Why I Started a Tumblr

This may come as a surprise to you, but I’m pretty conservative and behind-the-times when it comes to trying out new technology and online services. I created my first blog in 2003 on LiveJournal, only to discover that everyone I knew had been using it for a few years. I moved to WordPress in 2006 and have been using it ever since for my blog. I tested Facebook out when it launched (back before it was publicly available) and didn’t think it was all that exciting or would go anywhere. I never got into MySpace. Admittedly, I’ve had my Twitter account for quite some time, but I only signed up for Instagram a short while ago.

I think about these things, and try to find a use-case for my life before signing up. I might test something out, but it really needs to fit a niche that isn’t being met by another service. And much to my surprise, Tumblr is fitting into my set of online tools really nicely.

Continue reading

My Feedly Doth Overflow

In an interesting turn of events, though it may not be interesting to anyone but me, Christian Blogging has become commonplace. Krista linked to this page, on which she is featured, and I realized that blogs are very much a Thing now.

I know what you’re thinking. “Matthew, blogs are old. This isn’t news. Where the hell have you been?”

Let me take you back in time, dear reader, back when blogs were new. Back before WordPress existed. Back when the Internet began to show signs of what it would become when the Eternal September began, and when AOL and Compuserve and Prodigy became our means of seeing honest to god graphics and pictures and blink tags. I was online around 1998, and have been active in only the way someone from my generation can be, by which I mean we think of being on the Internet as something distinct from, say, breathing, or eating, or going to work. Mine is the last generation to grow up in the United States without the ubiquity of the Internet, when every office wasn’t necessarily connected, and you had to go out of your way to interact with others via the tubes that connect us.

Continue reading

National November Blogging Month

This blog has been pretty vacant for a while, so you may not have browsed it much. You may not have visited the About page to learn that I don’t really write much anymore. You may not have read some of the older entries from a year or two ago in which I struggled with college, work, and writing.

Let me sum it up: I used to fancy myself a writer, and starting in high school I took writing kind of seriously. Not serious enough to practice at it, but I certainly wrote a lot even if I didn’t craft it to the extent I should have. I had a few things published in very low-end anthologies, I blogged a lot, and I finally began learning to not make basic, amateurish mistakes once my college professors started tearing apart the things I called sentences.

Writing was something I had to do. I wasn’t happy, and writing didn’t make me happy, but it made me happier than I would have otherwise been. It was a creative outlet in an uncreative life. It was something I could control and own.

And then I became truly happy. I met April and stopped writing poetry. I got a good job and stopped writing altogether, at least during my personal time. I lack the interest and passion to craft fiction. I just don’t care enough to write poetry. I think that I have some thoughts and feelings I could share, but I prefer just talking with friends and with April about those rather than blogging about them.

Thus ends the summary. This blog post is to communicate that I think this may be changing. I have to include words like “think” because I’m not entirely positive, but I’ve had this simmering feeling inside for a little over a year now that started around the time the current election cycle began. I can’t call that feeling “discontent,” because it’s less passive and more angry. I can’t call it fury or rage because… well, let me unpack this a bit.

Continue reading

Can you deliver?

An interesting discussion has taken place over at scraplab about “delivering.” Whether it’s a program or a book, we deliver when we put something out for public consumption. We’ve taken our baby and sent it out into the big, scary world, and now it has to stand on its own. Or, as might very well be the case, fall on its own.

  1. you’ve either shipped or you haven’t
  2. Shipping news
  3. greys

The second entry is a response on another person’s blog to the first one in the list. In this exchange, they talk about deliverables, and then about journalism/news. What about blogging?

Blogging seems insignificant next to a newspaper, though there are certainly blogs with larger readerships than many newspapers. Either way, both have to keep feeding the press, coming up with new words and putting them together for hungry readers. We still deliver, but I like how number 2 up there puts it:

It’s not that the media critics have never shipped, it’s that they do so much shipping they’ve stopped caring about product like anyone else would.

