State of

Subtraction LogoThe estimable John Gruber has taken the plunge into full-time, self-employed blogging, and I envy him. As I wrote in the link I posted to the Elsewhere section of, this is a win all around: readers will get more of Gruber’s uniquely detailed and exquisitely reasoned Macintosh punditry, and Gruber will get to focus on Daring Fireball, the central passion of his professional talents.

He writes, “There’s nothing I want to do more than this.” I can empathize, because while I’m genuinely engaged by many things in life — including the daily and deeply satisfying challenges at my job — there are few things I enjoy more than working on this weblog. As a designer, authoring a weblog is more or less like landing a dream project with a client who’s always in agreement with your own creative judgment. It’s no accident that the design profession and the blog phenomenon have been intimately entwined since this whole thing started. It’s the first medium that has allowed unfettered access to publishing for a population of craftspeople who have almost always had publishing just beyond our reach.

Posting Pains

That said, I’m finding it harder and harder to post as often as I’d like to this blog. My days are simply too busy for me to take out the hour or so that I need (at a minimum) to draft and post a new article to With the best of intentions, I usually try and prepare a slate of stories during the weekend for the coming week, thinking that I’ll get them out over the course of the following days. Somehow that never happens, though, either out of laziness or a vague belief that such an editorial schedule takes a bit of the spontaneity out of the act.

Don’t worry. I’m not copping out and shuttering I enjoy it too much to do so. This is more of a ‘state of the blog’ post, an update on where my head is with this whole enterprise. In fact, I plan on making a few additions to the site soon, maybe as soon as early next month, that will hopefully inject a little excitement into things around here even if I can’t post as often as I like.

I also have no plans to discontinue my efforts to post as often as I can. One way to do that going forward is to write shorter posts and to do so more than once a day — I’ve always been proud of the way this site visually structures the presentation of multiple posts on a single day, and I’d like to see that happen more often. I’ll be honest though: brevity is not my strong suit. I often set out to write what I hope will be very short posts, like “Music for Blogging,” that quickly evolve from three sentences to three full paragraphs.

My Comments

The War against Comment Spam

Anyway, in my ongoing efforts to incrementally improve the site as a whole, I spent a little bit of time today doing some housekeeping. First, I’ve decided to make a policy change on the remarks that readers leave on each post: rather than leaving each post open to remarks indefinitely, they’ll now be closed as soon as the post has been moved off the home page.

As you can guess, this is a result of the relentless and imbecilic onslaught of comment spam that continually plagues blogs everywhere. I’m a longtime user of MT Blacklist, a plug-in for Movable Type which allows me to automatically capture potential comment spam in a kind of quarantine until I can verify its authenticity, but even that process has become too much of a pain. So I’ve turned to MT-Close2, another plug-in that automatically closes comments for older posts entirely. (I know, I should upgrade to Movable Type 3.2, but I just haven’t got the brainpower to think about it.)

Above: More equal than the others. A dash of orange calls out my comments.

This is a great way to combat comment spam because the vast majority of such traffic occurs on older posts. Unfortunately, it doesn’t allow readers who happen across interesting posts in the archive to add their two cents. That’s the theory, anyway. I found that, in practice, the vast majority of remarks added long after a post has been moved off the home page haven’t been particularly valuable contributions to the conversation. For a post like “Desktop Clutter,” for instance, which is a brief commentary on the generally unattractive aesthetics of a brand new Windows computer that makes no pretense at providing support or help of any kind, the remarks that users tend to submit these days run along the lines of, “I LOST MY HP ORGANIZE HOW TO GET IT BACK??!??” All caps and everything, I kid you not. So I’m not going to miss those late-in-the-game additions, believe me.

What I Have to Say

Another change I’ve made to the remarks: Notice on that same post that there’s now a dash of orange to call out the remarks added by yours truly. I’ve always found that the comments that are the most interesting on any blog post are the ones added by the author himself, so, modesty aside, I came to the conclusion that others would find the same thing about the remarks that I write. It was a hard decision to use the orange, because it effectively breaks the black-only color scheme of the whole site, but I think it᾿s worth the exception to create a moderately more interesting user experience. Hopefully you’ll agree.


