Blog Back After a Lost day

Outages are never fun.

Well, it looks as if this blog was down for most of March 3.

It was initially reported to me by a friend on Twitter and when I followed up I discovered that he was right —  the blog could not be reached. I called my  hosting company and the hold message mentioned a maintenance issue affecting some customers — apparently including me.

I was very busy for most of yesterday and there was nothing I could do about it anyway. I certainly didn’t expect it to be down for so long. But now it’s back up, and hopefully my hosting company won’t have the same problem again in the future.

Right now, I’m on a little business trip in beautiful Turlock, CA, helping out a friend with his spray business. I’ve been pretty busy with this kind of work for the past week and can’t wait to write a little bit about it. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll likely see photos and videos —  including live periscope videos — posted occasionally throughout the day. The work is exhausting, and when I’m done for the day I basically fall into bed with my alarm set for 5 AM to start another day of the same.  With rain forecasted for later today and all day tomorrow, I might actually get the chance to finish a blog post in progress and write about my spray loader work. Stay tuned — hopefully, the blog will stay up and running.

And, by the way, it feels great to be so busy after so many weeks of mostly idle time during my extended snowbirding vacation.

About the “Postcards” Posts

Lazy blogging at its best.

At this point I think I owe regular readers a quick explanation. 

I normally write very long and drawn out blog posts about cooking, flying, traveling, etc. All kinds of topics — after all, the site is called An Eclectic Mind and I cover an eclectic assortment of topics.

Lately, however, I’ve been on the road traveling south for the winter and I’ve been doing a lot of driving. Although I have my laptop with me, I honestly don’t feel like sitting in front of it typing long blog posts about my travels. Instead, I’ve decided to share short stories about my travels with pictures I’ve taken along the way. That’s with the “postcards” are all about.

I will eventually sit down in front of my computer and write more substantial blog posts about the things I’m doing and thinking. There’s a lot going on in the news and I’m actually following it when I’m on the grid. I just spent two days in Las Vegas and I got really tuned in again. Soon I’ll be housesitting in Wickenburg and have a lot of time on my hands to get some writing done.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is this: don’t give up on me. If you come here to read my long, thought out blog posts, you will eventually see them again. But it might not be for a few more days. Until then, I hope you enjoy the postcards.

Back, on a New Server

Better service, less money.

One of the things that has bothered me for some time now is the slow response time of this blog. It just didn’t seem to load as fast as it should.

I knew it wasn’t my connection — I have wicked fast Internet here, as I’ve reported (i.e., bragged about) elsewhere. It was definitely the server.

In the past, every time I’d call to complain or look for a fix, I’d been told it was because I was sharing a server with 20,000, 50,000, or 80,000 — it depended who I spoke to — other websites. That’s because I had a cheap plan. I don’t make money with this blog and I can’t really justify spending a lot of money to maintain it. Recommendations often include using a caching system, but although I’ve tried that several times I haven’t ever seen an improvement. I’ve also turned off a lot of the plugins I used to use, hoping to speed up performance that way. I never see a difference.

I called again yesterday and spoke to someone else. (He was a “sharing with 50,000 websites” guy.) He recommended a different service. When I asked what it was and what it cost, it turned out to be a better shared system — it had the word “cloud” in its name, so it must be better, right? — for less money than I was paying. Switching was a no brainer. He could do it for me with no effort on my part.

I asked how long the site would be down. A few hours, he told me. I asked him to schedule it for the middle of the night. He agreed he would. I thanked him and we hung up.

This morning, when I checked my site at about 7:30 AM, it was down. I was not a happy camper. Another phone call, another person. I was on hold a long time. I’ve learned to keep that time productive by putting my phone in speaker mode and carrying it around in my shirt pocket until the person comes back. I washed some dishes, made a second cup of coffee, and folded laundry. She returned and said that she’d spoken to the migration people and they’d told her that they’d been doing a lot of migrations that weekend — an obvious bullshit line they feed people in my situation. There was no problem with my site. It was just taking longer than expected.

I suspected that it was either queued up improperly or the sheer size of the site was giving the migration software/people grief. This site currently has 2,375 blog posts, well over 8,000 comments, and at least 4,000 images. The database alone occupies nearly 29 MB of server space; the other files that go with it occupy another gigabyte.

I told her I’d call again if it wasn’t back up by noon. Then I thanked her and hung up.

I got to work doing other things. I’m packing for a trip and today’s challenge was getting my kayak on top of my truck camper, the Turtleback. It was actually a lot easier than I expected to get it up there — using my truck as a lifting platform — but it took a while to fasten it down in a way that I wouldn’t have to worry about scratching the camper’s rubber-coated roof. (The last thing I wanted was a leaky roof.) By the time I was finished at 11:30, the only thing I wanted was a snack and a nap. (Seriously: when the days get short, all I want to do is sleep. That’s one reason I head south in the winter.)

