Posts Tagged ‘Blogging’

The Thinker

Leap of faith

This blog scratches my writing itch, but most of us writers would rather be published than place our writings in a blog. Being published still means something. Today it means one or more authorities singled you out as worthy of being published, usually on paper. Publishers are not in the business of wasting money. They only publish content they believe will earn them a profit. Coincidentally, published authors earn actual money.

Being a published writer is hard and breaking into the ranks is the hardest part, which is probably why I blog. I may be a good writer, but I am not a great writer and probably will never be. I write because I must. In retirement I may have the leisure to pick up electronic pen and try writing a great novel. But I have little illusions that after it is done that it will be published.

This is because potential authors are a dime a dozen. Publishers are inundated with unsolicited manuscripts, many of them quite good, but most of them trash. At best, an author’s unsolicited manuscript will get a cursory read of the first couple pages by some low level staffer and if it doesn’t meet a niche or market or a quality standard, it is quickly rejected. Even if it meets all of these criteria, the odds are still that it will get rejected, mainly just because. Authors send out their manuscripts anyhow. A few rejection letters will crush the egos of most authors. They will assume they don’t have the “write” stuff and shuffle along disheartened toward more productive but less enthralling careers.

Writers that take the time to research what it takes to get published usually discover it’s a waste of time to send unsolicited manuscripts to publishers. Instead, they try to find a literary agent to represent them. It’s the difference between getting an automated response from a firm and talking to a human being. A literary agent is a trusted broker. If a true literary agent accepts you as a client then your manuscript is virtually certain to get published.

This means that both book publishers and literary agents get inundated with manuscripts. In both venues there are the flakes out there. Vanity publishers are glad to print your book as long as you are willing to pay for it and market it yourself. Similarly, there are literary agents that probably don’t deserve the title but may be interested in critiquing your work, for a fee, or passing it on to an editor who, for a fee, will be glad to edit it, but with little likelihood that it can actually be marketed. A real literary agent is on a first name basis with editors at key publishers and knows what they are looking for. You are not charged any fees at all until a work is published. The agent typically collects fifteen percent of the royalties.

So getting a real agent is a hard bar to reach. I did have a literary agent briefly out of college. I set my expectations low for breaking into the field. CBS Radio Mystery Theater was on the air in the 1970s. I asked an agent to submit a couple of scripts for them. She agreed but they were quickly bounced back. Apparently staff wrote all their scripts. I gave up the idea of writing a great novel or screenplay and went to work instead because I was broke.

My wife, actually a better writer than I am, also wrote all sorts of stories in the science fiction, children and fantasy genres. She sent them out to various publications to see if they might publish them. Her heart was broken time and again. She too gave up. When she chooses to write today, it is for a genre called slash that appeals to the fan fiction community. Needless to say there is no money in it, but there is the occasional fan mail and recognition at a convention.

Our daughter (almost 24 years old) took up the pen naturally. Arguably, if a budding writer had to be born anywhere, she picked good parents. We provided a nutrient-rich literary soup for her. Our house is full of books. There is a newspaper on the kitchen table every morning, and various magazines to read. In addition, we exposed her early to the arts. Just last night we took her to see Miss Saigon at Signature Theater (review to come). She saw her first musical at age six but by now has seen more theater than most people do in several lifetimes. We encouraged her writing but warned her that, like us, she probably couldn’t earn a living at it. I encouraged her toward journalism, which at least pays something resembling a living wage. But no, she set her mark impossibly high. She wanted to write fiction. Worse, she chose fantasy novels, which with the exception of J.K. Rowling is a pretty limited market. We warned her that she had set herself up for a bigger failure because it was a highly saturated but limited market. It was best, we counseled, to do it on nights and weekends. You are going to need a full time job at a desk somewhere to get by.

But still she plugged away, while we fretted over her grades and her slow but measured progress in college. She did earn her bachelor’s degree in English this spring. She is still looking for a job. We did give her credit for doggedness. She finished her book, first of a trilogy, and kept shopping it around to literary agents that seemed interested in this stuff. She endured lots of rejection, crushed spirits but also occasional notes of encouragement. And somehow she kept plunging ahead. We cheered her on while grimacing privately at the probability of the brick wall she was about to hit. It was our experience that life was unfair, and no matter how good you were, most of us writers were fated to be unpublished. We certainly were. We just gave up.

Spring turned to summer, summer headed toward autumn. She seemed doomed to the fate of Sisyphus. It hurt to watch and it felt counterproductive sometimes to encourage her perseverance but gosh, she sure was good. Both my wife and I agree her writing was far better than anything we ever wrote. Meanwhile she went on job interviews far beneath her talents and wrote into the wee hours.

On Wednesday, Lowenstein Associates, a New York literary agency, sent her a contract to sign. Look for her book, Godbinder, first part of a trilogy to be published by some lucky publisher in 2014 under the pen name of J. M. Saint.

J.K. Rowling had better watch out.

