"The more I find out, the less I know."


Thursday - August 07, 2008 03:30 PM

I was forced to upgrade to iBlog 2.0 (beta) a few weeks ago, and unfortunately it broke all my site templates.

I think I have everything fixed now, but please bear with me if you notice any oddities.

Posted at 03:30 PM | Permalink |

Blogging drought, rainfall glut

Sunday - June 15, 2008 12:37 PM

It's been almost two months since I've updated this blog. Part of that was due to a technical issue: for some reason my hosting provider decided to block my home IP address. My guess is that my regular update of the "current weather" page (runs automatically every 15 minutes) looked like a robot attack to some automated script somewhere. Anyway, it took me several weeks to get around to debugging the problem and figuring out which tech support to complain to. It's working now.
The other reason for the hiatus is the weather. Now that we're having some beautiful late spring/early summer weather (ignoring the fact that cities are underwater just a couple hundred miles south of here), I've been spending a lot of time working in the yard. So far I've replaced a hedge, finished about half of a retaining wall project, and spread four truckloads of wood chips.

I've also recently acquired a recumbent tricycle for commuting, with the intent of cutting way back on my car usage. Depending on the price of gas and how much I can realistically offset, I can probably pay for it in a few years (total gasoline savings so far: $1.98). More on that later....

Posted at 12:37 PM | Permalink |

Time to cut back

Friday - May 25, 2007 09:17 AM

I realized recently that I'm spending too much time reading newsfeeds and blogs. RSS makes it so easy, you see.
So I'm cutting back. If you look at a Harvard-MBA 4-quadrant diagram with frequency of posting on one axis, and value-add on the other axis, my main targets are the very frequent, low value newsfeeds.

In my view, that's just about every mainstream media newsfeed--not because the quality of the reporting is low, but because so much "news" is repetitive or irrelevant to me. Even The Wall Street Journal gets the axe here. I still read the Journal online, I just won't be subscribing to the news feed of every single freakin' article.

I'm also unsubscribing from many of the largest political blogs: Instapundit and Daily Kos go in the dustbin because there's just not enough value add there (Instapundit, in particular, seems to be the poster child for high-volume, low-value blogging). Kevin Drum and the Volokh Conspiracy can stay, however, since they consistently have a high level of insight and analysis.

I'll keep subscribing to low-volume feeds (since the time it takes to keep up is low), where low-volume is defined as roughly less than one post per day. In those very rare instances where a high-volume blog also has lots of value, I'll keep that too.

All this should give me more time to devote to my 12 Dot-Com Startups in 12 Months project, right?

Posted at 09:17 AM | Permalink |

Digg Effect

Saturday - November 25, 2006 08:09 AM

About three weeks ago, an older article of mine about setting up a RAID on a Mac got Dugg.
In case anyone's curious, the magnitude of the "Digg Effect" (the extra traffic from being on the front page of Digg) for this blog was about 6,000 visits over a few days. That's substantial, especially given that my baseline traffic is on the order of 100 visits/day.

On the other hand, when I was slashdotted a few years ago, the traffic spike was more like 30,000 visitors over a couple days.

Interestingly, there seems to be a sustained effect, in that I'm getting substantially more baseline traffic now than I did before being Dugg. I'm not sure if that's from people who decided to come back and visit again, or from the extra Google mojo from the extra linkage.

Posted at 08:09 AM | Permalink |

Why Vlog?

Sunday - September 17, 2006 10:00 PM

I've been poking around with video blogging, aka "vlogging" lately--nothing ready to show to the world quite yet--and I've noticed that, as often happens with cool new technology, vlogging has attracted a group of evangelistic zealots.
These are the people who think that anyone who keeps a blog should be doing it in video. Not because video is the right medium for a given person or message, but simply because video is (in their view) superior to text and audio in all ways.

There's nothing wrong with evangelistic zealotry. I've been there. I still remember when my Amiga 1000 was the best computer for anyone's needs, no matter what those needs happened to be. It was a hammer that would also work as a screwdriver, socket wrench, drill, and cutting torch. Getting to know that tool is lots of fun, no matter how deluded you appear from the vantage of being 20 years older.

