Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Tactile Sensations

I bet you've been wondering where I've been the last couple of months. Yeah, I'll just bet you're wondering. Right. Well, if you must know, I went out in late October for a sandwich. The next thing I knew, I found myself involved in sensitive negotiations between one S. Claus, and Local 1 of the AF of Elves, concerning overtime payments. As anyone who got Christmas presents can certify, those talks ended successfully. After purchasing and enjoying my meal [ham and provolone, on wheat bread], I safely returned to this locale, and bent to the keyboard...


As any human can communicate, some things are just better when the sense of touch is involved. Anyone who has ever kissed or caressed another human knows the joy and beauty that touch brings to such an activity. Manufacturers of touch-screen devices are constantly trying to improve the simulation of pressing a letter key or button on their machines, going so far as to add the sound of a "click" when someone inputs on the device [of course, this has its limits; PC Magazine's Sascha Segan registers his complaints in this column].

This love of the tactile frequently shows up in future-based fiction, most notably in the world of Star Trek. In the world of the 22nd or 23rd century [I always forget which one it's set in], virtually everything we currently find in hard copy print today would be available on computer screen, portable device, or whatever technology the inventors of future days can come up. But in the world of Trek, old books are highly prized gifts; Spock presents Captain Kirk with a book [and reading glasses!] in one of the movies, while Captain Picard, among others, receives a book on a special occasion. Certainly part of the attraction is the item's antiquity: I personally would be surprised to find actual printing being done anywhere in the developed world by the end of this current century. But there is also a tactile component to a book or magazine - the heft of the piece of print, the sensation of turning pages, even the odors that sometime are associated with a particular hard copy item [can any of us of a certain age say they truly have forgotten the aroma of freshly-mimeographed pages?]



This all comes up, of course, for a reason: the announcement that the current issue of PC Magazine {January 2009} will be the last printed one. Future copies will be available only in digital, with full text being available to those who subscribe. Given the current economic crisis, I can understand the decision, After all, it reduces costs to make only digital versions [as well as reducing the price to subscribers; an ad at PCMag.com touts the digital price per issue at 62 US Cents. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I will miss the feel of a copy of PC Magazine, the aroma of its glossy page stock. I understand the logic behind the decision, but the realities of it are still disappointing.


Speaking of the new economic realities, bloggers should take to heart the Assassin's Creed; namely, BE PREPARED ! If your blog
host were suddenly to go "belly up", would you be able to move it to a new host site? Have you backed-up your previous posts [given the circumstances, more than one site may be advisable: who knows where bankruptcy may strike?]? (By the way, finding free hosts for your archives isn't difficult; a quick online search, followed by checking the pros and cons of each location, should do the trick) I'm really not trying to be a fear monger, but, watching the imminent collapse of up to one-quarter of US chain stores, and remembering when the "dot com" boom went boom in the 90's, a little preparation seems in order.


But, in the spirit of the season, let's hope [and pray, if appropriate for you] for fiscal recovery in the New Year. I also hope you have much happiness, love, and more than a little fun...

-Mike Riley



Thursday, October 23, 2008

New Tools For The Holidays



I've been subscribing to PC Magazine for about two years now, on and off. One of my favorite issues each year [and I've had the good luck to get them both, despite my less-than-perfect subscription record] is the "Top 100 Undiscovered Web Sites/ Top 100 Classic Web Sites". The Classics, as you'd assume, are the Usual Suspects [in fact, PC Magazine considered them so standard, they didn't even bother printing them in the magazine; they are available for quick-n-easy download at the web site], but the undiscovered sites included a few useful apps in the rough. In no particular order, here's what I liked:

Jott - Free speech-to-text service that allows you to update your blog, Twitter feed, or to-do list, from any phone. PC Mag said the conversions were "surprisingly accurate".

Oddee - Ya know those weird photos some bloggers seem to be able to lay their hands on? They probably found them here.

Damn Interesting - Slow day for posts? You may just find a launching-pad in this collection of, well, damn interesting factoids.
NationMaster - A storehouse for world data, set up to allow multi-national comparison based on customizable criteria. Who leads the world in chocolate consumption? NationMaster knows...
Searchme and Viewzi - two new ways to search. Searchme uses Apple's Cover Flow interface to present search pages as a series of horizontally-presented previews. You can also create "stacks" for later research. Viewzi combines visual search results from the standard sources, then lets you decide how to present them.
WhatTheFont - See a font you like on someone else's blog or web site? Upload a scan [or submit the site's URL], and WhatTheFont will e-mail you the font's name.
PicApp - A free stock - image service. Type in a topic or name [yes, they do celebrities, too], and it'll provide images for your blog [suggestion: be specific in your topic. I used "tools", and got several shots of a little girl at the beach, with a toy shovel [yes, it's a tool, but...] before coming up with some hand tools. Also, I had difficulties with downloading the photos [that could be some Blogger issue, or the network this computer is connected to. Just be aware of it].
Of course, there are many more sites included in the November '08 issue. Go and do research...
-Mike Riley

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Economics 101


A confession: I know very little about any theories of economics. I know it when I have to deal with it at the supermarket or at bill-paying time, but, generally speaking, I know about as much about economics as your doorstop [maybe a bit less; the doorstop usually reads your paper before you bring it in]. That said, I suspect the above Calvin and Hobbes cartoon is as good a starting point as any for our discussion.

As to the current US financial crisis, I've got no solutions, or even suggestions. For a quick read on how the whole mess started, I recommend this article; it's one that even I could understand [then again, when your barn is on fire, do you really need to know what knocked over the lantern?]. As for sensible opinions on the whole thing, many of my fellow bloggers are taking it up; something tells me you can't swing a cat on the Blogosphere right now without hitting one. I'd have no idea whose site to visit: read around and find an opinion that makes sense to you.

