The State of the Place

As you’ve probably noticed, I’m now into my fourth week of updating at least once daily. Yeah I know, I’m as astonished as you are! I’m not sure where this flurry of blogging came from – maybe I just needed to recharge my batteries for a while. I’d certainly bottomed out during the first three months of this year.

I don’t know how long I’ll keep it up. I’ll surely miss a day sometime in the next month, perhaps when I have a really busy day at work and gaming or a baseball game or something scheduled at night. Who knows?

I’ve been getting a very small uptick of visitors during the flurry of activity. I’m not sure whether it’s significant (i.e., actual new readers) or just happens to coincide with more people happening to come in via search engines. My guess is probably the latter.

I know that FP will likely never be a popular blog. When I started journalling blogs were still called “journals”, and they were mostly chronicles of the authors’ lives. In the early 2000s they started getting more specialized, and it’s pretty hard to write a popular general-interest journal these days. But every time I think about trying to narrow my focus, I think, “Well, I don’t want to write about just comic books, or just science fiction, or just music.” And I know I don’t write often enough to keep a multiple blogs going with enough content for each one, so splitting up into several blogs won’t work for me. I also want to write about my personal life from time to time, since it’s often handy to go back and see what I was doing around thus-and-such a date, or when I last visited thus-and-such a place.

It’s slightly vexing to me that I haven’t gotten at least a little more traffic from my comic book entries, which I’ve been writing weekly since I started this site. Of course, that might be because they suck. :/ (I do get a fair amount of search engine traffic from people who find the cover images in my reviews.) That’s dissuaded me somewhat from following my original plan of also doing occasional music reviews here – particular because I find it very difficult to write meaningful music reviews – although I’ve been thinking about dusting off that plan in the near future.

Anyway. I’ve also gone back and added tags to all my old entries, which I find kind of nifty (tags for an entry are listed below the title, on the line after the categories). I might add a tag cloud to the sidebar, too; I haven’t decided.

My next medium-term plan is to come up with a new visual look for the site, as this one is wearing a little old. I might go with a more minimalist style, although I do like having some color around here.

Anyway, as always I mainly write here for myself, because writing entertains me and helps me organize my thoughts, and as I said it’s nice to have a record of these things. But it’s nice to have readers, too. My blog isn’t going to be all things to all people, but I do like to connect every now and then with someone new who shares some of my admittedly-peculiar tastes. Doing so has resulted in some of my most rewarding experiences on the net.

Welcome to WordPress 2.5

I upgraded FP to WordPress 2.5 tonight. I’d been thinking about doing it for a few days, but I was moved to act when I read that Technorati has decided to stop indexing blogs using WP 2.3.2 and earlier. Now, I don’t really care about whether Technorati is indexing my journal, but I figure Technorati at least has their act together enough to know whether the security hole in 2.3.2 is serious. Not conclusive evidence, but enough to make me make the jump.

It’s going to take me a little while to get used to the new admin interface. It’s shiny and flashy, but of course all the pieces have been moved around a bit.

At least the plugins I’m using all seem to work. Indeed, Fold Category List has a new version which works with the WP 2.3 and later database format.

Anyway, it seems to have gone smoothly. Let me know if anything seems screwy. Hopefully this won’t make any difference to you at all!

Blog Maintenance

I’m upgrading FP to WordPress 2.3.1 from 2.2.1, which seems to have broken the category list in the left sidebar. Hopefully I can get it fixed up fairly soon. I also upgraded a bunch of the plugins. Everything else seems to be working properly as best I can tell. Let me know if you notice anything else that seems broken and I’ll take a look.

I’ll also probably move off the Atom 1.0 for WordPress plugin sometime soon, which means the feed might get spammed with some extra posts at some point (especially if you’re reading it through the LiveJournal syndication feed, since LJ seems to be remarkably stupid at figuring out that a post is just one it’s already syndicated with some minor edits). Hopefully it won’t be too bad, though.

Fun fun.

R.I.P. Anita Rowland

Sad news: Anita Rowland passed away today, after a long fight with cancer.

Anita started her journal a few months before I started mine, and we read each other and exchanged e-mails from time to time for several years. She was part of the second wave of web journals, like I was. We met at a few conventions, and though I didn’t know her well, I always think of her as friendly and smiling and helpful.

I hadn’t heard she’d been this sick, though arguably I hadn’t been paying attention. She hadn’t updated her journal in quite a while; I guess she’d migrated over to Twitter which isn’t my thing – her last post there was on December 1.

Lots of people who knew her better than I did thought she was terrific, and I know they thought so even before reading today’s memorial comments. I’m sorry she’s gone.

John Scalzi Visits the Creation Museum

If you’re not a regular reader of John Scalzi’s blog, nip over there to read his hilarious report about visiting the Creation Museum:

  1. Start with the photographic tour on Flikr.
  2. Then read the accompanying essay, which features liberal use of the word “horseshit”.

