Investigation: Finding my own voice

At 46 I still struggle to be me online.

I launched my very first blog in 2000 after discoveirng Grant Hutchinson‘s Splorp. It was the first time I had seen the word “blog,” let alone a chronological, vertical arrangement of posts on his life. I loved the idea and made one of my own via Adobe GoLive. Publishing via FTP was a huge pain the ass, but that’s beside the point.

I really liked what Grant was doing, so my first blog was very much like his. Time went by and I began to admire other bloggers like John, Shawn, Patrick, Dave and so on. I wanted to be like those guys so I started mimicking what they were doing (in my defense, a lot of us mimicked John). Then I started working for AOL where the bulk of my job was scaning RSS feeds, finding relavant stories, and essentially re-telling them at TUAW.

Today I’ll sit down and think, “OK, I’m going to write about something. Let’s see…” and then I browse the sites listed above, among others. “Let’s see what people are talking about.”

That’s crazy and tonight I stopped myself and examined “What’s happeing with me? What do I want to write about?” Turns out I didn’t know. So I opened Bear, and wrote the following questions and answers:

What happened today?

Work was a little crazy
I was late for the Scout meeting
Grace had her first day of high school
William cooked himself dinner
I updated Overwatch
I had two meetings at work; one with the CEO, the Clinical Director and the Associate Executive Director; and another meeting with the CEO and the drivers.
I had an evaluation with a potential new assistant for my building
I hoped that I get paid soon because I need some cash

What did I learn today?

I need to pay more attention to dates and times
Vulnerability is important
The only person I can be — online and off — is myself

What tools did I use today?

Bear
MS Outlook
Todoist
Keep

What did I work on today?

Unclutterer articles
Cultivating leads on Fiverr
Boy Scout calendar for the upcoming year
Spending time with Grace following her first day of high school
Laundry
An outline

What’s worth posting/sharing today?

This process is.

And that’s how I got here. My online voice is an ongoing investigation, and this is the first report. See you again soon.

Introducing Fanny Pack Mafia

For over a thousand generations blogs were fun, personal hangouts on the Old Internet. Before niche markets. Before ROI. Before pageviews. Before the dark times.

Last night I found the remains of a blog I was in love with about 13 years ago. It was a lot of fun reading those old posts and remembering how personal, casual and how much like a conversation blogging used to be. There was no niche to fill, quota to make or editorial calendar to prostrate yourself to. It was fun.

I miss that fun. I miss the spontaneity of “I gotta blog this.” So, It decided to be a little proactive about it.

Meet Fanny Pack Mafia. My new personal weblog. It’s about whatever comes into my mind at any point in the day or night. Comments are open. There’s no agenda or posting schedule  There’s no Twitter account or Facebook page. It’s me talking out loud. Take off your shoes and relax. Sit down. Blogging can be fun.

Why “Fanny Pack Mafia?” It was the dumbest thing I could think of.

I am not a journalist

The Loop has pointed out an interesting legal case that’s currently taking place in New Jersey, involving the definitions of “blogger” and “journalist.”

“A New Jersey Superior Court judge recently ordered a blogger to defend her status as a journalist and explain why the state’s shield law applies to her in order to avoid revealing the names of government officials she accused of wrongdoing.”

For me, the answer is simple. I have no training as a journalist. I did not graduate from journalism school. I do not have a degree in journalism, nor have I ever trained among journalists. Therefore, I am a blogger, not a journalist. Done.

How to create a blogger’s newsroom with IFTTT and WordPress

I’ve been searching for an easy way to move stories I want to blog about from my RSS reader to WordPress for a long time. Thanks to recent changes in IFTTT’s WordPress actions, I can now do exactly that with a single keystroke. I’m elated about this, as it’s going to save me a lot of time. If you write about news, re-blog or comment on interesting stories of the day, you’ll like this, too. Here’s how to create a blogger’s “newsroom” with IFTTT and WordPress.

The setup

Before you begin, you’ll need the following pre-requisites:

  1. A WordPress blog
  2. An IFTTT account
  3. Google Reader for RSS

That’s it. Note that you aren’t required to use Google Reader in a browser. In this tutorial, I’m using Reeder for Mac. All you need is an application capable of starring Google Reader items. Here’s how to set it up.

Continue reading →

Using Squarespace

Full disclosure: Squarespace is a sponsor of Home Work, a podcast I co-host.

I’ve been fiddling with Squarespace and am very impressed. Its tools are extremely powerful and thoughtful. There is a learning curve, but I suspect the result will be worth the effort. I’d consider moving this site over, but I worry about the following:

  • I’m not a designer. The thought of even changing a single color on a template terrifies me. So I’d stick with a default template and be unhappy about it.
  • Domain transfer is dark magic to me.

Maybe I can get these things figured out in the meantime. Any thoughts or experiences you’d like to share are welcome. Comments are open.

Building a blogging newsroom

The act of browsing RSS and Twitter for news stories I’d like the write about, identifying the good ones and finally getting them written, into the CMS and published is cumbersome. As a nerd, I know that an elegant, automated system is possible, yet I haven’t found it. But not for lack of trying.

Right now, I’m tossing “postable” stories into Trello. As a system, it’s OK. There’s lots of copy-and-paste to do, plus I’ve got to keep Trello.com open in a tab. The resulting list is tidy and well organized, but I’ve still got to move things to WordPress. I can do better.