Speaking of economies, the Entrecard system is frequently referred to as "an economy". But since, for most participants, no money changes hands, I think that's just people making themselves feel good about taking part in the activity. Truthfully, I think of at least the advertising element of the system as "fantasy football"; as a participant, you have 'X' number of credits to work with. You use your credits to advertise your blog on those sites which you believe will bring you the most visitors, as a team manager in FF uses his "payroll" to acquire the best players available. The principal difference is that, in FF, all participants have the same payroll to start with, while EC allows the more ambitious to acquire a larger bankroll.

Of course, those who work hard within the rules should be allowed to prosper. But every successful economy throughout history has had one common element: the existence of a strong and secure middle class. Pick any EC category at random. You'll notice a few sites [based, one assumes, on the merit of the blog represented] trading for two thousand EC credits or more, a small group available for hundreds of credits, and a large group of sites selling ads for 128 credits or less. (I recently read a post on one site, celebrating the fact that the blog had reached the top advertising rate in its category. Legitimate congratulations are in order for that blogger. But, and an important "but" at that, if your product is priced too high for the average participant to buy, these large blocks of credits will pass from hand to hand within the "plutocrat" community.)

To be fair, Entrecard has admitted that the problem exists [go here for a recent EC Forum discussion on the matter]. I'm a little sceptical of the "luxury goods" option; anyone competent in PhotoShop or Gimp can make an EC ad look enough like the "golden ticket" sites to make the distinction meaningless. But 10 out of ten for at least considering the issue. As in the real world, there are no simple solutions. Then again, in an artificial economy, no one is hurt when the wrong manipulations are made.

-Mike Riley

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

When He's Right, He's Right...

This will be a very brief post. It's on a topic that somehow didn't make it into the "Pet Peeves" that started this blog, but certainly bothers more than a few bloggers: those bloggers who use automatically starting music on their blogs. More and more I'm running into such blogs, as well as posts complaining about the issue. Well, Nate Balcom or, as he chooses to call himself, NatBal, is addressing the issue in a graphic way. In this post, he explains why the practice is so annoying, and offers free buttons and links for your use [one of which starts this presentation].

Now, I like music. And I think it's great when someone wants to introduce me to something new, or share an old favorite. But JEEZ LOUISE, CAN'T YOU LET ME CHOOSE IF I''M IN THE MOOD THAT DAY? Sorry [For some reasons, Nate's buttons don't "play well" with my sites. But if I can get them to work, I'll add them. Oh, yeah...].

That's really all I wanted to bother you with right now. Hope things are well with you, and sorry again for that shouting in the last paragraph...

-Mike Riley

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Not A Bad Place To Start

First of all, my obvious apologies to those of you who are vegetarian/vegan. I don't
mean to be sliding my meat into your computer [and an apology to those made uncomfortable by sexual innuendo], but it's surprisingly difficult to find an image to illustrate the concept, "Back to basics". My first thought was to use an album cover. But whose? There seems to be an unwritten law that any performer who's worked for more than a few years put out an album under that title. Artists as varied as Anvil, Christina Aguilara, Billy Bragg, the Manhattans, and Olivia Newton-John have all released "B2B" collections. And there are probably hundreds more out there! This was as good a compromise as any, using the meat grinder and what I hope is fresh beef [an apology in advance to anyone contracting the dreaded e'coli bacteria from spoiled meat that may appear on this page].

Anyway, the point to all this is to cite "C & D", artisan crafters [those aren't synonyms, I hope. I'm sorry if they are] from Montreal, PQ, Canada. In their blog ["Catherinette Rings"], there's a post on "5 Basic Blogging Tips". The suggestions are great advice for anyone out there [especially your newby friends who want info from you] and summarised in an easily remembered manner. There's also info on how to add widgets in Blogger, and a long list of sources for widgets, advertising options, etc. Like any collection [including a "Back to Basics" CD], you may not enjoy all of the links, but it's a pretty good starting point [along with our own "Access To Tools"; scroll down the right-hand side, you'll find it]. For what it's worth, their rings look pretty good as well [I'm sorry I'm not a bigger expert on what's hot out there, but they use the word "Steampunk" in one of their flyers, so they must be hip].

-Mike Riley

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

"the lab" is back in session...



Yeah, Summer is over [for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway]. I took an unannounced vaca for the end of August [saw Joan Jett in a free concert, among other things. Pretty cool], and now, we begin anew the pursuit of Better Blogging Through Science. Hope you had a little rest as well.


Regular visitors to the lab have noticed that I almost never mention WordPress. There's a simple reason for this; I don't know anything about it [Any WordPress users who'd like to contribute an article or two on the subject are welcome to write their insights as Guest posts; I still offer 500 EC credits for any published submissions. Contact me here if you're interested]. Anyway, I have found another site with a variety of WordPress themes; namely, WebFrap. It's well laid out, and has an attractive selection of themes for your consideration, and download. If you use WP, check it out.


Similarly, I'm not into customizing my site [I'll be honest; I'm trying to teach myself the necessary programming language. Let me tell you, French was much easier]. So far, I've learned how to use widgets, add a photo or two, and, just recently, how to use those damn hyperlinks in my copy [see above and below. It's so easy on Blogger, you'd think I'd gotten it before now. Well, no]. The Woman I Love laid much abuse on me before I picked up this amazingly easy trick [especially as I'm running a site dedicated to blogging tips]. But, despite the embarrassment of loving a man who couldn't hyperlink, she was patient, and I have now risen in her esteem to
"Average". Ah, romance...

Where was I? Oh, yeah, customization. One way many bloggers give their sites a distinctive look is through the use of non-standard icons. A great source for ready-made icon packages is IconzWorld. The site offers a wide variety of icon packages to download and use in your blogs. Visit and use.

