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No Blog Post Is an Island [en]

No Blog Post Is an Island [en]

[fr] Une des grandes difficultés dans l'art de bloguer: intégrer des liens à son texte. D'une part parce que les liens rajoutent une dimension au texte, perçant en quelque sorte des trous dans celui-ci par lesquels le lecteur est libre de s'échapper, à la façon des "livres dont vous êtes le héros" de notre adolescence, et d'autre part parce que la nature hypertexte du web donne à l'intertextualité une place capitale. Un article de blog n'est pas une île isolée, mais un fragment textuel nageant au milieu d'un océan d'autres fragments similaires, avec lequel il a des liens plus ou moins proches, que la bonne maîtrise de l'hyperlien permet d'expliciter. Ceci nécessite, outre une habileté avec les mots (pour pouvoir retourner sa phrase dans le sens qui permet un bon ancrage du lien), une certaine culture des autres textes entourant le sien. Sinon, comment faire des liens qui feront sens?

Fellow blogger Adam Tinworth points to a leaked memo from The Guardian encouraging internal linking. He shares his astonishment on Facebook “that this still isn’t standard practice at most places”. I am not that astonished, I have to say.

During my many years as blog editor-in-chief and teaching blogging to students, I have seen again and again that from a technical point of view, aside from managing to write in your own personal voice, the most difficult aspect of blogging to master is integrating hyperlinks into your writing.

Autour du chalet, colliers de perles

I think this is because writing well with hyperlinks requires one to write differently. It is not just about “writing and then adding links”.

Adding meaningful hyperlinks to your sentences is going to have an impact on the way you construct them. You need to be comfortable shuffling the words around, or looking for others, so that you end up with a phrase that provides you with adequate anchor text for the link you want to insert.

Most people’s training in writing is probably in standalone texts. Offline writing, the type that worked well on paper. Your reader starts at the top, and finishes at the bottom. You may have footnotes and references, but nothing as dramatic as a hyperlink, which literally pokes a hole in your text.

I like to think of hyperlinks as adding an extra dimension to a text. Normal text is 1D. Just follow it through. Hypertext is 2D at least — remember those books we must all have read as teenagers? If you go right, head to page 16, but if turn left, run off to page 67?

So, the first challenge in writing with links is finding a gracious way to anchor all those links into your words.

The second challenge is less obvious, but even more important: intertextuality.

Intertextuality” is a rather vast topic, but it generally has to do with the fact that how you understand or read one text can be shaped by your knowledge of another. References or allusions, explicit or not, that connect different texts.

On the web, everything we write is swimming in a sea of other interconnected texts. It’s not called the World Wide Web for nothing, dammit. Everything that is published on the web is stitched together. The blog post you are writing now is not an island, it is swimming alongside all sorts of other pieces of writing. How you position your piece of writing amongst the others may be just as important as the writing itself.

Intertextuality in the world of hypertext is a crucial thing to be aware of.

What are you going to link to? What is there out there that complements your writing, or takes your reader further, or down a parallel path? What are the associations between parts of your writing and preexisting writing?

This requires, in addition to the will to connect one’s writing into this existing web, some degree of knowledge of what is out there. Culture. Or dexterity in the use of the search engine. Or both.

I agree with Adam: internal linking should be a no-brainer. I do it a lot on Climb to the Stars: whenever I’m writing a blog post, I’m wondering what else I have written in the past which is related to it. Am I building upon a previous post? Am I writing on a topic I’ve already touched upon? How can I work a link to this or that post into what I’m writing now?

I do it on Open Ears too. As editor-in-chief, I have read all the articles we publish. The difficulty is I often receive articles which are written as standalone pieces, so I have to either work with the blogger to incorporate a reference to another article, or do it myself as part of the editing process. But as I mentioned above, adding links changes the way you write and construct your text, so “adding a link” is rarely as straightforward as “just adding a link” — and in some cases can only difficultly be done if it wasn’t planned for from the start.

When I was discovering the web, one of the first sites I spent a lot of time reading was The Psychology of Cyberspace. It’s still online, and I encourage you to visit it: as the author explains, it is an online book, that is, written with hypertext in mind.

There is a table of contents, but in addition to that, inside the chapters, there are links to other chapters whenever there is a mention or a passing reference to something covered elsewhere. This frees the reader to wander around in the order they wish, and avoids redundancy — if you need to explain X again, just link to it. I think this was a very good learning example for me of how to build text online.

