The blog of Chicago-based freelance writer David Johnsen.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Blog Status
Yes, I know time is ticking away, but I am having a hell of a time computer-wise lately. First my laptop hard drive croaked last Friday. Since I'd have to start over anyway, I figured I may as well buy a new desktop PC (I've had only the laptop since 2005). The new PC is okay except my Internet connection keeps going down for no reason at all. This time it isn't even EarthLink's fault -- according to my DSL modem, everything is fine. But Windows keeps showing a big red 'X' between my network and the Internet. Others have reported similar problems with Windows 7, but all the solutions I've found online have failed.

I'm afraid I'll lose my connection at a critical juncture in the Blogger conversion wizard and something terrible will happen. But the odds are that my computer problems won't be solved by May 1, so I'm going to try to convert my blog now regardless. See you on the other side, I hope. Please go to to follow my further adventures (give me an hour or two -- or more)...


Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Blog Update
When I started this blog, I thought I was being smart by using FTP to host it on my own domain. Now that Google has announced the end of Blogger FTP support, I don't look so smart anymore. Come to think of it, I've been feeling stupid for quite a while, ever since Google started adding a whole bunch of features to Blogger that were not available for FTP users (such as layouts and integration).

So after 5-1/2 years, I am being forced to make a decision: move to another URL or kill off this blog entirely. Frankly, my ego would not stand for the second option. Like many writers, I feel that my written work is far more important than it actually is. Killing off this blog is akin to chopping off a limb, albeit not a very important one. I'm sure I could live without one of my littlest toes, but losing it would still be painful.

I will be moving somewhere. The most obvious choice is, but I've decided against that. When I created this blog, I intended to use it to promote my business. Aside from disseminating public appearances related to Biking Illinois: 60 Great Road Trips and Trail Rides, this blog has utterly failed in that respect. Who really wants to blog about -- or read about -- work?

Even worse, connecting this blog to my business has compromised my freedom of expression. I've pulled a lot of punches over the years for fear that potential clients will be turned off -- if not downright repulsed -- by my blunt opinions and crass language (at this point, some of you are thinking, If he's been pulling punches, how much of an asshole is he really? Stick around and find out, I guess.). I also have felt stifled in writing about my career on a "company blog," even though it's my company. Instead, I am planning to move to I know clients could still find my blog there, but at least it won't be literally a part of my corporate identity.

Please note that I have not made any changes yet, so don't go to the new URL looking for anything.


Thursday, August 27, 2009
Happy Birthday to DJWriter Blog
It's hard to believe I've been blogging for five years.

A lot has changed along the way. I started out with a lot of political content, but eventually I got sick of it all. Then the blog developed into a journal of Biking Illinois filled with entries about signing events, interviews, reviews, etc. For a while, I got tired of blogging altogether and lost 90% of my already limited readership with sporadic posting (my subject matter was always too scattershot to attract a large audience anyway). This year I resurrected the blog mainly to stick to my New Years resolution to finish more books than I acquire. I figured making it public would help me keep it, and so far I've been successful.

In honor of the blog's evolution, today I'll post a political entry for old time's sake as well as the latest book review.


Monday, March 23, 2009
Americans Are Too F***ing Sensitive
or "Why I Will Never Be a Prolific Blogger Again"

As the media tell it, President Obama's only words in his recent late-night talk show appearance were an insult to Special Olympics bowlers. He probably said more, but apparently it wasn't important. Was the comment ill-advised? Of course, it was. Was it offensive? I would argue that it was not because Obama clearly did not intend it to be. Unfortunately, it's virtually impossible these days to speak off-the-cuff for more than a few minutes without someone somewhere taking offense. As a blogger, I've been targeted several times by people who choose to be deeply offended by my words, even when -- no, particularly when -- no offense is intended. Frankly, that is a major reason I've posted less frequently in recent years. It's not that I'm afraid to speak my mind; I just don't need the irritation of defending myself from the perpetually offended American public anymore.

The Chicago Tribune had a ludicrous article on Saturday headlined "Obama's 'Tonight Show' gaffe one of many for president: Special Olympics slip isn't the first time he has stumbled." The story goes all the way back to the Democratic primary campaign to point out every single time Obama said anything vaguely offensive. Give me a freaking break. Imagine how many words the man has spoken in public in the past nine months. Who could do that without upsetting someone in modern America? It's ridiculous to hold anyone to such a standard. Besides, George W. Bush made as many "gaffes" almost every week for the past nine years, speaking a previously unknown dialect of the English language, and most of the media (David Letterman excepted) let him slide.