Finally, a belated tip of the tam o'shanter to Jordan McClements. He's making a generous offer, that addresses a common need of many bloggers; royalty-free illustrations for postings. Most of the time, bloggers wishing to use photos on their sites just download them from their website of choice [yeah, I've done this. I'm not proud of myself, but there you are]. Given the number of blogs x cost of pursuing legal redress against a violator, the odds may well be in your favor. But consider your annoyance if one of your posts was lifted by someone. Anyway, Mr. McClements is very generously offering the use of over one thousand photos from his collection, for non-commercial blogs, as well as MySpace users. The collection in question can be found here [while the vast majority of the photos are Irish rural scenes, there are also photos from elsewhere in Europe, the United States and Canada.. And, just as Toronto has played cities around the world in the movies, a night sky over Belfast might "do' for your moonlight needs. Take a look]. Jordan has also helpfully provided instructions on how to upload his photos for use; find that info here [Blogger users who lift photos through their browser, then add them to their blogs should caption the photo "Photo courtesy of IrishViews.com"].

Hope your Fall [or Spring, below the Equator] finds you well. As always, more to come.

-Mike Riley.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Bagpipes And Bargains

At the last Celtic Festival The Woman I Love and I attended [a birthday gift from The Woman], a member of one of the pipe and drum corps in attendance opined that I was actually Scotch-Irish, instead of Irish, as I had always believed [his theory had something to do with the way my last name is spelled, and need not be repeated here. For that matter, my family has lived in America for at least a century-and-a-half, so why my ancestry is entering into all this is beyond me. Oh wait, now I remember. It's setting up an explanation in the next line or two]. Anyway, his opinion made me think. I don't consider myself "tight" by any means, but if I can get something useful for nothing, I'm certainly not against that. If you're like that also, this article may be for you.


Microsoft Office(R), in its various versions, has become known as the "standard" in office software [of course, just about anyone can use word processing, spreadsheets, and drawing programs, as well as other nifty features. But Office (R) is pricey. What to do? Well, the most popular answer nowadays, and one that puts absolutely no drain on the bank account is Open Office.Org. Its URL is [you guessed it]: http://www.openoffice.org/. Its story is intriguing.


Back at the turn of the century, a company known as Sun Microsystems bought a software package called StarOffice from a German company. No huge news, right? Wrong. StarOffice was developed in open-code, meaning it could be used by most operating systems with small modifications. Sun was using a lot of open-source programs [still does], and their operating platform of choice was Unix, also open-source. In an attempt to stem the tidal wave that was Office(R), Sun put StarOffice on the market. For free. Ever since, they've shaped the open-source community's development of Open Office . org [hereafter, at least occasionally, OO.o. Neat abbreviation, huh?].


Open Office.org calls them by different names, but matches Office (R) feature for feature. Indeed, if work computers use Office (R), you can almost always assimilate those documents into OO.o [At the moment, the only fly in the ointment seems to be the Mac's OS/X; OO.o 'doesn't play well" with it, although improvements along this line are said to be imminent. Stay tuned...]

Next time, some more freebies to help you use your computer like a pro for less [free, actually, but who's telling? Not me...].

-Mike Riley

Monday, July 28, 2008

Open Lab: A Little Of This, A Little Of That

What are we now, a little less than a month into the new "liaison" between EntreCard and SezWho? Maybe it's time to take a Polaroid, as it were, of the situation [not to change the subject, by the bye, but did you hear Polaroid is giving up making film, and film cameras? Like most manufacturers, they realize that the marketplace is going digital. But, as someone who's taken one or two risque photos with Polaroids, thereby avoiding sending explicit film to a processor and risking their refusing to print photos (actually happened to an acquaintance or two). Like many people my age, I'm missing my youth]



First thing I've noticed; people don't seem to be jumping on SezWho as much as I expected [this could be tech-related; there are still those demon issues with some platforms, especially Blogger. This site is one of two I still can't get registered. My other two (all four are Blogger, in case you're wondering) are running fine with the SezWho widgets]. Maybe I'm just visiting sites that haven't signed up, but random selection should give me a higher percentage of SW sites. On one hand, bloggers are an independent breed, and will go to a new feature only when they're ready. But I'd suspect Graham and the EC front office might be disappointed with the turn out, what with the strong boost they gave the new hook-up.

Another issue [this one connected, I think, with the concept of SW] is comments vs drops. Look, we all figured that there would still be more "drop and run" types than "commentors". Fair enough. But I've yet to notice any real "bump" in the number of comments I get. Of course, of the two sites I have that are currently working with SW, one is a humor/general blog [probably hard to make comments about, except of the "you suck" or "you rock" variety], and an history blog about Niagara Falls daredevils [again, not too encouraging of comment, although a few people have tried. At any rate, the "rating" stars only show up on the original post, not the "comments". SW needs to fix this for Blogger-users ASAP].Anyone else want to write about their SW experience? Comment at the end of this, or at least leave a link to any posts you've run on the subject.

###########################################################################

Regular readers of these ramblings know I love toys. I'm talking about web-based or downloadable, FREE tools to create images for blogs. In fact, there's a link list for several of them already. Just scroll down the right-hand column until you get to the "Access To Tools" picture. Yes, it was created at one of our link sites. Today, courtesy of the fine folk at Despair.com via Regretful Morning, a program that helps you create parody versions of those "motivational posters" that so many offices and schools have displayed [usually, such posters don't bother me too much. But I always wondered why the "Effort" poster was located outside the Men's room, while the Ladies' room was marked by a poster entitled "Adventure"] Anyway, here's the link: [http://diy.despair.com/motivator.php].

That's all I've got...

-Mike Riley

Monday, July 21, 2008

Harry Houdini On Promoting Your Blog



...and I can already see a few of you in the back taking bets on whether I can use the career of the greatest magician who ever lived as a lesson to bloggers. Sucker bet, my friend, sucker bet. Of course I would not bring up an example that I hadn't already considered carefully [especially one dressed only in swim trunks and manacles].

