Site Issues

Well, Hell…

When I logged into my blog this morning, I was planning to finish a draft entry that’s been hanging in limbo for several days, and then if my day job was slow enough, maybe throw together a Friday Evening Video for tonight. Instead, I discovered to my horror that all my published posts since April 29 and a number of in-progress drafts had evaporated. A quick text to my webmaster Jack confirmed the worst: he’d been forced to roll Simple Tricks back to an earlier state in order to solve a problem with the server. He said he’d try to recover the missing content, but wasn’t very confident that it could be done. The Internet Archive’s last snapshot was sometime last year, so no help there either.

It’s not a huge catastrophe — as best I can recall, there were only three published posts since April 29, and one of them was just a reprint of a poem, not my work at all — but it still bothers me to lose any of my writing. I do so little of it these days, it all ends up feeling so precious to me. Losing the obituary I wrote for Anthony Bourdain especially smarts. I wrote that one in a welter of emotions, straight from the heart, and I don’t think I could begin to recreate it now with a week’s distance from the event. Not that anyone would care if I did; the news cycle has already churned on and his death may as well have happened a year ago. The people who are interested in that subject have already read all about it and moved on to other things, and there’s no sense in looking back.

That’s the real bummer about mishaps like this: They remind me of just how ephemeral online writing is. If it’s not obliterated outright like these entries, it has a sell-by date that’s almost as absolute. I don’t blog much anymore, for reasons too complex to bother going into here, and when I do get around to it, I’m usually behind the curve already before I even get the entry published. And then you give it a week or two down the road and it’s as irrelevant as the newsprint wrapped around your fish and chips. Just more blathering into the void, and to what end?

Why yes, I am feeling like it’s all for nothing, thank you. I used to at least have my little community here, my Loyal Readers, to give me the sense that I was reaching somebody. And then social media happened and that absorbed all those other communities, and I myself got old and found I couldn’t sit up half the night writing this stuff anymore. Is there anybody out there right now? Anyone receiving? I tell myself I write for my own satisfaction, but that’s bunk, isn’t it? I like to think I’ve got an audience waiting to hear from me. But I don’t really believe it anymore. It’s hard not to feel like this blogging thing is over and done.

Even so, this morning’s little debacle has inspired me to make a couple of changes. I’ve installed a plugin that will make daily backups, saved to the cloud, and I’m exploring offline editing software. I could just type everything in Word, of course, and copy-and-paste it over when I’m ready to publish. But like I said… I’m exploring. I definitely want something that will let me save local copies of everything; no more blogging directly on the site! I lost The Girl with the Grey Eyes during the big hardware failure a few years ago, and now I’ve lost Bourdain, and I’ve had enough of losing my words. I should’ve taken these precautions years ago… but like I said, I’m always behind the curve.


Come In, Echo Base…

Just a little housekeeping note to let my three Loyal Readers know that, starting today, I am a contributing writer for a group blog called Echo Base. The short version is that a friend and colleague from my day job is one of the chief editors there; he recently read something I wrote here on Simple Tricks and was impressed enough to ask me if I’d like to contribute. And just like that, my sphere of influence has expanded! Soon, the entire Internet will be mine! Mine, I say!  Bwa ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

Seriously, this could be a fun opportunity, or at least a kick in the pants to get me back to blogging more frequently. The plan, at least at first, is just to syndicate (i.e., repost) some of the content from this blog — my first piece for them is a slightly tweaked version of my Prince obituary from a couple weeks back — but I may also produce some original work for them as time and inspiration allows. We’ll see how that works out.

But even though you won’t be seeing anything new from me at Echo Base that you haven’t already read here, at least not right away, you should definitely check out the other stuff on the site. Its focus is the entertainment industry — “Movies, Music, Games, and More,” as the masthead reads — and it features a wide range of voices discussing (arguing) about all sorts of geeky things. It’s a lively place run by a lot of passionate people. Good times…


I Used to Have a Blog

Remember that?

