8 things I learned from my year-long daily blogging experiment

It’s been a month since my last post and I’m only feeling slightly guilty about it. Having done a full year of daily posts, I feel like I earned a break even though in a way it might have been easier to continue; however, while the experiment got easier with time – predictably, I suppose – writing daily didn’t become a habit that I had to feed. Yes, there was a residual guilty feeling that I should have been blogging – comparable to the feeling I got after finishing my finals at university after a months of revision – but that wasn’t enough to make me carry on. I think, in part, because of my extreme stubbornness: in my mind, because I had set the parameters for the challenge and met my obligations, it would have been an insult to the idea that we have free will if I had carried on. I’m a giant idiot, I know.

Anyway, what did I learn from my stupid resolution/experiment?

  1. While I hate arbitrary targets, forcing myself to write every day gave a certain structure to the day and made me more mindful of what I’d read about or had done. Mindfulness is very trendy at the moment, isn’t it?
  2. Writing every day didn’t increase the quality of my writing, at least not in my view. I know there’s this idea that  writing’s like a muscle that needs to be exercised but sometimes the obligation to write something, anything, meant that any old crap would go up with little quality control.
  3. It’s good to let go of the quality control when you’re a perfectionist. Case in point: despite having had the latest concept for my food blog in my mind for two years now, I still haven’t put anything up because I want the first post to be perfect.
  4. Blogging every day made me tweet less. I’m pretty sure my tweet rate has shot up in the past month. I’m not entirely sure why that should be. I certainly kept reading Twitter because it was a source of ideas for what to blog about but I suppose in an odd way, I was saving up my words and energy for this blog rather than Twitter.
  5. Using song lyrics as blog post titles isn’t a good for SEO. Well, unless you think SEO is about generating as much traffic as possible without any regard to the quality of that traffic. (Ooh, that was a slightly passive-aggressive sentence directed at SEO ‘experts’. Ooh, and now I’ve compounded the passive-aggression by putting quote marks around ‘experts’.)
  6. I deliberately didn’t blog with any regard to SEO – I wasn’t doing this to generate more traffic for the blog – but the fact is my visitor count rose as time went on, so there is some sort of correlation between the amount of content on a site and the number of visits but in my specific case I believe the increased traffic was more along the lines of ‘throw enough crap at the wall and something will stick’ rather than through any considered effort. Obviously in my professional life I care more about quality than quantity but having both is ideal.
  7. If I were to re-do this as an experiment in SEO/content marketing, I’d write about or link to other blogs’ interesting but obscure stuff, hitting a sweet spot between something that’s interesting enough for a relatively sizeable audience that isn’t catered for on many other sites. Until a couple of months ago, the number one post here was George Orwell’s 11 golden rules for making the perfect cup of tea, which was a link post to another site. (In other words, the type of post that is the essence of the original spirit of blogging.)
  8. If I really wanted to chase hits, I would write about something that’s vexing a lot of people but, and here’s the crucial bit, I’d offer some practical advice. By far and away the most popular post on this blog is How to block semalt.com referrer traffic using .htaccess, a post about a company that says it’s an analytics service but is seen by many as a spammer because of the way it works. That post is massively out of character for this blog but since it gives a solution to a problem faced by fellow bloggers, not only is it being seen by people doing searches about the problem company – yes, this time I deliberately wrote the title to be SEO-friendly because I wanted to be helpful and really did want people to find the post – it’s been linked to by lots of people, either on their own blogs or in tweets. The other day, Hacker News linked to it and from getting hundreds of views each day, suddenly several thousand visits got logged. I don’t know all that much about Hacker News but I’m guessing it’s a big deal in certain circles!

By the way, the title of this post is a deliberate parody of listicles’ titles. I’m not about to sell my soul for hits – not on this personal blog anyway.

Blue bread

A's blue bread

 

I’m not sure what prompted the conversation with A that led to the baking of blue bread, but you can see above the result. I suppose I was trying to get her interested in baking bread and somehow the high water content of 24 hour no-knead bread made me think that it would be relatively easy to make coloured bread.

