Tag Archives: blogging

Don’t get caught up with making it perfect

Cartoon, punchline: Just click the damn publish butotnWarning: this is something of a limbering up blog post. Some stretching to loosen a muscle dormant for quite some time.

Things have been very busy since I waved good bye to Beth Kanter in May.

Work on 2-3 projects at a time, my part-time role with Community Research, organising NetSquared Wellington events and sundry other distractions have inched there way between me and my blog.

Being an advocate for slowing down and making time for reflection, this hasn’t felt quite right. Where is the time I set aside to quietly shape ill formed ideas into something worthy of discussion? Were my gleanings just rotting away?

The longer I’ve left it, the harder it has been to restart.

Thanks to self proclaimed data nerd chris lysy from fresh spectrum this has changed.

From the twitter flow I fished up a reference to “22 bloggers with advice for researchers and evaluators, illustrated”.

After putting off staring the well structured and creatively presented post – largely because the 22 bloggers manage to share over 10,000 words of insights – I’ve just read it.

Advice from Chi Yan Lam – who is thinking about the intersection of program evaluation, design and social innovation – captures some of the thinking behind why I started blogging in 2004, and still really resonates:

I realized that the blog could be a space for my thinking. Instead of insisting on writing for an audience, I wrote for myself. I guess what this boils down to is this: Blogging is simply a platform. There are many successful models of blogging. The important thing is to make blogging goals consistent with one’s goals. Don’t Emulate. Create.

Cartoon caption: don't get caught up with making it perfectA post on blogging wouldn’t be complete without hearing from the aforementioned Beth ‘blogger extraordinaire’ Kanter, who said to chris:

Look at your blogging time as a form of professional development and a commitment to write something regularly. Don’t get caught up with making it perfect either

I’m don’t want to overdo my mental stretching. I’m feeling warmed up. Keys and finders in sync. I’ll be back. Soon? Soon!

An unplanned hiatus

Three rolling through dark sky by amysgster

I’ve been counting up the number of sayings used to describe the way we cope with the ups and downs we face in life. There are lots. Without trying the adages flow: purses from sow’s ears, silver linings, and taking the rough with the smooth.

Despite the clichés, I am actually finding some solace in many well-worn proverbs. I have good reason to. Just over nine weeks ago I was (literally) bowled over by a health crisis. It’s disrupted my whole life, including the bit of it you see here on my blog (or haven’t seen as I’ve been forced to take a blogging hiatus).

While unloading groceries from my trolley at the Island Bay New World on 21 June I had a stroke.

To say this was a shock is an understatement of colossal proportions. I’m a fit, healthy man at low risk of having a stroke (according the brochures anyway). I’ve gotten over saying “How could this happen to me?”, but I still do wonder about this. Shock was mixed with disbelief and disorientation.

In the weeks immediately after the stroke I was too whacked to care that I wasn’t doing the things I normally did. After a lot of rest – with watching videos at the heart of my healing – I’ve bit by bit been about to do more and more.

At times I’ve been worried about my future. What would come back to me, and what lasting affects would I face? Amidst all this was a hint of panic that I wouldn’t be able to easily read or write again. Would I blog again? It has been quite a roller coaster ride.

Two months down the track, all agree that I’m making a very good recovery. After such a big jolt to my brain I have to admit my short term memory hasn’t returned to its usual forgetfulness. Otherwise the various examinations and tests show my speech and motor skills are unaffected.

The main lasting impact is a visual impairment. I can read children’s books, newspaper headlines and navigate on the computer, but can’t yet easily read blocks of text. Both cycling and driving a car are ruled out for now.

As the days go by I’m adapting to the visual distortion. I’m also finding new techniques and tools to access information and read. I’ve been walking everywhere since the stroke, including making the 1.3km trek down to the hospital for follow-up appointments. Cooking trusty favourites and getting recipes in large print (thanks to Roz typing them out) means I can serve up dinner for the family.

At an early age I harboured an ambition of becoming a newspaper reporter. This lead to me taking a touch typing class in sixth form (or Year 12 as my younger readers will know it). Although these ambitions have long since abandoned as the cynic in me gained ascendancy, I can still touch type. I’ve pounded out this post with some fluidity.

Throughout all his I’ve been amazingly well supported by whanau, friends and colleagues. Cranky as I may have been at times, my children have definitely benefited from having lots more time with me. The hardworking staff at Wellington Regional Hospital have not only helped me heal, but have given me plenty of hope. I’m especially appreciative for support from Sue, one of the hostpital’s occupational therapits.

Looking ahead, I’m starting part-time this week. Rest assured I’ll let people know when I’m ready to take on new assignments, and pick up some of the initiatives I started earlier in the year. I’m trying to reign in my natural drive and go slow for a while.

The enforced timeout has given me a chance to think about what I most want to focus on, and how I will earn a livelihood in the future. These of course are big questions that I’m not rushing to answer.

The health adventure is not quite over as I have further tests through the hospital cardiology department. The specialists are endeavouring to understand what caused my stroke, and determine whether there is anything that can be done to reduce the risks of a recurrence.

