Down on the Blog Farm

I’ve written here before at length about my very long (by internet standards) history as an online denizen, but as a brief summary recap for the sake of today’s post: I have been active in online communities since 1993, I had my own website in 1995, I owned my own domain in 1999, and I have been blogging for over a quarter-century at this point, doing so even before there was a word for what we were doing here in our shared virtual sandboxes. With nearly 30 years of laying myself out in the public virtual domain via literally dozens of evolving formats and platforms, I’d happily say that I have very few regrets about the way that such experiences have gone, with two notable exceptions. First, the hateful time-suck that social media became (which led me to abandon all of those platforms in the 2010s), and second, my one experience in letting a commercial entity host and control the content I shared, for fun, not profit.

That commercial era began for me in early 2007, by which point my blog, my many bylines in the popular Metroland alternative newsweekly, and my on-camera and behind-the-scenes activities on Time Warner Cable’s Sounding Board music television show had created a nice sense of brand recognition for me in my (then) home market in Northeastern New York. About a year earlier, The (Albany) Times Union (which was and remains the major regional daily newspaper in the market) had decided that they needed to get onboard with the emergent blog phenomenon, creating a portal that merged staff blogs with a variety of “reader-blogger” or “citizen-blogger” (their terms) pages. I was happily paddling about in my own pond when I was approached by a representative of the Times Union and offered the opportunity to place my work on their portal, ostensibly (per them) enhancing my exposure and readership. While I was doing just fine on my own, traffic-wise, I saw no meaningful red flags with that new Times Union relationship, so I agreed to the request and added my voice to their portal. It looked like this at the time (minus the broken links), for those inclined toward Albany nostalgia . . .

When I first posted at the Times Union, there were about 30 pioneering blogs there, with varying degrees of active participation; I was very much near the top end of that curve in terms of my volume, engagement and readership. That blogger number grew into the hundreds in the years that followed, and for a relatively brief period in the 2008 to 2013-ish period, the Times Union blog portal was a massive influence on and contributor to the regional political, arts, culture, social and creative communities thereabouts, and most everybody I knew and worked with at that point was actively engaged in some way, as a creator or a reader, in the works that were offered there. I was a good team player in that era, participating in various community engagement events designed to promote “citizen-bloggers” and their work (and, of course, the Times Union itself), and I got to know and love a variety of tremendous writers during that time who I would count as influences, inspirations and/or friends to this day, most notably Roger Green, Rob Madeo, Teri Conroy, Chuck Miller and Kevin Marshall.

But then September 2010 rolled around, and that all came to a painful, grinding, and abrupt halt for me, as I’ve written about here in this series of articles, for those who did not experience the situation in real time . . .

Ignore My Times Union Blog, Please

Bye Bye to You, T.U.

Good Riddance to the Times Union

The net result of that debacle was that I went off on my own to launch the Indie Albany and Indie Moines websites (no links, alas, as I pulled them both down and killed the domains some years ago), then consolidated everything back under my own imprint again around 2014. Which was all good and fine. What was not good and fine was that the Times Union held everything I’d written for them between 2007 and 2010 hostage, against my wishes, and it remains up on their site to this day. I also, sadly, got to watch a variety of friends and acquaintances chewed up and spat out by the Times Union in the years since then, when their unique work was deemed problematic from a commercial or political standpoint for a variety of reasons, few of them good. Rob and Chuck both went down in flames that way, and it was really ugly in both cases, and just plain mean, on many fronts. Fortunately, those two and most of the others quickly launched their own platforms, which I’m happy to still read, all these years on. Good writing is good writing, no matter where it resides.

The “bad citizen-blogger” issue blew up again in recent weeks when New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik had a meltdown about a satirical post by Lale Davidson on the Times Union blog portal. Apparently, this latest kerfuffle is the one that has broken the camel’s back as far as the Times Union‘s editorial team is concerned, as they have announced that they will be shuttering the citizen blogs effective February 5, 2021. It’s the end of an era, for sure. I can’t say that’s a bad thing, particularly, but it’s a thing nonetheless, and noteworthy, as a marked data point in the long time-line of the ways in which newspapers manage their bottom lines with interactive content on their websites. As publishing experiments go, I’m not sure the blog portal was ultimately a successful one for the Times Union, but it was certainly a long-running one in modern media terms. There aren’t many folks still hosted on the Times Union portal who I read regularly, but I do hope that the few good ones there find their own homes soon, as I’d like to continue reading them. We’ll see how that goes.