I still get a bit of nervousness when I publish something I’ve written, even though I publish something most every day. There’s a vulnerability inherent in putting words into the database, formatting that for public consumption, and sending it out into the world. Will anyone notice? Will anyone care? How many will hate or like this thing in which I have invested myself?

Some people point at the current state of writing as “the death of literature.” When everyone writes, can anyone be called a Writer? And if everyone is a Writer, is there anything special in it? If everyone is published, is it worth “being published?”

The shift is this: if anything, there is greater emphasis on writing for the self than for others, because in the great noise that is the Internet, it is becoming increasingly rare for others to notice that we deliver.

If no one notices, does it still matter? I dare say it does.

First encounter with the Springfield Blogger’s Association

Though I had visited the Springfield Blogger’s Association a couple of years ago with Ryan (it’s crazy to think that much time has passed!), I’ve never made it to another meeting. It seems like I’ve always got something going on Monday nights, or at least I’m exhausted from a hard Monday at work, but I went tonight. Since I no longer have class on Tuesday/Wednesday nights, I didn’t feel as pressured to have Monday night off, and with the topic of discussion this month being statistics and analytics, I thought I might have something to add to the conversation.

It was a great two and a half hours of talk about stats and the means to gather them, how traffic will affect site performance, different content management systems one might use, genealogy, and  food. Talking about it, not eating–we were at Patton Alley Pub, and while they have some great stuff, I settled for just a Bass and the good company.

I enjoyed finally meeting Sarah Jo and Teresa, who I’ve seen on Twitter and elsewhere in the last two years but never met in person, as well as some new people I hope to speak more with in the future such as Nigel. Looking forward to next month’s meeting and some new additions to my RSS feed!

Trying to blog during PAX

So far my days and nights have been packed, so it’s been hard to keep up with writing about PAX. At this time, I’ve got all my photos thus far uploaded, titled/tagged/described, and blogged about, and I’m hoping to get one more post written either tonight or tomorrow morning about PAX Day 2. The photo side is far more time consuming than the writing side, which I guess is to be expected, but I want to do this right so I’ve been giving it a decent amount of attention and effort.

Right now I’m about to run out the door to hit the Ultimate Dungeon Delve, which is a Wizards of the Coast event in which we participate in a series of Dungeons & Dragons encounters. An encounter is essentially a combat event, and in this case it is timed at 45 minutes. If we can finish and survive it in that amount of time, we go on to the next encounter. And then the next. There are five or six in all, and if we make it to the end we get a book and our names in the hall of fame.

PAX has been freaking fantastic so far and it just keeps getting better. Stay tuned for more details, both photographic and descriptive, about the awesomeness that is this weekend!

What are you saying?

I’m a big proponent of writing what you want to write. As a blogger who is somewhat obsessed with optimization and statistics, it’s easy to get caught in the trap of trying to write for the audience, putting out what I think people want to read, but I do what I can to quell this internal pressure and Ryan occasionally hits me with a reality check that sets me straight. Instead, I try to worry less about you all (sorry, but it’s true) and focus more on what interests me. If I’m not enjoying myself, what I write will be crap, so no one would want to read it anyways.

That being said, I can sometimes be a bit paradoxical when examining other people’s blogs. Though I whole-heartedly believe that people should write what they want, do what they enjoy, and generally not bother listening to blowhards like me, I look at some blogs and think, “Why?”

My confusion arises primarily out of cognitive dissonance, where I expect one thing but am seeing another, like if you found a parrot that wears an eye-patch yet speaks fluent and beautiful Italian. As a more on-topic example, I usually experience this confusion when I find a professional (in any field) who has started a blog. They generally dip their toes into social networking sites, getting a Facebook account and probably posting updates to Twitter. Since they’re a bona fide professional in their field, I expect them to love what they do and to express that, subsequently seeking out others who share their love. Instead, all of these messages they’re posting are usually just self-promotion as the professional monologues about whatever it is they’re doing and then says, “Look! Look at how awesome I am!”

