Five Years Blogging

How time flies.

Yesterday, while I was busy working — yes, I do work, too — I missed a major milestone in my writing life: my fifth anniversary as a blogger.

I latched on to blogging very early. I saw it for how it was originally intended, as a “Web log” or journal. I’d been wanting to keep a journal of my life and thoughts but could never stick with it. By blogging these things, I put it out there for feedback from others. With an audience, I felt a good reason to write these journal entries. I kept it up.

For five years.

I started blogging on October 15, 2003 with an offline blogging tool called iBlog. I’d use it to compose blog entries offline. When it was time to publish, iBlog would generate all the HTML necessary to create all of the pages for the blog. Publishing was time-consuming, especially as the blog grew in size. It was published to my .Mac disk space and co-existed with my Web site.

In 2004, when I went up to the Grand Canyon to fly helicopter tours, I found it necessary to start a new blog so I could blog from my laptop. This was a shortcoming of iBlog and it soon drove me nuts. Later the same year, I found a way to synchronize my two blogs back into one.

In December 2005, I finally saw the light and switched to WordPress. While I was brave enough to install it on my own Mac OS X Server — and even got it to work! — server problems convinced me to move it to a hosting service. It’s been there, running smoothly, ever since.

All this time, I’d been blogging about whatever I felt like. This included the kinds of “days in my life” posts you find here, as well as how-to articles I wrote for the readers of my computer books. But in November 2007, I decided to split off all the computer articles into their own blog-based site called Maria’s Guides. There was a lot of technical tasks required to pull that off without 404 errors, but I think I did a good job. Sadly, I’ve been neglecting Maria’s Guides a bit lately. I’d rather think — and write — about other things.

That brings us pretty close to today. My blog continues to chug along on the Internet, with me at the helm. I enjoy the ability to say what I want in a forum where others can read and comment on it. I enjoy the interaction with most (but admittedly not all) readers. I find it amazing when certain posts become extremely popular. For example, “Flying At Lake Powell” has been read nearly 19,000 times since it was written in April 2006 and “Cynical Humor” — which is based on content sent to me by a friend — was read more than 2,000 times just the other day. Other blog posts have resulted in a chain of comments which add valuable information to the original post. “The Helicopter Job Market,” which has been read over 18,000 times and has collected 75 comments so far, is a good example.

So yesterday, with no fanfare at all, the fifth anniversary of my first blog post came and went. If it weren’t for a recent reader comment that my blog is “as big as the Grand Canyon,” I would have forgotten this milestone completely. But the comment made me think.

It should be big. I’ve been at it for five years.

Maria Speaks Episode 37: KBSZ Interview

Maria Speaks Episode 37: KBSZ Interview.

I was interviewed yet again by local radio station KBSZ 1250-AM. Pete’s a great interviewer and always makes his guests feel comfortable. We talked for about 40 minutes, mostly about the Internet and flying. You’ll hear my layman’s explanation of my recent experience getting seriously Dugg. Keep in mind that the station’s audience isn’t exactly computer savvy, so I do a lot of explaining and simplifying when discussing some computer topics.

This podcast starts in the middle of a commercial; the interview starts about a minute in.

February 17, 2010 Update: KBSZ went under back in 2009. The Web site was taken down and all podcasts removed. As a result, the podcast of this episode is no longer available. Sorry!

NPR Playback

An excellent podcast for those interested in history.

Last October, National Public Radio (NPR) began a new monthly series called Playback. Each month, the show explores the stories that were making news on NPR 25 years before.

NPR PlaybackI’d heard commercials for the podcast on the other NPR podcasts I listen to, but never got around to checking this one out. This past week, I found NPR Playback on iTunes and subscribed.

The show is hosted by Kerry Thompson. She introduces segments with a few facts and plays actual news stories and interviews from those days. Some segments include current-day interviews with NPR reporters who were covering the story back then. Each monthly 20- to 30-minute episode is an amazing look back at the past, brought into perspective by the events that came afterward.

For me, however, I think it’s more interesting. 25 years ago, I was just getting out of college, starting my new and independent life. News was going on around me, but I was only 21 and how many 21-year-olds really think much about world events? Playback brings these events back to the forefront of my memory and gives me the information I need to think about them as an adult with a more fine-tuned sense of what’s going on in the world, what’s wrong, and what’s right. I can think about these events the way I would have if I’d been 46 back then. It’s helping me understand what the world was like in the early 80s and why it has become what it is today.

