August 31, 2006
'You become your blog' — John Amato on why he rarely steps away from his site
Elizabeth Holmes's story in today's Wall Street Journal about bloggers who dare not take a day off struck a chord here.
Here's the article.
- No Day at the Beach
Bloggers Struggle With What to Do About Vacation
A banner stripped across the top of the Daily Dish declares that the popular Web log's host, Andrew Sullivan, has "gone fishing." Mr. Sullivan declared a two-week vacation and opted to leave his political blog behind.
Several thousand of his readers have done the same.
Despite the efforts of three verbose guest bloggers, replacements handpicked by Mr. Sullivan, the site's visitor tally has fallen. The Daily Dish, now part of Time magazine, usually garners around 90,000 unique visitors, or individual readers, each day. At the start of the first workweek without him, Mr. Sullivan's blog received about 67,000 hits, according to Site Meter. This week, traffic has hovered around 57,000.
"The frequency of emails of 'Bring back Andrew' and 'This is stupid. Bring back Andrew' is definitely higher than anything I've ever written," says David Weigel, a 24-year-old assistant editor at Reason magazine, who is one of Mr. Sullivan's guest bloggers and has filled in at other sites in the past.
In the height of summer-holiday season, bloggers face the inevitable question: to blog on break or put the blog on a break? Fearing a decline in readership, some writers opt not to take vacations. Others keep posting while on location, to the chagrin of their families. Those brave enough to detach themselves from their keyboards for a few days must choose between leaving the site dormant or having someone blog-sit.
To be sure, most bloggers don't agonize over this decision. Of the 12 million bloggers on the Internet, only about 13% post daily, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Even fewer — 10% — spend 10 or more hours a week on their blogs.
Yet for the sliver of people whose livelihood depends on the blog — whether they are conservative, liberal or don't care — stepping away from the keyboard can be difficult. Unlike other jobs, where co-workers can fill in for an absent employee, blogs are usually a one-person show. A blogger's personality carries the site. When the host isn't there, readers tend to stray. August is a slow time for all blogs, but having an absent host makes the problem worse. Lose enough readers, and advertisers are sure to join the exodus.
It's something that John Amato, host of the political blog Crooks and Liars, knows all too well. Mr. Amato rarely steps away from his site for any significant amount of time, although he finds updating the page multiple times a day exhausting.
"You become your blog," says Mr. Amato, whose site gets an average of 150,000 hits a day. "It's John Amato. They're used to John Amato."
Some bloggers thrive on the manic pace. Getaways for Jim Romenesko, host of the popular media blog bearing his name, consist of a Friday afternoon drive every month or so from his home in the Chicago suburbs to visit friends in Milwaukee. The 85-mile trip should last around 90 minutes. For Mr. Romenesko, it takes nearly four hours — because he stops at eight different Starbucks on the way to update his site.
The longest Mr. Romenesko has refrained from posting on his site, which gets about 70,000 hits a day, was for one week three years ago on the insistence of site owner, the Poynter Institute. He hasn't taken a vacation in seven years. "The column's called Romenesko," he says. "I just feel it should be Romenesko" who writes it.
While it may seem like a chore to outsiders, many bloggers enjoy the compulsion. Mark Lisanti, who runs the entertainment gossip blog Defamer, is much like Mr. Romenesko in his no-vacation tendencies. Although he gets three weeks off each year from Gawker Media, which owns the site, he rarely takes a day. Not because he can't, he just doesn't want to. "My plan is to die face down on the desk in the middle of a post," Mr. Lisanti jokes.
Jeff Jarvis, author of the political blog BuzzMachine, knows the feeling. He has always posted during his annual vacation to Skytop Lodge in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. When the resort had only an expensive Internet connection, he paid the hefty fee to keep his blog current. His son, Jake, now 14 years old, paid for half of the connection costs so he could keep up his technology blog, Wire Catcher.
Mr. Jarvis says he can count the number of days he's spent away from his blog on one hand. On the occasional break — for a day or less — he opts to leave his blog "dark," or untouched, rather than have someone fill in for him. "It's just my space," he says.
Kevin Drum, author of Washington Monthly's blog Political Animal, says he used to have that kind of proprietary attitude. At some point, Mr. Drum says, "You just have to let go."
Stepping away often means accepting a decline in readership. While Mr. Drum was on vacation for two days last week, his site averaged 45,000 hits, about 10,000 fewer than the previous weeks, according to Site Meter.
Mr. Drum turned to guest bloggers. Choosing temporary replacements is a great way to expose your audience to new voices, says Lauren Gelman, associate director of Stanford University Law School's Center for Internet and Society and a sometimes guest blogger at legal sites.
