2012 Annual Blog Review

Happy New Year!  And welcome 2013!

This is my annual end-of-the-year/beginning-of-the-year review post.  I don’t really expect anyone else to find it interesting.  In the past I crunched a lot of numbers manually from the wordpress stats page on my dashboard.  This year, wordpress has made a very nice review page.  Click on the picture above or the link below.  Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 24,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 6 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

Of course, I still had to crunch the numbers.  It’s amazing to me that with only 19 posts written in 2012 that the blog still received 24,000 views.  I’m hoping to be a bit more regular in my posting in 2013.  Of course that’s what I hoped last year.  If you follow the blog, you know that in April of 2012 I tried the A-to-Z blog challenge.  I fizzled out somewhere around P and didn’t write again until December. So much for the discipline of writing everyday improving my blog.

So, without further ado, here is the list of the top 10-posts viewed in 2012.

1 Scary Rooms  2,694
2 The Bake House – Jabal Amman Restaurant Review  2,046
3 Amman turns . . . 100?  1,622
4 Jordan A to Z: M is for … Mansaf or Msakhan!  1,219
5 Jordan A to Z: K is for … Kings!  1,047
6 Pope Benedict visiting Jordan  958
7 Ramadan Breakfast at Hashem’s in Amman, Jordan  614
8 My thoughts on Ted Williams, homelessness and the value of fame in America  528
9 Eye Exams, Customer Service, and Paris Hilton  475
10 Christmas Lights and Nativity Scene near Amman Jordan (Fuheis)  428

Thanks to all of you who have been reading!

I am constantly surprised by the country stats from the blog.  WordPress recorded visitors from 134 countries last year.  That’s 65% of the nations in the world!  I broke down the top 25 countries by # of visits last year.

Rank Country Views
1 Jordan 7,116
2 United States 5,117
3 United Kingdom 1,220
4 Poland 748
5 Canada 679
6 Switzerland 453
7 United Arab Emirates 377
8 Australia 347
9 Germany 277
10 India 233
11 Netherlands 219
12 Saudi Arabia 213
13 Turkey 195
14 Philippines 190
15 France 158
16 Brazil 125
17 Egypt 119
18 Indonesia 117
19 Spain 113
20 Italy 107
21 Israel 102
22 Malaysia 102
23 Romania 100
24 Sweden 98
25 Pakistan 93

So thanks to everyone from around the globe for stopping by. My goal for 2013 is to generate more discussion on the blog … despite a high number of views, there are still very few comments.  It would be great to see some international dialogue taking place in this kind of forum.   Time will tell.  And speaking of time … here’s to a good 2013!

 

Taking the A to Z April 2012 Challenge!

Thanks to fellow blogger and WriMo Jim for pointing me to the A to Z April Challenge (check out Jim’s A to Z blog here)!  Participants are challenged to write 26 blog posts in April following the letters of the alphabet.  Posts are meant to be short and hopefully follow a theme.  You probably won’t be surprised to know that my theme for the challenge will be Jordan A-to-Z.

As most of you know, I am no stranger to month-long writing challenges.  NaNoWriMo has been my staple form of literary abandon for several years now.  This challenge sounds much more manageable than NaNo.  Basically I have to write 26 posts of any length in as many days.  The only real caveat is tying the post into my theme and using the letter of the day.  The way I see it, this should be a fun way to kick-start some posts I’ve been meaning to blog about.

You may have noticed that lately I tend to write rather sporadic and lengthy posts, not ideal for the blogosphere.  I am hoping that this exercise will help me be more disciplined about writing, focused in how I write, and in the end give me a platform of many posts from which to expand content on my blog.

So … stay tuned … please enjoy and comment if you have the time.  I also plan to post 3-5 random links each day from the list of 1,480 participants  in this year’s A to Z April Challenge (I am #1299).  If you are a fellow blogger and want to take the plunge with me … you can still click the same link and sign up to participate up until 11:59 PM CST on April 2nd!

Look for my first post later today Jordan A to Z: A is for ……

November Novel Writing in the Middle East

Wow!  It’s a little hard to believe that I have been M.I.A. from the blogosphere since September 18th!  That’s just a little sad, and more than a bit crazy but perfectly understandable.  Why?  (You might ask.)

National Novel Writing Month!

