Archive for the ‘Blogging’ Category

One [thousand] and done

March 15th, 2013
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So I made it to my vanity goal – this is my 1000th post.

It took me six and a half years, a pace of roughly 3 posts every week. Surprisingly, this is very close to the pace I initially established at the beginning of this endeavor, but obviously well below my peak from late 2007 through mid-2009. Since that peak, my output dwindled to barely noticeable; the last 50 of the thousand took over a year to get through.

Those readers who stuck with me through the latter years will recall that I’ve been dropping enough hints that I was no longer finding blog-writing an enjoyable – or, to be blunt, worthwhile – exercise. I got into blogging when it was a common fad and when I had a somewhat uncommon angle to work. It has now been longer since our return to the States from England than the duration of our entire stay in England, so the angle is long gone. I cannot work up enthusiasm for any other angles. And the fad is clearly on its way out.

Majority of the people whom I got to know on interwebs through their online writings are on a similar curve with respect to their own blogging. A few are ahead of me – they already stopped updating their blogs. Many are mirroring my trajectory down from the peak output, having significantly reduced the frequency of new content. They mostly migrated to Facebook or Twitter, opting for shorthand writing instead of essaying. As far as I can see, only the professionals are continuing strong in the regular blogging department – that is, people who either directly make money from their blogs or who use blogging as cultivating ground for the prospective buyers of their commercially available products. It is needless to point out that those people are significantly more talented than me in the creative writing department.

The long and the short of it, this is the end of the road for my blogging in its current shape. I might get a sudden epiphany of what my new angle could be or I might even wake up one day and feel a renewed vigor to try my hand at writing, but I would not bet much money on it actually happening. I appreciate all the encouragement I received from friends over the years, but in the immortal words of Dirty Harry, a man’s got to know his limitations, and one of mine is: I am only an indifferent writer. If I managed to entertain people or provide a useful insight in the past, it was decidedly not due to any superior wordsmith skills.

So, now, having achieved a symbolic, if meaningless, milestone, I am going to call it.

The existing content will stay in this same place in the short term. I have not yet considered what I will do with the hosting and the domain – since the costs are fairly minimal, I might just keep them intact for the foreseeable future. Comments are being closed off, but I am reachable via email at the link on the sidebar in case any of my old posts triggers a question from someone. And while I do not maintain an overly active presence on social networks, I am reachable there too.

With that, I bid you all good luck and farewell. May you always find interesting reads elsewhere!


Introduction to “favorite sights” series

January 19th, 2012

My regular readers – however few of you are out there – likely could notice that I started a new series of posts in the last month, “My favorite sights of…”. Unpredictable person that I am, I now decided to pen a brief introduction to the series after posting a few entries.

Those same few readers might recall how more than a year ago I lamented my failure to start a blog series with the working title of “My perfect day in…”. Since then, I became more and more convinced that the only way for me to keep blogging with any regularity is to focus on something travel-related. But I still couldn’t summon enough willpower to work on proper literary efforts.

Then, one day, looking through some old pictures, I thought to myself, why not make a series of picture-centric travel-related posts. After all, we have a sizable archive of travel photos. Instead of coming up with a polished narrative about some destination, I could pick my favorite shots taken there and limit the verbiage to no more than extended captions. Isn’t a picture worth a thousand words?

And that’s the task I am pursuing. Samples of our favorite travel pictures have always been on display in the Travelscapes widget on the menu bar and many of those photos will undoubtedly be reused. But there will be many others too, although I specifically aim to keep the number of pictures in each post to under a dozen. I will only use our own photographic efforts and I intend to stick to landmark-focused shots rather than “we’ve-been-here” person-focused shots with somebody posing in front of a building or a monument (that, as has already been proven in one of the first entries, is not always possible to accomplish depending on how we approached photographing a particular destination).

There will be no specific order or hierarchy in these posts. In fact, I will try to randomize the pick of the next destination as much as I can. Since most of our travel photography is of Europe, I will stay with European destinations until I run out of them. The grandest cities are likely to feature in the earlier posts, but I have nearly fifty locales already lined up, so eventually we will move on to places other than familiar capitals.

