Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sorry About This But I Have To

I finally received my TIME magazine, and a joke/riddle just occurred to me that's pretty damn corny... yet I'm swelling with pride, so here it comes.

(Probably better spoken aloud than written but what can you do?)

What's black and blue and read all over?

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Results Are In: Blue Ink Defeats Black Ink, 31-24

Last month I shared my unsettling suspicion that, against all traces of good taste and common sense, the majority of the country might prefer black pens to blue pens. In an effort to confirm or disconfirm this suspicion, I encouraged you all to participate in a poll. I wish to offer my deep thanks to you for providing the first real scientific data on this important issue.

The race between Blue and Black proceeded not unlike our recent presidential election. Things stayed neck and neck for the first week, and sometime into the second week Black even managed to eke out a slight lead. But after an ill-advised comment from Black concerning the “fundamentals of the economy” being sound, Blue pulled ahead by a comfortable margin and maintained that lead until polls closed.

My fears, it turned out, were completely unfounded. I apologize for my lack of faith.

This study also produced myriad additional findings that were rather unexpected. A project this comprehensive was bound to produce a few random or arbitrary correlations, but I don't think anyone could have predicted how intricately ink preference seems to be woven into the fabric of the human condition. Below are just some of the associations that emerged.

Those who prefer blue pens:

eat more broccoli
are slightly taller

exercise more often
have more hobbies

more likely to be married
stay married longer

have higher incomes
give more to charity

watch more news programming and less reality television

have read more books in the past year

report a higher quality of life
have a higher life expectancy

Those who prefer blue pens are also more likely:

to live on a cul-de-sac
to own a hybrid
to be CPR-certified
to agree with the statement: "I have a responsibility toward my fellow man.”
to have a graduate degree

Those who prefer black pens:

prefer Blu-Ray to HD
have higher cholesterol
are more overweight
own a greater number of firearms
have lower IQ's
(men) have lower sperm counts
(women) have more irregular cycles
(both women and men) have partners who report lower satisfaction with sex life
raise children who are more violent
consume more natural resources and produce more carbon emissions
kill more puppies

Those who prefer black pens are also more likely:

to have brown eyes
to have or develop brain tumors
to enjoy dog fighting
to be addicted to cocaine, heroin, and PCP

to be incarcerated or on parole
to engage in prostitution or solicit the services of a prostitute
to discriminate against minorities
are more likely to agree with the statement: "No means yes."
are more likely to agree with the statement: “I secretly hate myself.”
to bite their toenails

I'm in the process of applying for federal grant funding to support a study that will attempt to replicate these findings with a larger subject group, and perhaps identify additional correlations. I'll keep you posted.

Coping With Setbacks to Finishing a Book

Some of you may remember my excitement, back around May, at successfully negotiating a part-time schedule at work so that I could invest more hours in the blog and in revising my manuscript.

Unfortunately it has not worked out so well, and now I must resume full-time hours much earlier than planned. In the five months at part-time I did get, I've also not made nearly the amount of progress I'd hoped for. Though my work hours were reduced, the workload actually increased, and I was getting closer and closer to my full-time hours with each passing month. Not knowing when I was going to get out of work on any given day was frustrating and stressful, making what hours I did have for writing less than inspired.

I'm disappointed, a little angry, but also relieved at having made the decision to go back. For a while there I was beating up on myself for progressing so slowly, but now I can see it was not a lack of discipline or willpower on my part, it's that the circumstances were not conducive to a calm and consistent writing schedule.

It was a noble effort, if I do say so myself --- but I guess now was not meant to be my time to be a fiction writer for more than 10 hours per week. Sucks. But what can you do?

I must admit this is completely consistent with my experience up to this point. As I've said even recently, some writers thrive on goal-setting and self-imposed deadlines, but it's just not my bag, baby. So I cringe and repeat my mantra: It has a life of it's own. It will get done in its own time.

But I must also be pragmatic, which unfortunately means cutting hours somewhere. To keep progress on the book steady I think I'll have to reduce my investment in the blog. My goal will now be to post 1-2 times per week, and will probably spend a lot less time promoting (which wasn't yielding much extra attention anyway).

