February 2007

Album Cover: The Downward Spiral

"Everything's blue in this world...the deepest shade of mushroom blue."
NIN / The Downward Spiral

Google Reader in Mozilla 1.2.1

February 22, 2007 10:00 PM

I just tried launching Google Reader in Mozilla 1.2.1 (don't ask me why).

Not recommended. Haha.

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Coach Knight on NBA Age Rule

February 20, 2007 1:09 AM

At face value, I've always thought the new NBA age rule was a good thing for college sports, given that it was established, in theory anyway, to deter NBA hopefuls from skipping college altogether and going straight to the pros. However, tonight I read Bob Knight's take on it and I have to say I've been somewhat enlightened:

Now you can have a kid come to school for a year and play basketball and he doesn't even have to go to class. He certainly doesn't have to go to class the second semester...he would not have to attend a single class the second semester to play through the whole second semester of basketball. That, I think, has a tremendous effect on the integrity of college sports.

It's kinda funny to use the word "refreshing" and the name Bob Knight in the same sentence, given the coach's tenure in college basketball, but I do have to say that his take on the issue is refreshing. I guess I'm not surprised, though. Bob Knight is and has always been a basketball purist. It will be interesting to see if anything comes of it on a policy level.

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When I Know I've Got a Good Web Design

February 19, 2007 10:19 AM

When it comes to web design, I'm the kind of guy who likes to crank out an entire design in a matter of several hours, rather than painstakingly iterating on drafts on paper, putting together several prototypes and then eventually putting together the real design over the course of a few days. That being said, one of the downsides to my approach is that I can start to suffer from design "burnout" after a while. For instance, if I've been making minor text tweaks and shifting pixels here and there for an hour or so, the overall design and color scheme start to jade me a bit.

How I know I've got a good web design on my hands (by my own standards, at least) is when I finally put down the text editor, catch a good night's sleep, and come back in the morning to a design that really pops. If I can revisit the design and it looks better than I remember, I know I've got something worth sharing. On the contrary, I've worked on designs on the past where I knew right off-the-bat upon second inspection that they weren't quite up to par.

What about you? How do you know when your design meets your standards? I'd love to hear.

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Web Feeds Lack Traditional Visual Cues

February 17, 2007 10:18 PM

I'm no stranger to the concept of visual cues and how they can aid memory. I know I've talked about it several times before in previous posts. Because I have a photographic memory (if you believe in such things), I rely on visual cues on a daily basis, particularly when reading content on the web. Unfortunately, the advent of web feeds has led to an increased decline in the amount of visual cues available along with all the content one might choose to consume. For that very reason, I am relying less and less on my photographic memory and more and more on other aspects of my memory to remember who blogged what.

I can no longer always rely on the beautiful hues of a site like SimpleBits or the purple accents of a site like Simon Willison's blog to provide my memory with the meta data needed to make retrieving that content and its source easier later on down the line. Instead, I'm faced with the same, cold colors and interface provided by my feed reader for almost all the content I consume. This has its benefits, of course, in that it makes my reading experience more efficient (I'm no longer submitted to all the context-switching involved with jumping from one web design to another), but it really takes a toll on my memorization capabilities. I remember the content just fine, but where it came from is often nothing more than a mystery.

It will be interesting to see how this might change in the future. I'd imagine feed readers might evolve to a point where visual cues become more prevalent, while still allowing for the common feel and interface that makes the reading experience so efficient.

In anticipation of these types of advances, I jumped over to Jonathan Snook's site tonight and read up on adding a logo to a web feed. As that particular entry points out, the major feed readers have, with the exception of Bloglines, done a fairly poor job of integrating the feed logos provided by bloggers to provide a personal touch to the feed reading experience. Nevertheless, I've added the following logo to my web feed tonight:

Web Feed Logo

Hopefully it won't be long before it starts showing up in my favorite feed reader.

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Google Now Reports Feed Subscriber Numbers

February 17, 2007 8:37 PM

I read first via Jonathan Snook, then via the Official Google Reader Blog, and then finally via Robert Scoble that Google is now reporting the number of subscribers to a feed when they access it on a webserver. Sure enough, I went and looked at my referral log and saw the following:

72.14.199.83 - - [17/Feb/2007:01:02:13 -0600] "GET /xml/music.xml HTTP/1.1" 304 - "-" "Feedfetcher-Google; (+http://www.google.com/feedfetcher.html; 13 subscribers; feed-id=12292243438202008205)"

This is pretty darn cool, especially since I was just complaining about that (albeit indirectly) last month. We'll have to see how long it takes before they expose this information in the Google Reader UI.

