Usefulness of Medium

I really like Medium.com.  There’s a wide range of articles available on virtually ANY topic – from the trivial to the very important.  And if I were feeling lazy, I’d end my post right there – those are reasons enough for me to publicly state my fondness for Medium.  But I’m not (too) lazy.

View story at Medium.com

I recently read the above article, which is what prompted me to start writing about a website.  If for some reason you can’t see the link, it’s an article called “This Is How Your Fear and Outrage Are Being Sold for Profit: The story of how one metric has changed the way you see the world“.  To give you a brief summary, it talks about how journalism has changed for the worse because of online metrics.

What struck me about this article, and others like it that I’ve read, is the simple fact that articles and reading such as this exists in the first place on Medium.  I think that it’s important that different viewpoints exist and are easily read, especially when more and more news feeds are curated to show you what YOU want to read, and often give you a skewed world view.

But on Medium, there doesn’t seem to be any particular algorithm (that I’m aware of, at least) that aims specific content your way.  Their main page starts with a series of article suggestions, which as far as I can tell, is based on a combination of what you’ve read previously + content categories you’ve identified as what you’re interested in reading.

 

View post on imgur.com

It then goes on to suggest articles that are specifically found in your categories of choice.  OK, so it is curated, a little bit; but the fact that the “you might like” choices are based on what you’ve already read is still leagues better than news articles who change their headlines and content based on what people are more likely to read.

With Medium, I have a choice of what I want to read.  The articles that are submitted here aren’t done so in order to increase precious advertising revenue or clicks; they’re on the website because somebody wanted to write that particular article and wanted someone to read it.

I was about to call it ‘one big letter to the editor’ – but that’s the thing; while there ARE opinion pieces on the website, there are also some well-researched journalism pieces that are more about facts than opinion.  And then there are some nice stories to read as well.

Given the state of current journalism, we need a website like Medium to continue to thrive.  I myself need to make a more conscious effort to read it on a regular basis.  You should, too.

I’ve Had Enough of You, Yoast SEO

When I started this new blog in January, my number one goal – and today it’s still the number one goal – was to engage readers.  That hasn’t exactly happened.  But that’s okay, and I’m still working on it.

But one of the reasons I pushed forward and bought a domain name with a WordPress installation was because I kept getting told I needed to be able to use plugins!  And that I’d never get anywhere without a domain name!

Sadly, I think I was oversold on the domain name.  Nonetheless, one of the plugins that kept getting pushed over on Reddit’s blogging subreddit was “Yoast SEO”.  The long and short of it is that Yoast SEO is designed to help you craft your posts to optimize them for SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

I’ve had enough of Yoast SEO intruding in my writing.

I’ve definitely noticed since activating the plugin that I’m changing the way I might traditionally write a post, and that my own personal voice is marginalized.  I don’t like it anymore, and tailoring my posts to perform well with search engines isn’t doing me any favours, anyway.

So I’m ditching it, officially.  Consider this a negative review, and not just a pat on my own back.

If you’ve never used it before, Yoast SEO prompts you for a keyword (apparently several keywords if you have premium) and scans your post for SEO efficiency, giving you a red, yellow, or green light based on what you’ve written.

You get more points for adding images, headings, etc.  Some of it makes sense to me.  But some of it absolutely doesn’t – and maybe that’s a fault of my not understanding SEO, but I can tell you with certainty that I don’t feel like searching for or creating a random image to insert just because it increases my Yoast rating.

I think this is just my personal use-case showing through here; I believe that for people with focused, niche-oriented blogs, Yoast SEO might in fact be extremely beneficial for them.  It’s just not for me.

If you’ve had better experience with Yoast, let me know in the comments!  I’d love to be proven wrong, and given a lesson or two on how to use it and avoid losing my writing voice.

Adding to the Family

Well, August was certainly a busy month.  I didn’t get to all of the comic books that I meant to write about.  I’m still going to read them, and put reviews up, but I really dropped the ball.  In fact, over the entire summer, I feel like I’ve dropped the ball with the consistent posting.  So timing things with everyone going back to school, I’m getting back to consistency.

New Addition

This past Labour Day weekend, we made a last minute decision to adopt a new puppy.  You’ll remember back in April we lost our dog Hank; it was hard going through these last few months without little feet following behind us, and we grew used to a quieter house (sort of).

