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January 7, 2009

State of the Blog 2009

“I want to run – I want to hide –
I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside … ”
- U2, “Where the Streets Have No Name”


I’ve had some time to settle into the new page design, so it’s only hospitable to give you a tour of my humble cyber-abode.

It also seems like a good time to talk about potential substantive changes to this blog in addition to the cosmetic ones in the upcoming year – but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Let’s just start the tour:

1. Three (or four) is the magic number

Like just about everybody else who uses Blogger, I was long frustrated with the vertical page layout of most templates – more specifically, with the difficulty in expanding the width of the page to keep more information “above the fold,” in newspaper speak. In fact, that’s the most common remark I’ve received about the current layout – how it uses the width of the page much more effectively.

As much as I’d like to, I can’t take credit for the makeover. If you scroll all the way down to the bottom of this page, you’ll see acknowledgement to Our Blogger Templates, who have several 3- or 4-column templates compatible with Blogger. Best of all, they’re free. So if you’re shopping for a new template, go check them out – especially since the link I just included saves you the trouble of scrolling down my page.

(The transition hasn’t been flawless, though. More on that in a minute.)

2. Where’s Weezer?

One keepsake that didn’t make the move with me is the sidebar video I updated on a regular basis. That section, most recently occupied by Weezer’s “Troublemaker”, held a place of high regard - both in my heart and on the webpage.

However, I realized that videos tend to be popping up more and more frequently in my regular posts lately. It’s a direction I’d like to keep traveling, especially since 1) multimedia becomes more easily accessible every day, and 2) it’s much more effective for me to just show you a video that I’m referring to rather than take 1,000 words to explain it. Trust me - the less I write, the better off we’ll all be.

(And just to make sure you believe me, there’s a new video at the end of this post. Think of it as your reward for making it to the end.)

One more thing on this subject: about three months ago, I started adding labels to each of my posts, which are listed in a sidebar at right. As you can see, the most prevalent label is “music” – even more than running, swimming, or the Western States 100. (I mean ... it's kind of too late for me to change the blog title, right?) I guess what I’m saying is - music’s just a huge part of me, so I’ve decided to embrace it.

3. Dancing with the devil

Yes, there are ads here. Yes, it’s an awkward situation to put myself in.

If it’s any consolation, my mind isn’t completely made up on this subject. I wouldn’t say that my marriage with advertisers is a happy one; I don’t feel satisfied, and I’m often frustrated, and most days I wonder if I’d just be better off without them. On other days, I think that maybe things will work out nicely if I just hang in there a while longer.

Basically, I can’t make up my stinking mind. Have I mentioned before that I'm an idiot?

4. This space for rent

While hosting ads is a moral dilemma of sorts, I have no qualms whatsoever about doing product reviews, which remain on the right sidebar. It’s good for me to test out gear that I wouldn’t otherwise try, good for you to learn whether they’re worth spending money on, and good for the companies who get promoted (assuming, that is, that their products don’t suck). It’s a win-win-win for everybody involved.

Of course, in order for the reviews to be helpful, I have to actually, you know … write them. On that note, I have three different products that I’ll be telling you about in the weeks ahead. Stay tuned for details.

5. Look both ways

See those cool sidebars on either side of the blog? This was where I ran into some trouble installing the new template. Many of the link lists were lost in transition - and what’s more, my blogroll wouldn’t import from Google reader properly.

I ended up putting in the links by hand, which means it’s probably rife with error. If you’re normally on my list, take a look to the left and see if you’re still there, and if the link actually works. If not, let me know.

Heck, as long as we’re at it – let’s go ahead and open this up to anyone who asks. Want a link? Just contact me.

One final sidebar note that’s always worth a reminder: subscription information (e-mail or reader) is at upper right. And if you act within the next five minutes, I’ll even throw in free shipping.

(That’s enough administrative notes for one post, don’t you think? Let’s get on with the fun stuff …)

6. Where the blog has no name

We’ve reached the video portion of the post, which actually ties in rather nicely with the new blog theme. It’s also a continuation of my recent adulation of the greatest band of our (or possibly any – that’s up for debate) generation.

There’s an old saying in Northern Ireland that it’s possible to determine someone’s religion based on the street in Belfast he lives on. You can also guess the person’s salary from his address on that same street (the higher income homes are further up the hill).

