Disclosure Required

The FTC is now requiring that bloggers fully disclose their relationships with vendors they promote. In other words, you had better let people know what type of freebies you are getting before you hype up the company. This can include to gifts that enable you to go to conferences as well. I wish I had such perks myself.

Here is what is strange about the FTC guidance. It only applies online. Print media does not have the same restrictions. So let me get this straight. I can put out a print article where I sell my soul to a company, but I don't need to come clean about it? That sounds like the web is getting a stricter rule applied to it.

This is ok. I don't receive any gifts from anyone. So I don't have to disclose anything. I run another blog where I complain most of the time. Therefore there is no room for conflict of interest. Let's see how this FTC guidance plays out in the year to come.

Google Wave

I have been hearing a lot of chatter in the blogosphere about Google Wave. Like most Google products, Google Wave is a Beta release. It has e-mail, IM, and document editing.

Now I can't be sure, but I think I gave Google Wave a try for a web programming class I am taking. We sampled a couple offerings for document sharing on the web.

Google's main competitor in this space is Microsoft with their SharePoint. Another elderly competitor is Novell.

Team Members Only

There was a blog I discovered today. And I liked it. The post I read was good. So I decided to post a comment. I proceeded to type in my comment. Then I provided my blogger credentials. The blog came back with an error message stating, "Comments are restricted to team members". WTF?

I tried to locate the e-mail address of the blog author. It could not be found. Weak. Guess what? I am not returning to that blog. I am not sure what this team member business was about. Maybe it is just people who are teaming up to write the blog. I don't know. And I no longer care.

Here is some advice to you bloggers. If you do allow commenting, make sure everyone can do it. Otherwise you will alienate your readers. You have been warned.

Writing Clearly

Today was a slow day at work. It is a government holiday. So none of the networks were available. What is one to do on such a day? Some slackers just stayed home. I studied up some topics. One was how to write better by Michasl Covington. Let me share some insights I learned from a deck put together by Michael.

The ability to write is a power. You probably don't need to learn too much more grammar. But you do need to learn how to organize your info. Get to the point is a rule of thumb. The first sentence of each paragraph needs to be the main point.

Ensure you know the meaning of words before you use them. Be precise with you vocabulary. Remove needless words. Use a Roman font for most text. That's about it.

You Don't Have Mail

Gmail was down hard yesterday for around 2 whole hours. It was a compound problem where some boxes were down for maintenance, and then some problems happened. I guess it was a case of Murphy's law. Luckily I have no mission critical mail that comes to my Gmail accounts. Some other businesses were not that lucky.

I did not pay much attention to what Google had to say about the outage. In my mind, I figured Google would work the issue as fast as humanly possible. Others were happy with how Google handled the situation. They are a big company. They have the damage control team firing on all cylinders. Good work Google PR people. You might be doing some evil, but the people don't hate you yet.

Online Dating Tips

I came across a study of online dating site OkCupid that was quite the find. They looked to see what type of messages got the best returns. I found the analysis on men messaging females was the best.

Here is the conclusion: Send a lot of short messages. Even though a short message may not give you a high probability of scoring for any one potential match, you get a better overall return on investment. That is, you can send more short messages to a lot of people. In the end you will get more responses.

The real killer from this post was the phrases in your message that would give you a better chance at getting a reply. The best phrases to use are awesome, sorry, haha, and pretty. The worst phrases to use are ur, im, hit, wanna, and beautiful. Go figure. Pretty is better than beautiful.

Hapi Spammers

Recently I was going to add a new post to my blog. That's when I found something weird. Somebody left a comment to my last post. This was confusing because I thought I turned comments off on the blog. I double checked and they were turned off. So I investigated.

This took me to the Hapi blog hosted on Blogger. They had a lot of views on the profile. There was a bunch of technical information for blogging. That is when I understood. The schmucks were spamming comments on blogs. They must have found a way to automatically post blog comments on blogs. The script even bypassed the option of comments being turned off.