All this brings me to the blogging panel at the VON conference where, apparently, Dina Kaplan made some remarks to the effect that all bloggers (or at least the popular ones) should vlog. I wasn't there, so I can't attest to her exact remarks, but it lead Brad Templeton, a certified Net.Legend if there ever was one, to write a blog entry with the just-slightly-incendiary title "Please Don't Videoblog."

Brad's basic point, and it's a good one if a little overshadowed by his choice of title, is that video is not the ideal medium for everyone or everything.

And he's right.

As the old joke goes, when you meet people in the radio business, you very quickly discover why they're not in TV.

Aside from the obvious point about some people being more photogenic than others, some material and personalities simply work better in video than in text, and vice-versa. zeFrank, for example, would not be one tenth as compelling in text as he is in video. Most of his appeal is in the over-caffeinated editing and his scraggly mug, not the words he's saying.

Other people express themselves better in writing, a medium which is more suited for well-crafted reasoning and subtle logic. Writing is also better when you want to get something out quickly. It takes me hours to craft a three-minute video, and it is rare for me to find a block of time like that; but text is done as soon as it's in the computer.

So vlogging just for the sake of vlogging doesn't make sense. Yes, video is a great medium for certain things, and it is one I enjoy exploring, but like everything else, it has its place and time.

Posted at 10:00 PM | Permalink |

What makes a good video blog?

Thursday - July 13, 2006 04:53 PM

I've been sampling a lot of video blogs the past couple weeks (trying to fill my Amanda addiction). Video blogs seem to all fall into several categories:
Teen Angst: This is the classic point-a-webcam-and-talk format. These blogs uniformly suck, mostly because almost nobody can ad-lib for three minutes and come up with good material a reasonable fraction of the time. Robin Williams might be able to pull this off, but probably nobody else on the planet.

Shrinky-Dink TV: These are commercial video blogs trying to follow the model of the TV show, except in a smaller, shorter format. Blogs like this usually feature fancy (expensive!) sets, scripted material, and paid actors. These usually suck too, since the writing and delivery tends to be really flat. You can't take the same kind of material which works in a 30-minute time slot on a 36-inch screen and merely scale it down. It doesn't help that the writers and actors are basically the people who can't get jobs working on TV.

Weird Stunts: Ordinary folks who do something bizarre on video. These are usually (but not always) planned, and can be really funny. An unbundled version of "America's Funniest Home Videos." Usually these don't qualify as true video blogs, since most are one-off. Very few people have the time or capacity to come up with creative, bizarre things to do on a regular basis.

New Ground: The best video blogs seem to be the ones which break the rules and create their own genre. I consider Rocketboom and Ask a Ninja to fall into this category. Of course, merely breaking the rules isn't enough to have a good show, but because we don't yet know what the rules are for this medium, anything good is almost by definition going to have to be doing something different.

A few things which seem to be critical:

1) Good writing.

2) Overacting. Acting which works on a TV set will look really flat and unengaging in a 2-inch window.

3) Grab the viewer. 5 minutes seems to be the limit for a video blog, and you have to engage the viewer right away to fit anything into that time.

And somethings which aren't so important:

1) Production value. At this stage, viewers will forgive a cheezy set, bad sound, mediocre lighting, etc., if the material is good.

2) Consistency. It helps to be above average most of the time, but there's still a lot of room to experiment and make mistakes in this medium.

Posted at 04:53 PM | Permalink |

Video and Podcasting

Tuesday - January 24, 2006 06:59 PM

Podcasting and Vlogging (or video podcasting) have become the latest Internet fads. These are personal audio and video productions which ordinary folks create and post to their weblogs, and there is some surprisingly compelling content out there.
For example, the Rocketboom vlog is a three-minute daily video segment which ranges from a reading of daily headlines, to reports from "field correspondents" around the world, to some just plain silliness. It is good, compelling, and viewed by a reported 100,000 people every day. That's more viewers than a lot of TV shows get.

Bona-fide professional content is also available. National Public Radio makes a lot of its news programming available as podcasts, which is a really convenient way to time-shift your listening when you don't happen to be driving the car when your favorite shows are on.

