I had a few ideas for posts this month, but none of them really panned out, and so not much has changed from my last post, aside from the fact that I’m obviously not doing any March Madness posts. I promise that in April I’ll have something that isn’t just an “update” post or a post I’d have done anyway. Possibly as soon as this week, even.
I have a number of posts I’ve been thinking of working on, but due to various distractions (it’s been what, over seven months since I got a new phone? and the games I installed as a result are still derailing my productivity) and other factors haven’t actually been working on this month:
- I may be working on a post on the Oscars (that I really should have written earlier this week) that would allow me to start up on my series on how to fix the American political system again. Regardless of whether I write that post, I really should be working on that series again soon. And yes, there is a connection between the Oscars and the American political system.
- I have one or two post ideas in connection with March Madness that may come out over the next month, though one of them would require intense use of Da Blog Poll and, based on past experience, would be kinda useless if I don’t have a sizable audience coming in to vote on it. The other I kinda regret not writing last year and may not be relevant this year.
- There were several points in December and January that I came very close to starting up Steven Universe again, especially with another batch of episodes coming out in that time to end the fifth season (and based on what limited spoilers I’ve been exposed to, the overarching plot of the whole series), but at this point I’m not likely to take it up again until June, assuming I can sign up for another Hulu free trial after one year has elapsed since the first one.
I also may look into other platforms to write for sometime in the next few months.
I headed into writing this post thinking that this was the most productive year for Da Blog in the last few years, even if it was hardly the improvement I would have hoped for a year ago. I spent a significant amount of time on a project other than the Flex Scheduling Watch that produced several posts, changed hosting providers, and changed the design of Da Blog for the first time in a decade or more. So I was surprised to find that this is only the 37th post since the last blog-day post, only one more than last year.
To be sure, of the three things I accomplished this year only one actually produced a substantial number of posts, and that thing ended up falling far short of my expectations. That had the effect of only keeping pace with the handful of posts on the state of our politics I was able to get in between the blog-day post two years ago and the inauguration. Were it not for my Steven Universe posts I might well have broken what I thought at the time was an unbreakable record low.
The Steven Universe project did give me a chance to learn some things about myself and my productivity. It made me realize just how much brainpower I needed to bear on any truly in-depth, thoughtful posts, and how little I tended to have, to the point of needing to load up on protein bars before working on them. But despite having done everything I needed to to put up my Season 2 wrap-up post by mid-to-late August, I haven’t done any more work on it since that post at the end of August, spending most of my time not spent on the Flex Schedule Watch on all the more frivolous projects, and despite intending to get back to it this month, with SU resuming new episodes (including what at least nominally would be the start of a sixth season given previously known information) starting tonight as I write this, I never did, instead spending all my time before flying up to Seattle on something highly tangential to a project I’ve been thinking about since the election but that looks to be unlikely to start serious work on in the coming year, something tangential enough that it’s highly unlikely it’ll ever come up in that project.
Another reason I let SU go by the wayside this month, besides December increasingly becoming one of the more stressful months for the Flex Schedule Watch as I try to play out the Week 17 scenarios (my new method of preparing the Week 14 post involves figuring out every single scenario that would lead to a given game, same as the following week, and I think I still missed several scenarios that might have affected the percentage chances, including the one that actually played out, while appealing to my commenters’ out-there “two NBC games” theory delayed the Week 15 post until it not only forced the postponement of this one but came after Saturday’s games), was finding out that Season 5 episodes wouldn’t leave my cable provider’s On Demand service until March, relieving the pressure of having to finish them before Season 6 started. Still, with the Flex Schedule Watch done for the season, I fully intend to get back to SU in the new year, though getting back in the right mindset for it could be a bit of a challenge since it’s been so long since I watched any episodes. And I hope to finally get back to work on my series on reforming the Constitution in time for any debates surrounding the Mueller report and impeachment.
