I am continueing to do the 10 days to a better blog workshop. This means I am continuing to be introspective and talking a lot more about this blog than about the topics I wanted to fill this blog up with. And, that was today’s focus, what are the topics that I intend to write about here?

I spent some time looking through my analytics software, which is a self-hosted version of Piwik. I was looking for which posts popped out as most popular and had the most traffic, what was common amongst my top posts and top traffic days? Did people come to my site looking for specific things on Google?

From looking at those stats, my most popular post appears to be my review of the Amazon Echo. The categories that people click on the most in the side bar are hardware and software. This makes sense because those are the top two items usually because that list is sorted by post count. My second most popular post is about electricity solutions.

I think this means that people are interested in hardware recommendations. My in-depth post about group collaboration software was quite a bit less popular. That’s interesting, because I thought software reviews and recommendations would be something I would feature above other things. Software solutions is something I’m really good at. I like hardware, and writing that Echo review was fun and satisfying. I focused and got the post out the same night I received mine, and it was quite long and enjoyable.

Of course I love websites like Tools and Toys which focus on hardware above other things, but I don’t have the budget to review as many gadgets as I would like. My passion for simple and practical solutions will probably trump the obvious intereste in hardware reviews that drives to popularity of sites like The Verge and Gizmodo.

I don’t think there’s anything in particular I want to prune from my categories on this site yet. I think it’s going to be a very personal evolution of content and focus as time goes on. I don’t want to present a perfectly polished façade here. I know I can’t live up to the pressur and expectations that people have of pro bloggers. That’s one of my fears, that this site would appear phony and sterile. I want it to have my personal touch, I want it to be obvious that a real human crafted this site and the words in it. My other fear is of not being taken seriously and not being relevant to an audience at all, so there is some tension in between those two desires for me.

This exercise did challenge me to look at my site with a critical editor’s eye. I don’t think a quick link to another site that has posted something interesting (commonly called a linkblog) will be common around here. I want to focus on writing content, with an eye toward publishing a more traditional book at some point. Let me know on twitter @sirtimbly, or drop a comment here if you have any thoughts about what posts you would enjoy more of.

  •  → Written by: Tim

This chain of blog posts that are not about the stated topic of the blog continues, as I seek to kickstart a regular blogging habit. Today I will describe the environment around me. My environment is something that I think about a lot. I’m not particularly neat and tidy, but I do like to optimize some things about where I sit and how I work on a computer.

My physical environment for blogging is usally in my living room at night after my wife and son have gone to bed. I sit at our family desk, in our Ikea office chair which was recommended by The Sweethome as a good runner up to the top $900 chair. I have my laptop set on top of small boxes kept near the desk area for the purpose of raising the open laptop screen to be level with my eyes when I am sitting with good posture. I type on an Apple Bluetooth keyboard (without numpad) and use an HP Bluetooth mouse, which I rather like. These are placed on a tray that slides out from the front of the desk. The keyboard is roughly level with the height of my hands when my elbows are bent at 90 degrees.

My environment is a little bit cluttered with papers and pens and half finished projects, but that’s ok for me.

I like to have a little music playing. I change it up, but usually I find something without words. I like classical music or electronic music for working and writing. I put my phone in Do Not Disturb mode, I quit Twitter and Facebook, and I turn off any other notifications that might pop up.

My writing software is currently Sublime Text 3 with a number of customizations. I write with a dark text on light background color scheme. Here are most of the packages I use for writing in Sublime Text.

In addition I have a few custom snippets for the header data that I need when I publish my writing to this blog. I write in a plain text editor because I’m also a programmer and I like using text editors. I move around quickly in this environment. I feel comfortable and efficient. I know exactly where my plain text files are going, and they are more widely compatible with workflow changes and are pretty much future proof. I don’t have to worry about formatting and I can just flow.

My blog itself is a part of my writing environment, I have slightly customized version of MiniBlog a web application which runs on ASP.Net. I am very comfortable making changes to .Net websites so it was easy for me to get up and running with this blog and theme it just the way I wanted. Another important feature of this website is that it supports posting from clients that use something called the MetaWeblog API. There are a few good applications that support sending data to blogs over that API. I am currently using a command line tool called md2sp in order to publish and edit my blog posts. This tool will allow me to work in plain text markdown files and publish to my blog when I am ready.

I know, it’s an especially fidgety and custom workflow compared to the much simpler ways that people write. But I don’t mind and I have good reasons for arriving where I have. It feels pretty efficient most of the time.

