Saturday, December 31, 2016

Blog in Review: Top 10 Posts of 2016

Longtime readers may already have realized this, but the blog was different this year than it has been in the past.  I made a conscious effort to write less D&D and less fantasy in general and to spend less time promoting my fiction, and I spent more time talking about the news and Army Football.  As a result, average readership per post went up by 25% to 50%.  Total readership, however, has been substantially lower.  To put that another way, I had quite a few more regular readers in 2016, but the blog is now much less appealing to strangers.  Readership on this blog has always been governed by the 80/20 Rule, i.e. 80% of our readers come for just 20% of our posts, but since the most widely read posts have uniformly been Dungeons & Dragons posts, doing less D&D has hit my bottom line.  
That’s okay.
It's a picture from 2 years ago, but still one of our favorites.
The changes in the blog reflect changes in our lives.  I wrote several short D&D adventure modules last year, mostly for our kids, and those continue to be among the most-read posts in the blog’s history.  By comparison, the most popular post this year was about QB Ahmad Bradshaw’s decision NOT to leave West Point.  It did decent numbers, but it still pulled in at most 20% of the interest that something like The Fall of Cahokiantep generated in 2015.  However, we really like Army Football, and we plan to continue as an Army Football Season Ticket Holders, and that makes watching the team an integral part of what we do as a family.  At the same time, it’s been about a year since the kids and I last sat down to play D&D.  Considering the numbers, though, I really should make time to do more Cahokiantep.
2016 top ten posts are listed below.  These are not necessarily the ten most widely read posts of the year.  Instead, they are my favorites, and in many cases the most successful examples of various ideas I tried in 2016.  The numbers in parentheses indicate how many readers each post earned.

Top 10 Posts of 2016

“Holy cats, man.  What is up with that?  When did women bodybuilders start feeling like they needed to put balloons into their chests to look athletic?

It’s not natural.  At all.  It looks freaky, for real, and not in a good way.”
I do a lot of fitness posts, and people are often surprisingly interested in my workout routines.  This particular post was about my quest to find some weightlifting ideas to use with my daughter Hannah—and all the fake boobs we found on all the “fitness models” as a result.
“I’d come to the Pony looking for a fink bastard named Galen Maddox, a former member of the Banking Guild who’d tried to steal the Guild’s combination codex from the Counting Room down in the main guild house in Cahokiantep.  Dude got all the way to the basement and then tried to use the codex to rob the Primary Safe when no one was looking.  Idiot.  Turns out that the codex is rune-sequenced.  Only a member of the Guild Patriarchy can activate it, and even then, he has to be accompanied by two other Guild members in good standing.  Because, as it happens, the Banking Guild is not stupid.”
You guys remain frustratingly uninterested in my fiction.  However, this particular short story—set, of course, in Cahokiantep—was perhaps the most successful bit I’ve ever run on this blog.
The link leads to the first of three parts.
“As we were headed to the gym on Tuesday night, Hannah asked me what was going on.  She’s a perceptive twelve-year-old and a straight-A student.  I told her that I was frustrated, that it seems like people--even people whom I respect a great deal--have shown themselves to be fundamentally self-interested, and that their willingness to tie themselves into knots intellectually in order to believe what’s in their own basic self-interest has been both overwhelming and disheartening.  I tried to explain to her that we have a higher calling, that the fact that she IS a straight-A student and has every advantage gives her a responsibility going forward.  She was not put on this Earth just to be a mother and a veterinarian, if that’s the path that she chooses.  Self-interest and the interests of her family will always be important, yes, but those things will never be as important as her responsibility to society, to her community as a whole.  There is such a thing as service, and though it’s up to each of us to define our own service for ourselves, service just to oneself and one’s family doesn’t actually get us anywhere.  Service to one’s self and family is a truly minimal kind of social responsibility.”
I run “5 Things on a Friday” pretty much every week as a regular feature.  This post, about the way this past election season warped society, was the most-read edition of the year.  “5 Things” has generally seen improved readership this year, which is one reason why I decided to bring it back after discontinuing it late in the summer.
“My daughter Emma surprised me this weekend by telling me that she wants to play a vampire in our next game.
So yeah—ugh.  
But she’s ten.  What can you do?”
I only did five D&D articles this year.  This one came in two parts, and there were three more.  My favorite was “The Bard College of Ballet”, but readers preferred the work I did designing playable PC race and class mechanics for Vampires.  I also did a Druid variant called “Demon-Binders and the Circle of the Pit”.
I should do more Cahokiantep.  I know, believe me.
“The 2016 edition of Army Football has never been the most precise football team in the history of college sports, but man, they do play with a lot of heart.  In the end, this was what mattered.”
I did an “Army Football Preview” before most Army football games and a “Quick Thoughts” post after most games.  Though astronomically more time and effort went into each Preview, the Quick Thoughts posts proved far more popular.  The Army-Navy post-game piece was the most popular for obvious reasons, but by a smaller margin than you might expect.  At least a hundred of you read my post-game breakdowns each and every week.  Even my write-up of Navy’s loss in the Armed Forces Bowl pulled in more than a hundred-fifty readers, and that post is still in the Top Ten in day-to-day traffic.
“Five years may be a season, but it’s only one, and at the end, you’re not quite thirty.  You have an excellent education, no bills, and five years of useful, real-world experience that many civilian employers will covet.  Kids at home, do not fool yourselves about this.  It is a winning combination.  Hell, even a full career of twenty years can be seen as merely a good start to another career.  You retire in your early forties with a full resume, a pension, and medical benefits for the rest of your life!  This is not nothing, believe me.”
This was the most widely read post of the year, and it annoys me for a variety of reasons.  First, it’s a non-story.  “After sleepless night, cadet decides to stay at the Academy” could be written about every graduate in West Point’s history.  Second, it put me in the position of trying to be a journalist when that IS NOT my goal.  I much prefer to do opinion and analysis, especially statistical analysis.  As an engineer, this suits my particular skillset.  Third, it put me on Army beat writer Sal Interdonato’s shit list.  Again, not my goal.  
People were calling for Interdonato to write a retraction because *I* wrote a retraction, but it wasn’t a fair comparison.  Interdonato was trying to break news because that’s his job.  He got a piece of bad poop, and yeah, I let him have it, but really, it wasn’t his fault.  By comparison, I have graduate friends who have ties to the football team.  This is why I don’t “break news”.  It would put me and some of my friends in awkward spots.  Plus, this is just my hobby.  However, I did have to apologize based on my personal relationships.
Interdonato is in a completely different position.  He has sources within the team, but he also has a professional obligation to report *on* the team, whether that news is good or bad.  He therefore doesn’t have the luxury of just writing whatever he wants, which is what I do here.  

