Now That IS a First

In all the years I’ve been helping people over the Internet, and that’s quite a few years.. longer than I’ve had my website in fact, I’ve often received little or no thanks from individuals. You know how it is, the stereotypical martyr act sort of thing ;) I only say it because it’s true though, anyone who spends their time helping others will say exactly the same. Woe, it’s a thankless task! :p

So anyway, imagine my surprise to wake up this morning, log on and check my e-mail to find that not only has Jessica of swimchick.net publicly accepted my Pants Award given to her last year, but she has left a sincere and appreciative message along with it. Not just a hidden away ‘thanks jem’, but a few paragraphs dedicated to the task. I think it takes a LOT of balls (well, guts in this case) to do that.

I have to say, that’s a nice way to start the day :)

Appeal: I Need a Bag

This is a public appeal for help from all you girlies out there (and boyzies, if you’re that way inclined).

I need a new bag. I’m not talking a hand bag, or a clutch bag (I’m still not even sure I know what one of those is) and I’m definitely not talking a colostomy bag. I need a general purpose, fit for anything sort of bag because the one I’ve got, I’ve had since I was about 15 (that’s 6 years boys and girls) and it’s falling apart.

It needs to have pockets for all my crap (my USB drive, spare change, plasters and painkillers, etc) and it needs to be able to fit in my A5 spiral-bound work notebook. Along with this is needs to fit my purse/wallet thing, and my mobile phone if I can a) remember where it is, b) remember how to work it and c) remember to charge the thing. Preferably, it would need to fit my Nintendo DS in it too. However, it can’t be too big and bulky because that would defeat the point of this bag.

Bear in mind I’m in the UK, so any online shops would need to ship here, and that I am a cheap bastard so wouldn’t want to spend much on it. So, any ideas ladies? (If you post links, please use tinyurl to prevent stretching!)

I Did NaBloPoMoDoReMi Because…

Now that the blog posting month thingy is over, I’ve noticed a few people criticising the process because “it’s not that big a deal”, or “it promotes shitty blogging”. While I don’t disagree with either (I’ll be the first to admit my own dodgy entries) I have to protest: I did do it for a reason! A reason that goes beyond seeing if I can do it, seeing if I can post quality stuff and the experiments with my hits.

I did it because I’ve failed NaNoWriMo (that month where you write a novel with 50,000 words) on multiple occasions, and wondered if it was because I am so bad at writing fiction. I thought that if I write about the Internet, about myself and all those other things I can do, that I would be able to finally see the 50k word goal through.

Turns out that I fail at non-fiction too. I’ll let you guess how many words in total I posted last month (and no, it’s not even close to 50,000).

Two Fingers to PPPers

This month, Google has finally given word on the recent controversy regarding the dropping of PageRank amongst those who sell links. As well as an update on the official Google blog, Matt Cutts (that guy who works for Google) has composed an interesting and informative post on the subject (Selling links that pass pagerank.)

To summarise for those too lazy to read either entries on the subject: Google is penalising those who sell links for the purpose of passing on PageRank, such as the links inside sponsored posts and paid reviews. Furthermore (and contrary to the rants that this is a new thing) Google has linked to their webmaster guidelines originating in 2003 whereby they advise “Don’t participate in link schemes designed to increase your site’s ranking or PageRank“. So, they’ve been doing this for years. (I can only assume that we’re seeing an increase in people affected because there’s an increase in people spamming their blogs for cash.)

In his entry, Cutts specifically targets PPPers (PayPerPost users) and highlights the ridiculous misinformation that becomes available because of bloggers publishing crap, despite being totally inexperienced in the field about which they’re writing. This is nothing new, we’ve all heard about the teenagers reviewing household insurance providers on their otherwise typical teeny blogs. Anyway, these posts only serve to ratify my suspicion of the negative impact PPPers have on blogging as a whole, and I will continue to nofollow links to known PPPers as and when they appear in my entries/comments.

I for one am glad that Google is taking a positive action towards the ‘downgrading’ of these bloggers. While I don’t begrudge anyone an income — or pocket change to support whatever lifestyle they want to live — I don’t see why people searching for genuine, relevant information should suffer as a result.

Now, excuse me while I go back to laughing at the muppets in Matt’s comments that think they have the right to an income through Google…

BellaBiblio v2 is Live

The new version of my book rating script — BellaBiblio — is now online.

