Saturday, February 5, 2011

February 2011: Seventh Anniversary Letter

My monthly letter is now eight years old. I am amazed when I think I have been writing this letter consistently for so long. I am even more amazed that I have been writing five hundred words a day since June 25, 2002. It has been a wonderful ride that just keeps getting better and more fun. Writing is definitely a major part of my life these days. In January 2009, I created a blog,, and have posted all sixty of my letters there. I have continued to post letters there and mail them out by email.

In September 2009, I wrote and posted my monthly letter as usual. But, I used my daily writing to write two articles both of which I posted on the blog. I liked the idea of using my daily writing more productively than meandering about until the theme for my monthly letter popped. This began with my writing for our business blog: I also thought to move from handwriting in a notebook to writing more on my laptop. In these regards, 2010 has been a great year.

Just on This Side of Fifty, I posted 44 pieces or 32 postings beyond my monthly letter. June was the only month I only posted once. I posted 8 pieces in both April and December. In April, 7 of the postings were my travel log and reflections while in Istanbul. In December, I just had a lot to say. I also continued to contribute to our business blog.

In July 2010, I realized that blogger, the google based blogging service I use, actually tracks hits. I could track hits by posting. It tracks hits by country and search words used. In October, I finally realized people use twitter and Facebook to drive traffic to their blogs and websites... duh. In July, I had 801 hits. By December, I had 2,016. I had 6,491 hits from the United States as the number one country source. Surprisingly, Germany is number two with 235 hits. I have even had 124 hits from Turkey and 64 from Armenia. These are not stellar numbers by any means but it has been fun to track and try to grow the numbers.

Speaking about stellar numbers, there is a blog called Monday Morning Quarterback by Peter King of Sports Illustrated. His blog has hundreds of thousands of followers. He has over 920 thousand followers on twitter alone and has posted over 9,000 tweets. This fellow has created something of a writing career that is very successful and very Internet based. This is something to aspire to. It is not enough simply to write well and often, one must get an audience. There is a need to go viral i.e. to build up a critical mass of readers and followers who recommend you to others so that readership and followers grow, well, like a virus. It is slow at first and then mushrooms exponentially.

I am very familiar with the slow growth part of the curve.

The top ten most read postings are:

Nov 21, 2010, 3 comments 
310 Pageviews

Dec 25, 2010, 2 comments
  213 Pageviews

Nov 20, 2010, 6 comments
  176 Pageviews

Aug 11, 2010
  169 Pageviews

Oct 28, 2010, 1 comment
  150 Pageviews

Dec 12, 2010  
145 Pageviews

Aug 31, 2010, 2 comments 
121 Pageviews

Oct 3, 2010, 3 comments 
118 Pageviews

Sep 12, 2010
  118 Pageviews

Dec 30, 2009
  110 Pageviews

Note that only #10 was a monthly letter. Numbers 1 and 5 were also posted on Many of the hits on “Buried Armenian” Treasure came from Turkey. I am wondering who is reading this there and why? I got the highest compliment ever from cousin Richard Hovannisian, the esteemed Professor of Armenian History at UCLA, who simply said “very meaningful piece...” I felt like I got an A in a very demanding course. I wanted to show that report card to my Mom. In fact, I think I did.

I am amazed that “How to Choose a Speech Topic” is number 4 on the list. I have done nothing to promote it. It was simply something I wrote after attending the meeting of my Toastmaster’s club. It also turned into the speech I presented at the next meeting. I have done nothing to promote that page via twitter or any other means. I suppose when people search “speech topics” they find this posting even though it is not on the first page.

In December when I was writing a lot, I really felt like a bona fide writer more than anything else. I was actually wondering how I could begin to perhaps, you know, even try to make some money writing. I even began envisioning writing as a second career. Ideally, I would love to retire to a career of teaching, speaking, and writing. It is still a viable aspiration. The path is and has been to write a book. I still like the title of “An Attempted Mid-Life Crisis.” I had better get cracking on that while I am still in mid-life! When does that end by the way?

In January, I began another blog, Song to Aging Children -, it is dedicated to people of my generation. The goal is to have baby boomers who came of age in the years 1967 - 1975 to reflect on their adolescence and how what they thought then influences how they view the world today. Whereas This Side of Fifty is all my own writing, I want Songs to Aging Children to be less than 10-20% of my writing. I want to hear from as many others as possible. I think our perspective is unique because of the nature of the times when we were growing up. This was inspired by my November 2008 letter, “Was it the Weirdest of Times?” - If you are of that certain age and want to contribute, I would be most appreciative. I would love to see hundreds of postings on this blog and thousands of visitors. Oh, the aspirations and delusions of grandeur!

Google Docs: Usually in these annivrsary letters, I write about the kinds of pens I use to write my daily pages. I switch between Rotrings, Caran D’Aches, and Uni-balls for the 25% of the time I actually handwrite. As mentioned about, I mostly type these days. At first, I used to use Microsoft Word exclusively when working by PC. That is no longer the case.

One of the big issues with PCs is that I use several different PCs in a given day. I use my laptop at home. I have a desktop at my client and use school computers at the College of Lake County (CLC) and Keller where I teach Statistics in the evening. If I begin writing on any of these work or school computers, I have to remember to email the file to myself or carry around a thumb drive. There are problems with both of these options. I simply forget to email the files about half the time. Yeah, that is so me. As for thumb drives, they are a most efficient way to transmit viruses to my personal laptop. I found this out the hard way. The CLC network is a viral cesspool with some of the latest and nastiest viruses. My poor little laptop needed some serious attention. So, the thumb drives sit idly in my briefcase.

