Gas station without pumps

2020 March 17

My wife’s new blog

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:34
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My wife’s school has been closed (as all schools have been locally), and has moved to remote education.  My wife is trying to replace as much of the library time as she can with a new blog: Spring Hill Library. If you have preK–6th graders at home, you can safely point them to her blog.

I helped her produce her first video yesterday (using iMovie, because Premiere Elements seemed too complicated for the simple task needed), and I helped her set up her first blog tonight. She plans to do a video a day and several blog posts a day for as long as the school is closed (which probably means the rest of the school year).

I may start blogging more often again myself, as I won’t be teaching the second half of my electronics course until Fall. The logistics for running the lab remotely were a bit too daunting for the BELS staff and me, so the lab was delayed until Fall quarter (and I’m swapping sabbatical quarters, taking sabbatical at home this Spring instead of next Fall). If we are still forced to be doing remote education in the fall, at least there will be time to figure out the logistics far enough ahead to be prepared.

Today I should have been grading, but I spent most of my time doing tasks as undergraduate adviser: faculty meeting, updating proposal for our new major, informing students of cancelled lab courses and increased capacity in other courses, trying to get additional courses scheduled to start on March 30, getting approval for our plans to let students substitute other courses for the cancelled lab courses (if they are graduating in Spring 2020), approving student petitions for substitutions, trying to get independent-study forms to not require wet signatures, …

Despite being on sabbatical for Spring, I’ll continue with my administrative tasks as undergraduate director and as a member of the Committee on Courses of Instruction.

I do have to get back to grading tomorrow, as I still have 24.5 design reports still to grade in the next week, and they are taking me about 2 hours each to grade. My wife and I will probably be taking turns on the big-screen iMac, though, as neither the video creation nor the grading work well on the 11.5″-screen laptop.

2018 January 1

Blog stats for 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 11:47
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According to WordPress.com, my blog had 60,609 views and 35,810 visitors in 2017 (down from 68,443 and 42,499 in 2016).  The reduced viewership is not too surprising, as I posted only 114 blog posts in 2017, rather than the 200 of 2016.  (My biggest year was 2014 with 116,359 views and 69,179 visitors.)  I don’t know how much the decline in my readership is due to a general decline in how much people read blogs and how much is specific to my blog—I’ve not been able to find good statistics on the readership of “average” blogs.

Here are my year’s most-viewed pages (almost all of which are from previous years):

2017-01-01 to 2018-01-01

Title Views
Home page / Archives 19,956
Where you get your BS in CS matters 1,820
Making WAV files from C programs 1,601
Tools and parts list for Applied Electronics W2017 and S2017 1,387
Algorithmic vs. Computational thinking 967
Sum of probabilities in log-prob space 800
How many AP courses are too many? 632
Journals for high school researchers 606
Problems rewriting the Class-D amplifier lab 497
Pressure sensor with air pump 442
Getting text from Amazon’s “Look Inside” 438
Conductivity of saline solution 407
Where PhDs get their Bachelors’ degrees 401
Installing gnuplot—a nightmare 371
More on automatic measurement of conductivity of saline solution 365
Circuits course: Table of Contents 361
Why Discrete Math Is Important and The Calculus Trap 354
Lying to my students 341
Pressure and volume lab 334
labhacks — The $25 scrunchable scientific poster 315
Pullup vs. transimpedance amplifier 312

I think that there are several reasons that old blog posts dominate my views:

  • Most of my viewers (other than subscribers, whose loyalty I really appreciate) come via search engines. Of the 60,609 views, 33,202 were search-engine referrals (55%). Search engines will favor long-established pages that many people have clicked on in the past.  My next highest referrer is Facebook (which I don’t use) at 195 viewer—a tiny number in comparison.
  • My recent posts have been more specialized than older ones, so have a narrower audience.
  • I’ve been less active recently in calling attention to my recent posts on mailing lists and blog comments.

One good trend is that the most popular posts are now mostly contentful ones, rather than ones that are just links to other sites.

I don’t get any revenue from my blog (but I don’t pay anything for it either).  The clicks from my blog mostly go to other of my blog posts (1259), Digikey (1229), AliExpress (179), and LeanPub (175).  The average cost per click for advertising is 50¢–$2, so Digikey and AliExpress probably should be paying me, but they aren’t.  (Of course, the click rate would probably drop way down if I was being paid to push products, rather than just providing links to things I have bought and used or am thinking about buying.)

