Wednesday, August 31, 2005 

Oops! Didn't Do My Homework for BlogDay 2005

I'm embarrassed, but I admit it: I didn't do my homework. Today, Aug 31, is BlogDay 2005, where every blogger is suppose to recommend 5 new blogs. Is that new to me, or just new? Well, I just added at least 60 blogs to my "DAILY READS" bookmarks folder. These blogs are mostly new to me. But I am a skimmer; I peer in on what people are writing, bookmark what interests me, then come back later to read in depth. If I didn't do this, I'd never get off the Internet. There's just too much to read. Too many millions of blogs. But the reason I didn't prepare my list is because I was up all night trying to write some Perl code to analyze web server log files so that I could discuss the techniques on several of my tech blogs. To make up for my lack of participation in BlogDay 2005, I'll highlight a few blogs each week, starting in a few weeks.

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,


To Manage Content Or Not Manage Content? A CMS Is The Question

Lately there have been a number of discussions on CMSes (Content Management Systems) at several popular blogs that I read regularly. I would guess that most of these bloggers are saying that they either wouldn't use an OpenSource CMS or would write their own package. My take on software is usually "why waste time reinventing the wheel".

As such,I have been evaluating about 10 CMS packages, some specifically for blogs, for the past week and I have to say that I am impressed. Let me clarify: I am hard to impress when it comes to CMS packages. I have evaluated literally dozens of very high-end CMSes and met with vendors while working on gigantic web site redesign projects costing my employers several million dollars. Some CMSes only 6 years ago started at $100,000 for a site license. Throw in actual functionality and cost per seat for client software and you could easily spend $500,000 on a "complete" package. It was my job to mercilessly demo and review these packages to find the most appropriate one for several clients over a period of 3 years. I lost track of the number of team reports I've written on CMSes.

Vendors had their own definitions of what a CMS was back then. CMSes sure have changed. Honestly, I have to tell you that packages like WordPress and TextPattern are really quite elegant, and yet so simply and cleanly put together. These two and other packages are modular, skinnable, and OpenSource. As a programmer of 28+ years who likes to do things his own way, I've drawn the line at CMSes. For managing one or two blogs, you may not need a CMS, especially if your posting frequency is low. But I have a planned 20+ blogs for myself and some charitable organizations, all of which will be hosted on my consulting website's server. I need a reasonable CMS package, so I'm evaluating features over a 2-week period.

So far, while I'd like to say I'm leaning to one or another CMS, I would in fact like to combine the functionality of WordPress, TextPatterns and some others. Once I am done evaluating, I'll blog here about what I picked and why.

The beautiful part about most of these packages, since they run on PHP scripts and a MySQL database, is this that you can add your own plugins, templates, and other functionality - something that often wasn't possible in large CMS packages. This should satisfy the codelust for most programmers.

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,


Life Goes On/ Blogging About Disease

Sorry. I just had to get writing about Hurricane Katrina out of my system. But life does go on, and as a full-time deluded writer, I write both because I want to and because I have to. The fact is, seeing the damage of Katrina made me think that New Orleans looked like a Third World country after a similar devastation. I have lost family members to various types of storms - two uncles in the past 6 years. But that's not what Katrina made me think about. It made me think about disease and its possible spread.

As part of a personal mission, I donate some Internet-related consulting time to help charitable organizations. Several bloggers are blogging about stopping poverty. I am managing one blog about poverty and another about the Avian Flu, which might turn into a Pandemic which could decimate huge populations around the world, not just countries like China. If you are looking for causes to blog about, the Avian Flu is an important one. While blogging about wiping out poverty is highly honorable, if our populations are decimated by Avian Flu, poverty won't be the only thing on our minds. (We are in the process of moving the BirdPandemic blog to hosting on my server, so I have not provided a link just yet.)

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,


Act of God?

When I saw on TV the devastation of Katrina, especially in New Orleans, I didn't much feel like blogging yesterday. Yeah, I know that it's crucial for a new blog to stay as visible in the blogosphere as possible, but I was saddened by the loss of life and tried imagining how terrible it must be for so many people left with nothing. Up here in Canada, we recently had a Tornado that ripped through the province of Ontario, causing much destruction. But nothing like the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. And what's almost as sad as the loss of life is that insurance policies won't cover some of the damage because of "Act of God" clauses.