So now. How would you teach people the skills to do this, when it doesn’t seem to come naturally to them?

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Ne plantez pas vos bâtons comme des bûcherons [fr]

Ne plantez pas vos bâtons comme des bûcherons [fr]

[en] I learned to my dismay (injury) that I had been using my ski poles wrong all these years. Go light with them!

Je l’ai appris à mes dépens: on peut faire des dégâts avec une mauvaise technique de planter du bâton.

Je m’explique. Ayant skié (et snowboardé) comme une acharnée de 3 à 20 ans (environ), je me suis remise sérieusement au ski cette année après un bon hiatus (de temps en temps une journée, style “oh mais comment je faisais pour skier autant avant?”). J’ai pris un abonnement de saison, j’ai acheté du bon matériel de ski, j’ai booké mon mois de janvier au chalet et… je me suis lancée.

Mi-janvier, cependant, aïe: je me blesse aux poignets. D’abord un (la faute à une plaque de glace sous la poudreuse), puis l’autre, un peu plus inexplicablement — mais toujours en plantant ce satané bâton.

Médecins, attelle, radios, IRM: kyste arthro-synovial palmaire à gauche, et qui sait quoi à droite (on n’a pas fait d’IRM à droite… donc on sait pas ce qu’on n’a pas vu).

xray steph hands

C’est enquiquinant. Repos (1 semaine de snowboard, plus de judo pour un moment), crème, Flector, ostéo, et on attend pour voir si ça se remet ou s’il faut opérer. Rendez-vous déjà pris avec le spécialiste de la main en mai… au cas où.

En parallèle, je me demande (et une ou deux sages personnes de mon entourage posent aussi la question) si je ne suis pas en train de faire une erreur technique qui me vaut ces blessures. Ce serait trop bête… quand même. Une fois la phase la plus aigüe passée (celle où on demande aux visites de faire la vaisselle et porter les poubelles parce qu’on a trop mal), je reprends mes skis et mes bâtons, et je me dirige vers le bureau de l’école de ski pour un cours de planter de bâton.

Y’a pas d’âge pour prendre son premier cours de ski!

J’explique toute la situation, le moniteur me regarde faire quelques virages, je le rejoins, il sourit et me dit: “OK, je vois le problème”. Je suis à la fois ravie et consternée: je ne suis pas impuissante devant mes poignets qui se déglinguent, mais punaise, apprendre qu’on fait “faux” depuis si longtemps, pas simple!

En gros, je plante mon bâton d’un mouvement ample et décidé, de haut en bas… pauvres petits poignets. Ils pouvaient bien souffrir. Alors je tente de corriger. C’est dur! Je suis toute déséquilibrée. Je vais même jusqu’à skier plusieurs jours sans bâtons, parce que même en corrigeant, je me fais mal.

Et avant-hier, en skiant avec un monsieur suisse-allemand ex-instructeur, ex-coureur, ex-entraîneur, je pige enfin grâce à ses explications (le tout en allemand SVP!) ce que je n’avais pas pigé jusque-là: un bâton, ça ne se plante pas. Je ne parle pas du carving (ça je savais et pratiquais), mais des virages normaux.

Un bâton, ça se tape sur la neige. Et ça se tape dans le sens inverse de la marche. Eh oui: un petit mouvement d’arrière en avant pour venir toucher la piste. Juste avec le poignet. Chping, chping, chping.

Alors je réapprends à skier. Et j’essaie tant bien que mal de corriger mon “taper de bâton”. Et je sens que ça commence gentiment à rentrer. Ouf!

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Keeping The Flat Clean: Living Space As User Interface [en]

Keeping The Flat Clean: Living Space As User Interface [en]

One of my ongoing post-study projects is reorganising my flat from top to bottom, hopefully throwing out half my stuff in the process. I have been thinking a bit about the way I store things.

First of all, I tend to try to minimise waste of space. I will organise things into cupboards and drawers so that they occupy the less space possible. Second, I tend to organise things with taxonomy rather than function in mind. I will try to store objects of the same type together, regardless of their respective frequency of use.

The result is a perpetually messy flat, with whole areas that I never use (places I do not go, cupboards I never open).

