My Weekend Writing Appearance

Chad Nevett is doing his annual Blogathon fundraiser on Saturday, posting regularly for 24 straight hours. I am one of the special guests contributing over the course of the day. It’s a fun topic. Keep an eye out on his site for it as the day progresses and Chad slowly drives himself insane. For a good cause.

Quote of the Day, 22 Jan 2013 Edition

Twitter is deprecating its support for an insignificant power user segment that has been impotently threatening to leave en masse for over a year. And it’s doing so because there’s an enormous population of people using Twitter for altogether different purposes than we care to consider or grace with our arrogant presence. It’s looking to make money from a demographic of sociable, connected, and care-free users that are using Twitter for the sake of its features, not the way its app ecosystem works.

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Inbox Zero

Last month, I took a few days and whittled my GMail inbox down to zero emails. Not zero unread emails. Zero emails, period. It has remained empty to this day.

Why: It’s distracting to have hundreds of emails in my inbox. I missed emails that scrolled off the front page. I forgot to answer some that didn’t need much of my time, but that I kept putting off and became easier to ignore. I started to feel badly about checking my email, knowing I had others down the list that I hadn’t properly dealt with. Why should I look at even more?

Even worse, I didn’t know what I was missing. I just had the feeling that I was missing something. That lack of control and knowledge is killer. I’ve been reading David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” recently, and while I haven’t adopted it as my productivity system, I picked up enough to know that using some of the ideas in the book to clear out my mental To Do list — which is what my inbox has become — would be a do-able and smart thing. Having an organized system where you know where everything is — even when you don’t know everything you have — frees up your mind. It removes those doubts. It lets you move ahead and do more stuff, instead of thinking about or worrying about past stuff.

Inbox Zero

(And, yes, it meant I had to read a ten year old book to finally come around to Merlin Mann’s famous “Inbox Zero” talk from five years ago. I watched it originally on a train ride into New York City a few years back. I need to give it a rewatch now to see what else I can glean from it.)

How: GMail has the archive function. (It’s the y key for my fellow Gmail keyboard fans.) I made judicious use of it. Too much of the email in my inbox was there because I didn’t want to delete it, but I didn’t know what to do with it yet. It was there just in case I needed it later.

“Fine,”” I said, “I’ll keep it. But I don’t need to always be looking at it.”

Off it went.

I created a folder named “__Answer”. Those underscores are there to make sure the folder name is on top of my list. (Yes, technically, this isn’t a folder, but a label. It’s used the same way. Gmail just tries to be cute about it.) In “Getting Things Done” terms, these are my action items. These are the emails I want to answer but don’t have immediate time to do so. In there goes all the emails I can’t look at at the moment. If they’re a link to a website or to a program I want to download, I put it in “__Answer” until I’m at home on my main computer and can perform those actions. Often, it’s an email where I click on the link, wait for that tab to open, and then delete the email. Two clicks and it’s done. It doesn’t pile up.

The big thing here is to not let the “__Answer” folder explode. It’s too easy to move things out of the inbox and let them sit in other folders. This is the folder where that might happen. So I dedicate the first 15 minutes of the night at home when I sit behind the computer to going through this folder. I click on all the links to see all the pages. I write responses to the more personal emails. I respond to the various PR people, whether it’s for or for Pipeline or this blog. I delete the emails that seemed important ten hours ago, but which by that point are obsolete or just not important enough to waste my time on.

It feels great. Things are always moving. Nothing stagnates. I don’t forget things. I get things done, so to speak.

Inbox Zero

I have more folders. “NextPipeline” is there for emails relating to the following week’s Pipeline column at CBR. Those might be responses to the previous week’s column. They might be links to quotable tweets. They might be links to blog posts or publisher pages of things I want to discuss. Sometimes, they’re little ideas I’ve written up to put in the next column. In those times on the weekend where I sit down in front of the computer and feel like I have nothing to say for Pipeline, this folder is a godsend.

The “VariousandSundry” label/folder is the blog version of “NextPipeline”. If I had more time, I’d use it more to generate more blog posts, but at least it’s the start of a sytem.

“Links” is a bin of emails linking to various blogs and other websites I want to read, but may not be time sensitive. I archive a lot of these. I have sub-folders here, too, specifically for things like “Programming” and “Tech” and “Comics” topics. They become searchable morgues, in effect.

