Notes: Your Blog is a Barometer

Thom Chambers writes about using your publishing platform to detect when your personal growth is stalling:

Your blog is something of a barometer. If you're overflowing with ideas, news, and observations, then the chances are good that you're doing interesting things beyond that blog. You're learning, you're doing exciting work, you're on an adventure.

Whenever you get stuck for a blog post, then, take it as a sign of a bigger malaise.

If you can't find anything interesting to say about what you’re doing, maybe it's because you need to do more interesting stuff.

Another way to get stuck is by fear. You could also think of fear of failure as a barometer for success. Sometimes we just need to get over ourselves and recognize that failure really isn't so bad. Let go of fear and just be.

I think it's also important to note on the flip side that if you can't find anything interesting to say, that's not always a bad thing. Sometimes it's okay to say less.

Notes: Blogging distilled to its essence

Leo Babauta writes about something he came across in the desert mountains of Nevada. It's an interesting example of how ones perspective influences what something means to them; who else would see a cardboard sign and think 'blog'?

Amidst the rocks I found a small cardboard sign with some neat handwriting on it:

"February 11 marks our 3,068th day living out here. Thanks P+T (for 3 weeks ago)."

Then there were numbers crossed out, marking the days after that, until it hit today’s total of 3,150. It also had a note inserted among the numbers that said "Happy Easter".

It occurred to me that this hand-made sign is the most minimal blog there is. Basically a statement of how long they've been living out in the desert, and daily updates in the form of crossed-out numbers. With a shout out to friends, of course.

What is blogging at its best? This sign distilled blogging to its essence: regular updates that inspire others from someone doing something remarkable.

It’s time to care (in the real world)

A couple sitting together on Marine Drive in Mumbai, India

This is a guest post by my buddy and good friend, Ali Dark. Ali lives in Brisbane, Australia and I'm currently in Kathmandu, Nepal.

We spent about an hour and a half on Skype bouncing ideas off each other and discussing ways that we could help make the world a better place. This is a great example of why I think technology gives us the perfect opportunity to start bringing the world together -- two people who never met each other, separated by thousands of miles, brainstorming ideas to help improve humanity.

Ali and myself are both going through life changes that involve a strong dissatisfaction with "normal" and an even stronger desire to do something that ensures we leave behind a world better than we found it. This blog post was born from our discussion and I think it includes some important ideas for bloggers and non-bloggers alike.

Making a difference starts with taking a stand. It starts with planting our feet on the ground, openly showing that we care, and being willing to discuss and brainstorm solutions to real problems... problems that are determining right now the future we leave behind for our children. Continue reading

Communicate with Humans not Statistics

Have you noticed that the combination of global news, social media, and information and communication overload have dumbed down our senses? They've shifted the focus of our communication, whether that communication occurs at home, at work, at a party or networking event, or even on a blog with our readers.

Instead of talking one-on-one, we have meetings, conference calls, chat rooms, blogs, podcasts, and newsletters. We're forced to communicate with an ever growing audience. We try to communicate with everybody and as a result we genuinely speak to no one.

Communication is becoming de-humanized

Joseph Stalin said, "The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic." Unfortunately, these days the same is true for communication: Interaction with one person is a conversation, interaction with ten million is a broadcast. Continue reading

Capturing Moments of Passionate Inspiration to Produce your Best Writing

What is "passionate inspiration"?

Passionate inspiration occurs when you feel so inspired by something that you become engulfed with passion.

It might be triggered by a random blog post or comment that you read. It could be a conversation with a friend or an unexpected exchange with a stranger.

Whatever triggers it, you usually know when it happens. You suddenly feel a spark of inspiration followed by a flood of enthusiasm. A stream of ideas quickly turns into a river and before you know it you can’t keep up!

It doesn't matter what type of writing you do -- perhaps you're a novelist, a journalist, a poet, or a programmer -- this experience is universal among writers. If you’re a blogger, this flood of ideas -- this flood of inspiration, is something you know would make for good blog post. It's something you’d love to magically see go from brain to blog. Continue reading

Searching For My Blogging Focus

This isn't a post about my currently-in-progress lifestyle transition. It could be, but it isn't.

This is a post about how I'm making decisions to reorganize my online presence. One of my goals for this year is to revamp this website and turn it into what personal branding gurus like to call my "home base".

Over the next few years, I will be doing a lot more writing and networking as I travel around the world with only the stuff on my back (there I go; talking about my lifestyle transition again) and I've been trying to decide where I should blog about all this stuff: here on or somewhere else -- an entirely new blog. Continue reading

Create and Share Value

Do you add valueless content to the digital world? How much of what you say or write is only valuable to yourself? How much of it consists of you complaining or bragging about what you've done (or even worse, what you're currently doing)?

I know I'm guilty of it: Sometimes when I’m alone and my mind is idle, posting something, anything, to Twitter and knowing that someone somewhere will read it gives me a sense of connection. But that's being selfish. How much does spewing useless information into the world actually help me (or anyone)? It makes me “feel” a little better in the moment, but does it really do anything for anyone long-term?