 
The Thinker

In a comic frame of mind

Since retirement is on my mind, what to do next is also on my mind. Here’s what I won’t be doing:

  • Playing golf. I never tried, but it’s expensive and since it requires agility then I am likely to do as well at it as I dance. (I have little sense of rhythm or balance.) So I figure I would prove to be spectacularly bad at it.
  • Ski. See playing golf. Plus I imagine myself in casts and walking around for weeks in crutches.
  • Sitting around the house all day. I get cabin fever after a few days. I figure I need a dog in retirement. They always want to go outside. And while I love my spouse, too much togetherness is not good. I saw what it did to my parent’s marriage. They would have been much happier if they spent much of their days apart.
  • Not working. I don’t want to work full time, but I want to do something productive at least part time. Teaching at a community college, which I have done off and on for many years, is doable but it doesn’t pay much. I’ll want to supplement my retirement income by more than teaching at an adjunct’s salary.

Ideally you spend your retirement doing things you like to do, but doing it on a schedule that suits you and hopefully making some money at it. I’ve done IT management for fifteen years or so. It’s not the most interesting thing to do, but it could be worse and it pays great. In retirement I’ll be glad to put that behind me. It seems a shame to waste my IT skills, because I still think IT is fascinating. So I am thinking of writing some mobile apps, once I learn how to do it. It’s not an easy market though. You have to find a niche plus everyone and his brother is doing the same thing and selling them for ninety-nine cents on Google Play. The vast majority of apps have no buzz and languish in obscurity.

I am obviously a political creature, given the nature of this blog. So combining social action with something I enjoy sounds like a good way to spend my time. If it can be profitable, it is even better. So I am thinking of creating a comic strip.

I have noticed that being able to draw doesn’t matter much anymore. Dilbert is a great example. Scott Adams is a millionaire and he cannot draw worth a damn. What he had was a clever idea and he was fortunate enough to work it until it took off. Dilbert is an example of a comic strip that is minimalistic and this type seems to be more popular these days. The online strip xkcd is a better example. If you are creative enough and hit a new and emerging market then the ability to draw is irrelevant.

Based on my research, creating a comic is a lot like selling a first novel. Many try but few succeed. Also, the market is declining, at least for comics on newsprint. Still, there is something about being a creative force behind a comic that appeals to me. I like that, when successful, you can get paid a lot of money for doing so very little. (At least that’s the way I perceive it.) I’ve come up with two comic ideas and curiously both arrived in the middle of the night.

Going with the existential, minimalist, “I don’t need to actually be an artist to write a comic” theme, my first idea for a strip was “A Pile of Ants”. Three frames for every strip during the week of course. All you see is a pile of ants represented by a lot of dots on a surface. One ant talks to the other. It’s an ill-formed idea, but it occurred to me that ants could articulate things that humans cannot and get away with it. Like Monty Python, most people would not “get” it, but those who did would find it hilarious. That you actually never see any of the characters would make it singularly unique, sort of like radio was when you had to picture the action and characters in your mind. However, after a few days I realized I doubted I could sustain this idea for very long, and it was unlikely to be marketable. And it probably wouldn’t do much for social action.

The second idea, and one I am considering pursuing with a friend that can at least draw, is a strip about life in the retail world. It has the virtue of never being done before. Most of us have had the retail experience in our careers, and found that it sucked. So it would be a strip that most could relate to, which might make it marketable. Of course, it would be all about life in retail, probably a fictional big box chain that seems like some amalgamation of Walmart and Target. In my days it was a Montgomery Ward, now defunct. The experience though does not change much from decade to decade. Clerks and salespeople are used, more often abused and occasionally recycled. Customers frequently act pissy, managers thrive on exploitation and staff turns over so frequently you can’t keep up with who is supposed to be working on a given day. In general, in the retail business every effort is made to keep costs low primarily through the infliction of pain on retail employees. At least, that was my experience in about two years working retail after college but before landing a government job. And from reading sites like Not Always Right, which documents customer abuse in the retail world, stupid customer syndrome has not abated.

I don’t have a working title for the strip yet. I want to keep details private until I find out if this thing can fly, and given the odds it probably won’t. But I am a decent writer, and I can write good characters. While artwork is less important than it used to be, I don’t want to embarrass myself, so I am hoping I can find an artist who might take it on. My friend Tom from childhood gets first dibs, if he has time for the project. We worked on comics together as teens and he has a lot of natural talent plus he works in advertising. If I need inspiration there are plenty of places online to find it, but also plenty of material to dreg up from thirty years ago as well.

The main task right now is to flesh out the strip, sort of the way screenplays are done: with a treatment. I need to set up the whole thing, the main characters, the big box, the staff, the managers, how they interact, etc. When I find an artist, we’ll prototype the characters until we have a set that we both like. We’ll then create a month or so of strips and shop them around to various syndicates. There they will likely get ignored, but you never can tell. And if I find it doesn’t seem marketable in print but is still interesting enough to spend time on, like xkcd it may be an entirely on-line thing. Any income generated from publishing it solely online is likely to be marginal at best, with most income coming from merchandising.

In any event, the strip will be there to entertain but like M*A*S*H on TV it will have a surreptitious purpose. For the first several years the idea is to keep it light. Have characters interact and generate a lot of humor. Once it is established, or when I get to the point where there is not much to lose, I’ll give it more of a social action focus. I’ll highlight just how marginal life in the retail world actually is. I imagine a character that sleeps in his car and runs his social life from sitting in a McDonalds parking lot. He has with a flaky laptop plugged into his cigarette lighter and accesses the Internet using their free WiFi.