(For the uninformed: Harry Houdini is believed by most experts to be the greatest magician of the 20th Century, and very likely the greatest of all time. Among other feats, Houdini
-made a live elephant disappear on stage,
-regularly accepted challenges to escape from specially-built
packing crates, handcuffs, and other restraints,
-popularized escaping from straitjackets - in full view of the
audience,

-escaped from many jail cells around the world while wearing only
swim trunks, and after being thoroughly searched
[I'll tell
you why he did this momentarily].
The experts will tell you that there are magicians working today who can duplicate many, if not all, of Houdini's illusions. What made his performances memorable, however, cannot be duplicated: the skill with which he manipulated the audience into believing that he was doing exactly what he told them he was doing.)

All right, you know the whom of this presentation. Now here's the why.
In addition to his unarguable magic skills, Houdini worked hard on his promotions as well. Harry would frequently announce his presence in a city by escaping from the local jail, or freeing himself from a straitjacket while dangling from a 15- or 16-story building at the busiest intersection in town. He gave newspaper interviews on magic. He was one of the first performers to see the potential of doing radio appearances. Houdini frequently said that his stunts and [usually] unpaid radio and newspaper appearance got him more newspaper space, and thus more free advertising, than anyone else of his era.

O.K., I hear some of you saying; I can't escape from handcuffs, or from a glass box filled with water [two more Houdini feats]; how can I get free publicity like that? Well, if you blog at least semi-regularly, you probably have some skill you're reasonably knowledgeable about. Why not write an article for your local newspaper [or weekly tabloid] on what you know about? [Those weekly papers are usually more than happy to have someone provide some copy for free. And some of those papers even pay a token amount!] If you do, make sure you include your blog's web address somewhere in the piece. Call up your local radio station, and offer to talk about your interest for free. If your community's cable-tv system has a public-access channel, it's likely that one or more shows on the station are on the lookout for possible interview subjects. Sometimes you have to overcome shyness to get on those programs, but it's all just one more opportunity to get your message out. And, in that immortal lyric from The Hokey Pokey,
"That's what it's all about".

-Mike Riley


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

SayWhat?



Human nature is a funny thing. Sure, most of us, having been raised in the company of other humans, know what we should do in most situations: don't honk the horn at an old person crossing the street, don't take the last piece of pie without asking someone [if you're stupid enough to take it when someone is around], don't launch your sleeping older brother from a recliner by pushing in the foot board [hey, he TOLD me to make sure he got up. And I really did try to wake him by other means first!]. But, no matter how well-behaved we are, an incentive [receive reward/avoid penalty] does tend to make us behave even better.

This brings us, of course, to the new association between EntreCard and SezWho. When I was in high school [Canisius High, Buffalo, NY; Class of '75], I actually took a year of Canadian history. As is often the case in such learning, the subject was not nearly as important as the education I received from its instructor, an old Jesuit named Fr. Greer. To his credit, I believe he felt the same way. One of the aphorisms he dropped on our adolescent minds was, "History happens for two reasons; the good reason, the one we tell our grandchildren and the history books, and the real reason, which is why a human does something". Looking at most of history in that context, it's clear that many wonderful things have been done for very banal reasons. But I digress.
Whatever else people may say, the EntreCard - SezWho affiliation, in this context, is a piece of genius. Graham, in his statement, gave us the good reasons: increased socialization, elevated "conversations" between blogger and reader, a generally higher level of discourse in blogs [since readers are encouraged, through credits based on the quality of their comments, to leave at least reasonably well thought out replies]. No one can, or should, deny that these are things serious bloggers have always wanted. But I believe that the real reason for the new paradigm is to discourage EC'ers from just "dropping and running". Not that there's anything wrong with it.(In the same way, it's said that a 19th-century German leader invented the idea of sewing otherwise useless buttons on the ends of his soldiers' uniform sleeves, to prevent them from wiping their faces and dirtying their coats)
Understand, I'm not against the encouragement of comments. Sometimes it's very frustrating as a blogger to post what you believe to be the best thing you've ever written, only to find that no one seems to have given the proverbial "rat's ass" about it. Allowing other bloggers to vote on the quality of posts and comments is another stroke of brilliance; the more you involve someone in an activity, the more time and effort they will invest in it. It's just human nature.
As to the actual results of all this, I'm not really sure. My mind says that, if EC'ers are reading more blogs [to write acceptable comments], fewer cards will be dropped. Then again, if the comments are highly enough prized by other blog readers [and thus rewarded with credits], the difference may turn out to be a wash. Bloggers will have to decide if their best strategy is to "drop and run", or to write well-thought-out comments [I suspect most bloggers will fall into one or the other category]. The cynic in me wonders [and I apologize for old Mr. Skeptic] if, by slowing the card-dropping-rate, EntreCard is trying to subtly encourage the sale of EC credits [some of which, at least,, EC sells itself]. (That's the downside of human nature: all those real reasons pop up in your head as you think through the new rules. Oh, how I wish Mr. Skeptic would go away!)
A final thought: sites like SezWho [and EC, for that matter] talk about the "socialization" of their locales. I may be old-fashioned, but I still believe that the best way to socialize is to go where large groups of people gather. Introduce yourself. Sooner or later, someone isn't going to think you're unstable, and will introduce themselves back. At least here in the Northern Hemisphere, it's Summertime, people! Get out and get some air, for gosh sakes! There's more to life than the Blogosphere!


-Mike Riley

PS: Please, oh please, oh please vote for this post! I want to be at least a Four-star member by the weekend! Thank You...

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

"Chain, Chain, Chain..."