Remember how I used to post frequently, if not regularly? How I wrote long posts about topical subjects, and sometimes I even managed to move people with my more heartfelt pieces? I felt proud of this blog then, like I was really accomplishing something. Maybe I wasn’t writing the Great American Novel, but it was something.

Good times.

Nowadays, I start a lot of posts. Sometimes they’re even topical, at least when I begin them. But I never seem able to finish them the day I begin them, and the pages of the calendar flutter on by, one after the other like they do in those old movie montages, and pretty soon a week has passed, and sometimes two or three, and what’s the point then, I wonder, because that subject is now as dead and buried as old Marley at the beginning of A Christmas Carol, and I’m left to wonder what the hell happened as I watch the remains of whatever this website used to be crumble in my hands like ancient paper and blow away in the breeze, and I wonder if I can ever get it back… or if it even matters…


How to Get My Readers Back

I’ll be honest, I’ve fretted quite a bit in the months since getting this blog back online about whether or not anybody was still reading the thing. It’s a bit of a ghost town around here compared to the way it used to be, recent entries notwithstanding. So when I saw this cartoon somewhere the other day… well, it resonated:


If only I’d known it was so easy to generate feedback!


“Forty-Three” Restored!

For Christmas a few years back, my parents gave me a netbook, one of those weird little contraptions that look like a laptop computer, but aren’t quite full-featured enough to really qualify as one. (The biggest difference, as far as I can tell, is that netbooks have no optical-disc drive, so there’s no ripping or recording of CDs and DVDs with them. And yes, I know nobody does that anymore, and I just dated myself and reinforced my reputation as a late adopter of the latest and greatest, to which I say Good.) It’s come in handy a few times — for example, I took it with me to California to cover the 25 Hours of Thunderhill endurance race for The Daily Derbi — but the truth is, I rarely use it, in large part because I can’t figure out what, exactly, I ought to be using it for. And also because it’s annoyingly slow and kinda clunky. Which means it mostly gathers dust on a shelf in my Inner Sanctum.

So imagine my surprise and delight when I opened it up the other day and discovered, stashed away in the Recycle Bin for who knows how long, a text file called “43.” If you’ll recall, “Forty-Three” was one of the lengthy blog entries I was unable to recover following last year’s server crash, the one I wrote on the occasion of my forty-third birthday, which recounted the big medical adventure I’d undergone in the previous nine months. I’d thought it was gone forever, evaporated, and I literally felt my heartbeat speed up at the thought of finding a copy of it.

Now, it’s not unusual for me to begin an entry in Notepad and finish it here on the blog platform, so I briefly threw the brakes on my enthusiasm, figuring that whatever was in that file was probably incomplete and I shouldn’t get my hopes up. At best, I’d be able to get back a few more paragraphs than I’d had before.

Well… I got lucky. Astoundingly lucky. As it turned out, the forgotten file contained the whole thing. The complete entry, beginning to end, and even a couple of random notes I’d jotted down as I was planning out what to say on the subject.

I was overjoyed. I mean, in the long run, it’s not that big a deal; it’s not like this one entry is the most beautiful piece of writing I’ve ever created or anything. But it is the only complete accounting I’ve ever made of my diagnosis with Type 2 diabetes and my subsequent journey to get my health back in order. I’m sure you’ll understand how that’s a story I’d kind of like to hang on to.

I’m going to repost that story here, if you’ll forgive my self-indulgence; I thought about just dropping it back into the original entry, but I’ve decided instead to keep the record of what was lost, and what’s now been found again.

Sadly, the Girl with the Grey Eyes and my lament for the passing of analog movies remain MIA, as do all the other lost entries. But beggars can’t be choosers, can we? I’m happy to have rescued even this one piece.

And now… “Forty-Three,” originally published on October 29, 2012:

Just to bring you all up to date, I turned 43 a little over a month ago.

