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 [] 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 [] for pointing out Improve Your Images []. 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


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, 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": []! 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 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: Congrats on the new kid, Dan! Or Tix-R-Us, who's about to split, atom-like, into a collection of mini-blogs at 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