the candler blog

Word and Other Counts


My pal1 Ben Brooks has been working toward publishing 50,000 words during the month of November over on his site, his take on the popular NaNoWriMo challenge. It’s an incredibly ambitious goal for an independent blogger of integrity.2 As of November 15th, he’s not quite halfway there, but I bet he can pull it off.

Ben’s digital loquaciousness has given me a chance to reflect on my own slowing down around these parts. Or rather, it led me to question: am I slowing down? How much? Why? And what can I do about it?

So I downloaded ye olde archives, tossed them into Ulysses and did a very unscientific3 word count. So here it is, my word count by year since 2009 (excluding this post).

  • 2009 — 72,194 words in 111 posts
  • 2010 — 58,944 words in 72 posts
  • 2011 — 63,377 words in 125 posts
  • 2012 — 134,381 words in 406 posts
  • 2013 — 37,828 words in 113 posts
  • 2014 — 19,689 words in 57 posts
  • 2015 — 24,658 words in 56 posts

As an aside, I should mention how insane it is that Ben wrote more in the first two weeks of November than I wrote in all of 2014. What a nutjob.

So what can I learn from these numbers? There is definitely a slowdown, but it’s not nearly as bad as I thought. I’ve already written more this year than in 2014, which is a huge surprise to me. Also, I had no idea that 2010 was an off year. In my memory of publishing this site, every year was bigger than the last until 2013, but that turns out not to be the case.

In March of 2011, I started writing link posts, which are usually pretty short. That, I assume, is why 2011 and 2013 have almost the same number of posts but hugely different total word counts.

And then there’s 2012. There’s just no question: it was a prolific year for me by any single metric you look at.4 I think when I look at the candler blog through rose-colored glasses, it’s 2012 that I’m thinking of. I was writing more and getting linked to by the people and sites I respect all over the web. When I moved to Austin that year, I even briefly considered going fully independent with this site, because it really seemed possible at the time.

So what happened? The first thing I wondered was whether or not my tweeting was getting in the way. I downloaded my Twitter archive and tallied up my tweets per annum just to be sure:

  • 2009 — 1,493 tweets
  • 2010 — 2,430 tweets
  • 2011 — 1,869 tweets
  • 2012 — 7,184 tweets
  • 2013 — 7,062 tweets
  • 2014 — 6,466 tweets
  • 2015 — 3,634 tweets

I was expecting to see my tweets dip in 2012 as my publishing here went up. Nope. Instead 2012 was the year I did the most tweeting.5 However, I do think tweeting starting scratching an itch I used to work through here. Here’s what I think happened:

  • In 2011 I started publishing short link posts, all while still getting my sea legs as a blogger and as a Twitter user.
  • In 2012 everything fired on all pistons. I was tweeting and blogging at full force.
  • In 2013 link-type material started getting tweeted instead of blogged about.

And then I never really got over that. Today I’m much more inclined to tweet a link than publish something about it here. Not everything I tweet would have made much of a post here, so this is really all anecdotal (read: totally made up). But it’s a feeling somewhat legitimized by the numbers.

Should I tweet less? Probably, but I’m already doing that to little effect. So what’s the solution?

Last week James McCormick put the following on Twitter and it struck me hard:

This needs to be made into a poster. (Here’s the context of the quote.)

I’ve written before about what I think causes me to ratchet down my publishing, usually related to the futility of writing on the web6 or some other excuse. So is it that, or is it the length of the articles I set out to write? Or is it how much I tweet? Does it matter if I read fewer books in a given year (I only read three in 2012!) or how many movies I watch?

It’s all of that and more. And that’s all bullshit too. There’s no simple answer other than to just write.

Just. Fucking. Write. Above all else.

I think I can do that. I’ve done it before, that’s for sure.

  1. We email and tweet at each other sometimes; a modern friendship.

  2. A professional blogger with none would have no problem hitting this in under 30 days.

  3. Included in the total word counts are metadata, like tags, categories, date published and such. I wouldn’t consider those written words, but it’s sort of canceled out since it’s included on every single post. Also some posts have been written by others over the years: I’m including those too even though they’re not words I wrote. Like I said: unscientific.

