Tag Archives: Blogging

Howzit Ferbloggin

Yesterday I took the iPad Pro out on its first Away Mission. It was typical of how I use my iPads: I had dinner plans in the city, and decided to head in several hours early and do some work inside the Boston Public Library before relocating to a Panera a couple of blocks from the restaurant. It’s enough hours that I’d like to get some work done, but not a “real” work session that compels me to haul around my MacBook.

I missed MarsEdit. This morning, I set about looking for good iOS blogging apps. The last time I did so, I didn’t find anything I liked. The WordPress webapp is much more credible on the iPad Pro than it is on even an iPad Air, thanks to the larger screen. I might wind up sticking with that.

Still, fair is fair. I’m giving the official WordPress iOS app another try. It seems okay so far. But historically, the failure points of iOS blogging apps reveal themselves after I tap “Post.” Let’s see if it formats correctly, or somehow corrupts my whole WordPress database, or otherwise causes me to doubt my faith in a kind God and a just universe.

Incidentally, apps that haven’t been updated for the new OS in general and/or the iPad Pro specifically call attention to themselves. This WordPress app merely scales the standard iPad interface way the hell up. It’s what the iPad experience is probably like to a six-year-old kid.

  
Push the button, Frank…

The Comment Comment

A while ago, I turned off comments on the blog and switched to a feedback form sort of thing. My thinking:

  1. Sending me a comment in the form of an email would put people into the communication mode of “I’m speaking to this one specific person” as opposed to “I’m gonna light some bottle rockets because the echo in this quarry is going to be sweeeeeet!”
  2. I could hand-pick the comments I wanted all visitors to see, and post them as sort of a “letters to the editor” kind of post. (Or, to introduce the concept of productive thievery, do something like the Comics Curmudgeon’s “Comments Of The Week.”)
  3. And I wouldn’t have to keep policing the blog for spam. Some spammers manage to get through even various countermeasures I’ve got on the blog. It’s a drag. I don’t want this blog to be a drag.

But I forgot to turn comments off when I switched to this new theme, and therefore people are leaving comments, and they’ve all been thoughtful and respectful and have made me proud. So! I’m going to keep comments on and see how it goes.

All I ask is that you write as though you’re sending a private message to me and things will keep going great. I’ll probably create a page with a formal commenting policy when I get some time.

Life On MarsEdit

Quick followup on my day with MarsEdit. The big takeaway was that I’m a colossal dope for forgetting it existed. Some apps are terrible. Most are simply “not right for your present needs” or, at worst, “clearly written by a serious and dedicated team, but not quite ready yet.”

I was a little amused when WordPress (which itself has come a long way) did the helpful thing I’d told it to do, and automatically found and linked other blogposts I’d written that talked about MarsEdit or blogging apps. In 2007…nnnno, clearly MarsEdit wasn’t right for me, for whatever reason.

I’m digging the hell out of it in 2015, though. It’s super-quick to just flash out a post. Is it because of the simplified, bespoke app, or is it simply because of my mindset? Who knows and I don’t care.

My friend (and MarsEdit developer) Daniel Jalkut offered to send me out a new promo/review code. I don’t need one. I downloaded the free 30-day trial direct from the app site — you can do that when you’re not selling it through Apple’s App Store — and if I’m still using it in a couple of weeks, I will be happy to pay him $40 for a license.

I feel like I’m doing a good thing when I pay a proper amount of money for a great app. As a way of saying “I like and respect the work that you’ve done,” throwing money at someone is a facile solution. But  not all facile solutions have the side effect of allowing someone to go out for a nice dinner.

MarsEdit isn’t the ideal that I had imagined. What I really want is a system-wide hotkey. No matter where I am or what I’m doing, tapping it causes a little note card window to pop up. I type a few sentences, maybe click a Twitter-style icon button to drop in a photo or paste in a link (which the app automatically grabs from the frontmost browser window), click the “Post” button, and then I’m back to what I was doing before I had this brilliant idea for a quick post.

