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Nine years of blogging, and the permanence of it all



by sjhoward

This is the 1,638th post. It was published at 18:40 on Monday, 7th May 2012.

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Today marks nine years since I started blogging. Nine years. Increasingly, people are becoming concerned about the permanence of stuff posted the internet. Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign was hampered by the web, and the fact that for almost everything he said, he’d previously given an equal and opposite quote to some other source at some point in the past. And, of course, there’s many other less prominent examples of people’s online history coming back to haunt them.

Anyone with a blog, like me, can essentially make a choice. I could delete a load of old stuff. It wouldn’t make it completely unavailable online, as content from this site is cached all over the place; I guess it might make it slightly more difficult to find. But I’ve chosen not to do that. I’ve chosen to keep the complete sjhoward.co.uk blog intact. And I’m sure many people wonder why.

Firstly, let me say that it’s not because I think everything on here is great. It’s not. There’s some terrible stuff. There’s stuff that’s just plain dross. I’ve written things that I’m a ashamed of, like using “gay” almost as a punchline, or referring to the entire French population as “crazy frogs”. There’s positions I’ve asserted that, at best, are altogether blunter than I’d ever express now, like saying “I’m very anti-smoking”. And that’s before we even open the can of worms labelled “unnecessarily base humour”.

So why, you might ask, do I keep this stuff online, with my name written at the top of the page in a massive font size?

This is something I’ve thought a lot about. In the end, my reasoning was fairly simple. What I wrote in 2003 might have been unprofessional, but I wasn’t a professional then. It might have been immature, but so was I. The date is clearly and prominently shown on all the posts I’ve written. Of course I don’t hold all the same opinions I did when I was 18 – does anybody? We grow, we develop, our viewpoints and opinions change.

One of the more remarkable things about this little site is that you can how it happened. You can see the softening of my opinion on Tony Blair, from barely concealed hatred, to grudging admiration, to actual respect. My changing interests are reflected, from the 2005 election, during which I published daily “swing updates” based on a complex formula weighting different polls, to the 2012 local elections which were only mentioned in passing beneath a pretty picture of a bus stop.

All of this history, and all of these changing opinions, set out the path to where my politics and opinions lie today. And, of course, both will continue to shift over time.

In the end, I guess I came to the conclusion that if someone chooses to judge me on a personal opinion I held a decade ago, then so be it. Though I’d suggest that a far more interesting and intelligent approach is to ask questions: “You once said you thought x: do you still believe that?” or “Your position used to be y, now it’s z. What changed your mind?”

I don’t know exactly when the meaning of the term “flip-flopping” in political discourse changed from being about presenting different views to suit different audiences to being about actually changing your mind on a given issue, but I don’t think it’s a helpful change. I’m vaguely suspicious of people who claim to have “always believed” something – it has a slight whiff of valuing dogma above thoughtful and reiterative consideration of the issues. I can only speculate that the increasingly tribal nature of politics has led to increasing institutional derision of free thought: we must all toe the party line.

If you ask me, the sooner we lose the vogue notion that a change of opinion or reconsideration of position represents a weakness, the better off we all will be.

Is a blog still a blog. . .



by sjhoward

This is the 1,401st post. It was published at 12:13 on Sunday, 22nd November 2009.

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…when it’s updated as seldom as this one?

No answer forthcoming from me, but I will be making some effort in the next little while to at least transcribe my Pod Delusion contributions to provide a sliver of nearly-new content.

My blogging has always gone through, erm, “dry spells”. I’m sure this site will spring back to life at some point in the not-too-distant future… And thanks to all the many thousands of visitors for keeping it going in the meantime – There is now far more user generated content on this site (via comments) than there is stuff written by me.

So I guess, in a very real sense, this is your site rather than mine.

Thanks for making it that way, thanks for supporting me, and thanks for your patience. New stuff is coming, I promise!

Light blogging



by sjhoward

This is the 1,339th post. It was published at 15:28 on Thursday, 19th June 2008.

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» Notes
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sjhoward.co.uk at five



by sjhoward

This is the 1,325th post. It was published at 16:21 on Thursday, 8th May 2008.

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» Site Updates

Yesterday, somewhat rashly, I promised more coverage of the fact that I’ve now been blogging continuously for five years.

On reflection, I’m not sure there’s so much more to say: Five years, 1324 posts in the (newly redesigned) archive, a full spin-off site of academic stuff, and a book. Oh, and around 2000 comments – from considered to the hilarious, from the misguided to the insulting, and from the inspiring to the bizarre – from you, dear readers. Thank you for all of them.