  4. Including site analytics, but I don’t really want to get into that for the purposes of this post.

  5. Not included: the 25 tweets I wrote in 2008 before starting the candler blog. My first one remains one of the most prescient things I’ve ever written.

  6. “Social ate websites, and BuzzFeed ate everything else.”

The Battery Today Widget in iOS 9 is Amazingly Useful

Apple Watch, Technology

I forgot to mention this yesterday in my sleeping with Apple Watch piece, so here’s a shiny new article for a neat little thing.

iOS 9 brought all sorts of little improvements to iPhone. One of my favorite features is a small but wonderful one: the battery today widget. Here it is, in all its glory.

Okay so what’s the big deal? I recently turned off battery percentage in the status bar because iOS 9’s new Low Power mode practically obviates that.1 It’s nice that I still have quick access to the percentage in the Today view (even though that number tends to make me anxious).

The bigger deal is that it tells me my Apple Watch battery percentage. Prior to iOS 9, the only way I ever checked remaining power on my Apple Watch was with the battery Glance. I refuse to put the battery complication on any of my faces.

The power consumption on Apple Watch is so good I’m rarely worried about it running out of battery. I really don’t want to know the battery percentage most of the time. When I do, though, pulling down the Today widget is fast and easy. Plus it even tells me if it’s plugged in with that little lighting bolt. Should I not know where my watch is, that’s a nice clue.

I like this feature best when I’m charging up before bed. I can plop my watch on the bedroom charger and retire to the couch. Without getting up (key to late night relaxation) I can see how my Apple Watch’s charge is progressing. That way I can tell if it’s got enough of a charge to make it comfortably through the night before turning off the TV and heading to bed.

It’s a small but useful convenience. Enough little conveniences add up over time, and that’s why I’m pretty happy with iOS 9 and watchOS 2.

  1. When the iPhone battery gets down to 20%, it prompts me to throw the phone into Low Power mode, which I pretty much always do. In Low Power mode you don’t have an option: the percentage shows in the status bar.

Sleeping With My Apple Watch

Apple Watch, Technology

I liked reading about how Stephen Hackett uses his Apple Watch at night. Here’s how I use mine.

Some time before I go to bed I put my Apple Watch on the charger next to my bed. I only do this if I’ve filled all my Activity rings. How long before I go to bed do I charge my watch? I just sort of decide, “Well, the day’s over” and I take it off.

The goal is to get it charged enough so I can track my sleep with David Smith’s excellent Sleep++ and have enough juice to go on a run the following morning. Ideally when I go to bed it will be at 100%, but anything above 50% charge will do.

Okay so I pass out on the couch watching Colbert and amble into the bedroom after brushing my teeth. I plug in my phone and put my Apple Watch back on, placing it in Airplane Mode as Smith suggests. If I haven’t already, I change the watch face to this customized Modular face:

Midnight Blue with complications for Sleep++ and Alarm. The blue is the most muted color to my eye. I wish Apple offered up the shade of green they use for “Nightstand Mode,” but I work with what they give me.

The complications serve dual purposes. They make it quick and easy to get to the only apps I need before sleep envelops me and they also give me info I kinda like having access to should I wake up in the middle of the night. I tap the alarm complication and set my alarm. One press of the digital crown and I’m back on the watch face.1 Whatever time my alarm is set for appears under the clock icon on the watch face.

From there I tap the Sleep++ complication. When the app loads I click “Start Sleeping” and go back to the watch face. In the morning, Sleep++ will “analyze” my sleep and tell me how restless I was throughout the night. During the evening, it will display how much time has elapsed since I started sleeping. This is novel and sometimes even useful, as in when I doze off and think it must be 3:00 am but it’s only been 8 minutes. Do I need that info? Not really. But it’s pretty neat.

My Apple Watch taps my wrist to wake me up, which my girlfriend appreciates. I still wake her up when I trudge out of bed like an elephant, but at least the bedroom doesn’t sound like a diving submarine come sunrise anymore.

I’ll usually lose about 8% charge from a night’s sleep. When I wake up, I’ll keep my watch on to get a standing hour (or two, if I time it right) or go for a run with it. Once it’s clear I’m heading into the shower, I’ll put it back on the charger to reload from the night before. It’ll usually make it all the way to 100% when I leave for work.