There’s a particular knack with the initial mixing of very wet dough and A is yet to learn it (understandably). This meant the addition of more water than necessary to make sure A could easily get the dry flour to make contact with the dyed water. So much so that I think we ended up with about 97% hydration dough. Even for 24 hour no-knead bread, that’s a heck of a lot and so I’m not surprised the loaf came out shaped more like a cake than a round loaf, since there wasn’t enough ‘hold’ to lift it clear of the sides of the casserole.

The loaf tastes absolutely fine but it’s interesting how its blueness and spongey texture (on account of the very high hydration) makes you expect more of a sweet cake taste, which messes with your taste buds at first.

I think I’ll probably experiment a bit with that and write up the results on the soon-to-be resurrected food blog, seeing as tonight marks the last obligatory blog post of my idiotic 39th birthday resolution to blog each day on here. Reflections on the past 365 days/entries to come tomorrow when I can be bothered, but for now, a massive sense of relief that I’ve made it to the end.

The final weekend of my 30s

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To mark the upcoming Significant Birthday, P arranged for us to have a weekend away in the New Forest. We stayed at a beautiful hotel called The Pig. Looking back at my photos, I’m surprised I didn’t take any of the room we stayed in but it was a lovely example of shabby chic, with wooden floorboards, an enormous bed, a great big painted armoire and a massive bathroom with a huge freestanding bath and double size shower.

We spent Saturday morning at Mottisfont, a National Trust property, and enjoyed the exhibition of Lichfield portraits that was being held there. A surprised me by actively wanting to visit the exhibition and actually looking at the photos properly rather than just rushing around.

We went back to the New Forest after lunch and, on the way back to the hotel, dropped in on Minstead just because we had plenty of time and A had commented that the name, Minstead, was interesting. On the football green in Minstead we came across a few New Forest ponies and pulled over to have a proper look, at which point a few of the ponies came right up to the car for a uncomfortably close look at us. The pony in the picture above stayed with us for a good 10 minutes, I think in the hope that we would have a treat for her. Or perhaps she wanted us to take her home. A, being so familiar with ponies now, took great delight in talking to our new friend and patting her.

After a bit of chillout time in our room at the hotel, we went for a walk in the forest around the hotel. We eschewed the 7.5 mile route suggested, partly because we wouldn’t have made it all the way round before we lost the light but mainly because we thought A would be (rightly) complaining about the length of the walk even before we’d have reached halfway round. As it turns out, the walk we did was still around 4 miles long (we think) and there was hardly any complaint from A until right at the end. Just have puddles, horse poo and being in the middle of nature, away from it all, was enough to keep her engaged and going down the tracks without the need for bribery. I love that about A, how she just loves a puddle to splash in or a hill to run down, despite the attractions of her iPad.

Today we met an old friend and her two children for lunch at the Alice Lisle pub at the south-western edge of the New Forest. The food was great, the kids had fun playing in the pub playground and the adults got to have a good chat. Can’t ask for more than that, really.

And so, after lunch, it was back home. You know what’s great about being home? The fact that it’s great being home. When your home is a place you love coming back to, you know it’s a great one. It doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a break and some time away but when the only feeling you get when you think of home is a happy one, you’re doing pretty well in life.

The biggest bullshit job titles in tech ↬

The Biggest Bullshit Job Titles in Tech:

Last week, the chilling visage of David Shing was thrust upon the world. Equally horrific was his job title—”Digital Prophet.” That’s something you can be for a living? Yes, and there are plenty of other make-believe jobs out there, too.

The people with these jobs, these exercises in techno-lust imagination, are likely overpaid, doing very little, or both.

No ninjas or rockstars in Valleywag’s list. I guess those terms are just reserved for the job ads rather than the job titles.

Cat curling

I’ve not really been following the Wolympics in Sochi all that closely (yeah, I just wrote ‘Wolympics’ – get over it) but I hear the curling was enthralling. Bet it wasn’t as good as this, though.

