Why Do People Read Blogs?

This question occurred to me while meditating one morning, originally in the very specific context of this blog but then in the broader case of all blogs. I started out by making a list.

  • To waste time
  • To laugh
  • To read a good story
  • To learn something new
  • To hear someone else’s opinion
  • To find people that believe the same things that they do
  • To find other interesting sites on the web

Somewhere around here I started looking for a pattern. I noticed that most of these reasons could essentially be catagorized as one of three things:

  • entertainment
  • information
  • opinion

Or else some combination of the three. In fact, as I thought about it some more, the more that you could address all three of these criteria, the more interesting your blog would be to more people. That was my theory anyway.

I propose to test this theory by attempting to increase these three components in my blog posts and see if my rating goes up any. I’m not sure which rating to watch though. I know that it would probably also help if I turned on comments and allowed a dialog. I suppose I’ll try that for a while and see if I start getting a lot of comment spam.

What DO I want to be when I grow up?

I’ve spent the day writing prose summaries of Powerpoint slides. How totally boring! Where does it say that employment must be interesting? I guess I’m proving that the answer is “Nowhere”. That’s just another reason that I am becoming convinced that I should find another way to support myself than being a wage slave. This blog proves that I can put one word after another and even occasionally read what I write and rewrite it if it doesn’t make sense. I can also program and take pictures and movies. That seems like a sufficient skill set to make a reasonably comfortable living without resorting to the typical 8 hours a day/5 days a week grind.

I must admit, my current job is one of the best that I’ve ever had. The pay and benefits are great. The work is never drudgery and is often interesting and engaging. The environment is relatively congenial. I have lots of leeway regarding my hours and whether I work at the office or from home. What’s there to complain about?

I think it boils down to the fact that I want to have something to show for my efforts besides a filing cabinet full of notes on old projects and a stack of floppy disks and CDs with copies of the software that I wrote that will probably never be run again by the customer or anyone else besides me. Even if I were to indulge my wildest fantasy and successfully produce a fantasy television series, there would be the shows that would run in reruns indefinitely. I guess it all boils down to the fact that I am beginning to yearn for a little piece of indirect immortality.

Traveling Kellie

I spent the last half of the day traveling to St. Louis. I had forgotten how tiring air travel can be. I am exhausted. So much hassle for just over an hour in the air, that’s half an hour from Huntsville to Memphis and then another half an hour from Memphis to St. Louis. That doesn’t count parking the car, checking my bag, going through security, waiting for the plane, boarding the plane, walking from one gate to another in Memphis, waiting for my luggage in St. Louis, and renting a car. To quote Charlie Brown, “AAAAAUUUUUGGGG!”.

I was very anxious all weekend. I felt like I was being sent to do a job that I wasn’t up to. And on such short notice to boot. I was baffled why I was so anxious and then this morning I realized that it went back to my fear of being forgotten. My father forgot to pick me up at school one day in the third grade. He had an excuse. It was the day that president Kennedy was shot. He was directing a high school play that was supposed to open that night and he was busy postponing it. I waited and waited. I was afraid to disappoint my dad by not being out front of the school when he came to pick me up so I didn’t go back into school and ask anybody for help. He finally got there over two hours after school was out. I realized that being sent out on my on to do a job that I wasn’t confident in my ability to do awoke the fear that was born that day. It sounds rather trite, but knowing why I was feeling anxious helped me to relax.

Organization Day

I spent a large portion of my discretionary time today getting organized. I have identified two topics that I want to either write an essay or a moderately long blog post on here. I also listed all my other programming and writing projects so that I could start to allocate portions of my time to each of them. The flurry of organization even carried over into my day job. I updated my todo list and removed the items that had cob webs draped all over them from the last time I looked at my todo list months ago.

I Feel So Dirty

I installed Visual Studio 2005 on my laptop at work today. In case it isn’t obvious, I’m not a Microsoft fan. It’s not that I have that much against Microsoft per se, but rather that I hate the monoculture that they engender. It’s yet another case of the embrace and extend marketing philosophy that has been prevalent in the computer market for my entire career.

The first example of embrace and extend that I was aware of was Digital Equipment Corporation‘s Vax Fortran. It was a very good Fortran compiler. The problem was, there was a very good collection of Vax specific libraries that came with it. Fortran programmers loved Vax Fortran. It made their lives much simpler. It also made their code platform dependent. In many shops this was not immediately noticed, that is until the time came to buy a new machine and they realized that it had to be a Vax in order to run all the applications that they had developed in house.

One important difference between DEC and Microsoft is that DEC valued software excellence. I fear that Microsoft values software with flaws that will help them sell the next version of the software. This is disappointing and short sighted. I think that excellent software may be slightly more expensive to produce in the short run but inspires user loyalty that makes it more profitable in the long run. Or maybe I’m just naive.