That was a bit disappointing. Spammers are evil. There is nothing happy about Hapi. I won't even give them a link. Why send my readers to the spam box? Somebody should teach these bums a lesson. Maybe Google (Blogger) can set them straight for their evil deeds.

Too Personal

I read an open letter to a celebrity on the Internet. It must have been written well. Because it motivated me to post a response. However you needed to be a member of the site to post a comment. I tried to sign up. But I was taken aback by the questions on the form to create an account.

Here are some way too personal questions they ask: What is your household income? Do you have kids? Have you voted in the most recent election? What is your political party affiliation?

LOL. What kind of interrogation game are these schmucks running? I am not providing that type of information to these jokers. Note to people running blogs: Make it easy for me to post responses. Otherwise I am not coming back to your blog. Rant off.

Label Frustration

I like to add labels to my Blogger posts. It helps categorize things. This is a plus for my readers as well. There is just one problem with this. Blogger wants to auto-complete the words I type as labels. I guess they use the past labels I have entered to guess. But this is getting in the way of my typing the correct labels I want now.

How the heck do you turn this off? Even Microsoft Word has the ability to cut out this nonsense. Come on Blogger. This is just good user interface design. Don't get in the way of the user who knows what they are doing. Stop frustrating me. Please. I beg you. Don't make me run to another blogging system. We've been together too long.

Googles Sites

It is time to return to Google. Today I am not going to discuss blogger. But I am going to talk about my first experiences with Google Sites. This is a free feature from Google that allows you to design and deploy web sites. I think this was previously known as Google Page Creator, which is currently being phased out and is no longer available to new users.

I found Google Sites pretty intuitive to use. I don't think I ever consulted the online help. But I did manage to bang out a nice looking web site with over 25 pages. It only took one evening. The hardest part of the experience was waiting for the tool to work with very large web pages. Google wants me to upgrade my browser to Google Chrome. Perhaps that will help. But for now I want to stick with my Internet Explorer 6.0. For now I plan to try building some new web sites with Google Sites and see how far it takes me. If it turns out to be anything like Blogger, I will most likely be using it for years to come.

The Time Line

Let's wrap up the things I learned about writing good fiction (and hopefully good blogs). You should start by plotting the time line of the story. This does not mean you tell the story in this order. It just gives you the big picture.

Then you write your first draft. This is when you hit the plot main points. It if often fun and beneficial to jump to the interesting scenes. This may give you the motivation you need to go the distance.

The main goal for all of your prose is to advance the plot. Get rid of anything that does not accomplish that main purpose. Get a second pair of eyes to do your proofreading. Have your proofreaders give you an outline of your story. See if they get the plot, theme, and main characters from their first read.

Much thanks to Terry Wessner for teaching me some of the finer points of good fiction. See you at the next Anthrcon.

Dialogue Plus Action

Let's continue to learn how to write great fiction. Props to my main man Terry Wessner who instructed me on these techniques one day.

Be careful not to make your characters sound alike. It is tough given you are just one author. You should also avoid using slang. It gets old quick. That will make your piece dated.

Do not worry much about the genre for which you are writing. There are more important details that will determine your success. You should focus on providing dialogue plus action.

The audience can do the hard work for you. The will fill in the details that are not explicitly written in your manuscript. Just provide the reader with the bare minimum amount of information that is necessary.

Next time I will go over the story timeline, and how you can keep it all together. For now I will leave you with this quote - "God is a great supporting actor."

Characters Redux

Ok let's talk some more about the user of characters to produce good fiction. As always thanks to Terry Wessner for teaching me this stuff. Here is the main point. You should only include characters that move the plot forward. The only other characters you should add are those that give required information.

Your story's characters have to support your theme. That does not mean the characters should follow what the story needs them to do. They should always act in the spirit of their own motivations. But include characters that are vital to the storyline. Be also aware that complex characters can have many motivations. Some of those motivations will be competing ones.

When writing about character activities, make sure they do what they want. They should not act as the author wants. That's enough for today. Next time I will go into character voice and other things related to dialog.

