Category: blogs

Follow the Twitter Feed

Lately, I have been mostly microblogging via Twitter. It updates my blog (see the sidebar on the right), my Twitter followers (all two of them) and my Facebook status. Having changed job recently I have precious little free time to write full blog articles.

I’m thinking about directly adding my tweets to the blog as articles – it may make more sense that way as updates will be more regular. Happy to hear your thoughts.

Spam Avalanche

I’ve been away on holiday. On my return I had over 1,000 messages waiting, most of which were blog spam. I spent a considerable amount of time cleaning all that up. So I’ve now taken steps to reduce spam on this blog by closing comments on posts older than 21 days.

Back soon with photos of the holiday.

Changing Font

A friend of mine told me a while ago that he doesn’t particularly like Arial as a typeface. I’ve been pondering that ever since, because it’s my default font for this site. I just read an article that correlates font or typeface choice with better academic grades. Whether that’s right or not, I expect that I’ll get different reactions based on the look of the text on this page. So I have changed font for this blog to Trebuchet MS which is available on Windows and Mac. Second choice Verdana, then your default font for the sans-serif family.

Please let me know if you preferred the old Arial style, and I’ll switch it back. Or I could even make the font configurable with a dropdown menu, if you all feel strongly enough about it.

Blogging for Cash?

The Internet used to be a place where people did academic research, wrote a few personal emails, and had a few websites to pick from that were idiosyncratic to say the least. There were newsgroups with binary images that had to be decoded to be viewed. It was mostly text, and website information content was high. That, according to David Boles, was the Golden Age of the Web. Now, it’s a world of e-commerce and media company fodder. Are blogs a return to the source – where virtual communities were founded based around a common interest?

In previous posts on her blog, Pia once drew (in a post I can no longer locate) a parallel between blog communities and towns, where people group together at the town hall or village bars. Back in 1993 when I got my first email address, the villages were full of geeks. Now, they’re totally cosmopolitan.

Perhaps, in some ways, blogs are reclaiming the territory that, alt.drugs and alt.rock-n-roll once held. Media companies don’t always get it though. In this post over at Bring it On!, Pia rants about how recent media articles try to place a value on blogs, hinting that we’re not all here to make money from writing – or indeed to achieve any kind of financial reward. The media still gets very excited about blogging and how it’s the thing to do, even without any concrete revenue streams predictable except for advertising revenue (that holy grail that was going to make us all website owners millionaires online at one time).

How can a form that’s so young have a hierarchy based solely on incoming links and advertising revenues? No two blogs are exactly alike; people have different purposes and goals.

Blogging costs me money. With domain, hosting and update charges it’s a small hobby budget. That doesn’t even factor the amount of time required for me to keep things up to date, or that it took for me to design the original look to this site. It doesn’t make many people heaps of cash either, and certainly not enough to be interesting to a major corporation. As Roland Piquepaille says in his article :

… the blogging phenomenon is just marginal economically speaking. But bloggers themselves are different because they’re writers, they have a voice and they’re real customers of real products.

Blogging is a phenomenon because it is so hard to qualify. Before, we had personal web pages but the learning curve to get a page out there and keep it sensibly formatted and up to date was hard. Blogging is just an extension of that – a simple way to get your thoughts on the web in a structured format. Blogging software has done for the personal home page what Tim Berners Lee did for the Internet in the first place : make content creation easy, available, and compatible with any type of computer you have as long as it can connect to a TCP/IP link somewhere. Tim created the standard by which documents would be created : HTML. Blogging platforms made HTML knowledge unnecessary, and instead created the automatic journal for all those frustrated writers out there, and people like me who want to keep family and friends up to date from time to time. I know how to write HTML and design sites, but a blogging platform makes it easy – and saves me a lot of time – for my little online journal.

I’ll leave the final word to a comment in the Bring it On! post mentioned above, paraphrased by Windspike from someone else somewhere who was inspired by Warhol :

Bloggers may not get their 15 minutes, but may be famous to 15 people.

Reading RSS? Subscribed by e-mail?

How do you read this blog? How do you read other blogs? Are you still surfing around randomly, or have you started organising yourself around subscriptions? Perhaps you’re reading this whilst surfing on a blog traffic exchange like Blog Explosion or Blog Advance?

I provide a form on the right hand side (the “sidebar” as it is called in WordPress and on many other blogging platforms) to subscribe to updates via email. You can also use the RSS feeds provided just underneath the email subscription box to keep up to date via My Yahoo!, Google, MSN and specific RSS software. If you comment on a post, you can choose to receive replies to that post by email so that you can follow the conversation.

On my Palm, I have software called Quick News which allows me to synchronise with blogs I read each time I HotSync to my PC. I can therefore keep up with several blogs and download all their latest posts in one go. On my PC, I use Bloglines because that will travel from machine to machine with me. I’m already a heavy My Yahoo! user so eventually I will migrate over to that, but currently Bloglines has the advantage of displaying all the text of a post (where supported in the initial RSS feed) and images – My Yahoo! currently only supports extracts.

Let me know what you use – if you have any tips for RSS readers, if you’d like to see anything to make your life easier whilst reading blogs, and how you read this post the first time.

A Year in Review

An Internet game based on the Tour de France last summer led me to write to a daily email review of results and standings. The means I chose to publish those emails to the web to have an archive readable online by all participants was the blogging platform WordPress. Soon the Tour was over, but I decided to keep going – I was enjoying the regular writing – and I launched this blog. 84 posts and 248 comments later, including a change in template and in hosting, it’s now 2006 and time to look back over some of those posts which you may have missed.

