Blogging, Health and Work-Life Balance

Writing words..
Creative Commons License photo: _StaR_DusT_

Theres some really interesting research In May’s Scientific American about the possible health benefits of blogging.

Self-medication may be the reason the blogosphere has taken off. Scientists (and writers) have long known about the therapeutic benefits of writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. But besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery.

This comes just a month after the New York Times published an article talking about the poor working conditions often enjoyed by bloggers and the stress that bloggers could be put under.

Other bloggers complain of weight loss or gain, sleep disorders, exhaustion and other maladies born of the nonstop strain of producing for a news and information cycle that is as always-on as the Internet.

“I haven’t died yet,” said Michael Arrington, the founder and co-editor of TechCrunch, a popular technology blog. The site has brought in millions in advertising revenue, but there has been a hefty cost. Mr. Arrington says he has gained 30 pounds in the last three years, developed a severe sleeping disorder and turned his home into an office for him and four employees. “At some point, I’ll have a nervous breakdown and be admitted to the hospital, or something else will happen.”

Snooze
Creative Commons License photo: flattop341

Two seemingly contradicting articles perhaps? To me, the two articles seem to describe different types of blogging. I believe the first article argues that blogging for yourself and for fun is beneficial. It’s therapeutic and you’re not worrying about the number of posts you need to make in a day or how many readers each post gets.

The second article argues that blogging for profit is very stressful and damaging to your lifestyle. I think it makes sense: as a technology blogger you’re essentially competiting with all the big tech websites such as Cnet and Gizmodo and worrying whether you’ll get your article to Digg before everyone else. And of course everything moves really quickly on the internet.

In the end, I think it all comes down to a work-life balance. If you want to blog for profit, there is a certain point where you must let go and employ somebody else to contribute to your blog: perhaps from a different part of the world or a different time zone. One blogger is never going to be able to match the large technology companies for size or speed. It’s not easy to earn money from blogging: otherwise everyone would be doing it.

| apple-command |
Creative Commons License photo: arquera

I’d personally hate to be a professional blogger. The whole idea of having to spend a lot of time submitting to Digg and having to spend excessive amounts of time on the internet just doesn’t appeal to me. The very nature of blogging means it tends to happen at home making it very hard to get that correct work-life balance.

Saying that, I’ve recently introduced Google AdSense onto my blog archives. As a cash strapped student, any additional money I earn and which can go towards tuition fees is very welcome and very needed. It’s certainly not a huge amount of money and I’d be lying if I said it took no work to achieve even that. The way I see it: I’ve been blogging for 3 years and my blog income is very unremarkable. I couldn’t even begin to wonder how much work it would take to earn a living from it.

Thank You

I just wanted to give a special thank you to everybody who has read the blog and contributed their thoughts and comments!

The top commenters over the past months are Carl M, Tim, Ramble, iSynth, Fred, SpacePhoenix, Raith, James Baker and notepad. If you get a bit of time, please have a look at some of their websites!

I do write this blog for two reasons: because I see it as a way of sharing the things I’ve learnt so that other people can benefit and because I’ve enjoyed reading the feedback to my writings both in comments and across the blogosphere. Some comments have really challenged my opinions and conclusions and I’m very greatful for you, the readers, for doing that!

One thing that does play on my mind is whether the articles are of interest to the readership. Since I started blogging at this domain in 2004, the blog has picked up readers from all kinds of different places: Digg, BBS forum readers, PHP and Javascript Developers and other blogs. In the beginning this blog used to be predominantly about web development but in time it has morphed to be more about technology in general. I feel more recently, we’ve shifted to a combination of science, technology and society. I’ve considered instead spawning this blog off into several more focussed blogs which would make it easier for people to follow only the subjects that they are interested in.

As usual, I love to hear your thoughts and feedback on the blog… You can leave a comment below or send me an e-mail.

Firefox 3 Robot Invasion

If you’ve just downloaded Firefox 3, type in about:robots in the browser address bar. You get a nice little easter egg.

