Category Archives: technology

Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

I was recently moved to give a donation to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

“Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow, the spongy center of bones where our blood cells are formed. The disease develops when blood cells produced in the bone marrow grow out of control. About 3,500 children are diagnosed each year.”

I hope you’ll join me.

Waiting for Superman Dribbble Contest

Waiting for Superman Poster

Want a dribbble invite? Earn it by making the most impressive Waiting for Superman poster and link to it in the comments. Contest will close at 12pm EDT on Friday October 22, 2010.

Waiting for Superman is a wake-up call. The public school system in the United States is failing this country’s children. There are no miracle cures, no quick fixes, no silver bullet solutions. The problem requires attention, involvement and hard work. At every turn, the focus must remain on providing every child with an education, even and especially at the cost of adult comfort and satisfaction. Children must come first, not only in rhetoric but in action.

Please be sure to submit your name and email when commenting so that I can contact the winner.

Fundraising with Kickstarter

While designing the Hartford Metro Map, I guessed it would be popular enough with local folks to merit a run of about 100 prints. I’d seen Kickstarter and was attracted by a few dimensions of its model:

  • It removes the risk from the project.
  • It handles the credit card transactions.
  • It offers tools for organization and promotion.

Any artist/designer can appreciate the uncertainty in releasing a finished work for public approval. There’s always the possibility that no one else will be as excited about it as you are, making for an expensive flop if the printing is done beforehand. Particularly at my current level of skill and notoriety (little & none), this was a concern. Kickstarter alleviated that concern.

Asking for money is also tough. To get around that, Kickstarter’s system again made that a non-issue. From the perspective of the backers, they are also protected in that no money changes hands if the project fails to get funded.

Lastly, online media provide amazingly easy and cost-effective channels to promote projects to large networks. Twitter, Facebook and blogs have enormous reach, and each medium makes it simple for others to share a meme with their own networks. It’s that snowball effect that proved so powerful and essential in the success of the Hartford Metro Map.

In addition to the product being compelling and my great fortune in having several influential & enthusiastic friends, I trace the success of the project back to a few of its specific qualities and decisions made during its creation. First, giving proceeds to charity made backing the project attractive regardless of its deliverables. Second, it was rooted in the vibrant Hartford community so that it appealed to local pride and sense of place. Third, there was a focus on affordability, so that backers could easily justify a small outlay to support the project. And finally, the addition of the American Apparel T spurred a whole round of increased pledges, resulting in the project being funded after just 17 days. People love t-shirts.

In hindsight, I should have had more faith in the project getting funded. Specifically, the time frame for funding should have been much shorter in order to maintain urgency and get the finished product into the hands of backers as soon as possible. For the Hartford Metro Map, I think I good window would have been four weeks. The price points turned out to be pretty good, despite my initial worries that they were too expensive. After an initial wave of support for the map, adding the t-shirt rewards later helped keep up interest in the project and attract new followers. Whether it would have been better to start with several rewards in place, I can’t say, but I think having legitimate news to share was a plus.

Where to Buy Zoot Shoes

For triathlon junkies, Zoot shoes are known for standing up to any type of punishment. Beyond that, the Zoot mens recovery sandal and Zoot womens recovery sandal help your feet heal after the grueling ordeal that is a modern triathlon. Based in Hawaii, home of the Lavaman, Ironman 70.3 and Hawaii triathlons, Zoot Running Shoes are favorites with triathletes across the country. Now you can order online from a new CT running shoe store, Manchester Running Company. Click here to visit now!

Fresh Fall Links

The past few days and months have been a whirlwind of activity. I prefer understatement, so I’ll just provide some links that you absolutely shouldn’t miss, and you click on them. Deal?

– My friend Dan wrote a terrific article about canvassing in New Hampshire.

Dinky won a Fat Cat photo contest, giving me an excuse to meet some interesting people who know a lot about Springfield and Hartford politics.

– I’ve been taking a lot of pictures.

– I’ve gone sailing in Newport.

– I’ve joined a stock club.

– I tried my hand at knitting in Connecticut.

– I’ve been reading a bunch of books.

– I’ve become a regular at my local Manchester pub.

– I’ve been writing in my Field Notes.

– I’ve been meeting a lot of new people and realizing how much all of my older friends mean to me.

My First 3 Firefox 3 Tweaks

I’m a bona fide Firefox fan (I also like a little alliteration). Ever since installing Firefox way back in 2005, I’ve loved the tabbed browsing, sane handling of CSS and overall vibe of the community. In all of those departments, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer compares unfavorably. One of the greatest things about Firefox is how open it is to tweaks, allowing users to customize almost everything about it. Here are the first three tweaks I made after downloading Firefox 3:

1. Shrinking the Back Button

I’m pretty handy with the mouse, so I don’t need such a big target for a Back button. I found a good, simple guide for shrinking the back button on Lifehacker. It gives me a little more real estate, which I desperately need since I only have two monitors at work (damn you Canz!)

2. Searching the Content of a Page by Just Typing

Frequently, the need arises to find some text on a page, be it code, mentions of my name, or the word “tickets.” Going to Tools –> Options –> Advanced –> General, then checking the box next to “Search for text when I start typing” lets me skip the step where I have to go to Edit –> Find on Page. On the downside, I had to shut it off to be able to enter text in some fields, including this one.

