Refocusing energies

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Last month, I expressed concern about my ability to maintain my level of output in the Apple II community. As Brian Picchi commented to me on Open Apple: "Wow, Ken — you have basically no work/life balance!"

I sought advice from the readers of Apple II Bits, asking them to rank eleven activities in terms of their value to the community. The rest of this lengthy post offers the results of that poll, which received 28 votes before the one-week deadline (and one vote after, due to a security hole on my part). I could offer a more granular breakdown of how many votes each item received at each rank, complete with pie charts and line graphs — but more practical is the final ranking of each item from most to least valuable. I’ll present them in that order, with a brief analysis of each.

IRL: Spend time with my girlfriend
This item was the only non-Apple II activity in the poll, and it was presented more to lighten the mood than anything; such commitments are not open to popular vote! Nonetheless, I’m pleased that 19 people considered this my #1 priority. (I’m hoping the three votes that put it in last place were facetious.)

One friend privately offered me this advice: "If the problem is she doesn’t ‘get’ why you spend time playing with old junky computers, then she’s right out, and you can replace her task with finding another one." I wholeheartedly agree. But who do you think helped me stuff envelopes with the latest issue of Juiced.GS?

Juiced.GS: Edit & publish quarterly hardcopy issues
I recently published my 25th issue of Juiced.GS, making me its longest-running editor-in-chief. Editing is an interesting line of work: when done well, it’s completely invisible. Everyone can name the authors of Harry Potter, Pet Semetary, and The Da Vinci Code — but how many of you know who those authors’ editors were? I assure you that they played a vital role in directing the authors’ raw talents and shaping their stories.

The best feedback I’ve ever gotten on this subject was an email Bruce Baker sent to the KansasFest email list on October 8, 2010: "I was going through the last Juiced GS. I think Ryan did a wonderful job and remember some others too. But I think Ken Gagne’s approach has been pretty close to genius. I cannot put my finger on it, but the little magazine has improved in readability. All the content is interesting. When I finish, I wish for more." The very fact that Bruce can’t articulate what makes Juiced.GS better means I’m doing my job well.

The publishing aspect of Juiced.GS may be less personal: find a printshop, buy some stamps, pay the bills. But I enjoy editing, which entails looking for and conceiving of article ideas, finding writers whose strengths fill a void, and putting together the whole picture. Although it makes for a stressful week the end of every third month, it’s worth doing, and worth doing well.

Open Apple: Record & publish a monthly podcast
I was honestly surprised to see Open Apple rank so high, only because it’s so young: we’ve published only 14 monthly episodes in just over a year, producing a body of work that’s dwarfed by Juiced.GS or KansasFest. Yet because the other two are offline commercial ventures and Open Apple is online and free, it has perhaps the largest audience of the three, so it makes sense that more people benefit from it and want to see it grow.

Behind the scenes, Mike and I have been more regularly swapping responsibilities, to ensure we each have a better sense for what the other host is doing. This makes us more able to fill in for the other and takes the pressure off any one person being irreplaceable.

For my part, I’ve started being slightly less meticulous in the editing. In the beginning, I closed any gap of silence and eliminated every "um", "ah", and "er". But it should be okay for listeners to realize we’re human, too. I think we’ll also be unlikely to employ the optional "Retroviews" segment, as even without it, our average episode length has grown from 30 minutes to 90. And show notes will continue to include links to discussed topics but will likely omit passing references.

Apple II Bits: Blog twice a week
Now we’re getting down to where real changes need to be made: in the poll, Apple II Bits didn’t make the top three and is the first item on the list that nobody voted as "most important".

I have consistently published twice a week for the last two years, resulting in 209 posts. By contrast, when I was associate editor for Juiced.GS, I wrote 16 "A Word or II" columns in four years. I am writing for this blog 25 times more often than I wrote for Juiced.GS! The time to write each post consumes one lunch break, and when I go away for vacation, I need to write and queue several posts in advance, adding to the already taxing trip preparation process.

These posts have been invaluable, connecting me with the community and producing ideas for podcasts and articles. Three posts got scrapped before publication and were diverted elsewhere: one became a part of another writer’s Juiced.GS article; another became a standalone Juiced.GS article; yet a third was published on PCWorld, of all places.

I have more than a dozen blogs, and Apple II Bits is both the only one where I’ve committed to a regular publication schedule (every Monday & Thursday). As a result, it’s also my most popular blog, despite (or perhaps because of) its niche focus compared to my more mainstream sites. But Apple II Bits is likely the outlet that’s easiest to reduce my commitment to without eliminating entirely, and despite its audience, it’s probably the one people rely on the least. I’m rarely wanting for topics to write about, as there’s always something going on in, or of interest to, the Apple II community, so I’m going to continue scouring the Internet and my brain for ideas. But starting Monday, April 29, I will be publishing only once a week. If I have an idea that simply must be aired on any other day of the week, I may break from that schedule for a "bonus post".