Looking back at the last five years, much about the site has changed: I just wouldn’t write this today, but then neither would I write this – I hope that the site has progressed over the last few years, but I know there are some who would prefer the latter kind of content to that which I produce today. I guess that progress is relative and dependent on point of view. All I know for sure is that sjhoward.co.uk now reaches far more eyeballs than it ever has before, and has registered more than 3.2 million hits for 2008 so far.

Thank you to those who have stuck with me over the last five years, and thank you too to the relative newcomers who enjoy the site. There will be much more to come from sjhoward.co.uk over the next five years, so I hope you’ll all stick around.

Birthday Cake

» Image Credit: Original photograph by Daniel Catt, modified under licence.

The great advertising argument returns



by sjhoward

This is the 1,299th post. It was published at 23:12 on Thursday, 3rd April 2008.

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Long-time readers will know that I’ve wrestled with the question of whether to carry advertising on the site several times over the past few years. Adverts have come and gone in many different forms, from the Amazon Product Links to successful periods with Google Adsense, and from flirtations with hand-picked advertisers to the Amazon-affiliated shop.

My last epiphany on the subject came after I wrote a negative review about one of the site’s advertisers. I’ve always maintained that advertising does not affect editorial, but I felt that it was difficult to carry adverts for a poor service. This whole incident is now referred to rather euphemistically on the site, as it lead to a legal dispute with the advertiser concerned, but essentially I took the decision to withdraw all general adverts from the site, keeping only hand-picked ads relevant to particular posts.

Now I’m wavering on that decision. A number of high profile companies have actively sought advertising spots on the site, and at a time when it’s likely my web hosting costs are to increase, it’s difficult to refuse.

Therefore, I’ve instituted a beta programme of advertising on the site. A dynamically chosen random third of pages will carry advertising, and I will monitor the response, so that I can do a more accurate cost-benefit analysis of the advertising model. Those who block ads will see a suitably designed alternative, rather than a big white space. Fear not: This place has never been, and will never be, covered with ads, and editorial will continue to be entirely independent of advertising – though, naturally, advertising will not necessarily be independent of the editorial.

I’m genuinely unsure as to which way I’ll go on this, so I’d be interested to hear your opinions through any of the usual routes.

Why I love WordPress



by sjhoward

This is the 1,286th post. It was published at 16:22 on Tuesday, 18th March 2008.

This post was filed under:
» Blogging
» Technology

BackstageThe world is eagerly awaiting the release of WordPress 2.5, the OpenSource blogging platform I’ve been using for over three years.

When I first installed WordPress, I was sold primarily on the advantages of hosting everything on my own server space, and hence retaining much closer control of it, and on the advantage of using PHP over the old static HTML solution Blogger was providing at that time. I was so enthused by the change that I happily manually imported my posts over from both MoveableType and Blogger, which I’d been using previously.

WordPress has come a very long way since then, with automated out-of-the-box importing from other blogging platforms, and very much more besides. Yet, whilst being immensely more powerful, it’s still simple enough for me to customise to my very particular needs, from using fourteen plugins (mostly modified in their own right) to a completely custom theme, and even some changes to the WordPress engine itself.

A couple of years ago, when WordPress turned three years old, I wrote a comparison of the different blogging platforms I’d previously used. Any such comparison I could attempt to write now would be even more hopelessly out of date than that one was, and so I’m not going to try to repeat the exercise. I would, however, like to register my utter disbelief at the fact that I wrote that piece two years ago – it feels more like two weeks. And to think that I can get away with using the same image – that the backend of WordPress has been in what still feels like ‘shiny new’ mode for well over two years – is even more frightening.

However, I know that I’m incredibly loyal to WordPress. From its community full of incredibly helpful and friendly developers, to the way it just gets on and *does* most of the things I want it to do, WordPress simply sells itself to me through its everyday use.

With the launch of WordPress 2.5, the final few of my personal bugs about WordPress will be fixed, and that still-shiny interface is to be updated to something presumably even more radiant. Upgrades to software plugins will, we’re told, become ‘one-click’, removing possibly the final hurdle which prevents people from setting up WordPress on their own (as opposed to using the relatively new hosted solution, WordPress.com). Image galleries will be built-in. And importantly for you, dear readers, load times should be faster.

I guess what I’m struggling to articulate is that I’m proud to use WordPress, I’m happy to support it, and would happily recommend it to anyone. Long may it continue to develop, to version 2.5 and beyond!

» Image Credit: ‘Backstage’ image by SJ Howard, originally published here.

‘Million Hit’ Day



by sjhoward

This is the 1,261st post. It was published at 12:51 on Wednesday, 6th February 2008.

