Sunday, 17 March 2013

To the Future

4 years ago I started to write this personal blog and I have to say it has served me well - it's seen a lot of water under the bridge (or flowing over the weir as the case might be in the photo below - I just didn't have anything more appropriate) however now seems like a good time to think about a change to look to the future.

 As well as sounding like something fun to do, I also had 3 main reasons for blogging.

The Lagan Weir at Night

The 1st was to use it as a means of sharing life experiences - particularly the positive - a sort of non-social networking (I'm not a huge fan) social outlet.

The 2nd was that I was already keeping a diary of sorts and I appreciated the therapeutic side of writing down frustrations - a personal blog was as good a way as any.

The 3rd reason was that I read a lot of blogs and I looked forward to trying to add something worthwhile to the mix - to communicate and share ideas that might spark ideas and our imaginations.

To add to this, before I get further into why I'm posting this slightly random and perhaps out of the blue introspection, here are some relevant stats about my blogging over the last 4 years:

At the highest level - 82% of posts were related to life experiences. The remaining 18% were opinion posts.

To be more specific, the content could be categorised as follows:
36% General life experiences (home life, day to day stuff, misc entertainment)
18% Local Tourism (Northern Ireland, day trips, local sights, museums etc) of which 74% was about Belfast,  26% the rest of Northern Ireland.
18% Holidays (Travel and tourism abroad) of which 65% was about the USA and 35% Europe.
18% Opinion (Politics, news, other events etc)
10% Sports (Irish League football, Crusaders, Leeds United, Ice Hockey and Olympics)

Keeping all that in mind, I've also discovered that although I originally started off posting a lot more about life experiences this has slowly changed. This blog has now become dominated by posts about travel and holidays. So on the plus side my blogging here is still largely dominated by sharing experiences that are important to me - which is what I set out to do - however... only the detail of those experiences are really unique. Thinking about it with some perspective, sites like Tripadvisor for my travel posts or football forums for my sports posts are perhaps better places for my thoughts if I really feel the need to share in such detail.

Another site that I'm already using for another part of my publishing on the web is Twitter. Indeed I can see from the stats I put together that when I joined Twitter is when the more opinionated posts I used to make fell away. I didn't really know what to make of Twitter at first but it has soon become the place I voice an opinion 'as and when' those opinions come to mind rather than dwelling on them until I can find time to sit down to type a post here. This might be for better or for worse as it's not about carefully thought through arguments, it's often just a means to empty your head... but still it fills that niche.

So with the 2nd reason I began to blog now largely removed and the 1st being whittled down to something that might be more suitably placed elsewhere, what about the 3rd? - adding to the mix and sharing ideas? - the social side of blogging?

I think I can reasonably state that over the last few years I've added to the mix at least a little bit.
In regards to positive feedback, since I started blogging here I've had a dozens of posts linked to on other (non-blog) sites including the Belfast Telegraph. I even had one of my photographs published as a book cover last year. Some very kind bloggers also linked to my posts with a positive feeling - and that I have to say has always brought about a warming feeling of inclusion. Overall I'm happy I've been able to take part and in terms of personal well-being and development I think I've got as much out of blogging as I put in - if not more. My spelling has improved a tiny bit if nothing else. The positives have however diminished in recent times - I'm not finding the motivation to blog so much and when I do it's often late into the night when I should really be getting more sleep.

So that leads me to the next point - a point more in-line with the question posed 'what about the social side of blogging?'

Something I know for sure is that my blog is really only read regularly by other bloggers or people who know me - and in terms of bloggers, specifically other Blogger users at that. The majority of the rest of my page views tends to be one time visits from people (largely by chance) finding my posts and photos through search engines. In regards to viewing figures, I'm not sure if it's just my blog but over the last few months - although I've posted regularly - page views have plummeted and SEO isn't a major part of it.
As my content isn't niche enough to target a specific audience and retain many repeat visits from those just finding me by chance in terms of the subjects I blog about... and given the fact I haven't changed those subjects all that much over the course of the last year, there has to be something else that is adding to this trend of declining casual activity. Indeed it doesn't look like I'm alone in sensing this or something similar. Many bloggers I followed have wound up their blogs over the last year, several of those who continue have slowed down in regards to the regularity in which they post.

