Gamify Your Blog Cleanup

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Header “Pile of Lego” photo credit: musicmoon@rogers.com, (CC BY 2.0)

Blog Cleanup

Blogs are our online homes. We try to keep them neat and attractive enough for visitors, but we hope that no one is curious enough to open cluttered drawers or see the dust balls under the bed or, worst of all, wander into the “junk room.”

I wrote my first blog post five years ago this month. Since then, I have published 635 posts both here. If I include that first blog (Everyday Intensity), much of which I’ve folded into this one, the total is over 900 posts, and over 1200 images are in my blog media library.

The problem is that, along the way, I was not very good about internal blog organization. At the beginning, I didn’t understand the difference between categories and tags. I did not always name image files in ways that make them easy to find. Sometimes I used featured images; sometimes I didn’t (depending on what blog theme I was using at the time).

The result is a bit like a room-size pile of Legos that need to be sorted by size and color. It is a mess I love, because I really do love blogging (as much as I love Legos), but a mess nonetheless.

Where To Start When You Don’t Know Where To Start

For my five-year blogging anniversary, I am unveiling a new magazine-style website design (it’s live now—take a look!). However, to make the new theme and design truly effective, I have a lot of cleanup ahead of me. If I think too much about all that work—checking each post for broken links, proper image citations, feature images, teaser text, useful categories and tags, not to mention theme-specific features and SEO—I despair of ever finishing and become too paralyzed even to begin.

The answer? Gamification, or at least the idea inherent in many video games of starting in the middle, at whatever point looks interesting and seeing where that takes me, rather than following a pre-determined, linear list of step

Here’s how it works: 

Each day I check my WordPress.org dashboard to see what posts and pages people have visited, and I start with one that I know I haven’t cleaned up. For example, today someone visited the post “Lakota Culture, Part 2: Winter Counts” (thank you, dear reader, whoever you are!).

1. I go to the post and check that all of the links and videos still work (in this case, they do).

2. Then I make sure that I have properly cited any images. The image for this particular post is in the public domain, and clicking on the link takes me to the source page. Just to be extra diligent, I decided to add a caption indicating that the photograph is a public domain image.

3. This post didn’t have a feature image, so I need to add one. Why? Because  my new website design features more attractive and easier to navigate category pages that use feature images. Here is what the Winter Counts posts looked like on its category page (Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide) originally:

Category Page

Notice that there was no photo, there was no color background for the description, and the teaser text was simply the first lines of the post itself (which sometimes works and other times is better to change). Also notice that the next post, “One-Room Country Schools,” does have a photo but no color background.

Often for feature images, I can use an image already in the post, but in this case, the image isn’t big enough for a crisp header image. I head over to Flickr to see if there are any Creative Commons images of Winter Counts, and I am in luck! I insert the image as a feature image, credit it in the text of the post, and code a blue background color for the description. I add a hand-crafted excerpt to take the place of the automatic teaser, because the first lines of the post repeat information already available in the title information.

Here is what the post link looks like now on the category page:

Category Page, new

Much better!

4. I also check the categories and tags. This post’s category is fine, but I decide to add a tag for Lakota to make it easier for readers to find similar posts later, once I add the same tag elsewhere.

5. At this point, I can choose another post visited today or click through to others marked “Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide” with the goal of cleaning up the entire category (maybe “One-Room Country Schools”) or maybe do a search among my published posts for “Lakota” to tag and clean up all of those. One relatively small category I have finished cleaning up is AWP Conferences, in case you want to see what that looks like.

It is not a fast process by any means, and I expect that I won’t be finished for a month or so, but the end result will be a site that is much more reader-friendly. I write here about my progress and any tips I discover along the way.

What blog cleanup techniques work for you? What questions do you have about blog cleanup? Share them in the comments!

College Students, Depression, and Social Media

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“[T]he world I believe in is one where embracing your light doesn’t mean ignoring your dark. The world I believe in is one where we’re measured by our ability to overcome adversities, not avoid them. The world I believe in is one where I can look someone in the eye and say, ‘I’m going through hell,’ and they can look back at me and go, ‘Me too,’ and that’s okay.” ~ Kevin Breel

iStock_000055360022SmallMy post this week at Psychology Today, “Facebook 101: Smart Social Media for College Students,” addresses what role, if any, social media may play in depression among college students and, more important, what we can do about it. I began to think about the topic after reading Alan Schwarz’s New York Times piece “More College Freshmen Report Having Felt Depressed,” especially these paragraphs:

“Suzanne Ciechalski, a freshman at St. John’s University in Queens, said technology that might appear social in nature could in fact lead to stress and feelings of depression.

‘I feel like people spend a lot of time on social networks trying to create this picture of who they want to be,’ Ms. Ciechalski said. ‘Maintaining that takes a lot of effort. I feel like being a teenager or young adult, the pressure to try and make people see you’re the best is really high.'”

I see this pressure and anxiety every week in the college students I teach and am reminded of the poignant and powerful TED Talk by then 19-year-old Kevin Breel, which I have shared here before but is worth sharing again (and again):

“Would you rather make your next Facebook status say you’re having a tough time getting out of bed because you hurt your back or you’re having a tough time getting out of bed every morning because you’re depressed? That’s the stigma, because unfortunately, we live in a world where if you break your arm, everyone runs over to sign your cast, but if you tell people you’re depressed, everyone runs the other way.” ~ Kevin Breel

You can follow Kevin Breel on Twitter and Facebook.

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Index Spotlight: James Peterson, Hip-Hop Scholar

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Book indexing is a dream job for an avid reader. Sometimes I have to pinch myself when I think of all the topics and authors and titles that are now part of my consciousness that I may have never encountered had it not been for the fact that I am a book indexer.

