How to Be Wrong on the Internet

Brent Simmons on "being wrong on the internet":

Sometimes I hear from people who’d like to blog more — or at all — but they worry, they say, about “being wrong on the internet.”

Me, I do it all the time. I’m constantly wrong on the internet. Here’s how I think about it:

Blogging is, for me, part of the process of getting to the truth.

I'm finding this now I'm trying to engage more, always worried I'll make a terrible faux pas and have to get my coat, it often paralyses my ability to post anything without constant re-writing and over-thought. But I am getting slowly better, and I try to bear in mind that most people are very reasonable. And luckily no-one is reading what I write at the moment anyway, so I'm safe!

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A Fine Time to Start iOS Development

I'm a full-time freelance web developer and have been for quite some time, but I'm always looking for ways to broaden my skill set, and in the past it has served me well to do that. I got into web standards and css early, and also taught myself php while I was working as a web designer, skills that are still supporting me now. The relentless evolution of the web is a constant threat to future employability, and research and learning are an important part of staying relevant.

My latest "research" projects have been writing (hence the slightly more frequent postings on this blog) and iOS development. I've wanted to get into iOS app development for a long time. I love my iPhone and the apps I use on it every day, and often have ideas for new ones I'd like to build. And the idea of being able to work on my own products really appeals to me after 14 years of client work (which I also continue to love, of course!)

It's time consuming to learn Objective-C and iOS development (and now Swift!). Objective-C is hard and to get even a simple app polished enough for a professional release will take time. Sure, it'll get much easier and quicker as I do it more but I'm already really busy and usually only manage to carve out a few hours a week to work on iOS.

But I am getting there. I've got the bones of my first working app together, it just needs a few more weeks of polishing and bug fixing — or perhaps more realistically another 6 months! I've hooked into the development community (I love podcasts!), which has got me more up to speed with the different ways of approaching the App Store, pricing, marketing , etc. I'm almost there.

And then what happens? Prompted by Brent Simmons asking if anyone is a successful indie iOS developer and Jared Sinclair revealing his numbers for Unread and that he probably can't make a decent living out of it, there's been a recent swell of discussion within the developer community about how the salad days are over and whether it's financially viable to be an indie iOS developer at all these days.

Come on guys, I haven't even launched an app yet!

To be fair, this debate about the struggles of making money from the App Store and being a viable independent iOS developer has been going on for a long while, with pessimistic, optimistic, and realistic opinions a plenty. David Smith has put together a good reading list of some of the recent discussion.

I tend to agree with the sentiment that app development is now just like everything else, there's no easy route, it's hard and very competitive and even if you're brilliant you still need a little luck on your side. To succeed you need to be tenacious. Build, ship, repeat. It's hard to make a living as an indie anything, and it seems it's also hard to make a living as an indie iOS developer — no surprise there then. How many successful independent website developers do you know, there are only a handful of Jason Kottkes, how many successful independent writers, musicians, artists are there? Most people working in these fields make a living from a combination of incomes, some independent, some consulting, some day jobs. Even successful developers sometimes have to take a day job.. And it's not only the "creative" industries, pretty much all independent work is like that for most people.

There are a handful of superstar success stories in the indie iOS world, like Marco Arment or Loren Brichter which is great, but the day to day reality of a really great success is probably more like Jared Sinclair.

And while I could never afford to invest 6 months full time up front development in an app, I will still chip away in my spare time learning, building, and shipping. And if after a couple of years I've made money anywhere near what Jared Sinclair has made from Unread I'll be over the moon, because that level of income will allow me to take iOS development seriously and spend some, if not all of my working day learning more, building more and shipping more. The headline I took away from the Unread numbers was $42,000 (£25,000) in the first 6 months of release, and that's not half bad!

And even if I have no financial success with my own apps I'll have a new skill in my pocket which I can use to strengthen my freelancing abilities. So I reckon it's as fine a time as any to be an indie iOS developer even if you can only afford to be "independent" part-time and I'll enjoy my beginner's mind while I can thank you very much!

What is Mindfulness Meditation?

"Mindfulness" by Kate Hadley

"Mindfulness" by Kate Hadley

 

Mindfulness is popular at the moment. Schools, healthcare (MBSR), mental health (MBCT), MPs in the UK are practising mindfulness - with Ruby Wax, even TIME Magazine's at it - it's a revolution apparently. There's a lot of good stuff written and a lot of nonsense around which is always the case when something gets very popular.

I've been learning about and practising mindfulness for a few years now and it has helped me a lot. But initially, I had quite a hard time understanding exactly what it was that I was supposed to do and how doing that would help me. I'm no expert in this, I'm just a beginner, but maybe my current understanding will be of help to others.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness comes from Buddhist teachings. It's one of the core techniques of Buddhism. It's just a state of mind that we all experience to some extent. I find phrases like "knowing what you're doing" or "present moment awareness" much more useful than "mindfulness". It's just a state of awareness. When you are mindful you are aware of being "here" in the present moment, you are not "lost in thought" — it's really as simple as that, it's not complicated.

"Lost in thought" is the opposite of mindfulness. "Where" do we go when we're lost in thought? It could be anywhere, it depends upon your particular habits of mind. Maybe you often get involved in imaginary futures — conversations, events or fantasies, playing them over in your head like a film loop, or perhaps re-playing something that happened in the past, imagining the consequences of what you've said or done but you are not "here", present for what is actually happening.

And that's how our brains usually work, flicking back and forth between being mindful of the present and then lost in thought somewhere, mindful, lost in thought...

