Rules of the writing game

Recently I’ve come into contact with people who are embarking on a freelance writing career and are curious about how one fashions such a thing. Having been a freelance musician and then writer since my mid-20s on up to the point where someone made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, friends and former colleagues seem to think I have some insight. What little I have can be distilled into a single point (with a handful of subpoints):

Make it easy on the person who hired you. 

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Letter of recommendation

As you’ve no-doubt heard, Macworld, the company I work for, suffered massive layoffs on Wednesday. Essentially, just about everyone in the masthead was let go. I remain, as do Susie Ochs and Leah Yamshon, and we’ll do our very best to do right by Macworld—we owe it to those who came before and our readers. But I admit that seeing my colleagues leave has been a bit like having everyone around you suddenly raptured while you stand gawking with a ham sandwich shoved halfway in your mouth.

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Review: The Internet (part 3): How does The Internet work?

This review has so far generated enough interest that the reader has posed the quite reasonable question that serves as the title of this section. Although the exact nature of The Internet’s workings are so complicated (and diabolical) that no one person can be entrusted with every detail, I can shed some light on the matter. (Hint: Though only in a form allowed by the appropriate governing bodies!)

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Review: The Internet (part 2): The Internet Explorer

Your personal computer is now able to communicate with The Internet thanks to an Internet Box and The Internet Explorer. Congratulations! (Hint: No really, a lot of people have died or been shuffled among institutions as a result of attempting this!) But before you can begin your journey you must become familiar with the conventions of The Internet Explorer. Let’s start with its face.

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Review: The Internet (part 1)

In what may come as a surprise to many of you, beyond the real world of work, play, love, and television is a shadowy “virtual” world—a loosely joined electronic realm known to its inhabitants as The Internet. In service to my readers I thought it time to sit down at my personal computer and, via a series of carefully wrought keystrokes, explore and evaluate its many frontiers. Here’s what I found.

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Willful ignorance and the pundit conundrum

Today Macworld published a projection piece of mine called Apple’s HomeKit Hub May Already Be in Your House. I needn’t regurgitate the article here. The gist is that an Apple TV could operate as the arbiter between you in some distant location and the <gag> “Internet of Things” </gag> in your home. Among the positive reactions (hey, even a link from John Gruber’s Daring Fireball, which is always worth a woo-hoo) I saw a couple of “Hey, I wrote about this [x weeks before Breen did] where’s the love!?” comments. 

I doubt that these remarks were the result of anyone thinking that I’d read their work and then cribbed from it. Reasonable people understand that the Web is a very big place and no one can travel every inch of it. But it did cause me to once again examine what I do and don’t read.

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Stream my album, "Of Eve" for "free" on Spotify and Beats

I've been a fan of (and subscriber to) streaming music services for years. And it recently dawned on me to put my money where my mouth is and make my solo piano album from way back when—"Of Eve"—available from a couple of services. You can find it on both Spotify and Beats Music.

If you know anything about the economy of music distribution via streaming you know I'm not doing this for the dough. It's past time that artists got a sweeter cut when their music is streamed, but that's a subject for another post. For the time being I'm simply interested in more people hearing what I sounded like in my youth.

Another Galaxy Vintage D test

I've been playing the Galaxy Vintage D virtual piano for the past week or so and (I think) am starting to get a better feel for what I want from it. I've just recorded another tune with it using a configuration I've called the Polite Setting. To get rid of the middle octave "twank" tone I dialed down the Colour knob, gave the piano a bit more space by adding a touch of Concert Hall reverb, and increased the resonance a touch. It's not the kind of tone that will "cut" in an ensemble setting, but as a solo piano I like it.

You can give it a listen by visiting, as usual, the Music page. I've created a Vintage D section within the Bits & Pieces area.

Paying for the (virtual) piano

I've been working more with Logic Pro X lately and generally like the sounds and synths that come with it. But I've been looking for the killer grand piano sound and I may have found it in the form of Best Service's Galaxy Vintage D virtual grand piano. It operates within Kotact Player and sounds pretty sweet. I've yet to tweak it much—I'm not entirely thrilled with the middle octaves as I find them a little too ready to "twank" when hit hard, but I think I can make some adjustments to tone it down.

If you wish to hear a sample, check out Galaxy Vintage D Test in the Bits and Pieces section of the Music page.

Dropping Dropbox: The choices we make

[Consider this a Take 2 on my earlier Leaving Dropbox piece]

While I’m generally a pleasant enough fellow—kind to small children, animals, and restaurant staff—I do have one obvious failing: When there’s righteousness to be had, I glom onto it like a half-price toaster on Black Friday. My family and friends have learned to put up with it with a gentle rolling of the eyes, but in my professional life it’s still a bit dicey as I catch the occasional “There he goes again” vibe from colleagues and readers.