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,

Monday, August 29, 2005 

Where Ya From? - Tracking Visitors

In case you have no reason to have seen two of my newest blogs, Perl-Tips and GeoPlotting, go have a look if you have any interest in learning how to track where your websit and blogsite visitors are coming from. I'll be posting Perl scripts at Perl-Tips, PHP scripts at PHP-Tips (not available yet), database code at MySQL-Tips (n/a yet), and general geo-plotting and GIS (Geographical Information Systems) ideas at GeoPlotting. At Perl-Tips, I explain why I've spread out my discussions like tihs.

Go have a look. If you have any questions relating to these areas that you would like answered, please feel free to post a comment on the appropriate blog, or drop me a line at rdash001-at-yahoo-dot-ca (email mangled to confuse spambots).

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,

Sunday, August 28, 2005 

Hark, Who Goes There: Determining Who's Visiting Your Website

Correct me if I'm wrong, but my hypothesis is that bloggers are generally sociable people. So they probably want to know who is visiting their blogsite. There are a number of free tracking sites, including gVisit, which hacks Google Maps by plotting the (approximate) city that your visitors are coming from. gVisit displays one icon per unique visitor at approximately the city they are from. (I say approximately because a St. Louis, Missouri icon was displayed over Washington, DC for one of my blogsites.) If you click on an icon, a dialog pops up which shows the city name and the visit date and time. [I apologize to whomever wrote the gVisit blog entry that I originally read. I'll be a bit more diligent with my references in the future.]

As cool as gVisit is, there is no information about multiple visits on the same day. Although they do say that if you give them a donation, they'll increase the features for the site(s) you're tracking. Still, what I would love to see is a combination of what gVisit is doing, and historical visit information. So when you click on a visit icon, you'll get a dialog that pops up a ton of information about that visitor in terms of visit history, pages visited, and possibly even graphs plotting each visitor's repeat visit data.

For software to convert IP addresses (stored in your web server "access" log) to country codes, you could use a new product ($$) called CountryHawk, or get pretty much the same information free from Maxmind's GeoIP country files and webscripts. I'm using the latter for personal use, but will be combining a Google Map hack with historical metrics information for each visitor. The only drawback is that GeoIP provides a conversion from IP addresses to a country code. If you want to convert each IP address into a city (95-98% accuracy), that costs extra, and the data cannot be redistributed.

That's not to say there isn't a way to produce the same IP-to-city list for free. I have an idea buzzing around in my mind and will be trying it out the next few weeks. Whatever I end up with, I'll package it all, convert my Perl scripts into PHP and MySQL, and post the software on my web server for free (donations welcome). So keep an eye out on these pages for my own country-based visitor analysis tools. If I can manage it, I may be able to set this all up as an admin plugin for Blog CMS packages such as WordPress or TextPatterns.

(c) Copyright 2005, Raj Kumar Dash,

Friday, August 26, 2005 

15 Seconds Of Fame

Late last week, for a brief, fleeting moment (okay, 3 days), my blogs, especially this one, actually got a few visitors. What the blog/rss search engines and directories haven't really done for me, a single link in Darren Rowse's blog did. As part of Darren's "31 Days to Building a Better Blog" project, I submitted a link to the blog you're reading, and Darren linked to me the next day. It made a difference in my traffic, but it was all transient.

So the question now is, why isn't anyone coming back? Are they busy reading other posts and just haven't made it back? Do my postings suck? I've got a fair bit of information in my posts. Maybe that's the problem. Many bloggers post several short entries in a given day. I tend to write longer pieces. Or maybe the problem is that my SEO skills are lacking. Well, I've checked the search engines and all my blogs are listed in them. So maybe the problem is that my posts do not have relevant <title> and <h1>, <h2>, etc., values. It could be any number of reasons, but it's most likely that I haven't been consistently posting until very recently.

Whatever the case, I'm in this for the long haul. I love writing, and I'll continue blogging. I have three professional blogs about the RSS technology almost ready to launch over at, and I've got my web-tentactles into possibly a few more. The ultra-successful bloggers we keep reading about (and likely visiting) have put a lot of effort in to geting where they are. The success doesn't happen in a few weeks. Andy Warhol once said that "everyone gets their 15 seconds of fame" (yes, seconds, not minutes). I don't believe that I've had my 15 seconds just yet. Einstein once said something to the effect that "genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration."

