Archive for November, 2006

On The Move: Update

Well, I hit my first major speed bump regarding the server switch. When I set everything up on the old server, I set alifelessordinary.com as the “master” domain on the account. On the same server as ALLO, I host another site. I realised that if ALLO is no longer on this server, I won’t be able to administer the other site (I confirmed this with the hosting company). So I’m going to have to move the other site along with this one.

I can almost certainly guarantee that the move won’t happen until next week (although there is still a chance, I suppose).

See, this is why it’s important to check and double check everything before you make any big commitments.

New entries and comments will be saved right before the switch, so if you have something to say, say it now.

On The Move

It’s time to switch to the new server. I’ve been putting this off for months because of the wedding, but now that it’s over, I really need to get this done before I put it off again.

The update will happen in two parts. Part one entails moving to a new server. That means updating DNS entries and re-installing MovableType, which means downtime. It sucks, but the new server will be both less expensive and more accommodating, so it’s definitely worth the trouble.

Part two involves updating the look of the site. While I don’t actually have a template ready to go, I have a pretty good idea of how I want it to look. It won’t be too terribly different, but it will have some fun changes that I’ve been wanting to add for quite some time. The plan is to launch the new look in January 2007.

As soon as I write this, I’m going to perform a backup of all of the files. As soon as that’s done, I will sort through the files to determine what needs to make the move (there are probably a handful of obsolete files that I don’t need cluttering up the new server). After I upload all of the new files, I will backup the blog database for the last time prior to the move.

After I backup the database, I’ll upload a placeholder index file so that you know the site is down. Before the DNS propagates, permalinks will still work, but comments will not be saved. After the DNS propagates, permalinks will not work until I can get MovableType up and running and import the old database. Once everything is back up to speed, I’ll replace the placeholder index file with the regular index file and everything will once again be back to normal.

In theory, you won’t notice anything different except that the site will be down for a couple of days (assuming everything goes smoothly, it should only be a couple of days).

So when will this downtime begin? It could be in a few hours, it could be a few days. It all depends on how long it takes me to get ready to make the switch. I want to have all of the pieces in place before I take the site down so that it’s down for the least amount of time possible (unfortunately, a lot of the downtime is out of my control. When I update the DNS numbers, I’ll have to wait for them to propagate. The process can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days and there’s nothing I can do to speed it up). Ideally I’ll have the site back up before Friday. If not, I’ll post a special interim Friday Funday (that’s how much I love you guys).

See you on the other server!

Friday Funday CXXII

Friday Funday brings you some fun and interesting links from my travels around the internet.

Greg Williams [del.icio.us]

Artist Greg Williams visits various Wikipedia entries, then creates funny comics that illustrate them.

Embarassing Moments on TV News [del.icio.us]

Live television isn’t always this funny, so it’s a good thing someone rounded up a bunch of great clips.

Light to Unite [del.icio.us]

For every virtual candle lit on this site, Bristol-Myers Squibb pledges to donote $1 up to $100,000 to the National AIDS fund. There’s no registration and it’s totally free. At the time of this post, almost 52,000 people have lit candles.

AXIS Network Cameras [del.icio.us]

Not all of these links will work, but many of them will. They’re AXIS networked webcams that haven’t been password protected. Some of them even have controls! For example, this webcam in Russia (at least, I think it’s in Russia). Or this webcam at a construction site. This traffic cam seems to be doing something pretty cool. If only I could figure out what that something is.

Speed Talking [del.icio.us]

Whoa, that’s fast.

Registration Required

Yesterday, I was reading a bunch of random blogs that I had linked to from various places. Out of the bunch, I wanted to comment on only two of them, but I didn’t leave my comments. Why? Because both of the blogs required that I register in order to comment.

Why do that? I mean, yes, it cuts down on spam. Yes, it allows you to moderate comments and only allow approved comments on the site, but even asking for the least amount of info possible (my e-mail address and a password) was enough to put me off altogether.