And of course there are a lot of clunkers. Probably 90% of the podcasts I sample I quickly unsubscribe to. Much of the content is boring, self-absorbed, and/or pretentious. The world's largest open-mic.

I'm tempted to try my hand at vlogging, since I've enjoyed tinkering in video in the past. But a couple things stop me.

One is the time involved. Rocketboom is reported to require several hours to write, produce, and edit each day (and from my own experience, that seems about right). It simply takes ten to sixty person-minutes to produce one minute of quality video (even if you're shooting live, which requires more planning and a larger crew than edited video).

I also know that I'm usually not that interesting a person to watch. Amanda Congdon (host of Rocketboom) is a professional, if marginally employed, actress--and a lot more photogenic than I am. So that means coming up with compelling content that doesn't involve, well, me.

So for the moment, vlogging will have to join the long list of things I'd like to do someday (write a novel, photograph the north shore of Lake Superior, do radio drama, etc.) when I have the free time.

Posted at 06:59 PM | Permalink |

This is article #500!

Wednesday - December 21, 2005 04:24 PM

This is my five-hundredth article on this blog.
Sorry it's so lame. When you've written 500 articles, some of them are bound to be clunkers.

Posted at 04:24 PM | Permalink |

Dates Fixed

Thursday - November 03, 2005 09:52 PM

Back in May of 2004 my blogging software crashed and ate my database.
Fortunately everything was recovered, but all the post dates were reset to May 17, 2004. I've finally finished going through and fixing all the dates.

Yay for me.

This exercise also gave me a chance to reread some of my older articles. I've been blogging for over two years now, and some of the stuff I wrote is actually pretty good.

I'm hoping to find the time to compile a list of my favorites.

Posted at 09:52 PM | Permalink |

Off the air

Sunday - September 25, 2005 07:55 AM

This blog was off the air for about 48 hours because I missed the domain renewal notice.
But we're good now, and I renewed for five years. Which means that by the time renewal rolls around again, I will have well and truly forgotten all about it.

Posted at 07:55 AM | Permalink |


Tuesday - August 23, 2005 06:26 AM

I've updated the site design, not a major redesign, but a few tweaks here and there:
=> I got rid of a lot of the clutter in the left-hand column. The blogroll and category statistics are gone completely: the former because I didn't update it, and the latter becase nobody cares.

=> The banner is cleaned up, and the blog name is in a different typeface. The blog name now links back to the main page.

=> The calendar is now cooler, with rounded corners and a drop shadow. Because I can.

It may take some time to update all the pages, mainly because uploading the entire site (as static HTML) is a bit of a pain.

Also, this blog was started back in late 2003, but articles before May 2004 all show up in May 2004. That's because that month my blog software crashed, and recovering all the old entries reset the dates. Such is life.

Posted at 06:26 AM | Permalink |

Funkiness Alert

Thursday - August 18, 2005 09:51 PM

If some of the blog pages don't look right for a few days (especially the archives), that's because I'm playing with the look of the site.
Once I have the look I like for the main page, I'll transfer it to the rest of the blog. It just may look weird for a bit.

Posted at 09:51 PM | Permalink |

Blogging drought

Thursday - August 18, 2005 04:33 PM

Blogging comes and goes, like rainfall. Sometimes I write all the time and bury both my loyal readers under an electronic mountain of verbiage. Other times, I may go weeks or months without writing anything, my creative juices more parched than the Sahara.
(Hah! Just trying out my new Metaphor-o-Matic!)

Anyway, I haven't been writing lately, partly because I've been busy with other stuff. Here's some things which have been going on lately:

=> She Who Puts Up With Me will be part of a singing group at this year's Renaissance Festival in the Twin Cities again. That means she's been off at rehearsals regularly, and will be gone for many weekend days over the next couple months.

=> I'm working to set up a blog at my company. Yes, I have no shame, there's no marketing fad I won't jump on....

=> A difficult client caused me to miss my dad's birthday party last night. At least they pay their bills (mostly) on time.

=> I've discovered a terribly addictive program called DTV, which works a lot like a news aggregator for video blogs. Makes me want to dabble in video blogging...

=> By the way, "DTV" is a terrible name for a program. There are so many other things already called "DTV" that you can't find it through Google.

