The 5 Most Important Things You’ll Read All Week

1) Have you noticed? Increasingly, bloggers are inserting numbers into post titles to increase readership and improve search engine rankings. “5” has replaced “3” for most popular number. “17” is trendy too. I don’t know why numbers increase readership and improve search engine rankings. I find it disingenuous at best and insulting at worst. As if all anyone can process anymore is a list. My one-time use of it here is sarcasm. I should start a movement. . . force a number into your title and we’ll refuse to read what follows. Who is in?

2) Imagine a world in which everyone reads and discusses books with people different than them. My favorite story from last week.

3) The Seattle Mariners are the best team in baseball when it comes to this.

4) Is this a trend. . . dad’s helping grown daughters who aren’t necessarily interested in their help? I’ve never offered unsolicited advice to my daughters. . . that’s an additional serving of sarcasm. One of my daughters’ friends laughed at her dad for sending her an article on “How to save and invest money”. Another “couldn’t believe” her dad mailed her bicycle to her at college, then assembled it during a visit. The “extremely large” bike box was difficult and embarrassing to pick up at the mail room. The two wheeler was used one or two times during the school year. This isn’t limited to dad’s and daughters. Parents often presume their young adult children want to save money, invest wisely, prepare healthy meals, bicycle, etc., etc. Maybe I should start a movement where parents let their young adult children know they’re interested in sharing different “lessons learned” if and when they’re interested. And then we’ll sit back and wait for our young adult children to ask us for help.

5) I’m filing this under “Sometimes I Amaze Myself”. I’ve done it again, I’ve come up with a brilliant idea. This one will enable me to extend my triathlon career for many more years. Based upon my swimming, cycling, and running training log, I have a very good feel for how fast I can swim 1500 or 1900 meters, how fast I can ride 40k or 56 miles, and how fast I can run 10k or 13.1 miles. That means all I have to do is guess how bad my transitions would likely be, and presto, I can spend a few minutes on-line on Mondays to see what place I would’ve finished had I actually shown up at that weekend’s races. This way I save tons of coin and race every weekend without swimming through seaweed or increasing my exposure to the sun. I “won” my age group at a few recent races.

 

Thank You

Most bloggers, like most people, are motivated by social status and wealth. I get contacted all the time by bloggers who want to teach me how to monetize my blog in three easy steps.

I write because we are social beings and writing is one especially beautiful way to deepen relationships and create lasting community. Like the wannabe Stoic that I am, I try to write twice a week immune to the humble blog’s statistics. But I’m only partially successful. I like peeking at the changing number of visitors  and where all over the world readers live. Truth be told, even worse, my blogging enthusiasm ebbs and flows in part based on the vagaries of your reading preferences.

Thank you for visiting this calendar year. I wish it didn’t matter, but it does. Thanks to everyone that took time to comment through the year. And thanks to Don for being my editor extraordinaire. And most importantly, thanks to everyone who is able to tell me in person that they have read a recent post. That’s the most positive encouragement I receive. It’s one thing to look at a bar graph with “page views”, it’s a whole different thing to see individuals behind the numbers. I wish my motivation was completely intrinsic, but I imagine that will remain an elusive ideal. Your participation matters, so thank you.

My goal for 2014 is to stay the course, by which I mean share insights about families, schools, and communities that illuminate and inspire. I hope you achieve whatever is most important to you and yours in 2014.

I was going to recreate this vid, but I couldn’t find a tutu that would fit or a white horse. God bless the carnies.

Dare to Disagree

Interesting few days at Wimbledon, the US Supreme Court, and the humble blog. It all started when I criticized “Mr. Money Mustache” in his comment section for ripping into one of his readers. As I explained in the previous post, MMM is a wildly successful blogger who writes about personal finance and early retirement.

He provides excellent details on how he’s managed to retire early and offers no-nonsense advice on how to replicate his success. Understandably, his legion of readers dig him for the tangible help he’s provided them. He typically responds to every tenth or twentieth reader comment, and because nearly every one is in essence an “amen to that” I thought he’d return serve following my critique. But he didn’t. That is, until his next post, in which he not only referred to my criticism, but linked to my previous post titled “What Engineers Get Wrong”.

