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PSA: Fake calls from fake me

I’ve been told that pranksters are using details on this site to call the CEO’s of various major companies pretending to be me, often regarding research proposals. The number usually used seems to be 0203 883 5035 (although there’s no reason another number couldn’t be used). Please ignore calls pretending to be from me from this number.

I don’t think I’ve ever cold-called a company’s CEO, but I suppose there’s always a first time. If you aren’t sure whether you’re speaking to real me or fake me, I’m always very happy for you to drop an email to sh@simonhoward.co.uk and I will reply to confirm.

If you want to know what I sound like – which certainly isn’t gruff, aggressive and rude like fake me – there are also a couple of YouTube videos featuring me!

This post was filed under: Site Updates.

Happy new year!

A little before Christmas, I told you that I wouldn’t be posting my regular book reviews or weekend reads any more. I gave a vague promise of “plans” for my blog, but didn’t really explain myself. In this post, I’d like to write a little more about my intentions.

But first, of course, it is only polite for me to wish you a happy new year!

Over the last couple of years, I’ve had a number of fairly long-running ‘projects’ – in the loosest possible sense of the word – on this site. I’ve had book reviews, photo series, weekend reads, and a few others besides. My mum particularly liked “photo-a-day” because she said it let her keep an eye on where I was in the country, and what I was up to!

Part of the reason I set all of these up was to give me an impetus to post stuff. A regular posting schedule generates an expectation of something appearing – albeit more, I suspect, in me than in anyone reading this stuff. I doubt anyone sat and hit refresh every Friday until my reading recommendation appeared…!

But over the last few months, this boxing in and categorisation of stuff has started to feel a bit restrictive. I’ve found myself posting more in places other than my own site – places like Facebook, Reddit, and Google Plus. I’ve caught myself thinking ‘this isn’t a website sort of thing’. And, of course, that’s nonsense – this is my own blog, and it’s entirely up to me what I write. I spend much of my professional life writing serious stuff for serious purposes. My blog has always been my writing playground, so it seems silly that I’ve virtually imposed “rules” on myself.

When I started blogging (over a decade ago – gulp), I wrote about all sorts of things, in all sorts of ways, from a personal perspective. It was something a little more like ‘journaling’ than anything I post nowadays. Not every post was crafted carefully, and, in retrospect, not every post worked. But it was fun; I wrote things to better understand them, to express frustration or excitement, and just because writing was fun.

So when I said I had new plans for the blog, what I really meant was that I was resurrecting the old plans… in the loosest possible sense of the word ‘plans’. Expect quantity over considered quality. Expect more personal posts on a wider range of topics.

In my experience, when someone posts something like this on their blog, it almost always results in a couple of posts, and then a dearth of content. It’s usually a sign of someone being fed up, and making a last-ditch effort to start again – and that’s more true at this time of year than any other.

I hope that’s not the case here. I hope this is a change that will breathe new life into my blog. But I guess everyone thinks that when they write a post like this. I guess we’ll see what happens.

This post was filed under: Site Updates.

A new design for sjhoward.co.uk

As of 7th May, I will have been blogging for 11 years, mostly here at sjhoward.co.uk. Until today, the structure of the site had changed little in that time.

A few moments ago, I flipped the switch on the biggest ever overhaul of the site. I've rewritten every single template file (the files that power the design of the site) from scratch, and cut the number from 16 to 5. This helps to make the site zippier. More importantly to me, it means that the morass of code which I've cultivated over the last decade has been cut down to size and made navigable again, making maintenance a heck of a lot easier.

When people come to this site, they tend to access specific posts rather than the homepage. In the new incarnation of the site, the content of posts is front and centre. To make content easier to read, I've increased the text size considerably, and stripped back the design excesses. Templates no longer differ by type of post. I've reduced the colour palette and applied its principles more consistently across the site. I've drastically cut the number of extraneous links to irrelevant things scattered around the page. For example, while every page had a link to Radio 4's Desert Island Discs in the old design, this has now been removed. I think you can probably find your own way there.

Similarly, I've radically simplified the typography, now relying almost exclusively on two typefaces: Playfair Display and Raleway. I think some people might criticise the use of Playfair as the main typeface for copy – but I think it works well given the larger font size in use throughout. I'd be delighted to hear your thoughts.

I've moved contextual information to a smaller sidebar accompanying each post. This effectively reduces the prominence of this information in many cases, but by having it appear in a consistent position throughout the site, it is perhaps easier to find.

The redesign remains a work in progress, and I'll no doubt tweak it over time. That said, this hasn't been a rushed job… I've been plugging away at it, off and on, since early 2011.

Overall, the design is much cleaner, and (I like to think) easier on the eye. As I've experimented over the years, some people have commented that this sort of design is a bit sparse – especially compared to the smorgasbord of fonts, colours and styles used in the previous version. I think the new version looks better – but if you disagree, rest assured that, whatever my intentions now, clutter will no doubt accumulate as assuredly over the next eleven years as it has over the past eleven.

Anyhow, please do leave any thoughts or comments you have on the new design. After all, as the designer, it's hard for me to be objective – and the design is, in the end, aimed more at the reader than the writer.

This post was filed under: Miscellaneous, Site Updates, .

Happy New Year!

I’d like to wish all of my readers a happy and prosperous 2014!

As it’s a new year, I’m making a couple of changes to the site. In 2014, I won’t be publishing any 2D posts. I think the last few posts demonstrate that I’ve really lost interest in that format after almost a year, and it has become increasingly difficult to make anything other than tenuous links between recommendations as my archive has dwindled.