=> Scooter just finished reading the new Harry Potter book, which means its my turn.

Posted at 04:33 PM | Permalink |

Informal Click Fraud (aka Click Fraud as Tip Jar)

Saturday - March 05, 2005 08:25 AM

Click fraud in online advertising is nothing new, but this news.com article triggered an interesting thought. Everybody gets all hot and bothered about "formal" click fraud, where someone clicks on advertisements over and over again to artificially drive up ad revenue.
But what about the possibility of "informal" click fraud?

For example, when you read a blog article you particularly enjoy, have you ever been tempted to click on one of the ads as a way of leaving a tip for the author?

I'm not advocating that anyone do this, but I wonder if it happens anyway?

In the days B.A. (Before AdSense), blogs would sometimes have a "tip jar" link where you could send a buck or two via PayPal. Now you see the inlined ads instead. Paid advertising has effectively replaced the tip jar as a way to cover the costs of running a blog.

Most ads only pay a couple cents to the blog, but some can pay several dollars per click (the article mentions "medical billing software" as a search term which is particularly expensive). And I wonder why anyone clicks the usually-lame ads Google serves on this page (but people do).

Clicking-ads-as-tip-jar is a form of click fraud, since the advertisers are forced to pay for clicks with no chance to win any business.

But it would be a particularly insidious and hard-to-detect form of click fraud, since there's no way to tell the difference between lots of legitimate interest in the advertiser's products (and an especially effective ad placement) and hordes of people using the ad as a way to send a few cents to the author of the article.

So....Have you ever clicked an ad as a tip jar?

Posted at 08:25 AM | Permalink |

What's the Frequency?

Sunday - September 12, 2004 07:36 AM

This is close to my first blogiversary, and it is worth noting that my posting frequency has gone from an average of around once a day to more like once a week.
There's a lot of reasons for that. Partly, it is because I've gotten busy at work (in a good way--more business), and it is much harder to carve out a half-hour here or there to write a blog entry. Not while I'm also calling customers, writing conference presentations, editing a book, writing marketing copy, and (oh yeah) actually working on client projects. When you're CEO of a five-person startup, you wear a lot of hats.

It is also partly because, well, some of the novelty has worn off. I still appreciate the outlet for the ideas which leak from my brain, but I no longer feel the compelling urge to blog about every passing idea.

Finally, I don't want this to become The Blog Which Ate My Life, as happens for some people.

As for this week: I'm jetting off to New York for the annual SpeechTEK conference. I'm going to have a full dance card, since I'm speaking twice, manning our booth, and helping judge a major event. This is a Big Deal for us: four of the five employees will be in the Big Apple almost all week.

Posted at 07:36 AM | Permalink |

Blog Formulae

Saturday - August 28, 2004 08:53 AM

It is no accident that nearly every big-budget Hollywood movie follows one of only a handful of formulae. These basic plots have proven to be more popular than most others, and by giving the audience what they've consistently proven they want to watch, the odds of success go way up. The most innovation you'll usually see is a combination of two or more basic formulae. Leave the groundbreaking new ideas to the indies.
Similarly, I've noticed a handful of formulae in blogging which seem much more likely to lead to a high-traffic weblog. Nearly all of the most popular sites follow one of these basic formulae, or a combination of them. Execution matters, too: good writing, regular updates, and something unique. But giving the audience what they've consistently proven they want is essential.

The Sex Blog
The easiest way to achieve explosive popularity is to write about your sex life in intimate detail. It helps (but isn't essential) to be female, very active, and a bit perverted. Sex blogs have been known to explode from zero to all-star status in a matter of weeks.

Why it Works: Everyone likes sex.

Examples: Belle de Jour, The Good Wife

The Aggregator
Aggregators don't necessarily write much original content, but they post constantly, with links to interesting posts elsewhere. Some are updated dozens of times a day, so there's always something new. Most Aggregators are focused on a specific topic, but some (like Boing Boing) range widely across the Internet. Aggregators are often the biggest of the big, the most widely read blogs in cyberspace, but they take a lot of time to maintain and in some cases (like Wonkette) are literally a full-time job.

Why it Works: There's always something new.