As a result, on Monday and Tuesday, I had a month’s worth of page views. An unintended part of my fifteen minutes of fame. Most of the mass of visitors just quietly poked around, some engineers however, took the time to rip into me for my criticism of them. If the thought of me being ripped into brings even a small smile to your face go back and read their comments. Or at least Allison’s who it doesn’t seem likes me very much. All I have to say to Allison is I’m much more charming in person. Ask my mom.

I’ve dared to disagree with MMM before and felt some of his readers’ wrath, so now I know what to expect. It’s an interesting phenomenon. It’s almost like he’s a cult leader whose followers refuse to question him. He’s even charismatic, but unlike most cult leaders, he’s not selling his personality or whacked out made up ideas, the vast majority of his content makes excellent sense. What I now realize is hIs readers so appreciate his writing that they don’t take kindly to anyone disagreeing with him. Which of course threatens to make his readers’ comment section a sleep inducing echo chamber.

But then again, you might argue the internet writ large, just like the media more generally, is an echo chamber. The sad truth is civic discourse, in which reasonable people disagree about topics that matter, is a lost art. One reason for that is no one likes to be criticized. We’re all defensive, to varying degrees. So much so we struggle to process contending viewpoints.

For example, MMM wrote that I “criticized his blog’s approach,” but my criticism was of a specific aspect of his thinking. The truth of the matter is I’m down with 90% of what he writes and if we had the chance, I have no doubt we’d enjoy cycling together, drinking a craft beer afterwards, and talking personal finance. I’m not lifting weights with him though.

Especially initially, I struggled to process all the engineers’ criticisms of me too. I’d zero in on one particular sentence that I believed to be especially wrongheaded and slight everything else. Just as my criticism was somewhat muddled in MMM’s head, their messages were muddled in mine.

The youngest daughter got a kick out of these events. “You’ve gone viral!” After she read Allison’s lengthy criticism of my last post, she asked, “So did what she write change your thinking?” That’s the all important question. After the first reading, I would have had to answer no, not at all, because I read it defensively. But thinking aloud, I said to youngest daughter, “It would be awfully hypocritical of me to blow her off when my whole point is to promote critical inquiry.”

Then I considered the criticisms more carefully and realized they had one thing in common—that I had unfairly overgeneralized about one group of professionals. Even though it was a literary device of sorts, I understand why it was upsetting. Because they showed the courage of their convictions and took the time to disagree with me, my thinking was challenged and deepened, and hopefully, that of new and old readers’ as well.

And as a result, my little slice of the internet, for at least a brief moment in time, was anything but an echo chamber.

Five Lessons Learned Blogging

What I’ve occasionally written in the past still holds—even though my readership continues to grow, it is relatively small. That’s not easy to pull off, the secret is to start with a really small readership. There are millions of bloggers in better position than me to teach others how to build a readership. Instead of a roadmap to the blog big-time, these are the modest reflections of a small-time blogger after five years and 712 posts.

1. Visuals matter. Clutter hurts, interesting high resolution pictures help. I don’t apply this insight. When it comes to “visuals”, I’d assign PressingPause a “D”. A “C” for the “WordPress in a box” template and an “F” for pictures. For pete’s sake, I’m using a default WordPress picture of a pinecone in my header. Every “D” student excels in excuses. Mine? I gave someone in my family my camera and I’ve been real slow to replace it. I’ll try to do better.

2. Good content matters even more. Ask big-time bloggers the key to their success and they’ll almost always say good content. Which means lesson one isn’t a panacea. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your layout is if your content sucks. And vice-versa, some bloggers, like John Gruber, provide such great content that excellent visuals are unnecessary. Same with Bill McBride. Minimalist templates, few if any pictures, and millions of visitors monthly.

3. Sex sells. I learned this when I included a picture of two bikini-clad snowboarders in a post that became my all-time most read. I’ve since deleted the post because it was skewing my statistics. Although the Huffington Post isn’t a blog, it’s an online newspaper that mostly rebundles hard news from traditional papers, it knows this lesson especially well. A large part of its success can be found halfway down the righthand column. It unapologetically applies the “sex sells” lesson. Here are some of the righthand column headlines from Wednesday, February 13, 2012.