Those of you who know me well know that this has been my November obsession for the past 6 years.  However, some of you may have no idea what National Novel Writing Month is …. so an explanation is probably in order.  Basically, it’s a crazy writing challenge for those creative types out there who have always thought about writing a novel someday.  The official challenge is simply this:  write 50,000 words in the month of November.  This will amount to a rough draft of a Farenheit 451 or Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy-length novel.  At the end of the month participants can upload their novel to the NaNoWriMo (the affectionate short-hand nickname for the group) website and their word count will be electronically validated to make sure that they did in fact write 50,000 words.  The files are then promptly deleted and if they have been successful in their attempt, winners can claim their electronic winners certificate and their sense of pride in accomplishing an incredible feat of creative-writing.

That’s it.

No assurance or even hint at publication is involved.  There is  no reading of the novel in question and providing a critique or writing advice. It’s simply a gut-level challenge to churn out 50,000 words in 1-month.  That’s 1,667 words-a-day if you were trying to do the math in your head.

People Really do This?

Yup!  As a matter of fact its estimated that 1/4 of a million of us are doing it this month.  This is no small fact when you consider that in 1999 the event basically started out as a dare among friends and there were 21 participants.  They did it again in 2000 and had 140 participants.  2001?  5,000!  Apparently founder Chris Baty and his friends had struck a creative nerve.  No one expected at that time that a decade later over 200,000 people from around the globe would be participating.

This is one of the reasons I love NaNoWriMo!  It is such a fantastic example of a “00’s” cultural phenomenon.  Like Facebook …. it was something that started off as a kinda funny idea among friends and it turned into something with global reach.  It should be noted that NaNoWriMo grew from 21 participants to 25,500 by the time Facebook launched in 2004.  Technology did play a huge role in NaNo’s expansion … but before the advent of social networking as we know it today, they relied on Yahoo groups and a good “old-fashioned” bulletin board system (of the electronic variety, not cork) and chat rooms.

Another key to NaNo’s success, in my opinion was the recruiting of volunteer “municipal liaisons” to organize events in major cities around the US and later on around the world.  These volunteer leaders would put a face on the event as they met with writers in person to encourage them towards their novel-writing  goals.

So What Has my Experience Been Like?

I started back in 2005 when I was still living in the Western suburbs of Chicago.  I had learned of the event a couple of years before, but was in the midst of writing my Master’s thesis.  That turned out to be a 60,000+ word challenge of its own that kind of sapped all of my writing energy.  But with that behind me in the Fall of 2005 I decided to take the plunge and finished a 51,000 word rough draft of a novel.  I loved the idea and the main character and the process of writing, but I hated my rough draft.  It was so terrible!  Drivel.  And as my wife always likes to point out … incomplete.  Oh …. and 6 years later still unpublished.  Both moot points to me … the challenge was to write 50,000 words in a month, and I did!

Of my 7-years I have won 5, one year completing two NaNo novels for a total word count of over 100,000 words.  Two years (the year before and after I moved to the Middle East) I totally tanked.  This year … we shall see.  Today I should have 30,006 words to be on track to finish on November 30th, but unfortunately I am around 10,000 words behind.  But I like this year’s story, as well, it is about a brother and sister who accidentally get drawn into an adventure that crosses over into a world filled with trolls and faeries and other magical creatures and happenings.  Actually mostly that world gets pulled into ours.  My goal is for it to be fun and whimsical and something I can read to my kids.  So far, not so bad … but not so great either … it will definitely need some revision before it gets read to the kiddos.

Over the years I have mostly written fantasy type stories that have some sort of cross-over between the “real” world and the “fantasy” world.  I suppose this is partly because I love CS Lewis’ Narnia, but also because I think we have lost a lot of our sense of wonder and amazement at life.  It almost feels to me sometimes that technology has drained some of the magic out of our daily lives.

I’ve also tried my hand at science fiction and mystery writing.  I discovered that to write well in either of these genres requires a fair amount of research, foreknowledge, and planning.  As it turns out I may just not be smart enough to write a believable mystery or sci-fi novel.  =)

Novel Writing in the Middle East

For the past few years I have been involved in what is known as the Elsewhere::Middle East region of National Novel Writing Month.  This basically includes all of the NaNoWriMo participants spread out over the Middle East that don’t have their own country specific region (like Israel or Turkey or Egypt … although we adopted Egypt this year).  There are probably around 200 participants in the Middle East.  A lot of them are ex-pats from America or Europe, but there are also a growing number of native Middle Easterners that have been getting involved.  There are around 20 writers here in Jordan and it seems like 1/3 are ex-pats, 1/3 are ex-pats married to Jordanians, and 1/3 are Jordanians.  Actually there is also a group of about 100 Jordanian high school students who take part each year through the Young Writer’s Program!

