Tag: blog

Retro Posts, Experimentation, and New Features Coming Soon

I have been doing some experimentation with the blog. If you follow me on Twitter or my Facebook page, you’ll have noticed that I’ve been trying to increase the visibility of the posts I’m writing. I’m doing this by spreading out the announcements of the posts at different times of the day, in order to catch different audiences. Buffer makes this scheduling easy. This is still in an experimental stage. I was hesitant to try this because I didn’t want to come off as annoying. For instance, when I look at my own Twitter feed, it looks as if I am Tweeting about the same post consecutively. What I realized, however, is that people generally don’t look at my feed, they look at theirs. So if a Tweet goes out when I publish a post at 8am and another goes out for the same post at 3 pm, it will likely be seen by different audiences.

Today, I also began to experiment with something new: Retro Posts. It seems like I should be doing more with the posts I have already written. To that end, I had two ideas. The first is a daily “Retro Post”. These are links to older posts that I select, and I note the year of the post in the message. Today’s “Retro Post,” for instance, was for a Going Paperless post from 2012. If you are interested in following along with these Retro Posts, you can find them on Twitter or Facebook. I have plenty to choose from: Here is a look at how many posts have been published in just the last 10 years:

I am also working on a couple of new features that help expose some of the posts I have here on the blog:

  • A curated index of posts that I think are among the better posts I’ve written. With about 7,000 posts on the blog, my goal is to pick about 10% of them that I think are the best, and have a index page that lists, by topic those posts. The page can serve as a place people can go to get a wide variety of posts at a glance, while also showcasing what I think is some of my better work.
  • I am in the process of moving my list of books I’ve read since 1996 back here to the blog. I have a design in mind that will make it easy to navigate my reading list. What’s more, if I’ve written posts about a book on the list, I’ll have links to the posts right there with the book on the list.

Both of these may take time, as they require a fair amount of curation to get them put together. You can be sure I’ll make an announcement when these new features are available.

As always, I appreciate everyone’s patience as I experiment here, and apologize if the repeated tweets and Facebook posts come across as annoying. Also, as always, I am open to your suggestions and feedback, what you’d like to see more of here, and what you don’t like so much.

And if you want to follow along with the retro posts, they’ll be posted daily to the following feeds:

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Unposted Writings

For every 25 posts I publish here on the blog there is probably one that I write and never post. Looking at my Drafts folder (where all of these posts begin their lives, and wait their turn until they are scheduled) I see two of these unposted writings sitting there, waiting to be posted, and knowing they likely never make it to the front page.

The current contents of my drafts folder.

The first of these is a post called “What to Say to WETA?” The second is the post titled “Show Off How Smart You Are.” I had actually gotten so far as to schedule these posts for this week, when I decided to pull them and replace them with other posts (this very piece you are reading is one of the replacements).

Why not publish the posts?

There are generally two reasons that I write a post and then decide not to publish it:

  1. The piece just isn’t very good.
  2. Something about the tone of the piece bothers me.

Before a post goes into the world, there is really only one person who can judge whether it is good enough to be posted and that is me. This blog is a one-man operation. I play the role of writer, editor, and marketing department all by myself. And sometimes I write something and think, nope, that just isn’t very good. It used to be that I’d post the bad stuff anyway, but over time I realized that I wanted to show the very best of what I write. So I’ve gotten better at weeding out the bad stuff.

The bad stuff, incidentally, doesn’t always even make it into the draft folder. Sometime I’ll have an idea, write a paragraph or two, and realize it is no good then and there. I’ll just delete it instead of completing it. Why waste the time? Other times, I’ll complete a draft, but upon re-reading it, I’ll decide that it is a second-rate effort, or that someone else has said the same thing much better than I have. In these instances, I’ll take a deep breath, and let the piece die in the drafts folder.

Less frequently, I’ll write something that I like, and that I think is pretty good, but that I don’t think has the right tone, or that I think comes off sounding to haughty, too whiny, too petty, or too sarcastic for no good reason. These posts often make it to the scheduled stage, and after a night or two of consideration, I’ll pull them. The posts on “What to Say to WETA?” and “Show Off How Smart You Are” are examples of this variety.