  • What I have Risked for the Best Sex of My Life.
  • Listen: Graphic Jodi Arias Sex Tape Played to Jury.
  • ‘Naughty’ Librarian.
  • Beckham’s Bum.
  • Beyonce Tries the ‘Boob Window Thing.
  • Eva’s Biggest Turn On.

This stuff works! Right now I’m wondering if Eva’s biggest turn on is Beckham’s bum or Beyonce’s boob window. The use of ‘boob window’ is a significant turning point in HuffPost’s short history. To this point they’ve used “side boob” almost exclusively. “Under boob” headlines are also starting to appear. “Over boob” can’t be too far behind.

4. Passion matters. In writing as in sports, the arts, teaching, damn near everything. I was reminded of this watching Mumford and Sons on the Grammy’s. Give this example from a Colorado “Red Rocks” concert a listen. Total effort. Mesmerizing.

People appear more interested in what I have to say when I’m fired up. Angry even. But the anger can’t be finessed, it has to be authentic. And remember my recent post about being tired? These days it takes a lot more to get me to throw a punch. I would like to write angry more often, but it can’t be forced. I can’t get angry twice a week, or even weekly. So that’s a challenge.

Related to this, my most widely read, most opinionated pieces are the result of my subconscience working overtime. An acquaintance of mine, a very successful writer, once shared a memorable writing insight with me. He said if your writing project isn’t the first thing you think about when you wake up it’s not working hard enough. Ironically, my most widely read posts are ones that I pound out more quickly than average. Because I’ve been writing them for days, weeks, or months in my head.

5. Vulnerability matters. Maybe not if you’re writing exclusively about technology (Gruber), or real estate (McBride) or Economics (Cowen). Two positive examples of this are Penelope Trunk (extreme at times) and Mr. Money Mustache. This is another insight I haven’t figured out how to apply. The reason being, I don’t know how to be more vulnerable without compromising my family’s and friends’ privacy. That takes precedence. Maybe someday I’ll spill my guts in a semi-autobiographical novel.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

p.s. Be sure to return early next week for a post featuring vulnerability, sex (well, at least allusions to it), and pictures, oh my.

Administrivia

• One wonders. Is the recent uptick in readers explained by my heroic cycling exploits in the Eastern Sierras or is it just the inevitable effect of especially brilliant content (remember, italics denotes sarcasm) or was it the off-the-cuff decision to attach a racy snowboard picture to the “Educational Slowdown” post from a few weeks ago? Whatever. Welcome new readers.

• I’ve updated the front page by deleting the “About This Blog” tab. The little bit of text from that tab is now apart of the “First Time Here?” tab. I also condensed and updated the list of most popular posts. New and improved so please share away.

• I could use the help of regular readers. For the first time in awhile, I’ve worked through my queue of post topics/ideas and new ideas aren’t flowing as much as they might. Therefore, I’m wondering, what would you like me to write more about? Thanks in advance for any ideas, links to articles of interest, or questions you’d like to see me bat around. Absent much input, I’ll probably switch to posting twice weekly.

• I may be switching to a different template sometime soon. I want to add copyright protection and I need to switch from wordpress.com to a wordpress.org template to do so. I’m leaning towards “Linen”, but if you have a favorite wordpress.org template you think I should consider, hollah.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Conflict is Normal

Hope I don’t jinx myself with the next sentence. I’ve just passed through a period of above average interpersonal conflict. The wife, the daughter, everyone has been conspiring against me.

A lot of our behavior is explained by insecurities rooted in our past. As a result of our insecurities, we get sideways when other people dare think and act differently than us. Our tendency is to try to change the way they think and act. They resist. We persist. The result. Interpersonal conflict.

At a recent conference I met an insightful woman who was a professional mediator. She said something in passing that I found rather profound. “If we can normalize conflict, we can respond to it instead of react to it.” If intimacy and conflict are inseparable, as I believe they are, why do we react so poorly to conflict rather than constructively respond to it?

When we think of conflict as a weakness, as a sign of failure, and as something to be avoided at all costs, we get caught off-guard by it. That makes the successful resolution of it less likely. When we assiduously avoid conflict, natural low-level resentments build and become corrosive.

