Blogging, St. Louis style

On Monday (24 September), the Social Media Club St. Louis (@SMCSTL) hosted a panel of bloggers to discuss, what else, blogging. It has been many years since I first started blogging and the reasons and results of blogging, not to mention the tools, have evolved quite a bit. The panel shared some great insights into what motivates them to blog, and what they get out of blogging.   Continue reading

All this machinery making modern music

To make music these days, musicians need to know just a bit more than how to play their instrument. A guitar player, for example, needs to be able to play the guitar (a given), but also must have an understanding of how the guitar is built, what accessories provide what features, how to mic the amps. Likewise a drummer, bass player, or other band member. Then comes the process of recording music to produce a song and, hopefully, all the work that goes into putting on a live performance. There are a seemingly endless supply of options available to these musicians that must be overwhelming at times.

Kind of like the seemingly endless onslaught of new collaboration tools and ways to communicate with others.

A little over 5 years ago, I wrote the following:

I’ve been messing around with blogs (with varying success) for over 5 years now, have set up and contributed to my fair share of other online sources like wikis and as a commenter to other blogs. But I’ve only recently really understood the value and, yes, appeal of text messaging and the ability to send photos and videos from anywhere on my phone. And, though I’ve recently signed up and started experimenting with Facebook, I’m still not quite sure exactly what to do with it. And don’t get me started with things like Twitter – as much as friends and others praise it, I just don’t get it.

Of course, it has only gotten worse (better?) since then.

List of feed options for the Lifestream plugin
All this, plus a way to add any that aren’t already included

I have spent the better part of the past year or so exploring and trying out new tools, seeing where they add value or don’t. I still don’t use Facebook much, but have found my groove with Twitter. I see the value and potential of Google+ but just can’t quite get into it. On the other hand, I have come to love and rely on Jive in our “behind the firewall” social/business network. I’ve signed up for many of the niche services that have come out: I really like InstagramUntappd is a cool idea, and I don’t get Pinterest (at all). A quick look at the feed selection list for the Lifestream plugin for WordPress gives an idea of what’s out there. I have no idea what most of them are, and this isn’t even all of them! (Lifestream provides a way for you to add “generic” feeds for all those that they’ve missed.)

Speaking of WordPress… Although I haven’t been blogging publicly for a while (16 months or so, yikes!), spending a lot of time writing and making things happen behind the firewall, I have kept up with the evolution of WordPress and the great tools available in the system, not to mention the evolution of its positioning in the market from “just another … blog” to “just another … site”. I’ve read a couple of good WordPress books through my Safari Books Online subscription, and played around a bit under the hood.

Wordcamp St. Louis 2012

And in a couple of weeks I’m attending WordCamp St. Louis 2012 to learn and share even more.

I could say that all this goodness was part of why it has taken me so long to actually get back up and running. (I told @tomcatalini back in April that I was “very close” to a return to blogging, not sure 4 months counts as “very close”.) And though it sounds like an excuse it is, at least partly, true. Part of my absence has been directly related to my trying to figure out what direction I wanted this blog to take, to build on my previous blogs or to try something new. But part has been trying to understand what is possible with regards to how I do it.

A perfect example of this interplay was my discovery of different post formats, along with the Showcase page template in the Twenty Eleven theme, and how I could use it to capture and present both my own extended thoughts on things (an ounce of perception) and a log of my more random thoughts and observations (a pound of obscure).

I don’t need to worry about all those sites and services in the list above that I don’t know about, or know how to use, nor do I need to worry about all the bells and whistles in WordPress. Perhaps they will be of value to me some day, and if so I expect that I will find them if and when I need them. What I care about is what I can do with them. 

Like the musicians I mentioned earlier, my purpose is not to “play an instrument” or to set up a bunch of gear. My purpose is to make music, and all this machinery is just a way to do that.

Now, let’s see what kind of music I can make….

The blog of Samuel Pepys

Much of what we know about the events of history comes from the personal writings – journals, diaries, letters – of the people that lived those events. Reading these diaries is simple enough – assuming they are in a language you can read – but understanding them in their original context can be a bit daunting. That’s why we have historians to help us make sense.

An excellent example comes in the form of the diaries of Samuel Pepys. Written over nearly 10 years beginning on the first day of 1660, Pepys’ diaries give an incredible insight into life and politics in London during this exciting period in history. If, that is, you understand what it is he is talking about.