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,

Thursday, August 25, 2005 

Using a Spreadsheet to Plan Your Blogs

In a recent entry, I talked about using a Gantt Chart to produce a timeline for multiple blogs. If you do not have MS-Project or do not want to download and install GanttProject, you can also use a spreadsheet, say MS-Excel or Lotus 1-2-3. [Explanations here are given for MS-Excel. 1-2-3 methods are very similar.] If you do not have either, consider the free, OpenSource OpenOffice. This latter package has a spreadsheet, a word processor, and other modules, most of which resemble their commercial counterparts and thus are no more difficult to use.

If you have a small, fixed number of blogs to plan, place their names across a spreadsheet row, and dates downwards, like so:

On the other hand, if you have many blogs and are planning more, you may prefer to enter them down a spreadsheet column, like so:

The examples here will place blog names across a row, with dates increasing down the columns. Notice that I’ve used a numeric date format. You could use a format such as “01-Sep-05”, however, you will have to enter each date manually. With a numeric format acceptable by your spreadsheet software, you can enter a couple of consecutive dates then perform a “fill series” operation to increase each successive value by one day (or whatever ).

Now you can fill in the cells with activity/task information for each date/blog name cell, as necessary. For example, in a date range of 30 days, Blog A may only have 3 tasks per blog entry and thus not all 30 cells would be filled in, in the column "Blog A". Add tasks for each blog column. Example:

Note that the information in the example is pretty brief, in the interest of keeping this blog short(er). If you are an experienced blogger, brief notes may be all you need. For less experienced bloggers, you may want to enter other task details such as “check hyperlinks”, “check references”, and so on.

This is a fast and simple method for planning your blogs, giving you a means to manage the necessary tasks. As I've said in previous postings, I believe in planning projects, especially if they are long-term. I am an obsessive planner. That said, if you only have one blog and plan to stay that way, most of the techniques that I've been describing are not necessary, but they don't hurt. In fact, when you see how "easy" it is to manage one blog, you might decide it's not such a chore to manage more. Now if you could only come up with content for more blogs.

(c) 2005, Raj Kumar Dash,

Sunday, August 21, 2005 

Multi-Blogging Techniques - How To Manage Several Blogs At Once

You may have found that it's tough coming up with content for one blog on a regular basis. What if you're planning more than one? Currently, I'm actively writing 7 blogs, with 3 more about to launch. It's not easy juggling them. I'm forced to come up with techniques to manage them all. It's a learning process, of course. What works for me may not work for you. (Kudos to those of you that are already maintaining numerous blogs.)

What I've learned from my regular writing over the years, and my blogging, is that if an idea strikes you, write it down. Immediately. You WILL forget otherwise. If you don't have time to write the entire blog entry now, make a note somewhere. Always carry a small notebook or even a voice recorder with you when you leave home. (Or use a handy napkin and transfer your scrawls elsewhere as soon as possible. Though for maximum napkin legibility, use a ballpoint pen.) These are common techniques used by writers who work on multiple stories or articles simultaneously.

In terms of content, you may disagree but I feel that professional blogs should have a narrow topic focus. Though, after you've blogged for a while, you'll find yourself wanting to write about other topics that may not quite fit your current blog(s). Don't fight the feeling. Go with it. Write a few entries; just don't post them quite yet.

After you've accumulated a few entries, consider whether they really constitute the birth of a new blog. If so, can you handle another blog? Can you post frequently (at least once a week) and still maintain a commitment to your existing blog(s)? Have you written down a list of potential sub-topics that will carry this new blog for a while?

In my experience, the latter situation is extremely important for juggling multiple blogs. I like to plot a loose timeline of topics for all of my blogs, but be flexible in the writing order. For example, I may plan to write Blogs A, B, and C on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, respectively, but may end up writing them on other days for numerous reasons. And once I write an entry for Blog A, I try to write an entry for B or C before writing another for A. Yet sometimes you'll write a second entry for the same blog before moving on to another blog. Which is fine, provided you develop the discipline to catch up in the writing you haven't done yet. (When you blog professionally, you have to come up with your own schedules and force yourself to stick to them until you feel comfortable enough to "wing it".)

