Category Archives: Metapost

Blog posts about blogging

Ultralight Travel System 4.1: Novelty is Dead

small backpackEveryone used to feel like a brilliant explorer or inventor before the web was devised as a way of crushing our egos. The Buddha is giggling somewhere in a cold server room full of humming, whirring bubble popping machines. There is a new way to innovate now: first, hatch a brilliant and unprecedented new plan or invention. Then, go find the best price and options on one of a thousand different versions of what you thought was your cool new design. I don’t even bother writing software anymore. I imagine what I want and then I go find a copy on a thirteen year old kid’s website and mod it.

So my amazing and daring new scheme for ultralight travel has apparently been kicked around for a while already.

The Extreme

These are the people who are playing like I am: lets see how hardcore we can be.

Neverending Voyage
Some dude named Eslevy
Karol Gajda Ridiculously Extraordinary
Travel True
One Bag Manifesto
As We Travel They’d be lightweight without the heavy camera gear
Wilderness version (There has been a lot of work on wilderness ultralight travel, this is just one riff on it)

The Moderate

These are sites dedicated to sane, normal humans who might need to look respectable at some point in their travels.

Wiki How 1 Bag Travel
One Bag

We’re All One Big Brain!

But as I pointed out in my encouragement to blog, every contribution to the pool of experiences gives us all more options and data. The first few people who refuse to use shampoo are freaks, but after you can find hundreds of people telling their stories, it seems more realistic and the collective data points draw out a real path for less extreme humans. The kinks get worked out collectively and we all win!

The New System

I’m keeping this in mind as I develop the next version of my ultralight backpacking system. I’m trying to find light new ways to handle more cold, as I’m hoping to make it up to Korea on this next round and the winters in the southern Chinese city of Fuzhou were in the high 30s F (3 C). While not freezing, those temps are a whole other thing when there is no heating. Anywhere. And you have to sit in a classroom for hours on end without moving.

Why You Should Blog

I write a lot of things to individuals that I sometimes regret not being able to share with the world. I wrote this letter to a friend in China who was spending too much time spinning a pen and fussing and not enough time making me happy with more of her great blog posts. I think most of what I’m saying here pertains to anyone, so with some minor edits, here’s why you should write a personal blog, even though you think everything’s already been said.

OK, I know this is long, but I can’t shut up when I have ranting to do. I’m like a chipmunk with cheeks a-puff, twitching and spinning, madly trying to find a place to spit out the seeds of truth.

Here’s my case for a blog, especially from you. Yes, the blogosphere is loaded with people’s travel journals. But are you really going to believe one person’s stories? And, once you start gathering a collection of opinions and impressions, you’re probably going to be looking for the ones that come from a person that resonates with you. The guy I found snarling about peasants being allowed onto the train or how wasted they were last saturday is not someone who’s opinion I’m going to place as highly as someone who takes a bigger view. Someone who is so academic they never dive into the thick haze of a boozy club isn’t going to give me what I want either. But I can learn something from both.

I started my blog long before I came to China or India because, like you, I just love putting words together and I wanted a way to do that more regularly. I’d also found out from years of email lists and earlier blog-like things that I really liked having people respond to my little comments about the universe. Believe it or not, you have perspectives that may not be new to a scholar, but that huge numbers of potential readers have never considered. I like to remind myself every now and then, when I’ve spent too much time around my creative overeducated friends, that there is a kid born every minute who has never heard Led Zeppelin. (Ok, feel free to replace that with your own culturally significant overwhelming first experience.) The result is that I’ve changed people’s lives with the silly things I write. And now I even have fans, people who write me because they are so moved, either to anger, passion, or thoughtfulness. That’s pretty cool. Hell, here I am writing to you. Hi. I’m Kai, your first official fan. 😉

I should also mention how I set up my practice of blogging from the start. I knew I wanted to make this a regular, sustainable thing. If I made every blog post a “big deal” I would produce nothing. For the first several months of my first public blog, I wrote every weekday. I limited myself to one hour, so that no matter how busy my day seemed, I knew that this fit somewhere. I could think during the day, but when blog time came I sat down and immediately wrote for 50 minutes, allowed 10 minutes to edit and then, by my rule, had to hit “post” and leave it. Terrifying? Sure. But productive, too, and I’ve been learning and improving as I go. Things have evolved since then. I spend about an hour writing, five to ten editing and tack on another ten to fifteen to find and add a photo. I’m also not writing every day, and I regret that, but I’m happy for what I’ve been able to throw out into the collective consciousness.