BellaBiblio now includes an Ajax searcher that integrates with Amazon Web Services, allowing you to enter a keyword and pull down information on your books. This integration is all thanks to the work of Mat, who integrated the Ajax and made it all nifty. The new stuff cuts out the manual to-ing and fro-ing to Amazon to pick up the ISBN/etc. There’s also basic support for a recommended books add-on, which can/will be improved in the future.

The biggest change is probably the fact that BellaBiblio is now released under the GPL. Although this doesn’t mean a great deal to the majority of you, it allows other developers to work with the script however they see fit.

As per usual, if you find any bugs or problems please let me know. Feedback is appreciated.

I Bloody Did It!

Yes, I did it. It’s November 30th and I have posted every single day. I am so proud of myself, which is kind of stupid because it’s only a blog for crying out loud. :S Nonetheless, I am glad that I did it, It’s taught me a thing or two.

Firstly, before I review “behind the scenes”, let me just thank everyone who supported me this month. Thank you for the e-mails and the comments egging me on, thank you for the entry suggestions, and thank you to every deranged fool who sat there and read through each entry (even though quite a few were the shittiest shit I’ve ever published). I don’t think I would have, or could have finished without you guys.

Anyway, on to the bit about the hits. I haven’t really talked about it much but my hits have been slowly dropping since earlier in the year. I know for a fact this is a combination of more sporadic blogging and the decreased quality/standard of the post. I’ve not posted anything useful, I’ve not really updated my scripts and due to work commitments I’ve not been involved in all of the online stuff I used to distract myself with. I almost want to say that I’m lucky the drop was minor, but I don’t know who I’d be kidding: at the end of last month I was down 16,000 uniques on April, with around 24,000 less page views.

I know some of you have been positively busting a gut to find out how they have been affected so I’ll cut the crap and get to the point. Although I’ve not covered the ground I’ve lost this year (with around 6000 less uniques than April I’ve still got a way to go) but my page views and overall hits are higher than I think they’ve ever been. This is a major positive.

Apart from slightly warped figures in the middle of the month whereby a few of my pages got a couple of Thumbs Ups on StumbleUpon, and an early review of The Simpsons DS game brought in a lot of organic Google traffic, the interest on both of these has died out again but my hits are still climbing. Mint is reporting a good 350-400 unique hits extra per day than average (peaking when I post about useful things like PageRank), and according to Feedburner, my RSS feed hit a peak of 461 on Tuesday 27th (to think just a few weeks ago I was celebrating 400!)

Mint is also telling me that a lot of you are coming back daily now (which is brilliant), and there’s a large increase in unfamiliar IPs with multiple repeat visits. The change in hits and large amount of new visitors has swayed my browser stats, with Firefox dropping from a 69% holding to 64% (Internet Explorer gobbled up the extra 5%); however, this hasn’t affected the OS/Platform stats overly (Windows still reigns, used by with 88% of my visitors).

It’s plain to see that an increase in blogging frequency — coupled with informative or useful posts — is the fastest way to bring up your hits. That said, I don’t think I could keep it up daily (far too much stress), and while I would like to maintain 5 posts a week I’m not promising anything!

Free Software I Could Not Do Without

Karl and I were talking in the car today about the progression of Windows, the upcoming service pack 3 for XP and the extortionate prices charged for the likes of Microsoft Office. This of course got me started on the benefit of free software, although I don’t know who I was preaching to because Karl is as big an advocate as I am!

I have to admit, I do have a bit of a reputation both on and offline for being a stickler about pirate software. While my peers are off wasting their monthly bandwidth allowance downloading the latest copy of Photoshop complete with key generator (or whatever) I don’t need to because I’ve already got adequate solutions on my laptop that are small, fast and efficient. Best of all? They’re free.

As a web developer — no, who am I kidding — as someone who spends 90% of their waking hours on the computer, I often need software to help me do what I want to do. While we all know of the obvious, the likes of Firefox for web browsing and Thunderbird for e-mail, there are some software ‘secrets’ out there that I think everyone should know about and the majority should use.

Word Processing

I ditched OpenOffice a long time ago. While it is free and is a bloody good competitor to Microsoft Office, it started to become bloated and slow even on an ‘up to the job’ machine (my Sony laptop). Instead I use AbiWord. It is of course free (open source), it is compatible with the various versions of MS Word so it’s not a problem if you use something different at school/work. It is very fast and ridiculously small, and best of all it’s available multi-platform (Windows/OS X/Linux).