Bono took this notion and crafted a song envisioning an area where people aren’t judged by the part of town they inhabit, or the house that they live in, or their chosen manner of worship. A place where nobody is confined to other people’s values or expectations; where anyone can move and act in any way the spirit leads him.

And this is kind of a stretch, but … that’s kind of how I’m feeling about this blog nowadays. It’s always been ostensibly about running – but I often want to spread my wings a bit and try some other topics without having to relate them to my training regime. I enjoy writing about music, my family, my hometown, my favorite books and authors, or whatever current events happen to inspire me in some unexpected way.

For the next six months, there’s no question that my thoughts and writings will focus on the Western States 100 – honestly, there’s really no way they couldn’t. Beyond that, however, I’m reserving the right to tear down the walls of this blog a bit, and explore some new avenues that I haven’t journeyed down before.

Certainly, when I do, you’ll all be welcome to come along with me. In the meantime, here’s “Where the Streets Have No Name”, U2’s opening anthem from The Joshua Tree. The song's idealistic yearning, soaring passion, and infectious rhythm make it one of my favorites that they've ever made:

(I've actually got one more cool story about this video ... but I've held you long enough already. It will have to wait for another day.)


Bruce 1/8/09, 1:40 AM  

Another U2 video, great . Congrats on the new look , it's sharp. I just moved to a three column template for the same reasons you mentioned.

Not sure if I was on your old blog roll or not but while you're updating it, I would appreciate the link. cheers.

Keep the U2 coming, how about One Tree Hill,which Bono dedicated to a Kiwi mate of his who was killed in a motor vehicle accident.

Ian 1/8/09, 1:44 AM  

Hey Donald.. have to concur, I like the new layout, it's a bit fresher and seems easier on the eye.

I'm not sold (no pun intended) on the use of adverts, some are relevant, but some at the end of last year were a little inappropriate.

Bit cheeky, but would I be able to get a link to my blog on your site, mixing with the big boys a little I feel, but it would be nice to hear what people think!


Annette 1/8/09, 9:42 AM  

Love the title of your blog post - very creative! :)

As for your blog name, I think you've got it covered by including "Rambling" in the name. That implies that it could be about anything outside of running. I like it and my vote is - Keep it!

Happy rambling!

jeff 1/8/09, 12:14 PM  

i'm just happy you listed my blog in lower case.

AKA Alice 1/8/09, 2:11 PM  

I really like the new layout. I'm been a big chicken about using a three column template with blogger, although I like them a lot better. It seems like the one sidebar goes on forever on my blog now...

I think it's fine for running bloggers to write about topics other than running. We (hopefully) are multi-dimensional people, right?

21stCenturyMom 1/8/09, 3:15 PM  

In the parlance of the internet in the 21st Century - FIRST! tee hee.

Love the blog and I LOVE that video. Best video ever.

mindy 1/8/09, 4:34 PM  

Love the new look Donald. Very sharp and very thoughtful. I see I didn't make it to your blog roll - I certainly wouldn't mind having the honor of appearing in your links. Incredible video - and I never knew the backstory, very cool. Looking forward to a lot of running and rambling in 2009.

the Dread Pirate Rackham 1/8/09, 8:12 PM  

I like it. I'm inspired n stuff.

thanks for keeping me inspired. In a big way.

robtherunner 1/11/09, 2:44 PM  

I knew that the video at the end was going to be a U2 one from the opening quote, but was still hoping for a Britney Spears video. I know, I'm shallow that way.

I like the new look of the blog. However, with that being said, I think most of us are interested in the content rather than the appearance. You don't disappoint in that area.

Rainmaker 1/12/09, 3:50 AM  

I'm still impressed - it takes a lot of time to make those templates work, and you've pulled it off quite nicely.

triguyjt 1/12/09, 6:56 PM  

lookk forward to reading anything you want to write about....
your words seem to just lift off the page (screen) and settle comfortably inside my noggin.
good stuff.. stretch

angie's pink fuzzy 1/14/09, 6:24 AM  

great changes!

dunno if others feel this way or if it'll help your ad dilemma, but when i see a page with ads on it, i immediately discount it and go on elsewhere...like i don't trust it as much? product reviews are something totally different. just food for thought. (and i still keep reading your blog!!!)

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