Friends and long-time readers know that I don’t especially enjoy my birthdays. Not anymore. I used to. My old photo albums are full of pics of me holding up the latest cake designs for the camera and looking happy. I used to anticipate the landmark rite-of-passage-type birthdays as eagerly as any kid ever followed an advent-calendar countdown to Christmas: becoming a teenager at 13, getting my driver’s license at 16, adulthood at 18, finally able to buy booze — legally, that is — at 21. For some reason, I recall 25 was kind of a big deal too… my silver anniversary, I guess. I had a quarter-century behind me and the main engines were still burning, all systems nominal.

Then something changed. I started having a problem with birthdays when I reached my thirties. And they got to be really difficult for me when I hit 40. Other people tell me they see birthdays a chance to celebrate life, or at least a good excuse to have a party. But for me they have become depressing reminders of time lost… no, time wasted… and dreams unfulfilled. As I wrote on the occasion of last year’s birthday, “there’s just too much baggage now, too many disappointments and regrets. Too much understanding that a single lifetime isn’t enough for all the things you want to do, and if you avoid making tough choices when you’re young — as I did — you might not get the chance to do some of them.” Since turning 40, I’ve also realized, as I further elaborated at the beginning of this year, “that while there may always be possibilities — as Mr. Spock so frequently counseled us back in the days when Star Trek was relevant — the probabilities of a great many things are shrinking for me.” Pretty hard to party hearty with that sobering truth lingering in the back of your head, isn’t it?

It probably doesn’t help that my birthday falls around back-to-school time, with  all the bittersweet memories and melancholic feelings that stirs up, and the waning sensations of summer to amplify the sensation of time slipping away.

And yet, strangely enough given all the discontent and self-loathing that usually accompanies this annual observance of my failure to live up to my potential, this year’s birthday… wasn’t bad. Certainly it arrived with considerably less sense of utter defeat than in years past. Maybe I’m just becoming resigned to middle age, irrelevance, and mediocrity. But it’s also entirely possible that my forty-third trip around the sun was so traumatic that the formal demarcation of its end might have come as more of a relief than a reckoning. Seriously, the past 12 months have been… well, they’ve been something, that’s for sure.

For starters, there was my dad’s emergency gall-bladder surgery, an unexpected, frightening, and difficult-to-accept demonstration of parental mortality. Then there was The Girlfriend moving in with me. Don’t misunderstand my intentions for including that event on this list. It’s been a good thing, and it certainly was a long overdue thing, but it also turned out to be a much bigger adjustment than I expected when we first started talking about it a year ago. We’ve been a couple for so very long, I guess I just figured that cohabiting wouldn’t be that much of a change. Kind of nice to know I can still be so naive at my advanced age, isn’t it?

However, the big news in Year 43, the thing that’s loomed over every other event of the past nine months, is an adventure that began around the end of January when I learned that something I’ve long taken for granted — my good health — wasn’t quite as good as I’d believed.

Don’t worry, I’m okay. But circumstances have required some major lifestyle changes.

I should probably note that up until 2012, I hadn’t been to a doctor in, oh, somewhere between 15 and 20 years. Why? Well, that’s somewhat difficult to explain. Or at least difficult to explain in any way that doesn’t sound completely asinine in hindsight. A major factor, to be certain, was that I spent a considerable number of years without any insurance, and, in a cruel twist of all-too-common fate, I also wasn’t earning enough during those years to feel like I could afford the out-of-pocket expense for routine visits. I gambled — or rationalized, I suppose — that it wasn’t too important at that stage of my life, because I was relatively young, so surely nothing major could be wrong, right? Later, when I finally landed a decent job that offered some reasonably priced coverage, I was frankly out of the habit of going for yearly check-ups, and I felt just fine and anyway I really didn’t have the time to take a day off to go sit around in a waiting room with a bunch of sick kids. And besides it had been so long since I’d seen the last doctor, I was sure I would need to find a new one, and that was likely to be a total hassle and how the hell do you go about finding a doctor you like, anyhow? You get the picture. The bottom line is that I didn’t go to the doctor for a very long time. Eventually, it got to be something I just didn’t think much about, and when I did… well, I’ll be honest, I was afraid of hearing bad news, or at least of getting a lecture on how I shouldn’t have put things off for so long, and if there’s anything I hate, it’s having someone wagging their finger in my face and telling me how I’ve screwed up. Stupid, I know  — damn foolish pride. And probably pretty damn childish, too. But that’s how it was.

