The Project Graveyard is Adjacent to the Project Factory

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I have a bad habit of jumping into projects without thinking them through, and then wrestling with whether to abandon them or work with what I’ve gotten myself into. Some don’t really matter too much, because they don’t matter to anybody else.

The Round Down newsletter was a blast to do for a year, and then we had to take a break as free time to do unpaid work quickly ran out with new family commitments on both sides. I don’t know yet when we’ll renew its metaphorical print run. The job of finite, packaged news gathering and delivery has been picked up by a few more professional outlets since we started, and I enjoy a few of them myself.

I also wanted to do a blog called T-Axis for a little bit, and started posting a few things to a Tumblr to get a feel for it. The T being for Tech, and the idea being a look at stories of transformation in various markets and professions as a result of technological advances. That impulse will now probably continue as a research project at work.

But I liked getting back into posting at Tumblr, and longed to produce with it the way tumblelogs are meant to: a mix of wordless visuals, reflexively reblogged elemental units of interest, links, quotes, and dumb GIFs. It never felt right doing that here on my personal blog, although I’ve tried it out several times over the past 13(?) years.

So now I’ve rebooted my main Tumblr at http://sangsara.tumblr.com, tentatively called “Business Suit and Cat Ears”, which is also the general editorial direction. Do follow if you like the sound of UX design and apps rubbing up against pixel art of Mt. Fuji.

The other current project I’ll be a little busy with right now is getting a house furnished and moved into ASAP. The recent photo above was from a somewhat fruitless day of visiting warehouse showrooms, looking for the perfect couch (3-seater with chaise, dark fabric, raised off the ground, firm cushions, wide armrests). I’m beginning to think it doesn’t exist. Consumer electronics makers take note: I’m not even going to consider a next-gen console or 4K TV until your friends in the furniture industry get their act together.

Write Moves

Was time for a new logo too
Was time for a new logo too

After 11 years of blogging on what is now Google Blogger, I’ve exported everything and moved to a WordPress-powered site. It didn’t go all that smoothly and may still screw up, but so far I’m enjoying the platform, its modernity, and the apps/services I can now use with my blog.

During the process, I looked back on a couple of old posts and a few abandoned other blog projects, and discovered a younger, different sounding me. I suppose that was a time when everyone kept a blog instead of a Facebook page – but it all starts the same way, nobody thinks anyone important is ever going to read their nonsense or see their silly behavior.

But every time I read old writing, the same thing happens, and I’m sure you’re all familiar with the phenomenon: amidst the disposable are pieces you can’t believe you wrote; thoughts you could hardly string together today in quite the same way. Which is why I’m inclined to value these posts more than easy and fleeting social network updates. It seems the purpose of blog archives is to simultaneously inspire and shame our creative selves with examples of what should still be possible, and how far we have yet to go if we’ve discovered that the last few years were spent going the wrong way.

Missing comments and link posts

Switching from a “blog” subdomain to “www” has caused Blogger to lose all previous comments. I don’t know if I should be upset about it. There were good ones that offered useful information long after I’d posted on a subject, but there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do about it except switch back.

In the meantime, I’ve sorted out a format for outbound links. Their post titles are preceded by an arrow symbol (➟) and clicking on one brings you straight to the relevant page.

SANGSARA.NET changelog: April 2010

Here’s what has changed:

– This blog is now found at www.sangsara.net. It was previously at blog.sangsara.net, a distinction that became wholly unnecessary about five years ago, when I took down the other more static bits of the site. Eventually, all my online activities will be viewable here.

– The Tumblr-powered linkblog, blast!, has been discontinued. The original idea for that was to create a wall between the longer posts I write and the things I find interesting and want to link to. From this point on, those two activities will be merged here on this blog. Outbound link entries will be strictly text, an execution I’ve admired in John Gruber’s Daring Fireball blog, who was in turn inspired by Jason Kottke.

– I’m leaving behind my favorite yellow (E3C046), seen in every design since 2002.

– I’ll be using one of Blogger’s new features to add ‘Pages’ to this blog, starting with an About Me profile page.

– You’ll find an old-school Blogroll for friends’ sites in the right column. This is an experiment of sorts. Let me know if you’d like to be linked.

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Here’s what hasn’t:

– The RSS feed is still at http://feeds.feedburner.com/sangsara. Most subscribers to this site won’t even notice the changes listed above.

