Throttling Back My Writing Schedule

For a while, I have been writing a post a day.  Then I took a vacation, and cut back to 2-3 times a week in order to spend more time with the family.  I actually like the 2-3 times a week schedule because it lets me take time that I was previously using to write and spend that investigating new technology and tools.  Or to write meatier posts.

So, I think that will be the new normal.

Just wanted to let you know.

PS If you don’t want to check back periodically, you can subscribe to my blog.

WP-Inject Rocks

inject photo

Photo by MattysFlicks

Inspired by Drew Meyers over at the Geek Estate Blog, I’ve made an effort to start putting images into my blog posts. I manually searched Flickr for commercially licenseable images, upload them to my server and put them into my post. After I did this a couple of times, I thought–surely there’s a plugin for this. And if not, I should write one!

A quick search turned up WP-Inject. I installed it and never looked back. It takes care of searching Flickr (and another site that I’ve never heard of called Pixabay). It takes care of the attribution link. It uploads the file to my server. It puts the image into my blog post. Well worth the install if you want to add any images to your posts at all.

My only wish is that it handled captions a bit better, but this could be a config option I’m overlooking. And that’s a small flaw for such an awesome plugin!

10 years on

A decade ago, I wrote my first post about RSS, and how I wished someone would aggregate events via RSS. I’m still waiting for this 🙂

I had recently come back from a trip abroad, and was a young contract programmer living as cheaply as I could. One decade on, I am a married father with a house who is a full time employee. Things change, but I still blog.

A decade of blogging has taught me many things. How much I enjoy teaching, how widely the Internet lets you reach, how much people care about Yahoo Mail and dating software, how powerful Google is. But most of all, how writing about something helps you truly understand it.

I’ve been hot and cold on blogging–sometimes posting every couple of days and interacting with the commenters, sometimes ignoring my blog and treating it is a write only medium. Either way, the corpus of 600+ posts (more than one post a week) and the thousands of visits per month the blog gets, are gratifying.

I look back on proudly on all my blog posts. And I can’t tell you how fun it is to hear from someone that I’ve helped them, or to run across a post of mine when I’m doing a google search, or to see from where people have linked to my articles.

Here’s to another decade.

Switching wordpress themes…

After many moons (almost 7 years), I switched up my theme to a more modern (thought still stark) one.


  • The older theme was borked in a couple of ways that I couldn’t be bothered to investigate.
  • I wanted something that was more responsive and a better experience for mobile users (only 6% of my traffic in 2013 is mobile, and I’m hoping to increase that).
  • Sometimes it’s just time for a change.

So, I hope you enjoy the new theme.  Same dorky content, new dorky look!

Nine years of blogging

Wow, it is hard to believe it has been nine years since my first post.  This is the 660th post!

When I started my blog, I was just back from a sabbatical in Australia, living in a rented basement.  Now I’m a family man with a house.  When I started, I was a contractor, happy to get $40/hr to do development, tracking time and invoicing using MS word docs.  Now I use google docs for almost everything, am an employee, and manage a department.

The benefits of blogging keep me going.  I encourage everyone I meet to start a blog, because I think the act of writing forces you to crystallize your thoughts.  It has certainly crystallized mine.  I also enjoy the historical record, much like a public journal, and the projects I can look back on.  Plus, it is fun to occasionally hear someone say ‘I ran across a post you wrote’.

My blog has been much more about broadcast than conversation.  I think that’s because it varies in content, and in quality, and in timeliness.  The couple of posts that have blown up were due to them turning into forums on a controversial topic (Yahoo Mail problems, Skadate review).  But I’m OK with that.

I wish I had twice the time to write, but am happy that I’ve had the time I’ve had.

Thanks for reading!

Why I’m using a RSS reader (again)

Many moons ago, I moved from a personal handwritten RSS reader to Bloglines.  Then, a few years ago, I stopped using Bloglines (before they were bought).  I had too many feeds on Bloglines and was spending less time on the computer after work.  I also had some big personal happenings taking a lot of time, and was burnt out on learning new technologies.

So, for a couple of years, I read blogs occasionally, but didn’t subscribe to them in a reader.  The ones that really spoke to me were either visited regularly (by memory) or subscribed to via email (and often unsubscribed quickly).

But recently, I have been consuming a lot more content.  I think there are a number of reasons for this, but the biggest is that the household has an iPad. The iPad is crappy for creating content, but is fantastic for consuming it.  I also enjoy the ability to email articles with the tap of the finger.

Last week, I found myself visiting the same seven or eight sites over and over again, to see if there was anything new posted.  After the third go-around, I mentally kicked myself and said, ‘that’s what an RSS reader is for!’.

By happenstance, I saw an article on HackerNews about the NewsBlur founder around the same time, and decided to check NewsBlur out.  I actually appreciate the limited number of blogs available on the free version of NewsBlur–I hope that will help me avoid the blog overflow that occured last time.

Why you should blog

This is something I tell everyone I run into (because I think everyone has an interesting story to tell), so I wanted to outline my thoughts once and for all.

If there is any area of your life (professional life, hobby, future career) that you care about and of which you want to improve your understanding, you can do no better than to blog about the topic as regularly as you can.

Now, this isn’t the golden age of blogging, when you could be the only tailor/wine merchant/banker/etc blogging, and blog your way to fame, conferences, and riches.  There are countless blogs out there now (almost 1.3 million, according to technorati).  But you can still differentiate yourself from most by blogging.

