Recently in Navel Gazing Category
The Trouble With Freelancing
The Good, The Bad, and more of The Good
Channeling My Inner Shark
Now, I know that many (most) people think of fire ants as nuisances to be avoided, if not fatally killed. But, seriously, CafePress...must you go to such lengths?
Programming Note: Comment Registration Now Required
January 30, 2011 5:00 PM | Posted in: Navel Gazing
Lately, however, I've been feeling a bit nostalgic and have been selectively restoring some of those old posts. I wanted primarily to restore some of the book reviews I've done over the years (check the Reading & Writing archive category to find those that I deemed worthy of re-introducing), but I also ran across some additional "notable" posts, including:
- the very first Fire Ant Gazette post;
- the first post with actual content;
- a description of our first ballroom dancing lesson;
- the only post that Debbie has ever contributed to the blog; and,
- my farewell to Abbye (which I think was harder to post this time around than two years ago; I'm sure it's because I'm still sick and/or have allergens in my eyes).
This process has also been a reminder of why I started blogging in the first place, and the terrible mistake I made when I decided for reasons that are no longer clear to me (or sane, for that matter) that I was going to start over and do it in a format and in a style that didn't encourage feedback. I forgot how much fun we had.
I think the best days of the Gazette are gone and can't be recovered. Too many things have changed in the way we use the web and social media, and I apparently no longer have the discipline - or, perhaps, the skill - to foment discussions like we had in "the good old days." Eh, it is what it is, right?
But, for whatever it's worth, this exercise has rekindled an enthusiasm for the Gazette, and I hope that I can bring some increased energy to these virtual pages. Who knows? Maybe this Facebook fad will blow over and blogs will become the next big thing. ;-)
This may be just the motivation I need to update the Gazette's online store with new designs! Or, not. But if you are one of the fortunate few with the good taste to sport official Fire Ant couture and also have the nerve to wear it in public (it's really easier if you're traveling as those judgmental onlookers will likely never see you again), send me a photo and you can be a part of fashion history!
That doesn't mean they aren't entertaining and sometimes perplexing, though. The one reporting category that I occasionally enjoy reviewing is the list of search keyphrases - phrases that people enter into search engines and that somehow lead them to the Gazette.
It's sometimes obvious why this blog came up for a particular search phrase. Take this one, for example, from earlier this month: is toby keith giving credit to robert earl keen for bullets in a gun. That's an obvious match to this post (and, as far as I know, the answer to the Unknown Seeker's question is "no, he isn't.").
Others are less obvious, but still logical. For example: american bandstand had regular dancers there was a dancer named debbie but i can't remeber [sic] her last name. While I never posted any single article that provided a good match for this quaint query, the Gazette has a "Ballroom Dance" archive page that combines all the posts in that category, and the fact that I have a wife named Debbie and she's a dancer makes that page come up in the third spot on Google when that term is entered.
This month I've gotten a steady stream of visitors who are searching for articles related to Netflix DVD-only plans, A&M/LSU football history, the Canon S95 camera, QR codes, and fire ants (I always feel bad about those poor souls coming to the Gazette in hopes of solving their fire ant issues). Those topics could lead logically to this blog, as I've recently posted about all of them (well, except for fire ants...wonder why anyone would come here looking for that topic?). But there's a whole slew of phrases for which the link to this blog are rather tenuous:
- what's my personal year
- nincompoop generation
- lyrics button up your overcoat daydream you'll get a pain when you re on a treee [sic]
- deadhead skulls
- what scary tv show had tumbleweeds on a porch in the intro?
- he hails from a country where they speak of spokeless wheels
- tell google maps that we exist
- how to write a story about a fire after christmas
- pictures of big rats*
- discharge of an unloaded gun
- I hate Midland
- ever had one of those days
- it's going to get ugly
- bad service when to fire employees
- is there a virus that causes a coomputer [sic] to catch fire
- why do bicyclists wear those clothes
- ballroom dances inspired by fish and ants
*Believe it or not, "big rats" was the most frequently used phrase in 2010 to find this blog via a search engine. Maybe I need to consider a name change for the Gazette.
I continue to cope without internet access for my desktop computer - for just another few hours, I hope - relying instead on my iPad's 3G connection. As I posted previously, I'm finding the iPad to be a poor replacement for a notebook computer for anything beyond the simplest of tasks (email and web browsing), and its limitations are glaring in some areas.