I hope you’ll enjoy these brief excursions.


Joining Twitter

December 17th, 2011

Trying to think – not for the first time, mind you – what I would use Twitter for.

I don’t care to share the tidbits of my life as they happen. Maybe, I did care a bit more during the years in England, but even then, I do not see myself stopping for a second to compose a 140-char blob about what I might have been doing or seeing. Writing a marginally thoughtful blog entry after a period of reflection kinda feels more worthwhile. Or, in the past tense, felt.

I rarely have thoughts or insights that I feel need to be broadcast to the world. I carry the label of “being opinionated” everywhere I go, but I tend to be reactive rather than proactive when it comes to sharing opinions. Ask me a question – you’ll get a full-blown answer. Otherwise, I am good with keeping my opinions to myself.

I don’t particularly care to know what my friends are doing at any specific period of time. I cherish our friendships and our close relationship, I do, you know that, but please forgive me if I’d rather learn what you thought or saw when we talk face to face next time. I am a very infrequent visitor to Facebook, as a matter of fact. Staying connected with long-distance friends is much easier online, no doubt, but I am struggling with the minute information overload that comes with that. Maybe, I just have a different view of our level of closeness, my apologies for that.

I am perfectly fine with becoming aware of important news some time after they happen, not the very moment they do. And I am quite indifferent to people’s reactions to assorted events. I can get my fill of interpretative opinions via any number of op-ed pieces out there on the web.

Nor do I have any interest in keeping up with various celebrities’ doings and goings. I am just not into that kind of information consumption. There’s not enough time in the day for me to consume the information that I do find important, to start with.

I thought that, maybe, by following certain publications I could get alerted to some of the stuff that I do want to read. However, I quickly realized that the info stream includes large percentage of stuff that I do not care about, which means that perusing my Twitter timeline is entirely a duplication of flipping through my existing RSS aggregation.

So, what did I get a Twitter account for? I honestly don’t know. Everybody seems to have one, it does not cost anything, so here we are. Can’t think of a meaningful tweet, can’t come up with whom to follow, but I’ve joined nonetheless.

I realize that some pieces of my meager blogging output could have been presented as micro-blogging notices. But as I find it challenging to work up enthusiasm for blogging, so I find it equally unappealing to convert to tweeting. Otherwise, I could have made my inaugural tweet something like: “Sciatica is a pain in the ass, literally so. Treated with steroids, no less!” Hey, on the bright side, the world has been spared that insight, beyond the few of you in the audience.

If anyone here thinks they would enjoy hearing about the vagaries of my daily commute and other stuff that crosses my mind, I’m willing to give it a try. Let me know. Start following @IlyaBurlak. You got little to lose, if my blogging history is anything to go by.


Madrid notes

July 1st, 2011
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I’ve been thinking for the longest time that the only reason I have to keep this website going is that my expat musings from the years of living in England can be of use to friends and strangers alike. Only yesterday a couple of friends relocating to England for work have called us to express their gratitude, having found some tidbits in my old notes useful in their efforts to settle in a new land. If not for that, I might have pulled the plug on this enterprise a long time ago.

Then, there is my Travelog, which admittedly is no longer updated frequently enough to merit a designation of a travel journal. Still, I use it myself to refresh my memory before an upcoming trip, and it gives me a handy point of reference to direct acquaintances who heard that I’ve been to many places and want my opinion on things to do in Paris or Budapest. Despite our no longer numerous trips to Europe, I attempt to update our notes on a given destination in short order after returning. Which brings me to the point of this post – I updated our notes on Madrid and environs, for anyone who is interested.

We will now return to our scheduled programming of scarce new content.

Blogging, Travel Miscellany

Not dead yet

May 27th, 2011

What do you know? The patient still has a pulse.

Despite the fact that I have been, sometimes willfully other times inadvertently, shirking my blogging duties for most of the last couple of months, Google Analytics tells me that there continues to be a fairly steady flow of visitors to my site. Most arrive for the brief lecture on London river-crossing landmarks, and some stay to peruse other posts and photographs in London & Environs category, which gives me quite a modicum of satisfaction that my past efforts weren’t for nothing.

