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

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Reflections Of YOUR Life

Throughout the history of art, there have been many great works created as "commissions". Usually, this means that a wealthy person offers an artist some of his wealth, in exchange for an item. In many cases, the "benefactor" [rich person] will make suggestions, or demands, about what will be part of the work (For a truly humorous example of to what extremes such "requests" can go, Google "Hiawatha's Photography", by Lewis Carroll).
That said, much art [maybe all art; we'll look at that in a moment] is the result of the creator's experiences. No matter how clever the artist, s/he can only create based on their realm of knowledge, what they can envision, based on their life experiences [this does have a point. Hang in for another line or two. It's worth it].
Among other things [at least, most bloggers tell themselves this], blogging is an art [although I'd hope for a healthy dose of craft in the final product]. One of the more artistic blogs out there right now is Lorelle On Wordpress [http://lorelle.wordpress.com/]. In this posting, http://lorelle.wordpress.com/2008/04/10/liz-strauss-at-wordcamp-dallas-transcript-60317-comments/, she quotes social-networking maven Liz Strauss:

Whenever we say we’re talking about ourselves, we’re revealing something about ourselves. But it’s how we reveal it.

But when we ask our readers, “How’d you like this blog post we just did?” “How’d you like what I just did?” “How did you like what I just wrote?” We think we’re asking them about them. But we’re really asking them about ourselves.

And we need to be really careful that we know the difference.

Let that resonate in your head for a few minutes. You see, it really is about you. Whether you write poetry, or humor, or tips on better blogging, it can only come from what is within you, what is part of you. Even if your blog is about making money by blogging, it comes from what you bring to the table.

What does this mean to you? Be knowledgeable. Know your subject [If you write a "personal diary", know yourself. If you don't, ask around. Someone around you may have a few clues]. Work on your craft. Better blogging is really about YOU.

-Mike Riley

Two Days, One Cause...

One of the least useful things that can happen, when a new idea hits the table, is for more than one group to do the promoting. Take RSS Awareness Day. To be very honest, I'm not exactly sure whose idea it was first. But the point is we now have two days, a week apart, to promote an easy, convenient way to distribute your posts. April 24th has been selected by Enterprisers for their RSS Day, while Daily Blog Tips has selected May 1st [once and for all removing the stain on that date caused by it being International Socialism Day].
For all the intermural mash-up, it seems as if both sides have the same, useful goal in mind; to increase the use of RSS [Really Simple Syndication] as a means of distributing posts or, more to the point, to get more people to read postings through RSS. The team at Daily Blog Tips pointed out in a recent release that, over the last three or so years, RSS readership has gone up by only four-tenths of one percent, from five percent to five-point-four percent! Why don't people use RSS more? In my case, I never think of it, and, when I do, I prefer to read posts at the original site whenever possible. That way, I can see any illustrations, charts, etc, associated with the post [RSS syndication does not include visual portions of postings; why is that, by the bye?].
The crew at Daily Blog Tips invite you to www.rssday.org; don't rush, by the way - the site is just established. But I like the color scheme. Meanwhile, the Enterprisers [why do I have a picture of Kirk, Spock, Picard, and Troi when I think of that name? Damned if I know] hope you'll stop at their wiki, http://enterpriserssdayofaction.wikispaces.com/.
As far as promotional materials go, Daily Blog Tips has a better package, including a competition with some high-power prizes on the table. But the Enterprise crew has [so far; Blog Tips says it'll have more banners next week], to my mind, the better visual symbol, reproduced above. No matter which day in future years is celebrated as RSS Day, let's keep the megaphone logo, which works for just about anyone, regardless of language.
-Mike Riley

Sunday, April 6, 2008

An Inspiration And An Irritation

Some days, Your Host has the worst memory in the Cosmos. Case in point: I recently saw an EntreCard ad for a blogging carnival. I've never thought about entering one before, because the topics are usually very specific, and not things I usually write about. But this one simply called for "your best blog entry". Well, I could do that. Unfortunately, I didn't write down which site was sponsoring the soiree, so I was ultimately unable to enter. But, it did bring to mind the important question: which was my best blog entry, and why? It's a question every blogger should consider.
What criteria would YOU use to select your best post? Was it the one that inspired the most responses [If that were my basis, my best would be a posting on "American Idol" during Sanjaya's [remember him?] run on the show]? Would it be one that brought in few responses, but the ones that came were particularly interesting? For marketing-oriented sites, would it be one that inspired many sales? Was it one you felt was well-written, or particularly funny, or heart-felt? How you choose to answer that question says a lot about what you're trying to accomplish with your blog.
Of course, there is no right or wrong answer. But look over your posts when you have a little time to think about them. Pick YOUR best post, for whatever reason. Re-read it from time to time. Let it inspire your future words.
Recently, I've noticed a trend in blogs that really irritates me no end. You click on a blog site that looks interesting. Then, just as you're about to read it, the page you were looking at disappears, replaced by an ad. To me, this is even more annoying than the universally- [and rightly, I think] hated pop-up.You can avoid a pop-up. This comes out of nowhere, and frequently is more difficult to get away from than a pop-up. Sites like this are nothing more than Trojan Horses, and even if returning to the original site is as simple as clicking a box, the overall effect makes the blogger look like nothing more than a crass con-artist. And nobody wants to be the victim of a con.
If you operate, or are planning to operate such a site, please, please, please reconsider. There is no shame in honest advertising on a blog. There is much shame in this.
-Mike Riley

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Trolling For Freebies [Shameless Promotion]

Something I may or may not have mentioned in these little texts is that I am totally inept when it comes to artwork, coding, writing html, xthml, etc. (I admit this is a major flaw in a site dedicated to offering advice to other bloggers; anyone interested in helping out on this matter, please leave me a comment with contact information. Please...)
Anyway, I really think the EntreCard that I'm currently using for this site needs work. Fortunately, help is at hand, thanks to Jay Francis Hunter, of scribblesandwords.com. In conjunction with his new services page [http://www.scribblesandwords.com/services-hire-jay/], he is offering free 125x125 banners [suitable for EC, Project Wonderful, etc]. The only cost to YOU is writing an entry publicising said service page. (If you want to see the full rundown, visit www.scribblesandwords.com, and look for the decorative banner under: "Jay's Favorites". [The post also links to a page of banners he's already done. You'll recognize some of them from your 'Card dropping. I'm really looking forward to what he'll come up with for us...]
I always think "news you can use" is worth sharing, so go and take Jay up on his offer. The Blog Lab is...
-Mike Riley