The unexamined blog is not worth writing

Blogging is an activity I have been doing for more than a dozen years, under a few different guises: an anonymous personal blog, a pseudonymous group blog, and then another pseudonymous Tumblr which actually provides the basis of this blog.

Almost 8 years later I am now at 500 posts on this blog.

500

Early in 2009 I laid out why I was writing this blog. Looking back, it is interesting to see how things have certainly changed over time. I view this public repository of writing as a sort of changelog of my thinking. And over 8 years, scrolling through my old posts, I can see that it has changed quite a bit.

This blog started out with lots of Apple and tech punditry from Japan. I spent a lot of time talking about things like why Japanese cellphones aren’t that smart and how Japan got emoji on the iPhone. It was a lot of hot takes. Short pieces that were too long for Twitter.

Looking back on that writing in Japan, probably the only real lasting stuff is on parenting. Posts like The Baby Staring Problem are memorable. Even today I share End of paternity leave and a lesson on negative support, in which I share how to better support my wife as a new mother, after finishing 6 months of paternity leave. The Japanese version was published in a feminist newsletter in Japan.

After returning to Canada I still wrote about tech and design, and less about Japan. Around this time I also decided to forgo anonymity and began to use my real name on the net. That was a big turning point. For six years I used pseudonyms. For the last six I have been very open. Maybe too open.

My love affair with tech began to widen beyond interaction and design and into entrepreneurship. Startups became a featured topic, especially after moving to Kelowna and participating in the startup community here. I also started thinking more about thinking, not only about dealing with information overload but also in wider society: how public intellectualism has changed in the internet age, and maybe more importantly, how audiences have changed. After a few years out of graduate school, numbing myself with mindless hot-takes on tech, I started to wake up and think and read more critically again. This was the beginning of another turning point, a new evolution in my thinking.

Working in startups and having my critical faculties engaged I began to see more and more of the problems of tech. In about 2013 I started digging more into techno-optimism. Just a few months later I was in San Francisco and saw the social division first hand. In the beginning of 2014 my faith in tech started to fall down and by late 2014 it was lying down. And then I came to the realization, that it wasn’t “tech” per se, that tech is just a symptom.

2015 is probably the year I completed my conversion from neoliberalism to leftism… a far cry from my years as a center-rightist at Coming Anarchy. Since then I have written more about politics and social issues: journalism, anticonsumerism and environmentalism (downsizing), racism and the immigrant experience. Tech still makes an appearance, especially when I write about privacy and surveillance, but to a much lesser degree.

Having your thoughts on record, even if they are in a private journal, makes for interesting retrospection. You can see how much you have grown and changed over the years. In 2009 I wrote:

My life is ruled by four themes: 1) international politics, 2) Japan, 3) technology and 4) design.

International politics are important, but I focus more on local politics now. I will write more about Japan when I move back someday. I still think about tech, but not as a cheerleader anymore. Design is the only thing on that list that no longer interests me to the same degree.

Things have changed. Eight years later and nearing 40, I am more interested in grassroots community building and living the “examined” life: working to make things better for my family and the people around me. Still, writing this blog and putting my thoughts on “paper” and out in public, is a great way for me to practice being examined — whether by others or by myself. Here is to 500 more.

Site refresh and newsletter launch

The site has been refreshed to a more traditional blog layout that exposes a bit more content. I like the idea of a super-minimalist site that focuses entirely on the writing on the page, but I have nearly 500 posts, many that are still valuable as part of this interconnected web of thinking I call My Blog. Hopefully this new layout will help readers discover that value.

That is the past. What about the future?

There is now a newsletter! Seeing as I only write about twice a month, this is obviously not a destination site. RSS and Twitter probably shouldn’t be relied upon as the sole channels for distribution, so I’ve decided to fall back on trusty old electronic mail and publish a “monthly-ish” newsletter to keep you up to date. Take a look at the first edition and please sign up.

Addendum: Controlling information velocity

Content distribution online is fractured (Facebook notwithstanding). Readers use different channels to limit the flow of information, and control how and when their attention is spent.

Not every update deserves to be a push notification on your phone. And checking every single website every hour of every day for updates is impractical. RSS is great for pulling new information to the reader as it was published, but it seems to be used less and less. Social is a much more casual way of consuming information since you access it when you want, but risk missing things as the stream flows by. Being a social media completionist is hard work! For Twitter I maintain a number of lists, from a small number of accounts that I never want to miss, to a wider net for those long waits at the bank, all the way out to my entire list of Follows.

If you want to get the whole picture, but in a digest form that is not in your face, email newsletters are a great solution. Rather than an urgent notification of something happening now, email newsletters are a gentle reminder that something happened in the recent past. For many types of information, this is a comfortable velocity. It is the convenience of not having little chunks of your attention stripped away daily. I think it is key to the email newsletter resurgence in the past few years.

Publishers would do well to consider what rate their readers would like their content, and offer choices based on “information velocity” rather than merely publishing to every platform at every moment just to be there.