Bailey with her new toy on her way to her new home.
Bailey with her new toy on her way to her new home.

Enter Bailey: a 1-year-old puppy who has loads of energy.  All we knew about her was that she was a beagle mix, and her vet records were kept up to date.  We’re not sure what she’s mixed with, but based on observation we think she’s part boxer.

We’re both learning – for Vanessa and I, we’ve learned that she still needs a lot of training and learning about her personality.  Bailey is learning the same about our particular life rhythms.

One thing is for certain – she’s not going anywhere.  She’s super cute, and despite needing some additional training, we know that we’re going to get along fine.  I know that I certainly can’t complain, especially when I’m going to hit my FitBit step goal with no problems two days in a row.

Bailey hard at work in the home office
Bailey hard at work in the home office

I can proudly say that she’s only destroyed objects of minimal importance so far – and we take responsibility for leaving her on her own for too long.  Other than that, she isn’t doing too bad.

I look forward to writing more about her, but for now, enjoy another picture of her sleeping.

Bailey Sleeping
Bailey Sleeping

Story Idea Up For Grabs

I got a story idea a few weeks ago, but I haven’t really bothered to put pen to paper to develop it at all.  So it’s now up for grabs!

Take them.
Take them.

I was listening to Almost Educational Episode 131 about time travel.  At some point while I was listening, the idea for a piece of flash fiction popped into my head.  Unfortunately, as is usually the case with my ideas, if I don’t act on it fast, the motivation to do it fades pretty quickly.

The main premise is this: The phenomenon known as “frequency illusion” (also known as the “Baader-Meinhof phenomenon”) is actually a ripple effect caused by some kind of change to the timeline in the past.

That’s about as far as I got with the idea, so I’d love to see what someone can come up with here.  If it’s already been done, point me in the right direction!

Flash Fiction Prompt

I was listening to Episode 35 of Anthology yesterday which covered the topic of genies.  It got me thinking a little bit about something to write, but as usual I was on a walk while I was listening to this is all based on memory!

Anyway, I thought I’d provide everyone with a Flash Fiction Prompt.  If you’re not familiar with the term “flash fiction”, you may want to familiarize yourself with the Wikipedia entry.  The short version (or “flash” version, if you will) is that Flash Fiction is really short, usually no more than 1000 words.  The shortest most-known story is of course The Six Word Story.

Flash Fiction Prompt

All I remembered from my walk was this prompt:

A genie grants you three wishes.

And that’s it.  Run with it!

Short Story: The Wrist Watch

The Wrist Watch - Short Story by Stephen Gower
The Wrist Watch – Short Story by Stephen Gower

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I had a short story I wanted to share with you, and that it needed some work.  Well, I decided to abandon that story (for now; it needs a lot more work and I didn’t leave myself enough time).  However, I did find a mostly complete version of another story that I can totally share.

It’s not 100% finished; I made a few tweaks but there’s a major change that should happen with this story that would completely change it (for the better, I hope).

I can’t remember where the original idea came from, but I think it started life as a novel.  I have a memory of writing this for one of the National Novel Writing Months (NaNoWriMo) a few years back.  I think rather than keeping it a stretched out mess, I turned it into a more manageable short story.

The result is The Wrist Watch.  I’ve got it available in DRM-free ePub format that you can download directly.  There’s no way this is good enough to be sold!  But if you decide that you really, really want to contribute some funds, contact me privately and I’ll send you a donation link.  But trust me you don’t need to.

Without further rambling, enjoy The Wrist Watch (ePub)!

Story Update

I don’t have a big post for you today, but instead a story update.  In one of my recent goal update posts I mentioned that I wanted to get back to writing some more fiction.  I had the idea that I was going to share an original piece with you today, but due to time constraints that’s just not happening.

My thought process shifted to posting an older story, from one of my Google Drive folders.  I have a few sitting in there, but to my dismay – they’re not really ready.  There was one story in particular I was thinking about sharing, but when I opened it, I realized that I left it unfinished.  There are some comments on it that I got from a writing group but I never went back to it.

I’m going to update the story in the next few weeks, and create a cover art for it and release it as an eBook.  Actually, as I typed this I also found what looks like a pretty complete draft of another short story.  I’ll have to read it over but I think I’m going to give that one the same treatment.

