Less Posts, But More Focused Posts

Research MonkeyHello, I am your Research Monkey, PHD. The boss, due to what he describes as “weather one day away from mandatory ark building” has been under the weather. At least that is his public excuse.

However, since I am the voice inside his head for you, I will tell a different tale. He is having a crisis of sorts, nothing major unless you happen to love this blog. If that is the case then you two may be having a crisis in a second. Hmmm…that was alarming sounding. Allow me to start over.

For five years this blog and few others were his hobby while at school. In fact, he started blogging shortly after starting school. Each blog has been during a time of change in life. Life has changed once again and as usual, especially during this month, my boss is being introspective and looking towards the future. Normally, this passes, but a few days ago he realized he was not posting because he wanted to post, but because he felt he had to post.

That doesn’t work for him. When a hobby becomes work or feels like work, it is time to take a break from the hobby. That is what happened yesterday, he took a break. He spent his time doing whatever he wanted or life demanded. Today, he is working on his projects again. What does this mean?

For now less posts, but more focused posts. He is not going to close the blog or say goodbye, he enjoys writing and sharing to much to do that, but for…well I have no idea how long…he will not post every day unless he wants to. Since he is mentally elsewhere, I thought you would like to know.

 

 

500 Words At A Time: Looking Forward

500 Words has been about my time at school, but as this experiment comes to a close I am looking forward to what is next. What is next?

Move and then…

I have no clue.

Honestly.

I will have a degree.

Barb will have a degree.

Barb has a job offer.

I have a job suggestion.

I’m not at liberty to discuss my job suggestion, but a job has been suggested to me.

I have been a servant to the college experience for five years. If you’ve read 500 Words then you have an understanding of how consuming college has been for the past five years. Yes, I have had time to do things of my own, but I have not had much time that I thought or believe was my own. It’s an interesting mental position to be in-to have time to do you own thing, but not to act upon that because there is something else acting against that knowledge: I knew I had time over the past five years to write what I wanted to write, to play what I wanted to play, to do whatever plans I had in mind…and yet time and time again that thought “There is something I need to be doing” kept me from taking maximum value of that time.

I’m thinking of all of the things I’d like to do once the all consuming college monster is behind me. Mostly writing…

I want to finally move this blog to self-hosting so that I may truly write what I want to write about

I want to finish up several book ideas and partial book projects that have been started over the last five years…

such as 500 Words as a book or two, a cookbook, a revised On Volunteering, and…drum roll…a game idea that has been bouncing around in the background for way too long

Then I think about that list and I think to myself, “That’s it?” As in, after five years the best I can come up with is write…what does that say? It says my degree is a writing degree. It says that I love to write and have been waiting for the time to write.

I ponder that I should do more. Or at least I ponder that I should be doing what people do post college, you know get a job. But what job? Other than the suggested job? That’s the thing or that’s the thing to me…what to do with the next phase of life beyond…

continuing to take care of the household

take care of the children

and so on…

Maybe that is where I am at, looking forward looks a lot like where I was only with something else or many something else’s consuming my time. I wonder how much distance there will be between end of college and whatever for me to…

do what?

Yep, looking forward has become a thing for me and a thing I don’t know what to do with.

500 Words At A Time: Research, First Contact

Lower your shields and surrender your blogs. Resistance is futile.*

And that is how the start of the research process felt. One blog was a sex blog. Yes, a sex blog where I wrote about sex. Not the sex I was having, as in a direct retelling of the sex I was having, but advice and information about sex. In addition, there was some erotica and as befitting a blog of mine, random other posts. The other blog was the beginning of this blog.

There were regular readers on both and regular readers who read both blogs. Thus there was a sense that there would be enough eyes who knew my writing style or were familiar enough with my writing style. The regular readers should be the ones who say something to me, in comment or via email. Side note, back then there were more things to comment about…a lot more.

Without warning, the first voice-to-text post went up. I was positive that someone would post a comment along the lines of “Are you okay? It looks like someone was hitting you with a hammer while you wrote this.” That was how bad the post looked to me. I was like most artists, I could only see the flaws, which I will tell you about later…after the test.

