Pipeline: This week, I look at the recently concluded “We Stand on Guard” comic from Brian K. Vaughan and Steve Skroce. Also, the Epic Gen13 Re-Read continues with issues #3-#5. It’s good stuff.
Not that it took a genius to see it coming or anything, but from the very first month of blogging here:
I like FIREFLY, but I don’t think it’s going to last past its initial half dozen episodes. The ratings are sinking. Another Friday Night At 8 p.m. disaster. Didn’t BRISCO COUNTY/MANTIS/VR.5/HARSH REALM teach FOX anything? (And, yes, I’m sure I’m forgetting another 3 or 4 failures from that time slot.)
Also amusing to see what I thought of the then-new “CSI: Miami” and others…
A tweet from John Siracusa could net your blog 4,000 hits. It worked that way for me, at least. Not that any of those 4,000 will stick around, but it’s a fun ride while it lasts.
On Sunday night (September 30th), after spending probably far too much time in Skitch and Pixelmator, I had made an image I thought might be popular in the Apple blogosphere/podcast-o-sphere. (That can’t possibly be a word, but this is the internet. Neologism was invented just for it. Wikipedia tells me so.) You can read the whole story behind the image alongside it at the original blog post.
After proofreading the text, I tweeted it out into the world. Those were my first two mistakes. First, I missed the obvious mistake where I referred to the “iPad Nano” twice in the post, including the headline. (The image file name had it right, though.) Second, I used the Twitter website to post the link. I walked away from my computer, came back an hour later, and the tweet was still sitting there in the textarea on the web page. It hadn’t gone out. I keep forgetting that hitting the “return” key doesn’t send a tweet. You have to click the “Tweet” button. It happens with me and the Twitter web page all the time. I still haven’t learned.
So I made the correction and off it went. I used Bit.ly to shorten my URL so I could track the stats on this post, in case it turned out to be popular. I was thrilled a few minutes later when I saw I had 97 hits. Since most of my Twitter “following” comes from the comic book world, I knew that kind of number had come from someone on the Apple side retweeting me. Sure enough, @Siracusa did it.
Less than an hour later, 1200 people hit my humble blog. I don’t get a tenth of that on a daily basis anymore. At the height of this blog, I may have had a couple hundred people visiting every day. These days, I doubt I have more than a few dozen reading what I post. It’s my fault. This blog has no focus and I don’t update it regularly enough. Both are kisses of death. This isn’t so much a commercial enterprise as it is a place for me to spout off on the random things I like to write about, so that’s OK.
By the time I got to work and checked the stats again, I was over 3000 hits. That’s when I started to panic that I blew it. My blog is in no shape for this kind of traffic. Is the front page cached? Will anyone know who I am? Will anyone care? The blog is a mess. It violates most sane blogging practices. I’m trying to fix some of that with the new engine I’m writing for it, but it’s a little embarrassing in the meantime.
Interestingly, some Monday afternoon hits came from people more interested in fashion. The link had some legs (no pun intended) amongst a fashion twitterati blogger or two. That helped.
By noon, the initial boom had trailed off. Readers were still trickling in, but like most “viral” posts, this one had already peaked immediately and faded off to (what I think will be) a very short long tail. The post didn’t make the Follow Up section of the next Hypercritical podcast, so there wasn’t a second bounce at the end of the week. (Still, it was a great episode talking about App Dot Net. Well worth listening to.)
At the time of this writing, a week later, my total hits through the Bit.ly link stands at 3,909.
Good news: Nothing ever crashed or so much as scratched. Bad news: I see Express ads for colorful jeans on every website I visit.
Like I said, this blog is a total mess, but I’m hoping to get better soon. And for a couple of hours, it felt good to be “well-read.” It gives me a little bit of encouragement to still dream “bigger” and work harder on more things.
While my Pipeline column has been running continuously for over 15 years straight now (never missed a week), the history of this blog is a little shakier in recent years. Still, we’ve reached a milestone…
Parte the First
A decade ago today, this blog started its life.
The story of how this blog came to be goes back a little further than that, though, when I first registered the domain name. I bought it on February 4, 2000, with the intention of creating my own blog with it. That word wasn’t popularized yet, though I’m pretty sure it was in use already. The model for what I wanted to do was Slashdot.org, the Reddit/Digg of its time. It was a reverse chronological series of stories and links to other stories around the web. It was even written in Perl.