Then, one afternoon following his gall-bladder surgery, my dad brought home an automatic blood-pressure cuff, one of the simple, do-it-yourself variety you can buy at Costco. We were sitting around the kitchen table admiring the new gadget, and Dad handed it to me and said, “Here, boy, give it a try.” So I did, and the results were… unexpected. If Dad’s new toy had been equipped with flashing lights and sirens, it would’ve been announcing DefCon 1. So, you may be wondering, just how high was it? Do the numbers “212 over 126” mean anything to you? If not, let me explain that both of those are supposed to be roughly half of that.

I don’t know what my expression was like, but Mom and Dad both looked as if Godzilla was coming down street, incinerating the neighbors’ houses with impunity. Then Dad — who was diagnosed with type II diabetes about a decade ago — thought it might be wise to see what else about me might be… sub-optimal. He got out his glucometer, pricked my finger, and that result was… also alarming.

Mom and Dad immediately started haranguing me about getting into a doctor’s office. I was hesitant. Not because I wasn’t taking the situation seriously — believe me, I was; I was crapping my pants, to be honest — but given I didn’t have a regular doctor anymore, I wasn’t entirely sure how to proceed. And to further complicate matters, I was due to leave in exactly one week for a Hawaiian cruise with The Girlfriend and her parents. I promised my folks I’d deal with this immediately after the cruise, but that wasn’t good enough for them. (And I have to grudgingly acknowledge they were right not to let me procrastinate… but don’t ever tell them that.) So my mom called her and Dad’s doctor and begged him to take a look at me. He had a full docket and wasn’t accepting new patients, but under the circumstances, and given Mom and Dad’s long relationship with him, he agreed to give me five minutes. And it really was just about five minutes, at the end of which I left his office with a prescription for blood-pressure medication and an appointment for a full physical when I got back from Hawaii.

It wasn’t exactly the most restful vacation, let me tell you… especially since I’d elected to keep this news between Anne and myself, so her parents had no idea what was up. I wasn’t ashamed or anything — not exactly — but I wasn’t prepared to talk about it much. Especially not until I knew exactly what I was dealing with.

Well, to make a long story somewhat shorter, I had my physical in February, as well as a couple of elective tests, and was ultimatley diagnosed with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type II diabetes, just like my dad. I could no longer ignore the obvious: that I am a middle-aged man with some serious problems. Or, as my new doctor so charmingly put it (in a misbegotten attempt to lighten the mood, I think), I was a walking time bomb. I had a lot to think about in the coming weeks, and a lot of work to do to try and salvage the situation, all coming on top of the challenges of learning to live with someone (Anne moved in mere days before the cruise).

To again condense the narrative a bit, I’m doing fine now. I’ve made a lot of changes to my diet and my lifestyle, I take six pills a day (the doc even threw in something to help with my gout, as long as he had the prescription pad out), I bought my own Costco blood-pressure cuff and glucometer, and my various metrics are all right where they ought to be. I wasn’t aware of how bad I used to feel — if you’d asked me a year ago, I honestly wouldn’t have believed anything was wrong — but I can’t deny that I feel better now than I did last Halloween. I used to get frequent headaches, which I blamed on eyestrain because my job involves so much reading. I don’t anymore. I no longer feel my heartbeat throbbing in my head when I get stressed out. And you know the expression “seeing red” when somebody gets angry? I used to literally do that. It was like somebody dropped a colored filter over my eyes. No longer.

