Interview with Riccardo Mori

Hello! I'm Riccardo Mori. I am a writer, freelance translator, and an enthusiast photographer. I’m also a Mac consultant and I like to collect vintage Macs and vintage devices that I usually put to good use, as I don't like to just accumulate stuff.

I write mostly about technology, Apple, software, and user interfaces on my main website/blog,

I (now very occasionally) write about vintage Macs and the classic Mac OS on my secondary blog, System Folder.

But I also write fiction and have published two books of short stories. For more information, check my Minigrooves website.

What is your writing background? When did you start your tech blog about Mac OS / Apple?

My educational background is rooted in the liberal arts. During my university years, I focused on philology, Italian and English literature, and art history. I started writing poetry and fiction in the late 1980s.

So, my writing background is literary, but technology has always had an influential role in my life. I became interested in computers in the early 1980s. In 1989 I started being involved in desktop publishing, part-time working in mixed PC/Mac environments. I eventually went Mac-only in 1993 and stayed Mac-only until about 2018, when, while always keeping the Mac as my preferred platform, I started using Windows again and even some variant of Linux. I think that especially today is a good practice to know how to use more than just one system.

I think I started writing about Apple and Mac OS around 1998, but at the time I still didn't have a personal blog. I was a member of a couple of very active Mac-oriented mailing lists in Italy, and in reaction to my often lengthy and thorough responses, other members kept telling me I should start a personal website.

It was a tempting idea, but back then I didn't have the skills to create a website from scratch, and things like registering a domain and having a hosting provider weren't as inexpensive as they often are today. Free blogging tools were either still absent or in their infancy. I had to wait a few years. Meanwhile I started freelancing as a technical translator around 2001, and I’ve collaborated with Macworld Italia magazine for the better part of the 2000s. During that time, especially in the early 2000s, I published on Macworld some reviews and other articles translated from the US and UK editions of the magazine.

I started my first personal tech blog in early 2005. It was a rudimentary affair published using a software called iBlog, and using the meagre Web space I was given as a .Mac subscriber. (.Mac was the grandfather of iCloud). iBlog was a terrible, short-lived application, and when it stopped working I migrated to around 2006, which by that time was already a very functional, easy-to-use blogging platform.

At first I was writing on my blog exclusively in Italian, and in 2007 I started a separate WordPress blog in English, but keeping two separate blogs was a lot of unnecessary work, and things started getting difficult to manage. Long story short, in 2011 I registered the domain with the help of a good friend of mine, and consolidated all my past archives (both in English and Italian). From then on, my preferred language for writing tech articles has been English, because it allows me to reach a wider audience.

What is your current project? In general, how Covid-19 changed your plans?

It depends on what you mean by 'current project'. If we're talking about my day job, there isn't one. For the most part, I get assigned translation and app localisation jobs, and I carry them out.

When it comes to personal stuff, I have two major writing projects going on, but these are not tech-related projects:

  • Minigrooves — Short stories that are first published online in cycles (or ‘seasons’), then published as ebooks with extra content. Volume 1 and Volume 2 of Minigrooves are currently available on Apple’s Books Store and Amazon’s Kindle Store. More details about this ongoing project can be found in this article. For an overview of the extra contents of the ebooks, and the links to purchase them, go here.
  • Low Fidelity — A dystopian/utopian post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel. A bit more information about the novel is available at the Crosslines//Low Fidelity website and I’ve talked about the project in more detail in this article.

As for more technology-related topics, I have indeed a project I'm working on, but I have no idea when I'll be able to complete it. I've been collecting notes and observations about user interfaces for a while now, especially about how iOS and Mac OS have been progressing (or regressing) over the years. I'd love to finally organise these notes and publish them as a small book someday!

Covid-19 did not affect my work in any way, and I consider myself very lucky about this. I know people who lost their job due to the impact Covid had on their business, and people who had to adapt and start working from home, and for such people this new way of remote working has been a bit of a shock. I have been working from home (or out and about) for more than 20 years now, and nothing really changed for me during the various lockdowns related to the pandemic.