I was a relatively new college graduate (May 1998) who wanted to play more with the Perl programming language. I set out to write my own blog engine, where Slashdot was the model. (I’m not sure if Slashdot had open-sourced its own blog engine code yet by then. It probably had, but I was looking for a learning thing, not just a quick solution.) I had drawn up bits of the look of the thing, and might have even started sketching out some programming pieces. Back then, I didn’t really know what I was doing, though, and I didn’t get very far. I was good with Perl as a scripting language to move some files around and parse their contents, but building a website with it? I likely wouldn’t have admitted it at the time, but I was clueless. And so I didn’t do it.
Fast forward to August 30, 2002, when I decided I was going to start a blog anyway, even if it wasn’t on my own engine. I chose LiveJournal as a host. There weren’t that many choices. But LiveJournal was written in Perl, I knew, so there was a kindred spirit there.
And then my ComicBookResources.com boss and web hosting provider, Jonah Weiland, told me to stop it. Own my own work. Host my own damned site. And he provided the server. And here we’ve been ever since.
VariousAndSundry.com debuted, self-hosted, on September 17, 2002. A decade ago. I started in the shadow of good company, at least: DaringFireball.net just celebrated its tenth anniversary this summer, too. Of course, DF had a focus, built an audience, and is now a tech blog success story. (Sponsorships bring in a half million a year for DF’s John Gruber.) I’m just a loudmouth with a lot of things on his mind that feels the need to randomly blurt them out. Sometimes, they form a coherent theme. Usually, they don’t.
I think the traffic highs for this blog were in the early days of American Idol coverage. There weren’t fifty thousand AI blogs back then, and I ranked highly on Google for a brief time for some specific AI searches. But, truth be told, the traffic here never got higher than a couple of three hundred people a day. The Google Ads have netted me a total of a single $100 check a few years back. And my repeated offers to be a complete sell-out for just a million dollars have gone unanswered by a San Francisco tech community that refuses to believe that I have as much upside as an Instagram or Dodgeball or even a Sparrow. (Remember, folks: Instagram sold for a billion despite having no profits. I’ve made $100 in a decade. Surely, I’m worth $100 billion, at least?)
Five years ago, as my last job was winding down, I wanted to learn something new. I chose the popular web framework, Ruby on Rails, for my mission. I spent months reading books, playing with code, trying to get good at it. I even owned FromPerlToRuby.com, which I planned to make into an instructional blog. The domain name has since lapsed, but I still have the blog entries I wrote for it. Don’t know why I still do, but I do. Writers are notorious pack rats for such things. If VandS turns into a tech blog, I’ll recycle them.
Then I got a new job that still meant Perl, and I put Ruby aside to dedicate my time and energies to learning the new system. I liked Ruby, but I wasn’t getting paid to program in it, and I didn’t have a solid project to use it for. It fell by the wayside.
Fast forward to today. I’m not sure why it is, but the back end of this blog has slowed down to a crawl. Editing and updating anything on the site is a chore. I guess part of it is that there’s a huge database now with thousands of articles that power it. For whatever reason, updating the WordPress software (with its famous “one click install”) takes more than a click and is a miserable process for me. I want something new. I want this blog to be busier. I want to remove the pain point that is a standard CMS. I need to do it on my own.
So I’ve decided to leap into the new world of static blogging. Drop the database all together. Keep the entire site as a series of static HTML pages. Everything is processed off-line and then uploaded. There are some off-the-shelf solutions for this (Jekyll, Octopress), but I’m using this instead as a project I can use to inspire myself to finally sit down and learn Ruby by using it seriously. I’ve come full circle, using this domain name to learn something new and to create a blog. And since static blogs haves less security concerns to worry about, I feel free to go crazy.
Ruby is very Perl-like, so it feels natural. And since this isn’t being done on work servers for my day job, I don’t need to cut through red tape anytime I want to install something new. Or update a public-facing page. Or ask permission for anything. It’s liberating and it’s fun. I may still program during the day, but I have fun programming at night.
