Saturday, December 20, 2014


So it's December 20th again, which means this humble blog just turned nine years old, and I guess it's time for a birthday post. I don't always do these. I did one last year, and one in 2010 for birthday no. 5, and one close to birthday no. 3 to mark post no. 700, which for some reason seemed like a big milestone at the time. And then there's year one (when I had a nasty head cold), and of course the original post that got it all going, for good or ill. I thought there were more of these around, but apparently not.

In any case, I suppose it's time for a semi-occasional status update about what this humble blog is and where it's going. You may have noticed there have been a whole lot of posts here this year; in fact the current total for the year is slightly more than the previous two years combined, and it's the most I've done in any single year since this thing began. Couple of reasons for this: First, I've also picked up a couple of new ongoing art subprojects (i.e. things to track down and write about) this year, namely murals and City Repair painted intersections. Not only are they interesting new projects (to me), but it turns out the resulting posts are pretty straightforward to put together. Murals and painted intersections generally don't have a long history to sort through, or lots of trivia to triage. Writing to the point where I feel I've covered the subject properly usually doesn't take more than a few hours or more than 8-10 paragraphs tops. So I've done a lot of those this year.

Second reason is that my whole blog post procoess has become more streamlined and efficient this year. Explaining this is going to involve a peek inside the sausage factory, to give you an idea of how blog posts come about. I occasionally talk about my ginormous TODO list that I'm forever adding things to. For most of this blog's existence, the list was just a text file. Once it grew to a certain size, I broke it down into sections by geography, with list items color coded by subject: Parks were green, waterfalls blue, bridges red (due to the Broadway Bridge), art brown for no particular reason, and a couple of other color codes I've forgotten. There was also a code to indicate how far along an item was: "Need photos", "Have photos, but no post created yet", "Unfinished draft post", and "Draft post, but no photos yet", and a couple of other statuses. Items were removed from the list when a post was published. So that worked ok for a while, and I mostly retained the system when I moved everything to Evernote. I kept running into situations where I'd realize I'd just been two blocks away from an item on the big TODO list, and didn't realize it at the time because the list was unwieldy. So I switched to a Google map, with a placemark for each TODO item, which makes it easy to plan a route and hit six or ten TODO items where otherwise I might have managed one or two.

As for the photos themselves, I still own my DSLR but I don't always like lugging a big camera around, so most posts this year have actually been phone photos. Obviously it's a step down, camerawise, but it's quite a bit more convenient, since Flickr's Android app syncs your photos to your account automagically. There's still a chunk of busywork I have to do by hand: Creating a Flickr photoset with the desired photos; creating a draft blog post; adding an embedded Flickr slideshow to the post, along with any notes I have about the place or thing in question; attaching the location, labels, and maybe embedding a map if it's warranted. Once that's done, I save it as a draft, delete the placemark, and add it to a keeping-track-of-drafts Evernote note. That note is sometimes organized by done-ness, sometimes by subject, sometimes by interesting-ness, depending on what makes sense at the time. Once a post goes live, I take it off the list. For this system to work, it helps a lot if you're ok with arbitrarily large numbers of placemarks and drafts without feeling pressured or like you're falling behind.

It used to be the case that sorting and uploading photos was the big bottleneck. Now it's the actual writing that's the bottleneck, which is probably as it should be. I don't see writing as a chore; it just inherently takes longer than the photo stuff does. Particularly since I try to maintain some quality standards here. It would be the easiest thing in the world to cut corners and just write "dude check this out" with each photoset, if I wanted to go that direction. I like having a near-daily writing exercise, though, and taking shortcuts defeats the point. To give you some idea, I went back and forth for a long time about whether I could post the Lownsdale & Chapman Square posts without digging into the Oregonian newspaper database for the complete history of the two Plaza Blocks. I ended up skipping the history deep-dive because I really wasn't that interested, but it took me a couple of months of dithering to get to that point, and I still feel kind of bad about it. So I'm not going to totally rule out going back and adding it later.

So right now I have eleven drafts and eleven days left in the year, and a goal of zero drafts by New Years. To be honest I'm not sure I'll pull that off, since most of the remaining items are posts I stalled out on months ago. Sometimes I had too much material, other times I couldn't quite bash the material into a coherent shape, and sometimes I just had the tone all wrong and need to rewrite everything. So one post per day is optimistic, and furthermore I'm on vacation the rest of the year and I just might decide I don't want this kind of pressure while I'm on vacation. Though I'd still like to hit the magic 400 mark, at least.

So at whatever point I do hit zero drafts, I get to turn around and repopulate it from the other drafts folder. Oh, I didn't mention that part. Back on October 1st I noticed I had 99 posts in Drafts. That felt like a lot, so that's when I decided to aim for zero drafts by year's end. But I didn't want to stop taking new photos, so I grabbed the unused Drafts folder of a disused sibling of this blog and started filling it up instead. And, um, it's up to about 130 drafts now, mostly art and murals. So I already have a lot of material lined up for next year.

Regarding next year, I have a very short list of goals. A target number of posts is not one of them. I tend to think of this year as an aberration and not a number to match or beat. 200 would be fine. Burning through the drafts I already have and taking the rest of the year off would be weird and out of character, but fine. Anyway, goal number one is to avoid starting posts in a formulaic way. "Here are a few photos of..." has been done to death. "Our next adventure..." and "The next installment in..." are better, but still overused. Second, I should really bring back the DSLR photos sometimes. Photography is part of the fun of this blog, but I've kind of lost focus on that lately, so to speak. Third, use fewer qualifiers, like the "kind of" I just used. Fourth, travel more, so I have more travel photos. I've said before that the prospect of travel photos gets me to travel, but that didn't exactly happen this year, and when I don't have travel photos, I end up tracking down ugly local bridges nobody cares about and writing about those instead, and I did a little too much of that this year. Oh, and fifth, I should probably improve my KML skills. A while ago I wrote a small program to convert GeoRSS (which I get from exporting this blog to a big XML file) into KML for use in Google Earth and whatnot. I ran the program against a recent export and ended up with over 2000 placemarks in the file, which actually made Google Earth crash. I understand there are smarter ways of organizing KML than a flat list of placemarks, and it appears to be time for me to learn more about that.

Anyway, that's the birthday post for this year. This time next year it'll be a full decade of humble blogging, which is kind of frightening. I suppose that's going to require a retrospective over the previous ten years. I feel old and tired already just thinking about writing that post.

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