Ara Surenian, my valued business partner and all around technology guru, pointed out the possibility of Google Docs. Basically, it is a cloud based equivalent to Microsoft Office with word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation applications. Instead of saving the files on a hard drive, they are saved on a Google server like my emails, photos, and blog. I can access any file from any computer from which I can connect to the internet and sign on to my Google account. As a result, I have a virtual hard drive that follows me around wherever I go, like a cloud over me head... hence the terms Cloud Based Computing or Cloud Based Applications. It is very cool. For business, Ara and I share and collaborate on documents this way.

I have written this letter entirely in Google Docs.

February 2, 2011: As is my habit in these February Anniversary letters, I like to take one day’s writing and post it verbatim. Today is the perfect day for that as it is a snow day. Everything in Chicago was closed from 2 pm yesterday through the end of today. Many schools already announced that they will also be closed tomorrow. It was a great day to be home based, enjoying the massive amounts of snow that has fallen. I am not sure of the official measurement but it appears that we have had at least two feet.

The snow stopped today at 1 pm or so. Almost immediately, the sun came out. With the sun, I ventured out to take some photos which is something I like to do after a huge snow storm. I love the snow covering everything in a blanket of pure white. It is one of the beautiful things about living someplace with four seasons. The pure white and quiet doesn’t last but that first day. As we dig out and get back to our routines, the snow settles and gets a little grayer from the grit and grime in the air and from our cars.

People used today as a catch-up day. I certainly did. It was great to knock lingering things off of the to-do list. The backlog was getting to weigh heavily on me. I made a dent but not nearly as much as I would have liked. I could use another snow day. It made me realize just how much we have crammed into our lives in these times. I actually believed in the morning, that I would get so much done and still have time to finish and mail out this letter. Now, at 9:21 pm, I am certain that will not not happen.

Today was also Groundhog Day. In Puxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the “official” groundhog did not see a shadow and thus, as tradition lore would have it, we are in for an early spring. That is kind of funny prediction seeing the kind of severe winter weather we have today and the fact that single digit temperatures we will have in the next few days. 

One of the cable channels was running a Groundhog Day Marathon. They were showing the 1993 movie of the same name directed by Harold Ramis and starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell for 24 hours. The movie has become a classic. I watched it while grading papers this afternoon. The premise is that a jaded weatherman, Bill Murray, is sent from Pittsburgh, against his will, to cover Groundhog Day in Puxsutawney. A snow storm keeps him and his crew from leaving town that night and he keeps waking up in Puxsutawney and reliving Groundhog Day over and over again. He is the only one that knows this is happening. It does not end until he becomes a better person and realizes his love for his producer played by Anide MacDowell. It is very well done quite clever, thoughtful, and funny. I have seen it several times and thoroughly enjoyed half watching it while hopefully not mis-grading the papers.

I am sure if every day was a snow day it would get pretty boring but every once in awhile, it is a most welcome treat.

Reading Others: In every anniversary letter, I expound on other writers I have read and admired. First and foremost on that list is Garin Hovannisian author of Family of Shadows. I reviewed his book. It is #7 on the list of top ten most read postings on my blog. Garin wrote a very well done and touching portrait of four generations of the Hovannisian and Kotcholosian families.

I also read and enjoyed The Lost Cyclist by David Herlihy. It is the #6 most read posting on my blog. Herlihy recounts a most fascinating tale of the early days of bicycling in the 1890s. A young Pittsburgh native, Frank Lenz, who set off to cycle around the world. Lenz is reported missing just outside of Erzeroum. It is a grim time in that part of the world with the 1895 Hamidian massacres looming. It was a fascinating story well told by Herlihy.

I will not expound more as both books were reviewed on my blog. Please follow the links in the aforementioned top ten list to read them.

Thanks: I would like to thank everyone who has been so supportive of my writing over the past year. Tommy Vartabedian, a great newspaperman, is first and foremost on this list. He is always encouraging and always complimentary. His support means a great deal to me. I thank my son, Aram, for his editorial contributions. Judy for here support in general. I thank Mark Axelrod, Marty Shoushanian, Dale Dvorak, Ruth Swisher, Nadya Uygun, David Gavoor, and Greg Postian for commenting on and acknowledging many if not every letter I send out.

Thanks to Ara Topouzian for not writing and giving me grief for not mentioning or thanking him.

Thanks to Raffi Bandazian and Ara Surenian for encouraging me to move things to a blog. Special thanks to Marilyn Zavidow, my Westport, CT to Grand Central train buddy, who was a great collaborator in the planning of the letter and actually came up with the name This Side of Fifty. Lastly, I thank the man I never met, Aram Kevorkian, whose own letters inspired my to write a monthly letter to friends and family. He passed away in December 2003 and my first letter was emailed out in February 2004.


  1. A one word comment? Loogit?

    Can only be from Ara Topouzian...


  2. Your posting are wonderful, funny, insightful, inspiring, at least the ones I have read since I discovered your blog in 2009. I will get to the former postings in due time lol. Anyway, Happy Anniversary! And thank you ... I look forward to many more postings.

  3. Not sure how we would do group papers for my MBA without Google Docs. It makes it all so much easier.