4. A Tough News Cycle (213)
“My dad spent his 27-year Marine Corps career planning the defense of Northern Europe against Russian invasion.  He spent months overseas as a field grade officer, meticulously plotting Marine actions in Norway to check an advance that attempted to bypass the main NATO positions in Germany's Fulda Gap.  I've read in reports of post-Soviet collapse war plans that this would, indeed, have been a critical battlefield, that the Russians weren't at all sold on trying to take NATO at its point of strength.”
This was a post about Trump, his relationships with Russia, and my father’s military career.  Dad spent his professional life deterring Russian aggression, which is why the President-Elect’s would-be détente with Putin feels like such a betrayal to so many old-school veterans.  I was surprised to see it had this many readers, however.
“What I’ve learned is that a lot of my friends have interests that’re broadly similar to mine.  However, a few made decided efforts to push me outside my comfort zone.”
I put together a Summer Reading List with friends via Facebook, and people got surprisingly interested.  My buddy Chris and I then followed up with a version about West Point and its graduates, and there’s one that covers the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
I consider this an ongoing project, so expect future Summer Reading List posts in 2017.
“Unfortunately, the storied 1996 season led to hubris on the part of the Academy’s brass.  As the ancient Greeks once said, “He whom the gods would destroy, they first make proud.”  Army joined Conference USA in 1998—to decidedly ill effect.  Sutton’s program went 4-7, 4-7, 3-8 in the three years following that glorious ’96 season—with three losses to Navy—and Sutton himself was fired in Philadelphia following that final loss in 1999.”
This wasn’t the most popular Army Football Preview, but it was my favorite.  It summarized the fourteen year losing streak against Navy and talked about why Coach Monken’s tenure has been successful and looks to continue to be successful.
That I had a million crushes in high school goes without saying.  What I’ve realized in the course of writing my own story, though, is that the girls I actually dated and the girls that I cared about…  There is no overlap there at all.  None whatsoever.  In the movies they say, “Just tell her how you feel.”  In real life, I’m not convinced that it’s at all difficult to know how she feels, and let’s face it, who wants to ruin a fully-functional friendship with an ill-conceived confession of love?”

I wrote this post in the midst of drafting my memoir, Swim, Bike, Run, Live, Love, Repeat.  At the time, I was dealing with some issues deciding on the book’s structure, and this post was my attempt to work through some of them.  The post itself is about teenaged love—and its lack.  I’m pleased with how it reads as a standalone, but the concerns I had when I wrote it never materialized in the draft of my story.  Nevertheless, this is still my top post for 2016.

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