I also have a “__Coupons” folder where I hide away the various deals I get sent from the membership cards I have. Next time I’m in the mall and need a quick dinner, I know where to look for that T.G.I.Fridays coupon now. No digging through things. Do I have some photos I want to print up? Check in this folder first for coupons to Shutterfly or CVS or AdoramaPix. And if I need to send flowers, I know where those FTD deals are. Need a book? The latest Barnes & Noble deal is in there. The big thing to remember here is to stop in one or twice a month to delete all the expired emails. Most of them are good for less than a week.

There are more folders for smaller categories. I have one for things related to my daughter’s school, for example. Those are archived there just in case, and labeled to be easier to find, rather than just archived. I have a folder for “CBR Reviews”, even if I’m not the editor there anymore. I’m still an occasional contributor, once or twice a month. Information shared there that might come in handy later is saved.

It’s only been a month, but it feels great. I’m generating more positive email and having more conversations. Things don’t drop off the page. I feel more productive. It’s a good thing.

Next time: The nice side effects of Inbox Zero.

Best Typo of the Day

Saw an ad looking for a full time blogger in Los Angeles. The first part of the job description made me laugh out loud:

Creating engaging blog content that is relevant to weightless/dieting and a health centric lifestyle

Later references to the same topic spelled it correctly with “weight loss,” but now I can’t help but picture overweight astronauts on a space station losing weight and finding themselves floating higher in the air. That is completely scientifically inaccurate, yes, but it’s just the funny image I had in my head.

Funnier still is a later job requirement:

The ability to spell check one’s own writing is a must and is something that is expected and required of the blogger.

This is meant to be a shill blog and social media outreach that’s soulless and heartless. It’s doomed to fail. Here’s more of the job description:

Daily content creation and updating on Twitter page – Must be able to write in a social media based relatable style that is engaging to readers

I’m afraid of someone getting paid to be as bad a Twitter user as the average Twitter user. Engage with Trending Topics today!

The budget for this job — handling the company’s blog, Facebook, and Twitter presences — is $500 – $1,000. What a deal!

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YouTube Feature Request

The one thing YouTube is missing is a simple feature that most audio players/podcast players have today: a fast-forward and rewind button. Yes, you can scrub through, but it’s inexact and tricky. Give me a 10 second rewind button and a 30 second fast-forward button and I’d be happy.

While you’re over there, check out these recent videos:

Quote of the Day – 27 November Edition

…all original content is by big companies that have partnered with Twitter to use Twitter as an announcement platform, all users just talk about what these things mean, and trends are what you look at — now that of course means that everything in trends is not really a trend, just chatter about what will effectively be ads. Yay, Twitter!

This is essentially the systematic destruction of a once valuable and far reaching tool.

Ben Brooks

Post-Mortem: iPod Nano Color Analysis

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 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.

bar chart of visit in first hour after the writeup on Twitter

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.

where everyone came from when my site got Tweeted

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.)

By Tuesday afternoon, the hits were down to nearly nil at Bit.Ly. One other interesting thing I learned: Google Analytics saw nothing. At some point in playing with my WordPress theme months back, I must have deleted that bit of JavaScript and never added it back in. Whoops. I’ve now corrected that, to discover that my readership today is, indeed, in the dozens.

At the time of this writing, a week later, my total hits through the 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.

They Track You

You know what happens after you spend a day working on a blog post that becomes very popular?

After one popular blog post, I get lots of Express ads

The cookies track you while you’re off doing MySQL research, and you see your blog post everywhere.

I have thus far been immune to the persuasive powers of the ad. I still own no colorful jeans, skinny or otherwise.

Express ads, they haunt me

Searching on Ruby stuff leads to more Express ads

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Maybe This Will Help?

YouTube has the single worst batch of comment trolls ever seen on the internet. YouTube makes 4Chan look like MasterPiece Theater. It makes the worst of the heady days of AOL seem erudite. It makes the average comic book message board flame fest look like child’s play.

Today, when starting a reasonable and sane comment to the site, YouTube stopped me to let me start posting under my full name, pulled from my Google+ account under the same ID. I like this idea:

You Tube Warning: You Are Now Using Your Full Name

But, then, I’m not flame baiting and trolling and acting like a nasty 14 year old boy who just learned a new dirty word and feels the need to tell it to the world.