I’m trying to pick up where I left off with my blogging. With a visual impairment I’m doubly aware of the necessity for accessible web design. What was once a concern based on principle is now one based on daily struggles with errant websites. I find it hard to navigate around lots of websites, including some in the community sector. (No names, just yet anyway!)

I’ll share my insights on computer accessibility on this blog. Topics that occur to me include:

  • how I found computer voices for text to speech that are quite personable
  • how audio books are a saviour
  • why I ordered a Kindle book reader (which arrived last week) and why I didn’t buy an iPad
  • the reality of accessibility on a Kindle
  • attention in an age of information anxiety.

I won’t get started on these now, but will actually go and lounge on my couch to actually listen to a story or maybe watch a video. The wise words of Monty Python can be added to the proverbs I mentioned above: always look on the bright side of life (see a clip of this fatuous famous ditty on YouTube).

PS If you see me around Wellington and I walk blithely by, please shout out as I’m not always good at recognising faces.

Under a new blog design

A detail of my new blog theme

When I started thinking about printing some new business cards last September, it also seemed a good time to refresh the design and structure of my blog.

Coming up with business cards proved quite easy. Getting original designs created for me by freelance Wellington graphic designer Luke Kelly, and taking a file to the printers couldn’t have been simpler or more rewarding. Luke’s work has attracted a lot of clucks and gabbles of content since I’ve been handing out my new cards.

Updating my blog has taken a while longer. Mostly this is because I’ve been busy so squeezed testing, tweaking and rewriting around my paid work. It’s also because of planned and unplanned interruptions, including a holiday in December and January, and then, a second big earthquake striking in Christchurch on 22 February 2011.

The quake didn’t affect me directly, but it affected my web designer Michelle Sullivan from Web Matters Ltd. She had no power, water and faced general havoc at her home. Rather than dwelling on the destruction, Michelle borrowed a workspace elsewhere and dived back into things: she was back on board for her clients on 28 February.

Even though I’m reasonably familiar with WordPress plugins, widgets and so on, I needed Michelle’s help with coding page layouts and translating scribbled notes about structure into a working website.

One of my final touches was incorporating something so visitors could get a sense of who I am (for those of you who haven’t met me in person). I opted for a caricature, produced by Nathan at CaricatureKing. My partner Roz laughed loudly when she saw the caricature. “Perhaps it might be good if you join the spy trade and would like to disguise your identity”, she jested. I prodded her back and we had an argument about artistic interpretation.

You’ll find all my existing posts and resources on the blog but with the old clutter gone, and some new ways of staying touch added. As well as standard RSS, you can now be notified of every new update by email, and you can subscribe to an email newsletter I’ll (irregularly) send out. This volume will be slight and quarterly.

I’ve done a fair amount of testing on different browsers, operating systems, etc. A few helpers have reviewed the website too. However, try as I might, I probably haven’t found every gremlin. If the website doesn’t work for you in some way, I’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch using Contact form, or the Feedback button on the right.

With my update blog now live, I’m not short of things to do: like writing new content, monitoring visitor use patterns, trialling new or updated plugins, and more promotion. For now, I’ll pause for a moment to celebrate. A big thanks to everyone who helped with this iteration of my blog. I’m looking forward to many, many blog fueled years under my new theme.

PS You’re really welcome to comment anything I write, tell a friend about my blog, help yourself to resources, suggest an idea for topics I could cover, or get in touch about my services.

Lists – are they letting me down?

An array of notebooks: 5 spiral bound, one each felt covered, Webstock and William Morris print, and one listIt’d be fair to say I like lists. Not necessarily other people’s, such as the 1001 movies to watch before you die prematurely, or all time top 10 songs of 1974.

The lists are my ones. I got to thinking about lists to see if it might help explain why I’m failing to blog as often as I’d like.

My lists come in all shapes, sizes and forms. And I keep trying new ways of keeping lists.

The latest is simple: take a blank piece of paper, rule lines to create 6-8 segments, add reminders of what to do. Normally I have about three projects I’m being paid for in varying stages of completion, then there are proposals, get rich slow schemes my own business ideas to investigate, and then my volunteer webmaster duties. Add stuff, tick it off, repeat daily.

Also on paper, I’ve many lists in the spiral-bound, A-5 notebooks you’ll see me clutching as I go from meeting to meeting. I’m vacillating between marbig’s version with a plastic cover (bad from a greenie point of view) and Esselte’s version, with cardboard cover, which doesn’t last as long. Inside are notes from meetings, interview accounts, lists of links, and of course lists for specific projects.

In yet another book I keep business ideas. Currently I’m using a very chunky spiral bound notebook from Webstock 2009, plus have some spares ready to go (including a gorgeous felt covered Clairefontaine notebook made by VIA Werkstatten gGmbH, a gift from Roz). In my Kiwi diary I keep lists of when bills and invoices are due and other (exciting) financial info.

Hmmm, I’m at about four ways of keeping lists already.

Online I’ve been fairly profligate, trying a few pieces of software or online services before settling on Evernote.

I liked Google Notebook, now discontinued, as it slotted into my iGoogle page. Before that was xPad with it’s neat colour coding of entries. I must have deleted the software at some point, for a very well thought out reason I’m sure. Exactly why alludes me right now.