Despite the challenges, I have every reason to think Year Twelve of Da Blog succeeded in establishing a foundation that will allow Year Thirteen to be the lucky year that puts me back on a path to productivity and making a place in the world. Will Year Twelve be the last of the past few years of “lost” years? Time will tell, but despite the optimism I’ve expressed in the last few blog-day posts, I really do feel like this has a good chance to be the year that turns things around… though it’s worth noting I may have also lowered my expectations for what that means, fully preparing for the possibility of taking a few months “off” between projects to rest my brain. Here’s hoping that doesn’t completely derail my progress. Fingers crossed? (Wow, I did not intend to end this post on this dark a note…)
So over the weekend I discovered that, on the theme I adopted for the Sports subsite last week, there will be times when a post will load without a scroll bar, or any way to scroll at all, cutting off a good chunk of content and the entire comment section. Since the comments are the whole reason I’m looking for a new theme to begin with, I had to find another new theme.
Right now I’ve switched to the GeneratePress theme, and because all the theme switching has been wrecking havoc on my sidebars (Da Countdown has been removed until further notice), I’m adopting the theme for the whole site. Everything seems okay at the moment, but a potential concern is that the team logos on my SNF Flex Schedule Watch intro post appear full size, I’m guessing because I don’t use WordPress’ “official” means for defining image size (that or the theme just mangled the HTML – GeneratePress has a lot of fancy features, including what appears to be something intended to allow WordPress to mimic Tumblr, and I had to redo some of the formatting for last night’s Last-Minute Remarks post). So I’m going to have to figure out how to get images to appear at the size I want in the way that I want, and it’s possible I’m going to end up switching to another new theme.
A few months ago, I posted some musings about the state of web design and about the potential for changing how my site looks. That prospect just got a lot more urgent, because this week, as I was preparing for the start of the new season of the Flex Schedule Watch, I found out that comments aren’t displaying properly. The line indicating how many comments there were would show up, and even the start of the bullet point for the first comment, but not the actual comments – and neither would the comment form, nor even either sidebar. For some reason, everything after the start of the first comment would be gone. I have no idea when this started, whether it has to do with the move to the new host or adding Google ads or something else, only that turning off Google’s “auto ads” feature didn’t work, updating WordPress and my theme didn’t work, and copying over relevant files from more modern WordPress themes didn’t work when they didn’t make things worse.
Since I didn’t get any help from the WordPress support forum, I may not have much choice but to update my theme. But as if to reinforce the point from my earlier post, I’m not impressed by the themes available in the WordPress gallery; it seems like most themes I can find there, or at least the most popular themes, are geared towards full-fledged web sites, often for businesses or outfits that fancy themselves professional publishing operations. There are vanishingly few themes for old-fashioned, reverse-chronological blogs like mine, and what ones exist often present their posts as a few lines of unformatted text (many of them even display shortcodes that aren’t supposed to be publicly visible in WordPress’ official theme preview) leading up to a read-more, at least by default. (The irony of course being that when I started the site, I intended for it to eventually become a full-fledged web site rather than just a host for Da Blog, but the way I use formatting and read-mores, especially for my Steven Universe posts, is at this point something I’m unwilling to sacrifice.)
The Sandbox theme that I used as the base for the theme I use now stopped being actively updated around 2009 or so, because the functions the creator saw as the “heart and soul” of the theme were integrated into the core WordPress code. The problem is that what appealed to me about the Sandbox was the ability to greatly customize the look and feel of the site with little more than some relatively simple CSS, or at least simple enough that a novice coder like me could pull it off. I don’t know what theme out there would offer that level of flexibility that would allow me to recreate the site as something even close to what it is now, and chances are I’d have to do a considerable amount of re-coding no matter what. This is especially the case since most of the customization tools that may once have required meddling in CSS now have a dedicated area in the WordPress theme manager, and it feels like there’s less support for using CSS to achieve the same result; it may well be that I find myself having to work within the constraints of whatever theme I settle upon, with less ability to customize beyond that (especially with the emphasis on mobile design that wasn’t a priority for me back c. 2008, and especially since the way I use my header image and graphically integrate it with the left sidebar is arguably decidedly nonstandard as it is). I may well end up deciding to “fix” the problem by installing something like Disqus to handle my comments, which would leave all past comments to fall into the ether, accessible only by me through the site backend – assuming I stay with WordPress at all.
