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Blogging

I've been actively blogging for three and a half years. Over that time I've written quite a lot of words, drawn a lot pictures, plotted a lot of graphs, and learned lots of new tricks. Today, I thought I'd take a retrospective look, open the kimono, and share a few thoughts with you. Along the way I'll answer a few of the common questions people email me about.

First of all, why do I blog? This is really easy: I do it because I enjoy it. It's my hobby, and I like sharing things with others that I find interesting.

My blog is not a business (anymore). I have a full-time job. I'm very proud to say that I work for a company called facebook - you might have heard about them! DataGenetics was a consulting company I ran before accepting my position at facebook. I started blogging on my DataGenetics site as a way of increasing my visibility and reputation. It worked very well, so I continue to blog on the same site for continuity (plus it's a cool name, and I own the domain!)

About 18 months ago, I started putting a single skyscraper banner advert slot on my pages as an experiment to see what would happen. I was conflicted about this decision. Part of me wanted to keep the site clean and free from advertising and not ruin the purity of the message, or appear to my readers that I was selling out. Another part of me was curious what would happen, and I wanted to learn more about the internet advertising market. What better way than hosting adverts on your own pages?

The compromise I reached was to place just the single skyscraper advert, and a max of one per page (some pages have none). I currently use Google AdSense as the exclusive provider. Adding their code was really easy. I've learned quite a bit from hosting these adverts. I'm going to keep them on.

Do I make any money from the adverts? Yes, but certainly not enough to retire on! I make enough money to cover the annual hosting costs of my website (I am hosted by GoDaddy), with a little left over for a few nice steak dinners a year with the family. I'd need at least two orders of magnitude more traffic to make enough money just to live on!

Where do I get the ideas for the topics I write about? Everywhere. Ideas are easy. I write about things I am interested in. If you like my blog, there's a good chance you are like me. It's the writing and coding that take the time. I keep a list of potential blog postings online (I use the task list feature of Google Calender as it syncs with all my devices), and at any time there are a couple of dozen ideas on the boil. When I think of an idea, I store it there (along with any links, references or notes). As I get time, I pull ideas (not in any particular order) from this list and turn them into articles.

What tools do I use? The website itself is lovingly hand crafted in raw HTML using Notepad++ (Yes, that's right. No fancy web tools). When I first started, I was using vanilla Windows Notepad, but graduated to Notepad++ about a year in. I love Notepad++

I edit my graphics in Paint.NET (another excellent program). I especially like the support for transparency the standard Windows paint program does not understand. Most of my other graphics are created in Microsoft Publisher (typically then exported to Paint.NET for adjustment before saving as PNG files). Publisher has a nice selection of free clip art too. I've become so familiar with Microsoft Office products it's hard to imagine me ever changing from them. If I need a photo and I don't have one, I'll search the web for an image with a Creative Commons licence and give a credit link back to the author.

The vast majority of my graphs and charts are created in Microsoft Excel, then saved as PNG. I also do some of my light calculations or data formatting in Excel, and I've been know to edit tables in Excel before exporting them as CSV to convert into HTML tables for my web pages.

If I need custom graphs, plotting, diagrams or heatmaps, I'll go native and generate them from scratch. I typically use Visual Basic 6 for all this work (and a lot of my simulations are calculations are done in VB6 too). Hate me all you want, but I love the language (along with millions of other app developers out there who still use it). It really is a fantastic and mature tool for rapidly building models/simulations in (Plus it's super easy to connect to external databases with it).

If I'm creating animated GIFs or movies, I'll use VB6 to generate the individual frames then a variety of tools to convert the collection of files into the appropriate format (I really like the tools from AVS, and I have a licence for their video/image editing/conversion tools).

When needed, I'll write a little JavaScript to provide some client side interaction, and on the rare occasion that server work is needed, I blow the dust off a PHP text book, write the code, then promptly forget everything about the language. Recently I've written a few animations/interactions with Processing 2, and I've been very happy with the results.

For heavily lifting and data work I use Microsoft SQL Server. A very solid product. It does all I need.

I write, test, and tweak each page locally, then use GlobalSCAPE CuteFTP to upload them to the web. I try to post about once a week.

I enjoy receiving email from readers, and when I get time, I may respond and interact on interesting threads, but please, I don't have the bandwidth to write or debug your homework assignment! (You'd be shocked at the number of requests I get from people asking me to solve their homework problems). I'm honoured, thanks, but that kind of support cannot scale.

If you want to read more about math and general geekery, check out some other blogarticles.

 

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