How do I look, now?

Hopefully, the same. Over the weekend, I migrated my web site from a brand-x hosting service to a DIY server hosted by Amazon Web Services (AWS). After the disappearance of my site last spring, I’ve been looking for an excuse to find it a new home, but didn’t want to spend a lot of time fussing with the details of site management and migration. Turns out (as so many things do), it was much easier than I anticipated. The migration was straightforward and accomplished in just a short time, once I knew what I wanted to do.

AWS offers a dizzying array of configuration options, which can be very intimidating to the weekend webmaster. So, the first problem was to figure out which server options I wanted to use (i.e. pay for). I opted for tiny, which seems to work well enough. Being virtual servers, I can always level-up (or down) if performance becomes an issue. In all fairness, the hardest part was trying to figure out what I really wanted.

Once I got the server running to my satisfaction, Step-by-Step Guide to Migrate Your WordPress Site to a New Host provided the details to migrate the site contents (files and database tables). The hardest part of that process was realizing that I needed to create an .htaccess file on the new server.

Going through a Cloudflare load balancer made switching to the new server as easy as typing in the IP address of the new server. A couple of summers ago, I moved the public IP of my site to Cloudflare to take advantage of their SSL support. That gave my site its padlock (finally) and a bunch of other features–like the presto-chango IP address. No DNS records involved at all. Best of all, if I messed something up, I just type in the old server’s IP until I get things sorted out.

So, this is my first post of the new year (2020…and I’m still upset that don’t have a flying car that I was promised in the 1960s views of the 21st century). And, my first post on the site’s new server.

Happy and prosperous new year!

What’s with the radio silence?

Tropical beach with sunny sky and plapapas
Summer in paradise

I’m finally catching up with myself after an action-packed summer. I’d intended to share much of my summer activities through my blog because, well, it was action packed. However, one of this summer’s actions was the disappearance of my website (more on that later). So, as my site updates its version of WordPress, I thought I’d start catching things  up.

TL;DR

In a nutshell, my wife and I went to Honduras for the summer to finish the research on the piClinic Console I’d started a few years ago. Thanks to a Fulbright Scholars Grant, we were able to travel to Honduras for the past two summers to see if I could disrupt healthcare information systems technology in rural clinics.

Short answer, yes.

Of course, many other things happened as well. I’m not sure how many of those adventures will fit in here, but these are some of the things I’ve done since my last (currently published) blog post.

  • Spoke at the API the Docs conference in Chicago in April.
  • Read a few good books:
    • Ruined by Design: How Designers Destroyed the World and What We Can Do to Fix It by Mike Monteiro
    • Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More by Mark Graban & Donald J. Wheeler
    • Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz
  • Wrote some thoughts about them in my blog.
  • Woke up to find this site had disappeared.
    • Got chewed out by my hosting company for not reading the various email they claimed to have sent (but that never arrived).
    • Spent the next two weeks on Skype and my slow Internet connection dealing with the aforementioned hosting company trying to find my site.
    • Learned they migrated my site using a backup from two months earlier (sending my last two months of posts into the bitbucket).
  • Hosted 10 undergraduates on a Mercer On Mission trip to Honduras, in which they conducted research on the piClinic Console and got a taste of Caribbean culture on the Honduran island of Roatan.
  • Spent three weeks on the Honduran mainland during some political demonstrations.
  • Learned how to SCUBA dive.
  • Attended SIGNAL 2019.

So here I am; doing my best to get caught up.

Google Analytics just makes me sad

In my last post, I talk about how Google Analytics isn’t very helpful in providing meaningful data about technical or help content. It can’t answer questions like: Did it help the reader? Did they find it interesting? Could they accomplish their task/goal thanks to my content? What do readers really want? You know, simple questions like those.

While a little disappointing, that’s not what makes me sad.

What’s sad is that the charts on the dashboard have all the makings of dysfunctional communication. For example, the dashboard seems to tell me, “You’re not retaining readers over time.” But, it can’t, or it won’t, tell you why.

Awww, come on, gimme a hint?!

Continue reading “Google Analytics just makes me sad”

Catching up

New WordPress update, new WordPress theme, and look…a new blog post!

Shortly after the last post, my wife and I began the process of moving from the Pacific Northwest to Middle Georgia so I could start working as an Assistant Professor of Technical Communication in the Mercer University School of Engineering. I’m now halfway into my second semester and having a great time.

Lots of things going on and lots to catch up. For now, I’m just blowing the dust off the blog to get back into a more frequent posting rhythm.

 

 

Long or short (posts)?

As one of my blog goals, I limited each post to no more than 500 words. My intention was to make them easy to read and write. They seemed like reasonable goals at the time. Since then, however, I’ve read some posts that suggest this might be counter productive. Some of the advantages of long form posts I gleaned from what I read (cited below) include:

  • Long form posts rank higher in search results
  • Long form posts are shared more often
  • Long form posts are seen as more professional

Continue reading “Long or short (posts)?”

Looking back at 2015

Blog Posts - 2015

It’s hard to believe: a) it’s 2016 (and still, no flying cars…), and b) it’s been over three weeks since my last post. I don’t have much to say about flying cars (except that it’s probably better that we don’t have them, yet), but it’s a good time to reflect on my first year of blogging.

Looking back

In my vision statement, I set a few performance goals and the graph shows how I did, last year. Not bad. A few under-performing months, explained (and, perhaps, excused) by the other, higher priority things going on at the time. Finishing my Ph.D. in the first half of the year and, well, I took a break in December.

The table shows the statistical summary of my blogging performance for last year. While I had some ups and downs, I averaged more than 5 posts per month. I managed to keep the posts under 500 words, except for the first one of the year–before I set that word count as a goal.