The Hat Trick – Programming the Platform
Moving to a new blogging platform only gets more complicated the further you dig into it. Thankfully, I’ve been able to copy my entire WordPress database off the server and to my local machine, making it easier to use. I’ve written a program to read it in. I’m working now on the part where I write those posts out as separate pages. That’s the (relatively) easy part, though.
Think about what goes into a blog. Forget the design for a moment, something I aspire to but am sadly deficient at. You need a home page with the most recent x posts on it. You need an archives page. Maybe you need an archives page per category. You need an RSS feed. You need a way to automate the posting of new blog entries. I’m looking at moving thousands of files around every time I update the blog. Or maybe I can just run an rsync and move only the pages that have changed. Can I integrate Dropbox into this somehow so I can update the blog even when I’m away from my computer?
If there’s one thing I recognize about myself, it’s that I can stifle myself by planning for all of this. It’s overwhelming. Instead, I’m taking it one task at a time. Finish one thing, start the next. Go into it blindly. Solve problems as they come up. Refactor code after it works. Reuse what you can. Writing a script to generate an RSS feed, for example, should be easy. There are plug-ins for that. (Ruby calls them gems.) So don’t worry about it. I’ve already worked out the gem I needed to format the blog posts for HTML. I’m using Markdown for formatting my plain text files.
But then there are a lot of changes that have to be made server-side to make the final transition seamless. (I don’t want to lose what little Google Juice I may have built up over the years.) Single blog entries will end in .html now instead of a single backslash. I need to redirect that traffic. That’s the scariest part. At some point, when I’m done testing this and want to switch over to it completely, there might be a little downtime while I sort through that mess.
What about generating a site-map for Google? I know there’s a Python script for that. Will I need to learn another language just for that script’s purposes? I’m not averse to it, but at some point I’ll run out of time.
What about all the other little things I’ve forgotten completely about? I’ll see them as I push on, I guess.
In any case, it’s exciting for me, even if it means you see very few changes on the front end. My hope is that the biggest change you’ll see is more posting. It might not be five days a week, but it’ll be more than once a month. Some of that may be uber-geeky stuff while I program my way through this blog engine writing process. You’ve been warned. But, first, I need to write the engine. So I’m off to do that. Ten years later.
Thanks for reading over the years. Thanks for indulging me today. Now get back to work. All of us!
Last year, I decided against doing any New Year’s Resolutions, since I failed most spectaularly on the ones I had set the year before.
This year, I’m feeling more adventurous, so I’ve set some photographic New Year’s Resolutions. Click on the link to visit the all-new AugieShoots.com for that post.
My first resolution for the new year: Keep AugieShoots.com running regularly. It might not be daily, but at least three times a week should be doable.
The second resolution: Get VariousAndSundry updated regularly again, even if it’s only once a week.
Three: Watch more Blu-ray movies. I’ve been very slow to buy them, mostly because I haven’t watched enough of the ones I DID buy. So let’s start correcting for that in 2011.
Well, not exactly. But I promise updates five days a week for the next couple of weeks, at least.
It’s going to be me getting all of this photographic stuff out of my system. Whereas AugieShoots.com displays images well, it’s not so great with the text side of things. So my musings on photography will be the single subject for this blog for a little while.
Consider this a test. If it works, we’ll see where we go next. Thanks for hanging in there!
Yeah, it’s the first day of a brand new year.
It’s also the first day of my brand new blog.
Look for the official announcement here tomorrow. . .
(Yeah, I have no actual content today. Sorry about that. Er, but Happy New Year!)
I have an announcement for January 1st.
Yeah, I know. It’s a holiday and nobody will be reading. Don’t worry — everyone will catch up. But the announcement needs to come on Thursday. You’ll see why. This has been a teaser.
One of the amazing things about having a child is how well it focuses you. I have less time to “do stuff” now, yet I’m still getting a lot of stuff done. I chalk that up to using my time more wisely, goofing off less, and focusing on productivity.
That all said, here’s my rundown of web-based projects these days:
Various and Sundry: This blog carries on, five days a week. Some weeks are writing bonanzas, others are a bit more sparse. It varies from week to week, but that’s the nature of the beast. I wish I could write an original 500 word essay on a daily basis, but I’m not sure I could, even if this was a full time job.