For the time being, until I can bring myself to dedicate a considerable amount of time and mental energy to bear on finding a permanent solution, I’m leaving things as they are and comments will remain borked on most of the site. However, since the Flex Schedule Watch is about to start up again, and it’s not only the most (i.e., only) popular part of the site but attracts a considerable number of comments, the Sports section of the site (only) will be using a different theme until further notice, which may or may not become the base for whatever theme I end up adopting for the rest of the site. This is likely to make navigation more difficult there (as the customization I applied seemed to disappear once I turned off its being the theme for the site as a whole, aside from a bunch of duplicated elements on the left sidebar on the main site left over from my attempt to make the two-column format work for my purposes), but it should at least allow the discussion surrounding the flex schedule watch to continue. (I’ve also turned “auto ads” back on so the sports section has any ads at all.) Any advice on how to resolve the situation can be tweeted to me or left on the Flex Schedule Watch introductory post that should be up sometime on Monday.
When I started my Steven Universe project back in June, I intended to have the first four seasons of the series finished within that month, allowing me to finish it within the span of Hulu’s free trial without having to actually pay for it; I even laid out a schedule of what episodes I’d watch each day. The hope was that devoting that much energy towards a project like that could help me refocus my energies on other projects I’ve been procrastinating on for the past few years. That quickly fell by the wayside once I started writing actual posts about the series on top of tweeting while I was watching, as each post usually took multiple days to complete, holding up my progress on the series, and the Season 1 recap post took an especially long time to complete. Part of the problem was that I so rarely could muster enough brainpower to work on the posts and bring them up to the standard I set for myself, to the point I started loading up on protein bars when I was about to work on a post. Basically, there was a good reason I spent so little time on posts over the last few years.
Anyway, we’re coming up on two full months since I finished Season 2, and I haven’t finished its recap post yet, though I’ve reached the point where the only work I have left involves rewatching selected episodes. Right now that post isn’t even that much longer than the Season 1 post, though it may still end up being split into two posts. I do want to get back into the swing of things if only to have a chance to catch up before the start of any sixth season. And I definitely intend to have at least one post in the next week, namely an introductory post for the new season of the SNF Flex Scheduling Watch introducing some significant changes for how it’ll work this year. But in terms of having a consistent posting schedule, to work on all the projects I hoped to or even get back to the posting frequency of years past? That prospect looks a lot darker than it looked before June.
After ten years, I am leaving HostMonster.
The quality of HostMonster’s hosting and support seems to have declined over the years and while things have been mostly fine for me, I still decided I wasn’t satisfied with how things were going with them and wanted to find a cheaper option for hosting, given my problems with getting anywhere with the site and the resulting financial problems (I’ve been renewing my HostMonster hosting on a monthly basis for the past year, which explains some of the periods of downtime the site has had in that time). I found it much more difficult to find a suitable host than I remember it being ten years ago (especially since part of the problem with HostMonster is that it and several other of the biggest and best hosts from back then have apparently been bought out by a faceless mega-corporation), but A2 Hosting seems to be good enough for my purposes. HostMonster served this site fairly well for the past ten years, and it is my hope that A2 can continue to serve it well going forward.
Unfortunately, I procrastinated a little too long to sign up for A2 Hosting, and as a result I’m not comfortable with using their migration service (which has a lead time of 3-5 business days when my HostMonster account expires Monday or Tuesday), so as a result I’m going to be migrating the site over manually. There may be some downtime later today, possibly as long as a few hours, as I transfer everything over, and there may be more than a few hiccups along the way. (This will likely coincide with tonight’s Steven Universe-watching session.)