I have therefore been rethinking my whole living environment in terms of function and process. What do I use this thing for, and when? How do I deal with common tasks like washing up or doing my mail? And most important, how does clutter arise? An environment where each thing has a place is not sufficient to prevent clutter. If clutter arises, it is not due to “laziness”. It is because the storage system is not usable enough. It was not designed with the user in mind.

I have switched to considering my living space as a user interface rather than as a library of categorised items.

If I catch myself dumping something on the table instead of putting it away, I’ll try to identify what is preventing me from putting it where it belongs. I’ll try to bring this “where it belongs” closer to where I am naturally tempted to put it. (Instead of thinking “ooh I’m a bad girl, I’m not putting things away as I should,” which we all agree does not help in the least.)

Here are a couple of examples of what I have been doing.

First, I identified the main sources of clutter in my flat: dirty kitchen things, clothes, papers and books. Then I tried to analyse how these things ended up lying about my whole flat. I know that I can clean my flat spotless, and that within a couple of weeks it will be messy again. So obviously, there are things I do mechanically which create clutter. Something which breaks the natural “keeping clean” flow.

Let’s take the dirty dishes to start with. (Not the most glamorous example, but I’m sure there are many of you out there who can relate.) Why do I leave cups, glasses, or even plates lying around in various places? A first reason for this, obviously, is that I do not only eat in my kitchen. That’s a fact we will just have to live with. But why don’t I bring things back to the kitchen? Well, more often than not, the kitchen is in such a state that there wouldn’t really be any place to put them. The sink, of course, is already full of dirty dishes. We have here are perfect example of how disorganisation in one area leads to clutter elsewhere.

One factor which helps stuff pile up in my sink (despite my “fool-proof” method for taming dirty dishes) is that I usually have to make space on the drainer before I start washing up. (I’m one of these people who don’t dry dishes but leave them on the drainer to put them away “later”.) And putting the dishes away is a pain because my cupboard is so crammed with stuff that I have to empty half of it before being able to put my plates were they belong. That is where the bottleneck is. Or the limiting factor, if you prefer.

I realised that out of my four kitchen cupboards, there are only two that I regularly open. I proceeded to empty all the junk out of the others and get rid of the most of it (if I never open the cupboards, then I can’t really need what’s inside them, can I?) I then reorganised the things I use on a regular basis in all the available cupboards, focusing on “how easy will it be to put it back there?” rather than “could I use less space for this?”

One significant result concerns plates. (Don’t worry, we’ll soon be done with the kitchen things.) I have big plates and small plates, four of each. I used to keep the small plates piled up on the big ones, which meant that each time I wanted to put a big plate back in the cupboard, I had to lift up all the small plates first (see what I mean?) That didn’t help prevent things from accumulating on the drainer. Now I have the small plates on one shelf, and big ones on another. I use up more storage space, but it’s easier to put things away. I have rearranged all my kitchen cupboards along the same principle, and the kitchen is now much more usable.

This post is getting much longer than what I expected. However, I don’t want to leave you without letting you know what I have come up with for dealing with my incoming mail. I have been using a tray-based system for sorting paperwork for a long time, but it has shown its limitations regularly over the past years. The new system still uses trays, that groups papers according to what I have to do with them instead of what they are. So now, this is what my trays look like; I’ll see as I use it if it needs any modifications:

  • to do (bills to pay, things to investigate or have a closer look at)
  • to do, ASAP (anything urgent)
  • to file, daily business (bank papers, medical papers, salary slips)
  • to file, important (tax stuff and other important things)
  • to look at (optional) before throwing out (various newspapers, information leaflets)
  • to throw out (envelopes and anything else I don’t keep; the bin is often not close at hand)
  • to sort (anything unopened; sometimes I fetch my mail and don’t deal with it straight away

In conclusion, here is my line of conduct:

  1. pay attention to cupboards that are never opened or shelves that are never reached at
  2. keep an eye on what I do automatically and try to adapt the environment
  3. think “actions”, “process”, and “frequency” instead of “categories” and “families”
  4. accept my limitations

The last point is important: there will always be clean washing waiting to be ironed, because no matter how hard I try, I’ll never get around to ironing and putting it away as soon as it’s dry. I therefore need to take this into account and explicitly plan a space for my huge pile of Clothes Waiting To Be Ironed, even if in an ideal world, Clothes Waiting To Be Ironed should not be around.

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