Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The Mysterious 10,896 Page Views

Mount Shasta, Northern California.
"Just a Tiny Trailer and a Bit of Snow"
I was feeling okay with the 4,000-5,000 page views per month for my tiny trailer camping blog Green Goddess Glamping. There are other camping blogs with many more readers, for sure. After being the sole writer and administrator for my blog's eighteen-month existence, though, I was happy to see the monthly page views creep up to the six and seven thousand range. Then came last month with a page views count of 10,896, and I had to ask myself, "What's that all about?"

I use the Blogger platform for my blog. I've heard others are better--"more versatile"--but I'm familiar with Blogger and have learned a few tricks that allow me to meet my blogging needs. The Blogger dashboard does have a "Stats" option as part of the Blogger service.
"Stats is an important piece of the blogging puzzle, as it allows you to track your blog's traffic and find out exactly what your audience is looking for. As such, integrated, real-time stats has been one of the most frequently requested features from our users."

Blogger Stats is telling me that last month Green Goddess Glamping received 10,896 page views. Studying the graph Stats supplies (vertical Views/horizontal days of the month), the views ranged from around 750 to 50, reflecting the day/night cycles that are usual . . . except for February 16, which recorded almost 2,000 page views. Then for the next 10-11 days, there was strong page hits. Why?

Here are the Green Goddess Glamping page views per post during that time, revealing consistent viewing of the articles. The odd detail is that I had not posted an article on February 16, when the viewer page hits spiked. Another graph provides information on Top Referrers, the major being Facebook because of my tiny trailer group activity. Google and the Tear Jerker forum were listed. I have recently joined Tear Jerkers. Continuing down the list of declining referrers, we get to the last: "Other," which lists 6.58K--and there we have the source of that great increase in page views. And yet we don't, do we? I mean, how does an identification of "Other" help me?

The next Stats lists provides URLs for referrers, but the list still lumps the large number of Other also for the URLs, providing no detail. The next chart lists browsers, with no surprises, the majority being Chrome, Safari, Mobile, Firefox, and Mobile Safari, with a long list of minor browsers.

I thought that perhaps Facebook Ads might be the source of the increase. I sometimes boost a post that I think will have wider appeal in order to increase my exposure to readers with the same interests that my blog covers. However, my last ad had finished on January 24, so there was no correlation.

In the end, it doesn't seem like I'm going to be able to get that bit of information about what I did right to create that spike in page views. Maybe it wasn't anything I did, just some random bit of attention. Maybe the "Other" views were really some attention from China, which is not listed on the views list. However, I do have a Stats map that marks where the views come from, and the overwhelming page hits were from the United States.

It's a mystery, so I'll just keep on keepin' on. I wish I could find out, though. If anyone has insights, please contact me!

Monday, February 24, 2020

Building a Blog with Content

I've read quite a few articles about how to develop a readership for a blog. Some have focused on procedures, such as labeling the properties of photos so links will result when searching for particular photo subjects. Some articles have focused on strategies, such as including key words in titles and opening paragraphs. All the articles, though, have mentioned and circled back to the importance of content. If articles aren't interesting, timely, and written well, eventually readers will drift away.

I've been connected loosely or closely with about a dozen periodical publications over the years, both print and online. For some I was a contributing writer, for some an editor, and for a few online blogs the writer and administrator. With all of those varied experiences in the regular publication of content--newspapers, literary journals, school publications, and blogs--success always circled back to good content, providing what the reader wanted to read.

Even this blog, Tom Kepler Writing, containing subject matter pretty much determined by whatever activity I'm involved with at the moment, is successful because of its content. Having written here for over ten years, I've accumulated a "backlist" of articles that still attract readers so that my monthly page views maintain a fairly good number--at least for a small, private blog. I've referred earlier to the "backlist" phenomenon in my article celebrating ten years of publishing this blog.

My more recent blog about tiny trailer camping, Green Goddess Glamping, has been more successful, I think, even though I've been posting articles for less than two years. There are two reasons to which I attribute this success. One is that I've learned a lot from my previous writing and blogging experience, especially how to structure and promote the blog. The second is that the greater focus of the blog (on tiny trailer camping) has helped me attract readers.

The articles still have to be interesting, timely, and well-written, though. I continue to write using a strategy I've read about in the past--to vary the content of the blog's articles in a rotating pattern of informative, personal, and feature stories relating to tiny trailer camping. An example of the changing content can be seen in the three links below from a year ago--or even by the titles of the articles.

