it does me good to get out of the house for an hour a day and walk a bit; and two, I don’t smoke in the house, so if I go to the pub I can sit down in the pub’s open-air space and have a couple of cans of Red Bull with five or six cigarettes, and that’s me all nicotined-up until the evening). But I change what I do there.

For a long while, I’d work there for a couple of hours with a Treo and a foldaway keyboard. This was pretty efficient, although it often defaulted to "doing email." I wasn’t reading a lot: I was using a service to sync up three or four news services, and that was it. But, you know, even four or five years ago, this was a pretty decent kit.

For the 18 months or so, I’ve been alternating between paper notebooks and the very useful Eee 901 netbook with a 3G dongle stuffed in it, and, for the last year, carrying a Blackberry Curve as well as my Nokia N95 phone. (Why both? I learned from using Visors for everything that taking a phone call while you’re banging out a note is a pain in the balls. I keep my handheld email device and my phone separate. Which is why I never wrote seriously on the N95, even though I had a small foldaway keyboard for it in my coat pocket or bag.)

Lately, I’ve been feeling like I’m not reading enough. And currently it’s too bloody cold to work in the open-air pub smoke-slave compound. There were icicles on the beams this afternoon. I’ve always been shit at keeping up with podcasts — the N95 was such a bugger to sync for podcasts that I gave up after a while — and, again, I only had three or four news services in the N95’s RSS reader. I’m not taking in enough information, and when I’m at my main computer, I’m often scattered by the business of the day and not keeping up well enough. For the first hour of the day, I really just want a couple cans of Red Bull, a few smokes and just to spin up to speed a bit, you know?

The new addition to my kit has been, I’m afraid to say, the iPhone 3GS. Like my friend Cait Hurley once said to me, "iPhone is an unavoidable life enhancement device, unfortunately." (Although, like Cait, I may yet kick it over for an Android device.)

This thing — which feels heavy and yet so fragile that I’ve had to buy an Otterbox container for it, a reinforced baby seat for a fucking phone — annoys me in many ways, not least of which is this: it works. The sync might be slow, but it works. The headphones it comes with are fucking horrendous and quite painful, but I swapped them out and listen to the KEXP Song Of The Day on the way to the pub, which I haven’t been able to do reliably for ages.

I paid for the Guardian app, to make up for the fact that I haven’t bought a physical copy in years. The BBCReader, from the makers of iGeoJournal, is good — good enough, in fact, that I kind of want to look into iGeoJournal now. I use the News Hour app not because I can custom fit it with RSS feeds — it is in fact not very good at that — but because it comes pre-loaded with shitloads of other feeds, and exploring it is making me broaden my reading. And Reeder ties to my Google Reader account (as well as Instapaper, a service for retaining articles for later reading), giving me all the feeds I usually read at home.

And there’s Google Fastflip, which fascinates me — it’s a roll of screenshots of the top articles from a bunch of newspapers, magazines and news sites. Just swipe through them and then punch up anything that looks interesting.

The best bit, for me, is that I finally get to watch TED Talks Video Podcast, which for some reason I never find the time to watch at home. I’d forgotten how good it was.

I imagine a lot of this boils down to I’m 42 next month and must work harder to keep my brain alive. But, as I’ve mentioned before, I have had this feeling of Not Moving Fast Enough — possibly because the last year was so mental in terms of work and deadlines that I was barely aware of the passage of time for most of it. I miss/missed the old feeling of being half-embedded in the informational flow, of being more present in both halves of the world. That’s what leads to my thinking better, and what leads to better writing. And that’s what the first couple of hours of my day has to be about.

That was boring, wasn’t it? Just needed to get it down on pixels for myself, so I have something to refer to next year…!

Published in daybook


  1. Boring? No, actually pretty fascinating to learn about your work method. I think a writer’s life is quickly becoming my dream life.

  2. cjstevens cjstevens

    Love reading about your routines and stuff. Always a pleasure Warren.

  3. Miles (Denver) Miles (Denver)

    Spectacular to learn that you are a fan of KEXP. Been a member for a number of years.

  4. been thinking about combining some kind of email/text snipping program to send large text to my kindle so I can archive it and read it later. I scan articles at work but don’t ever have the opportunity to read them in depth. As a result my bloglines has 5000+ saved posts i’ll never read. Kindle doesn’t do subcategories or anything, it’s just a linear list of text files. The system needs improvement that’s for sure.

  5. I’m just glad to hear someone else acknowledge what sheer fucking effort it takes to stay technologically attuned in this world of madness!

    Oh, and switch to the Droid. It is the well-lit path.

  6. Seth Seth

    Seconding,big fan for years. Sorry you had to buy an iphone, good luck with that.

  7. Android and iPhone are an evolutionary dead end. The future is Nokia’s N900 — a full computer in your pocket, with multitask, physical keyboard, Firefox and the freedom to install whatever you want.

  8. Warren Ellis Warren Ellis

    “whatever you want… so long as it’s written in Maemo by a bunch of hobbyists and then hurled into the depths of the unusable Ovi store.” Bullshit. The N900 can’t even handle MMS.

  9. If you get an Android device, don’t get the Motorola Droid, as there is a pretty extensive boycott campaign against it, linking it to human rights abuses.

  10. Many of us at KEXP are big fans of yours, Warren, and were delighted to hear that you listen to our podcasts!

  11. Allen Allen

    Perhaps you could wield your spooky powers and get these folks: to finally release the Redfly for Android. Sweet nether eels!

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