The distraction of the WordPress webapp is a problem for me. I can’t count the number of times when I’d intended to just post a link to an interesting article, but then spent an hour writing 2000 words.

Sometimes, I’d read it back and think “Oh, neat…that’ll do for my next column.” But it’s not helping me form, sharpen, and then let go of a thought quickly. I admire and envy the authors of Sixcolors and Daring Fireball and The Loop, I’m proud of my longform stuff but wish I could develop the kind of skills required to maintain a frequently-updated blog. I’ve got the people who like to read long pieces but I’m doing nothing to help people who like to read lots of shorter things, too.

“Envy” isn’t a shameful thing if you remove the “jealousy and anger” component and pack the void they leave behind with Inspiration and Ambition. So I’m grateful to Jason Snell, John Gruber, and Jim Dalrymple for their fine examples.

Don’t Mind Me

…I’m just trying out MarsEdit again for the first time in a couple of years. It used to be my regular thing, back when the WordPress native editor sucked. Then that didn’t suck any more, and actually got great. But then it was the editor I always used because I always used it.

Just now, I realized that I (1) Upbraid myself for being unable to write short blog posts, while (2) Doing lots of “short blog posts” on Twitter. I wondered if I’d update my blog more, if I used an app that treated it a lot more like Twitter and less like a “publishing platform.” Mentally, I don’t take my Twitter writing so seriously, so it gives me a lot more freedom.

(It’s also a great to try out MarsEdit again because I know Daniel Jalkut and I think he’s a great guy, and I really enjoy using tools created by people I like.)

Okay. 

What do you think, sirs?

Push the button, Frank…

The Wheel Of Fortune Comment Moderation System

Warren Ellis has a great post about why he’s disabling comments for his blog:

Which brings up another thing, and I’m not going to ascribe it to Charlie, who is a nice man, but it’s real – sometimes, your commenters, by which you often mean your audience and your readership, are really fucking annoying, and sometimes you don’t like them. Which you can’t say. Who’s going to pick up another book by a writer who says “My readers are awful pieces of shit and I can think of twenty of them, right off the bat, who should be drowned in hot pig blubber”? Nobody. “My audience are all complete pissflaps. Have you read my website comments threads? Utter inane gibberish. I would like to train a giant horse to fuck out all their eyes.” Who’s going to say that?

(via Heidi MacDonald’s post on the rather essential comics news blog “The Beat”.)

My little corner of the Web gets the sort of traffic and comment volume that (charitably) marks it as “A cherished hidden treasure,” at best. At worst, it would indicate that my monthly sponsorship rates (if I sought advertising) would probably start off at “buy me a beer at WWDC” and max out at “buy me a non-store-brand beer.” Nonetheless, comment moderation is a universal problem…particularly when you stray close to the electrified fences of politics or religion.

It doesn’t even matter if you approach them from the left side of the pasture or the right side, either. I could have predicted that when I supported the President’s recent endorsement of same-sex marriage, I’d hear from all corners: Obama supporters, and those who don’t think he’s doing a very good job; people who want to recognize GLBT — I instinctively feel as though I must be leaving out an initial there but I’ll press on — people as having the same rights as anybody else, and those who are opposed on religious grounds.

But I got it just as heavy when I indicated that I don’t find “The Daily Show” very funny any more. I wasn’t saying anything about the show’s political leanings. I was just saying that the show has become stale and rote, that Jon Stewart is kind of a terrible performer, and the first half of the show usually substitutes playground mocking for shrewd political commentary and pious grandstanding for anything I can readily identify as Comedy. But many folks from the Left really got their wicks in an epic snit over it.

All of that happened on Twitter. I’m happy and grateful that everyone’s reactions to my recent post about Mitt Romney here on the blog were mostly quite polite. You can disagree with me and the other commenters all you want, so long as you abide by the quiet wisdom of the song that Steve Martin’s grandmother used to sing to him:

Be courteous, kind and forgiving
Be gentle and peaceful each day
Be warm, and human and grateful
And have a good thing to say.