New look, old platform

My first blogging experience was on Xanga. For years I blogged on WordPress for Coming Anarchy. This personal blog started in 2009 on Tumblr before moving it to Octopress a few years ago when I set out to learn Ruby on Rails. These days, I am not as motivated to be dealing with environments, dependencies and generators. It has been getting in the way of producing written pieces.

I set out to find an alternative. I experimented with Ghost, Silvrback, Roon, Scriptogr.am, Postach.io, and even seriously considered Posthaven.

There is something I have noticed about the new generation of blogging platforms. They have taken inspiration from the streams in our lives. By streams, I mean things like Twitter, Facebook’s Newsfeed and the like. Content on these platforms is ephemeral — in the moment. That is a really cool feature, but I don’t think a blog should follow that model.

The new blog platforms do not have satisfactory retrieval systems for older posts. Easy to navigate archives, tag/category clouds, or even embedded search on the site were all missing. I have 5 years worth of 411 posts. Accessibility to the back catalogue is important to me both as a writer and a reader of blogs. When I find a new writer online the first thing I do is check out their categories/tags to see what topics are generally covered. I might do a search for terms related to the post that brought me to the site. None of the new blog platforms have matured to having these features yet. So I decided to choose a mature platform: WordPress.

It offers the most flexibility and convenience, and since I am using the hosted version I think security and traffic will not be a problem. That and one other thing: most of the new blog platforms assume WordPress, and have good migration capabilities. So in a sense, I am future-proofing my content as well.

Most important, the platform will no longer be an obstacle for writing — an activity I am far more passionate about than maintaining dev environments for static site generators.

Conversion to Octopress

It took a while, but I have finally set up a new home for my blog.

I am on a new host (check out the new home page) and am now powered by Octopress. This is the same system that I use for Above Orbit. (I love having everything in delicious Markdown.)

I am still transitioning all my old posts from tumblr. So far I have done 16 posts. Only 330 more to go… Please bear with me as I figure out how to tackle the archives.

Replacing Flickr

Chad on www.flickr.com

Yahoo’s lack of innovation is one thing, but what really drives me bonkers about Flickr is the terrible video support. Maybe 1 in 10 of my video uploads are successful. I take a lot of short vids on my iPhone and even on my 60D I think they should be viewed within context, alongside the still photos that were taken at the same time. Isn’t that the whole point of having video capability on your digital camera? To enhance the still photo viewing experience with sound and motion? The video problem became so frustrating that I have begun the hunt for a Flickr replacement.

My ideal photo/video sharing site would have the following features:

  • upload videos
  • marking of photos as private
  • uploading from iOS devices
  • activity stream (see below)
  • BONUS: custom domain name

I do not use Flickr as a portfolio site. Flickr fills two roles for me:

  1. Photoblogging: Anytime I attend an event, or even see something interesting while walking around, I shoot and post it to Flickr, oftentimes straight from my iPhone. This is why I like Flickr’s default view of all photos in descending order. It is an activity stream, like a blog. I do enough of this that I don’t want to flood my blog with photos.
  2. Private photo sharing for friends and family: I use the heck out of Flickr Guest Passes. They are great because you don’t have to ask someone to join Flickr to view the private photos, plus they get to see the private photos in context alongside the non-private ones. The only negative for using Flickr to share pics privately is that it sucks for downloading photos, something that MobileMe made quite easy.

I used to use MobileMe for private sharing and Flickr for public sharing, but once I discovered Guest Passes I was able to consolidate my photo uploading. Any replacement should not require me to significantly increase the number of steps in my workflow. Furthermore, splitting off my private photo sharing to another service also is a step backward since I want my friends and family to be able to see my public photos as well.

Over the past three weeks I have spent time with SmugMug, Zenfolio, 500px, ZangZing and Google+. Below are my judgements of each.

SmugMug

The 799lbs gorilla in the photo sharing space. More directed towards pros than casual sharers like myself, SM seems to be eating a lot of Flickr’s lunch lately. Uploading video is smooth and their iOS app is serviceable. Using a custom domain is dead easy and SmugMug offers extensive customization. However, it has an overly complex organization scheme (eg. categories > galleries) and is too dependent on albums. This impacts their privacy options as you cannot mark individual photos for friends/family and have to do so at the album level. It also means that there is no general Activity Stream equivalent. I was able to figure out a workaround using their brilliant Smart Albums to simulate an activity stream. If only their Recent Updates module could filter out photos based on keywords, then things would be simpler. Two other complaints I have are the terrible URL schemes and of course the terrible UI. If I am going to use a tool nearly every day, I want to enjoy using it. That said, SmugMug is a strong contender to replace Flickr.