Enter Phil Gyford and The Diary of Samuel Pepys. In addition to turning the diary into a blog (the first entry was published on 1 Jan 2003), Phil has provided extensive contextual detail about people, places, and events to help readers better understand the significance of individual entries and – perhaps more importantly – be able to follow the story line.

If you are even remotely interested in what was going on in London in the 1660’s, this is one site you don’t want to miss.

It’s hard not to wonder how these diaries might have been different had they been written as a blog, or if he had Twitter to post his thoughts. (I’ve asked this question before, about Benjamin Franklin and Leonardo da Vinci). More interestingly, would we think about our history differently if we were reading of it in blogs and tweets instead of personal – and often private – journals and diaries?

Much of what future historians will know of us will come from our online writings. Will they get an accurate picture of our lives? Are we, and future generations, losing something by having so much out there for everyone to see? Or will future generations have a better understanding of why the world is as it is because of all this openness and discussion?

(photo: painting of Samuel Pepys by John Hayls, 1666)

Social Media + Family

I’ve blogged for many years, shared photos on Flickr and video on YouTube, and more recently joined Twitter and Facebook. Finding the line for any parent is challenging, but as the parent of an autistic son the question of how much – and what – to share about my family in public (the blog, twitter) and even in “private” (facebook) takes on a whole different dimension.

Later this week, Chris Heuer from Social Media Club is bringing their Fall Tour 2010, Social Media + Family, to St. Louis to talk about these questions and more.  To get an idea of how the conversation may go, take a look at Amani’s recap of the Atlanta event. To get ready, St. Louisan Todd Jordan (aka @tojosan), a parent and speaker at this week’s event, has posted his “bio of an online Dad“.

I don’t know how much, if at all, the discussion will go towards families of kids with disabilities, but even if it doesn’t go there at all  I have a feeling it is going to be a great evening of conversation and a great excuse to get out and socialize in person (as if an excuse is ever really needed).

The evolution of a Mind Manager mind map – T&T parent’s guide

To help me plan out the direction and content for the Tramp and Tumble blog over the next couple of months I created a mind map to collect and sort the various topics that I want to discuss there. One of the things that I love about Mind Manager is that it has such a nice looking, and useful, final product that hides all the effort that actually goes into creating the map. After all, the “customer” doesn’t really want to see the sausage being made, do they?

Those who are familiar with mind maps know, though, that creating a good map takes a lot of work; planning, mapping, evaluation, re-arranging, etc. In many ways, this is no different than the process for any good writing: ideas, sketch outline, draft, revise, update outline, update draft, revise, etc.  For those less familiar with the process for mind maps, I thought I’d give a little insight into how the process works for me, at least in this case.

tnt-mind-map-notes

I’ve been accumulating the knowledge that went into this map for several years now, since Ian first started competing in 2005. My first step was to create a list of questions that many parents new to the sport have as they start.

(Side note:  Mind Manager does include a “brainstorming” mode, but I have to admit that for things like this I still prefer to use something a bit more “analog”, in this case my handy-dandy notebook and a set of Sharpie pens.)

The image to the right is a scan of my brainstorming list. I jotted down the main ideas, and sub-topics, as they occurred, going back later to mark them up with some ideas on what would make sense chronologically.

Having this list also gave me some ideas on how I could actually structure the topics in order to provide a somewhat consistent delivery of articles that make sense within a given time period; in this case, a week.

tnt-mind-map-draftThe next step was to convert these topics into a draft map. Again, Mind Manager provides excellent support for taking your brainstorming results and converting those into a draft map; again, I still prefer to do this part with good old pen and paper.

Pulling all of my topics and sub-topics together on this map further helped me find the ideas that should be kept together as part of a “weekly package”. The image on the left is (I’m sure you’ve figured out) my first draft.

From this draft I was able to easily create a map in Mind Manager, using the topics/subtopics in the draft as a guide. Once these were in Mind Manager, it was a simple matter to move the main ideas around to come up with the best organization and chronology. Here’s the final map, as posted on the Tramp and Tumble blog:

If you compare the two, you will see that there are many similarities but also some key differences. And just like any project, there are things from the initial idea that are not present and things in the final product that only showed up when the final draft was prepared.