Here in Jordan we get together once a week for “Write-Ins” at a local coffee shop.  All of us WriMos (as we are affectionately, if nerdily, called) bring our laptops and spend 3 or 4 hours writing together.  Remember NaNo is a solo effort, so we are all writing independently, but it helps being in the same room with other “crazy” people going after the same audacious goal.

One thing I have noted here in Jordan is that among the locals participants tend to be women.  This is largely true around the entire Middle East region.  There are certainly male ex-pats involved, but when it comes to Arab male participation … it is very low.  Considering the great tradition of Arab novelists and poets this seems really odd to me.  Consider the likes of Khalil Ghibrain, Mustafa Al-Tall, Elias Khoury, Zakariah Tamer, Mahmoud Darwish, Naguib Mahfouz, & Nizar Qabbani to just name a few off the top of my head.  These were all literary greats with deep intellect and creative spirit … so where are the Arab male writers of today?

From an outsider’s perspective, it seems that creativity is not as a highly prized cultural value as conformity.  I wonder if this plays a role in the popularity, or lack thereof, of something like NaNoWriMo here in the Middle East.  One female Arab participant related to me the litany of questions from family members at a holiday celebration.  They just couldn’t wrap their minds around the idea of simply writing for personal pleasure.  “So no one is going to read it?”  “It won’t be published?”  “Why are you doing this again?”  But in the end, even if they didn’t fully understand or even approve, they all had opinions about what she should be writing and how she should be doing it! LOL!

Well, I’ve wasted some precious time and word count filling you in on why I haven’t been active on the blog in the last month or so.  Now I should go and try to catch up on my 10,000 word deficit!  Be sure to check out the NaNoWriMo website if you are interested in the challenge.  It’s never too late.  And any Arab guys that are out there reading this … c’mon shabaab!  One of you might be the next Nizar Qabbani or Zakariah Tamer!

Blog for Jordan Day: Pics from Wadi Seer

March 12th is blog for Jordan Day.  I missed it last year, and promised myself I would catch it this year, but – alas . . . I missed it again.  I’ll blame it on being very busy with preparing to move into a new apartment on the other side of town.  As I am a big proponent of the “better late than never” attitude towards life . . . I will add my simple entry to the blogosphere in support of my adopted country of Jordan.

Nothing terribly deep I’m afraid, but because a picture speaks a thousand words I am going to post a gallery of pics from a recent outing to Wadi Seer (just west of Amman – a few kilometers past 8th Circle).  We headed out of town a couple of weeks ago with a group of ex-pat friends to enjoy the beginnings of spring.  March and April are easily the most beautiful months here in Jordan and I would highly encourage anyone thinking about visiting the Kingdom to come at this time of year.  We have lived here 2.5 years and always look forward to springtime outings like this.  It’s nice to get out of the city (even if just by a few kilometers), see some green, explore a little history, and relax with friends.

For those who picture the Middle East as one vast arid desert this photo gallery will probably surprise you.   For the history buffs – the ruins in the picture are called Qasr al-Abd or “Castle of the Slave.”  They are thought to have been built around 200 BC by the governor of the region as a residence.  Think about that for a moment.  200 BC.  One of the things I love about Jordan is this connection with the ancient past.  You see it in the ancient stones, but you also feel it as you interact with the people.

Not much historical information is available on this site or the nearby Iraq al-Amir (Caves of the Prince).  Of course, this also leaves room for speculation and imagination.  About as much info as I have found in various guide books can also be found in the article on wikipedia.  The nice thing about this area is that its not really overrun with tourists, and on Fridays you will meet a lot of locals who like to come here for outings with their families.

Without further ado, in honor of Blog for Jordan day, a small glimpse of springtime in the Kingdom:

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If you would like to read some more complete thoughts from another ex-pat living in Jordan, I recommend checking out Jim Wright’s blog for Jordan entry here.

My thoughts on Ted Williams, homelessness and the value of fame in America

By now you must have heard of Ted Williams, the so called “golden-voiced homeless man” who in the span of a week went from living in a makeshift tent to being interviewed on the Today Show and being offered jobs with Kraft Foods and the Cleveland Cavaliers.  Even 6,000 miles away here in Amman, Jordan I heard about Ted’s story thanks to viral video and social networking sites.  The world is truly a small place these days.

