A fresh inspiration every day

Sketch of Valencia
1778 / Keeping up and warm / Valencia — by Hugo Costa

I follow quite a few blogs, mostly via the excellent Feedly which I moved to after the sad demise of Google Reader. Very few, however, I subscribe to receive via email on a daily basis.

A fresh drawing everyday by Hugo Costa is one exception.

As his blog title suggests, he posts a new sketch every day. Some are black and white, some are colour, all are beautiful.

While I have been unsubscribing to a lot of email newsletters over the last few months, this is one that I look forward to daily. I find his art inspiring. The image above, which he described as being from fish-eye perspective, is one of my favourites.

Check out his blog.

Why didn’t I think of this sooner? Schedule my review posts

Twenty-nine metal CDs
Twenty-nine metal CDs

In June 2012 I replied to a post on a local Freecycle mailing list offering “hundreds of metal CDs”. When I got them home I’d been very kindly given around 195 (give or take a few). I’ve been more or less reviewing one CD a week ever since on my 195 metal CDs blog.

Some weeks are easier than others for finding the time to write a review. For albums that I particularly like I sometimes cheekily listen to it for a further week before scribbling down my thoughts.

I’ve been blogging now for well over ten years, so why has it only just occurred to me to get at least one week ahead of myself and review an album at least a week or two in advance?!

That would clearly take the pressure off. I could write the review whenever I wanted and schedule it for the appropriate Monday. As you can see from this image I plan my reviews well in advance using Trello:

Trello list showing what's coming up

So that’s what I’ve done this afternoon. I had a run of albums by Italian black/gothic metal band Opera IX scheduled for the next few weeks so I’ve just grouped them and reviewed them in chronological order this afternoon.

It will be interesting to see what difference this makes in terms of finding the time to review the albums and how much I enjoy them given that the pressure has been relieved a little.

Workaround to get a /blog site on WordPress multisite

The following words are reserved for use by WordPress functions and cannot be used as blog names: page, comments, blog, files, feed

Last month I said that I would soon be redesigning and re-architecting my website, including this blog. It has now begun!

Losing the subdomains

Something I want to do is standardise the URLs used on the site. Once upon a time I had an idea of using subdomains for all my mini-sites, so

  • www.garethjmsaunders.co.uk
  • blueprint.garethjmsaunders.co.uk
  • mahjong.garethjmsaunders.co.uk
  • psion.garethjmsaunders.co.uk

I got as far as setting up my blog on a subdomain and I changed my mind. (Or got lazy, I can’t remember now.) 11 years later I have now decided to bite the bullet and move from www.garethjmsaunders.co.uk to garethjmsaunders.co.uk/blog. It’s potentially going to involve a lot of work (and a little .htaccess wrangling) but it will be worth it in the long run.

WordPress doesn’t like blog sites

My plan was to create a new sub-site called “blog” but when I set up a WordPress multisite installation on my local machine to test how this would all work I encountered an unexpected problem. When you try to create a new site called “blog” WordPress multisite returns this error message:

The following words are reserved for use by WordPress functions and cannot be used as blog names: page, comments, blog, files, feed

Ah!

Workaround

The workaround I worked out, however, is pretty simple:

  1. On the WordPress multisite default site, create a new page called “Blog”, with the URL of ‘/blog’. (On my localhost test site this has a URL of http://garethjmsaunders.shed/blog/.)
  2. In Settings > Reading set the posts page to be your new “Blog” page.
  3. Now import your blog into this site. (I imported it category by category, one at a time as I have a lot of posts.)

Of course, if you want your blog to use a different theme than the rest of the default site pages you will need to use a multiple theme plugin.

Rediscovering honest blogging

Where I love to sit and listen, and pray and think.
In my study, where I love to sit and listen, and pray and think.

This is a blog post I’ve been trying to find the courage, and the words, to post for quite a few months now. I made a commitment with myself to post it in the first week or this year. Here we are four weeks later… but here it is.

For the last few years I’ve felt bad about not blogging here more often. I’ve missed it, apart from anything else, partly because it helps me to think things through but also because in not writing I feel that I’ve not been honest with either myself or others. Let me explain.

Blogging

I started blogging shortly after I got married in 1999, following our move to Inverness. Although I didn’t call it ‘blogging’ at the time, it was a simple way to let family and friends know what we were up to. I had acquired a domain name (gareth-and-jane-saunders.co.uk) which I still own, had taught myself HTML and I hand-coded every page and news update. It was fun… apart from using FTP over a dial-up connection. When I moved to Edinburgh in 2003 I installed a new piece of software called WordPress which was then at version 0.71. I loved it and I’ve stuck with WordPress ever since; it’s now at version 3.8.1.