I’ve been trying to use ifttt with limited success. I’ve got a recipe that will send any item I star in Google Reader to WordPress. That much is awesome. With Reeder for Mac, all I need to do is press a single key — S — and a post is created in WordPress. I love it. But there’s a problem.

Ifttt publishes the WordPress post. I want it to create a draft without publishing. That way, I can star a bunch of posts and have several drafts waiting for me. I tried creating a new user with Contributor privileges, but that caused the ifttt script to fail. I’m still working on it. Tips welcome.

Trello as a ubiquitous capture tool

Trello is a web-based collaboration tool for teams. It runs in a browser 1 and allows you to create “boards” that hold the tasks, assignments, reference material and so on for a given project. The emphasis is on speed and no-fuss teamwork. Essentially, a board holds several cards. Each card contains one item in the list of information that becomes the support material for a project. I wanted to see if I could use it to capture post ideas for 52 Tiger. I’ve been using it for about a week, but it’s been quite helpful. Here’s my experience so far.

The need for quick capture of ideas and news

I browse RSS and Twitter for topics to write about, apart from my own ideas. Since I work at TUAW during the day, I collect ideas (or “postables”) for reference in the evening when I write for 52 Tiger. Since I work in a browser most of the time, It makes sense to store my potables there, too. Now, I can keep a tab open and use Trello’s extensive keyboard support to add a postable to the list. It only costs me seconds.

Easy reference for later

The iPhone app is kept in sync wirelessly and automatically, so I can jot down ideas as I go about my day, knowing they’ll be there when I return to my desk. Keeping a tab open while I work is easy and something I’ve been doing for years. Plus, you can add so much to a “card,” including a URL, photo and more.

Teams

Trello is really meant to be used by a team but I’m getting a lot out of it solo. In the end I’m pretty happy with it. Trello is a near ubiquitous capture tool and library of post ideas. Shortcuts make it fast and cloud sync lets me stay on top of it. Try it out.

Personal blogs and extended focus

The Beast Within (TBW)1 has written a thoughtful response to my post on the return of personal blogs. Last April, I said:

“Today I see the ‘personality’ blog returning. Consider Daring FireballThe LoopShawn Blanc.net and 512 Pixels, to name a few. You could argue that each is a ‘tech site,’ but that’s not the whole truth. Daring Fireball is John’s voice, personality and interests. He’s as likely to write about the New York Yankees as he is the new iPad. The Loop reflects the interests of Jim, Peter, Shawn and the the other contributors. The same is true of Stephen and Shawn Blanc.”

TBW’s post includes the following:

“The authors I tend to enjoy reading are those who share similar tastes, be that for Apple’s design philosophy, cool gadgets, or good coffee. And identifying such a blogger generates interest in following them on, say, Twitter, or subscribing to a podcast we might otherwise never have checked out. This extended focus means a growing number of my RSS feeds are no longer purely relevant to the ‘Apple’ category, but extend to other categories as well. So even if I’m not in the mood to read just Apple news, there’s still a good reason to check out my Apple feeds.”

I like the idea of a blogger’s podcasts, Tweets, etc. being “extended focus,” or a further look into his/her personality. TBW also disparages blogs that serve as a “cathartic status update” for the author, who uses it to share what seems like every conscious thought s/he has. Those still exist, for sure, though I think people are increasingly moving those types of updates to Facebook and Twitter.

  1. I really wish I knew the author’s name.

RSS isn’t dead

But Twitter is faster. Reeder 3 for iPhone was released today, prompting Chris Herbert to remark, “People must still really care about RSS since Reeder is trending in my timeline.”

RSS certainly isn’t dead. I depend on it heavily for work. But it’s definitely dying. Twitter is significantly faster at disseminating news. I find that following various developers, news outlets, writers and so on on Twitter yields faster access to what they’re sharing than RSS. In fact, many of those folks tweet something new before they add it to a blog. I subscribe to several news feeds and their corresponding Twitter accounts. The latter beats the former at disseminating news the majority of the time.

First!

The race to be the first to post a story online 1 frequently causes problems. For example, this morning I saw a headline on Boy Genius Report (BGR), “New Jersey bans texting while walking“:

“Fort Lee, New Jersey passed a new law earlier this year that fines walkers $85 who do not stop prior to texting. ‘It’s a big distraction,’ Fort Lee Police Chief Thomas Ripoli said. ‘Pedestrians aren’t watching where they are going and they are not aware.'”

BGR linked Huffington Post as the source, so I clicked the link for more of the story. HuffPo’s headline reads, “Texting While Walking Ban: Fort Lee Imposes $85 Fines On Dangerous Texters [CORRECTION].” As soon as I see “correction,” I think, “Uh-oh.” The HuffPo story begins with a link to a story at MSNBC, entitled, “New Jersey town’s police chief: No, we didn’t ban texting while walking.” Oops.

I can forgive HuffPo for this gaffe, as it appears to have been the starting point. Its writers simply got it wrong. But BGR parroted the story without hesitation (as did many others). Plus, as of this writing, BGR hasn’t updated its headline or story.

This happens all the time. Yesterday there was a story going around that Best Buy had just put Apple Macintosh computers on sale. Before we posted it at TUAW, I called Best Buy and was told that the sale has been going on for “over a month.” So yes, the Macs are on sale but no, the price drop isn’t new.

I realize that every tech blogger can’t independently confirm every single story. Still, it took less than five minutes for me to call Best Buy. I’d rather be right than first any day.

  1. Or, more often, regurgitate a story.