Those symptoms were all due to the high blood pressure, of course. The diabetes, on the other hand, didn’t really come with any symptoms, at least not any I took notice of. I didn’t have any of the classic warning signs like unquenchable thirst or blurry vision. I was urinating frequently, but I’ve always done that, as far back as I can remember, so that wasn’t anything alarming. My completely uninformed guess is that maybe I’d only recently crossed the threshold into diabetes shortly before we caught it, and my glucose numbers never got high enough to trigger the usual problems. But that may be wishful thinking; I really don’t know. In any event, my glucometer tells me it’s under control now. And honestly, I know I’ve been lucky in how easily I brought it under control, at least compared to what some people have to endure. None of the changes I’ve had to make have been terribly onerous. Diet-wise, I mostly just cut out candy and desserts and switched to Diet Coke instead of the fully leaded stuff. I choose whole-wheat bread and pasta when I can get it, and I no longer eat potatoes or white rice. And I try to take a good long walk every afternoon. As I said, nothing too difficult, and so far at least, these measures seem to be sufficient.

There have been some definite positives to come out of all this, too. The most obvious is that I’ve lost somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 pounds. I can’t say for certain how much I’ve lost, because I started dropping last fall before I was aware of the diabetes and I failed to take note of my starting weight. (Unexplained weight loss is another warning sign, but I didn’t know that then, and was simply pleased to think I had dropped a few pounds.) But I do know I’m back to about what I weighed when I graduated from college 20 years ago. Needless to say, I feel pretty good about that. It’s done wonders for my ego, actually, and I’ve had a lot of fun trying on old clothes that I’ve saved essentially as souvenirs, never imagining that I’d someday be able to wear them again. (Of course, the flip side is that a lot of more recent favorites are now too big for me to continue wearing. It’s always something!) Also, on a less tangible level, I find I’m generally a lot less irritable than I used to be. Things just don’t seem to piss me off the way they did, although I can’t say if that’s a physiological thing or just some hard-won perspective about what’s really important and what’s not. And my dilemma — and what I’ve had to do to cope with it — has inspired Anne to do something about her own weight and health as well. So in a weird kind of way, the ‘betes and the high BP have resulted in a lot of good for the both of us.

Even so, I’ve had a very rough time coming to terms with this. Before now, I haven’t wanted anyone outside my immediate circle of loved ones to know about it, and I don’t know why. Diabetes and hypertension are hardly uncommon, after all, and there’s no good reason why I should be embarassed about having them. It’s not like I caught the clap from a two-dollar hooker. But even though everyone I’ve confided in has been quick to remind me diabetes runs in my family, and most forty-something people have some kind of medical issues to face, I can’t help feeling like I really screwed myself hard. I spent a lot of years living on Ding Dongs and Red Vines, and telling myself I really wasn’t fat because I wasn’t Jabba-the-Hutt fat like some of the poor folks you see shuffling around out there. I did what I’ve always done: I procrastinated and looked the other way and tried to pretend I was still an immortal nineteen-year-old, and it finally caught up with me. And these problems are never, ever going to go away. I’m going to be taking these damn pills and watching what I eat until the day I die. Which I worry may be a lot sooner now that I have these problems. As I said, the diet isn’t really all that bad. But the psychology of having to follow it anyhow really gets me down: the knowledge that I now have to be vigilant and make choices and weigh the consequences of my actions, and be prepared to make up for the occasional splurge. I no longer have the luxury of being carefree about what I put in my mouth. And I fucking hate that. My numbers are stable enough I can get away with having a slice of pie or something once in a while… but I always feel guilty and worried after I do. And that well and truly sucks. I can’t tell you how I’d love to just mindlessly shovel down a package of Oreos while watching a movie, the way I used to… but of course, that’s how I got myself into this mess. One Oreo, one Hershey bar, one piece of cake, one fistful of M&Ms, one bottle of Coke Classic, one pint of beer, one mound of white-flour spaghetti at a time.

So, yeah… getting back, at long last, to the subject of my birthday, I suppose it shouldn’t seem at all strange that I had an easier time getting through it than in years past. After all, how could any single day of self-reflection possibly be any worse than months and months of that?