Dilbert has sort of plumbed this material for the tech world through characters like Asok and Tina the Tech Writer. However, their pain does not begin to match those who inhabit the retail world. We are getting a glimpse of it from the scattered strikes at fast food restaurants and Walmarts across the country. It’s clear to me that these employees have their backs to the wall and simply cannot endure it anymore. It is actually even harder today than it was when I worked retail, and it was soul crushing then, just paid marginally more. The right comic can help broadcast the injustices faced by these vital but abused workers. If I can market it, the timing seems right as well because the subject is topical.

We’ll see if I can get it together. Wish me luck.

 
The Thinker

An updated look

The blog’s theme has been updated! This won’t be obvious to those of you who subscribe to the blog via email or view it in most newsreaders, but if you visit the site you will notice the newer look.

I hate to call it a “new” look because I have been using variants of this same look since the blog began in 2002 as a MoveableType blog. I like sidebars and I plead guilty to filling them with self-promoting crap. It’s okay; I pay for the hosting space. In general I prefer darker pages and I prefer shades of grey to whites and colors. When I go with a theme I tend to stick with it. I like my little Rodan’s “The Thinker” image attached by my posts and pages, although I changed it slightly for the new look.

Still, any WordPress theme can get moribund over time. This one needed updating because it was designed for version 2 of WordPress, and WordPress has been on version 3 for years. This meant occasionally jury-rigging the themes to match version 3 features. This blog finally moved to WordPress in October 2007, which is how long I’ve had the same theme. Five and a half years later it is now using a MidnightBluePlus theme. Naturally it did not look out of the box quite the way I preferred. So I used the power of my editor and Firebug to tweak things in a preview mode until I had it all looking perfect.

Delving into the deep corners of WordPress gives me renewed appreciation for this elegant blogging platform. The best software is software that does what you need it to do, but no more, yet is easily extensible when you need it to be. WordPress is “just good enough” for blogging and any lightweight content management solution. If you need a small site it’s a perfect solution. If you need to host hundreds or thousands of pages, WordPress is not for you. You need an industrial strength content management system, like Joomla or Alfresco. WordPress is also elegant in the sense that it is easy and fun to tweak. You can get a plug in to do just about anything. It is also incredibly popular. Wikipedia says that 22% of new web sites are in WordPress.

With this upgrade I was able to put a few dynamic applications I wrote wholly inside of WordPress. The movies, comments and post list tools that I wrote can now fit inside a WordPress page, thanks to the Allow PHP in Posts and Pages plug in. This makes the whole presentation so much more seamless.

So hopefully the new theme gives the site a little pizazz and seems a little more professional. Enjoy.

 
The Thinker

The blog turns ten

Occam's Razor turns 10 years old

Occam’s Razor turns 10 years old

To channel The Bard, “To blog or not to blog? That is the question.” This blog has its tenth anniversary on Thursday. Subtracting out this post, I have written 1406 posts since the first one appeared on December 13, 2002. That’s 1,569,166 words, with an average of 1116 words per post.

In short, it’s a heap of writing and a heap of my time over ten years. I’m guessing I spent on average ninety minutes per blog post. I would have to sit down for more than eighty-seven days nonstop to match the same number of words. Blogging takes a huge amount of my time, but as a financial investment I’ve been panning for fool’s gold. I’ve earned just $343.51 in Google AdSense revenue over the years.

So naturally I have been considering calling it quits. Ending after completing exactly ten years seems like a logical time. Like cartoons, a blog tends to be best when it is fresh. When I look back at ten years of blogging, clearly my best writing was during the first few years of the blog. At times I have been repetitious, which is easy enough to do when you blog, as you can’t remember every single idea you have ever conveyed (and sometimes you don’t care). This may be reflected in my declining web statistics. It’s hard to say for sure since for years my statistics were probably wildly inflated by SiteMeter, but even during the time I have been metering traffic with Google Analytics I have seen traffic diminish by roughly half, maybe even more. I peaked at 8515 visits in February 2008 and fell as low as 1461 visits in June 2012. There is no perfect mechanism for measuring human traffic, and Google Analytics has had its issues too, as I documented. In general the trend has been down, which makes it easier to throw in the towel.

And yet measuring traffic via Google Analytics alone can be deceiving. This is because while GA measures web traffic, increasingly blog content is syndicated.  GA does not track most of this usage. If you are reading this via email or a newsreader, you are reading the blog as syndicated content. As of today I have 85 syndicated subscribers, as measured by Feedburner. In short the number of subscribers to this blog is now roughly equal to the number of daily visitors I get via the web, maybe more. So while fewer people are finding my blog content via search engines, or pulling up the blog in their browser, more people are reading the blog through syndication. Presumably most these readers can be considered regular readers. Crunching my raw Feedburner statistics, I see steady growth in syndicated readers, as the attached graph shows:

Occam's Razor Feedburner Statistics

Occam’s Razor Feedburner Statistics

I have also been tracking social media usage of my blog. I am a latecomer to this, and my reach via social media is certainly in the mediocre range. Since mid March 2012 I’ve been tracking social media usage by using AddThis. You can see how content is being shared from this graph:

Occam's Razor social media statistics

Occam’s Razor social media statistics

My readers are largely a silent lot, with a handful of readers commenting regularly, but with most readers content to read only. Over ten years, I have logged just 891 legitimate comments. (Many more were obviously spam and were removed.)

