Battling Burn Out (In Blogging and In Life)

I was at a beer event recently where I was talking to the brewery’s owner about beer blogging. He asked if I ever got burned out. Thinking he meant burned out on beer, I answered that there were days when all I really wanted was a glass of pinot noir or some bourbon. But he replied that he meant blogging, do I ever burn out on blogging? At the time, I answered that, because of the way Hoperatives is structured, I start working on our “This Week in Beer” posts many weeks (if not months) ahead of time and the “Tastings and Growlers Report” post start with the one from the week before so that helps. Posts for the rest of the week lately have come from information sent to us about local news and events plus our new “Local Beer Blogger Spotlight” posts. In other words, I gave him the PR answer without realizing it.

Burn out is something we fight in blogging and in life. We all know of blogs that have either been officially shut down or that haven’t had a new post in years. Starting a new blog or project is exciting and gets your heart pumping. But, after the adrenaline levels go back to normal, many people decide that the work required isn’t worth it. This is especially true if the person starting the blog sees it as a get-rich-quick scheme or a way to get free stuff. Even if you have a blog you love to work on, it can become a drag on your time after a while.

Part of the reason I re-launched this blog was to have somewhere to write about things that weren’t beer related. I’ve learned that there is a need for my little app and other tech reviews. And people like my recipe posts too and even my occasional observation posts (like this one). RadioCarla.com isn’t going to become Engadget or the Pioneer Woman, but I knew that going in this time and I take pride in how it is slowly growing its audience.

Hoperatives will be five years old on January 1, 2014. It’s grown and evolved just as the Cincinnati beer scene has. I’m pleased with our relationship with Cincinnati.com, but I really wish we could attract some advertisers. I wish people would send us more information so I didn’t have to spend so much time combing Facebook and the web for information. Then there are the time of us getting comments and emails from people shocked we didn’t have information on a beer event at their favorite beer location that was only posted at said location. Add in the time it takes to stay active on our Facebook and Twitter accounts.

So, yes, I do get burned out on beer blogging. But, I soldier on and try to continue to do the best I can. I try new things. I keep what works and leave behind the things that don’t. I try joining new blog groups from time to time, but to be honest, some blogging groups are nothing but greedy people looking for free stuff or so full of infighting that the groups implode. Both of those things are just time sucks and drama that I don’t need. Enough already.

Whenever I consider why I blog, I think of Merlin Mann and John Gruber’s definition of a successful blog needing three things*: “obsession + topic + voice”. So I try to do what it takes to stay obsessed. As long as I’m a “believer in better beer (in Cincinnati and beyond)”, I’ll keep blogging at Hoperatives.

As far as battling burn out in life? Well, that’s a blog post for another day.

— Carla

Battling Burn Out

*I’ve mentioned this before, but if you missed it — Merlin Mann and Jon Gruber gave at SXSW in 2009 called “149 Surprising Ways to Turbocharge Your Blog with Credibility!” You can find more information about it at http://www.43folders.com/2009/03/25/blogs-turbocharged. I summarized the talk this way:

…a successful blog must have three things: “obsession + topic + voice”. If you have those three things, you can “become the go-to person for whatever your topic is.” Consider this: “How do you know it’s time to start a blog? Because people keep telling you to shut up.” And finally: “When CPM becomes more important than making readers happy, you’ve lost it.”

Review: Blackberry Q10

My first smart phone was a Blackberry. In fact, my first two smart phones were Blackberrys. I moved on to the Android and then iPhone worlds after that and hadn’t really thought about Blackberrys since then. That is until a few weeks ago when I was sent a Verizon Blackberry Q10 review unit to check out.

Blackberry Q10

The first thing I noticed was how thinner the body was then my 2009 and earlier Blackberry models. The rounded edges felt good in my hands and I noticed that I quickly went back to using both hands with this phone rather than just one hand like I frequently do with my iPhone 4S.

When you fire up the Q10 for the first time, you go through the usual set up process, but also some training on their new OS gestures. There was a lot of emphasis on the fact that you just need to swipe up to get to your settings. But, unfortunately, the rest of the new UI was harder to figure out. I handed it to Tom at one point and he said that the UI drove him nuts in less than 30 seconds.

But the main thing I really wanted to try out was the physical keyboard. I remember worrying about not having one when I made the switch to a Droid X. But I have to say that my main reaction was “Meh”. My typing on the physical keyboard wasn’t any faster than my typing on a virtual keyboard on my iPhone. Also, since the trackball previously on physical keyboard Blackberrys is gone, the screen is a touch screen so you need to touch there to do many of the functions you used the trackball for previously. That took some getting used to for me.