Of course, it isn't always easy to maintain that cycle of content. During the winter, I'm not out camping so much. Sometimes my feature stories run thin because people are too busy to respond. And as for "how-to" articles, there are only so many times I'm willing to write an article about portable toilets. (Although, interestingly enough, my portable toilet articles are among my most viewed!)

I do try and mostly achieve a publishing schedule of two articles a week, sometimes easily done and sometimes a challenge. This self-imposed two-per-week goal has had some interesting consequences for me. One is that as a retired school teacher, it's provided a personal focus in my varied responsibilities during retirement. The publishing schedule has established a certain rigor to my writing, and I like that. I like knowing I have a deadline coming up.

Another interesting consequence of my regular posting of articles to meet my two-a-week goal is that my creativity is stimulated. Two a week is not a burden, but does create enough time pressure that I have to keep alert for story opportunities, especially in keeping with the rotation of subject content. Both the need to be creative and the stimulation of my creativity has led to unexpected articles and unexpected contact with other trailer owners and campers. For instance, I've written eight articles aggregated under the Art and Craft Activities label for Green Goddess Glamping, stories about fine artists, a blacksmith, a photographer, and a computer artist who also camp, to name a few. I've also published five articles on Camp Cooking, which include an article on campfire cooking and an article on Dutch oven cooking.

My publishing goal of two articles each week with varied subject material has increased my creativity in finding interesting subjects to write about. After that, it's my responsibility to research and write readable articles about my article topics. It's been a fun experience this last year and a half. As an added bonus, maintaining my camping blog has also re-enlivened this blog. The more writing I do, the more I have to write about writing and publishing! I believe, following my experience of the last ten years, I will eventually use the camping blog's content to produce some camping books--or perhaps manuals and travelogues would be more specific.

I also feel that my current writing, just having ideas and words flow, will eventually lead to my diving back into fiction again. I've recently written two flash fiction rough drafts. I'd like to publish a fantasy short story collection, with the stories set in the Stone Dragon universe. I feel that egg hatching. It's a good feeling, and I have to thank my blog writing for providing some continuity, some connection--thoughts in the mind, fingers on the keyboard, and something to share with my readers.

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Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Liars Are Among Us: Be Forewarned and Forearmed

Yes, liars are among us and always have been. I'm old enough to remember that the publishing world, at least, used its editorial board to sort out the liars--not all liars, mind you. A book or magazine article by an artful liar can actually be a pleasure to read. Editors did try to sort out the sneaky liars, though, the ones who told lies in all their various forms for personal gain, at the disservice to others, the readers included. Anybody can publish on the internet, though, with no "gatekeepers" watching for lies. We need to be forewarned and forearmed.

  • Politifact is a non-profit, fact-checking organization. I researched two presidents: Barak Obama and Donald Trump, and here are the results. Obama: 613 fact checks. 19% True (124 checks); 26% Mostly True (167 checks); 25% Half True (164 checks); 11% Mostly False (73 checks); 11% False (75 checks); 1% Pants on Fire (10 checks). Trump: 764 fact checks. 4% True (34 checks); 10% Mostly True (79 checks); 14% Half True (113 checks); 20% Mostly False (161 checks); 34% False (266 checks); 14% Pants on Fire (111 checks).
  • Allsides is a news website dedicated to providing a spectrum (left/center/right) of news articles for current topics. The site's logo states: "Don't be fooled by media bias and fake news. Unbiased news does not exist; we provide balanced news and civil discourse." I think their mission statement is a little over the top, but having a site that seeks to present three viewpoints of any current news topic is a healthy practice. Reading the articles from left/center/right about Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a witness at President Trump's impeachment, who was then later "escorted" from the White House, is one example of how news stories can have different perspectives. 
  • Media Bias/Fact Check is a source for finding non-biased media sources, or for at least determining the status of a news source. It assigns bias from "least-biased" through the left and right ranges and also includes sources classified as "Conspiracy/Pseudoscience." The Des Moines Register, for instance, is gauged to be "least-biased."
  • Searching "fact checking" online results in quite a new resources for determining whether a statement is accurate or not. Online sources beyond those above are also provides, such as the Poynter Institute and Snopes. We can find out the general leanings of any publication source and whether or not specific statements are accurate--if we make it a goal to be a discerning reader. 
Bias, according to the fact-checking entities, is delivered not just be inaccuracies (or fake facts) but often by using vocabulary that has emotional or judgmental overtones. For instance, in the Vindman articles, the words "vengeance" and "appears to be" are used in the left- and right-leaning articles to describe actions and the words of the main players in the story. The center-biased story (written for NPR) reported the actions and quoted the main players, but left the interpretation up to the reader.