In short, the statistics offer a mixed verdict on whether I should continue blogging. A number of commenters have said to continue blogging if it makes me happy. Overall, blogging does make me happy, but it also competes for my time among my many other interests, including my job and the time consuming chores that come with living.

It used to be that I would strive to write a blog post once every other day. If I could not keep up that pace, I would feel guilty. Now I am more relaxed about blogging. My slower rate of posts may be responsible for declining traffic. It is believed that one criterion for your search index ranking is how frequently content is added. So then perhaps it is not surprising that web traffic is down, as I am probably averaging two posts a week presently. However, at this point I cannot blog at a faster rate, at least not with an acceptable level of quality. Moreover, I have less to say than I did ten years ago. I don’t feel the chronic need to write simply to improve my search page ranking. Indeed, I have largely stopped writing posts that I know will boost traffic. Based on my popular pages, I suspect I could write a blog that critiques Craigslist, and probably get thousands of page views a day. But I simply don’t care that much about writing about Craigslist, pornography, human sexuality or Walmart, despite the fact that if I did write about these things regularly I would get much more traffic.

For those few enemies I have made over the years, I expect to keep blogging as the blog turns ten. To the rest of you, most of who choose to stay silent, I hope I don’t bore you too much, and you find some wheat among the voluminous chaff that makes up this blog. I take some pride in that Occam’s Razor has kept going so long, as it is ancient in the world of blogging, and that I have consistently maintained a high standard of quality throughout ten years of writing.

That people read my blog in any amount is really a bonus. The blog remains principally my sandbox, where I get to keep my creative juices flowing. Sometimes, perhaps serendipitously, I open a mind or move someone to tears. Although I usually have no idea when these events occur, or how often, perhaps I really write for these elusive moments.

 
The Thinker

WordPress: a content management system for the masses

This blog runs on WordPress. It wasn’t always this way. It started out on MoveableType, which in 2002 was the hot software for a phenomenon that barely existed: blogging. Five years ago I ditched MoveableType and moved to WordPress. MoveableType became too commercialized. While ostensibly open source, the licensing was hard to use freely. The hassle factor eventually became too much to deal with, so I moved to WordPress, but not without a lot of head scratching. Utilities for moving the content out of MoveableType to WordPress were rudimentary. Fortunately, I’m enough of a hacker where I rolled my own.

Moving to WordPress turned out to be a smart move for the blog. There are no more hassles about licensing. And WordPress is huge, with thousands of themes and plugins. If there is something that WordPress will not do out of the box, it has likely been done not just once, but with a dozen variants via free plugins. Unlike, say, phpBB forum software, which can be modified but is a hassle, installing, activating and deactivating a plugin with WordPress could not be simpler. You can search for a plug in inside your control panel, install it with a couple of clicks and you are on your way. Deactivating is just as simple. In short, WordPress is super-slick, has no licensing hassles and is completely free.

The more I use WordPress, the more I understand that it is really something like a Swiss army knife for managing basic content on the web. Yes, it does blogging very smoothly and elegantly, but it also does so much more. I find myself using WordPress for pretty much all my web projects, including recently this neighborhood web site. It makes expensive software like Dreamweaver and FrontPage unneeded in most cases. You can manage all of your site’s content with a web browser. Need a basic web site but lack design skills? WordPress is what you need. Find a cute theme and if you want to make it stand out upload a site logo too. Need a simple content management system? WordPress can elegantly do the job. In fact, I am using WordPress not just for my own web sites, but also for sites I put up for friends, neighbors and to earn some spare cash. Regardless of use, you essentially have a content management system for free with a look-ahead search control and easy categorization and tagging features. All you need on the web server is PHP and MySQL, which are usually provided free.

Web hosts are also making it easy to use WordPress. It used to be you had to download the software, then upload it to your web server, create a database to hold the data, and maybe adjust some file permissions first with FTP. Now web hosts largely come with script installers, where WordPress is one of the prominent options. With a couple of clicks, it will install WordPress for you.

What may be keeping WordPress from being used more for other than blogs is some basic knowledge. There are lots of online video tutorials out there, but it helps to know a few key concepts:

  • Posts are used for blogging. Think of a blog as a public diary and a post as a diary entry. Posts are normally shown by date from the most recent, but can also be easily categorized or tagged so they can be readily found in logical ways.
  • Pages are for static content. This is key, because if you want to create a web site for say a church or social club and don’t need posts then just create pages.
  • Sidebars allow easy navigation and they are modified through the use of widgets (Appearance > Widgets). The theme determines how many sidebars you can have. Default content will appear on a sidebar, but it is so easy to move sidebar content around just by dragging and dropping. It won’t take you long before the default sidebar content probably won’t be enough. That’s when you go hunting for plugins, which can be done inside your control panel. Most plugins also have widgets. So after you install, enable and maybe configure the plugin, look for the new widget then drag and drop it into where you want content to appear.