So “out with the old”, and in with the… old. In 2012, I did a very popular series called photo-a-day, and I’ve decided to resurrect it for 2014, starting later today.

Weekend reads will continue to be published each Friday, and book reviews on alternate Wednesdays. And I’ll try and do a bit more ad hoc blogging, too.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a great 2014.

This post was filed under: Miscellaneous, Site Updates.

Re-inventing the email newsletter

Until June 2007, this website offered an email subscription service whereby subscribers would receive copies of all posts by email, along with a few added extras now and again. By 2007, RSS feeds and the like made this seemed horribly old-fashioned, and I closed the service.

These days, however, I find myself more and more reliant on curated email newsletters from a lot of my favourite sites. I don’t have the time to trawl RSS feeds which have a low signal:noise ratio – I want somebody to pick out the best bits for me.

And so, today, I’m re-introducing this site’s email service. It is a little different to the one I closed five years ago. This time round, it will consist of a single weekly email with the best posts from this site, and other links and bits and bobs I’ve come across elsewhere but not deemed worthy of posting on here. It will come out on a Sunday, but (unlike the posts on here) it will always be sent in “real time” – so it might be late some weeks, or early others. It will always be freshly baked.

So sign up today – either by following this link, or (if you’re reading this on sjhoward.co.uk) using any of the dark grey boxes. I’ll be sending the first edition a little before midnight tonight – so if you want to collect a complete set, get signed up quickly!

This post was filed under: Miscellaneous, Site Updates, .

A decade of blogging

Today is my “blogging birthday” – ten years ago today I wrote my first blog post, and have continued waffling more or less continuously since! In that time, I’ve written a little over 2,000 posts, had a little over 32 million hits and just a squeak over 7.6 million unique page impressions.

Thanks to everyone that reads the stuff I put up on here. Ten years ago, it would have seemed inconceivable that I’d still be blogging in the same place when I was 28 years old and a fully qualified doctor. Similarly the idea that I’ll still be here ten years hence seems a little crazy today. But who knows? If you keep reading, perhaps I’ll keep writing!

This post was filed under: Miscellaneous, Site Updates.

Changing the schedule

As regular readers will be aware, I currently publish book reviews on Wednesdays. However, I’m currently struggling to keep up with that publishing schedule, yet I’m way ahead of schedule for the Weekend Reads series.

As a result, I’m making a change. Book reviews will now appear every other Wednesday. For the alternate Wednesdays, I’ll be starting a new series of posts which I’m calling “2D”. In this series, I’ll recommend a pair of articles which look at an issue from two different (though not necessarily opposing) perspectives. I think it will make for a very interesting series of posts.

So, tomorrow I’ll be publishing a review of Nick Davies’s Flat Earth News. But the following Wednesday – 27th February – there will be no book review. In it’s stead will be the first in the 2D series, which will feature Chernobyl. And the features will continue on alternate weeks thereafter.

I hope you’ll continue to enjoy the posts!

This post was filed under: Site Updates.

Fixing the design errors of the past

329 days ago, I changed the masthead of this site. Today, I’ve changed it back.

The bold italic Verdana version I’ve reinstated today was always a key part of the site’s identity. Until 329 days ago, I’d used it for almost seven years. Barring a font and colour change, the logo had been the same since for almost nine years. As I’ve been tidying things up in the site design this week, I’ve been taking inspiration from some of the old layouts. Looking at them, it seemed clear to me that ditching that original logo was a mistake: the replacement was weaker, with fewer elements yet somehow less cohesion. So I’ve brought the old one back.

If you’re reading this on the site, you’ll notice that I’ve redesigned the “default” post template to a fairly radical degree. This includes bolder headlines (in the slightly quirky font used in the logo I’ve just ditched), and a plain white background (based on readers’ feedback). I hope too that it looks a little more formal. My thinking was that most of the casual content I post now has its own template, so the content using this template is likely to be my more formal news commentary and the like. This post clearly excepted…! I haven’t applied this design retrospectively, because elements of the contents of those posts were designed to fit the old template.

I’ve reduced the amount of advertising on the site, removing ad spaces that were only bringing in the barest trickle of revenue. There are countless other tweaks to the design across the site, too, and I hope the overall effect is that it looks a little bit tidier. I hope the font tweaks make reading the text a little easier, too. Feel free to leave any suggestions, observations, moans, etc in the comments.

This post was filed under: Site Updates.

Moving on from photo-a-day

Happy new year to everyone reading this!

Yesterday, I finished my year-long photo-a-day project, and promised to come up with something new for 2013.

Several people – Wendy among them – have been strongly encouraging me to continue with photo-a-day, but I feel like I’ve run out of things to feature! So, we’ve come up with a somewhat vain compromise – a photo of me every day!

I don’t know if I’ll manage to keep this one up for the whole year, and I don’t think I’ll be quite as assiduous about making up the numbers if I forget on any given day, but I’ll try my best to do it as often as I can. The first photo will come later today, when I’ve finished designing a new template for the posts… I’m calling it my “scrapbook”!

This post was filed under: Diary Style Notes, Notes, Photo-a-day 2012, Site Updates.

New series of posts: “Weekend Reads”

From tomorrow, I’m starting a new series of posts here on sjhoward.co.uk. I share quite a few news and magazine articles on Twitter and elsewhere; I thought that it would be a reasonable idea to pick one awesome story a week and link to it on here on a Friday, as a recommended read for the weekend.

So I am going to do this each Friday from tomorrow: pick and post a single recommended link for a weekend reading. I hope you think it’s a good idea – I welcome comments as always!

This post was filed under: Diary Style Notes, Site Updates.




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