Regular readers will know that I get a truckload of comment spam (every time I write about comment spam, I seem to get more of it, so prepare for an influx). Lately, I’ve been getting between two and eight comments a day that are spam. But I don’t whine about it (much) and I don’t require my readers to register. I simply (and diligently) delete the spam as it comes in. Before anyone jumps to any conclusions, I want to point out that I’m not complaining. I could write a little PHP script that would detect most of the spam and simply refuse it, but I’m going to be upgrading to the newest version of MovableType soon (the plan is to do it next month) and I’m interested to see how well the built-in spam filter works (the version I’m using doesn’t have one).

The point of all of this was just to wonder aloud what the point of forcing users to register is. I’m much more willing to register if it’s a site like Blogger or LiveJournal, because chances are that I’ll leave comments on several blogs hosted at those sites (and I do). But why in the world would I bother to register for a site where the registration doesn’t apply anywhere else? Especially since I’m not likely to return to the site after I’ve left my one comment. I could require registration on my site, and it’s probable that my regular readers would sign up. But the casual reader wouldn’t, and the internet is composed primarily of casual users.

In my mind, it just doesn’t make sense, but I’d like to hear what you guys think. Have you run into a situation where a site required registration? Did you bother to register, or did you just leave without commenting?

By the way, happy Thanksgiving!

RIP: Robert Altman

Robert Altman died two days ago.

New Windows and Custom Cursors

As of late, I have been looking for an elegant solution to warn visitors that a link they’re about to click on will open in a new window. It’s a constant battle for web designers and there are many schools of thought ranging from changing the colour of the link, to including a little graphic after the link, to not opening new windows at all.

In searching for a good solution, I thought, “it would be nice to have the pointer be slightly different when the user hovered over a link that will open a new window. This way, they’ll have some warning.” I already knew that CSS has an option to change the cursor, but I was disappointed to learn that the different cursors available are pretty dull (most of them are the resizing cursors). All was not lost, however, as I noticed that it’s possible to point to a .cur file and use your own custom cursor. Great, right?

Well, maybe not. After doing more research into the matter, every single web page I happened upon pointed out that this only works in IE. Just as I was about to give up, I stumbled across a page that had a custom cursor and it worked in Firefox! Joy of joys! This morning I tested to make that it wasn’t a fluke, and sure enough, it works. So what’s the difference?

I think the other articles are just old. That or the authors didn’t actually try to replace the cursors, they just re-wrote the work of others, because as of Firefox v1.5, graphical cursors have been available (FF v1.5 went live about a year and a week ago).

I know you’re all itching to know how it’s done, so here’s the code:

.custom_cursor { cursor:url(custom.cur), auto; }

Okay, so what’s going on there? Well, the class name can be whatever you want. You could apply this unilaterally to all links by changing “.custom_cursor” to simply, “a”. The URL specified is a relative path, but it doesn’t have to be (in fact, if you keep your CSS file in its own folder like I do, you’ll need to specify the full path). The “auto” at the end is there to ensure that a cursor is displayed at all. This is important because despite the fact that this fantastic little trick works in IE and FF for Windows, it doesn’t in Opera and it doesn’t work at all for Mac users (at least, not that I’ve found). Netscape 8.1 for Windows was interesting. When using Firefox page rendering, it didn’t work, but when using IE page rendering, it did.

Another cool trick I ran across was this W3C valid trick for using CSS to denote which windows are popups and which aren’t. The same cursor restrictions apply.

I should point out that the browsers which failed only failed for custom cursors; that is to say, cursors for which a URL was specified. The default cursors work just fine in Windows and Mac (thanks for testing, Kris! I really need to get my own Mac).

But what about the argument that you shouldn’t use popups at all?

Well, it’s right. It’s a usability/accessibility argument that I’ve been avoiding addressing for a long time. The argument in favor of using either JavaScript popups or, as I do, target=”_blank” popups is typically one of two things: Either to give users a handy way to return to your site (none of that pesky clicking back a bunch of times) or to create a clear line between internal links and external links. On this site, I have been using both excuses (although of late, I’ve been telling myself it’s mostly for the latter reason).

The argument against it is… Well, I won’t be able to express it better than was done in an article I read this morning. I will, however, sum up the article (in case you’re too lazy to go read it):

1) Users ignore your carefully crafted navigation and use the back button instead. Sorry, but it’s true.

2) When you open a new window, the back button “breaks” and that confuses the hell out of 99% of users (even the internet savvy).

3) When users get confused because the back button doesn’t work, they often just close all open browser windows and start over from the beginning (which, as Steve Krug would tell you, reduces their reservoir of goodwill). Some users will become frustrated enough that they leave (and may not return).

4) There is no elegant solution.

5) Don’t open new windows.

So there you have it. It’s something that I’ve known for a long time and continued to do. I’m a little ashamed of it (but not as ashamed of the fact that my site’s font of choice is Times New Roman). As of this post, I will stop opening external links in new windows (except for on Friday Funday entries, as I believe opening new windows is well suited to the nature of those posts). I’m not going to go back into the archives and remove the targets from links. Well, not yet, anyway.

I’d like to hear feedback from users about this. Have you had any particularly good or bad experiences with new windows (and I don’t mean advertising popups, I know you hate those)? Are you in favor of my decision to stop opening external links in new windows?

Friday Funday CXXI

Friday Funday brings you some fun and interesting links from my travels around the internet.

Shopping Penguin [del.icio.us]

This would be such a cool pet to have. I love how it just walks down to the market on its own.

Amplitude [del.icio.us]

Oh sure, this game seems easy at first, but then you get to some pretty tricky levels…

Borat: The Back Story [del.icio.us]

Everyone seems to think that Borat is the funniest movie evar. I haven’t seen it yet, so I can’t comment. One thing I have wondered is how they get people to agree to being filmed. The simple answer is that they lie to people. Here’s a first-hand account from “Vanilla Face”, who is none-too-pleased with the filmmakers.

Stanford Prison Experiment [del.icio.us]

You’ve most likely heard about the Stanford Prison Experiment, now you can find out exactly what happened. The into it pretty cheesy, but the rest of the video is fascinating.

Bagger 288 [del.icio.us]

After the Large Hadron Collider, this is (apparently) the biggest machine in the world. And it looks freakin’ awesome! Can’t you just imagine a steampunk battlefield with this thing on it?

Entertainment News

Following up on yesterday’s post about Britney divorcing Fed-Ex, when did entertainment news become legitimate news?

Actually, I guess the question should be when did television news stations start focusing on infotainment?

Perhaps Hearst’s particular brand of yellow journalism never really disappeared, although journalism has been accused of sensationalism since the 1790s. Heck, even Pulitzer himself was slipping “infotainment” into the New York World back in the 1880s (although after the Spanish-American war, he turned his paper around and by 1911, the New York World was widely respected).

Another nasty habit is what’s known as corporate media. Some particularly sneaky tactics are used, such as video press releases. These are videos that are shot in a journalistic style that makes them look like just like news stories and which are meant for use by news stations. Do you think a fair image of the company is being presented? How one-sided do you think that “news story” will be?

Most unfortunate, though, is the general apathy that news stations seem to have for hard news! On Monday, the local news stations spent the whole today reporting on WIND STORM ’06! Okay, okay, they didn’t actually call it Wind Storm ’06 (at least, not that I’m aware of), but they do like to name storm seasons. I’ve heard of both Ice Storm (usually in reference to the 1996 ice storm where Phoenix was almost killed by his roommate) and the seemingly-annual Fire Storm.

There is =TEAM COVERAGE= of the weather. THE WEATHER! They send three people out on remotes all over town to find out what? That it’s snowing where they are? Can’t the weather guy figure that out from his desk?

Ten feet of snow overnight? That’s newsworthy. A fifty car pile-up because of the weather? Report away! But honestly, wind?

To be fair, twelve thousand homes were without power and several trees crushed people’s cars and homes. The power outage seems like something worthy of reporting, except that the people who need to know about the most can’t turn on their TVs. Trees falling on stuff seems like the kind of thing that’s more of a mention than an all-day breaking news event.

Have you ever watched the BBC World News? They don’t report on Britney and Fed-Ex, they report on things that happen in other parts of the world. Why is a fallen tree more news worthy than Sudan invading Chad? How is wind more important than the U.S. soldier who admitted raping a 14 year old girl? That’s not to say that BBC World News is perfect, but, in my opinion, they’re on the right track.

And if any anchors or weather people are reading this, please stop trying to make jokes and be clever. We’re aren’t laughing with you, we’re laughing at you.

Britney and K-Fed (Now Fed-Ex)

It was bound to happen.

Britney Spears divorcing Kevin Federline, I mean, not a Britney sex tape (although that was bound to happen as well, wasn’t it?).

Has Britney finally come to her senses? It would seem so, although the inciting incident for the divorce is allegedly that she caught him cheating on her. There has been much speculation in the past that Federline was less than faithful, and now it would appear as though he’s been caught red-handed.

Naturally, Britney called the marriage quits (by text-message, no less), but Federline isn’t going down without a fight. He wants custody of their two kids and reportedly over $30 million, otherwise he’ll

sell a sex tape that the two of them made back when, “they did nothing all day but have sex—and play the odd game of chess.”

Now doesn’t this seem like… Wait, what? Play chess? WTF?

I hope by the odd game of chess, the mean the odd game of chess.

Anyway, doesn’t this seem like blackmail? Isn’t blackmail illegal? I’m kind of confused about all of this. Federline has been offered £26 million for the four-hour tape, but is demanding £16 million and sole custody of their kids, Sean Preston and Jayden James. This is public information and everyone is reporting it. So why hasn’t Federline gotten in trouble for it?

It seems like mostly because there’s a fair bit of speculation that the tape doesn’t exist. But considering previous Britney-related sex tape scares, I’m inclined to believe that at least one tape exists. Plus, you’d think she would have known if they made the tape, so if it didn’t exist, why hasn’t she made a statement to that effect?

At any rate, it’s doubtful that a judge would grant Federline sole custody. Not only does he not want his other two kids, but accusations of prostitutes and drugs aside, his recent behavior isn’t helping his case as father of the year.

You know what? I think Justin Timberlake has the right idea about this whole saga. As he put it, “There’s a war going on in Iraq.

First Amendment Right, or Libel?

I just received an e-mail stating some concern that what I said about Shannon Sullivan could earn me a lawsuit. The sender of the e-mail (I’ll keep their identity to myself) said, “Its [sic] great to express your opinion but I dont [sic] think it is worth getting in trouble over.”

I disagree. I think the right to state one’s opinion is worth any fight.

Except for fighting words (which are difficult to define) and statements that are libelous or slanderous, pretty much anything you say is protected under the First Amendment.

Libel and slander are similar, but not exactly the same. Libel is defined as, “defamation of a person by written or representational means,” whereas slander is, “a false and defamatory oral statement about a person.” An umbrella term for both is “defamation.”

As per New York Times vs. Sullivan (lol), “the court held that where a public figure was defamed, the plaintiff had to prove not just that an untruthful statement was made, but also that it was made with actual malice – that is, that it was made knowing it to be false or with reckless disregard for the truth.” [SOURCE]

Is my statement false? How do you prove an opinion to be true or false? The short answer is that you can’t. In fact, if a “person makes a statement of opinion rather than a statement of fact, defamation claims usually cannot be brought because opinions are inherently not falsifiable.” [SOURCE]

If she did try to sue me, she wouldn’t have much of a case.

1) It’s an opinion, not a fact. I’ll concede that, in the context of the rest of the post, it could appear as though I’m stating a fact. I am not. I am stating my opinion and I refuse to shy away from what I said.

2) In order to actually sue me, she would have to prove both malicious intent as well as actual damages. Considering very few people read my blog (let’s call a spade a spade, right?) and most of the people who do read my blog don’t live in Spokane, will never meet Sullivan, or already agree with me, she’d be hard-pressed to prove any damages.

I also want to point out that when I originally wrote the statement, I deleted it, then chose to add it back in. I decided to do this because, and I cannot stress this enough, it is my opinion of her and I felt it helped to express my frustration with her actions and the actions of the citizens of Spokane. So the statement is not a careless assault on her character, but one that I carefully considered before I posted it.

At best, she could argue that “white-trash bitch” are fighting words, and beat me up, but she’d have to do it herself, and when I sue her for assault, she’d have to prove that they really are fighting words.

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