Somewhat relatedly, Project Wonderful is shutting down. I always liked the fact that I could count on Project Wonderful ads to be static images that didn’t bog down the browser like so many ads on so many other websites, but it sounds like the direction the Internet has taken in the past decade has taken its toll on the ability of non-intrusive (or even non-Google/Facebook) advertising to survive, and I seem to recall the amount of money I was getting from Project Wonderful ads, never particularly strong to begin with, plummeting even before my semi-recent decline in productivity. At some point over the weekend I’ll be replacing Project Wonderful ads with Google ads, and I’ll be trying my hardest to keep them as non-intrusive as the Project Wonderful ads were, but I don’t know how much I can do about that. This also means the Advertising FAQ is now a deprecated page; I’ll keep it online for historical interest but it will not be linked to from anywhere.
As I said way back when I started Da Blog eleven and a half years ago (!), I’ve always fancied myself as someone who doesn’t jump on the hot new fad all the time, and despite spending way too much time on TV Tropes and spending plenty of time in contact with various fandoms, I’ve usually found it pretty easy to resist jumping on whatever show or other thing is the hot new thing on the Internet, with my usual reaction being an eyeroll, shaking my head, and at best observing it from a distance. Homestuck was the main exception, because at the time it was taking over cons across the nation I fancied myself a webcomic reviewer, specifically one of “popular” webcomics, and I sure as hell couldn’t let Homestuck go unreviewed (and as much of a reason as any that I kept reading Homestuck was that no one else in the “webcomic blogosphere” was covering it on a regular basis, leaving it up to me to give it the kind of deep analysis other story-based webcomics got, which now seems kind of laughable in retrospect considering the directions Homestuck fandom started going in after I started reading it). But somehow, someway, my involvement with Homestuck has gotten me to start watching Steven Universe.
Near as I can tell, this is how it happened: As I obliquely referred to in my post on Homestuck‘s ending, I’ve found myself following numerous “liveblogs” of Homestuck that allow me to relive it vicariously through people reading it for the first time. The sizable audience crossover between Homestuck and SU and general monolithic presence of SU on Tumblr meant that there were of course several SU references to be found that I wouldn’t get, and on occasion, the Tumblr dashboard I only set up to send messages to liveblogs would recommend SU liveblogs to me, which I only looked at for just long enough to determine that they weren’t HS liveblogs. But then I started following one liveblog in particular that was particularly heavy on the SU references and in fact was created by someone who served as screener for the Loreweaver Universe liveblog (which actually has its own TV Tropes page). At some point they started liveblogging new episodes of SU as they came out as well, which meant interrupting the HS liveblog, and while at first I just stayed away during SU liveblogs and only took enough interest to know when things would be getting back to HS, eventually I ended up reading enough of it to become engrossed enough in what was going on to read and follow along, even if only by proxy. Then earlier this month the show aired two episodes that culminated in a major revelation that took several days to fully digest, and around the same time I discovered Loreweaver’s episode rating list that tied right into my weakness for order and lists, one thing led to another, and pretty soon I’d read Loreweaver’s liveblogs of his top 60 episodes and numerous others besides (not to mention most of the show’s TV Tropes pages), leaving me with enough detailed knowledge of the show that I figured I might as well be able to say I’ve actually watched the darn thing.
Honestly, this keeps happening. “Blogs” still felt as much of a buzzword as anything else when I started one, my more general disdain for social media didn’t stop me from jumping on Twitter, I’ve already talked about Homestuck, and there’s probably others besides where I witnessed their popularity from afar, considered myself “too cool” for them, and ended up jumping on board anyway. And so often when I jump on a new work of fiction with an established fanbase I always end up regretting not jumping on board earlier and been part of it through what I would consider its peak, as was the case with just about every webcomic I kept reading after I reviewed them – even Homestuck, for which I was around when it broke the Internet, I still felt like I jumped on board while it was in the later stages of its peak. One of these days I want to be the hipster that can say I was into it before it was cool. I don’t know if that’ll ever actually happen – normally TV shows aren’t the sort of thing I can easily commit to watching (not least of the reasons why being that that’s time I’d rather spend working on more productive blog posts) and I don’t review webcomics anymore – but if the opportunity presents itself I’m not going to hesitate to jump on board. I’m tired of considering myself “too cool” for anything anymore. If something’s all the rage on the Internet for smart reasons (not because it’s a stupid meme), I’m not going to be caught joining the party late again.
