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"].

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

-Mike Riley.