I honestly don’t know if sleep tracking is a crock or not. I don’t really care, either. Strange as it may seem, I prefer charging my watch twice a day to charging it once overnight. The effect is that the watch feels like it’s always charged.

And that’s how I sleep with my watch.

  1. I don’t hear people mention it much, but this one touch return to watch face is one of my favorite features of watchOS 2. Navigation just makes so much more sense now.

Listening Recommendation: John Hicks’s Troika

Music, Podcast

Most of the podcasts I listen to involve people talking to one another. A casual observer wouldn’t be off base to assume that this is the preferred format, but there really are so many other ways to make a podcast.

One of my favorite deviations so far comes from British designer (and cyclist and Doctor Who fan) Jon Hicks. His show is called Troika, and I’ve been an avid fan since it launched in March. Here’s how he described the concept in an introductory post:

The idea is that I’ll present a set of just three songs, connected by some sort of link – either by genre, artist, songs that were important to a particular time in my life or just some other odd notion that happens to take my fancy. Sometimes I might have guests on board to choose their trio of music. Talking from me will be minimal – just a short introduction, and then the music!

It’s an excellent idea, impeccably executed. Hicks not only picks so many wonderful tunes and artists I’d never heard of prior to listening, he also brings a childlike excitement to sharing this music with the listener. Even when it’s music I would otherwise never even try listening to, Jon finds a way to get me interested and give it a chance. And since the show is only three songs short, I actually take the time to really consider each song as I listen, as opposed to letting it wash over me as I do when I listen to, say, Beats 1.

So go give Troika a listen. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

In the spirit of the thing, here are three of my favorite episodes so far, the ones that really solidified it in my listening queue. Enjoy.

Family Photos Brought to You By These Sponsors

Photography, Publishing

Sydney Ember and Rachel Abrams for The New York Times:

Shereen Way did not think twice about posting a photo on Instagram of her 4-year-old daughter wearing a green dress and pink Crocs sandals.

Crocs, which Ms. Way had identified with a hashtag, pulled the snapshot from Instagram and featured it in a gallery of user-generated photographs on its website. The company had not asked Ms. Way for permission, and she was not aware that Crocs had used the photo until a reporter contacted her on Instagram.

“No one reached out to me,” Ms. Way, 37, of Pearl River, N.Y., said in a phone interview. “I feel a little weirded out.”

I’m shocked brands would capitalize on the free content available to them on Instagram.

Me, three years ago, when I quit Instagram:

I don’t know what Instagram under the new terms will be like. Maybe I’m being irrational, but I don’t think so. The truth is I don’t want to have to worry about whether my photos will be used to sell products. That is unless I’m getting a cut.

As the Times piece points out, some users whose photos are being used to sell products are being compensated:

“I’m always really excited,” said Liza Day Penney, a 23-year-old from Dayton, Tenn., whose photo appears on American Eagle Outfitter’s website. She estimated that the company has used more than half-a-dozen of her photos, and even once sent her a $25 gift card.

American Eagle Outfitters has a market capitalization of $3.22 billion. But it’s not like that $25 wasn’t well spent:

“That was one of the things, too, that really encouraged me to continue to post and continue to tag and hashtag them as I wear the clothes,” she said.

I’ve been inching closer to returning to Instagram in the past year, but stories like this remind me why I left. This sort of marketing just feels gross to me. I understand that people love brands and love sharing photos to show off their latest looks. Where it starts to feel weird is when companies capitalize on that without compensating the people who are helping sell their wares.

Stranger still is that an industry of companies like Olapic ($15 million in venture capital announced this past June) and Piqora ($7.7 million in venture capital last year, revenue in the millions), mentioned in the linked article, have cropped up around seeking out photos for brands to feature. Everyone is getting paid except the people whose work moves product. It just feels wrong.

Related to the recent conversation on the ethics of content blocking, this tidbit from Ember and Abrams’ article is illuminating (emphasis mine):

Clothing and retail brands say that featuring user-generated photos on their websites and in their Instagram feeds is an effective way to connect with consumers, who are increasingly skipping commercials, blocking online ads and generally ignoring anything that resembles traditional advertising. Taking photos from social media accounts is also often cheaper and faster than creating a traditional marketing campaign.

Like I said last week: “Advertising isn’t going anywhere.”