For years I blogged about all sorts of things big and small, both serious and fun. I enjoyed the creativity, I enjoyed being silly, I enjoyed having somewhere that I could refer back to: my blog also became a record of how I’d made stuff or fixed stuff, with the benefit that it was also there in the public-domain for other people to find and use.

Writing is thinking

I enjoyed that the writing helped me to think things through. In that sense it was like a journal. An article on A List Apart two weeks ago, called ‘Writing is thinking’, confirmed this for me. In it Sally Kerrigan writes:

I’m asking that you start with thinking. I suspect, if you’re a reader, you’re already a thinker—which means you’re halfway there. Really. Because writing—that first leap into taking your idea and making it a Thing People Read—isn’t really about wording. It’s about thinking.

I enjoy thinking. I enjoying thinking things through and arriving at a conclusion, an opinion. That said, I’ve never really considered that I’m good at sharing my opinion about things, but I guess that I must be if I have written about them. At theological college I always used to joke that I was born to reflect and not shine.

Crisis of confidence

In 2005 I read a blog post by a friend, Kelvin Holdsworth, entitled ‘How to blog’ in which he offers twelve eleven tips (number nine is missing, for some reason) on how to be a good blogger. Tip number three is ‘blogging is performance, not real life’.

I didn’t fully agree with it and it got me worried. Sure, some of my blog posts could be described as ‘performance’: playing the fool, showing off, trying to make my audience laugh. But many other posts were about reminding myself how I had done something (like how to change the node type on a Windows network) or simply sharing with friends and family what was going on at home. I didn’t consider these as a performance: I was trying to be genuine and honest and authentic.

micro-blogging vs traditional blogging?

In November 2006 I joined Facebook, back in the day when you needed a university email address to sign up (go me!). In January 2008 (six years and one day ago, to be exact) I signed up to Twitter, having resisted for about a year. I began micro-blogging.

My updates were more up-to-date and shorter, they were quicker to write, but they also invited more immediate feedback. It was when I saw that my micro-blogging could become a conversation that I really saw the value of social media, and Twitter especially. I hooked my Twitter account into Facebook and so anything posted on one network was immediately echoed in another. It became a quick and easy way to keep in touch, and for the conversation to be more two-way than my blog comments allowed.

Over the next few years my posting to this blog declined. Here are the number of posts by year:

  • 2003 (26 posts) — First installed WordPress (June)
  • 2004 (138)
  • 2005 (415)
  • 2006 (409) — Joined Facebook (Nov)
  • 2007 (423)
  • 2008 (368) — Joined Twitter (Jan); Reuben and Joshua born (Nov)
  • 2009 (35)
  • 2010 (59)
  • 2011 (165) — Isaac born (Jan)
  • 2012 (34)
  • 2013 (48)

It seems that micro-blogging (Facebook and Twitter) in itself didn’t contribute to my reduction in writing longer posts. Which is interesting, at least to me, because I had always tacitly assumed that’s what had caused it.

Factored into this, of course, is the fact that I also got involved with other blogs:

(and more) which meant that my focus was diverted away from this channel exclusively; my blogging habit got a little diluted, you might say, not simply by micro-blogs and social media but also by other ‘full’ blogs.

Parental crisis

Looking back, the biggest factor that stopped me blogging so regularly was (obviously) the birth of my twin boys Reuben and Joshua in November 2008.

Despite having more to say, I had less time, less energy, and less sleep—which was not conducive to thinking things through to any depth beyond the most immediate. (Ah! Those days when it felt like my thoughts were literally falling out of my head!) In 2009 I posted only 35 articles, and I almost doubled that the following year.

But if I’m honest, it wasn’t just the lack of sleep that prevented me from writing. As we clocked-up the boys’ first few months I realised that I was becoming more withdrawn. I certainly felt that I was out of my depth, as I’m sure many first-time dads feel. I had an enormous learning curve, not only with the practicalities of feeding, winding, changing, bathing, and dressing a baby (and two for that matter!), but there was also the learning curve in managing myself and my relationship with Jane under such trying conditions. We were both utterly exhausted and (with hindsight we know now) Jane was descending into post-natal depression. I felt incredibly alone and incredibly vulnerable, more so than at any other time in my life.

I had always prided myself in sharing even the difficult periods of my life with others, whether that be being bullied at school or the death of my father. But somehow throughout 2009 I felt locked in: between a rock and a hard place. I was highly critical of my own perceived failings and I felt too vulnerable to reach out and ask for the help or advice that I really wanted. Except in a few cases, I felt too afraid to post on my blog things like ‘I found X useful today when looking after the boys’ or ‘I don’t know how to do Y’, because when I said such things in the ‘real world’ I felt bombarded by the advice given to me: ‘Oh, you should do this…’, ‘No! Try that…’, ‘This other way worked for me…’.

