Readability and random notes

I recall reading in the Chicago Manual of Style that the ideal line length for printed sentences was between 65 and 72 characters. Alas, I cannot now find that citation, but there is much interest on sentence length on the net. Here’s just one article (external link). The point is that readability is a subject of study and has been for decades, for centuries even, ever since Gutenberg. In this Internet Age we think we can design as we will, but that ignores common rules that the print world has always observed. In a time when a website can be viewed on a phone, a tablet, and on a desktop machine, we must be constantly reminded of how our words and sentences appear on a screen and how our readers are trying  to understand them. I’m not a web designer so I do not know how to standardize sentence length on my websites. But I try to stay aware of the similarities and the very real differences between computer and paper.

Have you ever proofread an important report? Especially a long one? It is amazing how many errors one can find when the paper is printed. There is something about how the eye jumps back and forth, this way and that, catching things at the top and bottom of the printed page, seemingly instantly, that is not done on a screen. We miss things in the small window of a computer. Even when looking at a full page screen you still find mistakes on the print-out that you will not catch on a monitor. Which brings me to another point.

If we cannot fully catch all mistakes on a monitor, can we fully understand what we see on a screen? Screens are really meant for looking quickly, often just a paragraph or two at a time. We browse or graze on a computer, instead of taking it in fully like with a book. Does this mean we have to print out every long form article on the web? No, but it does mean we should think about whether we are reading or reading well. And that we should probably put our web writing into small chunks, with illustrations to help explain the text, and enough repetition to get our points across, even if we didn’t get them across in the viewer’s first reading.



I’m over at

I recently queried a few motorcycle organizations, asking if they needed a column or blog writer. Unfortunately, there has been no response. I am sad about this because I think I could write very well on the topic of beginning motorcyclists; there is little in print on this and as a new rider I feel I have the right outlook and experiences to relate to the subject. Oh, well. Perhaps something will happen with this later.

For the next several weeks I will be building a new for-pay website. It’s sort of like starting a small business. I’ve written about before (site discontinued). It will be an online library and store of words and sounds about railroading. I’ve entered most of the text that will be on-line; I now am concentrating on the audio. I am learning a great deal about building a modern website. I think what I’ve learned about video and building an app in the last few months will be helpful.

September 30, 2015 Update. There was never any demand for the site and I folded it. Perhaps with better marketing the site could have done better. Perhaps.


Installing a Genesis framework from StudioPress using a Mac

I’m in the throes of producing a website called discontinued) It’s a WordPress website using as the host. On this website,, I am using itself to host. That’s for simplicity’s sake. But for I need more storage space than WP economically offers. And there are other reasons as well, the chief one being more flexibility in choosing a template. Which brings me ’round to today’s techno jabber.

I had trouble downloading and uploading a StudioPress web page template called a Genesis Framework. It’s a suite of pages and so called style sheets that you use to develop your website. All their download directions were centered around a .zip file which I never saw. .zip files are generally a PC/Windows thing, not something we see regularly in the Mac world. In any case, in my download folder, a nest of three files appeared. Not one was a .zip. Turned out I had to use a FTP (file transfer protocol) program to upload the folders to my host. I used Fetch, a pay program, because I have used it before, although note my update below. After I figured out all the passwords for my host, the first miracle, I discovered FTP directions at WordPress. They are not wholly accurate. What they call for is this directory path:


What you really are looking for is this:


When you upload your genesis theme in a folder the directory should now look like this:


If none of this makes sense then feel free to e-mail me . Better yet, use Their tech support people are alert and friendly. V. quick responses. If you are setting up a complicated website for the first time I would recommend them highly. If you need a simple site like what you are viewing now, stay with

Update: You can turn a folder into a .zip file using a Mac. Here’s a link on how to do it (external link). The result will be a single file which you can upload using Justhost’s built in FTP client. This process may work but I haven’t tried it. It could save you some time and trouble.


On e-zines or electronic magazines

I said that my next blog entry would be on publishing an e-zine, or on-line magazine. Another freelance project has come up in the meantime, so I didn’t get to do my research on e-magazines. Here are a few points, though, some general observations.

How much time do you want to spend on illustrations? Layout and photos and graphics become key to a professional look and to helping readers understand a subject. The best e-magazines like Popular Science, are really a balance between graphics and text. If you are the lone person working on a complicated publication you will be spending a huge amount of time on producing images, charts, and photos. Is that what you want? Is that something you can do? The more technical or hard to explain your text is, the more you should rely on graphics. Why? How do you describe, using words only, how to tie your shoes? Illustrations help even the best writer explain complicated subjects. When I wrote at, explaining electronics and telephony, I spent at least a third of my time on graphics.

On the other hand, really interested readers, people pursuing a specialty business or hobby, will tolerate your lack of illustrations if you get them quality information. A photocopied newsletter can often deliver more good content than the most costly, slicked up e-zine. It’s all about knowing your audience. Bob Brinker, a financial expert, produces a low tech newsletter that sells for $185 a year. He can get away with an elementary presentation because his subscribers trust his advice. One of my hobbies is prospecting. I will totally tolerate a photocopied zine if it has good, authoratative information. It all depends.

Oh, and one last thing, something I keep forgetting to research. There’s a market in overseas magazines. I’ve sold into Norway, Germany, and Japan. What’s needed is a good list of foreign periodicals that will accept English articles. Hmm. Maybe that could be a website as well.