A few tips:

  • Spend some time picking an appropriate theme. There are so many of them out there, but they are easy to try on in the control panel and switch as necessary. All your content should move smoothly as you change themes.
  • Be careful allowing open commenting without moderation, as you are likely to attract spam otherwise. In most cases you should install the WP-reCAPTCHA plugin, get a public and private key from Google, and configure the plug in to use it. This gives you high confidence that spam won’t leak through, but it’s usually a good idea to force a comment to go through moderation if it contains embedded links.
  • If your site is personal, you can have the Akismet plugin filter comments for spam for free. Otherwise you may want to consider buying a package from Akismet to limit the amount of spam you will have to deal with.
  • Want to serve ads? It’s pretty easy. First, set up a Google AdSense account. For sidebars, you will usually want to set up skyscraper ads. Then download and configure the plugin with your publisher ID. Of course, there is a WordPress plugin for Adsense with a widget that allows you to easily place the ad. You can also insert a text widget with the ad code from Google. Google allows up to two ads per page.
  • Need to move existing content? In most cases, simply copy and paste each page one at a time from the old site using your browser. In some cases you may need to fix anchors because absolute URLs will tend to copy over. This is easy to do by pressing the HTML button when you are editing a post or page.
  • Want to track site your site usage? Get a free Google Analytics account then install the WordPress plug in.
  • There are so many smartphones out there that it makes sense to optimize your site for them. I suggest installing a mobile friendly plugin.
  • Sharing site content with social media is all the rage. An AddThis account with the WordPress AddThis plug in makes it easy to share posts and pages on your site, plus you can track social media usage on the AddThis site.

WordPress takes the hassle out of presenting and organizing web sites, and it’s free after you pay for hosting. Happy web publishing!

 
The Thinker

Whither the blog?

In 2002 when this blog started, blogging was new and cool. I was really on the cusp of an entirely new trend that soon became validated and mainstream. At last authors were free of the shackle of publishers! This was true if you didn’t mind your content being served electronically and revenue, such as it was, in the form of tiny Google Adsense payments.

Ten years later in 2012 blogging is certainly pervasive, but it has lost much of its allure. Blogging in fact is being chipped away at via Twitter (microblogging) and social media (principally Facebook). Thus I am not too surprised that Occam’s Razor has been taking hits since traditional web sites represent a smaller share of network traffic. A couple of years ago, at least using SiteMeter’s inflated statistics, I could count on two to three hundred page requests a day. Now it’s about half that. So at some point I ask myself if there is much point in continuing to blog. It’s sort of like Newt Gingrich pretending to run for president when it is obvious he has no chance of winning the Republican nomination. Blogging to declining statistics at some point feels like utter vanity.

Page requests do not capture the entirety of traffic on this blog. There are those who read via Feedburner, currently 62 readers. There are also some who have email subscriptions, although I cannot seem to find statistics on them. They may have been inadvertently dropped. There are also a fair number of people saving my posts locally on their hard drive, principally my mother’s eulogy but also various book reviews I have done. I suspect these are principally students trying to pass off my words to convince a teacher they did a review on a book that I reviewed. Shame on them. The general trend of less traffic is hard to dispute, although some of this traffic has shifted to regular Feedburner readers.

The blog also serves the purpose to keep me writing regularly, as well as provides a hobby that will be hard to replace. Still, traffic on this site is likely down in part simply because I am often stretched for time. Finding the time to post just twice a week is hard when I add in a full time job, adjunct teaching and other stuff going on in my life. Motivation to keep going mainly comes in the form of very occasional comments like this one, where it is obvious that my words moved someone. It is likely that a whole lot of other people are also moved by my words (not always in healthy ways), but don’t take the time to leave a comment.

The logical day to stop would be on December 12, 2012. This would end on a positive note, having completed a full decade of blogging, with my first post on December 13, 2002. I am still not sure what I would do with the time if I stopped blogging altogether. Everyone has a book somewhere inside of them they would like to write and I write well enough where it would probably be of interest. I am not getting any younger. Yet writing a book is highly problematic. It would be unlikely to be accepted by a mainstream publisher, which means it would be something I would market and sell, and it’s likely it would be of a niche interest at best. And effectively this blog is a book, a massive book. Over ten years I have accrued hundreds of thousands of page views that say unequivocally that I am a writer who is read. There are currently 1.42 million words in the blog and a total of 1339 posts.

The more likely course will be to downsize the blog. I would post even less frequently than I do and move the blog out of my current hosting space. I currently pay $500 a year to host this blog (and my other domains). If traffic is going down, I don’t need to pay for premium hosting. I have taken the first steps by moving my other domains to HostGator. Together these domains get at least as much traffic as this blog, if not more, and so far I’ve not noticed performance issues associated with other shared hosting services I’ve used over the years, which is encouraging. My current host contract ends at the end of July. At that point I will likely either move this blog into my new HostGator web space or place it on a free blogging site. WordPress.com is a logical location, since this is a WordPress blog and they will host it for free. The downside is that I would lose a lot of the extras I can provide by self hosting, such as the ability to dress up by blog with Rodan’s “The Thinker” icon, etc. So my inclination will be to move it to HostGator and cross my fingers. If response time is sometimes not ideal, it may still be worth the money saved on cheaper hosting since I am drawing less traffic.