I received a Firefox 3 robots t-shirt from Mozilla in the post today for being an add-on developer. It’s pretty stylish! Sorry for the quality of the photos: the t-shirt was creased and I haven’t got around to ironing it yet!

Firefox 3 T-Shirt Front

Firefox 3 T-Shirt Back

Wii Fit launches in the USA on Wednesday

Wii Fit Stand
Creative Commons License photo: włodi

For all my American readers, Wii Fit is released in the USA on Wednesday (21st May). If demand in the USA is anything like it has been in the UK, it will be extremely hard to get so get there early and shop around! Amazon.com is already out of stock.

I’ve reviewed Wii Fit twice and strongly recommend it.

For some reason, Wii Fit retails for $89.99 in the USA. The same product retails for £80 in the UK (equivalent to $135) making it 50% more expensive in the UK by a tune of 50%. I have no idea how they get away with this but it might actually be cheaper for British consumers to import Wii Fit from the USA (assuming Nintendo don’t use region locking on discs). Even after paying sales tax, shipping and customs duty it’ll probably still be cheaper.

Alternatively wait for the EU release on April 25th. As the EU is a free market, there are no import duties.

As an aside, for some reason Wii Fit uses imperial units (feet, inches, stone) rather than metric units (metres and kilograms) in the UK. I know most people still use imperial units in the UK but I come from the generation which is more accustomed to metric units. I wish this was a setting.

Spicing up your blog posts with photos

SpiceWorld
Creative Commons License photo: pietroizzo

One problem with many of my blog posts in the past has been that they aren’t particularly interesting to look at! In the many designs which have been used in the site, I’ve played around with different fonts, text and line spacing and different text sizes to try to make text as palatable as possible. However you style your text though, I still believe your pages will look bland when you have a lot of it!

I’ve recently been experimenting with using some images to spice up the look of the blog.

This posed a problem. Where do the photos come from?

My Own Photos
I do love photography but I’m by no means a good photographer! My photograph collection is also fairly small (by a small collection I mean 8,000 photos totally 9GB) and un-indexed! And I’m fairly sure some obscure and badly lit shots from many months ago wouldn’t add that much to the post…

Google Images
Every student in the world types terms into Google Images and plagiarises images to spice up their homework or class Powerpoint presentations! However, it’s slightly illegal and constitutes copyright infringement unless the image is public domain. And it’s not exactly easy to find public domain imagery on Google Images…

bookshelf
Creative Commons License photo: chotda

Flickr
This is the third and the best option. I’ve used Flickr for quite a while but my photography is pretty lame. The best thing about Flickr though is being able to see photos taken by others. On Flickr you can search for Creative Commons licensed photos. Essentially, the Creative Commons license allows you to use the image on your webpage providing you credit the author and link back to the original.

I’m hoping that this will add a bit of colour to the blog and more pleasant reading. I’m discovering some fantastic new photos whilst searching for and adding photos to my blog posts and I hope you’ll see some photos you’ll love too!

As a bit of advice to anybody who wants to do the same thing on their blog… it’s often better to sort photos by “Most interesting” rather than “Most relevant”. That’ll mean the photos are sometimes less relevant but they’re often of a much higher quality!

It's rewarding being a blogger

Almost two years ago, I experienced an persistent error in my Javascript development in one of my scripts. It was the case of the “Expected identifier, string or number” error from having an extra comma at the end of a function. I made a blog entry about it to share my experiences solving the problem.

Somehow my blog entry got indexed by Google and started turning up on a lot of search results. The post has received over 1,500 hits in just the last quarter (the higher number of visitors on weekdays indicates its genuine traffic) and I’ve been receiving quite a few comments and thank you messages! It’s really rewarding knowing that a blog post you made has saved others a bit of time!

I know that whenever I’ve had problems getting something to work – might that be Linux, Javascript or Windows I’ve always turned to Google and the rest of the internet for help. And I’m really glad that the archive of posts and “solutions to problems” that I’ve accumulated over the years on this blog has been useful and given something back to the community.

In other news, haven’t we just have the most wonderful weather in Britain lately?

Shutdown Day: 3rd May

Next Saturday, you are challenged to live without your computer for 24 hours!