But I'm also finding that not all the problems are the fault of the device. Some of them are due to poor website design/development decisions. I've found a workaround to most of these situations (more about that in a moment), but it's annoying that I had to go to those lengths.
If you have a smartphone, you're probably accustomed to seeing so-called mobile versions of the websites you visit. This is generally a good practice, as those sites load more quickly, optimize the use of the limited screen space, and eliminate features that don't work in mobile browsers (e.g. Flash in mobile Safari). Unfortunately, this has created a new set of problems for a device like the iPad which falls into the gap between a smartphone and a full-featured/full-sized notebook or desktop computer.
This is partially Apple's fault, because its iPad version of Safari delivers a user-agent string that identifies the browser as "mobile." When a website that offers a mobile version queries that user-agent string, it will usually send the iPad to that stripped-down version, even though the device can easily handle the full version (or most of it, anyway). This behavior is often frustrating for the iPad user, especially if he or she needs the full functionality of the website for business purposes.
I have two examples. First is my webmail. When I access it via the iPad, I get the mobile version of the webmail program (in my case, it's an application called Horde). The mobile version lacks many of the mail management features of the full version. For example, I can't delete messages from the server using the mobile version.
The second example is the website I'm using to create this post. In mobile Safari, Movable Type (my blog platform) automatically delivers a barebones post creation page that basically allows me to type in text and that's about it. I have no formatting options, no control over publishing (e.g. time and date), etc. Movable Type apparently decided that those options were not important to smartphone users, but the iPad could easily take advantage of all of them. Unfortunately, we don't get to choose the version, because there's no option to force delivery of the full version of the website.
I mentioned above that I've found a workaround, and it's a pretty good one (so far, anyway). I download the Atomic Web Browser from Apple's App Store (a $.99 purchase) and this browser allows you to change the user-agent string to, in effect, impersonate the desktop version of Safari. This means that I'm being served the full version of a website, rather than the stripped-down mobile version. This has its own set of problems (if a site is built in Flash, then I'm out of luck) but it does solve the above-mentioned problems. Plus, it's a pretty good browser in its own right, incorporating tabs, View Source, multiple search engine options, ad blocker, and much more. Some have reported that it's buggy, but I haven't yet encountered any problems.
But web designers and developers need to deal with the real issue of figuring out how to serve up non-crippled versions of their websites to iPad users (and, really, even to legitimate mobile browsers). Mobile versions shouldn't lack important functionality in order to achieve simplicity. That borders on laziness. At the very least, the mobile version should provide the option of navigating back to the full version (Sports Illustrated is a good example of a website doing just that).
In many ways, Facebook (and to a lesser extent, Twitter) has brought blogging to its knees, but a few of us hardy souls are committed to keep making buggy whips, if only for the sheer joy of creation. And to the few remaining of you faithful readers who keep encouraging us, please accept our thanks!
Feel free to visit amongst yourselves until I stumble back here.
This is a pretty cool application; expect to see it more often around here.
Darn thing keeps coming back to life, though. Rob Zombie would be proud.
I'm glad that one of my New Year's resolutions wasn't to blog more often, as that would be yet another lack of accomplishment to feel guilty about.
It's not that I don't have anything to write about. If anything, life has been overly dramatic during the past few weeks. We've had births in the family, and deaths, illnesses and operations, disrupted routines and far too many football games. But most of those things are too personal to write about, in this forum anyway, and the rest seem too trivial in comparison.
[Editor's note: What happened to your distaste for blogging about how hard blogging is? You do realize that you sound all whiny and pitiful. Yeah, well, thanks for pointing that out. But since I am all whiny and pitiful, it seems appropriate to do this. Fine; just don't make it a habit.]
I'm too stubborn to give up; I've never let a lack of meaningful content or talent stop me before and I'm not going to start, um, stopping now. If the Cowboys can win a playoff game, the least I can do is throw up a post every now and then. (I don't mean that literally, of course; I rarely ever throw up while blogging. I leave that to my readers.)
OK. Well. I'm glad we've got that out of the way. Look for more frequent blogging in the near future.
I almost typed that with a straight face.
I spent much of the day paralyzed by my social media choices. I couldn't decide whether to blog, tweet, update my Facebook wall, tweak my LinkedIn profile, or stare in shame at my MySpace page...and so I did none of those things. I'm pretty sure that the world was not affected one way or another by my indecision.