On a personal front, it does appear that this transition will finally release my own work from the Times Union portal, as I’ve been in touch with their blog manager, who’s indicated that it should not be a problem or issue to wipe my material off the newspaper’s website during the upcoming clean-up and purge. Yeah, I know that people who really, really want it will be able to find it via the Wayback Machine and other online archives, but it will still be psychologically satisfying to know that my work is no longer being held hostage against my will. It will also be satisfying to know that, in the long game, me and so many others have been better served by staking our own claims to our own turf, without giving away our work to support a profit motive that’s rarely compatible with our own creative self-interests. That was a big lesson learned, at bottom line. The hurts weren’t terribly material from any financial or professional standpoints, but they still stung, and I’ll be happy to have that annoying reminder removed from the public domain, even if it took more than a decade for that to happen.

2020: Year in Review

Remember 2016? There was a lot of “Worst Year Ever” chatter as it wound to its close, four years ago this month. We lost David Bowie, Prince, Gene Wilder, Maurice White, Muhammad Ali, Bernie Worrell, Greg Lake, Keith Emerson, George Michael, Carrie Fisher and so many other “big” names that year. We also elected President Bonespurs Tinyhands, made Brexit a sick and sad reality, watched global climate change unfold in tragic ways in real time, experienced a devastating number and impact of mass shootings, and suffered the extreme right-wing media giddily expanding its reach and impact in the aftermath of international fellow-traveler efforts to sabotage our already-sickened democracy through the infectious cesspools of social media.

It all seemed utterly dreadful at the time, and it certainly felt wonderful to wish it all good riddance come January 1, 2017. But then 2020 arrived, said “Hold My Beer,” and made 2016 look like a veritable paradise of goodness and justice and equity in comparison to the horrors that the past 12 months have heaped upon us, domestically and around the globe. If you want or need concise hot takes on why 2020 was such an ass-end of a year, I’m sure you can find plenty of them in the newspapers, magazines, websites, blogs, televisions shows or social media feeds of your choice. I generally try to avoid such wallows, and I doubt that I can add anything worthwhile to that bewildering stream of chatter, so I’m not even going to bother to try. Suffice to say that 2020 was a truly shitty year on a truly macro basis for an immense number of people, and that my normal website year-end report (which follows) is offered as a diversion for the record, not as a summary of recent horrors.

ON THE BLOG:

In 2019, I posted 70 articles on this website, noting 12 months ago that “as satisfying as that is, given my own goals for the upcoming year, I doubt that I will hit the same high post mark in 2020.” Well, surprise, surprise, 2020 didn’t quite go the way I planned it, and I ended up writing 147 posts, the most I’ve done since the Poem-A-Day Project in 2004. Retiring from full-time work certainly gave me more time to write, as did the cancellation of planned travel, and the need to fill socially isolated time in some satisfying and/or productive fashions. Interestingly, other folks being similarly isolated seemed to have an impact on readership here, per the following trend analysis of 2014-2020 website hits and visitors (actual numbers edited out, as it’s tacky to share them; the trend line is what matters):

I’ve owned this domain since the mid-1990s, but prior to 2015, I split my writing between a variety of sites with a variety of hosts. Since consolidating everything here in 2015, our Anno Virum has clearly been the most successful year in terms of readership numbers. It is nice to think that perhaps I helped some folks distract themselves, even if just briefly, from the day-to-day awfulness that 2020 has inflicted upon us. I suppose at some point I should consider trying to monetize that. Though I know from experience that turning fun/hobby undertakings into work/income ones that way usually never plays out as happily as one might expect it to.

As I report each year, here are the dozen most-read articles among the 147 new posts here in 2020:

And then here are the dozen posts written in prior years that received the most reads in 2020. It always fascinates me which of the 1,000+ articles on my website interest people (or search engines) the most, all these years on since the first 1995 post on an early version of this blog. (Note that I exclude things like the “About Me” page or the generic front page from the list, even though they generate a lot of my traffic). And once again, here’s hoping that people realize that the perennially-popular “Iowa Pick-Up Lines” post is a joke . . .

ELSEWHERE ON THE WEB:

See this earlier post: Best of My Web 2020.

TRAVEL:

See this earlier post: The Roads Not Taken.

RECORDINGS:

See these two earlier posts: Best Albums of 2020 and Most Played Songs of 2020.

LIVE PERFORMANCES AND ART EXHIBITIONS:

Yeah, right. That didn’t happen, for obvious reasons.

BOOKS:

See this earlier post: Best Books of 2020.

FILMS:

See this earlier post: Best Films of 2020.