It is obvious that without computers we would find our life extremely difficult, maybe even impossible. If they disappeared for just one day, would we be able to cope?

Be part of one of the biggest global experiments ever to take place on the Internet. The idea behind Shutdown Day is to find out how many people can go without a computer for one whole day, and what will happen if we all participate!

If you can participate, enter your pledge on the Shutdown Day website and it’ll calculate how much energy is being saved. At the moment, the UK is saving 3000MJ – the equivalent of boiling 4500 kettles full of water. Worldwide the figure stands at 1.2million MJ which is about 200,000 kettles.

A fantastic chance to catch up on lost sleep or revision anyway.

The idea of Shutdown Day project is simple – just shutdown your computer for one whole day of the year and involve yourself in some other activities: outdoors, nature, sports, fun stuff with friends and family – whatever, just to remind yourself that there still exists a world outside your monitor screen.

Blogging

The third reincarnation of this blog has been going for two months! It was two months ago that I relaunched the blog using WordPress and since then there have been 75 posts on this blog (and slightly more depressingly 10,592 spam comments).

I think blogging is certainly a very rewarding experience, especially so when you write the posts which come more from your experience. A post I made earlier this month on the dilemmas of presenting climate change got linked to from some climate change skeptic websites and certainly received some very interesting comments. Certainly most of us don’t bother finding out both sides of a story before forming an opinion: and blog comments can be very insightful to a blog author in helping them to see both sides of a story.

One dilemma I’ve experienced when blogging is writing about something which is outside the strict confines of the blog. The expressed topic of this blog is science, technology and the internet but occasionally I have written about the environment, economics and politics. Journalists and bloggers always write for a target audience: the readers of their blog. For this blog, my primary audience consists of people interested in technology and web development so diversifying outside of this topic risks losing regular readers. But at the same time, I feel a blog is a personal space to express your thoughts and views: one advantage of blogs is that we’re not limited by story briefs, word counts and what we must write about.

Thanks for reading the blog over the past months and please keep reading! If you’ve got a blog of your own, leave me a note with the URL! And I’d really like to hear your thoughts and feedback on the blog.

Microsoft Windows Vista will "collapse"

Technology analysts Michael Silver and Neil MacDonald from Gartner said that Windows Vista will collapse unless big changes are made.

Among Microsoft’s problems, the pair said, is Windows’ rapidly-expanding code base, which makes it virtually impossible to quickly craft a new version with meaningful changes. That was proved by Vista, they said, when Microsoft — frustrated by lack of progress during the five-year development effort on the new operating — hit the “reset” button and dropped back to the more stable code of Windows Server 2003 as the foundation of Vista.

“Most users do not understand the benefits of Windows Vista or do not see Vista as being better enough than Windows XP to make incurring the cost and pain of migration worthwhile.”

I’ve said this in the past and I still stand by my statement. I use Windows XP because that is the operating system I’ve used for the last 5 years or so. My installation of XP is perfectly set up to how I use it and hence there is no reason to change.

Windows Vista offers absolutely zero improvement upon XP, certainly in the way that I use my operating system. The only “improvement” I can see is glass transparency which is not only superfluous, but ugly and resource-consuming. And UAC is total disaster. Many friends who have bought new computers with Windows Vista have asked me how to do very simple things such as installing applications which are not UAC-aware.

If I had to lose Windows XP (e.g. if support ended and it became insecure), I would switch to Ubuntu Linux. In fact, I feel Ubuntu is so much more secure and “fun” than Windows and virtually every single application I use is supported by Ubuntu (Microsoft Office being the obvious exception). Arguably, my sunk costs in the form of how I’ve customised my install of Windows XP is the only reason why I continue to use Windows.

As we move towards an interconnected “web 2.0” age, the platforms that matter are not the low-level platforms such as what hardware and operating system we run. The important things are what web browser you run and the web applications that you use.

I’d argue that the three platforms which are the most important to me are Mozilla Firefox, Google and Facebook. And I’m not sure I’d have too much difficulty in finding somebody who would agree with me.