The worse piece of advice, as well-meaning as it was always offered, was, ‘It does get better.’ I knew that it must. It just never helped me at the time. It never took away the pain of now. Like the man standing on the shore watching another drowning shouting, ‘It does get better once you reach the shore. Or learn to swim’. I wanted someone to throw me a life-ring to help me float for a while, so that I didn’t need to use any more energy treading water, and for them to simply stay beside me for company.

And so I felt locked in, unable to reach out, afraid of not being able to cope with the consequences of baring my soul, admitting my weaknesses, and asking for help. So I wrote nothing… or at least when I did, it was ‘performance’. I shared the cute moments, the proud moments, the funny conversations, the humorous anecdotes. These were the moments that didn’t require me to open myself up to criticism. These were the moments that hid the darker moments: the pain and uncertainty and honesty.

My genuine and authentic self

Chrys Bader wrote a fabulous blog post on 15 December 2013 entitled ‘The end of the Facebook era’ in which he wrote,

Now that social networking has become universal, we’ve become increasingly sensitive to what we share on Facebook. Speaking on a stage in front of a mixed audience of family, friends, and acquaintances makes it hard for most of us to be our genuine and authentic selves. As a result, we tend to see people sharing only their proudest moments in an attempt to portray their best selves. We filter too much, and with that, we lose real human connection.

As your Facebook network becomes saturated, it can feel very public. It puts the focus on managing your image, rather than truly bonding with people.

I realised that is how I felt about my blog. I had lost the real human connection. My posts were increasingly impersonal posts about web technology or videos that I had enjoyed. I had begun to feel that my every move was being watched and judged, and so I posted nothing that revealed any more of the real me than was absolutely necessary.

I included part of that quotation in our Christmas newsletter 2013 before talking about some of the significant but in other ways trivial events of our family life from last year. I prefixed those tales with what was really a challenge to myself: let’s connect!

And so, here I am. This is one of my primary challenges for 2014: to rediscover honest blogging. I want to share more of my genuine and authentic self on my blog this year, and on social media. I want to explore more about what I think—and there’s a lot to think about this year: the referendum on Scottish independence, the economy, the state of the Christian church in today’s society, as well as family life, work, music and a million other things. Maybe this is the year I learn to shine as well as reflect. Let’s connect!

My rubbish photos

myrubbishphotos

Back in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s I had a succession of cameras. And with them a succession of rubbish photos. Now they are appearing on a dedicated blog near you!

Kodak Instamatic 76X

My first camera I got for one of my birthdays while I was at primary school (I think). It was a small Kodak Instamatic 76X that took 126 film cartridges and used disposable flash cubes.

The flash cube snapped into the top of the camera and as you would expect when you pressed the shutter button it also triggered the flash. As you then manually wound the film on to the next picture, by pulling on a lever with your thumb, it also turned the flash cube round to the next bulb.

Once all four bulbs had been used you had to replace the cube. No wonder our planet is in such a mess!

I don’t remember taking many photographs indoors with that camera.

Or outdoors, for that matter.

In fact, I had an unprocessed film from that camera sitting in a box for years until I had it developed. Disappointingly I can’t remember what was on it. Or where the resulting photographs are.

110 film cartridge

I also can’t remember what make my next camera was (probably another Kodak), but by that time I had advanced to one that took smaller 110 film cartridges and had a built-in, automatic flash that couldn’t be replaced. It also probably ate AA batteries.

I remember taking that one to Greece on a school trip.

Come to think of it, it might have been my Mum’s camera.

35mm

From there I graduated to a pair of Fujifilm automatic 35mm cameras. The first I bought in Singapore on the first National Youth Choir of Great Britain world tour in 1992.

The second I bought at the Argos in Victoria, London after my Singaporean bargain was stolen from a Youth Hostel in York, on another NYCGB course.

One of the things I loved most about those cameras was the automatic loading: drop the 35mm film into the back, close the door and press the button. Whirrrrr whirrrrr whirrrr click and it was loaded.

And lots of rubbish photos

It didn’t matter what kind of film you had, however, one thing remained constant and that was whenever you got close to the end of the film you began to get impatient. The camera could have sat around for months, unused, forgotten. But as soon as you used it for something, and noticed that you had only a few frames left you started to get impatient.

And that’s when I would start taking random photographs around the house. I’d kid myself that I was being arty, and experimental and that they would contribute some day to my overall artistic expression, and some day people would marvel at them.

Back in June 2008 I started a new blog: My Rubbish Photos so you — and people like you — could marvel at my artistic expression.

I’ve only just gotten around to updating it again.