    I know what you mean. I’ll site down meaning to write something quick and ending up spending an hour hammering out a multi-paragraph post complete with subheads. And the next time, it keeps me from even sitting down to write it.

    As a designer, authoring a weblog is more or less like landing a dream project with a client who’s always in agreement with your own creative judgment.

    I would have agreed with you there until I started working on a redesign for my site. I am my own worst client. I’m always second guessing design decisions, and I never can make up my mind about what I want.

  2. Maybe you’re putting too much work into your articles if you need so much time posting them?

    I’m not saying that being thorough is a bad thing, but you might enjoy blogging even more if you just blog it when it comes to mind. 🙂 Lower your personal expectations.

  3. Looking at that reference article, the “dash of orange” seems to my eyes to break the comments into visual sections, instead of calling out a particular person’s comments (yours).

  4. Matt: You may be right semantically, but it gets the job done, doesn’t it? I was looking for the least obtrustive solution here, obviously, and it was the only one that I could think of. Maybe if I just removed the orange line and orange date and just changed the hyperlinked display of my name from black to orange instead? I’m open to suggestions.

    Olav: I’d like to blog more casually, and I’m going to try shorter posts to get that done. But, as I mentioned, I tend to just ramble on.

    Wilson: I totally know how you feel; designing anything for yourself is an exercise in riddling self-doubt. I find it’s often a case of internal conflicts over what I personally want to do and what I think will meet with success in ‘the marketplace’ of peers. The only way out is to forget about the latter and concentrate on the former.

  5. I agree with Matt. Maybe try changing the color of both borders: above and below your comment. This way it would rather highlight your entry instead of separating the remarks. Then you could also turn the color of the date back to gray, to avoid having to much orange. I experimented by manipulating a screenshot – looks good to me.

  6. Okay, I think I see what you guys are seeing more acutely now: the orange line suggests a pretty hard semantic break in the flow of the comments. Coloring both borders might help isolate the break rather than segment the flow; unfortunately that’s a little tough with the current markup. Instead, I’ve opted to change my name from black to orange; I think this does it, plus it’s the simplest of solutions, so it’s a good bet it’s the best one. (Clear your cache and reload the page to get the revised CSS.) Thanks!

  7. I’m sure you had your reasons for creating such a distinct visual callout, but I have to agree with Matt that it has the effect of announcing a new section.

    Perhaps it would suffice to render only your name in orange, since you are the author of the entire site. It makes more sense to me to emphasise that, cause if I was a reader who was looking for your comments, I’d typically do a ‘Find’ on your name, and highlighting your name would be a visual alternative to that.

    As far as colour deviations go, I personally adore your weblog for its austere palette, and how effective just black and white can be. That to me is one of the visual essences of this site, and while you may not want to be pigeon-holed, it really marks Subtraction apart.

  8. Here’s another idea Khoi, add a 3px wide top border to the .khoi .remarks-date div, and then bump it up -1px to overlap the grey border of the .khoi.remarks-lead div. Leave your name the same color as everyone else (maybe even add “, Subtraction” in a normal weight using the :after pseudo element).

    The thick-thin relationship may be a little too “Inman” for you but it preserves the duo-tone and manages to draw attention to your post without being too overwhelming.

    Here’s the CSS I worked out:

    div.khoi div.remarks-date
     border-top: 3px solid #000;
     margin-top: -1px;
    div.khoi div.remarks-date a:after
     content: ', Subtraction';
     font-weight: normal;
    /* The following two styles just restore your default */
    div.khoi div.remarks-date a { color: #000; }
    div.khoi div.remarks-date a:hover { color: #F60; }
  9. Hmm, that’s a great idea Shaun. Actually, it’s two great ideas. I’m not quite so sure about adding a 3 px border-top to my name, but it’s probably no more inconsistent a change than coloring my name in orange. I definitely like the idea of auto-generating content after my name, though — I’ve already added the rules to make that happen in modern browsers. Thanks!