The next day, the second voice-to-text post on the opposite blog. Again, convinced that I was posting shit I obsessively watched the stats and comments for signs of revolt. After all, if I had been posting mid-quality stuff (still my opinion to this day) and suddenly and routinely I am posting gibberish people should a.) comment and b.) after signs of me ignoring their comments flee.

Neither happened. In fact, I picked up some new followers on both blogs. That was the unexpected plus. That nobody commented was worrisome. Someone must have noticed, after all I did on someone else’s blog and I knew I was not getting the best material using Dragon. Yet, not one single comment about the quality of the posts. Comments continued about various topics, but nothing along the lines of “um…what is this?”

The original plan, if I remember correctly, was to alternate voice-to-texts posts on both blogs, using Dragon 12 to make any edits and alterations. The traditionally typed posts I would use whatever software to make edits and alterations. Meaning if I created a voice-to-text post I used Dragon to create the post, edit the post, and if necessary (never happened due to the complicated editing process) alter a post I used Dragon 12. This was supposed to happen for four weeks leaving us enough time to create a survey, get some data, and ready for the presentation ceremony.

As someone wise once said, “no plan survives the first day.” And ours did not either. Two weeks of no comments and mounting frustration with Dragon and worry that I was secretly driving away readers with the posts lead to a radical change, we would close the experiment one week early and for the last week go without edits of any kind on Dragon posts. Let me tell you this made me feel better, because I hate (d) the editing system of Dragon 12.

For three weeks, two blogs were taken over by a process that…well you have to wait for the results and the test. 🙂

* The Star Trek theme continues

500 Words At A Time: As A Teacher, Part 2

Yesterday, you learned how I was a teacher for seven weeks. Today, my thoughts on the experience.

Good or bad first? I like to get the bad out of the way, but since they are so entwined I’ll try to do both at the same time.

Students: You do not have a class without students and you cannot teach if you do not have students. There are students who want to learn and those who don’t. There were several students who actively learned, asked questions, and produced quality material. There were several who tried to be disruptive, not do the work, and generally behave like asshats in public. I have been told that professors should not have favorites, but I was not a professor, and I had my favorites. They received encouragement and extra advice. I never said I was a good teacher.

As a side note, I do not know how this happened but there were several students who looked and dressed nearly the same. Because I am horrible with names I was unable to tell them apart until near the end, when their writing separated them in my head. Just a me thing, but it was something that stood out for future reference.

Me: I knew at the time that I was going in with less than optimal knowledge, due to the summer updates. However, even with that in mind I knew that I have a very particular way of teaching or passing on information, which can be problematic for those people who don’t get me. I ran into that with a few students. I tried to adapt, but seven weeks is not enough time, at least for me, but I ended up with a list of things to work on.

It turned out my lack of information was less of an issue than I had been worried about, but that was only because of my overly ambitious, some would say delusional lesson plan. For seven weeks I was going to teach them EVERYTHING I knew about blogging AND get them so enthused that they would become mega-blogggers; even though I knew that the average lifespan for a blogger is around 6 months.

Ever try to tell a bunch of random people that they have to learn something and while learning have to come up with a topic to regularly write about and come up with a name for the place where they will be writing, on the first day? I did. It did not go well. People blog for many reasons, grades are not one of the reasons and never should be. That would be something I would change, if there was another opportunity, back to pass or fail. Thus, when put on the spot, the students did what anyone would do, freeze up. Tack on a ton of information that did not make a lot of sense at first and you get my class.

There were things, such as the potential benefits of blogging that I should have either not talked about or waiting until the end. If you don’t know how to create a blog or have something to write about what does it matter what you could do? At the time it seemed important. So did showing that blogging can be done anywhere at anytime and not just for class. Again, it seemed important at the time.

So much stuff seemed important and that was it’s own problem as I wanted to teach everything I knew. Unfortunately, as the weeks passed the class I started focusing on individual questions, getting frustrated with the students who were not trying, getting frustrated that students were not trying as hard as I hoped, frustrated as my lesson plan fell apart. I don’t work well with my own frustration.