Characters and Setting

Let's continue with more lessons I learned from Terry Wessner. This is how you write good fiction. You should engage the senses. In fact, try to stimulate all the reader's senses. You want to put the reader in the story. It must be concrete. Otherwise you get a shallow image and might lose the reader.

The narrator should describe the setting of your imaginary world. Don't let the characters do this with their dialog. That is weak. Often time some little details that the narrator shares can make a huge impact. You may have the narrator describe the setting as the character perceives it.

Here are some final points. The audience has to relate to your writing. It is key. You will also need to do a lot of research before writing. However 90% or more of the research will not actually make it into your verbiage. You still need to go and do the hard work. Good luck for now. More fiction tips to come.

Cause and Effect

Today I continue sharing some of the fiction writing tips I learned from Terry Wessner at Anthrocon 2009. It is a good thing to construct a timeline of your whole story. This is not necessarily the order in which you will tell the story. It is just what happened and when in the universe you are creating. You may in fact want to start your story in the middle of the timeline, then fill in past details with flashbacks.

Here is a tip. It is best to avoid any types of prophecy in your writing. In other words, don't do flash forwards. That just tends to remove tension from your prose. Lack of tension could cause a lack of attention from your reader. I am sure you would agree that it is a bad thing.

Another recommendation is to go all out to demonstrate consequence. Follow through on this. Next time I will go into senses, details, dialog, and setting. Wow. That's a mouthful. Maybe I will just touch on those subjects next time.

Dealing with Details

I am currently blogging a series about Rules for Writing. This information was presented by Terry Wessner at Anthrocon 2009. Here is an interesting quote from Terry: "People who can make mistakes are more interesting."

You should provide the reader with all the critical pieces needed before writing about the solution in your prose. If you delay this presentation until after you have already solved the mystery, you are going to have some disgruntled readers.

Likewise you need to deal with any details you draw attention to. Note that you do not have to fully explain the details. You just need to address them. This even applies when dealing with a red herring.

Terry did not have a high opinion of Hollywood movies. He did not think they always lacked entertainment value. But he did have this to say: "Hollywood entertainment is strictly coincidental." In other words, Hollywood is out to make money. Period. If the films happen to entertain somebody, that is just happenstance.
I continue to share some of the fiction writing tips I learned at Anthrocon 2009. Terry Wessner gave a presentation on rules for writing good fiction. Here are some things I recall from part of that session.

This may seem like common sense. But idiot plots are just plain bad. An interesting plot may follow from a situation where the challenges encountered exceed a character's powers. The result of this imbalance can make a great story.

You should open with a strong hook. Then you should follow through on reader expectations. Along the way you can reveal motivations of the characters. Don't wait too far into your text to do this. The meat of your writing would then explain the implication of the character motivations.

It is boring if the reader figures everything out on their own too early. Then there is no need to continue reading. So you can provide some false clues along the way. Just make sure you also sprinkle in some true clues to keep the reader involved.

Rules for Writing

This week I attended Anthrocon 2009. Terry Wessner put on a great presentation for writing good fiction. I figured I would apply these skills to my own blog writing activities. And I shall share some things I learned here in the next couple posts.

Meaning, also known as the theme, is important. Fiction is supposed to entertain the reader. Both grammar and spelling are important. You should follow these rules. Some of them may be broken, but you must compensate later in your prose for it to work. It is simpler to just follow the rules.

You should first get to know your target audience. Your goal as an author is to maximize the chance that the audience will get your theme. They don't have to agree with it. But they at least have to read and understand it.

Here is something your should know. Audiences will read meaning into your text based on their own personal experiences. They will also not accept any behavior that is contrary to what normal humans will do. You can write about unrealistic events and actions. However it must be at least believable.

Scheduled Post

I downloaded a trial version of some new software. The marketing guy from the company asked me to blog about it. I figured I needed to kick the tires first before endorsing the product. There was a lot that I experienced from install to testing. So I had a lot to write about.