Someone commented on the Tribune story (insert rant about the general inanity of Tribune commenters here) that the media aren't being nearly as critical of Obama as they would have been if Bush had made the same comment about the Special Olympics. Well, that's because Bush would have flashed his malicious, condescending smirk, as if to say, "Take that, you little retards!"

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Sunday, September 07, 2008
A Forgettable Anniversary
The DJWriter blog turned four years old late last month, but I didn't even bother to commemorate it. As you can tell from the infrequency of posts, this blog has barely stayed alive this summer. I've been thinking about where it's been and where it's headed, but I'll save that navel-gazing for a future entry.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007
It's a Bit Drafty in Here
Every so often, I go through my blog history and try to prune out the draft entries. Usually, a few are only a sentence or two long without being thought out, especially since Blogger saves drafts automatically now. I delete most of those. Others are rants that seemed important at the time but don't mean anything to me anymore. I kill those, too.

But when I read some drafts, I wonder why I never "pulled the trigger" and published them. For time-insensitive entries, I revise them and publish them with the current date. If they are tied to a specific time period, I make a few revisions and publish them to the original date. Regular readers won't see them, but they will make their way into the search engines so somebody may read them eventually.

For anyone who wants to read recently published old stuff, here are some that I put out last night:
February 16, 2006 - The Doors
June 05, 2006 - June: Time to Buy a Ski Mask
July 20, 2006 - How Not to Frame an Argument
December 03, 2006 - Roadtrip Notes
June 22, 2007 - Rand McNally Gets It Wrong
September 09, 2007 -Wisconsin Road Trip Revisited


Saturday, September 22, 2007
I Wasn't Going to Get Into This...
I've been reading some of the 313 comments on Eric Zorn's column about the Aurora Planned Parenthood clinic. I could say a dozen things about that, and frankly none of you would care. I know that I won't change anyone's mind about the matter, and I suspect Zorn doesn't really expect to change many minds, either. Such is the abortion debate in America.

But I do want to take issue with commenters who accuse Zorn of making biased statements or who scorn the Tribune for letting his bias appear in print and online. Some people who read newspapers apparently don't understand the nature of newspaper columns (and blogs, for that matter). Although sometimes a columnist will use his or her forum to report a story that has been neglected elsewhere, generally a column is intended to present the columnist's point of view. The Tribune pays Zorn to express his opinions, which are usually well-researched and coherently argued. It's a bit like having a reserved spot on the "letters to the editor" page.

I'm not defending Zorn personally (he can defend himself just fine) so much as the role of a columnist. Zorn's job is to present his opinions. Any bias you detect should not surprise you. He is not a news reporter, he is a columnist.

UPDATED 09/30/2007 - A week and several hundred more comments later, Eric Zorn has come to the same basic conclusion I recognized in the first paragraph above:

As I started hunting for quotes, I found not only that I couldn't begin to sum up the passionate range of views on both sides of the abortion debate with a few snippets, but that all the sound and fury left me feeling that the debate itself is hopeless and pointless, and therefore inevitably endless and ultimately tedious.

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Monday, September 03, 2007
My Most Popular Blog Entry
Most of my readers don't know it, but one of my old blog entries has generated an incredible number of comments. Since I get e-mailed every time a new comment is posted, I have been able to watch the comment count rise to 71 (!) over the past two years.

In May 2005, the Chicago Tribune carried a story about the guys who pass out advertising cards for escorts in a certain Nevada city*. I ranted about how I hate that city, particularly because of those guys. It isn't even a particularly good entry; I think it's written rather clumsily. But it struck a nerve with so many people who hate that place that it has become a minor Internet phenomenon (or at least as close as I'll ever get to having one). When you type "I hate ___ _____" into Google, it's one of the first sites listed. The comments are depressing -- so many desperate, miserable people who would do anything to get out. There are very few positive comments to counterbalance the utter despair.

UPDATE 12/12/2009 - Now that particular blog entry has 247 comments, probably more than all my other posts put together!

* I'm not naming the city because I don't want to draw the search engines away from the original blog entry.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Who Blogs for the Bastard Polluters?
Today the EPA helpfully suggests seven ways Bastard Polluters could help the environment without changing their plans to dump toxins into Chicago's drinking water. Buried in the article is this disturbing nugget:
BP, which has taken out full-page newspaper advertisements and paid Internet bloggers to defend the permit, says it needs to discharge more pollution...
As a public relations tactic, paying bloggers to say nice things about your deadly discharge ranks lower than refinery sludge. I'd like to know who these spineless, pathetic, corporate-butt-kissing bloggers are, and not so I can shake their dirty hands.