AND  THEN . . . .

. . . onward to our brave post-Trumpian world, hopefully one that is anchored in science, justice and truth, all of which we will enjoy from our new homestead in Arizona. At least until travel is safe(r) again, anyway. I assume that I will be back here at my desk in December 2021 with a similar report (as has become my habit), marveling at that which was, and eagerly anticipating that which is yet to come. See you then?

Ho Ho Humbug Us, Every One!

Best of My Web 2020

I’ve been online for a long, long, long time, in the relative terms that Internet experience can be measured. This blog’s archives extend back to 1995 (before the word “blog” even existed), and I was romping and stomping about in virtual spaces earlier than that, like some digital dinosaur hauling its heft through a primordial dial-up ASCII swamp. While I’ve bailed on social media in recent years, I still do a sizable portion of my reading online, and with a quarter-century-plus experience in sorting the garbage that spills out of the interweb’s pipes, I think I’m pretty discerning in plucking the shiniest gems from the stinkiest spew of the online world.

Being a community-oriented sort, I’m happy to leverage my online explorations to share a roster of the five websites that moved me most in 2020, in the hopes that you might find them engaging and entertaining as well. My own web productivity and traffic both increased significantly this year (I’ll share more about that closer to the end of the year), likely as a combo platter of me having more time to write post-retirement from full-time work, and of other people having more time to read as we were collectively clamped down during this our Anno Virum. I know the websites cited below helped brighten some dark days for me over the past twelve months. Maybe my own website will have done that for you as well in 2020. It would make me happy were that the case. And we all need some extra happy these days, don’t we?

Thoughts On The Dead: Once again the best of the best to these eyes and ears. I learn a lot, laugh a lot, and love it a lot. Still. And again. The always and aggressively anonymous author has had a tough year in 2020, but he’s continued to write, brilliantly and consistently, and I’ve continued to read, gladly, thankfully, giddily and giggly. While knowledge of the Grateful Dead might help a bit on certain posts, it’s certainly not a hard prerequisite, as there’s a whole lot of cultural and musical and political turf covered herein, semi-fictionally. As a reminder, TotD’s got book-length work out there, too, if you want a deeper read. I recommend that, strongly. Bonus Points: He’s largely nocturnal, so I almost always have something new to read over my coffee every morning. Winning!

Going Medieval: Deep history, social conscience and significant snark from the UK’s Dr Eleanor Janega, knit together into a thoroughly brilliant whole. I’ve danced around the academic study of history in my own educational adventures, and I really, truly appreciate writers and researchers who can explain our todays and tomorrows through their deep understanding of our yesterdays — especially when such explications are offered with mad high-level story-telling skillZ that make the ancient timely, and the long-since-forgotten topical. This site has it all going on, every post a winner, guaranteed to make you smile and laugh as you (gasp!) actually learn something.

Daily Abstract Thoughts: Mostly short, thoughtful reflections from “Orcas Laird,” a native Scot living and writing from a gorgeous island in Washington State. As a gentleman of a certain age, I most appreciate this other similarly aged gentleman’s observations on topics sublime and mundane. He’s an astute and keen web philosopher in his ability to make the boundaries between those sublime and mundane bits blurry. We see big things when we look at little ones, sometimes. He’s very, very good at that, and is also an objectively fine writer, capable of terse elegance, which often eludes me in my wordy ways.

Messy Nessy Chic: A gorgeous and deeply entertaining site, one where you can gawp at beautiful things, learn about arcane topics, and enthuse about the ephemera that exists at the outer edges of Web World. Nessy’s weekly “13 Things I Found on the Internet Today” series is always a delight, and it’s rare that it doesn’t take me down some totally time-wasting online rabbit hole. Which is a good thing, if that’s not clear. I’m happy to be deeply distractable, and even happier to have such a good portal for distractions readily updated and available for my frittering about.

Ramblin’ With Roger: Roger Green and I shared blog space years ago at a newspaper website whose name I shall not utter, because things there ended poorly for me, and for many others. Roger was always one of my favorite writers on that commercial media site, writing well about many things that interested me, and/or about which I cared deeply on both intellectual and emotional bases. Even back in those blog farm days, Roger was running his own highly-prolific web gig, which is now up to 15+ years of consistent daily posting. And I do read him every day, just because I know I’m going to see something new and interesting, whenever I do. You can, and should, too!

Did you know that The Jubalaires were arguably the first recorded rap artists, in the 1930s? I didn’t either, until Messy Nessy turned me on to them, along with loads of other happy time-wasting arcana.