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And so I leave Dropbox

I seem to have this habit of diving into one service or another, enjoying the experience, and then discovering someone’s dropped something large and smelly in the water. In the case of Facebook, which I abandoned in 2010, it was over the company’s cynical disregard for its users’ privacy. In these days of NSA peeping that may sound a little quaint, but at least the NSA has a good story—“Security!” it harumphs. “Why without us glomming onto every bit of information about you TERRORISM!!! ON OUR SHORES!!! THE CHILDREN!!! THE MUSHROOM CLOUD!!! THE UNFRIENDLY CUSTOMER SERVICE FROM OUR NEW BEARDED AND TURBANED SHOPKEEPERS!!!”

At least I think that’s how it goes. I sometimes get lost in all the capital letters.

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Anatomy of a set list

As some people know from following me in other areas of my life, I’m a member of the Macworld All-Star Band—a somewhat highfalutin name for a gaggle of guys who have some connection with the Macintosh community. The members of the band include Paul Kent on guitar (the guy who runs Macworld/iWorld), Dave Hamilton who operates Backbeat Media and plays drums, guitar player Bryan Chaffin from the Mac Observer, man-about-town and bass player Chuck La Tournous, “Dr. Mac” Bob LeVitus on yet another guitar, and UC Berkeley IT guy Duane Straub who also plays bass. I play keyboards.

Each year “leadership” of the band rotates among the four members who have spent the most time in real bands—me, Paul, Dave, and Chuck. This year it was my turn. 

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Plagiarism and the divine drop

"Oh lord, Breen’s on again about plagiarism."

Honestly, I had no intention of “owning” this issue, but this Twitter comment in reaction to my So, Plagiarism piece got me thinking:

This is more like a daily thing in the blog world. Doesn’t warrant a thorough investigation of a single person.

Typically this would be the kind of setup where I proceed to sternly lecture a young blogger about the good old days of decency and decorum. But he has a point. Why go after some piss-poor site like iMacland? Its articles are barely written in English, it seems to benefit from no advertising, and until I started yammering about it, no one had heard of it. Why draw attention to it when this kind of thing goes on day-in and day-out?

Partly because I (and others who’ve joined in) can. It’s relatively easy to follow the tracks of people like this and expose them for the frauds they are. But digging down, why the outrage over plagiarism when far worse transgressions litter our lives?

To me, it’s an offense against the best aspirations of our species. We bipeds, among all the creatures crowding this world, have the unique awareness of self. This awareness allows us to ponder and propose, navel-gaze and theorize, extend the Me to the Us. If there’s a divine drop in us, it’s these gifts of insight and consideration. Whether through words, images, audio, or architecture, each of us can express what it is to be human.

The plagiarizer denies the divine. He contributes nothing. He simply takes and, like an animal, sprays his scent over the stolen goods to claim ownership.

So why investigate a single person when this is a daily occurrence? Because each instance dulls our humanity. Rampant or rare, this is not something that merits complacence. 

So, plagiarism

Earlier this week, a Macworld reader posted a comment to an article I wrote last summer, indicating that in a Google search for the topic he found another’s site take on the issue. Clicking through he discovered that it was a poorly ripped-off version of my piece—written the day after, mangling a lot of the English but still pulling phrases and words directly from it, and even using my screenshots (one of them from this very site).

(Should you wish to compare the two, you can find mine here  and the cached version of the plagiarized piece here.)

As someone who writes a lot and that writing gets noticed every so often, it’s not uncommon to have your stuff lifted—sometimes a little and other times more than a little. It can happen honestly—where someone thought they had the right to use it (even without credit)—or, as in this case, when it’s just a sleazy form of theft from someone who thought they could get away with it.

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To get it right, don't get it wrong

Some months ago I whipped out a little screed called #prdonewrong where I griped about how badly some PR agencies and developers handle the press. I used that screed as the basis for a talk I gave at the most recent Renaissance conference in San Francisco. As a result some people have passed around a link to the original #prdonewrong.

And that led me to wonder if perhaps I could refine the screed based on second thoughts that resulted from the talk.

Ah, the circle of life. 

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The Incomparable Christmas Special

Jason Snell’s The Incomparable podcast featured its second series of radio plays in the recent Christmas Spectacular episode. And, as with the show’s first foray into radio drama, I was asked to contribute theme and incidental music. Here’s a bit of background on that work (as always you’ll find downloadable versions of the pieces on the Music page—suitable for ringtoning and other non-commercial uses).

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