Saturday, April 27, 2019

The 200th Post Reflections

In news that's likely just as surprising to some of you as it is to me, this post is the 200th post on my blog - slightly over 4 years after starting it.  I've written extensively about a wide range of topics, and, surprisingly, haven't run out of stuff to say yet - despite nearly 600,000 words written!


I'm over 2.3 million pageviews (!), well over 1000 comments, have a surprising amount of media coverage around the internet, and am, in general, quite happy with how things have gone!  What's the history of my blog?  Where do I plan to go?  Keep reading!



Why Blog?

I'm guessing not terribly many people know the origins of this blog - because I don't think I've said much about it.  It dates back, roughly speaking, to the birth of my oldest child (who occasionally shows up in posts).  I was quite bored after she was born (I'm male, so was "not food" at that point in life, and when you've got a kid who eats and sleeps, well...), and decided that blogging about some goofball projects of mine would be a good idea.  I enjoy messing around with small electronics, if it's not obvious, and documenting some of the stuff I was fighting with at the time made sense.

I'd gotten an electric bike (the iZip) for free, was midway through repairing it, had worked out how to fix my Sunkko welder, and generally had stuff worth talking about that lived in a goofy niche corner of the internet.  I frequently search for things I can't find, because nobody else has written them up, and I figured that contributing some material on that front would be a nice contribution to the internet.


You'll note that this doesn't at any point include "making tons of moolah on my travel/personal finance blawwwwg!" - I'm not silly enough to join that particularly overdone realm of blogging.  The first few blogs in an area can do well, but the 1000th?  Not so much.  Plus, they're so limiting.  With a new kid, we weren't going to be doing too much traveling for a while, and personal finance blogs are pretty boring.  There are only so many ways you can spice up and restate, "Spend less than you make, don't go deeply into debt, no, you can't buy everything you might want..." and have an interesting post.  I was curious as to how much I could make off in a niche, but certainly didn't start the blog to make money.

A "Project Blog"?

I decided to limit the scope of my blog with a very personal touch: "Things that interest me or that I've done."  I admit the blog has expanded beyond the initial small electronics projects quite a bit, but it's still about things that interest me, or things I've done.  I can't say that building cinderblock stairs was particularly interesting, but I've documented it for those who might need something similar.  Some posts are interesting to write, some are more just documentation.  I leave it to the reader to decide which is which, because based on which posts are most popular, I've got no idea whatsoever what makes for a popular post.

Starting out, I had roughly two goals:

  • Learn to write more content quickly.
  • Have some reason to actually finish my projects.

Both are useful.  I realized in 2015 or so that I wasn't very good at writing long form content (for whatever purposes I might need that), and I set out to improve.  The best way to get better is to just write more - and my blog gives me reason to do that.  When I committed to writing posts every week a few years back, I seriously had no idea what I was going to fill my blog with, but I figured I'd try for as long as I could.  So far, I've not run out of things to say.  I can also write far more quickly if needed, and things that terrified me in school (a two thousand word essay????) are just a quick hour or two post now.  Most of my recent posts are far longer, and I'm working to condense my writing because the 10k word epics are a bit much.

I've also been guilty of a "90% done... eh, the last bits aren't interesting..." approach to projects where I never finish them.  If I'm the only consumer of the project, that's OK, but it's better for me to actually finish them out.  Not only does it free up space in my office, it frees up mental space.  Once a project is done and documented, I can mentally close it out.  I don't need to spend the effort on remembering details anymore, because any details worth remembering are documented, and the code is (usually) on my GitHub page.  I frequently go back to my old posts for reference.  If it was important, I documented it.

Blogging for Income: You'll Starve

I have to laugh every time I see someone planning to start a blog for financial reasons.  The work to income ratio is truly terrible, at least unless you literally form a new niche and have a lot of financial service offerings (which do pay fairly well, or at least used to).  After 4 years, my blog is now mostly self sustaining in terms of hardware purchases - I generate enough income from ads and affiliate links (almost entirely eBay) to fund the hardware purchases without too much out of pocket going into it.  In terms of the time and effort I put in... it's absolutely not worth it.

But I don't do it for the money.  I try to maintain a dying form of communication (text and photos) when everyone is going to video, and I'm happy with the little niche I've created.  Where else will you find a blog that covers repairing old tractors, documents a Mavic Pro in extreme detail, reverse engineers serial protocols, does a bit of board level repair, documents quite a few battery packs, and does most of this from a solar powered off grid office?  Plus, I meet interesting people from my blog!

Video: Still no.

Somewhat often, people ask me if I plan to extend out into video, like some of the more famous YouTubers who do somewhat technical work.  I still have no interest in it.  Yes, they get quite a bit more traffic than I do, but I still feel that video is the wrong format for the sort of technical writing I do.  Every now and then, I end up slogging through some 45 minute video review of a product, hoping to find details on some particular feature, and it sucks, every single time.  I can't skim the video, so I have to skip through it, hoping I find something useful (and that what I want is even covered).  It's easy to scan a page of text for keywords, and very hard to scan a video for keywords.  No, I don't think adding keyword searching to videos is the right answer either.

I've posted a few videos related to posts I've done, but they're usually short clips documenting some interesting aspect of a project that just doesn't translate to photos.  The speaker stand fill wouldn't be nearly so interesting without video, and frying an egg with a DeWalt battery is the sort of thing that definitely demands video proof.


Amusingly, some of my more popular posts are about things that have plenty of videos answering the question as well - but I'm one of very few people who has written a process up with photos.