So I treated myself to both.

When I got up around 2:30 PM and checked the site, it was back up. And it loaded so quickly that, for a moment, I suspected that it was loading a version cached in my browser. So I loaded a different page. That came right up, too.

Anyway, judging from the stats bar graph, which shows hourly activity for the past 48 hours, it looks as if the site was down from around 6 AM to 11 AM. Not exactly starting at midnight per my request. Whatever.

Curious about my results, I loaded pingdom.com, a service that can check a Website’s speed. Although my speed was noticeably faster, I didn’t get a very good “grade.” I can only imagine what my grade must have been before the change.

Speed Test Results
Okay, so my Home page was graded D, mostly because of under-the-hood issues I could probably fix by making changes to plugins, etc. Again. Looks like a spring cleaning project to me.

Still, I’m not complaining anymore — at least for a while. It’s faster and cheaper.

And I’m happier, despite today’s downtime.

AOPA’s Consolidated Blog

Better exposure for my articles.

AOPA LogoI’ve been writing for AOPA’s helicopter blog, Hover Power, for about a year and a half. Back in February 2016, they published the first of three articles about the contract work I do: “Doing Wildlife Surveys“. The other two articles were in the queue, but never appeared.

After a while, I wondered what was going on and emailed my contact at AOPA. He responded that things were busy for him and that changes were underway.

Then a month or two later, one of my Facebook friends, who is also a pilot, shared a link to the second article in the series, which was about cherry drying. Heavily edited with its title changed to “Using a big fan” (seriously?), it appeared on AOPA’s main blog. The third piece, “Flying frost control,” appeared about a week and a half later.

The consolidation of AOPA’s blogs into one main blog is a good thing for me as a writer. It gives me more exposure for my work. (Obviously, I get paid, too; you can’t pay the bills with “exposure,” folks.) This has already paid off — Robinson helicopter’s newsletter editor called to ask if she could feature my cherry drying work in an upcoming issue of the newsletter. While that won’t earn me anything, it’s a nice little feather in my cap.

I haven’t written anything new for AOPA for a while — I was put off when my articles were shelved for so long — but I hope to come up with some ideas soon. I’ll likely be writing shorter pieces than I have been; this blog is updated about every two days and I don’t think I should overload readers with my typically wordy posts. And, let’s face it: the average AOPA pilot flies a plank — I mean plane — and isn’t terribly interested in rotary wing stuff.

You can find AOPA’s blog here. If you’re a pilot or interested in flying, I urge you to check it out.

And if you’re interested in reading some of my other published work, be sure to check out my Articles page.

The Joy of Journaling

The older I get, the more important it becomes.

Journaling Image
A blank book with lined pages makes an excellent journal.

I’ve been keeping a personal journal off and on for most of my life. In most cases, it was well-intentioned attempts to write daily — or at least regularly — in a blank book. These journals never lasted long and usually were misplaced. I found one of them when I was packing for my 2013 move and was somewhat shocked by entries that foreshadowed the end of my relationship years later.

Blogging as a Form of journaling

I kicked my journaling efforts up a notch when I began blogging in 2003; my blog — which you’re reading now — documents a lot of what was going on in my life as I wrote the entries.

It’s an excellent chronicle, for example, of what was going on during the various stages of my long, drawn out divorce (which is still dragging on but finally close to an end) and will form the basis of my book about it. It’s also a great resource for my evolution as a pilot, my work flying at the Grand Canyon, and the way I’ve tackled new hobbies and interests such as beekeeping and glass work.

Along the way, I wrote lots of opinion pieces about politics, religion, current events, and social issues. My blog’s 2300+ entries are a really good look at my past and what was going on in my mind over the past (so far) 13 years.

Back to Paper

Back in January 2014, I embraced a real paper-based journal again. I was house-sitting for a friend in Malaga, taking a break from the RV I’d been calling my home since I left my house in Arizona in May 2013. My journal, kept in the same kind of blank books I’d used years ago, contained daily entries of what I was doing and thinking. Every entry was limited to just one double-sided page, so I couldn’t go into much detail.

I soon realized that the only way I’d regularly write those journal entries was to make it part of my personal routine. And the only part of my personal routine that’s pretty much the same every single day is that first cup of coffee. So I’d write the entry for the previous day’s activities while I drank my coffee. In most cases, everything was fresh enough in my mind to get down the important information I wanted to document.

Although I didn’t do nearly as much traveling in 2014 as I’d done in 2012 and 2013, the journal book traveled around with me, going to California for frost season, back to Washington for cherry season, and on vacations with me to Lopez Island, Seattle, and Winthrop. I found that while my home was being built from May through July, I didn’t write a single journal entry — my blog has far more details on those days. But I picked it up again later in the season and started a brand new journal book in January 2015.

