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Being a Digital Freelancer in the Era of Context Collapse [en]

Being a Digital Freelancer in the Era of Context Collapse [en]

[fr] Réflexions sur ma carrière et les enjeux du marché d'aujourd'hui pour les "pionniers des médias sociaux", avec en toile de fond l'effondrement de nos contextes d'être et de communication dans le monde en ligne (Facebook, bonjour).

Contexte collapse. It’s crept up on me. It used to be semi-overlapping publics, or more precisely, they point to two different faces of the same thing.

Semi-overlapping publics remind us that we do not all see quite the same public. This was the “new” thing Twitter brought compared to our old IRC channels. Now it’s trivial, obvious even, to point it out.

Walking Alone

Context collapse points to the fact that the natural boundaries in our lives have broken down. I was aware of this going on, and it never really troubled me. On the contrary: I loved (still do) the idea of bringing people from different places together, of the melting-pot, of wrecking the big, artificial and sometimes even harmful boundaries we have erected between our private and professional lives. We are whole people.

But what I’m seeing now is that contexts have collapsed to the point where it is putting a break on our desire to express ourselves. I am feeling it myself.

I just had a great catch-up call with my old friend Deb Schultz from over the Atlantic. We shared our observations on our professional lives, so similar. I’ve had other conversations with my peers lately, people who have “been around” this “online social stuff” for a long time. I went freelance 10 years ago, and as I already mentioned the “market” has changed dramatically. From medium-sized fish in a small pond, pretty much the only person in my geographical area you could call up to interview about “blogs” or ask to give a talk on the topic, I feel I am now in a really big pond full of fish of all shapes and sizes, thrashing about much more vigorously than I am.

Talking with Deb tonight, I realised how “not alone” I was in my current professional predicament. And here’s what it has to do with context collapse: I feel I have lost the spaces I used to have which were public enough to be useful, and private enough that I might feel comfortable saying “hey guys, time to send me work/clients if you have any leads”.

Facebook is full of everybody, including ex-clients, future clients, even current clients. Peers, family and friends. Context so collapsed it is flat as a pancake. I think I did well online in the early days because I am not as scared of context collapse as most people. I am comfortable talking (and being honest) about a lot of things with a lot of people. My online presence brought me visibility, which brought me a career. Contexts “just collapsed enough”.

But everybody has their limits, and, like many people, I find it hard to talk about the challenges I might face running my business with people who are paying me for said business. Because you want your clients to trust you, and believe in you, because you’re good, right, and if you’re good you cannot be anything but successful. If there is a crack in your success, it can only mean you’re not that good.

It could mean you’re not that good at self-marketing and sales, though. (That’s another — long — post.)

(And a shout-out to Robert Scoble, who was an early inspiration to me when it comes to “putting it out there”, and who has come back from Facebook to tell us where he’s at. Read his post.)

During tonight’s discussion, on the backdrop of other recent conversations with my peers, I realised there really is a whole generation of us early independent social media professionals who are facing similar issues. Our industry has matured, “social media” (or whatever you want to call this online stuff) is in every company and agency. Those who arrived later in this area of expertise are specialised: you have community managers, social media marketers, digital content specialists, etc, etc.

We early birds often have more generalist profiles. I know it’s my case. We’ve touched all this, seen it grow and take shape. And now we wonder where we fit in. Personally, I’ve been wondering for years (on and off) if there was still a market for what I do. Is there a decent business case for “Stephanie Booth freelancer”, or am I just fooling myself?

At this stage, I don’t really have the answer. One answer I do have is that there is definitely still a market for what I’ve been doing for the last 10 years when I reframe it as “digital transformation” or “digital literacy”. I’d known for a long time that describing what I did as “social media” was problematic, because it bundled me up with “marketing”, or had people thinking I was a “community manager” who would “update their Facebook page”. So, it’s been a big relief to find a way to talk about this aspect of my work that feels right.

What I don’t know yet is:

  • how do I talk about “the rest” of what I do/can do: analysing needs, challenging solutions to make sure they really solve problems, digging to identify real problems, offering solutions, coordinating, planning…?
  • do I have the “business skills” (sales, marketing) to “make it” as a freelancer when I’m not benefitting from media spotlight or being one of the only fishies in the small pond?
  • is it time to “reboot” and work as an employee for a few/many years, and if so: client-side, agency, consulting… — and am I “employable”, at 40+, having been freelance for almost my entire career?