In the first example, I am complaining about receiving too many requests for money from a charitable organization that actually does a lot of good for people. I knew as I was writing it that it fell into the category of too whiny and too petty, but I wrote it anyway, and I even scheduled it. Indeed, it was set to be published today. At night, as I drifted toward sleep, I began to worry that that post would do more harm than good. I mean, so what if the charity seems to constantly ask me for money? Does that really hurt anyone? The post was more sarcastic than my usual, and upon reflection, it seemed completely unwarranted. So I pulled it. That was fine. It wasn’t a wasted effort. Indeed, writing the post was very much like writing an angry letter, one in which I stuff into an envelope, stick on a stamp–and then toss into a desk drawer, knowing I’ll never mail it. Just writing the letter burned through whatever emotional frustration it held on me. Having written it, I felt much better.

In the second example, “Show Off How Smart You Are,” I went off on a pet peeve of mine, equating trivia with being smart. I’d seen an ad for a trivia contest, part of which read “Show off how smart you are…” and that pressed some buttons of mine. I wrote a post filleting the ad in rather caustic terms. But once again, my cooler head prevailed. People enjoy these contests, and who am I to say what is “smart” and what isn’t. This was an example of people having fun, and I was raining on their parade. So I pulled that post as well.

In the early years of the blog, I was not so selective about the quality or tone of my posts. But over the last 7 or 8 years, I’ve fallen more and more into this process where I write posts as drafts, schedule them, and then consider them before they are actually published. More often than not, I don’t give a post a second thought once it is written. But when I do, that’s when my radar goes up, and I start to ask myself why I wrote the post and what I hope to gain by publishing it. If I feel that the primary reason for the post is not particularly good, I’ll pull it.

This is why you are reading about unposted writings today, instead of me ranting about a harmless charity that maybe puts the touch on me a little too much.

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Milestone: 3 Million Views on the Blog

Over the weekend, the blog passed a major milestone: 3 million views over its nearly 16 years life. It is creeping up on a second milestone, 1.5 million unique visitors over that same period of time.

When I started the blog (on LiveJournal! remember that?) I had no plan. I just thought it would be fun to have a place to write in public. The blog migrated from LiveJournal to WordPress (self-managed) back in 2009, and more recently to WordPress.com earlier this summer.

In the early days on WordPress (circa 2009), I remember getting 10 or 20 views a day and being happy that there was a handful of people out there enjoying what I wrote. Over the years, those numbers steadily climbed. I didn’t do much that I am aware of to make that happen. I just tried to write things that interested me. I remember when the daily views hit about 100/day that I was thrilled. After I began writing my Going Paperless posts, things really picked up and for several years, I was seeing 3,000 or 4,000 views per day on average, something that astonished me, but that also made me nervous. I knew most of those views were for the paperless posts, but I still wanted to write about whatever interested me.

As life got busier, as more of my attention was taken up with my kids and family, I wrote less. I “retired” as Evernote’s paperless ambassador, and retired the paperless column, which had always been an experiment in my mind. Readership went down on the blog and along with it, the daily views. I think last year (2020) was a low-point for the blog. I wrote less than ever before, and I missed writing here. That is part of the reason that I decided to try to write here every day in 2020. These days, the daily views on the blog are a tenth of what they were at the blog’s peak readership, but I’ve noticed a definite trend upward, and that pleases me because I am writing about what I want, and not trying to focus on one niche.

I used to obsess over the blog stats. I try not to do this anymore but sometimes, I can’t help it. I’m amazed that the blog has lasted as long as it has, and I’m grateful for all of my readers, especially those who have been around for a very long time. I’ve never tried to compare my stats with other sites, so I don’t know where I stand. I’m sure there are sites out there that get 3 million views in a single month (and possible in a single day), but I’m happy with the slow-but-steady accumulation I’ve managed over the last 16 years.