Then again, in the spring of 2015, when I made the move out of the RV and into my new home, the journal was left behind in the RV down in my cavernous garage. It wasn’t until the other day that I brought it up into my kitchen and set it down on the breakfast bar where I usually have my morning coffee. I made a feeble attempt to bring it up to date, then got back into the routine. I hope to keep journaling regularly.

Journaling as a Memory Tool

I was secretly thrilled to learn that Kirk, my “boyfriend” (pardon the quotes, but it’s such a silly word at our age), also keeps a journal.

It’s important to me that my significant other be literate. Kirk is not only able to read and write well, but he likes to read and write. You can’t imagine what a thrill it is for me to be able to discuss books and articles with the same person I share so much of my life with.

And having a journal means that he’s just as interested as I am in recording his activities to remember in the future. There’s a lot in common between us there and I’m very pleased about it.

As I get older and my memory starts to get iffy, I find journaling a valuable tool for simply remembering things. The entries, after all, form a good reminder of what was going on in my life each day. I can look back and remember things I’d forgotten, including events, emotions, and opinions.

As my life and relationships evolve, I can see how events from the past contributed to that evolution. I can learn from my own mistakes. I can see how what’s important in my life changes from day to day, week to week, and month to month. I can track my recovery from significant emotional events or financial setbacks and learn better about coping with similar issues in the future. I can see how my opinions evolve with input from others. I can see how my relationships with others grow and change.

In a way, when I skip a day of journaling, I feel as if I’ve lost that day. As time goes by, if nothing significant happened on that day, all memory of it is lost. In a way, that makes journaling so much more important.

It’s the little things that make life interesting — when memory of them is lost, part of your life is lost. Why not spend 20 minutes a day jotting down the things you want to remember? I think it’s worth it.

The Hover Power Posts

Most of my blogging about helicopters is now published on one of AOPA’s blogs.

Just a quick head’s up to let pilot readers know that I am still blogging about flying helicopters. But instead of posting most of them here, they go right to AOPA’s Hover Power blog. The main reason: they pay me to write for them. Girl’s gotta make a living, no?

Here are the most recent posts, in reverse chronological order:

Keep in mind that you can always get an up-to-date list of my work published elsewhere on my Articles page.

If you have any ideas for topics you’d like to see me cover, why not take a moment to comment on this post with your suggestions? I’ll either cover it for Hover Power or here.

And if you’re an editor or publisher looking for a professional writer to create fresh content about flying helicopters for your magazine or blog, I hope you’ll contact me.

2015 Resolutions

A very ambitious list.

I’ve been slipping — and it’s got to stop. So I’ve decided to set up and stick to some New Year’s Resolutions.

1. Fight the Social Media Addiction

I spend entirely too much time on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Actually, if you spend more than 30 minutes a day on social media — and aren’t being paid to do it as part of your job — you probably spend too much time, too.

Think about it. Yes, you enjoy it. It’s a nice, convenient social experience. But it’s also a timesuck. And the time you spend online looking at cat photos and clicking like buttons is time you could be spending doing other more rewarding things like engaging in personal interactions with family and real (not virtual) friends, working on projects that enrich your life (or bank account), and getting some fresh air and/or exercise. These are all things I want to spend my time doing. I don’t want to sit in front of the computer after breakfast, tune into Facebook, and look up two hours later to discover that half my morning is gone and nothing constructive has been done.

So I’m placing a limit on social networking:

Less FacebookFacebook:

  • No checking in between 8 AM and 8 PM. “Checking in” refers to logging on for the purpose of reading new updates on my newsfeed and checking and responding to comments on my or other people’s updates.
  • Maximum of 3 updates per day, including updates of photos or links but excluding updates automatically generated when I post to my blog. These can be done at any time.
  • No likes. (I actually began doing this a few months ago and I find it very rewarding, mostly because it prompts me to share more meaningful commentary when I like something.)

Twitter:

  • No checking in between 8 AM and 8 PM. “Checking in” refers to logging on for the purpose of reading new tweets, checking and responding to notifications on my account, and adding or removing followers.
  • Maximum of 12 tweets per day, including photos, links, tweets automatically generated when I post to my blog, and retweets but excluding scheduled tweets. These can be done at any time.

LinkedIn:

Stop using it. Period. This should be pretty easy since I only check in once every month or so and always leave with a bad taste in my mouth.

Google+:

Really? People still use this?

I know this sounds silly or even kind of extreme — almost like a mom setting parental controls for her kid — but I have identified a problem and I have decided to tackle it by setting limitations. Let’s see how I do.