I’ve threatened to take the blog down before and was in fact encouraged to do so by some commenters, whom I suspect are regular viewers of Fox News and are always happy to see another liberal voice silenced. Taking it down wouldn’t mean it would go away, simply that it would become an archive, and one increasingly irrelevant as time goes on. To the extent I have traffic it is because I add blog posts regularly. Posting less frequently than I used to likely reduces traffic, because search engines will see the blog as less interesting. Nonetheless, I have some popular blog posts that seem immortal. I suspect they will continue to get daily hits long after I am planted six feet under.

Feel free to encourage me or discourage me in the comments as you wish. Meanwhile, I will keep blogging at least through December 12, 2012 even in the face of declining statistics.

 
The Thinker

Backtalk, Part 2

Time for more belated replies to dated comments.

  • To Kim, on my post Psychiatrists agree: Republicans are insane. The title of this post could perhaps be improved because insanity suggests randomness and a lack of culpability, not deliberate malice. In this latter sense, I don’t think Republicans are insane. I wrote another post suggesting that Republicans were sadists. This is closer to the truth. I went further on Facebook and suggested Republicans were “a bunch of filthy sadists”. Perhaps the truest thing that can be said about them is that they are almost wholly lacking in empathy for anyone not like them. Inability to feel empathy also suggests a psychopathy. This was borne home to me yesterday in conversation with my wife, who recently saw her ophthalmologist. Her ophthalmologist was promoting the ideas of Rep. Paul Ryan, specifically his suggestion to reform Medicare by giving senior vouchers to provide health insurance. She was all for it, and cared not a whit if it didn’t buy them the services they needed. I guess the Hippocratic Oath is now optional reading in medical school. Sadly, I suspect she is representative of most physicians I have interacted with. If anyone should care about relieving suffering, you would think it would be a physician. I fear for our nation since it is full of people in charge with such callous and cruel natures.
  • To bruce, on my post The potential of Google Visualizations. The technology is very neat but I am sorry to say it is not catching on, which is a shame. What is catching on is jQuery, arguably a more generic approach. jQuery graphics is just one aspect of using this Javascript framework. We (the unit I manage) are betting on jQuery, in part due to its wide use and endorsement by Google, and are embedding it into our user interface.
  • To spleeness, on my post Rep. Chris Lee fails Infidelity 101. I think politicians by their nature are drawn to risk, so I am not surprised the hornier of them are drawn toward infidelity. Like Las Vegas gamblers, most assume their skill and charms will allow them to beat the odds. Until, as in the case of John Edwards this week, infidelity not only becomes immoral but also could land you in prison with a felony.
  • To Dave Gunderson, on my post The View at 54. I am now less than a year away from being able to retire. All civil servants should be very nervous about their retirements and pensions, old CSRS types like us included, and plan a second career after retirement, for you are likely to need the income. My feeling is that we are going to have the rug pulled from under us, and soon. I am asking my financial advisor to let me know how my retirement would look like if my pension were reduced by a quarter. I can easily foresee the day when, using the excuse of our indebtedness, a Republican Congress and President declares the country bankrupt and all federal pensions null and void, treating us just like autoworkers. Keep putting as much money as you can into the Thrift Savings Plan and other investments, my friend. I get the feeling that whatever budget package results from deficit talks that are underway, federal workers will be considered the most expedient to hit. Expect taxes to rise for federal workers under the guise of pay cuts and being forced to contribute more toward your own retirement. There may be pension cuts as well, including for those already retired.
  • To Anonymous, on my post The rags to riches myth. If I could rewrite the post, I would add a few asterisks. Like all myths there are germs of truth. Oprah Winfrey, for example, defied virtually all odds. However, she is one in three hundred million Americans; you have much better odds of winning the lottery. President Abraham Lincoln beat the odds too, but you can rest assured that he would not today, and the Illinois Supreme Court will not give an uneducated person a law license by simply appearing before them and looking intelligent enough to practice law in the state. No doubt, they want an endorsement from the American Bar Association today.
  • To Erik, on my post Psychiatrists agree: Republicans are insane. I believe in karma, and the United States will pay in lives, treasure and possibly in the loss of our nationhood for the harm we inflicted in so many places, including most recently Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m selfish enough though to hope I’ll be dead before then, but I think it is already underway and is being evidenced, in part, by our declining standard of living.
 
The Thinker

Backtalk, Part 1

Perhaps one of the reasons I get so few comments is because I rarely reply to them. It’s either that or that most of my topics are not perceived as very interesting by the public. I often get comments on posts I made years earlier. I think I hit some sort of record last week when I received a comment for a post I made in December 2002, when my blog was new. I find it hard to comment on something I wrote many years ago. When I pick a topic, I give it my all, and then generally purge it from my brain.