Pipeline Commentary and Review: Recently celebrated its 600th weekly column. I got ahead on the column in preparation for the baby’s birth, and while I’ve pretty much caught up on that lead by now, there’s still a backlog of stuff I want to write about. This week’s column is a 4000 word monster, as I type this, though I might have to hack and slash at it a bit.
Pipeline Podcast: Coming up on its fourth anniversary at the top of 2009. Can you believe podcasting is that old now? The schedule has suffered due to back-end technical issues I continue to fight with, and time constraints at home. Sadly, the computer with the good mic set up is in a room that shares a wall with the baby’s room. So while I only get to record the podcast after she goes to sleep, I can’t use that mic because my booming voice would wake her up through that thin wall. I’m looking at buying a Snowball USB mic for the laptop to bring up production quality. For now, I record with a blanket over my head and the laptop to cut down on the echoes. Ah, the glories of podcasting. . .
CBR Reviews: This is the biggest time sink, but also one of the most productive. I am the editor of the CBR Reviews team, six guys writing reviews daily of the week’s books. We published 80 reviews in November, and are getting better about publishing them closer to publication dates, and even in advance.
Secret Project 1: I think this one is stalled out. It’s something I started thinking about before the baby was born, but I’m not sure how do-able it really is, given time and scheduling restraints. But I’m keeping it in my back pocket. It’s comics-related and nobody else is doing anything like it right now. I want to be the first, but c’est la vie.
Secret Project 2: Vaguely and tangentially related to SP1, but there’s real movement on it. It’s something that would only take a couple of hours a week of my time and could be very successful. Look for it in the first quarter of 2009, if it does happen.
Twitter: It’s like having another email account. It’s the first thing I check at night, clicking on the “Responses” tab to see who’s talking to me and who I need to write back to. Lots of interesting people, lots of continuously-updating content, and designed to eliminate spam on its own.
Flickr: One thing that the baby has changed completely is my photography. I’m doing less nature photography and more people photography, mostly the baby. I invested in some lighting equipment and am experimenting with that now. Am thinking of selling a lens to afford a different one that’s more amenable to my current shooting style. Need to update Flickr more often, though for baby privacy reasons, it’s not likely.
Google Reader: I do 90% of my web browsing through RSS feeds via Google Reader now and share out the best links and stories I find there. I’ve started sharing them with notes now, to add some additional information to the feed. If you’re a Google Reader, I invite you to friend me or click on that link to subscribe to my feed. It covers more of the kinds of things I’m interested in, above and beyond what you see on this blog.
It’s that time of the year again: Holiday shopping season!
I’m not going to ask you to buy anything specifically. I won’t hard sell you anything. I’m not pushing a book or something crazy like that.
But if you are ordering anything through Amazon in the next month for Christmas, there’s an Amazon banner at the top of this site’s front page. Click on it to get to Amazon and this blog will receive a tiny fraction of the money you spend. (Somewhere between 4% and 6%, depending on volume.) It doesn’t have to be anything specific. Just click through before putting items in your cart, and this blog will be credited with directing traffic to Amazon, and those nice folks in the Pacific Northwest will cut me a check in a couple of months.
Lots of blogs emphasize this at this point of the year, and I’m no exception. You’re going to spend the money anyway, so why not help a brother out at the same time? Pick a favorite blog and click through their Amazon links before you shop.
Thanks for your support and your readership. It’s been a fun year, and there’s still plenty to go!
Here endeth the meta talk.
It’s been a wee bit busier than expected up here this week. The DVD update will appear tonight.
Podcast fans: Sorry to say, that got delayed to tonight, as well.
Management thanks you for your patience and continued support.
24 hours later, I’ve yet to receive an offer to buy me out.
I’m sure it’s only a matter of time, though. It was a bit unfair of me to spring this on corporate America on a Friday. I’m sure there’s a corporate office staying up late this weekend trying to raise the funds. They’re probably working on a bond issue or something. Two million bucks isn’t always “ready cash,” unless your Apple.
If you’re Apple, I’ll lower the price to $1.9 million, if you throw in a couple of iMacs.
Let’s wait this out till Monday. Something’s going to come. How can it not? This is almost literally too good a deal to pass up!