Dear WordPress: Your New Editor is Terrible

I’ve been running all of my personal websites on WordPress platforms since 2007. That’s when I moved off the Blogger/Blogspot platforms I’d been using since 1999, which had followed four years of cold-coding my sites via hand-crafted html pages FTP’ed into the ether over a slow modem. I’m long-time online, for sure. I’ve been happy with the WordPress experience over the years, and equally happy to pay for a $100 premium account every year for each website I still care for. That investment gives me advertisement-free experiences for my readers, enhanced media hosting capabilities, and various other behind-the-scenes benefits. Beyond my personal websites, I have either launched or relocated a variety of professional sites on WordPress over the years, and have recommended that others do the same if they want to create affordable, adaptable, easily-usable platforms for sharing quality content in pleasant formats online. I think I qualify as a loyal, trustworthy WordPress customer accordingly.

But as is so often the case in our technological times, WordPress has decided that what made its platform best for me, and many others, is not really what we want. They rolled out a new editor (e.g. the page where writers create, format and post content) in late 2018, and I found it utterly awful, clearly prioritizing quick-load, short-attention-span cell phone and tablet functionality over any other considerations for “big screen” users, who might actually have a vested interest in the aesthetics of their pages. But that was okay at the time, because as a long-standing user, they allowed me to keep using the “Classic Editor.” Good choice. Let the n00bs learn the new platform which, while trying to give everyone the ability to do things that 95%+ of them will never want or need to do, ends up doing the basic stuff poorly and in a most counter-intuitive fashion.

In recent months, every time I’ve created a new post in the Classic Editor, I’ve gotten a pop-up saying (essentially) “New ‘Block Editing’ Goodness Is Coming!”, but it has featured a “Not Now, Nope, Nuh-Uh!” opt-out button, which I’ve happily pushed, and gotten on with what I wanted to get done. Still no hurt, no foul. But then when I hit the “New Post” button a couple of days ago to create this, the crappy new Block Editing system (also known as “Gutenberg”) appeared before my dismayed eyes, without any opt-out options obvious. Dammit!

I waded with deep annoyance into the counter-intuitive morass, where it took me much longer to create a post than should have been necessary, and where there were things that I wanted to do that I couldn’t. Please note well that I’m an accomplished and sophisticated long-term communications technology user with strong computer problem-solving skills, generally able to figure out whatever I need to figure out, so this isn’t just a case of a dumb old person being befuddled by a shiny new application rolled out by and for the kidZ. It’s really just objectively bad. So I looked into how and whether I could return to the Classic Editor, and learned that WordPress was, indeed, offering an Add-On that would allow users that luxury — but in order to access and load it, I’d have to upgrade to a Business Account, at a cost of about $200 more per year that I’ve been paying. No Effing Thank You.

A quick survey via Google shows I’m not alone in thinking that this upgrade is a real stinker. Two of the most long-term and accomplished bloggers I know, Roger Green (15+ years of daily posting) and Chuck Miller (10+ years of daily posting) both beefed about it on their pages, and I feel compelled to join them in lodging my protest. I hate when companies do things like this. I hate change for change’s sake. I hate not being given a choice in how or whether to go along with such change. I hate that I have to waste a post telling you that I hate how I have to make a post. Hate it, hate it, hate it. Bad tech company! BAD!!! [rubs tech company’s face in soiled mess on virtual carpet, while hitting it with rolled up virtual newspaper]

As is typical, of course, nerds gotta nerd and geeks gotta geek, so folks are already figuring out some work-arounds. If you are an equally frustrated WordPress user, you can click on the links to Roger and Chuck’s pages in the preceding paragraph to learn about some of them. I’m using one now, happily clattering away in Classic Editor, without having to pay more for it. (Though I’ve learned that if I press the “Edit” button to tweak something on the post once it’s published, I’ll get jammed into Block Editor World again, so I have to go through several other back-of-house steps to avoid that). I suspect the work-around I am using will be short-lived, as I can’t imagine that WordPress will allow such a loophole to remain open once it spreads widely and cuts into their anticipated new Business Account revenues. Grumble.

I really have no desire to move my platform, and hope I don’t feel obligated to do so. But this is shitty customer service in support of a shitty product that people have been actively resisting for nearly two years now. I think it’s important that WordPress hears such sentiments from folks who have been with them since their earliest days, either paying them for the privilege, or generating advertising revenue for them via free accounts. Feel free to share, cross-post, or otherwise deploy this piece if helpful to making the point in your own sandboxes.

