A Newsletter for Podcasts Listeners

“Write about what you know” the saying goes.

I know something about podcasts. I regularly listen to over 70. When discussing favorite shows at cocktail parties, I tend to find myself accidentally holdingcourt. I love the medium. Not only listening to shows: I’be even invested significant (for me) coin in contributing.

So, I’d like to write about podcasts.

I’ve toyed for a while now with the idea of publishing a newsletter about podcasts.

There are already several excellent resources like this for the professional side (Hot Pod, for example), but I’ve yet to come across anything for fellow connoisseurs, to help spread the word about new things to listen to.

The problem this would solve for me if someone else were writing it is that I’ve pretty much exhausted my friends’ recommendations for great new shows to try.

In a perfect world I could grow readership beyond just friends, as people appreciate my insight and advice and share the newsletter with their friends. Maybe I could even end up compensated for it somehow, to offset all the time this hobby consumes.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Baby steps: I’ll begin devoting posts on this blog to sharing about shows and specific episodes I recommend, and things I’ve learned from them. I’m already devoting time to writing (backed by a Beeminder commitment) and I’m done with the Replacing Guilt series, which frees me up for this, so this is a hittable goal.

What will I write about? For starters, these three ideas should keep me interested for a while:

  • Current/recent episodes reviews, especially to showcase episodes that strike me as particularly worthwhile
  • Best-of listicles — best of genres I care about, or best episodes within a series, etc.
  • Critical reviews of shows

What do you think? Would you be interested in subscribing? Have you come across something like this that I haven’t? What would make you interested to read this series?

This post is part of the thread: Podcast Reviews – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.

I will blog every day in January

Beginning today, I will blog once a day in January.

At the end of this month, I’ll reflect on the experiment and decide whether to continue.

Why you should give a shit, Dear Reader

Here’s what’s in it for you:

A developer’s journal. I’ll write more about things I learn as a practicing WordPress developer, and publish references that help me for recurring tasks or situations. Looking back at traffic statistics for this blog and others, technical topics are clearly the most attractive to readers — in particular, “cheat sheets”.

Podcast recommendations. I’m a dedicated listener to dozens of shows — I’m currently subscribed to 29. I’ll tell you which episodes and which shows have added the most value to my life, and why.

Music recommendations. I also listen to a lot of music, and I’ve been told I have a gift for describing what I like about a song or a band. I’ve never penned music criticism before, so set your expectations to ‘amateurish’.

Business leadership insight. I am involved daily in managing the company I own. This is a rich experience that occasionally inspires thoughts I’d like to share. Sounds boring, right? I promise only to publish the ones I think are truly good.

Comedy. I am honing my make-you-laugh skills. Thus, I may occasionally try to make you snort your drink through your nose. Again, I’m new at this, so I can’t promise that will taste or feel very good.

Football, a.k.a. soccer. We’re in the MLS offseason, but that does not stop me from thinking about the Timbers every day. Perhaps I shall write about them, too.

General nerdery. I have mostly been shy to fly my nerd flag in public. This is a vestige of social anxiety born of mostly-forgotten agonies endured in middle school. Now well into my thirties, I belatedly see that the world is better when I share my prodigious knowledge of Star Wars, than when I don’t. (My other current nerd obsession is Kingdom Death: Monster.)

Politics and current events. Because I can’t help myself and it’s an election year here in the U.S., I will occasionally tell you what to think.

Religion. I may get inspired to tell you more about my beliefs, etc. I’m in a waning phase of religious involvement, so this is unlikely.

Personal updates and stories. I am the sharing type. You may only care about my personal highlights, growth, and challenges if you are a friend or family member. Then again, maybe not.

What’s in it for me

Taking the time to blog every day seems good for several reasons, but mainly this:

I expect the daily practice to make me a better writer. I also expect the discipline will benefit other areas of my life.

The truth is that I’m tempted to pledge to do this all year long, right now. But I realize that’s a terrible idea.

I could quickly grow to wish I hadn’t made such a pledge, in the moment, when it seemed like a good idea, before I tasted the reality of it. I could simply become overwhelmed by the commitment. I could decide I have more important things to do with my time. Less likely, I could simply run out of topics. (Actually, no way that’ll happen.)

But, I still want to give this a shot.

So as a gift to my present self and to my future self, I pledge to do this for just a month, and then decide whether to continue.

Live Documenting WCSEA 2015

This is a meta post on how I documented the WordCamp Seattle 2015 conference by immediately posting my notes after each session.

How I did it

I prepped by creating draft posts ahead of time with titles, URI slugs, and starter categories (and threads) the day before. This took me about 15 minutes — which allowed me that much more time for transitioning between sessions and socializing in the halls on the day-of.

I even drafted this post the day before, so that all I had to do afterward was add any how-tos I came up with that I hadn’t anticipated, reflect on my stated goals and report on whether I met them, and a final proofread. (It still took me over a week to come back and post this, oh well.)

I kept my laptop’s wifi antenna powered off throughout the day except right after sessions, to publish. This conserved battery life and kept me free from distractions while writing (like popup notifications and following the conference backchannel on Twitter). Since I couldn’t write within WordPress’s native interface while I wasn’t connected (this is a pet peeve — offline first is a thing), I used MacDown.app to write Markdown offline, then pasted it into my post editor with Markdown on Save mode enabled. I was able to depend on MacDown’s decent live preview pane to trust my Markdown to render well enough within WordPress.