[via Popbitch]

The Housemartins – Me and the Farmer

This was playing on 6 Music the other day and, in contrast to her behaviour over the past couple of weeks, A didn’t demand to change the music. Encouraged by this, I played a bit more of The Housemartins’ greatest hits compilation, Now That’s What I Call Quite Good, and A actually seemed to enjoy it. For a while I thought I was losing her to the dark (commercial) side but thanks to Paul Heaton and crew, my indie girl’s back!

Half-term daddy day 2

Took A to the cinema today to see ‘Tinkerbell and the Pirate Fairy’. Now, this is the second of the three films A’s watching this half-term, the other two being ‘Mr Peabody and Sherman’ and ‘The Lego Movie’. P took A to see Mr Peabody on Sunday, while my mum will take A to see the Lego movie tomorrow. So you’ll forgive me for feeling I’d rather drawn the short straw in the cinema trip stakes. This feeling was reinforced when I looked around the sold-out screen and saw lots of very young children, making me prepare myself for a very baby-ish experience.

However, I was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable the Tinkerbell and the Pirate Fairy was. It didn’t try to inject any adult humour to keep the parents entertained; it just stuck to being a well told, slickly produced story to keep kids entertained and engaged for its 70-odd minute length. I wouldn’t want to see it again but it didn’t make me think I’d just wasted a couple of hours of my life.

A day at the Southbank Centre

Today I took A to see a couple of shows in the Imagine Children’s Festival at the Southbank Centre.

The first show we saw was ‘Spraoi':

This is a simple story of two boys who arrive at the same place at the same time and don’t understand what they should do.

They do not speak the same language and they do not understand each other’s signals. One of them likes to play by the rules while the other doesn’t have any! They must learn how to communicate with each other so that they can play together.

I didn’t pay enough attention when I booked the tickets and only noticed the show was for ages 3 to 6 after A pointed it out. As it turned out, A was just that tiny bit too old for the show but she seemed to get some sort of enjoyment out of it.

The second show we saw was much more to A’s liking, being somewhat livelier and louder, with music and a good story behind it. ‘That Catherine Bennett Show’ is the story behind the creation of “an audacious alternative pop star [...] who sings songs about things other than love, fame and money… things like friendship, the future and having the power to make a difference.”

It had a great message for kids as well as being entertaining. “This is a show about family activism, children’s rights and believing in your own power to change the world… even at nine. You can do anything if you put your mind to it!” One day A will notice how I’m indoctrinating her into not accepting that girls will be girls and boys will be boys but by then I hope she’ll know that I’m doing it for all the right reasons. Update: much better review of That Catherine Bennett Show at The Guardian.

In between the shows, we hung around the Southbank Centre and took in the atmosphere. There’s plenty of free and paid activities around. What with it being half-term and there being a children’s festival on, I expected there to be a lot of children but I was taken aback at just how many there were. The parked buggies alone took up a fair chunk of floor space.

Anyway, as usual, the Southbank Centre put on a great festival and, apart from the shows we saw, there was plenty of buzz around the place. It was one of those days that made me grateful for being close enough to London to make it easy enough to visit (weather-knackered rail network, notwithstanding).

Oh, the below is just one of a whole chunk of photos in a series I call ‘What happens if you let A have your phone and don’t pay attention’.

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The Universe versus Alex Woods

The one good thing about being bed-ridden is having time to read (provided you’re not so ill you can’t even do that, of course), so last night I finished reading The Universe versus Alex Woods.

I enjoyed reading it and it drew some strong emotions from me – tears as well as laughter – and I’d recommend it as a great light read.

The voice used to narrate the story is of a naive 17 year old. Naive yet wise in a way that naivety can be in simply cutting to the truth. It reminded me a lot of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, the narrator of which was someone with Asperger Syndrome. To a certain extent, I was too aware of the technique rather than being absorbed in the narration but that soon dissipated as the story progressed. The final few chapters don’t hold any great surprises in terms of plot – since the ending is sign-posted from the first chapter – but they’re still gripping and, on reflection, surprisingly deep and multi-layered. I think this is something the author, Gavin Extence, would be pleased to hear, given the heavy influence of Kurt Vonnegut on the storyline. I’m not at all familiar with Kurt Vonnegut’s work but from what I can tell from The Universe versus Alex Woods, there’s a lot of meaning that can be teased out from a seemingly simple story, and I’ll definitely be adding Kurt Vonnegut to the reading list.