I believer there are many many reasons to blog, but the strongest are:

  • you demonstrate tremendous credibility when you blog.  This credibility isn’t earned immediately, but after you invest some time (a year or so), you’ll have credibility when someone searchs for you on the web, or when you tell a prospective employer/customer/client “oh, I encountered that problem, let me send you an article about that” and you do.  A blog works for you even when you are sleeping–I’ve had random people contact me about a blog article, and I’ve had people I know say “I was searching for topic yyy and ran across your blog”.
  • you will learn more about the subject you are writing about than you thought possible.  I never know something so well as when you can explain it to someone else.  In addition, as you write post after post, you’ll find new dimensions to your subject, new people to interview (a great way to build content for your blog and to make connections), new questions to ask, and new organizations or companies relevant to you.
  • it is free, except for your time.  Other than opportunity cost and some thought, a blog doesn’t cost you anything.  This makes it a low risk marketing effort.

One bonus benefit: you own all the content you create!  Unlike what you post on twitter, which is ephemeral, or what you post on facebook, which is hard to export, most blogging software lets you import and export with relative ease.  There are services out there that will help you package your blog as a book.

Here are three objections that you may have to blogging.

  • Aren’t I giving my knowledge away for free? — Well, yes, if you solve the exact same problem that someone else has.  In my experience, it is much more likely that someone will have a similar problem, in which case your post is an advertisement for your services instead.  And if you solve someone’s exact problem and never see a dime for it, that’s good karma.  Now, I wouldn’t encourage someone to blog about a trade secret or an entire idea for which they are trying to get a patent, but they might blog about the process of getting there, or about a similar idea that they investigated but found lacking.
  • I can’t write — This is a two part answer.   One, you should get better at writing, since it is a key part of business today.  And practicing on a blog is one great way to do it.  Two, if you can’t write or don’t feel it is applicable to your skill set (you are, say, a photographer) and I can’t persuade you that it is *still* a good idea to write well, then you can blog using other media.  Video blogging, photo blogging and audio blogging are all options to which all of the good points I’ve made above apply, and none of them require you to write a word (I don’t have experience with those typs of blogging, but a quick search should help you find a platform).
  • I don’t have the time — Ah, finally, a good objection!  A blog does not have quick payback; it can be a year of writing a post every ten days before you get 20 visitors a day.  If you choose to invest in your career in another way (writing open source, if you are a programmer, toastmasters if you are a salesman, volunteering at a daycare if you are interested in childcare, etc, etc) I admire you.  I think these other investments shine in other ways, but they lack the scalability, reach and timelessness of a blog.  So, consider your priorities, and if blogging’s benefits aren’t enough to justify a time investment, I wish you well.

Ok, I have convinced you to blog, right?  Three next steps:

  1. Sign up for an account on blogger or  Spend 10 minutes picking a look and feel and setting up an about me page, but don’t spend more than that.  It’s very easy to get obsessed with how your blog looks and ignore the content!  (You can always go back in six months and change your look.)
  2. Write your first blog post!  Don’t have it be an ‘about me’ post; jump right into the meat of what you want to explore, be it Tanzanian politics, the economics of ‘How I Met Your Mother’ or space technology.
  3. Decide how much time you want to spend on your blog going forward.  How much time should you devote?  Enough so that your blog is active, which I define as a post a week (your mileage may vary).  More if you have time.  Also, realize that you will have good months and bad months.  I’ve been blogging for over 8 years and have had months where I struggled to get one post up (and sometimes failed–I’m looking at you, November 2011), and others where I posted every other day.  I also suggest writing a bunch of posts when you have the time and/or urge.  These you can then schedule so that when you don’t have time, you can still be putting new content out there.

And a bonus step: find other bloggers out there, using Google or your search engine of choice, and comment on their blogs.  This brings you into a conversation and avoids ‘shouting into the wilderness’ syndrome of a blog that no one but you visits, which can be so disheartening.

Go do it!

Own your social media–install Storytlr

I guess I’m just not very trusting, because I like to have copies of my data.  I host my own blog, rather than use blogger or  I host my own email (or at least one of my two main accounts).  I prefer to document interesting things on my blog, rather than a site like Quora or Stack Overflow (though I do have an account on the latter).  Heck, even though I use an open ID provider, my own domain is the master, and I just delegate to

So, since I recently have been putting a bit more effort into my social media presence (you can find me on twitter here), I looked around to find a backup solution.  I did find one–Storytlr–via this article on backing up your twitter feed.  It apparently used to be a hosted service, but now is open source–code here, install instructions here.  (There’s at least one for pay service too, but then, you don’t really own your data, plus I’m cheap.)

It was pretty trivial to install.  I ran into this issue with Storytlr not recognizing that PDO was installed, but the fix (hacking the install script) worked, and I didn’t run into the Zend error also in that bug post.

I also ran into an issue where I chose an admin password of less than six characters on install.  Storytlr was happy to let me do that, but then wouldn’t let me enter the exact same password when I was logging in for the first time.  To fix this, I had to update the password column in the users table with a new MD5 string, created using this tool.

So, what does Storytlr actually give me?

  • Access to my data: I set up feeds to be polled regularly (requires access to cron) and can export them to CSV whenever I want.  And I keep them as long as I want to.
  • One single point of view of all my social content.
  • Really easy way to add more feeds if I join a new social network.  Here are the sites/networks Storytlr supports right now.

The issues I ran into are:

  • Technical issues, resolved as documented above.
  • No support for facebook.  (Well, there’s this experimental support, announced here, but nothing that is part of the project.)  This is big, given how bad Facebook is with respect to privacy.  I am not sure what my next steps are here.
  • Not wanting others to have access to my lifestream.  This was easily fixed with a Auth directive.

If you are depending on social media sites, have some technical chops, a server to host it on, and want to ensure a historical archive, you should look at Storytlr.

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