Not a proper typewriter

Among my blog’s available stats are search terms people used that brought them to my site. One recent search made me chuckle: “smith corona corsair not a proper typewriter”

This most likely brought them to my post Cursing the Corsair. Let me tell you, I’ve called my Corsair far worse things than “not proper”.

My favorite newsletters (what are yours?)

Newsletters seem to be A Thing these days. To me they are a strange hybrid of public and private discourse, like a corner booth at a restaurant. You can subscribe and interact with the writer privately, as if you’re in the booth together. Or you can just eavesdrop from the next booth, so to speak, following their recommendations and links as desired without needing to interact.

Personally I prefer blogs (or anything that I can throw into my RSS reader). They’re easily accessible, don’t require subscriptions, and have space for other pages. But I get the appeal of newsletters and why people would start one.

Which got me thinking about how many I subscribe to. There’s not a great way to figure that out besides looking in my email trash folder, which is limited to the last 30 days. Based on a quick perusal, I was able to nail down the ones I like and have stuck with. (With email in general, I am merciless about unsubscribing.) Some are daily, many weekly or occasional. Some merely supplement a blog, podcast, or other endeavor. All of them I’ve found enriching in some way:

Books

Prufrock, Ryan Holiday, Mark Athitakis, The Atlantic Books Briefing

Culture/General

Jocelyn K. Glei, Dense Discovery, Chris Bowler, The Art of Noticing, Austin Kleon, Robin RendleCJ ChilversJohn August, Alan Jacobs

Libraries

Jessamyn West, Read for Later, Shelf Awareness, PW Preview for Librarians, Top Shelf Reference

Events

Music Box Theatre, my local movie theater showtimes, my local library

Podcasts

Pop Culture Happy Hour, Filmspotting

Not included are mailing lists for several bands and the newsletters that publish too infrequently to be in my trash folder.

Subscribe to a newsletter you think I’d like? Let me know.

Get thee a blog and an RSS reader

Two belated New Year’s resolutions:

1. Get more of my intelligent, articulate friends to start blogs.

Maybe some of these intelligent, articulate friends aren’t the writing type or won’t have the time or inclination or find Instagram sufficient for digital socializing, thank you very much. Still I will try.

(I halfway succeeded already with my friend Tone’s Mustaches and Tiaras, though she was already working on it when I gave her a final push.)

I’m in my 13th year of blogging. I’ve not made a dime from it, but it has been one of the most rewarding endeavors of my life. The satisfaction of owning my turf and trying to make something worthwhile of it cannot be duplicated elsewhere on the Internet.

If you’re reading this and don’t have your own blog, consider starting one. (While you’re at it, subscribe to mine.) If you have a little bit of money and are moderately tech-savvy, consider self-hosting with a custom domain. Then email me with the URL so I can add it to my RSS reader.

2. Get more people to use an RSS reader

An RSS reader, for the tech-challenged, is basically an app for following blogs or other regularly posting content.  There are several other options, but I use Feedly. Here’s what mine looks like currently, with all the latest stories already read:

RSS is a much more pleasant way to get news and opinion than Facebook or Twitter, where instant emoting rules and thoughtful context drools. Some blogs post multiple times a day, some once a week or less. I don’t read them all, but whether I do or not I never miss a post, because there’s no mysterious algorithm deciding to hide certain posts from me like on social networks. Just a dumb, straightforward technology that provides me everything I ask for and waits for me to act on it. As good technology should be.

2017 in review

NYE2017-windows

This is the view from my New Year’s Eve. Since I can count the number of degrees it is outside on one hand, I decided to stay in this morning to look back at my 2017 calendar and remember the notable events, trips, and people that made up my year. In chronological order:

  1. The Packers beating the Giants and the Cowboys in the playoffs.

  2. Going down to Florida for my cousin’s funeral was the definition of bittersweet: horrible reason for being there, but good opportunity to see family we don’t see very often.

  3. Sold two typewriters for more than I bought them for. It’s a seller’s market out there.

  4. Went to Ann Arbor, MI, for the first time for a baby shower and hung out with far flung friends.

  5. Starting a two-person book club with my friend Josh, where we get together to eat and discuss the book, along with politics, religion, and everything under the sun. I call them our “save the world” sessions because we sort through the miasma of current events and decide on the proper way to fix them. If only D.C. would listen in!