I know pay-for-posting isn't new. But shilling for a product to generate "buzz" is relatively harmless; advocating the rape of our lake is entirely different. If BP wants to spread bullshit in its own blog, that's fine. But integrity-deficient "independent" bloggers who take cash to kiss ass deserve to rot in Hell.

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Saturday, July 28, 2007
A Few Minor Cosmetic Changes to the Blog
Whenever I think about overhauling my blog, I end up making just a few tweaks instead. The "new" Blogger doesn't have any templates like mine (many of the new templates are rewrites of old ones, but mine wasn't "migrated" to the new style for some reason). What I hate about most of them is that they limit the width of the blog text so when you maximize the browser, there are big, empty spaces on either side (example1, example2). I like the way my text stretches to fill the entire space. The handful of templates that didn't have this flaw (in my eyes) were unacceptable for some other reason. I guess that means I like my current design too much to change it drastically, but it needed some updating.

My first concern was the right sidebar. I never liked Blogger's default "about me" section, so I deleted it. I changed my blog description to be more about me than about the blog itself, including links to my business and my book. Then I moved it from the sidebar to a more prominent position under the "DJWriter" title. In theory, putting my occupation up front will get me more work. I'll let you know how that goes (as far as I know, the blog hasn't captured any clients for me yet, probably because I sound too grumpy). Removing the description and "about me" from the sidebar brought the link for my book to the top. The blog may not bring me clients, but it has sold a few books.

Since I've been blogging for 36 months, the archive list of every month in the sidebar has become unwieldy. My favorite feature of the new Blogger is the expandable tree-view of the archives (example). Unfortunately, that option -- along with any other "dynamic" features using "widgets" -- appears to be unavailable to people like me who post their blogs via FTP (in other words, people who use their own Web host instead of using Google/Blogger's servers to host their blogs). I guess that's my punishment for being a control freak. Still, I had to do something. I settled for a drop-down menu of the months instead, which at least takes up less screen space. I doubt that people are going to look at old posts unless they find them directly through a search engine anyway.

I also added "white space" (actually gray space) within the sidebar to make it easier to read. Then I made my blog post titles (i.e. "A Few Minor Cosmetic Changes to the Blog") a couple of points larger so they would stand out more. I wanted to increase the space between the post title and the post body as well as decrease the space between the post body and the post footer, but I couldn't figure out how. Then just for the heck of it, I changed a bunch of margins by a few pixels -- something no one would notice anyway.

All in all, I suppose it doesn't make much difference, but I spent a lot of time on it last night. I suppose I should have known, but I didn't realize there is a whole community of bloggers who blog about Blogger, discussing tips, tricks, hacks, and quirks. Their advice didn't help me a lot -- it mostly told me what I couldn't do because I use FTP -- but it was fascinating reading.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Bastard of the Day
Today's award goes to Chris (no, not cyclo-Chris), who posted a reply to my "Grandma's Diplomacy" entry. This has nothing to do with his opinions, but rather with the insulting way he expressed them. I took the high road in my reply, though he hardly deserved it. This blog is like my virtual house. Talk to me like that in my house, and I'll bounce you out on your ass. If you don't change your tone, don't be surprised when I delete your next comment.

Bastard update: Knock on wood, two-time bastard EarthLink DSL has been pretty reliable over the past three weeks.

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006
My Least Favorite Blog Comment
I haven't received this one personally, but from the many blogs I have read, this is my least favorite type of reader comment:
With ____, _____, and _____ going on in the world, why would anyone care about this?
Or something along those lines. Random commenter, if all those bad things are going on, why are you sitting there reading blogs when you could be out saving the world? I mean, really. And more important to me, as a reader, is why are you wasting everyone's time with a comment that contributes nothing to the discussion? In fact, I'll go on the record: if anyone posts a stupid comment like the one above to my blog, I'll just delete it instead of wasting my readers' time (unless it's really funny).

Let me answer the rhetorical question posed by the random commenter above. There may be an AIDS epidemic in Africa, a war in Iraq, genocide in Darfur, and hemorrhoidal itching in the White House, but the odds are pretty good that the author or subject of the blog entry really can't do a damn thing about any of them (I'm way too cynical for that "change the world" stuff). If a guy figures the best he can do to influence anything is to wear a T-shirt encouraging pitchers to walk Barry Bonds to thwart his drive for a steroid-enhanced home run record, then good for him. There is more to life than tragedy. Drop the self-righteous indignation and enjoy it a little.