The “safe spaces” to talk about these things are not completely gone. We have one-one conversations, if we take the trouble to plan them, like my friend and I did tonight. We have spaces like the Going Solo Slack, where a handful of us chat from time to time. And newsletters. I really believe the context collapse and fragmentation of the major social spaces like Facebook has something to do with what I sense as renewed enthusiasm for a certain type of newsletters.

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IRC Bots as Social Objects [en]

IRC Bots as Social Objects [en]

With the resurrection of #joiito, I’ve been struck by the role our channel bot (jibot) plays in catalysing interactions between us humans.

Jibot is a topic of discussion as Kevin Marks and others tinker with its various incarnations. We teach it stuff, check to see what it knows. We use it to say things about ourselves and others, but also to play (for example with the function “?cool <username>” implemented by Jens-Christian).

The IRC bot is clearly here a social object. It is an object that generates social interaction. Or maybe more simply, and object that makes us talk about it just by its simple existence. Because jibot is there before us, we have conversations, interact, get to know people that we wouldn’t have if it hadn’t been there. And jibot doesn’t really have to do anything to make that happen; it just has to be.

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IRC: #joiito Channel Revival (Or At Least Reunion) [en]

IRC: #joiito Channel Revival (Or At Least Reunion) [en]

[fr] Le retour du canal IRC #joiito, et quelques pensées sur ce qui différencie Twitter et Facebook (même les groupes) d'un canal IRC comme celui-ci.

So, let me tell you what happened last night. You know I’ve been reading Here Comes Everybody, right? Well, in chapter 9, Clay Shirky tells the story of #joiito — Joi Ito‘s IRC channel, that I was a regular of for years since sometime in 2003 or 2004, until Twitter emptied the channel of most of its life. Reading about it in Clay’s book reminded me what a special thing it was.

Last night, I saw that my old friend Kevin Marks was online on Facebook. Unless I’m very mistaken, Kevin is one of the numerous friends I made on #joiito, and we hadn’t chatted in ages. I wanted to tell him about my Blogging Tribe experiment, see if he was interested. We started joking about the old times (OMG Technorati!), I mentioned my reading Here Comes Everybody, the mention of #joiito, he pointed me to his blog post clarifying Jeannie Cool’s role in the channel (seems Clay had got the story wrong in the first edition of his book), which brought me to another post of Kevin’s on the bots we had running in #joiito, and on an impulse, I went to check out the channel.

Now over the last years, I’ve pretty much always been logged in to #joiito (I run irssi in screen on my server). But I stopped going. Like many others it seems, over the years Twitter became my “replacement” for IRC. I guess we all logged in less and less, and the channel population and conversation dropped below the critical mass it needed to stay truly alive. The community disbanded.

The channel never truly died, of course. There were always some of us sitting in there, and there would be sudden flare-ups of activity. But the old spirit had left the room.

Kevin followed me in, started fiddling with the bots, I found an old abandoned #joiito Facebook group. Created back in 2007, it was clearly an “old-style” Facebook group (they sucked) that was migrated to new style and emptied automatically of its members. There were three members, I invited myself in, invited a bunch of other #joiito old hands, and started pinging people to get them to drop into the channel.

In less than an hour we had a lively conversation going on in #joiito. I stayed on for a few hours, then went to bed. Imagine my surprise when I woke up this morning to discover close to 60 people in the Facebook group, and that the conversation on #joiito had gone on all my night, with “new old channel regulars” joining! It feels just like the old days. Seriously. It makes me very happy, because I think this IRC channel was really something precious, and I was sad it was “no more”. (Quotes because obviously, the channel never disappeared… it just died down.)

I haven’t had an IRC conversation like this in years. I’ve been very active on Twitter (slightly less now), am very active on Facebook, and really love Facebook groups. But an IRC channel like #joiito is something different.

When I asked my old friends what had “replaced” #joiito in their current online ecosystem, the general response seems to be “Twitter”, clearly. But what is missing with Twitter and Facebook (and even Path) that we are so happy to see our channel alive again?