  6. Bar trivia with Jenny and her cousins. Weren’t close to winning, but reminded me I should do bar trivia more.

  7. Had neighbors over for dinner, which reminded me we should have neighbors over for dinner more.

  8. Saw my grandma the day before she died. Though by that time she was unresponsive, the timing was fortuitous.

  9. Long weekend trip to the Twin Cities to visit friends. Hung out with their awesome kids and gallivanted around town.

  10. Hosted a marriage proposal in our apartment by people who used to live in it.

  11. Saw Sandra McCracken at The Union with Jenny, three of my favorite things.

  12. Got quoted in Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option, then hosted a discussion about the book at a local potluck.

  13. Went to Durham, NC, for a wedding and loved it.

  14. Continued playing ultimate frisbee Sunday afternoons when I was able, and loving the feeling of a perfectly thrown touchdown.

  15. Got to facilitate two dozen very cute interviews between 3rd graders for a local history project at my library.

  16. Saw the Cubs lose to the Brewers at Wrigley Field on a cold and rainy day. Highlights within that include seeing two of Jenny’s cousins there, and Nick Offerman walking directly past us after singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”.

  17. Went to my first local ward meeting, in a post-election effort to become more civically engaged.

  18. Had a quick and haphazard solo recording session of some of my songs. Won’t be able to use most of it, but it reminded me of the agony and ecstasy of recording.

  19. Took several quick trips to Jenny’s family cottage in Michigan, including over Independence Day weekend.

  20. Celebrated two years of marriage to my bride, who supports my weird hobbies and makes me want to be a better person.

  21. Went to ALA 2017 in Chicago. Seeing the Librarian of Congress was a highlight.

  22. Called or hung out with several friends, new and old, to catch up and get to know each other, all of which I appreciate.

  23. Drove to Toronto for a family wedding. The 8-hour drive wasn’t so great, but being there for the first time was.

  24. Convened with family in Cape May, NJ, for a reunion of sorts, then caravanned to Elkins, WV, for grandma’s memorial service. Saw lots of extended family for the first time and got to hang with my cousins’ kids, who grow too fast.

  25. Played golf for the first time in at least 15 years in Elkins the morning of the memorial. Grateful for my cousin’s husband’s caddying and encouragement the whole rushed 9. Sank one sweet putt and had one great approach shot, otherwise: A for effort.

  26. My sister visited to see Billy Joel at Wrigley Field. We were planning to just listen from outside the ballpark as I did years ago with a friend for Paul McCartney, but on a whim we checked the box office for tickets and decided to jump on them as an early birthday present to me. Awesome show.

  27. Saw The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, California Typewriter, and Columbus at the Music Box.

  28. Hosted several friends and family overnight on our pullout couch-bed, having each of them leave a note in our guest book.

  29. Went to college homecoming for the first time since graduating, and got an alumni discount on a t-shirt as a reward.

  30. Got an advance copy of Tom Hanks’ typewriter book, which I reviewed, then photographed with one of my typers, which got on the news. Then got a letter from the man himself.

  31. Met up with friends in Asheville, NC, which was gorgeous and fun.

  32. Wrote a post a day for #Novemblog2017 instead of trying and failing to write a novel I wouldn’t enjoy doing anyway. Some favorites: This is my alarm clockWant to Read (∞): on becoming a good reader, Google Past, and In praise of wedding reception air drumming.

  33. Got invited to a Friendsgiving and tried to build a gingerbread house with a kid who was super stoked about it.

  34. Welcomed long-awaited nephew Olin Charles into the world, and began taking pictures of him immediately.

  35. Got some books, a Merriam-Webster t-shirt, a banjo capo, and other fun little things for Christmas.

  36. Encountered lots of great books, movies, and music, and wrote more entries in Cool Civil War Names and Refer Madness.

2017: Not Bad!

Say hi to Mosul Eye

The AP has an incredible story about an Iraqi man named Omar Mohammed who courageously chronicled the savagery of the Islamic State as an undercover blogger, using the moniker Mosul Eye:

For nearly two years, he’d wandered the streets of occupied Mosul, chatting with shopkeepers and Islamic State fighters, visiting friends who worked at the hospital, swapping scraps of information. He grew out his hair and his beard and wore the shortened trousers required by IS. He forced himself to witness the beheadings and deaths by stoning, so he could hear the killers call out the names of the condemned and their supposed crimes.

He wasn’t a spy. He was an undercover historian and blogger. As IS turned the Iraqi city he loved into a fundamentalist bastion, he decided he would show the world how the extremists had distorted its true nature, how they were trying to rewrite the past and forge a brutal Sunni-only future for a city that had once welcomed many faiths.