But the periods of isolation and the subtle anxiety I experienced, especially during the first months of lockdown, prevented me from being as productive as I had hoped. Here I was, finally, with more time to work on my projects, but I found it very hard to concentrate due to such anxiety. At least I don't live alone, and my wife's presence helped a lot. Anyway, things have got generally better since the second half of 2020.

What software do you prefer to use for writing on Mac OS?

There's BBEdit, a text editor I've been using since perhaps 1994. It's extremely versatile and sophisticated, and it's so well-designed that its interface remains very friendly and accessible whether you're a novice or an expert user.

Then there's iA Writer, which is the app I've been using the most lately. Another well-designed tool. I typically use it to write the drafts for my tech articles, but also to write my fiction. It can store documents in Dropbox, so I can keep everything in sync across multiple Macs. I also use its iOS counterpart on my iPad, but less often. The Mac is still my preferred environment to work.

Then of course I use MarsEdit to write anything I need to publish on my blogs. I either write in it directly, or use it to fine-tune what I've previously drafted in iA Writer.

I also want to mention TextBuddy, a particularly good tool that was recently released by Tyler Hall. The best description is the one you find on its website: ‌TextBuddy is a Mac app for manipulating text. A Swiss Army knife for plain text that is there when you need it and hidden when you don’t. It can perform several commands to transform and manipulate text, often in ways that would be tedious and time-consuming if done manually.

What skills are the most important for a tech writer? Who are your favourite writers?

I'm probably about to say a few things that will sound quite obvious, but are worth pointing out anyway.

First, you have to learn how to write well. You do that by reading a lot. Reading a lot expands your vocabulary, helps you master whatever language you choose to write in (it can be your mother tongue, it can be another language), and gives you an idea of the different styles other writers have. And then you have to practice a lot.

Another important skill, in my opinion, it's the ability to parse information and discern what's really worth talking about. The ability to think critically. Of course, this depends on how you want to talk about technology. If you manage a news portal, then your job is to keep the audience informed, so you'll probably want to publish a lot of news and short pieces. But even in this case, you need that skill to be able to publish good, verified information, and not just the first rumour you maybe saw on Twitter or elsewhere.

When it comes to writing articles, it's important to be able to present your subject in a clear, structured way. Some writers insist that briefness is just as important. And while I tend to agree with that, I still think that clarity comes first, and if it takes two paragraphs more to be clear about something, then so be it. While the ability to be clear and brief is certainly something to aspire to, sometimes the subject matter is just too intricate, and by being brief you could end up simplifying things too much, or not explaining them too well. Clarity for me means to be able to make people understand what you're talking about and what your point is. What is this article about? Why did I choose to write it? What am I criticising? What is it that I'm trying to demonstrate? Etc.

Among my favourite tech writers, John Gruber of Daring Fireball comes first. I started reading him pretty much since he started Daring Fireball in 2002, and he was one of my major sources of inspiration for writing online about technology.

Other tech writers I closely follow and never miss a word of what they write are, in no particular order:

  • Nick Heer at Pixel Envy. I really like his style, his humour, his ability to write clearly and briefly.
  • Howard Oakley at The Eclectic Light Company. I’ve been reading Howard since the 1990s, when he used to write for MacUser UK magazine. He’s also a developer and I usually enjoy all his articles that discuss the more technical aspects of Mac OS and Macs.
  • Michael Tsai. He has the unique ability of collecting and synthesising many different contributions on a certain topic or piece of news. This helps you understand better what’s going on or what’s problematic about a specific topic. And when he adds his point of view, his remarks are always well-written and concise. I discovered Michael back when he wrote for the About This Particular Macintosh e-zine, and I’ve been following him ever since.
  • A special mention here goes to all the writers at TidBITS, an Apple-oriented website I’ve been following for at least 20 years. They’re the best at delivering news and opinion pieces.

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