Twitter and Facebook are centred on the network, not on the group. We are loosely joined to each other on Twitter just like we are loosely joined on IRC (I definitely am not “close” to all the channel regulars — more on that too in a bit), but the container is way bigger. On Twitter, our networks sprawl and spread until we end up (some of us) with thousands of followers. This is very different than an enclosed chatroom with less than 100 people in it.

Once we started spending more time on Twitter and Facebook, we stopped being part of the same group. We got lost in our own networks of friends, acquaintances, and contacts.

Facebook groups bring back this “community” aspect. But interaction and conversation in Facebook groups, which are built upon a message-board model, is much slower than in IRC. There is less fluff, less joking, less playing around. It’s not real-time chatting, it’s endless commenting. We’ve touted Twitter and Facebook so much as being “real-time” that we’ve forgotten where the real “real-time” is: in chatting.

IM, Facebook, and Twitter allow people to keep in touch. I’m connected to a large handful of #joiito regulars on Facebook — people I used to exchange with daily during the Golden Days. But on Facebook, we don’t talk. Our relationship is not one of one-to-one chats. Our lives on Facebook our different enough that they don’t bring us closer, but make us drift apart. We are missing our hang-out place.

You’ve seen that play out offline, certainly. You leave a club you were part of or a job. There are many people there whom you appreciate or even love, but you do not stay in touch. Once the common activity or place that brought you together in the first place is gone, there is not enough left to keep you together.

Twitter and Facebook are more lonely places to hang out online than an IRC channel, because nobody shares the same experience as you. We all have a different Twitter, a different Facebook. In an IRC channel, we all have the same lines of text scrolling before our eyes.

Is this just a reunion, or is this the revival of the #joiito IRC channel?

Only time will tell. I personally hope for a revival. I missed you guys.

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Live-Blogging vs. Live-Tweeting at Conferences [en]

Live-Blogging vs. Live-Tweeting at Conferences [en]

[fr] Live-tweeter une conférence, c'est l'équivalent d'être actif dans le backchannel IRC de la belle époque des conférences de blogs. Il n'y a rien de mal à ça, mais il ne faut pas confondre ça avec le live-blogging: en effet, passés quelques jours, semaines, mois ou même années, qui va replonger son nez dans le fouillis des tweets ou des logs IRC de telle ou telle journée? Comparez ça avec un article sur un blog, qui sera lu, relu, et encore relu -- qui conserve donc sa valeur une fois que l'excitation du temps réel est passée.

One of the things bloggers brought with them when they started attending conferences is live coverage. Unlike the traditional press, which would provide you with a summary of the proceedings the next day, bloggers would be madly photographing, taking notes, uploading, and hitting publish in the minutes following the end of a presentation.

Live-blogging was born.

(For my personal history with it, see my BlogTalk 2.0 posts (2004) about collaborative note-taking using SubEthaEdit and a wiki, and my notes of LIFT06 (2006). Real proper live-blogging had to wait until LIFT’07 and Martin Roell’s workshop on getting started with consulting (2007), however.)

Then Twitter showed up, and everybody started a-tweeting, and more particularly live-tweeting during conferences.

But live-tweeting does not replace live-blogging. It replaces the IRC backchannel, allowing people to comment on what is going on as it happens, and letting people who are not physically present take part in the fun.

(I’m not going to talk about backchannels here: they’re great, but can also have unpleasant consequences in certain situations. A whole series of blog posts could be devoted to them.)

So when bloggers at conferences neglect their blogs and spend all their time live-tweeting, they are in fact fooling around in the backchannel instead of doing what bloggers do, which is produce content which retains value months, sometimes years, after it was published.

Don’t get me wrong: live-tweeting is fine, so is participation in a more traditional IRC-based backchannel. But don’t confuse it with live-blogging.

Tweets of the moment, just like IRC conversations, tend to be great when consumed in real time. But as the days and weeks go by, they become just as pleasant to read as an IRC log. (Understand: not pleasant at all.)

So, dear bloggers, when you’re at a conference to provide coverage, do not forget who you are. Not everybody is a live-blogger, of course, and some produce very valuable writing about an event they attended once they are home and have allowed the dust to settle.

