The Challenges of Writing

Anyone who follows this blog at all has certainly noticed that I am far from prolific.  At my best, I’ve occasionally managed to write up 1-2 posts a week, although it also isn’t that unusual for me to sometimes go several weeks without posting anything.  I love having a forum for sharing my thoughts, but I tend to struggle both with finding the time and the motivation to actually sit down and write something.

To address this subject honestly, I definitely have to start by admitting that I am a terrible procrastinator when it comes to writing.  I’ve often said that I generally like writing, but it is probably more accurate to say that I like the idea or writing and the end result of having written.  Motivating myself to sit down and actually write something has never been overly easy, regardless of whether it is something like a blog post that I choose on my own to write or if it is something assigned like a school paper or a work document.  It is very common that the basic form and content of something that I intend to write will rattle around in my mind for quite a few days before I finally get around to sitting down and typing it.

I also can get pretty easily distracted while writing.  In the past, particularly back when I was in school, the most likely distractions were from other people, television, phone calls, or that kind of thing.  For that most part, that could usually be pretty easily managed in such a way that the temptations could be minimized.  With most of my writing now done on Internet-connected computers, there is a lot of readily-available competition for my attention.  Even when I find the time and motivation to sit down and start writing, it is awfully easy to get sidetracked by an incoming email or to be distracted by what I think might be a quick visit to Twitter or Facebook. 

Reading discussion boards, RSS feeds, other blogs and general news/information sites do pretty often win out when I find a block of time where I could possibly do some writing on a blog post.  This is particularly common on my lunch breaks during my work week.  I have a small laptop computer (essentially an early version of what the press commonly calls a "netbook") that I usually take with me when heading off to a restaurant at lunch.  Even when I have the intent of doing some writing during lunch, it isn’t unusual for me to spend more time just surfing the web.  To be honest, writing isn’t really the most relaxing break during a busy day. 

My Amazon Kindle 2 has also become a major competitor for my time, having pretty dramatically increased the amount of time that I am spending on reading for leisure.  Particularly in the evenings after a full day at work and the kid has been put to bed, it is very tempting to just sprawl out on the sofa reading a book on the Kindle instead of sitting down at the computer to work on a blog post.  I have also been opting to spend many of my recent work lunch hours with the Kindle instead of the laptop computer as well.

Brevity has never been one of my strengths as a writer.  Although I generally received very good grades on written works in school and I have often received praise for documents at my jobs, the one common criticism that I do receive is that I can be too wordy.  My blog posts do tend to be pretty long and it isn’t very often that I complete one in a single sitting.  At any given time, it isn’t that unusual for me to have at least a couple unfinished posts in progress.  Knowing this tendency, I always make sure to upload unfinished posts to the blog as a "draft" in order to make it possible for me to work on it from my desktop PC, laptop, or even from my cell phone whenever I find the time and motivation to do so.  Possibly a bit appropriately, even this very post sat partially-written in the “drafts” folder for quite a while before I got around to finishing and publishing it.

I keep trying to come up with ways to switch to shorter, more frequent posts, but I’ve never had much luck with it.  One obvious idea would be to basically just post whatever I can complete in a single writing session along with a "to be continued" tag.  That approach doesn’t appeal to me that much because it limits my ability to revise.  It isn’t that uncommon that I come back to a post after a day or two and rework portions I’ve already written, move text around or remove it, and/or add text at places other than the end.  I don’t really like the idea of posting something before I’m at least reasonably happy with it.

I’ve also experimented with easily recurring ideas such as “week in review” posts.  My problem with this is that I have a bit of a hard time actually coming up with anything interesting to say when I follow that approach.  A number of years ago, I tried for a while to keep a personal journal.  I pretty religiously forced myself to spend 15 minutes or so writing in it every night before going to bed.  Initially, it went ok, but I eventually found that way too many of the entries were starting off with something akin to “Nothing much of interest happened today” and I eventually just abandoned the whole thing.  Recurrent blog post subjects strike me as having the same basic problem and seem likely to go down the same path.

Finally, I think that one other major obstacle that I find difficult to overcome in this blog is simple fear of actually writing about certain topics.  Politics immediately come to mind as a key subject that interests me quite a bit and generates some pretty strong opinions for me, but which I am reluctant to delve into much on this blog.  Part of the reason is that I’m simply not sure that I have the time or motivation to become sufficiently well-informed to avoid sounding naive or, worse, citing things that are simply wrong.  I also guess I’m a little worried about potentially offending friends or family members (my main readers) with opinions on controversial topics.  I don’t avoid the topic entirely (there are a couple political posts in the archives for this site), but I don’t think it will ever become a staple of the site either.