Ten Years of Blogging… More or Less

Hey, kids. Sorry to be such a tease, making a big announcement that I’m back in business and then leaving you hanging for several weeks. Evidently it’s going to take me a while to get back into the swing of this blogging thing.

On a somewhat related note, I had hoped to get things put back together around here in time to begin posting new content again by February 14th. That was the tenth anniversary of my very first post, you see, and I liked the idea of my re-entry into the world of blogging taking place on that momentous date. Alas, as you may have noticed, I missed the deadline. I’m just not very good with those things. As the late, great Douglas Adams once quipped, “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

Still… ten years. Can you believe that? Well, ten years, more or less. There is that little matter of the eight-month vacation I’ve just concluded. But considering that the break wasn’t my idea, I’m willing to call it an even decade if you are. And a decade spent on the same continuous project really demands to be acknowledged, whether you get around to doing it on the proper date or not.

Looking back at a decade of Simple Tricks and Nonsense, I’m painfully aware of its shortcomings. I’ve never achieved the same level as John Scalzi or James Lileks — both of whom were very much my blogging role models in the early days — in terms of either quantity or, to be honest, quality. Those guys have a knack for really saying something in nearly everything they post, and they post a lot. Especially Lileks, whose Daily Bleat comprises 1,000 or more words per day. My own meager output doesn’t begin to compare, even with my occasional “tl;dr” pieces. (That’s “too long, didn’t read,” if you’re not hip to the lingo.)

Of course, those guys have the advantage of blogging in a semi-professional capacity, i.e., their blogs can be considered a facet of their careers (especially in the case of Scalzi, who got his big break as a novelist because of his blog, and who now uses his online presence to promote his fiction). That means they have time to devote to their blogs, and they can easily justify taking that time to do things the way they ought to be done. I, on the other hand, am merely a hobbyist, as much as I wish I could say otherwise, and I have to fit this thing in whenever I can, in between the obligations that come with working for The Man. And as I’m sure my Loyal Readers are aware (based on all my grumbling about it), fitting Simple Tricks into my day has become considerably more difficult in recent years. (It doesn’t help that it takes me so damn long these days to finish whatever I’m writing. I suspect Scalzi and Lileks are pretty fast at putting their thoughts together in some kind of coherent and entertaining fashion, whereas I agonize over every… bloody… word. Years of tapping my abilities for the day job have taken some of the wind from my sails. That may sound melodramatic, but it has been my experience.)

If you’re interested in the numbers, I’ve published 2,385 entries in my decade of blogging. And I suppose that’s not too bad, considering I initially had no idea what the hell I was going to do with this thing, if I was going to find anything to say or anyone who would want to read it, or even whether I’d stick with it beyond the first few days or weeks. Some of those entries are even pretty good, if I do say so myself. A few, anyhow. There have been a lot of dumb time-wasters too. But one thing I noticed as I was working my way back through the archives during my recent troubleshooting: many of the silly activities that used to be such a big part of blogging — quizzes to determine what sort of pasta you are, for example — seem to have migrated over to Facebook, as has much of the social aspect of this medium. (Of course, in my particular case, it hasn’t helped that the commenting feature was out of action for so very long).  Linking to articles and items of interest have gone there too, or to Tumblr. In fact, in many ways, blogs seem to have become passe’, that there are other, more efficient ways of doing what they used to be primarily used for. Many of the folks I used to read and interact with have curtailed their blogging activities, or gotten offline altogether. And there has been a lot of chatter lately to the effect that blogging is over, that people no longer have the interest or attention span to read longer pieces (reference the tl;dr slang I mentioned above).  It almost seems like there’s little point in starting it up again.

And yet, here I am. Why?

