Thursday, November 5, 2015

Been fiddlin'

Today I managed to implement about ninety percent of the changes to this journal that have been rattling around in my brain for many, many, months.

I have to say that translating the thoughts in my head into reasonably well-behaved pixels on the screen has been as painful as I thought it would be.

Authoring any digital media, whether it's software programming, graphic content like photos, or the look and feel of a blog, is fairly obsessive work. Trial and error, error and trial, trial and error. That, and the occasional epiphany when, on the very cusp of total frustration, something finally works. There are far too many moving parts between what this blog looked like for the past five years, and where it is now. I won't bore you with the details.

If any of you like what you see and are wondering how I made it happen, send me an e-mail or call me and I'll be happy to explain.

Why was it worth all the effort? That's a really good question that I think is worth asking and having answered. When you start something like a blog, or any other thing that must have a structure, it's normal to take into account the need that is driving the creative process. It was like that at work, when there was a need for a new process to structure the team's work. Like a filing system, for instance. Once you think the structure suits the purpose, you put it to work. If you've done a decent job, the thing will serve you well for a reasonably long time.

Bridges, buildings, manufacturing facilities, pretty much all human inventions, follow the same principle. The one exception I can think of is art. Good art stands the test of time more than any other human endeavour.

Time, like wind and water, inevitably erodes all structures. Things change, and the purpose changes too. When that happens, the structure must adapt, or eventually lose its relevance.

This journal had a narrow focus: commuting on a Vespa to a job in the city.

That focus is now too narrow mainly because, at least for the time being, I'm not commuting, and the Vespa is no longer the only bike in the stable. I had to expand the range of topics and squeeze them into a container that's somewhat ill-fitting, or expand the topics and re-design the container to fit. There's that, and the fact that my daughter Lauren told me that my blog was 'dated' and sorely in need of a face lift.

That's it then. The new container isn't perfect of course, but it now feels big, clean, and airy, and ready for evolving content, and it seems to run equally well on the platforms most people are using.


redlegsrides said...

I like the look and feel....

David Masse said...

Thanks Dom, that means a lot :)

RichardM said...

Very clean look on the new site and the changing header looks good.

Canajun said...

What Dom said. Have to admit that I've been thinking somewhat along the same lines - update, possibly merging blogs, opening up to new topics of conversation. But while I've been thinking, you've been doing. Well done.

Trobairitz said...

Looking good. I too like the changing header.

SonjaM said...

The changing header is great. I like your logo, too. Neat and clean.
Would you consider a larger font? Either that or I need glasses...

David Masse said...

Thanks Richard.

It took a fair bit of research and some testing before I found a Javascript/JQuery code generator that fit the bill for the changing header. The nice thing is that once you have a recipe that works, making future changes will be much, much easier.

David Masse said...

Thanks David.

One thing that made it much easier is that I had another Blogger blog to use as a tester. That way when I screwed thing up, it was never fatal. It seems to me from fiddling around, that comments don't transfer when you export and re-import a blog. Neither do the widgets, including the 'blogs I follow' widget. That one is particularly finnicky. Just adding a custom URL this winter, which was step one, caused me to lose the blogroll.

David Masse said...

Brandy, I used the code generator. The interface was not intuitive enough for me, and for a while there I was beginning to think the whole thing was a sham.

Once I stumbled around in the dark long enough, I eventually figured out how the thing worked and I have to say, having gotten pretty much what I wanted out of it, I am a satisfied customer.

Plugging the code into Blogger was another magic carpet ride, and needed some Googling and some tricky McGiver-type finnagling, but I got it done.

As I've said, I am happy to share if anyone is interested.

David Masse said...

Thanks Sonja, font fixed, I think. Let me know what if your eye strain is lessened.

The logo was a two-day affair inolving pencil and paper, then a Buddah Board (a small tablet that you write on with a calligraphy brush dipped in water) where the brush strokes disappear as the water dries, then the Keynote app on the iPad.

Susan worked with me on it. Without her suggestions it would never have seen the light of day. I am so pleased with it, I'm considering having it embroidered on some T-Shirts.

Joe said...