If everyone who reads this post had a nickel for all the SEO theories out there, none of you would need to worry about SEO; you'd be wealthy beyond your wildest dreams. Search engine optimization is one of those money-making blog factors that actually has some relevance for all bloggers. People not in the profit game may not care as much, of course, but anyone who takes the time to create a blog would like it to be as popular as possible, to be consulted, to be searched for. And the simple fact is, the higher you are on a Google search page, the better off you are in such matters [indeed, more than a few experts will tell you that your blog must be at the top of page one for Google to do you any good at all. They have a point; unless I'm completely dissatisfied with the first Google search result, I almost never go any further].
Which brings us, naturally, to yet another SEO theory: the Linkback Project: http://www.linkbackproject.com/?p=7. The posting, by the mysterious "Dr. Algorithm", explains it as well as any one could, I suppose; I have to confess that, when confronted with such exposition, Mine Eyes Glaze Over [this wouldn't be so bad, mind you, but my brain usually glazes over as well]. Still, the good "Doctor" makes a case for the project, if for no other reason than to see what happens if someone tries it. (Short-term, I suspect that it will be quite helpful to its members; "pyramid"-type schemes, even those which have no illegal components [and I believe this one if legal at every level] are frequently very successful in their early stages. Long-term, though, trust Google to come up with yet another change in their mathematics, so that the system can't be "gamed")
Take a look at this one for yourself, then, if it makes sense to you, go for it. In the int erst of science, I'm putting this blog on the list. Let's compare notes over the next few weeks.
-Mike Riley
PS: Part of the process involves putting the currently active links in a post:

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Inside (And Outside) The Box: An Entrecard Experiment




Back in March, this site ran three "Think Tank" posts on EntreCard's plans to allow members to buy and sell EC credits. At the time I predicted, among other things, that 'Carders would soon be offering ad agency-like services [ad creation, purchases on relevant sites, etc] to potential advertisers. History, to date anyway, has shown I didn't have a clue as to what would really happen [go back in the March archives, to get an idea of how far off I turned out to be. If you're not that heavily interested, just understand that 99 % of what I had to say, while reasonably well thought out, was, to reference the Sex Pistols, bollocks]


Still, even a blind pig hits a truffle now and then. Case in point: the EntreCard to your right. Its sponsor is Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, located in Crawfordsville, Indiana. For the last few years, they've been building their new home, and want to throw an appropriate dedication service to commemorate its completion. Keeping this short, they're asking 'Carders for donations of EC credits, which they then plan to sell on the EC market to defray the cost of their service. It's not completely new, of course [nothing under the sun is]. The original version used to be done by non-profit groups across America [and in other countries as well, for all I know]. "Money-off" coupons in the US used to [and still may] have a cash value. It was usually some ridiculously low rate, like 1/20th of a US cent (the whole thing was the result of some obscure law. If you're really interested, Google the matter, and leave a "Comment" with your findings). Boy Scouts, church groups, animal shelters [you get the idea] used to collect as many coupons as they could, then cash them in. I'd like to think someone at the church remembered the old technique, then updated it for the new century. Then again, perhaps someone invented it fresh. Either way, it's an example of out-of-the-box thinking. That may be the only point made in my original EC posts that lives beyond the original entries. Bottom line: if you do what everyone else does, you'll have way too much competition. Find your own space in the forest. Then open the best pop stand you can operate...[if you carry Diet Pepsi, I'll be there]
-Mike Riley




Monday, June 30, 2008

"The Game Is Afoot"





"Come, Watson, come! The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!"


-Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Abbey Grange.




In the above, Conan Doyle evokes the image of a hunt, with the game moving around and ready to be stalked [for only a boor would attack a creature at rest]. Good writing, both in blogs and elsewhere, has an element of the hunt in it as well. We search our minds [and a thesaurus, when necessary] to add the correct word. We use a favorite search engine to gather the correct information. Why? Because we want to look good in our writing [and yes, there are some good reasons for this; If you are a money blog writer, you want your readers to think you know what you're talking about (especially if you want to sell them something). Even if you're a casual blogger, it's important to be accurate when you write. If you don't have the interest in what you're doing to do necessary research, why should I invest my time to read your blog?]


Case in point: when I was thinking about writing this post, I remembered [or thought I remembered] that Conan Doyle had written a Sherlock Holmes story with the phrase, "The game's afoot". But I wanted to note which story it was from. My first search was "the game's afoot". It gave me several interesting facts, including that Shakespeare had actually used it first in writing [Henry V, if you must know]. But I couldn't find which story it was from. I searched again, using the phrase, "Sherlock Holmes quotes". Success! The first site listed had the quote [corrected to have Holmes saying "The game is afoot"], which story it was from, even a link to the story itself, if I were interested.

Unless you have one of those legendary "photographic" memories it is exceedingly dangerous to depend on your remembrance of a particular quote or historical event. A mangled quote or incorrect date may not change the point of your posting. but it does make what you say subject to question. If the details are inaccurate, the thinking behind your words may seem faulty to a reader.

Of course, fiction writers can't research an event they're making up. Then again, well-researched details, worked into your writing, will make your post look more "real". So take the time. Do the work. Get the right information. And Dr. Watson says hello.
"Writing is hunting, and as humans we are born to it"
-"Grumpus", When Things Get Dark.
-Mike Riley

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Cat Tales: The Firefox Chronicles, vIII


Like many in the Internet-connected world, I was eagerly awaiting the arrival this week of Firefox 3's "official" beta, Release Candidate 1. But not so eager that I wanted any part of Tuesday's scrum. Oh, as a promotional gimmick, creating a new world's record for "Most Downloads In A Day" is a good one [although Guinness, the traditional arbiter of such matters, currently has no such record posted]. I just had a sense that the chaos [I've always wanted to name a cat that, by the bye. There are days it fits one or more of The Woman I Love's and my three cats] of hundreds of thousands [actually, an estimated eight million] of downloads couldn't be good for Mozilla's servers*. [It wasn't. Delays, crashes, and mayhem were the order of the day. Sounds like Chaos the Cat, doesn't it?]
Therefore, I went to the download site Wednesday morning, after work, encountered no delays [the FF3 .exe file downloaded in under three minutes, using broadband connections], had an easy instillation ['wizard'-driven install], and was able to look over the thing in a matter of minutes [after putting down the leftover cereal milk for Chaos, sorry, Buddy. The other two felines are Malachi and Webster. If I can figure out a clever way to do it, I'll tell you about all of them in a future post. Otherwise, just accept that those are the cats' names. Move on. Don't dwell on these otherwise meaningless asides].
I didn't have a huge amount of time to look over the new browser. But I did notice it really is faster than FF2 and its descendants. It has a clean look, and, as usual, add-ons/extensions are quick 'n' easy to install [one problem of using open source, and allowing just about anybody to develop new functions for the Fox, is that a lot of those extensions aren't yet updated to work with FF3. But I expect this will be sorted out quickly. You'll have the chance to find out what does and doesn't work during the installation process; those extensions that work are automatically carried over to FF3].
Should you drop your current browser for Firefox 3? I dunno. I use IE 7 at work, and Firefox at home. Is one noticeably better than the other? I dunno. Do I believe Firefox is less-likely to be virused [is that a valid verb?] than IE? Oh, yeah. And, like just about everything I recommend, it's free. Worth the experiment, if you have any uncertainty about your current browser.
-Mike Riley
* Riley's First Law - Unless there is a limited amount of a desired item, picking it up on Day 2 is perfectly acceptable.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Good Advice Is Where You Find It...