Juiced.GS: Write articles
Writing is the activity that opened the way for me to be a contributing member of the Apple II community. It’s still something I enjoy, but as my interests have evolved from reviews to features, it’s also become more demanding. To that end, over the years, I’ve delegated as many article types as possible: Andy Molloy now writes book reviews, Mike Maginnis conducts interviews, and Eric "Sheppy" Shepherd writes the back-page column. In fact, I consider it a success when I can publish an entire issue of Juiced.GS without having written anything more than the required (ie, the editorial and the news section) — even if its more expensive to do so, since writers get paid but editors-in-chief do not!

But an article type that still seems unique to me are features, those being the last two March issues’ cover stories, which dealt with interactive fiction and crowdfunding. These features are so in-depth that only one or two a year, so it’s no great commitment to continue writing them.

For anyone thinking that my byline is not a selling point: I completely agree! What’s far more important is that the content be written, regardless of by whom. But I’m intrigued that a few people voted this commitment as more important than publishing Juiced.GS. Where would the articles I write be published?

Juiced.GS: Create new products & resurrect out-of-print products
Wall calendars and PDFs may not incur the demand of Juiced.GS‘s flagship subscriptions, but they play a valuable role: the are low-cost to produce and generate revenue that adds to the bottom line. I can confidently say that the colorful artwork and photography that has graced the last five issues of Juiced.GS starting in 2011 would not have been possible without the sales of the Concentrates that were introduced in 2010. The products may be more valuable to the publisher than to the customer. I understand their value unto themselves may be limited, and I’ll take that into consideration — especially since the creation of these products can be more easily outsourced than any other aspect of Juiced.GS.
KansasFest: Record & publish videos of sessions
At least one KansasFest alumnus was attracted to the event by watching the videos that were recorded in 2010. As a budding archivist, I consider it essential that these videos be produced and published. It seems like a fairly easy assignment for someone else to take on, but no one yet has. There have been plenty of other cameras, both digital and analog, running throughout KansasFest, but I’ve never seen their output shared with the community. One presenter commented to me, "You have a good record of actually getting these things online" — and that’s the most important step. What value is our history if it never leaves someone’s basement?

I don’t enjoy recording KansasFest but do it because I think it must be done. If someone else wants to help with one of three steps of this process — shooting, editing, and uploading — please let me know.

KansasFest: Community outreach, Web site maintenance, publicity
The KansasFest committee brought on a writer a few years ago to help me with press releases and the like, and at first, he was a great help in that department. Then we stopped outsourcing our graphic design and brought it in-house, and that’s where Peter Neubauer‘s talents really began to shine. The work he does is inspired and inspiring, and I cannot in good conscience draw him from that task to help me smith words.

Yet publicity remains vital. Every year, there are people who are shocked to discover that the Apple II community exists and has its own annual convention. Recently, I even received an email from an Apple II user right in Kansas City who’d never heard of us! We need to get this word out as broadly as possible. articles like Harry McCracken’s help; who knows where he heard about KansasFest from?

Fortunately, except for when something significant happens, like a keynote speaker is announced or registration opens, the actual publicity aspect of KansasFest is pretty low-maintenance.

KansasFest: Give presentations
None of my KansasFest 2011 presentations were delivered until the last day, and I was antsy all week. As a former community theater performer, I thrive in front of a crowd. But years in which I’ve given a half-dozen presentations, on top of doing everything I can to help run the event, were just too much. I’ll try to cut back in this regard.

Fortunately, our schedulemeister Andy Molloy does a great job soliciting sessions from talented attendees, and we’re never left with empty slots in the schedule.

Social media: Twitter, Facebook, Google+
This feedback contradicts the results of the Open Apple survey, which indicated listeners want to connect with the podcast on social media services such as Twitter and Google+. And perhaps they do, but not at the expense of the above outlets to which I can instead commit myself. At least, that’s the way I’m choosing to interpret the contradiction.
Social media: Help Apple II users with WordPress
I love the open-source content management system known as WordPress, which is in widespread use across the Apple II community. I thought to marry these interests and experts by creating a Web site that offers WordPress advice from a retrocomputing enthusiast’s perspective.

But in reality, I don’t have time to commit to yet another blog, and I have to take to heart the idea’s placement at the bottom of this poll. Even though I’ve registered the domain name and designed the site, complete with custom logo and basic pages such as About, Contact, etc., I’m officially tabling this project for now.

I don’t know what feedback and changes I was hoping this poll to generate, but I’m glad to have had the support and advice of so many friends and readers. I look forward to being a part of this wonderful community in many interesting ways, old and new, for decades to come.