Mondays are often like that, though. I don't really dread Mondays; as a freelancer working from a home office, one day is pretty much like another. I have specific events and tasks to attend to, and some of them are day-specific (attending church on Sunday, for example, or grocery shopping on Monday) but I don't tend to categorize days of the week along a spectrum of good/bad. Still, Mondays seem to be harder than other days in some respects.
I will admit that I always dread working out on Mondays. While we're pretty active on the weekends, we usually take it easy on Sundays, unless the weather is just perfect for a bike ride (and it's funny how often it isn't). That one day off doesn't sound like much, does it? But at my age, that's still enough time for the joints to stiffen and the muscles to protest and - most of all - for the mind to convince itself that one more day off won't matter...it will be a good thing, in fact, a recuperative interlude. But I also know myself well enough to understand that down that path lurks disaster.
So, instead of succumbing to all the social media temptations (let's not discuss actual work, OK?), I climbed on the treadmill and slogged through four miles and felt sorry for myself the whole time. The good news (well, for me, anyway; maybe not for you, who had to read all of this) is that it gave me something to write about at the end of the day. So I suppose there was more than just physical benefit to the activity.
Today's workout seemed even more grueling than usual, even for a Monday. It wasn't until a couple of hours later that I remembered why: we donated blood on Saturday. I really was running on empty! (My wife validated that theory at lunch when she described what a miserable time she had during her workout. Of course, at 5:30 in the morning, there's very little besides drinking coffee that doesn't meet that description from my perspective.)
Over the years, a few people have requested that I do this, but I was hesitant to make the change for a couple of reasons. First, I didn't want to clog the news readers of subscribers.
Second, I wanted people to come to my website to read the Gazette. This was partly selfish, in that I wanted to see those visits reflected in the site's statistics. But I also felt that it facilitated the discussion because most news readers don't allow you to view or leave comments; you still have to click over to the website to do that.
However, in the Gazette's new incarnation, I don't even have a hit counter, much less a dedicated stats program, so I'm no longer concerned about tracking traffic. I do still have a concern about adversely affecting the dialog provided by comments, but I figure that if I write something that moves you to leave a comment, you'll make the extra click or two necessary to do that. At least, I hope you will.
As always, if this makes absolutely no sense to you, then you're not affected by the change. Carry on!
But here's the problem. When I shifted back to a traditional blog format, I consigned most of the previous FAQ to irrelevancy. What's there now is pretty skimpy. (And lame, but that's a whole other issue.) So it occurs to me that you might be able to suggest some additional questions to include in the FAQ. If so, please leave them in the comments and I'll consider expanding the FAQ to include them.
However, I either configured things incorrectly, or Movable Type's registration process sucks, because some of you experienced problems not of your doing. Comments were showing up with weird usernames, and the whole thing was a big mess. So, given that flexibility is my new watchword, I've quickly shifted to Plan B.
Plan B allows anonymous comments (not that I encourage anonymity; I think it's the bane of the blogosphere, but this is the only way to give you complete control over the identifying information that appears along with your comment). However, I still encourage you to register, because when you do, it allows me to add you to the "Trusted Commenter" list and your comments will bypass the moderation queue and appear immediately. As far as I can tell, there's no way for me to do this for comments by unregistered visitors, even if they provide complete information (name, email address, and URL) when they comment.
If you're not thoroughly confused by now, I haven't done my job. But for those who are persistent enough to actually leave feedback on this site, you are surely exceptional in all important ways.
This isn't taking as long as I expected. The Gazette's new layout is falling nicely into place. Well, at least the main pages are shaping up well. Fortunately, I'm using a stupid-simple layout, but even so, deciphering Movable Type's complicated system of templates and widgets involves a lot of trial and error.
Still, I think we're getting close to the point where I can live with the look and start concentrating on actual Content Free® posting. I know you're breathing a big sigh of relief at that prospect.
The revised layout that you're seeing now is an unstyled template provided by Movable Type, which is the blogging platform I'm once again using. It's ugly (in a way; but in another way, it's attractive in its simplicity) because it's being display on your monitor according to the default styling settings of your browser. Over the next xx days, I'll begin to override those defaults and [hopefully] return the Gazette to more or less the same layout I was using just before this latest change.
Please bear with me while I get this done. If things work out the way I fear, I'll be devoting more time to designing than to writing. I hope the end result will be worth your time and my effort.