I've tried to find some new bloggers to follow to keep my own blogosphere fresh - as I said I would try to in my 2013 list, but alas, there just aren't many left or searchable (especially local bloggers)... well at least those who remain free of ridiculously narcissistic tendencies and/or are being led by purely financial motivations anyway.

This would worry me a lot more if blogging for me was about trying to do something like 'getting known', making money or indulging in narcissistic tendencies. Thankfully it's not at all! All I worry about is the practicality of if it's worth continuing. So although a lack of an audience isn't an issue in itself, a decline in the audience is a trend that I'd have to be fool to ignore in terms of that practicality.

The main issues I consider with blogging are just the time I have to put into it and the resulting benefits for both me and those who view what I publish.

The real joy of Blogger when I started to use it was the connectivity. I could write a blog and reach an audience with little effort (and time). With the likes of Google Friend Connect and Google Reader all the tools were there that made Blogger a sort of very personalised Facebook page, with better scope for search engine optimisation, for the type of blog I write.

The first of these tools is now all but suspended, the second is planned to be dropped later in the year and with them the connectivity of blogger has very much been diminished. A blog like mine is just a collection of words, images, videos, thoughts and ideas aggregated into one accessible place. It is basically a personalised Facebook or Google+ page with more room for creative expression and control over what is presented and published.

Sadly, Facebook and other social networking/media storage sites have captured the vast majority of the audience, Google with Google+ also compete in that area and with the withdrawal of the services that made Blogger click, it seems Blogger (in the way I use it) is currently becoming just a form of web hosting for me.
As such, with the retiring of services that helped provide an audience, the connectivity of Blogger has been relocated to Google+.

This is where I personally get caught out twice, largely because with a truly personal blog I wanted to remain quasi-anonymous. Because of this scenario, in order to offset the connectivity blogger previously offered, I would need to throw myself into Google+ or other social network sites to provide a similar result.
The issue being, I don't have the time to duplicate my social networking activities (as well as blog) in order to maintain an active or new readership whilst remaining somewhat anonymous.

The other logical problem is that if I'm asking people already using one application and network, then surely it stands to reason that I might as well just post my content directly onto that social network in the 1st place since I'm not trying to drive traffic for money or any other such activity.

So to summarise this rambling:

I still enjoy blogging and I still really like Blogger as a publishing platform - the freedom and control in presentation it offers whilst making it so simple to do are second to none.
The problem is that it makes no sense to continue writing a personal blog in the way I currently do. I can't justify the time it would take to build and maintain a community around this blog to fight the tide and keep an audience. I also don't have time to duplicate what I publish around the web in more than one place and with some of the reasons I started blogging having evolved to other parts of the internet, my focus in using Blogger has to change to make it practical and timely.


I intend to take what I've learnt from my blogging experience these past 4 years and put it to good use in a different way. If I don't, I predict that in the not so distant future I'll probably find myself better off (time wise) just going back to writing a diary in a notepad.

In regards to the future of this blog, I won't be getting rid of it. On the off chance I need a place to publish something random or vague it's a handy spot to keep available. However, apart from the odd update now and again, I won't be making any regular posts in the near future.

'A Lifeform in Northern Ireland' (as my means of regularly publishing content online) is on an indefinite hiatus.

As disappointing as it is to break a routine and bring to an end something I've put a lot of effort into over the last few year, a change is as good as a rest and the chance to focus on something else brings about some fun possibilities and opportunities.

My blog posts here were becoming more and more photo heavy anyway and I often don't have time to use Flickr and its community aspect as much as I might like to, so in terms of my use of Blogger I intend to start a project that is photo orientated.

Though I haven't worked out the ins and outs yet, I intend to start a photo blog project of some kind.
Something that will allow me to combine two things I would do anyway but cut out the hours spent typing.
I realise my pictures aren't worth a thousand words at the moment but perhaps, with practice, one day they might be... and if not, at least I'll have tried to improve.