For the rest of my content?  I'm still not convinced it would be an improvement.  It would be massively more work (I cannot stand unedited stream of consciousness videos, so wouldn't post any), and it would take me most of the weekend to upload a reasonable length high def video.  So, sorry, unless someone wants to volunteer to edit stuff I ship them on hard drive, not going to happen.

Top Posts

I find it interesting what the most popular posts on my blog are - they're often ones that I didn't expect would be popular at all.

By far my most popular post is the Solar Shed Summary.  That one frontpaged Reddit (plus got a ton of coverage elsewhere) and has nearly a million pageviews.  It's nearly half of my blog's total views - on one page.  The summary format worked very well.

My post on Tesla maintainability was quite popular as well.  It's north of 100k pageviews, despite being an older post, from a time when I tended more towards wall-o-text posts.

In the land of "... wait, what?" - my Mazda 3 oil change page has over 50k views.  This is an example of one of my posts where there are a ton of videos out there, a ton of howtos on car forums that lock you down into registering to view posts, and... then my post.  I don't even own the car anymore, but it's consistently one of the top weekly posts in my stats.

Battery pack teardown posts are popular, though this doesn't surprise me - I'm one of very few sources that has any detailed teardowns.

The Mavic Pro detailed operating handbook (all 40k words) gets plenty of traffic, as again I'm one of few non-video sources for that sort of information.

And the "Why a typical home solar install doesn't work off grid" also has over 50k page views.  I'm glad to see that one getting good traffic, because people not understanding solar drives me nuts.

Post Lengths Over Time

I've been curious about my post lengths over time, but haven't had the real motivation to put together the data parsing until this post.  I know my writing length has gone up, and I've tried to cut that back recently, but... what does it actually look like?

Here's the history of my blog, by date and post length.  I've written a few insanely long posts...

You can see my early publishing history being somewhat erratic, and then hitting a more regular rhythm in 2016 when I decided to post every week.  The gap in late 2017 was after my series of (insanely long) Mavic Pro posts, which took so much time that I took a while off (I was flying every night, collecting data, writing, editing, etc, and it involved more ignoring the wife and kid than I really liked).

The record holder, though, is my 11k word epic on lead acid batteries.  I probably should have split that one into a few pieces, because it's the result of over a year's research on lead acid care and operation.

The spike in late 2016 was me ripping SolPad's hip promo video to pieces.  They still haven't shipped anything.


That chart doesn't really give a good feel for "words over time," though.  So, I created another one - one that is words by month.  This shows the general upward trend into 2018 (with hell month of the Mavic Pro posts), and then the decline towards the end of the year as I realized the time going into this was simply unsustainable.  You can see the sharp drop into 2019 as I cut back to every other week.  It's been a very significant reduction in time spent, freeing time for other projects, as I hoped.



Research Areas I Enjoy

Despite not being particularly popular posts (in general), I enjoy a lot of the little technology projects that dive deeper into something than other people have gone.  Decoding serial protocols on a nasty winter day?  That's fun.  Working out how to turn a Raspberry Pi into a perfectly good little desktop?  It's a long, iterative project involving a ton of kernel building, but I really, really enjoy it.

Plus, almost anything built with an Arduino is fun.  I just wish that the stock libraries didn't suck.  I've had to write quite a few of my own to work within the memory constraints - and, while I don't mind writing them, I do wish I didn't have to rewrite stuff to not waste memory.


Future Plans

At this point, my future plan is to keep doing more of the same.  Every other week seems to be working well, leaving room on alternate weeks to slowly build a dwarf rogue into something resembling a "Stealth Gatling Dwarf."  Writing shorter posts (as if that's actually happening) frees up a bit more time as well.  I'm not actually convinced many people read my 10k word epics.

So, expect more of the same - just on my reduced schedule.

I promise - solar is happening.  I'm just many months into fighting with designs and the permitting folks and UL listings and plenty of other things.  But I bought panels!


4 comments:

  1. Thank you. Amazing blog, hard to find similar content online. Please, add crypto addresses for donations.

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    1. I'm not that up on the various modern cryptocurrencies, sorry. If you want to donate crypto, just ping me with the contact form. The only thing I'm set up for currently is Bitcoin, and... I'd have to dust off some old stuff to figure out how to get that current.

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  2. You, sir, are my new hero.This is exactly the sort of thing I spend most of my free time on, sans much of a desire to write about it though. I'm reading the posts en masse after google steered me here for your excellent 20v Dewalt teardown (and analysis). I particularly agree/like the bit about the physical rfkill/camera kill switches, the written vs verbal format (I did NOT want to watch some guy spend 10 minutes about opening up his battery), and very much approve of breathing new life to ancient hardware.

    On your Asus netbook project, you mentioned updating the BIOS, but you should really look into *fixing* the BIOS yourself (if you don't already). For someone of your skillset it's trivially eason to fix things like the flaky power management support and quite a bit more. I find myself spending far too much time fixing 10 year old Dell and HP bioses (I usually try to do everything: unlock any hidden options, update microcode/option roms/drivers, fix all ACPI tables and misc other things) but many times just running the DSDT through the iasl decompiler and recompiling it is enough to bring noticeable improvement to performance, feature set, and stability.

    I would bet the stutter is interrupt related , and for Chrome to get decent video performance on Linux there's always 5 or 6 flags that have to be enabled for virtually every install I've ever done. I've heard network admins say that it's "always the DNS that's the problem"... for firmware hackers, it's always the DSDT.

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    1. I certainly could do that level of work on it, though I'm not sure I'd really gain much. It's a light utility and writing laptop for the most part.

      Glad you like the various projects, though! I feel like a holdout as everyone goes to video, but there are certainly at least a few people who still like text and photos. Most of my realtime communication these days is on IRC with other people who like that sort of stuff...

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