It’s well worth the time to read through it all, especially the photo set.

(For more hilarity, visit the Creation Museum’s web site, too.)

Then you can enter Scalzi’s LOLCreashun contest.

In related news, the long-running PBS science program Nova last night ran an episode about the 2005 trial involving the Dover, PA school board which rejected Intelligent Design’s claims to be a rational alternative to evolution. I unfortunately missed the episode (hopefully I can catch it some other time), but Ars Technica has some additional info about the Dover trial’s impact on the ID movement and what the ID people are up to these days.

It’s too bad we sometimes have to take these people seriously in order to refute their silliness. It’s much more fun to just mock them like Scalzi does. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to decisively and finally win a battle against what amounts to rampant (if not willful) ignorance.

The Journey is the Reward

I think you need to be fundamentally egotistical in some way to keep an on-line journal or blog. And I mean keep it; anyone can start a journal – LiveJournal is littered with transient and abandoned journals – but actually sticking with it for more than a few entries takes commitment, and commitment takes both a confidence that what you have to say is worth saying.

I’ve been doing this for a long time now, and I know I’m not the most popular blogger around. I think in my salad days I got about 120 hits a day. Lots of bloggers get that many hits in an hour, or heck, that many comments per day. Most of my traffic is probably people surfing in from search engines.

But that’s okay, because it’s been worth it.

A lot of what’s made it worthwhile has been the people I’ve met or corresponded with along the way, some of whom have become friends or provided some helpful suggestions or conversation. I made several good friends in a similar way back in my days of contributing to APAs, and journalling has been similar.

Here are a few people who have helped enrich my life through contact because of my journal:

  • As I’ve mentioned before, C.J. Silverio was my inspiration for starting this journal. We’d encountered each other on-line back in our Usenet days, and we started corresponding more often after I started my journal.

    I still remember in the fall of 1997 we each bought the computer game Riven and spent most of our waking, non-working hours playing it, and exchanging e-mails about our progress. At that time Ceej had a webcam in her home office where I would watcher her playing the game (at a rate of one frame every 5 minutes). I had this very oblique view of her screen, and I’d check her progress and try to figure out where she was. “Where is she? Is she ahead of me? Is she behind me? Have I been there already? What’s she doing?” We ended up finishing at almost exactly the same time. It was a lot of fun.

    When I moved to California, I became friends with her and her husband David. My first two years here we spent a lot of time going to baseball games together, we went through a phase of playing Starcraft on her home network, and even played some Magic. Ceej also provided me with hosting space on and later when I moved out here, and my primary e-mail is still there.

    We don’t see as much of each other these days, but we still keep in touch. I phoned her when Barry Bonds hit his 756th home run, for instance.

  • Two other friends I’ve spent a lot of time with since moving out here are Lucy Huntzinger and Trish. I discovered Trish’s journal back in the day because she was friends with another journaller I read at the time, and then we met in person when I moved out here. Lucy I had connections to through both the journalling community and science fiction fandom. I’ve been to the Exploratorium and the Aquarium with Trish, and the zoo with Lucy, as well as many parties that Lucy has hosted at her house. I still see Lucy from time to time, and Trish a little less often since she moved out of the area. They both helped a lot in orienting me to the area when I moved out here.

    If I recall correctly, I think I introduced Lucy and Trish to each other, and they’ve been close friends ever since. I think they refer to each of themselves as the other’s evil twin.
  • I’ve dated two different women I met through my journal. Adrienne was a woman who had just moved to the area and worked near where I lived. She found my journal and wrote to ask me a question, and we ended up corresponding and then dating for a few weeks. I don’t think I was in a good place for a relationship at the time, and made it more stressful than it needed to be, which was a bad thing considering our lives were both pretty stressful at the time anyway. We haven’t kept in touch since then, but I still remember her fondly.

    And then, Monique was a journaller who had moved to the Bay Area not long after I did. We met at one of Lucy’s parties, and dated for a few weeks. We had a fun time, but I don’t think we were well-matched for a relationship, plus we lived 50 miles apart which was a difficult obstacle to overcome. We still keep in contact occasionally, and read each others’ journals. These days she mainly writes at Big Fat Deal.

    And if you’re wondering, no, Debbi and I didn’t meet through my journal. We met through the mailing list for our 15-year high school reunion (which never happened!).