[Edited: And this is as far as I got in the epic “Why don’t I print those lyrics as centered text?” coding project, which lasted about twenty minutes before I gave up on figuring out why CSS refuses to let me adjust the indent of the first line.]

[I have said before that every Skype podcast begins with the phrase “Oh, goddamn you, Skype!” Every CSS project, no matter how trivial, ends with the phrase “Oh, **** it. I can’t believe I’ve wasted so much time on something that should be so utterly trivial!”]

[Continuing.]

Isn’t that the perfect sentiment? It’s always possible to disagree with someone while still being courteous, kind, forgiving, gentle, peaceful, human, and grateful for the time you have on this planet (meaning: when I’m on my deathbed, will I feel as though the 11 minutes I spent cussing out a stranger about the powers of a Green Lantern ring were well spent?). And by “a good thing to say” I mean “something that adds shading and dimension to the conversation.” Though if you want to compliment someone on their awesome avatar, go right ahead.

The only other component of my comment moderation policy goes like this:

“I absolutely love free speech. I value it so highly, in fact, that I have purchased the sole exclusive rights to free speech on this blog.”

And I don’t usually get involved in the discussions here because…well, because I don’t. I feel like I said everything I wanted to say in the post. Also, I don’t want to contaminate the open spirit of the conversation. I’ve been on plenty of blogs and message boards where the author hijacks and steers the natural flow of conversation; it stops being about the topic and starts being about the writer and his opinions. I also don’t like to delete comments unless it’s absolutely warranted…otherwise, you wind up with a sanitized and self-serving conversation.

(Plus: I’m kind of lazy.)

I came up with a genius idea a couple of days ago, however, and if this blog ever got Roger Ebert-scale comment traffic, I’d definitely hire someone to code this up for me. I call it the “Wheel Of Fortune” system of moderation.

Many pro authors say you should try a dumb trick if your writing is moving frustratingly slowly: just banish a certain part of your A to Z for a bit. This paragraph can’t contain any “A”s. Try it. You find that your brain has to slow down and focus on that arbitrary limit. It distracts you, making you pick all of your words with caution.

Okay, that was just one paragraph without using the letter “E” and it took me about three hours to assemble. It’s a great writing trick because all too often, you get trapped by your own writing style. Water carves grooves in rock after a number of years, you see. When that happens, that’s becomes the only path the water wants to take. An arbitrary but ironclad rule forces your writing to flow into new directions.

A site that uses the Wheel Of Fortune moderation system believes that 26 letters of the alphabet isn’t a God-given right: it’s a privilege granted by the site’s owner. When you first sign up for the blog or message board, the system limits you to 16 of the 21 consonants. If you accidentally slip a banned character in there, the forum software will politely highlight the violating words and ask you to try again.

After your first post, you’ve proven to the system that you’re a human being and not a spambot. You will summarily be rewarded with two more consonants. If you make ten posts without doing anything to attract the Swift Fist of Divine Justice, you will receive the honors, privileges, and responsibilities of the full alphabet.

If consonants are used as rewards, then vowels are used as punishment. If you’re mean to someone, you’ll have a vowel taken away. Ideally, that would cause someone to step back and reflect on how they’ve chosen to present themselves to total strangers. But this is the Internet, so it would probably cause a certain percentage to crack their knuckles and mutter “Challenge…accepted.” Annnd then they lose another vowel.

Which vowels? Well, as with all forms of rehabilitation, it all starts with “U,” which takes at least three nuclear swear words off the table. Then you lose your “I,” which is useful from an enforcement perspective because it zorches the first-person singular and forces the commenter to speak in terms of “us” and “we.” That’s definitely a positive rehabilitative step.

Keep it up, and the miscreant is left with just an “A” and an “O.” At that point, I would let this person post all they want. I imagine it would be hysterically funny to watch someone try to be as meanspirited as possible with a desperately incomplete Scrabble set.