Ted Williams interviewed on CBS

This story struck a chord with me, as I spent 4 years working closely, through a community-based non-profit organization, with those struggling with homelessness and poverty.  I recently had the honor of writing a couple of guest posts on my thoughts on the Ted Williams’ story over at my friend David’s blog, Signs of Life.  If you are interested in what I had to say please click the links below.

Ted Williams: YouTube, the grace of God, and a slow news day (pt 1)

Ted Williams: YouTube, the grace of God, and a slow news day (pt 2)

While you are over there, take a look at some of David’s previous posts. I’m sure you will find something worth your while.  He’s definitely worth an add to your favorite RSS feed reader.

2010 in review

I can’t believe it is January 2011!  It seems like just yesterday it was January 2010.  I usually post a site stat review at the beginning of January which involves me crunching a bunch of stats behind the scenes and posting the Top 10 posts for the year.  To my surprise, this morning a stat review arrived in my inbox from WordPress.  It’s not exactly the same info that I usually look at, but it’s good enough.  I am posting their report below.  Honestly it’s been a slow blogging year for me.  I knew I hadn’t written that much this year but I was surprised to see that I had only written 10 new posts in 2010.  And equally surprised that I had 24,000 hits last year.  Most of those hits were viewing old content from 2008.  I’m not exactly sure how to take that, but at least people are reading.  Also from WordPress today I saw the Post-A-Day or Post-A-Week challenge.  Both of these options seem a bit much for me.  I mean really, does the blogosphere really need 365 posts from me in 2011?  Or from any blogger?  52 posts even seems like a lot, but I do hope to post more than ten times in the upcoming year.

Thanks for reading and here is WordPress’ stat review for Pilgrim Without a Shrine:

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The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

The average container ship can carry about 4,500 containers. This blog was viewed about 24,000 times in 2010. If each view were a shipping container, your blog would have filled about 5 fully loaded ships.

In 2010, there were 10 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 128 posts. There were 134 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 198mb. That’s about 3 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was January 18th with 194 views. The most popular post that day was Recent Thoughts on Osama bin Laden and Martin Luther King Jr..

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, blogsurfer.us, davidswanson.wordpress.com, expatfamilyinamman.blogspot.com, and Google Reader.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for scary room, mlk, ramadan, martin luther king jr, and wailing wall.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Recent Thoughts on Osama bin Laden and Martin Luther King Jr. April 2008
3 comments

2

Scary Rooms November 2008
8 comments

3

Jordan Headlines #3 September 2008

4

Eid Al-Adha, the Hajj, and life in Amman December 2008
4 comments

5

The Bake House – Jabal Amman Restaurant Review October 2008
8 comments

Happy New Year and 2009 Site Stat Review

Happy New Year!  2010 is here and so are the comments about lack of flying cars, robotic maids, and other technological advances predicted waaaay back in the 70s and 80s.  I wonder how far things will progress by 2040.  Probably not as far as we would expect in most areas – but surprisingly far in others.  I’m not sure anyone accurately predicted or anticipated the advent of the internet or web 2.0 back in the day, yet today many of us can’t imagine our lives without g-mail, facebook, twitter, or wordpress.  My mom even has a blog!  No offense mom =).  I have a feeling 30 years from now my son will be asking when I will be getting on BrainBook so I can be mentally bombarded by his latest news or when I’m going to update my antiquated blog with a Neural Subscription Syndication (NSS) feed so he can instantaneously absorb the latest content while on the daily commuter shuttle to Mars.

Until those days arrive here’s a bit of a stats review for the blog this past year.  I don’t expect anyone else will find this terribly interesting but I started doing this last year and think it’s a nice way for me to mark milestones on the blog.  I’ll start off with a horrendously cobbled together low-tech graph.

2007-2009 Pilgrim w/o a Shrine Stats

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I am pretty pleased with the growth of the blog since I started piddling around with it almost 3 years ago.

2007 Avg hits/month: 45

2008 Avg hits/month: 700

2009 Avg hits/month: 1585

As you can see in the graph my biggest month in 2008 was April.  This was the month that I took a 2-week trip to this side of the world to visit Dubai and Jordan.  I posted a lot and included a bunch of pictures.  The blog didn’t get nearly that much activity again until January of 2009 when I wrote a series of posts reflecting on Israel’s horrendous bombardment of Gaza at the time and the local response here in Jordan.  The really surprising (to me) peak of activity, however, was just back in November.  The draw?  Well it just so happened that the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha fell in November this past year.  I had written a little reflection on the festival back in December of 2008 but a year later it was drawing a ton of traffic to the blog – go figure!