My biggest problem was that the addition of the physical keyboard takes up so much space on the front of the phone that the screen is tiny (720 x 720 pixels). After four years of using Android and iPhone smart phones, the smallness of this screen really got to me. It does make me wonder though if I would have been happier reviewing a Blackberry Z10. The one benefit of trying out this small screen was finding out that our new responsive design for Hoperatives and RadioCarla.com looks good and functions well even on a small screen like this one.

The camera was sluggish and made it hard to take photos of fast moving subjects like my cats. When I took the photo below, Bock was actually looking at me but he had turned away by the time the phone took the picture. At least, it’s in focus. And the camera did a decent job getting all of the shades of black in his fur.

Bock - Blackberry Q10

If you like getting all of your messages (including all email, Facebook and Twitter) in one place, you will love the Blackberry Hub. Personally, that drove me crazy, but then I’ve never liked any kind of combined mailbox like that so it wasn’t a surprise. The font was also rather large for such a small screen.

If you are a current Blackberry user and just can’t give up the physical keyboard, this is a nice upgrade for you. If you are currently using Android or iOS (or even Windows phone), I don’t think this model is going to get you to make the switch to Blackberry.

— Carla

The High Cost of Selling Yourself Out: Be Careful What You Blog

In my last post The High Cost of Free Software: Be Careful What You Download, I included the following quote from Ed Bott of zdnet.com:

Basically, there’s a dilemma that software developers are in. They can either go with these monetization companies which load up their installers with “special offers” and which in turn allow them to make a frightful sum of money or they can take a day job and get out of the software business.

Lately, I’ve been thinking that this could be paraphrased to apply to bloggers:

Basically, there’s a dilemma that [BLOGGERS] are in. They can either go with these monetization companies which load up their [BLOGS] with “special offers” and which in turn allow them to make [SOME] sum of money or they can take a day job and get out of the [BLOGGING] business.

Of course, one of the main differences between software developers and bloggers is that a great number of bloggers already have day jobs (myself included). The urge to try to make the blogging a paying gig can sometimes lead to unfortunate decisions.

When you start a blog, one of the first questions you need to really ask yourself is why are you writing this blog? What content do you want to share with your readers? What unique perspective can you bring to an already large blogosphere?

Back in 2009, I wrote a post for BlogHer.com called “Why I Blog About Beer“. In the post, I mentioned that Hoperatives was actually the third blog I had started. The first one was an earlier version of this blog and didn’t have much focus. I mainly rambled about various topics and didn’t really offer anything new. The second one about our experience on a liquid diet was too focused and really was only meant to last a short time.

I also mentioned a talk that Merlin Mann and Jon Gruber gave at SXSW in 2009 called “149 Surprising Ways to Turbocharge Your Blog with Credibility!” You can find more information about it at http://www.43folders.com/2009/03/25/blogs-turbocharged. I summarized the talk this way:

…a successful blog must have three things: “obsession + topic + voice”. If you have those three things, you can “become the go-to person for whatever your topic is.” Consider this: “How do you know it’s time to start a blog? Because people keep telling you to shut up.” And finally: “When CPM becomes more important than making readers happy, you’ve lost it.”

Since blogging has become more popular and accessible, I’ve seen a growing trend of people starting a blog just because they think it is an easy way to get free stuff or make money. But it’s not. Blogging is hard work and takes a lot of time.

Is it worth going to a bloggers event if you are just going to learn about the entity hosting the event? Back when I worked in radio, we called that a press conference and it was part of my job to attend them. Since I was paid by the radio station, I attended many press conferences on topics I didn’t personally care about.

As a blogger, I only go to events directly related to what I blog about: craft beer in Cincinnati for Hoperatives and technology, theater and a few other topics here at RadioCarla.com. Any time I broke this rule and went to an event that really didn’t interest me (usually as a favor to someone), I was miserable. It was a lose-lose for both me and the hosting business.

The word “free” sounds good except it usually isn’t really true. I’ve been to many, many trade shows over the years ranging from the National Restaurant Association, the National Association of Broadcasters, EarMarked for Disney travel agents, Cruise360, BlogHer and the national Beer Bloggers Conference. At first, all the free swag is great. Then, it’s the end of the day and you’re carrying around this bag of crap. And then the bag of crap is in your home taking up space. Was it worth it?

The same idea applies to blogging. If you want to write a blog just to get free stuff, you have to ask yourself, “Is it worth it?” Is it worth shilling a product you may or may not like on your Facebook page and Twitter stream? Is it worth losing readers and Facebook likes and Twitter followers for a “free” product that you could have easily bought yourself (if you really even wanted it)?