I need to reply to your comments but given that some of them are for posts made so far in the past and they are so scattered across topics, at least for a while I will take comments sequentially, starting with the most recent comments. To expose my comments, I created a new comment listing tool that allows you to see comments chronologically, either going forward in time or back in time. Periodically I will review comments, in some cases left many years ago.

  • To Kyrsten Bean on my 2002 post, Intimations of Immortality: Kyrsten, I still get déjà vu from time to time, but less frequently than I used to. Every time it happens, it feels less novel. I read recently that we always live in the past because what we perceive never happens instantly but instead has to filter through the brain to give it meaning. The brain is also always multitasking. Some part of your brain lives in the present, some part is always anticipating the future, and some part is remembering the past. The experience of déjà vu might come from the future part of our brain drawing and filing imaginary scenarios. When a future projection just happens to occur in the present, this may trigger the phenomenon. While we like to think we live in reality, when we dream we are wholly absorbed in a complete virtual reality where the laws of time and space are easily transgressed. It may be that it is our ability to create a virtual world through sleep that feeds our feelings of immortality. Or it could be more than that. Dying could simply be the surrender of a physical life for the choice of the soul/spirit to return to a completely virtual life. There we could stay until we find an interesting enough reason to invest our time and energy to experience life inside of a new body. After all, if your soul can slip up and down the time stream, it can anticipate a good match based on whatever experiences your soul needs.
  • To Harry Potter on my recent post, A Primer on Restroom Etiquette: we live in an environment that is constantly swarming with microbial life, so a certain amount of risk is inevitable. Certainly restrooms get more than their share of nasty bacteria and viruses, but many of them are at least cleaned regularly with industrial strength disinfectants. Some caution is in order when using restrooms, but I don’t share your sense of paranoia. Urinals can be flushed using your elbow instead of your hand, or you can grab a paper towel to avoid touching it directly. Unless the plumbing is under repair or a restroom is out of soap or paper towels, other than laziness there is never an excuse for not flushing or washing your hands. Many restrooms now have faucets that detect the presence of a hand and jet water. I prefer these restrooms because touching faucet handles is likely an easy place to pick up and transmit a nasty germ.
  • To Socratus, who used my Boldly exploring the HD Radio Universe post to discuss the mathematical underpinnings of the principle of Occam’s Razor: I excelled in math and even took two calculus courses, but frankly I cannot follow your math or logic. I’m glad it makes sense to you.
  • To suicide blonde on my post Who Wants to be a Millionaire: I learned recently that having a net worth of a million dollars or more is no big deal. One in fifteen Americans fall into this bracket, which explains why I hardly feel rich. If it makes you feel any better, stocks slipped a bit recently so for the moment I am probably not a millionaire. It sure is not as exciting as being on the game show.
  • To George Coventry on my post If Aubrey fought Hornblower, who would win? I read Hornblower as a teen and found it a reasonably challenging read as I had never been on a sailing ship. I strongly suspect if I had started with the Aubrey-Maturin book instead, I would have never finished the first book, as I would not have had patience. About 10% of the book consists of confusing nautical terms that a landlubber needs a specialized nautical dictionary to understand. What I really craved as a teen in a good sea novel was adventure and Hornblower delivered with a character I could easily relate to. However, if I had spent my formative years sailing from time to time and had picked up much of the lingo, I might well share your feelings that O’Brien’s books are the better set.
  • To Norm on my post Requiem for a Feline: The more time I spend with pets the more I feel guilty for being a carnivore. We are surrounded by sentient beings, some more closely aligned with humans than others. Cats and dogs come very close. Cats are every bit as intelligent as humans, but have chosen to optimize their intelligence in different ways. I was blessed to have my cat Sprite for so many years and now, five years later, I am blessed to have my cat Arthur as well. If Arthur did not have the trauma of being a stray as a young cat, he would come close to matching my beloved Sprite. My condolences on your loss. I can absolutely empathize.
  • To left on my post Infoworld peers ten years out into the technology future: The prediction for shock #5 (Smartphones) are about halfway to being fulfilled, not bad a mere year and a half later. So I’ll probably be proven wrong on that prediction. Shock #7 (perfect image recognition) probably won’t quite get there, but this technology is maturing quickly. A 95% confidence level is probably doable now within ten years. For now, I figure I’m batting .800.

I’ll comment on my next 20 comments in future posts. Thanks for the comments and sorry about the belated replies.

 
The Thinker

Occam’s Razor 2010 Statistics

As I usually do, I start off a year posting my annual blog statistics for the previous year.Hey, it’s not like there is much else to do on a quiet New Years Day. I don’t have to deal with a hangover.

This year my Google Analytics web statistics are a bit puzzling, making me wonder if Google changed their criteria. For while overall visits are down in 2010 compared to 2009, web traffic (page requests) is up  about 62% overall from 2009. I doubt this is because my blog suddenly became so much more interesting in 2010. So I must trust the mighty Google and feel happy about it.

Overall 2010 Statistics

  • Total Visits: 50,816 (139 average per day), which is down 10% compared with 2009.
  • Total Page Views: 120,368 (average 329 per day) which is up 62% compared with 2009.
  • Percent New Visits: 91.39% , which is up a .75% compared with 2009. (This means only about 1 in 10 of you visit repeatedly, at least via a browser.)