Positive Machine and Pocket Plastic will continue to be maintained as separate projects. Just in case you didn’t know, the former deals in strange, off-color iPhone app reviewery, while the latter is a place for me to post photos and look at developments in iPhone and toy camera photography.

– The archives are intact. I had wanted to wipe those earlier uncertain steps and start over, but decided against taking the easy way out. I’ve lost a lot of web content over the years and it hasn’t made me a better writer. You can build better things in the present when you have the past at your back.

Year 9

When most of my peers and I started blogging with a proper content management system (CMS) like Blogger in 2000-2002, it wasn’t really clear what we were signing up for. Blogs were a new, hyper-public outlet for self-expression, a means of keeping in contact with friends, and for feeling the first waves of a democratic future where a student had as much right to virtual real estate as the multinational corporation that might one day hire him. Or not, depending on what he had posted.

Today, much of what a blog once offered has been decentralized by a slew of dedicated online services. Post your photos on Flickr. Keep a circle informed of your movements on Facebook and LinkedIn. Show off your art, photography, or design skills on any number of portfolio sites like deviantART. Share links and bits of media on scrapbook blogs like the ones popularized by Tumblr. Everything comes with social networking built right in. The standalone do-it-all blog has become something of a solitary pursuit as its necessity fades amongst newer internet users with a hundred other avenues for self-expression and communication. The word ‘blog’ is more strongly associated with a breed of continuously updated semi-commercial news and topical interest sites than it is with personal journals.

Perhaps the personal journal is a relic of the internet past – emblematic of our emotional reaction to a new technology, and the possibility of audiences larger than had been present before. Or perhaps they’ve disappeared under cover, gone to ground and reemerged with new names, part of our need to understand through categorization. So now there are motherhood blogs, cooking/dining blogs, birdwatching blogs, and so on. Once specific interests representing just a facet of their authors’ lives, these topics now serve to define their bloggers as amateur authorities through posts and reader feedback cycles so regular you can set your RSS readers to them, spurred on by commerce in the form of Google AdSense banners. The personal journal is dead because we reduce people to the one thing they do best.

So, nine years on and I’m still at it. Still not quite sure what I signed up for, but with some changes I’ll be making here this week, a little more sure of where I should take this.

New Google Blogger templates

Transparency! Three-column grids! An absence of lighthouse imagery!

Please join me in welcoming Google Blogger to the modern web. As you can see from the look of my site today, Blogger has rolled out a new beta feature called the Template Designer which allows users to assemble several thousand more combinations of layout, color, and graphics than with their previous selection of templates. Those spartan and occasionally cheesy designs were the main reasons why the service has been losing ground to the likes of Tumblr and Posterous amongst those setting up blogs for the first time, and also the reason why most people skin their blogspot blogs with horrendous amateur themes they find on sites with URLs like free-colorful-blogger-templates.com.

We all know ‘most people’ have no taste, so the Template Designer aims to save them from themselves by having a fixed library of background images from iStockPhoto (you can’t upload your own). I have chosen the least distracting and colorful one, a silhouette of the Parisian skyline, but look forward to experimenting with crazier options now and then. Why not? It used to take a deep dive into the HTML code and some tedious asset uploading to change the look of my site – those who’ve been here before will know that I hardly bothered anymore, and reverted to the most minimal of themes over a year ago – but now it’s all just a matter of clicking around and moving sliders.

Some of these features, like the dynamic width resizing and comprehensive inspectors for changing text/background colors, fonts, etc. replicate the best innovations of blog hosting company Squarespace. That service does a little more but costs money, and incidentally so does Six Apart’s Typepad, which now stands as the only hosted blogging platform remaining whose templates look so hopelessly mired in the early 2000s. Assuming that Blogger doesn’t just push out this one update and leave it untouched for another six years, they’ve got a fair chance of soundly beating the competition. A few weeks ago they added the ability to create standalone Pages, the kind you can use for an About Us page or FAQ. With a few more templates, perhaps some built for microblogging, some for magazine-style sites, they’ll be able to do everything Tumblr can. They’ve got post-by-email functionality that isn’t too far off from what Posterous does, and WordPress.com can’t compete with the freedom Blogger gives you to add third-party scripts, widgets, and ads.

One interesting point: Microsoft IE6 is not supported by the editor or the templates themselves.

Intro video: