Yes, I’m still around

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

Isn’t this always how it works out? You plan on taking a short break, and then for many days in a row things keep coming up that prevent you from ending said break?

Anyway, look for a real post later tonight. I’ve also been thinking about refocusing this blog somewhat (though this is far from the first time I’ve said those words without following through on it, so who knows what’ll happen). The general topic format just isn’t getting me where I’d like to be.

Abandoned blog post ideas, part 2

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

Following my wildly successful blog post on abandoned blog ideas, part 1 (at least in terms of cleaning up my WordPress post drafts, anyway), I figure it’s time for part 2. The idea is exactly the same: I’m going through my old WordPress drafts, many of which are nothing more than an idea stored as a post title, and combining a bunch of them into a hodgepodge post. Don’t expect any cohesiveness to any of the following paragraphs. Here we go.

We had an office party a few months ago after work with beer and videogames. Some of my coworkers brought in their console gaming systems. One of my coworkers brought in Smash Brothers Melee, which had just been released for the Wii and was all the rage. I definitely wanted a chance to play it, but I didn’t end up doing so because a few other guys and I spent the entire night playing Rock Band. So, at least in terms of choosing between games I had never played before, Rock Band won out handily. It was a lot of fun — I don’t regret it!

I was idly thinking about things, as I often do, and I came up with the word “Secularium”. I’m not exactly sure what a secularium would be, but it sure sounds cool. Maybe it’s a non-religious counterpart to a place of worship, providing a sense of community and an appreciation for the natural world? The people running a secularium (Scientists? Humanists?) would definitely emphasize rational thinking and empiricism over the faith-based alternatives. Hrmm, maybe I should start one, as a sort of sane alternative to Unitarian Universalists.

This draft title sums up the idea completely: “Embarrassing events matter much less to others.” I saved it as a draft, stewed on it for a day, then realized I didn’t really have anything to add to it, because it’s so incredibly obvious. What I at first considered profound was merely germane. But I might as well re-tell the story that I reminded myself about in the draft notes, because it is mildly funny. In my sophomore year of college, one of my roommates was sitting at his computer in his boxers playing a game. My other roommate happened to have a female friend or two over. I noticed that my first roommate was “peeking out” of his boxers, if you will. I quietly informed him and he got all embarrassed about it (I don’t think the girls ever realized). But it was something that meant absolutely nothing to me, but was quite embarrassing to him, thus proving my thesis.

I was going to embark on a lengthy journey of backing up all of my data and then writing about how I did it, focusing on all of the tools that were used (GnuPG, rsync, tar, scp, K3b, mysqldump, etc.). But then I just got lazy and never got around to it. I still do back up my most essential data across multiple computers over time, but I’m simply not very organized about it, even though I maybe should be. And if my house does burn down, taking all of the computers with it, I would be facing significant losses. I do have enough free space on this webhost; maybe I should encrypt my files (to keep them away from prying eyes in the hosting company) and store them here?

I was playing this game for the Nintendo DS called “My Word Coach” regularly, and I thought I might get a good blog post out of it. But I eventually got bored of the game and the blog post never materialized. Now, I haven’t played it in many months. The fundamental problem with the game is that it’s just not a lot of fun. Granted, learning hundreds of new words in search of an expanded vocabulary is a noble goal, but when it feels like studying, it’s hard to get excited about it, and even harder to spend 15-30 minutes doing it each day. And the mini-games in it are very hit-and-miss, with some of them emphasizing spelling over meaning. I’m not studying for a spelling bee (the whole concept of which I find insipid), so what I really need to know is the meaning of the word. I’ll always be able to recognize a word whose meaning I know when I see it, and if I feel the need to use it in a written composition but don’t remember the exact spelling, I hear there’s this Internet thing where one can look up words with amazing efficiency. But if you’re a writer looking to expand your vocabulary, definitely check it out. I thought it was hilarious that I started out knowing 55% of the words in the game’s dictionary, as judged by an “entrance exam”, while one of the reviews I read had the guy starting at 20%. Ouch.

And finally, if I wasn’t being meta enough already, one of my old drafts was itself an idea to take old drafts and combine them into a single post. What are we, two layers deep now? At least I finally did get around to it.

All right, phew, down to 41 drafts now. This is becoming more manageable by the day.

New anti-spam measures on this site

Friday, July 25th, 2008

I’ve switched from Akismet to Defensio for my spam-stopping needs here on this blog. The change should be transparent. If anything goes wrong, like if your comments are all of a sudden getting marked as spam, you know how to contact me.

I’ve made the switch to Defensio because I’ve heard some good things about it, and decided to give it a whirl. Akismet definitely wasn’t doing the best possible job, so hopefully Defensio will fare better.

WordPress continues delivers cutting edge features

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

I know I’ve been critical of WordPress in the past, but the new release of WordPress 2.6 allows me to pause and give thanks for all the amazing features that WordPress offers. Earlier tonight I was helping a friend with her Blogger.com blog, and the difference between that and WordPress is night and day.