But tweeting does not replace blogging.

Do you think I got my point across, now? 😉

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Steph+Suw Podcast: First! [en]

Steph+Suw Podcast: First! [en]

[fr] Suw et moi avons enfin enregistré le fameux podcast-conversation dont nous parlons depuis notre première rencontre, en mai 2004. C'est en anglais et c'est assez long, mais on s'en est pas trop mal sorties pour une première!

Each time [Suw](http://chocnvodka.blogware.com/blog/) and I meet, we talk about recording a podcast together. [We met for the first time in June 2004](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2004/06/08/uk-trip-report/), and if I believe the [Podcasting and Beercasting Thoughts](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2005/03/23/podcasting-and-beercasting-thoughts/) I wrote a little less than a year later, that was indeed when we first started talking about using audio to record conversations.

I’m definitely sure that we talked about it at [BlogTalk 2](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2004/07/07/blogtalk-20-compte-rendu/). I don’t think Skype was in the air then, but we talked about hooking up our phones to some audio recording device, and left it at that. At that time, people were getting excited about “audioblogging” (did we already talk about “podcasting” back then? It seems a long, long time ago) and we agreed that were audio really became interesting was in rendering conversations. (See the [Podcasting and Beercasting Thoughts](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2005/03/23/podcasting-and-beercasting-thoughts/) post for more about that.)

Anyway, now we have [Skype](http://www.skype.com/), and [Call Recorder](http://www.ecamm.com/mac/callrecorder/) (which reminds me, I need to write up a post about the ethics of recording audio conversations), and we finally got round to doing it. It’s a bit long-ish (40 minutes — not surprising if you know us!) and has been slightly edited in that respect, but honestly, it’s not too bad for a start.

Here is roughly what we talked about.

– [San Francisco](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/01/12/im-really-liking-san-francisco/), web geek paradise
– City sizes (see this [London-SF superimposition map](http://flickr.com/photos/dotben/362322811/))
– Segways
– The cat/geek Venn diagram ([Twitter error message](http://flickr.com/photos/factoryjoe/355210755/))
– I really want a Wii
– IRC screen names
– The difficulties of pronouncing S-u-w
– When geeks name children: A unique identifier or anonymity?
– Stalkers and geoinformation
– Perceptions of security
– Giving out your phone number and address, and personal boundaries
– Airport security ([background…](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/01/15/airport-security/))
– Risk and expectations of risk
– Death, religion, and the medical industry
– Naming our podcast… something about blondes, apparently
– Clueless marketeering from the Fabric nightclub in London
– The repercussions of having a blog that people think is influential (even if
you don’t think it is)

Let us know what you liked and didn’t like! [View Suw’s post about this podcast.](http://chocnvodka.blogware.com/blog/_archives/2007/1/23/2675001.html)

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Surprise Meet-Up Last Night [en]

Surprise Meet-Up Last Night [en]

[fr] Une rencontre totalement imprévue avec un pote d'IRC qui était à Lausanne pour la semaine. Je l'ai appris par hasard la veille de son départ -- du coup, on est allés faire un tour en ville!

So, last night, before [the sad news hit me](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2006/09/17/rob-levin-lilo-of-freenode-just-died/), I was just hanging out online while [digging through the bottom of my GTD inbox](http://steph.wordpress.com/2006/09/17/inbox-empty/) when I was drawn into #[swhack](http://swhack.com/) by a highlight. (If you don’t live on IRC, you probably don’t understand what I’m talking about — don’t fret.) Usually, highlights in #swhack mean the bots are getting chatty, but anyway, I peeked in. An irrelevant mention of Bugs Bunny (now you can guess what I highlight on) was all it was, but as the channel seemed alive for once, I stayed to exchange a few words with those who were there.

The conversation topic quickly drifted to Switzerland, and for some reason I didn’t quite grasp straight away, people were suddenly very interested in the fact that I was in Switzerland, and, more than that, in Lausanne.

A few lines later the penny dropped, and I realised that [crschmidt](http://crschmidt.livejournal.com/) was chatting with me through the free wifi provided by my hometown! He had been here all week for the [FOSS4G conference](http://www.foss4g2006.org/). He works for [MetaCarta](http://www.metacarta.com/), who were [sending him there](http://crschmidt.net/blog/archives/172/foss4g-reports/).