On The New York Times’ Push Notifications

Journalism, Link, Media

Margaret Sullivan, The New York Times’ public editor:

In recent months, The Times has greatly increased the use of push alerts to let readers know about investigative projects, feature stories and other journalism that isn’t breaking news. Since then, I’ve been hearing from readers who aren’t happy with some of those choices, including an alert that spoiled the end of the HBO series “The Jinx.”

I’ve certainly noticed the uptick, especially since the notifications go to my watch now. That said, it hasn’t reached the point where I’m ready to turn them off. The Times’ alerts are some of the best I’ve seen, obviously chosen in a well thought out manner designed not to inundate subscribers.

This bit from editor Cliff Levy is important, though:

“If you bother and annoy people, they will turn it off, and it’s hard to get them to turn alerts back on,” he said.

Exactly. If I decide to turn them off, I don’t think I’ll ever turn them back on.

Exploring The Abandoned Shaw Brothers Studios (and Learning About a Career and a Logo)

Cinema, Movies, Photography

Hong Kong Free Press Lens Urban Exploring went poking around an abandoned movie studio:

Although unbeknownst to most, up on a windy hill on the eastern shore of Hong Kong is a site which played a pivotal role in the development of Hong Kong’s film industry. Built in 1961 by the Shaw Brothers, this massive moldering movie studio complex was operated by the Shaw Brothers under the guidance of the late Sir Run Run Shaw.

Stunning photographs and a great accompanying video. I know almost nothing about Hong Kong cinema and, until today, had never heard of Run Run Shaw. As Variety’s obituary for Shaw from last year notes, the Shaw Brothers Studios logo can be seen in the opening of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Vol. 1.

His most prominent western credit on IMDb is Blade Runner, though curiously he’s listed as both “co-executive producer - uncredited” and “presenter.” Shaw is credited in the opening logo for “The Ladd Company”. A special line was added below the computerized tree, “in Association with Sir Run Run Shaw.”

I’d be curious to learn more about Shaw’s involvement with the film, which has been variously released, re-released, re-mastered, re-cut and re-distributed over the years. If there’s any one film it’s hard to get a handle on, it’s Blade Runner.

The Ladd Company logo was apparently scored by John Williams, which is a neat factoid that plunged me further down the rabbit hole. Some home video versions of Blade Runner eschew Shaw’s name under The Ladd Company tree and give him his own title card. Meanwhile, I totally didn’t start watching Ladd Company logos from various films like Police Academy and Once Upon a Time in America after learning this. Nope not me.

I’d love to know which of the Hong Kong films produced at the now dilapidated Shaw Brothers Studios to seek out first. As far as Hollywood sci-fi goes, though, I just added the Shaw produced the 1979 disaster film Meteor to my watchlist. Sean Connery, Natalie Wood, Martin Landau and Henry Fonda (!) try to stop a meteor from colliding with Earth? Sign me up. Just look at this trailer.

Blocking Ads Isn’t Stealing

Publishing, Writing

With iOS 9, released yesterday, Apple allows developers to create content (read: ad) blockers on their incredibly popular and influential mobile and tablet platforms. A few have shot up the lists of best-selling apps after only a day of availibility, which has ignited a conversation about the ethics of turning off advertising. Here’s my take.

Advertising is built on the idea that your life is lacking. It’s not as bad as it sounds. We all need help surviving and working toward a more perfect version of ourselves. We need clothes and food and shelter and the like. Advertising helps us exist. It shows us our potential; it points us toward the things we need to build a life. Advertising isn’t going anywhere. It needs no defenders, no moralists to speak up for its right to exist.

So I don’t understand all the hand-wringing over ad blockers. The first thing I did after installing the updated operating system on my iPhone was install Crystal, a free (for now) and basic ad blocker. Websites started loading faster and looking better. Surfing on my iPhone suddenly felt great. Then I moved on to Marco Arment’s Peace, which adds the ability to whitelist certain sites so I can see their ads.1 It seems to load sites even faster. Nice!