Not that I have anything new to say worth posting…


Small range

November 10th, 2010
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The trajectory of my blogging activity went from unenthusiastic to senile.

In the last few weeks, there’s been a spike in electronic communications with my high-school friends. We go through these periods once in a while, when we realize that the last time we had any meaningful exchange was months ago. While we mostly spend time to catch up with each other’s lives, we obviously cannot avoid reminiscing a bit.

As I was so reminiscing, I started to type up a memoir of my high-school years to post to the blog. It was coming out pretty well, slowly but steady as always, but 500 or so words into writing it, I started to get a clear sense of déjà-vu, as if I already wrote all of that in the past. Because, of course, I did. The new post that I was writing re-hashed the same topics that I already covered in this post of a year and a half ago.

The good news here is that when I latch onto a topic I feel interesting, I am still able to focus on writing something.

The bad news, of course, is that I seemingly return to a very little range of topics all the time. And I still got nothing to post, after all those efforts. Yay, me…


Fail again

October 27th, 2010

I’ve had this idea for a recurring blogging feature/angle ever since I knew that we were repatriating and my “expat observations” would be soon drying up. Which means, I’ve been considering it for roughly 18 months now.

The concept was fairly simple: An essay about each place that I’ve become familiar with on our travels, aimed at describing “my perfect day” in each locale. After all, I have favorite vistas, corners, sights, restaurants, etc, everywhere I’ve been to, and thinking about them always brings back good memories. And I noticed long ago that I only enjoy writing about things that I find enjoyable.

I was procrastinating with starting the series, I had other projects, then I got busy with the newborn, then I got extra busy at work, then I resumed coming to office most of the days of the week (which eats up a fair portion of my day)… But I did form in my head several outlines of the essays about most obvious targets – Prague, Paris, Venice, London.

The last couple of days the work let up a little bit, and I figured I could attempt the first post in the series.

… and miserably failed.

I know all of the places that I want to talk about. I know why I want to talk about them. I have a pretty good idea of what sequence to put them in. I’ve got some interesting – at least, I think they are – observations and occurrences that I can spice up the proceedings with.

And yet, it does not come together for me. I labor over passages, I struggle with varying my delighted adjectives, I can’t achieve any depth of exposure. My penmanship makes the stuff that I should always be excited about into boring drivel.

I suspect my writer gene is completely dead, if I ever had one. A bit disheartening, really, even if I never had any designs on being a writer.


London Bridge gets visitors

August 7th, 2010
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Apparently, if you type “London Bridge” into Google Images search, the very first picture of nine millions that come up is that of London’s Tower Bridge from my fairly old public service announcement, marking it as not the London Bridge. As a result, that particular post has been receiving a huge number of visitors over the last few weeks.

Welcome to all new visitors! I hope you find something useful in my old ramblings. At the very least, you’ll never mistake one bridge for another in the future :)


An answer to a small mystery

January 6th, 2010

I’ve long been stupefied by the fact that one of the most common search terms that leads people to my website is “medical sign”. Type that into a Google search and you will not find a link to B[b]otH anywhere near the top (I gave up checking after ten pages).


Run that same search on Google Images. Either at the bottom of the first page or the top of the second page – I don’t know why it fluctuates – you’ll find a picture from this old post of mine with “” link underneath it. Which apparently gets a fair share of clicks through.

I have no idea why a picture from my site would be near the top for a query that returns 62,500,000 results, but page ratings must not work the same way between regular searches and image searches. I don’t know whether to be proud that I lap almost the entire Internet on one specific search query or to be upset that success does not come whence I would like it.

At least, I stumbled across an explanation for something that bothered me for a long time…


Twelve-sentence tradition

December 10th, 2009

The third annual largely-meaningless exercise of combining the first sentences posted herein each month of the year.

As on previous occasions, not much coherency achieved. A couple of usual traveling undertones, clear relocation markers, a couple of obvious holiday notes… Interestingly, most of these sentences clearly suggested the topic of the posts that they introduced. Does that point to a new level of mastery of writing that I attained or, conversely, suggests that I became too simplistic in my skills, I wonder.