When we respond to conflict we slow things down enough to think and we’re mindful of treating the other person the way we want to be treated. We may get very emotional and talk animatedly, but we do so knowing a resolution is going to require respectful give and take. Instead of just waiting for the other person to stop talking long enough to begin arguing a point, we truly listen, and are mindful of the other person’s feelings.

When we react to conflict, we lose control of our emotions, sometimes end up shouting past one another, quit caring as much about the other person’s feelings, and ultimately say hurtful things which makes resolution much more difficult. Respond—gradual progress towards resolution. React—things spiral downwards.

It would be nice if there were Harry Potter-like wands that we could use on one another to make us more accepting of ourselves and more secure. Then maybe we’d be freed from the grip of wanting to change others to think and act more like us. By truly accepting ourselves, maybe we could learn to accept others—even their different politics, values, personalities, and life goals.

 

The Most Popular Posts of 2011

Dear Readers,

I enjoyed sharing a lot of what I learned in 2011 with you. Here were the most popular posts from the year:

1) School Principal Shortage

2) Is On-line Learning a Good or Bad Thing?

3) The Public School Budget Crisis and the Dilemma of Professional Development

4) 2011 RAMROP—Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Piece

5) The Life Changing iPhone 4S

6) Young, Devout, Maligned

7) Home Schooling is Hip. . . and Selfish

I appreciate your reading, subscribing, and forwarding posts to others. A special thanks to those who took the time to comment during the year. Recent new subscribers, a kind comment from a former student, a thoughtful email from my mom, and support from a friend at a holiday party have me ready to roll in the new year. Seemingly small gestures add up.

I’ll continue trying to provide meaningful content. I could use your help in two ways—by jumping in the water sometime this year and agreeing or disagreeing with me about something and by sending questions and/or links of things you’d like me to write about.

In appreciation,

Ron

How to Blog

One of the most important things I learned in the blogging webinar I recently participated in is that people don’t read blogs for good writing, they read them for help with specific things. So one day this week I wrote ten tentative “How to” type post titles that readers might find helpful. Lots are parenting and or teaching related. Look for me to start weaving some “How to” posts into the mix soon, starting with “How to Get Your Child to Talk About What’s Happening in School” on Wednesday, December 7th. Also know that for every “How to” post I publish there are several others I need someone to write for me. Here’s a sample:

• How to Get Your Children to Eat an Occasional Fruit or Veggie

• How To Get Your Child To Clean Up After Herself

• How to Free Your Children from The Grip of America’s Next Top Model

• The Secret to Raising Boys

• How to Sass-Proof Your Teen

• How to Get Your Child To Unplug From Facebook

• How To Turn Your Kids onto Non-fiction

• How To Get Your Child to Turn Off a Light In an Unoccupied Part of the House

• How to Teach Your Child To Turn Off the Shower

• How to Get Your Children to Wash a Car

• How to Get Your Children to Walk or Ride Their Bikes to School

• How to Get Your Teen to Sound Out Words Before Breakfast

Another worthwhile thing I learned is that posts shouldn’t exceed 600 words. My long ones tend towards 650 so I’m going to trim even more. Given my serious surplus of words here, it’s an especially good time to thank everyone for reading and sometimes commenting this year. And here’s a four-part 2012 favor. If you enjoy this blog, please bookmark it, forward a link to friends, comment sometime, and consider subscribing via email.

334 words. Can I carry the 266 over or is it a “use em’ or lose em'” thingy?

Redesign and Reset

Aside

Thanks to you, last week, 2011 page views exceeded the total page views for 2010.

I participated in an on-line blogging webinar last week. As a result of a few of the many lessons learned, I decided to tweak the design in the hope it’s a little easier to comment. I recently wrote that I understood why one might lurk and never comment, but a key webinar inspired goal is to foster more participation.

I want to encourage regular readers in particular to jump into the water. What’s your perspective? What am I not considering? What have you learned that others could benefit from?

The more people comment, the less I’ll feel compelled to. It’s okay to “talk” to one another directly.

Again, thanks for reading and thanks in advance for commenting. :)

Ten Bookmark Worthy Blogs

Huge caveat first. I don’t assume our interests overlap. These are all thoughtfully crafted blogs, but some focus on topics you will not find interesting.