In the end there were the students who got their grades and there were the students who wrote excellent material and kept blogging for a few months after the class ended. In the end, I think I learned more than they did.

 

500 Words At A Time: As A Teacher, Part 1

For seven weeks I was a college teacher. I was not a professor of any sort. If there was a title, the closest would be technical subject expert. The technical subject, blogging. How did this happen? I have a big mouth and Sandy called me on my big mouth. That’s my story.

The real story is that I signed up for a blogging course. Day one, the professor says to the class, “I haven’t blogged in the last few years.” Maybe this didn’t matter to anyone else in the class, but I had been blogging for a few years and gone through three massive updates; just during my time blogging things had changed enough that I was having a hard time explaining new features. It did not help that the professor and I did not see eye-to-eye on what content was acceptable on a blog; she did not like the rampant profanity. Don’t even get me started on the other content.

That was where this blog came from. To take part in the class, I started this blog without, at that time, any “unacceptable” material. And I hated it. Further, her lessons on blogging ran counter to my experience and the experiences of the blogging community. After one too many butting of heads I marched across the hallway to Sandy’s office and said, “I can do a better job.”

And she said, “Put up or shut up.”

“Seriously.”

And that was how I found myself as the technical subject expert of blogging for seven weeks (1 credit course). However, before that I had some work to do. Between “put up or shut up” and teaching was the summer. Over the summer, I had to create the course, syllabus, and grading scale. I hated making a grading scale.

Over that summer I created Speaking Out on Blogging. There were lessons, advice, suggestions, and once class was in session weekly reminders of work to be done. I was very proud of the work I did and with the assistance of fellow blogger buddies we created a lot of kick ass content that was assisting bloggers who were not ever going to be in the class. Then…ominous drumroll…Wordpress rolled out three updates that annihilated a substantial portion of the technical advice, such as settings and media. Unfortunately there was not enough time for me to learn how to use the new features well enough to write posts for the class. First lesson of teaching, no lesson plan survives contact with rolling updates.

The syllabus turned out to be easier than expected. As I built the teaching blog, putting the syllabus together was easier than expected. Especially when two pages of “don’t plagiarize” and “dont do…” page was cut and pasted into my syllabus from another syllabus (this is where I learned that many professors cut-n-paste a lot of their syllabi). The toughest part was the grading scale.

In my head, blogging is either a do or don’t do it affair. Either a student does the work, which consisted of creating a blog and maintaining that blog for seven weeks OR the student does not do the work. Thus, in my head, this class was going to be a pass or fail event. No shades of gray, no need for them. You did the work or most of the work and passed or you did not and you failed. Given how difficult maintaining a blog is, I went light on the work hoping to encourage most of them to stay on course…more on that in Part 2.

 

YAGging Through The Year

Research MonkeyHello, I am your Research Monkey PHD. The boss is out of the office and in the kitchen preparing a feast for your New Years celebration, which he seems to be determined to eat his way through. While he is out of the office, I am in charge of the office.

This year has been eventful, although it did not start out that way. Business as usual was the mantra at the start of the year. Posts about life-read college (I don’t know what his problem is, I had fun)-games that he and his family played, and the occasional post about food. Ironic that on a week when he has gotten back into the kitchen that he has posted next to nothing abut the food he has been cooking. Allow me to say, he is working on New Year’s sushi. The gist was if the blog is not broken don’t try to fix it; i.e. Business as usual.

Business as usual quickly turned into what we around the office like to call “Yet Another Grand Plan” or YAGP (the P is silent), because every time the boss has a “Grand Plan” someone ends up YAGging on it and did we YAG a lot this year. Do you have any idea the logistics involved with condensing three blogs into one? Yes, I wrote condensing as my boss has no idea what consolidation means.

After the boss tossed the humongous stack of files on my desk with a post-it note that said, “Organize into keep and toss piles,” the YAGging began. The boss has two modes keep and toss. Unfortunately, he is never clean on what the guidelines that separate keep from toss are, which means a lot of my job becomes subjective. As a Research Monkey, subjectivity is not a strong skill. Thus, it came as no surprise when a week after I handed him his keep and toss pile I found the toss pile back on my desk with another post-it note, “Are you sure?”