3. Google Results Page Instead of Feeling Lucky in the Address Bar

If you type a keyword into the address bar and hit Enter, Firefox will take you to the first Google result by default. I do Google searches frequently, and the search results pages (SERPs) are of interest to me, since I want to know where I’m ranking. To change this, I simply typed “about:config” into the address bar, promised Firefox not to be naughty, and searched for the keyword. URL switch. I right-clicked, selected “Modify” and changed the URL from:

http://www.google.com/search? ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&sourceid=navclient&gfns=1&q=

to

http://www.google.com/search? ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&sourceid=navclient&q=\

And that’s it! What tweaks have you made? Leave a comment.

Just Enough PHP To Be Dangerous

I’m no computer programmer, despite how useful it would be to know a programming language or two. Since what I do is almost exclusively online, PHP would make the most sense. As it stands, I have just enough PHP knowledge to be dangerous, which is exactly how I like it. Somehow, when you learn something the ‘right’ way, it stifles a lot of creative tendencies. Maybe it’s because you’re overwhelmed with new knowledge or maybe you overlook some simple applications in light of more interesting capabilities. My limited PHP education allowed me to avoid those traps, which led me to the fun and useful application of MadLibs.

Try My Madlib – It’s unstyled and raw, but fun.

MadLibs

Some of you may be questioning the utility of MadLibs. In fact, they can be excellent sources of content generation, with keywords remaining as the constants and various arrays of surrounding filler text making articles unique. Of course, I’m not advocating this type of SPAM, but I’m certainly not the first one to think of it.

At a basic level, it helps reinforce some basic PHP principles, such as defining variables, using the echo tag and building an interactive web page that works. Got your own madlib? Link it up in the comments. They’re nofollowed, but my legions of readers are sure to click through.

How Google Should Defeat Paid Links

Paid links work. In any competitive industry, smart link-buying is necessary if a site wants to rank in the SERPs. From Google’s perspective, it’s the single biggest threat to the relevance of their algorithm. So what should they do about it?

What They’ve Tried

It’s programatically easy to detect a large number of bought links. Anyone still labeling them with words like “Paid”, “Sponsored”, “Advertisers”, “Ads” and the like are leaving themselves open to punishment. Anyone purchasing thousands of links at a time in the sidebars and footers of non-relevant sites can expect retribution. In short, it’s not too difficult for Google to detect 80% of paid links.

There are many well-documented Google penalties: the 950 penalty, the -30 penalty, the zero PageRank penalty, the deindexing penalty… These are meted out for anything from extensive reciprocal linking to duplicate content to link-buying to hidden text and beyond. But it’s clear from Google’s rhetoric and search results that this hasn’t successfully curbed link arbitrage for search engine placement.

How Should Google Solve the Problem?

The webmaster is the natural ally of Google. They provide all the content that forms the basis of Google’s search engine, and Google in turn sends free or paid traffic to their sites, allowing them to make money or simply have an audience. By punishing webmasters who sell links, Google is making enemies. PageRank culling and depressed rankings for link-sellers materially damages their sites as marketable products and destroys the relationship between Google and webmasters.

Instead, Google should actively cultivate this relationship, leaving PageRank and rankings intact, and instead using algorithmic and human review to make the paid links worthless. Don’t allow them to pass PR. Ingore them as backlinks. Don’t tell anyone.

Better yet, Google should add a field in its Webmaster Tools where a webmaster can submit a list of paid links on the site, without attaching the rel=”nofollow”. This takes knowledge away from link-buyers. It reduces the amount of work Google has to do to detect paid links. It allows webmasters to earn money from their sites without fear. It puts Google and webmasters on the same team against link-buyers.

Why Is This the Best Solution

Keeping link-buyers in the dark about the value of their paid links can only be good for Google and for link-selling webmasters. The cash will continue to flow from link-buying companies to independent webmasters because link-buyers are interested in quantity. Think about it. If you buy 1000 links and Google can only detect 80% of those, that’s 200 links that will be helping you. Link-buyers can’t be sure that link-sellers aren’t nullifying those links by reporting them, even if it’s written into the contract. Since there’s no way to tell, webmasters can essentially have their cake, eat it and have money left over to buy more cake.

At the minimum, it changes the dynamics of buyer, seller and policeman to buyer from this:
Webmasters: Thousands of fleeing Japanese

to this:
Link-buyers: Left out

Upsides to This Plan

  • The independent webmaster makes money
  • Link-buyers spend money with little or no ROI, which is even more difficult for them to measure
  • Google protects the integrity of its search engine
  • Google doesn’t alienate webmasters

Downsides to This Plan

  • Some companies decide link-buying is no longer worth the investment of time and money –> some webmasters lose some money
  • Would-be link-buyers must think of new ways to game Google

Conclusions

Google is huge, with an incredible amount of resources. But troubleshooting at an individual link level is extremely difficult for an algorithm or a human. Google’s best bet is to change the discussion and ally with the individual webmaster by allowing them to play both sides: making money from link-buyers and staying in Google’s good graces.


Sites You Shouldn’t Miss Today

There is so much of interest on the web today that I can’t resist a short, sweet post about my favorites. First up is a hilarious post on MikeDuncan.com that features a real-life letter that was sent to our office. Check it: Dear Sir, Please unsubscribe me from your internet.

I’ve also joined Twitter, which I haven’t really formed an opinion of yet. You can follow me here: Brian Cook Twitter

My friend Paul demoed Jott for our group last night, and everyone was mightily impressed. Those Google Calendar / cell phone junkies will love it.

There’s only one hand that can beat these links. If you understand this picture, please let me know. I want to be your friend.