All in all, it goes back to the question of why are you blogging. What is your obsession? What is your topic? What is your voice? Your voice is really your brand in blogging. Is it worth diluting your voice for a cheap plastic spatula with some company’s name on it that you’ll just throw away the next time you move?

In my last post, I suggested that you think before you download. Now, I’m suggesting that you think long and hard before you give away your voice. Don’t pay the high cost of selling yourself out.

— Carla

plastic spatula - high cost of selling yourself out

A Culture of Snobbery: Music and Beer

I’m not the first person to point out how polarized we’ve become in the United States. It’s like no one is even allowed to be a moderate any more. And with that comes the rise of the snob culture. If I don’t personally like something, it must be crap and no one else is allowed to like it or they’re crap too. While we see it played out most vehemently in politics, two areas where I’m seeing it become increasingly more prominent are music and beer.

I worked in commercial and non-commercial radio from 1988 through 1998. That doesn’t include my years working on my undergrad college radio station and interning at two stations from 1982-1984. I worked at many different formats: Top 40, MOR (Middle of the road or nostalgia), Hard Rock, Classic Rock, Full Service Talk, Oldies, Country, Hot Country, Smooth Jazz, Modern Rock and even Hip Hop. I was on-air talent, continuity (scheduling commercials), production manager, morning show side kick, news reader, sports caster and general manager / advisor of a college station.

During those years, I played a lot of different music. Some of the songs I fell in love with and some songs I continue to love. Some of it made me want to poke my eyes out. But, all the while, listeners would call and say how much they loved the songs I didn’t like. Yes, even this one. Their taste was not mine and it wasn’t my job to tell the little old lady on the phone that her tastes were wrong.

There are almost as many types of beer as there are genres of music. There is literally something for everyone. It’s a wide spectrum of color and taste. If you don’t like the bitterness of hoppy beers, try something less hoppy like a wheat or a brown ale or a fruit beer. And your beer preferences can change, just like your music taste. Beers I used to not care for (like stouts – I once said Guinness tasted like pond scum), I now crave (nothing like a really good coffee stout). Richard Dube at the Moerlein Lager House likes to say that if you don’t like blueberries, you don’t say that you don’t like fruit. The same is true for beer.

But, lately, we can’t freely admit our tastes without being told we’re idiots for liking some band or beer. Just last night on Twitter, I watched as someone talked about loving Bon Jovi and then be taken to task for that preference. Often, we can’t say we like something that isn’t hip or trendy unless we couch it in being our guilty pleasure.

Instead of telling someone that their music or beer tastes are crap, why not suggest some other music or beer that they may also like. For example, if a friend like Darius Rucker’s cover of “Wagon Wheel“, maybe suggest that they check out the Old Crow Medicine Show version or go really old school and check out the Bob Dylan boot leg version when it was called “Rock Me, Mamma”. Or maybe suggest that they check out some of the music over at WNKU.

For a beer example, maybe your friend loves Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy. You can suggest they might like to check out Stiegl Grapefruit Radler or Unibroue Ephemere Apple. Maybe order one yourself and let them try it. If they refuse to even try something new, then that’s their loss.

And that gets to my final point. Why does someone else’s taste in anything matter to you? Why yell and scream and holler because someone doesn’t like the same things you do? Does it accomplish anything other than making both parties mad? Snobs, lighten up and let people like what they want to like. At the end of the day, there’s plenty of good music and beer to go ahead. We don’t need a culture of snobbery.

— Carla

Beer - A Culture Of Snobbery

Review: Smashburger paired with Moerlein Beers

Last Thursday night, Tom and I were invited to a media event at the Highland Heights Smashburger to try out their new food pairings with Christian Moerlein beers. Neither of us had been to a Smashburger so we didn’t really know what to expect. We decided to split the blogging responsibilities on this one. Tom will cover the beer and beer pairings over on Hoperatives (review on Hoperatives) and I’m going to cover the food offerings here.

We started with a sampling of the many sides available at Smashburger.

Fries

These included Smash fries (tossed with rosemary, olive oil and garlic – so nice) and sweet potato fries. (Regular fries are also available.)

Pickles and Peppers

Then, there was fried pickle chips and the very unusual fried banana pepper rings. Personally, I was so happy to see fried pickle chips instead of spears. Chips are so much better. These things were damn addictive.

Onion Rings and Veggies

Finally, there were Haystack onions (really thin onion rings) and what they call Veggie Frites (green beans and carrots that are flash fried). Really good! And these last four sides all came with their own dipping sauce.

