Monday, 23 March 2015

Email Engineering, Comments Policy, Blog Related Stuff & My Free Time


I know that the title might look strange to most of you, nevertheless, in this post I will try to write about a few things that were spinning around my head for a long time, but, until now, I couldn’t find the time to write about them. The topics that are analyzed below are:

  1. “Email engineering” and new email policy
  2. New comments policy
  3. Blog-related stuff
  4. My free time

So, as you might have already guessed, this post differs from the typical engineering/programming subjects that are being published in this blog. It’s a long and a little bit personal post, so, if you don’t want to read it all, you can only read the key points at each section. However, if you like this blog, I think that you should read the entire post; you might find it interesting.

1. “Email engineering” and new email policy

Email Engineering

The term “email engineering” is an inside joke that my colleagues and I use to express the time that someone spends with a view to send – usually quite long – emails. A typical dialog at my work would be like this:

-    Me: Hey, what’s going on? You look a little bit upset.
-    Colleague: Well, I spent all morning with “email engineering, ” and now I have to speed up to finish the presentation on time.

In other words, the term “email engineering” expresses the “unproductive” or “counter-intuitive” time that is wasted for sending (long) emails. Unfortunately, during the last summer, I realized that I do a lot of “email engineering” due to this blog. On January, I counted the number of emails that I received the last three years, and then I estimated the time that I spent to respond to these emails. The picture below shows the results.

Email Requests Per Year

So, only last year I received 229 email requests! That means that I wrote at least 300 emails since in many cases one email was not enough to solve the problem. By making the quite conservative assumption of 1 email request = 10 minutes, I ended up with a total time of about 38 hours (minimum). Wow! I was shocked when I saw this number! I spent an entire working week by just writing emails! That can’t be true!!!

The above helped me to realize that I have to change my email policy. Until now, I respond to every email that I receive, although my answer sometimes might take a few days/weeks to be sent. This will be tough to write, but, from now on I will no longer reply to all the email requests that I receive. I encourage you to visit the new FAQ page to read the requirements for getting a response from me. I like to receive feedback from all of you. However, from now on, if your emails don’t follow the rules, they will just be ignored.

Key points on “email engineering” and new email policy:
Fact 1: I enjoy to communicate with all of you.
Fact 2: Honestly, I wish I could solve all the engineering/programming problems that you send me.
Fact 3: 38+ hours for answering emails is way too much for me!
Result: New stricter email policy that will reduce the “email engineering” time.

2. New comments policy

Comments Policy

About two years ago, on the last major design update of this blog, I switched the commenting system from built-in Blogger comments to Disqus platform. With Disqus I didn’t follow any particular policy for comments; I used to approve every comment, except for spam ones. However, last summer, after having some indications of increasing “email engineering” time, I silently changed the comments policy. So, the comments for every new post will stay open for only 60 days AFTER the post-publication.

Why I did that? Well, I adopted this policy because I was receiving similar comments again and again. Some people don’t even read the entire post, and they just ask questions on the comments; issues that have been already answered in the post. Moreover, in the most popular posts, a lot of people keep asking questions that were answered a few comments below. I decided that this should stop!

Key points on new comments policy:
Fact 1: People don’t even read the posts and just asking questions.
Fact 2: Repeated comments especially in popular and old posts.
Result: Comments will be open for only 60 days after post-publication.

3. Blog-related stuff

Blog Related Stuff

a. Post frequency
It’s not a secret that from August 2014 and on I don’t write as frequently as I used to. The previous years (until August 2014) I usually published 3 – 4 posts per month. The last few months, however, the frequency has been dropped to 1 – 2 posts per month; September (2014) was the only month in the last – almost –4 years that I am running this blog, in which I didn’t write anything! Terrible!

In the upcoming months, I intend to restore the post frequency to 3 – 4 posts per month. Moreover, I will probably try to write longer posts, which will include more details about the subject; the previous post that I published is a good example of what I mean by the term “long post.”

b. Post subjects
In general, I always try to keep a balance between engineering and programming on this blog. I will continue this “subject splitting” approach, but, on “engineering side”, I will try to write more frequently (I slightly neglected to write about engineering issues at 2014), and, on “programming side”, I will probably try to move from VB 6.0 / VBA to other languages (C# is a good example).

c. Updating old subjects/codes
This is a real pain in the neck for me! The blog is constantly on a never-ending updating process! This means that I continue to “renovate” older posts quite frequently. This is the reason why I would strongly recommend you to follow this blog on social media; I share there all the critical updates on older posts.

d. Blog interface
During the last three months, I spent some time in order to enhance my HTML, CSS and JavaScript skills. I tried to implement some of the new skills that I learned to the blog interface (see for example how the navigation bar stays at the top of the page when you scroll towards the bottom). In the upcoming months, it’s quite possible that I will try to apply other interface enhancements too, to make the blog design more user-friendly.

e. Contests
I am thinking to organize some contests in the next months, but, I am not going to reveal more at the moment. Just stay tuned and be prepared for some surprises!

Key points on blog-related stuff:
Promise 1: Post frequency will be increased.
Promise 2: Distinction between engineering and programming subjects will remain the same; improvements on both will be implemented.
Promise 3: Continue updating older posts.
Promise 4: More user-friendly and less boring blog interface.
Promise 5: Contests will be organized.

4. My free time

Free Time

All the above issues share a common factor: my free time. Unfortunately, as the years are passing by, my obligations increase, and, consequently, I have less spare time available. On weekdays, I spend half of my day at the university (10 hours work + 1 hour going back and forth to university). But, it’s not only the everyday work: the last 1.5 years I have undertaken several programming and engineering projects, on which I spend a significant amount of time (especially during the weekends). Moreover, by the end of this year, or at least by the first months of 2016, I plan to present my PhD thesis, so this means that I will spend even more time at the university!

Having the above time constraints in mind, as well as other personal obligations in top priority, I have no other choice but to move the blog related stuff down to the list of my priorities. Sorry, but 38+ hours (= time spent on “email engineering” during 2014) is enough time for me to write about 5 – 10 new posts that will probably help much more people compared to the people in which I send the emails.

Another thing that I noticed is that “email engineering” doesn’t improve my programming skills. A lot of people keep asking for variations on existing code snippets. Well, I always try to publish detailed, well-commented code snippets, so that anyone who has some fundamental programming background can adapt to his/her own needs. However, I see that this is not always the case and I keep getting similar questions again and again. Sorry, but answering to similar issues is quite counter-intuitive for me! Last but not least, this blog is not a Q & A forum! I wish I had the time to answer all the questions that I receive, but, unfortunately, I don’t.

Key points in my free time:
Fact 1: My free time shrinks due to the increasing obligations that I have (university, other projects, PhD thesis, etc.).
Fact 2: Increasing amount of emails, keep asking similar questions.
Result 1: Blog-related stuff went down on the list of my priorities.
Result 2: Stricter email and comments policy in order to keep this blog running regularly (publishing at least three posts per month).


In this long text, I tried to explain the reasons why I decided to apply stricter policies regarding email requests and comments. I wish I could help all of you, but, unfortunately, I can’t. The only thing that I can promise to all of you is that I will do my best in order to keep this blog running. Unfortunately, time flies and we can do nothing about it.

Did you like this post? If yes, then share it with your friends. Thank you!


Mechanical Engineer (Ph.D. cand.), M.Sc. Cranfield University, Dipl.-Ing. Aristotle University, Thessaloniki - Greece.
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