2. Watch Less TV.

I think I watch an awful lot of TV, especially when you consider that I (1) don’t have cable or satellite TV, (2) only get 4 live channels, and (3) rely mostly on Netflix, Hulu+, and other Roku-available content for options. Again, I think this has to do with the long winter nights — I certainly didn’t watch much TV when the sun was setting after 8 PM.

What’s reasonable? I think 5 hours a week is reasonable. That’s less than an hour a day. That might seem a bit low, but when you consider that I’m out with friends a few evenings a week, it should be pretty easy to maintain.

Read a BookAnd there is this added cheat: a movie — no matter what length it is — counts as just an hour. But, at the same time, an “hour-long” TV episode watched without commercials, which is really only about 44 minutes long, would also count as an hour. I’ll need a scorecard to keep track. It should be interesting to see how I do.

What will I do instead? That’s easy: read.

3. Lose 15 Pounds

MeasureYes, I need to lose weight again. Doesn’t everyone?

Back in 2012, I lost 45 pounds and went from a size 14/16 to a size 6/8. Since then, my weight has crept up a bit, although I’m still able to (barely) fit into all of my new clothes. Time to nip that in the bud and go back to my goal weight. Remember, I burned the bridge to fat town back in 2012.

I’m not very worried about achieving this. I’m going to use the same diet I used in 2012 to lose 45 pounds in 4 months. I expect to get back to my goal weight within 2 months but will likely stay on the diet for an additional month for the added benefits it offers — mostly appetite reduction. That’s what made it possible to keep the weight off as long as I did.

In my defense, since the last 10 pounds came on very quickly — over the past two months — I suspect it has a lot to do with my reduced activity level. Winter means short, cold days here in the Wenatchee area. Unless I’m out doing something that keeps me busy and warm — like skiing or snowshoeing — I’m not likely to be outside. And there isn’t much exercise indoors — although climbing scaffolding can be pretty exhausting after a while. This is my best argument for going south for the winter and I may do it next year. (Yeah, I’m a snowbird for health reasons. That’s the ticket!)

Oh, and if you’re one of those people who think “big is beautiful” and that being thin is something that society forces upon us to make us feel bad about our bodies, wake up and smell the deep fried Oreo you’re about to shove in your pie hole. I never said I wanted to be thin. I’ve said (elsewhere in this blog) that I wanted to remain a healthy weight for the rest of my life. The added benefit is the ability to look good in clothes, have lots of energy, and feel better about myself. Don’t be an idiot. If you’re more than 10% over what’s a healthy weight for your height, you owe it to yourself and your family to shed those extra pounds. Trust me: you will be glad you did.

4. Write More

Writing PadOne of the things social media time has stolen from me is writing time. Instead of sitting down to write a blog post or an article for a magazine or even a chapter of a book, I spend that time on Facebook or Twitter or even (sometimes) LinkedIn. Or surfing the web. This are mostly unrewarding, unfulfilling activities. I get so much more satisfaction out of completing a blog post or article — especially when there’s a paycheck for the article.

I want to blog more often — at least four times a week. Blogging is something that makes me feel good. I wish I could explain it. I think it’s because I’m documenting the things I’m doing, thinking, and feeling. Creating an archive of these things.

I’ve been blogging for 11 years now and am very proud of that fact. I’m also thrilled that I can go back and read about the things that interested me so long ago. Why wouldn’t I want to do this?

I also want to explore new markets for paid article work. I have opportunities and when I can focus I can write and submit work I can be paid for. Why aren’t I doing more of this?

And I definitely need to complete a few work-in-progress books that I’ve started. And turn some of my blog posts into ebooks I can earn a few dollars on.

And I sure wouldn’t mind reopening some of the fiction work I began 20 or 30 years ago — work that was once so much a part of my life that I’d think about it in bed to help me drift off to sleep. Time to bring all that back into my life.

5. Just Say No to Starbucks

Say No to StarbucksWhy do I go in there? The coffee isn’t even that good!

I live in Washington, for Peet’s sake (pun intended), a place where there are coffee shops on nearly every corner and more drive-through coffee stands than gas stations. Why am I going into Starbucks, a place where saying “medium” instead of “grande” can earn you a snicker from the order taker?

Chocolate Covered Graham CrackersAnd don’t say it’s the dark chocolate covered graham crackers. Although it could be.

I guess I just don’t like the idea of supporting a global corporation with mediocre products when I could be supporting small, local coffee shops with slightly less mediocre products.

What I really should do is stop drinking coffee in the middle of the day.

This will be easy to do once I set my mind to it. I just have to not crave coffee when I walk into the Fred Meyer or Safeway supermarkets.

Scorecard

Because I’m so anal, I’ll keep a scorecard to see how I do. I’ll try to report back with success — or failure — at year’s end.

Wish me luck!

And why not share a few of your resolutions for 2015? Use the comments link or form for this post.