Last night on Twitter, Zac Cichy and @eric_analytics2 tried to goad me into admitting ad blocking is stealing. Zac’s tweet in particular was pretty darn annoying:

Zac’s a smart guy but that’s just plain stupid. “Breaking a car” is nowhere near related to what we’re talking about here. I’m not breaking anyone’s website. The analogy would only work if I accessed a site’s server and turned off the ads from there, and then went through their content and changed every instance of the word “Internet” to “frothy cheese-like poo garden.”3

Ad blocking is not stealing. Full stop.

When I block ads, all I’m doing is taking control of what my browser loads and how it loads it. I have an excellent browser extension installed on my Macs called User CSS by Kridsada Thanabulpong. It lets me change the layout and design of any site I please, kind of like Greasemonkey or Stylish. For something like a decade now I’ve been using extensions like these to make sites look and act the way I want them to on my computers. Brett Terpstra’s long-ago redesign of Pinboard is a great example of what you can accomplish with CSS in a browser.4 That’s not stealing. It’s also, technologically, no different from blocking ads and trackers.

For the sake of argument, though, let’s walk down the road of those who would say that controlling what content loads in your browser is stealing. I think it goes something like this:

  1. Publishers put content on the web for free
  2. Advertisers pay publishers for access to their audience
  3. If the ads don’t load, advertisers will stop paying publishers
  4. Content read without ads is therefore stolen

If you go for a drive and don’t look at the billboards, did you steal the highway? If you leave the room to get a snack when commercials play on television (or Hulu or whatever) did you steal the program? If you read a magazine and ignore the ads, did you steal the article?

No, no and no.

But, Jon! In those cases the ad still got delivered! Well, sort of. Maybe it had more of a fighting chance, but it still didn’t actually work.

Online ads have gotten out of control. They’re heavy, they’re invasive, and they make browsing the web worse. There are many, many outlets that will be crushed when content blocking takes off in a big way. Here’s the thing, though: web advertising is already a shitty bargain for publishers to make.

The reason you see so many ads load at once on so many sites is because they don’t pay very well. Publishers seem to think the answer to diminishing returns on ads is…more ads! I’m no economist but that sounds a lot like publishers are driving down the value of their own content big time. The value of those ads is already approaching zero.

On top of that they’re aggressively user-hostile. They gray out the page or take you to a splash screen. They cover up huge swaths of content or even paper over every image on the page. Worst of all they flip you out from the browser and into the App Store to buy something. And yes I have seen sites load all of these at once. Enough.

Browsing with ad blockers on mobile is a breath of fresh air. Sites load fast and take me right to the content I want to see. No bullshit. That publishers made a Faustian bargain to peddle terrible, obtrusive content isn’t my problem.

Now, Zac and Eric argue that I should simply not visit the sites that are bad actors. The logic doesn’t hold up: it assumes the audience is there to load ads first, not to read content. There are ways to count visitors besides running ads, and I having an audience can still hold a huge amount of value for publishers.

I think suggesting people not visit sites with terrible ads gets it backwards. Those sites shouldn’t publish their sites in a way that turns away readers. I get that this is a touchy subject. It suggests a scorched-earth, Darwinian outlook toward the Internet. But the fact is the web puts incredible technological tools into the hands of readers. Sites will have to adapt. And if we’re honest we know they won’t all survive.

We, as readers, are free to load whatever aspects of a site we choose. The web is developed in public; every last piece of content created, from words to images to CSS, can be viewed, dissected, hidden and even copied. This environment has its drawbacks, but it is also fundamental to the explosion of the Internet. It’s what the web is.

As to this site… Over the years I’ve tried a few different forms of advertising. I’ve sold sponsored posts, I’ve been in multiple ad networks and I’ve used affiliate links.5 These tended to cover most (but usually not all) of my meager costs.6

The truth is the candler blog isn’t my full-time job, so I can afford to let it float along without content (or ads) for stretches of time. No ad network has ever paid me well enough to turn this into a career, and I’ve always been opposed to weighing down the site with multiple ads that get between readers and my words. Does that mean my writing has no value? I don’t think so.

Advertising will be fine. It has beaten back threats before and it will come through ad blockers too, probably even better than it was before. As long as people need stuff, they need to be advertised to. That’s why it’s such a huge business.

As John Gruber said back in July, “A reckoning is coming.” Reckoning is one word; humbling is another. Whatever you call it, it’s here.

Oh and if you use my affiliate link to buy Peace I’ll get a little something. Much appreciated.