I thought it might be interesting to focus occasionally on an author or a book that I have particularly enjoyed or that has otherwise stayed with me long after the index was finished. The first person I thought of to begin this informal series is Dr. James Braxton Peterson, Lehigh University professor, MSNBC contributor, hip-hop scholar, and author of The Hip-Hop Underground and African American Culture: Beneath the Surface (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

The Roots at the Kool Haus nightclub in Toronto, Canada. Photo by Aaron_M. CC BY 2.0

The Roots at the Kool Haus nightclub in Toronto, Canada. Photo by Aaron_M. CC BY 2.0

What is a hip-hop scholar?

Born in 1971, Dr. James Peterson is “a byproduct of the first hip-hop generation.” He says, “hip-hop culture shaped my development, shaped my sense of aesthetics and my sense of the world.” Eventually he decided to study hip-hop culture “in a literary sense,” “critically and scholastically”: to become a hip-hop scholar.

Peterson reminds us that hip-hop culture is more than just rap music and includes other elements such as clothing, spoken language, break dancing or B-boying, DJing, and MCing. Just how important is hip-hop? He compares the influence of hip-hop culture to jazz’s ability to shape artistic worldviews in the early part of the previous century.

In the classroom, James Peterson’s goal is to create “a hunger “and “an enthusiasm” for learning, as well as skills of media literacy (the following and previous quotations are from from Peterson’s APB Speakers video “Hip-Hop Scholar“):

“When [my students] see a news broadcast, when they listen to music, when they watch a film, when they engage the internet, I want them to have critical tools to be able to interpret, to be able to parse, think through, respond to and just engage all around in a more sophisticated way the various media that they’re going to be coming in contact with.”

Thelonius Monk (William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress, public domain photo)

Thelonious Monk (William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress, public domain photo)

The Hip-Hop Underground and African American Culture

I admit that I am new to hip-hop, but I definitely became more interested in it after reading The Hip-Hop Underground and African American Culture (and my son has since become my informal mentor, sharing playlists and even creating a guide to “what to listen for in hip-hop”!). The following is the publisher’s description of the book:

“The underground is a multi-faceted concept in African American culture. Peterson explores a variety of ‘underground’ concepts at the intersections of African American literature and hip-hop culture, using Richard Wright, KRS-One, Thelonious Monk, and the tradition of the Underground Railroad, among other examples. He explores the manifestations and the attributes of the underground within the context of a more panoramic picture of African American expressivity, situated at black cultural and conceptual crossroads.”

As someone interested in history and with a literature background, I greatly enjoyed the book’s integration of both historical and literary themes. One of my favorite chapters is on the opening song of HBO’s acclaimed (and my all-time favorite) series The Wire—Tom Waits’s “Way Down in the Hole”—which is performed by different artists for each of the show’s five seasons. You can download and read that chapter, titled “The Depth of the Hole: Intertextuality and Tom Waits’s ‘Way Down in the Hole,’” at the author’s website, and read the first chapter of the book here. Also, Spotify listeners can check out Peterson’s hip-hop underground playlist.

In the following short video, Dr. Peterson shares his enthusiasm for the book’s release:

Finally, in doing research for this post, I ran across a TEDxLehighRiver talk by James Peterson, “All Black Everything,” in which he discusses narratives of black success:

P.S. On a different note, my latest Psychology Today post, “Shame and Motivation to Change,” is featured as one of last week’s Top Posts. I hope you enjoy it!

Lessons on Play from a Betta Fish

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Recently I made a small change in my work that has resulted in an unexpected giant step in everyday enjoyment: I began to listen to music for a good chunk of the day, most of the time through headphones attached to my phone that also allow me to take hands-free calls.

I’m not sure when or why music had become an occasional treat, saved for the car or when I had nothing else to do, rather than an integral part of my life, but it had. Not until I was watching our betta fish this morning did I realize why music makes such a big difference. Music is a form of play.

Why Play Matters for Creativity

Consider what these creativity experts have to say about the importance of play:

Dan Pink, bestselling author: “The best way to get in touch with your inner child is to take it outside for some play. So go back to school… or at least, back to the playground. Visit a schoolyard, take a seat on a bench, and watch how the real kids play. See if some of their sense of wonder and curiosity penetrates your adult immune system.” (from A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the World)

Tina Seelig, Stanford professor: “Simply put, when you play, you are having fun. When you have fun, you feel better about yourself and your work. And when you feel better, you are much more creative and deliver more.” (from InGenius: A Crash Course in Creativity)

Tim Brown, IDEO CEO and president: “Kids are more engaged with open possibilities…. when they come across something new, they’ll certainly ask, ‘What is it?’ Of course they will. But they’ll also ask, ‘What can I do with it?’ And you know, the more creative of them might get to a really interesting example. And this openness is the beginning of exploratory play.” (from his TED Talk “Tales of Creativity and Play“)

Lessons on Play from a Betta Fish

Fun doesn’t have to be complicated, and it can occur wherever we are. Here is a photo of our new betta fish’s heater. Notice the narrow space between the heater and the tank (and how Mr. Darcy, never missing a beat, is keen on figuring out what I am doing):

Aquarium Heater

Now watch how he uses that space to create his own playground. Round and round he goes, for several minutes at a time. I was lucky to be able to film a few seconds before he noticed my presence, which would have immediately broken the spell. (In case anyone is wondering, the Renoir card both gives him something to look at and hides his food jar so that he’s not constantly begging to be fed—bettas are smart fish!)

Music transforms my usual workspace into a similar playground, making everything else more fun and opening me to possibilities I wouldn’t normally notice.

Where and how do you find or create fun spaces in your workday?