Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Dream Academy of His Own

A guest review from Posol'stvo the Medved:

Have you ever been invited to someone’s house not long after they have taken a vacation to someplace exotic? Inevitably, the conversation turns to the adventures that they had while there. Perhaps, if you are particularly lucky, your hosts might truck out the computer, our generation’s answer to the slide projector, and show you every single digital image snapped on their trip.

Oh joy.

Michael’s Meanderings reads like the transcript of just such an evening. He tells long stories about hiking and biking and traveling and juvenile epilepsy* and First Nations events and he includes lots and lots of pictures that help to show you what he’s talking about.

You know what? Having been through my share of these evenings, both sitting through someone else’s slide show and subjecting my guests to a few of my own, I can assure you that all the stories and pictures are only just so interesting.

Unless you have been there yourself.

Michael’s a good writer. But an extraordinary writer would make you feel like you were there, at those locations, at those events, with him. A good writer tells you what happened; a great writer makes you care.

Michael could be that great writer if he could just grasp the concept that “less is more.” Too often I found myself checking to see how much longer a post was going to go, skipping to the next paragraph, scanning over the details he provides with lavish affection. Too many posts were actually three to five times as long as the ideal length, according to my A.D.D.-ometer. At one point I found myself asking “Holy cow, how much longer is he going to be going on about all these minute details about this camping trip, and how long did this trip actually last?” And that’s when it dawned on me that I had gone to the next post without even realizing it – that this was two separate posts about two separate camping trips – that I had completely missed the transition.

Was I sleep reading? Very possibly. I didn’t get the best night’s sleep last night…

But before you go assuming anything about my state of mind, consider the following paragraph:

“Not too long ago, Joseph, a friend I originally met in Fort Simpson, who is now living in Whitehorse, gave me a call. He asked me if I'd like to join his stick gambling team for the 21st Annual Yukon Stick Gambling Competition held at Twin Lakes, north of Watson Lake, near Junction 37.”

Could we not have maybe said instead:

“Not too long ago, my friend Joseph gave me a call, asking me if I'd like to join his stick gambling team for the 21st Annual Yukon Stick Gambling Competition held at Twin Lakes.”

Did losing that extra detail hurt the meaning? I don’t think so, and it moved it along, getting to the meat and potatoes without making me wade through too much garnish.

I will say this – Michael has some very interesting topics to write about, and I found myself frequently wandering through Wikipedia and Google results looking for the details that I was curious about that were left out of his posts. Details about the ketogenic diet. Details about where exactly Whitehorse, YT is located in relation to Dawson Creek, BC (a very good friend of mine spent a good chunk of his childhood in Dawson Creek, BC). Given all the details that were in his posts, it was mildly amusing to me that I felt as though something had been left out. Maybe he covered these details elsewhere at another time, but as a new reader, I didn’t know that.

What else? Let’s see.

  • The Issue: His template is boring as hell. Not necessarily a bad thing, but his archives were a drag to navigate, and when in a previous month’s archive, there was no clear cut way to get back to the main page. Things like that piss me off. More than is rational. My Suggestion: Put some character into your template, and provide a link (in your header?) back to the top page. (Note: As I was assembling links for this review, I noticed that a new header graphic has been inserted. Black text on a white background. Given your locale and all your photographs, I know you can do a lot better.)

  • The Issue: I don’t care that his sidebar is riddled with stuff that I’ll never look at, but I know that there are other people at AAYSR who do care about such things. My Suggestion: Please include just the basics there. All that extra stuff slows down your load time on already egregiously long pages.

  • The Issue: The site could use an About Me that is useful. I’m usually ambivalent about them, but since this is not really comprised of commentary, instead being a diary of life in a northern town, this is one blog that desperately screams out for one to get the reader who is NOT from the area oriented. My Suggestion: Add an informative About Me page and provide a prominent link to it.

  • The Issue: Like the writing, the pictures can at times be overwhelming. Pages took too long to load. I experienced visual overload. When one or two pics would do, Michael presents twenty. Oddly, there were a few times when he would describe something that he saw that was so beautiful that I would have loved to see a single picture of, only to have him say something like “I was too busy enjoying it to take a picture of it. Sorry.” My Suggestion: Try to be more selective with your pictures.

  • The Issue: Too many of his posts assumed that I, as a reader, had some sort of prior knowledge, as though I had been reading what he had been writing from the very beginning. Given how long it took for me to get through the few months that I was able to work through, that was just not happening. I was not going to be able to read everything that he had written and get this review posted on time. The net result? A bit alienating to new readers who have to scramble to catch up. My Suggestion: Consider occasionally that a reminder is in order. Links back to previous posts containing explanations are okay, but including the Cliff's Notes version would help too.

Meandering Michael, I grant you a single, solid “Meh” with a promise to reassess that in a month or two.

* Lest you think I am a total craven dickhead, I have lots of sympathy or empathy (or whatever it is) for Michael and his wife and his daughter over her seizures. I hope they find a way to overcome this challenge in their lives, and that Jade manages to live a full and rich life. I truly do. But I don’t think I fall into the “likes to read all about other peoples’ ailments” demographic.


  1. I agree with the Meh. I did really enjoy some of the pictures though.

  2. For me, the Meh was generous.

    I had to stop when I came to a post where the images were captioned with exact phrases from the paragraph above them. I don't need to read the same thing twice in 10s.

  3. The header, it turns out, is a Firefox vs IE thing. In IE, I get a boring-ass text header in what looks like 12 pt Arial font. In Firefox, same text, but in a large bold font.

    So... Yeah.

    Template is *still* boring.

  4. He must be an avid stumbler. I found a lot of similar links on his site that I have stumbled recently. I spend way too much time doing that.

    I liked his links, especially the ackward family photos and failblog.

    Not a bad blog, surely not the butt drizzle that we have been exposed to from time to time.

  5. Umm. I could be wrong, mutha, but I think you are confusing the reviewed blog with the reviewers blog. Swing as Meandering Michael doesn't seem to have a blogroll.

  6. I'm working on some changes now.

    By the way, I totally don't get the title. Can you please enlighten me?

  7. The first thing that popped into my mind when you described your geographical state -"Life in a Northern Town" by that 80's supergroup The Dream Academy. Couple that with my comment about posts going on too long (putting me to sleep. Sorry. Calls em like I sees em), and it seemed sorta doubly appropriate.

    Okay, I admit it. It's a lame title. They can't all be homeruns.

  8. My God! You're right. I hate the reviewed blog, but I love the reviewer's blog. Oh well, such is life.

    It's not a bad look, but it reminds me of blocks of concrete stuck together.

  9. I guess all bloggers are self indulgent, but this goes way over the top.

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Grow a pair.