So without further ado – here are the Top 10 Posts of 2009!  (sorry – no drumroll, but by 2040 we’ll have that sorted out)

Notre Dame du Paris

#10 – 384 hits – Notre Dame du Paris pics (April 25, 2008): #4 on last year’s Top 10.  A gallery of pics from a layover in Paris.  Notable to me because although this post is #10 on the list this year it beat last years #1 post by over 130 hits!

#9 – 393 hitsThe Citadel (Jebel al qala’a) in Amman on Friday (April 18, 2008):  #3 on last year’s Top 10.  My thoughts when looking out over Amman from the Citadel.  Includes a small gallery of pics.

#8 – 403 hitsBarack Obama at the Western Wall (July 31, 2008): #5 on last year’s Top 10. Just a couple of thoughts on Barack Obama’s visit to the Western Wall during his presidential campaign.  The prayer he stuffed into the wall was stolen and printed in the media.  This post got a ton of hits early in 2009 around the time of his inauguration but surprisingly peaked in November, coinciding with all the Eid al-Adha hits.  Hmmmm.

#7 – 420 hits – Random Pics from Amman (April 20, 2008): #10 on last year’s Top 10.  Just what it says a gallery of 20 or so pics from Amman.

Martin Luther King Jr.

#6 – 467 hits A message from Martin Luther King Jr. to Israel, Palestine, and Obama on Inauguration Eve (January 20, 2009):  While perhaps having the distinction of Longest Blog Entry Title, I wrote this in honor of MLK Day 2009.  It applies a snippet of a speech MLK made a long time ago to the current world situation.

#5 – 541 hits – Recent Thoughts on Osama bin Laden and Marthin Luther King Jr. (April 5, 2008): #8 on last year’s Top 10.  A look at two people who say they were fighting for the oppressed.  One by violent means, another by waging peace.  Posted in remembrance of MLK on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of his assassination/martyrdom.

#4 – 832 hits – Pope Benedict visiting Jordan (May 9, 2009): A half finished post about the Pope’s historic visit here.  It has some pics of the Pope with the Jordanian Royal family and this earned it a link from a forum for royalty aficionados and quite a few hits.

#3 – 1215 hits – The Bake House – Jabal Amman  Restaurant review (October 15, 2008): #1 on last year’s Top 10.  Ok, this post fell two notches – but it earned almost 10x as many hits this year!  If you want an American style breakfast in Amman this is the best place I know of.

Scary!

#2 – 1373 hits – Scary Rooms (November 21, 2008): This one cracks me up!  Basically this was supposed to be the 1st part of a 2 part post about Jordanian culture.  It has a poll about what room people thought was scary in their childhood and a story about my fear of the basement.  I was supposed to follow it up with a 2nd post on what room Jordanians typically consider scary, but never did.  You would be very surprised by how many people google the term “scary rooms.”

#1 – 3,332 hits – Eid Al-Adha, the Hajj, and life in Amman (December 15th, 2008)

Muslim pilgrims holding a nighttime vigil on the Mountain of Arafat

The clear winner this year!  Basically, an outsiders summary of what Eid al-Adha is all about with a few personal reflections about life in Amman during the festival.  This got a crazy amount of hits in October and November.  I wish I knew more specifics about who is reading this post – my gut tells me it was a lot of high school students looking for information for projects.  Hopefully they used proper citations!

*******

So 6 out of the 10 are making repeat appearances on the Top 10 and although they shifted around a bit on the chart they all generated way more hits this year than last.  Interesting to note that only 2 of the Top 10 were written in 2009 – everything else was in 2008.  As I am only looking at hits from 2009 this intrigues me.  It’s good on the one hand b/c I think it indicates I’m getting a lot of traffic from web searches, but it also concerns me a little about the stuff I wrote in 2009.  Maybe it wasn’t as interesting or relevant.  Or perhaps next year posts from 2009 will be more popular.

In any event, thank-you so much for reading!  I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to what 2010 will bring.  I’ve got some new ideas to implement this year so be looking for those (but next up a Top 10 Image Gallery from 2009).  And check back in 2040 for links to flying car dealerships, robotic maid employment agencies, and my fancy new Neural Subscription Syndication button.