Of course I am not sure. But I went through the toss pile a second time. And that was when the real YAGging began. In case you are not aware, our office has dry erase boards everywhere. The boss likes to write out, doodle, draw, and publicly plan out his ideas. According to him walking by and seeing what he has in mind is motivation to work on that project. Personally I think he likes drawing on the walls and needs any “plausible” excuse he can find.

This years YAG was a dozy taking up three dry erase boards. Categories everywhere with notations such as

  • Keep?
  • Toss?
  • Organize
  • Edit!?
  • Re-write?
  • Should I post?
  • What can I do with this?
  • Combine?

and many others in different colored dry erase markers. His YAG was to create one space where readers with a variety of interests could find all of his writings. He has this idea that because he can bring people with different interests together in the real world and get them to, and these are his word, “Cross pollinate, you know idea wise” that he could do that on his blog.

Pick your battles, does not only apply to poo flinging and with those words of wisdom, we (the entire blogging division) waited for the boss to tire himself out, saving ourselves from unnecessary conflict with a “man with a plan.” Did he tire out? No, he ran into some hurdles and walls, but our office dry erase boards are as cluttered as ever.

 

Reflecting On The Year In Blogging 2015

Yesterday, I posted my 2014 reflection as a baseline to see how things have progressed or regressed. If I had to describe this year in blogging…my year in blogging in one word, I would choose, consolidation. Throughout the year I was posting on Scrawlings of a Mad Man, Brainstorm Overload, and this one, Speaking Out on Life. At some point, I made up my mind to consolidate all three blogs together to create one place where you could find everything I write/wrote about.

In hindsight, maybe not the best of ideas given the limited options WordPress has for blog organization. Pages are nice, but pages are not the best option when attempting to create a connected, yet separate section on a blog. Witness, if you can, the side bar full of header pages and sub-pages. Ever wonder why I haven’t added more subpages once the consolidation began, as I said I would? I got tired of seeing ever expanding drop down menus that made navigation confusing and off-putting. Then, while using my iPad and friend’s phone I discovered that inspite of having the mobile settings enable, parts of Speaking Out in Life are not visible or accessible. Talk about a kick in the consolidation pants.

However, before I discovered that, I went through the agonizing decision to strip and close down Scrawlings of a Mad Man. In the end, after everything that Scrawlings of a Mad Man had been through-numerous name and content changes (thank you people who can’t read about human sexuality without freaking out and thank you WordPress for supporting them. Yes, still irked by that.)-I decided to put the blog of out its misery. Brainstorm Overload was easier, I hadn’t been posting there regularly and my content was not received as well as the other author’s. I have my thoughts on why and decided to strip that material out and post it here.

Unfortunately, I was staring at a pile of files and work paralysis set in. To much to look at. To much to edit before posting. Slowly, but surely I made files of the files and set on a course of action. Which is how Speaking Out on Life ended up with a new look and a lot of content. The plan was to continue adding more, but the pages and lack of visibility put a stop to that on my end. I started consolidation with a plan and now my plan is on hold.

Then 500 Words came along. A need to put the last five years in some sort of context, to vent, to praise, and mostly to get some sense of closure. A paper that says I graduated is not enough for me. 500 Words, even at 53 posts, has given me and Speaking Out on Life something that neither have had in a while, purpose and direction. Strange to write that out, but since I started Speaking Out on Life, I have written about whatever was on my mind or that I was doing. Given that tended to be a lot of games and cooking-that I write about infrequently-Speaking Out on Life felt as disconnected as I have been feeling here. 500 Words has allowed me to give voice to a lot of the last five years from the obvious to the subtle, such as how being here has impacted our holidays.

Here we are at the end of 2015 and the word started out as consolidation and has ended with purpose. I have purpose for much of what I have been writing and posting. Even Spam has a purpose, which is to amuse me and hopefully you.

Thank you to everyone who visits and reads. I appreciate my readers and strive to provide content that you will enjoy. A special end of the year thank you to Shannon who reads and then tells me all of the editing mistakes I have made (yes, I do fix them). If you notice the mistakes going down, you have her to thank. Have a good and safe New Year.