Yes, what we read and hear about news events often comes with an agenda. We are forewarned.

I think it ironic that our biggest danger as readers is disinformation on subjects that we agree with the bias. We may agree with the concept or sentiment, and then even though the facts are wrong, we buy in. Having "bought in" with the inaccurate article, our world view is skewed. We become "radicalized," to use a current term. In our innocence, we blindly accept that which we want to believe, even the mis-information. We feel suffocated by too much government and don't have the habit of mind of questioning and discriminating between the validity of sources, then of course the articles about how the moon walks by NASA were faked seem a plausible theory.

It's a wonderful feeling to have someone stand up and loudly proclaim the same emotion we are feeling, even if the facts are wrong and the emotions are suspect. At the very least, as readers and listeners, we should ask ourselves these questions: How reliable is this source? Is this article an opinion piece or a news story? How many "loaded words" am I hearing? And we should especially be asking ourselves whether the emotions some outside source is stirring are our best emotions or our worst. We need to be informed citizens, not unthinking shouters in a mob.

Independent thinking and questioning what we read and hear should be taught in schools. We should gain the habit of checking the source of what we read and hear. And mostly we should be careful to not believe something that we read or hear just because it happens to evoke a warm, fuzzy feeling regarding our view of the world. We need to be more discriminating in our evaluation of the information coming our way. There be liars among us. 

Orson Welles' 1938 radio broadcast of War of the Worlds led to chaos because listeners believed Earth was being invaded by aliens. Much of that hysteria was the result, it is felt, of subconscious fears arising from the war in Europe, the feeling by many views that the United States was slowly being pulled into another world war. We need to be more discerning in our acceptance of what we read and hear. We need to question our own emotions and beliefs when the world stirs us up inside. Perhaps we will learn and grow. Perhaps we will not be deceived by those who seek to con us, to take advantage of our gullibility. We need to not assume that just because the tail is wagging that the dog will not bite. Cynicism? No. Healthy skepticism or balanced, independent thinking? Yes.

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Thursday, February 6, 2020

2020 Iowa Caucus: First-time Impressions

Media impressions of the 2020 Iowa Caucuses has not been positive, especially with the flawed app for reporting results. This was my first time (even at sixty-eight years of age) to an Iowa Caucus, and prior to the event I was both encouraged and cautioned regarding the process. I am reporting that my experience was positive, unifying, and--how can I phrase this?--a glance back in time.

Arriving at the caucus site at my town's local convention center in SE Iowa, 451 Democrats showed up to represent my ward. I had arrived thirty-five minutes early, had signed in to confirm that I was a registered Democrat, and then received a number that I stuck to my shirt to verify my registration. I wandered around the center "unaligned" area, chatted with a few friends, a former student, and then sat down in my group with some friends.

There were some formal organizational procedures--the temporary ward leader-designate read a statement from the state organization, explained the early organizational steps, and then we moved forward: electing a presiding officer for the caucus, a couple of other officers, and then listening again to the protocols.

Heading to the first counting of supporters for candidates during a thirty-minute time period (there were three counts), the various captains brought the totals up to the presiding officer, the mathematician counted to determine if the various groups added up to 451, and when that number was verified, we all realized only two candidates (Sanders and Warren) were "viable" in that they had received at least sixty-eight endorsements, fifteen percent of the 451 total. Supporters for those two groups filled out first-run pledge cards. Then there was a time segment allowing the other non-viable candidate groups to see if they wanted to combine. I was in a viable groups and just watched that for a while, but the process didn't seem to be going much of anywhere. I couldn't participate in the second accounting because my candidate was already viable and I couldn't switch.

I left early, not feeling ready to participate in choosing delegates for the state meeting or for hammering out our platform requests. It was my first caucus, and I thought I'd leave while I was ahead.

Listening to NPR Iowa radio on the way home, it was announced that at five A.M. the next morning, the results would be announced. I happened to wake up at five and turned on the radio, where I learned that the new app for submitting results had failed and that there was a lot of mean-mouthing by media about Iowa and the Iowa Democratic Party. I listened for a while, then shut off the radio.

Later in the day, I turned the car radio back on and heard NPR Iowa hosting a call-in segment, which included folks speaking of their positive and negative experiences on Tuesday night. There was also some analysis of why some folks think Iowa shouldn't be the first primary in the nation, chief among the ideas presented that Iowa demographics don't represent those of the nation. I get the point, but then I wonder what state will represent the entire nation--our four corners and middle, our races, ethnicities, age and gender, rural and urban, and wealth or lack of it. As an Iowan, though, I acknowledge the point and am certainly willing to listen and learn.