With the new blog being something far less contentious, it could also allow me to use my real name and Facebook and Google+ presence as well as other sites. It might also allow me to use Flickr and Twitter more effectively.

Hopefully this will save me a lot of time and allow me improve a skill whilst also enabling me to enjoy the social side of blogging much more. Not to mention it gives me an excuse to finally invest in more than just a standard compact camera.

I also hope it might allow me achieve more of my 2013 list (one goal being to take more photos and another to not procrastinate as much!).

On the off chance anyone was thinking along the same lines (especially a photography blog – maybe based around Belfast) and has an idea for a joint project or bloggorific extravaganza - do let me know! I've always liked the idea of a team blog but I’ve just never found a team… let alone a subject.

I'll be sure to update here whatever I end up doing. All being well it'll be a lot less self indulgent and a little more focused on really sharing an aspect of life in Northern Ireland.

So it's that time again, time to get back to the future!

Monday, 4 March 2013

Roman Forum Photos

After visiting the Colosseum we headed on over to the see the ruins of the Roman Forum.

Roman Forum and Helicopter

I still know so very little about the ins and outs of the site's history (that was the one big thing I did learn) so I'm not going to try and explain anything or describe the place (for that sort of thing here are a couple of links - Roman Forum on wikipedia and 'Digital Roman Forum'), rather I'm just going to do the timeless 'slide show' photo dump and let you see some of the same things our photoreceptor faceballs did on the day we visited.

Basilica of Maxentius in Rome

Panorama of Basilica of Maxentius

Basilica of Santi Cosma e Damiano
Basilica of Santi Cosma e Damiano

Temple of Julius Caesar
Temple of Julius Caesar

The Forum itself and other surrounding buildings.
Foro Romano Ruins

Roman Forum Panorama

Classical roman columns

Foro Romano Panorama

Religious building ruins Rome

Roman Forum

Forum Pillar Rome

Roman Ruins

Rome and Roman Forum

Roman Forum Archeology

The Forum and the surrounding area was very much worth a visit - we didn't even get around half of the overall site and whilst we were there you could even watch the ongoing archaeological efforts in action. If you're into your Roman history I'd say you'd need to give yourself a good day to really take it in. I'd love to go back and see more of it.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Rome and the Colosseum

Seating areas of the ColosseumThis was our first ever visit to Rome, a city often dubbed the eternal city though luckily it didn't spend an eternity on our 'we must go there one day' list. It was great to finally see some of it for ourselves. My main interest in visiting the city was the historical - mainly the pre-Christian world but I was also intrigued by the modern - the sights and sounds of what this famous city has to offer today.

The morning we arrived on the ship into the port of Civitavecchia we took a short walk along it's small seafront from a coastal fortress by the harbour called Michelangelos Fort which looked pretty impressive, then past a very large sculpture of a sailor kissing a nurse (a replica of the one in San Diego, USA which is based on the famous photograph taken in New York after WWII).

Civitavecchia Sailor Kissing Nurse Statue

I'd have liked to have spent a bit of time in Civitavecchia but we only had two days and that wasn't even going to cover all we wanted to see in Rome itself.

A few hundred meters later we arrived at the train station. The train station has a shop and a coffee bar. The weather was fine and so we sat outside enjoying the morning sun (we don’t get much back home!) waiting for the Rome bound train.

Civitavecchia train station

It was a nice ride along the coast and though some country side (it's about a 40 mile journey). There are two handy stops in Rome, one is Roma San Pietro railway station located near to the Vatican City, the other is Roma Termini – Romes most central station in relation to a lot of the tourist sites. We opted to get off at the end of the line at Roma Termini. I can only describe the station as long. The walk from where the Civitavecchia train stops to the main entrance of the station is approx 600 meters. My advice would be to go down from the platform to the underpass bit and use the moving walkways if you're heading that way. It's not so bad on arrival but after a long day of sightseeing hurrying to get to your train with sore feet it felt like a lot further.