Most Viewed Posts

  1. Eulogy for my mother (10,885 page views, up 138% from last year, moved from #4 to #1)
  2. Blog Home Page (10,780 page views, up 128% from last year, new in top 5)
  3. Queer as a 3 dollar bill (8,105 page views, up 269% from last year, new in top 5)
  4. You Porn: A Traveler’s New Best Friend? (5,638 page views, down 28% from 2009, down from #1)
  5. Sharon Mitchell: Porn Saint (4,060 page views, down 43% from 2009, down from #2)
  6. Craigslist Casual Encounters: now officially a complete waste of time (3,783 page views)
  7. The Root of Human Conflict: Emotion vs. Reason (2,964 page views)
  8. The ID Unleashed at Craigslist Casual Encounters (2,601 page views)
  9. The Illusion of Time (2,162 page views)
  10. Review: Chess at Signature Theatre (2,094 page views)

Once again I find the public’s taste curious. The really good: this blog’s home page is now #2, whereas it never appeared in the top five before. And I am glad that my mother’s eulogy is of use and of comfort to so many people five years after her death. Some of my best essays have made it into the top ten. The not so good: the 1% of posts dealing with pornography still bring in a lot of traffic. And my short and mediocre post “Queer as a 3 dollar bill” is #3, although it is little more than an image developed by someone else.

Top Tags:

  1. Eduard Hill
  2. Get Fuzzy
  3. W&OD Trail
  4. Battle of Chantilly
  5. Versailles

Top category: Travel

Top monthly page: December 2009

Top Browsers

  • Internet Explorer: 41.6% (down from 50.5%)
  • Firefox: 34.01% (down .7%)
  • Safari: 11.41% (up from 8.04%)
  • Chrome: 10.32% (up from 3.50%)

So it appears that my users are slowly ditching IE in favor of Google Chrome. I am glad that IE is below 50%.

Busiest Month: January (12,392 page views)
Slowest Month: February (8,497 page views)

This site is also accessible as a newsfeed, both RSS and Atom. Most of those reading the blog via a newsfeed do so via FeedBurner. Here are a few FeedBurner statistics for 2010:

  • Subscribers as of 12/31/2010: 59
  • Average number of subscribers per day: 54.13 (up from 37.85 in 2009)
  • Average hits per day: 156 (159 in 2008)
  • Average click-throughs per day: 5.23 (8 in 2009)

This is good news. More of my readers are accessing the blog via a feed. This may be accounting for some of the growth in page views.

More on January 1, 2012, I hope.

 
The Thinker

Occam’s Razor 2009 Statistics

As I usually do, I start off a year (and in this case, the decade) posting my annual blog statistics for the previous year. Web traffic is down about 25% overall from 2008. There could be many reasons for this including my posts are not as interesting (at least to search engines) than they were in 2008, a move by many to get content from social networking sites or there is less for me to get riled up about with George W. Bush out of office. Even my most popular posts are down in page views, in some case quite markedly, and likely the fact that these posts are aging and thus less relevant are a significant reason for the loss in traffic.

Overall Statistics

  • Total Visits: 56,474 (154 average per day), which is down 27% compared with 2008.
  • Total Page Views: 74,088 (average 203 per day) which is down 25% compared with 2008.
  • Percent New Visits: 90.71% , which is up a tiny .37% compared with 2008. (This means only about 1 in 10 of you visit repeatedly.)

Most Viewed Posts

  • You Porn: A Traveler’s New Best Friend? (7,849 page views, down 76% from 2008, but still #1 overall)
  • Sharon Mitchell: Porn Saint (7,205 page views, down 11% from 2008, but still #2 overall)
  • Site Home Page: (4,719 page views, down 38% from 2008, but still #3 overall)
  • Eulogy for my mother (4,567 page views, up 108% from last year, moved from #5 to #4)
  • The Id Unleashed at Craigslist Casual Encounters (3,072 page views, up 15% from last year, moved from #4 to #5)

So overall people are reading largely the same pages they read last year, just in most cases less frequently.

Top Browsers

Perhaps my blog is atypical, but Internet Explorer is losing market share overall, with Firefox, Safari and the new Chrome browser picking up the slack. People are apparently getting tired of IE and it is on the cusp of losing its dominance at last. It will be interesting to see a year from now how browser share stands.

  • Internet Explorer: 50.5% (down from 64.2%)
  • Firefox: 34.8% (up from 27.54%)
  • Safari: 8.04% (up from 5.06%)
  • Chrome: 3.5% (not bad considering the browser was only released a few months ago)

Busiest Month: January (8,444 page views)
Slowest Month: September (4,665 page views)

This site is also accessible as a newsfeed, both RSS and Atom. Most of those reading the blog via a newsfeed do so via FeedBurner. Here are a few FeedBurner statistics for 2009:

  • Average number of subscribers per day: 37.85 (up from 31.38 in 2008)
  • Average hits per day: 158 (159 in 2008)
  • Average click-throughs per day: 8 (7 in 2008)
 

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