That bit about your daughter telling you that the look of the blog was dated... That's why I've kept my blogging a secret from family and friends. The last time I took advice from my daughter I threw out all my ankle length summer socks and replaced them with those little things that barely cover your heels. Now I see kids wearing black knee length socks with flip flops.

- Joe at Scootin' da Valley

SonjaM said...

Thank you, David. The font size is perfect now. BTW I like the T-Shirt idea.

Unknown said...

Hmm, might the blog changes be related the crossroads situation mentioned in your last post?... (Enquiring minds want to know.)

No offense to anyone who likes a lot of background graphics, widgets, and whatnots in their blog, but I prefer a clean look. I believe that the content should be the focus--the same way I believe that an art print should be mounted with a wide, neutral mat and in a simple frame. Art should be forced to stand on its own feet. Then again, that's just one guy's opinion.

I look forward to enjoying the evolving content of your blog, David.

David Masse said...

Thanks for coming by Joe!

I like your blog and am adding it to my reading list.

I try to be open to criticism as much as possible, but I like it best when it's served up gently and lovingly, which my daughter manages to do.

I like what I came up with, but other than the whiteness and much more crisp header pics, it's still a good old Blogger template. I still have some tweaks to do, and some maintenance on the various pages, but I feel that I have a better platform for the future, and that's important to me.

David Masse said...

Absolutely related to the crossroad Ry.

I started a novel about seven or eight years ago that stalled when I ran out of time. I am toying with the thought of serializing it here. If I decide to do that it will take some time to get the early chapters into shape. You see, my wife was kind enough to read it, and suggested that it would be good to back the plot up a tad, and tackle the story from an earlier period. No big deal, because I have a timeline that can span multiple novels and I chose to start the narrative somewhere in the middle of the piece. But it means that the first chapters are actually the most recently worked on and there are some that are more notes than prose. To serialize it here and test the waters with actual readers (those who may read for pleasure rather than the sake of family ties) I need to devote the time needed to get those first chapters right.

Because of the variety of stuff I may want to publish in the future, I had to find a way to move away from the old Scoot Commute branding in the header. A sliding header seemed to be a good way to present additional themes to visitors, without completely moving too far afield from riding. Time will tell whether I have succeeded.

I share your view that the container needs to be light to allow the content to be the focus. Hopefully the white theme gets me closer to that ideal, without the header being too much of a distraction.

The nice thing is that adding more theme panes, is going to be very straightforward. Something like five to ten minutes to photoshop the images using a standard template, another five minutes to upload them, and, if I'm adding some panes rather than just changes the photos, another ten minutes or so to tweak and regenerate the code.

The challenge was figuring out how to get all that done without completely messing up the blog I have spent five years nursing from oblivion into the light.

No pain, no gain.

Conchscooter said...

I think it is an easy format to read. Because I am lazy I eschew all format promises.And I do it to please myself. You do the same and it will be fine.

Steve Williams said...

You've done a great job categorizing and making your content available to visitors which will make the user experience much better than on my blog where things are just in a sort of linear list. I've thought about making that better but I've never gotten to the point you have. Congratulations!

I chuckled when I saw the SPAM link and had to see what was there. Was surprised you had a link to the list -- that's for the adventurous. My WordFence security plugin finds malware links in SPAM all the time -- woe to the person who clicks on one of those links...

I always look forward to your next post -- they're always a surprise.

Onward and ride safe!


David Masse said...

I think that's right Michael.

Done well, a blog is art. Susan and I were watching Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman in Five flights up last night, which we thoroughly enjoyed. Morgan Freeman plays an artist late in his career, who never quite found as much commercial success as he would have liked. One of the characters makes the point that an artist must above all please himself or herself. I think most of us feel that way. You do, and so do I.

David Masse said...

Thanks for the kind words Steve. To be perfectly honest, you were, and remain, a key source of inspiration.

As for the Spam post, I went back to re-read it, and it made me chuckle. It made me notice that I no longer get much spam, if any.

When I became an editor of Bob's blog, I noticed that his blog wasn't attracting much spam. I checked out his settings, and changed my settings to match his. I don't moderate comments other than those that appear on older posts, and I turned off the whole Captcha routine (at least I think I have). Even there, there hasn't been any spam in months.

In re-reading the thread of comments on my Spam post, my favorites are the genuine spammers' comments targeting that post.

