Sunday, December 31, 2017

Blog in Review: Top Posts of 2017

New Year’s Eve is a time for goal-setting and reflection.  As we’ve done for the past few years, let’s take a moment to look back on the year that was before moving on to something new.

2017 was a successful year on the blog, especially once I started going through the numbers.  This past year didn’t have any super-hits on the scale of 2015’s “The Mystery of Malvern Manor,” but readership was up, often by 50% or more.  Most posts got at least 100 readers and many did considerably better than that.  200 reader posts were once a rarity; now I see them at least once per week.
As has been the case for a while now, posts that I personally liked were nowhere near the most popular or the most widely-read articles on the blog.  For whatever reason, you guys tend to like my “Quick Thoughts” posts—on just about everything.  Army Football got the most “Quick Thoughts” posts this year, but there was also one about the new Star Wars movie, one after the election last year, and one about Army Lax’s victory over Notre Dame, and every one of those drew at least 200 readers--and sometimes many more.  By comparison, it takes much, much longer to do the various “Preview” posts, but these get a little more than half the readers overall.  Folks also remain unaccountably fascinated by my workout schedule.  That’s flattering, and I was able to use it to barter for a little freelance gig recently, but I won’t pretend to understand it.
Still, I’ve enjoyed this year’s blogging quite a bit.  Thanks for giving me a chance.  I am very much looking forward to a productive and entertaining 2018.
My top fifteen posts are below, listed by title with the number of readers in parentheses.

EDIT: I only just realized that all the links below were broken.  These are now fixed.
Top 15 Posts of 2017
15. If She Were More (138)
Lays in boxes
Strewn across the floor
To be packed up and
Moved again.
Hannah asked to contribute to the blog early in the 2017, and after a bit of bartering, we came up with the idea of “Teenage Tuesdays”.  It proved to be a short-lived experiment, but I liked it.  My daughter is a talented poet, if not always a consistent one.
As I’ve said before, the NY Times and other media companies have been a little too quick to embrace the demise of Trump and his particular politics a little too often.  Reality has been going a different way in his core districts, and the Republican Party has followed close on its heels.  
None of this will be resolved before the midterms next year, and really, it may very well take even longer than that.  As long as what we’re currently terming “conservative” Republicans continue to support the politics of this particular president, the current cultural moment will stay alive and well in the national zeitgeist.
“5 Things” is my weekly news and opinion roundup.  It’s easy, and I have fun with it, but it’s never been better than a median performer in terms of readers/week.  For whatever reason, the “Veteran’s Day” post was the most successful of the year.
It’s amazing to me after all this team has been through this season, especially on the defensive side of the ball, that they’ve already matched last season’s win total and have a reasonable chance of winning out.  I thought the losses of Andrew King, Jeremy Timpf, and Xavier Moss would really hurt this team, especially on defense, and for a while they did.  But the Army Team has battled back and found a way.  They’ve consistently played big in the biggest moments.  If you were around Michie Stadium for the 2015 season, well, the differences are profound.  That’s despite the fact that a lot of the same players are still on the field.  They celebrated Senior Day yesterday, and my God, have they come a long way.
You guys love these “Quick Thoughts” posts.  This one drew the most readers, but 300+ was common, and several did a lot more than that.

What I remember of marking can be summed as follows:
Value Proposition.  Know why people buy your product.  Sell that thing.
Repeat Customers.  It’s easier and cheaper to keep current customers than to get new ones.
I’m not convinced that Army Athletics is doing either particularly well.
Army Sports’ current campaign is “It’s Closer Than You Think”.  As in, “If you have absolutely nothing better to do on a Saturday afternoon, why not drive up to West Point?  It’s closer than you think.”  The problem being that it’s closer to New York City, and NO ONE in New York has nothing to do.
I previewed each game this year in painstaking detail.  For whatever reason, you guys liked this Bye Week “preview” as much as almost any of the actual game previews.  The piece on marketing at Michie Stadium in particular generated some discussion on Facebook and Twitter, which made this one of my favorite posts, too.  Unfortunately, the “It’s Closer Than You Think” campaign appears to be alive and well.
11. Yankee Stadium (302)
My daughter Hannah and I went to the Yankee game on Sunday, the one where Aaron Judge hit the 496 foot home run that’s been playing on repeat on ESPN ever since.  I still don’t think of myself as an expert on the stadium or anything, but I’ve now been there a handful of times, both for baseball games and in 2014 to see Army football’s upset win over UConn during Coach Jeff Monken’s inaugural season.  I like Yankees Stadium, and for once I think I actually took enough pictures to tell a useful story about the place.