Working at Mosul University when the city fell in June 2014 to the extremists, he decided to start gathering information:

By day, he chatted with Islamic State fighters and vendors, and observed. Always observed. By night, he wrote in his native Arabic and fluent English on a WordPress blog and later on Facebook and Twitter. The city turned dark, and Mosul Eye became one of the outside world’s main sources of news about the Islamic State fighters, their atrocities and their transformation of the city into a grotesque shadow of itself. The things IS wanted kept secret went to the heart of its brutal rule.

As you’d imagine, the IS thugs weren’t too happy about the Mosul Eye:

When the only Mosul residents left were fellow Sunnis, they too were not spared, according to the catalog of horrors that is Mosul Eye’s daily report. He detailed the deaths and whippings, for spying and apostasy, for failing to attend prayers, for overdue taxes. The blog attracted the attention of the fanatics, who posted death threats in the comments section.

Spoiler: he makes it out OK, but read the whole story to learn about a modern hero.

10 Years

Yesterday was my tenth anniversary of blogging. I started the second month into my freshman year of college, which also would have been right after I joined Facebook. Away from home and beginning to learn new and exciting things, I think like most writers I desired an outlet that felt at once private and public: somewhere I could express ideas into the anonymous void of the internet, but also allowed for others to respond.

I’ve used a few blogging services over the years: first it was Blogspot, then WordPress, then temporary stints at Squarespace and Tumblr before becoming self-hosted with my own domain name. As I learned HTML and CSS I created a few simple designs along the way, but the constant fiddling got tiresome, so I just start using pre-made templates.

In honor of my ten years blogging, I went through my entire archive and picked out two posts from each year I thought were representative of my interests or writing style at the time. It was fun to see trends emerge and decline over the years: lots of Oscar-related umbrage early on, current events commentary in the middle period, and many more book and movie reviews in the last few years. I suppose that’s the fun/terror of keeping a blog or diary: it’s a living archive of where you’ve been, how you’ve changed, and what you’ve thought about at any given time. And it can’t lie.

These aren’t necessarily my best posts — just some choice memories, meditations, and meaningful mutterings from a decade of writing on the ‘net.

(I decided to exclude the posts that were originally published in my college newspaper; you can see those here.)

2006

you’re coming alive to me — Just some freshman year philosophizing.

The Prestige — The first of many reviews I put online.

2007

Soundtrack of the moment, part II — One of three “soundtrack of the moment” posts that provide a great snapshot of the music I was into and getting into at that time.

he’s very good — On my encounter with Henry Winkler.

2008

Kristen Wiig = Hilarious — An appreciation of an exceptional SNL cast member.

Introverts: A Misunderstood Bunch — Still the blog’s most-read post.

2009

Breaking News: Jesus Christ Registers As A Republican — My attempt at Onion-style satire. Definitely not as funny as The Onion.

The Ten Commandments Of Watching LOST In A Group — This was a thing at the time.

2010

Sarah Palin is Not a Serious Person — She was a thing at the time.

On the River — A short essay on a kayak trip. If you detect a hint of Hemingway, it’s because I was reading a lot of him at the time, as overly introspective young men are wont to do.

2011

7 Beautiful Movie Music Moments — Man, they all still get me.

Love And Illusion In Midnight In Paris And Me And Orson Welles — I’ve done a few comparative analyses of two films, but this one’s my favorite.

2012

Bringing Old Orthodoxies to a Boil — A review of Fergus Bordewich’s Bound for Canaan and its modern implications.

Best For The Best: Nights of The Animal Years — Why I love one of my favorite albums.

2013

Rutherford B. Hazy — In my ongoing quest to reading a biography of every U.S. president, Hayes has been my biggest surprise.

Silence is Beholden — Walking on silence in Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

2014

Encountering Robin — On meeting Robin Williams and the burden of celebrity.

This Is Martin Bonner — A meditation masquerading as a movie review.

2015

Wherein I Missed Third-Grade Field Day and Encountered Cosmic Futility — Exorcising some old demons as I walked through my grade school for the first time since leaving it.

No Quarter — I pillaged my U.S. state quarters collection for laundry fare, which my grandma would have found amusing.

2016

The Shepherd’s Life — Some reflections on one of my favorite books of 2015.

How to Win My Vote — Still relevant on the eve of this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad election.

Test one two…

I thought I’d give this blog thing a whirl. I realized that I have all these thoughts floating around in my head and they never seem to get into my journal or someplace useful. Let’s just have a discussion. You and me, camping in the mountains beneath the stars with nothing better to do than talk.

Thanks for stopping by, blogger.