Wednesday, February 8, 2012

In the Land of the Blind...

  An expression I learned from my father is “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king”. Since I’ve never heard anyone else ever say it, I thought my dad thought of it himself, but when I researched the saying for this post it seems the saying goes back to at least the 1500’s. No matter where it came from, it’s a great all-purpose saying. I’ve used the phrase in a self-effacing way when complimented on being able to accomplish a task that seemed impossible but was easy for me because I possessed a tidbit of arcane trivial knowledge but I’ve also used it as a way to fend off someone who I think is trying to put down an accomplishment of mine by making a big deal out the obvious fact that knowing a little bit about something (and a little bit more than everyone else) does not make me an authority.

  I was the one-eyed man in the field of Electronic Data interchange (EDI) because 20 years ago I set up an EDI program so the coat manufacturing company I worked for could exchange purchase orders and invoices with their big customers like Sears, JC Penney, and Wal-Mart. EDI was one of the early attempts to standardize data exchange between companies. It was a set of vague standards that each company implemented differently. My company kept on hiring ‘experts’ who were really just one-eyed men who had managed pre-written EDI packages for small companies but floundered when trying to adapt their knowledge to a quarter billion dollar companies’ needs. I had left the company in 1990 but was hired back in 1993 to set up their program after 3 failed attempts by one-eyed men. Even though I knew nothing about EDI when I started, I knew all about the company’s other systems and was able to put together the entire program in a year. When I started writing retail software in Iowa, we were approached by Nike and New Balance to set up EDI programs between them and our customers. It was a task that a lot of bigger retail software vendors either couldn’t do or couldn’t do right or could do but had to charge a lot of money for, but I was able to set up a system where small mom and pop stores could send and receive orders and invoices with big companies easily. I wasn’t an EDI expert but since the other companies knew even less about it than I did, our company got lots of new customers because we were the only ones who could deliver a low-cost service. Thanks to the internet and E-Commerce, EDI has since gone the way of the dinosaurs, but I still get the occasional inquiry into my availability to apply for a job working on insurance or health-care companies’ legacy EDI systems thanks to being the one-eyed man.

  2 months ago, I received the latest copy of ‘The Chess Journalist’; the quarterly magazine of the Chess Journalists of America, which awarded this Broken Pawn their 2011 Best Chess Blog Award over the other self-nominated entry, making me a one-eyed man in the world of chess blogging. This issue had the CJA award winners listed, so I took a look inside to see if my blog and name was there. Not only was it listed among all the other award winners, there was even a picture of the broken pawn you see at the top of my blog. Having had my thirst for fame satisfied, I read the rest of the magazine and the first thing I noticed was an appeal from the editor Mark Taylor for contributors to the magazine.

  I’m more comfortable waiting for everyone else to refuse to help before I volunteer, but there was something about this appeal that spoke to me. I flashed back to when I had similar problems getting contributions for the church newsletter I put together for 8 years. I also thought that it would be fun to see some of my better posts in print, without resorting to publishing my own ‘Best Of’ book. The Chess Journalist goes out to the hundred or so members of the CJA, who would be a captive audience for my blog posts and since I have plenty of posts just sitting in the archives here at the Broken Pawn I picked out 2 of my favorites (On Any Given Thursday and A Winning Weekend), and sent an email to Mr. Taylor offering to polish them up for print so he could use them in the magazine.

  I received an email from Mark the next day thanking me for my offer but mentioning that while my posts were well written, they were likely too local for a national publication. Then Taylor asked me if I would be interested in writing a column in the magazine about chess blogging. I had to stop and think about that one. I enjoy writing about chess and other things but was I ready to be writing about writing? For writers? I’d be more like the blind leading the blind instead of the one-eyed man in the land of the blind. I don’t even have any philosophical musings about blogging to share since I just write what I feel like writing about.

  Despite all my misgivings and the nagging vision in my head of being ‘Dorf on Blogging’, I decided to take Mark up on his offer and write the CJA column. If I fall on my face it wouldn’t be the first time but some of the best things I’ve ever done were the result of doing things I felt unqualified for at the time but later grew into. I wrote my first column as an introductory piece trying to point out how easy blogging is, that the subject of the blog isn’t as important as the passion brought to the subject, and my own particular hang up of sticking to a consistent schedule. I gave Mark a choice of 2 titles ‘Your Inner Blogger’ and ‘The Blogger Within’ and he chose the latter. I got the magazine last week and there was my column on page 11 in a national publication. I thought it read well and Mark put a killer masthead on top of the column that is one of the cooler pictures of me I’ve ever seen.

The heading for my column in the Chess Journalist magazine. Others may find it pretentious, but I think it's pretty cool. I especially like the fact that unlike my book 'The Adventures of Bulldog Beagle' or the 'Best Chess Blog' award, I didn't have to pay for it.

  I’ve been thinking about ideas for my next column on the hour long drive back and forth to work this week and yesterday I got an email from blogger Tim Brennan of He told me he liked my column and offered some blogging tips that I could forward to my readers. He also mentioned I would get more of the feedback I had asked for in my article if I included my email address (DORF on Blogging!). I checked out his site and it is beyond slick and tightly focused towards helping players improve at chess by increasing their tactical skill. Tim looks to be a real heavyweight blogger and promoter with 3,000 twitter followers and his own Facebook page for his site. I felt great knowing a guy like this enjoyed my column and I feel a lot better thinking I’m heading into this new adventure being at least the one-eyed man and not totally blind.