January: After greeting Christmas just a week ago with the song that I most associated with Christmas in my youth, I figured that I need to do the same for the New Year’s.

February: My lovely wife not only feeds me well, but she is also apparently eager to take over this blog with her culinary creations.

March: On one hand, we like going out, if not every week, then at least a few times a month.

April: Sunny spring weather (for the last couple of days, at least).

May: I have very healthy teeth, but my gums are a different matter.

June: And so our last sightseeing trip of the London era is now in the past.

July: Busy at work, plus various relocation-related errands, phone calls and what-not.

August: My regular readers will have to forgive me for being mostly incommunicado these past days.

September: You did not think I’d stay put for long after repatriating, did you?

October: Natasha was shopping for new beds and mattresses before we could move into the new house.

November: Finally, a Halloween to my kids’ liking.

December: Some two years ago, I wrote a cost comparison entry for basic UK-vs-US costs.



October 8th, 2009

Checked my Analytics stats for the first time in G-d-knows-how-many-weeks and realized how wholesome and boring the searches that lead people to my website are.

Fully two-thirds of all the searches can be fairly coherently attributed to specific subjects of my posts (over a quarter of all searches are to do with questions related to photo-book software – all due to one single article of my entire output that can be considered a useful public service). One in five searches relates to a destination or place that is mentioned either on the main blog or in Travelog. Another 10% is for seemingly random word combinations that match with something in my posts.

The remaining 5% comprise explicit searches for “”, occasionally misspelled; searches that include names of specific people who commented or otherwise featured on my blog (e.g., “john the scientist”); and searches that consist of rarely-used words that I did happen to use once (“ex-contemporaneous”, anyone?).

I only found a single search query in the last month that sounded weird and seemingly had no direct relation to anything I’ve written: can boxes be tied with string when checking in airlines. Further analysis showed that it points to my travelling in Russia story, to which it matched in a random-word-combination manner.

Nothing of interest, embarrassment or humor at all. Pathetic!


Questions wanted

September 15th, 2009

In the past, a 6-day interval between posts on this blog would invariably mean that I was on a trip to some fun and rewarding destination. At present, not so much. I still don’t have a writing angle that I want to be exploring in depth, and I’m increasingly lukewarm to posting “recurring features” for the sake of appearing active.

Maybe I should try one of those exercises designed to overcome writer’s blocks…

Or maybe I just don’t find anything worthy of a writing effort these days.

I had a thought earlier to attempt to explain how turned off I am by the politically charged atmosphere in the country, dominated by extremists, demagogues and ignoramuses, and how I already miss the fact that in Europe politics does not take over everyday discourse the way it does in the States. But a) I could not come with a coherent transformation of my feelings into a fact-based narrative, and b) as little as I wrote on political topics in the past, I already decided that there will never be another post about politics in this space.

I have an idea for what I think would be a fairly interesting – for me, at least, – on-going blogging project, but it has not fully gelled yet.

My other choices consist of recounting our daily life, and I just don’t feel like it’s something I want to pursue. It was kinda fun to keep a diary of our living abroad, but when it comes to a “normal” life, I’m not a diary kind of guy.

(That did not sound right, by the way. Is “diary kind of guy” an existing species at all?)

So, my patient and neglected readers, the few of you that I still have left, could you kindly lend your hapless host a hand? If there are any burning questions that you have been dying to hear me address, won’t you ask me, please! Inexpert advice on topics I have no right to be opining on? Obscure points in my illustrious biography? My tastes in arts? Anything and everything will be entertained.

Well, except for politics.

Hell, maybe I should go and dig up another meme…


Happy blogger

January 30th, 2009

Fellow UCF’er Shawn a couple of days ago posted seven very good tips for being a happy blogger. At first, I claimed in comments that I already follow all of his advice, but just a few days later I come to one of my periodic blogging crossroads, where I want to maintain a “nearly-every-day” frequency of posting (and, yes, I am largely comfortable with this pace) yet do not have anything worthy of a post (or, rather, I have a bunch of musical memories in the pipeline, and some other serialized standbys, but I do not feel like using them as a filler today).