This isn't going to be a long post. But I just read an incredible article, with lots of useful advice and information for every blogger. And the amazing thing is that I read it on "The Cleveland, Ohio Real Estate Blog"! Take a few minutes and read: http://www.youshouldown.com/2007/06/websites-and-real-estate.asp, by Cecelia Sherrard. Take notes. This one has some great ideas, written from an interesting perspective. Well worth ANY blogger's time.


Sorry I haven't been here much lately. I've been working on the 100th post at one of my other sites: AFTER MIDNIGHT [http://aftermidnightpage.blogspot.com].

Once that celebration wraps up, I'll make it up to you, I promise. We'll all go for ice cream...


-Mike Riley

Friday, June 6, 2008

They Just Want To See Me Angry, Don't They?



You know, it's been a while since I've bored you with an entry on EntreCard. So let's see how quickly YOU get irritated when you think about the social networking/promotional program.

Understand; I like EC, and in most respects, I'm very happy with it. But one thing really sets me off: the number of droppers who DO NOT HAVE an EC widget on their sites. I'm really starting to get tired of people who pick up credits on my site, but refuse me the opportunity to do the same. Strictly speaking, this is a behavior of individual 'Carders, so I shouldn't, in theory, have any reason to be angry at the service. But I am. If EC can track which sites have visited mine [see "Drops Inbox"], it should be able to check for its widget on those sites. No widget, no credit for cards dropped that day. Seems fair to me.
Now, for most of us, it's the weekend. Go out and enjoy it, if you can. But don't tick me off...
-Mike Riley

Monday, May 26, 2008

New Tools




Hello, campers. A few new things out there on the Web. Check them out.

The following is presented in no particular order:

Free 125 Cards [http://www.125cards.com.] Based on my experience, I wasn't thrilled. And I wanted to be. After all, several ad sites insist on 125x125 cards for advertising. [EntreCard, in particular needs to add a few new backgrounds in their "Standard" section, especially with the exponential growth in the number of users. I can't speak about what other sites do or don't offer, so I'll just assume the problems are similar there].

Fair-is-fair; Free 125 Cards has a good selection of backgrounds. I especially like the feature that lets you search for backgrounds by color. But once you pick one, working with the text editor is less-than-intuitive [for example, the icons for some options come up BEHIND the text entry box, where you can't see them. Also, you'll probably have to use trial and error to figure out how many characters will fit in each line of your message, then type the message, line-by-line. Wordwrap, or some option that allows you to split lines of text, would definitely be useful here]. And, unfortunately, you can't upload your image to alter. While we're being fair, though, as this is posted the site has only been up for about a week. Perhaps in future incarnations, these issues will be resolved. And, as John Belushi correctly noted in the Blues Brothers classic Rubber Biscuit, "Wad'd'ya want for nothing?"
Improve Your Images Thanks to TechiesDen [http://techiesden.com/] for pointing out Improve Your Images [http://www.improveyourimages.com/]. I haven't tried it yet, but it looks easy to use, and [most importantly, as far as I'm concerned] it's a FREE alternative to Photoshop. Try it, and let us know what you think.
EntreCard News The crew at EC has added a couple of improvements to the system, most notably an option that allows you to add blogs to your account. For multiple bloggers like myself, it seems like a good addition, although I never had a problem using my three sites under the old system. They've also put together an e-book on using EntreCard, which looks very helpful for new users. It also has a few tips that I'm planning on using, so even regular users should look it over. I didn't agree with everything in it [dropping a few cards a day will not help you build up a healthy advertising account], but it does make an effort to bring a little sanity into the process. EC ISN'T just about dropping.
So try these things out. Better yet, look around. See what YOU discover. And, when you do, tell US about it. The more we can share, the better the process of blogging can become for everyone.
-Mike Riley

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bloggers Unite - Bloggin' Like Spiderman




One of the most memorable lines from the first Spiderman movie is this: With great power comes great responsibility. Lifted from the Webslinger's comic books, it's most likely an adaptation of a line in a speech written for former US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt: "Today we have learned in the agony of war that great power involves great responsibility" [Roosevelt never delivered the speech; he died the day before its scheduled presentation].

What does any of this have to do with blogging tips, or today's Bloggers Unite topic of human rights? In words actually delivered by a former US President, "Watch and learn"...


Most of us who are blogging today have no idea what censorship is like. We write on whatever topic suits us, in whatever way we choose. In such an open environment, it's easy to forget that such freedom is not universal. In many parts of the world electronic writing is rigorously monitored, censored and, if a government feels the need, suppressed. Those of us who are allowed to write freely are given great power. We must use that power in a responsible manner. (I'll return to that thought in a moment) But we are also required to work for the freedom of all who want to express themselves without fear of punishment. Until we do, our freedom is in continual peril. Think on that for a moment. If the right to express yourself can be taken away in one place, it can be taken away any place. It may not come in the form of a brutal dictator. It could come through a well-meant proposal to bar "oppressive" blogs [Understand, I am not in favor of the hate mongers, pornographers, or anyone who makes my skin crawl when I realize they belong to the same species I do. But limiting even their rights could become the first step in limiting mine. And I'm very sensitive about my rights. Besides, if someone reading those posts can't see how useless they are, the world is in much worse shape than I think it is].