The layout of the city of Rome was nothing that I'd really been able to imagine from reading books or watching TV shows or looking at maps. The topography was more varied (it was a bit hillier) and the modern streets, which for some reason I imagined it to be more like Paris, turned out to be more like London. I knew it was the city of the 7 hills but I obviously wasn't listening closely enough before as I had always imagined them to surround the city. The city sightseeing bus tour soon put me right as I found out the city was built on them. Evidence for my dear wife that it’s not just her I don’t listen properly :-p!

The 1st day we were in Rome there was an anti-austerity protest and workers union strike which was funny when our tour bus got stuck in the traffic chaos that followed. I totally sympathise with what the protesters were striking for so I didn't mind being stuck on the tour bus, in fact I was just sad we weren't a little closer as an open top bus is a good vantage point for taking photos!

November 2012 Rome Anti-Austerity Protest

Several drivers in Rome were, to put it nicely, 'a little bit insane'. During our time in Rome we saw many instances of erratic driving but three instances stood out.

The first was a moped driver who wasn't paying close attention to the traffic cop who was directing traffic and missed hitting the police man (albeit at low speed) by about the length of his shoe. Even more worryingly this didn't seem to be an unusual occurrence to the policeman who with a gesture of displeasure synonymous to 'ah now, catch yourself on' didn't even have a word with the driver.

The second was a driver who sped across a junction only to swerve at the last minute to miss the back end of a fast moving moped by a distance so close it's a mystery how one didn't become a part of the other. It was a real heart in mouth moment, stunt drivers would have been proud of pulling off such a close miss. Any contact and it was broken bones or corpse time.

The third incident was probably the most stupid but also the funniest, this one happened so slowly that all the tourists on the bus had time to laugh and take photos. And here it is, someone trying to push ahead in a traffic jam by joining the trams on the tram tracks - the Tram driver was NOT amused.

Driving on the Tram Tracks

We got off the bus soon after to make better use of our limited time in the city than drivers with death wishes.

Where the bus had to turn around was very close to the Colosseum and the Roman Forum so they were are first sights.

Before getting up close and personal to both, we took some time to admire the Arch of Constantine.
Norngirl is a Byzantine nerd so like me seeing Vesuvius the day before, this was her moment of seeing something for herself that she'd only seen in books and film.

Arch of Constantine in Rome

The arch admired we set off in what turned out to be the wrong way for our search of toilets. After giving up and turning round to go back towards the Colosseum knowing they’d likely have some somewhere, we got in line to buy tickets. Thankfully inside the bowels of the Colosseum on the ground floor near the entrance are some toilets.

Inside the Colosseum

Relieved, we then set about exploring the Colosseum and the cavernous concourses we'd passed through.

The Colosseum is probably the worlds most well known amphitheater that apparently dates back to 72AD (when its construction is said to have started).

Wide view of the Colosseum Amphitheatre in Rome

Colosseum Panorama

The Colosseum is an impressive monument to it’s time, very imperial looking and imposing even in it's current state.

High Walls of the Colosseum

In it's heyday it was apparently able to hold 50,000 spectators. What it was like in it's prime must have been pretty spectacular especially given how unique it was in it's scale.

Recreated section of the Colosseum

Reading about some of the entertainment on show I think I'm happy to stick with football and ice hockey -occasions where the only things to be murdered are our hopes. I wouldn't have liked to be walking among these submerged passages back then!

Former underground tunnels in the Colosseum

Much like our visit to Pompeii, the strangest thing was how familiar walking around it for the first time felt. How similar to modern stadia it appeared - especially when walking around the inner concourses then stepping out through it’s arches into the seating areas.

View out through a Colosseum Arch

So much in the concept of a stadium has been kept and so little it has evolved since the Romans had this leviathan built. Thankfully most of humanity’s ideas of what constitutes entertainment have become a little less cruel and imperialistic - on and off.

It also seems to be well looked after which is good news.

Cleaning the Colosseum

Cat in the Colosseum

I’d personally have liked to have spent a little longer looking around but as with the entire trip it was a little more rushed than our usual sightseeing trips largely due to our hotel floating off at assigned times. So we got a move on and left the kitty to catch all those barbarian mice.

Our next historical sight of Rome was just over the brow of the hill - The Roman Forum.


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