Examples: Boing Boing, Wonkette, and of course Slashdot, the granddaddy of them all

The Expert
Sometimes a genuine Expert graces the Blogosphere with his or her presence, someone with true credentials in whatever field he or she writes about. Needless to say (for those who spend any real time reading blogs), this is rare, but when it happens, everyone benefits, and the blog often winds up with a healthy readership. Experts are allowed to stray somewhat from their field of expertise, but not too much, lest they become Zealots, Aggregators, or worse, a blog which follows no particular formula.

Why it Works: Despite appearances, blog readers can often distinguish real expertise from shouting.

Examples: Lawrence Lessig, EconLog

The Zealot
A Zealot never lets facts interfere with his opinion. Fortunately, there are so many facts today that it is easy for the Zealot to find the ones which support his or her position. Zealots often write constantly, updating their blogs several times a day, breathlessly uncovering the latest news or rumor to advance the cause. This being an election year, the most prominent Zealots are writing about politics; but other topics like computers, Microsoft, games, etc., are just as capable of supporting Zealotry.

Why it Works: Agree or disagree, reading a Zealot can be highly entertaining. Until you get sick of it.

Examples: Glenn Reynold's InstaPundit, Little Green Footballs, Atrios, Daily Kos

The Celebrity
This is more of a hypothetical formula, since to my knowledge there are no true A-list celebrities who write genuine weblogs. But supposing Bill Clinton, Meg Ryan, Viggo Mortensen, or some other true offline celebrity were to maintain a blog, it would almost certainly be among the most popular. Even though there are no true Celebrity blogs, there are a number of C-, D-, E-, F-, and G-list celebrities who maintain blogs, some of whom are also Zealots, Experts, etc., and use their minor offline fame to enhance their readership (for example, Lawrence Lessig is truly an Expert, but his status is certainly helped by being very well known in certain circles).

Why it Would Work: Offline fame transfers online, even if it doesn't go the other way.

Examples: None.

Hybrid Formulae
Many popular blogs are not a single formula, but a combination of two or more. Glenn Reynolds is a Zealot, but with a strong dose of the Aggregator and just a whif of Expert (he would be more of an Expert if he stuck to topics in which he has Expertise, rather than writing mainly about partisan politics). Lawrence Lessig, as we already saw, is an Expert, but with a bit of Celebrity added to the mix.

Posted at 08:53 AM | Permalink |

The power of the Blog

Saturday - August 07, 2004 07:46 PM

People like Glenn Reynolds are always yakking about the power of the Blog, but I've always been skeptical. Until today.
Yesterday as an offhanded remark in an entry about our lovely weather, I mentioned that it might be nice if we got a little rain. Within 24 hours, we had gotten about a third of an inch of the wet stuff, just enough to earn the gratitude of our plants. Ask and ye shall receive.

I am truly in awe of the power of the Blog. Now, if only it had the power to make my company cash flow positive....

Posted at 07:46 PM | Permalink |

Whoa, has it been over a week?

Wednesday - August 04, 2004 10:15 AM

Has it really been a week since my last article?
Things have conspired to keep me away from the keyboard lately.

For one, my sister is getting married in a week and a half. I've been working to get my yard into less-than-embarrassing condition before relatives start showing up.

I've also been busy at work: we're going to be publishing a book on how to measure customer service quality, and I'm working on a new client contract.

Not that I don't have things to write about. Some topics which haven't seen the light of day yet: How to reform medical malpractice and simultaneously reduce hospital errors; My disgust over the overwhelmingly partisan flavor of the election so far; How the "Wisdom of Crowds" book/meme is really just a lack of understanding of statistics; and An idea for an experiment in electronic markets for all sorts of stuff (the last might become a coding project rather than a blog entry, if it ever sees the light of day).

For the moment, I've got another beta test run to oversee. TTFN.

Posted at 10:15 AM | Permalink |

This is Article #300

Sunday - June 27, 2004 10:42 AM

(just thought I'd mention that fact)

Posted at 10:42 AM | Permalink |

Searching for Lost Friends

Thursday - June 24, 2004 02:50 PM

Apparently, I'm not the only one to use my blog to search for a lost friend.
I'm not the only one to succeed, either (read the comments).

Posted at 02:50 PM | Permalink |

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