Bloggers have great power. They also have the potential to cause great harm. Consider the phenomenon of on-line bullying. Many of us have heard accounts of how bloggers have used their pages to cruly harass persons, sometimes even persons they do not know. We have also seen at least one of these cases end in the suicide of the person who was being lampooned. Now I don't believe that the individuals in that case wanted to see that sad person take his own life. But they should have known that words have power, to hurt, to crush, even to drive a person to death. Fortunately, words also have the power to unify, to lift up, to carry us towards a higher purpose. Your posts don't have to read like the Second Coming of Pollyanna [Mine sure don't]. But, when composing your words, consider the effect they may have on their subject, especially if a person written about is in private life [emphasized because of the legal issue of libel; I'll post on that in the near future].


With great power comes great responsibility. Remember YOUR responsibilities: to your fellow bloggers, to keep the reputation of blogging favorable; to your subjects, that you are as accurate and factual as possible in your writings; to those who are not free to express themselves, that your make every effort you can to get them the rights they deserve; finally, to yourself, that you work to preserve your rights. And keep your Web shooters full...
-Mike Riley

Monday, May 12, 2008

Guilty!




I think most bloggers do [or don't do] something, in the operation of their blog, that may hurt its repeat readership. And let's face it, while an especially-interesting post, or a particularly heavy ad campaign, may bring you new readers, those efforts are wasted if they don't become regular visitors. One that I've just become aware that I'm guilty of (and deserve a session with the Blogosphere's Judge Judy for, if such a one exists) is not replying to readers' comments.




Under the best of circumstances, it's difficult to know if anyone is reading your posts [I got a comment recently from fellow blogger Dave Rosenthal, of http://welcomebackrosenthal.com/, that used his EntreCard stats to postulate that about 1 in 100 'Card droppers actually read posts on a site they drop on. I'd be curious to hear what others' experiences are, but that's not the point of this post]. If someone actually shows the interest to A] read your blog, and B] make a comment, don't they deserve some reply? Even if it's a "Hi Erica! Good luck with your new site for "Tales From The Tracks": [http://www.talesfromthetracks.com/]! And thanks for your kind words on my recent post". First of all, you show they you've read their comment. Then, by taking a few minutes to update yourself on the happenings at their site, you can then comment, sensibly, on what's going on there.


(My problem, it turns out, is that I almost never re-read my posts. It's waaay too scary. But, like the little boy in that classic story, I need to fight my fears, listen carefully for the noise under the bed, reach for my "old-school" Victoriaville hockey stick, and bash the defenseless creature to within an inch of its miserable life. Like Billy Warhol, residing on the Blogosphere at http://billiondollarbaloney.blogspot.com/. By the Bye, Billy, where's my gazillion dollars? Just kidding, as I expect you were.)


Seriously, though, what should bloggers do about comments? Reply to them, preferably on your comment page. As noted above, get a sense of what they're up to on their site. Like Dan Thornton, purveyor of The Way Of The Web: http://thewayoftheweb.blogspot.com/. Congrats on the new kid, Dan! Or Tix-R-Us, who's about to split, atom-like, into a collection of mini-blogs at http://www.dorkage.net/. Tix [may I call you that, by the way?] is also responsible for a bit of wisdom, pulled from one of her new blog-ettes:"...[P]eople believe graphics, not data". I think she may have a point there.


If all these options seem "too little, too late", consider an entry in your blog where you spotlight the blogs of your commenters, with links and compliments aplenty. Hey, it could work...


-Mike Riley

Friday, May 9, 2008

An Improvement...


Anyone who knows me realizes the title above referrs to an improvement to this blog. Believe me, the LAST thing you want to see is me heading towards a wobbly wall in your residence with a power tool. Or an unpowered tool, for that matter. It's Just going to be ugly. So don't let me do it. You have been warned...
That said, there IS an improvement to this blog. I've suggested visiting a series of sites in these posts. Now the vital links are together, in a sidebar feature called "Access To Tools". It's on the right-hand side of this blog, under the parking-lot sign of the same name. As other useful items are discovered, they will be added. Hope this helps.
That's all for now. Go off and be creative.
-Mike Riley

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Few Words About Words, And Another Tool




Around this time forty years ago [my goodness, I wasn't even of legal age back then], the number one song in the US of A was the one sold in the sleeve pictured above; Tighten Up, from Archie Bell And The Drells. Propelled by a strong bass line [still pretty tasty today], as well as a relatively clever dance of the same name, Tighten Up is still a very popular tune in the Oldies world.


I bring all this up to note that tightening up your posts is good advice. Of course, there are times when you need to use every word to tell a story, paint a verbal picture, or explain an idea. Most of the time, though, fewer words are best. When you finish a post, and before you hit "Publish", look it over carefully. Pretend that you're not being paid by the word [for most of us, who don't get paid at all, this should be easy]. See if there are simpler ways to express your ideas. Make cuts and rewrites as needed. Then, and only then [after using "Spellcheck", of course], send your words to the Blogosphere. Those who will read your posts thank you.