A logical exception is when the blog's author or subject can do something about those big problems. So if President Bush is playing a guitar while New Orleans drowns, feel free to make comments similar to the one above.


Thursday, April 13, 2006
Smells Like Week-Old Sushi
As soon as I read the first sentence of Eric Zorn's blog entry yesterday about the Chicago Tribune's investigative piece on Sun Myung Moon's control over the sushi industry, I could sense that he had really "stepped in it." It's a sort of sixth sense that bloggers develop -- a way of knowing that a certain piece is going to incite a shitstorm of critical comments. My most recent example was an entry about Brokeback Mountain that drew more comments in a few hours than my entire blog gets in several weeks (and I wasn't even criticizing the movie or gays).

First of all, I agree with Zorn's position here. I have never desired to even try sushi. Heck, I don't even like cooked fish much, and with all the toxins in the water that fish soak up, that isn't necessarily a bad thing these days (I know there are health benefits, but even nutritionists warn about eating more than a couple servings a week). A friend of mine once said, "People always act shocked that I don't eat sushi, but what shocks me is that anyone would be shocked that someone wouldn't want to eat raw fish."

I have also never had a positive impression of Moon or his Unification Church. I first heard of him as a kid when they showed one of those mass weddings (not be to confused with Mass weddings) on the TV news. He always seemed like a nut (that isn't really an educated opinion, just a hunch). More recently, I have become aware of his power and influence in the American conservative movement. He owns the Washington Times and other conservative media outlets, and GOP pols regularly kiss his heinie. In that sense, he's every bit as repulsive to me as Richard Mellon Scaife, bankroller of the "vast right wing conspiracy" against the Clintons that his minions ironically claim did not exist. At least Scaife keeps a low profile, though.

At first, the response to Zorn's criticism of Moon and sushi was mixed. Some people thought it was petty to avoid sushi because of Moon. Others spoke out vociferously against Moon and his church. Some accused Zorn of being a bigot, and this sentiment magically swelled overnight to epic proportions. Yep, Eric stepped in it, all right, and the Moonies were mobilizing!

While I read those comments this morning, the title of Zorn's blog mysteriously morphed from "Change of Subject" to "Change of Shorts" as I nearly wet myself laughing so hard at the ridiculous accusations and threats leveled against him and his newspaper.

One of the best was a comment from "Joseph" of Nigeria as news of Zorn's blog piece spread around the globe: "I will mobilize Nigerian online community to disregard this piece and also stop reading the Chicago Tribune." Now I may be going to go out on a limb here, but I have a feeling that the Nigerian readership of is not exactly a key demographic. I can't imagine the head honchos saying, "We've got to get Zorn to tone it down -- we can't afford to lose the Nigerians to the Chicago Sun-Times!" Hey, maybe now the Trib won't get as many Nigerian money laundering E-mails as the rest of us do.

Zorn stuck to his guns despite the looming threat of a Nigerian boycott and wrote a column in today's paper unrepentantly reiterating his disdain for sushi, Moon, and any combination thereof. Now some commenters attempt to draw analogies between Zorn not eating Moonie sushi and Nazis exterminating the Jews. When you step in it online, the only question is how low your critics will go.

UPDATE 04/14/2006 - Well, Eric Zorn has reached his limit with the Moonies. He cut off comments this afternoon. I'm a little disappointed because I thought maybe this could break the comment record set by his "gone but not forgotten" entry (inspired by the announcement that Field's would become Macy's). On the other hand, I can see how this was becoming tedious, especially as the demographic shifted from devout sushi lovers to devout Moon defenders. I got to the point where I just skimmed for his responses and skipped over the Moonie apologia altogether. I give Zorn credit for staying reasonable in the face of religious zealotry, which can be hard to do. I can't wait for him to blog about $cientology!

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Monday, November 14, 2005
The Ugly Side Of Blogging
Certain blog entries aren't worth the trouble of arguing with commenters. It's even worse when they are old entries -- I can't even remember what I wrote in the first place without looking, and then I have to turn around and defend it. Therefore I have removed two posts from DJWriter, never to grace a screen again. Of course, it will take a week or two for Google to wipe them out of its cache.