I've also found that no matter how much I know about a topic, planning ahead allows my mind to write articles in the "background". Provided that I do the necessary research, I sometimes achieve my A-game and reach a very productive state of mind. Some mornings I just wake up with fully-written articles sitting in a mental queue, waiting to flow through my fingers and into my keyboard. The unfortunate part about this, though, is that if I don't type up (or hand-write) the content immediately, it's usually lost. That means, if I reach for my toothbrush instead of firing up my computer, the article content vanishes in my mind, usually lost for good. In fact, sometimes I only have time to grab a pad of paper and pencil. I'm still learning how to control this incredible phenomenon, but I haven't yet. This is the way I've written most of my computer programs, large or small, for the past 28 years: Code would just appear in my mind in the morning. (I know two brothers who programmed this way as well, but they would sometimes envision thousands of lines of code.)

Occasionally, I find that the same phenomenon happens for my writing as well. It's an incredible feeling, especially because writing becomes an enjoyable experience instead of a chore. And let's face it, even professional writers who cannot imagine doing anything else, who live for writing, occasionally, or even always, hate the drudge work of writing the final piece. They'll often procrastinate for this very reason.

Ultimately, you have to do what works best for you. But you determine that in a process of discovery.

(c) Copyright 2005, Raj Kumar Dash,

Saturday, August 20, 2005 

Turn Your Life Experiences Into Blogs

This posting is much more philosophical than my previous postings. I think that there has to be some balance in your blogs...

Someone recently asked me why it took me so long to get an official blog (seven, actually) up live. The truth is, I have been recording a digital journal since Jan 2002 - ever since my last full-time programming contract ended. I wrote about whatever topic struck my fancy. And in three and a half years time, I wrote approximately 1000 pages of content - not including the 900 pages I wrote for a book on PHP Web Development that I designed and co-wrote for Wrox Publishing. [Note: Only 250 pgs of my original content was actually published.]

My 1000 pages of creative, personal writing includes loads of stream-of-consciousness ramblings, tons of short stories, the outline for many novels, fusion cuisine recipes galore (which are now part of my Curry Elvis Cooks blog), and discussions about the full-time writing life I had finally been able to adopt, although not willingly.

I also had an informal blog running called "Punkmonk's ToughLove" three years ago on a free web page provided by my ISP. I heard about blogs, and not having anywhere else to post my entries, I posted to this free page. Back then, my blogging technique left much to be desired. But crap happens and my ISP went bankrupt. I lost my web page and some of my postings. (I had some copies, but more recently, I blew away 17 Gb of one hard drive when I tried to install Linux without partitioning my drive properly. I'm still trying to recover the contents of my drive, including 5 years worth of electronic-orchestral fusion music that I composed and have no other copies of. Que sera sera. You learn from your mistakes.)

But the gods must have been angry with me. My consulting biz had gone from fantastic to absolutely nothing by the end of 2001. Recruiting agencies that used to beg me to take contracts with their clients wouldn't even get back to me because I hadn't had a recent contract. Note the irony: I can't get a contract because they won't take me, and they won't take me because I haven't had a contract. The job market was competitive. I applied on my own to dozens of jobs for nearly two years, then simply gave up and tried to make the best of being a full-time writer.

However, reality strikes when the bills come in. I ended up borrowing money from my parents, destroying their finances and mine. Then I trained as a chef, cooked for crap wages at restaurants and worked for minimum wage as a coatcheck person in a nightclub that I used to party at only a few short years before. Sometimes I was working 75 hours/wk just to get by. While most of the restaurants I worked in allowed one free meal per shift, there usually wasn't any time to eat. So I'd use my tip money from coatcheck each weekend to really splurge and eat more than one meal a day on Fridays and Saturdays. But, I sometimes used the tips to get fresh ingredients from the local Farmer's Market and came up with some new recipes to write about.

During much of this period, I was too busy trying to dig myself out my financial hole and trying to keep up my debt payments to do any real blogging. Sure, I was writing lots of stuff when I wasn't working, but when you lose your cell phone plan, your cable TV and Internet connection cause you can't pay the bills, it's really tough to blog, get a job, or even relax a bit and watch TV. My brother eventually saved me by generously buying me a cell phone and a calling plan, telling me to pay him back when I could.