The first million views could have been an accident. The second million maybe showed that I was on to something. The third million just helps to convince me that there are people out there who enjoy what I write. What can be better than writing what you enjoy for people who enjoy what you write? I am eternally grateful to everyone that comes here to read what I write, who leaves a comment, or emails me with kind words, or questions. You have all made this more fun than I could have possibly imagined when I started out.

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Updates to the Blog, July 2021

This past weekend, I moved the hosting of this site to WordPress, and in the days since, I have been delighted with the results. The WordPress Happiness Engineers (especially Paul Jacobson) did an outstanding job of making this a smoother migration than I could possibly have imagined. With this migration, I wanted to point out a few changes effective today.

  • I have updated to a more modern theme for the site, one that is compatible with WordPress’s Gutenberg engine. So things may look a little different here, although I did my best to keep things organized in the same manner.
  • I have changed the 90-day limit for comments on a post, reopening it for all posts. Previously, after 90 days, comments closed on a post, but I decided that there were enough posts worthy of further comment so I opened it back up.
  • I revamped my About page, providing information about me, and the blog. Over the next week or so you should also see updates to the Contact page and my Bibliography page.
  • During 2021, I have been posting every day. So far that as amounted to nearly 200 posts in the first half of the year. Going forward, I still plan to try to post every day, but I’m not holding myself to post every day if I don’t have anything to write about that interests me. It means that there may be some days that you see nothing new from me. Even so, you should expect 3-4 posts per week in those conditions.
  • That said, beginning tomorrow (Friday) I am introducing a new weekly series I’m calling “Weekly Playbook.” Each week I’ll post and discuss a playbook that I use to try to be more efficient and productive with my time. As an example, the debut playbook will be about my morning routine. You can expect to find this every Friday. (I’ve got lots of playbooks so they should last a while.)
  • Finally, at the bottom of each post you’ll see a box like the one below. I don’t write here for money. This is a hobby, an avocation that I enjoy doing. I don’t have ads on the site; I don’t even have an Amazon affiliate link when I link to books. What this box is asking of my readers is two things, and I hope that they aren’t intrusive: (a) if you like the blog, subscribe, either by email or by following the blog in WordPress or through the RSS feeds; (b) if you enjoy what you read, tell your friends about it. That’s it.

I’d love to know what you think of the new theme, or anything other comment or feedback you have. I’ve been doing this for nearly 16 years now, but I am always open to learning and really want to improve.

Thanks again for reading!

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Searching for Beer in a Stack of Notebooks

This morning after dropping off some mail at the post office, I happened to step into a local grocery store. I forgot what an amazingly wide variety of beer they sold. Once in the store, I remembered that a local beer that I really enjoyed once on tap at a restaurant, I was able to find later in this store. The problem was, I could no longer remember the name of the beer because I was so long ago.

There are 3 long aisles of beer in the store, and I tried perusing the labels to see if it managed to shake free the cobwebs that had gathered in the halls of my memory, but no luck. It occurred to me that my brother-in-law would enjoy this beer, and since I’ll be seeing him this weekend, I could pick some up. If only I could remember the name. I headed home empty-handed and dejected.

On the way home, I remembered writing down the name of the beer in one of my Field Notes notebooks. I’ve filled 30 of these notebooks since 2015, but I kept them all, and they are neatly stacked in my office. I couldn’t remember the timing, however, so I decided to start in the middle, then go the beginning, then the end, and work my way in from each side. I found nothing in Notebook 15. So I moved onto Notebook 1. I found the name of the beer on page 8 of Notebook 1, right after a quote I’d jotted down from The Newsroom.

Performing this search, which looking maying 15 minutes, made me realize 2 things:

  1. There’s a lot of good stuff in those old notebooks.
  2. It’s really difficult to find it.

And thus an idea for a “Field Notes Playbook” was born. The gist of the playbook is that upon completing a Field Notes notebook, I take some time to transfer the notes into Obsidian so that they are searchable at my finger tips.