LA, Chapter One: George Clooney Is Handsome And Helpful.

The Hollywood La Brea Gateway. A dramatic steel gazebo in which the four columns are life-sized statues of four legendary screen women.

The Hollywood La Brea Gateway. A dramatic steel gazebo in which the four columns are life-sized statues of four legendary screen women: Mae West, Dolores Del Rio, Anna Mae Wong, and Dorothy Dandridge. With concrete spikes driven through their skulls.

I never seem to get around to blogging about my trips and I don’t really know why. I suppose it has something to do with the fact that I try to pack a lot of livin’ into those two to seven days. And when I’m not livin’, I still usually have to do a lot of writin’. Then there’s sleepin’. Bloggin’ seems to land buttered-side down.

Particularly because I sometimes make the mistake of taking it too seriously. So I’m going to try an experiment. I’ve set a ten-minute countdown timer here on my iPhone. I can write about as many topics as I want, but I have to abort after ten minutes on each.

Okay? Strap in. Go!!!

Chapter One: George Clooney Is Both Very Handsome And Quite Helpful.

Speaking of experiments: I decided to go full-out and commit to the idea of packing light. $25 for a checked bag? Each way? $15 was my Grumble But Play Along price. For $25, I was willing to modify my behavior.

A five or six day trip is normally the worst packing situation imaginable. I’m right at that margin. Usually, I can fit everything in one carryon if I throw some important things out, or I have to take the larger bag and resign myself to spending all that money for a half-empty piece of luggage.

This time, I was determined: under no circumstances would I take more than my one hardsided rollerbag and my laptop bag. The only non-negotiable items were socks and underpants, of which one really must have one set for every morning. Other than that: if there was any doubt about taking (n) or (n-1) copies of any item, I would favor (n-1).

I also did something that’s always seemed absolutely insane: I rolled up every last article of clothing into tight individual tubes. Even the dress shirt that needed to stay nice. I’ve seen demos of Master Packers who insist that you can travel for two weeks out of one carryon by using this technique. I imagined them spending that whole time looking like their outfits had been designed by someone who’d spent most of his life working with accordions.

Well, gorblimey: it all worked out great. Despite the fact that I needed to pack a tripod in there as well, despite the fact that I had to wear business-formal to a special club later in the week. It all fit in nicely and the lid closed cleanly. I didn’t even need to undo the zipper on my laptop case that doubles its capacity. It was like I was headed out for a weekend, instead of the better part of a week.

So that’s the new mission rule: one bag, period. I think it’s encouraged by the fact that now, it seems less like an inconvenience and more like a logic puzzle. It’s like playing Tetris with your clothing. The big advantage of rolling your clothes, as I see it, is that it allows you to form a dense two-story layer of solid clothing at the bottom of your suitcase which fills every nook and cranny. When you combine this with a motivation to “win the packing game” by asking yourself the hard questions (“How about just two shirts?” “I should wear this v-neck sweater on the plane instead of packing it; it’s thick cotton”), miracles can happen.

Also helpful: seeing “Up In The Air” three or four times on HBO in the past month. George Clooney’s character travels 350 days out of the year and there’s a marvelous scene in which we just see how efficiently he packs. And then there’s a second scene in which he scolds a newbie for her gramma-style American Tourister and mercilessly “edits” her selections to fit into a brand-new rollerbag.

I reiterate that George Clooney is a very handsome man and as such, he can be trusted to know what he’s talking about.

It also made me think slightly more favorably about these new baggage restrictions. Before the airlines tacked $50 onto the cost of every ticket, I tended to overpack. Why take just two extra shirts when three would offer me some more alternatives? A big monetary disincentive forced me to be more careful. That’s probably the only real way that we as a country are ever going to move away from oil. Would I drive my car as frequently if there were a 100% surcharge on every gallon of gas? Probably not. I’d rightly say that the added price was insane and and outrage…but ultimately I bet I’d realize how much room there was for me to cut back.

Done! With 30 seconds left on the clock. I like how this is working out.