If you're still reading this post, let me explain. I am not giving you this sob story for sympathy. The style of details that I have given above do not really belong in this blog, but they do illustrate a concrete example of the type of entry that might be in my Punkmonk's ToughLove blog (which is still in progress).

Crap does happen in life. You'll probably go through dry spells in life yourself, especially with the flip-flop nature of the economy in this decade. But if you find yourself going through one really bad event after another, please look at the bright side: you will eventually have tons of potential blog content to write about if you achieve the "write" mindset and organize the topics appropriately. If you give your topics the right spin, make your blog content valuable in some manner to several someones somewhere, eventually the search engines will bring in the traffic for you.

I am still only working part-time regularly, but the computer-related contracts are starting to come in again. And because of my technical experience, I have a tentative deal to write 4 e-books on a spectrum of RSS topics. Peppered against all this are the seven blogs I am currently writing, and the 3 more about RSS that I'll soon be writing for I've turned my misfortunes into ten regular blogs, with more planned if I can find the time. If you enjoy blogging like I do, you can turn your experiences into blogs. Dr. Marsha Sinetar wrote a fantastic book years ago (with a recent revision) called "Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow." Be generous to yourself, and maybe a special someone, and get a copy of this book for yourself.

My main point in this posting comes from a Buddhist concept called "citta". Citta means that all life situations are in passing, no matter what they are, good or bad. My philosophy and my family have been the main things that have gotten me through this tough period. To quote Rob Schneider's character from Adam Sandler's "The Waterboy" movie, "You can do it!". Now, armed with a lot of motivation and some order to my chaos of topics, I find it getting much easier to write and post entries across all my blogs on a more regular basis. (I just wrote three entries in less than 24 hrs.) Here's to hoping that you will find the same kind of inspiration for yourself. (And thanks to for the free blog space.)

(c) Copyright 2005, Raj Kumar Dash,


Blogging The Write Way

If you are a recent blogger and have never had anything else published before you started your blog, the following statement may come as a surprise to you. Writing a blog, or several, professionally is no different than being a professional writer. The only real difference is that you are working for a different medium, and you have to edit your own work.

The truth is, blogging is probably better for your ego. Submitting a manuscript or even an article to an editor gives you no guarantee you'll be accepted. If you are accepted, there is no guarantee that you'll be read. There's no way to measure if you are being read, short of a survey, where you hope people will be honest.

With blogging, you can measure your readership. Quality, useful content and frequent postings, followed by pings to Blog and RSS search engines/directories increases your chances of being read. Did I say you can measure your readership :?

But back to to my main point: If you are a professsional blogger, or are heading that way, you must think and act like a professional writer. You need to plan a loose set of topics, do some research, even get feedback from other people before you post entries. Use a spell-checker. I make frequent typos because I type too fast and and my keys stick. I'm the first to admit my typos. But I do not make spelling mistakes. There is a subtle distinction here. Contrast that with the numerous professional blogs I see where there is great content but horrendous spelling errors. Not typos, errors. How do I know? Because the error is consistent. The English language is going to Heck. Bloggers, you have a responsibility to use correct spelling. Try, try, try. Use a spell-checker.

Grammar is another story. The problem is that in speech, we almost never use proper grammar. And since the charm of popular blogs is usually due to a conversational style, proper grammar may be liability. Write your blog entries as if you are speaking them. If you are not sure, read them back to yourself out loud, or even to someone else. It actually takes practice to write like you speak. One way to achieve this is to get some sort of digital recording device, even your computer. (Audacity is a great OpenSource recording package.) Now, instead of writing your blog entry, turn on your recorder and microphone and "explain" your topic out loud, as if you are telling a friend. When you're done recording, listen back to your audio blog entry several times over several days. Now try to transcribe the audio: type what you're hearing and save the result using your fave blog editing tool. Your transcribed blog may sound a bit awkward. So edit anything that doesn't read properly. Keep doing this exercise with several blog entries and eventually you will reach a happy medium between written style and spoken style.

(c) Copyright 2005, Raj Kumar Dash,

Thursday, August 18, 2005 

Using Gantt Charts to Plan Your Blogs

In a previous entry, I said that planning your blog is worthwile, especially if you plan to blog seriously and want to show your expertise in a certain field. If you do not plan, you will eventually find yourself plodding on, babbling about unrelated topics. As I've said, having a road plan, makes it easier to be motivated to write your blog entries. Instead of struggling trying to come up with random topics to write about just before your self-imposed posting deadlines, you have already planned out some topics in a moment of lucidity. Because of this organization, you now "simply" :) have to write about each topic, edit, and post them.