Now all I have to do is fill in the details.

Cool phrase of the day: Effective Efficiency

In a post earlier today, Jack Vinson reflects on six years of his blog Knowledge Jolt.  Jack was one of the first bloggers I ever followed and was one of the reasons I first started blogging, also nearly six years ago in June 2003.

I’ve had a bit of a blogging-block of late (I blame Twitter), so I thought I’d take the occassion of the upcoming anniversary of my first blog post to revisit my earlier blogs and repost (with maybe a little editing) my favorites in the hopes that this may get the juices flowing again.  It is fitting that this first one, originally posted on 1 Dec 05, was inspired, in part, by Jack.

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Cool phrase of the day: Effective Efficiency

Effective efficiency from Frank Patrick’s Focused Performance Weblog[The Focused Performance Weblog is still up and running, but the article I originally linked to doesn’t seem to be there anymore.  Odd.  -gbm ]

Jack Vinson and Jim McGee presented a session at BlawgThink about how knowledge management and collaboration affect productivity and process, which I like to look at as effectiveness and efficiency. (Now you know why the phrase appeals to me so much.)

BlawgThink attendee Jeffrey Phillips has also written a bit about process, etc in several posts: Sometimes process doesn’t matter and Actively Unhelpful are two that have caught my eye in recent days.

In the old days of the Industrial Age the relationship between efficiency and effectiveness was, for the most part, a linear one: the more efficient you were, the more effective (productive) you were. [It would probably be more accurate to say, “..the more effective you could be.”  -gbm] Even in the information age there are some activities which are, in essence, information assembly lines in which this relationship holds.

True knowledge work (whatever that is), however, seems to me to have an inverse relationship between efficiency and effectiveness. In other words, the more efficient a process the less room there is for the “waste” that is necessary to support innovation.

I don’t believe this is a straight linear relationship, though, nor is it likely a purely exponential relationship. Somewhere along the line, there is a spike that shows the optimum amount of efficiency to achieve maximum effectiveness in a given knowledge activity. (Note that, unlike an assembly line situation where most situations are very similar, true knowledge activities are almost always unique.)

Of course, this all goes back to what exactly we mean by knowledge work. There, I think more than anywhere, the definition of “productivity” and “effectiveness” is truly in the eye of the beholder.

Does your blog’s “personality” reflect your personality?

Recently, Dave Snowden and Jack Vinson have both typealyzed their blogs:  Dave’s is ENTP and Jack’s is INTJ.  Since I’m not sure exactly how Typealyzer works, I wasn’t sure if I’ve got enough content here at this new blog (15 posts so far) to get a type, but figured it was worth a shot.  The verdict:  INTP – The Thinkers.

The logical and analytical type. They are especialy attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.

Interestingly, maybe not surprisingly, this is typically what I get back after taking a personality type indicator test.

Being the curious person that I am, I also checked to see how other blogs I write (or have written) are typed:

No Straight Lines: INTJ – The Scientists
29 Marbles: INTP – The Thinkers
Tramp and Tumble: ISTP – The Mechanics
St. Louis Elite: ESTP – The Doers

The first two are, of course, my personal blogs that have since merged into the current blog, so it is no surprise – at least to me – that they turned out to be what they are.  I write it primarily for myself, so the topics are what interest me and the style is what I’m comfortable with.

The third, The Tramp and Tumble Blog, is a site I maintain to get information out to parents, athletes, and coaches in the sport of Trampoline and Tumbling.  The topics I choose are still somewhat based on what interests me, since I’m a parent of a T&T athlete, but the style of writing is based more on what I think the readers would appreciate than what I would like to see.

The last, the web site for the non-profit that supports St. Louis Elite Trampoline and Tumbling, is primarily targeted at outsiders to the sport of T&T and intended to get them excited about the sport and the team so that they will support the team financially or in some other way.  It’s nice to know that this site comes across as a “Doer – They are especially attuned to people and things around them and often full of energy, talking, joking and engaging in physical out-door activities”.

In general, I agree with Dave that one shouldn’t take these types too seriously and that they shouldn’t be used for “categorising people into little boxes”.  I do, however, think that these types of tools can help individuals gain some personal insight into their ‘natural’ tendencies.  It is obviously possible to overcome these tendencies when the situation demands it, if you simply use it for what it is – another tool in the toolbox.