I particularly like this exchange:

"Anonymous August 5, 2014 at 4:39 PM

Awesome blog! Do you have any helpful hints for aspiring
writers? I'm hoping to start my own blog soon but I'm a little lost on everything.

Would you recommend starting with a free platform
like Wordpress or go for a paid option? There are so many choices
out there that I'm completely overwhelmed .. Any
tips? Many thanks!

My website :: wordpress themes free 2014


David Masse August 5, 2014 at 10:03 PM

Dear Anonymous,

You've left me lost for words. I feel drawn to reply to your polite plea for assistance, yet it's so clearly obvious you need no such thing.

So it's fitting, I suppose that a disingenuous call for help receive precious little in the way of a helpful response.

Making this exchange entirely useless. 'Content free' would be an appropriate label if it could be bottled and sold on store shelves."

VStar Lady said...

Isn't it great to have time to fiddle!

Unknown said...

David, I think about the reading I've done over the years: I usually first pick up an author for the material covered. I stick with an author for the "voice", for the approach to the material. Quickly "what" takes a back seat to "how".

If you are at all concerned that by posting non-moto material you might lose readers... Well, I wouldn't be too worried if I were you. I think it's likelier that you'll gain readers, for the new type of material being covered.

The following is paraphrased from On Reading a Novel by Hermann Hesse 1933.

I am a Writer and I have known for a long time that the authors who “choose” their material are no novelists, and are never worth reading, and so the material of a novel can never be the subject of a value judgment. A novel can deal with the most splendid material of world history and be worthless, and it can deal with nothing, a lost pin or burnt soup, and be a genuine work of literature.

The author of a novel ought to feel respect for the material, whereas the reader ought to have respect for the writing, for the author’s skill, and ought to judge a work of literature, disregarding its subject matter, first of all for the excellence of its workmanship. For after some decades of living and writing I have made the discovery that it is easy to imitate ideas and emotions or to pretend to have them, but that this is not true of excellence in handiwork.

David Masse said...

Karen, great doesn't scratch the surface :)

Fiddling has been fun. We'll see if the changes can stand the test of time.

David Masse said...

I say I like to write, and I do like to write. I haven't given it anything close to deep thought.

I don't think that enjoying writing is really the point though, at least it may not be for me. As I think about it, I think that what I really like to do is to use words and language to inform, to entertain, or to cause something to happen. If I pursue that idea, I think that the concept of causation is truly at the source of the satisfaction I get from writing.

As a lawyer, I learned to use language and words to cause things to happen, often against the reader's will, by crafting pleadings, whether as claims, or as a means of defense to claims.

When I started this blog, my objective was to help those, like me, who wanted to ride, specifically to commute, and to communicate the lessons I had learned from facing challenges and rising to them. Basically my dominant wish was to teach.

As time went on, I found I wanted to go beyond teaching and informing, and to entertain at the same time.

I am still at that point today. It's just that the range of topics I want to address is broader than the original context I set up.

I like to cook, for instance. What interests me is the essential alchemy of French cooking. More specifically, sauces like mayonnaise, hollandaise, béarnaise, and so on. I was killing time at the local bookstore today and wandered into the cookbook section. I pulled three or four seminal cookbooks off the shelf to look at hollandaise recipes. Not surprising to me, three out of four clearly had the recipe wrong in terms of basic process and technique, like really wrong. I thought instantly that I needed to explain hollandaise, compare and contrast some recipes from famous cookbook authors, and point out the differences, and what they get right, and what they get wrong. That might lead to a series of posts on the classic French sauces and how, for instance, the ingredients in mayonnaise and hollandaise are so similar, and the objective is essentially the same, but the processes, techniques and the chemistry are completely different.

I think that with the amount of misinformation out there, even in some very famous cookbooks, a sauces thread would be totally worthwhile, for me, and for many potential readers.

I think I agree with Elizabeth Gilbert's take on the challenges of writing. I think that writers perform best when the topics pick them, rather than the other way around. That may be what Hermann Hesse was alluding to.

My plan is therefore to open my doors and windows, and lift off the roof (figuratively, speaking of the blog settings), so that I have the means to tackle whatever the forces of nature toss my way.

The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.