I know that I am going to keep posting to the blog and that I’ll probably always keep trying to find ways to increase the publication frequency, but I also suspect it will always remain at least somewhat intermittent.  I just hope that I can somehow manage to make up for the lack of quantity with at least some level of quality.

New Technology Blog

Technology (particularly computers) have been a big part of my life for many years.  I first became interested in computers at age 10 when my father purchased a Radio Shack TRS-80.  I eventually went into Computer Engineering as my career and have been something of a gadget collector all of my adult life.

For the most part, I have generally avoided writing posts that were too focused on technology for this blog.  I have a pretty good idea who my main readers are (most are friends or family) and I have a hunch that the interest level wouldn’t be overly high on most technology-related topics.  At the same time, it certainly is an interest and I often come across bits of technology news or various tech-related tips or experiences that I’d like to relate.  For this reason, I have maintained a second blog for quite a while for more technical posts.

When I first started that blog, it was very narrowly focused on Ultra-Mobile PCs (UMPCs).  I bought one of the earliest models released in that category and thought I’d have a lot to say as a bit of a pioneer in that area.  Eventually, I kind of started to run dry on things to post on that topic and expanded the subject to include all kinds of mobile technology.  Even that was a pretty limiting topic, though, and I eventually kind of abandoned that site as well.

I have now converted the blog into the generalized Bigbeaks Technology Blog.  My plan is to make it more of a traditional weblog with shorter, more frequent posts, frequently highlighting interesting news items or articles that I encounter.  I will also periodically post my personal discoveries or tips regarding technology and I’m sure I will also sometimes write reviews or longer essays as subjects come along that strike my interest.

Occasionally, I’m sure that there will be topics that are technology related (or at least tangentially so), but which still seem to be general interest enough for this blog as well.  In those cases, I probably will post on whichever blog seems to be the best fit and then put up a post on the other one linking back.  I suppose there may be rare occasions where I could choose to just cross-post to both as well.

Slow-down should be fixed

Over the weekend, I migrated my sites to a new hosting company.  On the advice of a couple friends, I went with Dreamhost, which offers a good mix of features for a pretty reasonable price.  In fact, this service generally seems more feature rich and an overall better value than iPowerWeb was, even when it worked well.

I went with Dreamhost despite the fact that they had suffered a pretty serious billing problem that got a fair amount of attention back in January.  While researching them, I found that it did cause a fair amount of consternation and that they made a few mistakes in dealing with it (most notably, trying to be too lighthearted in their initial apology), but they did pretty quickly make good on the problem and never attempted to deny or excuse it away.  My overall view on this kind of thing is that any company can make mistakes and what I really care about is whether they are resolved quickly and satisfactorily.

That pretty much sums up my frustration with iPowerWeb.  Even as I sent in the request for them to formally transfer my domain to Dreamhost, they included a note in their response promising that fixing the MySQL issue was a top priority and that they expected to have it resolved soon.  They still didn’t really define "soon", although this morning’s email claimed that they have already added the additional space to the server.

Even if the problem is fixed tomorrow, I’m still glad to have changed over as I no longer trust iPowerWeb.  The only information that I have received from them was through direct responses to my inquiries and I’ve had to often ask multiple times.  Since this was a known issue, why weren’t they keeping all affected customers informed?  Also, this problem has lingered way too long.  Since this blog is just a hobby, I let the problem go for a few weeks before taking action.  If I were running a business or otherwise making much revenue from this site, I certainly would have jumped ship weeks ago.

Hopefully, Dreamhost will now truly earn my trust and I won’t end up regretting the change.  For now, I’m just glad that my site finally loads in a reasonable amount of time again.

Slow Site Loading

Visitors to this blog may have noticed that it has been very slow loading recently.  At best, it seems to take about 15-20 seconds for a page to load and during really busy times for my hosting company, the delay can be quite a bit longer (even a minute or more).

My sites are all hosted by iPowerWeb and after a bunch of back and forth exchanges with their support department, they have confirmed that it is a capacity issue with their MySQL database servers.  The WordPress blogging software that run my blogs uses MySQL, thus resulting in the slowness.

While iPowerWeb support keeps telling me that they are working on adding additional MySQL servers to take up some of the load, they also are refusing to give me even a rough estimate for how soon this will actually happen.  As a result, I’m researching other hosting companies and, hopefully, I’ll get this site migrated in the next few days.  With any luck, that means that the site should start loading at normal speeds again soon.

For anyone reading this, thanks for looking in on the site, even if it does require a bit of a wait!