My experience at the caucus was good. Let me iterate the reasons.
  • The procedures and protocols were clearly explained, and the process went smoothly. While in the room, I scanned the make-up of the group and feel the leaders and participants were truly representative of our nation--age, gender, race, and ethnicity.
  • People were polite, respectful, attentive, and willing to discuss without sledgehammering others with their opinions. I thought folks showed up willing to share, listen, and respect. 
  • Because of the inclusive vibe of the evening, I enjoyed the process of chatting with friends and candidate advocates early in the evening. It was different talking to neighbors and community members rather than just reading articles, web posts, and listening to media talking heads. It was nurturing, coming together as a community, agreeing on the democratic idea of working together to choose a candidate, and that although we maybe didn't agree on who was the best candidate or perhaps weren't happy with the evening's results, I thought there was still a unity of democratic purpose. 
I had voted in primaries before when living on the West Coast, but I can see how the caucus process fits with the history and geography of Iowa. Iowa has many small communities, pretty much evenly distributed across the state. Back in time, let's say a hundred years ago, one can imagine farmers coming to local caucus centers, say the local grange hall, where they would share what they had read and heard, where more knowledgeable individuals could speak about the candidates. The level of rural isolation would encourage more sharing and discussion in the community.

I arrived for the caucus with my list or candidate priorities, but my choices certainly weren't carved in stone, in part because I felt the candidates all had good strengths. Therefore, I enjoyed the early general discussion and the further in-group discussions. In many ways, the caucus process for me was both a political and social affirmation. It wasn't a perfect experience; the after-glow certainly didn't last long. Iowans humbly and responsibly have worked through the experience, even though the glitch has ticked off the media--have to meet those broadcast timelines, you know!

Once I stepped away from my technology, all that babble just went away. Iowa made its choices, worked through its glitches, and now its everybody else's turn. My attention now is turning to patiently waiting for spring, my garden, and a little silence and sunshine.

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Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Messiah Has Come, So Whaddya Think?--A Review of the Netflix Series

Sometimes it's not what we know that's a big deal but rather what we don't know.

In Netflix's Season 1 of Messiah, that is certainly the case. Individuals, the media, organizations, religions, and nations are gathering information and trying to figure out who the heck this guy is. Here is the IMDb's description of the streaming series.
"When a CIA officer investigates a man attracting international attention and followers through acts of public disruption, she embarks on a global, high-stakes mission to uncover whether he is a divine entity or a deceptive con artist."
The writers of the series do a good job of providing information about this mystery man, known as Al-Masih, in such an even-handed manner that just as soon as the viewer begins to arrive at a conclusion, the scales balance again. In the series, individuals and leaders of the main religions in the Middle East have opinions about this man. This review is not going to discuss the religious connotations of a second coming. Messiah is, after all, just a TV show. So how good of a show is it?

I'm going to include two references to the TV series, not really spoilers but more information to provide perspective. At one point, Al-Masih states, "I walk with all men," generalizing his spiritual path and refusing to be identified with any one religion. In a later episode, he challenges those listening to him to realize that he is not the important focal point--that each of them should be considering who they are rather than focusing on who he is.

This is really the point of interest of the series for me. The writers focus on those characters who, for various reasons and with different motivations, have been pulled into Al-Masih's orbit of influence. Al-Masih remains the constant in the series, even when we gain new information about him and his past. His behavior and message remain constant. However, the characters around him are pushed and pulled from within and without, and that creates significant tension in the story. A few come to believe; all come to question.

Those "acts of public disruption" are significant to the storyline. Social evolution implies change, and when change arrives, then the possibility of growth occurs. The powers that be and individual characters in the series (and the TV viewership) are forced to wonder if this process of introducing disruption to the social norm will produce positive or negative long-term changes. Is Al-Masih a social anarchist or a spiritual master?

Even though this TV show is not the story of Jesus, there are subtle parallels to the life of Jesus: the attraction of followers and then attention of the existing governments and religions. Crowds listening to Al-Masih's preaching . . . and the disruption his message and their need to believe cause. Is the United States the new Rome in the series? Is there a Mary Magdalene, a Judas Iscariot? How will the characters of Season 1 change in the second season?

The secret of enjoying this show, I think, has its metaphor in chemistry. Don't pay attention to the catalyst. Pay attention to the solution into which the catalyst has been introduced. As both Jesus and Al-Masih--and many other seers and prophets--have said, it's not about the messenger. It's about the people who hear the message. Netflix describes this show as a "fictional story not based on true events." Perhaps they should have used the word "factual" instead of the word "true."

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