In closing: please don’t poke us with any more sharp sticks, WordPress. It’s not nice, not good for the community you’ve built, and not a worthy reflection of the technological face you want to show to potential new customers. Did I mention “grumble” and “hate it”?

“Anger” by William Blake. Because there’s a Blake painting for every mood and moment.

The Madness Of “With Which I Am Well Pleased” III

With so many things to be stressed, obsessed and/or depressed about in recent months, those little escapes, thrills and distractions that can brighten the hours and days are to be cherished, without doubt or question.

First and foremost in our family’s case, of course, is that none of us have had any medical emergencies to contend with during this our anno virum. Marcia and I were additionally pleased when Katelin called us earlier this week to tell us that she had received a very nice work promotion, demonstrating that her chosen work-remote situation in Nevada is clearly acceptable and sustainable to her employer, atop the satisfaction that she and John are feeling with their new Western lifestyle. We gave ourselves Six Parenting Gold Stars for that one. Very pleasing.

Marcia and I continue to have our own work opportunities to keep the mental juices and financial benefits flowing, I continue to find things to enjoyably think and write about, and we both continue to prioritize daily woodland and countryside walks of five-miles-plus to keep the body tuned along with the brain.  (I’m also cycling when I can to further that physical component, with ~650 miles covered over ~15 rides since May). We will be heading back up to Minnesota next week to see family in socially safe circumstances, so another change of scenery in Marcia’s beloved home state will feel good, for sure. Keeping on with keeping on, at bottom line. As one does.

Beyond those macro existential things, there are lots of smaller thrills that have delivered me the joy juice of late as well, so it seems fitting to provide a third installment to my “With Which I Am Pleased” series, building on this one and that one. As with the earlier posts, I feature 15 items in various categories, and commend and recommend them for your attention and (maybe) enjoyment as well. May they distract you from distress, alleviate your duress, and/or prepare you to safely impress your social (distant) circles with hot fresh content. Got recommendations for me in return? That’s what the comment button is for. Hit it!

FILMS

MUSIC

WEBSITES

Going Medieval

Daily Abstract Thoughts

The Diversity of Classic Rock

BOOKS

A Hunnert

Last December, as part of my 2019 Year In Review report, I wrote this about my website posting pace at the time:

This is the 70th post on the blog this year, up from 41 in 2018, 35 in 2017, and 27 in 2016. A very positive trend (if not as many posts as I used to poop out annually a decade or so ago), and a good indicator that getting off of social media (a goal established in last December’s “Year in Review” post) was a good way to redirect time and energy to pursuits that I consider more rewarding. Traffic was up a solid 40% over the prior year as well, confirming once again that volume drives reads, as long as quality remains acceptable. As satisfying as that is, given my own goals for the year, I doubt that I will hit the same high post mark in 2020, as I plan to work on some projects for potential professional or commercial purposes, and don’t intend to share them until I know there’s not a market for them. But I do have a couple of new ideas for public writing for pleasure knocking around in my brain, so I may surprise myself.

WordPress now tells me that this is my 100th new post in 2020, though my prolific pace is less a function of me surprising myself than it is a function of the world surprising me, and everybody else navigating our shared mortal coil during this our anno virum. Looking back, I first publicly mentioned COVID-19 on March 14 in my Florida Man (And Woman) report, which was my 14th new post of the year, a pace which would have set me on a similar clip to my 2019 numbers. But then everything changed, for everyone. That post seems like I wrote it a long, long time ago accordingly. I have a pretty good imagination, but I certainly would not have prognosticated at the time that we’d still be in such dire circumstances five months on, locked in a perfect shit-storm of dangerous infection and poor public policy, each maddeningly reinforcing the other in a seemingly-endless feedback loop.

Under the circumstances, I’m thankful to have an established creative outlet like this to explore other imaginings and ideas, when so many other projects and plans have withered and died under the pressure of pandemic. I’m even more thankful that the virus has not resulted in health emergencies for any members of our direct family, despite the seemingly wide-spread efforts of our neighbors (and the elected and appointed officials who misinform them) to cavalierly foster infection for no logical or ethical reasons. (Do you detect a theme of annoyance here?) Here’s hoping that both of those personal statuses remain constant through the remainder of 2020 and beyond, and that your physical and mental health, and whatever endeavors you’ve adopted to manage and respond to them, remain hearty and hale.

We were staying in this little vacation home in March 2020 as the Nation’s health began going to hell in a hand-basket. Writing ramped up immediately thereafter.