I haven’t decided whether I should try to put them up for $1 on Amazon or something; or if I’d be better off just throwing them online in a pay-what-you-want format.  Either way I will make the stories available to readers of the blog in some form.

And so that I make sure the work gets done, I’m giving myself a deadline: Tuesday May 9th.  If you don’t see something from me by that date, yell at me!  I’m on Twitter at @stephen_g.

In Memory of a Great Dog

Hank resting in the tall grass
Hank resting in the tall grass

On Thursday April 6th, 2017 – I couldn’t tell you exactly what time – my wife and I had to make the difficult decision to put down our dog Hank.  He was suffering from blastomycosis, a terrible fungal infection that was making it hard for him to breathe in his last days.  We were sad to see him go, but in the last few days I’ve been looking at old photos and am happy to remember the good times we had with him.

In Memory of a Great Dog

We rescued Hank back in 2009, when he was about 4 or 5.  We didn’t get

In Memory of a Good Dog
In Memory of a Good Dog

complete records with him, and were originally told he was 4.  Turns out, he was a 2004 puppy.  No one was home when we went to pick him up – not a good sign.  His bark was loud when we knocked on the door, and sounded stressed.

We later learned that he had at least one other home before this one, and we think there was a strong possibility he was abused.  He was very uncomfortable with anything touching his back end, and was very afraid of brooms and vacuums.  I think it’s normal for dogs to be afraid of vacuums, because they make loud, scary noises.  But he would always look downright terrified when we were cleaning.

We worked with him a lot.  He was a good dog when we got him, but with time he learned better habits and warmed up to us.  He turned into a great dog, and we’re really happy we had the chance to have him in our lives for 8 years.

Bad Habits

Oh sure, he had some bad habits.  It’s hard to say what was worse: chewing underwear, or eating from the garbage can.  Considering one ends up being more expensive than the other, I think the scales tip more to the underwear chewing.  But he also loved to eat paper, and especially paper from the garbage.

Hank got himself into a spot of trouble one day - trapped in the garbage lid.
Hank got himself into a spot of trouble one day – trapped in the garbage lid.

We discovered this early on, and quickly bought a garbage can with a lid.  It was one of those lids that swings open, rather than closing tightly.  Naturally, we found him one day with his head sticking through the lid with the most innocent look on his face.  He was pretty pleased with what he did, if not a little bit confused at our reaction.

We definitely have gone through our fair share of toilet paper with Hank in our home.  Not because he learned to use the toilet or anything – but he seemed to love grabbing the toilet paper off the roll and eating it.  Not all of it – just some of it.  Often I would come home and find a trail of toilet paper – all still connected to the roll – going from the bathroom to the bed.  Again, he was always fairly pleased with himself.

Here’s an audio clip from a podcast I recorded with my friend Mike that describes one of these occasions:

Play Time

Hank loved to play, and his favourite toy by far was a ball.  Any ball.  If it was round and bounced, he wanted it.  He could even entertain himself with it, but

Hank's favourite toy - a ball.
Hank’s favourite toy – a ball.

he really loved chasing after it in the field and running.  The funny thing about when he played fetch was that he would take the same path running back to us each time.  He was terrible at tracking anything but a ball, but somehow, he knew which way he ran back each time.

Ropes and bottles were among his favourites too.  While really not great for his teeth, one of his favourite things to do with bottles was to chew them to bits.  The first step was always to pop the lid off, and then he would methodically chew at it until it was flat.  This was sometimes very helpful if we had a lot of recycling to go through.

He also really loved his walks.  He knew too, when I grabbed my headphones, it usually meant walk time.  This was a matter of disappointment for him whenever I was grabbing my headphones for a different reason.  Still, he would wag his tail at the sight of them, and go absolutely crazy at the sight of his leash.

Nap Time

I think one of the more comforting things about Hank was actually when he would settle down after a long day of play.  He had this way of curling up into a ball, or snuggling up next to you to make sure he was as comfortable as possible.  He was warm, he was soft, and he was safe.

He loved sitting on my lap, too.  If there’s one thing I’m sad that I missed out on in his last few days, it’s that he didn’t get to curl himself into my lap.  He was just too tired and physically unable to do it.  But I know that he would have felt a lot better if he could have.