For all of Microsoft’s talk of innovation I must say that Eclipse is a much better IDE than VS 2005. But then I  haven’t spent the time with VS that I have with Eclipse. Maybe I’ll revise my opinion after I become more familiar with it. If so, I’ll be sure to let you know in this blog.

Oops! Missed a Day

It was bound to happen. And, it will probably happen again. On many occasions. The day got away from me yesterday before I could write a post. I did, however, have a very nice lunch with Pam, Erin and Kurt. And I worked a little on editing a video that I made with my digital camera.

I discovered that editing a video with iMovie was not as completely intuitive as I would have thought. I am very disappointed in the footage that I took. I didn’t say anything that interesting and the sound of the traffic from the interstate made it hard to hear what I was saying. I am using this footage to learn how to use all the features of iMovie. That way, I will feel free to try new things without worrying so much about messing up my footage.

Tom Fox, American Hero

Today has been what Pam, my darling wife, terms a kitty cat day. I got up later than usual and took my time with my morning routine. I sat drinking coffee and talking with Pam. I was telling her about my burst of writing since I started blogging again and she showed me a piece of mail that she had received from the Wider Quaker Fellowship.

It was a pamphlet written in memory of Tom Fox, a volunteer in Iraq with Christian Peace Team. He recorded his experiences, before he was kidnapped and subsequently killed, on a blog titled Waiting in the Light. His life was inspirational, but the reaction to his death was even more so. He didn’t want to sacrifice himself but he was prepared to do what ever was necessary to follow his calling to help the people of Iraq.

I felt compelled to read the memorial portion of the pamphlet out loud but when I got to the portion about his memorial service, I got choked up. It was a very touching story. I recommend reading some of the posts in his blog. He was a great and courageous man.

Three Days in a Row

Don’t get your hopes up. I’m not sure this will last. I think it’s more a symptom of the novelty of being back online combined with a particularly slack time at work. I probably won’t be able to keep up the pace of posting daily but we’ll see.

I don’t plan to allow comments for a while. I will probably loosen up later but the only comments that I got before were all spam. That, I can live without. Maybe having been offline for so long will lessen the amount of comment spam attempts that I get.

I guess I should tell anyone that bothers to read this blog, I’m writing this for me. If it is interesting and you want to read it, that’s fine with me. If it’s not interesting and you don’t read it, that’s fine too. I have this enduring belief that, the more you do something, the better you become at it. I also think that if you know that someone may be watching you, you behave differently than if you know that you are totally alone. Consequently, by posting this on the web where anyone can read it, I’m forcing myself to take a bit more care with my writing.

Postscript: After writing and posting this entry I found a post on Jeff Atwood’s Coding Horror that essentially said the same thing that I said above about practicing writing by blogging. It’s nice to find people that you don’t even know that support what you say :-).

Blog vs Essay vs Journal vs Diary

I was reading one of Paul Graham’s essays yesterday. He was distinguishing between writing essays where you polish the ideas for several weeks and the various types of ad-hoc writing like journals, diaries and blogs. Diaries are impromptu personal impressions. Journals are a little more subjective records of daily occurences.

Blogs, on the other hand cover a bit more territory. There is the clip blog that consists of short paragraphs that contain links to cool sites that the blogger has encountered while surfing.

Then there is the episodic blog that is more like a journal or diary. The entries are usually several paragraphs long. Beyond that, there is a lot of variation in content. Some are very personal and others or more like journals.

The third type of blogs are what I’ll call essay blogs. Essay bloggers often post much less frequently than the other types of bloggers but they typically have more to say. And what they say is much better thought out and expressed. Some essay bloggers probably rip an entry off like a long email but I suspect that most work on it for several days or more.

So, what’s the point of this ramble, you ask? I have been trying to decide what kind of blog this is going to be. I have pretty much totally rejected the idea of making it a clip blog. If you want to see what I’m reading go to my del.icio.us page. I’m pretty good about posting the cool things I read there. I’ll even try to beef up my descriptions a little bit.

I think the posts here will vary between being episodic and essay like, probably with the emphasis on the former. I rarely take the time to work on a piece enough to call it an essay. When I spend that much time writing something, it’s usually fiction. More on that later.

Well, I’m Back!

I got hacked. It was pointless and ugly. I screwed up my database before I thought to back it up. Restoring it was more hassle than I cared to endure for the blog anyway. I hope WordPress 2.0 is more secure. I do plan to back this one up.

I feel kind of like someone had spray painted the front of my house for no good reason. At least repairing this damage is less expensive than getting rid of graffiti.