In a meeting the other day, we were invited to give a “fun fact” about ourselves as an icebreaker. What I came up with is that I’ve been running my own blog for over 20 years.
“Blogging” is a hobbyist niche part of the web these days, so it counts as quirky; “20 years” is a round and notable number. But as soon as I said it out loud, I started worrying that everyone would think I was self-promoting and trying to drive traffic. Don’t forget to like and subscribe!
I’m not treating this as special event, and the only reason it even crossed my mind was because I wrote two whole posts in the last week and was surprised that two people (Hi Dave! Hi Alex!) even noticed. I first started writing this blog just after moving jobs in 2000 as a kind of a public postcard to people who knew me. For a while I enjoyed the “blog ring” community, finding new voices, linking to people I found interesting, cherishing hope that they’d like things I wrote and link back. I even did a small amount of tech blogging, again probably in the hope of getting recognized by bigger fish. In the last decade social media has changed the landscape, and blogging has waned. For a while I had an IFTTT recipe set up to auto-post anything I wrote here to Twitter, and occasionally that would generate some kind of comment response. The phase I’m in now is that I’m writing this blog for an audience of one: me. Both me now, because getting thoughts out of my head is an important tool for not getting stuck on them; and also for future me, who periodically comes back to look at thoughts and feelings from the past.
I’m not going to turn you away, beautiful stranger who stumbled in here by accident! But don’t expect me to go all Kottke.
For example: one of my work friends is following a course to become a personal trainer. She posted a chat message about keto diets, which prompted me to go back and look at what I wrote about hating Atkins many years ago. From a historical record perspective, it was a reminder that I’ve hit a “peak” weight of 77kg many times in the past, even though I have an enduring sense that I “should” be in the 71-73kg range. I stepped on the scales in early January this year and was dismayed to see myself at just over 88kg.
An interesting side effect of the pandemic lockdown is that I’ve had a lot of time to establish some different and consistent eating habits, and to “change my relationship with food” — something I’ve long felt would be much more useful to me than periodically going on a weight-loss diet. Before March, when I was flitting back and forth to Scotland every fortnight, I had some acquired some very bad snacking habits. There were always tasty treats available in the office; and at the end of the work day it was far too easy to load up on sweets and treats at the supermarket on the way back to my B&B. Travel itself was an opportunity to comfort myself with food. I’d fallen into a pattern of buying the same sandwich and snacks at Amsterdam and Edinburgh airports whenever I passed through, regardless of whether I was actually hungry.
When the opportunity isn’t there, the action can’t follow. For now, I’ve broken that pattern, and aligned myself with a different one. Even with almost no physical exercise, and without making any conscious attempts at calorie restrictions, I’ve somehow come down to 83kg. Reading my past notes about weight loss, reminding myself that I’d been at 77kg multiple times, and that 71-73 is not actually what I normally weigh, was a useful challenge to some of my negative thoughts. Thanks, past me! Future me: you’re probably reading this when you’re feeling bad about hitting some other arbitrary weight limit. Go easy on yourself. You’ve done this before, you can do it again.
Even though this blog has been active for 20 years, the underlying technology has changed quite a bit. The first articles I wrote were manual HTML fragments in a little PHP app I’d built myself on a shared account on EZPublishing. I switched to Movable Type in 2001 and loved it. I stayed up to date with all the versions, dabbled in the community, knew the template language inside out, even wrote a couple of plugins. In 2014 I moved to WordPress, because MT was creaking at the seams, and WP had reached a level of maturity I was happy with. I moved to shared hosting at Pair.com, and in 2014 switched to running my own server Linode. I’m still happy with that. In recent years I’ve swapped Apache for Nginx, and Let’s Encrypt and certbot now take care of all the annoying SSL stuff. When I see other people hand-crafting beautiful templates for their own site I still miss rolling my own designs, but usually only briefly. For now, I’m very happy with the balance of control and convenience that I get with WP.
I don’t know how many words I’ve written here, but they’ve all been non-fiction. At school, at uni, and well into the 90s I used to write short stories and occasionally, unsuccessfully, send manuscripts off to magazines. (Shout out to the IMPs from the Compuserve days.) It’s not something I’ve done in ages. I do still occasionally get the urge to write fiction again — usually just after I’ve read a book or watched a film that’s right up my alley. I want more of those stories to exist in the world!
Over the last week or so Fiona and I watched season 1 of Impulse. I’d spotted JWZ making reference to it a couple of times, and I was intrigued. It’s loosely based on Steven Gould’s book in the Jumper series. It’s really good, but also much darker than I’d expected: the story is driven by the main character’s experience and survival of sexual assault. This week I went back and re-read Jumper, and realized that the theme is not out of place at all: Jumper deals with domestic abuse, anger, and ambiguous feelings about revenge in a very open way as well. Both fall in the superpowers-but-not-superheroes genre, an area I enjoy a lot, and they shook loose a few story ideas I’ve had on the shelf for a while.
Here’s where I see another interesting difference between me twenty years ago and me, now: when I think about the effort that would go into writing a piece of fiction, I’m wondering how (and why) I would ever do something like that alone. Almost all the intellectual work I do these days, in the software arena, is a collaborative effort. We discuss, we plan, we prepare together, before we write a single line of code. The idea of going off and putting something down on paper before hashing it out thoroughly in a group first feels…strange.
Isn’t that what I’m doing right now on this blog, though? Where’s the difference? The image of the lone creator I have in my head isn’t even correct in the first place. Code review maps to early readers, QA maps to the editorial process. Architecture is reviewed in workshops and writing groups. The lone creator has never been alone.
But I really don’t need another project right now. So this weekend I’m just enjoying some world building inside my own head, and that’s where it’s likely to stay.