  • I’ve had two correspondents during the life of my journal with people who simply discovered my journal and found that we had a lot in common. The first was a fellow named Earl Edwards, who I mainly remember because he recommended several jazz artists to me back when I was getting into jazz music in 1998. In particular he recommended Joshua Redman, who’s one of my favorite modern saxophonists. I haven’t heard from Earl in several years (and we’ve never met), and I’m not sure what happened to him.
  • The other guy in this bucket is my friend J.D. Roth. I actually still have the first e-mail he sent me, from September 1998, which concerned science fiction, weight loss, and my justifications for how I decided to buy certain things. J.D. and I have a lot of overlapping interests, and having now met him twice during trips to Portland, I’m sure we could spend a lot of time nattering away if we lived closer together. J.D.’s been keeping a blog since (at least) 2001, and has ended up being a far more successful blogger than me tanks to his popular site Get Rich Slowly.
  • Looking through my archives, I come across the name of several other people I’ve corresponded with over the years: Rebekah Robertson, a lady from the D.C. area who found my journal back in the day and later started one of her own. Dorothy Rothschild, the pseudonym for a woman who kept a journal on for several years and whom I met when I was in the midwest. Jan Yarnot, another journaller I corresponded with from time to time. Anita Rowland, who’s been journalling maybe longer than I have, and who’s another science fiction fan. Staffan Kjell, an Apple user in Europe who’s been reading my journal for years.
  • Last but not least, there are the old-time journallers who are still plugging away.

    Diane Patterson has been journalling longer than I have, having marked her 10-year anniversary last year. She used to keep a list of journals older than 1 year, before the advent of things like Blogger and LiveJournal resulted in blogging being too popular to keep such a list. I still have a copy of the last version archived on my machine, which is handy to see who else is still out there. Diane was one of the most prolific and popular journallers back in the day, and one who seemed especially tuned into the rest of the community. Somehow we’ve never actually met.

    And there’s John Scalzi, one of the most popular journallers whom I’d heard of for quite a while, but hadn’t started following until we met at Journalcon 2002 when we were the only two people in the dinner contingent who decided to walk – rather than cab – back to the hotel. He’s a hilariously entertaining smartass who’s also now a published science fiction novelist.

Of course many of my in-person friends and family members read my journal too, but these are all folks that I probably would never have met if I hadn’t been keeping my journal. Ceej and Lucy I might have met through other means, but certainly journalling has had a positive impact on our friendships.

Since journalling is a “pull” activity (a reader has to decide to come to your site and read it, you don’t “push” it out to a group of recipients) you often have no idea who’s reading your journal, and a new reader – a new friend – can appear at any time and without you expecting it. But it’s one really big reason I’m glad I’ve kept up with this as long as I have.

Jumping Into The Abyss

By 1997 I was on the Web with a home page hosted at my ISP, Fullfeed Madison, in Madison WI. I tinkered with it from time to time, archiving some of my old posts from USENET, and writing the occasional essay. I was never that good in the computer graphics department, so it was (and is) pretty basic in its appearance. On the other hand, ever since I launched it, the front page has had the following quote from C.J. Silverio‘s “Rant On Why The Web Sucks”:

It’s the content

The rest of it is window-dressing. You can make your pages look absolutely fabulous but if they don’t say anything, nobody’s going to care. Don’t give the world another glorified multimedia dot-finger file. Give the world your art, your music, your poetry, your political rants, your short stories, your first grade photos, your shareware and freeware, your archives of hobby stuff, your hints about how to make great tie-dye, your really handy Perl script, your list of the ten best bookstores in the Greater Podunk area. You know something that nobody else knows. You can do something that nobody else can do quite the same way. You’ve made something that the rest of the world has never seen.

Share it. Put it in your web page.

(Sadly, the whole essay is no longer up.)

Ceej was a fellow netizen whom I’d encountered back around 1992 on the talk.bizarre newsgroup (which she frequented and I occasionally poked my head into). For some reason long forgotten, I kept track of her over the ensuring few years, and she had the first web page I really paid attention to, and put in my bookmarks. And then forgot about.

In the summer of 1997, two things happened: First, I decided to check in on her web page again, and found that she’d launched an on-line journal. Second, CJ attended the Clarion West writers workshop. And wrote about it every day, starting here.

And oh my god was it riveting stuff. I read through all her archives, and then read each new entry as it was published. And in pretty short order I started thinking seriously of starting my own journal.

I’ve never had great facility for doing graphic design on a computer. Once upon a time I was a fair artist with pencil and paper, but that’s really a completely different medium. But I had some sort of graphic program that I noodled around with to come up with a color scheme and some simple graphics, and I worked out a simple layout for the entries. It wasn’t much, but it was servicible. And, frankly, most journals of the day weren’t much in the graphic design department (some of them were pretty snazzy, but not many people bring both writing and graphic design skills to the table; it’s sort of like being a pitcher who can also hit).

The other thing I’ve never been much good at is coming up with titles. I have no idea today what else I might have come up with as a name for my journal, but eventually I decided that “Gazing Into The Abyss” was the one to go with. I was never very happy with it (one friend remarked years later that my journal couldn’t have been much less like an abyss), but it could have been worse, I suppose.