Mindfulness does not mean an absence of thinking. Thinking allows us to function in the world, it's an amazing ability we humans have to problem solve and navigate the countless activities that we have to do, thinking is fine as long as you are aware that you are thinking and not "lost in the story" of the thinking.

And you don't need to be mindful of everything, just something. Mindfulness is not a "striving" to take everything in, it needs to have a relaxed feel to it. A state of mindfulness has no involvement with the internal dialogue about the things you are aware of, the term often used is a "non-judgmental" awareness. You simply notice what's happening, but you don't get involved in a discussion about it, whether it is good or bad, because then you're easily pulled into your thoughts again.

Meditation

So mindfulness is reasonably simple to grasp, it's just a state of mind that we all inhabit sometimes. Relaxed present moment awareness without judgement or internal discussion. But what is hard to do is to sustain a more continuous mindfulness for any length of time — and that's what meditation is about. It's simply practising being mindful and getting better and better at it over time by doing it more. Meditation is a very broad term, it covers a lot of different techniques but essentially you are practising mindfulness to improve and refine your present moment awareness abilities. From formal daily sitting on a cushion to checking through your body and relaxing any tension you find while in the supermarket queue, there are many different practices. Sometimes you will be mindful of specific objects such as your breath, your body, sounds, your emotions, or just have a fully open mindfulness of whatever strays into your awareness.

You don't have to do anything else, you just work on your mindfulness, the rest will happen on its own...

How does it work then?

There's not necessarily anything wrong with being lost in thought, it can even be pleasant sometimes, but there is a lot to be learnt by being in the here and now. As you spend more time mindful, you start to notice details about how you navigate life, the habitual reactions you have, the paths you go down again and again. You see finer and finer detail about how it feels in your body when you have different emotions, or go particular places, how the things that you experience through your senses trigger your mind's conditioned responses, your habits, what you are reactive to, what "buttons" you have, and how they are pressed. It's a gradual learning and exploring process.

This increased understanding and clarity will slowly allow your awareness to step in more often to make better, wiser choices where you could not "see" before. In Buddhism this is often called "insight" but it's not necessarily a grand thing, it's just a chipping away at all our preconceptions, judgments and habitual conditioned reactivity to see things closer to how they really are, the layers of thoughts, feelings, and emotions that are going on.

With your practice increasing your ability to be mindful more of the time, eventually even in moments of powerful emotions such as anger you may be able to "watch" the anger arising and "catch" it before it takes hold of you and choose to not go down a well trodden path of unkind words and actions. This could be equated with the "neuroplasticity" of recent neuroscience. We can teach ourselves new tricks instead of following the same old patterns.

This process may not seem to be that intuitive, surely you have to "do" more; strive, focus, analyse to get results? You do need to practice but the results come from just "being" mindful more often and nothing else — no analysis, no working anything out.

It's not easy though, meditation is often misunderstood — we see the stereotypic images of calm happy people, blissed out and levitating. And while it is possible to achieve very beautiful and joyous states of mind in meditation, watching your mind and it's habits and continually returning to mindfulness over and over again is rarely easy, it's hard work.

I haven't yet slotted a daily sitting practice into my life, even though I continue to try! But I have got a lot out of increased mindfulness practice in my daily life. It has helped a great deal with anxiety, self esteem, and with my relationships. I listen to a couple of podcasts to keep the ideas fresh in my mind so I am often reminded to be mindful.

This is just my basic understanding of a big topic. These can be hard concepts to get your head around with just words. I struggled and I've read a lot of confusing, ambiguous descriptions of mindfulness and meditation. My words may be confusing too, but maybe they'll help someone. Whether you sign up for an eight week course in MBSR, take meditation classes, or just try to learn quick techniques to become more mindful in your daily life, these practices can and do help thousands of people every day.

So happy practising. There are many resources available online around these topics but here's just a couple to get you started...

Listening

Audio Dharma - the podcast of the Insight Meditation Centre, Redwood, California
Dharma Seed - the podcast of Spirit Rock Meditation Centre, California

Reading

Mindfulness in Plain English - Ven. Henepola Gunaratana (Free PDF)
Wherever You Go, There You Are : Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life - Jon Kabat-Zinn

Swift by Apple

Last week Apple launched a new programming language - Swift. It's their successor to Objective-C and gives you a brand new way to program apps for OS X and iOS. It's particularly interesting to me as over the last 6 months or so I've been learning Objective-C and putting together my first iOS apps. I've found learning Objective-C hard. I'm a PHP and HTML/CSS programmer by trade with a smattering of Javascript/JQuery knowledge, and Objective-C is very different to the code I know. It looks wierd and very verbose and has had a very steep learning curve.

I'm not an expert in programming languages, I've always just learnt what I've needed to in order to get things done, but Swift looks and feels much more familiar, it's easier to read and make sense of, so I'm already sold.

I think I'll continue developing my first iOS app in Objective-C as it's almost complete but subsequent projects I'll try to start from the ground up in Swift.

I'm glad though that I've spent the last 6 months starting to get to grips with Objective-C without any knowledge of Swift as the crazy Objective-C syntax no longer scares me quite so much and half the battle is learning all the verbose Cocoa Touch method calls anyway which all kind of translate across to swift.

I'm enjoying watching the developer commentary so far on Swift which seems very positive on the whole. In the Keynote it looked as if most people in the audience were surprised and some people looked genuinely confused (maybe they were just worried at that point about their livelihoods!).

So, I'm looking forward to hearing what people make of it and watching all the WWDC video sessions over the next few weeks as we all learn a new language...