Half an hour and a park name confusion (my mistake) later, we were meeting up in Parc Montbenon. We went out for a drink, a stroll in the Roman ruins and a short photo session by the lake. We talked about History classes in Switzerland and the States, looked at satellite maps of Lausanne (blurry) and Geneva (I got to see the building the [coComment](http://cocomment.com) offices are in!), and all sorts of other things that add up to enjoyable conversation without having to be blog material.

Before I knew it we had chatted away until past 1am and my tiredness reminded me that I had planned to go to bed early. But nevermind! It was worth it, nice to be able to meet Chris before he left this morning. Hope you had a safe trip home!

Chris and Steph in Vidy
Proof of meet-up!

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Rob Levin (lilo) of Freenode Just Died [en]

Rob Levin (lilo) of Freenode Just Died [en]

[fr] Rob Levin, fondateur du réseau IRC freenode (plus connu sous son pseudo lilo) est mort des suites d'un accident de la route.

I’ve just received [news of Rob Levin’s death (lilo on freenode)](http://www.chatmag.com/news/091606_rob_levin.html) when logging on after coming back home from a surprise evening I’ll tell you about later, given the circumstances. Needless to say I’m pretty shaken.

I’d never actually met Rob, of course. But I remember many conversations with him on freenode — about nickname issues, about [freenode](http://freenode.net/ “The IRC network which is my main online residence.”) and the underlying concept of community it was built on, about leaving New Orleans before Katrina arrived. He was somebody I always enjoyed chatting with, and I was always amazed at how he would take time for small issues like my nickname problems. He struck me as nice, patient and understanding for the little I knew him.

As [founder of freenode](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rob_Levin), he was of course an important person to me. Freenode is a place which lies at the center of my online social life. But more than that to me, he was also simply a person I chatted with every now and again and really appreciated. I’m going to miss him.

I’m doing something I usually tell people not to do: publish stuff when emotions are fresh. My excuses therefore, if I sound a bit rambling or whatever — but there’s just no way I can just head for bed right now as I was planning to do when I got home. Hopefully writing this here will help me accept what has happened and feel a little less sick.

Bye, lilo. My thoughts are with your family and friends. You will be very much missed.

Related:






– and

– (with IRC transcript)


– (transcript)

– click on the tags below for more and latest news

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My iBook is Back! [en]

My iBook is Back! [en]

[fr] J'ai enfin récupéré mon iBook, après plus de 6 semaines de réparation (par ma faute et par la faute d'Apple).

Finally, finally, after over a month and a half of waiting, I got my iBook back. Bonus: they changed the topboard, so I have a new trackpad and white wrist wrests.

Why did it take so long? Partly my fault, partly Apple’s fault.

  1. I didn’t register my AppleCare correctly, so the shop had to do it for me outside the registration deadline, and (more or less understandably) Apple took their time.
  2. Apple sent the shop a faulty motherboard to repair my iBook with; the shop changed it, the computer still didn’t work, they had to order another one (from second order to repaired iBook, it took less than 10 days — Monday to the Wednesday after).

It wasn’t too bad living without a computer at home, except when (a) I found myself the center of media attention once again and (b) when I had to stay at school to type up tests and stuff for school (that was the worst). I found myself reading more, and watching a little too much TV for my taste (got nearly-hooked on a couple of series — let me know if you’re planning to offer me a birthday present, I’ve got ideas).

Actually, it was a little like being on holiday. I missed my online friends, and a bunch of things happened in my absence; some of which I regret not having been part of, some of which I’m happy to have avoided. I had lots of things to write during the first weeks, and that was a little frustrating. I’m not one to write on paper and type up later (partly because writing by hand is difficult for me because of RSI), so quite a lot of things simply disappeared in the void.

I’ve more or less caught up on e-mail (I had been checking it every couple of days at school anyway), paid a visit to the blogs I like, said hi to some people on IRC and IM, and now I need to try to get back to what I was working on online “before”. That might take some more time, particularly as we are nearing the last weeks of school now.

Glad to be back!