Coincidentally, I launched my journal on August 6, 1997, which was the same day Ceej wrapped up her Clarion trip.

I was very self-conscious at first, and I wrote the first week or two without telling anyone about it (or even linking to it from my home page). These were in the days before software like WordPress that would automagically notify Technorati of new posts; you either had to go tell people you had a journal, or you had to submit your page to a search engine (AltaVista was the state of the art at the time – Google hadn’t launched yet) so you’d get indexed. So keeping it quiet was pretty easy.

Eventually I took it “live” and did things like signing up with the Open Pages webring, webrings being the main way to publicize your journal at the time. At some point I added an e-mail notification service too (later supplanted by a home-spun RSS feed).

Obviously I got over that self-conscious feeling. You have to have a certain egotism to write an on-line journal, I think: A belief not so much that other people want to read what you’ve written, but that what you’re writing is worth writing in the first place, entry after entry.

Or maybe it’s enough just to have fun writing it.

The State of the Blogophere, 1997

Raise your hand if you remember what the World Wide Web was like in 1997.

Here’s what I remember, and what I can dig up with a little research. Certainly my memories may be faulty, but this is my best stab at it.

The Web itself – in the form we know it today – was only about 5 years old. (I created a Web page in graduate school, circa 1993 or early 1994. It no longer exists. My current home page dates from 1996.) had been launched only two years earlier! And went public in May of 1997! eBay wouldn’t go public for another year! Netscape had just released Netscape Communicator, and the “browser wars” with Internet Explorer were in full swing.

But in the large I think the Web was much as it is today, only smaller, and with people still figuring out how best to use it. HTML was basically the same, JavaScript was around but a little more primitive, people still wrote Java applets embedded in their Web pages, but pages felt less “live” than they do today with stuff like Ajax in them.

Online diaries had been around since at least 1995. By 1997 there were hundreds of diaries – but only hundreds (my guess is about three hundred), compared to the thousands – maybe millions – around today. There was a webring, Open Pages, which would list any diary that wanted to be included. The community had grown large enough for there to be space for specialized webrings, such as Often or Archipelago, but still small enough to have a community-wide mailing list.

People differed over whether they kept “diaries” or “journals”, but it wasn’t a big deal. The term “weblog” had been coined but not yet popularized, and the term “blog” was still in the future. (To my mind, although “weblog” was originally applied to sites which focused mainly on linking to other sites and commenting on them, the terms “diary”, “journal” and “blog” are interchangeable today. Trying to draw a distinction between them is splitting hairs.)

There was no blogging software. People mostly hand-coded their HTML, and often used server side includes to automate some tasks. Assuming their ISP allowed them to write such things – many did not, due to paranoia about security breaches (mostly couched in terms of protecting the users from themselves). RSS was far in the future; people notified readers of new entries via mailing lists.

(There were surely exceptions to all this, but for most journallers, this was how it was.)

Individuals mostly didn’t worry about who would read their journal, or what they might be revealing to current or future employers or family or friends, or whether what they wrote would be archived forever by someone, somewhere. Indeed, people tended to assume the web was ephemeral: A site would be up today, gone tomorrow (possibly because someone freaked out about something and decided to withdraw from everyone). You learned not to rely on the existence of a web page. This is exactly the opposite of what we know to be true today!

So this was the state of affairs in the summer of 1997 when I discovered Ceej’s journal and soon thereafter started reading a half-dozen other journals, and soon considered publishing my own.

More next time.

Ten Years!

As of today I’ve been keeping an on-line journal (which is the same as what the kids call “blogging”) for ten years!

You can still read my first entry. Heck, all my old archives are still available.

While I’ve had periods or greater and lesser prolificacy, I’ve never actually gone on hiatus (planned or unplanned); I’ve been posting away at least a few times a month for that whole time. (I think my low-water marks were September 2003 and April 2006, each with only 3 entries, hardly enough to qualify for the Often Webring.)

I’ve been blogging since before the term “Weblog” was coined!

Over the next week or two I’ll be posting reminiscences about the whole journalling experience. I hope you’ll find them of interest.

I don’t plan to close up shop anytime soon, and I hope you’ll keep reading. As much as I say I keep journalling because it’s something I want to do, it doesn’t mean as much without readers, and I appreciate everyone who checks in to see what I’ve got to say.

Thanks for reading!

The Creation Museum on Science Talk

Some of you may know that John Scalzi went to the Creation Museum and plans to post about his trip real soon now.

However, Scientific American‘s weekly podcast Science Talk ran an interview in their July 25 episode interviewing Stephen Asma of Columbia College, who also visited the Creation Museum and wrote about it for Skeptic magazine. It’s frightening stuff (albeit predictably frightening for anyone familiar with the religious right), describing how the Creation Museum’s proprietors see modern science as a direct cause of many of the perceived (by them) ills of western culture.

You can listen to the episode in MP3 format.