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Time-sensitive nofollow

February 17, 2007 2:21 PM

While we're on the subject of blog spam, I might as well post about another anti-spam measure I've enabled here on my blog.

Those who are at all familiar with blog spam (if you're a blogger and aren't familiar, I envy you!) know that its main purpose in life is to get attention from Googlebot. They're also most likely aware that a couple years ago, Google offered up a potential solution to the problem, the use of rel="nofollow" in links.

The problem with using rel="nofollow" in your blog's comments section full stop is that it blocks legitimate comments from getting any Google Juice whatsoever. You may have seen what kind of impact turning off your Google Juice sharing can have. So it's obviously not the best idea.

I'm the kind of guy that likes to share the love when it comes to the Google Juice anyway. I like knowing that repeat offenders like Ryan and Ian get some Google love, because they don't have to spend time commenting on my site. They do, though, and I appreciate that.

So what have I done to reconcile the two issues? I'm implemented what I'm calling "time-sensitive nofollow." This is really simple in concept, and I wouldn't be surprised if several others have already done this and I'm just thinking of it late (as usual). But I do think it will help, even if it's just to give me peace of mind knowing that any blog spam I haven't had a chance to hide yet isn't getting any attention from Googlebot.

Rather than moderating comments before they appear on the site, which I think is kind of lame, I will continue to let all comments appear on the site right away. Comments that are brand new, though, will always have the rel="nofollow" attribute applied to all links. It usually only takes me a few hours to a couple of days (depending on how busy I am) to spot blog spam and hide it, so this threshold isn't set all that high. Once the threshold has been passed, the rel="nofollow" attribute is automatically removed and all links can start soaking up their rightful Google Juice.

I'd tell the blog spammers to read this, but I know they already are. For whatever reason, my blog spammers seem to pay a little extra attention to my blog and what I'm up to than your regular run-of-the-mill spammers do. Anyway, bring it on.

If you're interested at all in the details of how I implemented this, just let me know. I'm always willing to share PHP code snippets and what not. I think anyone with a decent imagination can picture how I am pulling this off, though. We'll see how it goes.

Blogging | Post Comments | View Comments (5) | Permalink

Don't Throw Away Your Blog Spam, Recycle It

February 15, 2007 10:02 PM

Everybody hates blog spam, right? Bloggers especially. When we see it we clench our teeth, pound our fists, and send curses to the spam gods. So it's natural that our first inclination is to destroy it — we want to delete it permanently from our databases, our servers, our blog and our memories. However, I would urge you, if you can, to resist that initial instinct and show some restraint. You may be doing yourself a disservice otherwise.

Anyone who's been reading my blog for a while knows that my CMS is hand-crafted. I don't use WordPress or anything like that. Therefore, I have a little more flexibility in terms of the ways I approach the various aspects of my blog — spam included. However, even if you do run a CMS like WordPress, you should consider customizing the way you approach blog spam.

I'm no expert in how WordPress attacks the blog spam problem. I have set up a blog or two with that particular framework though, and was amazed at how much blog spam accumulated over a period of only a few months. I understand that now, however, because of tools like Askimet, that situation has gotten a whole lot better. That being said, I have this feeling that Askimet blocks spam but doesn't quite let you access it retroactively.

Being able to access blog spam retroactively is a key part of being able to "recycle" it, or put it to use against the actual spammers that created it in the first place. I used to delete blog spam on sight, but now I simply "hide" it. It continues to live in my database, but becomes unexposed to the outside world (and Googlebot in particular). I can access it whenever I want, though. In fact, I accessed it last night in order to look for any apparent patterns. The most obvious pattern was that the spammers have keyed in on a popular post and have begun targeting it almost exclusively. That didn't help me much, though, because that post tends to elicit real comments from real people as well. Another more important pattern that emerged was — well, actually I probably shouldn't give that away. Let's just say it's been addressed. At some point, I intend to actually report on how much blog spam has been submitted to my site vs. hidden over a period of time to see if my "recycling" theory holds water, but that's another post for another day.

The main point I'm trying to get across is that blog spam can be useful. You shouldn't necessarily send it off to the realm of /dev/null if you don't have to. As long as you've hidden it from your readers and especially from Googlebot, you've got nothing to lose and plenty to gain. Spammers are tricky, but in my experience, they don't quite have what it takes to take on someone armed with a dynamic programming language and a database.

Recycling your blog spam will get you one step closer to really knowing your spammers.