One planning technique I discussed in my last post is that of "mindmapping (tm)". (This word is a registered trademark, so henceforth, I'll refer to "roadmaps" or "maps".) Maps allow you to loosely organize the hierarchies of topics and sub-topics that you want to touch upon. With the map, you are not concerned with what you are going to write when. Once you've organized your future topics, the next step is to devise a timeline. For the sake of argument, let's say that you have four main topics and a whole host of sub-topics. A simple example of a map is shown below:

If you didn't catch it in my last post, my maps are drawn using FreeMind, a free OpenSource tool.

I have intentionally used numbered topics in the above map to suggest a sequence for the blog postings, as well for easy reference. After organizing our topics, we can build a timeline for them. For simplicity, let's assume that you do not have to do any research to write each posting. For further simplicity, let's assume that if any topic or sub-topic has "child" topics in the map, we will only post blog entries for the child topics. That means that from the above map, we will have blog entries in the following order: Topic 1.1, 1.2, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3.1, 2.3.2, 2.4, 3.0, 4.1, 4.2, and 4.3. That's a total of 11 blog entries. We will not have entries for Topic 1.0, 2.0, 2.3, or 4.0. (This is simply an example; you may want an entry for every node in the map.)

We now know what topics we will cover and in what order. The next step is to plot out a timeline of our blogging "project". There is a planning technique in Project Management that uses something called a "Gantt Chart". It is surprisingly easy to create a Gantt Chart with the right software. Microsoft Project has been the de rigeur Project Management software for a long time. I used it daily when I was an assistant project manager a few years back. A good OpenSource alternative is GanttProject, which is based on the very cool OpenSource Java IDE Eclipse. GanttProject is only in 2.0 prelease 1, so it has a ways to go before it is as powerful as MS-Project. It does, however, get the job done. One drawback is that the tasks being charted must be multiples of a full day in duration. There are ways to get around this, but they are beyond the scope of this post. [NOTE: You do not need Eclipse to run GanttProject; however, you do need a recent JRE (Java Runtime Engine). See to download a copy of the Java SDK for your operating system. The SDK contains the JRE.)

So let's assume that all of our tasks take one or more full days each. We also specify Saturday and Sunday as "weekend" days. (GanttProject also lets you choose a Holiday Calendar; however, there are only 3 right now, all for European countries.)

Plot the main topics of your map in GanttProject. (The software's web site has a great video tutorial on how to use it.) You should end up with something like this:

Right now, there are no subtopics charted, the tasks are one day in duration, and they all start on Aug 18th. In the interest of keeping this blog relatively short, without explanation, I'm jumping ahead to a more detailed Gantt chart that has all of my map's nodes:

Proper "start" dates and task durations have not yet been assigned. The reason for this is that we only want to manually assign start dates and durations to those tasks that are actual tasks. Recall from above that my map's nodes Topic 1.0, , 2.0, 2.3, and 4.0 will not have blog entries. Instead, we want to use these as labels for "sub-projects" in the Gantt chart. While these sub-projects will have durations, timing will be assigned by GanttProject by adding up the tasks and sub-tasks that belong to each sub-project. (This will become clearer shortly.)

To turn certain tasks into sub-tasks of a sub-project, select the tasks to be "demoted" in the left pane in GanttProject. Now click the "indent" arrow button from the tool bar. The selected tasks will become sub-tasks. The first unselected task above the selected tasks will become the parent sub-project's label. (Please see the GanttProject video tutorial for more info.) Repeat this demotion step with other sub-tasks until you have a chart that looks like this:

Notice that the blue task bars for tasks Topic 1.0, 2.0, 2.3, and 4.0 have each been replaced a thick black "bracket" line. This line represents a sub-project type of task.

Now that we have the task hierarchy in place, we can assign durations to each task, as well as start dates. I am not going to assign task dependencies here. (I.e., GanttProject lets you indicate that one task must precede another by connecting them with a line and arrow in the appropriate direction.) In this example, the start and end dates for each task will infer the actual sequence.