After we were all settled down and had enjoyed the sides, Smashburger owner (and former Cincinnati resident) Tom Ryan and Moerlein VP & Lager House Brewmaster Richard Dube walked us through the pairings. Each burger or chicken sandwich is pictured below with the Moerlein beer it was paired with (except the Classic Smash Burger photo where I forget to position the beer in the right place. It was paired with Helles by the way).

Classic Burger

The Classic Smash Burger is your basic burger with lettuce, tomato, pickles, red onion and mayo. I liked the fact that it was on a multi-grain bun to make it a bit different. Basic, but very well done.

Mushroom and Swiss

This was my favorite. The Mushroom Swiss burger has sautéed baby portabella mushrooms, mayo and aged Swiss on an egg bun with no produce on it. That was a good decision for this particular burger. Lettuce, tomato or even onion would have been too much. And the cremini mushrooms were such a good choice for this.

BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger

The BBQ, Bacon and Cheddar Burger (with BBQ sauce, applewood-smoked bacon, cheddar and haystack onions) was my second favorite. So decadent that this will probably be my “special occasions only” choice at Smash Burger.

Buckeye Burger

This burger is one that is only available in our area. Take those fried pepper rings I talked about earlier add American cheese, haystack onions, lettuce, tomato and mayo. Put it all on an egg bun and you have a very unique burger for the Buckeye state.

Black Bean Burger

The Spicy Veggie Black Bean Burger (with fresh jalapenos, guacamole, pepper jack, lettuce, tomato, onion and chipotle mayo on a spicy chipotle bun) lived up to its name. The texture of the burger though reminded me more of falafel than black bean burgers I’ve tried in the past. This veggie option is also available in a non-spicy version. (Believe me, the spicy version is definitely spicy.)

Chicken

The chicken sandwiches at Smashburger are different than your usual “throw a chicken breast on a bun” sandwiches. Take that chicken breast and pound it like you’re making chicken schnitzel or chicken parmesan. Then marinate it in all sorts of wonderful flavors. The result is a chicken sandwich that cooks in the same amount of time as a burger, but stays moist and flavorful. I’ll be ordering more of these.

Chicken Club

For this chicken sandwich, take the chicken we just talked about and then add fresh avocado, applewood-smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato, ranch dressing and mayo. Place it all on a multi-grain bun. I only wish that the avocado had been sliced a bit thinner. I would probably forego the ranch and mayo next time too. The avocado is enough.

We finished the night with samples of their Häagen-Dazs milk shakes. I’m not a fan of fake fruit flavors ever since I had a bad experience with Froot Loops as a child. This strawberry shake was not fake at all and the strawberry flavor was not overpowering. As Goldilocks would have said, it was just right.

By the way, while researching this post, I discovered that the Smashburger web site has both their nutritional information for their entire menu and also the allergen information too.

All in all, I’m really looking forward to our next visit to Smashburger so we can enjoy their burgers and Christian Moerlein beers together. Now, if they would just open one in Burlington or Hebron…

October is the Month for Being Healthier: Days Two, Three and Four

To quote my former colleague at the University of Tennesee – Martin, life was too much with me the last few days. But, I did try to start making some changes towards a healthier lifestyle each day.

Sunday was all about water. One of the best things we ever did was set up home water delivery through Alpine Valley Water. Our water cooler sits in our kitchen right next to the refrigerator so when we go for a can of pop, it’s there to remind us to think about water instead. Having great tasting, cold water available all the time makes a huge difference in my water intake. Next, I plan to get a gallon container so I can start carry it to school with me. Much better than feeding the vending machines at school.

Monday was a bit trickier since I had to stay at school late to give a midterm exam. We had planned on getting up and going to the Y, but we couldn’t drag our sorry butts out of bed in time. We went out to Rock Bottom to celebrate Tom’s new job and that’s where that day’s change kicked in.

As you probably know, Tom and I write a Cincinnati beer blog called Hoperatives. I must admit that my beer intake has greatly increased since we launched the blog. So my healthy change for Monday was establishing a two beer limit. Now, I will admit that my two beers at Rock Bottom were sizeable since I’m a Mug Club member there and my beers come in a larger Mug Club stein. But, now, two is the limit for this month of being healthier.

For today (Tuesday), it was the beginning of eating a bit less. I forgot to pack my lunch so I went to the bakery at school to get something. In the past, this would have meant my usual turkey and swiss stromboli as well as a cookie or two. Today, it was just the stromboli. And I’m proud to say that the only thing I got from the vending machines was a Diet Mountain Dew. (Still need to get that gallon container for water!)

So, four days and four small steps (flu shot, increased water intake, less beer and less food) achieved. An early morning meeting may prevent getting to the Y tomorrow morning, but you never know…

–Carla