I won't specify the subject matter, but I want to vent a bit... I started out harboring no ill will toward the person mentioned in the posts. After he contacted me, my feelings ranged from annoyed at best to virulently angry at worst. He turned out to be more arrogant, condescending, and self-absorbed than even I am (to some extent, aren't those prerequisites for blogging?). When he asked in essence why I have a blog if I refuse to agree with him, I thought, I don't need this shit. Sorry to go all Nazi here (incidentally, he and others compared me to the Nazis -- see Godwin's law), but this is my little fiefdom, and I run it as I see fit. So although I still believe what I wrote, I'm taking down the posts and comments to avoid future irritation. Perhaps he will take pleasure in that; I don't care as long as I never hear from him again. Maybe they will resurface in my collected works after I'm dead (how's that for arrogance?).

Sunday was a reflective day, and not just because I was installing my radiator reflectors. This is only the beginning of a lot of housekeeping to be done in my life...

UPDATE 11/25/2005 - Okay, it's official: according to Google the aforementioned blog entries no longer exist.


Tuesday, August 30, 2005
A Forgotten Anniversary
With all that has been going on, I neglected to mention that Saturday, August 27th, was the first anniversary of the DJWriter blog. It's been an interesting year. I'd say more, but I still have to finish writing my book.


Sunday, September 19, 2004
Tribune Ponders Blogging
The Sunday Tribune has one of the dumbest headlines I've seen in a while: "True or false: Blogs always tell it straight" with the sub-head "Sites reflect beliefs and biases of authors." Gee, what a shock! Anyone who has spent five minutes reading blogs knows that they are biased (except mine, of course). The article goes on to say that blogs don't have the same journalistic responsibilities and integrity as the mainstream media. So? Those factors do not eliminate mainstream media bias, anyway. All media are inherently biased, and this holds true for the Tribune, CBS, and Fox News as much as it holds true for my blog. I'm tired of the mainstream media's "holier than thou" attitude toward the masses. Why does a non-story like this deserve front page coverage?

A University of Chicago law professor weighs in to say that people get distorted views from reading only blogs on one side. And I suppose people don't get distorted views watching Fox News or reading the Chicago Tribune. There is a funny thing about alleged "media bias"--people only see it when it doesn't match their own beliefs. That's why Alan Keyes thinks the Tribune has a liberal bias -- because he is further to the right than the newspaper is -- while I see it as having a conservative bias because I am more to the left. And as another person notes in the article, a biased source isn't necessary wrong, either. Even Rush Limbaugh tells the truth sometimes, if only by accident.

As for the Dan Rather issue that inspired this article, here is a thought that I haven't heard mentioned (although I admit that I haven't followed the story closely). The guy said that he typed a letter with Microsoft Word's default settings, and it exactly matched the letter CBS claimed was typed in the early 1970s. Has anyone talked to the people who designed Microsoft Word? I ask because word processors are designed to imitate typewriters. If the designers used an IBM Selectric as a model for Word, then a document typed with Word's default settings should look the same as one typed on a Selectric--that would merely be proof that the designers did a good job. Just because the Word document matches the memo, that does not mean that Word was used to create the memo.

What has been glossed over is that the officer's former secretary said that although she questions the authenticity of the documents, the allegations within them are essentially true. In an editorial on Friday, the Tribune said it is old news that Bush got preferential treatment and that the "new news" is the documents. It galls me that the Republican spinmeisters are trying to use Vietnam against Kerry when Bush didn't even show up for his gravy assignment. Bush's neglect of duty may be old news, but if Kerry's service is suddenly an issue, then Bush's non-service should be as well. The truth is that the memo controversy isn't so much "new news" or real news at all, as it is "B.S. news," a red herring that distracts the media and the nation from what is really at stake in this election. All of the stories about Vietnam and the national guard are irrelevant distractions. The media get suckered into this again and again by the political parties (I'd say particularly the Republicans, but only because I'm biased). Is "Rathergate" really more important than American soldiers dying in a war started under false pretense? Is anything that happened thirty years ago more important than choosing the direction of this nation for the next four years?


Friday, August 27, 2004
Welcome To The Jungle...
...the blogging jungle, that is. For a long time I thought blogs were goofy. Lately I've been reading a few good ones (some of which are in the "Links" section of this page), and that made me consider starting my own. Finally, I was bored tonight and decided to jump in. I don't have a specific subject, but I'll probably write about music, politics, bicycling, books, and whatever else is on my mind. If you'd like to read more before this blog gets up to speed, check out Dave's Bicycling Pages, especially my "Coast to Coast Bicycle Tour 2002."


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