Spreadsheets

Everyone needs a good spreadsheet program, even if its just for keeping track of your monthly finances. I use Gnumeric. Originally released as part of the GNOME (think Linux) desktop environment from the GNU people (those guys who do the licenses for software like WordPress and soon, BellaBiblio) it has been ported to windows, and is available on the Getting Gnumeric page. It is fast, it supports the file formats of competitors and according to a comparison PDF published by Computational Statistics & Data Analysis Statistical Software Newsletter it has fixed errors in its statistical functions that remain in Excel: “Microsoft has not fixed its errors through many successive versions“.

PDF Reading/Writing

Ask anyone about PDFs and the first word they’ll think of is Adobe®. The sad thing is (sad that I didn’t know sooner) there are two pieces of software out there better than the Adobe PDF suite. Firstly, for reading PDFs, is the Foxit Reader. No more randomly crashing of the browser because you clicked a link but didn’t realise it was a PDF; no more waiting 3 hours for a PDF to load because you hadn’t realised the update dialogue box had hung in the background. Foxit is a tiny reader (only a couple of Meg in size) and is seriously swift because of it. It has increased my efficiency (particularly at work where I deal with hundreds of PDFs a week) tenfold, and has actually allowed me to bond with the PDF file extension. (Geeky, I know.)

For writing PDFs, I heartily recommend CutePDF. Although I don’t use it at home because I have little need to create the files, it saved my ass at work after I got my new PC and realised I didn’t have any way of printing to PDF any more. The CutePDF website requires JavaScript and looks scarily like the Microsoft website (last time I saw it, anyhow) but its worth that temporary niggle to get the freeware writer.

Coding/Mark-up

Finally, and definitely not the least important of the bunch because I use it for everything, there’s Notepad++. Gone are the days when I’d spend 4 hours looking for a missing curly brace in one of my PHP statements or counting up to line 867 to figure out what was causing the parse error in my latest script; the colour coding and line numbering makes it a breeze. It doesn’t have the bloat and annoyingly pointless WYSIWYG features of the “industry standard” (vomit) DreamWeaver, and doesn’t require 3 years of training and a degree in Computer Science to operate (Microsoft Frontpage) — perfect for those of you who want to tinker with web pages but don’t want the cost that goes along with it.

All in all it’s safe to say that 95% of my work is done in freeware/open source software, and I’d be right royally screwed without it. There’s no excuse for not producing top notch work even if you can’t afford the price tag that comes with the so-called “best” (subjective, I’d say) software.

Update (30/Nov): Karl has added a brief post on the free software he recommends too.

Yes, Another Layout. Sorry.

So, hands up if you can figure out what I’ve been doing today? I’ll give you a clue: it wasn’t what I should have been doing.

I have a feeling that some of you will be disappointed with the layout. If you spotted the title in your feedreader and came over here all excited, you’ll notice that in actual fact there’s not a lot to get excited about. It’s a standard structure, standard layout, standard CSS. Nothing new and no web 2.0 (unless you count the corner of the sidebar.)

I created the layout based on a colour palette. This colour palette. I saw it, I liked it and so I used it. It’s actually quite an odd combination, and I have a feeling some of you are going to be all “eww”.. it’s definitely a love it or hate it colour scheme. Nonetheless, it’s more exciting than red ‘n grey so I’ll probably keep it around for a while.

That’s all there is to say about it, I think.

Day Off Tomorrow

I’ve got the day off work tomorrow, so if there’s something I’ve been promising you or something that I’d said I’d do, now’s the time to remind me so I can get some things crossed off the list in the coming weeks before Christmas. Hopefully this’d give me a bit of a fresh slate to start from in the Near Year.

However, do bear in mind I have a backlog of emails and an essay to write… ahh, who am I kidding, I’ll probably end up procrastinating on scripting and my sites :S

BBC ‘loves’ its single quotes

I can exclusively reveal that the BBC website editors have a serious addiction problem. This news may come as a shock to some, but I know a few who’ve noticed the dramatic increase over the years. It’s a serious case of infatuation with the single quotation mark (or his twin brother, the apostrophe, whichever way you like it).

quotes

Source: news.bbc.co.uk

Be careful, this obsession ‘is infectious’.

Caption Favourites #1

I underestimated the amount of submissions so I’ll post a few links over the week :) First: Ad Tracker (#) and Louise (#)

Caption This

hex has a mouse

I’ll link to the website of the person who submits the best caption in my sidebar (Asides)…

In other news: there is no other news. I’ve been working on tutorialtastic all weekend, including adding the rate functionality I talked about in my last TT post.