The problem is that a lot of professionals in a wide variety of fields have approached social media and networking tools as just another type of hammer they can slip into their rusty tool belt, not realizing that this is something else entirely. Rather than joining a conversation about a subject they enjoy, these bloggers are usually just trying to get their numbers higher, secure more readers, and do whatever they can to claw their way to a bit of legitimacy. I feel like they view the web as just a digital newspaper: We post it, and people will read it because we posted it.

What I’m getting at is that while you should do what you want, maybe you should take a long, hard look at what you want and make sure what you’re doing meets those goals. If you’re a professional, someone who loves what they do, but all you do on your blog is talk about what you did… you’re not communicating that love to me. I’d think that you’d instead be more interested in connecting with other people who love what you do and having new conversations on the subject, collaborating on new discussions rather than continually referencing old work. When I see a professional who just points at their own site and isn’t carrying on a conversation, I tune them out. They aren’t communicating that love to me, and if they don’t love what they do (enough to invest in actually networking and conversing with others), then whatever they’re doing is probably crap and not worth my attention.

What are you saying with your Twitter messages, your Facebook status, your blog entries and YouTube videos? Are you creating new things to share, joining new conversations, and investing in what you love and other people? Or are you just saying, “Look! Look at me!”?

Signs that you’re doing it wrong:

  • You don’t reply to comments on your blog, Twitter, et. al.
  • You only update your blog every few months (which, while not necessarily bad, makes me wonder why you bother to have a blog… maybe a newsletter would work better?)
  • Conversely, you update multiple times a day/week with links to articles you’ve read (skimmed… or read the title of), but no analysis or original thought
  • You follow a billion people on Twitter and don’t read any of them
  • You spend a lot of time thinking, “What would people like to read?”
  • You don’t strive for original thought, instead electing to copy/paste or just repeat what others have already written (For instance, I might recommend that instead of, “New version of Ubuntu is out with these features: [copy/paste],” you shoot for, “I installed the new version of Ubuntu and liked X and Y but am not sure about Z because of [original thought].”)
  • You don’t read any other blogs

Please understand that this isn’t all-inclusive, nor is it meant to be. And there are always exceptions to these rules (such as popular and incredibly busy authors who don’t have time to reply to the thousands of messages they receive each day). But I think we can all remember a time when we looked at someone’s blog and just thought, “Why? What is the point of this?”

If the blogger is enjoying themselves, fine. I’d call that good. But if this is just a job for them and they’re just out to get their readership higher, chances are it’s not going to work. You’ve got to get the love first, and then the money will follow. If all you’re trying to do is get money though, you’ll never get any love, and your selfish motivation is going to come through in your interactions (or lack thereof) with people to the extent that they’ll just ignore you.

Theological Inspiration

Since I began carrying a moleskine notebook around with me, I’ve been jotting down copious notes about stories, blog entries, and poems that I’d like to write. Specifically, and notably since we began visiting the Vineyard on Sunday mornings, I’ve had a lot of theological inspiration resulting in a number of theological blog entries.

I’ve got more lined up for the story about Sargent Faithful, and I’d like that to become a regular feature here at SilverPen, but my writing time is pretty limited right now and at the end of the evening I found that I had written three pieces about religion and absolutely no fiction. I had meant to write another story, but here we are: 10 PM, I’m about to go to bed, and the next part isn’t written. I guess maybe next week?

I’ve got several more religious pieces percolating in my drafts bin that will make their way to the surface in the coming weeks as well. It is definitely a testament to the Vineyard how much it inspires me–I must have pulled out my notebook and written something down at least ten times last Sunday. Do you know what “the sevenfold glory of God” is? I’m not entirely sure either, but I’ve got a Bible verse, some notes, and a strong desire to explore the concept through fiction. I don’t know what that will look like, but I’m anxious to find out.

