Monthly Archives: August 2008

Website Wednesday: Typeracer

I’m still kinda tired from my New Orleans trip, but it’s Wednesday and y’all are expecting a website, right? To get over the mid-week hump (or, in my case, survive your first day back to work) visit http://play.typeracer.com/.

The idea is simple:  See how fast you can type.  You can race your friends or complete strangers.  The best part is that the passages you type are fun… they come from popular movies, songs, literature, etc.  

I spend a great deal of time typing–emails, IMs, actual work– so I thought I’d be pretty good at this.  I can sometimes win a race or two, but you’ll never see me on the leader board.  Turns out there are some SUPER quick typists out there…. like 200 words per minute.  Yikes!

Look, I won!

Look, I won!

WARNING: This site has a high addictive potential and may eat up valuable hours of productivity.  It is best if you play at home or during only approved breaks from work!

Blogging about Blogging, part 2: Drafting

I’m back from New Orleans and I promise to write a re-cap post once I have a couple more photos to include.

For now, however, let’s re-visit our earlier conversation about the blogging process.  Like any kind of writing, the process of blogging can be broken down into four steps: prewriting, drafting, revising, and editing.   Choosing topics falls into the pre-writing category, so let’s look at the other steps.

Drafting: According to this incredibly helpful article from MIT, the drafting process is supposed to be writer-centered.  Get your ideas out, they tell us, and worry about going back and revising later.  To a certain extent, this is exactly how I compose my blogs– I write out everything I want to say in one fell swoop and then I go back and revise. 

But I also revise as I go along.  Sometimes I’ll have a good idea in my head before I start, and sometimes it comes later.  At other times, I get deep into my “drafting” zone and whatever brilliant nugget I thought of earlier never finds a “place” in the natural flow of things. 

Sometimes I don’t even make full sentences or paragraphs.  I’ll simply type out the “nuggets” and build paragraphs around them.   The transitions will come later, I tell myself.  Sometimes they don’t.

For the most part, the process I use for writing blog posts isn’t that much different from the other types of writing I do.  I try to think a little more about what the audience might want to read, but that’s about it.  I try to keep my tone more conversational than I might in work-related copy and I try harder to keep  my posts more on-topic than in personal emails, but the process itself is pretty much the same.

As I’m drafting, I don’t worry much about structure, unless I have a clear-cut idea of what I’m going to say.  If it’s a top 10 list of my favorite books, for example, the structure/organization will be pretty easy.   If it’s just a rambling post about my latest idiotic adventure, I might go on and on and on for ages before I figure out where the “good parts” are.

Zach Morris Moment: If you can’t tell by now, I’m intentionally writing this post as an example of a “draft.”  The more I write the more I realize I’m rambling and I need to revise.  For illustrative purposes, I’m fighting the urge to cut, move, and refine the text above. 

Sometimes I have an outline.  Either in my head, on the screen or occasionally, on paper.  Sometimes I have almost all of the post written before I even open up my laptop.  It just depends on the type of post and the complexity of the subject.  

There is no outline for this post, for example, because even though I knew I wanted to write about the blogging/composing process, I’m not sure what I want to say about it.  In fact, I was originally going to write just one post about how I blog, but the first post was so long I decided to break it up.  Had there been a pre-determined outline for the first post, the subject of actually writing the blogs night have just been a sentence or two.

Zach Morris Moment: At this point in the “normal” writing process I would realize that this post has become too long and rambling and is not yet ready for publication.  I would also realize that it’s 11:15 p.m. and Mad Men comes on in 15 minutes.  I would normally hit “save” and re-visit this post at a later date.   Instead, I’m going to hit “publish” (without even spell-checking) and hope that my explanation that this is just a draft is enough to keep the hecklers at bay. 

