The Weekender, October 2, 2020


On Wednesday, you almost certainly didn’t get an email from me. (Well, my Wednesday; let’s not account for time zone differences.) You were supposed to be I screwed something up. I’m going to explain what happened in a moment. I’m sharing this not as a mea culpa, although yes, I’m sorry I screwed this up, but because I think it’s good to share how the newsletter works — or in this case, how it fails.

Writing isn’t easy, and I’ll never say otherwise. It is, however, only part of what it takes to get this newsletter to you. I’ve said in previous weeks that I try to think like a publisher, not a writer. If you imagine a newspaper staff, there are writers and editors, yes (and I clearly do not have an editor), but there’s a lot more work needed to get those words in front of your eyes. On the print side, there are people who layout the paper, printers who run the machines that put the ink on the paper, and then a whole delivery infrastructure to get the physical newspapers to readers. On the digital side, there are equivalent roles, like designers, administrators of content management systems, server administrators, etc. 

On my end, most of that stuff is solved by various platforms I use. I have a web server somewhere in California (I think) which is operated by a hosting company; unless it breaks, which happens a few times a year, I don’t have to worry about it. When it does break, I get on a live chat and work with them to fix it. I also have a content management system which similarly “just works,” although there are times I have to go into the code and make minor changes, or hire someone to go in and make major changes. (In fact, I need some help to solve something beyond me right now, but I’m too busy to worry about it.) For the sending of the email newsletter itself, I use a service called Mailchimp, which is great and rarely gives me trouble.

But to make sure I avoid problems that have arisen in the past, I have processes in place. When I fail to follow my own process, something goes wrong — but that’s by design. That’s what happened on Wednesday.

As I’ve mentioned a few times recently, if you support the newsletter via Patreon, you get an ad-free version of it. That functionality was generously built for me by a longtime reader — it’s not a standard function built into Mailchimp or Patreon. When he built that function, he also built in a test list — just him and me — so we could test that functionality. Using his code, I’ve also been able to create a lot of different templates that I use for different situations. 

My writing process is basically: pick a template, write the email in Mailchimp, and then send. Writing in Mailchimp comes with two risks — one, I can lose my work mid-writing, which has happened before (but is rare because Mailchimp autosaves often); and two, it’s pretty easy to accidentally send an unfinished article out. My safeguard is to use that two-person test list as my default; if I accidentally send a draft, it only goes to me and that other person. My last step before sending is to switch to the main list.

And on Wednesday, I forgot to do that.

It isn’t the first time that’s happened — hardly. But usually, I catch it and re-send to the full list. I guess I was particularly busy with other things Wednesday because I didn’t notice until about midnight my time, which is to say, Thursday… so, I missed Wednesday. 

Sorry about that!

The Now I Know Week in Review

Monday: Yom Kippur. No email!

Tuesday: Perpetual Stew: Meet the meat that’s been around for longer than many of you have. 

Wednesday: See above.

Thursday: The Other Watergate Tape: Scotch, likely, not BASF.

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend.

1) “The True Story of the Married Woman Who Smuggled Her Boyfriend Out of Prison in a Dog Crate” (The Atlantic, 31 minutes, October 2020). I probably would have used this for a regular Now I Know but how could I? The Atlantic tells the story better than I ever could have.

2) “Everyone Has a Tom Pritchard Story. Only I Have His Bike.” (Bicycling, 18 minutes, September 2020). Tom Pritchard was a chef who had a fondness for telling tall tales; he was a local celebrity in his Florida area. And this story is about his stories, whether they were true, and about his bike. Even though you almost certainly never heard of Tom Pritchard before reading these words — I hadn’t before I read the linked essay — the essay is worth your 18 minutes.

3) “Hold Me, Squeeze Me, Bite My Head” (The New York Times, 5 minutes, September 2020). The subhead: “Two recent research efforts looked into the southern alligator lizard, which has one of nature‚Äôs more extreme mating strategies.” 

Have a great weekend!