I tried working at a standing desk for a couple weeks, once. It wasn’t terrible, but I still gave it up because of foot fatigue. I could probably do it for an hour or two of writing if I wanted to get a good standing desk setup again.

As I continue writing I am sure that this setup will change. I am always on the lookout for a new application or workflow to try. My successes and failures will be documented here in some fashion.

  •  → Written by: Tim

Yesterday I began to form some thoughts about why I am writing on this blog. Today I will continue to define and refine my answer. Apparently I skipped ahead by writing about this topic yesterday. I’ve ocassionally been accused of overacheiving… by occassionally I mean maybe once in a web design class in college. Why did it take 12 years before I did something at school that I enjoyed so much I actually did it to the best of my ability.

So here are some of my thoughts, incomplete and incoherent, they may be.

First, I write because this avenue of creativity is a rich vein of mental gold. The creative process can be enacted through many different tools and mediums. I like to use a lot of them, but I feel especially comfortable with writing. I’ve written a personal blog for 14 years now. This blog will be a little different because it should be topically focused. So, to summarize, I write because I feel like I can do a decent job of this.

Second, I write to inform and teach. I enjoy the feeling of seeing people understand something. There are some topics that I love so much I just have to tell people about them. When I know that I have communicated a new way of doing things, or helped someone solve a problem, it’s completely fulfilling and rewarding. I like to teach in person with technology trainingm and this is the same thing.

Third, I write for recognition and popularity. Yikes, that was not a pretty thing to own. I like seeing traffic numbers spike, I like knowing I showed up in Google search rankings. I like the tiny bit of fame when something I wrote gets referenced by someone I know who is “famous from the internet”. I wish I could pretend that I’m too cool to care about who reads this and how many people will read it, but I feel like it’s important to be honest here.

In conclusion, I write because of self-indulgence, pride, and vanity. It’s all about the words you use to spin it. Welcome to my blog.

  •  → Written by: Tim

I have become very good at gathering and sifting information. I look for patterns in the things I read and I enjoy sucking up lots of information at once. I have an RSS reader that is full of various news feeds from many websites. That list of sites grows and changes over time as my interests change and some blogs rise and fall in their relevance and usefullness.

I take all of this information in and my brain does something with it. I don’t always know what. It files, it corellates, it references, all that stuff that we know our brains do but can’t really figure out how they do it. My desire for this blog is to create something new and useful based on the inputs from the internet and my own opinions and expereinces.

I like to dive in deep on a few topics. Right now those topics are centered around my job as a front-end web developer, my interest in finely crafted user experiences, and using interesting gadgets.

So, like all “honest” blogs this will be a blog that is largely about the author. Hopefully what I do won’t be described as “navel-gazing”. I don’t want to seem selfish, but writing is a weird task, it’s selfish with a veneer of selflessnes. It’s not always commercial, but it’s almost never purely altruistic. I hope that my voice comes through in the articles I write here. I want to share my thoughts and advice with a wide audience in order to improve their lives. I want to get my own thoughts in order so I know more clearly what I believe is important. One final goal is to simply help someone that has a question and needs to make a wise choice for his own family.

I love weighing and balancing those choices, to gather the pros and cons around an array of options. This will be something I strive to do well. These choices won’t always be right, because the right choice is so different for so many people. Your particular needs and constraints will lead you to make completely different choices than I make. Everyone’s budget for gadgets and home improvement projects will vary wildly.

I know that this blog is not the most important thing for you to read today. It’s not the most important thing I’m going to do today by a long shot. I’m here to work out my own thoughts, document them, and offer a little guidance for anyone who stumbles along.

Please don’t take it personally if I dis your preferred solution, or platform, or breed of dog. (I’ve learned from bumper stickers in Colorado that the breed of dog you prefer is incredibly important to your identity.) I will tell you how I came to the place I did. And my voice and opinions are definitely shaped by the people I read, the places I go and my own expereinces in life. That’s the amazing thing about publishing our own content. We get to be weird. We get to form a voice independent from the direct oversight of commercial pressures. I can operate this blog for incredibly little money compared to comparable publishing mediums from the past decades and centuries. Because of the low costs, you all have so many more voices to sift through. You may read this and then include my thoughts and research in your own published words. Great! We have the freedom to express opinions and offer ourselves as educators to anyone, everyone, or no-one.

The traffic and numbers involved are not the most important thing to me. The process of writing and building a body of work on one topic is. The challenge of building something useful and interesting and somewhat beautiful will keep me going for a while. Until I get in the groove of blogging regularly, for the next week and a half, I’m going to follow the assignments in this 10 day class on writing a better blog.

  •  → Written by: Tim