The first non-cycling post was about the “war on terror” – or rather the risk to personal privacy – and followed the bombings in London. Indeed I’ve been political on occasion, talking about America’s rising debt or the decision to put a man on the moon again by 2018. Closer to where I am, I commented on the urban violence in France during October and November.

Living in France, I occasionally come up with some insight into French office culture compared to the UK, and about linguistic experimentation (or rather, silliness) in the office. Sometimes I got technical, for example in my post about the new digital cinema standard – an article I hoped might raise more interest, but I just couldn’t get it “out there” anywhere. I read through a whole technical specification to come up with that content, but it’s really a niche interest thing. Closer to the interest of some readers, I’ve also been techy with HTML and CSS regarding a suggestion for improvement to the look of “When Tara Met Blog”. That led to a review which unfortunately was done when techy content was filling most of my homepage… but it was fair criticism and started me thinking a bit harder about what to write about.

The main event of my year and obviously a recurrent theme is the birth of my son Nathan. Back in July, I wrote about a scare we had when Yasmina went into hospital. It was a difficult pregnancy, but finally on October 14th Nathan was born and the post announcing the birth was the most commented on in 2005.

New Year’s day is a time to remember the good and the bad, and look forward with hope for a great year ahead. In 2005, I occasionally posted about anniversaries : the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, the 4th anniversary of the attacks on NYC, and more recently the 25th anniversary of the assassination of John Lennon. In 2006, I will be posting about some more personal anniversaries. Nathan’s first birthday, and our 5th wedding anniversary are up for celebration this year. So much to look forward to with a son developing and doing new things every day.

I wish you all a great 2006, and hope you will click on a link or two to look back over the year with me. After a slow start to this blogging project, I am pleased to note there are some regular readers. It’s great to see you here, for you bring so much to the blog. Without you, I’m just talking to myself…

Neat, like a shot of Tequila

Real Espresso Coffee

One of the things about living away from England so long is that most people miss that which is quintessentially English, or was an integral part of their experience growing up; like HP sauce, proper tea, marmite (yuk!), and decent beer – IPA, bitter or generally “real ale” as we call it. I’m not going to focus on those things just now, but rather on what I gain from being in France. The first is proper coffee.

When I was growing up, I didn’t like coffee and I took milk and sugar in my tea. The ritual of accompanying any event – like getting home from doing the shopping or from school, greeting anyone who dropped in, before sitting down to watch a TV programme – was making a cup of tea. “Put the kettle on” was one of the most common phrases heard in the house. I stopped taking sugar in my tea quite early though, realising that getting the right dose of milk in the tea had a lot more to do with achieving the right taste than sweetening the beverage.

I think I must have been about 14 before I actually drank coffee. Perhaps for two reasons; one being that my tastebuds probably evolved, somewhat due to smoking as well I think, the second being drinking proper coffee. All too often in my younger days, coffee was a teaspoonful of Nescafé in a big tea mug, filled with boiling water, and topped off with milk. I still can’t drink coffee like that. A friend of mine introduced me to filter coffee taken in small doses and drunk without milk. In English, we call that “black coffee” – a word which has to be added to coffee and yet you don’t add “black” to coffee. You take away the milk, which should never be added automatically in the first place. In French (and in France), coffee is black unless you add a word or two to make it milky: “café au lait” (coffee with milk) or “café crème” (coffee with cream) and “café noisette” (coffee with enough milk to make it hazelnut coloured, hence the noisette).

I quite liked black coffee like that. I was 14 in the very late eighties so home espresso (note preferred spelling) machines weren’t the rage. I was yet to discover coffee in its purest form: hot steam forced at pressure through finely ground coffee beans. A small cup holding little more than a mouthful, the foamy creamy top on a dark liquid which seems much more viscous than water, the strong caffeine hit.

I have a ritual in the morning with filter coffee because it’s easier. I drink “carte noire” strongly dosed in a small cup. Usually our cat Suzie comes to ask for her morning brushing at the same time – she’s got longish fur and needs brushing every day. So I drink strong coffee after my main breakfast and brush the cat. I had an espresso machine but cleaning it was too much trouble so I went back to a filter machine which cost me less than 10€, so it’s practically disposable. That doesn’t mean I don’t clean it ;-).

The best coffee of the day is after lunch. Having eaten a proper French lunch – salad or cold meat as a starter, then a meat and vegetable dish “à la française” like Guinea Fowl with steamed vegetables – dessert is replaced by an espresso, usually served with a piece of strong dark chocolate. I eat the chocolate, sip my coffee and roll and light my cigarette (I prefer handrolled tobacco, and it’s cheaper). A good end to a meal.

I was in the US recently and there in Starbucks I was pleased to see you can order proper coffee. In France when you ask for a coffee anywhere, they’ll serve you a single espresso automatically — unless of course they’re snobby Parisian waiters who think you’re American in which case they’ll probably ask you in broken English if you really want a single espresso. In Texas it was a different story. It took a moment for the girl at the counter to understand that I really wanted a double shot of espresso straight up in a cup. I got my proper coffee though, and I was satisfied. I overheard in the queue behind me “jeez he’s taking his coffee neat – like a shot of Tequila!”. I smiled.

Cappucino, Latté, Iced Coffee, and all that Starbucks language that goes with it like “skinny double latté” – that shit just doesn’t hold with me. These are all aberrations or variations on what coffee should really be, and as is served in France*. Neat, like a shot of Tequila.

* Admittedly proper coffee is even more Italian than French. They founded the word “espresso” and go to even greater extremes with “ristretta” where the coffee dose is the same, but the amount of water halved.