The “NYC & the Area” series has been hit-or-miss, but this piece on Yankee Stadium was relatively popular, as were the ones I wrote about after last winter’s ski trip up near Lake George, NY.  I should probably be more consistent with this series, but I never seem to get around to using even half of the pictures that I take for it.
If you’re a big fan of the “NYC and the Area” series, let me know.  Otherwise, it might not ever get off the back burner.
Colin Kaepernick also took the League by storm in his rookie season, only to disappear into obscurity in the course of a disappointing sophomore slump.  Ditto for Robert Griffin III.  Because reality is that it’s hard as Hell to stay on top when the others guys know you’re coming.  In the cases of Kaepernick and RG3, their respective games suffered once teams got enough tape to study their styles.  I suspect that this will be slightly less true of Prescott, but as recent history has shown us, even an incremental change could cost the Cowboys the division.  That incremental change might not even come as a result of anything Prescott does himself.  Next year will see the Cowboys replace both of their offensive tackles on a team whose success starts with their O-Line.  Ezekiel Elliott faces a potential conduct suspension as well.  Either of these, combined with a year’s worth of tape on Prescott, tells me to be a little cautious about crowning the ‘Boys before the season begins.
We did a lot of football this year.  More than I meant to, really.  This particular piece was the first in a series that I did with my friend and classmate Joe, author of “Hoosier on the Potomac”.  
Alas, I was right about the Giants being just a few missed defensive plays away from being a subpar team in 2017.
Before we go on, let’s acknowledge that not all triple-option offenses are created equal or run with the same basic philosophies in mind.  I mention this because lots of folks say that Army and Navy both run the same offense, but this is only true in the sense that they have many of the same plays in their playbooks.  However, these schools run their similar playbooks in very different ways.
Navy runs a quarterback-intensive system that puts the load squarely onto their QB’s shoulders.  A typical Navy offensive play sees their QB fake the fullback dive and then take the ball himself off-tackle for an outside quarterback-power run.  You’ll see this in probably half of their offensive snaps, with another 10% to 20% being QB-keepers that become downfield or outside throws.  It’s ironic because FB Chris High is arguably the most talented player on the Midshipmen’s offense, but he carries less than a dozen times per game with another two to three targets outside in the flat.  That is goddamned madness, but Navy made it work because they got exceptional play from QB Keenan Reynolds and—surprisingly—from backup-turned-badass QB Will Worth.  Once Worth went out, however, Navy struggled with offensive consistency, though they remained very explosive.
The preseason football preview always does well, and this year’s piece was no exception.  In fact, Part 1 of this series was the most widely read post of the year.  I think that has more to do with its timing than anything.  By late spring, folks are legitimately jonesing for college football talk.
Alisha and Tom remind me a lot of myself and Sally when we were younger.  Indeed, I felt old at the wedding because while I think of Alisha as essentially "my age," the reality is that she's barely thirty, and all of their friends are, too.  Those friends are in the season of "getting married".  A few had young kids.  Most were still in their honeymoon phase.  But Tom is a veteran and an Army Captain in the Reserves, and he was married in uniform.  He's also a South Carolina Gamecock, so... maybe a bit closer to my dad than me, but still.  That's a pretty fine distinction.  Meanwhile, Alisha is also a fitness instructor and was, until recently, Sally's boss at the Milford YMCA.
So yeah.  A few things in common, but 15+ years age difference.
These kinds of personal posts don’t always draw a lot of readers, but you guys seemed to like this one.  They threw a terrific wedding.
Colin, Elizabeth, and my beautiful wife Sally in front of the Hop Yard Stage.
RoadJam was organized with two stages, one in the parking lot--The Brewery Stage--and another, slightly larger stage out back in the brewery's massive hop yard--The Hop Yard Stage.  The Hop Yard Stage sat out in front of a big field; there was basically nothing there besides the stage and a lot of grass.  It was there that we set up our lawn chairs.  By comparison, the Brewery Stage featured much less crowd-space--it was essentially standing room only--but there was more depth behind the music, with both the brewery's beer garden and a small hammock area set up by the brewery entrance, alongside Two Roads' signature beer-dispensing Airstream.  The brewery building itself then separated the stages, as did a giant circle of food trucks, the infamous Clustertruck.  A giant white festival tent sat at the center of the Clustertruck, with a line of beer barrels and several beer stations separating the eating area from the Hop Yard Stage concert area.
This wasn’t exactly a “Quick Takes” post, but it should have been.  #RoadJam is a music festival at the Two Roads Brewing Company, Stratford’s signature independent brewery.  It was a blast.  