Goodnight everyone, and apologies in advance for the lack of diversity in postings here for the next couple of weeks. I usually try to mix things up so there aren’t a ton of the same category all in a row, but these things come in waves sometimes. One month I had almost nothing but technology, and this month I will have almost nothing but theology. Hopefully history will be gentle with me.

Laila tov!

Why I Hate Your Tech Blog

Yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking. “But Matthew, you have a tech blog!” Let me tell you what separates my technology articles from 90% of the rest of the blogosphere: thought.

I won’t claim to know the motivation of the people who run these worthless tech blogs, but the vast majority are nothing more than a collection of the exact same topics and articles (perhaps re-written, but with the same ideas, conclusions, and messages) as everyone else has. If I’m going to write something about technology, I first go out and see if someone else has written it. If they have said everything that needs to be said, there is absolutely no reason for me to re-write it. And in general, I don’t even see the point in linking to it; I found them on Google, and that’s how most people find my site, so if they’re looking for that topic they’ll find the other person’s blog.

The only situation in which I would write an article and link to them is if I have something new and original to say, a counter-point or an extension on their piece, but that takes some original thought and development. These characteristics are sorely lacking in most tech blogs.

I don’t know, maybe these “authors” are upset that Slashdot wouldn’t accept their submissions, so they started blogs of their own. Or maybe they’re hoping for traffic and ad revenue. Regardless of the reason, parroting press releases and embedding YouTube videos to the exclusion of original thought just strikes me as worthless.

Want to have a successful tech blog? Go out and see what’s lacking. Find topics, how-to articles, and analysis that has not yet been provided, then write it. Your voice won’t be lost in the noise, and you’ll be contributing something to the Internet rather than just parroting what everyone else is writing.

I’m a debater, not a journalist

I’m pretty secure in the knowledge that a blogger is not a journalist. Bloggers don’t generally report to anyone, we don’t usually have editors, and our publication is not competitive. We have a dedicated outlet for our voices and can put up pretty much whatever we want. If you don’t like it, tough, and if it’s not accurate*, well, it’s the Internet. Deal.

But my articles are usually self-contained, which is to say that I’m usually writing about an experience or thought I’ve had, or writing about how to accomplish something with a computer. I’m not critiquing anyone directly, so journalistic integrity isn’t something I have had to deal with.

That is until recently, when I lambasted a writer for ZDNet about his article on texting. I was a bit conflicted about the piece because I wrote it somewhat hastily and with a touch of frustration†, but I still didn’t think much about it until the original author commented on my blog entry, accusing me of not reading his article closely. I’d also been reading a few apologies from newspapers in recent days for mistakes they had made and failures to check facts, and it all had me thinking.

Maybe I should have contacted Chris Dawson to ask for a clarification on his article. I could then have written a complementary piece to his own, extending his observations and clarifying his points. Through instant message and Twitter conversations, I knew that I wasn’t the only person to reach negative conclusions about the piece he had written, but perhaps my response was unjustified.

As I read just such an apology in our campus newspaper about an inaccurate headline, something clicked for me. Or snapped. I’m not obligated to contact people and find out if they had meant to sound as stupid as they did or ask what they had really meant so I can clarify on their behalf. And if someone disagrees with my conclusion, that’s fine. I’m not here to report the news. I’m not a journalist, I’m a debater.

When we were just novii in Deana Butcher’s debate room, we were told quite bluntly that we would be attacked. We would be told we didn’t know jack, our intelligence would be insulted, and our carefully crafted and researched cases would be torn to shreds. No respect or quarter would be given to us based on our personalities, looks, or effort. The other team’s job was to attack us, and they would. Our job was to defend, and we must.

As I recalled the moment–my nodding contrasted with the somewhat shocked look on my squad mates’ faces (for where they had grown up somewhat wealthy, well-liked, and respected, I was the quiet nerd who had been beat up and shouted down throughout elementary and junior high school)–I was reminded of a similar concept shared by my religion professor of several years, Dr. Charles Hedrick.