For instance, Blogger doesn’t even offer out-of-the-box support for below-the-fold text, and the official work-around they suggest is an ugly display:none; CSS hack. Yeah, that’s right, the full text of every post is always included on the main page — there’s just a CSS directive to the browser to hide it! Talk about inefficient! WordPress does it the correct way. And the stylesheet support Blogger has is just hideous. The full text of the stylesheet is included inline with the HTML header on every page. If you don’t believe me, just view the HTML source of this random Blogger blog. They’re all like that.

So compared to Blogger, WordPress is incontrovertibly amazing (and although my friend isn’t likely to want to get server space and administrate her own blog, I would at least recommend moving her blog over to WordPress.com). But the new version of WordPress, 2.6, adds a killer feature that I’ve long wanted in my blog software but haven’t seen anywhere: an integrated revision control system. If you’ve ever read Wikipedia and viewed the history tab, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Revision control is useful for single author blogs, where you might wipe out a passage only to later wish you had it back. It also helps a lot when there’s some tricky formatting you want to get just right. Without a revision control system, there’s no way to revert to a known good version without first copying the post source into Notepad. But it really shines for multi-author blogs. I remember how, when I was writing for Supreme Commander Talk with Grokmoo, we would edit each others’ posts, and then have to explicitly have a chat about what things in each other’s work needed editing so that the mistakes might not be repeated again. With proper revision control, just execute a diff and what’s changed is plain as day! It always slightly irked me that other people might be editing my words and I would never be able to know. With WordPress 2.6, that’s no longer possible.

So I’ll count my blessings with WordPress. Despite its security vulnerabilities (most of which seem to be passed now) it really is a great piece of software, and the developers continue to add amazing new must-have features to it. Now that I’ve had some experience with another blogging platform, I can unequivocally say that I heartily endorse WordPress. Everyone’s blogging experience should be this smooth.

Ending a blog is heart-wrenching

Sunday, May 25th, 2008

I’m just about ready to end my former blog, Supreme Commander Talk. It focused exclusively on the PC game Supreme Commander (don’t get bent out of shape if you have never heard of it; the game didn’t become nearly as popular as we had hoped it would). I stopped updating the blog about a year ago when I stopped playing the game. Since then, I managed to get a few other players in for short writing stints, but none of them stayed very long, and the blog has now lapsed after several months of inactivity. And given the game’s gradual loss of popularity since its release, even largely unstemmed by the release of its expansion pack, I think it’s about time to end the blog.

But ending a blog is hard. I, along with my friend Grokmoo, put a lot of effort into that blog. We were writing substantive entries in it every day. I would find myself playing multiplayer games just for the sake of having something to write about. I checked the forums and the other fansites constantly, so that even if I missed being the first to report to report on something, I would still be far from the last. It was damn fun, and it’s a real rush to grow a community around you. Oh yes, the relative “fame” was addictive. At its peak, SupComTalk was getting thrice as many daily visits as this blog currently gets. And on the aggregate, I’ve put a lot more time into this blog as well.

Ending a blog is hard, but sometimes, necessary. I don’t want to leave those loose ends hanging around perpetually, and getting overrun with spam is always a problem on a comment-enabled site that is no longer actively moderated. Of course, I’m not simply going to take the blog offline; that would be a terrible fate for something we spent so much time on (and I do despise linkrot). The simplest amenable way to end it would be to turn off commenting across the whole site, effectively rendering it static. There must be a WordPress plugin out there somewhere to mothball a blog. I’ll have to put up one final, melancholic post, allow a few final days for comments on it, and then lock it all down permanently. “This is the blog that was.”

I will miss SupComTalk a lot; don’t think this will be easy for me. I really enjoyed the experience, and I would love to do it again with some other game. Writing that blog was the closest taste of Internet fame I’ve ever had (admittedly, just a taste; not even close to a mouthful). And there was a lesson there that I quickly learned, yet have still failed to follow: single-topic blogs that focus on specific subjects are, on the average, far more successful than personal blogs that focus on whatever smattering of topics the writer happens to be interested in. Some day yet I might finally apply that knowledge to this blog — or perhaps create a new one. I’m still thinking about it. But as I draw close to finally pulling the plug on SupComTalk, it weighs heavier and heavier still on my mind.

Site note: new anti-spam measures

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

As the more astute readers may have noticed, I’ve increasingly been having spam problems on this site. More and more garbage comments and pingbacks were getting through my spam filter, Spam Karma. Unfortunately, the sole developer of that WordPress plugin stopped working on it more than a year ago, while the spammers haven’t stopped improving their techniques. So I’m switching over to Akismet, WordPress’s own anti-spam plugin, which is still actively supported. I’ll report on how well it’s doing after I’ve seen it in use for a couple weeks, but after one day of usage, I can at least guarantee that it doesn’t totally suck, as it’s stopped dozens of spam comments without letting a single one through.

Those of you who aren’t bloggers, consider yourselves lucky that you don’t have to deal with the messy issue of blog spam. I’ve found it to be a lot worse than tackling email spam. For starters, I get a lot more of it, and I also have to deal with it, as any spam that gets through makes your site look really trashy and could potentially damage your search engine rankings (Google punishes sites that link to spammy havens of the Internet). When you get a spam email, you can just ignore it and nothing bad happens; when you get a spam comment on your blog, you have to delete it, and that’s a fair bit more effort.

