Theme (Swan) Song

It’s time for a change. Way past time for the blog Brick.

As of today, because I couldn’t stand waiting for July 1, the beginning of a quarter, or June 1, the next detail-fixated date, I have changed the theme of this blog.

Brick, with the veryplaintext theme
Brick 2004-12, WordPress' veryplaintext theme

Theme is what wordpress.org calls a template. The theme organizes the overall look, the type fonts, the navigation (those indexes etc.). Thousands of them are freely available, because wordpress.org and the sister wordpress.com are gloriously open source. These are created by novice web designers learning their craft, master web designers “offering a taste” with more sophisticated, similar themes available for a price and so on — but to be made available through WordPress, they  are rigorously tested by the WordPress community. That makes a difference.

Brick has been managed under for essentially all of its eight-plus years (starting early 2004) is called VeryPlainTxt, by Scott Wallick. WordPress has improved its overall platform many times since Wallick’s last upgrade, in July 2008. I liked it because it emphasized the text and its similarity to the wonderful McSweeney’s Internet Tendency online journal.

This new theme is The Erudite, created by Matt Wiebe. Classy, simply that. I’ve been mooning over it for a long time, wondering when to change, or if something better would come along. Yes, but not as appealing as this one.

Like Wallick’s, Wiebe’s design has things I’d love to change. There is a way to do that. It’s dealing with the programming code directly. Most people I know who use WordPress or from-scratch (or nearly so) web designers prefer to customize. I have dived in for Brick and the handful of sites I’ve managed over the years to modify lines of code here and there.

But I’d rather not. The sense of time passing disappears when I do it, and coders love that. I enjoy it, too, but that time is lost to where I’d rather lose track: working on the content. Sure I can design, but I’m a writer.

That said, I will modify this site after a while, when I get a strong urge or, more likely, when I want a good excuse to procrastinate on a writing project.

Blog On, Blog Off

This column first was published in the August 2011 newsletter of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

Instead of polishing this column, I should be sewing nametags into my clothes, shaking out my sleeping bag for WordCamp.

If I showed up with that stuff, even the geeks there would laugh. We’re all geeks at WordCamp. The one in Fayetteville, Ark., was a 9-to-5 workshop July 30. There’s an after-party at an Italian restaurant. We’re invited to talk websites over brunch Sunday, hosted by an ad agency. (Schedule conflicts kept me from the party and brunch.)

More than 100 WordCamps are held worldwide every year. They’re cheap (mine’s $30 including food, drink and a good-size gift bag). There’s local speakers, at that price sure, but experts from Texas and California are coming in. They help WordPress users at all levels in a spirit of sharing and community (“open source” is the term).

WordPress is free (open source) hosting software for blogs. But it’s grown to where full websites of major companies and nonprofits — not just blogs — use it (New York Observer, Le Monde, Anderson Cooper 360, even Martha Stewart’s blog). Our www.columnists.com is built on a WordPress platform.

This will be my second WordCamp. Earlier this month while being a smart-alec I realized — too late — I could’ve been a presenter, on content and use of tools.

I was at an area bloggers meet-up. An audience member asked how to make a caption appear when the cursor “rolls over” the image, and the speakers were stumped. Although I am neither a programmer or a coder, I blurted out the answer from my seat: “After uploading your picture, paste the same brief caption in both “title” and “alternate text” fields.”

Now, to fill the remaining 59:55 of my speech, that doesn’t Continue reading

Forward Slash and Burn

This is a reversal. Brick is all about the new. Live in the present, look toward the future. Dwell just a little on what’s past.

But the URL from which it sprang, benpollock.com, has been neglected. Oh, I tell myself, it’s an archive. It works well enough. Fast-loading, a reference for me when I am writing far from my files at home. Perhaps occasional readers of Brick head back there to see earlier work.

Usually I think these old essays get opened because of obscure search keywords people type into Google. As for me when I have reviewed its contents, it looks like a pile of junk. This past spring, however, I dived in, to ensure I wasn’t repeating myself in a new Brick, and saw lots of good writing, good organization and even wit. Amid only a few clunkers.

Logical enough. “Leave well enough alone,” my late Uncle Al Pollock was fond of saying. The website that appears before the forward slash, benpollock.com, is an archive of some five dozen columns I wrote for newspapers, real newspapers.

benpollock.com home page 2002-2011The website looks like it was built in 2002, because it was. Pure html code, not a lick of CSS, which was not widespread yet (if not in common use, it wouldn’t work for most people’s computers). No frames or other bells and whistles, though. I always liked a clean look. The yellow legal-pad image indicated my preference for writing longhand. Almost 10 years later, though, and you can almost see the edges curling from rot and smell the mildew.