But, as in Mr. Weigel's case at the Daily Dish, it's not easy. Much like a guest host on a late-night talk show, people have specific expectations for a proven brand. A new contributor needs to maintain the tone of the site and not alienate its readers.
At the same time, the guest blogger can't follow a script or act like a substitute teacher who regurgitates the lesson, says Ms. Gelman. Without some creativity or flavor from the new writer, postings sound stale. "Not all voices are created equal," notes Aaron Adams, an information technology consultant from Missouri who reads nearly 20 blogs a day. "Some guest bloggers don't do much more than just keep the light on. They're not as interesting or as stimulating."
Michelle Malkin, host and namesake of a political blog, recruited guest writers carefully when she decided to take her first vacation in several years. All four replacements had a "similar vibe" to her own, says Ms. Malkin. Two of the guest bloggers were well-versed in subjects popular in the news at the time and the other two were friends whose work she admired.
A slice of Ms. Malkin's audience didn't take to the guest bloggers. She chalked that up to a "fickle" bunch who prefer her work as a syndicated columnist. But overall the guest bloggers held readers' attentions, says Ms. Malkin. During the week she was gone, hits averaged around 140,000 a day, down from about 200,000 before she went on vacation. Last week, before she eased back into posting, her average daily visitor tally dipped below 120,000. The numbers didn't faze Ms. Malkin. "For the dog days of August, they did tremendously well," she says of her fill-ins.
Glenn Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennessee, experienced a similar blow this month when he took a weeklong break from his site, the popular political blog InstaPundit. Unique visitors fell to 115,000 from around 150,000, according to Site Meter.
Even so, Mr. Reynolds is glad he took the week off. "I need a vacation more than I care about the traffic," he says.
As of today the Official Cartoon Character of bookofjoe™ is Wile E. Coyote, in hot pursuit of Road Runner, running in space over the edge of a cliff —
just before he looks down.
From the website:
The perfect solution for long-term storage
The CarCapsule is a clear vinyl bubble that seals your car, truck, boat or motorcycle away from the elements and keeps it looking fresh and new.
Dust, dirt, moisture and insects are locked out and a built-in fan circulates filtered air within the bubble to eliminate that musty, damp smell that can ruin your stored car.
The CarCapsule is impervious to oil, gas and antifreeze, mildew-resistant and flame-retardant.
Available in seven sizes to fit most any car, truck, boat or motorcycle.
The durable zipper is 100% nylon so it won’t scratch your vehicle.
The super-tough vinyl bubble is made of anti-static 12 mil PVC.
Hey, I gotta go — Michael Jackson's on the other line.
$269-$419, depending on size.
Maria Sharapova channels Audrey Hepburn
Last night in her first-round match at the U.S. Open Sharapova unveiled her latest fashion statement (above and below).
The third-seeded Russian blew out Michaella Krajicek (6-3, 6-0) in less than an hour while prancing around "in a beaded black sheath [with matching hair bow] she said was inspired by Audrey Hepburn in 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' (below)."
I thought Sharapova's outfit looked kind of cheesy and tacky, more reminiscent of a patron of the Mos Eisley Cantina on Tatooine in "Star Wars" than Audrey Hepburn.
The two-inch high horizontal black strap across her open back just didn't cut it.
But hey, that's just my take.
I'm sure you know better and won't hesitate to let me know it.
Blue Man Group Percussion Tubes
From the Popular Science magazine website:
- Totally Tubular
This lower-fi version of the group’s legendary PVC pipe organ/percussion rig can produce five different instrument sounds and is controlled via proximity sensors using your hands or the included drum sticks — and a built-in MP3 player dock lets you play along with your tunes.
Watch the demo.
Expect a near-term explosion of YouTube music videos featuring this nifty instrument.
[via the September issue of Popular Science ]
Welcome to KUU and the world of Nassim Nicholas Taleb: 'Known, Unknown, Unknowable'
Taleb noted that he focuses specifically on the final U — the Unknowable — of KUU.
There is no quicker way to revamp your world view — and improve the quality of your judgment and decision-making — than to read Taleb's iconic book, "Fooled by Randomness."
Perhaps even Donald Rumsfeld, who popularized the wonderfully convoluted "known unknowns and unknown unknowns" epistomological world-view, has paged through it.
Portable Shelf Dividers
From the website:
- Portable Shelf Dividers
Bring order to messy shelves — no tools or hardware required!
Stack bulky sweaters, T-shirts, blankets, sheets, towels — these vertical dividers keep everything neat and orderly!
Chrome-plated steel grids slide securely onto shelves up to 1" thick.
Metal clamps keep them firmly in place and can be adjusted to create narrow or wide "bins" to suit the objects you are storing.
Set of 4, each 12W" x 13H".
