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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

100 Posts and Counting

With publication of the previous article, Random Bytes reached the 100 post milestone — a feat that seemed inconceivable when I started this blog. It's hard to believe I've had that much to say. When I started blogging, I worried about finding things to write about. Today, the primary challenge lies in managing my favourites, which are bulging with links to sites and topics I hope to cover in this space. That, and finding time to post. Oh well. Onwards and upwards :-)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Blog Stolen Again!

Well, I guess imitiation is supposed to be the sincerest form of flattery. But I must confess that, this time, the main emotion I felt on seeing yet another unauthorized copy of this blog floating around the Internet was extreme irritation. At least, now I knew how to proceed.

A few months back, I posted about the shock of learning someone had cloned my blog, and the subsquent struggle to get the illicit copy taken down. This time around, I knew exactly what to do. The offending copy appeared at http://www.pkblogs.com/weblensblogs and at http://www.inblogs.net/weblensblogs. A quick WHOIS check revealed that these sites are hosted by DreamHost.com.

I fired off an email to DreamHost's abuse reporting address, citing the infraction and the name and contact information of the offender (all of which is usually available through a WHOIS query).

A big thumbs-up to DreamHost! Unlike Blogger, they were fast to respond and very co-operative, advising me that — once again — I needed to file a formal complaint under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. But before I even got that far, I heard back from DreamHost: they had contacted their customer to warn that a complaint was coming. That was all it took. The offending copies were gone in less than 24 hours.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

25 Worst Tech Products of All Time

Just sent to me this morning by my daughter, this link is worth sharing here. InterGovWorld's recent article, The 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time, makes for an interesting read, and will no doubt bring back some cringe-inducing memories for those of you who have been around high-tech for a while. The short-lived IBM PCJr. Iomega zip drives. Real Player. AOL (remember all those "free" CDs?) A wearable DVD player (I kid you not). PointCast's push technology (replaced, interestingly enough, by today's Web 2.0 RSS feed technology). And so much more.

Check it out.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Horizontal Suckerfish and More CSS Menu Resources

I blogged back in June about my efforts to enhance WebLens with CSS-based dropdown menus that were standards compliant and which work across all browsers, including the persnickety Internet Explorer. In a post on creating dropdowns that work in IE, I summarized the three approaches I had found. I chose the very popular Suckerfish solution for WebLens, and it has been a great success.

In building the menu system recently for a site about a popular Canadian television personality, I wanted to modify the Suckerfish code to display the sub-menus horizontally in a row instead of stacked one below another as seen on WebLens. Google queries on this didn't lead to much, except a few help requests posted to webmaster forums, so I puzzled it out myself.

You can see the result of this tweak at the site mentioned above, and the code is available here for your use, should you want to play with it. I'm pretty happy with it; the only failing has been my inability to figure out how to align the sub-menus with the left edge of the top menu containing DIV, instead of the individual list items. No amount of fiddling around with positioning seemed to solve this.

In trying to troubleshoot this challenge, I never did find a fix, but I came across more helpful CSS menu resources, including some great articles:

Had I seen the ListApart Hybrid CSS Dropdowns article earlier, I might have chosen that technique instead of struggling to modify the Suckerfish code myself. Oh well. Live and learn :-)

I can't wrap this up without mention of a couple of CSS and/or DHTML menu generators (free and/or for fee) for those not inclined to hand code. Check these out:

Hope you find these resources useful. Enjoy!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Making Old Blog Posts Findable

One of the challenges of creating a blog that's useful to readers is the default date order of content. Unlike a traditional web site, which is structured thematically by subject, blog articles are posted in chronological order. Once they pass off the index page, posts are grouped in monthly archives where they are also listed chronologically. This presents a big challenge in getting older posts found, especially in Blogger which (unlike Wordpress and some others) doesn't offer a way to categorize posts.

There are, of course, blog search tools like Technorati and others, but I find that the vast majority of my blog traffic still comes from Google, which you might reasonably expect to ferret out old posts based on the user's keyword choices. Unfortunately, however, Google doesn't seem to crawl blogs as deeply as it does traditional web sites (perhaps because of the date structure combined with the abundance of outgoing links on many blog index pages).

I have found that Google indexes posts in a hit or miss fashion. When users search on a topic that has expired, if Google has not captured that specific post, it is likely to direct people to your index page, where the article lived at the time that Google crawled the page.

Determined and/or lucky users may find the post in Google's cache, on an archive page, or through a link from another post. My stats have shown, however, that the majority of people landed on my index page, gave it a quick scan, and headed promptly for greener pastures, never finding what they were searching for.

Fortunately, there is a simple solution: after publishing each new post, take a second to submit the post's permalink directly to Google's Add URL page. I have been doing this for months now, and have seen a massive change in my stats. Fewer users are landing on the index page; the vast majority of people are going directly to the relevant post. Random Bytes is getting read, and people are finding what they need. (Note: for this to work, you need to ensure that you have enabled individual post pages in your blogging software's dashboard.)

Just in case you're wondering, while Google's Add URL page discourages this practice, nowhere does it state that submitting multiple pages from the same site is a policy violation.

And of course, remember that links from other blogs and web sites are still among the most important ways to get found and indexed by Google.

Hope this helps.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Intensifying Images With Photoshop Vivid Fog Effect

Hi folks. Sorry for the lapse in postings. I actually managed to get a break from the computer to enjoy some sunshine in these waning days of summer. Back full force now, though, with a great tip from James, a friend and fellow Photoshop junkie. Vivid fog is an easy three-step effect (which you can turn into a Photoshop action) that adds drama to ordinary images, and can also be used to create striking silhouettes of foreground objects.

To use this effect:

  1. Start with a quality image with good foreground/background delineation and subtle colour. Low light levels and the presence of an obvious foreground object or figure add more drama.
  2. Open the image in Photoshop and copy the background to new layer.
  3. Bump up the saturation of the new layer (to the maximum for the most drama).
  4. Apply a Gaussian blur to the new layer (10 pixels seems to work well, for 300 dpi images).
  5. Change the new layer's blend mode to Soft Light.
  6. Save your work in the appropriate file format.

Viola! James suggests you make these changes right on the background copy rather than applying adjustment layers. He also uses an "S" curve to heighten contrast, or a Levels adjustment to increase colour, such as the red in a sunset. He suggests making these adjustments before the saturation and blur steps.

You can see before and after examples at the top of this article. As you can see, the colour in the original image was quite subtle before applying the vivid fog effect. At right is a third version, with the foreground masked to reduce the sense of underexposure created by this process.

Hope you find some interesting uses for this. Enjoy!