Hello World

This is my first “real” blog post!

At the risk of being boring right out of the gate, I thought I’d use this post to explain why I’m starting a blog.

On blogs

The first reason I’m starting a blog is because I love blogs and wish that more of them existed.

In fact, I wish all my friends had blogs.

Actually, they don’t have to be blogs. What I like about blogs, and want more of, is the mindset they encourage:

  • Original content instead of “sharing”
  • Longer writing instead of tweet-sized tidbits
  • Writing with your own voice instead of being a cautious robot

Unfortunately, blogs also have the side-effect of being public to world. So you can’t put anything really personal on them, and you have to be careful all the time because you can’t just take things off the internet.

I’m not sure why “public” is still the only decent option for blogs. If it was easy to start a blog, but restrict it so only your Facebook friends could see it, I bet there would be a lot more blogs. Ghost, my favorite blogging platform, has a feature called private blogs, but that’s not quite enough - if someone shares or leaks the password you picked, how would you know?

Social-media-authenticated blogs would be great. Just saying.

I’ve already tried to start a blog several times, and never got off the ground because I’m very self-conscious about writing publicly. So this will be a struggle, but hopefully I’ll get better at it over time.

I think blogs go wrong in two ways, mostly:

  1. Arrogance - when the author starts preaching instead of writing like they were a normal person. Usually happens when the author takes “this worked for me” and turns it into “Having trouble over there? Try doing this!”

  2. Lack of research - when the author makes a recommendation, but doesn’t know what they’re talking about. This is especially frustrating for technical blogs. If you’re comparing X to Y, and you only have experience in X, you’d better at least mention that, right?

So I’ll just avoid those two problems, and I should be fine?

On writing

The second reason I’m starting a blog is to become a better writer.

Despite being at least fifty years old, writing is up there with infographics and animated cartoons when it comes to spreading ideas. In fact, it might even be better. I’d like to have ideas worth spreading someday, and animating cartoons takes too long, so it’s time to start practicing my writing.

How to write better?

My two favorite essayists have put together some great advice:

  • Paul Graham’s Write Like You Talk recommends writing in simple, informal language.

  • Scott Alexander’s Nonfiction Writing Advice is a little more in-depth, and great for persuasive writing. It’s more useful than the stuff I learned in school, because (1) Scott Alexander is brilliant, and (2) some advice, like how to defend yourself from ad-hominem “counter-arguments”, is especially important when you’re writing in a world containing angry twitter mobs.

After seeing the backlash that Paul Graham got from his essay on economic inequality, I think even he could learn something from Scott Alexander. I liked PG’s argument, but he didn’t try nearly hard enough to anticipate and defuse counterarguments.

The last bit of writing advice I plan to follow is Patrick McKenzie’s Making Your Writing Work Harder For You. Most importantly: good writing should last.

He recommends calling your writing “articles” or “essays”, and not “blog posts”, because (in his words), “blog posts are quickly-depreciating commoditized drek.”

I decided to ignore that advice and call this a blog anyway, but I get it. I’ll avoid real-time commentary on events, and instead focus on writing longer-lasting, thoughtful stuff.

In fact, I even plan to edit my old posts liberally when they go out of date, or if I decide that they’re embarrassing. Hopefully this strategy will also make me less self-conscious about posting in the first place.

Since editing posts after the fact is (debatably) uncool, I’ll make up for it by keeping all the published revisions of my essays in my website’s git history.

Topics for this blog

This is a technical, or at least semi-technical, blog. I’ll write about anything I find interesting in the world of software and startups.

For example, I’d like to write about:

  • Projects I’m working on
  • Projects I’d like to work on, but probably won’t get to
  • Books I read, and what I thought of them
  • Companies or software products I like
  • Things I’ve learned about engineering or design

I’ll probably start by writing a series about vim. It might only be interesting to a few people, but that’s ok.

Wrapping up

I love feedback!

If you liked, or didn’t like, or had any thoughts whatsoever about something I wrote - I’d love to hear it. Even if it’s a chat or one-line email. My email address is alexzirbel@gmail.com. Or if you’re on twitter and aren’t a jerk, I’m over there too as @alexzirbel.

Posted on March 3, 2016