Zenfolio

Zenfolio has been eating a bit of SmugMug’s lunch recently, mostly due to its relative simplicity. It has a much better UI, but still feels like Windows XP. Zenfolio also offers custom domains. Customization isn’t as extensive, but you can get sites to look decent. It just takes some work to make sure your site doesn’t look like it has been hit with the ugly stick. Like SmugMug, Zenfolio is dependent on folder structure. The Collections feature is nice though, and I might be able to leverage that to make a public Activity Stream. Zenfolio does have an iOS app, but I didn’t bother trying it. Zenfolio is definitely less of a pain to setup than SmugMug, but I think it would be too much of a pain on a day to day basis, at least in the way that I want to use it.

500px

The main thing 500px has got going for it is UX. It is beautiful. And the Stories feature combined with Flow allows me to photoblog and flexibly create albums as necessary. However, with no privacy features, video uploads or way to upload from my iPhone, 500px is out of the running. Excellent for a straight portfolio site though.

ZangZing

Here is another site with a beautiful interface. I really enjoy using this product, but once again, no video sharing and no iPhone app make it a non-starter for me. Also, the uploader requires Flash, which is a major #WTF in this day and age.

Google+

I actually thought I might give Google Plus a try. Here is a product that is optimized for sharing to specific individuals, groups, or the public at large. They do have an iOS app, crappy as it is. The Activity Stream functionality is there. Videos are no problem; and it is being hyped as a new community for Flickr refugees and photogs at large. Maybe I am doing it wrong, and need to spend more time with it, but Plus doesn’t seem satisfying. I think the issue is accessibility. Flickr and other services have a gallery or RSS or other ways to passively view photos. Plus is very album centric. And since most of the people I am sharing with are not on Plus,
it seems I am forced to email everyone for each photo I upload. Moreover, like I’ve mentioned above, I don’t really want to flood Google Plus stream with photos. Even though I update my Flickr feed all the time, I don’t expect people to look at it every day. It should be accessible to the period browse though. Google Plus deserves more exploring I think.

And the winner is…

The result is I think overall, indecision. There is no clear winner. Photo sharing is obviously an area with tons of opportunity for innovation judging by all the alternatives out there. If I was of a mind, I would try and tackle this problem myself. Anyone out there want to tackle this problem with me? 😉

After looking at the competition, overall it seems that Flickr satisfies most of my needs. Despite Flickr’s shortcomings, I am already well invested into it. Furthermore, the Flickr Community (something that I have not talked about) still has a ton of inertia. It is not worth abandoning just yet. It has been 4 years since Flickr introduced video. Is my hope that they will fix it futile? Rather than searching for an alternative to jump to, maybe I should put my energy into petitioning Flickr to solve their video problems.

If you have any suggestions or recommendations for photo/video sharing that you think I should look at, please get in touch.

Coming out

My New Year’s resolution for 2011 is to be more public on the web. Thus I am changing all my usernames and identities from to reflect my real name.

I have been thinking about this for some time now, but have held off for two reasons: naming and timing. My full name (Chad Kohalyk) is far too long and difficult to remember, so I wanted a short, easy username. “chadk” is taken on every social network already. A friend advised that I make the “k” silent, but alas “kchad” is also gone. “chado” and various other Japanese permutations of my name are all long gone. A few months ago I thought I would go with “chadko”, but the just a couple of weeks ago that was taken too! This leads me into my next point: timing.

Short usernames, especially ones based on real names, have all basically dried up. I wanted to switch usernames for New Year’s but speed is imperative. Furthermore, with all the holiday traffic I think the announcement would get lost. People who do not follow my every post might not realize who I am (or who I’ve become). So I thought I would make the change during the run up to the holidays.

Years ago, when I first became active on the web, privacy was a concern for my future. I was still a student, and didn’t want to spoil a reputation I didn’t have yet. There were worries about lost job prospects. Nearly a decade later I sort of regret not putting my real name on all the content I have produced over the years. True, anonymity is a good substitute for bravery. I might not have done what I did if I didn’t have that warm, comforting protection. However, over the years I have come to think that the cost to my personal brand is too high. So, starting now, I am going to be braver.

You can find me online at:

Why?

My life is ruled by four themes: 1) international politics, 2) Japan, 3) technology and 4) design. My need for expression of the first theme (and the second in some instances) is met by other forae. For the past few months I have been using Twitter as a forum for the other themes. It has been an enjoyable experience so far. In my busy life 140 characters is the perfect limit for my daily thoughts on life in Japan, technology and design.

However, periodically one has more to say. Using a tweet series is cumbersome and abusive of the Twitter paradigm. I needed somewhere else to post lengthier thoughts and ideas. Yet I didn’t want a full-fledged blog and the posting responsibilities that go with it. Thus, this tumblr is born out of — and completely dependent upon — my Twitter presence.

My expectations for this Tumblr are for it to be erratically updated with an eclectic collection of posts that are sometimes challenging yet always stimulating. People who know me personally and respect my opinion on things tech and design, or enjoy my slanted take on life in Japan, are the most probable potential followers. Yet I hope those that I converse daily with on “teh Twitter” will also stop by, and enjoy sandbaggerone on a lever deeper than a 140 characters.