Gas station without pumps

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 January 2

Why doesn’t anyone comment on blogs?

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 13:27
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Nina Simon’s Muesum 2.0 blog post, What You Lose When You Become Embedded, and a Moment of Mourning for Blog Conversations, discusses how her posts start a lot of conversations that she is not privy to, and that she would really like to be included in discussions of her posts.

Problem is, I’m only part of a tiny fraction of those conversations. I’m learning less. I feel more lonely in my writing. It makes it harder to keep it up.

This “problem” disproportionately impacts only one of this blog’s thousands of users: me. For me, this content being embedded across different platforms and conversations is lovely in the abstract but frustrating in the day-to-day. I used to feel like a party host with really amazing guests. Now I feel like a street performer. I’m part of a bigger city. I supply some content but only get to talk with a few gadflies who stick close to the show (of whom I am very appreciative). One of my greatest blogging-related joys is when someone shares a blog post with a colleague and accidentally hits “reply” instead of “forward”—thus letting me in on their conversation.

This is what it means to be embedded. To not be the center of attention. To be used by someone else, somewhere else, without notification or participation. To be more important, but to feel less important.

In response to a comment of mine on the post, Nina Simon pointed me to another article about blog comments that she wrote way back in 2008, Museum 2.0: Why Doesn’t Anyone Comment on Your Blog?:

When people ask about blogging, the question of comments comes up more frequently than any other. It’s a bit strange. Why not ask more typical website questions, “why don’t more people visit my blog?” or “why don’t more people link to my blog?” There are many good ways to measure a blog’s value, but somewhere inside ourselves, we feel that comments are the thing that validate a blog’s existence. They prove that the conversation is two-way. They demonstrate that the blog is a more participatory vehicle than other kinds of media. So when people ask, “Why don’t more people comment?,” it gets me excited. It means that you are blogging because you want to hear from someone else.

In both her old post and her new one, she talks about why people don’t comment much. Although it is clear that she accepts the rather low ratio of commenters to readers, it is also clear that she would rather have more public conversations in her blog.

Me too.

The external commenting rate on my blog is about 0.6%—that is, about 6 comments from people other than me per 1000 views.  I’d like to have a rate more like 2–3%, that is, four or five times as many comments as I now get.

One of her commenters pointed out that a lot of ephemeral discussion happens on Facebook and Twitter, and that many people are intimidated by the greater permanence and public nature of blog comments.  Some of her lurkers have promised to try to comment more on her blog (though they recognized that this was likely to go the way of all New Year’s resolutions).

I don’t even have that comfort of triggering discussions on other platforms, as I doubt that my posts are getting much attention on Facebook or Twitter—the referral numbers to my blog from either is rather low. About 2/3 of my views are coming from search engine hits—people are looking for specific material that Google thinks they can find in one of my blog posts.  They may read just one blog post and not return, though I do have a (small) number of regular readers who subscribe to the blog.

One big difference, I suspect, between her blog and mine is that she has a fairly large community of regular readers on her blog, almost all of whom are interested in museum administration. They have a lot to say to each other. My more scattered posts on electronics, programming, teaching, home schooling, university administration, and random stuff that interests me does not result in a large, loyal following. People who are interested in only some of my posts may have nothing to say to people interested in other of my posts. When I put up a series of posts on one topic, I may lose subscribers who were only interested in one of the other topics.

I follow a lot of blogs (too many, actually, as it eats up too much of my time), and I try to comment on them whenever I have anything to say, because I know how much comments mean to blog writers. Even slightly stupid comments are better than silence. (I try not to make stupid comments, but I’m sure I do sometimes.) Some of my most frequent commenters are fellow bloggers whose blogs I comment on—we sometimes have blog conversations that are not contained just within the comments, but that trigger longer posts on our own blogs.  These are often quite satisfying conversations, which we are glad to share with other readers—and we invite you to join the conversation in the comments.

For those of you who don’t feel you have anything to say, here are some questions I’d like answers to: What brings you to my blog? What should I write about to keep your interest? What topics would you feel more comfortable commenting on?