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» Notes
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I’ve just past one million hits for the year-to-date: That happened in March last year, July in 2006, November in 2005, and not at all in 2004. Given the relative paucity of new posts this year, the archive must be driving much of the growth – which is great news.

Uncharacteristic silence



by sjhoward

This is the 1,260th post. It was published at 00:34 on Wednesday, 6th February 2008.

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» Blogging
» Site Updates

Peter Hain’s resigned (finally), MPs are being bugged, political funding has become the watch-word of the week again, and your favourite political blog hasn’t had a peep to say about any of it – sorry about that.

The truth is simply that I’ve been busy with 101 other projects recently, from applying (successfully) for my first doctoring job, catching up with AQA, working on other bits of writing, planning for the site’s fifth birthday, to actually doing some medicine now and again. I’ve been too busy to read the news, let alone comment on it!

As I write, results are coming in from the various Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses… I’d dearly love to be live-blogging the action, but that’s not going to happen when I’m in work at 8am tomorrow – so try Iain Dale for that (or The Guardian).

I should tell you that I’m now running WordPress 2.3.3, and the site’s SMS and MMS messaging services are temporarily suspended due to technical problems, which will be fixed as soon as I get the chance.

I will post here again before long – but, in the meantime, feel free to enjoy over 1,200 posts from the archive.

Thank you, kind readers



by sjhoward

This is the 1,250th post. It was published at 12:25 on Monday, 7th January 2008.

This post was filed under:
» Blogging
» Site Updates

I’ve just heard report from Amazon that more of you than ever before did some of your Christmas shopping through sjhoward.co.uk/shop – thank you for your support. You’ve provided enough cash to fund the upkeep of the site for several months.

I also wanted to point out that I’m making a concerted effort to credit all pictures published on the site from 2008 onwards – it’s a bit of a New Year’s resolution, I guess, and is really something I should’ve been doing for the past four-and-a-half years, but haven’t been consistently good at. I’m now making a renewed effort, as I hope you’ve been noticing.

Thanks to all of the people who licence their pictures so that I can feature them on the blog. Creative Commons is a great thing – something I believe in strongly enough for the material on this site to have been Creative Commons licensed from the start.

2007: This Blogging Year



by sjhoward

This is the 1,243rd post. It was published at 09:41 on Monday, 31st December 2007.

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2007 was an interesting year, perhaps primarily because it was the year when a lot of things didn’t happen. That might seem an odd statement, because clearly most years lots of things don’t happen. But this year has been one of many unfulfilled expectations.

I didn’t discover what religion actually is, despite fairly extensive efforts. My readers and I did manage to have a pretty good debate on the issue – just never came to any real conclusion.

Rather than things improving as promised, the situation regarding junior doctor’s jobs reached new lows this year. I certainly expected that once such a low had been reached, the Government would be forced to get its house in order – how wrong I was.

Despite confident predictions, no-one actually faced charges in the Cash for Honours row, which was frustrating for many.

On top of that, the majority of teenagers didn’t pass their A-Levels this year, M&S didn’t move in a completely new direction (though did gain £3.5m), and mobile phones didn’t advance quite as far as we’d hoped. And the Queen didn’t storm out of a photo shoot.

As well as seemingly predictable things not happening, many unexpected did happen. Completely unexpectedly, even to me, I actually said something nice about Tony Blair, and he himself appeared on a hard news programme outside of an election campaign.

Floods devastated swathes of the UK, and the Church blamed the gays – like some many other people.

Celebrity Big Brother managed to spark an international race row, Sky and Virgin Media had a puerile fight which still hasn’t been sorted, and the world of premium rate phone-ins caved in on itself.

I did manage to have a bit of a guilty laugh at this poor chap’s expense, the Vatican published Commandments for Driving, and we mourned the death of Rose Tombe – well, a bit.

A terror attack on Glasgow airport shocked everyone, though didn’t lead me to the conclusion that terrorists are evil. The disappearances of Alan Johnston and Madeleine McCann generated acres of media coverage – to date, only one has been found. And I was shocked last week to hear of the tragic death of Benazir Bhutto.

Oh, and then there was the small incident of half the country’s bank details getting lost in the post.

And then, I guess, there were the predictable things.

Blair left office, Brown and Co came in, didn’t call an election (despite dithering), and the scandals and muddled thinking continued apace.

In terms of sjhoward.co.uk, you helped to generate over seven million hits this year alone – well over double the number achieved last year, and the first book of the site was published. I started writing for Trinity Mirror regularly, which was nice. And the site put on a little weight.

And that was, essentially, 2007.

All that remains is for me to thank you for sticking with the site throughout the year, and invite you to continue reading in the new year – I do hope you will.

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