Voila! Our finished project plan for our blog. Notice that some task bars are longer than others. I am of course making up the durations, but the assumption here is that some blogs will take more time to write because of research that needs to be done, or collaboration, or what have you.

See the vertical gray bars in the above chart? They represent "weekend" days. I have specified Saturdays and Sundays to be "weekend" days under the "View/Chart Options" menu item in GanttProject. GanttProject automatically skips any configured weekend days. If a task straddles a weekend, it will be grayed out on weekend days. For example, the Topic 2.4 task is 2 days long and straddles the weekend of Aug 27 and 28. A task cannot start on a weekend day. For example, Topic 2.1 starts on Mon Aug 22. [I work 7 days a week; so in my real Gantt charts, I do not specify weekend days.]

From the above image, we can see that the "sub-project" Topic 2.0 takes 8 calendar days and 6 days elapsed time, since it straddles a weekend. You may prefer to break a task down into another level of sub-tasks. For example, the Topic 3.0 task might be broken down into the sub-tasks "research", "write entry", "edit entry", and "post entry". However, if all of these sub-tasks collectively take 1 day or less, it may be best to keep them as a single main task simply because GanttProject cannot currently handle task durations of less than one day. (MS-Project can.)

Gantt Charts are merely one way of plotting a timeline for a large project whose tasks have been catalogued, say in a roadmap. GanttProject is a nice, free software tool to get you started.

(c) Copyright 2005, Raj Kumar Dash,

Friday, August 05, 2005 


Back when I used to be an assistant editor of a local free weekly newspaper, I always surprised my senior editor with how many months in advance I would plan my article series. This urge to plan helped me when I published my own free monthly magazine, Chaos Review (defunct since 1995). On the other hand, planning is something I was not doing for my 7 (and counting) blogs, and it shows in the ramblings of some of my recent postings. Keep this up and it spells the end of a blog. But as of a few days ago, I've let old habits kick in and started sketching out ideas for near-future blogs. Of course, it helps that I am currently working on 3 books on RSS (marketing, developing, and metrics). [Shameless plug: the book on RSS Metrics is Rok Hrastnik's baby, he of fame; I am co-authoring this book with him. If you are looking for a great book on how RSS can help you as an Internet publisher and/or netrepreneur, check out his comphrensive, acclaimed e-book, "Unleashing the Marketing and Publishing Power of RSS", available at his web site.]

Now while writing a book forces you to organize by coming up with a table of contents, you can apply the same idea to your blogs. Use the technique of mindmapping(R) to help you. (You may be tempted to use mapping software, but I recommend pencil and paper at first. There's actually something about the tactile stimulation of a pen or pencil against the palm of your hand that activates creativity.) Start with a single word or phrase to represent your blog's topic, then draw a circle around it:

This is called the "primary node" or "root node" of the map. Now you want to add the 1st level of sub-topics to your map. In a radial pattern around the primary node, add one "child node" for each topic that you want to write about (or possibly just the titles of the blogs if you're not sure what they'll be about just yet). These are called secondary nodes:

[Note: I've used FreeMind, a free Java app, to draw the above maps. This program, as far as I can tell, does not allow child nodes to be placed radially around the main node. You will have to do this yourself.]

Notice that the secondary nodes are "children" nodes of the root, and that they are drawn in a different shape. The reason for this is simply to visually differentiate between topic levels. (You can use any shape you want, including no shape.) For blogs with complex levels of topics and sub-topics, your map will have many layers of branches.

Use a map both for organizing your thoughts and to decide what to write about in your next posting. This mapping technique, if you approach it properly (i.e., with pencil/pen and paper, using different shapes for each level) helps you brainstorm. I have been using mapping techniques with great success for nearly 20 years (and teaching it for almost as long), but I do go for long-periods without using them. Like any technique, you have to discipline yourself to use it. It's simply a tool for helping you organize your thoughts.

If you plan to write frequent blog posts or are planning more than one related blog, organizing your topics is of utmost importance, whether you do it in your head or on paper. My guess is that very few of us can do it in our minds. The problem in my case, and no doubt for many of you, is not a lack of material to write about. It's not knowing what to write about next because of the jumble of ideas in my mind. I'm repeating myself, but a road plan/map for each blog is a necessity for all but the most experienced of writers (unless you are just blogging about some daily musings or a diary, where you write about whatever events you've just experienced). Road-planning serves to focus your mind to the topics you have in mind. Once you've organized the clutter of ideas, you will find it easier to come up with future ideas - some of which you may need to start researching now. Not organizing means lost time, especially when you suddenly realize that you don't know enough about the topic you want to write about next.