I’m a bit of a fringe member of Nina’s blog community, having gotten interested in the Museum 2.0 blog mainly because of what she had done to turn the Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz from a stodgy little provincial museum, of no interest to almost anyone, into a vital part of the community. I keep reading her blog, because she writes well and gets me thinking about things I would otherwise not consider, even if much of what she writes about has no application to my professional or personal life.

2013 June 1

Blogoversary 3

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 19:59
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I got a notification from today that my blog is now three years old.  In that time, I’ve posted 1070 posts and gotten 235,600 views and almost 3000 comments (about 40% of which are mine, though, so only about 1800 comments from readers). My comment-to-post ratio is 2.80, nearly the same as previous years, and Bonnie and Mylène are still the top two commenters.  I offered them a prize last year of a suggesting a blog topic, but I don’t remember either of them claiming the prize—the offer is still good.

For my other blogoversaries, I did some analysis of which posts were the most popular (1 year, 2 year), so I suppose I should do that again. Here are the posts with 1000 or more views:

Home page / Archives 63,539
2011 AP Exam Score Distribution 17,482
West Point Bridge Designer 2011 5,480
Installing gnuplot—a nightmare 5,118
Why no digital oscilloscope for Macbooks and iPads? 3,542
How many AP courses are too many? 3,408
Bring back the mammoth! 2,769
West Point Bridge Design Contest 2012 2,010
Computer languages for kids 1,993
2012 AP Exam Score Distribution 1,937
Instrumentation amp lab 1,707
County Fair with Pictures 1,614
Why Discrete Math Is Important and The Calculus Trap 1,613
Resources for bioinformatics in AP Bio 1,356
Google Scholar vs. Scopus and SciFinder 1,330
Waterproofing cameras for underwater ROVs 1,294
Soda-bottle rockets 1,273
Adding bioinformatics to AP Bio 1,237
A use for an Ion Torrent 1,108
Teaching voice projection 1,106
Should high schools and colleges teach sentence diagramming? 1,098
Underwater ROV contest 1,049
What is giftedness? 1,037

No single post gets more hits than the home page, which is viewed by those people who read the blog on a regular basis, but overall I get over 41%  of my views from people referred by search engines.  People are reading my stuff for the content, not because the posts are by me.  I’m not sure whether that is good or bad.

Some of the popular posts are artifacts of search engines: like the mammoth post, the pointers to AP score distributions, or the pictures from the County Fair. Some are from middle-school students trying to cheat on homework (the West Point Bridge Designer posts), and some are just weird choices (why the instrumentation amp lab post out of the 173 posts for the circuits course?). A lot of the posts are coming up because of useful content, though (like how to install gnuplot, bioinformatics resources, or soda-bottle rockets).

Only two of those most-popular hits are from the last year, so perhaps I should list the posts with over 300 views that were written in the last year:

2012 AP Exam Score Distribution 1,937
Instrumentation amp lab 1,707
Soda-bottle rocket simulation: take 2 750
EMG and EKG works 732
Physics posts in forward order 714
College tours around LA 670
Coursera Course Catalog 648
Circuits course: Table of Contents 562
Better electrode placement for EKG blinky 519
Medical Instrumentation, Chapter 6 510
UC Berkeley college tour 448
EKG blinky parts list and assembly instructions 421
Temperature lab, part 3: voltage divider 401
Where you get your BS in CS matters 397
Homemade super pulley 372
Weird problem in Coursera course 366
FET threshold tests with Bitscope 361
A critique of CS textbooks 347
Capacitive sensing 323
NSF “clarifies” Broader Impacts 314
Possible textbook, Horowitz and Hill 313

Of these, only the 2012 AP score distribution is embarrassing (it is just a pointer to a post where someone else collected the stats from a third person’s tweets, so it is really 3rd-hand info). Interestingly, the pages that serve as tables of contents for the home school physics and the circuits course have both been fairly popular. I would not have pulled out the instrumentation lab post nor the Chapter 6 summary out of the circuits-course posts as being particularly valuable, though.

I’ve not been pushing my posts on mailing lists much this year—of the new posts, probably only the two tables of contents and the two college-visit posts have been boosted by my telling people on mailing lists about them.

I’ve been averaging about 10,000 views a month lately (though the stupid AP score posts cause a spike in May each year, and December, August, and June were slow months—a lot of my readers are students or academics, so vacation times result in lower numbers of viewers).