Partly it’s just a habit. Simple Tricks has been part of my identity and my leisure life for a very long time. Being without it for so long was… weird. But also, to be honest, I like writing and reading longer pieces in which I can really spread my wings and tell a story, or think about an idea that’s bothering me. Facebook and Twitter have their place, and I enjoy them greatly for what they are, but they don’t encourage anything of any real substance like the best blog writing. Now, whether or not anybody out there still likes reading these longer pieces… well, I guess I’ll find out. Ideally, I’d like to keep doing this for another 10 years… and I’d like to keep striving toward the goal I feel like I’ve rarely attained, to actually say something with this thing. Or rather, to do it more consistently than I have previously.

I’m thinking I may post less frequently than I did before, and I hope that’s all right with my Loyal Readers. That’s just the reality of the demands on my time these days. But hopefully you’ll be getting something a little more worth your time in return. As for what I plan to post about… well, in some ways it feels like I really am starting all over again. I’m not sure what I’ll be doing in this reborn Simple Tricks and Nonsense. I would still like to take a stab at that recurring feature I suggested so long ago, i.e., reviewing the entire oeuvre of my main man, Rick Springfield. And I have a couple of other ideas for regular features, too. But really I guess I need to do what I did way back in 2004, which was to just jump in with both feet and see what happens…


Roster of The Missing

Just for the record, those lengthy entries I was unable to fully recover are as follow:

As I said in the previous entry, I was pretty upset when I realized these pieces were gone, as several of them represented some of my favorite writing for the year in which they were posted. I could maybe reconstruct a couple of them — The Girl with the Gray Eyes and the Ebert obituary, perhaps, and of course the memes — but they wouldn’t be the same, would they? They wouldn’t use the same language, and likely wouldn’t have the same energy as the originals. And I no longer have any idea what I said about my 43rd birthday, or about the impending demise of 35mm film projection, or about that road rage incident. Losing those posts really bothers me because they were essentially diary entries, capturing what I was feeling about those subjects in real time. And my annual Media Wrap-Up for that year is gone because I didn’t save my paper list (Why should I? I had recorded it here!) I’ve got a record of what movies I’ve seen and books I’ve read stretching back over a decade… except for this one year.

It sounds silly to say this about a few blog entries, but I feel a keen sense of loss and not a little despair over this, even now a couple months after discovering what had happened. I can only imagine what poor Hemingway must’ve felt when Hadley told him the suitcase containing all of his early work had gone missing on a train.

And of course I feel like a colossal jackass for not better protecting my work to start with. If I hadn’t gotten lazy about the backups, I’d still have this stuff.

Run your backups, kids!


Welcome Back

Hello? Anybody out there? It’s good to see you all again. It’s been far too long. You’re probably wondering just what the hell happened and where I’ve been, and why it’s taken so long to get this place back in business again. At least… I hope you’re invested enough to be curious about all that.

The short version is: the old server crashed, data was lost, and it’s taken time to reconstruct everything.

To flesh that out a bit, let me first remind my Loyal Readers that Simple Tricks is hosted by my good friend Jack on his personal server, as a favor to me. About a year ago, Jack warned me that the server was on its last legs and would need to be replaced soon, but he was going to try and keep it running just a little longer, until he was in a better place to deal with it. A little while later, with the server becoming more and more unstable, he decided to lock me and the other bloggers he hosts out of the back-end, to prevent our tinkering from inadvertently hastening the inevitable. That meant we couldn’t post new entries or edit existing ones, or much of anything else, which is why activity seemed to freeze on June 4, 2013, for several weeks. Despite what you may have heard, I didn’t lose interest in writing, guys!

Even with that precaution in place, though, entropy finally won out and the server failed. And naturally it did so before Jack was quite ready with the new machine, which meant none of our precious data had been transferred yet. It’s a cold, cold feeling you get in your gut when you’re told that all of your work for the past several years might be permanently lost in space. Sure enough, when Jack spun up the old server’s hard drive to see what could be recovered, he couldn’t find anything more recent than 2010. Three years’ worth of my blog entries had evaporated when the server died. (I don’t know about the other bloggers who shared the server, but I imagine they were in a similar place.)