If you find the anti-entropic thrust of this post appealing you might find Thomas Mann's 1925 story, "Disorder and Early Sorrow," gives you great pleasure as it once did me.
Or you might find his style oppressive and run screaming from the room.
The choice is yours — isn't it?
Mann's story is included in a collection entitled "Death in Venice and Other Stories," available for 42 cents (used) and up at Amazon.
But I digress.
Perhaps chrome just doesn't work for you.
I can see how that would be the case.
How about white?
Can you feature white?
From the website:
- White Shelf Dividers
Divide a shelf and multiply your storage power stacking sweaters neater, linens higher, towels tidier!
Coated wire grids slip over any shelf up to 3/4" thick, creating perfect cubbies for stacking sweaters and shirts, organizing handbags and accessories, storing books or photo albums.
12" x 12".
A perfectly matched set of 4 is $11.99.
Now, aren't you glad you're not the type to settle?
A note on the physics employed in both iterations above, to wit: the no-tools, no-hardware-needed design.
Close readers will recall that this same simple engineering principle — the spring — was employed in the paper towel holder featured in this space on August 2.
Google Classics: Download and print great books — free
As of yesterday you can read, download (as easily forwardable PDF files) and print out the complete works of Shakespeare as well as myriad other classics absolutely free — at home.
Here's the article.
- Online books are coming free, forgetting the extras
Shakespeare's complete works, Dante’s Divine Comedy and other classic works of literature were made available to download and print free of charge yesterday.
A new service from Google, the internet search engine, allows patient readers armed with reams of paper to print out a facsimile of the entire original work, even if it runs to several hundred pages.
Google, whose stated mission is “to organise the world’s information”, believes that it will help to stimulate interest in classic works — although publishers are nervous that making books freely available could undermine their business.
The search engine has been scanning out-of-copyright classics from the Bodleian Library in Oxford and a series of American libraries, and is now making them available on books.google.com.
However, even Google conceded that not everybody would want to read Henry V on a pile of computer printouts. Jens Redmer, the head of Google’s book search programme, said: “Reading a book online is cumbersome, and so is printing out.
“It may be the case that rather than cannibalise the market for classic publications, we help to grow it as people go out and buy the book.”
Victoria Barnsley, the chief executive and publisher at HarperCollins UK, said that her concerns were whether Google could police the copyright issues effectively, and that the online book giveway “adds to the feeling that content is free on the internet”.
Book publishers are grappling with how to make money from sales online, even though the market is in its infancy and nobody has managed to come up with a satisfactory electronic book-reader. But by concentrating on out-of-copyright material, Google is shying away from the conflict with publishers that was widely expected when it began the scanning programme.
Copyright rules vary around the world, but in Britain copyright lasts until 70 years after the author’s death. In the United States, books published before 1923 are usually considered in the public domain, although Mr Redmer said that Google did not want to “go beyond the mid-19th century” in an effort to be conservative.
Mark Le Fanu, general secretary of the Society of Authors, said: “It’s yet one more piece of evidence that Google wants to take over the world. Maybe in due course publishers will lose revenue, but I think by and large people want the book rather than having it online.”
At present home download and printer speeds, it could end up being more expensive to get hold of a free copy of a classic work.
An 1825 complete works of Shakespeare, found by the Google book search, runs to 908 pages and takes 56.6 megabytes of data.
Downloading the tome would take up to five minutes on a broadband fast internet link, and could take approaching an hour on a traditional dial-up connection. But the determined reader would have to endure reading the plays on a backlit screen.
Printing out, though, adds to the complexity. Using a cheap home printer working at 12 pages a minute, it would take 75 minutes to produce the entire book for bedtime reading.
The exercise could easily consume an entire ink cartridge, which costs between £35 and £40.
On Amazon it is possible to buy a paperback Complete Works of Shakespeare for £4.79.
Even better: on Amazon (U.S.) just now I found a hardcover "Complete Works of Shakespeare" (used) for $1.30.
I cannot speak for public libraries in the U.K. (though I am certain other can — and will — do so below in the comments) but in the U.S., most public, school and college libraries offer unlimited free printing of onscreen materials.
Free — "The way it always should be."
Rolling Pin Rings
From the website:
- Rolling Pin Rings
Roll dough 1/8-inch thick automatically — no ruler needed
So how do you roll your dough exactly 1/8" thick?
I use these rubber rolling rings.
• Set of 4 pairs of graduated-size rubber rings.
• Slip one onto each side of your rolling pin.
• Roll dough flat; desired thickness is automatically determined by rings!
• Roll dough 1/16", 1/8", 1/4", or 3/8" thick.
• Fits pins with 1-1/2" to 3" barrels.
A set of 4 pairs is $7.95.