2012 June 2

Second Blogoversary

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 18:14
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This, my 700th blog post, is also one day after my second blogoversary—I started this blog on 1 Jun 2010.  My readership has gone up over the past year, averaging about 2000 views a week lately (not counting the spike in the AP exam score post around AP exam time).

On the 699 previous posts, I’ve had 2005 comments, or about 2.87 comments/post, but about 40% of the comments on my blog are my own (either updates or replies to other people’s comments), so I’m getting about 1.72 external comments per post. I would appreciate a larger number of comments—feedback from intelligent readers is very valuable for improving my writing and my thinking.

My most prolific commenter is Bonnie (with 42 of the last 1000 comments), just recently edging out Mylène (with 39 of the last 1000 comments).  I offer each of them a “prize”—they can request a post on a particular topic of interest to them.  I don’t guarantee I’ll be able to write the post, but I’ll make a stab at it.

On my first blogoversary, I posted some stats about my most popular posts, so I’ll do that again this year. I’m marking those newer than 13 months old with “✾” as they did not have much of a chance to appear in last year’s list.  Despite my increase in readership, a surprising number of posts are “old favorites” rather than new posts.

Home page / Archives 32,091
2011 AP Exam Score Distribution 7,828
West Point Bridge Designer 2011 2,358
Bring back the mammoth! 1,673
Why no digital oscilloscope for Macbooks and iPads? 1,586
Computer languages for kids 1,507
What is giftedness? 1,004
Adding bioinformatics to AP Bio 981
A use for an Ion Torrent 974
Why Discrete Math Is Important and The Calculus Trap 840
AP creates penalties for not guessing 837
Google Scholar vs. Scopus and SciFinder 833
DRACO: broad-spectrum antiviral drugs 823
Advice on AP Bio from those who grade 795
EteRNA, an Online Game 788
Resources for bioinformatics in AP Bio 761
Advanced Placement Bio changes announced 731
County Fair with Pictures 693
Cyberslug t-shirt designs 675
Should high schools and colleges teach sentence diagramming? 663
Waterproofing cameras for underwater ROVs 644
Group work 638
Bioinformatics in high school biology 633
Scratch plus Arduino 571
Soda-bottle rockets 563
Science Fair judging 552
Underwater ROV 538
Value-added teacher ratings 525
Underwater ROV contest 501
Biology teachers teaching creationism 499
Thanks, Dad 498

I’ll extend this list with a few that are top hits in the last year, though not in the top 30 for all time views:

Raspberry Pi 490
Installing gnuplot—a nightmare 487
How many AP courses are too many? 430
West Point Bridge Design Contest 2012 427
School decisions 421
Teaching voice projection 408
STEM majors do not have extremely high attrition 396
Where do successful PhD students come from? 390
Learning to use I2C 382
Speed of sound lab writeup 327

Other than the home page hits, most of my hits come from search engines. Some of the most popular posts are a bit embarrassing and represent a failure of search engines more than quality in my posts. For example, the top one on AP score results is mainly a pointer to someone else’s collection of statistics, and not even to the official AP score analysis page.

The second post, on West Point Bridge Designer, is mainly used by middle-school students trying to cheat on their homework. I even had one write and ask me for the design file, claiming to be his teacher. I contacted the teacher directly, using a web search to get the school e-mail address, and the teacher had not requested the file. I’m afraid that the middle school student trying to steal his teacher’s identity got into some trouble—I don’t know how much.

The mammoth post was a throwaway post commenting on news about someone looking into the possibility of recovering the mammoth using DNA data. I doubt that it is technically feasible (at least for the next decade), but it was a cool idea.

I don’t seem to be the only one who has searched the web looking for Mac and iPad compatible oscilloscopes. They are beginning to come on the market now, but the quality and variety are not nearly what they should be by this point.

I am pleased with the “computer languages for kids” post, and most of the traffic for that has come from my recommending it on mailing lists for parents and teachers of gifted students (either directly or by word of mouth from there). It has held up pretty well for one of my early posts.

Actually, most of the posts from there down are ones that I’m reasonably pleased with, and they cover a diversity of topics. They’re a bit heavy on AP bio posts, because the AP bio mailing list has a lot of teachers on it, and when I announced a relevant post there, a lot clicked through to look at it.