Facts belie the logic. Analytics indicate all sorts of people go there and open the supposedly greatest hits of  my late ’80s-early ’90s newspaper columns, collectively called Mirthology, and my 1/1999-9/2001 newspaper columns collectively called Loose Leaves.  Plus a few guest columns. These two standing heds indicate my goals, humor in the first and mixed topics for the latter.

Forget all the muckety-mucks I’ve had to deal with and work under for decades:

My copy doesn’t suck.

Maybe if the parlor in which the columns are displayed was spruced up — paint the walls, wash the windows — my morale would improve and I’d write more Continue reading

Absence Makes Blogs Shorter

Brick has been sporadic for some weeks. With luck, it will be more active in December.

National Novel Writing Month
National Novel Writing Month

Want an excuse? How about National Novel Writing Month. It’s 50,000 words to create a first draft of a novel (around a 200-page book) in 30 days. November is the one. My third try, and I went past 50,000 by midnight Nov. 30. It contains parts that might work as a beginning, climaxes and conclusions for the end, and scene upon scene to fill the middle. It will take another year or three to revise it to where I could show a savvy friend. The surprise for me is that I thought I’d be creating characters from people I know, but the cast is amazingly fictional.

So that explains November. What about only 10 postings in six months? There’s explanations and excuses. But why not look forward? Besides, my self-editing prevented real junk from littering the shoulder of the Information Highway. Even if that never bothers other people.

Isn’t that always the case on the road?

On the Wall

Should I get back into more frequent or even regular Brick postings, it will be in part because of waking today to an image of the artistic caveman.

It may have been the last scene of an otherwise forgotten dream, or just an isolated visual, conjured just before sitting up.

The fellow chooses a charred stick from the previous night’s cook fire. On the wall of his cave, above his bed of leaves, are his life’s works.

“Another day, another antelope,” he grunts.

I’m just saying, I’m just saying

Copyright 2008 Ben S. Pollock

An evaluation of the run-off candidates for mayor of Fayetteville, Arkansas. The election is Tuesday the 25th, and early voting is under way. Though not today: The courthouse is closed.

Brick never makes endorsements. Still, comments I’ve avoided should be made. The incumbent Dan Coody wants a third four-year term and faces a surprisingly strong battle from Alderman Lioneld Jordan. I have good friends who strongly and publicly support both. I respect both guys, but an analysis does cost one of them. In a quote that from the 1994 movie Pulp Fiction, in a rather different context, “I’m just saying, I’m just saying.”

I like the way Fayetteville has been run the last almost-eight years, Dan Coody having been first elected mayor in November 2000. Yes, I’ve only lived in the city since January 1999. The balance of residential development and retail growth with environmental concerns and, crucially, the aesthetic and cultural interests of a full-tilt college town was shaky before January 2001 and has been smooth since. Fayetteville is not simply a home to a large land-grant liberal-arts university with well-educated faculty and sophisticated support staff — a major employer. This is also a city that in recent elections, where party affiliation is declared, consistently votes Republican or the more-conservative Democrat (with exceptions largely among state legislators).

Here is a personal story about incumbent Dan Coody. In the first months of his tenure, Dan effusively greeted me, as well as My Beloved, anytime we ran into him. I was a city editor at The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas with a weekly column. At the end of 2001, a time of national economic tremors (mild compared to the current), I was downsized. A few times in 2002 MB and I were at public events also attended by Coody, and he no longer made a beeline to shake our hands. He even looked past us or through us. Though still a voter, I no longer was a player. I’ve been a journalist for nearly three decades so while this took me by surprise, it did not shock me. I returned to newspaper work in 2003, and after Coody saw me in the newsroom of the Northwest Arkansas Times — he is an official who “happens to drop by” such offices regularly — we were back to the hi-how-are-yous.

Vice Mayor Lioneld Jordan represents Ward 4, wherein lies the manse Shady Hill of MB and myself. In 2005 I was on the board of Temple Shalom of Northwest Arkansas, which at the time was shopping for a property on which to establish a house of worship. The first serious contender for a home was opposed by its neighbors, an issue that came before the City Council. I contacted both Ward 4 delegates. Only Jordan returned my call. He wanted to know the whole story; Continue reading