  10. I actually thought of the thick border because of the rule you use above the title of the site. I was originally going to suggest an identical 4 pixel border but while consistent with the weight of the rule in the header, it was a little too heavy for the comments.

    I imagined the thick border appearing above the date (not between the date and your name), hanging off of the grey rule between your post and the previous. Like so.

    Even if you weren’t looking for suggestions, your change was food for thought (part of a well-balanced breakfast?) and a fun exercise for a lazy Sunday morning. So thank you!

  11. You used to publish one-paragraph posts all the time. Now your stuff is much longer, article-length usually… more thoughtful and crafted, especially over the last year or so.

    If you’ll allow me to psychoanalyze you a little here, I’d venture to say that you’ve been feeling a bit obligated to provide more substantive and “professional” posts to your regular readers. Perhaps you feel guilty if you post a mere paragraph on a topic, or if you post a ‘puff peice’ about a movie you like or a photograph you took. Perhaps you’ve simply want to discuss things about which you have a damn lot of stuff to say.

    On the other hand, maybe your current desire to post more frequently and more succintly is an urge to free yourself from the obligation to measure up to the Gruber standard of essay-like posts (his switch to full time blogging may in fact raise that standard even further)… or perhaps you want to lighten up a bit and let yourself go back to your earlier sense of freedom about this being a personal blog for your friends as much as a professional blog about Design, Tech, and Macintosh issues.

    [The above may simply be projection: Since I started blogging a few months ago, my posts have tended to be longer and more article-like than I had thought they’d be, in part because you and other bloggers I admire set a high standard of depth and quality. I, too, am trying to figure out how to lighten up a little.]

    I think you’re just finding the voice that fits who you are right now, your current lifestyle, and your social circle (of readers). Adjust your posts however you feel is most natural. As John Gruber says (quoting Steve Jobs) in his really quite inspirational post, Don’t Settle. If you feel like you can’t settle for short, pithy posts, then by all means keep posting your article-length peices even if it’s less frequent than you’d like. If you feel a burning need to be more regular and/or more spontaneous, then go for it and post your random ad-hoc ideas and observations.

    Ultimately, however, I’d suggest that if you can’t decide between being a short-n-sweet blogger or a long-n-thoughtful blogger, perhaps you should just go ahead and feel free to be both, alternating as you see fit.

  12. Chris, I think that’s a pretty accurate summary of the various motivations at play in my struggle between shorter and longer posts. In all, though, I think I just tend to write a lot more than I used to, mostly because I can. A key cause of this online logorrhea is the dual entry fields in Movable Type for each post, one for the body and one for the extended body. For me, they’ve encouraged much lengthier writing. My older, much shorter posts were mostly written while I was publishing this site with Blogger, which, at the time anyway, had just one entry field.

    Anyway, I’ve come up with yet another solution for marking my entries: rather than changing colors or thickening lines, I’ve added a little Subtraction “+s” logo. I think this may be the solution. Takers?

  13. Haha. Tim, you’re probably right: it would be a much neater semantic presentation to attach the icon to the left of my name. I think, though, that I’m going to leave it as is, unless there’s a big outcry to do otherwise. It’s raining and gray here in New York this morning, and all this fiddling has been a nice distraction, but I should really get going on something else!

    That said, with folks like you diggin through my bass-ackwards CSS rules, I feel a bit on the spot. Those CSS files are a mess. Time to redesign.

  14. Only The Wolf writes your CSS for you and leaves it in your comments (raise your hand if Shaun Inman is responsible for code somewhere on your site). He should start an affiliate program. There could be badges. “Inman Inside.”

  15. I’m with Olav, when you have the passion, write fast and hard — let spell check find the errors and post away.

    “Inman Inside”

    Oh this is such a great opening, if only this was Airbag… *snicker*

  16. By the way, tonight I implemented the CSS tweaks that Tim suggested above, so that the “+s” icon appears next to my name, and not next to the date. I thought it wasn’t necessary at first, but I can see now that he was totally right, it makes for a much better presentation. Thanks, Tim, and thanks everyone.

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