In other words, trying to follow the last of Shawn’s tips was making me an unhappy blogger. I figured the easiest way to turn that around was to direct my audience to his article. I thought it was quite good, which means this post of mine can transitively be considered “not crap”, and we are avoiding a prolonged break. Happy, happy, happy!


Twelve sentences, one month at a time

December 20th, 2008
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Almost exactly a year ago, I picked up a meme that asked the author to re-post the first sentences of the first blog entries of each month.

I wanted to see how it would turn out this year as well, whether some sort of narrative can be discerned in such limited sample or whether I’ve truly become a random blogger.

You know what!? I can see a faint common thread, something about living in England for a comparatively short period of time, still being a relative stranger in a strange land, traveling around a bit, and being frequently annoyed with the weather.

See for yourself.

January: “Happy New Year, everyone!”

February: “It would be too spooky if on the very day that I suddenly decided to count how many days we’ve lived in England, the number would come out round.”

March: “A hot-off-the-presses update to the compendium of trivia about me: Q50. Yes, although only on a brief weekend trip that did not take me much further than Dublin’s immediate surroundings.”

April: “Going through a short backlog of topics that I consider worth commenting on as far as observations of British life go, I am going to address a fairly obscure one today: The seemingly universal recoil towards wearing real fur.”

May: “It is the most basic and universal of any advice that an international traveller can get: Never forget when your passport expires.”

June: “Southernmost part of continental Europe turned out to be not warm enough for a dip in the Mediterranean Sea at the end of May.”

July: “So, Becky is now taking a bus to school on her own.”

August: “I’m told that the weather in London has been its customary gloomily rainy for the last week that I’ve been away.”

September: “One stat that I omitted in my previous post was the number of gelato flavors sampled by the family.”

October: “Two years ago I landed in Heathrow to start my life in England.”

November: “Halloween was an annual disappointment for my girls.”

December: “Leaden skies, low temperatures, long intervals of drizzling rain, intermittent gusts of cold wind.”


Find your answers here

December 12th, 2008

I don’t get hit by too many weird search queries – I guess my Google rank is not high enough to push me near the top of the results for your basic cuckoo searches. But checking my Google Analytics stats the other day I came across this gem that apparently led to not just one but two visits to my website.

how do you attract the waitress’s attention in a restaurant in south china when you want to refill your teapot?


I tried the search myself and couldn’t find a link to me among the first 100 or so results. Irritatingly, Analytics is not generous enough to actually tell me the entry page for a search-related visit (Update: Yes, it is, I was simply not proficient enough in using it – see Brian’s comment below for directions). But I suppose that I could have answered that question somewhere on my blog. I must have been wasted then, since in sober state I cannot even imagine what specific procedure is required by etiquette in such an uncomfortable situation. Giving her a friendly wave? Holding an empty cup high above your head? Madly jumping up and down in distress?

But I have no doubt that now that I spelled out the entire phrase, I’ll be the top result for this particular search pretty soon. No other result seems to have this complete sentence present.

So, if you are here because you needed an answer to this particular question, feel free to browse my archives. It’s in there somewhere.

You’re welcome! Always happy to help!


I’m gonna be on TV

December 12th, 2008

Ok, not really. But a recent comment on my smoking in Canary Wharf illustration suggests that a French TV channel may be interested in using my photos from that post for their program. I honestly do not know how any of those photos could be very much useful for a TV program, but I am flattered.

Of course, it could be someone’s idea of a funny joke. Ha-ha, then. And I have no idea how many levels of review and approval – dozens? – are between a researcher and whoever makes the final decision for a program (a producer?). But I’m currently tops in Google on “smoking in Canary Wharf” search, so at least it makes sense that someone searching for this particular topic would check out my blog entry.

On a Friday night, at the end of a busy work-week, with a whole weekend in front of me and an amusing bit such as this, I feel pretty good.

For further updates, see the comments thread.


Post #500

November 28th, 2008

On 799th day from this blog’s inauguration, I finally reached my 500th post, at the rate of only .63 posts a day.