This post was mainly meant to showcase the pics I took.
What can you do?  In the words of the late, great Yogi Berra, "Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes it rains."  We had all of that yesterday, including some rain.  At least we got the event off.  For awhile there, it looked like they were going to have to cancel it altogether.
I led off our relay yesterday, and to the extent that I'm disappointed with my swim, it's because of the way that I did it.  Marathon swims are really about swimming smarter, not harder, and in this I didn't do myself any favors.
I joined a Swim Across the Sound team at the very last moment this year and then had to raise money for it.  You guys came through in a HUGE way, and that was awesome.  I wrote about the process a bit afterwards, and my team wound up making the Connecticut Post.
[O]ver-striding has always been one of my main mechanical issues.  Fundamentally, I think this is because swimmers tend to take long, efficient strokes that enhance gliding across the water’s surface, while runners are efficient with relatively short strides that maintain good turnover and tempo.  Alas, running to cadence tends to teach over-striding as well, which is maybe why so many of my friends are having knee problems now.  Certainly, I started running slower after I joined the Army.  I’ve always assumed that this was because I gained weight, and maybe because I worked out somewhat less overall as a cadet than I did as an overly-ambitious high school athlete.  However, it could have also been that running to cadence reinforced in me the unfortunate habit of over-striding, adding a natural brake to a previously more efficient running form.
This was kind of an anonymous workout post, but you guys liked it so much that I decided to do what eventually became the Crunch series immediately afterwards.  I’m also running better, which is really, really cool.
I’m back in the gym after much wailing and gnashing of teeth.  
And actually, yeah, it’s been really great.
My wife works at the local Crunch, so in a sense, this series was her idea.  That said, the response has been amazing.  This whole series has been 1000x more rewarding than I thought it would be.
My friends and I stood around in a clump at the end of that summer’s last dual meet.  I’d done well that day, winning my race easily and leading our relay team to victory as well.  Summer was ending, though, and now we were just a bunch of skinny boys standing around in a circle, trying to figure out what came next.  My friends were all headed to the same middle school in Fairfax County, Virginia.  All that stood between me and my next move was the All-Star meet.
I’d been talking about doing this memoir project for almost two years, and finally, after over-much worrying and consideration, I started it as a weekly blog project.  This particular iteration is the latest one--and also the most successful.  Everyone seems to like this second chapter, so maybe that’s why.
Anyway, I sincerely hope that folks are enjoying this project.  It’s one of the most personal things to appear on the blog in a long time.
So Andy did yesterday's workout in a completely different way than I did it.  He worked the 400s, putting down 5:10 and 5:15, respectively, which is badass for Army's former #1 sprinter.  By contrast, I worked the 100s descending but held the 400s at aerobic pace, putting down 5:25 and 5:30.
In every respect, this was opposite what you'd expect to see out of the two of us.  But it inspired today's workout, which was similar to yesterday's, save that it's built around 200s and intentionally puts the effort on the first part of the set.
I didn't even type this up, I just took a picture of the notes out of my notebook.
This was basically just an anonymous swimming post.  My buddy Andy and I started exchanging workouts, and I wrote about it.  I have no idea why nearly 700 people read about that, but this—and several others like it—were collectively the most widely-read things I wrote all year.
I should obviously do more of this, but most of the time I just post my workouts on Twitter--when I post them at all.  

A post about getting older, so of course,
I showed a picture from when I was 16.
My birthday is this week, and as you might’ve guessed from the title of this piece, I’m turning forty-four.  I spent the weekend feeling old and fat and slow, and I’m not gonne lie, I was legitimately upset about it.  I don’t know if it got quite bad enough to be called a “depressive episode”—I just learned that term from Twitter and have no idea what its technical definition is—but I was really blue most of the weekend and maybe a little more sullen than usual, so much so that I know that it bothered my wife quite a bit.
I don’t know what to tell you.  I feel like I’m struggling with this whole “mid-life” thing, and you can say whatever you want to about it.  I’ll just say that it’s true.
In a sense, this was another workout post, but this time, it was really about my not competing, which I know drives some of my friends crazy.  Anyway, I got a little self-reflective in the post, and truth to tell, I’m still working through some of the issues involved here.
This post may not be quite as powerful as last year’s “In Defense of Unrequited Love,” but the subject-matter remains near and dear to me.  I am still trying to figure out how to be the best version of myself that I can be.

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