I can’t say enough positive things about this podcast. If you’re interested in history and world events, give it a try. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

You can learn more on the NPR Playback page of the NPR Podcast Directory, on NPR.org.

Harry Potter Fever

I’m done.

I’ll admit it: I’m a Harry Potter fan. I think the books are well-written and entertaining. And I think the movies are extremely well done, faithful to the books in such a way to satisfactorily bring the author’s scenes to life.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)I’ll admit this, too: I ordered the final Harry Potter book three months ago. I ordered it from Amazon.com with another item, chose free shipping, and waited. I wasn’t in a rush. I just wanted my collection complete. Amazon shipped the other item immediately and put my HP order on hold until it was time to ship it.

Last week, Amazon sent me an e-mail suggesting that I upgrade shipping so I’d get the book on its publication date. I wasn’t in a hurry to get the book so I ignored the e-mail.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6)Meanwhile, I was listening to the Slate Political Gabfast podcast. One of the staff mentioned that the audio books for Harry Potter were excellent. Since I didn’t remember much of the sixth Harry Potter book, I figured I’d try it as an audio book. I ordered it from Amazon.com. They gave me a free trial to Amazon Prime. Free 2-day shipping for a month (when I’ll cancel to avoid the outrageous $79 annual fee). I figured the audio book would arrive before the printed book. I could listen to book 6 and read book 7.

I got an e-mail from Amazon.com on Thursday to let me know that my HP book had shipped. I could expect it by July 26. Fine. I was in no hurry.

So imagine my surprise when I opened my mailbox yesterday — two days after being told the book had shipped — and the book was in there. On the publication date. With free shipping. And the darn thing had cost me less than $20 — about half the retail price. Not bad.

So now I faced a dilemma.: read the book right away or wait until after listening to the Book 6 audio, which still hadn’t arrived.

Yesterday afternoon, after a pleasant day Jeeping on dirt roads and an even more pleasant shower, I cracked open the 700+ page final book of the Harry Potter series. The reason I didn’t wait: I was afraid that someone would spoil it for me by telling me the end.

I was 1/3 finished when I went to bed at about 10 PM last night. This morning, I got right back into it with my breakfast. By 12:30 PM, I was finished.

I won’t tell the ending. In my opinion, anyone who does is a major-league asshole. That includes the people who ripped off copies before they were released and published them on the Web. It also includes the reviewers for the New York Times who released plot points in a review the day before the book was released.

I will say that the ending works. That’s it.

I think J.K. Rowling has done a fine job on this series. Although a lot of the books were a bit longer than they needed to be, I think that gave readers — especially those who can’t crank through a 700+ page book in 8 hours — more for their money. It helped them stay in the fantasy world of Harry Potter and his friends for just a little bit longer.

Is the whole Harry Potter thing worth the ridiculous hype? In my opinion, no.

But then again, in today’s world, people seem anxious to grab on to any hype they can. It’s better to latch on to Harry Potter’s struggle against evil than Paris Hilton’s short prison stay — or to stand in line for an iPhone.

Isn’t it?

As for that Book 6 Audio…I look forward to hearing it. If it’s half as good as the Slate podcaster claims, I’ll enjoy it immensely.

Twitter Spam

Turning a fun thing into more marketing crap.

I’ve been using Twitter for about two months now. It’s part of my daily routine. Unfortunately, other people have also been using it — for their own selfish purposes.

How I Use Twitter

I start up my main Mac and Twitterific automatically appears. I use it to scroll back to see what the folks I’ve been following have been up to for the past few hours. Sometimes, their tweets include links to interesting articles on the Web. Other times, they give me ideas for articles or stories or just things to think about. And other times, they’re just plain boring. Let’s face it — we can’t all be interesting all of the time.

I tweet throughout the day while I’m working. I also have something set up somewhere (I forgot now) that automatically posts a tweet whenever I post a blog entry. That’s all automated, which is a good thing. On a good day, I can put out 5 or more entries.

I like the reassuring tweet and ping sound when a new tweet comes in on Twitterific. I work alone at my desk with only Alex the Bird (in the next room) and Jack the Dog (under my desk) for company. While Alex does plenty of talking, none of it is very meaningful. Getting tweets from people I follow is like hearing from the outside world. I may be physically alone, but there are people out there doing stuff and thinking about things and they’ve made me part of their world by tweeting. Andy’s doing his computer and hacking stuff all over the U.K. Miraz is raising her dogs while working at a desk in New Zealand, not much different from mine, 20 hours into the future. Leanne is practicing her saxophone, doing gigs, and teaching at a college. Mignon is researching and recording podcasts and getting interviewed. Mike, the good dad, is doing stuff with his kid and making plans for the next addition to his family. It’s digital but it’s live and real and it gives me company throughout the day. And, in more than a few instances, I’ve actually learned things from these people, most of whom are complete strangers to me.