At first I thought I could fit my experience into one blog post. But that was resulting in a huge post. People don't want to read 10 paragraphs in just one blog post. So I decided to split the thing up into 3 posts. However I had all the information ready. This seemed like a good case for a scheduled release of blog posts.

I used the Blogger feature to schedule some blog posts for future days. In the end, I decided to schedule one blog post to appear per day. There was just one problem. The thing did not seem to work. After a day, the first scheduled blog post did not show up. What the heck? I looked on my Blogger dashboard. It showed the right date. But the post had not been showing up on my blog. I intervened and cancelled the scheduled post. Then I immediately posted the first post. We shall see if the second one works. If not, shame on you Blogger.


My company does not have a Human Resources department that does hiring. That work is farmed out to subcontractors. Our team has the need to hire a number of people. However the recruiters were having trouble finding qualified individuals to interview. The problem is that we are looking for very specific skills which are hard to find. The skills are legacy skills that were prevalent 10 years ago. People have mostly moved on.

Most candidates provided by the recruiters were just not a good fit for the positions. I got a call from a team within recruitment about a new way to find highly qualified candidates. The recruiter had taken a look at my company blog. Luckily I had listed the skills I have and use for my job on there. I also had a blog roll for other great blogs that I read.

Here is the plan that recruitment had. They would use the blogs in my blog roll, in addition to any other groups that might have people who could do the job. They would then use those as sources for people to try to interview for our requisitions. So my corporate blog was working in multiple ways for recruitment. It helped them get insight into what I do. It also helped point them to like minded people to help find the right skill set.

So if you host a blog or post comments to other popular ones, you may have recruiters from my company watching you. They may further get in contact with you to see if they can get you to join us. Blogging is serving some extra purposes here. And I like that.

Google Reader

I have been started to read a great number of blogs recently. Each day I want to read any new posts from these blogs. I accomplished this by visiting each of the blogs. This probably made the bloggers happy. But it was getting tedious, especially when I visited each of the blogs and there were no updates.

Other people who read blogs seem to use readers to manage the new content from the blogs they read. Since I use Google products for most of my new needs, I decided to try out Google Reader. I have to say that it was a little confusing to use this tool. I added all the blogs I read. However after I changed some of my settings, the screen seemed to change.

Since Google Reader is a tool with a web front end (you access it through your browser), I was able to hit the back button to get the screens looking like they started. I have seen a new gadget for blogs that shows blog followers. If I sign up to read blog content using Google Reader, do I then show up as a follower to that blog?

I am pretty new in the world of blog readers. Right now I am not sure what other products there are out there which do the same thing as Google Reader. I might want to do a quick survey of the blog readers before I settle on Google Reader.

Other Blogging Platforms

Recently I have been working on a side project which requires me to create blogs on other blogging platforms. Some examples are LiveJournal and Wordpress. There are some other less popular platforms I have worked with as well. It is amusing to see how different platforms support and implement blogging functionality.

One thing that I really need to do is add links to my blog posts. This seems to be a basic, simple, and required feature in a blogging system. Here is what I would like to do. I want to specify the URL of the link. I also want to specify the text that is displayed in the blog for the link. This does not seem like unrealistic demands.

I have found that Blogger does not make this easy. By default it sets the URL as the link text itself. I do not like that. It also does not serve my needs. Blogger does have a work around where I can manually edit the HTML text of the post, and choose whatever text I want displayed. That feels clunky though.

Some other blogging platforms let me type the text I want to be displayed, highlight that text, and specify the URL it refers to. This seems to be the optimal approach. Why can’t everybody make it like that? Yes I guess if users have gotten used to other clunky techniques to achieve the same thing in a system, the developers may not want to make the change.

You should be careful to provide easy tools to allow the users of your system get their work done. Otherwise you may end up with unhappy users. When they become unhappy enough, they will leave to use another system. And you do not want that. For now I am sticking with Blogger because I have some blogs on there I have had for a while. But I am starting to look elsewhere.