  1. Marco has a recent piece on the ethics of ad blocking, but he’s been talking about advertising for years.

  2. Honestly I don’t know what his name is past Eric but he’s good Twitter people (usually). Funny how you strike up relationships with people whose identities you only partially know. Also, why always so late at night, guys? I was too tired to get into it.

  3. Heh.

  4. Here’s my own Pinboard mod.

  5. For more on this site’s history with advertising, see here and here.

  6. This past March, Carbon Ads dropped me as a publisher because I wasn’t pushing enough traffic. I got a form letter telling me as much, which was a little annoying since, when I joined Carbon it was still called Fusion, and they were very transparent and, well, human. I didn’t fight the change; I just removed their ad block from the site and have been running the site ad-free ever since.

Blogging About My Age


One year ago today I wrote about turning 30. I challenged myself to be less cynical (still working on it) and recounted how strange the previous year had been. At the time I thought it was one of the few instances I had blogged about my age, and I thought well worth it given the pseudo-momentousness of ending my twenties. Going through some old pieces, though, I found I had written about my age before.

Before the candler blog, almost all of my writing was done at And before that I kept a blog on MySpace. Most of those pieces, including the one I’m writing about here, got transferred over to my site, thankfully, since MySpace’s blogs have disappeared from the web.

Those early pieces are what I would call more bloggy blogging. I’ve always tried to treat the candler blog like an outlet for published articles as opposed to an ongoing personal journal.1 I’m proud to call this site a blog; the writing, I hope, speaks for itself.

That I’ve held this site back from going fully diaristic came to mind when I found a piece from June of 2007, “Tired of my age.” Now this is some bloggy blog writing. Here it is in full:

I’m tired of peo­ple ask­ing my age. I rec­og­nize that I’m a kid. People hear 22 they think I should be doing keg­stands between exams. Professionally, this is becom­ing an issue, but only when peo­ple ask. I’ve been blessed with a thick beard so the ques­tion rarely comes up. But the most annoy­ing iter­a­tion of this con­fu­sion, the absolute worst, is when women ask. Should I start lying? I tend to hang out with 30somethings, which is fine, and they like hang­ing out with me, until the issue of years comes up. They’ll ask my age or they’ll ref­er­ence things I know noth­ing of, base­ball play­ers from “when we were kids” only “when we were kids” hap­pens to be 10 years apart. Ah well, I guess every­one thinks they were born 10 or 20 years late. Anyhow, who cares about those peo­ple any­way. Next time they ask me my age I’ll just have to say I’ve got a bet­ter shot of see­ing 2060 than you, babe.

Pretty sure I wrote that after a thirty-something rejected me at a rooftop party.

I would never publish something like that now, anywhere. Why is that, though? Sure, that last line kinda makes me cringe, but so what? It’s out there and I’m not going to scrub it from the web.

I wonder how much of my reticence to publish anything like that piece has to do with my growing older and how much has to do with the web growing up. Maybe it’s not just that my years have made a bit more hesitant to fling every last idea out there; maybe it’s that there are so many things on the web nowadays it feels silly to throw my little fit into the mix. At best it will get lost; at worst I’ll be harangued by mobs of commenters rubbed the wrong way by my words. And so while pondering the question “What’s the point?” I’d write nothing.

I’m reminded of something Kanye West said last year when Steve McQueen asked him how he was able to express himself in the way that he does:

I just close my eyes and act like I’m a 3-year-old. [laughs] I try to get as close to a childlike level as possible because we were all artists back then. So you just close your eyes and think back to when you were as young as you can remember and had the least barriers to your creativity.

Now that I’m 31, I kind of wish I had the fool-hardiness of my 22 year-old self, whining about my age because my site gave me the opportunity to vent. And when I think back to being even younger, when the world seemed so huge and anything seemed possible…2 that’s something I’d like to bring to my writing. To all of my work, really.

But now I’m just some guy, blogging about his age. And it kinda feels great.

  1. That “blog” is right there in the name is only because I couldn’t get the other “candler” URLs I wanted, so I appended “blog” and started writing.

  2. In elementary school I was active in the after-school program, Young Astronauts. I wanted to be an astronaut and believed that one day we’d all go to the moon and bring back rocks to show our friends, as if on vacation.