For me, one of the measures of the quality of pop music is how much it makes you want to reach back into its influences, to go back to the source, and in making me want to read Kurt Vonnegut, The Universe versus Alex Woods is a great book by that measure of success.

Ugh and argh

Right now, I should be laying out and packing my running gear in preparation for tomorrow’s Brighton half marathon and my beat should be beating ever so slightly faster in anticipation.

Instead, my legs are aching – the same sort of ache I should be feeling after the run, not before it – and my head is pounding and my lungs feel like they’re running at half-capacity.

I’ve been generally healthy this past year, but there’s no way I’m getting over this in time. Bloody awful timing.

On the suspension (and suspension of suspension) of disbelief

A was reading to me at bedtime tonight. The book was one of the Mr Majieka series. In case you don’t know, Mr Majieka is a wizard.

In the chapter A read to me, Mr Majieka is casting all sorts of spells against a witch who, in return, casts horrible spells rather more successfully in his direction. One exchange has the wicked witch, Mrs Worlock, claiming that the phosphorescent fire Mr Majieka had thrown at her was pathetic because ‘they sell that in Tesco’s nowadays’.

At which point, A interrupts herself and says, “No, you can’t. That’s stupid.” I had to point out to her that 1. she was reading a work of fiction and 2. she didn’t seem to have any problems with the idea of the wizard and the witch casting spells yet had issues with the mention of the magic being sold at Tesco.

Fascinating how the mind of a child works.

We hate it when our friends become successful… ↬

The Guardian reports on AA Gill winning Hatchet Job of the Year:

“A cacophony of jangling, misheard and misused words … a sea of Stygian self-justification and stilted self-conscious prose … ” AA Gill’s caustic review of Morrissey’s Autobiography has been named the Hatchet Job of the Year.

Now, I actually enjoyed Morrissey’s autobiography and while I found the writing style rather affected at first, I soon got into the book and enjoyed it not just for the content – (one-sided) insights into Morrissey’s time in The Smiths being the most interesting for me – but for the words Morrissey used to express himself. I’m not one to consider myself a Morrissey fanatic but his autobiography did break down a lot of the prejudices I had about him.

That doesn’t stop me enjoying reading AA Gill’s takedown, though. Not because I like seeing people’s work savaged – I was reluctant to publish bad reviews during my time at Londonist, preferring instead not to write about stuff I didn’t like (Oasis being a notable exception but I’m sure they didn’t care) – but because it’s expertly written. It’s just so much more enjoyable seeing something taken apart like that, compared to a glowing review.

Another purple passage:

All of this takes quite a lot of time due to the amount of curlicues, falderals and bibelots he insists on dragging along as authorial decoration. Instead of adding colour or depth, they simply result in a cacophony of jangling, misheard and misused words. After 100 pages, he’s still at the school gate kicking dead teachers.

dEUS – Instant Street

I’ve had this song as an earworm for over a week now, after Guy Garvey played it on his show on 2 February. There’s a lovely melancholic tone to the melody and vocals. I love a bit of melancholia in my music, as I probably harp on about too much.

I’m not sure why but I’d always assumed dEUS were a heavy metal band so have never really paid them much attention. I love that hearing them on Guy Garvey’s show has brought this beautiful song to my attention. (I’ve actually not had the time to explore their back catalogue so for all I know, I might be right, and ‘Instant Street’ is a weird aberration.)

I’d also assumed that the sudden fade at the end of the song was down to poor production of Guy Garvey’s radio show by the BBC, trying to squeeze in the news at the expense of letting the song come to its natural end, but judging by this video, the song really does fade that suddenly.

Update: just found Instant Street on Spotify. The song ends as I expect it to, with the instrumental coda building to a much more satisfying climax.