Dr. Hedrick wrote a number of critical and scholarly books about Christianity, all of which received negative criticism and praise in equal measures, and all of which were easily argued against. As he wrote, Charlie knew that there were valid arguments against his statements, just as he knew the counter-arguments, but he elected to not include that discussion in his book. Rather, he left those points open for other people to raise in their letters to newspaper editors and in books they would, in turn, publish.

Attempting to pre-empt every argument would be both futile and boring. The book would be very long and, for those who hadn’t conceived those arguments, boring. And for those who would have raised such attacks, they no longer would. Pre-emption would lead to stagnation of discussion and debate. Better to leave an opening for someone to attack than to stifle them and prevent them from raising their voice.

Inciting discussion, dialogue, and debate is more important than always being right. When I enter a conversation that is more than just sharing pleasantries–when it is more akin to a debate–I am not interested in proving myself right or in showing how my conversational partner is wrong. Rather, my goal is for us to discuss, to share our passion, and to hopefully find some sort of understanding. I debate not to win, but to learn. If I attack someone’s ideas, it is because I want them to defend and explain them to me, to sell me on the concept, and to help me understand their point. Conversely, I would expect them to listen openly to me as well.

When a conversation degenerates into a closed-minded roundabout where each side is just trying to prove the other wrong, no progress can be made. Understanding cannot be reached when both parties feel, not only that they are right, but that there is no possibility that they could be wrong. Such bloody-mindedness is something I neither desire nor seek out, and I do my best to eradicate the vestiges of it in my own soul. I will defend my points, because that is my job, but I will not refuse to concede defeat if I am wrong.

I do not claim to truly understand the definition of a “journalist.” I feel that their calling is somehow greater than that of a “reporter,” but I also feel that the way has become clouded, the verbiage murky. Journalism, in my perhaps idyllic view, is not what it once was, but I do think that it is something great.

It is simply not what I do. I’m not here to dig into people’s words and minds and find out what they really meant or what really went down. I don’t have the time or resources for that, as interesting as it sounds. I love the truth, but I’m not going to drag it out of you. If you can’t communicate your truth clearly and succintly, I will attack you, shredding what you have said and exposing it for the rubbish it is. And if you feel that it is not rubbish, that your points were valid, and that there is still something worthwhile to uphold, then do so. Defend. Parry. Riposte.

I’ll be waiting for the 2NC.

* I always attempt to be accurate. In this paragraph, I am relating what seems to generally be the case among bloggers as a whole. If I write something that ends up being inaccurate or wholly incorrect, I will always (and have in the past) issue a correction.

† In this particular case, when I say “hastily and with frustration,” I do not mean that I regret the core of what I wrote, but rather that I didn’t polish the piece as I normally would and might, in retrospect, have phrased some things differently. I still feel like Dawson’s article was poorly done and insulting of an entire demographic, failing to take into account that texting is just the latest take on a well-established method of using text messages to communicate and collaborate that spans BBSes, telnet, IRC, talkers, email, and instant messaging. Dawson’s ideas are not new ones, but he presented them as if they were, and essentially said that everyone of a younger demographic were wasting their time and we, on our mighty pedestals, must educate them on the proper use of these tools. I stand by what I wrote; if I wrote hastily and out of frustration, it was somewhat to vent what I believed (and still believe) to be true.‡

‡ This concept, of educating those younger than us, and why it often annoys me, probably deserves an article of its own. I’ll write one this weekend.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for sticking with it. Please drop by again on Monday when I continue this development by comparing debate and discussion. The piece above, despite being written and posted, represents something developmental–these ideas form and change as I grow and learn more, and continue to change this very minute. I stand by what I write, but that doesn’t mean that any piece represents 100% of me or what I think.

So, check in again Monday to see another piece of Matthew.