The Internet makes it easy for us to keep sharing useless stuff that we think is important because we don't see anyone’s reaction to what we're offering. If you stood on the sidewalk and asked strangers to listen to how your day went, how many people would care? With the in-your-face feedback that you’d receive on the sidewalk, how long would it take you to realize that what you're offering is valueless and adds nothing useful to the lives of others?

On the Internet, you don’t see when someone grumbles at that self-centered, narcissistic paragraph of text you’ve written; you don’t see all the eyeballs that pass over and dismiss your carefully crafted jumble of words.

Being in a constant mode of providing value requires changing your mindset. Yesterday, for example, I went for a walk to clear my head. Towards the end of the walk, I decided to post something on Twitter to share the refreshing experience. At first, I wrote:

"Just finished a nice walk outside in the cold. It really cleared my head.”

Then I realized I could provide more value to others by rephrasing the message:

“Got a lot on your mind? Try taking a walk outside when it’s cold and focus on nothing but your breathing and the movement of your legs.”

Now which of those two posts would you rather read? Which provides more value to world?

Be someone who creates value, not noise. If you find something of value, rebroadcast it (but don't become a repeater just rebroadcasting someone else's voice; create your own voice). If you feel you rarely have anything of value to share, try changing your perspective. If you still have nothing, don't share information simply for the sake of sharing. Sharing is good, but sharing something that only adds to the noise is not good.

Before you publish something you’ve written for Twitter, Facebook, or a blog post, ask yourself if what you're writing would be of value to anyone. If not, don't pollute the digital world by adding to the noise.

Be someone who provides value:

  • Ask yourself how your observations, activities, and experiences could be useful to others.
  • Rephrase valuelessness to provide value through making suggestions or offering advice.
  • Try seeing things through someone else's perspective; would a stranger be interested?
  • Only create or share when you think it will provide value; don't create or share for the sake of creating or sharing.
  • Rebroadcast value, but don't become a rebroadcaster; build your own voice through personal observations.
  • Change your mindset to reflect someone who provides value.

It’s amazing how easily valuelessness can become valuable by simply changing the perspective and intention.

Redefining the Purpose of my Technology Blog

A little over nine months ago, I announced Solid State Raam, a technology blog dedicated to my explorations of the digital world. It was originally set up to give myself a place to write about technology and document my discoveries without feeling like I was alienating visitors on my personal blog. The new blog was, however, lacking a vision; it mostly existed “just in case” I wrote something that I felt was too long or complex for my personal blog. In short, the motivation for writing new content just wasn’t there.

In the past, I had spent enormous amounts of time searching for a “perfect” theme, so when I put up my technology blog I decided to use a default WordPress theme and be done with it, however, last month Cody McKibben of released his awesome (and free!) custom WordPress theme. Solid State Raam was in terrible need of a facelift, so I installed Cody’s theme and spent a little time tweaking it. The new theme seemed to breathe some motivation into writing for the blog, but there was still something missing: a vision.

Incidentally, the installation of the new theme coincided with another event. After explaining the WHOIS system to my dad one evening, I realized that I have a passion for helping others understand the digital world. The WHOIS system is a rather boring subject, even for a geek like me, but I nevertheless found myself explaining it to my dad with great enthusiasm. When I thought back to the other times where I had explained technology to people, I realized that I’ve always been enthusiastic and excited about it, no matter how boring or simple the subject was to me.

With this new understanding of my passion for helping others understand technology, a more clearly defined vision for my technology blog has emerged: A place to not only document my discoveries but to also help others understand the world of technology with which I am so familiar.

The world is filled with evildoers looking to take advantage of those who know very little about technology: identities are stolen, wallets are emptied, and valueless electronic goods are willingly purchased as a result of pure ignorance. Many people are fully aware of their ignorance to technology and, as a result, using technology creates intense frustration. I have often wondered how much more enjoyable the web would be for people if they knew how they could find anything with Google, or if understanding the simple difference between a web browser and an operating system would help prevent them from becoming victims to identity theft.

If I can help alleviate fear, frustration, and ignorance towards technology by simply providing a resource for people to educate themselves, then I will be helping to make the world a better place.

Edit: After about a year of having my tech posts published separately from my personal site, I decided to move them back here and shut down You can find tech posts in the Technology category.

Blogging from the Command-Line

I'm a command-line person. If you can show me a command-line version of something I already do in a windowed environment, I'll get stuff done faster. I often look for command-line solutions to tasks that become repetitive and feel as though time could be saved by doing them on the console.

A recent example of this is the posting of asides on my blog. Asides are often very short (one or two sentences at most -- they appear on my blog without a title) and navigating the WordPress Administration interface in a web browser simply to post one or two sentences became very time consuming and distracting. Since I'm constantly editing files and code on the console using my favorite editor (vi), being able to quickly create and post an aside from the same environment would be awesome.