As alluded to earlier, because the whole reason I’m doing this is because I already know just about everything, I’m not exactly coming into this blind. People looking for unadulterated reactions are probably going to be disappointed, but I have tried (and probably failed) to clear my head enough before starting that at least some reactions are going to be genuine and I can at least get a sense of what it would be like watching without knowing what’s to come (after all, my original read-through of Order of the Stick was wildly out of order). To try and get through the first four seasons over the course of the one-month free trial Hulu offers, I planned to watch four or five episodes a night, though at this point things may become more free-form as watching episodes has proven to take substantially longer than I originally expected. I originally wanted to use a hashtag to denote my live thoughts as I’m watching on Twitter, but I ended up starting a separate account, @MorganWatchesSU, which you can follow for my thoughts as I watch each episode. This summary post was originally intended to be a compilation of my tweets as I was watching, but I quickly proved to have so much to say that any such post, even if limited to the “highlights” and using the ability to display parent tweets in embedded tweets to cut down on size, would be too long for comfort. Instead these summary posts will be more for broader analysis of each season. As we go along and the show goes further into Cerebus Syndrome, I may feel moved to write detailed analysis posts after selected episodes (the first of which may come after my very next episode as soon as Monday), not dissimilar to what I used to write for webcomics, and for those I’ll try to write from the perspective of someone who’s only up to that episode. I also have a few more ideas for projects adjacent to the show that I may end up instituting as well. All posts on these topics, as well as links to my tweet chains for each episode (that I don’t do a deeper analysis post for), will be available on this page.
The first season is twice the length of the other seasons with a midseason finale that serves as the starting point for the overarching plot and which, apparently, the creators have called the “true” start to the show. When split, they seem to usually be called season 1a and 1b, but given the first half’s status as a prelude to the “true” show, I’m referring to that half as season 0.
And unfortunately, that prelude status also means I don’t really feel like I can fairly assess it.
(Note: I’m not going to bother introducing the premise of the series or a lot of the background knowledge of what happens in the first 22 episodes or so, something I wouldn’t do for a webcomic review. If you don’t know any of that yourself, click the read-more at your own risk. If you feel the need to, read the character analysis at the bottom first.)
Over the years, especially in recent years, I’ve gotten a number of criticisms of how my website looks, including most times when I’ve attempted to link it on other platforms, calling it outdated or just plain ugly, or even people I know asking me if I’m going to refresh my website layout.
To understand my attachment to it, understand that I conceived of the basic concept in my head well before I actually started implementing it on an actual site, and became enamored by its simplicity and modularity. It seemed to me the distillation of the web design trends of the time, with a header image and a sidebar with important links and sections of the site (though when I moved Da Blog to MorganWick.com, ultimately the 128 pixels I gave the main sidebar necessitated the creation of a second sidebar for elements that wouldn’t neatly fit there). That was over a decade ago.
Two things have changed the internet landscape in the interim: social media and mobile devices. Social media has made individual web sites less important and individual blogs like mine a relic of a bygone age, and mobile devices have introduced a new paradigm for web design to take into account. The need to develop for a variety of screen sizes, and the decreased emphasis on the individual web site, has resulted in a web design landscape that’s less easy to characterize than it was ten years ago. No longer can it be assumed that most people will experience your site the same way; almost always designing for mobile is assumed to be a different thing from designing for traditional computers. Most websites I come across are optimized for the needs of professional outlets (which in many cases means neglecting the actual web site and focusing more on an app instead) and don’t necessarily have lessons that can be easily ported to my own context. In what could be considered the “Revenge of the LiveJournalists”, what individual blogs remain seems to have seen Tumblr eclipse Blogger and WordPress as the platform of choice.