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UK Trip Report [en]

UK Trip Report [en]

The nice thing about having a laptop is that you can fire it up on the airplane and type in peace, without being distracted by IRC, instant messaging, e-mail and stats checking, or simple bloghopping. With iTunes in the background playing Bombay Dreams, my only concern is that the plane will start descending towards Geneva shortly.

My trip to the UK was short, and last-minute. I heard some people from #joiito were going to meet up in London on Sunday, I checked my easyjet flights, called Aleika–

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we will be landing shortly in Geneva. Please return to your seats, make sure your seatbelt is fastened and your seat is in the upright position, and switch off any electronic equipment.”

There goes the laptop, and I now find myself with a post which will be hard to date. Anyway. (Warning: this is a “cheese sandwich” post to some extent, so if you’re bored already, don’t bother reading it.)

Where was I? Yes, last-minute trip. I found a friend to house-and-cat-sit for me, which was nice, and spent the first couple of days at Aleika’s. We did our usual “girls at the movies” thing: get dressed up a bit, leave home late, grab some food which doesn’t come fast enough (well, it took long enough to arrive that I drank my pint of cider almost entirely before the meal, and can now testify that it’s all it takes to make my head spin quite a lot), jump into a cab and run to the theatre (slightly inebriated), only to find that the timings on the internet were incorrect, and we have another half-hour to wait before gleefully drooling all over Hugh Jackman in Van Helsing (OK, I got a bit carried away here, but you get the picture).

I got to spend nearly a whole day alone with Akirno, which was really nice. I didn’t get to see him much on my last visits. He’s grown so much! And he talks so much! (Yes, I know, that’s what I say each time I come back from Birmingham.) He’s a real sweetie. I love him very much.

Unfortunately, I caught a cold (over the top of my first one!) waiting for the bus after Van Helsing, so all my pre-London shopping was done in a rather feverish state. Looking at the bright side of things, it means I didn’t spend as much as I might have, which is a good thing, as my suitcase was already quite full enough (and my bank account empty enough, but that’s another story).

Driving to London went fine. We found a parking space right next to the Apollo Victoria Theatre. (Remember: Sunday matinée shows are a good idea if you’re going to London to see a musical or a play.) Bombay Dreams was really fun, specially as I know most of the songs Rahman re-used for the musical.

Still dressed up (I chose the pink dress), I headed for the #joiito meet-up. Despite this nagging feeling of being somewhat overdressed, and my cold, I had a very nice evening.

As always, though, I had to cope with the frustration of group meet-ups: not enough time to talk with everybody, not enough time to get into interesting conversations with those I talk to. Or maybe I’m just more of a one-to-one person? Anyway, standing invitation for any of you who would want to visit the beautiful town of Lausanne or practice French in the area — just drop me a line, or better (since e-mail is soon to be a dead form of communication, thanks to spam), catch me on IRC.

So, who was there? Well, as I’m nearing the ages of senility, I’m probably forgetting a lot of people, so please bear with me if you’re not mentioned, and let me know if it bothers you too much.

First of all, imajes, my kind host, who was so busy taking me through his iTunes collection on the train back that he missed his home stop. (Can it get worse than that?) Suw prevented me from being the only woman present (I can’t thank you enough for that). Joi was so utterly bored by my presence next to him that he left early to go back to his hotel and sleep — imagine that! (Actually, it seems jetlag also had something to do with it…)

I chatted quite a bit on the way there with imsickofmaps, and on the way back with snowchyld. Hugh managed to mess up my first blogcard somewhat (or whatever those things are called), so I am now the lucky owner of two of them. Gerard aka insert-coin took a nice bunch of photographs and has already put them online. I stole Suw’s camera to take a few photographs, but she’s not home yet, and those I took with my phone are stuck in there until I lay my hands on a Windows PC (thanks, Microsoft).

Apart from bumping my head on a couple of low doorways and leaving my coat there, I brought two things back (not literally) from james’ flat: VoodooPad, which I have not adopted as my official scrap-book application, and a book which made me discover a blog (how often has that happened to you?): Never Threaten to Eat Your Co-Workers: Best of Blogs, a collection of great weblog posts. I read a few pages, and it looked really neat. It’s on my wishlist now.

I think this post is long enough, for a short trip!

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Birmingham and London [en]

Birmingham and London [en]