Del.icio.us Is Not

I was happy when I discovered the “del.icio.us” web site. This was a place where I could add browser favorite links. Then I could access them from any computer. I did not even share these links with the public. They were just for me to make my life easier when working with multiple machines. Delicious became my new web home page everywhere.

There were some annoyances with delicious. I would have to log back in every 2 weeks to see my private links. I guess they were trying to encourage me to share my links with the rest of the world. I lived with this. Delicious was a free service after all.

Then they went and redesigned the web site. It was hard to access my links. The site just did not look good. Perhaps they were trying to go Web 2.0. I don’t know. But as a user, I was disappointed. Don’t they know you are not supposed to mess with a good thing? They had a good thing going. Now the site was ruined for me.

I am a programmer. So I told myself there was no reason why I could not create my own delicious style page. After half a day of playing with some HTML, I have a nice page like the original delicious. Let’s call this my delicious.

I no longer need the real delicious web site. They have lost a customer. I know they did not lose any direct money from me since their service if free. But they should be careful. Their user base and market share may decline further if they continue to pull stunts like this,


Recently I logged into Blogger to add another post. That’s when I noticed that my blog had a follower. To tell you the truth, I was not sure what that meant. Blogger Help says a follower is somebody who is interested in your blog. Well that sounds nice. I thought if you were interested in a blog you just read it.

Apparently Google has a “Following” gadget which you can put on your page. This allows readers to easily follow your blog. The thing is that I had not put this gadget on my blog. A little more Blogger Help research led me to understand that you can also follow blogs using your Blogger Reading List.

Now I am wondering whether I should add the Following gadget to my blogs. I would like to do whatever I can to make it easy on my readers to keep up with my blog entries. However I also want to make sure my readers actually come to my blog to read the content. I prefer that to just having them see my content in a reader somewhere else.

Blog Roll Gadget

I used to have a Blog Roll on all of my blogs. This linked them together so a reader of one of my blogs could find my other work. These were implemented with Blogger’s link list gadget. It was a little clunky. But it got the job done. After a while, I found other uses for the space where my blog rolls went. So I deleted the link lists.

Recently I wanted to restore the Blog Rolls to my blog sites. When I was going through the motions to add some link list gadgets to my sites, I found a new Blogger gadget which was specific to blog rolls. This new gadget only asked you to put in your blog URLs. It automatically extracted and displayed the blog title on your page.

The really cool part of the new Blog Roll gadget is that you can show a previous of the most recent post from the blogs on your list. This is all done automatically. I imagine it will update when new entries are added to the blogs on your list. This is really handy, and makes my blog page look visually appealing.

You can bet that I have gone back and added this Blog Roll gadget to most of the blogs I author. It seems as though the Blogger team is still adding useful features to the Blogger platform. They had better do this. There are other choices for blogging software and platforms. I can not complain any because Blogger continues to be offered free of charge. How does Google do this?

Magazine or Web

I finally got around to reading the latest issue of Redmond Developer News. It is very informative about all the technologies being released by Microsoft. This issue I noticed a new column in one of the first pages of the magazine entitled Dev Disaster. This column had some crazy story about a real life developer. It seemed very familiar to me.

When I got to the end of the column, I found out that the story was provided by The Daily WTF. That is a web site I enjoy reading from time to time. Perhaps I had already read this very story, and that is why it sounded all that familiar. I suspect this column will continue in future issues of Redmond Developer News.

It felt like I got short changed a bit there. I want to have original and new content when I read this magazine. I am not looking for some recycled web site information. To their credit, Redmond Developer News solicited readers to send their own stories in so they might be able to share. The other stories in the magazine are normally good breaking news that I cannot easily find elsewhere.

There is some benefit to having a physical print magazine to touch and read. It is nice when most print media are either going out of business or going to the web. For all I know, this magazine is funded by Microsoft profits on the software they are selling. I do know I get the magazine for free. For now I plan to continue to read The Daily WTF on the web, while still looking for original content in this print magazine.