Except today, when I will post twice, because we've got a snowstorm brewing and there's nothing much else to do --- also this post is kind of a downer.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Holiday Poem

For the sake of nostalgia and freeing up time during the holiday crunch, I've decided to recycle this invite to a New Year's Party I co-hosted back in 2006.

I hope it's not too inside to appreciate: My apartment at the time was a lovely salon overlooking Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, Mass. The occupants included me, the hearing impaired writer, plus an actuary undergoing rigorous training, a software engineer with a massive head of hair (that was removed immediately prior to the holidays), a pro football junkie cum construction manager, and Bruce, the inflatable moose (cum lingerie rack).


Twas the night before New Year's, and all through flat six,
The men lay sedate due to absence of chicks.

The undies were hung on the moose head with care,
In hopes new donations might find their way there.

The Bala was nestled all snug in his bed,
The 'fro now removed from his brown little head.

Lassonde dreamt of study guides, textbook abyss,
And deferred liability! Actuarial bliss!

Machado played Madden, two thousand and fifty.
The players weren't born yet... but the graphics were nifty.

The pillow pressed hard against Jim's working ear.
It's easy to sleep when it's so hard to hear.

A knock at their door proved a loud intervention,
And except for the deaf one, it got their attention.

Unexpected is this! What have we in store?
They woke up the Jimba and ran to the door.

Lassonde took a look through the small peeping lens,
"Well, what do you know? It's our freeloading friends!"

"Let us in your crapartment!" they fiercely commanded.
"We're drinking your booze. Don't you dare leave us stranded!

In case you've been wondering, your party starts now.
No need to worry. We'll help you. Here's how:

We'll blow this thing up like a Taepodong nuke.
We'll play drinking games like Beirut till we puke.

We'll pee in your sink, we'll barf on your floor.
We'll dance to shit music, and drink even more.

"In the end you will thank us!" they assured the four guys.
They all kept on chugging, till the clock caught their eyes.

Twelve fast approaches! Chicks, find your dudes!
It's a Boink Fest at midnight! (...making out is for prudes).

The party pressed on till the wee waking hours.
It was time to take Advil, and a cold effing shower.

Their friends made a vow (the ones still alive),
"Start counting down now, from three-sixty five.

We'll be back soon. Make sure you're prepared,
Clean up and restock, no beer will be spared.

We will do our part, bringing holiday cheer,
Till then, have an uber funtastic new year!

~ Come along and celebrate another uber funtastic year with Andy, Bala, Chris and Jim. We promise just the right mix of shenanigans and tomfoolery.~

Friday, December 5, 2008

Bizarre Search Phrases

As a lighter post-script to my 286th Day progress report, I thought I'd share with you some of the more interesting phrases that brought people to my blog. If there's one thing a Google Analytics report will tell you about your blog, it's that you've exposed yourself to a weird, weird world. The most curious phrases in my list include:

top 5 worst theme parks
sex big black pen
romantic fiction about hilary clinton
novel 6.0 not start
my dad french kissed me . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (yikes...)
magical fairy personality quiz
about using of bulb and trumpet horn
from the mother of notepad
henry ford quotes on leveraging efforts
giraffe address book
discover did not approve me instantly
html for notepad dancing jesus
darius dinesh father . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (Huh?)
celebrity sighting white coat
bluehost yui
marijuana starting novel

I can claim with confidence that none of these phrases (and in some cases, not even these words) appear anywhere in my blog. Regardless, let me assure my newest readership: As soon as I find out what a bluehost yui is, I will write a thoughtful post about this crucial issue.

Apparently, none of these people found what they were looking for, evidenced by their instant exit (time on site for each was 0:00) --- none of them, that is, except for the last guy, who stayed on for a really, really long time. I imagine he'll be starting his novel any day now.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Writer's Blog Progress: 286 Days (Part 2)

Part 2: Blogging is still hard.

I say this for two reasons. One, the title of my fourth post ever, "Blogging Is Hard," turned out to be a popular search phrase (thanks, World, for this implicit sympathy), so the more I say it the better.

Two, it remains true. The blog is a signficant time investment, and though I didn't have specific measures in mind, I thought I'd be attracting more readership, outside of my own circle, by now. True to the popular conception, starting a blog is very easy, but I feel confident now in estimation: Promoting your blog requires just as much time as writing for it does.