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Tim Hardaway No Longer Matters

February 14, 2007 11:59 PM

Anyone who knows basketball knows that Tim Hardaway is to the crossover dribble what Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon is to blocked shots. Given that I played the point guard position growing up, Tim Hardaway was an instrumental figure that I looked up to and respected.

Tonight I read that Tim Hardaway openly admitted that he hates gay people:

You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don't like it. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States.

He of course apologized shortly thereafter, but the cat is out of the bag. Tim Hardaway is entitled to his opinion, but all respect I had for him has been lost.

Ignorance better be bliss.

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Ultra-sensitive

February 13, 2007 9:21 PM

I just read an article over at Newsvine about Barack Obama apologizing:

During his first campaign trip this weekend, the Illinois senator told a crowd in Iowa: "We now have spent $400 billion and have seen over 3,000 lives of the bravest young Americans wasted.

He immediately apologized on Sunday...

Why?

Are we really that sensitive? How many times do you hear someone refer to the object of their criticism with an adjective like "brave" beforehand?

This is the kind of thing that drives me nuts about politics in general, and the presidential race in particular. Every word is processed, pondered, regurgitated and apologized for many times over.

Where are the Barry Goldwaters of today?

Elsewhere | Post Comments | View Comments (4) | Permalink

Google Reader Not Picking Up Updated Posts

February 12, 2007 6:08 AM

As I've been using Google Reader for the past month, I've noticed kind of subconsciously that it doesn't ever seem to pick up updated posts. The sure fire way to see this is to subscribe to your own feed, because you know when you've updated an entry, and therefore know when to expect that entry to show up again in your feed reader. However, after updating Good URLs Should Be Unambiguous this past weekend, the updated feed entry never showed up in Google Reader.

I did a little bit of poking around on the web and came back to a post I read a few weeks ago over at Robert Scoble's blog. In the comments on that post, Andrew Watts said:

Reader doesn't pick up all updated posts, for example on my blog after the national championship game I updated a post from early December, Bloglines displayed it as a updated item, Reader didn't show it at all. If Reader misses updated posts, is it reliable?

It's a little disconcerting to think that the bloggers I subscribe to aren't being heard or understood fully due to this oversight in my current feed reader's implementation. Hopefully they'll fix this issue soon because it just took me a little closer to that line I have to cross to start using Bloglines again.

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There's a First Time for Everything

February 10, 2007 11:12 PM

I was browsing C|Net tonight and managed to crash Firefox on Linux. That marks the first I've seen the browser crash outside of Windows. It's probably also the first time I've seen an application crash on Linux. I guess there's a first time for everything.

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Good URLs Should Be Unambiguous

February 07, 2007 10:03 PM

There's a very insightful post over at Simon Willison's blog that talks about the importance of unambiguous URLs. I'd never even really thought about it before (unless you count this), but ambiguous URLs really can clutter up the web. The convinceme.net example is particularly interesting. I think I've done a fairly decent job of adhering to the unambiguous model, but certainly not consciously. From now on, that won't be the case.

Update: I just spotted a similar article over at The Mu Life (via Digg).

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Thoughts on Opera Mini

February 07, 2007 8:53 PM

Regular readers might remember that I tend to blog from Opera Mini in stressful situations. I'd say a commute that took five times the usual time and a freezing house with a tree on the roof count as stressful situations, wouldn't you?

Anyway, it's thanks to such stressful situations that I've gotten some hands-on, albeit limited, experience with Opera's little browser that can. If you've ever used the default browser on a typical cell phone, you know just how painful browsing the web can be. Not only does it bring back painful memories of 14400 baud modems, but it adds insult to injury with a clunky interface on an already limiting device.

What Opera Mini does that your typical cell phone browser doesn't is take the clunky interface out of the picture and replace it with an intuitive, efficient experience. Not only that, it manages to do so while staying true to the actual design intended for not-so-mini browsers running on PCs. When I go to my blog on Opera Mini, I see the same color scheme I'm used to seeing. I see the same design elements I put so much thought into implementing. I don't see the 1994 equivalent of my blog. That is impressive, considering my blog is still incredibly useful (Opera Mini's doing, not mine) on such a limited screen space.

To be honest, I would use Opera Mini a lot more if I wasn't held back by the ridiculous amounts of money Cingular charges me per precious kilobyte transferred. There's something incredibly useful about being able to fire up Google Maps or do a Google search for 'home depot seattle' when you're out and about, miles away from your PC.

If you haven't given Opera Mini a try, I highly recommend it. Just launch your phone's clunky browser and browse on over to operamini.com. Hey, look, we found a real use for that clunky default browser...and a way to put it out of its misery once and for all.

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