Before writing a tool that allowed me to post to my WordPress blog, I searched Google to see if someone else had already written something. Sure enough, I found blogpost, a script written in Python by Stuart Rackham:

blogpost is a WordPress command-line weblog client. It creates and updates weblog entries directly from AsciiDoc (or HTML) source documents. You can also delete and list weblog entries from the command-line.

It uses XML-RPC to post to WordPress blogs and also supports automatically uploading media files (images, videos, audio, documents) that are referenced within the AsciiDoc (or HTML) post file. Check the blogpost man page for full details.

Remember, my main goal here is to make posting short asides easier. I'm perfectly happy using the WordPress web interface to write longer posts. In fact, I prefer the web interface for longer posts because I get things like automatic spell checking (through OS X) and automatic draft saving (through WordPress).

After installing blogpost and modifying the configuration file to include my WordPress login details, I created a file called post.txt using the vi editor and, after saving the file and closing vi, I published the aside using blogpost:

$ --title="My Test Aside Post" -U --doctype='html' create post.txt
creating published post 'My Test Aside Post'...
id: 2758

$ cat --categories="Asides, Blog Entries, General" post.txt
assigning categories: Asides,Blog Entries,General

Note that I only need really basic formatting (i.e., HTML for links), so I use the --doctype='html' option. This allows me to type raw HTML in vi when I'm editing the post file, just as I do now in WordPress (I don't use the Visual Editor).

While the options and flexibility provided by blogpost are great, the process of publishing an aside needed to be more automated to solve my problem. Creating a new file in vi, typing all those options, running two separate commands, and then deleting the file every time I wanted to post a few sentences on my blog didn't make a whole lot of sense. So I whipped together this little shell script to help automate the steps above:

## - automates publishing asides using

# Open a temporary file in the vi editor
vi aside.$$

# Display new aside before publishing
echo "New Aside:"
cat aside.$$

# Prompt for an aside title
echo "Enter a title for this Aside:"
read TITLE
echo "OK!"

# Using the temp file saved above, post the Aside --title="$TITLE" -U --doctype='html' create aside.$$ cat --categories="Blog Entries, Asides" aside.$$

# Remove the temporary file
rm aside.$$

Now posting an aside to my blog is as simple as running ./, typing the aside in vi, saving and quitting (:wq), and then typing a title. The rest of the work, including cleanup, is taken care of by the script!

Stuart did an excellent job with blogpost and if you have a blog and use the console (and why shouldn't you?!) I recommend you check it out. The blogpost README is a great place to start, as it includes prerequisites and installation information.

The Impersonalization of Blogs

Have you ever wondered why my blog was not more personal? I came across an article on Digg today about making an impression with your resume. The first point in the article answers that question: "Do I know you? Whether I do or not, I'm going to immediately Google you to see if I should. Oh, you a have a weblog. Excellent."

I believe this is the reason many blogs are not personal. Instead, many of them are a simple narrative of the individuals interests and/or opinions, or a chronological account of places they've visited. And I don't blame them! I mean really, how many of us would want our boss to know everything about our personal lives? Heck, what about our parents, co-workers, or even wives and girlfriends? Everyone keeps something from someone -- things they'd rather just keep to themselves. Even if its just a simple thought, or a series of thoughts, or an opinion that you know would be misunderstood by those around you. So what's the big deal? Just keep it all to yourself, right?

The big deal is that humans need to communicate. They need to vent. They need to talk to others about whats on their minds. Who knows, maybe our brains are wired to share such information -- to help pass on knowledge. When we have something thats bugging us, we want to tell others; we want to hear others' opinions. This is why nearly every blog has a commenting function -- the ability to leave a comment on a specific post.

It was only a few generations ago when a person could move out of state, start a new life, and not worry about bringing their past with them. Sure the past might catch up -- someone might wander through town who happens to know who you are -- but in reality people's lives were very much isolated from those living thousands, or even hundreds, of miles away. The advent of the technology has suddenly brought human lives much closer. Do you want to contact John Doe living 5,000 miles away? No problem, lets just pick up the phone and dial his number. Oh, you need to send a letter to Jane Smith 12,000 miles away? Here's her email address -- she will receive the letter within a few minutes. These were unheard of only a few hundred years ago!

Personal lives are no longer personal. For your life to be personal you have to work at it, you have to constantly think about what information you're making available to others. Oh, you're worried about having your identity stolen? Fine, but that means no credit cards, bank accounts, cell phone, car, house, drivers license, birth certificate -- I could go on!

How can someone be personal on a blog when the information is bound to be made public? That would make the personal information public information -- so whats the point? If you want to create a blog, go ahead. Just don't expect to express yourself, especially your personal self, without letting everyone know about it. My blog is intentionally impersonal. I prefer to keep my personal life just that, personal. There have been plenty of times when I wanted to write what was on my mind -- but then I realized I wouldn't want at least half the people I know to read what I would write.