My top commenters (based on the last 1000 comments, so several years’ worth of comments) are

Commenter Comments
gasstationwithoutpumps 399
CCPhysicist 114
gflint 50
xykademiqz 31
mathproblemsolvingskills 26

My comments are mostly pingbacks caused by links to older posts for continuity, though some are replies to other commenters. I’d like for my comments to be about 25% of the total, rather than 40%, but I’ve not had much success in getting my lurking subscribers and followers to say anything. If each of my followers made just one comment a year, the number of comments would quadruple. Questions, corrections, and suggestions for blog posts are particularly welcome.

I admit to being somewhat envious of bloggers who have active discussions among their commenters—my readers don’t seem to have formed that sort of on-line community, perhaps because my posts are not open-ended enough or because I wander over many different topics rather than staying focused on a specific niche, so the readership may not share many interests with each other.

For those who have been commenting—thank you! It really helps me to know that people are reading my blog (and raw numbers don’t really do that—I can’t really tell whether viewers coming in from search engines are reading what I have to say, or just clicking on a link and deciding it was a mistake).

2016 January 4

International Blog Delurking Week

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 22:00
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Thanks to xykademiqz’s post, I just found out about “International Blog Delurking Week”, which runs 2016 Jan 3–2016 Jan 9. The tradition seems to have started in 2005 (at any rate, there are a lot of Google hits for “delurking week” and 2005, but all the top ones for “delurking week” and 2004 are from later years).

The idea is a simple one: ask lurking readers to step out from their silence to make a comment, even an inane one. Like most blog writers, I get few comments, and it sometimes feels like shouting in a large empty building—there are a lot of echos, but no one there to hear what I say.

Many of my views come from search engines and people passing on links to specific posts, but I don’t really know who is coming to my home page or reading on an RSS feed, aside from the handful of folks who comment regularly. (And a big thanks to them—it helps me believe that my audience contains real people, and not just spider bots crawling the web to link to my posts.)

Tell me something about yourself: are you a student? a faculty member? a home schooling parent? an electronics hobbyist? …

What would you like me to write more about in the coming year?

You can post anonymously if you are shy—I don’t need to know who you are in real life, just who you are as my blog audience.

2015 December 31

Blog year 2015 in review

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 17:06
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At this time of year, WordPress.com posts some rather pointless “year in review” for the blogs they host:  the one for my blog is at https://gasstationwithoutpumps.wordpress.com/2015/annual-report/.

Here are some of the stats from the wordpress stats page (which is rather difficult to get decent reporting from):

2015 all time
Posts  205  1,653
Comments ?  4,528
Views 101,150  513,069

I’m responsible for about 39% of the comments on my blog (pingbacks, replies to other commenters, and corrections to posts).  The other commenters are a somewhat different crew this year, with CCPhysicist, xykademiqz, Michael K. Johnson, Erich Styger, and gflint having the most comments.

The most viewed posts and pages of the year are the home page and pages mainly reached through search engines:

Title Views
Home page / Archives 27,544
How many AP courses are too many? 6,893
Making WAV files from C programs 3,010
Carol Dweck’s Mindset 2,661
Installing gnuplot—a nightmare 1,475
Why Discrete Math Is Important and The Calculus Trap 1,444
Engineering Encounters Bridge Design Contest 2014 1,382
Plagiarism detected 1,364
Circuits course: Table of Contents 1,268
West Point Bridge Designer 2011 954
labhacks — The $25 scrunchable scientific poster 933
Why no digital oscilloscope for Macbooks and iPads? 928
Journals for high school researchers 859
Physics posts in forward order 738
2014 AP Exam Score Distributions 719
Pressure sensor with air pump 709
Getting text from Amazon’s “Look Inside” 708
Algorithmic vs. Computational thinking 660
Homeschooling chemistry this year? 607
EKG blinky parts list and assembly instructions 591
Teaching voice projection 557
Conductivity of saline solution 540
Difficulties with the new Common Application 531
Spread on SAT2 raw scores 503

Of the top 20 most-viewed posts, only the Plagiarism detected post was written this year, but the popular posts are mostly more contentful posts than in previous years, which often favored posts that were little more than links to other sites, though students looking for bridge-design contest cheats are still a large chunk of the searches.  Two of my post popular pages (Circuits course: Table of Contents and Physics posts in forward order) are organizational aids to posts on the blog, and the circuits course page was updated 100 times in 2015, as 100 posts or pages were added to the blog for the applied electronics course (almost half the posts for this year).

I have no way of querying the WordPress.com stats for comments made this year—their stats are based either on the 1000 most recent comments or on all-time comments (it isn’t always clear which). The most commented-on posts based on whichever criterion they are using are also mostly not from this year (only the Why doesn’t anyone comment on blogs? post is from this year):

Post Comments
We create a problem when we pass the incompetent 27
Teaching engineering thinking 25
Why doesn’t anyone comment on blogs? 25
Why Python first? 21
Coursera Course Catalog 19
College tool box 18
Changes to UC admissions requirements 17
Storytelling to close the gender gap? 17
Student debt 16
A critique of CS textbooks 16

Other than internal links on my blogs, the biggest numbers of clicks were to Carol Dweck’s materials at Stanford, my web pages at UCSC, Wikipedia pages, Digi-Key product pages, and Art of Problem Solving pages.