Will this help YouTube? I don’t think anything can help YouTube anymore. Really, just ignore the comments there. Better yet, get a plug-in for your browser of choice to help block them out. (This one has versions for Chrome and Firefox.)

Google Maps – All About the Ads

If you’re missing the Google Maps application with your new iOS 6 installation, don’t worry. I have no doubt Google will be back with an app for you to use. Because, you see, the maps application is not a handy guide to get you from place to place thanks to the kindness and benevolence of Google. It is just another vehicle for Google to serve up advertisements.

That’s what Google is: An ad company. So they want to get as many people looking at their maps as possible. And they probably want to show you even more ads.

Take note, for example, that with their new YouTube app, they control things and you get to see more ads. So, too, shall it be with the maps application. Because if you don’t pay for it, someone else will, and you’ll just get annoyed.

That’s just the way the world works.

All this of course raises the question once more: Did Apple get rid of the Map application to spite Google or to chart its own future? Or did Google leave Apple make more money from serving more ads?

What’s What in the Cockpit

Here’s your link of the day, explaining in graphic detail just what all those levers, switches, knobs, and lights in a plane cockpit are for. I’m only halfway through it and am fascinated by all the workings of an airplane.

Above the lever are three landing gear lights. They’re green when the gear is down, red when the gear is in motion or not fully extended, and unlit when the gear is up. It’s typically a good idea to check for “three green” before landing.

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Time for Amazon to Give Up and Pay Up

As much as it pains me to say it, Amazon should start collecting sales tax and save itself a load of trouble. This is a fight it can’t win, in the end. Why fight the inevitable and piss off legions of people (Affiliate site owners, in particular) along the way?

There’s really no reason Amazon shouldn’t be collecting sales taxes today. They’re using an arcane and antiquated loophole in the law to justify not doing so. Honestly, it’s not that hard a thing to create a database to know how much sales tax to charge a buyer, given their billing address. Yes, it is a system that will require some resources to start and less to keep going in the future, but it’s got to be far cheaper than the lawyers they keep using to fighting local laws and politicians every couple of months.

I’ve enjoyed the tax-free shopping at Amazon for a long time now, but let’s not fool ourselves: we’re supposed to report it at the end of the year and pay it with our state taxes. Very few people actually do, though, and the cost of tracking this and fining people for it is a little overwhelming for state governments to handle. In the end, it likely wouldn’t make them enough money to cover costs.

It’s time for Amazon to grow up and be a real business and collect and pay the same kinds of taxes that every other business in the country does. When I shop at other on-line retailers, they calculate sales taxes and charge me accordingly, particularly the camera stores like Adorama and B and H. Some sort of system could be worked out at Amazon, too. It will level the playing field and save a whole lot of fighting — plus, more revenues for governments that can’t help themselves from wasting it!

And, as a consumer, I know I’m still getting everything cheaper than at a brick and mortar shop. That 7% sales tax (in New Jersey’s case) still doesn’t kill the 30%-plus discount on books we get today.

Still, I’d miss the extra savings. I admit it. But I’m also one of those “grown-up” types. Reality has to set in eventually. The internet is no longer the wild wild west it once was. And this is part of its maturation process.

Also, if your sole source of income is Amazon Affiliate links, you needed to rethink your business model before Amazon started closing its affiliate program in several states.

Amazon Toy Ban


This was interesting.

I have an Amazon Seller account. I use it to sell some comics and other books or DVDs, the money from which can be re-spent at Amazon. I usually throw a bunch of stuff up there and see if any of it sells for a few months, before Amazon delists it. I think you get 90 days.

This morning I got an email that two of my items were being blocked from the store until the new year. Why? They’re toys: a Waldorf and Statler action figure set that was an exclusive to Wizard World: Chicago a few years back, and a Simpsons figure set.

They’re really more collectibles than toys, but I guess Amazon wants to save themselves the hassle of dealing with smaller third parties mucking up Christmas for the kids.

No, it’s not an outright ban. I just didn’t qualify to stay on. I didn’t look it up to see what those qualifications are, because it doesn’t bother me. I just thought it was interesting, is all.

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