So again I want to stress, most of all, to remember that this is a fun little writing practice for you. Don’t think about it any more than that. La la la I can’t hear anyone listening. Then know that no matter how often someone has said the same thing, the value comes when a listener who is the right person, at the right time in their life, responds to your unique way of ranting and has an epiphany. Or decides to look at their world in a new way. Or petitions their government to print plastic money.

Bottom line: I’m glad you’re around and writing and I’m happy to have found you. Keep ranting and scribbling about the world and I’ll keep grinning.

Your fan,

Attribution vs Privacy

This daily column/blog has been quite a ride so far. I’ve been experimenting with the format and content a bit. I’ve also been trying to work out a schedule that both stays within my one hour time limit and doesn’t leave me squinting and scrambling to find keys late into the night after a long day.

One of the first conventions I picked up early in this process was that of using pseudonyms for people who appear in the stories. All the cool kids who write columns, articles, and public blogs use them. I finally decided that, to be safe, I should too. I realized that there was some danger of revealing something about someone that they didn’t want made public. Of course, I couldn’t just use pseudonyms alone (not cool enough) and had to work out this whacky scheme of using only names starting with Z, which is certain to kill me when I hit the 150th name and have to make it up at 2:00am.

There are other advantages to the Z names. If I can’t use full names, two people named “Frank” would cause confusion. If you like what someone you hear about says or does, you can always do a search in the blog for more stories involving that “character”. Z names are also inherently cool.

In practice, people are forever outing themselves by posting a comment with their real names. Recently, it went even further when my friend asked me why I was so good at attributing the photographers who’s photos I use on the site, but hadn’t given her credit for the web link she sent in!

In fact, let it be known that Throw Them Into the Deep End was spawn of a link sent by my dear friend Wendy Spies.

So now the conundrum: would people rather see themselves in print, or not have readers know that they’ve willingly spent time with me? Would I rather have people bummed that I used a fake name or suing me for using a real one? Fortunately I only have a few hundred readers at the moment and I’m not a mudslinger so chances of offending anyone are pretty slim. I have, however, become somewhat attached to the Z names. I think I’ll roll with this for a little while longer and see what shakes out.

[ed. Yes, this is a post begging for comments.]

Scribbling So Far

As these digital pages begin to fill it’s time to take stock in this blog and how it’s progressing. In a mad attempt to spice things up I’ve been injecting myself with Hunter S. Thompson, Tibor Fischer, and Hemmingway. Having just spent time with my parents and on a documentary project about suicide, this leaves me producing something like Garrison Keillor’s Lake Woebegon — after the quaint little town has been burned to the ground and the poor man has has spent 55 sleepless hours driving cross country with a bitter in-law. The juvenile cracks, counterculture references and sweet tales of times past mix like soy milk, the Hells Angels, and a French maitre d’.

I haven’t done any advertising yet and, with readership still fairly low, it’s hard to justify staring at my web stats like Hillary Clinton at the polls, trying desperately to guess the response to each post. If an Indian kindergarden class is asked to check out the picture of the white guy in a turban my numbers double. So for now I’ll let it evolve and see where the daily writing exercise takes it.


I just had a crazy dream when biking across the University of Texas campus and almost Schwinned a student when I let go of the handlebars to exclaim, “eureka”. I’ve been struggling with the problem of coming up with images fast enough to post them along with the blog posts. Asking for permission takes too long, and I’m trying to be good about rights. The solution is clearly to make my own on the fly and I have a number of experiments in the works so stay tuned!


Warning: geek moment

I have been experimenting with a number of blogging tools and discovered that Textmate has a blogging package. Textmate is the offspring of an Emacs aficionado and OS X and so it has some of the best parts of each. Sadly, “some” doesn’t seem to be quite enough, as it doesn’t keep track of tags as it goes. Emacs, on the other hand, doesn’t understand how to be a useful text editor without a lot of hacking that I’m not sure I want to do just yet, and the blog package someone wrote for it (to make it more like Textmate, ironically!) isn’t quite mature yet. So, in limbo, I have at least moved from my trusty BBEdit (which is still the best at remote file manipulation) to Textmate and if I keep it up for a whole month I’ll cough up the $30 to register it.

Note To Self

Writing takes longer than I think, either because it gets interesting or because it stops cold in the middle of the process and I’m left dangling from the last word like a lost participle. Trying desperately to type, still my participles dangle. I’m still trying to find the right routine that gets blood flowing early enough in the day to fuel my fingers without sending them on an unstoppable rampage that leaves me with a novel and no place to sleep. And so with that, the egg timer chirps and I’m off to hack a few breadcrumbs together.