And of course, I’ve got at my fingertips the beautifully simple Stickies software built into Mac OS, plus a private notes widget installed in the dashboard where I store passwords. 

Evernote is becoming very ingrained in my work habits. Not only for the neat “to-do” checkbox I can add to lists, but also because the desktop software syncs with a web-based tool so I can access my notes, and make them, anywhere. The snippet tool in my browser toolbar means I can store selected text or a whole page from within Firefox. With it’s ease of use, non-demanding feel and bright green branding mean this one is still near and dear after 12 months use.   

Until I started writing this, I wasn’t aware of just quite how dissipated my listmaking mania is. Perhaps this is clue to why blog posts do not runneth over. Perhaps some ideas are lost, or a sign of too much to do?

Amidst all the means and ways of writing lists are about three attempts at keeping track of blog post ideas, plus there are the half constructed fragments. My most active list is stored on Evernote is woebegone. Forlornly, last updated on 18 July, spliced by a mighty interregnum of silence. A list of failed deadlines, and acknowledgments of weeks gone by without a word written.   

This confessional tone is in part about putting the past behind me, and part a public commitment to trying to stick to my goal of blogging weekly. Perhaps the beginning of a new list focusing on learning and inspiring myself to be a more active blogger. Or maybe no list at all – decide on the spot. Set a time and blog, come what may.

I am, of course in good company, as Gregory McNamme writes “On lists and listmaking” for the Britannica blog: “I have yet to master the cardinal rule of effective listmaking—which is to say, keep just one of the things.”

Searching for blogging networks

I’ve struggled with my study this week. After the fortnightly, online #Fo09 meeting I understand why. Blogging networks form spontaneously over time between loosely associated fellow travellers. They’re not necessarily the formal networks I’ve found so easily.

My research took me to formal networks where people are blogging on a single platform. Somebody comes up with a bright idea of attracting bloggers to share their thoughts in one place. Unless the formula is spot-on, there’s a tendency for these types of formal networks to rapidly go stale.

The network I looked at listed over 600 bloggers. Around 15% contributed five or more posts, with a couple of superstars in the hundreds. The vast majority just one. Many of these were old posts. And there was tonnes of competition for your attention, with the same group having a LinkedIn group, Facebook page, etc.

Putting two and two together I suspect there was a conference or promotional push or some sort, people signed up, then…. silence.

If I can I’ll report on a talk with one of the bloggers on a shared platform.

With a new insight gleaned from our meeting I’ve decided to pay more attention to local bloggers talking about the same sorts of topics as me. I’m not sure if I’m joining or forming a blogging network so I guess the best thing to do is get started.

The concept of networking weaving – which Beth Kanter talks about quite often (for starters see “Some Thoughts About Effective Networking Online”), as well as being raised by Sarah (see “Getting our heads around blogging”) – appeals much more than having my very own ‘personal’ network. I see this as much putting in touch, as asking and conversing.   

I have the same sort of worry that Debra Maddock’s raises: “once the connections are started, you just have to keep on the tracks and never get off, otherwise it will be too hard to reconnect”.

No rush…. I guess strong relationships, even virtual ones, take time to form.

Post number 200

I had no idea I’d get this far when I started. But here I am at the 200 blog post marker. I’m not sure if it’s a whoa! or a phew! moment. Either way, I’ll pause. Well for a moment.

In the beginning my goal was to write about my three month sojourn to Melbourne in 2004. I wrote posts about the work I was doing with Infoxchange and Vicnet, plus what I did in my weekends, which tended to involve a lot of cycling.

Since then I’ve some had lean patches (the longest gap was been about six months between posts) and some nice connections with the world. For the last two years I’ve been averaging a post a week.

At times I try to keep up to a rapid writing practice, but don’t always succeed. If I labour over a story it’s is no longer an informal, snappy post which tends to define the medium at it’s best.

At the same time, I use the process of writing as one of gaining insight into what I’m working on. Reflecting on a knotty problem or challenge, then trying to engage others in thinking creatively about how to respond is what I aspire to. Marketing whiz Seth Godin puts it this way:

It doesn’t matter if nobody reads it, what matters is the humility that comes from writing it. What matters is the meta-cognition: the thinking about what you’re going to say; how do you explain yourself to the few employees, or your cat, or whoever is going to look at it; how do you force yourself to describe in just three paragraphs why you did something; how do you respond out loud.
(from a YouTube clip Seth Godin and Tom Peters on blogging)

Allowing time to think about the stuff I write is integral to this blog. Some have gone so far as to grandiosely talk about ‘slow’ blogging, with a manifesto to wave around. I’m not so ardent, but I’m wanting to become more reflective in all aspects of my life including this writing medium. Easier said than done, as my friends will attest.

Whatever the pundits may say about Facebook, twitter and other mediums surplanting blogging (see “The long tail of blogging is dying”), I’m planning to stick around. I’ve got unfinished business – a dozen or more story stubs, people to talk to, DIY multi-media experiments to conduct.

Actually, thinking about it, I’ve only just begun.