In my time off from fighting against spam, I amuse myself by thinking of all sorts of creative punishments for blog spammers. For instance, I’m a fan of Medieval-style hanging, drawing, and quartering, but that doesn’t quite satisfy me. I’d prefer hanged, drawn, and fractally quartered. Cut into four pieces, then cut each remaining piece into four pieces, ad infinitum …

That’s an appropriate punishment for spammers, and it satisfies my fascination with mathematics to boot.

A long, exhausting week

Friday, April 25th, 2008

My four day business trip to Springfield, Massachusetts ended up morphing into a five day trip when things didn’t quite go as intended, and now I’m completely exhausted. I’m off to bed. Tomorrow I’ll get a chance to seriously write on this blog.

Heading out to Massachusetts

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

I’m traveling up to Massachusetts tomorrow for a week for my job. I don’t know the status of Internet access in the hotel I’ll be staying in. I suspect it might be costly, in which case I’ll just refuse to pay. So you probably won’t see me writing anything for this blog until Friday at the earliest.

But that’s okay. In anticipation of not having Internet access for the duration, I’ve written and queued up a few blog posts to appear while I’m away. Just don’t expect any coverage of breaking news or timely responses to your comments. If this starts becoming a regular occurrence it may get to be a bit tiresome, because writing lots of blog posts in one day is kind of exhausting.

February was a crazy month here at Cyde Weys Musings

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

Allow me to indulge in some navel-gazing amidst all of the topical posts here on Cyde Weys Musings. But hey, if you like numbers, especially web traffic analytics, you’ll enjoy this post anyway. February has been a crazy month on this site. Just look at this annotated traffic graph (note that the horizontal axis is zero):

February traffic on Cyde Weys Musings

Here’s an explanation of the various jumps in web traffic:

  • A is the post China creates space debris, intentionally, which I wrote over one year ago, but has nevertheless been one of the most popular posts on this site ever. When I was writing it, I never would have guessed so many people were interested in space debris. In hindsight it doesn’t even seem obvious. It still periodically generates large spikes of traffic coming from Google searches whenever space debris is in the news (But can you figure out what caused the spike on January 29? It was too early to be the US satellite shoot-down).
  • B is the post A real life Stand Alone Complex emerges against Scientology, which caused a moderate jump in traffic on the day I published it and then a huge jump in traffic a couple days later when it became popular on Digg and was linked from a number of forums and blogs on the web. The hits on that post are still coming in very regularly, contributing to the overall increase in traffic evident post-Stand Alone Complex.
  • C is the post Pakistan brings down YouTube, which I wrote just yesterday and is far from being on its last legs. It didn’t become popular on Digg or anything, but rather, was widely linked from Slashdot. I owe the traffic numbers on this blog post to my sheer speed in writing about the issue: I had the post online while the hijacking was still taking place, and I posted a detailed technical analysis (with the help of my friend Greg) on the hijacking before anyone else on the web. Speed counts!

I think I’m finally developing a knack for blogging about topics that people are interested in. The traffic to this blog is increasing over time, with a huge jump in February alone, and now that I’ve committed myself to writing at least one post per day (but trying for two), the number of regular readers should really start picking up. And hey, it’s “only” taken 460 posts over the course of a year and three months to reach this point. Determination pays off.

If you have any comments, suggestions, concerns, or tips, please use the comments section below. And if you’re a reader who’s never commented here before, why not take a little time to say how you found this blog? That kind of information is very helpful to me.

Lurkers, reveal yourselves!

Tuesday, January 1st, 2008

Seeing as how it’s the new year (man, each one is coming faster and faster), I felt that it would help me out as a writer to hear some of the stories from those of you readers out there who don’t typically comment; the lurkers, as it were. So, please do chime in in the comments. I promise I won’t do this more than twice a year, so it really won’t be too much of an inconvenience for you, and as a benefit, it’ll motivate me a lot to keep writing once I meet some more of the regulars.

The reason I’ve held off so long on doing one of these delurking posts is because I was afraid of how small my audience might end up being. But it’s time to throw those worries to the wind so we can all be fully knowledgeable of where everything stands. I’m not worried about my overall visitor count at all; it’s progressed quite nicely since I started this blog a little over a year ago. But it just seems that most of my visitors are coming in through Google searches (I place quite highly in the results for some of the most bizarre search phrases). So I really want to get an idea of the size of my regular readership.

So, please, if you’re reading this, just leave some kind of a comment. It can be as simple as just your user name. Or, if you’re feeling generous with your verbiage, I’d also like to know where you come from, what kind of things you’re interested in, how you found this blog and what keeps you coming back, and anything else you’d like to get off your chest. The neatest thing about blogging as a form of communication versus everything else out there is that it is trivially easy to start a conversation with the author. Just leave a comment; I check this blog regularly for new ones and read all of them, and before you know it, information is flowing both ways. This radical paradigm shift in the relationship between writer and readers is what attracted me so much to blogging in the first place, and it’s what keeps me going as well.

So, do leave a comment. There’ll be cake.