Shiny new web design!

You have probably noticed that this web site has had a makeover. I have been meaning to do it for more than a  year but M.E. and depression have left me little productive time that hasn’t been taken up with other things. I did like the old theme that I was using, Piano Black, but it wasn’t without problems. For one thing, the main body was not wide enough which meant that most images had to be resized to fit and there wasn’t room for much text on each line. The patterned background, while pretty, was quite difficult for some people to read. A bit of an accessibility fail.

Tentacles of Doom screenshot
The old design

This new design rectifies those problems and a few others. The new colour scheme feels more like “me” since I have been tweaking it to how I like it. Inspiration was taken from my favourite computer game, Day Of The Tentacle. The background to the text here is smooth but if you still find it hard to read then you should look in the sidebar where there are buttons which allow you to turn on high-contrast text and to change the text size. I have a fantastic new title banner which was created for me by my sister @apricotmuffins. She has more examples of her work on her website at www.mariabovor.co.uk and I’m sure she wouldn’t mind a few paying commissions 🙂

The new design no longer shows the full text of my blog posts on the front page. Instead I have space for two featured articles at the top of the page, and then headlines with a small snippet of text further down. If you would prefer to read all the articles on one page then just click on “All articles” on the menu right at the top of the page and you will see them in traditional blog format. You can also go to various categories like politics, illness etc from the menu just under the title banner.

For those who are technically minded: I’ve built this site on self-hosted WordPress using the Genesis framework. I’ve started with the Prose theme for full control-panel access to tweak fonts and colours but I’ve added my own custom home page with extra widget areas to cope with my bio and the featured articles.

I hope you like it. If you have any feedback please don’t hesitate to leave me a comment below or send me an email. And while you’re here, I’d like to take the opportunity to remind you that I have a Facebook page, a Google+ page, a Youtube channel and I’m on twitter. I’d love it if you went and liked/circled/subscribed/followed. If you have a Kindle then you can have my blog sent to it automatically for 99p per month. I’ve never seen any money from it, but if enough of you subscribe then I might!

 

Where did the time go?

I missed an important event.

On the 22nd of June this blog was a year old!

In that year it had 63,284 page views, from 31,744 visitors. Since the birthday that I missed the totals have gone up to 71,520 views and 35,564 visitors. I could never have imagined that so many people would read what I had to say. I am fairly confident that writing this blog has helped me cope as much as it has informed or entertained anyone else, so thank you all for staying with me.

Of course, it wasn’t until the 24th of November, when I wrote about a certain police van at a minor protest in London that anyone apart from Phill, Alex or my mum read my blog. Perhaps that should be considered its real birthday.

One hundred Blog Posts!

This is my one hundredth post on this blog! To celebrate, I’m going to tell you a bit about why I write here.

This isn’t my first blog; I used to have one with Livejournal but I wrote on it about once a month or even less than that. I started this blog in June last year and I wrote perhaps every week or two but I still didn’t have that much to talk about. Two things changed that. One factor was my health, and the other was politics.

Last summer I had surgery which kept me in bed for several weeks. (Warning, grossness behind that link!) Just as I was recovering from that, I had to have surgery again because the problem came back. Then I had flu, and was in bed again. Then I had more flu… I ended up in a full relapse of my ME and a whole new lot of pain which might be diabetes complications or fibromyalgia. Being in bed all day gave me lots of time to think and write, unfortunately various symptoms often conspire to prevent me writing. Brain fog means I often can’t think for long enough to construct a whole paragraph. (Although I can still manage a 140 character tweet!)  I am quite often unable to sit up in bed, so can’t type on a keyboard. I can still use my phone though, and have written several blog posts using the wordpress app, typing on my touchscreen phone with just one thumb! I often use twitter this way too.

Politics gave me something to actually write about. You have probably noticed that I get angry about politics quite easily. I describe myself as an “angry lefty” and the current government has done plenty to get me worked up. I have written about the government, their policies on cuts, their attachment to big business rather than the people, the police and their abuses of power and the chilling effect that they have on protests. I have written about freedom of speech, privacy, and the right to protest.

I have often written about my illness. When I write about being ill I usually think that I am just moaning too much and tend to be quite apologetic about it to my readers, but they tell me that they love me writing about illness and to write more. Writing about ME and the impact it has on me has shown quite a few people the realities of living with this kind of illness. Some of what I have written has turned out to be accidental poetry, or so I am told. I have even written a couple of book reviews, although one of them was intensely political. Well it fitted the theme.

So I have had plenty of time to write, and between the government, the police, and my illness, I have plenty to write about. But what really kicked this all off is the protests against the tuition fee rises. During that #dayx protest, I was watching live TV news. (On three different channels at once!) I saw the vandalism of the infamous police van, and all the events leading up to it. I was outraged that the news reports about it were all wrong, and so I wrote about it on my blog. I updated that article through that day as I received more information. But the real surprise is that my blog post got twelve thousand hits! That is what really motivated me to start writing more. I realised that words written here can have real power and make a real difference, good or bad. Since then I have written a blog post almost every day. On most days this blog gets about 100 page views. About once a month I manage to write something that really resonates and will get as many as 1,000 views. I started out by ranting quite a lot, but I have been making an effort to include more facts, more evidence, and less anger. It’s still all my opinions, but I hope that I make that clear and direct people to the evidence to decide for themselves. It’s a long slow learning process, but I think I’m winning.