To capture featured images, I tried sitting where I had a decent camera angle and an unobstructed view of the speaker. I kept my phone out during talks long enough to get a good “action” shot or two, choosing a moment when the speaker was gesturing with their arms or standing a bit away from the podium, to make it more interesting.

When I came up with action items for myself based on what I was hearing during the session, I added them to the bottom of my notes, instead of inline (as usual). These wouldn’t be valuable for the public, so I segregated them as I went, rather than having to edit them out later.

I used question and answer time at the end of sessions to review, edit, and publish my notes. I usually find this to be a pretty low-value part of a conference session, when people in the audience frequently get on a soap-box or get down-in-the-weeds, so I felt good about tuning this part out.

I created a checklist ahead of time for steps to review at publishing time, to reduce my cognitive overhead at publish-time and reduce the likelihood of mistakes.

My goals for live documenting

  1. Contribute to the community by sharing my notes and posting this content as quickly as possible, and by going deeper than tweeting the highlights. I feel this was a success. People seemed to appreciate it.

  2. Post notes for all seven sessions I planned to attend. I succeeded. (w00t! Whew.)

  3. Own my own content. I own copyright for my own words here at mattheweppelsheimer.com. This was a success. (Foregone conclusion.) Sorry you missed out this time, Twitter.com.

  4. Be more efficient with note taking. I tend to write rough notes that I don’t get around to editing until much later. This exercise would force me to edit as I went and simplify my takeaways, which would make the notes useful more quickly, and avoid creating more low-priority follow-up tasks that would linger for weeks or months. (I have enough of those already.) This was a success. I have relatively few follow up tasks, and I don’t feel any anxiety about reviewing my notes because I know they’re useful. I look forward to reviewing them in the future at my leisure.

  5. Be more engaged during talks. I figured that having to put out a tangible digest would keep me more focused. I figured this would also constrain my tendency to start processing ideas and inspirations I get in the middle of the talks. (I typically go off on mental tangents in the middle of a talk, which is fun, but sometimes means I miss something important.) I feel this was a success.

  6. Not sacrifice hallway time. It was important to me not to be all consumed with this project all day long — I didn’t want it to completely take over my experience and get in the way of socializing, networking, etc. This was a failure. It did take a lot of mental energy, and as it turned out I didn’t end up with any hallway time — in fact I was a minute or two late to the start of most sessions because I was wasn’t quite able to publish during transition time.

  7. Bonus: Include featured images. I didn’t actually think I’d have time to pull this off, because having the presence of mind to pay attention to content while also taking a great photo would be difficult. When the content was too interesting for me to both capture notes and capture visuals, I decided ahead of time I would sacrifice the visuals. This was a failure. But oh, well — I didn’t hit my bonus goal.

Other outcomes

I learned that I need better syntax highlighting here on mattheweppelsheimer.com. Alex Mills’ Syntax Highlighter Evolved to the rescue.

I didn’t think about this until the day-of, but by including the speakers’ Twitter handles in my tweets, I was recruited them to spread the word. More traffic for me, more utility for their followers — a win-win.

Final judgement

Was it worth it? Will I do this again?

Yes, it was. And yes, I will — provided my main goal at a conference is to learn as much as I can from the talks, as was the case this time. If my primary aims are to network, prospect, or socialize, I won’t have time to do this.

This post is part of the thread: 2015 WordCamp Seattle Live Notes – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.

Categories do it wrong

I don’t know what categories are for in WordPress.

I’m currently drafting a post that defies categorization. It draws on a some recent life lessons in self-improvement (Personal) to explain why and how I’m going to attempt to use this website (Meta) as a proving ground for how WordPress (WordPress) can replace Twitter (Technology), which is an incredibly important albeit flawed service (Cyborg Anthropology).

If Categories hold any value, I suspect it is as a tuner into high-level channels, e.g. useful for top-level navigation. As in, are you hear to hear my ramblings on religion? Awesome, here’s a category for you [and link to /category/religion/]. If you know me from WordPress-land, well then here [/category/wordpress/]. But right now, at this early stage, I’m not confident what this blog’s themes will turn out to be.

And furthermore, those high-level channels break down when a piece is about ALL THE CATEGORIES. I don’t expect to frequently write pieces that tie all of my interests together… but I have a hunch I may surprise myself.

The nomenclature and concept of “Tags” make far more sense. I’m never shy to assign a long string of Tags to a post — as many as are appropriate. Although they may not identify high-level themes, at least I know what to do with them.

Whereas, when I’m slapping nearly every Category my site uses (present and future) on a single piece, it feels redundant, wrong, and frustrating.

I’ve been using categories because they are there, and my use has been sloppy. I’m in a pre-paving-the-cowpaths phase. The cowpaths aren’t clear yet — the grass hasn’t even grown up yet to be trampled. High level themes are vague.

So it’s time to stop with the Categories. Tags will do for now.

Todo: Expunge categories from the front-end, and live without them for a while.