I mention this because beginning this Friday, I plan to start a new column here on the blog titled, “The Weekly Playbook.” I’ve tried to find ways to be more productive in everything I do. One of the ways I do this, is when I find something that works, I make a playbook for it. Typically, this is a note that describes the steps I need to go through. The thing about playbooks is that they are event-driven and so I try to keep the playbook in mind in the context of the event in question. Over time, I’ve developed dozens of these playbooks, and I thought it would be fun, and possibly informative, to share them with you all on a weekly basis.

If you like my Going Paperless series, then I imagine you might enjoy The Weekly Playbook. In many ways the Going Paperless posts were playbooks, whose focus centered around a single tool: Evernote. Some of the playbooks I use today are related tools: writing tools, email, notebooks, etc. Others, are completely unrelated to technology and are things that I do to be as efficient as I can with my time. You can look forward to the new series beginning on Friday.

Today marks the end of the first half of 2021. When I started 2021, I had a goal of putting more energy into the blog, which I had neglected for most of last year. To that end, I think I’ve been successful. Between January 1 and today, I’ve written 195 posts totaling 115,000 words, and I haven’t missed a single day. Tomorrow, the second half of the year begins I’ve got a few small changes I’ll be announcing, all good, I think. Tomorrow, I’ll also tell you about Project Sunrise, which I’ve already hinted at, but which formally begins on July 1, which I like to think of as my creative new year. Stay tuned for that as well.

Oh, and the beer that I was trying find. It’s called Local Species by Blue Mountain Brewery. Alas, I don’t think they make it anymore. It was a great, one of those beers aged in Bourbon barrels. That’s okay, though. I headed back to that grocery store and found another barrel-aged beer, this one called Wooded Reserve by New Realm Brewery. I picked up a couple of bottles for the weekend.

Two bottles of New Realm Wooded Reserve barrel aged brown ale.

Repeat After Me

Post ideas

I read in the New York Times that Roger Kahn died. The author of The Boys of Summer (the #2 book on Sport Illustrated’s 100 Greatest Sports Books, right after A. J. Lieblings The Sweet Science) was 92 years old. Earlier in the week I read obituaries for Gene Reynolds (M*A*S*H), and Kirk Douglas, who at 103 appears to be out-survived only by Olivia de Havilland. All of these obituaries made me want to write about obituaries.

This, however, exposed an increasingly frequent problem I encounter when writing on this blog: I’ve written about obituaries already. In fact, I’ve written about them more than once. In 2016 I wrote about them in “How I Read the Newspaper.” I touched on the subject again in 2017 in a post aptly titled, “Obituaries.” I returned to the subject last year in “Morning Routines.”

I’ve written about 6,500 posts for this blog—about 2.5 million words, spanning more than 15 years. Since I tend to write about whatever comes to mind instead of focusing on one particular subject, it sometimes seems as though there isn’t anything I haven’t written about. When something occurs to me that seems like it might be worthy subject, the first thing I do these days is a search of the blog to see if I’ve written about it before. I am frequently surprised that I have.

Having written about a subject before doesn’t automatically prevent me from writing about it again. Two conditions typically push me to write again on a subject: (1) I have something new to add; or (2) it has been a long time (a few years at least) since I last wrote about it. Readers come and go, change and evolve, so why not write about it again?

The first condition is most common. Having something new to say is useful. What’s new is often a change of opinion on a subject over time. The classic example of this is my opinion of audiobooks. In January 2012, I wrote a piece on audiobooks where I stated, quite forcefully, that audiobooks were not for me. Reading that piece now is painful now, especially my snobbish reasoning for why I though audiobooks weren’t for me. Eight years, and over 400 audiobooks later, my opinion has changed.

As a kind of experiment, I tried to think of subjects that I might not have written about (or that I had completely forgotten I’d written about) over the years, and then search to blog to see if I had or hadn’t. Here is just some of the results:

At times it seems I’ve written about everything but the kitchen sink. Except—I’ve written about that, too.