##################################################


In a few of these posts, I've complained bitterly about the difficulties of properly sizing images for various purposes [my gripes were centered around EntreCard's "125x125" rule. I don't mind the size specification, but I couldn't find an image sizing tool that worked accurately enough to suit EC's limits]. But now I wish to show my gratitude to a programmer, or programmers in The Netherlands [flag depicted at left] and our good friends at Google [they're just everywhere, aren't they?], for pointing me to:
http://www.resize2mail.com/. As you might guess from its name, it's really designed to resize digital photos for e-mailing and other similar needs. But it also works quick and easy for resizing any gif or .jpg image. Here's how it works:
1. / Scroll down to the area under "3 easy steps"
2. / Under "options", select "on your own" [interesting way of putting that, isn't it?]
3. / Type in the correct dimensions where indicated
4. / Press the "okay" [another interesting term] button
5. / Your resized image appears. Save it to your computer, then take it to your favorite image modifying site [Splashup: http://www.splashup.com/ is very good for this], put in any copy, save it, then submit it to EntreCard [or wherever else you plan to use it].
Caveat: I've only submitted one card. It did work, though. Besides, if any of you have taken college-level science courses, you should know that the Lab Supervisor [me] usually leaves the research work to the lab members [you]. E-mail me if you have any problems. I probably can't fix them, but if enough of you have issues, I'll write another post completely denying authorship of this one. C'mon people! I have tenure on the line, for goodness sakes!
-Mike Riley

Sunday, April 27, 2008

new toy

ImageChef.com - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more
You know, I don't usually go in for this sort of flashing sign stuff on my blogs. But I just became aware of a site that makes it very easy to add customized images to your blog.It's called ImageChef and, appropriately enough, it can be found at:http://www.imagechef.com/ .[Understand, I still believe in the power of well-written ideas to make a blog sing. But there's nothing wrong with using an appropriate illustration to add to your message]Image Chef offers a wide variety of decorations, in different styles [like our post-opening extravaganza], which you personalize by simply adding your message. What sets IC apart is that you can save your image to an "album" which you can then, if you wish, allow others to see. In addition to the animations, they have a variety of photo "frames" [uploading photos is quick 'n' easy], and other assorted things to decorate a blog, MySpace or Facebook site, or wherever you can download it to. Best of all, the Chef is FREE [would I send you to a pay site? C'mon, you know your Uncle Cheapskate!]Anyway, if you are looking for something a little different to decorate a post, take a look at Image Chef.ImageChef.com - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more
-Mike Riley

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Ten-Cent Tour




As you've probably noticed [if you're at least a semi-regular visitor], I've remodeled the look of the site yet again [three times in just over two months! Do you think I've got it right yet?]. This redesign came from a desire to make the site look more like my new EntreCard:



and THAT [the new EC] came from a sense that my other card [made from EC default design] was boring, and didn't stand out. I got the design from someone who made a series of 125x125 images freely available [I've honestly forgotten which site I got it from; if it was yours, please comment here, so I know whom to thank]. I liked the idea of using a photo-style card. But how to put the title and slogan on the picture? Here's where I need to thank Romelo [http://www.romelo.com]. On one of his recent posts, he introduced me to Splashup [http://www.splashup.com], a free online site that offers features similar to Photoshop. (Romelo says it's only a beta site, but the last entry on its blog was made in November of last year; this may be as good as it gets)


You can register, or not, as you wish. When you're ready, jump to "Jump Right In". Upload your image [there is an expand/contract option for images, but the slider control is not very accurate; you may want to re size your picture elsewhere, then upload it]. Look for the "A" in the left-hand column. This accesses the "text" options.Several type faces and sizes are available from drop-down boxes at the top of the page. Type in the message you wish, then save your work. As you can see from above, the type and image remain clear throughout the procedure.


As noted, I wanted the blog to resemble the card. I found a Blogger template {Thisaway Blue] that had the right color scheme. When it came time to customize the template's look, I decided to simulate the card design on the header. I found a similar, slightly larger version of the "splash" photo, and uploaded it to Splashup. Once I typed the message on the photo, I used the expand/contract option to enlarge the image to the right size [again, not as accurately as I would have liked, but fortunately the sizing issues were not as critical as when making an enforced 125x125 image], uploaded it to Blogger, than used it as a header "photo" illustration, checking the "use instead of title" option. The result is what you see here [well, UP THERE, actually, but you should figure that out for yourself]. I like the overall look of the site, and hope you find it attractive, too.

So there you are. I've posted about the "You Drop-I Link" widget in my previous post. The other items are carried over from the previous incarnations of this blog, except for using a different clock [It's probably silly to use a clock, when so many viewers of the site are in different time zones, but I've always liked the look of a clock. Mouse over the clock to find out how to get one of your very own]. Once I made a few errors, putting the new look together was pretty easy. Believe me, if I can do it, it's an almost sure bet you can, too. Just remember to save your current template before starting on the new one. That way, if your "artistic vision" doesn't pan out, you can always go back to your original one. If you would, please leave any comments, suggestions, etc on how to make this an even better-looking blog.

-Mike Riley


Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Widget Worth Wanting


If you're like most bloggers, you want something to make your blog stand out. Something that makes visiting your site worth the trip. Anthony, the proud host of "Work at Home Wealth" [http://work-at-home-wealth.com/blog/], has come up with a very cool widget for EntreCarders. When someone drops a card on your site, the widget displays a brief summary of the site, along with a click-on link to it. Although the "You Drop, I Link" widget is still in beta, it works very well, as long as you pay attention when you install it.

Anthony has put together two posts on how to install the new device, and, if you follow his instructions carefully, it will work. You can even do some cautious customization [I widened mine to fit its space in the column], making it work better in your particular blog. The big thing to remember is: do NOT drop any semi-colons when you install your personal information {EC ID, etc}. This will all make sense when you read Anthony's posts. Those of us who use Blogger may find that it adds code, which will have to be deleted. And make sure the EC information is accurate [I mistook an "8" for a "B" when I was installing the code for the widget on this site. And yes, it DOES make a difference]!

On a personal note, I want to thank Anthony for helping me get this new feature installed correctly. He seems to be very interested in making sure people who are trying his new device have a good experience with it. If you do have issues, I'm sure he'll help you as well.

"You Drop, I Link" seems like a great feature to give your EC droppers a "value-added" bonus. Try it here, then, if you like it, click on the above link to get one for yourself.

-Mike Riley