Thanks to


A website as work for a freelancer

A website as work for a freelancer

I am now working on something that should produce a small revenue stream once completed. I am building a pay website using amazing digital recordings produced 20 years ago by an accomplished audio engineer.  I just happened to run into David Reaves over e-mails. At one point he told me that in the early to mid 1990s he had produced seven CD recordings of different railroad sounds. After sales languished he put the remainder of his stock into his basement. Now, living in West Germany, he can’t afford to ship them stateside. But they can live again on the internet! With his cooperation I am moving toward setting up a music-like store to sell digital downloads of his works. We will split any profit that results from the site.

The site I create will only be a small money spinner but I look forward to it going on-line. His liner notes are amazing. I am posting just two below. The text describes what you hear on the tape. Listen to the two samples below. They are not the full quality recordings, as these have been cut down from 13 megs to 2 for this post. I hope to keep downloads at their highest, CD quality. The site will also have maps and pictures. Yes, I know, a small audience for this sort of thing. But rail buffs are fanatics. And Google will grab all the keywords in the liner notes and quickly put them into the search results. A person searching for a railroad or a locomotive will find not only text and pictures, but a link to a site with sounds. If you do take a listen, try headphones. And then imagine, the whole site: 99 tracks!


CD TITLE: From Safety Valves . . . to Ribbon Rails

Picking Up Where the Critically Acclaimed Riding In An Open Vestibule Left Off

More Spectacular Sounds of Railroading Across the U.S.A.

Track 05. Challenger Runby (1:14)

My niece Emily, nephew Jonathan and I went chasing UP Challenger (4-6-6-4) (external link) across Wyoming. The star performer in Union Pacific’s passenger excursion program, it is the world’s largest operating steam locomotive – and sounds it! Paralleling the UP Overland Route on I-80, we followed the big engine east with its yellow cars and trail of smoke. We caught #3985 racing up to crest the Continental Divide at Latham, WY, exit 184. Examining a track profile, this looked like a good spot to catch the loco working upgrade. Working? The 3985 shows no sign of strain, whizzing by at breakneck speed. The Challenger is one muscular steed of an engine and those passenger cars are like mere flies on the horses back, as it strides toward the next stop at Rawlins. [Gets going at the 25 second mark, ed}


Track 06. The Little Engine with the Big Horn (1:09)

This is the Black River and Western’s (former Washington Terminal) Alco RS-1 #57, hauling a couple of passenger cars from Flemington to Ringoes, NJ. I just love the tone of the horn. Who says diesels have to sound ugly?


© 1993 – 2014 Audio and text by David Reaves. Web production by Tom Farley. All Rights Reserved.



Full liner notes for this album: 


Other choices for freelancers

Let’s look at other ways a freelancer could sell their work. Besides building an app, which I’ve touched on before, one could create their own hardcopy magazine, publish an e-zine, blog for an existing site, or write a column for an existing magazine. And instead of wasting time on the freelance sites, you might look to Craigslist for writing assignments. Today, let’s concentrate on the seemingly impossible, creating your own hardcopy magazine.

In 1994 and 1995 I produced private line magazine. The complementary website, over four hundred pages, still exists at this address: It is now an archive and not updated.  private line in hardcopy was 24 to 30 pages, every two months, published all by myself with only a few contributors. It focused on the telephone system, with a hacking angle that had some comparison to the great 2600. It was a critical success but a commercial failure, its demise caused by the bankruptcy of my leading distributor, Fine Print. They owed me so much money that I could not continue printing or mailing. Sigh.

It is probable, however, that I could not have sustained the magazine, even without the crippling bankruptcy. I had to do everything, which was writing, cutting and pasting the layout, dealing with the printer, whom you always had to pay up front, and finding advertisers. If you have a team, however, and if you can afford to have everyone working without pay for a while, you might still be able to swing it. I had good and encouraging relations with Borders Books and Tower. Their agents simply looked at sample copies, deemed them acceptable, and gave me orders for their stores. Because of this, some people bought private line in Tokyo at a Tower store. Very cool. There was a major problem with distributors, though, and that was how much they took.

It was common that 40% to 60% of your title’s price was taken by the distributor. Copies that didn’t sell paid nothing. So you have to run the numbers very carefully when you start printing hundreds and hundreds of copies. Which brings up another point. The more copies you have printed the less unit cost you suffer. But your overall bill goes up, up, up. Printing just a few copies is very expensive. I mentioned a team. You really need someone in charge of finding advertising so you can concentrate on production. If you are a writer, or the only writer in the mag, you shouldn’t have to deal with ads or the printer, or managing subscribers.

Barnes and Noble and independent magazines are still stocked with hundreds of titles. Someone is making money doing hardcopy magazines. If you have a passion for an underreported industry or interest you may want to consider this expensive possibility. Make sure your topic is something advertisers  would be interested  in or, failing that, that you have group of ardent followers willing to pay for subscriptions. I enjoyed producing a magazine and I could go through it again with help and financing. But without those things, I’ll take a pass. Next blog entry will be on publishing an e-zine. I’ll need to research this field before I report because I haven’t done one before. Perhaps these are the future. Stay tuned.


private line magazine
The last issue, with its tremendously expensive color cover. I had a friend ink over a photograph with felt pens. It looked great when new and it was very original.