(Seriously, people… I know this isn’t a well-composed piece of work. Go easy on me)

Foto Friday-Vacation Edition

As I leave on my first real vacation of the summer, I thought it would be fitting for this Foto Friday to focus on vacation memories. (say that 5 times fast!) Although I travel fairly often, I go on precious few vacations. For the purpose of this blog, I’m defining a vacation as a trip out of state not for work. (The San Fran trip was for work, but I stayed over for vacation, so it counts)

Grand Tetons 03-- You wouldn't know it was the middle of the summer the way I was dressed
Grand Tetons 03– You wouldn’t know it was the middle of the summer the way I was dressed
Yellowstone 2003-- by Old Faithful
Yellowstone 2003– by Old Faithful
San Fran 05-  With a flower in my hair in front of the Golden Gate Bridge
San Fran 05- With a flower in my hair in front of the Golden Gate Bridge
Jamaica 06... First full day on the beach. I'd had a little *too* much!
Jamaica 06… First full day on the beach. I’d had a little *too* much!
Uncle Denny, Jo, Ryan, Aunt Linda, Me
Minnesota 07– In front of the Gosh Dam Place: Uncle Denny, Jo, Ryan, Aunt Linda, Me
)
Missouri Christmas 07– hey, it’s out of state :)
Me, Erin, Kim, Lindsey, Kari, Steph
Vegas 2008-- I don't have many pix of myself from this trip, so the Vegas "skyline" will have to do!
Vegas 2008– I don’t have many pix of myself from this trip, so the Vegas “skyline” will have to do!
STL May 08-- Cardinals game for Jeff's bday

STL May 08-- Cardinals game for Jeff's bday Kristi, Kari, Lindsey, Jaime, Me, Erin

And, She’s Off…

I was hoping to write part 2 of my blogging on blogging series, but I have to be up at 3 a.m. to catch a flight to New Orleans.  That gives me a whopping 4 hours of sleep.

So, I’ll be away for a few days, but don’t fear:  If all goes well, Foto Friday should be up tomorrow at about the same time I’ll be landing in the Big Easy.

Or, might I recommend the following:

Pop over to Angela’s blog and say hello.  She just started, but I expect to see great things from her.  She has such a wonderful personality and helpful nature that there’s bound to be some good stuff on there

Read (or re-read) the posts from my last Nawlins trip.

Check out some of my other personal faves:

(and, yes, I’m just vain enough to believe that at least one of my three readers might miss reading the blog while I’m gone!)

Blogging on Blogging: Choosing Topics

Inspired by this post from the always-entertaining FilkBlog, I decided to reflect upon my writing process for this blog; From how I choose my topics to the actual writing and editing of my posts.

First up… Choosing Topics

My topics tend to fall in one of these categories:

Even within these broad categories, however, choosing topics is kind of hard. 

I always struggle with what is and isn’t blog-worthy.   For each post you see here there are probably 4 or 5 posts I was going to write, but didn’t because I thought they were too lame or boring.

How I “manage” my blog ideas is quite unique:  Sometimes I’ll start a post with just a title (My Summer Staycation, for example).  I’ll save it in WordPress and I’ll come back to it.  For the time-sensitive stuff, I will sometimes pre-write them and set them to publish on the appropriate day (Wednesday or Friday).

I also have a running list of possible blog topics saved as a draft email.  That list is much vaguer more vague than the list of unpublished posts sitting in my WordPress queue, but sometimes when I’m in the mood to write and I can’t think of anything, I’ll refer back to this list to jog my memory.

For the other bloggers out there, I’m curious to hear your process for choosing topics.  Do you keep lists of ideas?  How do you edit yourself and decide which topics are “ready for prime time?”   Do you force yourself to blog at pre-determined intervals or just when the mood strikes you?

Website Wednesday: Wordle

First of all, I need to give credit where credit is due.   I first learned of Wordle.net from this blog post.  (Yes, it’s work-related, but also fun).  Whereas Traci goes to great lengths to describe how Wordle can be used for educational purposes, I’m using it for my own vanity and amusement.