Overall, I’m moderately satisfied with this year’s blogging.  The variety of posts has been down a bit (more than half the posts have had to do with electronics or teaching the electronics course, and those posts are not as popular as what I was writing a few years ago), but I’ve still got stub drafts for over 200 more posts, and another 500–600 bookmarks that haven’t even made it to stubs yet, so I won’t run out of material if I ever get the time and energy to do more blogging.

2015 March 14

Not been blogging much

Those who have been following my blog for a while may have noticed that my blogging frequency has dropped quite a bit for the past few months.  I had planned to blog after every class meeting of the freshman design seminar, as I did last year, but I’ve simply been too busy. In addition to teach the freshman design seminar, I was also teaching the senior thesis writing course. Although both of these are 2-unit courses with small numbers of students (so the department gets essentially no additional resources as a result of my teaching them), they are both somewhat time-consuming, though the senior thesis writing much more so than the freshman design.

This weekend is the first weekend that I did not have a stack of thesis drafts to provide detailed feedback on (I’ve been averaging over 6 drafts a week to comment on all quarter).  In addition to the thesis drafts, I also arranged to have a 20-minute individual meeting weekly with each of the 19 seniors writing theses this year.  Because the meetings often ran over, I spent about 7 hours a week on those meetings.  I started each meeting with the student giving me a 2-minute elevator talk (after telling me what audience they were addressing the talk to and with what purpose). This served two purposes: to get the students to practice concise descriptions of their projects and to remind me which of the 19 projects we were talking about. (Several pairs of students were doing closely related projects in the same lab, so it was really easy for me to mix up the projects—and I have almost no memory for faces and names, so I needed the prompts!)

Next weekend I’ll pay for this weekend off—I’ll have all 19 theses to grade between Thursday night and Tuesday morning.  I won’t be doing as detailed feedback on this round—first, because there aren’t enough hours to do 2–3 hours a thesis; second, because I suspect that half the students won’t come by my office to pick up the graded theses (even those who still have a quarter to go before their theses are complete).

I hope to have the freshman design course all graded before the senior theses come in—they have their last lab on Monday and their design reports are due Tuesday.  The freshman reports are much shorter than the senior theses, so I can probably get them all graded on Wednesday.  If I get them done in a timely manner, I may take the time to try to do an end-of-quarter summary of the freshman design project course, which I think ran more smoothly this year, though not quite in the direction I had originally thought we would go.

This weekend, I’m getting back to work on my book, since I want to release a draft for the applied electronics course that starts in 2 weeks. I at least want the chapters and labs for the first two weeks to be finished, with no major overhauls planned for the remainder. I spent about 4 hours on the book today (after goofing around for a while with some phototransistor circuits that aren’t really relevant to the course—I’ll probably blog about that when I have more time, but it will take about 8 hours to do a good blog post on it, and I don’t have that much spare time this week). I hope to have the schedule for all the labs finished this weekend also—I made a good start on that in December, when I last had time to work on the book.

Next quarter will not give me much writing or blogging time—instead of the 12 contact hours (plus office hours and grading) that I had this quarter, I have 19 contact hours (3.5 hours of electronics lecture, 12 hours of electronics lab, 3.5 hours of banana slug genomics) plus grading 15 prelab assignments and 15 design reports a week for the electronics course. I’m hoping I can convince my co-instructor to do what grading we’ll need for the banana slug genomics, or that we won’t assign much that needs grading.

Also Spring quarter is when most students declare their majors, so I’ll probably have to increase my office hours from 2 hours a week to 3 or 4 to handle the advising load.  Two hours a week was just about right this quarter, especially since I allowed students to reserve a place in line by email.  I only had an empty office once or twice, and only ran an hour over once or twice.

On the administrative side, at least I’ve gotten the 20-page bioengineering self-study  and my 3-page contribution to the bioinformatics self-study done, so I won’t have too much to do on those next quarter.  The Curriculum Leave Plan is done for next year, and I hope it won’t need further modification. I’m reducing my teaching load next year to merely heavy (from insane this year), and some of the buyouts we had counted on for paying lecturers are not coming through, so the department has a structural deficit of about $30k, and only enough reserves to cover that for a couple of years (with no way to replenish the reserves).  I don’t know what we’re going to do long term, as we need to add more offerings of some of our more popular courses, at a cost of about $20k each.

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