(c) Copyright 2005, Raj Kumar Dash,



Planning on setting up a blog? Why? What's it about? Where is it being hosted (on what web domain?). How frequently are you planning to post new entries? How do you plan to maintain it? Have you answered these questions?

There are a growing number of blogs, newsletters, and e-books that would have you believe that anyone can blog. Pick a topic, start blogging. It's that easy. Well, the truth is that while it really is this "easy", and while anyone can potentially blog, not everyone can maintain a blog. Not everyone has the discipline to do all the other work that comes with a blog.

If your blog is a true electronic diary and you're simply posting a few musings and some photos, then godspeed to you; you probaby do not need to read the rest of this posting. This type of blog is relatively easy to maintain. (But writing well and making your blog interesting still takes effort.) On the other hand, if you are writing a "business" blog of any sort, it's a different game.

I'm using the term "business" blog to mean any blog that tries to pass on focused knowledge in the hopes of the author being viewed as an expert on their chosen topic, and with the intent that readers will purchase something (either from the blog pages or from a linked, associated web site), make an electronic donation, attend a workshop held by the author, or buy a print book written by the author. The chosen topic does not have to be about "business" per se. As an example, this blog and my RSS blogs are about Internet technology; however, I classify them as business blogs because, ultimately, if you learn something from them, I am hoping that you will perceive me to be an expert on these topics and subsequently either purchase one of my e-books on the topic, mention them to someone you know, or even consider my consulting services. Hence, there is an expectation of commerce at some point (but a realization that only a fraction of readers will open their pocketbooks :).

Notice I said "topic" earlier, not topics. Blogs that focus on a single topic will have more focused writing and thus probably a more dedicated readership. If you have several related topics, start separate blogs and link them together. (You can have another "blog" that acts as an "index" to the separate blogs.)

There are a number of reasons for focusing on a single topic in the postings of your "business" blog. One reason is that it is simply less effort to focus on and write about one topic rather than a whole host of topics, related or not. Writing about one topic means that you are compartmentalizing your knowledge. You can focus your research on the topic. Yes, I said research. A business blog is similar to writing articles. Would you write articles without any research? Okay, maybe you're an expert on your topic and have many years of experience. In the Web culture, you still need to link some of the text of your postings to other blogs, web sites, documents, etc., to back up your claims or provide relevant background info. Otherwise it is easy for casual readers to view your blog as a lengthy opinion piece. So if you do not need to research your topic, fine; at least do some legwork and link unusual terms or lingo to the free encyclopedia site Wikipedia, like I have done for the term "blog" at the top of this post. The reader can choose whether or not to follow supporting links.

Another bit of leg work that you can do for your readers is, if you mention a particular book in your post, is to actually link to that book in, Barnes and Noble, Chapters, or what have you. If you mention a product, e-book, software, or something else, do your readers a service and link to the appropriate web sites. Make it easy for your readers to believe that you really are an expert, even if all you've really done is some of the trench work of linking to your resources. You are saving the reader the effort of finding that information and saying that you have nothing to hide, go see for yourself. Your thoroughness in this regard may make the difference between being a well-read blog or just another collection of lonely electrons.

(c) Copyright 2005, Raj Kumar Dash,


BlogSpinner-X serves two primary purposes. Firstly, it houses the original version of my Blogspinner blog, and contains the full-text of my older entries. Secondly, the more recent entries are excerpts of the full-text entries posted over on Blogspinner V2.0. In other words, the "X" stands for "eXcerpt".

About Me
I'm a geek/ philosopher/ composer/ artist/ cook/ web programmer/ consultant/ photographer/ blah-blah-blah who is also a published writer and author. This is one of several blogs that I write.

Internet Blog Top Sites
Earn advertising revenue for your blog or website
Download the Instant Buzz traffic toolbar
SEO Made Easy - Free E-Book
BlogMad: Traffic to your blog
Button Creator for Free
Web blogspinner-x
make money with ads by Google

Used books, out-of-print books, rare books at Biblio

Media Devils Blog Ad
(c) Copyright: 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,