Wordle is a fun tool for making text clouds.  The clouds represent the words used in any piece of writing–website, blog, poem, etc– so that the more often a word is used, the bigger the text.  Below is the Wordle for this blog (I think it’s just pulling the first page of text)

Carichblogs home page

Here’s one for my “things that suck” blog post:
Things that suck

Things that suck

And, for fun, here’s the Wordle for this very post:

Wordle of Wordle post

Wordle of Wordle post

As you can see, you can play around with the font, the colors, the layout, etc. You can even limit the number of words that show up on a Wordle (default is 150).   It’s really interesting to see how often different words show up in your writing.  I, for one, was a little embarrassed when I saw how often I used the word ‘like.’  It’s like I’m a valley girl or something!

The only downside is that you can’t easily save your Wordles.  You can publish them to the public gallery and get the HTML code or you can create a screen shot, but you can’t just right-click and save. 

Play around with it, anyway.  I guarantee you’ll have fun and want to share your Wordles, too!

88 Broadway Falls Flat

I went to 88 Broadway (the piano bar at Lincoln Square) this weekend for a friend’s birthday.  It was the second time I’ve been there and I must say… it didn’t get any better.

There are a number of problems with this place

  • Its in the mall. Okay, it’s called Lincoln Square “village” now, but there’s a Hallmark store directly across from it and it definitely still feels like a mall. They really don’t do much to disguise the fact that it’s in the mall. No matter where you sit, you’re always reminded you’re in the mall. If you’re lucky enough to get a table inside the bar, you’re facing out towards Hallmark.  If not, you may actually have to sit in the mall itself.  And if it’s after 9:00, you have to pay $5 for the privilege.
  • The fondue isn’t very good. The first time I went, I didn’t go for dinner, but I had a bit of the chocolate fondue my friends had ordered.  It was fine.  But it’s also hard to mess up.

    This time, I went for dinner and was planning on giving the fondue a try (even after reading this report on Champaign-Taste). No dice.  They were out of cheese fondue.  On a Friday night.  I ordered appetizers and some of our party had pizzas and they said it was good.  But if they’re trying to be a fondue place, maybe they should have fondue.  Oh, and a tip: If you go after 9 you can’t get fondue.  Not even the chocolate.

  • The dueling piano show is lame.  If you’ve ever been to The Big Bang or Howl at the Moon, you know how a dueling piano show goes;  you sing along to cheesy pop songs, you make requests, you convince your friends to go on stage and make fools of themselves.  It’s a good time.
    Well, 88 Broadway is kinda like that.  Without the fun.  There’s not a lot of room on the stage.  There is NO dance floor.  The songs and jokes are already stale (and a couple are stolen directly from The Big Bang).  I can’t comment on the piano playing, but man they botched the singing this weekend. I’ll give them credit… it takes a lot of talent to be able to play such variety, but the singing was awful.
  • The atmosphere is boring. Even though they encourage audience participation in the piano show, there’s really no way to get up and mingle with people.  You’re mostly just sitting in your seat watching a show (and a lame one at that).   The service is slow (but nice) and they don’t seem to be very organized.  I realize it’s a new bar, but come on… they should have some of the kinks worked out by  now.

The bottom line is that they’re trying to do too much and not doing any of it well.  It’s trying to be The Melting Pot, The Big Bang, a martini bar, and a sports bar all at once.

(They even had the Olympics on during the piano show on Friday.  I think the biggest applause they got all night was when the crowd cheered for a former Illini player as he was walking in the opening ceremony.)

I’d say if you really want to check it out… go for the piano show.  Go before 9:00 so you don’t have to pay cover, get a table inside and see if you like it.  It could be fun under the right circumstances, but it’s definitely not the kind of place I could go to regularly.  In fact, if I wanted to see a dueling piano show, I think I’d drive to The Big Bang in St. Louis before going back to 88 Broadway.