I also tweet when I’m out and about. When I invested in my Treo, I also invested, for the first time ever, in a text messaging plan. I get up to 250 text messages a month. That might not seem like a lot to the folks who text to their friends and family members throughout the day, but to me, it’s a ton. So I post tweets via telephone. (I also use my Treo to post photos to my TumbleLog when I happen to see something interesting or funny.) For example, I tweeted whenever possible during my recent Alaska vacation and maybe — just maybe — I gave a few folks some ideas of what to see or do if they ever head up there.

Enter the Opportunists

If you use Twitter regularly, you’ve likely gotten e-mail messages from Twitter telling you that you have a new friend and offering a link to that “friend’s” tweets on the Twitter Web site.

At first, you might feel flattered — here’s a stranger that wants to keep track of what you’re doing. You might decide to thank him or her (or it — sometimes gender is unknown — by making him/her/it your friend.

But stop! Wait! Do your homework.

I’ve discovered that more than a few Twitter users don’t give a damn about anyone else’s tweets. All they want to do is suck other Twitter users into following their tweets. And their tweets are full of self-promotional bull or plain old advertisements.

Take, for example, PersonX. I won’t use this person’s name because, until recently, I was following her tweets and she may still follow mine. I didn’t realize it at the time, but PersonX had at least 3 Twitter accounts. It should have tipped me off when all three became my friends at the same time. Two of the accounts — I’ll call them AccountY and AccountZ — were for informational “services” posted as tweets. One, for example, provided quotes from literature. I can’t remember what the other one did — I didn’t stick with it long. PersonX’s tweets were all about how popular AccountY and AccountZ were getting. Or, if they weren’t getting popular, they were musings about why they were being ignored. It was pretty obvious that this person’s accounts were solely to promote herself and these useless services.

One particularly popular Twitter member tweets throughout the day with the latest on who he’s interviewing and what cool new product he’s been allowed to play with. Then, later in the day, he releases a bunch of @name responses to the people who have tweeted directly to him all day. Reading a dozen of these in a row — especially when you’re not following the tweets of the person he’s responding to — is a real bore. Thank heaven Twitter only allows 140 characters. I could see a person like this filling the bandwidth with one-sided personal conversations that no one else cares about.

A few other people I’ve followed in the past just tweet links to articles they’ve written or promotional material. Someone who’s curious might follow these links and, thus, waste a bunch of time reading ads. There are quite a few of these people out there. More than there should be.

All this, in my opinion, is Twitter spam.

Do Your Homework

It’s easy to prevent yourself from adding self-promotional opportunists as Twitter friends. Just do your homework in advance.

How? Simple. When you get an e-mail message telling you that PersonY has added you as a friend, click the link in the message that displays the person’s most recent tweets. (This will be something like http://twitter.com/username.) Read them. Decide whether this kind of content is something that interests you. If it’s not, ignore him. If it is, add him as a friend.

Removing a Friend

About Me on TwitterIt sounds cruel, but if someone you’ve added as a friend turns out to be someone who posts a lot of crap that you’re not interested in, it’s easy to remove their Tweets from what you see.

There are a few ways to do this. One way is to go to your Twitter home page (http://twitter.com/yourname/) and click the Friends link in the About box on the right side of the page.

This will list all of your friends:

Image

For each friend, you should see at least two links beneath the Friend’s name:

  • Leave username basically ignores the friend for a while by not displaying his links for you.
  • Remove username removes the friend from your list of friends. I’m ruthless, so this is the one I usually pick.

To my knowledge, the friend does not receive an e-mail message saying that you have left or removed him. So you don’t have to worry about insulting him or him bugging you about it.

Oh, and if a Twitter member is obviously using Twitter solely for spam-like communications, do us all a favor and report him. The Twitter team offers a form for assistance; you can use the same form to report a Twitter member’s unacceptable behavior.

I Still Like Twitter, Despite Any Shortcomings

I still like Twitter. It makes me feel as if I’m part of a community, even while I’m sitting alone all day in my office. I’m just very picky about who I follow — I have only 33 Twitter friends as I write this — and I’m quick to turn off the Tweets of the people too quick to promote themselves or their products.

And I think that’s vital for any serious Twitter user.