But Bennion, you say, surely you had a backup? After all, that’s the very first thing they teach you when you start messing about with this intangible digital stuff, that you always make a backup. Or six. And you’re reasonably savvy about this tech stuff, even with that self-deprecating “analog guy” thing you wear like a badge of honor, right? Right?

Um, yeah. Well, you see… I did have backups, but the truth is… I’d gotten kind of lazy about running and exporting them — it was a manual process I had to think about performing — so the most recent one I had was months old. Which meant that even after Jack had recovered what he could from the old machine and supplemented that with my inadequate backup, we were still missing a year or so of content, everything from March 11, 2012 (“The Best John Carter Quote I Saw This Weekend“), forward.

Lesser men would’ve just shrugged and said “c’est la vie” at that point, but I am, if nothing else, one stubborn bastard dedicated, and I wasn’t yet willing to give up on my precious word-babies. Fortunately, the Internet provides. There’s this website called, which stores copies of… well, pretty much everything on the web. And it had a snapshot of my lonely little blog as it existed just before it died. Perfect. I was elated.

Then I discovered that doesn’t provide any easy way to export content so you can just plug it back into, for example, a blogging platform. I was going to have to laboriously copy and paste every… single… entry… one at a time.

And if that wasn’t disheartening enough, I also learned to my absolute horror that some of the copies were incomplete. In a number of my longer entries, the ones where you have to click “continue reading” to see the whole thing, the “front page” was there — usually just an introductory paragraph or two — but everything that should’ve been “below the fold,” as they say, was missing. And naturally, these were my favorite entries from the year I was reconstructing, the ones in which I felt like I really had something to say and told some good stories. Entries like my rumination about that road rage incident with a guy my father’s age, or my reminiscence about that girl I knew back in college, the one with the gray eyes. My tribute to Roger Ebert, and to the fading magic of motion pictures on 35mm film. The good stuff — or at least the stuff that meant the most to me — all gone, with no further hope of getting it back. And no good idea what happened to it, either. Jack was as baffled as I was. The best theory he had was that something about our server’s particular method of dying had interfered with’s capture process.

Anyhow, once I reposted everything I could salvage, I had to repair a bunch of formatting that somehow got borked during the transition — spacing between paragraphs, bullet lists, that sort of thing. If you go roaming back through the archives for any reason, you may notice that there aren’t any italics on anything anymore, but I fixed all the big appearance issues at least. You may also encounter some dead links here or there, but the internal-facing ones, i.e., the ones that point back at my own blog, ought to be working.

I still need to see if I can re-upload a bunch of photographs.

But for the most, we’re back. And with any luck at all, we ought to be even better. The blog is running on shiny new hardware with multiple redundancies, and we’re on a whole new blogging platform too — WordPress instead of Movable Type — which apparently causes more headache for Jack, but is much easier on yours truly.

And here’s the big announcement of the night: we have comments again! I invite everyone reading this to drop me a line right now, just to see if the system is working, if nothing else. I’ve really missed the feedback and sense of community that used to exist around this place. Facebook took up some of the slack, but it wasn’t the same as having a conversation right here, attached to the entries that inspired it. I’m looking forward to having those conversations again…



This is a test of the service. This is only a test. Had this been an actual blog entry, this copy would’ve been a lot more interesting to read.



Let’s Try This Again

So, my buddy Jack recently did some fiddling on the Simple Tricks back-end to try and stem the uncontrolled flood of spam that forced me to shut down the comments back in July. I quietly switched them back on a couple weeks ago, just to see what would happen. I’m still not entirely spam-free, but whatever Jack did has knocked it down to something I can live with, at least for the time being. I still have to manually weed out garbage comments every couple of days, but the upshot is, hey, comments! Not that I’ve provided much grist for conversation lately, but if anyone has anything to say, now you can.

You’ll still have to go through the whole sign-in rigmarole, I’m afraid, but I’m told that ought to be working better now as well. If you have any problems with it, let me know (jason at jasonbennion dot com). I look forward to getting the conversation going again!