In Memory of a Great Dog

To be totally honest, doing this post has probably been one of the more helpful things I’ve done since Thursday.  We still haven’t cleaned up the house – his hair is everywhere, and we are slowly moving his toys and things into one spot.

Hank's bed & make-shift sweater-blanket.
An empty bed – we used one of my sweaters as a blanket on his last night with us, and it was still in his shape.

But we can clearly see how much he ran this home, and how much of it was his.

Another thing that helped me out was an article a friend sent me yesterday from Psychology Today.  “Getting Over Rover: Why the Loss of a Dog Can Be Devastating” made a lot of sense to me, and meshed with pretty much all of the reasons why we had such a tough time dealing with it in the first few days (and we’re still dealing with it).

In Memory of a Great Dog
In Memory of a Great Dog: Hank could be photogenic – when he cooperated.

I still hear his bark when we walk in the door.  I can hear him grumble and sigh as he tries to get comfortable at bed time.  But more importantly I can see his big smile and wiggly tail.  We’ll get over his loss, and more than likely welcome a new dog into our house.  But for now, we have 8 years of memories of a great dog.

Google can read my mind.

Google really blows me away sometimes, and I honestly feel like it (the search engine) can read my mind.  Logically I know that it learns based on my search history and browsing habits, but I’m still blown away by the results I get from daily use.

As an example, for some reason I was trying to think about a cartoon I watched when I was in high school or university.  I knew the title of it was in the back of my head somewhere – it had something to do with a “six”, and the lead character was a genetically engineered heroine (or a robot, I can’t recall exactly).  When I couldn’t think of the show name, I turned to Google.

teletoon cartoon about genetically modified heroine
teletoon cartoon about genetically modified heroine

So I typed “teletoon cartoon about genetically modified heroine” – because that’s the best way I could think of to describe the show.  I expected I might get some results at the top close to what I was looking for, but what absolutely surprised me was that the first result was exactly what I was looking for.

The Wikipedia entry for "Cybersix" was the first result!
The Wikipedia entry for “Cybersix” was the first result!

I’m not going to be talking about the show today, but I highly encourage you to read about it.  The point is, I was looking for the Wikipedia entry for this show, but I couldn’t remember the name for the life of me.  Based on that vague search term I was able to find exactly what I was looking for.

I’ve done this with other search terms too.  I can’t remember them all right now, but the result is the same: I type in some broad search terms, indicating about as much as I can remember, and Google is able to serve up what I’m looking for.  Sometimes it’s not perfect, but more often than not it works.

The point I’m trying to make is that I’ve discovered today (and during the process of setting up this blog) that keywords are really important online if you want to get your stuff found.  It’s basic knowledge, but it still surprises me every day.  I can’t wait until Google’s Assistant is fully baked into my phone, instead of just on Allo.

Freelance Writing

I’m always trying to think of ways to earn extra money – my goal for things like my podcast is to be able to run it without spending any of my own money.  So far, I haven’t been able to do that.  At most, I’ve been able to pay for my Netflix subscription and 1 year of hosting for www.alternativeairwaves.com with proceeds from SwagBucks (I typically get ~$25 a month, but it’s slow, grinding work).

One thing I used to do – and I honestly can’t figure out where I found the work before – was freelance writing.  The stuff I was doing, I really didn’t like that much.  But it was relatively easy work, and got me I think $20 for 5 articles (which in retrospect, was not very good pay).  I should probably dig up what I wrote to put a portfolio together, even though I have no idea where the things I wrote showed up online.  This was probably 9-10 years ago, too.

But writing is just about the only marketable skill I can think of to sell online.  I wish sometimes that I just had something I could do in 5-10 minutes and sell for $10 a pop.  But I just don’t have the creative, physical skills.  I’ve considered audio-related things, but sometimes that takes longer than what it’s worth.  If I applied myself, I could probably put together a podcast editing portfolio.  I just don’t usually have the time to provide the turnaround some podcast hosts require.

What kind of things have you done online to generate some extra cash?  Or in the parlance of the Internet, “beer money”?  Any suggestions for what I could do?  Just looking to find work to generate $25-50 a month that isn’t so tedious as surveys and offers that pay cents at a time.