TITLE: Miscellaneous Blogging Thoughts AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: July 25, 2007 7:45 AM DESC: ----- BODY: ... at the end of a long day.
  1. I must be an old hand at blogging now. I let Knowing and Doing's third anniversary pass without comment. And I let my 500th post -- and my 512th! -- go by with no fanfare.
  2. I continue to be amazed by Google and the blogosphere. While preparing to visit my old hometown for my upcoming high school reunion, I googled "Scott Merrell ARC" in hopes of finding out if the named Mr. Merrell still owned and operated ARC Sheet Metal, where I worked as a part-time sheet metal apprentice and installer of ductwork during several high school summers. Scott had met me at local chess tournaments and took me on for a job for which I had no training or particular native talent. He patiently taught me a few skills and endured a few mistakes. I thought it might be nice to stop in to see Scott after twenty years, introduce him to my wife and daughters, and maybe give him one more shot in his pet Lasker's variation against my Petrov's Defense. It was unlikely that a small local sheet metal shop would have a web page, but it cost me nothing to try. I found only one relevant link -- the first link on the results page, of course -- but it was not for the shop. Instead it included a blog entry written by a friend of Scott's son, which quoted the full text of the son's eulogy for his father. My good friend and former boss died this past March after a long battle with lung disease. (In addition to being a chess hound and a professional sheet metal man, he smoked far too much.) The eulogy almost brought me to tears as it reminisced about the decent man I, too, remembered fondly and respected so. I have no simple way to contact Scott's son to thank him for sharing his eulogy, but I did leave a comment on the blog. Not many years ago, the idea that I could have learned about Scott's passing in this way and read the eulogy would have been unthinkable. The connection was indirect, impersonal in some ways, but deeply personal. For all its shortcomings, our technology makes the world a better place to live.
  3. I don't write a personal blog like the one that quoted Scott's eulogy, this entry and a few others notwithstanding. Dave Winer expressed one of the powerful reasons for writing a blog in his essay The unedited voice of a person. A blog like mine provides an outlet for thinking out loud, developing professional ideas in front of an audience, and sharing the small insights that would likely never appear in a refereed publication in a journal or conference. Writing without an editor creates a little fear, but soon the fear is counterbalanced by the freedom that comes from not having to carry someone else's reputation into the written word. By having readers, I do feel the weight of expectation, as I don't want to waste the valuable time of others. But the voice here can be mine, and only mine.
  4. Besides, I like Winer's explanation for why comments are not the be-all, end-all of a blog. I've always told myself and anyone who asked why I don't have comments that I would soon, but I have remained too lazy or busy to set them up. The lightweight, shell-based blogging tool I use, an old version of Nanoblogger, doesn't support comments out of the box, and in fact seems to require magical incantations to make a third-party add-on to work with it. And I don't have the time or inclination to write my own just now. But I don't actually mind not having comments. I sometimes miss the interactivity that comments would enable, but managing comments and combatting comment spam takes time, time that I would rather spend reading and blogging.
  5. Last summer, Brad DeLong wrote a fun but more academic essay, The Invisible College, for the Chronicle of Higher Education Review that describes well why I like to blog. Even without comments enabled, I receive e-mail from smart, interesting people all over the world who have read something I wrote here, discussing some point I made, offering alternatives, and suggesting new ideas and resources to me. My academic work benefits from this invisible college. With any luck, some of my ideas might reach the eyes of non-computer scientists and start a conversation outside the confines of my discipline. Oh, and he's spot on about that procrastinating thing.
Back to paradise. -----