Archive for August, 2005

August 16th, 2005

If You Ignore It, They Will Come

I just got an email congratulating me on the fact that Interesting Thing of the Day has, for the first time, made it onto the Feedster Top 500 list “most interesting and important blogs.” (It’s #470.) This list is based on how many other sites link to yours. The last time I’d bothered to check that statistic was many months ago. If you’d asked me to hazard a guess yesterday, I might have said a few dozen. The actual number: 847.

Now, in the grand scheme of things, being the 470th “most interesting” blog is no great shakes, and given the billions of Web pages out there, having 847 of them mention my site must also be considered a comparatively minor achievement. That’s not to say I’m not incredibly pleased at this development; I am. But I’m also a bit mystified, because I haven’t written a single new article for the site in more than two months.

This mystery runs deep. When I went “on vacation” from ITotD at the beginning of June—for the sake of my sanity and health—I imagined that the number of readers, and the income generated by the site, would taper off. Sure, there’s sorta-fresh content there, in that I’m recycling old articles every weekday, but I assumed the Web surfing public would soon tire of that. Curiously, the number of visitors has remained almost exactly the same, and the income (at least from AdSense clickthroughs) has actually gone up. Significantly.

The implications are a bit mind-boggling. There I was, spending 30+ hours per week working on the site and getting very little recognition or income. Now I’m spending maybe 1 or 2 hours a week on it (mostly replying to inquiries and fixing bugs), and the site gets more recognition and more income. It almost seems as though there’s an inverse relationship between effort expended and reward received.

Clearly, if I want it to become the number one site on the Web and achieve fame and fortune, I should ignore it completely for a year or two.

No, I’m not really going to do that. The site will get its promised overhaul, and begin displaying new articles, as soon as I can possibly get to it. But this phenomenon sure gives me pause: for better or worse, content seems to be much less important than visibility. So when I return to spending significant time on the site, you can bet that I’ll be putting a lot more effort into publicity than into writing new articles.

August 11th, 2005

Turn Your Old Mac into a Backup Server

New Macworld article: Turn Your Old Mac into a Backup Server (August 11, 2005; September 2005 issue, pp. 62–65)

August 10th, 2005

September: the New June

During the years when I managed software development for a living, I came to realize that any time estimate given by an engineer is a complete fiction. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, maybe it’s a desire to please the boss, or maybe it’s simply denial, but engineers always underestimate how long things will take—usually by quite a large margin. I’ve heard of various ways of dealing with this (such as “Double every time estimate, and then double it again” or “Replace ‘days’ with ‘weeks’ and ‘weeks’ with ‘months'”); I eventually learned to pad engineers’ estimates significantly before creating my personal timeline, and pad that timeline again before passing it on to my manager. That usually worked out pretty well. “Underpromise and overdeliver” became one of my mantras.

Alas, it appears I’ve now acquired exactly the same problem: my own time estimates have recently been grossly out of sync with reality.

As recently as April of this year, I imagined that by the end of May, I’d have completed half a dozen ebook projects on my list (new titles and updates) plus several Macworld articles, and be all ready for a nice, relaxing vacation month in June. I was SO looking forward to June. I further imagined that by the end of June, I’d have recuperated from all that writing, completed several much-needed household projects, and polished off umpteen ITotD-related tasks, so that I’d be ready to launch version 3.0 of the site in July.

Well, now that mid-August is here, I suppose I must finally admit that I’m unlikely to meet my May 31 or June 30 deadlines. I could get close to the May 31 deadline by September 1, though. Give or take a month. Although I did manage to take a full week off in June, it was a far cry from what I’d envisioned earlier—and I returned to a huge pile of work.

It’s not that I’ve been lollygagging around all these months. Quite the contrary: I’ve been working quite hard (for the most part)—long hours, late nights, too much caffeine. But things happen. Software misbehaves. Ne’er-do-wells in India try to hack my server to send thousands of spam messages. A magazine asks me to write a “quick” article on something or other. Readers email me with perplexing questions. Friends call me with computer problems. Something that I thought I could explain in a paragraph turns out to require three pages. These are all perfectly ordinary things, but things I didn’t budget for in my time estimates—and they’ve happened again and again. Bottom line: June is now scheduled for September. I am SO looking forward to September.

For those keeping score, however, I have at least made progress on my to-do list: I finished Take Control of Now Up-to-Date & Contact, wrote several Macworld articles, migrated my domains to a new server, fixed half a dozen significant ITotD bugs, pruned our lemon tree, saw a bunch of movies, organized half the junk in my office, bought some colorful new T-shirts, and toured the Sharffen Berger chocolate factory. Just for example.

And for all of you wondering when you’re going to see the next (much-needed) update of your favorite ebook, allow me to assure you that I’ll soon be starting work on the next versions of Take Control of Mac OS X Backups and Take Control of Upgrading to Tiger, doing a major rewrite of Take Control of Email with Apple Mail to cover the new Tiger version of Mail, and expanding Take Control of Spam with Apple Mail to cover not only Mail 2.0 but other Mac OS X email clients as well. And all this will happen as soon as I’ve finished writing yet another brand-new ebook I’m working on, about which more later.

August 10th, 2005

Are We Now Up-to-Date?

This week, after many months of preparation, my latest ebook was finally released: Take Control of Now Up-to-Date & Contact. This title is different in several respects from all the other Take Control ebooks I’ve written. It’s much longer, for one thing: 249 pages. It’s also the first time I’ve written an ebook that will be distributed with the software it describes (in place of a conventional manual). So although you can download it free, it really costs $120 (since it’s of no use unless you have the software). The arrangement we have with Now Software is such that they get high-quality documentation quite inexpensively, while we forgo high per-unit royalties for (what we all hope and expect will be) high volume. So all parties—including readers—should benefit from this arrangement. After all, as with all Take Control titles, we’ll provide free updates to the ebook as new information becomes available.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this software, Now Up-to-Date & Contact is a highly regarded, cross-platform, network-ready scheduling and contact management package. If you’ve outgrown the capabilities of iCal and Address Book (on Mac OS X) or don’t wish to sell your soul to Microsoft in exchange (sorry) for Outlook on the PC, Now Up-to-Date & Contact offers a great solution for small and medium-sized businesses and even individual users. The just-released version 5.0 has a thoroughly updated interface, several major new features, and lots of bug fixes.

Before I started working on this ebook, it had been years since I’d last used Now Up-to-Date & Contact. Now I’m apparently the new authority on the software—even before the ebook was published, readers (having heard that I was writing it) sent me email asking technical questions. (While I’m flattered and everything, I don’t get paid to do tech support, so kindly direct such questions to Now Software in the future!)

Now Software is hard at work on the Windows version of the software, and I’ll be producing a Windows version of the ebook to go with it. There’s also a version 5.1 for Mac OS X coming, which will include some Tiger-specific enhancements (such as support for Sync Services) as well as, of course, yet another updated version of the ebook.

There is some irony in the fact that during the months I was working on this title, my schedule felt incredibly out-of-control. In theory, Now Up-to-Date could have enabled me to manage my schedule and to-do list masterfully, but I’ve learned through experience that one should never put “live” information into a program one is testing or writing about; the process of experimentation usually results in data loss. Countless times I thought, “This is a great program—I sure wish I could use it myself!”

But then, the real problem is that I habitually pile far too many projects onto my schedule. I’m working on that, though. I’ve added “Decline next project” to my to-do list. I’ll get to it eventually.