Posts/Month Words/Post
Average 5.4 369.7
Max 11 510
Min 2 78
Std. Dev. 2.98 126.05

Not shown in the stats is the time it took to write each post–about an hour each. I know that because most of them were written as I rode the train to or from the office (usually to) and that ride is 55 minutes.

Also not shown in the stats is the “start to finish” ratio, or, what the cutting-room floor looks like. According to WordPress, I started 79 blog posts, last year, and published 66 for a completion ratio of 84%.  I don’t know if that’s good or bad–or if published/started is even the right metric. Looking back at some of those unpublished posts, I think the right way to look at that number is that I published 100% of the posts worth publishing.

Looking forward

I think, for the time being, I’ll stick with the goals I set last year. The 500 word/post goal was a good goal to enforce sticking to the point and keep the work manageable, but it also limits their value and utility. I’ll be pondering that goal to see about how to create more valuable content while not making the posts to onerous to produce (or read).

So, welcome 2016 and all that it will bring and (belated) Happy New Year.

Quorans like my hangar flying

quora_ga_mvI made it to the top-10 most viewed in General Aviation, this week.

While, like the most viewed writer in technical writing notice I got a few months ago, this wasn’t an intentional goal, but I think these notices represent what I like to talk and write about. It’s encouraging to know that they are also what people like to read.

For those who aren’t familiar:

  • Quoran is the term for someone who participates in Quora. I’m not sure if you have to submit content or if just reading it qualifies you for the label.
  • Hangar flying is the term for talking about flying, whether you’re doing so in an actual aircraft hangar or not.

Projects that go as planned make for boring stories

My projects are rarely as exciting as this so, where's the story?
My projects are rarely as exciting as this so, where’s the story?

I was pondering my last reflection, this blog, and my, still imaginary, portfolio and found a recurring theme: they lack is a compelling story. I thought about the elements of a good story arc and words like struggle, challenge, and conflict and resolution came to mind.

But, what happens when things go according to plan? A worthy accomplishment, but a boring story.

Consider:

We started our trip in spite of the questionable weather forecast, but we were determined to arrive at our destination in time for my mother’s birthday celebration.  The weather turned out to be worse that expected and going over the pass, our car slid into a ditch–reminding me that I should have replaced the worn tires sooner. Unable to get a cell phone signal, we shivered on the side of the road as we waited for a passing motorist to stop and help us out. Finally, a helpful soul gave us a ride to the next town where we were able to get a hot cup of coffee and hire a tow truck. As luck would have it, our good Samaritan was going to the same town as my mother’s party and gave us a lift. We arrived just in time to wish her a happy birthday and share in the cake.

Compared to:

We saw that the weather looked bad going over the pass, so we put the snow tires on the car before we left for my mother’s birthday party. The weather turned out to be worse than forecast going over the pass so traffic was slow. The cars in the ditch alongside the road and their attendant tow trucks didn’t help. But, slow and steady wins the race. We got to the party a bit later than we’d hoped, but with plenty of time to meet some long-lost relatives and to sing “Happy Birthday!”

I about fell asleep writing the 2nd version. Beyond a beginning, middle, and an end, it had none of the elements of a good story. No conflict. No drama. No tension.

Just predictable results.

As I reflected on the adapter box, I really couldn’t find much drama to add to the reflection. The most tense moment that occurred during the project was when I was afraid I might damage the case. As a result, I took precautions like measure carefully, tape over the box to protect the finish, and…

…wait for it…

I didn’t damage it. It all worked out fine.

Zzzzzzzzzz.

Which leaves me struggling between looking for stories like this flying story I posted in Quora, which have punctuated my life, and describing projects I’ve worked on–most of which are like the second story example above.

I suppose if I was a better writer, I could make the second version sound a little more compelling…

Maybe that’s the hidden opportunity in all this? Something to work on.

I’m a most-viewed writer

MostViewedWritersTechnicalWritingHead
It was fun to see this in my Quora feed, this morning. The stats, however, show my fame might be fleeting with #11 nipping at my heels. But, for the time being, I’ll enjoy my moment in the spotlight. Gaining notoriety wasn’t a particular goal of mine, but I might as well enjoy it and it gives me the opportunity to ponder a few things before I dive into the rest of my weekend chores (ponder spelled: p-r-o-c-r-a-s-t-i-n-a-t-e).

Not many technical writers answer in Quora

This is a shame. To be more precise, the numbers show that not many technical writers answer Quora in the technical writing topics. It does show that almost 8,000 are following it, but I guess I was expecting it to be more popular, given the high quality of discourse between people in such a broad demographic. Even the topics by the most-viewed writer in Quora’s technical writing topics have had only 1,299 views in the past month. I suppose it could be because there are other forums that narrowcast to technical writers–LinkedIn’s professional writer forums are at least 2-3 times more subscribed, for example.

Why Quora?

I like Quora for its variety of topics, variety of contributors, and how they all get along. I like Medium, for many of the same reasons. Even as a pastime, I don’t mind answering the occasional technical writing (a.k.a. work) question, but I just don’t see them that often. A quick review shows that I’ve answered 18 technical-writing posts in the past three years. Statistically, I seem to have more fun (or, perhaps, just more to say) about flying and aviation, in which I’ve written as many answers in the past six months. In fact, my most read post is about an in-flight emergency I had while flying with a friend.

If it takes an in-flight emergency, or something with that level of drama, to make a popular post, it doesn’t seem fair to compare flying to technical writing. Honestly, flying lends itself to those types of stories much more than technical writing does. In all my professional experience, I can’t recall one life-or-death experience as a technical writer, which isn’t a complaint, by the way.

Anyway, check out my posts in Technical Writing—for the content, of course, not just to put some breathing room between #11 and me.