This blog has been great therapy for me personally. Finding subjects to write about and researching them has given me something to do with no time pressure. Knowing that people actually read it gives me some sense of purpose while I am stuck in bed. My combined efforts on this blog, facebook and twitter have, I think had an impact on the anti-cuts movement despite me being unable to go out and join them. It has led to me writing articles for Liberal Conspiracy, (1,2) Beyond Clicktivism,(1,2,) One Month Before Heartbreak(1,2,3,4) and The Broken Of Britain. (I have an article to be published there next week and a regular slot after that.)

And so, here we are at 100 blog posts. 23,378 page views. 18,851 visits. 14,231 unique visitors. The most popular post ever was about a police van. Here’s to another 100 blog posts!

This blog in other places

Make me happy and click ‘Like’ on this blog’s Facebook Page.

You can now subscribe to this blog on the Kindle.

Tentacles of doom Kindle Edition

My writing in other places

Why campaigning online isn’t such a waste of time

This article is partly a rehash of things that I have said before, but I think it bears repeating.

You have probably heard that the student movement against the increase of tuition fees made extensive use of Social Networks. You probably know that UK Uncut and other anti-cuts groups are organised entirely via Twitter, Facebook and their website. But the key thing, we are told, is getting out there in person to protest. Actually protesting on the internet (rather than organising) seems to be frowned upon. I recently read an article titled  Clicktivism is ruining leftist activism. The gist of the argument is that activism on the internet has no effect because it consists of adding names to petitions and sending out form emails to MPs.  I think that article missed the point; and missed the huge opportunities presented by the internet.

In a Guardian article last month Clifford Singer said that Social media has transformed protest. He talked about how social media has been used to unite activist groups and organise real-world actions,  and he was correct to say that protest has been transformed, but there is another important point to make about the power of the internet in its own right.

As a political activist who is chronically sick I have found it extremely frustrating to be undergoing a severe relapse at a time when I want nothing more than to be out protesting. I want to stand up and be counted but at the moment I can barely stand up at all. But have I really been deprived of a voice? Has my chance to change things been lost because of my illness? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say no. In fact, I think I personally have had more influence through the internet than I would have had out on the streets.

Activism on the internet is not just about adding your email address to petitions, or clicking “Like” on Facebook. Petitions have their place, but tend to carry less weight than letters and debate, which is where the real power of the internet lies. I think the key areas where the internet can change things are Awareness, Debate and Influence. With millions of people using social networks raising awareness is much easier than in the physical world. Current issues come up in daily conversation online, and an interesting thing about social networks is that your friends get to see what you are talking about, even if they don’t follow the whole conversation.

The nature of the internet is such that with a bit of luck a good blog article or Youtube video can “go viral” and end up in front of hundreds of thousands of people who would not otherwise be aware of the issues. Although I was taken by surprise when this has happened to me in the past it is good to know that I had some impact even though I could not go out on the streets myself.

Social networks are a great leveller. Journalists, TV presenters, CEOs, celebrities and politicians all use social networks. It is easy, even commonplace, to have a discussion involving someone influential and to either become more informed by them or to inform and influence them yourself. I have witnessed a party affiliation change after a discussion with Ed Milliband via twitter, and I have seen MPs decide to sign Early Day Motions after constituents contacted them through twitter. I have seen journalists write about issues and bring them to a wider audience after they became aware of them through Facebook and twitter.

Websites like They Work For You and What Do They Know make it easy to keep tabs on what your elected representatives are doing at all levels of government. Sites such as Write To Them give an effortless way to send our thoughts to our politicians, sending our missives by email where it is an option, or by fax where it is not. The Tweetminster website can put you in touch with your MP via twitter. Form letters are not so effective, but thoughtful discussion through these methods can make a difference.

I am not arguing that everyone should cease protesting immediately or that they should move back from the streets to the internet. Far from it. I believe that changing opinion requires the use of every available method of protest. But here’s the thing: If you want to change opinions and like me, you can’t go out to protest, the internet isn’t such a bad place to be.

Facebook page

This is just a quick mention; this blog now has a Facebook page of its own. It would make me really happy if you all went there and clicked Like. You get timely updates when I write something new, and I get the fuzzy warmth of knowing that people read my crazy ranting. I will no longer post announcements of new blog posts on my personal Facebook account. Please note that anyone is free to like the Facebook page, but I have a policy of only adding someone as a friend on Facebook if I know them in real life.

Where have all the blog posts gone?

Yes, I know, I haven’t updated this blog nearly as often as I would like. The problem is, while I have lots of ideas floating around in my head for articles on faith, my life, and my business, they are all rather personal and I am not ready to publish them here. I have even typed some out but refrained from publishing them. So for now, I am afraid you will have to make do with this fun video complete with music that won’t get out of my head.

A blog post!

This is my first blog post in a very long time. I used to be on Livejournal, now I have installed WordPress on my own website. To be honest, I probably won’t post much here either. Small thoughts go on Twitter. Other stuff goes on Facebook. Still, this is my new blog, full of my old blog posts, and maybe I will even add stuff to it.

Heres something interesting to get us going again.  I’m an insomniac. I don’t often get to bed before 2am, and it’s frequently nearer 4am. I use the computer most of that time when I should be sleeping, and the bright monitor does nothing to help me get to bed. Three days ago I was shown a very useful tool, F.Lux which cleverly alters the colour temperature (not the brightness) of my display as night draws in. Colour temperature describes the relative brightness of the primary colours to each other. My monitor is normally set to a colour temperature of 6500K but with f.lux installed it is gradually changed over the course of an hour each evening to a temperature of 3400K.  It’s early days, but sleep has been much easier and earlier for the last two nights so I am hopeful that it will continue to help.

f.lux can be downloaded from http://stereopsis.com/flux/