First, there's learning about, and then installing, all the add-ins that don't come standard (the e-newsletter, google analytics, feedburner, etc.) which help make your blog more accessible, and track and improve your blog's progress. These points I addressed in "Blogging Is Hard."

Second, there was the effort to promote this to my friends, family and other associates, which included, among other things, a time-consuming (but admittedly fun) romp through Facebook. I'm utterly grateful to my friends who have supported me in this effort by taken an interest, but even getting your friends to check you out is not automatic. They all have busy lives and I try to make my invitations to read and subscribe as concise yet enticing as possible, the instructions as clear as possible, etc. What I wanted to avoid was having my friends come to check out the blog once or twice, then forget about it (just like I might).

Even with those two time-sinks ironed out (for the most part), my promotional efforts are just beginning. My PageRank for instance, which debuted at "2" in September, has since dropped to a 1. I'm not sure why my Google PageRank dropped; probably the early 2 was a fluke, or maybe some really influential website or blog (I can't imagine who) linked to me temporarily. At any rate, a low page rank is what I should expect right now. After all, not many blogs are linking to me from their homepage yet. I'm starting to spend more time tracking other fiction writers' blogs, commenting on their posts, and will begin making explicit requests for home page links (which I'll of course return in kind).

Using Technorati --- a popular blog search engine --- and specifically, using their Authority score, I can begin to sculpt some linking goals. One writer's blog that I follow, for instance, which has a Google PageRank (GPR) of "3" has a Technorati Authority (TA) of "13," which means that 13 other blogs link to it. Another writer's blog I follow, with a GPR of "4" has a TA of "69" (so 69 blogs link to her). I have a GPR of "1" and a TA of "2" which means 2 blogs links to me.

Note: Bear in mind, only Technorati-listed blogs count towards your TA. Ink and Beans only recently got listed in Technorati. I'm not sure what merits Tecnorati listing your blog except that, as with Google, you need to be around and posting for a little while.

Both blogs I mentioned above are solo efforts maintained by fellow novelists, so there's no reason why I shouldn't be able to attain a GPR of "3" and eventually, a "4." Just gotta earn those links. The more people link to me --> the better my GPR and TA --> the better my SEO --> the higher my blog will appear in search results when someone searches a phrase like "starting a novel." Just like with a newspaper, I'm trying to appear "above the fold." As you can see I've got my work cut out for me.

Follow all that? 'Cause I barely did.

Time spent actually writing on my blog is about what I anticipated, but I struggle with allocating that time in the recommended fashion, i.e. short and frequent posts. I've written 60 posts with an average length of roughly 500 words. Since some of my posts end up being long I try to vary with a short one now and then, but it's tough.

My average post length does seem to fall within the recommended norm (a relief for a windy boy like myself). The rare post that exceeds a 1000 words I break up into pieces, as I have with this one. Still, keeping posts short and pithy while at the same time banging them out quickly and regularly is a real challenge.

Perhaps concise and frequent posting is easier on political, or news-oriented, or technical blogs, when posts often serve as an afterthought to a full length article. But writing about writing is as abstract a topic as I can think of. Unless I'm talking about a matter as trivial as pen color preference, it takes at least 300 words for me to begin developing a though. Plus, I'm not afforded the luxury of regular developments in the field to spur the dialogue --- the only recent catalyst I can think of was the death of David Foster Wallace, and since I know little about him I had little to say.

Even this post, long as it is and rich with outgoing links, has taken me about five hours to complete. As I said, I've broken it up into three posts, so that should take care of blog writing commitments this coming week.

But that's still five hours I'm not spending on my novel. Add to that the promotional time I'll spend reading and commenting on other blogs, and I start to feel like I'm neglecting my primary responsibility, which is my manuscript.

Experientially, the blog has been plenty-worth the investment. I enjoy the break from my main project, I enjoy writing for my friends, I enjoy making a few new friends, and I enjoy getting the immediate feedback. As far as the blog's worth as a cross-promotional tool with the book, which has always been my main intention, only more time will tell for sure, but I confess that I've grown more skeptical. Even so, I'll see it through, so stick around!

Part [1] [2]