2012 January 1

Blog year in review

Filed under: Metacomments (about the blog),Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 14:16
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It is traditional in the blogosphere to imitate magazines and newspapers and to do a year-in-review post at the end of the year. In 2011, according to the stats, the Gas Station Without Pumps blog had 57,787 views, which is about 158 a day, 1108 a week, or 4816 a month.  The low month was April (3415 views) and the high month was December (6174 views).  My busiest day was 9 Dec 2011, with 650 views. My readership shows about an 80% growth over last year, which is nice, but not spectacular.  I have a long way to go to catch up with some of the more popular educator-bloggers I read.

About 27% of my views come from the home page, which is what subscribers and regular readers see.  The rest of the views are specific pages, which people get to either by e-mail referral or searches. When I mention a relevant blog post on mailing lists I belong to, I often see a spike for a few days for that particular post, indicating that the mailing lists have much larger audiences than my blog does.

I published 303 posts in 2011 (0.83/day), bringing my total to 478.  Many of the posts were short announcements of events or pointers to stuff I found on the web worth reading—those posts are generally of only ephemeral value.  Other posts were more substantive, often expressing an opinion or providing a critique of someone else’s.

Here are the most viewed posts in 2011 (more than 300 views):

Post Views
Home page 15,865
2011 AP Exam Score Distribution 1,880
Bring back the mammoth! 1,153
What is giftedness? 881
A use for an Ion Torrent 795
Adding bioinformatics to AP Bio 754
EteRNA, an Online Game 752
Why no digital oscilloscope for Macbooks and iPads? 752
Advice on AP Bio from those who grade 727
Advanced Placement Bio changes announced 675
Cyberslug t-shirt designs 607
DRACO: broad-spectrum antiviral drugs 564
Biology teachers teaching creationism 480
Computer languages for kids 480
Two memes colliding 447
Thanks, Dad 444
Resources for bioinformatics in AP Bio 442
Scratch plus Arduino 440
Why Discrete Math Is Important and The Calculus Trap 430
Google Scholar vs. Scopus and SciFinder 400
Death to high school English – Education – 388
Good online math classes 360
School decisions 344
Waterproofing cameras for underwater ROVs 335
Where do successful PhD students come from? 328
Evolution of superbugs 326
STEM majors do not have extremely high attrition 323
Lectures better than inquiry? 315
Science Fair judging 310
Perceptual learning 309
Home schooling week 1 306

I’m surprised a bit by some of them (I thought of the mammoth post as a throw-away post), but some of them are posts that I think provide useful information (like “Computer languages for kids” and “Resources for bioinformatics in AP Bio“), and some are ones I put a lot of care into (like “Thanks, Dad“).

Some of the posts (like Bring back the mammoth! and Why no digital oscilloscope for Macbooks and iPads?) were mainly reached from search engines, and generally had a fairly steady readership after the first few days.  Others (like the giftedness posts and the AP Bio posts) were mainly viewed in response to announcements on mailing lists.  For those views for which can collect referrer information, the largest numbers were from search engines, followed by, mail, Facebook,, and Google Reader.  A lot of the searches were looking for the blog (variants on the search “gas station without pumps”) rather than for the content of specific posts—this may be an artifact of Firefox doing searches when an incomplete URL is given. Direct links from comments on other people’s blogs also provided a lot of referrals, but these were scattered over the many blogs I comment on, though concentrated, naturally, on the most popular blogs.  The only surprise was how high the Facebook referral count was, since I don’t use Facebook—other people must have posted links to my blog on their Facebook pages.

I’m a little disappointed in how few comments I’ve gotten on my posts.  I’m averaging under 2.2 comments per post by people other than me (for the lifetime of the blog— doesn’t provide good annual statistics).  I had hoped, particularly with some of my more outrageous opinions, to spark more discussion.  The ratio of views to comments (for the lifetime of the blog) is about 71.8, which means there are a lot of people lurking. Please do comment if you have anything to say—I will try not to squelch anyone.

I am tempted to look over the blog posts that got very low readership, and see if any of those posts are ones that deserve more attention.  Some of the topics from my first months of blogging (in June and July 2010) may be worth revisiting now that I have new readers, for example.

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