With that out of the way, category one—non-stop bloggers that post several short, smart, informative, sometimes provocative posts every day.

1) Marginal Revolution by Tyler Cowen. Tagline, Small steps toward a much better world. One of the most successful blogs in the sphere. TC is a one of a kind dude. Brilliant economist also born in 1962. I’ve used a book of his in one of my classes and have exchanged a few emails with him. He has Aspergers and is the most prolific person I know. An info-savant. Posts several times a day every day. Reads several books a week. Has a co-blogger whose posts account for maybe 5% of the total. Writes books. Writes for the New York Times. Recently taught grad courses in Germany. Speaks around the world. I frequently get lost when reading his pure econ stuff, but enjoy the challenge. MR is known for the excellent quality of comments. TC is also known for his encyclopedic Washington D.C. area ethnic cuisine guide.

2) Daring Fireball by John Gruber. If he had one, tagline might read, “All things Apple.” Also very widely read, but interestingly, no comments. Minimalist design. A personal tech digest of sorts with lots of short excerpts with links to larger tech stories. I skip his software developer stuff, because you guessed it, I get lost.

Category two—bloggers without boundaries who grab you by the collar and pull you into their daily lives through truly excellent, highly specific, deeply personal writing.

3) Penelope Trunk Blog by Peneleope Trunk. Tagline, advice at the intersection of work and life. Also has Aspergers. Posts 2-4x/week. Posts are longish with lots of links. Every post is carefully written with nice pics. Employs an editor. Posts are often deeply personal and provocative. Someday, I hope to have half of PT’s writing guts.

4) The Altucher Confidential by James Altucher. Tagline, Ideas for a world out of balance. A male Penelope Trunk, although I don’t think he has Aspergers. Writes long posts almost daily. Always personal and provocative. Some of his best stuff flows from a Tina-Fey-like sense of self deprecation. Someday, I hope to have half of JA’s writing guts.

Category three—photog bloggers that skillfully use pics to compliment their substantive, solid writing.

5) DC Rainmaker by Ray Maker. If he had one, tagline might read, “All things triathlon, personal fitness technology, and travel.” Tied for “most interesting dude in D.C.” with Tyler Cowen. Late 20’s, from Seattle, works all over the world in IT. Also extremely prolific, long, detailed posts nearly every day. Given his near constant globe trotting, my wild ass guess is he works for the State Department, helping embassy’s with their computer networks. Brilliant on several levels. Outstanding photog, serious IT chops, and a clear thinker and writer (my INTEL friend says their engineers only speak and write in ways they understand). His reviews of exercise watches and related fitness gadgets are laughably detailed. I usually scroll to his conclusions. Recently married “the Girl” which leads to the next recommendation.

6) Berties Bakery. Don’t know “the Girl’s” name. If she had one, tagline might read, “Drool-worthy cakes and things”. Careful, you’ll gain weight just by clicking that link. I don’t have this bookmarked, but check it out on occasion when Ray references it. SAT syllogism—as Ray is to personal fitness technology, the Girl is to cakes. Spectacular culinary art illustrated with magazine quality pics.

A few more, category-defying bookmark worthy blogs.

7) The Browser/Five Books. Maybe more of an on-line mag. Interviews with academic authors and novelists about their choices for the five most important books related to different topics. Recent topics included American Conservatism and China.

8) World in Motion by Scott Erb. Tagline reads “Reflections on culture, politics, philosophy, and world events during an era of crisis and transformation. Poli Sci teacher at a public liberal arts college in the Northeast. Interdisciplinary thinker and writer. Smart, prolific, a lefty at core, but often writes in a refreshingly non-ideological manner. Better political analysis than you’ll find on the networks or most major newspapers. Superb recent post on Styk that he told me led to a spike in readership.

9) On Performance by Justin Baeder. Tagline, “Examining issues of performance, improvement, and the changing nature of the education profession.” Hosted by Education Week. The blog I might be writing if I wasn’t suffering from advanced education cynicism and fatigue.

10) Miss Minimalist by Francine Jay. Tagline, “Living a beautiful life with less stuff.” Clear, inspiring, thoughtful, focused writing about exactly what’s advertised, living a beautiful life with less stuff.