Notably absent here is political writing. This sometimes surprises me, given that my degree is in political science and journalism. The truth is that it seems everywhere I turn, people are writing about politics, and anything I have to say has been said before. I don’t particularly enjoy writing about politics, either. I’d just as soon write about something more obscure, but fun: like my inability to locate a paperclip when I need one.

Perhaps all of this is just to say that, while I try my best not to be too repetitive here, some repetition is an inevitable byproduct of the thousands of posts I’ve already written. I ask for your patience with this as I blunder on into the future.

Bringing This Blog Back to Life

I have been struggling with what to write about on this blog for the last few years. I’ve written about all sorts of random things, more to keep the blog alive, and keep in practice than for anything else. I’d like to change that. I’d like to write something that was as impactful as the Going Paperless series I did for a few years. But so much of what is written today is echoes from elsewhere that it is hard to know what to write about.

Part of my struggle with what to write is that I enjoy reading blogs that are not necessarily centered around one theme. I prefer to read things that are like old newspaper columns, where the subject of the day could be virtually anything that piqued the writer’s fancy on that day. That is what I have tried to do here, although for a while, I’ve restrained myself on this because of the notion that I got in my head that a blog should be focused and not so scattershot. Well, I’m disabusing myself of that notion now, and while I do plan to focus on certain themes from time-to-time, I’m not going to restrain myself from writing about whatever is on my mind, regardless of how mundane it might seem.

I’ve given it some thought, however, and I am going to start by writing something new. I won’t commit to saying it will be a series yet, but it is something that has been on my mind a lot lately: being a writer in a complex digital world. I’ve sketched out at least three posts on this subject, and you can expect to see them shortly. I stopped writing about going paperless because I felt the posts started to become repetitive. Writing about being a writer in a complex digital world might also become repetitive at some point, and I hope I recognize that before repeating myself too often.

Repeating myself is something that I worry about. This blog has been around since 2005, and there are, as of this writing, 6,421 posts. I’ve written about just about everything, and it is hard to remember what I have written before. Sometimes, I’ll get partway through writing a post, and what I write seems familiar. I’ll do a quick search and found that I’ve written about the subject already four or five years ago. If I have something new to add, I’ll recast the post in that light, but more often than not, I find myself repeating things I’ve already written. So part of my goal with my renewed effort here is to touch on some things that I haven’t written about as much. If you do find me repeating myself, cut me a little slack, and know that I am now consciously trying to avoid that.

As always, I am open to suggestions. I didn’t start blogging with a master plan, but over the years, if I have any one goal, it is to write with an eye toward entertaining, to occasionally write about how I do things, with the hope that others might benefit, and to steer clear of the extremes that might generate a lot more traffic, but don’t add much to the conversation. If you have suggestions for things you’d like me to write about, drop them in the comments, or send me an email.

Chh-chh-chh-chh-changin’

Do not adjust your computer screen.  You are, in fact, in the right place.  After 3 years and more than 3,000 posts using the "Flexible Square’s" template for this blog, I decided it was time for a change.  You know, like rearranging the furniture in the bedroom, or painting the office a different color.  What you see here is the result..  I happen to like it, but I imagine it will take some getting used to.

And for those of you (like kruppenheimer ) who may be worried that the content of the blog will change, never-fear:  the content will be as inane and trivial as always.

Updates are coming!

No, I haven’t given up on the blog. I was away for the long weekend. Big updates and new is coming soon in back-dated posts. I will let you know when those posts have been completed. Stay-tuned…

UPDATE: All caught-up. I’ve backdated the posts for the weekend so if you read this on your “friends” pages, you will have to visit my blog directly to see the backdated posts.

Cast of Characters

A couple of months ago, Vicky suggested that I should include something in my blog that describes the people that I refer to, especially for people who don’t know who I am talking about. To that end, you’ll notice a new link on the side bar called “Cast of Characters”. This page describes the more common people who appear in this blog. While it is not yet complete, there are quite a few people out there now and so if you are ever wondering who someone is, you can always check the cast of characters page.