What I have seen increasingly disappoints me. Most sites that are actively trying to make money are increasingly bloated with ads, videos, and complex scripting for their basic interfaces. Normally these things are toned down on mobile devices (although there definitely are sites, which shall remain nameless, which are a chore to browse on mobile), but on traditional computers the result is that many sites end up chewing up enormous amounts of memory. At the same time, the traditional-computer market has increasingly bifurcated, especially with the reimagining of Windows impelled by Windows 8, and these days if you’re not looking to use your computer for graphics-intensive gaming, you’re expected to get a low-end machine with the Internet expected to bear the brunt of your activity through the cloud. But if all but the most minimalist web sites chew up huge amounts of memory and ask a lot of the processor to load all their heavy-duty video ads, the result is an inevitable degradation of the experience, and it’s hard for me to keep certain sites open for very long, in some cases even long enough to actually read the article. This, I suspect, is a major reason for Google Chrome’s continued dominance; there’s only so much a browser can do to curb a site’s resource consumption, and no matter how many reasons there may be to switch to, say, Firefox, if it doesn’t have Chrome’s multi-process gimmick, meaning I can’t just shut down one or a handful of particularly resource-hogging tabs when I’m done with it (at least not without outright closing the tab, which doesn’t completely remove its resource footprint), I can only use it for so long before the cumulative effect of all the sites I use renders it unusable.
Anyway, the end result is that if I were to redesign my website today, I wouldn’t be led as easily to a simple, unifying concept I could design it around, mostly because of mobile devices; the “burger menu” so prominent on mobile designs adds an annoying extra click when applied to desktop. Personally I don’t have a problem with browsing my site on mobile even though it usually requires zooming in, but for all I know that may be depressing my mobile audience just by knocking down its status on Google. Most sites seem to be heading in the direction of being dominated by a header image, with sidebars becoming less prominent or important (unsurprisingly, given how little space there is for them on mobile devices), but hardly disappearing entirely.
My own priorities may also have changed since the mid-2000s. I originally conceived of the site’s design as something that could have a unifying effect across the various different uses I conceived for it, many of which now seem to be doubtful they would ever come to fruition, or that they would use the current layout if they did. I never particularly intended Da Blog to be as cramped as it is with no real margins, but I didn’t want to come up with arbitrary margins for everything and I figured it looked fine enough as it is. I’ll also admit to being less enamored of the fonts I use than I was then, though I’m not sure what alternative fonts I’d gravitate towards if I had to come up with new ones today. But I also like the current layout as an expression of myself, and my shortcomings with coding already affects the current site in ways that would become more acute with a refresh; if I would want to ditch the sidebar as a major design element of the site I would want to replace it with a top bar for navigation, but that seems to be much harder to customize what links to put there in WordPress than a sidebar is.
Anyway, maybe my thoughts on the matter will evolve as I continue to think about it and continue toying with ideas for not only what I want the site to look like but what I want it to be and what I want to do with it and with my life. For now, this is just what I came up with over the course of an hour at night in order to continue having at least one post a month. Maybe others will have their own ideas of what I should change and how.
A week or two ago, I thought I would FINALLY get back to writing about the problems with our politics that gave rise to Donald Trump and the changes that would need to be made to fix them.
That ended up getting sidetracked in favor of another project that I considered making my post for the month, involving dipping back into the world of sports TV graphics from a hypothetical perspective.
But that ended up getting sidetracked for long enough that I considered just writing a post expounding on that hypothetical perspective, even writing two paragraphs of it tonight, but then I realized that post would be best written after another post that I would want to post if and when the Fox-Disney semi-merger got further along.
I will say this: I’ve been tasked with finding another avenue for my writing that might actually pay something before my birthday, and while I haven’t actually put any work into doing so, hopefully by this time next month I’ll have actually found something, and more to the point, something I can write about for such a forum that would actually engage me, because heaven knows I’ve been kind of lacking for such a topic that would engage me in writing for this site (which has arguably been part of the reason I’ve been so absent outside football season).