Not very prolific, I know, but I wasn’t really aiming to be such. In fact, in the first 466 days of this endeavor, I only posted once every several days and produced only 189 entries – a puny rate of .41 posts a day. I became considerably more active in the year 2008: In 333 days of it, so far, I posted 311 times. That’s .93 posts per day – not too shabby for someone who only does this as a hobby. In September and October of this year, I actually sustained a break-neck pace of 1.23 posts a day. Whew!

Many of the interruptions in my posting schedule have been brought up by our various trips. Another such one is coming now, although it will be not very long this time. Long before dawn tomorrow morning, Natasha and I are getting away for the weekend. If Monday allows for a breather at work, I will do my best to treat you with my customary exultations of une réunion avec Paris.

Jusque-là, salut!


An unexpected honor

November 24th, 2008

I learned today that my friend Jason conferred the “I Love This Blog” award upon my humble soapbox.

I sincerely appreciate your kindness, Jason. It is a bit embarrassing to me that you emphasize “a fascinating outsider’s perspective on American and British life”, which is something that appears less and less on my blog, but I’ll take any praise that I can get from a friend.

The prize comes with certain obligations:

  1. Post the award on my blog.
  2. Link to the person who gave me the award.
  3. Nominate at least 4 others.
  4. Leave a comment on their blogs so they can pass it on.

The first two requirements are completed at the top of the post. The last, I suppose, I can entrust to the wonderful statistics of “incoming links” on each of the recipients’ blogs. The thing that is left are the nominations.
Read more…


Looking at stats

October 23rd, 2008

I check my blog stats practically every day, more out of idle curiosity than for any marketing insight. The traffic to my site is pretty steady, not in the grand sense of the word, but in terms of an established small core audience, and it fluctuates wildly only on days when I post a mildly profound essay related to our expatriate experience (e.g., lessons learned) or finish an above-average Travelog article (such as this one, for instance) – and Natasha advertizes that inside Fodor’s community.

I’m fairly vigilant with keeping my blog at least PG-13, so I don’t get any weird or porn-seeking keyword searches leading to me (except this one, and there were only a few occasions of that). The vast majority of searches that result in clicks through to actually have the word “burlaki” in it or look for information on destinations and attractions featured in Travelog.

Nor do I have visitors from far and strange lands en masse. About two-thirds of all visits come from the US, and another quarter from the UK. The rest is spread across several dozens of countries. The most exotic place which I notice is Oman, with two visits averaging 8 pages and about 3 minutes on the site.

Of moderate interest is the information on referrers to my site, but the numbers are fairly settled on that as well, with various Fodor’s threads combining to be the top referrer source, and blogs by my brother, Janiece and Eric being the fairly regular gateways.

All in all, unexciting stats and a very little source of amusement.

What does baffle me is that I use two statistics-gathering engines, Google Analytics and stats, and their output, while following similar patterns, is never ever close to each other enough for me to be comfortable that the numbers are correct. For instance, my most recent record-setting day, October 1st (due to the aforementioned “lessons learned”), shows 345 main blog pageviews on Google (differentiated from hits to the Picture Gallery, Travelog or Becky’s Blog), but only 311 views in WordPress stats. I accept this as the same ballpark, but it is still a big discrepancy. I am considering getting a third opinion, from something like Sitemeter, but I expect that it will provide yet another ballpark number without making the picture any clearer.

Any website statistics engine that you particularly trust?


New heights

October 3rd, 2008

So, Natasha posted the link to my lessons learned little soliloquy to Fodor’s and challenged people there to share their own expat lessons. It generated a discussion on Fodor’s that pushed her thread to the top of most active, and it also caused a heretofore unseen spike in visits to our website.

I’m guessing that the next phenomenon is a corollary to that. I discovered yesterday that my bailout-related musings have been quoted verbatim and linked to on a blog dedicated to housing problems in the US. The proprietor must be a “fodorite” – otherwise, I cannot fathom how he would select my humble opinion. And placed it right next to a Milton Friedman’s video-lecture!

I am greatly amused. And, I guess, thankful for the publicity, even though I have reservations of seeing almost the entire article of mine re-printed elsewhere.